I N WAR, as in every other phase of activity, there are enterprises so skilfully conceived and successfully executed that they become models of their kind.Our capture of Tinian, southern sister island of Saipan, belongs in this category. If such a tactical superlative can be used to describe a military maneuver, where the result brilliantly consummated the planning and performance, Tinian was the perfect amphibious operation in the Pacific war.
[FMFPAC · Tinian · Guam]
The assault on this island, planned in intervals snatched from preoccupation with the battle of Saipan, gave us the great B-29 base after only nine days' fighting, with a minimum of casualties and the highest ratio of enemy dead in any of our Central Pacific victories. This ratio worked out at 30 Japanese for every American killed, and we lost only 290 men. When Guam was regained, providing the Pacific Fleet with advance facilities second in importance only to Pearl Harbor, we controlled the whole of the Marianas, a series of powerful bases from which we could carry the war to Japan proper.
Before the end of the great Marianas battle, however, important changes had been made in the Marine Pacific command. Once Saipan, the key position, had been captured I was elevated to take over a newly created headquarters for all Marine Corps combat units in the Pacific. This was Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, or FMFPAC, as it was short-titled. The Fleet Marine Force had existed for many years under a number of command setups, but the new command enabled us to coordinate every one of our fighting units in one Fleet-type command, responsible directly to Admiral Nimitz.
My Marines, thus grouped together, were as much a part of this balanced land-sea-air fleet as were its aircraft carriers, submarines or battleships. The whole combination, which had spearhead our relentless march toward Japan, constituted a striking demonstration of balanced naval power in its most effective and crushing sense.
Incident to my assumption of this new role, Major General Harry Schmidt was given my hard-hitting V Amphibious Corps and Major General Clifton B. Cates, now 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps, took over the Fourth Division from Schmidt. I left my entire staff with Harry Schmidt, with one exception,. Bobby Erskine, my dynamic Chief of Staff, I insisted on retaining, which I did until he in turn was promoted to Major General and received a fine command, the Third Marine Division, which he led with distinction on Iwo Jima.
Nevertheless, I was not happy, for this change meant that my days of tactical command were nearing an end. Hitherto I had commanded troops in the field, which was to my liking, I had led them under a succession of varying designations from Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet, to V Amphibious Corps, which was the oldest corps headquarters in point of continuous service in the U.S. armed forces. I feared that now I would become a highly paid administrator, coordinator and supervisor little better than Richardson, the Army's three star representative at Pearl Harbor, But balancing my personal preference for active service against the needs of the Corps, I realized that the expanding scope of our Pacific operations and the increasing employment of Marines made the change imperative.
The capture of Tinian was a foregone conclusion both to the Americans and the Japanese after we landed on Saipan. Tinian is approximately two-thirds the size of Saipan, from which it is separated by a three-mile strait. The central portion is a high plateau, with sheer cliffs running down to the sea. THis green island rose like a billiard table to receive our B-29's, when mass air raids on industrial centers in Japan were launched from the Marianas.
Tinian had a garrison of 9,000, mostly veterans of the Manchurian campaign, under Colonel Kiyoshi Ogata, an Army officer not lacking in fighting spirit. Ogata was killed on D-day, leading his men into action, and they doggedly carried on without him. This garrison had better troops than other islands: they were fairly well armed and had an additional month in which to strengthen their defenses.
The Japanese on Tinian must have understood while the Saipan battle was in progress that their turn could come as soon as the nearby island was reasonably secured. They didn't have a chance, although they utilized their month's grace by developing their defenses to the utmost. We did not land until July 24, but as early as June 11 Pete Mitscher's Task Force 58 stood off Tinian and started its task of methodically reducing Japanese defenses as soon as they were discovered.
From Saipan, just across the narrow strait, our Corps artillery joined in this saturation of Tinian. Our 155's--Long Toms and howitzers--were able to range over more than half of the entire island, while smaller guns reached some targets. Starting with a single battalion, we increased the weight of our armament until the bombardment reached its crescendo with 13 battalions of 155's and 105's pounding Tinian from the south shore of Saipan.
The Japanese garrison tasted the bitterness of death before it overtook them. For six weeks not a day passed without a naval bombardment or an air strike, and for three weeks Corps artillery on Saipan was never silent. For the first time, we used a new secrete weapon, the napalm-gasoline incendiary bomb, which destroyed canefields and the cover which hid defenses. These attacks were the basis of a painstaking, unhurried plan to knock out all observable targets and thus prepare Tinian for our landing as no other island had been prepared. We were resolved that there would be no repetition of our Tarawa or saipan experiences, where we suffered form lack of preliminary preparation and lost heavily in consequence.
