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Battle of Okinawa: Southern Okinawa

Battle of Okinawa: Southern Okinawa

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Battle of Okinawa: Southern Okinawa.

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Battle of Okinawa

World War II Edit

Okinawa Islands, April 1945 Edit

On 1 April 1945, the 6th Marine Division, commanded by Major General Lemuel Shepherd, landed on Okinawa —codenamed ICEBERG. Landing north over Hagushi RED and GREEN beaches, 22nd and 29th Marine Regiments moved inland and seized Yontan airfield.

MGen. Lem Shepherd sent orders to former Raider company commander (then) Major Anthony Walker to take command of 140 Marines to form the 6th Marine Division's scout company from Company H of 29th Marine Regiment. [1]

MGen Shepherd gave the lightly weaponed recon Marines transportation by tanks, it gave the company firepower plus the ability to swiftly send the recon Marines ahead of the forward line of their own troops (FLOT) uncovering any major Japanese defensive positions. Occasionally, they had encountered superior Japanese forces and would pull back and report their findings to MGen Shepherd. The expedient reconnaissance-in-force allowed MGen Shepherd to coordinate accordingly and send in his infantry regiments, supported by artillery, air and naval gunfire support to overwhelm the Japanese defenders.

Northern Okinawa Edit

The Company H (Scout)'s objectives were to reconnoiter up the western coastal road of the Zampa Misaki Cape while being mounted on tanks. They moved out one thousand yards up the cape by end of the day. The next morning on L+1, they informed the 22nd Marines and the regiment moved north and seized the remainder of the cape. During that same day, Walker's scout company, again mounted on tanks, pushed north from Kurawa across the cape and seized the small town of Nahahama. This effectively cut off the base of the Zampa Misaki Peninsula. By 3 April, L+2, the 6th Marine Division cross the isthmus along the Nagahama-Ishikawa lines, sealing off all Japanese north of the FLOT. Meanwhile, on the same day of 3 April 1945, 1st Marine Division sent their scout company front of their zone of action along the boundary of the 6th Marine Division to their north. [2]

In the next few days, 6th Marine Division continued north, reaching the port town of Nago on the west coast. Underwater Demolition Teams and minesweepers were tasked to clear the port of mines and underwater obstacles to allow seaborne delivery of logistic support. On 6 April, Company H (Scout) was assigned to mop-up bypassed Japanese troops in the area between the Ishikawa Isthmus line and the Yakada-Yaka line. [1]

The III Amphibious Corps next objective were to advance north up Okinawa, and the majority of the Japanese 44th Independent Mixed Brigade had withdrawn to the mountains on the peninsula at center of the island, mostly to the formidable twelve-hundred-foot hill called Yae-Take. [2] The Japanese brigade elements included two battalions, an anti-tank and a regimental gun company totaling over 2,000 of Japanese troops defending the Motobu, fortifying their defenses along Yae-Take with salvaged 75-mm artillery and 150-mm guns and 16.1-inch naval guns from sunken or air-damaged Japanese ships. [3]

Major Walker's tank-mounted company scouted ahead of the 29th Marine Regiment, patrolling up the west coast road out of Nago and reached the coastal town of Awa. After finding only little resistance, they returned to Nago. Advanced along the northeast side of Motobu, across the base of peninsula, the recon company encountered heavier Japanese resistance at the town of Nakasona. On 9 April 1945, 2nd Battalion of 29th Marines used Walker's scouts' route along to set up Nakasoni and Unten by the following day on 10 April.

Walker's Company returned to the west coast of the Motobu Peninsula and continued their recon patrol ahead of 29th Marines. They came across bridges blown by fleeing Japanese forces slowing down their patrol until division combat engineers came and either rebuilt the bridges or made alternative bypasses. On 11 April, as they were in the town of Toguchi, they received further orders to push all the way to the tip of Motobu along the coastal road and secure the town of Bise and as contingently guard against any Japanese forces concluding to counter-attack from seaward. The capture of Bise on 12 April proved the possible emplacement of radar-warning stations for any eventual incoming kamikaze attacks. Major General Shepherd then tasked 6th Division's scout company to reinforce Company F, 2nd Battalion of 29th Marines with Major Walker assuming command, and the responsibility of Bise. [4]

The FMFPAC attached the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, led by Major James Jones, to the III Amphibious Corps to assist the 6th Marine Division in reconnoitering and seizing three small islands lying off the Motobu coast that was reported to be defended by the Japanese or Okiwanan Boeitai (similar to the organization of the United States National Guard). On the nights of 19–20 April, the Amphib Recon Battalion secured Sesoko Shima and Yagachi Shima while the remainder of the 6th Marine Division wrapped up its reduction of Yae-Take and 29th Marines were moving north, declaring Motobu Peninsula secured on the same day of 20 April. The next following day on 21 April Major Walker and his Scouts landed on Kouri Shima using LVTs and using LVT(A)s to provide his recon Marines fire support. [4] The northern portion of Okinawa was declared secured on 21 April 1945. The III AC's 1st and 6th Marine Divisions moved south to join the Army's XXIV Corps's attack on the southern portion of main island of Okinawa.

