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Typhoon of Steel: Okinawa key to US invasion plans during Pacific War (Pt. 2)

The 713rd Flame-Throwing Tank Battalion destroys Japanese escarpments on coral ridge, during the Okinawa campaign, on May 11, 1945. (Photo Courtesy of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)

NAHA -- After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. military began its advance across the Pacific Ocean. By 1945, Okinawa became a vital stepping stone on the way to mainland Japan.

    Question: Why did the U.S. choose to invade Okinawa in 1945?

    At the time, U.S. forces were planning an invasion of either the southwestern island of Kyushu or the Kanto area, where Tokyo is located, with the aim of forcing Japan to surrender. To further the operation, the U.S. military needed to establish a logistics line, and the southern island of Okinawa was deemed the best location for a hub.

    The Pacific War began with the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service's December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. However, by June 1942, the United States had turned the tables with a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway. Between July and August 1944, U.S. forces broke through Japan's "Absolute National Defense Sphere" by successfully taking over Japan-ruled Pacific islands including Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Using these islands as key points for transporting supplies and fueling aircraft, the U.S. began its full-scale advancement across the Pacific. In October 1944, it was decided that Okinawa was next on the campaign toward the Japanese mainland.

    On March 26, 1945, the American front first arrived on Kerama Island, west of Okinawa's main island. The invasion of the main island soon followed on April 1. The campaign began on the west coast of the central part of the island. U.S. forces continued to extend their supply line by building new airstrips to advance the front. The goal was to lay down the groundwork to invade southern Kyushu in November and reach the Kanto region by the following March.

    Meanwhile, the Imperial military was trying to buy time before the U.S. invaded mainland Japan. This meant drawing out the conflict in Okinawa for as long as possible. As a result, the gruesome land battle spread across the island, stretching some three months.

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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