Drive to Tanapag 1-2 July : With Death Valley cleared, Holland Smith was at last in a position to push his forces rapidly ahead and seal off the Japanese remaining in the northern neck of Saipan. On 1 July he established the next corps objective at a line (O-7) that cut across the base of this neck in an arc, at a distance from about 1,000 yards on the right to 6,000 yards on the left from the respective flanks of the corps front. Between line O-7 and the corps front, as of 1 July, lay the hill mass (Hills 221 and 112 meters) on which the Japanese had chosen to anchor their last defensive position across the island. The attack was to be made with the three divisions abreast in the same order as before, the main effort again to be in the center, in the zone of the 27th Division.
In the earlier phases of the fighting on Saipan, General Holland Smith had noted a tendency on the part of his infantry commanders to neglect the abundant artillery support available to them, and to rely too heavily on their own weapons. Too frequently, he believed, the front-line troops had failed to call for massed artillery fires before jumping off in attack. Moreover, even when artillery concentrations had been properly called for, they were often not followed promptly by tanks and infantry, and thus the whole effect of the artillery preparation was wasted. To correct this situation the corps commander specifically ordered: Massed artillery fires will be employed to support infantry attacks whenever practicable. Infantry will closely follow artillery concentrations and attack ruthlessly when the artillery lifts. Absence of tanks is no excuse for failure of infantry to press home the attack.
Even before the order calling for a quick thrust to Tanapag had been issued, the corps line had been pushed forward and straightened in preparation for the drive. In the center the 27th Division, on 1 July, registered a gain of about 400 yards on the right and 600 on the left against moderate opposition. On the right, the 4th Marine Division maintained its positions and sent patrols as far out as 1,500 yards in front of its line without establishing contact with the enemy.6 It was clear that the American troops called Hill 221 “Radar Hill.” On the American map, Hill 112 was located just southeast of Tarahoho.
Japanese were retreating to the north. Early on 1 July members of the 27th Division had seen a small body of Japanese lugging ammunition up one of the roads that led out of Death Valley. All morning long, a 4th Marine Division observation post atop Hill 700 reported, the Japanese had been retreating in groups of three or four, carrying their packs and equipment with them.
While these events were taking place on the right and in the center of the line, the 2nd Marine Division gained more yardage than on any other day since the landing. The strong line of resistance through Mount Tapotchau had been smashed. Over terrain that was far better suited to the employment of tanks than the cliffs and defiles of Tapotchau, the 8th Marines advanced 800 yards. On its left, the 6th Marines kept pace in spite of having to overcome several pockets of heavy resistance, and on the extreme left the 2nd Marines continued to patrol south of Garapan in preparation for the long-awaited push into the city itself, which was scheduled for 2 July.
On 2 July, the 4th Marine Division, which had spent most of its time during the past days resting and patrolling, plunged ahead for about 1,500 yards in its zone. Resistance was so light that the assault battalion of the 24th Marines suffered only one man wounded during the day. On the 4th Division’s immediate left, the 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry, which had now been returned to the control of its parent division, maintained the same pace.
By 1400 Major Foery’s men had pushed ahead about 1,700 yards,10 leaving behind at about the same distance to their left rear the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry. This unit was held back by intense rifle and machine gun fire, leaving a deep re-entrant between the 3rd Battalion, 165th, on its right and the 106th Infantry on its left. The latter had succeeded in advancing about 1,000 yards after clearing out five enemy tanks emplaced as pillboxes. To close the gap, General Griner late in the afternoon ordered the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, which had been in regimental reserve, to make a wide end run around the regiment’s left flank, bypass the enemy strongpoint that was holding up the 3rd Battalion, 105th, and establish contact with the left flank of the 3rd Battalion, 165th. This the 1st Battalion did by 1800.
In the zone of the 2nd Marine Division, the two regiments on the right made good progress (800-1,200 yards) during the day in spite of rough terrain and the fact that the 8th Marines was temporarily disorganized when friendly artillery fire fell into its lines causing forty-five casualties. On the division left flank the 2nd Marines, after its prolonged wait before Garapan, was at last ordered to enter the city. As it did so, the devastating effect of the many days of artillery bombardment and naval shelling was revealed on all sides. Garapan was little more than a mass of rubble, and though there was some hostile rifle fire, the 2nd Marines quickly occupied the center of the town with the help of tanks and armored amphibians. To the immediate east the Japanese, entrenched on a hill overlooking the city, caused considerable trouble, but by nightfall enemy resistance had subsided, and the regiment dug in about 700 yards from its morning line of departure.
Under the mounting pressure of the American attack, the Japanese on the night of 2 July once more fell back to new positions. Six days earlier General Saito had decided to make his last stand along a line running from north of Garapan through Radar Hill and Hill 112 (meters) on to the coast. Now those troops able to do so were to retire to the new line. It was high time. Many of them had been so pressed for provisions that they were eating field grass and tree bark.
The axis of the drive to Tanapag Harbor now took a more northwesterly direction, with the main effort still in the center in the zone of the 27th Division. The Japanese were retreating rapidly and in a piecemeal manner. Saito’s plans for an orderly withdrawal to the north were obviously breaking down in the face of the gathering momentum of the attacking troops.
On the morning of 3 July the attack on the right got off to a slow start as a result of confusion shared by the 4th Marine Division and the 1st Battalion, 165th, as to the intentions of each. The Army unit was prepared to jump off on schedule at 0800, but held back because an air strike in front of the Marine division’s lines prohibited forward movement. After the strike the soldiers continued to hold, waiting for the marines to go forward. The latter made no move on the false assumption that the 1st Battalion, 165th, was waiting for the unit on its left to come abreast. This misunderstanding continued until 1100, when the Marine division and the Army battalion jumped off together.
The 4th Marine Division attacked in columns of battalions, with the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, and 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, in the assault from right to left. After a few hours of fairly unimpeded movement, the battalion on the right was pinned down by heavy machine gun, mortar, and rifle fire from well-concealed positions in caves and wooded recesses on Hill 721 and on a nose abutting south from it that the marines were later to dub “Fourth of July Hill.” Several attempts were made to penetrate the position by both frontal assault and envelopment, but each time the troops were so badly shot up that they were forced to retire. The approaches were heavily mined, and neither tanks nor self-propelled mounts could come in close. Finally, at 1715, after three hours of continuous fighting, the battalion pulled back 300 yards to safe positions and let the artillery take over. All night long howitzers of the 14th Marines pounded the strongpoint and kept it neutralized.
Daylight of 4 July revealed that the Japanese had either withdrawn during the night or been eliminated by the intense artillery fire, and by 1135 both Fourth of July Hill and Hill 721 were in American hands. Within another hour a battalion of the 23rd Marines had moved 800 yards to the northeast and had taken Hill 767 without opposition.18 Meanwhile, the other two regiments of the 4th Marine Division had kept abreast. The 25th tied in with the 23rd around Hill 767 on the night of 4 July, by which time most of the 24th Marines had been relieved by the 165th Infantry.
