Tarawa (1)

LVT out of commission.

LVT out of commission.

The Battle of Tarawa was one of the more terrible American experiences in the Pacific theatre of World War Two. It was one that would shape the future of amphibious assaults.

In late 1943, the United States launched attacks in the central Pacific. These were meant to speed up victory in the war by drawing Japanese forces away from larger offensives. The Tarawa atoll, part of the Gilbert Islands, was one of the targets of this advance.

Tarawa is made of fifteen small islands in the shape of a triangle, their total land area only twelve square miles. In the center is a lagoon, and reefs shelter many parts of the atoll. The British, who had governed the atoll before the war, were remarkably ill-informed about it. All their maps were over a century old, and they had no records of the tides and currents in the surrounding sea. Aerial reconnaissance provided some information about the islands and the Japanese defenses, but the attack would still be launched through a fog of ignorance.

The Japanese defenses included 200 artillery pieces. Thanks to the small, flat, featureless nature of the island, almost all of them could hit almost every one of its beaches. At the tops of those beaches were walls of palm logs and wire up to five feet high, behind them rifle pits and machine-guns. Behind those were fortified machine-gun emplacements of coral, logs and reinforced concrete, hidden with sand. And beyond those were pillboxes holding anti-tank guns and field guns.

USMC-M-Tarawa-5-640x297

Landing on Betio

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

On the night of 19 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.

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.

Fighting on Betio, Tarawa

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To be continued….

(The main fighting was on Betio (rhymes with ratio); but the pronunciation was difficult over the radios, so the battles became known by the the name of the atoll – Tarawa.]

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Edward Byers, US Navy SEAL, received his Medal of Honor…

Edward Byers

Edward Byers

 

 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/navy-seal-edward-byers-breaks-secrecy-receive-medal-honor-n527971

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Military Humor – 

Old Sad Sack

Old Sad Sack

The funnier side of army life.

The funnier side of army life.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Charles Altman – Birmingham, AL; US Army, WWII & Korea

Randolph Chavez – Hayden, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTOArlington_Burial_Worl_Smit_2_t755_h8a94edf1cc6e40113d3605995d57b0e00c11f81c

Oscar Flick – Norton, IN; US Army, WWII

William Henehan – Bobota, NJ; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT

George Kennedy – NYC, NY; US Army (16 years), Capt., (Beloved actor)

Glenn Morehouse – St. Belen, NM; US Navy, WWII

Ronald Paulsen – Masterton, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 435335, WWII

Lawrence Schiller – Calgary, CAN; RC Navy, WWII

Raymond Tronzo – Punxsutawney, PA; US Army Air Corps, Korea

Don Willoughby – Detroit, MI; US Navy, WWII

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Click on still images to enlarge.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 3, 2016, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 68 Comments.

  1. It appears to have been a failure from the start, Geographical information was not up to date, and a variety of factors added to its failure, a case of Just do it with unnecessary consequences. A Sad day for the Marines.

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  2. If you haven’t seen it, I thought you might be interested in this piece on the PBY-5A: http://www.nxtbook.com/fx/media/ooyala/index.php?w=640&h=360&embedCode=l5cnRrbjoBGoU3i9mNk2WnlSwfvifrlA

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for including this video! No, I had not seen this one before. “The ugly duckling you can’t help but love” terrific. They went to a lot of trouble to restore this old gal and it sure looks like it was worth it!!!

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  3. It is the most painful to realize that more than seven decades later, we still haven’t been able to locate a number of the battlefield burial sites. Their souls must be very lonely…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing all this valuable history. Learning much about the Pacific battles which my father was part of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Remember Sarg, any stories you recall both your father’s or your own – feel free to share them here. These readers enjoy a first-hand account. I appreciate your interest and encouragement.

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  5. Tarawa was probably THE toughie …

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  6. The USS Tarawa used to be based here in San Diego–I believe it was decommissioned a few years back. Now I’m learning how it got its name. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • To discover that I have taught someone, is a great feeling. You should know after all the posts you’ve showed me of San Diego!! I love that town now and I’ve never been there!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • As someone who’s fascinated by history, I really enjoy reading your blog! I think I’ve a cool post coming up about WWII–how the San Diego tuna fleet helped in the Pacific Theater. I’ve got some more research to do first, however!

        Liked by 2 people

        • I’m not an expert, but I do know the basic story of the Tuna Fleet. You just might require more than one post!! I’ll look forward to it, but take your time with the research, Richard – they deserve it.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m waiting to read the next post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am under the distinct impression that we are much wimpier and mushier now.

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  9. Guter Beitrag wünsche ein schönes Wochenende liebe Grüße Gislinde

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  10. I’m surprised that the British Intelligence was unable to map the island properly. if that happened today, it would be an embarrassment!

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  11. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be scared shitless while wading into a massacre.

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  12. It is amazing to read that so many lives were lost due to ignorance. Indeed, errors are often justified by military historians on the basis of what lessons had been learned for all subsequent operations. A similar argument had been made for the disastrous invasion attempt at Dieppe in 1942. Human life including a soldier’s life is too precious for ‘errors’ of this kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fascinating! I am looking forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, but my posts barely cover the surface of these 3 days. If you or anyone you know is interested in the complete story, I highly recommend “Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa” by Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.). He has cross-referenced old and new information, making this (IMO) the outstanding reference it is!

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  14. Bet this will be a good series of posts. Also, someone to add to your farewells: https://twitter.com/PacificWrecks/status/705414684577566721

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I’m not finished with it yet – and my posts are actually a drastic cut in the originally planned ones! Thank you for contributing Lt. Lolos’ story, he will be remembered!!

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  15. Hard to imagine that such a tiny land mass could prove to be such a massive obstacle, and I’m with Dan in being surprised that the British of all people, who compulsively chart waters and conditions in minutest detail, should have proved to have such poor records.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That small an island was not something major on the Empire’s mind, I suppose. Oce the original charts were made, obviously they left it at that. I appreciate your curiosity!

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  16. I have read about this battle before, and there is a lot of live-action footage of the fighting available on documentary programmes. It was a fierce battle indeed, and something of a debacle too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m not surprised that the British knew nothing about the reef and islands they ruled over. This is what happens when you have to be either a member of the nobility or very rich to be in charge of things.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know very little of how nobility operates (I learn from people like you, John), but I can understand it – just look at the US and we don’t have any! Not just Britain, but every nation that took over territories did it basically for the resources it could provide and from there – they knew nothing else about it. (IMO)

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  18. Great information. It’s not often I hear about this battle. It was a mess.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. “The British, who had governed the atoll before the war, were remarkably ill-informed about it” That is astonishing. I always know about this battle, but these are elements of the story that I didn’t know. Oh, right, that’s why I come here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hmm, sounds like a snafu situation…

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for your support, Kathy.

    Like

  22. Thank you for helping me to keep these memories alive!

    Like

  1. Pingback: Tarawa (1) | Practically Historical

  2. Pingback: My Article Read (3-4-2016) – My Daily Musing

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