Southern Okinawa Edit

The Marine leaders, foreseeing an avoidable high casualty rate, strongly recommended to continue the usage of the III AC's amphibious landing asset for the assault on the southern end of the islands of Okinawa in the ICEBERG Operation. However, Army General Simon Buckner declined the recommendation and elected instead to put both of the III AC's divisions into the army infantry lines. The result led to the Japanese counterlandings off the west coast on the nights of 14–15 May when the 22nd Marines were tasked to seize the heights about the northern edge of the city of Naha. Navy patrol crafts and other vessels in the area managed to break of the attack. The coast received no further threats when General Shepherd reinforced the 22nd Marine Regiment with Major Walker's 6th Division scout company along the coast. [2]

By 25 May 1945, the 6th Marine Division were within the Naha city limits at a 20-yard wide canal that connected Kokuba Estuary and the Asato River to the west, bisecting the city. Major Walker's Company crossed the Asato River through thick mud and three- to five-feet stone banks and penetrated deep into the western portion of Naha City. Marine combat engineers were opposed by enemy snipers and the recon company dug-in without packs and their gear to advance their position, quickly subduing the snipers. It allowed the Marine engineers, the next following morning to complete a bridge across the mouth of the Asato River.

On 27 May, one company of 2nd Battalion from 22nd Marines crossed the Asato and pressed deeper into the western part of Naha, passing through the lines of the Walker's Company. Most of the Japanese counterattacks throughout the night were broken up by artillery and the Marines in the line, while the Marines and the Army pushed south. Meanwhile, the 22nd Marines moved into western Naha. In order to relieve the 22nd Marines for further use on the battlefield, General Shepherd tasked Major Walker and his recon Marines to take over the western portions of Naha. The 6th Marine Division's recon company relieved the 22nd Marines, and advanced toward the Kokuba estuary, reaching it at 0900. The 29th Marines came to the line to relieve the 4th Marine Regiment.

General Lemuel Shepherd estimated that the best way to capture all of Naha City and its airfield was to seize and occupy the Oruku Peninsula, by a shore to shore amphibious assault. After Shepherd gained recommendations from both the III Marines Amphibious Corps and the Tenth Army, he ordered Major Anthony Walker and his company to scout any enemy presence in the dictated area and report back any findings.

Under the cover of darkness Walker and his recon Marines landed onto the shores of Oruku on the night of 1–2 June, infiltrating through the northern portion of the peninsula. They instantly became under hostile enemy fire. Despite their situation, they managed to uncover hasty intelligence from the enemy by listening and observing their activity in the area. Reporting their return, they found that the beaches were defended but not in great strength making it usable for LVTs to land. [4]

On 3 June 1945, east of the Naha City and Oruku Peninsula operations, Major General Pedro del Valle, commanding general of 1st Marine Division, sent 1st Lieutenant Powell and the division's Scout Company to spearhead the attacks of Colonel Edward Snedeker's 7th Marine Regiment. The recon Marines uncovered the enemy defenses while approaching Kokuba Estuary, and 7th Marines swiftly seized the area.

By 5 June, the 4th Marines boarded their LVTs near Machinato airfield and landed by amphibious assault on the northern flank of the Japanese defenses and established a beachhead. Meanwhile, Walker's Company simultaneously seized Ona Yama Island in the middle of Naha Harbor. [3] Ten days later, the 1st Marine Division seized the Oruku Peninsula, eliminating the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force commanded by Rear Admiral Minoru Ota. [2]

The Offshore Islands Edit

After four days of intensive bombardment from pre-landing preparatory fire, Major Walker and Company H (Scout) were tasked in assessing the bombardment damage. On 13–14 June, Walker's Company, reinforced with a rifle company from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, landed on the small and rocky island of Senaga Shima, one of the islets off the coast of Oruku Peninsula, using LVTs. They reported nothing but dead Japanese and destroyed facilities from the naval gunfire. This became the last recon activity for Walker's 6th Marine Division scout company during the war. [2] Meanwhile, Jones's FMFPAC Amphib Recon Battalion were reconnoitering and securing the western islands offshore from the main island of Okinawa. [1]

The landing force commander Brig. General Leroy Hunt, the 2nd Marine Division's assistant division commander landed his 8th Marines ashore Iheya Shima on 3 June after pre-bombardment and air strikes and declared it secured. Although no presence of Japanese, they sustained minor casualties from ill-guided rockets and shells falling short during the friendly-fire preparatory naval gunfire bombardments.

The 2nd Marine Division's Scout Company reconnoitered Izena Jima during the night of 23 —24 June 1945, only locating some 3,000 to 4,000 Okinawa citizens but no enemy defenses or Japanese defenders. The citizens were quickly processed by military government civil affairs teams. [2]

Battle of Okinawa ends

During World War II, the U.S. 10th Army overcomes the last major pockets of Japanese resistance on Okinawa Island, ending one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The same day, Japanese Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, the commander of Okinawa’s defense, committed suicide with a number of Japanese officers and troops rather than surrender.