In the zone of the 27th Division, the 3rd Battalion of the 165th kept abreast of the marines on 3 July without meeting more than sporadic fire from the Japanese. To its left the 1st Battalion, 105th, moved even faster against negligible opposition and by 1410 reached its objective for the day—the high ground 2,000 yards east of Tanapag Harbor overlooking the plains of Tanapag.
The 106th Infantry on the division left jumped off on schedule and also reached the high ground north of Tanapag by late afternoon. Earlier in the morning the 1st Battalion had found a pocket of Japanese close to the division boundary line, but these men were quickly silenced by tanks and self-propelled mounts. Thereafter opposition was light. Meanwhile, to the rear of the front line the 3rd Battalion was mopping up a bypassed enemy position in the cliffs north of Tapotchau. While one company of the 8th Marines tried to get at the Japanese-infested caves from above, Company K, 106th, contained the enemy from the plain below. After this maneuver failed to produce results, artillery was called upon to lay down a concentration. This too accomplished nothing, and at nightfall the strongpoint was still in enemy hands.
In the early morning hours of 4 July a large group of Japanese, trying to escape to the north to join General Saito, stumbled into the command post of the 165th Infantry. After a brisk fire fight, twenty-seven of the enemy were killed including a number of officers, one of whom proved to be Colonel Ogawa, commanding officer of the 136th Infantry Regiment.
On his body Ogawa carried Saito’s withdrawal order of 2 July. Ogawa himself had ordered the remnants of his own regiment, now bypassed by the Americans, to commence their withdrawal at 2200 on the night of the 3rd. When he was killed, Ogawa was bound for his new command post, which he hoped to locate on a cliff about 500 meters east of Hill 221.
Ogawa was not merely in command of a decimated regiment, but of the entire Japanese left and thus one of the few key men remaining among the Japanese defenders. His death was a heavy blow to the already stunned and reeling enemy, but the circumstances of his death indicate that an even greater misfortune had befallen the Japanese. It is more than likely that many if not most of the units under Ogawa’s command behind the American lines never reached their assigned positions to the north. Thus the Japanese left flank, toward which the main drive of the American forces was now oriented, lay weakened, exposed, and almost leaderless.
The Fourth of July was to see the culmination of the 27th Division’s thrust to Tanapag Plain. On the right the 1st Battalion, 165th, jumped off at 0730 on schedule and, meeting almost no opposition, quickly pushed forward to the last low ridge line overlooking the Flores Point seaplane base. A heavy downpour, the first daylight rainfall of any severity since the landing on Saipan, mired the tanks, but it made little difference since there were no targets at which they could fire. The rest of the regiment failed to keep pace so, from 1030 until midafternoon when new orders were issued changing the direction of the attack, the men of the 1st Battalion rested atop the ridge and took pot shots at the Japanese milling in the coastal valley below.
In the center of the division line, the 1st Battalion, 105th, made rapid progress to a position just beyond the same ridge line, where it found a strongpoint manned by about three hundred enemy soldiers, with some machine guns. A called artillery barrage scattered the Japanese, and by 1600 most of the battalion had succeeded in reaching the beach. On the left, the two assault battalions of the 106th had an easier time in spite of the heavy undergrowth through which they had to push. By 1430 they made their way into the Flores Point seaplane base, where they were joined in mopping-up operations by the 8th Marines, To their rear the 3rd Battalion, 106th, spent most of the day finishing off the troublesome caves that had occupied it on the 3rd.
First, flame thrower teams went forward to destroy the ring of enemy machine gun positions that had been protecting the largest cave. Next, a public address system was brought up and interpreters broadcast pleas to the main body of Japanese to surrender. When this failed, the infantry resumed the attack and reduced the position. It yielded one wounded Japanese and fifty dead plus an unknown number sealed up in the smaller caves adjacent to the main position. It was the last Japanese strongpoint remaining on the slopes below Tapotchau.
In the zone of the 2nd Marine Division, by nightfall of 3 July the 6th Marines was still held up on the ridge line about 1,000 yards from the ocean shore, but the 2nd Marines had finished mopping up Garapan and had pocketed the small enemy garrison remaining on the tip of Mutcho Point. Next day, both regiments reached the shore line.
During most of the day the Japanese, under relentless pressure from the attackers, had been retreating steadily toward Saito’s last headquarters, the rallying point for the final desperate counterattack that would come two days later. The Japanese commander had set up his command post in the valley running south from the village of Makunsha—appropriately enough labeled “Paradise Valley” by the Americans and “Hell Valley” by the Japanese. A captured Japanese officer was later to describe in moving terms the miserable situation in which Saito and his staff found themselves: This area is generally called the Valley of Hell and we felt that this was an unpleasant hint and suggestion concerning our future. The intelligence which managed to reach me at this last place was all depressing. On 4 July, an enemy unit appeared on the other side of the valley and fired at us with heavy automatic weapons. At that time I felt we were entirely surrounded and had lost all hope.
General Saito was feeling very poorly because for several days he had neither eaten nor slept well and was overstrained. He was wearing a long beard and was a pitiful sight. That morning that very valley received intense bombardment (I don’t know whether it was naval gunfire or pursuing fire from artillery, but it was the second most intense bombardment I had been in). It was so fierce that I thought maybe the cave where the headquarters was would be buried. At this time the staff and Lieutenant Gen Saito received shrapnel wounds. I felt that the final hour was drawing near.
Change of Direction
As it became apparent that the drive to Tanapag Harbor could be successfully concluded on the 4th, General Holland Smith prepared plans for the last phase of the Saipan campaign. The direction of the drive would change to the northeast—toward Marpi Point and the remaining Japanese airfield, which bore the same name. Most of the 2nd Marine Division, which had by now been pinched out, was assigned to corps reserve. The final assault was to be conducted with the 4th Marine Division on the right, 27th Infantry Division on the left. To allow time for the necessary shifts, jump-off hour was set at noon, 5 July. General Griner was ordered to relieve the two left battalions of the 4th Marine Division. The division boundary line would now cut down the northern end of the island slightly west of the middle. Griner decided to commit the 165th Infantry on the right, the 105th on the left, the 106th going into reserve.
Late in the afternoon he ordered the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 165th, to relieve the marines in that portion of the line now assigned to the Army division. In effecting this relief, contact with the 1st Battalion, 165th, on the regimental left was lost, so Griner ordered Colonel Bradt’s 3rd Battalion, 105th, to fill the gap. Unfortunately, Bradt’s orders were garbled in transmission and he moved to the left rather than to the right of the 1st Battalion, 165th. By this time night had fallen, and before the error could be rectified almost a hundred Japanese were able to infiltrate through the gap and harass the front-line troops throughout the night. The attacks were sporadic, however, and by morning the gap had been filled, and the enemy repulsed or destroyed.
5 July 4th Marine Division
On the right half of the corps line, General Schmidt placed the 25th Marines on the right and the 24th on the left, and ordered the 23rd to clean up the area between the designated line of departure and the division’s night positions before the division jumped off. The division launched its drive about 1330, an hour and a half late. The delay was largely because the 25th Marines, after being relieved by Army units in midmorning, had to move laterally about 2,500 yards to take position on the right of the line. Once they jumped off, the marines drove forward against very little resistance and by 1630 reached their objective for the day, the O-8a line, which was about 1,200 yards from the line of departure.
