Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Okinawa Campaign on land and sea, 1945

As the U.S. Navy's Task Force 58 began its 1945 operations east of Okinawa in preparation for the invasion of that Japanese island, my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, was returning to TF 58's base at Ulithi from deployment in the Philippines. Dad arrived at the atoll on March 31st, and remained there repairing battle damaged ships and completing other jobs until leaving for Saipan on April 21st.

Located only 350 miles south of mainland Japan, the Okinawa was vital for the planned invasion, which was going to be necessary to end the war. For 5 days prior to the invasion of Okinawa, the U.S. Navy conducted bombing attacks of coastal batteries on the island. These were designed to prepare the way for mine sweeping operations and the amphibious landing of troops. Battleships also bombarded the beaches and enemy installations. All was done without any Japanese air opposition. That would come later in the form of the dreaded kamikaze bombers.

Then on today's date in 1945, Easter Sunday, the Battle of Okinawa, the final amphibious landing of the war began  as U.S. Soldiers and Marines landed on the beaches. It was the last and largest of the Pacific island battles of the war. It also was one of the bloodiest.

From April 1 to June 22, 1945, 287,000 troops of the U.S. Tenth Army and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions battled against 120,000 soldiers of the Japanese Thirty-second Army. At stake were air bases essential for an invasion of Japan.

The Japanese employed mainly defensive tactics and fought from caves and pillboxes, thus forcing the American invaders to take and destroy each one at a time. The fighting also occurred in more populated areas than earlier Pacific island battles. Consequently, civilian casualties were extremely high, nearly 100,000. Many of these were by suicide.

The ground campaign lasted 82 days. By the end, Japan had lost more than 100,000 soldiers. The Allies suffered more than 65,000 casualties, including 7,000 dead.

Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Jr.
Interestingly, although tragic, the commanding generals of both sides were killed in the closing days of the campaign. American Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., son of a Confederate general and Kentucky governor, was killed by enemy artillery fire on June 18, 1945. Japanese Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima died in ritual suicide when all was lost for the island's defenders.

The Navy's Task Force 58, commanded by both Admirals Raymond Spruance (5th Fleet) and William Halsey (3rd Fleet), continued to play a significant role in the Okinawa Campaign. While in the initial phase of the invasion Japanese air opposition had been light, by April 6th, enemy air attacks against the fleet commenced. The Japanese kept up periodic heavy air attacks, including kamikaze strikes. These suicide bombings continued through the end of the campaign, taking a huge toll on the fleet.

From the start of naval operations on March 23 through the end of April, 20 ships were sunk and 157 were damaged. Several fleet aircraft carriers were severely damaged, mostly from kamikazes. By the end of the campaign, Task Force 58 suffered more than 4,000 in killed or missing aboard 34 ships that were sunk and 368 that were damaged. Another 6,000 sailors were wounded. The fleet also lost 763 aircraft. At sea and in the air, the Japanese navy lost over 10,000 men. Also destroyed were 2,800 aircraft, a battleship, a light cruiser, and 4 destroyers.

The U.S. fleet's high combat losses at sea influenced the decision against an invasion of the Japanese mainland. The Allies will opt for the atomic bomb to bring about Japan's surrender.

It was during the Okinawa Campaign, on April 12th, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died at  the "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was succeeded by Harry S. Truman. Victory in the Pacific and in Europe was close, but not imminent. Truman was resolved to continue the fight. In his address to the U.S. Congress 4 days later he declared, "So that there can be no possible misunderstanding, both Germany and Japan can be certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that America will continue the fight for freedom until no vestige of resistance remains!"

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison; Report of Operations of Task Force 58 at Okinawa; Marine Corps Association & Foundation

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