OOUR SWIFT seizure of the Marshalls gave us in the Central Pacific a momentum we never lost. The time saved enabled us to revise our strategical concept of the situation and advance our timetable six months. The attack on the next group of islands blocking our way to Tokyo, the Marianas, originally was contemplated as the concluding phase of the 1944 program. But it became possible in the summer of that year, and additionally, in the fall, we were able to undertake the important Palau operation and wipe out Japanese resistance in the Western Carolines.
[Saipan · "Smith vs. Smith"]
In the overall plan for the year (GRANITE Plan), issued by CINCPAC in January, 1944, the mid-summer target was Truk, the naval and air base in the Central Carolines, guarding the southern and eastern approaches to Japan. Through its supposed strength, Truk had always been a nightmare, compelling us to build all our plans around this base. We considered Truk's capture necessary to protect our flank in the Marianas campaign.
By the middle of February, the target date of June 15 was set for the assault on Truk but by the middle of March the Truk plans were abandoned. In a series of powerful carrier strikes, the Navy exposed the vulnerability of this base by destroying Japanese air strength based there and by sinking a harborful of cargo ships.
Following our policy of bypassing all but essential strongholds, General MacArthur meanwhile advanced up the coast of New Guinea, establishing bases at Aitape and Hollandia. At the same time, Army and Navy forces seized the Admiralties and
Emirau, providing us with a chain of bases to ring Rabaul and put us safely within long-range bombing distance of Truk. The bogey vanished forever.
Hence the Marianas supplanted Truk as our next objective and we started planning the capture of Saipan and Tinian, the main Japanese islands in the group, the the recapture of the American island of Guam. By the end of March we received the final joint staff study from Admiral Nimitz and from then on planning proceeded rapidly at headquarters. This was the greatest opportunity the Marine Corps had been offered.
For the task of recapturing the Marianas, Operation FORAGER, Nimitz designated the III Marine Amphibious Corps, comprising the Third Division and the 1st Provisional Brigade, and the V Marine Amphibious Corps, comprising the Second Division and the Fourth Division, with the Twenty-seventh Army Division attached as reserve and the Seventy-seventh Army Division alerted in Hawaii as area reserve. Command of all expeditionary troops was given to me.
I cannot describe the exultation that swept through Marine ranks when it became known that for the first time we were to operate in the field as organic units instead of a joint command. We were a Marine field army, commanded by a Marine General, going into action independently against the Japanese, and the opportunity to enhance the prestige of the Marine Corps was so great that it stirred every man in my command. No more of that odious "secondary force" talk at the Naval War College. The Marine Corps had come of age.
Another development increased this feeling of pride. After Tarawa and the Marshalls, Spruance was promoted to Admiral and Turner to Vice Admiral but no recognition was made of the party played by the Marines. This omission stung our officers and enlisted men, who considered with some reason that they had done as much as the Navy to capture these islands, and that their action merited recognition.
Lieutenant General Vandegrift, who succeeded General Holcomb as Commandant of the Marine Corps, felt that his Corps had won the respect and admiration of the American people
and was entitled to a three-star General to lead the Marines in the Pacific.
My promotion to Lieutenant General had been recommended to Secretary of the Navy Knox by General holcomb, but Admiral King, COMINCH, replied that he was not prepared at that time to promote me. On assuming office as Commandant, Archer Vandegrift pressed the point and bolstered his arguments by citing the promotions of Spruance and Kelly Turner. Events were following the usual line. After the fest, the crumbs were given to the Marines--if there were any crumbs. King countered that Nimitz had not recommended me for promotion, but Vandegrift induced him to query the Admiral and find out what he thought. A dispatch came back with the recommendation.
In the meantime, I had written to the Commandant pointing out that the work of the Corps in the Pacific should be recognized by the promotion of a Marine General to the rank of Lieutenant General. I added that if King refused to promote me he should promote somebody else, and I would accede to my relief and return home. My idea was that a Marine Major General should be promoted, and I did not care who it was, provided the promotion was made and the Marine Corps accorded deserved recognition.
I do not know whether the Commandant forwarded this suggestion to King, but I did receive the promotion, and a personal letter from Secretary Knox, dated March 15, 1944, stated:
I want to be the first to congratulate you on your promotion to Lieutenant General. I have to be the first to know, because I have just signed your commission.
I am very proud of you and the way you have handled yourself in this war. You have certainly lived up in fine fashion to the highest traditions of the Marine Corps. This new promotion is a richly deserved recognition of the services you have rendered in a critically important combat area. I know that you are going on to further triumphs in the future.
Nobody can accuse the Marine Corps of being topheavy with brass. My promotion made only two Lieutenant Generals in the Corps, the other being the Commandant, who was promoted in
the South Pacific after Guadalcanal. Later, Vandegrift, was made a full general, and on retirement Harry Schmidt, Turnage and I received four stars. By COngressional action, the same rank was conferred posthumously on General Geiger. From now on, Commandants of the Corps also will rank as full Generals.
At the end of March, Major General Geiger, who commanded the III Amphibious Corps, flew up from Guadalcanal to Pearl Harbor and stayed with me at Makalapa. Roy geiger was a heavyset, bear-like and totally fearless man. He was someone who could only have happened in the Marine Corps. One of the pioneers from the box-kite days of Naval Aviation, he had flown and commanded almost every kind of aircraft or aviation unit that ever existed. Like all Marine officers, however, he had always kept his feet on the ground.
The outset of active operations in the Solomons found him in command of our air effort on Guadalcanal, directing and occasionally flying the strikes which broke the back of Japanese air in the Southern Solomons. Promoted after Guadalcanal, he was given one of the most important tactical group commands in the Marine Corps, namely, the III Amphibious Corps, and thus became my counterpart in the South Pacific. In this capacity he was to command the Bougainville, Peleliu and Guam operations (not to speak of leading his corps on Okinawa, and succeeding, after General Buckner's death, to command of the entire Okinawa battle). I imagine I am correct in asserting that no military aviator since the Wright brothers has ever exercised, quite interchangeably, such major air and ground commands, all in one war--nor is it likely to happen again, unless the Marine Corps and its aviation are allowed to continue unimpeded by inter-Service vendettas.
