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Saipan, the second largest island in the Marianas, was a major Japanese
base and sugar
production area, complete with a fairly extensive road network and narrow gauge rail system. The island
has an area of about 71 square
miles (184 square km) and is about 13 miles (21 km) long. The rugged
center of the island rises to a peak elevation of over 1500 feet (460
m) at Mount Tapotchau. The southern end of the island is a
plateau some 200'-300' or 60 to 90 meters in elevation. Most of the
island (70%) was covered with sugar cane, the rest being scrub or
There was a large Japanese civilian
population, numbering about 20,000, plus 4000 Chamorros and 100 Kanakas. The town of Garapan (145.72E
15.21N), which was the Japanese administrative center of the
Marianas, had a population of 10,000, and the Japanese had developed
Tanapag harbor, a reef-protected
anchorage just north of Garapan. Tanapag had a depth of 20'-50' (6 to
15 meters) and the Japanese had dredged a clear channel to the
anchorage and built four large piers up to 700' (210 meters) long.
on the south end of the island, dated from the 1930s and was the most
important Japanese airbase between Japan and Truk. A 4380' (1335m) strip was under
construction at Marpi Point on the north end of the island, and a 140'
by 3875' (43m by 1180m) strip had been built at Charan Kanoa that was
oriented crossways to the prevailing winds, making it usable only by
very light aircraft.
Coastal defenses were still incomplete in June
1944, but included 8 6" (152mm) guns, 9 140mm guns, 8 120mm dual-purpose guns,
4 200mm mortars, and a couple of dozen concrete blockhouses and pillboxes. Not
all the guns had yet been sited, and significant quantities of boat mines, barbed wire, and other material
for fortifications had
arrived but had not yet been put to use. Even larger quantities of
construction materials had been sunk by the submarine blockade.
Saipan had a garrison of about 32,000 men by the
time of the American invasion.
The garrison commander, Saito Yoshitsugu,
commanded his own 43 Division and 47 Independent Mixed Brigade,
as well as a hodgepodge of smaller units that included 9 Tank Regiment. Many of Saito's formations
had arrived without adequate equipment due to submarine
attacks on the reinforcement convoys.
In particular, 118 Regiment lost
858 men and almost all its equipment
when its convoy lost five of eight
ships to a submarine wolf pack (Shark, Pintado,
and Pilotfish) on 4-6 June 1945.
There was in addition some 6690 Navy troops on Saipan, including 800
men of the Special
Naval Landing Forces. The total garrison was about twice the size
of American intelligence
The American invasion force for Saipan was
designated Northern Attack Force (Task Force 52) and was under the
personal command of Kelly
with Holland M. Smith
commanding the landing force of 2
Marine Divisions from 5
Amphibious Corps. Both divisions
were veteran formations, 2 Marine
Division having fought at Guadalcanal
and Tarawa and 4 Marine Division at
Roi-Namur. Fire support was
provided by two groups totaling eight battleships, eleven cruisers, and 26 destroyers. Close air support was
provided by two escort carrier
groups totaling seven escort carriers with 169 aircraft. Additional
support was provided by the fleet
carriers (Mitscher) and
fast battleships (Lee) of Task
Force 58. All these forces came under 5 Fleet (Spruance).
The fast carriers, which were in the vanguard of
the invasion fleet, began strikes against the Marianas on the afternoon
of 11 June 1944. About 36 Japanese aircraft were destroyed, and a torpedo attack on the night of
11-12 June by "Betty" bombers
was repulsed with one "Betty" shot down. By nightfall on 13 June,
Japanese air power on Saipan and its neighboring islands had been all
but eliminated. Two night attacks on 15 June from Guam were largely
broken up, the Japanese losing at least seven aircraft and inflicting
no damage on the American ships.
