Across the Reef: The Assault on Betio

By Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

That decision had its risks. The enigmatic Shoup, 38, from Battle Ground, Indiana, lacked both significant command and combat experience and had never planned a division-level amphibious assault. But Smith had gained so much confidence in Shoup by the time of the rehearsal landings in early November that he spot-promoted him to colonel and gave him command of the 2d Marines, the regiment already selected to lead the assault waves ashore. With his decision to make Shoup both the architect and principal executioner of the assault plans, Smith did as much to win the battle for Tarawa as any subsequent tactical decision he would render.

Smith and Shoup believed they had devised the best possible assault plan under the circumstances. Recognizing the likelihood of insufficient water over the reef necessary to float the Higgins boats at H-hour, they hoped to gather the 125 LVTs needed to deliver the first 1,500 Marines ashore. The surviving vehicles would then turn around to shuttle the remaining assault waves from their reef-stranded boats to the beach. They also believed they were attacking Betio at its weakest point, from the north, through the inner lagoon of the atoll, the one sector yet to be mined by the Japanese. "The question was what you would do if you were on the island," recalled Shoup. "Chances are that you would mine everything but the place you use daily-that would be the last place you would sew up." 2

Planning Constraints

It was Admiral Chester Nimitz's duty as commander-in-chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet to allocate resources and resolve disputes for the current operation while concentrating mainly on the mission and timetable for the subsequent campaign in the Central Pacific drive. The larger, more risky Marshalls campaign was scheduled to commence eight weeks after D-day at Tarawa, a kickoff date that Nimitz—under pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff—considered sacrosanct.

The strategic schedule severely cramped the Marines' tactical options at Tarawa. Julian Smith requested more time to improve the odds at Betio by conducting deception landings, establishing artillery firebases on neighboring islets, and awaiting a higher tidal range. All of his requests were denied. Equally distressing to Julian Smith was Major General Holland Smith's decision to withhold the 6th Marines as V Amphibious Corps reserve in the Gilberts, earmarked to land at either Makin or Tarawa as most needed. This decision was routine and prudent, but it removed one of Julian Smith's three infantry regiments from his direct command. The 2d Marine Division would be assaulting Betio with barely more riflemen than the Japanese defenders, an alarming deviation from the 3-to-1 superiority ratio considered necessary for an opposed landing. 3

Of all their concerns before D-day, Julian Smith and Shoup deeply worried about the complex ship-to-shore plan they had been forced to adopt to accommodate the fact that no Marines of the assault waves would be able to debark directly from their transports into their assigned LVTs. This reflected yet another—and potentially fatal—mismatch between material readiness and operational effectiveness.

While three tank landing ships (LSTs) with their 50 new LVT-2s were expected to arrive off Tarawa early on D-day, no LSTs had been available in New Zealand to embark the Marine assault troops on the same ships with their designated landing vehicles. An LST could launch 15 troop-loaded amphibian tractors in two minutes, an invaluable attribute for any D-day. Although configured with davits for rapid offloading of Higgins boats, the transports had no similar capability for swift launching of the heavier LVTs. Navy deck crews would have to offload all 75 LVT-1 Alligators into the open sea by swinging boom, one at a time, and—even worse—launch their assault teams separately in boats to be transferred to the tractors.

The linkup of the two craft—treacherous in the dark and unavoidably confusing—required a process known as cross-decking, which involved the risky scramble of heavily loaded Marines across the gunwales of two disparate craft that were pitching and rolling in the open seas. Such convoluted choreography—unavoidable given the few LSTs available for Galvanic—would create severe coordination problems on D-day in the Transport Area off Tarawa, the worst possible time and place.

Red Sky in the Morning

The Southern Attack Force arrived undetected off Tarawa in the early morning hours of 20 November. Even the dangerous decibel levels created by dropping anchors, opening hatches, lowering boats, and operating cargo booms triggered no initial response from the Japanese. A half moon revealed a considerable current.

The LST flotilla from Samoa arrived on schedule, which was very welcome news. The three ships promptly launched their 50 new LVT-2s, and the drivers joined the crowded waters of the Transport Area, seeking their assigned troops.

