The Battle of Tinian...
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    The Battle of Tinian...

    Bryan Mark Rigg, author and historian

    In the 1970s there was a fictional television show called “Baa Baa Black Sheep” based on the exploits of fighter ace USMC Col. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and his squadron of pilots in the Pacific. The show made the capture of these steppingstone islands seem effortless.

    The reality was usually the exact opposite.

    The U.S. Marines shed blood as they fought their way across the world's biggest ocean to seize each tiny foothold as we grew closer and closer to Japan. But sometimes the reality was better: “Tinian was the perfect amphibious operation in the Pacific War,” said USMC General Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith.

    After the island of Saipan was secured in July 1944, Guam and Tinian moved up on the list of steppingstones to Japan.

    Tinian was a smaller, flatter island that already had two, 4,700-foot-long runways and another three under construction. To use either island as an air base, the Americans had to control both. USMC Major General Harry “The Dutchman” Schmidt commanded the Tinian landing force of two divisions from Saipan and used Lt. General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith’s Chief-of-Staff, Brigadier General Graves B. Erskine, to plan his campaign.

    Most who attacked Tinian were based on Saipan and could see Tinian’s northern shores.

    On 24 July 1944, the invasion began, code name Jig-Day.

    After a diversionary landing on the southwest coast off Tinian Town, an amphibious force of 39,000 Marines of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions invaded Tinian on the northwest coast, three and a half miles from Saipan. More than 9,000 Japanese defended the island, many of whom were hardened veterans from Manchuria.

    In a brilliant landing, the Marines achieved “complete tactical surprise” from staging areas at Saipan’s most southern end, arriving on two tiny beaches at the northern tip that the Japanese deemed impossible for major landings. Following Erskine’s instructions, the Marines placed their artillery south of Saipan’s Aslito Airfield and covered the landing forces with curtains of fire using 156 field pieces.

    At the same time, planes flew sorties from the airfield to support attacking Marines. For the first time in combat, those planes used napalm bombs (fire bombs “consisting of a jettisonable tank carried under the belly of a fighter plane and containing a mixture of gasoline with about 6 percent napalm jelly” according to the official Marine Corps history).

    Tinian was smaller and not as rugged as Saipan or Guam, but it still was daunting to conquer. Thousands of Marines engaged in fierce fighting, sealing off caves, shooting Japanese soldiers, and fending off Banzai attacks.

    At the end of the first week after landing on the island, the Marines slaughtered the perpetrators of a mass Banzai on 31 July taking out a large percentage of the Japanese garrison. Their success prompted an officer to say, “You don’t need tanks. You need undertakers. I never saw so many dead Japs.” In eight days, the Marines killed almost all the Japanese, but suffered few casualties: 290 killed, 1,515 wounded and 24 missing-in-action. The kill-ratio was 13 to one in favor of the Marines. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance described this operation as “probably the most brilliantly conceived and executed amphibious operation” of World War II.

    Similar to Saipan, many of the 13,000 Japanese civilians and 2,700 Korean laborers on Tinian committed suicide or were murdered by their own soldiers. Once again, IJA soldiers not only took their creed of “never surrender” to heart, but pressured Japanese civilians to kill themselves as well. Like at Marpi Point on Saipan, 2,500 adults threw small children and themselves off Marpo Point at the southeastern coast of Tinian. The 23rd Marines issued the following report on 3 August:

    “Several freak incidents occurred during the day: (1) Jap children thrown [by their parents] over cliff into ocean; (2) [Japanese] military grouped civilians in numbers of 15 to 20 and attached explosive charges to them, blowing them to bits; (3) Both military and civilians lined up on the cliff and hurled themselves into the ocean; (4) Many civilians pushed over cliff by [Japanese] soldiers.

    Between the mass suicides, murders by their own military personnel and deaths due to getting caught in the crossfire, it was estimated that a total of 4,000 citizens out of an original 13,000 (or 31 percent) died in this battle.

    And, like at Saipan, the Tinian commanders, Imperial Japanese Navy Captain Goichi Oya and Imperial Japanese Army Colonel Kiyochi Ogata, committed suicide. Imperial servicemen killed themselves by either jumping off cliffs or shooting themselves in the head after “helping” civilians take their own lives and those of their children. Trying to make sense of it, Marine Corps veteran Woody Williams said,

    “Think about it, if the most horrible thing you can do in your culture is surrender and the most honorable thing you can do for your country and family is commit suicide, most often, if this is how you were brought up, you’re naturally going to kill yourself. It all comes to how you were raised.”

    The battle officially came to an end on 1 August 1944.

    The Seabees (aka Navy Construction Battalion) completed some of their most impressive work on Tinian, moving “more than 11 million cubic yards of mud, rock and coral to build the world’s largest bomber base” which boasted six runways, each 1.5 miles long. It would prove an ideal place to launch sorties of B-29s carrying atomic bombs. The Seabees, many being from New York City, gridded out the island as if it were Manhattan with the same street names and popular landmarks like Broadway and Central Park (the island is the same form and slightly bigger than the island of Manhattan).

    An island that has only around 2,500 citizens today ballooned out to support 75,000 servicemen after the U.S. seized it.

    It was from Tinian’s flat terrain that a B-29 named Enola Gay would take off one year later from the northern airfield, bearing in its belly the atomic bomb Little Boy destined for Hiroshima that hopefully would mark the beginning of the war’s end.

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  2. #2
    Super Moderator Platinum Member USMC 2571's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
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    I remember the USMC history classes in boot camp and how the Corps insisted that all of these battles be remembered.

  3. #3
    Same same Dave, our history and the pride of our Corps was deeply engrained within us as well. Great post Mike, I haven't thought of Tinian in a long time.

  4. #4
    It has always amazed me how out of all the thousands of battles we have fought over the years. It seems like only a few are remembered.

  5. #5
    I remember Tinian as my father fought there as well as on Saipan. But I'm also a military history nut, particularly WWII in the Pacific.

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