A four-day battle involving Marine air and artillery and naval gunfire support reduced the enemy force of 1, and opened the door for the final northern push, which was completed on April Marine air, amply assisted by a sophisticated array of modern tools such as search, control and weather radars; landing force air-support control units equipped with advanced radio equipment; and frontline air control teams played a key role in supporting ground operations and forestalling kamikaze and conventional air attacks on the huge fleet that seemed to be a permanent fixture off Okinawa.
These included nocturnal kills by Marine squadrons equipped with F6F-5N Hellcat night fighters based ashore. Also, six Marine F4U Corsair squadrons were based aboard three fleet carriers, and they provided ground support and fleet cover. Indeed, Marine Corsairs took part in attacks on Kyushu airfields on March 18 and 19 that nearly swept kamikaze and conventional air units from the skies for several days. In return, Japanese aircraft damaged several American carriers, including USS Franklin , embarking two Marine F4U squadrons that saw a total of one day of offensive operations.
By April , Marine air was at the leading edge of technique and technology in support of modern combat operations across all three battle dimensions — land, sea and air. Thereafter, resistance became more violent and better organized. The defenses extended across the entire width of the island and to an undetermined depth. In fact, it was a concentric defense, complete and pervasive, centered on the town of Shuri.
A corps attack on April 19 supported by 27 artillery battalions and aircraft made negligible progress, then halted as the unperturbed Japanese troops moved back to their positions from underground shelters. The Army divisions advanced only after the Japanese withdrew from the advance defensive line on the night of April to a more integrated line to the rear.
The infantry units that the 1st Marine Division replaced had been ground down to regiments little larger than battalions, and battalions little larger than companies. Dead ahead was the bulk of a Japanese infantry division holding a defensive sector the island command had just reorganized to higher levels of lethality. The division went into the offensive on May 2, the westernmost of three divisions in the attack. This baptismal day on the southern front was emblematic of the fighting that ensued. The Japanese made excellent use of broken ground and other natural cover, and the Marines were either stymied or fell into dead ground from which they could either advance or from which they had to withdraw to maintain a cohesive line against the uncanny knack the defenders showed for mounting enfilade movements.
On May 3, the 5th Marines advanced more than yards in its zone, but the 1st Marines was pinned down with heavy casualties, so the 5th had to pull back several hundred yards in places.
There simply was no point at which the Marines could gain adequate leverage — the same scenario the replaced Army divisions had faced in their battle. General Ushijima still held many thousands of first-line troops in reserve. These men had been tied down defending beaches in southeastern Okinawa for landings that never took place. As the Japanese gained a finer sense of American tactics, it was put to Ushijima that an offensive using these fresh, well-trained and well-equipped troops might chasten the Americans and buy a great deal of time and flexibility.
Some of the fresh troops were fed into the defensive sectors to make good the losses of weeks of bitter attritional warfare, but the bulk were held back to cover the suspect beaches or to serve as a mobile reserve. By April 22, most of the fresh force was fed into the Shuri sector to stiffen its defenses. Preceded by mass kamikaze attacks on rear areas on the island and logistical shipping offshore, the counteroffensive, including counterlandings on both coasts, began after dark on May 3.
This was not where the Japanese intended to land, and quick reaction by the defenders and confusion among the attackers created conditions for a Marine victory. Many more Marines were fed into the fire-lit battle, LVT A s landing vehicles, tracked, assault sealed the battlefield, and fresh troops hunted down infiltrators. Forewarned by this landing attempt, Marines quelled other attempts farther up the coast. Army troops also defended successfully on the eastern coast. On May 4, the 1st Marine Division actually attacked in its zone in spite of Japanese efforts to win through to the east, but the division was stalled several hundred yards short of its objective line.
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Far from delaying an American victory, the ill-advised Japanese counteroffensive used up the largest pool of seasoned fighters on the island, of which nearly 7, were killed. But other good fighters had remained in their excellent defensive sectors, and they showed no sign of cracking appreciably in the face of inexorable pressure across the entire corps front.
In less than a week on the Shuri front, Marines became casualties. From that point, despite interesting tactical embellishments, the battle to win Okinawa settled down to become a test of attritional theories, one based on attack and the other based on defense. The Japanese had the troops they had, and relatively few were trained infantry. The Americans had a larger pool of trained infantry, including ample replacements who, in the case of IIIAC, were used as logistical fillers until they were needed in the infantry battalions.
