Landing at Okinawa



Landing at Okinawa

1 Apr-21 Jun 1945

From Peter Chen:

It was April 1st, 1945. April 1st was Easter. April 1st was April Fools day. April 1st was the beginning of the battle for Okinawa. It was under what was known as Operation Iceberg.

Operation Iceberg struck the island of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands on that date of April 1st , 1945.  Okinawa was a relatively large island, 60 miles long and eight miles wide; it was the largest of the Ryukyu Archipelago situated between Taiwan and Japan. Immediately to its west was the small island of Ie Shima. Before the landing operation started, Allied bombers softened Okinawa of its defenses and morale, which resulted in the destruction of over 80% of the city of Naha and the sinking of over 65 boats. Admiral Richmond Turner, veteran commander of amphibious forces, delivered landing forces, with ships of the British Pacific Fleet among his vanguard. The amphibious vehicles landed the 96th and 7th Army Divisions on the left flank, and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions were delivered on the right. Once on land, the combined forces of Chester Nimitz’s Marines and Douglas MacArthur’s soldiers, the first time their men fought side-by-side, were placed under the command of Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. The landing was not resisted, much to the surprise of the landers. There were no coastal guns, no mortars, and no machine guns; it was a scene very much unlike the previous landings elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Deep in the island, however, the 110,000-strong Japanese garrison led by Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, augmented by 20,000 volunteer Okinawan militiamen, awaited.

The Americans’ immediate objectives were the Yontan and Kadena airfields, and they were very quickly taken. Yontan was so quickly taken that a Japanese pilot actually made a successful landing, got out of his fighter, and ordered loudly for a full tank of gas before he realized the men around his plane were Americans; he was gunned down before he could reach for his pistol. The two airfields were declared secure by 20 Apr. In northern Okinawa, the Motobu Peninsula was entrenched by two battalions under the command of Takehiko Udo, who inflicted 1,304 casualties among the American invaders before letting his positions become overrun by Americans. Southern Okinawa proved to be much more difficult. Near the Machinato Line, 300,000 people, Japanese, American, and Okinawan civilians, concentrated in a small area. When Marine veteran and historian William Manchester arrived at the scene, he thought that it was “what Verdun and Passchendaele must have looked like”, comparing the great battle scene to the grotesque trench warfare battlegrounds of WW1. The complex of Sugar Loaf Hill, Horseshoe Ridge, and Half Moon Hill was one of the most fiercely contested regions in the entire battle. With each hill covering the other two, the Japanese had connected the three hills with hidden galleries and set up interlocking fields of fire by machine gun and various types of artillery. At Half Moon Hill, veteran Eugene Sledge recalled:

Everywhere lay Japanese corpses killed in the heavy fighting. Infantry equipment of every type, U.S. and Japanese, was scattered about. helmets, rifles, BARs, packs, cartridge belts, canteens, shoes, ammo boxes, shell cases, machine-gun ammo belts, all were strewn around us up to and all over Half Moon.

A small distance in the east was Shuri Hill, which provided machine gun fire to the entire complex as well. It was a death trap for the American Marines who were given the task to assault it, but the Marines took on the task dutifully. Horrendous casualties were incurred on both sides, with at times entire assaults cut down to a handful of survivors. Sugar Loaf Hill had changed hands 14 times before it was finally taken by the Americans.

The island fell on 21 Jun. Some of the Japanese troops that survived past the American declaration of Okinawa being secure fought on ferociously. During “mop-up” operations, 8,975 Japanese were killed. During the fighting, General Buckner was killed by a ricocheting artillery shell while he toured the front lines, making him the highest ranking American to die during the war. Alongside Buckner, 7,613 Americans fell, and 31,807 were wounded in action. Non-combat American casualties reached 26,221, largely attributed to the heavy concentration of Japanese artillery at Okinawa and the fanatical fighting spirit of the Okinawan defenders. On the Japanese side, 107,539 dead were counted by the Americans, though the actual deaths were almost certainly higher as at least 20,000 were sealed in caves either by American action or Japanese suicide. Only 7,455 Japanese surrendered. Approximately 42,000 Okinawan civilians were killed during the battle.

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