LIBERATION: Marines in the Recapture of Guam
by Cyril J. O'Brien
In late 1943, both the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)
and, later, the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) agreed to the further
direction of the Pacific War. General Douglas MacArthur, commander of
the Southwest Pacific Area, was to head north through New Guinea to
regain the Philippines. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief,
U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPac/CinCPOA), proposed
a move through the Central Pacific to secure a hold in the Marianas. The
strategic bombing of Japan would originate from captured fields on Guam,
Saipan, and Tinian. The new strategic weapon for these attacks would be
the B-29 bomber, which had a range of 3,000 miles while carrying 10,000
pounds of bombs. The code name of the Marianas operation was "Forager."
The Central Pacific drive began with the landing on Tarawa in November
1943, followed by the landings in Kwajalein Atoll on Roi-Namur,
Eniwetok, and Kwajalein itself.
In January 1944, Admiral Nimitz made final plans for
Guam, and selected his command structure for the Marianas campaign.
Accordingly, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, the victor at Midway, was
designated commander of the Fifth Fleet and of all the Central Pacific
Task Forces; he would command all units involved in Forager.
Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner, who had commanded
naval forces for the landings at Guadalcanal and Tarawa, headed the
Joint Expeditionary Force (Task Force 51). Turner would also command the
Northern Attack Force for the invasion of Saipan and Tinian. Admiral
Conolly, who had commanded the invasion forces at Roi and Namur in the
Marshalls, would head the Southern Attack Force (Task Force 53) assigned
to Guam. Marine Major General (later Lieutenant General) Holland M.
Smith, the Expeditionary Troops commander for the Marianas, would be
responsible for the Northern Troops and Landing Force at Saipan and
Tinian, essentially the Marine V Amphibious Corps (VAC). Major General
Roy S. Geiger, an aviator who had conducted the Bougainville operation,
was to command the Southern Troops and Landing Force, the III Amphibious
Corps, at Guam.
General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr.
Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., was in his senior year at
the Virginia Virginia Military Institute and had not yet graduated when
he was commissioned in the Marine Corps. He sailed to France as a member
of the 5th Regiment of Marines, part of the 4th Brigade of Marines. He
saw considerable action in the warhe was wounded twice at Belleau
Wood and after recovering from his wounds and rejoining his regiment for
the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives, he was wounded for a third
time in the latter. Shepherd served in the Army of Occupation in
Germany, and on his return home, became aide to the Commandant and at
the White House. During the interwar period, he had a mix of school,
staff, and command assignments. In March 1942, he assumed command of the
9th Marines and took it overseas as part of the 3d Marine Division. Upon
promotion to flag rank in July 1943, he was assigned to the 1st Marine
Division as assistant division commander and, as such, participated in
the Cape Gloucester operation. He assumed command of the 1st Provisional
Marine Brigade in May 1944, and led it in the landing on Guam. Following
this operation, he received his second star and took command of the 6th
Marine Division, which was formed from the brigade and participated in
the landings on Okinawa. General Shepherd commanded Fleet Marine Force,
Pacific, in the first two years of the Korean War, and then was chosen
as the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Shepherd died at the
age of 94 in 1990.
D-Day for the invasion of Saipan had been set for 15
June. It was an important date also for the 3d Marine Division,
commanded by Major General Allen H. "Hal" Turnage; the 1st Provisional
Marine Brigade under Brigadier General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr.; and the
Army's 77th Infantry Division under Major General Andrew D. Bruce. They
were to land on Guam on 18 June, but the 3d Division and the brigade
first would wait as floating reserve until the course of operations on
Saipan became clear. The 77th would stand by on Oahu, ready to be called
forward when needed.
Admiral Spruance kept the floating reserve well south
and east of Saipan, out of the path of an expected Japanese naval
attack. A powerful Japanese fleet, eager to close with the American
invasion force, descended upon the Marianas. The opposing carrier groups
clashed nearby in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the major air
battles of the war. The Imperial Navy lost 330 out of the 430 planes it
launched in the fray. The clash (19 June), called "the Great Marianas
Turkey Shoot," was catastrophic for the Japanese and ended once and for
all any naval or air threat to the Marianas invasion.
