The Conquest of Southern Saipan1
The Capture of Southern Saipan
On the morning of 16 June, Admiral Spruance visited Admiral Turner's flagship, the Rocky Mount, to inform his principal subordinates how he intended to meet the threat posed by the approaching enemy fleet. Spruance wanted the vulnerable transports and other amphibious shipping to stand clear of Saipan until the Japanese carriers could be destroyed. General unloading over the western beaches was to stop at dusk on 17 June, after which transports that were not vital to the operation and all the LSTs would steam eastward from the island. If the cargo carried in any of the ships that had been withdrawn was later needed by the landing force, the necessary vessels, carefully screened by warships, could be sent back to Saipan.2
Spruance left the aerial support of operations ashore to planes based on the escort carriers. All of Task Force 58, the faster escort carriers included, was to concentrate on defeating Ozawa's approaching battle fleet. Certain cruisers and destroyers were freed from their mission of protecting Admiral Turner's amphibious force so they could reinforce Admiral Spruance's striking force. Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf was to station his old battleships, along with their screen of cruisers and destroyers, about 25 miles west of Saipan to shatter a possible night attack by Japanese surface units.3 In order to detect the kind of surprise blow against which Oldendorf's giants were guarding, Navy patrol bombers flew westward from Eniwetok and, on the night of 17 June, began operating from
off the west coast of Saipan. Spruance also ordered the transports carrying the Guam expedition to get clear of the Marianas and take up station east of their objective. The recapture of Guam could wait until the Imperial Japanese Navy had played its hand.
"Do you think the Japs will turn tail and run?" asked General Holland Smith as the meeting was coming to a close.
"No," Admiral Spruance answered, "not now. They are out for big game. If they had wanted an easy victory, they would have disposed of the relatively small force covering MacArthur's operation at Biak. But the attack on the Marianas is too great a challenge for the Japanese Navy to ignore."4
While Spruance's thoughts turned to the enemy ships advancing eastward toward him, Generals Watson and Schmidt plotted the conquest of the southern part of Saipan. The overall scheme of maneuver called for the two divisions to pivot on Red 1 to form a line stretching from the west coast, across the island, to a point just south of the Kagman Peninsula. While the 2d Marine Division held off any attacks from the vicinity of Mounts Tipo Pale and Tapotchau, the 4th Marine Division was to smash through to the shores of Magicienne Bay.
The Capture of Afetna Point
On the morning of 16 June, Lieutenant Colonel Easley, wounded the day before, turned command of 3/6 over to Major John E. Rentsch and was evacuated from the island. Major Hunt had by this time assumed command of 2/6 from Lieutenant Colonel Kengla, the observer who had temporarily replaced the wounded Major Rice. Strengthened by the arrival of its self-propelled 75mm guns and 37mm anti-tank weapons, Colonel Riseley's 6th Marines, the pivot for the entire landing force, spent the day mopping up the area it already had overrun. Fighting flared whenever Marines encountered Japanese die-hards, only to end abruptly once the enemy soldiers had been killed.
The 8th Marines zone also was quiet in comparison to the frenzy of D-Day. The 2d Battalion, however, saw sustained action while driving the enemy from Afetna Point and pushing toward Lake Susupe. At the point, the going was comparatively easy, for many of the defenders had either fled inland or been killed during the fruitless night counterattacks. By 0950, 2/8 had established contact with the 23d Marines at Charan Kanoa pier.
The company that had cleaned out Afetna Point then reverted to battalion reserve. Japanese artillery began relentlessly stalking the unit, even when it occupied positions screened from observers on the O-1 ridges. Some days later the culprit was found, an enemy soldier who had been calling down concentrations from his post in one of the smokestacks that towered over the ruined Charan Kanoa sugar refinery.5
While this one company was securing Afetna Point, and later dodging shell bursts, the remainder of the battalion advanced to the western edge of Lake Susupe.
D plus 1 also saw the further strengthening of General Watson's 2d Marine Division. The remainder of Lieutenant Colonel Richard C. Nutting's 2/2 came ashore to serve for the time being with the 6th Marines. All of Lieutenant Colonel Arnold F. Johnston's 3/2 had landed on D-Day. Because of the volume of hostile fire that was erupting along the northern beaches, 1/2, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wood B. Kyle, was diverted to the zone of the 4th Marine Division. Northern Troops and Landing Force intended that the battalion serve with the 4th Marine Division, but Kyle learned only of the change of beaches when he reported to the control vessel. As a result, when his men landed, Kyle marched them north and rejoined the 2d Marine Division. Once the move had been made, NTLF decided that a return to 4th Division territory and control was undesirable and 1/2 remained with its parent regiment.
Originally scheduled to be supplied by parachute after the contemplated landing at Magicienne Bay, Kyle's battalion had placed its 81mm mortars and .30 caliber water-cooled machine guns on board an escort carrier. The torpedo planes that were sent to deliver the weapons after the battalion had landed flew so low over the Charan Kanoa airstrip that the parachutes did not open completely. As a result, almost all the equipment was damaged. With his 2d Battalion attached to the 6th Marines and 1/2 presumably under control of the 4th Marine Division, Colonel Stuart had been assigned to command a composite force made up of 3/2 and 2/6. Since 2/6 had fought desperately to repel the previous night's counterattack, Stuart ordered the tired unit into reserve, relieving it with his other battalion.
The second day of the Saipan operation also saw the landing of two 105mm howitzer battalions of the 10th Marines. Late in the afternoon, the DUKWs carrying Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Jorgensen's 4/10 and Major William L. Crouch's 3/10 crossed Green 3. Jorgensen's battalion went into position near the radio station, while Crouch's unit prepared to fire from an area 200 yards inland from the southern limit of Green 2. The 2d 155mm Howitzer Battalion, detached from VAC Artillery, did not come ashore because adequate firing positions were not available. To the south, the arrival on the Blue Beaches of General Harper and the advance parties of all four XXIV Corps Artillery battalions gave promise of increasingly effective fire support as the battle progressed.
The 4th Marine Division Battles Forward
General Schmidt had decided that a strong effort in the center of his zone of action offered the best chance for success. Before launching his attack,
scheduled for 1230 on 16 June, the 4th Marine Division commanding general parceled out elements of Colonel Hart's 24th Marines in order to strengthen his position. The 3d Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr., was attached to Colonel Batchelder's 25th Marines in order to shore up the right-hand portion of the division front, relieving the weary 1/25, while Lieutenant Colonel Richard W. Rothwell's 2/24 moved into positions from which to protect the left flank. The remainder of the 24th Marines took over the center of the beach-head. As 1/24 was moving forward, mortar fragments claimed the life of Lieutenant Colonel Maynard C. Schultz, the battalion commander, who was replaced by his executive officer, Major Robert N. Fricke.
The artillery battalions which were to support the attack also came under enemy fire. Lieutenant Colonel Reeve of 5/14 reported that by 1730 on 16 June, all but two of his 105mm howitzers had been knocked out. "When I say 'knocked out'," he continued, "I mean just that--trails blown off, recoil mechanism damaged, etc. By 1000, with the help of division ordnance and by completely replacing one or two weapons, we were back in business--full strength--12 guns."6 Early in the morning 4/14 also came under accurate counterbattery fire. After the Marine cannoneers had blasted a 30-man patrol, hostile gunners retaliated by silencing one of the battalion's howitzers, killing or wounding every member of the crew.
