Operation GALVANIC (1943)

U.S. Navy Department (November 20, 1943)

CINCPAC Communiqué No. 17

Marine Corps and Army forces covered by powerful units of all types of the Pacific Fleet have established beachheads on Makin and Tarawa Atolls, Gilbert Islands, meeting moderate resistance at Makin and strong resistance at Tarawa. Fighting continues during these operations. Army Liberators made diversionary attacks in the Marshalls.

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U.S. Navy Department (November 22, 1943)

CINCPAC Communiqué No. 18

Our troops have improved their positions on Tarawa and Makin Atolls, but are still encountering considerable enemy ground resistance. We have landed on Apamama Atoll. Liberators heavily bombed the airdromes area at Nauru Island on November 20 (West Longitude Date) and on November 21, Army Liberators continued diversionary attacks in the Marshalls. The Central Pacific operations are being directed by VAdm. Raymond A. Spruance, USN. The amphibious forces are under command of RAdm. Richmond Turner, USN. Landings were made on Tarawa by the 2nd Marine Division in command of Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith, USMC; those on Makin by troops of the 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ralph Smith, USA. Maj. Gen. Holland McT. Smith, USMC, is in command of the landing forces.

The Pittsburgh Press (November 22, 1943)

YANKS STORM 2 JAP ISLANDS
Heavy fighting rages in Gilberts; warships, planes cover invasion

Marine, Army troops hit Makin and Tarawa before dawn
By William F. Tyree, United Press staff writer

tarawamap
New Pacific invasion by U.S. forces has penetrated the Jap belt of defenses in the Gilbert Islands. U.S. troops went ashore north of the equator on the Makin and Tarawa Atolls, shown by the heavy arrows.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
U.S. invasion forces backed by a strong fleet and covered by a canopy of planes battled today to crush two Jap outposts in the Gilbert Islands in the first phase of a mid-Pacific offensive on the flank of the ocean road to Tokyo.

Hand-to-hand fighting with Jap defenders was believed raging on the narrow, sandy beachheads on Makin and Tarawa Atolls of the Gilberts, which lie astride the equator some 2,400 miles southwest of Honolulu.

A communiqué by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s headquarters announcing the landing made before dawn Saturday by battle-experienced Marines and soldiers said only that “moderate resistance” was met at Makin but reported “strong opposition” at Tarawa, major center on the coral island chain.

The Jap news agency Dōmei, in the Tokyo broadcast, said “heavy fighting” was in progress, adding that the attacking forces included aircraft carriers and battleships and that Makin and Tarawa were “repeatedly bombed and shelled” from Friday morning on.

Backed by strong fleet

Carrying U.S. land operations north of the equator in the Central Pacific for the first time since the start of the war, the forces went ashore while a fleet, described by the communiqué as “powerful,” protected their invasion. Six straight days of bombing had softened the enemy’s hold or neutralized adjacent bases.

While long-range strategy remained undisclosed, it was apparent that the attack had two main objectives:

  1. A pincer on the strong Jap naval air base of Truk, in the Carolines 1,300 miles northwest, in cooperation with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces moving up from the south.

  2. A thrust to open the chain of island bases protecting Japan’s long Pacific lines, eliminating enemy strongholds on the flank of the main route across the Pacific toward Tokyo.

Coordination close

Close coordination of the offensive by naval forces with the Army was indicated by a conference between Adm. Nimitz and Lt. Gen. Robert C. Richardson Jr., Army commander in the Central Pacific, after the invasion was announced yesterday.

Army Liberators started the pre-invasion blasting of the Gilberts and the adjacent Marshall Islands – both north of the American-held Ellice Islands – a week ago last Saturday. In the last stages of the softening-up process, the fleet joined, sending planes to dump 90 tons of bombs on Nauru, phosphate island to the west.

Runways wrecked

After raids Friday, a front dispatch said that on Tarawa, site of an airstrip, the runways were reduced and barracks ruined. Only two planes, both wrecked, were sighted on the ground. The only sign of life was a few Japs running from machine-gun fire.

Marine veterans of the Solomons were believed part of the invasion force.

As the troops waded ashore, Liberators ranged over the Marshalls to knock out any Jap attempt to send harassing planes southward from bases there.

Send strong force

The communiqué’s report that units of “all types” were included in the U.S. battle fleet indicated battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers took part and presumably pumped shells into the tiny island to loosen the enemy’s entrenchments on the coconut-tree-lined beaches.

Adm. Nimitz inferred some time ago in a speech that strong resistance was expected, announcing the Japs would be “dug out” of their island strongholds. It was safe to assume a strong force capable of taking and holding the islands went in.

The communiqué said the troops “have established beachheads,” presumably in the face of enemy machine-gun fire from pillboxes and log fortresses.

It was believed the troops concentrated on Betio Island in the 22-mile-long series of Tarawa islets which surround a lagoon with a good anchorage. At the Makin Atoll, which includes Little Makin (only 2.75 miles long) and Butaritari (11 miles long), the latter island was thought to be the prime objective.

Found four wharves

Col. Evans Carlson’s Raiders, who swept the Makin group on Aug. 17, 1942, reported Butaritari, which is less than 1,000 yards wide its entire length, and four wharves, a two-lane asphalt road, a seaplane landing and supply dumps.

