The Japanese garrison consisted of over 115,000 men. This was by far the largest Japanese garrison the Americans faced throughout the entire Pacific war. The precise numbers are not known, but this is the approximate size of the garrison. There were over 76,000 Imperial Army and Navy fighters, augmented by over 40,000 Okinawan conscripts. 【Hastings, p. 370】 Among this group were the child soldiers drafted out of the schools.
Both Japan and Germany fought and aggressive, until 1945 mostly in the countries they invaded. The troops they sent into these battles were not children, but like the Allies included older teenagers. As the Allies reached Germany and Japan itself, this changed. The NAZIs formed a home guard--the Volkstrum. This included old men and youths as young as 16 years old, below the lower draft age. They were lightly armed and participated in the defense of the Reich. Younger boys became involved through the Hitler Youth. Japan as the Americans began to close in on the Home Islands. School boys had at first received deferments. This began to change after the loss of the Marianas (July 1944). But this meant older teens in school. As the Americans prepared to invade Okinawa . the Japanese began drafting younger school boys. After losing in the Battle of Okinawa in June 1945, the Japanese government enacted new laws in preparation for the decisive battles in the main islands. They were the laws that made it possible boys aged 15 or older and girls aged 17 or older to be conscripted into the army for actual battles. Those who tried to escape the call-up were punished by imprisonment.
Japan did not begin to use child soldiers until the Okinawa campaign. This was the first and only campaign on Japanese home territory in which civilians were involved. Iwo Jima was invaded two months earlier, but the Japanese had evacuated the small civilian population. The Japanese began drafting children when it became obvious that Okinawa would be the next American target. (It had airstrips within range of Kyushu, the southern-most of the Home Islands where the Americans would clearly first invade.) The Japanese Army began conscripting youth out of both the junior and senior high schools. (Japan unlike the rest of Asian except the Philippines) had an advanced public school system, making it easy to draft Okinawan youth. Many of the boys in the senior high schools had already been drafted.) As far as we know, the Army did not go into the primary schools. But the junior high schools meant boys as young as 13 years old. One source indicates that this involved students as young as 14 years old. The junior highs, however, included boys a young as 13 years old. We have no idea if the army personnel were scrupulous about the ages of the boys who signed up. We are not sure just when this process of conscripting younger teens began, but it probably was in very late- or early-1945. One of the boys inducted says that it occurred (March 29, 1945), only 3 days before U.S. forces landed on Okinawa. 【Sano】 He recalls the ceremony to join the military wearing a new uniform and ill-fittingly large boots. He was in the fourth grade of junior high school. "We thought Japan, as a divine country, would win." . The Army Ministry ordered the mobilization without legal authority. The form of the order was an ordinance. It was for form's sake. The actual situation was that the military ordered the schools to firce the children and youths to volunteer. Sometimes they counterfeited the necessary documents. Often the military forced the conscripts to sign up their younger brothers. Shoken Yoza was one of the school-aged conscripts. He survived, but has great remorse because he was coerced in signing up his younger brother who did not survive. 【Sano】
The Okinawan school boys were called Tekketsu Kinnōtai (鉄血勤皇隊) translated variously as the Blood and Iron for the Emperor's Troops/Student Units of Blood and Iron for Emperor/Blood and Iron Student Corps. This appears to be an effort exclusively organized on Okinawa. It was composed of middle school boys 14-17 years of age. ade on Okinawa ") were (auxiliary) troops recruited from Japanese school children from the schools on the island of Okinawa and used in the Pacific War during the final stages of the Battle of Okinawa. We are not sure about the number of boys involved. On source suggests at least 1,787 middle school boys aged mostly 14 to 17 years, some younger. Half of the boys perished during the fighting on Okinawa. 【Norimatsu and Masahide】 School girls were also conscripted, but used differently. The girls were usually grouped together as auxiliary nurses in their own units. They were used near the front -- Himeyuri Gakutotai or Shiraume Gakutotai.
Unlike the Ketsugo children in Japan proper, these boys were officially inducted into Japanese Army, given uniforms and weapons, but virtually no training. The Okinawan conscripts at first apparently were used in labor brigades. But after the American invasion, the military situation gradually deteriorates as the Americans moved south. One source suggests that the Okinawan conscripts along with Japanese soldiers, including the school boy soldiers (Tekketsu Kinnotai) in suicide attacks against tanks with bombs and in guerrilla operations. One of the school boys writes that they worked in hifts to dig the 32nd Army Headquarters Shelter underneath Shurijo Castle. He recalls irrational orders and being beaten by the officers. He says that he still had the resolve to die for his country. He wrote to his parents. "I have lived just a short time, but thank you for everything. Please take care of yourselves." After a fierce onslaught from the Americans, his company commander discharged him and 18 other schoolboys on the pretext of a food shortage. "I was only 152 centimeters tall. I think he felt a paternalistic responsibility toward us." 【Sano】 He went back to his hometown and reunited with his father, who had evacuated to a shelter. They moved from place-to-place across the war-ravaged southern part of the main island, eventually surrendering and being captured as prisoners of war on June 14, 1945.
American soldiers encountering the younger children did not know how to deal with them. Of course in war, soldiers commonly do not see who is shooting at them and are rarely able to tell much about them such as their age. This was especially the case on Okinawa where the Japanese were dug into prepared defenses. This of course changes when soldiers are actually captured.
And while most Japanese soldiers fought to the death, more Japanese soldiers surrendered than in any other Pacific War campaign, about 10,000 or about 10 percent of the garrison. Estimates vary, there are no precise numbers. As far as we can tell the, most who surrendered were the Okinawan conscripts (including the children, and not the regular Japanese Army soldiers.
Hastings, Max. Retribution – The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).
Norimatsu, Satoko Oka and Ota Masahide. "The World is beginning to know Okinawa: Ota Masahide Reflects on his Life from the Battle of Okinawa to the Struggle for Okinawa," The Asia Pacific Journal Vol. 8, Iss. 38. No. 4 (September 20, 2010)
Sano, Tadashi. "Battle of Okinawa survivor and former child soldier tells of 74-year regret," Mainichi (June 24, 2019). The article relates the experiences of Shioken Yoza.
Navigate the CIH World War II Section :
[Return to Main Kamikaze page]
[Return to Main Okinawa page]
[Return to Main World War II Pacific campaign page]
[Return to the Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Main World War II page]