WWII Memoirs – May 6, 1945 – Okinawa, The Last Battle of the War

A Marine from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines on Wana Ridge provides covering fire with his Thompson submachine gun, 18 May 1945. (Wikipedia)

A Marine from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines on Wana Ridge provides covering fire with his Thompson submachine gun, 18 May 1945. (Wikipedia)

I was in the last major battle of the war, and fortunately my responsibilities did not require front line duty. This was not intended to be the last battle. The invasion of mainland Japan had been scheduled for November 1, l945, but the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed all that.

Okinawa was the bloodiest and most costly battle of the Pacific theater. World War II was in its final stages, and Nazi Germany was close to surrender. The U.S. forces were beginning to close in on the Japanese mainland. Now they had landed on Okinawa, the last stepping stone on the path to the invasion of the mainland. More than 100,000 Japanese troops defended their position, and with its homeland facing disaster they fought with a do-or-die ferocity.

By mid-march, 1945, the U.S. Navy had assembled the greatest armada ever to support an amphibious attack, even larger than that at Normandy, 1300 ships. Within the first 24 hours they poured l380 tons of shells on the enemy fortifications. Following that barrage, 16,000 troops landed, and by the end of the day 60,000 were ashore. Eventually 182,000 troops were involved. Actually, the enemy put up little or no resistance, preferring to fight on the southern half of the Island which would be easier to defend. The landing had been a success, but now the fighting began.

The Japanese responded to the invasion by unleashing swarms of kamikaze against the the Navy. So furious was their attack, that by the end of the 82-day battle the 1465 Kamikaze flights had sunk 34 U.S ships and damaged 368 others. In addition the Japanese had destroyed 736 naval aircraft.

Our squadron landed in early May and quickly joined the battle. Most of us were fortunate to be serving in a support role, and were not involved in the direct fighting. However, our pilots were, and their contribution, and that of the squadron are described in the article, “They Flew into Battle Without Guns.”

Casualties were heavy on both sides. 12,513 U.S. servicemen were killed or missing, twice the total combined losses at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Another 36,000 were wounded. Of those killed nearly 5,000 were naval personnel. One source describes the concern these losses created back in the States. “American losses at Okinawa were so heavy as to elicit Congressional calls for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders. Not surprisingly, the cost of this battle, in terms of lives, time,and materials, weighed heavily in the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan just six weeks later.

And the decision to use the bomb was justified by later statistics. “More died during the Battle of Okinawa than all of those killed during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Both Japanese military and the civilian losses were enormous. The military suffered 131,293 dead, the exact civilian toll may never be known. One estimate places the number at 42,000, another claims that that the civilian figure was approximately one-third the total Okinawan population!

Among the American losses were two well-known figures of that day, Ernie Pyle and General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Pyle was a Pulitzer-prize winning, syndicated journalist whose column was a daily item in many newspapers across the country. His theme was the plight of the ordinary soldier. Buckner was the commander of all the forces on Okinawa. He was the highest ranking soldier killed in the Pacific Theater.

The Battle of Okinawa ended June 21, 1945. And around us lay the remains of that struggle, dominated by two huge American cemeteries, one right next to our bivouac. It is claimed that these losses hastened the use of the Atomic Bomb. I wonder why it couldn’t have been used before the invasion of Okinawa, and saved those 12,513 men who lie in those cemeteries? The atomic bombers came from Tinian in the Marianas, and we had already paid dearly for that base.


Next Entry: WWII Memoirs – 1943 to 1945 – They Flew into Battle without Guns
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