- Chapter XIV:
- Battle in the Rain
- At the end of the third week of May
the fighting had penetrated to the inner ring of the Shuri defenses. The Tenth
Army's hopes had been raised by the capture of the eastern slopes of Conical
Hill, which, permitting the 7th Division to funnel through the corridor by
Buckner Bay, opened up the possibility of an envelopment of the enemy forces.
But the bid for envelopment was destined to fail. From 22 to 29 May, except
for certain gains on the flanks, there was no appreciable progress against
any part of the Japanese inner defense ring. The enemy line held with hardly
a dent against every attack.
- The stalemate was due in large measure
to rain, mud, and the bogging down of all heavy equipment. The weather during
April and thus far into May had been unexpectedly good; there had been far
less rain than preinvasion meteorological tables had predicted. But now the
days of grace from the skies were over: the heavens were about to open and
the much talked-about "plum rains" of Okinawa were to set in and
continue day after day. Mud was to become king, and it was impossible to mount
a large-scale attack during this period.
- While the ground fighting was largely
stalemated by rain, the air battle between the Americans on Okinawa and the
enemy pilots from the Japanese home islands went on unceasingly. Despite their
failure in April to destroy the invading American fleet, the Japanese air
forces in May kept on unremittingly with their attacks. They were directed
against two targets-the ships off shore and the airfields on Ie Shima and
at Yontan and Kadena. During the latter half of May the Japanese air attacks
on these targets reached a peak and included some of the severest strikes
which the enemy delivered during the air fighting of the entire campaign.
The American Tactical Air Force not only engaged in routine support of the
ground forces-a support limited in effectiveness by the location of the enemy
in deep underground positions-but also attempted to ward off the Japanese
air attacks from the home islands. Thunderbolts and Corsairs
- of the Tactical Air Force made daily
sweeps over the waters between Okinawa and southern Kyushu, intercepting enemy
planes, and often continuing over Kyushu to bomb, rocket, and strafe targets
there. From Guam, Saipan, and Tinian in the Marianas the strategic heavy bombing
of the Japanese home islands went on concurrently without let-up.1
- Japanese air raids reached a peak
during the latter part of May. On the 20th, thirty-five planes raided the
American fleet; twenty-three were shot down. On 22 and 23 May, Japanese planes
came over Okinawa again. Beginning on 24 May, the enemy stepped up the tempo
of the attack on American units ashore and afloat. The evening of the 24th
was perfect bombing weather with a clear sky and full moon. The air alerts
started about 2000 and it was 2400 before an all-clear sounded. In that interval
there were seven distinct air raids on Okinawa. In the first raid planes penetrated
through to bomb Yontan and Kadena. The third, fourth, and sixth groups of
raiders also succeeded in dropping bombs on the airfields.
- The seventh group consisted of five
low-flying two-engine bombers, called "Sallys," that came in about
2230 from the direction of Ie Shima. Antiaircraft batteries immediately engaged
them, and four planes crashed in flames near Yontan airfield. The fifth came
in and made a belly landing, wheels up, on the northeast-southwest runway
of Yontan. At least eight heavily armed Japanese rushed out of the plane and
began tossing grenades and incendiaries into American aircraft parked along
the runway. They destroyed 2 Corsairs, 4 C-54 transports, and 1 Privateer.
Twenty-six other planes-1 Liberator bomber, 3 Hellcats, and 22 Corsairs-were
- In the wild confusion that followed
the landing of the Japanese airborne troops, two Americans were killed and
eighteen injured. At 2338, forces arrived at Yontan to bolster the air-ground
service units and to be on hand if enemy airborne troops made subsequent attempts
to land. In addition to the thirty-three planes destroyed and damaged, two
600-drum fuel dumps containing 70,000 gallons of gasoline were ignited and
destroyed by the Japanese. When a final survey could be made, it was found
that ten Japanese had been killed at Yontan; three others were found dead
in the plane, evidently killed
- by antiaircraft fire. The other four
"Sallys" each carried fourteen Japanese soldiers, all of whom died
in the flaming wrecks. Sixty-nine bodies in all were counted. A Japanese soldier
killed at Zampa Point the next day was thought to be the last of the airborne
raiders. Yontan airfield was non-operational until 0800 of 25 May because
of the debris on the runway. This was the enemy's only attempt to land airborne
troops on Okinawa during the battle.
- While the attack on Yontan was in
progress, twenty-three enemy planes conducted a raid against the field at
le Shima. The bombing did not seriously damage the field itself but caused
sixty casualties. During the night, antiaircraft fire shot down eleven enemy
planes over Okinawa and sixteen over le Shima.
