The submerged Sherman tank off Saipan

Mike Grist Marianas Islands, Planes / Tanks, World Ruins 45 Comments

The Battle of Saipan was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II, fought on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands from 15 June 1944 to 9 July 1944. The invasion fleet embarking the expeditionary forces left Pearl Harbor on June 5, 1944, the same day Operation Overlord was launched with the invasion of Normandy (AKA the D-Day landings). The Normandy landings were the larger amphibious landing, but the Marianas invasion fielded the larger fleet.

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By July 7, the Japanese had nowhere to retreat. Saito made plans for a final suicidal banzai charge. On the fate of the remaining civilians on the island, Saito said, “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured.” At dawn, with a group of a dozen men carrying a great red flag in the lead, the remaining able-bodied troops, about 3,000 men, charged forward in the final attack. Amazingly, behind them came the wounded, with bandaged heads, crutches, and barely armed.

The Japanese surged over the American front lines, engaging both Army and Marine units. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th U.S. Infantry were almost destroyed, losing 650 killed and wounded. However, the fierce resistance of these two battalions, as well as that of Headquarters Company, 105th Infantry, and elements of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines (an artillery unit) resulted in over 4,300 Japanese killed. For their actions during the 15-hour Japanese attack, three men of the 105th Infantry were awarded the Medal of Honor – all posthumously. Numerous others fought the Japanese until they were overwhelmed by the largest Japanese Banzai attack in the Pacific War .

Many hundreds of Japanese civilians committed suicide in the last days of the battle, some jumping from “Suicide Cliff” and “Banzai Cliff”. Efforts by U.S. troops to persuade them to surrender instead were mostly futile. Widespread propaganda in Japan portraying Americans and British as “devils” who would treat POWs barbarically, deterred surrender (see Japanese Military Propaganda (WWII)).

In the end, about 22,000 Japanese civilians died. Almost the entire garrison of troops on the island — at least 30,000 — died. For the Americans, the victory was the most costly to date in the Pacific War. 2,949 Americans were killed and 10,364 wounded, out of 71,000 who landed. – Wikipedia

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I have never heard a first hand account of how this WW II Sherman tank ended up in the lagoon, a couple of hundred yards off the shore, so here is a composite of what seems most likely: Apparently the tides had mis-judged. I don’t have tide table for the invasion days on Saipan but it could well have been that the tidal condition was noted when there was a low tide but by the time the invasion took place the tide was high.

The Tank was probably off-loaded from an Landing Ship, Tank or LST (not so jokingly referred to as Large Slow Targets) . It is also possible that the LST was disabled by Japanese shelling. The tank crew may have tried to make a mad dash to the beach but it was just too far away. The water was shallow enough that the crew probably escaped without drowning, but, the withering rain of bullets, artillery and mortar fire may have killed them. Mitchell P. Warner

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Submerged to the turret.

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An intact WW2-era Sherman tank.

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This guy was about 300 meters off the beach. There were 3 but not really close to each other and this one is turned and looks to be engaged with a pillbox on the shore and has a nasty antitank round below the water line on the starboard side right behind the driver/front gunner. Being the typical tourists we couldn’t resist swimming out and getting close to it and checking it out. I will see if I can find the interior shots of it. What was really neat is the barrell is actually pointing at a bunker/pillbox that had taken a shot and collapsed. – Chris Usrey

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Now looking to battle the clouds. Photo from here, by Jeff Harrington.

I went to Saipan for a 3-day holiday myself about 5 years ago. I took photos of all the ruins but back then I knew nothing about photography so the shots would have sucked, and besides I’ve lost them all now anyway. I saw this tank, as well as the caves and last remaining guns of the Japanese hold-outs. I also took a trip up to the suicide cliffs, from which civilians jumped to their deaths, fearing the foreign ‘devils’ and believing death was better than surrender. That was quite depressing. The island was well scoured for bodies, but apparently people still find skeletons lurking in the undergrowth.

A student of mine from 5 years ago had a collection of spent ammo rounds from Saipan, that he’d gathered from a trip some 30 years ago, claiming shells had been lying all over the place. I suppose spent ammo would’ve been easier to pass through customs back then. I didn’t see any lying around when I went though.


Location – Saipan, off Garapan Beach (15° 12′ 53.00″ N 145° 43′ 3.43E)

Entry – Easy to swim out to, climb on, shoot.

Highlights – Submerged!


You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:

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Comments 45

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    1. Hey MJG when I was a kid my grandfather showed me a B&W photo of a tank submerged off of Saipan. I thought that it was in Time or Life. He drove a Sherman with the 2nd Marines on Saipan and always told us that the first two tanks off the LST sank and his, being the third was first to make it to shore. That is why he was showing me the picture. He said “I drove my tank right next to this one” That’s what brought me to this site, trying to find the picture I remember him showing me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’ve snorkeled around that tank. Here are some underwater shots I took:

    It was the first time I used that camera though so I was having a hard time getting good underwater shots. I’m going back in December so hopefully I can get some better shots now that I know what I’m doing haha.

