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

For weeks the largest Allied fleet since D‑Day—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. 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 the two is­lands, 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 planes flying from Kyū­shū, Shi­ko­ku, and For­mosa. 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 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 nearly 40,000 Amer­i­can casual­ties, with over 100,000 dead on the Japanese side, including over 1,000 one‑way pilots.

Some of the most vicious combat anywhere in World War II was waged in the Pacific. Of the of the most vicious combat anywhere in World War II was waged in the Pacific. Of the many fine first­hand accounts by those who fought there I have three favor­ites: Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific, Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Oki­nawa, and Chuck Tatum’s Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Along­side John Basi­lone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima. For those less keen on reading about com­bat in the Pacific than viewing it, I recom­mend HBO’s homage to the men and women who fought and died in the Pacific Theater. Pro­duced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spiel­berg, and Gary Goetz­man, The Pacific is a 10part mini­series that delivers a gritty and real­is­tic por­trait of the war’s island-hopping cam­paigns as seen through the inter­twined odys­seys of Marines Leckie, Sledge, and Medal of Honor recipi­ent John Basi­lone, who was trag­ically killed on Iwo Jima on Febru­ary 19, 1945, the first day of the island’s invasion.—Norm Haskett

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

USS Idaho pounds Okinawa, April 1, 1945U.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 U.S. 10th 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 1945Two 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. Allied casu­al­ties were over 65,000, of which more than 14,000 were killed or went missing in action.

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 1945POWs 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 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