Storming Shuri Castle: The USMC and the late Battle of Okinawa (1945)

The battle for Okinawa was the last major ground campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was a bloody endeavor that took nearly 3 months and required both U.S. Army and U.S. Marine elements. At the end of May, as the battle reached a climax, the Japanese had set up their headquarters in the ancient citadel of Shuri Castle. This pivotal piece of the campaign was - like the entire battle - a combined arms and joint affair.

Shuri castle was as much a psychological and moral as a tactical target. American commanders knew that its seizure would affect Japanese morale and aid in the occupation of the rest of the island. The battle for Shuri began with a three day naval bombardment from the battleship USS Mississippi. This intense fire destroyed most of the castle and forced most of the Japanese 32nd Army out of the castle and surrounding fortifications as they retreated to the south under fire. The seizure of the castle now became an easier task and General Pedro del Valle ordered a single marine infantry company under the command of Captain Julian Dusenberry to storm the castle. With creeping artillery support and combined arms fire and maneuver techniques, the marine company successfully dislodged the Japanese defenders and raised the flag over Shuri.

It was, however, a near run thing. The attack on Shuri brought the marines out of their assigned sector and into that of the U.S. Army’s 77th Division, and only frantic last minute coordination between the 1st Marine and 77th Army Division staffs avoided a massive friendly fire incident.

The 30,000 Japanese defenders that fled from the Shuri Castle line were kept under constant artillery, naval, and air bombardment as they shifted south to a final line of defense. Thus, the seizure of Shuri both inflicted a psychological blow, to be sure, but also physically damaged the withdrawing Japanese - who suffered heavy casualties during the pursuit.

Though a relatively small-scale battle at the point of attack, the seizure of Shuri was vital for American morale and drove the Japanese into new lines, ushering in what became the final phase of the Battle for Okinawa. For his efforts, Captain Dusenberry would be awarded the Navy Cross. His coordination of combined arms and joint fires at the front proved a model in the application of infantry tactics on the joint, combined arms battlefield of the modern era.

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