10531412897?profile=RESIZE_584xThe Battle of Saipan, fought from 15 June to 9 July 1944, was a critical episode in the Pacific campaign of World War II. This clash unfolded on the island of Saipan, located within the Mariana Islands, marking a pivotal moment in Operation Forager. The meticulously orchestrated assault was initiated when the expansive fleet set sail from Pearl Harbor, a strategic movement that occurred concurrently with the operations of Operation Overlord in Europe.

Forces in Action

The U.S. forces, comprising the 2nd Marine Division, the 4th Marine Division, and the Army's 27th Infantry Division, were under the adept command of Lieutenant General Holland Smith. They faced the formidable 43rd Infantry Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito. The decisive American victory witnessed in Saipan precipitated the resignation of the Prime Minister of Japan, Hideki Tojo, further emphasizing the strategic vulnerability of the Japanese archipelago to the United States Army Air Forces B-29 bombers.

Controversial Command Decisions

A significant and contentious decision during the battle involved Marine General Holland Smith's relief of Army Major General Ralph C. Smith. The discord stemmed from dissatisfaction with the 27th Division's performance, an assessment made without Holland Smith inspecting the challenging terrain his army was navigating.

The envelopment of Saipan's defenders began to materialize in earnest as the Marine divisions on either flank advanced, eating into enemy lines with determination. However, the progress was not universal across the American front; the 27th Infantry Division faced a critical impediment. Their assault commenced tardily and wavered in the face of staunch Japanese resistance. As they attempted to seize control of a strategically positioned valley encompassing a low-lying ridge, they encountered a fierce defense mounted by an estimated 4,000 Japanese combatants.

The arduous combat that ensued around these tactical features — grimly christened "Death Valley" and "Purple Heart Ridge" by American troops — began to distort the American line. The aggressive shape of the advance took on the form of a horseshoe, uncovering dangerous gaps at the flanks of the Marine divisions and compelling a temporary cessation to their offensives.

General Holland Smith, observing the stagnation from the 27th Infantry and perhaps not fully appreciating the contest they faced, decided on a drastic course of action. In a move that sparked immediate controversy, he relieved the division's commander, Major General Ralph Smith, substituting him with Major General Sanderford Jarman. This decision — a Marine general dismissing an Army counterpart — sparked a significant inter-service dispute, marking a low point in Army-Marine relations.


Top photo: Marine Rifle Squad moves inland through ruins. Saipan USMC Photo No. 1-10. From the Frederick R. Findtner Collection (COLL/3890), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections. OFFICIAL USMC PHOTOGRAPH; in the Public Domain.

Middle photo: Marines carry one of their own from battle. Saipan USMC Photo No. 1-15. From the Frederick R. Findtner Collection (COLL/3890), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections. OFFICIAL USMC PHOTOGRAPH; in the Public Domain.

Bottom photo: A VF-1 "Top Hatters" F6F-3 Hellcat fighter is launched from USS Yorktown (CV-10) to intercept enemy forces during the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," 19 June 1944. Note target information board on carrier's island behind the aircraft’s propeller (80-G-248440). Source: Naval History and Heritage Command. In the Public Domain.

Photo album: The Battle of Saipan from Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections.


Though the command had changed hands, the struggle for "Death Valley" was protracted, extending over the course of an additional six arduous days before the valley eventually fell to American forces. This stark delay in progress underscored the complexity of the terrain and the vehement determination of the entrenched Japanese defenders to hold their ground.

10531413065?profile=RESIZE_584xThe Toll of War

The aftermath of Saipan painted a grim picture: over 29,000 Japanese troops lost their lives, coupled with substantial civilian casualties. American casualties also steeped high, with over 3,000 soldiers killed and another 13,000 wounded. Among the wounded was Lee Marvin, who later achieved Hollywood fame. He was serving with the 24th Marine Regiment and sustained injuries from shrapnel, an act of valor that earned him the Purple Heart.

