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Okinawa 1945—The Last Epic Struggle of World War II

by Bill Sloan

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9246-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A history of the battle of Okinawa, from investigative reporter Sloan (Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944—The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War, 2005, etc.).

Okinawa’s Japanese commander decided not to defend the beaches for the logical reason that earlier attempts on other islands had failed in the face of overwhelming naval firepower. His 110,000 troops retreated to the island’s mountainous southern third, where they constructed dense interlocking fortifications including elaborate underground tunnels and living quarters. American forces also learned from earlier battles. Previous bombardments had left defenses largely intact, so Okinawa received the greatest pounding in history, which devastated civilians and literally demolished Okinawan culture but hardly touched Japanese defenses. Landing April 1, the Americans were amazed at the absence of resistance. A week passed before they encountered the enemy and launched nearly three months of brutal fighting during which 107,000 Japanese and 12,000 Americans died—the United States’s greatest loss in any battle during World War II. Since the Japanese were defending a remote section of the island, far from the critical airfields, readers may wonder why U.S. leaders didn’t simply seal off the area and allow the already starving defenders to wither. The author reminds us more than once that Okinawa’s stout defense convinced U.S. leaders that invading Japan proper, scheduled for November, would cost massive casualties. Sharing this belief, soldiers breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing of the atom bomb. Writing from the American point of view, Sloan pays less attention to Japanese military actions and to Okinawans, who died in greater numbers than both combatants. Like many popular historians, the author can’t resist enlivening a story that needs little dramatization—though some of the veterans’ stories are compelling.

Readers certainly won’t be bored, but they’ll find a richer, more comprehensive account in George Feifer’s Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb (1992).