Islander Peter Xanthos reminds Islanders that, 70 years ago, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, began the invasion of Okinawa, 300 miles from Japan.
Xanthos, who was a crew member on the attack transport USS Bingham, which participated in the engagement, said U.S. military strategists concluded that the heavily fortified island of Okinawa had to be taken to serve as a stepping-stone for the upcoming invasion of Japan. The battle for Okinawa lasted three months - April, May and June 1945 - and turned out to be the costliest campaign in the Pacific Theater.
It was a combined Navy, Army and Marine operation, and the initial invasion armada consisted of 1,300 ships, including 18 battleships, 40 carriers, 200 destroyers and attack transports, plus amphibious landing craft. In total, Army, Navy and Marine forces numbered approximately 548,000.
The initial landing troops were only 50,000, but were expanded to a quarter of a million troops on the ground. There was little opposition on the beaches as the defenders' plan was to lure the invasion force into interior positions, which were heavily fortified and out of the reach of naval and aerial bombardment.
After three months of fighting, Americans suffered 50,000 casualties, including 12,000 dead (5,000 Navy, 4,000 Army, 3,000 Marines). Navy casualties were high because of the constant kamikaze attacks on U.S. ships. Some 110,000 Japanese troops died and 7,400 who were badly wounded were taken prisoner. The giant Japanese battleship Yamato, escorted by a cruiser and eight destroyers, was sunk by U.S. planes launched from carriers. Between 75,000 and 160,000 Okinawa civilians died.
U.S. Gen. Simon Buckner, commander of the U.S. forces, was killed at a forward observation post when several Japanese shells hit the post. Famous Army journalist Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper while in a foxhole.