Tinian is a 12 mile long by 6 mile wide island three miles off the southern coast of Saipan. It isn’t as rugged as Saipan, but almost completely encircled by tall cliffs which vary anywhere from six to 100 feet. Its proximity to Saipan, its 9,000 Japanese defenders, and its suitability for a large air base made the island a target for capture and pacification. Tinian thus became the next mission assigned to V Amphibious Corps. General Smith was replaced by the former 4th Marine Division commander, Harry Schmidt [Note 1].
For 43 days beginning on 11 June 1944, the U. S. Navy began a sustained campaign of bombing Tinian. Army and Marine Corps artillery batteries, firing from the southern tip of Saipan, joined the assault on 20 June firing, in total, more than 24,000 rounds of 155 mm ammunition. V Amphibious Corps scheduled an invasion for 24 July 1944. The troops would go ashore on two narrow beaches on the northwestern side of the island. The 2nd Marine Division would make a feint toward the southwest coast in order to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing the actual landing site.
Even a feint can produce a lethal result. At dawn on 24 July, a navy convoy with seven transports appeared on the horizon off the coast of Tinian town. The 2nd and 8th Marines loaded into landing craft, rendezvoused at a point four miles offshore and began their feint. At about 2,000 yards, the Japanese opened fire with large calibre mortars. The landing craft turned about and headed back out to sea. Japanese 6-inch shore batteries then opened up on the USS Colorado (BB-45) and the USS Norman Scott (DD-690). Colorado was hit 22 times within 15 minutes, Norman Scott received six rounds. In total, navy casualties exceeded 60 killed and 240 wounded. The Marines suffered no casualties.
The feint landing force was re-embarked and headed to join the 4th Marine Division by 1100. By this time, the 4th division was already ashore. The 2nd division came in behind them, with 1/8 the first battalion ashore. Because it was late in the day, 1/8 went into reserve for the 4th Marine Division; the rest of the 2nd Marine Division would come ashore the next day. The Japanese assaulted the American perimeter three times during that night.
Colonel Wallace [Note 2] and the 8th Marines headquarters came ashore just after dawn the next morning, the balance of his regiment following later in the day. The Japanese attempted to counter these landing operations through sporadic and ineffective artillery fire.
Once the 8th Marines was again intact, the battalions moved out of the perimeter to expand the beachhead. The 8th Marines primary objective was Ushi Point, the northern-most peninsula. At first, the regiment experienced no opposition, but this changed as the Marines worked their way over the gnarled and rocky terrain. Enemy snipers and machine gun fire sent the Marines into cover and the advance came to a standstill late in the morning when 1/8 came into contact with a company of Japanese riflemen. The Marines flanked the enemy and they were soon neutralized. After the regiment moved forward once again, 2/8 set the pace to the airfield at Ushi Point. Upon arrival, the 8th Marines tied in with 1/24 and the Marines went into bivouac.
The regiment moved against the airfield on the next morning only to find it abandoned with the wreckage of Japanese aircraft strewn along the landing strip—the result of the Navy’s bombardments. 1/8 and 2/8 proceeded to the east coast, confirming that the enemy had departed the area. 8th Marines then went into Corps reserve and saw little enemy action for the next few days. A typhoon slammed the island on 28 July and the Marines remained soaking wet for the next two days.
By the end of the month, Marines had cleared the northern end of the island; the Japanese had relocated south. The 2nd Marine Division moved south to join the 4th in pursuit of the enemy. The 8th Marines was ordered to support the right flank of the 2nd division’s front. By the end of the day, the 8th Marines were in place and the men went into bivouac.
By the next morning, the Japanese were compressed within a small area on the southern end of Tinian. The navy launched a massive bombardment; within two hours, 625 tons of munitions had been lobbed into the Japanese position. When the firing stopped, the Marines moved out and confront whatever remained of the entrapped Japanese.
In the 2nd Marine Division’s front was a cliff where some number of Japanese had taken refuge. Colonel Wallace directed 1/8 (LtCol Lawrence C. Hays [Note 3]) and 3/8 (LtCol Gavin C. Humphrey) to assault this position, 2/8 (LtCol Lane C. Kendall) following in trace mopping up isolated pockets of the enemy. 8th Marines’ forward units reached the base of a massif at around noon with elements of the 4th division on their right. 3/8 was ordered to scale the heights where there were several caves and crevices masked by dense foliage. From these positions, the Japanese directed intense fire down upon the Marines. The navy’s bombardment had not done its job and 3/8 was pulled back.
