Huerfano County, Colorado
NOTICE All data and photos on this website are Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell. Duplication of this data or photos is strictly forbidden without legal written permission by the Copyright holder.
THE BATTLE FOR THE MARIANAS.
Perhaps you remember seeing vivid news-reels and reading many newspaper and magazine articles about the fighting on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. Perhaps you were like myself, on the other hand, too preoccupied with the fighting in Normandy and the political campaign on the home front to have much interest left for the Pacific war. Whatever the case, it may prove worthwhile now to go through the various clippings I have before me.
It is almost as hard for us who are out here today to realize how intense was the fighting and dying, as it must be for you seven thousand miles away. Ernie Pyle wrote recently: "I've been on all three of our islands, and I must admit two things--that I like it here, and that you can't help but be thrilled by what the Americans are doing. The savage heat and the dread diseases and the awful jungles of the more southern Pacific islands do not exist here. The climate is good, the islands are pretty, and the native Chamorros are nice people." Of course I don't know anything about Chamorros, but some of our men who have seen them report that they, especially the young ladies, are good looking in appearance very much like any Spanish damsel in Colorado or in California. But all this peaceful--yes, languid--beauty was dearly bought. The ruins here and there, and the crosses in the cemeteries attest to that. Torn, uprooted trees around an already half-filled shell crater, a wrecked farmhouse, numerous pieces of shrapnel and bomb fragments among the rocks at the shore are evidence of the price. Deep stillness, creeping over the islands on the feet of soft breezes, moments of haunting beauty when the silence glides into a sunset or the moon rising out of the sea, stillness accentuated by the drone of a lone plane returning from a mission, this is not compatible with any picture of battle, blood, and death.
Before I quote any of the accounts of the actual fighting here a year ago, I think it would be wisest to scan through a letter written recently by a native of Guam to his Sergeant Major son in the U. S. Marines. In this letter we shall get some idea of what the battle for Guam was like when the Japs landed on December 10th, 1941; but more than this we shall get a clearer picture--and something more recent than the story of Korea--of what life is like under the smiling rays of the Rising Sun. This will be important, for a later section in this book will afford the comparison with what the United States Military Government is doing to Japanese civilians in the Marianas today.
"I am writing now just as full a detail of the war on Guam as I can possibly describe it. On the 8th of December 1941 appeared nine planes over Agana heights going in V formation slowly, toward the South at
8 a. m.
"People of Guam did not know about the War, but the U, S. S. Chaumont , a Navy transport, was expected that day. We thought the planes were escorting said vessel but all at once the alarm was given that these planes were Jap planes which bombed Sumay Cable Station, Standard Oil, Marine Barracks, and Pan American and various other places.
"Then we received orders from the government to leave the city and go to the mountains and that war had been declared between Japan and the United States. The people did go to the mountains ... in trucks, autos, jitneys, bull carts, and walked. . . .
''On the same day nine Jap bombers came back from two to four in the afternoon and bombed the city and on the morning of 9 December, 1941 the bombers returned.
"At the same time their transports were waiting outside Agana ready for the invasion. On the 10th at 3 a. m. they started their invasion at low tide and placed bamboos on the breakers and walked ashore. . .
"At the Plaza the military men, the sailors and Marines and the Insular Force were uniting . . . their rifles and machine guns posted in front of the cathedral.
"As the Japs landed in Agana Bay they killed anybody they met; those people going towards their ranch were killed without exceptions. But as they arrived towards the opposite street of the cathedral the native insular force machine guns started to work as they-passed . . .
"Japs killed by Insular force was about four hundred, but the machine gun got jammed and cannot work any more and the machine gunner got killed.
"The invading army was about 35,000 including cavalry. The Americans were finally forced to surrender at the Plaza, 150 Marines, 400 sailors including 100 hospital corpsmen, 250 Insular Guard natives. They surrendered that day on the morning of the 10th.
