Saturday, August 03, 2019

August 1944 and the American POWs of Japan

75 years ago, August 1944, the the end of WWII in the Pacific was in sight.

Whereas in Europe there was June's D-Day at Normandy, July in the Pacific saw a series of equally dramatic D-Days. The campaigns to capture the Mariana Islands–Saipan, Tinian and Guam–would cut off Japan from its resource-rich southern empire and clear the way for further advances to Tokyo. At Saipan and Tinian, the islands nearest to Japan, U.S. forces could establish crucial air bases from which the U.S. Army’s new long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers could inflict punishing strikes on Japan’s Home Islands ahead of an Allied invasion. Guam was personal. On December 10, 1941, it was the first U.S. territory to fall to Japan.

The Marines stormed ashore on Saipan on June 15, 1944 planning for a 3-day fight. Japanese forces proved greater and more ferocious than anticipated. U.S. bombing of the island had been ineffective. The bitter and bloody battle, the first conducted around a substantial civilian population, lasted three weeks through July 9. How the U.S. finally won, became the template for the rest of the war in the Pacific.

The first American POWs on Saipan were from a B-24 Liberator that crashed into the waters near Saipan on May 29, 1944. Piloted by Captain Loren Arthur Stoddard (CA), the 10-man crew was on a photo reconnaissance mission leading up to the American invasion of the island. Six of the men died on impact. Four survived in a raft for four days that drifted towards Saipan. On June 2, the men were picked up by a Japanese patrol, questioned for four days then flown to Japan where they were taken to the Ofuna Naval Interrogation Center in Kamakura, the infamous torture facility. Paralyzed from the waist down, Bombardier 1st Lt. Ernest Ferdinan Peschau, Jr. (NC) died en-route from Saipan on June 8th. Captain Stoddard, Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Peter Hryskanich (NY), and Radio TSgt Lincoln S. Manierre (CT) survived their ordeal.

suicide cliff
The conclusion of the battle on Saipan made a lasting impression on American war planners. At dawn on July 7, the Japanese launched a gyokusai attack. (roughly translated as broken jewels, a reference to the destruction of an entire Japanese unit, a suicide attack that is sometimes called a banzai attack) The exact number of attackers will never be known, but it is estimated that more than 4,000 Japanese participated in this last-ditch assault on the American forces. A dozen or so Japanese soldiers carrying red flags led the way. Behind them came the remaining able-bodied Japanese soldiers. Behind that group of 3,000 men were the wounded, many on crutches and unable to carry a gun. Along with the wounded were the civilians of Saipan, carrying bamboo spears. The battle lasted 15 hours, leaving 650 American soldiers dead or wounded, and 4,300 Japanese killed.

As the fighting on Saipan continued, Japanese citizens headed to the Northern tip of the island. There they chose two specific areas, known today as Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff, and jumped to their deaths as families. The majority of the suicides happened in the last four days of fighting, between July 8th and July 12th.

By the end of the fighting, nearly 30,000 Japanese soldiers were dead, 5,000 by their own hands, including the island's Commander General Gen. Yoshitsugu Saito , who was found dead in a cave alongside Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the Naval commander who lead the Japanese carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor. Only 921 prisoners were captured. Of the 25,000 Japanese civilians on Saipan, 22,000 were dead as well, almost all of them having taken their own lives. Total casualties for the Marines and soldiers who fought on Saipan amounted to 786 officers and 13,438 enlisted men killed, wounded or missing in action.

Saipan showed American war planners that there were long, hard battles ahead against an enemy determined not to surrender, but to ensure as many casualties, military and civilian, as their defeat. Saipan became the measure for a future battles, especially in planning for the invasion of Japan. The battle for Japan was expected to look much like the battle for Saipan: large ground forces, air support, a civilian population, rugged terrain, a suicidal defense to the last man. The “Saipan Ratio” was developed to determine how the future battle would unfold. For example, on Saipan the Americans lost four soldiers for every seven Japanese. Planners figured there were roughly 3.5 million enemy soldiers waiting for them on Japan. As they applied the Saipan Ratio of 4:7 to the invasion of Japan, they estimated American casualties would be roughly 2 million, 500,000 of which would be killed and the rest wounded. This assumed a battle lasting roughly two months. If it dragged on, casualties would go up from there.

Another lesson of Saipan, was that America's African American Marines were more than ready and able for battle. Saipan was the first use of the Montford Point Marines in combat during World War II. First used to unload food and ammunition from landing vehicles and deliver the supplies under fire to troops on Saipan's beach, they were soon in combat fighting alongside the white Marines. The Montford Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold medal in 2011 in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to their country during World War II.
MacArthur, Roosevelt, Nimitz

The loss of Saipan stunned the political establishment in Tokyo. Many of Saipan’s citizens were Japanese, and the loss of Saipan marked the first defeat in Japanese territory that had not been added during Japan’s aggressive expansion by invasion in 1941 and 1942. Worse still, General Hideki Tojo, Japan’s wartime prime minister, had publicly promised that the United States would never take Saipan. He and his cabinet, which included Kishi (Abe's grandfather) was forced to resign barely a week after the U.S. conquest of the island, July 18th.

After Saipan, American troops turned toward Guam and Tinian. On July 8th, cruisers and destroyers of Task Group 53.18, commanded by Rear Adm. Charles Turner Joy, began daily bombardment operations on Japanese defenses in Guam. Battleships joined the bombardment group on July 14. U.S. Marines and soldiers made amphibious landings on July 21. Guam was secured August 10. The assault on Tinian began July 24 and formal fighting ended by August 1.

click to order
And not to be forgotten, on July 13, 1944, after being adrift in the Pacific for 43 day when his B-24, Green Hornet, crashed during a rescue mission, California Olympian and Airman Louis Zamperini (CA) is captured by the Imperial Japan Navy near the Kwajalein Atoll known as “Execution Island.” He is transported to Kwajalein after three days. In his cell he discovers carved on the wall “Nine Marines marooned on Makin Island, August 18, 1942,” followed by their names). The Marines, he learned, had been executed. He was soon taken to Japan and the Ofuna Naval Interrogation Center in Kamakura,

In the midst of these battles, July 26-27 , the Pacific Strategy Conference was held in Hawaii. President Roosevelt met with Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur at Pearl Harbor to decide the next priority of the war in the Pacific: Formosa or the Philippines. On the island, Roosevelt witnessed exercises in preparation of the invasion of Japan.

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