Chapter 7


Thus, in less than a month, Saipan had been ripped from the enemy's determined clutches. Tangible proof was again provided that persistence and determination are important adjuncts to, but never substitutes for, tools and technique. As emphasized in many instances, the Japanese were not wanting in individual heroism. But in their willing hands were insufficient or inadequate tools. They did well with what they had. It simply was not enough. With Saipan "secured" the months of mopping up began. To the men required to stalk and ferret out the remaining Japanese hidden about the island, "secured" had only psychological significance. The enemy whom they sought was as real on 10 July as on the day before. Possibilities of meeting death from the dark shadows of a cave were still present. The ground was just as hard at night. The flies were every bit as thick. The canned rations were monotonous and tasteless.

What, then, of the psychological implications? Only this: officers and enlisted men now felt that caution was a more laudable quality than bravery; patience more important than aggressiveness. The unspoken maxim applied: "Look before you leap." In the fevered excitement of battle, news of friendly casualties was accepted with stoic calm; minds, as well as bodies, became conditioned to combat. But every man hit after 9 July--and there were many--became a matter of personal sorrow to all that heard of it. At last there was time to be sad.

Naval Gunfire

In considering the tools that attained the U. S. success, naval gunfire looms forth conspicuously. During the pre-D-Day bombardment certain factors (listed on page 36, Chapter I) limited the effectiveness of preparatory fires. But these notwithstanding, naval gunfire achieved appreciable results at Saipan. Foremost in achievement was the almost complete rupture of enemy communications. Although this did not represent the fruits of a single weapon or arm, certainly ships' gunfire deserves a great amount of credit. Admittedly, total ammunition expenditure does not necessarily mirror the effectiveness of a weapon, but it does reflect the vigor of the effort. Total rounds expended on troop support missions (not counting pre-D-Day bombardment) by battleships, cruisers and destroyers in the Saipan operation were 138,391, a weight of over 8,500 tons. In addition to this, 5,882 starshells were fired.1

The tremendous impression upon the Japanese created by U. S. naval gunfire is indicated


ARCH OF TRIUMPH. Marines return from mopping-up patrol after Saipan was declared secure.

in the following extracts from prisoner of war interrogations and captured documents:

. . . I was horrified by the number of deaths on our side due to the naval gunfire which continued every day.

We did not stay long in this fourth headquarters. Caught in the concentration of naval gunfire the wounded and dead continued to increase.

. . . most feared . . . was the naval shelling which managed to reach the obscure mountain caves where . . . CPs were located.

The greatest single factor in the American success . . . [was] naval gunfire.

The feeling of everyone is 'if they would only stop the naval shelling. . .'

The enemy naval gunfire, using mainly a shell with attached instantaneous fuze (land shell) has great destructive power. They also use a shrapnel shell. The call fire on land is extremely quick and exact and until night attack units are some tens of metres from the enemy they continue to receive naval gunfire.

. . . The practical experiences of the defense forces in Saipan in the battle which lasted over half a month lay only in power of the enemy naval bombardment. . . .

This is by no means a complete list of the testimonials, but this sampling clearly indicates Japanese opinion of this weapon. As the NTLF Naval Gunfire Report summarizes:

Naval gunfire is a powerful weapon in amphibious operations. It has many important uses even after a successful landing has been made ashore. In order to properly utilize the weapon and to take full advantage of its capabilities, its control ashore must be placed in the hands of highly trained and experienced personnel. Future planning and training should take this into account.2

Air Support

Working hand in glove with ships' gunfire during the preparatory stages and, subsequently, in support of troops ashore was the aircraft's strafing and bombing. Since 11 June, when Mitscher's Task Force 58 trespassed the Marianas' waters and skies, the planes had been engaged in almost constant action. The Marianas, and more specifically Saipan, placed the air war on its most equal basis up to that time in the Central Pacific. The lightning knockout which had been the rule in the Gilberts and Marshalls did not obtain at Saipan. The unconscious foe kept reviving himself and contesting the issue.

Why this was true is no mystery: geographically and strategically the Marianas demanded decisive defense. This was basic, simple and logical. The implications of U. S. seizure of these islands were more than the Japanese higher command cared to ponder. With a prodigality born of desperation and fright, the Japanese squandered their aircraft. It was like a gambler attempting to recoup his losses with larger wagers. While momentarily causing some rearrangement and adjustment of U. S. dispositions and plans, this extravagance finally resulted in a resounding defeat for the enemy and, as noted previously, after the Battle of the Philippine Sea the Japanese fast carrier fleet virtually retired from the war. Land-based aircraft, however, flying from Japan via the Bonins or Volcanos, then to fields in the Marianas or Palaus, delivered a series of raids on U. S. ships and installations at Saipan.

Admiral Mitscher's fast carriers played the key role in repulsing the enemy fleet, but it remained for the escort carriers3 to stave off


UNITED STATES NAVAL GUNFIRE scored a direct hit on this 6-inch naval gun casemate on Agingan Point. After being overrun, the position served United States personnel as an observation post.

those raiders that penetrated to Saipan itself. Helping in this task were U. S. Army P-47's stationed at Aslito Airfield.