The preliminary bombardment began on 13 June 1944 with Lee's fast battleships. The first day was largely unsuccessful, as the gunners on the fast battleships had trained for fleet action rather than shore bombardment and were firing high-velocity guns with too flat a trajectory. It did not help that the ships had to fire from long range (over 10,000 yards) because the fast battleships were considered too valuable to risk in shallow water that had not yet been swept for mines. Some 2432 16" (406mm) and 12,544 5" (127mm) shells were expended to little effect. The next day, the fast battleships were relieved by the fire support groups, whose older battleships had trained extensively for shore bombardment and carefully followed a detailed fire plan. Ranges were also much shorter, as the old battleships were considered more expendable, and some of the old battleships fired from as close as two miles (3200m) to shore. The preliminary bombardment dropped a total of nearly 12 kilotons of shells on the island.
Two underwater demolition
teams began operating off the landing beaches under cover of the 14
June bombardment. These reported on water depth and reefs in the
landing areas, pinpointing paths through the reefs for landing craft. To their
surprise, no boat obstacles or mines were encountered. The UDTs
returned that evening to blast out boat passages and ramps with high explosive charges.
Landings. Landings commenced on the morning of 15 June 1944,
following a final two-hour bombardment and half an hour of air strikes.
A diversion was staged off Garapan to the north, but this failed to
impress Saito, who had correctly guessed that the landings would take
place on the southwest coast of the island, near Charan Kanoa. The
initial landings were organized into four waves, each provided with 96 LVTs launched from 64 LSTs 5500 yards offshore. Close fire
support was provided by 24 LCI
gunboats with 40mm cannon and 18 armored LVTs. Warships were stationed
1250 yards offshore to provide additional fire support.
The initial wave came ashore at 0844 and
immediately came under heavy fire. The LVTs in particular suffered
heavy casualties from Japanese artillery, which was skillfully dug
in on reverse slopes overlooking the beach and had registered points
throughout the landing area. Pillboxes on Afetna Point, in the center
of the landing area, had survived the preliminary bombardment and laid
down such heavy fire that American landing craft shied away and
landed their troops elsewhere, splitting the beachhead. The landing
force was subject to enfilading fire from Afetna Point and Agingan
Point, at the south end of the landing beaches. All four Marine battalion commanders were wounded
within a few hours, and only about half the objectives for the first
day were reached. There were over 2000 casualties. However, 8000 men
had come ashore within the first twenty minutes, and by nightfall some
20,000 assault troops had been landed, along with tanks and artillery.
The failure to link the two beachheads left the
Marines vulnerable to
defeat in detail, but the
Japanese missed this opportunity by attacked both beachheads
simultaneously. A concentration of about 1000 Japanese troops north of
the northern beachhead was hit with 5" shells from California
at 1712, but this did not prevent further probing attacks.
The main Japanese counterattack in the north came at 0300 and lasted
almost three hours. Five Marine tanks finally stopped the Japanese at
sunrise, assisted by cruiser and destroyer gunfire. About 700 Japanese
were killed. The second counterattack, from the south, was preceded by
artillery preparation and hit 25 Regiment. It was broken up by 105mm
artillery fire. Marines later claimed that the Japanese mingled women
and children with their ranks to create the impression that this was
group of civilians attempting to surrender.
The third counterattack came through the gap between the two beachheads
at about 0530 and succeeded in briefly capturing the Charan Kanoa pier.
The Japanese were driven out with heavy loss, but not before badly
damaging the valuable pier.
By 0400 on 16 June Spruance had received word that
the Japanese Fleet was coming out to do battle. Spruance consulted with
Turner and Smith, and the decision was made to commit the reserve, 27 Division (Ralph Smith), at once. The division
began coming ashore that evening. The Japanese staged another
counterattack at 0330 the next morning by 500 troops supported by 44
tanks. Ships offshore fired star shells that brilliantly illuminated
the Japanese attack, and the Marines fired on the Japanese tanks with bazookas, 37mm antitank guns, and grenades. These were joined by 75mm
guns on halftracks at dawn. The Japanese tanks were annihilated, the
last survivor being destroyed by 5" naval gunfire as it attempted to
escape into the hills.
