Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
D+1-D+2, 16-17 June
D+3, 18 June
D+4-D+7, 19-22 June
D+8-D+15, 23-30 June
D+16-D+19, 1-4 July
D+20-D+23, 5-8 July
D+24, 9 July
Saipan's Legacy
Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith
Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt
Maj. Gen. Thomas E. Watson
PFC Harold Christ Agerholm
PFC Harold Glenn Epperson
Sgt. Grant Frederick Timmerman
GySgt Robert H. McCard
Special Subjects
The 2d Marine Division
The 4th Marine Division
The Army 27th Infantry Division
Divisional Reorganiation
Ground Command List
Marine Artillery Regiments
Navy Chaplains

by Captain John C. Chapin
U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Ret)

D+8—D+15, 23-30 June

Complications of a serious nature arose in the execution of the battle plan for 23 June. The battalion of the 105th Infantry still had not cleaned out Nafutan Point; there were semantic and communications differences between the two Smith generals as to orders about who would do what and when; the 106th and 165th Infantry got all tangled up in themselves during a march to take over the center portion of the American lines and were too late to jump off in the attack, thus delaying the attacks of the Marines. When the Army regiments did move out, they found that the rugged terrain in their sector and the determined enemy in camouflaged weapons positions in caves of the steep slope leading up to Mount Tapotchau made forward progress slow and difficult. The 27th Infantry Division was stalled.

The corps commander, Holland Smith, was very displeased with this situation. It had started with the difficulties experienced in getting that division ashore; it was exacerbated by the time it was taking to secure Nafutan Point and the mix-up in orders there; now the advancing Marine divisions were getting infiltration and enfilading fire on their flanks because of the 27th's lack of progress.

Accordingly, Lieutenant General Holland Smith met that afternoon with Major General Sanderford Jarman, USA, who was slated to be the island garrison commander, and asked him to press Major General Ralph Smith for much more aggressive action by the 27th. Jarman later stated:

I talked to General (Ralph) Smith and explained the situation as I saw it and that I felt from reports from the corps commander that his division was not carrying its full share. He immediately replied that such was true; that he was in no way satisfied with what his regimental commanders had done during the day and that he had been with them and had pointed out to them the situation. He further indicated to me that he was going to be present tomorrow, 24 June, with his division when it made its jump-off and he would personally see to it that the division went forward .... He appreciated the situation and thanked me for coming to see him and stated that if he didn't take his division forward tomorrow he should be relieved.

This blunt meeting was followed the next morning (D+9) by an even blunter message from Holland Smith to Ralph Smith:

Commanding General is highly displeased with the failure of the 27th Division on June twenty-third to launch its attack as ordered at King hour and the lack of offensive action displayed by the division in its failure to advance and seize objective O-5 when opposed by only small arms and mortar fire.

The failure of the 27th to advance in its zone of action resulted in the halting of attacks by the 4th and 2d Marine Divisions on the flanks of the 27th in order to prevent dangerous exposure of their interior flanks. It is directed that immediate steps be taken to cause the 27th Division to advance and seize the objectives as ordered.

These objectives were given dramatic names by the Army regiments: Hell's Pocket, Death Valley, and Purple Heart Ridge. It was certainly true that the terrain was perfect for the dug-in Japanese defenders: visibility from the slopes of Mount Tapotchau and from the ridge gave them fields of fire to rake any attack up the valley. Holland Smith didn't fully recognize the severity of the opposition, and, by the end of the day, the 106th Infantry had gained little, while the 165th Infantry had been "thrown back onto the original line of departure."

Meanwhile, the 2d Marine Division on the left was painfully slugging its way forward in the tortuous environs around Mount Tapotchau. The 4th Marine Division (on the right) pivoted east, driving fast into the Kagman Peninsula. There the ground was level, a plus, but covered with cane fields, a big minus, as the rifle companies well knew.

Edson, Riseley, McLeod
From left, BGen Merritt A. Edson, Assistant Division Commander of the 2d Marine Division, confers with Col James P. Riseley and LtCol Kenneth F. McLeod, 6th Marines commander and executive officer, respectively, during a pause in the action. LtCol McLeod was killed several days after this photograph. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82481

A platoon leader remarked:

The terrain here consisted of countless cane fields—one after another. And it was the same old story: in every field the company would lose a man or two. It was wonderfully quieting to the nerves to start into a growth of head-high cane, and wonder who would not be coming out on the other side! The Jap snipers who were doing the damage were dug in so deeply, and camouflaged so well, that it was impossible to locate them before they fired. And then it was too late; you were right on top of them, and they had nailed another one of your men — or maybe you! Then there was always that next cane field up ahead....

