Battle of Tarawa

Battle of Tarawa


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The islet group of Tarawa, about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii, was held by the Japanese from 1941 to 1943 during World War II, and it fell to U.S. Marines of the Second Division after a bloody 76-hour battle. push through the central Pacific to the Philippine Islands.The Battle of Tarawa was partly a product of poor U.S. planning, a battle in which marines waded endlessly to shore — at low tide — over razor-sharp coral under withering firepower. Marines also tried to avoid Japanese sniper fire by disembarking from assault boats farther from shore, and some drowned in the deeper water from the weight of their ammunition belts.On November 20, U.S. The islet was a tough Japanese fortification of pillboxes, bunkers, and Barbed Wire protecting an airfield, occupied by the main concentration of their forces, numbering 4,700 soldiers and construction workers.Just after 5 a.m., the first shot at the Betio coast was fired from the American ships. There was so much rapid firepower from the ships that it looked to some like a machine-gun burst.After the marines witnessed the hail of fire, many concluded that little could be left of the enemy. Next, they heard a roar in the air and saw dozens of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters called in to stage another attack, which drew no discernible resistance from the ground.As the Higgens landing craft made their way in, they came to an abrupt halt on a reef. As the first wave of marines waded through the water to the beach, only a few managed to get to the shore.After realizing that the Japanese had a larger force than anticipated, the Americans sent out more and more men in an effort to establish a beachhead. With those reinforcements, they managed to secure part of the beach only 100 yards long and 20 feet in from the water`s edge.Meanwhile, the Japanese had lost their communications, but they were indoctrinated to either fight in place to the death, or commit suicide. With that determination, they fought fiercely against the Americans.The Japanese dispatched a seaplane, equipped with bombs under the wings, to attack the assaught craft caught on the reef. That single aircraft became a great asset to the Japanese as it easily dropped bombs on the sitting ducks below, causing most of the damage.At 6 a.m. Those 450 men fought their way inland to the airbase, which they took over and from which they continued to fight.As the morning tide began to rise, landing craft were able to pass over the reef and bring in many tanks. He decided on a major assault against the Japanese.The next day the major`s First Battalion and the Sixth Marines fought hard from the southern shore. The main attacks for the remainder of the day were the enemy snipers and the remaining pill boxes that had given them so much trouble the day before.That night the Japanese troops made one final attack on the Sixth Marines, Company B — a Banzai suicide charge. The brave men were barely able to hold their positions against the charging waves of soldiers.The counterattack on the night of the 22nd was the last-gasp effort of the Japanese on Betio island. The battle was over after more than three days of hellish fighting.The marines sustained nearly 3,000 casualties. Their willingness to fight to the last man augured the nature of other battles to come.


Heavy Toll On The Beaches Of Tarawa

A sizable force of 4,700 Japanese soldiers was stationed on Betio protecting an airfield and on November 20, destroyers and battleships from the U.S. staged a heavy assault on the three mile long island. As the battle progressed a US landing craft moved in on the island and got stuck on a reef because of the low-tide. This left the craft only 500 feet from shore and sitting in open Japanese fire. Out of the 800 Marines attempting to breach the island only 450 made it to shore. The enemy had sat quiet waiting for opportune moments and many of the Marines left wading to shore were struck down by gunfire.

More reinforcements were brought in by the Americans and the battle started to tilt in their direction with this and the loss of communication the Japanese felt. The Japanese were taught to fight or commit suicide so they turned all their attention to attacking the Marines over the next day. The Marines asked for reinforcements they didn’t get but managed to stand the attack and win.


Landing on Betio

The 2 nd Marines, who would head the landings on the 20th of November, believed that the mission was going to be a piece of cake. They could not have been more wrong.

On the night of the 19th of November, things started going wrong. Strong currents created chaos as troops transferred to their landing craft. Overnight air raids had not taken out the shore batteries as they were expected to. On the command ship, the USS Maryland, vibrations from the ship’s guns took out the communications equipment, disrupting coordination between the naval and air attacks and reducing their effectiveness.

Rear-Admiral Hill had calculated that the Amtracs would reach the shore in forty minutes, but this proved optimistic. As the bombardment of the shore stopped to avoid hitting the troops, they were still out at sea and exposed.

Marines at Tarawa

At ten past nine in the morning, the first troops reached the island. Facing little resistance, they ran up the beaches to the barrier of the log wall. All bombardment had ended ten minutes before, and the Japanese had had time to recover. Now facing ready defenders, most of the Americans became pinned down outside the wall.

Reefs surrounded many of the beaches 800 to 1,200 yards out. The water above them was shallower than the Americans had hoped, and most of the Amtracs became stuck. The soldiers had to disembark and wade ashore under enemy fire, some of them vanishing into holes in the reef and drowning. Officers and NCOs led the way and most were killed, leaving the troops leaderless. Communications equipment became waterlogged and failed. Troops became scattered by Japanese fire.

One of the problems with the operation was a lack of sufficient transports. Even as the second wave of men was landing, and with them the first tanks, the Amtracs were being sent back for more men. The numbers that should have given the Americans a huge advantage were not in place until late on.


Tarawa is an old Gilbertese form for Te Rawa, meaning "The Passage" (of the Lagoon), because Tarawa is quite a unique atoll in Kiribati with a large ship passage or channel to the lagoon. [6] But in the popular etymology, due to Kiribati mythology, Nareau, the God-spider, distinguished Karawa, the sky, from Marawa, the Sea, from Tarawa, the land.

Tarawa has a large lagoon, widely open to Ocean, with a large ship pass, 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) in total area, and a wide reef. Although naturally abundant in fish and shellfish of all kinds, marine resources are being strained by the large and growing population. Drought is frequent, but in normal years rainfall is sufficient to maintain breadfruit, papaya and banana trees as well as coconut and pandanus.

North Tarawa consists of a string of islets from Buariki in the north to Buota in the south. The islets are separated in places by wide channels that are best crossed at low tide, and there is a ferry service between Buota and Abatao. [7] Only Buota is connected by road to South Tarawa, via a bridge.

On South Tarawa, the construction of causeways has now created a single strip of land from Betio in the west to Tanaea in the northeast. [8]

Climate Edit

Tarawa features a tropical rainforest climate (Af) under the Köppen climate classification. The climate is pleasant from April to October, with predominant northeastern winds and stable temperatures close to 30 °C (86 °F). From November to March, western gales bring rain and occasional cyclones. [2] [9] [10]

Precipitation varies significantly between islands. For example, the annual average is 3,000 mm (120 in) in the north and 500 mm (20 in) in the south of the Gilbert Islands. [9] Most of these islands are in the dry belt of the equatorial oceanic climatic zone and experience prolonged droughts. [10]

