SGM HERBERT A. FRIEDMAN (Ret.)
Map of Saipan Showing the Invasion Forces
I like to think that I am an expert on WWII psychological operations in the Pacific. I wrote 30,000 words on the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Branch operations in the Philippines, and another 53,000 words on the U.S. Navy and Office of War Information leaflets prepared on Saipan. Then I ran across the name of U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Bob Sheeks, a name I had never heard of. As I studied his actions during the initial American assault on Japanese-occupied Saipan in WWII, I discovered that he had done things that were not officially credited to U.S. forces until much later. He decided that trying to talk the Japanese into surrendering was important and began writing leaflets and loudspeaker messages. Up until that time it was believed that no Japanese would ever surrender and for the Marines it was a lot easier to just shoot them, burn them or blow them up. Sheeks also thought that the Japanese needed to be taught how to surrender because the concept was unknown in Japan. He obtained a loudspeaker, and talked a Marine motor sergeant into placing it on a jeep. He also bought portable loudspeakers and took it upon himself to try and talk the Japanese military and civilians out of caves. It was an amazing story and totally unknown to me. So, this short story will mention some of the ground-breaking PSYOP actions that Bob Sheeks did.
U.S. Marine Lieutenant General Holland Smith
Marines Hit the Beach during the Invasion of Saipan
Let me start with a very brief introduction to the battle for Saipan. The Battle was fought from 15 June to 9 July 1944. The Allied invasion fleet embarking the expeditionary forces left Pearl Harbor on 5 June 1944. The U.S. 2nd Marine Division, 4th Marine Division, and the Army's 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Holland Smith, fought the 43rd Infantry Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito.
Amid the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers, a Marine of the U.S. 2nd Division raises his M1 carbine to take aim at the retiring enemy on Saipan during the advance on Mount Marpi. The bitter battle for Saipan resulted in heavy casualties for both sides.
2nd Marine Division Insignia
The invasion surprised the Japanese high command, which had been expecting an attack in the Pacific further south. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Navy, saw an opportunity to attack the U.S. Navy forces around Saipan. On 15 June, he gave the order to attack. But the resulting battle of the Philippine Sea was a disaster for the Imperial Japanese Navy, which lost three aircraft carriers and hundreds of planes. The garrisons of the Marianas would have no hope of resupply or reinforcement. Without resupply, the battle on Saipan was hopeless for the defenders, but the Japanese were determined to fight to the last man. The Japanese used the many caves in the volcanic landscape to delay the attackers, by hiding during the day and making sorties at night. The Americans gradually developed tactics for clearing the caves by using flamethrower teams supported by artillery and machine guns.
The Banzai Charge
The Banzai Charge is a human wave attack mounted by infantry units. This term came from the Japanese cry Tennoheika Banzai i.e. Long live the Emperor. It was a suicidal attack, where Japanese troops gave up their lives willingly to kill as many enemies as possible before their own death. Those that were unable to make the charge would kill themselves by holding a grenade against their chest. Surrender was unthinkable and the worst form of cowardice to the Japanese soldier.
By 7 July on Saipan, 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, 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. Of course, sharp sticks cannot defeat weapons so the Japanese were beaten back with terrible losses.
Believing the horrific tales of American atrocities fabricated by Japanese military propagandists, Japanese civilians commit suicide by flinging themselves and their children from the cliffs at Marpi Point on the island of Saipan. Unable to intervene, U.S. Marines watch helplessly as the civilians end their lives by drowning or falling on the rocks below.
At the end of June, Hirohito sent out an imperial order encouraging the civilians of Saipan to commit suicide. The order authorized the commander of Saipan to promise civilians who died there an equal spiritual status in the afterlife with those of soldiers perishing in combat. More than a 1,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide in the last days of the battle to take the offered privileged place in the afterlife, some jumping from places later named "Suicide Cliff" and "Banzai Cliff". Today the sites are a memorial and Japanese people visit to console the victims' souls.
Japanese Prisoners of War volunteer to broadcast Surrender appeals to
Japanese troops and civilians on Saipan in 1945
The loss of Saipan, with the death of at least 29,000 troops and heavy civilian casualties, precipitated the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and left the Japanese mainland within the range of Allied B-29 bombers.
Lieutenant Robert B. Sheeks on Saipan 1945
There is a website dedicated to Major Robert B. Sheeks; and a book The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 that mentions Lieutenant Sheeks early PSYOP activities; and a book titled One Marines War by Gerald A. Meehl, published by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, in 2012. These were a great help in learning of Sheeks background. Bob Sheeks and his son Robert were also very helpful, opening up their files to me and allowing me to use whatever I desired in this article. They were extremely generous.
