Aviation art often tells the story of a particular aircraft by depicting a specific moment in time.
It can tell whatever the artist wants it to say – the beauty of flight, the horrors of war, or those last exhausting, but exhilarating, moments of flight when man finally returns to Earth after a very long flight.
John Shaw’s “”Iwo Jima: A Hard-Won Haven”” is such a painting. It depicts a battle-damaged B-29 with one prop feathered and an engine on fire, making an emergency landing on Iwo Jima, which was a safe haven in the middle of an unforgiving ocean that could easily swallow a damaged plane and its crew without leaving a trace. The painting also is a tribute to the Marines who paid a high price to save the lives of American airmen.
B-29 bases were set up on Saipan and Tinian from which the 20th Air Force launched their aerial assault on Japan’s mainland. The 20th AF, established on April 4, 1944, was the only U.S. Air Force created for the sole purpose of taking a single type aircraft into combat – the B-29 Superfortress.
The first B-29 organization to see combat was the 20th Bomber Command under Maj. Gen. Kenneth B. Wolfe. It arrived in India in April 1944, moving to bases in China shortly thereafter. Its first combat mission on June 5, 1944, was from India against the Makasan Railway yards in Bangkok. Its next mission 10 days later was from China, when it hit the iron works in Yawata, Japan.
In early September 1944, the first B-29s started to arrive in the Marianas. On Nov. 1, while on a reconnaissance mission, the B-29 “”Tokyo Rose”” became the first superbomber over Tokyo. The first raid on Tokyo proper was made Nov. 24, and was led by Brig. Gen. Emmett “”Rosie”” O’Donnell. The pilot of the lead aircraft on that raid was Col. Robert K. Morgan of “”Memphis Belle”” fame, flying his B-29 “”Dauntless Dotty.””
In January 1945, General Curtis LeMay moved from India to Saipan to take command of the 21st BC. Within a short period of time he instituted fire bombing and low level attacks with great success. He then enlarged his five wings — the 58th, 73rd, 313th, 314th and 315th — to full strength and increased the size of the bombing raids. On the largest bombing raid in the war against Japan on Aug. 2, 1945, General LeMay sent 855 B-29s to six cities with 6,632 tons of bombs.
The sleek bombers had to fly nearly 1,400 miles from Saipan before reaching their targets. Battle damage, mechanical problems, even adverse headwinds could make a safe flight back to Saipan problematic at best. An emergency airfield somewhere in between was obviously needed. Iwo Jima, which was just over 600 miles from Saipan, was the only choice. Okinawa was used for a while but it was hundreds of miles out of the way.
Because of the need, an assault on Iwo Jima was launched on Feb. 19, 1945. By the end of March three airfields were ready to receive B-29s. It was very costly in terms of American lives and wounded – 5,391 Marines killed and another 17,400 wounded. Admiral Nimitz’s tribute to the Americans who fought for Iwo Jima said of them “”uncommon valor was a common virtue.””
John Shaw dedicates this limited edition lithograph “”Iwo Jima: A Hard-Won Haven”” to the U.S. Marines and American airmen who fought there. “”For the Marines, this place threatened certain death,”” he said. “”For 25,000 American airmen, it meant life.””
The artist also says this lithograph “”salutes all the extraordinary veterans who participated in this legendary battle in 1945.””
It is available in several editions, featuring veterans’ signatures representing a variety of experiences at Iwo Jima, ranging from Medal of Honor Marines to Oscar-winning combat cinematographers to flag-raisers to B-29 pilots who made multiple emergency landings at Iwo Jima, he adds.
Shaw’s painting shows Mount Suribachi in the distance, where the most famous flag raising of the war took place. Next to the runway are Marines who were guarding the airfield from remnants of the Japanese forces still on the island. The painting captures a moment in time when another B-29 crew finds a safe haven, which was the reason for the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Larry W. Bledsoe is an avid aviation historian and writer. He can be contacted at 909-986-1103, at firstname.lastname@example.org or BledsoeAvArt.com.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the largest and heaviest U.S. bomber produced in quantity to see action in World War II. The best known B-29s, “”Enola Gay”” and “”Bock’s Car,”” are familiar because of their pivotal roles in ending the war, but they were just two of the hundreds that pounded Japan in the final months of the war.
With a wingspan of 141 feet 3inches, the B-29 was almost 40 feet wider than the B-17G. Its normal bomb load of 10,000 pounds was about 70% more than the B-17G, although the B-29s on the Aug. 2, 1945 raid averaged more than 15,000 pounds of bombs per plane. The bomber had a combat range of 3,250 miles, nearly three times as far as the B-17G. The B-29’s maximum speed of 357 mph at 30,000 feet was 70 mph faster than the Flying Fortress. The B-29 was also pressurized, which added immensely to crew comfort. It was state-of-the-art and a formidable weapon.