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In early March of 1945 Task Force 58 was in Ulithi atoll. At anchor in the blue waters calmed by the protecting ring of coral reef and green islands, the carriers were huge, silent, and baking hot under the tropical sun. That sun felt good to the officers and men of Task Force 58. It made them forget the chill driven into their bones by the raw, wet winds of a few weeks before off Tokyo and Iwo Jima. After noon chow flight decks, gun galleries, and all available topside spaces were filled with half-nude figures sopping up the warm, pleasantly enervating sunshine.
Sluggish landing craft filled with khaki-clad officers or ships' crews in dungarees churned toward the palm-fringed beaches and thatch-roofed bars on the island of Mog Mog. Lighters, barges, and tankers plowed around the anchorage glutting combatant ships with fuel, ammunition, and provisions. It was a period of rest and replenishment.
As always in port, scuttlebutt on the coming operation was the chief topic of conversation among the crews and junior officers. With native shrewdness the mess cook in the galley, the "airdale" in the rear cockpit of a Helldiver, the fighter pilot, the junior officer commanding a five-inch gun mount all spoke of Japan's inevitable doom. How to do the job best and at least cost was the question.
That something big was in the wind was evident from the constant shuttling of admirals' barges and captains' gigs between the carriers and battleships. Secret conferences were going on; big plans were being laid. Many guessed the answer. "Okinawa," they said, "there's no other place to go." Some argued for Formosa, but not many.
Most of the men with Task Force 58 at this time had observed the haphazard, hesitating development of the Japanese suicide dive, the body crash of the Kamikaze pilot. They had seen it first in the Philippines, then off Formosa. No pattern or calculated plan seemed behind the attacks. p276 They were ill‑organized and with notable exceptions missed fire. Much concern was felt before the Tokyo strikes, but concern turned to confidence and almost contempt when Japanese planes during those strikes had fled to the west, refusing to meet the American challenge.
Thus the average man in the fleet guessed the locale of the next operation, and he faced the task before him with renewed confidence. What he did not guess was the extent to which the enemy was prepared to employ pilots and planes of the Kamikaze Corps — the factor that was to distinguish the Okinawa campaign from all other campaigns in naval history, as the longest, toughest, most costly battle ever fought and won by the men and planes and ships of the United States Navy. He did not guess, but he might have been forewarned by an incident that happened a few days before the fleet sortied.
The last dim glow of a tropical sun was just fading from the horizon, and in the mood of relaxation, most ships were showing movies. The large carrier USS Randolph was typical. Down on the steaming hot hangar decks officers and crew were sweating through the second reel of a mystery thriller. A few wisps of breeze strayed in the openings on the sides of the hangar deck. Men out on the catwalks for the cool evening air watched the dark waters lap at the ship's anchor chain. Except for the occasional bright patch of a movie screen, the ships were dimmed out, but all around the atoll, lights gleamed from the shore depots working overtime to load the big ships. It was almost like any harbor back home in peacetime.
Then, without warning, the Randolph shuddered; the concussion of a heavy explosion drowned the smooth screen voices. Smoke poured in the after end of the hangar deck. The dark waters blazed with the reflected light of a welling flight deck fire. Stunned crew members automatically rushed for their battle stations at the insistent clang of general quarters above the surprised, indignant exclamations and the successive, smaller explosions from the stern of the ship.
General quarters sounded on all the other ships in the harbor. Amazed officers and crew streamed topside to watch the leaping flames and orange core of the gasoline fire enveloping the stern of the Randolph. On the USS Yorktown, a Marine in a gun sponson exclaimed, "I tell you it was an F6F. Came in low over us and crashed right into her." Theories flew fast, but not until the smoking, twisted stern of the Randolph had cooled sufficiently for examination the following day, was it definitely determined that a Kamikaze pilot had made the •800‑mile p277 one‑way trip from the island of Minami Daito to crash his single-engine seaplane into a carrier in Ulithi Atoll.
Vaguely, it seemed unfair. This wasn't supposed to happen in port; port was for recreation and rest. Nerves were on edge the next few days as flag officers hurriedly re‑formed the task groups to exclude the Randolph on which repair crews were already working.
The stage was set for the Okinawa campaign.
By March of 1945 the enemy must have known his number was up. On paper, the Japanese goal of "Hakko Ichiu, or the eight corners of the world under one roof" still looked impressive. The enemy held Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, Malaya, Burma, great chunks of China. All his big armies were still intact. But his power existed only in the boastful, self-deluding words of the Domei News Agency which prepared propaganda for export.
Paradoxically, his stolen territories representing some of the richest lands in the world were practically worthless to the enemy. His vital supply line to the southwest had been cut to a painfully small trickle by navy carrier and search planes, by submarines, and by army bombers. A few •three-hundred-foot craft — called "sugar dogs" by the aviators — managed to slip up the China coast by night and thence to the Jap mainland. Another trickle slipped along the overland rail route through China — highly touted but impractical for the volume of supplies needed. The fleet of combatant ships that should have been protecting Japan's supply line had been mauled in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, and what was left remained bottled up in the Inland Sea.
Among many strategic materials, Japan's most pressing need was for high octane fuel — aviation gas for fighters to meet the crushing power of the B‑29's and the terrifying new actuality of carrier raids on the mainland. Japanese scientists in desperation tried with some small success to "crack" oil from pine-tree roots for the vital fuel. Yet these and other efforts were like trying to stop a herd of stampeding elephants with a peashooter. Japan was throttled, gasping. Despite her fatal weakness, Japan was not yet beaten to the point of surrender. To deliver the final blows, we needed one more land base, a final steppingstone for which there were three basic requirements: first, location within easy fighter plane range of the mainland; second, enough space for the huge airfields and dispersal and storage areas to support B‑29 operations; third, harbor p278 facilities ample and diversified enough to be developed as an advance staging base for the invasion of the main Japanese islands.
Within the tight ring closing on Japan, only one island filled the bill. Stringing southwest of Kyushu parallel to the China coast and extending to Formosa to form the eastern boundary of the East China Sea is the Ryukyu, or Nansei Shoto chain of islands. Keystone and largest island of this chain is Okinawa. On aviators' charts, the air‑distance circles spreading out from Okinawa brought Kyushu within •350 miles, Tokyo within •800. Okinawa already had five airfields built by the Japanese. There were enough additional level spots on Okinawa's rugged, mountainous terrain to provide the B‑29 fields and dispersal area that were needed. The irregular coast line of the narrow, •60‑mile‑long island offered good anchorages. Nakagusuku Wan on the east coast was the harbor to which crippled enemy units had retired after the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Naha Harbor on the east coast was adequate for smaller vessels.
