Home Battle of Saipan Photos WWII Experiences WWII Resources Prostate Cancer
The Battle of Saipan - The Final Curtain
David Moore, Cdr. USN (Ret.)Copyright 2002 David Moore, P.E.
Fifty years have past. Memories have dimmed. An old Seabee who was there vividly recalls some details of a great battle, fought on the island of Saipan.
It began in the early hours of June 15th when the US Fifth Fleet under Admiral Spruance converged on the island during the night. He was a smart no-nonsense officer, an admiral's admiral with only one straight-back visitor's chair in his office and a great dislike for publicity. He held a personal vengeance against Admiral Nagumo, Commander of the Japanese Central Pacific Fleet stationed at Saipan. It was Nagumo who personally directed the air raids on the US Navy ships at Pearl Harbor and Midway. On the day following the raid on Pearl Harbor, Spruance steamed into the harbor only to find the entire Pacific battleship group wiped out and his friends on these ships dead. It was said he shed some tears in telling his wife of the event, and in this battle of Saipan, he damn-well intended to get even.
About four o'clock in the morning the speakers in the crowded quarters below decks of each LST (Landing Ship Tank) in the invasion fleet called for muster. It was the alarm for the approaching battle; no one had slept. Both the Marines and Seabees aboard had been looking for this long day.
Breakfast was served in winding hot lines in the galley where somber Navy cooks scooped scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, some fruit, toast, and pieces of ham touched with an occasional sheen of green on a metal tray. For those of us who survived, there would always be a strange connection with the 'green ham and eggs' fairy tale to the last breakfast aboard the assault LST.
The air in the quarters and on the tank deck was electrified with anxiety. No small talk, no jokes. The troops made last minute checks - adjusting the canvas back packs with its important trenching shovel, checking their rifles, picking up extra ammunition and c-rations for lunch, filling, the canteens, receiving the last word on the landing, and lowering assault boats. This day smiled on those who survived the assault, and frowned on others.
On the top deck in the moonlight, the eye could pick out an occasional flash showing silhouettes of battleships firing salvo after salvo into the coastline ahead. For two days prior to the invasion, some 2,400 16-inch shells had 'softened-up' the enemy. These salvos gave an awesome sound. Something like a boxcar swishing around overhead. Possible mining of the area limited the firing line to six miles offshore, and because of this distance, spotters had difficulty in pinpointing dug-in gun pits.
At sunrise our massive fleet became visible extending as far as the eye could see. Someone said there were 600 ships. The record would show Admiral Spruance had amassed for his vengeance 14 battleships, 25 carriers and carrier escorts, 26 cruisers, 144 destroyers and countless transports, truly a fleet that meant business.
When the Japanese officers, including Admiral Nagumo, the villain of Pearl Harbor, looked through their binoculars,they must have firmly believed American ghosts of Pearl Harbor had returned to haunt them. And they had.
With this invasion fleet came the prowess of the American industrial giant. Perhaps an excellent example of a war secret was the thousands of Admiral Morell's magic pontoon boxes. Neither the Japanese at Saipan nor the Germans at Normandy could quite match this American ingenuity of producing ideas and war materials. And so it was - the Seabees devised a steel cell (5 x 5 x 7 feet) which could be bolted at the corners to form unsinkable barges, piers, or other invasion units by simply rearranging the magic cells. These had 1.5 feet draft sufficient to clear the reef lying 3 feet below the water, which extended around Saipan. The Japanese knew their boats could not clear this reef, and with coastal guns in place, they felt safe.
The Japanese defense strategy was simple: destroy the Marine landing force at the beachhead. In 1944 the Japanese high command did not really believe Admirals King and Nimitz would be so bold as to invade the Marianas some 1,000 miles from their Eniwetok supply base and 3,500 miles from Pearl Harbor. The Marianas islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam were indispensable bastions in the defense of the Japanese home land, and Admiral Nagumo admitted this just the day before the Marines landed to execute Operation Forager.
A map will easily show that aircraft and submarines based on Saipan can control the sea lanes south of Japan cutting off the vital oil, food, and other products needed to sustain the life of an empire. In addition, superbombers, the long-range B-29's, were being delivered in quantities to the Army Air Corps. The day before the invasion, the Army bombed Japan from bases in China, which gave the Japanese the ranges of the new bombers. But the Army preferred a base on Saipan. Here the distance to Tokyo was only 1,200 miles. It was a matter of economics. Later, General LeMay would saturate Japan from the Marianas with enough incendiaries to destroy an entire city in one raid.
