Chapter 4: The Island Secured1
Organized Resistance Declines2
At 0200 on 31 July, a Japanese force of company size led by three tanks stole through the darkness upon the lines of the 24th Marines on the division right. A heavy outburst of fire stopped the enemy thrust, knocking out one of the tanks and scattering the attackers. Japanese mortar fire fell along the entire corps front that night but was eclipsed at daylight by the thunder of American naval guns; they expended approximately 615 tons of shells in the preplanned bombardment. Aircraft dropped another 69 tons of explosives. For the cornered Japanese, the effect of such preparation fire was, according to prisoners, “almost unbearable.”3
The cliff facing the 2nd Division left and center was almost impossible to climb. A twisting road with hairpin turns led up to the plateau from the division right. General Watson’s plans, therefore, were influenced by the terrain over which his troops had to fight. He set up an O-8A Line which followed the base of the cliff except on the right. There he included not only the cliff but also 500 yards of plateau. On the division left, then, the 2nd Marines would halt at the base of the cliff and remain in position to prevent Japanese escape along the east coast. In the center, the 6th Marines would not attempt the hopeless cliff but would turn west at the base and follow the 8th Marines up the road.
The 2nd Marines moved out at 0830 and was opposed by sniper fire while advancing to the cliff, which was reached at noon. Large numbers of Japanese and Korean civilians who surrendered held up the advance much more than did enemy troops. In the center of the division line, the 6th
Marines moved forward against scattered rifle and machine gun fire coming from positions on the cliff face and light mortar fire dropping from the plateau above. After his advance elements reached the O-8A Line at 1330, Colonel Riseley received permission to pull back about 400 yards to better defensive positions. Later that afternoon, General Watson committed the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines in relief of 3/6 and moved that battalion behind the 8th Marines as division reserve.
It was the 8th Marines that bore the major responsibility on 31 July and that posed the greatest threat to the enemy. It was expected that the Japanese would concentrate defensive fires along the route into their positions, yet unless Colonel Wallace could establish a foothold on the plateau the division plan would fail.
The first yards of the day’s advance were relatively easy. Supported by tanks, the 1st and 3rd Battalions moved out across a flat land where cane fields, brush, rocks, and a railroad track embankment gave concealment to some Japanese riflemen and machine gunners. In one instance, 15 Japanese left their hiding place to make a banzai charge upon a Marine tank; they caused no damage but lost their lives. Following 1/8 and 3/8, the reserve 2nd Battalion advanced, mopping up behind the attack.
At noon, the 3rd Battalion reached the foot of the plateau. The 1st Battalion had more yards to cover, but by 1500 it was also at the cliff base, in contact with 3/8 on the left and the 4th Division on the right. In front of the 1st Battalion there was a road, the only practical route for tanks. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Gavin C. Humphrey, wanted to move his supporting tanks up this tortuous path but was denied permission because 1/8 had not yet secured the path.
The cliffs which faced the 8th Marines had the same innocent appearance as the enemy’s fortified hills of Saipan, which the Marines remembered so well. Vegetation masked the deep caves and fissures where Japanese riflemen and machine gunners were waiting. Their vigil ended as Marines of 3/8 started scrambling up the rocky incline. The sudden outburst of Japanese fire prompted Humphrey to hold up the infantry assault and look to measures for reducing the opposition. Exploratory fire from medium tanks failed to find the enemy positions, and the flamethrower tanks were able to burn off only part of the vegetation. The fire of the half-tracks was equally ineffectual. Permission to withdraw the battalion 400 yards and to call down artillery fire upon the cliff had to be withheld by the regimental commander because it would involve danger to 1/8 on the right. The 3rd Battalion was then forced to dig in for the night.
While the Marines of 3/8 had struck vainly against the cliff in their area, the 1st Battalion turned to its mission of opening the road. Engineers removed mines; tanks moved up, withstanding the fire of 37-mm and 47-mm antitank guns, and destroyed Japanese bunkers in the cliff; the infantrymen climbed step by step, opposed by rifle and machine gun fire and by hand grenades
rolled downhill into their path. The thick vegetation alongside the road served both the enemy and the Marines. While it concealed the Japanese, it often obscured their view of the advancing men.
Movement was inescapably slow; by late afternoon it began to seem that the Marines would never get to the top that day. At 1650, however, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence C. Hays, Jr., commanding the 1st Battalion, received the cheering report that a platoon of Company A was at the top. Several minutes later, a platoon of Company C dispatched the same good word.
Encouraged by such reports, Colonel Wallace ordered Hays to press the attack and get the entire battalion onto the plateau. The regimental commander, moreover, requested General Watson’s permission to commit his reserve 2nd Battalion, for the purpose of exploiting the success of 1/8 and gaining a surer foothold on the plateau before dark.
With the division commander’s approval, the 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lane C. Kendall, began moving up the road shortly after 1700. By then, all three rifle companies of 1/8 were represented at the top. The 2nd Battalion received heavy mortar fire while moving into position on the left of the 1st Battalion. Part of Kendall’s mission was to attempt physical contact with 3/8 at the base of the cliff. The 1st Battalion had lost contact with the 4th Division, to the regimental right; in fact, a gap of 600 yards developed as 1/8 shifted to the east while 4th Division elements moved westward.
