Battle of Okinawa: The Okinawa Island Group

Battle of Okinawa: The Okinawa Island Group


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Battle of Okinawa: The Okinawa Island Group.

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Battle of Okinawa


Why were the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa important?

The Battle of Okinawa started in April 1945. The capture of Okinawa was part of a three-point plan the Americans had for winning the war in the Far East. Okinawa was to prove a bloody battle even by the standards of the war in the Far East but it was to be one of the major battles of World War Two.

Additionally, what was the impact of the battle of Iwo Jima? The battle led to defeat of the Japanese and the subsequent occupation of the island of Iwo Jima by US forces. From the onset, the Japanese troops on the island who were approximately 21,000 were greatly outnumbered by the invading American force (Brown 19).

Regarding this, why was Okinawa tougher than Iwo Jima?

For naval personnel Okinawa was extremely risky, while Iwo was not. On the ground, Iwo was the tougher fight when one considers, as other posters have, the relative sizes of the islands. However, this is misleading. Because Iwo was a small island and the garrison large enough to cover pr


Battle of Okinawa

“Launched strikes this morning against Okinawa but had to call them off this afternoon because of bad weather. All
the battleships will bombard tomorrow. We expect to bombard from 10 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon cruising at 20 knots. The battleships will leave the carriers at midnight tonight.”

-Jack Lee Westphal, Seaman 1/c

“Pulled into Okinawa Jima around 08:00 and started our bombardments. WISCONSIN, MISSOURI, NEW JERSEY, INDIANA, MASSACHUSETTS, SOUTH DAKOTA, WASHINGTON AND NORTH CAROLINA all bombarded until around 16:00. We got all our targets. No shore batteries or antiaircraft fire was observed from the island. The Marines are landing tomorrow and the 10th Army around the 1st of April. I can’t understand the Japanese not fighting.”

-Private George Kietzman, USMC

“Today we bombarded Okinawa Jima. Our 16-inch started at 0900 and kept it up until 1600. The noise was terrific. Only one plane came out. Can’t figure it out. Our troops are going to land the 1st.

-John Lipke, USMC

“The new international grid system was used for the first time by this ship and found to be a definite improvement…. The aerial photographs of the target area were reproduced and distributed…however none were available of the coastline in this ship’s firing area and topside personnel had little information as to the appearance of the island prior to the approach and bombardment.”

Action Report

“During the bombardment “a slow rate of fire with single turret salvos was employed to insure the maximum use of information received from the spotting planes.” The ship expended a total of 158 rounds for the day with firing ranges varying from 14,770 to 21,830 yards.

“Since no damage could be observed by spotting planes, after the third single turret salvo, fire was shifted to what is believed by the air spotter [LT Al Oliver] to be an antique fort.” (Action Report) Commander Oliver recalled, “I asked that we take on that complex under fire. I feared that it was being used as a hospital or was some kind of religious site. I was no higher than 1,500 feet and was able to identify what appeared to be several women and children run from the area when the first salvo hit the building.” It turned out to be Shuri Castle, the main command center for the Japanese ground forces on Okinawa.

Learn more details in “Okinawa: The Last Battle,” The War in the Pacific, by Roby E. Appleman, James M. Burns, Russell A. Gugeler, and John Stevens. Historical Division, Department of the Army, 1948.

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The name "Ryūkyū" originates from Chinese writings. [1] [2] The earliest references to "Ryūkyū" write the name as 琉虬 and 流求 (pinyin: Liúqiú Jyutping: Lau 4 kau 4 ) in the Chinese history Book of Sui in 607. It is a descriptive name, meaning "glazed horn-dragon".

The origin of the term "Okinawa" remains unclear, although "Okinawa" (Okinawan: Uchinaa) as a term was used in Okinawa. There was also a divine woman named "Uchinaa" in the book Omoro Sōshi, a compilation of ancient poems and songs from Okinawa Island. This suggests the presence of a divine place named Okinawa. The Chinese monk Jianzhen, who traveled to Japan in the mid-8th century CE to promote Buddhism, wrote "Okinawa" as 阿児奈波 (Hanyu Pinyin: A'érnàibō Cantonese Jyutping: Aa 2 ngai 4 noi 6 bo 1 Japanese: Ajinawa, Aninawa). [ citation needed ] The Japanese map series Ryukyu Kuniezu labeled the island as 悪鬼納 (Wokinaha) in 1644. The current Chinese characters (kanji) for Okinawa (沖縄) were first written in the 1702 version of Ryukyu Kuniezu.

Prehistoric period Edit

The ancestry of the modern-day Ryukyuan people is disputed. One theory claims that the earliest inhabitants of these islands crossed a prehistoric land bridge from modern-day China, with later additions of Austronesians, Micronesians, and Japanese merging with the population. [3] The time when human beings appeared in Okinawa remains unknown. The earliest human bones were those of Yamashita Cave Man, about 32 000 years ago, followed by Pinza-Abu Cave Man, Miyakojima, about 26 000 years ago and Minatogawa Man, about 18 000 years ago. They probably came through China and were once considered to be the direct ancestors of those living in Okinawa. No stone tools were discovered with them. For the following 12 000 years, no trace of archaeological sites was discovered after the Minatogawa man site. [ citation needed ] [4]

Okinawa midden culture Edit

Okinawa midden culture or shell heap culture is divided into the early shell heap period corresponding to the Jōmon period of Japan and the latter shell heap period corresponding to the Yayoi period of Japan. However, the use of Jōmon and Yayoi of Japan is questionable in Okinawa. In the former, it was a hunter-gatherer society, with wave-like opening Jōmon pottery. In the latter part of Jōmon period, archaeological sites moved near the seashore, suggesting the engagement of people in fishery. In Okinawa, rice was not cultivated during the Yayoi period but began during the latter period of shell-heap age. Shell rings for arms made of shells obtained in the Sakishima Islands, namely Miyakojima and Yaeyama islands, were imported by Japan. In these islands, the presence of shell axes, 2500 years ago, suggests the influence of a southeastern-Pacific culture. [ citation needed ] [5] [6]

Mythology, the Shunten Dynasty and the Eiso Dynasty Edit

The first history of Ryukyu was written in Chūzan Seikan ("Mirrors of Chūzan"), which was compiled by Shō Shōken (1617–75), also known as Haneji Chōshū. The Ryukyuan creation myth is told, which includes the establishment of Tenson as the first king of the islands and the creation of the Noro, female priestesses of the Ryukyuan religion. The throne was usurped from one of Tenson's descendants by a man named Riyu. Chūzan Seikan then tells the story of a Japanese samurai, Minamoto no Tametomo (1139–70), who fought in the Hogen Rebellion of 1156 and fled first to Izu Island and then to Okinawa. He had relations with the sister of the Aji of Ōzato and sired Shunten, who then led a popular rebellion against Riyu and established his own rule at Urasoe Castle. Most historians, however, discount the Tametomo story as a revisionist history that is intended to legitimize Japanese domination over Okinawa. [7] Shunten's dynasty ended in the third generation when his grandson, Gihon, abdicated, went into exile, and was succeeded by Eiso, who began a new royal lineage. The Eiso dynasty continued for five generations.

Gusuku period Edit

Gusuku is the term used for the distinctive Okinawan form of castles or fortresses. Many gusukus and related cultural remains in the Ryukyu Islands have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites under the title Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. After the midden culture, agriculture started about the 12th century, with the center moving from the seashore to higher places. This period is called the gusuku period. There are three perspectives regarding the nature of gusukus: 1) a holy place, 2) dwellings encircled by stones, 3) a castle of a leader of people. In this period, porcelain trade between Okinawa and other countries became busy, and Okinawa became an important relay point in eastern-Asian trade. Ryukyuan kings, such as Shunten and Eiso, were considered to be important governors. In 1272, Kublai Khan ordered Ryukyu to submit to Mongol suzerainty, but King Eiso refused. In 1276, the Mongol envoys returned, but were driven off the island by the Ryukyuans. [8] Hiragana was imported from Japan by Ganjin in 1265.

