Kilili Beach, Saipan – swim with WWII tanks 2

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.

Kilili Beach, Saipan

Idyllic Kilili Beach, Saipan. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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, Saipan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Kilili Beach

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.

Sherman tank, Kilili Beach, Saipan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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.

Sherman tank, Kilili Beach, Saipan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The Battle of Saipan was won by the American troops on the 9th of July, 1944; less than a month after it began.

Sherman tank, Kilili Beach, Saipan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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.

Sherman tank, Kilili Beach, Saipan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

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.

Sunset, Kilili Beach, Saipan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Practical information and how to reach Kilili Beach:

Direct flights to Saipan are possible from Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong. Most flights will require a transfer in Guam. More transport info here.

More on Saipan:

Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff – a terrible history

More of my favourite beaches:

Anse Source d’Argent, Seychelles

Beaches of the Freetown Peninsula, Sierra Leone

Secret Lagoon Beach, Philippines

Maracas Bay, Trinidad and Tobago

Lalomanu, Samoa

More on the Pacific:

Easter Island:

The Moai Quarry, Easter Island, Chile – 397 moai, a volcano, a mystery, a cataclysm


Keen to see the green flash? Try Tumon Beach

Papua New Guinea:

PoM Nature Park – dorcopsis, bird of paradise, tree kangaroo, and more

Rabaul – Jewel of the South Pacific, buried by volcanic ash

Little Pigeon Island, East New Britain – tiny, uninhabited, sand cay with view of volcanos


Port Vila – Erakor Lagoon + Iririki Island + Mele Cascades = Pacific getaway 

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