    Did you get a chance to see the abandoned Shinto shrines while there? Those are really interesting as well.

    Probably my favorite place though was visiting the old air base where they loaded Fat Man and Little Boy. Gave me the creeps going out there.

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    KK- Ha, I almost used some of your underwater shots in this post! Can’t remember why I didn’t. Would you have been cool with that- of course with links back? Ah- now I see on flickr you have all rights reserved, that’ll be why I didn’t use them. The old air base- I didn’t even know about that- looks cool, and with history too.

  4. haha been awhile, but yeah that’s totally cool if you want to use my pics 🙂 I’m heading back to Saipan today so hopefully I can get some even better pics this time around!

  5. I am a native of Saipan. Though those monuments may be depressing at times, it is also reminds us locals of the sacrifices that were payed for our freedom. Thank you to the many soldiers & veterans for all that you do for us.

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  6. As of sept 2010 the tank is still looking good. At low tide you can get inside the tank and look around. Saipan is beautiful, and the local people are great.

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  7. My step-dad drove a Sherman tank in WW II. He told on one that did not make it onto the shore at Saipan because the engine quit. The fellows in it had to swim and wade to shore. Back in the 1960’s, Life magazine had a photo of the tank on the cover of one of their issues. He told us the history of how the tank ended up never getting onto the island.

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  8. I was on Saipan in 1974 and got inside this tank. I have photos of it on LSP’s web site, ( ). Somewhere on the site they have a section called “SPARES BOX” or something like it. My story has several photos etc. I met a Marine who was in the invasion, then he came back years later and married a local girl. They took me to a relatives home and then they took me to the prison where Amelia Eahart (<—spelling) was kept, then they showed me where the Japs buried her. One of my photos is on the home page of this Saipan Invasion website….RJW

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      I never heard of that conspiracy theory about Earhart- fascinating to look into it. Not so keen on use of ‘Japs’ as that’s still considered a ethnic slur.

  9. That tank was commanded by Don Bulger from Lincoln Park NJ. Story goes that he had returned to the beach to protect a group of Marines that were being chewed up. Don was credited for saving over 200 Marrines that day. The tank was shot out from under him. Don is still alive but battling prostate cancer he is 92 years old.One of the greatest men I ever met.

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      Amazing, thanks so much for sharing this Jim. And so strange that the tank is still right there. Maybe more ruins of war should be left as they fell, to help remind us of the sacrifices made to get us where we are. Best wishes to Don.

    2. Don Bulger was my Father-In-Law…. he truly is one of the greatest men I ever met also…. so was his only son my husband who passed in 2004. Great comment – Thank You!

  10. Mike –
    I’m writing a paper and presentation for one of my classes on the Battle of Saipan and was thinking of using some of the pictures on this post for my class. I didn’t realize the site was yours until I started compiling my references list! Amazing!
    Where can I find “Japanese Military Propaganda (WWII)” on your website?

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      Awesome! and Japanese Military Propaganda, while I know it is a huge ratings-grabber, hasn’t made it onto the site yet. Soon, I promise!!
      Hope you get an A!

  11. To: MJG

    As to the word “JAPS” that I used in my story it will stand until I die and I am only 80 years old.

    If you did not live during WW-II then you may not know that the American Government “brain-washed” us to the tune that the only good JAP was a dead JAP and the same went for the German’s. A good Nazi was a dead Nazi. Least you not forget the Italians…..

    Our government repeated the same old story that they used in the 1800’s and that was : The only good indian was a dead indian……..just ask any of my Native American Indian relatives in South Dakota.

    As a paper boy in 1941 our route manage got me out of bed at about ten p.m. on December 7, 1941 and said: Here are some extra papers. You have to go to your route right now and call out: “EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT-THE JAPS BOMBED PEARL HARBOR.” From that day forward we were brained washed to hell and back. The newspapers, radio and the weekly “movie-tone” news at our local movie theater show war movies. When we saw dead G.I.’s floating on the beaches of Tarawa and other islands, lots of people jumped out of their seats and called out……kill them all, and the same went when we saw G.I.’s floating on the beaches of Normandy. When we seen the civillians jump to their death at Suicide Cliffs on Saipan we cheered to no end. Again: “Kill all of them.”

    In 1949 my brother came home from occupied Japan and could speak Japanese fluent, so I learned the language. In 1952 I met a “Jap” girl in a local night club in Akron, Ohio. We started dating and we fell in love, but she had to go back to Japan and marry a man she never met as it was their custom.

    During that time I realized that the American Government was a bunch of no good lier’s. Most all people on earth are good but we have some bad ones in all races.

