Division History

Saipan: The Beginning of the End

May 29, 1944, slightly more than three months after returning from the Marshall Islands, the Fourth Division sailed for Saipan, capital and stronghold of the Marianas Islands. The importance of the operation was keenly appreciated by all hands. Saipan lay 3,715 miles from Pearl Harbor and was only 1,485 miles from Tokyo, within B-29 range of all points in the Japanese home islands. American possession of Saipan would also cut the enemy's supply and communication lines from Japan to her armed forces in the Southwest Pacific.

The over all plan of attack for the Marianas operation called for Saipan to be invaded first, with the Fourth and Second Marine Divisions making the initial assault and the U. S. Army's Twenty-seventh Division landing in reserve. These three divisions constituted the striking force of the Fifth Amphibious Corps (designated Northern Troops and Landing Force for the operation), under the command of Major General Holland M. Smith, who also commanded the next higher echelon-Expeditionary Troops. A few days after the invasion of Saipan, Guam was to be invaded by the Third Amphibious Corps which was com-posed of the Third Marine Division, the First Provisional Marine Brigade and the U. S. Army's Seventy seventh Division. Tinian was last and would be taken by the Second and Fourth Marine Divisions when they had completed the capture of Saipan. A grand total of 165,672 troops (attack forces plus garrison forces) was assembled for the combined operation, the largest body of American troops to be engaged in the Pacific up to that time and the greatest number of troops ever to fight under Marine command. Of the total, the Fourth Division, with reinforcing units, accounted for 21,618 troops.

Not only would there be more men engaged in the Marianas operation, but the United States Fifth Fleet, which furnished the naval forces to transport, land, and support the assault troops, constituted the largest assemblage of warships ever known in the Pacific. No less than 800 ships, from giant battleships and carriers to minesweepers, were under control of this fleet, commanded by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN. In addition, Army and Marine air forces, flying from bases in the Marshalls and the South Pacific, conducted softening, up raids against the Marianas and neutralization raids against the Caroline Islands. To the west, submarines of Task Force 17 formed a screen for defense and observation, and a portion of the Fifth Fleet, under Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, USN, made air strikes against the Bonin and Volcano Islands to the northwest to neutralize Japanese airfields.

Thus the stage was set for the blow at Japan's inner empire. Saipan was the headquarters for the Japanese Central Pacific Fleet, its Thirty-first Army and Northern Marianas Defense Force. The town of Garapan was the administrative capital of the whole Marianas. An estimated 22,702 Army troops and about 7,000 "Imperial Marines" were stationed on the island as a defense force. Shipboard briefings, with the aid of relief maps, revealed that Saipan was 13 miles long by five and a half miles wide, that its terrain was rugged, with sharp ridges, fissure like valleys, and many caves. The highest elevation was Mount Tapotchau, 1,554 feet high, in the center of the island. Sugar cane constituted the island's main crop; 20,000 civilians, three fourths of them Japanese and the remainder Chamorro or Korean laborers, farmed the land and worked in the sugar mills. From a military standpoint, Aslito Airfield and the Tanapag Naval Base were Saipan"s most important objectives.

To this general knowledge, briefing officers added information concerning various perils to the health of Marines. A battalion of the Fourteenth Regiment, according to Combat Correspondent John Campbell, heard its medical officer aboard ship describe these hazards.

"In the surf", he said, "beware of sharks, barracuda, sea snakes, anemones, razor sharp coral, polluted waters, poison fish, and giant clams that shut on a man like a bear trap. Ashore, there is leprosy, typhus, filariasis, yaws, typhoid, dengue fever, dysentery, saber grass, insects, snakes, and giant lizards. Eat nothing growing on the island, don't drink its waters, and don't approach the inhabitants."

At the conclusion of the lecture, the officer asked if there were any questions. A PFC raised his hand. Sir," he asked, "why don't we let the Japs keep the island?"

There were times, during the first few days of the invasion, when this question must have run through the minds of nearly all Marines. For Saipan proved to be the most bitterly defended of the three islands, con-tained the greatest number of enemy troops, and boasted the most highly developed system of defensive positions.

