I HAVE always considered Saipan the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive. Creasy, establishing the criterion for his Battles, defined decisive as an event which varied the world drama in all its subsequent scenes. Saipan was decisive because it varied the Pacific drama in all its subsequent scenes.
Iwo Jima and Okinawa were costlier battles and carried us closer to Japan, but their capture was made possibly only by our earlier success at Saipan, which breached Japan's inner defense line, destroyed the main bastions and opened the way to the home islands.
Complemented by the capture of Guam and Tinian, before finality sealed the victory in the Marianas, Saipan was the death of Japan's hope of resisting our advance. The defense of Saipan reached classic heights of fanaticism, with the sacrifice of the island's commanding general and almost the entire garrison.
Equally severe as the blow to military prestige was the psychological tremor that caused a cabinet shake-up in Tokyo and forced the governments' unprecedented admission to the Japanese people that the Americans were perilously close to their homeland. We acquired advance naval and air bases which decreased our dependence on Pearl Harbor and enabled us to isolate Japan from the sea. The grand climax came later, when fleets of B-29's started bombing Tokyo and every important Japanese city came within destructive range of the bases we had captured in the Marianas.
The importance of Saipan lay in its relation to the entire scheme of Japanese defense in the Central Pacific. Saipan was Japan's administrative Pearl Harbor, without Pearl Harbor's
massive permanent naval and military installations. It was the naval and military heart and brain of Japanese defense strategy. In itself it was a fortified island of considerable strength.
Japan's Central Pacific Fleet Headquarters, under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, was located here. Nagumo was the man who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as the Japanese striking force in the Battle of Midway. The 31st Army Headquarters, comprising all Central Pacific army troops, under Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata, was there. Saipan also was headquarters of the Northern Marianas Defense Force, under Lieutenant General Yoshijo Saito. This command included his Forty-third Infantry Division and all Army troops from Tokyo Bay to Aguijan Island in the Norther Marianas. Saipan was headquarters of the 5th Naval Base Force, under Rear Admiral Tsujimura.
Obata was absent, probably on an inspection tour,when we attacked and the defense of Saipan fell upon the aging shoulders of Saito. None of these high echelon officers, with the exception of Obata, escaped the holocaust that followed our final drive to the northernmost tip of the island. If the Japanese, after sinking our fleet at Pearl Harbor, had landed and taken Oahu,. destroying the garrison and causing the death of Admiral Nimitz and top Army and Marine commanders, the loss would have been somewhat parallel.
I went ashore at Charan-Kanoa on the afternoon of June 17, after Kelly Turner had announced that he was taking the transport fleet to sea.
Charan-Kanoa had been badly damaged by our shelling and bombing. The sugar mill was in ruins and the yards of the narrow-gauge railway, which ran along the west coast of Saipan, were wrecked. Houses in the village, formerly tenanted by Japanese employees of the sugar mill, were in good shape. For some unknown reason, they had escaped the full effect of our attack.
Normally, Saipan is a pleasant island, with calming patches of bright green vegetation and brilliant flame trees, but under the milling of thousands of feet and hundreds of heavy-tracked vehicles, the dirt roads had disintegrated into fine, penetrating
dust. A passing jeep could put up a smoke screen more effective than our chemical services could produce and blot out the sun like a Biblical plague. When it rained, jeeps became amphibians caught in quagmires that had been roads of a few hours before.
Harry Schmidt's Command Post was near the beach, south of the mill. Headquarters troops were building him a sandbagged shelter when I arrived to confer with him. Schmidt told me that the Fourth had suffered heavy casualties from artillery and mortar fire but that the line was moving slowly ahead.
Th;e first night we occupied whatever quarters we could find and later retired to foxholes. One of my aides, digging in for shelter, uncovered a complete human skeleton and we discovered that the Command Post was actually an old cemetery that had been churned up by shells. The Japanese made the first of their many nightly nuisance raids that night, flying planes from Guam or Rota, but did little damage. The last tracers from our anti-aircraft batteries streaking across the sky at the disappearing planes were the signal for a heavy downpour, which flooded our foxholes and made life miserable for everyone.