On April 1, 1945, the 10th Army, under Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, launched the invasion of Okinawa, a strategic Pacific island located midway between Japan and Formosa. Possession of Okinawa would give the United States a base large enough for an invasion of the Japanese home islands. There were more than 100,000 Japanese defenders on the island, but most were deeply entrenched in the island’s densely forested interior. By the evening of April 1, 60,000 U.S. troops had come safely ashore. However, on April 4, Japanese land resistance stiffened, and at sea kamikaze pilots escalated their deadly suicide attacks on U.S. vessels.

During the next month, the battle raged on land and sea, with the Japanese troops and fliers making the Americans pay dearly for every strategic area of land and water won. On June 18, with U.S. victory imminent, General Buckner was killed by Japanese artillery. Three days later, his 10th Army reached the southern coast of the island, and on June 22 Japanese resistance effectively came to an end.

The Japanese lost 120,000 troops in the defense of Okinawa, while the Americans suffered 12,500 dead and 35,000 wounded. Of the 36 Allied ships lost, most were destroyed by the 2,000 or so Japanese pilots who gave up their lives in kamikaze missions. With the capture of Okinawa, the Allies prepared for the invasion of Japan, a military operation predicted to be far bloodier than the 1944 Allied invasion of Western Europe. The plan called for invading the southern island of Kyushu in November 1945, and the main Japanese island of Honshu in March 1946. In July, however, the United States successfully tested an atomic bomb and after dropping two of these devastating weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, Japan surrendered.

Names engraved on Okinawa Battle monument

Work has begun to add the names of recently-identified victims of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa to a monument in Japan's southern prefecture.

The Cornerstone of Peace in a memorial park in Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture, is inscribed with the names of more than 240,000 people who died in the fighting. The names of people newly recognized as victims are added every year.

The work began in the city of Nanjo on Tuesday, ahead of Okinawa's Memorial Day on June 23. The date marks the end of fierce ground battles on the islands in the closing days of World War Two.

Workers engraved the names on black stone plates about 1-meter high and 1.5-meters wide.

Forty-one people are being added this year. Thirty-eight of them were natives of Okinawa Prefecture, and three were from other prefectures. The monument will bear the names of 241,632 victims.

The stone plates will be installed in the park on Thursday.

An Okinawa prefectural official said the local government is preparing for the memorial day, as bereaved families are looking forward to seeing the names of their loved ones on the monument.

A Short overview of the Battle of Okinawa

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

The Battle of Okinawa took place from April to June 1945 between the United States and Japan. There were over 100,000 Japanese casualties while the American Forces had roughly half the number. The American forces saw Okinawa as a strategic point from where they could launch attacks on Japan. It was thus a must win battle for the Americans. On the other hand, the Japanese Commander General Ushijima had been given direct orders to put up massive resistance and not to surrender at whichever cost.

The Americans did not have exact intelligence about the area, but they estimated at least 65,000 Japanese troops which was a major miscalculation because the Japanese had on the ground over 135,000 troops. Additionally, General Mitsuru Ushijima had also incorporated over 40,000 civilians to serve as reserve militia. The primary defense would be at southern part of Okinawa, where General Mitsuru Ushijima would camp with the majority of the Japanese troops. The northern part of the island would be commanded by Colonel Takehido Udo.

In the southern part of the island, most of the men would be positioned in fortifications, from where they would mount attacks on the Americans. Apart from the land attacks the Japanese also had Kamikazes which would sink American warships and bombers. The Kamikazes were supposed to make continuous hits on the Americans, making it harder for them to advance and by the end of it the casualty number would escalate to a point that the Americans would have to retreat. However, this was not to happen even though the Kamikazes did inflict serious damage on American warships.

The Americans arrived near the island on late March 1945 and anchored on Hagushi Bay on the Western part of the island. The American commander was Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner and with him were 180,000 troops. While anchoring, the American ships encountered serious attacks from the Japanese, which was meant to unsettle them and it hard for them to stick to their initial plan. This was a tactic that the Japanese employed whenever Allied forces landed on their shores and it always worked well for them, but only for a short while.

The battleship USS Idaho shells Okinawa on 1 April 1945. [Via]

The main attack on Okinawa was scheduled for 1 st April 1945, and the Americans used the days leading to the attack to move closer to the shore and secure attack positions. Some American warships succumbed to the Kamikaze attacks, unlike the British ships which proved resistant to the attacks due to their armored flight decks. The Kamikazes were able to sink 36 American ships, and cause serious damage on 368 ships. In the process, 4,907 sailors perished and 4,874 were wounded. On the other hand, the Allied Forces were able to destroy 169 Kamikazes, out of the 193 that had caused massive destruction on their ships.

On April 1 st , the Allied Forces had 300 warships anchored in Okinawa and 1,139 additional vessels and destroyers. By the end of that day, over 60,000 troops had landed on Hagushi Bay. The Allied forces easily swept through the southeast and south-central part of the island and were able to capture the Kadena and Yomitan airfields. Twenty days later, Japanese resistance in the North under Colonel Takehido Udo had been eradicated and shifted to guerilla style attacks. However, it is at the Southern part of the island where the American Forces would encounter the greatest resistance. The American forces incurred heavy losses on the South, such that by late May Admiral Raymond Spruance who was commander of the US Fifth fleet had to be relieved by Admiral William Halsey.

