Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
The Landing Force: Who, Where, When
Jig Day: Feint and Landing
The Landing
The Drive South
Final Days
Gen. Clifton B. Cates
PFC Robert Lee Wilson
Pvt. Joseph W. Ozbourn
Special Subjects
Selection of White Beach
Napalm: Something New in the Arsenal
Tinian Defense Forces
Preparatory Strikes
Aerial Reconnaissance and Photography

A CLOSE ENCOUNTER: The Marine Landing on Tinian
by Richard Harwood

Final Days

The Japanese were now cornered in a small area of southeastern Tinian. The Marines "had advanced so rapidly that only four square miles of the island remained for safe firing by ships not supporting battalions [i.e., not with shore spotters]," according to a report on 30 July by Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, commander of the Northern Attack Force.

The Marine commander for the operation, Major General Schmidt, saw the end in sight and late on the afternoon of 30 July issued an operations order calling on the divisions to drive all the way to the southeast coastline, seize all territory remaining in enemy hands and "annihilate the opposing Japanese."

This was not a trifling assignment; it produced the heaviest fighting since the counterattack on the night of Jig Day. A Japanese warrant officer captured on 29 July estimated that 500 troops of the 56th Naval Guard Force and from 1,700 to 1,800 troops of the 50th Infantry Regiment remained in the southeastern area in a battle ready condition. American intelligence estimates on 29 July, based on daily reports from the divisions, reckoned that 3,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors had been killed or taken prisoner up to that point. If that was the case, two-thirds of the nearly 9,000 Japanese defenders were still alive on the island.

Navy corpsmen
As a Navy corpsman administers a bottle of plasma to a wounded Marine, the stretcher bearers wait patiently to carry him on board a landing craft which will evacuate him to a hospital ship offshore, where he will be given full treatment. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87434

The terrain occupied by the Japanese main force was rugged, difficult to reach or traverse and well-suited for defense. Outside of Tinian Town the gentle landscape ended, with the ground rising to a high plateau 5,000 yards long and 2,000 yards wide, with altitudes higher than 500 feet. The plateau was rocky and covered with thick brush. There were many caves. Along the east coast, the cliff walls rose steeply and appeared impossible to scale. The approaches to the plateau were blocked by many cliffs of this sort as well as by jungle growth. A road in the center of the plateau, leading to its top, was reported by a prisoner to be mined. The plateau was the enemy's last redoubt.

It became the object of the most intense bombardments any Japanese force had yet experienced to date in World War II. Marine artillery regiments on the island and the XXIV Corps Artillery on southern Saipan fired throughout the night of 30-31 July on the wooded clifflines the Marines would face during their assault. At 0600, the battleships Tennessee and California, the heavy cruiser Louisville, and the light cruisers Montpelier and Birmingham began the first of two sustained bombardments that morning. They fired for 75 minutes, then halted to allow a 40-minute strike on the plateau by 126 P-47s, North American Mitchell B-25 bombers, and Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers from the escort carrier Kitkun Bay. The planes dropped 69 tons of explosives before the off shore gunfire resumed for another 35 minutes. All told, the battleships and cruisers fired approximately 615 tons of shells at their targets. Artillerymen of the 10th Marines fired about 5,000 rounds during the night; 14th Marines gunners fired 2,000. The effect, one prisoner said, was "almost unbearable."

As you faced south on that morning, the regimental alignments from west coast to east coast were the 24th, 23d, 8th, 6th and 2d Marines. The task of the 24th was to clear out the western coastal area, with one battalion assigned to seizure of the plateau. The 2d Marines was to seal off the east coast at the base of the plateau. The 6th, 8th, and 23d Marines would assault the cliff areas and make their way to the top of the plateau.

burial ceremony
Some badly wounded casualties died of their severe injuries after having been evacuated from Tinian. Those who succumbed to their wounds were buried at sea. Marine Corps Historical Collection

The 24th, jumping off with the 23d at 0830, moved into the coastal plain and immediately encountered brush and undergrowth so dense that tank operations were severely hampered. As compensation, armored amphibians lying offshore provided heavy fires against enemy beach positions and covered the regiment's right flank as it made its way down the coast. A platoon-size Japanese beach unit launched a foolish counterattack on the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines at about 1000. The Japanese were annihilated. Later, flame-throwing tanks burned off brush and undergrowth concealing Japanese riflemen.