Saipan, seen from the decks of transports, appeared deceptively unprotected. Even late photographic coverage of the beaches failed to uncover any formidable defenses; the pillboxes, blockhouses, and trenches which had confronted troops on Roi-Namur, seemed mystifyingly absent. The towns of Garapan and Charan-Kanoa lay in smoking ruins, and the big sugar mill north of Charan-Kanoa loomed like a gaunt blackened skeleton against the pink summer sky. For four days warships had raked the entire beachhead and shelled Aslito Airfield. Carrier planes had blasted fuel and ammunition dumps, from which thick black smoke rose in towering columns.

D-day was June 15, 1944. The plan of attack called for the Second and Fourth Divisions to land abreast on a 4000-yard stretch of beach, with the northern edge of Charan-Kanoa as the dividing line between the two divisions. The Fourth, still under the command of Major General Harry Schmidt, but with Brigadier General Samuel C. Cumming now Assistant Division Commander, would seize the town and the beaches to the south of it; the Second would land to the north. The Third and Second Battalions of Colonel Louis R. Jones's Twenty-third Regiment and the Second and First Battalions of Colonel Merton J. Batchelder's Twenty-fifth Regiment would constitute the assault forces, the Twenty-third landing on Beaches Blue I and 2 and the Twenty-fifth on Yellow 1 and 2. Meanwhile, the Twenty-fourth Regiment, under Colonel Franklin A. Hart, would stage a diversionary demonstration north of Garapan and then revert to Division reserve.

H-hour, originally set for 0800, was delayed until 0840. The landing beaches of the two divisions lay on the western shore of the island, extending from Agingan Point, the southwest tip, northward to a short distance below Garapan. A protective reef, some distance offshore, necessitated the use of amphibian tractors exclusively for the assault troops. The U. S. Army 534th and 773d Amphibian Tractor Battalions, in addition to the Marine amphtracs (350 vehicles altogether) put 4,000 Fourth Division Marines ashore in the first twenty minutes. Armored amphtracs of the U.S.Army 708th Armored Amphtrac Battalion, mounting 75mm howitzers, spearheaded the landing and blasted a path to the initial objective-- a ridgeline running parallel to the shore about a mile inland. The Marines achieved tactical surprise; there was no serious interference with this amphibious blitzkrieg.

There was opposition, of course, but not so much from the beaches, which were virtually undefended. It was artillery, mortars, and antiboat guns that caused trouble for incoming waves. Shells spouted in the surf and many tractors never made it; their crews were trapped or thrown clear and picked up by other boats, if they were lucky. The enemy's guns were ranged in on the beaches too. The harmless looking island had proved deceptive.

However, most of the assault troops were ashore and dispersed before the Japs could concentrate their fire. The plan to drive inland to Mount Fina Susu and its adjoining ridge succeeded only in part. The enemy, conducting an artillery defense, had withdrawn his infantry behind the ridge, and when our tanks and amphtracs drove over the marshy fields, heavy mortar and antitank fire met them. Through this fire, leading elements reached the slopes of the ridge. A mortar platoon of the Third Battalion, Twenty-third Marines, dug in near Mount Fina Susu, and with good observation of the enemy lines, poured a concentrated fire on artillery and mortar positions. When the infantry was ordered to withdraw late on the afternoon of D-day, the mortarmen stayed behind to cover the operation. When it came their turn to leave, the tubes were too hot to handle, and most of the amphtracs had been knocked out. The mortarmen left their guns behind. (When the Third Battalion fought its way back to Mount Fina Susu sometime later, the platoon found its guns still in position. Hardly changing the range, they resumed firing in support of the new advance! )

All down the line from Charan-Kanoa and Lake Susupe to Agingan Point, Japanese artillery and mor-tar fire increased in intensity. The town of Charan-Kanoa had been passed through by the Third Battalion, Twenty-third Marines under Lieutenant Colonel John J. Cosgrove, Jr., and was occupied by the First Bat-talion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Haas, who was later killed on Iwo Jima. Shells crashed into it with terrifying accuracy; casualties began to mount. The pier at Charan-Kanoa burned steadily under Jap bombardment, and its use for unloading supplies was denied to us.

