A CLOSE ENCOUNTER: The Marine Landing on Tinian
by Richard Harwood
The assault plan assigned White Beach 1 to the 24th
Marines and White Beach Two to the 25th. In the vanguard for the 24th
was Company E of the 2d Battalion200 men commanded by Captain Jack
F. Ross, Jr. Company A of the 1st Battalion, commanded by Captain Irving
Schechter, followed and by 0820 the entire 2d Battalion, commanded by
Major Frank A. Garretson, was ashore.
Almost simultaneously, two battalions of the 25th
Marines loaded into 16 LVTs landed in columns of companies on White
Beach 2. The 2d Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Lewis C. Hudson, Jr.,
was on the right; the 3d Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Chambers) was on
The units of the 24th, loaded into 24 LVTs, crossed
the line of departure3,000 yards offshoreat 0717. Ahead of
them, 30 LCIs (landing craft, infantry) and a company of the 2d Armored
Amphibian Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Reed M. Fawell,
Jr., raked the beaches with barrage rockets and automatic cannon fire.
On the 26-minute run to the beach, the troop-laden LVTs took scattered
and ineffectual rifle and machine gun fire.
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At White 1, members of a small Japanese beach
detachment, holed up in caves and crevices, resisted the landing with
intense small arms fire. But they were silenced quickly by Company E
Within an hour, the entire 1st and 2d Battalions of
the 24th were ashore on White 1, preparing to move in land. The 2d
Battalion encountered sporadic artillery, mortar, and small arms fire
during the first 200 yards of its advance. After that, Garretson later
said, the battalion had a "cake walk" for the rest of the day, gaining
1,400 yards and reaching its O-1 line objective by 1600. He occupied the
western edge of Airfield No. 3 and cut the main road linking Airfield
No. 1 with the east coast and southern Tinian. Only occasional small
arms fire was encountered before the battalion dug in for the
On Garretson's left, the 1st Battalion, commanded by
Lieutenant Colonel Otto Lessing, was slowed by heavy fires from cave
positions and patches of heavy vegetation. Flamethrower tanks were sent
up against these positions, but the Japanese held on. As a result,
Lessing pulled up late in the afternoon 400 yards short of his
objective. This left a gap between his perimeter and Garretson's. To
fill it, the regiment's 3d Battalion, waiting in reserve at the beach,
was called up.
Almost simultaneously, the 25th ran into problems.
The beach and surrounding area had been methodically seeded with mines
which neither UDT teams nor offshore gunners had been able to destroy.
It took six hours to clear them out and in the process three LVTs and a
jeep were blown up. The beach defenses also included a sprinkling of
booby traps which had to be dealt withwatches and cases of beer,
for example, all wired to explode in the hands of careless souvenir
Behind the beach, troops from Ogata's 50th
Regiment put up a vigorous defense with mortars, anti-tank and
anti-boat guns, and other automatic weapons emplaced in pillboxes,
caves, fortified ravines, and field entrenchments. Two 47mm guns in
particular kept the Marines back on their heels. They finally bypassed
these troublesome positions. Later waves took them out, leaving 50 dead
Japanese in the gunpits.
The 3d Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel
Chambers, later remembered a lot of confusion on the beach, "the
confusion you [always] get when you land, of getting the organization
together again." One of his company commanders, for example, was killed
a half-hour after landing and it took a while to get a replacement on
scene and up to speed. Then there was the problem of the mines and a
problem with artillery fire from the Japanese command post on Mount
Lasso, two-and-a-half miles away.
Tinian Defense Forces
Japanese military fortification of Tinian and other
islands in the chain had begunin violation of the League of
Nations Mandatein the 1930s. By 1944, the Tinian garrison numbered
roughly 9,000 army and navy personnel, bringing the island's total
population to nearly 25,000.
The 50th Infantry Regiment, detached from the
29th Division on Guam, was the principal fighting force. It had
been stationed near Mukden, Manchuria, from 1941 until its transfer in
March 1944 to Tinian. Many of its troops were veterans of the Manchurian
campaigns. The regiment was commanded by Colonel Kiyoshi [also spelled
"Keishi"] Ogata and consisted of three 880-man infantry battalions, a
75mm mountain artillery battalion equipped with 12 guns, engineer,
communication, and medical companies, plus a headquarters and various
specialized support units, including a company of 12 light tanks and an
anti-tank platoon. He also had a battalion of the 135th Infantry
Regiment with a strength of about 900 men. Altogether, slightly more
than 5,000 army troops were assigned to the island's defense.
The principal navy unit was the 56th Naval Guard
Force, a 1,400-man coastal defense unit, supplemented by four
construction battalions with a combined strength of 1,800 men. Other
naval units, totaling about 1,000 men, included ground elements of seven
aviation squadrons and a detachment of the 5th Base Force.
The navy personnelabout 4,200
altogetherwere under the immediate command of Captain Oichi Oya.