- The air assault of 24-25 May was not
confined to the airfields of Okinawa and le Shima. At the same time a large
Kamikaze attack was under way against American ships. It was estimated the
next day that 200 enemy planes had engaged in the attack. The enemy scored
thirteen Kamikaze hits on twelve ships off shore. In repelling an attack during
the morning of 25 May, American fighter planes intercepted and destroyed seventy-five
enemy planes north of Okinawa. Altogether, on 24-25 May, more than 170 Japanese
planes were brought down. During the week ending 26 May, the Japanese lost
at least 193 planes in the Okinawa area.
- The period of torrential rains was
interrupted on 27-28 May by a night of clear weather with a bright moon. The
Japanese air force and Kamikazes again came in force. Between 0730 of 27 May
and 0830 of 28 May there were 56 raids of from 2 to 4 planes each, the total
of enemy planes being estimated at 150. A vigorous effort was made by the
enemy to penetrate the transport defense area and reach the heavy ships. The
Kamikazes struck at both the Hagushi area and at Buckner Bay, which was now
coming into use as an important anchorage. During the night of 27-28 May nine
ships were hit by Kamikazes. One of them, the destroyer Drexler, hit at 0705
on 28 May, sank within two minutes. Including the Kamikazes, 114 enemy planes
were destroyed during this attack. There were only two other Kamikaze attacks
during the rest of the campaign, at the beginning and the end of June, both
of much smaller scale than any preceding.
- The total Japanese air effort was
far greater than that encountered in any other Pacific operation. The proximity
of airfields in Kyushu and Formosa permitted the employment by the enemy
of all types of planes and pilots. Altogether, there were 896 air raids against
Okinawa. Approximately 4,000 Japanese planes were destroyed in combat, 1,900
of which were suicide planes. The intensity and
- JAPANESE AIR RAIDS ON OKINAWA were stepped up the
last week of May. Above, Japanese plane caught squarely by antiaircraft
fire leaves a trail of smoke and flame as it falls toward the ocean. Picture
below was taken after unsuccessful Japanese airborne raid on Yontan airfield
the morning of 225 May. Bodies of the enemy "Commandos" are
scattered around wreckage of their planes. torn fuselage of one "Sally"
is in left background.
- scale of the Japanese suicide air
attacks on naval forces and shipping were the most spectacular aspects of
the Okinawa campaign. Between 6 April and 22 June there were ten organized
Kamikaze attacks, employing a total of 1,465 planes as shown below: 2
|Date of Attack
- In addition, sporadic small-scale
suicide attacks were directed against the American fleet by both Army and
Navy planes, bringing the total number of suicide sorties during the campaign
- The violence of the air attacks is
indicated by the damage inflicted on the American forces. Twenty-eight ships
were sunk and 225 damaged by Japanese air action during the campaign. Destroyers
sustained more hits than any other class of ships. Battleships, cruisers,
and carriers also were among those struck, some of the big naval ships suffering
heavy damage with great loss of life. The radar picket ships, made up principally
of destroyers and destroyer escorts, suffered proportionately greater losses
than any other part of the fleet. The great majority of ships sunk or damaged
were victims of the Kamikaze. Suicide planes accounted for 26 of the 28 vessels
sunk and for 164 of the 225 damaged by air attack during the entire campaign.
- It was in the center, where during
the preceding week the Americans had made least progress, that the impeding
effect of the rains of the last week in May was most clearly shown. Having
gained no break-through or momentum in the
- previous fighting, the troops found
it impossible under the conditions to resume the offensive effectively.
- On the morning of 22 May the 1st Marine
Division held a line which extended over the northern and southern slopes
of Wana Ridge, south through the village of Wana. To its left, holding the
western flank of the XXIV Corps line, was the 77th Division, which had just
secured Chocolate Drop. Left of the 77th Division, the 96th Division had recently
completed the capture of Sugar Hill and was on the slopes of Oboe. (See Map
- The 1st Marine Division at Wana
Ridge and Wana Draw
- When the heavy rains began the 1st
Marines was on the northern slope of Wana Ridge, at the left (east) flank
of the III Amphibious Corps. The 5th Marines was on the division right, holding
the lower crest of Wana Ridge, with its line extending on over the southern
slope into Wana village. Beyond the village of Wana lay Wana Draw, a broad,
shallow basin, entirely bare, which dropped down from the coral heights west
of northern Shuri to the Asa River and the coastal plain north of Naha. On
the south side of Wana Draw a high coral ridge, similar to Wana Ridge on the
north, climbed steeply to Shuri Heights at the southwestern corner of Shuri.
Wana Draw was completely exposed to enemy fire from high ground on three sides.