The Three-Kingdom period, also known as the Sanzan period ( 三山時代 , Sanzan-jidai ) (Three Mountains), lasted from 1322 until 1429. There was a gradual consolidation of power under the Shō family. Shō Hashi (1372–1439) conquered Chūzan, the middle kingdom, in 1404 and made his father, Shō Shishō, the king. He conquered Hokuzan, the northern kingdom, in 1416 and conquered the southern kingdom, Nanzan, in 1429, thereby unifying the three kingdoms into a single Ryukyu Kingdom. [ citation needed ] Shō Hashi was then recognized as the ruler of the Ryukyu Kingdom (or Liuqiu Kingdom in Chinese) by the Ming dynasty Emperor of China, who presented him a red lacquerware plaque known as the Chūzan Tablet. [9] Although independent, the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom paid tribute to the rulers of China.

    of the Ming dynasty
    (1429–1644)
  • Tributary state of the Qing dynasty
    (1644–1875) of Satsuma Domain
    (1609–1872)
  • Vassal state of the Empire of Japan
    (1872–1879)

1429 - 1609 Edit

In 1429 King Shō Hashi completed the unification of the three kingdoms and founded a single Ryukyu Kingdom with its capital at Shuri Castle. [ citation needed ] Shō Shin ( 尚真 ) (1465–1526 r. 1477–1526) became the third king of the Second Sho Dynasty - his reign has been described [ by whom? ] as the "Great Days of Chūzan", a period of great peace and relative prosperity. He was the son of Shō En, the founder of the dynasty, by Yosoidon, Shō En's second wife, often referred to as the queen-mother. He succeeded his uncle, Shō Sen'i, who was forced [ by whom? ] to abdicate in his favor. Much of the foundational organization of the kingdom's administration and economy stemmed from developments which occurred during Shō Shin's reign. The reign of Shō Shin also saw the expansion of the kingdom's control over several of the outlying Ryukyu Islands, such as Miyako-jima and Ishigaki Island. [ citation needed ]

Many Chinese moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or to engage in business during this period. In 1392, during the Hongwu Emperor's reign, the Ming dynasty Chinese had sent 36 Chinese families from Fujian at the request of the Ryukyuan King to manage oceanic dealings in the kingdom. Many Ryukyuan officials descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers. [12] They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations. [13] [14] [15]

Satsuma domination, 1609–1871 Edit

The invasion of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Shimazu clan of Japan's Satsuma Domain took place in April 1609. Three thousand men and more than one hundred war-junks sailed from Kagoshima at the southern tip of Kyushu. The invaders defeated the Ryukyuans in the Amami Islands, then at Nakijin Castle on Okinawa Island. The Satsuma samurai made a second landing near Yomitanzan and marched overland to Urasoe Castle, which they captured. Their war-junks attempted to take the port city of Naha, but were defeated by the Ryūkyūan coastal defences. Finally Satsuma captured Shuri Castle, [16] the Ryukyuan capital, and King Shō Nei. Only at this point did the King famously tell his army that "nuchidu takara" (life is a treasure), and they surrendered. [17] Many priceless cultural treasures were looted and taken to Kagoshima. As a result of the war, the Amami Islands were ceded to Satsuma in 1611 the direct rule of Satsuma over the Amami Islands started in 1613.

After 1609 the Ryukyuan kings became vassals of Satsuma. Though recognized as an independent kingdom, [18] the islands were occasionally also referred to [ by whom? ] as being a province of Japan. [19] The Shimazu introduced a policy banning sword ownership by commoners. This led to the development of the indigenous Okinawan martial arts, which utilize domestic items as weapons. [ citation needed ] This period of effective outside control also featured the first international matches of Go, as Ryukyuan players came to Japan to test their skill. This occurred in 1634, 1682, and 1710. [20] [21]

In the 17th century the Ryukyu kingdom thus became both a tributary of China and a vassal of Japan. Because China would not make a formal trade agreement unless a country was a tributary state, the kingdom served as a convenient loophole for Japanese trade with China. When Japan officially closed foreign trade, the only exceptions for foreign trade were with the Dutch through Nagasaki, with the Ryukyu Kingdom through the Satsuma Domain, and with Korea through Tsushima. [22] Perry's "Black Ships", official envoys from the United States, came in 1853. [23] In 1871, the Mudan incident occurred, in which fifty-four Ryukyuans were killed in Taiwan. They had wandered into the central part of Taiwan after their ship was wrecked.

Ryukyu Domain, 1872–1879 Edit

In 1872 the Ryukyu Kingdom was reconfigured as a feudal domain (han). [24] The people were described [ by whom? ] as appearing to be a "connecting link" between the Chinese and Japanese. [25] After the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, Japan's role as the protector of the Ryukyuan people was acknowledged [ by whom? ] but the fiction of the Ryukyu Kingdom's independence was partially maintained until 1879. [26] In 1878 the islands were listed as a "tributary" to Japan. The largest island was listed as "Tsju San", meaning "middle island". Others were listed as Sannan in the south and Sanbok in the North Nawa. The main port was listed as "Tsju San". It was open to foreign trade. [25] Agricultural produce included tea, rice, sugar, tobacco, camphor, fruits, and silk. Manufactured products included cotton, paper, porcelain, and lacquered ware. [25]

In 1879, Japan declared its intention to annex the Ryukyu Kingdom. China protested and asked former U.S. President Ulysses Grant, then on a diplomatic tour of Asia, to intercede. One option considered involved Japan annexing the islands from Amami Island north, China annexing the Miyako and Yaeyama islands, and the central islands remaining an independent Ryukyu Kingdom. When the negotiation eventually failed, Japan annexed the entire Ryukyu archipelago. [27] Thus, the Ryukyu han was abolished and replaced by Okinawa Prefecture by the Meiji government. The monarchy in Shuri was abolished and the deposed king Shō Tai (1843–1901) was forced to relocate to Tokyo. In compensation, he was made a marquis in the Meiji system of peerage. [28]

Hostility against mainland Japan increased in the Ryukyus immediately after its annexation to Japan in part because of the systematic attempt on the part of mainland Japan to eliminate the Ryukyuan culture, including the language, religion, and cultural practices. Japan introduced public education that permitted only the use of standard Japanese while shaming students who used their own language by forcing them to wear plaques around their necks proclaiming them "dialect speakers." This increased the number of Japanese language speakers on the islands, creating a link with the mainland. When Japan became the dominant power of the Far East, many Ryukyuans were proud of being citizens of the Empire. However, there was always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction for being treated as second class citizens.

In the years leading up to World War II, the Japanese government sought to reinforce national solidarity in the interests of militarization. In part, they did so by means of conscription, mobilization, and nationalistic propaganda. Many of the people of the Ryukyu Islands, despite having spent only a generation as full Japanese citizens, were interested in proving their value to Japan in spite of prejudice expressed by mainland Japanese people. [29]

In 1943, during World War II, the US president asked its ally, the Republic of China, if it would lay claim to the Ryukyus after the war. [30] "The President then referred to the question of the Ryukyu Islands and enquired more than once whether China would want the Ryukyus. The Generalissimo replied that China would be agreeable to joint occupation of the Ryukyus by China and the United States and, eventually, joint administration by the two countries under the trusteeship of an international organization." [ attribution needed ] [ citation needed ] On March 23, 1945, the United States began its attack on the island of Okinawa, the final outlying islands, prior to the expected invasion of mainland Japan.