At this point, Hill discovered with shock that the transports had anchored too far south, dangerously close to Betio, placing the troop ships at risk of Japanese shore batteries. He ordered the transports to immediately weigh anchor and move north, out of range. However urgent the order, it took an inordinate amount of time to execute, as many of the ships were in the middle of debarking troops down the nets into Higgins boats that were tied up alongside.

At 0441, the Japanese on Betio fired a red flare, alerting the atoll to the presence of the enemy. Dawn broke ten minutes later, the dim nautical twilight slowly revealing a horizon filled with U.S. ships. At 0507, the Japanese opened fire with their 8-inch guns. Scrambling to weigh anchor and flee north, and trailing their small craft behind like abandoned chicks, the troop transports were critically vulnerable. 4

The four 8-inch naval guns, laboriously mounted on the southwestern and eastern tips of Betio, were the pride of the Japanese garrison. 5 Seventy-five men serviced each pair of guns, whose fire-control systems included 70-foot observation towers equipped with range finders. The guns measured 30-feet long from breech to muzzle, and could fire a 254-pound armor-piercing projectile 14 miles. 6

Marine First Lieutenant Wallace E. Nygren, bucking the current in one of the LVT-2 Water Buffaloes, recalled the terror caused by the first eruption of enemy 8-inch shells in the midst of the intermingling small craft. "A large waterspout shot up into the air immediately ahead of us," he said, and his crew ducked as they heard "the unmistakable sounds of large shells screaming over our heads." Pandemonium reigned. "Dark shapes loomed up out of the night and crossed our bows," said Nygren. "We were in danger of being run down by our own ships." 7

Chaos in the wrong Transport Area was the worst imaginable beginning to the assault on Tarawa and the opening of the Central Pacific campaign, but human error prevailed on both sides. Japanese fire-control crews on Betio, no doubt distracted by the superabundance of targets at hand, fired too quickly, somehow missing every single one of the milling ships and landing craft. Admiral Hill gave them no second chances. The battleships Maryland (BB-46) and Colorado (BB-45) erupted with fiery salvos from their 16-inch guns.

While the day would not be remembered for the quality of naval bombardment, the accuracy of Hill's battleships at this critical juncture was superb. Within moments, they destroyed or disabled all four Japanese 8-inch guns and blew up one of their two magazines. Hill's cruisers and destroyers also opened fire, providing more shock and smoke, which allowed the transports to reach a safer anchorage and the Navy control craft much-needed time to sort out the remaining cross-decking operations. The smoke reddened the rising sun. H-hour would be late, but at last the long columns of LVTs began churning toward the lagoon, if not in the planned sequence, at least locked and loaded for combat.

After the battle, Julian Smith would admit to making many mistakes on D-day, adding the caveat, "But the Japanese made more mistakes than we did." 8 Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, who commanded Betio's defenders, erred in waiting too long to sow the last 3,000 antiboat mines along the island's northern coast. He also experienced frustrating munitions failures. Twice his shore batteries scored direct hits on the destroyer USS Ringgold (DD-500) as she led the assault forces into the lagoon. Both shots were duds.

Crossing the Line of Departure

The fully loaded LVTs strained against a headwind and could not maintain the planned 4.5-knot speed of advance. Hill postponed H-hour a second time, to 0900. He ordered his gunships to cease fire to allow scheduled strafing attacks by carrier aircraft, but the planes were inexplicably late. The lull provided the Japanese garrison a critical 30-minute respite—time well used by Shibasaki to move his wheeled weapons from the south to the north side of the island where they could meet the unexpected attack.

Within the lagoon, the Navy guide boats executed a flanking movement to realign the LVTs from columns into waves abreast. The vehicles then crossed the Line of Departure, 6,000 yards from Betio's north shore, giving the Marines their first good look at the island.

