Battle of Okinawa

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Battle of Okinawa

Battle of Okinanawa

The Battle of Okinawa, fought on the island of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands (south of the four big islands of Japan) was the largest amphibious assault during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It was the largest sea-land-air battle in history, running from April through June, 1945.

No one on either side expected it to be the last major battle of the war, which it was. The Americans were planning Operation Downfall, the invasion of the main islands, which never happened due to Japanese surrender in August. The reference by Feifer (below) has much to say of Okinawa and how it influenced the end of the war — and the decision to use "The Bomb."

At some battles such as Iwo Jima, there had been no civilians, but Okinawa had a large indigenous civilian population, and the civilian loss in the Typhoon of Steel was at least 130,000. American losses were over 72,000 casualties, of whom 12,000 were killed or missing, over twice Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined. About a quarter of the civilian, and Japanese and American populations about the island in spring 1945 were killed. There were about 100,000 Japanese killed or captured; many preferred suicide to the disgrace of capture.

1 Generals
2 Before April 1, 1945
3 The land battle
3.1 The north
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Battle of Okinawa Generals

The American land campaign was controlled by the 10th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr The army had two corps under its command, III Amphibious Corps, consisting of 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, with 2nd Marine Division as an afloat reserve, and XXIV Corps, consisting of the 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions. At the very end of the campaign, Buckner was killed by ricocheting shell fragments, becoming one of the most senior US casualties in the entire war.

The Japanese land campaign (mainly defensive) was led in the south by General Mitsuru Ushijima. He committed suicide at the end. In the less-talked-about north of Okinawa, General Takehido Udo commanded.

But much happened before the land campaign.

Battle of Okinawa Before April 1, 1945

United States submarines had by late 1944 wreaked havoc on Japanese shipping. The bound-for-Okinawa troop ship Toyama Maru was sunk by the U.S.S. Sturgeon at a loss of about 5,600 nine months before the land campaign; these Japanese deaths (the Sturgeon escaped despite being pummeled by depth charges) are usually not even figured in battle losses.

On October 10, 1944, Okinawa gained a dubious shorthand for disaster — the numerals 10-10. Waves of bombers pummeled the nearly-defenseless island, causing untold wreckage on land; over 80% of Naha was destroyed and more than 65 boats were sunk. Japanese anti-aircraft technology was not up to the nimble American planes.

Shortly before the battle, the Japanese warship the Yamato was sunk by American air power on her trip to Okinawa. Widespread rumors that the ship was only given enough fuel for a one-way trip are false; Feifer debunks this (references).

The Japanese had a plan to beach the Yamato on Okinawa's shore and use it as a land battery. Not that it would have done them much good on land.

Battle of Okinawa - The land battle

The land battle took place over about 82 days after April 1, 1945.

Battle of Okinawa - The north

The Americans swept across the thin part of the south-central part of the island with relative ease (for World War Two), soon taking the lightly-held north, though there was fierce fighting at Yae-dake Mountain and taking Kadena Air Base, Yomitan Air Base; at present writing (August, 2003) Kadena remains the largest American air base in Asia, and its runways can handle big planes.

The Japanese were to dearly regret losing Kadena and Yomitan air bases, and gave them up with little fight. The entire north fell on April 20.

Few Americans encountered the feared Habu snake, soon discarding their cumbersome leggings. Far worse awaited them in the south. The north was warm-up.

Battle of Okinawa - The south

Fighting in the south was hardest, the skillful Japanese soldiers hiding in caves, but the American advance was inexorable. The island fell on about June 21, though some Japanese continued fighting, including the future governor of Okinawa prefecture, Masahide Ota.

Battle of Okinawa Casualties

U.S. losses were over 48,000 casualties, of whom over 12,000 were killed or missing—over twice the number of casualties as at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined. This made the battle the bloodiest that U.S. forces experienced in the Pacific war, and the second bloodiest in World War II, only exceeded by the Battle of the Bulge.[8][9][10]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 machine gun fire on Ie Shima.[11] U.S. forces suffered their highest ever casualty rate for combat stress reaction during the entire battle, at 48%, with some 14,000 soldiers retired due to nervous breakdown. The U.S. Navy's dead exceeded its wounded with 4,907 killed and 4,874 wounded, primarily from kamikaze attacks.

