LIBERATION: Marines in the Recapture of Guam
by Cyril J. O'Brien
The 22d Marines had driven up the coast from Agat in
a series of hard-fought clashes with stubborn enemy defenders. The 4th
Marines had swept up the slopes of Mount Alifan and secured the high
ground overlooking the beachhead. By the 25th, the brigade was in line
across the mouth of Orote Peninsula facing a formidable defensive line
in depth, anchored in swamps and low hillocks, concealed by heavy
undergrowth, and bristling with automatic weapons.
Sherman mediums from the 3d Tank Battalion lumber up the long incline
from the Asan beachhead towards the scene of battle around Fonte and
X-Ray Ridges. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 93640
The 77th Infantry Division had taken over the rest of
the southern beachhead, relieving the 4th Marines of its patrolling
duties to the south and in the hills to the east. The division's
artillery and a good part of the III Corps' big guns hammered the
Japanese on Orote without letup. Just in case of enemy air attack, the
beach defenses from Agat to Bangi Point were manned by the 9th Defense
Battalion. There were not too many Japanese planes in the sky, and so
the antiaircraft artillerymen could concentrate on firing across the
water into the southern flank of the enemy's Orote positions. On Cabras
Island, the 14th Defense Battalion moved into position where it could
equally provide direct flanking fire on the peninsula's northern coast
and stand ready to elevate its guns to fire at enemy planes in the skies
The 5,000 Japanese defenders on Orote took part in
General Takashina's all-out counterattack and it began in the early
morning hours of 26 July. The attackers stormed vigorously out of the
concealing mangrove swamp and the response was just as spirited. Here,
as in the north, there was evidence that some of the attackers had
fortified themselves with sake and there were senseless actions
by officers who attacked the Marine tanks armed only with their
samurai swords. There were deadly and professional attacks as
well, with Marines bayoneted in their foxholes. There was one attendant
communications breakdown obliging Captain Robert Frank, commanding
officer of Company L, 22d Marines, to remain on the front relaying
artillery spots to the regimental S-2 and thence to brigade
War Dogs on Guam
In the late summer of 1942, the Marine Corps decided
to experiment with the use of dogs in war, which may have been a new
departure for the Corps, but not a new idea in warfare. Since ancient
times, dogs have served fighting men in various ways. The Romans, for
instance, used heavy mastiffs with armored collars to attack the legs of
their enemies, thus forcing them to lower their shields.
On Guam, First Lieutenant William R. Putney commanded
the 1st Dog Platoon and was the veterinarian for all war dogs on Guam.
First Lieutenant William T. Taylor commanded the 2d Platoon. Both landed
on the Asan-Adelup beach on Guam, while the 1st Platoon under Gunnery
Sergeant L. C. Christmore landed with the 1st Provisional Brigade at
Sixty dogs, 90 handlers, 10 NCO assistants, two war
dog corpsmen, and three kennelmen were distributed among the regimental
and division headquarters of the 3d Marine Division. Lieutenant Putney
commanded the 36 handlers and 24 dogs out of division headquarters.
Overall, some 350 war dogs served in the Guam operation.
Handlers were trained dog specialists and skilled
scouts as well. Man and dog searched out the enemy, awaited his coming,
and caught him by surprise around the Marine perimeter or while on
patrol. In addition, they found snipers, routed stragglers, searched out
caves and pillboxes, ran messages, and protected the Marines' foxholes
as they would private homes. The dogs ate, slept, walked, and otherwise
lived with their masters.
The presence of dogs on the line could promise the
Marines there a night's sleep, for they alerted their handlers when the
enemy came near.
Early on in the Guam operations, some dogs were
wounded or killed by machine gun and rifle fire, and incoming mortars
were as devastating to the dogs as they were to the Marines. When the
dogs were wounded, the Marines made a point of getting them to the rear,
to the veterinarian, as quickly as possible. In the liberation of Guam,
20 dogs were wounded and 25 killed.
From the end of the campaign to the end of the war in
the Pacific, Guam served as a staging area for war dogs, of which 465
served in combat operations. Of the Marine Corps war dogs, 85 percent
were Doberman Pinschers, and the rest mainly German Shepherds.
