Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by Half Track, Apr 1, 2018.
73 years ago,
73 Years Ago Today the Battle for Okinawa Began. It Was Hell on Earth.
Hmmmm...I've always wondered why there hasn't been more on this horrible battle on our forum. Perhaps because in reality, the battle was fairly inconsequential in ending the war, Personally, I've always felt that we were somewhat out-generaled in that battle, at least as far as the land battle goes. Buckner's tactics seem to have been lackluster at best. A good read on the battle is one from the Japanese side, written by Ushijima's operations officer, by the name of Yahara. He was ordered not to commit suicide, but to get back, somehow, to Japan and give them the lessons learned from this battle, in order to make the defense of the home islands more effective.
Okinawa was not inconsequential at all, we just perceive it as such because the bombs brought a sudden and unexpected end to the war. ICEBERG gave the US an excellent base right on the doorstep of Japan, a base which was invaluable for launching CORONET and OLYMPIC. It also brought even A20 bombers within range of Kyushu and greatly facilitated the interdiction of sea lanes from the Asian mainland to Japan. Out-generaled? Lackluster tactics? Look at the result. We won, the Japanese didn't. Their theory was that their defensive tactics would cost the Americans prohibitive casualties and weaken US resolve, but the theory did not work. Yes, casualties in 10th Army were high but 25th Army was completely destroyed. By that time everyone in the US forces also knew that there could be no cheap victory over the Japanese defenses. Blowtorch and corkscrew was costly, but it worked.
The only things I think Buckner might be faulted on are:
1. Not outflanking the Shuri Line with an amphibious assault (still a matter of controversy)
2. Maybe not employing all his troops properly or soon enough. The 2nd Marine Division didn't get into major action until the closing phase and the 27th Division was shifted from the line to mopping up duties while the 7th, 77th, 96th, and 1st and 6th Marine were kept at the grindstone. I believe the 81st Division was earmarked as theater reserve, but if 10th Army ever called for it I haven't read about it.
I agree that had we not had the A-bombs, then Okinawa would have been damn useful. However, we DID have the bombs and there was no doubt that they would be used unless Japan caved first.
Of course we won! Once our fleet arrived the eventual end was a foregone conclusion. We knew that and the Japanese knew that. We could reinforce and they could not. We had absolute dominance in the air and on the sea, not withstanding the heavy casualties we took. Under those conditions, Buckner would have to be a raving incompetent to lose. According to Yahara, the Japanese command kept a reserve in place to deal with outflanking attempts, because they expected the Americans to go around his line. Had Buckner tried an "end run", then given our fire power advantages, I doubt those reserves could have defeated a landing. Then the Shuri Line might have been taken with much fewer casualties than actually happened. I would second your second point and both points together show Buckner was a less than brilliant commander. Yeah, he won, but at a very high cost. It was essentially a WW1 battle.
In slight defense of Buckner's employed plan of action (the WW1 style of head-on assault of Shuri Line), there was not much more that he could've done. It was either a headlong assault coupled with an amphibious end run, or just a headlong assault. And the Japanese had that figured out too. Not many options available with the size of the island to work with. Maneuvering was severely limited. The US lost over 200 tanks in the battle, many due to Japanese artillery fire and supporting US infantry not being able to link up with them during crucial battles. Not sure is this was due to lack of experience in PTO in the employment of combined arms tactics or to the aforementioned lack of real estate to work with.
I am not up on the details of the end run controversy. Buckner had done a pretty good job doing much with little in a secondary theater (the Aleutians) but he lacked experience of handling a large force on the battlefield. (Attu was just a division plus, and others directed the force on the ground.) Even so, I don't think the tactics used on Okinawa would have differed much no matter who commanded. Stillwell was in charge of 10th Army at the very end and the method remained the same: blowtorch and corkscrew, heavy use of artillery, the tank-infantry team. This was not much different from the basic tactical method in Europe, either. The blitzkrieg campaigns of the early phase of the war and the occasional armored pursuits later have given us a misleading picture of the war as a whole. Most WWII battles were WWI battles, at least tactically. The infantry still had a lot of very costly slogging to do on every front, as in 1914-18. As in WWI artillery played a vital role in smashing defenses and killing the enemy, as Patton admitted ("I don't have to tell you who won the war. You know our artillery did"). Until a breach could be made, the armor spent much of its time supporting the infantry rather than operating independently. Okinawa was not an anomaly in WWII, but fairly typical. The high costs of these battles could not really be avoided, though of course intelligent commanders (and most US generals were that) did their best to keep casualties down by use of firepower. But as a French general put it in WWI, "no matter what you do you lose a lot of men."
The difference is that in battles such as Casino, Normandy hedgerows, Hurtegen Forest, etc., the enemy's use of terrain negated our superiority in material and firepower. The first objective of these battles was to gain the conditions for maneuver. In the Okinawa battle we had the means for maneuver but didn't use it. That's the difference. I'm of the opinion that once casualties started to mount, an "end run" should have been tried. Buckner played it safe. He won, but discarded the chance to shorten the battle and save American lives. The top three Japanese officers worked to produce conditions to negate American superiority. They did a pretty good job of it but once they ran out of artillery ammo and men we were able to win. That's why I think in this particular battle, the Japanese had the better leadership. Perhaps Buckner would have done better if he'd been given a staff or corps command in the Philippines so as to have some actual experience in large-scale warfare.
There seems to be factors not considered here. A 'end around' was attempted at Casino, the Anzio landing which must be regarded as strategically at least a costly failure. A larger factor was who was being fought. In the three examples cited the defenders could give ground and set up new lines of defense, this could not be done on Okinawa. German troops would surrender when a situation became untenable, again this almost never was done by Japanese troops. Lastly the USMC and the Army had different theories on combat operations, the Marines, shock and speed, the Army, fire power and methodical planning. Both saw it as the way to keep casualties down.
Well, let's see, he had Marine units and landing craft available. I suspect that the Marines might move a tad bit quicker and more decisively than Lucas did at Casino. I still think it would be worth a try. At worst, it would have tied down those reserves so they couldn't be used elsewhere in the defenses.
(Yes, I realize that Mark Clark was at least as responsible for the Anzio fiasco as Lucas was.)