The Battle of Tinian, fought between 24 July and 1 August  1944, was central to the Marianas campaign, and critical in undermining Japanese defenses and enabling American forces to gain a strategic foothold. A prelude to victory, the capture of Saipan set the stage for the assault on Tinian, a mere three miles away. The proximity of Tinian to Saipan rendered it a pivotal target for U.S. forces. The island's terrain, relatively flat compared to its neighbors, was perfectly suited for airfield construction, particularly for the deployment of the cutting-edge B-29 bombers. Japan's existing runways on Tinian were of great tactical interest to the American military, signaling the potential to position U.S. bombers within range of Japan's home islands.

The defense of Tinian fell to Colonel Kiyochi Ogata and his contingent of 9,000 Japanese troops. They faced an impending onslaught meticulously planned since April 1944.

The choice of the northwestern beaches for the initial landing on Tinian was strategic, leveraging the element of surprise over predictable tactics. This maneuver required not just innovative planning but also the construction of specially designed ramps to accommodate the limited capacity of the beaches, ensuring that the attacking forces could land efficiently despite the spatial constraints. The preparatory bombardment, beginning on 16 July, was a masterclass in deception and firepower. A formidable naval fleet, comprising 3 battleships, 5 cruisers, and 16 destroyers, concentrated their firepower on the southwestern side of Tinian, perpetuating the illusion of a direct assault there. Meanwhile, the relentless assault by long-range bombers, Navy aircraft from escort carriers, and the formidable P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, utilizing the newly introduced napalm bombs, devastated Japanese positions. This comprehensive approach not only confused the Japanese forces about the actual landing site but also significantly weakened their defensive capabilities, setting the stage for what was to be a critical phase in the Pacific Theatre.

Under the leadership of MajGen Harry Schmidt, the operation commenced with a relentless pre-invasion barrage, combining naval, air, and artillery firepower. Intelligence gathered from reconnaissance missions and captured documents on Saipan offered a detailed representation of the island's topography. Additionally, Tinian marked the first substantial use of napalm, a measure that proved pivotal in clearing vegetation and ground cover.

Choosing a landing site was fraught with challenges. Tinian's coast, largely defined by steep coral escarpments, offered limited options for amphibious landings. Despite the heavy fortifications and defenses mounted by Japanese forces at the most viable landing sites, Allied forces ultimately decided on a northwestern beachhead. Reconnaissance by the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion informed the strategic decision to stage the landing at these less defended, albeit narrow, beaches.


Top photo: Marines wading ashore. USMC Archives: Tinian USMC Photo No. 10-6. From the William Luc Collection (COLL/5424), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections. Official USMC photograph.

Middle photo: Moving inland. USMC Archives: Tinian USMC Photo No. 10-15. From the William Luc Collection (COLL/5424), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections. Official USMC photograph.

Bottom photo: Burial at Sea. USMC Archives: Tinian USMC Photo No. 10-19. From the William Luc Collection (COLL/5424), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections. Official USMC photograph.


The initial landings by the 4th Marine Division on the White beaches on 24 July 1944, unfolded with remarkable success, underpinned by the relentless naval bombardment and Army artillery firing from Saipan across the strait. Despite the overall effectiveness of the operation, the deception tactics employed on the southwest side encountered unexpectedly severe resistance, marking this as the instance of most significant casualties due to Japanese shore batteries observed in any such operation during the war. Hidden adeptly within caves, three 6-inch guns—relics seized by the Japanese from the British defenses in Singapore—had eluded the comprehensive shore bombardment. At precisely 0740, these concealed weapons zeroed in on the battleship Colorado (BB-45), stationed 3,000 yards offshore for bombardment duties, inflicting substantial damage and underscoring the formidable challenge posed by the Japanese defenses despite the extensive preparatory assault.

10733846882?profile=RESIZE_584xThe destroyer Norman Scott (DD-690), stationed 1,800 yards offshore, executed a daring maneuver to divert enemy gunfire from the heavily damaged Colorado. This bold strategy momentarily shifted Japanese attention and firepower towards Norman Scott, resulting in the ship sustaining six direct hits from 6-inch shells within a mere 15 minutes. A particularly devastating salvo breached the bridge, claiming the lives of Commander Seymore D. Owens, the ship’s commanding officer, alongside the officer of the deck and the entire bridge crew. This attack resulted in a total of 22 fatalities and left 50 others wounded, including the executive officer who sustained severe injuries. The damage incurred disabled a 5-inch gun and a 40-mm gun mount, inflicted widespread destruction throughout the destroyer, and led to several hours of explosions from onboard ammunition.

