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Operation Iceberg: The Assault on Okinawa - Part 2 - The Battle - April - June 1945
The Opening ShotsThe Americans MoveThe Assault Goes InThe Advance Gets Underway: L+1 to L+3A General Advance: L+4 to L+17IIIAC Moves NorthThe Ie Shima LandingsThe Main Assault on the Shuri Defences: 19 April (L+18)The Japanese Strike BackThe Assault on the Shuri Defences and the Battle for Sugar Loaf HillThe Americans Push SouthUshijima Makes A Last StandConclusionBibliography and Further ReadingWebsites
The Opening ShotsThe Second World War first reached Okinawa on 29 September 1944 when B29s bombed the airfields and reconnaissance was conducted to photograph as many of the islands as possible. An attack by carrier aircraft quickly followed on 10 October, which was intended to cover the approaching invasion of Leyte - the Japanese referring to this as the air battle of Formosa and lost some 500 aircraft and thirty-six ships in three days. The islands were hit again on 3 and 10 January, both by the Fast Carrier Force (TF 38), and again on 1 and 31 March, by the newly re-designated Fast Carrier Force (now TF 58) after it had hit targets in the Tokyo area. While American patrols effectively isolated the Ryukyus from Formosa and Japan, B29s continued to pound the airfields in-between attacks on Japan itself. By the end of March there were almost no operational aircraft left on Okinawa and many of the cities and towns (including Naha and Shuri) were badly damaged or destroyed. On 24 March five battleships (16in guns) and eleven destroyers shelled targets on Okinawa and between 26 and 31 March the British Carrier Force attacked Sakishima Gunto to neutralise the airfields there.
The Japanese, expecting an attack on Formosa or Okinawa at any time, alerted the air force to implement Ten-Go on 25 March but massive B29 raids on the Kyushu airfields badly disrupted preparations and it was not launched until the 6 April, five days after the assault on Okinawa began. The Mine Flotilla (TG 52.2) started clearing the approaches to Okinawa on 22 March (discovering six minefields and destroying some 257 mines) while on 25 March the Gunfire and Covering Force (TF 54) moved into position with nine battleships (3 x 16in, 5 x 14in and 1 x 12in guns), 10 cruisers (7 x 8in and 3 x 6in guns), thirty-two destroyers and escorts, as well as 177 gunboats. A massive amount of ordnance was fired in the seven days leading up to L-Day (as an example, some 37,000 rounds of 5in, 33,000 rounds of 4.5in and 22,000 4in rockets were fired) as well as 3,100 air strikes conducted on beach and in-shore targets. While this had little direct impact on the Japanese defenders it certainly kept their heads down as they refused to respond to the onslaught.
The Americans MoveKerama Retto is a group of islands and islets about fifteen miles west from Okinawa, and although unsuitable for the construction of airfields, can provide an excellent anchorage for over seventy large ships and eventually became the fleet's rearming, refuelling and repair base. While the proposal to capture the islands was initially resisted due to the fear of air attack, it was realised that such a base was a necessity given the experience at Iwo Jima. The 77th Infantry Division (Western Island Attack Group) swept through the Keramas from the west on 26 March (L-6) and five of the division's infantry battalions - 1st Battalion, 305th Infantry Regiment (1/305), 3/305, 1/306, 2/306 & 2/307 - met little resistance as they secured the islands by 29 March with four of the islands had just under a thousand IJN troops on them. Japanese losses amounted to 530 dead and 121 taken prisoner while American losses amounted to 31 dead and 81 wounded. Around 1,200 civilians were interred with another 150 committing suicide. 350 suicide boats were captured. The remaining IJN troops were left undisturbed on Tokashiki under a gentlemen's agreement and surrendered after VJ Day. The 77th Infantry Division re-embarked on 30 March leaving the 2/305 behind for security, while a provisional infantry battalion formed from the 870th Anti Aircraft Battalion on relieved this on 23 May. The fleet base and a seaplane base were operational before the islands were finally secured.
Keise Shima (eleven miles southwest of the Hagushi Beaches) was secured by an unopposed landing of the 2/306 on 31 March. This was followed by 420th Field Artillery Group with the 531st and 532nd Field Artillery Battalions (155mm guns) to support the assault forces on L-Day and throughout southern Okinawa.
Underwater demolition teams (UDT) undertook reconnaissance sweeps of the Hagushi Beaches on 29 March, while spotter aircraft flying over Okinawa reported no human activity, the island seeming deserted. Then, on 30 March, UDTs 4, 7, 11, 16, 17 and 21 swam towards the beaches and started to clear anti-boat obstacles from mid-morning. By this time, the assault force was assembling a little to the west of Okinawa and the carrier Force took position some fifty miles to the east. The 2nd Marine Division, who were the demonstration force, embarked on 31 March and arrived off the southeastern Minatogawa Beaches in the early morning, which the Japanese considered to be the most likely landing spot, a ruse that had been reinforced by the operation of minesweepers and UDTs since 29 March.
The Assault Goes InAdmiral Kelly Turner gave the order to "Land the Landing Force" at 04.06, 1 April 1945 - Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day. The pre-invasion bombardment started at 05.30 and as the sun rose at 06.21 the soldiers and marines who would shortly be landing on it, saw Okinawa Gunto for the first time. Gradually, the amtracs formed into groups and started to circle, awaiting the order to head towards the beach. Carriers planes and gunboats bombarded the beaches and as the control craft pennants came down, an eight-mile line of amtracs began their 4,000 yard dash to the beach. At the same time, the 2nd Marine Division began their feint and ironically suffered the first casualties as kamikazes slammed into a transport and LST (Landing Ship, Tank or Troops) - apart from these air attacks the demonstration prompted no other Japanese reaction. Ushijima had few troops near the Hagushi Beaches anyway and the remainder were positioned exactly where he wanted them.The assault force churned their way past the Battleship USS Tennessee and formed into the regimental assault waves of two battalions abreast in eight waves:
- Wave 1 - twenty-eight LVT(A)(4) amtracs with 75mm howitzers;
- Wave 2 - sixteen LVT(4) amtracs with assault troops;
- Wave 3 to 6 - twelve LVT(4) with assault troops and crew-served weapons;
- Wave 7 - varied numbers of LSMs or LCMs with floatation-equipped Sherman tanks;
- Wave 8 - LVT(4)s with support troops.
The Advance Gets Underway: L+1 to L+3On the morning of L+1, 2nd Marine Division conducted another feint off the southeast beaches, which again achieved very little. Both Kadena and Yontan airfields quickly fell into Allied hands with Kadena being useable for emergency landings by the end of the day and Yontan being useable by the end of L+2. Neither airfield had been destroyed by the Japanese and the main bridge across the Bishi Gawa had been captured intact. The weather remained good for the next couple of days and so the Americans continued their rapid advance with the 6th Marine Division moving north and securing the Ishikawa Isthmus by the 4 April. The 1st Marine and 7th Infantry Divisions advanced eastwards and reached the east coast by the end of 3 April whereupon the 96th Infantry Division wheeled south, the Marines set about securing the Katchin Peninsula and 7th Infantry Division started to move south also. By the end of 4 April (L+3) all the units were in position across the Chatan Isthmus, exactly where they had expected to be in after two weeks of heavy fighting. Meanwhile the build-up continued and more support troops came ashore - the fleet dispersed as best it could but more and more ships gradually fell victim to the increasing air attacks. Hundreds of civilians were rounded up and interrogated with the picture of a general Japanese withdrawal to the south emerging.
The weather however, turned sour on 4 April and in many instances forced unloading to stop. The rain turned the dust tracks into quagmires and forced the construction of new roads between the rainstorms. The US engineers began to replace the weak native stone bridges with steel Bailey bridges and the coastal highway was renamed 'US1'. Marine fighter squadrons began to fly into Yontan on 4 April and into Kadena two days later.
A General Advance: L+4 to L+17The Tenth Army's eastern flank was secured by 3/105 of the 27th Infantry Division who, between 6 and 11 April, swept the Eastern Islands northeast of the Katchin Peninsula in the Chimu Wan. They were supported by Fleet Marine Force Pacific's (FMFPac) Amphibious Recon Battalion, UDT 7 and Army amtrac units with the remainder of the 105th Infantry remaining as a floating reserve aboard the Eastern Islands Attack and Fire Support Group (TG 51.19). Most of the islands were undefended except for Tsugen Shima, which was defended by 1st Battery, 7th Heavy Artillery Regiment. The Japanese lost 243 men killed while thirty escaped, and the Americans lost fourteen dead.
The Americans could only guess at the intentions of the Japanese as aerial reconnaissance showed little movement in the south of the island (the Japanese tended to stay underground during the day), some wondering if the enemy had evacuated elsewhere, had been drawn to the southeast by the demonstrations or was waiting to counterattack. General Hodge ordered the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions to advance south, while the Japanese waited for the main American attack. The Japanese plan was to use the 62nd Division to hold the main defence line, while the 24th Division and 44th IMB were to stay in reserve in case of additional American landings in the south. The 62nd Division held excellent positions in commanding terrain with the 63rd Brigade on the right flank and 64th Brigade on the left in deeply echeloned positions. It had a clear line of sight right across the XXIV Corps area and its artillery could fire on the Hagushi Beaches and Nakagusuku Wan.
The two American divisions pushed through the outlying positions as they moved cautiously south, and then suddenly met very strong resistance around Cactus, Kiyaniku and Tombstone Ridges (while the Americans tended to use Japanese names when such terrain features were identified on a map, if such terrain was unnamed, it would be given a nickname or a name after a nearby village). A key terrain feature, called 'The Pinnacle' was captured by the 184th Infantry after a tough battle on 6 April (L+5) and was thought to be the spot where Commander Perry raised the American flag in 1853. The 63rd Brigade managed to put up enough resistance to halt the advance from 6 to 8 April. The covering force had done its job well, having slowed the Americans for some eight days and inflicted over 1,500 casualties, but at a cost of over 4,500 killed. The outer Shuri defences had now been discovered and the Americans could only assume that even tougher fighting lay ahead.
The reinforced 63rd Brigade still manned much of the Kakazu Ridge that ran northwest to southeast to the northeast of Kakazu village. The 383rd Infantry (96th Inf Div) assaulted the ridge on 9 April and were repulsed several times. They finally captured it on 12 April at a cost of 451 killed, while the 63rd Brigade lost 5,750. During these battles, the 7th Infantry Division to the east made little progress due to the rough terrain and the strong resistance. Despite the fact that 7th Infantry Division's front was only one-third of the entire XXIV Corps' front, the terrain forced narrow frontages which the Japanese exploited and the almost non-existent road network hampered the logistic effort. The Tenth Army's floating reserve, 2nd Marine Division, left for Saipan on 11 April. Although slated to land Kikai off Amami O Shima in July, the landing never took place.
Some of the more aggressive Japanese commanders wanted to conduct a counterattack but Colonel Yahara held them at bay by pointing out that even if the counterattack was successful, any force would be exposed to the full weight of American firepower once they reached the plains. With the Americans becoming stalled on the outer Shuri defences however, Lt General Ushijima gave in to the idea and the 22nd Infantry (24th Div) was moved north from the Okoru Peninsula to attack through the 63rd Brigade's line in the east. Elements of the 63rd Brigade, along with the 272nd Independent Infantry Battalion (the 62nd Division reserve) would attack in the west. The counterattack was launched at 19.00, 12 April with a 30-minute barrage to cover the attack. The attack was far too weak and not well enough co-ordinated to have any serious impact, as many commanders, realising its folly, held back their troops. The 22nd Infantry was unfamiliar with the rough terrain in front of the 7th Infantry Division and the attack foundered, but the 96th Infantry Division faced a determined and well-planned attack from the 272nd IIB, which caused the 381st Infantry a difficult time. The battle lasted until the night of the 13 / 14 April and delayed the American push by three days but cost the Japanese several hundred dead. XXIV Corps continued its slow push south as it prepared to assault the main Shuri defences. The 13 April saw the death of President Franklin D Roosevelt, which stunned the American forces.
IIIAC Moves NorthWhile XXIV Corps pushed slowly south, IIIAC fought an altogether different battle in the north. The 1st Marine Division defended Yontan Airfield, the landing beaches, and also cleared the remainder of the island behind XXIV Corps. The 6th Marine Division secured the Ishikawa Isthmus (with the 22nd Marines) and pushed north with the 29th Marines (to the west) and 4th Marines (to the east), supported by tanks and artillery. The terrain was very rugged and had dense vegetation but also limited roads, which made movement difficult.
As the Marines moved north, it gradually became clear that the Japanese had concentrated on the Motobu Peninsula in the northwest and so the 29th Marines moved in that direction while the 4th and 22nd Marines cleared the few pockets of resistance and secured the 29th's rear areas. As the 29th moved towards the peninsula, resistance gradually increased. The Japanese were in fact concentrated in a redoubt built on the 1,200-foot high Yae Take (Mount) that measured 6 miles by 8 miles. The difficult terrain made it almost impossible to use armour and was ideally suited to the heavily armed 'Udo Force' (some 1,500 men) that had been detached from the 44th IMB. The Marines attacked the position in earnest on 14 April and the battle lasted for four days. Some 700 enemy dead were counted, but many managed to either escape to the south or to conduct a lengthy guerrilla war in the north. This was conducted through countless small-scale skirmishes, hit-and-run raids, ambushes and sniping. Added to the Japanese troops, many Okinawan (due to Japanese propaganda) irregulars fought (trained by veterans from China) alongside them and conducted sabotage. The battles even drew in the 7th Marines as they tried to secure the Ishikawa Isthmus. Eventually, the 27th Infantry Division relieved the 6th Marine Division in the north on 4 May. The 6th had suffered some 1,837 casualties. The 27th gradually cleared the north during May and early June, fighting a ten-day battle on Onna Take (1,000-ft high), and declared the north secure by 4 August.
The Ie Shima LandingsThe landing on Ie Shima (occasionally known as Ie Jima) was codenamed Indispensable. The island itself is around 5.6 km (3.5 miles) off the western end of the Motobu Peninsula and some 32km (20 miles) north of the Hagushi Beaches. It measures some 9km (5.5 miles) long and 4.5km (2.75 miles) wide and is surrounded by a coral reef. The north and northwestern coasts have cliffs up to 30m high and a large number of caves, while the southern coast has beaches that range from 9 to 35 metres in depth and 125 to 900 metres in length (that are separated by low cliffs). The ground moves inland at a gentle slope away from the beaches, up to a plateau that averages around 50m above sea level. The road network was well developed, but mostly unsurfaced, while the terrain was generally of cultivated farmland with areas of trees, scrub and low grasses. In the east, the Iegusugu Pinnacle (a cone-shaped limestone peak) rises to a height of 185m (600 ft) and was covered with scrub and trees, as well as being honeycombed with caves and tunnels. The Japanese naturally reinforced these and constructed a multitude of pillboxes, bunkers and blockhouses. To the south of 'The Pinnacle' was Ie Town (most of the buildings being of stone construction and substantially fortified) and to the west in the centre of the island were three airstrips between 6 and 7,000 feet in length, in the shape of 'XI'. The Igawa Unit of 3,000 troops defended the island along with some 1,500 armed civilians.
Minna Shima, an islet that lay some 6.4km (4 miles) south of Ie, was captured by elements of the Fleet Marine Force Pacific Reconnaissance Battalion on 12 / 13 April. This was followed by the deployment of three battalions of artillery (305, 306 and 902 FA) onto the islet on 15 April. The 77th Infantry Division was moved some 480km (300 miles) and assaulted Ie Shima on the morning of the 16 April (W Day), fully supported by naval gunfire and artillery firing from the Motobu Peninsula. The 306th Infantry landed on Beach Green T-1 at 07.58 (S Hour), which lay to the southwest, while the 305th Infantry (minus 2nd Battalion) landed on Red T-1 and Red T-2. As before, there was very little resistance as the infantry regiments swept across the island capturing the airfields and heading towards Ie Town and 'The Pinnacle'. Resistance started to mount considerably as the Americans approached the town and the 307th Infantry (minus 1st Battalion) was landed, along with part of the 706th Tank Battalion on Red T-3. By the 18 April, American forces were closing in from the north, south and west but accusations had already started to fly over the time being taken to accomplish the mission. The attack on the town initially foundered with heavy resistance being encountered in the town centre and the administrative area (called Government House Hill), as well as high ground on he edge of town (called Bloody Ridge). The town was eventually cleared by the 20 April and the assault on 'The Pinnacle' started in earnest. Fighting continued for several days and resistance did not finally cease until 26 April. The Japanese lost some 4,700, including most of the 1,500 militia and around one-third of the remaining civilians on the island died. The Americans suffered 1,118 casualties (218 killed). Tragically, Ernie Pyle, the very popular war correspondent for Scripps-Howard, was killed on 18 April by machinegun fire. The 77th Infantry Division was to later erect a monument over his grave in the division cemetery. The 77th was moved to Okinawa between the 25 and 28 April, leaving behind the 1/305 to continue mopping up operations. The 1/305 were themselves relieved by the 1/106 on 6 May. The 2/305 occupied the island of Zamami Shima. The entire population of Ie Shima was removed from the island so as not to interfere with the construction work on the airfields. They were returned after the war's end.