Battle of Okinawa: April 1 – June 22, 1945 Edit

The Battle of Okinawa was one of the last major battles of World War II, [31] claiming the lives of an estimated 120,000 combatants. The Ryukyus were the only inhabited part of Japan to experience a land battle during World War II. In addition to the Japanese military personnel who died in the Battle for Okinawa, well over one third of the civilian population, which numbered approximately 300,000 people, were killed. Many important documents, artifacts, and sites related to Ryukyuan history and culture were also destroyed, including the royal Shuri Castle. [32] Americans had expected the Okinawan people to welcome them as liberators but the Japanese had used propaganda to make the Okinawans fearful of Americans. As a result, some Okinawans joined militias and fought along Japanese. This was a major cause of the civilian casualties, as Americans could not distinguish between combatants and civilians. [ citation needed ]

Due to fears concerning their fate during and after the invasion, the Okinawan people hid in caves and in family tombs. Several mass deaths occurred, such as in the "Cave of the Virgins", where many Okinawan school girls committed suicide by jumping off cliffs for fear of rape. Similarly, whole families committed suicide or were killed by near relatives in order to avoid suffering what they believed would be a worse fate at the hands of American forces for instance, on Zamami Island at Zamami Village, almost everyone living on the island committed suicide two days after Americans landed. [33] The Americans had made plans to safeguard the Okinawans [34] their fears were not unfounded, as killing of civilians and destruction of civilian property did take place for example, on Aguni Island, 90 residents were killed and 150 houses were destroyed. [35]

As the fighting intensified, Japanese soldiers hid in caves with civilians, further increasing civilian casualties. Additionally, Japanese soldiers shot Okinawans who attempted to surrender to Allied Forces. America utilized Nisei Okinawans in psychological warfare, broadcasting in Okinawan, leading to the Japanese belief that Okinawans who did not speak Japanese were spies or disloyal to Japan, or both. These people were often killed as a result. As food became scarce, some civilians were killed over small amounts of food. "At midnight, soldiers would wake up Okinawans and take them to the beach. Then they chose Okinawans at random and threw hand grenades at them." [ attribution needed ] [36]

Massive casualties in the Yaeyama Islands caused the Japanese military to force people to evacuate from their towns to the mountains, even though malaria was prevalent there. Fifty-four percent of the island's population died due to starvation and disease. Later, islanders unsuccessfully sued the Japanese government. Many military historians believe that the ferocity of the Battle of Okinawa led directly to the American decision to use 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." [37]

Princess Lilies Edit

After the beginning of World War II, the Japanese military conscripted school girls (15 to 16 years old) to join a group known as the Princess Lilies (Hime-yuri) and to go to the battle front as nurses. There were seven girls' high schools in Okinawa at the time of World War II. The board of education, made up entirely of mainland Japanese, required the girls' participation. The Princess Lilies were organized at two of them, and a total of 297 students and teachers eventually joined the group. Teachers, who insisted that the students be evacuated to somewhere safe, were accused of being traitors. [ citation needed ]

Most of the girls were put into temporary clinics in caves to take care of injured soldiers. With a severe shortage of food, water and medicine, 211 of the girls died while trying to care for the wounded soldiers. [ citation needed ] The Japanese military had told these girls that, if they were taken as prisoners, the enemy would rape and kill them the military gave hand grenades to the girls to allow them to commit suicide rather than be taken as prisoners. One of the Princess Lilies explained: "We had a strict imperial education, so being taken prisoner was the same as being a traitor. We were taught to prefer suicide to becoming a captive." [36] Many students died saying, "Tennō Heika Banzai", which means "Long live the Emperor".

After the war, the islands were occupied by the United States and were initially governed by the United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands from 1945 to 1950 when it was replaced by the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands from 1950 which also established the Government of the Ryukyu Islands in 1952. The Treaty of San Francisco which went into effect in 1952, officially ended wartime hostilities. However, ever since the battle of Okinawa, the presence of permanent American bases has created friction between Okinawans and the U.S. military. During the occupation, American military personnel were exempt from domestic jurisdiction since Okinawa was an occupied territory of the United States.

Effective U.S. control continued even after the end of the occupation of Japan as a whole in 1952. The United States dollar was the official currency used, and cars drove on the right, American-style, as opposed to on the left as in Japan. The islands switched to driving on the left in 1978, six years after they were returned to Japanese control. The U.S. used their time as occupiers to build large army, air force, navy, and marine bases on Okinawa.

On November 21, 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Satō signed the Okinawa Reversion Agreement in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1971. [38] The U.S. reverted the islands to Japan on May 15, 1972, setting back a Ryūkyū independence movement that had emerged. Under terms of the agreement, the U.S. retained its rights to bases on the island as part of the 1952 Treaty to protect Japan, but those bases were to be nuclear-free. The United States military still controls about 19% of the island, making the 30,000 American servicemen a dominant feature in island life. While the Americans provide jobs to the locals on base, and in tourist venues, and pay rent on the land, widespread personal relationships between U.S. servicemen and Okinawan women remain controversial in Okinawan society. Okinawa remains Japan's poorest prefecture.

Agent Orange controversy Edit

Evidence suggests that the US military's Project 112 tested biochemical agents on US marines in Okinawa in the 1960s. [39] Later, suggestions were made that the US may have stored and used Agent Orange at its bases and training areas on the island. [40] [41] In at least one location where Agent Orange was reportedly used, there have been incidences of leukemia among locals, one of the listed effects of Agent Orange exposure. Drums that were unearthed in 2002 in one of the reported disposal locations were seized by the Okinawa Defense Bureau, an agency of Japan's Ministry of Defense, which has not issued a report on what the drums contained. [42] The United States denies that Agent Orange was ever present on Okinawa. [43] Thirty US military veterans claim that they saw Agent Orange on the island. Three of them have been awarded related disability benefits by the US Veteran's administration. The locations of suspected Agent Orange contamination include Naha port, Higashi, Camp Schwab, and Chatan. [44] [45] In May 2012, it was claimed that the US transport ship USNS Schuyler Otis Bland (T-AK-277) had transported herbicides to Okinawa on 25 April 1962. The defoliant might have been tested in Okinawa's northern area between Kunigami and Higashi by the US Army's 267th Chemical Service Platoon to assess its potential usefulness in Vietnam. [46] A retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, Kris Roberts, told The Japan Times that his base maintenance team unearthed leaking barrels of unknown chemicals at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in 1981. [47] In 2012 a US Army environmental assessment report, published in 2003, was discovered which stated that 25,000 55-gallon drums of Agent Orange had been stored on Okinawa before being taken to Johnston Atoll for disposal. [48] In February 2013, an internal US DoD investigation concluded that no Agent Orange had been transported to, stored, or used on Okinawa. No veterans or former base workers were interviewed for the investigation. [49]


2 Answers 2

The Allies weren't taking Okinawa for B-29 runways. They had those already in the Mariana Islands. A B-29 airfield was built on Okinawa, but the first attack from it against Japan happened on the last night of the war.

The primary reason for taking Okinawa was as a base for the invasion of Japan, both for ships and shorter-ranged aircraft. Okinawa has harbours, and Kadena Air Base had already been built by the Japanese.

This required taking all of the Ryukyu Islands, and that's what was done. The Battle of Okinawa is the famous part of this campaign, because the Japanese concentrated their resistance there, knowing that while they held the main island, the other islands would be of limited use. You can't set up mobile fleet bases while the enemy are still within artillery or small-boat attack range. The other islands in the group were taken comparatively easily, so the combats are not famous.

Sources: Okinawa, 1945: Final Assault on the Empire, Simon Foster, 1996 and Okinawa: The Last Battle, the relevant volume of the US official history, available here.

Addendum: Of course, once you have a base, other uses for it emerge. In July 1945, Halsey's Third Fleet attacked the Tokyo area, and then, as best the Japanese could tell from radio intercepts and direction-finding, moved south. This was confirmed when carrier aircraft attacked Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan, and Japanese aircraft were moved south for a counter-strike on the Third Fleet. But it wasn't there. The radio intercepts had been staged from the USS Tucson, which had separated from the fleet, carrying radio operators from Halsey's staff and sailed south, imitating Third Fleet's traffic. The carrier aircraft had flown from Okinawa.

Third Fleet was located again when it attacked steel plants and rail ferries in Hokkaido and northern Honshu, and the Japanese were unable to retaliate effectively. This raid sank eight and damaged four of the twelve rail ferries that carried coal from Hokkaido to Honshu, cutting the amount of coal that could be transported from the mines in Hokkaido to industry in Honshu by 80%, and crippling Japanese war production. Source: Holt, The Deceivers, pp. 769-770.


