Category Archives: U.S.

Surrenders Rise on Okinawa, June 1945

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 484-485, 519-520, 548-550:

In mid-June, a week before the official end of the campaign, Japanese began surrendering in sizable numbers. Until then, the average had been four men daily. Many American companies fought for eight or ten weeks without taking a single prisoner. Many saw no enemy soldiers at all apart from dead – certainly never saw one try to surrender or allow himself to be taken unless he was physically or mentally disabled by bombs or artillery shells. But the 32nd Army’s teetering morale [after their withdrawal from the Shuri Line] began going over the edge in some units whose last lines of communication were gone. White flags, or substitutes, became a common sight….

The daily average rose from the four in mid-June to fifty during the third week of the month, soaring to 343 on June 19 alone, a huge number by Japanese standards. One four-man patrol captured 150 prisoners after their officers bowed, surrendered their swords, shot some Okinawan women who had been accompanying them, and killed themselves. In all, almost three thousand Japanese were taken prisoner during the second half of June, about a third of the number killed during the same period….

Such surrenders were new in Japanese history. Although the percentage remained very slight in relation to those killed in action, the absolute count leaped to nearly a thousand – probably half of them conscripted Okinawans – on June 20 and 21. That was the number of prisoners taken. The number shot will never be known….

It is worth repeating that Japanese who wanted to capitulate faced perhaps a greater chance of of being killed by Japanese bullets than American, and General Buckner’s men came to realize that when they saw Japanese throw grenades at other Japanese who carried surrender leaflets. One Japanese lieutenant who had graduated from an Ivy League college gave himself up with one of his sergeants. Soon a sniper started firing, apparently more at them than at the Marines to whom they surrendered. The Japanese calmly took the fire until one of the Marines to whom they surrendered told “you dumb bastards” to take cover, whereon they did what they were ordered and were saved.

Language provided moments of comic relief. At one large cave thought to contain natives [Okinawans], bullhorns insistently blared that no one with his hands up would be hurt. “We’re sorry for you civilians, so please come out right now.” Finally, women, children and old men did emerge. The cave mouth was on a slope below a small plateau. Gripping his weapon in one hand, a Marine Hercules stood above the mouth to snatch the civilians with the other and lift them, one by one, to level ground. “Up you go, Mac.” “That’s right, Mac, out you come.” When a Japanese [soldier] appeared at the mouth, the trigger fingers of the Marine fire team instantly tightened on their rifles and automatics. “Easy, Mac, no trouble – okay?” proposed the big Marine. “My name’s not Mac,” the Japanese soldier answered in startlingly clear English. “My name’s Yoshio and I’d rather be in Texas, where I should be.” To the astonishment of the watchers, who included General Lemuel Shepherd, commander of the 6th Marine Division, Yoshio explained that he had traveled from his San Antonio home to visit Japanese relatives in 1941. This was his first friendly contact with Americans since Pearl Harbor stranded him in Japan, where he had been drafted.

Kojo finally reached his cave on some high ground about five miles north of Shuri in the dark of an early September night. Overjoyed to see each other alive, the two twenty-four-year-old captains held hands while Shimura announced he was going to surrender that morning. The war, he explained, was over; Japan had been defeated.

Kojo went into shock. Staring at Shimura, he thought of his months of hunger, misery, and frantic efforts to stay alive in order to reach his trusted comrade. When he fought off his faintness, he still could not formulate an answer. Shimura quietly elaborated that he felt he must obey the Emperor’s will and an Imperial order. “You’re right,” Kojo replied at last. “You have three hundred men to feed and you should surrender. But I’m responsible only for myself. I’m going on alone.” Part of him believed that Japan was defeated; a stronger part could not accept it….

More months passed in the dark of various caves. Later in the autumn, Okinawa’s civilians freed from their internment ventured into one of them. Kojo almost shot them for trying to persuade the men to surrender, but he realized other civilians would report them sooner or later. Sure enough, a jeep appeared before he had time to find another hiding place. The search party consisted of an American driver, two Nisei interpreters and a Japanese officer using an assumed Okinawan name. They spoke in a friendly way about the end of the war and the folly of further resistance. Kojo stood apart when a second visit convinced most inhabitants of the cave they would not be killed if they submitted. The men had an absolute right to surrender, but he had his own code.