The Main Assault on the Shuri Defences: 19 April (L+18)By now, XXIV Corps was facing the main cross-island defensive line (the Shuri defences) situated on a series of steep ridges and escarpments to the north of Shuri itself. To the west was the 27th Infantry Division, the 96th lay in the centre and the 7th was deployed in the east. Little movement had taken place since 14 April as the Americans prepared for their main offensive. The Japanese 62nd Division still defended the entire front with its 64th Brigade entrenched in the centre and the west, while the 63rd Brigade was fortified in the east, mainly along the Urasoe-Mura and Tanabaru Escarpments. The 44th IMB was to the rear, around Shuri.
The 27th Infantry Division made a preliminary attack on the night of the 18 April as bridges were secretly built across the Machinato Inlet that separated Uchitomari and Machinato on the west coast. The 106th Infantry managed to secure a valuable foothold on the very northwest end of the Urasoe-Mura Escarpment and cleared Machinato Village with a bold night attack. The main attack was launched at 06.40 on 19 April after a opening barrage by twenty-seven artillery battalions with naval gunfire and aircraft attacked the Japanese rear area. The 7th Infantry Division attacked in the direction of Skyline Ridge that anchored the eastern end of the Japanese defence lines but made little progress against strong resistance. The 96th Infantry Division met equally determined resistance as it attacked between the Tombstone and Nishibaru Ridges and suffered the same lack of success. The 27th continued to hold its ground on the south side of the Machinato Inlet and made some gains along the Urasoe-Mura Escarpment but failed in its assault on Kakazu Ridge when the 193rd Tank Battalion became separated from the 1/105 resulting in the loss of some 22 tanks.
The next week saw the three divisions struggle against well-entrenched opposition with no unit advancing more than 1.188km (1,300 yards). The 27th Infantry Division to the west was hung up on the north side of Gusukuma towards the coast and on the northwest end of the Urasoe-Mura Escarpment further inland, along with the 96th. Kakazu,, as well as the Nishibaru and Tanabaru Ridges had eventually been taken but the Japanese 22nd Infantry was still holding up the 7th Infantry Division to the east. The Americans assembled the Bradford Task Force, formed from all the reserve components they could scrap together, and supported by armour it assaulted the Kakazu Pocket on 24 April, only to find the Japanese had abandoned it. While it diverted important assets away from the frontline, the Japanese also lost their one outstanding opportunity to launch a counterattack as the Americans had no reserve left - all had been committed to operations.
By the end of April, most units had made some progress with the 7th Infantry Division advancing on its inland flank to the Kochi Ridge but was held up once again by the Japanese 22nd Infantry. The 96th was still moving forward slowly against the Japanese 32nd Infantry on the Urasoe-Mura Escarpment, as was the 27th. By this time the three divisions were exhausted and well-below strength. It was proposed to land the 77th Infantry Division on the southwest coast north of Minatogawa to force the Japanese to pull troops out of the main Shuri defences but General Buckner rejected the idea as he considered the risk to a single division that far behind enemy lines too great especially with the added logistics burden and the requirement for ships to protect the anchorage. Instead, the 1st Marine Division was attached to XXIV Corps on 30 April relieving the 27th Infantry Division on the western flank, while the 77th relieved the 96th, despite being three battalions down on occupation duty. The effort to push south continued until the 3 May when the Japanese attempted their most determined counterattack.
The Japanese Strike BackAs they became increasingly frustrated at the prolonged defensive battle, many Japanese commanders clamoured (again) for a counterattack to halt the American's slow but steady advance. Colonel Yahara (Operations Officer, 32nd Army) once again warned of the folly of such an attack but the Chief of Staff, Major General Cho, succeeded in pushing for just such an attack. The Japanese attacked on the night of 3 May with the main effort coming from the 24th Division as it attacked in the centre and the east. While penetrations were made in several places, the attack never really threatened the American position on Okinawa and the attack was eventually repulsed, despite the Japanese supporting it with landings on the coast to the rear of the frontline. The Japanese lost some 7,000 men out of the remaining 76,000, while the Americans suffered only some 700 casualties. The Japanese rebuilt their units, mainly using rear area service troops and prepared for a battle of attrition to the end. The 62nd Division, reduced to about one-third strength, defended the western third of the line, while the 24th Division (now at about two-thirds strength) defended the rest. The 44th IMB (at around 80 percent strength) supported the 62nd Division. Japanese artillery had been reduced to about half-strength and is ammunition expenditure substantially curtailed.Meanwhile, TF 51 (Joint Expeditionary Force) had been not only been providing close air support to the forces ashore, but also combat air patrols to guard against air attack and kamikazes, reconnaissance, anti-submarine patrols, as well as vital logistic and medical support. The first two weeks also saw TF 57 (British Carrier Force) in action off Saishima Gunto in order to neutralise the airfields on the island. The fast carriers of the Third and Fifth Fleets also attacked airfields on mainland China, Formosa, throughout the Ryukyus and on Kyushu. The Kamikaze (or Special Attack) idea of intentional suicide attacks on Allied ships by volunteers was first seen in the Philippines and while attacks were conducted sporadically in those early days, by the time of Okinawa it had become a well-developed operation, that of Ten-Go. The 1st Special Attack Force consisted of over 1,800 aircraft from the combined 5th and 6th Air Armies on Kyushu and Formosa, under Admiral Soemu Toyoda. The first big raid during Operation Iceberg was conducted on the 6 and 7th April with a 355 plane strike where the US Navy lost six ships with another 21 damaged and over 500 casualties. The Japanese lost almost 400 aircraft. The raids continued unabated through April with a total of fourteen American ships being sunk, ninety being damaged compared to 1 sunk and forty-seven damaged for conventional air attacks. The Japanese lost almost 1,100 aircraft and raids continued through May (being heavier towards the end of the month) with the Japanese concentrating not only on the picket ships, transports and carriers in the fleet but the airfields as well. The final attacks occurred on the 21 - 22 June. In all the Japanese committed some 1,900 aircraft and sunk some twenty-six US ships and damaged 225 using Kamikazes and sunk 1 ship and damaged 61 with conventional attacks.
In a desperate attempt to disrupt the American operation, the Japanese despatched the Yamato on 6 April on what was, in effect, its own kamikaze mission. The super battleship was to beach itself on Okinawa just south of the landing beaches and then bombard the American forces ashore and the transports. The ships only had enough fuel to make a one-way trip. The Yamato was accompanied by the cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers on its Ten-Ichi (Heaven Number One) operation. They sortied from Tokuyama Naval Base on southwest Honshu led by Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito. The force was detected by a US submarine soon after it had reached the open sea but contact was lost as night fell. US carrier planes found the force the next morning (7 April) and aircraft from TF 58 attacked at noon. The Yamato (ten torpedo and five bomb hits), Yahagi (seven torpedo and twelve bomb hits) and four destroyers were sunk. The battleship went down with 2,487 crew. The remaining destroyers limped back to port.
The Assault on the Shuri Defences and the Battle for Sugar Loaf HillThe IIIAC resumed control of the 1st Marine Division on 7 May, which was on the western flank of the American line. As they pushed south, the island naturally widened and so it became necessary to insert a fourth division in the line. The 6th Marine Division was assigned a sector and moved the 22nd Marines into the very western end of the line, to the 1st Marine Division's right. The 77th Infantry Division received the understrength 305th Infantry and the rested 96th Infantry Division relieved the 7th Infantry Division on 8 May (the surrender of Nazi Germany was announced that day). The Tenth Army renewed its offensive on 11 May with the 6th Marine, 1st Marine, 77th Infantry and 96th Infantry Divisions in line from west to east.Each division had its objective. The 96th Infantry Division would attack Conical Hill, the 77th Infantry Division would go for Shuri Castle, the 1st Marine Division would strike for the Dakeshi-Wana-Wana complex guarding Shuri itself and the 6th Marine Division would assault Sugar Loaf Hill. The objectives facing the Marines were probably the toughest with Sugar Loaf probably the defensive equal of anything found on Iwo Jima. It was actually a complex of three hills, with Sugar Loaf being a oblong ridge about fifty feet high and protected on its flanks by The Horseshoe and the Half Moon, with smaller emplacements in front of it on Charlie Ridge, Charlie Hill, Hill 3 and Hill 1 (running east to west). The Japanese units defending Sugar Loaf and the area around it consisted of: the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 15th IMR; 44th IMB; 2nd Battalion, 223rd Special Guard Force (IJN); a 75mm AA gun battery from the 81st Field AAA Battalion; along with elements of the 103rd Machine Cannon Battalion and 7th Anti-Tank Battalion.
Initial progress was slow but steady, although the two divisions in the centre did not penetrate as much as those on the flanks. The 6th Marine Division then became entangled on the Japanese defensive bastion of Sugar Loaf Hill, while the other divisions battled for stoutly defended ridges and hills. The 6th Marine Division's 22nd and 29th Marines finally reached the main defensive position on 14 May after crossing the Ada River and clearing a number of the outlying positions. The first attack on it was driven back, despite being supported by tanks but the second, made by the 2nd Btn, 22nd Marines just before dusk managed to reach the base of the hill. After being reinforced and resupplied they continued up the hill, led by Major Courtney and dug in under the protection of artillery fire. The Marines held their positions (thanks in no small part by one particular Marine, Corporal Rusty Golar) under enemy fire and counterattacks until well into the next day, but finally under heavy pressure they had to withdraw. The positions on Sugar Loaf held against continued Marine assaults, preceded by thunderous artillery barrages, until 18 May when a flanking manoeuvre brought the breakthrough that was needed. A small, almost imperceptible depression had been observed running north to south between the Half Moon and Sugar Loaf and Marines who had accidentally wandered into it had been subjected to a much smaller amount of enemy fire than in other places around Sugar Loaf. General Shepherd who had come up to the front decided to move the 29th Marines through the depression with two battalions striking at Half Moon Hill and then hold to support a third battalion which would attack Sugar Loaf's left flank. The two battalions hit the Half Moon and dug in to support the third battalion. Four times they went up, four times they were repulsed. On the 18 May though, the Marines managed to take the hill by moving round three tanks into positions where they could fire on the Japanese defenders when they emerged from their caves to occupy the defensive positions on the crest. The tanks decimated all who showed themselves and the Marines moved forward to occupy the crest and then advance down the reverse slope. It took the 4th Marines another four days however to clear the complex entirely. The 6th Marine Division suffered some 2,662 casualties in the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill, with another 1,289 suffering combat fatigue. Their next target would be Naha.
The 77th Infantry Division took on the Chocolate Drop - Wart Hill - Flattop Hill complex in the centre of the island, with Shuri Castle as their ultimate objective. This forbidding position was almost as formidable as Sugar Loaf Hill and bristled with machineguns, mortars and 47mm antitank guns. While many Army units expressed a dislike of working with the leathernecks (and the feeling was just as strong the other way), the 77th believed they had earned a form of respect from the Marines, having worked well with them on Guam. Indeed, the Statue of Liberty Division "admired them and had great respect for the way they handled themselves so professionally. We were more than glad to have had them on Guam. On the other hand, they equally respected us for the support and cooperation they received from us." (Astor, 1995, p. 420) The Marines even called the Statue of Liberty Division the '77th Marines' - an honour indeed. After several days of hard fighting, where many companies were reduced in strength by up to 85 percent, the 77th Infantry Division finally took the Chocolate Drop and Wart Hill. The next target was to be Ishimmi Ridge, the position guarding the immediate access to Shuri.
The 96th Infantry Division was driving against Conical Hill, as well as Dick Hill, just to the east of Flattop. Strong resistance was not only stalling their own advance but that of the 77th Infantry Division as well. On 17 May a platoon entered a road cut between Dick and Flattop Hills to clear an enemy minefield. They used bayonets to detonate the mines, a tactic that cost some nineteen casualties, but in the process sealed off five caves full of Japanese. At this point, Lt Colonel Cyril Sterner, in command of 2/382, realised that this road was the key to the Japanese position. Sterner ordered forward some seven tons of bangalore torpedoes that were laid in the ruts on either side of the road and detonated, thus clearing the mines. Tanks were now able to get to the rear of Dick and Flattop Hills and help the Americans turn the flanks of the Japanese positions. By 21 May, Dick and Flattop were also in American hands. Conical Hill however was the key to the eastern flank of Ushijima's defences and its capture would unmask Yonabaru, the eastern terminus of the Naha - Yonabaru highway which might enable the XXIV Corps to effect a double envelopment in conjunction with the Marines of IIIAC to trap Ushijima's forces before he could withdraw them properly. Its importance meant that General Hodge assigned its capture to his best regimental commander, Colonel Eddy May and the 382nd Infantry. That very importance was not lost on General Ushijima either, who assigned over 1,000 of his best troops to its defence. The attack was preceded by an intense barrage from both artillery and tanks. The 2nd Battalion (Colonel Edward Stare) moved out to begin the attack, but one of the two companies that were to start the assault was delayed in reaching its jump off point. The two lead platoons of the company that was ready to go, waited for the other company but eventually the two commanders, Technical Sergeants Guy Dale and Dennis Doniphan, started up Conical Hill on their own initiative. Meeting little resistance, they reached a point just below the peak and dug in, without suffering a single casualty. Somehow the Americans had caught the Japanese unawares, but that did not last long. Lt Colonel Kensuke Udo quickly organised a counterattack which failed to dislodge the Americans, who were initially reinforced with the rest of F Company, led by Lt O'Neill, and then by a second company (E) led by Captain Stanley Sutten and finally by G Company. Over the next three days they desperately fought of determined Japanese counterattacks in a bitter battle for Conical's forward slope. Finally though, the battalion was relieved by 1/381 under Lt Colonel Daniel Nolan who themselves attacked onto Sugar Hill, thus sealing the fate of Conical Hill.
As the Americans pushed south, the 7th Infantry Division, having been previously relieved by the 96th re-entered the lines on 19 May at the extreme eastern end of the US line and attacked towards Yonabaru. The division quickly took the town and seemed to completely take the Japanese by surprise, as the infantry were unsupported. The 184th Infantry tore a huge gap in the Japanese lines, which the 32nd Infantry could exploit. The weather however deemed to take a hand and the heavy rains that started on 22 May significantly hampered the division's progress and the attack effectively came to a halt on 26 May. The breakthrough, stalled though it was, was to cause Ushijima to reconsider his position.
The Americans Push SouthWhile there had been rain earlier in the campaign, the heavy rains started to fall on 22 May which would substantially slow the pace of the advance for the Americans as low ground flooded, small streams and rivers overflowed their banks, gullies and ravines turned into thigh high seas of mud and the already overstretched roads became impassable in many spots. Finally, on the 29 May, the 22nd Marines took Naha, while the 5th Marines (1st Marine Division), seeing that the area between themselves and Shuri Castle was in fact quite lightly defended, took advantage and sent an element up to take the castle, despite it being in the 77th Infantry Division's sector, much to the Army's exasperation. Once up there they saw the final elements of the 24th Division withdrawing to the south and called up whatever air and fire support they could. While this accounted for a few hundred Japanese, the vast majority had withdrawn safely. To the east, the Army units that had at last broke through the weakening Japanese defence line ran into a number of Japanese units on the move that created a melee of intermingled Japanese and American units.This was because Ushijima had received communication from Lt General Miyazaki Suichi at Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo that there was little chance of a reinforcement or resupply effort from the home islands to help Okinawa. Ushijima now had three options. The first was to gather all his remaining forces at the Shuri line and hold it in a last stand. The second was to retreat to the Chinen Peninsula while the third was to retreat to the Kiyan Peninsula. Recognising that the main Shuri defence line was beginning to buckle, Ushijima rejected the first option as it would, more than likely, result in a rapid defeat and would shorten the time available to those preparing the defence of the home islands. He rejected the second option because the Chinen Peninsula had not been sufficiently prepared for a defensive stand. He therefore chose the third option as the 24th Division had already prepared the Kiyan Peninsula and a large amount of supplies and ammunition existed there to make a last stand. Ushijima therefore initiated a complex scheme of withdrawal for the units holding the line. Under cover of the heavy rain, the 62nd Division withdrew through the 44th IMB on 25 May and then attacked elements of XXIV Corps to the east to create the illusion that the Japanese units that were on the move were massing for a counterattack, something the Americans readily accepted as they assumed the Japanese would hold the Shuri defence line at all costs. They then established a defence line just to the rear of the Shuri line. The 24th Division then withdrew on 29 May to form a new line south of Itoman on the west coast and the 44th IMB then withdrew on 31 May to form a line from the 24th Division to the east coast. The 62nd Division then conducted a fighting withdrawal through the new lines between the 30 May and 4 June. The Imperial Japanese Naval Base Force on the Oroku Peninsula misinterpreted its order and withdrew too early on 28 May. Dissatisfied with their positions they immediately returned to their base to die defending it rather than fight alongside the Imperial Japanese Army. Many wounded were left behind to form a skeleton defensive force with the rearguards and the 32nd Army HQ left its tunnel complex beneath Shuri Castle on 27 May, establishing a temporary command post at Tsukazan the next day and moved to a new command post o Hill 89 near Manubi on the south coast the day after that.