BGen Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Commanding General, 1st
Provisional Marine Brigade and his principal officers, from left, Col
John T Walker, brigade chief of staff; LtCol Alan Shapley, commander,
4th Marines; and Col Merlin T Schneider, commander, 22d Marines, view a
relief map of Guam for the brigade's operation. Department of Defense
Photo (USMC) 90434
With the hard fighting on Saipan turning gradually
but inevitably in favor of the American Marines and soldiers battling
the Japanese, the U.S. Navy was ready to direct its attention to Guam,
which was now slated to receive the most thorough pre-landing
bombardment yet seen in the Pacific War. After weeks at sea, the 3d
Division and the 1st Brigade were given a respite and a chance to go
ashore to lose their "sea legs" after so long a period on board ships.
The Task Force 53 convoy moved back to Eniwetok Atoll, whose huge
20-mile-wide lagoon was rapidly becoming a major forward naval base.
Major General Andrew D. Bruce
Andrew D. Bruce, a native of Missouri and a graduate
of Texas A&M in 1916, was commissioned an Army second lieutenant in
June 1917. His association with the Marine Corps goes back to World War
I, when as a member of the 2d Infantry Division's 5th Machine Gun
Battalion, he participated in actions in France in the Troyon Sector
near Verdun, in the Aisne Defensive operation near Chateau Thierry, the
Aisne-Marne offensive at Soissons, the fighting at St. Mihiel, and the
Meuse-Argonne offensive at Blanc Mont. With the rest of the 2d Division,
he hiked into Germany to become part of the occupation force.
In the interwar period, he had a mix of staff,
command, and school assignments. At the outbreak of World War II,
then-Lieutenant Colonel Bruce headed the Army's Tank Destroyer School,
which was first at Camp Meade, Maryland, then at Camp Hood near Kileen,
Texas. He assumed command of the 77th Infantry Division in May 1943. The
division first saw combat at Guam with the 3d Marine Division and the
1st Provisional Marine Brigade, and then landed at Leyte for the
Philippines operation. General Bruce's 77th once again fought with
Marines in the landing on 1 April 1945 on Okinawa. When the XXIV Corps
attacked to the south, General Bruce's soldiers and the 1st Marine
Division were neighbors in the frontlines.
General Bruce retired with three stars as a
lieutenant general and died in 1969.
The Marines welcomed the break and the chance to walk
on dry land on the small islands of the atoll. There was even an issue
of warm beer to all those on shore. The Marine veterans of the fighting
on Bougainville, New Georgia, and Eniwetok had a chance to look over the
soldiers of the 305th Regimental Combat Team, which now came forward
from Oahu to be attached briefly to the brigade for the landing on Guam,
set for 21 July and designated W-Day. The rest of the Army contingent,
the 77th Infantry Division, was well trained and well led, and was
scheduled to arrive at the target on W plus 1, 22 July.
route to Guam on board the command ship USS Appalachian (AGC 1),
Marine III Amphibious Corps commander, MajGen Roy S. Geiger; his chief
of staff, Col Merwin H. Silverthorn; and the Corps Artillery commander,
BGen Pedro A. del Valle, all longtime Marines and World War I veterans,
review their copy of the Guam relief map to assist in their estimates
and plans for the operation. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
The 3rd Marine Division, composed of the 3d, 9th, and
21st Marines (rifle regiments), the 12th Marines (artillery), and the
19th Marines (engineers and pioneers), plus supporting troops, numbered
20,238 men. It had received its baptism of fire on Bougainville in
November and December 1943 and spent the intervening months on
Guadalcanal training and absorbing casualty replacements. The 1st
Provisional Marine Brigade, which was organized on Guadalcanal, was also
a veteran outfit. One of its infantry regiments, the 4th Marines, was
formed from the disbanded raider battalions which had fought in the
Solomons. The other once-separate regiment, the 22d Marines, was blooded
in the seizure of Eniwetok in February 1944. Both regiments had 75mm
pack howitzer battalions attached, which now joined brigade troops. In
all, the brigade mustered 9,886 men.
