Clint Eastwood brings bloody 1945 battle (Iwo Jima) to a new global audience

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IWO JIMA -- By the time the guns had fallen silent at the end of one of the bloodiest battles in the history of modern warfare, Iwo Jima resembled the surface of the moon. The trees had been turned into scorched stumps and the hillsides flattened by relentless shelling from US gunboats.

Now, almost 62 years after its fall changed the course of the second world war, Iwo Jima's physical scars have healed. Seen from the air, it is a pretty, teardrop-shaped speck in the Pacific Ocean 1,200 miles south of Tokyo, a place of rare insects and wild chilli peppers where the peace is broken only by the roar of Japanese F-15s leaving base.

The base is a reminder of Iwo Jima's vital role in Japan's security. To its Japanese defenders it represented the first line of defence; for the Americans it was the ideal stopping-off point for squadrons of B-29 Superfortresses that would carpet-bomb Tokyo and other Japanese cities into submission in the final months of the war.

When US troops landed on Iwo Jima's south-eastern beaches on February 19 1945, their commanders predicted that the battle would be over in four days. By the time Iwo Jima was secured, five weeks later, 6,800 US soldiers had died and 17,000 were injured. Of the 22,000 Japanese troops defending the island, only 1,080 were captured alive. Those who didn't fight to the death preferred to commit suicide than shame their emperor by falling into enemy hands.

After decades of being treated as an unfortunate episode in a war many would prefer to forget, Iwo Jima has finally penetrated the Japanese consciousness with the release of two films directed by Clint Eastwood.

Flags of Our Fathers, which goes on release in the UK on Friday, flits between graphic fighting scenes and the post-battle lives of three of the six US soldiers who famously raised the Stars and Stripes on the summit of Mt Suribachi on February 23 - a scene immortalised in Joe Rosenthal's iconic black-and-white photograph. Its companion piece is Letters from Iwo Jima, filmed in Japanese and told from the perspective of the island's defenders.

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