The final decisive battle of the Pacific War was fought on the island of Okinawa and was the first full-scale Allied invasion of Japanese territory. More Americans lost their lives in this four-month long campaign than in any battle ever fought before or since. After a prolonged Allied naval barrage, in which Australian, British and Dutch naval forces participated, the US Marines led the spearhead of assault against the Japanese fortifications.


A Marine from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines on Wana Ridge provides covering fire – 18 May 1945 

Dug in deep in the hills of the principal island in the Ryukyu chain, the Japanese fought to the last man, forcing the Allies to run up heavy casualties. If the Japanese fought so hard for an offshore island, what sort of defense would they put up when defending their home islands?

The answer was clear, and the fight on Okinawa helped lead President Truman to his fateful decision to drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in order to end the war in the Pacific more quickly.

The Okinawa campaign has been compared to that of Iwo Jima. In fact the comparison is incorrect and unfair to the gallant US Marines who secured Iwo Jima at a terrible cost to themselves.

The Okinawa terrain had none of the natural defensive qualities of Iwo Jima; the Japanese had no previously prepared defenses between Yontan and Shuri. Only the incredible fanaticism of the Japanes soldier held the line, and that fanaticism for almost two months was sufficient against an invader who held absolute command of the air, who had the wquivalent of two armored division, wo, to an over-whelming strength in artillery, ad added the stupendous power of the guns of a great fleet, and who had an almost unlimited superiority in men, equipment and supplies.

It is always easy to be wise after the efvent and to oversimplify the problems facing a commander. Any serious student of war will question the wisdom of General Buckner ( commander of Operation Iceberg – the amphibious assault on Okinawa ) who decided to launch a frontal attack at the beginning of May rather than try to break the deadlock by landing more Marines in the rear of the Japanese – as the Marines themselves suggested. No doubt Buckner saw the situation as analogous to that in Italy in 1943, and considered that the proposed Marine amphibious landing, like the Anzio operation, would have been beyond range of support from the main front. Against this it can be argued that he had the finest body of amphibious troops in the Pacific and Buckner’s critics believe that his decision to opt for a frontal attack was an error of overcaution.

In the event Buckner’s strategy worked, but at a heqavy price in men. Moreover, instead of the 40 days estimated by the original planners, the Okinawa campaign took 82. On the other hand the tactical handling of the US Fifth Fleet – the armada whwich carried the assault force to Okinawa and set it down theere so successfully – wasnothing short of brilliant. The logistical support of the great fleet at sea over a protracted period was unprecedented, and a most remarkable demonstration of efficiency.

The object of the Okinawa campaign was to secure a base for the invasion of Japan. It succeeded in doing far more than this, for the campaign cost Japan the remainder of her effective navy. Apart from the loss of the Yamato, sunk in the abortive sortie against the invasion force, innumerable minor vessels were sunk, and by mid-June the once proud Imperial Japanese Navy had ceased to exist as a fighting force.

The same was true of the Japanese air force. Coupled with the toll taken of Japanese aircraft in the Philippines and during the Iwo Jima campaign, the numbers destroyed in the covering operations for Okinawa crippled the striking power and the defensive power of that part of the Japanes air force which was to protect the home islands. Only the suicide tactics of the Kamikaze organization kept Japanese airmen in the picture and even that by the end of the Okinawa campaign was becoming a diminisheing asset. although the Japanaes military forces involved were not large in relation to the actual size of the Japanese armies, the loss in military prestige and in material was considerable.

Meanwhile the tremendous acievement of American production was now beginning to play its full part in the war against Japan. The material losses of the campaign – and of the operations to secure Iwo Jima and recapture the Philippines – were qickly made up. By the end of Okinawa the Philippines were already a vast base for the invasion of Japan. Even while the fighting was continuing, the work of preparing Okinawa for its eventual role as a staging area for the invasion was well under way.

The military operations that followed the capture of Okinawa were small and unimportant. They consisted of the seizure and consolidation of other small islands in the Ryukyus. The vital factor in this period was the ‘buildup’ and that proceeded unhampered by the Japanese – swiftly and inexorably.

The three campaigns – to liverate the Philippines, capture Iwo Jima and Okinawa – were in combination the greatest successes in the great successes of the Pacific war. With the earlier capture of the Marianas they made possible, first, the wiping ot by incendiary bombing of the great cities of Japan and second the provision of all that was necessary for the staging of the eventual descent on the Japanese manland. They, and not the atomic bomb, were the decisive factor in the subsequent Japanese surrender.


In addition to a number of minor raids by up to 20 planes on ‘off’ days the Japanese launched 10 major Kamikaze attacks on the US armada off Okinawa. It is estimated, together with individual Kamikaze attacks, that approzimately 1,900 suicide sorties were made against the US naval forces during the Okinawa campaign.

A crewman in an AA gun battery, aboard the battleship New Jersey, watches a kamikaze plane descend upon Intrepid – 25 November 1944

Apart from these there were hundreds of attacks by conventional dive bombers and torpedo bombers.

Source: OKINAWA – by Lt.Col. A.J. Barker

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