Some of the fields had been burnt out by the napalm-bombing of our planes. This gave us greatly increased observation as we went through them, but clouds of choking dust arose from the ashes to plague us and dirty our weapons. With water so scarce, one of our chief sources of liquid sustenance was sugar cane juice. We'd whack off a segment of the cane with our combat knives, then chew and suck on it till only the dry fibers were left. In these burnt-out fields we weren't even able to do this, as the cane was spoiled and tasted lousy.

Along with the death toll in the cane fields came the physical demands placed on the troops by the hot tropical climate. Lieutenant Chapin noted small, human issues that loomed large in the minds of the assault troops:

All this time the sun was broiling down on top of us. Our canteens had been empty for hours. Everyone was absolutely parched.... Finally we did stop, as the effects of heat exhaustion and lack of water started to become apparent. [Our company commander] arranged for some water to be brought up to our position. When the cans arrived, everyone crowded thirstily around, and we had to order the men to disperse... . Then each platoon leader rationed out a can of the precious liquid amongst his men. As was the age-old Marine tradition, we waited till all our men had their share before we took ours. The water was luke warm, rusty, and oily as it came out of the cans, but it still tasted like nectar!

While these local events transpired on the front lines, a major upheaval was taking place in the rear. Seeing that the corps line would be bent back some 1,500 yards in the zone of the 27th Infantry Division, Holland Smith had had enough. He went to see Admirals Spruance and Turner to obtain permission to relieve Ralph Smith of command of his division.

This Marine is demonstrating the dimensions of a large enemy gun emplacement and undoubtedly giving thanks that the Japanese were not able to complete construction. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85336

As the fighting reached the interior of Saipan, the troops encountered difficult foliage and terrain which impeded their movement. Note the tops of the helmets of Marines peering from their foxholes. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 81845

After reviewing the Marine general's deeply felt criticism of the 27th Infantry Division's "defective performance," the admirals agreed to the requested change, and Ralph Smith was superseded by Major General Jarman on 24 June.

A furor arose, with bitter inter service recriminations, and the flames were fanned by lurid press reports. Holland Smith summarized his feelings three days after the relief. According to a unit his tory, The 27th Infantry Division in World War II, he stated, "The 27th Division won't fight, and Ralph Smith will not make them fight." Army generals were furious, and in Hawaii, Lieutenant General Robert Richardson, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific (USARPAC) convened an Army board of inquiry over the matter. The issue reached to the highest military levels in Washington.

While the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney, reviewed the matter, he found some faults with Holland Smith, but then went on to say that Ralph Smith failed to exact the performance expected from a well-trained division, as evidenced by poor leadership on the part of some regimental and battalion commanders, undue hesitancy to bypass snipers "with a tendency to alibi because of lack of reserves to mop up," poor march discipline, and lack of reconnaissance.

The Army's official summary, United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, Campaign in the Marianas (published 15 years after the operations) attributed some errors to Holland Smith's handling of a real problem, and it also gave full recognition to the difficult terrain and bitter resistance that the Army regiments faced. The history stated that:

. . . there is no doubt that the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division was late in jumping off in the attack on the morning of 23 June—even though not so late as Holland Smith charged. On the 23d and again on the 24th, the Army troops attacking Death Valley were slow and faltering in their advance. According to the testimony of General Jarman, who took over the division from Ralph Smith, the unit leaders of the 106th Infantry were hesitant and apparently confused. Although the Army troops in Death Valley sustained fairly heavy casualties, the two Marine divisions on the flanks suffered greater ones. Yet the Marines made considerable advances while the 165th Infantry registered only small gains—the 106th Infantry almost none at all.

No matter what the extenuating circumstances were-and there were several—the conclusion seems inescapable that Holland Smith had good reason to be disappointed with the performance of the 27th Infantry Division on the two days in question....

