Okinawa Governor abandons his duties
What did the central and prefectural governments and the Army do when it became increasingly likely that Okinawa Island would be a battleground in the Pacific War?
It was in July 1944 after Saipan fell into U.S. hands that the central government decided to evacuate citizens from Okinawa and nearby islands such as Miyakojima. At the time, about 600,000 people lived in Okinawa Prefecture. The prefectural government made a plan to move about 100,000 citizens, mainly seniors aged 60 and older and children under 15. The prefectural government also planned to carry out group evacuations of students. On August 22, however, the Tsushima Maru, a ship carrying residents including many school children from Okinawa Prefecture, sank after being hit by a torpedo from a U.S. submarine. More than 1,418 residents including at least 775 boys and girls died in the tragedy.
While the evacuation did not go as planned, an air raid on Okinawa, which burned most of Naha on October 10, became a turning point. By March 1945 when U.S. forces first moved against Okinawa, about 60,000 people fled to Kyushu and other areas on the mainland; 20,000 others went to Taiwan. The Thirty-second Army and the prefectural government decided in December 1944 to relocate 100,000 citizens to Kunigami in the northern part of the prefecture. In late March, when U.S. forces started bombardments from the sea, about 50,000 citizens rushed to the mountainous area, where many people later suffered starvation and malaria.
Actions to secure the safety of civilians were slow. One of the reasons was that Okinawa Governor Shuki Izumi abandoned his duties after the air raid, fleeing to Futenma, which was relatively safe compared to other areas on Okinawa Island. In December 1944, he went to Tokyo on a business trip and never returned, and on January 12, 1945, he was appointed as the Governor of Kagawa Prefecture.
For about a month until Akira Shimada became Governor in late January literally no measures were taken to assist Okinawan civilians. Shimada scrambled to evacuate the area and stockpile food, but there was not enough time. About 300,000 citizens remained in the southern part of the prefecture, which was to become the battleground.