Japanese prisoners
Two Marines escort two apparently healthy, hearty, and willing Japanese prisoners to be turned in at the POW stockade in the rear of the fighting. Most of the prisoners taken on Tinian, however, were civilian workers rather than military men. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 91365

Tank-infantry tactics perfected in prior operations proved successful on Tinian as well. The riflemen served as the eyes of the armored vehicle and would direct the tank crewmen over a telephone mounted in a box on the rear of the tank. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 152074

On the regiment's left flank, the 3d Battalion was in assault at the base of the plateau. It encountered minimal opposition until about 1600 when it began to receive rifle and machine gun fire from cliff positions. Tanks were called on but soon found themselves mired in a minefield and were held up for several hours while engineers cleared 45 mines from the area.

The 1st Battalion, 23d Marines, encountered similar troubles. As the regiment approached the plateau, it ran into dense small arms fire from two positions—a small village at the base of the cliff and from the cliff face itself. It also began receiving fire from a "large-caliber weapon." Lacking tank support the Marines pressed forward, running a few yards, diving on their bellies, getting up, and advancing again. Medium tanks finally came up in search of this elusive and well-concealed weapon. One of them took six quick hits from the concealed position of this Japanese gun. A second tank was hit but in the process the enemy position was discovered: a camouflaged, concrete bunker housing a 47mm antitank gun and 20 troops, all of whom were killed.

The 2d Battalion of the 23d had similar difficulties. After coming under fire from riflemen and machine gunners, one of its supporting tanks was disabled by a mine. After its crew was taken to safety by another tank, the disabled vehicle was seized by the Japanese and used as an armored machine gun nest. Other tanks soon took it out. The 23d also lost that day two 37mm guns and a one-ton truck belonging to the regiment's half-track platoon. The guns and the vehicle got too far out front, came under heavy fire and were abandoned. A detail from the platoon later retrieved one of the guns, removed the breech block from the other one and brought back the .50-caliber machine gun from its mounting on the truck.

Cates, Hart, Roberts
MajGen Clifton B. Cates, center, visits the command post of 24th Marines commander Col Franklin A. Hart. On the left is LtCol Charles D. Roberts, S-3 of the 24th Marines. Gen Cates would become the 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 143760

remnants of Tinian Town
Tinian Town was made a shambles because U.S. commanders knew that the enemy was well emplaced, dug in, and expected landings on the beaches fronting the town. As a result, they directed a large share of the pre-Jig Day bombardment into the waterfront and surrounding area, thereby reinforcing Japanese beliefs that this is where the Marines would land. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Late in the afternoon, the 1st Battalion, 23d Marines, and a company from the 2d Battalion gained a foothold on top of the plateau; the 3d Battalion soon followed. To their left, the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, shrugged off small arms fire early in the day and reached the base of the cliff where it stalled for the night. The 1st Battalion had better luck. Company A made it to the top of the plateau at 1650, followed by a platoon from Company C. Soon after, the whole battalion was atop the hill. It was followed by Companies E and G of the 2d Battalion.

The Company G commander was Captain Carl W. Hoffman, who later wrote the definitive histories of the Saipan and Tinian campaigns. In an oral history interview, he described his own experiences on top of the plateau the night of 31 July:

By the time we got up there . . . there wasn't enough daylight left to get ourselves properly barbed-wired in, to get our fields of fire established, to site our interlocking bands of machine gun fire—all the things that should be done in preparing a good defense.

