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+4-D+7, 19-22 June

The most critical event of 19 June (and perhaps the most important of the whole Saipan campaign) took place at sea, well out of sight of the infantrymen ashore. The opposing carrier task forces clashed in a gigantic air battle. When it was over that night, the Japanese had suffered the catastrophic loss of 330 out of 430 planes they had launched. Exultant U.S. Navy fliers labelled it "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." With the help of American submarines and additional carrier plane attacks the next day, the Japanese attempt to relieve Saipan by a decisive naval victory was smashed. As an official account summarized the impact ashore, "the eventual doom of the enemy garrison was assured." And the American supply ships were able to return offshore to unload their vital cargoes.

During the four-day span of D+4 to D+7, the 105th Infantry moved slowly along the south coast and then joined the 165th Infantry in sealing off the die-hard Japanese survivors in Nafutan Point, in the southeastern corner of the island. Once the enemy was penned in, the 105th was assigned to eliminate him. The rest of the 27th Division, now including the 106th Infantry, was ordered north to be the Corps reserve.

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

This period, 19-22 June, marked a total shift in direction for the American troops. Pivoting on the 2d Marines on the far left flank along the western shore, the other Marine regiments swung around from their drive which had reached the east coast to face north, with their right flank on Magicienne Bay

On 20 June, the 4th Division confronted a key objective. Lieutenant Chapin had a ringside seat:

We had a perfect chance to watch a battalion of the 25th making an attack .... It was in action about a quarter of a mile from us, and the whole panorama was spread out before us. They were assaulting Hill 500, the dominant terrain feature of the whole area, and it was apparent that they were running into a solid wall of Jap fire. But, using [artillery] timed fire, smoke, and tanks, they finally stormed the top and took it. The use of those supporting arms provided a magnificent spectacle. From our vantage point, we could see the timed fire bursting in cave entrances, and moving down the face of the hill as precisely as if .... it were going down a stepladder. On the lower levels, the flame thrower tanks were spouting their napalm jets upward into other caves. It was quite a sight!

Marine Artillery Regiments

The 10th Marines and the 14th Marines supported the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions respectively. They had each had a significant reorganization before Saipan. In early spring, the 5th Battalion in each changed its designation. They were redesignated the 2d and 4th 155mm Artillery Battalions, Corps Artillery, but administratively attached to the 10th and 14th Marines. Thus the 10th and 14th Marines each contained two 75mm pack howitzer battalions (1st and 2d), two 105mm howitzer battalions (3d and 4th), and a 155mm artillery battalion, armed with the new M1 155mm howitzers, the first to be received by the Marine Corps in the Pacific.

Friendly artillery fire was a major asset for the American troops, both in supporting their attacks and smothering Japanese sorties. This camouflaged emplacement holds a Marine 105mm howitzer. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82550

Over in the area of the 2d Division, the 8th Marines wheeled from facing east to attack northward into the foot hills leading to Mount Tapotchau.

The Marine divisions were now facing two major problems. First, their drive north was confronted by General Saito's main line of defense, running west to east across the island. Secondly, the terrain into which the attack had to go was a nightmare of ravines, caves, hills, valleys, and cliffs—all fortified and defended to the death by the Japanese.

June 21 brought a respite for the front line troops: "D+6 was enjoyed by all—for a change! We rested on our positions; caught up on sorely needed sleep; got some water (which had been conspicuous by its absence); and even had a good hot meal. For we got our first 10-in-1 rations. Did they ever taste good to our hungry palates, surfeited as they were with K rations!"

Simultaneously, intensive preparations were made for a coordinated attack by both Marine divisions the next morning. A total of 18 artillery battalions were massed for supporting fire. Combat efficiency was officially rated as "very satisfactory," in spite of a sobering total of 6,165 casualties.

The following day saw the Marines attack all along the line. The 6th Marines overran parts of Mount Tipo Pali, while the 8th Marines worked its painful way into the maze of ridges and gullies that formed the foothills of Mount Tapotchau. On the right, the 24th Marines was forced into the messy business of blasting caves honey combed along Magicienne Bay. In one of the mortar platoons, a weird encounter took place, as de scribed at the time to this author by the participant, First Lieutenant Joseph J. Cushing:

[I] was bending over one of [my] mortars, checking the lay of it, when [I] felt a tap on my shoulder, and a guy asked [me], "Hey, Mac, are you a Marine?" [I] turned around and there was a Jap officer standing about a foot from [me]. [I] dropped to the ground, speechless with amazement, and [my] men riddled the Jap from head to toe.

On the left of the 4th Division, the 25th Marines made a major advance of 2,400 yards. The forward lines were now reaching an area where the Kagman Peninsula jutted out to the east. This resulted in a substantially increased frontage that the two Marine divisions could not properly cover. To deal with this, Holland Smith decided to commit his reserve, the 27th Infantry Division, to the center of the line, leaving just one battalion of the 105th Infantry way back in the rear to continue its long drawn-out attempt to eliminate the Japanese pocket on by-passed Nafutan Point.

cane field
Still another cane field, with its hidden Japanese defenders lying in wait, confronts these Marine riflemen. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83918

This day (D+7) was also marked by the arrival of P-47 Thunderbolts of the 19th Fighter Squadron, U.S. Army Air Forces, which landed at Aslito Field. They had been launched from Navy escort carriers. When landed, they were fitted with launching racks for rockets by ground crews who had come in earlier. Later that day, eight planes took off on their first support mission of the Saipan campaign. (Only two Marine observation squadrons, VMO-2 and VMO-4, were involved in the battle for Saipan, but they provided invaluable artillery spotting for the two Marine divisions.)

While these developments were taking place in the upper echelons, down in the rock-bottom basic life of infantry platoons, the days of relentless combat pressure were exemplified by their impact on the constant duties and high stress levels on a platoon commander:

I made a final inspection of the platoon position and then sacked in—exhausted. When it came my turn to stand watch, it took every last reserve of willpower and strength to get up and go on duty. Then for hours I alternated between fighting off my sleepiness and sweating out the noises and movements that were all around us.

After a while, I spotted a shape, darker than the rest of the surrounding shadows. It was the size of a man's head. I watched it for a long time, nerves on edge, finger on my carbine trigger. Finally it seemed to move. I fired a shot. Nothing happened. It would've been suicide to go over and investigate. In that darkness and jungle my own men would've shot me in a second. So when it came time for my relief, I pointed out the suspicious object to the next man, told him to watch it closely, and collapsed into a dead-tired sleep.

When dawn came on D+8, I was awakened, and the first thing I did was to look over where I'd shot on the night before. There, lying on top of a rock, was the gas mask of one of my men! The owner had been sleeping right beside it. It was a miracle he hadn't been hit. The tremendous strain of the previous night did funny things to your mind ....

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division