Back where the conflict was with the Japanese, the 4th Marine Division had overrun most of the Kagman Peninsula by the night of D+10. The shoreline cliffs provoked sobering thoughts in a young officer in the 24th Marines:

We were close to the northern shoreline of the peninsula. And right there the Japs had dug a big emplacement. They hadn't had time to finish it, but we could see that it was situated so as to fire right down the beach-line. Any troops landing on that beach would have received a terrible enfilading fire from this gun position. Not far from the emplacement were the guns that had been destined to go into it: huge, 5-inch, dual-purpose naval guns. They were deadly things, and I was glad the enemy had never gotten them into action. Now they lay there on their wooden skids, thickly coated with grease, wrapped in burlap—impotent.

This unfinished state of the Japanese defenses was, in fact, a critical factor in the final American victory on Saipan. The blockading success of far-ranging submarines of the U.S. Navy had drastically reduced the supplies of cement and other construction materials destined for elaborate Saipan defenses, as well as the number of troop ships carrying Japanese reinforcements to the island. Then the quick success of the Marshalls campaign had speeded up the Marianas thrust by three months. This was decisive, for "one prisoner of war later said that, had the American assault come three months later, the island would have been impregnable."

The 4th Marine Division encountered more than cane fields in the Kagman Peninsula—the cliffs near the ocean were studded with caves. A 20-year-old private first class in Company E, 2d Battalion, 23d Marines, Robert F. Graf, described the Marine system for dealing with these and the others that were found all through the bitter campaign:

Japanese soldier
When a Japanese survivor did emerge from a cave, Marines were always on the alert for treachery. This enemy soldier had a stick of dynamite in his hands, but was shot before he could throw it. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87137

The firepower was intense, and we were working our way up to where the shots originated. Quite often there would be multi cave openings, each protecting another. Laying down heavy cover fire, our specialist would advance to near the mouth of the cave. A satchel charge would then be heaved into the mouth of the cave, followed by a loud blast as the dynamite exploded. Other times it might be grenades thrown inside the cave, both fragment type which exploded sending bits of metal all throughout the cave, and other times [white] phosphorous grenades that burned the enemy.

Also the flame thrower was used, sending a sheet of flame into the cave, burning anyone that was in its path. Screams could be heard and on occasions the enemy would emerge from the caves, near the entrance, we would call upon the tanks, and these monsters would get in real close and pump shells into the opening.

Graf went on to picture the use of flame-throwing tanks, the ultimate weapon for dealing with the enemy deep in his hideouts. He continued:

Some of the caves had artillery mounted on tracks that could be wheeled to the entrance, fired and pulled back, unobserved. There were caves with reinforced metal doors that protected them from our artillery. Perhaps a direct hit from a 16-inch naval gun could have blasted it open, but nothing else.

A fellow rifleman from Graf's company told him this story:

You should go up and see the huge cave that I was just in. It was large and contained a completely equipped operating room, all the medical equipment, surgical tools, etc. The tools were made from German surgical steel. When the battalion and regimental doctors were told about it, they almost went crazy over finding such excellent equipment. Each doctor wanted some tools for his use.

Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese light tanks are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M. Nalder. The two Marines fired all their ammunition at Japanese tanks advancing in a counterattack on the night of D+1. Kahn then grabbed some grenades, approached one tank from the side, and tossed the grenade into its open turret. Their action saved a 37mm gun crew, the objective of the tank. The gun crew, with its men wounded, was also out of ammunition. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85167

cave entrance
Some of the Japanese caves, such as this one, had been carefully reinforced. Marine riflemen move warily to inspect it. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83566

These attacks on caves were a tricky business, because of orders not to kill any civilians who were also inside many of them, hiding from the fighting. Graf recounted his experiences further:

Throughout the campaign we were taking prisoners.

Seldom were they Japanese soldiers, instead Korean and Chamorro laborers, both men and women, who mostly worked in the sugar cane fields and processing plants. Chamorros were natives of the islands, while the Koreans, of course, were brought over as forced labor. Approaching us, hands up, and smiling and bowing the Koreans would say in understandable broken English, "Me Korean, not Japanese." Some Japanese civilians were also captured. The Japanese tradition was that the male members of the family were the dominant members. Several times when we tried to feed newly captured women and children first, the male would shove them aside and demand to be first for rations. A few raps to the chest with a rifle butt soon cured them of that habit.