However, something intrigued him about an enemy who conducted himself without the slightest hint of a victor’s haughtiness or display of superiority, even in weaponry. Maybe the truck that accompanied the jeep hid a machine gun, but the curiously relaxed Americans didn’t carry even pistols. Kojo had never seen a “blue-eyed devil” outside of combat…

He was prepared for Americans flourishing guns and for insults to his honor. He would have shot anyone like that who entered the cave, then shot himself – but would such a display make sense now? The first party had asked the stragglers to please give up their weapons. Some now did; others had buried theirs. Kojo told himself it was the responsibility of the senior Japanese present to observe closely. He inched closer. Then, in a kind of daze, he handed his pistol to an American lieutenant outside – which the latter returned, asking him to unload it. Was he an enemy or a wiser man? Kojo’s realization of how easily he could have shot the lieutenant forced him to accept that the war had ended. He returned the pistol to the American, who invited him into the jeep. After five months of nocturnal existence, the sunlight blinded him. When the men were in the truck, all were driven to a military police post and [given] cigarettes, then to a POW camp in the north.

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Projected World War II Casualties after Sept. 1945

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 571-574:

American anticipation of the bloodbath [awaiting them when they invaded the main islands of Japan] was evident in the forty-two divisions they allotted to the invasion. Seven had fought on Okinawa.

The planners calculated the landing alone would cost a hundred thousand American lives. The full securing of the home islands was expected to cost ten times that number, or four times the combined losses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. General MacArthur, whose estimates of casualties in previous battles had been uncannily accurate, made a careful study of the mainland operation at President Truman’s request and predicted one million men would be killed or wounded in the invasions of Kyushu and Honshu alone…. Final victory might easily cost more American casualties than in the entire war until then, in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

The predictability of the [Okinawa] veterans’ renewed love of the bomb when they saw what it saved them from at mainland landing sites is no reason to dismiss arguments for its use. Of course it killed many people, but the equation, if there is one, must include the people it saved, to the extent that saving now seems likely and the number can be estimated. Although the American fighting men who cheered Little Boy and Fat Man did not care as much about others’ survival as their own, consideration of the larger issue must include possible Japanese losses.

The ratio of Japanese combat deaths to American was well over 10 to 1 on Okinawa. It might have been marginally different during fighting in the enemy’s heartland rather than on isolated islands, where Japanese garrisons were often cut off from reinforcements. Civilian deaths assuredly would have been much higher, if only because the mainland had many more civilians with a commitment to die for Emperor and country. The best estimates of probably total Japanese deaths in a mainland campaign are around twenty million; if civilian suicides and suicidal resistance had generated hysteria – a likely prospect in light of the experience on Guam [sic; Saipan?] and Okinawa – the toll would have been higher. The country would have been leveled and burned to cinders. Postwar life, including economic recovery, would have been retarded if Russia, a full Allied partner during the ground combat from 1945 to 1947 or 1948, would have insisted on dividing Japan like Korea and Germany.

Any estimate of lives saved by the atomic bombs must include hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians in China, Manchuria and other territories still fought for and occupied, often viciously, by Japan. There would have been tens of thousands of British casualties among the 200,000 set to invade the Malay Peninsula – to retake Singapore – on September 9, a month after Nagasaki. Six divisions, the same number as at Normandy, had been assigned to that operation. It was expected to take seven months of savage infantry fighting, over half the time required to defeat Hitler’s armies in Europe.

The total number must also include European and Eurasian prisoners of the Japanese, chiefly from English, Dutch, and other colonial military and civilian forces. Okinawa was the most important prelude to the climax because its terrain most closely resembled the mainland’s, but non-Japanese elsewhere in Asia would have suffered even more during the new Tennozan. After the fall of Okinawa, Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi issued an order directing his prison camp officers to kill all their captives the moment the enemy invaded his southeast Asia theater. That would have been when those 200,000 British landed to retake Singapore, less than three weeks after the Japanese surrender. There was a real chance that Terauchi’s order would have been carried out, in which case up to 400,000 people would have been massacred. Even more were doomed to die soon after of “natural” causes. The Japanese treatment of their prisoners grew more brutal as the military situation worsened and their hatred swelled. Laurens van der Post, who had been a prisoner for more than forty months, was convinced that the majority of the half-million captives in the hellish camps could not possibly have survived the year 1946. Dying every day in droves throughout the summer of 1945, nearly all would have perished of disease and starvation in the months that followed.

