Did you know that Okinawa was the deadliest battle of the Pacific in World War II? Have you ever wondered how this battle got so gruesome and what the intent could possibly be? Maybe you’ve wondered how this battle was significant to both sides of the war. In this paper we will discuss why the American’s had to defeat the Japanese to control the war. This piece will also cover some of the maneuver tactics used to try to enter and win the battle causing this catastrophic operation. The key points we are going to elaborate on are the naval and air forces, the land forces, casualties, and the aftermath of the battle.
The Battle of Okinawa (also known as “Operation Iceberg“) was initiated because the Allied forces needed to try to neutralize the Japanese forces. At this point in World War II, the German forces were falling throughout all of Europe and retreating back to their homeland. The Allied forces were trying to hold the grounds they had secured and pressure the Germans to surrender. However, one the Pacific front, the Japanese were still a hindrance for the Allied forces as they tried to stop their advancement through the island hopping strategy.
Most of the Japanese were unaware of Okinawa being their last chance to stand up in the war. They didn’t even know that Japan was in danger of defeat. Japan had committed over 155,000 personnel to their campaign with a large majority under the command of Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima. Around October of 1944 the Americans made the final decision to attack the Japanese starting out with a large naval force. They were well aware of the fact that they’d need a large size fleet. The armada they rounded up to bombard Okinawa is still today the largest in the history of American warfare. The entire operation was ommanded by the Navy.
Admiral Raymond Spruance was responsible for the command during this brutal battle. To add on to the extravagantly sized Navy force, the Americans also had 2 Marine and 2 Army Divisions prepared to invade Okinawa. They chose to start in Okinawa because it possessed the bulk of air bases that the Japanese had. If the Allies could destroy their air forces, it would cause a huge impact on the Japanese methods to retaliate or attack. The strategic view the Allies had to overcome the Japanese was outlined into 4 essential phases that the Navy, Army, and Marines partnered in.
The first phase consisted of the advancement to the East coast of Okinawa. The second phase was based on clearing the north to secure that flank. Next, they needed to neutralize and secure all of the outlining islands of Okinawa. These 3 phases were done in no more than a week timeframe. Finally, to finish off the Japanese forces the American troops would have to fight their way through all of Okinawa. This final phase took up the majority of the over 80 long days of battle. At this point the Japanese will be in a defensive state fighting for their last chance to survive in World War II.
Prior to the invasion of Okinawa, the island was softened with seven days of shelling by Navy ships with approximately 13,000 rounds. On the morning of April 1st, Navy Ships fired a bombardment of 44,825 shells. There were no Japanese soldiers on the beaches, however, as they made no attempt to defend them from the naval attack. Masahide Ota, the author of “Battle of Okinawa”, was a high school student on the island at the time of the invasion. He described it as “the typhoon of steel and bombs! ” This shelling, conducted by the U. S. Navy, was the beginning of Operation Iceberg; an invasion force consisting of 183,000 troops of the U. S. Tenth Army and Marine Divisions, in which the U. S. Navy was to support.
American aircraft carriers were stationed for as long as their aircraft could support. Operation Iceberg was assembled and launched under the authority of Admiral Nimitz, and was considered the greatest amphibious invasion force of the Pacific War. The British Pacific Fleet was assigned the task of neutralizing the Japanese Airfields, in which it held great success. Known to the U. S. orces as Task Force 57, they occupied waters around the Sakishima Islands from March 26th to April 10th, 1945, helping to defend Allied forces from air attack in Okinawa. Although this was common for the U. S. Navy, this was the longest a Royal Naval Fleet had been maintained at sea.
On May 4th, the BPF returned, reducing airfields as before, with Naval and Air bombardment. Although attacked kamikaze pilots, it provided for only a brief interruption. The Japanese dispatched 400 fighter planes on 6 April to launch kamikaze attacks on American invasion forces and ships, landing heavy damage. The U. S. ountered with carrier planes and devastating anti-aircraft fire, resulting in over 300 planes lost by the Japanese. That night the Japanese launched the last of their naval fleet. Planes of Task Force 58 met them on the morning of April 7th, and using bombing and torpedo attacks, sank the battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese fleet, and several other ships. This destruction to the Japanese Fleet had finished their Navy off for good. Prior to the American invasion, the Japanese launched Operation Ten’ichigo, also known as “Ten-Go”. It was a massive naval suicide attack led by the Battleship Yamato.
The operation was commanded by Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito. There were three major obligations by Ito. First, there was a total absence of air cover when American aircraft controlled the air, meaning early detection of the fleet. Second; the small 10 ship fleet of the Japanese would be easily destroyed by a 60+ ship fleet of the Americans. Lastly; the timing of the battle meant a daytime engagement, when Ito preferred night-time engagements. Ito was overruled by superiors, and he accepted the duty as the task force commander.
He communicated to his men that “the fate of the homeland rests on this operation. The goal of Operation Ten’ichigo was to sail into the American fleet and cause as much damage as possible. If they couldn’t inflict that damage they were to beach themselves and become shore batteries, while sailors disembarked and became infantry. As a last effort, the Yamato was to draw as much attention from American aircraft so that Operation Kikusui would confront less resistance. Although Operation Ten’ichigo was meant to be a one-way cruise, the ships had enough fuel to make a return trip, despite popular belief. This fact was hidden from Officers and Sailors.
Operation Kikusui involved about 800 Navy and 600 Army aircraft. Ten waves launched between April and June 1945 caused over 30 American vessels to be destroyed and 368 damaged, killing over 5,000 sailors. This was the most substantial loss seen by the U. S. Navy in the Pacific War. As land battle progressed, Allied Naval vessels were subjected to countless and relentless kamikaze attacks. The Japanese flew approximately 1,900 missions, sinking mostly amphibious vehicles and a destroyer. Throughout the battle, the British carriers proved to be more resilient to kamikaze attacks due to their armored flight decks.
After the naval attack, American ground troops came in to force the enemy from the island. Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyus islands located at the southern tip of Japan and was of vital strategic importance to the Allies. Besides being the last stepping-stone geographically to mainland Japan, it contained four airfields that the Allies needed to control. Their objectives would include denying Japan’s use of these airbases, and of course using them for their own purposes such as staging for an invasion of the mainland.
America’s estimate of Japanese troop strength was greatly underestimated (65,000 instead of 110,000) as well as a civilian population that often aided the Japanese army. Japanese’ Lieutenant General Ushijima had been ordered to hold onto the island at all costs and fight to the death, which for the most part they did. Ushijima would concentrate his forces in the southern sector of the island and station his men in a series of secure fortifications. In order to take these fortifications the Americans would have to attack the Japanese in a series of frontal assaults.
The Japanese high command put so much faith in the kamikaze attacks that they felt the casualties on the Americans would make the their enemy retreat. The Americans had entrusted Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner to lead the invasion, who had 180,000 men under his command. The bay selected for the American landing was Hagushi Bay on the western side of the island. The landings were preceded by a period of intense bombardment but American forces were prepared to attack Japanese fighters flving out of Taiwan or lapan as well.
Even though the attack on Okinawa was scheduled for April 1st 1945, a preliminary landing by the Americans was set in order to secure an anchorage by March 31st. The landing force, comprising of the 77th Division, secured its position in time to kick off the battle. The first landing of Marines took place on time the following day. They met little opposition, and by the end of the day 60,000 American military personnel had landed at Hagushi Bay. By April 20th, all Japanese resistance in the north of the island had ceased to exist except for some guerrilla activity.