WORLD WAR II
BY CAPTAIN JOHN C. CHAPIN
U.S. MARINE CORPS RESERVE (RET)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Breaching the Marianas 1 5
Breaching the Marianas:
The Battle for Saipan
by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)
On the Cover: A Marine enters the outskirts of Garapan, Saipan,
through the torii gate of a Shin to Shrine. Department of Defense
Photo (USMC) 92993
At left: The first assault wave has hit the beach from the LVT
(amphibious tractor) that brought it ashore, and the Marines now
prepare to fight their way inland. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
It was to be a brutal day. At first light on 15 June 1944, the Navy
fire support ships of the task force lying off Saipan Island increased their
previous days' preparatory fires involving all calibers of weapons. At 0542,
Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner ordered, "Land the landing force." Around
0700, the landing ships, tank (LSTs) moved to within approximately 1,250 yards
behind the line of departure. Troops in the LSTs began debarking from them in
landing vehicles, tracked (LVTs). Control vessels containing Navy and Marine
personnel with their radio gear took their positions displaying flags
indicating which beach approaches they controlled.
Admiral Turner delayed H-hour from 0830 to 0840 to give the "boat waves"
additional time to get into position. Then the first wave headed full speed
toward the beaches. The Japanese waited patiently, ready to make the assault
units pay a heavy price.
The first assault wave contained armored amphibian tractors (LVT[A]s)
with their 75mm guns firing rapidly. They were accompanied by light gunboats
firing 4.5-inch rockets, 20mm guns, and 40mm guns. The LVTs could negotiate
the reef, but the rest could not and were forced to turn back until a
passageway through the reef could be discovered.
Earlier, at 0600, further north, a feint landing was conducted off
Tanapag harbor by part of the 2d Marines in conjunction with the 1st
Battalion, 29th Marines, and the 24th Marines. The Japanese were not really
fooled and did not rush reinforcements to that area, but it did tie up at
least one enemy regiment.
When the LVT(A)s and troop-carrying LVTs reached the reef, it seemed to
explode. In every direction and in the water beyond on the way to the beaches,
great geysers of water rose with artillery and mortar shells exploding.
Small-arms fire, rifles, and machine guns joined the mounting crescendo. The
LVTs ground ashore.
Confusion on the beaches, particularly in the 2d Marine Division area,
was compounded by the strength of a northerly current flow which caused the
assault battalions of the 6th and 8th Marines to land about 400 yards too far
north. This caused a gap to widen between the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions. As
Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, the operations officer of the Expeditionary Troops
commented: "The opposition consisted primarily of artillery and mortar fire
from weapons placed in well-deployed positions and previously registered to
cover the beach areas, as well as fire from small arms, automatic weapons, and
anti-boat guns sited to cover the approaches to and the immediate landing
Map of Pacific Ocean Areas
As a result, five of the 2d Marine Division assault unit commanders were
soon wounded in the two battalions of the 6th Marines (on the far left), and
in the two battalions of the 8th Marines. With Afetan Point in the middle
spitting deadly enfilade fire to the left and to the right, the next units
across the gap were two battalions of the 23d Marines and, finally, on the far
right, two battalions of the 25th Marines.
Although the original plan had been for the assault troops to ride their
LVTs all the way to the O-1 (first objective) line, the deluge of Japanese
fire and natural obstacles prevented this. A few units in the center of the
4th Division made it, but fierce enemy resistance pinned down the right and
left flanks. The two divisions were unable to make direct contact.
A first lieutenant in the 3d Battalion, 24th Marines, John C. Chapin,
later remembered vividly the extraordinary scene on the beach when he came
ashore on D-Day:
All around us was the chaotic debris of bitter combat: Jap and
Marine bodies lying in mangled and grotesque positions; blasted
and burnt-out pillboxes; the burning wrecks of LVTs that had been
knocked out by Jap high velocity fire; the acrid smell of high
explosives; the shattered trees; and the churned-up sand littered
with discarded equipment.
When his company moved inland a short distance, it quickly experienced
the frightening precision of the pre-registered Japanese artillery fire:
Suddenly, WHAM! A shell hit right on top of us! I was too
surprised to think, but instinctively all of us hit the deck and
began to spread out. Then the shells really began to pour down on
us: ahead, behind, on both sides, and right in our midst. They would
come rocketing down with a freight-train roar and then explode with
a deafening cataclysm that is beyond description.
It finally dawned on me that the first shell bursts we'd heard had
been ranging shots, and now that the Japs were "zeroed in" on us, we
were caught in a full-fledged barrage. The fire was hitting us with
pin-point accuracy, and it was not hard to see why -- towering 1500
feet above us
"D-Day at Saipan"
Map of D-Day at Saipan
Initial Landings and Night Defensive Position
was Mt. Tapotchau, with Jap observation posts honeycombing its
That night the lieutenant and his runner shared a shallow foxhole and
split the watches between them. Death came close:
Slowly, very slowly, the hours of my watch passed, and at last
I leaned over and shook my runner awake. "It's time for your watch,"
I whispered. "Look out for that place over there, maybe Japs in it.
Keep awake." With that I rolled over on the ground and was asleep in
Right away, it seemed, someone was shaking me and insisting, "Wake
up!" I jerked bolt upright -- in combat your reflexes act fast and you
never go fully to sleep. A glance at my watch showed that it was
I turned to my runner who was lying against me, asleep. "Let's
go!" I said, "Pass the word to the squad leaders to get set." He
didn't stir. I shook him. He still didn't move. He was dead. With
the callousness that war demands, I rolled him over, reached for his
canteen, and poured the precious water into my own canteen. Then I
left him lying there....
All the assault regiments were taking casualties from the constant
shelling that was zeroed in by spotters on the high ground inland. Supplies
and reinforcing units piled up in confusion on the landing beaches. Snipers
were everywhere. Supporting waves experienced the same deadly enemy fire on
their way to the beach. Some LVTS lost their direction, some received direct
hits, and others were flipped on their sides by waves or enemy fire spilling
their equipment and personnel onto the reef. Casualties in both divisions
Marines dig in on the beachhead, consolidating their positions,
and at the same time preparing to move out on the attack inland.
Members of the Japanese garrison on Saipan pose for a photograph
during a more peaceful time before the Marine landing.
Evacuating them to the ships was extremely dangerous and difficult. Medical
aid stations set up ashore were under sporadic enemy fire.
As the Marine artillery also landed in the late afternoon of D-Day and
began firing in support of the infantry, it received deadly accurate
counter-battery fire from the Japanese. The commander of the 4th Division,
Major General Harry Schmidt, came ashore at 1930 and later recalled, "Needless
to say, the command post during that time did not function very well. It was
the hottest spot I was in during the war...."
Major James A. Donovan, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th
Marines, endured a mortar barrage that had uncanny timing and precision:
We entered a little village called Charan-Kanoa. We paused there
to get some water. We had been pinched out of our zone of action.
We were washing up and resting when all of a sudden mortar shells
started to fall on us. We didn't know it at the time, but in a tall
smokestack nearby was a Japanese forward observer. He was directing
the fire, looking right down on us. It didn't occur to us that
somebody could be up in that smokestack after all the preparatory
naval gunfire and everything that had been fired into the area, but
he was up there all right. He really caused a great number of
casualties in G Company.
He caught us without foxholes. We had that false sense of security
from having been pinched out of the line. We thought we had a chance
to relax. We didn't. So all had to dig holes in a hurry, and it's
hard to dig a hole when you're lying on your stomach digging with
your chin, your elbows, your knees, and your toes. It is possible to
dig a hole that way, I found, but we lost far more Marines than we
LtGen Smith in his command post ashore on Saipan uses a
high-powered telescope to observe his troops in action.
Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, one of the most famous Marines of
World War II, was born in 1882. He was commissioned a second lieutenant
in 1905. There followed a series of overseas assignments in the
Philippines, Nicaragua, Santo Domingo, and with the Marine Brigade in
France in World War I. Beginning in the early 1930s, he became
increasingly focused on the development of amphibious warfare concepts.
Soon after the outbreak of war with Japan in 1941, he came to a crucial
position, command of all Marines in the Central Pacific.
As another Marine officer later described him, "He was of medium height,
perhaps five feet nine or ten inches, and somewhat paunchy. His once-black
hair had turned gray. His once close-trimmed mustache was somewhat
scraggly. He wore steel-rimmed glasses and he smoked cigars incessantly."
There was one other feature that characterized him: a ferocious temper that
earned him the nickname "Howlin' Mad" Smith, although his close friends
knew him as "Hoke."
This characteristic would usually emerge as irritation at what he felt
were substandard performances. One famous example of this was his relief of
an Army general on Saipan. A huge interservice uproar erupted!
Less than two years later, after 41 years of active service, during which
he was awarded four Distinguished Service Medals for his leadership in four
successive successful amphibious operations, he retired in April 1946, as a
four-star general. He died in January 1967.
The 2d Marine Division
The origins of this division lay in the activation of the 2d Marine
Brigade as part of the Fleet Marine Force on 1 July 1936. A year later the
brigade deployed to Shanghai, China, returning in 1938 to San Diego,
On 1 February 1941, the unit was redesignated as the 2d Marine Division.
Its component regiments, the 2d, 6th, 8th, and 10th Marines, brought with
them impressive histories of service in Vera Cruz (Mexico), World War I in
France, and the Caribbean.
In World War II, elements of the division served in Iceland, in Hawaii
during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and on Samoa, then the full division in
the Guadalcanal campaign, followed by the bloody assault of Tarawa for
which it was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, and on to Saipan,
Tinian, and Okinawa.
The 2d Marine Division Patch
This 2d Marine Division shoulder patch was worn on Saipan. Designed and
approved in late 1943, the insignia is in the official Marine Corps colors
of scarlet and gold. The insignia displays a spearhead-shaped scarlet
background with a hand holding aloft a lighted gold torch. A scarlet
numeral "2" is superimposed upon the torch, and the torch and hand are
encircled by five white stars in the arrangement of the Southern Cross
constellation; under this the division's first World War II combat took
place at Guadalcanal.
Illustration of 2d Marine Division Patch
before someone finally located that observer up in the smokestack.
I don't know how tall the smokestack was, but I would say probably
the equivalent of two or three stories high. From up there he could
see the entire picture, and he really gave it to us.
The night of D-Day saw continuous Japanese probing of the Marine
positions, fire from by-passed enemy soldiers, and an enemy attack in the 4th
Division zone screened by a front of civilians. The main counterattack,
however, fell on the 6th Marines on the far left of the Marine lines. About
2,000 Japanese started moving south from Garapan, and by 2200 they were ready
to attack. Led by tanks the charge was met by a wall of fire from .30-caliber
machine guns, 37mm antitank guns, and M-1 rifles. It was too much and they
fell back in disarray. In addition to 700 enemy dead, they left one tank. The
body of the bugler who blew the charge was slumped over the open hatch. A
bullet had gone straight up his bugle!
One of the crucial assets for the Marine defense that night (and on many
subsequent nights) was the illumination provided by star shells fired from
Navy ships. Japanese records recovered later from their Thirty-first Army
message file revealed,"... as soon as the night attack units go forward, the
enemy points out targets by using the large star shells which practically turn
night into day. Thus the maneuvering of units is extremely difficult."