Narratives of World War II in the Pacific

The Battle of Okinawa is widely regarded as the single most significant conflict taking place in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. Recognized as the bloodiest confrontation between the opposing American and Japanese forces, there has already been much written concerning the two main players in this fight [1] . The importance of the island for the U.S. came in the form of easier access to mainland Japan, as Okinawa&rsquos airfields and proximity to the mainland made the island a valuable strategic location for the Americans as they prepared for a full scale invasion. On the same token, the Japanese military recognized that Okinawa was their last line of defense before the devastation of war officially reached Japan. At the very least, a valiant defense at Okinawa would allow the military to &ldquogain time to prepare for the decisive battle on the mainland and negotiations for the conclusion of the war.&rdquo [2] Despite the prominent role played by the respective armies on the island during the battle, the civilians residing on Okinawa at the time have not received sufficient exposure to the international audience relative to other victims of the war. During the battle, Okinawans were not only forced to confront the horrors of war first hand but were also subjected to extreme cruelty at the hands of the Japanese Army, mostly in that Okinawan civilians were encouraged to participate in acts of &ldquogroup suicide.&rdquo [3]

The Okinawan civilians that were unfortunate enough to remain on the island at the onset of the fighting experienced the destructive capabilities of a war and all of its horrors. During the battle, civilians were exposed to the devastation that accompanied the intense, non-stop bombardment of the island before and during the battle. Those who were not able to hide within the island&rsquos extensive cave system had to watch as their homes and livelihoods were destroyed. [4] Okinawans were also forced to endure the losses of their friends and family, either losing them to the fighting or to the unintentional civilian causalities that come with an invasion [5] . These individuals were forced to live in an environment in which they never felt safe, having to scavenge for food and even fight others for their own survival. It is true that the Japanese military &ldquorecruited more than 25,000&rdquo Okinawan men to fight with the army to defend the island and that this did contribute to the astronomically high death toll of Okinawans in the battle, however, this does not tell the full story as to why Okinawan death totals were greater than American and Japanese deaths combined. [6]

In order to better comprehend the complicated events that transpired on the island, one must first understand the mindsets of the Japanese people about suicide during the war. One word that is often used in reference to this scenario is the ancient Chinese word gyokusai, which can be defined as &ldquoto die gallantly as a jewel shatters.&rdquo [7] The Japanese people, particularly the military, perceived this word as meaning to &ldquodie gallantly&rdquo rather than &ldquosuffer the shame of being taken a prisoner while alive.&rdquo [8] This compelled many soldiers and even some civilians to resist the American invaders with a ferocious, unrelenting intensity. Often times however, this idea of dying rather than becoming a prisoner led many to commit suicide in place of being captured. The most obvious example of this can be seen in the concept of Japanese Kamikaze pilots. When answering the question as to whether gyokusai was an official policy in Japan, one needs only to look at a quote from Prime Minister Tojo Hideki in which he says &ldquoichioku gyokusai.&rdquo [9] This was essentially a notice saying that the entire Japanese population should be prepared to die.

Prior to the Allied invasion of Okinawa, the general sentiment amongst the civilians and military personnel preparing to defend the island was that a Japanese defeat was all but assured. Evidence of this can be found in a quote from the former Prime Minister of Japan before the battle in which he said that &ldquodefeat in the war has already become inevitable.&rdquo [10] Since the American forces prevailed at the Battle of Midway, they experienced a string of successes in their attempts to pacify Japanese occupied islands in the Pacific. However, surrender from the Japanese was absolutely out of the question. Those living on Okinawa during this time had been exposed to different forms of &ldquoimperial subject education,&rdquo meaning that these citizens had been taught that dying for the emperor was honorable and that falling into an enemy&rsquos hands should be prevented at any cost [11] . There have been numerous debates regarding whether or not there was an official order made by the Japanese military for the citizens of Okinawa to engage in acts of group suicide, however, it is now known that civilians on the island were given two hand grenades before the battle began. [12] Civilians were &ldquodirected to throw one of them at the enemy and the other to engage in gyokusai.&rdquo [13] Whether or not an official order was issued or not, Okinawan civilians were encouraged to engage in group suicide through the direct use of grenades and other means, while also being encouraged through the core values prioritized by the people of Japan at this time.

While the Okinawan civilians remaining on the island for the battle suffered greatly due to their inclusion in this conflict, the worst of their grief came from the introduction of what is now known as group suicide. Even today, there remains a series of controversial debates that can be derived from questions regarding whether the Japanese military coerced Okinawan civilians into participating in different acts of group suicide. [14] It is known that there were many Okinawan civilians that did participate, however, whether or not it was done voluntarily is still up for debate. [15] According to sources, some argue that the military defending the island had planned for the group suicide of the entire island, evidenced by previous attempts to unite &ldquothe army, the government, and civilians that were living together and dying together. [16] However, those Okinawans who did not commit suicide or perish by other means during the invasion found out after the fighting had concluded that &ldquoonly the residents engaged in gyokusai&rdquo and that on some islands &ldquothe military survived virtually intact.&rdquo [17] As mentioned above, one reason that these individuals might have taken their lives goes back to the Japanese policy of not falling into the hands of the enemy. This was coupled with the fears of Japanese civilians that they, upon being captured by the Americans, would be tortured and mistreated in horrible ways and believed death to be better than being captured. [18] One Okinawan survivor recalls thinking that Americans would &ldquocut off our noses, our ears, chop off our fingers&hellip&rdquo [19] This tremendous fear of Americans even led some to kill their own family members rather than have them end up being captured.

The introduction of group suicide tactics on the island of Okinawa represents one of the distinctive aspects of the battle that serve to make it so significant and unique. There are still unanswered questions concerning the motivations behind those that took their own lives and the lives of their family members and the role of the Japanese military in these events. Whether or not these suicides were forceful in nature or not does not change the fact the Okinawan civilians endured a sequence of tribulations that are unimaginable. The significance of this battle had led to an immense amount of analysis and has led many to study, in great detail, about the American and Japanese forces that clashed in this monumental engagement. However, there has not been enough said about the experiences of Okinawan civilians and soldiers on the island and much more can stand to be learned about the reasons behind these mass suicides.

[1] Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, Seven Stars: The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. and Joseph Stilwell, (United States, Texas A&M University Press College Station, 2004), 3

[2] Aniya Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicides, the Battle of Okinawa, and Japan&rsquos Textbook Controversy, (Japan, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2008), 4

[3] Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook, Japan At War: An Oral History, (New York, The New York Press, 1992), 364

[4] Tomika Higa, The Girl with the White Flag: A Spellbinding account of love and courage in wartime Okinawa, (New York, Kodansha USA, 1989), 41

[5] Higa, Girl with the White Flag, 50

[6] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 6

[7] Hiroaki Sato, Gyokusai or &ldquoShattering like a Jewel&rdquo:Reflection on the Pacific War, (Japan Focus, Asia-Pactific Journal, 2008), 1

[10] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 6

[11] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 7

[12] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 7

[13] Cook and Cook, Japan at War, 364

[14] The Japan Times, Military &ldquoforced&rdquo Okinawa Mass Suicides, 1

[15] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 1

[16] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 6

[17] Cook and Cook, Japan at War, 366

[18] Masaaki, Compulsory Mass Suicide, 7

[19] Cook and Cook, Japan at War, 365

Kinjo Shigeaki, gives some insight on the concept of &ldquogroup suicide&rdquo that was encouraged upon the Japanese civilians inhabiting Okinawa and its surrounding islands. Shieaki&rsquos account offers a perspective separate from those of the soldiers who were both attacking and defending the island and tells of the fears that the civilians had of being captured by the U.S. Army. For this reason, civilians on the island participated in acts of group suicide and even killed members of their own family out of fear of what would happen to them as prisoners. This oral history sheds some light on how the people of Okinawa were pressured by the Japanese Army to kill themselves in sacrifice to the Empire.

Cook, Haruko T and Cook Theodore F. Japan at War: An Oral History. New York: The New York Press, 1992.

Higa, Tomiko. The Girl with the White Flag: A Spellbinding Account of Love and Courage in Wartime Okinawa. New York: Kodansha USA, 1989.

Massaki, Aniya. Compulsory Mass Suicide, the Battle of Okinawa, and Japan&rsquos Textbook Controversty. Japan Focus, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2008.

Sarantakes, Nicholas Evan. Seven Stars: The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. and Joseph Stilwell

Sato, Hiroaki. Gyokusai or &ldquoShattering like a Jewel&rdquo: Reflection on the Pacific War. Japan Focus, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2008.


Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa was a great battle of World War II. It took place on Okinawa Island in the Ryukyu Islands (south of the four big islands of Japan). The battle was between the military forces of the Empire of Japan and the Allies. It was the second biggest amphibious battle (from sea to land) of World War II, after the Battle of Normandy. It was also one of the longest battles in history, from April to June 1945. The Allies won the battle and occupied Okinawa. Today, Okinawa is Japanese territory, but there are still American military bases there.

The Battle of Okinawa is considered to be the last major battle of World War II. The Americans were planning Operation Downfall, the invasion of the four great islands of Japan. This never happened, since the Japanese surrendered after the American use of the atomic bomb in August 1945 (first in Hiroshima, and a second time in Nagasaki) and the Soviet Union declaring war on Japan.