The ten days of Geiger's visit enabled us to work out with our joint staffs the important problems of the forthcoming operation, as well as the personal aspect of Marine participation. I emphasized the opportunity that lay before the Corps and cautioned Geiger to assume command ashore at Guam as soon as possible after the landing, in order to keep things moving.
For Operation FORAGER the troops were divided into two
groups, the Northern under the V Amphibious Corps, which I commanded, and the Southern under the III Amphibious Corps, commanded by Geiger. My targets were Saipan and Tinian. Geiger's was Guam.
I held the dual position of commanding all the expeditionary troops and also the subordinate Northern group. In addition to holding these two jobs, I had to provide two staffs. This ambiguity was straightened out later when the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, was formed and I was made Commanding General. Major General Harry Schmidt succeeded me as commander of the V Amphibious Corps.
Kelly Turner also served in a dual capacity. Under Spruance, who was overall boss of the operation as Fifth Fleet Commander, Turner was not only joint amphibious force commander but also director of the subordinate Northern attack force at Saipan and Tinian. Rear Admiral Conolly was his deputy at Guam. It was a tribute to the cooperative spirit among the top echelons that this complicated organization ran so smoothly.
The weeks before we sailed for the Marianas were consumed by planning and training. The V Corps held amphibious exercises in the Hawaiian area, culminating in a full-scale dress rehearsal. Down at Guadalcanal, Roy Geiger conducted similar exercises. Because of the limited time and the necessity for intensive training, preparation of orders proceeded simultaneously instead of through the normal chain of command, starting from CINCPAC and working down to the lowest echelon, so occasionally the first order was the last and the last was the first, but we avoided confusion by frequent conferences.
By this time the atmosphere at CINCPAC headquarters was brighter and more confident. The gloom that used to hang over the building and stalk the decks had begun to lift. Nimitz himself reflected the change. He had begun to realize that the Marines could take any island and take it quickly. He had only to name the target and he could cross it off the big map on the wall of his conference room.
After Tarawa, I could never understand the constant apprehension the Admiral displayed regarding the Pacific situation.
Neve4r an exuberant man, he could work up, in his quiet way, an extremely pessimistic mood. Nimitz had no reason to be alarmed. He was a lucky man. He had Bull Halsey and Ray Spruance, two of the greatest admirals in the world, commanding the Third and Fifth Fleets (actually the same fleet but changing designation with different commanders); he had Kelly Turner, a brilliant leader of amphibious forces afloat; he had Harry Hill, Spike Blandy, Dick Conolly and Ping Wilkinson, amphibious Admirals; he had Pete Mitscher, Slew McCain, Arthur Radford and a dozen other carrier Admirals, who could strike anywhere; he had Charlie Lockwood, whose submarines were sinking hundreds of thousands of tons of enemy shipping and crippling the Japanese fleet; and he had many excellent transport commanders.
In addition, he had four Marine divisions of the best amphibious troops in the world, all battle tested and of the highest morale, as well as a fifth division in the process of organization. The Japanese were on the run. Nimitz couldn't lose. He knew the Marines would win. If we didn't, he would probably be yanked out of his job and perhaps the Army would be in command. Admiral Nimitz was riding to fame on the shoulders of the Marines, so what did he have to worry about? But he did worry.
There were a number of reasons for our acquisition of the Marianas. Nimitz needed an advance naval base for the Fifth Fleet to attack and destroy Japanese sea communications and gain control of the sea in the Central Pacific. We needed air bases, from which we could isolate and neutralize enemy-held islands in the Central Carolines. And we needed bases, in official language, to "initiate very long-range air attacks on Japan." By this we meant,speaking very guardedly at the time, bases for B029 raids. I saw my first B-29 and Hickham Field before we left Hawaii for Saipan.
These giant, long-range bombers were coming off the production line in large quantities. They were our new "secret weapon." All that we needed to use them against the enemy was airfields within their effective bombing range. The Marianas provided
the answer because the nearest of the three main islands--Guam, Saipan and Tinian--was only 1,250 nautical miles from the shores of Japan.
The target date for Saipan, our first objective in the Marianas, was set for June 15. I left Pearl Harbor on Kelly Turner's I left Pearl Harbor on Kelly Turner's command ship, the USS Rocky Mount, on May 29, with the major elements of the Northern group. Slower groups had sailed a few days earlier and the majority of reserve troops left two days later.
A few days before I sailed an explosion blew up one of our ships, an LST, and damaged six others, destroying a considerable amount of equipment. At first we suspected sabotage by enemy agents among Hawaii's predominantly Japanese population but investigation entirely disproved this theory. The explosion was an accident and the losses were quickly replaced.
Roy Geiger's Southern group left Guadalcanal on May 5 for Kwajalein which, with Eniwetok, was the staging base for the operation. This spreadover of dates was dictated by the magnitude of the task. FORAGER was by far the largest operation we had yet undertaken and involved great problems of troop assembly and logistics. For Saipan alone we had to transport 78,000 men and 100,000 tons of supplies from Hawaii. The Fifth Fleet, commanded by Spruance, was the largest ever assembled in the Pacific. More than 550 ships were used to transport, land, cover and support the expeditionary troops.
Equipping the expedition was a mammoth task. Supplies necessary to support the two Corps had to be transported from Pearl Harbor and form the United States. Ships had to be loaded so that equipment and supplies were available when needed for combat, and garrison equipment had to be stored meticulously so that base development could proceed once the island was captured. We had developed combat loading to an exact science since Tarawa.
Saipan was smoking when we arrived off the island at dawn on June 15. For three and a half days, Task Force 58 had subjected not only Saipan but Guam, Tinian, and two smaller islands, Rota and Pagan, to an intensive carrier and surface bombardment,
followed by a specific bombardment of the landing beaches and installations on the southwest coast of Saipan. Minesweepers cleared the waters in the vicinity and the newly organized demolition teams went into action, removing beach obstacles in preparation for the landing.