On 24 May, Japanese paratroopers of the 1st Raiding Brigade attempted an airlanding raid on Yontan airfield from Japan. Only one of the transports managed to land, but the Japanese within it managed to destroy or damage two fuel dumps and a number of fighter aircraft. Meanwhile the US forces had continued to advance south. The 6th Marine Division found itself blocked by Naha Harbor and so conducted a shore-to-shore amphibious assault on 4 June from the west coast north of Naha into Naha Harbor to flank the IJN positions on the Oroku Peninsula. The 4th Marines landed on Beaches Red 1 and 2 south of Naha at 06.00 to be followed by the 29th Marines. The two-regiment operation has not been given much attention but it was larger than many earlier operations and was the last opposed amphibious assault of World War II. At this point the 2nd Marine Division's 8th Marines returned to Okinawa from Saipan on 30 May. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions landed on Iheya Jima on 3 June and the 1st Battalion on Aguni Shima on 9 June. The 7th Infantry Division had pushed south to the Chinen Peninsula by 3 June and the 96th Infantry and 1st Marine Divisions steadily advanced in the centre as the 6th Marine Division cleared the Oroku Peninsula.
Ushijima Makes A Last StandBy 11 June, the remains of the 32nd Army had been pushed to the southern end of the island, although substantial pockets remained in the American rear areas. Ushijima now intended to hold a line running from just south of Itoman in the west, through the Yuze-Dake and Yaeju-Dake ridgelines to just south of Minatoga on the east coast, a defence line about 5 miles long. The 8th Marines landed at Naha on 15 June and were attached to the 1st Marine Division to help with the final push. At this point, the assaulting divisions sectors had narrowed that only three to five of the freshest battalions were required in the line. The Americans gradually moved south, with the 7th Infantry Division overrunning a pocket of 44th IMB troops on Hill 115 southwest of Nakaza on 17 June. The 96th Infantry Division was pinched out of the line on 20 June to deal with a large pocket of Japanese 24th Division troops near Medeera and Makabe. This would not be completed until 22 June. As the 6th Marine Division continued to clear the west coast and the Oroku Peninsula, the 1st Marine Division cleared the final pocket of 62nd Division troops near the southern end of the island on the Kiyamu-Gusuku Ridge. The 7th Infantry Division meanwhile, closed in on the headquarters of the 32nd Army, defended by the survivors of the 24th Division on a coastal ridge, Hill 89. At 17.00, on 21 June 1945, Okinawa Gunto was declared secure, although numerous pockets of resistance remained, which would take many days to subdue. At 03.40 on 22 June 1945, Lt General Ushijima and Major General Cho committed ritual suicide outside their cave on the southern side of Hill 89. There was an equally tragic ending for the American commander. Lt General Simon B Buckner died from shrapnel wounds on the 18 June while observing the fighting from a forward observation post in the 1st Marine Division area after a Japanese shell had exploded nearby. Major General Roy Geiger was appointed Commander, Tenth Army by Admiral Nimitz, the only Marine officer to command a field army, and was promoted to Lt General the next day. A mere five days later, Geiger was relieved by Lt General Joseph W Stilwell ('Vinegar Joe').
As a final move, the Fleet Marine Force Pacific, Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion secured Kume Shima, some 55 miles west of Okinawa between 26 and 30 June 1945 to establish a radar base and fighter direction centre. The battalion met no resistance from the 50-man garrison until after the landing.
ConclusionThe armed forces of the United States and Japan had met in a battle that had lasted eighty-two days where little quarter was granted and proved what had been known to both sides, that the one side who was to be victorious, would have to completely eliminate the other. Both sides used their resources, whether abundant or not, to utmost of their ability to gain whatever tactical advantage they could. Okinawa provided a glimpse of what might have happened if the United States had invaded the Japanese Home Islands in Operation Downfall.
It was only the much larger and longer Philippine Campaign that saw higher casualties than Okinawa. The United States suffered over 51,000 casualties with the US Marine Corps suffering 2,938 killed and missing, 16,017 wounded. The Army suffered 4,675 killed and missing, with 18,099 wounded, while the Navy suffered its highest casualty rate of the war, with 4,900 dead and missing, and another 4,800 wounded. The United States lost 763 aircraft and suffered 36 ships being sunk and another 368 damaged, with 43 being so badly damaged they were scrapped. The British Carrier Force (TF 57) suffered four ships damaged, 98 aircraft lost, 62 personnel killed and 82 wounded. Over 100,000 Japanese troops and Okinawa militia (Boeitai) fought on Okinawa, although precise estimates of their casualties are difficult due to the duration of the fighting, the inflated accounts of enemy numbers of dead, the imprecise estimate as to the numbers of enemy involved and the nature of the combat on the island. The US estimated some 142,000 of the enemy were killed but this is more than the total that was on Okinawa. Some 7,400 combatants were taken prisoner during the campaign, as were some 3,400 unarmed labourers. Large numbers of troops surrendered after the end of hostilities. Approximately 10,000 IJA and IJN personnel survived the battle, as did approximately 8,000 militia. The Japanese lost 7,830 aircraft, some 4,600 Kamikaze crew died alongside many hundreds of other pilots, 16 warships were sunk and four damaged while the IJN lost over 3,650 personnel in the Yamato's sortie. Over 122,000 of Okinawa's population had been killed and a culture shattered due to the fighting.
Two white painted G4M1 'Betty' bombers with green crosses instead of Rising Suns arrived from Tokyo on 19 August with the Japanese surrender delegation. They were then flown to Manila in American aircraft and returned the next day. Due to a mix up the planes were not refuelled properly and one of them cashed just off the coast of Japan on its return trip, but the delegates were rescued and delivered the terms of unconditional surrender to the Emperor on time.
Large numbers of Japanese troops were killed in post-operation 'mopping up' and many more prisoners were taken, eventually rising to some 16,350 by the end of November 1945. On 16 August, Japan announced its decision to surrender and Japanese forces still holding out in the Kerama Retto were among the first to surrender after this announcement on 29 August. On 7 September 1945 (five days after VJ Day), the Ryukyu Islands were formerly surrendered to Lt General Stilwell by Vice Admiral Tadao Kato and Lt General Toshiro Nomi (both having been stationed on Sakishima Gunto) - there were still some 105,000 IJA and IJN personnel throughout the Ryukyu Island chain.
The United States now possessed a base just over 500km (320 miles) southwest of Kyushu. A colossal construction project began utilising some 87,000 construction troops from the US Army, Navy and Royal Engineers to build some 22 airfields to accommodate the Eighth Air Force deploying from Europe, as well as Marine and Navy air units while Navy and Marine airfields were established at Awase and Chimu on Okinawa and Plub Field on Ie Shima. Naval Operating Base, Okinawa was established at Baten Ko on the southern end of Buckner Bay (the renamed Nakagusuku Wan) to control the port facilities at Naha, Chimu Wan, Nago Wan and Katchin Hanto. The island gradually developed into a major staging base for the Army and Marine units that were slated to participate in the invasion of Japan. Two extremely powerful typhoons in September and October caused serious damage and the relocation of a number of port facilities. The main naval base was moved from Baten Ko to the southeast end of the Katchin Peninsula to what was, and is, still known as White Beach.
The deployment and use of the atomic bombs made the continued build up on Okinawa for Operation Downfall unnecessary but the Korean (1950 - 53) and Vietnam (1965 - 73) Wars made Okinawa an important logistics base for the US Army and operating base for the US Navy well into the 1970s. The US Air Force continued to maintain a major base at Kadena Airfield after its formation in 1947 and B29 bombers flew missions against North Korea while B52 bombers flew to Vietnam while strategic reconnaissance aircraft operated from Okinawa against targets all over Asia. After the war, the military administration of Okinawa initially fell to the navy but was handed over to the US Army on 1 July 1946. As time went on, more and more responsibility for Okinawan affairs was handed over to the Okinawan people as their government developed. There were a number of violent demonstrations in the early 1970s as students and left wing extremists protested not only against the war in Vietnam but also desired that Okinawa be returned to Japanese control and US forces be evicted from the island despite the fact that they provided about 70 percent of the island's income. On 15 May 1972, Okinawa was formerly returned to Japanese sovereignty and Buckner Bay reverted to its former name of Nakagusuku Wan. US military bases however, would be allowed to remain and some of them are shared with the Japanese Self-Defence Force.
There are several points that should be noted when looking at the Battle for Okinawa:
- The United States expected the enemy to vigorously defend the Hagushi landing beaches on the western coast and then concentrate rapidly for a counterattack. To this end a lot of effort was put into suppressing beach defences with some 44,825 shells, 33,000 rockets and 22,500 mortar shells, as well as having 500 carrier planes bomb and strafe the beaches and the area immediately behind them. When the assault forces landed they faced only light resistance and suffered only 55 killed and 104 wounded on the first day. They made the mistake of assuming that the enemy had learnt nothing from his experiences earlier in the war, while in fact the enemy was now intent on conducting a skilful defence in depth designed to minimise his exposure to the overwhelming combat support deployed by the United States. Instead he used tactics first used successfully at Peleliu, refined at Iwo Jima and used it to perfection on an island large enough to make it even more effective. The Japanese had been expecting a landing at the Hagushi Beaches and possibly one at Minatoga as well (where in fact the 2nd Marine Division had been demonstrating) and therefore deployed their forces in a central defensive line running across the island through Shuri Castle. While there was some hope that the war of attrition combined with conventional and suicide air and sea attacks might produce victory, as a minimum they hoped that a prolonged battle might inflict such enormous casualties that it might dissuade the Americans from invading the homeland.
- The selection of the Hagushi Beaches for the landing site of the assault proved to be the correct choice, rather than dividing the assault between there and the Minatoga Beaches as the Tenth Army was able to put its entire force ashore with minimal loss and disruption and to quickly capture the airfields at Kadena and Yontan, so almost immediately beginning their return to operation.
- As the Marines cleared the northern stretches of Okinawa, including the Motobu Peninsula, they faced the difficulty of keeping themselves supplied in a campaign of manoeuvre on a large land mass, rather than the positional warfare they had conducted on relatively small islands in the Pacific. Marine divisions had little organic transport at this point and while Major General Meritt A Edson, Chief of Staff, Fleet Marine Force Pacific had actually tried to rectify this in preparation for operations such as Okinawa, the Headquarters of the US Marine Corps had actually reduced the number of transport units in the search for manpower to form the 6th Marine Division. With the diversion of trucks from carrying supplies to that of carrying infantry to aid in a rapid advance, the logistics situation rapidly deteriorated. Lt Col Victor H Krulak soon found himself bemoaning "the pitiful amount of transport we have." (Hoffman, 1995, p. 67) The heavy rains in late May made much of the terrain impassable for vehicles and so the only way to move supplies around was by foot. Amtracs and DUKWs could ferry supplies along the coast but once again, Marine units suffered due to their lack of transportation assets and some units began to run out of food and water but the creation of Marine air delivery units which dropped supplies to the frontline.
- The Japanese amassed the largest amount of large calibre artillery for any island battle on Okinawa. They had almost 300 pieces of 70mm or bigger, over 125 dual-purpose antiaircraft guns and cannons, over 80 antitank guns and hundreds of mortars, including twenty-four 320mm models. Many of the larger pieces were mounted on rails so they could be quickly moved into and out of caves which were themselves well-camouflaged and protected against attack. As on Iwo Jima, the Japanese fought mainly from caves and tunnel systems which were very difficult to detect, often surrounded by minefields and concentrated on the reverse slopes of hills.
- The Japanese showed initiative and flexibility in using their defensive stance to best advantage. A common tactic that took advantage of this was shown in an early American attack on Kakazu Ridge when the leading elements of an infantry regiment took the front slopes and crest of the ridge in a predawn attack without artillery preparation. The Japanese responded by firing preregistered artillery and mortar attacks and grazing machinegun fire that prevented reinforcements from crossing the open ground between the original positions and the ridge. The enemy then launched numerous small counterattacks from the caves on the reverse slope, all supported by mortar fire. After sustaining heavy casualties and running out of ammunition, the US forces withdrew under cover of a smoke barrage to their original positions, suffering 326 killed for no gain.
- While the Japanese made a mistake in conducting the May counterattack, the attack was not the usual banzai charge but a co-ordinated and well-supported conventional assault that attempted to utilise predawn amphibious shore-to-shore landings around the flanks of the American lines. Having become used to the Japanese using small-scale counterattacks, the assault caught the Tenth Army by surprise but in a position to react and defend against the assault. If the attacks had been conducted but a few days earlier, the situation may well have been very different.
- The Lt General Buckner and his staff misread the intention of the Japanese at the end of May. Lt General Ushijima realised that as he had committed almost all his trained reserves into attempting the 4 May counterattack or rebuilding the units in the frontline, if the Americans continued to make inroads into his positions his main position around Shuri would be in danger of encirclement. He therefore decided to withdraw and form a new defensive line to the south in the Kiyan Peninsula in order to prolong the battle and extract the most attrition. The orderly withdrawal began on the 22 May and was complete by early June. A skeleton force still manned the Shuri defences keeping Tenth Army at bay and poor weather hampered aerial reconnaissance, although there were a number of sightings of enemy troops movements and artillery and air support did engage one column of several thousand Japanese who were making a rare daylight movement. The US command were convinced that this was either a rotation of units out of the frontline (something the Americans did on a common basis) or a build up for a counterattack.
- Several times, Buckner (backed by Nimitz) refused to sanction the employment of US forces in another amphibious assault to outflank the Shuri Line, after looking at the possibility in detail, primarily before 22 April. This was despite the support given to such an idea by the CO of the 77th Infantry Division (Bruce), the Operations Officer and CO of the XXIV Corps (Guerard & Hodge) and finally the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Buckner offered several reasons, both tactical and logistical, for this stance, including (counter-arguments included in brackets):
- The Minatoga Beaches were too poor to supply a large assault force and featured dangerous reefs. These beaches had even been considered for the initial assault, only to be rejected (despite the Marines having landed and supplied two divisions over even smaller beaches at Tinian);
- The artillery could not support an assault that far behind the Shuri Line (the Minatoga Beaches were at least within range of the bigger artillery pieces and amphibious assaults always rely more heavily on naval gunfire support anyway);
- That Japanese artillery was concentrated in the south and would prevent warships getting close enough to provide adequate support (unfortunately no Japanese gunner had survived from previous campaigns to refute that argument);
- The Japanese had reserves in the area to counter such an operation, consisting of the 24th Division and the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade (while that was true for the early stage of the campaign, intelligence confirmed the appearance of these reserves in the frontlines from late April and their taking part in the 4 May offensive);
- At that stage in the campaign when the 77th became available, the three frontline divisions (7th, 27th and 96th) needed to be relieved due to combat casualties and fatigue;
- The full strength of the 77th would not be available to land as it left garrison forces on the kerama Islands and le Shima, which could not be replaced immediately.
The difficulty of reading enemy intentions.Both sides were surprised by the actions of the other. The Americans were surprised by the Japanese decision not to defend the Hagushi Beaches or the airfields in central Okinawa, the absence of banzai attacks, by the sudden switch to an offensive strategy in early May and by the decision to withdraw from the Shuri Line. Equally, the Japanese were often perplexed by American decisions. They expected a landing at Hagushi but the well-executed feints off Minatoga kept them in the dark about US intentions there. In almost every situation where the US conducted night attacks, they literally found the Japanese sleeping in their caves, one such operation netting an advance of some 2,000 yards on 22 May - the Japanese being confident that the Americans would not attack at night without an artillery barrage or across muddy terrain that would impede the movement of tanks. On both sides, estimates of enemy intent was based partly on habit and when either side did something different, the other was surprised. In fact, establishing such habits seemed to pave the way for something that could take advantage of the surprise created. Okinawa shows the difficulty of establishing what your enemy intends to do, even though one side had complete aerial control over the battlefield, a situation that seems reminiscent of recent conflicts.