The rapid and almost uncontested progress was indicative of the total collapse of General Saito’s plans for establishing a final defense line across the entire northern neck of Saipan. The 4th Marine Division had overrun the whole left flank of the proposed line. The 136th Infantry Regiment should have contested this ground, but whatever remained of that unit was scattered and isolated behind the American lines, mostly in the area around Radar Hill. With the collapse of the enemy left, all that remained under Saito’s control was the Navy sector and a thin slice of the 135th Infantry’s area. These were in the zone of the 27th Division. Even there, the defense was disorganized and confused.
Japanese officers captured on the 5th revealed that their “front line units were mixed up, the communications were badly disorganized, . . . there was little or no organized resistance at the present time, no organized supply plan and very little artillery, if any, remaining.” Yet to the Japanese military mind, disorganization, lack of supplies, and lack of communications was no excuse for an abatement of effort. What the enemy lacked in the ordinary sinews of war he made up in determination. As the 27th Division began to probe into Saito’s last shattered defense line, the degree of that determination was made manifest.
The newly designated line of departure for the 27th Division ran east from the beach just north of the village of Tanapag to a point just south of Hill 767. Facing this line from right to left were the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 165th, 3rd Battalion, 105th, and 2nd Battalion, 105th. The terrain over which the division was to move was of two kinds. On the left in the zone of action of the 105th Infantry, the ground was a low, slightly rolling, coastal plain. The most important landmark on the plain was a large coconut grove about 600 yards east of Tanapag village.
The main coastal road ran along the beach and was paralleled by a small cane railroad. Just above Tanapag, at Road Junction 2, the coastal road was joined by a cross-island highway. Just to the east of the coconut grove, the highway made a U-shaped turn and from the north leg of the U, at Road Junction 64, another, smaller, road branched off, wound in a southeasterly direction through a canyon fifty to sixty feet deep, and came out into the hills below Hill 721, one of the two high points on the ridge that rose up from the plain in the center of the island.
The canyon, winding uncertainly between steep, cave-studded cliffs on either side, was soon to be called “Harakiri Gulch” by the men of the 27th. The floor of the gulch, never more than fifty yards wide, was covered with sparse undergrowth dotted with trees. In length, it ran about 400 yards. Lying athwart the main line of advance, the canyon was an ideal defensive position. From the west mouth of the gulch, running all way to the sea was a deep dry gully that also provided ideal cover for enemy movement.
K Company of the 165th Infantry drew first blood in the two-day fight for Harakiri Gulch. Soon after the jump-off, an advance patrol climbed down the south face of the canyon but received such inhospitable treatment from the Japanese below that the men climbed right back up again, dragging their wounded with them. Shortly thereafter two tanks started down into the gulch via the road to the west. Within a few minutes both were disabled by Japanese who darted out from the ditches and placed mines on them. Three more tanks from the same platoon appeared over the edge of the precipice in an attempt to rescue those below. After an hour and a half of maneuvering and firing, one of the stricken vehicles was recovered; the other had to be abandoned. For the rest of the afternoon Company K made repeated stabs into the gulch, but each failed. Self-propelled mounts were sent down the road point-blank fire from their 75-mm. and 105-mm. howitzers, but the infantrymen who followed found the going still too rough, and Captain Betts withdrew the company from the gulch and called for artillery. Along the southern rim the entire 3rd Battalion, 165th, dug in for the night, tying in on the right with the 2nd Battalion, 165th, which had seen no significant action during the day.
On the left of the 3rd Battalion, 165th, Company L of the 105th was stopped in its tracks by fire from the opposite side of Harakiri Gulch and made no effort to force an entry into the canyon. To its left Company K, 105th, tried to work its way into the coconut grove, but fire from the uplands on the right interdicted the area, mortally wounding Captain Bouchard. The new company commander, 1st Lieutenant Roger P. Peyre, then withdrew south of the grove. The 2nd Battalion, 105th, had spent the day working its way slowly along the shore line and the coastal plain north of Tanapag. It had mopped up a series of small pillboxes, most of them abandoned, and had discovered a live mine field directly in the path of its advance. By the end of the day it had not quite reached its scheduled line of departure, although the men had moved almost 800 yards through ground not previously reconnoitered.
6 July 4th Marine Division
Holland Smith’s orders for 6 July called for the 27th Division to jump off at 0700 in an effort to bring its line abreast of the marines on the right by 0900. Assuming this would be accomplished on time, the 4th Marine Division was to launch its attack at 0900, and the two divisions would continue to move abreast in a northeasterly direction toward the tip of the island, sweeping the remaining Japanese before them. An hour or two after the 27th Division had jumped off it became apparent to the corps commander that it was going to be impossible for it to keep pace with the marines. Consequently, at 0900 General Smith changed his plans and assigned new missions. The 27th Division was to reorient the direction of its attack from northeast to north, thus assuming responsibility for about 2,600 yards of coastal strip from just above Tanapag to just above Makunsha, as well as for the first high ground immediately inland from the beaches, Harakiri Gulch, and Paradise Valley. The entire remainder of the island northeast of this sector was to be taken over by the 4th Marine Division. Once the right flank of the Army division reached its objective on the west coast just above Makunsha, it would be pinched out.
To take over his newly expanded front, General Schmidt put all three of his Marine regiments into the line—25th, 24th, and 23rd Marines from right to left. Accompanied by thirteen tanks, the 25th Marines made fairly rapid progress north along the east coast of the island, mopping up isolated Japanese troops and civilians in the many caves and cliffs that bordered the ocean. In this work the 25th was assisted by naval vessels, whose flat trajectory fire was ideally suited to the coastal targets. By midafternoon Mount Petosukara was occupied, and the two assault battalions dug in for the night on either side of that elevation. Just before dark a group of from seven to eight hundred civilians came into the lines of the 25th and surrendered. Meanwhile, to the rear, the reserve battalion in mopping up a bypassed hill flushed a sizable covey of Japanese soldiers and killed sixty-one in a brief but lively fire fight.
In the division center, the 24th Marines registered a day’s gain of 1,400 to 1,800 yards against sporadic resistance. On the left, the 23rd Marines encountered considerably more difficulty. Having been in reserve in the morning when it received its orders, the unit had to march some 4,300 yards before reaching its line of departure. Jumping off at 1415, it soon came upon the cliff line that rimmed Paradise Valley on the east. Here, the regiment came under enemy fire from caves well concealed by dense underbrush. As the marines pushed down the slopes into the valley, hidden enemy machine guns and knee mortars opened up from the rear. With only an hour of daylight remaining, the regimental commander decided it was impossible to continue the attack, and at 1730 pulled his men back to establish defensive positions for the night on the high ground. There, the 23rd Marines tied in with portions of the 27th Division but was entirely out of contact with the 24th Marines on the right.
