Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Chrysanthemum Crescendo

As the U.S.-led Allied two-pronged march across the Pacific drew inexorably closer to the home islands of the Empire of Japan in the Spring of 1945, both sides' increasing desperation for an end to the monumental waste of blood and treasure was matched by the increasing intensity of the fighting to bring about that end.

By this date 70 years ago, MacArthur's drive from Australia up through New Guinea and back to the Philippines (as he had theatrically promised when chased out by the Japanese three years earlier: "...I shall return.") had climaxed with a destructively brutal wresting of Manila from its unbending defenders. To the East, Nimitz's Central Pacific campaign had seized Iwo Jima in an unbelievably bloody 6-week prize fight whose purse was possession of a sulphurous island with only one redeeming feature -- an airfield halfway between Tokyo and the US heavy bomber base in the Marianas Islands.

Now, all eyes turned to the last major objective short of Japan itself -- Okinawa.

The Japanese viewed Okinawa in much the same way we Americans view Puerto Rico. It was centuries-long held territory, but its inhabitants weren't considered full-fledged Japanese. The Japanese Imperial high command intended to sacrifice the Okinawan people (unlike most of the Japanese-held islands on the way to Tokyo, Okinawa was heavily populated) along with 100,000 Japanese soldiers in a final battle that would give the Americans a taste of just how horrible invading the Japanese home islands would be.

Early in American Pacific War planning, the island of Formosa (Taiwan) was considered as the final island objective and jumping-off point for campaigns against Japanese forces in China as well as Japan itself. As the staggering cost of men and materiel mounted in Europe and the Pacific, war-planners shelved the idea of landings on the very large island of Formosa and subsequent land campaign on the Asian mainland in favor of seizing Okinawa and its large airfields, adequate anchorages, and large-enough troop staging area.

The Americans called the Okinawa campaign "Operation Iceberg."

The Japanese called their kamikaze defense of Okinawa "Falling Chrysanthemums."

The Okinawan people called the battle "The Typhoon of Steel."

On this date, seventy years ago -- April 1, 1945 -- four US divisions, 2 Army and 2 Marine, went ashore virtually unopposed across beaches on the western side of the island. By the end of the day, 60,000 Americans were on Okinawa at the price of a handful of casualties.

It was Easter Sunday in 1945. It would be the last peaceful day for months.

The commander of the Japanese forces on Okinawa had decided against exposing his troops to pre-landing naval and air bombardment in a defense of the beaches. Instead, he constructed elaborate defenses in depth along terrain bisecting the island in successive lines.

While American soldiers and Marines fed themselves into meat-grinding assaults against the most formidable Japanese defensive positions of the Pacific War, the 1300-ship (yes, one thousand, three hundred ships) of the supporting Allied fleet were subject to the crescendo of Japanese airpower, the majority of which were kamikaze strikes. US Navy dead (nearly 5000) exceeded that suffered by either the Army or Marines ashore.

The vast majority of the Japanese defenders were killed or committed suicide by battle's end.
Upwards of 100,000 Okinawan civilians (a third of the population) died.

As the light on Okinawa died by the middle of July, a new light flashed in the New Mexico desert.

A month later, Japan surrendered.
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