Our singular success at Tinian lay in the boldness of the landing. The Japanese outfoxed us at Kiska; we completely outfoxed
them at Tinian and vindicated the soundness of the most unorthodox plan of assault ever attempted in the Pacific. We sneaked in the back door, uninvited and unexpected, while the Japanese waited for us at the front door. Surprise, fatal to Japanese mentality, threw them completely off balance.
The best--in fact, the only--beaches on the island lay along the southwest coast of Tinian, in the vicinity of its capital, Tinian Town. Here stretched several thousand yards of exactly the type of beach where an amphibious landing of any magnitude could be expected. No others along the coast offered such conditions. Therefore, it was here that the enemy concentrated his strength.
Hills and ridges around the town formed a natural amphitheater overlooking the sea and offered ideal terrain for defense. Colonel Ogata exploited these physical features by fortifying the hills and protecting the beaches with mines and underwater obstructions. Landing on such beaches and trying to force a way up the hills in the face of enemy fire would have been as futile as the charge of the Light Brigade.[*]
Studying the problem from Saipan, we concluded it was feasible land, not at Tinian Town, but directly across the strait on the northwest coast. This plan had numerous advantages. We could embark the assault forces, load equipment and supplies on Saipan, and cross the three mile strait like a river, without the complicated organization of an amphibious force. Instead of being a ship-to-shore operation in its initial phases, Tinian would thus become a shore-to-shore operation, like Normandy and many of those undertaken in the Mediterranean and the Southwest Pacific.
Even before I left Pearl Harbor for the Marianas, I had my eye on two small beaches on the northwest coast of Tinian. When I say "small," I mean infinitesimal in comparison with the wide areas we generally utilized. These beaches--named White Beach One and White Beach Two for the operation--were respectively 65 and 130 yards wide. To land one Marine division we normally required 4,000 yards, not 200, and at first the problem of channelling two divisions, the Fourth and the
[* Which, of course, succeeded. It was only the failure of the Heavy Cavalry and Infantry to follow through with support of the Light Brigade that turned this spectacular feat into a defeat. --HyperWar]
Second, plus thousands of tons of equipment and supplies, through this narrow door seemed insoluble.
On closer inspection from Saipan the problem diminished. With only three miles of water to cross form our staging base, instead of the thousands of miles were generally travelled to our objectives, it seemed a workable plan to disregard the meagerness of the landing beaches and move swiftly ashore before the enemy was alerted. Firmly established, we would not be dislodged.
If these beaches could be used, I decided that the north was where we should land, and I staked my reputation on the results of reconnaissance. Captain James L. Jones, of our V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Battalion, took his men ashore in rubber boats on two after-dark missions and examined enemy positions and beach conditions at Tinian Town and at the two points I had suggested across the strait from Saipan. Abandoning their boats 400 yards from the beach, the men swam ashore undetected by Japanese working parties or patrols. Jones returned, with no casualties--as was surprisingly the usual case in these daring ventures--and reported that Tinian Town beach was heavily mined and strewn with underwater obstructions, and that the area was strongly fortified.
On the other hand, he reported, White Beach One and White Beach Two were suitable for a rapid landing in spite of their size and that they were only lightly defended. Lieutenant Commander Draper L.F.Kauffman, USNR, in command of our Underwater Demolition Team, confirmed this report after he and his men also had reconnoitered the beaches.
Before I relinquished command of the V Amphibious Corps, I submitted the White Beach One and White Beach Two landing plan to Kelly Turner and he dismissed it with the observation that it was impracticable. That summation touched off a chain of bitter argument on the subject, because I considered it eminently practicable, since it possessed the essential element of surprise and bypassed one of the most formidable beaches in the Pacific. Our session on board the Rocky Mount generated considerable unprintable language. In essence, Turner based his objections on the limited size of the beaches.
"You can't possibly land two divisions on those beaches," he insisted. "You need ten times that amount of room to get the men ashore. Let me tell you what will happen. The Japs will move in on you before you get all your men ashore and then you will be in a jam!
"Suppose the weather goes: against you? And it looks like it will. What would you do then? The only feasible beaches are at Tinian Town, and that's where we are going to land."
Intelligence reports had described in detail the defense preparations the Japanese had stacked up in their fortified amphitheater at Tinian Town. If we attempted a landing there, as Kelly Turner insisted, it would be suicide.
"If we go ashore at Tinian Town," I told him, "we'll have another Tarawa. Sure as hell The Japs will murder us. What's more, we probably will be repulsed, and that will upset our entire timetable. What do you say to that?"