"A young Insular Guard by the name of Angel Flores who was at the American flagstaff refused to bring down the American flag from the flagpole at the command of the Jap officer, so the Japs cut his stomach and killed him under the Stars and Stripes.
"After the surrender the Japs tried to get the people to the town again, but the Americans were taken prisoners and placed in concentration quarters. . . The Japs kept them there for about a month, 10 Dec. 1941 to 12 Jan. 1942 when they were sent to Japan.
"During their internment the people of Guam practically fed them as we know the Japs gave them two meals a day so the Chamorros practically made their food for them and turned it over to the Jap guard to deliver.
"At the same time we saw that enlisted men had no clothes so Chamorros helped. I myself personally collected all my spare pants and shirts, socks, as you know we are sick those days in clothing. So we bundled them up and took them up and gave the master at arms to distribute.
"We also gave them cigarettes and soap, etc. (So, you may see how the Lord could return favors, now the Marines and Sailors without knowing about these incidents willingly give me clothing and provisions.)
"During the time of the Jap invasion, 10 Dec. '41 to 14 Jan. '42, we were in miserable condition; the first thing they do is to change the name of our island of Guam to Onya-to. They demanded all the American money . . . and collected $83,000.
"They took over all available transportation, cars, trucks and bicycles; gasoline, fuel of all description, cattle, pigs, chickens, all the contents of the cold storage, all the fuel of the sawmill, took charge of same, all the houses to house their soldiers; used the churches for stables as well as the site of the sawmill; radios, telephones, flashlights, tools of all description, took over the stores' provisions such as rice, flour, etc., and took all the clothing for their own; nothing owned by us, it all belonged to them!
"When the people came back from the mountains they were ordered to the Plaza under guard and were issued a piece of cloth 3 in. by 6 in., which had inscribed 'you are a good Jap citizen;' everyone had to have it pinned to his chest.
“Orders were issued to bow to every Jap you meet in the street; not complying with this is a big offense.
"The supply department and commissary stores had tremendous count of provisions but the Japs took them all away . . They-stripped the hospitals, took all the linen away as well as mattresses, blankets, pillows . . . medicines as well.
"(They) . . . then established a civil administration and a flock of Japs came from Saipan . . . school teachers and their families, business men from Japan by the thousands with big propaganda and lectures every Sunday and all must go, to make us believe that America has no more ships but one left and that this island is Jap island, never again will America come back.
"We just kept quiet for we could not say anything, "but our minds and hearts were bursting with anger, they are so ignorant narrow-minded beasts. We were forced to go to school to learn their language and let us believe they were the true government, because we, the Guamanians, never have it in our heart that the U. S. will ever let those beasts stay on this island.
"They had our men, women, and children working for them from the ages of 10 to 75 in their farms regardless whether you are sick or not to contribute to them, every family has to give three eggs, one chicken weekly, one pig monthly and not to kill any for yourself which is an offense. Your cow or bull is not yours, but is theirs.
"After the army left the island January 13, 1942, every Jap civilian is a policeman and he could put you in jail at his discretion. . .
"They are so immoral that they brought a vessel loaded with prostitutes, during the middle part of 1942."
(It has been reported that during the early states of the occupation of Guam, Japs forced young Chamorro maidens to strip and dance on the altars of their churches.)
"The 5th of February this year (1944) the army came and their equipment and planes . . . then they started their butchering of Guamanians. They cut your neck for nothing, one has to be very careful, everything is spy to them . . .
"So, my son, you could judge for yourself how we stand. One or two weeks delay in your bombardment--I mean that if you started on July 11 instead of June 11 we would have been killed by Japs but the early bombing and bombardment is what cut them off the wholesale butchering . . .
"The Guamanians were in misery between the devil and deep pinks sea. We were afraid of the bombing and shelling of the U, S. but dam sight worst of the Japs.
"In conclusion, I, we, would rather die under U. S. bombs rather than be in the hands of the Japs alive."
