To the Naha-Shuri Line
NOTE: During a conference of General Buckner, General Vandergrift, General Geiger and other high ranking officers on 21 April. General Vandegrift suggested that the 2nd Marine Division be employed in an amphibious assault on the southern coast. Such a landing would out flank the NAHA-SHURI YONABARU line. His suggestion was considered but rejected by General Buckner leaving as the only alternative to continue the costly frontal assault.
In line with this discussion, the 77th Infantry completed its movement from Ie Shima, and began relief of the 96th Division about 28th April. It was also on that day, that General Buckner advised General Geiger that the 1st Division would be attached to the 24th Corps and enter the lines in relief of the 27th Infantry. Accordingly, on 30 April units of the 1st Division began relief of the 27th and completed takeover of their positions on 1 May as scheduled.
Plans of the 10th Army command were for the 27th Infantry upon relief to move north and relieve the Sixth Marine Division. The Sixth Division would then assemble near Chibana and await orders to enter the southern lines. When these movements were accomplished the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions would revert to III Corps control and 10th Army would command a two Corps front. A coordinated two Corps attack had been scheduled by 10th Army to commence on 7 May.
General Geiger’s orders called for the 1st Division to resume their assault on 7 may, concentrating their efforts on the left. General Shepherd was under orders to relieve the 1st Division on the right flank of the Corps zone, with one regimental combat team by evening of 8 May. On 8 May, as ordered, the 22nd Marines moved south from Chibana and by mid-afternoon the 1st and 3rd battalions had finished relieving the 7th Marines on the Asa Kawa.
Before trying to cross the Asa Kawa estuary, the 22nd dispatched patrols to reconnoiter the area of operations. One patrol examined the damaged bridge and found it unsuitable for foot or vehicle traffic. It was also determined that tanks would be unable to navigate the soft, muddy streambed.
Before dawn on the 10th, the assault companies of the 1st and 3rd Battalions moved quickly to the south bank over a footbridge provided by the engineers. Once across, the battalions deployed to attack to the south as ordered. In trace of an artillery preparation the advance began at first light. Initially, resistance was light to moderate, consisting of rifle and machine gun fire. The volume of increased rapidly as the morning progressed and they also came under artillery and mortar fire. By noon the attack was stalled and only 150 yards had been gained.
Covered by artillery and naval gunfire, the reserve companies of both battalions crossed the estuary and joined the assault. The lack of tank support hampered the advance, but when the attack was halted for the night up to 350 Yards had been gained against very heavy resistance. The engineers, under cover of darkness, began construction of a Bailey bridge to enable the crossing of tanks and other support vehicles. Their progress was continually delayed by artillery fire, and tanks were unable to cross before noon 11 May the scheduled date for the two Corps coordinated assault.
The assaulting units of the 22nd jumped off on schedule on the 11th without tank support. The advance was painfully slow, against a well organized defensive network of caves and tunnels. Lacking room to maneuver, the attack was halted while a heavy bombardment of naval gunfire was delivered on the enemy fortifications. The advance was then resumed, supported by tanks that had moved rapidly over the just completed Bailey bridge. The fighting was vicious, exhausting and close in. Flamethrowers, demolitions and point blank tank fire, was required to reduce the enemy’s defenses. The attack was pressed relentlessly by the assaulting companies until 1800, when the advance was halted. Nearly 100 yards had been gained but mopping up operations were necessary long after night had fallen.
The 22nd resumed their assault on the 12th with all three battalions on line. On the right 3/22 encountered heavy small arms fire but by 0930 had reached their objective; the high ground overlooking the outskirts of Naha. The 1st Battalion in the center reached the high ground in their sector by 1400 and both battalions sent patrols down to the Asato River. Patrols from 3/22 reported that the bridge over the river was not useable and the river was not fordable.
The second Battalion on the left however, could not sustain the rate of advance of the other battalions. They met very heavy resistance to their front as well as enfilading fire from the high ground in the zone of the 1st Division. Despite the determined resistance of the enemy, G Company reached the battalion’s objective by 1400. Realizing, that the left of the 22nd was over extended, General Shepherd attached 3/29 to the 22nd and advised Regiment of their impending commitment to the battle.
The focus of the Division’s attack on the 13th was on the left, with 2/22 and 3/29 in the assault. Supply problems delayed the attack until 1100, when the two battalions advanced behind a heavy artillery and rocket bombardment. Immediately, both battalions met heavy resistance that increased in intensity as the assault continued. Progress by tank infantry teams was very slow and difficult. The two battalions had gained less than 300 yards by day’s end.
In it’s forward movement from the Asa Kawa the 22nd Marines had incurred 800 casualties and was in need of rest. Accordingly, General Shepherd ordered the 29th Marines to assume responsibility on the Division left, and renew the assault on the 14th with the 22nd in support on the right. The 3rd Battalion, 29th, reverted to regimental control at 1800 as the regiment took up positions on the left of the line. Concurrently, the 4th Marines, III Corps reserve, moved south by truck to guard the Division’s rear and support the LVTA’s guarding the seaward flank.
I have followed the progress of the 22nd and 29th Marines for one purpose. To demonstrate how their continuing assaults, finally unmasked the western anchor of the Naha-Shiri-Yonabaru main Japanese defense line. During the attack on the 14th, 2/22 and 3/29 on their left met fierce, coordinated, unyielding opposition from a complex of three insignificant looking terrain features. They formed a triangle, with a prominent rectangular like hill at the apex that faced generally north. All approaches to their positions were guarded by mutually supporting machine gun fire, mortars, anti-tank and artillery fire. The movement of assaulting units could be clearly observed, and subjected to the fire of all weapons on Shuri Heights. The sharp rising hill at the apex would become known as "Sugar Loaf", the hill on the left rear as "Half Moon", and the high ground to the right rear as "The Horseshoe" (sometimes called Kings Ridge). Before these positions were occupied, securely held and reduced, the Sixth Marine Division would almost bleed to death.
The objective of the all out assault of 10th Army, initiated 11th May, was to breach and destroy the Japanese main line of resistance. It would take two weeks of total warfare for the Divisions on the line to accomplish this objective. Thousands of lives would be lost during the most brutal, savage and bloody fighting on Okinawa if not the Pacific Theater of War. Every soldier and Marine would be pushed to his limit of endurance, and many beyond, as witnessed by the roll of non-battle casualties. For the 96th Infantry it was Conical Hill, for the 77th Infantry it was Shuri Heights, for the 1st Marine Division it was Wana Draw, for the Sixth Marine Division, the Sugar Loaf Hill Complex.
I will not attempt to describe the continuing assaults of the 22nd and 29th Marines on the Sugar Loaf Complex. I was not with those units and cannot do justice to their courage, sacrifice and gallant efforts. I refer you instead, to volume 5 of The History of U.S.Marine Corps Operations in World War II, for a very accurate and graphic account of their operation.