Battle for the Plateau
For the Marines on the plateau the situation was tense. The ground they intended to take was still commanded by hidden enemy positions, and the least motion invited a furious outburst of fire. Company E, leading 2/8 up the road, had just come upon the high ground when, at 1830, the Japanese openly attacked along the boundary between that company and Company A. The momentum of the assault forced a part of the Marine line back a few yards before it could be repulsed. Most of the 75-100 attackers were destroyed.
Company G of the 2nd Battalion reached the base of the cliff at sunset, 1845, and went on to the top without delay. There it tied in immediately with Company E and disposed its line down the cliff to seek contact with 3/8. Still a gap of 350 yards existed between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. Colonel Wallace was determined to remain on the plateau and elected to cover the gap with machine gun fire rather than commit the regimental reserve, Company F, with which he wanted to strengthen the forces at the top.
Two platoons of the reserve company and two 37-mm guns established secondary positions at 2100 behind Company A, for if the enemy followed his usual tactics, he would direct another counterattack at the same spot. When, two hours later, the expected assault came, it was decisively broken up by the Marine guns. Yet the enemy persistently approached; Marine combat patrols fought groups of Japanese less than 20 yards from the front line. The night was foreboding; a major enemy
counterattack was surely yet to come. The enemy kept probing.
While the Marines on the plateau waited, the situation on the road became equally suspenseful. Over the white coral surface, visible in the dark, cargo jeeps lugged ammunition, barbed wire, and supplies, while jeep ambulances evacuated casualties. Half-tracks and tanks labored up the winding road, adding to a traffic which was intolerable to the enemy.
An attempt to cut the supply route took form about 0100. After locating the open flank on the right of 1/8, by their favorite practice of forcing return fire, a well-organized group of at least 100 Japanese, armed with rifles and grenade launchers, infiltrated through the gap between 1/8 and the 4th Division and moved to the rear of 2/8. A part of the force appeared on the road, burned two jeep ambulances, and started to block the supply route. In the same hour, nearer the top of the road, a platoon of Japanese captured a few parked vehicles belonging to the 2nd Battalion.
The command post of 2/8 was still at the base of the cliff, its headquarters personnel tied in with the left of Company G. On the plateau, the battalion executive officer, Major William C. Chamberlain, was organizing the defenses. When the Japanese attempted to cut the road, he took two platoons of Company F and elements of Company A, issued the simple oral order—”Let’s go!”—and led the Marines in removing the threat. Major Chamberlain then positioned two platoons of Company F left of the road and a support platoon of Company G on the right, halfway down the cliff, as a preventive measure. Most of the infiltrating Japanese had been killed by the Marine counterattack, but an isolated group of 20 were discovered the next day on the hill—suicides by grenade. The vehicles captured by the Japanese were retaken intact.
The imperiling of Marine rear positions and the virtual certainty of a much larger enemy attack upon the front lines hastened commitment of the 2nd Division reserve. Upon request by Colonel Wallace, 3/6 was attached to the 8th Marines at 0320, and the battalion at once started moving toward the cliff. Beginning then also, artillery fire by the 10th Marines was employed to prevent the enemy from bringing up reserves. Both the 2nd Marines and the 6th Marines, whose sectors had been quiet, were alerted to the danger of a massive breakthrough in the wide gap which existed between the 8th Marines and the 4th Division. The two battalions of the 8th Marines were practically alone on the plateau, a fact probably understood by the Japanese, who struck before that situation could change.
At 0515, a well-organized force totaling more than 600 soldiers and sailors, equipped with nearly every weapon except tanks, charged the Marine positions, especially those of 2/8. Here the enemy tried to disable the two 37-mm guns that strengthened the Company E position, but were unable to stop the fearful canister fire. Japanese 13-mm machine guns tore holes in the upper shield of one of the Marine guns. Eight of the 10 37-mm crew members were casualties of the assault, but other Marines kept the guns firing. “Without these weapons,” said the regimental
commander, “the position would have been overrun.”4
The 1st Battalion received a lesser attack, numerically considered; about 150 Japanese charged the left flank, which adjoined 2/8, and were driven off “without great difficulty” by Marine fire.5 The same banzai fervor which marked the larger attack excited these Japanese. Neither here, however, nor elsewhere along the front, was the enemy able to penetrate, though some of their number were killed just five yards from Marine positions. In less than one hour of fighting, which cost the 8th Marines 74 casualties, the enemy suffered a loss of 200 killed—about half of the number fell in an area only 70 yards square. Despite the terrific repulse, however, the Japanese preserved organizational integrity and staged a very orderly withdrawal to the woods and cliffs to the southeast. The enemy rear guard was destroyed by Marine tanks.
