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Battle of Okinawa

Battle of Okinawa

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The Battle of Okinawa (April 1, 1945-June 22, 1945) was the last major battle of World War II, and one of the bloodiest. On April 1, 1945—Easter Sunday—the Navy’s Fifth Fleet and more than 180,000 U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps troops descended on the Pacific island of Okinawa for a final push towards Japan. The invasion was part of Operation Iceberg, a complex plan to invade and occupy the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa. Though it resulted in an Allied victory, kamikaze fighters, rainy weather and fierce fighting on land, sea and air led to a large death toll on both sides.

Okinawa Island

By the time American troops landed on Okinawa, the war on the European front was nearing its end. Allied and Soviet troops had liberated much of Nazi-occupied Europe and were just weeks away from forcing Germany’s unconditional surrender.

In the Pacific theater, however, American forces were still painstakingly conquering Japan’s Home Islands, one after another. After obliterating Japanese troops in the brutal Battle of Iwo Jima, they set their sights on the isolated island of Okinawa, their last stop before reaching Japan.

Okinawa’s 466 square miles of dense foliage, hills and trees made it the perfect location for the Japanese High Command’s last stand to protect their motherland. They knew if Okinawa fell, so would Japan. The Americans knew securing Okinawa’s airbases was critical to launching a successful Japanese invasion.

WATCH Pacific: The Lost Evidence on HISTORY Vault

Landing on the Beachheads

As dawn arrived on April 1, morale was low among American troops as the Fifth Fleet launched the largest bombardment ever to support a troop landing to soften Japanese defenses.

Soldiers and Army brass alike expected the beach landings to be a massacre worse than D-Day. But the Fifth Fleet’s offensive onslaught was almost pointless and landing troops could have literally swum to shore—surprisingly, the expected mass of awaiting Japanese troops wasn’t there.

On D-Day, American troops fought hard for every inch of beachhead—but troops landing on Okinawa’s beaches surged inland with little resistance. Wave after wave of troops, tanks, ammunition and supplies went ashore almost effortlessly within hours. The troops quickly secured both Kadena and Yontan airfields.

Japanese Army Waits

Japan’s 32nd Army, some 130,000 men strong and commanded by Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, defended Okinawa. The military force also included an unknown number of conscripted civilians and unarmed Home Guards known as Boeitai.

As they moved inland, American troops wondered when and where they’d finally encounter enemy resistance. What they didn’t know was the Japanese Imperial Army had them just where they wanted them.

Japanese troops had been instructed not to fire on the American landing forces but instead watch and wait for them, mostly in Shuri, a rugged area of southern Okinawa where General Ushijima had set up a triangle of defensive positions known as the Shuri Defense Line.

Battleship Yamato

American troops who headed North to the Motobu Peninsula endured intense resistance and over 1,000 casualties but won a decisive battle relatively quickly. It was different along the Shuri Line where they had to overcome a series of heavily defended hills loaded with firmly-entrenched Japanese troops.

On April 7, Japan’s mighty battleship Yamato was sent to launch a surprise attack on the Fifth Fleet and then annihilate American troops pinned down near the Shuri Line. But Allied submarines spotted the Yamato and alerted the fleet who then launched a crippling air attack. The ship was bombarded and sank along with most of its crew.

After the Americans cleared a series of outposts surrounding the Shuri Line, they fought many fierce battles including clashes on Kakazu Ridge, Sugar Loaf Hill, Horseshoe Ridge and Half Moon Hill. Torrential rains made the hills and roads watery graveyards of unburied bodies.

Casualties were enormous on both sides by the time the Americans took Shuri Castle in late May. Defeated yet not beaten, the Japanese retreated to the southern coast of Okinawa where they made their last stand.

Kamikaze Warfare

The kamikaze suicide pilot was Japan’s most ruthless weapon. On April 4, the Japanese unleashed these well-trained pilots on the Fifth Fleet. Some dove their planes into ships at 500 miles per hour causing catastrophic damage.

American sailors tried desperately to shoot the kamikaze planes down but were often sitting ducks against enemy pilots with nothing to lose. During the Battle of Okinawa, the Fifth Fleet suffered:

  • 36 sunk ships
  • 368 damaged ships
  • 4,900 men killed or drowned
  • 4,800 men wounded
  • 763 lost aircraft

READ MORE: How Japan's Kamikaze Attacks Went From Last Resort at Pearl Harbor to WWII Strategy

Hacksaw Ridge

The Maeda Escarpment, also known as Hacksaw Ridge, was located atop a 400-foot vertical cliff. The American attack on the ridge began on April 26. It was a brutal battle for both sides.

To defend the escarpment, Japanese troops hunkered down in a network of caves and dugouts. They were determined to hold the ridge and decimated some American platoons until just a few men remained.

Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand and particularly ruthless. The Americans finally took Hacksaw Ridge on May 6.

All Americans who fought in the Battle of Okinawa were heroic, but one soldier at the escarpment stood out—Corporal Desmond T. Doss. He was an army medic and Seventh-Day Adventist who refused to raise a gun to the enemy.

Still, he remained on the escarpment after his commanding officers ordered a retreat. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, he went alone into the battle fray and rescued 75 of his wounded comrades. His heroic story was brought to life on the big screen in 2016 in the film Hacksaw Ridge and he won a Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Suicide or Surrender

Most Japanese troops and Okinawa citizens believed Americans took no prisoners and they’d be killed on the spot if captured. As a result, countless took their own lives.

To encourage their surrender, General Buckner initiated propaganda warfare and dropped millions of leaflets declaring the war was all but lost for Japan.

About 7,000 Japanese soldiers surrendered, but many chose death by suicide. Some jumped from high hills, others blew themselves up with grenades.

When faced with the reality that further fighting was futile, General Ushijima and his Chief of Staff, General Cho, committed ritual suicide on June 22, effectively ending the Battle of Okinawa.

Battle of Okinawa Death Toll

Both sides suffered enormous losses in the Battle of Okinawa. The Americans bore over 49,000 casualties including 12,520 killed. General Buckner was killed in action on June 18, just days before the battle ended.

Japanese losses were even greater—about 110,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives. It’s estimated between 40,000 and 150,000 Okinawa citizens were also killed.

Who Won The Battle of Okinawa?

Winning the Battle of Okinawa put Allied forces within striking distance of Japan. But wanting to bring the war to a swift end, and knowing over 2 million Japanese troops were awaiting battle-weary American soldiers, Harry S. Truman chose to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6.

Japan didn’t give in immediately, so Truman ordered the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9. Finally, Japan had had enough. On August, 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender, marking the end of World War II.

READ MORE: How Did World War II End?


Hellish Prelude at Okinawa. U.S. Naval Institute.
Okinawa: The Final Great Battle of World War II. Marine Corps Gazette.
Center of Military History, United States Army.
Operation Iceberg: The Assault on Okinawa-The Last Battle of WWII (Part 1) April-June 1945. History of War.
The Decision to Drop the Bomb.
The Real ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Soldier Saved 75 Souls Without Ever Carrying A Gun. NPR.

The name "Ryūkyū" originates from Chinese writings. [1] [2] The earliest references to "Ryūkyū" write the name as 琉虬 and 流求 (pinyin: Liúqiú Jyutping: Lau 4 kau 4 ) in the Chinese history Book of Sui in 607. It is a descriptive name, meaning "glazed horn-dragon".

The origin of the term "Okinawa" remains unclear, although "Okinawa" (Okinawan: Uchinaa) as a term was used in Okinawa. There was also a divine woman named "Uchinaa" in the book Omoro Sōshi, a compilation of ancient poems and songs from Okinawa Island. This suggests the presence of a divine place named Okinawa. The Chinese monk Jianzhen, who traveled to Japan in the mid-8th century CE to promote Buddhism, wrote "Okinawa" as 阿児奈波 (Hanyu Pinyin: A'érnàibō Cantonese Jyutping: Aa 2 ngai 4 noi 6 bo 1 Japanese: Ajinawa, Aninawa). [ citation needed ] The Japanese map series Ryukyu Kuniezu labeled the island as 悪鬼納 (Wokinaha) in 1644. The current Chinese characters (kanji) for Okinawa (沖縄) were first written in the 1702 version of Ryukyu Kuniezu.

Prehistoric period Edit

The ancestry of the modern-day Ryukyuan people is disputed. One theory claims that the earliest inhabitants of these islands crossed a prehistoric land bridge from modern-day China, with later additions of Austronesians, Micronesians, and Japanese merging with the population. [3] The time when human beings appeared in Okinawa remains unknown. The earliest human bones were those of Yamashita Cave Man, about 32 000 years ago, followed by Pinza-Abu Cave Man, Miyakojima, about 26 000 years ago and Minatogawa Man, about 18 000 years ago. They probably came through China and were once considered to be the direct ancestors of those living in Okinawa. No stone tools were discovered with them. For the following 12 000 years, no trace of archaeological sites was discovered after the Minatogawa man site. [ citation needed ] [4]

Okinawa midden culture Edit

Okinawa midden culture or shell heap culture is divided into the early shell heap period corresponding to the Jōmon period of Japan and the latter shell heap period corresponding to the Yayoi period of Japan. However, the use of Jōmon and Yayoi of Japan is questionable in Okinawa. In the former, it was a hunter-gatherer society, with wave-like opening Jōmon pottery. In the latter part of Jōmon period, archaeological sites moved near the seashore, suggesting the engagement of people in fishery. In Okinawa, rice was not cultivated during the Yayoi period but began during the latter period of shell-heap age. Shell rings for arms made of shells obtained in the Sakishima Islands, namely Miyakojima and Yaeyama islands, were imported by Japan. In these islands, the presence of shell axes, 2500 years ago, suggests the influence of a southeastern-Pacific culture. [ citation needed ] [5] [6]

Mythology, the Shunten Dynasty and the Eiso Dynasty Edit

The first history of Ryukyu was written in Chūzan Seikan ("Mirrors of Chūzan"), which was compiled by Shō Shōken (1617–75), also known as Haneji Chōshū. The Ryukyuan creation myth is told, which includes the establishment of Tenson as the first king of the islands and the creation of the Noro, female priestesses of the Ryukyuan religion. The throne was usurped from one of Tenson's descendants by a man named Riyu. Chūzan Seikan then tells the story of a Japanese samurai, Minamoto no Tametomo (1139–70), who fought in the Hogen Rebellion of 1156 and fled first to Izu Island and then to Okinawa. He had relations with the sister of the Aji of Ōzato and sired Shunten, who then led a popular rebellion against Riyu and established his own rule at Urasoe Castle. Most historians, however, discount the Tametomo story as a revisionist history that is intended to legitimize Japanese domination over Okinawa. [7] Shunten's dynasty ended in the third generation when his grandson, Gihon, abdicated, went into exile, and was succeeded by Eiso, who began a new royal lineage. The Eiso dynasty continued for five generations.

Gusuku period Edit

Gusuku is the term used for the distinctive Okinawan form of castles or fortresses. Many gusukus and related cultural remains in the Ryukyu Islands have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites under the title Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. After the midden culture, agriculture started about the 12th century, with the center moving from the seashore to higher places. This period is called the gusuku period. There are three perspectives regarding the nature of gusukus: 1) a holy place, 2) dwellings encircled by stones, 3) a castle of a leader of people. In this period, porcelain trade between Okinawa and other countries became busy, and Okinawa became an important relay point in eastern-Asian trade. Ryukyuan kings, such as Shunten and Eiso, were considered to be important governors. In 1272, Kublai Khan ordered Ryukyu to submit to Mongol suzerainty, but King Eiso refused. In 1276, the Mongol envoys returned, but were driven off the island by the Ryukyuans. [8] Hiragana was imported from Japan by Ganjin in 1265.

