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Typhoon of Steel: Battle of Okinawa escalated from bloodless landing to bitter resistance (Pt. 4)

In this photo taken in May 1945, the defensive walls behind Shuri Castle moat are reduced to rubble and surrounding trees battered after the castle was taken by U.S. forces. (Photo courtesy of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)

NAHA -- The United States forces were met with little resistance to their landing on the main island of Okinawa in April 1945, but as the front advanced across the island, the Japanese military began an intense, last-ditch battle of resistance to protect the mainland.

    Question: How did the battle between the United States and Japan unfold in Okinawa?

    Answer: The U.S. military first reached the Kerama islands, west of the main island of Okinawa, on March 26, 1945. By April 1, they made landfall in the vicinity of what is now the village of Yomitan and the town of Kadena, on the main island's central west coast. There was little resistance from the Imperial Japanese military. Some 60,000 U.S. soldiers arrived that day in a "bloodless landing." From there, the U.S. advancement divided the island in half between north and south.

    The Japanese forces began large-scale suicide attack missions targeting U.S. battleships with aircraft launched from the southwestern island of Kyushu and other locations on April 6. The Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato was also deployed on a one-way retaliation mission to Okinawa, but was sunk on April 7 off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture.

    Meanwhile in Okinawa, Japan's 32nd Imperial Army built encampments on high ground in the main island's central area and retaliated against the advancing U.S. front. Starting mid-April, the fierce back-and-forth battle raged for roughly 40 days over a wide area of the central southern part of the island, including the present-day cities of Ginowan and Urasoe. About a month later, the U.S. closed in on the 32nd Army headquarters fortified under Shuri Castle, located in what is now the city of Naha.

    Having taken a heavy hit, the Japanese forces retreated south and began a bitter, last-ditch resistance. It's believed that the strategy was to buy as much time as possible before the U.S. reached the Japanese mainland. However, it is this very retreat that led to the wide-spread damage and tragedy that followed.

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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