Division History

Tinian: Home of the Enola Gay

Since our landing on Saipan, it had been apparent to the Japs that Tinian would be the next objective. Our warships and planes had bombed it daily and aerial reconnais-sance had been conducted over all parts of the island. It was no secret that we were getting ready to add Tinian to our list of Marianas bases. The enemy, therefore, had more than a month to strengthen and add to his defensive positions.

Following Saipan, the Division was assigned a new commanding general. On July 12, 1944, Major General Clifton B. Cates replaced Major General Harry Schmidt, who became the Commanding General of the Fifth Amphibious Corps. Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith continued as Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops, and assumed command of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. This command worked out and executed the brilliant plan that made the invasion of Tinian a model of its kind, called by many "the perfect amphibious operation."

Jig-day was set for July 24, 1944. To the Fourth Division went the task of making the assault landing. The Second Division was to land on J plus 1, and the U. S. Army's Twenty-seventh Division was to be held on Saipan in reserve. Marines will remember their surprise when the operation maps were first unfolded. The two beaches selected for the landing were but 65 and 130 yards wide. It seemed impossible that an entire division could be put ashore, against opposition, on these two tiny stretches of sand. Never in the course of the Pacific war had a unit of division strength tried to land on any beach smaller than twice the size of these two combined.

It was precisely this fact, that the landing seemed impossible upon which the generals counted to fool the enemy. For if it seemed impossible to us, it certainly would also seem impossible to the Japs. Assuming this, we expected them to devote their main effort to defending the larger and more accessible beach at Tinian Town, on the southern half of the island. We would, so to speak, sneak in the back door while the Japs waited at the front. Added to this was the advantage of covering and supporting the landing by Corps Artillery based on Saipan.

Our theory was substantiated by reconnaissance carried on before the landing. Aerial reconnaissance was made by virtually the entire General Staff, including General Cates himself, regimental, and battalion commanders. This was another "first" for the Division, the first time in the Pacific that a planning phase included such complete reconnaissance of an enemy-held base by the key officers of an assault force. Documents captured on Saipan further supported the theory. Everything indicated that the Japanese believed the White Beaches on the northwestern side of the island to be too small to accommodate our heavy equipment, tanks, artillery, bulldozers, and trucks. With an estimated 9,000 troops to defend the island, which was approximately 25 square miles smaller than Saipan, the enemy would be forced to commit the main body of his troops at one or the other end of the island.

Aerial reconnaissance showed that the enemy was devoting most of his defensive preparations to the beaches at Tinian Town, working at night to construct numerous bunkers, pillboxes, and trenches. There was evidence that the beach was heavily mined. The streets of Tinian Town were fortified by an intricate system of bunkers which commanded all streets and intersections.

In a sense this was gratifying, for it indicated that our estimate of the situation was correct. We encouraged the defenders in their belief by concentrating most of our day to day bombardment on the town and on its beaches. The theory was further substantiated by the results of several reconnaissance missions performed by the Fifth Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Battalion. Landing undetected from rubber boats on the nights of July 10 and 11, the scouts found that Beaches White 1 and 2 were very lightly defended and that the rough coral ledges on each side of the sandy portion of the beaches could be surmounted by foot troops, thus extending the width of the landing areas one or two hundred yards.

From these various sources we achieved a good picture of the enemy defensive setup on Tinian. This w as more remarkable considering that to the naked eye, Tinian was truly an “ island of mystery.” Lying just south of Saipan and separated from it by only three miles of water, it was under continuous aerial observation. Yet it might as well have been unpopulated, for our planes flew at treetop level without observing a single living thing. Even the thousands of civilians, joining in the enemy's game of hide and seek," had literally moved underground. Photographs revealed continuous work on installations, but soldiers and civilians alike were not to be seen. The island's broad lowlands planted in sugar cane, its single peak, 540 foot Mount Lasso, and the sweeping ridge that formed its southern end, all lay peacefully in the summer sun. The enemy was maintaining the strictest kind of discipline to keep us guessing to the last minute.

Although our own plans were destined to turn the tables and beat the Japs at their own game, no effort was spared to destroy all known defenses. Beginning with the strike by Task Force 58 on June 11, the destruction rained on Tinian increased steadily. Jap shore batteries replied on occasion several of our warships were damaged.