The first American blow against the Marianas was made by a carrier-strike, in February, 1944. It was during this same month that the landing was made on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands (1 Feb.), and that the Green Islands (l6 Feb.) and Eniwetok (21 Feb.) were captured. The strike was made against both Saipan and Tinian. The islands were subjected to some pretty intense shelling by naval guns, and return fire from their Jap installations was negligible. During the attack Tinian was more heavily hit than Saipan, for it was then believed to be more strongly fortified than Saipan. It was at that time that the sugar mill in Tinian Town was destroyed. While the attack was in progress, many civilians fled to caves in the hills for shelter, and today they tell how terrifying it was. When our naval forces withdrew, all civilians on the islands were put to work--hard labor--by and for the military authorities. The airfield on Tinian was repaired and enlarged. Somehow, without tools or equipment of any kind, this was accomplished by the hands of these civilians. An effort was made to repair the sugar mill, and the defenses on both islands were strengthened. In general, they faced southward in the direction from which the enemy was expected to attack. None of the civilians then thought that much, if anything would happen soon. They were convinced we had neither the material nor the men necessary to attempt another attack, much less make landings. At most they took precautions against air-raids. Several thousand teachers, women, children and other "such worthless people" were evacuated from Tinian between February and June, and were taken either to Saipan or to Japan. The population on Tinian still remained around 14,000.
It was on June 15th that the attack on the Marianas was launched. A heavy shelling by naval guns and aerial bombardment paved the way for the first landing in Saipan. This not only stunned the natives when they beheld an even greater concentration of ships and military might than before, but in some respects, if we take the word of the natives today, it even surprised the Jap military authorities who did not expect us to return so soon. The battle for Saipan "turned out to be one of the hardest fought campaigns in the Pacific, (and) resulted in 16,000 American
casualties.” More than 21,000 Jap troops were killed on this island, and it was finally taken after 25 days of hard
fighting. On 22 November, 1944, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz reported that "on Saipan, bloodiest central Pacific battle up to that time. . . 26,277 Japanese were killed there, and 2,068 captured. (These figures include only military personnel, not civilians. The date of compilation would also indicate that they do not include the latest Saipan figures, 248 killed and 47 captured in a renewed hunt this week.) . . . After-the-battle patrols on Tinian, said the communiqué, had killed 1,148 enemy personnel still loose on the island; but they added not a single prisoner to those in the stockades."
That is one of the most amazing and interesting aspects about the war out here. After a battle is officially declared ended, or once an island is declared secure, very often the casualties for both the enemy and ourselves become higher than during the actual fighting itself. This is not because our leaders err in deciding when battles are over or islands secure, for in every instance their judgment has proved to be correct for all practical
considerations. More often than not it results from whatever forms of self-annihilation Japanese fanaticism (or is it miseducation?) assumes, although trigger-happy Americans can sometimes be a very grave danger to their buddies.
Here is one account of the battle for Saipan:
"The beach wasn't a healthy place that morning of June 15th. The white sand was alive with mortar shells which the Japs were lobbing over from behind the first hills, and with bigger stuff which came from the artillery holed up in the rocky cliffs back toward the center of the island. Every square yard of that beach had been carefully taped for mortar and artillery fire, which meant that the barrage was uncomfortably accurate . . .
"O'Neill achieved his major combat ambition on Saipan--to snipe the sniper. It was Hill 500. The Nip sniper was lying prone, lining up his sights on a Marine on the next ridge. O'Neill came up from the sniper's flank and shot him through the head. (Shades of Errol Flynn!)
"Hill 500 is perhaps the biggest prize to the credit of Chambers' Raiders. It's a cliff-like collection of jagged rock peaks which looks like a pyramid of giant razor-hog-back and it juts up at the southwestern end of Saipan's mountain chain. From it the Japs could overlook the airdrome and the entire southern portion of the island. The enemy's southern defense hinged on that peak.