Although Agingan Point was secured early in the day, the attack of the 4th Marine Division was not a complete success, for darkness found the enemy clinging stubbornly to a portion of the O-1 Line. The longest gains were made on the right by the 25th Marines. While Vandegrift's attached unit moved forward, Mustain, commander of 1/25, released control of those elements of 3/25 that had been entrusted to the 1st Battalion on the previous day. Once his 3d Battalion had been restored as a team, Chambers sent tanks and infantrymen against pockets of resistance to his rear. The Marines silenced five machine guns and two howitzers, killing in the process some 60 Japanese.
When this task had been finished, Chambers lent assistance to 2/25, which was trying to destroy a quartet of antiaircraft guns located on the reverse slope of the O-1 ridge. In spite of help from tanks and two of Chambers' rifle companies, Hudson's Marines could not dislodge the enemy, for the Japanese were able to place grazing fire along the crest. Still, the 25th Marines, with Vandergrift's attached battalion, was able to claw its way to within a half-mile of Aslito airfield. In the center and on the left, the 24th and 23d Marines fought a similar tank-infantry battle against equally resolute Japanese of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade. The division front line by nightfall formed a crescent around the southern shore of Lake Susupe, bulged eastward almost to O-1, crossed the critical ridge near the center of the zone of action, and continued to a point almost 1,000
yards east of Agingan Point. (See Map 17. )
Ozawa's appearance east of the Philippines caused Admiral Spruance to order the American transports to safer waters, a withdrawal that would begin at darkness on 17 June. General Holland Smith was thus presented the choice of either landing his Expeditionary Troops reserve at Saipan or allowing it to disappear over the eastern horizon. Since the fierce battle on D-Day had served notice that the conquest of Saipan would be a difficult task, he released General Ralph Smith's 27th Infantry Division, less one regiment and its supporting artillery battalion, to Northern Troops and Landing Force and then ordered one of the Army regimental combat teams to land at once.
During the night, the 165th Infantry went ashore, came under General Schmidt's control, and got ready to pass through 3/24 and extend the 4th Marine Division right flank during the next day's attack. The 105th infantry would land on Holland Smith's order, while the 106th Infantry, formerly scheduled to join Southern Troops and Landing Force at Guam, remained afloat as Expeditionary Troops reserve. Three of the 27th Division field artillery battalions, the 105th, 106th, and 249th, were ordered to disembark and serve under the direction of XXIV Corps Artillery, and by the middle of the following morning, all of them were ready for action. While these reinforcements were crossing the darkened beaches, an advance party from Northern Troops and Landing Force headquarters arrived to select a site for Holland Smith's command post.
The Tank Battle8
During daylight on 16 June, the 2d Marine Division had not engaged in the savage kind of fighting endured by the 4th Marine Division. Once darkness arrived, their roles were reversed, for General Saito chose to hurl the 9th Tank Regiment, 136th Infantry Regiment, and 1st Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force at the northern half of the beachhead. Because of the gains which the Marines had made during the past two days, the Japanese general could not hope to crush General Watson's division at a single stroke. Instead of simply issuing orders to drive the Americans into the sea, Saito directed his troops first to recapture the site of the Saipan radio station, some 400 yards behind the lines held by the 6th Marines. Once this initial objective had been gained, the Japanese would promptly launch further blows that would bring the Americans to their knees.
Colonel Goto's 9th Tank Regiment, which boasted new medium tanks mounting 47mm guns as well as older light tanks, was to spearhead the effort, attacking westward directly toward the radio station. Two of Goto's companies and part of a third had been sent to Guam, but 3½ companies were on hand at Saipan. Although one of these units had been almost wiped out during the earlier fighting, Goto was able to muster about 44 tanks, most of them mediums.
On the heels of the tank attack, Colonel Yukimatsu Ogawa's 136th Infantry Regiment, which already had suffered serious losses, was to attack toward Charan Kanoa. From the north, Lieutenant Commander Tatsue Karashima's 1st Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force would advance from Garapan along the coastal road. Although Saito directed the naval unit to cooperate with his Army troops in the eventual capture of Charan Kanoa, he apparently was unable to impose his will on Admiral Nagumo. What was to have been a serious effort to penetrate the lines of the 2d Marines and push southward along the highway did not materialize. Colonel Stuart's regiment, subjected to scattered mortar fire, beat off "minor counterattacks"9 but encountered no real peril from the direction of Garapan. To the south, however, Japanese Army troops delivered a blow which, in the opinion of Lieutenant Colonel Jones of 1/6, "could have been fatal to the division's fighting efficiency."10
Before darkness, American aerial observers had spotted several enemy tanks in the area inland of the 2d Marine Division beachhead, so the troops were alert to the possibility of an armored attack. At 0330 on the morning of 17 June, the Marines of 1/6 heard the roaring of tank motors. Star shells illuminated the darkened valley from which the noise seemed to be coming, a company of Sherman medium tanks was alerted, and supporting weapons began delivering their planned fires. Within 15 minutes, the hostile tanks, with Ogawa's infantrymen clinging to them, began rumbling into the battalion sector.
"The battle," wrote Major James A. Donovan, Jr., executive officer of 1/6, "evolved itself into a madhouse of noise, tracers, and flashing lights. As tanks were hit and set afire, they silhouetted other tanks coming out of the flickering shadows to the front or already on top of the squads."11 Marine 2.36-inch rocket launchers, grenade launchers, 37mm antitank guns, medium tanks, and self-propelled 75mm guns shattered the enemy armor, while rifle and machine gun fire joined mortar and artillery rounds in cutting down the accompanying foot soldiers.
Between 0300 and 0415, when the battle was most violent, 1/10 fired 800 75mm rounds in support of 1/6. The battalion fired another 140 shells between 0430 and 0620, as the action waned. Additional support came from a 4/10 battery of 105mm howitzers.
Although directed primarily at 1/6, the attack spilled over into the sector manned by 2/2, which was still
attached to the 6th Marines. Here three of Goto's tanks were disabled. By 0700, the hideous din had ended all along the front, but the quiet of the battlefield was broken by the bark of M1 rifies as Marines hunted down survivors of the night's bitter clash. Atop a hill in front of Jones' battalion, a Japanese tank, smashed by naval gunfire as it attempted to escape, lay wreathed in black smoke. At least 24 of the 31 armored vehicles whose charred hulks now littered the area were destroyed while attempting to pierce the lines of 1/6.12 "I don't think we have to fear Jap tanks any more on Saipan," remarked General Watson. "We've got their number."13 The Marines had handled their antitank weapons so effectively that only a handful of Goto's vehicles survived the massacre. These few tanks, however, would strike again before the battle ended.
The 136th Infantry Regiment also suffered intensely at the hands of 1/6 and 2/2. Neither battalion estimated the number of Japanese killed on that hectic morning. Judging from reports made to division on the following evening, Colonel Ogawa must have lost about 300 men. The Japanese had suffered a bitter reverse. Commented the commanding officer of the 135th Infantry Regiment in northern Saipan: "Despite the heavy blow we dealt the enemy, he is reinforcing his forces in the vicinity of Charan Kanoa. . . ."14 Such was the epitaph to General Saito's counterattack.
In all but destroying the 9th Tank Regiment and a 500-man detachment of infantry, 1/6 had suffered 78 casualties, more than one-third of a full-strength rifle company. The company from 2/2 that helped Jones' Marines shatter the attack lost 19 men killed and wounded. The battalions of the 10th Marines, whose positions had been carefully plotted during the day by Japanese observers, suffered many casualties, including the wounding of the commander of 2/10, Lieutenant Colonel Shell. The two battalions also lost a great deal of equipment to counterbattery fire. By dawn on 17 June, four of the 4th Battalion 105s were temporarily out of action, and only three of the 2d Battalion 75s were capable of firing.