Both Oya and Ogata were outranked on the island by Vice Admiral Kakuji
Kakuda, commander of the 1st Air Fleet with headquarters on
Tinian. But Kakuda, as the invasion neared, had no air fleet to command.
Of the estimated 107 planes based at Tinian's air fields, 70 had been
destroyed on the ground early in June by U.S. air strikes. By the time
of the Tinian landing on 24 July, none of Kakuda's planes were
Kakuda had a bad reputation. He was, by Japanese
physical standards, a hulking figure: more than six feet tall, weighing
more than 200 pounds. "He willingly catered," Hoffman wrote, "to his
almost unquenchable thirst for liquor; he lacked the fortitude to face
the odds arrayed against him at Tinian." Historian Frank Hough called
him "a drunk and an exceedingly unpleasant one, from all accounts."
On 15 July, nine days before the invasion, Kakuda and
his headquarters group attempted to escape via rubber boats to Aguijan
Island where they hoped to rendezvous with a Japanese submarine. This
effort failed. He tried again on five successive nights with the same
results, finally abandoning the effort on 21 July. He fled with his
party from Tinian Town to a cave on Tinian's east coast where they
awaited their fate. A Japanese prisoner who described Kakuda's escape
efforts assumed he had committed suicide after the American landing, but
this was never verified. Toward the end of the battle for Tinian, one of
Kakuda's orderlies led an American patrol to the cave. The patrol was
fired upon and two Marines were wounded. A passing group of Marine
pioneers sealed the cave with demolition charges but it is unknown
whether Kakuda was inside.
Admiral Kakuda in any case took no part in directing
the Japanese resistance. For purposes of defending the island, command
of both army and navy forces was assumed by Colonel Ogata, but
co-operation between the two service branches was less than complete.
Frictions were reflected in diaries found among the Japanese documents
captured on Tinian. A soldier in the 50th Regiment's artillery
9 MarchThe Navy stays in barracks buildings and
has liberty every night with liquor to drink and makes a big row.
We, on the other hand, bivouac in the rain and never
get out on pass. What a difference in discipline!
12 JuneOur AA guns [manned by the Navy] spread
black smoke where the enemy planes weren't. Not one hit out of a
thousand shots. The Naval Air Group has taken to its heels.
15 JuneThe naval aviators are robbers . . .
When they ran off to the mountains, they stole Army provisions . . .
The defenses of Tinian were dictated by the geography
of the island. It is encircled by coral cliffs which rise from the
coastline and are a part of the limestone plateau underlying the island.
These cliffs range in height from 6 to 100 feet; breaks in the cliffline
are rare and where they occur are narrow, leaving little beach space for
an invasion force. Along the entire coastline of Tinian, only four
beaches were worthy of the name.
The largest and most suitable for use by an
amphibious force was in front of Tinian Town in Suharon Harbor. It
consisted of several wide, sandy strips. The harbor was mediocre but
provided in fair weather limited anchorage for a few ships which could
load and unload cargo at two piers available at Tinian Town.
From the beginning, Colonel Ogata assumed that this
beach would be the first choice of the Americans. Of the roughly 100
guns in fixed positions on the islandranging from 7.7mm heavy
machine guns to 6-inch British naval riflesnearly a third were
assigned to the defense of Tinian Town and its beaches and to the
airfield at Gurguan Point, two-and-a-half miles northwest of the town.
Within a two-mile radius of the town were the 2d Battalion of the
50th Infantry Regiment, 1,400 men of the 56th Naval Guard
Force, a tank company of the 18th Infantry Regiment, and the
1st Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, which had been designated
as the mobile counterattack force.
Their area of responsibility extended to Laslo Point,
the southernmost part of the island and, on the east, to Masalog Point.
It was designated the "Southern Sector" in Ogata's defense plan.
The remainder of the island was divided into
northeastern and northwestern sectors. The northeastern sector included
the Ushi Point airfields and a potential landing beach 125 yards wide
south of Asiga Point on the east coast of the island. In this sector,
between 600 and 1,000 navy personnel were stationed around the Ushi
Airfields. The 2d Battalion of the 50th Infantry Regiment,
along with an engineer group, was stationed inland of Asagi Point. The
northwestern sector contained two narrow strips of beach 1,000 yards
apart. One of them was 60 yards wide and the other about 160. They were
popular with Japanese civilians. The sand was white and the water was
swimmable. They were known locally as the White Beaches and that is what
they were called when they were chosento the great surprise of the
Japaneseas the American invasion route.