Because of the exposed sea approaches and beaches, landing probably necessitated braving enemy fire out in the open on such small islands.

It was considered possible the invasion would expand, soon if not concurrently with the Gilberts attack, into the Marshalls, which would have to be reduced to protect the holdings. Makin is less than 200 miles from the Marshalls.

Other islands to the south in the Gilberts would be neutralized by the conquest od Makin and Tarawa. They are in the northern section, just above the equator, in the string of 16 main atolls which stretch 400 miles from four degrees north to three degrees south of the equator. Their total land area is 166 square miles. The islands were seized by the Japs from the British early in 1942. They were formerly a Crown colony with a population of about 26,000, mostly natives. The Jap population was not known.

The islands have been hit intermittently by naval or air forces since they were taken.

Most of the islands have eight feet or less of beach and are coral rock with a scanty topsoil in which coconut groves are planted.

They formed the mid-Pacific outer line of the Jap outposts now crushed in the Aleutians to the north, running southward through Wake Island – where positions may be neutralized by this attack – through the Marshalls, the Gilberts, the Solomons, New Guinea and on into the Indies.

Gilberts blow may draw out Japanese Navy

Showdown, long sought by U.S. fleet, now possible
By Sandor S. Klein, United Press staff writer

Washington –
The U.S. invasion of the Gilbert Islands, the important outer link in Japan’s chain of Pacific defenses, was viewed by military experts today as the stroke that may finally force the Jap fleet out of hiding for a long-awaited showdown.

The weekend thrust at Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert group, marking the first direct American attempt to seize enemy bases in the Central Pacific, represented a serious potential threat to the Philippines, heart of the powerful ring of defenses guarding the Jap homeland.

May push on Philippines

Military men here believed the Gilbert operations were preliminary moves toward eventual reconquest of the Philippines by a direct move across the Central Pacific. Thus, they declared, the Jap fleet may well find it time to ride out for the showdown which the U.S. Pacific Fleet has been seeking to provoke for months.

The move into the Gilberts also represented another important step in the general strategic pattern unfolding against Japan – the initial blow in the forging of a northern arm of an Allied pincer slowly closing in on Truk, Japan’s “Pearl Harbor.” Lying some 1,300 miles west of the Gilberts, Truk is also the ultimate objective of a southern arm being extended by Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces towards Rabaul in New Britain.

Seek air bases

In the short-range view, the immediate aim of the present Gilbert operations appeared to be acquisition of air bases from which to attack the adjacent Marshall Islands. The Marshalls, under Jap mandate for more than two decades, are heavily fortified, but they must be seized before any drive on the Philippines can be undertaken.

A corollary of the Gilberts action was expected to be an attempt to retake Wake Island, which the Japs captured from the small U.S. Marine garrison in the first few weeks of the war.

A bold attempt to retake the Philippines would shorten the war in the Pacific considerably because from those islands, the main enemy supply arteries to Burma, French Indochina and the Southwest Pacific could be cut. Japan herself could be brought within the scope of long-range bombers.

Strategy emphasized

High-ranking American officials, including President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy Knox, have emphasized that an island-by-island drive toward Japan was not contemplated. Until U.S. forces moved into the Gilberts, the campaign had generally appeared to be based on an island-hopping strategy.

Military experts warned, however, that success in the Central Pacific did not mean an immediate or even early move on the Philippines. They explained the High Command would be faced with an exceedingly difficult supply problem. Only after the war is won in Europe will enough shipping for a major invasion in the Pacific be available.

Völkischer Beobachter (November 23, 1943)

Neuer USA.-Vorstoß –
Die Gilbertinseln angegriffen

dnb. Tokio, 22. November –
Nach einer Verlautbarung des Kaiserlichen Hauptquartiers griffen starke Marineeinheiten des Feindes, die Flugzeugträger und Schlachtschiffe einschlossen, am Morgen des 19. November die Inseln Makin und Tarawa der Gilbertgruppe an.

Die letzten Nachrichten von dort besagen, daß am 21. November die Kämpfe zwischen den japanischen Verteidigern und den Angreifern immer noch im Gange sind, nachdem es einem Teil der feindlichen Kräfte gelungen war, auf den Inseln zu landen.


U.S. Navy Department (November 23, 1943)

CINCPAC Communiqué No. 19

Central Pacific.
Our forces have captured Makin. On Tarawa, the Marines have con­solidated their positions and are making good progress against enemy con­centrations on eastern end of Betio Island with capture assured. The situation on Apamama is well in hand.

Raids are being continued against the Marshalls by carrier aircraft and Army Seventh Air Force Liberators.

The Pittsburgh Press (November 23, 1943)

Yanks ashore on third isle in mid-Pacific

Marines invade Apamama, widening offensive in Gilberts
By William F. Tyree, United Press staff writer

Screenshot 2022-11-23 040614
Yanks widen invasion of the Jap-held Gilbert Islands, with Marines storming ashore on Apamama (inset map) as heavy fighting raged on Makin and Tarawa Islands to the north. U.S. bombers attacked Nauru Island, near the Gilberts. In the Solomons, to the south, Jap forces were reported trapped on Bougainville. In the New Guinea area (lower left), Australian troops were closing in on the Japs at Sattelberg, 10 miles from Finschhafen.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
Marine veterans of the Solomons expanded the American mid-Pacific offensive today by storming a third Gilbert Islands atoll as other forces slowly crushed the bitterly resisting Japs on Tarawa and Makin.