In spite of these losses, which brought NTLF total casualties to approximately 2,500, the efficiency of the command was considered excellent. Now the two Marine divisions, aided by Colonel Gerard W. Kelley's 165th Infantry, would renew their efforts to break out from the coastal plain. While the 2d Marine Division sent the 2d and 6th Marines north toward Garapan and Tipo Pale and the 8th Marines eastward to O-1, the 4th Marine Division and its attached Army regiment was to continue toward Aslito field.
16-22 June 1944
17 June: The Attack of the 2d Marine Division
The attack planned for 0730 on 17 June called for the 2d Marines to extend their beachhead almost halfway to Garapan, while the 6th Marines fought its way to a line drawn south and slightly east from the base of 1,133-foot Mount Tipo Pale. The 8th Marines had the mission of advancing across the Lake Susupe marshes to seize the O-1 ridges to its front. A planned 90-minute preparation by aircraft, warships, and artillery batteries was within 15 minutes of completion when General Holland Smith directed General Watson to postpone the attack until 0930. Convinced that he did not have time to inform all his infantry units of the delay, Watson allowed the three regiments to surge forward.
Colonel Stuart's 2d Marines, composed at the time of 3/2 and 2/6, advanced 400 yards within three hours. Resistance continued very light, and by 1800 the unit was digging in at its objective, about 1,000 yards south of Garapan. One company of 2/6, the regimental reserve, was inserted on the right of 3/2 to insure contact with the 6th Marines. General Watson then released to Stuart's control a company from 1/2, the division reserve, and this unit was attached to 2/6.
The men of the 6th Marines had barely finished ferreting out the snipers left behind as the Japanese counterattack receded, when they began an attack of their own. The regiment fought its way upward to the foothills of Mount Tipo Pale. Since the Japanese within the 6th Marines zone of action had been mauled during the night's fighting, the survivors could offer only slight resistance, but difficulty in maintaining contact with the 8th Marines slowed Colonel Riseley's command. By the time the objective had been captured, 1/6, 3/6, and 2/2 were on line, with the regimental scout-sniper platoon the only available reserve. To add strength to the position, Colonel Riseley received one company from 1/2.
Colonel Wallace's 8th Marines moved rapidly forward in the left of its zone of action, as the 1st and 3d Battalions seized their assigned portions of the disputed ridgeline. Lieutenant Colonel Tannyhill's 1/29, however, soon found itself mired in the bog that extended northward from Lake Susupe. Japanese snipers lurking in the swamp killed or wounded many of the floundering Marines, while enemy troops firing from a hill on the O-1 Line and an adjacent grove of palm trees inflicted their share of the 80 casualties suffered by the battalion. Among those wounded and evacuated was Lieutenant Colonel Tannyhill, who was replaced during the afternoon by Lieutenant Colonel Rathvon McC. Tompkins.
No sooner had Tompkins arrived on the scene than four medium tanks came thundering along the one good road leading through the zone. He commandeered the Shermans, and their 75mm guns kept the defenders crouching in the trenches until Marine infantrymen could overwhelm the enemy and gain the crest. The tanks then rumbled up the hill to fire directly into a cave where a number of Japanese were holding out, killing the occupants. Although the hill itself was firmly in American hands, the nearby coconut
grove defied reduction. Whenever the battalion 81mm mortars took the stand of trees under fire, the Japanese responded with a torrent of bullets. To guard against a possible counterattack, four self-propelled 75mm guns were rushed onto the hill. No further advance was attempted that day.
On 17 June, the 2d Marine Division had almost doubled the area under its control. From a point on the coast 1,000 yards south of Garapan, the front curved inland past the approaches to Mount Tipo Pale, embraced the hard-won hill in the 8th Marines zone, and swung sharply toward Lake Susupe. The three regiments were in contact with one another, but a gap existed between divisions. To refuse the dangling flank, 2/8 dug in for the night facing generally to the south. (See Map 17.)
The Approach to Aslito Airfield
Two battalions of Colonel Kelley's 165th Infantry landed before dawn of 17 June, passed through the lines of 3/24, and attacked toward Aslito field. Vandegrift's Marine battalion, although it had become division reserve, remained in position until midmorning, when Kelley's remaining battalion, 3/165, was safely ashore. Attacking with its 1st and 2d Battalions abreast, the Army regiment thrust forward against comparatively weak defenses. As the day wore on, Japanese opposition along the southern coast increased in ferocity. Near Cape Obiam, 1/165 inched its way to the crest of the ridge that barred access to the airfield, only to be driven back down the slope by a determined counterattack. The battalion then paused for the night at the base of the ridge. Since this unit could advance no farther, Colonel Kelley halted 2/165 along the high ground just short of the Aslito runways. The 2d Battalion occupied a position that afforded excellent fields of fire and insured contact with 1/165 on the right. The regimental losses for the day's action totaled 15 killed and 57 wounded.15
Just to the north, Colonel Batchelder of the 25th Marines sent a column of battalions knifing forward with 2/25 in the lead. The drive netted some 1,500 yards, as the Marines secured the area due north of the airfield and occupied the ridge beyond. Although Marine patrols discovered that Aslito field had been abandoned, Colonel Kelley was unwilling to occupy it with elements of his 165th Infantry. He believed that any further advance would have involved exchanging a good defensive position for a poor one, and in the process assuming a frontage too wide for his pair of battalions. Thus, the successful 2/25 found itself about 600 yards forward of the unit on its right. Colonel Batchelder now ordered his 3d Battalion to form a line facing southward toward the vacant runways and battered buildings. A narrow gap, however, still existed between the Marine and Army regiments.
The 24th Marines, in the left-center of the 4th Marine Division zone of action, had been plagued throughout the early morning by incoming fire from mortars, artillery, and machine guns, as well as by air bursts from
40mm antiaircraft guns. A 15-minute artillery preparation did not silence all these Japanese weapons, many of which continued to inflict casualties during the day. Because the division front was growing wider as the Marines moved inland, the 24th Marines had to shift its axis of advance slightly to the north, with 1/24 making a wide turning movement to come abreast of the 2d Battalion. A deluge of shells from antiaircraft guns, probably located near Nafutan Point, delayed completion of the planned maneuver by 1/24. By 1000, the long-range fire had subsided, so that Major Fricke's men, supported by mortars and by LVT(A)s, could overwhelm light opposition to capture their objective.
The attack of 2/24 also was slow in gaining momentum. On the battalion left, the 23d Marines found itself confronted by a defiant and well-entrenched group of Japanese from the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade. These resolute defenders not only prevented the Marine units from maintaining contact along the regimental boundary but also turned a 3-inch dual-purpose gun against 2/24. The weapon was soon silenced, but almost an hour passed before Rothwell's battalion could extend to its left, make contact, and begin moving forward in the face of mortar concentrations and intermittent 40mm fire, probably from the same antiaircraft guns that were harassing the 1st Batallion.