- The 1st Marine Division had been repeatedly
thrown back since its first attack on Wana Ridge, 13 May.3
Yet during most of this 9-day period the weather had been dry and the ground
solid, making possible a coordinated attack of all arms-infantry, tanks, heavy
assault guns, armored flame throwers, and airplanes. On 21 May the weather
changed, with gusts of wind and an overcast that reduced visibility. Before
dawn of the next day the rain began, and it continued throughout most of the
day and on into the night. The prospects of success for the infantry alone,
slogging through the mud without the support of other arms, were not encouraging.
- The almost continual downpour filled
Wana Draw with mud and water until it resembled a lake. Tanks bogged down,
helplessly mired. Amphibian tractors were unable to negotiate the morass,
and front-line units, which had depended on these vehicles for carrying supplies
forward in bad weather, now had to resort to hand carrying of supplies and
of the wounded. These were backbreaking tasks and were performed over areas
swept by enemy fire. Mortar and
- artillery smoke was used as far as
possible to give concealment for all movement. Litter cases were carried back
through knee-deep mud.
- Living conditions of front-line troops
were indescribably bad. Foxholes dug into the clay slopes caved in from the
constant soaking, and, even when the sides held, the holes had to be bailed
out repeatedly. Clothes and equipment and the men's bodies were wet for days.
The bodies of Japanese killed at night lay outside the foxholes, decomposing
under swarms of flies. Sanitation measures broke down. The troops were often
hungry. Sleep was almost impossible. The strain began to take a mounting toll
- Under these conditions the Marine
attack against Wana Ridge was soon at a standstill. The action degenerated
into what was called in official reports "aggressive patrolling."
Despite inactivity, enemy mortar and artillery fire continued to play against
the American front lines, especially at dusk and at night.
- A break in the weather came on the
morning of 28 May. The sky was clear. The 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, acting
on a favorable report of a patrol that had reconnoitered the ground the day
before, made ready to strike for 100 Meter Hill, or Knob Hill as it was sometimes
called, at the eastern tip of Wana Ridge. As soon as this objective was gained,
the 3d Battalion was to secure Wana Draw. Twice the ad Battalion assaulted
100 Meter Hill, and by 0800 Company E reached the top. But the crest could
not be held, and no gain at all was made down the southern and eastern slopes.
Machine-gun fire from three directions hit the marines, mortar shells fell
on them, and Japanese only a few yards away mounted satchel charges on sticks
and flung them from close range. The attack failed, and smoke had to be employed
to evacuate the wounded.
- Meanwhile, on 28 May, the 5th Marines
on the division right captured Beehive Hill, a strong enemy defense position
on the lower end of Shuri Ridge south of Wana Draw.
- The 77th Division Stands Still
- The 77th Division fared no better
than did the 1st Marine Division. Its capture on 20 May of Flattop and the
Chocolate Drop area was followed very quickly by the onset of the heavy rains.
Thereafter the 77th Division made hardly any gains in its part of the line,
directly in front of Shuri. Here the Japanese stood more stubbornly, if possible,
than anywhere else, and held defiantly every muddy knob and slope. Jane (also
called "Three Sisters"), Dorothy, and Tom Hills formed the main
strong points directly north and east of Shuri from which the enemy faced
the 77th Division across the rain-drenched country. Dorothy Hill was a fortress
with several layers of caves and tunnels
- WANA DRAW, from east end of Wana Ridge, showing
open ground over which marines advanced. Bottom of draw, with town of
Wana 100 feet to the right, was flooded at time of the battle. Below is
ground over which marines attacked 28 May. They captured "Beehive"
but were unable to hold "Knob". Ruins of Ishimmi, east of the
Marine zone, are at upper right.
- MUD AND FLOOD increased the difficulties of fighting
on Okinawa. Above, 77th Division infantrymen trudge toward the front lines
past mud-clogged tanks. Below, 1st Division marines resort to hand carrying
of supplies and wounded as roads are washed out by torrential rains.
- on its reverse slope and with heavy
artillery and mortars concentrated behind its protecting bulk. The next objective
of the 307th Infantry of the 77th Division was the Three Sisters, 900 yards
across a low bare swale from Flattop. Farther to the west the 306th Infantry,
which had relieved the 305th Infantry on 21 May, stood on Ishimmi Ridge and
in front of the eastern end of Wana Ridge, which had proved so tough a barrier
to the 1st Marine Division.
- As a result of an ill-fated attack
early in the morning of 21 May, Company A of the 307th Infantry was isolated
along the bottom of the forward slope of Jane Hill, ahead of the rest of the
troops back on Flattop and Ishimmi Ridge, with an exposed valley raked by
enemy mortar and machine-gun fire between the troops and their base of supplies.