As the weary Marines finally tried to get some sleep, all along their
irregular line of foxholes, two things were very clear to them: they had
forced a precarious beachhead in the teeth of bitter enemy fire, and a long,
tough battle obviously lay ahead.
While the thoughts of the riflemen focused on survival and the immediate
ground in front of them, the senior command echelons saw the initial success
of the landings as a culmination of months of planning, training, and
organization for a strategic strike on a crucial Japanese stronghold. The
opportunity for this sprang from earlier Central Pacific victories.
The Marine conquest of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943,
followed by the joint Marine-Army capture of Kwajalein and Eniwetok atolls in
the Marshall Islands in January-February 1944, had broken the outer ring of
Japanese defenses and set the stage for succeeding operations.
These earlier victories had moved up the entire American operational
timetable for the Central Pacific by three valuable months. After discussions
of various alternatives (such as an attack on the vast Japanese base at Truk),
the Joint Chiefs of Staff had settled on the next objective: the Mariana
Islands. There were to be three principal targets: Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.
It was a daring decision, for Saipan was 1,344 miles from the Marshalls and
3,226 miles from Hawaii, but only 1,250 miles from Japan. Furthermore, the
islands were linchpins in the revised inner defense line which the
The 4th Marine Division
This division had its roots in the shifting and redesignation of
several other units. The 23d Marines began as infantry detached from the
3d Division in February 1943, the same month that an artillery battalion
became the genesis of the 14th Marines and engineer elements of the 19th
Marines formed the start of the 20th Marines. In March the 24th Marines
was organized, and then in May it was split in two to supply the men for
the 25th Marines.
This war-time shuffling provided the major building blocks for a new
division. The units were originally separated, however, with the 24th
Marines and a variety of reinforcing units (engineer, artillery, medical,
motor transport, special weapons, tanks, etc.) at Camp Pendleton in
California. The rest of the units were at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
This East Coast echelon moved to Pendleton by train and also by ship
through the Panama Canal in July and August 1943. All the units were now
finally together, and thus the 4th Marine Division was formally activated
on 14 August 1943.
After intensive training, it shipped out on 13 January 1944, and in 13
short months made four major assault landings: Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian,
and Iwo Jima, suffering over 17,000 casualties. It was awarded two
Presidential Unit Citations and a Navy Unit Commendation, and then
deactivated 28 November 1945. In February 1966, however, it was reactivated
as the lead division in the Marine Corps Reserve, and it furnished
essential units to Desert Storm in the liberation of Kuwait.
The 4th Marine Division Patch
Worn on Saipan, it had a gold "4" on a scarlet background, the official
colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. This emblem was designed by SSgt John
Fabion, a member of the division's public affairs office before the
Marshalls campaign. His commanding officer was astonished to find that,
when the division attacked Roi islet in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall
Islands (January 1944), the layout of the runways on the Japanese airstrip
there were "an exact replica."
Illustration of the 4th Division Patch
Japanese felt they absolutely had to hold after their previous losses in the
Central and Southwest Pacific.
Saipan represented a wholly new kind of prickly problem for an American
assault. Instead of a small, flat coral islet in an atoll, it was a large
island target of some 72 square miles, with terrain varying from flat cane
fields to swamps to precipitous cliffs to the commanding 1,554-foot-high Mount
Tapotchau. Moreover, the Japanese considered it "their own territory," in
spite of the fact that it was legally only a mandate provided by the terms of
the Versailles Treaty following World War I. The fact that Japan held the
islands led it to install a policy of exclusion of all outsiders and the start
of military construction, forbidden by the treaty, as early as 1934.
Attacking a formidable objective such as Saipan called for complex
planning and much greater force than had previously been needed in the Central
Pacific. An elaborate organization was therefore assembled. Admiral Raymond A.
Spruance was in overall command of the force detailed to invade the Marianas
as well as the naval units needed to protect them. Admiral Turner was in
command over the amphibious task force, while Marine Lieutenant General
Holland M. Smith was to direct the landing forces on Saipan and then on the
neighboring island of Tinian. (A similar command structure, but with different
combat units, was set up for the attack on Guam to the south.)
The operation plan for Saipan, code-named Forager, called for an assault
on the western side of the island, with the 2d Marine Division on the left and
the 4th Marine Division on the right. The Army's 27th Infantry Division was in
reserve, ready to be fed into the battle if needed. While each of the two
Marine divisions had previously fought as a complete unit, the 27th had
experienced only two minor landings (at Makin and Eniwetok islets) for some of
its regiments and battalions.
The intensive training for these three divisions took place in the
Hawaiian islands with Major General Harry Schmidt's 4th Marine Division on
Maui, Major General Thomas E. Watson's 2d Marine Division on the "Big Island"
of Hawaii, and Army Major General Ralph C. Smith's 27th Infantry Division on
Oahu. As Lieutenant Chapin described it:
(These) months were busy, hard-working ones. The replacements
that arrived to fill the gaps left by Namur's casualties (in the
Kwajalein battle) had to be trained in all the complexities of
field work. Most of these replacements were boys fresh from boot
camp, and they were ignorant of everything but the barest
essentials. Week after week was filled with long marches, field
combat problems, live firing, obstacle courses, street fight
ing, judo, calisthenics, night and day attacks and defenses, etc. There
were also lectures on the errors we'd made at Namur. Added emphasis was
placed on attacking fortified positions. We worked with demolition
charges of dynamite, TNT, and C-2 [plastic explosive], and with flame
throwers till everyone knew them forward and backward.
The month of May 1944 brought final maneuvers and practice landings for
all three divisions. The operation plan looked neatly and efficiently
organized on paper.
In practice it looked different to that lieutenant:
To us in the lower echelons it was just the same old stuff
that we'd been doing for a solid year: filing up from compartments
below decks to your assigned boat station, going over the side,
hurrying down the net to beat the stopwatch, into the heaving LCVP
(Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), and away. Then the interminable
hours of circling, meanwhile getting wet, hungry and bored. The K
rations (in a waxed box) tasted like sawdust; the weather got rougher
and rougher. Some of the men got seasick, and all of us were soaking
wet and cold. Finally we headed back to our transport and clambered
up the cargo net with a sigh of relief. The next day it was the
same thing all over again, except that this time we went ashore.
This, too, had an awfully familiar feeling: wading through the surf,
getting your only pair of shoes and socks wringing wet, and then
onto the beach where all the sand migrated inside your shoes. A
series of conflicting and confusing orders flowed down through the
chain of command: halt and move on, halt and move on, go here, go
The vast attack force now gathered at Pearl Harbor. Although there were
unfortunate accidents to some of the landing craft, over 800 ships set out in
the naval component, some for direct fire support of the troops, some for
transport, and some (the fast carrier task force) to make advance air strikes
and then to deal with the attack which the landing probably would incite from
the Japanese Navy. Holland Smith's V Amphibious Corps, totalling 71,034 Marine
and Army troops, sailed with some slow elements starting on 25 May. The
specialized craft for the ground forces ran the gamut of acronym varieties.
After staging through the Marshalls, the armada headed for the target: Saipan.
At sea the troops got their final briefings: maps of the island (based on
recent American aerial and submarine photographs of a hitherto "secret
island"), estimates of 15,000 enemy troops (which turned out in the end to be
30,000 under the command of Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito and Vice
Admiral Chiuchi Nagumo), and detailed attack plans for two Marine divisions.
The Army 27th Infantry Division
This division, before the national emergency was he dared in 1940, was
a State of New York National Guard organization. It contained many famous
old regiments, some dating from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In
World War II, the division's 165th Infantry had been the renowned old
69th New York Infantry, also known as the "Fighting 69th" and "Fighting
Irish" of World War I fame. The first unit of this regiment was organized
As the war in Europe grew in intensity, the Selective Service Act gave
the President the power to federalize the National Guard. Thus, the 27th
Division was activated by President Roosevelt on 25 September 1940. It
was first sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for intensive training, and
then, in December 1941, to California.
On 28 February 1942, the first elements of the division sailed from
San Francisco and landed at the town of Hilo on the "Big Island" of
Hawaii. During the next two months, the division units were scattered
throughout the island for local defense and training. That was the start
of the longest wartime overseas service of any National Guard division in
the United States Army.
In the fall of 1942, the division was directed to assemble on the
island of Oahu. MajGen Ralph C. Smith took over command at that time.
Then in midsummer 1943, orders came to prepare the 165th Infantry
Regiment, reinforced by a battalion of the 105th Infantry and an
artillery battalion, for an assault to capture the coral atoll of Makin,
in the Gilbert Islands chain. Following a four-day battle there, in
November 1943, the division furnished a battalion of the 106th Infantry
for the unopposed occupation of Majuro in the Marshall Islands in January
The final prelude to Saipan for units of the 27th came the next month.
Two battalions of the 106th fought at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls.
After the division's struggle on Saipan, it went on to the battle for
Okinawa in April 1945, and then to the occupation of Japan in September
The final chapter came in December 1946 when the 27th Infantry Division
The Army 27th Infantry Division Patch
Simultaneously, the American fast carriers' planes began, on 11 June,
their softening-up bombing, combined with attacks on Japanese land-based air.
Two days later, the main enemy fleet headed for the Marianas for a decisive
battle. Then, on 14 June, the "old battleships" of the U.S. Navy, reborn from
the Pearl Harbor disaster, moved in close to Saipan to pound the Japanese
defenses with their heavy guns. That night underwater demolition teams made
their dangerous swim in close to the assault beaches to check on reefs,
channels, mines, and beach defenses. All was now in readiness for the
The bloody business of D-Day was, as the troops well realized, only a
beginning, for the long, gruelling fight which began the next morning.
D+1-D+2, 16-17 June
The next two days saw the Marine attack resumed all along the irregular
front. The 2d Division, after reorganizing, pushed its 6th Marines northeast
toward Mount Tipo Pali, its 2d Marines north towards Garapan, and its 8th
Marines east into the swamps around Lake Susupe. Direct contact with the 4th
Division was finally established.
Close combat was the norm. There were no exceptions for battalion
commanders. Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, commanding the 3d
Battalion, 25th Marines in the 4th Division later described two of his
experiences on D + 1:
We came to a big bomb crater. The soil had all been thrown up,
and around it there were three Marines protected by the dirt. I
called up to one of these Marines and asked him what was going on.
One of them said that there was an antiaircraft gun right down in
front of them. I crawled up within two or three feet of the top of
the dirt and raised up on my hands to see what was down there.
Within about 25 to 30 yards, I was looking right into the muzzle
of an 88mm antiaircraft/antitank gun. They had swung the damn thing
around, and it was pointing right up the hill. I was looking right
down its muzzle. I dropped as hard as I could and then the damn gun
went off. The shell bore through the far side of the bomb crater,
came through the dirt on the near side of the bomb crater where I
was. It took the head off the Marine with whom I had been talking.
The shell went on back and landed about 20 or 30 feet beyond us
where it detonated. Later that same day, he had another close call
We had, as we had advanced, uncovered various Japanese supply
caches. One of these was an ammunition dump .... About 1505 the
Japs blew the large dump near where I was standing and caused
numerous concussion casualties including myself.... I don't remember
a thing about it. The boys tell me that, when the blast went off,
I was thrown right up in the air, and I turned a complete flip and
then landed on my face.