By attacking the Northern Marianas we gained strategical and, to a lesser degree, tactical surprise. Even our pre-landing bombardment did not convey our real purpose to the Japanese immediately. They believed the shelling to be routine, similar to previous visitations of the Navy. According to information obtained by our G-2, the Japanese General Staff were convinced that the Palau Islands or the Philippines would be the next American objective after the Marshalls. Proceeding on this assumption, defenses in these areas were strengthened at the expense of the Marianas.
Although the Japanese had occupied Saipan for thirty years, very little in the way of fortifications had been built. When war started in the Pacific, an elaborate plan of fortifications was drawn up for Saipan but Tokyo brushed it aside in favor of other priorities. Such supplies as were shipped there were largely lost through American submarine and carrier action and when it was decided to rush through a six-month intensive program to make the island "impregnable"--the Japanese were very fond of this word--it was too late.
Captured documents showed the Japanese chief of staff on Saipan complained to Tokyo as recently as two weeks before we landed about the lack of matériel that kept his men "standing around with their arms folded." Not more than twenty-five percent of their program was completed at the time of our attack. We found coastal defense guns up to 200 mm. crated, or uncrated and not installed, and large quantities of equipment and matériel waiting to be used.
From a military point of view, the problem we faced at Saipan was different from that of any other island. It was a conquest of what is known technically as a "limited land mass," which means that we had to make an amphibious landing to secure a beachhead and then fight a land campaign of uncertain duration.
Saipan is twelve miles long and six miles wide. It is a coral island, distorted by volcanic action into a series of high ridges and deep ravines running from the 1,554-foot Mount Tapotchau in the center and levelling out into a wooded plateau at the northern end and into lowlands in the south.
What the Japanese lacked in planned fortifications they made up by cleverly exploiting the natural features of the island. At points of advantage on the central mountains and the ridges they emplaced well defiladed artillery and mortars, which bore upon the landing beaches. They resisted our advance from every cliff, cave and cranny in which they could hide with a rifle, a machine gun or, in some cases, field pieces which they dragged in and out of their caves. Obviously, what we had learned at Guadalcanal, Tarawa and the Marshalls was little use here, and no classic principles of land warfare could be applied. Saipan could only mean one thing: a savage battle of annihilation.
Our landing was the most advanced mechanical demonstration we had ever made in the Pacific. We had 800 amphibious vehicles (LVT's)--troop-carrying tractors, tanks armed with 75 mm. howitzers and 37 mm.l guns, and the new LVT(4)'s, a model with a back-dropping ramp that unloaded our artillery directly ashore. We had enough of these vehicles to land 8,000 men in twenty minutes from LST's (Landing Ship, Tank), standing at the reef. In addition, we had a battalion of Army DUKW's.
Alternative landing plans had been prepared but the beaches lending themselves best to our purposes lay north and south of Charan-Kanoa, a sugar refinery village on the edge of the west coast canefields. A A fleet of small gunboats, armed with 20 and 40 mm. guns, delivered close support fire on the beaches, aided by the new rocket gunboats, which shot out projectiles like whole batteries of five-inch guns fired at once.
Spearheaded by armored amphibian tractors, which gave the Japanese their first sight of these new machines, the Marines hit the beach at 0843 on June 15, the Fourth Division (Major General Harry Schmidt) on the right and the Second Division (Major General Thomas E. Watson), on the left. The first three
waves in amtracks got ashore with little opposition but the following waves ran into the full force of Japanese resistance.
The Japanese held their fire until this moment and then poured a terrific volume on the reef and on the beach, inflicting heavy casualties, knocking out tractors and causing much confusion. Fire from the ridges behind the village was sustained and accurate, registering on target flags fixed on the reef. Casualties among the key personnel of some outfits were particularly high. One Second Division battalion had four commanding officers in the first few hours. In the confusion, or to avoid the concentration of fire, companies were landed on other beaches and amtracks made round trips, carrying in troops and bringing back wounded. The vest we could do was to get a toehold and hang on. And this is exactly what we did, just hang on for the first critical day.
The Japanese never before had displayed the type of mobile defense they employed at Saipan. Lessons learned previously were of no value against the improvised defenses they had installed here, as I could see even from the Rocky Mount. Naval and air bombardment, aided by very good air reconnaissance, had knocked out most of the big coastal guns, pillboxes and permanent installations but enemy resistance was not effectively diminished.
Saipan, with its 29,662 troops, was the most heavily garrisoned island in the Marianas. We faced an unusually confident enemy, who derived considerable strength from the belief that he could hold the island against invasion and need only fight a delaying action until the Japanese Fleet came to the rescue. That we would undertake such an invasion on such a scale without adequate naval forces to offset any threat by the enemy fleet did not appear to enter his mind. This was a great fallacy, but this brand of morale-building propaganda was pumped into the garrison until almost the very end. They were plagued by no doubts on this point.
We faced the heaviest and most diversified assembly of weapons and the best developed system of terrain defenses we had encountered. From the ridges behind Charan-Kanoa and from the foothills of Mount Tapotchau, fire was heavy and
deadly. In addition to anti-boat guns and 75's, the Japanese had howitzers up to 150 mm. and eight-inch mortars, the most vicious piece of artillery they developed during the war. The initial mistake we made at Saipan was this: we did not soften up the enemy sufficiently before we landed.
For Saipan we could use no preliminary artillery bombardment from neighboring islands, as we had done at Kwajalein. There was no continuous naval and air preparation, a fault we remedied later at Guam and Tinian. Three and a half days of surface and air bombardment were not enough to neutralize an enemy of the strength we found on Saipan.
A more significant reason for the partially ineffective Saipan bombardment is one which I have never seen in the operation reports, and that is the fact that most of the pre-landing shelling was delivered by the new battleships and cruisers of Task Force 58, the mighty carrier task force which was always on the march in the Western Pacific.