Okinawa Gunto — "a prefecture of Japan . . . a densely populated chain of rugged islands" — had all the requirements. And the decision to wrest this island from the Japanese as a final base from which to overwhelm the enemy precipitated the greatest test in history for the United States Navy. In this test the naval air force was to play a major role — a role which marked the culmination and fullest realization of the battle techniques developed during the relentless march across the Pacific.
H‑Hour was 0700 on the fourteenth of March. Task Group 58.4 was elected to lead the units of Task Force 58 for the sortie marking the opening of the Okinawa campaign. The first ships to move in the morning light were the small, quick destroyers. They poked their bows out Ulithi Atoll's entrance channel to guard against the possibility of a Jap submarine lurking outside the coral reef waiting for such a moment. Then the heavy units began to slide through the waters which were unctuously smooth at this breezeless hour of the morning. As the big carriers gathered speed and formed in Indian file to pass through the narrow confines of the channel, they moved with a flowing ease that belied their size.
Task Force 58 was in full strength that morning with four regular task groups and a night fighter task group. Despite the temporary loss of the Randolph, the carrier core of the force included 10 CV's and 6 CVL's. This was buttressed with 8 battleships, 2 new battle cruisers, and 14 heavy and light cruisers.
p279 Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, as Commander, Fifth Fleet, was in charge of the entire Okinawa campaign until relieved by Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) W. F. Halsey late in May. His flagship, the cruiser Indianapolis, operated during the initial phase as part of Task Group 58.3, as did also the flagship of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, commander of Task Force 58.
Task Group 58.1, which included the CV's Hornet, Bennington, and Wasp, and the CVL Belleau Wood, was commanded by Rear Admiral J. J. Clark. Task Group 58.2 with the CVs' Franklin and Hancock and CVL's San Jacinto and Bataan was under the command of Rear Admiral R. E. Davison. With Rear Admiral F. C. Sherman as task group commander in the CV Essex, Task Group 58.3 also included the Bunker Hill and the CVL Cabot. Task Group 58.4, under the command of Rear Admiral A. W. Radford in the CV Yorktown, included the CV Intrepid and the CVL's Independence and Langley. The widely known "Big E," the famed CV Enterprise, now loaded exclusively with night fighters and night torpedo planes and functioning as a night carrier, was to operate with Task Group 58.4 during the daytime and at night, with necessary screening units, was to operate independently as Task Group 58.5 under the command of Rear Admiral M. B. Gardner.
The aviation phase of the strategy for the Okinawa campaign worked out by this team of flag officers was infinitely complex in detail but direct and simple in its basic concepts. While the landing forces were mounted at Leyte, Guadalcanal and Saipan, Task Force 58 would strike a heavy neutralizing blow at airfields on Kyushu, Shikoku, and western Honshu. Then as the troop ships and train of supply vessels converged on the objective, Task Force 58 would operate to the northeast of Okinawa providing an aerial barrier between the invasion forces and the major source of the enemy's air power on the mainland. While the fighters were holding off enemy planes, the bombers of the task force would knock out Okinawa's defenses and then together with planes from the escort carriers of Task Group 52.1 would provide air support for the troops until sufficient land-based air forces could be established to take care of the job.
Routine training exercises filled the first two days on the long trip from Ulithi to Kyushu. This training was undertaken seriously, almost doggedly, for as soon as the ships left port, the word of the coming operation had been passed on. Now the die was cast. As an aviation radioman put it, "It's one thing to chop your gums in port about what's going to happen next, but, brother, when the captain comes on the p280 bullhorn and says, 'Target, Kyushu,' you stop kidding and start thinking — serious thinking."
Pilots, who knew that once again they would be flying over the Jap mainland, dived with unusual ferocity on the target sleds towed behind each carrier. And antiaircraft gunners, who realized their ships would be ready targets within easy range of enemy planes swarming from a hundred fields, shot in tight-lipped earnestness at the red sleeves trailing far behind the tow‑planes.
On 16 March, Task Force 58 rendezvoused with squat tankers and escort carriers loaded with replacement planes for a final "topping off" •eight hundred miles to the southeast of Kyushu. Replenishment finished, the task force set course for Kyushu and began the high-speed run‑in.
As the throb of the giant turbines stepped up, one thought was with practically every man in the fleet. "Would the force get in undetected? Could it slip under the Jap searches and past the picket boats?"
Surprise always has been a major factor in carrier operations. Achieve surprise and you catch the enemy planes before they can take to the air. You pin the enemy down before he can hit back. The carriers had achieved surprise on their first Tokyo strikes. And the enemy planes when they finally did get off the ground simply fled west.
Throughout the anxious day of the seventeenth of March when Task Force 58 was churning toward Kyushu at high speed, there were several reported bogies. They all turned out to be friendly planes or did not come close enough to spot the force. Shadows lengthened and light faded from the overcast sky. Top‑ranking officers relaxed a bit; the worst day was over, and the force had not been spotted.
But their ease of mind was short-lived. Snoopers were detected shortly before ten o'clock — 2141 precisely. "Bogey bearing 142 degrees, distance •72 miles," rasped the voice over the loudspeaker from Combat Information Center where fighter director officers were tensed before the spoke of blue light spinning round the dial on their radars. Within a few minutes, seven more "raids," or groups of enemy planes, were detected. This time it was certain the force had been spotted. The snoopers hung on, shadowed the force throughout the night. Two were shot down by Enterprise night fighters, but others took up the hunt. The enemy was fully alerted some eight hours in advance of our first scheduled strike! This probably meant trouble.
On the morning of the eighteenth, skies were overcast, and the pre‑dawn launches of aircraft had to be held up for a few moments. But p281 at 0545, the first fighter sweeps and combat air patrol fighters roared off the decks. Task Force 58 was •a hundred miles to the east of the south tip of Kyushu.
The invisible beam of the radar combed the skies, anxiously seconded by the eyes of ship lookouts. A light, low overcast made the lookout's job doubly hard. The enemy snoopers of the previous night had been reinforced. Many bogies closed Task Group 58.3 at 0500, dropping clusters of flares. One strayed within range of the task group's antiaircraft guns and was shot down.
This was only the beginning. Although never in great force, enemy planes pecked away at our ships throughout the day. Our gunners were hot and all the task groups splashed enemy planes.