Fierce fighting would continue throughout the whole of June, but the Japanese defensive capacity was reduced as they continued to lose more and more men. By June 21 st , the Japanese defense had been destroyed and General Mitsuru Ushijima committed suicide the following day. On July 2 nd , the Americans claimed victory on Okinawa and the Battle was over. The island of Okinawa would play an integral part in their future attacks on Japan mostly because of its airstrips.

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

The Battle of Okinawa was gruesome and by the end, 7,373 American soldiers perished, and left 35,000 more wounded. The Japanese lost an even bigger number, with over 110,000 men dead. The Japanese also lost over 4,000 aircraft.

Narratives of World War II in the Pacific

The Battle for Okinawa, April 1 to June 22, 1945, was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyus Islands and lies 350 miles from mainland Japan. It is about sixty miles long and ranges from two to eighteen miles wide and held strategic value for both the Americans and the Japanese. The Americans wanted control of Okinawa because it had four airfields and could support tactical and strategic air operations. [1] The Japanese needed to retain Okinawa after the Japanese naval disaster at Truk in February, 1944, and to keep the defense of Japan as far removed from the homeland as possible. At Truk, the Japanese naval base was virtually destroyed by American aircraft.

The Battle of Okinawa is singularly unique in so many ways and stands apart from all other battles in World War II. The factors and characteristics clearly demonstrate what the costliest battle was about and its impact on American military thinking. Military thinking up to this time was that an assault on mainland Japan was inevitable. The enormous casualties and the brutal fighting that occurred on Okinawa forced military planners to reconsider the invasion of Japan. It directly influenced the American decision to use atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and therefore saved American lives who otherwise would have been involved in the invasion.

Okinawa was the only Japanese Prefecture to experience actual ground combat. [2] That means it had a great psychological impact on the Japanese military and population. Although it is a small island, it is also densely populated. At the time of the battle, the population was about 490,000 because 80,000 had been evacuated earlier. [3] Most of the population lived in the southern third of the island in towns and villages because the northern two thirds is mountainous. These factors directly contributed to civilian casualties.

The immense size of the invasion forces made it the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War. It involved more than 1,500 ships of all types. [4] Total American forces numbered approximately 548,000 of these there were approximately 183,000 combat troops for the assault. [5]

One of the most unique aspects of this battle was the Japanese military use of children. Up to this point in the war, the Japanese refrained from employing this tactic. These organizations were composed of students which supported the Japanese forces. The Himeyuri Student Corps were female students mobilized for help as nurses and the Blood and Iron Student Corps were boys. A most compelling account was the oral history of Miyagi Kikuko, a member of the Himeyuri Student Corps, who shared that these girls were given scant medical training before their employment as nurses. [6] The suffering she went through in the battle defies belief. Of approximately 2,000 students mobilized, 1,050 were killed. [7]

The casualties were the most of any battle fought in the Pacific Theater of operations. For context, more people were killed during this battle than were lost in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Total American losses for the battle were more than 12,000 killed and more than 36,000 wounded. [8] The U.S. Navy suffered almost 5,000 killed and approximately 8,000 Army and Marine deaths. Kamikaze attacks sank 30 ships and damaged 368, of which 10 were battleships, 13 fleet and escort carriers, 5 cruisers, and 67 destroyers. [9] Official Army historians believe that the Battle of Okinawa produced more and worse neuropsychiatric cases (battle fatigue/exhaustion/depression) than any Pacific War battle. [10] Combat stress took large numbers of men off the line, severely depleting American combat power.

The famous American war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, was killed by a Japanese sniper. This was the only battle in the Pacific War that both commanding generals were killed. The Japanese commander, General Ushijima, committed hari-kari and his American counterpart, Lieutenant General Buckner, was killed by mortar fire. Buckner was the highest ranking American officer to be killed in World War II. This demonstrates the significance and ferocity of the fight for Okinawa.

Japanese losses, too, were staggering. They suffered 107,539 killed and it is estimated that approximately 24,000 were lost after being sealed in caves. [11] There were more Japanese taken prisoner in this battle than any other in the Pacific War. By battle&rsquos end, there were more than 16,000 Japanese and Okinawan auxiliaries who had surrendered, a truly unprecedented event. [12] Also taking part in the battle was the Japanese battleship, Yamato. This was the world&rsquos largest and most powerful battleship. [13] American submarines and planes found the Yamato and she was attacked and sunk with the loss of most of the crew.

Even more appalling than the losses of the Americans and the Japanese were those suffered by the Okinawans. There were more than 140,000 Okinawans killed. [14] This was more than the losses of the Americans and Japanese combined. A large portion of these were attributed to the introduction, by the Japanese military, of group suicide which will be addressed later.