In most cases, young men are born liberal and as they grow older become more conservative and learn to hate their enemies. In the case of Bob Sheeks it was just the opposite. Brought up in Shanghai before America entered the war and seeing the brutal way that Japanese troops treated the Chinese, Bob had an early hate for the Sons of Nippon. As he grew older and was taught Japanese by American Nisei instructors, and later interviewed and saw wounded and dying Japanese troops and civilians on Saipan he increaingly wanted to try to save their lives.
Born 8 April 1922 in China to American parents, Bob grew up spending his early boyhood in Shanghai.He attended the Shanghai American School until thirteen years of age. While in China, as a child, Bob met and admired members of the Fourth Marine Regiment that had been stationed in Shanghai since 1937. He decided at an early age that he would be a Marine someday.
Japanese soldiers celebrating after the city of Shanghai,
the largest city in China at the time, fell to the Japanese
Chinese civilian killed by Japanese Soldiers for Sport
Japan's attack on Shanghai took place in 1932. Bob witnessed some horrific scenes of brutal Japanese attacks on Chinese civilians. He mentioned them in a War in the Pacific Oral History Collection. Some of his comments were:
The Japanese did all kinds of things to terrify the Chinese and keep them from resisting. They would tie up a whole bunch of people and douse them with fuel and ignite them, or they would shoot a whole lot of people needlessly.
The Sheeks family returned to the U. S. in 1935, thus avoiding the large-scale Japanese invasion and occupation of China which followed in 1937.
In 1938, Robert Sheeks enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, at Spokane, Washington. Robert had submitted his application to Harvard. He was accepted on a scholarship and entered Harvard College in September 1940. After Pearl Harbor, Sheeks was recruited out of college by the U.S. Navy intelligence in Washington D.C., to be crash-trained in Japanese language and intelligence; then to be commissioned in the Marine Corps. It was thought he would learn Japanese rapidly, as he could speak Chinese, and had studied some written Chinese and Japanese.
One of the U.S. Navy Language Schools Japanese Text Books
The Navy's Japanese language training lasted a year, first at U.C. Berkeley, then at The University of Colorado at Boulder. Curiously, the American government did not want the Nisei who were helping in the war effort to be near the ocean where they might signal Japanese submarines or spy for the enemy. The books that Bob used to study Japanese were the six-volume Naganuma Readers. The students were issued books and bound notebooks. They were told that for the period of instruction they would read and learn each book, memorize everything they learned, speak only Japanese, and take a test each week. Those that could not keep up would be returned to their units and end up fighting the war. The language books were to be kept in good condition and returned at the end of the course. Bob was the kind of officer that wanted to have his references nearby in case of emergency, so he confiscated several of the books and took them with him when assigned to the Pacific. One wonders what the library fees would be after seven decades. Curiously, when I spoke to an individual that had knowledge of the Marine interpreters he told me:
Actually, most of the language officers kept their books and dictionaries for their duties in the Pacific and in Washington, DC. Many of the interpreters still had those school books marked Property of the US Navy, and carrying stamps stating that they must be returned long after the war was over. I dont believe the Navy or the Marine Corps ever wanted those books back. If they did, the turn in of books would have been part of their out-processing.
He was assigned to the Second Marine Division Intelligence Section in New Zealand; landed at Tarawa on D-Day in November 1943; likewise on the D-Days at Saipan and Tinian in June and July 1944. It was on Saipan that Sheeks innovative theory of how to conduct PSYOP to save both American and Japanese lives came to fruition. What I really want to stress at this time is that Sheeks did not go to any military Psychological Operations school and apparently was not trained to talk enemy troops out of fortified caves. He was an interpreter. His orders were to read captured paper looking for any strategic value and to interview captured prisoners to see if they had any information of tactical or strategic value. His PSYOP activities, which would have been called "propaganda" at the time, were mainly his own ideas.
When I mentioned my amazement at his accomplishments, Sheeks was quick to share the praise. He said:
Leaflets and the loudspeakers seemed essential to try to reduce enemy resistance. What had made the initial and strongest impact on me was my great frustration at being unable to communicate to resisting Japanese on Betio Island (Tarawa). At times they were in a bunker only several feet or yards away. Our action was bullets, explosives, flamethrowers, or live burial by bulldozer. I wanted us to be able to do better in subsequent land actions. The next one was the Marianas, Saipan/Tinian.
These leaflets and translation documents were produced at the Pearl Harbor Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Area (JICPOA) just prior to the Saipan invasion in early 1944. My immediate boss, Captain John C. Pelzel, USMCR, Assistant. D-2 (Intelligence), wrote the supporting translation documents to accompany the leaflets to Marine Corps headquarters (Saipan) as part of the file.
It was my job to bundle the leaflets into stacks bound by easily breakable string, attached to a strong cord, with its end fastened inside the cockpit of the aircraft. We used a single-engine Marine Corps artillery spotter plane for dissemination.
