Contents - Hirohito's War
30 The Invasions of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam: General Tojo Upended
[June 1944–August 1945]
[Maps: 30.1, 30.2, 30.3, 30.4, 30.5]
The Mariana Islands: A History (p 861) Preparations for the Marianas Campaign (p 862) The Battle of Saipan (p 865) The Fall of Tojo (p 870) The Battle of Guam (p 871) Lieutenant-Colonel Carlson’s Battle Plan for Tinian (p 872) The Battle of Tinian (p 874) Colonel Nakagawa’s Preparations on Peleliu (p 877) The Battle of Peleliu (p 879) Tanks in the Pacific War (p 881) Was Peleliu Necessary? (p 883) Advance to Ulithi Atoll and the Logistics of the Central Pacific (p 884)
The Mariana Islands: A History: [Map: 30.1] The invasion of the three main Mariana Islands, comprising fifteen tropical Pacific Ocean islands but largely noted for their main centers of Saipan, Tinian and Guam, was the end game of Admiral Chester Nimitz’s thrust through the Central Pacific. Strategically their airports, some 1,400 miles southwest of Tokyo, would enable the US Army Air Force to begin its long wished for bombardment of Japan’s major industrial cities. For Japan, the island had an importance that went beyond the purely military. Saipan in particular was considered to be a home island. The Portugese explorer Magellan had discovered the Marianas for Spain in 1521 although they were not formally claimed and taken under Spanish control until 1667. Over the next 100 years the indigenous Chamorro population was largely wiped out and the survivors were mainly Spanish mestizo stock. Named after the widow of Philip IV of Spain, Queen Mariana of Austria, the Marianas were put under the jurisdiction of Spain’s Philippine Empire.
After the American conquest of the Philippines in 1898, a by-product of America’s intervention in the Cuban War of Independence, Spain was forced to cede Guam to the United States. For America it was a useful staging post and telegraph point linking the west coast of America to its newly acquired colony, the Philippines. Spain, having decided to exit its Asian Empire, put the other islands in the Marianas up for sale. America, deciding that the price was too steep, lost out to Germany, which was eagerly playing catch-up in the Asian empire game; they paid US$4m and became the proud new owners of Saipan and Tinian. German ownership of these islands was short lived however. Japan, an ally of Britain, took advantage of World War I by occupying Germany’s Asian assets. Although Saipan had been awarded to Japan as a League of Nations mandate after World War I, it was treated by the Japanese as a possession. Airports and military assets were enhanced and, more importantly, Japan invested in a Japanization of the island. The Japanese government encouraged colonization from Okinawa and other parts of southern Japan while at the same time introducing the Japanese language and culture to the indigenous peoples. In effect Saipan became more than an Imperial asset; it became a ‘home island.’
The outbreak of the Pacific War rapidly changed the importance of Saipan. It became a logistic center for the ‘Perimeter’ that formed the heart of Yamamoto’s strategy. A garrison of some 30,000 troops was established over time, increasingly consisting of