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OKINAWA, Japan - The bombardment of Saipan began on June 13, 1944. 165,000 shells were fired, from 15 battleships, in an attempt to neutralize Japanese forces along the shore, allowing U.S. Marines to assault the beaches.
The battle began on June 15, 1944, when the Marines launched an attack on the island of Saipan to gain a strategic position in the Pacific front, with the goal of gaining the Japanese air base located on the island. At 7 a.m. on June 15, 1944, more than 300 amphibious assault vehicles landed 8,000 Marines on the west coast of Saipan by 9 a.m. The invasion on the beach was covered by the supporting fire of 11 battleships.
The Japanese forces strategically placed barbed wire, artillery, machine gun emplacements, and trenches to maximize the American casualties. However, by nightfall, the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions has secured a six mile wide and one mile deep section of the beach front. The Japanese attempted to counterattack during the night, but found themselves sustaining heavy losses.
The invasion had surprised the Japanese, as they were expecting an invasion further south. The Imperial Japanese Navy launched an attack on the American battleships surrounding the island, and were met with heavy losses again, leaving the island impenetrable to resupply or reinforcements for the Japanese forces.
Even though the Japanese had no means of reinforcements or resupply, they were fearless and determined, committed to fighting until the last man fell. The Japanese used the volcanic landscape to their advantage, hiding and waiting in caves and tunnels to delay the American attack. Gradually, the American forces developed methods to counterattack these cave systems, using flamethrowers, artillery and machine guns.
By July 7, the Japanese had nowhere left to retreat, and made plans for their final, suicidal “banzai” charge. Just 3,000 men were left of the able-bodied Japanese forces on Saipan. Together, they charged forward and attacked the American forces, followed even by the injured, bandaged and wounded Japanese soldiers. Their attack almost completely destroyed the U.S. Army’s 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment. This was the last face-to-face encounter of American and Japanese forces on Saipan. The Japanese suffered losses of 4,300 men during this encounter. Faced with impending defeat, many of the remaining Japanese troops committed suicide to avoid the shame of being captured.
On July 9, U.S. naval leadership announced that Saipan was officially secured. Almost every man of the entire, 29,000-strong garrison of Japanese troops had died by the end of this battle. For America, this victory was the most costly in the Pacific front: of 71,000 American troops deployed, 2,949 were killed, and 10,464 wounded in action.
On June 15, 2019, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Saipan, we honor the fallen American and Japanese service members who fearlessly fought for their country.
The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) is an aviation unit of the U.S. Marine Corps, headquartered in Okinawa, that serves as the aviation combat element of the III Marine Expeditionary Force.