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Throughout the operation, code-named Iceberg, supporting naval forces were under constant attack by Kamikaze pilots, who accounted for 36 US and British ships and damaged hundreds of others. The Japanese lost a staggering 4000 aircraft in these suicide missions, and even sacrificed the giant battleship Yamato, which was dispatched to Okinawa with insufficient fuel for a return trip to do as much damage as possible before she was destroyed. This happened on 7 April, long before the battleship could reach the target area.

On land, known Japanese dead totaled almost 108,000, and for the first time a significant number of prisoners was taken - over 7000. General Buckner was killed, with over 7000 of his men; almost 32,000 were wounded. US Navy casualties were almost 10,000, of whom roughly half were killed and half wounded. Since Okinawa was considered a 'dress rehearsal' for the invasion of Japan, these figures were sobering to American strategists; General Mac Arthur estimated that it would take five million men to capture the home islands, of whom perhaps one million would become casualties. Thus Okinawa strengthened the Allied case for ending the war by other means.

The invasion of Okinawa was seen as the dress rehearsal for a similar action against the Japanese home islands.

Marines await survivors of an explosive attack on a Japanese hideout on Okinawa.

The Japanese battleship Yamato was sacrificed in a vain attempt to stem the invasion.

Air Strikes on the Home Islands

The bomber offensive against Japan could not begin until 1944, for lack of a very-long-range (VLR) bomber capable of carrying heavy loads for over 3000 miles. Such a plane was finally acquired from Boeing by the US Army Air Force (the B-29 Superfortress), but it was so newly developed that operational problems plagued its early operations. The B-29's bombing altitude of 30,000 feet created difficulties with high winds and the effect of ice on instruments and engines. Losses were running high for several months after the first raid, from eastern China, in June of 1944. Additionally, Japanese anti-aircraft defenses proved much more effective than had been anticipated.

Modified tactics resulted in operating the planes at much lower altitudes with heavier bomb loads, which paid off in improved performance. New bases were established in the Marianas Islands of the Central Pacific in November, after which up to 20 Bombardment Groups flew regularly over Japanese cities by day and night. They dropped a total of 9365 tons of incendiaries, which gutted 32 square miles of urban areas. Then escort fighters began to arrive from newly captured Iwo Jima (early April) and American losses reached a new low. As more B-29s became available, mortal blows were dealt to Japanese industry. On 6 and 9 August 1945, the war with Japan was ended - and a new era in human history begun - by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The now-familiar atomic mushroom cloud rises over Nagasaki.

The Japanese homeland and (inset) the radius of US bomber operations over it.

Doolittle's daring one - off raid in April 1942 from the USS Hornet had been as much a propaganda exercise as an attack. The firebomb raids of 1945 were on a different scale altogether.

Tokyo in ruins.

A 25-pounder gun is brought ashore in Rangoon.

Retaking Burma: the Forgotten War

The Arakan Battles

British and US leaders disagreed on strategy in the Burma Theater after the British had been driven into India in May of 1942. The Americans believed that Burmese operations should focus on reopening land communications with the Chinese Nationalists, who were trying to contain large Japanese forces on their home ground. The British had little faith in Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist movement and maintained their hope of winning back the imperial territories lost to Japan in the 1942 debacle.

General Archibald Wavell, commanding Allied forces in India, knew that a large-scale invasion was out of the question for the time, but he sought to employ his men and build up morale via small-scale operations near the Indian border. The first of these centered on the Arakan, where the island post of Akyab provided Japan with a position from which to bomb Chittagong and Calcutta. On 21 September Wavell's 14 Indian Division began to advance cautiously into Burma by way of Cox's Bazar. General lida, the Japanese commander, countered with a series of delaying tactics that created a stalemate lasting until March 1943 when his counterattack on two fronts forced a retreat.

In December 1943, the British sent Christison's XV Corps on a second expedition against Akyab. Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi barred the way through the Mayu Peninsula and sent his Sakurai Column through mountainous jungle that was believed impassable to cut off 5 and 7 Indian Divisions. Lieutenant General William Slim, who had led the 900-mile fighting retreat from Rangoon, airlifted supplies to his isolated troops until they had fought their way through to one another in late February 1944. (Slim's use of air supply would ultimately be the key to British success in Burma.) In March XV Corps finally renewed its advance on Akyab, but was stopped short again by the need to send reinforcements back to India for the defense of Imphal.

The Allied route southwards along fair-weather tracks was hampered by enemy action.

5 and 7 Indian Divisions reunite after being isolated by a Japanese thrust.

Japanese troops used elephants as a means of transporting supplies across Burma's rugged terrain.

