views updated


OKINAWA lies at the midpoint of the Ryukyu Island chain, located between Japan and Taiwan. A minor Japanese base during most of World War II, Okinawa became important when U.S. planners decided to seize it as a staging point for their projected invasion of Japan. The assault began on 1 April 1945. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, commanding Japan's 32d Army, allowed Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner's U.S. 10th Army to storm ashore virtually unopposed. Instead of trying to defend the beaches, Ushijima's troops burrowed into caves and tunnels in a succession of low ridges lying between the beaches and Shuri, the capital. Army and Marine Corps attackers eliminated the dug-in Japanese with "blowtorch" (flamethrower) and "corkscrew" (demolition charge) tactics at heavy cost to themselves.

Driven late in May from their Shuri line, the Japanese retreated to Okinawa's southern tip, where both commanders perished by the battle's end on 21 June. Ushijima died by ritual suicide (hara-kiri), and Buckner was killed by one of the last artillery shells fired by the Japanese. Earlier, on the adjacent islet of Ie Shima, the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle had been killed by a burst fired from a by-passed Japanese machine gun. Equally bitter was the fighting at sea. Japan's air forces hurled more than 4,000 sorties, many by kamikaze suicide planes, at U.S. and British naval forces. In vanquishing 115,000 Japanese defenders, U.S. losses totaled 38 ships of all types sunk and 368 damaged; 4,900 U.S. Navy servicemen died; and U.S. Army and U.S. Marine fatalities numbered 7,900.


Belote, James H., and William M. Belote, Typhoon of Steel: The Battle for Okinawa. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Foster, Simon. Okinawa 1945. London: Arms and Armour, 1994.

Frank, Benis M. Okinawa: Capstone to Victory. New York: Ballan-tine Books, 1970.

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II. New York: Viking, 1995.

James H.Belote

William M.Belote/a. r.

See alsoJapan, Relations with ; World War II, Navy in .


views updated

Okinawa Largest island of the Okinawa archipelago, sw of mainland Japan, part of the Ryukyu Islands group in the w Pacific Ocean; the major settlement is Naha. The n is mountainous, densely forested and sparsely populated. Economic activity, such as agriculture and fishing, is concentrated in the s. In April 1945, US troops landed, and met fierce Japanese resistance. Okinawa surrendered in June 1945 after many casualties. Area: 1176sq km (454sq mi). Pop. (2000) 1,318,000.