Meanwhile, 1/8 had started its own ascent, their forward movement continuing despite heavy Japanese fire. Two platoons made it to the top of the massif at around 1630. Colonel Wallace directed 3/8 to continue his assault. At 1700, Kendall moved up to support Humphrey. Meanwhile, three companies of Hays’ battalion had pushed their way to the top of the cliff. As Kendall moved his 2nd battalion into position to follow in trace, the Japanese launched a strong infantry assault on Echo Company, forcing 2/8 to assume a defensive perimeter for the night.
That night, the Japanese initiated several probing assaults to discover weaknesses in the Marine line. Contact between Hays and Humphrey was lost. Just after midnight, the Japanese infiltrated a large group of soldiers behind the Marine positions and launched an attack against Kendall’s 2/8. The Marines drove the Japanese back and then launched a counter-attack killing most of the infiltrators. Colonel Wallace requested reinforcements. The division commander ordered 3/6 to move up at 0320 to support the 8th Marines. Artillery was assigned fire missions on the hill.
At 0515, six-hundred Japanese soldiers and sailors assaulted the 8th Marines. Kendall’s battalion was hardest hit, and Echo Company took the brunt of the attack. The enemy failed to penetrate the Marine’s lines, but again, Echo Company was nearly overrun in a fanatical banzai charge. Echo Company’s survival was likely the result of two 37mm guns employed with canister shot into the enemy assault. When the Japanese withdrew, they left behind 200 dead. 8th Marines suffered 74 killed and wounded.
Hardest hit, Kendall’s battalion went into reserve. At daybreak, Humphrey made his way to the top of the cliff and linked up with Hays’ battalion and 3/6. Kendall’s 2/8 reached the top a short while later. From this position, the Marines discovered a large body of Japanese and Korean civilians hiding in the caves.
Tinian was declared secure on 1 August 1944, but there did remain surviving pockets of Japanese enemy who had no intention of surrendering. The 8th Marines assumed sole responsibility for finding and dealing with Japanese holdouts. This task kept Hays’ 1/8 busy for the rest of the year. Between 1 August and 1 January 1945, an additional 500 Japanese were killed; the Marines lost 38 killed and suffered 125 wounded in action routing them out —which was approximately half the total casualties suffered by the 8th Marines during the actual operation.
In total, the Americans suffered 1,900 casualties on Tinian. The Japanese dead came to 5,500.
The United States began constructing a B-29 air base at Tinian almost immediately. The atomic weapons dropped on the Japanese homeland were launched from Tinian. But in January 1945, the war was far from over.
Next week: Okinawa
- Santelli, J. S. A Brief History of the 8th Marines. Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, USMC, 1976
- Rottman, G. L. U. S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle, 1939-45. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002
- Rottman, G. L. And Howard Gerrard. Saipan and Tinian 1944. Oxford: Osprey Publishing 2004.
- Potter, E. B. And Chester Nimitz. Sea Power: A Naval History. Prentice Hall, 1960.
- General Schmidt (1886-1968) (known as Dutch to his friends) was commissioned a second lieutenant on 17 August 1909. In a career spanning nearly 40 years, Schmidt served at sea, in South and Central America, and China. As Commanding General, 4th Marine Division and Commander, Fifth Amphibious Corps, he led Marines at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. He was awarded the Navy Cross, Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3), Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star Medal (with combat V device).
- Gerald R. Wallace (1897-1988) received his commission as a Marine after graduation from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1919. In addition to normal sea service, Wallace served in Haiti, China, and England. During World War II, he participated in combat operations at Kwajalein, Saipan, and Tinian. Colonel Wallace was advanced to Brigadier General on the retired list on 30 June 1949. His military decorations include the Legion of Merit (2) (with combat V device) and the Bronze Star Medal (with combat V device).
- While serving as a major, Hays was wounded on Tarawa; he participated in the battles of Saipan and Tinian.