World War II: Battle of Guam (1944)

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Allied troops land on Guam, June 1944. Photograph Courtesy of the US Marine Corps

Battle of Guam (1944) - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Guam was fought July 21 to August 10, 1944, during World War II (1939-1945).

Armies & Commanders:

Allies

  • Major General Roy Geiger
  • Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner
  • 59,401, men

Japan

  • Lieutenant General Takeshi Takashina
  • 18,657 men

Battle of Guam (1944) - Background:

Situated in the Mariana Islands, Guam became a possession of the United States following the Spanish-American War in 1898.

  Lightly defended, it was captured by Japan on December 10, 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Following advances through the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, which saw places such as Tarawa and Kwajalein secured, Allied leaders commenced planning for a return to the Marianas in June 1944.  These plans initially called for landings on Saipan on June 15 with troops going ashore on Guam three days later.  The landings would be preceded by a series of aerial attacks by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's Task Force 58 (Fast Carrier Task Force) and US Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator bombers.

Covered by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance's Fifth Fleet, Lieutenant General Holland Smith's V Amphibious Corps began landing as planned on June 15 and opened the Battle of Saipan.  With fighting underway ashore, Major General Roy Geiger's III Amphibious Corps began moving towards Guam.  Alerted to the approach of a Japanese fleet, Spruance cancelled the June 18 landings and ordered the ships carrying Geiger's men to withdraw from the area.

  Though Spruance won the impending Battle of the Philippine Sea, fierce Japanese resistance on Saipan forced the liberation of Guam to be postponed to July 21.  This, as well as fears that Guam could be more heavily fortified than Saipan, led to Major General Andrew D. Bruce's 77th Infantry Division being added to Geiger's command.

Battle of Guam (1944) - Going Ashore:

Returning to the Marianas in July, Geiger's underwater demolition teams scouted the landing beaches and commenced removing obstacles along Guam's west coast.  Supported by naval gunfire and carrier aircraft, the landings moved forward on July 21 with Major General Allen H. Turnage's 3rd Marine Division landing north of the Orote Peninsula and Brigadier General Lemuel C. Shepherd's 1st Provisional Marine Brigade to the south.  Encountering intense Japanese fire, both forces gained the shore and began moving inland.  To support Shepherd's men, Colonel Vincent J. Tanzola's 305th Regimental Combat Team waded ashore later in the day.  Overseeing the island's garrison, Lieutenant General Takeshi Takashina began counterattacking the Americans but was unable to prevent them from penetrating 6,600 feet inland before nightfall (Map).   

Battle of Guam (1944) - Fighting for the Island:

As the fighting continued, the remainder of the 77th Infantry Division landed on July 23-24.  Lacking sufficient Landing Vehicles Tracked (LVT), much of the division was forced to disembark on the reef offshore and wade to the beach.  The next day, Shepherd's troops succeeded in cutting the base of the Orote Peninsula.

  That night, the Japanese mounted strong counterattacks against both beachheads.  These were repelled with the loss of around 3,500 men.  With the failure of these efforts, Takashina began retreating from the Fonte Hill area near the northern beachhead.  In the process, he was killed in action on July 28 and succeeded by Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata.  That same day, Geiger was able to unite the two beachheads and a day later secured the Orote Peninsula.

Pressing their attacks, American forces compelled Obata to abandon the southern part of island in as Japanese supplies began to dwindle.  Withdrawing north, the Japanese commander intended to concentrate his men in the island's northern and central mountains.  After reconnaissance confirmed the enemy's departure from southern Guam, Geiger turned his corps north with the 3rd Marine Division on the left and the 77th Infantry Division on the right.

  Liberating the capital at Agana on July 31, American troops captured the airfield at Tiyan a day later.  Driving north, Geiger shattered the Japanese lines near Mount Barrigada on August 2-4.  Pushing the increasingly broken enemy north, US forces launched their final drive on August 7.  After three days of fighting, organized Japanese resistance effectively ended.  

Battle of Guam (1944) - Aftermath:

Though the Guam was declared secure, a large number of Japanese troops remained on the loose.  These were largely rounded up in the following weeks though one, Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, held out until 1972.  Defeated, Obata committed suicide on August 11.  In the fighting for Guam, American forces suffered 1,783 killed and 6,010 wounded while Japanese losses numbered approximately 18,337 killed and 1,250 captured.  In the weeks after the battle, engineers transformed Guam into a major Allied base that included five airfields.  These, along with other airfields in the Marianas, gave USAAF B-29 Superfortresses bases from which to commence striking targets in the Japanese home islands.           

Selected Sources