Relief of Major General Ralph C. Smith: By 24 June General Holland Smith had made up his mind that the “all-round poor performance” of the 27th Division could only be remedied by a drastic shake-up in its command structure. Accordingly, he decided to ask for the relief of General Ralph Smith.
He first visited Admiral Turner, who agreed with him, and together the two officers boarded the flagship Indianapolis to consult with Admiral Spruance. As a result of this discussion, Admiral Spruance authorized and directed that General Ralph Smith be relieved by General Jarman, the island commander. It was understood that Jarman would take over only until such time as another general officer could be dispatched from Hawaii to command the division. In Spruance’s words, “No other action appeared adequate to accomplish the purpose.”
The bill of particulars presented by General Holland Smith against General Ralph Smith broke down into two general charges: (1) that on two separate occasions the Army commander had issued orders to units not under his command and had contravened orders of the corps commander; and (2) that on the morning of 23 June the 27th Division had been late in launching its attack and had thereafter retarded the progress of the Marine divisions on the flanks.
On the first point, the corps commander charged that the “27th Infantry Division Field Order No. 454 contravened the NTLF Operation Order Number 9-44 by ordering the 105th Infantry to hold its present positions, although the 105th Infantry had been removed from the tactical control of the Division Commander,” and that the 27th Division “Field Order No. 46 again contravened the NTLF order by issuing tactical orders to the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry to continue operations to mop up enemy resistance in NAFUTAN POINT Area,” although that battalion “by NTLF Operation Order No. 10-44 had been removed from the tactical control of the 27th Infantry Division.”
On the second point, it was alleged that on the morning of 23 June, the “27th Infantry Division was from 77 minutes to two hours late in launching its attack, although the major elements of this division did not have to move more than about three miles to execute the order.” In a report to Admiral Turner written three days later, General Holland Smith revised this figure downward to “55 minutes to two hours” and added that the “lack of coordination in the attack” resulting from the 27th Division’s late arrival and “the slow advance of the Division against small arms and mortar fire uncovered the flanks of the 4th and 2nd Marine Divisions to such extent that it was necessary to slow down and eventually halt these units and thereby retard otherwise favorable offensive operations which were in progress.”
It is doubtful whether the relief of General Ralph Smith brought about any marked change one way or the other in the “aggressiveness” of the 27th Division about which General Holland Smith was so concerned. There is no doubt, however, that it precipitated an inter-service controversy of alarming proportions—a controversy that seriously jeopardized harmonious relations at all levels among the Army and the Navy and the Marine Corps in the Pacific.
The first signs of strain appeared naturally enough on Saipan itself, where soldiers and marines still had to fight shoulder to shoulder for more than two weeks to secure the island. Army officers were quick to resent the slur on their service implied by the relief of General Ralph Smith, and by the end of the battle relationships between top Army officers and Holland Smith’s staff had reached the breaking point. Various Army officers who had contact of one sort or another with that staff reported that the Marine officers at headquarters made little effort to disguise their feeling that the 27th Division was an inferior organization. In the opinion of one of the Army officers, “the Commanding General and Staff of the NTLF held the units of the 27th Division in little esteem, actually a position bordering on scorn.”
The reaction on the part of the ranking Army officers present on Saipan was a determination never to serve under General Holland Smith again if they could help it. General Ralph Smith urged Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson that “no Army combat troops should ever again be permitted to serve under the command of Marine Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith.”
General Kernan, who commanded the 27th Division Artillery, agreed. Major General George W. Griner, who took over command of the Army division on 26 June, quarreled so bitterly with the corps commander that he came away from Saipan with the “firm conviction that he [Holland Smith] is so prejudiced against the with Admiral Spruance, June 1944. Army that no Army Division serving under his command alongside of Marine Divisions can expect that their deeds will receive fair and honest evaluation.”
When, less than a week after the conclusion of organized hostilities on Saipan, the island was visited by General Richardson, the commanding general of all Army forces in the Pacific Ocean Areas, the dispute waxed even hotter. While on the island, Richardson reviewed the Army troops and presented decorations—all without the previous knowledge or consent of Holland Smith. The corps commander was quick to resent these actions, which he considered to be a breach of military etiquette and an unwarranted infringement on his own authority. On his part, General Richardson is reported to have said angrily to the Marine general, “I want you to know you can not push the Army around the way you have been doing.” At this juncture Admirals Spruance and Turner jumped into the fight and complained strongly to Admiral Nimitz of the irregularity of Richardson’s actions on Saipan, and especially his berating of Holland Smith.
