The United States Marines in the Gilberts Campaign | Battle Of Tarawa | United States Marine Corps





Z .27'zz44


C. A. YOUNCDAI,E BrLgadler Qeneral, U, S. Marlne Corps Assl8tant Chlef of Staf,f,, G-3

The Unlted States Marlnes ln the GllbertE by Bernard C. The offenslve glnnlng p1re. agalnst the cllbert Islands

Campa lgn

marked the be-

of an Anerlcan thru8t

to the heart

of the Japanese emventure was catled,

Operatlon GALVANIC, as the Gilberts future

was undertaken to secur,e bases for glve added protectlon to Australla,

operatl-ons and to

to the supply l1ne from the Unlted States flnally sefected to attack the Glfberts The

The unlts

were the 2d Marlne Dlvlslon

and the 27th Infantry


Marlne dlv161on, made up of the 2d, 6th, fantry), 10th Marlnes (arttllery), 2d Amphlb1an Tractor

and 8th Ma!"lnes (1n-

18th Martnes (englneer:s), 2o Battallon, plus headquarvrhlfe a rel_noap-

Tank Battallon, ters

and servlce unlts,

waE to storm Tarawa AtoLl,

forced reglnent, tured Makln Atol.l. Early

the 165th Infantry,

from the Arny dlvLslon

ln August 1943, whlle

the 2d Marlne Dlvlslon

was 1n

New Zealand recoverlng palgn,

from the effects

of the Cuadalcanal cam-

1ts cornrnandlnggeneral,

MaJor Oene!'al Ju1lan C. Snlth, at Tarawa aometlme tn vrere frlnged by reefs, Ene

was lnformed that Novenber,

hlE tnoops woufd Etrlke

Slnce the lsLands ln thlB atoll

the general and h1s ataff best rneans of crosslng t?actor, vehlcles

began experlrnents to determlne

Euch obstacles.

The LvT, an anphlblan declded to use these

seened the answer, so the dlvlslon to carry tlre assault troops.

On 2 October, lor

less than s1x weeks before Smlth arrlved

the target


GALVAN]C,General Jullan

at Pearl l{arbor to Snlth, corrunand was

dlscuss plans wlth

Marlne MaJor General Holland

1ng general of the V Amphlbious Corps to whlch the divlslon asslgned, and the conmanders of the task forces forr0ed for the operatlon, At this conference, that

had been

General Jullan de-

Srnith learned that fended Betlo If Island

h1s troops would have to selze heavily before

fandlng elsewhere 1n Tarawa atol1. posltlons on

the Marlnes were permltted to occupy artltlery defended lslanda near Betlo prlor

the ltghtfy tack,

to the naln at-

the enemy would be glven addltlonal

tlme to enploy h1s The

pl-anes and submarlnes agalnst dlvlslonra reglments, c on'nnand general lng

the Amerlcan task force. also learned that

one of hls dur-

the 6th MarlneB, waE to remaln ln corps reserve leavlng contnol. the general and hls only two-thlrds of hls lnfantry

ing the assault, under hl"s dlrecb


Worklng v{1th1n these 11nltatlons, devlsed a pl-an for three battaflons the aEsault on Betlo.


They declded to hurL anC,3 on the lagoon The assault relnforced unlt by a

agalnst Red Beaches I,2, of the lsland.

coast at the wlder portlon

would be Colonel Davld M, ShouprB 2d Marlnes, battallon fron

the 8th Ma!"tnes and deslgnated Conbat Tean 2. ln reserve, whl1e the

Colonel Shoup was to have one battaLlon general withheld as the dlvlslon the renalnlng resenve.