Betio was three miles long and less than a half-mile wide—an unremarkable 300 acres of sand dunes and palm trees. On military maps the island resembled a bird lying on its back, its head pointed toward the west, its long tail, east. A 600-yard pier ran from the bird's belly to a landing at the reef's edge. The stubby Burns-Philp wharf jutted out east of the pier. The airfield overwhelmed the long axis of the island. Although the perimeter bristled with fortifications, the most formidable Japanese positions were to be found between the wharf and the pier, where a series of mutually supporting strongpoints were located, and along the northern re-entrant—the "bird's throat" or "Pocket."

The Marines designated three landing beaches along the western half of Betio's north shore: Red One, from the bird's beak east through the Pocket; Red Two, from the Pocket to the west side of the pier; and Red Three, from the east side of the long pier to a point adjacent to the eastern terminus of the airstrip. Green Beach, the entire western face, was an alternate site but heavily mined.

General Julian Smith reinforced Colonel Shoup's 2d Marines with Major Henry Crowe's well-trained 2d Battalion, 8th Marines (2/8) for the assault. Shoup deployed "three up and one back," keeping one battalion as regimental reserve, and assigning Major John Schoettel's 3/2 to Red One, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Amey's 2/2 to Red Two, and Crowe's 2/8 to Red Three. The first three assault waves rode LVTs ashore. Each battalion commander and the reinforcing elements of their landing teams rode Higgins boats, figuring that if the reef proved impassable, the empty LVTs would shuttle them ashore. That was the plan. As it actually played out, elements of all four battalions would be badly strewn along the beaches by enemy fire, the westerly current, and the fog of war.

'Little Boats on Wheels'

A surreal silence descended on the lagoon at the moment the first wave of amphibian tractors finally reached the exposed reef. Steel tracks collided with bare coral. Drivers downshifted, gunned their engines, and nursed their ungainly vehicles over the natural obstacles. Abruptly, their tracks were no longer treading water but churning along the rising shelf. The vehicles surged forward, accelerating during their final run to the beach, firing a wild fusillade from their bow-mounted .50-caliber Browning machine guns, splintering coconut logs and scattering the closest defenders. A storming party of scouts, snipers, and combat engineers landed at the tip of the pier ahead of the first wave and began attacking Japanese machine-gunners hidden in the pilings with flamethrowers and submachine guns. The first LVT-1, said to be vehicle #49, nicknamed "My Deloris," jammed its nose into the seawall at the bird's beak at 0910 as the Marines swarmed ashore under heavy fire.

Eighty-seven amphibian tractors, old and new, made the six-hour odyssey from the ill-chosen Transport Area and delivered about 1,500 Marines ashore, losing only eight vehicles to enemy fire—a remarkable performance under the conditions. Admiral Shibasaki was astonished by what he described in his 0930 report to his headquarters at Kwajalein as "amphibious tanks" (also described by one of his men as "the little boats on wheels"), the tracked landing vehicles that could travel from so far at sea, cross the exposed reef, and debark assault troops on the beach. 9 David Shoup's great gamble had paid off.

But now the "wheels" came off. Few of the LVTs could negotiate the seawall and force their way inland. Japanese machine-gunners recovered from their initial shock and shot many Marines as they struggled awkwardly to roll over the top of the 8-foot-tall vehicles and drop to the beach. A few drivers extracted their emptied vehicles from the shore and began shuttling the Marines of the fourth and fifth waves from the reef, as planned, but heavy fire from four 75-mm guns in the Pocket took a toll. Their lower hulls peppered with shell holes, many tractors filled with water and sank. Others simply ran out of gas after six hours of heavy acceleration. The shuttle plan failed. The Marines stranded on the reef took a deep breath and began wading the 500 to 600 yards to shore against relentless fire. 

'The Tide That Failed'

A neap tide occurs at the first and last quarter of the moon when there is the smallest rise and fall in tidal level. But something strange happened that caused the battle for Tarawa to be remembered for "The Tide That Failed." Not only did the morning's tide fail to rise its anticipated three to four feet, it hardly rose at all for the next 30 hours—a phenomenon later discovered to have been an apogean neap tide that occurred only twice in 1943. One of those occasions coincided with D-day at Tarawa. 10

Japanese gunners feasted on the clots of Marines stumbling shoreward, rifles raised over their helmets.