The Three-Kingdom period, also known as the Sanzan period ( 三山時代 , Sanzan-jidai ) (Three Mountains), lasted from 1322 until 1429. There was a gradual consolidation of power under the Shō family. Shō Hashi (1372–1439) conquered Chūzan, the middle kingdom, in 1404 and made his father, Shō Shishō, the king. He conquered Hokuzan, the northern kingdom, in 1416 and conquered the southern kingdom, Nanzan, in 1429, thereby unifying the three kingdoms into a single Ryukyu Kingdom. [ citation needed ] Shō Hashi was then recognized as the ruler of the Ryukyu Kingdom (or Liuqiu Kingdom in Chinese) by the Ming dynasty Emperor of China, who presented him a red lacquerware plaque known as the Chūzan Tablet. [9] Although independent, the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom paid tribute to the rulers of China.

    of the Ming dynasty
  • Tributary state of the Qing dynasty
    (1644–1875) of Satsuma Domain
  • Vassal state of the Empire of Japan

1429 - 1609 Edit

In 1429 King Shō Hashi completed the unification of the three kingdoms and founded a single Ryukyu Kingdom with its capital at Shuri Castle. [ citation needed ] Shō Shin ( 尚真 ) (1465–1526 r. 1477–1526) became the third king of the Second Sho Dynasty - his reign has been described [ by whom? ] as the "Great Days of Chūzan", a period of great peace and relative prosperity. He was the son of Shō En, the founder of the dynasty, by Yosoidon, Shō En's second wife, often referred to as the queen-mother. He succeeded his uncle, Shō Sen'i, who was forced [ by whom? ] to abdicate in his favor. Much of the foundational organization of the kingdom's administration and economy stemmed from developments which occurred during Shō Shin's reign. The reign of Shō Shin also saw the expansion of the kingdom's control over several of the outlying Ryukyu Islands, such as Miyako-jima and Ishigaki Island. [ citation needed ]

Many Chinese moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or to engage in business during this period. In 1392, during the Hongwu Emperor's reign, the Ming dynasty Chinese had sent 36 Chinese families from Fujian at the request of the Ryukyuan King to manage oceanic dealings in the kingdom. Many Ryukyuan officials descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers. [12] They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations. [13] [14] [15]

Satsuma domination, 1609–1871 Edit

The invasion of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Shimazu clan of Japan's Satsuma Domain took place in April 1609. Three thousand men and more than one hundred war-junks sailed from Kagoshima at the southern tip of Kyushu. The invaders defeated the Ryukyuans in the Amami Islands, then at Nakijin Castle on Okinawa Island. The Satsuma samurai made a second landing near Yomitanzan and marched overland to Urasoe Castle, which they captured. Their war-junks attempted to take the port city of Naha, but were defeated by the Ryūkyūan coastal defences. Finally Satsuma captured Shuri Castle, [16] the Ryukyuan capital, and King Shō Nei. Only at this point did the King famously tell his army that "nuchidu takara" (life is a treasure), and they surrendered. [17] Many priceless cultural treasures were looted and taken to Kagoshima. As a result of the war, the Amami Islands were ceded to Satsuma in 1611 the direct rule of Satsuma over the Amami Islands started in 1613.

After 1609 the Ryukyuan kings became vassals of Satsuma. Though recognized as an independent kingdom, [18] the islands were occasionally also referred to [ by whom? ] as being a province of Japan. [19] The Shimazu introduced a policy banning sword ownership by commoners. This led to the development of the indigenous Okinawan martial arts, which utilize domestic items as weapons. [ citation needed ] This period of effective outside control also featured the first international matches of Go, as Ryukyuan players came to Japan to test their skill. This occurred in 1634, 1682, and 1710. [20] [21]

In the 17th century the Ryukyu kingdom thus became both a tributary of China and a vassal of Japan. Because China would not make a formal trade agreement unless a country was a tributary state, the kingdom served as a convenient loophole for Japanese trade with China. When Japan officially closed foreign trade, the only exceptions for foreign trade were with the Dutch through Nagasaki, with the Ryukyu Kingdom through the Satsuma Domain, and with Korea through Tsushima. [22] Perry's "Black Ships", official envoys from the United States, came in 1853. [23] In 1871, the Mudan incident occurred, in which fifty-four Ryukyuans were killed in Taiwan. They had wandered into the central part of Taiwan after their ship was wrecked.

Ryukyu Domain, 1872–1879 Edit

In 1872 the Ryukyu Kingdom was reconfigured as a feudal domain (han). [24] The people were described [ by whom? ] as appearing to be a "connecting link" between the Chinese and Japanese. [25] After the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, Japan's role as the protector of the Ryukyuan people was acknowledged [ by whom? ] but the fiction of the Ryukyu Kingdom's independence was partially maintained until 1879. [26] In 1878 the islands were listed as a "tributary" to Japan. The largest island was listed as "Tsju San", meaning "middle island". Others were listed as Sannan in the south and Sanbok in the North Nawa. The main port was listed as "Tsju San". It was open to foreign trade. [25] Agricultural produce included tea, rice, sugar, tobacco, camphor, fruits, and silk. Manufactured products included cotton, paper, porcelain, and lacquered ware. [25]

In 1879, Japan declared its intention to annex the Ryukyu Kingdom. China protested and asked former U.S. President Ulysses Grant, then on a diplomatic tour of Asia, to intercede. One option considered involved Japan annexing the islands from Amami Island north, China annexing the Miyako and Yaeyama islands, and the central islands remaining an independent Ryukyu Kingdom. When the negotiation eventually failed, Japan annexed the entire Ryukyu archipelago. [27] Thus, the Ryukyu han was abolished and replaced by Okinawa Prefecture by the Meiji government. The monarchy in Shuri was abolished and the deposed king Shō Tai (1843–1901) was forced to relocate to Tokyo. In compensation, he was made a marquis in the Meiji system of peerage. [28]

Hostility against mainland Japan increased in the Ryukyus immediately after its annexation to Japan in part because of the systematic attempt on the part of mainland Japan to eliminate the Ryukyuan culture, including the language, religion, and cultural practices. Japan introduced public education that permitted only the use of standard Japanese while shaming students who used their own language by forcing them to wear plaques around their necks proclaiming them "dialect speakers." This increased the number of Japanese language speakers on the islands, creating a link with the mainland. When Japan became the dominant power of the Far East, many Ryukyuans were proud of being citizens of the Empire. However, there was always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction for being treated as second class citizens.

In the years leading up to World War II, the Japanese government sought to reinforce national solidarity in the interests of militarization. In part, they did so by means of conscription, mobilization, and nationalistic propaganda. Many of the people of the Ryukyu Islands, despite having spent only a generation as full Japanese citizens, were interested in proving their value to Japan in spite of prejudice expressed by mainland Japanese people. [29]

In 1943, during World War II, the US president asked its ally, the Republic of China, if it would lay claim to the Ryukyus after the war. [30] "The President then referred to the question of the Ryukyu Islands and enquired more than once whether China would want the Ryukyus. The Generalissimo replied that China would be agreeable to joint occupation of the Ryukyus by China and the United States and, eventually, joint administration by the two countries under the trusteeship of an international organization." [ attribution needed ] [ citation needed ] On March 23, 1945, the United States began its attack on the island of Okinawa, the final outlying islands, prior to the expected invasion of mainland Japan.

Battle of Okinawa: April 1 – June 22, 1945 Edit

The Battle of Okinawa was one of the last major battles of World War II, [31] claiming the lives of an estimated 120,000 combatants. The Ryukyus were the only inhabited part of Japan to experience a land battle during World War II. In addition to the Japanese military personnel who died in the Battle for Okinawa, well over one third of the civilian population, which numbered approximately 300,000 people, were killed. Many important documents, artifacts, and sites related to Ryukyuan history and culture were also destroyed, including the royal Shuri Castle. [32] Americans had expected the Okinawan people to welcome them as liberators but the Japanese had used propaganda to make the Okinawans fearful of Americans. As a result, some Okinawans joined militias and fought along Japanese. This was a major cause of the civilian casualties, as Americans could not distinguish between combatants and civilians. [ citation needed ]

Due to fears concerning their fate during and after the invasion, the Okinawan people hid in caves and in family tombs. Several mass deaths occurred, such as in the "Cave of the Virgins", where many Okinawan school girls committed suicide by jumping off cliffs for fear of rape. Similarly, whole families committed suicide or were killed by near relatives in order to avoid suffering what they believed would be a worse fate at the hands of American forces for instance, on Zamami Island at Zamami Village, almost everyone living on the island committed suicide two days after Americans landed. [33] The Americans had made plans to safeguard the Okinawans [34] their fears were not unfounded, as killing of civilians and destruction of civilian property did take place for example, on Aguni Island, 90 residents were killed and 150 houses were destroyed. [35]

As the fighting intensified, Japanese soldiers hid in caves with civilians, further increasing civilian casualties. Additionally, Japanese soldiers shot Okinawans who attempted to surrender to Allied Forces. America utilized Nisei Okinawans in psychological warfare, broadcasting in Okinawan, leading to the Japanese belief that Okinawans who did not speak Japanese were spies or disloyal to Japan, or both. These people were often killed as a result. As food became scarce, some civilians were killed over small amounts of food. "At midnight, soldiers would wake up Okinawans and take them to the beach. Then they chose Okinawans at random and threw hand grenades at them." [ attribution needed ] [36]

Massive casualties in the Yaeyama Islands caused the Japanese military to force people to evacuate from their towns to the mountains, even though malaria was prevalent there. Fifty-four percent of the island's population died due to starvation and disease. Later, islanders unsuccessfully sued the Japanese government. Many military historians believe that the ferocity of the Battle of Okinawa led directly to the American decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A prominent holder of this view is Victor Davis Hanson, who states it explicitly in his book Ripples of Battle: "because the Japanese on Okinawa, including native Okinawans, were so fierce in their defense (even when cut off, and without supplies), and because casualties were so appalling, many American strategists looked for an alternative means to subdue mainland Japan, other than a direct invasion." [37]

Princess Lilies Edit

After the beginning of World War II, the Japanese military conscripted school girls (15 to 16 years old) to join a group known as the Princess Lilies (Hime-yuri) and to go to the battle front as nurses. There were seven girls' high schools in Okinawa at the time of World War II. The board of education, made up entirely of mainland Japanese, required the girls' participation. The Princess Lilies were organized at two of them, and a total of 297 students and teachers eventually joined the group. Teachers, who insisted that the students be evacuated to somewhere safe, were accused of being traitors. [ citation needed ]

Most of the girls were put into temporary clinics in caves to take care of injured soldiers. With a severe shortage of food, water and medicine, 211 of the girls died while trying to care for the wounded soldiers. [ citation needed ] The Japanese military had told these girls that, if they were taken as prisoners, the enemy would rape and kill them the military gave hand grenades to the girls to allow them to commit suicide rather than be taken as prisoners. One of the Princess Lilies explained: "We had a strict imperial education, so being taken prisoner was the same as being a traitor. We were taught to prefer suicide to becoming a captive." [36] Many students died saying, "Tennō Heika Banzai", which means "Long live the Emperor".

After the war, the islands were occupied by the United States and were initially governed by the United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands from 1945 to 1950 when it was replaced by the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands from 1950 which also established the Government of the Ryukyu Islands in 1952. The Treaty of San Francisco which went into effect in 1952, officially ended wartime hostilities. However, ever since the battle of Okinawa, the presence of permanent American bases has created friction between Okinawans and the U.S. military. During the occupation, American military personnel were exempt from domestic jurisdiction since Okinawa was an occupied territory of the United States.

Effective U.S. control continued even after the end of the occupation of Japan as a whole in 1952. The United States dollar was the official currency used, and cars drove on the right, American-style, as opposed to on the left as in Japan. The islands switched to driving on the left in 1978, six years after they were returned to Japanese control. The U.S. used their time as occupiers to build large army, air force, navy, and marine bases on Okinawa.