Task Group 58.4 was attacked most persistently and was the only group to suffer damage. At 0737 a single-engined plane popped out of the overcast and dived at the Enterprise, releasing a •600‑pound bomb that hit the deck at the forward elevator but failed to detonate. Damage was minor. Half an hour later, a twin-engined Betty made a low gliding run on the group and was exploded a few yards short of the Intrepid. Flaming debris from the plane smashed into the Intrepid's side, killing one man and doing minor damage. Between 1300 and 1500, the Yorktown was subjected to three attacks by dive bombers screaming out of the overcast. The first two missed with their bombs and the third plane's 600‑pound bomb struck the ship a glancing blow. The bomb hit in the island structure and grazed down the side, exploding at hangar deck level. Damage, however, did not hamper the operational capacity of the ship.
Meantime, planes at the target on this first day of strikes piled up a comfortable score. In the air our fighters shot down 102 enemy planes, and on the ground our strafing, rocketing, and bombing attacks destroyed or damaged some 275 aircraft. Heavy damage was inflicted on airfield installations.
During the morning of that first day, photo reconnaissance revealed enemy combatant shipping concentrations at Kure and Kobe, enemy naval bases in the Inland Sea. Vice Admiral Mitscher decided to send his strikes on the following day against these ships with the naval base installations at Kure and Kobe as alternate targets.
The night of 18‑19 March passed quietly. Planes thundered from the decks at 0525 to begin the second day of sweeps and strikes. The planes found their targets and damaged in varying degrees an enemy battleship, a hybrid battleship-aircraft carrier, three CV's, a CVL, a CVE, a heavy p282 cruiser, and a light cruiser. But our planes paid heavily to the intense antiaircraft fire encountered. One task group alone lost thirteen aircraft to the murderous cone of flak thrown up over the Kure Harbor.
While task force planes were dodging flak at the target, the fleet was attacked by enemy aircraft. Shortly after 0700, a single-engined Jap plane poked out of the clouds over Task Group 58.2 and placed two bombs squarely on the deck of the Franklin to start a devastating series of explosions and fires. A few minutes later, the Wasp in Task Group 58.1, took a single bomb hit amidships on the flight deck. The bomb pierced flight deck, hangar deck, and another deck below before exploding. Despite considerable damage, flight operations on the Wasp were resumed within an hour.
With the morning strike planes back aboard, the task force retired in the early afternoon of the nineteenth. Air cover was provided for the stricken Franklin and fighter sweeps were launched against Kyushu airfields to smother any remaining enemy planes.
Because of the Jap propensity to concentrate on crippled ships, heavy air attacks were expected. Only one developed on the nineteenth when eight enemy planes were intercepted early in the evening by combat air patrol •eighty miles from the force. Five were shot down and three escaped to their bases.
At the end of the second day, in addition to the ships and shipping installations damaged at Kure and Kobe, intelligence officers counted 97 planes destroyed in the air and 225 additional aircraft destroyed or damaged on the ground to bring the two‑day total to 199 aircraft shot down and 500 destroyed or damaged on the ground.
No Japs appeared that night, and by morning of the third day, the twentieth, the Franklin was •160 miles from the nearest enemy base but proceeding at only five knots under tow of the cruiser Pittsburgh. Her rudder, jammed hard over, was causing trouble.
Complete absence of enemy attacks throughout that morning gave the surviving members of the Franklin's heroic crew an opportunity to get the ship moving under her own power at a speed of 15 knots. Finally, at 1630 on the twentieth, the enemy tried again. Fifteen "bandits," approaching low and fast, split up for individual attacks on Task Group 58.2. The Franklin was unscathed as seven planes were shot down by fighters and seven by ships' gunners, but Enterprise was hit by our own gunfire and put out of action for flight operations, and the destroyer Halsey Powell was severely damaged by a plane shot down by the Hancock's guns.
p283 Shadowers appeared again at dusk and persisted throughout the night of 20‑21 March. Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3 smashed a torpedo plane attack shortly before midnight, and three additional snoopers were splashed as tracer shells from antiaircraft guns periodically lit up the night sky.
At 1400 the next day, 21 March, a large group of bogies was detected by radar a hundred miles to the northwest. Extra fighters were scrambled and within a few minutes 150 Hellcats were airborne. Twenty-four fighters from Task Group 58.1 were the first on the scene to intercept thirty‑two twin-engined Bettys and sixteen single-engined fighters. In a short, wild melee our fighters shot down all the Bettys and all their fighter escort for a loss of two of our own Hellcats.
There was a significance to this attack that was not realized at the time. The Bettys shot down were unusually slow, and pilots reported seeing what seemed to be a small, strange, extra pair of wings extending below the fuselage and parallel to the wing on the enemy bombers. Gun camera films, when developed, confirmed the pilots' reports. What these weird instruments were did not dawn upon our forces until a few days later.
The decisive obliteration of this attack group ended Jap efforts against the Franklin and, in fact, terminated the first phase of the Okinawa campaign. We had taken some damage, but we had dealt heavy blows.
Despite the rigorous preliminaries at Kyushu, in one sense the Okinawa campaign did not really begin until the sixth of April.
Indeed, much had happened since the damaged Franklin, Wasp, and Enterprise had been sent safely on their way to Ulithi. On the twenty-third of March, the navy air force moved in on Okinawa in a familiar pattern of activity. Bombing attacks were carried out on all known defense installations as heavily loaded Avengers and Helldivers streamed from carrier decks with clock-like regularity. Airfields along the Ryukyu chain to the northeast and southwest of Okinawa were strafed and bombed to deny them to the enemy. Sturdy Hellcats buzzed leisurely over the hundreds of ships en route to Okinawa — first the minesweepers, then the forces that made the initial landings in the Kerama Retto to the west of Okinawa, then the cruisers and battleships of the naval bombardment groups, and finally the transports loaded with troops for the frontal assault on Okinawa itself.
p284 Enemy air opposition was sporadic; the strikes on Kyushu apparently had served the intended purpose. On 1 April, Easter Sunday morning, our landing forces waded into the beaches just off Yontan airfield after a scathing series of "pre‑how-hour" aerial attacks and naval bombardment. The bitter enemy opposition anticipated was not met. The troops walked across the island within three days. And still no heavy air attacks. The operation proceeded ahead of schedule; it was easy, almost ominously easy.
