(Reuters) – This month marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which saw some of the bloodiest fighting of World War Two take place on a small Japanese island 1,200 km (745 miles) south of Tokyo.
Iwo Jima was the first native Japanese soil to be invaded during the Allied advance. Located halfway between Tokyo and Guam, it was regarded as a strategic outpost. Close to 7,000 U.S. Marines and nearly all of the 21,000 Japanese defenders of the island died during the 36-day battle.
The Japanese troops held the heavily fortified island for more than a month, supported by a network of bunkers and tunnels and hidden artillery positions.
From Feb. 19, 1945, over 500 warships and 1,000 warplanes from the U.S. navy and army pounded Iwo Jima so heavily that the shelling and bombing changed the shape of the island’s highest point, Mount Suribachi, located at its southern tip.
White phosphorus was used in the pre-invasion bombardment and U.S. troops wielded flame-throwers during the battle.
Mount Suribachi was captured on Feb. 23. A photograph of six U.S. marines raising a U.S. flag on the mountain, the second flag-raising that day, was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography that year. It later formed the subject for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
Iwo Jima reverted from U.S. to Japanese rule in 1968 and since then has housed about 400 Japanese navy and air force personnel who operate a landing strip. The runway is also used for night-landing practice by a Japan-based U.S. aircraft carrier.
Joint U.S.-Japan memorial services to mark the anniversary of the battle are held every year. In 1994, then Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended the service, the first time a Japanese emperor had visited the island.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi became the first Japanese prime minister to attend the ceremonies in 2005.
(Reporting by Hideto Sakai and Akiko Okamoto; Editing by Karishma Singh and Richard Pullin)