At the beginning of 1945 General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, decided to try and capture the small volcanic island of Iwo Jima that at the time was being defended by 20,000 veterans of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force. The Japanese, who had created a fortress on Mount Suribachi, faced an immense air and sea bombardment launched by the 5th Fleet under Admiral Raymond Spruance.
On 19th February, American soldiers began landing on the island. Over 250,000 men and 900 ships were involved in this amphibious operation under the command of Admiral Richmond Turner. The main objective was to capture the island's three airstrips and to to obtain a forward air base for the planned Allied attack on the Japanese home territories.
The US Marines managed to capture Mount Suribachi in three days but strong resistance from the Japanese meant that the second airstrip at Motoyama was not won until 28th February, 1945. The final stage of the fighting took place in the fortified hills and these last defensive positions were not taken until 10th March.
Small groups of Japanese soldiers carried on fighting and the three airfields were not ready to receive the vast fleets of B-29 Superfortress bombers until the end of March. Of the 23,000 Japanese soldiers defending Iwo Jima, only 216 were taken alive. The American forces also suffered during the bitter fighting on the island with 5,391 Marines killed and 17,400 wounded.
The United States Army Air Force was now able to use the island to launch bombing attacks on Japan. The large number of Japanese buildings made of wood made it easy for the bombers to create firestorms. On the 9th and 10th March 1945, a raid on Tokyo devastated the city. This was followed by attacks on Nagoya, Kobe, Oska and Yokohama. An estimated 260,000 were killed and 9.2 million left homeless.