Northern Saipan: End of the Campaign1
The Picture on 1 July
The scene of Saito's last stand had been sketched out on 27 June by Thirty-first Army Headquarters; "The defense force . . . is at present setting up with a line between Tanapag--Hill 221--Tarahoho as the final line of resistance."2 Withdrawal to the line was ordered by Saito on 2 July.
In contrast, on the same date, the 2d Marine Division moved forward more rapidly than ever since the landings. Holland Smith's objective line, fixed on 1 July, ran from Garapan up the west coast to Tanapag, then eastward across northern Saipan. Three American divisions--the 2d Marine Division on the left, the 4th Marine Division on the right, and the 27th Infantry Division between--were intent upon concluding the battle. Before executing the last moves, they turned to a straightening of the corps line.
On 1 July the 2d Division did not attempt to advance its left flank regiment, the 2d Marines, from favorable high ground outside Garapan, but awaited the advance of the 6th and 8th Marines on the right. The 27th Division, held up for five hours by opposition from several previously unknown enemy strongpoints, advanced 400 to 500 yards. The 4th Division held fast and supported the Army units by fire. Marine patrols found no Japanese up to 1,800 yards forward of the 4th Division line.
To the west, however, the 2d Division, like the 27th, encountered the enemy. In the division center, Marines of 3/6, moving toward the coast above Garapan, reached a wooded ravine defended by three Japanese field pieces, supported by rifles and machine guns. After briefly probing the strong point, Colonel Riseley bypassed it. He left Company B to destroy the resistance, a mission accomplished the next day. On the division right, the 8th Marines picked up speed across relatively
even terrain, where, better than around Tapotchau, the tanks could serve the infantry. At 0730 on 1 July, the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, in a well executed tank-infantry thrust, overran Tommy's Pimple with no casualties. The battalion then advanced, in conjunction with 2/8, toward the Tanapag Harbor area.
To the regimental left, on 1 July, the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, was joined by 2/2, relieving 3/8, and the two battalions reported good progress. The day's action included seizure of the last two Pimples, Larry's and Stan's.
By sunset of 1 July, then, the corps line had been straightened considerably. There was no longer any reason to delay the thrust toward Tanapag. The corps commander issued the appropriate order.
Victory Awaits Northward
At 2245 on 1 July, the 2d Marines received attack orders from division ordering an advance into Garapan. The next morning at 1030, Colonel Stuart began to move out, the 1st Battalion on the right, the 3d on the left.
By 1200 the 3d Battalion, supported by Company C, 2d Tank Battalion, was 800 yards inside the town, finding grim evidence of what artillery, aircraft, and naval guns could do. Yet Japanese soldiers were still there--not many, but some--and hostile fire was encountered. Some American war correspondents reported that at Garapan the Marines experienced their first street fighting of World War II. According to division accounts, however, "actually there was little, if any, of this type of fighting compared to European standards. . . . The town had been leveled completely."3 Garapan had been the second largest town of the Marianas, next only to Agana in Guam. Before the first World War it had been headquarters of the German administration, and a village centuries before that.
Twisted metal roof tops now littered the area, shielding Japanese snipers. A number of deftly-hidden pillboxes were scattered among the ruins. Assault engineers, covered by riflemen, slipped behind such obstacles to set explosives while flamethrowers seared the front. Assisted by the engineers, and supported by tanks and 75mm self-propelled guns of the Regimental Weapons Company, the 2d Marines beat down the scattered resistance before nightfall. On the beaches, suppressing fire from the LVT(A)s of the 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion silenced Japanese weapons located near the water.
Advancing to the coast above the town, 1/2 sliced through scattered enemy defenses. Southeast of Garapan, riflemen of Company A seized Flametree Hill, where, despite the blasting by Marine artillery on 29 June, the enemy had continued to hold out.
While the 2d Marines was moving into Garapan, the 6th Marines attacked the high ground overlooking the town and overcame moderate resistance. Company A of 1/6 joined men from Companies A and B of 1/2 in silencing the fire from caves on rockbound Sugar Loaf, a distinctive hill on the regimental boundary.
Inland, the 8th Marines continued toward Tanapag Harbor. Progress of 2/8 and 1/29, however, was stopped on
2-4 July 1944
the afternoon of 2 July, when machine guns opened up from a coral-limestone hill to the right of the flat terrain. Fire enfiladed the entire front of 2/8 and much of that of 1/29. Lieutenant Colonel Tompkins, commanding 1/29, was wounded by a shell fragment, and was immediately replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Jack P. Juhan, the 8th Marines executive officer.
The strongpoint lay too close to Marine lines for artillery fire. Major Chamberlain, commanding 2/8, attempted an envelopment, swinging Company F to the east along the only available route. The Marines cut through entangling underbrush hoping for surprise, but the enemy anticipated the move and turned the attackers back with a withering fusillade.
In the early evening, tanks and flamethrowers were employed against the hill. They did some damage, but emplacements were so well dug-in, and the caves so well fortified and arranged, that nothing but slow yard-by-yard demolition would neutralize the position. It was decided, therefore, to bypass the strongpoint and resume the advance the next morning, leaving Company F to contain it. On the evening of 3 July, the 2d Provisional Company, one of the units formed from the shore parties, came up to relieve Company F of its task, and the latter rejoined its battalion, then 1,000 yards ahead.
Opposition to the progress of the 4th Division was markedly less than that met by the 2d Division. On 2 July, ending its brief pause, and with the 23d and 24th Marines in assault, the 4th Division advanced toward the northwest coast. A gain of some 1,600 yards was reported for the day against such light resistance that only one Marine was wounded. At 1345, the division dug in until units of 3/165 on the left could catch up.