Climate data for Tarawa Airport (South Tarawa)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 35.0
(95.0)
33.0
(91.4)
35.0
(95.0)
34.5
(94.1)
34.5
(94.1)
33.5
(92.3)
34.5
(94.1)
34.5
(94.1)
34.5
(94.1)
35.0
(95.0)
35.0
(95.0)
35.0
(95.0)
35.0
(95.0)
Average high °C (°F) 30.7
(87.3)
30.6
(87.1)
30.7
(87.3)
30.7
(87.3)
30.8
(87.4)
30.8
(87.4)
30.9
(87.6)
31.0
(87.8)
31.1
(88.0)
31.2
(88.2)
31.3
(88.3)
30.9
(87.6)
30.9
(87.6)
Daily mean °C (°F) 28.2
(82.8)
28.1
(82.6)
28.1
(82.6)
28.2
(82.8)
28.4
(83.1)
28.3
(82.9)
28.2
(82.8)
28.3
(82.9)
28.4
(83.1)
28.6
(83.5)
28.5
(83.3)
28.2
(82.8)
28.3
(82.9)
Average low °C (°F) 25.3
(77.5)
25.3
(77.5)
25.2
(77.4)
25.3
(77.5)
25.5
(77.9)
25.3
(77.5)
25.1
(77.2)
25.2
(77.4)
25.3
(77.5)
25.4
(77.7)
25.4
(77.7)
25.3
(77.5)
25.3
(77.5)
Record low °C (°F) 21.5
(70.7)
22.5
(72.5)
22.5
(72.5)
22.5
(72.5)
21.0
(69.8)
21.0
(69.8)
21.0
(69.8)
21.5
(70.7)
22.5
(72.5)
22.0
(71.6)
22.5
(72.5)
22.0
(71.6)
21.0
(69.8)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 271
(10.7)
218
(8.6)
204
(8.0)
184
(7.2)
158
(6.2)
155
(6.1)
168
(6.6)
138
(5.4)
120
(4.7)
110
(4.3)
115
(4.5)
212
(8.3)
2,052
(80.8)
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.3 mm) 15 12 14 15 15 14 16 18 15 11 10 17 172
Average relative humidity (%) 81 80 81 82 81 81 80 79 77 77 79 81 80
Mean monthly sunshine hours 220.1 192.1 207.7 201.0 229.4 219.0 229.4 257.3 243.0 260.4 240.0 189.1 2,688.5
Mean daily sunshine hours 7.1 6.8 6.7 6.7 7.4 7.3 7.4 8.3 8.1 8.4 8.0 6.1 7.4
Source: Deutscher Wetterdienst [11]

Tarawa atoll has three administrative subdivisions: Betio Town Council (or BTC), on Betio Islet Teinainano Urban Council [it] (or TUC), from Bairiki to Tanaea and Eutan Tarawa Council (or ETC), for North Tarawa or Tarawa Ieta, consisting of all the islets on the east side from Buota northwards. [12] The meaning of Teinainano is "down of the mast", alluding to the sail-shape of the atoll. [ citation needed ]

South Tarawa hosts the capital of the Republic of Kiribati and was also the central headquarters of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands since 1895. The House of Assembly is in Ambo, and the State House is in Bairiki. The offices of the various ministries of the government range from Betio at the south-west extreme to Nawerewere (in an easterly island in its chain), close to Bonriki (International Airport) and Temwaiku. Settlements on North Tarawa include Buariki, Abaokoro, Marenanuka and Taborio.

Diplomatic missions Edit

Three resident diplomatic missions exist: the embassy of China (closed in 2003, re-opened in 2020), and the high commissions of Australia and New Zealand.

In Kiribati mythology, Tarawa was the earth when the land, ocean and sky had not been cleaved yet by Nareau the spider. Thus after calling the sky karawa and the ocean marawa, he called the piece of rock that Riiki (another god that Nareau found) had stood upon when he lifted up the sky as, Tarawa. Nareau then created the rest of the islands in Kiribati and also Samoa.

Gilbertese arrived on these islands thousands of years ago, and there have been migrations to and from Kiribati since antiquity. [13]

Evidence from a range of sources, including carbon dating and DNA analyses, confirms that the exploration of the Pacific included settlement of the Gilbert Islands by around 200 BC. The people of Tungaru (native name of the Gilbertese) are still excellent seafarers, capable of making ocean crossings in locally made vessels using traditional navigation techniques. [14]

Thomas Gilbert, captain of the East India Company vessel Charlotte, was the first European to describe Tarawa, arriving on 20 June 1788. He did not land. He named it Matthew Island, after the owner of his ship Charlotte. He named the lagoon, Charlotte Bay. [15] Gilbert's 1788 sketches survive.

The island was surveyed in 1841 by the US Exploring Expedition. [16]

Charles Richard Swayne, the first Resident Commissioner decided to install the central headquarters of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands protectorate in Tarawa in 1895. Tarawa Post Office opened on 1 January 1911. [17]

Sir Arthur Grimble was a cadet administrative officer based at Tarawa (1913–1919) [18] and became Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony in 1926. [19]

During World War II, Tarawa was occupied by the Japanese, and beginning on 20 November 1943 it was the scene of the bloody Battle of Tarawa. On that day United States Marines landed on Tarawa and fought Japanese soldiers occupying entrenched positions on the atoll. The Marines captured the island after 76 hours of intense fighting that killed 6,000 people on both sides.

The fierce fighting was the subject of a documentary film produced by the Combat Photographers of the Second Marine Division entitled With the Marines at Tarawa. It was released in March 1944 at the insistence of President Roosevelt. It became the first time many Americans viewed American servicemen dead on film. [ citation needed ]

The Kiribati Government commenced a road restoration project funded in part by the World Bank in 2014 to re-surface the main road between Betio in the West to Bonriki in the East, [20] upgrading the main road that transits Tarawa from a dirt road. As of 2018, all that remained to be completed of this project was the sealing of Japanese Causeway, connecting Bairiki and Betio, done in 2019.


Hundreds were left unidentified and unaccounted for

Because of environmental conditions, remains were quickly buried in trenches or individual graves on Betio, which is about a half-square-mile in size and, at the time of the battle, only about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point.

Navy construction sailors also removed some grave markers as they hurriedly built runways and other infrastructure to help push farther across the Pacific toward Japan.

The US Army Graves Registration Service came after the war to exhume remains and return them to the US, but its teams could not find more than 500 servicemen, and in 1949, the Army Quartermaster General's Office declared those remains "unrecoverable," telling families that those troops were buried at sea or in Hawaii as "unknowns."

Over the past 16 years, however, Betio, now part of Kiribati, has yielded some of the largest recoveries of remains of US service members.

That work has been led by History Flight, a Virginia-based nonprofit and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partner that's dedicated to finding and recovering missing US service members.

"History Flight was started in 2003, and we've been researching the case history of Tarawa since 2003, but we started working out there 2008," Katherine Rasdorf, a researcher at History Flight, told Business Insider on Thursday. "We had to do all the research and analysis first before we went out there."

The first individual was found in 2012. That was followed by a lost cemetery in 2015 and two more large burial sites in 2017 and 2019, Rasdorf said.

In 2015, History Flight found 35 sets of remains at one site, including those of US Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.

In July 2017, the organization turned over 24 sets of remains to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification.

This summer, the graves of what were thought to be more than 30 Marines and sailors killed during the last day of fighting were found on Betio.

Those are the largest recoveries of missing US service personnel since the Korean War.