At the end of the Pacific War, the Marine Corps had
510 war dogs. Of this number, 491 were deprogrammed, a process that
could take a year, and returned to their owners, given to their
handlers, or returned to the Army, which had provided 41 to the Corps.
Only four dogs could not be returned to their masters because, even
after extensive retraining, they proved "incorrigible" and were
considered to be unsafe for civilian life.
The artillery response was intense and effective.
The fire was "drawn in closer and closer toward our front lines; 26,000
shells were thrown into the pocket [of attackers ] between midnight and
3 a.m." The screaming attacks came at 1230, then again at 0130, and at
0300. At daylight the muddy ground in front of the Marine positions was
slick with blood. More than 400 Japanese bodies were sprawled in the
General Shepherd, secure in the knowledge that his
frontline troops, 4th Marines on the left, 22d Marines on the right, had
withstood the night's banzai attacks in good order, directed an
attack to be launched at 0730. But first there would be another
artillery preparation. At daybreak it opened with the 77th Infantry
Division's 105s and 155s, the brigade's 75s, the defense battalions 90s,
and whatever guns the 12th Marines could spare. It was one of the more
intense preparations of the campaign. Major Charles L. Davis, S-3 of
77th Division Artillery, recalled how, on the request of General
Shepherd, he had turned the heavy 155mm battalion and two 105mm
battalions around to face Orote to soften the Japanese positions. The
155s and 105s battered well-prepared positions, and ripped the covering,
protection, and camouflage from bunkers and trenches. Pieces of men soon
hung in trees. Marines saw that this fire counted and made it a point to
return to congratulate and thank the 77th's artillery section
Stretchers for wounded Marines lie scattered among the bodies of
Japanese dead in the wake of the attack on the 3d Division hospital the
evening of 25-26 July. Doctors, corpsmen, and wounded Marines joined in
the fight to repulse the enemy.
The advance, when it came, only went 100 yards before
it was addressed by a blistering front of machine gun and small arms
fire. Enemy artillery fire came falling almost simultaneously with the
cessation of American support, leaving the Marines to think the fire was
from their own guns, a favorite Japanese ruse. For a moment there, the
Japanese return fire on the 22d Marines disorganized its forward move.
It was about 0815 before the attack was on again in full force,
spearheaded by Marine and Army tanks.
Immediately to the front of the 22d Marines was the
infernal mangrove swamp from where the banzai attack had been
mounted the night before. It was still manned heavily by Japanese, was
dense, and the only means of penetrating it was by a 200-yard-long
corridor along the regimental boundary which was covered by Japanese
enfilade fire and could only be navigated with the cover of tanks. The
armor gunners and commanders directed their fire just over the head of
prone Marines and into the gunports of enemy pillboxes. By 1245, Colonel
Schneider's regiment had worked its way through all bottlenecks past the
mangrove swamps, destroying bunkers with demolitions and flamethrowers.
The 4th's assault battalions kept pace with this advance, finding
somewhat easier terrain but just as determined defenders. By evening the
brigade had advanced 1,500 yards from its jump-off line. Both regiments,
weary, wary, and waiting, dug in with an all-around defense.
Again, there was a heavy pre-attack barrage on the
27th and the Marines were stopped again before they'd gone 100 yards.
The 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, facing a well-defended ridge, a coconut
grove, and a sinister clearing, was nearing the sentimental and
tactically important goals of the old Marine barracks, its rifle range,
and the runways of Orote airfield. With heavy tank support, the 22d
Marines surged forward past the initial obstacles and by afternoon had
reached positions well beyond the morning's battles. On the left of the
4th Marines, where resistance was lighter, the assault was led by tanks
that beat down the brush. While inspecting positions there, Lieutenant
Colonel Samuel D. Puller, the 4th's executive officer and brother of
famed Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, was killed by a
By mid-afternoon, the 4th Marines' assault elements
broke out of the grove just short of the rifle range, only to stall in a
new complex at dug-in defenses and minefields. Strangely, and yet not
unusual in the climax of a losing engagement, a Japanese officer emerged
to brandish his sword at a tank. It was easier than ritual suicide.
