By early 1945, the Japanese Empire was shrinking daily and the war had reached its home shores. Less than three and half years after Pearl Harbor, American industrial might was on full display. And it was never more apparent than during the Battle of Okinawa. 

The once-proud Japanese Imperial Navy that Americans feared would threaten the West Coast, was largely driven across the Pacific and now operated mainly from its home waters. The Americans’ bloody island-hopping campaign, which had begun in the southern Solomon Islands in 1942, had grown as the Americans swept across the Gilberts, the Solomons, and, after the battles in Leyte Gulf and the Philippine Sea, were on the cusp of Japan herself. 

When the U.S. invaded Okinawa on April 1, 1945, the Japanese had no naval answer to the invasion force. Japanese naval leaders briefed Emperor Hirohito on their plans, which consisted of massive air attacks, including kamikaze strikes. The shocked emperor then asked, “But what about the Navy? What are they doing to assist in defending Okinawa? Have we no more ships?”

So, the admirals concocted what they termed, “Operation Ten-Go” (Operation Heaven One). They would launch the world’s largest battleship, the Yamato with its enormous 18-inch guns, one light cruiser, and eight destroyers against the enormous American fleet. The American invasion fleet had, besides a heavy battleship contingent consisting of six battleships (Massachusetts, Indiana, New Jersey, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Missouri), seven cruisers (including the large cruisers Alaska and Guam) and 21 destroyers. But the Americans also had a battle group of eight aircraft carriers (Hornet, Bennington, Belleau Wood, San Jacinto; TG 58.3 Essex, Bunker Hill, Hancock, and Bataan) that were covering the landings. 

The Japanese admiral in charge of Operation Ten-Go, Vice-Admiral Seiichi Itō, disagreed with the plan which essentially was to sail into teeth of the American fleet without the benefit of any air cover and then beach on Okinawa and operate as a static defense in support of the island. He considered it a waste of good men and ships. But the mission was approved and the Japanese ships set sail for Okinawa.

The result was arguably the largest suicide mission in history. 

As soon as the Japanese fleet left port on April 6 at 1600 hours, and proceeded through the Bungo Strait, (many WWII film buffs will recall the strait from “Run Silent, Run Deep”), they were immediately picked up by two American submarines (Hackleback and Threadfin). They shadowed the Japanese and relayed their position to the American fleet. The element of surprise was gone for the Japanese.

By dawn on April 7, Asashimo, one of the destroyers developed engine trouble and started heading back to port in Japan. At this point, the Japanese task force’s location had been picked up by American PBM flying boats, which kept the American fleet apprised of the Japanese’s position and direction.