At daybreak we moved off to V Corps Headquarters, which had been established at Charan-Kanoa. This village was laid out in rectangular blocks with small, bungalow-type houses built of plaster, wooden slats and concrete, with roofs of corrugated iron. Except for broken windows, some of these houses were habitable. In backyard quadrangles stood large concrete cisterns for catching rainwater, fed by pipes form the roofs. Each house had its air raid shelter.
The one selected for me had a well in the backyard and also, most unfortunately, the carcase of a carabao, lying near a shell crater. The first thing Asbill and Sergeant Bradley had to do on Saipan was to bury that loathesome animal, which must have weighted a ton. They told me that the internment of a body that size and odor was no easy task with an ordinary shovel. They had need for a bulldozer. After the two of them had cleaned up, they went foraging and came back with furniture and a cot with springs, which was indeed a luxury after a non-resilient foxhole.
My quarters were next to the combined office and quarters of my Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Graves B. Erskine, located at the other side of the house we shared. All I had to do to keep in touch with the situation was to walk the few steps to his office or call to him through the thin wooden partition.
Erskine was the neck of the funnel of information. He was continually in personal or telephonic contact with the General Staff and the Special Staff sections and members of his staff kept him informed of the progress of the battle, phase by phase. His office buzzed with activity and his only regret was that he could not get away more frequently to visit the front. For nearly two weeks, his personal knowledge of Saipan was limited to the area immediately adjacent to our quarters. Duty tied him to his desk.
In Erskine's desire to see for himself what was happening, there was no ego. A brilliant staff officer, he knew from long experience that frequently the only way to obtain information in battle is to go and see for yourself. He drilled this fact into his staff. If an officer complained of lack of information from subordinate units, he knew the first question Erskine would ask would be, "Have you been there to find out for yourself?". If the staff officer was unable to five an affirmative answer, it was hard going because Bobby Erskine could indulge in biting comment.
Equally competent officers on my Northern Landing Force (Saipan-Tinian) staff formed a great Headquarters group. My G-1 (Administration) was Lieutenant Colonel Albert F. Metz and my G-3 (Operations Officer) was Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, who helped me train Army troops for the Aleutians campaign.
An answer to the criticism that I discriminated against the Army was the fact that, in addition to having an Army officer, Brigadier General Harper, commanding the XXIV Corps Artillery, as my artillery officer, I had numerous excellent Army officers on my staff.
My G-2 (Intelligence Officer) was Lieutenant Colonel Thomas R. Yancy, AUS, of the Army's General Staff Corps,
who had been with me since the early days of the Amphibious Corps, Pacific, in San Diego. Running the G-4 Section was Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Anderson, a West Pointer, who did a Herculean job maintaining a steady flow of supplies and equipment. Colonel A.V. Wilson, Corps Engineer, also was an Army officer.
Two or three times daily, staff conferences were held. We discussed every phase of the situation--casualties, enemy strength, enemy weapons, our lines and dispositions, our supply problems. Special staff officers filled in the picture with additional details. Questions by the staff were encouraged. Erskine summed up the situation at the end of the session. These conferences were excellent examples of inter-staff cooperation.
With such staff support and loyalty it would have been possible for me to sit back and take things easy. I was 62 when we attacked Saipan, and many times during that month I felt like a tired old man under the strain of directing a campaign which required so much nervous and physical energy.
I was determined to take Saipan and take it quickly. Upon the outcome of this operation rested the first proof of the ability of the Marine Corps to do a big job well. The problems confronting us were never out of my mind and when the pressure was on, when the issue at stake was critical, all my weariness vanished. I never felt better in my life than when I faced this challenge.
Here I think I will turn over the record to Asbill, my aide. He says of me:
His methods of controlling the divisions were skillfully varied to suit the personalities and situations involved. He used threats, exhortations, sound advice, sympathy; he cursed, demanded, cajoled, urged and praised. Invariably, his method was the right one.
When the Fourth Division executed its pivotal movement and
began its rapid march to the north, he frequently called Harry Schmidt on the phone to encourage him and to let him know that the performance of his troops was appreciated. From General Smith's end the conversation would run something like this:
"Hello, son, where are your front lines? Wait a minute now. Let me check my map. Are you all the way up there? Boy, you'd better slow 'em down or you won't be able to find your men. I think we'll take that '4" off your Division patch and put on a race horse instead. Well, how about the left flank? Do you have enough troops to fill up the gap? If you don't, I'll give you a battalion. You're doing a find job, son. Keep it up. I'll be up there pretty soon to see you."