On reflection, the Battle of Okinawa was the largest and bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. Okinawa was the only Japanese Prefecture (official Japanese sovereign territory) to experience actual ground combat. Another unique aspect of this battle was the Japanese military&rsquos use of children to augment their forces. Kamikazes were heavily used in this battle to great effect. It was the only time in the Pacific War that both commanders were killed in the battle and one of the most significant characteristics was the high casualty rate of the civilian population. They outnumbered that of the belligerents. Additionally, this battle also saw the first disturbing introduction of group suicide a most horrible tactic developed and employed by the Japanese military. Group suicide will be examined following a review of the strategy and tactics of the battle.

Appleman, Roy E. James M. Burns Russell A. Gugeler John Stevens. Okinawa: The Last Battle . Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History , 2000.

Buchanan, Albert Russell. The United States and World War II. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.

Buckner, Simon Bolivar, Joseph Warren Stilwell, and Nicholas Evan Sarantakes. Seven Stars: The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. and Joseph Stilwell. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2004.

Cook, Haruko T, Cook Theodore F. Japan At War An Oral History. New York: The New Press, 1992.

Keegan, John. Atlas of the Second World War. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989.

Lau, Chrissy. Class Lectures. Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi, 2018

Pike, Francis. Hirohito&rsquos War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Place, 2016.

Schrijvers, Peter. The G.I. War Against Japan American Soldiers in Asia and the Pacific During World War II. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

[1] John Keegan, Atlas of the Second World War. (New York Harper & Row Publishers, 1989) 168.

[2] Chrissy Lau, Class Lecture, Texas A&M University &ndash Corpus Christi. October 23, 2018.

[3] Haruko & Theodore Cook, Japan At War An Oral History. (New York The New Press, 1992) 354.

[4] Chrissy Lau, Class Lecture, Texas A&M University &ndash Corpus Christi. October 23, 2018.

[5] Chrissy Lau, Class Lecture, Texas A&M University &ndash Corpus Christi. October 23, 2018.

[6] Haruko & Theodore Cook, Japan At War An Oral History. 357.

[7] Haruko & Theodore Cook, Japan At War An Oral History. 354.

[8] Chrissy Lau, Class Lecture, Texas A&M University &ndash Corpus Christi. October 23, 2018.

[9] A. Russell Buchanon, The United States and World War II Volume II. (New York Harper & Row Publishers, 1964) 563.

Peter Schrijvers, The G.I. War Against Japan American Soldiers in Asia and the Pacific During World War II. (New York New York University Press, 2002) 201.

[11] A. Russell Buchanon, The United States and World War II Volume II. 567.

[12] Roy E. Appleman James M. Burns Russell A. Gugeler John Stevens. Okinawa: the Last Battle . (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History , 2000) 489.

[13] A. Russell Buchanon, The United States and World War II Volume II. 563.

[14] Chrissy Lau, Class Lecture, Texas A&M University &ndash Corpus Christi. October 23, 2018.

Oral History: Miyagi Kikuko

One of the most unique aspects of this battle was the Japanese military use of children. Up to this point in the war, the Japanese refrained from employing this tactic. These organizations were composed of students which supported the Japanese forces. The Himeyuri Student Corps were female students mobilized for help as nurses and the Blood and Iron Student Corps were boys. A most compelling account was the oral history of Miyagi Kikuko, a member of the Himeyuri Student Corps, who shared that these girls were given scant medical training before their employment as nurses. The suffering she went through in the battle defies belief. Of approximately 2,000 students mobilized, 1,050 were killed.

Narratives of World War II in the Pacific
History @TAMU-CC
This exhibit is brought to you by The Mary and Jeff Bell Library
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Battle of Okinawa – Full Color Footage – One of the Bloodiest Battles Of The Pacific War

Throughout 1944, Allied forces drove the Japanese from the countries they had occupied in the Pacific. By the beginning of 1945, they were within striking range of Japan itself and planning an invasion.

They chose the island of Okinawa, at the southern end of Japan, as the place to start. It was only 340 miles (550 km) from the Japanese mainland and would make a good base for air attacks on the Japanese mainland.

Okinawa was one of the most terrible battles of World War II. More people died in the Battle of Okinawa than in any other in the Pacific war.

The Japanese called the battle ‘tetsu no bōfū’ (violent wind of steel) or ‘testsu no ame’ (rain of steel), referring to the huge number of shells, tanks, planes, ships and other weapons used.

The Americans called it the ‘typhoon of steel.’ Japan lost 77,166 soldiers through combat or suicide, while the Allies lost 14,009. Many more soldiers on both sides were wounded, and civilian casualties in the battle numbered up to 150,000. Ninety percent of the buildings on the island were destroyed.

The battle started at the beginning of April. Four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army (7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) and two divisions of Marines (1st and 6th) landed on the island, supported by warships and planes.

The fighting was ferocious, and attacks from kamikaze planes were intense. After 82 days of fighting, Okinawa fell to the Allied forces in the middle of June.

In August 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. Around the same time atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and almost two months after the Battle of Okinawa the Japanese government surrendered.

