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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 battle.

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" [1], 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 [2]:

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 [3].

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 documentary.

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" [4] 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 attacks [5].

Notes

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.

Sources Cited

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.