All roads leading to the 307th front had become impassable, and over the last
2,000 yards everything had to be hand carried. As many men were lost in trying
to bring supplies up to Company A across this muddy swale as were lost in
the fighting on Jane Hill.4
In these circumstances life was not pleasant on the lower slope of the hill,
where foxholes were washed out in the yellow clay almost daily. Company A
was virtually cut off at Jane Hill from 21 to 30 May.
- The last week of May points up the
importance of logistics to the battle. In this instance, mud defeated local
logistics. Ammunition, water, and food had to be hand carried up from the
rear for distances as great as a mile. Casualties had to be carried back,
eight men struggling and slipping in mud up to their knees with each litter.
Weapons were dirty and wet. In a second or two, mortar shells could be expended
that had taken a man a half-day to bring to the weapon from the nearest vehicle
or dump. Under these conditions there could be no attack. The men had all
they could do to live. Their time was entirely taken in meeting the fundamental
needs of existence. Hard fighting during the last third of May was impossible
for men who were already exhausted. The troops simply tried to stay where
they were. The front had everywhere bogged down in mud.
- The 96th Division at Oboe
- Like the 77th Division troops, elements
of the 382d Infantry, 96th Division, holding positions at the foot of Hen
Hill, just across the boundary from the 77th Division, were unable to move
from their mud foxholes. The Japanese had perfect observation of this area
from Tom Hill, just east of Shuri, and brought down mortar and machine-gun
fire on any activity. There was little
- movement except for an occasional
patrol. Mud, low supplies, and drooping spirits prevailed here too.
- To the east the lines of the 382d
Infantry crossed over the jaw-like clay promontory of Oboe, which stood like
a rampart a thousand yards east of Shuri. On 21 May bitter fighting had placed
elements of the 382d Infantry on the lip of Oboe. For the next week the crest
of Oboe was a no-man's land, and around it, and even down the forward face,
supposedly in American hands, a close and unending grenade and bitter hand-to-hand
fight raged. Here, more than anywhere else on the cross-island line during
the period of mud, action was always near at hand. Here it was hardest to
maintain the status quo described by Lt. Col. Howard L. Cornutt, Assistant
G-3 of the 96th Division, when he stated ironically: "Those on the forward
slopes of hills slid down; those on the reverse slopes slid back. Otherwise,
no change." 5
- An hour after midnight, in the morning
of 24 May, a platoon of Japanese started through a gap between Companies C
and L on Oboe and succeeded in knocking out the three right-hand foxholes
of Company C. The light mortars of the 1st Battalion were at the base of Oboe,
and when the attack developed they fired into the gap between the companies
for the next four hours at the rate of a round and a half a minute. Communication
lines were out: enemy mortars had cut every phone line, and the radio to the
Navy had been drowned out by the rain. Artillery and illumination by the Navy
could not be called over the area. By 0330 a full company of Japanese was
attacking through the gap, and two platoons were assaulting Company A on the
left of Company C. In the foxhole next to the three that had been knocked
out by the Japanese, Pfc. Delmar Schriever, though wounded by mortar fire
which killed the other two men in the foxhole with him, held his position
single-handed until morning. Companies A and B were forced back off Oboe to
the bottom, but the few men left in Company C remained near the top under
the courageous leadership of Pfc. John J. Kwiecien, who took over command
of the 1st Platoon when the platoon leader was wounded. In the 2d Platoon
on the right only one man out of fourteen was unwounded when daylight came.
These men on Oboe had used thirty-five cases of grenades during the night;
only fifty rounds of 60-mm. mortar remained. By 0530 the foxholes on the right
of Company C at the crest of Oboe had been won back from the Japanese. At
this time Japanese were seen
- "THREE SISTERS," photographed 6 May after the
area had been saturated by American artillery fire. Radio towers (upper
left) were destroyed later in May.
- OBOE hill mass was under attack by the 77th Division artillery when
this picture was taken 23 May. Muddy reverse slope of Zebra (foreground)
is pitted with Foxholes; some shelters can be seen in defilable at foot
- forming for another attack, but a
timely resupply of mortar ammunition enabled the embattled troops to repel
this effort. During the Japanese counterattack against Oboe the 362d Field
Artillery Battalion fired 560 rounds of shells in helping to stem the enemy
- When the Japanese attack subsided,
150 enemy dead lay on top of Oboe and on the slope immediately beyond. The
Japanese dug in on the reverse slope of Oboe only twenty-five yards from the
American foxholes. Between the two dug-in forces, on 24 May, there was an
interchange of hand grenades all day long.
- The heavy losses incurred by the 1st
Battalion, 382d Infantry, in repelling this furious Japanese night assault
compelled a reorganization of the battalion. The three rifle companies, A,
B, and C, were combined into one company under the Company C commander, with
a total strength of 198 officers and enlisted men. This is another example
of how battalions were reduced to company strength at Shuri. On 24 May General
Bradley, the 96th Division commander, ordered the 3d Battalion, 383d Infantry,
to take over the left part of the line of the 2d Battalion, 382d, on Oboe.
