Okinawa: The Last Battle
Produced by Sammy Jackson and Mort Zimmerman
Written by Norman Stahl with Joseph H. Alexander
The History Channel, 1995, 45 min., DVD
The US Navy lost more men and ships during the Battle of Okinawa than any other single battle in history including Pearl Harbor. Most of these
casualties came from ten mass kamikaze attacks against the Allied fleet
surrounding Okinawa. Through historical film clips and interviews with battle
participants, Okinawa: The Last Battle effectively presents the American
perspective related to the battle on land against General Mitsuru Ushijima's
dug-in forces and the battle on sea against the kamikazes. However, the film
does not really consider the Japanese viewpoint and also does not mention the
perspective of 150,000 native Okinawans who lost their lives during the
The interviewees, all Americans, include five Battle of Okinawa participants
and a military historian. Their comments make the battle come alive with their
frank statements and vivid descriptions. Especially the blunt stories of Dr. Eugene
Sledge, ground combatant during the Battle of Okinawa and author of With the
Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (1981), give some idea of the terrible
conditions experienced by American troops. Several maps of Okinawa make it easy
to understand the course of the land battle, but the documentary presents no maps for
the battle at sea against kamikaze aircraft.
The first Japanese kamikaze attacks took place in October 1944 during the
Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, but this documentary includes a couple
of misleading statements related to the appearance of suicide aircraft during
the Battle of Okinawa from April to June 1945. The film's opening incorrectly states that the Battle of
Okinawa "introduced a word that would live forever as the hair-raising
definition of suicidal ferocity in war: kamikaze" ,
since this word had been used since several months before when the Japanese
introduced suicide attacks.
The narrator mistakenly describes the kamikaze suicide attacks as "isolated
acts" before the Battle of Okinawa :
From Leyte Gulf on, the United States had met suicide planes. They had
been a disquieting and increasingly effective factor against the American
Navy. But these seemed to be isolated acts rather than a strategically
planned strike force.
Prior to Okinawa, Allied ships had encountered over 600 Japanese special
attack suicide aircraft in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Iwo Jima .
Douglas Plate, battleship USS Missouri crewman, gives the
documentary's only firsthand account of a kamikaze attack. He describes how a
kamikaze plane hit the side of USS Missouri causing minor damage,
but the pilot's dead body actually ended up on board. Missouri's crew gave the
Japanese pilot a respectful burial at sea. The narrator describes the suicide
attack of a Japanese task force led by battleship Yamato on April 7,
1945. This battle, which ended with numerous American bombs and torpedoes
sending Yamato and other ships in the task force to the bottom of the sea, has no eyewitness accounts in
The film's narrator in general presents an accurate and objective report of
the Battle of Okinawa but only from the American perspective. The documentary explains
that few kamikaze pilots were volunteers during the Battle of Okinawa but that
this took away nothing from their dedication. When referring to nighttime
attacks, one American officer wrote that the kamikazes came in like "witches on
broomsticks." The documentary erroneously states that Vice Admiral
Matome Ugaki "hoped to unleash 4,000 kamikaze raiders against the American
fleet"  during the Battle of Okinawa. This
number represents the total number of Japanese Navy and Army airmen who died in
aerial special (suicide) attacks throughout WWII rather than just during the
Battle of Okinawa, when about 3,000 Japanese airmen died in suicide
1. From 0:55 to 1:05.
2. From 3:20 to 3:35.
3. Yasunobu 1972, 171.
4. From 0:55 to 1:05.
5. Ozawa 1983, 78-9.
Ozawa, Ikuro. 1983. Tsurai shinjitsu: kyokou no tokkou shinwa
(Hard truths: Fictitious special attack myths). Tokyo: Dohsei Publishing Co.
Yasunobu, Takeo. 1972.
Kamikaze tokkoutai (Kamikaze
special attack corps). Edited by Kengo Tominaga. Tokyo: Akita Shoten.