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Posted on Jun 14, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

War in the East – Part Two

By Wild Bill Wilder

Okinawa: The Last Great Battle

It was now clear that time was running out for the Japanese. The Third Reich was breathing its last in Europe, and once that conflict ended, all the wrath of the Allied powers would be turned against the Japanese Empire. Among the Ryukyu Islands was Okinawa, some 350 miles from Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. It was extremely suitable for fleet anchorages and airfields, and would serve superbly as the jumping off point for the final invasion of Japan.

Defending it were 100,000 men of the Japanese 32nd Army. The enemy still had some ships, and a sizeable air force. It would not be easy. It wasn’t. Again the landings were made on April 1st with no opposition. The real fighting began inland. As American Marines and soldiers fought their way down the island, casualties on both sides skyrocketed.


A US Marine dashes to avoid Japanese machine gun fire

During this time, what had been an occasional burst of gallantry became an organized wave of destruction. The Kamikaze force was formed. It consisted of thousands of planes that were nothing more than guided missiles. Their mission was to destroy the enemy, knowing that it also meant self-destruction. Many of the young inexperienced pilots (some with only 10 hours of solo flying time) rejoiced in the opportunity to sacrifice themselves in suicidal attacks against the relentless enemy. To the Japanese, such a death was glorious and nothing less could be expected of the Sons of Nippon.

Again and again these airplanes drove through picket lines of destroyers and struck at carriers and battleships. Three capital ships were sunk and over 350 major warships suffered damage at the hands of the suicidal pilots. Even the great battleship Yamato, accompanied by a light cruiser and a few destroyers, sortied out to attack with only enough fuel to get to the battle area. It was engulfed in air attacks by over 300 airplanes and soon went under.

Next Stop: Japan!

The fighting for Okinawa came to an end on June 14th, except for mopping up operations, which would continue to the end of the war. By this time 110,000 Japanese and 12,500 Americans had been killed to take this one island. It was evident now that with America and her Allies knocking on the door, this type of fanatical, suicidal resistance could cost millions of casualties and would probably continue well into 1946.

The attack upon Japan itself would consist of two major invasions. The first, Olympic, would set the stage for the second, named Coronet, which would take place some fifty miles to the east of Tokyo. It was feared that the Japanese people would resort to a sort of national suicide type of fighting that would ultimately prove nothing.

With the death of Franklin Roosevelt on April 12th, 1945, it fell to the new president of the United States, Harry Truman, to make a final decision in the matter. As he considered all possibilities, he at last opted for the use of atomic weapons as the lesser destructive of the two alternatives.

Strong warnings were sent to the Japanese, who chose to ignore them. Then two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, on the 5th and 9th of August. The total casualties including dead and injured, amounted to about 150,000 men, women and children. Horrible though it may sound, such action still saved many more thousands of lives.

Five days later, on August 14, 1945, Japan agreed to surrender unconditionally. Emperor Hirohito, grieving over the loss of thousands of Japanese civilians under the deadly Atomic bombs, and equally fearful of more of the same, had no choice. He assembled the Imperial Council and prepares his transcript of acceptance of the terms of unconditional surrender.

Just before it was broadcast by radio throughout the nation, a mad last-minute attack by 1,000 soldiers on the Royal Palace was driven off by the Imperial Guard, who was ever loyal to the Emperor. Accordingly, hostilities came to a final official end on September 2nd 1945, when the surrender agreement was signed aboard the battleship Missouri. Some fighting continued in Manchuria and north China, where Russia was pursuing its own objectives. The war, however, in the Pacific Ocean, was now at an end. This was the final curtain to come down on the largest war ever to be witnessed by mankind.

Author Information

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War, and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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