The ranks of the 2d Battalion had become too thin to withstand another attack
like that of 24 May.
- Efforts of the 383d Infantry to make
inroads into the Love Hill system of defenses on the western side of Conical
all failed during the period 22-28 May. Many men were killed during patrol
action while searching for a weak spot in the enemy's lines. Nor could American
troops move over the crest of the Conical hogback to the west slope without
risking their lives. In the neighborhood of Cutaway Hill especially, the enemy
constantly reinforced his lines and kept on the alert. No gains toward Shuri
were registered in any part of this region lying west of the crest of Conical.
The enemy held tight. Thus matters stood along the center of the XXIV Corps
front at the end of the month of May.
- During the rainy period at the end
of May, both flanks of the American line forged ahead of the center. This
development was a continuation of a trend that had started in the third week
of May. In that week two ramparts of the three hills that made up the integrated
Sugar Loaf position-Sugar Loaf itself and the Horseshoe-had fallen after as
bloody a period of fighting as the marines had ever encountered. However,
the efforts of the 6th Marine Division to complete the reduction of Sugar
Loaf, the left (west) anchor of the Japanese
- line, failed; on 21 May, after five
days of fighting, they gave up their attempt to take the reverse (south) slope
of the Crescent, the third and closest to Shuri of the Sugar Loaf hills.
- For several days after Sugar Loaf
fell, the 6th Marine Division continued its efforts to reduce Crescent, the
easternmost strong point of the Sugar Loaf sector, but without success. The
Japanese denied American troops control of the crest and retained complete
possession of the crescent-shaped reverse slope. As long as this ground remained
in Japanese hands there could be no swinging eastward by the 6th Marine Division
for close envelopment of Shuri. After considering the prospect the division
decided to abandon its efforts to force the fall of Crescent and instead to
press on toward Naha and the Kokuba River. A strong defense force was left
on the north face of Crescent to protect the left rear and to maintain contact
with the 1st Marine Division to the east. The main effort of the Army's right
(west) flank was now toward Naha and no longer immediately toward Shuri.6
- The 6th Marine Division Crosses
- The heavy rains had raised the Asato
River when patrols on the night of 22-23 May waded the river upstream from
Naha to reconnoiter the south bank. The initial reports were that it would
be feasible to cross the stream without tank support. Between dawn and 1000,
23 May, patrols pressed 400 yards south of the river under moderate fire.
At 1000 the decision was made to cross in force at 1200 by infiltration. An
hour and a half after the movement began two battalions were across the Asato
under cover of smoke. Casualties had to be evacuated back across the stream
by hand, twelve men carrying each stretcher in chest-deep water.
- Throughout the night of 23-24 May
the 6th Engineer Battalion labored to build a crossing for vehicles. Borrowing
from experience at Guadalcanal, five LVT's were brought to the stream and
efforts made to move them into position to serve as piers for bridge timbers.
Two of the LVT's struck mines along the bank and were destroyed, and the effort
to bridge the stream in this manner was abandoned. At dawn a Bailey bridge
was started, and by 1430 it had been finished. A tank crossing was ready before
dark. The same day two squads of the Reconnaissance Company crossed the lower
Asato and roamed the streets of northwestern Naha without meeting resistance.
- CROSSING THE ASATO RIVER, marines laid smoke to
cover their advantage at Machishi 23 May. Destroyed bridges (circled)
had not been replaced at time picture was made. Eastern Naha and Kokuba
estuary are at upper right.
- ENTERING NAHA, Marine patrols move through deserted streets in the
western part of town. the walled compounds around the houses, typical
of Oriental urban structures, gave good cover for snipers.
- The Occupation of Naha
- The unmolested patrols into Naha on
24 May led to the crossing of the lower Asato on 25 May by the Reconnaissance
Company of the 6th Marine Division, which during the day penetrated deep into
Naha west of the northsouth canal that bisects the city. Only an occasional
Japanese straggler was met; sniper fire was almost nonexistent. A few Okinawan
civilians who were still hiding in the rubble of the city said they had seen
only scattered 5- or 6-man Japanese patrols during the past week.7
The rubble of Naha was deserted. The Reconnaissance Company dug in without
packs and gear to hold the gain so easily obtained.
- Naha had no tactical value other than
to afford the Americans a route of travel southward to the next objective.
The city was located in a wide coastal flat at the mouth of the Kokuba River;
it was dominated by the high ground of the Oroku Peninsula across the channel
to the south, and by a ridge that curved around the city and coastal flat
from the northeast to southwest along the Kokuba estuary.