On the southernmost beaches, Regimental Combat Team Twenty-five, in addition to the artillery bar-rage, encountered somewhat heavier small-arms fire. The experience of a platoon commanded by Second Lieutenant Fred B. Harvey, a former Harvard athlete, was typical of many in the confusion of the landing. A few minutes after he hit the beach, a Jap officer rushed at Harvey swinging a sword. The Marine officer parried the blow with his carbine and shot the Jap. Later he picked up an M1. Advancing inland with three of his men, he spotted three Japs in a shellhole. They rushed the Japs, but Harvey's M1 jammed. It was too late to change his mind, so he charged them with his bayonet and got in a couple of good slashes before a Jap threw a grenade at him. Harvey hit the deck as it exploded, knocking off his helmet. His own men by this time had opened fire, and their Lieutenant was spared the further indignity of ducking another grenade. When the platoon, or what was left of it, reached its objective at the end of the day, 31 men remained. The others had been killed, wounded, or lost in the action.

And so it was all down the line. The enemy had an unusual proportion of heavy weapons, and the ter-rain was all in his favor. On the Division's right flank, the First Battalion of the Twenty-fifth had penetrated only 700 yards. Accurate mortar fire against our front slowed the advance considerably. Tanks had been scheduled to come in by LCM through a channel in the reef, but the channel was under such heavy and accurate artillery fire that they had to be unloaded at points along the reef and had to make their way ashore under their own power. By noon, most of the Fourth Tank Battalion had landed and was supporting the infantry assault.

Everywhere the severity of the battle grew. Shells rained down with deadly effect. On the left, the Third Battalion of the Twenty-third, which had made the greatest advance, was met with point-blank fire. The First Battalion, Twenty-fifth, on the extreme right, continued to receive withering enfilade fire from Agingan Point. The enemy was making a determined effort to smash the invasion on the beaches. Wrecked tanks, burning amphtracs, dead Marines, and aid stations filled with casualties, were mute evidence that the Division had a tough fight on its hands.

Describing the appearance of the island after our terrific bombardment, Combat Correspondent Jack Vincent wrote at the time: "Nearly every house on the island had been smashed into a pile of rubbish. Factories had been shelled and destroyed. Sugar cane fields were burned over and palm groves denuded. Hidden foxholes, dugouts, and ammunition caves labyrinthed every hill. Oxen, goats, cows, and chickens roamed over the island and native civilians cowered in caves, waiting for a chance to give themselves up to the mercy of the Americans."

The rubble and dug-in defenses slowed down the front line troops considerably, and to make matters worse, fire on the beaches and in the surf became so heavy that reserves and supplies could not be brought up to support the assault units. The order was given for these advance elements to draw back to a more tenable position for the night. By dark our beachhead had a maximum depth of 1500 yards, although at many points it was much narrower.

In spite of the heavy fire on the beaches, the Fourteenth Regiment was ashore by 1700, and two of the battalions were firing as darkness set in. Needless to say, this boosted the morale of the troops, who had begun to wonder where their own "big stuff " was. The Twenty-fourth Regiment also landed and proceeded to set up a secondary line of defense. General Schmidt and advance elements of the Division command post came in at 1930.

The situation was not good. The enemy still held the commanding ground forward of the Marine positions. Our lines were broken in places, and a serious gap existed between the Division left flank and the Second Division. Expecting a counterattack during the night, virtually everyone stayed awake.

A counterattack was launched, but as it happened, the Second Division bore the brunt of the attack. Aerial observers had reported during the afternoon that Japanese troops had been holding ceremonies in Garapan, with parades, patriotic speeches, and flag waving. At about 2000, enemy infantry, in platoon columns paced by tanks, moved down the shore road. Naval gunfire dispersed most of these troops, and Second Division tanks and halftracks took care of the rest; but an attack against the Twenty-fifth Regiment did force our lines back nearly 400 yards. This ground was retaken when daylight came. Infiltration attempts were especially successful in the Lake Susupe swamp area between the flanks of the two divisions, and a sizeable force of enemy got through to Charan-Kanoa before they were finally killed. Enemy artillery fire continued all night and casualties mounted.

Our own attack was not resumed until 1230 the next day. All divisional artillery was ashore and despite heavy counterbattery fire, was gradually locating and knocking out Japanese field pieces. One howitzer, named Belching Beauty, caught a direct hit in her gunpit which killed or wounded every member of the crew except one, but the gun was repaired and put back in action. Out of 15 batteries ashore, four were knocked out during the day; all were later repaired and put back into the fight. In one case, the Division Ordnance Company actually made one howitzer from the parts of two artillery pieces that had been knocked out of action by enemy fire.

