The 6th Bomb Group

Tinian Island - Capturing the Island

Tinian Prior to the Invasion

Here is a picture of Tinian prior to the invasion, from the north looking south.
Picture from National Park Service

The Battle for Saipan

The capture of Saipan and Tinian began on June 15, 1944 with the Marine assault on the Japanese stronghold at Saipan. Under the League of Nations charter, the Japanese were not supposed to have fortified the islands. However, as later noted by Admiral Nimitz, the Japanese had turned Saipan into "the principal fortress guarding the southern approaches to Japan". And, as Nimitz noted, "the topography of the island lent itself well to defense". Almost 30,000 Japanese soldiers defended the island. American casualties were in excess of 16,000, including over 13,000 Marines. Over 20,000 civilians (mostly Japanese) are said to have died from battle or suicide. Fewer than 1,000 Japanese soldiers survived.

A Marine's View of the Islands

While the islands of the South Pacific have a reputation as a "tropical paradise", the version presented to the Marines was quite different. Prior to the invasion of Saipan, one C.O. warned his men that before their Amtrac reached the heavily fortified island, they would face sharks, barracudas, sea snakes, razor-sharp coral, poison fish and giant clams. Once ashore, they would face Japanese bayonets, mortars and artillery shells, a hostile native population, snakes, giant lizards and diseases such as leprosy and typhus. After the officer finished his briefing, a solitary private raised his hand and wondered, "Sir, why don't we let the Japs keep the island?"

Pre-Invasion Bombardment

Carrier planes attack Ushi Airfield prior to the invasion.
Photo provided by National Park Service

The Battle for Tinian

Once Saipan was under control, the Marines turned their attention to Tinian. One can only wonder what the 9,000 Japanese troops stationed on Tinian were thinking while they watched the battle taking place on Saipan. The Japanese commander expected that the Marines would make their assault at Tinian Town, and had planned the defenses accordingly. Instead, the Marines made the risky choice of making their assault on a narrow beachhead in the north, which was also protected by a coral reef.

"After invading Saipan in June 1944, the Marines assaulted Guam on 22 July and Tinian on 24 July. The Navy had shelled the harbor and other defense installations for several days. When the initial landings were made on the northwest corner of the island a tank battle developed in the fields west of North Field. The Japs retreated to the southeast and made their final stand on the high ground on the southern tip of the island. Tinian was declared "safe" by the Fourth Marine Division on 2 August 1944." ["Pirate's Log", p. 26]

Or was it . . . ?

"When the Sixth landed [in December 1944], there were an estimated 500 to 1000 Jap soldiers still at large." ["Pirate's Log", p. 66]

"During the night of 30 January [1945] thousands of pounds of TNT exploded near the center of Tinian, jarring and shaking the ground all over the island and waking everyone asleep. Several Marines were killed in the terrific explosion which authorities believed to the the result of sabotage by Jap soldiers still at large." ["Pirate's Log", p. 29]

After the battle, many of the marines remained on the southern part of the island, enjoying a well-deserved rest from non-stop combat in the Pacific.

The Casualties of War

While Marine casualties from the Tinian assault were relatively light, they were not light if you were the casualty.

One of the more famous casualties on Tinian was Sgt Lee Powell, who was the first "Lone Ranger". He enlisted in the Marines and saw action at Tarawa and Saipan - two of the deadliest places for Marines. However, his luck ran out on Tinian. He was initially buried at the Cemetery at Tinian and was later reinterred elsewhere.