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Posted on Aug 4, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Along the Beaches on Saipan!

By Wild Bill Wilder

Walking along a blood-stained Beach

Toward the end of the afternoon on June 15th, 1944, one could walk on the beaches of Saipan with a degree of safety, though not without some caution. Even though the bulk of the conflict has moved almost a mile inland, the Japanese defenders are still firing heavy weapons and the rounds occasionally make a "swooshing" noise as they pass over. The vegetation at the edge of the beach is not that dense. It includes palms, fresh fruit trees and pandanus. Some of it has been ripped apart and shattered by the pre-bombardment shelling. The beach is also full of craters, some still smoking, which gives it the appearance of diseased face bearing the scars of a fierce battle. The odors of cordite, gasoline fumes, dried blood, and the beginning of human rot, combine to give the area a most unique, unpleasant smell.


In many places it is a nightmare of activity as more American troops disembark and organize themselves to get into the fight. Supply ships have drawn near and heavier equipment is inbound to support the advances inland. As a sadder note, wounded and dead are being brought back to the beach area for removal. It is a grim task and a sober reminder of the horrors of war that young men face and endure.

In this walk along the beach, one cannot help but notice that there are American and Japanese bodies still scattered about. Nearby are two dead marines lying close to two dead Japanese. Another marine lies in a position often found on the beach. When death struck him down he had been charging forward across the beach; his legs were still in a sprinter’s crouch, and his M-1 Garand rifle was still held in his extended right arm. There to the left, on the edge of a large crater lies another marine. According to his dog-tag, attached now to his sand-crusted boot, besides his name, one discovers that he is Catholic, and his blood type was O positive. He has some 15 bandaged wounds over various parts of his body, but from the sand stained brown beneath his body, the blood did not get there in time.

One must walk along this area with caution, for there are still Japanese "tape measure" mines scattered along the beach. Even though small by comparison to most, they can still take off a leg, or worse!

Steps to Invasion

The beginnings of this grim scene go back to earlier in the year when the United States gained firm control on the Marshall Islands was secured. The Joint Chiefs of Staff on March 12 th, 1944, ordered Admiral Nimitz to proceed to the Marianas, conquer, and occupy them. There was a definite purpose in taking these particular islands. They were considered Japan ‘s “ South Seas inner empire.” Not only were they part of the process of advance across the vast body of water known as the Pacific Ocean, but also their occupation served a special purpose.

All three of the major islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, were large enough for numerous airstrips to be created. And these would not be ordinary airstrips. They were much bigger and much longer. They would serve as home for the newest weapon in the arsenal of the United States Army Air Force. It was a big winged bomber known as the “Superfortress.” Its official designation was the B-29.

Being located only 1,500 miles from Japan, these mammoth warplanes would become the hammer with which the United States would begin pounding the home islands of Japan . Except for the daring Doolittle Raid with his small group of B-25 medium bombers flown of the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet, the Japanese islands had remained far removed from the holocaust of war. That would soon change.

The three principal islands would all have to be taken. It would not be an easy task. From Pearl Harbor to Eniwetok was a distance of 2,375 miles. It would be the forwarding staging base for the invasions in the Marianas, which were another 1,000 miles away in the other direction. Such an enterprise was formidable. The distance from the staging areas to the target meant that all the resources needed for the invasion would have to go together. There would be no shuttling of reinforcements or supplies. The distance was equivalent to launching an invasion against Europe from New York.

Admiral Nimitz had often contemplated taking the Japanese stronghold at Truk. These orders, however, superseded this strategy. The Marianas would form the central Pacific base from which operations could be launched toward the Philippines, Formosa, or the home islands themselves.

So if Truk would not be assaulted from the ground, Nimitz determined to destroy it from the air. On April 28 th, 1944, huge flights of Hellcats from Task Force 58 roamed the skies over the Japanese bastion. Enemy planes responded to the challenge. In two days in a series of heated dogfights 59 of the defending fighters were shot down. Another 34 were destroyed in their nests on the ground. Only 12 flyable planes were left to the Japanese command.

Then came the American bombers. They completed their task with cruel efficiency. All the naval craft at Truk was annihilated. Everything on the airfields was obliterated. The Japanese fortress was so neutralized that air-sea rescues were performed in Truk Lagoon right under the noses of the enemy who was helpless to respond. Truk was finished. So were the Japanese strongpoints at Rabaul and Kavieng. These three “terrors” of the Pacific had now been effectively neutralized and posed no threat to the American advance in the Pacific. The outer defensive ring of the Japanese Empire had been crushed.

Now came the next step for the Admiral. It was a formidable task, but the feisty Nimitz was up to the task. He would have under his command some of the best leaders in the Pacific. Admiral Marc Mitscher would lead the fast carrier forces. The commander of the battleship fleet was Willis Augustus Lee. Admiral Ray Spruance would be in charge of the attacking Task Force. Richmond Kelly Turner would again orchestrate the landing operations. For the land forces General Holland Smith, grizzled chunky foul talking Marine for over 30 years was in command of all expeditionary forces. He also led the V Amphibious Corps. The assaulting infantry against the three islands would be the 2 nd and 4 th Marine Divisions, with the US Army 27 th Division in floating reserve. The 77 th Army Division lay in reserve in distant Hawaii.

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