The 27th Infantry Division, rejoined the day before by the 165th Regiment, spent 2 July mopping up rough terrain in its zone of advance. Five enemy tanks emplaced as pillboxes were encountered and knocked out by the 106th Infantry. Heavy machine gun fire delayed 3/105, creating a risky gap between 3/165 on its right and the 106th Infantry on its left. General Griner ordered 1/105 to wheel around the 3d Battalion combat area and march north to close the gap, a mission it accomplished before dark. The division reported gains for 1,400 to 1,800 yards on 2 July and made contact on the right with the 4th Marine Division. (See Map 19.)
A New Look at the MapP
Satisfied with the overall situation, Holland Smith felt it was time to execute certain changes. Desiring to rest the 2d Marine Division for the Tinian campaign, he altered direction of the corps attack late on 2 July, bending it left, more to the northwest. Under this plan, the 2d Division would be pinched out above Garapan, while the 27th infantry Division inclined west toward the sea near Tanapag, forming a barrier against Japanese retreat northward. The 4th Marine Division, after reaching the west coast above Tanapag, would veer east, to compress the enemy in the remaining northern area. On 3 July, the 25th Marines was released from corps reserve, enabling
General Schmidt to attack on a three-regiment front.
Marines of the 2d Division spent a busy Fourth of July, prior to leaving the lines. The 3d Battalion of the 2d Marines took Mutcho Point by 0900, eliminating a small Japanese garrison. The only headache of the operation was an enemy heavy antiaircraft gun farther up the shore, which delivered air bursts uncomfortably close to the attacking troops.
By 1000 on the same day, the 6th Marines was on the beach at Tanapag Harbor, and at 1320, the 8th Marines reached the same vicinity. During the afternoon, Marines of 1/2 employing LVTs cleaned out the few enemy trapped in the boat basin. About the harbor the hulks of damaged ships sheltered some Japanese snipers. Up and down the coast there were still a number of undestroyed concrete pillboxes.
With the action of 4 July, most of the 2d Marine Division passed into NTLF reserve. The 4th Marine Division and the 27th infantry Division were assigned to conclude the campaign. During the afternoon of 4 July, the Army division shifted its frontline units and prepared for the drive toward Marpi Point. The 105th Regiment was shortly to be joined by its 2d Battalion, which started marching north on the 4th after its release from duty at Nafutan Point. Soldiers of the 106th took over the shell-wrecked seaplane base at Flores Point on 4 July.
The NTLF commander addressed an Independence Day "well done" to all troops. The day was appropriately noted in 4th Division reports by the capture of "Fourth of July Hill," a heavily wooded knob on the eastern side of Hill 721. The higher hill was, in fact, the more significant rise, since the Japanese there observed much surrounding terrain. Efforts by 3/23 to capture Hill 721 on 3 July had been violently opposed. The infantrymen, deprived of tank support by mines, were stopped short. Colonel Jones, commanding the 23d Marines, therefore ordered the battalion pulled back some 300 yards, to permit night bombardment by howitzers of the 14th Marines. Next morning, 1/23 passed through 3/23 and swept to the top of Hill 721 against surprisingly light small arms and machine gun fire. Most of the battered enemy had departed for a more healthful area. (See Map 19. )
A neighboring hill, 767, was taken by a strong combat patrol from 1/23 without meeting enemy fire. This hill marked the deepest thrust of the American advance on 4 July. Around it, the 25th Marines tied in with the 23d, while the 24th Marines--with Hill 2214 pocketed the day before--drew up on the left. Marines were by now practically neighbors of General Saito, for Hill 767 was next door to Paradise Valley (labeled "Valley of Hell" by the Japanese), site of the last Japanese headquarters on Saipan. (See Map 20. )
Wrapping Up the Campaign
General Smith fixed noon of 5 July as jump-off hour for the final push on
northern Saipan, involving the 4th Marine Division on the right and the 27th Infantry Division on the left. Army troops were by then on the Tanapag plain. Prior to the attack, the 106th Infantry went into reserve. The last advance was assigned to the other regiments, the 105th on the left and the 165th on the right. These soldiers near the eastern shore were due for some of the toughest combat experienced on the island.
In the middle interior, the 4th Marine Division advanced so rapidly to Karaberra Pass on 5 July that the corps commander resolved upon a change of missions. He felt concerned that the 27th Infantry Division, which was moving against stiffer resistance, would get too far behind. At 0900 on 6 July, therefore, he ordered the 27th Division to alter its direction of advance from northeast to north, and he moved the left flank of the 4th Division to the northwest. (See Map 20.)
When Army troops reached the coast near the village of Makunsha the 27th Division would be pinched out. The 4th Division was then to pick up the advance to Marpi Point, northern tip of the island. The new zone of the 27th Division extended up the coast from Tanapag to just above Makunsha and partially inland. It included a canyon, shortly to be dubbed Harakiri Gulch, and Paradise Valley. Everything northeast of the Army sector was assigned to the 4th Division. On 6 July, the 2d Marines was attached to that division and charged with destroying any Japanese that slipped away from the Army vanguard. On the same day, 1/29 passed to control of General Jarman's Garrison Force.
On the afternoon of 6 July, the 25th Marines, advancing with 13 tanks, got as far northeast as Mt. Petosukara, which was taken after digging out Japanese from cliffs en route. The day's action included surrender of a group of more than 700 civilians shortly before dark. The 24th Marines, to the left, gained up to 1,800 yards without difficulty, but the 23d Marines, probing the fringes of Paradise Valley, was delayed by fire from caves and underbrush, much of it at their backs. Contact with the 24th Marines was lost, but connection was made with elements of the 27th Division. Next day, the 2d Marines was put into line between the 23d and 24th Marines.