"The assault on Hill 500 started with a barrage from the battalion's 37's. Supporting artillery, mortar and rocket fire pulverized the Jap positions for an hour before Chambers' (Colonel Chambers of the U.S. Marine Corps) men started forward. The barrage kicked up a cloud of white rock-dust that coated the men, making them look like someone had dumped a sack of dirty flour over their heads.
"The artillery shattered the Jap defenses but there was still a lot of infighting to be done as the Colonel's men scaled the hill. They made the summit by mid-afternoon, D-Day, and set up a defense line for the night, before starting down.
"But the Japs knew they had lost this hinge to their defenses. During the night a few snipers made themselves a nuisance. But more of the enemy committed hari-kari. Every few minutes, the blackness would be punctuated by the mournful sounds of someone intoning a native chant. Then a grenade would explode and there'd be a scream or a moan.
"'Awful spooky,' 'Scavenger' O'Neill spoke up once, 'but every one means one less to get tomorrow.'
"There were plenty of Japs left the next day, however ..."
Then on D-Day plus 2 at 0315: "Waiting was the thing all of them had done most since they had hit the beach. To some the long expected counter-attack might come as almost a relief. At least they'd soon have a crack at an enemy they could see, and shoot at and maybe stick a knife into.
"Up to now it had been mostly artillery. For two days and nights the Japs had shelled the beaches they had hardly bothered to defend. The beaches were alive with shells from GI's, old howitzers, long-range mortars and even bigger stuff firing from caves in the rocky hills which overlooked the Marine positions.
“. . . That night and next day they (the Marines) stayed there in the ditch. The battle for Saipan, in that period on the Second Division front, consisted of lying in a two-foot deep stinking ditch and watching shells scream overhead.
"Only the artillery was real. Marines were being hit, killed, by the artillery without ever having seen a target they could shoot at."
A little more than two weeks after D-Day, the battle of Saipan was brought to a virtual conclusion with the banzai charge staged by the Japs. This occurred on July 7th.
"Most of those who have seen the insane spectacle, will agree that the weirdest tactic in the frequently weird art of war is the Japanese 'banzai' charge "
“ . . . As usual, this one came after the Japs had exhausted all hope and all their dynamic Rare Old Alp Whisky, as well as sake." (Note: The Japs and the civilians on Saipan and Tinian were told by military authorities during the landings and capture of these islands that this American attack was sheer folly. The Americans were doomed to utter destruction for the Imperial Japanese Navy was even then steaming at full speed toward the Marianas. Again and again they promised the people that "the Navy will be here any hour." But, sadly for them, it never came; instead it was headed full speed the other way, toward the Philippines and Japan.) "The charge came down the narrow-gauge railroad in the steamy dawn. Its elements were armed with everything from wicked light machine guns to bayonets on wooden rifles. It smashed through the prickly woods, across the cane fields, over infantry foxholes and into artillery positions.
"Aided by its very insanity, it swept on through the confused lines in a thin dagger, lengthening dangerously. In its wake were dead soldiers, bayoneted marines, wrecked tents, screaming wounded, burning Jeeps, and even captured American guns and ammunition. It ended, as has every Japanese 'banzai' counterattack of the war, in stomach-retching piles of the Mikado's soldiers, horribly torn, bodies ripped apart, miserably devoid of dignity even in death.
"From dawn until midafternoon, the Japanese killed or wounded perhaps 800 Americans, although exact figures are not now available. They lost all the men who attacked--at least twice as many dead as the entire total of dead, wounded, and missing.
" . . . The Saipan attack began in a chorus of howls about evenly divided between the traditional 'banzai' and half-Jap, half-English yells of obscenities designed to intimidate the Americans. In the same inflexible tradition is the battlefield rumor that large numbers of the attacker were emotionally at high pitch, possibly under the influence of whatever alcohol they had conserved for a final swill"
Here are some reactions of individuals to this banzai attack as well as the fighting in general. "Sergeant, light tank outfit (Saipan): 'The Jap is a good soldier. He's well-trained, and has a lot of discipline, but he has no initiatives. You kill two or three of them and the rest scatter. I don't believe the Japanese High Command wants to educate its soldiers too much. Maybe they would get so they wouldn't swallow their own propaganda. The first Japanese prisoners we saw were pretty sure they were going to win. Later on they weren't so sure.