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Cost Ineffectiveness of Kamikaze Operations

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 213, 225, 229:

Many kamikaze pilots, even knowing they could not seriously damage the American fleet, hoped their demonstration of sublime dedication might shock the spiritually inferior enemy into defeat. Actually, however, they prompted the reverse reaction: the “diving madmen” reinforced Americans’ conviction that only utter prostration was good enough for the demented Japanese. Even if the men of the [U.S.] 10th Army and 5th Fleet had known that what attracted many kamikazes was less killing others than dying well themselves, precious few would have been interested. So much stark evidence of “degenerate” thirst for blood at such “inhuman” cost nipped any desire – slight to begin with among most Americans – to probe deeper into the unfathomable Oriental mentality. The cost ineffectiveness of kamikaze operations also comforted few Americans at Okinawa. After the lifting of the censorship of casualty and damage figures in July [1945], following the campaign’s official end, the Navy revealed that thirty-three ships had been sunk, chiefly by kamikazes, and 368 ships and craft damaged, more than fifty seriously. Carriers also lost 539 planes, but the Japanese cost remained staggering, as on the first mass attack of April 6–7, when almost half the planes were lost. Of 182 “bogeys” to penetrate within shooting distance of [U.S.] Task Force 54, the big-gun bombardment force, on the afternoon of April 6, 108 were claimed shot down. TF 58 recorded a further 249 splashes, 65 by a single carrier (according to Essex’s own tally) on that day alone. On some days, up to 90 percent of the planes delivering mass attacks, conventional and kamikaze together, were destroyed – a total of 7830 for the three months of the Okinawan campaign. The kill ratio of the latter [i.e., kamikaze] alone was naturally far higher, and most of the tiny percentage that managed to crash on ships instead of into the sea did so on superstructures, where they caused relatively superficial damage. Huge as the attack of April 6–7 was, the [U.S.] fleet comprised more ships than the nine hundred Japanese planes – and none larger than a destroyer was sunk that day or later. Some four thousand treasures of the [Japanese] nation died for this strategically minor wounding off Okinawa, most of them less than twenty-one years old.

The military irrationality of the kamikaze effort as a whole was aggravated by wasting far too much of it on the picket ships. It was almost inevitable that those unarmored little craft took a disproportionate share of the dives; many shaky pilots were unable to keep their rickety planes aloft long enough to reach the choicer targets of the carriers and transports. Leutze, Newcomb, Bush and Calhoun were among the destroyers and destroyer escorts that footed most of the crash bill. Kamikazes badly damaged thirteen American carriers, ten battleships and five cruisers off Okinawa, but only smaller ships, with their skimpier antiaircraft armament, went down: a dozen between late March and the end of June, in addition to three sunk by conventional air attacks.

The Tenth Floating Chrysanthemum [“Kikusui” mass air raids] on June 21–22 would muster only forty-five kamikazes, down from the 355 of the First, of April 6–7. On average, the eight in between (on April 12–13, 15–16, 27–28; May 3–4, 10–11, 23–24, 27–28; and June 3–7) involved progressively fewer planes but without proportionate relief of strain on the targeted ships. And those Japanese numbers decreased partly because officers on the home islands had already begun husbanding for the struggle there, for which they would be able to muster ten thousand or more planes for kamikaze use.

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World War Two Naval Mines in Japanese Waters as of 2015

According to a chart in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Museum in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, the U.S. military placed a total of 10,703 naval mines in Japanese waters during World War Two, of which 4,157 were disposed of during the war and 6,249 have been disposed of since the war ended. As of 17 May 2015, 297 American naval mines from World War Two remain unaccounted for. On that date a mine was discovered and disposed of in the eastern entrance to the busy Shimonoseki Straits between Kyushu and Honshu.

A record of recent mine disposal results lists the following.

  • 2008 – 3 mines – off Sanuki City on the Inland Sea; off Kasaoka City on the Inland Sea; and on the Moji side of the Shimonoseki Straits
  • 2009 – 2 mines – one on each side of the Shimonoseki Straits
  • 2010 – 1 mine – off Uruma City in Okinawa
  • 2011 – 3 mines – at Port Island, Kobe; off Kanda Port near Kitakyushu Airport; south of Manjushima, Shimonoseki
  • 2012 – 0 mines
  • 2013 – 1 mine – Shimonoseki Straits, off Wakamatsu
  • 2014 – 1 mine – Shimonoseki Straits, off Shimonoseki
  • 2015 – 1 mine – Shimonoseki Straits, eastern entrance

Mine disposal efforts continue to this day.