Some men made it ashore easier than others. When Major Crowe's Higgins boat slammed hard into the reef, he leapt into the water and hustled his command group safely to Red Three. A different fate befell Lieutenant Colonel Herb Amey of 2/2, killed in the shallows off Red Two as he tried to lead his command group ashore. Major Schoettel of 3/2 remained in his Higgins boat just off the reef, believing his entire battalion had been shot down. "I have nothing more to land," he radioed Shoup in despair. Lacking radio contact with his companies, Schoettel did not realize that Major Michael Ryan had led his company in a wide loop around the heavy fire coming from the Pocket and landed with light casualties on the northern edge of Green Beach. Many other contingents found this same haven after being driven by fire down the shore, and Ryan would forge these strays into a minibattalion—"Ryan's Orphans"—that would catalyze the battle's major turning point 24 hours later.

The USS Ashland (LSD-1), meanwhile, had entered Tarawa's lagoon. While under intermittent long-range fire, she ballasted down and quickly launched her 14 LCM-loaded Sherman tanks. The heavy-lift landing craft crossed the Line of Departure on schedule and headed squarely for the reef, constituting the fifth assault wave. Despite heavy fire, the Navy boat crews dropped their ramps onto the edge of the reef and Marine tankers guided their heavy vehicles over the coral and into the shallower waters of the inner lagoon—so far, so good.

Five of the tanks, however, foundered in unseen shell craters on the way to the beach, drowning their drivers. Six of the surviving nine Shermans came to grief inland from the beach. The first problem resulted from a critical failure to deploy the Shermans with their essential fording kits, the combination of engine seals and stove-pipe exhaust extensions that would have enabled all five of the foundered tanks to continue to the beach. The loss of the tanks in inland fighting reflected the absence of any tank-infantry training before the battle. The first time the Marine landing force ever saw a Sherman tank occurred on D-day morning. "On-the-job training" was costly and wasteful.

Admiral Hill's naval gunfire support improved dramatically once the first shore fire control parties landed. Equipped with good maps and the few functional radios on the island, these Navy-Marine teams began suppressing the unremitting Japanese fire. One team operating beyond the seawall near Crowe's Red Three spotted Japanese troops crowded around a two-story concrete command bunker and quickly called the Ringgold and Dashiell, the two destroyers patrolling the nearby lagoon. The ships fired salvos of 5-inch shells fused to burst at treetop height. The rain of shrapnel caught the Japanese still in the open and killed them all. Neither the Marines nor the gun crews would know for years that this particular fire mission killed Admiral Shibasaki and his entire staff as they prepared to move to their alternate command post across the airfield. 11

Japanese gunners, meanwhile, wounded Colonel Shoup and blew him off his feet while wading in from the reef. Limping ashore on Red Two, he established his regimental command post in a captured Japanese bunker. Communications were marginal. He could speak by radio with Crowe on Red Three but not Ryan across the Pocket, nor Julian Smith on the Maryland. Mainly, he used runners to deliver field messages, dangerous work on a beachhead still being hotly contested. Shoup directed Lieutenant Colonel Walter Jordan, an observer from the newly formed 4th Marine Division, to take command of Amey's 2/2 on Red Two, and he ordered the 10th Marines to begin landing 75mm pack howitzers west of the pier. This took some doing. Stranded along the reef in their Higgins boats, the cannoneers had to disassemble each gun into its six components and hump them ashore piece by piece. Yet by daybreak on D+1, the first battery of the snub-nosed howitzers would be ready for close-range fire missions.