The invasion of the Gilbert Islands marks the beginning of a new drive aimed directly at Japan across the Central Pacific, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox said in Washington.

Bringing an increasingly heavy weight of men, ships and planes to bear on Japan’s cracking ocean outpost system, U.S. commanders sent Marines of the 2nd Division to win a landing on Apamama, 80 miles south of Tarawa.

Statement brief

Their success was announced by the unadorned statement, “we have landed on Apamama Atoll,” included in Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s Pacific Fleet headquarters communiqué.

The report was equally blunt on other operations in the 72-hour-old invasion drive through the island-studded seaways protecting Japan’s broad empire conquests.

Improve positions

It said:

Our troops have improved their positions on Tarawa and Makin Atolls, but are still encountering considerable enemy ground resistance.

Tokyo radio today began making extravagant claims of success off the Gilberts. A broadcast quoted a communiqué as claiming a medium-sized aircraft carrier and a destroyer were sunk and 125 planes shot down around the Gilberts since last Friday. Loss of 15 planes was admitted. “Severe” fighting on the islands is continuing, especially on Tarawa, the Japs said.

While the fighting raged, Army Liberator bombers operating nonstop from undisclosed bases raided Nauru, phosphate mining island 500 miles west of the Gilberts, and the Marshalls, to the north, to prevent the Japs from sending air fleets from their nearby bases.

New Yorkers in action

Scene of the new landing by Marines who learned to whip the Japs at Guadalcanal was a coral islet 12 miles by five which had a pre-war population of 841. Wording of the communiqué indicated resistance was less on Apamama than on the other two islands, which were the most powerfully-developed in the chain astride the equator.

Other units of the 2nd Marines handled Tarawa while infantrymen of the 27th Division – New Yorkers – invaded Makin, it was announced, Lt. Col. James Roosevelt, son of the President, who accompanied Col. Evans F. Carlson’s Marine Raiders in a sweep of Makin in August 1942 aided the Army forces by landing with them.

The Marines were under Maj. Gen. Holland McT. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama, and Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith of Elkton, Maryland, while a third Smith, Maj. Gen. Ralph Smith of Tucson, Arizona, was in charge of the 27th Division.

Other commanders of the operations were revealed as VAdm. John H. Hoover of Great Falls, Montana (chief of land-based air operations which preceded the attacks), VAdm, Richmond K. Turner of Carmel, California, Solomons veteran (commander of amphibious forces), and VAdm. Raymond A. Spruance of Indianapolis, Indiana, chief of all the invasion forces.

Berlin radio, quoting Tokyo, added to the Jap claims two large aircraft carriers damaged, one of which was presumed sunk, a medium-sized carrier damaged and presumed sunk; a battleship, a heavy cruiser and a transport damaged or set afire.

At the same time, reports carried from Tokyo by Berlin gave the first hint the Japs may be planning to give up the Gilberts, Berlin said that it was:

stated in Tokyo that the invasion of the Gilberts was viewed without alarm since the Gilberts are of no importance for Japan as far as her defenses is concerned.

Ready for naval battle

While there was no indication the Japs were trying to send in reinforcements to save their positions, the strong fleet sent to back the invasion was believed waiting to repel any enemy effort – even to fighting a major sea battle.

CBS correspondent Webley Edwards, broadcasting from Honolulu last night, said the forces may “plow on through” toward Truk, the great Jap sea-air base 1,300 miles northwest.

It can now be revealed that the Army, Navy and Marine forces, in a move to coordinate all operations, set up a joint board for the Pacific with representatives of the services planning together the procedure for training and attack.

Hard fight forecast

Even while training was in progress, the commanders expressed belief the Japs would be hard to push out of the Gilberts, where they have had two years to develop airfields and defenses along the narrow sand beaches fringed by coconut trees.

Adm. Turner said:

They are probably out there waiting for us. But we are going to get them. They are wise to the ways of taking advantage of terrain and they’re probably dug in. We will dig them out.

During the training he expressed belief some losses must be expected. Gen. Holland Smith said he “never saw” such cooperation between forces.

May last week

While military experts refused to comment, observers believed the battle would not last longer than a week among the 16 islands in the Gilberts chain, the first two of which were invaded at dawn Saturday.

The choice of the two strongest islands in the group 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii for the initial invasion indicated that the leaders believed conquest of those pinpoints would collapse the Japanese elsewhere in the group quickly.

Knox: Gilberts push aims at Japan

Pacific victory will also shorten supply line to Southwest Pacific

Washington (UP) –
Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox said today that the U.S. invasion of the Gilbert Islands marks the beginning of a new drive aimed directly at Japan across the Central Pacific.

He told a news conference that the drive had two immediate strategic objectives. To drive the Japs out of the mandated islands and to shorten by hundreds of miles American supply lines to the Southwest Pacific.

