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Title: Breaching the Marianas: The Battle for Saipan
Author: Chapin, John C.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber’s note: Table of Contents added by Transcriber and placed
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  Breaching the Marianas: The Battle for Saipan
    Sidebar: Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith
    Sidebar: The 2d Marine Division
    Sidebar: The 4th Marine Division
    Sidebar: The Army 27th Infantry Division
  D+1-D+2, 16–17 June
    Sidebar: Major General Harry Schmidt
    Sidebar: Major General Thomas E. Watson
    Sidebar: Divisional Reorganization
  D+3, 18 June
    Sidebar: Ground Command List
  D+4-D+7, 19–22 June
    Sidebar: Marine Artillery Regiments
  D+8-D+15, 23–30 June
  D+16-D+19, 1–4 July
  D+20-D+23, 5–8 July
    Sidebar: Medal of Honor Recipients
      Harold Christ Agerholm
      Harold Glenn Epperson
      Grant Frederick Timmerman
    Sidebar: Navy Chaplains
  D+24, 9 July
  Saipan’s Legacy
  About the Author
  About the Series
  Transcriber's Notes





[Illustration: _A Marine enters the outskirts of Garapan, Saipan,
through the torii gate of a Shinto Shrine. Department of Defense Photo
(USMC) 92993_]

[Illustration: _The first assault wave has hit the beach from the
LVT (amphibious tractor) that brought it ashore, and the Marines now
prepare to fight their way inland. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)

Breaching the Marianas: The Battle for Saipan

_by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)_

It was to be a brutal day. At first light on 15 June 1944, the Navy
fire support ships of the task force lying off Saipan Island increased
their previous days’ preparatory fires involving all calibers of
weapons. At 0542, Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner ordered, “Land the
landing force.” Around 0700, the landing ships, tank (LSTs) moved to
within approximately 1,250 yards behind the line of departure. Troops
in the LSTs began debarking from them in landing vehicles, tracked
(LVTs). Control vessels containing Navy and Marine personnel with their
radio gear took their positions displaying flags indicating which beach
approaches they controlled.

Admiral Turner delayed H-hour from 0830 to 0840 to give the “boat
waves” additional time to get into position. Then the first wave headed
full speed toward the beaches. The Japanese waited patiently, ready to
make the assault units pay a heavy price.

The first assault wave contained armored amphibian tractors (LVT[A]s)
with their 75mm guns firing rapidly. They were accompanied by light
gunboats firing 4.5-inch rockets, 20mm guns, and 40mm guns. The LVTs
could negotiate the reef, but the rest could not and were forced to
turn back until a passageway through the reef could be discovered.

Earlier, at 0600, further north, a feint landing was conducted off
Tanapag harbor by part of the 2d Marines in conjunction with the 1st
Battalion, 29th Marines, and the 24th Marines. The Japanese were not
really fooled and did not rush reinforcements to that area, but it did
tie up at least one enemy regiment.

When the LVT(A)s and troop-carrying LVTs reached the reef, it seemed
to explode. In every direction and in the water beyond on the way to
the beaches, great geysers of water rose with artillery and mortar
shells exploding. Small-arms fire, rifles, and machine guns joined the
mounting crescendo. The LVTs ground ashore.

Confusion on the beaches, particularly in the 2d Marine Division area,
was compounded by the strength of a northerly current flow which caused
the assault battalions of the 6th and 8th Marines to land about 400
yards too far north. This caused a gap to widen between the 2d and
4th Marine Divisions. As Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, the operations
officer of the Expeditionary Troops commented: “The opposition
consisted primarily of artillery and mortar fire from weapons placed
in well-deployed positions and previously registered to cover the
beach areas, as well as fire from small arms, automatic weapons, and
anti-boat guns sited to cover the approaches to and the immediate
landing beaches.”


As a result, five of the 2d Marine Division assault unit commanders
were soon wounded in the two battalions of the 6th Marines (on the
far left), and in the two battalions of the 8th Marines. With Afetan
Point in the middle spitting deadly enfilade fire to the left and to
the right, the next units across the gap were two battalions of the
23d Marines and, finally, on the far right, two battalions of the 25th

Although the original plan had been for the assault troops to ride
their LVTs all the way to the O-1 (first objective) line, the deluge of
Japanese fire and natural obstacles prevented this. A few units in the
center of the 4th Division made it, but fierce enemy resistance pinned
down the right and left flanks. The two divisions were unable to make
direct contact.

[Illustration: “_D-Day at Saipan_”

    Watercolor by SSgt John Fabion in Marine Corps Art Collection

A first lieutenant in the 3d Battalion, 24th Marines, John C. Chapin,
later remembered vividly the extraordinary scene on the beach when he
came ashore on D-Day:

  All around us was the chaotic debris of bitter combat: Jap and
  Marine bodies lying in mangled and grotesque positions; blasted
  and burnt-out pillboxes; the burning wrecks of LVTs that had been
  knocked out by Jap high velocity fire; the acrid smell of high
  explosives; the shattered trees; and the churned-up sand littered
  with discarded equipment.

When his company moved inland a short distance, it quickly experienced
the frightening precision of the pre-registered Japanese artillery fire:

  Suddenly, WHAM! A shell hit right on top of us! I was too surprised
  to think, but instinctively all of us hit the deck and began to
  spread out. Then the shells really began to pour down on us: ahead,
  behind, on both sides, and right in our midst. They would come
  rocketing down with a freight-train roar and then explode with a
  deafening cataclysm that is beyond description.

  It finally dawned on me that the first shell bursts we’d heard had
  been ranging shots, and now that the Japs were “zeroed in” on us,
  we were caught in a full-fledged barrage. The fire was hitting us
  with pin-point accuracy, and it was not hard to see why--towering
  1500 feet above us was Mt. Tapotchau, with Jap observation posts
  honeycombing its crest.

[Illustration: D-DAY AT SAIPAN



That night the lieutenant and his runner shared a shallow foxhole and
split the watches between them. Death came close:

  Slowly, very slowly, the hours of my watch passed, and at last I
  leaned over and shook my runner awake. “It’s time for your watch,”
  I whispered. “Look out for that place over there, maybe Japs in it.
  Keep awake.” With that I rolled over on the ground and was asleep
  in an instant.

  Right away, it seemed, someone was shaking me and insisting, “Wake
  up!” I jerked bolt upright--in combat your reflexes act fast and
  you never go fully to sleep. A glance at my watch showed that it
  was almost dawn.

  I turned to my runner who was lying against me, asleep. “Let’s go!”
  I said, “Pass the word to the squad leaders to get set.” He didn’t
  stir. I shook him. He still didn’t move. He was dead. With the
  callousness that war demands, I rolled him over, reached for his
  canteen, and poured the precious water into my own canteen. Then I
  left him lying there....

[Illustration: _Marines dig in on the beachhead, consolidating their
positions, and at the same time preparing to move out on the attack

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 81917

All the assault regiments were taking casualties from the constant
shelling that was zeroed in by spotters on the high ground inland.
Supplies and reinforcing units piled up in confusion on the landing
beaches. Snipers were everywhere. Supporting waves experienced the
same deadly enemy fire on their way to the beach. Some LVTs lost
their direction, some received direct hits, and others were flipped
on their sides by waves or enemy fire spilling their equipment and
personnel onto the reef. Casualties in both divisions mounted rapidly.
Evacuating them to the ships was extremely dangerous and difficult.
Medical aid stations set up ashore were under sporadic enemy fire.


    Col James A. Donovan Collection

_Members of the Japanese garrison on Saipan pose for a photograph
during a more peaceful time before the Marine landing._]

As the Marine artillery also landed in the late afternoon of D-Day and
began firing in support of the infantry, it received deadly accurate
counter-battery fire from the Japanese. The commander of the 4th
Division, Major General Harry Schmidt, came ashore at 1930 and later
recalled, “Needless to say, the command post during that time did not
function very well. It was the hottest spot I was in during the war....”

Major James A. Donovan, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th
Marines, endured a mortar barrage that had uncanny timing and precision:

  We entered a little village called Charan-Kanoa. We paused there
  to get some water. We had been pinched out of our zone of action.
  We were washing up and resting when all of a sudden mortar shells
  started to fall on us. We didn’t know it at the time, but in a tall
  smokestack nearby was a Japanese forward observer. He was directing
  the fire, looking right down on us. It didn’t occur to us that
  somebody could be up in that smokestack after all the preparatory
  naval gunfire and everything that had been fired into the area,
  but he was up there all right. He really caused a great number of
  casualties in G Company.

  He caught us without foxholes. We had that false sense of security
  from having been pinched out of the line. We thought we had a
  chance to relax. We didn’t. So all had to dig holes in a hurry,
  and it’s hard to dig a hole when you’re lying on your stomach
  digging with your chin, your elbows, your knees, and your toes. It
  is possible to dig a hole that way, I found, but we lost far more
  Marines than we should have before someone finally located that
  observer up in the smokestack. I don’t know how tall the smokestack
  was, but I would say probably the equivalent of two or three
  stories high. From up there he could see the entire picture, and he
  really gave it to us.

The night of D-Day saw continuous Japanese probing of the Marine
positions, fire from by-passed enemy soldiers, and an enemy attack
in the 4th Division zone screened by a front of civilians. The main
counterattack, however, fell on the 6th Marines on the far left of the
Marine lines. About 2,000 Japanese started moving south from Garapan,
and by 2200 they were ready to attack. Led by tanks the charge was met
by a wall of fire from .30-caliber machine guns, 37mm antitank guns,
and M-1 rifles. It was too much and they fell back in disarray. In
addition to 700 enemy dead, they left one tank. The body of the bugler
who blew the charge was slumped over the open hatch. A bullet had gone
straight up his bugle!

One of the crucial assets for the Marine defense that night (and on
many subsequent nights) was the illumination provided by star shells
fired from Navy ships. Japanese records recovered later from their
_Thirty-first Army_ message file revealed, “... as soon as the night
attack units go forward, the enemy points out targets by using the
large star shells which practically turn night into day. Thus the
maneuvering of units is extremely difficult.”

As the weary Marines finally tried to get some sleep, all along their
irregular line of foxholes, two things were very clear to them: they
had forced a precarious beachhead in the teeth of bitter enemy fire,
and a long, tough battle obviously lay ahead.

While the thoughts of the riflemen focused on survival and the
immediate ground in front of them, the senior command echelons saw the
initial success of the landings as a culmination of months of planning,
training, and organization for a strategic strike on a crucial Japanese
stronghold. The opportunity for this sprang from earlier Central
Pacific victories.

The Marine conquest of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943,
followed by the joint Marine-Army capture of Kwajalein and Eniwetok
atolls in the Marshall Islands in January-February 1944, had broken
the outer ring of Japanese defenses and set the stage for succeeding

These earlier victories had moved up the entire American operational
timetable for the Central Pacific by three valuable months. After
discussions of various alternatives (such as an attack on the vast
Japanese base at Truk), the Joint Chiefs of Staff had settled on the
next objective: the Mariana Islands. There were to be three principal
targets: Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. It was a daring decision, for Saipan
was 1,344 miles from the Marshalls and 3,226 miles from Hawaii, but
only 1,250 miles from Japan. Furthermore, the islands were linchpins in
the revised inner defense line which the Japanese felt they absolutely
had to hold after their previous losses in the Central and Southwest

Saipan represented a whole new kind of prickly problem for an American
assault. Instead of a small, flat coral islet in an atoll, it was a
large island target of some 72 square miles, with terrain varying from
flat cane fields to swamps to precipitous cliffs to the commanding
1,554-foot-high Mount Tapotchau. Moreover, the Japanese considered it
“their own territory,” in spite of the fact that it was legally only a
mandate provided by the terms of the Versailles Treaty following World
War I. The fact that Japan held the islands led it to install a policy
of exclusion of all outsiders and the start of military construction,
forbidden by the treaty, as early as 1934.