Using remote sensing, cartography, aerial photography, and archaeology, History Flight has recovered the remains of 309 service members from Tarawa, where the organization maintains an office and a year-round presence, Mark Noah, president of History Flight, told a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on November 19.

Seventy-nine of those discoveries were made during the 2019 fiscal year, Noah said, adding that History Flight's recoveries are 20% of the DoD's annual identifications.

"Many of them were underneath buildings, underneath roads and houses," Noah told lawmakers of remains on Betio, noting that they are often discarded, covered up, and accidentally disinterred — the first two Marines his organization recovered on Tarawa in April 2010 were displayed on a battlefield tour guide's front porch.

Today, 429 servicemen killed at Betio remain unaccounted for, Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the DPAA, said when at least 22 servicemen returned to the US in July.


ยุทธการทาราวะ (Battle of Tarawa)

20 พฤศจิกายน 1943 ยุทธการทาราวะ (Battle of Tarawa) กองทัพสหรัฐอเมริกายกพลขึ้นบกเกาะแนวปะการังทาราวะ การรบเป็นไปอย่างดุเดือด 3 วัน ทหารอเมริกันจึงยึดเกาะได้ สำเร็จ แม้การยกพลขึ้นบกจะเกิดความผิดพลาดในการสื่อสาร ยุทธการทาราวะการยกพลรุกครั้งแรกในแปซิฟิกกลางของกองทัพสหรัฐอเมริกา

กองทัพสหรัฐอเมริาใช้กองพลสะเทินน้ำสะเทินบกจากฐานทัพ รัฐแคลิฟอร์เนีย ก่อนการโจมตีเคลื่อนกำลังมารวมกันที่ฐานทัพเรือเพิร์ลฮาร์เบอร์ในช่วงเดือนกันยายน 1943 หน่วยบัญชาการนาวิกโยธินและกองเรือที่ 5 กองทัพเรือสหรัฐอเมริกา เรือบรรทุกเครื่องบินคุ้มกัน 5 ลำ หรือประจัญบาน 3 ลำ เรือลำเลียงพลและเรือรบอีกเป็นจำนวนมาก รวมกำลังพลทั้งหมดที่สหรัฐอเมริกาใช้โจมตีเกาะปะการังทาราวะประมาณ 53,000 นาย

กองทัพจักรวรรดิญี่ปุ่นทราบข่าวการมาถึงของกองทัพสหรัฐอเมริกาล่วงหน้าแต่ด้วยความขาดแคลนกำลังรบทางทหารและการผสานกำลังรบทางเรือทำให้เหลือกำลังพลป้องกันเกาะปะการังทาราวะประมาณ 5,000 นาย เกือบครึ่งหนึ่งเป็นแรงงานชาวญี่ปุ่นและแรงงานทาสชาวเกาหลีที่ถูกทหารญี่ปุ่นบังคับให้มาใช้แรงงาน รถถัง 14 คัน ปืนใหญ่ขนาดต่าง ๆ ประมาณ 50 กระบอก

เกาะแนวปะการังทาราวะ มีลักษณะเป็นเกาะปะการังมีทะเลสาบน้ำเค็ม น้ำตื้น ขนาดใหญ่อยู่ตรงกลางล้อมรบด้วยเกาะเล็ก ๆ มากมาย เกาะแนวปะการังทาราวะทั้งเกาะเป็นส่วนหนึ่งของหมู่เกาะกิลเบิร์ตห่างจากฐานทัพเรือพิร์ลฮาร์เบอร์ประมาณ 3,900 กิโลเมตร กองทัพญี่ปุ่นวางกำลังรับและสร้างสนามบินไว้บริเวณเกาะเล็ก ๆ ด้านตะวันตกริมสุดของเกาะแนวปะการังทาราวะชื่อว่าเกาะเบทิตู (Betio Island) ซึ่งเป็นเป้าหมายหลักของการยกพลขึ้นบในครั้งนี้ของกองทัพสหรัฐอเมริกา

กองทัพสหรัฐอเมริกาแบ่งเป้าหมายบนชายหาดของเกาะเบทิตูเอาไว้เป็น 3 กลุ่ม ประกอบด้วย ชายหาดด้านทิศเหนือ Red 1-3 ชายหาดด้านทิศตะวันตก Green 1 และชายหาดด้านทิศใต้ Black 1-2 ส่วนทิศตะวันออกของเกาะเบทิตูเป็นเพียงสันทรายทอดยาวไม่มีที่ตั้งทางทหารของกองทัพญี่ปุ่น

20 พฤศจิกายน เวลาประมาณ 06.00 น. ก่อนการยกพลขึ้นบกกองทัพสหรัฐอเมริกาได้ใช้เครื่องบินประมาณ 17 ลำบินทิ้งระเบิดใส่แนวป้องกันของกองทัพญี่ปุ่น บางรายงานระบุว่ามีเครื่อ่งบินจากเรือบรรทุกเครื่องบิน USS Enterprise ที่ประจำตำแหน่งอยู่บริเวณเกาะมาคิน (Makin Island) ทางทิศเหนือของเกาะแนวปะการังทาราวะเข้าร่วมโจมตีสนับสนุนผสมการใช้ปืนใหญ่จากกองเรือหลายสิบลำระดมยิงถล่มอย่างไม่หยุดหย่อนนานหลายชั่วโมง พลเรือตรีไคจิ ซิบาซากิ ผู้บัญชาการทหารญี่ปุ่นบนเกาะเบทิโอเสียชีวิตในเช้าวันแรกระหว่างการถูกยิงถล่มจากปืนใหญ่ของกองทัพเรือสหรัฐอเมริกา

เวลาประมาณ 09.00 น. กองทัพเรือสหรัฐอเมริกาปล่อยทหารนาวิกโยธินลงเรือสะเทินน้ำสะเทินบกเคลื่อนเข้าสู่เกาะเบทิตู (Betio Island) แม้จะไม่พบกับการต่อต้านมากนักแต่การยกพลขึ้นบกเป็นไปอย่างยากลำบากเรือไม่สามารถเข้าจอดริมชายหาด Red 1-3 ได้เนื่องจากระดับน้ำในทะเลสาบตื้นเกินไป ทหารนาวิกโยธินพยายามวิทยุไปรายงานความคืบหน้ายังกองบัญชาการแต่ไม่สำเร็จจึงพยายามเคลื่อนพลไปยังท่าเรือแนวหินยาวยื่นออกมาไกลจากแนวชาวหาด เมื่อทหารญี่ปุ่นเห็นทิศทางการเคลื่อนพลของทหารสหรัฐจึงระดับยิงไปยังแนวท่าเรือดังกล่าว ทหารนาวิกโยธินจำนวนมากจึงติดอยู่บริเวณท่าเรือแห่งนั้น

อย่างไรก็ตามมีหน่วยทหารนาวิกโยธินบริเวณ Red 1 มองเห็นจุดที่กองทัพญี่ปุ่นวางกำลังป้องกันไว้น้อยด้านริมสุดของบริเวณ Red 1 จึงเข้าโจมตีบริเวณจุดนั้นจนสามารถยกพลขึ้นบกได้สำเร็จ ส่งผลให้แนวป้องกันส่วนอื่น ๆ ของญี่ปุ่นเริ่มแตกและทหารนาวิกโยธินสหรัฐเริ่มเข้าสู่บริเวณสนามบินบนเกาะเบทิตูได้ในช่วงเวลาแรกของการยกพลขึ้นบก