- On 27 May one company of the 2d Battalion,
22d Marines, crossed the Asato, passed through the lines of the Reconnaissance
Company, and pressed deeper into the western part of Naha. The next morning
at daylight the marines moved on toward the Kokuba estuary; reaching it at
0900, they received hardly a shot as they picked their way among the demolished
buildings and the heaps of debris. The effort of a platoon to press forward
to scout the situation at the approaches to Ona-Yama Island, which lies in
the middle of the Kokuba Channel opposite the south end of the Naha Canal,
failed. The marines were met by heavy machine-gun fire, and in their withdrawal
the platoon leader was killed. All of Naha west of the canal and north of
Kokuba was now in possession of the marines. Steps were taken quickly to defend
this portion of the city. Eight 37-mm. antitank guns were ranged along the
sea wall bordering the north bank of the Kokuba estuary, and a line of marines
took up positions behind the sea wall. The 1st Armored Amphibious Battalion
held and patrolled the seaward side of the city.
- During the night of 28 May engineers
put three footbridges across the canal, and before dawn the 1st Battalion,
22d Marines, crossed to Telegraph Hill in east Naha, where a fight raged throughout
the day without noticeable gains. On 30 May the 2d and 3d Battalions, 22d
Marines, crossed the canal,
- passed through the 1st Battalion,
and took up the assault. Enemy machine guns emplaced in burial tombs on Hill
27 in east Naha temporarily checked the infantry. During most of the day
tanks were unable to reach the position, but in the afternoon three worked
their way along the road north of the hill, and their direct fire enabled
the marines to seize it.
- The Kokuba Hills
- The Kokuba Hills extend eastward from
the edge of Naha along the north side of the Kokuba estuary and the Naha-Yonabaru
valley. They guard the southern and southwestern approaches to the rear of
Shuri. With the 6th Marine Division pressing south along the west coast, defense
of this terrain was vital to the enemy in preventing an envelopment of Shuri
from Naha. On the night of 22-23 May the headquarters of the Japanese
44th Independent Mixed Brigade moved from Shuri to Shichina village, in
the Kokuba Hills, for better control of the operations on this flank 8
The Japanese upon evacuating Naha took positions in the high ground in the
eastern part of the city and the semicircle of hills beyond. There the fight
on the enemy's left flank entered its next phase.
- Since the crossing of the upper Asato
on 23 May, the left (east) elements of the 6th Marine Division had encountered
continuing opposition. The 4th Marines held this part of the line, and suffered
heavy casualties as it tried to press forward in the mud of the flooded valley
and low clay hills. By the night of 25 May Company E had been reduced to forty
enlisted men and one officer. That day the 1st Battalion took the village
of Machishi, but with bridges washed out and the torrential rains making the
terrain impassable for tanks it was learned that infantry could go ahead only
with heavy casualties. On 28 May the 29th Marines relieved the 4th Marines,
and, although opposed by enemy smallarms fire, by the close of the day it
had pressed to within 800 yards of the Kokuba River.
- Both the 22d and the 29th Marines
were now attacking east against the hill mass centering on Hill 4.6, west
of Shichina village and north of the Kokuba estuary. After the fall of Hill
27 on 30 May there was a rapid advance of several hundred yards until the
defenses of Hill 46 were reached. Then another intensive battle was fought
in the rain and mud. Fourteen tanks clawed their way into firing position
on the last day of the month and put direct fire into the enemy. Even then
intense machine-gun and mortar fire denied the hill to a strong
- coordinated attack, although large
gains were made. Throughout the night American artillery pounded Hill 46.
The next morning, on 1 June, the assault regiments took the hill, broke through
the Shichina area, and then seized Hill 98 and the line of the north fork
of the Kokuba.
- When elements of the 96th Division
seized the east face of Conical Hill and of Sugar Hill at the southern end
of the Conical hogback, a path was cleared for the execution of a flanking
maneuver around the right end of the Japanese line. The flanking force, once
through the corridor and past Yonabaru, could sweep to the west up the Yonabaru
valley and encircle Shuri from the rear. The main force of the Japanese army
would then be trapped. This was the plan which the XXIV Corps was ready to
put into effect when night fell on 21 May.9
- Funneling Through the Conical Corridor
- Strengthened by 1,691 replacements
and 546 men returned to duty from hospitals since it left the lines on 9 May,
the 7th Division moved up to forward assembly areas just north of Conical
Hill and prepared to make the dash through the corridor. At 1900 on 21 May
the 184th Infantry, chosen by General Arnold to lead the way, was in place
at Gaja Ridge, at the northern base of Conical. The initial move of the envelopment
was to be made in the dead of the night and in stealth.10
General Buckner felt that "if the 7th can swing round, running the gauntlet,
it may be the kill."11
- Rain began to fall an hour before
Company G, 184th Infantry, the lead element, was scheduled to leave its assembly
area. The rain increased rapidly until it was a steady downpour. Up to 0200
on 22 May, the hour of departure, the men huddled under their ponchos listening
to the dull, heavy reverberations of the artillery preparation, which sounded
even louder and nearer in the rain. Then, in single column, the company headed
south through the black night, the
- rain, and the sludge. No one fired
as two Japanese dodged into the shadows and the debris of Yonabaru, and at
0415 the company formed at a crossroads in the ruined town, platoons abreast,
ready to push on to Spruce Hill. It accomplished this advance without incident.