He said a great deal, and we went on in this vein for hours, but I countered all his arguments against my chosen beaches. I pointed out that, while we would run into the full force of Japanese resistance at Tinian Town, we could land practically unopposed in the north, make a right sweep in the rear of the town, where enemy strength was concentrated, and gain sufficient maneuver ground for a quick--and bloodless--operation.
Finally I extracted from Kelly Turner a promise that decision on the beaches would be deferred until we had the results of our reconnaissance. Armed with this report on beach conditions, I went back to the Rocky Mount and, in the face of this incontrovertible evidence, Turner reluctantly withdrew his objections. I have always felt that Admiral Spruance, the final authority, recognized the inherent soundness of my plan, and that his support finally swung the decision. I handed over the general plan to Harry Schmidt and he worked out the details.
The bitter recriminations over this shortcut to success on Tinian left me reflecting on the persistence of naval intransigence. I had just captured Saipan and was faced with the further responsibility of capturing Tinian, yet my judgment in a largely
military matter was subjected to naval expediency. Here was a concrete example of a military man of long and uniformly successful experience having his plans challenged by a naval officer who had never commanded troops ashore and failed to understand the principles of land warfare.
As it developed, through planning and not by happenstance, because we provided against all contingencies, including the weather, the landing exceeded expectations. To describe this unique shore-to-shore operation, which saved hundreds of American lives, I might use the simile of an inverted funnel. Through the narrow neck we poured the men, who emerged through the wide mouth and fanned out in the area beyond the beach. In this way we put ashore the entire Fourth Marine Division in nine hours, with only 15 killed. By nightfall on July 24, we held a front 4,000 yards long and 2,000 yards deep, strong enough to resist the Japanese counterattack and break the back of enemy power the very first night.
Altogether, we put 42,000 men with complete equipment, artillery, trucks, tanks and supplies, across these narrow beaches in the next few days. This was no mean feat, considering that the weather did turn against us.
The superiority of this shore-to-shore attack was that it largely dispensed with transports and the laborious, time-wasting process of loading and unloading. Landing craft carrying troops went directly from Saipan to Tinian. Amtracks and DUKW's loaded on Saipan, crossed the strait, and made for inland sites predesignated as dumps, thereby obviating unloading on the beach and reloading for transportation inland. To facilitate the movement of tanks, artillery and other heavy equipment up the steep beaches, the ingenious Seabees constructed pontoon causeways and special ramps, and when the heavy swell predicted by the Navy did appear, it made little difference to us.
This landing on such a narrow area might have been blocked if the Japanese had guessed our design. But nothing went wrong as we fed the men through the narrow funnel neck onto the beach. From an exhaustive study of the situation, I knew that the Japanese did not have sufficient troops to defend
the western and northern beaches, and reconnaissance definitely showed that most of the garrison was immobilized in the rear of the Tinian Town area.
And besides, we took no chances. Rear Admiral Harry Hill, commanding the Navy support force, ostentatiously kept most of his ships off Tinian Town and concentrated fire on that area. To strengthen the illusion that we intended landing on the "logical" beaches, the Second Division staged a feint, which apparently was convincing to the enemy. Two runs were made within 400 yards of the beach and our landing craft received heavy fire before returning to the transports for re-embarkation. By this time the Japanese were certain that Tinian Town was our objective, and that our initial assault was a failure.
Meanwhile, we got ashore in force on the northern beaches, in circumstances extremely confusing to the Japanese. In addition to the powerful demonstration off Tinian Town, which indicated one thing to their puzzled minds, a heavy bombardment covered the northern area and disguised our real intention, which was something quite different. More than 200 planes were available to support the attack, and, added to our 13 battalions of artillery blasting away from Saipan, were three battleships, three heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, sixteen destroyers, and thirty gunboats.
The Japanese discovered our ruse too late. During the night of July 24, the garrison commander rushed up his troops to meet us in the north, but by that time we were well dug in and waiting for him. The battle that night and early the next morning sealed the fate of Tinian. The enemy attack was not a banzai charge. It was a well coordinated movement, but our line was strong and integrated. This strong beachhead line was an essential feature of the plan.
Ogata's night attack was directed at several points in our line, and the Fourth Division was ready for everything. Troops with bazookas were stationed at likely tank crossings; 37b mm. guns were emplaced all along the line with cannister and antipersonnel shells; machine guns covered fire lanes and out artillery was alerted. The most serious threat came down a narrow-
gauge railroad, led by six tanks, five of which we knocked out; the sixth escaped but was destroyed the next day.
