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


At about 1630, the 4th Division commander, General Cates, ordered his forces to button up for the night. A nighttime counterattack was expected. Barbed wire, preloaded on amphibian vehicles (DUKWs), was strung all along the division front. Ammunition was stacked at every weapons position. Machine guns were emplaced to permit interlocking fields of fire. Target areas were assigned to mortar crews. Artillery batteries in the rear were registered to hit probable enemy approach routes and to fire illuminating shells if a lighted battlefield was required. Of great importance, as it turned out, was the positioning up front of 37mm guns and canister ammunition (antipersonnel shells which fired large pellets for close-in fighting); in the night fighting that followed, they inflicted severe losses on the enemy.

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As the troops dug in to await whatever the night would bring, the 24th Marines, backed up by the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, occupied the northern half of the defensive crescent. The 25th and a battalion of the 23d occupied the southern half of the crescent with the remainder of the 23d in reserve. On the beaches in the rear, artillery battalions from the 10th and 14th Marines, engineer battalions, and other special troops were on alert.

Preparatory Strikes

No battle in the Pacific was a "piece of cake." But there was less apprehension among the Americans about the outcome at Tinian than in any major operation of the war. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance later described it as "probably the most brilliantly conceived and executed amphibious operation of World War II." Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, commander of the Expeditionary Troops during the seizure of the Marianas, called it "the perfect amphibious operation."

It took place under optimal conditions for success. The small Japanese garrison on the island had no hope of relief, resupply, escape, or victory. Three miles away, across the narrow Saipan Channel, three battle-tested American divisions—more than 50,000 men—were available for the inevitable invasion. For seven weeks the bombardment from U.S. air and sea armadas, joined by the big guns on Saipan, had been relentless, day and night.

The effect on Tinian's civilian inhabitants was recorded by James L. Underhill, later a Marine lieutenant general, who became the island's military commander at the end of the battle:

The state of these people was indescribable. They came in with no possessions except the rags on their backs. They had been under a two-month intense bombardment and shelling and many were suffering from shell shock . . . They had existed on very scant rations for six weeks and for the past week had had practically nothing to eat. They had been cut off from their own water supply for a week and had caught what rainwater they could in bowls and cans. Hundreds of them were wounded and some of their wounds were gangrenous. Beri beri, syphilis, pneumonia, dysentery, and tuberculosis were common. [They needed] shelter, food, water, clothing, medical care, and sanitation.

The bombardment began on 11 June—four days before the Saipan invasion—when carrier planes from Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitcher's Task Force 58 launched a three-and-a-half day pummeling of all the principal Mariana Islands. A fighter sweep on the first day, carried out by 225 Grumman Hellcats, destroyed about 150 Japanese aircraft and ensured American control of the skies over the islands.

Following the raid, a member of the Japanese garrison on Saipan, wrote in his diary: "For two hours, enemy planes ran amuck and finally left leisurely amidst the unparalleledly inaccurate antiaircraft fire. All we could do was watch helplessly."

Over the next two days, bombers hit the islands and shipping in the area with no letup. There was a fatalistic diary entry by one of the Tinian troops: "Now begins our cave life." Another soldier wrote of the ineffectual antiaircraft fire—"not one hit out of a thousand shots"—and reported that "the Naval Air Group has taken to its heels." Yet another diarist was indignant, too: "The naval aviators are robbers . . . When they ran off to the mountains they stole Army provisions."

Fast battleships from Task Force 58 joined the bombardment from long range on 13 June. Their fires, analysts later said, were "ineffective" and "misdirected" at soft targets rather than at the concealed gun positions ringing the island. But, as an element in the cumulative psychological and physical toll on soldiers and civilians alike, harassing fires of this nature were not inconsiderable.

