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The Battle for Okinawa: Site of Hacksaw Ridge

Updated on July 29, 2017
Mark Caruthers profile image

Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas Fayetteville in Geography & History.

Operation Iceberg

The battle for Okinawa will always be a tragedy on a personal level for me, due to the fact that my great uncle died in that battle in this far off island in the Pacific. My Grandmother spoke to me on several occasions about her brother, and even though time had passed, that painful loss had not diminished since that day the Western Union Telegraph arrived at her mother's doorstep. After my Grandmother's death I would find that Western Union Telegraph in her belongings, she held on to if for over 64 years, sadly except for a few pictures it was all she possessed.

The invasion of Okinawa would be the climax of the "island hopping" campaign against the Empire of Japan which that began more than three years earlier , it would also be the last major battle of the Second World War. It was the largest and most complex amphibious operation carried out by the American military in the Pacific War, also considered the most fiercely contested action in all the island hopping campaigns that would bring the American Navy to the very gates of Japan's home islands. Until the early fall of 1944, the official Allied strategic plan called for the invasion of Formosa rather than Okinawa mostly due to the fact it would be an easier nut to crack. After much debate the plan to invade Formosa was scrapped in favor of assaulting Okinawa. It was concluded that the occupation of Okinawa would cut off the Japanese home islands from their chief oil supply routes from Burma, Borneo, and Sumatra, creating a critical fuel shortage for enemy ships and aircraft as the war with Japan reached its final stage "Operation Downfall." Surprisingly, if the United States had invaded Okinawa in late 1943, it possibly would have fallen in a matter of hours, because there were very few Japanese soldiers stationed on the island although Japan's air and naval forces most assuredly would have made it difficult for Allied forces to hold the island. Almost six months before the first American ground troops landed on Okinawa, American warplanes from carrier Task Force 58 would descend on the island giving its civilians their first horrific taste of what they were to endure in the months ahead. Early on the morning of the 10th of October 1944, more than 1,000 Hellcat fighters, Helldiver bombers, and Avenger torpedo bombers from American carriers struck the first major blow to Okinawa's defenses they would strike targets with 500 tons of bombs and thousands of rockets. According to Japanese records 10 transports, thirty merchant ships, and countless other craft were sunk in the harbor of Okinawa's capital, Naha.

Bloody Ridge

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Two knocked out Sherman tanks on bloody ridge Okinawa May 1945.Capital city of Okinawa,Naha, after carrier air attacks its harbor in the background.1st Marines advance on Wana Ridge May 18, 1945.
Two knocked out Sherman tanks on bloody ridge Okinawa May 1945.
Two knocked out Sherman tanks on bloody ridge Okinawa May 1945. | Source
Capital city of Okinawa,Naha, after carrier air attacks its harbor in the background.
Capital city of Okinawa,Naha, after carrier air attacks its harbor in the background. | Source
1st Marines advance on Wana Ridge May 18, 1945.
1st Marines advance on Wana Ridge May 18, 1945. | Source