On November 21, 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Satō signed the Okinawa Reversion Agreement in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1971. [38] The U.S. reverted the islands to Japan on May 15, 1972, setting back a Ryūkyū independence movement that had emerged. Under terms of the agreement, the U.S. retained its rights to bases on the island as part of the 1952 Treaty to protect Japan, but those bases were to be nuclear-free. The United States military still controls about 19% of the island, making the 30,000 American servicemen a dominant feature in island life. While the Americans provide jobs to the locals on base, and in tourist venues, and pay rent on the land, widespread personal relationships between U.S. servicemen and Okinawan women remain controversial in Okinawan society. Okinawa remains Japan's poorest prefecture.

Agent Orange controversy Edit

Evidence suggests that the US military's Project 112 tested biochemical agents on US marines in Okinawa in the 1960s. [39] Later, suggestions were made that the US may have stored and used Agent Orange at its bases and training areas on the island. [40] [41] In at least one location where Agent Orange was reportedly used, there have been incidences of leukemia among locals, one of the listed effects of Agent Orange exposure. Drums that were unearthed in 2002 in one of the reported disposal locations were seized by the Okinawa Defense Bureau, an agency of Japan's Ministry of Defense, which has not issued a report on what the drums contained. [42] The United States denies that Agent Orange was ever present on Okinawa. [43] Thirty US military veterans claim that they saw Agent Orange on the island. Three of them have been awarded related disability benefits by the US Veteran's administration. The locations of suspected Agent Orange contamination include Naha port, Higashi, Camp Schwab, and Chatan. [44] [45] In May 2012, it was claimed that the US transport ship USNS Schuyler Otis Bland (T-AK-277) had transported herbicides to Okinawa on 25 April 1962. The defoliant might have been tested in Okinawa's northern area between Kunigami and Higashi by the US Army's 267th Chemical Service Platoon to assess its potential usefulness in Vietnam. [46] A retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, Kris Roberts, told The Japan Times that his base maintenance team unearthed leaking barrels of unknown chemicals at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in 1981. [47] In 2012 a US Army environmental assessment report, published in 2003, was discovered which stated that 25,000 55-gallon drums of Agent Orange had been stored on Okinawa before being taken to Johnston Atoll for disposal. [48] In February 2013, an internal US DoD investigation concluded that no Agent Orange had been transported to, stored, or used on Okinawa. No veterans or former base workers were interviewed for the investigation. [49]

Prosecution under Status of Forces Agreement Edit

After Okinawa reunited with Japan in 1972, Japan immediately signed a treaty with the U.S. so that the American military could stay in Okinawa. The legal agreement remained the same. If American military personnel were accused of a crime in Okinawa, the US military retained jurisdiction to try them as part of the U.S.–Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) if the victim were another American or if the offense were committed during the execution of official duties. This is routine for military service people stationed in foreign countries.

In 1995, two Marines and a sailor kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old girl, and, under the SOFA with the U.S., local police and prosecutors were unable to get access to the troops until they were able to prepare an indictment. What angered many Okinawans in this instance was that the suspects were not handed over to Japanese police until after they had been formally indicted in an Okinawan court, although they were apprehended by American military law enforcement authorities the day after the rape and confined in a navy brig until then. [ citation needed ] In the Michael Brown Okinawa assault incident, a US Marine officer was convicted of attempted indecent assault and destruction of private property involving a local resident of Filipino descent who worked at Camp Courtney. [50]

In February, 2008, a U.S. Marine was arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old Japanese girl in Okinawa, [51] and a member of the U.S. Army was suspected of raping a Filipino woman in Okinawa. [52] U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer flew to Okinawa and met with Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima to express U.S. concern over the cases and offer cooperation in the investigation. [53] U.S. Forces Japan designated February 22 as a Day of Reflection for all U.S. military facilities in Japan, setting up a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Task Force in an effort to prevent similar incidents. [54]

Planned development of American bases Edit

Base-related revenue makes up 5% of the total economy. If the U.S. vacated the land, it is claimed [ who? ] that the island would be able to generate more money from tourism by the increased land available for development. [55] In the 1990s, a Special Actions Committee was set up to prepare measures to ease tensions, most notably the return of approximately 50 square kilometres (19 sq mi) to the Japanese state. [ citation needed ]

Other complaints are that the military bases disrupt the lives of the Okinawan people the American military occupy more than a fifth of the main island. The biggest and most active air force base in east Asia, Kadena Air Base, is based on the island the islanders complain the base produces large amounts of noise and is dangerous in other ways. In 1959 a jet fighter crashed into a school on the island, killing 17 children and injuring 121. On August 13, 2004, a U.S. military helicopter crashed into Okinawa International University, injuring the three crew members on board. The U.S. military arrived on scene first then physically barred local police from participating in the investigation of the crash. The US did not allow local authorities to examine the scene until six days after the crash. [56] [57] [58] [59] [60] In a similar manner, unexploded ordnance from WWII continues to be a danger, especially in sparsely-populated areas where it may have lain undisturbed or been buried. [61]

  • was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army known for his support of ultranationalist politics and involvement in a number of attempted military and right-wing coup d'etats in pre-World War II Japan. was a Japanese meteorologist, biologist, ethnologist historian. was the founder of Uechi-ryū, one of the primary karate styles of Okinawa. was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II, and the final commander of the Japanese naval forces defending the Oroku Peninsula during the Battle of Okinawa. was a governor of Okinawa Prefecture. He was sent to Okinawa in 1945 and died in the battle. was the Japanese general at the Battle of Okinawa, during the final stages of World War II. was a prominent teacher of Shōrin-ryū karate in Okinawa from the 1910s until the 1930s, and was among the first people to demonstrate karate in Hawaii. , an American Lieutenant-General, was killed during the closing days of the Battle of Okinawa by enemy artillery fire, making him the highest-ranking US military officer to have been killed by enemy fire during World War II. was an American journalist who wrote as a roving correspondent for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain from 1935 until his death in combat during World War II. He died in Ie Jima, Okinawa.
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Battle of Okinawa - HISTORY

Marine Private Eugene Sledge watched in stunned horror. Two Japanese soldiers with samurai swords had attacked his unit’s position on Okinawa in June 1945 but had been killed before they could cause harm. A fellow Marine with a dazed look on his face approached one of the corpses and repeatedly plunged his rifle into the dead man’s head.

“I winced each time it came down with a sickening sound into the gory mass,” Sledge later wrote in his memoir of the war. “Brains and blood were splattered all over the Marine’s rifle, boondockers, and canvas leggings.”

Comrades of the shell-shocked Marine took his arms and led him away to an aid station.

Okinawa was that kind of battle. The island was to be a preview for the invasion of Japan, only 350 miles away. The Americans wanted to seize the main airfield on Okinawa to launch bombers against enemy industrial sites the Japanese were prepared to fight to the last man to prevent the capture of their home soil.

The Marines and Army endured gruesome casualties—physically and psychologically—as they slugged it out with an enemy bent on a suicidal defense of the small island. The United States suffered death on a staggering scale: 7,500 Marines and soldiers and another 5,000 sailors. Japan sacrificed even more men: at least 110,000 soldiers, many after the battle was lost. An estimated 100,000 civilians also perished, either caught in the crossfire between the two armies or through forced mass suicide.

It was an extremely costly engagement, too, for the U.S. Navy, which lost 36 warships and had another 368 damaged, including the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill, which was struck by two kamikaze—suicide plane—attacks.

The U.S. invasion of Okinawa (Bettmann)

For President Harry S. Truman, what came next was a fateful decision. He learned about the Manhattan Project in April when he took office after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Before the Battle of Okinawa even ended, on June 22, 1945, Truman had come to the conclusion that he had no choice but to drop the atomic bomb in order to avoid “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.”

Two new books examine the carnage of this conflict 75 years ago and its influence on the decision to use that frightening new weapon. Both Joseph Wheelan’s Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II and Saul David’s Crucible of Hell: The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945 recount the human cost of ending a war that was still a long way from over.

Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II

A stirring narrative of World War II's final major battle--the Pacific war's largest, bloodiest, most savagely fought campaign--the last of its kind.

Crucible of Hell: The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945

From the award-winning historian, Saul David, the riveting narrative of the heroic US troops, bonded by the brotherhood and sacrifice of war, who overcame enormous casualties to pull off the toughest invasion of WWII's Pacific Theater -- and the Japanese forces who fought with tragic desperation to stop them.

“Okinawa and Iwo Jima before then had rattled the President and joint chiefs of staff,” Wheelan says in an interview. “They could see how costly it would be to invade the mainland. Truman knew [they] would lose planes and ships and men—and all the Japanese. The enemy leaders had said they would all die fighting. The island would just be a charred cinder. That did push the decision.”

Operation Iceberg began April 1, 1945, with the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific Theater. The American strategy was to secure Okinawa and then launch B-29 Superfortress attacks from what would become Kadena Air Field in preparation for the final assault of Japan. The closeness of the island—less than 1,000 miles from Tokyo—meant the bombers could be provided with crucial fighter protection going in and coming back from their missions.

More than 184,000 American soldiers and marines landed on the beaches of Okinawa. They expected to be repulsed by the Japanese as they waded ashore, but instead were met with little resistance. It wasn’t until the troops began to push inland that they finally felt the full fury of the enemy defense.

By this stage of the war, many in the Japanese military high command believed their cause was lost. The best they could hope for was to make each battle as costly as possible so the Americans would lose their taste for combat and offer favorable terms for surrender. By the time the Battle of Peleliu started in September 1944, the Japanese had abandoned banzai attacks —all-out suicidal assaults by infantry—and offensive operations in favor of a defensive strategy of deadly ambushes and a system of concrete pillboxes with machine guns that supported each other to fend off attacks and flanking maneuvers.

“The Japanese came up with an attritional defense,” Wheelan says. “They would station themselves inside hills and rock formations and let the enemy come to them. They decided they would fight to the death on all these islands, and their purpose was to inflict as many casualties as possible on the Americans.”

As a result, the fight to take Okinawa became a deadly struggle. Bloody clashes at Kakazu Ridge, Sugar Loaf Hill, Horse Shoe Ridge, Half Moon Hill, Hacksaw Ridge and Shuri Castle would come to symbolize the cost of securing the island. The battle would also see two U.S. Army generals—Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. and Claudius Miller Easley—killed in combat. Buckner, a lieutenant general, was the highest-ranking American to die by enemy fire in the war.

The last photograph of American Army Lieutenant general Simon Bolivar Buckner (1886 - 1945) commander of the Tenth Army and the overall invasion of Okinawa, June 1945. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

In addition to the dead, the Americans suffered some 36,000 wounded. Bodies were disfigured by thundering artillery bombardments and the scythe-like enfilade fire from machine guns. Many, including Private Sledge, would feel the devastating psychological aftereffects of intense hand-to-hand combat for decades to come. Some would never forget the smell of burnt bodies from flamethrowers used to kill Japanese soldiers who had holed up in caves and refused to surrender.

As casualty figures mounted, Truman became increasingly concerned that Operation Downfall—the invasion of Japan—would be extremely costly. More than 3 million men were being assembled for that assault, which was planned for November 1945. American military leaders conservatively estimated casualties to take the home island at 1 million.

On June 18, before Okinawa was officially declared secure, President Truman met with senior military advisors for an assessment of the battle. The price had been high. Where earlier conflicts had seen an American-to-Japanese casualty rate of 1:5, Okinawa was closer to 1:2. The Japanese defensive strategy had been successful.

In addition to American casualties, the president was concerned about Japanese losses. Civilians were being trained to fight to the death with pitchforks and pikes or commit suicide rather than submit to occupiers. As Wheelan writes in his book, “Japanese propagandists in lurid strokes had portrayed Americans as brutish killers who delighted in murdering, torturing and raping captive soldiers and civilians … Some villagers detonated grenades others killed themselves with razors, sickles, ropes and rocks.”