General Richardson’s visit to Saipan was in fact incident to a more general inquiry into the relief of Ralph Smith, which Richardson had called at his headquarters back on Oahu. On 4 July, five days before the conclusion of the battle for Saipan, Richardson had appointed a board of inquiry to examine the facts involved.
The board was headed by Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, Jr., and consisted, in addition to the chairman, of four Army officers, Major General John R. Hodge, Brigadier General Henry B. Holmes, Jr., Brigadier General Roy E. Blount, and Lieutenant Colonel Charles A. Selby. It convened first on 7 July and continued until the 26th, hearing the testimony of Army officers and examining those official reports from Army files that were available to it.
After examining all the available evidence—which was admitted to be limited because only personnel and records of the U.S. Army Forces, Central Pacific Area, could be examined—the “Buckner Board” arrived at four conclusions:
- that General Holland Smith had full authority to relieve General Ralph Smith;
- that the orders effecting the change of command were properly issued;
- that General Holland Smith “was not fully informed regarding conditions in the zone of the 27th Infantry Division,” when he asked for the relief of General Ralph Smith; and
- that the relief of General Ralph Smith “was not justified by the facts.”
In reaching these conclusions, the Buckner Board reasoned that the situation facing the 27th Division at the entrance to Death Valley was far more serious than General Holland Smith had imagined. “The bulk of the 27th Division,” the board reported, “was opposed by the enemy’s main defensive position on a difficult piece of terrain, naturally adapted to defense, artificially strengthened, well manned and heavily covered by fire,” General Holland Smith, it concluded, “was not aware of the strength of this position and expected the 27th Division to overrun it rapidly . . . .The delay incident to this situation was mistaken by Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith as an indication that the 27th Division was lacking in aggressiveness and that its commander was inefficient . . . .” Furthermore, the board argued, there was no evidence that General Ralph Smith attempted to “contravene” orders during the clean-up on Nafutan Point, These findings, coming as they did from an all-Army board of inquiry by no means ended the controversy. Holland Smith wrote to Admiral Nimitz to the effect that the Buckner Board’s conclusions were unwarranted, and added, “I was and am convinced that the 27th Division was not accomplishing even the combat results to be expected from an organization which had had adequate opportunity for training,” Admiral Turner, resenting the board’s implied criticism that he had been overzealous in “pressing Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith … to expedite the conquest of Saipan so as to free the fleet for another operation,” also demurred from the findings of the board. He at no time had brought pressure to bear on Holland Smith, he asserted, and he was confident that no part of the Marine general’s action against Ralph Smith “was based on either personal or service prejudice or jealousy.”
When the detailed report of the proceedings of the Buckner Board reached Washington, General Marshall’s chief advisers tended to take a “plague on both your houses” attitude. Major General Thomas T. Handy, Assistant Chief of Staff, advised Marshall that Holland Smith had some cause for complaining of the 27th Division’s lack of aggressiveness in the attack into Death Valley; that “Holland Smith’s fitness for this command is open to question” because of his deep-seated prejudice against the Army; and that “bad blood had developed between the Marines and the Army on Saipan” to such a degree that it endangered future operations in the theater. “In my opinion,” he concluded, “it would be desirable that both Smiths be ordered out of the Pacific Ocean Area. While I do not believe we should make definite recommendation to the Navy for the relief of Holland Smith, I think that positive action should be taken to get Ralph Smith out of the area. His presence undoubtedly tends to aggravate a bad situation between the Services.”
Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney, Deputy Chief of Staff, was of much the same mind as General Handy. After examining the Buckner Board Report, he concluded that the staff work of Holland Smith’s V Amphibious Corps was below acceptable standards; that there was reasonably good tactical direction on the part of Ralph Smith; and that Ralph Smith failed to exact the performance expected from a well-trained division, as evidenced by poor leadership on the part of some regimental and battalion commanders, undue hesitancy to bypass snipers “with a tendency to alibi because of lack of reserves to mop up,” poor march discipline, and lack of reconnaissance.
[NOTE CoS-23 Memo, Handy for CofS, 16 Aug 44, atchd to Buckner Board Rpt, This recommendation was acted upon favorably. Ralph Smith was relieved of his command of the 98th Infantry Division, which was on garrison duty in the Hawaiian Islands. He was later transferred to the European Theater of Operations. Holland Smith, while relieved of his command of V Amphibious Corps, was elevated to the command of the newly organized Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.]