But on the sixth of April, there was an abrupt change; the enemy, at long last, hit back. On that day the Okinawa operation became the toe to toe aerial slugging match that is burned into the memory of all the men who fought in the campaign.
"Cloudy becoming overcast at dawn. Visibility •8‑10 miles. Northerly winds 10‑15 knots. Slight sea and low swell from NW." In this matter-of‑fact language the aerologist's report described 6 April — a perfect day for the Kamikaze!
By the time the shrouded sun was full over the horizon, it was evident this was not to be another quiet day. Reports of large groups of bogies crackled over ship radios. Loaded torpedo planes and dive bombers were struck below, de‑gassed and de‑armed. Fighters were serviced and warmed up as Task Force 58 prepared to meet the threat.
The attacks reached fullest intensity in the early afternoon. The enemy came and kept coming in attack units ranging from single planes to groups of 30 or more. All told, more than 400 enemy planes — all suiciders — surged down the Ryukyu chain that day.
Our naval aviators on combat air patrol met the thrust as far north as Amami O Shima, midway between Kyushu and Okinawa; they met it at the protecting ring of radar picket destroyers thrown out around the major concentration of ships at the Okinawa anchorage; and they met it disposed in an arc to the north of Task Force 58.
Many young navy pilots became aces on that day. Breathlessly they told of the "sitting ducks" they had exploded out of the sky. As their reports were pieced together, it was apparent that many of the Kamikaze planes were the oldest of flyable models — obsolescent dive bombers of 1937 vintage, ancient torpedo planes, outmoded seaplanes. Mixed in the conglomeration of enemy types were twin-engined bombers, sleek, new, high-speed interceptors of the latest enemy fighter model, and many Zekes, the enemy's familiar work-horse fighter.
At Okinawa and over the task force that day, carrier-based fighters shot down 236 enemy planes. In achieving this score, our losses totaled p285 two planes. Task Force 58 ships splashed an additional 13 planes. Escort carrier fighters added 55 enemy planes to the total and antiaircraft fire from ships at Okinawa accounted for 35 more. The enemy's Sunday punch was effectively blocked.
This first large-scale suicide attack set the pattern for all the others that followed. With minor exceptions, total enemy planes participating in each of the attacks ranged from 100 to 300. The attacks were spaced generally from seven to ten days apart, apparently the minimum time in which the enemy could muster his forces for an all‑out blow. In the interval between major smashes, smaller-scale attacks were launched, but these were scattered and haphazard.
For suicide purposes, the enemy scraped the bottom of his aviation barrel. The oldest models that could still take to the air, including many trainers, were dispatched on the missions with frightened, ill‑trained pilots at the controls. For most of the Kamikaze pilots it probably was their first combat mission — and their last! Our fighter pilots constantly reported in amazement the ease with which they had destroyed the enemy. A division of four fighter pilots on the Yorktown amassed a total of fifty enemy planes between themselves without so much as receiving a single enemy bullet in any of their planes. "No evasive action," became a stock phrase in pilot reports describing the reaction of enemy planes which were destroyed.
Along with the suicide planes, the enemy usually sent newer fighter models, apparently as a covering force to engage our combat air patrol while the Kamikaze planes slipped in to smash our ships. Better planes flown by better pilots still were no adequate match for our planes, pilots, and teamwork tactics.
As the ultimate in suicide attack, the Japanese introduced a new weapon during the Okinawa campaign. Our first hint of the weapon had come on 21 March with the destruction of the thirty‑two Bettys, on each of which had been observed a mysterious extra set of wings below the fuselage. Ground forces storming ashore at Okinawa discovered the first positive evidence of the "piloted bomb." They found several of the weapons assembled. The flying bomb had stubby wings •16 feet across, a long pointed nose which contained a •2,000‑pound warhead, a cockpit with elementary controls, a twin-rudder tail assembly, and four tubes behind for rocket propulsion. The gadget was fitted to be carried half inside the bomb bay of twin-engined bombers of the Betty or Peggy type.
Engineers estimated that a speed of •more than five hundred miles p286 an hour could be attained by the bomb, but because of the small control surfaces they felt it would not be very maneuverable. It was obvious the mother plane would have to have the target in sight before the piloted bomb could be released. Typically skeptical, our forces dubbed the new weapon "Baka" — Japanese for "fool."
After the discovery of the bomb ashore, reports of sightings were made from various ships under air attacks, but it was not until the twelfth of April that the enemy scored with the Baka bomb. The destroyer M. L. Abele, already damaged by a suicide plane, took a hit amidships from a Baka. The ship broke in two and sank. In the three months at Okinawa, only three other hits by Bakas were recorded, and these hits were considerably less destructive than the first.
By their own admission in propaganda broadcasts to our forces, the Japanese expended more than three hundred Baka bombs — and, of course, a similar number of pilots — to obtain these four hits. Perhaps the best tip‑off on how the average Jap soldier felt about this weapon was provided by a scared young Japanese, a crew member of an enemy bomber shot down by Task Group 58.4 fighters and later fished out of the water by a destroyer of that group. Under interrogation on the admiral's flagship, the nineteen-year‑old petty officer said that volunteers to fly the bomb were notably lacking. Orders were necessary to convince pilots they should die for the Emperor in this fashion. Baka was a most appropriate name for the weapon.
The enemy's attacks which were mounted from Kyushu — principally from Kanoya air base — usually split two ways. The major arm reached down the Ryukyu chain to the shipping concentrated at Okinawa. This thrust usually was stopped at the radar picket destroyer line by our aggressive combat air patrol. The minor arm of the attack reached out for the fast carriers operating to the northeast of Okinawa. The attacks on Task Force 58 invariably were preceded by search planes sent out to find the exact position of the carriers to be radioed back to suiciders standing by at Kanoya air base awaiting the word.
Supplementing the Kyushu-based elements of the attack were smaller scale fleets of suicide planes stemming from Formosa. These planes either made the trip directly from northern Formosa air bases or attempted to stage through the airfields on Ishigaki and Miyako Jima, at the southern anchor of the Ryukyu chain. The neutralization of these airfields during the first two months of the operation was assigned to the units of Task Force 57, the first British carrier force to operate in the Pacific. In addition to denying the enemy his Sakishima Gunto p287 airfields, the British absorbed many suicide attacks that otherwise would have descended upon Okinawa.
