On this day in 1944, Japanese Lt. General Hideyoshi Obata commits ritual suicide. The Battle of Guam was over. The island was finally back in American hands.
The Japanese had been occupying Guam for nearly three years.
They’d first taken possession of the island in December 1941. Mere hours after the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had launched an attack on Guam, too. The island then contained a Marine Barracks and a Navy Yard, but fewer than 500 Marines and sailors were on the island to act in its defense. Even with the help of the minesweeper USS Penguin, Guam wasn’t very well defended.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the island was taken without too much trouble. On December 10, Guam surrendered to the Japanese.
And so things stood for many months. But by the summer of 1944, Americans were poised to retake their territory. They planned an invasion for June 18. Well, at least they intended to invade in June. When the Battle of Saipan took longer than intended, the date got pushed back a few weeks.
In the days and weeks before the attack, Americans began pounding the island with air and naval strikes. Naval underwater demolition teams worked to remove reefs and other barriers that might impede the invasion. When the land invasion finally came, it was composed of two Marine divisions landing on opposite sides of the Orote Peninsula, with a division of infantry waiting to join in a second wave. The old Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, and airfield had been located on Orote, next to Apra Harbor. Americans considered it critical to secure the area before moving on to the rest of Guam.
The actual invasion finally came on July 21. You can imagine that the inhabitants were more than happy to see the American forces. They’d been abused for more than 30 months at the hands of the Japanese. Now, finally, help had come.
The Japanese fought fiercely against the invading Americans, even launching banzai attacks, but the Marines overcame them. By July 29, the peninsula was secure and the Japanese commander, Takeshi Takashina, had been killed in action. The Japanese were soon forced out of the southern part of the island, and they began to head north.
Did the new Japanese commander, Obata, see the writing on the wall? Guam’s capital was liberated on July 31, and the entire island was declared secure by August 10.
The Japanese considered surrender to be a dishonorable route. Thus, Obata sent a farewell message to Japan and committed ritual suicide on August 11.
This story has two interesting postscripts.
First, not every Japanese soldier was captured during August 1944. Some soldiers went into hiding on the island and evaded capture for years, even decades. The last Japanese soldier to be found in Guam, Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, was finally found in 1972. He was discovered by two local hunters. Can’t you imagine their shock?!
Finally, perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that the people of Guam still celebrate their liberation from the occupying Japanese forces. July 21 is celebrated as Liberation Day each year.
Ian W. Toll, The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 (2015)
Philip A. Crowl, U.S. Army In World War II, The War In The Pacific, Campaign In The Marianas (Office Of the Chief Of Military History, U.S. Army) (1970).
Robert F. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam (1995)