The Tragic Story of the Former Japanese Naval Underground Headquaters

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  • The Battle of Okinawa in 1945, which was also known as Operation Iceberg, left a very big impact on the inhabitants of Okinawa Island. It resulted in one of the largest casualties ever to occur in history. One deep reminder to people of the calamities of war can be seen in the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters consisting of hundreds of meters of connecting tunnels under Tomagusuku Hill.

    Building the Tunnel

    tunnels building

    The tunnel was built under the leadership of Minoru Ota, an admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy. It is 450 meters long and made of posts and concrete. It is claimed that pickaxes and shovels were used in building the tunnel. It remains as exactly as it was a long time ago.

    A Tragic Story

    tunnels soldiers

    One interesting feature of the tunnel is the story behind the final commander and his officers who committed seppuku. The US 6th Marines landed on June 4, 1945, which started the whole battle. On June 11, Ota made a farewell telegram to the 32nd Army and also told the people to sacrifice themselves for the battle. The mass suicide was committed with a grenade on June 13 in the tunnel in order to avoid surrendering to the Americans. The Marines didn’t enter the tunnel and instead sealed it tightly by targeting the entrances. It was only unsealed in 1950 where bodies of more than 2,000 sailors were found.

    The Tour

    tunnels tour

    After the battle, the tunnel remained untouched for many years. It was only opened for public viewing in 1970 after the remains were collected and the tunnel was renovated. Some of the areas you can see are the commanding officer’s room, petty officer’s room, operations room, signal room, staff room, generator room, medical room and code room. The underground tour will help visitors see the traces of the mass suicide as well as the farewell messages left for family members. An audio explanation in English is available throughout the tunnel upon a visitor’s request.

    For more information about the tunnels, you can visit the official website in Japanese or Trip Advisor for more information in English.

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