10 Tinian

Tinian is only slightly smaller than Saipan, but was not as heavily defended, although there were an estimated 8,000 Japanese fighting troops on the island.

There were two good beaches to land on and two very small beaches which were on the northwest end of the island. The Japanese had strongly fortified the good beaches but had largely ignored the two smaller ones as they thought them too impractical. That was why the small beaches were selected for the landing.

On July 24, 1944, some units made the first landings on White Beach 2, while the rest of us, including myself, made feint landings on the good beaches near Tinian Town. The following morning I landed on White Beach 1 in the first wave, coming ashore in amtracs. We immediately pushed inland, with our first objective being Ushi Field, considered to be the finest Japanese airport in the Central Pacific. Our main objective in taking both Saipan and Tinian was to use them as air bases, as up until this time there was no way for our planes to bomb the main islands of Japan.

The first couple of days we moved quite rapidly. Although we were supposed to be in supply, because of manpower shortages we were used like infantry at times and for a couple of days we acted as frontline troops, advancing on foot just behind our tanks. We were traveling through fields of sugar cane and the tall cane prevented seeing ahead, so the tanks just kept up an almost constant chatter of machine gun fire, sweeping everything in front of them. Our main injuries during that time were from cutting ourselves on the razor sharp edges of the sugar cane.

Figure 57. D-day on White Beach 1, Tinian. July, 1944. U.S. Marine Corps photograph.

In just a few days the distance had grown sufficiently between the front lines and supply dumps that I started working full time on the trucks again. On D+8, the front line had reached a high plateau near the south end of the island. I hadn't been up to the front for a couple of days, and when I went that afternoon I was amazed how rapidly and how far the lines had been extended. Fortunately, our truck driver knew where he was going as the road system on Tinian was quite rudimentary. All of the roads were just dirt, and they seemed to wander around with the greatest emphasis spent on following property lines rather than facilitating the movement of traffic. As most of the roads were mined, it paid to always be certain which fork to take.

I went to bed that night and slept a couple of hours when we were rousted out. The lines were experiencing an all-out banzai attack and were in danger of being overrun. More ammo was desperately needed immediately, especially for the 37 MM anti-tank guns and the mortars. We rapidly loaded a couple of trucks and the drivers asked how they could get up to the front as neither of them had been there recently. No one had the answer, then someone remembered I had been there earlier that day so I was ordered to lead. I climbed into the first truck wishing I had paid more attention to roads instead of watching for snipers. I remembered how earlier in the day I had marveled at the driver's ability to recall all of the correct turns, and now I was charged with that responsibility. In addition, it was dark and of course no lights could be used.

Figure 58. Coming ashore on White Beach 1. U.S. Marine Corps photograph.

Figure 59. The first objective on Tinian was Ushi Airfield. Note the bomb shelters. U.S. Marine Corps photograph.

Figure 60. The bomb shelters are still there over fifty years later.

Fortunately, there was sufficient natural light that we could see well enough to roll along at five to ten miles per hour. Many of the crossroads I could recall, but a couple of times I just crossed my fingers and guessed. I also mentally wondered how big an explosion a truckload of ammunition would make if we hit a land mine. My guesses were all correct and never were we welcomed so profusely.

The Japanese expended all they had that night, and the next day Tinian was declared secure. Declaring an island secure, however, did not mean all worries could cease. Official Marine Corps records show that 542 Japanese soldiers were killed after the secure date on Tinian. Actually, there were more than that.

As the battle ended, we were moved up on the plateau at the south end of the island. A fairly intact farm house was located and regimental headquarters moved into it. The rest of us camped anywhere in the area. The farmer had some livestock before the war and three of us claimed a low, ramshackle building that had apparently housed goats, although we called it a pigpen. It actually had a wooden floor in part of it, and near the center one could even almost stand up. I'm sure the former, and shorter, Japanese owner could. We cleaned it up and put a tarp over the roof to keep the rain out. For the first time since landing on Saipan we could sleep with a roof over our heads! We felt we were living in the lap of luxury. Another fellow, spotting an unused area along one wall, asked if he could sleep there and we magnanimously allowed him. His portion was just large enough to lie down in and was too low to sit up in. It was separated from ours by a fence-like series of wooden slats, and he had to crawl in from the outside. He was still grateful to share such comfortable quarters.

Figure 61. White Beach 1 as it looks today - beautiful and peaceful.

Unlike the Solomon islands where we had starved for so long, we had plenty of all necessary supplies this time. Even a new type of field rations had been developed. The old cans of C-rations, which nobody liked, had been replaced by K-rations, which came in a waxed box and provided one meal. Newest to appear were 10-in-1 rations. These came in a large cardboard box and contained a wide variety of canned and prepackaged foods. It was just about like shopping in a store. The name signified this box would feed ten men for one day, or one man for ten days. Those of us in the pigpen made our main meal an early dinner. We would take turns with one man leaving work early while the other two of us covered for him. By the time work had ceased we could go home and have a hot dinner waiting for us.

We cooked by means of a high explosive called C-2. This compound came in one-pound blocks that were similar to a large bar of laundry soap. They were meant for demolition work but no one wasted them in that manner. A detonator would make them explode, but we would pinch off just a small piece and light it with a match, which would then burn with a white-hot flame. A piece no larger than a dime would heat a whole canteen cup of coffee.

One night while we were in the pigpen we were awakened by a lot of yelling and shooting. Two Japanese soldiers staged their own personal attack on us by shouting banzai, running into camp, and shooting wildly. One of the fellows on guard duty took care of them, but not until one had made it all the way to the rear of our pigpen.