The Chindit Operations

Morale had been a problem in Burma even before the Allies took what Stilwell described as 'a hell of a beating.' During the disastrous campaign of 1942, fighting spirit reached a new low. The Japanese were perceived as unbeatable in jungle warfare, and the Allied forces' sick rate reflected the prevailing malaise: thousands succumbed to dysentery, malaria, skin diseases and other complaints. The heterogeneous assortment of troops involved in Burma - Indian, British and Gurkha - comprised an army beset by problems of discipline and discrimination.

Brigadier Orde Wingate arrived in the Far East early in 1943 with guerrilla- warfare experience gained in Palestine and Abyssinia. Backed by Winston Churchill and General Wavell. he created a 'private army' to penetrate behind enemy lines and disrupt Japanese communications and supplies. In so doing, he would also prove that the Japanese could be defeated in the jungle.

The Chindits (so called after Chinthe, a mythical beast) crossed the River Chind - win into Burma in February 1943 and spent four months raiding Japanese territory. They cut the Mandalay- Myitkyina Railway in 75 places before the Japanese counterattacked in force and drove them back into India. The press lionized Wingate, and the mystique of Japanese invincibility began to lose its power. Wingate's superiors then authorized a far more ambitious operation - involving six brigades - to complement Stilwell's advance on Myitkyina.

The main Chindit force was airlifted into Burma in February 1944 to establish blocking points against supplies moving up against Stilwell. They encountered immediate difficulties that grew steadily worse until midsummer, when they had to be withdrawn. Wingate himself was killed in a plane crash soon after the abortive operation began.

Japanese Defeat at Kohima and Imphal

Three Japanese divisions were ordered to prepare for the invasion of India (Operation U-GO) in early March 1944. It was clear that an Allied offensive was being prepared, and the only practical place from which it could be launched was the plain at Manipur, where Imphal and Kohima were located. Lieutenant General Mutaguchi's Fifteenth Army was to spoil the planned offensive and cut the single railway to Assam, north India.

General William Slim, commanding Fourteenth Army, expected a Japanese advance, but its speed was such that he and his men were taken by surprise.

Scoones's XV Corps was cut off at Kohima on 4 April, and the garrison at Imphal a day later. Both forces prepared to hold out with the help of air supply until relief arrived from XXXIII Corps, which was assembling at Dimapur. The quality of Slim's leadership would be reflected in the tenacity of his hard-pressed troops until that help arrived.

The Chindit operations in Burmain 1943.

Wingate (center) briefs pilots on invasion plans -with the assistance of the USAAF's Colonel Cochran (left).

Troop movements around Kohima.

Relentless Japanese attacks rolled over the small garrison at Kohima between 7 and 18 April, when British 2 Division's 5 Brigade pushed through the roadblock at Zubza to reinforce the defenders. Then 5 and 4 Brigades undertook a sweeping pincer movement designed to trap the Japanese; this was not achieved until 3 June. Meanwhile, IV Corps was struggling desperately around Imphal, where air supply proved far more difficult than foreseen. Slim reinforced the garrison to some 100,000 men during the siege, which lasted for 88 days. British 2 Division advanced from Kohima to meet IV Corps at Milestone 107, halfway between the two cities, on 22 June. Japanese Fifteenth Army had fought with distinction against increasing odds, but its remnants now had to pull back toward the Chindwin, with British forces in hot pursuit. Mutaguchi had lost some 65,000 men in the heaviest defeat suffered by the Japanese Army in World War II.

The unsuccessful Japanese siege of Imphal that ended in June.

Merrill's Marauders, the US jungle fighters renowned for their expertise in combating the Japanese in unfriendly terrain.

To Mandalay and Meiktila

Lieutenant General Shihachi Katamura took command of Japanese Fifteenth Army after the disastrous losses at Kohima and Imphal, for which his predecessor was unjustly blamed. During the summer of 1944, he rebuilt his force of 10 divisions and then awaited the expected Allied push into central Burma. This operation, code- named Extended Capital, began on 19 November and included Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command, British Fourteenth Army and the XV Corps. On 4 December bridgeheads were secured across the Chindwin, and the British advanced to meet elements of Stilwell's force for the drive across the Irrawaddy into Mandalay. Only General Slim, of all the Allied leaders in Burma, correctly surmised that Katamura would attempt to destroy the Fourteenth Army at the river crossing.

On 3 March 1945, Slim struck at Japanese communication lines to Rangoon located at Meiktila, achieving total surprise. The capture of this vital rail center opened the door to the larger city of Mandalay. Kimura pulled so many troops away from Mandalay to assault Meiktila that he lost both cities to the Allies. Slim raced on to reach Rangoon before the monsoon, but when he arrived the Japanese had already evacuated. Sum's outstanding leadership in the Burma Theater led to his appointment as Commander in Chief of Allied Land Forces in Southeast Asia.

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