General Buckner's decision to attack the Japanese defenses head-on, although proving to be extremely costly in U.S. lives, was ultimately successful. Just four days from the closing of the campaign, General Buckner was killed by Japanese artillery fire 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, a second general, Brigadier General Claudius M. Easley, was killed by machine gun fire.

At sea 368 Allied ships (including 120 amphibious craft) were damaged while another 36, including 15 amphibious ships and 12 destroyers were sunk during the Okinawa campaign. In the end more than 4,900 officers and men of the Navy lost their lives, largely as a result of Japanese kamikazes.[12] The Japanese lost 16 ships sunk, including the enormous battleship Yamato.

On land the U.S. forces lost at least 225 tanks and many LVTs destroyed while eliminating 27 Japanese tanks and 743 artillery pieces (including mortars, anti-tank guns, and anti-aircraft guns), some of them knocked-out by the naval and air bombardments.
A group of Japanese prisoners who preferred surrender to suicide wait to be questioned

By one count, there were about 107,000 Japanese combatants killed and 7,400 captured. Some of the soldiers committed seppuku or simply blew themselves up with hand grenades. In addition, about 20,000 were sealed in their caves alive.[13]

This was also the first battle in the war in which surrendering Japanese were made into POWs by the thousands. Many of the Japanese prisoners were native Okinawans who had been impressed into the Army shortly before the battle and were less imbued with the Japanese Army's no-surrender doctrine.[14] When the American forces occupied the island, the Japanese took Okinawan clothing to avoid capture and the Okinawans came to the Americans' aid by offering a simple way to detect Japanese in hiding. The Okinawan language differs greatly from the Japanese language; with Americans at their sides, Okinawans would give directions to people in the local language, and those who did not understand were considered Japanese in hiding who were then captured.

Ninety percent of the buildings on the island were completely destroyed, and the lush tropical landscape was turned into "a vast field of mud, lead, decay and maggots".[46]

The military value of Okinawa "exceeded all hope." Okinawa provided a fleet anchorage, troop staging areas, and airfields in close proximity to Japan. After the battle, 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.[47] Significant U.S. forces remain garrisoned there, and Kadena remains the largest U.S. air base in Asia.

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. Victor Davis Hanson explains his view in 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 fire-bombing 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.

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

In 1945, Winston Churchill called the battle "among the most intense and famous in military history."

In 1995, the Okinawa government erected a memorial named Cornerstone of Peace in Mabuni, the site of the last fighting in southeastern Okinawa.[48] 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.

he Battle of Okinawa Ends

"We have passed the speculative phase of the campaign and are down to the final kill." This was General Buckner's appraisal of the battle for Okinawa on 15 June.1 Infantrymen on the front lines also sensed the impending disintegration of General Ushijima's 32d Army, not because of any noticeable weakening in the individual's will to fight but because, destitute of the supplies and tools of war, of the coordination, communications, and skill necessary to a fighting machine, the Japanese collectively lacked the power of adequate resistance.

End of Organized Resistance

Most of General Ushijima's crack troops were rotting in the rubble of the Shuri battlefield. Of the combat and service troops who had escaped to the south, a thousand were being killed each day.2 Those who lived had become a mass of uncoordinated troops fighting to the death but presenting no integrated defense against the Tenth Army attack ranging south toward the last prominent hills left to the Japanese.

Fight Before the Caves
After gaining the top of Hill 95 and the rim of the Yaeju-Dake, only a generally level plateau separated the XXIV Corps front lines from the cave headquarters of General Ushijima's army which, according to prisoners of war, was located in a great coral ledge at the southern extremity of the Corps sector. This entire tableland, although evenly contoured, was liberally covered with coral heads. Some were grouped densely and formed a partial barrier; others were little larger than stumps or bushes and appeared to have grown from the earth. A few coral bulges were large and prominent enough to afford the Japanese strong positions. The largest of these were the Big Apple and Yuza-Dake Peaks at the north end of the 96th Division's sector. Within the zone of the 7th Division were Hills 153 and 115, jagged protuberances of coral which, after the fall of the Yaeju-Dake and Hill 95, became General Ushijima's last hope of defending the eastern end of his line.
The 5-day battle for these hills and the fields of coral outcroppings on the surrounding plateau, lasting from 13 to 17 June, was as much like hunting as fighting. It was a battle of massed tanks which operated ahead of the usual infantry support, blasting the coral rocks with shell bursts and almost constant machine-gun fire. The battlefield was perfect for armored flame throwers, which poured flame into the caves and clusters of rocky crags and wooded areas, either killing the Japanese at once or forcing them into lanes of machine-gun fire. In five days flame tanks of the 713th Armored Flame Thrower Battalion directed more than 37,000 gallons of burning gasoline at the enemy.3 It was also a battle of infantry platoons or individual infantrymen against disorganized but desperate enemy soldiers.

