John Grehan & Alexander Nicoll, Saipan 1944 (Frontline, 2021)
Spring 1944, and the war in the Pacific had turned against Japan. But as long as their homeland remained free from threat, argue Grehan and Nicoll in Saipan 1944, then war’s end looked no closer. If the Americans could take the Mariana Islands, that would change because the new B-29s could hit Japan. The most heavily defended was Saipan; this book in the Images of War series tells the story of the American assault and the bitter fighting that followed.
The authors take us through the whole of Operation Forager intended to capture Saipan. The Americans underestimated Japanese strength on the 12.5 mile long misshapen island where 32,000 Japanese defenders waited, not the expected 17,000. D-Day was 15 June 1944, supported by naval gunfire and aerial bombardment, but that didn’t prevent the Marines deploying onto the beaches under a storm of Japanese fire. Nevertheless, the Marines pushed inland and onto the high ground, winkling the Japanese out of their caves and bunkers one by one in intense combat that lasted for several days before entrapping the Japanese remnants on the north of the island. Grehan and Nicoll detour to cover the massive but one-sided naval battle of the Philippine Sea that took place during the conquest of Saipan. Returning to the island, the authors describe the last desperate banzai attack of the defenders on 7 July: over 4,300 Japanese died. All that was left was to mop up holdouts and survivors, but the horror was not over as hundreds of civilians committed suicide by jumping from cliffs. With Saipan taken, the authors conclude with photographs of B-29s taking off to bomb Japan, mission accomplished.
As with all Images of War books, Saipan 1944’s success lies in the range and quality of its photographs. On the whole, these are informative and sometimes thought provoking. There are perhaps too many naval photographs, but the modern pictures of where the action took place are interesting, and the combat photographs of US Marines graphically portray what they endured. The accompanying text is concise, and the authors make good use of quotes from those involved. They also include some very useful maps so that readers can follow the action. Overall, this is a solid addition to the series.