In the wake of this tragedy, leadership aboard the Norman Scott fell temporarily to Lieutenant Junior Grade Will C. Jumper. Despite the significant impairment to their operational capabilities, Lt. JG Jumper successfully managed to steer the vessel using its engines and continue engagement with shore targets utilizing the four operational 5-inch guns under local control. Commander Owens was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his valorous leadership. In honor of his heroic actions, the destroyer USS Seymour D. Owens (DD-767) was named, though its construction was ultimately discontinued. Despite his valiant efforts and the critical role he played, Lt. JG Jumper did not receive formal recognition for his actions during this harsh engagement.

Meanwhile, the battleship Colorado (BB-45), positioned 3,000 yards offshore, suffered even more extensively, enduring 22 hits from the concealed Japanese battery in rapid succession. Although the 6-inch shellfire did not breach Colorado's armored core, the damage to the ship's upper structure was catastrophic, particularly among the anti-aircraft crew, resulting in 43 casualties and 198 injuries, 97 of whom required extensive hospitalization. Anti-aircraft capabilities were notably diminished, with seven guns rendered inoperative.

Colorado had been absent from Pearl Harbor during the December 1941 attack due to an overhaul in Bremerton, which meant she had not undergone the same level of modernization and armament enhancement as her sister ships that had been sunk, damaged, then salvaged and refitted after the assault. The shells and the ship’s own anti-aircraft munitions created lethal shrapnel fields, causing grim casualties among the crew, with many of the dead being rendered unrecognizable. Despite the substantial, though superficial, damage, Colorado managed to target and, along with the light cruiser Cleveland (CL-55) and destroyer Remey (DD-688), eventually silence the offensive battery. Complete neutralization of the threat, however, was only achieved on July 28, with the Pearl Harbor-surviving battleship Tennessee (BB-43) bombarding the site with 70 14-inch and 150 5-inch shells, definitively ending the battery’s capability to inflict further harm.

The 2d and 4th Marine Divisions led the charge, supported by the Army's 27th Division on standby. A successful diversionary feint near Tinian Town focused Japanese defenses away from the real landing zones, White 1 and White 2 beaches, allowing the Marine Divisions to gain a foothold with fewer casualties than anticipated. Opposition, though present in the form of machine gun and rifle fire, could not withstand the amphibious landing at 7:45 am. The element of surprise was instrumental, and by the end of J-Day, the U.S. Marines held the advantage with minimal losses.

10733910098?profile=RESIZE_584xThe ensuing Japanese counterattack on the first night was fierce, but the defense mounted by the Marines, despite their reduced numbers in some companies, was unyielding. Dawn saw the end of the Japanese offensive and the beginning of the Marines' consolidation and advance. Over the next few days, the American troops experienced little resistance as they secured strategic locations, including Ushi Point Airfield.

However, the ultimate conquest of Tinian was anything but simple. The Japanese troops, retreating toward the south, entrenched themselves within the island's natural defenses of hills and caves. Confrontations grew more intense, mandating meticulous combat operations to dismantle the lingering pockets of resistance. American forces rained down a relentless bombardment on the southern region to dislodge remaining adversaries. On August 1, after repelling two desperate banzai charges, American troops claimed victory. Tinian was declared secure, although mopping-up operations to eradicate the remnants of Japanese forces persisted for months.

The victory at Tinian required the sacrifice of 384 Marines, with an additional 1,961 wounded. The well-planned and executed operation, renowned for its effectiveness and low casualty rate, would stand in military annals as one of the most flawless amphibious operations of World War II. Post-battle, the captured island of Tinian played a dramatic role in the war's culmination. It served as the launch point for the Enola Gay and the subsequent atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.



"H-033-3 Tinian Landings." Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.history.navy.mil/about-us/leadership/director/directors-corner/h-grams/h-gram-033/H-033-3.html.

"Marines in World War II: Tinian." Marine Corps University. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.usmcu.edu/Research/Marine-Corps-History-Division/Brief-Histories/Marines-in-World-War-II/Tinian/.

Mawdsley, Evan. The War for the Seas: A Maritime History of World War II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

McManus, John C. Island Infernos: The US Army's Pacific War Odyssey, 1944. London: Penguin, 2021.

Symonds, Craig L. World War II at Sea: A Global History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

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