On the night of D + 1, the Japanese again launched a major attack on the
6th Marines, this time with 44 tanks. Major Donovan later described the wild
clash: "The battle evolved itself into a madhouse of noise, tracers, and
flashing lights. As tanks were hit and set afire, they silhouetted other tanks
coming out of the flickering shadows to the front or already on top of the
squads." The Marines poured in their fire, now with 2.36-inch rocket
launchers, grenade launchers, self-propelled 75mm guns, and their own
artillery and tanks adding to the din. When dawn broke, it was over and the
shattered hulks of 24 Japanese tanks lay there smoking.
In the 4th Division zone of action, the left regiment, the 23d, also had
a difficult time in the Susupe swamp. The 24th and 25th
Major General Harry Schmidt was the leader of the 4th Marine Division
in the assaults at Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands and then at Saipan
in the Marianas. Born in 1886, he entered the Corps as a second
lieutenant in 1909. By extraordinary coincidence, his first foreign duty
was at Guam in the Marianas Islands, an area he would return to 33 years
later under vastly different circumstances!
The Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua (where he was awarded a
Navy Cross-second only to the Medal of Honor), interspersed with repeated
stays in China, were the marks of a diverse overseas career. At home
there were staff schools, paymaster duties, and a tour as Assistant
By the end of World War II, he had been decorated with three
Distinguished Service Medals. Retiring in 1948 after 39 years of service,
he was advanced to the four-star rank of general. His death came in 1968.
A contemporary described him as "a Buddha, a typical old-time Marine:
he'd been in China; he was regulation, Old Establishment, a regular
Photograph of Major General Harry Schmidt
This Japanese soldier and tank are both permanent finished after
an attack on Marine lines.
drove inland to the east towards the key objective of Aslito airfield. With a
danger looming of overextended lines, Lieutenant General Holland Smith pulled
the 165th Infantry out of his reserve (the Army's 27th Infantry Division) and
sent it ashore on D+2 to reinforce the 4th Marine Division. This same day,
Major General Ralph Smith came ashore to take command of the additional Army
units of his 27th Division as they landed.
With the 165th Infantry on its right flank and the 24th Marines to its
left, the 25th Marines was poised on the north edge of Aslito airfield late on
D+2. Its patrols found the strip was abandoned, but the 165th, assigned to
capture it, decided to wait until the next day.
The division had finally approached the O-1 line, except on the left
flank where contact with the 2d Division was again broken, this time near
Mount Fina Susu.
This same day, 17 June, saw a crucial command decision by Admiral
Spruance. With the power
Major General Thomas E. Watson, as a brigadier general and commander of
Tactical Group-1, built on the 22d Marines, led his men in the conquest
of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in February 1944. For this he
was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal, and the 22d Marines was
awarded a Navy Unit Commendation.
He took command of the 2d Marine Division in April 1944. In June he
directed his men in the conquest of Saipan and then Tinian, receiving a
Retirement came in 1950, and he died in March 1966, as a lieutenant
With a birth date of 1892, and an enlistment date of 1912, he fully
qualified as a member of "the Old Corps." After being commissioned in
1916, he served in a variety of Marine assignments in the Caribbean,
China, and the United States.
Given the nickname "Terrible Tommy," Watson's proverbial impatience
later was characterized by General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., as follows:
"He would not tolerate for one minute stupidity, laziness, professional
incompetence, or failure in leadership.... His temper in correcting these
failings could be fiery and monumental," as both Marine and Army officers
found out at Eniwetok and later Saipan!
Photograph of Major General Thomas W. Watson
The training before Saipan was based on a new Table of Organization for
the Marine Divisions. Their size was reduced by 2,500 men to 17,465. The
artillery regiments each lost one of its 75mm pack howitzer battalions,
but the infantry retained its previous units. Rifle squads, however, were
organized to total 13, using three "fire teams" of four men with each
team built around a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), a 50 percent increase
in the division of this valuable weapon. The number of 60mm mortars in the
division table of equipment was similarly expanded, while the number of
flamethrowers grew ten-fold. In addition, the tank battalions were able to
replace their antiquated light tanks with mediums.
ful main Japanese fleet now approaching Saipan, he ordered his fast carriers
to meet the enemy ships, and that night withdrew his transports and supply
ships from their offshore support positions to a safe distance from the
D+3, 18 June
When the infantrymen ashore woke the next morning, they looked out in
amazement at the empty ocean and a wave of uneasy questions raced through
their minds: "Where in hell are our ships? What about food and ammunition
we've got to have? Will we get back the daytime naval supporting gunfire and
also the star shell illumination?" The men in frontline combat had no way of
knowing that over 33,000 tons of cargo had already been unloaded when the
Both Marine divisions went on the attack, while the 105th Infantry joined
the 165th on the far right flank, enabling Ralph Smith to put his 27th
Division into motion to occupy Aslito airfield and attack along the southern
That same morning, 18 June, the 4th Marine Division attack objective was
the seizure of the O-3 line. This would mean reaching the east coast of Saipan
and splitting in two the Japanese forces. First, however, the 23d Marines,
reinforced by a battalion of the 24th Marines, had to seize the portion of the
O-2 line in its zone. This was to be the division's line of departure. The
entire division with three infantry regiments abreast, jumped off at 1040.
At 1340 the 25th Marines had reached O-3. The 24th Marines had tank-led
Japanese counterattacks on both flanks but was able to reach O-3 before dark.
The 23d Marines, however, was stopped by intense enemy mortar and machine
gun fire coming from southeast of Lake Susupe right on the boundary line
between the two Marine divisions, making it unclear which division had
responsibility for wiping out these enemy positions. At the same time, it was
impossible to fire artillery on them for fear of hitting friendly troops. As a
result, the 23d Marines suffered heavy casualties. So, by the end of the day,
although all of the 4th Marine Division's regiments were in contact, a gap
still existed between the two Marine divisions.
The bizarre becomes commonplace in combat. For instance, one of the 23d
Marines' 75mm half-tracks fired into a Japanese cave that day, and a dense
cloud of noxious fumes came pouring out. A gas alarm was sounded. This meant
serious trouble, for all the riflemen had long since jettisoned their
burdensome gas masks. Relief flooded through the men as it was established
that the fumes were not poisonous and came from picric acid the Japanese had
stored in the cave.
Over in the 2d Division's zone, the 8th Marines saw some bitter fighting
over Hill 240. A heavily defended coconut grove required saturation fire from
the artillery of the
Ground Command List
The Marine and Army units assigned to the Saipan operation were under
these senior commanders
V Amphibious Corps - LtGen Holland M. Smith
2d Marines - Col Walter J. Stuart
6th Marines - Col James P. Riseley
8th Marines - Col Clarence R. Wallace
10th Marines - Col Raphael Griffin
18th Marines - LtCol Russell Lloyd
4th Marine Division - MajGen Harry Schmidt
14th Marines - Col Louis G. DeHaven
20th Marines - LtCol Nelson K. Brown
23d Marines - Col Louis R. Jones
24th Marines - Col Franklin A. Hart
25th Marines - Col Merton J. Batchelder
27th Infantry Division - MajGen Ralph C. Smith, USA
105th Infantry - Col Leonard A. Bishop, USA
106th Infantry - Col Russell G. Ayres, USA
165th Infantry - Col Gerard W. Kelley, USA
Division Artillery - BG Redmond F. Kernan, Jr., USA
XXIV Corps Artillery - BG Arthur M. Harper, USA
Saipan Garrison Forces - MajGen George W. Griner, USA
10th Marines before the riflemen could smash their way in and clean out the
The price for the two Marine divisions had been heavy. By the night of
D+3 they had been bled by more than 5,000 casualties.
D+4-D+7, 19-22 June
The most critical event of 19 June (and perhaps the most important of the
whole Saipan campaign) took place at sea, well out of sight of the infantrymen
ashore. The opposing carrier task forces clashed in a gigantic air battle.
When it was over that night, the Japanese had suffered the catastrophic loss
of 330 out of 430 planes they had launched. Exultant U.S. Navy fliers labelled
it "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." With the help of American submarines and
additional carrier plane attacks the next day, the Japanese attempt to relieve
Saipan by a decisive naval victory was smashed. As an official account
summarized the impact ashore, "the eventual doom of the enemy garrison was
assured." And the American supply ships were able to return offshore to unload
their vital cargoes.
During the four-day span of D+4 to D+7, the 105th Infantry moved slowly
along the south coast and then joined the 165th Infantry in sealing off the
die-hard Japanese survivors in Nafutan Point, in the southeastern corner of
the island. Once the enemy was penned in, the 105th was assigned to eliminate
him. The rest of the 27th Division, now including the 106th Infantry, was
ordered north to be the Corps reserve.
This period, 19-22 June, marked a total shift in direction for the
American troops. Pivoting on the 2d Marines on the far left flank along the
western shore, the other Marine regiments swung around from their drive which
had reached the east coast to face north, with their right flank on Magicienne
On 20 June, the 4th Division confronted a key objective. Lieutenant
Chapin had a ringside seat:
We had a perfect chance to watch a battalion of the 25th
making an attack .... It was in action about a quarter of a
mile from us, and the whole panorama was spread out before us.
They were assaulting Hill 500, the dominant terrain feature of
the whole area, and it was apparent that they were running into a
solid wall of Jap fire. But, using [artillery] timed fire, smoke,
and tanks, they finally stormed the top
Marine Artillery Regiments
The 10th Marines and the 14th Marines supported the 2d and 4th Marine
Divisions respectively. They had each had a significant reorganization
before Saipan. In early spring, the 5th Battalion in each changed its
designation. They were redesignated the 2d and 4th 155mm Artillery
Battalions, Corps Artillery, but administratively attached to the 10th
and 14th Marines. Thus the 10th and 14th Marines each contained two 75mm
pack howitzer battalions (1st and 2d), two 105mm howitzer battalions (3d
and 4th), and a 155mm artillery battalion, armed with the new M1 155mm
howitzers, the first to be received by the Marine Corps in the Pacific.
Friendly artillery fire was a major asset for the American troops,
both in supporting their attacks and smothering Japanese sorties.
This camouflaged emplacement holds a Marine 105mm howitzer.
23 Map of Saipan, 16 - 22 June 1944
and took it. The use of those supporting arms provided a magnificent
spectacle. From our vantage point, we could see the timed fire
bursting in cave entrances, and moving down the face of the hill as
precisely as if .... it were going down a stepladder. On the lower
levels, the flame-thrower tanks were spouting their napalm jets
upward into other caves. It was quite a sight!
Over in the area of the 2d Division, the 8th Marines wheeled from facing
east to attack northward into the foot hills leading to Mount Tapotchau.
The Marine divisions were now facing two major problems. First, their
drive north was confronted by General Saito's main line of defense, running
west to east across the island. Secondly, the terrain into which the attack
had to go was a nightmare of ravines, caves, hills, valleys, and cliffs -- all
fortified and defended to the death by the Japanese.
June 21 brought a respite for the front line troops: "D+6 was enjoyed by
all -- for a change! We rested on our positions; caught up on sorely needed
sleep; got some water (which had been conspicuous by its absence); and even
had a good hot meal. For we got our first 10-in-1 rations. Did they ever taste
good to our hungry palates, surfeited as they were with K rations!"