With the 106th Infantry going into reserve on 4 July, the 105th pursued the advance up the west coast while the 165th moved through the adjoining interior. The 2d Battalion, 105th passed through the ruins of Tanapag unopposed on 5 July, but beyond there its advance was blocked by machine gun fire. Shortly after moving out on 6 July, the battalion was stopped by a hail of small arms fire coming from the immediate front. The source, at first undetectable, proved to be a shallow ditch just 150 yards ahead. It seemed a suitable target for 60mm mortars, but ammunition was lacking. A rifle squad rushed what appeared to be the most active machine gun position, but the squad leader was wounded and the bold effort repulsed. Three roving Army tanks then turned up and joined the fight, with the result that some 150 Japanese soldiers jammed along the ditch were killed. The action freed the advance of 2/105.
On 6 July, 3/105, operating farther
5-8 July 1944
inland, approached the edge of Harakiri Gulch and was stopped by fire. This canyon, stretching 400 yards long, east to west, and 50 yards wide, lay astride the regimental boundary. On 5 July, a company of the 165th Infantry had collided with a nest of enemy defenders in the same area and had been driven back by a veritable wall of enemy fire. On the next day, when 1/165 attempted the canyon, its men were surprised by a series of explosions inside some straw shacks, caused when about 60 Japanese committed suicide with grenades. The event did not indicate capitulation, however. Resistance by other Japanese kept the gulch impenetrable to 1/165, as well as to 3/105 which attacked it on the west. A relieving battalion, 3/106, aided by a platoon of tanks, was at last able to secure the floor of the canyon by 0900 on 7 July.
The enemy's defense of Harakiri Gulch, grim though it was, becomes obscured by the size and fury of what befell the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 105th Infantry on 7 July. A desperate scheme had been evolved by the weary and ill Saito--then "a pitiful sight," an enemy staff officer recalled.4a Oppressed by reports of ground lost--of Saipan, last hope of Imperial victory, slipping away--he meditated upon cheerless alternatives. Saito's sixth and last command post, taken up on 3 July, was the smallest. A cave sheltered by jungle, it cut low into a hill of Paradise Valley. More like a refuge than a headquarters, the cave lay some 1,000 yards inland from Makunsha. It was miles and days from the village schoolhouse in Charan Kanoa, Saito's first command post of the Saipan campaign.
Saito's Last Decisions
By now the valley of Saito's despair was raked daily by Marine artillery and naval gunfire. The general himself had been wounded by a shell fragment. After consulting staff officers and Vice Admiral Nagumo--likewise at a cave headquarters--the Japanese commander plotted a last grand banzai attack to start before the dawn of 7 July. It was one alternative to waiting for destruction; no tactical accomplishment was apparently expected. "Whether we attack or whether we stay where we are, there is only death" said the general's melancholy summary of affairs.5 Saito, the advocate of mobile defense, was at last immobilized. In repayment to the Empire for the loss of Saipan, he exhorted each Japanese soldier to exact seven lives for one.
Saito would lead the advance, he proclaimed, but actually he had other plans for himself. The order prepared, the general adjourned to a farewell meal of sake and canned crabmeat. Next morning, leaving the attack to hands less old and tired, Saito committed harakiri.6
The desperate assault was expected by General Smith, among others. On 6 July, the corps commander, accompanied by General Watson, visited the
27th Division CP and cautioned General Griner to be on the alert for a Japanese counterattack. The Tanapag plain furnished the most likely avenue of approach if the enemy chose to attack. Holland Smith also indicated that when the Army division lines had advanced about a mile to the north, he intended to pass Watson's 2d Division through the 27th and continue the attack with the 2d and 4th Divisions on line.7
Just before sunrise, about 0400 on 7 July, like some ancient barbaric horde, the Japanese soldiers started down the Tanapag plain from around Makunsha. The attack route followed mainly along the coastal railroad. The men were led by officers, and they were equipped with machine guns, mortars, and tanks. Yet it was like military order gone awry, replaced by individual passion, a fearful charge of flesh and fire. Savage and primitive, the assault reverted to warfare of centuries before. Some of the enemy were armed only with rocks or a knife mounted on a pole. (See Map VI, Map Section.)
Whatever it was that drove the Japanese, or inspired them, they came on and on, straight into the muzzles of opposing guns. "They just kept coming and coming," recalled Major Edward McCarthy, commanding 2/105. "I didn't think they'd ever stop. It was like a cattle stampede."8 The exact number of the attackers will probably never be known, but it was believed to approximate 3,000, including remnants of every unit on the island, even walking wounded.9
First to receive the impact of the bloody attack were the isolated positions of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 105th Infantry, which had dug in for the night 1,200 yards south of Makunsha. At 0530 Colonel Bishop, commanding the Army regiment, telephoned to division that terrific mortar fire was falling on the two battalions.
The soldiers fought for their lives as tremendous masses of the enemy flooded into a 300-yard gap between the battalions, discovered by enemy patrols the night before. Both American battalions had pressed their attack until 1630 on 6 July, too late to consolidate their lines before nightfall.10
By 0635, after a night of fierce combat, the Japanese had overrun the 1st and 2d Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel William J. O'Brien, commanding 1/105, symbolized the high courage of the resistance. After emptying pistols held in each hand, and though seriously wounded, he turned a machine gun against the enemy until, like so many other officers and men, he was cut down in the hopeless struggle. Shortly
before he was killed, he had radioed the 105th Infantry command post: "There are only 100 men left from the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 105th. For God's sake get us some ammunition and water and medical supplies right away."11 But four jeeploads of ammunition could not get through.
