America's Island Hopping Strategy Depended On The Fight At Tinian:

America's Island Hopping Strategy Depended On The Fight At Tinian:

A squabble between a general and an admiral led to “the most perfect amphibious operation of the Pacific War.”

“When the Japs hit the rear areas, all the artillery and machine guns started shooting like hell. Their fire was coming from the rear and grazing right up over our heads…. In the meantime, the enemy that hit L Company was putting up a hell of a fight within 75 yards of where I was and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.”

Chambers continued, “Over in K Company’s area was where the attack really developed. That’s where [Lieutenant] Mickey McGuire had his 37mm guns on the left flank and was firing canister [antipersonnel shells filled with large pellets for close-in fighting]. Two of my men [Corporal Alfred J. Daigle and Pfc. Orville H. Showers] were manning a machine gun…. These two lads laid out in front of their machine gun a cone of Jap bodies. There was a dead Jap officer in with them. Both of the boys were dead.”

In describing this action, a Marine combat correspondent wrote, “[Showers and Daigle] held their fire until the Japanese were 100 yards away, then opened up. The Japanese charged, screaming, ‘Banzai,’ firing light machine guns and throwing hand grenades. It seemed impossible that the two Marines—far ahead of their own lines—could hold on…. The next morning they were found slumped over their weapons, dead. No less than 251 Japanese bodies were piled in front of them.” The Navy Cross was awarded posthumously to Daigle and the Silver Star posthumously to Showers.

Just before daybreak, two tank companies, commanded by Major Robert I. Neiman, showed up, itching for a fight; Lt. Col. Chambers sent them off to an area held by Companies K and L. Neiman returned a half hour later and said, “You don’t need tanks. You need undertakers. I never saw so many dead Japs.”

The 75mm pack howitzer gunners of Battery D, 14th Marines also did their part to break up the enemy attacks, and the .50-caliber machine guns of Batteries E and F “literally tore the Japanese … to pieces,” according to one report. Altogether, about 600 Japanese were killed in their attack on the center of the Marine line.

On the left flank about 600 Special Naval Landing Force troops from the Ushi Point airfields attacked the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines at 2 am. Company A was hit so hard that it had only 30 men still capable of fighting and was forced to draw reinforcements from engineers, corpsmen, communicators, and members of the shore party. Illumination flares lit up the battlefield, allowing the Marines to mow down the attackers with 37mm canister shells, machine guns, rifles, and mortars.

Still, the fight went on until, at dawn, Shermans from the 4th Tank Battalion arrived to sweep the enemy from the field. At dawn, 476 Japanese bodies were found sprawled, most of them in front of Company A’s position. Realizing their cause was lost, many Japanese began using their grenades to commit suicide.

The Japanese had only 12 tanks on Tinian, and they used half that force in an attack beginning at 3:30 am on the 25th. Trying to dislodge the 23rd Marines north of Tinian Town, they rolled into a storm of lead and steel from massed Marine artillery, antitank guns, bazookas, machine guns, and rifles and were turned into smoldering junk.

A reporter recounted, “The three lead tanks broke through our wall of fire. One began to glow blood-red, turned crazily on its tracks, and careened into a ditch. A second, mortally wounded, turned its machine guns on its tormentors, firing into the ditches in a last desperate effort to fight its way free. One hundred yards more and it stopped dead in its tracks. The third tried frantically to turn and then retreat, but our men closed in, literally blasting it apart….

“Bazookas knocked out a fourth tank with a direct hit which killed the driver. The rest of the crew piled out of the turret screaming. The fifth tank, completely surrounded, attempted to flee. Bazookas made short work of it. Another hit set it afire and its crew was cremated.” The sixth tank was able to flee the scene.

Although their tank support was gone, elements of the 50th Regiment continued to attack the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, but were torn to pieces by 37mm antitank guns using canister shot. Still, the battle raged on, with small groups continuing to desperately throw themselves against Marine positions without success.

