The Battle for Okinawa: Operation Ten’ichigo

At dawn on 7 April 1945, the crews of the fourteen remaining ships of the Japanese 2nd Combined Fleet were assembled on their decks and briefed on Operation Ten’ichigo, “Heaven One”. Now commonly known as Operation Ten-Go, the plan was a naval Kamikaze attack on the American Fifth Fleet off of Okinawa.

The last remnants of the 2nd Combined Fleet centered on the mighty battleship Yamato, which was still the largest and most powerful battleship in history. Once there, the Yamato and his escorts were to beach and become unsinkable shore batteries, with the Yamato’s massive 18” guns destroying the American invasion fleet. Each sailor was given the opportunity to stay behind, and of course none did. The Japanese task force departed Yokohama with all of the remaining fuel in port for the one way trip to Okinawa. Hundreds of aircraft Kamikaze from the second wave of Operation Kikusui No. 1 were to keep the Americans busy while they were in transit.

Fortunately for the Allies, the 2nd Combined Fleet never made it to Okinawa. Two submarine’s spotted them departing but could not engage because of the TF’s speed. The Japanese, with no air cover, planned to avoid submarine and air attack by traveling at flank speed and violently zig-zagging for the entire trip. The tactics worked for about five hours, until the first planes of three waves of over 400 American and British torpedo and dive bombers finally found them and attacked just after noon. For two hours Japanese gunners and damage control crews valiantly kept the ships afloat, but by 1400 the one sided contest was over. All of the ships were sunk and the Yamato took twelve torpedo hits and eight bomb hits before he went down. Operation Ten-Go was the last significant action in the Second World War by the Japanese Navy, which three short years earlier was the terror of the Pacific.

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