He said:

This operation directed by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Area, is the beginning of a new campaign from the Central Pacific on a much more direct route toward Japan.

Jap fleet still hides

Up to the present time, no elements of the Jap surface fleet has appeared to oppose the Gilbert landings, he said, and added:

The threat has not as yet pulled the Japanese out of their shelter.

Mr. Knox believed that the nearest place to the Gilberts where the Jap fleet is gathered in any strength is Truk, the powerful enemy naval stronghold in the mid-Pacific.

Mr. Knox’s statement that one of the immediate aims is to drive the Japs out of the mandated islands indicated clearly that the next step of the forces under Adm. Nimitz will apparently be to drive into the nearby Marshall Islands and into the Carolines, site of Truk.

Explains gain

Clearing the path for a more direct supply line to the Southwest Pacific, Mr. Knox pointed out, would be equivalent to increasing the number of ships used to transport materials and troops. The shorter route would provide quicker turnarounds for supply ships and be an advantage in the matter of logistics, he said.

He said:

The fact that we are undertaking this campaign is a very clear demonstration of our overwhelming strength in sea and airpower.

Völkischer Beobachter (November 24, 1943)

Neuer Schlag für die USA bei den Gilbertinseln –
Flugzeugträger und ein Zerstörer versenkt

dnb. Tokio, 23. November –
Auch bei der Landung starker nordamerikanischer Marineeinheiten auf den Gilbertinseln Makin und Tarawa, die – wie wir bereits berichtet haben – das Kaiserliche Hauptquartier am Montag bekanntgab, konnte die japanische Marineluftwaffe dem Feind empfindliche Schläge versetzen. Bei diesem Unternehmen sind bis jetzt ein mittelgroßer Flugzeugträger und ein Zerstörer versenkt worden. Weiter wurden zwei große Flugzeugträger beschädigt, einer davon so schwer, daß anzunehmen ist, daß er inzwischen gesunken ist. Ein mittelgroßer Flugzeugträger wurde gleichfalls schwer beschädigt, so daß mit seinem Untergang gerechnet werden kann. Ein Schlachtschiff oder schwerer Kreuzer und ein Transporter wurden beschädigt und in Brand geworfen.

Die feindliche Luftwaffe verlor in diesen Kämpfen 36 Maschinen, während von der japanischen Landarmee weitere 89 Feindflugzeuge abgeschossen wurden. Die japanischen Verluste belaufen sich auf 15 Flugzeuge.

Der Versuch der Amerikaner, durch die Landungen im Gebiet der Gilbertinseln den niederschmetternden Eindruck der fünf Niederlagen bei Bougainville zu verwischen, ist also nicht von Erfolg gewesen.

Wie diese japanische Sondermeldung zeigt, ist den Amerikanern auch ihre Landung auf den Gilbertinseln, die als strategischer und propagandistisch-politischer Ablenkungsversuch nach den schweren Niederlagen bei Bougainville unternommen wurde, teuer zu stehen gekommen. Wieder haben sie einen Flugzeugträger mittlerer Größe verloren und wahrscheinlich noch zwei weitere, darunter einen großen. Angesichts dieser neuen schweren Schiffs- und Flugzeugverluste wird sich für das amerikanische Oberkommando die Frage erheben, ob der Diversionsversuch mit diesem neuen Aderlaß für die amerikanischen Seestreitkräfte im Südpazifik nicht zu teuer bezahlt worden ist und der Versuch einer propagandistischen Ablenkung nicht im Gegenteil zu einer neuen Beunruhigung der amerikanischen Öffentlichkeit führen muß.

Die Gilbertinseln, deren größte, Tarawa und Makin, 40 beziehungsweise 30 Quadratkilometer umfassen, liegen am Weg von Hawai nach Australien. Für die Japaner bedeuten sie eine Flankensicherung ihrer Stellungen auf den Salomonen. Die Amerikaner hofften offenbar, durch diese Aktionen eine Zersplitterung der japanischen Streitkräfte zu erreichen, sie wurden dabei selber zersplittert und werden sich wohl keinen Illusionen darüber hingeben, welch hohen Preis sie für diese neue Art des „Inselspringens“ bezahlen müssen.

U.S. Navy Department (November 24, 1943)

CINCPAC Communiqué No. 20

Central Pacific.
Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, was captured shortly after noon, November 23 (West Longitude Date), following a desperate enemy counterattack which was crushed by troops of the 2nd Marine Division.

Remnants of the enemy are being hunted down on Apamama, Tarawa and Makin Atolls.

Seventh Army Air Force Liberators continued diversionary attacks in the Marshalls.

The Pittsburgh Press (November 24, 1943)

YANKS IN CONTROL OF GILBERTS
Victory won in mid-Pacific, admiral says

Marines capture Makin; Japs still fighting on Tarawa
By William F. Tyree, United Press staff writer

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
Powerful U.S. forces secured victory in the Gilbert Islands today and defied the Japs to stop their rolling offensive on the mid-Pacific sea route toward Tokyo.

Only 80 hours after troops stormed islets in the coral chain on Japan’s outer line of empire defenses, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Pacific Fleet commander, announced that the Gilberts were in the firm grip of the United States.