At this point, perhaps I should explain that the technique of delivering effective naval gunfire against shore targets is not only inherently complex, but also considerably different from the normal methods used by warships in firing on other ships or against aircraft. Furthermore, the Navy gunnery officer, accustomed to "seeing" well-defined targets either by radar, or optically, is entirely at a loss to find, or to evaluate, targets which are artfully camouflaged and hidden on the land. Realizing these unavoidable handicaps, we had proposed--and Nimitz had approved--establishment of a naval gunfire shore bombardment range at Kahoolawe Island in the Hawaiian area, where every one of the older battleships and cruisers normally used for bombardment was required to undergo concentrated training at the hands of Marine Corps shore fire control experts.
Through no fault of their own, however, the Task Force 58 ships, which were almost always at sea, covering th3e carrier sweeps and bringing the war to Hirohito's front door, had little if any opportunity to go through our Kahoolawe workout. As a result, when confronted with the Saipan bombardment mission, they were far less experienced than the Marine-trained older ships in
finding, hitting and evaluating the critical and less obvious targets.
We encountered very few Japanese on D-day. Enemy troops were well hidden and we experienced only the power of their weapons as we fought for a beachhead. We saw few Japanese bodies, because the enemy had learned to remove the dead behind his lines, thus robbing us of valuable intelligence material. However, despite the opposition and the heavy casualties to our Marine infantry, we got four battalions of artillery ashore, two 75 mm. pack howitzers and two 105 mm. howitzers, and two companies of tanks. Our artillery suffered heavily at first because we lacked observation but when it did get into action it provided powerful counter-battery fire against hidden Japanese guns.
With tanks the Japanese counterattacked from Garapan, the island capital, but their force was scattered by our naval guns. During the night of D-day, a small party counterattacked through Charan-Kanoa and reached the beach, where the two Marine divisions had not yet been able to effect a junction, but this attack also was broken up.
Japanese fire on the reef and on the beach was equally intense the next morning, in spite of the considerable naval and air support we were receiving, and we were unable to load further equipment or supplies until that afternoon, when the flow ashore became smoother. Our casualties for the first twenty-four hours on Saipan exceeded 2,500 and created a serious hospitalization problem because our hospital ships did not arrive until June 18 and the wounded had to be distributed throughout the transport fleet.
That Saipan was going to be a long job, much longer than we had anticipated, and would affect the plan for the entire Marianas operation, was apparent. Therefore, after a command conference, we decided to postpone indefinitely the invasion of Guam, which had been set for three days after D-day on Saipan, June 18, and prepare for a three week's campaign on this major Marianas island.
On D-day I put in the reserves of both Marine divisions and the next day committed elements of the Twenty-seventh
Army Division, which was afloat in reserve. After we postponed the Guam assault, I transferred the 1st Provisional Brigade to reserve afloat and the rest of the Guam expeditionary troops went back to Eniwetok.
Although the struggle ashore on Saipan was bitter and costly, I had no doubt of the outcome. My policy regarding reserves is that it always is better to get them on the beach rather than have them sitting out at sea on ships. That is why I put in all the Marine reserves as soon as possible and then ordered the Twenty-seventh ashore. The 165th Infantry first was attached to the Fourth Marine Division and when the full Army division was employed, command was handed over to Major General Ralph Smith.
Forty-eight hours had now elapsed and we were firmly dug on but not for another three days could it be said that we had "secured" our beachhead. We were under terrific pressure all the time. All Corps artillery, including our 155's, was ashore, enabling the Fourth to attack Aslito Airfield under cover of our own artillery, aided by naval and air support, and make an advance of 1,200 yards. When the line was reorganized, the airfield was placed within the zone of action of the Twenty-seventh Division, which captured it, releasing the Fourth for their push eastward across the island.
Such was the June 18 picture of the situation when I was ashore on Saipan. We held a 10,000-yard strip of beach against a weakening enemy, whose casualties must have been high since our offensive was supported by the full force of our artillery. We had all our equipment ashore and were beginning to thrust inland.
Fighting with our backs to the sea, protected by the power of the Navy, our attention had been concentrated on our yard-by-yard advance inland--once our beachhead was only a dozen yards deep at one point--when suddenly the scene of action switched to the sea.
Our submarines reported sighting a powerful Japanese task force leaving Philippine waters and heading for the Marianas. The rescue fleet which the Japanese no Saipan expected was on its way. In face of this threat Spruance, who had alerted the Fifth
Fleet to such an emergency, arrived in the transport area on his flagship, the USS Indianapolis, to confer with Kelly Turner on board the Rocky Mount.
After the conference, Spruance announced that he was leaving immediately to intercept the Japanese. Amplifying the submarine report, he said that two Japanese task forces had been sighted. A second group of enemy ships was moving northeast and the two forces were expected to rendezvous at midnight. Their total strength was four battleships, six aircraft carriers and a large number of cruisers and destroyers.
When I wished Spruance good luck on the Rocky Mount before his barge left for the Indianapolis, I asked him, "Do you think the Japs will turn tail and run?"
"No," he replied, "not now. They are out after big game. If they had wanted an easy victory, they could have disposed of the relatively small force covering MacArthur's operation at Biak (New Guinea). But the attack on the Marianas is too great a challenge for the Japanese Navy to ignore."
Ray Spruance is a highly competent but cautious sailor, with an awareness of all angles of the task before him. With typical caution, he told me it was too sanguine to hope he would destroy the enemy fleet but that he did nope to inflict sufficient damage to put it out of action for the rest of the war. If he could do this, he added, he not only would dispose of the threat to the Marianas but would facilitate subsequent operations by removing permanently the menace of the Japanese Navy, always a potential danger to the amphibious operations we were undertaking at increasing distances from our bases.
After Spruance left, Kelly Turner told me that as a precaution he was taking the entire transport fleet and its naval units out to sea. He believed it was the Japanese intention to reinforce nearby bases like Rota and Guam with planes flown off the carriers and then attack the transport fleet. Already we had had two Japanese air raids, which did little damage, but the prospect of large-scale raids was ominous. Kelly Turner said he could not afford to risk the safety of the transports while Spruance dealt with the Japanese Fleet.