The Battle for Tanapag Plain
On the morning of 6 July the 27th Infantry Division was still on the near side of Harakiri Gulch and still short of its line of departure on the plain north of Tanapag village. On the line from right to left were Major Claire’s 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, Major Mahoney’s 1st Battalion, 165th, Colonel Bradt’s 3rd Battalion, 105th, and Major Edward McCarthy’s 2nd Battalion, 105th. The plan for the day, as revised by General Smith’s order of 0900, called for the 2nd Battalion, 165th, to push toward the coast above Makunsha by way of Paradise Valley. On its left the 1st Battalion, 165th, and the 3rd Battalion, 105th, were to rout the enemy still entrenched in Harakiri Gulch and then proceed northward. Finally, to the 2nd Battalion, 105th, was given the job of pushing up the coastal plain to a point just south of Makunsha.
On the right the division made no progress in the effort to push through Paradise Valley. Captain William J. Smith, commanding Company F, 165th Infantry, tried to force his way into the valley by the trail that ran along its floor, but the hail of fire that greeted this effort discouraged him and he withdrew his men. After a futile effort to rout the enemy with tanks and self-propelled mounts, the whole battalion fell back to the western base of Hill 767 and dug in for the night. The attack on Harakiri Gulch met with no more success. Jumping off about noon the 1st Battalion, 165th Infantry, attempted, as had the 3rd Battalion the day before, to assault the canyon frontally, moving perpendicularly to its axis. In the course of this effort the men of Company A witnessed an incident that was to give the name to the area. Following an intense ten-minute mortar preparation, the company proceeded slowly into the valley and was greeted by a series of explosions that forced the lead platoon to duck for cover.
When the fireworks had abated about fifteen minutes later, the men investigated a group of straw shacks located on the sides of the gulch in the path of their advance. In each of these they found groups of three or four Japanese soldiers who had committed suicide by pressing hand grenades to their abdomens. Altogether, about sixty of the enemy were discovered to have ended their lives in this fashion. Nevertheless, fire from the gulch below continued intermittently throughout the afternoon, and by evening Major Mahoney’s battalion abandoned all thought of further advance and dug in again on the rim overlooking the gorge.
On the western flank of the gulch, the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, was equally unsuccessful. In this area, most of the burden of combat fell on Captain Robert J. Spaulding’s Company L. During the morning Spaulding made two separate attempts to get across the gulch. He ordered his 1st Platoon, on the right, to crawl down into a small tributary draw that branched off from the main gulch in a southwesterly direction. The platoon was to work down the draw to its mouth and there set up machine guns that could cover enemy positions on the floor of the gulch and fire into the caves on the opposite side. Under cover of this support, Spaulding proposed to send his 2nd Platoon over the near walls of the canyon, across the floor of the gulch, and up the opposite side. He also had at his disposal a skeleton platoon of four light tanks that he intended to send up the gulch along the trail that entered it from the east.
Company L moved off to the attack at 0700. The 1st Platoon crawled up over the ridge and down into the tributary ravine without drawing fire. Moving stealthily in single file along this narrow corridor, the platoon escaped detection and reached the corridor’s mouth. There, the men set up two light machine guns and began firing at the caves in the face of the opposite wall, only to be greeted by return fire from the disabled American tank that had been left in the gulch the day before and was now in the hands of the Japanese. Meanwhile, the four light tanks had arrived, and Spaulding ordered them to work up the trail that ran through the middle of the, gulch.
An infantryman, Private First Class James R. Boyles, volunteered to accompany the buttoned up lead tank to guide it, but he was soon killed and thereafter no direct communication could be maintained between tanks and infantrymen. To add to the confusion, three enemy soldiers then jumped out of the bushes and clapped a magnetic mine onto the side of the third tank in line, disabling it. Eventually the crew from the crippled tank was evacuated, and the tank platoon commander, 2nd Lieutenant Gino Ganio, was able at last to get well up into the gulch and spray the walls on the north side. Nevertheless, by this time (noon) Company L had withdrawn again to the rim of the gorge, and no further effort to breach the canyon was made on the 6th. Meanwhile, Company K, 105th Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Peyre, was having its own troubles in the area of the coconut grove in the valley below and to the west of the mouth of Harakiri Gulch. Jumping off on schedule at 0700, Peyre’s men moved along a deep gully that circled the south edge of the grove, making use of the cover and concealment it offered.
Once they emerged from the ditch, however, they were taken under fire by Japanese machine guns located near the center of the grove, and the whole company was pinned down. At this juncture a platoon of five light tanks commanded by 1st Lieutenant Willis K. Dorey hove into view and within ten minutes cleared the way for the infantrymen to move into the grove. For about an hour the men of Company K worked their way among the stock piles of enemy supplies that abounded in the area and by 0815 reached the north edge of the grove, facing the open ground beyond the cross-island road.
Once his troops arrived at this objective, Lieutenant Peyre ordered Dorey’s tanks to move along the road until they reached positions from which they could put effective fire on the cliffs to the right front. So long as the tanks were firing the infantrymen were able to move about the grove at will, but whenever the tankers ceased fire the Japanese in the cliffs opened up again. Unfortunately too, at this point, tank-infantry communications failed, and Peyre could neither reach Dorey by radio nor attract his attention with hand signals. Consequently the tank commander merely kept patrolling the road, laying down a blanket of fire on the cliffs, until about 1000 when the tanks ran out of ammunition and had to retire.
Peyre dug in as well as he was able to await the tankers’ return. A hundred yards ahead of him in the open terrain north of the grove was a small knoll on which were located three enemy machine gun positions. To interdict these as well as the remaining guns on the cliffs to his right, Company K’s commander brought his own machine guns to the north edge of the grove and prepared to launch an attack against the knoll.
When the tanks returned at 1030, Lieutenants Peyre and Dorey conferred and laid their plans. The right platoon of Company K would move ahead to capture the knoll under cover of fire from the left platoon. Dorey, with his tanks, would again proceed up the cross-island road, take the trail that led into Harakiri Gulch, and neutralize the enemy fire in the cliffs. The lead platoon jumped off about 1045 and was immediately met by a deadly hail of small arms and machine gun fire that forced the men to take to the earth.
Lieutenant Peyre, seeing his right platoon stalled, ordered his left platoon to try for the rise. Just as these men were venturing out of the coconut grove, the Japanese counterattacked down the cliffs and along the paths that led to a gully just behind the rise of ground that was the American objective. Total chaos ensued as a result of a tremendous explosion that sent bodies and limbs of the leading Japanese into the air in all directions. Apparently, one of the enemy had stepped on the horn of an embedded sea mine, thus setting off a series of mines scattered over the area. Whatever the cause of the explosion, it created havoc among the Japanese and abruptly stopped the counterattack. In the American lines the results were not so serious, and although a few men were wounded by flying debris, the effect of the concussion was short-lived.
Meanwhile, orders had come down for Company G, 105th Infantry, to relieve Company K in the coconut grove. After receiving General Smith’s orders indicating that the 27th Division would change the direction of its attack from northeast to north toward the coast line, General Griner had decided to shift the emphasis of his division attack from the left to the right of his line. Hence, to bolster the efforts of the 3rd Battalion, 105th, against Harakiri Gulch, he ordered Company G to relieve Company K so that the latter could move out of the coastal plain and into the reserve area behind its parent unit. For the rest of the afternoon the area along the coast would be assigned entirely to the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 105th Infantry.