He said:

While it isn’t a rosy road to Tokyo, we face the future with complete confidence. We went prepared to meet attacks. There will not be surprises.

Ready to meet fleet

U.S. attack units will consolidate their positions for further operations, he said, adding they were ready to meet the Jap fleet anytime.

Tokyo radio quoted a Jap naval spokesman as acknowledging that the islands were in Japan’s main defense line across the vast Pacific, adding that the chance for a naval “showdown” was welcomed. The spokesman predicted “tremendous” sea battles.

Adm. Nimitz spoke to newspapermen yesterday evening shortly after his daily communiqué reported that 27th Army Division’s troops from New York had captured Makin Atoll, that Marines slowly but surely were cleaning out Tarawa and that the situation on Apamama was “well in hand.”

Raid Marshalls

The communiqué also disclosed that carrier-borne aircraft from the big fleet, which accompanied the invasion forces, were teaming with Army Liberators from the South Pacific in continuous blows against the Marshalls to the north of the Gilberts. The Marshalls may be the next invasion objective.

The offensive so far, Adm. Nimitz said, cost only light casualties on Makin and somewhat heavier casualties on Tarawa. Not a U.S. ship had been lost up to the time of his report. The Japs had tried nothing but intermittent air attacks.

To get airfields

When newspapermen asked him to expand on the long-range aspects of the offensive begun 3,100 miles southeast of Tokyo – to answer the question “where do we go from here?” – Adm. Nimitz replied with a confident smile:

Wherever the Japs are. The object of the Gilberts offensive was to establish contact with the enemy. We expect to have some airfields, probably one on Makin as well as Tarawa. We have got to have places to roost when we start working on these people. We must be prepared to meet the Jap fleet.

Adm. Nimitz and his spokesman gave the first detailed reports on the Gilberts attacks which started with the invasion of Makin, northernmost of the islands, and Tarawa, to the south almost on the equator, on Saturday morning.

Very few enemy prisoners were taken and the Jap defenders suffered “very heavy casualties,” Adm. Nimitz said. There were only 1,000 enemy troops on Makin but some 4,000-5,000 on Tarawa and adjacent islands, which were attacked by Marine veterans of the Solomons.

On Makin, the Americans gained extensive military installations, a radio station, munitions dumps, barracks, a seaplane ramp and several piers into the lagoon. Some enemy planes were destroyed. Snipers were still being cleared out.

At Tarawa, the Marines landed on the western end of the 4,000-yard-long Betio Island, sweeping across to the eastern end where the Japs were cornered and being “rooted out.”

Put up barbed wire

The Japs had erected a barbed-wire entanglement off the narrow sandy beaches of Betio on a coral reef some 500 yards from the shore. It was believed the airstrip in the center of the island – bombed out by days of attack – was in Marine hands. Some bitter fighting was still in progress, but the communiqué said the island’s capture was assured.

The remainder of the Japs in the Gilberts “will be taken care of,” Adm. Nimitz said. The islands include 16 major coral reefs having a total area of only 166 square miles. Makin is within 200 miles of the nearest islands in the Marshall group. The Gilberts are 1,300 miles east of the big enemy naval base at Truk in the Carolines.

Five carriers in action

Adm. Nimitz expected strong counteraction from the Japs when they recover from the initial staggering blow, but new reports showed the U.S. Fleet sent to the mid-Pacific was a strong one. At least five U.S. aircraft carriers were believed participating.

Adm. Nimitz, expressing belief that at some point in the progress across the Pacific the enemy will throw his powerful units into action, said:

So long as the Japanese main fleet is intact, it behooves us to maintain sufficient forces to be sure the engagement comes out in our favor.

While saying he thought the Japs will finally be defeated from China, he added “we will not neglect any roads to Tokyo” and that the mid-Pacific route would be only one cut open when resources are available.

U.S. Navy Department (November 25, 1943)

CINCPAC Press Release No. 173

One of our carrier divisions covering the Gilberts operations to Novem­ber 24 (West Longitude Date) shot down 34 enemy fighters, nine bombers and three four‑engine patrol seaplanes. Its losses in these operations total three fighters and one torpedo bomber. Seventh Air Force Liberators which raided Imieji, Jaluit Atoll, on November 23, observed three float‑fighters, airborne, which did not attempt interception. One of our planes was damaged by anti­-aircraft fire.

Mopping-up operations on Tarawa, Makin and Apamama are virtually complete. Few live Japanese remain in the Gilberts.

The New York Times (November 25, 1943)

We win Gilberts in 76-hour battle

Nearly 4,000 Japanese slain on Betio – remnants on the other isles mopped up
By George F. Horne

Gilbert Islands in hands of Americans

gilberts
In a 76-hour campaign on Tarawa (1), our forces captured Betio Island with its airstrip (inset map) and thus clinched control of the atoll. On Makin (2) and Apamama (3), both now firmly held, enemy remnants were being hunted down.

Foe driven into sea by Marines on Betio

By William L. Worden, for the combined U.S. press

With the 7th Air Force, Central Pacific – (Nov. 22, delayed)
U.S. Marine assault battalions today conquered the western end of Betio Island, on Tarawa Atoll, driving the defenders into the sea and others onto the eastern open flat sections where they became excellent targets for dive-bombing and strafing attacks.