At first the apparent goal of the suiciders attacking our shipping at Okinawa was the inner anchorage — the heavy fire support ships and the transports loaded with troops and supplies. But our combat air patrol effectively smashed these attacks at the outer ring of radar picket destroyers. Only scattered, lone planes slipped through and scored an occasional hit. As a result, the harassed suiciders began to dive on the first ships they sighted. And the first ships they sighted were the radar picket destroyers and their cluster of supporting ships.
Thus the radar picket destroyers served two heroic purposes. Primarily they were the first line of defense, and their tools in this function were two — radar, and a team of from four to sixteen fighter planes assigned to each destroyer. The fighter director officer working in the destroyer's Combat Information Center picked up the approaching enemy raids frequently more than a hundred miles from Okinawa. As he tracked the raid in on his radar screen, the fighter director vectored his team of fighters to meet the attack, which sometimes was obliterated completely and almost always scattered.
Secondarily, the radar picket destroyers assumed the grim function of absorbing the attacks of suiciders that slipped through the combat air patrol network. Their guns took over where the fighters on patrol left off. They became the shock absorbers and finally the prime target of the Kamikaze attacks.
Our forces used everything in the book to break the back of the suicide offensive. In addition to the combat air patrol planes controlled by the radar picket destroyers, a "barrier patrol" of fighters was thrown across the path of enemy suicide attacks •two hundred miles north of Okinawa. As a collateral mission, these planes carried out daily bombing attacks to deny to the enemy fields at Tokuno and Kikai Jima which might be used as staging bases for planes coming down from Kyushu. Night fighters and night bombers extended these attacks round the clock.
The necessity for providing daily support bombing missions for the troops battling against an enemy dug into caves and every conceivable defensive position, held the fast carriers to a restricted operating area and prevented them from sending regular strikes against Kyushu to overwhelm the suiciders before they could start for Okinawa. To fill this gap, the B‑29's, although not ideally equipped to bomb airfields, were called in to help during the campaign. Between 16 April and 10 May, p288 B‑29's based in the Marianas flew 1,391 sorties over Kyushu airfields and further disrupted the enemy's attacks.
Altogether, seven mass suicide attacks were staged between 6 April and 28 May, the critical period of the Okinawa campaign. On 6 April, a total of 339 enemy planes were destroyed; the next attack, on 12 April, cost the Japanese 208 planes; on 16 April, 270 planes were smashed; on 28 April, 115 planes were destroyed; on 4 May, 137 planes were destroyed; on 11 May, 128 planes were destroyed; and from 24 to 28 May, in a persistent series of attacks, 316 planes were downed.
The grand total of enemy planes destroyed during this period was 3,594. Task Force 58's share of this total was 2,259, of which 1,640 were exploded out of the air.
Our total combat and operational plane losses for the period came to 880. This figure includes 266 planes destroyed on damaged carriers. Task Force 58 lost 251 planes in combat, bringing its personal score against the enemy to a 9 to 1 ratio.
At Okinawa the United States Navy suffered the heaviest punishment in its history. Out of approximately 1,500 ships engaged in the campaign, 30 combatant ships were sunk and 223 were damaged during the three-month struggle with the Japanese Kamikaze force. One out of every seven naval casualties suffered throughout the entire war resulted from the Okinawa fighting.
The great preponderance of damage and destruction was wrought by suicide planes. Of the 253 vessels sunk or damaged from all causes, suiciders were responsible in 189 of the cases.
The ships that held the radar picket line to the north and west of Okinawa suffered severely. Destroyers, as a type, were the most frequently hit. Twelve destroyers were sunk, and sixty-seven were damaged.
Although Task Force 58 did not have a single vessel sunk throughout the campaign, the fast carriers took more damage than during any previous operation. Of the ten CV's that sortied to begin the Okinawa operation, eight ultimately were hit, suffering varying degrees of damage. The Bennington and Hornet were the only two of the original ten to escape damage from enemy action. Damage to carriers and supporting ships kept the force down to three task groups instead of the original four that started the campaign.
p289 The escort carrier forces which had taken the brunt of suicide attacks in the Philippines fared much better at Okinawa. Three CVE's were hit of which only one, the Sangamon, was seriously damaged.
The toll exacted by the suiciders cannot be measured alone in terms of casualties to men and ships. An utterly exhausting pace was demanded of ships' personnel in combat for days on end.
Ships on radar picket station were rotated in three‑day periods. During their stay on station, men slept, when they slept at all, flung out on steel decks at battle stations. They ate K‑rations when there was time between attacks. They fought off unending air attacks on a scale never before experienced. As many as fifty planes attacked a single ship; lone destroyers downed more than twenty planes in a single day with antiaircraft fire alone.
The fast carrier forces broke records for staying at sea und combat conditions. Without respite, Task Group 58.1 operated for 47 days, 58.4 for 62 days, and 58.3 for 77 days. Fighter pilots piled up unprecedented numbers of combat flying hours. Plane maintenance crews, alert all day at battle stations, worked half the night at servicing and repairing planes.
Men of the Navy met and exceeded the demands on their courage and durability. Implacably they fought the enemy but even more desperately they fought to save their ships when the Kamikazes scored hits. It was commonplace for destroyers hit by two or three suiciders to make it back to port. The USS Laffey, smashed by six suiciders and two direct bomb hits, steamed back to a repair base under her own power. Among the carriers, the Franklin and Bunker Hill were monumental examples of the ability of our crews to save badly wounded ships.
The commander of Task Force 58, Vice Admiral Mitscher, paced the toughness of the men fighting under him. On 11 May, Vice Admiral Mitscher's flagship, the Bunker Hill, was rocked by two direct suicide hits. As soon as the boiling gasoline fire was under control, Vice Admiral Mitscher shifted his flag to the Enterprise and carried the fight to the enemy. Three days later, a suicide plane dived into the deck of the Enterprise. Vice Admiral Mitscher and his decimated staff moved over to the Randolph and went on fighting.
When the fleet came to Okinawa, Japanese propagandists blatantly boasted this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. With the entire fleet within range of the Special Attack Corps, it would be an easy matter to wipe United States naval power from the Pacific seas. The Kamikaze pilots would "trade a plane for a ship" until the U. S. Navy was smashed.
p290 It cost the Japanese more than 3,500 planes to learn that the terms of the trade would not be that easy. It cost them nearly the entire effective operational strength of their air force to discover that the Navy had come to stay at Okinawa.
In his operation plan for the Okinawa campaign, Admiral Spruance, Commander of the Fifth Fleet, expressed concern that our Okinawa forces might be raided in early morning light by fast enemy surface ships starting out from Inland Sea bases the previous dusk. Against this possibility, a careful network of day and night searches covered all the approaches of Okinawa. As a further precaution, submarines were placed on station at all the exits from the Inland Sea.
