Saipan. D+5. June 20, 1944

The 24th Marines, “refreshed if not restored” following their day of relative inaction, “resumed our northward trek” on June 20, 1944. 1/24 nerved up to jump off at 0900, but a delay was ordered, granting them a 90 minute reprieve. The 25th Marines, which had held the division’s right flank until “pinched out” the previous day, was ordered to relieve the 23rd Marines on the division’s left, and the entire regiment upped sticks and hustled west along the division’s rear to reach the left flank. There, they easily passed through the battered 23rd Marines, and as the advance moved forward at 1030, Col. Louis R. Jones’ 23rd passed into division reserve.

For 1/24, this maneuver meant that they were now the very right flank of the entire division. Captain Parks’ Company C took the section of line closest to Magicienne Bay, while Captain Cokin’s weakened Company B took the center. Captain Schechter’s Company A was tasked with maintaining contact on the left with 2/24.

The rugged coast of Magicienne Bay. 1/24 was responsible for covering this flank.
The rugged coast of Magicienne Bay. 1/24 was responsible for covering this flank.

The battalion’s 81mm mortar platoon had a very busy morning, commencing with a fifteen-minute barrage which began at the objective (the O-4 line) and gradually walked closer to friendly lines, stopping at the wooded area where PFC Robert Tierney’s patrol discovered the Japanese machine gun on the previous day. The mortars evidently did their job, or perhaps the enemy gunner gave up during the night, because the regiment noted “no casualties” as they advanced through the area.[1] By 1217, the companies were all in line and moving ahead, under the cover of continuing mortar fire.

Experience gained by working with tanks on D+1 and D+2 made itself manifest during this assault. 1/24 requested and received four tanks and LVT(A)s, which arrived at the front around 1320; Company A was evidently supported by a team of halftracks, which they used to take out potential strong points in their path.[2] “Our tank and half-track numbers were substantially improved and the quantity remained sufficient throughout the balance of the campaign,” wrote 1Lt. Fred Stott, whose work as a liaison had proved an immeasurable help. “Furthermore we were becoming accustomed to coordinating with them, and the day’s advance went smoothly and satisfactorily against light resistance as we skirted the western shore of Magicienne Bay.”[3]

The shores of the bay had been considered as alternative landing beaches; the plan to land troops there had never come to fruition, but the Japanese had sensed the possibility and made preparations of their own. Numerous fortified caves and small bunkers were discovered on the right flank, mostly facing the beach and mostly unoccupied, much to the joy of the Marines. “In conjunction with an engineer company, one of our platoons drew the unenviable task of mopping up the coastal caves and dugouts as we progressed,” wrote Stott. “Few of the enemy were discovered, but the terrain, consisting of sharp coral ledges and short, tough, vine-covered trees, was exceedingly difficult and tiring to cover…. luckily, most of the positions were deserted.”[4] Stott, writing with the benefit of hindsight, likened the defensive structures along Magicienne Bay to “the situation later encountered on Palau.”[5]

This “German style” blockhouse was one of many built to defend Purple Beach at Magicienne Bay.
It was later surveyed by an engineering team.

A communications failure during the afternoon caused some concern at Battalion HQ; runners and messengers were dispatched on foot to maintain contact with the companies, and it was an anxious two hours before comms were restored. To give an example, at 1340 Company A reported “physical contact – no casualties” and not until 1602 did the report “’A’ Co. moving towards RJ 268” arrive at the CP.[6] Junction 268 was the place where Baker Company had broken on D+3, but the Japanese who manned positions there were dead or had fled, and by 1704 the battalion had reached their daily objective.

The relative ease of the assault should not suggest that it was entirely unopposed. The Marines were in the habit of simply bypassing stubborn strong points in the interest of continuing the advance; once a point was cut off from support, it could be more easily destroyed. Usually, a specially trained unit (like PFC Tierney’s demolition squad) would be called in to perform this ticklish bit of “mopping up.”[7] However, in Able Company’s sector on June 20, a solution presented itself in the form of Sergeant Arthur Ervin.

Ervin was a slight, scrappy individual with a long and checkered Marine Corps career. In the service since 1940, his “old salt” credibility began on December 7, 1941 when he ducked Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor. Just a few days later, he and an accomplice were arrested for stealing a military vehicle, and were sentenced to lengthy brig times and a bad conduct discharge. Ervin avoided this fate by volunteering for a combat outfit, went to Samoa with the 22nd Marines, then talked his way into the Third Raider Battalion, with whom he invaded the Russell Islands in 1943.[8] A microbe did what the Japanese could not: Ervin contracted filariasis and was surveyed from his prestigious Raider unit to stateside duty. He reported to the 24th Marines in September, and took command of a machine gun squad.

