The Battle of Saipan – A Dark Chapter in World History

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Battle of Saipan

The battle between the United States Forces and the Japanese Forces which was fought on the island of Saipan, gave history another bloody account. It was the first battle of its kind, when the US Forces in the Pacific faced a large civilian population. Thousands of people lost their lives on the Island. Today, that is 15 June, 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of the bloodbath Saipan had witnessed. The day also honors the American and Japanese martyrs who fought for their countries fearlessly and we also mourn the death of the innocent civilians who lost their lives on this day 75 years ago.

Some Important Facts:

Location of Saipan: 

Belonging to the Mariana Archipelago in the Pacific, it is the second largest island in the group after Guam Island. In 1944, nearly 30,000 troops were based on the Island.

Date of the battle:

15 June to 9 July, 1944

Saipan Invasion Codename: 

Operation Forager [as mentioned in a post published in japantimes.co.jp]

Generals/Commanders in charge:

US Front: Richmond K. Turner and Holland Smith

Japanese Front: Yoshitsugu Saito, Chuichi Nagumo, Takio Takagi and Matsuji Iluin.

Casualties:

Japanese Front: Out of the entire troop of 30,000, only 921 survivors were captured, rest died.

US Front: A troop of 71,000 landed, out of which 3,000 were killed and 10,000 were severely injured.

Outcome of the Battle:

The US stood victorious, but it faced a relentless population at the Island, which refused to surrender. The civilians and many solidiers committed suicide by jumping from cliffs , thereafter the Island has come to be known as the ‘Suicide Island’.

What led to the  Battle of Saipan?

It all started in December 1941, with the Central Pacific Campaign, one of the longest in World War II when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and severely damaged the US Fleet. Soon after, Germany and Italy declared war on the US, from where started one of the darkest chapters of World History. ‘World War II was waged on land, on sea and in the air over several diverse theatres of operation for approximately six years’ as quoted by MPW Stone Secretary of the US Army.

The Battle of Saipan was just one of the series of the Pacific Campaign. How things got uglier and reached the beautiful Island is mentioned as follows.

  • Japan carried out a relentless attack, acquiring the US territories of Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines and also the British territories of Hong Kong, Malaya and Burma so that the Pacific Fleet does not interfere with the series of its conquests. 
  • Japan also threatened the American supply routes to Australia, which was supposed to be the ground for offensive action by the US.
  • The US and its allies in Australia and New Zealand began a counter attack across the Pacific, which came to be known as the Pacific Campaign. Japanese held territories were acquired by the allied forces, with a goal to secure airfields and supply bases that could serve as launching points for future attacks.
  • By 1944, the naval and aerial strikes by the US reduced the Japanese bases in the central Pacific (when the Marshal and Mariana chains were acquired by the allied forces).
  • The Mariana Archipelago, was a part of the Japanese Empire since 1914, and was mandated to Japan by the League of Nations in 1919. Saipan Island, the second largest island of the Mariana Archipelago was a valuable asset for the US, thus making it a target of the Allied Forces.

Causes which triggered the Battle of Saipan

[As per an article published on Historynet.com ]

Possession of the Island of Saipan was a very critical objective for the US Forces owing to its location in the Mariana Islands which was equidistant between the Japan mainland and Philippines.

  • The US were aiming to acquire Saipan to make it a crucial air base, from where it could launch its long range B-29 bombers directly at Japan.
  • To cut off Japan Forces from the South of Saipan and the Japanese mainland itself.
  • Possession of the island was targeted to reduce resupply routes between the Japanese home islands and the Japanese garrisons in the Central Pacific, providing a niche for the US forces to acquire the other islands.
  • The US also envisioned that Saipan would serve as a springboard to acquire the Philippines in near future as per a post by W. Eugene Smith on magnumphotos.com.

Let us dive into the Battle Details

  • In the early hours of 15 June, 1944, the US Forces stormed the beaches of the Saipan Island in amphibious landing vehicles. By the end of the day, there were more than 2000 US casualties.
  • The next morning, on 16 June, the Japanese launched a strong counter attack against the 4th Marine division. They cleverly put the civilians including the women and the children in the front of the attacking forces to create an impression that they were about to surrender.
  • After the tactic applied by the Japanese Forces, the US force stopped distinguishing between the combatants and the non-combatants, thus several civilians died at the hands of the US Marines.
  • The following days witnessed a tough clash between the US and the Japanese Forces.
  • June 30 was the beginning of the end of the Saipan Battle. The US forces kept moving facing tough resistance from the Japanese Forces.
  • According to a post on Historynet.com, on 7th July the Japanese launched large scale suicide attacks. Japanese soldiers who were injured an disabled were killed on the orders by the Japanese Commanders. The commanders themselves committed suicide later.
  • The Japanese Forces faced a severe defeat with heavy casualties at both the ends. Saipan was officially declared, acquired by the US Forces on 9th June, 1944.

Briefing Up 

The possession of Saipan gave a severe blow to both the political and military administration of Japan.This was followed by the attack on the island of Tinian. Tinian was supposed to become the airbase for B-29s which dropped the deadly Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs claiming several innocent lives and the aftereffects of which exists even today.

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