The enemy tried a surface raid once — only once! The result was one of the most decisive victories ever achieved by naval air power.
On the night of 6 April, one of the submarines on dreary station patrol off Bungo Suido — the channel leading into the Inland Sea between Kyushu and — struck pay dirt. Radar contact was made with a large enemy force heading south. The submarine's radio ticked out the coded report, "At least one battleship . . . supporting units . . . course one nine zero . . ."
The intent of the enemy seemed plain. During daylight on the sixth of April, he had launched his heaviest Kamikaze attack of all time. Apparently banking on the success of that attack, this surface force was to proceed to the Okinawa area and dispose of the remnants of our fleet. To meet the enemy threat, Vice Admiral Mitscher immediately ordered all three task groups of Task Force 58 to concentrate northeast of Okinawa.
At dawn on 7 April, forty fighters in units of four were launched to search a wide, pie‑slice quadrant which covered every area of the sea to which the enemy task force might have proceeded during the night. Planes from the Essex made the first contact at 0822.
The terse radio message reported a Yamato-class battleship, one or two cruisers, and probably eight destroyers on a westerly course. The force had cut across the southern tip of Kyushu through Osumi Kaikyo and now was headed out into the East China Sea.
The change in course was puzzling. Was the enemy force not to attack at all but simply head for the west coast Kyushu naval base at Sasebo? Or was the force intended to come down the western side of the Ryukyus p291 and smash into the major concentration of our invasion forces gathered to the west of Okinawa? We did not wait for an answer.
On the carriers the word was passed quickly. Planes were loaded, the Avengers with torpedoes, the Helldivers with semi-armor‑piercing bombs, and the fighters with •500‑pound general purpose bombs. Here was an opportunity our naval aviators had not experienced since the Battle for Leyte Gulf. An enemy task force was on the loose, the first to poke its nose out in many a lean month.
By 1000, the planes of Task Group 58.1 and 58.3 were ready to launch. Loaded to maximum capacity with bombs and gas, the planes strained to take to the air. West wind half an hour 132 fighters, 50 dive bombers, and 98 torpedo planes were setting noses toward the estimated position of the enemy task force •some 240 miles to the northwest.
After the strikes were off, further reports came from the shadowing planes. The size of the force was established as 1 battleship, 1 light cruiser (subsequently identified as the Yamato and Yahagi), and 8 destroyers. Weather at the target was unfavorable. Cloud ceiling was •3000 feet; visibility •five to eight miles with occasional rain squalls. Inexplicably there was no cover of enemy fighters to protect the task force.
Planes of Task Group 58.1 were the first to locate the enemy fleet almost directly west and •110 miles distant from the southern tip of Kyushu. Weather in the general area was so bad that the Hancock strike group never reached the target. The low ceiling and great numbers of planes which soon arrived at the target made co‑ordinated attacks difficult. Antiaircraft fire was intense, but inaccurate; Our planes pressed home their attacks. Exact assessment of results was impossible, but the battleship and the cruiser were heavily hit; two destroyers were sunk.
Forty-eight Hellcats, 25 Helldivers, and 33 Avengers of Task Group 58.4 were launched an hour after the strikes from the other two task groups. When they arrived over the enemy fleet, the Yamato had a port list, but was still making good speed and still shooting. The light cruiser was dead in the water, spewing oil. One of the remaining destroyers was burning and trailing an oil slick.
Futile antiaircraft fire, by now reduced in volume, met the attack. The planes split effectively for the clean‑up. The badly damaged Yahagi was literally pulverized. A dozen bombs and eight torpedoes were smashed into the ship which broke into a churning mass of twisted steel and struggling crewmen. Two more destroyers were sunk, another badly damaged and a fourth left burning.
p292 The big prize, the Yamato, pride of the entire Jap battle fleet, took a wild zigzag course, her foaming wake cutting crazy figures in the oily waters. Relentlessly the planes closed in. The USS Intrepid air groups swarmed in first, claimed one torpedo and eight bomb hits. The coup de grâce was administered by six Yorktown torpedo planes.
The young skipper of the torpedo squadron and leader of the six attacking planes sized up his lumbering target with split-second wisdom and acted with typical initiative. The Yamato was listing to port. Her protective band of anti-torpedo armor on the starboard side was lifted high out of the water, exposing the thinner plates of her underbelly.
The torpedo squadron leader called his planes and instructed all crews to change the depth setting on the torpedoes from 10 to 20 feet. Then he brought his planes around to the Yamato's starboard side for the attack. The six planes made perfect runs. Six torpedoes dropped. Five were observed to hit, and before it was lost to sight the sixth was running hot, straight, and true.
These torpedoes tore the bottom out of the Yamato. The huge ship, pushed by the tremendous force of the underwater explosions, slowly rolled over and exploded in a great geyser of flame and smoke. It is doubtful if a single member of the Yamato's crew survived.
Triumphantly, our strike groups returned to their ships. At a cost of 4 dive bombers, 3 torpedo planes, and 3 fighters from which all but 4 pilots and 8 air crewmen were rescued, the supposedly invincible 42,000‑ton dreadnaught Yamato, the light cruiser Yahagi, and four destroyers had been wiped out. No units of the enemy fleet ever again sortied from their Inland Sea haven. Our pilots had scored another signal victory.
A panoramic view of the vast Okinawa campaign — the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken in the Pacific — tends to slight some of the most vital components of its success. The swirling Kamikaze attacks, the great air battles, the heroic stand of the radar picket destroyers, the sinking of the Yamato, overshadow the contribution of some of the integral units of the aviation team that helped smash the enemy on the threshold of his homeland.
For the infantryman slogging through the mud and battling up bloodied escarpments, the air attacks on the ships were of remote importance. For this man one of the most welcome features in his p293 existence was the support his desperate forces received from Helldivers and Avengers blasting tenaciously held enemy positions.
Naval and marine air support of ground troops in the Okinawa campaign was used on a larger, more intensive scale than ever before. Ground troops confronting an especially stubborn enemy position needed only to get the word to their air support liaison team and within minutes a squadron of Helldivers would be screaming for a pin‑point attack. Repeatedly, aircraft successfully smashed targets that could not be reached by artillery or naval bombardment, or which needed an especially heavy explosive load.