Any recital of the exploits of planes at Saipan which fails to mention the valuable OY observation aircraft would be an incomplete one indeed. These vulnerable little planes performed nobly in their myriad assignments. Not only did they focus the wrath of U. S. artillery on Japanese troops and installations, but they acquired a wealth of intelligence information by their constant snooping over the enemy's holdings.

Close support of ground troops presented no innovations or departures from accepted technique. Initially, strike groups for infantry support were furnished by planes from the carriers of Task Force 58, while antisubmarine and combat air patrols, photographic, smoke, observer, spotter, and air delivery missions went to planes on the CVE's. After the forenoon of 17 June, however, most of the close support was furnished by Navy planes flying from CVE's and later by Army planes from Aslito Airfield. During the first days of the


campaign there were, at times, as many as twelve "urgent" requests for close support missions. Since it was physically impossible for aircraft to operate in a restricted area on more than one mission at a time, a filter system was devised whereby the officer handling the support air request net passed the mission to the air liaison officer at the regimental or division command post for screening and decision as to which mission, then pending, deserved priority.

This system of lower-level screening worked satisfactorily and was the best solution considering that only one Support Aircraft Control Party controlled aircraft supporting three divisions. For this party to perform all screening itself would have imposed more of a workload than it could have handled efficiently. After artillery had been established ashore, fewer requests were made for air, and the latter's missions were confined to targets which, owing to the configuration of the terrain, could be struck best from above.

The most oft-heard complaint regarding close air support at Saipan was that too much time was required getting strikes executed. Through the lengthy process of requesting the mission, effecting coordination, designating the target, and finally having the mission flown, infantry units had to wait. A large majority of the requested missions were cancelled by reason of the infantry advancing past targets before the planes appeared.

In his report after the operation, General Holland Smith expressed the opinion that it was unwise to depend upon the fast carriers for close support, since these would frequently be needed to battle the enemy fleet (as they had in the Battle of the Philippine Sea). Further, these carriers would often be unavailable for vital rehearsals preceding the various operations. This, Holland Smith felt, was unfortunate. For these reasons, he recommended:

. . . that sufficient air groups be designated and trained as direct support groups and be assigned to CVE type carriers.

. . . that Marine Aviation provide air groups for this specialized duty. The troop experience of senior Marine pilots combined with the indoctrination of new pilots in infantry tactics should insure greater cooperation and coordination between air and ground units.4

Favorable action on Holland Smith's recommendation is indicated by the following paragraph from Admiral Nimitz' report:

Four CVE's have been designated for close (troop) support and will embark Marine aircraft squadrons. It is not anticipated that Marine squadrons will furnish all close air support but they will be used with Marine divisions when the situation permits. In addition a certain number of Marine aviators are being assigned to the various amphibious force flagships to assist in the control of support aircraft.5


Certainly the four major artillery units (one from each division plus XXIV Corps Artillery) performed a vital function at Saipan.6 The total number of rounds fired, 291,495,7 tells only part of the story; time and time again the 75's, 105's and 155's brought timely, effective fire on the precise source of enemy resistance. Throughout this narrative the excellence of this support has been taken for granted, just as it was at the time. All artillery units were exceptionally well-trained and well-led and, once assigned missions, hit their targets. This excellence of performance must not be forgotten or mistaken in any subsequent criticism of artillery coordination.

Only a minute proportion of the accidents resulting from misdirected artillery fire can be traced to errors by gunners. In any case, these can neither be determined nor analyzed. The bulk of the trouble arose from the fact that


there was no strong, central control of the four separate artillery units. This meant that no single source could be consulted to find out who was firing where. Before an air support mission could be flown, for example, it was necessary to check with each individual artillery unit. Though time-consuming, this process had to be followed rigidly to preclude the possibility of friendly aircraft flying into the path of onrushing artillery shells. The most serious consequence of this situation was that troop commanders, having requested the air strike, had to delay their moves until it was executed.8

Much more critical than the long waits, however, were the instances of barrages landing within U. S. lines. Since it was inconceivable that a forward observer would deliberately call in fire upon his own head, the conclusion drawn was that most of these misdirected concentrations were called by observers on a flank. It was long-established doctrine that artillery should not fire outside its own division zone without specific permission from the adjacent division concerned; and, since all artillerymen were well indoctrinated on this point, it must be assumed that this was general practice. Just how many, if any, accidents occurred because of a violation of this policy can not be estimated.

What, then, of the instances where permission to fire was requested and granted? Normally, this would appear virtually to guarantee the mission's safety. In most cases it did. In some others, however, there is the possibility that the front line unit had not accurately reported its position or that the report was incorrectly plotted on situation maps. Another startling possibility is that the unit requesting permission to fire outside of its zone had erred in its map reading, failing to orient properly an area on the ground to one on the map. Thus, permission to fire on a specific map location may have been granted, whereas the rounds themselves would fall into a ground area occupied by friendly troops. The map of Saipan, as indicated before, left much to be desired, and on many occasions individuals believed themselves on certain terrain features located in one area when in actuality they were in another.