Simultaneously, intensive preparations were made for a coordinated attack
by both Marine divisions the next morning. A total of 18 artillery battalions
were massed for supporting fire. Combat efficiency was officially rated as
"very satisfactory," in spite of a sobering total of 6,165 casualties.
The following day saw the Marines attack all along the line. The 6th
Marines overran parts of Mount Tipo Pali, while the 8th Marines worked its
painful way into the maze of ridges and gullies that formed the foothills of
Mount Tapotchau. On the right, the 24th Marines was forced into the messy
business of blasting caves honeycombed along Magicienne Bay. In one of the
mortar platoons, a weird encounter took place, as described at the time to
this author by the participant, First Lieutenant Joseph J. Cushing:
[I] was bending over one of [my] mortars, checking the lay of
it, when [I] felt a tap on my shoulder, and a guy asked [me],
"Hey, Mac, are you a Marine?" [I] turned around and there was a
Jap officer standing about a foot from [me]. [I] dropped to the
ground, speechless with amazement, and [my] men riddled the Jap
from head to toe.
On the left of the 4th Division, the 25th Marines made a major advance of
2,400 yards. The forward lines were now reaching an area where the Kagman
Peninsula jutted out to the east. This resulted in a substantially increased
frontage that the two Marine divisions could not properly cover. To deal with
this, Holland Smith decided to commit his reserve, the 27th Infantry Division,
to the center of the line, leaving just one battalion of the 105th Infantry
way back in the rear
Still another cane field, with its hidden Japanese defenders lying
in wait. confronts these Marine riflemen.
to continue its long drawn-out attempt to eliminate the Japanese pocket on
by-passed Nafutan Point.
This day (D+7) was also marked by the arrival of P-47 Thunderbolts of the
19th Fighter Squadron, U.S. Army Air Forces, which landed at Aslito Field.
They had been launched from Navy escort carriers.
When landed, they were fitted with launching racks for rockets by ground
crews who had come in earlier. Later that day, eight planes took off on their
first support mission of the Saipan campaign. (Only two Marine observation
squadrons, VMO-2 and VMO-4, were involved in the battle for Saipan, but they
provided invaluable artillery spotting for the two Marine divisions.)
While these developments were taking place in the upper echelons, down in
the rock-bottom basic life of infantry platoons, the days of relentless combat
pressure were exemplified by their impact on the constant duties and high
stress levels on a platoon commander:
I made a final inspection of the platoon position and then
sacked exhausted. When it came my turn to stand watch, it took
every last reserve of willpower and strength to get up and go on
duty. Then for hours I alternated between fighting off my
sleepiness and sweating out the noises and movements that were
all around us.
After a while, I spotted a shape, darker than the rest of the
surrounding shadows. It was the size of a man's head. I watched it
for a long time, nerves on edge, finger on my carbine trigger.
Finally it seemed to move. I fired a shot. Nothing happened. It
would've been suicide to go over and investigate. In that darkness
and jungle my own men would've shot me in a second. So when it came
time for my relief, I pointed out the suspicious object to the next
man, told him to watch it closely, and collapsed into a dead-tired
When dawn came on D+8, I was awakened, and the first thing I did
was to look over where I'd shot on the night before. There, lying
on top of a rock, was the gas mask of one of my men! The owner had
been sleeping right beside it. It was a miracle he hadn't been
hit. The tremendous strain of the previous night did funny things
to your mind ....
D+8-D+15 23-30 June
Complications of a serious nature arose in the execution of the battle
plan for 23 June. The battalion of the 105th Infantry still had not cleaned
out Nafutan Point; there were semantic and communications differences between
the two Smith generals as to orders about who would do what and when; the
106th and 165th Infantry got all tangled up in themselves during a march to
take over the center portion of the American lines and were too late to jump
off in the attack, thus delaying the attacks of the Marines. When the Army
regiments did move out, they found that the rugged terrain in their sector and
the determined enemy in camouflaged weapons positions in caves of the steep
slope leading up to Mount Tapotchau made forward progress slow and difficult.
The 27th Infantry Division was stalled.
The corps commander, Holland Smith, was very displeased with this
situation. It had started with the difficulties experienced in get-
ting that division ashore; it was exacerbated by the time it was taking to
secure Nafutan Point and the mix-up in orders there; now the advancing Marine
divisions were getting infiltration and enfilading fire on their flanks
because of the 27th's lack of progress.
Accordingly, Lieutenant General Holland Smith met that afternoon with
Major General Sanderford Jarman, USA, who was slated to be the island garrison
commander, and asked him to press Major General Ralph Smith for much more
aggressive action by the 27th. Jarman later stated:
I talked to General (Ralph) Smith and explained the situation
as I saw it and that I felt from reports from the corps commander
that his division was not carrying its full share. He immediately
replied that such was true; that he was in no way satisfied with
what his regimental commanders had done during the day and that he
had been with them and had pointed out to them the situation. He
further indicated to me that he was going to be present tomorrow,
24 June, with his division when it made its jump-off and he would
personally see to it that the division went forward.... He
appreciated the situation and thanked me for coming to see him and
stated that if he didn't take his division forward tomorrow he
should be relieved.
This blunt meeting was followed the next morning (D+9) by an even blunter
message from Holland Smith to Ralph Smith:
Commanding General is highly displeased with the failure of the
27th Division on June twenty-third to launch its attack as ordered
at King hour and the lack of offensive action displayed by the
division in its failure to advance and seize objective O-5 when
opposed by only small arms and mortar fire.
The failure of the 27th to advance in its zone of action resulted
in the halting of attacks by the 4th and 2d Marine Divisions on the
flanks of the 27th in order to prevent dangerous exposure of their
interior flanks. It is directed that immediate steps be taken to
cause the 27th Division to advance and seize the objectives as ordered.
These objectives were given dramatic names by the Army regiments: Hell's
Pocket, Death Valley, and Purple Heart Ridge. It was certainly true that the
terrain was perfect for the dug-in Japanese defenders: visibility from the
slopes of Mount Tapotchau and from the ridge gave them fields of fire to rake
any attack up the valley. Holland Smith didn't fully recognize the severity of
the opposition, and, by the end of the day, the 106th Infantry had gained
little, while the 165th Infantry had been "thrown back onto the original line
Meanwhile, the 2d Marine Division on the left was painfully slugging its
way forward in the tortuous environs around Mount Tapotchau. The 4th Marine
From left, BGen Merritt A. Edson, Assistant Division Commander of
the 2d Marine Division, confers with Col James P. Riseley and LtCol
Kenneth F. McLeod, 6th Marines commander and executive officer,
respectively, during a pause in the action. LtCol McLeod was killed
several days after this photograph.
sion (on the right) pivoted east, driving fast into the Kagman Peninsula.
There the ground was level, a plus, but covered with cane fields, a big minus,
as the rifle companies well knew.
A platoon leader remarked:
The terrain here consisted of countless cane fields -- one after
another. And it was the same old story: in every field the company
would lose a man or two. It was wonderfully quieting to the nerves
to start into a growth of head-high cane, and wonder who would not
be coming out on the other side! The Jap snipers who were doing the
damage were dug in so deeply, and camouflaged so well, that it was
impossible to locate them before they fired. And then it was too
late; you were right on top of them, and they had nailed another
one of your men -- or maybe you! Then there was always that next
cane field up ahead....
Some of the fields had been burnt out by the napalm-bombing of
our planes. This gave us greatly increased observation as we went
through them, but clouds of choking dust arose from the ashes to
plague us and dirty our weapons. With water so scarce, one of our
chief sources of liquid sustenance was sugar cane juice. We'd whack
off a segment of the cane with our combat knives, then chew and suck
on it till only the dry fibers were left. In these burnt-out fields
we weren't even able to do this, as the cane was spoiled and tasted
Along with the death toll in the cane fields came the physical demands
placed on the troops by the hot tropical climate. Lieutenant Chapin noted
small, human issues that loomed large in the minds of the assault troops:
All this time the sun was broiling down on top of us. Our
canteens had been empty for hours. Everyone was absolutely
parched.... Finally we did stop, as the effects of heat exhaustion
and lack of water started to become apparent. [Our company commander]
arranged for some water to be brought up to our position. When the
cans arrived, everyone crowded thirstily around, and we had to order
the men to disperse.... Then each platoon leader rationed out a can
of the precious liquid amongst his men. As was the age-old Marine
tradition, we waited till all our men had their share before we took
ours. The water was lukewarm, rusty and oily as it came out of the
cans, but it still tasted like nectar!
While these local events transpired on the front lines, a major upheaval
was taking place in the rear. Seeing that the corps line would be bent back
some 1,500 yards in the zone of the 27th Infantry Division, Holland Smith had
This Marine is demonstrating the dimensions of a large enemy gun
emplacement and undoubtedly giving thanks that the Japanese were
not able to complete construction.
As the fighting reached the interior of Saipan, the troops encountered
difficult foliage and terrain which impeded their movement. Note the
tops of the helmets of Marines peering from their foxholes.
had enough. He went to see Admirals Spruance and Turner to obtain permission
to relieve Ralph Smith of command of his division.
After reviewing the Marine general's deeply felt criticism of the 27th
Infantry Division's "defective performance," the admirals agreed to the
requested change, and Ralph Smith was superseded by Major General Jarman on 24
A furor arose, with bitter interservice recriminations, and the flames
were fanned by lurid press reports. Holland Smith summarized his feelings
three days after the relief. According to a unit history, THE 27TH INFANTRY
DIVISION IN WORLD WAR II, he stated, "The 27th Division won't fight, and Ralph
Smith will not make them fight." Army generals were furious, and in Hawaii,
Lieutenant General Robert Richardson, commander of the U.S. Army in the
Pacific (USARPAC) convened an Army board of inquiry over the matter. The issue
reached to the highest military levels in Washington.
While the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Joseph T.
McNarney, reviewed the matter, he found some faults with Holland Smith, but
then went on to say that Ralph Smith failed to exact the performance expected
from a well-trained division, as evidenced by poor leadership on the part of
some regimental and battalion commanders, undue hesitancy to bypass snipers
"with a tendency to alibi because of lack of reserves to mop up," poor march
discipline, and lack of reconnaissance.
The Army's official summary, "United States Army in World War II, The War
in the Pacific, Campaign in the Marianas" (published 15 years after the
operations) attributed some errors to Holland Smith's handling of a real
problem, and it also gave full recognition to the difficult terrain and bitter
resistance that the Army regiments faced. The history stated that:
. . .there is no doubt that the 106th Infantry Regiment of the
27th Division was late in jumping off in the attack on the morning
of 23 June -- even though not so late as Holland Smith charged. On
the 23d and again on the 24th, the Army troops attacking Death
Valley were slow and faltering in their advance. According to the
testimony of General Jarman, who took over the division from Ralph
Smith, the unit leaders of the 106th Infantry were hesitant and
apparently confused. Although the Army troops in Death Valley
sustained fairly heavy casualties, the two Marine divisions on the
flanks suffered greater ones. Yet the Marines made considerable
advances while the 165th Infantry registered only small gains --
the 106th Infantry almost none at all.