By 17 May, 5,800 tons of bombs had been dropped on the enemy by 1,388 missions involving a total of 13,950 individual plane trips. Precise, standardized techniques, developed and refined since the days of the Gilberts operation when air support was first used, contributed to the success of the missions. To the aviators, an air support mission was a "milk run," a dull routine flight, but to the man on the ground it was often the margin of victory over a fanatical enemy.
The real work horses in air support in the Okinawa campaign were not the fast carriers, but the escort carriers of Task Group 52.1. The jeep carriers, despite their limited facilities as compared with a large carrier, matched the CV's sortie for sortie in sending support missions over Okinawa front lines.
On the job from 24 March to 24 June, day after day from twelve to seventeen of the "jeeps" were steaming in the waters southeast of Okinawa. In addition to their daily quota of air support missions and combat air patrols, the CVE's neutralized airfields in the Sakishima Gunto when the British Task Force 57 was refueling and replenishing. And when the fast carriers retired to base, the CVE's sent long-range sweeps and bombing missions as far as Kyushu.
Another extremely important phase of our air activities at Okinawa was the work of the land-based planes of the Tactical Air Force commanded by Major General P. F. Mulcahy, USMC. Marine Air Group 31 was the first unit to garrison Yontan airfield. Arriving on 7 April with 90 Corsairs and 15 night-fighter Hellcats, the Marines sent up combat air patrol missions the same day. Marine Air Group 33 arrived two days later. Within six days, the Marines were flying air support missions and a growing schedule of combat air patrols.
For the first month of the campaign, Yontan airfield was our major land base, supplemented by Kadena airfield, located a few miles to the south. Yontan was all‑weather operational by 8 April, but Kadena was p294 rained out frequently and for several weeks was within range of enemy artillery fire. The only other important field developed was Ie Shima. Although this airfield was secured by mid‑April, it was heavily mined and crisscrossed with trenches, and did not receive any garrison aircraft until 13 May when P‑47's flying in from Saipan became the first welcome addition of army fighters to the strength of the Tactical Air Force.
While battling the Japanese in the air was the primary job of the Tactical Air Force, it was not necessarily its most difficult task. The Tactical Air Force was confronted with endless difficulties in establishing its bases. The enemy left his fields heavily mined. Frequent rains made the runways mushy. It was difficult to get gasoline ashore; in fact, not until the twenty-fourth of April were pipe lines laid ashore to insure Yontan Field, our most important base, an adequate gasoline supply. Air attack always was imminent and frequently sneak raids were carried out at night. Air attack even posed a serious problem indirectly. Our ships in the anchorage threw up so much flak during air attacks that the pieces of spent shrapnel raining down on the fields frequently damaged our land-based planes beyond repair.
The Tactical Air Force overcame these difficulties, and by mid‑May its planes had flown nearly 5,000 sorties on combat air patrol alone and had destroyed more than 250 enemy planes. By 16 May, the Tactical Air Force was ready for its first distant support mission, and thereafter sweeps were carried out ranging the •700 miles from Kyushu to the Sakishima Gunto.
Vital to all airmen, land- or ship-based, were the spectacularly successful rescue operations for pilots and crews whose planes were forced to make water landings. From the beginning of the Okinawa campaign through its critical months of April and May, 132 pilots and air crewmen were rescued out of a total of 186 who conceivably could have survived from planes that were downed. It was a great boost in morale for pilots weary to the point of exhaustion with the heavy schedule demanded of them to know that even if shot up and forced down their chances of survival were better than 70 per cent.
Every known rescue facility from life rafts to light cruisers was used in the Okinawa campaign. In the waters close to our shipping concentration, the bulk of rescues were performed by destroyers and smaller craft for it was all but impossible for any plane to go down in this area without being sighted by at least one ship. Kingfisher seaplanes catapulted from battleships and cruisers were used with good results. With p295 customary efficiency, submarines operating off Amami O Shima and the Sakishima Gunto fished out aviators downed in these waters.
Most successful of all, however, were six twin-engined flying boats of Rescue Squadron 3. These big Mariners with the heavy belly and graceful gull wing (like their predecessors, the Catalinas) also known as the Dumbos, rescued more aviators than any other agency. In addition, they operated over the greatest distances and performed their rescues under the most difficult and hazardous conditions.
In the first two months of the campaign, the Dumbos saved 63 aviators and air crewmen. To effect these rescues, they flew missions ranging from Kyushu to Formosa. They flew in impossible weather and made 33 landings in rough, open seas. They made 21 rescues within •ten miles of enemy-held islands and 7 while under fire from shore batteries.
Typical of the hazards and difficulties the Dumbos faced was one rescue insolently perpetrated within a few miles of the enemy mainland in Kagoshima Bay, a long narrow strip of water on the southern tip of Kyushu. Two carrier pilots were down in the bay. A search seaplane happened along, tried to land for the rescue, cracked up and added ten more survivors in the water. Already on the way, the Dumbo went in under Jap coastal guns, took aboard twelve survivors, and although heavily overloaded made a precarious take‑off with the assistance of special jet propulsion units. A few hours later the twelve survivors were delivered safely to base.
The Dumbos were not the only seaplanes to share in the aviation team that helped take Okinawa. For the fullest protection of our forces, a vast network of air searches was necessary. Fanning out from the Kerama Retto like a giant spider web, the searches stretched down to Formosa, skirted along the China coast as far north as Korea, then across Tsushima Straits and along both the west and east coasts of Kyushu.
For the first three weeks, Mariners and Coronados carried the entire search load. More than 8,000 flying hours were logged by the big twin-engined and four-engined boats as they covered the sea approaches to our beachhead. Finally, on the twenty-second of April, six PB4Y‑2's, the new Privateer model of the sturdy Liberator, roared into Yontan Field to reinforce the efforts of the seaplanes.
Throughout the month of April, the search effort was almost wholly defensive. The search planes were the far‑seeing eyes of the fleet. In this role, Mariner search planes figured in the sinking of the Yamato. Mariners spotted the force in the morning, stayed with it all day vectoring p296 carrier planes to the target, and finally finished off their work by landing on the open sea to rescue several aviators downed by the antiaircraft fire from the enemy task force.
By May, the search planes were ready to take on new duties. Loaded with bombs, they harassed enemy shipping plying between China and Korea and the Japanese mainland. Aggressive pilots took their planes •more than seven hundred miles north of Okinawa to smash into this last slender supply line of the enemy. So devastating and thorough was the attack of the search planes that ultimately the enemy was forced to limit his trips to slinking night runs across the East China and Yellow seas. But even at night he found no refuge from our radar-equipped search planes. The lumbering Coronados and the leaner, high-tailed Privateers searched him out on the seas and even followed his ships into their "safe" anchorages along the Korean coast.