The 24th Marines (Colonel Franklin A. Hart) bore the brunt of the night attack.Thrown back, the Japanese reorganized on higher ground at 0100 and struck at the juncture of the 25th and the 24th Regiments. Several hundred broke through and reformed in a swamp which was not covered by our machine guns. From the swamp they split into two parties, one of which aimed at our artillery positions, where artillerymen lowered their muzzles, fired pointblank and routed the frenzied mob, now stirred to banzai pitch.
For four hours, the 24th fought another group, wiping them out with mortar, machine gun and rifle fire in the light of flares, while artillery cut off their retreat. It was one of the fiercest nights in the Pacific war and also one of the most decisive. Twelve hundred Japanese bodies were counted along the Division front at daybreak and another 700 to 800 were estimated to have been carried away by their comrades. Nearly a quarter of the Japanese garrison was killed that night, thus deciding the ultimate result of the battle.
With our 4,00-yard beachhead secured, the Second Division landed and took over the eastern zone. The two divisions advanced abreast down the island, making from two to four miles' progress a day, over terrain admirably suited to the employment of tanks, artillery and infantry. There were excellent roads, along which heavy equipment could be moved, and the Second Division's capture of Airfield Number One, near Ushi Point, one of the three airfields we too, enabled planes from Isely Field, Saipan, to operate almost immediately.
Other factors likewise made our advance rapid. The Fourth and Second Divisions had just completed the capture of Saipan and were well trained, confident and eager to force a quick decision. The assault on Tinian took place two weeks after the capture of Saipan but those weeks were no rest period, Surcease, you might call it, but not rest.
It was a period devoted to reorganization, replenishment of equipment and training for the Tinian operation. We had the
men on tip-toe all the time. They had to be kept up to battle pitch so that when they were thrown into action again they retained their zest and offensive spirit. One big problem in rehabilitating men back in Hawaii, after an operation involving weeks of idleness on shipboard, was to restore this offensive spirit, but at Tinian we had no such problem.
Another factor was intelligence. We knew practically everything there was no know about Tinian. No troops ever landed on a hostile shore knowing their objective as well as we did. From Saipan, we maintained daily air reconnaissance and studied terrain features and enemy defenses through powerful telescopes. Unit commanders were flown over the objective island to familiarize themselves with the details. Divisional commanders, general staff officers and on down to battalion commanders made frequent flights and supplemented our maps and the information we had gained from enemy documents captured on Saipan. This was a new procedure in amphibious war.
Tinian Town, originally strongly defended from the sea, was captured with only slight resistance after its garrison had been decimated and scattered during our advance to the south. A score of enemy strongpoints also fell into our hands with relative ease. A tank-led counterattack against the 24th Marines, on July 31, was the last show of strength. After that, enemy resistance dissipated, and the remnants of the garrison fled into the caves studding the formidable ridge and cliff south of the town.
Our last overwhelming demonstration of fire superiority involved that ridge and cliff. Nineteen warships, including two battleships, 112 planes and eleven battalions of artillery, shelled and bombed the rocky points before the infantry jumped off in the final attack against the remaining enemy, whom the Marines wiped out with flame throwers, demolition charges, rifles and machine guns. By August 1, the island was declared secured, and two days later the Stars and Stripes was raised officially.
Although we gained a military victory when we drove the few remaining soldiers into the southern caves, it was only then that the battle started for the lives of 13,00 civilians. Terrified men, women and children hid in the hundreds of caves with the
soldiers, apparently waiting for death with oriental fatalism. We sent out a jeep, equipped with a load speaker, and broadcast appeals urging the civilians to come down from the 200-foot cliff and we would give them water, food and medical attention. A handful emerged and entered our lines but thousands more did not budge.
Among the few who came to use were the superintendent of the sugar refinery at Tinian and his wife.He offered to speak to his people and, most unexpectedly for a shy Japanese woman, his wife followed his example. A few more civilians responded to this joint assurance that the Americans were keeping their promises,but even then our efforts were not substantially rewarded.
by one of those strange acts of fate, the Japanese soldiers themselves set off the final stampede that saved thousands of civilians from death. While we were calling to them to come down from the cliff, puffs of smoke and sounds of explosions in the caves told us that suicides had started again. Suddenly, one soldier marched to the edge of the cliff and jumped into the sea. Another followed . . . and another. The pattern was repeated for an hour while the Marines looked on helplessly, hoping that the unfortunate civilians would not be led to that horrible death by the fanaticism of so many samurai-stimulated Pied Pipers.