As the large Japanese Mobile Fleet steamed out of the Philippines to save Saipan, it was spotted on the 16th of June by our submarine, Flying Fish. Admiral Toyoda issued his famous battle order, "The fate of the empire rests on this one battle. Every man is expected to do his utmost." Fate was not kind in this battle for the admiral did not play his cards well in dealing with the American hand. Our aggressive, smart Navy admirals, General Holland "Mad" Smith (the tough ground commander of the assault), and the America forces were damned determined to stay and fight it out on this beachhead.
The Marines on the beaches had plenty of war on their hands, and when Admiral Spruance's fleet disappeared, they gladly left that part of the war to the carriers. A description of this phase was eventually known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot", and will be told another day. But we should remark that Admiral Mitscher and his people did every thing just right. They destroyed nearly all the planes in the Japanese Navy.
Now, we will return to the invasion. Aboard the LST I was on, which was longer than a football field, Marines (2nd Bn., 8th Reg., 2nd Div.) and the Seabees (302 NCB) crowded toward the spacious tank deck to debark. The Marines were to take and hold the beachhead. One of the primary missons for the Seabees was to get food and ammunition onto the beach (where I worked during the battle), and another, under the direction of 18th and 121 NCB's, was to build the bomber airstrip and bunkers. In the past, Seabees had been attached to Marine units and wore their uniform, so this arrangement was not unusual. There was comradeship and plenty of respect to go around.
The large bay of our LST contained assault amphibian tractors, called AMTRAKs, to carry troops and special amphibian tanks, which had a turret for holding a 75mm canon and a heavy machine gun to blast pillboxes.
Four pontoon barges (22 x 40 feet) , like large cigar boxes, were chained to our top deck. They were used to haul ammunition. Other LSTs carried long pontoon sections strapped to their sides, which were made into a floating pier, allowing for landing craft to unload.
Admiral Turner, rough tongued, astute and experienced in Marine assaults, was in charge, and he knew it. At 05:42 (Navy time) his orders came - 'Land the landing force.' Into position about 1,250 yards from the line of departure, 34 LSTs moved into line. Two huge doors on the bow of each ship opened, and dropped their ramps into the water.
Then, out of the front of these LSTs, one by one, the AMTRAKs loaded with toughened Marines clanked down the ramps and into the ocean. A massive total of 719 AMTRAKs separated into special circles at the line of departure. The American Manufacturer's Association would have been very proud of their fine products being displayed to the Japanese that day.
This line of departure was some 4,000 yards from the beach. Before the Marines moved onto the beach, 24 light gun boats made the first sweep of the beach firing 4.5 inch rockets and 40mm canon. They turned aside at the reef. For good measure, Turner had 7 fighters strafe and 12 bombers hit the area with 1,200 one-hundred pound bombs. All of this strafing and heavy shelling from naval gunfire did not silence the dug in enemy. But this action did destroy vital communication links with their commanders.
Later Japanese intelligence reports showed the enemy believed the Marines would attack at the village of Charan Kanoa near a large sugar mill. The beaches and a limited opening in the reef made it preferable for an amphibious assault. A large Japanese force was ready, and we did not disappoint them.
The Japanese were not deeply concerned with Saipan's defenses. Big 8-inch guns were on box cars awaiting emplacement and many trench works, lacked concrete covers. A captured Japanese document told part of the story. "The current freight shortage which is caused by shipping losses has deprived the area of much needed material. One ship out of three is sunk and the second damaged by enemy action." Our submarines took their pound of flesh. For additional credit they sunk two large carriers in attacks on the Japanese fleet, which took on elements of Admiral Spruance's fleet. It was truly an all American effort.
While the AMTRAKs circled for position, the crafty Americans played another card to reduce the enemy fire power at the beachhead. They decoyed landing craft with some battleships to Tanapag harbor in the north. The feint worked. A Japanese regiment was left at this spot during critical hours of the southern invasion.
There were 4 miles of beaches attacked by the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions. This assault was well planned. It had to be since they faced 22,702 Japanese Army troops and 6,690 naval forces. Our men on the beach at 'D' Day were clearly outnumbered, but we had the best leadership, weapons, guts, and determination. On 'D+l' the soldiers of the 27th Army Division were committed to the front line, when there was elbow room to fight. They too had their Medal of Honor winners, and they too had country boys who fought.