The battle has been called "Typhoon of Steel" in English, and "tetsu no ame," "tetsu no bōfū" by the people of Okinawa, which mean "rain of steel" and "violent wind of steel", because of the very heavy firing of guns and bombs at this battle.

Some battles, such as the Battle of Iwo Jima, had no civilians present, but Okinawa had a large civilian population. The civilians killed or injured in the battle were at least 150,000. American deaths were 18,900 killed or missing and 53,000 injured, more than double of the soldiers killed at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal put together. Several thousand soldiers who died from wounds and other causes after the battle had finished, are not included. About a third of the civilian population of the island were killed.

There were about 100,000 Japanese soldiers killed and 7,000 captured. Some of the soldiers committed seppuku or simply blew themselves up with grenades. Some of the civilians, convinced by Japanese propaganda that the Americans were barbarians who did terrible things to prisoners, killed their families and themselves to avoid capture.

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


World War II History Books About the Battle of Okinawa

USS Franklin Burns

Growing up in Maine, we were not taught much about World War II that didn’t involve fights with Nazis or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And we weren’t taught about the many different battles, other than D-Day and Iwo Jima. In fact, for many years, I only knew that Okinawa was a place because of Mr. Miyagi and The Karate Kid.

But thanks to the magic of reading, and a surprising interest in military history that I discovered as an adult, I have read history books about the battle of Okinawa, and I now know all about it. The Okinawa battle is considered the last great battle of World War II, and some say also the bloodiest. As part of Operation Iceberg, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet and more than 180,000 U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps troops invaded the island on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, as a last strategic move towards Japan. The battle lasted 82 days, finally ending on June 22, 1945.

What happened in those 82 days is well-documented in many fantastic books. There are hundreds of stories of heroics and heartbreak. Here are six great books that explore the battle from many different angles.

Hell from the Heavens

By John Wukovits

This book covers the largest single-ship kamikaze attack of World War II. On April 16, 1945, the crew of the USS Laffey endured and eighty-minute attack in which their small ship was bombarded by almost two dozen Japanese suicide aircraft. Historian and author John Wukovits recreated the event in the pages of this book using interviews with survivors, the memoirs of crew members, and the sailors' own wartime correspondence.


Conventional wisdom among scholars of World War II claims that Japan would inevitably lose the Pacific War to the United States and the Allies. . Their strategists primarily wanted two outcomes: more access to resources for Japan, and an end to the ongoing war with China that had become a proxy war with Western powers.

Imperial Japan stood next to no chance of winning a fight to the finish against the United States. . So Japan could never have crushed U.S. maritime forces in the Pacific and imposed terms on Washington. That doesn&rsquot mean it couldn&rsquot have won World War II.


The Tide Turns

By June 21st, the IJA had been pushed back to their command post on Hill 89 and were forced to hide in underground tunnels. Knowing they had been defeated, Japanese command prepared to commit suicide. One man, Colonel Yahara, was apparently ordered to stay alive by his commanding officer:

“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.

Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima

The battle was over on June 22nd after 81 days of fighting. Most of Okinawa now resembled a WWI battlefield constantly hammered by artillery, drenched by relentless rains and blasted with flamethrowers, the earth looked more like a foreign planet than earth. As the rains continued, corpses emerged from the earth. Over 100,000 Japanese soldiers, sailors and pilots had been killed, or committed suicide roughly 15,000 Americans were lost, and men who had served in Okinawa suffered the highest rate of psychological damage out of any battle in the Pacific theatre. The few Japanese men who survived probably experienced the same difficulties.

The most hard-hit of all were the Ryukyuans who lived on Okinawa. Many had been forced to wear IJA uniforms, and were shot by American troops others had been used as human shields. As the battle wore on, many Okinawan women were sexually assaulted by Japanese troops, a custom established during the Rape of Nanking in China. As the Americans advanced, the IJA spread rumours that the Okinawans would be massacred by the enemy troops, and as such, thousands jumped from the cliffs to their deaths. According to current estimates, almost 100,000 Okinawans were killed by the Japanese and Americans during the battle, or one third of the prewar population.

A wounded Marine receives plasma during May of 1945. (Flickr)


Battle of Okinawa: The Okinawa Island Group - History

By Pierre V. Comtois

Close to the northern end of the island of Tokashiki, the largest member of a tiny group of islands called Kerama Retto, located 15 miles west of Okinawa and hardly 400 miles from the Japanese home islands, Corporal Alexander Roberts and the rest of the 306th Regimental Combat Team rested for the night beneath the starry skies of the northern Pacific. It was a welcome respite from the previous three days of tension-filled landings and clashes with resisting Japanese troops.

Suddenly, the eerie silence of the night was interrupted by a series of dull explosions and the subsequent screams and wails of the injured from farther inland. The next morning, Roberts and his fellows, in seeking out the source of the sounds, discovered a small valley filled with over 150 dead and dying Japanese civilians. As a result of official warnings of the barbarous practices of the invading Americans, fathers had throttled their families before disembowling themselves. In some places, three generations lay mangled together beside the bodies of their patriarchs who themselves had been torn apart by the self-inflicted blasts of hand grenades. As the American soldiers did what they could dispensing food and medical care, survivors who had killed their loved ones only hours before wept with the realization of the enormity of their error.

Such a scene was only the beginning of the tragedies to be visited upon the Japanese people already overburdened with the human cost of years of war. The toll in human lives would only escalate as the titanic struggle for the Pacific entered its final phase and the desperation of Japan’s military leaders led them to envision a final stand involving every last member of their beleaguered nation.

Rolling Up the Empire of Japan

By late 1944, the ring of steel thrown up around the crumbling Empire of Japan had begun to tighten to the point where regular bombing of the home islands and territories long held by the Japanese became the norm and future amphibious operations by the United States moved to targets considered by the enemy as its native soil.

Events began to move faster with the fall of the Philippines at the end of February 1945, and with the invasion and conquest of Iwo Jima by mid-March. Vast naval task forces roamed the waters off China and Japan while American warplanes ruled the skies and its submarines prowled beneath the seas.

As early as October 10, 1944, warplanes made the first fast-carrier raid on Okinawa, destroying Naha, its most important city. When the Philippines were invaded on January 8, 1945, Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s Task Force 38 moved north to cover the operation, ranging far afield in the performance of its duties. During that time, TF 38 savaged the Ryukyus, struck Formosa, and laid waste the ports of the South China coast.

Finally, with the Philippines declared secure by an overly optimistic General Douglas MacArthur, McCain turned his ships back to Ulithi Atoll in the Palaus, where he and Admiral William H. Halsey turned over the Pacific Fleet’s command to Admirals Raymond Spruance and Marc A. Mitscher. With the transfer of command, the Third Fleet became the Fifth, with Task Force 38 metamorphosing into the new Task Force 58 whose mission would now be to mount, launch, and support the coming strikes at the Ryukyu islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Operation Iceberg would be the culmination of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s island-hopping campaign that had taken the United States Navy and Marine Corps, in three years, all the way across the Central Pacific. Now, with Nimitz himself headquartered at Guam and the elements of what would become the greatest naval armada ever assembled being outfitted at their various staging areas from California to Australia, the Americans were poised
to enter their end game with Japan.

After the reduction of Iwo Jima on March 14, 1945, square in the sights of this American juggernaut was the tiny island of Okinawa, the anchor at the end of a long chain of outer islands that led 400 miles back to Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese home islands.

Kerama Retto: Strategic Territory Near Okinawa

Not unaware of Okinawa’s exposed and strategic position, Tokyo had arranged for 100,000 men of the 32nd Japanese Imperial Army to welcome the advancing Americans with lead, steel, and fire. By this point in the war, the Japanese high command knew they had everything to lose they knew with what implacability their enemy was coming for them.

The one straw to which they might grasp was the hope that by making each further step closer to the home islands as costly as possible, they might be able to negotiate an end to the war that would involve something less than unconditional surrender.

For their part, the Americans also realized the strategic importance of Okinawa as a base from which to launch air strikes at Japan and to prepare for its inevitable invasion. With their recent experience on Iwo Jima, the American commanders knew what kind of reception awaited them on Okinawa and planned accordingly. A landing force of 157,000 Marines would challenge the Japanese ashore while an awesome fleet composed of over 1,500 warships would lie off shore and range the wide western Pacific in their support. But, before this force was brought to bear upon its target, a small but necessary side show would first have to be performed.