The vicious air attacks were made by Navy planes operating from carriers in this area. The air assault was timed with our artillery fire, which pounded the fleeing Japanese almost at will once they had abandoned their prepared defense positions. Only a few isolated strong Japanese points remain intact.

On the east side of the island, some of the enemy attempted to escape by boat, but our patrol aircraft spotted them, sinking some and damaging others.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – (Nov. 24)
The Gilbert Islands have fallen to U.S. forces and resistance has ceased except for the efforts of enemy remnants to prolong final extinction of the last sniper and scattered foxhole inhabitant.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, announced at 11:30 HT this morning that Betio Island, on Tarawa Atoll, had been captured shortly after noon yesterday following a last-ditch counterthrust that was mercilessly crushed by the 2nd Marines. It was here where the strongest resistance was encountered and here where it might have been expected, for the Betio Atoll had airstrips that we wanted.

Bemused mathematicians were uncertain today as to the time length of the Gilbert Islands occupation. First it was 100 hours, but official rewriting now makes it 76 hours, although lesser statisticians, wandering hereabouts with pencil and paper, figure slightly more. But officially, it is now 76 and corrections to that effect are speeding everywhere.

VAdm. R. A. Spruance, commanding the operation, presented the American people with the Thanksgiving Day gift.

While the capture of these islands may not be of major or defensive character, it has torn down the barrier to what Adm. Nimitz yesterday described as another road to Tokyo. It was a place where the Japanese had put a sign marked “Closed.”

In this short time, we have chocked a big dent in the Japanese perimeter, pushing the line of defense back 192 miles northward to the two islands of Jaluit and Mili, which hang like pendants from the Marshall chains of Ralik and Ratak, known as the Sunset and Sunrise chains, on which our strategic planners may already be gazing.

In connection with the swift wiping-out of the enemy’s garrison in the Gilberts, it is recalled here that Attu in the Aleutians continued organized resistance for more than 70 days. Complete details as to Japanese strength in the Gilberts have not been released, but Betio Island alone in the Tarawa Atoll had approximately 4,000 men. They still had a lot of these up until yesterday, when the hard fighting Marines, including many veterans of Southwest Pacific campaigns, pushed them back to the eastern end of Betio and pinned them there for the final onslaught.

Few Japanese left

There are few of them today, even as prisoners.

Betio fell after troops of the 2nd Marine Division crushed a fierce enemy counterattack. The Marines took very few prisoners. While the communiqué gave the time as shortly after noon, spokesmen here explained that it was at 4:00 p.m. HT and that was only a few minutes after correspondents had filed out of Adm. Nimitz’s room at his headquarters yesterday following a 45-minute interview in which he liberally discussed the Central Pacific offensive and other phases of the war.

His communiqué today said:

Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, was captured shortly after noon, November 23 (West Longitude Date), following a desperate enemy counterattack which was crushed by troops of the 2nd Marine Division.

Remnants of the enemy are being hunted down on Apamama, Tarawa and Makin Atolls.

Seventh Army Air Force Liberators continued diversionary attacks in the Marshalls.

Adm. Nimitz had said yesterday that the Gilberts were “securely” in our hands, but at the moment the last desperate Japanese forces on Betio were fighting like doomed rats in their corner hedged in by the sea and the coral reefs. A spokesman said today that the counterattackers were “wiped out.”

As to Apamama, it is said there were relatively few Japanese there. This atoll was of less importance than Tarawa and Makin, the former with its airstrips and the latter with three piers and a stone wharf. There were about 1,000 Japanese on Makin and these were presumably also wiped out.

There were virtually no casualties on Apamama among the American invaders.

Makin drive spectacular

The Makin collapse on Monday was preceded by a spectacular enveloping movement at dawn by units of the 26th Division, and this had been preceded by artillery preparation effected by combined infantry and assault forces. The Japanese were in foxholes, pillboxes and crude but strong stockades constructed out of the coconut trees.

The final phases of the capture of the Gilberts are now in progress. Presumably we are now turning attention to the other atoll groups that had been ignored or bypassed and are sweeping clean along the 177-mile-long series of 16 principal atolls, which include many islands and islets.

Navy Seabees and Army engineers have already swarmed ashore in the turbulent wake of the assault forces to prepare bases, installations and positions for further action. Adm. Nimitz made it clear yesterday that we would have airfield facilities not only on Tarawa but on Makin as well.

As for future plans, he has said repeatedly that we will continue to attack, to whittle down the Japanese airpower, already markedly inferior, and to go wherever the Japanese are.

He said yesterday:

The immediate future will be to consolidate and prepare to make further attacks.

We will need more airfields as we move further, and there are plenty of places within the range of our new bases where there are fields in being or where terrain will permit us to build them. Army Liberators of Maj. Gen. Willis H. Hale’s 7th Army Air Force attacked Mili, in the southern Marshalls, on Monday, and pictures are now available showing the effects of even earlier airstrikes on the field there. It is a pretty good field – or, at least, it was.