By dusk, the enemy commenced a series of probing attacks. Some Japanese intruded into our positions. It was a completely black night. So, with Japanese moving around in our positions, our troops became very edgy and were challenging everybody in sight. We didn't have any unfortunate incidents of Marines firing on Marines . . . [because they] were well-seasoned by this point . . . .

As the night wore on, the intensity of enemy attacks started to build and build and build. They finally launched a full scale banzai attack against [our] battalion . . . . The strange thing the Japanese did here was that they executed one wave of attack after another against a 37mm position firing cannister ammunition . . . .

That gun just stacked up dead Japanese . . . As soon as one Marine gunner would drop another would take his place. [Eight of 10 men who manned the gun were killed or wounded]. Soon we were nearly shoulder-high with dead Japanese in front of that weapon . . . . By morning we had defeated the enemy. Around us were lots of dead ones, hundreds of them as a matter of fact. From then on . . . we were able to finish the rest of the campaign without difficulty . . . . People have often said that the Tinian campaign was the easiest campaign . . . in the Pacific . . . .

For those Marines who were in that 37mm position up on the escarpment, Tinian had to be the busiest campaign within the Pacific war.

Shinto shrine
A lone member of the 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division patrolling through the outskirts of Tinian Town, pauses at a torii of a Shinto shrine. The ruins about him give proof of the heavy shelling visited upon the town before the landing. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Hoffman had another lively experience before leaving the island. He was a trumpet addict and carried his horn with him all through the Pacific war:

For Tinian, I didn't take any chances such as sending my horn ashore in a machine gun cart or a battalion ambulance. I had it flown over to me. One evening, my troops were in a little perimeter with barbed wire all around us on top of the cliff. My Marines were shouting in requests: "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" and "Pretty Baby" and others. While I was playing these tunes, all of a sudden we heard this scream of "banzai.' An individual Japanese soldier was charging right toward me and right toward the barbed wire. The Marines had their weapons ready and he must have been hit from 14 different directions at once. He didn't get to throw [his] grenade. ... I've always cited him as the individual who didn't like my music. He was no supporter of my trumpet playing. But . . . I even continued my little concert after we had accounted for him.

A final banzai attack on the night the 37mm guns had their big harvest, occurred in the early morning hours of 1 August. A 150-man Japanese force attacked the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, on Hoffman's left flank. After 30 minutes, the main thrust of the attack was spent and at dawn the Japanese withdrew; 100 bodies lay in an area 70 yards square in front of the position of Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines. The 8th Marines took 74 casualties that night. The following morning the two divisions went back to work. The 2d moved across the plateau toward its eastern cliffs, the 4th toward cliffs on the south and west. When they reached the escarpment's edge, overlooking the ocean, their job was essentially done. At 1855, General Schmidt declared the island "secure," meaning that organized resistance had ended. But not the killing. Hundreds of Japanese troops remained holed up in the caves pockmocking the southern cliffs rising up from the ocean.

On the morning of 2 August, a Japanese force of 200 men sallied forth in an attack on the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines. After two hours of combat, 119 Japanese were dead. Marine losses included the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Easley. Shortly afterwords, the regiment's 2d Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Edmund B. Games, was hit by 100 Japanese, 30 of whom were killed before the unit withdrew.

Contacts of this kind continued for months. By the end of the year, Colonel Clarence R. Wallace's 8th Marines, left on Tinian for mopping up operations, had lost 38 killed and 125 wounded; Japanese losses were 500 dead.

Beginning on 1 August, there were large-scale surrenders by civilians leaving the caves in which they had taken refuge. Marine intelligence officers estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 civilians had been hiding out in the southeast sector.

Marine Major General James L. Underhill, who took command of the island as military governor on 10 August, became responsible for the care and feeding of these civilians. The flow of civilian refugees began on August 1, he recalled:

About 500 came through immediately, the next day about 800, then a thousand and then two thousand and so on in increasing numbers until about 8,000 were in. The remaining 3,000 hid out in caves and dribbled in over a period of months. About 30 percent adult males, 20 percent adult females, and about 50 percent children. Many of them were in bad shape—hungry, wounded, ill and with few possessions beyond the clothes they were wearing.