In fact, there was no person or source available to use as a guide. I received no relevant training.In fact, the term "psychological operations" was unfamiliar to me, and was not in use in the Marine Corps. Although a deadly serious effort, the Second Marine Division leaflet drop project that I headed came with no instructions or orders from top level command. I worked on the leaflets alone, but with approval and in consultation of my superiors, Captain Pelzer, and Colonel Thomas Colley.
After the leaflets were dropped, some Japanese military and civilians and some Koreans who surrendered carrying our leaflets.
Today, seven decades after WWII, the United States Marines have started their own PSYOP School and military occupational specialty 0521. We could say that Bob Sheeks is a foundation of that school.
Sheeks had been in the Tarawa invasion and seen the death and destruction there. He thought there must be a better way to get prisoners and information. At that time they only got a prisoner when the man was badly wounded or knocked unconscious by artillery or aerial bombing. When the Marines returned to Hawaii he put his mind to figuring out how he could do his job better by involving other interpreters. This is mentioned by Meehl who wrote:
Near the top of the list was how to communicate surrender instructions to Japanese holed up in fortified positions. It was very difficult for anyone to hear anything over the noise of combat, least of all potential POWs in concrete bunkers. Amplified megaphones loudspeakers could be the answer Bob proposed dropping leaflets printed with basic surrender information, and then using amplified sound systems to broadcast surrender appeals to civilians and to Japanese military in fortified positions.
These tagged weapons were taken from Japanese troops
Hiding in the caves of Saipan
Some of the loudspeaker and megaphone messages appeared in Field Directives 1 through 4. I will quote a few of them:
You are completely surrounded and the rest of the Island has been taken.
We do not wish to harm you. It is safe to come out now.
It is all right to carry children and help the wounded.
Foolish resistance will bring only useless death.
Be wise, come out immediately
Lieutenant Sheeks' Custom Designed Loudspeaker Jeep on Saipan
His microphone had to face away from the amplifier to prevent electronic interference.
Notice that this is one man without PSYOP training coming up with ideas like aerial propaganda leaflets, jeep-mounted loudspeakers and other advanced concepts. Since the Marines were busy training and had no time to play, he talked his commander into giving him some troop recreation funds to buy extra speakers and megaphones. Bob emphasized on his leaflets that surrender was an honorable act and explaining actually how to go about surrendering. He composed four different leaflets; three to be Japanese and one to be Korean.
The Patrol Card
Sheeks also prepared what he called a patrol card. In later wars like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq this would be called a "pointee-talkie card," where an American could point to a phrase in a foreign language and make himself understood. Bob put a sentence on the card to remind the Marines how important it was to take prisoners:
Every prisoner turned in means the saving of American lives, time, and material.
The card was folded with four sides. On the front there is an English-language message and a series of phrases in Japanese and English that can be used as a pointee-talkee card. The back has one long message in Japanese and another in Korean. The Japanese language message is:
You and your comrades have fought well; no one can be expected to do more. Those who remain can die or kill themselves if they wish. However, before the lives of brave Japanese men are exchanged for a little cheap ammunition, let them think for a moment.
If you have been badly led or overwhelmed by sheer numbers, it is not your fault. You and your comrades have done your duty; you will be treated honorably as fellow military men. We do not wish to kill needlessly. Help us prevent further useless loss of Japanese lives. If there are people in the vicinity, of whom you know, accompany us to their place of hiding and tell them to come out in safely.
We will show you how we wish you to approach the position on a map, or by some other way. Watch us so we can make our actions clear to each other. When you are close enough to call to them, tell them the truth, that they will be given food, water, tobacco, and medical care. Tell them to come forth unarmed with hands up. When we motion you to return, come back in single file.
We will keep you covered by guns. Make no quick motions which may be suspicious. Stay in our line of vision.
The Korean-language text is:
This war is between Japan and the United States
Korea has been under Japanese occupation for 26 years. We realize that Koreans have not had their freedom and have been forced to work for the Japanese. You are not our enemies. Koreans who were at Tarawa in the Gilberts and at Kwajalein in the Marshalls are now happy and well in American camps. You too, will be given food, tobacco and medical care. If you wish to work you will be given a fair wage.
We want you to help us prevent useless loss of Korean and all civilian lives. We also want you to help us take Japanese prisoners. If you know of Koreans, civilians, or Japanese troops in this immediate vicinity, point out their position to us.
If you think you can induce them to surrender, we will show you how we wish you to approach them, by pointing on a map, or by some other way. Watch us so we can make our actions clear to each other. When you are close enough to call to them, tell them the truth, that they will be given food, drink, tobacco, and medical care. Tell them to come forth unarmed with hands up. When we motion you to return, lead them back in single file.
We will keep you covered. Make no quick motions which may be suspicious. Stay in our line of vision.