No matter what the extenuating circumstances were -- and there
were several -- the conclusion seems inescapable that Holland Smith
had good reason to be disappointed with the performance of the 27th
Infantry Division on the two days in question....
Back where the conflict was with the Japanese, the 4th Marine Division
had overrun most of the Kagman Peninsula by the night of D+10. The shoreline
cliffs provoked sobering thoughts in a young officer in the 24th Marines:
We were close to the northern shoreline of the peninsula. And
right there the Japs had dug a big emplacement. They hadn't had time
to finish it, but we could see that it was situated so as to fire
right down the beach-line. Any troops landing on that beach would
have received a terrible enfilading fire from this gun position. Not
far from the emplacement were the guns that had been destined to go
into it: huge, 5-inch, dual-purpose naval guns. They were deadly
things, and I was glad the enemy had never gotten them into action.
Now they lay there on their wooden skids, thickly coated with grease,
wrapped in burlap-impotent.
This unfinished state of the Japanese defenses was, in fact, a critical
factor in the final American victory on Saipan. The blockading success of
far-ranging submarines of the U.S. Navy had drastically reduced the supplies
of cement and other construction materials destined for elaborate Saipan
defenses, as well as the number of troop ships carrying Japanese
reinforcements to the island. Then the quick success of the Marshalls campaign
had speeded up the Marianas thrust by three months. This was decisive, for
"one prisoner of war later said that, had the American assault come three
months later, the island would have been impregnable."
The 4th Marine Division encountered more than cane fields in the Kagman
Peninsula -- the cliffs near the ocean were studded with caves. A 20-year-old
private first class in Company E, 2d Battalion, 23d Marines, Robert F. Graf,
described the Marine system for dealing with these and the others that were
found all through the bitter campaign:
The firepower was intense, and we were working our way up to where
the shots originated. Quite often there would be multi cave openings,
each protecting another. Laying down heavy cover fire, our specialist
would advance to near the mouth of the cave. A satchel charge would
then be heaved into the mouth of the cave, followed by a loud blast as
the dynamite exploded. Other times it might be grenades thrown inside
the cave, both fragment type which exploded sending bits of metal all
When a Japanese survivor did emerge from a cave, Marines were always
on the alert for treachery. This enemy soldier had a stick of dynamite,
but was shot before he could throw it.
throughout the cave, and other times [white] phosphorous grenades
that burned the enemy.
Also the flame thrower was used, sending a sheet of flame into the
cave, burning anyone that was in its path. Screams could be heard and
on occasions the enemy would emerge from the caves, near the entrance,
we would call upon the tanks, and these monsters would get in real
close and pump shells into the opening.
Graf went on to picture the use of flame-throwing tanks, the ultimate
weapon for dealing with the enemy deep in his hideouts. He continued:
Some of the caves had artillery mounted on tracks that could be
wheeled to the entrance, fired and pulled back, unobserved. There
were caves with reinforced metal doors that protected them from our
artillery. Perhaps a direct hit from a 16-inch naval gun could have
blasted it open, but nothing else.
A fellow rifleman from Graf's company told him this story:
You should go up and see the huge cave that I was just in. It
was large and contained a completely equipped operating room, all
the medical equipment, surgical tools, etc. The tools were made
from German surgical steel. When the battalion and regimental
doctors were told about it, they almost went
Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese light tanks
are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M. Nalder.
The two Marines fired all their ammunition at Japanese tanks
advancing in a counterattack on the night of D+1. Kahn then grabbed
some grenades, approached one tank from the side, and tossed the
grenade into its open turret. Their action saved a 37mm gun crew, the
objective of the tank. The gun crew, with its men wounded, was also
out of ammunition.
Some of the Japanese caves, such as this one, had been carefully
reinforced. Marine riflemen move warily to inspect it.
crazy over finding such excellent equipment. Each doctor wanted
some tools for his use.
These attacks on caves were a tricky business, because of orders not to
kill any civilians who were also inside many of them, hiding from the
fighting. Graf recounted his experiences further:
Throughout the campaign we were taking prisoners.
Seldom were they Japanese soldiers, instead Korean and Chamorro
laborers, both men and women, who mostly worked in the sugar cane
fields and processing plants. Chamorros were natives of the islands,
while the Koreans, of course, were brought over as forced labor.
Approaching us, hands up, and smiling and bowing the Koreans would
say in understandable broken English, "Me Korean, not Japanese." Some
Japanese civilians were also captured. The Japanese tradition was
that the male members of the family were the dominant members. Several
times when we tried to feed newly captured women and children first,
the male would shove them aside and demand to be first for rations.
A few raps to the chest with a rifle butt soon cured them of that habit.
As the sick, scared, and often starving civilians would emerge from their
hideouts, there were many pitiful scenes:
One sad incident I recall was when a captured civilian Japanese
woman came up to me. She was crying and when she got close to me she
started hitting me on the arm and pointing to my pack. I did not know
what she wanted until an interpreter came over and explained that she
wanted some food and water for her dead child. She pointed to a wicker
basket that contained her dead infant. I gave her what she requested,
and she placed the food and water in the basket so that the child
could have nourishment on the way to meet the baby's ancestors.
Physical conditions of many were pitiful. Every illness that we
had been briefed on was observed: leprosy, dengue fever, yaws and
many cases of elephantiasis. Most of them were skeleton thin, as
they had no nourishment for many days. Many were suffering from
shock caused by the shelling and bombing, and fright because they
did not have the vaguest idea as to what we would do to them.
Civilians caught in a war that was not of their making....
Marine talks a terrified Chamorro woman her children into leaving her
Civilians are escorted back to safety, food, and medical care.
One of the captured persons impressed Graf so very much that the memory
was vivid many years later. A Japanese woman, obviously an aristocrat,
probably a wife or mistress of a high-ranking officer, "was captured. She was
dressed in traditional Japanese clothing: a brilliant kimono, a broad sash
around the waist, hair combed, lacquered and spotlessly clean. Although," as
Graf remarked, "she knew not what her fate would be in the hands of us, the
barbarians, she stood there straight, proud, and seemingly unafraid. To me,
she seemed like a queen."
Over on the west side of Saipan, the 2d Marine Division had a memorable
day on 25 June. Ever since the landing, the towering peak of Mount Tapotchau
had swarmed with Japanese artillery spotters looking straight down on every
Marine move and then calling in precisely accurate fire on the American
troops. Now, however, in a series of brilliant tactical maneuvers, with a
battalion of the 8th Marines clawing up the eastern slope, a battalion of the
29th Marines (then attached to the 8th Marines) was able to infiltrate around
the right flank in single file behind a screen of smoke and gain the
dominating peak without the loss of a single man.
Meanwhile, back at Nafutan Point, the battalion of the 105th Infantry
assigned to clean out the by-passed Japanese pockets had had continuous
problems. The official Army account commented, "The attack of the infantry
companies was frequently uncoordinated; units repeatedly withdrew from
advanced positions to their previous night's bivouacs; they repeatedly yielded
ground they had gained."
The stalemate came to a climax on the night of D+11. Approximately 500 of
the trapped Japanese, all the able-bodied men who remained, passed
"undetected" or "sneaked through" (as the Army later reported) the lines of
the encircling battalion. The enemy headed for nearby Aslito airfield and
there was chaos initially there. One P-47 plane was destroyed and two others
damaged. The Japanese quickly continued on to Hill 500, hoping to reunite
there with their main forces. What they found instead was the 25th Marines
resting in reserve with an artillery battalion of the 14th Marines. The
escaping Japanese were finished off the following morning.
On the front lines in the center of the island, General Jarman, now in
temporary command of the 27th Infantry Division, took direct action that same
day (D+11). An inspection by two of his senior officers of the near edge of
Death Valley revealed that battalions of the 105th Infantry "were standing
still when there was no reason why they should not move forward." That did it.
Jarman relieved the colonel commanding the 106th and replaced him with his
division chief of staff. (Nineteen other officers of the 27th Infantry
Division were also relieved after the Saipan battle was over, although only
one of them had commanded a unit in battle.)
While these developments were taking place in the upper echelons, the
junior officers in the front lines had their own, more immediate, daily
concerns. As the author recalled:
I had worked out a pre-sleep routine which I followed every
night without fail. Before I lay down, I would make careful mental
notes of where the company Command Post [CP] was and where my squad
leaders' foxholes were. Then I would work out the rotation of the
watches with my CP group. Next came a check of my carbine to make
sure it was in perfect operating condition. When all this had been
done, I'd lie down, adjusting my helmet to serve as a pillow. Last,
and most important, was the placing of my weapons: my carbine lay
across my body so my hand would fall naturally on the trigger; my
combat knife was stuck in the ground where my right hand lay; and
my grenades were carefully arrayed at my left hand. Then I'd drift
off to sleep.
The 37mm gun was a workhorse for the Marines in a wide variety of
firing missions. Those are Japanese bullet holes in its "shield."
Map of Saipan, 23 - 30 June 1944
For the next several days, the 27th Infantry Division probed and
maneuvered and attacked at Hell's Pocket, Death Valley, and Purple Heart
Ridge. On 28 June, Army Major General George W. Griner, who had been quickly
sent from Hawaii upon the relief of Ralph Smith, took over command of the
division, so Jarman could revert to his previous assignment as garrison force
commander. The 106th marked the day by eradicating the last enemy resistance
in the spot that had caused so much grief: Hell's Pocket.
The 2d Marine Division meanwhile inched northward toward the town of
Garapan, meeting ferocious enemy resistance. Tipo Pali was now in 6th Marines'
hands. The 8th Marines encountered four small
A Marine 81mm mortar crew keeps lobbing shells into enemy positions
ahead of the unit it supporting by fire.
With the Japanese well dug in, hidden in their well camouflaged
positions, a satchel charge of high explosive is tossed into their
laps. If any of them bolt out, the Marine riflemen are ready.
hills strongly defended by the enemy. Because of their size in comparison with
Mount Tapotchau, they were called "pimples." Each was named after a battalion
commander. Painfully, one by one, they were assaulted and taken over the next
Near Garapan, about 500 yards to the front of the 2d Marines' lines, an
enemy platoon on what was named "Flame Tree Hill" was well dug in, utilizing
the caves masked by the bright foliage on the hill. The morning of 29 June, a
heavy artillery barrage as well as machine gun and mortar fire raked the
slopes of the hill. Then friendly mortars laid a smoke screen. This was
followed by a pause in all firing. As hoped, the enemy raced from their caves
to repel the expected attack. Suddenly the mortars lobbed high explosives on
the hill. Artillery shells equipped with time fuses and machine gun and rifle
fire laid down another heavy barrage. The enemy, caught in the open, was wiped
out almost to a man.
To the right, the 6th Marines mopped up its area and now held the most
commanding ground, with all three of its battalions in favorable positions. In
fact, since replacement drafts had not yet arrived, the 2d Marine Division had
all three of its infantry regiments deployed on line. Thus it was necessary
for its commander, Major General Watson, to organize a division reserve from
The pressure on manpower was further illustrated by the fact that, in
this difficult terrain, "eight stretcher bearers were needed to evacuate one
wounded Marine." In addition, there was, of course, the deep-seated
psychological and physical pressure from the constant, day after day, close
combat. "Everyone on the island felt the weight of fatigue settling down."