An offshoot wave of the enemy attack broke against the positions of 3/105 at Harakiri Gulch, but here the Americans, holding high ground, beat off the Japanese. The 1st and 2d Battalions, what was left of them, were pushed back across the plain to Tanapag, where house-to-house fighting ensued.
About 500 yards southwest of Tanapag on that fateful morning was the 3d Battalion, 10th Marines. Nearby was 4/10. The two battalions, now attached to the 4th Division, had moved into position the day before, to provide supporting fires for the 23d Marines. About 0515, just at daybreak, enemy were identified at 400 yards, moving upon the most forward battery, H, of 3/10. It then seemed hardly minutes before nearly 500 Japanese, employing machine guns, rifles, grenades, and tanks assaulted the entire battalion position.
Only Battery H, on the left of the railroad tracks, was able to fire its 105mm howitzers. The guns of other batteries were silent, forced to hold their fire by the fact that Americans were positioned to their front. Artillerymen of Battery H cut their fuses to four-tenths of a second; shells exploded less than 50 yards forward of the muzzles. At such a range the artillerymen swung one howitzer around to destroy a Japanese medium tank approaching from the rear.
A number of the Marine cannoneers were shot in position, crippling the firing effectiveness of the battery. Finally, an enemy breakthrough at 0700 in a wooded ravine to the left forced the survivors of Battery H to withdraw about 50 yards across a road. There the unit set up a defense in an abandoned Japanese machinery dump, where the Marines held out with carbines, an automatic rifle, a pistol, and eight captured Japanese rifles until relieved around 1500 by Army troops.
Personnel of Headquarters and Service Battery, set up behind Battery H, were run over at the crest of the drive. The battalion commander, Major William L. Crouch, was killed in the vain defense. Battery I repelled a light brush with the enemy at 0455 before the full weight of the assault was felt. Thereafter, however, the supply of artillery and small arms ammunition dwindled rapidly, and, after removing the firing locks from their howitzers, the artillerymen fell back to the positions of Battery G. There the two batteries stood ground, joined at mid-afternoon by elements of the 106th Infantry.
Southeast of 3/10, Marines of the 4th Battalion defended their own firing positions, killing 85 Japanese who were on the fringe of the tide. Several men of the battalion also helped bring some small arms ammunition to 3/10 and evacuate wounded from that area. A group of 12 men and 1 officer of the battalion joined counterattacking Army troops. Of the 4th Battalion casualties
on 7 July--three enlisted men killed and seven wounded--most were the Marines who were helping out forward.
Following the assault of the Marine battery positions, the Japanese swept on, approaching the regimental command post of the 105th, about 800 yards south of Tanapag. Here, however, they could not get through the defenses. The enemy spearhead was beginning to show the blunting accomplished by the desperate fighting of the units that had been overrun. At 1130, the depleted and tiring enemy was considered pretty well stopped, but fighting dragged on through the afternoon. By then, however, the impetus had entirely vanished from the attack, and some of the Japanese were turning grenades upon themselves.
The end, at last, was due both to Army and Marine efforts. After sending every available tank to support the beleaguered battalions of the 105th, General Griner had issued orders at 0700 to the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 106th, the division reserve, moving them into position at Flores Point to attack north along the railroad. The 2d Battalion was already at a Flores Point assembly area. In support of the attack by the 106th, a provisional company of tanks was attached. The two Army battalions were to relieve the 105th and help regain the Marine battery positions. They would be supported by the three 105mm howitzer battalions of 27th Division artillery.
The counterattack got under way at 1000, the movement of units hampered by communication difficulties. The 2d Battalion of the 106th had been particularly directed to reinforce the Marines, and its Company F helped retake the Battery I position by 1135.
Entire reoccupation of the Marine positions was accomplished during the afternoon, and a line was then formed from the beach to the left of the 4th Division. Upon request by the 27th Division, a Marine battalion, 3/6, was attached and it helped solidify the new line. By 1800, most of the ground lost by the banzai attack was again in friendly hands.
Saito's farewell order had cost the two 105th Infantry battalions 406 killed and 512 wounded. The 3d Battalion, 10th Marines, lost 45 killed and 82 wounded, and in turn killed more than 300 Japanese. Survivors would never forget "the raid," as they termed it.
A staggering total of Japanese were killed. In the area of the banzai attack, 4,311 Japanese corpses were found. Some of these dead were undoubtedly the victims of artillery or naval gunfire prior to the attack, but the vast majority were killed in the climatic, fanatical charge of the Saipan garrison.
Postscript to "The Raid"
The casualty-ridden 27th Division (less the 165th Infantry) was relieved by Holland Smith at 0630 of 8 July, and put into corps reserve. To accomplish the mop up of the devastated west coast, the corps commander recommitted the 2d Marine Division, attaching to it the 165th. He also brought 3/6, 3/10, and 4/10 back to the 2d Division.
Some resistance was met by the 6th Marines on 8 July, from about 100
Japanese well entrenched east of Tanapag. After a brief exchange, Company F was left behind to eliminate the pocket. Otherwise, the Marines found the enemy along the coast to be poorly armed and disorganized. Inland hills, however, still contained hidden defenses where few could kill many, and Japanese holdouts here slowed the progress of the 8th Marines.
The 1st Battalion of the 165th, after a costly action at Harakiri Gulch, moved through the canyon area and reached the west coast on 9 July. Paradise Valley was bypassed by 2/165, which left the 3d Battalion to destroy the Japanese still there. The 2d Battalion went on to Makunsha, by then a center of enemy stragglers.