A conversation of quite a different tone occurred when the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, which was directly under Corps control, was being held up, day after day, at the neck of Nafutan Point, on the far side of Aslito Airfield. Staff observers had returned with the information that, though the terrain was rugged, practically no Japanese had been encountered.
General Smith called the battalion commander, "Colonel, this is General Smith. What's holding you up down there? Sure, the ground's rough but it's rough all over this island. That's no excuse. How many Japs are in front of you?
"Well, if there aren't any Japs, how the hell could you be held up?" Then the conversation changed to a monologue, "Now listen, Colonel. I want you to push ahead with your battalion and clean up that damned place. If you don't, the Japs will break through and be all over the airfield. Now move out and take it. Do you understand?"
Shortly afterward, the Japanese on Nafutan Point did break through, exactly as the General had warned. A party of 500, who had been hiding in caves, broke through the 15th Infantry, attacked Aslito Airfield, where they damaged a number of planes, and nearly reached Hill 500, some 3,000 yards north of the field, before they were cleaned up by the 14th and the 25th Marines after the artillerymen had taken a heavy toll.
The Japanese break-through at Nafutan Point, referred to in the previous chapter, posed a peculiar psychological problem, which was to develop throughout the campaign. It was here that the Japanese pledged as a slogan and a password, "Seven Lives To Repay Our Country." This phrase, meaning that each Japanese was to kill seven Americans before he died, was in the battalion
order issued before they emerged from their caves and marched to the airfield. It became a rallying cry, forlorn but sustained, for the whole campaign, but we saw to it that this ambition was not fulfilled at Nafutan Point or anywhere else on Saipan. The 14th and 25th Marines took care of Nafutan. Elsewhere my Marines were equally alert to enemy attack.
For once the Japanese had more tanks than we had estimated but their sardine-can variety proved no match for our guns or our bazookas, which ripped them apart as though they were the clockwork toys from Japan that used to flood the stores before the war.
Naval gunfire scattered the first tank attack from Garapan down the coast soon after our landing, but early on the morning of June 17 the enemy counterattacked in strength from the vicinity of Lake Susupe, in reality nothing but a marsh behind Charan-Kanoa. There was a spectacular bravado about this attack. A Japanese officer, standing in the turret of the lead vehicle, waved his sword in the manner of a cavalryman charging, while a bulger sounded the call.
The attack was met by staunch Marines of the Second Division, who achieved our first major tank victory in the Central Pacific war by destroying 31 enemy machines. The Second used half-tracks (semi-tractor and truck), 75-mm. guns, infantry anti-tank weapons, and bazookas. One of our half-tracks got in the middle of the attacking force and destroyed four enemy tanks singlehanded while bazookas and artillery fire tore the others to pieces. The Japanese tanks were so flimsy that a number were put out by hand grenades fixed in their tracks as the vehicles passed over the foxholes of individual Marines.
This victory was an achievement in coral island warfare but as we advanced northward up the island to seize the Tapotchau line we ran into several more tank attacks. The day before the 8th Marines, Second Division, captured the mountain, we destroyed 30 more tanks in three different attacks on various parts of the line.
When we captured Tapotchau, the tactical position on the island changed radically. Mount Tapotchau, the highest
point of the range, is approached by a slope on the west side, up which would a pilgrims' path to a little shrine, and falls away down a steep precipice to the east. The surrounding terrain is a series of steep cliffs and deep ravines, pitted with caves from which the Japanese fought our advance. The mountain provided them with excellent observation facilities, which were denied to us on the lower ground. While they held Tapotchau, they looked down the muzzles of their guns at us; when we took it, we looked down the muzzles of our at them.
The capture of Tapotchau was a magnificent piece of work by the Second Marines. The Sixth Marines prepared the way by capturing Tipo Pale, the commanding hill, and the Eighth Marines fought their way up the slopes of the mountain to the summit after heavy mortar and artillery preparation.
Strangely enough, the Japanese on the summit showed little resistance, considering this was the key to the island, and we were able to establish observation posts on top almost immediately, adding to the effectiveness of our artillery, which played a large part in supporting our advance.