At the end of the battle of Saipan, as many as thirteen battalions of 105mm and 155mm howitzers guns were set up on the southern shores of the island, and massed fire was brought to bear against targets on Tinian. Our planes, flying from Aslito Airfield, and warships of Task Force 58 systematically demolished Tinian's two completed airfields and left its town a mass of smoking rubble. Napalm incendiary bombs were used for the first time with good effect. An official statement from G-3 of the Expeditionary Troops Report later declared: "The preparatory bombardment delivered on Tinian prior to the landings exceeded in duration and deliberate destructiveness any previous preparation of the Pacific War.”

The plan of the landing called for Regimental Combat Team Twenty-four to go ashore in a column of battalions on Beach White 1, the northernmost and smallest of the two beaches, while Regimental Combat Team Twenty-five was to land on White 2 some few hundred yards to the south. Regimental Combat Team Twenty-three, held in immediate reserve, was to come in on Jig-day after the assaul troops had established the beachhead. The Fourteenth Marines would also land on Jig-day, four battalions of 75mm howitzers having been preloaded in DUKWs (amphibian trucks) in order to be readily avaiable. (Two of these battalions, from the Tenth Marines, Second Division, were attached to the Fourth Division.) The.Second Division was to conduct a diversionary demonstration off Tinian Town. To enable tanks and trucks to negotiate the rocky, steep beaches, pontoon causeways and special ramps built by Seabees during the battle of Saipan, were to be brought over in LVTs and LCVPs.

H-hour was at 0740. Long before, waves of LVTs had assembled behind the line of departure. The day promised to be bright and sunny after a night of rain in which troops, sleeping on the decks of the LSTs, had been soaked. Smoke from the bombardment completely obscured the beaches, and when the boats were waved over the line of departure, guide planes overhead led the way. Thirty LCI gunboats laid down a wall of rocket and automatic weapon fire.

Never, perhaps, had there been more apprehension in the minds of the men making an assault landing. They remembered the heavy mortar and artillery fire which had greeted them on Saipan. They knew, too, that if the Japs had not been fooled, if the enemy had anticipated our ruse and had zeroed in artillery and mortars on the narrow beaches, the landing would be very difficult. Well directed artillery and smallarms fire could be disastrous to our troops. It would be like walking into a trap, and the landing might conceivably end in a fiasco.

Such, however, was not to be the case. Our strategy worked even better than we had dared hope. Opposition was officially "light" on White I and "moderate" on White 2. Occasional rifle and machine gun fire and desultory mortar fire was the only opposition the two assault regiments encountered. The bulk of Colonel Ogata's troops, excellently trained and well equipped veterans of the Manchurian fighting, waited behind their defenses at Tinian Town while we walked ashore on the two "impossible" beaches far to the north. The "razzle-dazzle" play was an unqualified success.

Against such light opposition, our troops moved in rapidly. Regimental Combat Team Twenty-four advanced toward Airfield No. 1; Regimental Combat Team Twenty-five went south along the coast and inland toward Mount Lasso. At 1630, Regimental Combat Team Twenty-three came ashore, and its Second Battalion took over the Division's right flank. All three regiments then drove ahead toward the Phase Line 0-1.

Everywhere the landing went smoothly. Supplies, preloaded in amphtracs and DUKWs, were brought directly to inland dumps. Tanks, routed to White I because of mines on White 2, negotiated the sharp ledge by means of the cleverly constructed ramps and were soon supporting the infantry. Four battalions of 75mm howitzers were ashore and were firing by 1635. The whole Division had landed within nine hours.

At 1730 the order came to consolidate positions for the night and to prepare for the counterattack which was expected. A beachhead 4000 yards wide and 2000 yards deep had been seized. And the cost? Fifteen were killed and 150 wounded---an unbelievably small price to pay for the achievement.

But what followed that night will probably live in the memory of Fourth Division Marines as a tougher fight than any single battle on Saipan. Indeed, the Japanese counterattack, for all practical purposes, was the battle of Tinian. For when it ended, all the heavy fighting was over. Japan's best troops had been decimated.

This was no wild, unorganized attack, made in desperation, but a well planned and carefully executed counterattack which had for its purpose the total destruction of our beachhead. That it failed completely was due to our well integrated and stalwart defense. Greener troops might have given way, but Marines of the Fourth Division were real veterans now and took in their stride the best the Japs could offer.