At 1500, a barrage of 4.5-inch rockets, fired in support of the adjacent 23d Marines, struck the battalion, causing 20 casualties.16 In spite of this accident, Rothwell's Marines continued their attack in the face of increasing resistance. The battalion was poised to make a final lunge toward its objective, when a savage concentration of enemy fire erupted from the face of a cliff only 300 yards to the front. Caught in the open and unable to gouge foxholes in the hard coral, the Marines twice fell back, yielding some 600 yards in order to obtain a suitable defensive position. The 2d Battalion had suffered 53 casualties in advancing slightly more than 2,000 yards.
The 23d Marines was in the meantime being fought to a standstill southeast of Lake Susupe, in front of a hill that jutted from the objective ridge. All went well until the 1st Battalion attempted to cross the valley beyond Mount Fina Susu. Lieutenant Colonel Haas' Marines were stopped in their tracks, even though the 2d Battalion, attacking on the right, was able to push steadily forward. The two units soon lost contact, so Colonel Jones was forced to use 3/23, his regimental reserve, to restore the line. Since the 2d Marine Division had been stymied in the southern part of its zone, the two divisions were unable to form a continuous line. (See Map 17.)
General Schmidt's Marines and soldiers had gained the central portion of their objective, but on either flank the line receded somewhat. Although Aslito airfield had not been occupied, Colonel Kelley's soldiers seemed capable
of overrunning that installation come morning. Also, the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Marvin H. Floom's 2d 155mm Howitzer Battalion, detached from the 10th Marines, indicated that the 4th Marine Division would receive additional fire support when the attack was renewed.
The American Build-Up Continues
While the fighting raged a few thousand yards inland, command posts were being occupied along the western coast. Marine observation planes were preparing to operate from the Charan Kanoa flight strip, and additional troops were pouring ashore. At 1530 on 17 June, General Holland Smith entered the ruins of Charan Kanoa to direct the efforts of Northern Troops and Landing Force. Meanwhile, General Harper had chosen a site from which to direct his corps artillery, but his 155mm battalions would not land until the next day. General Ralph Smith also arrived on the island to assume command of his 27th Infantry Division. The 165th Infantry, however, was to remain attached to General Schmidt's 4th Marine Division for the time being.
Colonel Leonard A. Bishop's 105th Infantry landed during the day. Although all three rifle battalions came ashore ready to enter the fight, most of the regimental communications gear and transport as well as some elements of its headquarters troops were left behind on their transport.17 Since that vessel promptly set sail as Admiral Spruance had directed, a week passed before the missing men and equipment landed at Saipan, Acting upon orders from Holland Smith, Bishop posted 2/105 to the rear of the 4th Marine Division to guard against an enemy breakthrough.
Another Army unit which had difficulty in landing was the 864th Antiaircraft Artillery Group. The reef blocked the progress of its landing craft, so the group was unable to move into position until the next day. The 106th Infantry remained afloat as Expeditionary Troops reserve.
Although the transports began weighing anchor as darkness approached, the impending departure of these ships and the redeployment of Turner's combat vessels caused no great concern among the troops ashore, except for the equipment-short 105th Infantry.18 Over 33,000 tons of cargo had been unloaded to sustain Northern Troops and Landing Force until the convoy returned. The situation was far different from that faced less than two years before by General Vandegrift's 1st Marine Division, when its amphibious shipping suddenly vanished from the dangerous waters off Guadalcanal.
Although the combat efficiency of Northern Troops and Landing Force was regarded as "very satisfactory, impaired to a certain degree by a considerable number of casualties," Colonel
Robert E. Hogaboom, corps G-3, detected in the events of 17 June "the first signs of weakening enemy resistance."19 The 2d Marine Division estimated 2,650 enemy dead in its zone, while the 25th Marines claimed that it alone had killed 1,550 Japanese.20 The defenders of southern Saipan had suffered numerous casualties, though probably fewer than the Americans believed. Whatever the actual total of enemy dead, the coastal perimeter defenses had been shattered.
During the night of 17-18 June, a few weak counterattacks were crushed by Northern Troops and Landing Force. Weariness, casualties, and severed communications prevented the 136th Infantry Regiment and 47th Independent Mixed Brigade from making another serious effort to break through to the western beaches. Instead of a frontal attack, the Saipan garrison attempted a countermanding behind the Marines--a move which had been anticipated.21 Of about 35 landing craft that took part in the ill-fated venture, 13 were sunk by fire from patrolling warships or from the 105mm howitzers of 4/10. The Japanese who survived the shelling turned back to scurry ashore near Tanapag.
Enemy aircraft reappeared during the evening to flail away at American shipping. Truk-based planes launched torpedoes at units of the Southern Attack Force, nervously awaiting W-Day at Guam, and damaged one LCT so badly that it had to be scuttled. Fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo craft from Yap damaged an LST that was retiring with the transports. Later the same airmen struck an escort carrier group, inflicting grave damage on the Fanshaw Bay.
18 June--"The Beginning of Our Showdown Fight."
As the third day of the battle for Saipan drew to a close, the Japanese premier, Hideki Tojo, radioed those in command of the beleaguered garrison that: "Because the fate of the Japanese empire depends on the result of your operation, inspire the spirit of officers and men and to the very end continue to destroy the enemy gallantly and persistently; thus alleviate the anxiety of our Emperor."22 Although this broadcast was intended to be inspirational, it all but conceded the eventual loss of Saipan. The Thirty-first Army headquarters, however, framed a reply that indicated "Have received your honorable Imperial words," read the message, "by becoming bulwark of the Pacific with 10,000 deaths, we hope to requite Imperial favor."23
The Thirty-first Army acting chief of staff,24 at a command post in the mountains east of Garapan, knew few details concerning the actual progress
of the battle. After piecing together the few reports that reached him, he concluded that the situation facing the defenders on the morning of 18 June was bleak indeed. He had no information on troop dispositions in the south except the assurance that three reserve companies were in the immediate vicinity of 43d Division headquarters. Rumor had it that General Saito was dead. Nothing, it seemed, could stop the American advance across Aslito airfield, and a powerful attack toward Garapan appeared in the making.25 If the Japanese high command had on the morning of the 18th any flickering hopes of a victory ashore, such sentiments would not last the day.
Two American attacks were planned for 18 June. At 1000, both Marine divisions would strike, to be followed two hours later by the 27th Infantry Division. General Ralph Smith was granted the additional time to move his 105th Infantry into position along the coast on the right of the 4th Marine Division.
The close of the previous day's fighting had found the 8th Marines in possession of a hill that overlooked a staunchly defended coconut grove. Now, while the rest of General Watson's division dispatched patrols and improved positions, the 8th Marines renewed its effort to seize this objective. Supported by a 15-minute preparation by 2/10, a barrage that had to be carefully adjusted to avoid hitting nearby elements of the 4th Marine Division, 2/8 stormed through the stand of splintered trees. At the same time, 1/29 pushed forward, keeping abreast of Chamberlin's battalion. Because of these gains, contact was temporarily restored between divisions, but by dusk a gap had been reopened.
At 1000, the 4th Marine Division also attacked, plunging forward with three regiments abreast. On the left, the 23d Marines underwent a hasty reorganization prior to crossing the line of departure. The attached 3/24 passed through 1/23, while Colonel Jones attached the rifle companies and mortar platoon of 3/23 to the 2d Battalion. Finally, the 1st Battalion and the headquarters elements of the 3d were merged, charged with supporting the advance from the slopes of Fina Susu, and entrusted to Lieutenant Colonel Cosgrove. The assault battalions soon were stalled by machine gun and mortar fire, but the prompt commitment of Cosgrove's composite unit sent the attack rolling forward once again. Although patrols reached the regimental objective, Japanese machine gunners prevented the Marines from occupying the ridge. In order to obtain ground suited to the defense, Jones had to withdraw his regiment to positions 400 yards east of Lake Susupe. This withdrawal severed the link so recently re-established with the adjacent 8th Marines.
