With General Ralph Smith’s relief effected, General Jarman received orders to take over command of the 27th Division. He reported to division headquarters in the middle of the afternoon of 24 June and discovered that General Ralph Smith was at the front inspecting troops. Late that afternoon General Smith returned to the command post and remained there in consultation with General Jarman until about 0100 the next morning. The plan agreed upon for 25 June was essentially the one General Smith had already devised. Rather than continue the frontal assault on Death Valley with all three battalions of the 106th Infantry, it was decided that one battalion would be left at the mouth of the valley to contain the Japanese while the other two would circle to the right (eastward), then turn northwest and establish contact with the 2nd Marine Division north of the Japanese positions that had held up the 27th Division’s advance through the valley. Early on the morning of the 25th, while the two generals were still together, General Smith received his orders to report not later than 0530 that day for air transportation back to Pearl Harbor.
General Jarman issued his orders for the 25th soon after his long conversation with General Ralph Smith. He directed the 165th Infantry to continue its advance and seize the O-5 line in its zone, including all of Purple Heart Ridge. Jump-off hour was to be 0730. One battalion was to mop up the Japanese on Hill X-ray-Yoke and in the gulch to the south of it while the other two were to move up the ridge itself. Starting at 0600 the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 106th Infantry, were to move by covered route in the rear of the 165th, then advance to the northwest, cross the northern entrance of the valley, and establish contact with the 2nd Marine Division, The 2nd Battalion, 106th, was ordered to remain in its current position at the southern end of Death Valley, conduct mop-up operations, and “assist in containing and eliminating enemy positions” within the valley. Division artillery was to fire a fifteen-minute preparation. XXIV Corps Artillery would be in general support and was ordered to place the mass of its fires in the zone of the 27th Division.
Attack on Purple Heart Ridge
Early on the morning of the 25th, Colonel Kelley issued orders to his three battalions to move northeast up Purple Heart Ridge. The 2nd Battalion, 165th, was to attack Hill Xray-Yoke frontally from its position at the foot of the hill and then move on to Hills Oboe and King beyond. The 3rd Battalion was to move up on the right of the 2nd Battalion so that the two could jump off together at 0730. The 1st Battalion was to mop up all enemy resistance behind the two assault battalions and follow them northward. Had these orders been carried out and had the 1st Battalion, 106th, succeeded in tying in with the right flank of the 165th as planned, the assault on Purple Heart Ridge would have been conducted as a co-ordinated movement with three battalions abreast and one in support. As it turned out, the fighting degenerated into separate and un-coordinated actions by each of the four battalions involved.
The 1st Battalion, 165th, moved off on schedule from the base of Hill Love and after a short fire fight cleared the last vestige of the enemy from the area to the north. The battalion combed the area in its immediate zone without incident and then retired to its bivouac area of the two previous nights without taking any further part in the day’s attack on Purple Heart Ridge.
The immediate task of the 2nd Battalion, 165th, was to take Hill X-ray-Yoke, which Company K had unsuccessfully attacked the previous day. Company F had bivouacked the night before southwest of the gulch below the hill. Instead of attempting another frontal attack from that direction, Captain Leonard conducted a wide detour and came upon Hill X-ray-Yoke from a southeasterly direction. Company G, after investigating the gulch itself, moved directly up the face of the hill from the south. Company F arrived at the eastern foot of Hill Xray-Yoke about 09308 and commenced to move up the slope in column of platoons, led by 1st Lieutenant Ford Martin, Captain Leonard, meanwhile, had joined the battalion commander, Colonel McDonough, who was conducting a separate reconnaissance for the purpose of locating a site to establish an observation post. McDonough was desperately trying to close the gap between his own troops and the Marine line to the northeast. Just two hundred yards to the east he could observe a road so congested with American troops and vehicles that it reminded him of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “It was a machine gunner’s dream,” he later recalled, “but not one shot was being fired at it from the ridge to my front and this ridge showed no signs of life.”
As McDonough’s party reached the top of the hill, just before the main body of the company was approaching it, a machine gun opened up and felled the entire group. McDonough was wounded, as were Captain Leonard, Lieutenant Martin, and five enlisted men of F Company, 1st Lieutenant Henry W, Morrow, also of F Company, was killed. Captain Leonard later died of his wounds, and McDonough had to be replaced as battalion commander by Major Gregory Brusseau. Company F was so stripped of its officer personnel that later in the day 1st Lieutenant Joseph Trummel had to be transferred from G Company to take over command.
Enemy mortars joined the machine gun, first to pin down and then to scatter the troops of Company F as they approached the summit of the hill. In the absence of any officers on the spot, 1st Sergeant Edward Heikens took command of the company, collected the men, built a firm line, and reorganized the company front about halfway up the hill. There the men remained until late afternoon, when they were ordered down the hill to dig in for the night.
[N11-13 As a commentary on the difficulties of terrain appreciation in this area of Saipan, it might be noted that throughout the action described above, battalion, regiment, and division headquarters were under the mistaken belief that the attack was being conducted not against Hill Xray-Yoke, but against Hill Able some 600 yards to the north (see 27th Inf Div G-3 Jul, Msgs 27, 28, 67). This mistake derived from the erroneous reports of Captain Chasmar of G Company, who believed himself to be well north of where he actually was. It was his report that he had reached the top of Hill Able that partly induced McDonough and his party to go exploring around Hill Xray-Yoke for an observation post. See Love, Battle for Saipan, pp. 379-80. ]
Meanwhile, Company G had reached the top of Hill Xray-Yoke from the south and was pushing out along the ridge that ran north from it. As it reached the point where McDonough and his party had been hit, firing broke out all along the front and Captain Chasmar halted his advance. The new battalion commander, Major Brusseau, ordered Chasmar to hold fast and then requested tanks and self-propelled mounts. However, the approach to the position was too precipitous and rocky to permit the vehicles to be brought forward, and when F Company withdrew Company G also pulled back down the hill and dug in with battalion for the night.
Somewhat to the east and north of Hill X-ray-Yoke lay another elevation, a sort of tongue jutting eastward from the main line of Purple Heart Ridge. This was labeled Hill Victor and lay within the zone of the 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry. Before jump-off hour on the 25th, Captain Belts of Company K had sent patrols along the west side of the promontory only to have them pinned down by fire from the top.
Therefore he decided to move around the east side of the hill in an effort to take it from the north. Accordingly, K Company moved out at 0730 in column of platoons, 2nd Platoon in the lead. Immediately, the whole line came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the top of Hill Victor and from caves in the sides of the cliffs. The company was pinned down, as was I Company on its right, and no further effort was made to reach the top of the hill.
By midmorning it had become apparent that the 3rd Battalion, 165th, was not making any progress toward reaching the top of Purple Heart Ridge. Colonel Kelley therefore decided to leave that job to the 2nd Battalion and to send the 3rd off to the right to establish contact with the 4th Marine Division north of Chacha. The idea was for the 3rd Battalion to extend the right flank of the 106th Infantry, which was supposed to be moving north through the valley east of Purple Heart Ridge in order to seal off the Japanese in Death Valley from the north.
At 1445 the 3rd Battalion, 165th, moved off toward the north. The advance was rapid, since there was no opposition. Within a short time the battalion had established contact with the marines along a line northwest of Chacha, and by nightfall was digging in on the left flank of the 4th Marine Division. To the rear, forming a perimeter, was the 1st Battalion, 106th, which had been attached to the 165th in the morning.
While the 165th Infantry was making unsuccessful efforts to work its way to the top of Purple Heart Ridge, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 106th had moved off from the lower end of Death Valley in the circling movement that was intended eventually to bring them into contact with the 2nd Marine Division north of the main pocket of Japanese resistance. The plan, which had been conceived by General Ralph Smith and concurred in by General Jarman and Colonel Ayers, was for the two battalions to move up the valley to the east of Purple Heart Ridge behind the 165th Infantry, then cut northwest along the road that ran north of Hill Able and establish a new line across the northern opening of Death Valley. Instead of carrying out this plan, which would have involved cutting across open country, the two battalion commanders, with the approval of Colonel Ayers, chose to stick to the roads. The reason given was that the inside route was too rough to permit the passage of vehicles and heavy weapons. The decision resulted in the troops of the two battalions moving in a wide circle eastward onto Kagman Plain into the zone of action of the 4th Marine Division.