The Kerama Retto island group, lies 15 miles west of Okinawa.

As the battle for Iwo Jima progressed, the difficulties in resupply and reenforcement of the troops ashore became more and more acute. With the growing threat of kamikazes possibly forcing any naval covering force out to sea and away from direct support of the landward fighting, the advantages of establishing some kind of permanent supply base close to the invasion beaches in any future operation were evident.

As L-day for Operation Iceberg approached, Vice Admiral Kelly Turner, commander of the Joint Expeditionary Force designated TF 51, suggested the seizure of a tiny group of islands 15 miles west of Okinawa called Kerama Retto, the largest and most easterly of which could host a two-mile-long runway for seaplanes and a sheltered, deep water anchorage that could hold as many as 75 ships.

At first, Turner’s suggestion was dismissed as unfeasible due to the islands’ vulnerability to enemy air attack from at least five nearby air bases, but as time went on Turner won support for his idea. Planned to take place just six days prior to the invasion of Okinawa itself, Turner hoped that the fleet’s covering fire throughout the Ryukyus would divert Japanese attention from Kerama Retto, enabling him to seize the islands with a relative handful of troops.

The American Invasion Force

Chosen for that job was XXIV Corps’ 77th Infantry Division. Veterans of the Philippines fighting, they were involved with the conquest of Leyte and were ramrodded by Major General Andrew D. Bruce. As the operation unfolded, the 77th would break up into four Battalion Landing Teams (BLTs) and assault each island in the Kerama group simultaneously. In addition, the 420th Artillery Group would land on tiny Keise Shima, about halfway between Kerama and Okinawa, where their guns would be within range to support the coming landings on the Hagushi beaches.

Of course, much of the plan relied upon the Japanese not expecting an attack from such an unlikely quarter and, in that expectation, the American planners were not disappointed. Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, the commanding officer of the Japanese on Okinawa, was convinced that the Americans would not waste their strength or allow themselves to be distracted in taking Kerama Retto. So, in dire need of every fighting man he could get, Ushijima ordered the islands stripped of the 2,335 soldiers stationed there. That left behind a gaggle of 975 men from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Sea Raiding Squadrons and Base Battalions, as well as Korean slave laborers of the 103rd Sea Duty Company.

Despite the weakness of the remaining force, Ushijima still had plans for the Kerama Islands, intending to use them as a base for 350 explosive-laden suicide boats that would be launched against the ships of the American landing force.

Within three days, the 77th Division had secured the major islands of Kerama Retto

While the 77th Division assembled on Leyte in mid-March to begin practicing for the operation, its commanders were meeting to hammer out the final details of the plan, including study of last-minute air reconnaissance photos taken by Army planes from nearby Luzon, which showed a number of inviting beaches for the landing craft. The pictures also revealed the rather bleak terrain of the islands of Kerama Retto, which covered no more than an area of about 16 square sea miles. Rocky and uneven, the islands comprised narrow defiles and craggy cliffs covered in a desultory layer of scrub brush and gnarled trees. The narrow beaches of coral rock were squeezed at the end of steep valleys with low sea walls to protect them from the tide. The population of just over 6,000 people existed with a few pack-animal trails and no roads, making a living from the sea rather than from their steeply sloped plots of sweet potatoes on the islands’ rocky hillsides.

From March 18-20, the 77th completed loading duties and embarked into its various landing craft. Slowly, inexorably, all the elements of TG 51.1 began coming together as Rear Admiral Ingolf N. Kiland took the Western Island Attack Group out to sea on March 21. From there, aboard his flagship Mount McKinley, Kiland could observe his entire command: a 19-ship transport squadron with their attendant destroyers and destroyer escorts, a tractor flotilla of 29 large landing craft, gunboats and patrol ships, a hospital ship, two repair ships, two Victory ships filled with ammunition, an antimine group with their nets and buoys, tankers, and a whole range of miscellaneous surface craft that included two tug boats. In short, Kiland had everything he needed to make a proper, self-contained island assault.

Protecting Kiland’s group in the wider seas around him ranged the escort carriers and minesweepers of Rear Admiral William “Spike” Blandy’s Task Force 52, which also included underwater demolitions teams. And beyond Blandy were the rest of Turner’s Joint Expeditionary Force and Mitscher’s Task Force 58.

The Intensified Bombing Campaign

In the meantime, offensive activity against the enemy had intensified all over the northern Pacific in preparation for the coming enterprise. American expectations were sanguine about the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. As a result, extensive softening-up operations were planned for.

As the new year began, Fast Carrier Task Forces swept the seas looking for targets of opportunity and brushed every enemy plane from the skies. One such group made an early raid on Okinawa, prompting an unnamed Japanese signalman there to write, “The ferocity of the bombing is terrific. It really makes me furious…. What the hell kind of bastards are they…. Bomb(ing) from 6 am to 6 pm!”

It was only the beginning. The air strikes became heavier and more frequent. When the carrier planes retired, they were replaced by waves of B-29s that pounded the island with such constancy that the hapless Japanese referred to them as the “regular run.” The relentless bombing of Okinawa was still going on in March when Marine flight leader Major D.C. Andre, flying over the island on a reconnaissance mission, marveled at the destruction. “I’d never seen so many planes over one target at the same time,” he said.

Beneath the seas and above the waves, enemy shipping was nowhere safe. Taking a cue from German tactics in the Atlantic, American submarines formed their own wolf packs and hunted down Japanese naval units wherever they could while aircraft did the same above the surface. In the first three months of 1945, Americans sank more enemy craft than any other naval force in history. Desperately needed reinforcements and supplies bound for the Ryukyus found only watery graves along the sea lanes between the home islands and the war zone.

In addition, the air war intensified to levels undreamed of only four years before. Even as thousands of warplanes continued to arrive from the United States on outlying islands, thousands more dominated the skies over Japan. Carrier-based fighters shot down every plane that dared rise to challenge them and destroyed hundreds more on the ground.

From bases all around Japan, in China and India, the Philippines, and Palaus and the Marianas, endless waves of American heavy bombers sought out industrial targets throughout the enemy homeland.

B-29 raids, numbering in the hundreds of planes, ruined the great cities of Japan. But the worst was yet to come. Dissatisfied with the performance of his bombers, General Curtis LeMay, commander of the 20th Bombardment Group, ordered 300 Superfortresses loaded with 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs and sent them over Tokyo on March 9. The resultant devastation could not be more complete, with over 16 square miles of the city reduced to ashes and almost 100,000 people killed.

Keeping the Enemy at Bay

As Kiland’s attack group continued to make its way through heavy seas and its inexperienced landing-craft crews poured over illustrated copies of The Coxswain’s Guide to the Beaches, elements of TF 58 kept the enemy at a distance. On March 23, the destroyer Haggard found a prowling Japanese submarine that Lt. Cmdr. V.J. Soballe immediately ordered depth charged. Forced to the surface by the sub-sea explosions, RO-41 breached just in time to be rammed by Haggard and sent to the bottom again in pieces.

The next day, Admiral Mitscher sent 112 planes on a strike against a Japanese convoy 150 miles northwest of Okinawa, sinking all eight ships.

In expectation of the imminent arrival of TG 51.1, the ships of Blandy’s Amphibious Support Force were already hard at work. By March 25, the 122-ship flotilla of destroyer minesweepers, motor mine-sweepers, tenders, and patrol boats had cleared a seven-mile-long corridor to Kerama from the south and another from the southwest. Although the Japanese never practiced extensive use of underwater mining except in Philippine waters, and what mines they did use were antiquated and inefficient, there were still plenty to give the U.S. Navy headaches.

Aboard his flagship Terror, Rear Admiral Alexander Sharp coordinated his fleet of minesweepers as they searched the approaches to the Kerama beaches for their dangerous prey, fighting off sniper fire from shore and the harassing kamikazes from the air. On the day of the Kerama landings, the destroyer Halligan struck a mine in unswept waters and had its entire bow blown off.