The situation on the plateau appeared favorable to a steady Marine advance, but still unrectified was the gap which existed between the 2nd and 4th Divisions. Progress of the 23rd Marines on 31 July had been good until the left flank of the 1st Battalion, exposed by the gap, received machine gun and mortar fire from the cliff line. The attached tank platoon, advancing in front of the 1st Battalion, then suddenly ran into close range, high velocity antitank fire from beyond the tree line of the cliff. The left flank tank received six hits in rapid succession, one of them penetrating the turret. The tank commander backed off about 15 yards to a defiladed spot from which he fired two smoke shells to bracket the area in the cliff to the left front, where he believed the enemy gun was located. Rockets, naval guns, and tanks then plastered the suspected ground.
In the quiet that followed, the tanks went forward once more, this time with another tank on the left flank, the disabled vehicle following about 10 yards behind. When the replacement tank came to the spot where the other had been struck, it too was hit six times, three of the shells tearing through the armor plate. Then, however, the enemy gun was located; it was 30 yards to the left, beyond the tree line which paralleled the Marines’ advance. The two battered tanks took their revenge. One of them fired a blinding smoke shell in front of the gun, while the other tank maneuvered behind the gun, knocked it out, and killed about 20 Japanese running out of the emplacement. The enemy position had been roofed over and enclosed on three sides with concrete. From an aperture a 47-mm antitank gun was able to cover a fire lane about 10 yards wide. Into that lane the two Marine tanks had unhappily moved.
After the encounter, 3/25, then in division reserve, was assigned to the 23rd Marines to form a perimeter defense around the tanks and service vehicles of 1/23 on the low ground. The 1st Battalion had secured the high ground in its zone by 1745, but mines along the only road to the top prevented moving the machines up until the next day. The regimental reserve battalion, 3/23, which had followed the advance, moved onto the high ground to the rear of the
1st Battalion. There the two battalions established a perimeter defense with flanks bent back and anchored on the cliff line. One company of 3/23 stayed on the low ground, however, for the protection of the left flank and to contain those Japanese that still remained in the gap between the Marine divisions. Patrols from the units of 3/23 on the high ground roved the gap but were unable to locate any elements of the 2nd Division. The 23rd Marines settled down to a night marked only by sniper fire and infiltration attempts.
To the right, next to the two battalions on the high ground was one company of 2/23, which had worked its way to the top before dark by moving through the zone of 1/23. Progress of the 2nd Battalion on 31 July had been good until the afternoon. Then the attached tank platoon leading 2/23 reached a well-seeded minefield planted across the valley road which led to the high ground. Engineers started to clear lanes through the field for each tank of the platoon; two engineers walked in front of each tank, removing the mines as they were discovered. Suddenly, Japanese riflemen and machine gunners opened up from a trench 20 yards away and across the route of advance. The engineers, as well as the accompanying Marine infantrymen, were pinned down.
Tanks took the trench under fire; one of them started toward the end of the trench, to fire down the length of it. Traversing some ground which was judged the least dangerous, the tank got to just five yards from the objective when it hit a mine. The explosion shattered the tank’s suspension system and injured the tank commander, the driver, and the assistant driver. Emboldened by this success, a number of Japanese darted from concealment to attack the Marines openly and were either killed or pinned down by point-blank fire. One of the tanks rescued the crew of the disabled vehicle and after pulling back saw the Japanese trying to set up machine guns in the wreck. To prevent this, the Marine tanks blew it apart.
Darkness approached before the strong enemy position could be reduced, so Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Dillon, commanding 2/23, left one infantry company behind to contain the pocket. Other Marines of the battalion moved around to the left and went on to the base of the high ground, digging in there for the night. The tanks remained with the containing company until it had set up its defenses. During the night the Marines at the foot of the cliff received some enemy fire from caves near the base.
For the 24th Marines on 31 July opposition developed early along the west coast south of Tinian Town. The 1st Battalion received light artillery fire shortly after moving out; then at 1000 the Marines of Company C, advancing along the beach, were stopped short by rifle and machine gun fire coming from an isolated enemy position defended by 70 naval troops. It took an hour of hard fighting to subdue the Japanese. The mopping up of the beach area behind Company C was left to Company E of 2/24, which followed the advance at 600 yards.6 In overcoming the resistance of the Japanese naval troops,
and of other enemy groups hiding in caves or jungle brush, the 1st Battalion was aided by armored amphibians off-shore. Flame tanks seared enemy caves and also burned off some of the vegetation which entangled the individual Marines or hid Japanese positions.
The movement of 3/24 on 31 July was interrupted at noontime by a loss of contact with the 23rd Marines on the left. After an hour or so the gap was closed, and 3/24 resumed the advance. At 1600, however, as the battalion neared the cliff, the enemy opened up with machine gun and mortar fire from the ridge line to the left front. Tanks and half-tracks were called upon to overcome the resistance, but the terrain forbade their movement except along the road to the high ground, a path which the enemy had thoroughly and meticulously mined. Engineers began the tedious and delicate work of removing the threat—they cleared 45 mines from an area 30 yards long. In view of the late hour, the battalion halted for the day. Neither here nor in the zone of 1/24 was the Marines’ position especially good. Division reported that the troops dug in for the night “on the least unfavorable ground.”7
1 August: The Ninth Day
Victory on Tinian was obviously near, but the situation of the Marines was momentarily difficult. General Watson ordered that the attack by the 2nd Division on 1 August, scheduled for 0700, be delayed an hour, for not until daylight would there be more than two battalions, 1/8 and 2/8, at the top of the cliff, and both of those units had suffered a number of casualties from the Japanese counterattack. The 2nd Battalion, the hardest hit, was put into regimental reserve when 3/6 reached the plateau at daybreak. The 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, which also climbed the hill that morning, took up a position to the left of 3/6.
