It’s a quick one this evening, but it’s two days in a row that I’ve been able to get here, and that’s saying something in light of my recent (and prolonged) absences.
Operation Iceberg (the Battle of Okinawa) needs no introduction to those who study the Second World War. This famous “last battle” of the Pacific campaign was extremely costly, both in lives lost and in what it ultimately led to…atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We’ve also mentioned a couple of small “sub-operations” in the Kerama Islands, specifically Tokashiki and Kerama Retto.
So for today, let’s visit Keise Shima.
Situated just five miles northwest of the Okinawan city of Naha, the three tiny islets don’t even show up Google’s mapping system…they’re that small. But their proximity to the Okinawa’s coast (and to the eventual landing beaches) made them nice targets for occupation. The plan was to land two battalions of the 532nd Field Artillery on-shore, where they would set up a couple dozen 155mm cannon. These cannon would support the “Love Day” landings set for April 1.
The men landed on March 28, 1945, after struggling to actually make it to shore. Their landing craft got hung up in the reefs, which left most of the men floundering in shallow water. Fortunately, the Japanese had temporarily left the area – though they would appear the following night to offer up a bit of resistance – so the soggy landings were unopposed and the men were able to establish their positions.
The “Long Toms” (as the artillery pieces were called) were the largest land-based guns in the inventory, and they were perfectly suited to this duty. And they would be put to good use. As you may recall, the main landings on Okinawa were totally battle-free and almost completely free of any kind of enemy fire.
Such was not the case on Keise Shima. Their primary target was a communications tower in the city of Naha and, as soon they began firing, they were answered by enemy fire. The 532nd’s HQ, located in one of the gun pits (which I believe is shown in the picture above), took a direct hit from heavy Japanese artillery, killing everyone there (including several officers). Another gun emplacement took a direct hit as well, but the shell was a dud that failed to explode.
So while Operation Iceberg got off to a very quiet start for the Marines that walked onto Okinawa’s beaches (so quiet, in fact, that some inexperience men believed the Japanese had left Okinawa), that certainly wasn’t the case for everyone involved.
Recommended Reading: The Ultimate Battle