The tragedy that broke the evil spell occurred when a party of Japanese soldiers roped 40 or 50 civilians together and threw a hand grenade among them. Explosives buried in the ground blew the group to pieces. It was a barbaric performance, designed to terrorize the people into joining the death ceremony, but instead, they concluded that even the Americans, represented in Army propaganda as torturers of Japanese prisoners,could not be so cruel as their own people. The civilians ran for their lives, dragging their children and carrying their feeble old people.
By August 12, we were taking care of 13,000 civilians, half of whom were Japanese, the balance, Chamorro natives of the Marianas. Major General J.L. Underhill, USMC, was appointed Island Commander, and under him civil affairs progressed far better than at Saipan, where our lack of experience and personnel
trained in handling alien civilian populations had created an unsatisfactory situation during the early days of the occupation.
Tinian, the perfect landing operation, continued on a high scale of civilian administration. Fortunately a number of houses were still habitable, for which the Japanese and "unclassified" men, women and children proved appreciative and cooperative. General Underhill assembled a competent staff to administer Camp Churo, where we established a school for 2,500 children. The internees had their own trade store and their own "live" theater, where a troupe from Okinawa, caught on Tinian on J-day, produced plays that belonged, for robust humor, with those of Elizabethan days. I am convinced that the civilians we saved and cared for on Tinian met the peace with a deep conviction that American democracy works.
Our assault on Tinian preceded the invasion of Guam by three days, and until Tinian was captured these two operations were fought simultaneously.
When I assumed the position of Commanding General, FMF, Pacific, and turned over command of the V Amphibious Corps and Northern attack troops to Harry Schmidt, I still retained command of the Expeditionary Troops in the Marianas, and in this capacity I commuted between Saipan and Guam. The new command gave me more freedom of action, and I no longer was restricted to one phase of a three-phase operation, as I was in the Gilberts. I could move as I chose and as circumstances required.
Historically, Guam was the most important operation we had undertaken because it was our first reconquest (except Attu) of American territory. Guam is the biggest island of the Marianas, 30 miles long and from 4 to 8 miles wide, and was the largest Central Pacific land mass we had invaded.
Guam became an American possession in 1898, after the Spanish-American War. Spain sold the other Marianas islands to Germany, and Japan's participation in World War I resulted in her seizure of these German holdings, which the League of Nations later awarded her under mandate. As our original interest
in the Marianas was confined to Guam, we found ourselves isolated in a chain administered by the nation we in the Marine Corps felt would be our enemy.
The island's only prewar importance was as a minor naval station and coaling base en route to the Philippines,. Never was Guam considered a distant outpost of American power. It was administered by the Navy, which appointed a Governor, and the Marine Corps provided a small garrison stationed at Sumay, a village on the Orote Peninsula overlooking Apra Harbor. More recently, Guam had become a station for Pan-American Airways' trans-Pacific planes. Beyond these factors our interest was academic, since Congress was never convinced that we should fortify the island. The only positive result of our acquisition of Guam was a growing sense of responsibility for the Guamanians, who thrived under our democratic system and, despite other Government Departments' criticism of Naval Administration, bravely demonstrated their loyalty when the japanese seized the island after Pearl Harbor.
Contrasting with our pre-battle information about Tinian, our knowledge of our former possession was almost less than we knew of the most secret Japanese islands. Although the Navy had administered Guam for 40 years, scant information was available regarding military possibilities or terrain features. Little effort, except by a Marine reconnaissance officer in 1936, had been made to explore Guam from a military point of view in case we had to fight for it. Few attempts had been made to collect and record the data required for its defense. I believe our forces had similar difficulties when we re-entered the Philippines late in 1944.
Duty on Guam was somnolent retirement for Navy officers, overcome by the heat and far from the beaten track. The one energetic Navy commander who made his mark on Guam was a product of the Captain Bligh era, who confounded the carefree Guamanians by making it an offense, punishable by fine, to whistle in the streets of the capital, Agana.
Our only up-to-date first-hand information when we landed came from beach reconnaissance and air photographs, which was
not too extensive because a large portion of Guam is covered by thick jungle.
Roy Geiger was entrusted with its recapture of Guam. His troops were the Third Marine Division, the First Provisional Marine Brigade and the Seventy-seventh Army Division. The Marine Brigade was particularly interested, since it was a composite force of Marine units assembled before the Fifth Division was organized. Most of the men were veteran fighters of long service in the South Pacific. The Brigade included four former Raider battalions, who had landed on numerous South Pacific islands. Originally incorporated into the 1st Raider Regiment, these battalions were reorganized into the 4th Marines--designation of the famous China Marines, who had been captured on Corregidor in 1942. With the addition of the 22nd Marines, veterans of Eniwetok, they composed the 1st Provisional Brigade.