Attacking a formidable objective such as Saipan called for complex
planning and much greater force than had previously been needed in the
Central Pacific. An elaborate organization was therefore assembled.
Admiral Raymond A. Spruance was in overall command of the force
detailed to invade the Marianas as well as the naval units needed to
protect them. Admiral Turner was in command over the amphibious task
force, while Marine Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith was to direct
the landing forces on Saipan and then on the neighboring island of
Tinian. (A similar command structure, but with different combat units,
was set up for the attack on Guam to the south.)

The operation plan for Saipan, code-named Forager, called for an
assault on the western side of the island, with the 2d Marine Division
on the left and the 4th Marine Division on the right. The Army’s 27th
Infantry Division was in reserve, ready to be fed into the battle if
needed. While each of the two Marine divisions had previously fought as
a complete unit, the 27th had experienced only two minor landings (at
Makin and Eniwetok islets) for some of its regiments and battalions.

The intensive training for these three divisions took place in the
Hawaiian Islands with Major General Harry Schmidt’s 4th Marine Division
on Maui, Major General Thomas E. Watson’s 2d Marine Division on the
“Big Island” of Hawaii, and Army Major General Ralph C. Smith’s 27th
Infantry Division on Oahu. As Lieutenant Chapin described it:

  (These) months were busy, hard-working ones. The replacements
  that arrived to fill the gaps left by Namur’s casualties (in
  the Kwajalein battle) had to be trained in all the complexities
  of field work. Most of these replacements were boys fresh from
  boot camp, and they were ignorant of everything but the barest
  essentials. Week after week was filled with long marches, field
  combat problems, live firing, obstacle courses, street fighting,
  judo, calisthenics, night and day attacks and defenses, etc. There
  were also lectures on the errors we’d made at Namur. Added emphasis
  was placed on attacking fortified positions. We worked with
  demolition charges of dynamite, TNT, and C-2 [plastic explosive],
  and with flame throwers till everyone knew them forward and

The month of May 1944 brought final maneuvers and practice landings for
all three divisions. The operation plan looked neatly and efficiently
organized on paper. In practice it looked different to that lieutenant:

  To us in the lower echelons it was just the same old stuff that
  we’d been doing for a solid year: filing up from compartments below
  decks to your assigned boat station, going over the side, hurrying
  down the net to beat the stopwatch, into the heaving LCVP (Landing
  Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), and away. Then the interminable hours
  of circling, meanwhile getting wet, hungry and bored. The K rations
  (in a waxed box) tasted like sawdust; the weather got rougher and
  rougher. Some of the men got seasick, and all of us were soaking
  wet and cold.

  Finally we headed back to our transport and clambered up the cargo
  net with a sigh of relief. The next day it was the same thing all
  over again, except that this time we went ashore. This, too, had
  an awfully familiar feeling: wading through the surf, getting
  your only pair of shoes and socks wringing wet, and then onto the
  beach where all the sand migrated inside your shoes. A series of
  conflicting and confusing orders flowed down through the chain of
  command: halt and move on, halt and move on, go here, go there.

The vast attack force now gathered at Pearl Harbor. Although there were
unfortunate accidents to some of the landing craft, over 800 ships
set out in the naval component, some for direct fire support of the
troops, some for transport, and some (the fast carrier task force) to
make advance air strikes and then to deal with the attack which the
landing probably would incite from the Japanese Navy. Holland Smith’s V
Amphibious Corps, totalling 71,034 Marine and Army troops, sailed with
some slow elements starting on 25 May. The specialized craft for the
ground forces ran the gamut of acronym varieties. After staging through
the Marshalls, the armada headed for the target: Saipan.

At sea the troops got their final briefings: maps of the island (based
on recent American aerial and submarine photographs of a hitherto
“secret island”), estimates of 15,000 enemy troops (which turned out in
the end to be 30,000 under the command of Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu
Saito and Vice Admiral Chiuchi Nagumo), and detailed attack plans for
two Marine divisions.

Simultaneously, the American fast carriers’ planes began, on 11
June, their softening-up bombing, combined with attacks on Japanese
land-based air. Two days later, the main enemy fleet headed for the
Marianas for a decisive battle. Then, on 14 June, the “old battleships”
of the U.S. Navy, reborn from the Pearl Harbor disaster, moved in close
to Saipan to pound the Japanese defenses with their heavy guns. That
night underwater demolition teams made their dangerous swim in close
to the assault beaches to check on reefs, channels, mines, and beach
defenses. All was now in readiness for the landings.

The bloody business of D-Day was, as the troops well realized, only a
beginning, for the long, gruelling fight which began the next morning.

[Sidebar (page 4):


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 89883

_LtGen Smith in his command post ashore on Saipan uses a high-powered
telescope to observe his troops in action._]

Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, one of the most famous Marines
of World War II, was born in 1882. He was commissioned a second
lieutenant in 1905. There followed a series of overseas assignments in
the Philippines, Nicaragua, Santo Domingo, and with the Marine Brigade
in France in World War I. Beginning in the early 1930s, he became
increasingly focused on the development of amphibious warfare concepts.
Soon after the outbreak of war with Japan in 1941, he came to a crucial
position, command of all Marines in the Central Pacific.

As another Marine officer later described him, “He was of medium
height, perhaps five feet nine or ten inches, and somewhat paunchy. His
once-black hair had turned gray. His once close-trimmed mustache was
somewhat scraggly. He wore steel-rimmed glasses and he smoked cigars
incessantly.” There was one other feature that characterized him: a
ferocious temper that earned him the nickname “Howlin’ Mad” Smith,
although his close friends knew him as “Hoke.”

This characteristic would usually emerge as irritation at what he felt
were substandard performances. One famous example of this was his
relief of an Army general on Saipan. A huge interservice uproar erupted!

Less than two years later, after 41 years of active service, during
which he was awarded four Distinguished Service Medals for his
leadership in four successive successful amphibious operations, he
retired in April 1946, as a four-star general. He died in January 1967.

[Sidebar (page 5): The 2d Marine Division


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A412992

The origins of this division lay in the activation of the 2d Marine
Brigade as part of the Fleet Marine Force on 1 July 1936. A year later
the brigade deployed to Shanghai, China, returning in 1938 to San
Diego, California.

On 1 February 1941, the unit was redesignated as the 2d Marine
Division. Its component regiments, the 2d, 6th, 8th, and 10th Marines,
brought with them impressive histories of service in Vera Cruz
(Mexico), World War I in France, and the Caribbean.

In World War II, elements of the division served in Iceland, in Hawaii
during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and on Samoa, then the full division
in the Guadalcanal campaign, followed by the bloody assault of Tarawa
for which it was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, and on to
Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa.

The 2d Marine Division Patch

This 2d Marine Division shoulder patch was worn on Saipan. Designed and
approved in late 1943, the insignia is in the official Marine Corps
colors of scarlet and gold. The insignia displays a spearhead-shaped
scarlet background with a hand holding aloft a lighted gold torch.
A scarlet numeral “2” is superimposed upon the torch, and the torch
and hand are encircled by five white stars in the arrangement of the
Southern Cross constellation; under this the division’s first World War
II combat took place at Guadalcanal.

[Sidebar (page 6): The 4th Marine Division

This division had its roots in the shifting and redesignation of
several other units. The 23d Marines began as infantry detached from
the 3d Division in February 1943, the same month that an artillery
battalion became the genesis of the 14th Marines and engineer elements
of the 19th Marines formed the start of the 20th Marines. In March the
24th Marines was organized, and then in May it was split in two to
supply the men for the 25th Marines.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC)

This war-time shuffling provided the major building blocks for a new
division. The units were originally separated, however, with the 24th
Marines and a variety of reinforcing units (engineer, artillery,
medical, motor transport, special weapons, tanks, etc.) at Camp
Pendleton in California. The rest of the units were at Camp Lejeune,
North Carolina. This East Coast echelon moved to Pendleton by train and
also by ship through the Panama Canal in July and August 1943. All the
units were now finally together, and thus the 4th Marine Division was
formally activated on 14 August 1943.

After intensive training, it shipped out on 13 January 1944, and in
13 short months made four major assault landings: Roi-Namur, Saipan,
Tinian, and Iwo Jima, suffering over 17,000 casualties. It was awarded
two Presidential Unit Citations and a Navy Unit Commendation, and
then deactivated 28 November 1945. In February 1966, however, it was
reactivated as the lead division in the Marine Corps Reserve, and it
furnished essential units to Desert Storm in the liberation of Kuwait.

The 4th Marine Division Patch

Worn on Saipan, it had a gold “4” on a scarlet background, the official
colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. This emblem was designed by SSgt John
Fabion, a member of the division’s public affairs office before the
Marshalls campaign. His commanding officer was astonished to find that,
when the division attacked Roi islet in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall
Islands (January 1944), the layout of the runways on the Japanese
airstrip there were “an exact replica.”

[Sidebar (page 7): The Army 27th Infantry Division

This division, before the national emergency was declared in 1940,
was a State of New York National Guard organization. It contained
many famous old regiments, some dating from the Revolutionary and
Civil Wars. In World War II, the division’s 165th Infantry had been
the renowned old 69th New York Infantry, also known as the “Fighting
69th” and “Fighting Irish” of World War I fame. The first unit of this
regiment was organized in 1775.

As the war in Europe grew in intensity, the Selective Service Act gave
the President the power to federalize the National Guard. Thus, the
27th Division was activated by President Roosevelt on 25 September
1940. It was first sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for intensive
training, and then, in December 1941, to California.

On 28 February 1942, the first elements of the division sailed from
San Francisco and landed at the town of Hilo on the “Big Island” of
Hawaii. During the next two months, the division units were scattered
throughout the island for local defense and training. That was the
start of the longest wartime overseas service of any National Guard
division in the United States Army.


In the fall of 1942, the division was directed to assemble on the
island of Oahu. MajGen Ralph C. Smith took over command at that time.
Then in midsummer 1943, orders came to prepare the 165th Infantry
Regiment, reinforced by a battalion of the 105th Infantry and an
artillery battalion, for an assault to capture the coral atoll of
Makin, in the Gilbert Islands chain. Following a four-day battle there,
in November 1943, the division furnished a battalion of the 106th
Infantry for the unopposed occupation of Majuro in the Marshall Islands
in January 1944.

The final prelude to Saipan for units of the 27th came the next month.
Two battalions of the 106th fought at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls.

After the division’s struggle on Saipan, it went on to the battle for
Okinawa in April 1945, and then to the occupation of Japan in September

The final chapter came in December 1946 when the 27th Infantry Division
was deactivated.

_D+1-D+2, 16-17 June_

The next two days saw the Marine attack resumed all along the irregular
front. The 2d Division, after reorganizing, pushed its 6th Marines
northeast toward Mount Tipo Pali, its 2d Marines north towards Garapan,
and its 8th Marines east into the swamps around Lake Susupe. Direct
contact with the 4th Division was finally established.

Close combat was the norm. There were no exceptions for battalion
commanders. Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, commanding the 3d
Battalion, 25th Marines in the 4th Division later described two of his
experiences on D+1:

  We came to a big bomb crater. The soil had all been thrown up, and
  around it there were three Marines protected by the dirt. I called
  up to one of these Marines and asked him what was going on. One of
  them said that there was an antiaircraft gun right down in front of
  them. I crawled up within two or three feet of the top of the dirt
  and raised up on my hands to see what was down there.

  Within about 25 to 30 yards, I was looking right into the muzzle of
  an 88mm antiaircraft/antitank gun. They had swung the damn thing
  around, and it was pointing right up the hill. I was looking right
  down its muzzle. I dropped as hard as I could and then the damn gun
  went off. The shell tore through the far side of the bomb crater,
  came through the dirt on the near side of the bomb crater where I
  was. It took the head off the Marine with whom I had been talking.
  The shell went on back and landed about 20 or 30 feet beyond us
  where it detonated. Later that same day, he had another close call.

