Apr 1

Air Strikes Set the Stage for Okinawa Invasion

Thursday, April 1, 2010 8:12 AM



65 years ago today, Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, was the site of one of the last major island landings of World War II and scene of some of its heaviest fighting.

Supporting operations leading up to Operation Iceberg, under the strategic command of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, began with 5th Fleet air strikes against Kyushu on 18 March 1945. Executed with heavy naval gunfire and air support, the initial landings—the Joint Expeditionary Force under Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner and the soldiers and marines under Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, USA—took place on 1 April.

Running generally north and south, Okinawa is 60 miles long and from a to 18 miles wide, with an area of 485 square miles. It is entirely fringed with reefs.

Overwhelming Navy carrier-based air power crushed the Japanese attempt to disrupt the landings on 7 April; on this day 386 planes of Task Force 58 sunk the Japanese battleship Yamato, light cruiser Yahagi, and four destroyers, and damaged four other destroyers.

After 82 days of heavy fighting, the island was declared secure on 21 June. An armada of ships had participated in the operation, during which 36 of them of destroyer size or smaller were lost, most to the heaviest concentration of kamikaze attacks of the war.

Securing Okinawa blocked the Japanese supply lanes in the East China Sea, isolating all southern possessions still in Japanese hands; and cleared the last obstacle in the path to the Japanese Home Islands.

  • Huzzah 70

    “An armada of ships had participated in the operation, during which 36 of them of destroyer size or smaller were lost, most to the heaviest concentration of kamikaze attacks of the war.”

    Don’t forget the more than 100 ships that were damaged. The number of picket ships and air squadrons (Navy, Army, USMC) at Okinawa was staggering, and while the impact to the invasion force was minimal, the Navy still suffered the highest total number of ships lost or damaged in the war.

    The book “Kamikazes, Corsairs and Picket Ships” by Robin Reilly is a pretty sobering account of this.

  • Paul M Hupf

    The USS Portland (CA33), on which I served, along with a vast armada, left Ulithi on March 15, 1945. We were to provide fire support for the troops going ashore. Okinawa was a long narrow island. It was wholy vulnerable to naval fire. There was a group of rocky islands southwest of Okinawa, known as Kerama Retto, which was initially considered as a suitable shelter for the ships at night. My recollection is that it was used only once or twice, because the ships had no maneuvering room but were still vulnerable to Kamikaze attack. I believe the Indianaoplis sustained damage in Kerama Retto.

    The landing beaches were on the west side of Okinawa, opposite its two airfields, Yontan and Kadena, both of which had been put out of action by this time. Each day before April 1 for a week prior to the landing, battleships and cruisers in line fired at selected targets without opposition from the island. One day a Japanese submarine surfaced immediately off the starboard bow of the Portland. Captain Settle, the Portland’s superb commanding officer, who always took the helm at general quarters, tried to ram the submarine and almost did so. The fire support ships vacated the area so that destroyers could attack the sub with depth charges.

    On April 1st, Easter Sunday, the landing force was landed about 0800 and walked ashore. The airfields were seized within hours. All first day objectives were quickly achieved.

    A harbinger of things to come? Not so; Not so!

  • @Huzzah Thanks for your comment as well as the book recommendation. Agreed there were plenty of damaged ships besides those that were lost. just limited on space.

    @Paul, Thank you for your service and for your recollections. Please keep on reading and commenting. Thank you!

  • Kevin T. Curran

    I love WW2 stuff and never really knew how and when the Yamato went down…must have been a hell of a party after they took that big ass battlewagon down…Love this Blog!!

  • Paul M Hupf

    Okinawa: (cont’d)

    Not much occurred during the first three or four days after the landings. On April 5th or 6th a small island, Ie Shima, just north of the landing beaches was seized by Army troops. The Portland, among other ships, provided gunfire support. No one would remember the event (other than those involved) had it not been for the fact that Ernie Pyle, the reporter who wrote such moving accounts in Europe about individual soldiers, was killed
    that morning on Ie Shima. His death was announced throughout the fleet.

    About noon on April 6th, general quarters sounded on the Portland and on all the major ships in the anchorage off the landing beaches. We went to sea. For the next two hours there were sporadic Kamikaze attacks. From what we later learned a major effort was made by the Kamikazes with the intention of disrupting the ships, e.g. the Portland and others, protecting the landing beaches. I have no recollection of whether we, on the Portland had targets in range that day.

    On April 12th this tactic was repeated by the Japanese. There were scattered clouds in the sky, sunlight shining on the water between the clouds. About 1400 hours, our attention in Sky Aft was directed to eight Kamikazes, flying in formation, coming in our direction. My estimate is that they were at that moment about 10,000 yards away on the stern port quarter of the Portland. My job was inside the director housing so I closed the hatch behind me. The trainer and the pointer inside the director told John Haynie, the commander on the director, that each had the targets in their optics. Haynie gave the command to Commence Firing. The 20 and 40 millimeter mounts immediately joined in. But we had only two five inch mounts under our control. Sky Forward had the other two. But it was trained to the starboard side of the Portland. My phone line connected me to Sky Control which commanded the whole AA battery. Sky Control kept repeating: “Sky Forward, do you have a solution?” There was no answer. John Haynie gave the command to “Cease Fire”. The 5″ battery fire stopped but the 20s and 40s (properly) continued firing.

    I opened the hatch behind me; stepped out to look over the top of the director housing. What I saw, I didn’t ever want to see: A Zeke (Zero), circular cowling, underslung wing, spinning propeller glistening in the sunlight, not more than a couple hundred yards from the ship, seemingly aimed at Sky Aft. I ducked back into the director housing expecting a hit. But there was none. Later, talking to the Marines of the 5″ gun crews, the plane passed over their stations, barely above their heads, and splashed into the ocean.

    It was unquestionably Captain Settle who saved the ship that day and many lives as well. At the helm he never hesitated taking evasive action during Kamikaze attacks, though often criticized, we learned later at Portland reunions from the communications officers. His response, they told us, was always: “I am responsible for the lives of the crew of the Portland and I will take such action as I deem necessary.” Not every ship’s captain could have maintained that position but Captain Settle could and did.

    We were credited with four Kamikazes that day. Of the eight planes initially spotted four directed themselve to the USS Tennessee which was directly ahead of the Portland. The Tennessee sustained damage and casualties. There is a famous photograph in Admiral Morrison’s volume on Okinawa, which depicts the Tennessee under that attack.