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, killing and injuring thou­sands of service­men. Many of the crippled ships and wounded servicemen never returned to action.

On this date, April 1, 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 on Okinawa kami­kaze avia­tors loosed a new tac­tic against Allied ships off­shore: not single kami­kaze salvos but typhoons of hun­dreds of air­craft rained down on the fleet, including the newly developed solid-fuel Ohka (“Cherry Blossom”) manned rocket, packed with a terrifying 2,600 pounds of explo­sives, that hung under the fuse­lage of a bomber until lit by the one-way pilot. Between April 6 and May 25, seven major kami­kaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 Army and Navy air­craft, some of them long obso­lete, flying from Kyū­shū, Shi­ko­ku, and For­mosa (today’s Taiwan) off the Chinese main­land. The Japa­nese called these one-way squad­rons kiku­sui, or “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 single-use weapons 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 U.S. Tenth 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, and 11,000 taken pri­soner. Out of an esti­mated 300,000 island resi­dents as many as half ended up dead. Off­shore the U.S. Navy lost 29 vessels sunk, 120 damaged, 3,048 officers and sailors killed, and 6,035 wounded. Twenty-four Marines and soldiers received Medals of Honor, including an unlikely consci­en­tious objector and medic, Pfc. Des­mond Doss, who wounded in both legs and an arm pulled between 50 and 100 men to safety on Hack­saw Ridge. Mel Gibson portrayed Doss in the 2016 cinematic retelling of Doss’s life and battlefield heroism.

Some 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 Battle of Okinawa, or Operation Iceberg, April 1 to June 22, 1945

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

Left: The battleship USS Idaho shells Okinawa on April 1, 1945, coin­ci­den­tally April Fools Days and Easter Sunday. The Idaho was one of seven U.S. battle­ships in Fast Carrier Force (TF 58) under Vice Admiral Marc A. 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. In Amer­i­can hands, the island would provide a staging area for the inva­sion of the Japanese main­land, air­fields from which U.S. war­planes could operate, and safe anchor­age for Allied supply vessels and trans­ports to support the upcoming climactic offensive against the Empire of Japan.

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.

Battle of Okinawa: Marines pass dead Japanese soldier, Okinawa, April 1945Battle of Okinawa: 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 embattled 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.

Battle of Okinawa: Cave demolition, Okinawa, May 1945Battle of Okinawa: 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 (of which there were between 7,000 and 11,000) 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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