Where: Okinawa island, near Taiwan
When: 1945 – the end of the Great War
History: Tunnel warfare and a tragic mass suicide
South of Kyushu in Japan is a string of small islands leading to Taiwan. The largest of these is Okinawa, scene of the last battle of WWII.
What Happened Here?
On Easter Sunday 1945, the invasion “Operation Iceberg” saw the assembling of the greatest naval armada in history, when over 182,000 troops and a fleet of 1,300 USA ships set to capture the island. After horrific battles with huge losses from both sides (over 8,000 American navy casualties – the highest death toll ever in naval history), the USA captured and controlled Okinawa until 1972. There are still 50,000 US troops stationed on the island.
Towards the end of the Battle of Okinawa, the Japanese navy built a secret underground headquarters. By hand, using pick axes, they dug out over a mile of tunnels. These tunnels soon became their own graves and the site of one of the biggest mass suicides ever known, totalling some 4000 Japanese men. The Japanese hold great honour over the own death and would not die in the hands of the enemy. They either disembowelled themselves or threw a grenade, and all along the tunnel walls you can still see remnants of the grenades. The Japanese fought bravely in the six week battle, using kamikaze suicide bombers to weaken the immense USA army.
The battle of Okinawa was one of the most tragic episodes of the war, as it wasn’t only military death but many civilians died. When the citizens of Okinawa realised they had lost to the Americans, many jumped to their deaths on the island’s cliffs rather than face capture by the USA, whom they considered to be barbarians.
By Susi O’Neill
main image: JAPANESE COMMANDERS on Okinawa (photographed early in February 1945). In center: (1) Admiral Minoru Ota, (2) Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, (3) Lt. Gen. Isamu Cho, (4) Col. Hitoshi Kanayama, (5) Col. Kikuji Hongo, and (6) Col. Hiromichi Yahara.