The island of Okinawa represented a grand strategic map marker for both the Allies and the Japanese. She was the last stop before the Japanese mainland and all sides were prepared for the slugfest to follow. In all their suicidal and fanatical glory, the Japanese valiantly defended the island against the countless American assaults and casualties mounted on both sides. In the end, overwhelming material, substantial firepower and true grit triumphed as the island fell into the ultimate control of the Allies.
The Allies drew up what was, to date, the largest amphibious assault, this encompassing both elements of the US Marines and US Army along with US Navy support by both sea and air. Some 550,000 people are involved and of these, 180,000 were soldiers - many experienced from the island-hopping campaigns prior. The landings were softened to an extent by previous artillery shelling and coordinated air strikes across the island so the initial landings were greeted without much issue - this was, however, more due to the 85,000 Japanese defenders having concentrated their positions inland. On one side was American Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner and on the other, Japanese Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushjima.
The grand battleship, IJN Yamato - the largest and most powerful battleship ever built, was sent to the battle in what would turn out to be nothing more than a suicidal gesture. She sailed with a small contingent of warships and no air cover whatsoever - Japanese air power having been substantially reduced by this point in the war. The vessel was first spotted by American submarines operating in the area and further pinpointed by US Navy reconnaissance aircraft on April 7th. Some 380 US Navy warplanes are sent aloft to stop her.
With no air support of her own, the Japanese sailors put up a net of anti-aircraft fire that only serves a limited purpose. US Navy airmen find pickings to be relatively easy once the AA guns are managed. The Yamato is repeatedly hit where she sits until her magazine stores catch fire and explode. Her internal flooding forces her to roll over in all her smoking glory until she is officially lost to the sea with most of her crew. Her grave is marked some 200 miles off the Okinawa shore, well short of her mission target zone.
The Kamikaze - suicidal Japanese airmen on a one way trip - are launched against US Navy vessels off Okinawa, netting some 34 total ships by the time the damage is counted. While a tremendous psychological tool, the actions proved fruitless overall and cost the lives of both valuable pilots and machines. Many were shot down by the umbrella of American AA fire supporting each naval vessel and plunged harmlessly into the sea.
Ferocious fighting continued inland on Okinawa as the Japanese fought for every square inch of rock. Casualties mounted for both sides though the Americans maintained the "healthier" advantage for lack of a better term. The weather across the island worsened for a time and offensives were stalled. During this lull, the Japanese forces had retreated further while still repelling the American assaults. A final defensive position was erected at the southern tip of the island, each Japanese soldier knowing he will be killed or captured from this moment on.
By June 17th, the Japanese defenders had been divided into three major assault groups by the American progress. This yielded singularity in actions by each remaining defensive force and no coordinated actions could take place. Lieutenant General Buckner signaled for a final surrender of Lieutenant General Ushjima and his men before he is unexpectedly killed by a Japanese shell while inspecting his 8th Marine. However, honor prevails over surrender and Ushjima and his staff commit ritual suicide after relaying the results of the battle to Tokyo headquarters. Though bested by his American counterpart, Ushjima ironically survives him by a full week.
The Battle of Okinawa is officially over. With it came the victory that the Allies would need in the final conquest of Japan proper - a staging area within striking distance of the Japanese mainland. The cost is high but the victory is permanent and the beginning of the end for the Japanese war machine is now.
The stage was set for the end of the Japanese Empire. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (27) entries in the Timeline of the Battle of Okinawa (April 1st - June 22nd, 1945). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.