Some of the largest cave defenses in southern Okinawa were in the Yaeju and Yuza Peaks. Infantrymen of the 96th Division destroyed these positions with hand and rifle grenades, satchel charges, and portable flame throwers. For the infantrymen it was a search for the enemy's hiding places, often followed by a few minutes of reckless combat. Troops of the 381st Infantry occupied the commanding ground on the Big Apple Peak on 14 June but, for lack of enough explosives to seal the numerous caves in the area, were forced into a night-long fight with Japanese who emerged from the caves after darkness.4 Yuza Peak fell two days later, on 16 June. On the same day the 17th and 32d Regiments reached Hill 153 and Hill 115, but another day of bitter fighting was required before the Japanese forces were completely destroyed.

Collapse of the 32d Army
By the evening of 17 June, Tenth Army troops held a solid front line along the crests of Kunishi Ridge, Hill 153, and Hill 115, and, for the first time, could look south over the entire enemy-held territory, covering about eight square miles. Forced from its last defensive terrain and obliged to realize that nothing could prevent its destruction, General Ushijima's army suddenly collapsed. Its discipline and morale, weakened by nearly eighty days of defeat, now broke completely and the 32d Army degenerated into a mob.

FIGHTING TOWARD HILL 89, tanks of the 769th Tank Battalion attack a bypassed Japanese strong point. On top of Yaeju-Dake 18 June, 96th Division infantrymen (below) probe hidden enemy pockets. Yellow cloth (right) marks the front lines for American bombers and fighters.

As a unit, the 44th Brigade was destroyed when its command post on Hill 115 fell to the 32d Infantry; only a few stragglers escaped. Enemy soldiers who had served in the 62d Division fell back to defend the army headquarters at Hill 89. Approximately 400 members of the 24th Division-all that remained of the Japanese 32d Regiment-were scattered through the caves near Kunishi Ridge, where they remained in hiding as the battle passed on to the south. The rest of the 24th Division retreated to its headquarters near Medeera, less than half a mile southwest of Hill 153.5

"Hill 153," said General Ushijima in an order written a few hours after that hill fell to the 27th Infantry, "is the essential point at which the final destiny of the entire army must be decided. It is very painful to the Commanding General of the Army that the orders sent out from time to time . . . concerning that hill have been disregarded." He ordered one battalion to recapture the hill before morning. A copy of this order was found the following morning on the body of one of the from 100 to 200 soldiers who tried to recapture Hill 153. On the back were notes written by the commander of the battalion:

The contents of the first paragraph of this Army Order were utterly unexpected by this battalion; it is, indeed extremely unfortunate.
The units which are to retake Hill 153 will carry out the Battalion orders without thought of losses, thereby bringing fame to the battalion.
When the hill is retaken, report its seizure immediately. 6

An hour after daylight, 18 June, the Japanese soldiers who were to report the capture of Hill 153 lay dead and scattered through the coral pinnacles. Their attack had not even alarmed infantrymen of the 184th Infantry, which had replaced the 17th on the previous evening. The Japanese massed on the south side of the hill and milled about until they were killed.

On 18 June, in the last written official order of the 32d Army, General Ushijima appointed an officer to lead the "Blood and Iron Youth Organization" and conduct guerilla warfare after the cessation of organized combat. At the same time he ordered remaining troops to make their way to the mountains in the northern end of Okinawa where a small band of guerillas was supposedly already operating. The migration was to extend over several days; soldiers were to travel in groups of from two to five and were urged to wear civilian clothes and avoid conflict if possible.