    In 1973 I was still living in American, Samoa and I hired some fellow photographers from Los Angeles, CA; to work with me on another film project for PBS. Later I found out that one of the young men was from Germany. WOW……..a Nazi…..His father was a submarine commander and survived the war. I overcame that hatred and we are still good friends today and we email often.

    When the war was over I delivered papers and the headlines read: “THE JAPS SURRENDER.”

    I just watched the invasion of Saipan on TV and seen a lady jump, and others coming out of caves. One lady said that they were afraid of the G.I.’s and that they would rather die than surrender. Sounds like the Japanese were brain-washed to hell and back like the Americans.

    This bull-crap is still going on over in the Middle-East………I know as I was in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

    In closing, I do not use the word when I speak of Japan today, but I do use it when I speak about WW-II.

    Go live WW-II like I did then you will understand.


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      You make an argument that I can’t agree with. You’re right that I didn’t live through the war, I wasn’t brain-washed by that administration, but I don’t think either of those excuse the use of an ethnic slur in anything other than quote marks as a historical reference.

      You didn’t use it in quote marks, you used it in place of saying Japanese. For similar reasons it’s not alright to use the N-word.

      If Japanese come by my site and see your comment using and defending the use of ‘Japs’, how do you think they will feel? I don’t want that. They most likely didn’t live through WW2 either, and won’t understand it as anything other than a slur.

      I don’t want to argue with you on this, as you say you’re 80 and clearly have made up your mind. I just ask you not to use the word again on my site, unless as a quoted reference.

      1. Correction: You consider it an ethnic slur. It’s an abbreviation of Japanese, no different than Slav, Brit, etc….

        Don’t hide behind political correctness, nor demand it of anyone else.

        1. JAP IS an abbreviation of “Japanese”. The longer you continue the legacy of butthurt over an abbreviation, the longer there will be butthurt. The butthurt will end only when people grow tired of being butthurt over a word.

          And thank you Rodney for putting your life experience into context so that future generations MAY be able to understand the perspective of someone who was there… not a watered down, politically correct, candy coated version starring Ben Affleck. The level of butthurt over words shows that politically correct propaganda is alive and well — now more than ever.

          Ironic that now, people are hypersensitive over words while at the same time their governments are brainwashing , murdering and oppressing their people just like they always have… and most people are completely indifferent. “Bomb, shoot, pillage, conquer, lie, cheat, steal… but you cross the line when you use an “ethnic slur” — which is really just an abbreviation of a word and any “slur” is completely manufactured around absolutely nothing… except knowing that it’s supposed to be a “slur”.

          People aren’t very bright and they don’t take time to learn lessons from ones who have been there before them… which is why future generations are going to be having a LOT MORE sunken tanks to explore off of their coastlines, hundreds of years from now. And lots and lots of other wreckage too. So much in fact that it won’t be very novel because it will be the only thing left of a society that had it’s priorities completely out of whack to the level of insanity.

          I hope I didn’t offend any of you Japs with my observation. If you are offended, don’t worry, you’ll get over it… You can call me a “Yank” if it makes you feel better, I don’t mind at all.

  12. To MJG, i think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill, are the British offended by the term ‘Brits’? Are the Australians offended by the term Aussies?
    The Scottish ‘Scots’? American ‘Yanks’? The list goes on. The shortening of the countries name to describe the people is worldwide. Its totally unlike the ‘n’ word which is a derogatory term to describe a persons race.
    I’m afraid to write an article about a tank used during WW2 when fighting the Japanese and expect the word ‘Japs’ not to crop up is a bit of a tall order.
    Lets just marvel at the excellent photos.
    Steve Hill

  13. Never been overseas but i’d love to see a sherman like that. Might have to start saving my pennies. Love the diorama bit. Took me back to my childhood when i made a 1/72 scale M4A3 and tried to make an Ardennes diorama. Found out that ants loved the castor sugar I used as snow. As for all this tooing and froing about nationalities, i’m Australian and i don’t mind being called an Aussie but I DO think this site is about those beautiful SHERMANS and not arguing about who likes to be called what by whom
    Paul Hurst.

  14. I took a few trips to Saipan while I was in the Seabees 1974 ,stationed on Guam. It was beautiful and wild. While diving, you could see all kinds of artifacts and war machines. The scope was hard for an 18 year old to comprehend. Now I’m 56 and it still humbles me. The ordinance litter in the jungle was a big concern back then . We were warned not to pick anything up as it could still be live. There was a Japanese soldier that had not surrendered and had just got back to the world at that time…It’s hard to imagine that 18-19 year old’s still fight most wars that seem to be started by old men not wanting anybody walking on their lawns or some other some such nonsense. The tank was the 1st thing we saw on the beach. Brings back memories… God bless all who gave their lives so that we can live ours.

