Operation Iceberg
The Invasion of Okinawa

All personal stories are true and printed in italics as spoken.

The invasion of Okinawa officially began on April 1, 1945. But for the USS Emmons and other ships of Minesweep Units THREE and FOUR, their operation was off and running on the 24th of March at sunrise. The minesweepers (using steel cables strung out from the sides of the ship) had the job of clearing all mines in the area around Okinawa.

There were 122 ships in this operation and their importance was contained in their slogan: “No Sweep, No Invasion.” These craft would cover some 2,500 square miles of ocean and destroy six Japanese minefields containing 184 mines. Their early arrival on the scene and their exposed positions would cause them to suffer more than 15 percent of all naval casualties during ICEBERG. The mine craft were under the command of Rear Admiral Alexander Sharp.

During the first few days of the sweep operation, no opposition from the air, surface or from under the sea was encountered. Radar contacts were few and the Japanese patrol craft encountered did not attack. Combat Air Patrol planes from American carriers in the vicinity gave the Emmons crew the feeling of security and a feeling that they were not alone out there.

For the USS Emmons’ crew, so far, so good. Their mine sweeping operation was discovering so few new mines that their duty was changed was from minesweeping to Radar picket duty or early warning. Sweep Units THREE and FOUR were assigned a patrol area in a direct line between Southern Japan and Okinawa.

For Ed and his shipmates, now in the area almost two weeks without a scratch, there seemed good reason for confidence even though the Japanese planes to Okinawa would be flying directly overhead. With troop ships, carriers and battleships not far behind them, why would the Japanese waste time harassing destroyers and minesweepers anyway. This type of thinking seemed logical enough.

So far however, most of the battle action was closer to the Japanese home islands where American Task Force 58, composed of fast carriers under the direction of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, was trying to knock out the Japanese Air Force before the start of the invasion. The Japanese High Command was moving some 4300 aircraft into the invasion area in preparation for a mighty defense of Okinawa. Most aircraft committed to the defense were naval planes under the command of Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki’s Fifth Air Fleet based at Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan.

On March 18th, a four day battle between the Japan’s Fifth Air Fleet and the American Navy’s Task Force 58, had cost the Japanese 161 aircraft. Surviving Japanese planes returned to Kyushu widely scattered and very badly disorganized. Few aircraft had landed at their home fields since their communication network had been disrupted by the attacks of the American carrier planes.

When the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Navy learned of this setback, he directed Admiral Ugaki to attack with all of the combined naval air forces under his command, about 1,185 planes, including 540 kamikazes. The Sixth Air Army was ordered to add whatever aircraft they could muster. Valuable time had been lost in the confusion of the battle with Task Force 58 and many more days would be needed before a major attack could be launched. But, before the battle for Okinawa was over, the Japanese would manage to commit, and lose, 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships.

Task Force 58 would not escape unscathed however. The new aircraft carrier Wasp was hit by a kamikaze which resulted in explosions and fires that killed 101 and wounded 269 crewman. Yet within 15 minutes, fires were put out and the remaining crew began recovering airplanes. Also hit was the carrier Franklin. Damage to the flight deck was extensive, yet the ship got underway within hours and was able to return to New York under her own power. Casualties were 724 killed or missing and 265 wounded. Two Medals of Honor were awarded for heroism aboard the carrier. The thinly-armored flight decks of American carriers were unable to take the fury of the Japanese kamikaze attacks and indicated a flaw in American carrier design with serious consequences for any carrier under attack.

The Japanese military, in desperation, was taking drastic steps to derail the invasion of Okinawa knowing that their home island would be next. The DIVINE WIND SPECIAL ATTACK CORPS (Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kogekitai, usually abbreviated in Japanese as TOKKO) is most often associated with the airplane attacks against the American fleets invading Okinawa and the Philippines. But there was a wide range of other “special attack” weapons.

One special aircraft, the Oka (Cherry Blossom) was a rocket-powered flying bomb. It was virtually unstoppable once launched but it had to be delivered to the distant American task force by slow, overburdened, and exceedingly vulnerable twin-engine bombers. In their initial mission, all Okas (eighteen of them) were destroyed when their mother planes were shot down before reaching the launching location. The navy’s SHINYO (Ocean Shakers) were powerful motorboats that had a large charge positioned in the bow and were to be driven into American ships at high speed. In the initial attack on Okinawa, almost a hundred “Ocean Shakers” were taken by surprise by and sent to the bottom by Navy aircraft.

Riding a bomb down to its target or guiding an Ocean Shaker to its target seemed to have little appeal even to ardent Japanese patriots. Those who might want to sign up for this type of duty would have little wait at enlistment centers as the line for volunteers was quite short. Because of such a shortage of volunteers and the vulnerability of the delivery system, this type of bomb would not present much of a problem to the Americans.

One of the weapons prepared to strike at the enemy where they could not be reached by conventional tactics was the KAITEN (Turning of the Heavens) Special Attack weapon. The Kaitens were double sized torpedoes with a human employed as its guidance system. When the torpedo was close to the target, the pilot inside would take control.

If the “Oka” bomb or “Ocean Shaker” had little appeal, the fiendish “Kaiten” would not cause crowding in enlistment centers either, but because of the deceitful manner that volunteers were recruited, there would be a sufficient number of Kaitens to be a threat to American naval forces. To encourage recruitment, fancy public ceremonies were given to Kaiten volunteers without mentioning there would be absolutely no chance for survival.