Ushijima, the former Commandant of the Military Academy, after service on Iwo Jima was sent to Okinawa in late 1944 as Commander. Instructed to keep the island at all costs, he made excellent use of its rugged terrain, building defense lines in depth, making use of caves and building forts. In addition he correctly predicted the Americans’ invasion strategy. Starting with a force of 21,000 men he built it up into an army of 110,000 by conscripting men of all ages from among the natives.
On 1 April 1945 the Americans began a landing of 170,000 combat troops and 115,000 service troops. Ushijima led a primarily defensive campaign except for two counterattacks which were carried out virtually against his will (13 April and 3 May). Both failed with very heavy losses. Full use was made of kamikaze aircraft. Throughout May Ushijima retreated southwards through heavy rain and continued fighting from caves, against which the Americans’ air power could do little. Ushijima and his subordinates committed suicide on 22 June as US forces approached their cave. Those of his troops that remained continued fighting until 2 July. The final toll of the campaign was 110,000 Japanese dead, 75,000 civilian dead and 50,000 US casualties (including 12,500 dead), the heaviest US loss of the Pacific War.