In reality, Guam was two independent campaigns. Apra Harbor, on the west coast, bounded on the north by the low Cabra Island and on the south by the rocky promontory, Orote Point, was the focal point of attack. The Third Division landed north of the harbor and the First Brigade and the Seventy-seventh Army Division south of the harbor, separated by a distance of about five miles. We planned a pincer movement, with the northern and southern arms enclosing the harbor area and Orote Peninsula, where the Japanese were positioned in considerable force.
The Japanese were no better organized on Guam than we had been. Their garrison was a polyglot force. Like our own administration, the Navy took control when the Japanese seized the island, but, with war on, the Tokyo General Staff started pouring in large numbers of Army troops, although Guam defenses were starved by our submarines and by the same priorities that crippled Saipan--the enemy's belief that after the Marshalls we would strike at the Palaus or the Philippines.
Captured documents revealed that the Japanese originally intended to garrison Guam with the Thirteenth Division from Manchuria. Forward echelons of these seasoned troops actually arrived, but eventually the Army troops assigned here were drawn
from the Twenty-ninth Division. We did not discover why the Thirteenth never arrived from Manchuria.
Our G-2 advanced the suggestion that the entire convoy transporting the division had been sunk by our submarines, but a sudden change in conditions in China or Manchuria probably caused the Japanese to alter their plans for the Thirteenth.
Guam's garrison was estimated at 18,000, headed by Lieutenant General Sho Takashima, a subordinate unit of Lieutenant General Saito, late commander of the 31st Army on Saipan. Most of these troops came from Manchuria and their scattered designations showed how hurriedly they had been shipped to Guam. Supporting the Twenty-ninth Division were elements of the Eleventh Division, under Major General Toyoshi Shigematsu.
Our two assault forces went ashore on July 21, after long and sustained preparation. An astronomical number of shells were dropped and most of the observed Japanese defenses were knocked out. "Close-in" Conolly, the Admiral who had prepared Roi-Namur so admirably for the Fourth Marine Division, had worked over Guam with the same thoroughness which had made Marines thank him in the Marshalls.
The Third Division, under Major General Allen H. Turnage, landed north of Apra Harbor, with the 3rd Marines on the left, the 21st in the center and the 9th on the right. Down the center of Guam runs a ridge with half a dozen peaks over 1,000 feet high, although the ridge is severed by passes. The 3rd ran into difficulties as soon as they landed. From the ridge, Chonito Cliff projected into the sea. This cliff was a dangerous enemy stronghold, supported by deadly fire from the reverse face of the ridge.
While the 21st moved inland with appreciable speed and the 9th, on the right flank, made rapid progress toward the southern end of the ridge and Piti Navy Yard, our prewar station on Apra Harbor, the 3rd made no progress whatsoever. Terrific mortar and machine gun fire from the ridge kept the men pinned down, and, although they lost no ground, our general position north of the harbor deteriorated because the 3rd was unable to advance.
On the southern front, below Apra Harbor, Brigadier General
Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr.'s Provisional Brigade landed against heavy opposition and moved deliberately northward across the neck of Orote Peninsula, to pen in and destroy the enemy garrison of 4,000 occupying this well fortified rocky finger, with a ready-made airfield waiting for us to seize and operate. Following the Marine Brigade,the Seventy-seventh Infantry Division (Major General Bruce, AUS), held as floating reserve, moved in and started to cross Guam from the east.
The capture of Orote Peninsula was, in some respects, the outstanding accomplishment of the Guam campaign. Relying on their old theory of static defense, the Japanese had converted the long, tapering rock into a fortress. But it could not withstand the weight of naval and air bombardment and the pressure we put on as Shepherd's veteran fighters advanced over difficult terrain, through intricate defenses, doggedly routing out the Japanese and killing them.
Offshore stood Conolly's supporting fleet, which never missed an opportunity to give use gunfire whenever and wherever it was requested. Air strikes came as frequently as showers in April.
Had the Japanese elected to surrender Orote and concentrate their forces elsewhere, instead of diverting a quarter of their garrison to a fortified rock where we could concentrate the full force of our armament, the story of Guam might have been different. But they made their choice, and five days after we started the all-out attack on the peninsula Orote was ours.
While Shepherd was fighting for Orote, the Seventy-seventh, coming in behind the Marine Brigade, remained almost stationary instead of extending across the island on the right of the brigade, and the Third Division, with its left flank anchored at the foot of Chonito Cliff, was still trying to punch its way out of the Agat cul-de-sac. It was worrying me that the Third and the Seventy-seventh Divisions were not taking a more aggressive action.
