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Typhoon of Steel: Reflecting on Battle of Okinawa 76 years after official end (Pt. 1)

A young girl surrenders with a white flag. (Photo courtesy of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)

NAHA -- Unique to the Pacific theater of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa was one of only two ground conflicts to occur on Japanese soil, leaving heavy civilian casualties in its wake.

    On June 23, 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army united front against the Allied Forces came to a halt. This series explores why the Battle of Okinawa was such a decisive conflict in the Pacific War, and how it led to so many tragedies.

    Question: What happened in Okinawa 76 years ago?

    Answer: Japan was at war with the Allied Forces, which included the United States. The U.S. military first made landfall on the Kerama Islands west of the main island of Okinawa on March 26, 1945, then arrived on the main island on April 1, marking the beginning of the Battle of Okinawa.

    On the small islands, there were few places to escape the fierce ground battle. The roughly three-month conflict resulted not only in heavy military casualties, but also caught many civilians in the crossfire.

    Toward the close of the Pacific War, Japan was the target of U.S. airstrikes, including the atomic bombs. However, American forces only set foot on two locations in present-day Japan: Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Iwo Jima, formally called Ioto, is now part of Tokyo.

    According to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, there were roughly 200,000 casualties in the Battle of Okinawa. U.S. forces lost 12,520 soldiers. The remainder was comprised of 94,136 Imperial Japanese soldiers and affiliated parties, and approximately 94,000 civilians. It is believed that 28,228 Japanese military and paramilitary personnel were from Okinawa Prefecture. When added to civilian deaths, it is estimated that a total of some 120,000 Okinawans lost their lives; one in every four people on the islands before the clash.

    Along with the U.S. forces' heavy artillery shelling and bombing of the islands, dubbed the "typhoon of steel," many other tragedies occurred on the Japanese side. Some Okinawans were driven to end their lives in groups, while others were killed by the Imperial army on suspicion of being spies. Civilians also saw their food supplies seized by the military they believed would protect them, and many died of starvation and diseases.

    There is truly only one way to describe the ground battle that unfolded on the small islands and violently swept up its inhabitants: "A picture of hell."

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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