The Island Experience: The Battle for Okinawa: April 1 – June 21, 1945
By Major Bruce Gudmundsson
On April 1, 1945 â€“ a day that was both Easter Sunday and April Foolsâ€™ Day that year â€“ four American divisions landed on the Hagushi beaches on Okinawa. Finding little or no opposition, the men of these divisions moved inland as quickly as they could. Towards the end of the day, they set up a defensive perimeter and prepared for the worst. The many veterans of previous island battles in these divisions were all too familiar with the Japanese fondness for attacking at night, and so took considerable pains to ensure that their units dug fighting positions, set up fields of fire, brought up heavy weapons, and made preparations for the employment of concentrated artillery fire.
When the night attacks failed to materialize, the Americans were greatly relieved. They remained, however, extremely cautious. And so the events of the first day were repeated for three more days â€“ rapid advance to preselected points, followed by digging in for the night. What the Americans did not know was that the Japanese decision not to attack was a function of their lack of a common vision for the conduct of operations on Okinawa. Colonel Yahara, the chief proponent of a purely defensive battle, had responded to the American landing on the Hagushi beaches by pointing out the possibility of a second American landing on the southeast coast of the island. Because of this danger, he argued, the Japanese could not afford to launch a largescale counterattack. When, on April 4, an American amphibious task force appeared off of that coast and began to load Marines into landing craft, his caution was vindicated. For the time being, the influence of the senior advocate of aggressive counterattacks, General Cho, was considerably reduced.
On April 8, the two US Army divisions that had landed on the southern portion of the Hagushi beaches â€“ the 7th Infantry Division and the 96th Infantry Division â€“ ran into the outermost ring of the Japanese defenses. Up to this point, almost all of the Japanese units in the path of the rapidly advancing Americans had been following orders to delay and harass the advancing Americans, but not to try to hold on to any particular piece of ground. Indeed, resistance had been so light that many Americans â€“ including a number of generals â€“ had begun to think that the battle was over. As American tanks fell prey to hidden antitank guns, officers were hit by snipers, and whole squads found themselves caught in sophisticated crossfires at the bottom of ravines, this bit of wishful thinking soon evaporated. For the American fighting men who had landed on Okinawa, the battle had just begun. Unfortunately for them, it was a battle for which they were poorly prepared.
The training of the US Army and Marine divisions that served on Okinawa had focused on three types of tactical enterprise â€“ landings on hostile beaches, patrols through contested jungle, and the seizure of defended hilltops. In the first few days of the operation, the skills associated with the amphibious landings and jungle warfare were of some utility. Among other things, they helped the American infantrymen and Marines to quickly overrun those parts of Okinawa that the Japanese had declined to defend in force. Mastery of the third sort of tactical undertaking, however, was worse than a waste of training time, for it actually increased the vulnerability of the Americans to the traps that the Japanese had set for them.