อย่างไรก็ตามด้วยการวางกำลังรบที่เหนียวแน่นและเตรียมการตั้งรับมาเป็นอย่างดี เนินทรายสูงบนเกาะที่ทหารสหรัฐอเมริกามองเห็นแท้จริงแล้วเป็นป้อมปราการที่ถูกฝังกลบด้วยทรายและต้นมะพร้าวเพื่อตบตาทหารสหรัฐอเมริกา การตีฝ่าป้อมปราการแต่ละแห่งต้องใช้เวลาหลายชั่วโมง ผสานการโจมตีด้วยปืนใหญ่จึงสามารถตีป้อมให้แตกได้ ทหารญี่ปุ่นหลายนายตัดสินใจฆ่าตัวตายแทนการถูกจับเป็นเชลย เกาะเบทิตู (Betio Island) ถูกตีแตกทั้งเกาะในวันที่ 22 พฤศจิกายนและใช้เวลาในเครียพื้นที่เกาะเล็ก ๆ อื่น ๆ ทั้งหมดจนถึงวันที่ 23 พฤศจิกายน เกาะแนวปะการังทาราวะทั้งหมดจึงถูกยืดโดยทหารสหรัฐอเมริกาได้อย่างสมบูรณ์

การรบในยุทธการทาราวะเกิดขึ้นหลังจากกองทัพจักรวรรดิญี่ปุ่นโจมตีเพิร์ลฮาร์เบอร์ ประมาณ 2 ปี การรบยุทธนาวีที่มิดเวย์ประมาณ 1 ปี 4 เดือน การรบในพม่าช่วงที่ญี่ปุ่นเริ่มแพ้อังกฤษประมาณ 10 เดือน ประมาณ 8 เดือนหลังจากสหรัฐอเมริกาสังหารจอมพลเรือ อิโซโรกุ ยามาโมโตะได้สำเร็จ และหลังจากญี่ปุ่นแพ้ในการรบที่กัวดาคาแนลประมาณ 9 เดือน สาเหตุที่เรียงลำดับช่วงเวลาเนื่องจากอยากให้เห็นภาพว่าเป็นการรบในช่วงท้าย ๆ ของสงครามเป็นช่วงเวลาประมาณ 2 ปีกว่า ๆ ที่กองทัพจักรวรรดิญี่ปุ่นตกเป็นฝ่ายพ่ายแพ้และไม่เหลือหนทางแห่งชัยชนะในสงครามโลกครั้งที่ 2


Battle of Tarawa - History

Assault Preparations

As replacement troops began to pour into New Zealand, General Smith requested the assignment of Colonel Merritt A. "Red Mike" Edson as division chief of staff. The fiery Edson, already a legend in the Corps for his heroic exploits in Central America and Guadalcanal, worked tirelessly to forge the amalgam of veterans and newcomers into an effective amphibious team.

Intelligence reports from Betio were sobering. The island, devoid of natural defilade positions and narrow enough to limit maneuver room, favored the defenders. Betio was less than three miles long, no broader than 800 yards at its widest point and contained no natural elevation higher than 10 feet above sea level. "Every place on the island can be covered by direct rifle and machine gun fire," observed Edson.

The elaborate defenses prepared by Admiral Saichiro were impressive. Concrete and steel tetrahedrons, minefields, and long strings of double-apron barbed wire protected beach approaches. The Japanese also built a barrier wall of logs and coral around much of the island. Tank traps protected heavily fortified command bunkers and firing positions inland from the beach. And everywhere there were pillboxes, nearly 500 of them, most fully covered by logs, steel plates and sand.

The Japanese on Betio were equipped with eight-inch, turret-mounted naval rifles (the so-called "Singapore Guns"), as well as a large number of heavy-caliber coast defense, antiaircraft, antiboat, and field artillery guns and howitzers. Dual-purpose 13mm heavy machine guns were prevalent. Light tanks (mounting 37mm guns), 50mm "knee mortars" and an abundance of 7.7mm light machine guns complemented the defensive weaponry.

The 2d Marine Division at Tarawa

Troops of the 2d Marine Division debark down cargo nets from a troop transport during amphibious training. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63751

Major General Julian C. Smith's utmost concern when he assumed command of the 2d Major Division on 1 May 1943 was the physical condition of the troops. The division had redeployed to New Zealand from Guadalcanal with nearly 13,000 confirmed cases of malaria. Half the division would have to be replaced before the next campaign. The infantry regiments of the 2d Marine Division were the 2d, 6th, and 8th Marines the artillery regiment was the 10th Marines and the engineers, pioneers, and Naval Construction Battalion ("Seabees") were consolidated into the 18th Marines. These were the principal commanders as the division began its intensified training program leading to Operation Galvanic:

Other officers who would emerge in key roles at Tarawa included Brigadier General Leo D. Hermle, Assistant Division Commander Lieutenant Colonel Presley M. Rixey, commanding 1/0, a pack-howitzer battalion supporting the 2d Marines Lieutenant Colonel Alexander B. Swenceski, commanding the composite 2d Tank Battalion Major Henry C. Drewes, commanding 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion Major Michael P. Ryan, commanding Company L, 3/2 and First Lieutenant William D. Hawkins, commanding the Scout Sniper Platoon in the 2d Marines. Altogether, 18,088 Marines and sailors of the division participated in the assault on Tarawa Atoll. About 55 percent were combat veterans. Unlike Guadalcanal, the Marines at Tarawa carried modern infantry weapons, including Garand M-1 semi-automatic rifles, Browning automatic rifles, and portable flame throwers. Assault Marines landed with a combat load consisting of knapsack, poncho, entrenching tool, bayonet, field rations, and gas masks (quickly discarded). Many of those carrying heavy weapons, ammunition, or radios drowned during the hectic debarkation from landing craft under fire at the reef's edge.

The Japanese during August replaced Saichero with Rear Admiral Meichi Shibasaki, an officer reputed to be more of a fighter than an engineer. American intelligence sources estimated the total strength of the Betio garrison to be 4,800 men, of whom some 2,600 were considered first-rate naval troops. "Imperial Japanese Marines," Edson told the war correspondents, "the best Tojo's got." Edson's 1st Raider Battalion had sustained 88 casualties in wresting Tulagi from the 3d Kure Special Naval Landing Force the previous August.

Admiral Shibasaki boasted to his troops, "a million Americans couldn't take Tarawa in 100 years." His optimism was forgivable. The island was the most heavily defended atoll that ever would be invaded by Allied forces in the Pacific.

An LVT-1 is lowered from a troop transport during landing rehearsals. Some of the Marines shown here are wearing camouflage utilities while the others are in the usual herring bone twill. Note that the sea appears unusually calm. LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

Task Force 53 sorely needed detailed tidal information for Tarawa. Colonel Shoup was confident that the LVTs could negotiate the reef at any tide, but he worried about the remainder of the assault troops, tanks, artillery, and reserve forces that would have to come ashore in Higgins boats (LCVPs). The critical water depth over the reef was four feet, enough to float a laden LCVP. Anything less and the troops would have to wade ashore several hundred yards against that panoply of Japanese weapons.