During the afternoon, as the 23d Marines were advancing steadily, a 75mm half-track, supporting the 2d Battalion, fired into a cave in which the Japanese were manufacturing picric acid. A cloud of sickening fumes enveloped the infantrymen crouching near the opening; two men were overcome with attacks of violent nausea, and the gas alarm was sounded. Since
the Marines made a habit of discarding gas masks as soon as they landed, many an uneasy moment passed before the cloud evaporated. Riflemen resolved never again to part with their gas masks, and an anonymous lieutenant dashed into the division command post to ask a startled General Schmidt if he had a mask to spare.26
While the men of the 23d Marines were recovering from the confusion caused by the providentially false gas alarm, the 24th and 25th Marines were fast closing on the eastern shore of Saipan. Both regiments advanced swiftly, even though the 24th Marines had to deal with a desperate counterattack. At 1615, after the regimental supporting armor had retired to take on ammunition and gasoline, two Japanese tanks rumbled close to American lines and raked the Marines with fire from cannon and machine guns. Although the vehicles were driven off by artillery and bazookas, the sudden foray resulted in 15 American casualties. In spite of the hectic exchange, both regiments reached Magicienne Bay, thus isolating Nafutan Point from the rest of the island.
In order to reach the coast, the 24th Marines bypassed a fortified cliff that extended southward into its zone of action. The mission of securing this stronghold was assigned to 1/25, the division reserve. Because of the steep slope and the numerous caves, a coordinated sweep was impossible. The fight for the cliff was a series of separate actions in which four or five Marines, hugging the jagged rocks to avoid enemy fire, climbed close to the mouth of a cave and attempted to kill the defenders with a burst from a flame-thrower or with demolitions charges. If the cave proved so deep or tortuous that the enemy troops could escape the effects of fire or of concussion, the attackers blasted shut the entrance and left the entombed Japanese to suffocate.
The 165th Infantry began the day amid some confusion, for Colonel Kelley was not certain whether his command was to operate as a part of the 4th Marine Division or of the 27th Infantry Division. He directed his S-3 to call General Schmidt's D-3 section, but the ensuing conversation did not clarify the status of the Army regiment. After discussing the matter with General Ralph Smith, Kelley concluded that he was again part of the Army division and would receive a formal order to that effect from General Schmidt. Although no such order arrived, the 165th Infantry attacked at 0730 to secure the ridge in the right-hand portion of its zone and 30 minutes later began advancing on the airfield. By 1000, both objectives were firmly in American hands. The regiment then paused to regroup and in doing so came under fire from dual-purpose guns located on Nafutan Point. These weapons soon were silenced by American artillery, so that the soldiers could advance to the ridge that overlooked Magicienne Bay.
The 105th infantry, attacking along the southern coast, encountered difficulty from the outset. Both 3/105 and 1/105, which were to have relieved Kelley's 1st and 3d Battalions by noon, were about 45 minutes late in carrying
out their assignments. When the advance finally got underway, the troops entered a maze of dense undergrowth broken by coral peaks, some of them 90 feet high. Even though the Japanese chose not to oppose the passage, Colonel Bishop's men gained no more than 200 yards.
As darkness came on 18 June, Northern Troops and Landing Force held approximately three-fourths of southern Saipan. The enemy still clung to the approaches to Garapan, the foothills of Mount Tipo Pale, and a salient extending from Hill 500 toward Lake Susupe, as well as the jungle-clad hills southeast of Aslito field. Since the 4th Marine Division had captured a small segment of the eastern coast, the Japanese troops who had retreated toward Nafutan Point were isolated from their companions in the north. Elements of XXIV Corps Artillery, assisted by observation planes from the Charan Kanoa strip, had begun firing. General Holland Smith, concerned that his stockpile of supplies might become dangerously low, requested that the transports return on the following day, but Admiral Turner would release only those vessels carrying critical items. Two hospital ships made rendezvous on the 18th with the transports in order to pick up the seriously wounded. All in all, the situation looked as promising to American eyes as it seemed grave to the Japanese. (See Map 17.)
The Thirty-first Army now informed Tokyo that:
The Army is consolidating its battle lines and has decided to prepare for a showdown fight. It is concentrating the 43d Division in the area east of Tapotchau. The remaining units (two battalions of the 135th Infantry, one composite battalion, and one naval unit) are concentrating in the area east of Garapan.27
The new defensive line would extend inland from a point just south of Garapan, past the cliffs guarding the approaches to Mount Tapotchau, to the shores of Magicienne Bay. Perhaps the only consolation to the enemy was the knowledge that Saito was alive to direct the impending battle.
Among the missions assigned the troops manning the new line was that of preventing the Americans from using Aslito field, a task that would have to be accomplished by infiltration since most of the Japanese artillery had been destroyed. In addition, the defenders were to hold the Marpi Point airstrip and portions of the northern beaches so that supplies and reinforcements could be landed.28 Along with these instructions, Tokyo broadcast further words of inspiration. "Although the front-line officers and troops are fighting splendidly," read a message from the Emperor, "if Saipan is lost, air raids on Tokyo will take place often; therefore you will hold Saipan."29 On the same evening that this exhortation arrived, the Thirty-First Army intelligence section began burning all but a few of its code books to prevent their capture.30
19 June: The Fighting Ashore
On the morning of 19 June, after passing the quietest night since D-Day, the Marine and Army divisions continued their attack. In the north, the 2d
HAND GRENADES are tossed by riflemen at Japanese positions as the battle lines move across Saipan from the invasion beaches. (USMC 83366)
SKIRMISH LINE of 27th Division infantrymen moves out to mop up the enemy on Nafutan Point. (USA SC210608)
Marine Division reorganized and sent patrols ahead of the battle position. The division reserve, 1/2, passed to regimental control. One company from 2/6, attached to the 2d Marines, was returned to its parent regiment. The patrols dispatched that day resulted in the destruction of three enemy tanks and the occupation of Hill 790, in the 6th Marines zone, a formidable height which the Japanese obligingly yielded. The 8th Marines probed the defenses to their front while simultaneously looking for routes over which to supply future operations. (See Map 17. )
As the 4th Marine Division was preparing to launch its attack, Japanese infantrymen and their armored support were seen massing in the vicinity of Tsutsuuran. Artillery fire promptly dispersed the enemy force, and the Marines lunged forward. While the 24th and 25th Marines consolidated their positions, the 23d Marines, with 3/24 attached, advanced almost to Hill 500. During the attack, Vandegrift's 3/24 was pinched out of the line, and Dillon's 2/23 along with Cosgrove's composite unit assumed responsibility for the entire regimental zone. The day's gains, however, could not be held because of the danger that the enemy might infiltrate along the division boundary, so the 23d Marines withdrew about 400 yards. Among the casualties was Lieutenant Colonel Cosgrove, wounded by a sniper's bu!let; he was replaced by Major Paul S. Treitel.
Along the southern coast, the 27th Infantry Division was having difficulty in keeping its lines intact. The 165th Infantry pushed the remaining distance to Magicienne Bay, thus keeping contact with the 4th Marine Division on the left. The attack of the 105th Infantry, however, bogged down in front of a sheer cliff. A gap opened between the two regiments, but the 165th Infantry patrolled the area. In addition, 1/105 and 3/105 could not keep abreast, and 1/165 had to be employed to restore the line.
