Okinawa

All posts tagged Okinawa

Easter Sunday, 1945, was also April 1st. In addition it was chosen as the start of the American invasion of Okinawa, cheerily code-named “Love Day”. (D-Day by this time had become a brand name, forever associated with the French Atlantic coast.)

In today’s post we want to point the reader to an excellent online book. The work focuses on Marines, but gives a good deal of both context and detail, from logistics challenges to combined arms problems.

nps.gov – The Final Campaign: Marines in the Victory on Okinawa
The link starts at the second section of the book, where it is pointed out that the landing would put ashore six divisions, supported by an enormous fleet, while campaigns were still not finished in the Philippines or on Iwo Jima. This focus of power so far from the USA was a tremendous strain on the logistics chain in place, which at times would be a limiting factor in the American advance.

Such a heavy reliance on artillery support stressed the amphibious supply system. The Tenth Army’s demand for heavy ordnance grew to 3,000 tons of ammo per day; each round had to be delivered over the beach and distributed along the front. This factor reduced the availability of other supplies, including rations.

On land, facing clever and coordinated defensive infantry and artillery tactics, American forces were stymied to make fast progress (at acceptable casualty rates). With three divisions at a time, with replacement regiments rotating in, across a span of as little as four miles, advances were halting.

General Buckner favored a massive application of firepower on every obstacle before committing troops in the open. … Colonel Wilburt S. “Big Foot” Brown, a veteran artilleryman commanding the 11th Marines, and a legend in his own time, believed the Tenth Army relied too heavily on firepower. “We poured a tremendous amount of metal into those positions,” he said. “It seemed nothing could be living in that churning mass where the shells were falling and roaring, but when we next advanced the Japs would still be there and madder than ever.”

These oft-repeated quotes played an important part in gaming of Operation Olympic for X-Day:Japan. On Kyushu three times as many divisions would have to be supported over a front twenty times as long. Japanese reinforcements, from infantry to shovel-wielding workers, would continue to flow in. The monumental clash of forces would be ugly and slow. Medals would be awarded by the crate – if the crates could ever be delivered.

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[History repeats itself, sometimes only months apart.]

I entered one important looking tent and found staff officers huddled over local maps, noting positions of subordinate units and updating strength and supply tables for each. More senior officers were working around a smaller table. They had laid out another map, not of Kyushu, but of southern Okinawa. I was familiar with the area, from watching men train there. These officers knew it better, from watching men die there.

The 77th and the 81st infantry divisions had yesterday been repulsed, with tough losses. They were trying to jump from one line of anonymous hills and high paths over onto a larger set of named peaks and ridges. The 77th had tried the same thing on a smaller scale on Okinawa and also failed on the first several attempts.

Dead and injured were still being collected from yesterday, but the new attack would not wait. They were to go again this morning, with a new plan based on old lessons. Rain was predicted to continue for a third day, but that too was just like on Okinawa.

The Navy was called in to Kagoshima Bay to support with big guns. Once the attack started they would not fire on the mountainsides which our soldiers were attacking. They would plaster the reverse slopes, where it was expected Japanese defenders were only shallowly dug in. So long as they stayed hunkered down, American teams could work methodically through the valley between the two high lines.

Noise of the renewed assault was thick and loud by the time I went up with an observer from the headquarters unit. Engineers had worked through the last two days and nights to clear rough roads through and over the forested hills. Softer parts of the road were corduroyed with felled logs, brutal riding in a round-wheeled jeep. We came out onto one of the sharper peaks, dodging a hard working bulldozer to make the top.

Heavy tanks and larger self-propelled guns had been established on most such local peaks, owing much to extreme engineering effort. More than one had been left stuck, or had simply fallen right through the edge off of a waterlogged embankment.

Our tanks would be static guns for the day. They could depress their guns better than the heavy howitzers, firing directly down into the valley. Down in that valley mixed teams of tanks and liberally equipped infantry worked along the valley at a dead slow pace. They could rarely be seen.

Usually we could only track American progress by the smoke and dust made by their magnanimous application of firepower. When one of the smaller tanks came forward, there was no mistaking the sight of its long range flame thrower scorching a substantial patch of the mountain.