And there are other important bases and strongholds elsewhere in the Marshalls, including Wotje and Maloelap, both of which are further north than Truk, one of the principal Japanese bases. Wotje and Maloelap are south and a little east of Wake Island. Many students, imagining themselves standing in the newly-won Gilberts, may also look around and see Nauru and Ocean Islands.

Everywhere one looks, there are new prospects, where capable surveyors might lay out yet another “roadwa,” for the vast highway networks, the trunk lines of which must converge on Tokyo.


Our losses high, foe says

Tokyo radio warns Japanese people of bombing attacks

Japanese propagandists gave the figure of 5,000 in estimating casualties of the Americans “during the recent battle” of the Gilbert Islands, and termed the figure “a most disastrous damage for a single engagement of this kind.”

The Tokyo radio, in an English-language broadcast beamed to North America and recorded by U.S. government monitors, rehashed Tuesday’s Japanese Imperial Headquarters communiqué, claiming that one medium-sized aircraft carrier and one destroyer had been sunk, three other carriers, a battleship and a transport heavily damaged and 125 planes shot down “by the war eagle of the Japanese Navy.”

An earlier Tokyo broadcast by Adm. Yoshinari told the Japanese people that “our air strength is what will overwhelm these counterattack attempts of America.”

He said:

Consequently, the people of the home front must not become intoxicated with war victories, but must devote their full efforts in increasing the production of aircraft.

Another Japanese-language broadcast, beamed to South America, said that the Central Pacific was the Japanese Navy’s:

…immovable point and the enemy’s act of advancing is jumping into fire; so, their spirit must be hardened to receiving enormous losses.

A broadcast by Adm. Seizō Kobayashi warned the home front that the Allies had changed their center of operations from the Solomons to the Gilberts and “can be expected to change again,” concentrating on the bombing of Japan proper.

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The Pittsburgh Press (November 27, 1943)

Eyewitness tells of landing –
Johnson: Yanks storm ashore under withering fire to crush Japs on Tarawa in bloody battle

One Marine major uses shotgun to blast snipers
By Richard W. Johnston, United Press staff writer

With U.S. Marine assault forces at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands – (Nov. 23, delayed)
Exactly 60 hours ago, the sea off this tiny island was swarming with Higgins landing boats and I was scrambling down a net with U.S. forces that were about to launch an assault on Tarawa.

It was 8:30 a.m. (local time) – zero hour – and the U.S. Marines were about to land again, and write another glowing chapter in their long and honorable history.

This was “D-Day” and for an hour, our big battleships offshore had been pouring shells onto the atoll. Still earlier – shortly after 6:00 a.m. – carrier-borne dive bombers peeled off above the island.

Orange flames shot into the air and then a pillar of black smoke rose slowly. We had hit a Jap ammunition dump.

I was assigned to a battalion commanded by Maj. Henry Pierson Crowe, 44, who has spent 24 years in the Marine Corps. We went down the nets at 8:30 a.m. and our boats streaked for the beach.

Then we were ashore and I flopped down in the sand. The Jap snipers opened up and bullets began whistling overhead. Then enemy machine-gunners put a curtain of fire across the beach.

Mortal shell crashes

I got to my feet and started forward, but a mortar shell crashed nearby and flattened me face down in the sand. Then another ammunition dump exploded and all of us were bounced off the ground by the explosion. Coral and debris rained down as I got to my knees and started crawling up the beach toward a primitive command post. There I saw one of the strangest sights I ever expect to see.

Maj. Crowe, standing upright and ignoring the Japanese fire, was stomping back and forth issuing commands and carrying a 12-gauge shotgun. Every once and a while, he would swing the shotgun to his shoulder and take a potshot at a Jap sniper.

I paused there a moment and had time to think back on our landing and wonder how any of us had come through it alive. About 1,500 yards out from the shore, the Japs began to fire on our boats. A few minutes later, there was a crashing, scraping sound and our boat was hung on coral, 1,000 yards from the shore.

Maj. William C. Chamberlin of Chicago, Illinois, a former economics professor at Northwestern University, and now our battalion executive officer, decided on the spot to abandon ship. He plunged into water shoulder-deep and we followed him. The Jap machine-gunners let us have it and all we could do was to keep walking through the water toward the shore. It was the longest walk of my life.

Men fall into water

Bullets cut ripples in the water around us. A Marine walking by my side dropped with a bullet through his leg. I could see men falling into the water, wounded or dead. All the boats in our wave of the assault had been hung up on the coral and the water was filled with Marines plunging and slipping toward the shore.

That walk through the water was bad enough, but we still had our troubles at the command post where Maj. Crowe was blasting away at the Japs with his shotgun.

The Japs were endeavoring to pin our men down behind a natural barricade of sand. But time after time, the Marines went over the top in the face of Jap fire without hesitation or reluctance.

The Japs maintained a steady fire from a reinforced concrete blockhouse only 100 feet from our post until Maj. Crowe ordered up a demolition squad with flamethrowers. A great ball of flame engulfed the blockhouse and there was no more resistance from that quarter.

Wave after wave of Marines thrust against the Jap positions widening the beachhead.

