U.S. Army front line artillery observation during the 1945 Okinawa campaign: An oral history case study

Rodney Earl Walton, Florida International University


This dissertation explores the role of artillery forward observation teams during the battle of Okinawa (April–June 1945). It addresses a variety of questions associated with this front line artillery support. First, it examines the role of artillery itself in the American victory over the Japanese on Okinawa. Second, it traces the history of the forward observer in the three decades before the end of World War II. Third, it defines the specific role of the forward observation teams during the battle: what they did and how they did it during this three-month duel. Fourth, it deals with the particular problems of the forward observer. These included coordination with the local infantry commander, adjusting to the periodic rotation between the front lines and the artillery battery behind the line of battle, responding to occasional problems with "friendly fire" (American artillery falling on American ground forces), dealing with personnel turnover in the teams (due to death, wounds, and illness), and finally, developing a more informal relationship between officers and enlisted men to accommodate the reality of this recently created combat assignment. Fifth, it explores the experiences of a select group of men who served on (or in proximity to) forward observation teams on Okinawa. Previous scholars and popular historians of the battle have emphasized the role of Marines, infantrymen, and flame-throwing armor. This work offers a different perspective on the battle and it uses new sources as well. A pre-existing archive of interviews with Okinawan campaign forward observer team members conducted in the 1990s forms the core of the oral history component of this research project. The verbal accounts were checked against and supplemented by a review of unit reports obtained from the U.S. National Archives and various secondary sources. The dissertation concludes that an understanding of American artillery observation is critical to a more complete comprehension of the battle of Okinawa. These mid-ranking (and largely middle class) soldiers proved capable of adjusting to the demands of combat conditions. They provide a unique and understudied perspective of the entire battle.

Subject Area

History|American history|Modern history|Military history

Recommended Citation

Walton, Rodney Earl, "U.S. Army front line artillery observation during the 1945 Okinawa campaign: An oral history case study" (2009). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3377930.