Although not on the card above, language officers were often given a list of words and phrases that would be valuable in the field. One of the lists is shown below:
Hurry! Isoge (or) Hayaku Slowly Yukkuri Dangerous Abunai Stop (halt) Tomare Dont worry Shimpai shinade Dont shoot Utsu na Be careful Chui nasai Stand Tate Good Yoshi Raise your hands Te o agero Come out raising your hands Te o agete detekoi Come out (polite form used towards civilains) Detekinasai Come follow me Tsuitekoi Immediately Sugu ni If you dont obey we will fire Kikanaito utsuzo Wait here Kokode matte There is drinking water Nomimizu ga aru
One of the rules of psychological warfare is that you constantly test your propaganda on the enemy to find out if it was effective. Bob Sheeks seemed to figure this out on his own and prepared a Psychological Warfare Interrogation Guide for the interpreters with the concept that the answers would provide a basis for an estimate of the effectiveness of the PSYWAR program and provide data for preparation of further leaflets and broadcasts in the future. There are about 40 questions but I will just mention a few of the more interesting ones:
What lies were told by your superiors to encourage fighting morale or to discourage dissension?
Did you see any leaflets? Where? How many? Were you afraid to pick them up? Were there any official measures against the leaflets? What was your impression of the leaflets?
Did you hear any public address broadcasts? When? Where? What were your listening habits impressions? What measures were taken by your officers or NCOs to prevent surrender?
Did you see any patrol cards? Were you taken prisoner by our troops? Did one of their members load them to the side as directed by the patrol card?
What are your personal and general outlooks on postwar conditions?
What do you think about the Emperor, Tojo, the Army, the Navy, and your leadership?
The Marine Intelligence Section actually prepared a paper in the field on 5 February 1945 to be read to the Marines to explain the importance of taking prisoners. Titled Know Your Enemy, it said:
Prisoners, either civilian or military, are able to provide descriptions of anything they have seen or heard, and that can cover a very wide range of factual material. Information gained from prisoners has been and will continue to be vitally important in saving lives, saving time and wining a campaign It is an interesting fact that despite the fanaticism which the Japanese soldier often displays, he is very often willing upon capture to tell the truth about a great many important things.
To illustrate the value of prisoner of war information, at Saipan, a military prisoner was able to indicate a tank park, a munitions and food dump, a watering place, several units headquarters, and a sizable concentration of troops vital Jap tanks, supplies and troops were knocked out of the picture. And commands were further scattered. All this without a single casualty to us .
Bob had spent all his funds but still needed the leaflets printed. He visited the Honolulu Advertiser, explained his problem and asked for help. The newspaper agreed to print the leaflets in color free of charge. Thousands of the leaflets were printed about 5 x 10-inches in size. Today there are PSYOP battalions with printing plants that could design, print and cut millions of leaflets in a day. Bob did the same thing on his own with a friendly newspaperman. What do we know about the Sheeks leaflets?
One had the characters for Common Sense overprinted in red. The theme was use common sense, dont die uselessly." The leaflet described the defeat the Japanese were facing and asked why they must die for the mistakes of others. The leaflet ended with:
Let us use common sense and examine our respective realities. On land, you know that all roads are blocked. In the air, our planes are without opposition. Try as your Navy would like to, it cannot hope to bring help. Every avenue of escape is denied you.
You have fought well; no one could do more, or be expected to do more. Our artillery, mortars, bombers, ships all await only the signal to completely annihilate you. But, before your brave lives are exchanged for cheap shells, let us use common sense.
Are all those who have fought as well as possible to die like animals? Are all Japanese to die for the mistakes of others? What can dead men do? Does the dead blossom bear fruit?
Let the men of intelligence come forth! Come during daylight, singly, with hands up. Food, water, tobacco, and medical care await you. Act now! There is no time for waiting.
Lieutenant Sheeks uses a portable amplifier powered by a truck battery
to broadcast surrender appeals to hold-outs in caves on Saipan (July 1944)
Later in the war when Saipan became a giant forward propaganda base for the U.S. Navy and the Office of War information the same sort of leaflets were prepared, but reminded the Japanese that it was only their leaders that were to blame and they needed to live to rebuild Japan.
Another leaflet was in the form of a personal letter from a Japanese soldier who had surrendered. It was addressed to You troops who have fought bravely and told of good life in an American POW camp. This leaflet ended with the comment:
To you troops who have fought bravely, it is my hope that you are well. I am a soldier just as you are, and am writing from an American camp among a great many others whose message is the same as mine.
Some of us came from the Marshall Islands, others from the Gilbert Islands. Many are from the Aleutians or New Guinea. We are what is left of units that were all over the Pacific.
Our life is good. Those who wish to work are paid a fair wage. Everyone receives excellent and healthy foods and medical care. There is recreation and study.