With the invasion forces ashore on Saipan for only three days, this was a grave decision but I realized that it was essential and that we must hang on like good Marines until the fate of the Japanese Fleet was decided. The USS Cambria, flagship of Harry Hill, a few destroyers, gunboats and one or two essential transports constituted the only naval units left in support of the operation.
It must have been amazing and cheering to the Japanese to see the American fleet disappear over the horizon. One day hundreds of ships of all sizes and purposes filled miles and miles of anchorage and the net they were gone, leaving the invasion troops hanging on to a thin beach strip, unprotected from the sea. The Japanese must have heard the news of their fleet's approach by radio and rejoiced, but any chorus of banzais was muted by the pressure we put on them.
Admittedly, it wasn't pleasant to see our fleet leave. I had 78,000 men ashore and we were left to our own devices. Except for a few planes from the now operable Aslito Field and a few naval units, we had nothing but our own equipment and resources on the island. The departure of the fleet deprived us of supporting naval gunfire and, since Spruance had to take along his carriers, we were robbed of the powerful air support which had helped us to keep our footing.
Even more serious was the logistics problem. Only a few transports with essential supplies were left behind and when conditions grew desperate three or four other ships were detached from the fleet circling out at sea and sent back to relieve our needs. We were indeed orphans of the Japanese storm.
I had told Admiral Nimitz that Marines die for the country as willingly as the Japanese. There may be Marine annihilation, I had said to him, but there never will be a Marine defeat. My Marines will die to the last man; they never will be taken prisoners.
If that time comes, I emphasized to my divisional officers, there will be no one left alive to tell the tale. And I'll be with you. I meant those words. I had no intention of being taken prisoner and I drilled this code into the minds of my officers.
The Japanese knew, or were able to guess, how we stood. It needed no master mind to appreciate the situation on Saipan after the fleet left. The only unknown and highly significant factor was time: how long would it last? The answer to this question was Spruance's success with the Japanese fleet.
Our position ashore was not too bad. When I went ashore I had not the slightest apprehension. We had landed all our artillery and this partially compensated for the lack of naval gunfire. I had two magnificent Marine divisions, commanded by men of the highest caliber, Watson and Schmidt, and Corps artillery, Army and Marine, commanded by brigadier General A.M. Harper, U.S. Army, whom I would have been proud to call a Marine.
The Marine has a winning philosophy. He feels that once he gets on the beach with his weapons, he can't be pushed off. Adn we were all too busy to worry a great deal about the departure of the fleet. We were keeping the Japanese worried. We knew the sailing of the fleet would bolster enemy morale and that the japanese would exploit this fact, but we never gave them a chance. We never relaxed pressure on them; instead, we stepped it up. The Japanese never got a minute's peace or a yard's leeway. Given an opportunity, new they were faltering, they would try to reorganize and drive us off the island. But they never got that opportunity. We incessantly pushed them off balance.
On June 21 our fleet returned from the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in which Spruance engaged the Japanese and sank three aircraft carriers, the Shokaku, the Taiho, and the Hitaka, one destroyer and one fleet tanker and destroyed 403 combat aircraft. In addition, three more carriers, one battleship, three cruisers and three fleet tankers sustained varying degrees of major damage. This American naval victory definitely disposed of any possible Japanese relief of Saipan.
Tremendously reassuring to us was the sight of the hundreds of ships back at their anchorage off Saipan. In addition to the stimulating naval victory, which cheered us, the return of the fleet brought back the transports we badly needed. It also
brought to our assistance the naval gunfire and the air support necessary for the second phase of the operation, which was opening now that we were ready to push beyond our beachhead in full strength.
By June 19, the Fourth Division had driven across the island to the east coast. The southern portion of Saipan, with the exception of a pocket at cavernous Nafutan Point on the southern tip, was in possession of the Twenty-seventh. The Second Division was firmly anchored south of Garapan and we planned a pivotal movement, based upon the Second Division and sweeping across the island, for the capture of Mount Tapotchau, the main Japanese line of defense. On the east, the Fourth Division was at Magicienne Bay, already driving north, and I decided to pass the Twenty-seventh Division through the left of the Fourth so that I could employ three divisions abreast against the enemy.
This phase of the attack opened on June 22. I put the Twenty-seventh in the center of the line. As a precautionary measure, I formed two temporary Marine battalions, one from Corps headquarters and the other from the shore party. At that time my headquarters in Charan-Kanoa was protected by a company of 120 men of the V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company, in command of Captain James L. Jones, whose Pacific island reconnaissance exploits are unique. These troops I ordered to reconnoiter assigned battle positions in the rear because I felt that, if the Japanese counterattacked, I would have two battalions to cover any unfavorable development.
After my experience with the Twenty-seventh at Makin and Eniwetok, I was reluctant to use them again in the Marianas, but when the operation was planned they were the only troops available in Hawaii and I had to take them.
The trouble with the Twenty-seventh Division was, if I may coin a word, "militia-itis." As originally mobilized, the division had come entirely from the New York National Guard, with a good record and tradition from World War I. Much of its leadership, as was the case throughout the New York Guard, stemmed from a gentlemen's club known as the Seventh Regiment,
traditionally Nnew York's "silk stocking" outfit, and likewise a worthy unit, per se, with an impeccable reputation for annual balls, banquets and shipshape sumer camps. Any division, however, springing from such sources and maintained intact after mobilization, contains the entangled roots of home town loyalties, ambitions and intrigues. Employer-noncommissioned officers in the Twenty-seventh were sometimes commanded, if that is the word, by employee-officers; there was sometimes a gentlemanly reluctance on the part of officers to offend Old Seventh messmates through harsh criticism or rigorous measures; in the eyes of many, especially the ambitious, there were reputations--New York reputations--to be made or broken; and behind all there was Albany, where the State Adjutant General's office allocated peacetime plus.
