History Lesson: Marine Corps Aviation Okinawa WWII

In April 1945, the long struggle on Okinawa, which would bring the war to an end, began with the largest amphibious operation of the war. The operation reunited Marine Aviation with the Marine ground forces on a scale heretofore unknown.

For Marine Corps Aviation, as for all participating units, the Okinawa operation was the culmination of all that had been learned in the Pacific war, Here, knocking on the door of the enemy homeland, after four long years, was the final test.

Planning for the operation separated strategic and tactical aviation. Strategic air fell to the Army Air Forces (AAF) with the 20th Air Force. The 10th Army's Tactical Air Force (TAF) was commanded by Major General Mulcahy with Brigadier General Bill Wallace as his Air Defense Commander. Bearing in mind that the TAF could not function until the command had moved ashore and the amphibious phase of the operation was ended, tactical air during the afloat phase came from a task unit of the Amphibious Force Commander who headed 18 escort carriers of what was known as carrier- based tactical aviation. The kamikaze problem delayed the shift of command ashore until May 17, after the landings were initiated on April 1. In the TAF organization, General Wallace of Air Defense Command had three USAAF Fighter Groups (10 squadrons) and four Marine Air Groups (MAGs), comprising 15 squadrons. VMF-323 was part of MAG-33. Four of these 25 squadrons were specialized nightfighting outfits, such as Bruce Porter's VMF(N)-542.

One of the most successful Marine Fighting squadrons at Okinawa was VMF-323, the "Death Rattlers," under the command of 23-year George Axtell. In a just a few weeks, they shot down 124.5 Japanese planes and counted a dozen aces.

The air units also flew ground support missions, napalming and rocketing Japanese strongholds. In its Bomber Command there were 16 bomber squadrons by mid-July. When the radar warning units', reporting communications network units are added in, the size and scope of the TAF is evident.

There were three Landing Force Air Support Control Units (LFASCU) under Colonel Vernon Megee which were outside the command chain of the TF, and reported to Air Support Control Units, PhibPac. This was complicated by the inability to shift control ashore earlier than May 17, but generally worked well in processing, evaluating and assigning air support aircraft through the LFASCU's ashore. In conjunction with the latter, there were two VMTB squadrons assigned to the TAF, originally for antisubmarine patrol. However, this function was taken over by the patrol squadrons of the Navy and the two TBF squadrons were used for close air support, supply drops to troop units, and other special troop support missions for which they were well-suited. As could be expected, there were some problems throughout the operation but, generally, air support was handled, evaluated, processed and delivered by shore-based, CVE-based and fast CV-based aircraft more quickly and smoothly than in any other operation of the war.

Four Marine observation (VMO) squadrons operated at Okinawa, twice as many as in any other operation of the war. They not only spotted for the artillery, but also flew message pickups and drops, laid wire, transported personnel and performed general utility functions. They also performed superbly in the evacuation of wounded with planes modified to carry stretchers.

Marine Aviation had about one-tenth of its total personnel strength participating in the Okinawa operation, or about 1,575 officers and 10,800 enlisted personnel. The Marine total plane commitment to the operation was around 700. Altogether, the 17 Marine squadrons (two VMTBs) shot down 506 Japanese aircraft during the campaign. There was no way the end of the war could be announced to the entire island simultaneously but, as the word quickly spread ashore and to ships anchored close in, there was no need. Every weapon that could be fired was cut loose and, against the night sky, rivaled any display put on by AA at the height of the operation. It signaled to all that at last Japan had capitulated. It took a little time to restore order and control, and realize that the long struggle had come to an end, but then things settled down rapidly.

However, a few overall statistics are in order before closing the book on WW II. There were 38 Marine squadrons of all types in combat against the Japanese. They shot down a total of 2,354 Japanese aircraft. Members of Marine Aviation were awarded a total of 11 Medals of Honor, and units of Marine Aviation were awarded 78 Presidential Unit Citations, 52 Navy Unit Citations and one Distinguished Unit Citation (Army).

Posted by admin on Saturday 02 June 2007 - 01:17:23 | LAN_THEME_20

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