The Allied force left Pearl Harbour on 5 June 1944, and ten days later American marines were storming the beaches of Saipan Island, with the aim of securing a base in the Pacific from which the US could attack the Japanese mainland. Under heavy gunfire, and sustaining heavy losses, 20,000 troops made it ashore and started to drive towards Aslito airfield. Under Marine General Holland ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Smith, they forced the Japanese to retreat north towards Mount Tapotchau, but suffered heavy casualties at sites that became known as ‘Death Valley’ and ‘Purple-Heart Ridge’. On 6 July, under orders from Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito, the remainder of the Japanese garrison launched a futile mass-suicide attack at Tanapag shouting ‘Banzai!’, but were mown down by US machine guns. On 9 July the Americans declared the island secure, but, frightened by Japanese propaganda, thousands of civilians then jumped to their deaths from the its high northern cliffs.
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