Truman queried his advisors for their thoughts about the impending invasion of Japan and cost of life. Finally, the discussion turned to the Manhattan Project. The development of the atomic bomb was nearing completion, though it had not been tested yet. Trinity—the codename for the first detonation of the weapon in New Mexico—was planned for mid-July.

The debate over using the bomb, and the virtue of the decision to do so, is the subject of heated historical review. For some historians, including David, Truman’s decision came easy. “All the key scientists are there, including [physicist J. Robert ]Oppenheimer,” he says. “They are all in agreement: if it works, the bomb has to be used. It is one clear way of ending the war and saving a lot of lives.”

“I don’t Truman had a decision to make. It was so clear and obvious,” says David.

Other experts believe Truman indeed had options. Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, authors of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus (a biography of Oppenheimer), have long argued that Japan would have surrendered without being bombed, particularly if faced with the entrance of the Soviet Union into the Pacific theater. Bird and Sherwin’s voices, along with various other signatories, became part of the nationwide debate in 1995 over a planned Smithsonian exhibit on the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. (The exhibit also came under scrutiny by Word War II veterans who felt it was too sympathetic to Japan.)

After the war, Admiral William D. Leahy said he opposed using the atomic bomb—he called it “barbaric”—though there is no record of him speaking against it when the decision was made. Military historian Max Hastings argued for The Guardian in 2005 that the sheer investment made by the U.S. in the Manhattan Project was a factor in its use.

USS Bunker Hill hit by two kamikaze pilots, during the Battle of Okinawa, Japan 1945 (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“The decision-makers were men who had grown accustomed to the necessity for cruel judgments. There was overwhelming technological momentum: a titanic effort has been made to create a weapon for which the allies saw themselves as competing with their foes,” he wrote . “Having devoted such resources to the bomb, an extraordinary initiative would have been needed from Truman to arrest its employment.”

On July 25, a month after the end of combat operations on Okinawa, the Americans issued a demand of “unconditional surrender” or face “prompt and utter destruction.” No mention was made of the atomic bomb and no formal response came from Japan.

On August 6, the Enola Gay took off from the tiny island of Tinian with “Little Boy,” the first atomic weapon used in warfare. Colonel Paul Tibbets and his crew flew their modified B-29 Superfortress toward Hiroshima, an industrial hub important to the Japanese war effort. It was also home to 350,000 people.

At 8:15 a.m., the bomb was dropped from a height of 31,000 feet. The Enola Gay lurched upward as it released the 10,000-pound bomb. Forty-three seconds later, “Little Boy” detonated at 1,900 feet, totally destroying a four-square mile area of Hiroshima and killing anywhere from 90,000 to 140,000 people. Many bodies were vaporized by the blast.

Tibbets later remembered the explosion as an “ awful cloud…mushrooming, terrible and incredibly tall .” Copilot Captain Robert Lewis wrote in the flight log that everyone on the plane was “dumbstruck” by what they had just witnessed, adding, “I honestly have the feeling of groping for words to explain this or I might say, my God, what have we done?”

Following a second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, Japan announced its surrender on August 15. The American marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors preparing to invade Japan in just a few months could now return home. Few believed they would survive the attempt to conquer the island nation of 71 million people.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognized that the American public was suffering from war fatigue,” Wheelan says. “They were losing interest. The European war was over and a lot of people were not very familiar with the war against Japan. When the Navy suggested they blockade the island and starve [the Japanese] into surrender, that was rejected. The American public did not have the patience for that. They wanted it over. It was invade or drop the bomb.”

The cost of war is never something that can be fully understood by the simple equation of who won and who lost. Saul David concludes Crucible of Hell with a passage from Jim Johnston, a Marine sergeant who was wounded on Okinawa. He reflected on returning to Nebraska after the war and how life at home was never the same again:

“In the dark corners of my mind, the only power under God that meant anything to me came out of the bore of a .30-06 – or if you were close enough, a .45. Those dark corners are still there.”

About the Author: David Kindy is a journalist, freelance writer and book reviewer who lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He writes about history, culture and other topics for Air & Space, Military History, World War II, Vietnam, Aviation History, Providence Journal and other publications and websites. Read more articles from David Kindy and Follow on Twitter @dandydave56

The Invasion of Okinawa: Meatgrinder at Kakazu Ridge

As the American advance pushed further south, it ran headlong into fortified Japanese positions and heavily defended caves near Kakazu Ridge, the first defensive perimeter in what would be called the Shuri Line. The rapid advance and relatively light American casualties sustained so far on Okinawa ended.

Okinawa is known as the last major campaign of World War II. It was the largest campaign of the Pacific War, involving over half a million combatants from five Allied nations. The campaign was fought savagely in the air, on the land and across the sea. In a war that had seen some of the most violent fighting in human history on some of the most unforgiving terrain and locales on the planet, Okinawa and the fight ashore made other Pacific campaigns pale in comparison.

American strategists saw Okinawa as both a staging point for the eventual invasion of Japan, and a dress rehearsal for that event. The largest of the Ryukyu Islands, and part of Japan’s Kyushu region, it was known that the island held a large civilian population and a terrain similar to that of Japan’s southernmost main islands. The civilian population of Okinawa, which was made up of native Okinawans and Japanese, numbered somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 people. This concentration of subjects of the Empire was easily the largest the Americans had faced in the entirety of the war. The civilian reaction to both the Americans and their own Japanese military would provide a horrific blueprint to what might lay ahead if the United States would indeed invaded Japan itself.

With its large size and close proximity to Japan, Okinawa and its Kadena airfield would provide American forces with a support base close to the Home Islands. Kadena would be able to support troops in Japan with relatively close air strikes from medium bombers and fighter aircraft. Okinawa itself, with its natural harbor, would also provide naval port facilities for Allied ships that would be needed to support the land invasion of Japan. The island would also house hospital units to treat the massive amount of American wounded that were anticipated for the invasion of Japan.

On the morning of April 1, 1945 an Allied fleet of over 260 warships swarmed the seas around Okinawa. It was the largest Allied fleet ever to put to sea in the Pacific theater, and it was needed. The warships were there to protect the fleet of over 100 assault transports and supply ships needed to put ashore over 200,000 American combat troops of the newly formed Tenth Army that would be needed to defeat Japanese General Mitsuru Ushijima’s army of over 67,000 Japanese defenders.

Expecting fierce resistance, American forces landed on the western coast of Okinawa virtually unopposed. American infantry, tanks, artillery and supplies poured ashore as soldiers of the 7th, 27th, 96th (and later 77th) Infantry Divisions, alongside their Marine brothers in the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, swept aside paltry resistance and raced across the island. The land campaign was moving so fast that objectives that were slated to be taken two weeks after L-Day were captured by the third day of the campaign. Japanese resistance was fierce when encountered, but the defense of the island, at least the northern portion of it, was almost non-existent. Up to this point, the only area of significant resistance lay in the operational area of the 6th Marine Division, who had cornered a sizeable force of Japanese near the Motobu Peninsula. Marines of the 22nd Regiment forced the enemy through the peninsula and isolated them near a series of craggy ridges, called Yae-Dake, where the Marines eliminated the Japanese there by the 18th of April.

E Company, 382d Infantry, rolls forwards through heavy enemy fire on the southern front on Okinawa Island. A tank supports infantrymen as they cautiously move forward.

The land campaign was going incredibly well—in fact, almost too good to be true. With the northern end of Okinawa clear of enemy resistance, the Tenth Army wheeled south and made plans to mop up the remainder of the island. For the most part, Japanese resistance had been weak. There were locations of stiff fighting, like the Motobu Peninsula and Cactus Ridge, but overall, Japanese defenders had been less than fanatical in holding their territory. Completion of the campaign would be just a matter of days away, or so it was thought.

As the American advance pushed further south, it ran headlong into fortified Japanese positions and heavily defended caves near Kakazu Ridge, the first defensive perimeter in what would be called the Shuri Line. The rapid advance and relatively light American casualties sustained so far on Okinawa ended. American commanders realized immediately that the Japanese had been withholding their strongest defensive efforts, and had deployed them in an area in which the terrain favored the defenders. There would be no more lightning advances. In a period of just 24 hours, American casualties ashore nearly doubled. Okinawa, it was realized, would become a bloody slugfest.

Army division blasts way through minefield. Tanks and infantrymen of a US Tenth Army Division blast their way through a minefield as Japanese machine gunners keep foottroops crouching behind their tanks.

The Army’s 96th Infantry Division lay before Kakazu Ridge on the morning of April 8, 1945 and prepared to make an assault on the positions that had halted their initial advance. With no preparatory artillery barrage, the two companies of infantry jumped off from their positions before day break so as to achieve surprise. One company from the 96th under the command of Lieutenant Willard Mitchell reached the top of Kakazu before Mitchell and his men were pinned down by furious Japanese fire. The Americans were unable to dig in on the rough coral tops of Kakazu, and thus were exposed to well-aimed rifle fire and shrapnel from all angles. The Japanese, knowing they had their enemy at their mercy, sprang from their caves hurling grenades and satchel charges at the pinned down American infantry. The Japanese assault was halted with heavy losses. Mitchell’s men repelled the Japanese assault in hand to hand combat with fixed bayonets and rifle butts.

As Mitchell’s company was fighting for its life atop the ridge, another two companies under the command of Captain Jack Royster and Lieutenant Dave Belman advanced opposite Mitchell’s position. They, too, became pinned down. Two Japanese machine guns, well emplaced near the entrance of two separate caves, pinned Royster and Belman’s companies down. Seeing an opportunity to place fire on the Japanese machine gun crews, PFC. Edward Moskala crawled forward, unobserved by enemy eyes, and opened fire on the two Japanese positions with his Browning Automatic Rifle after lobbing grenades at the crews. Moskala’s one-man assault eliminated the Japanese machine guns and allowed Belman's and Royster’s companies to begin a withdrawal. The two infantry units were able to move off of the ridge crest and into the valley below when the Japanese realized their enemy’s intent. Furious enemy fire poured in on the withdrawing Americans, forcing them to take cover in previously occupied Japanese caves. Royster, half blinded by a mortar wound in the face and knowing full well that his company was on the verge of being overrun and annihilated, called his battalion for further support. Infantry support pushed forward only to be stopped in its tracks by heavy Japanese mortar and machine gun fire. Royster radioed back to his battalion headquarters and requested a smoke barrage so they could retreat. He was ordered to hold the ridge at all costs. His position untenable, Royster again radioed for smoke and received the barrage, only to have the first barrage blow back in his own face due to wind. A second barrage was requested and then a third before enough smoke drifted in front of Royster’s position to allow him and his battered company to withdraw.

The exhausted GI’s of Royster's and Belman’s companies began to withdraw, crawling under enemy fire and dragging their wounded behind them as they crawled away. PFC Moskala, who had earlier eliminated two enemy machine gun positions, again volunteered to act as rear guard as his company pulled away from the fight. Moskala provided fire support from his isolated position for three hours, killing over 25 of the enemy, while his comrades crawled away. Seeing his own opportunity to retreat, Moskala left his position and ran down the face of the ridge to rejoin his company. As he did so, he came across a single wounded man who had been mistakenly left behind. Moskala again provided fire support as the wounded man escaped down the ridge. Crawling back down the ridge, he again volunteered fire support, and moved towards another wounded member of his company. Shielding the man with his own body while killing at least four more Japanese, Moskala was struck down by enemy fire and killed. For his selfless acts of compassion and bravery, Edward Moskala was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lieutenant Willard Mitchell’s company, still holding its position atop the ridge, now became the focus of renewed Japanese efforts to destroy him and his men. By 1600 hours Mitchell realized his position and that of his company was hopeless. Of the 89 men in his company, 15 had been killed and only 3 were uninjured by enemy fire. His ammunition supply was critical, at best, and the last Japanese attack had been made by well over 100 enemy soldiers. Stripping what ammunition could be found from the dead and utilizing captured Japanese weapons, Mitchell planned a retreat. Like Royster before him, Mitchell called for a smoke barrage. The barrage worked flawlessly, allowing Mitchell and his men to retreat from the position they had held fearlessly since sunrise.