A machine like the National Guard is an admirable and a truly constitutional machine for peacetime training. It is in a position to capitalize on all the values of local allegiance, but after mobilization these same allegiances become barnacles on the hull. The War Department must have realized this, especially in so clear-cut a case as that of the Twenty-seventh, which had been posing "political" problems to Washington ever since mobilization. These were, if anything, intensified by the fact that some of the higher-ups in the War Department were important in the Militia. Congressman "Jim" wadsworth, who incidentally spurred on the anti-Marine Corps faction during the merger drives of 1946 and 1947, was an influential New Yorker of much military background and firm National Guard connections.
In such an atmosphere there could have been only one square-cut solution for the War Department: to disband the division after mobilization, or at the very least, to transfer its original personnel far and wide, and replace them with anyone on earth but former members of the New York Guard. What it more, such a widespread transfer would probably have benefited the entire Army, because, man for man, the New York National Guard enjoys an excellent reputation for individual peacetime training.
That such a shakeup was never made--especially after the showings of the Twenty-seventh Division regiments at Makin and Eniwetok--reflects broadly upon the War Department, and more particularly on its senior Pacific representative, Richardson, who, had he been willing to open his eyes and swallow inter-Service stiff-neckedness, could have broken up a military combination which could do only harm to the traditions of the Army and to those of a fine state.
A lot has been written about the differences between Army and Marine methods in action. The two services use the same weapons and the same tactical manual and, there, I do not propose to enter into an unprofitable discussion here, but only to summarize the facts of the case concerning the Twenty-seventh Division on Saipan.
On the first day of the Tapotchau attack, the Second Division advanced 1,000 yards and the Fourth 2,000 yards. The Twenty-seventh was directed to pass through the Fourth and join a coordinated continuation of the attack on the morning of June 23. The Second and the Fourth, on the flanks, jumped off according to schedule.
The attack by the Twenty-seventh was late starting. According to reports to me, one battalion moved 50 minutes late, other elements moved even later and the 106th Infantry was unable to start forward until three hours and fifteen minutes after H-hour. I considered the two Marine divisions on the flank were jeopardized by the sagging in the center of the line and I plugged the gaps between them and the Twenty-seventh. We made little headway that day. By nightfall my map showed our lines as a deep U, with the Twenty-seventh very little ahead of its departure point and still occupying the bottom of the U, and the two Marine divisions holding the flanks.
Furthermore, the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, a Twenty-seventh Division unit, assisted by tanks,had been given the mission of cleaning up Nafutan Point, a broken peninsula jutting out of the southeast corner of Saipan, which was now in our rear. In order that our attack northward could progress with
safety, I wanted this cleanup done as aggressively and rapidly as possible. The area contained 500 to 600 Japanese troops, plus battlefield jetsam of civilian refugees and a good many wounded, who had holed up to die in the caves. It has since been claimed that more than 1,200 enemy troops were on Nafutan, but a captured Japanese operation order which came to our headquarters later showed that, as of June 26, there were only 500 effective, unwounded personnel, and the 1,200 count comes unsubstantiated from one who was a party in interest to the subsequent controversy over this little operation.
The battalion from the 105th Infantry (which was subsequently awarded the Army's Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance on Saipan) failed to show the aggressiveness which its mission demanded, and it even permitted, on the night of June 26, a column of some 500 well-armed and organized Japanese, the last such on the Point, to march, in column of twos, right through its lines with hardly a shot fired. All these Japanese had to be killed before daybreak by Marine cannoneers and riflemen from the 14th and 25th Marines. The alibi for this performance claims that the frontage assigned this battalion (some 2,000 yards, according to the contemporary periodic reports) was excessive. What is not taken into consideration, however, is that, due to the taper of Nafutan Point, a single advance of less than 200 yards on the battalion's left would have shortened the total frontage by almost a thousand yards.
As Major General George W. Griner, USA, who later came into command of the Twenty-seventh Division, officially reported to me concerning the Nafutan Point operations about this time, ". . . a faint-hearted attack was made. The means were available for complete success, had a determined attack been made." Griner, incidentally, eventually had this battalion commander relieved.
It was in this context of all-round poor performance by the Twenty-seventh that, on the afternoon of June 23, I sought the help of Major General Sanderford Jarman, who was to assume the post of Island Commander when we captured Saipan. I
asked him to see Ralph Smith and appeal to him, as one Army man to another, on the grounds that the reputation of the Army was suffering through a lack of offensive spirit. Before Ralph Smith went into the line, I had impressed upon him the need for strong, offensive action on Saipan. The Japanese were on the moving. As my admonition had failed, I hoped that Jarman could influence him.
Shortly afterward, Jarman returned and reported that Ralph Smith had promised to do better the next day. Jarman also reported that Ralph Smith said if he did not do better he deserved to be relieved.
In a communication to Richardson, produced at the subsequent Army investigation by the Buckner Board--named after Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, who presided--Jarman reported that, on June 23:
I found that General (Ralph) Smith had been up to the front lines all afternoon and was thoroughly familiar with the situation. I talked to General Smith and explained the situation as I saw it and that I felt from reports from the Corps Commander that his division was not carrying its full share. He immediately replied that such was true; that he was in no way satisfied with what his regimental commanders had done during the day and that he had been with them and had pointed out to them the situation. He further indicated to me that he was going to be present tomorrow, June 24, with this division when it made its jump-off and he would personally see to it that the division went forward. I explained my interest in the matter was that I was senior Army commander present and was anxious to see that the Army did its job as it should be done.
There was no improvement the next day. What had promised to be a swift, effective movement degenerated into a laggard action that almost came to a standstill. The two Marine flanks had to advance slowly to prevent the widening of the gaps between themselves and the Twenty-seventh in the center.
I took my map and went on board the Rocky Mount to discuss the situation with Kelly Turner. We both went on board
the Indianapolis to see Spruance, who was in overall command of the operation. I told him the facts and said that the situation demanded a change in command. He asked me what should be done.
