THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA
By March 1945, Japan was a nation isolated and under siege, her once mighty Empire had now been reduced to a few unimportant and isolated island strongholds.
After a long and bitter campaign of reconquest, the Americans’ were preparing to assault the island of Okinawa, a mere three hundred and forty miles from mainland Japan. It’s capture was vital to secure airfields and deep water ports necessary for the inevitable invasion of Japan itself.
Set for April 1st, the American land elements would comprise the 10th Army of six divisions, four Army and two Marine, totaling 100,000 soldiers and 85,000 Marines under General Buckner.
This striking force would be supported by the formidable U.S. 5th fleet commanded by Admiral Spruance. The large armada consisted of eleven fleet, seven light and eighteen escort carriers with seven Battleships, seventeen heavy cruiser’s and eighty eight support ships.
The Allied British Pacific Fleet under Vice Admiral Rawlings would also contribute four light carriers, two Battleships, five heavy cruisers and thirty three supply ships.
Okinawa itself was sixty miles long and at points between, two and eighteen miles wide. She was also home to 450,000 Japanese civilian’s and would be defended by the 130,000 strong Japanese 32nd Army commanded by General Mitsuru Ushijima.
The American landings began at Hagushi Bay on the western side of the island on April 1st. From the outset waves of Kamikaze suicide attacks against the anchored American Navy began in ernest. The 7th Infantry and 1st Marine Divisions quickly cut across the island capturing the Yomitan and Kadena airfields with relative ease within hours of the landings.
General Buckner then ordered the 6th Marine Division to move north along the Ishikawa Isthmus. Encountering very little resistance, they succeed in capturing the towns of Atsuta and Nago, cutting off the retreating Japanese citizen militia within the Motobu Peninsula on April 8th.
Virtually unopposed the 6th Marine reached Hedo Point at the northern most tip of the island six days later. They then began to advance south east along the opposite side of the island until linking up with support units from the south at the town of Aha on the 19th, effectively occupying the entire island north of Hagushi Bay..
While 6th Marine cleared northern Okinawa with relative ease, it was in the south that the U.S. Army’s 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions began to encounter fierce resistance from the outset of the invasion. The 96th Infantry met up with strong Japanese forces dug in and around Shuri, while the 7th Infantry came up against heavily fortified Japanese defenders occupying the rocky heights dominating the approaches to Arakachi.
After heavy fighting U.S. forces had succeed in capturing both towns by the evening of April 9th. In eight days of fighting the Americans suffered over 2,000 battle casualties, where as their Japanese counterparts lost 6,000 dead. Yet the battle had only just begun, for the Allies now realized the Japanese had conceded the north of the Island and concentrated all their forces in the south.
The next American objective was Kakazu Ridge, comprising two immense hills which formed part of Shuri's outer defenses. The Japanese had prepared these positions well, they had dug fortified caves with camouflaged entrances which allowed them to be hidden until the Americans were just feet away before they opened up with their heavy machine guns.
As the American assault against Kakazu Ridge began to stall, General Ushijima decided to take the offensive. On the evening of April 12th the 32nd Army attacked U.S. positions across the entire front. The Japanese attack was heavy, sustained and well organized. After a night of bitter hard fighting, many times at close quarters and hand to hand, dawn began to break across the battlefield, prompting the Japanese to fall back.
Another Japanese assault on the night of April 14th was repulsed with heavy losses, this forced General Ushijima to cease all offensive operations and revert back to a more defensive strategy. General Buckner now prepared to seize the southern half of Okinawa. With three Infantry Divisions, the 27th on his right, the 96th in the center and the 7th on the left, Buckner assigned each division a mere 1.5 miles of front and awaited the Navy get into position.
On April 19th three hundred and twenty four naval guns (the largest ever in the Pacific theater of operation) heralded the opening phases of Buckner’s offensive. Battleships, Cruisers, and Destroyers opened the bombardment, which was quickly followed by 650 fighter aircraft pummeling the enemy positions with deadly effect
The Japanese defenders simply waited out the barrage within their caves and tunnels in relative safety only to emerge afterwards and open fire with mortars, grenades and heavy machine guns upon the unsuspecting Americans as they advanced up the forward slopes.
Tanks were now brought in to break the stalemate around Kakazu Ridge but failed to link up with its infantry support suffering fifty two tanks destroyed. After repeated attempts to break the Japanese line had failed, the end of April saw the Americans begin to receive much needed reinforcements. Three fresh Divisions the 1st and 77th Infantry along with the 6th Marines now reached the front.