Issue in Doubt

The Marines were in a particularly tight spot the first night of the battle. Five thousand men had crossed the reef; 1,500 had fallen. The balance were scattered in uneven pockets along one mile of shattered shoreline. "This was the crisis of the battle," Julian Smith recalled. Veteran war correspondent Robert Sherrod had survived the unnerving wade ashore to Red Two. He knew the Japanese proficiency in night fighting and how thin the Marines' lines were. "I was quite certain that this was my last night on earth," he said. 12

The Japanese held a definite advantage as night fell. More than 1,000 rikusentai, armed with tanks, flamethrowers, and machine guns, occupied reserve positions east of Crowe's lines at Red Three. Admiral Shibasaki's standing orders had specified a counterattack the first night of a landing attempt. The Japanese could have overrun the American footholds on Red Two and Red Three and recaptured the pier by advancing a mere 400 yards west along the shore.

Shibasaki and most of his senior officers on Betio, however, had died that afternoon, thanks to the quick-firing Ringgold and Dashiell. The Japanese junior officers would be unable to launch a major counterattack on their own until the third night, but by then the number of Marines and their crew-served weapons ashore had tripled. As vulnerable as the landing force was at sunset, the first night passed uneventfully.

'We Are Winning'

The second day began miserably. The tide remained inexplicably low. Shoup, ashore, and Smith, afloat, still could not communicate with each other. Smith wanted to land his reserve, Major Lawrence Hays' 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, men who, for the past 20 hours, had wallowed in misery in their Higgins boats. Knowing that Japanese gunners still swept the approaches from the reef, Shoup signaled Smith to land 1/8 in a column close to the pier, the safest route, but neither Smith nor 1/8 got the word. The battalion approached the center of Red Two on line, expecting a high tide and friendly reception. The ensuing slaughter was tragic. The boats smashed against the reef; large-caliber antiaircraft guns, firing horizontally from Betio's eastern tail, blew up several of them while the troops struggled to debark; heavy machine guns lashed other troops wading in. It was the low point of the battle for the Americans.

Ironically, the most significant turning point occurred less than an hour later. To the west, Major Ryan gathered his disparate orphans, reinforced them with two of the surviving Sherman tanks and a shore fire control team with a working radio and attacked south along Green Beach. The combination of responsive, close-in naval gunfire and the shock action provided by the tanks with their horde of protective, wild-eyed riflemen proved irresistible, even against the largest weapons revetments. By 1100, Ryan had swept the entire western shore. Waving semaphore flags, one of Ryan's Marines signaled a message to the flagship to land all future reinforcements on Green Beach, now in USMC hands.

Smith was overjoyed. With the 6th Marines now released for the division's use, he ordered Major William K. Jones to land his 1st Battalion, 6th Marines on Green Beach. Jones had trained his men how to land with rubber boats so fervently that he had earned the nickname "the admiral of the condom fleet." Smith had chosen wisely; the offshore approaches to Green Beach were heavily mined, and no LVTs or Higgins boats could have safely made that passage. While Ryan's orphans covered the beach, Jones' men paddled ashore, gingerly skirting the moored mines. Smith had finally delivered an entire battalion landing team ashore with all of its weapons and with full tactical integrity. Shoup would write in his memorable situation report that evening, "Casualties many, percentage dead unknown, combat efficiency: we are winning." 13

The Rising Tide

During the second night, Colonel Edson, Smith's legendary chief of staff—recently awarded the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor while commanding the 1st Marine Raider Battalion on Tulagi and Guadalcanal—relieved David Shoup of command of all Marines ashore, a force that had grown to eight infantry battalions and an artillery battalion. Shoup had come into his own during his 36 hours as the "Rock of Tarawa." Now he resumed command of his 2d Marines as they continued to assail Japanese positions in the Pocket.

The tide finally resumed its normal range on the third day, 22 November, allowing the Higgins boats direct access to the beach. More tanks and self-propelled guns landed. Major "Willie K." Jones led 1/6 in a tank-infantry attack eastward parallel to the runway. Major Crowe and the 8th Marines, meanwhile, finally overwhelmed a large sand-covered bunker inland from the Burns-Philp wharf. General Julian Smith came ashore under persistent fire and took command of the division.

