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Battle of Saipan
The battle of Saipan was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II, fought on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands from 15 June 1944 to 9 July 1944. The American 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Holland Smith defeated the 43rd Division of the Imperial Japanese Army commanded by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito.
In the campaigns of 1943 and the first half of 1944, the Allies had captured the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Papuan peninsula of New Guinea. This brought the Allies up against the main Japanese defense line in the Pacific: the Caroline Islands, Palau Islands and Mariana Islands, occupied by the Japanese since the end of World War I and heavily fortified.
The Allies embarked on two campaigns to break this line: General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific command advanced through New Guinea and Morotai toward the Philippines. Admiral Chester Nimitz's Central Pacific command attacked the Mariana Islands. The selection of the Marianas as a target was influenced by the introduction of the new B-29 Superfortress long-range bomber. If the Marianas were in Allied hands, then Tokyo would be well within its range of 1,500 miles (2,400 km).
The Japanese were expecting an attack somewhere on their perimeter—though an attack on the Caroline Islands was thought most likely. To reinforce and supply their garrisons they needed naval and air superiority, so Operation A-Go, a major carrier attack, was prepared for June 1944.
The landings began at 07:00 on June 15 1944. More than 300 LVTs landed 8,000 marines on the west coast of Saipan by about 09:00. Careful Japanese artillery preparation—placing flags in the bay to indicate the range—allowed them to destroy about 20 amphibious tanks, but by nightfall the marines had a beachhead about 10 km wide and 1 km deep. The Japanese counter-attacked at night but were repulsed with heavy losses. On 16 June units of the U.S. Army's 27th Infantry Division landed and advanced on the Aslito airfield. Again the Japanese counter-attacked at night. On 18 June Saito abandoned the airfield.
The invasion surprised the Japanese, who had been expecting an attack further south. Admiral Toyoda Soemu, commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy, saw an opportunity to use the A-Go force to attack the U.S. Navy forces around Saipan. On 15 June he gave the order to attack. But the resulting battle of the Philippine Sea was a disaster for the Imperial Japanese Navy, which lost three aircraft carriers and hundreds of planes. The garrisons of the Marianas would have no hope of resupply or reinforcement.
Without resupply, the battle on Saipan was hopeless for the defenders. But the Japanese determined to fight to the last man. Saito organized his troops into a line anchored on Mount Tapotchau in the defensible mountainous terrain of central Saipan. The nicknames given by the Americans to the features of the battle—"Hell's Pocket", "Purple Heart Ridge" and "Death Valley"—indicate the severity of the fighting. The Japanese used the many caves in the volcanic landscape to delay the attackers, by hiding during the day and making sorties at night. The Americans gradually developed tactics for clearing the caves by using flamethrower teams supported by artillery and machine guns.
The operation was marred by inter-service controversy when Marine general Holland Smith, unsatisfied with the performance of the 27th Division, relieved its commander, Army general Ralph C. Smith .
By 7 July the Japanese had nowhere to retreat to. Saito ordered his remaining able-bodied troops—about 3,000 men—forward in a suicide charge, then killed himself.
Many hundreds of Japanese civilians committed suicide in the last days of the battle, some jumping from "Suicide Cliff " and "Banzai Cliff ". Efforts by U.S. troops to persuade them to surrender instead were mostly futile.
After the battle, Saipan became an important base for further operations in the Marianas, and then for the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944. Bombers based at Saipan attacked the Philippines, the Ryukyu Islands and Japan.
- U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II: Western Pacific
- David Petty, Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War, McFarland and Company, 2001
- Don Jones, Oba The Last Samurai, Presido Press, 1986
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