Colonel Ayers had ordered the 1st Battalion to make this move at 0600, but the troops were delayed for an hour and fifty minutes while the 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry, extended its lines eastward in order to cover the position formerly held by the 1st Battalion and seal off the whole lower end of Death Valley. At 0750 the 1st Battalion, commanded by Colonel Cornett, moved off, followed ten minutes later by the 3rd Battalion under Colonel Mizony.
When Colonel Cornett reached the point where he was supposed to turn off the road he was following and cut overland into the valley east of Purple Heart Ridge, guides from the 165th Infantry informed him that the valley route would be impassable to vehicles and that heavy fighting was going on in the area through which his battalion was supposed to pass. Cornett then decided to continue eastward along the road until it crossed a road (called S Road) that ran northwest past Hill Able into Death Valley. He then intended to follow S Road to his assigned positions.
Pursuing this course, the 1st Battalion reached the road junction, turned left, and had proceeded up S Road for about 400 yards when its lead vehicles drew fire. There, about 1130, Cornett built up a skirmish line 200 yards on either side of the road, with A Company on the right and B on the left. Immediately upon jumping off from this position, the battalion began to receive heavy fire from small arms, automatic weapons, and mortars situated in the hills to its front. Within twenty minutes Company A on the right had succeeded in reaching this high ground, although at the cost of twenty-one casualties, including the company commander, 1st Lieutenant Robert C. McCoy, who was wounded. On reaching the high ground, Company A remained immobile for the next two hours, waiting for B Company on its left to come up. By 1410 Company B pulled abreast, and the battalion occupied a line across S Road about 400 yards from where it had jumped off shortly before noon. No further progress was made during the day. The enemy, from his positions in the defiles of Purple Heart Ridge, was able to cover the whole area with continuous machine gun and mortar fire.
Finally, at 1615, Colonel Ayers ordered Colonel Cornett to withdraw his troops to the road junction from which they had begun their movement northwest toward Death Valley. This was accomplished by 1840, and the 1st Battalion bivouacked at the junction for the night. The 3rd Battalion, 106th, meanwhile, had made no progress during the day beyond the same road junction. It had arrived there in the wake of the 3rd Battalion, 165th, by 1155 and reported that it was being held up by congestion caused by the 23rd Marines. Thereafter, it made no move and finally, late in the afternoon, pulled back to the point from which it had started in the morning at the south end of Death Valley.
That night General Jarman, highly displeased with the failure of the 106th Infantry to comply with its orders to skirt the eastern slope of Purple Heart Ridge or to make any significant progress along the wider route that it had taken, asked Colonel Ayers for an explanation. In the division commander’s words, “He [Ayers] had no excuse and could offer no explanation of anything he did during the day. He stated he felt sure he could get his regiment in hand and forward the next morning (26 June). I told him he had one more chance and if he did not handle his regiment I would relieve him.”
Attack up Death Valley
The part of General Jarman’s plan that had called for an encirclement of Death Valley by skirting Purple Heart Ridge to the east had failed. Collaterally, on 25 June the 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry, was to execute a holding attack across the mouth of the valley, contain the enemy there, and apply whatever pressure was feasible from that direction. General Jarman hoped to make better use of his artillery than had been previously possible, and early in the morning ordered the commanding officer of Battery A, 106th Field Artillery, to conduct a reconnaissance along the southern end of Purple Heart Ridge with a view to moving one battery of 155-mm. howitzers to positions from which they could fire directly into the cliffs that walled the valley on the left.
By 0800 the 2nd Battalion had taken its position across the lower end of the valley and by 0830 was ready to move off with Company E on the right, G on the left. (Company F was still on top of the cliff, tied in with the 2nd Marine Division.) Because of the breadth of the front, all three rifle platoons of each company had to be committed to the line.
Though the men moved forward cautiously, the constant fire from the cliffs on the left precluded any real progress during the morning. General Jarman now, for the first time since the beginning of the attack on Death Valley, decided to bring direct artillery fire to bear against the cliffs on the left. At 1400 he ordered the 106th Field Artillery Battalion to move two batteries of artillery into position to fire pointblank at the cliff line just north of Hell’s Pocket. The artillery battalion commander was directed to co-ordinate his fire with the movement of the 2nd Battalion, 106th, and to deliver at least a half hour’s preparation before the infantry jumped off again in the assault General Jarman also attached one platoon of medium tanks from Company B of the 762nd Tank Battalion to the infantry. He ordered Major O’Hara, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 106th, to launch his afternoon attack up the right side of Death Valley along Purple Heart Ridge using Companies E and G, drive all the way up the corridor, and establish contact with Company F, 106th, on the left and with the 165th Infantry on the right. The time of attack was set for 1600. This drive, if successful, would bypass and seal up the remaining enemy in Hell’s Pocket and the left side of Death Valley and would bring the 27th Division abreast of the Marine divisions on either side.
At 1630 the attack jumped off following the artillery preparation, which was deemed “very satisfactory.” Further artillery fire had to be called off because of complaints from the marines on Mount Tapotchau that fragments were falling within their lines. The medium tanks moved into the valley ahead of the infantry but were out of contact with the troops for the rest of the afternoon and operated independently, firing at will against targets of opportunity.
Captain David Waterson’s E Company took the lead and was followed on its right rear by Company G, which was commanded by Captain Tarrant. The 3rd Platoon of Company G was held in reserve at the battalion command post to prevent any possible attempt on the part of the enemy to break out of the valley to the south. Once again heavy fire from both sides of the valley greeted the men. The 3rd Platoon of Company E managed to reach the battalion’s intermediate objective—a line of trees running across the valley about 800 yards from the line of departure—but was quickly forced to withdraw to the cover of another tree line about 200 yards to the rear. The 2nd Platoon, Company E, after being scattered by enemy fire, retreated all the way back to the line of departure, while the 1st Platoon never left it.
Initially, Company G met with more success. Most of the men of this unit reached the tree line, which was the intermediate objective, and Captain Tarrant started to organize his defense, but a barrage from the side of Mount Tapotchau persuaded him to pull back into a gully about twenty-five yards to his rear. Tarrant tried to attract the attention of the tank platoon that was moving through the valley but neither smoke pots nor flares succeeded in bringing aid from the tanks. In the gathering dusk G Company, too, moved back to the first tree line where the 3rd Platoon of Company E had taken cover. There, under cover of night, the men commenced to dig in, but at midnight the two company commanders conferred and decided to pull back to the line of departure. Their wounded were uncared for, their ammunition, water, and rations were low, and they were out of radio contact with battalion.
The march back was full of horrors. Flares lighted the valley about every five minutes, silhouetting the retreating troops and occasionally revealing foxholes full of Japanese—who luckily did not fire. Many of the wounded fainted and had to be carried by their comrades; some of them died en route. Finally, about 0300, both companies straggled into tree line at the south edge of the valley that had marked their line of departure of the morning before. Once again the attempt to force Death Valley from the south had failed.
Kagman Peninsula Secured In the zone of the 4th Marine Division the major accomplishment of the day was the final occupation of the whole of Kagman Peninsula. This served not only to reduce the corps front by about 3,000 yards, but also to clear the way for the construction of an auxiliary airfield on Kagman Plain.
The division jump-off, which was scheduled at 0730, was from forty minutes to an hour late, but thereafter the advance was rapid. The 24th Marines on the right met little or no enemy resistance and by 1015 had secured Kagman Hill on the southeastern extremity of the peninsula. The rest of the day was spent patrolling the area and investigating caves along the coast. On the left, the 23rd Marines ran into occasional sniper fire and was harassed by an enemy field piece located on Purple Heart Ridge but nevertheless managed to reach the O-6 line on the east coast by 1533. Thus Kagman Peninsula was completely blanketed and sealed off, and the 4th Marine Division for the first time in four days was permitted to relax. Seizure of Mount Tapotchau Honors for the capture of the summit of Tapotchau, the highest point of the island, were shared by the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, and the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines.
