BREACHING THE MARIANAS: The Battle for Saipan
by Captain John C. Chapin
U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Ret)
D+1-D+2, 16-17 June
The next two days saw the Marine attack resumed all
along the irregular front. The 2d Division, after reorganizing, pushed
its 6th Marines northeast toward Mount Tipo Pali, its 2d Marines north
towards Garapan, and its 8th Marines east into the swamps around Lake
Susupe. Direct contact with the 4th Division was finally
Close combat was the norm. There were no exceptions
for battalion commanders. Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers,
commanding the 3d Battalion, 25th Marines in the 4th Division later
described two of his experiences on D+1:
We came to a big bomb crater. The soil had all been
thrown up, and around it there were three Marines protected by the dirt.
I called up to one of these Marines and asked him what was going on. One
of them said that there was an antiaircraft gun right down in front of
them. I crawled up within two or three feet of the top of the dirt and
raised up on my hands to see what was down there.
Within about 25 to 30 yards, I was looking right into
the muzzle of an 88mm antiair craft/antitank gun. They had swung the
damn thing around, and it was pointing right up the hill. I was looking
right down its muzzle. I dropped as hard as I could and then the damn
gun went off. The shell tore through the far side of the bomb crater,
came through the dirt on the near side of the bomb crater where I was.
It took the head off the Marine with whom I had been talking. The shell
went on back and landed about 20 or 30 feet beyond us where it
detonated. Later that same day, he had another close call.
We had, as we had advanced, uncovered various
Japanese supply caches. One of these was an ammunition dump .... About
1505 the Japs blew the large dump near where I was standing and caused
numerous concussion casualties including myself .... I don't remember a
thing about it. The boys tell me that, when the blast went off, I was
thrown right up in the air, and I turned a complete flip and then landed
on my face.
On the night of D+1, the Japanese again launched a
major attack on the 6th Marines, this time with 44 tanks. Major Donovan
later described the wild clash: "The battle evolved itself into a
madhouse of noise, tracers, and flashing lights. As tanks were hit and
set afire, they silhouetted other tanks coming out of the flickering
shadows to the front or already on top of the squads." The Marines
poured in their fire, now with 2.36-inch rocket launchers, grenade
launchers, self-propelled 75mm guns, and their own artillery and tanks
adding to the din. When dawn broke, it was over and the shattered hulks
of 24 Japanese tanks lay there smoking.
Major General Harry Schmidt
Major General Harry Schmidt was the leader of the 4th
Marine Division in the assaults at Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands and
then at Saipan in the Marianas.
Born in 1886, he entered the Corps as a second
lieutenant in 1909. By extraordinary coincidence, his first foreign duty
was at Guam in the Marianas Islands, an area he would return to 33 years
later under vastly different circumstances!
The Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua (where
he was awarded a Navy Crosssecond only to the Medal of Honor),
interspersed with repeated stays in China, were the marks of a diverse
overseas career. At home there were staff schools, paymaster duties, and
a tour as Assistant Commandant.
By the end of World War II, he had been decorated
with three Distinguished Service Medals. Retiring in 1948 after 39 years
of service, he was advanced to the four-star rank of general. His death
came in 1968.
A contemporary described him as "a Buddha, a typical
old-time Marine: he'd been in China; he was regulation, Old
Establishment, a regular Marine."
Japanese soldier and tank are both permanently finished after an attack
on Marine lines. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83551
Major General Thomas E. Watson
Defense Photo (USMC) 303240
Major General Thomas E. Watson, as a brigadier
general and commander of Tactical Group-1, built on the 22d Marines, led
his men in the conquest of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in
February 1944. For this he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal,
and the 22d Marines was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation.
He took command of the 2d Marine Division in April
1944. In June he directed his men in the conquest of Saipan and then
Tinian, receiving a second DSM.
Retirement came in 1950, and he died in March 1966,
as a lieutenant general.
With a birth date of 1892, and an enlistment date of
1912, he fully qualified as a member of "the Old Corps." After being
commissioned in 1916, he served in a variety of Marine assignments in
the Caribbean, China, and the United States.
Given the nickname "Terrible Tommy," Watson's
proverbial impatience later was characterized by General Wallace M.
Greene, Jr., as follows: "He would not tolerate for one minute
stupidity, laziness, professional incompetence, or failure in
leadership.... His temper in correcting these failings could be fiery
and monumental," as both Marine and Army officers found out at Eniwetok
and later Saipan!
In the 4th Division zone of action, the left
regiment, the 23d, also had a difficult time in the Susupe swamp. The
24th and 25th drove inland to the east towards the key objective of
Aslito airfield. With a danger looming of overextended lines, Lieutenant
General Holland Smith pulled the 165th Infantry out of his reserve (the
Army's 27th Infantry Division) and sent it ashore on D+2 to reinforce
the 4th Marine Division. This same day, Major General Ralph Smith came
ashore to take command of the additional Army units of his 27th Division
as they landed.
With the 165th Infantry on its right flank and the
24th Marines to its left, the 25th Marines was poised on the north edge
of Aslito airfield late on D+2. Its patrols found the strip was
abandoned, but the 165th, assigned to capture it, decided to wait until
the next day.
The division had finally approached the O-1 line,
except on the left flank where contact with the 2d Division was again
broken, this time near Mount Fina Susu.
This same day, 17 June, saw a crucial command
decision by Admiral Spruance. With the powerful main Japanese fleet now
approaching Saipan, he ordered his fast carriers to meet the enemy
ships, and that night withdrew his transports and supply ships from
their offshore support positions to a safe distance from the Japanese
The training before Saipan was based on a new Table
of Reorganization for the Marine divisions. Their sized was reduced by
2,500 men to 17,465. The artillery regiments each lost one of its 75mm
pack howitzer battalions, but the infantry retained its previous units.
Rifle squads, however, were reorganized to total 13, using three "fire
teams" of four men with each team built around a Browning automatic
rifle (BAR), a 50 percent increase in the division of this valuable
weapon. The number of 60mm mortars in the division table of equipment
was similarly expanded, while the number of flamethrowers grew ten-fold.
In addition, the tank battalions were able to replace their antiquated
light tanks with mediums.