Major Frank Holland, a New Zealand reserve officer with 15 years' experience sailing the waters of Tarawa, flatly predicted, "there won't be three feet of water on the reef!" Shoup took Holland's warnings seriously and made sure the troops knew in advance that "there was a 50-50 chance of having to wade ashore."

In the face of the daunting Japanese defenses and the physical constraints of the island, Shoup proposed a landing plan which included a sustained preliminary bombardment, advance seizure of neighboring Bairiki Island as an artillery fire base, and a decoy landing. General Smith took this proposal to the planning conference in Pearl Harbor with the principal officers involved in Operation Galvanic: Admirals Nimitz, Spruance, Turner, and Hill, and Major General Holland Smith.

The Marines were stunned to hear the restrictions imposed on their assault by CinCPac. Nimitz declared that the requirement for strategic surprise limited preliminary bombardment of Betio to about three hours on the morning of D-Day. The imperative to concentrate naval forces to defend against a Japanese fleet sortie also ruled out advance seizure of Bairiki and any decoy landings. Then Holland Smith announced his own bombshell: the 6th Marines would be withheld as corps reserve.

All of Julian Smith's tactical options had been stripped away. The 2d Marine Division was compelled to make a frontal assault into the teeth of Betio's defenses with an abbreviated preparatory bombardment. Worse, loss of the 6th Marines meant he would be attacking the island fortress with only a 2-to-1 superiority in troops, well below the doctrinal minimum. Shaken, he insisted that Holland Smith absolve him of any responsibility for the consequences. This was done.

Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC

MajGen Julian C. Smith, USMC, right, commanding general, 2d Marine Division, escorts MajGen Holland M. Smith, USMC, commander, V Amphibious Corps, on Betio. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 70729

The epic battle of Tarawa was the pinnacle of Julian Smith's life and career. Smith was 58 and had been a Marine Corps officer for 34 years at the time of Operation Galvanic. He was born in Elkton, Maryland, and graduated from the University of Delaware. Overseas service included expeditionary tours in Panama, Mexico, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Cuba, and Nicaragua. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1917 and, as did many other frustrated Marine officers, spent the duration of World War I in Quantico. As were shipmates Colonel Merritt A. Edson and Major Henry P. Crowe, Smith was a distinguished marksman and former rifle team coach. Command experience in the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) was limited. He commanded the 5th Marines in 1938, and he was commanding officer of the FMF Training School at New River until being ordered to the 2d Marine Division in May 1943.

Smith's contemporaries had a high respect for him. Although unassuming and self-effacing, "there was nothing wrong with his fighting heart." Lieutenant Colonel Ray Murray, one of his battalion commanders, described him as "a fine old gentleman of high moral fiber you'd fight for him." Smith's troops perceived that their commanding general had a genuine love for them.

Julian Smith knew what to expect from the neap tides at Betio. "I'm an old railbird shooter up on the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay," he said, "You push over the marshes at high tide, and when you have a neap tide, you can't get over the marshes." His landing boats were similarly restricted as they went in toward Tarawa.

Smith was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for Tarawa to go with the Navy Cross he received for heroic acts in Nicaragua a decade earlier. The balance of his career was unremarkable. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1946, and he died in 1975, age 90. To the end of his life he valued his experience at Betio. As he communicated to the officers and men of the division after the battle: "It will always be a source of supreme satisfaction and pride to be able to say, 'I was with the 2d Marine Division at Tarawa.'"

David Shoup returned to New Zealand to prepare a modified operations order and select the landing beaches. Betio, located on the south western tip of Tarawa near the entrance to the lagoon, took the shape of a small bird, lying on its back, with its breast facing north, into the lagoon. The Japanese had concentrated their defenses on the southern and western coasts, roughly the bird's head and back (where they themselves had landed). By contrast, the northern beaches (the bird's breast) had calmer waters in the lagoon and, with one deadly exception (the "re-entrant"), were convex. Defenses in this sector were being improved daily but were not yet complete. A 1,000-yard pier which jutted due north over the fringing reef into deeper lagoon waters (in effect, the bird's legs) was an attractive logistics target. It was an easy decision to select the northern coast for landing beaches, but there was no real safe avenue of approach.

Looking at the north shore of Betio from the line of departure within the lagoon, Shoup designated three landing beaches, each 600 yards in length. From right to left these were: Red Beach One, from Betio's northwestern tip (the bird's beak) to a point just east of the re-entrant Red Beach Two, from that juncture to the pier Red Beach Three, from the pier eastward. Other beaches were designated as contingencies, notably Green Beach along the western shore (the bird's head).

Julian Smith had intended to land with two regiments abreast and one in reserve. Loss of the 6th Marines forced a major change. Shoup's modified plan assigned the 2d Marines, reinforced by Landing Team (LT) 2/8 (2d Battalion, 8th Marines), as the assault force. The rest of the 8th Marines would constitute the division reserve. The attack would be preceded by advance seizure of the pier by the regimental scout sniper platoon (Lieutenant William D. Hawkins). Landing abreast at H-Hour would be LT 3/2 (3d Battalion, 2d Marines) (Major John F. Schoettel) on Red One LT 2/2 (2d Battalion, 2d Marines) (Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Amey, Jr.) on Red Two and LT 2/8 (Major Henry P. Jim Crowe) on Red Three. Major Wood B. Kyle's LT 1/2 (1st Battalion, 2d Marines) would be on call as the regimental reserve.

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General Smith scheduled a large-scale amphibious exercise in Hawkes Bay for the first of November and made arrangements for New Zealand trucks to haul the men back to Wellington at the conclusion in time for a large dance. Complacently, the entire 2d Marine Division embarked aboard 16 amphibious ships for the routine exercise. It was all an artful ruse. The ships weighed anchor and headed north for Operation Galvanic. For once, "Tokyo Rose" had no clue of the impending campaign.

Most of Task Force 53 assembled in Efate, New Hebrides, on 7 November. Admiral Hill arrived on board Maryland. The Marines, now keenly aware that an operation was underway, were more interested in the arrival from Noumea of 14 new Sherman M4-A2 tanks on board the dock landing ship Ashland (LSD 1). The division had never operated with medium tanks before.

The landing rehearsals at Efate did little to prepare the Marines for Betio. The fleet carriers and their embarked air wings were off assaulting targets in the Solomons. The Sherman tanks had no place to offload. The new LVT-2s were presumably somewhere to the north, underway directly for Tarawa. Naval gun ships bombarded Erradaka Island, well away from the troops landing at Mele Bay.

The Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces

The Japanese garrison on Betio conducts pre-battle training. Photo courtesy of 2d Marine Division Association.

Tarawa was the first large-scale encounter between U.S. Marines and the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces. The division intelligence staff had forewarned that "naval units of this type are usually more highly trained and have a greater tenacity and fighting spirit than the average Japanese Army unit," but the Marines were surprised at the ferocity of the defenders on Betio.