On 22 November General Marshall expressed to Admiral King his deep concern over the fact that “relationships between the Marines and the Army forces on Saipan had deteriorated beyond mere healthy rivalry.” To avert future controversies of the same sort, General Marshall suggested that he and Admiral King send identical telegrams to Richardson and Nimitz adjuring them “to take suitable steps to promptly eradicate any tendency toward . . . disharmony among the components of our forces.” Marshall also suggested that both commanders should conduct an immediate investigation into the Saipan affair with an eye to preventing the recurrence of any such imbroglio in the future. To this Admiral King replied that in his mind the findings of the Buckner Board were unilateral and suspect, and that the record improperly included intemperate attacks on the personal character and professional competence of General Holland Smith. He could not concur in any further investigations in which General Richardson was to be a party because he felt that that officer had already done enough damage by his “investigational activities during his visit to Saipan” and by convening the Buckner Board. There the matter was dropped as far as official action was concerned. The American public, however, was not to be permitted any early respite from the heated journalistic dispute that followed Ralph Smith’s relief. First among the newspapers to air the matter was the Hearst press. Various affiliates of that syndicate pointed editorially to two lessons from the battle for Saipan. First, it was claimed that Marine Corps casualties were excessive, especially in contrast to those in MacArthur’s theater. Second, divided command was a mistake. The Hearst papers’ conclusion was that “the supreme command in the Pacific should, of course, be logically and efficiently entrusted to General Douglas MacArthur.”
Another powerful syndicate, the Henry Luce publications, took the other side. Time and Life magazines both carried articles favoring Holland Smith’s side of the controversy, the former concluding, “when field commanders hesitate to remove subordinates for fear of inter-service contention, battles and lives will be needlessly lost.” More than four years after the event, the issue was reopened publicly when General Holland Smith published part of his wartime memoirs in the Saturday Evening Post, He was answered by Captain Edmund G. Love, the official historian of the 27th Infantry Division, in a rebuttal that was printed in part in the Saturday Evening Post, and in full in the Infantry Journal. The capstone of this particular literary controversy was inserted when General Holland Smith published his memoirs in book form in 1949, and Captain Love in the same year came out with the official history of the 27th Division in World War II.
To resolve the controversy of Smith versus Smith conclusively and to the satisfaction of all is probably impossible. But a dispassionate re-examination of the salient facts of the case as presented in the foregoing chapters may serve at least to clarify the issue and to point to some satisfactory conclusions.
The first charge against Ralph Smith dealt with his alleged usurpation of authority and contravention of orders in handling the troops of the 27th Division that were left to finish the capture of Nafutan Point. In order to examine this charge it will be necessary first to recapitulate some of the events that took place on 21 and 22 June.
It will be remembered that on the morning of 21 June Holland Smith issued Operations Order Number 9-44, which directed that the bulk of the 27th Infantry Division be removed from the front lines on Nafutan peninsula and be assembled northwest of Aslito field in corps reserve. In Paragraph 3(d) of this operations order, one infantry battalion (undesignated) of the division was ordered to remain on Nafutan peninsula, where it would “mop up remaining enemy detachments, maintain anti-sniper patrols . . . and protect installations within its zone of action with particular attention to ASLITO Airfield.”
After an afternoon in which his troops made little progress on Nafutan, Ralph Smith called Holland Smith and persuaded him that at least two battalions would be needed to mop up the enemy in that area. Accordingly, the corps commander modified his initial order in a mail brief that arrived at 27th Division headquarters at 0830 on 22 June. This message read, “1 RCT will continue mission in Garrison Area [Nafutan] of cleaning up remaining resistance and patrolling area . . . ,” Like the initial order, this mail brief did not specifically designate the unit intended for the mission, although it was understood from previous conversations that the 105th infantry would be given the job.
At 2000, 21 June, after his conversation with General Holland Smith but before receiving the mail brief modifying Operations Order Number 9-44, General Ralph Smith issued his Field Order Number 45-A. This order, insofar as it applied to the 105th Infantry, read: RCT 105 will hold present front line facing NAFUTAN POINT, with two Battalions on the line and one Battalion in Regimental Reserve. It will relieve elements of RCT 165 now on the present front line by 0630 22 June. The Battalion in reserve will not be committed to action without authority from the Division Commander. Reorganization of the present front line to be effected not later than 1100 22 June and offensive operations against the enemy continued. Reserve Battalion will maintain anti-sniper patrols in vicinity of ASLITO AIRFIELD.