This sector was defended very modestly by a single
company of infantry, an antitank squad, and, about 500 yards northeast
of the White Beaches, gun crews situated in emplacements containing one
37mm antitank gun, one 47mm antitank gun, and two 7.7mm machine
Ogata established his command post in a cave on Mount
Lasso in the center of the northern region, roughly equidistanta
little over two milesfrom beaches on either side of the
He issued on 25 June an operation order saying "the
enemy on Saipan can be expected to be planning a landing on Tinian. The
area of that landing is estimated to be either Tinian Harbor or Asiga
Harbor [on the northeast coast]." Three days later he followed up with a
"Defense Force Battle Plan" which outlined only two contingencies:
(A) In the event the enemy lands at Tinian
(B) In the event the enemy lands at Asiga Bay.
On 7 July Ogata issued a "Plan for the Guidance of
Battle" ordering his men to be prepared not only for landings at Tinian
Town and Asiga Bay, but also for a counterattack in the event the
Americans were to invade across the White Beaches.
In each of the three sectors, according to his battle
plan, commanders were to be prepared to "destroy the enemy at the beach,
but [also] be prepared to shift two-thirds of the force elsewhere." His
reserve force was to "maintain fortified positions, counter-attack
points [and] maintain anti-aircraft observation and fire in its area."
The "Mobile Counterattack Force" must "advance rapidly to the place of
landings, depending on the situation and attack." In the event of
successful landings his forces would "counterattack to the water and . .
. destroy the enemy on beaches with one blow, especially where time
prevents quick movement of forces within the island." If things were to
go badly, "we will gradually fall back on our prepared positions in the
southern part of the island and defend them to the last man."
Some of these orders were contradictory and others
were impossible of execution. But despite the odds against
thembereft of air or sea support and confronted by three heavily
armed divisions only three miles away on Saipanthe fighting spirit
of the Japanese forces had not been broken by 43 days of the heaviest
bombardment, up to then, of the Pacific war. One of the men of the
50th Infantry Regiment wrote in his diary on 30 June: "We have
spent twenty days under unceasing enemy bombardment and air raids but
have suffered only minor losses. Everyone from the Commanding Officer to
the lowest private is full of fighting spirit." His entry for 19 July,
five days before the American landings, was upbeat: "How exalted are the
gallant figures of the Force Commander, the Battalion Commander, and
their subordinates, who have endured the violent artillery and air
By late afternoon, Chambers' battalion had reached
its objective 1,500 yards inland in the center of the line and had tied
in on its left flank with Garretson of the 24th. The other battalions of
the 25th came up short of their O-1 line, creating before sun down a
crescent-shaped beachhead 3,000 yards wide at the shoreline and bulging
inland to a maximum depth of 1,500 yards.
The day's greatest confusion surrounded the landing
of the 23d Marines. The regiment had been held on LSTs (landing ships,
tank) in division reserve during the landing of the 24th and 25th. At
0730, the troops were ordered below to board LVTs parked cheek to jowl
on the tank decks. Their engines were running, spewing forth carbon
monoxide. Experience had shown that troops cooped up under these
conditions for more than 30 minutes would develop severe headaches,
become nauseous, and begin vomiting.
To avoid that problem and in the absence of a launch
order, the regimental commander, Colonel Louis R. Jones, soon unloaded
his men and sent them topside. They returned to the tank decks at 1030
when an order to load and launch finally was received. The regiment
debarked and eventually got ashore beginning at 1400 despite an
incredible series of communication breakdowns in which Jones at crucial
times was out of touch with the division and his battalions.
In addition to botched radio communications, Jones
was stuck in an LVT with a bad engine; it took him seven hours to get
ashore with his staff, leading to a division complaint about the
tardiness of his regiment. The division noted that "fortunately no
serious harm was done by [the] delay," but at the end of the operation
Jones left the division. He was promoted to brigadier general and
assigned as assistant division commander of the 1st Marine Division for
the Okinawa landings.
A similar muck-up occurred involving the 2d Marine
Division. After the feint at Tinian Town, the division sailed north and
lay offshore of the White Beaches through the day. At 1515, the landing
force commander, Major General Harry Schmidt, ordered a battalion from
the 8th Marines to land at White Beach to back up the 24th Marines.
Schmidt wanted the battalion ashore at 1600. Because of communication
and transport confusion the deadline was missed. It was 2000 when the
unit entered in its log ". . . dug in in assigned position."
On the other hand, the big things had gone well in
the morning and afternoon. By the standards of Tarawa and Saipan,
casualties were light15 dead, 225 wounded. The body count for the
Japanese was 438. Despite drizzling rain, narrow beaches, and
undiscovered mines, 15,600 troops were put ashore along with great
quantities of material and equipment that included four battalions of
artillery, two dozen half-tracks mounting 75mm guns, and 48 medium and
15 flame-throwing tanks which found the Tinian terrain hospitable for
tank operations. The tanks had gotten into action early that morning,
leading the 24th in tank-infantry attacks. They also had come to the aid
of the 23d Marines as that regiment moved inland to take over the
division's right flank. The beachhead itself was of respectable size,
despite the failure of some units to reach their first-day objectives.
It extended inland nearly a mile and embraced defensible territory. On
the whole, it had not been a bad day's work.