Just as crumbling Germany or Italy we can see that Japan is being encircled and is fighting a losing battle. Are those who have fought as well as humanly possible to die? Are all Japanese to die because the fleet and our forces can no longer fight back?
What part in culture or progress can dead men play? Food, drink, and good living conditions await you. We are all hoping that you will save your life. From a comrade in America
The idea of having prisoners write letters was used more in Vietnam than in WWII by American forces. However, there are dozens of wartime leaflets that show happy Japanese enjoying sports and music, playing board games and eating. The POW camp was made to look like a vacation resort.
Lying heaped in a shell hole, a large number of dead Japanese soldiers have yet to be buried. The Japanese mostly fought to the death on Saipan, perishing in pitched banzai charges or at the hands of American troops determined to capture the island despite the heavy resistance.
A third leaflet had color as well as black. The characters for Military Secret were stamped at the top in bright red. It was written like a military field order. It pointed out that Japan was losing the war and this was a military secret that the Japanese troops were not to know. The secrets:
Your territorial and troop loses all over the Pacific have, until now, been kept a secret from you.
That you have fought well in spite of bad leadership, and that you are now being overwhelmed has been kept from you.
That we give you food, water, medical care, and tobacco has also been kept secret from you by lies and threats from your officers.
Come forth in daylight, singly, with hands up. You will be treated honorably and fairly.
Do not waste your life for lies.
The United States did not prepare leaflets like this later in the war, but it did print numerous newspapers that were designed to keep the Japanese up-to-date on how the war was going. It mentioned every Japanese defeat and every time the homeland was bombed by B-29s. Other later leaflets showed newspaper people or radio broadcasters gagged or with hands tied, unable to tell the truth because the Japanese military wanted to keep secrets from the public.
The last leaflet in the Korean language script stressed the theme of independence from the Japanese. It mentioned the brutal occupation of Korea and exploitation of its people and resources. The Cairo Conference had already laid plans for Korean Independence after the Japanese defeat. There was also a red banner line of the name of a famous Korean battle for independence, Kap O Nyen Nal Li. Some of the text is:
Koreans! Why die for the Japanese?
You know well the story of Japans treacherous attack on Korea and of March, the First. Ever since then they have used all of you and your country as a great beast of burden.
Strike a blow now for Korean freedom! You have a chance now to free yourselves!
Come to our lines in daylight with hands up. Come singly, not in groups, and unarmed.
Koreans are not our enemies! Food, water, tobacco and medical we have here to share with you
For Korean independence the time is now!
[Note]: The March 1st Movement was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the rule of Korea by Japan from 1910 to 1945. The name refers to an event that occurred on March 1, 1919, hence the movement's name, literally meaning "Three-One Movement" or "March First Movement" in Korean.
[Note]: I asked some Korean friends about the Kap O Nyen Nal Li reference on the leaflet. Even they were confused. The best they could come up is Kap O Nyen is a year based on an ancient calendar system that means 1894. Nal Li means coup d'etat. Apparently there was a failed coup d'etat in Korea in 1894 led by Japanese opposition party against the Chinese rulers. The Koreans resented Kap O Nyen Nal Li because it was staged by a pro Japanese group and Japanese Ronins were hired to kill the Queen of Korea in that melee. This attempted coup led to a war Japan and China.
An interesting cartoon from that time. Japan and China fight over the body of a beaten Korea while Russia watches and waits in the background. The cartoon and many more were drawn by a French war correspondence named G. Bigot who was embedded with the Japanese Imperial Forces.
Later in the war, leaflets were prepared also for the foreign workers used by the Japanese and also told the Filipinos and Formosans that their freedom was assured. Toward the end of this article we will show some of the later leaflets that mention Saipan and the themes described above.
Once Lieutenant Sheeks had leaflets and loudspeakers in Hawaii, what to do next? He looked into using artillery shells or U.S carrier planes to drop the leaflet over the enemy. John Pelzel, Assistant Commander of the Intelligence section recommended using artillery spotter planes. Sheeks designed a system of placing about 100 leaflets in a brown paper wrapper, tied with a 15-foot string and throwing them from the aircraft. The string would be secured inside the aircraft so when the package got 15 feet away it would burst open. Since the spotter plane was looking for Japanese troops concentrations to call in fire, the leaflets would be sure to fall on the Japanese.
Sheeks also needed a jeep to carry the heavy loudspeaker, amplifier and generator. The Marine Corps provided the jeep and the system was fitted onto the vehicle.
The next project was messages to be broadcast. Later in the war, the U.S. would spend much thought trying to find a suitable term to use instead of "surrender." They came up with I Cease Resistance and this was used in all their broadcasts and leaflets. Sheeks came up with his own term, a simple Come out. The final effort was to convince Marine combat leaders that the Japanese would surrender. None of the sergeants and combat teams believed that the Japanese would surrender, but Sheeks at least put the idea in their mind that it could be worthwhile to try.
