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History Underground April 10, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Photos.
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Today we went to the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters in Tomishiro. In 1944, the navy dug this 450-meter network of tunnels, using only picks and hoes, in anticipation of near-future warfare.

During the Battle of Okinawa, this bunker in the southern part of the island played a vital role in protecting the Japanese military, providing a place to plan offense and defense. It could hold 4,000 soldiers at a time, and included a sick bay, a kitchen, an operation room and electricity.

But as the invasion wore on, nothing could provide enough refuge. The Japanese army enlisted Okinawan civilians, including women and children, to supplement attack and relief efforts. Boys were transporting artillery, girls were acting as nurses. Over 120,000 civilians died in the battle (37,000 non-fighting), about a quarter of the island’s population.

The Japanese military suffered greatly, too. Over 100,000 troops were killed, some by attack suicide, some by regular suicide. A sign in this room said the brown dots were from suicidal grenade explosions.

Navy Rear Admiral Minoru Ota also committed suicide in these tunnels, following a particularly harsh American attack. Only a week before, he sent a touching telegram to mainland navy authorities about the hardships Okinawans were being forced to endure:

Since the enemy attacks began, our Army and Navy have been fighting defensive battles and have not been able to attend to the people of this prefecture.

Consequently, due to our negligence, these innocent people have lost their homes and property to enemy assault. Every man has been conscribed to dense while women, children, and elders are forced into hiding in the small underground shelters….

The Okinawan people have been asked to volunteer their labor and conserve all their resources (mostly without complaint). In their heart, they wish only to serve as loyal Japanese….

There are no trees, no grass; everything is burnt to the ground. The food supply will be gone by the end of June. This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war.

And for this reason, I appeal to you to give the Okinawan people special consideration from this day forward.

Once the Japanese ceded the island and the war ended, the tunnels went untouched. It opened to the public in 1970 with an accompanying museum as a tribute to those lost and a reminder of the need for world peace.

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