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Battle of Okinawa – The Pacific Bloodiest War

On this day, the Battle of Okinawa came to an end as the last pockets of resistance of the Imperial Japanese Army surrendered on Okinawa island, concluding the nearly three-month-long conflict. This campaign would be one of the largest and deadliest conflicts of the Pacific Theatre of WWII. This was due in no small part to the increasing use of kamikaze or suicide places by the Japanese forces to destroy US warships.  The sheer intensity of these suicide runs gave the battle the nickname the ‘typhoon of steel’.

Typhoon of Steel

The US invasion of Battle of Okinawa, or Operation Iceberg was a major military campaign during World War II. Commencing on April 1, 1945, this battle was one of the largest amphibious assaults in the Pacific Theater and marked a pivotal point in the final stages of the war. This was one of the last battles in the US’s island-hopping campaign to reach the Japanese home islands. Battle of Okinawa was of the strategic importance of Okinawa due to its proximity to the Japanese mainland. Capturing this island would give the Allied air force a foothold to launch bombing campaigns against the Japanese and a staging area for their planned Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan.

Of course, the Japanese understood its importance too and the Battle of Okinawa was characterized by fierce resistance mounted by the Japanese military. The island’s rugged terrain and well-fortified defensive positions posed significant challenges for the American forces. Over 183,000 American troops were needed to capture this island.

One of the most harrowing aspects of the Battle of Okinawa was the Japanese military’s use of kamikaze and banzai attacks. The kamikaze, or “divine wind,” strategy involved suicide missions by Japanese pilots who deliberately crashed their explosive-laden aircraft into Allied ships. These attacks were intended to cause maximum damage and instill fear and demoralization among the American forces. Over 1,900 kamikaze attacks were launched during the Okinawa campaign, resulting in the loss of more than 30 American ships and significant damage to many others. This led to Okinawa being dubbed the Typhoon of Steel.

The Banzai attacks were equally terrifying. These were desperate, all-out charges by Japanese infantry against the American positions. Shouting “Banzai!” (meaning “ten thousand years”), the Japanese soldiers would launch these suicidal assaults in an attempt to overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers and ferocity.

The combination of kamikaze and banzai attacks, along with the fierce ground combat, made the Battle of Okinawa one of the bloodiest and most brutal engagements of World War II. The island’s civilian population also suffered immensely, caught in the crossfire and subjected to the horrors of war.

The intensity of the US invasion and the determined resistance by the Japanese forces resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. By the end of the Battle of Okinawa on June 22, 1945, over 12,000 American soldiers had lost their lives, and more than 36,000 were wounded. Japanese military casualties were even higher, with over 100,000 soldiers killed. The civilian death toll was also staggering, with estimates ranging from 40,000 to 150,000.

Among these military casualties, the US Navy suffered the heaviest toll, losing nearly 5,000 men from Kamikaze attacks. This amounts to almost 3 naval personnel for every 2 marines killed. 

Historian George Feifer described Battle of Okinawa as the place where the largest battle involving land, sea, and air forces in history took place. He also noted that it was the last major battle before the atomic age began. During the battle, at least 90% of the buildings on the island were destroyed. This included many historical documents, artifacts, and cultural treasures. The beautiful tropical landscape was turned into a huge field of mud, lead, decay, and maggots.

Okinawa was very important for the military because it provided a place for ships to anchor, troops to gather, and airfields close to Japan. After the battle, the US cleared the nearby waters of mines in Operation Zebra, took control of Okinawa, and established the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, a type of military government.

Battle of Okinawa Wider War Effect

The Battle of Okinawa was followed by Japan’s total surrender, making it hard to fully understand its impact. Because Japan surrendered when it did, the expected battles and invasion of the Japanese homeland never happened, and all the military plans for those events were immediately irrelevant.

Some military historians think that the Okinawa campaign led directly to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as a way to avoid a ground invasion of Japan.

There is still much debate about why Japan surrendered. Some believe it was due to the atomic bombings, others point to the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, and some think Japan’s exhausted resources were a key factor.

These kamikaze charges are perhaps the greatest legacy of this battle. The sight of hundreds of planes rushing through enemy fleets in suicide runs burned itself into the memory of the American military and continues to capture the imagination of people today. 

This was summed up by Vice Admiral C.R. Brown.

“There was a hypnotic fascination to the sight so alien to our Western philosophy. We watched each plunging kamikaze with the detached horror of one witnessing a terrible spectacle rather than as the intended victim. We forgot self for the moment as we groped hopelessly for the thought of that other man up there.”

– C.R. Brown, Vice Admiral of the US Navy
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