Contents - Hirohito's War
35 The Battle of Okinawa: Slaughter of the Innocents
[April 1945–August 1945]
[Maps: 35.1, 35.2, 35.3]
The ‘Fag End’ Battle for Okinawa (p 991) Spruance’s Raid on Kyushu and the Invasion Plans (p 992) Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner and the Invasion Plans (p 994) The Japanese Army Deployment on Okinawa (p 994) Bombardment and Landing (p 996) Air Battle over Okinawa (p 998) Marine and Army Dissension (p 1001) Hirohito’s Displeasure and New Kamikaze Weapons (p 1002) The British Pacific Navy (p 1002) Battleship Yamato’s Suicide Mission (p 1004) Roosevelt Dies as the Marines Advance (p 1007) The Japanese Army’s Last Stand (p 1009) Atrocities on Okinawa (p 1011)
The ‘Fag End’ Battle for Okinawa: The battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest battle fought by the US Army in World War II. American casualties, though small by the standards of the battles of the war on the Chinese mainland, were the highest of any engagement in which they were involved in the Pacific War; they were double the more famous Battle of Iwo Jima. Compared to other battles in Europe and much smaller engagements in the Pacific, the Battle of Okinawa has tended to be ignored. By 1 April 1945, when US soldiers waded ashore on the flat lower western flanks of the island, it was known that America would win the war, but not when it would win the war.
After the decision to support MacArthur’s campaign to take the main Philippine island of Luzon and the country’s capital, Manila, rather than leapfrog the island as many had recommended, it was decided to isolate Formosa and advance instead on Okinawa. It was the largest of the Ryukyu Islands that formed a necklace stringing together Japan’s major southern island of Kyushu with its colony Formosa. Okinawa offered significant advantages as a stepping-stone to the invasion of Japan’s main home islands. It was just 400 miles from the coast of Kyushu, which was less than half the distance from Formosa. At between two and eighteen miles wide, Okinawa was a long, thin island sixty miles in length with prominent protrusions. Covering a not insubstantial 877 square miles, Okinawa had space for seven airfields from which the American Air Force could pound Japanese cities and defense capabilities. Moreover Okinawa boasted harbors and a safe anchorage capable of housing the now vast American fleet. Perhaps most importantly however, in spite of the Navy’s Chief of Staff, Admiral King’s preference for Formosa, neither Nimitz nor General Buckner believed that the US possessed the resources to land and defeat what was in effect a full-scale Japanese field army that was based there. By contrast Okinawa was a more manageable target.
Whatever the now overwhelming odds in the Allies’ favor, achieved by their force of arms in earlier engagements, battles still had to be won on the ground. Okinawa was no different. Japan had not given up the fight. Imperial Japanese Command, although it was thoroughly aware that the war was lost, nevertheless believed that there was a lot still to fight for; losses could be exacted from the invading US Army in Okinawa, which would make US politicians believe that a peace agreement on negotiated terms was preferable to an attempted invasion and conquest of the big four islands of Kyushu, Honshu,