When dawn broke on July 25, a total of 1,241 Japanese bodies carpeted the battlefield, and it is believed that hundreds more were carried away by their comrades; fewer than 100 Marines were wounded or killed. Although it was only the second day since the landings, the Japanese defense was essentially broken. Without communications, Colonel Ogata had lost control of his forces—and, hence, the battle. Now it was just a matter of time before Tinian was secured. Scattered pockets of resistance, however, would still have to be overcome.

A Marine historian wrote, “Now and again during the next seven days, small groups took advantage of the darkness to [launch night attacks], but for the most part they simply withdrew in no particular order until there remained nowhere to withdraw.”

From White Beaches 1 and 2, the two Marine divisions pressed steadily southward, crushing enemy positions, pushing the Japanese before them, and standing fast whenever a group of Ogata’s men launched a suicidal banzai attack or tried to infiltrate Marine positions in the dark.

The 4th Division’s intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Gooderham McCormick, said his division still expected a massive, coordinated counterattack: “We still believed the enemy capable of a harder fight … and from day to day during our advance expected a bitter fight that never materialized.”

Lieutenant Colonel William W. Buchanan was the assistant naval gunfire officer for the 4th Division at Tinian. He recalled, “We used the same tactics on Tinian that we did on Saipan: that is, a hand-holding, linear operation, like a bunch of brush-beaters, people shooting grouse or something, the idea being to flush out every man consistently as we go down, rather than driving down the main road…. But this was the easiest thing and the safest thing to do. And who can criticize it? It was successful. Here, again, what little resistance was left was pushed into the end of the island … and quickly collapsed.”

The “brush beating” or “grouse hunting” was anything but easy. The oppressive heat and humidity and drenching monsoon rains exhausted the Marines, and there was the ever-present danger of mines, booby traps, a sniper in a tree, or a sudden ambush from out of the jungle.

To assist the 4th Division in the mopping-up operation, Maj. Gen. Watson’s 2nd Marine Division moved in. On July 26, the 2nd captured the Ushi Point airfields in the north then turned south.  Two days later the Seabees had the Ushi Point fields in operation for Army P-47 Thunderbolt fighters.  Also on the 26th, the 4th Division climbed Mount Maga in the center of the island and forced Colonel Ogata and his staff to abandon their command post on Mount Lasso, which fell to the Marines with barely a shot being fired.

With the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions in a skirmish line of divisions abreast from one side of the island to the other, the sweep southward began on July 27. Little resistance was encountered, and casualties were light. The next day the Gurguan Point airfield fell to the advancing Marines’ 4th Tank Battalion.

After the battle, Maj. Gen. Cates was asked how he spurred on his 4th Division troops. He said he told them, “Now, look here men, the [Hawaiian] island of Maui is waiting for us. See those ships out there? The quicker you get this over with, the quicker we’ll be back there.’ They almost ran over that island.”

The southward drive was picking up steam. In fact, the usual preparatory artillery barrages fired from guns on Saipan were canceled to save the diminishing stocks of ammunition. It was pointless to waste ammunition on areas that had been abandoned by the enemy.

By nightfall on the 29th, the Marines controlled the northern half of the island. As the 4th Marine Division closed in on Tinian Town, more determined pockets of resistance were encountered, and torrential rain came down in sheets. Japanese mortars and artillery also rained down, accompanied by an enemy ground probe against the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines; it was beaten back. 

The next day, Colonel Franklin A. Hart’s 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division was given the task of taking Tinian Town. They were assisted by the division’s artillery battalions plus the offshore fire of cruisers and destroyers. When the supporting fires lifted, the 24th’s 1st Battalion moved out,  only to be hit by heavy fire coming from caves along the town’s north coast. This was quickly squelched by flame-throwing tanks. Engineers then sealed the mouths of the caves with explosives.

Tinian Town was mostly a rubble-filled ghost town by the time the 24th Marine Regiment entered it shortly after 2 pm on the 30th. About this same time, the 25th Marines, after swatting away some pesky small-arms fire, were busy seizing Airfield Number 4 on the town’s eastern edge; a lone Zero fighter was found parked on the crushed coral airstrip. That night the 24th Marines were relieved by units of the 23rd Marines and the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.