  15. I came across this very nice article today. I lived on Saipan for three years during the 1980s. We used to swim at that beach quite often. One time I dove off the tank and scraped my face on the bottom. I never made that mistake a second time.

    As I scrolled down I had to chuckle when I saw my photo of the Sherman. You have good taste! Here is a link to an enhanced version of the photo:

    Jeff Harrington
    Flickr – Astaken

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      Thanks Jeff!

      It’s a great photo- and I have to apologize that I hadn’t linked to your original, or even given you credit, on this post. That’s a bad oversight. I’ve corrected that now. Thanks for being so generous about my use of it!

    RUSSELL A. GUGELER, 1st Lt. FA,1st Info & Hist Serv., 20 January 1945

    Of the sixty-eight tanks in the first wave that struck Blue and Yellow Beaches, all but three arrived safely. One of these, an “A” Company tank, burned; one from “B” Company was swamped on the reef; and one from “C” Company received a direct hit from an anti-tank weapon that was firing from the shore at about a twenty-five yard range. The “C” Company tank was on the left of the third platoon.

    Snorkling that tank back in Aug ’71 I felt it had ran into a deep hole in the reef and drowned out. The rest of the reef was mostly shallow (waist deep) all the way out to the barrier reef. I vote “B” Co tank.

  17. When I was a kid in the late 50’s early 60’s there was a crop duster in Cottonport LA named James E. Smith who was called “Red”. We used to ride our bikes to the airstrip to watch Red take off and land as he sprayed the cotton fields in the area. Sometimes Red would hire other pilots and would load the airplane with pesticide when it would land so we spent a lot of time talking to Red. Red was a Marine in WW II and I remember he told us a story about having driven a tank off of a landing craft off the coast of Saipan in the Marianas and that the tank had drowned out because the water was too deep. I remember him saying “I bet that tank is still there because once it sunk into the sand and the tread rusted up there would be no way to move it. In about 1984 Life magazine published a special edition 40th anniversary of WW II issue and it had a picture of a tank off the coast of Saipan was in the magazine. Later I saw a book called World War II that was published by American Heritage and it also had a picture of a tank off the coast of Saipan. From what I understand, there are at least 2 of these tanks and I am certain that Red drove one of them because he told us this story 25 years before these pictures made the tank famous. Red died in about 1980 and he has a daughter who remembers him talking about the tank and there are other people who knew him who recall him talking about this.

  18. Ginny: Read my earlier comment about one of the tanks on Saipan. I knew a Marine who drove one of the tanks.

  19. Jim: Please read my comment about a man who drove one of the tanks off the LST on Saipan. He was Marine Sgt. James E. “Red” Smith who was a crop duster after the war. He told us about having driven one of the tanks that flooded out on Saipan in about 1960, long before the tanks on Saipan were tourist attractions. Do you know anything about this? Red’s daughter is about 53 and she remembers her father talking about having driven the tank.

  20. Laura: I knew a former Marine named Sgt. James E. “Red” Smith who told me about having driven one of the tanks that flooded out off the coast of Saipan. He told me this in about 1960. Did your father in law ever mention anything about any of the other tanks? Red’s daughter is about 53 and she recalls her daddy talking about the tank, as so several other people who knew Red. Red died in about 1980.

  21. Claudia: A friend of mine, Sgt. James E. “Red” Smith drove that tank. He was a crop duster and I used to go to his airstrip when I was a kid and watch the planes. He told me the story of how it flooded out and he said “I bet it’s still there because once the tracks rusted and it sunk into the sand there would be no way to move it.” He told me this in about 1960. His daughter said she remembers him telling her about it when she was little. Red died in about 1980, long before the tank was seen in the Life Magazine or in the American Heritage book World War II.

  22. I was stationed on Guam in the Navy 1976-77, and visited Saipan twice. I spent all told 6 days there.
    On my first visit I met an older American woman who was very knowledgable os the island. She explained the story of the Sherman tank. According to her, the tank’s engine simply flooded out during it’s attempt to make the shore.
    The crew scrambled out and made it to shore. This woman told me that the Sherman’s driver had survived the war, and was living in St. Louis, and was a car salesman.
    I spent the next day snorkeling around it, and of course climbed all over it. There were several landing craft in the vicinty, and they looked as though they had taken direct hits from the Japanese shore batteries.
    As I stood on what had been the main invasion beach, I could scarcely imagine what had occurred 33years earlier. I also thought of my uncle who had been part of the invasion as a fighting SeaBee.
    My uncle had showed me pictures and told me stories, and it was hard to believe that I was standing on the very beach that he had walked up when he was a young man my age.

  23. My name is Casey I was in Sipan in 74 snorkeled out to this tank and stayed all day. Back then the tank still had lots of Green paint on it , Nice , enjoyed pictures Thanks. Son Of Texas, 1837

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