Obviously, the addition of a strong artillery coordination agency would not automatically have solved all these difficulties. Even well-oiled machinery requires human hands to set it in motion. But few persons will deny that more centralized control of the artillery was needed at Saipan.

The "joint operations section," an embryo coordination and control agency for all three supporting arms (air, naval gunfire, artillery), functioned from the NTLF command post. But, hampered by a shortage of personnel and communications, it was unprepared to control properly all the U. S. artillery. Most of its information had to be secured by roundabout, indirect means which slowed its processes and limited its effectiveness. Representatives of all three supporting arms were present in the section, however, and the work they did, with limited resources, was excellent. The limitations of the group is indicated in the following excerpt from the Corps Artillery report:

Each time an air strike was requested by an Air Liaison Officer to Commander Support Air Afloat, it was necessary for the Commander Support Air to call Commander Support Air Ashore by radio who in turn inquired of the Corps Artillery representative [Assistant S-3] whether or not the Corps Artillery was firing in a given area. He then had to call the Corps Artillery FDC (where it was frequently necessary to call the Groups or Battalions) and pass the information back to Commander Support Air Afloat along the same chain of communications. A similar situation existed with naval gunfire, but the time element was not as vital nor was there the necessity for closely timed coordination since naval gunfire and artillery fires do not necessarily interfere with each other.9

Landing Vehicles

Selection of the LVT as the principal landing vehicle was demanded by the fringing reef off Saipan's western beaches. These vehicles


FLAME-THROWER TANK shoots stream of fire into an enemy cave. Marine at rear of vehicle is talking on sound-powered telephone to tankmen.

proved eminently satisfactory. During the long D-Day churn from the line of departure to the beach, many officers and men cursed the slowness of the LVT's, but when the tracks ground into the reef, hung for an agonizing moment, then clawed for the beach, the curses became murmurs of appreciation.

Bobbing like ping pong balls in the choppy seas, armored amphibians (or amphibian tanks as the Army called them) preceded the troop-carrying LVT's. It is doubtful that while afloat armored LVT's were able to locate and hit point targets, but the fact that continuous fire was maintained upon the beaches was enough to confirm their value. During the ship-to-shore movement there is a short, but critical, interval in which the troops are too close to the shore to permit naval gunfire or air bombardment of the landing beaches. During this period at Saipan the armored LVT's assumed the starring role. Once upon the beach, these vehicles suffered heavily.

The name "armored amphibian" presents a false picture of the invulnerability of this vehicle. While in the water the vulnerable points are protected, but once it emerges upon the dry land of the beach, or hangs for a moment at the reef's edge, it presents a huge area which can easily be penetrated by almost any caliber of enemy shells. In reality, only the turret is armored, the remainder is an inviting Achilles heel.


The value of the armored LVT's did not end with the ship-to-shore movement. They performed vital missions of beach security during the nights and executed fire missions against enemy coast line cliff positions during the days.

Significant in the Saipan operation was the introduction of the LVT(4), which included a ramp for loading and discharge of cargo. Jeeps, artillery pieces, and other heavy gear were unloaded without the use of booms or cranes--and with far less hazard to troops.10

The 4th Marine Division's plan to move to the high ground (O-1) aboard LVT's did not prove feasible. Only a few of the vehicles made the trip successfully. The failure of this bold tactic may be attributed to two causes: first, the vehicles provided large, slow-moving targets for enemy weapons, and, second, the terrain at many points forbade movement inland.

Every one of 719 LVT's and LVT(A)'s in scheduled assault waves debarked from LST's on D-Day, and over 98 percent of these reached the beaches as planned. Considering the heavy volume of enemy fire which peppered the beaches,this percentage is surprisingly high. Grouping combat and non-combat losses into single categories, casualties in amphibian vehicles for the entire operation were as follows: armored LVT's--65; cargo LVT's--139.11


While no startling innovations in tactics or technique in the employment of tanks were unveiled at Saipan, the operations of these weapons were a vital, and often decisive, factor in each day's operations. Aside from proving their superiority over the enemy's tanks whenever a duel could be provoked, U. S. armor blasted pillboxes and caves impeding the infantry advance, assisted in the evacuation of casualties, carried vital supplies to hard-pressed front line troops, and, on at least one occasion, provided a mobile observation post for the direction of naval gunfire. Throughout the operation they were valuable to the perpetuation of a high state of morale among the soldiers and Marines who felt that virtually

MEDIUM TANKS move through favorable terrain on Saipan. The firepower of these weapons was a vital factor in the speedy United States success.


nothing could stop them as long as tanks were present.

Saipan marked a further growth in the technique of tank-infantry cooperation. After the inevitable growing pains of earlier campaigns and training areas, the tank-infantry concept reached full maturity at Saipan. Here, through terrain more variable than that encountered in previous Pacific operations, the tank-infantry team passed the rigid test of combat.

