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Shellings, amphibious assault launch Okinawa Battle

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-04-07

Sixty years ago Monday, 60,000 American troops began an attack the Okinawans labeled tetsu no boru, meaning rain of steel.

As the two Army and two Marine Divisions swarmed ashore on Okinawa’s northwest side, no one had any idea it was to be the final battle. And by the time it was over in June 1945, tens of thousands would be dead on Okinawa, but hundreds of thousands saved by Japan’s decision to surrender before an attack on the mainland.

The Battle of Okinawa began April 1st, when ten U.S. battleships, nine cruisers, 23 destroyers and escort ships, and more than 100 lighter gunboats packing rockets began an all out shelling of Okinawa. All told, more than 1,300 ships were on the front lines ringing the island. The mission was to soften the beaches and set the 100,000 Japanese troops off balance.

That same day, Japan’s Imperial Navy directed its battleship Yamato, the largest warship ever built, to sail into Okinawa port waters, beach itself and conduct offensive operations against the U.S. On this date 60 years ago, the effort failed as the U.S. Navy’s Admiral Marc Mitscher launched attacks from the American Carrier Bennington on the Yamato and its support ships. When that battle ended, more than 4,000 Japanese were killed. U.S. casualties were the loss of ten planes and 12 men.

Japanese knew the attack on Okinawa was coming; they’d been preparing nearly as long as the Americans. “Operation Iceberg” was initiated in late 1944, an invasion of Okinawa that was to open the door to full attacks on mainland Japan. Okinawa was crucial real estate for both sides.
Easter Sunday 1945 saw more than 180,000 troops pressed the attack from B-29 bombers, ships and ground units. The bombers had begun their work months earlier, totally demolishing Okinawa’s capital city of Naha.

Despite having more than 100,000 troops defending Okinawa, General Mitsuru Ushijima and his 32nd Army opted not to engage the invading Americans in the Kadena-Chatan area, choosing instead to firmly establish defensive perimeters further south. His troops were dug in on hillsides and in caves, seeking protection from the massive firepower being brought against them.

As history looks back, the Battle of Okinawa was a four phase operation, with the invasion April 1st leading to an advance from west to east coast during the first four days. The mission to clear out Japanese Army forces from the northern side of Okinawa took several weeks. Under the operational command of U.S. Army Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. Buckner was to die before the campaign ended, a killed by an artillery shell as he personally surveyed the front lines.

By April 18th, much of northern Okinawa was in American hands. A secondary arm of the invasion was capturing and occupying the outer islands of the Ryukyu chain, which was an ongoing mission even after the fighting stopped.

It was bloody. Historians rank the Battle of Okinawa as the most horrific battle of World War II. More than 12,000 Americans died, including nearly 5,000 sailors, and another 36,000 were wounded. Okinawa’s civilian population fell victim to the wages of war, as more than 130,000 were killed during the three-month conflict.

The majority of Okinawans were not killed by Americans, however. The majority were victims of suicide, spurred by rumors spread by Japanese Imperial Army and Navy troops that the Americans would torture its captives.

As April turned to May, the relentless attacks pressed south, with Japanese forces changing tactics and positions nearly daily. Troops slogged through mud from monsoons, and trudged up hills now well known as Sugar Loaf, Sugar Hill, Strawberry Hill and Chocolate Drop.
It was a long and bloody Spring.

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