How the First Night Vision Scope Influenced the Outcome at Okinawa

(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

A majority of the globe’s major powers fought in World War II and their combined efforts led to rapid advances in technology. Each country involved in the conflict was looking for any edge they could get and the United States found a major victory in the creation of night-vision technology. The night vision scope, in fact, became a key component for American troops during the Battle of Okinawa.

Forces in World War II treated fighting at night differently

Soldiers defend the airspace at night during World War II
Soldiers defend the airspace at night during World War II (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Military forces knew that they could garner a significant advantage if they attacked enemy combatants at night. It was easier said that done, though, and some armies were better at it than others.

The Russians regularly fought at night. This was not, however, due to any special skill for their fighters. The Russians simply had such massive numbers that they could regularly push an increasing number of troops into service. Germans often moved their forces at night due to the clear superiority of the Allied’s air power.

The Japanese Excelled at night fighting

Japanese soldiers wade in the Pacific during World War II
Japanese soldiers wade in the Pacific during World War II (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Japanese loved to fight at night. And they were excellent at it. Their forces were able to sneak into camps at night and slit the throats of their enemies. This tactic not only took out combatants but also worked to strike fear into any army doing battle against them.

The United States wanted to fight back against the Japanese Army’s night-time superiority. That began to take care of itself over time. As the Japanese forces suffered losses, the newer troops that replaced the veterans weren’t as skilled at night-time raids.

The Americans fought back by using technology. One way was via microphones which were placed by camp areas to amplify the sound of approaching enemies. Scientists in the states were also working on a new idea that would drastically turn the tables on the Japanese.

Scientists in America were working on technology to improve US chances

A US soldier holds a rifle outfitted with a night-vision scope
A US soldier holds a rifle outfitted with a night-vision scope (Image via defenseimagery.mil)

The German Army was the first to introduce night-vision technology during World War II. The Nazis were most interested in using night-vision to aid their tanks. Lighting devices were outfitted on the top of Panther tanks. By the end of the conflict, the Germans had outfitted more than 50 tanks with the devices.

The Americans also hoped to use night-vision to help their soldiers but placed the scopes on their guns rather than on tanks. Named the M1 or M3 and nicknamed “sniperscopes” or “snooperscopes,” the devices could be attached to M16 rifles. By using the scopes, soldiers could illuminate targets that were up to 70 yards away. And the illumination was only visible through the scope. The devices made their first appearance in the Pacific Theatre in 1943.

Night vision helped Allied forces win in Okinawa

A US soldier comes under fire during the Battle of Okinawa
A US soldier comes under fire during the Battle of Okinawa (Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Battle of Okinawa began in April of 1945. With the Allied forces close to winning the war, the Imperial Japanese Army was becoming increasingly desperate. The battle saw the Japanese increase their kamikaze tactics. Nearly 2,000 Japanese schoolchildren aged 14-17 were pressed into service. With an opponent with nothing to lose, the Americans needed any edge they could get. And night-vision technology provided a major edge.

Around 200 scopes made it to American hands during the Battle of Okinawa, mostly affixed to T3 carbines. And they were used to devastating effect. Around 110,000 Japanese and Okinawan conscripts were killed during the battle. According to estimates, 30% of them were killed by soldiers who were equipped with night-vision technology.

The Battle of Okinawa ended on June 22nd of 1945. After deciding that the battles had become too costly in terms of manpower loss, the US chose to move to other tactics. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed less than 2 months later, leading to the total Japanese surrender.

Night vision is now standard for American troops

A US soldiers uses night-vision goggles in Afghanistan
A US soldier uses night-vision goggles in Afghanistan (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

Similar technology to that used in the Pacific Theatre was again used during the Korean War. The Vietnam War saw rapid advancements and Generation 1 was developed. Generations 2 and 3 soon followed.

More advancements followed, with noise-canceling effects, panoramic vision, and the use of thermal imaging. Today, night-vision technology is regularly employed by US forces. They aren’t the only ones using the technology. The Russian Federation has regularly come up with models since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. Most NATO countries, including the US, currently use the PVS-7D night-vision goggle.