Over the next six weeks, the effort to degrade and destroy the defenses and garrison of Tinian escalated. On 18 June, Navy Task Force 52, commanded by Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, added its guns to the mission. Air-strikes involving carrier planes and Army P-47s were ordered. From 28 June until the Tinian landing on 24 July, massed artillery battalions, firing from Saipan's southern shore, poured thousands of tons of steel into the island. By mid-July, 13 battalions were engaged in the mission, firing 160 guns—105s and Long Toms 155s—around the clock. The six battalions of the XXIV Corps Artillery alone undertook 1,509 fire missions in that period, firing 24,536 rounds.

The precise effect of the artillery fires from Saipan will never be known, but it is reasonable to assume there were many scenes of the kind retired Brigadier General Frederick Karch described in his oral history memoir. He was a major, serving as operations officer for an artillery regiment—the 14th Marines—during the Tinian campaign, and he recalled:

I remember going by a [Japanese] machine gun crew. They had been trying to get a firing position and had been caught by the artillery barrage, apparently, and they were laid out just like a school solution, with each man carrying his particular portion of the gun crew's equipment. And that was where they had died in a very fine situation, except they were on the wrong side of the barrage.

During the two weeks from 26 June to 9 July, the cruisers, Indianapolis, Birmingham, and Montpelier hit the island daily. Their fires were supplemented in the week preceding Jig Day (the D-Day designation for Tinian) by the battleships Colorado, Tennessee, and California; the cruisers, Louisville, Cleveland, and New Orleans; 16 destroyers, and dozens of supporting vessels firing a variety of ordnance ranging from white phosphorous aimed at wooded areas around the Japanese command post on Mount Lasso to 40mm fire and rocket barrages by LCIs (landing craft, infantry) directed at caves and other close-in targets.

25mm machine cannon
By the time the assault waves landed, most, if not all, Japanese beach defense weapons had been destroyed by the preinvasion bombardments. This Japanese navy-type 25mm machine cannon was knocked out before it could disrupt the landings. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87701

The Japanese, meanwhile, were preparing for their counterattack. Because of shattered communications lines, it could not be a coordinated operation. Units would act on their own under Colonel Ogata's general order of 28 June to "destroy the enemy on beaches with one blow, especially where time prevents quick movement of forces within the island."

They had on the left or northern flank of the Marine lines 600 to 1,000 naval troops at the Ushi Point air fields. Near Mount Lasso, opposite the center of the Marine lines, were two battalions of the 50th Infantry Regiment and a tank company, about 1,500 men all told. On the west coast, facing the Marine right flank, were about 250 men from an infantry company of the 50th Regiment, a tank detachment and an anti-tank squad.

120mm gun
Even enemy weapons, such as this Japanese 120mm type 10 Naval dual-purpose gun located not-too-far inland from the invasion beaches, was put out of action, but not before it, and two 6-inch guns, hit the battleship Colorado (BB 45) and destroyer Norman Scott (DD 690) causing casualties before being destroyed. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 91349

exploding Japanese ammunition dump
Attacking Marines hold up their advance in the face of an exploding Japanese ammunition dump after an attack by Navy planes supporting the drive across Tinian. Note the trees bent over by the force of shock waves caused by the eruption. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87298

South of Mount Lasso, nearly six miles from the White Beaches, was the Japanese Mobile Counterattack Force—a 900-man battalion of the 135th Infantry Regiment, equipped with new rifles and demolition charges. Its journey toward the northwestern beaches and the Marine lines was perilous. All movements in daylight were under air surveillance and vulnerable to American fire power. But the battalion set out under its commander—a Captain Izumi—and was hit on several occasions by unobserved artillery and naval gunfire. Izumi pushed on and got to his objective through skillful use of terrain for for concealment. At 2230 he began probing the center of the Marine line where the 2d Battalion, 24th Marines under Garretson was tied in with the 3d Battalion under Chambers.