The Japanese had again mustered all their strength to stem the attack, and by 1730 we had advanced but a few hundred yards at the most. The battle had now settled down to a slugging match. Except for the left flank, the Phase Line 0-1 had been secured, and we were gaining the advantage of terrain. During the night of June 16-17, elements of the U.S. Army's Twenty-seventh Division were landed, and the 165th Infantry moved into the line to support the drive on Aslito Airfield. The severity of battle was indicated by an announcement that the Division had suffered 2,000 casualties in the first two days.

The second big enemy counterattack, during the night of D plus 1, also stemmed from the Garapan region and was again met by the Second Division. In all, 36 Jap tanks were destroyed-virtually the entire enemy mechanized strength on Saipan.

On D plus 3 it was apparent that the core of enemy resistance was badly shattered. Our gains were costly, but they were significant. By the evening of D plus 3 the Twenty-fifth Regiment could see the eastern shore of lower Magicienne Bay; the Third Battalion of the Twenty-fifth had secured a portion of Aslito Airfield. (Since Aslito Airfield came into the U. S. Army 165th Infantry's zone of action shortly thereafter, that portion taken by the Third Battalion was turned over to that regiment.) Thus, the southeastern segment of the island was almost cut off, and the Fourth Division was in position to sweep northward up the eastern half of the island.

The character of the fighting had been different from that in any other Pacific invasion. As Combat Correspondent Gilbert Bailey wrote at the time:

"The Japanese fell back gradually, by night, to the natural caves and prepared bunkers in the interior of the island, burying their dead as they went and dragging their equipment with them. A series of rocky ridges running down from Mount Tapotchau stretched in both directions along the length of the island; they were honeycombed with caves, each of which was a personal fortress. Between the ridges were open fields studded with bunkers and dugouts camouflaged with top soil. Other fields were filled with sugar cane which provided good hiding places for snipers. The last quarter mile on the eastern side was a strip of viny, tangled underbrush dotted with huge boulders which formed a plateau overlooking the sea.. Cliffs descended abruptly, but there were no paths down their sides."

This was the type of terrain the Division encountered all the way up the island.

Although the enemy maintained a stubborn defense for 25 sweltering days, yielding ground only under the combined weight of our infantry, artillery, and air power, it was the first three or four days of fighting that will always be remembered as the toughest. On Roi-Namur, Marines of the Fourth Division had not experienced enemy artillery or anything like the savage resistance which the Saipan Japanese put up on the ground. The men of the Fourth were still, in a sense, green. They did a lot of praying---and then joked about the danger. "Three times in the past four days," one man said, "my wife has almost been a rich woman. I could see them counting out my insurance bills ten dollars at a time and the wife riding downtown in a new Packard roadster with a spotlight on each side."

"That guy talking, he's our morale," the section leader said. Morale was needed on Saipan. In the Twenty-third Regiment, the biggest morale builder those first terrible days, was the First Battalion's Gunnery Sergeant Norvell Mills. Gunny Mills had spent five months on Guadalcanal and wasn't going to be bluffed by the Japs. He moved incessantly among his company, standing up while most of the men were reluctant to lift an eyebrow out of their foxholes. He laughed when his men felt like crying. He shook his fist at the Jap lines and swore at them in a voice like a pack howitzer when his men could hardly summon a croak out of their dry throats.

"They're only recruits," he yelled, "and the only thing they're fighting for is a drink of our water."

Later: "We may be getting hell, but they're gettin' it worse."
And again: "They're a bunch of ---'s. I've seen 'em on the 'Canal and I know they can't fight."

For five days Gunny Mills was the cheering section of his company.
"He's our morale," the men said.

