After the American assault on the Marshall Islands at the eastern
edge of the Japanese Mandated Islands, and some 1,800 nautical miles
east of the Mariana archipelago, no other islands within the western
Pacific were attacked by United States ground forces until American
fast carrier Task Force 58 reached the islands of Saipan and Tinian.
Both were strongholds of the Empire some 1,200 south of Japan proper.
After several days of naval and air bombardment, American amphibious
forces attacked Saipan on June 15, 1944, and after twenty-five days of
bitter fighting turned their attention toward Tinian, five from Saipan's
On July 23, 1944, the day before the invasion of Tinian, the
island was raked by naval gunfire from three battleships, two heavy
cruisers, three light cruisers and sixteen destroyers, but few ships
were employed to direct their fire at the location of the invasion
beaches as deception was given greater consideration than destruction.
The Japanese were given no indication as to where the amphibious assault
would occur. They expected the landings to take place at Tinian Town.
The blistering naval gun fire was discontinued only long enough to allow
air strikes with napalm. Important road intersections were bombed,
shelled and strafed from the air. Tinian Town was reduced to rubble. The
first napalm bomb ever used was dropped on the town. This new fire bomb
was particularly effective in burning sugar cane fields to reveal
The Japanese garrison on Tinian numbered 8,350 men which included
the 50th Infantry Regiment and the 56th Keibitai (Naval Guard Force).
These troops were under the command of Colonel Takashi Ogata who also
had four Army infantry battalions and the 18th Infantry Tank Company
(nine tanks). Colonel Ogata was aware that an invasion was imminent and
worked furiously to improve the island's defenses. His troops had a high
degree of esprit de corps. Ogata prepared to destroy his enemy at the
water's edge. Failing to do so, his plan was to order his men to fall
back to prepared positions inland and defend them to the last man.
Eight transports carrying two regimental combat teams of the 2nd
Marine Division made a diversionary feint at Tinian Town before
proceeding to White Beach in the north to land in the rear of the first
wave of assault troops. The U. S. Marines' diversionary force went so
far as to lower landing craft from their mother ships and send Marines
scampering down cargo nets as if, from all appearances to the Japanese
on shore, bound for Tinian Town beaches. The Japanese reacted
immediately and fired at the decoy invasion force which lay off shore
beyond the 2,000 meter limit of Japanese artillery fire. The Japanese
hit the Battleship Colorado and one destroyer. The Marines and their
boats were picked up and placed back aboard their vessels and then
proceeded to join the real invasion force to the north at White Beach.
The Japanese 56th Naval Guard Force remained at their positions to
guard Sunharon Bay (Tinian Harbor) and never abandoned the southern
sector to meet the amphibious force landing to the north. The feint to
lead the Japanese to believe the invasion would occur in the vicinity of
Tinian Town was successful.
The objective of the invasion was to obtain sites on which air
bases could be constructed from which long range bombers could attack
Japan. Rear Admiral Harry Hill, U.S.N. was the American commander
responsible for the capture of Tinian. His orders read: "seize, occupy
and defend Tinian." General Cate's 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions
conducted the amphibious landing on July 24, 1944. It was one of the
most successful such operations of the entire war.
Invasion Beach "White" had no man made obstacles. Because it was
only sixty meters long it was an unlikely point for an invasion. The
Japanese defenders had no expectation that a hostile amphibious landing
would be made in the area. U. S. forces achieved complete tactical
surprise -- a rare accomplishment with the Japanese in the Pacific War.
The beach was very narrow for two divisions, their equipment and
supplies. It was a very dangerous undertaking. First in would be the LCI
gunboats, then the amphibian tanks followed by troop-carrying amphibian
By nightfall on July 24th the 4th Marine Division had established a
beach head 2,900 meters wide and almost two kilometers inland. On this
first day, American casualties were 15 killed and 225 wounded. On the
night of the 24th, Colonel Ogata launched a five-hour counter attack at
a cost of 1,241 killed and six tanks lost. This one aborted attack
sealed the fate of the remaining Japanese defenders. After landing, the
Marines pushed across the island to its eastern cliff line to seal off
the entire northern third of the island. They then turned south and
proceeded over the next several days to the southern tip.
Colonel Ogata made his last stand in the south on July 31st and was
killed by machine gun fire while leading a counter attack. He was last
seen hanging over Marine barbed wire. Soon after, Japanese resistance
came to an end. However, isolated remnants of the Japanese continued to
fight on until January, 1945.
Eight days later after the advancing U. S. forces had pushed south,
the island was declared secured. American losses totaled 328 killed and
1,571 wounded. The Japanese lost their entire garrison of 8,000 men .
Photo courtesy of: U.S. National Archive