In those last days, the spirit of the banzai attack flamed again occasionally. Japanese would charge from a hiding place, reckless of the consequences. Some, of course, were simply trying to escape. At the beaches a number of Japanese swam hopelessly out to coral outcroppings, where they either were killed or destroyed themselves. The 4th Marine Division, which on 6 July took over the entire front beyond Makunsha, found the advance toward Marpi Point eased somewhat as a result of the banzai attack--there were fewer Japanese. The 2d Marines, attached on 8 July, went into line between the 23d Marines to the left and the 24th and 25th to the right. Thus, with four Marine regiments abreast on a 6,300-yard front, the division attacked toward the northwest on 8 July. (See Map 20.)
The 2d and 24th Marines secured their beach area at 1530. The advance of the 23d Marines was marked by destruction of stubborn resistance on a cliff overlooking Karaberra Pass. As Marines struggled against the enemy there on 7 July, they nicknamed the high ground "Prudential Hill" because it resembled an American insurance company trademark. But, unlike the peaceful scene of Gibraltar, there were mines hidden at the base of the hill. The area was masked for fire by 4th Division artillery, and in order to provide support, truck-mounted rocket launchers were lowered over the cliff with their rate of descent controlled by tanks chained to the trucks. Once they reached the base of the cliff, the launchers fired into its face to beat down Japanese resistance.12 Offshore, rocket gunboats joined in the deluge of fire turned on the caves that held the enemy holdouts.
Reduction of "Prudential Hill" insured that Marines moving across the coastal plain would not be fired upon from the rear. By 1410 of 8 July, the 23d Marines reached the shore above Makunsha. The next morning the regiment was assembled in division reserve and assigned to mopping up along the coast. A detachment of the 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion helped demolish lingering cave resistance.
With the total good progress on 8 July, General Schmidt prepared to unleash a thrust to Marpi Point. At 1330 on that day, he directed the 25th Marines to seize commanding ground 700 yards forward of positions then held, in order to gain observation of the Marpi Point area. The move was made against practically no resistance.
TRUCK-MOUNTED ROCKET LAUNCHERS fire at Japanese strongpoints in northern Saipan. (USMC 104069)
FLAME TANK spews a stream of liquid fire toward an enemy cave during the mop-up action on Saipan. (USMC 85829)
The Island Secured
The next morning, the 25th, the 24th, and the 2d Marines, from right to left, attacked with the mission of securing the last objective line on the island. Some scattered counterattacks were beaten off by the 2d Marines at Mt. Marpi, but much of the hill was by-passed. The airfield beyond was found utterly wrecked by bombardment.
By 1615 all three Marine regiments were at the coast, having advanced a total of 2,500 yards that day. The fire-scarred earth of Saipan lay behind. Vice Admiral Turner declared the island secured, putting the time at 1615 of 9 July. The next day an official flag-raising took place at Holland Smith's headquarters in Charan Kanoa.
For the Marines at Marpi Point, a tragic sight took the edge off a happy occasion. Hundreds of Japanese civilians, fearful of the Americans, committed suicide by jumping from the seaside cliffs. Some took their children with them. Efforts to stop them fell upon ears deafened by Japanese propaganda. Fortunately, many civilians had previously surrendered amicably, entrusting their fate to Marine and Army civil affairs officers, and were grateful for the care and safety found in the internment camps.
Many of the more than 42,000 Japanese, Korean, and Formosan civilians on the island had been evacuated before the battle. Starting in March 1944, following seizure of the Marshalls, some 5,000 persons on Saipan, mostly Japanese women and children, were sent home. Of the Japanese still on the island, 9,091 were in camp by 15 July. Half of the number were children. The interned Korean civilians, at the same date, came to 1,158, including children.
A 1937 census of the native islanders of Saipan showed 3,143 Chamorros and 1,037 Kanakas.13 When the United States and Japan fought over their home in 1944, the natives were mostly sympathetic to the Americans and glad to come under their protection. Nearly 3,000 of the islanders, mainly the Chamorros, were in an internment camp by the end of the battle.
The total number of POWs held on Saipan as of 9 July stood at 736, counting 438 Koreans. But the post-campaign mopping up raised the total to 1,734 by 27 July, including 838 Koreans.
After Saipan was secured, a miniature amphibious operation took place on 13 July. A small island in Tanapag Harbor--Maniagassa Island--was seized by the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, which landed from LVTs after a preparation by artillery and naval gunfire. In taking over the island, the Marines received hostile fire from only one pillbox, where a light machine gun was manned. Of the small enemy garrison, which numbered 31, 15 were taken prisoner, including 2 Army laborers and 10 Koreans who could not speak Japanese. The rest of the garrison was killed. One Marine was wounded.
The taking of Maniagassa ended Marine action on Saipan. Leaving the hunt for Japanese stragglers to the Army Garrison Force, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions prepared for their
next mission, due very soon--the capture of neighboring Tinian.
Saipan In Retrospect
Letters from home were already telling Marines how the American press evaluated the campaign just over. "One of the bloodiest battles in U.S. military annals," said Time magazine.14 The Marines knew well that Saipan was costly, but most of them understood something more. There were compensations, if there could be any to the bereaved, for the loss of more than 3,000 American lives. NTLF accounting on 5 August put American casualties at 3,225 killed, 13,061 wounded, and 326 missing;15 known enemy dead were recorded as 23,811.
