Sunday, March 23, 2008

Battle of Okinawa
Noah's note: I was a member of the 1st Marine Division.
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.

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 gunfire involved, and sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island. Okinawa had a prewar civilian population of 435,000, of whom an estimated 75,000 to 140,000 died during the battle.

The Allies were planning to use Okinawa as a staging ground for Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese mainland. However, this need was obviated after a significant series of events which included the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan in August 1945. Japan surrendered and World War II ended.

Japanese defenses
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.

The Japanese had ample time to dig elaborate fortifications, much as they had on Iwo Jima, and they also had large numbers of tanks and artillery pieces. This relative abundance of materiel matched with thousands of troops and the knowledge of three years fighting the U.S.—ensured that the Okinawa defenses would be the hardest that the U.S. faced during the war. Ushijima knew the Allies could not be stopped, but he wanted to make them pay for every yard of advance. "Massive numbers of caves masked heavy artillery which could be rolled out on railroad tracks, fired, and rolled back in. Naha, Okinawa had been the site of Japan's artillery school for years. Every gully, every crossroads, every ravine in the south had been pinpointed by the defenders." (William Manchester, Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War, p. 406.)

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.

The Japanese land campaign (mainly defensive) was conducted by the 77,000 strong Japanese Thirty-Second Army. It initially consisted of the 9th, 24th, and 62nd Divisions, and the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade. The 9th Division was moved to Taiwan prior to the invasion, resulting in shuffling of Japanese defensive plans. Primary resistance was to be led in the south by Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Isamu Cho and his chief of operations, Colonel Hiromichi Yahara. Yahara advocated a defensive strategy, whilst Cho advocated an offensive one. In the north, Colonel Takehido Udo was in command.

U.S. Navy
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.

British Commonwealth
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.

Naval battle
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.

On May 4, BPF returned to action, subduing the airfields as before, this time with naval bombardment as well as aircraft. Several kamikaze attacks caused significant damage, but since the British used armored flight decks on their aircraft carriers, they only experienced a brief interruption to their force's objective.

In the two month battle for Okinawa, the Japanese flew 1,900 kamikaze missions, sinking dozens of Allied ships and killing more than 5,000 U.S. sailors. The protracted length of the campaign under stressful conditions forced Admiral Nimitz to take the unprecedented step of relieving the principle naval commanders to rest and recuperate. Following the practice of changing the fleet designation with the change of commanders, U.S. naval forces began the campaign as the U.S. Fifth Fleet under Admiral Raymond Spruance, but ended it as the U.S. Third Fleet under Admiral William Halsey.

Operation Ten-Go
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.

Under attack from more than 300 aircraft over a two day span, the world's largest battleship sank on April 7, 1945, long before she could reach Okinawa. U.S. torpedo bombers were instructed to only aim for one side to prevent effective counter flooding by the battleship's crew, and hitting preferably the bow or stern, where armor was believed to be the thinnest. Of the Yamato's screening force, the light cruiser, the Yahagi, and 4 out of the 8 destroyers were also sunk.

Land battle
Progress of Land Battle of Okinawa
The land battle took place over about 87 days beginning March 26, 1945.

The first Americans ashore were soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division, who landed in the Kerama Islands (Kerama Retto), fifteen miles (24 km) west of Okinawa on March 26, 1945. Subsidiary landings followed, and the Kerama group was secured over the next five days. In these preliminary operations, the 77th Infantry Division suffered 31 dead and 81 wounded, while Japanese dead and captured numbered over 650. The operation provided a protected anchorage for the fleet and eliminated the threat from suicide boats. On March 31 Marines of the Fleet Marine Force Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion landed without opposition on Keise Shima, four islets just eight miles (13 km) west of the Okinawan capital of Naha. 155 mm Long Toms went ashore on the islets to cover operations on Okinawa.

Northern Okinawa
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.

Tenth Army swept across the south-central part of the island with relative ease by World War II standards, capturing the Kadena and the Yomitan airbases. In the light of the weak opposition, General Buckner decided to proceed immediately with Phase II of his plan—the seizure of northern Okinawa. The 6th Marine Division headed up the Ishikawa Isthmus. The land was mountainous and wooded, with the Japanese defenses concentrated on Yae-Take, a twisted mass of rocky ridges and ravines on the Motobu Peninsula. There was heavy fighting before the Marines finally cleared the Motobu Peninsula on April 18.