The attack was directed at several points of our perimeter defense simultaneously. At 0330, moving north along the main road leading from Tinian Town, clattered six tanks with infantry clustered on them, and more Japs following on foot. Previously, Japanese artillery had opened up on our beachhead. Marines had been alerted for the attack; all along the line 37mm gun crews, with canister and AP shells ready, lay in wait. Bazookamen were stationed at every likely tank approach. Suddenly, listening posts ahead of the Twenty-third's lines heard the rumble of tanks and relayed their approximate location to our artillery. The tanks were 400 yards away when the artillery opened up. Still the tanks came on. Then our antitank guns went into action.

Lieutenant Jim G. Lucas, the Division's Assistant Public Relations Officer, who was with the Twenty--third that night, vividly described what followed:

"The three lead tanks broke through our wall of fire. One began to glow blood-red, turned crazily on its tracks, and careened into a ditch. A second, mortally wounded, turned its machine guns on its tormentors, firing into the ditches in a last desperate effort to fight its way free. One hundred yards more and it stopped dead in its tracks. The third tried frantically to turn and then retreat, but our men closed in, literally blasting it apart. Bazookas knocked out the fourth tank with a direct hit which killed the driver. The rest of the crew piled out the turret, screaming. The fifth tank, completely surrounded, attempted to flee. Bazookas made short work of it. Another hit set it afire, and its crew was cremated."

The sixth tank, far to the rear, made its escape, running south along a railroad track and was found the next day, knocked out. Despite the shattering of their spearhead, Japanese infantry kept coming and were soon fighting at close quarters with the Second Battalion, Twenty-third. Thirty seven millimeter guns sprayed canister shot point-blank at the incoming waves. Machine guns rattled incessantly at the wild charging Japs; bodies piled up by the dozen in every fire lane. The next morning 267 Jap dead were counted in this sector.

But Marines took their share of punishment, too. A 37 mm gun crew, commanded by Gunnery Sergeant John G. Benkovich, winner of the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, suffered six casualties in the attack, including Benkovich himself. Realizing that the position would have to be abandoned, Benkovich directed evacuation of the wounded and then returned, alone, to dismantle the gun and render it useless to the enemy.

Gradually the attack in this sector was broken up. However, the Twenty-fifth, holding the center sector was having its own fight. As early as 2230 this Regiment was experiencing pressure on its left flank and could hear the enemy forward of its Third Battalion front line elements. The first attack, at that time, was delivered by 500 to 600 Japs and was repulsed by close range mortar and small arms fire. The Japs retreated to the high ground ahead of the Battalion and there reorganized. At 0100 they struck again, this time at the juncture of the Twenty-fifth and the Twenty-fourth Regiments; and although hard fighting ensued, and many of the enemy were killed, about 200 broke through. Reorganizing in a swamp, they speared out in two directions, one group attacking a "breakthrough" platoon behind the Third Battalion lines, and the other group hitting to the northwest, deep within our lines, at our artillery positions. The attack was effectively checked by the "breakthrough" platoon which killed 91 of the enemy and by howitzer crews of D Battery, Second Battalion, Fourteenth Marines, who lowered their muzzles and let the Japs have it at point blank range, killing 99.

The breakthrough had been bitterly contested. When the first indications of an attack were felt,two machine guns, manned by Private First Class Orville H. Showers and Corporal Alfred J. Daigle, were out in front and on the flank of their company. They saw a great number of Japs moving toward them across a field. Showers and Daigle held their fire until the enemy was 100 yards away, then opened up wth everything they had. The Japs charged, screaming "Banzai!," firing light machine guns, and throwing hand grenades. It seemed impossible that the two Marines, far ahead of their own lines, could hold on. Yet they killed most of the Japs.

The second wave came in, more than 200 charging Japs. Back on the main line of defense, Marines could hear the machine guns, their barrels red hot, blazing away. They knew that Showers and Daigle were taking the brunt of the attack. They could have withdrawn to their own lines, no one would have blame them, but they chose to stick by their guns. Then the guns of Showers and Daigle stopped firing.

The next morning Marines found the two men slumped over their weapons, dead. No less than 251 Jap bodies were piled in front of them. And altogether, on this company front, 350 Japs were killed during the night. For heroic action against the enemy, the Navy Cross was awarded posthumously to Corporal Daigle, and the Silver Star was awarded posthumously to Private First Class Showers.

Stories like this, with variations, happened all along the line. In the Second Battalion, Twenty-fourth’s sector, one Jap attack was repulsed largely because of the good judgment of Sergeant John F. Fritts, Jr. Combat Correspondent Dick Tenelly described how Fritts, who had taken command of his platoon after the death of the platoon leader, deployed his men across a road that constituted part of the perimeter defense. The first warning of trouble came when a Jap patrol was sighted just before midnight. One of the platoon's machine guns dispersed the patrol but in so doing gave away its position.

