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The Battle of Okinawa
The Last Battle

The Battle for Okinawa was the last battle of World War II. The capture of the island was part of a three-point plan to win the war in the Far East. Okinawa was a bloody battle, even by the standards of the war in the Far East, and it was to be one of the major battles of World War II.

To facilitate the territorial re-conquest of land in the Far East, the Americans sought to destroy what was left of Japan's merchant fleet and to capture airstrips in the region in order to launch bombing raids on Japan's industrial heartland.

Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyus islands at the southern tip of Japan. It is approximately 60 miles long and between two and 18 miles wide. Its strategic importance was undeniable -– there were four airfields on the island that America sought to control.

The U. S. had not been able to gather much intelligence about Okinawa. The Americans estimated that there were about 65,000 Japanese troops on the island, with the bulk in the southern sector. In fact, there were more than 130,000 Japanese troops on the island along with more than 450,000 civilians. The Japanese troops were commanded by Lieutenant-General Ushijima who had been ordered to hold onto the island at all costs.

Ushijima decided on his tactics -– he would concentrate his forces in the southern sector of the island and station his men in a series of secure fortifications. If the Americans wanted to take these fortifications, they would have to attack the Japanese in a series of frontal assaults. In addition, the Japanese high command believed that kamikazes attacks would inflict such extensive casualties on the Americans that they would retreat.

The U. S. land commander was Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner. He had 180,000 men under his command. He selected Hagushi Bay on the western side of the island for the main landing. As with Iwo Jima, the landing was preceded by a period of intense bombardment. At the same time, America's forces were open to attack from Japanese fighters flying out of Taiwan and Japan itself.

The main attack on Okinawa was scheduled for 1 April 1945. In the days leading up to this, the Americans landed some units twenty miles southwest of Hagushi Bay to secure an anchorage. By 31 March, this landing force had secured its position.

The Japanese launched Kamikaze attacks on the American navy anchored off Okinawa. Out of 193 kamikaze planes that attacked the American fleet, 169 were destroyed. The planes that did get through caused a great deal of damage, especially to America's carrier fleet that did not have armoured flight decks (unlike the British carriers). However, the destruction of such a large percentage of kamikaze planes did a great deal to undermine the potential damage that the kamikazes were able to inflict.

USS Bunker Hill is hit by two kamikaze planes

For the land invasion, the U. S. assembled 300 warships and another 1,139 vessels. On 1 April the main landing of the Marines began. They met little opposition, and by the end of the day 60,000 American military personnel had landed at Hagushi Bay. By 20 April, nearly all Japanese resistance in the north of the island had been extinguished.

The real battle for Okinawa was in the south of the island. On 4 April the XIV Corps (US 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th infantry divisions) ran into the Machinato line. This halted the advance of the Americans in the south of Okinawa. The Machinato line was finally breached on 24 April. However, U. S. forces then faced the Shuri Line, which further slowed their advance. This, combined with the kamikaze attacks that sunk 21 American warships and badly damaged 66 others, caused heavy losses for the American forces.

On 3 May, Ushijima ordered a counter-attack, but this failed. By 21 May, Ushijima ordered his men to pull back from the Shuri Line. However, resistance by the Japanese remained strong. It was well into June before it was clear that the Japanese had lost the fight for Okinawa. On 2 July, Okinawa was declared secure by the Americans.

On 22 June Sixth Division Marines raise the flag on Okinawa

The attack on Okinawa took a heavy toll on both sides. On land, the Americans lost 7,373 men killed and 32,056 wounded. At sea, the Americans lost 5,000 killed and 4,600 wounded. The Japanese lost 107,000 killed and 7,400 men taken prisoner. It is possible that the Japanese lost another 20,000 dead when Japanese troops were incinerated where they fought.

The Americans also lost 36 ships with another 368 ships damaged. In addition, 763 aircraft were destroyed. The Japanese lost 16 ships and more than 1,000 aircraft.

from "The Battle of Okinawa"
on The History Learning Site