Once on the crest of Spruce Hill, Company G sent up a flare signaling Company
F to come through and try to reach Chestnut Hill.
- Daylight, a dull and murky gray, had
come when Company F reached the crest of Chestnut, 435 feet above the coast
1,000 yards southeast of Yonabaru. Only one man was wounded in this phase
of the assault. As Company F reached the crest of Chestnut and looked down
over the southern slope, several enemy soldiers were spotted climbing the
hill, apparently to take up defense positions. A soldier said as he looked
at them that they "had better hold reveille a little earlier." Complete
surprise had crowned the American effort. It was learned later that the Japanese
command had not expected the Americans to make a night attack or to attack
at all when tank and heavy-weapons support were immobilized by rain and mud.12
- The 3d Battalion followed the 2d through
Yonabaru. It then began advancing to the south toward juniper and Bamboo Hills
on a line southwest of Chestnut, the other high ground which the 184th was
to seize before it would be considered safe for the 32d Infantry to come through
the corridor and turn west to cut behind Shuri. The attack continued on the
rainy morning of 23 May, with the 2d and 3d Battalions pressing forward to
these initial objectives. At the end of the day, except for a small gap between
Company G on Juniper Hill and Company L on Bamboo Hill, the 184th Infantry
had won a solid line stretching from the seacoast across the southern slope
of Chestnut Hill and then across to juniper and Bamboo. In two rainy days
the 184th had forced a 2,000-yard crack in the enemy's defenses south of Yonabaru
and accomplished its mission. Now the 32d Infantry could begin the second
and decisive phase of the enveloping plan.
- The 32d Infantry Attempts an Envelopment
- While the 184th Infantry held the
blocking line from Chestnut to Bamboo and thus protected the left flank and
rear, the 32d Infantry was to drive directly west along the Naha-Yonabaru
valley to cut off Shuri from the south. The success of the entire plan of
encirclement depended upon the 32d Infantry's carrying out its part.
- On 22 May, while the 184th Infantry
was pressing south, Company F of the 32d Infantry moved to the southern tip
of Conical Hill, just west of Yonabaru, to help protect the right side of
the passage. The main body of the 32d Infantry, however, did not start moving
until the morning of 23 May, after Colonel Green of the 284th Infantry radioed
that his attack was going well and that it would be safe for the 32d to proceed.
At 1045 on 23 May the 2d Battalion, 32d Infantry, passed through Yonabaru
and headed west. Its initial objective was the string of hills west of Yonabaru
and south of the Naha-Yonabaru road, centering on Oak Hill just below the
village of Yonawa. By nightfall two battalions, the 2d and 3d, were deployed
a mile southwest of Yonabaru facing west, ready to make their bid for envelopment.
Already heavy machine-gun fire had slowed the advance and served notice that
the enemy would bitterly oppose a drive up the Yonabaru valley. The continuing
rains had by this time mired the tanks in their assembly areas north of Conical
Hill, and the armor which commanders had counted on to spearhead the drive
to the west was unable to function. Heavy assault guns likewise were immobilized.
The infantry was on its own.13
- During 24 May the 32d Infantry developed
the line where the Japanese meant to check the westward thrust of the 7th
Division. This line ran south from Mouse Hill (southwest of Conical Hill),
crossed the Naha-Yonabaru road about a mile west of Yonabaru, and then bent
slightly southwest to take in June and Mabel Hills, the latter being the key
to the position. Mabel Hill guarded the important road center of Chan, which
lay two miles almost directly south of Shuri. Oak Hill, an enemy strong point,
was somewhat in front of this line. Tactically, it was apparent that this
line protected the Shuri-ChanKaradera-Kamizato-Iwa road net, the easternmost
of two routes of withdrawal south from Shuri.