At least one item of equipment which made its first battle appearance at Saipan is worthy of special note: tanks employing flame-throwers as their main weapons. Though imperfect in many respects, these served a useful purpose, particularly in close assault on troublesome locales. But against more distant targets the weapon's effectiveness was limited by the short range of its fire stream, together with the unavailability of napalm, demanding that ordinary fuel oil be burned. Many of the principles of tactical employment, as well as suggestions for improvements in design and maintenance, developed at Saipan.12

The operation also marked the first extensive use--by the Marine Corps--of the tank-dozer. This vehicle, nothing more than a medium tank with a bulldozer blade installed on its bow, performed vital missions of digging and filling, while at the same time providing armored protection to its personnel.

Devices for the added protection of tanks, such as fencing the sponsons with oak planking as a preventive measure against magnetic mines, were further developed at Saipan. Many vehicles had reinforced concrete between the planking and the armor plate as well as additional tank blocks welded to the glacis plate and turret. Saipan was an important period of elaboration and development in the technique of added protection, a technique that reached its zenith in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations.

Perhaps the most unusual single items of equipment relating to tanks at Saipan were rubber, self-sealing water tanks, fastened to the bustles of some of the 4th Tank Battalion's vehicles, enabling infantrymen to fill canteens in the midst of a fire fight.13


The functions of the engineers, in almost any campaign, may be brushed over with the brief notation that they did a good job. And yet this inadvertently implies that the life of an engineer is really not so bad after all. Such cursory handling represents the fact that much of what the engineers do is routine, unglamorous, and tiresome. Certainly there is little narrative value in the improvement of a road, establishment of water purifier, or removal of a tank barrier; these are tedious and humdrum activities which are taken for granted. Even the touchy job of disarming bombs, mines and booby traps normally becomes an individual or small group project and captures only passing interest when performed in the midst of an island conquest. One may only shudder to contemplate the effect on the tactical scheme if all these prosaic engineer duties were not performed, however. Engineer support is inextricably tied to the activities of the infantry, and it is only fitting and proper that this relationship be recognized in its true light.

The vital shore party function was executed by the engineers, also. Initially assigned to this backbreaking labor were the Pioneer (2d) Battalions of the 18th and 20th Marines (2d and 4th Divisions respectively) and two naval construction (Seabee) battalions (18th and 121st). When the two Seabee units left the beach on 18 June for work on Aslito Airfield, the Army's 152d Engineer Battalion (part of the Saipan Garrison Force) took over shore party functions on the Blue Beaches. At night shore party personnel assumed responsibility for beach security.

Later in the operation, when ships were


COMMUNICATION TEAM OF 1ST JASCO operates its SCR 284. Good United States communications at Saipan were the key to controlling the complex amphibious assault forces. Poor Japanese communications, made worse by United States fire superiority, were fatal to General Saito's maneuver schemes.

unloaded, shore parties were released for infantry missions. The 2d Marine Division formed its returning shore party personnel into a Provisional Battalion which was used for a number of security and mopping-up assignments. The 4th Division did not reorganize its pioneer battalion after reversion but attached companies to infantry regiments for "defensive missions only."

So far, only incidental mention has been made of the combat, or assault, engineers. The 1st Battalions of the 18th and 20th Marines and the 102d Engineer Battalion (U. S. Army) furnished personnel especially trained in the assault and demolition of blockhouses, pillboxes and caves. These battalions were broken up into companies and attached to the infantry regiments on the basis of one combat engineer company each. Then followed the breakdown from company to platoon with one assault engineer platoon being assigned to each infantry battalion.14 These attachments remained constant throughout the operation, and in nearly every instance in which demolitions were required, these engineers performed their dangerous specialty.15

With these amplifying remarks, then, it is safe to say that the engineers did a good job, without fear that the statement will be undervalued.


Signal Communications

In any careful analysis of the Japanese situation at Saipan, the failure of communications crops forth steadily. Enemy commanders nearly always found their hands tied by the absence of means to pass on instructions to their subordinates. It would be difficult to determine just how many of the enemy's ill-coordinated attacks could be traced directly to poor communications.

U. S. commanders, on the other hand, had a completely different experience and were nearly always able to reach subordinates (usually by several means) to convey instructions, orders and information. This was a priceless advantage. One regimental commander pointed out, in this connection:

. . . our communications worked so well that there is a general disposition to take them for granted. The work of signal troops is not spectacular and goes unnoticed when everything is in working order, but abuse is heaped upon them for each little failure. Sections were usually under-manned and their work was never finished.16

One item of signal equipment left much to be desired: the infantry platoon leader's radio (SCR 536). Unpredictable, fragile, short-ranged, easily affected by moisture, the tiny sets did not answer the requirements. The need for improvement of these radios was apparent to all who had to depend upon them for communications.17


Logistics is "that branch of military art that comprises everything relating to the movement and supply of troops."18 To most fighting men the term took on a significance as fundamental as beans and bullets. Few realized, for example, that embarked in the assault shipping for Saipan was a ratio of over a ton of equipment and supplies to each man of the landing force.19 Only by pausing for a moment over that startling truth may we realize the tremendous scope of logistical support. And, of course, the supply of troops did not end with the landing, nor even with securing of the island. It may accurately be stated that the logistical task is never done.