Fritts did some quick thinking. He shifted his gun positions, putting automatic rifles in place of the machine gun, temporarily giving the impression that it was still there. The machine gun was moved to another spot. When the major enemy attack came at about 0200, the Japs directed their attention to the automatic rifles, which were withdrawn in the nick of time. But by this time the enemy had revealed his own positions. The machine gun and a 37mm gun opened up; the surprised Japs became confused and disorganized. They fought bitterly, but by daylight 150 had been killed. All but one of Fritts' main gun crew were wounded.

Meanwhile, on the left flank, in the sector adjacent to the ocean, hard fighting was taking place in the zone of action of the First Battalion, Twenty-fourth Marines. At 0200, about 600 screaming japs came down a road leading into the lines. The Battalion put up flares and opened up with 37mm guns, mortars, automatic rifles, machine guns, and rifles. Artillery registered on the area to the rear of the Japs, preventing a retreat, and our mortars fell in front of and among them, neatly confining the enemy to an area about 100 yards square. Fire continued for four hours, and when dawn broke, the enemy in this sector broke with it and began committing suicide with grenades. Four hundred and seventy-six bodies were counted here when the attack moved forward.

Daylight revealed the extent of the Jap carnage along the Division front; 1,241 bodies were counted, and an estimated 700 or 800 others had been retrieved by their comrades.

The loss of at least one fifth of the Japs' effective strength in one night broke the back of the defense of Tinian. From then on the remaining troops were capable of only the most dazed and weak resistance. Three airfields, a dozen prepared strongpoints, Tinian Town itself, fell with no more than token resistance.

The First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had landed in the afternoon of Jig-day and had been attached as the Fourth Division. reserve. On Jig plus 1, the remaining elements of the Eighth Regiment landed, and four regimental combat teams advanced down the island abreast. Supplies began to flow in, and the Division CP landed. By the following day, July 26, the remainder of the Second Division had landed and had taken over the eastern half of the drive down the island. Airfield No. 1 and Mount Lasso both fell. The airfield was quickly repaired and used for landing ammunition and medical supplies from Saipan and evacuating wounded from Tinian. Planes based on Aslito Airfield continued to give close tactical support to the ground troops. The weather, however, turned bad and the supply situation was made difficult by the heavy swells on the beaches. DUKWs were invaluable in helping to meet this and even air transport was 40mm antiaircraft guns.

The value of tanks was especially evident on Tinian, where flat fields and a good road system permitted them freedom to maneuver. Spearheading the infantry advance, they poured murderous machine gun and cannon fire into cane fields, thickets, and all buildings. One partially destroyed, innocent looking farmhouse, blasted by our tanks, replied with machine gun fire. The tanks put round after round into the structure, and when troops finally closed in they found more than 40 dead Japanese soldiers. The "farmhouse" proved to be a carefully camouflaged blockhouse mounting 40mm anticraft guns.

On July 27 (Jig plus 3), an 1800 yard advance was scored; and on the following day Airfield No. 2, on Gurguan Point, was overrun after an advance of 6000 yards on a 5000 yard front! Two days later Tinian Town was taken against negligible opposition. It was evident that the enemy had retreated to the formidable cliff south of the town for a last ditch. stand.

During the early morning hours of July 31, a tank led counterattack of company strength hit the Twenty-fourth Regiment. It was quickly repulsed, but mortar fire continued all along the front. In a determined effort to seize the ridge, the Marine command decided to launch an all out attack that morning. The ridge was submitted to "the most intense ... and the most effectively controlled of any bombardment of amphibious operations thus far in the Pacific," according to a Division report on the Tinian Opera-tion. Two battleships, a heavy cruiser, 2 light cruisers, 14 destroyers, 112 planes, and 11 battalions of artil-lery unloaded everything they had on the ridge from dawn until 0830.

The infantry jumped off against progressively stronger resistance. Caves, antitank guns, and mine fields were encountered in greater numbers than at any time since the landing. The cliff itself constituted a formidable obstacle, and the terrain was the most rugged on the island. Tanks could give little support. Added to this difficulty was the fact that nearly all of Tinian's several thousand civilians had fled to this section.