Figure 62. Japanese gunner's view of White Beach 1 as seen from a blockhouse still on the beach.

We were told we would remain on Tinian and this would be our rest camp until we were built back up to strength. Two of us, and a driver, were sent out to explore Japanese supply dumps and see what we could find that would be useful in building a camp. Along the northeast coast of the island were high cliffs that were just riddled with natural caves. We figured this would be a likely place to start looking.

We were correct in our assumption that this would be where the supplies had been stored. What we didn't know, however, was that when the line companies had swept through this area, they had by-passed the caves as they felt it too dangerous to secure them. We started by taking the normal precaution of throwing a couple of grenades in first, then jumping inside and spraying a few bullets around. As we found no Japanese, we disregarded this procedure and were soon racing from cave to cave to see who could find the best things.

This worked great for awhile as most of the by-passed Japanese had dutifully committed suicide, but after awhile we hit a cave where they had not been so thoughtful. We then went back to the hand grenades.

When our truck was fully loaded we returned to camp. Included in our loot were several cases of canned crab meat which was very tasteful, but our greatest find was a large case of black rubber raincoats. The only rain gear the Marine Corps issued was a poncho, which was a waterproof canvas square with a hole in the center from which a person's head protruded. It did the job, but was universally despised. Rubber was in short supply in the U.S. inventory anyway, as the Japanese controlled almost all the world's rubber producing areas. Not only were the raincoats much appreciated, but I even used mine the first few years I was a police officer after the war.

Shortly after this trip we were sent back to the caves again. Intelligence wanted an assortment of all Japanese weapons, ammunition, and explosives we could find, which would be shipped back to the States for study. We took two trucks this time, filled them completely, and gingerly drove to the dock in Tinian Town where we loaded them aboard a ship. As we finished loading, the ship's baker came to the rail with several loaves of fresh bread and gave them to us. This was the first fresh bread we had seen in weeks and we could not have received a finer gift. The pigpen crew ate good that night.

As more equipment arrived, we set up our regular camp and moved from the pigpen into six-man pyramidal tents. During the war the Japanese had enslaved many Korean laborers to work for them and several thousand had been moved to Tinian. When we took the island, we also took the laborers, and every day I would be assigned anywhere up to a couple of dozen of them to assist in preparing our camp.

As we could not talk each other's language, I worked the hardest of all trying to explain what to do, such as one day when we were supposed to bundle up tent pegs in groups of a hundred. I had to first count them out slowly while they followed in Korean, then I would show how to tie them. Often, it seemed the job involved digging ditches. First, I would dig the ditch to the correct depth, while their whole group would stand and watch. Then I would take the shovel and draw a line on the ground showing where the ditch would go. They were good workers when they knew what they were supposed to do.

I picked one older fellow who seemed very intelligent and decided he should teach me how to communicate. All of them understood Japanese, and I felt that would be the most advantageous for me, rather than using Korean. I learned enough key words and phrases that in a few days I could simply sit in the shade and shout out commands.

Life settled into something of a routine, with our biggest problems being medical ones. Combat forces one to live in filthy conditions, which in turn brings about an interesting assortment of diseases. Solomon veterans were getting few in number and, with me still being the sole exception, all the rest kept having recurring attacks of malaria. Almost everyone had dysentery, dengue fever, and yellow jaundice. A combination of the latter two put me in bed for several days and made me so sleepy I could barely be awakened long enough to eat.

After getting our camp in fairly good shape, we were told we were moving back to Saipan for the remainder of our time in the Mariana Islands. On October 24th, we did so.

Figure 63. Rusted out amtrac (amphibious tractor) remains abandoned near White Beach 1. This is like the one I came ashore in. Could it even be the same one?

When Joyce and I returned to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1995, we flew from Saipan to Tinian on a small plane of Pacific Island Air just for the day. While Saipan is booming, Tinian was just the opposite. Possession of most of the island has been retained by the U.S. military, and the civilian population is much smaller than it was during World War 2.

We rented a car and had a look at most of the places I had been familiar with. First, we drove to White Beach 1, which has now been named Chulu Beach. On the way we passed an old rusted amtrac still sitting by the side of the road. Next, we went to Ushi Field. Navy Seabees had gone to work on this airport as soon as we had captured it, and had built four runways capable of handling the new, long-range B-29 bomber. It is hard to believe, but in 1945 this was the busiest airport in the world, with a plane departing every 38 seconds. Now it is completely deserted.

It was at this airport on August 6, 1945, that the Enola Gay loaded the first atomic bomb, which was dropped later that day on Hiroshima. A few days later, Bock's Car loaded the second atom bomb here and dropped it on Nagasaki. At the time of those bombings, I had returned again to Saipan and was living about four miles from the loading site. This is designated a U.S. Historic Landmark and a monument has been erected at both atomic bomb pits. Joyce and I were the only visitors, although we did see a Japanese tour group drive by.

Next, we went to Tinian Town for lunch. Even its name has been changed and it is now called San Jose. We then visited Suicide Cliff where a number of Japanese, mostly civilian, had jumped to drown in the ocean. Not nearly as many jumped here as they did on Saipan, as word had reached a lot of the people that the Marines would treat them humanely, rather than as the Japanese government said. We even visited a now-deserted monument the Korean workers had built for themselves. I was unable to find the location of the pigpen, though, as there were no roads into that area.

Last Modified: 09/14/2017
One Man's View by Leonard E. Skinner (2001)