Despite the initial shock of heavy opposition, the offensive spirit never wavered. Hand-to-hand fight-ing was not infrequent. To call the honor roll of all heroes is impossible within the limitations of this his-tory. They will be remembered by their comrades, if by no others.... The Marine, for instance, who saw a Jap officer dart from behind a tank to attack a buddy, and wresting the Jap's sword from him, slit his throat.... And another, who, in an attack through the palm grove beyond Mount Fina Susu, was shot in the arm, suffered grenade wounds, saw his clothes catch on fire when his ammunition belt exploded, charged a machine gun nest with grenades, and killed five japs before he was evacuated.... And two communication men, who were sole survivors of a team of ten after a Jap shell had hit their post, kept communication lines open by rigging up captured Japanese telephones....

This was the spirit, and these were the men who made victory possible.

Homage must be paid too, to countless others who gave their sweat and their blood and sometimes their lives so that the invasion would not fail. They were not all riflemen. Negro ordnance troops who went ashore with assault units unloaded 5,600 tons of ammunition in the first 33 hours. The Pioneer Battalion shore parties worked ceaselessly to set up dumps and evacuate the wounded. Tanks, in the forefront ,of the fighting, suffered heavy casualties; one, commanded by Sergeant Wayne R. Fish, caught seven Jap shells before the crew could get out and reach safety. VMO-4 made its operational debut on Saipan and maintained constant observation of the enemy for the use of our artillery and naval gunfire; each plane in the squadron made 20 three-hour hops the first ten days and at least one a day thereafter. Corpsmen took all the punishment the Marines took without a chance to fight back. One corpsman, Pharmacist's Mate Third Class Ernest Dobronte twice rescued the crews of burning tanks. The hazardous actions took place only three days apart; Dobronte was awarded the Silver Star for each action.

Assault Engineers and Pioneers, attached to infantry battalions, found themselves fighting as line troops. To them fell much of the "dirty work" of blowing up caves and fortifications and removing minefields and roadblocks, often under fire. Because many caves were inaccessible, Engineers had to lob their satchel charges from cliffs overhead. Once a team of three men formed a human chain and lowered themselves down the face of the cliff. The man at the bottom, Sergeant Charles C. Bucek, threw several grenades into the cave and finished it off with a heavy charge of explosives.

The Fourteenth Regiment gradually eliminated all enemy artillery pieces in its sector, hurling a total of 40,003 shells into Jap positions during the first week. From data furnished by Intelligence, the artillery systematically destroyed the Japanese water points, fuel and ammunition dumps, broke up their troop concentrations, and harassed their supply routes. But it was not only the cannoneers who deserved credit; the Regiment's forward observers and wire teams lived, fought, and took all the risks of front-line troops so that our shelling would be accurate. (Over 200 miles of telephone wire between FO posts and artillery batteries had been laid by the time the battle ended; 45 men were killed and wounded putting in these lines.)

Amphtracs were an incalculable boon, as every Marine who watched them operate could testify. Day and night they snorted back and forth across the lagoon under Jap shellfire, bringing supplies from the transports right up to the front lines. They plowed through swamps and over fields that no truck could negotiate. On return trips they brought wounded to the hospital ships. At night they patrolled the lagoon against the possibility of a sneak landing by the enemy. When such a landing was attempted early one morning, they alerted for action, but the Jap boats turned in along the Second Division beaches south of Garapan and were disposed of by the craft in those waters.

"Don't let them tell you any one outfit won this battle," a Marine said when it was all over.

Slowly the Division, with three regimental combat teams abreast, hacked its way up the island. On June 17, word came that the Japanese fleet was heading for Saipan. For the next six days, fleet units departed to intercept this threat, and all transports pulled out for safer waters. This left the Division without the customary naval gunfire support or the steady flow of supplies. Ammunition stockpiles were reduced to a "bare minimum." Then the news was received that our ships had completely shattered the Jap sortie, destroying five vessels and 402 planes. Morale was high.

During this time Marines encountered another new and somewhat bewildering problem civilians. Japanese, Chamorros, and Korean laborers had fled their homes at the outset of the invasion and had taken refuge in the hills. As troops advanced, whole families, from aged grandfathers to tiny infants, were flushed out of hiding. Terrified and fully expecting to be killed, they threw themselves on our mercy, frequently choosing the hours of darkness to come out. This created a ticklish problem for our men, for it was difficult to distinguish Jap soldiers from Saipan farmers who wore much the same type of clothing. Nevertheless, thousands of them were safely escorted to the beach, where civil affairs personnel placed them in compounds, provided them with food, and gave them medical care. The intermingling of civilians with enemy troops continued to be one of the most bizarre aspects of the battle and reached its climax in the closing days, when hundreds chose to kill themselves rather than surrender.

