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Battle of Okinawa

History - Military history -- List of battles -- World War II

The Battle of Okinawa, fought on the island of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands (south of the four big islands of Japan) was the largest amphibious assault during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It was the largest sea-land-air battle in history, running from April through June, 1945.

No one on either side expected it to be the last major battle of the war, which it was. The Americans were planning Operation Downfall, the invasion of the main islands, which never happened due to Japanese surrender in August. The reference by Feifer (below) has much to say of Okinawa and how it influenced the end of the war and the decision to use "The Bomb."

At some battles such as Iwo Jima, there had been no civilians, but Okinawa had a large indigenous civilian population, and the civilian loss in the Typhoon of Steel was at least 130,000. American losses were over 72,000 casualties, of whom 12,000 were killed or missing, over twice Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined. About a quarter of the civilian, and Japanese and American populations about the island in spring 1945 were killed. There were about 100,000 Japanese killed or captured; many preferred suicide to the disgrace of capture.

Table of contents
1 Generals
2 Before April 1, 1945
3 The land battle
4 Reference


The American land campaign was controlled by the 10th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr The army had two corps under its command, III Amphibious Corps, consisting of 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, with 2nd Marine Division as an afloat reserve, and XXIV Corps, consisting of the 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions. At the very end of the campaign, Buckner was killed by ricocheting shell fragments, becoming one of the most senior US casualties in the entire war.

The Japanese land campaign (mainly defensive) was led in the south by General Mitsuru Ushijima. He committed suicide at the end. In the less-talked-about north of Okinawa, General Takehido Udo commanded.

But much happened before the land campaign.

Before April 1, 1945

United States submarines had by late 1944 wreaked havoc on Japanese shipping. The bound-for-Okinawa troop ship Toyama Maru was sunk by the U.S.S. Sturgeon at a loss of about 5,600 nine months before the land campaign; these Japanese deaths (the Sturgeon escaped despite being pummeled by depth charges) are usually not even figured in battle losses.

Before this battle, an evacuation ship called Tsushima-maru was sunk by a U.S. submarine and 1,484 women and children died, as Feifer (references) points out,

... ten times the toll of New York's Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which had horrified Americans in 1911.

On October 10, 1944, Okinawa gained a dubious shorthand for disaster — the numerals 10-10. Waves of bombers pummeled the nearly-defenseless island, causing untold wreckage on land; over 80% of Naha was destroyed and more than 65 boats were sunk. Japanese anti-aircraft technology was not up to the nimble American planes.

Shortly before the battle, the Japanese warship the Yamato was sunk by American air power on her trip to Okinawa. Widespread rumors that the ship was only given enough fuel for a one-way trip are false; Feifer debunks this (references).

The Japanese had a plan to beach the Yamato on Okinawa's shore and use it as a land battery. Not that it would have done them much good on land.

The land battle

The land battle took place over about 82 days after April 1, 1945.

The north

The Americans swept across the thin part of the south-central part of the island with relative ease (for World War Two), soon taking the lightly-held north, though there was fierce fighting at Yae-dake Mountain and taking Kadena Air Base, Yomitan Air Base; at present writing (August, 2003) Kadena remains the largest American air base in Asia, and its runways can handle big planes.

The Japanese were to dearly regret losing Kadena and Yomitan air bases, and gave them up with little fight. The entire north fell on April 20.

Few Americans encountered the feared Habu snake, soon discarding their cumbersome leggings. Far worse awaited them in the south. The north was warm-up.

The south

Fighting in the south was hardest, the skillful Japanese soldiers hiding in caves, but the American advance was inexorable. The island fell on about June 21, though some Japanese continued fighting, including the future governor of Okinawa prefecture, Masahide Ota.