Glorious white sand beaches, coconut palms, shallow aquamarine water. Deck chairs and umbrellas lining the beach, paddle-boats in the water, resorts and hotels along the foreshore. Rotting WWII tanks offshore in waist high water. Where could I be? Kilili Beach, Saipan, of course.
Saipan, a 23 kilometre long island in the western Pacific, is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the second largest island in the Mariana archipelago (the largest is Guam).
Through no fault of its own – blame it on unfortunate geopolitical positioning – this little tropical island became the battleground for one of the fiercest campaigns in the Pacific during World War II.
Kilili Beach was within the primary invasion zone of the Battle of Saipan, which commenced 15 June 1944.
At 08:30 the invasion began. By 09:00 over 8,000 American troops were ashore.
The extensive coral reef that lies off Kilili Beach proved a nightmare for the invading army. These abandoned Sherman tanks – there are at least three tanks that you can swim to from Kilili Beach – never made it to shore.
The Battle of Saipan was won by the American troops on the 9th of July, 1944; less than a month after it began.
3,500 American troops died in the battle.
30,000 to 40,000 Japanese troops were killed.
20,000 civilians (Japanese, Korean, and Chamorro and Caroline Islanders) also died during the campaign, up to a thousand of whom were encouraged or forced to commit suicide rather than surrender.
Saipan remains littered with WWII debris and is covered in WWII historic sites. The debris, such as these Sherman tanks (which now support a community of colourful tropical fish), will eventually rot away, but the historic sites will be there forever.
Something to think about while sipping on your long island iced tea at sunset.
Direct flights to Saipan are possible from Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong. Most flights will require a transfer in Guam.