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Landing on Saipan, June 15, 1944

Marines landing on Saipan.

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The Battle of Saipan was a conflict between the Japanese Empire and the Allied powers that occurred in the Pacific Theater on the 15th of June, 1944. It was crucial for the United States Military to have an airfield on the island Saipan because it was close enough to Japan for B-29 Superfortresses to bomb it. The invasion was commanded by General Holland Smith.

By the end of the month long battle, there had been around 3,000 marines killed, 13,000 wounded or MIA, and around 29,000 Japanese troops had been killed. There was also around 20,000 civilian deaths, some due to a mass suicide. Saipan provided the United States with the airfield they had needed and about 4 months after the battle had ended, American bombers could use the airfield. There were other landings in the Marianas that followed Saipan including the Invasion of Tinian.[1]

Preparations and Planning

There was a garrison of about 31,000 Japanese troops stationed on Saipan including a number of armor units. Quite a few bunkers, pillboxes, and gun emplacements were also set up. Planning for the invasion of Saipan began in 1943 and was faced with a problem. The United States Military had to decide how to carry out the plan even with a large civilian population.[2] American forces would have to proceed regardless of the civilian toll with an all out bombardment of the island.

The Battle

US Marines on Saipan

US Marines fighting on Saipan

Before the invasion began around 255 United States aircraft headed for the Mariana Islands and bombarded defenses, supplies, etc. A naval bombardment soon followed, only it was towards Saipan. This combined bombardment lasted 2 days and did destroy most of the Japanese airpower in the Marianas. However pillboxes and other fortifications were not severely damaged and still posed a significant threat to marines landing on the island. An armada of naval ships set off for Saipan and the main invasion force landed at about 7:00 AM on June 15, 1944.

They had to fight their way across the beach with Japanese artillery fire and machine gun fire. The marines came out of LVTs and other landing craft and were helped by some extra naval bombardment. By nightfall around 20,000 marines had landed on Saipan. Unsatisfied with the progress made by the marines, Smith replaced the commander in charge of the marine forces.[3]

The fighting continued into the variety of environments that Saipan possessed. these included cliffs,
Battle of Saipan 1

Marines taking cover behind an M4 Sherman

plains, swamps, and jungle. Some of these locations received names including Death Valley, and Purple Heart Ridge. The US marines who landed received more reinforcements and pushed towards the airfield on Saipan.

The airfield eventually was captured by the marines and despite several Japanese counter-attacks, the US marines pushed on. The Japanese soon lost any hope of resuppyling and tried to create fortified positions in caves and mountains. After this attempt failed, the Japanese garrison leader Yoshitsugu Saito put the remainder of his forces to make a final Banzai Charge against the American forces. This final attack gathered around 3,000 Japanese troops and nearly succeed but it was repelled by two battalions of US marines. Many civilians and Japanese troops including Saito jumped off the high cliffs, or committed suicide by some other means rather than surrender. The island of Saipan was declared secure on July 9, 1944.

References

  1. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/p/World-War-Ii-Battle-Of-Saipan.htm
  2. http://www.navysite.de/ships/lha2about.htm
  3. http://www.olive-drab.com/od_history_ww2_ops_battles_1944marianas_saipan.php
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