At this time I was at Guam on board the Rocky Mount with Kelly Turner, although Dick Conolly directed the operation from his command ship, the USS Appalachian. I conferred with
Roy Geiger and then went over to the USS Indianapolis to discuss matters with Spruance, to whom I had revealed by dissatisfaction. On July 24, taking Mac Asbill with me, I went ashore to visit the Third Division's beachhead.
Accompanied by Turnage, I inspected the Division's front line,which was still being held a short distance inland from the beach. The 3rd Regiment was dug in but I could see no evidence of Japanese in front of them. Actually, the enemy was in very considerable force on the reverse side of the ridge, running beyond Agana. The situation did not please me.
As a result of postponements of W-day on Guam owing to the unexpected strength of the Saipan defenses, the troops had been kept for many weeks on board transports, doing nothing, just killing time and resenting the delay. The inactivity and close confinement on board ship probably had taken their toll of the men. A long period of such idleness can play hell with combat efficiency.
That night I returned to Tinian on the Rocky Mount, eager to see how the battle was going on the first day. To my delight, and exactly as I had anticipated, we had slipped in through the small northern beaches and were spreading all over the island, almost unopposed.
Reports from Guam continued to be worrisome.The situation on the left flank at Chonito Cliff stall dragged. A week elapsed, and the Third Division had been unable to progress at that particular point, thus retarding any movement by the Seventy-seventh on the right. I sent a dispatch to Geiger directing him to take more offensive action. On July 28, I returned to Guam with Spruance on board the Indianapolis and again immediately went ashore, where Geiger had established his III Corps Headquarters.
With Roy Geiger, I called on the commander of the Seventy-seventh, Major General Bruce, at his headquarters. This Division had landed without opposition in the rear of the First Marine Brigade and moved through rough country to a position on the right of the Third Division. I was very much impressed by Bruce and his men and I felt that they would give an excellent account
of themselves when Geiger decided that the time was ripe to move forward. When the Seventy-seventh did move, it moved fast.
The Seventy-seventh was a raw division, with no previous combat experience, but it showed combat efficiency to a degree one would expect only of veteran troops. Its aggressive patrolling, its close coordination with other units, and its superior conduct of assigned missions gave evidence of a high order of training, fine leadership and high morale.
Back at III Corps headquarters, Geiger and I discussed the situation, and I told him frankly that, although I had no desire to interfere with his plan of action, I thought that the time had come for a general movement to capture the remainder of the island now that Orote Peninsula and Apra Harbor were in our possession.
Geiger replied that before he moved his troops forward across Guam in a general attack he wanted to make sure Shepherd had cleaned up Orote, which would give us the use of an airfield we badly needed and also release the First Brigade for further employment.
I definitely disagreed with this line of reasoning, but I was restrained from making an overruling objection because that would have been undue interference in Geiger's command. However, I did express the opinion that, having contacted the enemy, we must keep after him, keep the pressure on hard and keep him on the run.
It was perfectly apparent to me that Shepherd and his magnificent Brigade would finish Orote without delay and that the Third and Seventy-seventh Divisions should be directed to advance immediately. The company commanders I had interviewed all said that was exactly what they were waiting to do when the command was given.
The last contact with the enemy in strength--although we didn't know at the time how strong he was--had occurred two days previously. For some reason, the counterattack generally launched on the first night of a landing had not come. Minor attacks were made at various points in our line but no serious
effort to push us off the island developed until the predawn hours of July 26.
The first indication that the Japanese were moving came from heavy mortar and artillery fire on our extreme left flank. Then the main body struck at our center, in the Third Division zone, held by the 21st Marines. We learned later that this was one of the best organized and strongest counterattacks the Japanese ever made. Several groups participated, covered by mortar and artillery fire. These groups filed down mountain trails and through ravines. The flares we threw up, once we were alerted, mingled with their own flares to create an eerie, floodlit scene, with smoke, shell-blasts and machine gun flashes stabbing the shadows. The leading attack party appeared on the cliff overlooking our artillery positions and rolled down explosives on the guns below.
It was a night of bitter, exhausting fighting because the enemy came out of the darkness from all sides, in apparently unending streams. A number infiltrated our lines and in a major breakthrough penetrated a gap between the 21st Regiment and the 9th, necessitating a determined counterattack to repair the damage to our position.
Japanese sneaked in by twos and threes and, gathering forces, started to attack a battalion Command Post, but were routed by cooks, bakers, and clerks, hurriedly transformed into combat troops. Another party crept up to the division hospital and was wiped out by MP's, headquarters clerks and Marine combat correspondents, aided by the wounded, who jumped out of their cots, snatched up carbines, and joined in the fighting. Those incidents, however, were mere sideshows to the main battle, in which our artillery blazed all night.
