The following is a translation from a captured Japanese officer's personal account of the last days of Lieutenant General Saito, the Commanding General of all Army forces on Saipan. The personal story of this officer who participated in the counterattack against our forces the morning of 7 July 1944, reveals a vivid picture of events leading up to the attack that occurred on the above date.
I don't remember the exact date too well, because of the intense bombardment and the naval shelling, but about the time that the Field Headquarters moved stealthily in the middle of the night from among the mountains in CHACHA to the fourth position (4 kilometers into the mountains due EAST of the NORTHEASTERN limit of GARAPAN Town), the 135th Infantry, by now robbed of the summit of TAPOTCHAU, was chased far into the TALAFOFO area by the enemy forces along the eastern sea coast.
At the new Field Headquarters a conference was quickly held to decide how to extricate themselves quickly from this predicament.
Some officers proposed that "we should die gloriously in battle with a final charge now, in this place."
However, General SAITO ordered "Because there are many military units which were left scattered on the field of battle, gather these all together and construct positions from here toward the NORTH in the narrowest portion of SAIPAN Island. You must chew the AMERICAN forces to pieces."
At this point the staff determined those positions on maps. They fell in a line running from NORTH of TANAPAG through HILL 205.2 to TALAFOFO.
However, in order to carry out the construction of that defensive line, they had to gather picks and shovels. They were all in BANADERU.
I did not think that the plan, as General SAITO conceived it, would work under these conditions.
However, before the positions were completed, the enemy was upon our front lines and we couldn't spare even one man as a runner during that day. This was 2 July. Because our lines of communication were broken all control had to be carried out at night. Moreover, under these conditions of retreat, it is impossible to control the situation except at night.
Here is an example of that.
The 135th Infantry drew back to rear positions a day before they were supposed to. When the Division Headquarters learned of this it was already too late to stop it. Because of this, the strategic plan of the Division was ruined. That is to say, the Naval forces and the portion of the Army forces which had been fighting bravely and stubbornly around GARAPAN Town were cut off from a patch of withdrawal. The 136th Infantry and other Army units which were on the EAST slope of TAPOTCHAU were isolated. And what aggravated the condition most and was most bothersome, was that we could not transport back to the new positions the provisions to halt the enemy advances.
We did not stay long in this fourth headquarters. Caught in the concentration of Naval gunfire the wounded and dead continued to increase.
We stayed at the fifth headquarters only 2 days. On about 3 July (I'm not sure of exact date) we moved to the sixth and final headquarters.
This area is generally called THE VALLEY OF HELL [Paradise Valley] and we felt that this was an unpleasant hint and suggestion concerning our future.
The intelligence which managed to reach me at this last place was all depressing.
On 4 July, an enemy unit [165th Infantry] appeared on the other side of the valley and fired at us with heavy automatic weapons. At that time I felt we were entirely surrounded and had lost all hope.
General SAITO was feeling very poorly because, for several days he had neither eaten nor slept well and was overstrained. He was wearing a long beard and was a pitiful sight.
That morning that very valley received intense bombardment (I don't know whether it was naval gunfire or pursuing fire from artillery, but it was the second most intense bombardment I had been in). It was so fierce that I thought maybe the cave where the headquarters was would be buried. At this time the Staff and Lt. Gen. SAITO received shrapnel wounds.
I felt that the final hour was drawing near.
Lt. Gen. SAITO called his Chief of Staff and held a secret conference of his unit commanders. The contents of that conference were never revealed to us but nevertheless it was undoubtedly aimed at taking a final action in realizing the end in true Japanese Army fashion. This final decisive action had to be simply one of two courses. First, to remain as we were and starve to death or secondly, to make a last attack and fight to the finish. Of course, the Division Commanding General and Chief of Staff chose the latter. However, in order to carry out the latter there were many difficulties to be encountered. First of all, to what extent could the soldiers be assembled? Even if they could be assembled, only a few could be supplied with weapons. Furthermore, it would take two days and two nights to assemble them and issue the orders. Whereupon, the evening of 6 July or 7 July was decided upon. Having lost the freedom of maneuverability there was only one road left open, a last all out desperate attack. There was no hope for success. The final order and instructions were written up and undoubtedly resulted in the order to carry out the forementioned ceremonial action. The opinion of Vice Admiral NAGUMO was probably received but even though he was in the vicinity there was no communication between the two headquarters. Under these conditions the final plan was drawn up. However, since the fighting on SAIPAN Island was under the command of SAITO, combining both Army and Navy forces, this was quite proper.
Officer messengers took a period of four days and nights [sic] to disseminate orders to the unit commanders in various places.
After issuing the orders, it seemed that the work of headquarters was finished. Everybody put his personal belongings in order. By the kindness of the headquarters cook a farewell feast for General SAITO was prepared for the evening of the 5th. However this consisted of only sake and canned crab meat.
Why did they have this farewell feast? Since General SAITO, because of his age and the exhausted condition of his body, would not participate in the attack of the 7th and had decided to commit suicide in the cave, it was feted. 10 A.M. 6 July ! ! This time was set by the General himself as the final hour. I had to be up at the front that morning in a liaison capacity so I was unable to witness the final hour.
I think that it happened in the following manner.
Cleaning off a spot on the rock himself, SAITO sat down. Facing the misty EAST saying "TENNO HEIKA! BANZAI!" (Hurrah for the Emperor!), he drew his own blood first with his own sword and then his adjutant shot him in the head with a pistol.
When I returned to the headquarters from my duties, (10 P.M. 6 July) they had already cremated the General's body. He had probably said "It makes little difference (in this battle) whether I die today or tomorrow, so I will die first! I will meet my staff in YASUKUNI Shrine!" 3 A.M. 7 July.
This was the time ordered for the commencement of the attack.
Because the units were confused and mixed as described previously, from the middle of the night of 7 July, we set out for MATANSHA1 to gather the troops. However, as usual, we were shelled enroute.
At 0330, the troops who were able to gather at MATANSHA, the non-combatant troops of the headquarters, all together totaled barely 600. Many had no weapons. The total participants I would estimate at about 1500, mixed Army and Navy!
The Battle commences!
We had only one machine gun but it kept firing bravely, making night into day! About the time the gun was silenced the whole attack came to an untimely end, fading like the dew on the dawn of the 7th.
7 July! This is a significant day in the war. This was the day marking the end of the fighting on SAIPAN; the day when the brave officers and men of the Japanese Army followed General SAITO to his end.
I will attack the enemy alone again soon and join my brave comrades!"
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1. Matansha was a small village about 1,000 yards northeast of Makunsha.