HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The United States invades the island of Okinawa, launching the last major battle of World War II.
Okinawa's strategic importance was its proximity to Japan. The U.S. intended to capture the island so that it could be used as an airbase and a staging area for the planned invasion of Japan, code named Operation Downfall. The Battle of Okinawa was the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific Theater. Some 12,000 Americans lost their lives in the fighting; deaths for Japanese soldiers and civilians are estimated at 110,000.
Some of the fiercest fighting on the island included the island of Ie Shima, where war correspondent Ernie Pyle lost his life, Bloody Ridge, Sugar Loaf Hill and the assault of Shuri Castle. The Japanese dispatched the world's largest battleship, the Yamato, with the intention of beaching it on Okinawa for use as a gun emplacement. The Yamato was destroyed on her way to Okinawa when one of her magazines detonated during an attack from U.S. fighters and bombers. The ship's explosion could be seen over 160 miles away.
Kamikaze attacks peaked during the Battle of Okinawa. For the first time, kamikaze tactics became a primary fixture of the defense. Nearly 8,000 pilots committed suicide at Okinawa attempting kamikaze attacks.