Yanks storm naval base, win Marshalls foothold (2-2-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 2, 1944)

Stunned Japs begin desperate defense

Marines, soldiers capture 10 beachheads, aided by rain of shells, bombs
By William F. Tyree, United Press staff writer

New Pacific offensive was launched by U.S. forces with the invasion of the Jap-held Marshall Islands. The first invasion troops went ashore in the Kwajalein Atoll, landing on or near Kwajalein, Roi and Namur Islands (top right inset map). The lower inset map is a closeup of the Marshalls.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
Upwards of 30,000 U.S. Marines and Army troops, in a 500-mile amphibious jump along the invasion route to Tokyo, have seized 10 islet beachheads in the Marshalls and begun major assaults on the main strongholds of Kwajalein, Roi and Namur Islands, front dispatches revealed today.

Swarming ashore under the protective fire of the largest naval striking force ever assembled, assault troops quickly established their footholds in the Kwajalein Atoll Monday against light or nonexistent resistance. More than 40 Japs were slain and a number captured, while U.S. casualties were extremely light.

The Japs, stunned and decimated by a record 14,495-ton aerial and naval bombardment, rallied all available forces and began a desperate defense, however, as the Americans turned their full might against the Kwajalein Island naval base at the southern end of the 66-mile-long atoll and the Roi-Namur air base at the northern end.

A Jap communiqué broadcast by the Tokyo radio said Jap troops had counterattacked and “furious fighting is now in progress.”

Scores of guns hauled onto the newly-established islet beachheads joined the 16-inch rifles of America’s newest battleships, other naval artillery and swarms of bombers ion blasting at Kwajalein, Roi and Namur Islands.

Philip E. Reed, representing the combined U.S. press aboard the joint expeditionary flagship, said the furious bombardment churned the palm-hooded coral islands into clouds of dust and great wavering pillars of smoke 1,000 feet high.

The 4th Marine Division under Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt swept ashore on five islets flanking Roi and Namur between 9:51 a.m. and 6:24 p.m. (local time) Monday and the last of the beachheads was reported secured by 8:12 p.m., Robert Trumbull, another correspondent, reported. Virtually the only opposition came from scattered snipers, who were wiped out quickly.

Even as the troops were consolidating their beachheads, artillery, warships and planes continued their pounding of Roi and Namur, and Mr. Trumbull said great explosions marked hits on oil and gasoline dumps. Explosions rumbled like “distant thunder,” he said.

Eighteen Jap planes which attempted to intercept the invasion forces were shot down and 51 more were destroyed on the ground. The main Jap air base for Kwajalein Atoll, the largest lagoon atoll in the world, was situated on Roi, which was connected with supply dumps and other installations on Namur by a narrow causeway and sandbar.

The other five islet beachheads in the atoll were seized by Attu veterans of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division on the approaches to Kwajalein Island, 40 miles south of Roi at one of the two principal entrances to the lagoon anchorages. The 7th was led by Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett.

The combined air-sea bombardment had been so effective that not a single enemy plane was sighted during landing operations in the Kwajalein Island area.

Front dispatches indicated that the Marines and Army troops were preparing to hurl everything from flamethrowers to new type weapons never before used in the Pacific against fortifications built by the Japs during the past 20 years to protect Kwajalein Atoll, their greatest naval base east of Truk.

RAdm. Richmond Kelly Turner, commander of amphibious forces, warned that the operation was “going to be tough” and we must expect losses, while other high sources said all evidence argued against any such quick victory as was achieved in the Gilbert Islands, which was conquered in three days last November at the highest cost of lives in Marine history.

Speculation that additional landings may have been made was touched off by the disclosure in yesterday’s communiqué from Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, that the objective of the operation was to capture the entire Marshalls area.

The conquest of Kwajalein alone, the world’s largest lagoon atoll, would give the United States a naval operating base capable of accommodating a huge fleet, and air bases within bombing range of Truk, Japan’s “Pearl Harbor.” It would also advance the United States’ Pacific war timetable by at least six months, qualified naval sources estimated.

Jap counterattacks were expected momentarily, but Adm. Turner told newsmen who accompanied the largest invasion force ever mustered in the Pacific that “we are prepared for any eventuality.”

His words were backed up by the 16-inch guns of some of America’s newest battleships and the massed fire and aerial power of hundreds of other ships in the vast naval armada.

Charles Arnot, United Press correspondent on Adm. Turner’s flagship, said there were “ships as far as the eye can see in any direction.” The number of aircraft carriers participating exceeded even the unprecedented armada which screened the Gilbert invasion.

Twenty-five days of Army and Navy air raids on the Marshalls, climaxed by a combined air and naval bombardment Saturday and Sunday, were believed to have neutralized at least temporarily the enemy’s air arm, but reinforcements were expected to be brought up from islands to the northwest.

Carrier-based planes alone were credited with destroying at least 33 and possibly as many as 123 Jap planes in raids on Taroa and Wotje Islands east of Kwajalein Atoll Saturday and Sunday. Ammunition and supply dumps and airdrome installations were also destroyed. U.S. losses were reported officially to have been “minor.”

It marked the first U.S. invasion of the pre-war Jap Empire.

Wave after wave of assault boats ferried reinforcements of men and supplies shore to strengthen the quickly-seized beachheads. Though there was no official confirmation, it was presumed that artillery and probably tanks were landed in preparation for what was expected to be the toughest campaign yet undertaken by the United States in the Pacific.

Invasion of Marshalls can be ‘main event’

Aboard Amphibious Corps flagship, en route to Marshals – (Jan. 30, delayed)
RAdm. Richmond Kelly turner, commander of the mighty U.S. invasion fleet steaming westward, told correspondents today that the Marshall invasion “could be the main event” of the Pacific War.

Adm. Turner said:

This is our first blow against real Jap territory and Tokyo will be duly alarmed. From the Marshalls we can outrange them, and pin their backs to the wall. Anything can happen now, and we hope it does. We have never been more ready.

Adm. Turner said captured of Kwajalein, principal goal of the Marshalls invaders, would give the United States a huge naval operating base on the road to Tokyo and air bases within bombing range of the strong Jap base at Truk.

The possibility that this move will bring about the long-sought showdown with the Jap fleet was seen by qualified naval officers.