two battallons

of the 8th Marlnes

In splte of the successful experlments wlth LVTrs, crosslng bhe reef remalned a dlfflculr proolen, The dlv161on had


only enough amphlblan tractors

for tbe flrst

three assaul"t

lfaves, so the remalnlng troops would have to fand from standard landlng craft. If the walrer over the reef proved shallow, these the Marlnes to wade ashore. the ls]and, tldes

boats would be stranded, forcing

oplnlon was dlvlded concernlng the depth of water off

but one fonner resldent of the Gllberts predlcted erratlc and shallow water. Although Japanese strategists vltal

dld not conslder the Gl-lberts

to the securlty of trhelr emplre, Betlo nonethefess was An estlnalred 4,836 Japanese troops and Korean

heavlly fortlfled,

Laborers nanned weaponsranglng ln slze fnom 7.7nunmachlne guns to 8-1nch coastal defense guns, Plllboxes, protected weapons by Betlors de-

empl"acenents, and bomb shelters had been bullt fenders,

El-sewhene Tarawa Atol"l-, the enenyrs defenaeE were Xn

weak. The rnaJor lsLand ln Makln Atol:]. was weakLy heLd, 1n conpar.lson to Betlo, and Maklnrs other leLands were not occupled. Few Japanesewere on Apamanra, the thlrd operatlon. The task force asslgned to GALVANIC wa8 comanded by Rear AdmlraL RichmondK. Turner, whose prlncXpal advlser on anphlblous nalters was General llolland Smlth. Adnlral Turner retalned d1obJectlve of the

rect cormandover the forces attacklng Makln, but he entrusted operatlons at Tarawa to Rear Admlral Harry W, H111. H1lf also had responslblLlty Adnlraf

for the capture of Apar0arna Ato11,

a task asslgned to the V Amphlblous Corps Reconnaj.ssance Company.
At O5O7 on the nornlng USS Colorado opened flre of 20 Novenber 1943, ttre battfeshlp Japanese shore

ln an atlrernpl to sllence


With br,lef 0855,

lnterruptlons, The total

the naval bombardment hurled 3,OoO on

contLnued untll lnto tonE,

welght of exploslves

the lsland

by supporting

warshlps was approxLmately dellvered two Etrlkes

In add1t1on, carrier
^f n-n.\.



H-Hour vras or1g1nally set for 0830, but the LVT'S proved slower than antlclpalred, Echedule. He flnally and Adnlral H111 twlce revlsed the

deElgnated O9OO the hour when the as_ as Actua11y, the flrst e1e-

a a u f t w a v e sw o u l d r e a c h t h e l s ] a n d .

nents of Col-onel Shoupr8 conunand reach the beaches arrlved to at 0910. Wlthln 12 nlnutes, battallons the flrst three waves of all three

had reached the shore. bon-

Because the eneny had been dazed by the pretlmlnary bardnent, he was unabl"e to lnfLlot

nany casua]tles on the lrroopg The defenders, however,

belng caruIed toward Betlo 1n LVTIs.

recovered ln tlne to prevent the Marlnes from advancing far l-nland. Behlnd the amphlblan tractors came landlng craft thetr carry_ head_

1ng the remalnlng elenents of the three battatlons, quarlers, and thelr supportlng unlts.

Slnce these boat€ drew

too muchwater to cross the reef,

the Marlnes they carrled had

to wade toward the beaches, easy vlctlros to machlne-gun bulfets and EheLLfragments. Tbe reef slo!^redthe arrlval of reserve unlts and prevented tbe prompt landlng of nedlcal supplles, water, and armunltlon. Throughout the day, the Marlnes fouAht

desperately to obtaln a grlp on the 1s1and, In the central part of Bet1o, Colonel Shouprs reserve oai_ ta11on Joi-ned two of h1s assault battallons ln carvlng out a


beachhead less than 700 yards wlde and no more than 4OO yards deep. 3y the end of the day, half of the dlvislon reserve,

tankgJ and artlllery t!.1ck1e of eupplles neverthefess,

had landed 1n thlE area, and a steady was beglnrllng to move 1n1and. for The posltlon, gaps exlsted

was vulnerabi.e

to counterattack,

thnough whlch the eneny could lnflltrate, able to blunt Isolated penetrations fron of the t1ne.