  We had, as we had advanced, uncovered various Japanese supply
  caches. One of these was an ammunition dump.... About 1505 the Japs
  blew the large dump near where I was standing and caused numerous
  concussion casualties including myself.... I don’t remember a thing
  about it. The boys tell me that, when the blast went off, I was
  thrown right up in the air, and I turned a complete flip and then
  landed on my face.

On the night of D+1, the Japanese again launched a major attack on the
6th Marines, this time with 44 tanks. Major Donovan later described
the wild clash: “The battle evolved itself into a madhouse of noise,
tracers, and flashing lights. As tanks were hit and set afire, they
silhouetted other tanks coming out of the flickering shadows to
the front or already on top of the squads.” The Marines poured in
their fire, now with 2.36-inch rocket launchers, grenade launchers,
self-propelled 75mm guns, and their own artillery and tanks adding to
the din. When dawn broke, it was over and the shattered hulks of 24
Japanese tanks lay there smoking.

In the 4th Division zone of action, the left regiment, the 23d, also
had a difficult time in the Susupe swamp. The 24th and 25th drove
inland to the east towards the key objective of Aslito airfield. With a
danger looming of overextended lines, Lieutenant General Holland Smith
pulled the 165th Infantry out of his reserve (the Army’s 27th Infantry
Division) and sent it ashore on D+2 to reinforce the 4th Marine
Division. This same day, Major General Ralph Smith came ashore to take
command of the additional Army units of his 27th Division as they


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83551

_This Japanese soldier and tank are both permanently finished after an
attack on Marine lines._]

With the 165th Infantry on its right flank and the 24th Marines to its
left, the 25th Marines was poised on the north edge of Aslito airfield
late on D+2. Its patrols found the strip was abandoned, but the 165th,
assigned to capture it, decided to wait until the next day.

The division had finally approached the O-1 line, except on the left
flank where contact with the 2d Division was again broken, this time
near Mount Fina Susu.

This same day 17 June, saw a crucial command decision by Admiral
Spruance. With the powerful main Japanese fleet now approaching
Saipan, he ordered his fast carriers to meet the enemy ships, and that
night withdrew his transports and supply ships from their offshore
support positions to a safe distance from the Japanese threat.

[Sidebar (page 8):


Major General Harry Schmidt was the leader of the 4th Marine Division
in the assaults at Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands and then at Saipan
in the Marianas.

Born in 1886, he entered the Corps as a second lieutenant in 1909.
By extraordinary coincidence, his first foreign duty was at Guam in
the Marianas Islands, an area he would return to 33 years later under
vastly different circumstances!

The Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua (where he was awarded
a Navy Cross--second only to the Medal of Honor), interspersed with
repeated stays in China, were the marks of a diverse overseas career.
At home there were staff schools, paymaster duties, and a tour as
Assistant Commandant.

By the end of World War II, he had been decorated with three
Distinguished Service Medals. Retiring in 1948 after 39 years of
service, he was advanced to the four-star rank of general. His death
came in 1968.

A contemporary described him as “a Buddha, a typical old-time Marine:
he’d been in China; he was regulation, Old Establishment, a regular

[Sidebar (page 9):


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 303240

Major General Thomas E. Watson, as a brigadier general and commander of
Tactical Group-1, built on the 22d Marines, led his men in the conquest
of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in February 1944. For this
he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal, and the 22d Marines was
awarded a Navy Unit Commendation.

He took command of the 2d Marine Division in April 1944. In June he
directed his men in the conquest of Saipan and then Tinian, receiving a
second DSM.

Retirement came in 1950, and he died in March 1966, as a lieutenant

With a birth date of 1892, and an enlistment date of 1912, he fully
qualified as a member of “the Old Corps.” After being commissioned in
1916, he served in a variety of Marine assignments in the Caribbean,
China, and the United States.

Given the nickname “Terrible Tommy,” Watson’s proverbial impatience
later was characterized by General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., as follows:
“He would not tolerate for one minute stupidity, laziness, professional
incompetence, or failure in leadership.... His temper in correcting
these failings could be fiery and monumental,” as both Marine and Army
officers found out at Eniwetok and later Saipan!

[Sidebar (page 10): Divisional Reorganization

The training before Saipan was based on a new Table of Organization
for the Marine divisions. Their size was reduced by 2,500 men to
17,465. The artillery regiments each lost one of its 75mm pack howitzer
battalions, but the infantry retained its previous units. Rifle squads,
however, were reorganized to total 13, using three “fire teams” of four
men with each team built around a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), a 50
percent increase in the division of this valuable weapon. The number of
60mm mortars in the division table of equipment was similarly expanded,
while the number of flamethrowers grew ten-fold. In addition, the tank
battalions were able to replace their antiquated light tanks with

_D+3, 18 June_

When the infantrymen ashore woke the next morning, they looked out
in amazement at the empty ocean and a wave of uneasy questions raced
through their minds: “Where in hell are our ships? What about food
and ammunition we’ve got to have? Will we get back the daytime naval
supporting gunfire and also the star shell illumination?” The men in
frontline combat had no way of knowing that over 33,000 tons of cargo
had already been unloaded when the ships withdrew.

Both Marine divisions went on the attack, while the 105th Infantry
joined the 165th on the far right flank, enabling Ralph Smith to put
his 27th Division into motion to occupy Aslito airfield and attack
along the southern coast.

That same morning, 18 June, the 4th Marine Division attack objective
was the seizure of the O-3 line. This would mean reaching the east
coast of Saipan and splitting in two the Japanese forces. First,
however, the 23d Marines, reinforced by a battalion of the 24th
Marines, had to seize the portion of the O-2 line in its zone. This
was to be the division’s line of departure. The entire division, with
three infantry regiments abreast, jumped off at 1040. At 1340 the
25th Marines had reached O-3. The 24th Marines had tank-led Japanese
counterattacks on both flanks but was able to reach O-3 before dark.

The 23d Marines, however, was stopped by intense enemy mortar and
machine gun fire coming from southeast of Lake Susupe right on the
boundary line between the two Marine divisions, making it unclear which
division had responsibility for wiping out these enemy positions. At
the same time, it was impossible to fire artillery on them for fear of
hitting friendly troops. As a result, the 23d Marines suffered heavy
casualties. So, by the end of the day, although all of the 4th Marine
Division’s regiments were in contact, a gap still existed between the
two Marine divisions.

The bizarre becomes commonplace in combat. For instance, one of the 23d
Marines’ 75mm half-tracks fired into a Japanese cave that day, and a
dense cloud of noxious fumes came pouring out. A gas alarm was sounded.
This meant serious trouble, for all the riflemen had long since
jettisoned their burdensome gas masks. Relief flooded through the men
as it was established that the fumes were not poisonous and came from
picric acid the Japanese had stored in the cave.

Over in the 2d Division’s zone, the 8th Marines saw some bitter
fighting over Hill 240. A heavily defended coconut grove required
saturation fire from the artillery of the 10th Marines before the
riflemen could smash their way in and clean out the grove.

The price for the two Marine divisions had been heavy. By the night of
D+3 they had been bled by more than 5,000 casualties.

[Sidebar (page 10): Ground Command List

The Marine and Army units assigned to the Saipan operation were under
these senior commanders:

    V Amphibious Corps--LtGen Holland M. Smith
      2d Marine Division--MajGen Thomas E. Watson
        2d Marines--Col Walter J. Stuart
        6th Marines--Col James P. Riseley
        8th Marines--Col Clarence R. Wallace
        10th Marines--Col Raphael Griffin
        18th Marines--LtCol Russell Lloyd
      4th Marine Division--MajGen Harry Schmidt
        14th Marines--Col Louis G. DeHaven
        20th Marines--LtCol Nelson K. Brown
        23d Marines--Col Louis R. Jones
        24th Marines--Col Franklin A. Hart
        25th Marines--Col Merton J. Batchelder
      27th Infantry Division--MajGen Ralph C. Smith, USA
        105th Infantry--Col Leonard A. Bishop, USA
        106th Infantry--Col Russell G. Ayres, USA
        165th Infantry--Col Gerard W. Kelley, USA
        Division Artillery--BGen Redmond F. Kernan, Jr., USA
      XXIV Corps Artillery--BGen Arthur M. Harper, USA
      Saipan Garrison Forces--MajGen George W. Griner, USA

_D+4-D+7, 19-22 June_

The most critical event of 19 June (and perhaps the most important
of the whole Saipan campaign) took place at sea, well out of sight
of the infantrymen ashore. The opposing carrier task forces clashed
in a gigantic air battle. When it was over that night, the Japanese
had suffered the catastrophic loss of 330 out of 430 planes they had
launched. Exultant U.S. Navy fliers labelled it “The Great Marianas
Turkey Shoot.” With the help of American submarines and additional
carrier plane attacks the next day, the Japanese attempt to relieve
Saipan by a decisive naval victory was smashed. As an official account
summarized the impact ashore, “the eventual doom of the enemy garrison
was assured.” And the American supply ships were able to return
offshore to unload their vital cargoes.

During the four-day span of D+4 to D+7, the 105th Infantry moved slowly
along the south coast and then joined the 165th Infantry in sealing off
the die-hard Japanese survivors in Nafutan Point, in the southeastern
corner of the island. Once the enemy was penned in, the 105th was
assigned to eliminate him. The rest of the 27th Division, now including
the 106th Infantry, was ordered north to be the Corps reserve.

This period, 19-22 June, marked a total shift in direction for the
American troops. Pivoting on the 2d Marines on the far left flank along
the western shore, the other Marine regiments swung around from their
drive which had reached the east coast to face north, with their right
flank on Magicienne Bay.

On 20 June, the 4th Division confronted a key objective. Lieutenant
Chapin had a ringside seat:

  We had a perfect chance to watch a battalion of the 25th making an
  attack.... It was in action about a quarter of a mile from us, and
  the whole panorama was spread out before us. They were assaulting
  Hill 500, the dominant terrain feature of the whole area, and it
  was apparent that they were running into a solid wall of Jap fire.
  But, using [artillery] timed fire, smoke, and tanks, they finally
  stormed the top and took it. The use of those supporting arms
  provided a magnificent spectacle. From our vantage point, we could
  see the timed fire bursting in cave entrances, and moving down
  the face of the hill as precisely as if ... it were going down
  a stepladder. On the lower levels, the flamethrower tanks were
  spouting their napalm jets upward into other caves. It was quite a

[Illustration: SAIPAN

16-22 JUNE 1944]

Over in the area of the 2d Division, the 8th Marines wheeled from
facing east to attack northward into the foot hills leading to Mount

The Marine divisions were now facing two major problems. First, their
drive north was confronted by General Saito’s main line of defense,
running west to east across the island. Secondly, the terrain into
which the attack had to go was a nightmare of ravines, caves, hills,
valleys, and cliffs--all fortified and defended to the death by the

June 21 brought a respite for the front line troops: “D+6 was enjoyed
by all--for a change! We rested on our positions; caught up on sorely
needed sleep; got some water (which had been conspicuous by its
absence); and even had a good hot meal. For we got our first 10-in-1
rations. Did they ever taste good to our hungry palates, surfeited as
they were with K rations!”

Simultaneously, intensive preparations were made for a coordinated
attack by both Marine divisions the next morning. A total of 18
artillery battalions were massed for supporting fire. Combat efficiency
was officially rated as “very satisfactory,” in spite of a sobering
total of 6,165 casualties.

The following day saw the Marines attack all along the line. The 6th
Marines overran parts of Mount Tipo Pali, while the 8th Marines worked
its painful way into the maze of ridges and gullies that formed the
foothills of Mount Tapotchau. On the right, the 24th Marines was forced
into the messy business of blasting caves honeycombed along Magicienne
Bay. In one of the mortar platoons, a weird encounter took place,
as described at the time to this author by the participant, First
Lieutenant Joseph J. Cushing:

  [I] was bending over one of [my] mortars, checking the lay of it,
  when [I] felt a tap on my shoulder, and a guy asked [me], “Hey,
  Mac, are you a Marine?” [I] turned around and there was a Jap
  officer standing about a foot from [me]. [I] dropped to the ground,
  speechless with amazement, and [my] men riddled the Jap from head
  to toe.