By 0800 then, General Watson had three battalions ready to attack across the plateau—3/8, 3/6, and 1/8. The 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, which followed 3/6 up the cliff, would be committed when necessary. To the division left, the 2nd Marines was kept at its mission of preventing any Japanese escape up the east coast. On the plateau, it was Colonel Wallace of the 8th Marines who would command the advance to the O-8A Line.
The first battalion to reach the objective was 1/8; it was on the line just 15 minutes after moving out. The other two battalions were at the objective well before noon. Resistance was negligible and came mostly from isolated groups of Japanese. It had been planned that when O-8A was reached the 6th Marines would be more fully committed with the regiment scheduled to assume responsibility for the left half of the division zone. Colonel Riseley was to take over the two left battalions, 3/8 and 3/6. The right half of the division zone would still be under Colonel Wallace, but with 2/8 in reserve, he would have only 1/8 in the assault. Such a weighting of the division line indicated the slant of the concluding push, due southeast, chiefly against Marpo Point.
To the 6th Marines, which had not suffered the violent enemy counterattack
of the night before, went the major effort on 1 August. Neither 1/8 nor the 6th Marines, however, met any organized resistance while advancing to the cliff above the shore; one company of the 8th Marines reached the objective by 1455. The most significant fact revealed by the easy advance was that a tedious mop up would ensue after the campaign itself was over. Innumerable caves sheltered the remnants of the enemy force; these Japanese lacked command and organization, but they still possessed some weapons and ammunition.
Other caves had been the refuge of frightened civilians, but as Japanese resistance collapsed they began to emerge from hiding. In fact, the progress of the 6th Marines was interrupted on 1 August by the flock of civilians who approached waving white cloths. The large-scale surrender was partly in response to leaflets and voice broadcasts by Marine language personnel, who sought to avoid a repetition of the mass suicides which occurred on Saipan. Division intelligence had estimated that from 5,000 to 10,000 civilians were in hiding on the southeast part of the island. Some had been living in caves since J-Day.
Many of the civilians that surrendered were thirsty and hungry, but few lacked clothing. Some of them came forth lugging suitcases full of clothes, which they had taken upon leaving Tinian Town. A few wore their Sunday best, to greet the Americans they no longer feared. A number of the civilians needed medical attention, but remarkably few of the Tinian population had been wounded by the American bombardment of the island.
The outflow of confused humanity—they were all either Japanese or Korean—reached such a number in the path of the 6th Marines that at 1510 Colonel Riseley received orders to halt for the day, even though the regiment was short of the cliff above Marpo Point. No Japanese troops were observed, but the colonel took the precaution of committing his 2nd Battalion on the regimental right, to tighten the lines. Moreover, when he received 1/6 back from division reserve at 1730, he put Company A on watch near the cliff where many Japanese soldiers were known to be hiding.
The processing of civilians that surrendered on 1 August was not a problem for the 6th Marines, because at 0600 that day the control of civilian internment was assumed by the Island Commander, Major General James L. Underhill, who took over a NTLF internment camp established south of the old O-4 Line on 31 July. Few civilians or prisoners of war had been taken by the Marines until late in the campaign. By the evening of 2 August, however, NTLF G-1 reported that 3,973 civilians had been received, while 48 prisoners were in custody. By 4 August, the number of civilians had reached 8,491 and the prisoners totaled 90.8
Early in the campaign, the 2nd Division had established a stockade, to care for both civilians and prisoners, near the Ushi Point Airfield. The 4th Division tried regimental stockades which were moved forward with the regimental CP. For Marines who had fought only in jungles and on barren atolls,
the handling of civilians and their property was, even after Saipan, still a new experience. Not until Tinian did the 4th Division use civil affairs teams on a regimental level.
As it happened, the 4th Division met fewer civilians on 1 August than the 2nd Division did, and those were mostly Korean field laborers. On the west side, the enemy soldier proved the more obstructive element. Until 1045 the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines was occupied at reducing the strong point encountered the day before. Tanks and vehicles then started up the hillside road which engineers had cleared of mines. As the battalion climbed, one rifle company was posted to prevent ambush of following troops and vehicles.