The run from line of departure to the beach was estimated to be 27 minutes. H-hour for beach arrival was 08:40. The first wave, comprised of amphibian tanks, began firing heavy weapons as it closed with the beach; AMTRAKs followed in waves carrying the troops. Somehow the battle plan went slightly askew. The lagoon between the reef and shore was showered with exploding mortar and artillery rounds. The enemy had cleverly placed sighting flags to better the accuracy of their gunners.
The Army and Navy drivers were very good at maneuvering, losing only 14 units - 98 percent made it to shore - not a bad driving record. Within 20 minutes 8,000 Marines were under fire on the beach, but by nightfall 20,000 Marines were dug in.
With, this assault came a strange irony. On the ends of the long assault line were stationed two old battleships, the California and the Tennessee. Fire power from these battleships was directed by the landing party on various trouble spots. On this assault, each ship fired 100 shells from their 14-inch guns. During the day before the invasion and on 'D' Day, they took some non-critical hits because they were so close to enemy guns. They did not mind. Admiral Nagumo's planes had destroyed these ships at Pearl Harbor. There, the California lost 98 and the Tennessee lost 5 sailors. On these ships, both the living and ghosts of the dead had come to even an old score with the admiral hiding in his bunker.
When the assault waves crossed the shore, many AMTRAKs bogged down, and unloaded the troops some 200 yards from the beach. Bushes, broken trees, and enemy fire had blocked further travel. Unfortunately, only the turrets on the amphibious tanks were heavily armored, and the remaining area could be penetrated by almost any enemy caliber. Protection for the AMTRAKs was even worse. Some 65 amphibious tanks and 139 AMTRAKs were disabled, which limited quick expansion of the beachhead.
The Marines were concentrated on the beach and pounded by Japanese gunners. Battalion commanders became casualties along with their men. At the end of the day, the count was 2,000 casualties, about one tenth of the entire Marine force on the beach. By noon the Marines, tired of being hammered, moved out toward their objectives. There were no major attacks by the enemy; fire fights were with small units.
In the afternoon, heavy tanks for land warfare arrived by landing craft, and they were sent immediately into action. By sunset the two Marine divisions held a pocket some 1,500 yards wide and 10,000 yards along the beach. This was only half of the real estate the Marines wanted that day, but the Marines were on the island and full of fight.
As darkness fell on "D" Day, the Marines were dug in expecting more trouble. At 22:00 a probing attack failed. Then, in the early hours, around 03:00, a Japanese bugler sounded 'charge.' With loud screams the enemy came. Star shells from the destroyers illuminated the battlefield. It was something like the Fourth of July.
The Marines kept firing. Their guns were hot. Some Marine positions were forced back. But mostly the 6th Marines, who suffered the most casualties, held their ground. They were supported by five tanks from Company B and some artillery, which made the difference. Not to be left out of this fight was no other than the battleship California. When the Marines were in trouble, they called for fire from the ships. The California and its ghosts gladly responded. With salvo after salvo, its batteries rained hell and death on the attackers. Daylight was welcome. This battle on Saipan was decisive, leaving 700 Japanese dead on the field.
Seabees on the assault LSTs were held back from supplying the Marines, until enemy fire on the beach could be silenced. More destroyed vehicles only hindered landing operations. Waiting patiently - how did the war appear from the deck on my LST? The entire coastline was enveloped in a cloud of dust. After the white water trails of the AMTRAKs disappeared into the cloud, the word came that there was a lot of shelling on the beach. Fighting was very difficult.
In the distance, only Mt Tapochau stood out in this menagerie of war. High up on this mountain were bunkers for General Saito, Japanese Army Commander, and his naval counterpart, Admiral Nagumo. They held a ringside view of the fighting. But unknown to the American side, our big naval guns had cut communications with their units to pieces. So much so that the Japanese could not mount a large scale counterattack that day. They depended upon the powerful Japanese fleet with its air power to save the island.
Admiral Spruance had other plans. During this time, his fleet destroyed 424 planes. With them went the Japanese commander' s hope for survival.
We received orders on the evening of 'D' Day from CDR Dallas, commander of 302 NCB, to launch the causeway floating piers from the LSTs. When the causeways were in the water, the Seabee crews took them through the narrow channel in the darkness to the Charan Kanoa beachhead. The pier was operational by daybreak, unloading supplies from landing craft.
Orders came the next day to launch all barges carried on 7 LSTs. These LSTs pulled off-shore. As the rigging was being released on one of the LSTs, quick as a snap shot, there were four water spouts off the bow. The enemy gunners missed. The LST moved. The launching continued.
