Campaign for Okinawa
By late October 1944, Okinawa, in the Ryukyu Island chain, had been
targeted for invasion by Allied forces. Located
strategically between Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, and
Formosa, modern Taiwan, Okinawa was viewed as the
base from which assault troops could stage and train for the attack on the
Japanese mainland. The island had several Japanese
air bases and the only two substantial harbors between Formosa and Kyushu.
This invasion--code named Operation Iceberg,---would see the assembling of
the greatest naval armada ever. Admiral
Raymond A. Spruance's 5th fleet was to include more than 40 aircraft
carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers and hundreds of
assorted support ships. Over 182,000 troops would make up the assault,
planned for April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday.
American casualties would exceed 68,000. Of the nearly 16,000 servicemen
killed the burden fell to the sea services: 8,343
dead Sailors, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, the highest toll in naval history.
The four principal commanders were Admiral Spruance, Vice Admiral Marc
Mitscher (Task Force 58), Vice
Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner (Task Force 51) and Lieutenant General
Simon Bolivar Buckner, U.S. Army,
(10th Army). Their battle plan envisioned a week of preliminary air strikes
from the fast carriers and by B-29s
from the Mariana Islands, followed by eight days of naval bombardment
preceding the landings.
The invasion force would consist of Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger's
3rd Amphibious Corps with its three Marine
divisions (the 1st, 2nd and 6th) and four infantry divisions of the 24th Army
Corps (the 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th). Landings
would take place over five miles of beaches on the west coast of southern
Okinawa, the "Hagushi beaches," named after a
village (actually named "Tosuchi") at the mouth of the Bishigawa River. The
river was the boundary between the Marines'
sector on the north and the Army's on the south. The location was chosen for
its proximity to the Yontan and Kadena airfields,
which needed to be captured quickly to help land-based planes fend off
enemy air attacks. These forces would then spread
out east and south to capture other territory. Northern Okinawa, the Motobu
Peninsula and nearby le Shima island and airfield
would be captured later.
Japanese forces at Okinawa hoped to delay the final assault on Japan.
Having lost most forward air bases and aircraft carriers,
the Japanese high command planned to emphasize kamikaze, suicide-piloted
aircraft attacks on Allied ships. A massed air
attack by both kamikazes and conventional aircraft was planned as part of
In mid-March, the American fleet of over 1,300 ships gathered off Okinawa
for the naval bombardment On March
21, the first baka or piloted, suicide rocket bombs, were spotted below
Japanese "Betty" bombers. Called oka
("cherry blossom') by the Japanese, these 2,700 pound bombs got their name
baka ("screw-ball") from the sailors
against whom they were directed. A baka attached to a bomber was released
into a high-speed, suicidal dive
toward a ship. At the last moment, the pilot pulled out of the dive and glided
into the target. While the baka did not
prove very effective in the over-all Okinawan campaign as the Japanese had
so few of them, with their small size
and speed they were nearly impossible to defend against.
On March 22, Rear Admiral Alexander Sharp's Mine craft Pacific Fleet
composed of 122 mine craft, patrol, and associated
craft began mine sweeping operations off the Kerama Islands. The
importance of their task was explained in their slogan: "No
Sweep, No Invasion." Continuing night and day until the invasion began on
April 1, Sharp's operation swept 2,500 square
miles of ocean, and discovered and destroyed six enemy minefields and 184
mines. These mine craft, mine sweepers and mine
layers accounted for more than 15 percent of all naval casualties during
Radar picket duty
Radar picket duty off the shore of Okinawa by destroyers and other vessels
was one of the most dangerous duties.
Radar picket ships lost their main defense, their mobility, as they were alone
and forced to main at fixed stations to warn
of approaching enemy aircraft and to direct carrier airplanes to intercept as
many as possible. Despite the bravery of
these ships, losses were suffered even before the initial landings.
The first kamikaze attacks of the Okinawan campaign began on March 18,
1945. On March 19, while operating close to the
Japanese home islands, the aircraft carrier Wasp was hit by a kamikaze
which resulted in explosions and fires that killed 101
and wounded 269 crewmen. Yet within 15 minutes, fires were put out and
the remaining crew began recovering airplanes.