The limits of massed firepower. Tenth Army was supported by numerous battleships, cruisers, aircraft and the equivalent of forty-four artillery battalions. The Navy fired over half-a-million shells of 5in calibre or greater, while the ground forces fired over 1.8 million shells (not including mortar rounds) at Japanese targets. In the end, a large proportion of defenders died from direct fire or close range weapons such as tanks, flamethrowers, grenades and satchel charges. Stand-off precision weapons are now increasingly available but are correspondingly expensive - a way must be found of producing these more cheaply as their value lies not only in their accuracy and lethality but the impact they can make on the logistics burden for expeditionary operations.
The limits of target acquisition. While it is true that target acquisition has made great strides since World War 2, in a situation such as Okinawa, the enemy was well-concealed and the weather generally poor and so it will still take someone on the ground to spy out which targets are worth hitting. In many cases, US ground forces made extensive use of patrols to search for enemy strongpoints, but the Japanese rarely fired on small numbers of troops and often battalions and regiments took heavy casualties in areas that the small patrols had moved through untouched. Future conflicts might well be better fought with smaller forces better able to direct such precision firepower. Casualty percentages may still remain high when fighting a well-concealed, determined and fortified enemy, but at least the actual numbers may be lower.
The use of lower tech equipment. The kamikaze campaign saw the use of the Baka bomb that was a small, piloted, rocket-boosted glider carrying a ton of explosives and could reach a speed of up to 500mph. In many respects it was better than the modern generation of cruise missiles as it had a thinking pilot behind the controls. The Japanese also occasionally used old wooden biplanes when they started to run short of modern aircraft. They actually proved relatively immune to the then current antiaircraft fire which had shells fused to explode when they neared metal objects. The Japanese proved that old or low-tech equipment combined with some ingenuity could go a long way.
The casualty rates in the supporting fleet. The devastation inflicted on the fleet at Okinawa should encourage the development of systems such as the V-22 Osprey that would allow the fleet to remain at a greater distance from the objective and decrease its vulnerability.
Joint operations in an amphibious operation. Okinawa represented the height of joint operations during World War 2. A Navy admiral was theatre commander, another was commander of the joint air, sea, land task force. An Army general commanded the landing force of two corps, one each from the Army and Marines. He had a deputy from both the Army and Marines and predetermined that a Marine general should succeed him if he was incapacitated or killed. The Tenth Army staff contained a large number of Marine and Navy officers, and a Marine commanded the landing force's organic air support that contained almost equal numbers of Marine and Army Air force components. Artillery battalions operated interchangeably and massed fires wherever they were required and by whoever required them. An Army general commanded the base force development of soldiers, sailors and Marines (and even Royal Engineers) that provided logistics support to the Tenth Army and that built the air and naval bases required for the invasion of Japan. Not long after the end of the battle for Okinawa and World War 2, the American leadership entered a bitter debate on how defence should be organised for future conflicts. The result was the Department of Defense and a trend towards greater centralisation. Okinawa holds an important lesson for today's commanders in that there were strong, independent services that learned to work together well through a system that coordinated their activities but maintained a healthy spirit of competition that fostered innovation and encouraged performance. The only negative aspect of the move towards greater 'jointness' in operations has been the Marine Corps anxiety over its institutional survival. Since 1946 there has been a pressure from some quarters to strip the US Marine Corps of the equipment that is duplicated in the other services. It is important to remember that the Marines remain the premier sea-based air-ground expeditionary force to conduct amphibious operations, as it is what a force trains, exercises and does that counts, not what it is equipped with.
Bibliography and Further Reading
ArticlesAlexander, Col Joseph H. USMC (Ret). 'Okinawa: The Final Beachhead' in US Naval Institute Proceedings, April 1995, pp. 78 - 81.
Donahoe, Patrick J. 'Flamethrower tanks on Okinawa' in Armor, January - February 1994, pp. 6 - 10.
Falk, Col Stanley L. AUS (Ret). 'The Assault on Okinawa' in Army, June 1995, pp. 46 - 51.
Hanson, Maj Steven M. 'The Battle for Okinawa' in Marine Corps Gazette, June 2000, pp. 47 - 53.
Hoffman, Maj Jon T. USMCR. 'The Legacy and Lessons of Okinawa' in Marine Corps Gazette, April 1995, pp. 64 - 71.
Leonard, Charles, J. 'Okinawa' in After the Battle, No. 43, London, 1984, pp. 1 - 25.
Mayo, Col Robert S. USMCR (Ret). 'With Marine Engineers on Okinawa' in Marine Corps Gazette, April 1997, pp. 62 - 70.
Rottman, Gordon L. 'Japanese Suicide Boats at Okinawa, 1945' in the Osprey Military Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp. 51 - 57.
Stevenson, Matthew. 'War's End on Okinawa: In Search of Captain Robert Fowler' in The Journal of Military History, No. 67, April 2003, pp. 517 - 528.
'Battle of Okinawa' Webpage , part of the GlobalSecurity.Org Website. Active as of 20th December 2002.
Fisch, Jr., Arnold G. 'Ryukyus', originally published by the US Army (originally part of The US Army Campaigns of World War II series). Active as of 12th February 2002.
'Welcome to Marine Corps History' Webpage , part of the official US Marine Corps Website. Active as of 25th November 2001.
World War II - Okinawa
Battle of Okinawa
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Battle of Okinawa, (April 1–June 21, 1945), World War II battle fought between U.S. and Japanese forces on Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawa is located just 350 miles (563 km) south of Kyushu, and its capture was regarded as a vital precursor to a ground invasion of the Japanese home islands. Dubbed “the Typhoon of Steel” for its ferocity, the battle was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific War, claiming the lives of more than 12,000 Americans and 100,000 Japanese, including the commanding generals on both sides. In addition, at least 100,000 civilians were either killed in combat or were ordered to commit suicide by the Japanese military.
One of the bloodiest battles in WWII
Many battles during World War II had present civilians. Some, while bloody, had no civilians. For example, the Battle of Iwo Jima is one of the bloodiest battles, but there were no civilian casualties.
The problem with Okinawa is that the island had a large civilian population. Just look at the numbers.
According to some estimates, more than 150,000 civilians were killed or injured in the battle. The US Army lost more than 18,900 soldiers and more than 53,000 suffered injuries. Those numbers are two times than the soldiers killed at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined. Many more died from the wounds following the end of the battle.
The Japanese lost more than 100,000 soldiers and additional 7,000 got captured. Many of the Japanese soldiers committed seppuku or blew themselves up with grenades. They didn’t want to get captured by the Americans.
At the time, the Japanese propaganda claimed that the Americans were barbarians who did terrible things to prisoners. So, the Japanese soldiers killed themselves to avoid capture.
Fighting to the Bitter End
Buckner ordered greater bombardments and a renewed offensive, but the Marines could not break through the well-prepared Japanese defences. Rather recklessly, Ushijima ordered another offensive on 2 May, in which he lost 5,000 troops.
A change in American tactics came on 11 May when Buckner ordered attacks to be focused on the Japanese flanks. This began to work and, rather than become surrounded, Ushijima pulled back on 21 May. A rearguard fought fiercely, holding onto Shuri until 31 May. Meanwhile, the rest of the Japanese made an orderly retreat to the southern tip of Okinawa and their last stand.
The US flag is raised at Shuri
The fanatical fighting of the Japanese made American advances horribly slow, but they still advanced. High explosives and flamethrowers destroyed defensive positions as the Americans crawled south. The 6 th Marines landed on the Oroku Peninsula in the south-west, providing an airfield and strongpoint for the Americans in the south.
General Buckner was fatally wounded 18 June. He was soon followed by his opposite number. On 21 June, Ushijima and his chief of staff committed hara-kiri outside their headquarters rather than lose or surrender.
Following their general’s final order, the Japanese continued a guerrilla war against the invaders until the end of June. When 7,400 men gave in, it was the first large surrender of Japanese soldiers in the entire war.
Two U.S. Coast Guardsmen pay homage to their comrade killed in the Ryukyu Islands.
Okinawa was a bloodbath for the Japanese, with 110,000 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians dying. The Americans lost over 12,000 dead – 5,000 of them at sea – and 37,000 wounded. The Japanese navy was annihilated, along with thousands of planes. The way to Japan now lay open, and though it had cost the Allies dearly, it had cost their enemies far more.
World War Photos96th Division Troops Flush Out Japanese Troops on Okinawa 10th Army Soldiers Carry Wounded Native on Okinawa 7th Infantry Division soldiers of the US 10th Army swarm into Yonabaru on the coast of Okinawa US Infantrymen Move Inland from Okinawa Beachhead
Japanese prisoners of war captured by Marines of the 6th Division in POW stockade at Okuku Okinawa. Japanese Soldier Trying to Escape at Oroku Peninsula Okinawa 6th Marine Division blasts Japanese Position on Okinawa Beach Crowded with US Landing Craft during Okinawa Invasion
US 10th Army rifleman with the 32nd Infantry, 7th Division searches a Japanese prisoner who has just emerged from a cave on Okinawa Marines Display Japanese Souvenirs on Okinawa Wounded 5th Marines on Okinawa May 1945 First Division Marine Advance to Dakeshi on Okinawa
Marine Rifleman Looks over Ruins of Naha Okinawa Japanese Planes Shot Down In Attack On Okinawa Invasion Fleet Marine LVT Amtracs Landing On Okinawa Beach 1945 Japanese Shinyo class Suicide Motorboat on Okinawa
Marine Pilots at Dash Rite Inn Bomb Shelter on Okinawa Marine Tosses Phosphorus Greanade at Sniper on Okinawa Chaplain Leads Service for 184th Regiment on Okinawa Japanese Ship Under Attack during Third Fleet Raid on Okinawa October 10, 1944
USS LSM-322 in the far background off Okinawa Beachhead on April 1st as a Coast Guard manned LST in the foreground launches a LVT-4 amphibious tractor Refugees Get Medical Treatment from US Troops on Okinawa Japanese Dummy Planes on Katena Airstrip on Okinawa US Navy LSTs Lined up at Reef in Okinawa
Troops Operate Bulldozer on Okinawa Airfield 6th Division Marines Pull Wounded Japanese from Cave on Okinawa Marine 3rd Amphibious Corps in Action on Okinawa 96th Division Troops Sleep after Capturing Big Apple Hill Okinawa
Planes Low Level Attack at Mouth of Bishi River pre invasion bombardment of Okinawa 1945 Burning Okinoyamo Maru Okinawa Marines March into Sobe during Invasion of Okinawa US Navy LST at Okinawa Beaches
Rocket attack from Navy LSM toward beach at Okinawa Tractor Jeep and M7 Priest Stuck in Mud on Okinawa 1945 Marines Race for Foxholes as Shell Explodes on Okinawa Marines Carry Children Found in Caves on Okinawa
Cabbage Booby Trapped with Type 97 grenade by Japanese on Okinawa Marine Infantry with Thompson and M1 Carbine Okinawa April 15 1945 6th Marine Division Tanks Advance on Naha Okinawa Marines board Transport for Invasion of Okinawa
Japanese soldier surrenders to Marines in Cane Field Okinawa Marine Linemen Work on Communications on Okinawa Stinson L-5 Sentinel Carries Wounded Marine from Itoman near Okinawa Front Marines Wade Ashore to Support Beachhead on Okinawa
Marines and LVT on the beach of Iheya Jima Off Okinawa 16 July 45 Marines Evacuate Wounded Comrade Under Fire on Okinawa LVT Amtrac and first Marine Casualty on Okinawa 5th Marine Regiment Gunners Sleep in Foxhole on Okinawa
Marines Manning .30 Caliber Browing Machine Gun on Okinawa Marine Third Amphibious Corps 155 mm “Long Tom” Gun Crew on Okinawa 27th Division Troops Clear Japanese Caves on Okinawa 1945 Marines Clear Japanese Cave with Flamethrower on Okinawa
Marines Take Up Positions on Street in Naha Okinawa 7th Infantry Division Troops Mopping Up on Okinawa Japanese Soldiers POW Carry Wounded Comrade on Okinawa 22nd Marine Regiment Prepares for Advance on Naha Okinawa
6th Marine Division Flame Throwing Tank in action Okinawa May 1945 Marine Communication Crews Establish Phone Lines on Okinawa Troops Leaving Landing Craft during Invasion of Okinawa 1st Marine Division Fights Japanese On Okinawa
Marines Hunt Japanese Snipers amid Ruins of Naha Okinawa 6th Division Marines Resting in Suburbs of Naha Okinawa Food and Water Parachuted to Marines at Shuri Okinawa Japanese Prisoners Get Soup Ration at Camp near Kadena Okinawa
Marines Communication Platoon on Okinawa US Army 10th Infantry Outflank Important Shuri Castle Victory On Okinawa Wrecked Barrel of Camouflaged Japanese Gun Captured on Okinawa Soldiers Warming Rations on Portable Stove on Okinawa
6th Division Marine with Japanese soldier on Okinawa Aerial View of Leveled City of Naha Capital of Okinawa 1945 Okinawa Wrecked Japanese Truck General Stilwell and Col. Pachler on Okinawa 1945
77th Infantry Division Soldier Saving Okinawan Children Next to LVT Buffalo 1945 US Marines Closing in at old tomb Okinawa Marine Flame Thrower at Cave Okinawa aerial view of during D Day April 1945 Okinawa
Group of Japanese Soldiers to Surrender on Okinawa 1945 Okinawa Invasion LVT LVT Buffalo 96th infantry division Chatan Okinawa 1945 Japanese Prisoner Pow On Okinawa 1945
Okinawa Invasion fleet Wreck Okinawa 1945 4 Okinawa Invasion beachhead Battleship fires at Japanese Plane 1 April 1945 Okinawa
7th Air Force Soldiers Make Home in Cave on Okinawa 1945 Battleship USS West Virginia BB-48 bombarding Okinawa Marines Lvt Amtracs Amphibious Tractors On Okinawa 1945 1945 Okinawa1st Div. Marine firing tommy gun
US Soldiers in Dugout Call Station on Okinawa 1945 Marines 155mm Howitzer fire Okinawa Battleship Fires on Japanese Suicide Plane off Okinawa pacific 10th Army Troops Move into Yonabaru on Okinawa
Fleet Ready to Invade Okinawa Marines Hit the beach from LVT 1945 Okinawa 834th Anti Aircraft Artillery 37mm Halftrack and Thompson Gunner Okinawa Wreck Okinawa 1945 3
7th infantry division landing on Okinawa in LVT Amtrac Okinawa Invasion 1 April 1945 Amphibious approach Okinawa beach 1945 75mm Recoiless Rifle in Action Okinawa 1945
27th Division Troops Clear Japanese Caves on Okinawa US Marine Gun Crew in Firefight near Naha Okinawa Naval gunfire support Okinawa 1945 Aerial view invasion in Kerama Retto Battle of Okinawa 1945
7th Infantry Rifleman on Okinawa pacific Captured Japanese AA Gun Okinawa pacific USS LSM(R)-197 Firing Rockets at Okinawa Okinawa dummy Japanese plane
Helicopter Landing On Okinawa Pacific Okinawa April 1945 Wreck Okinawa 1945 DUKW Amphibious Truck Loaded With Supplies Okinawa 1945
Marines on Okinawa LVT Amtrac amphibious lands 96th infantry division troops Okinawa 1945 Ie Shima beach jeeps and LST 1945 Wreck Okinawa 1945 2
Wounded Marines on Okinawa 1945 Okinawa Invasion aerial view 1st Aid Station Set Up for 24th Army Corps on Okinawa aerial view of beachhead Okinawa
Destroyed Japanese ships Okinawa 1945 USS West Virginia BB-48 Covers Troops in LVT B111 Heading for Okinawa Troops on Captured Japanese 150 mm gun Type 89 Cannon on Okinawa Soldiers Advance on Japanese Cave on Okinawa
Okinawa Invasion 1945 Gen. Shepherd and Gen. Buckner Watch Battle on Okinawa LVT Buffalo Being Lowered into Water off Okinawa’s Orange Beach 1945 96th infantry division LVT Amtrac against seawall Okinawa 1945
Troops Establishing Beachhead on Okinawa 1945 Marines Hunt Japanese Sniper Shuri Castle Okinawa 1945 Okinawa Invasion landing forces 1878th Aviation Engineers Use Bulldozers to Build Road on Okinawa June 1945
Why the Battle of Okinawa Was Such a Terrible Ordeal
The fight was one to the death and was incredibly brutal.