As the barges slid into the ocean, the Seabees immediately boarded and steered them along side transports to receive nets full of ammunition and c-ration boxes, which were piled high on their decks. The time was late. Orders came from the beach master to wait until morning. Captain 'Squeaky' Anderson, a tough beach master in charge of beach landing traffic, did not wish disaster on his watch. If one of these ammunition barges blew-up, the pier would be destroyed.
Later, our barge finally moved to the beach. As it approached the shore, those on the barge could see AMTRAKs and amphibian tanks scattered at random where they had been hit. In the water several dead Marines were still floating; some in their white undershirts. There was fighting, and the dead must wait the their turn with burial detail. Boxes of ammunition and c-rations cluttered the sandy beach line. The leaves on battered trees and underbrush were covered with a fine, gray dust. This whole scene gave an eerie feeling of war.
Unloading our barge took an hour. Half of the crew of four were free of duty. With rifles in hand, we took a brisk walk into Charan Kanoa. Most of the houses were destroyed. Tables, pots, and other household items were scattered about the streets. The dead were not visible. On the far side of the village was a baseball diamond, and here was something startling. At home plate were sand bags, a machine gun and three dead Japanese soldiers. They had a good line of fire, but in the game of war, they had lost.
Just outside the village, other dead from recent counterattacks were easily visible. No one cared to venture a closer look. The dead, torn to pieces, were not an inspiring sight.
We returned to the barge and commenced our grueling mission of moving ammunition and other supplies to the beach. This became a routine of eating bland c-rations and sleeping on the barge for a boring 54 days of blazing sun or miserable rain. The Coxswain often grumbled: it is noble to suffer. We were granted the undistinguished title, "Bastards of the Beaches." No skipper in his right mind wanted tons of explosives tied up alongside his ship. And it seemed slow work because the mobile cranes of the Seabees were overworked, delaying the unloading process.
One morning before sunrise during this routine, a plane swept very low over the barge and headed out to sea. Within seconds, it was out of sight. It had the sun insignias on the wings, but no one was firing, a strange part of war. (See Note 1)
On June 18th Army troops, the 165th Infantry, and some Marine units overran the Aslito airfield. Then, after completing this task, the 2nd and 4th Marine Division, together with the 27th Army Division, began a broad sweep northward to clear out the Japanese soldiers in their bunkers. It was small-unit fighting, very personal and very hard.
Upon claiming the airfield, the 121st NCB Seabees set to work filling bomb craters and laying steel mat on the runways. Fighter planes landed on the 20th June; this airfield was used by fighters on mopping-up operations. At night time a few Japanese planes bombed the field. The damage was light and the Seabees were not distracted from their task.
A few days later, a visit to the 121st Seabee camp revealed a windmill which was operating to wash the battalion's clothes. They fought first class. At the same time, just north in a field, Marines were firing mortars to dislodge some enemy pockets. A few of the enemy infiltrated to the airstrip where the Seabees stopped them.
The final major battle occurred on the night of 6-7 July. The Japanese had been pushed into a small pocket in the northern most part of Saipan. General Smith cautioned that a "banzai" attack would likely occur this night, and he was right. The remaining Japanese units assembled at Mari Point, Paradise Valley and Harakiri Gulch. At 04:45 the bugles sounded, and about 3,000 Japanese armed with rifles, spears, or nothing charged, yelling as they came. The sheer numbers overwhelmed the American front. Finding a gap between the 1st and 2nd Army Battalions of the 105th Infantry, the enemy came down the valleys and onto the narrow coastal plain. The Japanese may have been disorganized, but Marine Major Hoffman remarked, 'Here was a determination which was seldom - if ever - matched by fighting men of any other country.' Army positions were forced back to their command post. The Marine units at Tanapag Village were forced into a pocket and had to be evacuated by AMTRAKs. But the American lines held; the Japanese had met their match.
The fighting was so intense that Army gunners had to move around the stacked dead to better their fields of fire. The enemy wave came to the artillery positions, which fired point blank into the Japanese masses with fuses set on 4/10 seconds. At the height of the attack, three howitzer battalions contributed an average of 44 rounds per minute for an hour to the killing field. When the musters were taken for the 1st and 2nd Army Battalions and the Marine Battalions, there were 406 American dead; most of these dead were in the Army sector. The body count in the combat areas was 4,311 enemy dead.
What was the appearance of this event from a barge at the beachhead? Early in the morning the sky was filled with star shells lighting the battlefield. In the distance was a continual rumble of artillery. Late in the morning the word was passed that a serious enemy attack had been foiled. Then the wounded on stretchers begun to pile-up on the pier for transportation to hospital ships. Those on the beach agreed with Admiral Spruance's assessment: 'There is no question our troops fought courageously in this action.'