The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, pushed off at 0730 and advanced rapidly against little resistance along the cliff line overlooking Death Valley until it found itself, three hours later, at the base of a sheer 50-foot cliff, just beyond which was the peak of the mountain itself. Patrols scaled the cliff, worked their way almost to the crest of the mountain, and returned shortly after noon with the information that the small plateau that constituted the summit of Tapotchau was unoccupied. On receiving this information, the 1st Battalion of the 29th Marines, on the left, gradually worked its way to the right along the route that had been followed by the patrols and by late afternoon had established itself on the mountain top. During the operation enemy fire was not severe, but that night a force of Japanese counterattacked and had to be repulsed. Eighteen enemy dead were counted the next morning. During this period Company F, 106th Infantry, moved forward with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, guarding its right rear flank.
On the western slopes of Tapotchau the other two battalions of the 8th Marines made little progress against the multitude of machine gun nests in the network of crevices and ravines that crisscrossed that side of the mountain. The heaviest fighting occurred on the right flank of the 6th Marines, where for the third successive day the attack was held up by the Japanese strongpoint north of Mount Tipo Pale, On the left of the 6th Marines’ zone the lines had been extended as far as was feasible, and no further advance was possible until the difficulty on the right had been cleared up. On the western coast and on the high ground overlooking Garapan the 2nd Marines, too, remained immobile, waiting for the elements on its right to come abreast.
In terms of yardage gained the 2nd Marine Division had made little progress on 25 June, but the capture of Tapotchau’s peak yielded it control of Saipan’s key terrain feature. In the words of the official Marine Corps historian, “From this point forward, the Marines would look down on the Japanese, who heretofore had enjoyed the advantages of superior ground observation. In addition the Marines could now fight downhill for a while. The change would be appreciated.”
The Plight of the Japanese By the end of 25 June it was obvious to the Japanese high command on Saipan that the situation was desperate almost (but not quite) to the point of hopelessness. A telegram from 31st Army headquarters to the 29th Division on Guam stated that the ten-day battle had reduced the strength of the line forces to the following approximate levels: In addition to the losses, the message added, “reserve units (companies and platoons), hospital units, equipment, maintenance and supply units, etc. are either completely wiped out or reduced to the point where no fighting strength can be expected of them,”. With the failure of the defense effort along the line south of Tapotchau the Japanese, in spite of occasional lapses of wishful thinking, realized full well that the island could not be held. In a lengthy telegram, probably of 25 June, 31st Army headquarters said as much and analyzed some of the reasons for its failure: The fight on Saipan as things stand now is progressing one-sidedly since, along with the tremendous power of his barrages, the enemy holds control of sea and air. In daytime even the deployment of units is very difficult, and at night the enemy can make out our movements with ease by using illumination shells. Moreover, our communications are becoming disrupted, and liaison is becoming increasingly difficult Due to our serious lack of weapons and equipment, activity and control is hindered considerably.
Moreover, we are menaced by brazenly low flying planes, and the enemy blasts at us from all sides with fierce naval and artillery cross-fire. As a result even if we remove units from the front lines and send them to the rear their fighting strength is cut down every day. Also the enemy attacks with fierce concentration of bombs and artillery. Step by step he comes toward us and concentrates his fire on us as we withdraw, so that wherever we go we’re quickly surrounded by fire.
Continuing, the message noted two difficulties peculiar to the Saipan campaign. The first was the confusion caused by the presence on the island of so many straggler units, the waifs cast up by American submarine attacks. The second was the ever-growing shortage of water. There had been little enough at the beginning of the campaign, and the American bombardment had closed many of the sources of supply.
The prospect was dim: “The attack of the enemy proceeds ceaselessly day and night and as they advance with the aid of terrific bombardments it becomes apparent that the northern part of the island for the above mentioned reasons of (1) water, (2) food, (3) supply, and (4) terrain, cannot be held with our skeleton strength of 520.”
Yet in spite of the admitted futility of resistance, resistance continued. Surrender, the only practical thing to do in such a situation by Western standards, was out of the question for the Japanese. The order of the day read, “. . . the positions are to be defended to the bitter end, and unless he has other orders every soldier must stand his ground.”
Grasping at straws, General Saito on 24 June had ordered an infantry company from Tinian to conduct a landing operation on the coast of Saipan, east of Chacha. On the night of 25 June eleven barges departed Sunharon (Tinian) harbor for Saipan. The destroyer Bancroft intercepted and dispersed them. One of the barges was reported sunk; the rest scurried back to Tinian Town. Still later, in the early morning hours of 26 June, several troop-laden barges came out of Tanapag Harbor, destination unknown. Two LCI (G)’s on patrol opened fire, sank one of the barges, and damaged another. Thus ended Saito’s immediate prospects of aid from counter-landings.
26 June Action of the 27th Division
With the failure of the 106th Infantry to accomplish its mission on the 25th, General Jarman proposed a new scheme of maneuver for that regiment on the 26th. His plan called for the 3rd Battalion to push along the inside (western) slope of Purple Heart Ridge, build up a line there, and, if possible, push on to the regimental objective line at the north end of Death Valley. The 2nd Battalion, after reorganizing, was to follow the 3rd, then swing left across the valley and move on to the regimental objective. The 1st Battalion would be in regimental reserve. Later (at 0920) Colonel Ayers ordered the 1st Battalion to move out on the left of the valley and clean out Hell’s Pocket, which was still infested with Japanese. At the same time the 2nd Battalion, 165th, was to continue the attack against Purple Heart Ridge from the southeast.
The 3rd Battalion, 106th, jumped off at 0600 in column of companies with Company L in the lead, followed by I, M, and K. By 1020 the leading elements of Company L had reached the top of Hill Oboe without encountering significant resistance and had started down into the saddle between Oboe and Hill King to the north.46 Company I followed immediately behind. As Company L advanced toward Hill King a machine gun opened up, and the heavy weapons company was called up to train its mortars and machine guns on the suspected source of fire. At 1245, under cover of this protection, Company L moved forward, but within ten minutes the lead platoon had six men killed and seventeen wounded. The advance halted, then the company was withdrawn. By the time Captain Hallden had worked his way back to Hill Oboe and reorganized his company, it was in a highly demoralized condition. The 1st Platoon was down to twelve men, as was the 2nd Platoon, which had been hard hit during the explosion of the enemy ammunition dump on 23 June. Company I was sent in to relieve Company L, It enjoyed no more success than its predecessor and retired to Hill Oboe to dig in with the battalion for the night.
The 2nd Battalion, 106th, had stayed behind the 3rd during the day and made no effort to work its way out into the valley. It dug in on Hill X-ray-Yoke for the night. While the 106th Infantry was moving along the inside of Purple Heart Ridge, the 2nd Battalion, 165th, had begun to mop up on the outside (east) of the ridge line. Major Brusseau had ordered Company G to fan out and clean up Hills X-ray-Yoke, Oboe, and Victor. Upon completion of this mission Company G was to move on north to Hill Able. Meanwhile, Company E was to push patrols to the base of Hill Victor and then proceed up S Road to the point where it cut into Death Valley.