Bob Sheeks landed on Saipan with the first wave of Marines. Although he was an interpreter, every Marine is also a rifleman and so he landed on the beach.
A photograph of Marine Lieutenant Robert B. Sheeks on Saipan. Here he discovers a terrified Okinawan woman and her family, convinced they would be massacred by the Americans. Attempting to talk her into leaving her cave refuge he finds a mother, four children and a dog. Thousands were extricated from miserable hiding places and brought back to aid stations where food and medical treatment was promised. Photo by USMC Combat Photographer, Corporal Angus Robertson
At a refugee camp set up by US Marine Corps Civil Affairs troops on the island of Saipan for civilians, American Marines attempt to soothe an upset child while other children watch curiously.
Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. July 1944. Photo: Ted Needham (US Coast Guard)
His actual assignment was to read Japanese documents. On the side he arranged for his leaflet drops. It was unknown if the leaflets would work but it was worth the try. The answer appeared a few days later. Sheeks took his jeep to an area where the Japanese were hiding in caves and started to broadcast a come out message. A group of men, women and children emerged from a cave. Sheeks approached them and one of the men took out a piece of paper from a shirt pocket. He had hidden it for days since the Japanese would kill him if they saw it. When the chance arose, the group used the directions on the leaflet to surrender. The leaflets worked on civilians. A week later, using the same technique, a group of about 10 armed Japanese soldiers surrendered. The loudspeakers worked on the Japanese military. Some Japanese will surrender!
Lieutenant Sheeks is awarded the Bronze Star by General Watson,
Commandant of the 2nd Marine Division, for his actions on Saipan, August 1944
First Lieutenant Robert B. Sheeks was awarded the Bronze Star with V device in 1944. The citation said in part:
For heroic achievement as an interpreter of the Intelligence Section of the Second Marine Division, during operations against enemy Japanese forces on Saipan and Tinian, Marianas Islands, from 15 June to 1 August 1944.Pioneering in devising methods of directing combat propaganda at the Japanese prior to the Marianas Campaign, First Lieutenant Sheeks prepared several means of propaganda used during this campaign. When large numbers of civilians were driven into hiding by our advance during the latter stages of the operations, he moved with front line units despite considerable personal danger and utilized public address systems to call civilians and soldiers out of hiding, thereby effecting the surrender of large numbers of the enemy. By his ability, perseverance and devotion to duty, he materially reduced hostile resistance and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I should note that as handsome as that Bronze Star medal is, it is the tiny V on the ribbon that makes it special. The medal can be awarded for administrative excellence and many other accomplishments, but that V for Valor indicates that the individual put his life at risk and earned the medal under combat conditions. A combat veteran will recognize that immediately.
The Original pair of Dog Tags worn in battle by Marine
Lieutenant Robert B. Sheeks on Saipan.
The number of civilians that eventually came out of the mountains and caves is quite astounding. During the first weeks there were already several thousand civilians in in Camp Susupe. By the time things had settled down, 15,000 Japanese civilians, local Chamorro natives and Carolinian islanders came out of hiding.
At age 72, June 1994. Robert B. Sheeks standing next
to the WWII 2nd Marine Division Memorial at Saipan.
Sheeks went on to take part in further battles and in 1945 the Office of Strategic Services offered him a position in China, but his duties with the 2nd Marine Division did not allow him to accept the position. He later became the State Department's Information Officer on Taiwan and was recommended for the Commendable Service Award.
The battle for Saipan was bloody. The official statistics for American forces were 13,790 casualties: 3,426 killed and missing and 10,364 wounded. The Japanese military suffered 29,000 dead: 24,000 killed in action and 5,000 suicides. The Japanese civilian population on Saipan suffered 7,000 dead (many of which were suicides) and 22,000 other civilians killed.
One of the young Marines wounded during the fight for Saipan would later become a Hollywood legend, actor Lee Marvin. Marvin came ashore with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines on Yellow Beach 2. He said later:
During a firefight there are two parts of the body the enemy can pretty much see while hugging the deck, the head and the butt. If you present one, you get killed. If you raise the other, you get shot in the butt. I got shot through the wallet. I received my Purple Heart in a hospital on Guadalcanal. I got a permanent scar on my keister and a check once a month for life.
The OWI Saipan Print Shop Operating
Around the Clock, Saipan, August 1945.
We said above that we would show some of the later leaflets designed by the U.S. Navy and the Office of War Information at Admiral Nimitzs forward base of Saipan which opened February 1945, months before the end of WWII.