During the early morning of 20 June, the Japanese struck back with local counterattacks. A force of 75 stormed the positions of 2/24 and was repulsed, but not before 11 Marines had been wounded. In the 6th Marines sector, some 15 Japanese infiltrators did little damage.
While jabbing at American lines, the defenders were falling back to the line selected on the previous day. General Saito, however, had suddenly become concerned lest the flank of this new position be turned. He directed the 118th Infantry Regiment, reinforced by tanks, to guard against a landing in the vicinity of Laulau on Magicienne Bay.31 (See Map 18.)
During the course of the day, Thirty-first Army headquarters received additional reports from the units fighting in southern Saipan. According to the army chief of staff's tally, 3 ½ of 43d Division's 7 infantry battalions and two-thirds of its artillery had been destroyed. The 47th Independent Mixed Brigade no longer had any artillery and was unable to estimate the number of infantry units still capable of offering organized resistance. Of three or more rifle battalions that had been organized from the miscellaneous units stranded
at Saipan when the invasion took place, approximately one battalion remained intact. Three engineer companies had been shattered completely, and only one antiaircraft battery remained in action. Although a few artillery pieces survived, all the Army artillery battalions were disorganized. Between 15 and 20 percent of the total Army strength was dead, wounded, or prisoners of war.32
The land operations that took place on 19 June were important. Steady pressure had been maintained on the Japanese by Marine infantry units. Corps and division artillery blanketed with fire enemy troop concentrations and weapons positions, while Army antiaircraft guns went into position to protect Aslito field. The retreating Japanese, it seemed, were showing the effects of the constant hammering. Northern Troops and Landing Force intelligence officers could take heart from the surrender of five thirsty Japanese, who claimed that the garrison was dependent on rainfall for its water supply.33 Yet, the most significant events of 19 June took place at sea.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea34
As his warships neared the Marianas, Admiral Ozawa realized that his attempt to cripple Spruance's fleet depended upon the cooperation of land-based Japanese aircraft and the determination of Saipan's garrison. General Saito's men, though they were fighting desperately, had been driven from the ridges that dominated the western beaches. The invaders had landed enough men and supplies to enable them to dispense temporarily with their transports. Yet, the Japanese soldiers had been partially successful. While the vulnerable transports had withdrawn to the east, Saipan was far from secured, so Spruance's ships remained, in a very real sense, tied to the beachhead.
The promised attempt by the Japanese to fly land-based bombers into the Marianas was less than a partial success. American raids on the Volcano-Bonin Islands destroyed some of the enemy planes, and others were stopped by adverse weather. A few aircraft succeeded in getting through, and these took part in a series of raids launched on 18 June.
At 0540 on that day, the Japanese attacked the old battleships, inflicting no damage, but later in the day three American oilers were damaged, one seriously. The last effort of the day, directed against the escort carriers, cost the Japanese five fighters. Unfortunately, 19 of the intercepting American planes crashed while attempting to land on the carriers after dark.35 A Japanese naval aviator, who had helped dispatch 120-130 aircraft, most of them manned by student pilots, from Japan to the Marianas, later estimated that only 40 percent of the pilots
and virtually none of the planes survived the aerial battles of 18 June.36
As the Japanese planes were limping back to their bases, Admiral Spruance maneuvered to prevent the enemy from getting past his ships to attack Saipan. Recent submarine sightings and interceptions of enemy radio messages by high frequency direction finders seemed to indicate that Ozawa would divide his forces, but this was not the case. The Japanese admiral was intent on destroying the American carriers.
On the morning of 19 June, the enemy launched the first of four powerful raids. When the gigantic air battle ended, 330 of the 430 planes launched by the enemy carriers had been destroyed. American attacks against airfields on Guam accounted for another 50 Japanese planes. In contrast, Mitscher's carriers lost 30 planes, 13 of them as a result of the sweeps over Guam.
Ship losses on 19 June also indicated that an American victory was in the making. Japanese bombers had slightly damaged the battleship South Dakota and scored near misses on two carriers and a cruiser, while an enemy plane had crashed the Indiana, but two of Ozawa's nine carriers were sunk by submarines. The Japanese ships now altered course to avoid the lash of Mitscher's planes long enough to refuel.
As a result of the enemy's change of course, American airmen were unable to deliver an attack of their own until late in the afternoon of 20 June. Admiral Spruance then took a calculated risk in ordering the strike, for it was certain the planes could not get back to the carriers until after dark. The flyers sunk one carrier, slightly damaged two others, and downed 65 Japanese planes. American losses numbered 100 planes, but only about 20 of these were destroyed by the enemy. The rest crashed on or near the carriers, while attempting night landings. Although the waiting ships turned on their lights to aid the pilots, many planes were so low on gasoline that the first approach, good or bad, had to be the last one. Many of the pilots and crewmen who crashed were rescued from the sea that night and on the next day.
Ozawa had been crushed. Admiral Turner now was free to concentrate on supporting the troops ashore. On 20 June, as the Japanese were reeling under the blows of Mitscher's airmen, the transports unloaded 11,536 tons of supplies. In the following several days, increasing numbers of ships returned from the deployment area and the volume of supplies unloaded rose swiftly. With the defeat of the Japanese fleet, the eventual doom of the enemy garrison was assured. The defenders could no longer win the battle for Saipan, but they would fight as valiantly as though their triumph was certain.
The Capture of Hill 500
On 20 June, while Navy planes were seeking out Ozawa's fleet, Marine and Army troops continued their pressure on the retreating enemy at Saipan.
In the northern part of the American beachhead, the 2d and 6th Marines continued patrolling, while the 8th Marines and the 4th Marine Division attempted to complete the turning movement that would enable the invaders to begin advancing north along the island spine. Meanwhile, in the south, the 27th Infantry Division persisted in its efforts to destroy the Japanese troops entrenched at Nafutan Point.
Patrols from the 2d Marines penetrated almost to the southern outskirts of Garapan, while those sent out by the 6th Marines discovered that the enemy had withdrawn at least 500 yards. Neither regiment, however, could advance until the 8th Marines had pushed forward. On 20 June, Colonel Wallace's unit completed its portion of the turning movement, with 2/8 advancing to the left of Hill 500 and gaining its part of the objective line against light opposition. The change in direction shortened the regimental front so that Colonel Wallace could move 3/8 and 1/29 into reserve, leaving 1/8 and 2/8 to man the line.
General Ralph Smith's troops had taken over responsibility for mopping up the shores of Magicienne Bay. Able to concentrate on its drive north, the 4th Marine Division made impressive gains during the day. The attack, originally scheduled for 0900, was delayed for 90 minutes to allow the 25th Marines, less its 1st Battalion, to replace the weary 23d. Critical terrain in the division zone was Hill 500, which was to be taken by Colonel Batchelder's regiment.
Because of the narrow frontage assigned him, Colonel Batchelder decided to attack in a column of battalions, Lieutenant Colonel Chambers' 3d Battalion leading the way. While the 1st Provisional Rocket Detachment, the regimental 37mm guns, and the battalion 81mm mortars joined the 1st and 3d Battalions, 14th Marines, in blasting the hill, Chambers' men, concealed by a smoke screen, advanced across the level ground to Laulau road, some 500 yards from the objective. Here the battalion reorganized, and, as the preparatory barrage increased in severity, the Marines began moving through wisps of smoke toward the crest. Although the summit was gained about noon, the sealing or burning out of bypassed caves took up most of the afternoon. When the action ended, 44 Japanese bodies littered the hill, while an unknown number lay entombed beneath its surface. The Marines lost 9 killed and 40 wounded, comparatively few casualties in contrast to the number the enemy might have exacted had he chosen to defend the hill more vigorously.