According to a display map, Japan itself laid 55,347 mines to defend its perimeter: 15,474 along the Tokai and southwestern island chain, 14,927 in the northern Honshu and Shikoku regions, 10,012 along the coast of Kyushu, 7,640 along the south coast of Korea and across the Yellow Sea, and 7,294 around Taiwan. The same map shows that the U.S. laid most of its naval mines in the Inland Sea and along the Japan Sea coast (to destroy economic supply routes).

The museum focused almost entirely on the JMSDF’s minesweeping and submarine capabilities. The Japanese Navy’s significant contribution to minesweeping off Korea during the Korean War was a major factor in its getting back into the good graces of the U.S. military, resulting in the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty signed in 1952 and amended in 1960.

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Okinawans Before the Battle, 1945

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 63-64, 74-75:

Okinawa’s problems included an internal caste system and vigorous snobbery. As most Japanese looked down at most Okinawans, rich Okinawans, especially from the cities, tended to look down at farming villagers, who did the same to inhabitants of the smaller Ryukyu islands. More painfully, there was overcrowding. The island’s southern third, where by far the hardest fighting would take place, was over four times more densely populated than Rhode Island. This would contribute to the coming battle’s extraordinary toll in civilian deaths, as it had contributed to centuries of poverty. “When you come to Okinawa,” a folk song advised, “please wear straw shoes” – for the coral was as hard on bare feet as it was to cultivation. The majority of the population eked out their existence on thin, harsh soil. Nature took away almost as much as it gave. The chronicle of natural disasters, especially crop-ruining, house-flattening typhoons, reads like the drum rolls of a dirge to a little people also regularly decimated by drought, plague and famine. “The whole fragile, minuscule structure survived throughout the centuries at bare subsistence level,” a Western historian summarized. No threat to anyone, the patch of meager land would never be a prize, except for its strategic position in other nations’ plans.

Poverty remained widespread in 1944. It was rooted in subtropical lassitude, agricultural backwardness and the typhoons that regularly ravaged housing and crops. The 1940 population, about 475,000 before the battle in 1945, owned 250 motor vehicles, one to every two thousand persons. A quarter were busses. In “poor” Japan, which felt compelled to seize other people’s land, the average farmer farmed five tan, about one and a quarter acres. It was two tan on Okinawa, and per capita income was about half the mainland average.

Farmers usually went without shoes. They planted their tiny fields chiefly with sugar cane, most of the crop now going to the mainland’s war-economy alcohol, and with sweet potatoes. The blessed sweet potato, which had arrived on a seventeenth-century ship returning from delivering tribute to the Chinese court, remained the mainstay of the “poor man’s” diet. A naval research unit that would analyze soil samples after the American landing first discovered that “Okinawa’s earth was made of sweet potatoes – everywhere we dug.” Next, it found the fields were “generously fertilized with nightsoil – a rich source … of typhoid and paratyphoid bacilli, which a month later [in May 1945, when the fighting was most severe] produced a mild outbreak among our troops.”

Despite great hunger for farmland, much of the island remained untilled. The mountain soil was too thin, large tracts wre covered with sand and thousands of coral escarpments had no covering at all – thus an even more intense cultivation of the arable land. Although private ownership had replaced an ancient system of common ownership, a long history of village responsibility for the common welfare bound the little hamlets, also tightly linked by family ties, in a deep sense of cooperation and community obligation.

Bean soup, a few garden vegetables and very occasional pork and fish provided relief from the sweet potatoes. Rice was a luxury for many farmers. They considered rain good weather, since water was scarce despite heavy annual rainfall, most of which ran off the coral. But there was much laughter and song. There was an easygoing attitude toward one’s time on earth, far easier than in intense, driven mainland Japan.

Perhaps the most salient contrast with the Japanese was in the attitude toward life and death. Okinawans revered their ancestors but not as warriors. The most noticeable man-made feature of the landscape was the great number of tombs. The earliest had been in caves that honeycombed the island. Later, when aboveground structures were constructed, most families spent as much money and effort as possible on the dwelling place for all eternal spirits. One of the two most prominent designs was shaped like a little house, often built into a hill unsuited for cultivation. The other, probably imported later from China, looked like a turtle’s back, the turtle being a symbol of long life – or, as many had it, a vagina opening into a womb, the idea being that all return to their source after their earthly passage. The Okinawan versions had a oddly gentle beauty. A visiting artist was surprised by the “extraordinary fine shape” of even the poor farmers’ efforts.