Holland Smith felt that Saipan was "the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive." Capture of the island, he said, "breached Japan's inner defense line, destroyed the main bastions, and opened the way to the home islands."16 During the battle, Saito wrote that "the fate of the Empire will be decided in this one action."17 It would have comforted many American homes to hear in 1944 what Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Miwa said after the final Japanese surrender: "Our war was lost with the loss of Saipan."18
The B-29s could now bomb the Japanese homeland from Saipan. Indeed, the Army Air Forces lost no time building on the island it had coveted. The first B-29 airdrome there was begun on 24 June 1944, and on 24 November, a hundred B-29s departed Saipan for a strike at Tokyo, the first since Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle's daring raid in 1942.
The advance of United States naval power, permitted by the capture of Saipan, also worried the Japanese. As early as 26 June 1944, Emperor Hirohito expressed to Foreign Minister Shigemitsu a desire for diplomatic settlement of the war, and the actual fall of Saipan caused the resignation of Premier Tojo and his entire cabinet on 18 July. Yet, except for the Emperor, there was still no one in Japanese officialdom, including the new Premier Koiso, who dared to suggest peace. The military, as they continued the hopeless struggle, drew some tactical lessons from Saipan. The chief lesson was to organize defenses in depth, a change which would be noticed on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
For American planners there were various lessons derived from the campaign. One of the most vital concerned the proper employment of supporting aviation. Complaints had arisen on Saipan that Navy and Army planes did not arrive in time, because of faulty control procedures.
Requested missions were often cancelled because infantry had advanced past the target before the planes appeared. One result of the criticism was that close air support techniques, many of them pioneered and developed by Marines, received better attention after Saipan. On Luzon, where Army ground troops were supported by both Marine and Army Air Forces squadrons, close air support would really come into its own.
In the Saipan campaign, Marine aviation was represented by two observation squadrons, VMO-2 and VM0-4, which performed artillery spotting for the Marine divisions. On 17 June, for the first time, the OYs--the monoplanes called "grasshoppers''--took off from carriers. Landing at Yellow Beach or Charan Kanoa, they moved to Aslito airfield after its capture on 18 June. The little observation planes served valuably, not only in artillery spotting missions but also in gathering intelligence. Another Marine aviation unit, Air Warning Squadron 5, also operated with ground troops at Saipan, one detachment serving with corps troops, and two others with the Marine divisions. Not a single enemy aircraft slipped by the alert radar units of the squadron.
Naval gunfire seemed to impress the Japanese most at Saipan. The fire came from assorted vessels--LCI gunboats to battleships--and from guns 20mm to 16 inches in caliber. The gunfire ships supported troops on call, laid down preparatory fire, and illuminated the battlefield with star shells.
More than 8,500 tons of ammunition were expended on troop support missions. The ships could maneuver better than land-based artillery, but the flat trajectory of naval guns proved somewhat limiting, particularly against a reverse slope target. In addition to requested naval gunfire, certain destroyers, which were designated "sniper ships, " cruised near the coast, picking out targets of opportunity.
Saito was so vexed by the incessant shelling from the sea that he wrote: "If there just were no naval gunfire, we feel we could fight it out with the enemy in a decisive battle."19 The statement seemed to support Navy claims for their guns and marksmanship. It is probable that the Japanese switch to defense in depth, after Saipan, was due partly to fear of naval gunfire. Certainly it was a lesson of the campaign that naval gunfire could be enormously effective. Every previous operation had shown the necessity for more of it.
Saito's lament regarding naval gunfire could well also have been: "If there just were no artillery. . . . " As Holland Smith recalled, "never before in the Pacific had Marines gone into action with so much armament, ranging from 75's to 155's."20 Marine and Army artillery shook the island.
General Smith felt, however, that the available wealth of artillery was not sufficiently appreciated by infantry commanders, at least at the beginning of the campaign. On 1 July, he specifically ordered that "massed artillery fires will be employed to support infantry attacks whenever practicable. Infantry will closely follow artillery
concentrations and attack ruthlessly when the artillery lifts."21
In every war the foot soldier has been skeptical of the cannoneer's marksmanship. There were instances on Saipan of friendly artillery fire hitting the lines and causing casualties. But such incidents did not detract from the praise accorded both Marine and Army artillery on Saipan. The destruction of Japanese water points was, in itself, quite decisive. The enemy's shortage of water and food also--became truly desperate. Rain, cursed for the mud it caused, was blessed for the thirst it quenched.
The directing of artillery fire by forward observers and air spotters was sometimes hampered on Saipan by the rapidity of infantry movement. Under the hard-driving Holland Smith "the Japanese never got a minute's peace," as he said himself.22 "The Saipan campaign followed a definite pattern of continuous attack," said a 4th Division summary.23
Some regimental commanders objected, however, that corps insistence on unrelenting pressure upon the enemy, often to a late hour, was not always a good thing. Extreme pushing of the attack could bring a unit to untenable ground. The policy of jumping off right after dawn sometimes prevented sufficient reconnaissance of caves and density of underbrush, features which seldom showed on a map. Inadequate reconnaissance could also result in a waste of fire on areas containing few, if any, of the enemy.
It was felt by some Marine officers that the factors of time and space were not always sufficiently considered by NTLF headquarters. "Progress through heavy canefields, through dense underbrush, and over extremely rough terrain, such as was encountered, cannot be made at 'book' speed," said one regimental commander.24 Yet the incessant urgency which marked command policy on Saipan quite likely shortened the campaign and saved lives. "I was determined to take Saipan and take it quickly," said Holland Smith afterwards.25
Logistics progress kept up, breathlessly, with General Smith's impelling campaign. Unusual conditions encountered during the battle accounted partly for some faulty supply estimates. The 81mm and 60mm mortars, which were sparingly used on the small land areas of the atolls, were much in demand on Saipan for close infantry support. The unit of fire tables which sufficed for previous Central Pacific battles did not here provide for enough mortar ammunition. Extreme shortages resulted. In particular, the early commitment of the 27th Division taxed initial supplies of ammunition.