Also hit was the carrier Franklin. Coming, to her aid, the cruiser Santa Fe
hung in alongside the burning carrier throughout the
afternoon, despite exploding ammunition, to rescue those who jumped from
the fire and heat. Damage to the Franklin's flight
deck was extensive, yet the ship got underway within hours and was able to
return to New York under her own power.
Casualties were 724 killed or missing and 265 wounded. Two Medals of
Honor were awarded for heroism aboard the carrier.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Donald A. Gary, was awarded the Medal of Honor
for leading two sailors below decks to wet down
a 5-inch gun that threatened to explode and on finding 300 men trapped in a
dark compartment, led them to safety on three
The Franklin's second Medal of Honor winner, Lieutenant Commander
Joseph T. O'Callaban, ship's chaplain, was awarded
his medal for directing, fire fighting efforts while administering last rites to the
injured. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman
presented O'Callahan with the award, the first chaplain so honored.
The Kerama Islands were occupied between March 25-28 for fueling, and
ammunition replenishment and as a
seaplane base. Meanwhile, U.S. forces offshore the island of Okinawa had
no inkling that the beaches had been
left intentionally undefended and that the approximately 100,000 Japanese
troops were, dug in, in caves, cement
tombs, and fortifications, and well protected from the pre-invasion
After Naval Underwater Demolition Teams 12, 13 and 19 had reconnoitered
the Hagushi beaches on Good Friday, March
30, the amphibious assault of Okinawa began at 8:30 a.m., Easter Sunday,
April 1, 1945. By 4:00 pm, the beachhead was
secured. Over 50,000 troops had been put ashore and were ready to advance,
Marines to the north and west and soldiers to
the south. The question was, "Where are the Japanese?" The troops were to
learn that the bulk of the Japanese were
positioned in heavily d above the surrounding territory. However, Marines
attacking the Mobotu Peninsula, northwest of the
invasion beaches, had met stiff resistance.
On April 6-7, the first use of massed formations of hundreds of kamikaze
aircraft called kikusui, or "floating chrysanthemum,"
for the imperial symbol of Japan, began. By the end of the Okinawan
campaign, 1,465 kamikaze flights were flown from
Kyushu to sink 30 American ships and damage 164 others, not including
smaller attacks near Kyushu and Formosa.
Ie Shinia, an island off Mobutu, was invaded on April 16, after three days of
naval and aerial bombardment and beach
reconnaissance by Underwater Demolition Teams. The Army's 77th Division
landed on April 21. In fierce fighting over five
days, this small island and airfield were won, but with the loss of 172
American servicemen killed and 902 wounded. Among
the fatally wounded was well known combat correspondent Ernie Pyle, hit by
machine gun fire on April 18. He was buried on
On May 1, Marines of the 3rd Amphibious Corps who had overrun the
Mobotu Peninsula were transferred to the southern
part of the island, where the Army's 24th Corps faced stubborn resistance
from strong defensive positions. By April 8, the
U.S. forces were stopped cold at the first Japanese defense line by pillboxes
with steel doors impervious to flame-throwers.
Casualties were heavy. Reinforcements were landed on April 9, and
American troops now numbered 160,000 ashore.
All attention focused now on capturing Shuri Castle, the key defensive
position for Japanese resistance. The castle was located
in the southern one-third of Okinawa on a high point midway between the
eastern and western beaches. Strongly prepared
defensive positions with interlocking fields of fire and interconnected tunnels
proved extremely difficult and costly to overrun.
Thrown against these fortifications was the firepower of six battleships, six
cruisers, nine destroyers, and 650 Navy and Marine
aircraft in addition to the Marines and soldiers on the ground.
Commanded by Rear Admiral Morton L.Deyo, Task Force 54 included his
flagship, the Tennessee, and battleships Nevada,
New York, Texas and Arkansas.. This fire support group and other naval
vessels delivered fire and illumination at night for
shore parties which proved very effective. Task Force 54 supported the
ground troops and complemented the artillery from
the first day of combat until late May when action moved to the extreme tip
of the island, and the danger of shelling U.S.
troops precluded it. Indeed, naval gunfire was employed longer and in greater
quantities in the battle of Okinawa than in any
other in history; while carrier air support covered for the amphibious forces
until land-based planes could take over. Carrier air
was responsible for shooting down more enemy planes than anti-aircraft fire
during the battle.
