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VMF(N)533 Patch

Giretsu Raid

This special unit was originally formed when U.S. Army Air Force attacks on the Japanese home Islands, launched from the Mariana Islands by the long range B-29’s, proved to be devastating.  The 1st Raiding Brigade of the Teishin Shudan was ordered to form a commando unit for a “special operations” mission to destroy the American bombers on the ground in Saipan, Tinian and Guam.  Captain Michio Okuyama was selected to lead the attack.  He picked 126 men along with 10 intelligence officers from the Nakano School to form the Giretsu Airborne Unit, based at the IJA Air Academy in Saitama. They were parachute qualified and expert in commando tactics.


They were scheduled to attack their targets on 17January 1945.  American Intelligence decoded their plans heavily bombing their staging fields on Iwo Jima.  The extensive loss of pilots and planes caused the assault to be cancelled.  It took time to replace the men and equipment lost in the raid.  All the while the Allied Island hopping war strategy quickly moved onward to a new target objective. 
Their next operation was scheduled for a March attack against the invading Marines on Iwo Jima to retake the airfields; however the Japanese garrison fell before they could execute their plans.  The Okinawa battle was soon underway.  The defense of the Island was rapidly in peril, requiring drastic action.  American fighters from Yontan and Kadena were wreaking havoc on the Kamikaze attacks against Allied shipping in the region and the night air defense of the area was now proving to be formidable. 
On 16May 1945, the Japanese Sixth Army requested the deployment of the Giretsu Unit to neutralize those airfields.  “Operation Gi-gou” deployed on the night of 24May 1945.  Japanese air operations included major diversionary bombing attacks throughout the region striking Ie Shima and softening up American defenses defending Yontan and Kadena.  Twelve Ki-21II “Sally” medium bombers with 136 commandos departed from Kengun Field, Kumamoto, Japan at dusk for the commando attack.  Eight of the bombers, lead by Captain Watanabe, were slated to attack Yontan and four, lead by Captain Okuyama, were to attack nearby Kadena.  
The twelve troop laden attacking Giretsu aircraft were to belly land on the runways instead of a conventional parachute assault.  This tactic was chosen to gain the element of surprise and most importantly, to deliver their raiders exactly where they needed to be, en mass, to maximize their destructive capability.  Descending with wheels up would also decisively shorten their landing and effectively block the runways.  The Giretsu knew they were on a mission vital to the Japanese war effort.  Objectives included destroying as many aircraft as possible, specifically any B-29’s, (of which there were none,) the night fighters of VMF(N) 533, fuel dumps and installations.  They were instructed to fight on until relieved.  (The Japanese army assured the Giretsu troops there would be additional air and ground attacks the following morning in support of the raiders—those actions never materialized.)
One aircraft actually made it onto Yontan Field during the melee. (Those slated to attack Kadena—never made it to their destination.)  During the night five enemy aircraft were intercepted and shot down by VMF(N) 533, and one by VMF(N) 543.  Six additional enemy bombers were dispatched by Marine anti-aircraft units protecting Yontan Field.  In the aftermath of the attack, the map taken from deceased Captain Watanabe, revealed with large red “X’s,” the exact positions of where VMF(N) 533, Black Mac’s Killers Hellcats were parked and a large red “X” on Black Mac’s tent location.  They failed to accomplish these objectives.  The Giretsu raiders: destroyed 9 aircraft (3 F4U’s, 2 PB4Y’s [probably mistaken for B-29’s], 1 R5C, 3 C47’s), damaged 24 others (17 F4U’s, 3 F6F’s, 2 B-24’s, 2 Transports), detonated a 70 thousand gallon fuel storage tank and damaged a number of adjacent installations. 
69 Japanese casualties were recovered from the wreckage near Yontan Field, including the 11 aboard the aircraft (tail number 546) that successfully belly-landed.  The other 67 Giretsu attackers aboard the remaining 6 Ki-21II bombers did not complete their mission—none of their remains were recovered.  The Marines suffered 3 KIA--1st Lt. Maynard Kelley, killed while manning a search light on the deck of the control tower, and two Marines smothered when a crashing “Sally” hit their A-A gun mount.  During the fight an additional 18 Marines were wounded.  When VMF(N) 533’s night fighters, on station when the attack began, ran low on fuel they were diverted to Kadena Field to refuel and standby until they were cleared to return to base.  Yontan Field was operational by mid-morning on the 25th.  This was the only raid of its kind conducted by the Japanese during the war.  The Giretsu raid was a desperate heroic effort mounted by the Japanese Military—but not much more than another night of combat for the Americans involved; operations continued unabated and the outcome was already inevitable.

The Giretsu raid by the Combined Special Forces Unit is revered in Japan.  Shrines were erected in their honor, both in Japan and on Okinawa.  The “Divine Wind” never materialized.  (In the Japanese homeland many accounts of the raid’s actual impact continue to be overstated.)

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