I took a detour from a trip to Tokyo to swing down to Okinawa to visit my nephew who was based there with III MEF (Third U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force).  He has been on Okinawa for almost three years.  On his day off, he gave me a tour of Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, and other sites in the southern part of the island.

Being a WWII buff, I asked to include sites related to the Battle of Okinawa.  Evan knew his way around Okinawa.  In the one-day tour, we were able to visit Shuri Castle and Hacksaw Ridge and the former Japanese Underground Naval Headquarters and Museum in addition to Naha.

Other posts from a fantastic trip to Japan where, among other adventures, I experienced ANA first class on a 777-300ER, stayed at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo, visited Mt. Fuji, and had my first encounter with sakura season:

United Airlines Polaris Lounge, Chicago, Il – Lounge Review
Flight Review – ANA First Class 777-300ER, Chicago, IL to Tokyo, Japan (HND)
Tokyo Hotel Review – The b Akasaka-Mitsuke Hotel
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo – Hotel Review
My First Sakura Season -Photo Review
Shinjuku Walking Tour
Mt. Fuji Tour Review
Japan Airlines Diamond Premier Lounge Tokyo, Japan (HND)
Flight Review – Japan Airlines 777-300 Economy Class, Tokyo, Japan (HND) to Naha (Okinawa), Japan (OKA)
Hacksaw Ridge And Shuri Castle WWII Battle Sites – Okinawa, JapanWWII Underground Japanese Naval Headquarters And Museum – Okinawa, Japan

Flight Review – Japan Airlines 767-300 Economy Class, Naha to Tokyo, Japan (HND) 

Hotel Review – Royal Park Hotel, Tokyo Haneda (HND)
Lounge Review – ANA First Class Lounge Tokyo, Japan (HND)
Flight Review – ANA First Class 777-300 Tokyo, Japan (HND) to Chicago, IL (ORD)

The Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa, April 1, 1945 to June 23, 1945 was the largest land engagement of the Pacific Theater and the last major battle of WWII.  Okinawa is an island of 466 square miles in the Ryuku Islands about 966 miles south of Tokyo, Japan.  The U.S. Fifth fleet landed more than 180,000 soldiers and Marines on the island to dislodge more than 130,000 soldiers of the Japanese 32nd Army who were dug in and waiting in carefully prepared positions.  One of those positions was our first stop, the Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters.

Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters

The former headquarters is located on a hill in Tomishiro City, on the outskirts of Naha.  It is open year round from 08:30 to 17:00 except July to September when it closes at 17:30.  Admission is a modest 440 yen ($4) for adults and 220 yen ($2) for children.

The Okinawa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau maintains the former headquarters as a monument to the tragedy of war and as an invitation to pray for world peace.  The underground headquarters site includes a museum, park and playground, ample parking, gift shop, snack shop, and a tower to admire the views of Naha and the East China Sea.

The author with my “little nephew,” 6’5″ SSGT Evan Polley, USMC at the viewing tower on top of the former naval headquarters.

Construction of the underground headquarters began in 1944.  Japanese Navy engineers and laborers used picks and hoes to carve 450 meters of tunnels out of solid rock.  The headquarters was built six stories underground to withstand aerial and naval bombardment.

Memorial to Admiral Ota at the underground headquarters.

During the battle, 4,000 – 5,000 Japanese sailors under the command of Rear Admiral Ota Minoru moved from the nearby naval base and occupied the underground headquarters.  It was their last stand.

The Marines (red arrows) captured Oroku Aerodrome, a Japanese Navy airbase, now Naha International Airport, before attacking and capturing the underground HQ.

On 4 June 1945, the 6th Marine Division landed near Naha and began the assault on objectives in the Oruku Peninsula including the air base and underground headquarters.  Sailors under Ota’s command fought hard in engagements around the headquarters but were vastly outgunned by the Marines who could call on air power and the guns of the 5th Fleet to supplement their own tanks and artillery.

Admiral Ota reported that fighting from the headquarters ended at 23:30 on 11 June  1945.  He committed suicide with his staff and up to 2,400 of his troops before sunrise on 13 June.  Organized resistance on Okinawa ceased on 23 June 1945.

U. S. Marines sealed the entrances to the headquarters without clearing the tunnels.  The U. S. Army entered the site on August 27 to verify the deaths of Ota and his men and search for any survivors.  The site was resealed and remained that way until 1952 when the Japanese government recovered the remains.  The underground headquarters was largely undisturbed until 1970 when 300 meters of the complex were opened to the public.

Visitors reach the headquarters complex via the stairway the Japanese constructed in 1944.

The underground entrance leads to a maze of tunnels and rooms over 20 meters below the surface.

After descending to the headquarters level, signs lead visitors on a circular path through the tunnels and rooms.  Except for new lighting and railings, the structure of the complex is unaltered.  Other than Adm. Ota’s command center, the tunnels and rooms are empty.

Diagram of Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters

It doesn’t look like there is enough space for 4,000 to 5,000 troops.  It is reported that room was so scarce, sailors slept while standing.

Some corridors are fairly wide.

The height of the tunnels was surprising.  We could both walk down the center of the corridors without ducking or stooping.  Perhaps the size of certain equipment dictated tunnel dimensions.

Others are narrow.
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Admiral Ota’s command center.

Ota’s final message was written on the wall and is still visible: “Born as a man, nothing fulfills me more than to die under the banner of the Emperor.”

One room bears the scars of grenade fragments when sailors committed suicide.20190721_204225

A “sally forth” point where troops would exit to engage the enemy.
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With nephew at the conclusion of the tour in the Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters Museum.

Overall Impression

Not to equate the two situations, however strolling through the place where thousands died without hope brought back some of the uncomfortable feelings I experienced at the crematorium at Auschwitz.  Still, for those with an interest in history or WWII who travel to Okinawa, a visit to the Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters is a must.  A visit highlights the horrors of war and underscores the necessity of pursuing peace.