Iwo Jima, Sunday, 4 March 1945:
Now that the Marines held the best ground, there was less Japanese artillery and rocket fire, but the Japanese fought individually from hundreds of rocky caves and crevices. The rest of the Fourth Division headed for the coast, swinging around RCT 25, which fought on the division’s right for the rest of the battle.
The weather was gray and overcast for the first B-29 landing on Iwo Jima. A few American planes had already landed on Iwo Jima, but what the Marines were fighting for was a safe haven for B-29s. The Japanese had been fiercely defending as much airstrip as they could even as the Fourth Division struggled past the Meat Grinder nearby. Engineers had worked on the Marine-held part of the airstrips since 24 February, stopping only at night or when enemy fire got too heavy. By 4 March, the Marines held enough of the main airstrip to give B-29s a better chance than landing in the ocean.
The runway was three thousand feet of dirt in the middle of a battle, with a windsock on a pole at one end and a jeep with a radio for a control tower. Fortunately, many pilots of that era were thrill-seekers who’d fallen in love with flying after seeing barnstormers perform in the years after World War I.
The first B-29 landed in the middle of the combat zone, with bomb bay doors frozen open and a fuel supply problem. Missed by Japanese mortar and artillery shells, the plane taxied toward Mount Suribachi. Excited Seabees who’d been building the runway asked the crew whether it was smooth enough.
As soon as the B-29 was repaired, it took off again—Iwo Jima was no place to park, even for a couple of hours. Yet from then on, Marines could look over at the main airstrip and see why they were fighting—if they knew what the scene meant. In those days, privates weren’t told the strategic reason for taking Iwo Jima. Still, Marines knew enough: they had an island to take, the Japanese were on it, the Americans needed it, there wasn’t a way around it, and it couldn’t wait.
One plane was told the runway wasn't ready for them to land. But they had to land, and they did.
That plane needed a couple days of repairs before it could take off. Another B-29 crew, knowing they wouldn’t make it to Tinian, found that half an airstrip was far better than the sea. Aircrew were desperately glad for Iwo Jima, and at least one pilot named his plane for the Marines.
Excerpts are from Fighting the Unbeatable Foe: Iwo Jima and Los Alamos, now republished as a 75th anniversary edition in paperback and Kindle.