The invaders were loaded down with explosives, indicating they intended to break through our lines, force their way to the sea, and destroy our supply dumps on the beach. Two Japanese actually did reach Piti Navy Yard and were killed by patrols. This is as far as they ever did get.
When daylight came the attack had ended, and survivors were on the retreat along the paths they had come. Only then
did we realize how strong the enemy had been and what carnage our artillery had spread. Thousands of Japanese bodies were scattered along the trails, in the undergrowth and over the hillsides. We discovered that, instead of a banzai charge, this had been a coordinated attack by at least six battalions, the largest number ever used by the Japanese in a single counterattack against us. Our losses were light and in the morning the men of the Third Marine Division started at each other in amazement when they saw the slaughter of the night. Without knowing it at the time, the Third Division, veteran of just such jungle actions at Bougainville, had broken the back of the Japanese forces on Guam.
In retrospect, this stands out as the most important of all enemy counterattacks on Guam. None did a great deal of damage, and they actually shortened the campaign, because they enabled us to meet the enemy face to face instead of compelling us to dig him out of ravines and jungles. Of all the campaigns fought in the Central Pacific, Guam provided the Japanese with the thickest cover of impenetrability for, after the capture of rocky Orote, it was almost impossible to see them in the jungles unless they emerged in numbers bent on counterattack.
Orote was secured on July 31, and Geiger gave the command for a general advance. The picture changed rapidly. The long deadlock that gripped the left flank at Chonito was broken, and the Third and the Seventy-seventh Divisions abreast started a rapid march up the narrow neck of the island. Agana, the badly damaged but still partially habitable capital, was in our hands by August 2. This gave the Guamanian population a tremendous lift. They streamed happily into the streets by the thousands, the women wearing pathetic finery saved during the long, dark years of Japanese occupation for the day of liberation. The Brigade moved in on the left flank of the line, and our forces reached the northern cliffs on August 10.
Before the final advance, there was some doubt about the whereabouts of the Japanese. Had they gone south or north? Marine patrols probed the southern part of the island and returned with a negative report; there, we drove north. When
the attack order was given, we lost contact with the enemy except for minor groups. Our troops raced so fast up the island that our divisional artillery was forced to displace position five times in two weeks, which, while nothing notable in a land mass battle, was something to talk about in the assault on an island.
It was tough driving through the rocky volcanic ridges and thick jungles at the speed we developed. The balance of the campaign was as much a bulldozer's as a fighter's job because we had to insure supplies and passage of tanks and artillery across country almost devoid of roads. Often, the bulldozer was well ahead of the combat troops, and developed a rugged personality all its own. The roar of the bulldozer as it tore up palm trees and dug out rocks was as familiar as the noise of gunfire. Chonito Cliff, the rock that held up the Third Marines for eight days, was levelled for road material, and in the development of Guam as a base the bulldozer became a symbol of American efficiency.
It was a proud day for me when, standing with Spruance, Turner, Geiger, Shepherd, Turnage, Erskine and other officers, I saw the Stars and Stripes raised over the site of the former Marine Barracks at Sumay, on Orote Peninsula. Only a heap of rubble remained of the old two-story building,but as the flag broke in the bright Guamanian sunshine our presence was a vindication by the Corps of its motto, "Semper Fidelis," that had brought Marines back to Guam to avenge the 150 men the Japanese had captured after Pearl Harbor.
The battle of Guam did not end when we drove the remnant of the enemy garrison over the northern cliffs. At Saipan, we killed 7,783 Japanese in the first month following the islands' capture. At Guam, we killed 6,276 Japanese in the first three months following our official declaration that the island was secured. Guam yielded a large number of prisoners who lived precariously in the jungle. Occasionally they ambushed small parties, raided our supply dumps, or pilfered from the Guamanians, until they finally routed out by Marine patrols or responded to loud speaker appeals to surrender.[*] Pleas by well fed, co-operative prisoner volunteers from the stockade in Agana brought
[* Some individuals managed to hold out in the jungles until the 1970's --HyperWar]
in hundreds. Colonel Howard Stent, in charge of psychological warfare on Guam, was responsible for this campaign.
As recently as the summer of 1947, a Japanese major and a number of men he had kept intact as a force since the island fell three years before, was at liberty on Guam until a message over the loud speaker convinced him that Japan had surrendered and the war was over.
The capture of the Marianas had cost us 25,500 casualties, of which 4,678 were killed; but we in turn accounted for 56,000 Japanese. We provided the nation with bases which proved their value during the remainder of the war and will be a guarantee of our Pacific security in the future.
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