1 Apr 1945 – 22 Jun 1945
Second World War
The Pacific War began with the rapid advance of Japanese forces in East Asia and across the Pacific. By the end of December 1941, Japanese control in the Pacific extended as far as Wake Island, less than 2,500 miles from Hawaii.
Decisive naval clashes at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, in May and June 1942, turned the tables on Japan. In August of the same year, the US launched its 'island-hopping' strategy to retake control in the Pacific, beginning with an amphibious assault at Guadalcanal.
By April 1945, US forces were ready to launch an assault on Okinawa. An airbase here would bring US B-29 bombers within range of the Japanese home islands.
5 Facts About the Battle of Okinawa
Discover more about the Battle of Okinawa and a few highlights from our collection.
1. It was the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific War
Over 60,000 US troops landed at Okinawa on 1 April, 1945.
2. Japanese defenders occupied fortified bunkers
Rather than concentrate their strength against the landings, the Japanese defenders took up position in heavily fortified tunnels and bunker systems. The plan was to wear the American forces down in a battle of attrition.
3. The Royal Navy provided support
The British Pacific Fleet, operating as Task Force 57, supported the US operations at Okinawa by targeting Japanese air activity from the neighbouring Sakishima Islands.
4. Japanese air forces launched over 1000 kamikaze attacks
The first use of kamikaze attack was in October 1944 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. At Okinawa, the attacks came en masse. The assault caused extensive damage to hundreds of vessels, including both US and British aircraft carriers, even though the latter were fitted with armoured decks.
5. Casualties were high
The Battle of Okinawa was a victory for the US but resulted in massive casualties on both sides. Japanese forces fought with the same fanaticism the Americans had witnessed in battles such as Iwo Jima. Rather than be taken prisoner, defenders often chose suicide. Okinawa also witnessed heavy civilian casualties, perhaps in excess of 100,000. The losses at Okinawa convinced US war planners that any invasion of Japan would incur unacceptable casualties. Their estimates, at worst as many as 1 million US servicemen, were a key factor in President Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb.
Listen to an Interview
Professor Kinjo Shigeaki was a Japanese civilian living on Okinawa in 1945. He was interviewed by IWM in 1998. He describes his life before the Second World War and the strict nature of his education, which painted the Japanese Emperor as a god, the US and Britain as barbarous, and stressed the honour of dying for Japan. These beliefs, he explains, led to tragedy in Okinawa as the civilian population turned to suicide rather than face capture.
Listen to the full interview Please note this interview contains distressing details.