The Largest Amphibious Landing of the Pacific War

On the Easter Sunday, April the 1st,1945, Allied forces invaded the Island of Okinawa and engaged the Japanese in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War, also know as Operation Iceberg. It resulted in the largest casualties of the Pacific War with over 100,000 Japanese casualties and 50,000 casualties for the Allies. When two United States Marine and two Army divisions landed abreast on Okinawa they faced an estimated 155,000 Japanese ground, air and naval troops holding an immense island on which an estimated 500,000 civilians lived in cities, towns, and villages. Operation Iceberg was the largest amphibious attack undertaken during the island hopping operations in the South and Central Pacific during the Second World War. The Allies attacked Okinawa with 540,000 men and 1,600 seagoing ships, eclipsing even D-Day in troops,tonnage, and firepower. But the defending Japanese troops were hunkered down in a honeycomb of caves and terrain that the U.S. Tenth Army Commander, Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, called the most formidable fixed position in the history of warfare. Under the organizational name Tenth Army, Buckner's command was made up of four army and three marine divisions. It was Buckner's first major operation completely under his command. He had lead American troops in the recapture of the Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska in 1942, the only American soil held by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. To those few Japanese who believed the war was still winnable, Okinawa was their last chance. The island lay within 350 miles of the Japanese homeland and would be used in the future as a base for the follow-on invasion of Japan's southernmost Home Island, Kyushu. To most Japanese generals Okinawa was nothing more than an attempt to delay the Allied invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. Although the Japanese commanders on Okinawa had 155,000 troops to defend the island from invasion, there were not nearly enough troops to defend the ground the way the 23,000 troops covered Iwo Jima. In order to put up the best possible defense, the northern half of Okinawa was left almost completely undefended, and the southern half of the island was turned into four extremely tough hedgehog defense sectors, to offer the best prospect of a robust, attritional defense. The proportion of artillery and mortar to infantry was the highest encountered in Pacific War. For the first time in the Pacific War, the Japanese had ample time to dig elaborate fortifications, much as they had on Iwo Jima, and they also had large numbers of tanks and artillery pieces. Realizing that he could never defend the entire island, General Mitsuru Ushijima centered his defense around the historical capital, Shuri Castle, a medieval fortress of the ancient Ryukyuan Kings, and the steep limestone ridges on which it was built. This position provided the Japanese with a heavy defense line that could be flanked only from the sea. Since the Okinawan hills had long been used as a major artillery training center, the terrain was familiar to most Japanese gunners, and ranges and coordinates for many potential target areas had already been well established.

The Battle for Okinawa

Task Force 58 was one of the greatest concentrations of sea power ever assembled

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Murders row 5 aircraft carriers of Task Force 58Hellcat fighter used in the battle of OkinawaThe USS Essex off OkinawaThe USS Ranger passing through the Panama Canal on the way to the Pacific War.The USS Arkansas shelled the beaches of Okinawa.Flight deck of the USS Ranger.The Curtis Helldiver a carrier based plane used to bomb cities or surface ships.The Avenger torpedo bomber a carrier based plane use to drop torpedoes or conventional bombs. The American aircraft carrier USS Bunker HillUSS Arkansas with a full view of her six 14-inch cannons April 11,1944.Task Force 58 off the Majuro Atoll 1944.
Murders row 5 aircraft carriers of Task Force 58
Murders row 5 aircraft carriers of Task Force 58 | Source
Hellcat fighter used in the battle of Okinawa
Hellcat fighter used in the battle of Okinawa | Source
The USS Essex off Okinawa
The USS Essex off Okinawa | Source
The USS Ranger passing through the Panama Canal on the way to the Pacific War.
The USS Ranger passing through the Panama Canal on the way to the Pacific War. | Source
The USS Arkansas shelled the beaches of Okinawa.
The USS Arkansas shelled the beaches of Okinawa. | Source
Flight deck of the USS Ranger.
Flight deck of the USS Ranger. | Source
The Curtis Helldiver a carrier based plane used to bomb cities or surface ships.
The Curtis Helldiver a carrier based plane used to bomb cities or surface ships. | Source
The Avenger torpedo bomber a carrier based plane use to drop torpedoes or conventional bombs.
The Avenger torpedo bomber a carrier based plane use to drop torpedoes or conventional bombs. | Source
The American aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill
The American aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill | Source
USS Arkansas with a full view of her six 14-inch cannons April 11,1944.
USS Arkansas with a full view of her six 14-inch cannons April 11,1944. | Source
Task Force 58 off the Majuro Atoll 1944.
Task Force 58 off the Majuro Atoll 1944. | Source

Task Force 58

The U.S. Navy contributed the bulk of the ships and airplanes involved in Operation Iceberg. The total strength of the Allied fleet at Okinawa was 1,300 ships, including 40 carriers, 18 battleships, and 200 destroyers. The U.S. Navy sustained greater casualties in this Operation than any other battle of the war. 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 landings on Easter Sunday the 1st of April 1945, and the 25th of May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving over 1,500 planes. The Allied invasion force paid a high price for Okinawa, 79 ships sunk or scrapped, more than 250 damaged, and over 500 aircraft lost. Perhaps the most dramatic action of the naval campaign occurred far from the land battle of Okinawa, which involved the attempted kamikaze attack by a strike force of Japanese surface vessels led by the 70,000 ton battleship Yamato, the world's largest battleship. The Yamato and other Japanese surface vessels involved Operation Ten-Go were intercepted shortly after leaving Japanese home waters. Under attack from more than 300 carrier aircraft over a two day span the Yamato was destroyed, long before she could reach Okinawa, where the battleship had been ordered to fight her way through enemy naval forces, then run herself onto the beach at Okinawa and use her guns as artillery to shell Allied positions on the island. After the Yamato was sunk, the Japanese Navy would cease operations for the remainder of the war.