It was, in fact, the early debarkation of the Army division that led to a classic example of wholesale beach congestion. The imminence of a naval battle, added to the hard combat ashore, hastened the landing of the corps reserve, but evidently no plans had been formulated for landing in that
OBSERVATION PLANE flys over northern Saipan near Marpi Point, scene of the final battles on the island. (USN 80-G-238386)
SUPPORTING CRUISER fires on targets on Tinian as LVTs carrying assault troops head toward the White Beaches. (USMC 88102)
particular area, directly behind the 4th Marine Division. Beach parties were consequently overwhelmed by supplies piling up and getting mixed up. There was not enough time to sort and separate, and some Marine equipment got into Army dumps. Soldiers received utility clothes marked USMC, and much of the 27th Division artillery ammunition turned up in Marine dumps.26
A certain opportunism marked the unloading, which did not help the beach parties any. There was a tendency, once a beach was in friendly hands, to shove all supplies over that beach, rather than risk the artillery and mortar fire which harassed unloading elsewhere, The plan relative to general unloading did permit supplies to be put off on any beach, but organic equipment was to be landed only on properly assigned beaches. "In practice, however, this was not done," said a 4th Division report,27 and misappropriation resulted. After the Saipan experience, Admiral Hill felt that matters would improve if a permanent corps shore party was organized. It would be solely responsible for the movement of supplies from the beach to the dumps and for issue therefrom to the divisions.
On top of the other headaches was a special circumstance which delayed unloading. The Battle of the Philippine Sea was in the making, and the danger of air or surface attack by the approaching Japanese fleet required caution. Admiral Turner ordered all transports and landing ships except Admiral Hill's flagship, the Cambria, to retire for the night of D-Day, 15-16 June, and not to return until daylight. The next two nights there were only a few ships with high priority cargo permitted to stay and continue unloading. Then, until the naval battle was over, most of the transports stayed at sea both day and night, interrupting the flow of supplies.
Once the ships were unloaded, the battle of corps dimensions absorbed equipment at unprecedented rates. Estimates of resupply requirements proved much too low. Each signal unit loaded 20 days of equipment, but the campaign showed that on an objective like Saipan the supply would not last for 20 days' of combat. A shortage of radio batteries was not overcome. Such errors were not forgotten, however, and for the battles yet to be fought the logistic lessons of Saipan were useful.
The campaign also imposed tactical demands new to the Pacific war. It was a battle of movement on a sizable land mass, but movement was complicated by the Japanese system of caves. The enemy had defended caves before--on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo--but never so extensively. On Saipan the caves were both natural and man-made, and often artfully hidden by vegetation. To cope with them, the Marines perfected various methods of approach. Where terrain permitted, a
flame-throwing tank28 would advance under cover of fire from medium tanks or half tracks. In terrain where armor could not be moved up, the infantrymen would cover for the engineers who placed demolition charges. Sometimes a cave proved so inaccessible that engineers had to lob satchel charges from cliffs above it.
In other approaches, Marines fired automatic weapons or hurled grenades directly into the cave entrance. It was always dismaying to find that a cave which had been seared or blasted could bristle with live Japanese the next day. The enemy's clever use of caves was prophetic of Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa and showed detailed planning. A number were well-stocked with supplies. Some had steel doors which were opened periodically to loose bursts of machine-gun fire.
Where a cave defense was not available, the enemy built emplacements of concrete or coconut logs, covered with earth and vegetation. A coconut grove often contained some Japanese strongpoint. Reserve slope defenses were popular, and the wooded valleys favored the enemy's talent for digging in. The canefields were a favorite hiding place for Japanese snipers, until the growth was flattened by a bulldozer. But sniping from trees, a common practice on other Pacific islands, seldom occurred on Saipan. Marines believed that perhaps the enemy feared artillery air bursts in the wooded areas.
From the beginning of the Saipan campaign the Japanese did not organize a true main line of resistance. Instead, they defended strong points which were not connected. For the most part, they made piecemeal counterattacks, attempted by relatively small groups of platoon or company size.
Infiltration was a beloved tactic. Nearly every night a handful of Japanese ventured out, bearing demolitions, grenades, and mines. But such enemy behavior was familiar to the Marines, who reported, in fact, that "no new tactics were observed" on Saipan.29
Night or day, except at rash moments, the Japanese cautiously respected their opponents. Prisoners expressed wonder at the accurate and tremendous firepower of Marine units. That included not only what was delivered by artillery but also by other weapons, not the least of which was the infantryman's rifle. On Saipan the M1 continued as an excellent weapon, more durable than the carbine, and, although much heavier, it was preferred by most Marines. A carbine bullet would not always stop an enemy soldier, and the weapon rusted too easily.
Next to his rifle, the infantryman cherished the tank, which, like a lumbering elephant, could either strike terror into a foe or be a gentle servant to a friend. On the open field, hospital corpsmen, moving behind a tank, could get to the wounded and safely bring them off. In attack, the Marine tank-infantry
team felt itself unbeatable, and the Saipan experience added confidence. The medium tank would precede the riflemen who, in return, protected the tank from Japanese anti-tank grenades. Each half of the team needed the other.