- The Japanese reacted slowly to the
initial penetration below Yonabaru. Mortar and artillery fire, however, gradually
increased. The scattered groups of second-class troops encountered plainly
did not have the skill and determination of the soldiers manning the Shuri
line. On 23 May elements of the Japanese 24th Division were dispatched
from Shuri to retake Yonabaru.14
This effort took shape in numerous counterattacks on the night of 24-25 May
against the 184th Infantry, which had just secured a lodgment on Locust Hill,
- EAST COAST CORRIDOR, looking north along Highway 13 from Yonabaru.
Conical Hill is just to left of Gaja.
- YONABARU-NAHA VALLEY highway, with Yonawa and Oak Hill in foreground.
Picture was taken 26 May as 7th Division infantrymen pressed back the
enemy's right flank below Shuri.
- broad coral escarpment half a mile
south of Chestnut Hill. At 0230 the Japanese counterattack also struck elements
of the 32d Infantry west of Yonabaru. The enemy made some penetration of American
lines at this point, and fighting continued until after dawn, when the Japanese
assault force withdrew, leaving many dead behind.15
- On 25 or 26 May, the main body of
the enfeebled 62d Division left Shuri and made a circuitous march to the southeast
to join the fight against the 184th Infantry below Yonabaru 16
Its arrival on the Ozato-Mura front had no important effect except to strengthen
the covering and holding force. The HemlockLocust Hill Escarpment area was
cleared of the enemy on 26 May, and thereafter the 184th Infantry met no
serious opposition as it pressed south to the vicinity of Karadera 17
Patrols sent deep to the south reported encountering only scattered enemy
troops. It became increasingly evident that the Japanese had pulled back their
right flank, were fighting only a holding action there, and had no intention
of withdrawing into the Chinen Peninsula as had been thought possible by American
- It was on the right end of the 7th
Division's enveloping attack that the Japanese brought the most fire power
to bear and offered the most active resistance. The high ground at this point,
where the southwest spurs of Conical Hill came down to the Naha-Yonabaru valley,
was integrated with the Shuri fortified defense zone. American success at
this point would cut the road connections south from Shuri and permit its
envelopment; hence the Japanese denied to the 96th Division any gains in this
area which would have helped the 32d Infantry in its push west.
- The Japanese Hold
- The bright promise of enveloping Shuri
faded rapidly as the fighting of 23-26 May brought the 32d Infantry practically
to a standstill in front of the Japanese defense line across the Yonabaru
valley. The Japanese had emplaced a large number of antitank guns and automatic
weapons which swept all approach routes to the key hills. Mortars were concentrated
on the reverse slopes. Had tanks been able to operate, the 32d Infantry could
perhaps have destroyed the enemy's fire power and overrun the Japanese defenders,
but the tanks were mired. On 26 May torrential downpours totaled 3.5 inches
of rain; the last ten
- days of May averaged 1.11 inches daily.18
General Hodge stated later that no phase of the Okinawa campaign worried him
more than this period when the 32d Infantry was trying to break through behind
- Decisive action in the Japanese holding
battle took place in the vicinity of Duck and Mabel Hills, east of Chan. Here,
on 26 May, the 32d Infantry tried to break the enemy resistance, but in a
fierce encounter on Duck Hill it was thrown back with heavy casualties. The
fighting was so intense and confused that five Japanese broke through and
attacked T/5 William Goodman, the only medic left in Company I, who was bandaging
wounded men in a forward exposed area. Goodman killed all five Japanese with
a pistol and then held his ground until the wounded were evacuated. In the
withdrawal from Duck Hill the dead had to be left behind. No gain was made
on the 27th, and on the 28th there was no activity other than patrolling.20
- The most significant gains of the
32d Infantry in its drive west were to come on 30 and 31; May, when all three
of its battalions launched a coordinated attack. By the end of 30 May the
32d had taken Oak, Ella, and June Hills; the advance brought the regiment
directly up against Mabel and Hetty Hills and the defenses of Chan. On the
last day of the month the 32d Infantry seized Duck Hill, consolidated positions
on Turkey Hill, north of Mabel, and occupied the forward face of Mabel itself.
The enemy still held the reverse slope of Mabel and occupied the town of Chan.
The Japanese encountered were not numerous, but they had to be killed in place.
They were the rear-guard holding force.
- In front of the 184th Infantry to
the southeast, the enemy fought a delaying action on 28-29 May at Hill 69,
commonly called Karadera Hill, just north of the village of the same name.
When patrols of the 184th Infantry penetrated deep into the Chinen Peninsula
on 30 May without encountering the enemy, it was obvious that this rugged
region would not become a battlefield.21
- By 30 May the XXIV Corps lines showed
a large and deep bulge on the left flank below the Naha-Yonabaru road; here
the American lines were approximately two miles farther south than at any
other part of the cross-island battlefront. On the American left flank the
envelopment of Shuri had almost succeeded in catching the Japanese army.
page created 10 December 2001
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