The first American effort to capture and hold Kakazu Ridge had failed. The 383rd Infantry Regiment, of which Mitchell, Royster and Belham’s companies were a part, suffered terribly. Over 300 men were casualties in the initial fight for Kakazu Ridge, with the regiment’s 1st Battalion officially at half strength and unable to continue offensive operations.

A 37mm anti-tank gun prepares to fire point-blank at a Japanese pillbox on Conical Hill on Okinawa. The 383rd Infantry Regiment of the Army's 96th Infantry Division found this small weapon effective.

The fight for Kakazu Ridge did not end with the withdrawal of the 383rd’s 1st Battalion. Further offensives pounded the area until the 96th Infantry was relieved on April 12. The veteran 7th Infantry Division took over their former positions, and likewise ran into a Japanese meat grinder on and around the ridge. It, too, was worn to a frazzle by the Japanese defenses. The 7th Infantry Division, though battered and worn down, still packed plenty of power. A Japanese counterattack against the American positions resulted in heavy losses for the Japanese and forced the Japanese to take a permanent defensive position around Kakazu. After defeating the Japanese counterattack, the depleted 7th was relieved by the 27th Infantry Division who also wore themselves down on the Japanese positions.

Not until April 21 did American infantry succeed in capturing Kakazu Ridge. And even then, the Japanese defenses had been reduced to a pocket of die-hard defenders who had to be rooted out to the last man. Kakazu had nearly bled three Army divisions white and had stalled American offensive plans in the area for three weeks, and while Kakazu Ridge had been a nightmare, the worst was yet to come.

This article is part of an ongoing series commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II made possible by Bank of America.

Seth Paridon

Seth Paridon was a staff historian at The National WWII Museum from 2005 to 2020. He began his career conducting oral histories and research for HBO’s miniseries The Pacific and holds the distinction of being the first historian hired by the Museum’s Research Department. In the 12 years he was Manager of Research Services, Seth and his team increased the oral history collection from 25 to nearly 5,000 oral histories.

The battle for Okinawa: one Marine’s story

The 1945 battle for Okinawa, Japan, was to become one of the costliest of the Second World War. Here, military historian James Holland explores the savagery of the battle through the memories of American marine Bill Pierce

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Published: June 21, 2019 at 2:00 pm

April 1, 1945 – April Fool’s Day, Easter Sunday, and ‘L-Day’ for the invasion of Okinawa, Japan. In the deep blue waters around the island were more than 1,457 ships and landing craft, crammed with more than half a million men, and including a joint US Army and Marine Corps landing force of around 182,000 troops.

Among those taking part in the landings and bracing himself for his first taste of action was 20-year-old Bill Pierce, a New Yorker and part of the US 6th Marine Division. He had waited nearly two years for this moment two years of training, first in the United States, and then, for the past ten months, on the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Pierce reckoned he was as ready as he was ever going to be, but that didn’t stop the nerves. Part of a five-man, 37mm anti-tank gun crew, he was in the Weapons Company of the 29th Marine Regiment and by mid-morning he and his crew were heading towards the shore. Overhead, naval shells whistled through the sky. He and his buddies stood up on the side of the boat, their arms on the railings so they could see where they were heading. The shoreline itself was shrouded in smoke from exploding shells, but along the landing beaches it seemed calmer, with hundreds of landing craft already moored at the water’s edge. None of them had much idea what to expect, however. All Pierce knew about Okinawa was what they’d been told in the briefing: that it was an island some 70 miles long, and because of its relative proximity to mainland Japan itself, it would be an important staging post for the ongoing aerial assault of the last of the Axis powers.

The Americans had assembled a task force of astonishing fire-power – the largest of the entire war – but previous form suggested they would need it. Over the long Pacific campaign, the Americans had prised one island from the Japanese after another and with every step nearer to Japan itself, so the fanatical viciousness of the defenders had increased.

When Pierce finally landed, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion on the beaches, but little sign of the enemy. Small-arms fire was only sporadic and so Pierce and his crew were ordered to dig in for the night. As dusk began to fall, so the sky was lit up with tracers fired without let-up from the vast naval armada sitting off shore. Shells screamed over, aeroplanes rumbled through the night air, and the men now ashore looked up and watched a firework display more spectacular than any Fourth of July celebration.

It was only a temporary calm, however, as for the next 81 days, Okinawa was to witness the biggest single land-air-sea battle of all time, a brutal campaign which would see savagery and brutality that surpassed anything that had come before in the Pacific War. At sea, naval casualties were higher than at any point in the war, with Japan unleashing almost its entire kamikaze effort against the joint American and British task force around the islands. On land, the scale of killing was even worse. Okinawa was to witness a blood bath of barbaric savagery, in which more than a quarter of a million people were killed. Okinawa was to be the last, and one of the costliest battles of the Second World War.

Memories of Okinawa

I met Bill Pierce at his home in Charleston, South Carolina, to where he had retired. Spry, and with a memory that was sharp as a tack, he talked about Okinawa with an extraordinarily frank honesty. “We went in with 3,500 men,” he said, “and after 82 days of combat, more than 2,800 were gone. We had casualties of more than 80 per cent.” On Sugar Loaf Hill, he said, the 29th Marines lost 500 men killed in a week of bitter and bloody battle. No Marine regiment in the history of the Corps has ever suffered such high casualties in a single battle as the 29th Marines did on Okinawa. He also freely admitted that at the time he hated the Japanese with a vengeance. “They were animals. They’d cut off guys’ penises and stuff them in their mouths. They’d behead people, cut off arms, gouge eyes out. Put it this way,” he said, “we didn’t take many prisoners.”

Pierce then told me about his first action. The invasion force had landed roughly in the middle of the island on the west coast. From there, the army units had headed south, while the marines had been sent into the more mountainous north. They eventually ran into some Japanese dug in at the foot of the steep, rocky, and wooded slopes of a series of hills known as Yae Take on the Motobu Peninsula. But after taking some hits from sniper fire, the marines spread out across the valley beneath the hills, their 37mm guns spaced out in a line. In front, they also set up a number of trip flares. Sure enough, that night the flares were triggered, hissing into the night and lighting up the valley with an eerie phosphorescence. “We could see about 100 people advancing,” Bill recalled, ‘so we asked what we should do. “Mow them down,” came the reply. So we let go with the canister, and in the morning there were 80 women and children lying there and just a few Japs. The Japanese pushed the civilians out in front of them. They used them to try and get away.”

A day didn’t pass when Pierce didn’t see a dead civilian. At least 150,000 Okinawans were killed during the battle, more than a third of the indigenous population. Okinawa had been a beautiful island, but in the south, especially, where most of the fighting took place, the landscape soon became more akin to the desolate and poisoned battlefields of the Western Front in the First World War. Pierce became hardened to such scenes. “We could be sitting there eating a C ration can or a Hershey bar,” he said, “and right there where Quincy’s lying, there’s a dead Jap, with an arm sticking up or a mangled leg. It didn’t mean a thing. We’d become completely immune to it. You became hardened to it immediately.”

Operations in the north of the island had been wrapped up by the third week of April, 1945, and the 6th Marine Division were left to carry out mopping-up patrols and to pick up a few souvenirs of their 20-day battle, silk kimonos being a favourite. But while operations had gone to plan in the north, the same could not be said of the fighting in the south. The majority of the 100,000-strong Japanese 32nd army were dug in along a series of defensive lines that crossed the south end of the island and which were linked in typical Japanese fashion by 60 miles of tunnels and carefully hidden gun and mortar positions. There were also a large number of caves in the south, ancient tombs that made effective dug-outs. Although US army units breached the outer Japanese lines of defence, they soon become bogged down in a highly costly battle of attrition, and so on 4 May, the 6th Marines were sent south, taking the place of the embattled and much-depleted 27th Infantry Division, along what had become known as the Shuri Line.

The marines were thrown against Sugar Loaf Hill, the main western anchorage of the Shuri Line. It was a tiny, insignificant landmark – 300 yards long and no more than 60 feet high. “You could run up it in no time at all,” Pierce told me. But it was of vital importance and there was only one way of taking it: a yard at a time by the unfortunate men on the ground. With the enemy well dug in, whole companies of marines were decimated as they repeatedly assaulted the feature.

This was a fight with rifle, machine-guns and mortars. “If a mortar shell landed beside you,” said Pierce, “the guy was blown to bits and his body was nothing but a black hulk.” Pierce was once ten yards away from a Marine who was blown up by a mortar. “You look at it but you keep going,” he said. “You don’t stop because he’s dead.” Adding to the misery was the rain, which fell annually on Okinawa throughout May, and usually in the form of a deluge of as much as ten inches a day. May 1945, however, was worse than usual, and combined with the massive amount of shell and mortar fire, soon turned the battlefield into a thick quagmire.

“The stench of death”

Pierce and his buddies were wet all the time. “You never dried off. We landed with what we were wearing and one extra set of clothing, and if they were wet or worn out, it was tough shit. We were filthy.” They were also riddled with lice and fleas, irritants they were powerless to do anything about. The rain and the close nature of the fighting meant that no fires could be lit at the front, so there was no hot water for coffee, and no hot food. They ate mainly C rations, tins of pre-cooked food, usually bully beef. Everyone had diarrhoea. “Loads of people shat in their pants, believe me,” added Pierce, “even if you didn’t have diarrhoea.”

The stench was appalling. “The stench of death was all over,” said Pierce. “It stank no matter where you were. Horrible, horrible.” Bodies would be left where they had fallen. There were also millions of flies and maggots, feeding on ever-mounting numbers of corpses strewn across the battlefield. Eating became a hazardous and difficult operation. “When you ate, you opened a can and the flies would be all over it in seconds,” said Bill. “You had to try and cover the can up.”

Unsurprisingly, in such conditions many soldiers went around the bend. Over 26,000 casualties were caused by battle fatigue, illness and non-battlefield injuries. “I’ve seen guys sitting there sobbing,” Pierce told me. “Others refused to go up the line.” He never suffered combat fatigue himself, but unknown levels of exhaustion which he likened to a hundred nights of no sleep. “You’re sleeping in a hole every night and anything you do could get you killed, including absolutely nothing. That’s what it felt like.”

Incredibly, Bill’s gun survived the entire battle. The protective apron was badly dented from shrapnel marks, but it never received a direct hit. Their technique was to fire a number of rounds then as soon as the Japanese began to get their range with their mortars, Bill and his crew would clear out for half an hour or so. But like the vast majority of those on Okinawa, Bill did not survive the battle unscathed. Sugar Loaf and the nearby Shuri Castle had finally been captured and the Americans were pressing south into the largest of the island’s towns, the port of Naha. A reconnaissance team were going to the waterfront to reconnoitre the island in the middle of the harbour and wanted two 37mm guns to accompany them in case they ran into any Japanese. The city had been largely destroyed. It was, Bill remembered, “a shambles.” The island in the harbour, they soon discovered, was still full of Japanese, so the marines took cover in a disused building while they directed shell-fire onto the island.

“They shelled the shit out of that island,” Bill told me, but he and the two-reconnaissance party were still camped out in the building the following morning when they saw Japanese troops trying to get off the island across a badly damaged bridge. Bill had a BAR light machine gun with him and firing from a window, let off a number of rounds. “The adrenalin was pumping, but I should never have done it,” he admitted. “I’d been in enough action to know better.” Suddenly, the BAR jammed, and just as he turned to try and clear the breech, he felt something smack his neck as though he had been belted with a baseball bat. “I just dropped to the floor,” he said. “There was a lot of blood and a couple of the guys were sitting there and I’ll never forget the look on their faces – they looked kind of wild and horrified.” Bullets were pinging all across the building and Pierce saw a corpsman trying to reach him. “No, stay there,” Pierce told him, as he tried to pull a bandage from his own first aid kit. “I’m all right.”