During a break in the fighting, Marines of a flamethrower and
demolitions team pose with the Japanese flag captured during
action after the American landing.
On the 4th Division front, the drive forward was easier, but its left
flank had to be bent sharply backward toward the 27th Infantry Division. By
nightfall on 28 June, the Marine division's lines formed an inverted L with
the 23d Marines and part of the 165th Infantry facing north, while the rest of
the Army regiment and two battalions of the 24th Marines faced west. This
strange alignment was a focus of attention when each battalion was issued its
nightly overlay from corps headquarters showing the lines of the corps at that
time, so that friendly fire from artillery and supporting Navy destroyers
would not hit friendly troops. Once again, enemy planes raided, hitting both
the airfield and anchorage. As usual, enemy night patrols were active.
The end of the saga of Nafutan Point, way to the rear, had come the day
before (27 June). The Japanese breakout had left almost no fighting men behind
there. Accordingly, the battalion of the 105th Infantry at last overran the
area after enduring a final banzai charge. The soldiers found over 500 enemy
bodies in the area, some killed in the charge and some by their own hand.
D+15 (30 June) marked a good day for the Army. After fierce fighting, the
27th Infantry Division finally burst through Death Valley, captured Purple
Heart Ridge, and drew alongside the 8th Marines. Holland Smith gave due
recognition: "No one had any tougher job to do." The gaps on the flanks with
the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions were now closed. In doing so, the Army had
sustained most of the 1,836 casualties inflicted upon it since D-Day. The 4th
Marine Division, however, had suffered 4,454 casualties to date, while the 2d
Marine Division had lost 4,488 men.
The corps front now ran from Garapan, past the four pimples, to the 4th
Marine Division's left boundary. Here, it ran sharply
Moving on the double, Marines go yard by yard through
skeletal Garapan, flushing out the Japanese defenders.
Amidst the horrors of war, someone retained a sense of humor, and
put up the pre-Word War II Marine recruiting poster in Garapan.
Saipan, 2-4 July 1944, Progress at 1800
northward to Hill 700. From there it ran to the east coast. Central Saipan was
in American hands. Most of the replenishment supplies had been unloaded. The
enemy had begun withdrawing to his preplanned final defensive lines. The
Army's official history summed up these days' costly victories this way, "The
battle for central Saipan can be said to have come to a successful end."
D+16-D+19, 1-4 July
Now Holland Smith turned his attention to operation plans to drive
through the northern third of Saipan and bring the campaign to a successful,
albeit a bloody, conclusion. His next objective line ran from Garapan up the
west coast to Tanapag and then eastward across the island. Past Tanapag, near
Flores Point, the 2d Marine Division would be pinched out and become the corps
reserve. That would leave the 27th Infantry Division and the 4th Marine
Division to assault General Saito's final defenses.
The easiest assignment during this period fell to the 4th Marine Division
on the east coast. It advanced 3,500 yards against light opposition, veering
to its left, ending on 4 July with its left flank some 2,000 yards north of
Tanapag, right on the west coast.
As usual, what looked like "light opposition" to General Schmidt in his
divisional CP looked very different to that tired, tense lieutenant who
described a painfully typical rifle platoon situation on D+16:
I took the rest of my men and we proceeded -- very cautiously --
to comb the area. It was a terrible place: the rocks and creepers
were so interwoven that they formed an almost impenetrable barrier;
visibility was limited to a few feet. After what had happened to
[my wounded sergeant], the atmosphere of the place was very tense.
We located some rock crevices we thought the Japs might be in, and
I tried calling to them in our japanese combat phrases to come out
and surrender. This proved fruitless, and it let the Japs know
exactly where we were, while we had no idea of their location. Then
I tried to maneuver our flame thrower man into a position where
he could give the crevice a blast without becoming a sitting-duck
The only way to deal with some Japanese in their well-protected
defenses was to blast them with a flame-thrower.
self. Because of the configuration of the ground, this proved
Right about now, there was a shot off to our left. We started
over to investigate and all hell broke loose! A Jap automatic weapon
opened up right beside us. We all hit the deck automatically. No one
was hit (for a change), but we couldn't spot the exact location of
the weapon (as usual). I called to the man who'd been over on the
left flank. No answer. What had happened to him?
At this point more enemy fire spattered around the small group of
Marines. The source seemed to be right on top of them, so the lieutenant told
two of his men to throw some grenades over into the area he thought the fire
was coming from -- about 20 feet away. Under cover of that, the Marines worked
a rifleman forward a couple of yards to try to get a bead on the Japanese, but
he was unable to spot them and the enemy fire seemed to grow heavier.
Now the lieutenant began to get very worried:
Here we were -- completely isolated from the rest of the company --
only half a dozen of us left -- our flank man had disappeared and now
we were getting heavy fire from an uncertain number of Japs who
were right in our middle and whom we couldn't locate! Some of the
men were getting a little jittery I could see, so I tried to appear
as calm and cool as I could (although I didn't feel that way
inside!). I decided to move back to the other end of the hilltop and
report to [our company commander] on the phone. If I could get his
OK, I would then contact [another one of our platoons] for
reinforcements, and we could move back into this area and clean out
the Jap pocket.
Pressing hard against the Japanese defenses constantly resulted in these
kinds of face-to-face encounters. Three days later (D+19), Lieutenant Colonel
Chambers observed a memorable act of bravery:
Three of our tanks came along the road.... They made the turn
to the south and then took the wrong turn, which took them off the
high ground and into a cave area where there were literally hundreds
of Japs, who swarmed all over
He may have started out sitting on a dud 16-inch Navy shell, enjoying
a smoke while emptying sand from his "boondockers," but by the end of
the campaign, three weeks later, he had had too little sleep, too many
fire fights, and too many buddies dead.
the tanks. We were watching and heard on the radio that (the
lieutenant) who commanded the tanks was hollering for help, and I
don't blame him. They had formed a triangle and covered each other
with the co-axial guns as best as they could.
The commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, Lieutenant
Colonel Hollis U. ("Musty") Mustain was nearest the crisis. Chambers went on:
Mustain's executive officer was a regular major by the name of
Fenton Mee. Musty and I were together, and when radio operators
told us what was going on, Musty turned to Mee and said, "Get some
people there and get those tanks out."
Mee turned around to his battalion CP, who were all staff
people. He just pointed and said, "Let's get going." He turned
and took off. I can still see his face -- he figured he was going
to get killed. They got there and the Japs pulled out. This let
the tanks get out, and they were saved. It was one of the bravest
things I ever saw people do.
Chambers also noted that, by D+19, out of 28 officers and 690 enlisted
men in his rifle companies at the start of the campaign, he now had only 6
officers and 315 men left in those companies. Counting his headquarters
company, he had just 468 men remaining of the battalion's original total
strength of 1,050, so one rifle company simply had to be disbanded. The grim
toll was re-
Map of Saipan, 5 - 8 July 1944
peated in another battalion which had had 22 out of 29 officers and 490
enlisted men either killed or rounded in action.
Next to the 4th Marine Division was the 27th Infantry Division in the
center of the line of attack. It, too, had a far easier time than in the
grinding experiences it had just come through. Its advance also veered left,
and was "against negligible resistance" with "the enemy in full flight." Thus
it reached the west coast, pinching off the 2d Marine Division and allowing it
to go into reserve.
There was a different story in the 2d Marine Division zone of action at
the beginning of this period. On 2 July Flametree Hill was seized and the 2d
Marines stormed into Garapan, the second largest city in the Mariana Islands.
What the regiment found was a shambles; the town had been completely leveled
by naval gunfire and Marine artillery.
The official Marine history pictures the scene:
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 the Japanese weapons located near the water.
Moving past the town, the 2d Marine Division drove towards
Flores Point, halfway to Tanapag. Along the way, with filthy
uniforms, stiff with sweat and dirt after over two weeks of
fierce fighting, the Marines joyfully dipped their heads and
hands into the cool ocean waters.
With the other two divisions already having veered their attack to the
left and reached the northwest coast, the 2d Marine Division was now able to
go into corps reserve, as planned, on 4 July. (Holland Smith, seeing the end
in sight on Saipan, wanted this division rested for the forthcoming
assault on neighboring Tinian Island.)
The Japanese, meanwhile, were falling back to a final defensive line
north of Garapan. The American attack of the preceding weeks had not only
shattered their manpower, their artillery, and their tanks, but the enemy also
was desperate for food. "Many of them had been so pressed for provisions that
they were eating field grass and tree bark."
D+20-D+23, 5-8 July
Any Japanese "withdrawal" meant that some of their men were left behind
in caves to fight to the death. This tactic produced again and again for the
American troops the life-threatening question of whether there were civilians
hidden inside who should be saved. There was a typical grim episode at this
time for First Lieutenant Frederic A. Stott, in the 1st Battalion, 24th
On this twenty-first day of the battle we trudged along
a circuitous route to relieve the 23d Marines for an attack
scheduled for 1300. A normal artillery preparation preceded
it, followed by the morale-lifting rockets, but neither they
nor mortar fire could eliminate many cave-dwelling Japs. And
again the cost was heavy. Using civilian men, women, and
children as decoys, the Jap soldiers managed to entice a
volunteer patrol forward into the open to collect additional
civilian prisoners. A dozen men from A Company were riddled
as the ruse succeeded.
This kind of treacherous action by the Japanese was demonstrated in a
different form on the following day (D+21). Lieutenant Colonel Chambers
described how he dealt summarily with it -- and, by contrast how his men
treated genuine civilians who had been hiding:
.... a few of the Japs had played possum by smearing blood
of other Japs on themselves and lying still as the Marines came
up. However, within the battalion my instructions were "if it
didn't stink, stick it." [My officer] just laughed and said the
Marines had bayoneted all the bodies. You had to do it!
We also picked up several civilian prisoners, including some
women and children. The thing that really got to me was watching
these boys of mine; they'd take all kinds of risks; they'd go
into a cave never knowing whether there would be soldiers in
there, to bring out these civilians. The minute they got them
out, they began to feed them, give them part of their rations,
and offer their cigarettes to the men. It made you feel proud
of the boys for doing this.
Once the 2d Marine Division became corps reserve, it was obvious to
General Smith that the time was ripe for a banzai attack. He duly warned all
units to be alert, and paid a personal visit on 6 July to General Griner, of
the 27th Infantry Division, to stress the likelihood of an attack coming down
the coastline on the flat ground of the Tanapag Plain.
General Saito was now cornered in his sixth (and last) command post, a
miserable cave in Paradise Valley north of Tanapag. The valley was constantly
raked by American artillery and naval gunfire; he had left only fragmentary
remnants of his troops; he was himself sick, hungry, and wounded. After giving
orders for one last fanatical banzai charge, he decided to commit hara-kiri in
his cave. At 10a.m. on 6 July, fac-
A salvo from the truck-mounted rockets was a welcome prelude to any
Medal of Honor Recipients
Private First Class Harold Christ Agerholm was born on 29 January 1925,
in Racine, Wisconsin. "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk
of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Fourth
Battalion, Tenth Marines, Second Marine Division, in action against enemy
Japanese forces on Saipan, Marianas Islands, 7 July 1944. When the enemy
launched a fierce, determined counterattack against our positions and overran
a neighboring artillery battalion, Private First Class Agerholm immediately
volunteered to assist in the effort to check the hostile attack and evacuate
our wounded. Locating and appropriating an abandoned ambulance jeep, he
repeatedly made extremely perilous trips under heavy rifle and mortar fire and
single-handedly loaded and evacuated approximately 45 casualties, working
tirelessly and with utter disregard for his own safety during a gruelling
period of more than 3 hours. Despite intense, persistent enemy fire, he ran
out to aid two men whom he believed to be wounded Marines, but was himself
mortally wounded by a Japanese sniper while carrying out his hazardous
mission. Private First Class Agerholm's brilliant initiative, great personal
valor and self-sacrificing efforts in the face of almost certain death reflect
the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He
gallantly gave his life for his country.
