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The Battle of Okinawa

On April 1, 1945, more than 60,000 soldiers and US Marines of the US Tenth Army stormed ashore at Okinawa, in the final island battle before an anticipated invasion of mainland Japan.

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DEATH STAND

The war in Europe was over, but fighting raged in the Pacific. “We are only half-through,” Truman declares to the American people. He was right. The Battle of Okinawa (April 1 - June 22, 1945) was one of the hardest-fought in the history of the US military. Learn more in the "Death Stand" episode of Season 1 of "To the Best of My Ability" podcast by The National WWII Museum. 

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Overview

The island of Okinawa is the largest in the chain of islands known as the Ryukyus, which lie to the southwest of Japan. Taking Okinawa would provide Allied forces an airbase from which bombers could strike Japan and an advanced anchorage for Allied fleets. From Okinawa, US forces could increase air strikes against Japan and blockade important logistical routes, denying the home islands of vital commodities. Code named Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa and other islands in the Ryukyus began on April 1, 1945. Although the joint Army-Marine Corps landings on Okinawa were initially unopposed, the well dug-in Japanese defenders soon put-up fierce resistance.

The battle for Okinawa drug out over nearly three months and included some of the worst kamikaze attacks of the war. By the time Okinawa was secured by American forces on June 22, 1945, the United States had sustained over 49,000 casualties including more than 12,500 men killed or missing. Okinawans caught in the fighting suffered greatly, with an estimate as high as 150,000 civilians killed. Of the Japanese defending the island, an estimated 110,000 died. Some of the most well-known stories from the long fight include the heroics of conscientious objector Private Desmond Doss and the death of Ernie Pyle of Ie Shima. Twenty-four American military personnel we awarded the Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty. In American hands, the island provided a vital airfield in the final drive on Japan, as the Allies finally brought about Japanese surrender less than three months later.

Timeline of The Battle of Okinawa

From March 24-31, 1945, the US Navy begins pre-invasion bombardment of the island in preparation for the landing on Okinawa—part of Operation Iceberg—while troops land on smaller islands nearby to stage for the invasion.

On Easter morning April 1, 1945, elements of the US Tenth Army including the 7th, 27th, and 96th Infantry Divisions of the Army and 1st and 6th Marine Divisions land on the southwest coast of Okinawa.

Although American forces faced little to no resistance upon landing, by April 6 Japanese forces concentrated inland began a fierce defense of the island. Thirty-four US Navy ships are hit by kamikazes off Okinawa in the first of 10 large-scale attacks which the Japanese called “kikusuis” meaning “chrysanthemums floating on water” as part of their operation Ten-Go. This first attack lasted five hours and involved 355 kamikazes and over 300 fighter escorts.

On April 7, Task Force 38 launches approximately 380 aircraft against the Japanese battleship IJN Yamato. The aircraft find their mark and blast the Yamato. Most of her crew is lost with the ship. The next day, the Army’s 96th Infantry Division assaults Kakazu Ridge.

The 77th Infantry Division begins a five-day offensive on Ie Shima on April 16 and American forces are successful by April 21. During this fight, Ernie Pyle is killed by a Japanese machinegun burst on Ie Shima. The 307th Infantry Regiment moved into the line on Okinawa on April 29, on the top of the Maeda Escarpment known as Hacksaw Ridge. Conscientious objector, Army Medic Desmond Doss, selflessly attends to wounded men while unarmed. For his actions, Doss becomes the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

On May 4, Japanese forces begin a major offensive in the southern part of Okinawa. One week later, Marines begin an assault on Sugar Loaf Hill. 

American forces have overwhelmed Okinawa by June 22, marking another victory in the Pacific. Rather than surrender, many of the remaining Japanese forces choose to sacrifice themselves in the name of the Emperor.

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Okinawa Oral Histories

Check out first hand accounts of the Battle of Okinawa in the Oral Histories from the Digital Collections of The National WWII Museum. 

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