On the left of the 4th Division, the 25th Marines made a major advance
of 2,400 yards. The forward lines were now reaching an area where
the Kagman Peninsula jutted out to the east. This resulted in a
substantially increased frontage that the two Marine divisions could
not properly cover. To deal with this, Holland Smith decided to commit
his reserve, the 27th Infantry Division, to the center of the line,
leaving just one battalion of the 105th Infantry way back in the rear
to continue its long drawn-out attempt to eliminate the Japanese pocket
on by-passed Nafutan Point.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83918

_Still another cane field, with its hidden Japanese defenders lying in
wait, confronts these Marine riflemen._]

This day (D+7) was also marked by the arrival of P-47 Thunderbolts
of the 19th Fighter Squadron, U.S. Army Air Forces, which landed at
Aslito Field. They had been launched from Navy escort carriers. When
landed, they were fitted with launching racks for rockets by ground
crews who had come in earlier. Later that day, eight planes took off on
their first support mission of the Saipan campaign. (Only two Marine
observation squadrons, VMO-2 and VMO-4, were involved in the battle for
Saipan, but they provided invaluable artillery spotting for the two
Marine divisions.)

While these developments were taking place in the upper echelons,
down in the rock-bottom basic life of infantry platoons, the days of
relentless combat pressure were exemplified by their impact on the
constant duties and high stress levels on a platoon commander:

  I made a final inspection of the platoon position and then sacked
  in--exhausted. When it came my turn to stand watch, it took every
  last reserve of willpower and strength to get up and go on duty.
  Then for hours I alternated between fighting off my sleepiness and
  sweating out the noises and movements that were all around us.

  After a while, I spotted a shape, darker than the rest of the
  surrounding shadows. It was the size of a man’s head. I watched
  it for a long time, nerves on edge, finger on my carbine trigger.
  Finally it seemed to move. I fired a shot. Nothing happened. It
  would’ve been suicide to go over and investigate. In that darkness
  and jungle my own men would’ve shot me in a second. So when it came
  time for my relief, I pointed out the suspicious object to the next
  man, told him to watch it closely, and collapsed into a dead-tired

  When dawn came on D+8, I was awakened, and the first thing I did
  was to look over where I’d shot on the night before. There, lying
  on top of a rock, was the gas mask of one of my men! The owner had
  been sleeping right beside it. It was a miracle he hadn’t been hit.
  The tremendous strain of the previous night did funny things to
  your mind....

[Sidebar (page 11): Marine Artillery Regiments

The 10th Marines and the 14th Marines supported the 2d and 4th Marine
Divisions respectively. They had each had a significant reorganization
before Saipan. In early spring, the 5th Battalion in each changed its
designation. They were redesignated the 2d and 4th 155mm Artillery
Battalions, Corps Artillery, but administratively attached to the
10th and 14th Marines. Thus the 10th and 14th Marines each contained
two 75mm pack howitzer battalions (1st and 2d), two 105mm howitzer
battalions (3d and 4th), and a 155mm artillery battalion, armed with
the new M1 155mm howitzers, the first to be received by the Marine
Corps in the Pacific.

[Illustration: _Friendly artillery fire was a major asset for the
American troops, both in supporting their attacks and smothering
Japanese sorties. This camouflaged emplacement holds a Marine 105mm

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82550

_D+8-D+15, 23-30 June_

Complications of a serious nature arose in the execution of the battle
plan for 23 June. The battalion of the 105th Infantry still had not
cleaned out Nafutan Point; there were semantic and communications
differences between the two Smith generals as to orders about who
would do what and when; the 106th and 165th Infantry got all tangled
up in themselves during a march to take over the center portion of
the American lines and were too late to jump off in the attack, thus
delaying the attacks of the Marines. When the Army regiments did
move out, they found that the rugged terrain in their sector and the
determined enemy in camouflaged weapons positions in caves of the steep
slope leading up to Mount Tapotchau made forward progress slow and
difficult. The 27th Infantry Division was stalled.

The corps commander, Holland Smith, was very displeased with this
situation. It had started with the difficulties experienced in getting
that division ashore; it was exacerbated by the time it was taking to
secure Nafutan Point and the mix-up in orders there; now the advancing
Marine divisions were getting infiltration and enfilading fire on their
flanks because of the 27th’s lack of progress.

Accordingly, Lieutenant General Holland Smith met that afternoon with
Major General Sanderford Jarman, USA, who was slated to be the island
garrison commander, and asked him to press Major General Ralph Smith
for much more aggressive action by the 27th. Jarman later stated:

  I talked to General (Ralph) Smith and explained the situation as
  I saw it and that I felt from reports from the corps commander
  that his division was not carrying its full share. He immediately
  replied that such was true; that he was in no way satisfied with
  what his regimental commanders had done during the day and that he
  had been with them and had pointed out to them the situation. He
  further indicated to me that he was going to be present tomorrow,
  24 June, with his division when it made its jump-off and he
  would personally see to it that the division went forward.... He
  appreciated the situation and thanked me for coming to see him and
  stated that if he didn’t take his division forward tomorrow he
  should be relieved.

This blunt meeting was followed the next morning (D+9) by an even
blunter message from Holland Smith to Ralph Smith:

  Commanding General is highly displeased with the failure of the
  27th Division on June twenty-third to launch its attack as ordered
  at King hour and the lack of offensive action displayed by the
  division in its failure to advance and seize objective O-5 when
  opposed by only small arms and mortar fire.

  The failure of the 27th to advance in its zone of action resulted
  in the halting of attacks by the 4th and 2d Marine Divisions on
  the flanks of the 27th in order to prevent dangerous exposure of
  their interior flanks. It is directed that immediate steps be taken
  to cause the 27th Division to advance and seize the objectives as

These objectives were given dramatic names by the Army regiments:
Hell’s Pocket, Death Valley, and Purple Heart Ridge. It was certainly
true that the terrain was perfect for the dug-in Japanese defenders:
visibility from the slopes of Mount Tapotchau and from the ridge gave
them fields of fire to rake any attack up the valley. Holland Smith
didn’t fully recognize the severity of the opposition, and, by the
end of the day, the 106th Infantry had gained little, while the 165th
Infantry had been “thrown back onto the original line of departure.”

[Illustration: _From left, BGen Merritt A. Edson, Assistant Division
Commander of the 2d Marine Division, confers with Col James P. Riseley
and LtCol Kenneth F. McLeod, 6th Marines commander and executive
officer, respectively, during a pause in the action. LtCol McLeod was
killed several days after this photograph._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82481

Meanwhile, the 2d Marine Division on the left was painfully slugging
its way forward in the tortuous environs around Mount Tapotchau. The
4th Marine Division (on the right) pivoted east, driving fast into the
Kagman Peninsula. There the ground was level, a plus, but covered with
cane fields, a big minus, as the rifle companies well knew.

A platoon leader remarked:

  The terrain here consisted of countless cane fields--one after
  another. And it was the same old story: in every field the company
  would lose a man or two. It was wonderfully quieting to the nerves
  to start into a growth of head-high cane, and wonder who would not
  be coming out on the other side! The Jap snipers who were doing the
  damage were dug in so deeply, and camouflaged so well, that it was
  impossible to locate them before they fired. And then it was too
  late; you were right on top of them, and they had nailed another
  one of your men--or maybe you! Then there was always that next cane
  field up ahead....

  Some of the fields had been burnt out by the napalm-bombing of
  our planes. This gave us greatly increased observation as we went
  through them, but clouds of choking dust arose from the ashes to
  plague us and dirty our weapons. With water so scarce, one of our
  chief sources of liquid sustenance was sugar cane juice. We’d whack
  off a segment of the cane with our combat knives, then chew and
  suck on it till only the dry fibers were left. In these burnt-out
  fields we weren’t even able to do this, as the cane was spoiled and
  tasted lousy.

Along with the death toll in the cane fields came the physical demands
placed on the troops by the hot tropical climate. Lieutenant Chapin
noted small, human issues that loomed large in the minds of the assault

  All this time the sun was broiling down on top of us. Our canteens
  had been empty for hours. Everyone was absolutely parched....
  Finally we did stop, as the effects of heat exhaustion and lack of
  water started to become apparent. [Our company commander] arranged
  for some water to be brought up to our position. When the cans
  arrived, everyone crowded thirstily around, and we had to order the
  men to disperse.... Then each platoon leader rationed out a can
  of the precious liquid amongst his men. As was the age-old Marine
  tradition, we waited till all our men had their share before we
  took ours. The water was lukewarm, rusty, and oily as it came out
  of the cans, but it still tasted like nectar!

[Illustration: _This Marine is demonstrating the dimensions of a large
enemy gun emplacement and undoubtedly giving thanks that the Japanese
were not able to complete construction._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85336

While these local events transpired on the front lines, a major
upheaval was taking place in the rear. Seeing that the corps line
would be bent back some 1,500 yards in the zone of the 27th Infantry
Division, Holland Smith had had enough. He went to see Admirals
Spruance and Turner to obtain permission to relieve Ralph Smith of
command of his division.

After reviewing the Marine general’s deeply felt criticism of the 27th
Infantry Division’s “defective performance,” the admirals agreed to
the requested change, and Ralph Smith was superseded by Major General
Jarman on 24 June.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 81845

_As the fighting reached the interior of Saipan, the troops encountered
difficult foliage and terrain which impeded their movement. Note the
tops of the helmets of Marines peering from their foxholes._]

A furor arose, with bitter interservice recriminations, and the flames
were fanned by lurid press reports. Holland Smith summarized his
feelings three days after the relief. According to a unit history, _The
27th Infantry Division in World War II_, he stated, “The 27th Division
won’t fight, and Ralph Smith will not make them fight.” Army generals
were furious, and in Hawaii, Lieutenant General Robert Richardson,
commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific (USARPAC) convened an Army
board of inquiry over the matter. The issue reached to the highest
military levels in Washington.

While the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Joseph
T. McNarney, reviewed the matter, he found some faults with Holland
Smith, but then went on to say that Ralph Smith failed to exact the
performance expected from a well-trained division, as evidenced by poor
leadership on the part of some regimental and battalion commanders,
undue hesitancy to bypass snipers “with a tendency to alibi because
of lack of reserves to mop up,” poor march discipline, and lack of

The Army’s official summary, _United States Army in World War II, The
War in the Pacific, Campaign in the Marianas_ (published 15 years after
the operations) attributed some errors to Holland Smith’s handling of
a real problem, and it also gave full recognition to the difficult
terrain and bitter resistance that the Army regiments faced. The
history stated that:

  ... there is no doubt that the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th
  Division was late in jumping off in the attack on the morning of 23
  June--even though not so late as Holland Smith charged. On the 23d
  and again on the 24th, the Army troops attacking Death Valley were
  slow and faltering in their advance. According to the testimony of
  General Jarman, who took over the division from Ralph Smith, the
  unit leaders of the 106th Infantry were hesitant and apparently
  confused. Although the Army troops in Death Valley sustained fairly
  heavy casualties, the two Marine divisions on the flanks suffered
  greater ones. Yet the Marines made considerable advances while the
  165th Infantry registered only small gains--the 106th Infantry
  almost none at all.

  No matter what the extenuating circumstances were--and there were
  several--the conclusion seems inescapable that Holland Smith had
  good reason to be disappointed with the performance of the 27th
  Infantry Division on the two days in question....