The 1st Platoon, Company G, took over Hill Xray-Yoke without opposition. By 0840 Captain Chasmar’s 3rd Platoon was atop Hill Victor without much trouble, but thereafter the Japanese began to show some fight. The enemy had taken refuge in ledges and caves just below the crest of the hill and from there commenced lobbing hand grenades up into the line of the Americans on top. Some thought was given to getting at these positions by tying charges onto ropes and letting them swing down into the protected strongpoints, but rather than attempt this device, Chasmar withdrew the lead platoon to the ground below and called up self-propelled mounts (M7’s) to fire into the ledges where the enemy was entrenched. The M7’s failed to accomplish the mission and had to retreat when the Japanese began dropping mortar shells on them. Three tanks were then brought forward, but to no avail. As a last resort Captain Chasmar sent up some M8 self-propelled mounts. These vehicles were equipped with 75-mm. rather than 105-mm. howitzers and had smaller openings at the top, thus offering better protection to the gunners from fire from above. For half an hour the M8’s plugged away at the sides of the cliffs, forcing many of the enemy into the open where they could be picked off by riflemen. At 1500 the 3rd Platoon ventured to the top of the hill again, followed an hour later by the 2nd Platoon. Machine gun fire from the west along the main line of Purple Heart Ridge held down their advance however, and since darkness was approaching they were recalled down the hill to dig in for the night.
Meanwhile, E Company had worked its way under scattered fire up S Road, along the route taken the day before by the 1st Battalion, 106th Infantry. It had reached the point of the previous day’s farthest advance and had begun to dig in when the Japanese on the hills to the left opened with machine guns and mortars. Inasmuch as the company was in an isolated position almost a thousand yards from the rest of the battalion, the new commander, 1st Lieutenant John J. Raleigh, took his men back to join the rest of the battalion for the night.
Purple Heart Ridge was beginning to crack under the combined assault of the 2nd Battalion, 165th, and the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry. Meanwhile, on the other side of Death Valley, Colonel Cornett’s 1st Battalion, 106th, was vainly trying to clear out Hell’s Pocket. The battalion moved off at 1245 following a thirty-minute preparation by the Cannon Company but was quickly pinned down by fire from the pocket. Company C alone lost three men killed, and twenty-two wounded including Captain Robert T. Bates, the company commander, who was replaced by 1st Lieutenant Andrew B. Campbell, Within the next hour the 104th Field Artillery put 360 rounds of 105-mm. howitzer fire into the pocket. It was to no avail. The battalion still encountered heavy fire from the walls of the pocket and from the high rock in the center, so Cornett retired his men to the line of departure where they dug in for the night.
Sometime after ten o’clock on the morning of 26 June General Kernan, division artillery commander, in company with Colonel Sheldon, the operations officer, made a trip up to the southern edge of Death Valley. There they found that the 2nd Battalion had made no advance out of the assembly area, where it was mingled with the rear elements of the 3rd Battalion, They reported that “the battalions were standing still and there was no reason why they should not move forward.” The 106th Infantry, they concluded, was in a demoralized state. On the basis of this report, which confirmed his previous dissatisfaction with this regiment’s conduct, General Jarman relieved Colonel Ayers of his command and assigned Colonel Stebbins, the division chief of staff, as commander.
Action of the Marines
Having completed its occupation of Kagman Peninsula, the 4th Marine Division was ordered on the 26th to mop up the area, outpost the coast line of Magicienne Bay, and then assemble in the vicinity of the beaches along the northern coast of the bay in corps reserve. The marines encountered no enemy opposition except from small groups of snipers in the vicinity of Chacha and in the caves along the coast, although Japanese artillery occasionally opened up from the unsecured portions of Purple Heart Ridge. Before the division could properly assemble in corps reserve plans were changed, and it was ordered to take over the right of the line again next morning.
In the zone of the 2nd Marine Division the most important event of the day was the bypassing of the pocket north of Mount Tipo Pale by the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines. One company passed to the right, another to the left, while the third was left behind to reduce the pocket. The 8th Marines registered only small gains in the Mount Tapotchau area. In the regimental center the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, and the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, moved forward slowly through nightmarish terrain, receiving heavy mortar and machine gun fire as they went. The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, and Company F, 106th Infantry, remained stationary on the right flank, holding back to deny enemy approaches from that direction. No great yardage was gained in this area, but the positions on the heights of Tapotchau were consolidated and the regimental line was straightened out. On the division left the 2nd Marines again remained immobile except for patrols, who reported that there was no Japanese activity to the immediate front.
27 June Death Valley Broached
The first permanent inroads into Death Valley were made on 27 June. Up to that date the only significant progress in the zone of the 27th Division had been in the hills that made up the lower part of Purple Heart Ridge. Death Valley itself had defied capture; the Japanese from their commanding positions in the cliffs on the left and the northern part of Purple Heart Ridge on the right were able to interdict any movement along the floor of the valley itself.
General Jarman’s plan for 27 June called for a reorientation of the direction of the attack. For this purpose he had four battalions under his control—all of the 106th Infantry plus the 2nd Battalion, 165th, which had been detached from its parent regiment the night before when the 165th Regiment was attached to the 4th Marine Division. The 2nd Battalion, 165th, was ordered to continue mopping-up operations against Purple Heart Ridge, working from the eastern slopes. Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion, 106th, was to move north along the ridge until it reached Hill King, then pivot left and attack west across the valley toward Mount Tapotchau. Once a corridor had been driven across the valley, the battalion was to pivot again, this time to the right, and move off toward the northern end of the valley. Before this drive was completed the 2nd Battalion, 106th, was to take positions on the right flank of the 3rd. In the meantime the 1st Battalion, 106th, in an independent movement, would renew its attempt to clean out Hell’s Pocket.
The 3rd Battalion, 106th, jumped off for Hill King at 0620, with Company I on the right, K on the left.58 Almost immediately machine gun fire opened up, killing one man and wounding seven, and the battalion was ordered back to Hill Oboe, which had been the line of departure. Division then ordered twenty-five-minute artillery preparation, to commence at 1020, but the position of the American troops on Purple Heart Ridge was so hard to ascertain that the artillerymen held fire for more than half an hour.
Following the artillery preparation, which was completed by 1120, the attack moved off again with Company L on the left in place of Company K, whose strength was now down to about that of one platoon. This time there was no opposition. The battalion moved up Hill King through a litter of enemy dead, and not a shot was fired. As Company I moved over the crest of the hill and down its northern slope, it surprised a large party of Japanese hiding among the rocks and grass. After a brief exchange of rifle fire and hand grenades, the Americans withdrew to the reverse slope and mortar fire was requested.
This lasted only a few minutes, after which the attackers were able to push down the north slope of the hill without trouble. With Hill King secured, the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry, could now push off to the west across Death Valley according to plan. The attack jumped off at 1150, Company L on the left and I on the right. The terrain to the battalion front was a steep slope down into the valley proper. The descent would be made through thick, high tufts of grass for most of the way, and then through cane fields into a low ridge line that cut across the valley at that juncture. Directly to the battalion front, about a thousand yards away, were the cliffs of Mount Tapotchau. Immediately upon reaching the floor of the valley, the men of the 3rd Battalion began to receive machine gun and mortar fire from Hill Able behind them and from the cliff sides of Tapotchau to their front.
Among others wounded was 1st Lieutenant Robert M. Smith, who had taken command of Company I only that morning. This left the company without officers except for one platoon commander, whose unit had become separated from the rest of the company. In the hiatus thus created, Captain Hallden of Company L incorporated the scattered remnants of I Company with his own unit and took command of both. Meanwhile, Company K had been ordered into the line on L Company’s left, with the mission of securing the tree line that ran across the valley at this point and of establishing physical contact with Company F, 106th Infantry, which was still on the cliff top just below the summit of Mount Tapotchau. No sooner was Company K abreast of L Company than it, too, came under heavy fire that by now was general throughout the valley floor. Nevertheless, the 3rd Battalion succeeded in cutting across the valley and was sending out patrols to establish contact with Company F on the cliff in front by 1545.
By this time all three companies were badly in need of ammunition. They had no supplies of water or rations, and parts of each company had been cut off from the main body of the battalion. Colonel Mizony placed Captain Hallden in charge of the remnants of all three companies and dispatched a platoon of light tanks, not only to lay fire on both sides of the valley but to supply the infantry with rations, water, and ammunition. The tanks accomplished their mission before dark, and the 3rd Battalion dug in along the low ridge line that traversed Death Valley west of Hill Able. There it was joined by the 2nd Battalion, which had come up behind, and the two battalions prepared to attack to the north the next morning.