While the Americans were preparing to resume their offensive, General Ushijima launched a surprise attack attempting to outflank the American positions on both the east and west coasts of the island. After some initial success the Japanese attack began to falter and heavy casualties forced Ushijima to once again call off the operation.
On May 3 General Buckner then launched a counterattack across the entire Japanese defensive line. After ten days of fierce fighting troops of the 96th Infantry Division captured Conical Hill, a position which gave the Americans an unhindered view of the entire Yonabaru plains below.
On the western coast the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions captured Sugar Loaf Hill which now exposed the Japanese left flank of the Shuri Line. Heavy fighting would continue until the coming monsoon rains prevented all future operations.
The heavy rains had turned the landscape into an impassable quagmire. The contested hills and valleys were saturated in mud and the roads impassable. Both armies now lived within fields sodden by rain and the unburied corpses of fellow comrade’s.
On May 29th after three days of shelling by the Battleship USS Mississippi, commander of the 1st Marine Division Major General Del Valle, ordered his men to capture the heights surrounding Shuri Castle. As the Americans advanced, General Ushijima ordered his 32nd Army to abandon the Shuri Line and withdrawal further south.
The Japanese retreat was conducted with great skill during the night and aided by the saturating rains. The 32nd Army was able to move 40,000 troops into its last defense line on the Kiyan Peninsula overlooking the Okinawa Naval Base.
On June 4th, elements of the 6th Marine Division launched an amphibious assault on the peninsula. After nine days of bitter fighting 5,000 Japanese sailors along with their commander Admiral Minoru Ota committed suicide within the tunnels of the underground Naval headquarters
After seventeen days of relentless attacks by land sea and air, Ushijima's shattered army was pushed into a small pocket in the far south of the island. The next day General Buckner was killed by enemy artillery fire while monitoring the forward progress of his troops. Buckner was replaced by General Joseph Stilwell who quickly resumed the offensive.
On June 21st, the last remnants of Japanese resistance ceased. General Ushijima committed suicide within his command headquarters on Hill 89 just hours before its capture. Sporadic fighting would continue until July 2nd, when the American high command declared Okinawa secure. Due to the carnage of the battle and the cleanup afterwards, the official surrender ceremony would not be held until the 7 of September
By the end of the eighty two day campaign, the Japanese 32nd Army lost 123,000 dead and 7,000 taken prisoner (The first time during the war a significant number had surrendered). The Japanese Imperial Navy lost sixteen Warships and 9,000 Sailors. The Kamikaze wing also suffered heavily with 4,000 pilots killed.
Okinawa was more heavily populated than most Pacific islands. The civilian population had been thoroughly indoctrinated with reports of American torture, brutality and mass murder. Of the 80,000 civilian casualties suffered, 52,000 were a direct result of suicide.
U.S. losses on Okinawa itself numbered 8,000 killed with 34,000 wounded. The Navy suffered thirty four ships sunk and three hundred and sixty damaged with 5,000 Sailors killed. The U.S. Naval Air Wing lost 763 aircraft (Most of which were destroyed during the Kamikaze Suicide attacks).
SUPER BATTLESHIP YAMATO
In desperation to be involved in the battle, the Imperial Japanese Navy drew up plans for an attack on the U.S. landing forces by a strike force consisting one heavy Cruiser, eight Destroyers and the Super Battleship Yamato led by Admiral Seiichi Ito.
It was also hoped that the Navy’s mission would also divert enemy aircraft away from the Air Force’s planned Kamikaze attacks on the U.S. fleet at Okinawa. With only just enough fuel to reach Okinawa itself, the Japanese flotilla departed the port of Kure on March 29th on what amounted to (In the eyes of all involved) a suicide mission
The submarine USS Threadfin sighted the Japanese force as it made its way through the Bungo Suido straights, it did not attack however choosing instead to shadow the warships and send detailed updates of thier course and speed to the U.S. 5th Fleet.
At dawn on April 7 USS Threadfin radioed Admiral Spruance the Japanese task force had passed the Osumi Peninsula and out into the open ocean steaming towards Okinawa.
At 10:00 am, Spruance ordered 400 U.S. aircraft from eight different carriers to launch an all out attack and sink the Japanese task force.
Around 12:00 noon American Hellcat and Corsair fighter aircraft arrived over the Yamato, they flew in circles anticipating Japanese aircraft to appear and defend the ships below, but after half an hour they realized the ships were sailing unescorted and gave the order for the U.S. dive bomber and torpedo planes to begin their attack runs.