Back where the conflict was with the Japanese, the 4th Marine Division
had overrun most of the Kagman Peninsula by the night of D+10. The
shoreline cliffs provoked sobering thoughts in a young officer in the
24th Marines:

  We were close to the northern shoreline of the peninsula. And right
  there the Japs had dug a big emplacement. They hadn’t had time to
  finish it, but we could see that it was situated so as to fire
  right down the beach-line. Any troops landing on that beach would
  have received a terrible enfilading fire from this gun position.
  Not far from the emplacement were the guns that had been destined
  to go into it: huge, 5-inch, dual-purpose naval guns. They were
  deadly things, and I was glad the enemy had never gotten them into
  action. Now they lay there on their wooden skids, thickly coated
  with grease, wrapped in burlap--impotent.

This unfinished state of the Japanese defenses was, in fact, a critical
factor in the final American victory on Saipan. The blockading success
of far-ranging submarines of the U.S. Navy had drastically reduced
the supplies of cement and other construction materials destined
for elaborate Saipan defenses, as well as the number of troop ships
carrying Japanese reinforcements to the island. Then the quick success
of the Marshalls campaign had speeded up the Marianas thrust by three
months. This was decisive, for “one prisoner of war later said that,
had the American assault come three months later, the island would have
been impregnable.”

[Illustration: _When a Japanese survivor did emerge from a cave,
Marines were always on the alert for treachery. This enemy soldier had
a stick of dynamite in his hands, but was shot before he could throw

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87137

The 4th Marine Division encountered more than cane fields in the
Kagman Peninsula--the cliffs near the ocean were studded with caves.
A 20-year-old private first class in Company E, 2d Battalion, 23d
Marines, Robert F. Graf, described the Marine system for dealing with
these and the others that were found all through the bitter campaign:

  The firepower was intense, and we were working our way up to
  where the shots originated. Quite often there would be multi cave
  openings, each protecting another. Laying down heavy cover fire,
  our specialist would advance to near the mouth of the cave. A
  satchel charge would then be heaved into the mouth of the cave,
  followed by a loud blast as the dynamite exploded. Other times it
  might be grenades thrown inside the cave, both fragment type which
  exploded sending bits of metal all throughout the cave, and other
  times [white] phosphorous grenades that burned the enemy.

  Also the flame thrower was used, sending a sheet of flame into the
  cave, burning anyone that was in its path. Screams could be heard
  and on occasions the enemy would emerge from the caves, near the
  entrance, we would call upon the tanks, and these monsters would
  get in real close and pump shells into the opening.

Graf went on to picture the use of flame-throwing tanks, the ultimate
weapon for dealing with the enemy deep in his hideouts. He continued:

  Some of the caves had artillery mounted on tracks that could be
  wheeled to the entrance, fired and pulled back, unobserved. There
  were caves with reinforced metal doors that protected them from our
  artillery. Perhaps a direct hit from a 16-inch naval gun could have
  blasted it open, but nothing else.

[Illustration: _Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese
light tanks are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M.
Nalder. The two Marines fired all their ammunition at Japanese tanks
advancing in a counterattack on the night of D+1. Kahn then grabbed
some grenades, approached one tank from the side, and tossed the
grenade into its open turret. Their action saved a 37mm gun crew, the
objective of the tank. The gun crew, with its men wounded, was also out
of ammunition._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85167

A fellow rifleman from Graf’s company told him this story:

  You should go up and see the huge cave that I was just in. It was
  large and contained a completely equipped operating room, all the
  medical equipment, surgical tools, etc. The tools were made from
  German surgical steel. When the battalion and regimental doctors
  were told about it, they almost went crazy over finding such
  excellent equipment. Each doctor wanted some tools for his use.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83566

_Some of the Japanese caves, such as this one, had been carefully
reinforced. Marine riflemen move warily to inspect it._]

These attacks on caves were a tricky business, because of orders not to
kill any civilians who were also inside many of them, hiding from the
fighting. Graf recounted his experiences further:

  Throughout the campaign we were taking prisoners.

  Seldom were they Japanese soldiers, instead Korean and Chamorro
  laborers, both men and women, who mostly worked in the sugar
  cane fields and processing plants. Chamorros were natives of
  the islands, while the Koreans, of course, were brought over as
  forced labor. Approaching us, hands up, and smiling and bowing the
  Koreans would say in understandable broken English, “Me Korean, not
  Japanese.” Some Japanese civilians were also captured. The Japanese
  tradition was that the male members of the family were the dominant
  members. Several times when we tried to feed newly captured women
  and children first, the male would shove them aside and demand to
  be first for rations. A few raps to the chest with a rifle butt
  soon cured them of that habit.

As the sick, scared, and often starving civilians would emerge from
their hideouts, there were many pitiful scenes:

  One sad incident I recall was when a captured civilian Japanese
  woman came up to me. She was crying and when she got close to
  me she started hitting me on the arm and pointing to my pack. I
  did not know what she wanted until an interpreter came over and
  explained that she wanted some food and water for her dead child.
  She pointed to a wicker basket that contained her dead infant. I
  gave her what she requested, and she placed the food and water in
  the basket so that the child could have nourishment on the way to
  meet the baby’s ancestors.

  Physical conditions of many were pitiful. Every illness that we had
  been briefed on was observed: leprosy, dengue fever, yaws and many
  cases of elephantiasis. Most of them were skeleton thin, as they
  had no nourishment for many days. Many were suffering from shock
  caused by the shelling and bombing, and fright because they did not
  have the vaguest idea as to what we would do to them. Civilians
  caught in a war that was not of their making....


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83266

_Marine talks a terrified Chamorro woman and her children into leaving
her refuge._]

[Illustration: _Civilians are escorted back to safety, food, and
medical care._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83013

One of the captured persons impressed Graf so very much that the memory
was vivid many years later. A Japanese woman, obviously an aristocrat,
probably a wife or mistress of a high-ranking officer, “was captured.
She was dressed in traditional Japanese clothing: a brilliant kimono,
a broad sash around the waist, hair combed, lacquered and spotlessly
clean. Although,” as Graf remarked, “she knew not what her fate would
be in the hands of us, the barbarians, she stood there straight, proud,
and seemingly unafraid. To me, she seemed like a queen.”

Over on the west side of Saipan, the 2d Marine Division had a memorable
day on 25 June. Ever since the landing, the towering peak of Mount
Tapotchau had swarmed with Japanese artillery spotters looking straight
down on every Marine move and then calling in precisely accurate fire
on the American troops. Now, however, in a series of brilliant tactical
maneuvers, with a battalion of the 8th Marines clawing up the eastern
slope, a battalion of the 29th Marines (then attached to the 8th
Marines) was able to infiltrate around the right flank in single file
behind a screen of smoke and gain the dominating peak without the loss
of a single man.

Meanwhile, back at Nafutan Point, the battalion of the 105th Infantry
assigned to clean out the by-passed Japanese pockets had had continuous
problems. The official Army account commented, “The attack of the
infantry companies was frequently uncoordinated; units repeatedly
withdrew from advanced positions to their previous night’s bivouacs;
they repeatedly yielded ground they had gained.”

The stalemate came to a climax on the night of D+11. Approximately
500 of the trapped Japanese, all the able-bodied men who remained,
passed “undetected” or “sneaked through” (as the Army later reported)
the lines of the encircling battalion. The enemy headed for nearby
Aslito airfield and there was chaos initially there. One P-47 plane was
destroyed and two others damaged. The Japanese quickly continued on to
Hill 500, hoping to reunite there with their main forces. What they
found instead was the 25th Marines resting in reserve with an artillery
battalion of the 14th Marines. The escaping Japanese were finished off
the following morning.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83989

_The 37mm gun was a workhorse for the Marines in a wide variety of
firing missions. Those are Japanese bullet holes in its “shield.”_]

On the front lines in the center of the island, General Jarman, now in
temporary command of the 27th Infantry Division, took direct action
that same day (D+11). An inspection by two of his senior officers of
the near edge of Death Valley revealed that battalions of the 105th
Infantry “were standing still when there was no reason why they should
not move forward.” That did it. Jarman relieved the colonel commanding
the 106th and replaced him with his division chief of staff. (Nineteen
other officers of the 27th Infantry Division were also relieved after
the Saipan battle was over, although only one of them had commanded a
unit in battle.)

While these developments were taking place in the upper echelons, the
junior officers in the front lines had their own, more immediate, daily
concerns. As the author recalled:

  I had worked out a pre-sleep routine which I followed every night
  without fail. Before I lay down, I would make careful mental notes
  of where the company Command Post [CP] was and where my squad
  leaders’ foxholes were. Then I would work out the rotation of the
  watches with my CP group. Next came a check of my carbine to make
  sure it was in perfect operating condition. When all this had been
  done, I’d lie down, adjusting my helmet to serve as a pillow. Last,
  and most important, was the placing of my weapons: my carbine lay
  across my body so my hand would fall naturally on the trigger; my
  combat knife was stuck in the ground where my right hand lay; and
  my grenades were carefully arrayed at my left hand. Then I’d drift
  off to sleep.

[Illustration: SAIPAN

23-30 JUNE 1944]

For the next several days, the 27th Infantry Division probed and
maneuvered and attacked at Hell’s Pocket, Death Valley, and Purple
Heart Ridge. On 28 June, Army Major General George W. Griner, who had
been quickly sent from Hawaii upon the relief of Ralph Smith, took
over command of the division, so Jarman could revert to his previous
assignment as garrison force commander. The 106th marked the day by
eradicating the last enemy resistance in the spot that had caused so
much grief: Hell’s Pocket.

[Illustration: _A Marine 81mm mortar crew keeps lobbing shells into
enemy positions ahead of the unit it is supporting by fire._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82260

The 2d Marine Division meanwhile inched northward toward the town of
Garapan, meeting ferocious enemy resistance. Tipo Pali was now in 6th
Marines’ hands. The 8th Marines encountered four small hills strongly
defended by the enemy. Because of their size in comparison with Mount
Tapotchau, they were called “pimples.” Each was named after a battalion
commander. Painfully, one by one, they were assaulted and taken over
the next few days.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 83281

_With the Japanese well dug in, hidden in their well camouflaged
positions, a satchel charge of high explosive is tossed into their
laps. If any of them bolt out, the Marine riflemen are ready._]

Near Garapan, about 500 yards to the front of the 2d Marines’ lines,
an enemy platoon on what was named “Flame Tree Hill” was well dug in,
utilizing the caves masked by the bright foliage on the hill. The
morning of 29 June, a heavy artillery barrage as well as machine gun
and mortar fire raked the slopes of the hill. Then friendly mortars
laid a smoke screen. This was followed by a pause in all firing. As
hoped, the enemy raced from their caves to repel the expected attack.
Suddenly the mortars lobbed high explosives on the hill. Artillery
shells equipped with time fuses and machine gun and rifle fire laid
down another heavy barrage. The enemy, caught in the open, was wiped
out almost to a man.

To the right, the 6th Marines mopped up its area and now held the
most commanding ground, with all three of its battalions in favorable
positions. In fact, since replacement drafts had not yet arrived, the
2d Marine Division had all three of its infantry regiments deployed on
line. Thus it was necessary for its commander, Major General Watson, to
organize a division reserve from support units.

The pressure on manpower was further illustrated by the fact that,
in this difficult terrain, “eight stretcher bearers were needed to
evacuate one wounded Marine.” In addition, there was, of course, the
deep-seated psychological and physical pressure from the constant, day
after day, close combat. “Everyone on the island felt the weight of
fatigue settling down.”

[Illustration: _During a break in the fighting, Marines of a
flamethrower and demolitions team pose with the Japanese flag captured
during action after the American landing._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 82608

On the 4th Division front, the drive forward was easier, but its
left flank had to be bent sharply backward toward the 27th Infantry
Division. By nightfall on 28 June, the Marine division’s lines formed
an inverted L with the 23d Marines and part of the 165th Infantry
facing north, while the rest of the Army regiment and two battalions
of the 24th Marines faced west. This strange alignment was a focus
of attention when each battalion was issued its nightly overlay from
corps headquarters showing the lines of the corps at that time, so that
friendly fire from artillery and supporting Navy destroyers would not
hit friendly troops. Once again, enemy planes raided, hitting both the
airfield and anchorage. As usual, enemy night patrols were active.