Meanwhile at 1120, following a delayed artillery preparation, Company G, 165th Infantry, pushed up the eastern slope of Hill King, which 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry, was attacking from the other side.63 Within three hours G Company had reached the summit of the hill and was driving down its forward slope toward Hill Able to the north. Hill Able was more an outsized rock than a hill. The south face toward which Captain Chasmar’s company was moving was a sheer cliff about fifty feet high, crosscut by a series of ledges. The right (east) face of the hill was steeply terraced and the west side was another sheer cliff. The top was a rounded knob covered with dense undergrowth and was heavily defended, judging from the intense fire that began to pour down on the heads of the advancing troops.
About 1600, before it reached the foot of the hill, Company G was attacked by a party of Japanese moving down through the corridor between Hills King and Able. The enemy movement was undetected until the Japanese were within a few yards of Chasmar’s positions. A severe hand-to-hand fight ensued, resulting in seven American casualties and thirty-five enemy killed. By this time it was too late to warrant a continuation of the attack against Hill Able, and G Company moved back to Hill King to dig in with the battalion for the night. Before the men could prepare their foxholes, however, a heavy barrage of mortar and machine gun fire fell on the area, killing five and wounding nineteen. Among the latter was Major Brusseau, the 2nd Battalion commander, who later died of his wounds. He was replaced by Captain James A. Dooley, who was in turn later relieved by Major Claire. Claire’s command of the 3rd Battalion, 165th, was taken over by his executive officer, Major Martin Foery. At the conclusion of the fire G Company, 165th Infantry, withdrew past Hill Oboe and back to Hill X-ray-Yoke for the night, where it was joined by Company E. The latter had spent the day unsuccessfully trying to move up S Road to the point where it entered Death Valley, Scattered rifle fire, coupled with heavy mortar and machine gun fire from a hill that commanded the road, had thwarted the effort to break into Death Valley by this route.
During the afternoon General Jarman had still been skeptical of the staying power of the 106th Infantry and had instructed the executive officer of that regiment to get word to all units that “they must hold and under no case fall back.” Now, with the drive across Death Valley successfully completed, Jarman was relieved and gratified. To the commanders of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions he dispatched the message: “Congratulations on a day’s work well done. I have the utmost confidence in our continued success in a vigorous push against the remaining enemy. Keep up the good work.”
In the meantime, the 1st Battalion, 106th Infantry, was taking the first effective step of the campaign toward mopping up Hell’s Pocket at the southwest end of the valley. To accomplish this mission, Colonel Cornett planned to use Company C to contain the Japanese at the mouth of the pocket while the other two rifle companies climbed the cliff to the left in order to approach the enemy’s positions from above and the rear.
Company A took the lead in the enveloping movement, slowly groped its way to the top of the cliff, and commenced circling the rim around Hell’s Pocket. Soon the lead platoon stumbled upon a deep crater, almost fifty yards wide, that turned out to be a nest of live and very active Japanese. Grenades and rifle fire failed to silence the position. Mortars were then dragged up the cliff to accomplish the job, after which the infantrymen moved on through and past the crater. Twenty dead Japanese were found in the area, as well as two machine guns and three fully operative American Browning automatic rifles.
Company B, meanwhile, was held up behind A Company until the latter had cleaned out the crater. During this wait the battalion executive officer, Major John Nichols, who was in charge of the cliff-top operation, came forward and relieved 1st Lieutenant Frank J. Pryor of command of the company replacing him with 1st Lieutenant Charles Warge. The new company commander immediately began to deploy his unit to the left, and by the time the crater was cleaned out he was abreast of Company A, Both companies then formed a skirmish line and moved forward another hundred yards north along the edge of the pocket without flushing any more Japanese. There, Major Nichols ordered the advance halted and both companies pulled 500 yards to the left of the cliff line where they dug in for the night.
On the right flank of the three-division front, the 4th Marine Division was ordered to continue northward and seize all of the O-6 line within its zone. For this operation the division had under its control a total of nine battalions—the 23rd and 24th Marines and the 165th Infantry (less 2nd Battalion) with the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, attached. On the right, the 23rd Marines made rapid progress against only occasional small arms fire from the villages of Hashigoru and Donnay and by 1640 had reached its objective. The advance would have been even more rapid but for dense underbrush and the ragged cliff line along the coast that called for cautious movement and thorough investigation.
On the left of the 23rd Marines, the 165th Infantry jumped off at 0730 on schedule with the 3rd Battalion on the right, in direct contact with the left flank of the 23rd Marines, and the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, on the left, followed about 600 yards to the rear by the 1st Battalion, 165th. The advance was rapid, especially on the right flank where the 3rd Battalion, 165th, met little resistance. Toward late afternoon the 1st Battalion, 105th, encountered some heavy enemy fire from positions along the road that ran west of the village of Hashigoru. Colonel Kelley ordered the battalion commander to bypass the positions, which he did.
Meanwhile the 1st Battalion, 165th, which was moving up on the left rear flank of the regimental line, had lost all contact with the 2nd Battalion, 165th, which was still held up among the hills of Purple Heart Ridge. On Colonel Kelley’s recommendation the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, was brought up and committed to fill the gap. Action in the regimental zone was broken off about 1700, and all three battalions of the 165th Infantry dug in for the night in positions that bent back on the left to retain contact with the 106th Infantry.
The 2nd Marine Division’s advance on the 27th was much slower than that of its sister division because of continued terrain difficulties around Tapotchau and heavy Japanese resistance in the center. During the morning the marines completed the occupation of the entire main crest of Mount Tapotchau and started down its northern slope. In the division center the lines had been tightened sufficiently by noon to permit one badly battered battalion of the 6th Marines to be pinched out and retired to reserve status. Later that afternoon the battalion on the 6th Marines’ right ran into heavy resistance from the ridge line north of Tipo Pale and was stopped in its tracks, causing the remainder of the regiment to hold back too, although the opposition on the regimental left had been comparatively light. On the extreme left flank the 2nd Marines was again compelled to stand still on the outskirts of Garapan until the rest of the division pulled abreast. It spent the day consolidating its positions and sending out patrols.
June 27th marked another turning point for the Japanese in their stubborn, futile battle to save Saipan from the invaders. On that day General Saito established a final line of resistance where a last stand would be made. This was the third such battle line to be laid down. The first had been the shore line; the second, the mid-island defense line; and now a third was to be held across the island from Tanapag on the west coast, through Hill 221 (meters) and Tarahoho to the east coast, cutting across the base of the island’s northern tip.
The withdrawal was to be gradual. What remained of the mid-island defense line would be held until the new line could be established. This policy of conducting a delaying action until a new line could be built up was explained by 31st Army headquarters to Tokyo: “The Defense Force, along with the firmest possible defense of its present defense line and its activities toward annihilation of the enemy, is at present setting up with a line between Tanapag-Hill 221-Tarahoho as the final line of resistance.”
General Saito still clung to the small hope that a renewed Japanese air attack might alter the situation and save Saipan and the Marianas for the Empire. In a telegram to the assistant chief of staff in Tokyo, to the Minister of War, and to the 29th Division on Guam, he painted a gloomy picture of the future of Japanese forces on Saipan, but closed with a hopeful reference to the Marpi Point airfield, which was still in his hands: The pressing need of the moment is that the mistake be not made of allowing this important experience in the defense of Saipan to be put to no practical end, and, the soldiers here be robbed of the fruits of victory after having fought so bravely. . . . Especially, the Banadero [Marpi Point] airport has not been completed, but in case the necessity arises, it can be used, and the Saipan defense forces trust that they can hold out until the first 10 days of the month [July], awaiting its completion.