The first wave of U.S. attacks began at 12:35pm, Admiral Ito ordered his ships to begin evasive maneuvers increasing speed to twenty five knots while zigzagging and firing all anti aircraft guns with Yamato herself armed with 150 heavy aircraft guns alone.
American torpedo planes were ordered to target Yamato and only from her port side that way it would prevent effective counter measure’s by the Japanese ballast crews.
Within twenty five minutes after the first wave began the Destroyer Isokaze and Cruiser Yahagi were struk by at least four torpedo’s and five bombs apiece. Yamato was hit by three armor piercing bombs which started a large fire aft of the superstructure.
Japanese Destroyers Suzutsuki and Hamakaze were both heavily damaged and withdrew from the battle. At 1:30pm, the second wave of U.S. aircraft attacked this time heavily concentrating on Yamato. She was struck on her port side by eight torpedo’s and received fifteen bomb hits. Ablaze and listing to port Yamato’s speed was greatly reduced to a mere 11mph.
At 2.05pm the Heavy Crusier Yahagi capsized and sank with the destroyer Hamakaze following soon after. Ten minutes later the American third wave of one hundred and ten aircraft arrived and began their attack runs.
Yamato started a sharp turn to port to face the oncoming assault but her slow speed allowed four torpedoes to rip into her port side amidships, jamming her auxiliary rudder in a position hard to port.
After being informed that the ship could no longer steer and was unavoidably sinking, Admiral Ito ordered the crew to abandon ship, and for the remaining Destroyers to abandon the mission.
At 2:30pm, Yamato was stopped dead in the water and began to capsize. Admiral Ito and Captain Aruga refused to abandon her as she slipped under the waves .At 2:40pm she suddenly blew up with an explosion so large it was reportedly seen and heard for a distance of one hundred miles.
As the battered remnants of the Japanese Task Force Attempted to make it back to port, the Destroyers Asashimo and Kasumi were hit by multiple bombs and sank. Despite having her bow completely blown off the Suzutsuki managed to make it back to Japan by steaming the entire way in reverse. The remaining three Japanese Destroyers Yukikaze, Fuyuzuki and Hatsushimo though all seriously damaged, also made it back to Japanese ports.
In all Operation Tengo cost the Japanese Imperial Navy five Warships sunk and three damaged beyond repair in addition to some 4,000 sailors killed including the task force commander Admiral Ito, in comparison to the miniscule American losses of ten planes and 12 airmen. After the battle, American vessels picked up and rescued an additional 1,600 Japanese naval personal.
YAMATO STRUCK BY BOMB
On April 6th 1945, all remaining wings of the Japanese Imperial Air Force launched Operation Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemums) directed against the U.S. 5th Fleet anchored within Hagushi Bay on the western side of Okinawa.
In attack formations numbering up to two hundred aircraft per wave, hundreds of Japanese planes began attacks focused on the American Carriers positioned at the center of the enemy fleet.
For the next nine straight days and nights the Kamikazes attacked in great numbers, severally damaging the U.S. Carriers Hancock, Intrepid and Enterprise while sinking numerous picket Destroyers.
On May 4th the British Carrier HMS Formidable was hit by a Kamikaze, eight crew members were killed and forty nine wounded. She was struck again on the 9th along with the carrier HMS Victorious and the Battleship HMS Howe.
On May 11th the commander of Task Force fifty eight, Admiral Marc Mitscher was aboard his Carrier flagship USS Bunker Hill when it was struck by a Kamikaze pilot killing three hundred and fifty sailors.
The effect of this new form of warfare on American morale was immediate and devastating. The surviving crew members were quickly becoming exhausted from standing 24 hour watches against potential future attacks.
Kamikaze attacks would continue throughout May and June with deadly effect. However by mid July the attacks became less fierce and more sporadic as the Japanese began to run out of operational aircraft and trained pilots.
The situation now became desperate as the Japanese High Command approved the enlistment of sixteen year old youths still attending aviation school, who were now instantly promoted, given their flight wings and assigned to the Kamikaze wing.
At this stage of the battle however, air worthy aircraft could no longer be found and the few which did get airborne were shot down well outside the American Destroyer pickets defensive zones.
By late July the entire Kamikaze operation was on the verge of collapse. When it became obvious that the Americans next target was Japan itself, all Kamikaze attacks were stopped in preparation for the anticipated defense of the Japanese Homeland.
For the loss of 4,000 brave Japanese pilots. The U.S. Navy suffered thirty four ships sunk and three hundred and sixty damaged with 5,000 Sailors killed. The U.S. Naval Air Wing also lost 763 aircraft (All of which were destroyed on their Carrier decks during the Kamikaze attacks).
USS BUNKER HILL
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