Saipan. D+14. June 29, 1944

If anyone wished to stroll down the lines of First Battalion on June 29, 1944, the logical place to begin was on the relatively safe, secured battalion right. Here, one could see the flank platoon of Baker Company with machine guns still set up for night defense, possibly trading jibes and jokes with their counterparts in 3/24, whose lines extended off and out of sight to the right. Continuing down the line through each of Baker Company’s rifle platoons, the observer would reach Captain Schechter’s Company A—and begin ducking early rounds of Japanese mortar and machine gun fire, both from the front and the rear.

Two water-cooled MGs guard a sector of Marine line. The "heavies" were generally only deployed overnight; during the day, the crews used the lighter air-cooled versions for greater ease of movement.
Two water-cooled MGs guard a sector of Marine line. The “heavies” were generally only deployed overnight; during the day, the crews used the lighter air-cooled versions for greater ease of movement. Still from USMC combat film.

The two-company front stretched 200 yards from Baker Company’s right flank to the leftmost foxhole of Company A—the end of the line. To continue past this foxhole, whose occupants had almost certainly been awake all night, was to venture into Japanese territory and run the risk of encountering a lone infiltrator, a marauding squad of Imperial troops, or a patrol from Charlie Company’s reserve platoons tasked with finding and eliminating these threats. Although Lieutenant Stott, Charlie’s acting XO, reported that “Night time brought no incursions by the enemy,” the story was different after daybreak.[1] “Considerable harassment was encountered from enemy groups in rear areas,” reported the regimental war diary, adding caustically “These enemy groups were believed to have filtered in, during the previous night, through the 27th Division zone of action on our left.”[2]

This lack of contact could not continue for another day. Scattered infiltrators and squads of Japanese were bad enough; if word of the breach was received by any Imperial officer with a decent force at his command, the almost certain counterattack could very well break the American lines altogether. 1/24 was ordered to send out a series of patrols, both combat and reconnaissance, to try and make contact with any friendly forces on their left. One such patrol reported enemy tanks in grid 196B at 1010; five minutes later a heavy mortar barrage blanketed the adjacent square. Another patrol spotted the Second Marine Division atop Mount Tapotchau; it was, as Stott recalled, the first visual contact the two Marine divisions had enjoyed during the campaign. Yet another patrol located a Japanese command post in a deep cave, and collaborated with tanks and halftracks to wipe out the 50 enemy troops taking cover within.[3]

tankline
Marine armor gangs up on a Japanese position. Still from USMC combat film.

By 1140, Army tanks were visible only 500 yards away, and two welcome faces appeared at the battalion CP in the early afternoon—a pair of liaison officers from the 106th Infantry. How they had managed to negotiate the terrain and report to 1/24’s CO, Lt. Col. Brunelli, is not known, but the officers reported that 300 yards separated their unit from 1/24’s closest flank. Charlie Company’s mortar teams were ordered to fire illumination rounds at ten-minute intervals, a guiding light leading the Army to the left flank.[4] Pleased with their success, the 106th officers departed. The long desired contact seemed assured.

A 27th Division patrol pinned down by sniper fire on Saipan. Soldier in foreground still manages to smile for the camera. US Army photo.
A 27th Division patrol pinned down by sniper fire on Saipan. Soldier in foreground still manages to smile for the camera. US Army photo.

As with all things on Saipan, this was easier said than done. The illumination flares attracted the attention of the Japanese, who pounced on Charlie Company’s left flank with mortars, machine guns, and sniper fire. Captain Horace Parks’ company showed remarkable resilience through the afternoon, calling in a rocket barrage “danger close” to clear the way for the Army advance. The rockets landed “perfectly,” but the Army still complained of Japanese troops in their way.[5]

With the hour growing late—it was now past 1700—the Marines despaired of ever seeing another “dogface.” As the patrols came back in and 1/24 strengthened their nighttime positions, they faced the terrible prospect of another night with their flank in the air. The Army was out there somewhere, but so were the Japanese—and after two weeks on Saipan, 1/24 believed they were more likely to encounter the latter before dawn.

For all the day’s activity, only one Marine—PFC Elmer Bennett, a 25-year-old BAR gunner from Charlie Company—was killed. No other casualties were reported by the battalion.

The Fallen

c_bennett
 

Private First Class
Elmer E. Bennett
Age 25
BARman, C Co.
Cause unknown

 

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 10.
[2] Report of RCT 24, in Operations Report, 4th Marine Division, Saipan, Annex I (San Diego: Headquarters, Fourth Marine Division, 3 October 1944), 22.
[3] Stott, 10.
[4] Battalion War Diary.
[5] Ibid.

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