That night, several hundred Japanese launched a series of counterattacks against Jones' battalion of the 6th Marines. The rikusentai showed discipline and skill, scouting out unit boundaries and automatic-weapons positions in advance and then attacking in a rush to engage the Marines in ferocious hand-to-hand fighting. Navy destroyers and Marine artillery batteries relentlessly fired into the Japanese flanks, and Jones' Marines held. Dawn revealed a singularly grisly battlefield.

The final morning was anticlimactic. The 3d Battalion, 6th Marines advanced through Jones' depleted ranks, pushing east all the way to the end of the bird's tail. Shoup, Schoettel, and Hays, meanwhile, finally overran the Pocket. The remaining Japanese seemed to realize that the Combined Fleet would not be coming to their rescue. Many committed suicide.

After 76 hours, the battle for Tarawa was over. In the end, some 5,000 men lay dead in close quarters—1,100 Marines, the rest Japanese. The island reeked. Correspondent Sherrod tried to describe the stench: "Betio would be more habitable if the Marines could leave for a few days and send a million buzzards in." 14

Hard Lessons

"There had to be a Tarawa," stated both Julian Smith and Merritt Edson to Congress after the battle, as they emphasized the operational, logistical, and tactical lessons learned. Material shortfalls, faulty decisions, inexperience, and poor luck had led to a high cost in flesh and blood. Yet the doctrine of amphibious assault had proven valid. If the principles worked at Tarawa under the worst imaginable hydrographic and tactical conditions, they would work again at places like Normandy, Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

The Fifth Fleet's glaring shortfalls in preliminary naval gunfire and carrier air strikes, communications, specialized landing ships, amphibious intelligence, and inadequate numbers of tracked landing vehicles were readily fixed. The fleet swept through the Marshalls in February 1944, equipped with amphibious-force command ships, plenty of LSTs and LSDs, hundreds more and newer LVTs (some configured with turret-mounted howitzers), the Pacific's first underwater demolition teams, water-resistant radios, and a greatly enhanced naval-gunfire and air-support capability.

Seven months after Tarawa, the 2d Marine Division assaulted Saipan using 53 LSTs, more than 700 LVTs, and a landing plan that was intentionally eight miles shorter and six hours faster than the one used at Betio. Each LST carried both a full load of LVTs and their assigned infantry, eliminating the treacherous and time-consuming cross-decking of Tarawa. Many of the most significant improvements in the art of amphibious warfare in World War II stemmed from the mistakes made—and hard lessons learned—at Tarawa.

 

Documenting Betio's Defenses

The stench of unburied bodies still filled the air when Admiral Chester Nimitz visited Betio on 27 November. Seeing that the island's fortifications remained largely intact, the Pacific Fleet commander ordered his staff to determine their construction method. The first step was to prepare detailed engineering drawings, and some of the best would come from the hand of Carpenter's Mate First Class Larry E. Klatt, U.S. Navy,  of the 18th Naval Construction Battalion.

The unit, which had been redesignated 3d Battalion, 18th Marine Engineers, 2d Marine Division the previous April, landed on D+3 to repair Betio's airfield. A day or two later, a Japanese sniper holding out in a steel pillbox narrowly missed shooting Klatt as he knelt to fill his canteen. To conduct the survey of the Japanese fortifications, Klatt, a former architecture student, was assigned to a group of that included several other Seabee engineers. "We secured the help of others to hold the tapes while we made the notes, recorded the dimensions and any other data to produce 'as built' working drawings," Klatt recalled.

The final schematics included explosives damage to the concrete structures. The craters and holes had helped the survey team determine the sizes and number of steel reinforcements used in walls and roofs. "The Japanese were desperate for steel for reinforcement," Klatt said. "We found an instance or two where chain had been placed within some walls. This, of course, would be of little use structurally."

Based on the drawings, exact replicas of many of Betio's formidable defenses were soon constructed on the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe, the Pacific Fleet's bombardment target site. There, improved munitions and firing methods would be tested against the fortifications. Larry Klatt's drawings, meanwhile, were returned to him. Fifty years later, he donated them to the Marine Corps Historical Center, and they are now housed at the Alfred M. Gray Research Center, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Virginia.
Eds.

