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Collection Title: Okinawa World War II Photographs

Collection Number: M283

Dates: ca. January - March 1945

Volume: 14 Items

Provenance: Donated by Willie V. Oubre, September 1993

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

Okinawa, the largest island of the Ryukyu chain, located in the East China Sea, was the threshold of an allied invasion of Japan during World War II. Naha, the capital of the island and the chief port, accommodated vessels up to 3,000 tons and possessed the most highly developed airfield on the island. The Americans wanted to capture the island and the port city because doing so would cut the enemy's air communications through the Ryukyu and flank its sea communications to the south. Furthermore, Okinawa provided air bases that would allow easy strikes by the allies on the enemy's home islands of Kyushu and Honshu, the industrial heart of Japan.

Documents, prisoners taken on Pacific island battlefields, former residents of Ryukyu, Japanese publications, and aerial photographic reconnaissance aided the development of American strategic policy for capturing the island. In collecting photographic material, the Americans used B-59's and carrier-based planes, with most of the pictures being taken between January and March of 1945. The photographs revealed the three main defense areas on the island -- Naha, the Hagushi beaches, and the Yonabaro-Nakagusuku Bay.

Preliminary air raids on Okinawa ceased on March 1, 1945. A three week interval followed, during which American forces prepared for invasion. Then, from March 25-30, 1945, the naval ships of the Amphibious Support Force bombarded the coast of Naha. Of note is the fact that enemy batteries did not fire on naval vessels during their bombardment. During this time, aircraft from Task Force 58, a group specializing in aerial search and reconnaissance missions, aided the campaign by bombing enemy air bases and small boats which were discovered to be suicide attack ships containing depth charges. Despite the U.S. aircraft attacks, Japanese fighter planes made 50 raids on American ships between March 26 and 31. Most of the enemy airplanes attempted to suicide-crash American ships. Of these suicide missions, nine hit their targets, damaging ten American vessels, including the cruisers, Biloxi and Indianapolis.

On May 24, 1945, the 6th Marine Division invaded Naha. Willie V. Oubre of Scooba, Mississippi, was Staff Sergeant with the 6th Division during the attack. Oubre and his unit traveled into the northern sector of Naha without resistance. Then on May 25, the reconnaissance company of the division penetrated the western section of the city near the canal that bisects the city north-south. Two days later, troops approached the Ona-Yama Island in the middle of the KoKuba Channel located at the south end of the Naha Canal. The attack failed because heavy machine-gun fire killed the platoon leader, yet Marine forces continued to attack the port of Naha. Finally, on May 30, the troops seized the last hill, number 27, on the east side of the city. According to Marine observers at the time, the city held no tactical value other than to afford the Americans a route of travel south to the next battle. American forces completed the capture of the island in June of 1945. Shortly thereafter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to bomb the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which ended the war in the Pacific.

After the capture of Okinawa, Sgt. Willie V. Oubre was assigned to clean-up detail on Guam where he found aerial photographs of Okinawa taken after preliminary bombings, and decided to keep them as mementos. He stated that while he fought in the city of Naha, P-38's flew over the battle lines at 1100, 1200, and 1300 hours daily. According to Oubre, it is believed that the photographs in this collection were probably taken by those P-38's. However, no documentation was found to indicate that the U.S. forces in the Pacific used P-38's to photograph Okinawa, and these photographs may predate the land battles of late May. In September 1993, Oubre donated the photographs to the University of Southern Mississippi.

Willie V. Oubre was born on July 1, 1914, and grew up in Scooba, Mississippi. Throughout his childhood and early adulthood, he was interested in law enforcement. However, when he enrolled at the State Teachers College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) a program in criminal justice did not exist, so he majored in business education.

Shortly after graduation from USM in 1939, Oubre entered the U.S. Marine Corp. After basic training, he was commissioned Staff Sergeant and was assigned to the infantry division of the 22nd Marine Brigade, 6th Marine Division. At that point, Oubre received orders to board a vessel bound for the Pacific Theater of War, and saw action at Guadalcanal, Guam, and Okinawa.

After the war, Oubre returned to Mississippi and pursued a career in law enforcement, serving as a highway patrolman, and then as a deputy with the Forrest County Sheriff's Department. In 1965, Oubre became Director of Public Safety at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) where he remained until his retirement in 1980. Of note is the fact that Oubre assisted in beginning the criminal justice program at USM. The first year the program existed 250 students enrolled and Oubre served as an instructor. At this writing, Oubre lives in Hattiesburg and enjoys his retirement. Interestingly, Willie Oubre's son, Keith, became USM's Director of Public Safety on January 11, 1993.

Scope and Content:

This collection consists of fourteen aerial photographs of the Okinawa capital, Naha, which portray effects of preliminary bombing by American aircraft during World War II. The attacks occurred between January and March of 1945. Naha, considered the main target because of its harbor, was leveled months before the Marines invaded in May of 1945. The images cover three categories: industrial sites, government buildings, and transportation routes.

The first three photographs portray industrial sites located in Naha. They detail factories situated near the Kokuba Channel on the southern sector of the Naha Canal after the bombing raids.

The next photograph shows a government building destroyed by bombing raids. This is followed by four images depicting destruction of bridges crossing the Naha Canal and Kokuba Channel. The remaining six photographs picture surface roads in the capital district after the bombing.

For researchers interested in World War II - Pacific Arena, particularly reconnaissance aerial photographs of the Oroku Peninsula, this collection will be of value.


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Revised: December 16, 2004