The pressure we kept on the Japanese was telling fearfully. To maintain this pressure, we followed a policy of by-passing strong points of resistance, leaving them to be mopped up by reserve troops, so that we could press the attack and prevent the enemy from using the terrain to our disadvantage. Kept on the move and deprived of their armor, the defending forces fell apart.
Although they resisted from caves and hideouts in the ridges, and tried to harass us at night form by-passed pockets, we dug them out and smoked them out in hand-to-hand combat. With flame throwers and hand grenades, the Marines ferreted the Japanese out of their holes and killed them. Patrols covered the terrain yard by yard, combing thick vegetation and rocky fastnesses for snipers. It was war such as nobody had fought before: a subterranean campaign in which men climbed, crawled, clubbed, shot, burned and bayonetted each other to death.
Bayonet fighting sounds out of place on a coral island but the Marines at times used bayonets at Saipan. This little-used
weapon is part of the hand-to-hand combat training which makes the Marine such a superb in-fighter in such an emergency. Bayonet training was emphasized and advocated in the Corps by the late Colonel Anthony Drexel Biddle, USMCR, when I was Quartermaster at Philadelphia.
Biddle convinced the Marines that they could meet the enemy and kill him with the bayonet. He had studied bayonet fighting in England, France and Switzerland, and wrote a pamphlet on the subject, "Do or Die," which he distributed to the troops at his own expense. He thought this type of training would be useful in the future, when the Marines met the Japanese.
"How do you get a bayonet out of a Jap, once you've got it in?" I asked Tony one day.
"Shoot it out," he told me. And that's what the Marines did at Saipan and Guadalcanal on the rare occasions that they used bayonets.
Tapotchau had fascinated me ever since I first set eyes on the mountain which rose above the smoke of our D-day bombardment. Immediately after we captured it, the pilgrim's path was widened for jeep traffic and I rode up Tapotchau several times.
Looking down on the island from the former vantage point of the Japanese, it was easy to see why enemy fire had been so accurate. From the summit of this 1,554-foot mountain, the observer had a Pisgah-sight of Saipan. Practically the entire island stretched visibly before him, like a huge aerial photograph. With the aid of a map and a powerful Japanese telescope we found there, I could study the progress of the battle in detail, with the 72 square miles of terrain reduced to the proportions of a football field.
I ordered Major Generals Schmidt and Griner to go to the top of Tapotchau. My reason was two-fold. I wanted the Generals to have the opportunity of watching their own troops in action and of observing the rear areas held by the enemy. I also wanted to impress upon the two officers the accomplishment of the Second Marine Division in capturing the mountain. In
comparison with Tapotchau, the terrain that was proving so difficult for the Twenty-seventh was as smooth as a table top.
One of my trips up Tapotchau was nearly my last. I was there with Major General Tommy Watson of the Second Division when the Japanese, noting unusual activity, which usually accompanied brass hats in the front lines, began to drop mortar shells around us with disconcerting accuracy. One shell fell 20 feet from my jeep, and Watson and I dived into the nearest foxhole until the firing stopped. When it ceased we were able to get down the mountain in comparative safety.
Preoccupied as we were with the battle for Saipan,we still had to face the other phase of Operations FORAGER, namely, the capture of Guam and Tinian. The latter island, three miles south of Saipan, had been subjected to considerable neutralizing fire, not only from the Navy but also from our own artillery. Driving northwards up Saipan, we had been annoyed by fire from Tinian, to our rear. Our 155 mm. batteries had to handle the double job of shooting across Tinian Strait at enemy guns on that island and of supporting our advance on Saipan. Naval and air units took over the bulk of the Tinian task, after the fleet returned from sea, but our excellent Army and Marine artillery kept up its systematic job of pounding Tinian while still engaged in its primary role of supporting us on Saipan.
On June 28, Task Force 58 commenced the first of a series of strikes on GUam and on the nearby island of Rota, in order to neutralize enemy airfields before the intensive bombardment would prepare for our assault on Guam three weeks later. On June 29, Rear Admiral "Close-in" Conolly and Major General Roy Geiger, commanding the Southern Attack Force and the Southern Landing Force, respectively, arrived with their staffs at Saipan to confer with Spruance, Turner and myself. Later, Major General A.D. Bruce, AUS, commanding the Seventy-seventh Infantry Division, flew out from Pearl Harbor to Saipan.
