Suicide Part of the Terror of the Battle of Okinawa
The Battle of Okinawa, an 82-day clash that was the deadliest campaign of WWII’s Pacific Theater, began on April 1, 1945. With nearly 300,000 American and Japanese troops involved, and thousands of American, British and Japanese warships and airplanes, massive firepower was employed during this bloody battle. When it ended on June 22, nearly every Japanese defender—more than 100,000 troops—had been killed, while the Allies suffered over 60,000 casualties. In addition, the local Okinawans suffered anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 casualties. Some of these were the result of exploding shells and bullets; thousands of them were the result of suicide.
Mostly uneducated peasants and fishermen, the local populace had been cowed by the Japanese military, and terrified by stories that the invading Americans would rape, torture and kill all civilians, including children. Japanese soldiers distributed grenades to the civilians and ordered them to commit suicide. Thousands of Okinawans did, some using the grenades, others resorting to hanging. In some instances, mothers and fathers first killed their children, then themselves.
Suicide was a terrifying factor during the Battle of Okinawa. There were the suicides of the Okinawan civilians. Many Japanese soldiers committed suicide instead of surrendering when they could no longer keep on fighting. The Japanese air force hurled more than 1,500 kamikaze aircraft at the Allied fleet.
In the five days before the April 1 invasion of Okinawa, American troops captured some of the offshore islands to prepare for the attack on the big island. What they found warned them that suicide would be a factor in the upcoming invasion, as the following two newspaper articles detail. The first article describes the shocking discovery of civilian suicides, and the second reports the discovery of hundreds of one-man suicide boats the Japanese were planning to use against the Allies’ Okinawa invasion fleet.
The following two copyrighted newspaper articles were published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on the front page of its April 2, 1945, issue:
They Didn’t Know:
Jap Civilians Prefer Suicide to ‘Barbarians’
By Grant MacDonald
Ashore on Tokashiki Jima, Ryukyu Islands, March 29 (Delayed)—(AP)—An appalling pile of civilian Japanese dead and dying, who preferred suicide rather than to face American “barbarians,” greeted Yank landing forces on this island today.
Corporal Alexander Roberts, army photographer whose home is at New York City, was with the first scouting patrol to reach the scene which he described as “the most horrible I ever witnessed.”
“We had climbed over tortuous trails leading to the northern end of the island and had bivouacked for the night,” he said. “I heard terrible screaming, crying and wailing which lasted into early morning.
“Two scouts went out when it was light to check the screams. They were both shot. Just before, I had seen six or eight grenade bursts up ahead. Finally we came into the clearing which was littered with dead and dying Japanese, so close together I couldn’t walk between them without stepping on them.
“I saw at least 40 women and children strangled with strips of cloth torn from their tattered clothing. The only sounds came from little children who were wounded but not dead. In all there were nearly 200 individuals.
“There was one woman who had strangled herself by tying a thin rope around her neck, with the other end tied to a small tree. She had leaned forward with her feet on the ground, pulling the rope tight about her neck until she strangled. What appeared to be her whole family was lying on the ground in front of her, all strangled, and each covered with a dirty blanket.
Dozens on Ground
“Farther on there were dozens of people who had killed themselves with grenades and the ground was littered with other unexploded grenades. There were six dead Japanese soldiers and two others, badly wounded.
“Medics took the wounded soldiers back to the beach. I saw one little boy with a big V-shaped gash in the back of his head who was walking around. A doctor told me the child couldn’t possibly live and would die any minute of shock. It was terrible.”
Roberts said the doctors were giving morphine syrettes to the dying to ease the pain.
American litter bearers trying to evacuate wounded Japanese to an aid station on the beach were machine-gunned by a Nipponese soldier hidden in a cave on the trail. Infantrymen put him out of action and the aid work continued.
Japanese who had recovered sufficiently to answer questions told interpreters that Japanese soldiers told them the Americans would violate and torture the women and kill the men. They were amazed when Americans gave them medical aid, food and shelter. One old man who had strangled his daughter was filled with remorse when he saw other women unharmed and well-treated.
Lieutenant (jg) Keith Whitehouse, USNR Medical Corps, whose home is at Detroit, said he treated 70 civilian women and children and two wounded soldiers at an aid station on the beach before they were evacuated to a refugee camp on Zamami island. He said they were “pretty scared but docile. One of the solders gave us a little trouble but somebody bopped him on the helmet and he quieted down.”
American soldiers of this 77th division could not believe until they saw with their own eyes such fanaticism—that Japanese civilians as well as soldiers prefer suicide to capture by what they call American “barbarians.”
One-Man Jap Suicide Boats Are Captured
Seizure Reportedly Saved the Americans Landing on Okinawa
By Grant MacDonald
Aboard the 77th Division Amphibious Flagship off Kerama Islands, March 30 (Delayed)—(AP)—The seizure of Kerama islands and capture of scores of Japanese one-man suicide boats by the 77th (Statue of Liberty) Division undoubtedly saved the American force destined for the landing on Okinawa, 25 miles to the east, from serious setbacks.
All eight islands of the Kerama group were secured by the 77th the second day after the March 26 landing, and the most unexpected discovery was the amazing number of the little boats, and tons of high explosives, hidden in caves. Three hundred of the craft have been uncovered to date.
American officers said they believed the boats were intended for use in suicide smashes against United States ships in the Okinawa landing.
These 18-foot boats, powered with four-cylinder engines, were designed to carry two kinds of explosive charges—a depth charge in a rack at the stern and a torpedo bomb at the bow.
Enterprising Yanks already have dragged some of them from caves and are racing them around the inlets.
Dozens of them have been smashed by American demolition crews, and some have been pulled up on the beaches and overturned to make shelters for the soldiers.
“One of the most vital and valuable aspects of this operation is the capture or destruction of these boats,” said Major General Andrew D. Bruce, division commander. “They might have been used with great damaging effect on Okinawa landing operations.”
Some idea of what the little suicide crafts could have achieved in destruction was indicated when 65 of the depth charges were collected and detonated. The explosion shook this ship a mile offshore.
The 77th landed on nine different beaches of the eight Kerama islets with almost no resistance, after the beaches had been plastered with naval gunfire, air bombs and rocket salvos.
The first outfit ashore on Aka island was K Company, Third Battalion of the 305th Infantry Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward Chalgreen Jr., Columbia, S.C.
It was incredible that on D-Day as the huge invasion fleet steamed boldly into waters of Japanese islands less than 400 miles from the enemy homeland, only five Nipponese planes appeared. Four of them were shot down. One destroyer was hit and one strafed, with very few casualties.
The first American flag was raised officially at 9:25 a.m. March 27 on Saka island by Captain Thomas Donnelly, chaplain of the Third Battalion of the 305th Infantry Regiment. Donnelly’s home is in Bronx, N.Y.
Four Japanese civilians watched the flag raising. They stared blankly from a stockade close by.
The day before on Geruma island there was an unofficial flag raising when Lieutenant Stanley A. Smith of Port Lavaca, Tex., and four of his men of the 132nd Engineers raised the Texas Lone Star banner on the beach.
For more information, visit the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum website.
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