Meanwhile, the 77th Infantry Division assaulted Ie Shima, a small island off the western end of the peninsula on April 16. In addition to conventional hazards, the 77th Infantry Division encountered suicide bombers, and even Japanese women armed with spears. There was heavy fighting before Ie Shima was declared secured on April 21 and became another air base for operations against Japan.

Few U.S. soldiers encountered the feared Habu snake and soon discarded the cumbersome leggings designed to protect them from snakebite.

Southern Okinawa
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.

The next American objective was Kakazu Ridge, two hills with a connecting saddle that formed part of Shuri's outer defenses. The Japanese had prepared their positions well and fought tenaciously. Fighting was fierce. Japanese soldiers hid in caves armed with hidden machine guns and explosives; American forces often lost many men before clearing the Japanese out from each cave or other hiding place. The Japanese would send the Okinawans at gunpoint out to acquire water and supplies for them, which induced casualties among civilians. The American advance was inexorable but resulted in massive casualties sustained by both sides.

As the American assault against Kakazu Ridge stalled, General Ushijima, influenced by General Cho, decided to take the offensive. On the evening of April 12 32nd Army attacked American positions across the entire front. The Japanese attack was heavy, sustained, and well organized. After fierce, close fighting the attackers retreated, only to repeat their offensive the following night. A final assault on April 14 was again repulsed. The entire effort led 32d Army's staff to conclude that the Americans were vulnerable to night infiltration, but that their superior firepower made any offensive Japanese troop concentrations extremely dangerous, and they reverted to their defensive strategy.

The 27th Infantry Division, which had landed on April 9 took over on the right, along the west coast of Okinawa. General Hodge now had three divisions in the line, with the 96th in the middle, and the 7th on the east, with each division holding a front of only about a mile and half.

Hodge launched a new offensive of April 19 with a barrage of 324 guns, the largest ever in the Pacific Ocean Theater. Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers joined the bombardment, which was followed by 650 Navy and Marine planes attacking the enemy positions with napalm, rockets, bombs, and machine guns. The Japanese defenses were sited on reverse slopes, where the defenders waited out the artillery barrage and aerial attack in relative safety, emerging from the caves to rain mortar rounds and grenades upon the Americans advancing up the forward slope.

A tank assault on Kakazu Ridge, launched without sufficient infantry support in the hope of a breakthrough, failed with the loss of 22 tanks. Although flamethrower tanks cleared many cave defenses, there was no breakthrough, and the XXIV Corps lost 720 killed, wounded or missing. The losses might have been greater, except for the fact that the Japanese had practically all of their infantry reserves tied up farther south, held there by another feint off the Minatoga beaches by the 2d Marine Division that coincided with the attack.

At the end of April, the 1st Marine Division relieved the 27th Infantry Division, and the 77th Infantry Division relieved the 7th. When the 6th Marine Division arrived, III Amphibious Corps took over the right flank and Tenth Army assumed control of the battle.

On May 4 32nd Army launched another counter offensive. This time Ushijima attempted to make amphibious assaults on the coasts behind American lines. To support his offensive, the Japanese artillery moved into the open. By doing so they were able to fire 13,000 rounds in support but American counter-battery fire destroyed nineteen guns on May 4 and forty more over the next two days. The attack was a complete failure.

Buckner launched another American attack on May 11. Ten days of fierce fighting followed. On May 13 troops of the 96th Infantry Division and 763d Tank Battalion captured Conical Hill. Rising 476 feet (145 m) above the Yonabaru coastal plain, this feature was the eastern anchor of the main Japanese defenses and was defended by about 1,000 Japanese. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, the 6th Marine Division fought for "Sugar Loaf Hill". The capture of these two key positions exposed the Japanese around Shuri on both sides. Buckner hoped to envelop Shuri and trap the main Japanese defending force.

By the end of May monsoon rains which turned contested slopes and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey.

On May 29, Major General Pedro del Valle, commanding the 1st Marine Division, ordered Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines to capture Shuri Castle. Seizure of the castle represented both strategic and psychological blows for the Japanese and was a milestone in the campaign. Del Valle was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership in the fight and the subsequent occupation and reorganization of Okinawa. However the castle was outside the 1st Marine Division's zone, and only frantic efforts by the commander and staff of the 77th Infantry Division prevented the Marines from being subjected to an American air strike and artillery bombardment.

