Battle of Okinawa remembered 70 years on

Seventy years ago this Easter, US troops began the biggest land assault of the Pacific during World War Two on the island of Okinawa.

With only around half a million inhabitants, the Battle of Okinawa overwhelmed the tiny island as more than 1500 US naval vessels and just over the number of local people in US troops arrived.

For the American attackers, the battle was an operation of logistics as well as military strategy.

Historians suggest that the attack took more logistics, arms, troops and transport than that of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

The battle against the occupying Japanese forces claimed the highest number of casualties that had been experienced during the war in a single battle.

Since the battle took place in the final months of the war, Japanese troops were weary and tired so with the mass of US troops descending they drew back to a defense line on the south coast of the island.

As American troops advanced across the island, the Japanese commanders knew their battle was lost and they both committed suicide. The battle was declared a victory by US troops around three months after they first arrived.

In total more than 100,000 Japanese troops, around 100,000 civilians and 12,500 American troops were killed. Around half of American casualties were at sea in the ferocious naval battles. Around 40,000 American troops were wounded in the campaign.

Once the US military had claimed victory, the island formed a base for the ongoing advancement of American troops towards mainland Japan, which was only around 600kms away. Eventually there was no need for ground troops to continue their advance, since the US dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ensuring Japan’s surrender, the CNN reports.

America dropped the atomic bombs on Japan only six weeks after the Battle of Okinawa had ended.

The battle is commemorated across the island by memorials and preserved battle sites. For example, a Japanese observation post in the village of Nakagusuku still stands on a hilltop. It is made of cement with four large openings that look over the island and out to sea. Trenches and underground areas were built into the ground around the post.

The local government has made some of the sites sacred places of prayer, where people can go to reflect.

Back in the main city of Tomishiro, the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters still exists as a mass of tunnels that could house around 4000 men and where the Japanese troops made their final stand against incoming US troops.

Parts of the tunnel network are open to the public.

Meanwhile the Himeyuri Peace Museum features portraits of military officials and is dedicated to the students and teachers of the local high school, who acted as carers and hospital staff to treat Japanese soldiers during the battle.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE