Battle of Okinawa

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Battle of Okinawa
Part of World War II, the Pacific War
Two Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines advance on Wana Ridge on 18 May 1945.
A U.S. Marine from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines on Wana Ridge provides covering fire with his Thompson submachine gun, 18 May 1945.
Date 1 April – 22 June 1945
Location Okinawa, Japan
26°30′N 128°00′E / 26.5°N 128°E / 26.5; 128Coordinates: 26°30′N 128°00′E / 26.5°N 128°E / 26.5; 128
Result Allied victory
  • Okinawa occupied by the United States until 1972
Belligerents
Ground forces:
 United States
Naval support:
United States United States
 United Kingdom
 Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
Simon B. Buckner, Jr. 
Roy Geiger
Joseph Stilwell
Chester W. Nimitz
Raymond A. Spruance
Pedro del Valle
Sir Bernard Rawlings
Philip Vian
Bruce Fraser
Mitsuru Ushijima 
Isamu Chō 
Minoru Ōta 
Seiichi Itō 
Strength
183,000 (initial assault force only)[1] ~80,000 Japanese troops, 40,000 Okinawan conscripts[2]
Casualties and losses
More than 12,000 killed[3]
More than 38,000 wounded[3]
28 Ships sunk
245 Tanks
Dozens of Amtanks, LVTs and other vehicles
Hundreds of aircraft
More than 110,000 killed[3]
More than 7,000 captured[3]
27 tanks
40,000–150,000 civilians killed[3]

The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg,[4] was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War of World War II.[5][6] The 82-day-long battle lasted from early April until mid-June 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were approaching Japan, and planned to use Okinawa, a large island only 340 mi (550 km) away from mainland Japan, as a base for air operations on the planned invasion of Japanese mainland (coded Operation Downfall). Four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army (the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) and two Marine Divisions (the 1st and 6th) fought on the island. Their invasion was supported by naval, amphibious, and tactical air forces.

The battle has been referred to as the "typhoon of steel" in English, and tetsu no ame ("rain of steel") or tetsu no bōfū ("violent wind of steel") in Japanese.[7][8][9] The nicknames refer to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of kamikaze attacks from the Japanese defenders, and to the sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island. The battle resulted in the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Based on Okinawan government sources,[10] mainland Japan lost 77,166 soldiers, who were either killed or committed suicide, and the Allies suffered 14,009 deaths (with an estimated total of more than 65,000 casualties of all kinds). Simultaneously, 42,000–150,000 local civilians were killed or committed suicide, a significant proportion of the local population. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki together with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria[11][12] caused Japan to surrender less than two months after the end of the fighting on Okinawa.

Order of battle[edit]

Allied[edit]

A map of U.S. operations at Okinawa.
The last picture of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. (right), taken on 18 June 1945, the day before he was killed by Japanese artillery.

TF 56 was the largest force within TF 50 and was built around the 10th Army. The army had two corps under its command, III Amphibious Corps, consisting of 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, and XXIV Corps, consisting of the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions. The 2nd Marine Division was an afloat reserve, and Tenth Army also controlled the 27th Infantry Division, earmarked as a garrison, and 77th Infantry Divisions. In all, the Army had over 102,000 Army (of these 38,000+ were non-divisional artillery, combat support and HQ troops, with another 9,000 service troops),[15] over 88,000 Marines and 18,000 Navy personnel (mostly Seabees and medical personnel).[16] At the start of Battle of Okinawa 10th Army had 182,821 men under its command.[16]

Although Allied land forces were entirely composed of U.S. units, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF; known to the U.S. Navy as Task Force 57) provided about ¼ of Allied naval air power (450 planes). It comprised a force which included 50 warships of which 17 were aircraft carriers, but while the British armored flight decks meant that fewer planes could be carried in a single aircraft carrier, they were more resistant to kamikaze strikes. Although all the aircraft carriers were provided by Britain, the carrier group was a combined British Commonwealth fleet with British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian ships and personnel.[citation needed] Their mission was to neutralize Japanese airfields in the Sakishima Islands and provide air cover against Japanese kamikaze attacks. Most of the air-to-air fighters and the small dive bombers and strike aircraft were U.S. Navy carrier-based airplanes. The U.S. Navy sustained greater casualties in this operation than in any other battle of the war.[citation needed]

Japanese[edit]

Japanese commanders of Okinawa (including Admiral Minoru Ōta, Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, Lt. Gen. Isamu Cho, and Col. Hiromichi Yahara) in February 1945.