Early on the morning of March 25, after the surrounding waters had been cleared of mines, Rear Admiral C. Turner Joy left TF 54, the Gunfire and Covering Force, headed for Okinawa with two cruisers and three destroyers, and arrived off Kerama at 5:30 am. Immediately, Joy’s ships began a preliminary fire on the various islands, concentrating on the designated landing beaches and what strongpoints were judged to be of possible danger to the landing force. Joining him were other destroyers taking up positions around the islands for radar picket duty against the threat of enemy air strikes.

Frogmen Intelligence at Kerama Retto

At 6:00 am, the first Americans waded ashore at various beaches of the target islands, but they were not infantrymen––they were frogmen of Blandy’s Amphibious Support Force. The underwater demolitions teams (UDTs) broke up into three units, each delivered to its proper beach by an LCVP that churned its way to the islands’ outlying reefs, deposited its load of frogmen, and then turned back out to open water.

Dropped every 50 yards, the divers wore nothing but a pair of trunks, goggles, and flippers and carried only measuring lines and waterproof writing gear. In the gloom of early morning, they worked under an umbrella of gunfire from the destroyers offshore that helped keep enemy sniper fire to a minimum. Methodically working their way along the reefs, which sometimes came within inches of the surface of the water, the frogmen inspected the approaches to the beaches for underwater obstacles. At last, their inspection finished, they grabbed lines trailing from the stern of the returning LCVPs and were hauled aboard for the fast trip back to their command APDs and an analysis of their findings.

In the case of the Kerama operation, the news was not good, but hardly devastating to the operation. With the report from the UDTs of the impossibility of using LCVP landing boats on two of the target islands due to the unusually high coral formations, Kiland was forced to make a change in his invasion plans. Using LVTs, the islands of Zamami, Aka, Hokaji, and Geruma Shima would be assaulted by four battalions of the 77th as originally planned, but the attack on Yakabi and Kuba Shima would be delayed until the tractors used in the Aka landings could return to the flotilla. There, they would be reloaded with troops and diverted to the Yakabi and Kuba beaches.

A Surprise Landing on Kerama Retto

As the day dawned bright and clear on March 26, Kiland confirmed 8:00 am as M-hour for the invasion of Kerama Retto to begin. Already, two groups of LSTs had broken away from the main portion of TG 51.1, with the smaller group of four making its way two miles north of Yakabi Shima, the western most of the Kerama group, and the other group of 14 ships two miles south of Kuba Shima. By 6:40 am, as a curtain of support fire from cruisers off shore and carrier planes overhead bombarded the tiny islands, amphtracs with their payload of anxious troops and amphibious tanks began their run for the beaches. With Navy guide boats in the lead, the amtracs and amphibious tanks divided into their separate battalions and headed for their designated landing areas.

Their approach was made more difficult than beach landings usually were by their having to invade so many closely situated islands at once. The northern group of LSTs had to make two dog-legs before hitting their beach on Zamami the southern group, after splitting up into three groups, needed to wind their way past tiny, reef-guarded islets to reach their assigned objectives. But the fact that all groups hit their proper beaches on schedule was proof of the landing crafts’ fast-learning crewmen.

Amphibious tractors carrying the 1st Battalion, 305th Infantry, 77th Division, head for the beaches of Zamami Shima, March 26, 1945.

As each assault wave neared its target, its accompanying support craft added their own firepower to that of the cruisers and strafing planes, with mortars coughing at 3,200 yards, rockets roaring at 1,100 yards, and automatic gunfire filling in the gaps. Gradually, as the troops neared shore, cruiser fire shifted away from their front to the flanks. At last, the support craft halted their approach to allow the landing craft through. At that point, they ceased their fire and retreated as the amphibious tanks took the lead and spearheaded the final dash to the beaches.

As it turned out, the operation took the enemy completely by surprise, with most of the landings being unopposed and the few Japanese defenders retreating inland to caves and tunnels, bringing the islands’ terrorized native inhabitants with them. The soldiers, who had been ordered by Ushijima to offer minimum resistance to any enemy attack, had regaled the civilian population with stories of the horrible fate that awaited them at the hands of the barbaric Americans.

Just four minutes after M-hour, the 3rd BLT of the 305th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) were the first Americans ashore on Kerama as their LVTs ran up onto Beach Gold at Aka Shima to a reception of mortar and machine-gun fire delivered by the 200 Korean laborers and Japanese suicide boat operators defending the shore.

Situated in the center of the Kerama group, Aka, or “Happy Corner Island,” was hardly 3,000 yards long and rose to about 600 feet at the summits of two small peaks, affording few hiding places for its defenders when they retreated without inflicting any harm on the Americans. Moving quickly, the GIs overran the tiny village of Aka and pressed inland where resistance increased. As the landscape rose higher, the Japanese offered greater and greater opposition. At one point, naval gunfire had to be called in to blast a platoon of enemy soldiers from the path of the advance.

In the afternoon, a total of 58 more Japanese were killed in a host of small-unit encounters, with every enemy soldier needing to be rousted from caves and prepared positions almost man to man. By early evening, however, most of the island had been secured. Yet nearly 300 Japanese combatants and 400 civilians were still holed up in what remained.

Nighttime Melee For the 2nd BLT

South of Aka, the smaller island of Geruma Shima was invaded by elements of the 306th’s 1st BLT coming ashore on Beach Yellow nearly a half hour after the 3rd landed on Aka. In contrast with Aka, however, this island was secured in a few hours, with the 304th and 305th Field Artillery Battalions’ 105mm howitzers soon being unloaded for use in the next day’s operations against Tokashiki.

The troops met some light sniper fire and found some abandoned pillboxes, but the handful of the island’s defenders were lying dead by the end of the day—a situation that was not regretted by some of its surviving civilians who were found after they had strangled members of their own families out of fear of what they had been told about the Americans and discovered afterward to be lies. Fortunately, however, not all of the natives panicked. A great many—in company with Korean forced laborers who’d escaped their masters—gave themselves up.

Troops of the U.S. Army’s 306th Regimental Combat Team, 77th Infantry Division, come ashore at tiny Geruma Shima, one of the Kerema Retto group of islands near Okinawa, during Operation Iceberg, March 26, 1945.

After the third island, Hokaji, had been seized without opposition by the 306th’s 2nd BLT, the balance of the 1st came ashore at Beach Blue on Zamami Shima at 9:00 am. The troopers landed against light resistance and, held up only long enough to find out that their supporting amphtracs could not negotiate the sea wall that bordered the beach, moved in quickly against some desultory mortar fire and seized Zamami town. At that point, the island’s company of soldiers and 300 Korean laborers faded back into the low hills to the south, retreating so fast that the pursuing Americans were unable to come into contact with them.

In spite of the massive offensive, the enemy was still willing to fight. After nightfall, many of the defenders attacked the 2nd BLT’s beach positions in an effort to break through their perimeter. It was a close-in duel using any weapon at hand—from pistols to swords—with the fanatical Japanese attacking again and again from different points, seeking out the Americans’ weak spot. After a storm of mortar and machine-gun fire and a loss of over 100 men, the Japanese finally stopped looking for it and fell back into the hills, leaving only seven Americans killed in the protracted fighting.

Japanese Suicide Attacks

With the multiple invasions going so smoothly, General Bruce decided to add another prize to the 77th’s collection by ordering the 307th RCT’s 2nd BLT’s reserves to load up on the LVTs returned from Aka and hit Yakabi Shima a day ahead of schedule. The strike was duly carried out that afternoon and the island taken against light resistance.

By the end of March 26, the entire western portion of the Kerama group was securely in Kiland’s hands, and the importance of its seizure had already become apparent. In their sweep of the islands, soldiers of the 77th discovered the shallow-draft “suicide boats” the Japanese intended to use to “attack … transports, loaded with essential supplies and material and personnel …[to be] carried out by concentrating maximum strength immediately upon the enemy’s landing.”

Made of plywood and powered by an 85 horsepower Chevrolet engine, the 18-foot-long boats were intended to emerge from their camouflaged hideouts carrying two depth charges each and guided by a Japanese officer right up to an unsuspecting American vessel to unload its deadly cargo. Presumably, the boat’s pilot would have a chance of getting away as the depth charges had a five-second delayed fuse.

A couple of days after the islands had been declared secure, a Japanese boat battalion commander was captured after an abortive attempt to sink an LCVA. He produced a chart showing Ushijima’s plan for the Sea Raiding Units’ area of operation, which greatly facilitated defensive measures.