The purpose of the conference was to re-draft the plan for Guam so that it would encompass the battle experience we had gained on Saipan. A number of alterations had to be made in the light of tactical experience and the latest intelligence. We all
felt there was room for improvement in our approach to the Guam problem, especially in respect to intensive and more sustained preparation of the objective before we landed. Task Force 58 started the process three weeks ahead of time, as a result of my suggestion that three days at Saipan had not been sufficient.
Roy Geiger toured Saipan, and under my guidance he studied terrain features and enemy tactics, so that the lessons of Saipan could be applied to Guam. With Geiger was Brigadier General P.A. del Valle, a Marine artillery veteran from Guadalcanal, who commanded the III Amphibious Corps Artillery. Our employment of artillery on Saipan was one of the major factors in our success; never before in the Pacific had Marines gone into action with so much armament, ranging from 75's to 155's. In addition, we had new rocket-launching trucks that thickened bombardment like a Pacific typhoon. THe three of us saw as much of the island as possible, visiting division areas and conferring with unit commanders. When Geiger and del Valle left, I was certain that the study they made at Saipan would have a profound influence on the course of the Guam campaign, which it did, with a consequent saving of both effort and lives.
Another visitor to my Saipan headquarters was Spruance, who was always eager to learn first-hand what was happening. The Admiral caused me many anxious moments. He refused to wear a steel helmet or green dungarees. Instead, he came ashore in a conspicuous khaki uniform which made him a first-class target for a Japanese sniper. He coolly disregarded measures for his safety by exposing himself in the forward areas, which he generally visited unarmed, accompanied only by an aide.
I finally had to call him down for his recklessness. "Admiral," I said, "you are in command of this entire operation, but I am in command ashore. I cannot let you come onto the beach unless you follow the routes I prescribe and let me send an armed escort with you." Being above all a reasonable man, Spruance agreed,and his keen interest in the landing forces and his inspection trips provided him with a much more accurate and comprehensive picture of the battle than he would have had otherwise.
Spruance repaid his visit ashore by a princely largesse of ice cream, which was a cause for celebration at Corps Headquarters. The Admiral would send a FIlipino mess steward ashore with a five-gallon-drum of ice cream as a present for me. Naturally I gave it to the enlisted men. A General should eat like his men, and I always ate as my men ate. When we had "K" rations ashore, I had "K" rations. When we had "C" rations, I had "C" rations. When supplies improved to "Ten-in-One" and "B" rations,I had the same and ate captured Japanese rations if they were needed as a supplement.
When ice cream arrived, I took station at the front window of my well-perforated house in Charan-Kanoa, with the Filipino steward and the five-gallon drum, and would sing out to a passing Marine, "Hey, boy, come over here." He came at the double, thinking that I had important business or important trouble for him. When he reached my window, I would tell him to get out his canteen cup and have some ice cream.
In the sticky heat of Saipan, ice cream was something men dreamed about, and within a few minutes the word got around about the treat down at the Commanding General's house. Soon there was a line of Marines two blocks long,holding canteen cups, Japanese rice bowls, cracked teacups, anything they could pick up quickly. I managed to stretch out the ice cream to an amazing length by doling it out carefully, advised by the smiling little Filipino.
Admiral King and Admiral Nimitz also paid me a visit at Saipan, in great secrecy, but with plenty of censored publicity and excitement. They flew into Aslito Airfield--renamed Isely Field, after the naval airman killed during preliminary strikes on the island--and I took them on a jeep tour of the entire perimeter while fighting was still in progress. Our cavalcade came dangerously near sniper haunts several times, but the two visitors were too absorbed in the general picture of the battle to worry about the personal equation and nobody has ever accused Ernie King or Chester Nimitz of lack of guts or equilibrium.
I was so impressed by the combat ability of my Marines on
Saipan that I said to King, "Give me three Marine divisions, and I'll take Luzon."
The Admiral looked down his nose at me and growled, "What kind of meat have you been eating?"
"The same kind you've been eating for the last forty years," I replied.
King told Vandegrift later, "The trouble with Holland Smith is that he's like Stilwell in China. All he wants to do is fight."
The battle of Saipan had not long to run. Contained in the northern end of the island, the remnants of the Japanese garrison were trapped. Abandoned by and cut off from Tokyo, they fell back to a narrow strip of territory, fighting savagely in their disorderly retreat.
