A CLOSE ENCOUNTER: The Marine Landing on Tinian
by Richard Harwood
Three weeks into the battle for Saipan, there was no
doubt about the outcome and V Amphibious Corps (VAC) commanders began
turning their attention to the next objectivethe island of Tinian,
clearly visible three miles off Saipan's southwest coast. Its garrison
of 9,000 Japanese army and navy combatants, many of them veterans of the
campaigns in Manchuria, had been bombarded for seven weeks by U.S. air
and sea armadas, joined in late June by massed Marine Corps and Army
artillery battalions on Saipan's southern coast. The 2d and 4th Marine
Divisions, both still in the thick of the Saipan fight, had been
selected for the assault mission.
The crucial question of where they would land,
however, was still undecided. There was strong support among the
planners for a landing on two narrow sand stripscode named White 1
and White 2on Tinian's northwest coast; one was 60 yards wide, the
other 160. But Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner, overall commander of the
Marianas Expeditionary Force, was skeptical. He leaned toward Yellow
Beach, made up of several wide, sandy strips in front of Tinian Town,
the island's heavily fortified administrative and commercial center.
Amphibian tractors and Higgins boats (LCVPs, landing
craft, vehicle and personnel) leave wakes as they land Marines on White
Beach 2 and return to assault shipping off shore to load more troops and
supplies. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87085
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
On 3 July, VAC's Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion,
commanded by Captain James L. Jones, was put on alert for reconnaissance
of these potential landing sites. On 9 July, the day Saipan officially
was declared secured, Jones got his operation order from Marine
Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, commander of Expeditionary Troops.
His men were to scout out the Tinian beaches and their fortifications
and determine their capacity to handle the landing force and keep it
supplied. Accompanying naval underwater demolition teams would do the
hydrographic work and locate underwater obstacles, natural or
Captain Jones picked for the job Company A under the
command of Captain Merwin H. Silverthorn, Jr., the son of a Marine
general and World War I veteran, and Company B, commanded by First
Lieutenant Leo B. Shinn. The Navy assigned to the mission Underwater
(UDT) Team 5, led by Lieutenant Commander Draper L. Kauffman, and UDT
Team 7 under Lieutenant Richard F. Burke. They rehearsed the operation
on the night of 9-10 July off the beaches of Saipan's Magicienne Bay. On
the evening of the 10th, the Marine and Navy units boarded the destroyer
transports Gilmer and Stringham for the short trip into
the channels separating the two islands.
The teams debarked in rubber boats at 2030, paddled
to within 500 yards of the beach and swam to their destinations.
Fortunately, it was a black night and although the moon rose at 2230, it
was largely obscured by clouds.
Yellow Beach was assigned to Silverthorn's Company A.
He led 20 Marines and eight UDT swimmers ashore. They found a beach near
Tinian Town flanked on each side by formidable cliffs. There were many
floating mines and underwater boulders in the approaches. On the beach
itself, double-apron barbed wire had been strung. Second Lieutenant
Donald F. Neff worked his way 30 yards inland to locate exit routes for
vehicles. Nearby, talkative Japanese work crews were building pillboxes
and trenching with blasting charges. Neff spotted three Japanese
sentries on a cliff overlooking the beach; now and then searchlights
scanned the beach approaches.
Silverthorn, Burke, and their men made it back to the
Gilmer safely. Their impression of Yellow Beach as a landing site
was distinctly unfavorable.
oblique photograph of White Beach 1 was taken before naval gunfire,
artillery, air bombardment, and bulldozers altered its appearance. This
60-yard beach later became the port of entry for most of V Amphibious
Corps' heavy equipment. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 151969
To the north, at the White Beaches assigned to
Company B, things had not gone well. Strong currents pushed the rubber
boats off course. The team headed for White 1 was swept 800 yards north
of its destination and never got ashore. The party headed for White 2
wound up on White 1 and reconnoitered the area. Both parties were picked
up by the Gilmer. The next night 10 swimmers from Company A were
sent back to reconnoiter White 2 and had a successful trip.
The reports on the White beaches were encouraging.
Although the landing areas were very restricted, it was concluded that
amphibian tractors (LVTs) and other vehicles could negotiate the reefs
and get ashore, and that troops with little difficulty could clamber
over the low cliffs flanking the beaches. Marines forced to disembark
from boats at the reef could safely wade ashore through the shallow
surf. Members of Kauffman's UDT party confirmed the Marine findings and
reported that "no mines or manmade underwater obstructions were
A few hours after the reconnaissance team returned
from White 2, Admiral Turner's objections were withdrawn and a command
decision to use the northern beaches was made. On 20 July, a time and
date for the landing were fixed: 0730 on 24 July.