Key point: The Imperial Japanese fought for every inch of ground and caused many casaulties. America managed to seize the island but at a very high price.
On Easter morning, April 1, 1945, the Pacific island of Okinawa trembled beneath an earthshaking bombardment from American combat aircraft overhead and ships steaming offshore in preparation for an amphibious landing of unprecedented magnitude. The commander of Japan’s massive 32nd Imperial Army, Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, stood quietly on the crest of Mount Shuri near the southern end of the island, calmly watching the spectacle. He and his chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Isamu Cho, and his senior operations officer, Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, watched through binoculars as the American landing force—four infantry divisions commanded by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner—disembarked from some 1,000-odd landing craft and pushed ashore unchallenged.
This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.
For almost a year Ushijima’s army, more than 100,000 strong, had been busy constructing an intricate system of hidden bunkers and fortified ridges in Okinawa’s hilly southern region. Thousands of island residents had been impressed to help build the Japanese defenses. Ushijima had stationed the bulk of his strength in the south and planned to lure the American invasion forces into a catastrophic battle of attrition after allowing them to land on the island unmolested. The Japanese strategy was to drive off the American fleet with conventional attacks and suicidal kamikaze attacks and then annihilate the stranded invasion force. So many American soldiers, sailors, and Marines would perish, Ushijima reasoned, that the Americans would shrink back with horror at the mere thought of invading the Japanese mainland, some 350 nautical miles away.
As American tank and infantry units moved toward the southern end of the island, they would confront an intricate system of two concentric defensive lines constructed along a series of hills, ridges, and draws—the Machinato Line—and behind it the even more heavily fortified Shuri Line. The defenses were manned by veteran, well-armed Japanese soldiers who would remain loyal to their Bushido code of warfare and fight to the death rather than be captured. Yahara, a gifted strategist who helped design and implement the Japanese strategy, was short on tanks but had stockpiled hundreds of heavy weapons and artillery pieces of every caliber—150mm howitzers, 120mm mortars, 47mm antitank guns, and the dreaded 320mm “spigot” mortars—in hidden caves and concrete bunkers that were virtually impervious to air and artillery fire. Yahara’s concept of a yard-by-yard war of attrition, or jikyusen, was a radical departure from previous Japanese island defenses, all unsuccessful, which had concentrated on annihilating the enemy at the water’s edge with massive banzai charges and frontal assaults.
Okinawa: A Strategic Island
The American military wanted Okinawa for three reasons: its seizure would sever the remaining southwest supply line to resource-starved Japan American medium-range bombers could reach the Japanese mainland from the four airfields on the island and Okinawa’s harbors, anchorages, and airfields could serve as a final staging area for the planned late-1945 invasion of the Japanese mainland itself. A huge assemblage of forces from Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Central Pacific island-hopping campaign and General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific advance converged on Okinawa. In all, Buckner commanded more than 180,000 troops from four Army divisions (the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) under Maj. Gen. John Hodge, and three Marine divisions (the 1st, 2nd, and 6th) under Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger. It was many more troops than Buckner’s namesake father had commanded—and surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant—at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, during the American Civil War.
The Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s initially had little impact on the inhabitants of the Ryukyu Island chain, which runs southwest from the Japanese home island of Kyushu toward Taiwan. Despite its size—it was the largest of the Ryukyu Islands—and its dense native population, Okinawa had neither surplus food nor significant industry to assist the Japanese war effort. The island’s main wartime contribution was the production of sugar cane, which was converted into commercial alcohol for torpedoes and engines. From the first days of the Pacific War, Okinawa was fortified as the front line of defense for mainland Japan. Land and farms were forcibly expropriated throughout the island, and Japan’s Imperial Army began the construction of numerous air bases. Almost half a million Okinawans were intermingled with the Japanese garrison as active, if unwilling, participants in the island’s defense. To keep them loyal, Ushijima had propagandized the populace by telling them that capture by American forces would result in torture, rape, and death, to which suicide was infinitely preferable.
By autumn 1944, Okinawa had been targeted for invasion by Allied forces. The largest amphibious assault of the Pacific War, dubbed Operation Iceberg, would involve assembling one of the greatest naval armadas in history. Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet included more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers, and hundreds of assorted support ships. The initial assault on the 60-mile-long island was planned for April 1, 1945. On September 29, 1944, B-29 bombers conducted the initial reconnaissance mission over Okinawa and its outlying islands. On October 10, the day after the fearsome and fanatical General Cho boasted to a group of Okinawans in the capital city of Naha that the Japanese defenders would win a decisive victory, nearly 200 of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s planes struck Naha in five separate waves and almost devastated the city. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force, under the leadership of General Curtis LeMay and operating from bases in the Mariana Islands, began a strategic bombing campaign using B-29s against the mainland of Japan, a campaign that culminated in horrific incendiary raids in March 1945.
Less heralded, but arguably more effective in undermining Tokyo’s military strategy, was the extraordinary success of the American submarine fleet. In 1944 alone, approximately a half million tons of Japanese shipping was sunk by American subs. By early 1945 it was too hazardous for Japanese troop ships to attempt to travel outside the main islands.
The Defender’s Advantage
In mid-March 1945, a combined British-American fleet of more than 1,300 ships gathered off Okinawa to prepare for the naval bombardment the first kamikaze attacks of the campaign began on March 18. Named for the “divine wind”—typhoons that in 1274 and 1281 had blown away Kublai Khan’s Mongol armadas and saved Japan from invasion—the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps was an example of the desperation infecting Japan’s Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo by early 1944. From the moment Japan entered World War II, it began losing pilots far more rapidly than they could be replaced. By 1944, new Japanese pilots, who were being sent into combat with less than one-third the flight training time that American pilots received, were being shot down in disproportionate numbers. The antiaircraft capabilities of U.S. Navy ships had also increased to such an extent that attacking an American vessel had essentially become a suicide mission anyway. The Japanese decided that it would be more practical for their pilots to deliberately plunge their aircraft into the enemy’s warships, ensuring the ship’s destruction as well as their pilots’. The operational creed became “one plane, one ship.” Some 4,000 Japanese planes were stockpiled for the kamikaze attacks.
American troops secured two positions prior to landing day. The small island groups of Kerama and Keise, southwest of Okinawa, could be used to provide anchorages for ships and as an artillery base to back up ground forces once they went ashore. Against occasionally stiff resistance from isolated garrisons, American forces secured Kerama on March 28 and Keise on March 31. At Kerama, they also destroyed 350 suicide boats, speedy craft loaded with depth charges that the Japanese had planned to use against the Allied fleet. U.S. planners anticipated a bloodbath when the main landing took place since it would be the first time that American and Japanese forces would clash on Japanese soil. American intelligence, unfortunately, grossly underestimated the size of the garrison on Okinawa, placing the number at no more than 65,000 troops. In fact, Okinawa harbored some 110,000 crack Japanese soldiers, at least five times the number that had badly bloodied U.S. forces at Iwo Jima. In addition, some 20,000 Okinawans had been drafted into home defense units, or boeitai, to serve as auxiliary forces.
The American planners, who saw the Okinawa campaign as an exercise in overwhelming material and numerical advantages, were unaware that many advantages remained with the Japanese defenders. In the war of attrition to come, the Japanese had packed more than 100,000 troops into the southern third of the island where they, not the Americans, possessed the high ground and the greater concentration of force. The island itself was larger than many of the other Pacific atolls stormed in earlier campaigns, and its unpredictable weather, razor-sharp coral rocks, and dense vegetation gave defenders even more advantages than they had enjoyed at Iwo Jima, where a garrison of 23,000 Japanese troops had claimed the lives of 6,000 Marines.
The Machinato Line
The people of Okinawa had long been resigned to the severe typhoons that periodically swept their island, but nothing in their experience equaled the tetsu no bow—storm of steel—that pounded the island on April 1 preceding the American landing. Indeed, it was the heaviest concentration of naval gunfire ever to support an amphibious landing. While the 2nd Marine Division conducted a demonstration landing on Okinawa’s southeast beaches, the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions of the Army’s XXIV Corps and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions of the III Marine Amphibious Corps crossed the Hagushi beaches. Some 16,000 troops landed in the first hour, and by nightfall more than 60,000 American troops were safely ashore, with another 120,000 waiting in ships offshore. Marine and Army units advanced rapidly inland toward the vital airfields of Kadena and Yontan. Within three hours, troops of the 6th Marine Division had seized Yontan, while soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division advanced to secure Kadena and continued inland. By day’s end, the Americans had secured a beachhead nine miles wide and three miles deep, at a remarkably small cost of 28 men killed or missing and 104 wounded.
American forces moved rapidly eastward to cut the island in two in just four days, capturing as much territory as planners had expected to take in three weeks. Marines of the 6th Division wheeled and turned north, moving up the island until they reached the Motubu Peninsula, where the Japanese had entrenched around the rugged hills of Yaeju-Dake. More Japanese were waiting on the island of Ie Shima as well. As the Marines closed in on Yaeju-Dake, troops of the Army’s 77th Infantry Division invaded Ie Shima. After 12 days of heavy fighting against 2,000 dug-in defenders, Motubu was secured by the Marines on April 20 at a cost of 213 killed or missing and 757 wounded. The GIs who attacked Ie Shima encountered heavy resistance as well, but they were also able to achieve their objective. Some 4,700 Japanese soldiers died on Ie Shima, while the men of the 77th lost 172 killed, 902 wounded, and 46 missing. Ie Shima was quickly turned into an ideal base for American fighter aircraft. (The celebrated American war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on Ie Shima on April 18.)
While the fighting heated up in the north, Army units began advancing southward on April 9 and immediately hit stiff resistance when they struck Ushijima’s first line of defense, the Machinato Line. Anchored on the Machinato Inlet, it included a series of fortified ridges, draws, cliffs, and caves, most notably Kakazu Ridge, where coral hills were pitted with caves and passageways filled with enemy soldiers that blocked movement along Okinawa’s west coast and stretched from one end of the island to the other. After failed assaults on the southwestern part of the island between April 9 and 12, American GIs suffered nearly 3,000 casualties, killing more than 4,000 Japanese in the process but failing to secure even a few hundred yards of coral.
For more than a month, a seemingly endless succession of heavily defended enemy positions stalled Buckner’s offensive. A typical ridge on Okinawa had enemy machine-gun positions on the forward slope and on nearby hills that intersected each trail, while mortar crews were dug into invisible positions on the reverse slope to rain shells down on the advancing Americans. Japanese artillery, located farther back at higher elevations, incessantly fired shells of every caliber night and day, inflicting staggering casualties and sending droves of shell-shocked GIs to aid stations in the rear. Each night, squads of Japanese suicide troops ventured out and infiltrated American positions, throwing grenades and wreaking havoc on their exhausted enemies.
Buckner committed two full-strength divisions against the Machinato Line, the 7th Infantry Division on Okinawa’s east coast and the 96th Infantry Division on the west, but neither made significant forward progress. By April 12, however, the Americans had cemented their line, their right flank along Kakazu Ridge, their center across from Tombstone Ridge, and their left abutting the town of Ouki. Kakazu Ridge was a 280-foot-high elevation that was home to 1,200 defenders. On April 9, Colonel Edwin May’s 383rd Regiment attacked the ridge in the predawn hours, hoping to catch the Japanese by surprise. With no artillery preparation, the men of the 383rd went in without tank support as well, because the approaches to Kakazu were cut by a deep gorge. May’s troops made it to the crest of the ridge against little opposition, but when dawn came a massive artillery and mortar barrage hit the attackers hard and a Japanese counterattack drove them off the narrow crest. By late afternoon May’s units had been forced to withdraw, suffering the loss of 23 killed, 47 missing, and 256 wounded. The next morning American artillery and naval guns again pounded Kakazu Ridge, and two regiments charged up the hill, only to be stopped cold by Japanese defenders who emerged unscathed from the reverse slopes.
The Japanese launched a carefully designed counterattack on April 12. In the past, outright banzai charges had been disastrous, so the Japanese turned to stealth instead. During the night, dozens of Japanese infantry squads tried to infiltrate American lines and ambush rear-echelon support elements the next morning. Only one infiltration attempt succeeded, however the rest met heavy resistance and were shredded by alert defenders. A Japanese survivor later wrote, “Continuous mortar and machine gun fire lasted until dawn, when we, having suffered heavy casualties, withdrew. The company fell apart during the withdrawal.” An American report stated that the Japanese dead were “stacked like cordwood.”
On the U.S. left, XXIV Corps troops managed to advance into the town of Ouki, but they were repulsed and withdrew after hours of fierce fighting. In the center, American forces fought their way up aptly named Tombstone Ridge, but were also thrown back by the Japanese defenders, some using flamethrowers. All along the Machinato Line, Ushijima’s troops stopped virtually every attempt by the 96th and 7th Divisions to advance during the second week of April. The defenders paid a staggering cost for their initial successes, however. American casualties were estimated at 2,900 (451 killed, 2,198 wounded, and 241 missing), while Japanese losses were believed to number at least 5,750. Some Japanese officers, claiming they had no reinforcements to replenish their units after suffering such heavy losses, called for an all-out offensive to blunt the American onslaught.
On April 14, Buckner came ashore and informed his commanders that he wanted the American line to advance immediately from coast to coast. To get things moving, he advanced the 27th Infantry Division and deployed it in the western sector opposite Ushijima’s left, moved the 96th to the center, and kept the 7th along the east coast. After some 19,000 shells pounded the Machinato Line, all three divisions moved out on April 19, but by day’s end the American forces had made almost no progress. A tank advance by the newly arrived 27th ended with 22 of 30 tanks lost to antitank weapons and suicidal Japanese soldiers carrying satchel charges. Finally, some progress was achieved on April 20, when troops from the 27th Division breached the Machinato Line and moved five miles south before digging in.
Meanwhile, the U.S. fleet had begun suffering under the first successive waves of kamikaze attacks. On April 6-7, Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo launched the long-promised air and sea attacks on the Allied fleet off Okinawa. All day on April 6, some 223 Japanese planes attacked the American armada offshore and various radar-picket destroyers northeast of Okinawa. Despite inexperienced pilots and inadequate air cover from Zero fighters, the unprecedented number of aircraft engaged allowed the Japanese to hit at least 14 American ships, sinking four and damaging 10 others. During the next 10 weeks, the Americans offshore would face at least 10 organized attacks involving hundreds of planes, sometimes as many as 350 at a time.
The second portion of the Japanese counterattack involved the super battleship Yamato, whose 70,000-ton displacement and nine massive 18-inch guns made her the world’s largest and most feared battleship. Given enough fuel for a one-way trip, Yamato was directed to beach herself on the coast of Okinawa and become both an artillery platform and a target to divert American carrier aircraft from air assaults on Okinawa itself. Yamato was given no air cover, however, and on April 6 swarms of American carrier aircraft began deluging the ship with fire. One day later she sank, along with a cruiser and most of the screening destroyers.
The kamikazes returned on April 12 in ever greater numbers. Some 350 bombers and fighters sortied from Kyushu, intermingled with escort fighters and a small number of experienced pilots who would make conventional attacks. The Japanese dropped chaff (thin foil strips) to confuse radar, and attacked near dusk, coming in from all directions and altitudes. The Zeros damaged some of the largest ships in the Allied fleet—the carriers Essex and Enterprise, the battleships Missouri, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Idaho, the cruiser Oakland, and dozens of destroyers, minesweepers, and gunboats. On April 16 the kamikazes managed to hit another carrier, Intrepid, as well as more destroyers and minesweepers. On May 3 and 4, some 305 Japanese planes damaged nearly a dozen picket destroyers and support ships.
Buckner’s Stubborn War of Attrition
Concerned about the slow progress achieved thus far by American ground forces, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, flew to Okinawa and conferred with Buckner. Nimitz complained that his fleet of almost 1,600 ships “was losing about a ship and a half a day” to suicide attacks, and he urged Buckner to mount an amphibious assault behind Japanese lines to break the stalemate. Buckner demurred, preferring to continue his straight-ahead attacks. Buckner would continue to pour more men into piecemeal frontal assaults, ignoring pleas from his subordinates to starve, surround, or bypass the seemingly impregnable pockets of Japanese resistance. Maj. Gen. Andrew Bruce, commander of the 77th Infantry Division, argued for a southern landing behind the Shuri lines to force the Japanese to fight in two directions, but Buckner rejected his plea.