The other two battalions of the 23rd Marines, already on the plateau, were harassed by considerable enemy machine gun and rifle fire as they adjusted frontage before moving out at 1000. About 50 Japanese ventured near the lines of 1/23 and were destroyed by Marine machine gunners hitting them from two sides. Enemy opposition the rest of the day consisted of rifle and machine gun fire from cane fields and tree lines. At 1715 the two battalions reached the furthest possible line of advance, a cliff overlooking the sea on the east coast. Patrols then reconnoitered routes to the low ground in front of the cliff and along the coast; they reported a honeycomb of caves and deep recesses, hiding Japanese. The two battalions encountered no immediate trouble, however; nor did 2/23, which had halted to the rear on commanding ground.
The 24th Marines reported that 1 August “was almost a prototype of the day before.”9 So it was, in the respect that more rocks and more of the same dense undergrowth kept the advance to a plodding pace. The sort of enemy resistance was much the same also—isolated groups, usually hidden by caves or vegetation and ever ready to fire or throw some hand grenades at the Marines.
The regiment had moved out at 0800, with 3/24 and 1/24 from left to right. Artillery of the 14th Marines fired a 5-minute preparation 600 yards forward of the front lines, and two others subsequent to the attack hour, the last one 1,200 yards forward of the line of departure. After that, however, the restricted area of combat made risky not only any artillery support but also call strikes by aircraft, or assistance from gunfire support ships.
At 1500 the 2nd Battalion, released from division reserve, was committed to the attack. The Marines were then reaching curious terrain “of a palisade-like nature.”10 It consisted of three levels, descending from the cliff top to the sea. The regimental lines were consequently readjusted, all three battalions being deployed abreast. The 3rd occupied the high ground on the regimental left, 2/24 moved onto the center level, and 1/24 stayed on the low ground, its flank on the coastline.
After such an adaptation the advance was resumed, turning from a southward to an easterly direction around the tip of the island. The advance was not rapid here; the Marines received intermittent machine gun and
rifle fire before reaching the O-8 Line on Lalo Point at 1800. Delay was once occasioned when several dozen civilians had to be removed from a cave. In some areas, progress was only by small fire groups, working their way through the obstructive vegetation between coral boulders. The Japanese took advantage of such difficulty. After the daylight turned to pitch darkness, some Marine casualties resulted from mines actually thrown down upon the men from the cliff.
Fighting Officially Ends
The hostile fire received by the Marines on 1 August did not suggest that organized resistance was over, but General Schmidt recognized the essential facts: Colonel Ogata’s well-planned defense of Tinian had irrevocably collapsed; most of the Marines were either on or near the concluding objective line. At 1855 on 1 August, the American commander declared the island secured.
A statement like that, however, was a sort of partial truth on any Pacific territory captured from the Japanese. On Tinian, even more than elsewhere, the residue of the enemy force was troublesome. Some of the Japanese preferred self-destruction to surrender, but the proportion of soldiers and civilians that committed suicide on Tinian was smaller than on Saipan.11 The Japanese soldier that chose to live was a die-hard type, able to hide out for months.
Most of the Marine casualties after 1 August were caused by those Japanese, who faithful to their military code, decided to forego security and die in combat. The 4th Division D-2 correctly predicted that the enemy would “sally forth from the caves in group banzai charges.”12 Just before the dawn of 2 August nearly 200 Japanese, armed with rifles, machine guns, and grenades, attacked the command post of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. The pistols, carbines, and two automatic rifles available to the Marines seemed insufficient against the do-or-die spirit of the Japanese, and the outcome was uncertain until the Headquarters Company commander obtained a medium tank, along with a rifle platoon, from nearby Company F of 2/6. Two hours of combat left 119 Japanese dead. The Marines lost their battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Easley, and suffered other casualties. Major John E. Rentsch, the executive officer, assumed command of the unit.
The 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines reported a similar assault upon their command post. Developing shortly before 3/6 was hit, the incident appeared to have been connected with the same enemy outbreak. The brunt of the Japanese attack here was borne by the Mortar Platoon of the Headquarters Company. Three Marine tanks, which had bivouacked for the night at the CP, proved handy. The Japanese pulled back, leaving 30 of their number dead, but they withdrew toward the
command post of 3/6, either by design or mistake.
The next morning at 0530, 3/6 and 3/8 (still attached to the 6th Marines) had to withstand a second enemy attack, staged by a composite group of 150 Japanese soldiers and sailors.13 Here also the enemy achieved only the wish to die in battle, rather than surrender; 124 Japanese lay dead after the attack. On succeeding days, the hopeless efforts were repeated. On 3 August, the 4th Division killed 47 of the enemy. On 4 August, when Battery I of the 14th Marines was attacked by 15 Japanese in a cane field, 12 of the enemy were killed.
The protracted chore of mopping up on Tinian went to the 8th Marines, which on 6 August became Ground Forces Tinian, under the command of Brigadier General Merritt A. Edson, assistant commander of the 2nd Marine Division. He thereupon assumed tactical responsibility for the island. At the same time, he released one rifle company to the control of the Island Commander to assist the Civil Affairs Officer in the handling of prisoners and civilians on Tinian. The Japanese troops were removed to Hawaii.