Less than an hour later, the Marines launched
attacks of their own, which by the end of 17 June had doubled the size
of the beachhead. By 1400 elements of 165 Regiment
had reached Aslito airfield. The attacks were supported by the Marines'
artillery, spotted by OY-1
launched from escort carriers, while deep support
continued to be supplied by warships. Some 85% of all observed
artillery fire on Saipan was directed by light observation aircraft.
That evening the Japanese
launched air raids from Truk and Yap, damaging two landing ships and
putting a bomb through the after
elevator of escort carrier Fanshaw
Bay. The carrier was forced to retire to Eniwetok for repairs. The Japanese
lost three aircraft, while the Americans lost six aircraft from White
Plains in a landing accident.
By 18 June Saito was forced to admit that he had
no hope of driving the Americans into the sea. Most of his troops
withdrew to a line passing through Mount Tapotchau, allowing the
Marines to clear most of the southern part of the island and begin
repairing Aslito field, which the Marines renamed Isely Field. The
first American aircraft, P-47s
Fighter Squadron and P-61s
Fighter Squadron, landed here on 22 June.
Meanwhile the Battle of the Philippine Sea
was being fought to the west, and most of the American amphibious fleet
was withdrawn to safer waters to the east. A few transports were
allowed to return and continue unloading supplies on 19 June, and the
remainder of the force returned on 21 June, after the Americans had won the fleet engagement.
It took another two weeks of slowly grinding
forward for the Americans to clear the remaining Japanese troops from
Saipan. The Japanese staged occasional small air raids, one of which
managed to damage Maryland with a torpedo on 22 June. From 21-26 June
the Americans attempted to batter their way past Mount Tapotchau, and
27 Division, in the center and facing formidable defenses around
"Purple Heart Ridge" and "Death Valley", began to lag behind.
Smith had been
disappointed with the performance of 27 Division at Makin,
and his opinion of the division is only made worse when it failed to
keep up with the Marine divisions on its flanks. Smith relieved the commander of 27 Division on the
evening of 24 June, kicking up
a controversy that is still alive today.
On 27 June, a force of about 500 Japanese troops
that had been bottled up in the southern tip of the island managed to
slip past a battalion of 27 Division. The Japanese force raided Isely
Field before turning north to seek Saito's command post. Instead, the
Japanese ran into 14
Marine Regiments and were annihilated, at the cost of 33 Marine casualties. That same day, 2
Marine Division finally captured the summit of Mount Tapotchau.
attack continued to grind forward,
and Garapan fell on 4 July. Two days later, Saito and Nagumo both
committed ritual suicide. Most of
remaining Japanese troops, numbering over 3000, made the largest
suicide charge of the war into the American lines
the next morning, catching 27 Division unprepared in spite of a warning
from Smith to its new commander that such
an attack was likely. However, the banzai
charge ending organized resistance on the island. The
island was declared secure on 9 July, but small groups of Japanese
soldiers continued to be hunted down until 10 August.
Mass Civilian Suicides. On 9-12 July, hundreds of Japanese civilians committed suicide, many by leaping off the high cliffs on the northern end of the island. Some of those who hesitated were shot down by holed-up Japanese troops. Life correspondent Robert Sherrod spoke with a witness of once such incident (Spector 1985):
A Japanese sniper who had been exchanging shots with a platoon of marines spotted a Japanese couple with four children out on the rocks, unable to bring themselves to make the fatal leap. "'The Jap sniper took aim. He drilled the man from behind, dropping him off the rocks into the sea. The second bullet hit the woman. She dragged herself about thirty feet along the rocks, then she floated out in a pool of blood. The sniper would have shot the children, but a Japanese woman ran across and carried them out of range. The sniper walked defiantly out of his cave and crimped under a hundred American bullets.'"