Unfortunately for Ushijima, the attack against Kerama Retto ruined his plans for the suiciders, prompting General Bruce to declare that their interdiction alone made the whole operation worth it.

In addition to the suicide boats, there were suicide planes overhead as well. A total of nine kamikazes tried to breach the radar screen around Kerama on the day of the initial landings but none made it. The next day, a few more Aichi “Val” dive-bombers swooped in with one managing to slam itself into the galley of the Gilmer. Another, through a series of impressive evasive maneuvers, crashed into a 44mm stern mount on the destroyer Kimberly, killing four men.

Three Day Operation on Tokashiki

On March 27, the last islands in the Kerama group were invaded, with the garrisons on Amuro and Kuba Shima offering no resistance. At midmorning, units of the 1st BLT that had taken Geruma the day before landed at Beach Purple, just north of Hitachi Point on the west coast of Tokashiki, the largest of the Kerama islands. One sailor was killed when his LCI gunboat was hit by an enemy shore battery which was, in turn, quickly silenced as the charging troops steamrolled the light opposition gathered at the tree line.

The 2nd BLT came ashore at Aware on Beach Orange to the south in support of the 1st. Tokashiki is six miles long with its western side, called the Roadstead, offering the anchorages Kiland sought for the fleet otherwise, its topography was much like its sister islands: rocky and scrubby with a few rough hills.

After meeting up with no more resistance than some scattered sniper fire, the two battalions linked up and began a sweep northward over the island’s goat trails. At its southern tip, the 306th’s reserve BLT, the 3rd, came ashore to secure the rear. That night, the 1st and 2nd rested just outside the town of Tokashiki in the extreme northeast, where they and Corporal Roberts later discovered the remnants of the island’s civilian inhabitants.

Earlier in the day, the 3rd BLT had kept busy on Aka when they ran into stiff resistance on one of the island’s many craggy ridges, where the Japanese defenders had holed up in prepared positions. Well supplied with mortars and machine guns, the 75 or so Japanese held the Americans at bay until air support was called in and they were bombed, strafed, and rocketed to pieces and driven from the ridge.

An advance patrol of the 77th Infantry Division moves cautiously up a trail on Takashiki Shima, scouting an advance route for the main body that later overran the island.

On Zamami, extensive patrolling unearthed small pockets of enemy troops hidden in caves. While the 3rd solved their resistance problem from the air, the 1st ended theirs on the ground with help from the unit’s amphtracks, which blasted the Japanese from their holes with some direct fire.

On the third and final day of the operation, troops on Tokashiki waited as 500 rounds of artillery pounded the already-shattered remains of Tokashiki town and then moved in. Even though there were an estimated 300 Japanese soldiers still hiding out in the hills who would not surrender until the end of the war, the island was declared secure. Later, an uneasy truce developed as the island’s enemy commander, recognizing the futility of further opposition, allowed the Americans undisturbed bathing privileges in the waters just below his gun emplacements. A hidden shore gun there was aimed straight at the scores of unsuspecting Navy ships lying in the Roadstead but was never used.

In the course of the three-day operation, the Americans lost 155 soldiers and sailors killed in 15 separate landings while the cost to the Japanese defenders was 530 killed. By March 29, the purpose for which Kerama Retto was seized in the first place was already being fulfilled. On that day, 30 planes flew in to establish antisubmarine patrols, and combat-ship refueling operations had begun in the Roadstead, a boat pool and ammunition dump set up and nets raised and tended. All was in readiness for the invasion of Okinawa two days later.

The Japanese Harassment Campaign Against Occupied Kerama Retto

In preparation for the invasion, the waters off Okinawa were to be covered by minesweepers protected by a fleet of destroyers, among them the USS Newcomb, which attracted the attention of swarms of kamikaze planes that filled the skies on the afternoon of April 6. That day, the ship was struck five times by suicidal flyers and forced out of action. Towed to an anchorage off Kerama Retto, its 75 remaining crewmen spent 10 harrowing days and nights protecting the floating hulk not only from continued kamikaze attacks, but also from the remnants of Japanese forces still holed up on the islands in the Kerama group who refused to call it quits.

“It was fairly quiet during the day, but at night it was different,” recalled Newcomb quartermaster Nate Cook. “The Japanese were using most of their air power attacking the fleet near Okinawa. But every night they would carry out small air raids over Kerama Retto. To try to protect all of the defenseless ships in the harbor, the Navy used LCVPs with smoke-making gear to create a smoke screen cover. It was eerie we could hear the planes but not see them. We didn’t know whether they could see our masts. A couple times ships tried firing with 20mm guns through the smoke. Unfortunately the enemy could see the tracer shells and follow them down for a kamikaze crash, which they did.

An American officer takes a spin in one of the captured suicide boats. The speed of the boat has lifted the bow out of the water.

“In addition to the planes, we had to worry about the Japanese still on the islands,” said Cook. “They were harassing us in several ways. The extent wasn’t clear but we knew that some had swum out at night, climbed a ship’s anchor chain, and knifed some sailors. Other ‘suicide swimmers’ had explosives attached to their torso in such a way that they couldn’t be removed without exploding.” In addition, Cook described “suicide boats” used by the enemy: fast plywood boats about 16 feet long with 4-cylinder inboard engines tried to get close enough to a ship to drop a depth charge or other explosives over the side.

Epilogue

There is an epilogue to the story of the seizure of Kerama Retto. Back on March 31, a group of LSTs approached the tiny islet of Keise Shima that lay almost within sight of the landing beaches at Okinawa. From the transports emerged the 24 155mm artillery pieces of the 420th Field Artillery Group which were floated ashore and aimed at Naha on Okinawa and the Hagushi beaches only eight miles away.

Although plans were made by Ushijima to silence the big guns with intermittent shelling and raiding parties, that action never materialized. The 420th continued to fulfill its role throughout the Okinawa campaign.

Unfortunately, the recounting of a battle, no matter how insignificant, usually fails to consider its cost to noncombatants. The tragedy of the civilian population of Kerama Retto must be treated as intrinsic to the battle itself otherwise, war threatens to become meaningless, an end in itself.

In World War II, life sometimes seemed the cheapest of all commodities. In all of the war’s enormous cost in human suffering, the smaller tragedy of the Kerama suicides, like the small scale of the battle for the islands themselves, transcended its size to take its place as one part of the greater whole that would amount to the eventual Allied victory.

Comments

Thank you for this extremely detailed and well-written article. I believe my grandfather, a Metalsmith, was on an ARDC anchored near Kerama-Retto working to repair US ships damaged fighting the Japanese. This article was very enlightening. I appreciate reading some of the perspective of the Japanese civilians as well. Thank you.

Great information-thanks for posting. My grandfather participated in the campaign aboard the USS Forrest DMS-24, part of MinDiv 58. The ship was struck by a kamikaze on May 27th 1945 and retired to the Kerama islands for temporary repairs: 6 sailors of their crew perished and up to 20 were wounded. May God rest their souls. Ms Jen-perhaps your grandfather was one of many who worked on my granpa’s ship to repair it for its return journey to the USA in June thru July 1945? Thank you for his service. V/r JS

In October 2017 I had an article published in the now defunct “America in WWII” magazine titled “Inside the Mind of the Kamikaze!” It was taken from data collected in the Museum for Peace, the Kamikaze pilot’s museum near Kagoshima, Japan. It was really enlightening to hear what those young pilots thought on the days before they died. The suicides on the Kerama Islands bear out how the Japanese felt about their ultimate defeat.

I wasn’t aware that America in WWII had folded. Thanks for the news. They agreed to buy one of my articles several times, but then I couldn’t get them to respond to my emails. A character issue, I think. Found your website, look forward to reading your articles.

I appreciate the very detailed story about the Kerama Islands invasion. To honor my Dad, Aviation Electrician PO 2nd class Wallace K. Anderson, I wrote a story to share with my family about the kamikaze-style attack on his ship, the USS St. George a seaplane tender at Kerama Retto on May 6th, 1945 (the date is often recorded as May 5th but I believe this was due to all naval communications ignoring the international date line). The story was about an artifact he brought home from the war, an engine valve he picked up (against orders) after the attack and the plane it belonged to – the Japanese Army aircraft Ki-61 Hein.


Watch the video: Krieg im Pazifik Die Schlacht um Okinawa