Lee Marvin's Military Service

Before his numerous movies and fame in Hollywood, Lee Marvin dedicated himself to the service of his country in the most arduous of conditions. Enlisting in the United States Marine Corps on 12 August 1942, Marvin initially served as a quartermaster but was soon embroiled in the frontlines of pivotal battles within the Pacific Theater. As a vital member of the 4th Marine Division, his role as a scout sniper subjected him to the harshest realities of war across multiple assaults, including significant operations on Eniwetok and the consequential battle for Saipan-Tinian.

Throughout his service, Marvin disembarked on 21 amphibious assaults upon enemy-controlled isles, an arduous testament to his and his comrades' resilience. His resolve was gravely tested on 18 June 1944, during the strategic offense on Mount Tapochau at the Battle of Saipan. It was there that Marvin sustained severe injuries in the line of duty; a burst of machine gun fire severely damaged his sciatic nerve, and in a subsequent engagement, he endured a sniper's bullet to the foot. The intense encounter resulted in devastation for most of his unit.

His recovery from such grievous wounds required extensive medical attention in naval hospitals spanning over a year, culminating in a medical discharge from the Marines, retaining the rank of private first class, a demotion from corporal, as a disciplinary action for prior indiscretions. Lee Marvin's service awards tell a story of bravery, decorated with the Purple Heart Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, as well as the Combat Action Ribbon.

The Larger Strategic Picture

Saipan's capture was not just a tactical victory but a strategic maneuver that redefined the Pacific theater. The island's location positioned American forces tantalizingly close to the Japanese mainland, a mere 1,300 miles away. The subsequent Battle of the Philippine Sea underscored this by dealing a devastating blow to the Japanese Navy, annihilating its airpower and marking a decisive moment in naval warfare.

The Decisive Battle of the Philippine Sea

The Battle of the Philippine Sea, a monumental clash from June 19–20, 1944, is recognized as a pinnacle turning point in the Pacific War. It was a devastating blow to the operational capabilities of the Imperial Japanese Navy's carrier forces. Notably, it was the last of the major carrier-versus-carrier battles of World War II, involving unprecedented scales of engagement, with 24 aircraft carriers deploying approximately 1,350 aircraft. Amidst the United States' amphibious invasion of the Mariana Islands, the Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy confronted the Japanese Mobile Fleet, alongside ships and aircraft stationed on neighboring islands.

10973403690?profile=RESIZE_584xThe aerial component of the conflict earned the irreverent moniker, "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot," due to the staggeringly disproportionate losses suffered by Japanese forces at the hands of skilled American pilots and advanced anti-aircraft defenses. This nomenclature stemmed from an anecdotal comparison to a recreational bird hunt, reflecting the ease with which American forces decimated the inexperienced and poorly trained Japanese aviators. Key to the battle's outcome was the Americans' decisive tactical advantage—steeped in rigorous pilot training, numerical superiority, and the revolutionary employment of proximity fuzes in anti-aircraft weaponry.

Intelligence advantage also played a critical role. The Allies had recovered critical Japanese strategic plans from the wreckage of Admiral Mineichi Koga's aircraft earlier in the year, granting them insight into Japanese battle strategies. This compromised the Japanese defense and further tilted the scales in favor of the Allied forces. During the engagement, American submarines greatly contributed to the attrition of Japanese naval power by sinking two principal Japanese fleet carriers. Despite a strain on returning American aircraft due to fuel shortages as night approached, the damage inflicted on the Japanese was irrecoverable. The Imperial Japanese Navy, henceforth, faced a crippling decline in carrier air strength and receded from aggressive carrier warfare, leaving its surviving vessels to languish in port for the remainder of the conflict. The Battle of the Philippine Sea, coupled with the subsequent Battle of Leyte Gulf, unequivocally signaled the closure of Japanese carrier operations, a decisive moment that inexorably pushed the Pacific Theatre towards its ultimate resolution.

The Implications of Victory

The allied victory at Saipan pierced Japan's Exclusive National Defense Sphere, instigating notable disruptions within the Japanese government and military command. The fall of Saipan led to Tojo's resignation and signified a turning point in the war's narrative, with Japan's defeat becoming seemingly inevitable. The battle's successful outcome—facilitated by the strategic foresight of figures like Richmond K. Turner, Holland Smith, and Raymond Spruance—ushered in a new era in Pacific warfare, demonstrating the indomitable strength and resilience of Allied forces.



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