The Japanese defense line was finally broken on April 28. Attacking the two
flanks of the Japanese forces, Buckner's troops
fought fiercely against the enemy. By May 21, the Japanese had withdrawn
to the southern tip of the island. The 10th Army
occupied the capital, Naha, on May 27. On May 29, Japanese troops began
withdrawing from Shuri. Company A, 1st
Battalion, 5th Marines captured the remains of Shuri Castle.
Now, Marines made an amphibious assault southeast of the capital, while
Buckner's 10th Army moved on the enemy's
position at Mabuni, an escarpment located on the southern tip of the island.
Its natural and made caves proved nearly
impenetrable for any but Buckner's "blow torch and corkscrew" method of
fighting, employing flame-throwers and high
explosives to force a way into the enemy's defensive positions. In the end, it
took hand-to-hand combat, aerial bombardment
and tanks with flame-throwers to capture the entrenched and fiercely defiant
Buckner was hit and killed by a coral fragment thrown up by a Japanese
artillery shell fire on June 18. Geiger
temporary command of 10th Army until relieved five days later by Army
Lieutenant General Joseph A. Stilwell.
On June 19, the Japanese commander ordered all remaining defenders to
fight to the death. On the 21st, the 10th
Army pushed through to the southernmost point on Okinawa. Ushijimi and his
chief of staff committed hari kari,
ritual suicide, rather than accept defeat. Geiger announced the island secured
and a formal flag-raising ceremony
took place on June 22. The 82-day Okinawan campaign was officially
declared over on July 2.
Thus ended the campaign to capture Okinawa, which now became a giant air
and naval base destined to play a major role in
the planned invasion of Japan. British observers spoke of the Battle for
Okinawa as "... the most audacious and complex
enterprise ... yet undertaken by the American Amphibious Forces... more
ships were used, more troops put ashore, more
supplies transported, more bombs dropped, more naval guns fired against
shore targets" than any other operation in the
Pacific. But not without a severe price for both sides. Thirty-four allied ships
and craft of all types had been sunk, mostly by
kamikazes, and 368 ships and craft damaged. The fleet had lost 763 aircraft.
Over 4,900 sailors and 3,443 Marines were
killed or missing in action and 4,824 Sailors and 16,017 Marines were
wounded, making this the naval services' most costly
campaign of World War II. Army casualties were 7,613 killed or missing and
31,807 wounded or injured. There were also
more than 26,000 non-battle casualties. Japanese losses were enormous:
107,539 killed and 23,764 sealed in caves or buried
by the Japanese themselves; 10,755 captured or surrendered. On both sides,
nearly 170,000 died, over half were civilians.
The Japanese lost 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships.
The End of Yamato
The Japanese battleship, Yamato, the largest warship ever built accompanied
by the light cruiser Yahagi and eight
destroyers, was dispatched to Okinawa on April 6, 1945, with no protective
air cover. So badly depleted was the
Japanese fleet by this time, Yamato was reported to carry only enough fuel
for a one-way trip to Okinawa. Her
mission: beach herself at Okinawa and fight until eliminated.
The American submarine Hackleback tracked her movements and alerted
carrier-based bombers. Vice Admiral Marc
Mitscher launched air strikes on April 7 at 10 a.m. The first hits on Yamato
were claimed by the carrier Bennington. San
Jacinto planes sunk the destroyer Hamakaze, with a bomb and torpedo hit.
The light cruiser Yahagi was hit by bombs and
went dead in the water.
For the next two hours, the Japanese force was under constant attack.
Already in a terrible list from interior flooding, Yahagi
sank at 2:23 p.m. after American carrier-based Hellcats and Avengers made
the final attack. Yamato took 12 bombs and
seven torpedo hits within two hours, finally blowing up and sinking. Three
accompanying destroyers were so badly damaged
they had to be scuttled. Four remaining destroyers could not return to Japan.
Of Yamato's crew of 2,747, all but 23 officers
and 246 enlisted men were lost. Yahagi lost 446; Asashimo lost 330; the
seven destroyers, 391 officers and men. There were
few Japanese survivors. Losses to the Americans were 10 planes and 12
men. This was the last Japanese naval action of the