"Ralph Smith has shown that he lacks aggressive spirit," I replied, "and his division is slowing down our advance. he should be relieved." I suggested that Jarman take over the Twenty-seventh Division as a supplementary duty until another commanding officer was appointed. Turner supported me and Spruance agreed.
On June 24, the following message was despatched from Spruance as Commander, Fifth Fleet, to me as Commander, Northern Troops and Landing Force, and circulated to others concerned for information:
You are authorized and directed to relieve Major General Ralph Smith from command of the Twenty-seventh Division, U.S. Army, and place Major General Jarman in command of this division. This action is taken in order that the offensive on Saipan may proceed in accordance with the plans and orders of the Commander, Northern Troops and Landing Force.
Accordingly, Ralph Smith was relieved and returned to Honolulu and Jarman succeeded him. Relieving Ralph Smith was one of the most disagreeable tasks I have ever been forced to perform. Personally, I always regarded Ralph Smith as a likable and professionally knowledgeable man. However, there are times in battle when the responsibility of the commander to his country and to his troops requires hard measures. Smith's division was not fighting as it should, and its failure to perform was endangering American lives. As Napoleon has said. "There are no bad regiments, only bad colonels," and the basic remedy for the defective performance of the Twenty-seventh Division was to find a leader who could make it toe the mark. Ralph Smith had been only too conscious of what was wrong, as he was the first to admit to Jarman, but he had been incapable of strong and necessary action. I realized at the time, as I in turn
said to Jarman, that the relief of Smith would stir up a hornet's nest because of its inter-Service implications, and because I knew how Richardson would make capital of such a situation; but in the face of the enemy, I felt that we were all Americans, and that victory was more important than any Service's prestige.
One of Jarman's first acts was to relieve one of the Army's three regimental commanders.
Referring to this officer's conduct at Saipan, Jarman wrote to Richardson on June 30:
Frankly, ------ appeared to be muddled. The mountainous terrain and rough going was too much for him. Based on my observation of the Twenty-seventh Division for a few days, I have noted certain things which give me some concern. They are, first, a lack of offensive spirit on the part of the troops. A battalion will run into one machine gun and be held up for several hours. When they get any kind of minor resistance they immediately open up with everything they have that can fire in the general direction from which they are being fired upon. Second, at night if a patrol comes around their bivouac area they immediately telephone in and state they are under a counterattack and want to fall back to some other position. Third, I found that troops would work all day to capture well-earned terrain and at night wold fall back a distance varying from 400 to 800 yards and sometimes 1,000 yards to organize a perimeter defense.
I had, in the brief time I was in command of the Twenty-seventh Division, to issue an order that ground gained would not be given up, that the perimeter of defense was to be formed on the ground captured, and troops in the rear could be brought up.
A few days later, Major General Griner, formerly in command of the Ninety-eighth Division in the Hawaiian Islands, was appointed to relieve Jarman. Griner's orders, which were signed by Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson, Jr., commanding Army troops in the Pacific Ocean Area, did not direct him to report to the Corps Commander. In other words, Richardson completely ignored me in sending a new division commander to me.
However, Griner realized the anomaly of such a situation and reported to me officially. I gave him a full account of the action of the Twenty-seventh and expressed the hope that he would reorganize the division and develop among the men a better fighting spirit.
Continuous pressure exerted by the Second Division on the left and the Fourth Division on the right enabled the Twenty-seventh to clean up their sector. Finally, the line was straightened out until the Second was pinched out at Garapan and the line across Saipan was held by the Twenty-seventh on the left and the Fourth on the right.
Army protagonists, swayed by a mistaken sense of loyalty to their own branch of the Service, have magnified this incident into an importance out of all proportion to its proper place in the history of the war. Other Army generals were relieved in the South Pacific, France and Germany, with nothing like the acrimonious reactions which marked the relief of Major General Ralph Smith. Perhaps the fact that I wa a Marine General offended their sensibilities.
My attitude was that I was responsible for the capture of Saipan and that it was my duty to see that every officer and every man fought to the best of his ability. In my judgment, the conduct of the Twenty-seventh Division under Ralph Smith's command was unsatisfactory and I acted accordingly. Admiral Spruance, as Commander, Fifth Fleet, fully approved, although the Twenty-seventh, was actually censored, at Nimitz's recommendation. There was no question of animus against an Army General. I would have relieved a Marine General under the same circumstances, only sooner.
The Twenty-seventh could have no quarrel with the Marines. On June 19, a few days before my best judgment compelled me to relieve him, Ralph Smith, in a disc made for radio transmission, now on file in the Library of Congress, stated:
It irritates me a little to read these stories back home--because a soldier and a Marine get in a fight in a saloon the relations between
the services are at cross-purposes. Nothing could be further from the truth, out here in the field. In this landing we came in behind the Marines. Because of the conditions under which we are landing . . . For the first part of the operation we were entirely dependent upon the Marines and I want to take this opportunity to stress the very cordial feeling that exists between the outfits. One of the 165th's officers remarked to me this morning that Saipan has sealed the "blood brotherhood" between the services.
The whole incident might well have ended there but for the uninvited visit by Richardson to Saipan after the island had been declared secure, but while we were still mopping up. He arrived on July 12 and hardly had he set foot ashore, where I was in command, than he began making trouble. In flagrant violation of the oldest service customs, he began taking testimony for the Buckner Board, which he had convened at his headquarters on Oahu, known throughout the Pacific as the "Pineapple Pentagon." His purpose was to pass on my action in relieving Ralph Smith.
Not content with this, he began issuing orders to the Twenty-seventh Division and he paused to issue some decorations, although the division was still serving under me. Finally, he had the effrontery to berate the entire Marine Corps, and me in particular, in the most amazing conversation that I have ever had with a United States general officer. Fortunately, Major General Harry Schmidt, commanding the Fourth Marine Division, was with me at the time and was able to confirm the truth of Richardson's unbelievable behavior.
