The Battle of Okinawa, fought on the Japanese island of Okinawa, was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II. It lasted from late March through June 1945.
Realizing that he could not defend the entire island, General Mitsuru Ushijima centered his defense around the historical capital, Shuri Castle, a medieval fortress of the ancient Ryukyuan kings, and the steep ridges on which it was built. This provided the Japanese with a heavy defense line that could be flanked only from the sea.
Order of battle
The U.S. land campaign was controlled by the Tenth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. The army had two corps under its command, III Amphibious Corps under Major General Roy Geiger, consisting of 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, and XXIV Corps under Major General John R. Hodge, consisting of the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions. The 2nd Marine Division was an afloat reserve, and Tenth Army also controlled the 27th, earmarked as a garrison, and 77th Infantry Divisions. In all, Tenth Army contained 102,000 Army, 88,000 Marine Corps, and 18,000 Navy personnel.
Most of the air-to-air fighters and the small dive-bombers and strike aircraft were U.S. Navy carrier-based airplanes. The Japanese had used kamikaze tactics since the Battle of Leyte Gulf, but for the first time, they became a major part of the defense. Between the American landing on Easter Sunday and May 25, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes. The total strength of the Allied fleet at Okinawa was 1,300 ships, including 40 carriers, 18 battleships, and 200 destroyers. The U.S. Navy sustained greater casualties in this operation than in any other battle of the war.
Although Allied land forces were entirely composed of U.S. units, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF; known to the U.S. Navy as Task Force 57) provided about 21% of Allied naval air power. The fleet was a combined British Commonwealth carrier group with British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian ships and personnel. Their mission was to neutralize Japanese airfields in the Sakishima Islands and provide air cover against Japanese Kamikaze attacks.
The British Pacific Fleet was assigned the task of neutralizing the Japanese airfields in the Sakishima Islands, which it did successfully from March 26 until April 10. On April 10, its attention was shifted to airfields on northern Formosa. The force withdrew to San Pedro Bay on April 23. Although by then a commonplace event for the U.S. Navy, this was the longest time that a Royal Naval fleet of that size had been maintained at sea.
Operation Ten-Go was the attempted attack by a strike force of Japanese surface vessels led by the battleship Yamatoa. This small task force had been ordered to fight through enemy naval forces, then beach themselves and fight from shore; using their guns as artillery and her crewmen as naval infantry. The Yamato and other vessels in Operation Ten-Go were spotted by submarines shortly after leaving Japanese home waters, and attacked by U.S. carrier aircraft.
Progress of Land Battle of Okinawa
The land battle took place over about 87 days beginning March 26, 1945.
The main landing was made by XXIV Corps and III Amphibious Corps on the Hagushi beaches on the western coast of Okinawa on L-Day, April 1, which was both Easter Sunday and April Fools' Day in 1945. The 2nd Marine Division conducted a demonstration off the Minatoga beaches on the southeastern coast to confuse the Japanese about American intentions and delay movement of reserves from there.
While the Marines cleared northern Okinawa, XXIV Corps wheeled south across the narrow waist of Okinawa. The 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions encountered fierce resistance from Japanese troops holding fortified positions on high ground and engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting in west-central Okinawa along Cactus Ridge, about five miles (8 km) northwest of Shuri. By the night of April 8 the XXIV Corps had cleared these and several other strongly fortified positions. They suffered over 1,500 battle casualties in the process, while killing or capturing about 4,500 Japanese, yet the battle had only just begun, for it was now realized they were merely outposts guarding the Shuri Line.
Ushijima and Cho committed suicide by seppuku in their command headquarters on Hill 89 in the closing hours of the battle. Major Yahara had asked Ushijima for permission to commit suicide, but the general refused his request, saying, "If you die there will be no one left who knows the truth about the battle of Okinawa. Bear the temporary shame but endure it. This is an order from your army Commander."
U.S. losses were over 72,000 casualties, of whom 12,513 were killed or missing—over twice the number of casualties as at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined. Several thousand servicemen who died indirectly (from wounds and other causes) at a later date are not included in the total. One of the most famous U.S. casualties was the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was killed by Japanese machine gun fire on Ie Shima. U.S. forces suffered their highest ever casualty rate for combat stress reaction during the entire battle, at 48% (compared to 30% in the Korean War).
There were about 66,000 Japanese combatants killed and 7,000 captured. Some of the soldiers committed seppuku or simply blew themselves up with hand grenades. This was also the only battle in the war in which surrendering Japanese were made into POWs by the thousands. (See Allied war crimes during World War II for the U.S. policy of killing Japanese trying to surrender) When the American forces occupied the island, the Japanese took Okinawan clothing to avoid capture and the Okinawans came to the Americans' aid by offering a simple way to detect Japanese in hiding. Okinawan language differs greatly from Japanese; with Americans at their sides, Okinawans would give directions to people in the local language, and those who did not understand were considered Japanese in hiding who were then captured.
At some battles, such as Iwo Jima, there had been no civilians involved, but Okinawa had a large indigenous civilian population. Okinawan civilian losses in the campaign were 140,000; in addition, it is estimated that more than a third of the surviving civilian population was wounded.
Ninety percent of the buildings on the island were completely destroyed, and the lush tropical landscape was turned into "a vast field of mud, lead, decay and maggots".
In 1945, Winston Churchill called the battle "among the most intense and famous in military history."