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The last great battle of World War II began on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, when more than 184,000 began landing on the only Japanese home soil invaded during the Pacific war. The island of Okinawa was just 350 miles from mainland Japan, and the Allies planned to use it as its forward base for its invasion.

On the island, nearly 140,000 Japanese and auxiliary soldiers resisted the US-led assault with suicidal tenacity from a Gibraltar of hollowed-out, fortified hills and ridges. Under constant fire and in the rain and mud, U.S. troops fought ferociously, battered the Japanese with artillery, aerial bombing, naval gunfire, and every infantry tool. The battle also marked the apotheosis of kamikaze air attacks, which sank 36 warships, damaged 368 others and killed almost 5,000 seamen.

When the brutal slugfest ended, more than 125,00 enemy had been killed–and 7,500 American ground troops had died. And tragically, at least hundred thousand Okinawa civilians died violently while trapped between the battling armies. The Japanese had succeeded in preventing invasion, but the bloody campaign had convinced US leaders that only an atomic bomb could end the war.

Utilizing vivid accounts written by US combatants, along with previously unused Japanese sources, Joseph Wheelan brings a strong human dimension to this rich story of the war’s last great battle waged against an determined enemy and extreme conditions.