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I have overheard the story from an US soldier that during the Pacific War the Japanese mounted a defense in an old medieval castle. The Americans asked for support from a battleship. The battleship successfully shelled the fortress only to find out that the castle was able to withstand battleship fire!

Now if you know how big battleship guns are...you, me and the other people are thinking "he is pulling our leg". But he insisted that this is true and they finally called a special ship with 15" guns and extreme high-explosive grenades shells which was able to tear the castle down.

Does anyone know if there is a grain truth in this story ? Google Fu failed.

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    "a special ship with 15" guns and extreme high-explosive grenades" sounds an awful lot like a battleship to me.
    – Mark
    May 12, 2015 at 1:07
  • "high-explosive shells"?
    – smci
    May 12, 2015 at 5:03
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    @smci, translation difficulties, most likely. A number of languages use cognates of "grenade" for explosive projectiles in general.
    – Mark
    May 12, 2015 at 6:03
  • Mark it as translation error on my part... May 12, 2015 at 13:44

4 Answers 4

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This is probably a slightly garbled account of the destruction of Shuri Castle in Okinawa. During the Second World War's Battle of Okinawa, the battleship USS Mississippi shelled the historical Ryukyu palace for three days prior to its capture by US marines.

At 0718 on May 25, the Mississippi began a murderous onslaught with her 5 and 14-inch guns that would last for three solid days.

- Craddock, Stephen Culver. "'To the Honor and Credit of chte Country': A History of the Warships Mississippi."The Journal of Mississippi History 54 (1992): 128-147.

In the end the castle was very much demolished, so it didn't exactly withstand battleship fire per se - at least, not for long.

But why did it take three days? Not to demolish the castle structure, but to bombard the entire extensive defensive position and the forces concentrated there. Shuri Castle is built on a hill dominating the center of town with high stone walls. The Imperial Japanese Army dug defensive earthworks on the castle grounds and built its headquarters under the ground, digging tunnels and expanding existing caves.

The Japanese forces defending Okinawa dug tunnels and expanded caves under Shuri Castle and its environs for their headquarters and command posts... The biggest tunnel served as headquarters for Mitsuru Ushijima, Commander of the Japanese 32d Army. This tunnel stretched some 390 meters north-south... The 62d Division expanded a natural cave under the Azana cliff as its headquarters. This installation ran under Shuri, Akata and the northeast corner of Shuri Castle... In summation, the ground beneath Shuri Castle was honeycombed with caves and tunnels.

Source: The Ordeals Of Shuri Castle

Shuri Castle today, using Google Maps 3D tilt view to give context

This is Shuri Castle today, rebuilt. The picture uses Google Maps 3D tilt view to give the scale of the complex and how the hill it stands on dominates the surrounding area.


The Shuri Castle after WW2.

enter image description here

The Shuri Castle today, reconstructed during the 1990s from old photographs and records.

enter image description here

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    "Withstand" is maybe a strong word, indeed. The Japanese military had an underground headquarter under the caste. Since the castle itself is more like a hill with stone walls (and not a building), with caves under full with Japanese soldiers, the 3 days bombardment is more about the reluctance to enter the cave system I guess.
    – Greg
    May 12, 2015 at 4:50
  • sounds plausible. They'd have shelled the place in an attempt to collapse the cave system or at least the entrances to it. This was standard parctice in the Pacific campaign in those places where the Japanese were entrenched in caves and caverns.
    – jwenting
    May 12, 2015 at 6:53
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    Yes, that is the ticket. According to wikipedia the attack began already on April 1st, so probably before Shuri was already attacked unsuccessfully. I looked it up: 14" guns used by the Mississippi were pretty standard, but heavy cruisers (Alaska-class) and Wyoming-class battleships had only 12" guns and perhaps this wasn't enough. Perhaps someone who knew exactly what happened could corrobate this. May 12, 2015 at 13:30
  • And the need to shell it for three days with 14" guns indicate for me that it was a pretty strong fortification, so the account of the soldirer seems plausible and Stuart Allen's explanation is vindicated. May 12, 2015 at 13:41
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    The wooden "castle" was destroyed, but its massive and ancient stone foundations were largely undamaged. WWII was not the first time the wooden part was completely destroyed and later rebuilt. (Source: informational plaques on site. I visited Shuri Castle in 1998.) May 12, 2015 at 18:57
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Let me illustrate @StuartAllan's answer: if they hear "Japanese castle", people think about this:

enter image description here

And while that is pretty and impressive, it will of course be a heap of smoking rubble after no more than a few hits from a battleship's guns.

But what the attacking military is really up against is this:

enter image description here

and laying waste to it is gonna take some time...

Both pictures show Osaka castle, by the way.

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  • Ok, that looks really a bit more resilient. May 12, 2015 at 13:32
  • I must admit I am still quite surprised. Shuri castle is 14th century and Osaka castle is 16th century. The trend for better fortresses due to cannons started in Europe quite late. I find for the available weapons at the time the Japanese quite overconstructed their fortresses. May 12, 2015 at 19:46
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    @ThorstenS. Siege artillery had been available in Japan for decades by the time the original Osaka Castle was being designed. Furthermore however the Tokugawa clan specifically built over the original castle grounds as a show of force.
    – Semaphore
    May 13, 2015 at 4:52
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    Just for the record: the Shuri Castle (where incident happen) is not a Japanese castle. It is on Japanese land, but didn't have the same architecture as Japanese castles. But on the basic point you are correct: when we talk about a castle, we talk about a stone hill and caves below the hill, and not about fancy towers or stone walls.
    – Greg
    May 13, 2015 at 12:32
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My father,BJ Lochridge, served as a Radioman on board the USS Mississippi during the Shuri Castle bombardment. He typed two originals of a dispatch from HDQTRS 77th INF.DIV. He gave one to the Capt. and kept one for his records. Here is the one he kept which clearly states that the castle did not withstand the bombardment.enter image description here

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I do not know of this incident. Check naval archives or with a librarian in naval archives. This does, however, seem highly likely. The castle itself would be a smoldering ruin (as it was almost entirely wood, designed in such a way to better absorb earthquakes). The stone/Earthwork, on the other hand, would be extremely resilient to artillery fire. Getting troops out of hastily dug positions using artillery fire alone is very difficult/in-effective. A modern position dug into pre-existing earthworks would be very difficult to shell and destroy.

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