 

 



1. Julian C. Smith personal papers, Reference Section, Historical Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA.

2. GEN Shoup interview with Historical Branch, Headquarters, Marine Corps, 14 August 1962, cited in Henry I. Shaw, et al, Central Pacific Drive: History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, Vol. III (Washington, DC: HQMC, 1966), p. 31.

3. There were three General Smiths in Operation Galvanic: Holland Smith, the V Amphibious Corps commander; Julian Smith, commanding the 2d Marine Division; and Ralph Smith, commanding the 27th Army Division at Makin. Japanese code-breakers believed "Smith" was a deliberate attempt by the Americans to disguise the real identity of their field commanders.

4. Troop-laden transports always ran the risk of catastrophic losses under fire. In the Mediterranean the same week as Tarawa, a German Heinkel He-111 bomber sank the Allied troopship Rohna with a radio-guided glide bomb, killing or drowning more than half of the 2,000 U.S. soldiers. Source: James E. Wise Jr. and Scott Baron, Soldiers Lost at Sea: A Chronicle of Troopship Disasters (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press: 2004), pp. 143—47.

5. For years the Navy and Marines believed the four 8-inch naval guns encountered at Tarawa were "spoils of war" captured by Japanese forces from the British garrison defending Singapore in early 1942. This proved wrong. The Japanese government purchased the guns from Great Britain in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War.

6. Intelligence Section, 2d Marine Division and Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Areas, Study of Japanese Defenses of Betio Island (Tarawa Atoll): Part I: Fortifications and Weapons, 20 December 1943, pp. 10—11, Reference Section, Historical Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA; War Department Technical Manual TM-E-30-480, Handbook on Japanese Military Forces (Washington, DC: 1 October 1944, author's possession).

7. Wallace E. Nygren, 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion, interview with author, 1994.

8. Julian C. Smith personal papers, Reference Section, Historical Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA.

9. Senshi Sosho #62: Chuba Taiheyo homen kaigun sakusen (2) [Navy Operations in the Central Pacific, Vol. 2], page 471. Shibasaki's 0907 message was transmitted to the Katori Maru, the communication ship for the 6th Base Force in Kwajalein. One of the Japanese POWs reportedly described the LVTs as "Little Boats on Wheels," Sergeant Major Lewis J. Michelony, interview with author, 1993.

10. Donald W. Olson, "The Tide at Tarawa," Sky and Telescope, November 1987, p. 528, and interview with author, 1993.

11. Senshi Sosho [Japanese War History Series] #6: Chuba Taiheyo homen rikugen sakusen (1), [Army Operations in the Central Pacific, Vol. 1, pp. 182, 184. Senshi Sosho #62: Chuba Taiheyo homen kaigun sakusen (2) [Navy Operations in the Central Pacific, Vol. 2], page 474. Tadeo Onuki, "The End of the Tarawa Garrison," in Masanori Ito, et al, eds., Jitsuroku Taiheyo sense (3) [Real Accounts of the Pacific War, Vol. III], Tokyo: Chuo Koron Sha, 1970, p. 32. USS Ringgold (DD 500) "Action Report," 1 December 1943, National Archives and Records Administration (hereinafter cited as NARA), College Park, MD, p. 12.

12. Julian Smith, "Tarawa," Naval Institute Proceedings 79 (November 1953), p. 1,173; Robert Sherrod, Tarawa: The Story of a Battle (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1944), pp, 82—83.

13. 2d Marine Division D-3 Journal for 21 November, D+1 at Betio, NARA. Shoup's inspiring "1600 SITREP" was inscribed in the central atrium of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in 2006.

14. Sherrod, Tarawa, p. 142.

 

 

Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC served in the Corps for 29 years as an assault amphibian officer. He has written six books, including Utmost Savagery and Edson’s Raiders. He was the Naval Institute Author of the Year in 1996 and Naval History Author of the Year in 2010. He was the principal historian and writer on the exhibit design team throughout the construction of the National Museum of the Marine Corps. He lived in Asheville, North Carolina. Col. Alexander passed away on 28 September 2014. He was 76 years old.

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