Okinawa: A Bloody Prelude to Victory
By Hunter Scott
The â€œTyphoon of Steel,â€ as the locals called the shower of bullets, was the largest amphibious assault during the Pacific campaign of World War II. As the largest island in the Ryukyu archipelago, Okinawa hosted the bloodiest battle of the Pacific from April until June. During those three months over 200,000 people died, nearly half of them civilians, and many more were wounded. More troops were employed, more bombs were dropped and more supplies were transported in Okinawa than in any other battle in the Pacific.
The invasion began on April 1, 1945 when 60,000 American troops from the U.S. 10th Army led by Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner, the 3rd Amphibious Corps comprised of the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions under Maj. General Roy S. Geiger, and Task Force 51 commanded by Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner stormed the beaches to meet minimal beachfront resistance from the Japanese. The Japanese had pulled their troops inland in attempt to avoid casualties that might result from the overwhelming firepower from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. By the end of the first day the American troops had maneuvered their way three miles inland, covering a nine mile-wide spread. The Japanese had buried themselves in trenches and caves in the heart of the island.
By the end of Saturday, April 2, kamikazes had already struck the USS West Virginia and several U.S. transport vessels. Not until day three of the invasion did American troops start to confront the masses of Japanese infantry hidden in the island. Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the Japanese 32nd Army, was in charge of meeting the invasion. It was his plan to hide the troops within the island to repel the attack from a position of strength.
Throughout the next few weeks Americans continued to push forward through the island while the Japanese continued their kamikaze attacks. On Apr. 20, the 3rd Amphibious Corps captured the Motobu Peninsula and the northern part of the island. The next day the U.S. 77th Infantry Division captured Ie Shima. By the end of the first month of fighting over 5,000 Japanese had been killed.
The main battle was fought in the southern part of Okinawa in Shuri. Gen. Ushijima had anticipated this attack and had combined his forces there to counteract the 3rd Amphibious Corps. On Saturday, May 12, the Japanese forces were able to fend off the 1st Marine Division and the U.S. 77th Division, but not for long. Slowly but steadily American forces came back to push their way through the Shuri lines. One week later, the 6th Marine Division conquered Sugar Loaf Hill, and on May 21, the Japanese troops begin to retreat from the Shuri line. At the end of the week, on the 27th, Japanese aircraft commenced a two-day strike of the Alliesâ€™ naval vessels surrounding the island. One hundred Japanese planes were shot down while only one American destroyer was sunk. The attacks proved to be unsuccessful.
At the beginning of June, the 6th Marine Division began its assault on the Oroku Peninsula. Japanese forces offered a fierce resistance, but the airstrip there was eventually captured and Japanese forces suffered devastating losses. With the securing of Oroku, the Japanese started committing suicide en masse in order to avoid surrender.
The end of June brought about defeat of the Imperial Army and the suicide of Gen. Ushijima. When the â€œmop-upâ€ operations had finished on the island, the number of Japanese soldiers killed amounted to 8,975. Almost 3,000 Japanese prisoners had been taken. On the American side, the battle for Okinawa was the costliest in human lives in the entire Pacific war, with 12,520 servicemen killed. In the end a total of 110,000 Japanese died in a futile effort to hold onto the island.
The battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest of the war, taking more civilian lives (many were the result of suicides) than any other battle in the Pacific. The men who fought in Okinawa are as brave as can be found during the war. They overcame an underestimated Japanese army to produce an important, final victory in World War II for the Americans and Allied forces.