Okinawa 1945: The Deadly Battle for Shuri Castle
Operation Iceberg : The Allied Invasion of Okinawa
The battle for Okinawa is a personal tragedy for me and my family. I lost my great uncle fighting the Japanese Thirty-Second Army for control of the island. My Grandmother spoke to me on several occasions about the loss of her brother, and even though time had passed, it was evident that painful loss had not diminished since that day the Western Union Telegraph arrived announcing his death. After my Grandmother's death I would find that Western Union Telegraph in her belongings, she held on to the telegram for over 54 years.
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 Kakazu Ridge
April 1, 1945 the Invasion of Okinawa
On the Easter Sunday, April the 1st,1945, Allied forces invaded the Island of Okinawa. 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 American Marine and Army divisions landed abreast on Okinawa they faced an estimated 155,000 Japanese armed forces on the ground, it was the most densely populated island invaded during the Pacific War an estimated 500,000 civilians lived in cities, towns, and villages. Thousands of civilians, men and women, would take up arms against American troops and fight along side Japanese soldiers. The total number of citizens who died defending Okinawa from the American invasion will never be known, but their contribution to the battle was substantial. Many citizens would commit suicide rather than surrender to American troops.
The invasion code named "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 an overwhelming force of 540,000 men and 1,600 seagoing ships, eclipsing even D-Day in troops, tonnage, and firepower. The American landing was surprisingly easy. Unlike the first hours on Iwo Jima where commanders talked of abandoning the invasion. The marines landed at 8:30 A.M.. By 10:00 A.M. they had reached the edge of Yontan airfield without suffering a single casualty. Just thirty minuets later other troops reached the edge of Kadena airfield. By noon both fields were in American hands.
There were no Japanese planes in the sky, no submarines, no troops in sight. In the northern sector of the island the marines ran upon just fifteen Japanese soldiers. By mid-afternoon fifty thousand American troops were ashore, and the supply ships were beginning to unload their cargos, more or less relaxed because the job seemed so easy. 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 to stop the Americans, it was the front line of the invasion of their home islands. 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 as long as possible. 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 defended 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, they offered 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.
Task Force 58
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 their ports. Under attack from more than 300 carrier aircraft over a two day span the Yamato would be destroyed long before she could reach Okinawa. The massive battleship had been ordered to fight her way through enemy naval forces surrounding the island, and then run herself onto the beach at Okinawa, to use her guns as artillery to shell Allied positions. After the Yamato was sunk, the Japanese Navy would cease operations for the remainder of the war.
The Death of Battleship Yamato
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
Kamikazes Attack the Invasion Force off the Beaches of Okinawa
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. The loss of skilled airmen from previous battles such as Midway in 1942, whose expertise was irreplaceable would dramatically weaken effectiveness air forces. 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 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 over 5,000 kamikazes to meet them as they approached the beaches.
Japanese Yokosuka MXY-7 Chka (Cherry Blossom)
The Attack on the Shuri Defense Line
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. The Japanese headquarters at Shuri Castle was eventually taken on May 31, 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 Battle for Shuri Castle
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
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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.