The Battle of Okinawa, fought on the island of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands (south of the four big islands of Japan) was the largest amphibious assault during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It was the largest sea-land-air battle in history, running from April through June, 1945.
No one on either side expected it to be the last major battle of the war, which it was. The Americans were planning Operation Downfall, the invasion of the main islands, which never happened due to the controversial decision to use the atomic bomb.
The reference by Feifer (below) has much to say of Okinawa and how it influenced the end of the war — and the decision to use "The Bomb."
At some battles such as Iwo Jima, there had been no civilians, but Okinawa had a large indigenous civilian population, and the civilian loss in the Typhoon of Steel was at least 130,000. American losses were were over 72,000 casualties, of whom 12,000 were killed or missing, over twice Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined.
About a quarter of the civilian, and Japanese and American populations about the island in spring 1945 were killed. There were about 100,000 Japanese killed or captured; many preferred suicide to the disgrace of capture.
The battle has landed in a strange black hole, as far as the United States in concerned. The war was over (or nearly over at the outset) in Europe; the end in Japan was in sight, and American's were returning to peacetime pursuits; president Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, the end of an era. The horrific carnage often draws blank stares from Americans.
The land campaign was controlled by 10th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner.
The army had two corps under its command, III Amphibious Corps, consisting of 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, with 2nd Marine Division as an afloat reserve, and XXIV Corps, consisting of the 7th, 27th, 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions.
At the very end of the campaign, Buckner was killed by ricocheting shell fragments, becoming one of the most senior US casualties in the entire war.
Before this battle, an evacuation ship called Tsushima-maru was sunk by a U.S. submarine and many schoolchildren were killed.
Shortly before the battle, the Japanese warship the Yamato, the mightiest warship ever built, was sunk by American air power on her trip to Okinawa. Widespread rumors that the ship was only given enough fuel for a one-way trip are false; Feifer debunks this (references).
The battle took place over about 82 days after April 1, 1945. The American's wept across the thin part of the south-central part of the island with little difficulty, soon taking the entire north, and Kadena Air Base, which at present writing (August, 2003) is still the largest American air base in Asia.
For truly detailed information on the battle, and detailed discussions of bloodbaths like Sugar Loaf Hill, one must consult deeper references. Fighting in the south was hardest, the skillful Japanese soldiers hiding in caves, but the American advance was inexorable.
The island fell on about June 21, though some Japanese continued fighting, including the future governer of Okinawa Prefecture, Masahide Ota.
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