Tonnage carried by individual ships at Saipan was greater than in previous operations. In earlier days of the war, when air supremacy over target areas was questionable, transports were lightly loaded with the aim of quick unloading and rapid routing to a rear area. With the air issue no longer in doubt, it followed that the tonnage could be increased.

In general, throughout the operation, supply functioned without critical hitches. In the matter of mortar and artillery ammunition, however, there were shortages from time to time. This situation caused General Holland Smith to comment that "seven units of fire for artillery and mortar ammunition were generally inadequate." In view of this, he recommended that, in the future, ten units of fire be carried for these weapons.20


Few persons, indeed, are aware of the great number of personnel engaged in medical activities during a combat operation. The surgeon of the 27th Division shed some interesting statistical light on this situation:

The medical service of the Division and attached troops included the 102d Medical Battalion, the 98th Portable Surgical Hospital, the 28th Field Hospital, and the organic Medical Detachments with each regiment, separate battalion, etc. This made a total of approximately 100 Medical Officers and 1200 Medical Department enlisted men, or one Medical Department man for every 14 combatants. [Author's italics.]21

A check of the rosters of the two Marine divisions reveals a ratio of about one doctor or corpsman to every 17 Marines.

It is almost superfluous to state that these medical personnel were busy. While a great number of minor wounds were handled directly in the battalion and regimental aid stations and never were admitted to division hospitals, the following table of admissions indicates the extent of the latters' activities:


SAIPAN HOSPITAL was rough but ready. Speedy evacuation and expert medical attention was a key factor in maintaining high morale.

   2nd Marine Division Hospital 5,15622
   4th Marine Division Hospital 5,20323
   27th Infantry Division Hospital 4,27424

In addition to the medical units attached to the divisions were several Corps installations Medical Battalion, V Amphibious Corps; 31st Field Hospital (Army); 2d and 3d Provisional Portable Surgical Hospitals (Army). And, though not actually on the island, the doctors, nurses and corpsmen of the hospital ships (Solace, Bountiful, Relief and Samaritan) further swell the totals of medical personnel.

Also, though not specifically carried on muster roles as medical personnel, the Marine and soldier stretcher bearers were a vital cog in the evacuation machinery. The lion's share of credit for this dangerous, fatiguing task goes to the men of the division bands, who, in combat situations, put aside their cornets and trombones to man the stretchers. Few tasks in combat are more thankless and heart-rending than this. Obviously, these specially-assigned stretcher bearers could not perform the entire


EVACUATION OF CASUALTIES was difficult and fatiguing. Here a poncho is used as a stretcher, a substitution often necessary because of a shortage of stretchers.

chore, and it was often necessary to assign regular combat troops to the job.

Still another category of personnel engaged in medical support can be made of the pilots who successfully air-evacuated 860 casualties from Saipan to hospitals in the Marshalls.

The only new medical problem presented at Saipan was the extra work load imposed by the thousands of civilians, many of whom required care. Without exception, medical installations performed all tasks excellently and earned the esteem and gratitude of all hands.

Japanese Tactical Lessons

In no battle up to that time were the Japanese as conscientious about reporting and analyzing U. S. combat methods as they were at Saipan. The volume of messages dealing purely with tactical lessons clearly indicates that the importance of this information had been forcefully impressed on all Japanese commanders. Some of the conclusions and deductions based upon these reports are of interest, particularly since many of them coincide with U. S. opinions on the same subjects.

A staff officer of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Captain Taisa Shimamura, wrote one of the more astute studies on the subject of tactical lessons. Prepared in August 1944, the document was captured at Leyte, Philippine Islands in October-November 1944. The captain's observations as to the place of the U. S. landings on Saipan is of interest:

Since the 31 Army's arrival on Saipan in March of this year all estimates were consistently in agreement that the enemy would attempt landings at the harbor on the west coast of Saipan, particularly at Oreai (the actual landing place), and that he would attempt to seize the "Aslito" airfield. In May the defending forces even simulated such an action and executed joint Army-Navy maneuvers. However, there were many other suitable landing beaches elsewhere on the island. Therefore it was not possible to concentrate sufficient combat strength at Oreai. . . 25

Shimamura's remarks regarding the Japanese organization of the ground point up shortcomings which U. S. reports also emphasized:

Although the enemy landing area was anticipated yet because of the following factors, fortifications had not progressed much beyond the stage of a single line of light defensive positions.

  1. Coral sand impeded the strengthening of the beach positions.

  2. Cement did not arrive (due to transport sinkings).

  3. Although the defense plan had been established, the defensive positions were not organized in depth owing to a change in command during preparations.

Light shelters were constructed here and there in the beach position. There were practically no communication trenches leading from the beach position to the rear. There were no obstacles on the beach.26

Relative to the conduct of the defense at Saipan, Captain Shimamura observed:

On the night of the 16th [June], we carried out a large scale night attack [against the 6th Marines]. One battalion broke through a portion of the enemy's line and penetrated to his rear, but we suffered great losses. Contact between higher headquarters and the attacking force was disrupted and there was even a rumor that Lt. Gen. Saito had been killed in action.