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The horror of the American guns again must have been
too much for the Japanese defending the immediate front. Surprisingly,
they just cut and ran from their strong, well-defended positions. The
elated Marines, who did not care why the enemy ranjust that they
rannow dug in only 300 yards from the prized targets. Their
capture would wait for tomorrow, 28 July. The Japanese were now squeezed
into the last quadrant of the peninsula. All of their strongly
entrenched defenses had failed to hold. The Orote airfield, the old
Marine barracks, the old parade ground which had not felt an American
boot since 10 December 1941, were all about to be retrieved. General
Shepherd sounded a great reveille on 28 July for what was left of the
Japanese naval defenders: a 45-minute air strike and a 30-minute naval
gunfire bombardment, joined by whatever guns the 77th Division, brigade,
and antiaircraft battalions could muster. At 0830 the brigade would
attack for Orote airfield.
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Colonel Schneider's 22d Marines would take the
barracks and Sumay and Colonel Shapley's 4th Marines would take the
airfield and the rifle range. Japanese artillery and mortar fire had
diminished, but small arms and machine guns still spoke intensely when
the Marines attacked. At this bitter end, the Japanese were evoking a
last-ditch stubbornness. American tanks were called up but most had
problems with visibility and control. Wherever the thick scrub brush
concealed the enemy, Major John S. Messers' 2d Battalion, 4th Marines
called for increased tank support when one of his companies began taking
heavy casualties. In response to General Shepherd's request, General
Bruce sent forward a platoon of Army tank destroyers and a platoon of
light tanks to beef up the attack.
General Shepherd wanted the battle over now. He
ordered a massive infantry and tank attack which kicked off at 1530 on
the 28th. The Japanese did not intend to oblige this time by quitting;
this was do or die. By nightfall all objectives were in plain sight, but
there were still a few hundred yards to be gained. The Marines stood
fast for the night, hoping the Japanese would sacrifice themselves in
counterattack, but no such luck occurred.
When the attack resumed on the 29th, after the usual
Army and Marine artillery preparation and an awesomely heavy air strike,
Army and Marine tanks led the way onto the airfield. Resistance was
meager. By early afternoon, the airfield was secured and the 22d Marines
had occupied what was left of the old Marine barracks. A bronze plaque,
which had long been mounted at the entrance to the barracks, was
recovered and held for reinstallation at a future date.
The Japanese found this latest advance difficult to
accept. Suicides were many and random. Soldiers jumped off cliffs,
hugged exploding grenades, even cut their own throats.
Private First Class George F. Eftang, with the 4th
Marines' supporting pack howitzer battalion, saw the suicides: "I could
see the Japanese jumping to their deaths. I actually felt sorry for
them. I knew they had families and sweethearts like anyone else."
While the embattled peninsula still swarmed with
patrols, Admiral Spruance; Generals Smith, Geiger, Larsen (the future
island commander), and Shepherd; Colonels Shapley and Schneider, and
others who could be spared, arrived for a ceremonial flag raising and
heartfelt tribute to an old barracks and those Marines who had made it
home. General Shepherd called it hallowed ground and told the
distinguished assemblage, which included a hastily cleaned-up honor
guard of brigade troops: "you have avenged the loss of our comrades who
were overcome by a numerically superior force three days after Pearl
Harbor. Under our flag this island again stands ready to fulfill its
destiny as an American fortress in the Pacific."
Many of the Marines standing at attention, watching
the historic ceremony, could only thank God that they were still alive.
At the end of this ceremony, engineers moved onto the airfield to clear
away debris and fill the many shell and bomb holes.
Only six hours after the first bulldozer clanked onto
the runways, a Navy torpedo bomber made an emergency landing. Soon the
light artillery spotting planes were regularly flying from them.
The capture of Orote Peninsula had cost the brigade
115 men killed, 721 wounded, and 38 missing in action. The enemy toll of
counted dead was 1,633. It was obvious that on Orote as at Fonte, there
were many Japanese still unaccounted for and presumably ready still to
fight to prevent the island's capture.