U.S. Troops Clear Saipan
On July 9, 1944, American troops claimed victory after a three-week battle on Saipan.
Throughout 1944 American troops continued to advance on two fronts in the Pacific Theatre. While MacArthur fought his way across New Guinea toward the Philippines, Admiral Nimitz’s amphibious forces leapfrogged from island to island toward Japan.
This leap-frogging tactic, also known as island hopping, was a military strategy that began in 1943 where they bypassed the more heavily fortified Japanese-held islands and instead targeted strategic islands with a smaller enemy presence.
By the summer of 1944, they had their sights set on Saipan. The Japanese expected the US to attack further south, so they were surprised by the two-day pre-invasion bombardment that began on June 13. US Marines came ashore early on June 15, supported by naval gunfire. By 9 a.m. 8,000 Marines had landed on Saipan. They quickly secured a beachhead and spent the night repelling Japanese attacks.
The Japanese put up a fierce resistance and bitter fighting ensued. As the battle continued, American troops nicknamed areas of the battle – Hell’s Pocket, Purple Heart Ridge, and Death Valley – showing how bad the fighting there was. The Japanese would also hide in the caves during the day and drop sorties at night, but the American troops eventually used flamethrowers to clear the caves.
The US victory nearby at the Battle of the Philippine Sea removed all hopes for relief or supplies for the Japanese. Troubled by the thought of his people surrendering to the Americans, Japanese emperor Hirohito issued a statement that they would enjoy elevated spiritual status in the afterlife if they took their own lives.
By July 7, the Japanese had nowhere to hide. Their commander said that “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.” So the Japanese military supplied the locals with weapons and launched an early-morning banzai charge on the Americans. The 15-hour battle was brutal, but the Americans inflicted over 4,300 Japanese casualties.
In the end, American forces dealt Japan a serious blow – inflicting the deaths of at least 29,000 troops plus the destruction of its navy and crippling of its air force. On July 9, 1944, after more than three weeks of savage fighting, Saipan was declared under American control, though a small Japanese force evaded capture. Many locals followed their emperor’s orders and took their own lives. So ominous was the defeat that on July 18th, Japan’s Prime Minister Tojo resigned. One Japanese admiral later admitted that their war “was lost with the loss of Saipan.”
Within a week of the battle’s end, American troops also occupied Guam and Tinian. Nimitz was now within striking distance of Tokyo and on November 24th, the first force of B29s took off from Saipan to bomb Japan. Using submarine and air bases on Saipan, Nimitz was eventually able to launch the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa that led to the inevitable defeat of Japan.