As the sick, scared, and often starving civilians would emerge from their hideouts, there were many pitiful scenes:

One sad incident I recall was when a captured civilian Japanese woman came up to me. She was crying and when she got close to me she started hitting me on the arm and pointing to my pack. I did not know what she wanted until an interpreter came over and explained that she wanted some food and water for her dead child. She pointed to a wicker basket that contained her dead infant. I gave her what she requested, and she placed the food and water in the basket so that the child could have nourishment on the way to meet the baby's ancestors.

Physical conditions of many were pitiful. Every illness that we had been briefed on was observed: leprosy, dengue fever, yaws and many cases of elephantiasis. Most of them were skeleton thin, as they had no nourishment for many days. Many were suffering from shock caused by the shelling and bombing, and fright because they did not have the vaguest idea as to what we would do to them. Civilians caught in a war that was not of their making. . . .

Marine talking to Chamorro
Marine talks a terrified Chamorro woman and her children into leaving her refuge. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83266

Civilians are escorted back to safety, food and medical care. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83013

One of the captured persons impressed Graf so very much that the memory was vivid many years later. A Japanese woman, obviously an aristocrat, probably a wife or mistress of a high-ranking officer, "was captured. She was dressed in traditional Japanese clothing: a brilliant kimono, a broad sash around the waist, hair combed, lacquered and spotlessly clean. Although," as Graf remarked, "she knew not what her fate would be in the hands of us, the barbarians, she stood there straight, proud, and seemingly unafraid. To me, she seemed like a queen."

Over on the west side of Saipan, the 2d Marine Division had a memorable day on 25 June. Ever since the landing, the towering peak of Mount Tapotchau had swarmed with Japanese artillery spotters looking straight down on every Marine move and then calling in precisely accurate fire on the American troops. Now, however, in a series of brilliant tactical maneuvers, with a battalion of the 8th Marines clawing up the eastern slope, a battalion of the 29th Marines (then attached to the 8th Marines) was able to infiltrate around the right flank in single file behind a screen of smoke and gain the dominating peak without the loss of a single man.

Meanwhile, back at Nafutan Point, the battalion of the 105th Infantry assigned to clean out the by passed Japanese pockets had had continuous problems. The official Army account commented, "The attack of the infantry companies was frequently uncoordinated; units repeatedly withdrew from advanced positions to their previous night's bivouacs; they repeatedly yielded ground they had gained."

The stalemate came to a climax on the night of D+11. Approximately 500 of the trapped Japanese, all the able-bodied men who remained, passed "undetected" or "sneaked through" (as the Army later reported) the lines of the encircling battalion. The enemy headed for nearby Aslito airfield and there was chaos initially there. One P-47 plane was destroyed and two others damaged. The Japanese quickly continued on to Hill 500, hoping to reunite there with their main forces. What they found instead was the 25th Marines resting in reserve with an artillery battalion of the 14th Marines. The escaping Japanese were finished off the following morning.

37mm gun
The 37mm gun was a workhorse for the Marines in a wide variety of firing missions. Those are Japanese bullet holes in its "shield." Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83989

On the front lines in the center of the island, General Jarman, now in temporary command of the 27th Infantry Division, took direct action that same day (D+11). An inspection by two of his senior officers of the near edge of Death Valley revealed that battalions of the 105th Infantry were standing still when there was no reason why they should not move forward." That did it. Jarman relieved the colonel commanding the 106th and replaced him with his division chief of staff. (Nineteen other officers of the 27th Infantry Division were also relieved after the Saipan battle was over, although only one of them had commanded a unit in battle.)

While these developments were taking place in the upper echelons, the junior officers in the front lines had their own, more immediate, daily concerns. As the author recalled:

I had worked out a pre-sleep routine which I followed every night without fail. Before I lay down, I would make careful mental notes of where the company Command Post [CP] was and where my squad leaders' foxholes were. Then I would work out the rotation of the watches with my CP group. Next came a check of my carbine to make sure it was in perfect operating condition. When all this had been done, I'd lie down, adjusting my helmet to serve as a pillow. Last, and most important, was the placing of my weapons: my carbine lay across my body so my hand would fall naturally on the trigger; my combat knife was stuck in the ground where my right hand lay; and my grenades were carefully arrayed at my left hand. Then I'd drift off to sleep.

(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

For the next several days, the 27th Infantry Division probed and maneuvered and attacked at Hell's Pocket, Death Valley, and Purple Heart Ridge. On 28 June, Army Major General George W. Griner, who had been quickly sent from Hawaii upon the relief of Ralph Smith, took over command of the division, so Jarman could revert to his previous assignment as garrison force commander. The 106th marked the day by eradicating the last enemy resistance in the spot that had caused so much grief: Hell's Pocket.