"While most of these Japanese crept along just forward of the lines," Carl Hoffman wrote, ". . . a two-man reconnaissance detail climbed up on a battered building forward of the 24th Marines and audaciously (or stupidly) commenced jotting notes about, or drawing sketches of, the front lines. This impudent gesture was rewarded with a thundering concentration of U.S. artillery fire."

Chambers had a vivid memory of that night:

There was a big gully that ran from the southeast to northwest and right into the western edge of our area. Anybody in their right mind could have figured that if there was to be any counterattacks, that gully would be used . . . .

During the night . . . my men were reporting that they were hearing a lot of Japanese chattering down in the gully . . . .

Amphibian tractors
Amphibian tractors line up waiting to discharge their Marine passengers on the beach. The almost complete devastation of Japanese beachhead defenses, which was not entirely expected by the Marines, permitted this peaceful combat landing. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 93379

Marines wading to shore
While some Marines were deposited "feet dry" beyond the ashore in the shallows from the amtracs which brought them shoreline of the beaches, others had to land "feet wet" wading in from the attack transports seen in the background. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 88088

They hit us about midnight in K company's area. They hauled by hand a couple of 75mm howitzers with them and when they got them up to where they could fire at us, they hit us very hard. I think K company did a pretty damn good job but . . . about 150, 200 Japs managed to push through [the 1,500 yards] to the beach area . . . .

When the Japs hit the rear areas, all the artillery and machine guns started shooting like hell. Their fire was coming from the rear and grazing right up over our heads . . . . In the meantime, the enemy that hit L company was putting up a hell of a fight within 75 yards of where I was and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

Over in K company's area . . . was where the attack really developed. That's where [Lt.] Mickey McGuire . . . had his 37mm guns on the left flank and was firing canister. Two of my men were manning a machine gun [Cpl Alfred J. Daigle and Pfc Orville H. Showers] . . . . These two lads laid out in front of their machine gun a cone of Jap bodies. There was a dead Jap officer in with them. Both of the boys were dead.

truck-mounted rocket launchers
Although frontline Marines appreciated the support of the 1st and 2d Provisional Rocket Companies' truck-mounted 4.5-inch rocket launchers, they always dreaded the period immediately following a barrage. The dust and smoke thrown up at that time served as a perfect aiming point for enemy artillery and mortars which soon followed. Notice the flight of rockets in the upper left hand section of the picture. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 92269

75mm pack howitzer
For Tinian, as in the Marshall Islands and the Saipan and Guam operations, DUKWs (amphibian trucks) were loaded with artillery pieces and ammunition at the mount out area. At the objective beaches, they were driven ashore right to the designated gun emplacements enabling the gun crews to get their weapons laid in and firing quickly. Here, an A-frame unloads a 75mm pack howitzer from an Army DUKW. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87645

A Marine combat correspondent, described this action:

[Showers and Daigle] held their fire until the Japanese were 100 yards away, then opened up. The Japanese charged, screaming, "Banzai," firing light machine guns and throwing hand grenades. It seemed impossible that the two Marines—far ahead of their own lines—could hold on . . . . The next morning they were found slumped over their weapons, dead. No less than 251 Japanese bodies were piled in front of them . . . . The Navy Cross was awarded posthumously to Daigle and the Silver Star posthumously to Showers.

Just before daybreak, Chambers recalled, two tank companies showed up, commanded by Major Robert I. Neiman. They "wanted to get right at the enemy" and Chambers sent them off to an area held by Companies K and L. Neiman returned in about a half hour and said, "You don't need tanks. You need undertakers. I never saw so many dead Japs."

Another large contingent of Japanese troops was "stacked up" by the 75mm pack howitzer gunners of Battery D of the 14th Marines, supported by the .50-caliber machine guns of Batteries E and F: "They literally tore the Japanese . . . to pieces." Altogether about 600 Japanese were killed in their attack on the center.