Corporal Ervin’s colorful past made quite an impression on his new platoon. Many disliked or even feared the cold, all-warrior NCO who, at 5’7” and 135 pounds, could exert a DI’s authority over enlisted men. Officers untested by combat derided Ervin’s streak of Raider-bred individualism; his platoon leader, 1Lt. Philip Wood, initially complained of Ervin’s “incurable Samoan disease” and later had to transfer one of Ervin’s adversaries – the man picked a fight he couldn’t finish. However, after a twice-wounded Ervin single-handedly neutralized a trench full of Japanese troops on Namur, his stock with his comrades rose considerably. [9] Upon his return from the hospital, he was advanced to sergeant, received the Navy Cross from Admiral Nimitz, and became second in command of Able Company’s mortar section.[10]

When a well-organized group of bypassed Japanese troops became troublesome on June 20, Sergeant Ervin saw a chance to put his Raider skills to use. He collected a patrol and set off to deal with the situation on his own. “Sergeant Ervin fearlessly advanced upon the enemy and assaulted the strongly fortified position with determined aggressiveness, crushing all opposition,” read the subsequent citation for his Bronze Star medal. Under Ervin’s leadership, not a single man of the patrol was killed or wounded.

Indeed, casualties across the battalion were the lowest they had been since the start of the battle—ironically, even lower than on the “day of rest.” Only two men were evacuated on that day; Corporal Frank Schnell of the comms platoon (suffering from sciatic neuritis) and PFC James Rainey.

Rainey’s evacuation caused no end of worry to his best friend, PFC John Pope.

Jim and I were almost regarded as brothers by those who knew us. We had gone through a horrendous shelling, a lot of which landed behind the front lines, [and] one of my friends on the mortar observation post came to me with a message. After a shell burst close to Jim’s gun he had been found unconscious and was carried off on a stretcher. They had no way of knowing his condition.

My heart stopped for a few seconds as I came to realize that I had until this moment never faced up to the reality that Jim could be killed at any time just like me. I was stunned.

After a while I began to feel a sense of relief. Now maybe I could feel a degree of comfort in knowing he would be out of the war safely.[11]

d_raineyPFC Jim Rainey in 1943.

All told, the day’s efforts had been wildly successful. The objective had been reached with almost no casualties, the lines were in a stout, shortened position, and orders for the next day were to hold fast. “From that day on we were never again to experience the concentrated pressure of those first four days,” recalled Fred Stott. “There were moments of equally great danger and overwhelming fatigue, but never again such a constant and intense strain. We advanced with renewed confidence and the certainty that the conquest of the island was no longer in doubt—only our physical stamina.”[12]

This picture, simply labeled "Saipan," is the only known personal photograph of Company A Marines during a campaign.
Two unknown Marines of Company A display a captured Japanese flag on Saipan. Behind them is the surf of Magicienne Bay. Photo from the collection of PFC Bernard Elissagaray.

 

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PFC James T. Rainey 81mm Gunner Blast concussion Unknown

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters Cpl. Frank Schnell Field Lineman Neuritis (sciatic) USS Custer

 

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  FOOTNOTES

[1] Battalion War Diary. This is the first time “no casualties” appears in the (admittedly spotty) narrative, which suggests that simply moving forward without difficulty was unusual.
[2] Ibid. “1327: ‘A’ Co. has half tracks and are going to blast house.”
[3] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 6.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Battalion War Diary.
[7] Similarly, it was not at all unusual for these problems to fall to the rear echelon; there are several accounts of battalion HQ parties (who moved up behind the combat troops) running into these bypassed positions. Making the “flat rate bastards” deal with combat situations caused no small amount of satisfaction for the men of the line companies.
[8] Ervin’s carjacking friend, James Coupe, followed a similar path and the two ended up in the same Raider company. Sergeant Coupe was killed in action on Bougainville.
[9] For a description of the action on February 1, 1944, please see D-Day On Namur.
[10] Ervin had previously been a machine gunner; his advancement over several senior candidates was due as much to Lt. Wood’s
favor as anything else. It proved to be a good choice as the two made an excellent command pair and became close friends.
[11] John Pope, Angel On My Shoulder (Kindle Locations 1220-1225) (2013-11-30).
[12] Stott, 7.

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