Either by design or the "fog of war", Buckner did not detect the Japanese retreat to their second line of defense, which ultimately led to the greatest slaughter on Okinawa in the latter stages of the battle, including the deaths of thousands of civilians.

The island fell on about June 21, 1945, though some Japanese continued fighting, including the future governor of Okinawa prefecture, Masahide Ota.
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."

Yahara was the most senior officer to have survived the battle on the island, and he later authored a book entitled The Battle for Okinawa.

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).

At sea three hundred and sixty-eight ships were damaged while another thirty-six, including fifteen amphibious ships and twelve destroyers were sunk during the Okinawa campaign. While still another one hundred and twelve amphibious craft were damaged. In the end more than four thousand nine hundred officers and men of the Navy lost their lives, largely as a result of Japanese kamikazes.

General Buckner's decision to attack the Japanese defenses head-on, although proving to be extremely costly in U.S. lives, was ultimately successful. Just four days from the closing of the campaign, General Buckner was killed by Japanese artillery fire while inspecting his troops at the front line. He was the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed by enemy fire during the war.

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.

Civilian losses
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.

During World War II, when many Okinawans still spoke a different dialect, Japanese troops treated the locals brutally. In its history of the war, the Okinawa Prefectural >The Basic Concept of the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum Peace Memorial Museum presents Okinawa as being caught in the fighting between America and Japan. During the 1945 battle, the Japanese Army showed indifference to Okinawa's defense and safety, and the Japanese soldiers used civilians as human shields against the Americans. Japanese military also took all their food, and executed these who hid it, leading to a mass starvation.

With the impending victory of American troops, civilians often committed mass suicide, urged on by Japanese soldiers. They persuaded locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. (A revisionist historian has claimed that rape was "a general practice against Japanese women", estimating in excess of 10,000 victims during the Okinawa campaign. Ryukyu Shimpo one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, wrote: "There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide. There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers" (to blow themselves up). Some of the civilians, having been induced by Japanese propaganda to believe that U.S. soldiers were barbarians who committed horrible atrocities (It has been suggested that the mutilation of dead enemies by U.S. servicemen may have been referenced), killed their families and themselves to avoid capture. Some Okinawans threw themselves and their family members from the cliffs where the Peace Museum now resides. Other Okinawans were murdered by Japanese to prevent their capture or to steal their food and supplies. Japanese American Military Intelligence Service combat translators with the U.S. military tried to convince civilians to not kill themselves, even climbing into caves to talk to them. Their efforts had limited success.

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".

The military value of Okinawa "exceeded all hope". Okinawa provided a fleet anchorage, troop staging areas, and airfields in close proximity to Japan. After the battle, the U.S. occupied Okinawa and set up the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, a form of military government. Significant U.S. forces remain garrisoned there, and Kadena remains the largest U.S. air base in Asia.

Some military historians believe that Okinawa led directly to the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A prominent holder of this view is Victor Davis Hanson, who states it explicitly in his book Ripples of Battle:

"...because the Japanese on Okinawa, including native Okinawans, were so fierce in their defense (even when cut off, and without supplies), and because casualties were so appalling, many American strategists looked for an alternative means to subdue mainland Japan, other than a direct invasion. This means presented itself, with the advent of atomic bombs, which worked admirably in convincing the Japanese to sue for peace, without American casualties. Ironically, the American conventional fire-bombing of major Japanese cities (which had been going on for months before Okinawa) was far more effective at killing civilians than the atomic bombs and, had the Americans simply continued, or expanded this, the Japanese would likely have surrendered anyway. Nevertheless, the bombs were a powerful symbolic display of American power, and the Japanese capitulated, obviating the need for an invasion of the home islands."

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

In 1995, the Okinawa government erected a memorial named Cornerstone of Peace in Mabuni, the site of the last fighting in southeastern Okinawa. The memorial lists all the known names of those who died in the battle, civilian and military, Japanese and foreign. At present there are 237,318 names listed including 148,136 Okinawans (mostly civilians) and 14,005 Americans.