It was the second of these battalions, commanded by Major McCarthy, that had been responsible for the area immediately abutting the seacoast during the morning. As day broke McCarthy had Companies E and F drawn up in a tight perimeter around Road Junction 2. Directly ahead athwart his line of advance, was the mine field, discovered the day before, that ran from the coastal road to the railroad and that was about 250 yards in depth. It consisted of about 150 Japanese general purpose bombs set in the ground in four rows, noses up. Only about a hundred had been fuzed. Immediately beyond the mine field was the gully that ran down to the sea from the western mouth of Harakiri Gulch. To the right (east) of McCarthy’s bivouac area was a wide expanse of open, slightly rolling ground, which was covered by small arms and automatic weapons fire from the cliffs still farther to the east. The 2nd Battalion’s commander decided to move his men along the narrow strip of beach between the road and the lagoon in order to avoid the mine field. To eliminate the series of pillboxes strung along the shore in this area, he called for a rolling artillery barrage in advance of the infantry. Company F was to take the lead, to be followed by E Company, which would fan out to the right once the far edge of the mine field was passed.
Promptly at 0700 Company F jumped off and within a few minutes had reached the northern limit of the mine field. At this point it received a heavy burst of machine gun and small arms fire from its direct front. McCarthy at once tried to put in a call for tanks and self-propelled mounts, but discovered that his radio communications were out; he then sent a runner to order up the vehicles. This involved a trip all the way back to Tanapag.
Meanwhile, the men of Company E had managed to crawl to the right along the north edge of the mine field and to deploy in a three-platoon front along a line running east of the coastal road. About 0900 Major McCarthy decided to withdraw Company F from its cramped positions between the road and the beach and send it around to the right of Company E to close the gap between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. This move took about an hour. Also, Company A of the 102nd Engineer Combat Battalion was brought forward to deactivate the mine field.
At 1000 five medium tanks commanded by 1st Lieutenant Dudley A. Williams of the 762nd Tank Battalion put in their appearance at Road Junction 2. Rather than send them down the road, which he believed was almost certainly mined, McCarthy ordered them to precede single file along the railroad track to the right. The lead tank unfortunately snarled its tread in the steel rails and became immobilized. While an effort was being made to clear a path through the mine field so that the second tank could be worked around the first, the enemy opened fire, scoring direct hits on both tanks. Lieutenant Williams hooked cables to the two vehicles and hauled them loose of the tracks and clear of the area before any more damage was done.
By this time it was apparent that the chief source of enemy fire came from the gully in front of the mine field, and Company E sent out a squad to rush the gully and knock out the machine gun position that seemed to be causing most of the trouble. The squad leader got as far as the gully and located the position in question, but was wounded and had to withdraw before he could eliminate it.
By midafternoon the entire 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, appeared to have bogged down. Companies E and F were facing the gully just north of the mine field and Company G was still at the north edge of the coconut grove. Anxious to get on with the day’s business, General Griner at 1520 ordered the regimental commander, Colonel Bishop, to commit his reserve, the 1st Battalion, 105th, commanded by Colonel O’Brien. Bishop objected to committing his reserves at such a late hour and argued that an attack would not give sufficient time before dark for the front-line troops to prepare a proper perimeter defense. His objection was overruled. On Griner’s orders, O’Brien’s unit was to be inserted on the right flank of the 2nd Battalion, 105th, and from that point was to drive north to Makunsha village on the shore before nightfall.
Even before this move could be executed, relief to the men immediately in front of the enemy-infested gully came from a different quarter. About 1530 Lieutenant Dorey, after refueling and resupplying, arrived on the scene with two other tanks in addition to his own. Observing that the infantry was apparently completely immobilized, he drove straight into the troublesome gully pushing the enemy before him and slaughtering them with canister and machine guns. For half an hour he kept this up, killing about 150 Japanese in the gully and literally paving with dead bodies the way for a renewed advance of the 2nd Battalion. In the course of this action, Japanese soldiers, armed with magnetic mines, attacked one of the light tanks and it lost its track. In spite of his valiant efforts, Dorey was unable to rescue either the damaged tank or its crew.
Meanwhile, back at the regimental command post, Colonel Bishop was outlining his plans for the final move up the coast to Makunsha. As directed by the division commander, O’Brien’s 1st Battalion was to move into line between the other two battalions of the 105th. To make room for this maneuver, Company F was to move back around the rear of Company E to the left of the regimental line where it would again take up a position between the railroad track and the beach. Company G, commanded by Captain Olander and still in the coconut grove, was to be attached to the 3rd Battalion and swing on its right flank across the western mouth of Harakiri Gulch in order to bottle up the enemy there. Such a movement would presumably protect the rear of the 1st Battalion, and the next morning the rest of the 3rd Battalion could mop up the enemy isolated in the gulch.
Pursuant to these instructions, Colonel O’Brien brought his battalion into line, with Company B on the right, A on the left, and C echeloned to the right rear. His apprehension over the role assigned to his men was apparent to Captain Ackerman, A Company commander, who later testified: “Obie was nervous and restless, as usual. He drew a picture for us and told Dick [Captain Richard F. Ryan, of Company B] and I that no matter what else happened, we were to keep going. ‘Its the old end run all over again. Whenever they got a job nobody else can do, we have to do it. Sooner or later we’re going to get caught and this may be it.'”
The 1st Battalion was in line by approximately 1645, following F Company’s shift to the division left flank along the beach. Between that time and 1715 both battalions resupplied and organized their lines. At 1715 the 105th Infantry moved off in a co-ordinated attack.
On the left of the line, the 2nd Battalion had little difficulty moving ahead in the wake of the devastation caused by Lieutenant Dorey’s tanks. Although Company F delayed slightly to investigate a series of Japanese pillboxes along the beach, by 1800 the whole battalion had advanced about 600 yards. At that point it built up its perimeter for the night. O’Brien’s battalion ran into more trouble. On reaching the gully, Company A encountered a nest of fifteen to twenty Japanese. Some were wounded and some were still trying to hide from Dorey’s tank fire by hugging the walls of the trench on the near side. Ackerman’s men waded in with bayonets and knives and after a 20-minute hand-to-hand fight, cleaned out the pocket. Once across the gully, Company A rushed headlong some 500 yards in spite of increasingly heavy machine gun fire from the cliffs to the right. This fire was falling even more heavily on Company B and succeeded, among other things, in killing the company commander, Captain Ryan, who was replaced by 1st Lieutenant Hugh P. King. Meanwhile, on the battalion right rear, Company C was faced with the same machine guns emplaced on the knoll north of the coconut grove that had previously stopped both K Company, 165th, and G Company, 105th. For the rest of the day and even after dark, Company C battled to take out these positions. Not until a self-propelled mount was finally brought in to wipe them out was the entire company able to rejoin the rest of the battalion in its night perimeter.
