Friday Firesmith – June of 1944

Everyone knows, or ought to know, in June of 1944, American forces landed in Normandy, France, and began the battle to end the Nazi occupation of Europe. “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan,” the former a mini-series, and the latter a movie, are excellent in their own ways, and the first twenty minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” are some of the most intense in film history. 

Meanwhile, the war in the Pacific had been grinding on since 1941. The Americans had been defeated by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island. “The Alamo of the Pacific,” Wake Island, is where the Japanese should have learned a lesson about the American Marines, but they did not. The tiny force of Americans on that island sunk a Japanese cruiser and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese before being overwhelmed. 

The Japanese then strode headlong into the American trap at Midway, losing four carriers in a single battle. Worse, they took Guadalcanal Island, then bungled three counterattacks once the American Marines wrested the island and the airstrip there from them. In early 1943, the Japanese evacuated 13,000 starving soldiers from Guadalcanal in the dead of night and would never be on the offense again. In April 1943, P-38s launched from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal sought out and shot down a plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the man who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

By June of 1944, the Japanese were hoping, against all odds, they could find a battle that might slow the American forces down. The island of Saipan, considered to be part of the defensive ring around the homeland, was where the Japanese sought to stymie the American fleet and grind the Marines to a halt. 

What the Japanese received for their trouble was the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” where American pilots downed five hundred Japanese planes and ended Japanese Naval Aviation as a threat for the rest of the war. American submarines sunk two Japanese carriers, and at the end of the sea battle, the Japanese were left with the ghost of their fleet and little else. 

On the island of Saipan, American Marines, and soldiers were gaining ground by inches and feet, but the Japanese were out of supply, outnumbered, and without air support. When the end was near, 4,000 Japanese troops decided to “Gyokusai,” die with honor, and charged the American lines, some of them armed with bamboo sticks. All were killed, and our losses were slight in comparison. The island was secured in July 1944. 

Admiral Nagumo, the man who led the fleet against Pearl Harbor, died by suicide on Saipan. Prime Minister Tojo, the leading figure in Japan calling for war against the Americans, was forced out of office and hanged for being a war criminal after the war. 

After Saipan, American bombers were well within reach of Japanese cities. Nothing the Japanese held dear was safe. 

We all remember June 1944 as D-Day, and we should remember it. But we should also honor the Marines and soldiers who fought and died on Saipan at about the same time. The landing in France spelled the end of Germany’s war in Europe, and Saipan was Japan’s death knell. 

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

17 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – June of 1944”

  1. “Operation Vengeance” : on April 18th 1943, P-38s from the 339th Fighter Squadron (“Sunsetters”) launched from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal; sought out and shot down a plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the man who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many years later I served in that same unit at Moody Air Force Base; working the Radar/Gun Sights/Missile Guidance systems of the F-4E Phantom fighter. The unit had also seen combat in Korea in 1950 and was an RDF (Rapid Deployment Force) squadron tasked for immediate deployment to the Korean Peninsula if necessary while I was part of that unit.

    “Black Thursday”: October 14th 1943, 291 B-17 and 60 B-24 Liberators launched the “Second Schweinfurt Raid” – an attack on a German ball-bearing plant that made critical components for many of the German military hardware (aircraft, tanks, vehicles etc.). 77 of the B-17s were lost (and another 121 damaged); my uncle was a Navigator on one of those B-17s (“me and my gal”) and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.

    “Fort Gordon Johnston” was an army base on the florida panhandle (between Tallahasee and Apalachicola) – that base was the main training base for the D-Day landings; they used to practice storming the ‘beach’ in Carabelle and Lanark Village and along “dog island”. there is a museum in Carabelle with some photos/memorabilia from that era.

  2. closer to my corner of the state is Toccoa Georgia; where “easy company” aka “Band of Brothers” aka “the 101st Airborne E. Company” started their training; if you read the book or watched the HBO mini-series one of the big challenges during training was the dramatic run up Mt. Currahee just south of Toccoa. (this is much more vividly described in the book than the hbo special but it was a pretty grueling ordeal depicated vividly in both).