This Is Why We Should Remember the Battle of Okinawa

Ota Masahide is an Okinawan academic and politician who served as governor of the prefecture from 1990 to 1998. He has written many books on Okinawa, of which the best known is his account of the Battle of Okinawa as he saw it as a high school student member of the Blood and Iron Student Corps. This article has been adapted from "Descent Into Hell – Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa," which is based upon the "Senka o Horuseries" of articles published by the Ryukyu Shimpo from 1983-85. The English translation was published in 2014. HNN's excerpt first appeared on the website of Japan Focus, which carries a longer version.

Two Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines advance on Wana Ridge on 18 May 1945. (Wikipedia)

The Battle of Okinawa was distinct from all other battles in the Pacific War in that it was fought in one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, with the majority of the resident civilian population still present. While Iwo-jima, the island that served as a stepping-stone to Okinawa for US forces, was also Japanese territory, its residents had been forcibly evacuated months before, so the only people on the island when the US forces landed in February 1945 were the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). The fighting in the Battle of Saipan in the middle of the previous year saw many Japanese settlers (mostly Okinawans) caught in the crossfire, but the Mariana Islands were not inherently Japanese territory. The islands had been controlled by Germany until World War 1 and in 1922 were entrusted by the League of Nations to Japan as mandate territories. While the people living in urban centers on the main islands of Japan were of course victims of merciless incendiary bombing in the latter stages of the war, Okinawa was the only prefecture to experience combat on the ground.

The scale of Operation Iceberg and the disparity in the size of the respective forces is noteworthy. The United States mobilized approximately 1500 naval vessels carrying 548,000 men to launch the invasion of the small islands of Okinawa. In 1945 the population of the prefecture of Okinawa was less than 450,000 people so the total US forces actually outnumbered the residents of Okinawa. In contrast to the huge numbers of US troops available, if we include the locally recruited and poorly trained Home Guard and Student Corps child soldiers, the Japanese forces deployed on Okinawa numbered 110,000, just one-fifth of the American strength.

The horrifying extent of civilian casualties is a key feature of the battle. Over 140,000 people, or about one third of the population, died in the course of the battle and its immediate aftermath. As documented in the articles that make up this book, hundreds of families were completed wiped out. Needless to say, most families in the prefecture will have the name of at least one deceased relative engraved on the Cornerstone of Peace, the marble tablets in Mabuni that bear the names of the more than 240,000 combatants and non-combatants of all nationalities who died in the battle. Among the civilian casualties were members of the Home Guard, as well as teenage soldiers recruited without any basis in law into the Blood and Iron Student Corps and young girls co-opted into nurse’s aide units. Among the civilian deaths was the significant loss of life of Korean young men and women press-ganged into serving as laborers or comfort women.

Another characteristic of the Battle of Okinawa was the incidence of group suicide and parricide among civilians terrified at the prospect of being captured by an enemy portrayed by Japanese soldiers as monsters. This had also occurred in Saipan the previous year, and the Japanese media, by extolling those who took their lives in this way, helped to set the scene for it to occur in Okinawa. While the extent to which Japanese soldiers were involved in encouraging or even compelling locals to take their own lives or kill loved ones has been the subject of heated debate in recent years, including court cases initiated by relatives of Imperial Japanese Army commanders suing for libel. This work covers some of these tragedies.

The use of “special-attack units” (kamikaze) is also a well-known aspect of the battle. Over 3,000 young men lost their lives carrying out suicide attacks on ships of the U.S fleet sitting off the coast of Okinawa and 4,900 US sailors were killed as a result. In an era when suicide bombers are painted as religious fanatics, it is important to understand that by and large the pilots who flew on the one-way missions to the seas off Okinawa were relatively well-educated young men driven to contribute to saving their country from what they believed would be obliteration. After all, in the months before the Battle of Okinawa Japan’s urban centers, and tens of thousands of their residents, were being incinerated at a pace that seemed to give credence to the call that only a Divine Wind (kamikaze) could save the nation from destruction. Japanese military leaders, and the Emperor, believed that one last furious roll of the dice would see the United States and its allies accept peace terms that allowed Japan’s national polity (its national essence with the emperor at the head) to remain in place. As it happens of course, rather than helping to bring the war to an end on acceptable terms, the ferocity of these kamikaze attacks resulted in pressure being brought to bear by the US Navy on the commander of the ground forces on Okinawa, Lt. Gen. Buckner, to bring the land campaign to an end as quickly as possible. This, it is argued, may have seen him opt for a costly, blunt-instrument approach rather than a slower but less costly second landing.

If we look at losses suffered by both sides in the Battle of Okinawa, while the US forces lost more than 12,000 men killed (with a total of 72,000 either wounded or victims of combat fatigue), the Japanese military lost over 70,000 men with more than 140,000 Okinawans being killed. In addition 10,000 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner. When describing the battle, Hanson W. Baldwin of the New York Times wrote: “Never before had there been, probably never again will there be, such a vicious sprawling struggle.” In every sense of the word, the battle was vicious in the extreme. That the commanders of both sides died in the battle is testimony to the all-encompassing reach of the casualties.

The horrific death toll and the fanatical resistance by Japanese forces affected the thinking of US leaders and was a significant factor leading to the decision to drop atomic bombs on mainland Japan.