The Japanese land campaign (mainly defensive) was conducted by the 67,000-strong (77,000 according to some sources) regular 32nd Army and some 9,000 Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) troops at Oroku naval base (only a few hundred of whom had been trained and equipped for ground combat), supported by 39,000 drafted local Ryukyuan people (including 24,000 hastily drafted rear militia called Boeitai and 15,000 non-uniformed laborers). In addition, 1,500 middle school senior boys organized into front-line-service "Iron and Blood Volunteer Units", while 600 Himeyuri Students were organized into a nursing unit.[17] The Japanese had used kamikaze tactics since the Battle of Leyte Gulf, but for the first time, they became a major part of the defense. Between the American landing on 1 April and 25 May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes.

The 32nd Army initially consisted of the 9th, 24th, and 62nd Divisions, and the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade. The 9th Division was moved to Taiwan prior to the invasion, resulting in shuffling of Japanese defensive plans. Primary resistance was to be led in the south by Lt. General Mitsuru Ushijima, his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Isamu Chō and his chief of operations, Colonel Hiromichi Yahara. Yahara advocated a defensive strategy, whilst Chō advocated an offensive one. In the north, Colonel Takehido Udo was in command. The IJN troops were led by Rear Admiral Minoru Ōta. They expected the Americans to land 6–10 divisions against the Japanese garrison of two and a half divisions; the staff calculated that superior quality and numbers of weapons gave each U.S. division five or six times the firepower of a Japanese division; to this would be added the Americans' abundant naval and air firepower.

Naval battle[edit]

There was a hypnotic fascination to the sight so alien to our Western philosophy. We watched each plunging kamikaze with the detached horror of one witnessing a terrible spectacle rather than as the intended victim. We forgot self for the moment as we groped hopelessly for the thought of that other man up there.

Vice Admiral C.R. Brown, U.S. Navy[18]
American aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill burns after being hit by two kamikaze planes within 30 seconds.
Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Avengers, Seafires and Fireflies on HMS Implacable warm up their engines before taking off.

The United States Navy's Task Force 58, deployed to the east of Okinawa with a picket group of from 6 to 8 destroyers, kept 13 carriers (7 CV and 6 CVL) on duty from 23 March to 27 April and a smaller number thereafter. Until 27 April, from 14 to 18 escort carriers (CVE's) were in the area at all times, and until 20 April British Task Force 57, with 4 large and 6 escort carriers, remained off the Sakishima Islands to protect the southern flank.[19] The protracted length of the campaign under stressful conditions forced Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to take the unprecedented step of relieving the principal naval commanders to rest and recuperate. Following the practice of changing the fleet designation with the change of commanders, U.S. naval forces began the campaign as the U.S. 5th Fleet under Adm. Raymond Spruance, but ended it as the 3rd Fleet under Adm. William Halsey.

Japanese air opposition had been relatively light during the first few days after the landings. However, on 6 April the expected air reaction began with an attack by 400 planes from Kyushu. Periodic heavy air attacks continued through April. During the period 26 March-30 April, 20 American ships were sunk and 157 damaged by enemy action. For their part, the Japanese had lost up to 30 April more than 1,100 planes in the battle to Allied naval forces alone.[20] Between 6 April and 22 June, the Japanese flew 1,465 kamikaze aircraft in large-scale attacks from Kyushu, 185 individual kamikaze sorties from Kyushu, and 250 individual kamikaze sorties from Formosa. When U.S. intelligence estimated 89 planes on Formosa, the Japanese had approximately 700, dismantled or well camouflaged and dispersed into scattered villages and towns; the U.S. Fifth Air Force disputed Navy claims of kamikaze coming from Formosa.[21][clarification needed] The ships lost were smaller vessels, particularly the destroyers of the radar pickets, as well as destroyer escorts and landing ships. While no major Allied warships were lost, several fleet carriers were severely damaged. Land-based motorboats were also used in the Japanese suicide attacks.

Operation Ten-Go[edit]

Main article: Operation Ten-Go
Super battleship Yamato explodes after persistent attacks from U.S. aircraft.

