On Wednesday, April 1st at 11:30 a.m., the Friends of the National World War II Memorial will hold a brief, private ceremony and wreath presentation at the United States Marine Corps War Memorial to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific war.
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During the April 1st ceremony, a wreath will be presented at the Pacific Arch of the Memorial in honor of all those who served and in remembrance of the more than 49,000 casualties and 12,000 killed during the Battle of Okinawa.
Learn more about the Battle of Okinawa below:
On April 1, 1945, American forces began their assault on Okinawa, the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific war. Though resulting in an American victory, the 82-day battle of attrition was also one of the bloodiest and significantly influenced commanders’ opinions about an invasion of mainland Japan.
With Iwo Jima under control by the end of March 1945, American commanders next looked for another island closer to the Japanese home islands that could serve as a potential launch point for an amphibious assault against Japan itself, which they believed essential to end the war. Planners looked to Okinawa, a 466 square-mile island covered in rugged terrain, natural caves, and dense foliage in the Ryukyu Islands, less than 350 miles away from mainland Japan. Its airfields and location made Okinawa a prime target, but its 130,000 Japanese defenders had built an elaborate defense system, determined to hold at all costs for fears that its loss would doom the home islands. Okinawa’s invasion, codenamed Operation Iceberg, fell to the Fifth Fleet, and the Tenth Army, which consisted of both Army and Marine divisions as well as a joint air force command, was assigned to the assault. Following heavy naval preparatory fire from the Fifth Fleet, on April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday, the invasion began. Morale was low for the Soldiers and Marines, since the landing was expected to inflict higher casualties than the invasion of Normandy. However, when they hit the beaches, they met only negligible resistance. Within hours, waves of troops and supplies were ashore, and two airfields were in American hands almost effortlessly. The Tenth Army began to wonder where the Japanese were, unaware their foe was ordered to watch and wait to attack until ideal moments. Resistance finally mounted by April 3, yet the island was cut in half by the next day.
At sea, a bitter battle was already waging. On April 4, the Japanese unleashed kamikazes against the Fifth Fleet. These suicide pilots used their planes as weapons to wreak havoc on the fleet to devastating effect. By flying planes into Navy vessels to cause as much destruction as possible, kamikazes inflicted many casualties and damaged and sunk many ships. On April 7, the Yamato, the largest battleship afloat, also attempted a surprise attack against the fleet, yet an American air attack sunk the battleship and thwarted the threat. The Fifth Fleet weathered these storms and continued their support mission off the coast.
Meanwhile, elements of the Tenth Army pushed northward and, although slowed by heavy rains and mud, pacified the northern two-thirds of the island by April 10. Yet to the south, near the cities of Naha and Shuri, most of the Japanese defenders were still waiting. Here, defenders had constructed one of the most formidable defensive systems in the Pacific, which came to be known as the Shuri Line. To clear these caves and dugouts, American troops employed flame tanks and engaged in brutal hand-to-hand fighting, which came to define the campaign. Progress through the Shuri Line was slow, with many bloody battles waged to upend the entrenched defenders. Casualties mounted on both sides, and the combat on the island turned cruel. The battle for Shuri was particularly grueling and lasted until June 1. Believing American troops would not take prisoners, many Japanese soldiers and civilians chose to either fight to the death or commit suicide, only worsening the battle’s brutality. Japanese resistance only began to relent by June 21. The following day, the commander of the Japanese defenders, General Mitsuru Ushijima, committed ritualistic suicide instead of surrendering, marking the official end of Japanese opposition. The American ground commander, Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, also did not live through the battle; he was killed in action on June 18, the highest-ranking American officer killed by enemy fire in the war. After three long months, the bitter fight for Okinawa was over, and the island was in American hands.
The battle for Okinawa was the largest amphibious campaign in the Pacific theater and was also one of the bloodiest. American forces took over 49,000 casualties, with over 12,000 killed. These casualties included a steep cost for the Navy in particular, who lost 4,907 sailors and had dozens of ships sunk or damaged by kamikaze attacks. Some 110,000 Japanese soldiers died in total, and 4,000 aircraft were lost. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished, effectively reducing the island’s population by a quarter. The battle served as a grim example of the probable cost of what an invasion of the Japanese homeland might look like, causing some planners to seriously consider alternative measures to bring an end to the war.