On 25 October 1944, the 8th Marines went back to Saipan, but its 1st Battalion remained on Tinian until 1 January 1945. In the period from the securing of the island until the end of the year, more than 500 Japanese were killed during exchanges of fire, but such encounters cost the 8th Marines 38 killed and 125 wounded.
These losses appear high when compared to the Marine casualty figures for the campaign itself. The 2nd Division reported 105 killed and 653 wounded;14 the 4th Division, 212 killed and 897 wounded.15 Marines missing in action came to 27 for the two divisions. NTLF records, which included Army casualties, show a total of 328 killed and 1,571 wounded.16 For the Japanese, the price of the vain defense of Tinian had been extremely high; nearly 5,000 men were killed.17
While patrols of the 8th Marines hunted enemy survivors, units of the 2nd Division departed for Saipan; by 7 August, 2/6 and 3/6 had left via LSTs. On Saipan the division was to relieve the 27th Infantry Division and remain on that island until the Okinawa campaign the next spring. The 4th Division went back to Camp Maui, the last units boarding ship on 14 August. In Hawaii, the division would prepare for its next battle: Iwo Jima.
At 1200 on 10 August, upon orders from Admiral Spruance, General Schmidt passed the command of all forces on Tinian to the Island
Commander, who thereafter handled the embarkation of men and equipment. NTLF was dissolved on 12 August. On the same day, TF 52 closed its books; Admiral Hill had eminently fulfilled his responsibility for the capture of Tinian.
Logistics at Tinian Town
The garrison troops had begun landing the day after the island was secured, unloading by LCTs at Tinian Town.18 The units went ashore over Green Beach, where once the land mines had been cleared and four wrecked Japanese small craft removed, three LCTs could be received simultaneously. One additional LCT could be handled alongside South Pier, which, being hardly damaged, was easily put into commission.
On 1 August, upon orders from the NTLF Shore Party Commander, the 4th Division Shore Party, less the 1341st Engineer Battalion, had left the weather-battered White Beach 2, to take over all supplies landed over the Tinian Town beaches.19 The shore party immediately opened up and operated South Pier and that section of Green Beach which extended south of it. The depth of the water at South Pier did not permit landing LSTs either alongside or at the end, so pontoon causeways, brought from White Beach 1 and Saipan, were installed at the end. On 4 August, the first LST docked there.
North Pier had been severely damaged by bombardment, and like the other pier, rigged with booby traps; complete repair took until 3 August. The 2nd Battalion, 20th Marines then began operating that pier, turning over South Pier to the Island Commander.20 By 5 August, the stretch of beach between the two piers (the wider section of Green Beach) had been cleared of land mines and surfaced with coral. Here it was possible to land 15 LCMs simultaneously. The waters of Sunharon Harbor presented no problem except for the sunken Japanese hulks which had to be blasted by UDT men. The Japanese had not mined the waters.
American merchant ships soon crowded the harbor, bringing equipment to reconstruct Tinian. On 3 August, the Stars and Stripes had been officially raised over the island, marking its commission as a naval base. Primarily, however, Tinian would serve the Army Air Forces. They had wanted Saipan and Guam also, but Tinian was the most suitable of the three islands because of its relatively level ground. The Navy, on the other hand, had less interest in Tinian, whose Sunharon Harbor was unable to berth many ships.
Tinian would be “developed as an air base for ... heavy, medium, and light aircraft,” said General Underhill when
he was designated Island Commander.21 Navy and Marine aircraft did use the base, but the island became particularly a home for the Army Air Forces giant Superforts. Two wings of the Twentieth Air Force operated from Tinian, flying the B-29s nonstop to Japan itself. The island was developed into the largest B-29 combat base in the Pacific.
Immediate responsibility for construction and defense fell upon General Underhill, who reported to the Commander Forward Area Central Pacific, Task Force 57 (Defense Forces and Land-Based Air, Vice Admiral John H. Hoover). To prevent Japanese interference with construction, the Island Commander relied upon two Marine antiaircraft artillery battalions, the 17th and 18th, assigned there. They formed the Antiaircraft Defense Command. The 17th Battalion set up 90-mm guns and two platoons of automatic weapons for defense of the port area. Not until November, however, did any Japanese planes fly near the island, and never were any bombs dropped.
The Campaign Reviewed
The absence of enemy air or sea interference, following the Battle of the Philippine Sea, had been one of several ways in which Tinian differed from other Pacific island campaigns. The major differences arose, as we have seen, from the nearness of Saipan. Such proximity of the staging base to the objective permitted a shore-to-shore operation, the first large-scale one in the Central Pacific, and that, in turn, allowed the landing and supplying of two Marine divisions over the extremely narrow beaches.