Operation Ten-Go (Ten-gō sakusen) was the attempted attack by a strike force of ten Japanese surface vessels, led by the super battleship Yamato and commanded by Admiral Seiichi Itō. This small task force had been ordered to fight through enemy naval forces, then beach themselves and fight from shore using their guns as coastal artillery and crewmen as naval infantry. The Ten-Go force was spotted by submarines shortly after it left the Japanese home waters, and was intercepted by U.S. carrier aircraft. Under attack from more than 300 aircraft over a two-hour span, the world's largest battleship sank on 7 April 1945 after a one-sided battle, long before she could reach Okinawa. U.S. torpedo bombers were instructed to aim for only one side to prevent effective counter flooding by the battleship's crew, and hitting preferably the bow or stern, where armor was believed to be the thinnest. Of Yamato's screening force, the light cruiser Yahagi and four of the eight destroyers were also sunk. In all, the Imperial Japanese Navy lost some 3,700 sailors, including Admiral Itō, at the relatively low cost of just 10 U.S. aircraft and 12 airmen.

British Pacific Fleet[edit]

The British Pacific Fleet, taking part as Task Force 57, was assigned the task of neutralizing the Japanese airfields in the Sakishima Islands, which it did successfully from 26 March-10 April. On 10 April, its attention was shifted to airfields on northern Formosa. The force withdrew to San Pedro Bay on 23 April. On 1 May, the British Pacific Fleet returned to action, subduing the airfields as before, this time with naval bombardment as well as aircraft. Several kamikaze attacks caused significant damage, but since the British used armored flight decks on their aircraft carriers, they only experienced a brief interruption to their force's objective.[22]

Land battle[edit]

The battleship USS Idaho shells Okinawa on 1 April 1945.

The land battle took place over about 81 days beginning on 1 April 1945. The first Americans ashore were soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division, who landed in the Kerama Islands (Kerama Retto), 15 mi (24 km) west of Okinawa on 26 March. Subsidiary landings followed, and the Kerama group was secured over the next five days. In these preliminary operations, the 77th Infantry Division suffered 27 dead and 81 wounded, while Japanese dead and captured numbered over 650. The operation provided a protected anchorage for the fleet and eliminated the threat from suicide boats.

On 31 March, Marines of the Fleet Marine Force Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion landed without opposition on Keise Shima, four islets just 8 mi (13 km) west of the Okinawan capital of Naha. 155 mm (6.1 in) "Long Tom"s went ashore on the islets to cover operations on Okinawa.

Northern Okinawa[edit]

U.S. Marine reinforcements wade ashore to support the beachhead on Okinawa, 1 April 1945.

The main landing was made by XXIV Corps and III Amphibious Corps on the Hagushi beaches on the western coast of Okinawa on L-Day, 1 April, which was both Easter Sunday and April Fools' Day in 1945. The 2nd Marine Division conducted a demonstration off the Minatoga beaches on the southeastern coast to confuse the Japanese about American intentions and delay movement of reserves from there.

The 10th Army swept across[23] the south-central part of the island with relative ease by World War II standards, capturing the Kadena and the Yomitan airbases within hours of the landing. In light of the weak opposition, General Buckner decided to proceed immediately with Phase II of his plan—the seizure of northern Okinawa. The 6th Marine Division headed up the Ishikawa Isthmus and by 7 April, had sealed off the Motobu Peninsula.

Six days later on 13 April, the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marine Regiment reached Hedo Point (Hedo-misaki) at the northernmost tip of the island. By this point, the bulk of the Japanese forces in the north (codenamed Udo Force) was cornered on the Motobu Peninsula. Here, the terrain was mountainous and wooded, with the Japanese defenses concentrated on Yae-Dake; a twisted mass of rocky ridges and ravines on the center of the peninsula. There was heavy fighting before the Marines finally cleared Yae-Dake on 18 April.

Meanwhile, the 77th Infantry Division assaulted Ie Island (Ie Shima)—a small island off the western end of the peninsula—on 16 April. In addition to conventional hazards, the 77th Infantry Division encountered kamikaze attacks, and even local women armed with spears. There was heavy fighting before Ie was declared secured on 21 April and became another air base for operations against Japan. Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent, was killed during the fighting on Ie Island.

