View Full Version : Tunnels hold secrets of Battle of Okinawa

07-18-03, 05:37 AM
Providing a glimpse of history...
Tunnels hold secrets of Battle of Okinawa
Submitted by: MCB Camp Butler
Story Identification Number: 2003716194645
Story by Sgt. Chris Eriksen

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa, Japan(July 15, 2003) -- Some are simple and some are complex, but they all have one thing in common - they were used during the Battle of Okinawa as both military bunkers and civilian shelters. The caves and tunnel complexes provide a glimpse of what life was like during the battle.

The Battle of Okinawa was a hard fought engagement between the Japanese Imperial Army and U.S. Marines and soldiers. Most of the fighting involved caves and tunnels that the Japanese either constructed new or modified from existing ones into hardened fortifications.

These tunnels and cave complexes revealed over time what life was like for the average Japanese soldier and Okinawan civilian during the Battle of Okinawa. A visit to the caves sends would-be-spelunkers traveling back into time, according to Chris Majewski, tour guide, Marine Corps Community Services Tours Plus.

"Some of these caves were used before the Battle of Okinawa by the civilian population as shelters during typhoons," said Majewski. "They would take their heirlooms and other valuables and store them here during typhoons. So there is not only Battle of Okinawa artifacts here but also cultural artifacts that date back before WWII."

The caves are generally classified as either natural or manmade. Manmade caves and tunnels were either dug new or from existing caves without the aid of heavy machinery, according to Majewski. Many of the caves and tunnels had more than one level and would extend up to 175 feet into the ground.

"The caves and tunnels could have as many as three to four levels and run through an entire ridgeline," Majewski said. "The Japanese dug these caves using only picks and shovels."

There were even caves that had modern conveniences, Majewski added.

"Some even had officer quarters, barracks, office spaces, hospitals, running water, electricity and air conditioning," Majewski said.

The main purpose of the caves and tunnels during WWII was the defense of Okinawa, but they also served as supply depots and hospitals. Ammunition stored during the battle can still be found even today, according to Majewski.

"No matter how many times you go through a cave or dig in one, there's always the chance of missing something," Majewski said. "There is always a chance of coming up with live ordinance and sometimes cultural artifacts."

Many different artifacts have been recovered from the caves and tunnels from both the Battle of Okinawa and before by the Battle of Okinawa Historical Society's Tunnel Rats, according to Majewski.

"All of the artifacts in the Battle of Okinawa Historical Society Museum have come from digs in these tunnels," Majewski said. "Japanese medals and various types of equipment have been found. Chinese 'knife money' dating back over 2,000 years has also been found and was turned over to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum."

The tunnel and cave systems start relatively simple in size and progress to more complex ones, according to Colton Carroll, 10.

"The first cave was easy to go through," said the Elreno, Okla., native. "The second cave didn't have any bugs and was easy to dig around in. The third cave was big and had a lot of small places to go through."

The largest of the caves visited is the Shinzato Cave, which was used as a civilian shelter before the Japanese army took it over. The Shinzato Cave is located in the bottom of a 150-foot pit and has a 60-foot opening and is a natural cave that the Japanese army extended with tunnels and additional rooms, according to Majewski.

"To get down to the opening of the cave you have to practically scale down the side of a cliff it seems," Majewski explained. "The opening looks like a crack in the side, but when you get down to it and inside it you can see it's really big."

There were many more caves and tunnels used by the Japanese during the Battle of Okinawa but the tour only goes to selected sites because of the dangers involved and many are on private lands, Majewski added.

Tours to the tunnels and caves are only offered through MCCS Tours Plus in conjunction with the Battle of Okinawa Historical Society and are guided by the Tunnel Rats, according to Majewski.


Visitors enter the opening to Shinzato Cave. Okinawans used the cave for shelter until the Japanese Imperial Army took it over towards the end of the Battle of Okinawa in WWII.

Photo by: Sgt. Chris Eriksen



07-19-03, 08:06 AM
Anyone remember the big cave between the squad bays and the armory on camp Hansen? Big party are for the troops. I've got pictures of a platoon party somewhere if I can find them. That thing is huge. It also has a few smaller tunnels that can take you out into town for a covert yakisoba run.