All signs pointed to an early end of the battle. From their desperate plight emerged the same psychological reaction we had observed after the breakthrough at Nafutan Point, where the rallying cry had been, "Seven Lives to Repay Our Country." It was clear, from my observations at Attu and from my study of the Saipan situation, that the garrison was building up for the final act, a wild banzai attack in which every man would seek destruction.
We had noted this feeling of abandonment among the prisoners. On other islands, following the code of no surrender, very few prisoners fell into our hands. Through July 27 on Saipan, we took 1,734 Japanese prisoners, including 17 officers. Among these were many wounded. We were transferring 50 of the most serious cases--blind, legless, broken-backed--to Honolulu, because of the shortage of hospital personnel in the forward area. A Japanese warrant medical officer asked me why we were sending these enemy wounded to the United States to become a charge on the American Government. They were useless, he said bluntly.
I asked him what the Japanese would do in this case. "Very easy in the Japanese Army," he said. "We would leave them a hand grenade apiece, and if they didn't use the grenades, it would be a simple matter to slit their jugular veins."
I had more than a hunch that the banzai attack was imminent. There also was an inkling of such an event in some of our prisoner intelligence, and air reconnaissance showed that the Japanese were concentrating north of Tanapag, in front of the sector held by the Twenty-seventh. The terrain in that part of the island lent itself to such action despite the fact that our air and naval gunfire were pounding these assembled reserves on Tanapag Plain.
My conclusion was that the charge would come down the coastal road,k paralleling the narrow-guage railway on the west coast. In fact, before we left Pearl Harbor I had put my finger on this corridor for a banzai attack on Saipan if the Japanese decided upon one. With this thought hard in my mind I had issued a special Corps order on July 2, warning all units to take special precautions against nocturnal mass attacks and to button up their lines each night by physical contact.
Moreover, on the afternoon of July 6, accompanied by Major General Watson and Asbill, I visited the Twenty-seventh's Command Post and warned Griner, now in command of the Army Division, that a banzai attack probably would dome down Tanapag Plain late that night or early the next morning. I cautioned him to make sure that his battalions were physically tied in. The line had been established well before sunset that evening by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 105th Infantry, the 2nd Battalion holding the left flank running down to the sea.
I told Griner that my study of the terrain indicated that,if the attack came, it would be in his zone. As a matter of fact, when Watson was advancing up the west coast with the Second Division, I also cautioned him to keep his left strong, because I was sure that was where an attack would come. Griner assured me that his battalions were buttoned up and that his division was prepared for just such a Japanese move.
I left the Command Post satisfied that I had done all that was possible for a general to do. In rear of the Twenty-seventh was the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines (Artillery), moved up into good position areas for supporting the advance of the Fourth Division on the higher ground.
It was apparent that the Twenty-seventh had profited little by the change in command. In addition to my warning, Colonel Yancey, of the Army, my Corps G-2, had cautioned all divisions that a prisoner had reported his unit alerted for an all-out attack that night, and that any man alive by the next afternoon must commit hara-kiri. An hour later the Army division informed Yancey, very skeptically, that the prisoner's story was considered "tricky" and further interrogation was necessary.
At dawn our line across Saipan was practically continuous, except, we learned later, for a 300-yard gap between the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 106th Infantry. To make matters worse, this gap was not even covered by coordinated or planned fire, as is normal practice in even the most elementary offensive situation, let alone one as sensitive as this was. Shortly before 0500 the Japanese attacked down the coastal railroad, must as I had anticipated. It was a banzai attack insofar as the enemy was determined to fight to the end, but it was not composed of a disorderly foray of crazed men, although it was a motley force and included wounded and crippled, together with some well-armed troops and others carrying knives bound to poles. The attack had a semblance of organization; it was led by officers, and our troops experienced enemy machine gun, mortar and tank fire.
THus between 1,500 and 3,000 Japanese took part, and the fanatical charge cut through our lines. Courageous machine gunners of the 105th Infantry, paying the price of faulty dispositions the night before, fired until enemy dead piled high in front of their weapons and blocked their field of fire, but the Japanese came on, charging over their own dead. The machine gunners fought until their ammunition was exhausted and their bodies mingled with the Japanese.