Imperial Japanese Army LtGen Takeshi Takashina, commander of the 29th
Infantry Division, which came to Guam from Manchuria in early 1944,
where it was part of the Kwantung Army, was killed on 28 July
while directing the evacuation of his Fonte defenses.
Corps troops of the III Corps were heavy with
artillery and would use every gun. III Corps had three battalions of
155mm howitzers and guns and the 9th and 14th Defense Battalions, whose
90mm guns could and would fire at both air and ground targets.
For the handling of casualties, III Corps had a
medical battalion, with equipment and supplies to operate a 1,500-bed
hospital. In addition, the 1st Brigade had two medical companies; the 3d
Division its own medical battalion; and the 77th Division a fully
staffed and equipped Army field hospital. Each of the divisions had a
medium tank battalion and a full complement of engineers, augmented by
two Marine separate engineer battalions and two naval construction
battalions (Seabees). Two amphibian tractor battalions and an armored
amphibian battalion would carry the assault waves to shore. All in all,
the III Amphibious Corps was prepared to land more than 54,000 soldiers,
sailors, and Marines.
Waiting for the attack and sure that it would come,
but not where, was the Japanese 29th Infantry Division under
Lieutenant General Takeshi Takashina. The 29th had served in
Japan's Kwantung Army, operating and training in Manchuria until
it was sent to the Marianas in February 1944. One of its regiments, the
18th, fell victim to an American submarine, the Trout, and
lost 2,200 of its 3,500 men when its transport was sunk. Reorganized on
Saipan, the 18th Infantry Regiment took two infantry battalions
to Guam, together with two companies of tanks.
Another of the 29th's regiments garrisoned
Tinian and the remaining unit, the 38th Infantry, together with
division headquarters troops, arrived on Guam in March. The other major
Army defending units were the 48th Independent Mixed Brigade and
the 10th Independent Mixed Regiment, both formed on Guam in March
from a six-battalion infantry, artillery, and engineer force sent from
the Kwantung Army. With miscellaneous supporting troops, the
total Army defending force numbered about 11,500 men. Added to these
were 5,000 naval troops of the 54th Keibitai (guard force) and
about 2,000 naval airmen reorganized as infantry to defend Orote
Peninsula and its airfield. General Takashina was in overall tactical
command of the 18,500 Army and Navy defenders. His immediate superior,
Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata, commanding the Thirty-first
Army, was also on Guam, though not intentionally. Returning to his
Saipan headquarters from an inspection trip to the Palau Islands, Obata
was trapped on Guam by the American landing on Saipan. He left the
conduct of Guam's defense to Takashina.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
Lt Gen Hideyoshi Obata, Thirty-first Army commander, who took
command of the defense of Guam after Gen Takashina's death, was himself
killed by soldiers of the 306th Infantry, when they overran the Mataguac
The fact that the Americans were to assault Guam was
no secret to its defenders. The invasion of Saipan and a month-long
bombardment by ships and planes left only the question of when and
where. With only 15 miles of potential landing beaches along the
approachable west coast, the Japanese could not be very wrong no matter
where they defended.
Tokyo Rose said they expected us. On board ship, the
Americans heard her and her pleasant beguiling voice on the radio. While
she made threats of dire things to happen to invasion troops, she was
never taken seriously by any of her American "fans."
Major General Kiyoshi Shigematsu, shoring up the
morale of his 48th Independent Mixed Brigade, told his men: "The
enemy, overconfident because of his successful landing on Saipan, is
planning a reckless and insufficiently prepared landing on Guam. We have
an excellent opportunity to annihilate him on the beaches."
Premier Hideki Tojo, supreme commander of the war
effort for Japan, also had spirited words for his embattled commanders:
"Because the fate of the Japanese empire depends on the result of your
operation, inspire the spirit of officers and men and to the very end
continue to destroy the enemy gallantly and persistently; thus alleviate
the anxiety of the Emperor."
Back to visit Guam a half century later, a former
Japanese lieutenant said the tremendous American invasion fleet offshore
had "paved the sea" and recalled what he thought on 21 July: "This is
the day I will die.":
"Conditions," said Admiral Conolly, "are most
favorable for a successful landing."