In another message to Guam, the Japanese general made a more specific plea for air reinforcements to be sent to Tinian: The attacking force of the enemy has the appearance of becoming less intense from now on. Even though the Banadero airport has not yet been completed, we are endeavoring to finish it, so that it may be an air base in the Marianas which we can use. However, for the present it is impossible. Because the enemy planes which have appeared in the air are only carrier borne bombers and reccon planes, the situation is such that our large fighter formations could seize good opportunity for daylight sinking of enemy destroyers, etc. However as the fate of the Empire will be decided in this one section, we trust that you will decide to send fighters to Tinian.
28 June Action of the 27th Division
The key to the battle in the zone of the 27th Division on 28 June was the fight for Hill Able, the northernmost promontory of Purple Heart Ridge, and the failure of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, to capture this hill brought progress through Death Valley to a standstill once more. After the heavy pounding that had been taken by G Company on the preceding night, the whole battalion had pulled back from Hill King, past Hill Oboe, and had dug in atop Hill X-ray-Yoke in almost the same place where it had spent the previous two nights. On learning of this, General Jarman expressly ordered, “No [future] withdrawal will be made for the night for the purpose of consolidation.”
Major Claire had been transferred the night before from the 3rd Battalion, 165th, to take over command of the 2nd Battalion after Major Brusseau had been mortally wounded. Claire’s plan for the 28th called for G Company again to make the assault along the ridge. F Company was to circle the low ground on the east side and come up between Hills King and Able. Company E was to be maintained as battalion reserve.
Company G jumped off promptly at 0630 and pushed rapidly over Hill Oboe. On reaching Hill King the men discovered that the enemy had either reoccupied the hill during the night or had remained well concealed from the American troops who had “captured” it the previous day. At any rate, the Japanese suddenly came to life with machine guns and rifles and the advance of Company G was stopped. Around noon, self-propelled mounts were brought forward and after an hour’s fire from these vehicles enemy fire ceased. Company G moved forward again and encountered no trouble until the men went over the crest of the hill. There, the whole line was greeted by a shower of grenades and machine gun fire from the east slope, which had not been touched by the self-propelled mounts.
For half an hour there was a furious fire fight, but the Americans did not advance. At 1330 Captain Chasmar called battalion headquarters to report his casualties, which numbered about twenty. He was ordered to pull back to Hill Oboe until mortar fire could be brought to bear upon the enemy line. At Oboe he stopped to reorganize, but enemy mortar shells falling into his lines caused complete confusion. Major Claire ordered one platoon of Company E to move up and take over Hill Oboe. Company G was withdrawn to Hill X-ray-Yoke, where it dug in in the bivouac area of the night before. There it was joined by Company F, which had met with no more success in trying to assault Hill King from the east.
The setback suffered by the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, on the 28th was to govern, retard, and finally frustrate the effort of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 106th to break out of Death Valley, So long as the Japanese held Hill Able they could interdict the entire northern half of the valley and pour devastating fire on any troop movements through the area. The attack order of the two battalions of the 106th Infantry called for them to jump off at 0630 on 28 June, following a fifteen-minute artillery preparation, and to capture the O-6 line, which lay about 3,000 yards to the north. Between them and their objective lay a series of low ridge lines, the first one of which crossed the valley about 400 yards to their front.
The advance moved off on schedule with the 2nd Battalion on the right and the 3rd on the left, and by 0930 the men had reached the first ridge line. There they were ordered to dig in to await supplies that were to be brought forward in self-propelled mounts. Almost as soon as the vehicles appeared and began to unload, the enemy, who had been more or less quiescent for over an hour, opened up from Hill Able with intense fire. The self-propelled mounts promptly dropped their supplies and scurried for cover, and the infantry commanders had to send out carrying parties to pick up the supplies. The men who went back to recover the hastily jettisoned supplies were caught in heavy enemy mortar fire that was being directed at the Cannon Company vehicles. Within the space of a few minutes seven men were killed and twenty-two wounded, mostly from Companies I and K. Among those killed was 2nd Lieutenant Robert J. Bonner, commander of Company I. He was the fourth commander to have led that unit in three days and his death left only one officer, 2nd Lieutenant Spencer M. Pitts, in the company. The 3rd Battalion was now virtually decimated. A count of heads revealed that there were only a hundred riflemen left in it as of 1010.
Following this debacle, Company F, 106th Infantry, which previously had been ordered from Mount Tapotchau to join its parent regiment after serving for five days with the 2nd Marine Division, moved down into the valley and took up positions in a small group of trees just behind Company E. There the men were soon joined by remnants from Companies I and K as well as by the headquarters of both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, which by 1315 had displaced forward.
Suddenly, two Japanese tanks moved into view over the brow of a small hill just 200 yards north of the crowded grove. The lead tank opened up on the trees with machine guns and its 40-mm. turret gun. Enemy fire continued for ten minutes before a single American shot was fired in return. Casualties were frightful. In the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 106th Infantry, twelve were killed or mortally wounded, and sixty-one others were wounded. Among those killed were Colonel Mizony, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Lieutenant John T. McGregor, commanding officer of Company M, and Captain Tarrant of G Company. As the suddenness and intensity of the tank attack seemed to indicate a more general one, Major O’Hara, the senior officer present, ordered both battalions to dig in immediately. During the next hour a strong defensive position was constructed on the ridge, and artillery fire was directed on the whole area to the front. All plans for further forward movement during the day were abandoned, and the two battalions remained where they were for the night.
While this stalemate was developing in Death Valley proper, the 1st Battalion, 106th Infantry, was completing its task, started the day before, of eliminating enemy resistance in Hell’s Pocket. Instead of holding at the south end of the area on the 28th, Company C moved straight across the mouth of the pocket, while Companies A and B mopped up along the cliffs above. Company A, which was given the job of skirting the cliff edge on the rim of the pocket, encountered the most difficulty assumed command of the 27th Infantry Division on Saipan, 28 Jun 1944. Enemy mortar and rifle fire harassed the men throughout the morning, causing several casualties. Major Nichols, the battalion executive officer, was mortally wounded.
By midafternoon the Japanese guns that were molesting the area were cleared out with the aid of heavy machine guns and mortars. Meanwhile, Company C managed by late afternoon to push all the way across the pocket and move up the left edge of the valley before being called back to the southern entrance of the valley to bivouac with the rest of the battalion. By nightfall there were still a few Japanese soldiers holed up in Hell’s Pocket, but all organized resistance there had finally been eliminated. At 1030 on 28 June, command of the 27th Infantry Division passed from General Jarman to General Griner, who had formerly commanded the 98th Infantry Division in Hawaii. He had received his orders as soon as word of General Ralph Smith’s relief had reached the headquarters of General Richardson, Commanding General, United States Army Forces in the Central Pacific Area. General Jarman had taken over command of the division only on an interim basis since he had other previously assigned duties as island commander.
Among the problems facing General Griner was the disposition of the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry, which in its present state could not be expected to continue on the front line. Accordingly, early in the evening of 28 June General Griner ordered the 1st Battalion, 106th Infantry, to relieve the 3rd and establish contact with the 2nd Marine Division on the left. The 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, which had seen no action since its withdrawal from Nafutan Point was ordered into the right of the division line with the responsibility of seizing Hill Able. The 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, which for the past three days had been attached to the 106th Infantry, was now attached to the 105th to assist it. With these shifts in the line ordered, the new division commander prepared to complete the capture of Death Valley and Purple Heart Ridge.
In view of the success of the 4th Marine Division in overrunning Kagman Peninsula and in securing most of the O-6 line in its zone of action, Holland Smith—on the 28th—ordered it to “hold present positions until further orders” and to assist the advance of the 27th Infantry Division by supporting fires from the east. The 24th Marines and the 165th Infantry (less 2nd Battalion), which was still attached to it, were ordered to establish one battalion apiece on the division boundary and support the 27th Division in its movement along Purple Heart Ridge and Death Valley.
