Aboard Admiral Spruance’s Flagship USS Indianapolis April 1, 1945

For weeks the largest Allied fleet since Opera­tion Over­lord ten months earlier—nearly 1,500 U.S. and British vessels—fired 2.3 mil­lion shells onto Oki­na­wa, the largest island in the Ryukyu archi­pel­ago and a little more than 300 miles from Kyū­shū and Shi­ko­ku, the southernmost Japa­nese Home Islands. (Tokyo was 550 miles away.) Kyū­shū and Shi­ko­ku were home to many Japa­nese sui­cide squad­rons, whose aviators found the Allied warships within easy reach.

Between March 27 and May 11, 1945, some 2,000 sorties by Mari­anas-based B‑29 Super­for­tresses cratered air­fields on Kyū­shū and Shi­ko­ku, par­tic­u­larly run­ways, as well as hammered han­gars and work­shops in an effort to sup­press Japa­nese sui­cide air­craft; yet still a bliz­zard of bomb-laden death divers was able to sink or damage over 400 Allied ships during the Oki­na­wa cam­paign. Many of the crippled ships never returned to action.

On this date in 1945, a cloud­less Easter Sun­day, 60,000 U.S. sol­diers and Marines landed on Oki­na­wa, launching Oper­a­tion Ice­berg. Over­head, fero­cious attacks by these one-way air­men, or kami­kaze, took a heavy toll in lives and damaged dozens of U.S. and British vessels that stood off the island. The kami­kaze had been named after the divine wind that had, in medieval times, saved Japan from invasion. How­ever at Oki­na­wa kami­kaze avia­tors loosed a new tac­tic against Allied ships off­shore: not single kami­kaze salvos but typhoons of hun­dreds of air­craft, including the newly developed Ohka manned mis­siles, descended on the fleet. Between April 1 and May 25, seven major kami­kaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 air­craft flying from Kyū­shū, Shi­ko­ku, and For­mosa off the Chinese main­land. The Japa­nese called these one-way squad­rons “Floating Chry­san­the­mums,” and nearly all the pilots were half-trained ado­les­cents, some as young as seven­teen. Many had never flown solo or landed an airplane.

In spite of Japan’s suicide offensive, which also included land-based motor­boats, by the middle of April Amer­i­can forces had secured three-quarters of the moun­tain­ous Long Island-sized island with rela­tive ease. By then much harder fighting had started on the so-called Shuri Line to the south. It took two and a half more months of grueling close-quarter fighting before Japa­nese resis­tance ceased. When it did, the largest land battle of the Pacific War had claimed over 75,300 Amer­i­can casual­ties, which included 20,195 dead (among them Tenth U.S. Army’s Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buck­ner, Jr.), with perhaps 110,000 dead on the Japanese side, including more than 1,000 one-way pilots. Out of an estimated 300,000 island residents as many as half ended up dead.

The 82-Day-Long Battle of Okinawa, or Operation Iceberg, April 1 to June 22, 1945

USS Idaho pounds Okinawa, April 1, 1945 U.S. Marines establish a beachhead on Okinawa

Left: The battleship USS Idaho shells Okinawa on April 1, 1945. The Idaho was one of seven U.S. battleships in Fast Carrier Force (TF 58) under Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher. British Carrier Force (TF 57) added two battle­ships to the 88 ships in TF 58, making a total of over 110 Allied warships off the coast of the Japanese-held island.

Right: Marines in camouflage battle dress storm out of a landing craft to estab­lish a beach­head on Oki­na­wa in the opening phase of Oper­a­tion Ice­berg. Two Marine divi­sions (the 1st and 6th) of 88,000 men and four divi­sions of the Tenth U.S. Army (the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) brought the num­ber of U.S. com­ba­tants in the initial assault force close to 183,000 to face roughly 80,000 mixed army and navy Japa­nese and 40,000 Oki­na­wan con­script defenders. Addi­tionally, there were 18,000 Navy per­son­nel (mostly Seabees and medical personnel) in support of Operation Iceberg.

Marines pass dead Japanese soldier, Okinawa, April 1945 Two Marines, Northern Okinawa, May 1945

Left: U.S. Marines pass a dead Japanese soldier in a destroyed Okinawan village, April 1945. More than 110,000 defenders were killed in the 82‑day cam­paign to take the island, and between 40,000 and 150,000 civilians (out of a popu­lation of 300,000) died by suicide or were killed during the protracted fighting.

Right: A U.S. Marine provides covering fire with his M1 Thompson sub­machine gun while another Marine with a Browning Automatic Rifle prepares to break cover to move to a different position. Northern Okinawa, May 1945.

Cave demolition, Okinawa, May 1945 POWs on Okinawa

Left: A demolition crew from the 6th Marine Division watches dyna­mite charges explode and destroy a Japanese cave. Okinawa, May 1945.

Right: Overcoming the last resistance on Okinawa was aided by the ritual sui­cide on June 22, 1945, of Japa­nese com­mander Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima and by Allied propa­ganda leaf­lets, one of which is being read by a pri­soner (about 7,000 enemy were taken alive) who awaits trans­por­tation to the rear. Many civilians gave up at the same time.

Okinawa: Last Great Land, Naval, and Air Battle of the Pacific Campaign

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WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.