Photograph of Harold Christ Agerholm
Private First Class Harold Glenn Epperson was born on 14 July 1923, in
Akron, Ohio. "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his
life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the First Battalion,
Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces
on the Island of Saipan in the Marianas, on 25 July 1944. With his machine-gun
emplacement bearing the full brunt of a fanatic assault initiated by the
Japanese under cover of predawn darkness, Private First Class Epperson manned
his weapon with determined aggressiveness, fighting furiously in the defense
of his battalion's position and maintaining a steady stream of devastating
fire against rapidly infiltrating hostile troops to aid ... in breaking the
abortive attack. Suddenly a Japanese soldier, assumed to be dead, sprang up
and hurled a powerful hand grenade into the emplacement. Determined to save
his comrades, Private First Class Epperson unhesitatingly chose to sacrifice
himself and, diving upon the deadly missile, absorbed the shattering violence
of the exploding charge in his own body. Stout-hearted and indomitable in the
face of certain death, Private First Class Epperson fearlessly yielded his own
life that his able comrades might carry on .... His superb valor and
unfaltering devotion to duty throughout reflect the highest credit upon
himself and upon the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life
for his country."
Harold Glenn Epperson
Sergeant Grant Frederick Timmerman was born on 14 February 1919, in
Americus, Kansas. "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of
his life above and beyond the call of duty as Tank Commander serving with the
Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division, during action against
enemy Japanese forces on Saipan, Marianas Islands, on 8 July 1944. Advancing
with his tank a few yards ahead of the infantry in support of a vigorous
attack on hostile positions, Sergeant Timmerman maintained steady fire from
his antiaircraft sky mount machine gun until progress was impeded by a series
of enemy trenches and pillboxes. Observing a target of opportunity, he
immediately ordered the tank stopped and, mindful of the danger from the
muzzle blast as he prepared to open fire with the 75mm, fearlessly stood up in
the exposed turret and ordered the infantry to hit the deck. Quick to act as a
grenade, hurled by the Japanese, was about to drop into the open turret hatch,
Sergeant Timmerman unhesitatingly blocked the opening with his body, holding
the grenade against his chest and taking the brunt of the explosion. His
exceptional valor and loyalty in saving his men at the cost of his own life
reflect the highest credit upon Sergeant Timmerman and the United States Naval
Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Photograph of Grant Frederick Timmerman
Two types of non-combatants are attached to Marine units; members of
the Navy Medical Corps and Navy Chaplain Corps. Whenever the Marine are
in combat, they are well tended in body and soul on the front lines. Navy
Lieutenant John H. Craven, Chaplain Corps, earned the Bronze Star for his
actions under fire on Saipan, later he summarized activities:
"In combat our main action was to go from place to place, unit to unit,
and start out early in the morning and go till dark, just visiting one
unit after the other and many times just have a very brief service. We
had some very small hymn books... and some Testaments I could carry in my
map case, and we would just gather a few men together in a bomb crater or
defilade... and I would have one service after the other. Sometimes we
had twelve, thirteen, or fourteen of those in one day, especially on
"Then we had to take our turn at the cemetery. Each chaplain from
different units would go down and take his turn for burial. We had a
brief committal service for each one as they brought the bodies in. And I
set myself up to try to keep up with all of the men of our units: where
they were, whether they were in the hospital. I worked closely with a
sergeant major and it was amazing how we were able to keep up with men,
and when they were killed and when and where they were buried."
When Chaplain Craven and the other chaplains returned to the rear areas
with their units, they started writing letters to the families of everyone who
was killed in the regiment, and added their letters to those the commanding
officers were required to write.
One regimental chaplain used a special type of ministration. He had a
canvas gas-mask carrier slung over each shoulder. In one carrier he had Scotch
whiskey, in the other fried chicken. As he knelt by each young frightened,
wounded Marine, he was invariably asked, "Am I going to be O.K.?" "Sure you
are!" was the cheerful answer. "While you are waiting to be evacuated, would
you rather have a drumstick or a wing?" The young Marine would be so surprised
he would forget about himself. Then, when the chaplain asked if he wanted to
wash it down with a swig of Scotch, he couldn't believe he was hearing
correctly amidst all the confusion, noise, and death all around him.
A young doctor, hearing about this chaplain, said, "That man probably
saved more young lives from dying of shock than will ever be known."
The Saipan cemetery was dedicated after the battle.
ing east and crying "Tenno Haika! Banzai! [Long live the Emperor! Ten thousand
ages!]," he drew his own blood first with his own sword and then his adjutant
shot him and Admiral Nagumo in the head with a pistol, but not before he said,
"I will meet my staff in Yasakuni Shrine 3 a.m., 7 July!" This was to be the
time ordered for the commencement of the final attack.
The ultimate outcome was clear to Saito: "Whether we attack, or whether
we stay where we are, there is only death."
The threat of a mad, all-out enemy charge was nothing new to the troops
on Saipan. A rifleman recounted one such experience:
Whenever we cornered the enemy and there was no way out, we faced
the dreaded banzai attack. The 23d Marines had a few of these during
our Saipan adventure, as did all the other outfits. I dreaded these
attacks and yet welcomed them, which is quite a paradox. They
generated a great deal of fear but, when it was over, that particular
sector was Jap-free.
For hours, we could hear them preparing for their banzai attack,
as it was the end for them and they knew it. Because it was against
their heritage, their training, and their belief, they would not
surrender. All that was left was a final charge, a pouring in of
all their troops in one concentrated place with their pledge to
take as many of us with them as possible.
His account continued with a dramatic description of the tense waiting he
endured, while he lis-
Navy corpsmen risked their lives daily to treat wounded Marines.
tened to the enemy "yells and screams going on for hours." The noise increased
as Marine artillery and mortars, pounding in the direction of the Japanese
sounds, added to the deafening din. The Marines were waiting in their foxholes
with clips of ammo placed close at hand so that they could reload fast, fixing
their bayonets onto their rifles, ensuring that their knives were loose in
their scabbard all in anticipation of the forthcoming attacks. Listening to
the screaming, all senses alert, many of the men had prayers on their lips as
they waited. Unexpectedly, there was silence, a silence that signaled the
enemy's advance. Then:
Suddenly there is what sounded like a thousand people screaming
all at once, as a hoard of "mad men" broke out of the darkness before
us. Screams of "Banzai" fill the air, Japanese officers leading the
"devils from hell," their swords drawn and swishing in circles over
their heads. Jap soldiers were following their leaders, firing their
weapons at us and screaming "Banzai" as they charged toward us.
Our weapons opened up, our mortars and machine guns fired
continually. No longer do they fire in bursts of three or five. Belt
after belt of ammunition goes through that gun, the gunner swinging
the barrel left and right. Even though Jap bodies build up in front
of us, they still charged us, running over their comrades' fallen
bodies. The mortar tubes became so hot from the rapid fire, as did
the machine gun barrels, that they could no longer be used.
Although each [attack] had taken its toll, still they came in
droves. Haunting memories can still visualize the enemy only a few
feet away, bayonet aimed at our body as we empty a clip into him.
The momentum carries him into our
The cost of battle. Fellow Marines mourn as a buddy is to be buried.
foxhole, right on top of us. Then pushing him off, we reload
and repeat the procedure. Bullets whiz around us, screams are
deafening, the area reeks with death, and the smell of Japs and
gunpowder permeate the air. Full of fear and hate, with the desire
to kill.... [Our enemy seems to us now to be] a savage animal, a
beast, a devil, not a human at all, and the only thought is to kill,
kill, kill....Finally it ends.
This was the wild chaos that General Smith predicted as the final
convulsive effort of the Japanese. And it came indeed in the early morning
hours of 7 July (D+22), the climactic moment of the battle for Saipan. The
theoretical Japanese objective was to smash through Tanapag and Garapan and
reach all the way down to Charan-Kanoa. it was a "fearful charge of flesh and
fire, savage and primitive.... Some of the enemy were armed only with rocks or
a knife mounted on a pole."
The avalanche hit the 105th Infantry, dug in for the night with two
battalions on the main line of resistance and the regimental headquarters
behind them. However, those two forward battalions had left a 500-yard gap
between them, which they planned to cover by fire.
The Japanese found this gap, poured through it, and headed pell-mell for
the regimental headquarters of the 105th. The men of the frontline battalions
fought valiantly but were unable to stop the banzai onslaught.
Three artillery battalions of the 10th Marines behind the 105th were the
next target. The gunners could not set their fuses fast enough, even when cut
to four-tenths of a second, to stop the enemy right on top of them. So they
lowered the muzzles of their 105mm howitzers and
A Marine moves out to catch up with his unit after he has covered
a dead comrade with a poncho liner and marked his position with his
spewed ricochet fire by bouncing their shells off the foreground. Many of the
other guns could not fire at all, since Army troops ahead of them were
inextricably intertwined with the Japanese attackers. However, other Marines
in the artillery battalions fired every type of small weapon they could find.
The fire direction center of one of their battalions was almost wiped out, and
the battalion commander was killed. The cane field to their front was swarming
with enemy troops.
The guns were overrun and the Marine artillerymen, after removing the
firing locks of their guns, fell back to continue the fight as infantrymen.
The official history of the 27th Infantry Division recounts sadly the
reactions of its fellow regiments when the firestorm broke on the 105th. The
men of the nearby 165th Infantry chose that morning to "stand where they were
and shoot Japs without any effort to move forward." By 1600 that afternoon,
after finally starting to move to the relief of the shattered 105th, the 165th
"was still 200 to 300 yards short" of making contact. This tardiness was
unfortunately matched by "the long delay in the arrival of the 106th Infantry"
to try to shore up the battered troops of the 105th.
The extraordinarily bitter hand-to-hand fighting finally took the
momentum out of the Japanese surge, and it was stopped at last at the CP of
the 105th some 800 yards
south of Tanapag. By 1800 most of the ground lost had been regained.
It had been a ghastly day. The 105th Infantry's two battalions had
suffered a shocking 918 casualties while killing 2,295 Japanese. One of the
Marine artillery battalions had 127 casualties, but had accounted for 322 of
the enemy. A final count of the Japanese dead reached the staggering total of
4,311, some due to previous shell-fire, but the vast majority killed in the
Amidst the carnage, there had been countless acts of bravery. Two that
were recognized by later awards of the Army Medal of Honor were the leadership
and "resistance to the death" of Army Lieutenant Colonel William J. O'Brien,
commander of a battalion of the 105th Infantry, and one of his squad leaders,
Sergeant Thomas A. Baker.