Meanwhile, immediately to the right Captain Olander of Company G, 105th, was trying to carry out his mission of sealing up the western mouth of Harakiri Gulch. Working its way along the road that led into the gulch the lead platoon, just before dark, stumbled onto a nest of Japanese. A brisk hand-to-hand fight ensued, with inconclusive results, and, in view of the lateness of the hour, the company commander ordered all of his men to pull back west along the road to the point from which they had started. There Captain Olander called Colonel Bradt, to whose battalion he was now attached, and admitted his inability to build up a line across the mouth of the gulch. He was given permission to dig in on the high ground overlooking Road Junction 64, from which point he hoped to be able to interdict movement from the gulch with machine gun fire.
By nightfall then, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 105th (less Company G), were digging in in positions about 900 yards northeast of Road Junction 2. On the left, Companies E and F bivouacked in a tight perimeter between the road and the railroad. The narrow corridor between the road and the beach was out-posted by two men armed with carbines and with express orders to report any signs of enemy movement along the beach. Inside the perimeter were stationed the mortars of both rifle companies as well as the mortars and machine guns of the heavy weapons company. In placing his heavy weapons and machine guns, Major McCarthy assumed that before nightfall the 1st Battalion would have reached its objective north of his perimeter. Hence, without neglecting the northern approaches to his position altogether, he concentrated his defenses on the eastern side.
Meanwhile, Colonel O’Brien’s 1st Battalion had come abreast. Rather than push on to the beach ahead of the 2nd Battalion as originally planned, O’Brien, after consultation with McCarthy, decided to tie in for the night to the right of the 2nd Battalion. His perimeter was drawn up in the shape of an arc whose terminal points rested on the railroad just east of the right side of the 2nd Battalion’s perimeter. This arrangement meant that two whole platoons of the 2nd Battalion were now inside the final perimeter. More important, O’Brien’s perimeter screened one of the 2nd Battalion’s antitank guns as well as all of Company H’s heavy machine guns, which had been emplaced so as to protect the eastern leg of McCarthy’s original perimeter. Thus, by hedging in the 2nd Battalion from the east, O’Brien in effect subtracted from the combined fire power of the two battalion perimeter.
Even more significant was the fact that between the 1st Battalion, 105th, and Company G, 105th (attached to the 3rd Battalion), lay a gap of about 500 yards. However, the ground was open and O’Brien took the precaution of placing all of his antitank guns in such a position as to bear directly on the gap. By the time all these arrangements were completed it was well after dark. The morning, it was hoped, would bring the 105th Infantry to its objective line at the shore and an end to its labors.
7 July Banzai Attack
About an hour after dark, an American soldier patrolling the road in the vicinity of the command post of the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, came upon a lone, armed, Japanese lying asleep. He forthwith took him prisoner and sent him back to headquarters for interrogation. The Japanese proved to be a “leading seaman” of the 55th Guard Force, and his testimony, reluctantly given, was sufficient cause for deep alarm. An all-out attack by the entire remaining Japanese force on the island, he said, had been ordered for the night of 6-7 July. Word was immediately sent out to all major units of the division as well as to Holland Smith’s headquarters to prepare for the worst.
In the front line below Makunsha, Colonel O’Brien and Major McCarthy went into conference on receiving this information. Both were worried about the gap that extended some 500 yards southeastward to the night positions of Company G, 105th Infantry. O’Brien called the regimental command past and asked for reinforcements to fill the gap but was told that none were available. Colonel Jensen, the regimental executive, in turn called for help from division headquarters. He too received a negative answer. The two battalion commanders would have to make out with what they had on hand.
The Japanese counterattack that was now mounting had in fact been ordered early on the morning of the 6th. At 0600 General Saito had issued his final proclamation: MESSAGE TO OFFICERS AND MEN DEFENDING SAIPAN; I am addressing the officers and men of the Imperial Army on Saipan. For more than twenty days since the American Devils attacked, the officers, men, and civilian employees of the Imperial Army and Navy on this island have fought well and bravely. Everywhere they have demonstrated the honor and glory of the Imperial Forces. I expected that every man would do his duty. Heaven has not given us an opportunity.
We have not been able to utilize fully the terrain. We have fought in unison up to the present time but now we have no materials with which to fight and our artillery for attack has been completely destroyed. Our comrades have fallen one after another. Despite the bitterness of defeat, we pledge, “Seven lives to repay our country.” The barbarous attack of the enemy is being continued. Even though the enemy has occupied only a corner of Saipan, we are dying without avail under the violent shelling and bombing. Whether we attack or whether we stay where we are, there is only death. However, in death there is life. We must utilize this opportunity to exalt true Japanese manhood. I will advance with those who remain to deliver still another blow to the American Devils, and leave my bones on Saipan as a bulwark of the Pacific.
As it says in the “SENJINKUM” [Battle Ethics], “I will never suffer the disgrace of being taken alive,” and “I will offer up the courage of my soul and calmly rejoice in living by the eternal principle.” Here I pray with you for the eternal life of the Emperor and the welfare of the country and I advance to seek out the enemy.
Actually, General Saito was too feeble and sick to lead the charge in person. Shortly after issuing his final order he committed suicide. A captured Japanese officer who was with the general almost until the end described what probably took place: “Cleaning off a spot on the rock himself, Saito sat down. Facing the misty EAST saying ‘TENNO HEIKA! BANZAI! [Long live the Emperor] . . . he drew his own blood first with his own sword and then his adjutant shot him in the head with a pistol.”
The exact number of Japanese to participate in the attack is unknown. A count taken later On the authorization of General Griner revealed 4,311 enemy dead in the area covered by the attackers, although undoubtedly some of these had been killed by naval gunfire or artillery before the banzai charge got under way. A captured intelligence officer of the 43rd Division at first estimated that the total Japanese force came to no more than 1,500, hut later revised this upward to 3,000. Another prisoner of war, a Korean laborer, also gave 3,000 as the approximate number, and this is probably as acceptable an estimate as any.
The truth is that even the Japanese commanders themselves had no very clear picture of the number of men left under them. The attacking force was drawn from almost every conceivable unit on the island, forming a composite group of stragglers. Specific identifications made among Japanese dead included the 118th, 135th, and 136th Infantry Regiments, 43rd Division headquarters and 43rd Field Hospital, 3rd Independent Mountain Artillery Regiment, 16th Shipping Engineer Regiment, and sundry naval units including combat, maintenance, and labor personnel. Many of the Japanese were poorly armed with rusty rifles and some merely carried poles to which crude knives and bayonets were attached.
Poorly armed or not, the impact of this horde was overwhelming. In the words of Major McCarthy, one of the few officers to survive it, “It was like the movie stampede staged in the old wild west movies. We were the cameraman. These Japs just kept coming and coming and didn’t stop. It didn’t make any difference if you shot one, five more would take his place. We would be in the foxholes looking up, as I said, just like those cameramen used to be. The Japs ran right over us.”
About 0400 on 7 July the main body of the desperate attackers started south from Makunsha between the shore line and the base of the cliffs bordering Tanapag plain. Although there is no evidence that the movement was organized, the mounting flood sluiced out along three principal channels. The main group charged down the railroad track, hitting the American perimeter below Makunsha; another attacked positions of the 3rd Battalion, 105th, at Harakiri Gulch; the attackers facing the gap between these two American positions continued through unopposed.