Another feature of the battle was that Okinawa was a “sute-ishi” (sacrificial stone in the Japanese board game of go) cast away in a desperate attempt to save the main islands of Japan. The Japanese Imperial Army’s objective was not to protect the local Okinawans, but instead to engage in combat for the longest time possible, and to inflict the maximum casualties on the Americans in order to earn time for further defensive preparations on the home islands. Rather than putting efforts into evacuation or the creation of a safe zone for civilians, the Okinawan people were used as a source of labor to build shelters, tunnels and other emplacements, to supplement combat units and to tend to wounded soldiers in circumstances aptly described by the title of this book. With the Imperial Japanese Army supplying itself in the field, having civilians close at hand suited them until the US forces landed, when the common view among the commanders of the 32nd Army changed to civilians being potential spies or merely bodies taking up space in caves and shelters.

The Japanese Army’s heartless approach to ejecting local civilians from caves was matched by their killing hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of their own soldiers who were too badly wounded to retreat southwards from hospital shelters.

Through the Battle of Okinawa the people of the prefecture learned a valuable lesson. They came to understand that the military was motivated solely by its own organizational imperatives, existing to protect abstract concepts of national polity and the imperial system, and that in no sense did it serve the function of protecting the lives of non-combatants, that is, the Okinawan people. The fact that that lesson was learned at the expense of well over 140,000 Okinawan lives means that even now, nearly 70 years after Japan was defeated in WW2, the people of Okinawa still value that lesson and sincerely strive to create a peaceful world.

It is important for English speaking readers who read Descent into Hell to understand that the origin of all current affairs is to be found in past history. Those who look at the situation that prevails in Okinawa now and sense a growing antagonism among the prefecture’s residents towards the presence of US military bases need to be reminded that it was not always like this. Today’s situation can be traced back firstly to the Battle of Okinawa and then to subsequent agreements between the governments of Japan and the United States.

We should remember that from even before the end of the battle, while the residual elements of the Japanese 32nd Army were forcing Okinawans out from caves into the relentless bombardment in southern Okinawa, specially organized units of the United States military were already providing food, clothing and shelter to displaced residents in areas that it had secured. The US forces had planned ahead and prepared for this contingency and their kindness in this respect no doubt saved tens of thousands of Okinawans from death by starvation. The years immediately following the surrender of Japan were marked by strong of feelings of gratitude among Okinawans towards the United States for its efforts to avoid a humanitarian disaster. These feelings continued until the governments of Japan and the United States colluded to concentrate an unfair proportion of the US military presence in Okinawa, including nuclear weapons, and highly toxic defoliants for use in the Vietnam War. The current situation in Okinawa may give the impression that ill feeling has prevailed for much longer than is actually the case. I encourage all who have an interest in Okinawan affairs to equip themselves with a knowledge of the civilian experience in the battle for these islands fought almost seven decades ago.

Although Kakazu Ridge is a quiet area where locals go to play mini-golf or let their children loose for playground time, this place was the site of deadly combat during the Battle of Okinawa.

A playground on Kakazu Ridge

Only a 15-minute drive from MCAS Futenma, the ridge boasts a good vantage point of the mid-section of the island. During the war, the ridge looked smaller than its southern neighbor, Hacksaw Ridge, but its position and size did not make it any easier to conquer during the war.

According to “Okinawa: The Last Battle,” a book recounting the events of this deadly battle, U.S. forces coming from the north launched a substantial attack on Kakazu Ridge and another ridge nearby known as Kakazu West on April 9, 1945. The two ridges are positioned in a way that forms a “T” and although U.S. forces successfully reached the top of the ridges, their effort was met with heavy counterattack that forced them to retreat.

Kakazu Ridge itself was especially fortified by the Japanese Imperial Army with bunkers, tunnels and pillboxes. A deep gorge, which bordered the north side of Kakazu Ridge, posed more challenges. Many portions of this side were rice paddies meaning tanks could not be utilized. It took the U.S. forces about 15 days to conquer the ridges and the battle left several thousand dead on both sides, according to a 2008 NHK report.

A front view of a bunker on Kakazu Ridge

Although Kakazu Ridge was renamed Kakazu Takadai Kouen, or Kakazu Takadai Park, after the war, some remains of the battle are still left on site, including a concrete wall peppered with bullet holes. According to Ginowan City, this wall used to belong to a local residence. Another reminder of war is an underground bunker halfway up a staircase leading from the bulleted wall. The entrance is fenced-off, but visitors can take a look through and get an idea of the exhausting labor it took to build the structure.

An entrance to underground bunkers

Another point of interest is at the top of the stairs—an observatory which gives visitors a view as far as Yomitan, the U.S. Forces landing point up north. And it is also a place where Japanese media and amateur photographers go to snap off great photos of MCAS Futenma. Facing south, Hacksaw Ridge is visible towering over Kakazu.