Constant pressure by Buckner’s three Army divisions, with resulting heavy losses on both sides, finally split open the Machinato Line in late April. The so-called blowtorch and corkscrew method used by the attackers, in which gasoline was pumped into caves and ignited and cave entrances were blown up by explosives, ensured that the fighting would be vicious, close-up, and often hand-to-hand. With the exception of two heavily defended pockets near the center and the right flank where the defenders still held fast, the Japanese began withdrawing from their original line under the cover of artillery barrages. From April 25 to May 3, American units made steady advances toward the Shuri defenses. Buckner rearranged his front lines, bringing the 6th Marine Division down from the north to face Ushijima’s western flank and replacing the weary 27th Infantry Division with the 1st Marine Division. In the eastern sector the 77th Division moved up to give the weary 96th some rest, while the 7th remained on the western flank of the Army’s sector. The American front now consisted of two Marine divisions on the west and two Army divisions in the east.
Meanwhile, urged by his frontline commanders to launch an offensive, a reluctant Ushijima agreed, unleashing a surprise attack on the reorganized American lines on May 3. He sent two waves of engineers around the western and eastern flanks in amphibious assaults designed to land behind American lines and distract them while a third attack targeted the center of the American line. The operation proved disastrous from the beginning. On the western shores, the engineers landed opposite the Marine line rather than behind it, and Marine mortars and machine guns quickly annihilated the attackers. On the eastern shore, American naval vessels alertly spotted the assault barges and opened fire, destroying most of the Japanese landing craft and killing most of the engineers. The Japanese infantry attack, set to jump off at dawn, was delayed, and the 2,000-man force was shredded by heavy and accurate American artillery fire. The ill-advised offensive cost the Japanese almost 7,000 of their most seasoned frontline troops, 19 artillery pieces, and much valuable real estate. When the attackers faltered, troops from the 1st Marine Division advanced several hundred yards across no-man’s-land. Operations Officer Yahara later wrote, “This disaster was the decisive action of the campaign.”
The bloodbath was far from over, however. It would drag on for another seven bloody weeks, in part because Buckner’s frontal-assault tactics played directly into the hands of Ushijima’s strategy of attrition. After the failed offensive, Ushijima continued withdrawing his troops to the Shuri Line, an eight-mile path stretching from Yonabaru on the east coast through tortuous ridges near Shuri castle, and into the port city of Naha on Okinawa’s western coast. On May 11, Buckner began an offensive against the Shuri Line with his rearranged forces. Once again, Army units in the east encountered fierce resistance all along the line. Closest to the coast, XXIV Corps units bogged down for two days at a key height called Conical Hill before gaining a foothold on the crest and withstanding vicious Japanese counterattacks for another three days. Farther west, the 77th Division battled through its own hell, especially at Ishimmi Ridge, a 350-foot rise a third of a mile from Shuri.
Bloody Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill
The two Marine divisions fighting along the western half of Buckner’s line faced a particularly daunting task in their efforts to eliminate the stronghold at Shuri. Four locations in particular tested the Marines’ tenacity—Dakeshi Ridge, Wana Ridge, Wana Draw, and, above all, Sugar Loaf Hill. The 1st Marine Division advanced toward Dakeshi Ridge on May 11, but gained little ground against an enemy dug in on both slopes. Under horrific fire, the Marines resorted to doing much of their fighting in squad-sized units. A solitary Marine would edge cautiously forward toward an enemy machine-gun position or cave, while his buddies laid down a heavy covering fire, and then he would toss in a satchel charge or grenade. Anyone staggering out of the cave would be cut down by rifle fire or flamethrower. After three days of heavy fighting, Dakeshi Ridge fell. Wana Ridge and Wana Draw took longer Marines moved against Wana Draw on May 14, but could not advance against heavy fire from hundreds of hidden enemy positions. The constant shelling from both sides, together with torrential rains that began on May 21, turned Wana Ridge and Wana Draw into muddy quagmires. Corpses of slain Marines had to be left where they were because retrieving them exposed more men to the heavy artillery placed on Shuri Heights. The remains of dead Americans and Japanese slowly rotted or were blown to bits by shells that fell around the clock. It seemed to American commanders that Ushijima’s artillery had virtually every inch of ground to the Japanese front bracketed. The numbers of men sent to the rear suffering from combat fatigue soared.
By the end of May, the ground advance had begun to resemble a World War I battlefield, as troops became mired in mud, and rain-flooded roads inhibited evacuation of the wounded. During the struggle for Okinawa, American troops were given two pieces of earthshaking news: President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died on April 12 and Nazi Germany had surrendered on May 8. Unfortunately for them, the war against Japan would continue.
The focus on Okinawa shifted to Sugar Loaf Hill. The hill had not looked especially imposing to the first Marines who advanced toward it, but Ushijima considered it the key to the entire Shuri defenses. Sparsely dotted with shrubs and trees, Sugar Loaf was a height of coral and volcanic rock, 300 yards long and 100 feet high, supported on the southeast by another mound, Half Moon Hill, and to the south by yet another promontory, Horseshoe Ridge. Sugar Loaf was the most visible feature of a three-pronged spear pointed directly at the advancing 6th Marine Division. Each of the three peaks could deliver murderous fire from heavy guns against any other peak attacked by the Marines attacking troops charging one precipice could be cut down by converging fire from the rest of the triangle. In addition, the entire complex could be raked by Japanese artillery, mortars, and machine guns emplaced on Shuri Hill, where the 1st Marine Division’s advance had been abruptly halted.
Units from the 6th Marine Division advancing toward Sugar Loaf fell into a bloody pattern of doggedly fighting their way to its narrow crest, holding it briefly against fierce counterattacks, then falling back under unbearable pressure. For five straight days the ebb and flow of an ugly war of attrition continued unabated, with the crest of Sugar Loaf changing hands numerous times more and more dead Marines lay strewn about the bloody approaches. A breakthrough finally took place on May 17, when a Marine battalion seized a large portion of Half Moon Hill, which enabled them to rain down heavy fire support on Sugar Loaf Hill the next day. Japanese artillery on Wana Ridge was being gradually reduced as well by Marine units fighting farther east. On May 18 the Marines launched two diversionary attacks, one against Half Moon and Horseshoe Hills and the other against Sugar Loaf’s right flank, drawing much of the Japanese fire and allowing a force of tanks and infantry to rush around Sugar Loaf’s left flank, attack it from the rear, and rout the remaining Japanese defenders.
Finally, Sugar Loaf fell silent. During the 10-day period up to the capture of Sugar Loaf Hill, the 6th Marine Division lost 2,662 killed or wounded and another 1,289 cases of combat fatigue, about the same number of casualties suffered during the entire fighting at Tarawa. The 29th Regiment suffered 82 percent casualties and essentially ceased to exist. Ushijima, short on troops and supplies, began pulling units out of Wana Draw and the Shuri Line in late May, allowing more Marines to pour into Shuri, many of whom moved over from Sugar Loaf Hill.
“We Never Had a Chance of Victory”
The unrelenting pressure on the Shuri Line convinced Ushijima to withdraw to his final defensive positions on the Kiyamu Peninsula his troops began moving out on the night of May 23, leaving behind rear elements that continued to slow the American advance. Many Japanese soldiers too wounded to travel were given lethal injections of morphine or were left to die on their own. By May 31 the Americans realized that the Japanese had evacuated large numbers of troops from the Shuri defenses pursuit continued from late May until June 11. By the first week of June, U.S. forces had captured only 465 enemy soldiers while claiming 62,548 killed. It would take two more weeks of hard fighting and an additional two weeks of mopping-up operations using explosives and flamethrowers before the battle would finally come to an end. In early June, Marines cleared the Oroku Peninsula in the west while Army units destroyed Ushijima’s eastern flank by routing the defenders at Yaeju-Dake. The Japanese survivors, some 30,000 troops who had retreated to the Kiyan Peninsula, now had nowhere to go two-thirds of them would fight to the death.
Japanese resistance was finally overcome between June 11 and June 21, as soldiers and Marines slowly closed in on remaining pockets of resistance. Of the remaining exhausted Japanese defenders who faced the final onslaught, some one-third made the decision to surrender. The remainder fought to the death, committed suicide with grenades, or were killed in droves making suicidal charges against entrenched American positions. The 2nd Marine Division’s 8th Regiment had come ashore to fill out the 1st Marine Division for the final assaults of the campaign. On June 3, while he was personally reconnoitering the front of the 8th Marines’ position, General Buckner was killed by an enemy artillery barrage. The next senior general officer was Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger, the commander of the Marine forces on Okinawa, who was spot-promoted to lieutenant general and became the first and only Marine naval aviator ever to command an American army in the field.
The Japanese defenses were all but overwhelmed by June 16. Ushijima, realizing that the end was near, dissolved his staff on June 19 and ordered all available troops to go over to guerrilla operations. On June 21, organized resistance came to an end in the 6th Marine Division’s operational zone, which encompassed the southern shore of the island. The 1st Marine Division mounted its final attacks of the campaign, also on June 21, and by nightfall reported that all its objectives had been secured. Units of XXIV Corps made similar announcements, and Geiger declared Okinawa secure on July 2 after an 82-day campaign, although mopping-up operations continued, netting an additional 9,000 enemy dead and 3,800 captured. The last official flag-raising ceremony on a Pacific island battlefield took place at Tenth Army headquarters at 10 am on June 22. Earlier that morning, with 7th Infantry Division troops closing in on their headquarters, Ushijima and Cho, just promoted to lieutenant general, committed ritual suicide Ushijima had ordered Yahara to escape to Japan and make a final report on the campaign. Just before Cho killed himself, he wrote a note: “Our strategy, tactics, and techniques were all used to the utmost. We fought valiantly, but it was as nothing before the material strength of the enemy.” Yahara, who was captured but eventually returned to Tokyo, later conceded, “The fact was that we never had a chance of victory on Okinawa.”
Heavy Casualties on Both Sides
Weeks before the firing stopped, American construction battalions and engineers, following close on the heels of the ground forces, were hard at work transforming the island into a major base for the projected invasion of the Japanese home islands. Repeated meat-grinder frontal assaults on Okinawa made it the costliest battle of the Pacific War: 34 Allied ships and craft of all types were sunk, most by suicide attackers, and 368 ships and craft were damaged. In addition, the Allied fleet had lost 763 aircraft. Total American casualties in the operation numbered more than 12,000 killed, including 5,000 Navy dead and almost 8,000 Marine and Army dead, and 36,000 wounded. The U.S. Navy suffered the greatest casualties of any operation in its entire history.
Combat stress accounted for large numbers of psychiatric casualties, taking a huge toll on the Americans’ frontline strength. In all, there were more than 26,000 nonbattle (sickness or combat fatigue) casualties. At Okinawa, the rate of combat losses caused by battle stress, expressed as a percentage of those caused by combat wounds, was a staggering 48 percent. By contrast, in the Korean War, fought in the worst terrain conditions American soldiers had yet experienced, the overall rate would be between 20 and 25 percent. American losses were so heavy that several congressional leaders called for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders. Incredibly, 35 percent of all American combatants who fought at Okinawa became casualties. The horrific cost of taking Okinawa and the specter of repeating the ordeal on an even greater scale by attacking the Japanese mainland weighed heavily in the American decision to use atomic weapons against Japan six weeks later.
Japanese losses were enormous: approximately 100,000 soldiers were officially killed in action and another 23,764 were believed buried by the Japanese themselves. Only 10,755 were captured or surrendered. Many residents of Okinawa fled to mountainous caves where they subsequently were entombed, and the precise number of civilian casualties will never be known. Historians have put the total number of Okinawans killed at close to 100,000, or one-fourth of the total population. Caught between two massive armies, the unfortunate Okinawans perished in a number of ways—from artillery fire, air attacks, starvation, fighting with the Japanese garrisons (either by coercion or by choice), being entombed in the vast number of caves that dotted the island, committing suicide before approaching American soldiers could reach them, or being shot by fanatical Japanese soldiers.
The Japanese lost a total of 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships as well as an estimated 2,000 pilots in kamikaze attacks. Altogether, the combined suicide campaign sank 11 American destroyers, one minesweeper, and assorted auxiliary craft and damaged four fleet carriers, three light carriers, 10 battleships, five cruisers, 61 destroyers, and countless support ships. All told, nearly a quarter of a million people were killed or wounded on Okinawa—almost 3,000 per day for every day of the three-month ordeal.
27th Infantry Division, World War Two
In 1912 the New York State National Guard was organized into a Divisional format, which meant that groups of its regiments would be placed together under a larger organized unit, in a manner similar to that of the regular army. This new Division would eventually become the 27th Infantry Division. On June 16th, 1916 the New York State National Guard Division was mobilized and moved to the Mexican border to participate in Brigadier General John Pershing&rsquos sortie into Mexico. The Division, known initially as the New York Division and then as the 6th Division remained in Mexico until March of 1917 when it was recalled to New York in preparation for possible service in Europe. In late April of 1918, the Division was transported to Europe where it fought gallantly for the remainder of World War I.
The 27th Infantry Division was federalized for service on October 15th, 1940 and initially commanded by Major General William Haskell. At this time it still retained its WWI organization of two brigades and four regiments. The 53rd Brigade consisted of the 105th and 106th Infantry regiments while the 54th Brigade contained the 108th and 165th Infantry regiments. Following a lengthy period of maneuvers and training, the 27th was ordered to California in December following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. While in California the 27th awaited orders to ship out and concentrated on bringing itself up to the authorized field strength of 1,012 officers and 21,314 enlisted men. The Division&rsquos strength had been reduced by discharges to around 14,000 men. The first elements of the Division boarded ships bound for Hawaii on February 27th 1942, the first Infantry Division to leave the states following Pearl Harbor.
The Division remained on Hawaii for a number of months, during which time it was triangularized, with the 108th Infantry regiment being reassigned to the 40th Division. A Division that has been triangularized has been given three infantry regiments instead of the four of a square Division. This final reorganization dismantled the brigade structure and again dropped the Division&rsquos strength to 14,000 men. Following the reorganization, the 27th Division was shifted to Oahu, where it would relieve the 25th Infantry Division, which was slated to join the U.S forces fighting in Guadalcanal. For most of its time in Hawaii, the 27th was under the command of Brigadier General Ralph Pennel.
On November 20th 1943, the 27th Infantry Division embarked on its first combat assignment, the capture of the coral atoll of Makin. The 27th also had a new Division commander, Major General Ralph Smith. Units from the 27th Division also occupied the Majuro atoll on February 1st 1944 and successfully assaulted Eniwetok Island on February 19th of the same year. In June 1944, the Division landed on Saipan, where its regiments fought together for the first time as a full Division. Following Saipan the Division was rested and reinforced at Espirto Santo for seven months before any further operations. During this time the 27th received its final Division commander, Major General George Griner Jr * . On April 9h, 1945 the Division landed on Okinawa, where it would remain until September when it was sent to Japan briefly for garrison duty. The Division was mustered out in late December of the same year. Since its arrival in the Pacific, the 27th Infantry Division had suffered 1,512 killed in action, 4,980 wounded in action and 332 who later succumbed to their wounds.
General Smith had been removed from command following a dispute with the aggressive and eccentric Marine commander, General Holland &ldquoHowling Mad&rdquo Smith who had been in overall command of the Saipan invasion. Holland Smith claimed that Ralph Smith had disregarded orders and mishandled the 27th Division, prompting the relief order. Later court of inquiry showed that the charges were for the most part unsubstantiated and General Ralph Smith was quickly given a new command.
NYSMM Online Resources
The National Guard In War: An Historical Analysis Of The 27Th Infantry Division (New York National Guard) In World War II, By Charles S. Kaune, MAJ, USA.
A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
27th Division Yearbook, 1940-41
From the Army-Navy Publishers. Pictorial history, Twenty-Seventh Division, United States Army, 1940-1941. Atlanta, Ga. Army-Navy Publishers, inc, 1941.
Name index is here.
Operation Iceberg - Plans for the invasion of Okinawa, (27th Division) April 1945.
Part of the Col. Howard R. Gmelch Collection, 2003.0211 *I still have to insert pdf link*
27th Division News
Periodical published by the Division while it was stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama, 1940 - 1941
Note: we are missing mulitiple issues and would certainly appreciate donations (physical or digital) of the missing issues.
SIXTH MARINE DIVISION ON OKINAWA OPERATION ICEBERG WORLD WAR II COLOR DOCUMENTARY (Part 2) 34004
Produced in 1945, "The 6th Marine Division on Okinawa" is documentary film about the Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg. The film was released shortly after the event as part of the WWII war bond effort. During the campaign for Okinawa (Operation Iceberg) the Sixth Marine Division was assigned to the III Amphibious Corps. This Academy Award nominated documentary film tells the story of the 82 days fighting on the Island of Okinawa. It was shot in Kodachrome color.
