National Geographic : 1945 Apr
South from Saipan BY W. ROBERT MOORE Editorial Staff Correspondent in the Pacific A WE flew in to Saipan and circled for a landing, I was amazed at the pic ture beneath us, so used had I become to the tiny flat islands in the atolls of the Gilbert and Marshall groups.* Here were expanses of green fields, moun tains, and high rolling terrain which appeared much like the cane-covered lands of Hawaii, but with mountains on a somewhat smaller scale. Just to the south, across a three-mile chan nel, flatter Tinian sprawled vivid green in the brilliant sunlight (map, page 447). Until a few months ago, these Marianas land patches were a jealously guarded portion of Japan's island empire that few Americans had ever seen. Now U. S. forces swarm the islands. By ripping these bastions from enemy con trol, our Central Pacific Command has gained bases of sufficient size to mount powerful air and sea blows against the very heart of Japan, only 1,500 miles away (pages 448-9). Almost in the center of Saipan, Mount Ta potchau humps its back against the sky to a height of 1,555 feet. It seems higher, so steep are its sides. Around its green slopes much tough fighting took place in smashing the desperate Japanese resistance. Tank Battles at "Hell's Pocket" Grim "Hell's Pocket," a constricted depres sion high in the hills at its southeastern flank, was a bloody arena for bitter tank battles. The ravine is less than a mile long and only about one-third as wide; so tank crews had to slug it out at point-blank range. Many wrecks, both Japanese and our own, lie rust ing amid growing cane that now largely con ceals them. Just to reach this area our tanks had to mount the hills through a narrow, twisting de file upon which the Japs could train a murder ous barrage. Despite new growth, one can also see flame seared trees and white patches of bare rock on the cliffs where even more fantastic fighting went on. Retreating, the Japs holed up in numerous natural and man-improved caves in the coral rock, and, guarding their entrances with mortar and machine guns, held doggedly on until our troops either burned them out with flame throwers or blasted the entrances with heavy demolition charges. Sporadic fighting still continued. Small remnants of the Japanese garrison lurked in scattered caves at the northern end of the island. Often, during my stay, heavy blasts and pillars of smoke marked the sealing of more of their hideouts. Mortars banged and ma chine guns chattered in the hills and around the cliffs. A few hungry prisoners were brought into camp. In the earlier stages of the campaign, the large civilian population likewise sought refuge in these caves from our intensive bombings and shellfire. Overall, Saipan is roughly 15 miles long by 6 miles wide. Much of its eastern and northern part is a series of hills and rolling plateaus which tilt sharply down to narrow coastal flats or end abruptly in high cliffs that drop sheer to the sea (Plate II). The southern and western areas of the is land, however, are much flatter and the land levels off into a coastal plain. On the south ern end the Japanese built their biggest air field, Aslito. Since we won it, we have not only changed its name to Isely Field, but have made extensions which will give the Tokyo war lords an unending succession of headaches. "Japan Bombed by Large Formations of B-29's" is a news item you will read with almost daily regularity throughout the rest of the bitter Pacific struggle (pages 444-5). Superforts Bomb Japan from Saipan Much toil and sweat lies behind such com muniques. Here, and at Tinian and Guam, I watched men with heavy machines working day and night to complete operational bases for our newly organized Twenty-first Bomber Command, which flies the giant Superfor tresses. A whole mountainside was ripped away to provide coral rock for runways, revetments, and all-weather roads lacing this island. Day by day more and more of the silvery dreadnoughts of the sky came winging in to be groomed for the task of battering Nippon's war facilities at their source-Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Yokosuka Naval Base, and others. All Japan is now within range of the B-29 bomb sights! * See "Gilbert Islands in the Wake of Battle," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1945; "War Finds Its Way to Gilbert Islands," by Sir Arthur Grimble, January, 1943; "Hidden Key to the Pacific," by Willard Price, June, 1942.