The opposing ridge was rugged and wavy, with many deep crevices in the near side. Each crevice was treated as a new objective, soldiers climbing up the near edge, before tanks turned into it as the men moved around the edge. Steady rain kept visibility short and footing haphazard.

Japanese guns waited for good targets and opened up only when the side of a tank or a cluster of men presented themselves, which was often. The Japs took a toll on the approaching soldiers and armor, often firing from close range where the covering guns on our side of the valley could not safely engage them. More than once the American GIs simply backed up and waited for friendly guns to pulverize the threat, before rushing the position with grenades and charges.

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[Loading for the invasion began, beset by troubles with coordination of the effort which had been hastily re-scheduled after Typhoon Louise.]

We passed columns of Army soldiers marching several miles to board ships in Buckner Bay. No one knows for sure why troops weren’t all loaded near their own camps, but plenty of possible reasons were offered. Profanities added color to many of the suggestions.

Upon reaching the designated staging area, for most units the wait was on. Some piers still had cargo ships along side where assault transports were supposed to load. A few transports got moved to whatever free pier was open, and more marching ensued. My group waited, most men sitting on packs or laying out on the ground, until after dark.

Finally word came that we wouldn’t load that day, but we weren’t to go very far away. We were to be ready as soon as our ship came in. A few pup tents went up, and a couple guys scrounged wood for fires to sit around. Most men slept under the stars through the warm evening.

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[Tuttle shuttled over to visit another island off Okinawa while everyone else packed up for the impending invasion.]

I wanted to visit Ie Shima for a particular, perhaps peculiar, reason. It is a small island with a small mountain and a small airfield, which the Army took with some cost, and many more Japanese died defending it. The same can be said now for many dozens of small islands in the Pacific. Ernie Pyle died here.

If you are reading this column you are probably aware of Ernie Pyle’s enormous legacy. If you are reading this column instead of his, you probably also miss him. I read that Pyle was read in over 700 newspapers by 40 million people. I’ve no way of researching the point right now, but I can’t imagine a writer in the past has ever had so wide a circulation or readership. This was at a time when newspapers may be just past their peak of power, as newsreels and radio broadcasts are taking a growing share of attention. Pyle may go down as the most widely read reporter and one of the most influential men of his day. Pyle would have wanted nothing to do with any such power.

Pyle made his name by learning about everyday Americans and sharing their stories. Tire treads and shoe leather were never spared as he criss-crossed the continent finding the big little stories that make us up. There was really nothing different about doing that on other war-infested continents. The subjects were living in the ground and getting shot at, but they were living just the same, each with an American story to share.

If you’ve ever felt empathy for a dirty cold soldier 5000 miles away, where you could really feel the chill in your bones as you reflexively scrunch your own shoulders to shrink down into a hole in the earth to hide from exploding artillery shells, it was probably because of Ernie Pyle. If you’ve felt the anxiety of an air base ground crew counting their damaged planes coming back from a raid, and the empty gut that comes when the count is short, it was probably because of Ernie Pyle.


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Today we conclude this series of specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

November 23, 1945
Jumbo air-to-ground rocket,
airandspace.si.edu

November 27, 1945
1st Cavalry Division,
first-team.us

December 3, 1945
M29 Weasel,
m29cweasel.com

December 8, 1945
M26 Pershing tank next to M4 Sherman tank (models),
warbird-photos.com

December 9, 1945
War Department Technical Manual TM-12-247,
Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel,
archive.org

December 10, 1945
U.S. Army Center of Military History style guide,
history.army.mil

December 11, 1945
Battle Formations – The Rifle Platoon, for NCOs (1942)
youtube.com

December 21, 1945
Hospitalization and evac plan for Operation Olympic,
Logistic Instructions No. 1 for the Olympic Operation, 25 July 1945
cgsc.cdmhost.com
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17
navsource.org

December 22, 1945
Russian communists vs Chinese communists,
– Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
Chiang Kai-shek quote on the communists vs the Japanese,
izquotes.com

December 23, 1945
Sakura-jima and its volcanoes,
photovolcanica.com

December 25, 1945
USS Hazard, minesweeper AM-240 [MUSEUM SHIP],
nps.gov
tripadvisor.com