We mention the Sheeks leaflet above where he talks about common sense and not dying uselessly. The same theme was used many times later in the war. Leaflet 114a depicts a Japanese mother and child in the forefront, dead Japanese soldiers behind her with what appears to be cherry blossoms, and the towering presence of Mt. Fuji in the background. Surprisingly, the leaflet is in black and white. One might expect such a picturesque scene to be in full color. The text is:
YOUR REAL GOAL
The question is whether or not the policy of aggression which the militarists took for the happiness and prosperity of the Japanese people has backfired. Although wars are supposed to bring happiness to the people, the more you fight the more unhappy you are. What is the meaning of this war, which continues to destroy your homeland? To die in battle for the cause of making your people unhappy is obstinate and foolish.
Now is the time to bring strong reason into play. Deliver your homeland. Deliver your compatriots who unwittingly seek the path of annihilation. Moreover, think profoundly of saving the lives of your comrades who are uselessly committing suicide and wasting lives that they should revere.
I should point out one curious fact. There are dozens of leaflets that implore Japanese troops not to commit suicide. But, I have never seen one in which a Japanese officer was asked not to commit suicide. It is just the opposite. There are some leaflets that point out the weaknesses of the officer corps and suggest that suicide would be their only honorable option.
OWI leaflet 514
OWI leaflet 514 stresses the American military and industrial might. The leaflet is larger than usual at about 7 x 9.5 inches and printed in a bright red ink. The leaflet depicts a sky full of American aircraft and a sea full of American naval vessels all aimed at Japan. The purpose of the leaflet is to weaken Japanese morale by stressing American industrial and military might. References are made to Americas vast forces of men and equipment, and comments of prisoners of war are quoted generally to support the themes contentions. Text on the back is:
Powerful American forces, supported by innumerable planes, tanks, and ships, have already landed on your shores. Resistance against such overwhelming masses of men and equipment can only be futile. We know your valor, but you can't do the impossible.
As some of your soldiers who, at Tarawa and Saipan, expressed their thanks to us for fine medical treatment, admitted: "You Americans keep pouring in men and Materials. What can we do?" Yes, and this time we have even more than at Tarawa and Saipan.
OWI Leaflet 515
Leaflet 515 shows the civilians of Saipan and a number of children who have surrendered and adds in part:
On Saipan, in addition to officers and men, 18,125 civilians accepted the generosity of the American forces. These civilians were given food, water, clothing, and medical treatment. You will be treated similarly if you come over to us. Do not believe the false stories that you will be mistreated and killed. If you destroy yourselves, you die in vain!
I mentioned above that Bob Sheeks used his own phrase substituted for "Surrender" to get the Japanese to leave their caves. It was simply COME OUT. By 1945 the USA was using I Cease Resistance on their surrender leaflets.
OWI Leaflet 810
OWI Leaflet 810 is a safe conduct passes that instruct the Japanese how to come over to the American side. 810 is designed to affect a rapid surrender of Japanese troops and is entitled Lifesaving guarantee. The leaflet does not mention the word "surrender." It is printed with colorful red, white and blue stripes that make it visible for some distance. It was important that the passes be clearly marked because suspicious American soldiers were known to shoot first and ask questions later. The leaflet has the instructions in English on one side and in Japanese on the other.
I said above that the American POW camps were described as "resorts." Here is an example from the Army, dropped on the Philippines.
Several American leaflets show the Japanese playing games such as Chess, Chinese checkers or Go. This leaflet shows some happy prisoners playing pool in an American prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines. Some of the text is:
Yesterday [we were] Enemies, Today [we are] Friends.
Articles approved by the International Convention on treatment of prisoners of war, which was signed by 29 nations at Geneva on June 27, 1929 contain the following:
Prisoners of war shall be treated humanely
The food ration of prisoners of war shall be equivalent to that of the depot troops.
Each came shall possess an infirmary for the prisoners of war
The faces of the prisoners were partially hidden to protect their families back in Japan. The Japanese implied that these were not real prisoners but American actors, so later photographs depicted the faces of the prisoners in entirety.
This leaflet was aimed specifically at Koreans forced to work as laborers for the Japanese. The front page is in English and explains to the American soldier that the back page is in Korean, and asks the reader to point out other Koreans who may be in hiding and bring them forward to the Americans. It was believed that the Koreans would be happy to escape the Japanese to the safety of the American lines. Notice that the title Patrol Card is identical to Sheeks card, and the last line, Every prisoner turned in means the saving of American lives, time, and material, is also identical.
Japanese Super-Submarine I-15
Although this story was about Lieutenant Sheeks psychological operations to save American and Japanese lives, he later told me of a time when he was called to interview some Japanese sailors and that led to the discovery of super-class Japanese submarines that were attacking shipping and land targets along the U.S. West Coast. As usual, Bob took no credit for this discovery, but I thought I would add it here.