Three other men were wounded, but all four were still able to walk and managed to get out the back of the building. After being bandaged at the aid station, Pierce was put in a truck and taken to the hospital. He had been lucky – the bullet that hit him had missed his spinal cord by an inch, and incredibly, after a couple of days, he simply walked out and went back to his gun crew.

On 22 June, the American flag was finally raised on the southern-most tip and ten days later, it was announced that the entire island was secure. Of the 100,000 Japanese troops on the island, only 7,000 ever surrendered. Pierce could scarcely believe he’d survived, although it was not until February 1946 that he eventually got back home, battered by his experiences in that terrible battle, but not beaten.

Much of the destruction, mass weapons and bloodshed of Okinawa are captured in the film Hacksaw Ridge. Directed by Mel Gibson, the film tells the true story of army medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), who, during one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, saved 75 men without firing a gun.

This article was first published on History Extra in May 2017

No surrender

The Americans had already witnessed the willingness of Japanese soldiers to fight to the death in battles such as Iwo Jima and Saipan.

In Saipan, thousands of soldiers carried out a suicidal charge in the face of American machine guns on the orders of their commander. Such charges were not the policy of Ushijima on Okinawa.

The Japanese would hold each line of defence until the last possible moment, expending great manpower in the process, but when it became untenable they would retreat to the next line and begin the process again. Nevertheless, when facing capture, Japanese soldiers often still favoured suicide. As the battle entered its final stages, Ushijima himself committed seppuku – ritual suicide.


1. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 225

2. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 224

3. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 225

4. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 226

5. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 227

6. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 224

7. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 94-95

8. Messenger, Charles. The Pictorial History of World War II. Bison Books, 1987, pp. 232

The mission is sacred, you carry it out until the end and, if necessary in the field, at the risk of your life.

In combat, you act without passion and without hate, you respect defeated enemies, and you never abandon your dead, your wounded, or your arms.

Learn more about the French Foreign Legion in the video at the top.

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Battle of Okinawa - WW2 Timeline (April 1st - June 22nd, 1945)

The island of Okinawa represented a grand strategic map marker for both the Allies and the Japanese. She was the last stop before the Japanese mainland and all sides were prepared for the slugfest to follow. In all their suicidal and fanatical glory, the Japanese valiantly defended the island against the countless American assaults and casualties mounted on both sides. In the end, overwhelming material, substantial firepower and true grit triumphed as the island fell into the ultimate control of the Allies.

The Allies drew up what was, to date, the largest amphibious assault, this encompassing both elements of the US Marines and US Army along with US Navy support by both sea and air. Some 550,000 people are involved and of these, 180,000 were soldiers - many experienced from the island-hopping campaigns prior. The landings were softened to an extent by previous artillery shelling and coordinated air strikes across the island so the initial landings were greeted without much issue - this was, however, more due to the 85,000 Japanese defenders having concentrated their positions inland. On one side was American Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner and on the other, Japanese Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushjima.

The grand battleship, IJN Yamato - the largest and most powerful battleship ever built, was sent to the battle in what would turn out to be nothing more than a suicidal gesture. She sailed with a small contingent of warships and no air cover whatsoever - Japanese air power having been substantially reduced by this point in the war. The vessel was first spotted by American submarines operating in the area and further pinpointed by US Navy reconnaissance aircraft on April 7th. Some 380 US Navy warplanes are sent aloft to stop her.

With no air support of her own, the Japanese sailors put up a net of anti-aircraft fire that only serves a limited purpose. US Navy airmen find pickings to be relatively easy once the AA guns are managed. The Yamato is repeatedly hit where she sits until her magazine stores catch fire and explode. Her internal flooding forces her to roll over in all her smoking glory until she is officially lost to the sea with most of her crew. Her grave is marked some 200 miles off the Okinawa shore, well short of her mission target zone.

The Kamikaze - suicidal Japanese airmen on a one way trip - are launched against US Navy vessels off Okinawa, netting some 34 total ships by the time the damage is counted. While a tremendous psychological tool, the actions proved fruitless overall and cost the lives of both valuable pilots and machines. Many were shot down by the umbrella of American AA fire supporting each naval vessel and plunged harmlessly into the sea.

Ferocious fighting continued inland on Okinawa as the Japanese fought for every square inch of rock. Casualties mounted for both sides though the Americans maintained the "healthier" advantage for lack of a better term. The weather across the island worsened for a time and offensives were stalled. During this lull, the Japanese forces had retreated further while still repelling the American assaults. A final defensive position was erected at the southern tip of the island, each Japanese soldier knowing he will be killed or captured from this moment on.

By June 17th, the Japanese defenders had been divided into three major assault groups by the American progress. This yielded singularity in actions by each remaining defensive force and no coordinated actions could take place. Lieutenant General Buckner signaled for a final surrender of Lieutenant General Ushjima and his men before he is unexpectedly killed by a Japanese shell while inspecting his 8th Marine. However, honor prevails over surrender and Ushjima and his staff commit ritual suicide after relaying the results of the battle to Tokyo headquarters. Though bested by his American counterpart, Ushjima ironically survives him by a full week.

The Battle of Okinawa is officially over. With it came the victory that the Allies would need in the final conquest of Japan proper - a staging area within striking distance of the Japanese mainland. The cost is high but the victory is permanent and the beginning of the end for the Japanese war machine is now.

The stage was set for the end of the Japanese Empire.

There are a total of (27) Battle of Okinawa - WW2 Timeline (April 1st - June 22nd, 1945) events in the Second World War timeline database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events may also be included for perspective.

In preparation for the amphibious assault landings on the island of Okinawa, US Naval elements begin bombardment of shoreline positions.

The US 77th Infantry Division lands at the Kerama Islands to secure a staging post for the eventual invasion of Okinawa.

The US Navy lobs some 30,000 explosive shells on the Okinawa coastline by this time, ending a week of bombardment.

Further landings of US forces on the Kerama Islands, complete its capture for the Allies.

Two US Army and USMC divisions land along the southwest coast of Okinawa near Hagushi, meeting little resistance. The US 10th Army is commanded by Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Some 550,000 personnel and 180,000 soldiers take part in the fray.

Allied forces find and locate the Japanese defenders along the southern portion of Okinawa. Heavy defenses are noted.

As American forces move further inland, the battle for Okinawa intensifies. Pockets of dug-in Japanese defenders become evermore concentrated the more inland the Allied forces go.

American forces are now amassed as two separate assault fronts. To the north are the 1st and 6th Marine divisions. To the mountainous south are the 7th and 96th Infantry divisions.

The deadly kamikaze air attack is unleashed on American Naval vessels in the Pacific. These aircraft appear as coordinated airstrikes and prove equally deadly to both sides. USN vessels off the coast of Okinawa itself are targeted. Some 34 US Navy ships fall victim.

The IJN Yamato, having already been spotted by an American submarine, makes its way to the fighting at Okinawa. The crew understand that this is a suicide mission at this point in the war.

The IJN Yamato, Japan's pride and joy and the largest battleship ever built, sails from the Inland Sea on a suicide mission at Okinawa. She is escorted by the light cruiser Yahagi and some eight destroyers on her final voyage.

The American 27th Infantry Division lands at Tsugen. The island is just to the east of Okinawa proper.

In the early morning hours, US Navy reconnaissance aircraft spot the IJN Yamato and relay her position.

Wednesday, April 11th, 1945

The conquest of Tsugen is completed by the 27th Infantry Division.

Task Force 38 launches some 380 aircraft against IJN Yamato.

US Marines reach Hedo Point in the north of Okinawa.

With no air cover, the IJN Yamato is blasted to pieces by the American Navy warplanes. Her magazine stores explode in a fantastic display as she goes up in smoke. Most of her crew is lost with the ship in the afternoon hours.

A five-day offensive is undertaken involving the American 77th Infantry Division and the island of Ie Shima. Ie Shima represents the tip of the Motobu Peninsula. Motobu is a defensive Japanese stronghold located to the west of Okinawa proper.

Japanese defenders are pushed back towards Naha by American forces. The Japanese defensive lines are reset as territory is lost. The Americans report 1,000 casualties in their assaults.

Motobu Peninsula falls to the Americans as the Japanese defenders are either killed or captured.

The offensive to take Ie Shima is completed.

The Japanese enact a major offensive in the south of Okinawa. A coast-to-coast defensive front is established from Naha to Yonabaru. Regardless, the line is targeted by prolonged American firepower and infantry.

Naha is officially captured by American forces. The Orouku Peninsula to the south is now within reach.

By this time, the Japanese defenders have been seperated into three major fighting groups. The more raw recruits find it somewhat easy to surrender than fight to the death.

The fighting on Okinawa comes to a close as American forces overwhelm the islands determined Japanese defenders. Those that are not taken prisoner or die in the fighting, subject themselves to ritual suicides.

Understanding that defeat is iminent, Japanese Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushjima commits ritual suicide with his staff after reporting the loss of Okinawa to his superiors.

The Battle of Okinawa officially draws to a close and now represents the all-important staging area for the Allied invasion of the Japanese mainland.

The Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa started in April 1945. The capture of Okinawa was part of a three-point plan the Americans had for winning the war in the Far East. Okinawa was to prove a bloody battle even by the standards of the war in the Far East but it was to be one of the major battles of World War Two.

Alongside, the territorial re-conquest of land in the Far East, the Americans wished to destroy what was left of Japan’s merchant fleet and use airstrips in the region to launch bombing raids on Japan’s industrial heartland.

Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyus islands at the southern tip of Japan. Okinawa is about 60 miles long and between 2 and 18 miles wide. Its strategic importance could not be underestimated – there were four airfields on the island that America needed to control. America also faced the problem that they had not been able to get much intelligence information about Okinawa.

The Americans estimated that there were about 65,000 Japanese troops on the island – with the bulk in the southern sector of the island. In fact, there were over 130,000 Japanese troops on the island with more than 450,000 civilians. The Japanese troops on the island were commanded by Lieutenant- General Ushijima who had been ordered to hold onto the island at all costs.

Ushijima decided on his tactics – he would concentrate his forces in the southern sector of the island and station his men in a series of secure fortifications. If the Americans wanted to take these fortifications, they would have to attack the Japanese in a series of frontal assaults. Alongside the land side Japanese defences, the Japanese high command put their faith in the kamikazes which it was believed would inflict such serious casualties on the Americans in Okinawa that they would retreat.

The Americans land commander was Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner. He had 180,000 men under his command. The bay selected for the American landing was Hagushi Bay on the western side of the island. As with Iwo Jima, the landings were preceded by a period of intense bombardment but America’s forces were also open to attack from Japanese fighters flying out of Taiwan or Japan itself.

The attack on Okinawa was scheduled for April 1st 1945. In the days leading up to it, the Americans had landed some units twenty miles southwest of Hagushi Bay to secure an anchorage. By March 31st, this landing force, comprising of the 77th Division, had secured its position.

Kamikaze attacks were being experienced by the American navy anchored off of Okinawa. Out of the 193 kamikaze plane attacks launched against the American fleet, 169 were destroyed. Those planes that got through did caused a great deal of damage especially to America’s carrier fleet that did not have armoured flight decks – unlike the British carriers. However, the destruction of so many kamikaze flights did a great deal to undermine the potential for damage that the kamikazes could have inflicted.

For the actual invasion, America had gathered together 300 warships and 1,139 other ships. The first landing of Marines did take place on April 1st. They met little opposition and by the end of the day 60,000 American military personnel had landed at Hagushi Bay. By April 20th, all Japanese resistance in the north of the island had been eradicated except for some guerrilla activity.