January 17, 1946
Radiation detection equipment,
national-radiation-instrument-catalog.com

July 18, 1945
PBY-4/5 Catalina flying boat,
pwencycl.kgbudge.com
Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego,
sandiegohistory.org
Consolidated Aircraft plant production and products, B-24 and PB4Y-2,
legendsintheirowntime.com
wikipedia.org

December 24, 1945
Pearl Harbor survivors, trapped under USS West Virginia,
nps.gov
community.seattletimes.nwsource.com

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[Killing time was a popular past time in the weeks before the invasion. There would be plenty of time for killing later.]

I have been spending my time lately with the newly arrived 5th Marine Division. They actually did come ashore in a mock invasion, driving AMTRACs ashore and hauling in a lot of gear. It took a lot of time to repack everything, but the only other thing they have to do is wait for the actual invasion.

A card game broke out last night in one of the enlisted barracks. That happens most nights anyway, but this one had very little to do with gambling. I was sitting in, mostly minding my ante, not wanting to take anyone’s money but not wanting this bit of material to be too expensive (Editors are not fond of reimbursing wagers!).

The guys needed to pass the time thinking about something other than the impending unknown. We still didn’t even know when we were going, nobody did. We had a good guess where, though, and talked about everything but that. Still, people will drift back to what they have in common, and this group from all over a dozen states had only two things in common – the United States Marine Corps and whatever adventure it ordered them on next.

Finally a readily agitated private from Detroit, Dante Iacoboni, spoke up. “They say the Japs spent eight or ten months, twelve tops, digging in around here {Okinawa}. It cost us three months and a giant ass-kicking to kick them out of this [expletive]. How long you think they’ve had to dig in on Japan proper?”

After a pause another veteran Detroiter, Sergeant Ora Inman, answered him quietly. “About a thousand years.”

The senior man on the deck, Sergeant William Barnard, wasn’t even playing, as he fastidiously tended his gear, like he did every evening. But he was listening and spoke up right away.

“Listen up fellahs. I’m not supposed to say anything, but the word is that there’s a ‘surprise’ inspection tomorrow morning. Don’t tell ‘em I said so, but you might want to call it a night here and square away your gear now.”

The players agreed readily that they’d had enough cards anyway. They had a quick round of the usual arguing about who had cheated using the markings on the well-worn deck and went to their respective barracks and tents.

There was no inspection today.

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[The whole island prepared for the Fifth Marine Division to arrive, and Tuttle helped out.]

I pitched in on the effort a few of the advance party Marines were making to prep for their buddies. Lieutenant Paul Bernard, Sergeant Thurman Price, Jr., and Corporal Francis Seeley were detached from the motor transport battalion to come here early. Their planning work was long done, so now the job was housing the unit until the final launching date. I wasn’t obligated to offer up my labor, but I wanted to hear what they thought about the move. Tent ropes were drawn tight as the conversation got loose.

Corporal Seeley says he’s been keeping up a tide chart, and watching the moon. He used to sail some off Baja California, the nearest ocean surf to Tucson, Arizona. Near the end of this month would have been perfect he says – high tide in the morning coupled with good moonlight most of the night. We could get ashore easiest and then have light to catch the infamous Japanese nighttime infiltration attacks. He saw the aftermath from many of those on Iwo Jima.

Since he spoke like he knew what he was talking about, we let him talk. He thinks the next decent chance isn’t until mid-November. We would only have the counter-moon tide and less moonlight, but otherwise it’s another three weeks before everything comes around perfect again.

I couldn’t argue with the logic, but I offered up what I knew about the losses our Navy took, and wondered aloud how that might affect things. Many destroyers were banged up or grounded in the storm, but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of them. We are down three big carriers, which may be back in time, and at least two small carriers which will not. The big gun ships mostly did ok, riding out the storm at sea. But the flat bottom assault boats got roughed up bad. They don’t have any good handling abilities in any rough seas. Eight of them are still unaccounted for, presumed lost. With the thirty-six large and hundred-some small transport ships wrecked or put into drydock here in Buckner Bay, that’s over two divisions worth of boats gone. These Marines didn’t seem too worried about it.

