The Ultimate Battle by Bill Sloan

The Ultimate Battle by Bill Sloan is about the last World War II battle between the Americans and Japanese, the Battle of Okinawa.  Sloan concentrates on the American soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen who fought and died on and around Okinawa.  These brave Americans poured their blood, sweat, and tears into taking this island from the Japanese.


The battle began even before the troops landed on the beaches.  Japanese kamikaze pilots tried to take out some of the 1,500 U.S. Navy ships in the invasion fleet in the days before the landing.  These kamikazes, numbering around 2,000 planes, came in roughly ten waves throughout the battle.


The Americans, expecting a ferocious fight for the beaches, landed relatively unopposed on April 1, 1945.  Five hundred forty-one thousand soldiers and Marines of the U.S. Tenth Army were eventually landed to fight against Japan’s 110,000-man 32nd Army.  The fighting began in earnest a few days after the landing and continued into July.  The three months of fighting pitted the tenacious Japanese defense against the awesome offensive power of the Americans.  By the end of the battle, more than 115,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen from both sides were killed and more than 150,000 Okinawa civilians were dead from the crossfire or suicide (encouraged by the Japanese).

Sloan writes from the perspective of individual soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen.  He captures their thoughts and actions in a way similar to many popular histories – Band of Brothers comes to mind.  According to the book’s cover, the book is filled with fresh insights that only those men can provide.


I love how Sloan how each of the armed forces participated in the battle – he takes you from the lonely and deadly picket patrols of the U.S. Navy destroyers to the pitch-black skies of the Marine night-fighter patrols to the slippery ascents of the infantry to capture yet another ridge or hill.  Sloan easily transitions from the brutal fights for Kakazu Ridge, where the fight began, to the desperate battle between sailors and the kamikazes around Okinawa (many times I thought the besiegers were the besieged because of the kamikazes). 


The action, some of it described by the participants, rivets you to the book.  It is hard to even imagine the sheer horror of watching your friends be cut in half by machine gun bullets or be horribly burned by an exploding plane.  If you have any romance about war before reading this book, you won’t after you have read it.  


With regards to the end of the battle and the future fight for the Japanese home islands, I cannot say it any better than how the book’s cover describes it:

When the battle was over, most of the GIs, Marines, and sailors who survived it were too worn out to celebrate.  More than 49,000 of their comrades had been killed or wounded, and they knew that the even more brutal invasion of Japan’s home islands loomed just ahead.  But as Sloan makes clear, the slaughter at Okinawa helped to convince President Truman to use the atomic bomb against Japanese cities in the hope of shortening the war and averting a far more horrific loss of life.

As with most histories of battles, the only complaint I have is the lack of sufficient numbers of maps.  There are a couple of maps in the front of the book, but I think it would have been better to provide more maps throughout the book.

With that said, Sloan’s book is must read for anyone interested in World War II or the extreme hardships that humans endure during battle.

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