By Colonel Dick Camp (USMC, Ret.) In the summer of 1944, the 5th Amphibious Corps under Marine Lt. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin Mad” Smith set its sights on the Japanese-held island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, one of the “Islands of Mystery,” as its next objective. Brig. Gen. Merritt A. Edson, Assistant Division Commander, 2nd Marine Division, remarked, “This one isn’t going to be easy.” Smith echoed his comment. “We are through with the flat atolls now. We learned how to pulverize atolls, but now we are up against mountains and caves where the Japs can dig in. A week from today there will be a lot of dead Marines.” The capture of the island, designated Operation Tearaway, would firmly establish U.S. forces within Japan’s inner defense line. Smith stated that the United States needed air bases “to initiate very long-range air attacks on Japan.” Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the Japanese Central Pacific Fleet Headquarters, concurred. “The Marianas are the first line of defense for the home island,” he said. (Nagumo had led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. He would commit suicide on Saipan, July 6, 1944.) General Smith’s force, designated the Northern Attack Force (Task Force 52), would have two veteran Marine Divisions—the 2nd, (2nd MarDiv), commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas E. Watson, and the 4th (4th MarDiv), commanded by Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt—with the Army’s 27th Infantry Division (27th ID), commanded by


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