The real battle for Okinawa was in the south of the island. On April 4th the XIV Corps (US 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th infantry divisions) ran into the Machinato line. This brought to a halt the advance of the Americans in the south of Okinawa. The Machinato line was finally breached on April 24th. However, it then had to confront the Shuri Line which further slowed the American advance. Together with the success of the kamikazes who had sunk 21 American warships and badly damaged 66 other warships, American forces experienced heavy losses.

On May 3rd, Ushijima ordered a counter-attack but this failed. By May 21st, Ushijima ordered his men to pull back from the Shuri Line. However, the resistance by the Japanese stood firm. It was only into June that it became obvious that the Japanese had lost the fight for Okinawa. On July 2nd, Okinawa was declared secure by the Americans – Ushijima had committed suicide some days before this.

The American flag planted in Okinawa

The attack on Okinawa had taken a heavy toll on both sides. The Americans lost 7,373 men killed and 32,056 wounded on land. At sea, the Americans lost 5,000 killed and 4,600 wounded. The Japanese lost 107,000 killed and 7,400 men taken prisoner. It is possible that the Japanese lost another 20,000 dead as a result of American tactics whereby Japanese troops were incinerated where they fought.

The Americans also lost 36 ships. 368 ships were also damaged. 763 aircraft were destroyed. The Japanese lost 16 ships sunk and over 4,000 aircraft were lost.

THE HAWAI'I NISEI STORY Americans of Japanese Ancestry During WWII

The Battle of Okinawa has been called the largest sea-land-air battle in history. It is also the last battle of the Pacific War.

Three months of desperate combat leave Okinawa a "vast field of mud, lead, decay, and maggots."

More than 100,000 Okinawan civilians perish, with over 72,000 American and 100,000 Japanese casualties.

[The following is excerpted from Ted Tsukiyama's The Battle of Okinawa manuscript.]

Pre-Invasion of Okinawa

The April 1st invasion was preceded by 7 days of "softening up" artillery fire of 13,000 rounds by U.S. Navy guns and 3,095 sorties by carrier planes from Task Force 58 at the proposed landing sites at Hagushi and Chatan beaches.

Then on the morning of April 1st, navy ships rained a prelanding bombardment of 44,825 shells, 33,000 rockets and 22,500 mortar shells plus napalm attacks by carrier planes on the invasion beaches. This was the incendiary prelude to the Battle of Okinawa which Masahide Ota was to aptly and vividly describe in his book as "the typhoon of steel and bombs!"

Invasion of Okinawa

In the early pre-dawn twilight of April 1, 1945, Sgt. Takejiro Higa of the 314th Language Detachment of the U.S. 96th Infantry Division peered out at the familiar Okinawan coastline from the deck of an invasion ship with a sinking heart. Conflicting emotions churned within him: "I have a duty and responsibility as an American soldier. But why must I invade the home of my ancestors?" He stood on deck facing the approaching island with tears streaming down his cheeks.

As the U.S. forces prepared to make land, little did Higa realize that he was to witness and participate in "Operation Iceberg," the bloodiest and most bitterly fought battle of the Pacific War where almost 240,000 American, Japanese and Okinawan lives were lost and the island of Okinawa left devastated and ravished.

The American attacking force consisted of 183,000 troops of the U.S. Tenth Army and Marine Divisions commanded by General Simon Bolivar Buckner, supported by Navy and Air Force fire and bombardment. Okinawa was defended by 77,000 troops of the Japanese 32nd Army commanded by Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, assisted by Lt.Gen Isamu Cho and Col. Hiromichi Yahara, and augmented by conscripted 20,000 "Boeitai" (Okinawa Home Guard) as labor and service troops and 750 middle school boys organized into the "Tekketsu Kinnotai" (Blood and Iron Corps).

For "Operation Iceberg," Pacific Commander Admiral Nimitz had assembled and launched the greatest amphibious invasion force of the Pacific War, as the horizon of the offshore sea was almost obliterated with hundreds and hundreds of ships moving toward the invasion beaches.

As the pre-H Hour bombardment lifted, an 8-mile long line of amphibious assault and landing craft moved shoreward onto the Hagushi and Chatan beachheads landing 60,000 assault troops, surprisingly without any enemy fire or resistance.

20 kilometers to the south from the top of Shuri Castle, General Ushijima and his staff calmly peered through binoculars, witnessing the devastating bombardment followed by thousands of American troops landing on the beaches unmolested, laughing and bemused that the enemy had wasted all that valuable ammunition on undefended ground. But this was all in accordance with the Japanese strategy to conserve its troop strength concentrated in the southern end of Okinawa, by allowing an initial enemy landing but to strenuously defend against the invading Americans at the strongly fortified Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru defense line.

Col. Yahara summarized the overall Japanese military strategy and philosophy of the Japanese defenders on Okinawa as the jikyusen, war of attrition, thusly:

"Japan was frantically preparing for a final decisive battle on the home islands, leaving Okinawa to face a totally hopeless situation. From the beginning I had insisted that our proper strategy was to hold the enemy as long as possible, drain off his troops and supplies, and thus contribute our utmost to the final decisive battle for Japan proper." (Yahara, The Battle for Okinawa, p. 49)

Translated into real terms, this dark outlook was to render the entire Japanese forces, the total land and resources of Okinawa and all of its residents, to become totally expendable in Japan's defense of Okinawa.

The scales of military strategy were balanced out when soon after the landing, a captured Japanese document was referred to XXIV Corps Headquarters G-2 Nisei personnel, Dan Nakatsu, Kenichi Ota and Herbert Nishita for translation. This was a battle plan prepared by Japan's military genius, Col. Yahara, Deputy Chief of Staff, for General Ushijima, which not only predicted the exact date of the April 1 invasion but the American objectives of Kadena and Yontan (Yomitan) air bases, the expected American battle routes, and the Japanese defense positions, strategy and tactics. Early in the battle, U.S. commanders thus learned how well organized and heavily defended Okinawa would be in the bloody days to come.

The American assault units landing on the beachheads moved inland and quickly captured the Kadena and Yomitan airfields. Lt. Lloyd M. Pierson of the 38th Japanese Order of Battle Team recalls going ashore on the second assault wave, landing with Takejiro Higa and advancing inland together through the rural Okinawan countryside.

Upon making the unopposed landing on D-Day April 1st, American Army and Marine forces quickly advanced inland cutting through Koza, Shimabuku and Momobaru to reach Nakagusuku Bay on the Pacific Ocean side in two days and effectively cutting the island and its Japanese defenders in half.

Conquest of Northern Okinawa

Commencing April 4, the 6th Marine Division launched its drive from Nakodomari-Ishikawa line up the narrow Ishikawa Isthmus against light resistance to reach the Nago-Taira line by April 7th. Three thousand Japanese of the 44th Infantry led by Col. Udo were entrenched in a defensive stronghold atop Yae-Dake, the highest point of the Motobu Peninsula.

On April 14, the U.S. 4th and 29th Marine Regiments launched an all-out assault on Yae-Dake with artillery, air and naval fire support, and there ensued one of the bitterest battles of the Okinawan campaign. Finally on April 18, Yae-Dake was captured after the Japanese defenders suffered 2,500 killed and 46 captured, and at a cost of 236 Americans killed and 1,061 wounded.

Capture of Ie Shima

The island of Ie Shima (or "Ie Jima") lying 4 miles west of Motobu peninsula held one of the largest airfields in the Asia-Pacific region and was vitally needed to provide air support to the assault on Okinawa.

On April 16, aerial and naval artillery, rocket and mortar bombardment saturated Ie Shima to soften up the beachhead landing of the U.S. 77th Division. Ie Shima was defended by an estimated 7,000 soldiers of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade commanded by Major Tadashi Ikawa (the "Ikawa Unit") entrenched in heavily and intricately fortified pillboxes, gun emplacements, tunnels and caves centered around Ie town, Bloody Ridge and Iegusugu hill ("The Pinnacle").

The advance and encirclement of the Ie defenses by the 305th, 306th and 307th Regiments was stubbornly resisted by the Japanese defenders for six days. On April 17, the renowned war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by a hidden machine gun on the outskirts of Ie town.

On April 21 Ie Shima was declared secure after 4,706 Japanese were killed and 149 captured with 1,500 Okinawan civilians dead while at a cost of 172 Americans killed, 902 wounded and 46 missing. Maj. Gen Andrew Bruce declared "the last three days of fighting were the bitterest I have ever witnessed."

Japanese Air and Sea Counterattacks

On April 6, 400 Japanese attack planes flew out from Kyushu to launch "kamikaze" attacks on the American invasion forces and hundreds of American warships, troopships, supply vessels and landing craft offshore from the beachheads, inflicting heavy damage. They were met by U.S. Navy taskforce carrier planes and withering anti-aircraft fire, resulting in the loss of over 300 Japanese planes.

That night remnants of the Japanese fleet including the mighty battleship "Yamato" steamed out of Kyushu to meet the American flotilla off Okinawa, but on April 7th planes from Task Force 58 intercepted the Japanese armada in the East China Sea, directing bombing and torpedo attacks against the enemy fleet, sinking the pride of the Japanese Navy the "Yamato," cruiser "Yahagi" and three destroyers and destroying the last remnants of the Japanese Navy for good.

Japanese suicide attacks against American troops and ships continued through the month of April, inflicting heavy damage and casualties but losing up to 1,100 Japanese planes.

Southern Okinawa Campaign

After U.S. forces cut the island of Okinawa in two, the main invasion forces, principally the XXIV Corps, were ordered to turn and drive southward toward Shuri as the main objective, while the Japanese enemy ordered their troops to hold ground at any cost. The Japanese had long prepared "the Shuri Line" as its main line of defense and were ready:

"The main zone of defense was planned as a series of concentric positions adapted to the contours of the area. Caves, emplacements, blockhouses, and pillboxes were built into the hills and escarpments, connected by elaborate underground tunnels and skillfully camouflaged many of the burial tombs were fortified. The Japanese took full advantage of the terrain to organize defensive areas and strong points that were mutually supporting, and they fortified the reverse as well as the forward slopes of hills. Artillery and mortars were emplaced in the caves and thoroughly integrated into the general scheme of defensive fires." (Okinawa: The Last Battle, p. 95)

For the first two days the XXIV Corps advanced easily southward through light enemy resistance until April 5 when it encountered a hail of effective fire from entrenched Japanese positions along the Machinato-Nishibaru-Ouki line and were forced to withdraw. On April 6-9, the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions took Cactus Ridge (Mashiki), Red Hill (Minami-Uebaru), and Triangulation Hill and Tomb Hill (Ouki) after fierce resistance by Japanese defenders, until encountering the defensive stronghold of Kakazu Ridge.

On April 9 the 96th Division opened the first of several attacks against the Kakazu line, all of which were repulsed by savage Japanese defenses during the next four days, particularly from artillery and mortar fire fr9m well concealed firing positions. The fierce Japanese defense encountered was described by Navy Intelligence Officer Frank B. Gibney, as follows:

"For the next two weeks the war settled down to the most bitter, ruthless kind of hand-to-hand fighting, as GIs and marines desperately tried to claw their way up heavily defended rocky escarpments. The advancing troops were exposed not merely to constant mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire, but they took a pounding from General Wada's artillery. It was the worst fighting of the Pacific war, its sustained intensity surpassing even the brutal combat of Tarawa, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima." (Yahara, The Battle for Okinawa, p.33-34)

About this time a major breakthrough occurred when a map was found on a dead Japanese artillery officer in a forward observers' position which was immediately sent to XXIV Corps Headquarters G-2. There, Nisei MIS linguists of the 306th and 307th HQ Intelligence Detachments led by Dan Nakatsu and George Takabayashi translated the map to reveal the positions, ranges and bearings of all Japanese artillery and mortar emplacements on Okinawa, a tremendous and priceless find!