This infiltration of Japanese was detected during the night of 28-19 June and both the front lines and rear installations burst into activity. Illumination flares hung over the southern tip of Okinawa between darkness and dawn, and the sound of machine-gun fire was almost constant through the night. This nighttime movement reached a peak several nights later, when one division, the 7th, killed 502 enemy soldiers. The infiltrating Japanese were not aggressive and carried weapons only for their own protection, their chief concern being to escape to the north or, in some instances, to submerge their identity in the civilian population.7

While some Japanese chose to chance the hazards of moving north, a great many fought savagely and were determined to take as many Americans as possible to death with them. The two divisions on the flanks found spotty and unpredictable resistance. On 18 and 19 June, the 6th Marine Division leapfrogged attacking battalions forward and plunged across the southwestern tip of the island. This fast-moving assault, and the advance of the 7th Division on the east, were opposed by machine guns and mortars but there was no integrated scheme of defense; the mass of civilians encountered delayed the troops almost as much as did enemy resistance. In the center, however, the 1st Marine and the 96th Infantry Divisions and the 305th Infantry, 77th Division, were opposed by the cornered remnants of the 24th Division, which made its last desperate stand near its command post at Medeera. The 5th Marines attacked Hill 81 in this area on four successive days before it fell on 21 June, and Hill 85 in the XXIV Corps sector was defended with the same die-hard determination.8

In spite of the active role which tanks played in the fighting, a role which served to accelerate the battle, infantry combat went on as usual. One of the more conspicuous displays of recklessness occurred on 19 June when Company E, 305th Infantry, attacked several machine-gun nests. T/Sgt. John Meagher mounted a tank and was pointing out targets to the tank gunners when a Japanese raced toward the tank with a satchel charge. Meagher jumped from the tank, bayoneted the enemy soldier, and returned to the tank for a machine gun. Firing from his hip, he then moved through enemy fire toward the nearest pillbox, killed six enemy gunners there, and proceeded toward another machine gun. His ammunition gave out just as he reached the second pillbox. Meagher grabbed his empty gun by the barrel and beat the enemy crew to death. For this daring, one-man assault, Meagher was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Except for the Medeera pocket, front lines had almost disappeared by the evening of 21 June. Enemy troops, numbering between 15,000 and 18,000, were hiding in crevices in the great cliffs that walled the southern coast, in caves and ruined buildings, or in the brush, ditches, or coral. Some were waiting for an opportunity to surrender or were simply trying to evade American troops and prolong their own existence. Others, surrounded near Medeera, were fighting desperately with mortars and machine guns. Many of the Okinawa conscripts hoped to rejoin their families.

Although the ratio of Japanese killed to American casualties increased favorably, the latter remained relatively high as infantrymen combed the tip of the island for snipers or fought through the streets of Medeera and Makabe. Disorganization of the enemy force did not lessen the need for aggressive action, although the same effort by the troops usually resulted in a greater number of enemy casualties than in the Shuri area. From the fall of Shuri until front lines disappeared, Tenth Army lost 1,555 men killed in action and 6,602 wounded 9

Among those killed was General Buckner. Early in the afternoon of 18 June, General Buckner stopped at a forward observation post of the 8th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, near the southwest tip of Okinawa. Although this division staged a feint on 1 April and 19 April, none of its elements came ashore till June, when the 8th, after taking Theia and Iguni Islands, joined in the final battle.10 While General Buckner watched the progress of the fighting, at 1315, a shell from a Japanese dual purpose gun exploded directly above the observation post. A fragment of coral, broken off by the explosion, struck General Buckner in the chest. He collapsed immediately and died ten minutes later. Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, senior commander on Okinawa, assumed command of Tenth Army.11 He was succeeded on 23 June by Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell.

Brig. Gen. Claudius M. Easley, assistant commander of the 96th Division, was killed the day after General Buckner's death. General Easley, known by all as a front-line soldier, was pointing out the location of a machine gun when two bullets from the gun struck him in the forehead. The lives of these two generals were added to more than 7,000 others of the Tenth Army as part of the cost of victory on Okinawa.

Text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Okinawa was the site of much of the land part of the Battle of Okinawa during World War Two, where American forces attempted to capture the island so it could be used as a springboard for the planned invasion of Japan. During this 82 day battle 100,000 Japanese and 12,000 American soldiers were killed, in addition to between 42,000 and 150,000 civilians, approximately one fourth of the civilian population of the island.