The gap between the battalions widened under the mad enemy rush, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions became disorganized, lacking ammunition to continue fighting. Some groups were cut off and isolated and others were driven to the beach. Four hundred and six American bodies were picked up in the general area after the counterattack. The 3rd Battalion also received glancing
attack but repelled the enemy. While the other two battalions were being laced to pieces, the 3rd hardly moved beyond its pre-attack position to render any assistance. This failure later cost this battalion participation in the Army Distinguished Unit Citation awarded in 1948 by the War Department to the balance of the 105th Infantry.
Once through the gap, the momentum of the attack carried the Japanese through the two forward batteries of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, a thousand yards behind the front. These artillerymen nevertheless resolutely helped to check the invaders. Cutting their fuzes to four=tenths of a second, which meant practically a muzzle-burst, Battery H, 10th Marines, fired point blank into the advancing mob until all their ammunition was expended. But the surviving Japanese surged on and overran the batteries. The artillerymen removed the firing locks of their guns to make them inoperable, picked up their rifles and turned infantrymen, sustaining 136 casualties in the process. Thus they helped to stem the desperate enemy tide, falling back themselves until the Twenty-seventh Division's reserve regiment (the 106th Infantry) began to come up.
Four hours after they attacked, the Japanese momentum was spent, but in the general confusion it took us many hours to straighten out the picture. After learning the seriousness of the breakthrough, Griner had ordered the division reserve--the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 106th Infantry, together with all available tanks--to counterattack. By mid-afternoon they succeeded, side by side with men of the 10th Marines, in recapturing the two battery positions overrun by the Japanese, and a solid line was established form the beach to the left of the Fourth Marine Division, just short of the area where remnants of the 105th Regiment were beleaguered.
Here again, however, even while isolated comrades were being slowly butchered, the 106th Infantry failed to press the attack. Only 300 yards short of scenes which have been compared by witnesses to those of Custer's stand, the Twenty-seventh Division's reserve regiment halted and consolidated because, as the Army commanding officer later explained to Griner, he was
apprehensive of an attack on his rear from by-passed Japanese. Many of the 105th's infantrymen, stranded on the reef, were rescued by amtracks and DUKW's and evacuated to destroyers. The next day I removed the Twenty-seventh from the line and replaced them with the Second Marine Division, which liquidated the surviving Japanese.
It is easy to be wise after the event, but here was a case where we could have been wise before the event. It is extremely difficult to halt a banzai charge but, if you are alerted and prepared, such a charge, even so fierce as this one, can be contained before it does too much damage. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Regiment, and the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, fought courageously but, as Admiral Spruance correctly pointed out in his report on Saipan to Admiral Nimitz, the gap between the two battalions could have been closed by swinging the 3rd Battalion forward or could, at the very least, have been covered by machine guns.
The 3rd Battalion, although not as heavily engaged as the other two, made no effort to go to their relief. More important to us, in view of the fact that I had warned Griner of the banzai attack, was Spruance's official finding that the front line units of the Twenty-seventh were alert to the imminence of the attack. When Richardson visited Saipan, he held an investigation of the banzai attack and, I was subsequently informed by Jarman, approximately 100 officers of the Twenty-seventh Division were slated to be relieved.
During the regimes of Jarman and Griner, which had followed close on the heels of Ralph Smith, two of the three infantry regimental commanders of the Twenty-seventh Division were relieved, the commander of the 106th Infantry, together with his executive officer, as already recounted; and the CO of the 105th Infantry, who had to be placed in the charge of a medical officer after a hysterical crying spell on July 5, by Griner. In confirmation of my original judgment on the leadership with which the Twenty-seventh Division had landed on Saipan,the only Twenty-seventh Division infantry regimental commander not relieved on Saipan promptly lost his regiment on Okinawa. The clean
sweep of their leaders, together with the inevitable subordinate shakeup which went hand in hand with each, dramatizes as nothing else could the true state of that unhappy division.
If any advantage was gained from the fantastic Saipan breakthrough, we gained it, because of the banzai attack undoubtedly expedited the course of the battle and was the prelude to the last act of the Saipan drama. When we cleaned up the area in front of the Twenty-seventh's sector and wiped out the scattered groups of Japanese resistance, we counted 4,311 enemy bodies, some of which were obviously long decomposed and could not have been killed during the banzai attack.