Further on in the same document is a logical conclusion to the tactic of launching all-out night attacks:

. . . it may be inferred that a more flexible delaying action might have been executed even though the enemy


had command of sea and air, if fortification and communication had been adequate, if we had made thorough preparations for the effective employment of our forces, and if we had avoided the sudden weakening of our defensive potential by limiting the number of troops used in the night attack.27

It is significant to note that many of the Japanese commanders recognized that the frantic night assaults were foolish wastes of manpower; but, rather than recommending that this long-established tactic be discarded, they instead suggested that the number of troops committed to the nocturnal efforts be reduced. Here is illustrated a basic, fundamental flaw in Japanese military thinking which had been evidenced in every operation since the war's beginning: whenever there was doubt in a commander's mind as to the success of a venture, he cut down the number of troops committed and, thus, foredoomed it to almost certain failure.

All of the reasoning leading up to a specific recommendation in regard to night attacks is present in the following passages from Shimamura's study, but a helpful conclusion is not forthcoming:

In the execution of our night attacks, we must give further study to the coordinated use of our strength, the use of smoke, and the use of small, picked units. But the chief consideration [author's italics] is the fact that . . . a night attack by the bulk of the defending force might defeat its purpose and help the enemy in securing his landing.

Thus leaving the reader suspended, the captain anticlimatically added: "The night attack is our only recourse against the enemy, but at present even it has only a slight chance of success."28

Japanese conclusions in regard to U. S. naval gunfire have already been quoted, but Shimamura's analysis exposes one point which other enemy sources did not (and which many U. S. sources did):

The duration of naval shelling during landing preparations depends upon the degree of neutralization and destruction the enemy deems necessary. Apparently because of heavy losses [suffered by U. S. forces] in the Saipan landing after only two days of preliminary shelling, in their subsequent landing on Guam, preliminary shelling continued for ten days with the obvious intention of destroying gun emplacements and positions.29

The lessons learned in regard to the application of air power were a summary of more than the Saipan operation:

Needless to say, air power is the best means of disrupting an enemy landing. However, there is not a single instance in the past where the enemy was destroyed upon landing or his plans frustrated by air power. In view of this, the urgent need of the moment upon which the fate of our nation depends, is to supplement the combat power of the forces responsible for island defense by the consolidated use of all available weapons and material.

In another part of the same document Captain Shimamura commented that the Japanese forces had been "exposed to such air superiority since Guadalcanal, and . . . have been completely immobilized by day in battle after battle."30

Perhaps the most important tactical lesson which the Japanese drew from Saipan was the importance of organizing their defenses in depth. At Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the enemy did not depend upon a shallow, linear defense but, instead, prepared positions in considerable depth. Bitter experience finally taught its lesson, but the Japanese were reluctant pupils.

One of the foremost criticisms of Japanese tactics by U. S. sources was the failure to mass artillery fire. Later in the war the enemy corrected this shortcoming, but it is interesting to note that the weakness is not mentioned in any of the Japanese messages or studies prepared after Saipan.

Japanese Strategical Summary

The decisive defeat at Saipan shook Tokyo to its deepest roots. Almost unanimously, informed


THE VICTOR at Saipan was the front line infantryman, who, despite the tremendous tonnage of supporting fires, still had to root out and defeat the enemy. Here a 16-inch naval shell provides a seat for a ragged Marine as he returns several days' accumulation of topsoil to Saipan. This man's rifle is clean.

Japanese concluded that the war was lost. Three months before the Saipan operation began, the Japanese General Staff recommended making peace with the United States because of severe shipping losses, but it was not until the jolting loss of Saipan that the opinion became general. After the shocking news had reached Tokyo, Premier Hideki Tojo announced that: "Japan has come to face an unprecedentedly great national crisis." Almost immediately, Tojo, the one man most responsible for his country's entry into the war, was relieved as active head of the Japanese army, which post he held by virtue of his position as Chief of Staff. This was only the beginning of Tojo's downfall; on 18 July 1944 Tojo, with his entire cabinet, resigned, and General Kuniaki Koiso succeeded him as premier. The new government was charged with giving "fundamental reconsideration" to the problem of continuing the war.31

After stating that he considered Guadalcanal the turning point from Japan's offensive to defensive, Fleet Admiral Osami Nagano, Supreme Naval Advisor to the Emperor, spoke in forceful terms of that time when Japan's hopes for effective defense ended. "When we lost Saipan, Hell is on us."32 Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, who had served in a number of prominent naval positions, spoke along the same lines: "With the loss of the Marianas I felt that the last chance had slipped from us definitely."33 Lending further testimony to the same opinion was Vice Admiral Shigeyosh Miwa, who said: "Our war was lost with the loss of Saipan. I feel it was a decisive battle. The loss of Saipan meant [that the U. S.] could cut off our shipping and attack our homeland."34

As noted in the narrative of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Japanese naval air strength had been virtually eliminated from the war in that decisive engagement. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, air staff officer to the Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet, underlined this fact:

. . . this operation [Marianas] was to be a decisive one because we felt if the Marianas were lost there could no longer be a dependable line even in the Philippines. So we planned an all out attack and used up practically all of our air strength.35


THE COST of Saipan was over 3,000 killed. Here a rifle and helmet mark the location of a dead Marine so that he may be picked up for proper burial.