During the American occupation of Japan, following the Imperial Japanese surrender after WW II, the United States controlled Okinawa Island (and other parts of Okinawa), which remained under U.S. governance until June 17, 1972.

Since then, United States Armed Forces personnel have remained on Okinawa Island by invitation of the Japanese government as part of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.

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Okinawa - Surrender and Suicide

Deterioration of Enemy Discipline and Morale
Until American troops occupied the last of its defensive terrain, the Japanese Army, in spite of adversities and broken fortunes, had maintained discipline and organization astonishingly well. When the process of dissolution began, however, it spread like an epidemic. Most Japanese soldiers lost hope of eventual victory when they abandoned Shuri. As early as 12 June the sound of their artillery had faded from its April rumble to a faint whisper, and small weapons were scarcer than men. "If hand grenades, explosives, etc., are dropped on the battlefield," a Japanese general ordered, "every single item will be picked up; the man doing the salvaging will arm himself with them."

There was dissension among troops and officers. One prisoner said it was common for men to join other units without knowing the names of the unit and of its officers. Others reported that medical supplies were so low that treatment was limited to bandaging, and many of the wounded were left to die or to commit suicide. About half the troops were fighting in a daze, and rape was common since the soldiers felt that they had only a short time to live.14 These conditions existed even before Kunishi Ridge and Hill 153 were in American hands. After they fell the Japanese soldiers realized that no action in which they participated could have even momentary success.

Faced with these wretched conditions, Japanese officers had maintained discipline by assuring their soldiers that there was no alternative to death since the Americans would kill them if captured. On the other hand, Japanese officers promised their troops a counterlanding, an airborne invasion, and a general all-out attack toward the latter part of June. According to prisoners of war who told of this persistent rumor, the 9th Division was to come from Formosa, and 500 planes and the remains of the Imperial Fleet were to participate in the great attack.

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USAF Plane List USN FIGHTERS A-10 / A10 Thunderbolt II F-5 Freedom Fighter F-20 Tigershark F-4 Phantom II F-86 Sabre, A-4 Skyhawk, A-6 Grumann Intruder F-14 Tomcat F-15 Eagle F15, F-16 Fighting Falcon F-18 Hornet F-22 Raptor F-35 Joint Strike Fighter U-2 Dragon Lady SR-71 Blackbird F-117 Nighthawk F117 F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter JSF B-52 Stratofortress B52 F-111, AC130 Gunship B-1 Lancer B-2 Spirit P-3C Orion S-3B Viking CH-46 Sea Knight, CH-53 Sea Stallion H-3 Sea King MH-53 Sea Dragon SH-60 Seahawk HH/UH-1N Iroquois AH-1 Cobra UH-60 Black Hawk, HH-60 Pave Hawk Helicopter AH-64 Apache AH64 RQ-1 Predator List of Aircraft Weapons
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Naval Navy Tactics ASW AAW USN Aircraft Carriers 5th US Fleet US 6th Fleet US 7th Fleet USS Ranger USS Forrestal USS Ronald Reagan Supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John C. Stennis, Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush USS Abraham Lincoln CVN72 USS Enterprise CVN65 USN Cruisers 1 - USS Ticonderoga, Vincennes, Valley Forge, Thomas S. Gates, Bunker Hill, Mobile Bay, Antietam, Leyte Gulf, San Jacinto, Lake Champlain, Princeton USN Cruisers 2 - USS Chancellorsville, Cowpens, Gettysburg, Chosin, Hue City, Shiloh, Anzio, Vicksburg, Lake Erie, Cape St. George, Vella Gulf, Port Royal USN Destroyers US Navy Amphibious Assault Ships - LHA/LHD/LHA(R) USS Wasp, USS Essex, USS Kearsarge, USS Boxer, USS Bataan, USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Iwo Jima, USS Makin Island, USS Tarawa, USS Saipan, USS Belleau Wood, USS Nassau, USS Peleliu SSN Attack Sumbarines 1 SSN Attack Sumbarines 2 SSBN Fleet Balistic Missile Sumbarines USN Frigates USN Patrol Ships Submarine

Battle of Okinawa - WW2 Battles