The heavily armed, rugged Privateers were tailor-made for the anti-shipping attacks. In a little more than two months, the Privateers sank 78 enemy ships and damaged 105. The flying boats added 61 more sunk and 89 damaged to this score. By the end of the Okinawa campaign, the search planes had imposed an effective blockade across every sea area within range.
Special radar-equipped night fighter planes also assumed a vast importance in the operation. Night after night these planes orbited out ahead of Task Force 58 or north of Okinawa in constant readiness to intercept any enemy aircraft that might try to sneak down under cover of night for attack or search. Operating under the control of a fighter director officer who guided every movement of the pilot from his post in the Combat Information aboard ship, the night fighters of Task Force 58 alone in the first two months destroyed 47 enemy planes around the task force and 43 more at Okinawa. With this score which far exceeded all previous night-flying efforts, the skepticism with which the night fighter had long been regarded was dispelled.
The contribution of the night fighters cannot be measured merely in terms of the number of planes shot down which, compared to the day actions, was relatively insignificant. The night fighter was most valuable in a preventive sense. The vigilance of the night fighter permitted sleep for weary ship personnel who, after weeks of nerve-trying attacks, were at the point of physical exhaustion. Entirely aside from the damage that might have resulted from night attacks, had the Japanese been able to come close enough to keep our ships at battle stations throughout p297 every night, the resultant physical exhaustion might well have been a marginal factor in the victory that was ultimately achieved.
Rounding out the aviation forces at Okinawa, mention must be made of the full-fledged British carrier fleet which joined in that battle. Designated Task Force 57, the fleet included 4 carriers, 2 battleships, 4 light cruisers and 11 destroyers. Between 26 March and 25 May, except for a brief period of replenishment at Leyte, Task Force 57 plied the dangerous waters to the east of northern Formosa and conducted neutralizing attacks on the airfields of Sakishima Gunto.
All the carriers present — the Indefatigable, Formidable, Indomitable, and Victorious — took suicide hits in the course of the operation. Their armored flight decks reduced the damage and all carriers remained operational. Although the British carriers carried fewer planes and inherently presented more operational difficulties than our CV's, Task Force 57 proved its merit against the Formosa-based enemy air force and earned a full partnership in Pacific operations with the U. S. carrier forces.
In a dismal, driving rain on 28 May, the Japanese staged their last mass aerial suicide assault on the forces at Okinawa. Coincidentally, this was the day that Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander of the Third Fleet, relieved Admiral Spruance of the Fifth Fleet as over‑all commander of the Okinawa campaign.
As the enemy's suicide attacks tapered off, the entire campaign was accelerated. The ground forces finally wore down resistance in the grinding bottleneck around Shuri Castle and were ready to fan out in the wide southern end of the island to cut the enemy to ribbons piecemeal. The Tactical Air Force, with its bases at last firmly established and adequately supplied, assumed a rapidly increasing share of the responsibility for air defense of Okinawa. Long-sought relief for many of the destroyers and smaller ships on radar picket duty was provided as small expeditionary forces reached out to take the outlying islands of Tori Shima, Aguni Shima, Kume Shima, and Iheya Shima for land-based radar stations.
Suicide planes still came down the Ryukyus; our ships still absorbed punishment. But after the twenty-eighth of May there was no day on which more than fifty enemy planes attacked, and before that time a fifty-plane day was virtually a vacation. Before the twenty-eighth of May, p298 destructive or damaging aerial attacks had been scored on 216 of our ships. After that date, only 22 ships were hit.
The waning of the enemy's aerial offensive freed our forces for other activities. Task Force 58 under Admiral Mitscher had taken a last poke at Kyushu air bases on the thirteenth and fourteenth of May, and had destroyed 72 airborne enemy planes and 73 more on the ground. As Task Force 38, under the command of Vice Admiral John S. McCain, the fast carriers made sweeps over Kyushu bases on 2 and 3 June, but found few enemy planes either in the air or on the ground.
On the eighth of June, a concentrated blow by strong sweeps from the two remaining task groups hit Kanoya airfield, the enemy's principal Kyushu base. A scant handful of enemy planes — possibly a dozen — rose to contest our thundering air armada but were soon shot down or chased. It was apparent the enemy's ability to strike from his Kyushu bases was irretrievably smashed.
Its task against enemy air power finished, Task Force 38 retired to San Pedro anchorage in Leyte Gulf for a deserved and long needed replenishment and rest period. The escort carriers stayed on the job as did the now powerful Tactical Air Force. Both escort carriers and the Tactical Air Force extended increasing efforts against the battered Kyushu bases. Search planes, too, stepped up the offensive against enemy shipping supply lines. Our troops blasted the remaining Japs so mercilessly that for the first time in Pacific history, enemy troops began to surrender by the hundreds instead of singly or in isolated little groups.
At 1305 on the twenty-first of June, effective enemy resistance was declared at an end. Okinawa Gunto — "a prefecture of Japan . . . a densely populated chain of rugged islands" — was secured.
Many of our military techniques applied in the long march across the Pacific met their toughest trials in the battle for Okinawa, the most extensive amphibious operation of the Pacific war. None was more extensively tested than our concept of the carrier task force.
At Okinawa, Task Force 58 took on the principal land-based air force of a major military power. For 84 days our carriers were within easy range of a potential force of some 5,000 Japanese planes. Nine days out of ten, Task Force 58 tied down by its obligation to the desperately fighting forces at Okinawa, operated within an area hardly •a hundred miles square. And by virtue of the Kamikaze crash to which all Japanese pilots were committed, the enemy air force became a threat entirely out of proportion to its size and efficiency.
The cards were stacked in the enemy's favor. No better opportunity p299 could have been afforded the enemy to carry out the threat of his propagandists to wipe out the United States Fleet. By the same token no more effective proving ground could have been provided for a long-standing question mark in naval warfare: Could a carrier force stand up against a strong land-based air force?
The answer of the navy air force at Okinawa was an emphatic affirmative, abundantly attested by 3,863 destroyed enemy aircraft, by smoking, smashed airfields everywhere within the carrier planes' range, and by an enemy fleet, largely sunk, with the remaining units rendered hopelessly impotent by the mere threat of carrier-based air attack.
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