Richardson called upon me while I was entertaining Admiral Spruance, who was making a trip ashore. Therefore he paid his official call upon both of us. I returned his call and took Harry Schmidt with me. En route to his headquarters, I was surprised to find Richardson holding a parade of Army troops under my command and presenting decorations. This
ceremony, without my knowledge or consent, held within a hundred yards of my command post, was contrary to all principles of command relationships.
I waited until the ceremony had concluded and then went to Richardson's quarters with him. Harry Schmidt and I had barely seated ourselves when Richardson opened up with some sharp remarks on the conduct of the Saipan operation.
"You had no right to relieve Ralph Smith," he told me. "The Twenty-seventh is one of the best trained divisions in the Pacific. I trained it myself. You discriminated against the Army in favor of the Marines. I want you to know that you can't push the Army around the way you've been doing."
It was as much as I could do to contain myself as he continued with the old, familiar line.
"You and your Corps commanders aren't as well qualified to lead large bodies of troops as general officers in the Army," he continued. "We've had more experience in handling troops than you've had and yet you dare," he almost screamed, "remove one of my Generals."
He next accused me of faulty technical decisions and indiscriminate sacrifice of lives. Apart from the face that he was wrong, I was astounded by his impropriety in making such statements. A military command in battle carries with it the authority to conduct tactical operations according to the judgment of the commander. Results are the touchstone and success bears an automatic seal of approval. As long as you keep on fighting and winning, no one, not even a superior in the chain of command, is authorized to interfere. An officer outside the chain of command, such as Richardson, never possesses the right to meddle.
For a man with my explosive reputation, I must confess that I conducted myself with admirable restraint under this barrage when he said, "You Marines are nothing but a bunch of beach runners, anyway. What do you know about land warfare?"
As events turned out, it was probably just as well I held by tongue because Spruance, prior to Richardson's arrival, had
extracted a promise from me to suffer in silence while Richardson was on the island. I gave this promise because Spruance made it a personal request.
Spruance had not, however, reckoned with Kelly Turner. When Richardson presented himself aboard Turner's flagship, the latter gave him the rough side of a very rough tongue after Richardson had declined to admit himself in any was accountable, while in the Marianas, even to Turner, Commander of the Joint Expeditionary Force then engaged in conquering those islands. Thus, to my official report of this entire episode, which was certified to in writing by Harry Schmidt, Kelly Turner added a scorcher of his own in which he reported Richardson for "unwarranted assumption of command authority" and "irregular interference" with me in the performance of my duties. After Turner had reminded Richardson of a few things I was too speechless to say, Spruance also had a word with Richardson and referred the entire business to Nimitz, with the remark that Richardson had no authority to exercise command functions in the Saipan area without specific permission therefor from the high command.
Nimitz, who had verbally approved Richardson's visit, simply passed all the correspondence to the latter with a polite invitation for his comments; but if anything ever happened to Richardson as a result, it was certainly not apparent.
Nimitz knew very well that Spruance had authorized and directed Ralph Smith's relief, with Turner emphatically concurring, but this was one occasion on which the Navy was more than glad to yield all command responsibility to the Marine; and I was left alone to face the torrent of Army censure and National Guard umbrage which followed as soon as an Army representative could "leak" their version of the story to the San Francisco press.
Repercussions followed close on Richardson's heels. Prior to departing from Saipan, he had convened his Buckner Board and when he returned to Oahu, he had with him a wad of carefully culled certificates and affidavits to present to his ex parte board. Of course, since the board had Army jurisdiction only, it
possessed neither authority nor inclination to hear what Turner, Spruance or I might have to say, nor to include in its proceedings any Navy or Marine documents except for a few odds and ends. The witnesses were such as could be scraped up in the Army casual camps, rest homes and hospitals of the Hawaiian Islands, and these presented what "evidence" seemed needed. To do Ralph Smith credit, I must say that his testimony was the most fair-minded of the lot. He repeatedly warned his inquisitors that he had few if any records and was forced to rely on memory, and, despite repeated openings offered him in Richardson's Star Chamber, he never once launched into a diatribe or a sob story. Adversity, I think, became him well.
The findings could be foreseen without any crystal ball. Buckner and his learned colleagues concluded that although I had possessed all the authority necessary to relieve Ralph Smith, my action in doing so had been unwarranted by the "facts" of the situation. Furthermore, despite their precept's limitation of the inquiry to the relief of Smith, they took it upon themselves to consider the whole conduct of the Saipan battle, including events as late as july 8, and to place on record a harangue against me by Major General Griner while still under my command.
For the time being, this concluded the controversy with Nimitz asking me to comment on the board's findings, which I did as ordered. Before autumn, however, an Army representative had touched off a full dress public discussion and many guesswork versions of the Saipan affair. Two months after the battle, Bob Sherrod, of Time Magazine, who had probably made more assault landings in the early waves than most Marine officers, ventured to write an accurate report of what had happened and you would have thought the skies were falling. The truth hurt, so Richardson immediately demanded the revocation of Sherrod's press credentials and Nimitz, always inclined to compromise, passed the Richardson buck along, although he was fully aware of this correspondent's integrity.
This brought the entire matter officially to Washington for decision on the Sherrod case, and it was there that Admiral
King had the last word. Richardson, stated King to General Marshall, had deliberately launched into inter-Service matters of high command outside his proper bailiwick,and had indulged in intemperate personal attacks on my character and professional standing. This action, done wilfully and knowingly, had brought real harm to Service relationships, the wartime COMINCH concluded. Marshall never attempted to refute this; Sherrod's credentials were not revoked; and there the matter was destined to rest until it was reopened in 1947 by a selected group of former Twenty-seventh personnel close to the War Department.
I have always deplored this incident as far too typical of the amount of top echelon time and effort expended in the Pacific on matters not pertaining to the winning of the war. Inter-Service disputes, given unmerited prominence, can grow into the greatest enemy of victory when the take priority over all other interests in the minds of Generals and Admirals. Equally deplorable is the effect upon the men who carry into peacetime the animosity thus engendered in wartime.
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