Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Invasion of Saipan

Tonight as I sat in the comfort of my United flight from Tokyo and glided over the coastline approaching Saipan I could not help contrast my “landing” on Saipan to that of the Marines on June 15, 1944.
At only 1300 miles from mainland Japan, the islands of Saipan and nearby Tinian became a high priority target for the US military to stop the Japanese advancement through the Pacific. The island contained airfields from which our newly developed B29 could reach the Japanese mainland and conduct bombing runs which would inflicting both a military and psychological toll. The strategic location of the island was not lost on the Japanese, and they were heavily entrenched with extensive costal fortifications, high ground artillery positions and elaborate cave bunkers for defense of the island. The 12 mile island contained more than 30,000 Japanese solders committed to the defense of the island at all cost. On the US side, the largest invasion fleet in the Pacific was assembled to secure Saipan for the Allies. Some 800 ships, 1000 airplanes and 127,000 US forces were amassed for the invasion – numbers that closely rivaled the Normandy invasion a half a world away.

What was originally was believed to be a three day offensive by war planners turned into a three week
close quarters fight with systematic removal of the entrenched Japanese through constant mortar shelling, grenades, and flame throwers into the caves. Many advancement by the US forces were met with  suicide counter attacks by the Japanese forces. When the island had finally been secured by the US Marines by July 9, 1944, some 29,500 of the original 31,000 Japanese troops had been killed while approximately 3,400 of the 67,000 US troops who participated in the battle were killed or reported missing in action. The battle for Saipan had proved to be deadliest conflict in the Pacific to date.

Perhaps most disturbing about the battle of Saipan was the nearly 1000 civilians - men, women and children - who participated in mass suicides by at Marpi Point on the Northern tip of the island. As the battle of Saipan reached its final days, Japanese soldiers and panicked civilians made their way north to Marpi Point. Here, despite repeated calls by the U.S. military to surrender, civilians chose death by jumping off cliffs or drowning themselves in the sea. They had been led to believe that surrender would mean murder, rape and torture at the hands of U.S. forces.

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