On the extreme right, the 23rd Marines held its positions on the O-6 line and continued to mop up the rear area and the caves that studded the coast line. The 24th Marines remained in division reserve except for the 3rd Battalion, which maintained its position on the boundary line between the 165th Infantry and the 27th Division. Late in the afternoon the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, was brought up to fill the gap that still existed between the two divisions, but was unable to establish contact with the 27th Division on the left before dark.
The only significant advance in the Kagman Peninsula area on the 28th was in the zone of the 165th Infantry. There the 3rd Battalion, which was in position along the regimental boundary on the left flank of the 23rd Marines, jumped off at 0630 and within an hour had progressed to the O-6 line, about 440 yards forward. From there it moved west toward Hill 700, a dominating terrain feature on the division boundary.90 While consolidating positions in that area, Captain Joseph P. Stampher, commander of Company L, was wounded and was replaced by 1st Lieutenant George R. Weigand.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, was following to the left rear of the 3rd Battalion, 165th. Moving along the tortuous mountain trails that lay in its zone, the battalion cleaned out the area that marked the boundary between the 4th Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division. Earlier in the morning Colonel Kelley, commanding officer of the 165th Infantry, was struck by a fragment of a mortar shell and had to be evacuated. The regiment was turned over to Colonel Hart, its former executive officer, who commanded it for the rest of the operation.
In the 2nd Marine Division’s zone, the movement toward the O-6 line was again slowed down by the broken terrain and by the Japanese, who were exploiting it to the utmost. In the zone of the 8th Marines on the division right the day’s objective was a series of four small hills, nicknamed “the Pimples,” across the front. On the regimental right, the marines advanced with relatively little difficulty around the east cliffs of Mount Tapotchau before redeploying on the northern slope. About 1300 they came to a steep ravine that could be traversed only by a slow descent down a narrow crevice leading to the bottom. This took the remainder of the day. On the higher ground to the immediate left, the marines made more rapid progress against moderate resistance and succeeded in pushing ahead of the units on either flank. Two battalions of the 8th Marines were held up throughout the day by mortar and heavy machine gun fire and at 1600, when the fighting was called off, were still short of the Pimples.
In the division center, the 6th Marines continued to slug away at the low ridge line north of Tipo Pale against heavy enemy opposition. Medium tanks and light flame throwers were brought forward in an effort to dislodge the Japanese, but it proved to be an infantry-engineer task since the tanks could not depress their weapons sufficiently to reach the fortified positions that lay between the regiment and the hills to the front. At the day’s end the advance amounted only to 150 to 200 yards, although one company finally succeeded in wiping out the bypassed enemy pocket that had been occupying Tipo Pale for the past four days.
South of Garapan the 2nd Marines again held in place, fearing a forward movement would force them to break contact with the units on its right. Close air support by American planes accounted for the only casualties on the 28th suffered by the marines in this area. In one air strike against Garapan, three misdirected rockets fell within the lines of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, causing twenty-seven casualties.
29 June Action of the 27th Division
June 29th was a day of mixed blessings for the 27th Infantry Division. On the one hand, it was the first day since the beginning of the assault into Death Valley that the Army troops were able to make sufficient inroads to establish contact with the marines on at least one of their flanks. On the other hand, at the day’s end, the tally showed another failure to seize Hill Able. With the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry, almost depleted, General Griner had decided to replace it with the 1st Battalion, 106th, which had heretofore been occupied with the task of cleaning out Hell’s Pocket. Company C of the 1st Battalion was to guard the mouth of the pocket, but the rest of the battalion was ordered into the left of the division line with the specific admonition, “It is of utmost importance that you gain contact with the 8th Marines today before dark.”
The 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry, was already in position in the center of the line across Death Valley at the beginning of the day’s fighting. The 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, was ordered into the right to complete the cordon that, it was hoped, would squeeze the remaining life out of the enemy in the valley. To the right rear the 2nd Battalion, 165th, now attached to the 105th Infantry, was ordered to finish capturing Purple Heart Ridge by overrunning Hill Able.
The two advance battalions of the 106th Infantry jumped off on schedule but were at first held up by fire from what appeared to be dug-in tanks and machine guns located along S Road north of Hill Able. The 2nd Battalion requested artillery fire but was denied it because the area in question was too close to the boundary line of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, the battalion that was supposed to be working up Hill Able from the south. To add to the delay, friendly artillery fire began to fall on the front lines of the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, and it had to reorganize before it could jump off. Finally, Company K got lost and was involved in an extracurricular fire fight before reaching the right flank of the front line in Death Valley to which it was assigned.
Company K had moved out of the battalion assembly area around 0700 and had skirted the inside (west) slope of Purple Heart Ridge until it reached Hill King. There, one of the guides furnished by the 106th Infantry informed Captain Alexander C. Bouchard, the company commander, that Hill King was cleared and offered an easy route to the battalion line of departure. Unfortunately, Hill King had been lost to the enemy two days before and had not been recovered. As K Company began to climb to the top it came under severe enemy rifle fire, which was soon followed by an American artillery barrage designed to clear the hill of Japanese troops in advance of the attack of Company E, 165th Infantry, which was coming up from a different direction. Nineteen of Bouchard’s men were immediately wounded, and the rest scattered. Company E then assaulted the hill and, with some help from K Company, cleared the remaining Japanese, most of them hidden in foxholes. This eliminated Hill King as a source of trouble, but Company K had to stop and reorganize before advancing to its line of departure. Not until about 1300 was it able to take position on the right of Company I and close the line across Death Valley.
Finally, about 1400, all three battalions —the 1st and 2nd of the 106th, and the 3rd of the 105th—jumped off in line abreast toward the northern end of Death Valley. Within less than twenty minutes the 106th Infantry had advanced 400 yards; the 105th was only a little behind. By 1445 another 300 yards had been gained. By the end of the day the 106th had scored a total gain of 900-1,000 yards, while the 3rd Battalion, 105th, had moved ahead about 600 yards. By 1530 the men of 1st Battalion, 106th, had visual contact with the 2nd Marine Division on the northern slopes of Mount Tapotchau on their left. At last the long-broken link was restored.
At last General Holland Smith, corps commander, could find good words to say for the 27th Division. Viewing its progress through Death Valley on the 29th from the vantage point of Mount Tapotchau, he “expressly complimented” the divisions performance to General Griner, its new commander.
No such good fortune attended the efforts of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, on the division right flank. After recapturing Hill King, Company E moved off at 1335 toward Hill Able. A shower of hand grenades greeted the men who tried to scale the steep southern slope. Company E withdrew. Meanwhile, Company F on the right was making slow progress in a move to come up Hill Able from the east. Continuous mortar fire from the hill impeded its movement, and one shell wounded Lieutenant Trummel, the company commander. By late afternoon the company had worked its way into a position just east of Hill Able, but by that time the hour was too late to warrant an attack.
The 4th Marine Division again spent the day patrolling and consolidating its positions while waiting for the 27th Infantry to reach the O-6 line and establish contact on its left flank. The 23rd Marines sent out patrols as far as 1,200 yards to the front, capturing small groups of unarmed Japanese. To the left rear of the division zone, elements of the 24th Marines received fairly heavy machine gun and mortar fire from enemy groups that had apparently filtered in to escape the pressure of the 27th Division. The 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry, continued to improve its positions by consolidating on Hill 700 on the left flank of the division zone and on Charan Danshii ridge to the north. In so doing, the battalion fell under considerable artillery and mortar fire from enemy positions on its left front in the zone of the 27th Division. Around 1400 the fire reached such intensity that the battalion withdrew from Charan Danshii and dug in for the night on Hill 700. Colonel Hart informed the Marine division headquarters that in order to hold Hill 700 he would have to move the 3rd Battalion about 300 yards to the west, leaving about the same distance between his troops and the 23rd Marines. To fill this gap, some eighty men of the 1st Battalion, 165th, were sent into the front lines, their own previous positions being taken over by elements of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines.