Southern Okinawa[edit]

While the 6th Marine Division cleared northern Okinawa, the U.S. Army 96th Infantry division and 7th Infantry Division wheeled south across the narrow waist of Okinawa. The 96th Infantry Division began to encounter fierce resistance in west-central Okinawa from Japanese troops holding fortified positions east of Highway No. 1 and about 5 mi (8.0 km) northwest of Shuri, from what came to be known as Cactus Ridge. The 7th Infantry Division encountered similarly fierce Japanese opposition from a rocky pinnacle located about 1,000 yd (910 m) southwest of Arakachi (later dubbed "The Pinnacle"). By the night of 8 April, U.S. troops had cleared these and several other strongly fortified positions. They suffered over 1,500 battle casualties in the process, while killing or capturing about 4,500 Japanese, yet the battle had only just begun, for it was now realized they were merely outposts guarding the Shuri Line.

U.S. Marines pass a dead Japanese soldier in a destroyed village, April 1945.

The next American objective was Kakazu Ridge, two hills with a connecting saddle that formed part of Shuri's outer defenses. The Japanese had prepared their positions well and fought tenaciously. The Japanese soldiers hid in fortified caves. The U.S. forces often lost men before clearing the Japanese out from each cave or other hiding place. The Japanese sent Okinawans at gunpoint out to acquire water and supplies for them, which led to civilian casualties. The American advance was inexorable but resulted in a high number of casualties on both sides.

As the American assault against Kakazu Ridge stalled, Gen. Ushijima — influenced by Gen. Chō — decided to take the offensive. On the evening of 12 April, the 32nd Army attacked U.S. positions across the entire front. The Japanese attack was heavy, sustained, and well organized. After fierce close combat the attackers retreated, only to repeat their offensive the following night. A final assault on 14 April was again repulsed. The effort led 32nd Army's staff to conclude that the Americans were vulnerable to night infiltration tactics, but that their superior firepower made any offensive Japanese troop concentrations extremely dangerous, and they reverted to their defensive strategy.

The 27th Infantry Division—which had landed on 9 April—took over on the right, along the west coast of Okinawa. General John R. Hodge now had three divisions in the line, with the 96th in the middle, and the 7th on the east, with each division holding a front of only about 1.5 mi (2.4 km). Hodge launched a new offensive of 19 April with a barrage of 324 guns, the largest ever in the Pacific Ocean Theater. Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers joined the bombardment, which was followed by 650 Navy and Marine planes attacking the enemy positions with napalm, rockets, bombs, and machine guns. The Japanese defenses were sited on reverse slopes, where the defenders waited out the artillery barrage and aerial attack in relative safety, emerging from the caves to rain mortar rounds and grenades upon the Americans advancing up the forward slope.

A 6th Marine Division demolition crew watches explosive charges detonate and destroy a Japanese cave, May 1945.

A tank assault to achieve breakthrough by outflanking Kakazu Ridge, failed to link up with its infantry support attempting to cross the ridge and failed with the loss of 22 tanks. Although flame tanks cleared many cave defenses, there was no breakthrough, and the XXIV Corps lost 720 men KIA, WIA and MIA. The losses might have been greater, except for the fact that the Japanese had practically all of their infantry reserves tied up farther south, held there by another feint off the Minatoga beaches by the 2nd Marine Division that coincided with the attack.

At the end of April, after the Army forces had pushed through the Machinato defensive line,[24] the 1st Marine Division relieved the 27th Infantry Division, and the 77th Infantry Division relieved the 7th. When the 6th Marine Division arrived, III Amphibious Corps took over the right flank and 10th Army assumed control of the battle.

American soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division listen impassively to radio reports of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945.

On 4 May, the 32nd Army launched another counteroffensive. This time, Ushijima attempted to make amphibious assaults on the coasts behind American lines. To support his offensive, the Japanese artillery moved into the open. By doing so, they were able to fire 13,000 rounds in support but an effective U.S. counter-battery fire destroyed dozens of Japanese artillery pieces. The attack failed.

Buckner launched another American attack on 11 May. Ten days of fierce fighting followed. On 13 May, troops of the 96th Infantry Division and 763rd Tank Battalion captured Conical Hill. Rising 476 ft (145 m) above the Yonabaru coastal plain, this feature was the eastern anchor of the main Japanese defenses and was defended by about 1,000 Japanese. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions fought for "Sugar Loaf Hill". The capture of these two key positions exposed the Japanese around Shuri on both sides. Buckner hoped to envelop Shuri and trap the main Japanese defending force.

By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested hills and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese and American bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey.[25]

Lt. Col. Richard P. Ross, commander of 1st Battalion, 1st Marines braves sniper fire to place the division's colors on a parapet of Shuri Castle on 30 May. This flag was first raised over Cape Gloucester and then Peleliu.

