The Battle of Saipan took place in the Second World War, during the Pacific campaign. It was fought between the US Marines and the Japanese forces deployed on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, from June 13, 1944 to July 9, 1944. Under the command of Lieutenant General Holland Smith, the American Marines defeated the Imperial Japanese Army, which was commanded by Yoshitsugu Saito.
From 1943 to the first half of 1944, the United States had leapfrogged their way from one Japanese-infested island to another, ferociously fighting to ferret out the fanatical imperial forces from the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Papuan peninsula of New Guinea. But the Japanese still held the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, the Caroline Islands, and the Palau Islands.
The American invasion fleet carrying the expeditionary forces left Pearl Harbor on June 5, 1944. The Battle of Saipan began on June 13, 1944, with the bombardment of the island in which 15 battleships took part. On June 15, at 09:00 hours, more than 300 landing craft landed 8,000 Marines of 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions on the west coast of Saipan as 11 support ships opened fire on the island, covering the Marine landings. The Japanese artillery destroyed about 20 amphibious tanks. To maximize the American casualties the Japanese strategically placed barbed wire, artillery, machine gun emplacements, and trenches. Nevertheless, the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions had a beachhead about 6 miles wide and 1/2 mile deep by nightfall. Although the Japanese counter-attacked at night, they were repulsed with heavy losses. On June 16, units of the U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division landed and advanced on the Aslito airfield. On June 18 Saito abandoned the airfield.
The American invasion task force took the Japanese high command by surprise, as they had been expecting a US attack further south. Admiral Toyoda Soemu, commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy, saw an opportunity to use the A-Go force to launch an attack on the US Navy forces around Saipan. On June 15, Toyoda Soemu ordered the A-Go force to attack. But the resulting battle of the Philippine Sea was a heavy blow for the Imperial Japanese Navy, which lost three aircraft carriers and hundreds of planes. The garrisons of the Marianas would have no hope of reinforcement, but the Japanese were determined to fight to the last man.
Saito organized his troops into a line anchored on Mount Tapotchau in the rugged and precipitous terrain of central Saipan. The Marines gave nicknames to these natural features of the island during the Battle of Saipan: "Hell’s Pocket", "Purple Heart Ridge" and "Death Valley," which described the severity of the fighting. The Japanese used the caves in the volcanic landscape to hold off the attackers. The Japanese also hid during the day and made sorties at night. But the Americans gradually developed tactics for clearing the caves, using flamethrowers supported by artillery and machine guns.
By July 7, the Japanese had been cornered with nowhere to retreat. Saito made plans for a final suicidal banzai charge. On the fate of the remaining civilians on the island, Saito said, "There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured." At dawn, with a group of a dozen men carrying a great red flag in the lead, the remaining able-bodied troops charged forward in the final attack. The Japanese surged over the American front lines, engaging both Army and Marine units. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th U.S. Infantry were almost decimated, losing 650 killed and wounded. However, the fierce resistance of these two battalions, as well as that of Headquarters Company, 105th Infantry, and elements of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines resulted in over 4,300 Japanese killed. For their actions during the 15-hour Japanese attack, three men of the 105th Infantry were awarded the Medal of Honor, all posthumously.
By 16:15 hours on July 9, Admiral Turner announced that Saipan was officially secured. Yoshitsugu Saito, along with commanders Hirakushi and Igeta, committed suicide in a cave. Almost the entire garrison of Japanese troops on the island — at least 30,000 — died. In the Battle of Saipan the Americans suffered heavy casualties, too; 2,949 Americans were killed and 10,364 wounded, out of 71,000 who landed.