Writing in the official history of the battle, Major Carl W. Hoffman noted, “The morale of the troops committed to the Tinian operation was generally high. This fact takes on significance only when it is recalled that the Marines involved had just survived a bitter 25-day struggle and that, with only a fortnight lapse (as distinguished from a fortnight rest), they were again to assault enemy-held shores…. [Their] spirit … was revealed more in a philosophical shrug, accompanied with a ‘here-we-go-again’ remark, than in a resentful complaint [at] being called upon again so soon.”
Admiral Turner said he wanted the Marines to secure the island in two weeks. Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt, who relieved Lt. Gen. Holland Smith as V Amphibious Corps commander, said he would get it done within 10 days. It would actually take only nine.
To lessen the anxiety of the Marines going ashore and to confuse the Japanese as to the actual location of the landings, Rear Admiral Hill divided the island into five fire support sectors and ordered a heavy naval bombardment for each one.
Tinian Town was hit the hardest. Doing the damage were the battleships California, Tennessee (both damaged at Pearl Harbor), and Colorado, along with the cruisers Cleveland and Louisville and seven destroyers. The Colorado’s 16-inch guns knocked out two 6-inch coastal defense guns at Faibus San Hilo Point that could have disrupted the landing on White 1 and 2 Beaches. The Japanese fired back, hitting the Colorado 22 times and killing 43 sailors and wounding 198. The Tennessee came in later to finish off the coastal defenses.
Naval barrages were suspended three times on J-day (Jig being the equivalent of D-day for the Tinian operation) to allow American air power to pound roads, railroad junctions, pillboxes, gun emplacements, and the beaches at Tinian Town. More than 350 Navy and Army planes took part, dropping 500 bombs, 200 rockets, 42 incendiary clusters, and 34 napalm bombs.
After the softening up had ended, the 4th Marine Division transferred to 37 LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) at anchor off Saipan. They were issued rations for three days, water, medical supplies, and ammunition; vehicles and other equipment had been preloaded, beginning on July 15. As one historian wrote, “The troops were going to travel light: a spoon, a pair of socks, insect repellant, and emergency supplies in their pockets, and no pack on their backs.”
On Jig Day—July 24—the 4th Marine Division, designated the assault division, headed for Tinian. Because the beaches were not wide enough to accommodate battalions landing abreast, the assault troops would land by columns—squads, platoons, and companies.
Two regiments of Maj. Gen. Thomas E. (“Terrible Tommy”) Watson’s 2nd Marine Division made a diversionary feint against Tinian Town, hoping to tie down Japanese forces there, before it made the actual landing, along with the third regiment, on the lightly defended northwestern beaches.
The feint, made by Marines in 22 LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel) served to freeze in place around Tinian Town a whole battalion of the Japanese 50th Infantry Regiment and various elements of the 56th Naval Guard Force. The Japanese commander, Colonel Kiyochi Ogata, was convinced that he had repelled an invasion, and he sent a message to Tokyo that his forces had turned back 100 landing barges.
While he was bragging about his accomplishment, however, the 24th Marine Regiment was hitting White Beach 1 in two dozen LVTs (Landing Vehicle, Tracked—sometimes called “amtracs” or “alligators”), while the 25th Marine Regiment was coming ashore at White Beach 2. By 8:20 am, the 24th’s entire 2nd Battalion was ashore. On the 26-minute run-in to the beaches, the troop-laden LVTs took scattered and ineffectual rifle and machine-gun fire while support craft saturated the beaches with rockets and cannon fire.
At White Beach 1, the first wave of 24th Marines to land was taken under fire by a small detachment of defenders holed up in caves and crevices, but these enemy troops were quickly silenced. Within an hour, the entire 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 24th were ashore on White 1 and were preparing to move inland. Although sporadic artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire hit the 2nd Battalion, it did not stop the advance, and the unit reached the western edge of Airfield No. 3 and cut the main road linking Airfield No. 1 with the east coast and southern Tinian by 4 pm.