In asking for the relief of Ralph Smith, Holland Smith claimed that in issuing this field order, the 27th Division commander had committed two offenses simultaneously. He had usurped authority of his immediate superior by issuing formal orders to a unit no longer under his control, and he had contravened his superior’s orders by instructing that unit to “hold” rather than to fight offensively. Holland Smith argued that his corps Operation Order Number 9-44, as modified by the mail brief, placed the entire 27th Division in reserve status and removed the 105th Infantry from tactical control of the 27th Infantry Division. Hence, Ralph Smith had no right at all to issue orders to the 105th. Furthermore, Holland Smith claimed, his own order directed the 105th Infantry “to conduct offensive operations to mop up enemy units in the NAFUTAN POINT area.” Ralph Smith’s Field Order Number 45-A, on the other hand, instructed the 105th Infantry “to hold its present positions” rather than to conduct offensive operations. This, according to Holland Smith, was a clear contravention of orders.
Both Army and Marine Corps regulations concerning the composition of combat orders tend to support Holland Smith’s argument on the question of where control of the 105th Infantry lay on the night of 21 June. Furthermore, they account in part for his own conviction that tactical control over the 105th had been clearly removed from the 27th Division and had been placed under his own headquarters by his Field Order Number 9-44. These regulations state that Paragraph 3 of a field order “assigns definite missions to each of the several elements of the [issuing] command charged with execution of the tactical details for carrying out the decision of the commander or the assigned mission.” Since the “one Infantry Battalion, 27th Infantry Division (to be designated), was assigned a specific mission in Paragraph 3(d) of Holland Smith’s Field Order Number 9-44 and since the entire 105th Infantry was shortly thereafter substituted for this one battalion, it seemed clear to members of Holland Smith’s staff that the unit would execute its mop-up task as an immediate subordinate of Holland Smith’s headquarters. General Ralph Smith, on the other hand, was just as clear in his mind that the unit left on Nafutan was still under his own command. Speaking of his telephone conversation with General Holland Smith, he in his conversation about having the regiment [105th] operate under NTLF control,” He continued that, in his opinion, his Field Order Number 45-A was neither a usurpation nor a contravention of orders.
No written confirmation of the mission to be assigned to the 105th Infantry arrived until 0830, 22 June, much too late to have permitted issuing any instructions for that day’s operation. The 105th Infantry was to take over with two battalions a front line covered the previous day by four battalions. “It seemed elementary military common-sense to have these two battalions first take over the front from the units being relieved.” Hence, in the absence of any further orders from higher headquarters, at 2000 on the night of the 21st Ralph Smith had ordered the 105th to “hold present front line,” relieve elements of the 165th Infantry, and jump off not later than 1100 the following morning. “The 105th Infantry was thus directed to resume offensive operations as soon as the lines were adjusted, thus to carry out the plan recommended by me and approved by General Holland Smith.”
Two facts stand out in support of General Ralph Smith’s contention. In the first place, Corps Order Number 9-44 did not specifically and expressly detach the 105th Infantry from the 27th Division and attach it to corps. Secondly, neither Corps Order Number 9-44 nor the subsequent mail brief mentioned the regiment by name, nor is there any record that either was sent to the command post of that regiment. Presumably, had General Ralph Smith not issued his Field Order Number 45-A, the 105th Infantry would have been without orders for 22 June.
On the afternoon of 22 June, General Holland Smith decided that a single battalion would be sufficient to clean up Nafutan Point. His chief of staff, General Erskine, personally communicated this decision to General Ralph Smith. That evening, the 27th Division commander drew up his Field Order Number 46, which he issued at 2100. In part, the order read: “2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry (1 Platoon Light Tanks attached) [will] continue operations to mop-up remaining enemy detachments in NAFUTAN POINT area. On completion of this mission, [it will] revert to Corps control as Corps Reserve.”
Just one hour later, Holland Smith issued his Operations Order Number 10-44, which was not received at 27th Division headquarters until 2330. This order read in part: “2nd Battalion 105th Infantry (with one light tank platoon attached) [will] continue operations at daylight to mop up remaining enemy detachments in NAFUTAN POINT area. Upon completion this mission [it will] revert to Corps control as Corps reserve.”