The mass suicide was one of the most horrible incidents
of the war, and it probably affected American thinking during the strategic bombing campaign
against Japan by reinforcing the impression that there was no meaningful distinction between Japanese soldiers and civilians.
Estimates of the numbers killed have varied widely, but Rottman (2002) estimates there were 26,000 civilians on the island at the time of the invasion, and the Americans interned about 18,000 civilians, suggesting a figure of about 8,000 civilians killed either in the fighting or in the mass suicide.
||5 Fleet (Spruance)
Force 51 Joint Expeditionary Force (Turner)
|AGC Rocky Mount
Force 52 Northern Attack Force (Turner)
Group 52.2 (Hill)
Group 52.3 Transport Group "Able"
||2 Marine Division (Watson)
|APA Frederick Funston
|APA Arthur Middleton
|LSD Oak Hill
Group 52.4 Transport Group "Baker"
||4 Marine Division (Schmidt)
|APA James O'Hara
|LSD White Marsh
|LSD Belle Grove
Group 52.8 Eastern Landing Group
||1 Battalion, 2
Group 52.12 Transport Screen
Group 52.5 Tractor Flotilla
Group 52.17 Fire Support Group 1 (Oldendorf)
|Unit 1 (Kingman)
|Unit 4 (Oldendorf)
|Unit 5 (Hayler)
Group 52.10 Fire Support Group 2 (Ainsworth)
|Unit 6 (Ainsworth)|
|Unit 7 (Weyler)
|CA San Francisco
|Unit 8 (Joy)
|CA New Orleans|
Group 52.14 Carrier Support Group 1 (Bogan)
|Unit 1 (Bogan)|
||VC-68: 16 FM2 Wildcat, 12 TBM-1C Avenger
||VC-65: 12 FM2 Wildcat, 9 TBM-1C Avenger|
||VC-4: 16 FM2 Wildcat, 3 TBF-1C Avenger, 9 TBM-1C Avenger|
||VC-3: 14 FM2 Wildcat, 9 TBM-1C Avenger|
Group 52.11 Carrier Support Group 2 (Sallada)
|Unit 3 (Sallada)
||VC-5: 12 FM2 Wildcat, 8 TBM-1C Avenger|
||VC-10: 16 FM2 Wildcat, 12 TBM-1C Avenger|
|Unit 4 (Stump)
||VC-11: 12 FM2 Wildcat, 9 TBM-1C Avenger|
Group 52.13 Minesweeping and Hydrographic Survey
Group 51.1 Joint Expeditionary Force Reserve (Blandy)
||27 Division (Smith)
of the Morning
|7 LCI gunboats
Group 52.7 Service and Salvage Group
Group 50.17 Fueling Group
|Saipan Garrison (Saito)||About 25,000 men
||43 Division (Saito)
|47 Independent Mixed Brigade (Oka)
|9 Tank Regiment
|Naval forces (Nagumo)
||About 6690 men|
|1 Yokosuka SNLF
|55 Guard Force
Consequences of the battle. Total American casualties numbered 16,525, of
which 3426 were killed or missing in action. Japanese dead numbered at
least 23,811, and another 1780 Japanese and Koreans were taken
Smith considered Saipan the decisive battle of the
Pacific counteroffensive. Its loss came as a great shock in Japan,
precipitating the fall of the Tojo
Christmas Raid. On 25 December 1944, Isley Field was raided by five P1Y "Frances" bombers of 501 Air Group and several Ki-67 "Peggy" bombers of 7 Air Regiment. The Japanese destroyed four B-29 Superfortresses and damaged another eleven B-29s at the cost of two P1Ys.
Temperatures: Jan 81/72, Apr 83/74, Jul 83/74, Oct 83/75, record 89/72
Rainfall: Jan 12/2.7, Apr 14/2.8, Jul
23/10.0, Oct 22/11.4 ==
82.3" per annum
Crowl (1959; accessed 2011-5-25)
Pearce and Smith (1990)
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