The end of the saga of Nafutan Point, way to the rear, had come the day
before (27 June). The Japanese breakout had left almost no fighting men
behind there. Accordingly, the battalion of the 105th Infantry at last
overran the area after enduring a final banzai charge. The soldiers
found over 500 enemy bodies in the area, some killed in the charge and
some by their own hand.

D+15 (30 June) marked a good day for the Army. After fierce fighting,
the 27th Infantry Division finally burst through Death Valley, captured
Purple Heart Ridge, and drew alongside the 8th Marines. Holland Smith
gave due recognition: “No one had any tougher job to do.” The gaps on
the flanks with the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions were now closed. In
doing so, the Army had sustained most of the 1,836 casualties inflicted
upon it since D-Day. The 4th Marine Division, however, had suffered
4,454 casualties to date, while the 2d Marine Division had lost 4,488


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85222

_Moving on the double, Marines go yard by yard through skeletal
Garapan, flushing out the Japanese defenders._]

[Illustration: _Amidst the horrors of war, someone retained a sense of
humor, and put up this pre-World War II Marine recruiting poster in

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87109

The corps front now ran from Garapan, past the four pimples, to the 4th
Marine Division’s left boundary. Here, it ran sharply northward to
Hill 700. From there it ran to the east coast. Central Saipan was in
American hands. Most of the replenishment supplies had been unloaded.
The enemy had begun withdrawing to his preplanned final defensive
lines. The Army’s official history summed up these days’ costly
victories this way, “The battle for central Saipan can be said to have
come to a successful end.”

[Illustration: SAIPAN

2-4 JULY 1944]

_D+16-D+19, 1-4 July_

Now Holland Smith turned his attention to operation plans to drive
through the northern third of Saipan and bring the campaign to a
successful, albeit a bloody, conclusion. His next objective line ran
from Garapan up the west coast to Tanapag and then eastward across the
island. Past Tanapag, near Flores Point, the 2d Marine Division would
be pinched out and become the corps reserve. That would leave the
27th Infantry Division and the 4th Marine Division to assault General
Saito’s final defenses.

The easiest assignment during this period fell to the 4th Marine
Division on the east coast. It advanced 3,500 yards against light
opposition, veering to its left, ending on 4 July with its left flank
some 2,000 yards north of Tanapag, right on the west coast.

As usual, what looked like “light opposition” to General Schmidt in his
divisional CP looked very different to that tired, tense lieutenant who
described a painfully typical rifle platoon situation on D+16:

  I took the rest of my men and we proceeded--very cautiously--to
  comb the area. It was a terrible place: the rocks and creepers were
  so interwoven that they formed an almost impenetrable barrier;
  visibility was limited to a few feet. After what had happened to
  [my wounded sergeant], the atmosphere of the place was very tense.
  We located some rock crevices we thought the Japs might be in, and
  I tried calling to them in our Japanese combat phrases to come out
  and surrender. This proved fruitless, and it let the Japs know
  exactly where we were, while we had no idea of their location. Then
  I tried to maneuver our flamethrower man into a position where he
  could give the crevice a blast without becoming a sitting-duck
  target himself. Because of the configuration of the ground, this
  proved impossible.

  Right about now, there was a shot off to our left. We started over
  to investigate and all hell broke loose! A Jap automatic weapon
  opened up right beside us. We all hit the deck automatically. No
  one was hit (for a change), but we couldn’t spot the exact location
  of the weapon (as usual). I called to the man who’d been over on
  the left flank. No answer. What had happened to him?

At this point more enemy fire spattered around the small group
of Marines. The source seemed to be right on top of them, so the
lieutenant told two of his men to throw some grenades over into the
area he thought the fire was coming from--about 20 feet away. Under
cover of that, the Marines worked a rifleman forward a couple of yards
to try to get a bead on the Japanese, but he was unable to spot them
and the enemy fire seemed to grow heavier.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 84885

_The only way to deal with some Japanese in their well-protected
defenses was to blast them with a flame-thrower._]

Now the lieutenant began to get very worried:

  Here we were--completely isolated from the rest of the
  company--only half a dozen of us left--our flank man had
  disappeared and now we were getting heavy fire from an uncertain
  number of Japs who were right in our middle and whom we couldn’t
  locate! Some of the men were getting a little jittery I could see,
  so I tried to appear as calm and cool as I could (although I didn’t
  feel that way inside!). I decided to move back to the other end of
  the hilltop and report to [our company commander] on the phone.
  If I could get his OK, I would then contact [another one of our
  platoons] for reinforcements, and we could move back into this area
  and clean out the Jap pocket.

Pressing hard against the Japanese defenses constantly resulted in
these kinds of face-to-face encounters. Three days later (D+19),
Lieutenant Colonel Chambers observed a memorable act of bravery:

  Three of our tanks came along the road.... They made the turn
  to the south and then took the wrong turn, which took them off
  the high ground and into a cave area where there were literally
  hundreds of Japs, who swarmed all over the tanks. We were watching
  and heard on the radio that (the lieutenant) who commanded the
  tanks was hollering for help, and I don’t blame him. They had
  formed a triangle and covered each other with the co-axial guns as
  best as they could.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 85221

_He may have started out sitting on a dud 16-inch Navy shell, enjoying
a smoke while emptying sand from his “boondockers,” but by the end of
the campaign, three weeks later, he had had too little sleep, too many
fire fights, and too many buddies dead._]

[Illustration: “_Patrol, Saipan._”

    By Richard Gibney in Marine Corps Art Collection

The commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, Lieutenant
Colonel Hollis U. (“Musty”) Mustain was nearest the crisis. Chambers
went on:

  Mustain’s executive officer was a regular major by the name of
  Fenton Mee. Musty and I were together, and when radio operators
  told us what was going on, Musty turned to Mee and said, “Get some
  people there and get those tanks out.”

  Mee turned around to his battalion CP, who were all staff people.
  He just pointed and said, “Let’s get going.” He turned and took
  off. I can still see his face--he figured he was going to get
  killed. They got there and the Japs pulled out. This let the tanks
  get out, and they were saved. It was one of the bravest things I
  ever saw people do.

Chambers also noted that, by D+19, out of 28 officers and 690 enlisted
men in his rifle companies at the start of the campaign, he now had
only 6 officers and 315 men left in those companies. Counting his
headquarters company, he had just 468 men remaining of the battalion’s
original total strength of 1,050, so one rifle company simply had to be
disbanded. The grim toll was repeated in another battalion which had
had 22 out of 29 officers and 490 enlisted men either killed or wounded
in action.

Next to the 4th Marine Division was the 27th Infantry Division in the
center of the line of attack. It, too, had a far easier time than in
the grinding experiences it had just come through. Its advance also
veered left, and was “against negligible resistance” with “the enemy
in full flight.” Thus it reached the west coast, pinching off the 2d
Marine Division and allowing it to go into reserve.

[Illustration: SAIPAN

5-8 JULY 1944]

There was a different story in the 2d Marine Division zone of action
at the beginning of this period. On 2 July Flametree Hill was seized
and the 2d Marines stormed into Garapan, the second largest city in the
Mariana Islands. What the regiment found was a shambles; the town had
been completely leveled by naval gunfire and Marine artillery.

The official Marine history pictures the scene:

  Twisted metal roof tops now littered the area, shielding Japanese
  snipers. A number of deftly hidden pillboxes were scattered among
  the ruins. Assault engineers, covered by riflemen, slipped behind
  such obstacles to set explosives while flamethrowers seared the
  front. Assisted by the engineers, and supported by tanks and 75mm
  self-propelled guns of the regimental weapons company, the 2d
  Marines beat down the scattered resistance before nightfall. On
  the beaches, suppressing fire from the LVT(A)s of the 2d Armored
  Amphibian Battalion silenced the Japanese weapons located near the

  Moving past the town, the 2d Marine Division drove towards Flores
  Point, halfway to Tanapag. Along the way, with filthy uniforms,
  stiff with sweat and dirt after over two weeks of fierce fighting,
  the Marines joyfully dipped their heads and hands into the cool
  ocean waters.

With the other two divisions already having veered their attack to the
left and reached the northwest coast, the 2d Marine Division was now
able to go into corps reserve, as planned, on 4 July. (Holland Smith,
seeing the end in sight on Saipan, wanted this division rested for the
forthcoming assault on neighboring Tinian Island.)

The Japanese, meanwhile, were falling back to a final defensive line
north of Garapan. The American attack of the preceding weeks had not
only shattered their manpower, their artillery, and their tanks, but
the enemy also was desperate for food. “Many of them had been so
pressed for provisions that they were eating field grass and tree

_D+20-D+23, 5-8 July_

Any Japanese “withdrawal” meant that some of their men were left behind
in caves to fight to the death. This tactic produced again and again
for the American troops the life-threatening question of whether there
were civilians hidden inside who should be saved. There was a typical
grim episode at this time for First Lieutenant Frederic A. Stott, in
the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines:

  On this twenty-first day of the battle we trudged along a
  circuitous route to relieve the 23d Marines for an attack scheduled
  for 1300. A normal artillery preparation preceded it, followed by
  the morale-lifting rockets, but neither they nor mortar fire could
  eliminate many cave-dwelling Japs. And again the cost was heavy.
  Using civilian men, women, and children as decoys, the Jap soldiers
  managed to entice a volunteer patrol forward into the open to
  collect additional civilian prisoners. A dozen men from A Company
  were riddled as the ruse succeeded.

This kind of treacherous action by the Japanese was demonstrated in a
different form on the following day (D+21). Lieutenant Colonel Chambers
described how he dealt summarily with it--and, by contrast how his men
treated genuine civilians who had been hiding:

  ... a few of the Japs had played possum by smearing blood of other
  Japs on themselves and lying still as the Marines came up. However,
  within the battalion my instructions were “if it didn’t stink,
  stick it.” [My officer] just laughed and said the Marines had
  bayoneted all the bodies. You had to do it!

  We also picked up several civilian prisoners, including some women
  and children. The thing that really got to me was watching these
  boys of mine; they’d take all kinds of risks; they’d go into a
  cave never knowing whether there would be soldiers in there, to
  bring out these civilians. The minute they got them out, they began
  to feed them, give them part of their rations, and offer their
  cigarettes to the men. It made you feel proud of the boys for doing

[Illustration: _A salvo from the truck-mounted rockets was a welcome
prelude to any Marine attack._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 88403

Once the 2d Marine Division became corps reserve, it was obvious to
General Smith that the time was ripe for a banzai attack. He duly
warned all units to be alert, and paid a personal visit on 6 July to
General Griner, of the 27th Infantry Division, to stress the likelihood
of an attack coming down the coastline on the flat ground of the
Tanapag Plain.

General Saito was now cornered in his sixth (and last) command post,
a miserable cave in Paradise Valley north of Tanapag. The valley was
constantly raked by American artillery and naval gunfire; he had left
only fragmentary remnants of his troops; he was himself sick, hungry,
and wounded. After giving orders for one last fanatical banzai charge,
he decided to commit hara-kiri in his cave. At 10 a.m. on 6 July,
facing east and crying “Tenno Haika! Banzai! [Long live the Emperor!
Ten thousand ages!],” he drew his own blood first with his own sword
and then his adjutant shot him and Admiral Nagumo in the head with
a pistol, but not before he said, “I will meet my staff in Yasakuni
Shrine 3 a.m., 7 July!” This was to be the time ordered for the
commencement of the final attack.

The ultimate outcome was clear to Saito: “Whether we attack, or whether
we stay where we are, there is only death.”

The threat of a mad, all-out enemy charge was nothing new to the troops
on Saipan. A rifleman recounted one such experience:

  Whenever we cornered the enemy and there was no way out, we faced
  the dreaded banzai attack. The 23d Marines had a few of these
  during our Saipan adventure, as did all the other outfits. I
  dreaded these attacks and yet welcomed them, which is quite a
  paradox. They generated a great deal of fear but, when it was over,
  that particular sector was Jap-free.