The Assessment

It is plain, from these expressions, that the Japanese were fully cognizant of what Saipan's loss meant. Their assessment was accurate: it was the the beginning of the end.

To relatives of fighting men in the far-off United States, news of casualties (see Appendix III) was staggering. Imperceptible to many were the facts that the enemy's fleet had lost the potential of operating beyond the covering range of shore-based aircraft and that a base providing adequate airfields for long-range raids against the Japanese homeland had been seized. These were vital truths, which Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal expressed as follows: "The final occupation of Saipan will enable us to project surface and air operations that will include the mainland of Japan, the Philippines, and a greater part of the Dutch East Indies."36

But even for those who took the trouble to examine a map and found that Saipan was, indeed, within land-based aircraft striking distance of the Empire, the true import was not apparent. To most, Saipan was a dirty little plot of ground, many thousands of miles from the United States, where over 3,000 Americans died. In the frantic flood of war news and the continuation of the assault against Japan, it is doubtful that many United States citizens ever made the real assessment.

Looking back on the battle, realizing its significance in the course of the war in the Pacific,


analyzing its effect on the Japanese military and citizenry, we may now recognize Saipan in its proper perspective. In this connection, General Holland Smith wrote:

I have always considered Saipan the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive. Creasy, establishing the criterion for his Battles defined decisive as an event which varied the world drama in all its subsequent scenes. Saipan was decisive because it varied the Pacific drama in all its subsequent scenes.

Iwo Jima and Okinawa were costlier battles and carried us closer to Japan, but their capture was made possible only by our earlier success at Saipan, which breached Japan's inner defense line, destroyed the main bastions and opened the way to the home islands.37

Precisely, how had Saipan "varied the Pacific drama in all its subsequent scenes?" Before Saipan, the United States and Japan both had powerful carrier-based air; after Saipan, only that of the United States was effective. Before Saipan, U. S. land-based bombers were beyond range of the Japanese homeland (except for the tenuously held air bases in China); after Saipan, land-based U. S. bombers could rain destruction upon the Japanese cities. Before Saipan, U. S. submarines were based approximately 2,400 miles from Japanese home waters; after Saipan, the distance was reduced by about one-half, increasing submarine efficiency vastly. Before Saipan, the Japanese government that had precipitated the war against the United States was still in power; after Saipan, the government changed and the new one was directed to reconsider the feasibility of continuing the war. In these respects the Pacific drama had been varied.

Saipan was a bold venture in which U. S. soldiers, sailors and Marines challenged and defeated Japanese might. It was a matter of projecting U. S. arms and resources 1,000 nautical miles from the nearest base into the very heart of an island group possessing a powerful potential. Previous island hops had not exceeded 600 miles and never had surrounding enemy air bases been as close or as powerful. In this situation the enemy was brought to his knees.

But on his knees he fought. And the Japanese fought well in this, or any other, position. Whenever men of various parts of the world are compared in fighting tenacity, the men of Japan must rate among the best. Their fighting psychology has often been called fanaticism, but the connotation of that term perhaps does the Japanese an injustice. Perhaps "inspired patriotism" is a fairer appraisal. At any rate, the Japanese were possessed of fighting characteristics of which any nation could be proud.

From the acrid beginning until the bitter end, the Saipan operation represented a triumph of the well-led over the poorly-led, the more-skilled over the less-skilled, the stronger over the weaker. Reduced to its basic formula, this spelled success for one, doom for the other. And yet, to fail to mention the myriad examples of personal heroism by U. S. forces would be a serious omission indeed. In addition to the six men (four Marines, two soldiers) who posthumously received the Medal of Honor, there were thousands of examples of heroic acts, most of which were never officially recognized. U. S. forces, though less anxious than their adversaries to expend themselves in battle, showed no hesitancy in executing assigned missions--even when prospects for immediate success were not particularly bright. With all the superiority granted by weapons and supply, there is still no substitute for fighting when the enemy chooses to fight to the bitter end.

From the top commanders who initiated the strategic planning, to the front line riflemen who wrested the soil from the subborn defenders, the traditional "well done" applies. Now, as never before, the United States was truly at the Empire's threshold. A strong, hard fist was hammering on Japan's front door.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (6) * Next Chapter (Appendix I)


1. Expeditionary Troops, Marianas Report, Naval Gunfire Support, Appendix A to Part 2, Enclosure G. Of the battleships, Tennessee fired the most rounds with 5,579; of the cruisers, Birmingham led the field with 12,673, followed by Cleveland with 10,149; destroyer Wadleigh could claim the honors in its class, firing 4,598 rounds, over 1,000 more than its closest competitor (Pringle).