The family tomb was the site for picnics and holidays. Three years after death, the bones of the decomposed body were washed, then placed in a beautifully colorful ceramic urn inside the tomb for thirty-three years, when a memorial service was held and the now floating spirits were venerated – but with no glorification of death, let alone hunger to serve or sacrifice for a nationalist cause….

Stunning Japanese victories from 1931 to 1941 did convince many Okinawans that Japan, not Okinawa, was indeed divine and destined to rule the world. Until then, then had long been skeptical of nationalist ambitions and military methods, and had felt much good will toward the United States in particular. Many of the sixty thousand Ryukyuans who emigrated by 1930 were in Argentina, the Japanese mainland and Brazil … But many went to Hawaii and California. The savings sent back from their chiefly laboring wages there represented riches to their families.

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New Evidence of Japan’s Atom Bomb Program in World War II

On 5 August 2015, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported on new evidence of Japan’s race to create an atomic bomb during World War II. Here are some excerpts from the article by their staff writer Shingo Fukushima:

Earlier this year, notebooks of the late Sakae Shimizu, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University, were discovered by Akira Masaike, 80, professor emeritus of particle physics at Kyoto University, at a library of the school.

Shimizu, a friend of Masaike, is known to have worked as a lecturer under Bunsaku Arakatsu.

Arakatsu, a professor at the department of science of Kyoto Imperial University, the predecessor of Kyoto University, was involved in an Imperial Japanese Navy program to develop an atomic bomb that was code-named “F Research.”…

Masaike said he first became interested in the history of the nuclear weapons program in Japan while staying in the United States between 2004 and 2008….

During the wartime period, the development of centrifuges was under way at Kyoto Imperial University to separate and enrich uranium-235, which is found in uranium ore and is key to generating the chain reaction in nuclear fission….

The documents show the scientists intended to use extra super duralumin, a type of aluminum alloy, to produce a centrifuge….

Those documents revealed the development of the centrifuge was scheduled to be completed Aug. 19, 1945, just days after Japan surrendered to the Allies. Their research was suspended after the end of World War II.

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The Battle of Okinawa, Purple Hearts, and the Atomic Bomb

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. xi-xii:

The battle was the turning point in modern history. That first operation on Japanese soil—Okinawa was politically part of Japan to which it reverted in 1972—was also the last battle before the start of the atomic age. Without the essential facts, it is impossible to understand the decision, made some six weeks after the campaign ended, to use the atomic bomb.

Although no precise assessment of the rights and wrongs of that decision is likely to be made, the debate deserves to be conducted with evidence as well as emotion. The deep revulsion still provoked by the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is of course wholly appropriate. But it is difficult to evaluate the destruction of those cities out of context, without the knowledge that Okinawan civilians, not to mention the fighting men of both armies there, endured worse. The best estimate of the dead in the two obliterated cities is around 200,000. The Okinawan campaign killed fewer noncombatants, some 150,000. But the total number of dead, including servicemen, was significantly higher. And conventional explosives on the island caused far greater damage to Okinawan tradition, culture and well-being than the atomic bombs did to the Japanese. Measure by sheer suffering as well as by devastation of national life, the battle of Okinawa was a greater tragedy. And had the war progressed to the Japanese mainland, the next battleground after Okinawa, the damage would have been incomparable.

I mention this at the start not to stake a claim in some ghoulish competition to crown the greatest catastrophe, but to point out that the Okinawan suffering has never been recognized; proportionately far smaller losses to Japan and America always prompted much greater sorrow. This book was conceived as an account of the fighting men’s ordeal that never won rightful gratitude in America. I hope it will convey a hint of the immense exertion, terror, agony and carnage in that battle. But nonmilitary issues that emerged during the course of my research pushed me toward a larger story.

Okinawans’ punishment and suffering continue to this day as a direct result of that conflict, although they, the accommodating, exceptionally peaceful islanders, were among its chief victims then. That was one of the war’s plentiful ironies—or inevitable consequences: the weakest and poorest usually bear the greatest burdens.

Okinawa was the only Japanese prefecture that Hirohito never visited.

Here’s a relevant paragraph from the Wikipedia entry on Purple Hearts.

During World War II, nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. To the present date, total combined American military casualties of the seventy years following the end of World War II—including the Korean and Vietnam Wars—have not exceeded that number. In 2003, there remained 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock. The existing surplus allowed combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to soldiers wounded in the field.

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