A visit to the front on the second day after this attack revealed a few mental 'snap shots' of this carnage. The area resembled a gulch, perhaps the width of a football field. Here and there were piles of Japanese dead where they had fallen; every 10 to 20 feet were the dead in all kinds of hideous forms. Only the Japanese dead remained on the field. A careful inspection was gruesome. An impression might suffice; looking into a foxhole exposed an American helmet with a hole at one side, a packet, a rifle, some spent casings, and a small pocket bible half covered with dirt. It had been one hell of a fight.
Death seemed to have been everywhere. And there was that sweet, unusual smell of the dead. On the beach beside the road, a bulldozer dug a large trench into which these bodies were thrown. Someone said they were later taken home by their countrymen.
On July 9th Admiral Turner declared the island secure. Then the Americans went on to Tinian and Guam to take the rest of the Marianas islands. There were 2,949 Americans killed and 10,364 wounded. Of course, the Japanese fared much worse with some 24,000 dead from burial count, 3,612 missing, and 1,780 prisoners.
In the last days of the battle, General Saito ordered the banzai attack. In his bunker during the evening of July 6th, he drew blood with his sword, which is a Japanese custom for the defeated commander, and then, the adjutant shot the general. This same fate was dealt the hand of Admiral Nagumo nearby. The American fleet had hunted the admiral, who destroyed Pearl Harbor, and settled the score.
The Seabees gained the respect of the Marines with their 'can do' attitude. They built whatever the Marines needed - roads, water supplies, barracks, fuel storage, piers, airfields and many more. An important Seabee event occurred on Saipan. In preparation for the next assault on the island of Tinian, the Marines requested the Seabees to build a special ramp that could scale the 8 foot cliffs along the shore of the Tinian beachhead, It was to be used to make an 'end run' and surprise the Japanese holding the beach.
The Seabees removed steel members from the Japanese sugar mill on Saipan and built ten ramps mounted on AMTRAKs. which they called their "doodlebugs." General Smith and Admiral Turner were impressed with their handiwork. Needless to say, the Tinian invasion was flawless, and successful.
When Saipan fell on the 9th of July, Tinian and Guam quickly followed ending the killing by the middle of August. With these islands safely in American hands, we must examine the impact of this action on the course of the war. These savage blows meant that the Japanese on the mainland were exposed to punishment from air and sea attacks. Following this aftermath, in the months to come some 676,000 Japanese civilians were destined to die and no outside supplies would reach the mainland. The repercussions were enormous. On the 18th of July, just eight days after the fall of Saipan, Premier Tojo along with his entire cabinet resigned.
This Premier was the same Japanese leader and former army general, who directed the planning in 1941 to humble the United States. He directed that unsuccessful negotiations in Washington by the end of November 1941 would mark the famous day of December 7th to attack Pearl Harbor and other Asian countries, and the Japanese did just that. But justice would eventually have its day; in 1948 Premier Tojo and eight others were executed by the United Nations for war crimes against humanity, a role that seems to persist in every war.
What is not clearly told by our historians are that events occurring during the Japanese conquest of China in the late 30's were one of slavery which became the accepted norm of the Japanese in its Asian conquests. No country was willing to stop it except by some diplomatic pressures and the oil embargo of Japan applied by the United States. Newspapers of that day carried the banner headline "The Rape of Nanking" as the city fell to the Japanese. The Americans were keenly aware that slavery was the war issue and when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the fighting mania over America was electrified by the thought that we were next on Tojo's slavery list. Thus, American workman and businessman were pledged to build the most massive war machine in the annals of history, and the Americans in the armed forces were willing to die rather than become slaves. The issue of war was distinctly defined... survival. Obviously, the Americans did not begin the war, but once it was stared, although ill prepared, there was a determination not to surrender.
What happened after the fall of the Marianas islands - Saipan, Tinian and Guam? The Seabees worked around the clock to build five huge runways on the islands to accommodate the new, large, long-range B-29 bomber with its ten tons of bombs and a 6000 mile range. They began arriving in numbers to put an end to this long killing period that had spread over the world. Finally, a little over two months later on the 24th of November, eleven B-29's took off from Saipan under the command of General LeMay to bomb the engine works near Tokyo. More attacks followed, and on the 9th of March in the following spring, LeMay sent 325 B-29's from these runways to burn out the wooden heart of Tokyo. It was said that some 83,000 Japanese died in this terrible inferno. More died there than at Hiroshima, which followed later.