The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War of World War II. The 82-day-long battle lasted from early April until mid-June 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were approaching Japan, and planned to use Okinawa, a large island only 340 mi (550 km) away from mainland Japan, as a base for air operations on the planned invasion of Japanese mainland (coded Operation Downfall). Four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army (the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) and two Marine Divisions (the 1st and 6th) fought on the island. Their invasion was supported by naval, amphibious, and tactical air forces.
The battle has been referred to as the "typhoon of steel" in English, and tetsu no ame ("rain of steel") or tetsu no bōfū ("violent wind of steel") in Japanese. The nicknames refer to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of kamikaze attacks from the Japanese defenders, and to the sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island. The battle resulted in the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Based on Okinawan government sources, mainland Japan lost 77,166 soldiers, who were either killed or committed suicide, and the Allies suffered 14,009 deaths (with an estimated total of more than 65,000 casualties of all kinds). Simultaneously, 42,000–150,000 local civilians were killed or committed suicide, a significant proportion of the local population. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki together with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria caused Japan to surrender less than two months after the end of the fighting on Okinawa.
For its actions at Okinawa, the 6th Marine Division (and reinforcing units) earned a Presidential Unit Citation. The citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault and capture of Okinawa, April 1 to June 21, 1945. Seizing Yontan Airfield in its initial operation, the SIXTH Marine Division, Reinforced, smashed through organized resistance to capture Ishikawa Isthmus, the town of Nago and heavily fortified Motobu Peninsula in 13 days. Later committed to the southern front, units of the Division withstood overwhelming artillery and mortar barrages, repulsed furious counterattacks and staunchly pushed over the rocky terrain to reduce almost impregnable defenses and capture Sugar Loaf Hill. Turning southeast, they took the capital city of Naha and executed surprise shore-to-shore landings on Oroku Peninsula, securing the area with its prized Naha Airfield and Harbor after nine days of fierce fighting. Reentering the lines in the south, SIXTH Division Marines sought out enemy forces entrenched in a series of rocky ridges extending to the southern tip of the island, advancing relentlessly and rendering decisive support until the last remnants of enemy opposition were exterminated and the island secured. By their valor and tenacity, the officers and men of the SIXTH Marine Division, Reinforced contributed materially to the conquest of Okinawa, and their gallantry in overcoming a fanatic enemy in the face of extraordinary danger and difficulty adds new luster to Marine Corps history, and to the traditions of the United States Naval Service.
— Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal for the President
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81 Days of Hell – The Battle of Okinawa in 25 Photos You May not Have Seen Before
The battle on the Island of Okinawa commenced just a few weeks before Germany’s surrender. This was the last major battle of World War II on the Pacific front. Okinawa was to be the last stop of the Allied forces before the attack on Japan. This event, on April 1st, 1945, would set the stage for the Pacific Theater’s largest amphibious battle.
The plan was to capture the Kadena airbase at Okinawa from where Operation Downfall would be launched at Japanese home islands. When the American troops landed on the Island of Okinawa, aided by the Navy’s 5th fleet, they were divided into divisions.
The soldiers who went towards the Southern part of the Island were unaware of the Japanese defense troops lying in wait for them. As they moved inland into a part of the Okinawa Island called “Shuri,” they encountered a defense triangle set up by the commander, General Ushijima. This defense was to later be known as the “Shuri defense Line.”General Mitsuru Ushijima
When the Japanese troops finally launched their attack on the American troops, a fierce battle ensued which resulted in the loss of thousands of soldiers on both sides. The Americans finally captured Shuri in late May.
After Shuri was captured, US troops proceeded to take over Kakazu ridge and break down all of Shuri’s outer defenses permanently. The Japanese proved their tenacity and put up a huge fight for what seemed at the time to be their last line of defense. It was not an easy fight and both sides incurred many casualties.
American ships landing troops and supplies on a beach on Okinawa, Japan, 13 April 1945.
Japanese soldiers resorted to hiding in fortified caves and sending civilians out for supplies. This made it harder for the Americans to fight the soldiers and also resulted in high civilian casualties, but the US troops were relentless. On three occasions, the Japanese went on the offensive and attacked the Allied troops. But after the third attack, the Japanese concluded they were no match for US firepower and retreated to their defensive position.
Marine Rifleman Looks over Ruins of Naha Okinawa
On the northern side of the island, the Kadena and Yomitan airbases were captured within hours after the landing. This was a great feat for the American troops. As a result of this success, the second stage of the operation was initiated and Northern Okinawa was immediately captured. The Motobu peninsula, which was the center of Japan’s defense, was seized by Allied forces.
Marines pour onto the beaches of Okinawa.
The Japanese put up a heavy fight at Yaedake, but by the 18th of April, even Yaedake was cleared. On May 24th, a group of Japanese commandos was sent to Yomitan to recapture the air base. They were eventually killed, but not before the loss of 2 Americans, about 70,000 gallons of fuel, and nine aircraft.
On the 4th of April, Kamikaze attacks were ordered on US forces causing tremendous damage to the Fifth Fleet. The fleet lost 36 ships, 4,900 men, and 763 aircraft. There was also a significant number of damaged ships and additional wounded men from the attacks.
A Japanese kamikaze suicide plane (Yokosuka D4Y “Judy”?) attacks the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) off Okinawa, 11 Apr 1945. It was shot down and crashed aft of the ship.
On the 7th of April, the Japanese battleship Yamato launched it’s own suicide attack intended to cripple the Fifth Fleet and eliminate the American troops at the Shuri defense line. The fleet was alerted by submarines and it went on the offensive. Battleship Yamato sank, along with most of its crew.
The battle lasted eighty-one days, and by the time it ended, it was the bloodiest battle of the War at the Pacific Front. It is difficult to ascertain an accurate number of deaths at the battle of Okinawa. However, the peace monument which stands at the commemorative museum in Okinawa lists over 500,000 deaths total.
A kamikaze plane about to hit Missouri 11 April 1945
The Americans lost Lt. General Simon B. Buckner who was killed by Japanese artillery fire. The day after that, Brigadier Gen. Claudius M. Easley was killed on Le Shima Island by a machine gun.
Due to the propaganda spread by the Americans and the rumor that Americans never took hostages, most Japanese soldiers took their own lives and the result was the surrender of Japan after the battle. Because the actual invasion of Japan never occurred, it is difficult for Allied forces to take credit for the surrender.
Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board USS Missouri as General Richard K. Sutherland watches, September 2, 1945
The Kadena air base remains the biggest US airbase in Asia to this day.
Aearial view of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa
More photosUSS Bunker Hill following two successful kamkazi attacks at Okinawa.
Planes Low Level Attack at Mouth of Bishi River pre invasion bombardment of Okinawa 1945
96th Division Troops Flush Out Japanese Troops on Okinawa
7th Infantry Division soldiers of the US 10th Army swarm into Yonabaru on the coast of Okinawa
US Infantrymen Move Inland from Okinawa Beachhead
6th Marine Division blasts Japanese Position on Okinawa
Wounded 5th Marines on Okinawa May 1945
Japanese Shinyo class Suicide Motorboat on Okinawa
USS LSM-322 in the far background off Okinawa Beachhead on April 1st as a Coast Guard manned LST in the foreground launches a LVT-4 amphibious tractor
US Navy LST at Okinawa Beaches
Marines and LVT on the beach of Iheya Jima Off Okinawa 16 July 45
Marine Third Amphibious Corps 155 mm “Long Tom” Gun Crew on Okinawa
Marines Clear Japanese Cave with Flamethrower on Okinawa
Troops Leaving Landing Craft during Invasion of Okinawa
LVT Buffalo 96th infantry division Chatan Okinawa 1945
Battleship Fires on Japanese Suicide Plane off Okinawa Pacific
General Stilwell and Col. Pachler on Okinawa 1945
Amphibious approach Okinawa beach 1945
The Japanese defence of Okinawa was under the command of Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima. Ushijima based his forces in the hilly southern region of the island, in a heavily fortified system of caves, tunnels, bunkers and trenches.
He planned to allow the Americans to come ashore almost unopposed, and then to wear them down against his entrenched forces. Knowing an invasion of Japan was America’s next move, Ushijima wanted to delay the attack on his homeland for as long as possible to give them time to prepare.
World War II Was Bloody, But The Battle For Okinawa Was a Horror Show
Key point: An important, but costly fight.
To the Americans, Okinawa represented a major stepping-stone toward the final defeat of the Japanese Empire. The successful occupation of the island by American forces would provide air bases and naval facilities that would allow for attacks on the Home Islands themselves. To the Japanese, the surrender of a base so close to the heart of the empire would seriously compromise the ability of their armed forces to defend the homeland. Capture of the island would also interdict the critical flow of petroleum to Japan from Borneo, Sumatra, and Burma.
Okinawa is the largest and most densely populated island in the Ryukyu chain, some 380 miles southwest of the Japanese Home Island of Kyushu. With a total area of 485 square miles, Okinawa is approximately 60 miles long with a width of 2 to 18 miles. The island’s northeastern area is very rugged, mountainous, wooded, and lightly populated.
In 1945 the population of Okinawa was estimated to be approximately 500,000, two-thirds of whom lived in the southern one-third of the island. Unlike the north, the south had large open areas suitable for cultivation. Before World War II, the Okinawans maintained a largely rural, agricultural society. The islanders fished and raised sugar cane, sweet potatoes, rice, and soybeans. They tended to concentrate in small villages rather than in large cities. Ancestor worship dominated their religious practices, and the tombs of those ancestors dotted the countryside.
The Japanese on Kyushu regarded the Okinawans as their inferiors. The Okinawans were a blend of Japanese, Malay, and Chinese ancestry. Although they spoke a Japanese dialect, communication between the two groups often remained strained. Okinawan labor provided most of the manpower for the construction of the elaborate system of defenses erected by the Imperial Japanese Army.
Why did the islanders support the Japanese occupiers? First, the Army dealt brutally with anyone failing to cooperate. Second, the Japanese told the Okinawans that rape, torture, and even death would be their fate once they fell into the hands of the American Army. The Japanese Army also did everything it could psychologically to discourage civilians from surrendering to the Americans in the forthcoming campaign. They even advocated suicide by the noncombatants as the alternative to what they considered to be a dishonorable capitulation.
The sudden loss of the Japanese bases in the Marianas—Guam, Saipan, and Tinian—and the destruction of the Japanese 31st Army there in July 1944 necessitated the strengthening of defenses in the Ryukyu island chain, Okinawa in particular. Imperial Headquarters created the 32nd Army, led by three crack divisions—the 9th, 24th, and 62nd—a force that would ultimately consist of over 110,000 men in infantry, artillery, engineers, and communications units, as well as naval and aviation personnel. Included in that number were 24,000 Okinawan males of the Home Guard, conscripted into the 32nd, whether they were willing or not. Some individual Okinawans were incorporated into the veteran Japanese infantry units as well. The original strategy called for defense against any invading force by Japanese air and naval units during the attempted landings, followed by a mop-up by the Japanese infantry of any enemy troops that successfully made landfall.
The Imperial Headquarters in Japan upset this plan early on by transferring the 25,000-man 9th Division from Okinawa to Taiwan. These men could have been used to repel the enemy troops that made it ashore during the initial landings. Moreover, an additional 5,400 men of the 6,000-man contingent of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade were lost when the 6,000-ton transport Toyama Maru was sunk en route from Japan to Okinawa by the American submarine Sturgeon. Only 600 men from the 44th and the Toyama Maru’s crew survived the attack. The Japanese High Command was then forced to reconstitute the 44th Mixed Brigade with the addition of local draftees and other miscellaneous reserve personnel.
The Imperial High Command also promised the Okinawa defenders heavy support from squadrons of kamikaze planes and ships to disrupt the landings. Kamikaze pilots, successfully used in the defense of the Philippines, would crash their aircraft into the decks of the American ships. Small one-man submarines and torpedo boats, some 700 in number and stationed at islands within the Ryukyu chain, would also be employed to attack the incoming Americans. Once the American fleet had been decimated by Japanese air and sea forces, and the newly landed American troops were deprived of the necessary logistical support, the 32nd Army would begin a counterattack against the invaders.
According to the 32nd Army’s senior staff officer in charge of operations, Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, the reduction in available ground troops, such as the 9th Division, required a major revision of the initial plans. Instead of meeting the invaders as they landed on the beaches and defending the airstrips in the beach areas, the Japanese forces elected to dig in on the south end of the island and destroy the invaders as they moved south against the heavily fortified island installations. These static defenses came to be known as the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru Line, stretching from the island capital, Naha, on the west coast, to Yonabaru, a port city on the island’s east coast.
The Japanese defense plan called for the creation of a series of strongpoints along a number of ridges and escarpments that surrounded the ancient walled city dominated by Shuri Castle. Concentric rings of fire zones permitted the defenders at the strongpoints to protect one another from the advancing Americans. All defensive positions were heavily fortified and contained deep subterranean excavations to protect the troops from enemy bombardment. The Japanese 62nd Division faced the Americans at Shuri. The 24th Division, remnants of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade, and miscellaneous Japanese naval units backed up the 62nd behind the Shuri Line.
Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima arrived on Okinawa on August 11, 1944, to assume command of the Japanese forces. It was his method of operation to depend on the recommendations of his subordinates in carrying out the mechanics of the island’s defenses, although he took full responsibility for them. This lack of direct involvement in tactical planning was quite common among the senior officers of the Imperial Japanese Army.
Major General Isamu Cho, Ushijima’s chief of staff, practiced no such detachment. Cho had the reputation of being tough, decisive, aggressive, and forceful. He would demonstrate these qualities as the battle for the island proceeded.
Colonel Yahara provided the overall strategic plan for the Imperial Army’s defense of Okinawa. Conservative and pragmatic, he chose to organize the Japanese Army into a defensive posture, ensuring that the Americans would pay the maximum price in their attempts to unseat the island’s defenders. Yahara had to curb the impetuous General Cho, who sought to persuade Ushijima to launch an offensive campaign.
The preparation of the invading American forces would prove to be the most comprehensive in their history. Over 1,600 ships carrying 500,000 soldiers, sailors, and Marines along with their weapons and supplies headed for Okinawa prior to April 1945 from the Philippine Mariana and Caroline Islands as well as the continental United States. The bulk of the attackers had to cross almost 8,000 miles of ocean to arrive at their destination.
Operation Iceberg, as the Okinawan invasion came to be called, lay under the overall direction of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Ocean Area (POA), headquartered in Hawaii. His main striking force for the invasion would be the 5th Fleet’s Task Force 58, commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance. Aircraft carriers and their support vessels dominated the task force. The tactics for the invasion itself called for two groups: the Covering Force of two fast carrier task groups—one American and one British under Admiral Bruce Fraser—and the Joint Expeditionary Force, which included all of the naval elements and ground troops directly involved in the landings. Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner would be in direct command of the amphibious forces making the landings.
Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner would command the invading force ashore. Designated as the Tenth Army, it consisted of the XXIV Corps of the U.S. Army, which included the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions and the III Marine Amphibious Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Roy G. Geiger. Geiger’s corps consisted of the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, with the 2nd Marine Division held in reserve.
Buckner also had the 27th and 77th Infantry Divisions available in reserve. The American general thus commanded a landing force larger than the one employed in the Normandy invasion the previous year. Over 180,000 soldiers and Marines would be going ashore.
The American master plan called for a landing in force at the Hagushi Bay beaches in west-central Okinawa, followed by a drive across the island’s narrow center. This action would be followed by a sweep both north and south from the center. The invaders also planned to seize the vital Yontan and Kadena Airfields close to the initial landing area as quickly as possible.
Prior to the invasion of Okinawa itself, Admiral Turner ordered an American strike force to seize a group of islands, the Keramas, off Okinawa’s southwest coast, as well as a small adjacent group called the Keise Shimas. The Keramas contained a substantial anchorage, which would prove to be an ideal facility for ships, either those waiting to unload off the Okinawan beaches or those that were damaged by the kamikaze attacks during the landings. A bonus for the Americans was the discovery of a large flotilla of suicide motor boats that the Japanese planned to use against the U.S. fleet.
D-day was set for April 1, 1945, and a colossal shelling of the Hagushi beach preceded the movement ashore by the Army and Marine assault troops. Carrier planes swooped down to strafe the beaches where the Americans were to land. The tremendous barrage and air attack accomplished virtually nothing as far as the Japanese were concerned, for General Ushijima had the majority of his troops safely hidden away in the caves and tunnels of the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru Line.