Despite the opposition, troops succeeded, with flame throwers, demolitions, and a liberal use of automatic rifles, in wiping out all pockets of resistance and by August 1, had reached the plateau on the other side of the ridge. At 1855 on that same day, Tinian was declared secured. Officially, the battle had lasted nine days.

Actually, the last and most dramatic battle was yet to be fought-without the firing of a shot. It was fought against Japanese military fanaticism, to save civilians from a ghastly suicide "ceremony" planned by their own troops. Our weapon was a public-address system mounted on a Jeep. From the plateau directed toward the 200-foot cliff, where scores of caves held thousands of civilians. Lieutenant Ralph Haas, Commanding Officer of the First Battalion, Twenty-third Marines, ordered the Jeep, a protective screen of tanks, halftracks, and infantry to advance to the edge of the plain. An interpreter told the unseen thousands that the battle was over, that American troops would give them food, water, and medical care.

A handful of civilians straggled out of the caves. They came out cautiously, saw our tanks and I wondered if it were a ruse. Most of them remained huddled together on the plain a few hundred away. A few broke off and wandered toward us. When they came in, we fed them and gave them water.

One of them, who had been superintendent of the sugar refinery on Tinian, volunteered to address his fellow citizens. After he had spoken, his wife also made an appeal, telling them they would not be harmed. At this, many more streamed out of the caves and over to us.

Then it was noticed that several soldiers had joined the civilian group, attempting to dissuade it from surrendering. As Marines watched in awestruck amazement, one of the soldiers leaped off the into the sea, a sheer drop of more than 100 feet. In a few minutes another jumped. For half an hour the suicide leaps of the soldiers continued. In the caves overhead, the intermittent "poff " and gray smoke of hand grenades told of other Japs who preferred that form of suicide.

The drama was coming to its bizarre conclusion. Seven soldiers had succeeded in gathering a group 35 to 40 civilians about them. Marines looked on in helplessness as two of the soldiers tied the group together with a long rope. Suddenly, a puff of smoke from a grenade went up from among the tightly packed group. But this was only the beginning; the grenade had been used to detonate a larger charge of high explosives. A terrific blast shook the ground. The bodies of the victims were blown 25 feet in the air. Arms, legs, and hands were scattered across the plain. The remaining soldiers committed suicide with grenades. This, seemingly, broke the spell. Hundreds of civilians now made for our lines.

The battle was ended. Japanese fanaticism had lured a few score to their deaths, but American persuasiveness had saved thousands of others. By August 12, 13,262 civilians were safely in the stockades. We had literally saved these people from their own protectors!

On August 14, the last units of the Division boarded ship and began the long trip back to Maui. The blitzkrieg on Tinian had cost the Division 290 men killed, 1,515 wounded, and 24 missing. About 9,000 Japanese Army and Navy personnel were dead, and another 250 were prisoners. The daring strategy of capturing the island through the back door had paid handsome dividends. Guam had been secure on August 10 by the Third Marine Division, the First Provisional Marine Brigade and the U. S. Army's Seventy-seventh Division. The most important Marianas bases were now in our hands.

In recognition of its work on Saipan and Tinian, the Fourth Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. The Division was making history.

The Division, Reinforced, was cited "for service as set forth in the following"

CITATION

For outstanding performance in combat during the seizure of the Japanese-held islands of Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas from June 15 to August 1, 1944. Valiantly storming the mighty fortifications of Saipan on June 15, the Fourth Division, Reinforced, blasted the stubborn defenses of the enemy in an undeviating advance over the perilously rugged terrain. Unflinching despite heavy casualties, this gallant group pursued the Japanese relentlessly across the entire length of the island, pressing on against bitter opposition for twenty-five days to crush all resistance in their zone of action. With but a brief rest period in which to reorganize and re-equip, the Division hurled its full fighting power against the dangerously narrow beaches of Tinian on July 24 and rapidly expanded the beachheads for the continued landing of troops, supplies and artillery. Unchecked by either natural obstacles or hostile fire, these indomitable men spearheaded a merciless attack which swept Japanese forces before it and ravaged all opposition within eight days to add Tinian to our record of conquests in these strategically vital islands.

For the President,
JAMES FORRESTAL
Secretary of the Navy

Casualties of the Division, Reinforced - TINIAN
Officers
Enlisted
Total
Killed in Action
15
184
199
Died of Wounds
2
25
27
Wounded
71
1609
1680
Totals
88
1818
1906
Division History of the Fighting Fourth