On the corps left the 2nd Marine Division again made slow progress against rugged terrain and determined enemy resistance. On the division right the 8th Marines struggled through dense jungle until about noon, when it was Stopped by heavy fire from the Pimples to the north. Two well-placed rocket concentrations were put on these hills with excellent coverage of the area, but before the regiment could move forward sufficiently to undertake its assault it was too late to justify an attack, and the hills remained uncaptured for another day.
In the center, a readjustment of the lines of the 6th Marines took so long that the attack did not jump off until about noon and made little progress during the rest of the day. Once again, too, the 2nd Marines below Garapan were forced to wait for the rest of the division to come into line. Their day was not spent in idleness, however. A group of Japanese of about platoon size had dug in on a small hill some 500 yards ahead of the Marine lines in such a manner as to defy extermination by artillery or mortars. In order to entice the enemy out of his underground caves and passageways, the 2nd Marines simulated an infantry attack on the morning of 29 June. Following a heavy artillery preparation, the marines opened with small arms and machine guns as though preparing for an assault, then ceased their machine gun fire but continued with small arms to heighten the illusion of an infantry attack. At this the Japanese emerged to man their machine guns and automatic weapons, whereupon they were immediately wiped out by American artillery and mortars. Thus, the way was cleared for a relatively easy entry into Garapan once the 2nd Division’s lines had been sufficiently straightened to justify the movement, 30 June.
Death Valley: Capture and Breakthrough
The last day of June witnessed the end of the long and bitter struggle of the 27th Division to capture Death Valley and Purple Heart Ridge, As General Schmidt, USMC, later testified, “No one had any tougher job to do.” General Griner’s orders for the day read that operations to reduce Hill Able would “be concluded” by the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry. The orders were complied with. Jumping off at 0715, the battalion launched its attack, with Company F assaulting the hill from the east (right), G from the west. Company E remained back on Hill King to lend fire support. Opposition was light and by 0940 the hill was reported secured. For the rest of the day the battalion dug in and consolidated its positions. Meanwhile, the troops in the valley below sustained the momentum of the previous day. Since Colonel Bradt’s 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, had lagged behind the 106th on the 29th, the main effort was to be in his zone, on the right of the division line.
Bradt’s battalion, accompanied by nine tanks, jumped off promptly at 0715 following a fifteen-minute artillery preparation.118 After about two hours of fairly easy going the battalion came under fire from Hill Uncle-Victor, located about 1,400 yards north of Hill Able. “It appears,” reported Bradt, “to be another Hill Able.” Colonel Stebbins then proposed to place an artillery barrage in the area, but could not safely do so until the tanks that were operating at the foot of the hill withdrew, so the attack on the division right came to a temporary standstill. Around noon the artillery preparation was completed, and Colonel Bradt’s troops moved up onto the troublesome hill and declared it secured.
Meanwhile, at two points on the division boundary contact was at last established between the 27th Infantry Division and the 4th Marine Division. Soon after 1000 a patrol sent out from the 3rd Battalion, 105th, made contact with a party of marines at a point about 600 yards northeast of Hill Able. Two hours later a platoon of the 27th Reconnaissance Troop that had in the morning been fed into the right of the division line for that express purpose, established contact with the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, just northeast of Hill Able. At long last the 4th Marine Division was in a position to move forward without fear of exposure on its left flank. In the center of the 27th Division’s line, 106th’s 2nd Battalion made fairly steady progress throughout the day against light opposition, but on the left its 1st Battalion discovered to its sorrow that the cliffs of Mount Tapotchau were still not entirely cleared of the enemy. Mortar and machine gun fire sporadically harassed the battalion as it tried to keep pace with the rest of the division in its move to and through the northern end of Death Valley.
Late in the afternoon, 2nd Lieutenant Ralph W. Hill of the 1st Platoon, Company B, located at least one of the positions in the cliffs that had been causing the battalion so much trouble. Taking two enlisted men with him, and against the advice of his company commander, he reconnoitered the cliff line and discovered a machine gun position on a tiny ledge about thirty feet up the side of the cliff. The party was soon detected by the Japanese. Hill was shot and then all three Americans were wounded by the explosion of a hand grenade.
The two enlisted men retreated but came back later to find their platoon leader, undaunted by his serious wounds, still firing at the enemy position, which was forthwith silenced. Whether this action was decisive or not is unknown, but by the next morning the cliff was clear of Japanese, and it was assumed that they had come down from the caves and withdrawn to the north during the night. Altogether, the advance of the 27th Division’s line on 30 June was about 400 yards. By the day’s end, physical contact had been established on both the right and the left with the two Marine divisions. Death Valley had been left behind.
Once more the 4th Marine Division on Kagman Peninsula spent the day resting, patrolling, and consolidating its lines. Along the coast the 23rd Marines pushed its patrols as deep as 800 yards north of the O-6 line but, aside from capturing a few civilians, made no contact with the enemy. With the advance of the 27th Division, the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, which was the southernmost Marine unit disposed along the division boundary line, was pinched out. Throughout the day little enemy artillery and mortar fire was received, although small arms fire from pockets of resistance located in the 27th Division’s zone continued to cause some casualties.
On the left of the 27th Division, the 2nd Marine Division continued its slow progress through the wooded hills and ravines north of Tapotchau. The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, captured one of the Pimples, and a medium tank platoon from the Army’s 762nd Tank Battalion came up in the late afternoon to lay fire on the remaining hills similarly nicknamed. In the division center, the 6th Marines gained little ground but was able to straighten its lines, while on the left the 2nd Marines again waited on the outskirts of Garapan for the rest of the corps line to come abreast.
Central Saipan: Sum-up with the closing of the gaps on either side of the 27th Division’s line, the battle for central Saipan can be said to have come to a successful end. The cost had been high and the progress painfully slow. Total American casualties came to an estimated 3,987. Of these, the 4th Marine Division suffered 1,506; the 2nd Marine Division, 1,016; the 27th Infantry Division, 1,465. The Army division was especially hard hit among its line officers. The 165th Infantry lost its commander, Colonel Kelley, who was wounded in action.
Colonel McDonough, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 165th, was wounded and evacuated; his successor, Major Brusseau was wounded and later died; and Colonel Mizony of the 3rd Battalion, 106th, was killed in action. In addition, a total of twenty-two company commanders of the 165th and 106th Regiments were either killed or wounded in action during the period.
Casualty figures for the 27th Division are derived from the second source cited, since NTLF figures for the Army division are obviously incomplete. In computing 27th Division casualties for central Saipan for the period 23-26 June, the figures for the 105th Infantry have been deducted from the total division casualties, since that regiment was either in reserve or fighting on Nafutan Point during the period.
In the center of the corps line, it had taken the 27th Division eight days to advance 3,000 yards. In the same time the 2nd Marine Division had advanced 2,600 yards on its right and 1,500 yards on its left where any further forward movement was unfeasible until the rest of the line came abreast. Only on the corps right, in the zone of the 4th Marine Division, had the troops advanced rapidly. By the close of 30 June this division, with its Army attachments, had pushed about 4,400 yards east to the tip of Kagman Peninsula and about 5,000 yards northwest from its original line of departure of June 23rd. Undoubtedly, it would have gone farther had it not been held back by the relatively slow advance in the center of the corps line.
This bald account of the yardage gained is by no means a true measure either of the difficulties of the fighting or of the results achieved. Unlike the 4th Marine Division, the other two divisions faced extremely difficult terrain, which the Japanese, in spite of their dwindling strength, exploited to the utmost. The main drive of the 27th was up the long axis of a valley flanked on both sides by fortified hills, cliffs, and mountains. That of the 2nd Marine Division was across the largest and most precipitous mountain mass on the island. Against any but a completely prostrated enemy, the assault could only have been slow and painstaking.
Whatever the cost of the drive, the results were decisive. Mount Tipo Pale and Mount Tapotchau were captured; Death Valley, Purple Heart Ridge, and Kagman Peninsula occupied. The main line of resistance set up by the Japanese after their withdrawal from the beachhead was broached and overrun.
SOURCE: Campaign in the Marianas; BY: Philip A. Crowl (United States Army Center of Military History)