and few men were aval]-

the rnaln beachhead, the thlrd



tal1on had nanagedto overrun nuch of Betlots western coast. There were not enoughMarlnes, however, to hofd thlB expanded
area, Eo the battallon shortened 1ts 11nes. DariixeeE found the attackerE wlth two Eeparate foolrhol-dg on Betlo -- one at the lslandrs norlrh$/estern t1p and the other near 1ts walBt. The enernylaunched no counterattack that nlghlr, and on the nornlng of 2L November, the Marlnes resuned thelr The prevlous aftennoon, after to h1s control, lng battallon offenslve.

the 6th Marlnes had been released

Ceneral Ju11an Snlth had connnltted the renalnof the 8th Marlnes. Thls untt neached the naln

beachheadon the momlng of 21 Novemberand began preparlng to attack toward the west. Durlng tbe second day, some troops from the mal-n beachhead fought thelr way across the alrflefd to establlsh a perlneter

along the south coast, and others advanced a short dl_stance westwand. Meanwhlfer the Marlnes who had wlthdrawn to the north$eatern corner of the island cLeared the enemyfrom the western end of Bet1o. The dlvlslonrs general now decided to commandlng

have a battallon

of the 6th Marlnes attack fron west to east, unlt i,raeashore.

and by dark thls addltlonal

Another battaflon Island,

lron the 6th Marlnes landed on Bairikl

Just east of Betio, on the afternoon of 2l Novenber, kil]ed the few Japanese defenders as the asBy selzlng Balrlkl, the

Straflng aircraft

sault lroops were nearlng the beacb.

Marlnes blocked ttre enemyrs avenue of retreat tlon

and galned a poslof Betlo.

from whlch art11l^ery could support the operatlons Early

on Ehe mornlng of 22 NovemDer, Lhe Marlnes on Lhe both easl and west, The enemy strongground

central polnt

beachhead attacked

at the eastern boundary was overwhelmed, but little dlrectlon.

was galned In the opposite

Meanwhlle, the nen of the attacked along the

6th Marlnes who were already south coast,

ashone on Betlo

wh1le another battallon

from the same reglment drlve

landed behlnd them. had carrled

By the end of the day, the coastal That n1ght,

beyond the alrflel"d.

the enemy troops

1n the eastern part counterattack. Ihe fourth

of the ts]and dellvered

an unsuccessful

day, 23 Novenber, saw the crushlng The battallon

of organlzed had

r"esLstance on Betlo. landed the prevlous whlle

of the 6th Marlnes that

day drove to the eastrern tlp

of the isfand,

eLernents of the 2d and 81rh Marlnes wlped out the pocket localred between the two orlglnal was held on Betlo, beachheads. On

of reslstance

24 November, a flag-ralslng capture of the lsland, Brltaln before

rnarklng offlclal

As the Tarawa Atol"L beLonged to Great

the Japanese selzed 1t 1n 1941, the Marlnes flag also.


ralEed a Brltlsh


The next tasks faclng the dlvlslon

were the capture of 6th

Tarawats other 1slanda, accompllshed by the 2d Battaflon, Marlnea, agalnst sorneScattered reslstance,

and the occupatlon Scouts

of three nearby ato116, Abalang, Malana, and Marakel. of ConpanyD, 2d Tank Battallon, lnvestlgatlng

ihose ato116, lone

found only lnnocent natlves--except Japanese escaped by boat,

on Abalang, where flve

rnll"es northwest of the Tarawa Atoll, soldlers About l"OO the 165th Infantry captured Butanltarl, the only Japanese-


occupled lsland of the Makl-nAtoll.