“The civilians on Saipan certainly believed the Jap propaganda. They would blow themselves up rather than surrender. I saw a nine-year-old girl come out of a cave holding on to her dress as if she thought we were going to rape her. I saw a father kill his ten-year-old kid. He tried three times, slitting the boy's throat. Then he used a hand grenade on himself and the kid.
'"During the Banzai raid, the Japs were marching in columns down that road and singing. A lot of people say it was a sake raid, but I'm not so sure. I don't think I could ever get drunk enough to pull a damn fool stunt like that.' Maybe they had a drink or two, but I think they were pretty bold fellows. Dumb, maybe, but bold. They respect rank, even the rank of our officers. I saw them take a cussing from our interpreter for not telling the truth, and then they answered as meek as anything.
"'Those Japs know us. They know what gets our goat. That's why they use sniper tactics, just to make us disgusted. Anything can make us disgusted, you'll find the Japs doing it. They're pretty smart that way.'
"Corporal, amphibian tank outfit (Marshalls, Saipan, Tinian): 'The Japs try to keep information away from us. They carried their dead back with them, so we wouldn't know how many there were.
"They don't use decency. They used civilians--women and little kids--as shields. I saw them give a little kid a grenade and send him running at us with it. They surrender, carrying grenades in their armpits, and when you make them raise their arms, the grenades blow up. He goes, and you go with him.
"'Japs have a habit of polluting water. We never drank any stream water unless it was passed by a medical officer. Japs love water. A prisoner will ask for it first thing. He'll drink your whole canteen. We caught a lot of Japs at springs.'
"Master Sergeant, first sergeant of amphibian tractor company (Saipan, Tinian): 'We were sleeping on the tip of Saipan, right across the water from Tinian, only three miles away. We figured we were safe so we slept on top of the ground. For three weeks the Japs left us alone. They waited all that time until we felt safe. Then they opened up with artillery from Tinian. After that you're ready to dig foxholes even out of sheer coral.
"'Mortar fire is what counts when you come in. Tractors will turn machine gun fire. There's nothing you can do about the mortars. When you come in, you don't see any Japs on the beaches. They're dug in, and well camouflaged. That smokeless powder helps them a lot, too. It's a strange sight to see the beach empty, with all that stuff coming out at you, and you don't know just where it's coming from.'”
"S. Sgt. Ronald L. Johnson, 24, of Eagle Bridge, New York, who was an infantry communications section leader before being wounded by mortar fire on Saipan has this to say of the fighting:
"Sure, I felt confident as hell going into battle, I knew they could never kill me. The more fighting I saw, the more confident I became.
“'But brother, after that mortar hit me, I wasn't too sure.
'''It's funny when you're hit. It doesn't hurt a bit, honest, but you become confused. Seems as if every Jap on the island is shooting right at you.'
“Johnson was in on the famous Jap banzai attack on Saipan. He awoke that morning before dawn to see a dark figure in his foxhole. The figure was a Jap, shooting as fast as he could work the bolt on his rifle. 'I let him finish the clip then I sprang up and ran like hell.'
''When the main assault came we were surrounded. Our ammunition ran out and we were forced to beat it. I beat my way through the whole damn Jap army. I never thought I'd make it alive.'
“'Plans for the future! Let's get the war over first. I'm not worrying then. I can't forget the sight of dead Americans who have no future.'"
Similar conditions of fighting and counters-attack prevailed on Tinian and Guam after the initial landings the latter part of July. During the first hours of the landing on Tinian the long periods of absolute stillness seemed more eerie and frightful than if the guns had been going full blast. Someone recently characterized the fight on Guam as two battles, and certainly there were engagements there as bitter as anything on Saipan. There were the banzai raids, to be sure, and there were many snipers to go after once the islands were declared secure, but on the whole the battle for these islands may be described as less intense and not at all as long and costly as the fight on Saipan.