On the left of the 2nd Battalion, the 1st Battalion ran into heavier resistance, with defenders firing from caves. Flame-throwing tanks were called up, but the stubborn Japanese refused to yield. To fill a gap that developed between the 1st and 2nd Battalions, the 24th’s 3rd Battalion, in reserve at the beach, was brought up.
At White Beach 2, the 25th Marine Regiment landed in the midst of a thick minefield that had gone undetected; three LVTs and a jeep were blown up. It took six hours to neutralize the mines. The defenders had also cleverly booby-trapped cases of beer and other “souvenirs” with explosives that killed or maimed unwary Marines.
As they pushed farther inland, the Marines also encountered 50th Regiment troops—well entrenched in caves, pillboxes, and ravines—who fought back with machine guns, mortars, and antitank and antiboat guns. The Marines decided to bypass them and leave them for later waves to eliminate. Harassing fire was also coming from Japanese artillery on Mount Lasso, two-and-a-half miles away, where Ogata had his headquarters.
The 3d Battalion/25th Marines’ commander, Lt. Col. Justice M. “Jumping Joe” Chambers, recalled considerable confusion on the beach, “the confusion you [always] get when you land, of getting the organization together again.”
By sundown, the two regiments had formed a crescent-shaped beachhead 3,000 yards wide at the shoreline and bulging inland 1,500 yards, digging in to see what the enemy would throw at them during the night.
The 23rd Marine Regiment, in 4th Division reserve, had the hardest time on Jig Day, but not from the enemy. After being held for most of the day on LSTs, they were finally ordered to climb into landing craft and head for shore, landing at 2 pm. The regimental commander, Colonel Louis R. Jones, ran into serious communication problems and found himself out of contact with his division and his battalions for hours. To compound his problems, the engine of the LVT in which he was riding malfunctioned, and it took him and his staff seven hours to get ashore.
Otherwise, the operation had gone off relatively smoothly. More than 15,000 Marines were ashore plus four battalions of artillery, two dozen half-tracks mounting 75mm guns, 48 medium Sherman tanks, and 15 flame-throwing tanks. Although some battalions had failed to reach their first-day objectives, the beachhead extended nearly a mile inland. Marine casualties had been light—15 dead, 225 wounded—while the Japanese had lost 438. On the whole, as one historian put it, “It had not been a bad day’s work.”
Occupying the northern half of the defensive crescent were the 24th Marines, backed up by the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. The 25th and a battalion of the 23nd occupied the southern half, with the remainder of the 23rd in reserve. On the beaches in the rear, artillery battalions from the 10th and 14th Marines, engineer battalions, and other special troops were on alert.
And alert they needed to be. The Japanese were not known for giving up even when faced with impossible odds. The American commanders knew they were in for a fight. And it would begin after dark at the end of Jig Day.
True to form, the Japanese were preparing to strike back. Because the American bombardment had destroyed his ability to communicate with his units, Colonel Ogata counted on each unit on Tinian to be responsible for its own counterattack. In case of such an American landing, he had given an order the previous month to “destroy the enemy on the beaches with one blow, especially where time prevents quick movement of forces within the island.”
Outnumbered, and without hope of reinforcement or evacuation, Ogata’s forces probably knew they were doomed. But they vowed that they would give a good account of themselves before they were killed. The Emperor would be proud of them.
The counterattack began at 10:30 pm when the Japanese Mobile Counterattack Force, a 900-man battalion of the 135th Infantry Regiment equipped with rifles and demolition charges, began probing the center of the Marine line where the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 24th Marines were dug in.
When the presence of the advance elements was detected, the Marines called in the artillery. Lt. Col. Chambers, the 3rd Battalion/25th Marines’ commander, later wrote, “There was a big gully that ran from the southeast to northwest and right into the western edge of our area. Anybody in their right mind could have figured that if there was to be any counterattack, that gully would be used.
“During the night … my men were reporting that they were hearing a lot of Japanese chattering down in the gully…. They hit us about midnight in K Company’s area. They hauled by hand a couple of 75mm howitzers with them and when they got them up to where they could fire at us, they hit us very hard. I think K Company did a pretty damn good job but … about 150-200 Japs managed to push through [the 1,500 yards] to the beach area….