The Japanese "Imperial Marines" earned the grudging respect of their American counterparts for their esprit, discipline, marksmanship, proficiency with heavy weapons, small-unit leadership, manifest bravery, and a stoic willingness to die to the last man. Major William K. Jones, whose 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, engaged more of the enemy in hand-to-hand combat on Betio than any other unit, said "these [defenders] were pretty tough, and they were big, six-foot, the biggest Japs that I ever saw." Major Lawrence C. Hays reported that "their equipment was excellent and there was plenty of surplus found, including large amounts of ammo."

The Japanese used Special Naval Landing Forces frequently in the early years of the war. In December 1941, a force of 5,000 landed on Guam, and another unit of 450 assaulted Wake Island. A small detachment of 113 men was the first Japanese reinforcing unit to land on Guadalcanal, 10 days after the American landing. A 350-man SNLF detachment provided fierce resistance to the 1st Marine Division landings on Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo early in the Guadalcanal campaign. A typical SNLF unit in a defensive role was commanded by a navy captain and consisted of three rifle companies augmented by antiaircraft, coast defense, antiboat, and field artillery units of several batteries each, plus service and labor troops.

Japanese on Betio conduct field firing exercises before the battle. The film from which this picture was developed came from a Japanese camera captured during the assault. Photo courtesy of 2d Marine Division Association.

The Japanese garrison on Betio on D-Day consisted of the 3d Special Base Force (formerly the 6th Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force), the 7th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force (which included 200 NCOs and officers of the Tateyama Naval Gunnery School), the 111th Pioneers, and the 4th Construction Unit, an estimated grand total of 4,856 men.

All crew-served weapons on Betio, from 7.7mm light machine guns to eight-inch naval rifles, were integrated into the fortified defensive system that included 500 pillboxes, blockhouses, and other emplacements. The basic beach defense weapon faced by the Marines during their landings on the northern coast was the M93 13mm, dual purpose (antiair, antiboat) heavy machine gun. In many seawall emplacements, these lethal weapons were sited to provide flanking fire along wire entanglements and other boat obstacles. Flanking fire discipline was insured by sealing off the front embrasures.

Admiral Shibasaki organized his troops on Betio for "an overall decisive defense at the beach." His men fought with great valor. After 76 hours of bitter fighting, 4,690 lay dead. Most of the 146 prisoners taken were conscripted Korean laborers.

Only 17 wounded Japanese surrendered.

One overlooked aspect of the rehearsal paid subsequent dividends for the Marines in the coming assault. Major William K. "Willie K." Jones, commanding LT 1/6, took the opportunity to practice embarking his troops in rubber rafts. In the pre-war Fleet Marine Force, the first battalion in each regiment had been designated "the rubber boat battalion. The uncommon sight of this mini-flotilla inspired numerous cat calls from the other Marines. Jones himself was dubbed "The Admiral of the Condom Fleet."

The contentious issue during the post-rehearsal critique was the suitability of the naval gunfire plan. The target island was scheduled to receive the greatest concentration of naval gunfire of the war to date. Many senior naval officers were optimistic of the outcome. "We do not intend to neutralize [the island], we do not intend to destroy it," boasted one admiral, "Gentlemen, we will obliterate it." But General Smith had heard enough of these boasts. In a voice taut with anger he stood to address the meeting: "Even though you naval officers do come in to about 1,000 yards, I remind you that you have a little armor. I want you to know the Marines are crossing the beach with bayonets, and the only armor they'll have is a khaki shirt!"

Col David M. Shoup pictured in the field. The clenched cigar became a trademark. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87675

While at Efate, Colonel William Marshall, commanding Combat Team Two and scheduled for the major assault role at Betio, became too ill to continue. In a memorable decision, General Smith promoted David Shoup to colonel and ordered him to relieve Colonel Marshall. Shoup knew the 2d Marines, and he certainly knew the plan. The architect was about to become the executor.

Once underway from Efate, Admiral Hill ordered the various commanders of Task Force 53 to brief the troops on their destination and mission. Tarawa came as a surprise to most of the men. Many had wagered they were heading for Wake Island. On the day before D-Day. General Julian Smith sent a message "to the officers and men of the 2d Division. In it, the commanding general sought to reassure his men that, unlike the Guadalcanal campaign, the Navy would stay and provide support throughout. The troops listened attentively to these words coming over the loudspeakers:

A great offensive to destroy the enemy in the Central Pacific has begun. Our Navy screens our operation and will support our attack tomorrow with the greatest concentration of aerial bombardment and naval gun fire in the history of warfare. It will remain with us until our objective is secured . . . . Garrison troops are already enroute to relieve us as soon as we have completed our job . . . . Good luck and God bless you all.

As the sun began to set on Task Force 53 on the evening of D-minus-one, it appeared that strategic surprise had indeed been attained. More good news came with the report that the small convoy of LSTs bearing LVT-2s had arrived safely from Samoa and was joining the formation. All the pieces seemed to be coming together.


Operation Galvanic (1): The Battle for Tarawa November 1943

Edson and Shoup decided to attack on D+2 in three phases. Jones' 1/6 would pass through Ryan's force and attack eastwards along the southern edge of the airfield to link up with the elements holding the southern shoreline. Hays' 1/8 would attack westwards from Red Beach 2 to reduce the stubborn pocket of resistance at the junction of the two beaches. Finally, the 2/8 and 3/8 (under 'Jim' Crowe) would advance eastward from the Burn-Philp wharf. The plan was audacious, particularly as only the 1/6 were fresh, although the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines (3/6) under Lt Colonel Kenneth McLeod were finally allowed to land on Green Beach after being kept at sea by a series of contradictory orders.

The 1/6 attacked at 08.00 with C Company and some light tanks in the lead. Resistance was fairly light and they had reached the southern pocket by mid-afternoon. With support from carrier aircraft, the 1/6 pressed eastwards, clearing a cluster of pillboxes and bunkers. Hays' 1/8 attacked at 07.00 on the formidable stronghold between Red Beaches 1 and 2. They were supported by M3A1 (Stuart) light tanks but had advanced only some 100 yards when they met stiff opposition from a complex of pillboxes made from palm logs and covered with sand who had mutually supporting fields of fire. The Stuart tanks attempted to clear a path but while they met with some success, their 37mm guns did not really have the firepower to do any serious damage. They were replaced with two SPMs (M3 half-tracks with 75mm guns), which were more successful but did not have the armour protection of the tanks and had to be withdrawn. By the end of the day, the pocket had not been cleared and would in fact be the last position on the island to fall.

Major 'Jim' Crowe's force started to push east towards the end of the runway but came up against a major obstacle, that of a steel pillbox, a coconut log machine gun emplacement and a concrete bunker. All three were mutually supporting. The Marines attacked with a mortar barrage, one shell of which landed in an ammunition dump and devastated the machine gun emplacement. A Sherman tank then assaulted the pillbox, which was finished off by engineers with grenades and explosive charges. The bunker held out much longer and it eventually fell to a group of engineers who used demolition charges and flamethrowers to clear it out. With this, Crowe's men advanced rapidly and joined Jones' 1/6 at the end of the runway. The majority of the western two-thirds of the island now lay in American hands. With this the task of clearing up the large number of dead bodies began with Marines being buried in temporary graves while the Japanese dead being put in mass graves or buried at sea.

