After reading about the bloody Battle of Okinawa in 1945 in such books as With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge and The Battle of Okinawa by Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, it was with some excitement to actually visit some of the places described in these books and the campaign known to the defenders as the "Typhoon of Steel."
The details of the Battle of Okinawa make for grim reading. Total deaths were 200,656, the majority of them Okinawan civilians, 2,716,691 shells were fired by the US military, 4.72 shells per person on Okinawa.
The Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters (Kyukaigun Shireibugo) are located in what is now a suburb of Naha. It was here that Rear Admiral Minoru Ota and 4,000 of his men were killed in combat with the US 6th Marine Division.
Many Japanese sailors, thought to be around 175 men, including Ota, committed suicide, some using hand grenades. Ota shot himself with his pistol. Indeed, it is still possible to see the marks in the plaster walls made by the exploding grenades. Many of the men attacked the marines using makeshift weapons in a desperate last charge and were decimated. 2,400 bodies were found in the The Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters when the fighting ended.
Around 300m of the original 450m-long tunnels are open to the public. These include the former Operations Room, Staff Room, Code Room, Medical Room, Petty Officer's Rooms and the Commanding Officer's Room. Before entering the tunnels there is a museum dedicated to the events of the Battle of Okinawa, which contains a translation of Ota's final message to his superiors in Tokyo, along with weapons, photographs and uniforms from the time.
"There are no trees, no grass; everything is burnt to the ground. The food supply will be gone by the end of June. This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war.
And for this reason, I appeal to you to give the Okinawan people special consideration from this day forward."
The Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters are on top of a ridge with excellent views over the surrounding countryside and Naha city.
236 Aza Tomishiro
Tel: 098 850 4055
Admission: 420 Yen
To get to the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters take bus #33, #46 or #101 from Naha bus station. Get off at Tomigusuku Castle Park, from where it is a 10 minute walk.
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