On 29 May, Maj. Gen. Pedro del Valle — commanding the 1st Marine Division—ordered Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines to capture Shuri Castle. Seizure of the castle represented both strategic and psychological blows for the Japanese and was a milestone in the campaign. Del Valle was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership in the fight and the subsequent occupation and reorganization of Okinawa. Shuri Castle had been shelled by the battleship USS Mississippi for three days before this advance.[26] Due to this, the 32nd Army withdrew to the south and thus the marines had an easy task of securing Shuri Castle.[26][27] The castle, however, was outside the 1st Marine Division's assigned zone and only frantic efforts by the commander and staff of the 77th Infantry Division prevented an American air strike and artillery bombardment which would have resulted in many casualties due to friendly fire.

The Japanese retreat — although harassed by artillery fire — was conducted with great skill at night and aided by the monsoon storms. The 32nd Army was able to move nearly 30,000 men into its last defense line on the Kiyan Peninsula, which ultimately led to the greatest slaughter on Okinawa in the latter stages of the battle, including the deaths of thousands of civilians. In addition, there were 9,000 IJN troops supported by 1,100 militia, with approximately 4,000 holed up at the underground headquarters on the hillside overlooking the Okinawa Naval Base in the Oroku Peninsula, east of the airfield. On June 4, elements of the 6th Marine Division launched an amphibious assault on the peninsula. The 4,000 Japanese sailors — including Admiral Minoru Ōta — all committed suicide within the hand-built tunnels of the underground Naval headquarters on 13 June. By 17 June, the remnants of Ushijima's shattered 32nd Army were pushed into a small pocket in the far south of the island to the southeast of Itoman. On 18 June, Gen. Buckner was killed by enemy artillery fire while monitoring the forward progress of his troops. Buckner was replaced by Roy Geiger. Upon assuming command, Geiger became the only U.S. Marine to command a numbered army of the U.S. Army in combat; he was relieved five days later by Joseph Stilwell.

A Japanese prisoner of war sits behind barbed wire after he and 306 others were captured within the last 24 hours of the battle by 6th Marine Division.

The last remnants of Japanese resistance fell on 21 June, although some Japanese continued hiding, including the future governor of Okinawa Prefecture, Masahide Ōta.[28] Ushijima and Chō committed suicide by seppuku in their command headquarters on Hill 89 in the closing hours of the battle. Col. Yahara had asked Ushijima for permission to commit suicide, but the general refused his request, saying: "If you die there will be no one left who knows the truth about the battle of Okinawa. Bear the temporary shame but endure it. This is an order from your army Commander."[29] Yahara was the most senior officer to have survived the battle on the island, and he later authored a book titled The Battle for Okinawa. The official surrender ceremony was held on 7 September near Kadena airfield.

Casualties[edit]

Two U.S. Coast Guardsmen pay homage to their comrade killed in the Ryukyu Islands.

Okinawa was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War.[30][31][32] The most complete tally of deaths during the Battle are at the Cornerstone of Peace monument at the Okinawa Prefecture Peace Park identifies the names of each individual who died at Okinawa due to World War II. As of 2010, the monument lists 240,931 names, including 149,193 Okinawan civilians, 77,166 Imperial Japanese soldiers, 14,009 U.S. soldiers, and smaller numbers of people from South Korea (365), the UK (82), North Korea (82) and Taiwan (34).[33] The numbers correspond to recorded deaths during the Battle of Okinawa from the time of the U.S. landings in the Kerama Islands on 26 March 1945 to the signing of the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945, in addition to all Okinawan casualties in the Pacific War in the fifteen years from the Manchurian Incident, along with those who died in Okinawa from war-related events in the year before the battle and the year after the surrender.[34] 234,183 names were inscribed by the time of unveiling and new names are added each year.[35][36][37] Forty thousand of the Okinawan civilians killed had been drafted or impressed by the Japanese army and are often counted as combat deaths.

Military losses[edit]

U.S. losses[edit]

Two U.S. M4 Sherman tanks knocked out by Japanese artillery at Bloody Ridge, 20 April 1945.