  For hours, we could hear them preparing for their banzai attack, as
  it was the end for them and they knew it. Because it was against
  their heritage, their training, and their belief, they would not
  surrender. All that was left was a final charge, a pouring in of
  all their troops in one concentrated place with their pledge to
  take as many of us with them as possible.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 81846

_Navy corpsmen risked their lives daily to treat wounded Marines._]

His account continued with a dramatic description of the tense waiting
he endured, while he listened to the enemy “yells and screams going
on for hours.” The noise increased as Marine artillery and mortars,
pounding in the direction of the Japanese sounds, added to the
deafening din. The Marines were waiting in their foxholes with clips
of ammo placed close at hand so that they could reload fast, fixing
their bayonets onto their rifles, ensuring that their knives were loose
in their scabbard all in anticipation of the forthcoming attacks.
Listening to the screaming, all senses alert, many of the men had
prayers on their lips as they waited. Unexpectedly, there was silence,
a silence that signaled the enemy’s advance. Then:

  Suddenly there is what sounded like a thousand people screaming all
  at once, as a hoard of “mad men” broke out of the darkness before
  us. Screams of “Banzai” fill the air, Japanese officers leading
  the “devils from hell,” their swords drawn and swishing in circles
  over their heads. Jap soldiers were following their leaders, firing
  their weapons at us and screaming “Banzai” as they charged toward

  Our weapons opened up, our mortars and machine guns fired
  continually. No longer do they fire in bursts of three or five.
  Belt after belt of ammunition goes through that gun, the gunner
  swinging the barrel left and right. Even though Jap bodies build up
  in front of us, they still charged us, running over their comrades’
  fallen bodies. The mortar tubes became so hot from the rapid fire,
  as did the machine gun barrels, that they could no longer be used.

  Although each [attack] had taken its toll, still they came in
  droves. Haunting memories can still visualize the enemy only a few
  feet away, bayonet aimed at our body as we empty a clip into him.
  The momentum carries him into our foxhole, right on top of us.
  Then pushing him off, we reload and repeat the procedure.

  Bullets whiz around us, screams are deafening, the area reeks with
  death, and the smell of Japs and gunpowder permeate the air. Full
  of fear and hate, with the desire to kill ... [Our enemy seems to
  us now to be] a savage animal, a beast, a devil, not a human at
  all, and the only thought is to kill, kill, kill.... Finally it

This was the wild chaos that General Smith predicted as the final
convulsive effort of the Japanese. And it came indeed in the early
morning hours of 7 July (D+22), the climactic moment of the battle for
Saipan. The theoretical Japanese objective was to smash through Tanapag
and Garapan and reach all the way down to Charan-Kanoa. It was a
“fearful charge of flesh and fire, savage and primitive.... Some of the
enemy were armed only with rocks or a knife mounted on a pole.”


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 84474

_The cost of battle. Fellow Marines mourn as a buddy is to be buried._]

The avalanche hit the 105th Infantry, dug in for the night with
two battalions on the main line of resistance and the regimental
headquarters behind them. However, those two forward battalions had
left a 500-yard gap between them, which they planned to cover by fire.

The Japanese found this gap, poured through it, and headed pell-mell
for the regimental headquarters of the 105th. The men of the frontline
battalions fought valiantly but were unable to stop the banzai

Three artillery battalions of the 10th Marines behind the 105th were
the next target. The gunners could not set their fuses fast enough,
even when cut to four-tenths of a second, to stop the enemy right on
top of them. So they lowered the muzzles of their 105mm howitzers and
spewed ricochet fire by bouncing their shells off the foreground.
Many of the other guns could not fire at all, since Army troops ahead
of them were inextricably intertwined with the Japanese attackers.
However, other Marines in the artillery battalions fired every type
of small weapon they could find. The fire direction center of one of
their battalions was almost wiped out, and the battalion commander was
killed. The cane field to their front was swarming with enemy troops.
The guns were overrun and the Marine artillerymen, after removing
the firing locks of their guns, fell back to continue the fight as


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 84474

_A Marine moves out to catch up with his unit after he has covered
a dead comrade with a poncho liner and marked his position with his
bayoneted rifle._]

The official history of the 27th Infantry Division recounts sadly
the reactions of its fellow regiments when the firestorm broke on
the 105th. The men of the nearby 165th Infantry chose that morning
to “stand where they were and shoot Japs without any effort to move
forward.” By 1600 that afternoon, after finally starting to move to the
relief of the shattered 105th, the 165th “was still 200 to 300 yards
short” of making contact. This tardiness was unfortunately matched by
“the long delay in the arrival of the 106th Infantry” to try to shore
up the battered troops of the 105th.

The extraordinarily bitter hand-to-hand fighting finally took the
momentum out of the Japanese surge, and it was stopped at last at the
CP of the 105th some 800 yards south of Tanapag. By 1800 most of the
ground lost had been regained.

It had been a ghastly day. The 105th Infantry’s two battalions had
suffered a shocking 918 casualties while killing 2,295 Japanese. One of
the Marine artillery battalions had 127 casualties, but had accounted
for 322 of the enemy. A final count of the Japanese dead reached the
staggering total of 4,311, some due to previous shell-fire, but the
vast majority killed in the banzai charge.

Amidst the carnage, there had been countless acts of bravery. Two that
were recognized by later awards of the Army Medal of Honor were the
leadership and “resistance to the death” of Army Lieutenant Colonel
William J. O’Brien, commander of a battalion of the 105th Infantry, and
one of his squad leaders, Sergeant Thomas A. Baker.

Three Marines each “gallantly gave his life in the service of his
country” and were posthumously awarded the Navy Medal of Honor. They
were Private First Class Harold C. Agerholm, Private First Class Harold
G. Epperson, and Sergeant Grant F. Timmerman.

The 3d Battalion, 10th Marines, which had fought so tenaciously in the
banzai assault, received the Navy Unit Commendation. Four years later,
the 105th Infantry and its attached tank battalion were awarded the
Army Distinguished Unit Citation.

While attention centered on the bloody battle on the coast, the 23d
Marines was attacking a strong Japanese force well protected by caves
in a cliff inland. The key to their elimination was an ingenious
improvisation. In order to provide fire support, truck-mounted rocket
launchers were lowered over the cliff by chains attached to tanks. Once
down at the base, their fire, supplemented by that of rocket gunboats
off shore, snuffed out the enemy resistance.

The next day, D+23, 8 July, saw the beginning of the end. The Japanese
had spent the last of their unit manpower in the banzai charge; now it
was time for the final American mop-up. LVTs rescued men of the 105th
Infantry who had waded out from the shore to the reef to escape the
Japanese. Holland Smith then moved most of the 27th Infantry Division
into reserve, and put the 2d Marine Division back on the line of
attack, with the 105th Infantry attached. Together with the 4th Marine
Division, they swept north towards the end of the island.

Along the coast there were bizarre spectacles that presaged a macabre
ending to the campaign. The official Marine history pictured the scene:

  The enemy pocketed in the area had destroyed themselves in suicidal
  rushes from the high cliffs to the rocky beach below. Many were
  observed, along with hundreds of civilians, wading out into the sea
  and permitting themselves to be drowned. Others committed hara-kiri
  with knives, or killed themselves with grenades. Some officers,
  using their swords, decapitated many of their troops.

[Sidebar (page 30): Medal of Honor Recipients

[Illustration: _Harold Christ Agerholm_]

Private First Class Harold Christ Agerholm was born on 29 January 1925,
in Racine, Wisconsin. “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the
risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with
the Fourth Battalion, Tenth Marines, Second Marine Division, in action
against enemy Japanese forces on Saipan, Marianas Islands, 7 July 1944.
When the enemy launched a fierce, determined counterattack against
our positions and overran a neighboring artillery battalion, Private
First Class Agerholm immediately volunteered to assist in the effort
to check the hostile attack and evacuate our wounded. Locating and
appropriating an abandoned ambulance jeep, he repeatedly made extremely
perilous trips under heavy rifle and mortar fire and single-handedly
loaded and evacuated approximately 45 casualties, working tirelessly
and with utter disregard for his own safety during a gruelling period
of more than 3 hours. Despite intense, persistent enemy fire, he ran
out to aid two men whom he believed to be wounded Marines, but was
himself mortally wounded by a Japanese sniper while carrying out his
hazardous mission. Private First Class Agerholm’s brilliant initiative,
great personal valor and self-sacrificing efforts in the face of almost
certain death reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United
States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

[Illustration: _Harold Glenn Epperson_]

Private First Class Harold Glenn Epperson was born on 14 July 1923,
in Akron, Ohio. “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the
risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving
with the First Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division, in
action against enemy Japanese forces on the Island of Saipan in the
Marianas, on 25 July 1944. With his machine-gun emplacement bearing
the full brunt of a fanatic assault initiated by the Japanese under
cover of predawn darkness, Private First Class Epperson manned his
weapon with determined aggressiveness, fighting furiously in the
defense of his battalion’s position and maintaining a steady stream
of devastating fire against rapidly infiltrating hostile troops to
aid ... in breaking the abortive attack. Suddenly a Japanese soldier,
assumed to be dead, sprang up and hurled a powerful hand grenade into
the emplacement. Determined to save his comrades, Private First Class
Epperson unhesitatingly chose to sacrifice himself and, diving upon
the deadly missile, absorbed the shattering violence of the exploding
charge in his own body. Stouthearted and indomitable in the face of
certain death, Private First Class Epperson fearlessly yielded his own
life that his able comrades might carry on.... His superb valor and
unfaltering devotion to duty throughout reflect the highest credit upon
himself and upon the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his
life for his country.”

[Illustration: _Grant Frederick Timmerman_]

Sergeant Grant Frederick Timmerman was born on 14 February 1919,
in Americus, Kansas. “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity
at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Tank
Commander serving with the Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second
Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on
Saipan, Marianas Islands, on 8 July 1944. Advancing with his tank a
few yards ahead of the infantry in support of a vigorous attack on
hostile positions, Sergeant Timmerman maintained steady fire from
his antiaircraft sky mount machine gun until progress was impeded
by a series of enemy trenches and pillboxes. Observing a target of
opportunity, he immediately ordered the tank stopped and, mindful of
the danger from the muzzle blast as he prepared to open fire with
the 75mm, fearlessly stood up in the exposed turret and ordered the
infantry to hit the deck. Quick to act as a grenade, hurled by the
Japanese, was about to drop into the open turret hatch, Sergeant
Timmerman unhesitatingly blocked the opening with his body, holding the
grenade against his chest and taking the brunt of the explosion. His
exceptional valor and loyalty in saving his men at the cost of his own
life reflect the highest credit upon Sergeant Timmerman and the United
States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

[Sidebar (page 31): Navy Chaplains

Two types of non-combatants are attached to Marine units: members of
the Navy Medical Corps and Navy Chaplain Corps. Whenever the Marines
are in combat, they are well tended to in body and soul on the front
lines. Navy Lieutenant John H. Craven, Chaplain Corps, earned the
Bronze Star for his actions under fire on Saipan. Later he summarized

“In combat our main action was to go from place to place, unit to unit,
and start out early in the morning and go till dark, just visiting one
unit after the other and many times just have a very brief service. We
had some very small hymn books ... and some Testaments I could carry
in my map case, and we would just gather a few men together in a bomb
crater or defilade ... and I would have one service after the other.
Sometimes we had twelve, thirteen, or fourteen of those in one day,
especially on Sunday....

“Then we had to take our turn at the cemetery. Each chaplain from
different units would go down and take his turn for burial. We had a
brief committal service for each one as they brought the bodies in. And
I set myself up to try to keep up with all of the men of our units:
where they were, whether they were in the hospital. I worked closely
with a sergeant major and it was amazing how we were able to keep
up with men, and when they were killed and when and where they were

Craven kept a notebook listing all the casualties, and he would keep
that current from day to day. Each evening he would compare notes
with the regimental sergeant major. It was a help to any chaplain to
know who were casualties and where, and to report and work with their
friends, and it was also a help to the sergeant major because it
verified reports he got.