The Marines settled into defensive positions for the night and were subjected to two counterattacks, the first starting at 19.30 with a small group of around fifty Japanese probing the front of 1/6, a move that developed into a fierce hand-to-hand fight. The other came at 03.00 with a large group of rikusentai attacking 1/6 and the Marines only fighting this off with the support of naval gunfire from the destroyers Schroeder and Sigsbee.


Tarawa, Battle of (1943)

Tarawa, Battle of (1943). In June 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas/Pacific Fleet, to invade the Japanese‐held Gilbert Islands with a target date of November 15. The immediate objective of the Fifth Fleet would be Tarawa Atoll, with the target Betio Island. The Fifth Amphibious Force, under Rear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, would carry and support the V Amphibious Corps (VAC) under Marine Maj. Gen. Holland M. Smith. The landing force would be the 2d Marine Division. Betio was two miles long, 500 yards wide at its broadest, and in no place more than 10 feet above sea level. Most of it was filled with an airstrip the rest was comprised of fortifications and more than 200 guns including two British‐made eight‐inch naval rifles. The commander of the 5,000‐man island garrison was Rear Adm. Keichi Shibasaki. The United States decided to land three battalions abreast on the northern, or lagoon, side of the island. The transports would have to stand outside the atoll, there would be a long approach of ten miles for the landing craft, and it was questionable if there would be enough water over the reef to allow them to get to the beach. As a result, the Marines would have to depend on thin‐skinned amphibian tractors, or amtracs, barely tested at Guadalcanal. Just 100 were available, enough for the first three waves. In the assault was the 2d Marines, reinforced by the 8th Marines, also an infantry regiment. The 6th Marines, the third infantry regiment of the 2d Division, was held in corps reserve. H‐hour was 8:30, November 20. The first waves touched down ashore at 9:14. Behind them, ordinary landing craft were stopped at the edge of the reef and Marines on board had to wade in a half mile under heavy fire. By nightfall, Marines held a shallow box‐shaped perimeter with elements of four battalions, and another battalion held a tiny beachhead on the western end of the island. The remaining assault battalion was still afloat beyond the reef. On the morning of November 21, the Marines jumped off in the attack, and by evening reached the south side of the island. Sometime during the day, Admiral Shibasaki died in his bunker. On the west end of the island, a fresh battalion was landed. By the evening of November 22, the Marines held the western two‐thirds of Betio. The next day, another previously uncommitted battalion continued the attack eastward. Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith, commander of the 2d Marine Division, declared the island secured. His division, which had begun the battle with 18,600 Marines, counted 990 dead and 2,391 wounded. Four Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor, three posthumously. The Tarawa operation was the first assault in the Pacific War against a heavily defended island, and many lessons were learned from it, including the need for many more amtracs. The operation was extensively recorded on 35mm news film, subsequently shown in theaters across the country. Shots of dead Marines floating along the Tarawa beaches brought the war home graphically to the American people.
[See also Marine Corps, U.S.: 1914� World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Joseph H. Alexander , Across the Reef: The Marine Assault of Tarawa , 1993.

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Battle of Tarawa - History

The Significance of Tarawa

The costs of the forcible seizure of Tarawa were two-fold: the loss of Marines in the assault itself, followed by the shock and despair of the nation upon hearing the reports of the battle. The gains at first seemed small in return, the "stinking little island" of Betio, 8,000 miles from Tokyo. In time, the practical lessons learned in the complex art of amphibious assault began to outweigh the initial adverse publicity.

The final casualty figures for the 2d Marine Division in Operation Galvanic were 997 Marines and 30 sailors (organic medical personnel) dead 88 Marines missing and presumed dead and 2,233 Marines and 59 sailors wounded. Total casualties: 3,407. The Guadalcanal campaign had cost a comparable amount of Marine casualties over six months Tarawa's losses occurred in a period of 76 hours. Moreover, the ratio of killed to wounded at Tarawa was significantly high, reflecting the savagery of the fighting. The overall proportion of casualties among those Marines engaged in the assault was about 19 percent, a steep but "acceptable" price. But some battalions suffered much higher losses. The 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion lost over half the command. The battalion also lost all but 35 of the 125 LVT's employed at Betio.

Lurid headlines—"The Bloody Beaches of Tarawa"—alarmed American newspaper readers. Part of this was the Marines' own doing. Many of the combat correspondents invited along for Operation Galvanic had shared the very worst of the hell of Betio the first 36 hours, and they simply reported what they observed. Such was the case of Marine Corps Master Technical Sergeant James C. Lucas, whose accounts of the fighting received front-page coverage in both The Washington Post and The New York Times on 4 December 1943. Colonel Shoup was furious with Lucas for years thereafter, but it was the headline writers for both papers who did the most damage (The Times: "Grim Tarawa Defense a Surprise, Eyewitness of Battle Reveals Marines Went in Chuckling, To Find Swift Death Instead of Easy Conquest.").

Nor did extemporaneous remarks to the media by some of the senior Marines involved in Operation Galvanic help soothe public concerns. Holland Smith likened the D-Day assault to Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. "Red Mike" Edson said the assault force "paid the stiffest price in human life per square yard" at Tarawa than any other engagement in Marine Corps history. Evans Carlson talked graphically of seeing 100 of Hays men gunned down in the water in five minutes on D+1, a considerable exaggeration. It did not help matters when Headquarters Marine Corps waited until 10 days after the battle to release casualty lists.

The atmosphere in both Washington and Pearl Harbor was particularly tense during this period. General MacArthur, still bitter that the 2d Marine Division had been taken from his Southwest Pacific Command, wrote the Secretary of War complaining that "these frontal attacks by the Navy, as at Tarawa, are a tragic and unnecessary massacre of American lives." A woman wrote Admiral Nimitz accusing him of "murdering my son." Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox called a press conference in which he blamed "a sudden shift in the wind" for exposing the reef and preventing reinforcements from landing. Congress proposed a special investigation. The Marines were fortunate to have General Alexander A. Vandegrift in Washington as the newly appointed 18th Commandant. Vandegrift, the widely respected and highly decorated veteran of Guadalcanal, quietly reassured Congress, pointing out that "Tarawa was an assault from beginning to end." The casualty reports proved to be less dramatic than expected. A thoughtful editorial in the 27 December 1943 issue of The New York Times complimented the Marines for overcoming Tarawa's sophisticated defenses and fanatical garrison, warning that future assaults in the Marshalls might result in heavier losses. "We must steel ourselves now to pay that price."

A Marine combat correspondent assigned to the Tarawa operation interviews a Marine from the 18th Engineers, 2d Marine Division, during the course of the fighting. LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

The controversy was stirred again after the war when General Holland Smith claimed publicly that "Tarawa was a mistake!" Significantly, Nimitz, Spruance, Turner, Hill, Julian Smith, and Shoup disagreed with that assessment.