The Death of Battleship Yamato

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 Yamato Class BattleshipsYamato explosion soon afterward it sank to the bottom of the ocean.The Yamato on sea trials in 1941.Yamato explosion Yamato hit by bombYamato at Sea.The Yamato under air attack.The 70,000 ton  Super Battleship Yamato 1945Yamato somewhere in the Pacific.
 Yamato Class Battleships
Yamato Class Battleships | Source
Yamato explosion soon afterward it sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Yamato explosion soon afterward it sank to the bottom of the ocean. | Source
The Yamato on sea trials in 1941.
The Yamato on sea trials in 1941. | Source
Yamato explosion
Yamato explosion | Source
Yamato hit by bomb
Yamato hit by bomb | Source
Yamato at Sea.
Yamato at Sea. | Source
The Yamato under air attack.
The Yamato under air attack. | Source
The 70,000 ton  Super Battleship Yamato 1945
The 70,000 ton Super Battleship Yamato 1945 | Source
Yamato somewhere in the Pacific.
Yamato somewhere in the Pacific. | Source

Kamikaze (Divine Wind)

History tells that the kamikaze were two winds or storms that are said to have saved Japan from the Mongol fleets under Kublai Khan. These fleets attacked Japan in the year 1274, and again in 1281. Due to the growth of Zen Buddhism among Samurai at the time in Japan, those events were the first events where typhoons were described as "divine wind" as much by their timing as by their force.

History of the Kamikaze WWII

Japanese Kamikaze Part 2

The Divine Wind

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The Mongol fleet destroyed in a typhoon, ink and water on paper, by Kikuchi Yosai, 1847.May 26, 1945 Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy, and four other pilots of the 72cnd Shinbu Squadron at Bensei, Kagoshima, Araki died the following day, in a suicide attack on ships near Okinawa.USS White Plains under attack from kamikaze.USS Intrepid under kamikaze attack.USS Louisville hit by Kamikaze.USS Enterprise Okinawa kamikaze attack a near miss.The aircraft carrier Bunker Hill hit by a kamikaze during the Battle of OkinawaUSS Columbia attacked by kamikaze.USS Columbia hit by kamikaze.A kamikaze on fire diving toward it target.Chiran high school girls wave kamikaze.
The Mongol fleet destroyed in a typhoon, ink and water on paper, by Kikuchi Yosai, 1847.
The Mongol fleet destroyed in a typhoon, ink and water on paper, by Kikuchi Yosai, 1847. | Source
May 26, 1945 Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy, and four other pilots of the 72cnd Shinbu Squadron at Bensei, Kagoshima, Araki died the following day, in a suicide attack on ships near Okinawa.
May 26, 1945 Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy, and four other pilots of the 72cnd Shinbu Squadron at Bensei, Kagoshima, Araki died the following day, in a suicide attack on ships near Okinawa. | Source
USS White Plains under attack from kamikaze.
USS White Plains under attack from kamikaze. | Source
USS Intrepid under kamikaze attack.
USS Intrepid under kamikaze attack. | Source
USS Louisville hit by Kamikaze.
USS Louisville hit by Kamikaze. | Source
USS Enterprise Okinawa kamikaze attack a near miss.
USS Enterprise Okinawa kamikaze attack a near miss. | Source
The aircraft carrier Bunker Hill hit by a kamikaze during the Battle of Okinawa
The aircraft carrier Bunker Hill hit by a kamikaze during the Battle of Okinawa | Source
USS Columbia attacked by kamikaze.
USS Columbia attacked by kamikaze. | Source
USS Columbia hit by kamikaze.
USS Columbia hit by kamikaze. | Source
A kamikaze on fire diving toward it target.
A kamikaze on fire diving toward it target. | Source
Chiran high school girls wave kamikaze.
Chiran high school girls wave kamikaze. | Source

