Battle of Saipan

The Battle of Saipan was located within the framework of the combat Pacific War , corresponding to the Second World War , fought on the island of Saipan ( Mariana Islands ) between 15 June and 9 of July of 1944 .

The 2nd and 4th Marine Corps , along with the 27th Infantry Division , were the military forces under Lieutenant General Holland Smith . These would manage to defeat the 43rd Division of the Japanese Imperial Army , under the command of Lt. Gen. Yoshitsugu Saito .

Historical background

In the campaigns between 1943 and the first half of 1944, the Allies had succeeded in capturing the Solomon Islands , the Gilbert Islands and the Marshall Islands , as well as the peninsula of New Guinea . Such conquests led the Allies to the doors of the main line of defense that Japan had set up in the Pacific Ocean , consisting of the Carolinas , Palau Islands, and Mariana Islands . Such territories were in Japanese hands since the end of World War I , having been fortified conscientiously.

The Allies, with the aim of breaking this line, started two offensive campaigns. On the one hand, General Douglas MacArthur would advance through New Guinea and Morotai to the Philippines . On the other, Admiral Chester Nimitz would attack the Mariana Islands, which had acquired great strategic value with the introduction of the new B-29 long-range bomber , which could cover the 2,400 km separating the Mariana Islands from Tokyo .

The Japanese, who were already hoping for an attack on their defensive perimeter, thought that the offensive would probably take place on the Carolinas . To send reinforcements and supplies to the troops garrisoned there, they needed air and naval superiority, so they began preparing-based attack aircraft carriers that would take place in June 1944 under the name Operation A- Go .


The bombardment of Saipan, which participated fifteen battleships , began on 13 June as as 1944 . Approximately 165,000 projectiles were fired.

Initially, seven modern fast battleships launched 2400 shots with 16-inch (400 mm) guns, although they had to stay almost 11 km off the coast to avoid Japan’s predictable minefields. In addition, the ship’s crew had no experience in coastal bombing.

The next day, eight battleships prior to Pearl Harbor and eleven cruises under the command of Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf replaced the fast battleships. However, the shortage of supplies and ammunition compromised the efficiency of their task. 1

Day 15 of June of 1944 , at 09:00 hours, more than 300 LTV took earth, leaving 8,000 marines on the west coast of the island of Saipan. In this way, the operation that had begun a few hours earlier, which had cost the destruction of 20 amphibian tanks thanks to the very prepared batteries of Japanese artillery, was beginning to bear fruit. At nightfall, the 2nd and 4th Divisions of Marines had managed to establish a beach head of approximately 10 km that penetrated up to 1 km towards the insular interior. 2

The Japanese counterattack occurred when the night had already entered, although it would be repelled, suffering, of course, many casualties. On June 16 , units of the 27th Infantry Division of the United States would disembark on the island, and would begin the advance over the Aslito airport. Again a night counterattack would occur, again failing. Finally, on June 18 , Yoshitsugu Saito , the Japanese commander, would leave the airport.

The invasion of Saipan surprised the Japanese, who hoped the attack would come much further south. The Admiral Soemu Toyoda , commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy , saw an opportunity to put into action its naval air force and attack the United States Navy , launching the call Operation A-Go , which will take place on June 15 .

The result would be the battle of the Philippine Sea , a real disaster for the Japanese, who lost three aircraft carriers and hundreds of aircraft. As a result, the garrisons defending the Mariana Islands would lose all hope of receiving reinforcements and supplies, which Japan lost all hope of winning in Saipan.

Despite the desperate situation, the Japanese were determined to fight to the last man, so Saito reorganized his troops, arranging them on a defensive line along Mount Tapotchau , relying on the offensive disadvantage of the hilly terrain of the interior of the island. The nicknames that the Americans put to the hot spots of the fight (“Hell’s Pocket”, 3 “Purple Heart Ridge” 4 or “Death Valley” 5 ) show the crudeness of the battle that took place.

The Japanese tried by all means to delay the American advance, using the multitude of caves and caves offered by the volcanic orography, and which served as a daytime hiding place where to wait for the fall of the night, which they used to make incursions And wear down the enemy. This would cause that the American army changed of strategy, developing tactics that countered the war raised by Japan. In this way, they would use units equipped with flamethrowers supported by the artillery and covered by machine guns to clear the enemy hiding places. Notably, the use of the Navajo Code by radio operators, which made the communications of the United States military impermeable, could not be interpreted by the Japanese.

When the Japanese defeat was already imminent, many civilians committed suicide, the result of propaganda that the Japanese government had done and which showed the Americans as barbarians and savages who would torture, rape and murder the non-belligerent population. The efforts of the Americans to stop the mass suicides was, for the most part, useless. Emphasizes the intervention of Guy L. Gabaldon , Mexican soldier , who managed to convince and capture more than 1000 Japanese that the Americans were not barbarians, thus avoiding many suicides. For its actions Gabaldon was decorated with the Cross of the Navy .

The Japanese captain Sakae Oba would resist in the mountains, along with 46 men, until 1 of December of 1945 , date in which they surrendered by the express order of former Gen. Umahachi Master, commander of the 9th Independent Mixed Brigade During the battle of Saipan.


Japan ‘s defeat meant the fall of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo , who was relieved as head of the army and resigned along with his cabinet on 18 July as as 1944 . 6

After the battle, Saipan became a very important base of operations in the Marianas, and played an essential role in the invasion of the Philippines that would happen in October of the same year. In addition, the airbase of Saipan would be used for the bombings of Philippines , the Ryukyu Islands and Japan .


  1. Back to top↑ US Army in World War II: Campaign in the Marianas, Ch. 5 , published by the United States Army.
  2. Back to top↑ Selected June Dates of Marine Corps Historical Significance , from “This Month in History,” published by History Division and the United States Marine Corps.
  3. Back to top↑ Approximate translation: “Bag of hell”
  4. Back to top↑ Approximate translation: Cuesta del Corazón Púrpura (military decoration for the wounded or killed in combat)
  5. Back to top↑ Translation: Death Valley
  6. Back to top↑ Hoffman, p. 260.