The Marines of the III Amphibious Corps moved north after landing the Army’s XXIV Corps headed south. Initially, neither the Army nor the Marine contingents encountered any meaningful opposition. Some Okinawan Home Guard draftees had been stationed at the island’s midpoint, but they quickly gave way and retreated when confronted by the Americans. The 1st Marine Division quickly crossed the island’s narrow Ishikawa isthmus, cutting off any direct communication between the Japanese defenders north and south of the incursion.
The 6th Marine Division, under Maj. Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd, headed north, moving to the mouth of the Motobu Peninsula without encountering any meaningful resistance. There, they faced formidable resistance from Colonel Takehiko Udo and his 3,000-man 2nd Infantry Unit of the reconstituted 44th Brigade, well dug in on Mount Yae Taki. It took the 6th, aided by heavy bombardment from naval vessels offshore as well as supporting air strikes, almost three weeks to secure the island’s northernmost reaches, leaving only the heavily entrenched Japanese forces in the island’s south to combat.
Meanwhile, Japanese Admiral Matome Ugaki had launched his air attacks against the American shipping anchored at Hagushi Bay. These attacks were an essential part of the Japanese strategy to defeat the invading American forces. Ugaki had over 3,000 planes, both conventional and kamikaze, under his command. At the close of Easter week, some 700 planes took off from Kyushu and Taiwan to raid Hagushi.
Known as Operation Ten-Go, Ugaki’s plan was to disrupt American shipping and prevent it from providing the necessary fire support, arms, and equipment to the Tenth Army ashore. Ugaki called the scheduled aerial strikes kikusui or “Floating Chrysanthemums.”
The American ships and aircraft fought the Japanese pilots with every means at their disposal, but defense proved difficult when an enemy flyer was prepared to commit suicide by diving his aircraft into his target. In their initial mass attack, the Japanese sank eight ships and damaged another 10.
Throughout the battle for Okinawa, the Japanese, employing their kikusui tactics, conducted some 10 massed kamikaze attacks and nearly 900 separate air raids against American forces. Japanese air strength was totally destroyed in the attacks, including approximately 1,900 kamikazes. In total, the Japanese sank 36 American ships and damaged an additional 368.
The loss of two particular ammunition ships to the kamikazes did temporarily impede the movement of Buckner’s forces in their attempt to dislodge the enemy ashore. The Hobbs Victory and the Logan Victory, sunk during these raids, carried the phosphorus incendiary shells and 81mm mortar rounds needed to flush the Japanese defenders from their defensive cave positions.
In response to the Japanese air attacks, Admiral Spruance ordered Vice Admiral Marc C. Mitscher and his Task Force 58 carrier air group to strike Japanese airfields on Kyushu. These attacks were designed to reduce the pressure of the kamikaze attacks on American shipping. Admiral Nimitz, from his Honolulu headquarters, also prevailed on the U.S. Army Air Forces to employ heavy B-29 bombers to carry out the same mission. The damage caused to the aircraft parked on Japanese airfields reduced to some degree the kamikaze threat to the American fleet stationed off Okinawa.
In Successive Waves the American Aircraft Torpedoed, Bombed, and Strafed the Yamato and Its Accompanying Cruiser and Destroyers.
In a vain effort to support the Japanese defenders, the Imperial Navy dispatched the cream of its remaining fleet, headed by the super battleship Yamato, to aid in the island’s defense. On April 6, the Yamato, accompanied by the cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers, steamed out of Tokyo Bay, bound for Okinawa.
The Japanese flotilla lacked air cover. American submarines cruising off the Japanese coast quickly spotted the task force and reported its position to Admiral Mitscher. The following morning the American admiral sent a huge force of aircraft to attack the Yamato and its consorts. In successive waves the American aircraft torpedoed, bombed, and strafed the battleship and its accompanying cruiser and destroyers. In a few hours, the Yamato, the Yahagi, and four of the eight destroyers were sunk. So ended any real attempt by the Japanese Navy’s surface vessels to aid in Okinawa’s defense.
The drive to Okinawa’s south, spearheaded by the XXIV Corps’ 7th and 96th Divisions, quickly encountered strong resistance, for it was here that the bulk of General Ushijima’s 32nd Army troops awaited the American attack. On April 4, the 7th and 96th reached the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru Line. In a three-day attack lasting from April 9-12, they attempted a direct frontal assault against a key Japanese strongpoint, the Kakazu Ridge. The Americans lost 22 of the 30 tanks committed to the attack. Failure to provide infantry support for the vehicles permitted Japanese suicide squads to move in and disable the tanks with satchel charges.
The Americans were repulsed in this attempt by determined resistance, operating from well- protected firing positions. It soon became apparent that direct frontal assaults against the Japanese defense line would prove to be expensive in terms of men, supplies, and equipment.
The Imperial Japanese Army’s defenses consisted of more than a line, of course. The defenders had utilized every hill, escarpment, and ravine in front of Shuri Castle for some 31/2 miles to forestall the American advance. General Ushijima had his men dig far down into the earth, fashioning a series of tunnels, caves, and foxholes impervious to shelling by the heavy weaponry of the American naval forces lying off the island’s coast. The 32nd Army had a formidable supply of weapons of its own—heavy artillery, mortars, and machine guns—to reinforce its defensive positions. It used huge 320mm mortars against the advancing Americans with deadly effectiveness.
Moreover, the rugged terrain precluded the successful use of American armor in many locales. Japanese maps captured during the battle convinced the American commanders that the Shuri defenses were the strongest yet encountered in the Pacific. Another tactic that proved productive for the Japanese was the stationing of their defensive positions on the reverse slopes of the hills they defended. From these positions they could lob heavy mortar shells on the Americans advancing up the face of the hill as well as targeting their enemy as they came over the crests.
General Cho, greatly heartened by the accomplishments of the 32nd Army in repulsing the Americans during their initial drive against the Shuri Line, prevailed on his commander, General Ushijima, to launch a counterattack. Colonel Yahara, Ushijima’s senior staff officer and a proponent of defensive warfare, argued against such a move, but General Cho succeeded in winning his point with Ushijima.
On April 12, the Japanese 24th Division, together with the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade and the 272nd Independent Infantry Battalion of the 62nd Division, attacked the American positions facing the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru Line. The Japanese failed to break through and lost over 1,500 men in the effort. The destruction of these front-line troops ultimately reduced the ability of the Japanese to maintain their existing defensive positions.
Cho’s ill-conceived plan conflicted with the original Japanese strategy to assume a fixed defensive position and thus maximize the losses to American forces trying to break through. As Colonel Yahara foresaw, when holed up in caves on the reverse slopes of ridges and escarpments the Japanese defenses cost the Americans dearly. But outside the caves, on the attack, the Japanese lost their tactical advantage and suffered extensive losses when exposed to the American heavy artillery, mortar, and naval gunfire.
On April 18, General John R. Hodge’s 7th and 96th Divisions, now strengthened by the addition of the 27th on their right, or western, flank, renewed their attack on the Japanese fixed defenses. Again, the forward progress of Hodge’s troops was stopped with little gain, the Americans sustaining 750 casualties in this second unsuccessful attempt.
The 27th sustained more losses than any other American division during that frontal assault. Moreover, it had not been at full strength when it had arrived on Okinawa. Buckner also had at his disposal the III Marine Amphibious Corps, now that the Marines had completed their other assignments in the island’s north. Buckner’s failure to employ these experienced Marine divisions instead of depending on the less well trained and shorthanded 27th can only be ascribed, according to Marine historian Robert Leckie, to the general’s desire to have Army troops credited with defeating the Japanese. Nevertheless, the Americans persisted in their frontal attacks against Japanese fixed emplacements. For the next five days, in hand-to-hand fighting, they attacked the Japanese entrenchments and stormed and captured the Kakazu Ridge. Finally, on the night of April 23, with the northernmost positions of his Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru Line breached in a number of key areas, General Ushijima retreated to his next line of defense.
On May 1, General Buckner substituted the 1st Marine Division for the battered Army 27th. He reassigned the latter to security duty in the occupied northern portion of the island for the balance of the campaign. The 96th Division was replaced by the 77th, available after completion of the takeover, in a bloody battle, of the smaller Ie-Shima Island to the north. Buckner also planned to substitute the 96th for the 7th, after the former had been rested and brought up to full strength.
The Total Japanese Losses in Their Fruitless Counterattack Reached 6,227 Dead.
General Cho had not given up his conviction that a forceful counterattack would blunt the American advance. He pointed out that now the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions would be thrown into the fight by the Americans. Once more, Cho convinced General Ushijima to authorize another even more complicated strike against the American positions. In addition to the direct frontal assault on American lines, Japanese troops would also utilize small boats launched from Naha to land troops behind them at night. At the same time, a powerful kamikaze attack against American naval units would be undertaken to turn attention away from the land offensive. Ushijima acquiesced to the plan.
On May 3, the second counterattack began. The Japanese 24th Division, charged with breaking through the American positions with a direct frontal assault, took a fearful beating. The Japanese failed to make any meaningful penetration of American positions, and their efforts to land infiltrators behind American lines by boat met the same fate. By May 5, it became clear to General Ushijima that the offensive had failed. The total Japanese losses in this fruitless counterattack reached 6,227 dead.
Seeing an opportunity to exploit these losses, Buckner’s subordinates now urged him to approve a landing by either Army or Marine units on beaches behind the Japanese defensive lines at Minatoga, a port on the island’s south end. Pressure also came from Admiral Turner who wanted Okinawa quickly won to reduce the attrition being suffered by his naval units off Hagushi Bay. Marine Maj. Gen. Lemuel Shepard urged the use of the 2nd Marine Division. The Marine general pointed out that the 2nd could undertake a month’s operations with the supplies, both food and ammunition, that it had on hand.
Buckner continued to refuse the recommendations for the establishment of a second front, citing a continuing shortage of ammunition, the difficult reef conditions at possible landing sites in the Minatoga area, and a concern for the strength of the Japanese forces still protecting the beaches there. He continued to press forward against the still strongly defended Shuri Line.
The III Amphibious Corps, consisting of the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, occupied the right, or western, flank of the American position, while the Army’s XXIV Corps, consisting of the 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions, held the left, or eastern, flank. Buckner’s plan called for the two corps to swing in from both coasts, flanking the Japanese positions.
The battle broke down into a series of individual attacks by the Americans similar to the Kakazu action in which the Japanese had to be destroyed in each of their heavily fortified bunkers and caves by infantrymen attacking directly, aided by the use of flamethrowers and satchel charges. Neither heavy artillery from naval forces nor bombing could accomplish the task.
The 6th Marine Division sought to turn Ushijima’s flank on the west by fording the Asa River and crossing the Kokuba Hills into the Kokuba Valley. The 1st Marine Division, operating east of the 6th, planned a direct assault on Shuri itself. They faced Dakeshi and Wana Ridges as their initial targets.
The Army’s 77th Infantry Division opened up its drive to the south with an attack on the Japanese lines in the center of the island. Facing them were two fortified positions, one called Chocolate Drop, covered by fire from the other, Flattop Hill.
Finally, the 96th Infantry Division, occupying the extreme eastern wing of Buckner’s attacks, planned to break the Japanese flank that ran from Yonabaru. There they would be forced to take Conical Hill, protected by the Japanese 89th and 22nd Infantry Regiments. The Dick-Oboe Hill complex, also a critical target, lay ahead on the boundary between the two American Army divisions.
When the 6th Marine Division moved south to encircle the Shuri bastion, it encountered a well-defended position, Sugar Loaf Hill, protected on each side by Horseshoe and Half Moon Hills. On May 17, in a desperate struggle, the Marines took the three positions at the cost of 2,662 casualties.
The 1st Marine Division encountered the same type of resistance in its attacks on Dakeshi Ridge, Wana Ridge, and Wana Draw. There they had the support of tanks, protected by infantry this time, and heavy bombardment from naval units offshore. The Navy fired a half-million rounds into the disputed area even though the ships themselves were under constant threat from kamikaze attacks. On May 21, the 1st finally achieved its objective, but like the 6th, at heavy cost.
The 77th Division, charged with the capture of Chocolate Drop and Flattop, made slow progress. It took over a week to secure Flattop and several days after that to wipe out all resistance in isolated caves. The Chocolate Drop bastion fell to the 77th on May 21.
It was the 96th Division, operating along Buckner Bay, that finally broke the Shuri Line. The capture of Conical Hill opened up the city of Yonabaru to the Americans and allowed them to spill out into southern Okinawa. Attempts to completely encircle the Japanese positions around Shuri itself failed, though, due to the commencement of heavy rains that seriously impeded any progress along the front.
The Japanese High Command realized that continued resistance at Shuri would result in ultimate destruction despite their fanatical resistance. American staff officers believed that their opponents would remain at Shuri and fight to the bitter end. The Japanese had actually begun plans for the evacuation from their now untenable position before they found themselves surrounded. The continuous hard rains and overcast hid to some degree the Japanese withdrawal.
Japanese Directives Called for the Execution of all 100,000 Allied POWs Once Japan was Invaded. A Protracted Invasion Effort Would Certainly Result in the Deaths of Most of the Prisoners.
On May 22, the Japanese began their retreat. First they began to move their supplies and wounded. The new command post for the 32nd Army would be established on Hill 89 at Mabuni on the island’s southernmost coast. By May 28, the bulk of the Japanese defenders had evacuated the Shuri area, leaving only rearguard elements to slow the advance of the American forces. Later, the American commanders admitted that Ushijima’s retreat, despite substantial losses, had proven to be an impressive military operation. Unfortunately, those civilians that chose to accompany the Japanese troops paid a heavy price in terms of both injury and death.
By June 3-4, the Japanese established their final defensive position toward the southern tip of the island on the Yaeju-Dake Escarpment. A separate smaller segment, mostly naval troops, held positions on the Oroku Peninsula to the northwest of the newly established Yaeju-Dake defenses. The Navy men held out for 10 days before being overwhelmed by the 1st Marine Division. The Japanese commander, Admiral Minoru Ota, committed suicide along with his immediate staff.
At Yaeju-Dake, improved weather permitted more extensive employment of flamethrower tanks and satchel charges against the entrenched Japanese. On June 18, General Buckner, standing at a forward observation post, was wounded when a Japanese shell blew up a coral formation near him and a piece of the coral was driven into his chest. He died 10 minutes later. Marine General Geiger assumed overall command.
Finally, on June 21, formal Japanese resistance ended. For the first time in the Pacific War, substantial numbers of soldiers surrendered rather than continuing a hopeless fight. Not so Generals Ushijima and Cho. Together they committed hara-kiri, ritual Japanese suicide, on the heights of Mabuni overlooking the ocean, at 4 am on June 22. The fighting for the island ended after 82 days.
Total American casualties during the Okinawa campaign numbered 49,151. Deaths numbered 12,427, with 4,907 Navy, 4,582 Army, and 2,938 Marine personnel paying the ultimate price. Japanese deaths alone reached 110,000. The 32nd Army was virtually destroyed. In addition, some 160,000 Okinawan civilians perished in the conflict.
What did the Okinawa victory gain for the Allies? First, it provided them with a base only 380 miles from the Japanese Home Islands. From this close proximity to the heart of the Japanese Empire, multiple attacks by land, sea, and air could be launched in the anticipated invasion of Japan proper. The war could be brought home forcefully to the enemy in a matter of a few short months.
For the Japanese, defeat on Okinawa had been costly. They were now at the mercy of an increasingly powerful enemy at their doorstep. They had lost over 70,000 of their veteran front-line troops, plus the balance of their Navy and at least 20 percent of their remaining military aircraft.
The Allies experienced a preview of the fanatical determination of the Japanese, both military and civilian, to defend their Home Islands against the anticipated invasion. In the battle for Ie-Shima and elsewhere on Okinawa itself, female civilians donned uniforms and fought to the death alongside their male counterparts. Preliminary estimates of initial Allied losses in landings to be made on Kyushu were as high as 100,000. Japanese civilians had formed home defense units, often armed with nothing more than bamboo spears, and had pledged to fight until death. The ultimate subjugation of the Japanese Empire could cost in excess of a million lives to both sides.
Of further concern to the Americans would be the fate of the 100,000 Allied prisoners in Japanese hands. Japanese directives called for their execution once Japan was invaded. A protracted invasion effort would certainly result in the deaths of most of the prisoners.
The experiences of the Okinawa campaign weighed heavily on both the military and civilian leadership in the United States. Certainly, the potential losses that would occur if an invasion of the Home Islands were to come about bore directly on President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Dr. Carl H. Marcoux is a resident of Newport Beach, California, and a World War II veteran of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.