Admiral Nimitz did not waver. "The capture of Tarawa," he stated, "knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific." Nimitz launched the Marshalls campaign only 10 weeks after the seizure of Tarawa. Photo-reconnaissance and attack aircraft from the captured airfields at Betio and Apamama provided invaluable support. Of greater significance to success in the Marshalls were the lessons learned and the confidence gleaned from the Tarawa experience.

Henry I. Shaw, Jr., for many years the Chief Historian of the Marine Corps, observed that Tarawa was the primer, the textbook on amphibious assault that guided and influenced all subsequent landings in the Central Pacific. Shaw believed that the prompt and selfless analyses which immediately followed Tarawa were of great value: "From analytical reports of the commanders and from their critical evaluations of what went wrong, of what needed improvement, and of what techniques and equipment proved out in combat, came a tremendous outpouring of lessons learned."

All participants agreed that the conversion of logistical LVTs to assault craft made the difference between victory and defeat at Betio. There was further consensus that the LVT-1s and LVT-2s employed in the operation were marginal against heavy defensive fires. The Alligators needed more armor, heavier armament, more powerful engines, auxiliary bilge pumps, self-sealing gas tanks—and wooden plugs the size of 13mm bullets to keep from being sunk by the Japanese M93 heavy machine guns. Most of all, there needed to be many more LVTs, at least 300 per division. Shoup wanted to keep the use of LVTs as reef crossing assault vehicles a secret, but there had been too many reporters on the scene. Hanson W. Baldwin broke the story in The New York Times as early as 3 December.

Tarawa is one of the few Pacific battlefields that remained essentially unchanged for the half century that followed World War II. Visitors to Betio Island can readily see wrecked American tanks and LVTs along the beaches, as well as the ruins of Japanese gun emplacements and pill boxes. Admiral Shibasaki's imposing concrete bunker still stands, seemingly as impervious to time as it was to the battleship guns of Task Force 53. The "Singapore Guns" still rest in their turrets overlooking the approaches to the island. A few years ago, natives unearthed a buried LVT containing the skeletons of its Marine Corps crew, one still wearing dog tags.

General David M. Shoup was recalled from retirement to active duty for nine days in 1968 to represent the United States at the dedication of a large monument on Betio, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the battle. As Shoup later told The National Observer, "My first reaction was that Betio had shrunk a great deal. It seems smaller in peace than in war." As he toured the ruined fortifications, Shoup recalled the savage, desperate fighting and wondered "why two nations would spend so much for so little." Nearly 6,000 Japanese and Americans died on the tiny island in 76 hours of fighting.

Twenty years after Shoup's dedication ceremony, the American memorial had fallen into disrepair indeed, it was in danger of being torn down to make room for a cold-storage plant for Japanese fishermen. A lengthy campaign by the 2d Marine Division Association and Long Beach-journalist Tom Hennessy raised enough funds to obtain a new, more durable monument, a nine-ton block of Georgia granite inscribed "To our fellow Marines who gave their all." The memorial was dedicated on 20 November 1988.

Betio is now part of the new Republic of Kirbati. Tourist facilities are being developed to accommodate the large number of veterans who wish to return. For now, the small island probably resembles the way it appeared on D-Day, 50 years ago. American author James Ramsey Ullman visited Tarawa earlier and wrote a fitting eulogy: "It is a familiar irony that old battlefields are often the quietest and gentlest of places. It is true of Gettysburg. It is true of Cannae, Chalons, Austerlitz, Verdun. And it is true of Tarawa."

Naval gunfire support got mixed reviews. While the Marines were enthusiastic about the response from destroyers in the lagoon, they were critical of the extent and accuracy of the preliminary bombardment, especially when it was terminated so prematurely on D-Day. In Major Ryan's evaluation, the significant shortcoming in Operation Galvanic "lay in overestimating the damage that could be inflicted on a heavily defended position by an intense but limited naval bombardment, and by not sending in the assault forces soon enough after the shelling." Major Schoettel, recalling the pounding his battalion had received from emplacements within the seawall, recommended direct fire against the face of the beach by 40mm guns from close-in destroyers. The hasty, saturation fires, deemed sufficient by planners in view of the requirement for strategic surprise, proved essentially useless. Amphibious assaults against fortified atolls would most of all need sustained, deliberate, aimed fire.

While no one questioned the bravery of the aviators who supported the Betio assault, many questioned whether they were armed and trained adequately for such a difficult target. The need for closer integration of all supporting arms was evident.

Communications throughout the Betio assault were awful. Only the ingenuity of a few radio operators and the bravery of individual runners kept the assault reasonably coherent. The Marines needed waterproof radios. The Navy needed a dedicated amphibious command ship, not a major combatant whose big guns would knock out the radio nets with each salvo. Such command ships, the AGCs, began to appear during the Marshalls campaign.

Other revisions to amphibious doctrine were immediately indicated. The nature and priority of unloading supplies should henceforth become the call of the tactical commander ashore, not the amphibious task force commander.

Betio showed the critical need for underwater swimmers who could stealthily assess and report reef, beach, and surf conditions to the task force before the landing. This concept, first envisioned by amphibious warfare prophet Major Earl "Pete" Ellis in the 1920s, came quickly to fruition. Admiral Turner had a fledgling Underwater Demolition Team on hand for the Marshalls.

Themes underlying the enduring legacy of Tarawa are: the tide that failed tactical assault vehicles that succeeded a high cost in men and material which in the end spelled out victory in the Central Pacific and a road that led to Tokyo. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63843

The Marines believed that, with proper combined arms training, the new medium tanks would be valuable assets. Future tank training would emphasize integrated tank, infantry, engineer, and artillery operations. Tank-infantry communications needed immediate improvement. Most casualties among tank commanders at Betio resulted from the individuals having to dismount from their vehicles to talk with the infantry in the open.

The backpack flamethrower won universal acclaim from the Marines on Betio. Each battalion commander recommended increases in quantity, range, and mobility for these assault weapons. Some suggested that larger versions be mounted on tanks and LVTs, presaging the appearance of "Zippo Tanks" in later campaigns in the Pacific.

Julian Smith rather humbly summed up the lessons learned at Tarawa by commenting, "We made fewer mistakes than the Japs did."

Military historians Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl used different words of assessment: "The capture of Tarawa, in spite of defects in execution, conclusively demonstrated that American amphibious doctrine was valid, that even the strongest island fortress could be seized."

The subsequent landings in the Marshalls employed this doctrine, as modified by the Tarawa experience, to achieve objectives against similar targets with fewer casualties and in less time. The benefits of Operation Galvanic quickly began to outweigh the steep initial costs.

In time, Tarawa became a symbol of raw courage and sacrifice on the part of attackers and defenders alike. Ten years after the battle, General Julian Smith paid homage to both sides in an essay in Naval Institute Proceedings. He saluted the heroism of the Japanese who chose to die almost to the last man. Then he turned to his beloved 2d Marine Division and their shipmates in Task Force 53 at Betio:

For the officers and men, Marines and sailors, who crossed that reef, either as assault troops, or carrying supplies, or evacuating wounded I can only say that I shall forever think of them with a feeling of reverence and the greatest respect.


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