Japanese Kamikaze Part 3

Japanese Kamikaze Part 4

Kamikaze Pacific War 1944-45

To understand the reasons why so many Japanese airmen were prepared to carry out kamikaze raids you need to understand the past history of the Imperial Air Force. By late 1944, as they attempted to combat the massive Allied juggernaut that was bearing down upon them the Japanese military was a spent force after suffering a series of devastating defeats defending their Pacific empire. At the beginning of the Second World War, Japanese aircraft were far superior to the Allied machines . The Zero was an excellent fighter, capable of outmaneuvering and out-shooting the slower and older fighters operated by the Americans and British. Japanese dive-bombers, torpedo-bombers and medium bombers were all extremely effective in the early stages of the war. However, the Allies soon dramatically improved the construction and performance to their aircraft, they constantly developed new types and modifications. While the Japanese made slow progress in design and engineering. They also suffered increasingly from the lack of raw materials, fuel and improvements to their aircraft engines. Also, the loss of skilled airmen from previous battles such as Midway in 1942, whose expertise was irreplaceable, while the Allies seemed to have an endless supply of airmen and machines. The gulf grew to such a point between the two advisories that from mid-1944 some Japanese pilots were willing to make suicide attacks against American ships, first termed jibaku and later known as kamikazes. Obedient to their Emperor and nation their act served a dual purpose, being effective in battle and setting an example of nobility in death. "We must give our lives to the Emperor and country," one kamikaze stated, adding that "This is our inborn feeling." A strong believer in kamikaze tactics was Admiral Onishi, commander of the First Air Fleet defending the islands of the Philippines. On the 19th of October 1944 he formed a Special Attack Corps during the Philippines Campaign as the American Navy surrounded his command. He understood the dramatic advantage the American forces had at their disposal, he suggested that the flight decks of their carriers offered fine targets. The only method that promised success, in his opinion, was suicide missions flown by Zeros carrying 500lb bombs. He told his men that the nation was in great danger and requested their sacrifice "You are already gods," he said, "without earthly desires." The success of the kamikazes caused Japanese leaders to expand the force. The kamikazes were ten times more effective than conventional raids. It was estimated by Allied commanders if they had invaded the home islands of Japan, they would have had 5,000 kamikazes to meet them.

Japanese Yokosuka MXY-7 Chka (Cherry Blossom)

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Japanese Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka ("Cherry Blossom"), a specially built rocket-powered kamikaze aircraft used towards the end of the Second World War. It was the most feared of the kamikazes due to the fact their was no defense against it.The 2,646 pound warhead of the Ohka, Allied soldiers dis-arming one after the war.Thermojet powered, Model 22 Ohka at the National Air and Space Museum. It would reach speeds of over 600 mph in a dive.Another view of the Ohka rocket powered human-guided anti-shipping kamikaze attack plane.A view of the rear of the Ohka. The USS Mannert L. Ablele was the first Allied ship to be sunk by an Ohka aircraft, near Okinawa April 12 1945.
Japanese Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka ("Cherry Blossom"), a specially built rocket-powered kamikaze aircraft used towards the end of the Second World War. It was the most feared of the kamikazes due to the fact their was no defense against it.
Japanese Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka ("Cherry Blossom"), a specially built rocket-powered kamikaze aircraft used towards the end of the Second World War. It was the most feared of the kamikazes due to the fact their was no defense against it. | Source
The 2,646 pound warhead of the Ohka, Allied soldiers dis-arming one after the war.
The 2,646 pound warhead of the Ohka, Allied soldiers dis-arming one after the war. | Source
Thermojet powered, Model 22 Ohka at the National Air and Space Museum. It would reach speeds of over 600 mph in a dive.
Thermojet powered, Model 22 Ohka at the National Air and Space Museum. It would reach speeds of over 600 mph in a dive. | Source
Another view of the Ohka rocket powered human-guided anti-shipping kamikaze attack plane.
Another view of the Ohka rocket powered human-guided anti-shipping kamikaze attack plane. | Source
A view of the rear of the Ohka. The USS Mannert L. Ablele was the first Allied ship to be sunk by an Ohka aircraft, near Okinawa April 12 1945.
A view of the rear of the Ohka. The USS Mannert L. Ablele was the first Allied ship to be sunk by an Ohka aircraft, near Okinawa April 12 1945. | Source