Shortly before 0500 the full force of the attack struck the perimeter of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 105th Infantry, and in twenty-five minutes of fierce close-quarter fighting the American positions were overrun. During the first moments of impact Colonel O’Brien again made himself conspicuous by his fortitude. With a pistol in each hand he joined battle with the deluge, firing until his magazines were empty. Then, though seriously wounded, he manned a .50-caliber machine gun and kept firing until killed. [NOTE: For this and other notable demonstrations of bravery on Saipan, O’Brien was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor (WDGO 35, 9 May 1945).] With him went a good percentage of the officers and men of both battalions.
[N12-60 , Annex H, p. 7; Hq FEC, Mil Hist Sec Special Staff, to Chief of Mil Hist, 5 Jun 52, Incl, Comments by Major Takashi Hiragushi. Major Hiragushi, was taken prisoner after the counterattack of 7 July. For reasons unknown he assumed the name of Major Kiyoshi Yoshida, the 31st Army intelligence officer, who had been killed in action. The NTLF G-2 Report refers to this officer as Yoshida. His true identity was not revealed until after the war.]
[N12-62 General Holland Smith’s final estimate lay between 1,500 and 3,000 (Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 195). General Griner believed the number was not less than 3,000 and probably more (CG 27th Inf Div to CG NTLF, 16 Jul 44, Buckner Board Rpt, Exhibit FFF). A special board, appointed by Admiral Spruance to survey the circumstances surrounding the counterattack, estimated the number of enemy involved to lie between 2,500 and 3,000 (Commander Fifth Fleet, Rpt of Japanese Counterattack at. Saipan on 7 Jul 44, 19 Jul 44). ]
The tide rolled on, and before it stumbled most of the survivors of the perimeter. Among those left behind was Sergeant Thomas A. Baker of Company A. Although severely wounded, he refused to let himself be carried back with the retreat. Preferring certain death to further risking the lives of his comrades he demanded to be left, armed only with a loaded pistol. When his body was later discovered the gun was empty and around him lay eight dead Japanese. [NOTE: For this action, Baker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor (WDGO 35, 9 May 1945).]
Meanwhile, the left flank of the enemy had swiftly penetrated the gap. One group of Japanese spread out to attack the 3rd Battalion, 105th, but from their dominating positions on the high ground above Harakiri Gulch the men of the 3rd Battalion were, able to repulse the attack and hold their positions intact. Another group hit the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines (Artillery), which had set up its guns the day before about 500 yards southwest of Tanapag village. Only one of the batteries (H) was in a position to fire and it succeeded, among other things, in knocking out a Japanese tank before the men were forced to retreat pell-mell, leaving the breechblocks and firing locks in their howitzers. The marines of Battery I, after expending all of their small arms ammunition, removed the firing locks from their howitzers and fell back south along the railroad track to the positions of Battery G, where the two units held fast until relieved that afternoon by the 106th Infantry.
Meanwhile, the 27th Division artillery was pouring as many shells into the enemy as could safely be done without endangering the retreating American troops. Between 0515 and 0615 the three light battalions expended a total of 2,666 rounds in the zone of action of the 105th Infantry. This represented an average of more than forty rounds a minute.
By the time the men of the two advanced battalions had retreated as far as the northern edge of Tanapag village, they ran into the van of the left prong of the Japanese force, which had come through the gap, past the positions of the 10th Marines, and then gone on to the command post of the 105th Infantry, where the attack was finally stopped. At this point, two officers, Captain White of Company F and Lieutenant King of Company B, rallied the retreating men and brought some organization out of the confusion. They were able to persuade most of the troops to take cover in Tanapag village. While directing this diversion, King was killed. Meanwhile Major McCarthy, the 2nd Battalion commander, had come up, and with the help of other surviving officers and noncommissioned officers he was able to organize a perimeter within Tanapag village by about 0800, three hours after the initial attack had been made.
For the next four hours the beleaguered men fought a bitter house-to-house battle with the Japanese that had surrounded and were infiltrating the village. The Americans were out of communication with the command posts to the rear, short of ammunition and water, and had no means of evacuating or properly caring for their wounded. Shortly after 1100 McCarthy tried to lead a small force back to the regimental command post to bring up help for the wounded. Just as he got under way, his group was hit by two concentrations of American artillery and those men who were able to do so stampeded into the water and swam for the reefs. Some of these returned to establish another small perimeter below Tanapag, where they remained out of touch with the main body of their regiment’s troops in the village itself and the command post, which was still farther to the rear.
Finally, shortly after noon, the first sign of relief appeared in the form of a platoon of medium tanks that rolled down the road from the direction of the command post. The vehicles fired indiscriminately at areas that might be presumed to contain enemy troops, but because there were no communications between the tanks and the infantry there could be no co-ordinated effort to route the enemy or rescue the surrounded troops. Finally, McCarthy was able to get to the lead tank, and climbing in himself, lead a group of about thirty-five of his men back down the road, reaching the regimental command post by about 1500.
Under his persuasion a convoy of trucks and DUKW’s, loaded with medical supplies and ammunition, was dispatched toward Tanapag village. Some of the vehicles were knocked out en route, but three got through and returned fully loaded with wounded. Still later, a group of LVT’s of the 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion was sent by water to rescue some of the men still fighting on the beach or stranded on the reefs. Others had already swum out and had been picked up by naval landing craft to be carried to destroyers waiting outside the reef. About 2200 the last survivor left the perimeters in Tanapag village and below. Altogether, out of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 105th Infantry (less Company G), 406 officers and men were killed and 512 wounded.
Back at 27th Division and corps headquarters, word of the Japanese banzai charge was gradually filtering through. In response to the news, General Griner at 0920 ordered Colonel Stebbins to commit his 106th Regiment into the line and attack northeast astride the railroad track.73 About the same time corps attached the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, to the 27th Division, and at 1050 the battalion was ordered to mop up an enemy force, reported to be 100 strong, in the Tanapag area. At 1100 Griner requested that some Marine tanks be released to the division from corps control, but this was refused. According to the 27th Division commander, “headquarters did not accept my version of the importance of the action then in progress.” However, not long afterward, Holland Smith did order the two Marine divisions to release 1,000 rounds of 105-mm. howitzer ammunition to the Army division, which by now was running short.
By 1000 Colonel Stebbins had the 106th Infantry in line with the 1st Battalion on the left and the 2nd Battalion on the right of the railroad track.78 They moved forward slowly. The 1st Battalion met little opposition, but O’Hara’s men on the right encountered a considerable number of Japanese still alive and firing. By 1540 Company F had recaptured two of the Marine batteries, the first one with the help of some of the Marine artillerymen who had remained in the vicinity after being driven off their guns. A short while later the 1st Battalion reported that it had recaptured the abandoned guns of Battery H of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines.81 By 1600 the 106th Infantry was still 200 to 300 yards short of positions of the 105th Infantry, which it was supposed to relieve. Colonel Stebbins nevertheless decided to dig in where he was, although against the advice of one of his battalion commanders. Stebbins was concerned least there be too many bypassed enemy to his rear. This left the division commander with no alternative but to evacuate the remainder of his isolated troops by water.