"Marpo Point is a rugged chunk of volcanic rock, poking like a bony finger through the deep waters of the central Pacific to form the southeastern promontory of the island of Tinian. Behind this jutting, forbidding tip lies what is probably the most hellish stretch of battleground yet encountered by Marines.
"It has a little bit of everything fighting men don't like. There is sheer cliff, several hundred feet of it rising straight out of the ocean and laced with a network of natural caves. These provide ideal hideouts for the remnants of Japanese forces which once garrisoned the island. Leveling off from the first cliff is a plateau of exposed ground, nearly a mile long and up to 200 yards wide which for many days was Tinian's 'No Man's Land.' Devoid of cover, it sweeps inland and is lost in the thickest sort of jungle underbrush.'
"A second cliff, fully as high and steep as the first and similarly threaded with caves, pushes sharply out of the jungle and overlooks the plateau's mile-long front.
"'You've heard of Hell's Half-Acre?' a Marine sergeant who had just struggled up on the second cliff said, 'Well, this is it.'
"Here through the rocky honeycombs, the jungle and the flat tableland of Hell's Half-Acre, was fought the final phase of the battle of Tinian. The Japs had to be drawn from their caves, or, if they refused surrender terms, blasted from them. After the upper cliff was cleaned out it was necessary to move a Marine unit down upon the plateau, establish lines along its rim. (Accomplishing this, they went) to work on the lower caves." The job of cleaning out Japanese military at large is still going on, and this particular region is "Off Limits" to all personnel except the Marine and Infantry patrols. The same task is being handled in the extreme southern and northern tips of Guam, and in the hill districts of Saipan. How these Japanese manage to live in such hiding places is a mystery to me. Occasionally we hear stories of some surrendering in response to pleas in their language by some of our men, and sometimes a civilian will come out with a soldier or two. But more often the stories tell of flame-throwers and grenades, and rubble scattered around the charred mouth of a cave. Surrender for the Japanese does not mean an acknowledgment of his defeat; it is political and spiritual death! And even we Americans, without this dogmatic belief, do not surrender easily. Remember Wake Island? The difference between us and the Jap in this matter is purely a matter of degree.
Recently headquarters on Guam announced that since that island had been taken 3,500 more Japs had been killed. Some 15,000 had been killed during the fighting. Only one day has gone by since the initial landings during which no Jap was killed. No figure or estimate was given as to how many remain to be taken. Last August 21st, the War Department published this tally of casualties in the Marianas: Japanese losses, 44,956 killed; U. S. losses 4,470 killed, 20,345 wounded, 721 missing.
In concluding these accounts we realize that up to its time the Battle for the Marianas marked the point of stiffest resistance encountered in the Central Pacific. Army and Marine forces tore into these islands, and casualties were heavy on both sides. "The conquest of Saipan may have been a turning point in our war against Japan. On July 13th, Admiral Nimitz made this comment on its importance: 'It is now clear that Saipan Island was built by the Japanese as the principal fortress guarding the southern approaches to Japan, and as a major
supply base for Japan's temporary holdings in the South Seas area. Saipan was long the seat of the Japanese government for the mandated Marianas, and Garapan town was the headquarters of the commander in chief, Central Pacific Area. (Incidentally, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, committed suicide on Saipan on July 7th.) The topography of the island lent itself well to defense, and elaborate fortifications, manned by picked Japanese troops testify to the importance which the enemy attached to the island. The seizure of Saipan constitutes a major breach in the Japanese line of inner defense and it is our intention to capitalize on this breach with all means possible.'" How the months since then have born this out. The word "Marianas-based" is already synonymous with the supreme in military might.
Return to the Huerfano County Home Page
© Karen Mitchell