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[After helping to stabilize his own camp, Tuttle moved around Okinawa to see what damage Typhoon Louise had done to the rest of the preparations for Operation Olympic.]

Buckner Bay is the new home to several dozen naval monuments. For example, some 50 yards in from the normal waterline sits a full size model of an American Sumner-class destroyer. I am sure it is full size, because it is the actual USS Laffey, DD-724. I found the Laffey with her bow pointed out to sea, and her stern jammed deep into the earth. She was leaned over a few degrees to port. The skin of her starboard side showed a long deep wrinkle, running vertically from mid height right down to the keel…

…other less lucky ships line the beach and shallows. I quit counting at forty-something, with a long way to go. Some are capsized, others broken apart. Anonymous debris thoroughly litters the beach. I picked through some of it, trying to guess what any of it used to be. I stopped to find someone to tell about a body that graves registration hadn’t found yet.

No planes are flying from here. Zero. I can’t say how many planes we have here, but ‘hundreds’ does not cover it. Runways are being cleared of debris, but every single aircraft is grounded until each is inspected for damage. So far every bird has failed inspection, and they are cued up for work ranging from skin patches to engine swaps to outright scrapping.

A plane engine can be heard overhead periodically. I’m told we are flying limited CAP with long range fighters from elsewhere, just in case the Japs try to take advantage of our situation. I can’t imagine what they would find worth bombing.

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[Typhoon Louise ripped through Okinawa at its peak on October 9th, severely reducing the preparations made for Operation Olympic, the invasion of the Japanese home islands.]

We were told to expect significant rain two days ago, but it turned into an epic windstorm, much worse than what we saw last month. Whole camps are totally wiped out. Ocean going vessels of many sizes are stranded in mud a hundred feet in from the normal shore line. Many ships were moved out into deep water, and they are still being counted. Some of them will never return.

The Navy weather station here had little to tell me. I didn’t bother them too long, because like many here their office is now mixed into a field of rubble. Some information has come in by radio from Guam, where weather observing B-29s are based. They knew a typhoon was running through to the south of us. But for no reason, perhaps the whim of a bored Greek god, it stopped and turned north, growing stronger by the hour as it was nudged along by that neglected ancient immortal.

Anyone who was living in a tent, without exception so far as I have seen, is now homeless. Torn patches of wet green canvas littered the adjacent hillsides this morning. Now many of the larger pieces are laid out over stacks of junk, in the hope they will dry when the sun comes out again. Men spent all day salvaging personal gear and essential equipment, those who were healthy that is. Medics are scrambling to care for the injured, using what supplies they can scrounge.

Anyone who could not find cover yesterday was subject to abuse from a mad circus of debris. A storm is not dangerous to a person just from its wind and rain. Real damage comes when solid objects are wrested from the earth and mixed into the storm like rocks in a polishing tumbler. Examples are everywhere – a sheet metal bar wrapped around a utility pole, a long shard of wood stuck into the ground like an arrow, or a wrecked vehicle with damage all around from being rolled over the ground a dozen or more times.

The weather guys told me that officially winds got up to 130 miles an hour. They admitted that their instruments only go up to 130 miles an hour, not that I could check them on it as their wooden building is gone and their instrument tower is a twisted wreck.

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[Tuttle never mentioned if he volunteered for the last pre-invasion blood drive on Okinawa. He was sure most soldiers had little choice about being ‘volunteers’.]

Good word came around this morning that everyone will be rotated through a few days of rest this week and next. Men started to make plans around it, be it laying around or putting together sporting matches. Moods dampened a bit when actual orders came out.

Tomorrow, after Sunday church services, the first batch of resting units are expected to report for a ‘voluntary’ blood drive. The rest period gained a new meaning, “It’s not like they’d give us two days off just to be nice! No, they just need us to fatten back up after we get pricked.”

Another implication was explained by the combat veterans to new guys and everyone else. Medical staff doesn’t like to keep whole blood around for more than 21 days before it’s used for a transfusion. The veterans presume that combat is expected in no more than three weeks from the first draw of blood.


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