The last bloody days on Okinawa

In the ten days between May 11th, and 21st, both sides were locked in the fiercest fighting of the Okinawan campaign, so hideously reminiscent of the trench warfare on the "Western Front" during the First World War, both in horrible human losses and the attempt of one side to pierce the defenses of an enemy determined to not yield an inch. The Japanese on Okinawa refused to give up, often leaving the American troops on the island no choice but to use flamethrowers or simply blow the cave entrances with explosives, burying the defenders alive. Shuri Castle was eventually taken on May 29, 1945, the commander of the Japanese garrison on Okinawa, Ushijima , committed suicide on the 22cnd of June, the same day the island was declared secure by American generals. American forces suffered badly from combat fatigue in the bitter, no-quarter struggle what became known as the "Battle of Okinawa." Few Japanese were prepared to surrender, of the 110,000 man garrison on Okinawa only about 7,000 survived to become prisoners of war.

The Final Bloody Days on Okinawa

The last picture of U.S. Army Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. taken on the 8th of June 1945, just 4 days from the final surrender on Okinawa. Later that day he was killed by Japanese artillery.
The last picture of U.S. Army Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. taken on the 8th of June 1945, just 4 days from the final surrender on Okinawa. Later that day he was killed by Japanese artillery. | Source
A 6th Marine Division demolition crew watches explosive charges detonate and destroy a Japanese cave, May 1945.
A 6th Marine Division demolition crew watches explosive charges detonate and destroy a Japanese cave, May 1945. | Source
Lt. Col. Richard P. Ross commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines braves sniper fire to place the divisions colors on a parapet of Shuri Castle on the 30th of May 1945. The flag was first raised over Cape Gloucester and then Peleliu.
Lt. Col. Richard P. Ross commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines braves sniper fire to place the divisions colors on a parapet of Shuri Castle on the 30th of May 1945. The flag was first raised over Cape Gloucester and then Peleliu. | Source

Civilian Deaths

Okinawan civilian deaths in the campaign were in excess of 140,000, it is estimated that more than a third of the surviving civilian population were wounded. Japanese troops treated local civilians brutally using them as slave labor or targets to draw American fire in order to site in their artillery. Some of the civilians were convinced by Japanese propaganda to believe that American soldiers were barbarians who committed horrible atrocities, killed their families, and themselves to avoid capture. It is believed many Okinawan's threw themselves and their family members from cliffs where the Peace Museum now sits. Other Okinawans were murdered by Japanese to prevent their capture or to steal their food and supplies.

The Battle of Okinawa

My Family's Fallen Hero

On June 27, 1945 my Great Uncle Homer Earl Harper died on the island of Okinawa, one of the 12,000 Americans who would die taking this island. I found this message in my Grandmother's person effects she held on to it for 64 years.
On June 27, 1945 my Great Uncle Homer Earl Harper died on the island of Okinawa, one of the 12,000 Americans who would die taking this island. I found this message in my Grandmother's person effects she held on to it for 64 years. | Source

Sources

Foster, Simon. Okinawa 1945: Final Assault on the Empire. Arms and Armor Press Willers House, 41-47 Strand, London WC2. Sterling Publishing Co. Inc., 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY. 10016 1994

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II. Viking A division of Penguin USA 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014 USA 1995

Ray, John. The Illustrated History of WWII. Weidenfeld and Nicolson The Orion Publishing Group LTD. Orion House 3 Upper Saint Martin's Lane London WC2H 9EA. 2003

Swanston, Alexander. The Historical Atlas of World War II. Chartwell Books 276 Fifth Avenue Suite 206 New York, New York 10001. USA 2008.

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