U.S. manpower losses amounted to over 82,000 casualties, including non-battle casualties (psychiatric, injuries, illnesses) of whom over 12,500 were killed or missing. Battle deaths were 4,907 Navy, 4,675 Army, and 2,938 Marine Corps personnel.[38] Several thousand servicemen who died indirectly (from wounds and other causes) at a later date are not included in the total. One of the most famous U.S. casualties was the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was killed by Japanese sniper fire on Ie Island (Ie Shima, a small island just off of northwestern Okinawa).[39] Lt. Gen. Buckner's decision to attack the Japanese defenses head-on, although extremely costly in U.S. lives, was ultimately successful. Just four days from the closing of the campaign, Buckner was killed by Japanese artillery fire, which blew lethal slivers of coral into his body, while inspecting his troops at the front line. He was the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed by enemy fire during the war. The day after Buckner was killed, Brig. Gen. Claudius Miller Easley was killed by machine gun fire.

Aircraft losses over the three-month period were 768 U.S. planes, including those bombing the Kyushu airfields launching kamikazes. Combat losses were 458, and the other 310 were operational accidents. On land, the U.S. forces lost at least 225 tanks and many LVTs. At sea, 368 Allied ships—including 120 amphibious craft—were damaged while another 28—including 15 amphibious ships and 12 destroyers—were sunk during the Okinawa campaign. The U.S. Navy's dead exceeded its wounded with 4,907 killed and 4,874 wounded, primarily from kamikaze attacks.[40]

The U.S. personnel casualties included thousands of cases of mental breakdown. According to the account of the battle presented in Marine Corps Gazette,

More mental health issues arose from the Battle of Okinawa than any other battle in the Pacific during World War II. The constant bombardment from artillery and mortars coupled with the high casualty rates led to a great deal of men coming down with combat fatigue. Additionally the rains caused mud that prevented tanks from moving and tracks from pulling out the dead, forcing Marines (who pride themselves on burying their dead in a proper and honorable manner) to leave their comrades where they lay. This, coupled with thousands of bodies both friend and foe littering the entire island, created a scent you could nearly taste. Morale was dangerously low by the month of May and the state of discipline on a moral basis had a new low barometer for acceptable behavior. The ruthless atrocities by the Japanese throughout the war had already brought on an altered behavior (deemed so by traditional standards) by many Americans resulting in the desecration of Japanese remains, but the Japanese tactic of using the Okinawan people as human shields brought about a new aspect of terror and torment to the psychological capacity of the Americans.[3]

Japanese losses[edit]

The U.S. military estimates that 110,071 Japanese soldiers were killed during the battle. This total includes an unknown number of impressed Okinawan civilians who were killed during the battle.

A group of Japanese prisoners taken on the isle of Okuku in June 1945.

7,401 soldiers surrendered or were captured during the battle. Additional Japanese were captured or surrendered over the next few months raising the total to 16,346.[41] This was the first battle in the Pacific War in which thousands of Japanese soldiers surrendered or were captured. Many of the prisoners were native Okinawans who had been pressed into service shortly before the battle and were less imbued with the Imperial Japanese Army's no-surrender doctrine.[42] When the American forces occupied the island, many Japanese soldiers put on Okinawan clothing to avoid capture and some Okinawans would come to the Americans' aid by offering to detect the mainland Japanese in hiding.

The Japanese lost 16 combat vessels, including the super battleship Yamato. Japanese aircraft losses were 7,830, including 2,655 to operational accidents. Navy and Marine Corps fighters downed 3,047, while shipboard anti-aircraft fire felled 409, and the B-29s destroyed 558 on the ground.[43] The Allies destroyed 27 Japanese tanks and 743 artillery pieces (including mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns), some of them eliminated by the naval and air bombardments but most of them knocked-out by American counter-battery fire.

Civilian losses, suicides and atrocities[edit]

A U.S. Marine Corps Stinson Sentinel observation plane flies over the razed Naha, capital of Okinawa, in May 1945.

Some islands that saw major battles, such as Iwo Jima, were uninhabited or previously evacuated. Okinawa, by contrast, had a large indigenous civilian population; U.S. Army records from the planning phase of the operation make the assumption that Okinawa was home to about 300,000 civilians. According to various estimates, between one tenth and one third of them died during the battle,[25] or between 30,000 and 100,000 dead. Okinawa Prefecture's estimate is over 100,000 losses,[44] while the official U.S. Army count for the 82-day campaign is a total of 142,058 civilian casualties, including those killed by artillery fire, air attacks and those who had been pressed into service by the Imperial Japanese Army.[25] During the battle, U.S. soldiers found it difficult to distinguish civilians from soldiers. It became routine for U.S. soldiers to shoot at Okinawan houses, as one infantryman wrote, "There was some return fire from a few of the houses, but the others were probably occupied by civilians – and we didn't care. It was a terrible thing not to distinguish between the enemy and women and children. Americans always had great compassion, especially for children. Now we fired indiscriminately."[45] Since many Okinawan residents fled to caves where they subsequently were entombed, the precise number of civilian casualties will probably never be known.