Meanwhile, on the division right the 165th Infantry was touched only lightly by the overflow from the charge that had all but overwhelmed the 105th. By 0930 the attached 3rd Battalion, 106th, had finally reached the floor of Harakiri Gulch and was mopping up the Japanese still hidden in the caves and ditches. Occasionally, random riflemen who were apparently part of the main enemy counterattack wandered into the area to delay operations, but no serious opposition remained. Shortly after noon, the 1st Battalion, 165th, to the right, was able to advance through the draw at the upper end of the gulch and move into the plateau to the north overlooking the plain. It stopped there for the night and made plans to descend the cliffs the next day.
[N12-72 For this day’s action, the 105th Infantry (less 3rd Battalion and Company G) was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation (Department of the Army, GO 49, 14 July 1948). ]
In spite of the fact that by nightfall of 7 July the 27th Division had recovered some of the lost ground in the area of the counterattack and had at last cleaned out Harakiri Gulch, General Holland Smith decided to relieve most of the Army units from the line. The 2nd Marine Division (less detachments) was ordered to pass through the 27th Division and “mop up and destroy enemy elements” remaining in its zone of action. Attached to the Marine division would be the 165th Infantry, as well as the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, which was now to be released from the control of the Army division. Upon being passed through, the 27th was ordered into corps reserve.
“Mop-up” was the proper word for the activities of most of the 2nd Marine Division for the next two days. Along the beach the 6th Marines had an easy time after its jump-off at 1130. In the words of the official report, “Initially, the attack was field day for our troops and slaughter for the Japs.” Later in the afternoon, however, the regiment came up against a small pocket of resistance, just southwest of the coconut grove, containing about a hundred Japanese who had taken refuge in the bed of a small stream that ran down to the sea. Flame throwers, tanks, and self-propelled mounts were brought up to wipe out the enemy, but at nightfall the pocket still remained. By 1830 all units of the regiment had reached the beach, and the next day was spent mopping up and eliminating all enemy in the area.
[N-12-82: The detachments were the 2nd Marines; 1st Battalion, 29th Marines; and Company A, 2nd Tank Battalion.]
In the hills and ravines just east of the coastal plain, the 8th Marines spent most of 8 and 9 July in demolition work, since the remnants of enemy consisted of disorganized groups holed up in caves. Every cave had to be investigated, and the few Japanese remaining alive were destroyed or driven out with hand grenades, flame throwers, and TNT charges.
On the division right, the 165th Infantry met similar scattered opposition and dealt with it in much the same way. Delaying its assault on the 8th until the marines could come abreast, the 165th jumped off from its positions north of Harakiri Gulch at 1130. By midafternoon Company I had forced its way through Paradise Valley, where General Saito had established his final headquarters and from which the banzai order had been issued. Apparently not all of Saito’s men had joined in the charge, for the caves in the cliffs’ sides still harbored enough Japanese to offer stiff resistance to progress through the valley. By 1245 of 9 July forward elements of the regiment reached their destination on the shore, while Company K stayed behind to finish mopping up the caves of Paradise Valley.
The morning of the 8th found the 4th Marine Division poised and ready for its final drive to Saipan’s northern tip. On the left, the 23rd Marines were on the high ground overlooking Karaberra Pass, through which the regiment would have to advance in order to seize its assigned portion of the shore line north of Makunsha.
Following an intense preparation by rockets and tank fire, and assisted by LCI gunboats lying off Makunsha, the 23rd Marines forced its way through the pass and by 1205 had rushed across the coastal flats to the sea.89 On its right, the 23rd and 24th Marines kept abreast and secured their assigned zones by about 1530, while the 25th Marines, on the east flank, advanced its lines about 600 yards against no opposition. That night the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, suffered a series of minor counterattacks that were troublesome in the extreme but that failed to make a dent in the division line. On the 9th, with three regiments abreast (the 23rd Marines was pinched out), the 4th Marine Division completed the final lap in a fast sprint to Marpi Point. At 1615, 9 July 1944, Admiral Turner announced Saipan to be “secured.”
All that remained was to ferret out the few remaining enemy troops from their scattered hiding places in the caves and gulleys and ravines that littered the northern part of the island. Initially, this task was assigned to the two Marine divisions, with the 165th Infantry still attached to the 4th. These men still had to witness a few horrendous sights before they were through with Saipan. In spite of continuous American efforts to induce both military and civilian survivors to give themselves up, the traditional Japanese code of death before surrender prevailed in most cases. Shortly after the declaration that the island was secured, hundreds of civilians leapt from the cliffs of Marpi Point to the knifelike rocks below. At times the waters below the point were so thick with the floating bodies of men, women, and children that naval small craft were unable to steer a course without running over them.
On the 9th many Japanese soldiers swam out to the reefs of Tanapag Harbor and defied capture. 1st Lieutenant Kenneth J. Hensley, USMC, commanding officer of Company G, 6th Marines, was ordered out with a small flotilla of amphibian tractors to capture or destroy these die-hards. A few surrendered, but most refused to give up. From one reef, to which fifty to sixty Japanese were clinging, machine guns opened up on the approaching LVT’s, The Americans returned fire and the force was annihilated. On another reef a Japanese officer was seen beheading his little band of enlisted men with his sword before he himself was shot down by his would-be captors.
For the remainder of their brief stay on Saipan, the marines spent most of their days investigating the caves and wooded sections along the north shore. On 13 July the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, occupied tiny Maniagassa Island in Tanapag Harbor in a miniature amphibious landing complete with naval gunfire, artillery, and aerial bombardment. They found twenty-nine Japanese soldiers on the island, but encountered no serious opposition. This action brought to an end Marine activities on Saipan. The 2nd and 4th Divisions both withdrew to prepare for the assault on nearby Tinian. The Army took over the job of clearing out the last remnants of the enemy. From 31 July through 6 August, the 27th Division conducted a gradual sweeping operation with two regiments abreast from just north of Mount Tapotchau to Marpi Point, thus concluding the organized mop-up. Starting the middle of August and ending in October, the division embarked in stages for the much welcomed trip to the New Hebrides for rehabilitation.
The toll of American killed and wounded was high. Of the 71,034 officers and men that made up Holland Smith’s Northern Troops and Landing Force, it is estimated that 3,674 Army and 10,437 Marine Corps personnel were killed, wounded, or missing in action. This total of 14,111 represents about 20 percent of the combat troops committed, or roughly the same percentage of casualties suffered at Tarawa and Peleliu, both of bloody renown. In exchange, almost the entire Japanese garrison of about 30,000 men was wiped out. Far more important, the inner defense line of the Japanese Empire had been cracked, and American forces were at last within bombing range of the enemy homeland.
[NOTE: Army casualty figures are derived from 27th Inf Div G-1 Periodic Rpt, 6 Aug 44, Annex B, and XXIV Corps Final Rpt, S-1 Rpt. Marine Corps figures were compiled by Machine Records Sec, Hq USMC, and published in Hoffman, Saipan, pp. 268-69. ]
SOURCE: Campaign in the Marianas; BY: Philip A. Crowl (United States Army Center of Military History)