An observatory on Kakazu Ridge

After the observatory, take a look at what remains of the site’s pillbox, or “tochka,” which the Ginowan City office explains is a Russian military term for “point” or “hub.” Although significantly damaged, the cubic structure still retains its framework. Near the pillbox, there are monuments for citizens of Korea and Kyoto who were involved and killed in the battle at Kakazu.

All in all, visitors can see all the points of interest in Kakazu in an hour, so make the most of your time by heading to Hacksaw Ridge, a must-see historical spot only 10-minutes away by car. American forces launched an attack on this ridge a couple of days after the fall of Kakazu. This ridge garnered fame and became a popular spot to visit thanks to the 2016 movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”

A visit to this site will not only show you points you might remember from the movie, but also other historically-significant spots not shown. “Needle Rock,” located on the east end of the ridge, is a 42.7-foot monolith where the first stage of the battle at the ridge took place. Some portions of Hacksaw Ridge are now covered with stone walls, which bring back the time when the location was known as “Urasoe Castle” and “Urasoe Youdore,” a mausoleum for King Eiso and King Shonei of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). The restored castle wall gives an idea of how this place looked before the war.

Needle Rock at Hasksaw Ridge

Make time for the museum nearby for a close look at some of the preserved artifacts of the battle, including weapons, bullets and a replica of the mausoleum’s stone chamber.

A trip to both Kakazu and Hacksaw Ridges on Okinawa makes for an interesting glimpse into the history of the area beyond what the big screen can give you. If you’ve seen the movie or are a history buff, both ridges are a must-see.

Kakazu Takadai Park
GPS Coordinates: N 26.258678, E 127.736877

Hacksaw Ridge (Urasoe Castle Ruins)/Urasoe Youdore Museum
GPS coordinates: N 26.248041, E 127.730335
Admission: Entry to Urasoe Castle Ruins is free Entry to museum costs 100 yen (high school student and above) and 50 yen
(middle school student and below)
Museum Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed on Mondays and Dec. 28 – Jan. 3)

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Okinawa Memorial Day

Okinawa Memorial Day ( 慰霊の日 , Irei no Hi, lit. "the day to console the dead") is a public holiday observed in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture annually on June 23 to remember the lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa. It is not celebrated nationally throughout Japan. The Battle of Okinawa was the only ground engagement of the Pacific War fought on Japanese soil. Over 240,000 lives were lost and numerous buildings on the island were destroyed along with countless historical documents, artifacts and cultural treasures. It is estimated that about the half of the war victims were local Okinawan residents, among them children.[1]

Okinawa Memorial Day
Official name 慰霊の日 Irei no Hi
Observed byOkinawa
SignificanceRemembrance of those lost in the Battle of Okinawa
DateJune 23

In the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese soldiers as well as inhabitants, were pushed into the Southern border of Okinawa and Mitsuru Ushijima and Isamu Chō, top generals committed suicide on June 22 or 23, 1945. During the occupation of Japan, in 1961, Okinawa Memorial Day was made a holiday by the Government of the Ryukyu Islands in order to remember and pray for their family members and relatives who were killed during the Battle of Okinawa. In 1972, when Okinawa was returned to Japan, Okinawa Memorial Day lost its recognition as a holiday, but this was restored by the prefectural government in 1991. In Okinawa, it is treated like one of the Japanese national public holidays.

The Cornerstone of Peace is a monument in Itoman commemorating the Battle of Okinawa and the role of Okinawa during World War II. The names of over two hundred and forty thousand people who lost their lives are inscribed on the memorial. It was unveiled on June 23, 1995, in memory of the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa and the end of World War II at Mabuni, Okinawa. It was erected to: (1) Remember those lost in the war, and pray for peace (2) Pass on the lessons of war and (3) Serve as a place for meditation and learning. Another expression is Okinawa Peace Park. On June 23, or Okinawa Memorial Day, memorial services are held every year with the attendance of the prime minister.

Remembering the Battle of Okinawa on its 75th Anniversary

On April 1, 1945, approximately 60,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers of the U.S. Tenth Army wade ashore from landing craft onto the beaches of Okinawa. The battle that follows is the largest Allied amphibious landing in the Pacific theater and the final island battle of the Pacific.

Army and Marine divisions seek to wrest the island from Japanese control to sever the last southwest supply line to mainland Japan, while establishing the island as a base for American medium bombers.

American progress during the nearly three-month battle, dubbed the “Typhoon of Steel” due to its ferocity, is hindered by heavy rains and rugged terrain.

Like the bloodletting on Iwo Jima, the vicious air, land, and sea battle gives American military planners pause when contemplating future amphibious assaults.

The grisly battle concludes in an American victory, as the tenacious and desperate Japanese defenders — 155,000 strong — are overpowered by American manpower and material strength.

By battle’s end on June 22, there are more than 49,000 American casualties, including nearly 12,000 fatalities. An estimated 90,000 Japanese combatants die in the fighting. A staggering 150,000 Okinawan civilians also perish.



  1. Gedeon

    Removed (confused section)

  2. Haris

    Agree, the remarkable sentence

  3. Dizuru

    Interesting, but still I would like to know more about this. Liked the article! :-)

  4. Agustine

    Strangely like this

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