While Chambers' men were seizing Hill 500, the 1st and 2d Battalions, 24th Marines were racing forward a distance of 2,700 yards. Although these units encountered fire from rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and occasionally from mortars, the Japanese had withdrawn the bulk of their forces to man the new defensive line. Assisted by medium tanks, armored LVTs, and light tanks mounting flamethrowers, Lieutenant Colonel Rothwell's 2/24 executed what the battalion commander termed "the best coordinated
tank and infantry attack of the operation."37 In doing so, the battalion suffered 32 casualties.
During the 4th Marine Division swing toward the north, Lieutenant Colonel Mustain's 1/25 was battling to drive the enemy from the cliff bypassed on 18 June by the 24th Marines. On the 19th, Mustain's battalion attacked directly toward the sheer western face of the objective, gaining little ground and suffering 26 casualties. Now, on the 20th, he struck from the south. Twice American tanks thundered forward in an unsuccessful effort to draw enemy fire. The third time the armor advanced, Marine infantrymen also moved forward, and the Japanese greeted Mustain's troops with a deluge of fire. In spite of this violent opposition, the attackers moved steadily northward. Flamethrower operators and demolitions teams cleaned out those caves that could be approached on foot, while tanks fired into the openings cut into the face of the cliff.
In an accident reminiscent of the blockhouse explosion on Namur, a Japanese ammunition dump hidden in a cane field at the base of the cliff exploded, temporarily disorganizing Company A. The blast may have been caused by a Japanese shell, but it could have occurred when the flames set by American tracers reached the stockpile of explosives. Mustain's losses for the entire day totaled 31 killed or wounded.
South of the cliff, General Ralph Smith's soldiers continued their attack toward Nafutan Point. Two battalions of the 165th Infantry, attacking from the north and northwest, gained about 1,000 yards, but 3/105 had a difficult time in overcoming the cave defenses dug into the cliffs and ridges within its zone. On 20 June, the last of General Ralph Smith's regiments, Colonel Russell G. Ayres' 106th Infantry, came ashore. General Holland Smith felt that he might need the regiment at Saipan, even though it had been earmarked as reserve for the Guam landings. Admiral Turner agreed with the Marine general, but he specified that as much as possible of the unit equipment be left on board ship to speed the eventual movement to Guam. Once ashore, the 106th Infantry became Northern Troops and Landing Force reserve, thus releasing 2/105 to division control.
Other heartening changes in the tactical situation took place on 20 June. The first American plane to use Aslito field38 touched down that evening. Also, the 155mm guns of XXIV Corps Artillery began firing at targets on Tinian. With all of southern Saipan except Nafutan Point under American control, General Holland Smith could devote his full attention to shattering General Saito's mid-island defense line.
Preparations For the Drive To the North
Prior to launching their blows against the newly formed Japanese line, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions spent 21 June, D plus 6, in reorganizing, moving up supplies, and probing for enemy strongpoints which would have to be reduced when the attack began. Japanese troops who had taken refuge in the swamps surrounding Lake Susupe had been a source of trouble throughout the operation. A patrol attempted on 19 June to flush out these stragglers, killing seven of them and capturing a pair of machine guns before being forced to withdraw. A larger patrol returned the following day, but it too was not powerful enough to complete the task. On 21 June, 1/106 received orders to secure the area, and the Army unit went into action the following day. Although the soldiers conscientiously searched the marsh, they were unable to kill all the Japanese hiding there. The area remained a haven for enemy infiltrators for some time to come.
Elsewhere in the 2d Marine Division zone, patrols sought information on enemy defenses. A strong position was located south of Garapan, but neither the 6th nor 8th Marines was able to learn anything concerning General Saito's recent preparations. The 8th Marines took advantage of the lull to relieve 2/8 with 1/29, and the 2d 155mm Howitzer Battalion reverted to control of the 10th Marines.
On the right, the 4th Marine Division also paused before attacking along the east coast. Since 31 Japanese had been slain on Hill 500 during the previous night, 3/25 once again probed the caves that scarred its slopes. Lieutenant Colonel Chambers talked two enemy soldiers captured on the hill into trying to convince their comrades to surrender. Two wounded men yielded to their arguments, but four others emerged from their caves rifles ready and had to be killed.
At Nafutan Point, the 27th Infantry Division on 21 June continued its slow, cave-by-cave advance. In the midst of the day's action, an order arrived at Ralph Smith's headquarters directing the division, less one battalion and a light tank platoon, to pass into Northern Troops and Landing Force reserve and assemble northwest of Aslito field. A separate sub-paragraph assigned the reinforced battalion the mission of mopping up Nafutan Point and protecting the airstrip.39 This assignment was made in the third paragraph of the order, the place, according to both Army and Marine Corps usage, where the commander stated the mission of his subordinate units.
Almost five hours after receiving the order, Ralph Smith telephoned Holland Smith to urge that a regiment rather than a battalion be assigned the job of reducing Nafutan Point. The Marine general approved the employment of the more powerful force, provided that one battalion was available for operations elsewhere on the island. At 2000, the Commanding General, 27th Infantry Division, ordered the 105th Infantry to "hold present front line facing Nafutan Point, with two battalions on line and one battalion in
regimental reserve."40 The regiment was to relieve by 0630 on 22 June those elements of the 165th Infantry manning the front lines, reorganize, and resume the attack by 1100 on the same day. The reserve battalion of the 105th Infantry could not be employed without General Ralph Smith's approval.
At 0830 on 22 June, a modification of the previous NTLF order reached 27th Infantry Division Headquarters. The major change was the selection of a regiment, obviously the 105th Infantry, instead of a battalion to "continue the mission . . . of clearing up remaining resistance and patrolling [the] area."41 Although the revised order from Northern Troops and Landing Force varied only slightly from the instructions issued by Ralph Smith, the fact that two commanders issued different orders to the same unit later served as partial justification for the relief of the Army general.
Holland Smith's original order had in its third paragraph detailed a reinforced battalion to eliminate the Japanese resistance on Nafutan Point. The Marine general considered this proof enough that the unit involved was under Northern Troops and Landing Force control. The substitution of a regiment for a battalion did not alter the command situation. Apparently his Army subordinate assumed otherwise, for Ralph Smith issued his field order for 22 June as though the Nafutan force were responsible directly to the 27th Infantry Division. Technically at least, he had contravened an order of his Marine superior. Also, Ralph Smith had specified that the 105th Infantry hold its present positions until late the following morning, even though the change to the NTLF order, which arrived after the division had assigned the regiment its mission, directed that the attack be continued. Both generals looked forward to taking the offensive, but by going on the defensive for even a few hours, Ralph Smith, his Marine corps commander later maintained, had countermanded a lawful order.42
At dusk of 21 June, while the two generals were in the midst of issuing the series of orders which would become so controversial, the frontline troops steeled themselves for the usual night infiltration. Scarcely had the sun gone down, when infiltrators managed to touch off a 2d Marine Division ammunition dump on Green 1. Explosions continued to spew shell fragments over the beach throughout the night, but the Marines along the front lines passed a quiet night. Clashes between patrols and minor attempts at infiltration occurred, but there was no major counterattack.