Such interdependence, which marked the tank-infantry team, was illustrated in a thousand ways at Saipan, where Marines and soldiers fought a hard campaign side by side. The controversy arising from the relief of General Ralph Smith, which was to have repercussions beyond the war years, should not obscure the fact that on the battlefield itself there was neither place nor time for interservice rivalry. The merits of the relief, however much they were argued at headquarters throughout the chain of command back to Washington, were largely academic to the men locked in combat with the enemy. What they looked for was mutual support and cooperation--and they got it. To an infantry unit desperate for artillery support, it mattered little if the shells that crashed down ahead were fired by Marine or Army batteries--only that they exploded when and where they were needed.
The same analogy applied to every phase of combat on Saipan, where the measure of value was how well each man stood his share of the common burden, not what his uniform color was when he stood clear of the mud and dust.
In truth, there could be no other answer to success in combat than inter-service cooperation. The longer Army and Marine units fought together as partners with the Navy in the amphibious assaults in the Central Pacific, the surer would be the grounds for mutual understanding and respect. Admiral Nimitz, a man who was in an unrivaled position to assess the effect of the Smith against Smith controversy on future operations, noted that he was "particularly pleased that . . . the Army and Marine Corps continued to work together in harmony--and in effectiveness."30
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (IV-5) * Next Chapter (V-1)
1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from: TF 51 OpRpt; TG 52.2 OpRpt; TF 56 OpRpt; NTLF OpRpt; 2d MarDiv OpRpt; 4th MarDiv OpRpt; 27th InfDiv OpRpt; 2d Mar SAR; 6th Mar SAR; 8th Mar SAR; 10th Mar SAR; 23d Mar Rpt; 24th Mar Rpt; 25th Mar Rpt; 105th Inf OpRpt; 106th Inf OpRpt; 165th Inf OpRpt; Saburo Hayashi and Alvin D. Coox, Kõgun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War (Quantico: The Marine Corps Association, 1959) , hereafter Hayashi and Coox, Kõgun; Capt James R. Stockman and Capt Philips D. Carleton, Campaign for the Marianas (Washington: HistDiv, HQMC, 1946), hereafter Stockman and Carleton, Campaign for the Marianas; Crowl, The Marianas Campaign; Hoffman, Saipan; Isely and Crowl, Marines and Amphibious War; Johnston, Follow Me!; Love, 27th InfDiv History; Morison, New Guinea and the Marianas; Proehl, 4th MarDiv History; Sherrod, Marine Air History; Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass.
2. Thirty-first Ar Outgoing Msg No. 1120.
3. 2d MarDiv OpRpt, SplCmts, p. 3.
4. The hill was nicknamed Radar Hill by the Marines because of Japanese radar installations there.
4a. NTLF OpRpt, Encl D, Pt II, App G, p. 2.
5. From the text of Saito's last order, quoted in NTLF OpRpt, Encl D, Pt I, pp. 57-58.
6. Japanese prisoners said the command of the attack devolved upon Colonel Eisuke Suzuki of the 135th Infantry Regiment, who was reported killed.
7. MajGen George W. Griner, Jr., USA, ltr to ACofS, G-3, dtd 12Jan63.
8. Quoted in Love, 27th InfDiv History, p. 443.
9. From its positions on the heights inland, the 23d Marines could see "considerable numbers of Japanese moving southward down the plain. These were taken under fire by machine guns and mortars. Jones ltr.
10. Colonel Bishop indicated that the day's plan of attack called for units advancing on the right of the 105th to seize objectives which would have pinched out or at least narrowed the zone of his regiment. When this attack failed to reach its objective, he wrote, "We found ourselves off balance and with a gap between our 1st and 2nd Bns." Col Leonard A. Bishop ltr to Head, HistBr, G-3, HQMC, dtd 28 Feb63.
11. Quoted in Love, 27th InfDiv History, p. 447.
12. Jones ltr.
13. Tadao Yanaihara, Pacific Islands Under Japanese Mandate (London: Oxford University Press, 1940), Table I, p. 30.
14. Time, v. 44, no. 2 (10Jul44), p. 33.
15. A final medical summary, dated 9 September 1944, in TF 56 OpRpt, listed American casualties as 3,100 killed, 13,099 wounded, and 326 missing. Hoffman, Saipan, pp. 268-269, contains a unit breakdown of Army and Marine casualties in Saipan. Final official Marine casualty totals are contained in Appendix H.
16. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 181.
17. NTLF G-2, Tgs Sent and Received by Thirty-First ArHq on Saipan, dtd 25Jul44, p. 16.
18. USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 72, VAdm Shigeyoshi Miwa, IJN, II, p. 298. Miwa was successively Director, Naval Submarine Department, and Chief, Sixth (Submarine) Fleet.
19. CinCPac-CinCPOA Item No. 9983-85, Disps Sent and Received by Thirty-first ArHq.
20. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 191.
21. NTLF OpO 19-44, dtd 1Jul44.
22. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 167.
23. 4th MarDiv OpRpt.
25. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 185.
26. Admiral Hill recalled that when the complaints began to come in from the two divisions, he talked to the NTLF chief of staff, General Erskine, who sent out orders that there would be common dumps for all except organic equipment and supplies. The admiral pointed out that as soon as the supplies of the Army division "began to flow, there was no real problem." Hill comments Saipan.
27. 4th MarDiv OpRpt.
28. The flame-throwing tank, recommended after Tarawa, appeared first on Saipan. Actually, it was the M3A1 light tank, mounting a flamethrower. Although the 318th Fighter Group pioneered in the use of napalm fire bombs during operations in the Marianas, no napalm was yet on hand for flamethrowers, only fuel oil, and the range was still too short.
29. 4th MarDiv OpRpt.
30. FAdm Chester W. Nimitz ltr to ACofS, G-3, HQMC, dtd 8Jan63.