    I have hiked that mountain (much much slower than those men ran it); it’s got a great view from up there… there are two different trails to the top; a shorter (but much steeper) trail or the old trail from “Camp Toccoa” (which has a museum to the Airborne Training school) that mostly follows the original trail those soldiers used in the 40s.

    it’s now possible for us old lazy types to drive to the top thanks to a service road for those massive radio towers up top… somehow it just doesn’t seem right…

  3. Those island battles in the Pacific were rarely won on the initial assault. After the battle on the beach there would be continued fighting with at least one and sometimes many counteroffensives before the island was won.
    As soon as the Marines cleared the beach the Seabees started coming ashore to build supply lines and temporary airstrips because those Marines hitting the beach didn’t carry a lot of food, nor enough ammo to fight very long.
    Hot on the heels of the Seabees were the nurses to care for the wounded the combat medics were duct tapeing together to keep them alive.
    Both the Seabees and nurses were subjected to ducking sniper bullets and the frequent enemy counteroffensives that could/did overrun their position.
    Those support people deserve our kudos and thanks as it’s not necessarily the best or bravest fighters, but the best supported who win in the end.

    • Bruce, those are the most overlooked heroes of the war. Unprepared and under-trained for combat, they nevertheless were subjected to the same war as everyone else.

  4. Thank you, Mike.
    But the Americans were not alone at Normandy, though I hate to think what the outcome would have been without them.

    • rikkochet, most people have no idea of how much other countries suffered in the war. America was immune from being invaded or having its cities bombed. On D-Day, the French Resistance attacked in many places, in order to confuse the Nazis, or slow their reinforcements. Canadians and Brits landed on D-Day, too. On the eastern front, the Russians were pushing hard, and taking horrific casualties, too. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, mostly it fell to the American Marines to do the fighting.

  5. My father was drafted into the 82nd Airborne and went to Europe. The only thing he told me about it was never jump out of a perfectly good airplane. But I heard from one of his buddies they were bivouacked at a country estate, got into the wine cellar, and threw an officer out a window, then went from England to France in a glider. When I mentioned it I was told to mind my own business.

    My Uncle was in the Seabees, learned heavy equipment operation which was an occupation with full employment the rest of his life. He never spoke about the war but at his funeral one of his Model-T collecting buddies said my Uncle had told him about being overrun by a counteroffensive and pretending to be dead under a sheet of plywood. A Jap soldier lifted up the edge of the plywood, laughed at him, and dropped the plywood walking away. I’m guessing the Jap was convinced by the smell of the poop in my Uncles pants because there sure would be in mine.

    After I left home for school in Boston my mother went to nursing school. One of her instructors was a nurse in WW II and remembered she was so grateful when my Uncles outfit dug a latrine for the nurses on some island after they had been using the jungle a couple days.

    • Bruce, the war against the Japanese in the Pacific was once described by Robert McNamara as “the most brutal fighting known to mankind,” and if it wasn’t, I think it broke into the top ten easily. Your uncle was lucky to survive that event.

  6. I was in Nam from Jan to Dec 1970. The guys that I was in awe of were the medics. I too often saw one running across an open field under rifle fire to get to a wounded soldier and then try to drag the guy back to safety. The rest of us were trying to get lower than a snakes belly, but not those crazy GIs.

  7. I don’t think I had any family in the military–they were agrarian. My Mom’s dad was born on the family’s dairy farm. That farm was in the family for about 70 years or so, so definitely during WW II. I did talk to one guy that got drafted, sent to Europe in the belly of a ship for 3 days right as the Germans surrendered, so pretty much hopped back in the belly of the ship and headed back to the States.

    Another unsung group that helped in the Pacific theater was a group of women tasked with determining the best time and place to attach an island. They had to know about weather patterns, the coral reefs around the islands, and the tide schedule. And doing this all without calculators or computers.

    Another amazing thing was knowing everything needed to decide to use the atom bombs: that every Japanese man, woman, and child, were being taught to fight to the end, that we (the U.S.) only had 3 bombs (one not really being ready and another really iffy), and the pamphlets we dropped to warn the civilians to skip town. Then add a VP that suddenly became Prez without knowing much of the military plans and the bombs since FDR and Truman did not really talk.

    Another tidbit: the Nazis were the German National Socialist Party, so we defeated the socialists.

    These stories Mike and others have said really show how tough that generation was or became. Amazing.

    • Tim, World War III was a full nation press. The people on the front like getting shot at, pilots and air crews getting blasted out of the sky, sailors getting boats sank under them, yes, all of that, but there were so many regular people doing stuff to support the war.

  8. Both my grandfathers were WW2 vets. My dad’s dad was a POW in Germany captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He was held for 18 months at a camp at Luchenwald close to Berlin.
    My mother’s dad was a tanker stationed in Belgium and Germany. He helped to liberate a concentration camp, he never said which one. He had photo albums full of pictures of the war. Because he developed his own pictures they weren’t confiscated from him. They were stolen when my grandparents moved to Arizona in the late 80’s. I have no idea why someone would want those photos.

    • Chick, they probably never knew what they were or how much real value they had as a recording of the past. Thieves are notoriously stupid when it comes to realizing what they have.

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