The plan was not only a bold one, it was the only possible plan if the Marines were to be spared a bloody assault of the well-defended beaches at Tinian Town. Success of the attempt hung upon two unpredictable elements—the will of man and the fancy of the wind. If Colonel Ogata, by a flash of insight, had decided to wait for the Americans at the northwest beaches instead of near Tinian Town, or if the weather had suddenly changed, the logistically complex landings could have ended in disaster. To save Marine lives, the gamble was taken; fortunately, all went well. The tactical surprise unbalanced Colonel Ogata’s defense plan beyond repair, leading to General Holland Smith’s opinion that “our singular success at Tinian lay in the boldness of the landing.”22
It was ironic that the Japanese were caught by surprise here on an island where they were absolutely certain of an American invasion. The loss of Saipan made that inevitable. Long before then, however, the Japanese had seen American planes flying over Tinian from the captured fields of Saipan or ships nearby—reconnaissance planes getting photographs and bringing Marine commanders for a view of their next battlefield, or P-47s and carrier planes bombing defense installations. Most of all, it was the preparatory bombardment which had destroyed any Japanese illusion that Tinian would not be invaded.
The nearness of Saipan made possible
the unusual bombardment of a Pacific island objective by land-based aircraft and artillery positioned on adjacent soil. The fact that artillery support would be available from Saipan had influenced the choosing of the northwest beaches, and, next to the landings, the preassault bombardment by artillery, ships, and planes was decisive. For never did a single island of the Pacific war receive a more prolonged and continuous pounding before the Marines landed. Afterwards, when the artillery was moved to Tinian, the Marines enjoyed the wealth of such support, especially at the last when the restricted area of combat made naval gunfire and air strikes impractical.
The task of naval gunfire was somewhat lightened at Tinian because land-based artillery joined the preparatory bombardment. Still, according to Japanese prisoners, there was plenty of hell from the sea. Naval gunfire had been improved by the Saipan experience and was even more effective than before. Call-fire procedure was carried out better than at Saipan. The TF 56 naval gunfire officer noted that ships and shore fire control parties “worked in far greater mutual understanding than on any prior operation.”23 He recommended the addition of another battalion spotter, to ensure best results.
The fire support ships did not have the complications with artillery which were occasionally reported by the pilots of P-47s. Field guns were sometimes firing into the same area assigned to planes. To avert such a difficulty in the future, Admiral Hill suggested a Combat Liaison Team, to be composed of air, naval gunfire, and artillery officers, each with his portable radio set. The team would move forward as a unit and decide just which weapon should be used on the target in question. Spotting and the checking of results was simplified at Tinian by the absence of Japanese ships or planes and by the next-door nature of the targets. The busy Marine observation planes, which did much of that work, were controlled entirely by artillery units.
The mission of preparatory air bombardment was vigorously executed by the P-47s on Saipan and by Navy planes from the escort carriers. After J-Day, the Army Air Forces and the Navy complied with requests for air support by a system of alternating, each furnishing four call strikes a day, assigned by Commander Support Aircraft in the Cambria.
The P-47s also undertook a new kind of mission at Tinian: the dropping of the napalm bomb, initially used there and then later on other Pacific islands in a more improved form. During the entire Tinian operation, 147 jettisonable tanks were dropped from 21 July to 1 August. Fourteen of them were duds, but 8 of the 14 were subsequently set afire by strafing runs. Owing to a shortage of napalm powder on Saipan, only 91 of the fire bombs contained the napalm mixture; the rest consisted of an oil-gasoline mixture.24
For the airmen, as for artillerymen and naval gunners, the relatively level terrain of Tinian made targets easier to
hit than was true on Saipan. Indeed, the nature of the ground appears hardly second to the nearness of Saipan as an influence upon the campaign. Except at the southern end, the landscape of Tinian is fairly gentle, offering little opposition to the advance of troops or vehicles. The Marines employed more tanks here than ever before on a Pacific island. Many of the enemy were killed in the open by medium tanks leading infantry attacks. Traversing the cane fields did impose a problem, however. Rows of high stalks obscured the already restricted vision of a tank platoon leader, who normally had to poke his head out the turret to observe his vehicles. The difficulty prompted one tank officer to suggest a new type periscope or a protected turret. Tank communication, however, was better on Tinian than before. The efficient SCR-500 series of push-button type radio had recently become standard for Marine tank battalions and was first employed at Tinian.25
The flat stretches of Tinian were favorable to wire communication; the Japanese had prepared the entire island for sending messages by telephone, only to have the system wrecked by the American bombardment. Moreover, until the last days of the Tinian campaign, the Marines advanced so rapidly that their communications men were hard-pressed to string wire fast enough.
In such a short campaign, however, contact by radio was often sufficient, the infantry again finding the SCR-300 a reliable set. This Army Signal Corps radio had become the standard field radio used by Army and Marine infantry in World War II. Tank commanders on Tinian also had an SCR-300 for communicating in infantry command nets. It was a portable radio set, adapted for carrying on a soldier’s back. The SCR-536, a small hand-carried radio was also used at Tinian by platoon leaders and company commanders. The range of these field sets, however, did not exceed a mile or so; the water-proofing was inadequate for the almost daily rain; and transmission was often blanketed by other stations on the net.
In getting supplies across country to the fast-moving Marines, the level nature of the island was helpful. Moreover, the Japanese had constructed a good network of roads. Yet, logistically, the Tinian operation was constantly challenged: first by the beaches and then by the weather. Problems had begun at the planning stage. General Schmidt gathered enough LVTs to form a provisional LVT group, but he saw the necessity for a permanent LVT group organization for corps-size landings. The labors of the shore party, heroically performed, emphasized likewise the need for a permanent corps shore party organization, large enough for a major amphibious assault.