Marines ascending cliff
This cliff was a formidable obstacle to movement on 31 July. Cutting practically across the entire island, it provided problems for both divisions. Here, 2d Division Marines climb the rockly slopes toward the flat plateau on top. The 1st and 2d Battalions, 8th Marines, spent a busy night (31 July-1 August) of the operating holding a road that curled up this slope. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87898

Marine atop cliff
The end of the battle is in sight as troops of the 24th Marines and tanks of the 4th Tank Battalion comb across the coastal plateau at Tinian's extreme southern end. The 23d Marines, whose zone ended at the top of the steep cliff seen in this picture, had to retrace its steps in order to reach the lowlands. Aguijan Island may be seen dimly in the misty background. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 94350

75mm pack howitzer
This 75mm pack howitzer, nicknamed "Miss Connie," is firing into a Japanese-held cave from the brink of a sheer cliff in southern Tinian. The gun was locked securely in this unusual position after parts were hand-carried to the cliff's edge. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 94660

It was estimated that about 4,000 civilians were killed in the bombardments of Tinian and in fighting on the island. On Saipan, Marines had been helpless to prevent mass suicides among the civilian population. They were more successful at Tinian. Unfortunate incidents occurred— civilians, for example, dying under Marine fire after wandering into the lines at night.

There were also suicides and ritual murders, as indicated in a report from the 23d Marines on 3 August:

Several freak incidents occurred during the day: (1) Jap children thrown [by their parents] over cliff into ocean; (2) [Japanese] military grouped civilians in numbers of 15 to 20 and attached explosive charges to them, blowing them to bits; (3) Both military and civilians lined up on the cliff and hurled themselves into the ocean; (4) Many civilians pushed over cliff by [Japanese] soldiers.

Efforts to prevent incidents of this kind were generally successful. Marines used amplifiers on land and off shore to promise good treatment to civilians and soldiers who would surrender peacefully. "Thousands of civilians," Hoffman wrote, "many clad in colorful Japanese silk, responded to the promises—though it was plain from the expressions on their faces that they expected the worst."

Medal of Honor Recipients

Private First Class Robert Lee Wilson's Medal of Honor citation reads as follows: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces at Tinian Island, Marianas Group, on 4 August 1944. As one of a group of Marines advancing through heavy underbrush to neutralize isolated points of resistance, Private First Class Willson daringly preceded his companions toward a pile of rocks where Japanese troops were supposed to be hiding. Fully aware of the danger involved, he was moving forward while the remainder of the squad, armed with automatic rifles, closed together in the rear when an enemy granade landed in the midst of the group. Quick to act, Private First Class Wilson cried a warning to the men and unhesitatingly threw himself on the grenade, heroically sacrificing his own life that the others might live and fulfill their mission. His exceptional valor, his courageous loyalty and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave peril reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class Wilson and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Private First Class Robert Lee Wilson

Private Joseph W. Ozbourn's Medal of Honor citation reads as follows: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty as a Browning Automatic Rifleman serving with the First Battalion, Twenty-third Marines, Fourth Marine Division, during the battle for enemy Japanese-held Tinian Island, Marianas Islands, 30 July 1944. As a member of a platoon assigned the mission of clearing the remaining Japanese troops from dugouts and pillboxes along a tree line, Private Ozbourn, flanked by two men on either side, was moving forward to throw an armed hand grenade into a dugout when a terrific blast from the entrance severely wounded the four men and himself. Unable to throw the grenade into the dugout and with no place to hurl it without endangering the other men, Private Ozbourn unhesitatingly grasped it close to his body and fell upon it, sacrificing his own life to absorb the full impact of the explosion, but saving his comrades. His great personal valor and unwavering loyalty reflect the highest credit upon Private Ozbourn and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Private Joseph W. Ozbourn

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division