In the 4th Marine Division sector, four more Japanese were killed at Hill
500, and enemy bombs crashed harmlessly to earth in the vicinity of General Schmidt's command post. The same 12-plane flight that attacked the beachhead also tried to destroy the transports but was thwarted by a smoke screen. On the following morning, the fight for central Saipan would begin, as the Marines advanced toward some of the most formidable terrain on the entire island--the jumble of peaks that extended from the vicinity of Mount Tapotchau onto Kagman Peninsula. (See Map 17 and 18.)
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (IV-3) * Next Chapter (IV-5)
1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from: TF 51 OpRpt; TF 56 OpRpt; NTLF OpRpt; 2d MarDiv OpRpt; 4th MarDiv OpRpt; 27th InfDiv Op Rpt; 2d Mar SAR; 6th Mar SAR; 8th Mar SAR; 10th Mar SAR; 14 Mar Rpt; 23d Mar AR; 24th Mar Rpt; 25th Mar Rpt; 105th Inf OpRpt, dtd 20Sep44 (WW II RecsDiv, FRC, Alexandria, Va.), hereafter 105th Inf OpRpt; 106th Inf OpRpt, n.d., hereafter 106th Inf OpRpt; 165th Inf OpRpt; 1/8 OpRpt; 2/23 Rpt; 2/23 OpRpt; 2/24 Narrative; 1/25 Rpt; 3/25 Narrative; 3/25 Saga; 1/29 SAR, dtd 1Sep44, hereafter 1/29 SAR; Edmund G. Love, The 27th Infantry Division in World War II (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1949), hereafter Love, 27th InfDiv History; Crowl, The Marianas Campaign; Hoffman, Saipan.
2. Admiral Hill, who remained in the unloading area off Saipan during this period, recalled that "each evening, after consultation with VAC, he. informed Adm Turner what ships he desired at the anchorage at daylight the following day. In the main, this plan operated very well, and no serious shortages developed in supply to the three divisions ashore." Hill comments Saipan.
3. Units of Oldendorf's Covering Group could be recalled for specific fire support assignments for troops ashore and were so used in several instances during this deployment. Ibid.
4. Quoted in Gen Holland M. Smith and Percy Finch, Coral and Brass (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1949), p. 165, hereafter Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass.
5. The commanding officer of the 23d Marines recalled that Japanese troops, who infiltrated from the north, repeatedly occupied this refinery, which controlled the boat channel off Green 3. He noted that the danger was finally eliminated by the mop-up action of two companies of Army troops assigned to the shore party on the Yellow Beaches. MajGen Louis R. Jones ltr to ACofS, G-3, HQMC, dtd 13Feb63, hereafter Jones ltr.
6. LtCol Douglas E. Reeve, ltr to Maj Carl W. Hoffman, dtd 6Jan49, quoted in Hoffman, Saipan, p. 82. No copy of this letter has been found.
7. An additional source for this section is: 27th InfDiv G-3 Periodic Rpt, 16-17Jun44.
8. Additional sources for this section include: CinCPac-CinCPOA Items Nos. 9304, 9th TkRegt O/B, dtd 15May44, 9983-9985, Thirty-first ArHq outgoing msg file, msg no. 1039, and 10531, Excerpts from a Notebook of FOs; LtCol William K. Jones memo to Dir DivPubInfo, n.d., subj: "Campaign for the Marianas, comments on"; Maj James A. Donovan, "Saipan Tank Battle," Marine Corps Gazette, v. 32, no. 10 (Oct48).
9. 2d MarDiv D-3 Rpt, 16-17Jun44.
10. Jones memo, op. cit.
11. Donovan, "Saipan Tank Battle," op. cit., p. 26.
12. Because of the darkness and confusion, the troops involved could not accurately estimate the number of tanks they had destroyed. The tally made after the battle may have included some vehicles that were knocked out prior to the night attack,
13. Quoted in Robert Sherrod, On to Westward, War in the Central Pacific (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945), p. 68.
14. NTLF G-2 Rpt, p. 13, in NTLF OpRpt.
15. 27th InfDiv G-1 PeriodicRpt. 17Jun44.
16. A provisional rocket detachment had been attached to the headquarters battalions of both Marine divisions. The missiles were fired from multiple launchers mounted on trucks.
17. When it became evident that he would not be able to land much of his regimental headquarters and unit supplies, Colonel Bishop moved ashore ahead of schedule with some key personnel and communications gear. Until its ship returned, the 105th used some repaired Japanese trucks to meet its need for motor transport. Col Leonard A. Bishop, USA, ltr to Head, HistBr, G-3, HQMC, dtd 28Feb63.
19. NTLF G-3 PeriodicRpt, 16-17Jun44.
20. NTLF G-2 PeriodicRpt, 16-17Jun44.
21. RAdm Herbert B. Knowles ltr to ACofS, G-3, HQMC, dtd 30Jan63.
22. NTLF G-2, Thirty-first Ar Incoming Msg File, no. 115, pt. 1, hereafter Thirty-first Ar Incoming Msg.
23. NTLF G-2, Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg File, no. 1046, hereafter Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg.
24. Major General Tamura, the army chief of staff, was trapped with General Obata on Guam.
25. Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg No. 1047.
26. Gen Harry Schmidt ltr to CMC, dtd 8Jan50, quoted in Hoffman, Saipan, p. 104. No copy of this letter has been found.
27. Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg No. 1050.
28. Thirty-first Ar Incoming Msg No. 150; Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg No. 1054.
29. Thirty-first Ar Incoming Msg No. 152.
30. Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg No. 1057.
31. CinCPac-CinCPOA Item No. 10531, excerpts from a Notebook of FOs.
32. Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg No. 1060.
33. TF 56 G-3 Periodic Rpt, 19-20Jun44.
34. An additional source for this section is: CinCPac-CinCPOA Ops in POA, Jun44, Anx A, pt. VII.
35. TF 52.2 OpRpt, p. 124.
36. USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 91, Captain Akira Sasaki, IJN, dtd 23Nov45, II, p. 396.
37. 2/24 Narrative, p. 5.
38. Upon its capture by the 165th Infantry, Aslito field had been renamed in honor of Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy, regimental commander killed at Makin. Later the installation was officially christened Iseley Field in memory of Commander Robert H. Isely, a naval aviator killed during a preinvasion strike. For unexplained reasons, the original spelling of Isely was not retained by the XXI Bomber Command. See Craven and Cate, Guadalcanal to Saipan, p. 515n.
39. NTLF OpO 944, dtd 21Jun44.
40. 27th InfDiv FO No. 45A, dtd 21Jun44.
41. 27th InfDiv G-3 Jnl, 22Jun44, msg no. 14.
42. Cf. Testimony of MajGen Ralph C. Smith, dtd 31Jul44, p. 6, Exhibit AAA to Proceedings of a Board of Officers Appointed by Letter Orders Serial AG 333/3, 4Jul44, HQ, USAF CPA, hereafter Army Inquiry; CG, Expeditionary Trps memo to CTF 51, dtd 24Jun44, Subj: Authority to Relieve Army Officers from Command, Exhibit D to Army Inquiry; CG, NTLF memo to CTF 51, dtd 27Jun44, Subj: Summary of Events Leading to Relief from Command of MajGen Ralph C. Smith, USA, Exhibit E to Army Inquiry.