The battle on the Island of Okinawa commenced just a few weeks before Germany’s surrender. This was the last major battle of World War II on the Pacific front. Okinawa was to be the last stop of the Allied forces before the attack on Japan. This event, on April 1st, 1945, would set the stage for the Pacific Theater’s largest amphibious battle.
The plan was to capture the Kadena airbase at Okinawa from where Operation Downfall would be launched at Japanese home islands. When the American troops landed on the Island of Okinawa, aided by the Navy’s 5th fleet, they were divided into divisions.
The soldiers who went towards the Southern part of the Island were unaware of the Japanese defense troops lying in wait for them. As they moved inland into a part of the Okinawa Island called “Shuri,” they encountered a defense triangle set up by the commander, General Ushijima. This defense was to later be known as the “Shuri defense Line.”
When the Japanese troops finally launched their attack on the American troops, a fierce battle ensued which resulted in the loss of thousands of soldiers on both sides. The Americans finally captured Shuri in late May.
After Shuri was captured, US troops proceeded to take over Kakazu ridge and break down all of Shuri’s outer defenses permanently. The Japanese proved their tenacity and put up a huge fight for what seemed at the time to be their last line of defense. It was not an easy fight and both sides incurred many casualties.
Japanese soldiers resorted to hiding in fortified caves and sending civilians out for supplies. This made it harder for the Americans to fight the soldiers and also resulted in high civilian casualties, but the US troops were relentless. On three occasions, the Japanese went on the offensive and attacked the Allied troops. But after the third attack, the Japanese concluded they were no match for US firepower and retreated to their defensive position.
On the northern side of the island, the Kadena and Yomitan airbases were captured within hours after the landing. This was a great feat for the American troops. As a result of this success, the second stage of the operation was initiated and Northern Okinawa was immediately captured. The Motobu peninsula, which was the center of Japan’s defense, was seized by Allied forces.
The Japanese put up a heavy fight at Yaedake, but by the 18th of April, even Yaedake was cleared. On May 24th, a group of Japanese commandos was sent to Yomitan to recapture the air base. They were eventually killed, but not before the loss of 2 Americans, about 70,000 gallons of fuel, and nine aircraft.
On the 4th of April, Kamikaze attacks were ordered on US forces causing tremendous damage to the Fifth Fleet. The fleet lost 36 ships, 4,900 men, and 763 aircraft. There was also a significant number of damaged ships and additional wounded men from the attacks.
On the 7th of April, the Japanese battleship Yamato launched it’s own suicide attack intended to cripple the Fifth Fleet and eliminate the American troops at the Shuri defense line. The fleet was alerted by submarines and it went on the offensive. Battleship Yamato sank, along with most of its crew.
The battle lasted eighty-one days, and by the time it ended, it was the bloodiest battle of the War at the Pacific Front. It is difficult to ascertain an accurate number of deaths at the battle of Okinawa. However, the peace monument which stands at the commemorative museum in Okinawa lists over 500,000 deaths total.
The Americans lost Lt. General Simon B. Buckner who was killed by Japanese artillery fire. The day after that, Brigadier Gen. Claudius M. Easley was killed on Le Shima Island by a machine gun.
Due to the propaganda spread by the Americans and the rumor that Americans never took hostages, most Japanese soldiers took their own lives and the result was the surrender of Japan after the battle. Because the actual invasion of Japan never occurred, it is difficult for Allied forces to take credit for the surrender.
The Kadena air base remains the biggest US airbase in Asia to this day.