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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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?"
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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! )
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
character of the fighting had been different from that in any
other Pacific invasion. As Combat Correspondent Gilbert Bailey
wrote at the time:
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."
was the type of terrain the Division encountered all the way
up the island.
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."
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.
only recruits," he yelled, "and the only thing they're
fighting for is a drink of our water."
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."
five days Gunny Mills was the cheering section of his company.
"He's our morale," the men said.
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....
was the spirit, and these were the men who made victory possible.
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.
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
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.)
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.
let them tell you any one outfit won this battle," a Marine
said when it was all over.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the word came down...
the day mortar and artillery fire were poured on this strongpoint.
The next morning Headley led a new attack, with Lieutenant
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
(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.
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
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:
To Officers And Men Defending Saipan
am addressing the officers and men of the Imperial Army on
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
C.0. Northern Marianas Defense Force
C.0. District Fleet
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of the Division, Reinforced - SAIPAN