When Chaplain Craven and the other chaplains returned to the rear
areas with their units, they started writing letters to the families
of everyone who was killed in the regiment, and added their letters to
those the commanding officers were required to write.

One other regimental chaplain used a special type of ministration. He
had a canvas gas-mask carrier slung over each shoulder. In one carrier
he had Scotch whiskey, in the other fried chicken. As he knelt by each
young, frightened, wounded Marine, he was invariably asked, “Am I going
to be O.K.?” “Sure you are!” was the cheerful answer. “While you are
waiting to be evacuated, would you rather have a drumstick or a wing?”
The young Marine would be so surprised he would forget about himself.
Then, when the chaplain asked if he wanted to wash it down with a swig
of Scotch, he couldn’t believe he was hearing correctly amidst all the
confusion, noise, and death all around him.

A young doctor, hearing about this chaplain, said, “That man probably
saved more young lives from dying of shock than will ever be known.”

[Illustration: Watercolor by SSgt John Fabion, Marine Corps Art

_The Saipan cemetery was dedicated after the battle._]

_D+24, 9 July_

It was to be the final day of a long, grueling campaign. The 6th and
8th Marines came down from the hills to the last western beaches, while
the 4th Marine Division, with the 2d Marines attached, reached Marpi
Point, the northern end of the island.

There a final drama of horror was played out. Lieutenant Colonel
Chambers watched, amazed:

  During this day as we moved along the cliffs and caves, we
  uncovered civilians all the time. The Jap soldiers would not
  surrender, and would not permit the civilians to surrender. I saw
  with my own eyes women, some carrying children, come out of the
  caves and start toward our lines. They’d be shot down by their own
  people. I watched any number of women carrying children come down
  to the cliffs that dropped to the ocean.

  They were very steep, very precipitous. The women would come down
  and throw the children into the ocean and jump in and commit
  suicide. I watched one group at a distance of perhaps 100 yards,
  about eight or ten civilian men, women and children get into a
  little huddle and blow themselves up.... It was a sad and terrible
  thing, and yet I presume quite consistent with the Japanese rules
  of Bushido.

Lieutenant Stott in that same division witnessed other unbelievable
forms of self-destruction:

  Interpreters were summoned, and they pleaded by amplifier for the
  civilians to come forward in surrender. No movement followed....
  The people drew closer together into a compact mass. It was
  still predominantly civilians, but several in uniform could be
  distinguished circling about in the throng and using the civilians
  for protection. As they huddled closer, sounds of a weird singing
  chant carried up to us. Suddenly a waving flag of the Rising Sun
  was unfurled. Movement grew more agitated; men started leaping into
  the sea, and the chanting gave way to startled cries, and with them
  the popping sound of detonating grenades. It was the handful of
  soldiers, determined to prevent the surrender or escape of their
  kinfolk, who tossed grenades into the milling throng of men,
  women, and children, and then dived into the sea from which escape
  was impossible. The exploding grenades cut the mob into patches of
  dead, dying, and wounded, and for the first time we actually saw
  water that ran red with human blood.

With this kind of fanaticism characterizing the Japanese, it is not
surprising that 23,811 of the enemy were known dead, with uncounted
thousands of others charred by flamethrowers and sealed forever in
their caves. Only 736 prisoners of war were taken, and of these 438
were Koreans. American casualties numbered 3,225 killed in action,
13,061 wounded in action, and 326 missing in action.

The island was officially declared “secured” at 1615 on 9 July
(although “mopping up” continued afterwards). The 4th Marine Division
was later awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its “outstanding
performance in combat” on Saipan and its subsequent assault on the
neighboring island of Tinian.

_Saipan’s Legacy_

The campaign on Saipan had brought many American casualties, and it
also heralded the kind of fighting which would be experienced in
subsequent operations in the Central and Western Pacific in the days
that lay ahead in the Pacific War. Holland Smith declared it “the
decisive battle of the Pacific offensive” for it “opened the way to
the home islands.” Japanese General Saito had written that “the fate
of the Empire will be decided in this one action.” A Japanese admiral
agreed, “Our war was lost with the loss of Saipan.” It had truly been a
“strategic strike” for the United States.

The proof of these fundamental judgements was dramatized four months
later, when 100 B-29 bombers took off from Saipan bound for Tokyo.

There were other fateful results. The United States now had a secure
advanced naval base for further punishing strikes close to enemy
shores. Emperor Hirohito was now forced to consider a diplomatic
settlement of the war. The militaristic General Tojo, the Premier, and
his entire cabinet fell from power on 18 July, nine days after Saipan’s

The lessons learned in this campaign would be observed in future
American operations, as flaws were analyzed and corrected. The clear
need to improve aviation support for the ground troops led directly
to the better results in the Philippine Islands and on Iwo Jima and
Okinawa. The artillery-spotting missions flown by VMO-2 and -4, set a
pattern for the use of the light planes in the future.

Naval gunfire support was also closely reviewed. General Saito had
written, “If there just were no naval gunfire, we feel we could fight
it out with the enemy in a decisive battle.” While more than 8,500 tons
of ammunition were fired by U.S. Navy ships, the flat trajectory of
the naval guns “proved somewhat limiting,” as the shells didn’t have
the plunging and penetrating effect which was needed against Japanese

Finally, there were lessons learned from the supply confusion that had
marred the early days on the beaches and hadn’t improved much since the
days of the Guadalcanal landing. Logistic problems had arisen because,
once a beach was in friendly hands, the ships were unloaded as rapidly
as possible and the sailors in the landing craft were in a hurry to get
into the beaches and back out again. Supplies were spread all over the
beach, partly because of the enemy’s artillery and mortar harassing
fire on the beaches, but also because of the corps’ hard-driving,
rapid attack, the estimate of resupply requirements was far too small.
For example, a shortage of radio batteries was never corrected. There
was insufficient time to sort and separate equipment and supplies
adequately. Consequently, there were mix-ups, with Marine uniforms
getting into Army dumps and Army supplies showing up in Marine dumps.

It was after the beach confusion at Saipan that the Navy decided a
permanent corps shore party should be organized. It would be solely
responsible for the movement of all supplies from the beach to the
dumps and for the subsequent issue to the divisions.

Tactical lessons learned were also new to the Central Pacific war.
Instead of a small atoll, the battle had been one of movement on a
sizable land mass, and it was further complicated by the numerous
caves and the defensive systems they provided for the Japanese. The
enemy had defended caves before, but never on such a large scale. On
Saipan, these caves were both natural and man-made. Often natural
vegetation gave them excellent camouflage. Some had steel doors which
could be opened for an artillery piece or machine gun to fire, and
then retreat behind the door before return fire could take effect. The
flame-throwing tanks could reach many of these caves and so proved very
useful. Unfortunately, their range was limited on Saipan, but this was
later improved.

Thus it was that the hard experiences on Saipan led to a variety of
changes which paid valuable dividends in saving American lives in the
future Pacific campaigns. And the loss of the island was a strategic
strike from which the Japanese never recovered, as the United States
drove forward to ultimate victory.


There are five principal official sources for the facts about the unit
actions on Saipan. These range from preliminary, condensed accounts
to massive, detailed final studies which reach down to the level of
company operations. In the interests of brevity, the author of this
monograph has limited himself to covering the actions of regiments and
divisions, with minor special exceptions.

The five sources are:

1) Henry I. Shaw, Jr., Bernard C. Nalty, and Edwin T. Turnbladh,
_Central Pacific Drive_, vol. 3, _History of U.S. Marine Corps
Operations in World War II_ (Washington: Historical Branch, G-3
Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1966).

2) Philip A. Crowl, _Campaign in the Marianas_, vol 9, _United States
Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific_ (Washington: Office of
the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1960).

3) Maj Carl W. Hoffman, USMC, _Saipan: The Beginning of the End_
(Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

4) Capt James R. Stockman, USMC, _Campaign for the Marianas_
(Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

5) Capt Edmund G. Love, USA, _The 27th Infantry Division in World War
II_ (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1949).

In addition, there is a wide variety of other literature on the Saipan
operation. This material ranges from a 19-page essay by a Naval
Academy midshipman, to first-hand accounts appearing in the _Marine
Corps Gazette_, to wildly subjective books dealing with individual
experiences or the “Smith vs Smith” controversy.

To supplement the framework of unit tactics, vignettes of individuals
have been drawn from two principal sources:

1) The Personal Papers Collection of the Marine Corps Historical
Center has useful memoirs, particularly those of Frederick A. Stott
(473-4A32), John C. Chapin (671-4A44), and Robert F. Graf (1946-6B12).

2) In the Center’s Oral History Collection, the author examined well
over a dozen reminiscences and found only four that involved front-line
experiences: Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, USMCR (C2);
Captain Carl W. Hoffman, USMC, (H2); Lieutenant Colonel William K.
Jones, USMC, (J2); and Lieutenant John H. Craven, ChC, USN, (C3).

_About the Author_


Captain John C. Chapin earned a bachelor of arts degree with honors in
history from Yale University in 1942 and was commissioned later that
year. He served as a rifle platoon leader in the 24th Marines, 4th
Marine Division, and was wounded in action during the assault landings
on Roi-Namur and Saipan.

Transferred to duty at the Historical Division, Headquarters Marine
Corps, he wrote the first official histories of the 4th and 5th Marine
Divisions. Moving to reserve status at the end of World War II, he
earned a master’s degree in history at George Washington University
with a thesis on “The Marine Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1922.”

Now a captain in retired status, he has devoted major portions of 10
years to writing history as a volunteer at the Marine Corps Historical
Center. His first publication there was an official monograph, _A
History of VMFA-115_, for one of the Marine Corps’ better-known
squadrons. With support from the Historical Center and the Marine
Corps Historical Foundation, he then spent some years researching
and interviewing for the writing of a new book, _Uncommon_ Men--The
_Sergeants Major of the Marine Corps_. This was published by the White
Mane Publishing Co.

Acknowledgement is gratefully made to Lieutenant General William K.
Jones, USMC (Ret), for his first draft of an account of the Saipan


THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in
the World War II era, is published for the education and training of
Marines by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine
Corps, Washington, D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense
observance of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.

Editorial costs of preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part
by a bequest from the estate of Emilie H. Watts, in memory of her late
husband, Thomas M. Watts, who served as a Marine and was the recipient
of a Purple Heart.


    =Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)=

    =Benis M. Frank=

    =George C. MacGillivray=

    =Robert E. Struder=, Senior Editor;
    =W. Stephen Hill=, Visual Information Specialist;
    =Catherine A. Kerns=, Composition Services Technician

    Marine Corps Historical Center
    Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
    Washington, D.C. 20374-5040


    PCN 190 003123 00


Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

To make this eBook easier to read, particularly on handheld devices,
some images have been made relatively larger than in the original
pamphlet, and centered, rather than offset to one side or the other;
and some were placed a little earlier or later than in the original.
Sidebars in the original have been repositioned between chapters and
identified as “[Sidebar (page nn):”, where the page reference is to the
original location in the source book. In the Plain Text version, the
matching closing right bracket follows the last line of the Sidebar’s
text and is on a separate line to make it more noticeable. In the HTML
versions, that bracket follows the colon, and each Sidebar is displayed
within a box.

Frontispiece: The original photograph was printed across two pages,
and the middle, which appears here as a vertical gap, was lost in the
binding. An excellent copy of the full photograph may be found on the
web at:


Page 17: “would be multi cave openings” was printed that way.

Page 21: ‘battalions of the 105th Infantry “were standing still when
there was no reason why they should not move forward.” That did it.
Jarman relieved the colonel commanding the 106th and replaced him’ was
printed that way, with references to two different regiments.

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