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+16—D+19, 1—4 July

Now Holland Smith turned his attention to operation plans to drive through the northern third of Saipan and bring the campaign to a successful, albeit a bloody, conclusion. His next objective line ran from Garapan up the west coast to Tanapag and then eastward across the island. Past Tanapag, near Flores Point, the 2d Marine Division would be pinched out and become the corps reserve. That would leave the 27th Infantry Division and the 4th Marine Division to assault General Saito's final defenses.

The easiest assignment during this period fell to the 4th Marine Division on the east coast. It advanced 3,500 yards against light opposition, veering to its left, ending on 4 July with its left flank some 2,000 yards north of Tanapag, right on the west coast.

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

As usual, what looked like "light opposition" to General Schmidt in his divisional CP looked very different to that tired, tense lieutenant who described a painfully typical rifle platoon situation on D+16:

I took the rest of my men and we proceeded—very cautiously—to comb the area. It was a terrible place: the rocks and creepers were so interwoven that they formed an almost impenetrable barrier; visibility was limited to a few feet. After what had happened to [my wounded sergeant], the atmosphere of the place was very tense. We located some rock crevices we thought the Japs might be in, and I tried calling to them in our Japanese combat phrases to come out and surrender. This proved fruitless, and it let the Japs know exactly where we were, while we had no idea of their location. Then I tried to maneuver our flamethrower man into a position where he could give the crevice a blast without becoming a sitting-duck target himself. Because of the configuration of the ground, this proved impossible.

Right about now, there was a shot off to our left. We started over to investigate and all hell broke loose! A Jap automatic weapon opened up right beside us. We all hit the deck automatically. No one was hit (for a change), but we couldn't spot the exact location of the weapon (as usual). I called to the man who'd been over on the left flank. No answer. What had happened to him?

The only way to deal with some Japanese in their well-protected defenses was to blast them with a flame-thrower. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 84885

At this point more enemy fire spattered around the small group of Marines. The source seemed to be right on top of them, so the lieutenant told two of his men to throw some grenades over into the area he thought the fire was coming from—about 20 feet away. Under cover of that, the Marines worked a rifleman forward a couple of yards to try to get a bead on the Japanese, but he was unable to spot them and the enemy fire seemed to grow heavier.

Now the lieutenant began to get very worried:

Here we were—completely isolated from the rest of the company—only half a dozen of us left—our flank man had disappeared and now we were getting heavy fire from an uncertain number of Japs who were right in our middle and whom we couldn't locate! Some of the men were getting a little jittery I could see, so I tried to appear as calm and cool as I could (although I didn't feel that way inside!). I decided to move back to the other end of the hilltop and report to [our company commander] on the phone. If I could get his OK, I would then contact [another one of our platoons] for reinforcements, and we could move back into this area and clean out the Jap pocket.

Pressing hard against the Japanese defenses constantly resulted in these kinds of face-to face encounters. Three days later (D+19), Lieutenant Colonel Chambers observed a memorable act of bravery:

Three of our tanks came along the road. . . . They made the turn to the south and then took the wrong turn, which took them off the high ground and into a cave area where there were literally hundreds of Japs, who swarmed all over the tanks. We were watching and heard on the radio that (the lieutenant) who commanded the tanks was hollering for help, and I don't blame him. They had formed a triangle and covered each other with the co-axial guns as best as they could.

Marine sitting on shell
He may have started out sitting on a dud 16-inch Navy shell, enjoying a smoke while emptying sand from his "boon dockers," but by the end of the campaign, three weeks later, he had had too little sleep, too many fire fights, and too many buddies dead. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85221

The commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Hollis U. ("Musty") Mustain was nearest the crisis. Chambers went on:

Mustain's executive officer was a regular major by the name of Fenton Mee. Musty and I were together, and when radio operators told us what was going on, Musty turned to Mee and said, "Get some people there and get those tanks out."

Mee turned around to his battalion CP, who were all staff people. He just pointed and said, "Let's get going." He turned and took off. I can still see his face—he figured he was going to get killed. They got there and the Japs pulled out. This let the tanks get out, and they were saved. It was one of the bravest things I ever saw people do.

Chambers also noted that, by D+19, out of 28 officers and 690 enlisted men in his rifle companies at the start of the campaign, he now had only 6 officers and 315 men left in those companies. Counting his headquarters company, he had just 468 men remaining of the battalion's original total strength of 1,050, so one rifle company simply had to be disbanded. The grim toll was repeated in another battalion which had had 22 out of 29 officers and 490 enlisted men either killed or wounded in action.

Next to the 4th Marine Division was the 27th Infantry Division in the center of the line of attack. It, too, had a far easier time than in the grinding experiences it had just come through. Its advance also veered left, and was "against negligible resistance" with "the enemy in full flight." Thus it reached the west coast, pinching off the 2d Marine Division and allowing it to go into reserve.

There was a different story in the 2d Marine Division zone of action at the beginning of this period. On 2 July Flametree Hill was seized and the 2d Marines stormed into Garapan, the second largest city in the Mariana Islands. What the regiment found was a shambles; the town had been completely leveled by naval gunfire and Marine artillery.

sketch of Marine
"Patrol, Saipan" By Richard Gilney. Marine Corps Art Collection

The official Marine history pictures the scene:

Twisted metal roof tops now littered the area, shielding Japanese snipers. A number of deftly hidden pillboxes were scattered among the ruins. Assault engineers, covered by riflemen, slipped behind such obstacles to set explosives while flamethrowers seared the front. Assisted by the engineers, and supported by tanks and 75mm self-propelled guns of the regimental weapons company, the 2d Marines beat down the scattered resistance before nightfall. On the beaches, suppressing fire from the LVT(A)s of the 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion silenced the Japanese weapons located near the water.

Moving past the town, the 2d Marine Division drove towards Flores Point, halfway to Tanapag. Along the way, with filthy uniforms, stiff with sweat and dirt after over two weeks of fierce fighting, the Marines joyfully dipped their heads and hands into the cool ocean waters.

With the other two divisions already having veered their attack to the left and reached the northwest coast, the 2d Marine Division was now able to go into corps reserve, as planned, on 4 July. (Holland Smith, seeing the end in sight on Saipan, wanted this division rested for the forthcoming assault on neighboring Tinian Island.)

The Japanese, meanwhile, were falling back to a final defensive line north of Garapan. The American attack of the preceding weeks had not only shattered their manpower, their artillery, and their tanks, but the enemy also was desperate for food. "Many of them had been so pressed for provisions that they were eating field grass and tree bark."

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