In requesting the relief of Ralph Smith, Holland Smith alleged that the Army general’s Field Order Number 46 contravened Corps Order Number 10-44 “by issuing tactical orders to the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, to continue operations to mop up enemy resistance in NAFUTAN POINT area. The 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, by NT and LF Order No. 10-44, had been removed from the tactical control of the 27th Infantry Division.”
Actually, of course, the only difference between Ralph Smith’s Field Order Number 46 and Holland Smith’s Order Number 10-44 in respect to the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, is that the latter included the words “at daylight” and the former omitted them. Otherwise, they are identical in all essential points. Later, Ralph Smith testified that in his conversations with General Holland Smith up to date no mention had been made of any question of control of the 105th Infantry nor had he been given any indication that that unit was no longer under direct control of the 27th Division. His belief that the 2nd Battalion, 105th, was still under his tactical control was reinforced by the wording of Corps Order Number 10-44 itself. The fact that the order stipulated that “upon completion this mission” the battalion was to “revert to Corps control as Corps reserve” would seem to indicate strongly that until its mission was completed, the unit was not under corps control but still under the division.
The fact is that the orders from Holland Smith’s headquarters were never clear as to where command authority over the troops on Nafutan Point did lie. Ralph Smith had to issue some orders, or none would have reached the front-line troops in time. There was no important difference between the commands that he issued and those that later came down from corps headquarters. There is no indication that any “contravention” of orders was intended or effected. At best, this charge appears to have been a rather flimsy legal peg upon which to hang a justification for Ralph Smith’s relief.
The second charge was more serious. It concerned the tardiness of the 27th Division in jumping off into Death Valley on the morning of 23 June, the alleged poor coordination of the division in the attack, and its slow advance against “small arms and mortar fire,” which slowed down the whole corps attack. Connected with this charge was Holland Smith’s opinion, as later expressed, that the Army division was guilty of “all-round poor performance.” Here was undoubtedly the core of Holland Smith’s complaint against the 27th Infantry Division and its commander, and it is on these allegations that the case between him and Ralph Smith must be decided. The details of the fighting at the entrance to Death Valley on 23 and 24 June have already been presented. Out of this complex of events, several conclusions emerge. On the one hand, it appears clear that Holland Smith and his staff underestimated both the formidability of the terrain and extent of enemy opposition that faced the 27th Division in Death Valley on the days in question.
The terrain facing the 27th Division was most difficult Two parallel ridges on the division flanks dominated its zone of action, and flanking fire from well-concealed enemy positions on the slopes interdicted the valley between the ridges. Before the division could accomplish its mission the enemy occupying these dominant terrain features had to be eliminated.
The conditions obtaining in the left part of the division zone precluded the possibility of maneuver, and an attack along the east slopes of Mount Tapotchau would have to be a frontal assault Because of extremely rugged terrain, flanking enemy fire from Purple Heart Ridge, and the difficulty of co-ordination with the Marines on the left, any such frontal attack would necessarily be costly.
In the right part of the division zone the terrain was less rugged, and, more important, there was a possibility of a flanking maneuver east of Purple Heart Ridge. This was clearly the more promising area for the main attack by the Army division. Yet even as late as the evening of 24 June after two days of heavy and generally fruitless fighting on the part of the 27th Division, corps headquarters still ordered the main effort to continue on the left.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division was late in jumping off in the attack on the morning of 23 June—even though not so late as Holland Smith charged. On the 23rd and again on the 24th, the Army troops attacking Death Valley were slow and faltering in their advance.
According to the testimony of General Jarman, who took over the division from Ralph Smith, the unit leaders of the 106th Infantry were hesitant and apparently confused. Although the Army troops in Death Valley sustained fairly heavy casualties, the two Marine divisions on the flanks suffered greater ones. Yet the marines made considerable advances while the 165th Infantry registered only small gains —the 106th Infantry almost none at all. No matter what the extenuating circumstances were and there were several—the conclusion seems inescapable that Holland Smith had good reason to be disappointed with the performance of the 27th Infantry Division on the two days in question.
Whether the action he took to remedy the situation was a wise one, however, remains doubtful. Certainly the relief of Ralph Smith appears to have done nothing to speed the capture of Death Valley. Six more days of bitter fighting remained before that object was to be achieved.
SOURCE: Campaign in the Marianas; BY: Philip A. Crowl (United States Army Center of Military History)
World War Two: Saipan (2-10); Smith Versus Smith
World War Two: Saipan (2-9) Fight for Center