OGASAWARA, Tokyo — Seventy-five years ago today, U.S. Marines began what would become one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of World War II – the battle of Iwo Jima.

The Allies needed the strategic island to launch airstrikes over Japan, and they thought it would be easy to capture from the Japanese.

But it wasn't.

In early 1945, U.S. Marines were going island by island through the pacific -- defeating Japanese forces and making their way closer and closer to the Japanese mainland.

They had their eyes set on the island of Iwo Jima.

It sits 750 miles off the coast of Japan, and during the war, it had three airfields – making it strategically important to the allies for attacking the Japanese mainland.

On Feb. 19, 1945, the first U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima. Allied commanders thought the island would fall in just a few days, but they were met by 21,000 Japanese soldiers who had carefully hidden artillery guns in the island's mountainous terrain. Within days, around 70,000 Marines arrived to help take the island, but the battle dragged on for about five weeks.

Around 300 Japanese soldiers mounted their final attack on March 25. In the end, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed and another 20,000 wounded. All but about 200 of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers were killed.

Iwo Jima never served as a launch point for attacks on Japan.

The iconic photo of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi was taken just four days into the battle. 

Iwo Jima Flag Raising Identities
FILE - In this Feb 23, 1945 file photo, U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal, File)

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