Another drama of Saipan was taking place behind the Japanese lines, where the remnants of the garrison of nearly 30,000 men, from Lieutenant General Saito downward, were committing suicide. On the morning of July 6, prior to the banzai charge, Saito issued his last message to the Imperial Army on Saipan, declaring:
Heaven has not given us an opportunity. We have been unable to utilize fully the terrain. We have fought in unison up to the present time, but now we have no materials with which to fight, and our artillery has been completely destroyed . . . Whether we attack or whether we stay where we are, there is only death. However, in death there is life. We must utilize this opportunity to exalt true Japanese manhood. I will advance with those who remain to deliver still another blow to the American devils. I will leave my bones on Saipan as a bulwark of the Pacific.
Saito, however, did not advance with his men in the final attack, nor did Vice Admiral Nagumo. Saito committed hara-kiri and he was accompanied in death by other high officers. A captured Japanese officer gave us a remarkable personal account of the last hours of Saito.
The General was ill and had been unable to eat or sleep for several days under the strain of the losing battle he was fighting without hope of relief from Tokyo. Despite his illness, aggravated by age, he hoped to reorganize his scattered forces
and make a last stand on a new line in the northern part of the island. As we advanced, he continued to move northward and re-establish new headquarters. His sixth and final Command Post was in a cave in a valley which, according to our prisoner informant, became known among the enemy as the "Valley of Hell" because of the intensive naval gunfire and artillery we kept pouring into it.
This is what the Japanese officer told us:
Saito called his Chief of Staff and held a secrete conference of his unit commanders. The details of that conference were never revealed to use but undoubtedly they aimed at taking final action in realizing the end in true Japanese Army fashion. This final decisive action had to be one of two courses:
First, to remain as we were and starve to death or, second, to make a last stand and fight to the finish. The Commanding General and the Chief of Staff chose the latter. . . . The final order and instructions were written up and resulted in the order to carry out the aforementioned ceremonial action.
After issuing the order, the work of Headquarters was finished. Everybody put his personal belongings in order. By kindness of the Headquarters cook, a farewell feast for General Saito was prepared for the evening of July 5. This consisted of only sake and canned crabmeat.
Why did they hold this last farewell feast? Since General Saito, because of his age and exhausted condition, would not participate in the attack of July 7, and had decided to commit suicide in his cave, he was feted.
10 a.m., July 6. This time was set by the General himself as the final hour. I had to be up at the front that morning in a liaison capacity, so I was unable to witness the final hour.
I think that it happened in the following manner: Cleaning a spot on a rock, General Saito sat down. Facing the misty East, saying "Tenno Haika! Banzai!" he drew his own blood first with his own sword and then his Adjutant shot him in the head with a pistol. When I returned to Headquarters from my duties at 10 p.m. on July 6, they had already cremated the General's body.
Two days after the banzai attack, organized Japanese resistance ceased, and Saipan was secured. The Fourth Marine Division, advancing along the east coast of the island, captured
Marpi Airstrip went on to take Marpi Point,the last enemy stronghold, on July 9, twenty-four days after we landed at Charan-Kanoa.
Saito's death was the signal for a wave of suicides, which made hard-boiled Marines shudder at Japanese savagery and regret their own helplessness to interfere when they saw hundreds of Japanese civilians, whose emotions had been worked upon by the military, join the mad rush for death. Men, women and children flung themselves over the cliffs or were pushed over by Japanese soldiers, who shot stragglers, and then followed their victims to death, either by jumping after them or destroying themselves with hand grenades.
Saipan was the supreme example of the futility of the Japanese military doctrine regarding a civilian population. Several thousand Japanese civilians had already surrendered to us on the Charan-Kanoa and Garapan areas and were segregated in camps until we could decide their future. They had stayed behind when the Japanese moved inland and thus escaped the full force of last-minute propaganda that death by horrible torture would be their fate if they were captured by the American Marines, and therefore death by their own hand was both preferable and honorable. Instead, they trusted us and lived to take their place again in the world as useful citizens.
The manner in which Admiral Nagumo met his death was never learned. Some obscure cave on Saipan must hold that secret. He, too, probably was cremated after committing suicide, because he was reported alive the night before the banzai attack. It was an ignominious end to the career of the man who sank our fleet at Pearl Harbor and by so doing brought us into the war and ended Japan's dream of empire.
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