It is little known to the average American that the B-29 was a global bomber fashioned in 1942 at a price of three billion dollars to protect America in case England fell to Germany. Independently, the atomic bomb project was driven by a two billion-dollar price tag. We must recognize American industry for bringing together the atomic bomb and the B-29 at just the right moment in August of 1945 when history ended this terrible conflict, saving untold lives of the brave American servicemen who would eventually lead tomorrow's world.
There was massive punishment for the Japanese, but there were no overtures for surrender; let this be clear. America had no option except to invade the mainland, and it prepared three Marine divisions and eleven Army divisions under General MacArthur for this dirty task. The orders were to invade Japan in November 1945! It turns out that there were over 2,350,000 tough, well-disciplined troops in 60 divisions left on the home islands, who were willing to die to save their country and the Emperor. Our generals predicted 1,000,000 American casualties, and my battalion was tasked as part of the invasion force! Imagine 1,000,000 black body bags coming back to America for a war we did not start. As luck would have it and with the ingenuity of the American scientists and their able workforce on our side. Two atomic bombs were delivered to Tinian on July 16th, 1945, after a high speed run over the Pacific Ocean by the Cruiser USS Indianapolis.
On August 6th a B-29, the Enola Gay, flew from the Tinian runway to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima causing 78, 000 deaths in seconds. The world would long remember this event. In the "cold war" which followed WWII, the world would never drop another one as they now tasted its massive destruction first-hand. Following this raid on the 9th, another B-29, Bock's Car, took off from Tinian with the second still larger atomic bomb, called Fat Man. Its target was Nagasaki and another 70,000 people died as the mushroom-shaped cloud rose twelve miles into the sky.
There were only two big ones in his arsenal, but General LeMay was very smart. He knew if he dropped them in a close time frame the Japanese would think he had more to use...How many generals would dare drop his last two bombs together on vague targets?
Could Tokyo be next, the Japanese would wonder? As irony would have it, the Indianapolis was torpedoed on July 29th with a loss of 872 men after she left Tinian on an operation to Leyte Gulf and would never see the product of her noble efforts.
At this same time, the Russians announced they were declaring war against the Japanese. These massive blows were too much, and on 15th of August the Emperor announced Japan would capitulate: there would be no more fighting. President Roosevelt and his 405,399 dead service men would not see the marked Day of Infamy honorably erased from the history books.
It is most fitting and proper that we honor those who died in this great battle of
Saipan and in the other battles of this war. Thus, in closing, the following poem by PFC
Carl Dearborn (address unknown) of the 4th Marine Division which went over the Saipan
beachhead should be cited and left for the historians to ponder. It is titled: I Died
For You Today.
See The Battle of Saipan - 1944 for photos showing what it was like as a Seabee loading barges with gasoline and ammunition during the battle.
See Pictures of Saipan - 1996 for photos taken by David Moore upon his return to the island of Saipan in 1996 and the battlefields and beaches he had seen fifty-two years before.
Note 1: H. M. of Green Bay, Wisconsin sent an email on Dec 25, 2001 where she offered a personal perspective on the flight of that single Japanese plane on that day.
Perhaps I have solved this mystery [regarding the Japanese plane], however small...
I am the child of a Japanese national and a U.S. Navy sailor. They were married in 1962, and I was born in 1963. My mother's brother was an IJN bomber pilot who survived Saipan, and eventual posting to a Kamikaze attack squadron. He survived Saipan because important military documents had to get off the island. To do this, according to family oral history, he and another man repaired a damaged plane and flew off the island. I don't know if the plane had one seat or two, or what kind of plane. Perhaps even if the plane were a two-engined Betty, it would have only carried one occupant. Yet as you know, the IJN had many single engine torpedo, level and dive-bombing planes, most equipped with rotary-cylinder engines. The name of my uncle who survived Saipan by this miracle (for him and my family) was Yukihiko Tajiri.
I have read many accounts of the Saipan battle, but I have never read any documentation of such an escape flight until I saw your web page today. I knew that few people, maybe no one else on the Japanese side survived the battle except by being captured and surrendering. Therefore, if any report existed of such a flight, it would be highly likely that the pilot was my uncle.
Note 2: Saipan: The Beginning of the End, Historical Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, was used in preparation of this paper by David Moore. This document can be found in the MARC library at the University of Guam.
If you are doing research on the contributions a relative made during the Battle of Saipan or other conflicts in WWII, see the Seabee Resources web page.