Two U.S. Marines share a foxhole with an Okinawan war orphan in April 1945.

In its history of the war, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum[44] presents Okinawa as being caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan in the fighting. During the 1945 battle, the Japanese Army showed indifference to Okinawans' safety, and its soldiers even used civilians as human shields against the Americans, or just outright murdered them. Japanese military confiscated food from the Okinawans and executed those who hid it, leading to a mass starvation among the population, and forced civilians out of their shelters. Japanese soldiers also killed about 1,000 people who spoke in the Okinawan language in order to suppress spying.[46] The museum writes that "some were blown apart by [artillery] shells, some finding themselves in a hopeless situation were driven to suicide, some died of starvation, some succumbed to malaria, while others fell victim to the retreating Japanese troops."[44]

Overcoming the civilian resistance on Okinawa was aided by U.S. propaganda leaflets, one of which is being read by a prisoner awaiting transport.

With the impending victory of American troops, civilians often committed mass suicide, urged on by the Japanese soldiers who told locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. Ryūkyū Shimpō, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, wrote in 2007: "There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide. There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers" to blow themselves up.[47] Thousands of the civilians, having been induced by Japanese propaganda to believe that U.S. soldiers were barbarians committing horrible atrocities, killed their families and themselves to avoid capture. Some of them threw themselves and their family members from the southern cliffs where the Peace Museum now resides.[48] However, having been told by the Japanese military that they would suffer terribly at the hands of the arriving Americans if they allowed themselves to be taken alive, Okinawans "were often surprised at the comparatively humane treatment they received from the American enemy."[49][50] Islands of Discontent: Okinawan Responses to Japanese and American Power by Mark Selden, notes that the Americans "did not pursue a policy of torture, rape, and murder of civilians as Japanese military officials had warned."[51] U.S. Military Intelligence Corps[52] combat translators such as Teruto Tsubota managed to convince many civilians not to kill themselves.[53] Survivors of the mass suicides blamed also the indoctrination of their education system of the time, when the Okinawans were taught to become "more Japanese than the Japanese," and expected to prove it.[54]

Witnesses and historians reported that soldiers on both sides had raped Okinawan women during the battle. Rape by Japanese troops "became common" in June, after it became clear that the Japanese Army had been defeated.[17][55] Marine Corps officials in Okinawa and Washington have said that they knew of no rapes by American servicemen in Okinawa at the end of the war.[56] The New York Times, however, reported on the 1945 alleged incident in the village of Katsuyama, where civilians said they had formed a vigilante group to ambush and kill three black American soldiers whom they claimed would frequently rape the local girls there.[57]

MEXT controversy[edit]

There is ongoing major disagreement between Okinawa's local government and Japan's national government over the role of the Japanese military in civilian mass suicides during the battle. In March 2007, the national Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) advised textbook publishers to reword descriptions that the embattled Imperial Japanese Army forced civilians to kill themselves in the war so they would not be taken prisoner by the U.S. military. MEXT preferred descriptions that just say that civilians received hand grenades from the Japanese military. This move sparked widespread protests among the Okinawans. In June 2007, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly adopted a resolution stating, "We strongly call on the (national) government to retract the instruction and to immediately restore the description in the textbooks so the truth of the Battle of Okinawa will be handed down correctly and a tragic war will never happen again."[58][59] On September 29, 2007, about 110,000 people held the biggest political rally in the history of Okinawa to demand that MEXT retract its order to textbook publishers on revising the account of the civilian suicides. The resolution stated: "It is an undeniable fact that the 'multiple suicides' would not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military and any deletion of or revision to (the descriptions) is a denial and distortion of the many testimonies by those people who survived the incidents."[60] In December 2007, MEXT partially admitted the role of the Japanese military in civilian mass suicides.[61] The ministry's Textbook Authorization Council allowed the publishers to reinstate the reference that civilians "were forced into mass suicides by the Japanese military", on condition it is placed in sufficient context. The council report stated: "It can be said that from the viewpoint of the Okinawa residents, they were forced into the mass suicides."[62]

