Okinawa – US forces face a gruesome clear up

In June 1945, after 82 days of intense fighting, US Army and Marines secured Okinawa. The cost was enormous: 12,000 Americans and 70,000 Japanese and Okinawan conscripts lost their lives in a battle that would be remembered as one of the most terrible in the history of warfare.

In June 1945, after 82 days of intense fighting, US Army and Marines secured Okinawa. The cost was enormous: 12,000 Americans and 70,000 Japanese and Okinawan conscripts lost their lives in a battle that would be remembered as one of the most terrible in the history of warfare. More than 100,000 Okinawa civilians, not including those who were conscripted, are also believed to had been killed or forced to commit suicide during the battle and its aftermath.

Marine First Lieutenant Hart H. Spiegal of Topeka, Kansas, uses sign language as he tries to strike up a conversation with two tiny Japanese soldiers captured on Okinawa. The boy on the left claims he is “18” while his companion boasts “20” years.

Marine First Lieutenant Hart H. Spiegal of Topeka, Kansas, uses sign language as he tries to strike up a conversation with two tiny Japanese soldiers captured on Okinawa. The boy on the left claims he is “18” while his companion boasts “20” years.

Although the battle for Okinawa was effectively over by 22 June the formal surrender did not take place until 7th September, after Japan had surrendered as a nation. While organised fighting had collapsed there were many Japanese soldiers still holding out in their caves and dug outs, some would choose suicide but many felt it their duty to take an American with them.

For the American soldiers and marines engaged in the final ‘clearing up’, operations continued to be difficult and dangerous. Even if they did not confront resisters the business of dealing with mass suicides was as gruesome as it is possible to imagine. US Intelligence officer Frank B. Gibney describes some of the final scenes:

Japanese troops who were preparing a last-ditch “defense.” The flower of the island’s youth — teenage girl nurses’ aides as well as boeitai boy soldiers- were sacrificed to the directives of the Japanese army command. In many cases they were forced to hurl themselves from the low southern cliffs into the sea, so they, too, could “die for the Emperor.”

Even after entering the stockade as prisoners, many soldiers still regretted their decision to stay alive. This was a backhanded tribute to the cruelly effective indoctrination of Japan’s militarists.

As sophisticated an observer as the novelist Shohei Ooka, whose book A Prisoner’s Journal (Furyoki) became a Japanese classic, could later write of his capture (in this case in the Philippines): “I did not regard capture by the enemy as the heinous disgrace our drill instructors had pictured… Soldiers in the field had every right to abandon hopeless resistance. Yet once I had fallen captive, how discomforting, how reprehensible it felt to be idly enjoying life among the enemy while my brothers in arms continued to risk their lives in battle. I felt a sudden urge to throw myself into the ocean and kill myself…”.

At 10th Army G-2 interrogation headquarters we mobilized every Japanese speaker in American uniform — officers and noncoms, army, navy, and marines — to extract militarily useful information from our prisoners. Because of the numbers involved, we sometimes interrogated POWs in groups — for the first time in our experience.

Various interrogators were assigned to different Japanese units to elicit information on their tactics during the campaign, all the while screening prisoners for further questioning.

In addition, we were on constant call to accompany intelligence officers from various division headquarters, in efforts to talk out the last survivors of 32nd Army battalions from their cave hideouts. Generally we were unsuccessful. And time and time again the attempts of individual soldiers to turn themselves in were frustrated by the determined resistance of hard-liners in these caves who wished “Death for the Emperor!” to be the fate of all.

At one point we were led by an engineer captain, just taken prisoner, to a cave where General Amamiya and many of the surviving 24th Division troops had blown themselves up. With 7th Division intelligence officers, I went down to one of the cave entrances and crawled in.

After a walk through a long tunnel we came on a huge underground cavern and one of the ghastliest sights I ever saw. Here lay General Amamiya, surrounded by his staff and some two hundred officers and men. They had all killed themselves, most with grenades, although Amamiya had thoughtfully given himself a lethal injection to avoid the rigors of ritual suicide. The cave floor was literally carpeted with corpses.

In the middle of this carnage we found one survivor, a private who had been the general’s orderly. Amamiya had told him to stay alive and report how they died – to the Emperor, presumably. The orderly had faithfully remained, prepared to do so. He found an underground spring that gave him a steady water supply and subsisted for almost a week on bits and pieces of rations which had been left behind by the suicides.

The captain who had taken us to the cave was unhinged by the experience. He suffered, to put it mildly, a mental breakdown; it took him a long time to recover. But the general’s orderly, once released from the cave, seemed to shrug off his ordeal. Late that aftemoon I saw him in one of the prison camp yards playing volleyball with his fellow captives.

This account appears in Hiromichi Yahara: The Battle for Okinawa

Japanese POWs are photographed after capture and internment during the Battle of Okinawa. The 82-day-long battle lasted from 1 April 1945 until 22 June 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were approaching Japan, and planned to use Okinawa, a large island only  550 km (340 mi)  away from mainland Japan, as a base for air operations during the planned invasion of Japanese mainland. Okuku, Okinawa Prefecture, Okinawa Island, Ryukyu Islands, Japan. 27 June 1945.

Japanese POWs are photographed after capture and internment during the Battle of Okinawa. The 82-day-long battle lasted from 1 April 1945 until 22 June 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were approaching Japan, and planned to use Okinawa, a large island only 550 km (340 mi) away from mainland Japan, as a base for air operations during the planned invasion of Japanese mainland. Okuku, Okinawa Prefecture, Okinawa Island, Ryukyu Islands, Japan. 27 June 1945.

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