The Japanese map was overlayed on to U.S. artillery maps and distributed to all American attacking forces. The theretofore hidden Japanese gun emplacements were no longer a mystery, and were subsequently neutralized and destroyed by pinpointed American artillery, mortar and napalm fire.

Japanese Counteroffensive

Then on April 12 Gen. Ushijima ordered an all-out counterattack to recover the Yomitan and Kadena airfields, at the urgings of diehard elements of the 32nd Army staff led by Lt. Gen. Cho but violently opposed by Operations Officer Col. Yahara.

Preceded by intense artillery bombardment, Japanese troops infiltrated the American defenses along the Machinato-Kakazu-Ouki line on the night of April 12 and advanced northward as far as Ginowan. The Japanese launched attacks on April 13 and 14, each to be beaten down with almost total Japanese losses and resulting in total failure.

Attacking the Outer Shuri Defenses

On April 19, the U.S. 7th, 27th and 96th Divisions threw their offensive weight against the Japanese entrenched along the Machinato-Ouki line after a dawn artillery bombardment of 19,000 shells. But after bitter fighting the U.S. attackers were stopped cold at Urasoe-Mura, Tombstone Nishibaru-Kakazu and Skyline (Ouki) defensive strongholds suffering 720 casualties. The drive toward Shuri was stopped.

On April 20, the 165th Infantry of the 27th Division threw itself against the Gusukuma defenses but was repulsed by well dug-in enemy defense and fire around the strong point of "Item Pocket," holding off the American attackers for 7 days.

The 27th Division went on to overcome the twin Pinnacle defenses near Nakama by April 23 after suffering heavy casualties. The Outer Shuri Line stretching from Ouki, Tanabaru, Nishibaru, Kakazu and Urasoe-Mura Escarpment was savagely defended by the enemy entrenched in caves, tunnels and tombs prepared with criss-crossed fields of artillery, mortar and automatic fire over all approaches.

Inflicting great losses and casualties, the Japanese yielded no ground and fought to death. But after Americans had won bitterly earned break-throughs at key points along the First Shuri Line, Japanese defenders then withdrew from the Outer Shuri Line during the night of April 24 under cover of fog and heavy artillery fire to take up the defense of Shuri and Naha.

Assaulting the Main Shuri Defense Line

Japanese defenders had fallen back to a defense line stretching from Jichaku through Nakama, Maeda, Kochi to Conical Hill (Yonabaru). On April 26, Gen. Buckner ordered the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions and 77th Infantry Division to join the attacking American forces against the Shuri Line and there followed over 4 weeks of the severest fighting of the Pacific War until Shuri was finally taken.

The May 4 Counter-offensive

During the last days of April, American infantrymen led by flame-throwing tanks met with fierce resistance from the well entrenched Japanese defenders along the Asa River, Maeda Escarpment and Kochi ridges and were initially repulsed suffering heavy casualties.

Then from May 4 - 6, again at Gen. Cho's urging over Col. Yahara's objections, Gen. Ushijima ordered the Japanese 24th Division to lead a land-sea-kamikaze air counter-offensive to recapture all ground lost to the Americans. Japanese troops on landing barges attempted to encircle and land behind American lines but were soon annihilated. Kamikazes attacked U.S. Naval shipping.

On May 5 the 24th Division pierced American lines at Kochi and penetrated as far north as Tanabaru, but after 3 days of frantic and bitter fighting the Japanese invaders were annihilated by withering artillery, mortar and machine gun fire on all fronts, suffering devastating losses of over 5,000 lives and crippling the Japanese 32nd Army. Afterward, a chastened Gen. Ushijima called in Col. Yahara and said:

"Col. Yahara, as you predicted, this offensive has been a total failure. Your judgment was correct. You must have been frustrated from the start of this battle because I did not use your talents and skill wisely. Now I am determined to stop this offensive. Meaningless suicide is not what I want we will fight to the southernmost hill, to the last square inch of land, and to the last man. I am ready to fight, but from now on I leave everything up to you." (Yahara, The Battle for Okinawa, p. 41)

Gen. Ushijima ordered the 24th Division to revert to defensive attrition back to the Shuri defense lines.

On May 6 the U.S. 10th Army resumed its attack upon the Asa-Dakeshi-Gaja line, encountering a re-grouped 24th Division reinforced by service units pressed into combat service. The 1st and 6th Marine, 7th, 77th and 96th Divisions attacked with tanks and infantry, cave-by-cave, hill-by-hill meeting fierce resistance at every sector.

Artillery, mortar and flame-throwers were directed at pillboxes and caves, sending the defenders into retreat and hiding, then advancing troops up to the mouth of caves and pillpoxes, destroying them with demolition or napalm-gasoline fire and entombing the Japanese defenders within.

Gen. Ushijima concentrated all his defensive strength in the middle Shuri sector, against which Gen. Buckner ordered an all-out assault on May 11. For the next 18 days advances against the Shuri line was slow, bitterly fought and costly.

Key enemy defensive points Conical Hill (Gaja), Sugar Loaf Hill (Asato), Chocolate Drop Hill (Kochi), Dakeshi Ridge, Wana Ridge and Ishimmi Ridge all fell by May 21 but only after inflicting punishing losses on all American attacking units.

Then from May 22 heavy rains fell daily and continued for weeks, which became the enemy's best defense as the American offense got mired in the mud. During this time the Japanese air force launched its greatest aerial offensive sending 896 raids of suicide kamikaze planes crashing into American ships inflicting serious damage and bombing the Ie, Yontan and Kadena airfields, but losing almost 4,000 planes to American anti-aircraft fire.

The Fall of Shuri

By May 29, American 10th Army units had captured Naha on the west and Yonabaru on the east and beyond, setting the stage for the encirclement of Shuri in the center. The high command of Gen. Ushijima met and decided to withdraw from Shuri to the south to further prolong the battle and inflict continuing losses on American forces, rather than to make the final stand and battle at Shuri.

The order to withdraw issued May 24th and by May 29 Japanese Army Headquarters had abandoned Shuri, leaving small units to fight rear-guard actions. Gen. Ushijima succeeded in secretly withdrawing his defending army from Shuri before their retreat could be pinched off by advancing American forces. Overcoming suicidal enemy rear-guard action, the 77th and 96th Divisions completed the occupation of Shuri by May 31.

Shuri was levelled and left in complete ruin, after being pounded by 200,000 rounds of naval and artillery gunfire and aerial bombing. As of the retreat from Shuri by end of May, the Japanese army had been decimated by over 70,000 killed-in-action, and yielding only 9 prisoners who were badly wounded or unconscious. Very few Japanese prisoners were captured because:

"The Japanese soldier fought until he was killed. There was only one kind of Japanese casualty---the dead. Those that were wounded either died of their wounds or returned to the front lines to be killed. The Japanese soldier gave his all." (Okinawa: The Last Battle, p. 384)

The Last Stand

The final American attack was launched on June 1 under the rain and mud against the new Japanese defense line which stretched from Gushichan to Itoman and anchored on the high ground of the "Big Apple" (Yaeju-Dake) and Yuza-Dake.

The lightly defended Chinen Peninsula was overrun by June 4. On June 4 the 6th Marines landed on Oroku Peninsula, capturing Naha airfield, wiping out a pocket of Navy troops led by Admiral Minoru Ota who then committed hara-kiri, and advancing south toward Itoman.

The 7th and 96th Division assault on Hill 95 Escarpment (Hanagusuku) on June 6 was met with deadly fire from the entrenched defenders whom Ushijima had ordered "to defend to the last man" and this defensive stronghold was finally taken on June 11 only after the Japanese were burned out of their caves with streams of flaming napalm.

On June 10 tanks and infantry of the 7th and 96th Divisions attacked the defensive center of Yuza and Yaeju-Dake while Gen. Ushijima, faced with dwindling supplies and equipment and mounting casualties, ordered his troops to defend and hold the line "to the death." The First Marines advancing past Itoman faced murderous defensive fire from defenders on Yuza Peak and Kunishi Ridge, and were pinned down for days suffering heavy losses until supporting tank, air, naval and ground artillery fire systematically destroyed the last enemy resistance.

Yuza and Kunishi could be taken by the U.S. Marines only after 5 days of bitterest fighting and suffering some of the highest casualties of the Okinawa campaign.

Around this time the entrenched Japanese were not only bombarded by ceaseless U.S. naval guns but were showered with surrender leaflets and daily loudspeaker broadcasts in fluent Japanese from offshore craft urging:

"Japanese soldiers. You fought well and proudly for the cause of Japan, but now the issue of victory or defeat has been decided. To continue the battle is meaningless. We will guarantee your lives. Please come down to the beach and swim out to us."

But these messages were ignored, and only a few swam out to offshore American ships. Then on June 17, General Buckner sent a message to General Ushijima which read:

"The forces under your command have fought bravely and well. Your infantry tactics have merited the respect of your opponents in the battle for Okinawa.

Like myself you are an infantry general, long schooled and experienced in infantry warfare. You must surely realize the pitiful plight of your defense forces. You know that no reinforcements can reach you. I believe, therefore, that you understand as clearly as I, that the destruction of all Japanese resistance on the island is merely a matter of days. It will entail the necessity of my destroying the vast majority of your remaining troops."

Col. Yahara wrote that "General Buckner's proposal for us to surrender was, of course, an affront to Japanese tradition. General Ushijima's only reaction was to smile broadly and say, 'The enemy has made me an expert on infantry warfare.'" (Yahara, The Battle for Okinawa, p. 136)

But in his innermost thoughts Col. Yahara pondered over the "Japanese tradition" of committing suicide rather than to surrender:

"In Japan, from the thirteenth century until the Meiji Restoration of the mid-nineteenth century, there are many examples where every soldier was killed in defense of the castle. In some cases only the lord of the castle committed suicide, while the soldiers (samurai) lived. In the early years of Meiji, Tokugawa supporters readily surrendered to the new Imperial Army. Since the Meiji Restoration, through the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and the China Incident of 1931, Japan had never lost a war. We also had never waged a war in which large forces were isolated from mainland support. Thus, not to be taken prisoner became a fixed principle---part of our military education.

Since the middle of the Greater East Asia War, most Japanese garrisons in the Pacific islands adhered to this supreme Japanese principle: 'Never surrender to the enemy.' Officers and men usually committed suicide, as a last resort to avoid the ultimate 'shame of capture. Our 32nd Army was now faced with this situation. Must one hundred thousand soldiers die because of tradition? From this point on it was but a battle to kill the remaining Japanese soldiers for nothing. We could cause the enemy little damage they could walk freely on the field of battle. The war of attrition was over, and we would simply be asking the enemy to use this formidable power to kill us all." (Yahara The Battle for Okinawa, p. 137-138)

The Battle Finally Ends

By June 17 the 10th Army forces penetrated and held all major positions along the last Japanese Gushichan-Itoman defensive line. The key high ground of Hill 153 near Madeera (Maehira) was taken by 7th Division troops from remnants of the disintegrating Japanese 32 Army now down to their last ammunition and supplies.

When the enemy counterattack to recapture Hill 153 ordered by Ushijima was decimated on June 18, organized Japanese resistance dissolved into disorganized mobs fighting desperately, determined to take every attacking American to death with them. They were faithfully following General Ushijima's last order which read:

"The battlefield is now in such chaos that all communications have ceased. It is impossible for me to command you. Every man in these fortifications will follow his superior officer's order and fight to the end for the sake of the motherland. This is my final order. Farewell." (Yahara, The Battle for Okinawa, p. 134)

Thousands of Japanese were holed up in caves around Madeera and Makabe defending fanatically, forcing the U.S. 5th Marines to fight on until June 21 to wipe out the survivors and to secure this last pocket of resistance.

Excerpts from "The Battle of Okinawa" courtesy of Ted Tsukiyama. Copyright is retained by Ted Tsukiyama. Photographs courtesy of U.S. Army Center of Military History.

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