Although much of the fighting was against an unseen enemy who concealed himself in scores of coral, limestone caves, a crucial pitched battle occurred on June 19-20 when the Fourth Division attacked Hill 500, near Magicienne Bay. Seizure of this dominating height was essential for our drive against the heights surrounding Mount Tapotchau. A company of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, commanded by Captain James G. Headley, made the first assault, which met with murderous Japanese fire. Headley and 100 men charged the hill and found themselves suddenly pinned down by six machine guns grouped around a cave. It was a tight spot, and the Marines hugged the deck for half an hour while a fusillade of bullets split the air above them in every direction. Headley received orders to withdraw. One man had been killed and 30 wounded. Headley himself had been wounded twice, although not seriously.

Slowly, inching their way back down the hill and dragging the wounded with them, the remaining men crawled to a safer position. Then as they neared their own lines, the very ground seemed to blow up in their faces. A hidden ammunition dump had exploded, possibly set off by remote control. When the smoke cleared, 20 more had been wounded. In less than an hour, the 100 men who had made their way up Hill 500 had suffered 51 casualties. It had been a disastrous morning.

Then the word came down...

Throughout the day mortar and artillery fire were poured on this strongpoint. The next morning Headley led a new attack, with Lieutenant Colonel Justice "Jumping Joe" Chambers personally directing. The men went up the hill in an old fashioned hell-bent-for-leather charge. Enemy machine guns were silenced with grenades and flame throwers; Japs, dashing from caves and bunkers, were cut down with rifles and bayonets. Grenade duels and hand-to-hand fighting went on simultaneously at a dozen places. The dazed Japs fell back, were killed. An hour and a half after the start of the attack, Hill 500 was ours.

"We lost 90 men but we came across a-hellin' and took our objective," Colonel Chambers said later. He himself had been wounded by concussion when a Jap land mine exploded and was taken, unconscious, to a field hospital.

From now on it was a long rugged fight up the island. The enemy knew he was licked. His fleet had been turned back in disgrace, and his air force at most could send but a few "Washing Machine Charlies" over the island at night. Nevertheless, he determined to make the invaders pay the highest price for the conquest. With the terrain still in his favor, he fought obstinately from every cave, gully, and hill. Every foot of advance was paid for in lives. It was during this part of the battle that Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson, Division Staff Officer and famed leader of a Raider battalion in the South Pacific, was wounded while helping to evacuate an injured radioman.

And it seemed at times as if Saipan were all hills: Marines captured one only to be confronted with another. These, and other typical terrain features, acquired such names as Radar Hill, Dead Man's Gulch, Poison Ridge, Impostor's Hill, Death Valley, Nameless Crag, and Back-Break Hill. Each was a bitter reminder of the thing for which it was named.

During the next six days the Division surged forward in a relentless sweep. On one day alone, June 22, it made a gain of 2500 yards and extended the front to the base of Kagman Peninsula. The U. S. Army's Twenty-seventh Division now held the center sector of the line, tying in with the Twenty-third Marine Regiment on its right and the Second Division on the left. However, the Army Division failed to keep pace with the Marine advance, and the interior flank of the Fourth Division was stretched to such an extent that three battalions were required to fill the gap. On the night of June 25-26 some 500 of the enemy broke out of Nafutan Point, attacking our rear and necessitating a delay in our advance while Marines turned their attention to this "front" that had suddenly been created at their rear. On June 27, however, the attack was resumed with a gain of 3000 yards. The Fourth then halted to allow the Army Division to catch up. This required four days.

Meanwhile, Mount Tapotchau, highest point on the island, was taken by the Sixth Regiment of the Second Division. Yet it was a reconnaissance patrol from the Twenty-fifth Regiment, led by Sergeant Major Gilbert L. Morton, that first scaled this formidable elevation. The men had no sooner reached the top when they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Digging in among boulders and natural revetments, they held the ground against a series of counterattacks, first from one side, then from the other. Slowly the little band was whittled down. Permission came for them to withdraw. It was then that Morton had to make the hardest decision of his life. Should the remaining men go back, leaving their dead and wounded comrades to the harsh mercies of the Japanese, or should they stick it out at the risk of everyone being killed? Night was coming on and escape from the trap would not have been too difficult.