2. NTLF Naval Gunfire Report, 19-21.

3. The escort carriers (CVE's), used experimentally in the Gilberts campaign, had performed so excellently and proved so valuable that they were a "must" in the Marianas. In all, 12 participated.

4. COMINCH P-007, CG JtExpTrps, 2-7.

5. Ibid., 2-8.

6. General Harper capsulized the XXIV Corps Artillery's role by saying that ". . . it reaped a harvest and accomplished more in furtherance of the common cause than possibly has ever been done by a similar group of battalions in the history of the Army. Saipan was a Corps Artilleryman's dream." Ltr from BrigGen A. M. Harper to CG, USAFICPA, 13Jul44.

7. This figure is derived from an addition of the totals of each unit as listed in individual action reports. All, save the 27th Division artillery, gave a specific figure for Saipan; the exception gave a grand total for Saipan and Tinian but did not separate the two. A reasonably accurate estimate was provided, however, by the fact that approximately two-thirds of its missions were fired at Saipan; and, thus, approximately two-thirds of its ammunition were expended there also. This total does not include the rounds fired by the cannon companies of the three infantry regiments of the 27th Division, nor those fired by the regimental weapons companies of the Marine regiments.

8. Two plans were in effect at Saipan to protect planes from the high ordinates of howitzers. One plan restricted the trajectory of shells in a given area to a specific maximum height. The other stopped all artillery fire within a prescribed area. The latter plan was the subject of vehement complaints from infantry commanders, who at times were denied artillery support for periods ranging from 30 to 90 minutes.

9. XXIV Corps Arty S-3 Report, 12-13.

10. Ltr from Maj W. C. Stoll, Jr., to CMC, 11Jan50.

11. NTLF LVT Officer's Report, 26Jul44. Ltr from LtCol V. J. Croizat to CMC, 20Dec49.

12. This was the progenitor of a much improved flamethrower vehicle used by the 1st Marine Division a few months later at Peleliu. Chief improvement of the Peleliu flame-thrower was a great increase in the range of the fire stream, but the vehicle upon which it was mounted--an LVT--was too vulnerable for full effectiveness. The obvious outgrowth of this was the installation of the long-range flame-thrower on a medium Sherman tank. This weapon was used in the Iwo Jima operation.

13. R. K. Schmidt.

14. On 1 May 1945 a change in Marine Corps Tables of Organization placed an assault platoon in each infantry battalion. This platoon, similar to the assault engineer platoons that operated at Saipan, was organized, equipped and trained to execute missions of assault on fortified positions.

15. 20th Mar Report, 1-13. 102d Engr Report, 1-3.

16. Wallace.

17. Ltr from Capt W. H. Pickett to CMC, 9Jan50.

18. Modern Military Dictionary, 1936, Max B. Garber.

19. COMINCH P-007, 5-4.

20. Ibid., 5-18. An examination of the Peleliu and Iwo Jima action reports reveals that this recommendation was not adopted for those campaigns.

21. 27th Division Surgeon's Report, 1.

22. Report of activities of Medical Department, 2d Marine Division during FORAGER Operation, 8.

23. Medical Report, 4th Marine Division, 7.

24. 27th Division Surgeon's Report, Table I. This report actually showed an aggregate of 5,166, 892 of whom were killed in action. In the interest of consistency with Marine reports (which did not include KIA's under Admissions) these 892 have been subtracted from the total.

25. Captured Japanese document, "Tactical Lessons--Naval Shelling of Saipan," Captain Taisa Shimamura, August 1944, 2.

26. Ibid., 2-3.

27. Ibid., 4-5.

28. Ibid., 8-9.

29. Ibid., 6. Unfortunately, Shimamura credited us with a deduction that we did not make. The lengthy preparation for Guam was more accidental than planned, inasmuch as the reason was the delay imposed by the necessity of returning ships from the Marianas to Pearl Harbor to lift the 77th Infantry Division. The commitment of the 27th Division at Saipan had left a vacancy in the Guam plans which had to be filled. Spruance.

30. Ibid., 7-8.

31. Campaigns, 220.

32. USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 80, Fleet Admiral Nagano, Osami, Chief of Naval General Staff Apr41-Feb44; Supreme Naval Advisor to the Emperor, 20Nov45.

33. USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 115, VAdm Fukudome, Shigeru, IJN, 9-12Dec45. Chief of Staff, Combined Fleet from 1940 to Apr41; Chief First Section, Naval General Staff, Tokyo, Apr41-May43; Chief of Staff, Combined Fleet from May43-Mar44; Commander, Second Air Fleet, Jul44-15Jan45; Commander, 10th Area Fleet, 15Jan45-Dec45.

34. USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 72, VAdm Miwa, Shigeyosh, IJN; successively director Naval Submarine Department and CinC Sixth (Submarine) Fleet.

35. USSBS Interrogation Nav No. 99, Capt Fuchida Mitsuo, IJN, 25Nov45. Senior staff officer of First Air Fleet in which capacity he served in the Marianas Sept43-Apr44; air staff officer to CinC Combined Fleet from Apr44 to end of war.

36. Quoted from History of World War II, Miller, 683.

37. Coral and Brass, 181.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation