Provenance on maps: A Secret Map of Iwo Jima, November 1944
I’ve been writing about book provenance recently, but annotations on maps can be equally fascinating. Seventy years ago this map was used by a US artillery spotter during the battle of Iwo Jima. The US Marine Corps bore the brunt of severe American casualties during heavy fighting in February and March 1945; only a handful of some 22000 Japanese defenders surrendered - the overwhelming majority were killed. The tiny island was of limited strategic value, though as the first Japanese soil to be captured the potential psychological impact was immense. The determination of the Japanese to fight (almost literally) to the last man brought the likely cost of ‘island hopping’ all the way to the Japanese home islands into sharp focus, and the use of atomic weapons would soon be justified as a way to save lives - on both sides. Back to our map, a special air and gunnery target map, corrected to November 1944 and marked secret (a classification lowered to restricted within the combat area itself). It has been printed on wet strength paper (highly durable and water resistant) to a scale of 1:20,000. Military installations are marked in in great detail, including probable tank barriers and minefields protecting the viable landing beaches. Of tremendous interest is the pencilled grid - our map has been used by an artillery spotter, calling in fire on Japanese positions. This is one of those times where it’s great that the map has been written on. It was carried and used on the spot - far more interesting (in my view) than a map which was never issued, and for that reason has survived in perfect condition. Judging by the area covered, our map was used after the initial amphibious landings had taken place. On the southern tip of the island is Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island, where the US flag was raised on the morning of February 23.