That was, however, not enough for the survivors who said it is important for children today to know what really happened.[63] The Nobel Prize winning author Kenzaburō Ōe has written a booklet which states that the mass suicide order was given by the military during the battle.[64] He was sued by the revisionists, including a wartime commander during the battle, who disputed this and wanted to stop publication of the booklet. At a court hearing, Ōe testified: "Mass suicides were forced on Okinawa islanders under Japan's hierarchical social structure that ran through the state of Japan, the Japanese armed forces and local garrisons."[65] In March 2008, the Osaka Prefecture Court ruled in favor of Ōe, stating, "It can be said the military was deeply involved in the mass suicides." The court recognized the military's involvement in the mass suicides and murder–suicides, citing the testimony about the distribution of grenades for suicide by soldiers and the fact that mass suicides were not recorded on islands where the military was not stationed.[66] In 2012, Korean-Japanese director Pak Su-nam announced her work on the documentary Nuchigafu (Okinawan for "only if one is alive") collecting the still-living survivors’ accounts in order to show "the truth of history to many people," alleging that "there were two types of orders for 'honorable deaths'--one for residents to kill each other and the other for the military to kill all residents."[67] In March 2013, Japanese textbook publisher Shimizu Shoin was permitted by MEXT to publish the statements that, "Orders from Japanese soldiers led to Okinawans committing group suicide," and, "The [Japanese] army caused many tragedies in Okinawa, killing local civilians and forcing them to commit mass suicide."[68]

Aftermath[edit]

The Cornerstone of Peace Memorial with names of all military and civilians from all countries who died in the Battle of Okinawa.

Ninety percent of the buildings on the island were destroyed, along with countless historical documents, artifacts, and cultural treasures, and the tropical landscape was turned into "a vast field of mud, lead, decay and maggots".[69] The military value of Okinawa "exceeded all hope." Okinawa provided a fleet anchorage, troop staging areas, and airfields in close proximity to Japan. The U.S. cleared the surrounding waters of mines in Operation Zebra, occupied Okinawa, and set up the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, a form of military government, after the battle.[70]

Some military historians believe that the Okinawa campaign led directly to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as a means of avoiding the planned ground invasion of the Japanese mainland. An alternate view is offered by Victor Davis Hanson in his book Ripples of Battle:

...because the Japanese on Okinawa... 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. This means presented itself, with the advent of atomic bombs, which worked admirably in convincing the Japanese to sue for peace [unconditionally], without American casualties. Ironically, the American conventional firebombing of major Japanese cities (which had been going on for months before Okinawa) was far more effective at killing civilians than the atomic bombs and, had the Americans simply continued, or expanded this, the Japanese would likely have surrendered anyway.

In 1995, the Okinawa government erected a memorial monument named the Cornerstone of Peace in Mabuni, the site of the last fighting in southeastern Okinawa.[71] The memorial lists all the known names of those who died in the battle, civilian and military, Japanese and foreign. As of June 2008, it contains 240,734 names.[72] Controversially,[73][74] significant U.S. forces remain garrisoned there as the United States Forces Japan, and Kadena remains the largest U.S. air base in Asia. In 2011, one official of the prefectural government told David Hearst of The Guardian:

You have the Battle of Britain, in which your airmen protected the British people. We had the Battle of Okinawa, in which the exact opposite happened. The Japanese army not only starved the Okinawans but used them as human shields. That dark history is still present today - and Japan and the US should study it before they decide what to do with next.[75]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
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Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Buckner, Simon Bolivar, Jr. and Joseph Stilwell. Seven Stars: The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. and Joseph Stilwell ed. by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes (2004) excerpt and text search
  • Lacey, Laura Homan (2005). Stay Off The Skyline: The Sixth Marine Division on Okinawa—An Oral History. Potomac Books. ISBN 1-57488-952-4. 
  • Manchester, William (1980). Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War. Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Co. ISBN 0-316-54501-5. 
  • Sledge, E. B.; Paul Fussell (1990). With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506714-2. , famous Marine memoir
  • Yahara, Hiromichi (2001). The Battle for Okinawa. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-18080-7. -Firsthand account of the battle by a surviving Japanese officer.

External links[edit]