Three Marines each "gallantly gave his life in the service of his
country" and were posthumously awarded the Navy Medal of Honor. They were
Private First Class Harold C. Agerholm, Private First Class Harold G.
Epperson, and Sergeant Grant F. Timmerman.
The 3d Battalion, 10th Marines, which had fought so tenaciously in the
banzai assault, received the Navy Unit Commendation. Four years later, the
105th Infantry and its attached tank battalion were awarded the Army
Distinguished Unit Citation.
While attention centered on the bloody battle on the coast, the 23d
Marines was attacking a strong Japanese force well protected by caves in a
cliff inland. The key to their elimination was an ingenious improvisation. In
order to provide fire support, truck-mounted rocket launchers were lowered
over the cliff by chains attached to tanks. Once down at the base, their fire,
supplemented by that of rocket gunboats off shore, snuffed out the enemy
The next day, D+23, 8 July, saw the beginning of the end. The Japanese
had spent the last of their unit manpower in the banzai charge; now it was
time for the final American mop-up. LVTS rescued men of the 105th Infantry who
had waded out from the shore to the reef to escape the Japanese. Holland Smith
then moved most of the 27th Infantry Division into reserve, and put the 2d
Marine Division back on the line of attack, with the 105th Infantry attached.
Together with the 4th Marine Division, they swept north towards the end of the
Along the coast there were bizarre spectacles that presaged a macabre
ending to the campaign. The official Marine history pictured the scene:
The enemy pocketed in the area had destroyed themselves
in suicidal rushes from the high cliffs to the rocky beach
below. Many were observed, along with hundreds of civilians,
wading out into the sea and permitting themselves to be drowned.
Others committed hara-kiri with knives, or killed themselves
with grenades. Some officers, using their swords, decapitated
many of their troops.
D+24, 9 July
It was to be the final day of a long, grueling campaign. The 6th and 8th
Marines came down from the hills to the last western beaches, while the 4th
Marine Division, with the 2d Marines attached, reached Marpi Point, the
northern end of the island.
There a final drama of horror was played out. Lieutenant Colonel Chambers
During this day as we moved along the cliffs and caves, we
uncovered civilians all the time. The Jap soldiers would not
surrender, and would not permit the civilians to surrender. I
saw with my own eyes women, some carrying children, come out
of the caves and start toward our lines. They'd be shot down by
their own people. I watched any number of women carrying children
come down to the cliffs that dropped to the ocean.
They were very steep, very precipitous. The women would come
down and throw the children into the ocean and jump in and commit
suicide. I watched one group at a distance of perhaps 100 yards,
about eight or ten civilian men, women and children get into a
little huddle and blow themselves up.... It was a sad and terrible
thing, and yet I presume quite consistent with the Japanese rules
Lieutenant Stott in that same division witnessed other unbelievable
forms of self-destruction:
Interpreters were summoned, and they pleaded by amplifier
for the civilians to come forward in surrender. No movement
followed... The people drew closer together into a compact mass.
It was still predominantly civilians, but several in uniform
could be distinguished circling about in the throng and using
the civilians for protection. As they huddled closer, sounds of
a weird singing chant carried up to us. Suddenly a waving flag
of the Rising Sun was unfurled. Movement grew more agitated;
men started leaping into the sea, and the chanting gave way to
startled cries, and with them the popping sound of detonating
grenades. It was the handful of soldiers, determined to prevent
the surrender or escape of their kinfolk, who
tossed grenades into the milling throng of men, women, and
children, and then dived into the sea from which escape was
impossible. The exploding grenades cut the mob into patches of
dead, dying, and wounded, and for the first time we actually
saw water that ran red with human blood.
With this kind of fanaticism characterizing the Japanese, it is not
surprising that 23,811 of the enemy were known dead, with uncounted thousands
of others charred by flamethrowers and sealed forever in their caves. Only 736
prisoners of war were taken, and of these 438 were Koreans. American
casualties numbered 3,225 killed in action, 13,061 wounded in action, and 326
missing in action.
The island was officially declared "secured" at 1615 on 9 July (although
"mopping up" continued afterwards). The 4th Marine Division was later awarded
the Presidential Unit Citation for its "outstanding performance in combat" on
Saipan and its subsequent assault on the neighboring island of Tinian.
The campaign on Saipan had brought many American casualties, and it also
heralded the kind of fighting which would be experienced in subsequent
operations in the Central and Western Pacific in the days that day ahead in
the Pacific War. Holland Smith declared it "the decisive battle of the Pacific
offensive" for it "opened the way to the home islands." Japanese General Saito
had written that "the fate of the Empire will be decided in this one action."
A Japanese admiral agreed, "Our war was lost with the loss of Saipan." It had
truly been a "strategic strike" for the United States.
The proof of these fundamental judgements was dramatized four months
later, when 100 B-29 bombers took off from Saipan bound for Tokyo.
There were other fateful results. The United States now had a secure
advanced naval base for further punishing strikes close to enemy shores.
Emperor Hirohito was now forced to consider a diplomatic settlement of the
war. The militaristic General Tojo, the Premier, and his entire cabinet fell
from power on 18 July, nine days after Saipan's loss.
The lessons learned in this campaign would be observed in future American
operations, as flaws were analyzed and corrected. The clear need to improve
aviation support for the ground troops led directly to the better results in
the Philippine Islands and on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The artillery-spotting
missions flown by VMO-2 and -4, set a pattern for the use of the light planes
in the future.
Naval gunfire support was also closely reviewed. General Saito had
written, "If there just were no naval gunfire, we feel we could fight it out
with the enemy in a decisive battle." While more than 8,500 tons of ammunition
were fired by U.S. Navy ships, the flat trajectory of the naval guns "proved
somewhat limiting," as the shells didn't have the plunging and penetrating
effect which was needed against Japanese strongholds.
Finally, there were lessons learned from the supply confusion that had
marred the early days on the beaches and hadn't improved much since the days
of the Guadalcanal landing. Logistic problems had arisen because, once a beach
was in friendly hands, the ships were unloaded as rapidly as possible and the
sailors in the landing craft were in a hurry to get into the beaches and back
out again. Supplies were spread all over the beach, partly because of the
enemy's artillery and mortar harassing fire on the beaches, but also because
of the corps' hard-driving, rapid attack, the estimate of resupply
requirements was far too small. For example, a shortage of radio batteries was
never corrected. There was insufficient time to sort and separate equipment
and supplies adequately. Consequently, there were mix-ups, with Marine
uniforms getting into Army dumps and Army supplies showing up in Marine dumps.
It was after the beach confusion at Saipan that the Navy decided a
permanent corps shore party should be organized. It would be solely
responsible for the movement of all supplies from the beach to the dumps and
for the subsequent issue to the divisions.
Tactical lessons learned were also new to the Central Pacific war.
Instead of a small atoll, the battle had been one of movement on a sizable
land mass, and it was further complicated by the numerous caves and the
defensive systems they provided for the Japanese. The enemy had defended caves
before, but never on such a large scale. On Saipan, these caves were both
natural and man-made. Often natural vegetation gave them excellent camouflage.
Some had steel doors which could be opened for an artillery piece or machine
gun to fire, and then retreat behind the door before return fire could take
effect. The flame-throwing tanks could reach many of these caves and so proved
very useful. Unfortunately, their range was limited on Saipan, but this was
Thus it was that the hard experiences on Saipan led to a variety of
changes which paid valuable dividends in saving American lives in the future
Pacific campaigns. And the loss of the island was a strategic strike from
which the Japanese never recovered, as the United States drove forward to
There are five principal official sources for the facts about the unit
actions on Saipan. These range from preliminary, condensed accounts to
massive, detailed final studies which reach down to the level of company
operations. In the interests of brevity, the author of this monograph has
limited himself to covering the actions of regiments and divisions, with minor
The five sources are:
1) Henry I. Shaw, Jr., Bernard C. Nalty, and Edwin T. Turnbladh, "Central
Pacific Drive, vol. 3, History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War
II" (Washington: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine
2) Philip A. Crowl, "Campaign in the Marianas, vol 9., United States Army
in World War II, The War in the Pacific" (Washington: Office of the Chief of
Military History, Department of the Army, 1960).
3) Maj Carl W. Hoffman, USMC "Saipan: The Beginning of the End"
(Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1950).
4) Capt James R. Stockman, USMC, "Campaign for the Marianas" (Washington:
Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1946).
5) Capt Edmund G. Love, USA, "The 27th Infantry Division in World War II"
(Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1949).
In addition, there is a wide variety of other literature on the Saipan
operation. This material ranges from a 19-page essay by a Naval Academy mid
shipman, to first-hand accounts appearing in the "Marine Corps Gazette," to
wildly subjective books dealing with individual experiences or the "Smith vs
To supplement the framework of unit tactics, vignettes of individuals
have been drawn from two principal sources:
1) The Personal Papers Collection of the Marine Corps Historical Center
has useful memoirs, particularly those of Frederick A. Stott (473-4A32), John
C. Chapin (671-4A44), and Robert E. Graf (1946-6B12).
2) In the Center's Oral History Collection, the author examined well over
a dozen reminiscences and found only four that involved front-line
experiences: Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, USMCR (C2); Captain Carl
W. Hoffman, USMC, (H2); Lieutenant Colonel William K. Jones, USMC, (J2); and
Lieutenant John H. Craven, ChC, USN, (C3).
About the Author
Captain John C. Chapin earned a bachelor of arts degree with honors in
history from Yale University in 1942 and was commissioned later that year. He
served as a rifle platoon leader in the 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, and
was wounded in action during the assault landings on Roi-Namur and Saipan.
Transferred to duty at the Historical Division, Headquarters Marine
Corps, he wrote the first official histories of the 4th and 5th Marine
Divisions. Moving to reserve status at the end of World War II, he earned a
masters degree in history at George Washington University with a thesis on
"The Marine Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1922."
Now a captain in retired status, he has devoted major portions of 10
years to writing history as a volunteer at the Marine Corps Historical Center.
His first publication there was an official monograph, "A History of
VMFA-115," for one of the Marine Corps' better-known squadrons. With support
from the Historical Center and the Marine Corps Historical Foundation, he then
spent some years researching and interviewing for the writing of a new book,
"Uncommon Men --The Sergeants Major of the Marine Corps." This was published
by the White Mane Publishing Co.
Acknowledgement is gratefully made to Lieutenant General William K.
Jones, USMC (Ret), for his first draft of an account of the Saipan operation.
WORLD WAR II
THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in the World
War II era, is published for the education and training of Marines by the
History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington,
D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense observance of the 50th
anniversary of victory in that war.
Editorial costs of preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by
a bequest from the estate of Emilie H. Watts, in memory of her late husband,
Thomas M. Watts, who served as a Marine and was the recipient of a Purple
WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES
DIRECTOR OF MARINE CORPS HISTORY AND MUSEUMS
Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMc (Ret)
WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES
Benis M. Frank
George C. MacGillivray
EDITING AND DESIGN SECTION, HISTORY AND MUSEUMS DIVISION
Robert E. Struder, Senior Editor; W. Stephen Hill, Visual Information
Specialist; Catherine A. Kerns, Composition Services Technician
Marine Corps Historical Center
Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
Washington, D.C. 20374-5040
PCN 190 003123 00