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

Jig Day: Feint and Landing

The first troop ships moved out of Saipan's Charan Kanoa harbor at 0330, 24 July. They were the transports Knox, Calvert, Fuller, Bell, Heywood, and John Land. They were carrying the 2d and 8th Marines (infantry regiments) of the 2d Marine Division on a mission of deception that turned out to be far bloodier than the White Beach landings and far bloodier than anyone had anticipated. They had a muscular escort—the battleship Colorado, the light cruiser Cleveland, and the destroyers Ramey, Norman Scott, Wadleigh, and Monssen.

The convoy moved into Sunharon Harbor opposite Tinian Town just before dawn. A few minutes after 0600, the Calvert began lowering its landing craft and by 0630 all 22 of its boats were in the water. Marines climbed down the cargo nets. Within a half hour, 244 Navy and Army planes began strafing and bombing runs paying particular attention to Tinian Town. Shells and rockets from battleships, heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, and 30 gunboats saturated the beaches. The massed artillery battalions on southern Saipan thundered in with their 105s and 155s.

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After a half-hour of this furious bombardment, the LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) from Calvert began their run toward the beach at Tinian Town, receiving heavy artillery and mortar fire from the shore. Admiral Hill, seeking to avoid casualties, ordered the boats to withdraw and reform. A second run started and immediately drew fire from the shore; several boats were sprayed with shell fragments. But they continued on to within 400 yards of the beach before turning back.

While the small boats engaged in this maneuver, the battleship Colorado came under fire at a range of 3,200 yards from two 6-inch naval guns near Tinian Town, guns that had gone undetected during the weeks of preinvasion surveillance and preparatory fires. Within 15 minutes, the Japanese gunners scored 22 direct hits on Colorado and six direct hits on the destroyer Norman Scott, which was attempting to protect the battleship. Casualties among the crews and Marine detachments on the two ships were heavy: 62 killed and 223 wounded. Ten Marines were among the dead, 31 were among the wounded. Colorado was through for the day and limped off back to Saipan. The Japanese battery survived for four more days until destroyed by the battleship Tennessee.

Napalm: Something New in the Arsenal

Early in 1944, Army Air Corps personnel at Eglin Air Force base near Fort Walton Beach, Florida invented a new weapon. It was a "fire bomb," first used in combat during the Tinian campaign. The ingredients were diesel oil, gasoline, and a metallic salt from the naptha used in the manufacture of soap. Mixed with petroleum fuels, the salt created an incendiary jelly that clung to any surface and burned with an extremely hot flame. The concoction was called "napalm." It could be dropped in wing or belly tanks attached to the underside of an aircraft and was fired by an igniter on contact with the ground.

On 19 July, five days before the Tinian landing, Lieutenant Commander Louis W. Wang, USN, arrived at Saipan carrying a small supply of the "napalm" powder and a film made at Eglin demonstrating the potency of the bomb. It showed P-47s making low-level drops after diving from 2,000 feet.

The demonstration film so impressed Admiral Harry Hill and Major General Harry Schmidt that Hill immediately radioed Admiral Chester Nimitz in Hawaii, requesting 8,599 pounds of the powder. They also ordered trial raids on Tinian by P-47 pilots of the Army's 318th Air Group, using powder and detonators already on hand. These trials were not particularly impressive. Their purpose was to burn off wooded areas that had previously resisted white phosphorous and thermite. The "napalm" scorched the trees but left the foliage only partially burned. One problem was the wood itself—a virtually indestructible type of ironwood. Another was the napalm mixture. Wang had brought with him the wrong formula. "We tried using Jap aviation gasoline, according to Colonel Lewis M. Sanders, commander of the fighter group, "but that gave too much fire effect. Then we tried Jap motor gas and oil, with the napalm powder, and it was quite successful."

The P-47 pilots were uncomfortable with napalm missions. They dropped their tanks at extremely low altitudes—50 feet in some cases—and were highly vulnerable to ground fire. They were also unimpressed with the efficiency of these "fire bombs"; much of their incendiary effect was wasted in excessive upward flash. Napalm also had a very short burning time—less than two minutes.

Nevertheless, 147 "fire bombs" were used during the Tinian operation, 91 of them containing the napalm mixture. They were most effective in clearing cane fields. As Major General Clifton B. Cates, the 4th Division commander, later recalled: "The first morning they put it down, I went up to the front line and those planes came in over our heads it seemed to me like about a hundred feet in the air . . . [They] let go their napalm bombs right over our heads . . . maybe two or three hundred yards in front of us. It was a very devastating thing and particularly to the morale of the Japanese . . . . I didn't feel too comfortable sitting up there ... I figured that some of them might drop short."

Each bomb cleared an area approximately 75 by 200 feet and, in some cases, left behind the charred bodies of Japanese troops. The Marines were impressed. Infantry commanders sought napalm for their flamethrower tanks. It was used widely in 1944 in support of ground troops in the Philippines. On one operation on Luzon, 238 fighters saturated an area with napalm: "The usually stoic [Japanese]," an Air Force historian recorded, "seemingly lost all caution and fled into the open, [becoming] easy targets for other forms of attack."

Napalm was used effectively in the fire bombing of Japanese cities. It was also used in preinvasion efforts to soften up the defenses of Iwo Jima. Beginning on 31 January 1945, Liberator bombers of the Seventh Air Force began 16 days of daytime sorties against the island in which 602 tons of bombs were dropped and 1,111 drums of napalm were used in an unproductive effort to burn off camouflage from defensive positions and gun emplacements. A Marine intelligence officer is quoted in the official Air Force history of operations over Iwo Jima as saying that "the chief effect of the long bombardment of Iwo was to cause the enemy to build more elaborate underground defenses.

The losses sustained by the two ships exceeded those suffered that day by the Marine landing force on the northwestern beaches. But the feint served its purpose. It froze in place around Tinian Town a whole battalion of the 50th Infantry Regiment and various elements of the 56th Naval Guard Force. And it convinced the Japanese commander, Colonel Kiyochi Ogata, that he had thwarted an invasion. His message to Tokyo described how his forces had repelled 100 landing barges.

These "barges" were reloaded on the Calvert at 1000 and the convoy steamed north to the White Beaches where 4th Division troops had landed after a mishap in their planning. An underwater demolition team using floats carrying explosives swam to White Beach 2 shortly before dawn to blast away boulders and destroy beach mines. The mission failed because of a squall. The floats scattered, the explosives were lost and a few hours later, Marines paid a price for this aborted mission.

To compensate for the failure of the UDT team, fire support ships lying off the White Beaches—the battleships California and Tennessee, the heavy cruiser Louisville, and four destroyers—blasted away at the landing areas. Air strikes were then ordered at about 0630 and observers claimed that five of the 14 known beach mines had been destroyed. A battery of 155mm "Long Tom" guns on Saipan fired smokeshells at the Japanese command post on Mount Lasso and also laid smoke in the woods and on the bluffs just beyond the beaches to obstruct Japanese observation.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division