Even then, attrition was high among all the American divisions — 11, replacements were fed into Marine infantry units on Okinawa — but when a Japanese veteran was killed, he could not be replaced. Deadly combinations of spirited infantry assaults, overwhelming artillery and naval gunfire support, and ample air support were played like a piano to advance American units through the rest of May and most of June. The concentric lines of defense built and held by the Japanese never got easier to reduce, but inexorably the quality of the troops holding them shifted downward, and they fell, one after the other.
An interesting footnote to Marine Corps history came about on June 18 when the Tenth Army commander, General Buckner, was killed by a Japanese artillery shell in the 8th Marines line while reconnoitering the front. The next senior general officer on the scene was Marine Maj.
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Geiger, an aviator who had commanded the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Guadalcanal, I Marine Amphibious Corps at Bougainville and IIIAC at Guam and Okinawa, was spot-promoted to lieutenant general to become the first and only Marine and the first and only naval aviator — perhaps the first and only aviator — ever to command an American army in the field.
The Japanese defenses were all but overwhelmed by June 16, and Ushijima realized that the end was near. On June 19, he dissolved his staff and ordered all available troops to go over to guerrilla operations. On June 21, organized resistance came to an end in the 6th Marine Division zone, which encompassed the southern shore of the island. By then, Japanese troops were surrendering by the hundreds.
The 1st Marine Division mounted its final attacks of the campaign, also on June 21, and reported by nightfall that all its objectives had been secured. It thus fell to General Geiger to declare Okinawa secure following a bloody day battle. The final official flag-raising ceremony on a Pacific War battlefield took place at the Tenth Army headquarters at hours, June 22, Earlier that morning, Ushijima and his chief of staff, Lt. Isamu Cho, committed ritual suicide.
70 years after Battle of Okinawa: Soldier saved lives with his words
The battle had been among the most brutal of the Pacific War. The Navy suffered its greatest casualties for a single engagement. More than 12, Americans were killed and a further 50, were wounded. More than , Japanese — many of them civilians — were killed during the battle. Despite the casualties, preparations were quickly underway for the long-anticipated invasion of Japan. All hands turned to in order to begin preparations to invade Kyushu. This article was written by Eric Hammel, a noted historian of the Pacific War.
This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Pacific Warriors: The U. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today! Marine Corps. Standing from left are Lt. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. Lemuel Shepherd, commander of the 6th Marine Division; and his assistant commander, Brig. William T. Buckner was killed by a Japanese shell on June 18, Below: Marines use an Okinawan burial crypt for shelter during the fighting. On a battlefield scattered with dismembered bodies, his superior was mistaken for an American soldier and was shot dead by a Japanese soldier. A classmate from his hometown was also killed right in front of his eyes during an artillery attack.
Yoshimura himself was also knocked down by the naval gunfire. It made a hole on his helmet and caused massive bleeding to his head. A shell fragment also wounded his right arm, and he suffered serious back and foot injuries. To escape the gunfire, Yoshimura hid in a shelter, and stayed deep in the dugout with bated breath during the day, fearing the use of flamethrowers and grenades by the U. At night he would go out to boil and drink the water in which bodies were floating.
Some 20 people including local residents who were forced to leave their homes and lost their farms and were also hiding in the dugout shared sweet-potato vines and other food with him even though such items were scarce.
But Yoshimura was so desperate to protect himself it never occurred to him that he needed to protect the locals as well. In June, Yoshimura heard an announcement by an American of Japanese descent that the Imperial Japanese Army had lost in Okinawa, but he did not believe it.
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He finally came out of the dugout and surrendered after hearing the radio announcement of Japan's surrender by Emperor Hirohito on Aug. After a period as a prisoner of war, Yoshimura returned to Osaka in February , but he was left with a paralyzed right arm, and shell fragments are still stuck in his back.
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He kept his mouth shut about the Battle of Okinawa even after the end of World War II, as the experience was too heart-wrenching to describe. Haruko's death in became a turning point for Yoshimura. Bit by bit, he started to talk about the Battle of Okinawa to a priest at a temple he visits on the monthly anniversary of his wife's death. Upon recommendation from the priest, he began to share his experiences in the war at a local primary school and in other places.
Seventy-four years from the end of the Battle of Okinawa, in which some , troops and civilians were killed, Yoshimura is the only one left among fellow soldiers who went through the same experiences back then.