Battery Russell at Fort Stevens State Park
Few Americans remember, and many find it hard to believe, that Japans Navy dropped shells and bombs on the U.S. continent, and was sinking ships along Americas West Coast months after her carrier air strike decimated the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The attackers were giant submarines, nine of which Japan deployed within days after Pearl Harbor along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, from San Diego to Seattle.They soon sank five U.S. ships and damaged five others. Submarine I-17 fired artillery shells, igniting oilfield installations near Santa Barbara, California in February 1942. Submarine I-25 shelled a coastal defense installation, Fort Stevens, near Astoria, Oregon in June 1942, and flew its aircraft twice in September 1942, dropping incendiary bombs to ignite fires in an Oregon forest.
How Japan had managed to launch the attacks remained unclear until halfway through World War II. In August 1943, Japanese submariners, taken prisoner after their vessel sank, divulged startling information during interrogation. Their giant I-15 Class ocean-cruising attack submarines had a previously unheard of range of 16,000 miles. Crewed by 100 men, these vessels carried one deck-mounted 5.5-inch cannon; machine guns; a catapult-launched scouting seaplane housed in a watertight hangar, and 17 torpedoes. Large as destroyers, they were 356 feet in length; displaced 2,584 tons submerged; and had a surface speed of 23 knots.
On 20 August 1943, Lieutenant Sheeks was on Noumea as part of Admiral Halseys headquarters translation staff with stacks of assorted Japanese papers awaiting translation: maps, combat orders, weapons manuals, unit records, hand-written diaries and letters. He was suddenly ordered to the prisoner stockade and found six Japanese submariners from the sunken Japanese submarine I-17.
After medical attention, camp uniforms, and a good meal were provided to them, each submariner was confined in solitary quarters to prevent collusion on replies to interrogation questions. None of the six was of officer rank, but Sheeks knew they would be well-informed. Even enlisted men in Japans submarine force were elite, selected from the best-rated, and most dedicated young volunteers; trained as rigorously as officers; and imbued with militaristic culture. None had ever been briefed about how to conduct themselves as prisoners, in event of capture and interrogation. Japanese military personnel were deeply indoctrinated with the creed that any Japanese who fails to commit suicide, permitting an enemy to take him prisoner would disgrace his family, dishonor his nation, automatically cease to be a Japanese citizen, and become an outcast never able to return home. While their indoctrination did strengthen the suicide resolve of some, it also backfired to the advantage of interrogators dealing with surviving Japanese military personnel. Sheeks told me how he used a little PSYOP on the prisoners:
To expedite interrogation, I found it effective to simulate the strict manner of a Japanese superior officer toward enlisted personnel. A single prisoner at a time under escort was marched into the interrogation tent for questioning.
An American Nisei sergeant assigned from the U.S. Army pretended to be my adjutant. He shouted commands in Japanese:
APPROACH THE DESK!
STAND AT ATTENTION!
The prisoner invariably bowed, and remained standing rigidly at attention until dismissed. This established an atmosphere familiar to Japanese servicemen, most of whom would at some time have faced questioning by officers. Our aim was to take advantage of the almost ingrained Japanese servicemens reflex of replying to a senior officer without hesitation.
Interrogation began with name, rank, age, birthplace, education and unit designation. Less innocuous subjects followed, such as training for submarine service; combat experience; specialist duties; his submarine I-17s performance capabilities; its guns, torpedoes, on-board seaplane; Pacific area navigation routes and refueling locations; identity of other, especially I-Class, submarines in the area. Most of the men initially tried to evade questions by claiming ignorance, or by falsifying information. Through repeated solitary questioning and constant cross-checking of previous interrogation notes, it was possible to establish facts, and then confront those who had not told the truth. This usually induced the holdouts to provide fuller and more accurate information.
We learned that eight other I-Class submarines were patrolling along Americas Pacific coast, sinking and damaging ships. Interrogation results, transmitted to Naval Headquarters at Pearl Harbor, resulted in a report that the U.S. Navy had intercepted and sunk one or two large Japanese submarines in the area, aided by information obtained from I-17s crew prisoners.
Post-war reports confirmed that Japan built 26 submarines of this I-15 series, completing 7 before Pearl Harbor, the remainder during early years of the war. With the data gained by Lieutenant Sheeks and the use of the code-breakers reading Japans maritime mail, the super submarines were hunted down and destroyed.
Robert Sheeks is awarded an Honorary Life Membership by POVA
After this article was printed the members of the Psychological Operations Veterans Association (POVA) was so impressed with Bob Sheeks work in WWII that they voted to make him an Honorary Life member of the group. Above is the certificate sent to him.
If the reader is wondering how far along the U.S. Marines have come in their PSYOP training, here is an old picture from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan displayed at the Worldwide PSYOP Conference in 2012.
This has been a very brief look at the career of an early Psywarrior who seems to have invented much of what came late. Any reader wishing to comment is encouraged to write the author at email@example.com.