When the weather turned, it was the DUKW that saved the day. The tough amphibian truck again demonstrated its usefulness under conditions risky for other craft. Colonel Martyr, who commanded the NTLF Shore Party, said that without the DUKW “supply in this operation would have
been practically impossible.”26 He recommended that henceforth amphibian trucks should be supplied not only to the artillery but also to the shore party—and in greater numbers. Admiral Hill advised that DUKWs, manned by Navy crews, replace the LCVPs then carried on deck by transports and attack cargo ships (AKAs).
Two of the four amphibian truck companies at Tinian were Army units: the 477th Amphibian Truck Company and the 27th Division Provisional Amphibian Truck Company. Much credit belongs to both Army and Marine drivers of the DUKWs, who worked long hours through a taxing surf.
The same weather reverse which forced reliance upon the DUKWs invoked the employment of C-47s for transporting rations and supplies from Saipan and evacuating wounded men. For the Tinian campaign, cargo delivery by air had been planned only as an emergency method, and no more than 60 tons of air cargo was actually delivered. It was enough, however, to show that cargo delivery by air was very practicable and open to future development.
The battle for Tinian had required logistic ingenuity from the very beginning of plans, but there was less demand for tactical adaptation once the troops were ashore. Because of the narrow beaches, General Schmidt had concentrated power behind a single assault division on J-Day, thus combining mass with economy of force. In the elbowing technique, he applied the same principles. Mostly, however, there was little necessity for tactical inventiveness at Tinian. The Japanese, disorganized by the preassault bombardment and the surprise landings, fell back upon their usual banzai attacks and cave warfare, tactics which the Marines were prepared by experience to meet.
After the Americans landed on Saipan, Colonel Ogata had prepared an elaborate battle plan, issued new rifles and other field equipment to a well-trained garrison, and hastened the construction of defenses. He was short of tanks, having only 12, but he possessed a large stock of other weapons; even on the last day of the battle, Marines encountered well-armed Japanese. A poor command relationship existed between Army and Navy officers, but whether it was consequential is hard to tell.
In preparing the defense of Tinian, Colonel Ogata worked in a sort of glass headquarters. Documents captured by Marines on Saipan revealed his strength and order of battle; photo reconnaissance, the best yet obtained of a Pacific objective, located every major Japanese installation. In the preassault bombardment a number of the defense positions were destroyed, one exception being the well-camouflaged guns which damaged the Colorado and the Norman Scott on J-Day. Many of the enemy artillery positions illustrated the Japanese art of camouflage. Guns were well-hidden in caves and wooded terrain, so that Marines were able to locate them only by observation of gun-flashes and by sound ranging.
Among the objects visible to photo reconnaissance were Japanese planes idle on the fields of Tinian. The headquarters of the First Air Fleet and two
naval air groups had been identified as located on the island, but the pilots left in May or June for missions elsewhere, and survivors were unable to get back. Photo reconnaissance was unrestrained, therefore, except by Japanese antiaircraft fire.
Air observation was unfortunately limited to what lay above the ground. At Tinian, the Japanese seeded the earth with a larger number of mines than Marines had encountered elsewhere. The certainty of invasion allowed the enemy time for planting many antipersonnel, antitank, and antiboat mines, besides setting booby traps. The usual home-made types of mine appeared, but the only true novelty at Tinian was the interconnection of horned mines.
Some destruction resulted from the enemy’s antitank mine; a Marine tank commander was killed by one which a Japanese lodged upon the hatch. The enemy sometimes buried a 500-pound bomb beneath the anticipated flight path of low-flying American aircraft. Then when a plane appeared they would electrically detonate the bomb from a remote vantage point. One Army flier was killed by such a device. Most of the time, the vigilance of Marines and the tireless efficiency of their engineers minimized casualties and damages. The antiboat mines resulted in far less damage than the Japanese expected they would.
No obstacle the enemy imposed, whether a mine underfoot or a hidden gun, equaled the well-trained Japanese soldier himself. On Tinian, he exhibited the usual professional skill in attack and a calm order in withdrawal which contrasted to the emotion of the banzai charge. The enemy withdrawals before the pressing Marine advance, which marked the battle on Tinian, illustrated, as did camouflage, the Japanese art of furtive action. Troops moved usually at night, in small groups and with few losses due to detection. The heavy Japanese casualties resulted from impatience to defeat the invader not by a well-concealed defense, at which they were masters, but by a hopeless open attack against superior firepower and Marine infantrymen who were second to none at close combat.
The opening fires of the American bombardment foretold the capture of Tinian. With a numerically inferior garrison, isolated from reinforcement, the Japanese commander fought a losing battle. Yet if he had made a more subtle judgment on where the Americans intended to land, the campaign would probably have been longer and the ratio of casualties different. As it was, Tinian became a model victory for Navy and Marine Corps amphibious tactics.