The Sergeant Major polled his men. There were no dissenting votes. Every man agreed to stay and they settled down to fight it out. For 12 hours the Japs hammered at the tiny bastion atop Mount Tapatchau. The black night favored the Marines. Jap after Jap went down trying to dislodge them. Morton strangled two of the enemy with his bare hands. Marines were hit too. Ammunition ran low. Water was gone. There was hardly a man in the patrol who had not been wounded, but those who could, went on fighting. In the morning another patrol rescued them and carried the dead and wounded down the mountain to safety. Only five of the original band were still alive. Sergeant Major Morton was one of them and was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery.

By July 2 (D plus 17 ) all three divisions were nearly abreast and ready to launch a drive to seize the northern part of the island. With the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Regiments in the assault, good progress was made. The following day the Twenty-fifth was put on the line, and the attack continued with all three regiments abreast. Stiff resistance at Hill 721 stopped the advance, and it was not until the following day (July 4) that this and another strongpoint, Hill 767, were stormed and taken. It was in honor of the date that Hill 721 was named "Fourth of July Hill" by the men who took it.

Garapan and Tanapag Harbor had already fallen to the Second Division. It was now decided to swing the Division's right flank around until the line roughly paralleled the island's axis and to attack downward from the high ground toward the western shore. This pivot took the next two days. With the enemy now contained on Marpi Point and a narrow corridor running southward to a point just above Tanapag, the stage was set for the final squeeze.

We now had more than three-fourths of Saipan, but the conquest had not been cheap. Our casualties had been heavy, and combat efficiency was down to "75 per cent, with troops approaching physical exhaustion." (Commanding officers, however, set the figure for combat units nearer to 50 per cent.) But the end of the battle was in sight, and the men fought with undiminished ardor.

For the Japanese, too, the end of the battle was in sight. Choked off in a small neck of the island, hopelessly outnumbered, their artillery destroyed, and their troops disorganized, they had no choice but to surrender or perish in a last Banzai for the Emperor.

General Saito, in keeping with tradition, chose the Banzai method for his men to join their ancestors, exhorting them, through a written message, copies of which were discovered during the occupation of Marpi Point Airfield on July 9:

Message To Officers And Men Defending Saipan

I am addressing the officers and men of the Imperial Army on Saipan.

For more than twenty days since the American Devils attacked, the officers, men, and civilian employees of the Imperial Army and Navy on this island have fought well and bravely. Everywhere they have demonstrated the honor and glory of the Imperial Forces. I expected that every man would do his duty.

Heaven has not given us an opportunity. We have not been able to utilize fully the terrain. We have fought in unison up to the present time but now we have no materials with which to fight and our artillery for attack has been completely destroyed. Our comrades have fallen one after another.

Despite the bitterness of defeat, we pledge "Seven lives to repay our country!" ["Seven lives to repay our country" was the password designated by the Japanese in a battalion order setting the attack that resulted in a breakthrough from Nafutan Point on the night of June 25-26.]

The barbarous attack of the enemy is being continued. Even though the enemy has occupied only a corner of Saipan, we are dying without avail under the violent shelling and bombing. Whether we attack or whether we stay where we are, there is only death. However, in death there is life. We must utilize this opportunity to exalt true Japanese manhood. I will advance with those who remain to deliver still another blow to the American Devils, and leave my bones on Saipan as a bulwark of the Pacific.

As it says in Senjinkun [Battle Ethics], I will never suffer the disgrace of being taken alive, and I will offer up the courage of my soul and calmly rejoice in living by the eternal principle.Here I pray with you for the eternal life of the Emperor and the welfare of the country,and I advance to seek out the enemy.