On the night of 24-25 July, a Japanese counterattack accompanied by tanks failed completely with heavy losses. Here a Marine inspects the enemy dead near a destroyed tank. Note the placement of the bullet holes in the helmets in the ditch. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 91047

On the left flank, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, came under attack at 0200 from about 600 Special Naval Landing Force troops out of the barracks at the Ushi Point airfields. Company A, hit so hard it was reduced at one point to only 30 men with weapons, was forced to draw reinforcements from engineers, corpsmen, communicators, and members of the shore party. Illumination flares were fired over the battlefield, allowing the Marines to use 37mm canister shells, machine gun fire, and mortars to good effect. The fight continued until dawn when medium tanks from the 4th Tank Battalion lumbered in to break up the last attacking groups. At that point, many Japanese began using their grenades to commit suicide.

As the sun rose, 476 Japanese bodies were counted in this sector of the defensive crescent, most of them in front of the Company A position.

The last enemy attack that night hit the right or southern flank of the Marines beginning at 0330 when six Japanese tanks (half of the Japanese tank force on Tinian) clattered up from the direction of Tinian Town to attack the 23d Marines position. They were met by fire from Marine artillery, anti-tank guns, bazookas, and small arms. Lieutenant Jim Lucas, a professional reporter who enlisted in the Marine Corps shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was commissioned in the field, was there:

The three lead tanks broke through our wall of fire. One began to glow blood-red, turned crazily on its tracks and careened into a ditch. A second, mortally wounded, turned its machine guns on its tormentors, firing into the ditches in a last desperate effort to fight its way free. One hundred yards more and it stopped dead in its tracks. The third tried frantically to turn and then retreat, but our men closed in, literally blasting it apart . . . . Bazookas knocked out a fourth tank with a direct hit which killed the driver. The rest of the crew piled out of the turret screaming. The fifth tank, completely surrounded, attempted to flee. Bazookas made short work of it. Another hit set it afire and its crew was cremated.

The sixth tank was chased off, according to Colonel Jones, by a Marine driving a jeep. Some appraisers of this action believe only five tanks were involved. In any case, the destruction of these tanks did not end the fight on the right flank. Infantry units of the 50th Regiment continued to attack in the zone of 2d Battalion, 23d Marines. They were repulsed and killed in great numbers, largely through the effective use of 37mm anti-tank guns using canister shot. In "the last hopeless moments of the assault," Hoffman wrote, "some of the wounded Japanese destroyed themselves by detonating a magnetic tank mine which produced a terrific blast."

From the Japanese standpoint, the night's work had been a disaster: 1,241 bodies left on the battlefield; several hundred more may have been carted away during the night. Fewer than 100 Marines were wounded or killed. "The loss of these [Japanese] troops," the historian Frank Hough has written:

. . . broke the back of the defense of Tinian. With their communications shattered by sustained fire from Saipan and increasing fire from Tinian itself . . . the survivors were capable of only the weakest, most dazed sort of resistance . . . . Now and again during the next seven days, small groups took advantage of the darkness to [launch night attacks], but for the most part they simply withdrew in no particular order until there remained nowhere to withdraw.

A line of skirmishers was the formation normally used at Tinian even where there was no enemy contact. A platoon from the 2d Marines pushes forward while an observation plane (QY) circles overhead. High ground in the distance is part of a long spine extending straight south from Mount Lasso, an objective to be taken. Marine Corps Historical Collection

That was a common judgment after the Tinian battle had ended. But at the time, according to the 4th Division intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gooderham McCormick, a Marine Reserve officer who later became mayor of Philadelphia, things were not so clear: "We still believed [after the counterattack] the enemy capable of a harder fight . . . and from day to day during our advance expected a bitter fight that never materialized."

Nevertheless, a lot of hard work lay ahead. One of the most demanding tasks was the simple but exhausting job of humping through cane fields in terrific heat, humidity, and frequent monsoon downpours, fearful not only of sniper fire, mines, or booby traps, but fearful as well of fires that could sweep through the cane fields, incinerating anyone in their path.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division