The 2d Marine Division mean while inched northward toward the town of Garapan, meeting ferocious enemy resistance. Tipo Pali was now in 6th Marines' hands. The 8th Marines encountered four small hills strongly defended by the enemy. Because of their size in comparison with Mount Tapotchau, they were called "pimples." Each was named after a battalion commander. Painfully, one by one, they were assaulted and taken over the next few days.

81mm mortar crew
A Marine 81mm mortar crew keeps lobbing shells into enemy positions ahead of the unit it is supporting by fire. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82260

With the Japanese well dug in, hidden in their well camouflaged positions, a satchel charge of high explosive is tossed into their laps. If any of them bolt out, the Marine riflemen are ready. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83281

Near Garapan, about 500 yards to the front of the 2d Marines' lines, an enemy platoon on what was named "Flame Tree Hill" was well dug in, utilizing the caves masked by the bright foliage on the hill. The morning of 29 June, a heavy artillery barrage as well as machine gun and mortar fire raked the slopes of the hill. Then friendly mortars laid a smoke screen. This was followed by a pause in all firing. As hoped, the enemy raced from their caves to repel the expected attack. Suddenly the mortars lobbed high explosives on the hill. Artillery shells equipped with time fuses and machine gun and rifle fire laid down another heavy barrage. The enemy, caught in the open, was wiped out almost to a man.

To the right, the 6th Marines mopped up its area and now held the most commanding ground, with all three of its battalions in favorable positions. In fact, since replacement drafts had not yet arrived, the 2d Marine Division had all three of its infantry regiments deployed on line. Thus it was necessary for its commander, Major General Watson, to organize a division reserve from support units.

The pressure on manpower was further illustrated by the fact that, in this difficult terrain, "eight stretcher bearers were needed to evacuate one wounded Marine." In addition, there was, of course, the deep-seated psychological and physical pressure from the constant, day after day, close combat. "Every one on the island felt the weight of fatigue settling down."

Marines holding Japanese flag
During a break in the fighting, Marines of a flamethrower and demolitions team pose with the Japanese flag captured during action after the American landing. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82608

On the 4th Division front, the drive forward was easier, but its left flank had to be bent sharply back ward toward the 27th Infantry Division. By nightfall on 28 June, the Marine division's lines formed an inverted L with the 23d Marines and part of the 165th Infantry facing north, while the rest of the Army regiment and two battalions of the 24th Marines faced west. This strange alignment was a focus of attention when each battalion was issued its nightly overlay from corps headquarters showing the lines of the corps at that time, so that friendly fire from artillery and supporting Navy destroyers would not hit friendly troops. Once again, enemy planes raided, hitting both the airfield and anchorage. As usual, enemy night patrols were active.

The end of the saga of Nafutan Point, way to the rear, had come the day before (27 June). The Japanese breakout had left almost no fighting men behind there. Accordingly, the battalion of the 105th Infantry at last overran the area after enduring a final banzai charge. The soldiers found over 500 enemy bodies in the area, some killed in the charge and some by their own hand.

D+15 (30 June) marked a good day for the Army. After fierce fighting, the 27th Infantry Division finally burst through Death Valley, captured Purple Heart Ridge, and drew alongside the 8th Marines. Holland Smith gave due recognition: "No one had any tougher job to do." The gaps on the flanks with the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions were now closed. In doing so, the Army had sustained most of the 1,836 casualties inflicted upon it since D-Day. The 4th Marine Division, however, had suffered 4,454 casualties to date, while the 2d Marine Division had lost 4,488 men.

The corps front now ran from Garapan, past the four pimples, to the 4th Marine Division's left boundary. Here, it ran sharply northward to Hill 700. From there it ran to the east coast. Central Saipan was in American hands. Most of the replenishment supplies had been unloaded. The enemy had begun withdrawing to his preplanned final defensive lines. The Army's official history summed up these days costly victories this way "The battle for central Saipan can be said to have come to a successful end."

damaged buildings
Moving on the double, Marines go yard by yard through skeletal Garapan, flushing out the Japanese defenders. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85222

Amidst the horrors of war, someone retained a sense of humor, and put up this pre-World War II Marine recruiting poster in Garapan. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87109

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