Follow Me.
July 1944
C.0. Northern Marianas Defense Force
C.0. District Fleet

The Banzai attack was directed against the U. S. Army's Twenty-seventh Division and was eventually stopped by the Second Marine Division's Third Battalion, Tenth Marines (artillery). An estimated 3,000 enemy troops, including walking wounded mustered in field hospitals, many armed with nothing more than pointed sticks and bayonets, followed General Saito's last instructions and converged, under cover of darkness, along the western shore above Tanapag. The attack was a surprise. During the bloody hours that followed, elements of this tatter demalion army penetrated up to 3000 yards behind the lines of the Twenty-seventh Division and engaged the Marine artillerymen at point blank range before they were finally stopped. Entire companies were cut off; the battle continued throughout the following day. By evening, almost every Jap in the attacking force had been killed. Casualties on our own side were also heavy, an estimated 1500. And General Saito, after launching the Banzai assault, retired to his command post where he committed hara-kiri. "We must utilize this opportunity to exalt true Japanese manhood," he had written. But Japanese manhood lay dead and scattered along 2000 yards of beaches above the once powerful Tanapag Naval Base.

American manhood wrote the final chapter of Saipan. With the failure of the Japanese attack, resistance in the northern neck of the island crumbled. The Twenty-third, sweeping westward from the high ground, cleaned out a few last pockets of stubborn Japs. The Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth drove northward against negligible opposition. It was here that, "the crowning horror of the whole campaign was enacted. Some hundreds of fleeing civilians had taken refuge on the northern shore and in caves in the cliffs which faced it. Now, believing themselves to have reached the last extremity, they set about a veritable orgy of self destruction. Mothers and fathers stabbed, strangled, or shot their screaming children, hurled them into the sea and leaped in after them, all in plain view of Marines atop the cliffs. Surrender pleas were largely in vain. Many who wished to do so were prevented by Japanese soldiers." (Major Frank 0. Hough, USMC.)

At 1220, July 9, after 25 days of continuous fighting, Old Glory went up on Marpi Point. Combat Correspondent Bill Dvorak described the ceremony (or rather lack of it, for troops were still mopping up resistance on the Marpi Point airstrip) which was held by Regimental Combat Teams Twenty-four and Twenty-five. The flag had been brought ashore by the Twenty-fifth's commander, Colonel Merton J. Batchelder, and turned over to Lieutenant Colonel Hollis U. Mustain, who was later killed on Iwo Jima.

It was run up on a Jap telephone pole. A few hours later an official flag raising was held at Corps Headquarters which marked the securing of the island.

To the men who saw it flutter, our flag marked the end of 25 gruelling, bitter, heartbreaking days. Heartbreaking because of incidents like this, which happened to Sergeant Mike Plasha. Mike had won the Silver Star on Roi-Namur and was something of a hero to the boys in the Twenty-fifth Regiment. On Saipan, he risked his life to rescue a wounded buddy under enemy fire. From a hospital ship, the wounded Marine sent Mike a note. It read: "Thanks, Mike, for saving my life." The message was never delivered. On the last day of the battle, Mike Plasha was killed, trying to save another wounded Marine.

The battle to persuade helpless civilians to surrender went on. Public address systems were brought to Marpi Point and the Japanese informed that the battle was over. A battalion of the Twenty-fourth utilized a public address system in conjunction with armored amphtracs which approached the shores of Marpi Point and successfully evacuated civilians from caves and rocks. But in general our efforts were complicated by the intermingling of civilians with fanatical Japanese soldiers who were using them as shields. Many caves in which they hid, furthermore, were almost inaccessible. Add to this their stubbornness and it was not surprising that the process was slow and arduous. Hundreds hid out for months, surrendering at lest to garrison troops who scoured every nook and cranny of the island.

All together, the Fourth sustained 5,981 casualties in killed, wounded, and missing, 27.6 per cent of the Division's strength. But 23,811 Japanese soldiers were known to be dead and 1,810 had been taken prisoner. We had won the most important Pacific base to date. Saipan was more than a mere stepping stone to Tokyo. It was an intersection on the main highway.

There was a satisfaction in victory that assuaged the unutterable and humbling weariness which resulted from the battle. Now a new challenge faced the men of the Fourth: It was announced that the Division would make the beachhead on nearby Tinian two weeks later.

Casualties of the Division, Reinforced - SAIPAN
Officers
Enlisted
Total
Killed in Action
50
891
941
Died of Wounds
12
123
135
Wounded
231
4674
4905
Totals
293
5688
5981
Division History of the Fighting Fourth