Just after noon, a reinforcing wave appeared offshore. As the Higgins boats scuttled for the beach, Jap emplacements on our flank opened up with a five-inch automatic weapon and blew two of the boats out of the water.

Planes work over area

Survivors plunged into the sea and swam toward shore under relentless machine-gun strafing.

Maj. Crowe shifted several companies against the Jap flanking position because it was evident they would have to be knocked out if our incoming boats were to be saved.

At 2:30, after the bitterest fighting, our men fell back to give Hellcat fighters and dive bombers a chance to work over the area.

For more than an hour, our planes crisscrossed it, hitting a point less than 200 yards from my foxhole. The din was head-splitting but not as bad as that made by the destroyers which opened up with a tremendous fire.

After the destroyer finished, the Hellcats and dive bombers gave a return engagement. They came drilling in 60 feet off the water, their fire reverberating like a stick dragged over a washboard.

After the bombardments, our men were able to bring our casualties to the more or less protected area behind the barricade.

Typewriter survives

I broke out my typewriter, which had somehow survived the trek through the breakers and typed up my notes.

Beside me lay a boy with a shot through his shoulder. While my fingers tapped the typewriter keys, a Marine on my left died.

Then the Hellcats came over for a last pass at the Japs and something creased my chest. It was an empty .50-caliber shell kicked out by the planes. I thought at first it was a bullet.

Gradually, our men were pushing the Japs back across the island. Every man from private to major conducted himself without thought of personal safety. Because of this, many will never leave Tarawa. Their grave will be in its shifting sands.

But because they died, the Japs will leave Tarawa.

The Pittsburgh Press (November 28, 1943)

Five Jap officers kill selves on Makin

Makin, Gilbert Islands – (Nov. 23, delayed)
Five Japanese officers disemboweled themselves with their samurai swords at a tank trap east of this shattered town today when their troops broke and fled before the tanks and bayonets of the Shamrock Battalion of New York’s Fighting 69th Regiment.

The “Fighting Irish” swept on past the abandoned tank trap and its dead defenders in pursuit of a beaten enemy, moving eastward through the tiny island at the rate of a mile an hour.

Jap snipers and suicide squads battled desperately from a maze of pillboxes and foxholes, but the suicide of the five officers showed that all organized resistance was ended.

British writer reports –
Keys: ‘Fight fiercest I’ve ever seen’

Gilberts battle provides Pacific War blueprint
By Henry Keys, London Daily Express writer

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (UP) – (Nov. 26)
The American seizure of the Gilbert Islands from the Japanese is a blueprint on the road to Tokyo. The battle for Tarawa, the fiercest, bloodiest and most ruthless I have seen in two years of the Pacific War, showed how long hard and costly that war will be.

As it was, we won by the narrowest of margins. During the heat of battle. RAdm. Harry Hill, who commanded the operations told me that if the enemy had been able to sink only one of our transports, we might well have suffered a most humiliating and galling defeat.

Colossal force massed

That this didn’t happen is solely because the United States massed such a colossal naval force that the Japanese Navy didn’t dare come out at the critical moment. Also, out air strength was so great – more than 1,000 planes – that we were able to pound and neutralize Japan’s air bases in the Marshalls only a few hundred miles away.

The greatest number of enemy aircraft to show up was six planes which in darkness on three mornings made sneak raids in which I saw them bomb their own troop positions.

The vastness of preparation for the fight was brought home to me in a dramatic talk with Adm. Hill and the Marine commander, Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith, on the signal bridge of the flagship.

Adm. Hill said:

Victory here won’t be a matter of luck. The Japanese have made this the hardest nut any naval or military commander has ever been ordered to crack. We are going to win because we have the force. Back of that force we have brilliant men. I mean the American High Command and the big three out here in the Gilberts now – VAdm. Raymond A. Spruance, who helped him at Midway; RAdm. Richmond Kelly Turner, who directed most of the Solomons landings, and Maj. Gen. Holland Smith. The High Command has given us all they have,

Praises unity

Look at all those battleships, cruisers, destroyers and transports lying dead in the water waiting for those magnificent Marines with rifle and bayonet to clean up that island. Believe me, we couldn’t have done it if our Navy had not been out there in front of us.

Right now, we on this bridge are looking at the greatest and most terrible scrap America ever has been in and yet the real fight isn’t here at Tarawa. Right now, it’s spread over millions of square miles of the Pacific.

It’s a big picture, beautifully put together, success here isn’t due to the Navy, Army, Marines or their air forces. It’s due to the greatest thing America has ever achieved – unity of command.

Airpower lauded

I am running this particularly little bit of the whole show. Responsibility for everything is mine not because I am a Navy man but because the High Command considered this to be a job for an admiral and they picked me. Gen. smith, who is shortly leaving this ship to pitch in there with his Marines, has given me everything he’s got – loyalty, friendship and hard work and there’s been a hell of a lot of hard work put into this thing.

All the airpower you see operating here is doing what I want it to do and what the air people might think it should do, that airpower comes to me by cooperation because all the men who matter are fighting one enemy, the Japanese and not one another. Tell that to the people of the United States where there’s so much loose talk and cockeyed opinion about unity of command.

We have unity of command. Hammer that home and you’ll be doing a national service.