Just a few Marlnes, the

4th Platoon of the V Anphlblous Corps ReconnalssanceConpany, were engagedher?e. The platoonre 20 llarlneg nade an unopposed Landlng on Kotabu, a reef-frlnged lsland at the entrance to ltlakln Japanese oppowas

lagoon, and they l-ater helped nop up Butarltanl. sltlon

to the Arrny land1ngs of 20 Novenber on Butartlrarl-

ELlght, but the lnexperlence of the troops--lt nentrs flrst

was the regl-

neetlng v{tth the eneny--resulted 1n slow pnogr.ess

and undue casualtles. The VAc Reconnalssanceconpany (l"ess the 4th lLatoon) was tran8ported to Apamama Atoll, on board the subnarlne Nautlluc the mornlng of 21 Novenber. countered on one lsland, of the atoll, brlefLy some75 ntles southeast of Tarawa, and Landed frorn rubber boatE on

A Japanese patrol. of three was ennlsfortune. On another 1sland

to thelr

18 ol the 22 Japanese destr.oyed themselves after thelr rlfles and naqhlne guns agalngt the Marlnes


approachlng acr.oss a eandsplt.

The other four Japanese dead were In the entlre actlon at

found io be vlctlms of naval gunflre. Apanana Atoll

only one Marlne was k1]led and one wounded.

Those lesser assaults of the Gllberts

were not costly

the MarlneE, but the capture of Tal"awa tas extre&ely ao. battle for that atol1 co6t the 2d Marlne Dlvlslon and,2,234 wound.ed, Of the entlre eneny garrlson, taken prlsoneri

to ,Ihe

1,115 dead only 146 were

4,690 chose to d1e rathen than surrenater. the operatlon wag a succesa,

In splte of the casualtles,

for the Anerlcans galned ba8es fron whlsh they could. launch an perhaps nore lmportant than the attack lnto the Marshalls. strateglc advantsge thus galned we)]e the tactlcal lessons Learned.. l.rom addl_ In future 1and1ngB, the assauLt troops would beneflt tlonal naval gunflre, amphlbLantractons.

betten air suppont, and more heavlly annored These lnprovenents, whlch would save &nerlcan

l1ve8, resuLted from the experlences of, the 2d Marlne D$vlslon at Tanawa. Ivlarlne gallantry unforgettable at Tarawa nade the battLe amongthe nost Ttne y,agazlne, on 6 Decenber

of l{orld War II.

L943, expx"es8ed Tar.awaishlgh pl-ace in Anerlcan hlstorv: Last week some two to thnee thousand U. S. Mar.1nes, rnotst of then now dead on wounded, gave the natlon a name to stand beslde those oi doncond Bntdge, the Bonhorune Rlchard. the ALano. Llttle B1g Horn, anE-EEfTElau-X56d'. The name wis Tarawa.


BTBLIOGRAPHY Ph111p A, Crowl and Edmund G. Love. Selzure of the cI1ber"ts and Marshal16 --- The U. S. --I*ffT6eArrny rii1v5ilc fr-ar IT:--TEE-TEr

tr-lhr@. Hlstory,

D e p a r L r n e n to f l h e A r m y , 1 9 5 5 . A. Crowl.

wa;Elns : ron

oT-Tne cnGi offirlTiary
pp. 3-105.


A. lFe1y and Phttlp

-*i$#l$"ff :l;,^#tie,oi"$*.,'u?!H"40",,fl a,ru#@ T"""*f
Sanuel El1ot Morlson. The AfeutlanE, G l l b e r t s , a n d M a r s h a l l s J u n e 1 9 4 2 - A p r l l 1 9 4 4 - - - H l s t o r v oF-T;-S; UEiETIEEFF-Iron s tJIOWn, and Lionpany, f951.

Amphlbious WarI f ts Theory, and IE;-Ii-acTlcE-l;-rtre-?Eclf lc . Princeton : lrincei;on universft! Tres!l--t95fl t9Z:Zj/j oV.

The U, S. Marlnes and

u=@-yerE. E6dro",iiiritl pp.-69--186;335-342

Cap,t Janes R. Stoclsnan, USMC. fbq Battle fqr Tarawa, Washlnglron! _ Historlcat Sectlon, Dlvlslon of FI5TIc IifoifrS-t ion, Headquir_ ters, U. s, Marine corps, 1947. tv, 86pp,


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