Monday, March 6, 2017

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Easter Sunday-April 1, 1945

This 90-year-old man, Noah H. Belew, was a teenager when we invaded the island of Okinawa, and had been fighting Japanese on other Pacific Islands for about two years.

On this date in 1945, a cloud­less Easter Sun­day, 60,000 U.S. sol­diers and Marines landed on Oki­na­wa, launching Oper­a­tion Ice­berg. Over­head, fero­cious attacks by these one-way air­men, or kami­kaze, took a heavy toll in lives and damaged dozens of U.S. and Brit­ish ves­sels that stood off the is­land. The kami­kaze had been named after the divine wind that had, in medieval times, saved Japan from invasion. How­ever at Oki­na­wa kami­kaze avia­tors loosed a new tac­tic against Allied ships off­shore: not single kami­kaze salvos but typhoons of hun­dreds of air­craft, including the newly developed Ohka manned mis­siles, de­scended on the fleet. Between April 1 and May 25, seven major kami­kaze attacks were attempted, in­volving more than 1,500 planes flying from Kyu­shu, Shi­ko­ku, and For­mosa. The Japa­nese called these one-way squad­rons “Floating Chry­san­the­mums,” and nearly all the pilots were half-trained ado­les­cents, some as young as seven­teen. Many had never flown solo or landed an air­plane.

In spite of Japan’s sui­cide offen­sive, which also included land-based motor­boats, by the middle of April Amer­i­can forces had secured three-quarters of the Long Is­land-sized is­land with rela­tive ease. By then much harder fighting had started on the so-called Shuri Line to the south. It took two and a half more months of grueling close-quarter fighting before Japa­nese resis­tance ceased. When it did, the largest land battle of the Pacific War had claimed nearly 40,000 Amer­i­can casual­ties, with over 100,000 dead on the Japanese side, including over 1,000 one-way pilots.

Marines in camouflage battle dress storm out of a landing craft to estab­lish a beach­head on Oki­na­wa in the opening phase of Oper­a­tion Ice­berg. Two Marine divi­sions (the 1st and 6th) of 88,000 men and four divi­sions of the U.S. 10th Army (the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) brought the num­ber of U.S. com­ba­tants in the initial assault force close to 183,000 to face roughly 80,000 mixed army and navy Japa­nese and 40,000 Oki­na­wan con­script defenders. Addi­tionally, there were 18,000 Navy per­son­nel (mostly Sea­bees and medi­cal per­sonnel) in support of Operation Iceberg.

Okinawa: Last Great Land, Naval, and Air Battle of the Pacific Campaign