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Title: Across The Reef: The Marine assault of Tarawa
Author: Alexander, Joseph H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber’s note: Table of Contents added by Transcriber and placed
into the public domain. Boldface text is indicated by =equals signs=.


Contents

  Across the Reef: The Marine Assault of Tarawa
  Setting the Stage
  Assault Preparations
    Sidebar: The 2d Marine Division at Tarawa
    Sidebar: Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC
    Sidebar: The Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces
  D-Day at Betio, 20 November 1943
    Sidebar: LVT-2 and LVT(A)2 Amphibian Tractors
    Sidebar: ‘The Singapore Guns’
    Sidebar: Sherman Medium Tanks at Tarawa
  D+1 at Betio, 21 November 1943
    Sidebar: Colonel David M. Shoup, USMC
  The Third Day: D+2 at Betio, 22 November 1943
  Completing the Task: 23-28 November 1943
    Sidebar: Incident on D+3
  The Significance of Tarawa
    Sidebar: Tarawa Today
  Sources
  About the Author
  About the Series
  Transcriber’s Notes



    ACROSS THE REEF:

    THE MARINE ASSAULT
    OF TARAWA

    MARINES IN
    WORLD WAR II
    COMMEMORATIVE SERIES

    BY COLONEL JOSEPH H. ALEXANDER
    U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET)

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_“Quiet Lagoon” is a classic end-of-battle photograph of the
considerable wreckage along Red Beach Two._]

[Illustration:

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection

_Artist Kerr Eby, who landed at Tarawa as a participant, entitled this
sketch “Bullets and Barbed Wire.”_]



Across the Reef:

The Marine Assault of Tarawa

_by Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret)_


In August 1943, to meet in secret with Major General Julian C. Smith
and his principal staff officers of the 2d Marine Division, Vice
Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, commanding the Central Pacific Force, flew
to New Zealand from Pearl Harbor. Spruance told the Marines to prepare
for an amphibious assault against Japanese positions in the Gilbert
Islands in November.

The Marines knew about the Gilberts. The 2d Raider Battalion under
Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson had attacked Makin Atoll a year
earlier. Subsequent intelligence reports warned that the Japanese had
fortified Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll, where elite forces guarded a
new bomber strip. Spruance said Betio would be the prime target for the
2d Marine Division.

General Smith’s operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel David M. Shoup,
studied the primitive chart of Betio and saw that the tiny island was
surrounded by a barrier reef. Shoup asked Spruance if any of the Navy’s
experimental, shallow-draft, plastic boats could be provided. “Not
available,” replied the admiral, “expect only the usual wooden landing
craft.” Shoup frowned. General Smith could sense that Shoup’s gifted
mind was already formulating a plan.

The results of that plan were momentous. The Tarawa operation became a
tactical watershed: the first, large-scale test of American amphibious
doctrine against a strongly fortified beachhead. The Marine assault
on Betio was particularly bloody. Ten days after the assault, _Time_
magazine published the first of many post-battle analyses:

  Last week some 2,000 or 3,000 United States Marines, most of them
  now dead or wounded, gave the nation a name to stand beside those
  of Concord Bridge, the _Bon Homme Richard_, the Alamo, Little Big
  Horn and Belleau Wood. The name was “Tarawa.”



_Setting the Stage_


The Gilbert Islands consist of 16 scattered atolls lying along the
equator in the Central Pacific. Tarawa Atoll is 2,085 miles southwest
of Pearl Harbor and 540 miles southeast of Kwajalein in the Marshalls.
Betio is the principal island in the atoll.

The Japanese seized Tarawa and Makin from the British within the first
three days after Pearl Harbor. Carlson’s brief raid in August 1942
caused the Japanese to realize their vulnerability in the Gilberts.
Shortly after the raid, the _6th Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force_
arrived in the islands. With them came Rear Admiral Tomanari Saichiro,
a superb engineer, who directed the construction of sophisticated
defensive positions on Betio. Saichiro’s primary goal was to make Betio
so formidable that an American assault would be stalled at the water’s
edge, allowing time for the other elements of the _Yogaki_ (“Waylaying
Attack”) Plan to destroy the landing force.

The _Yogaki_ Plan was the Japanese strategy to defend eastern
Micronesia from an Allied invasion. Japanese commanders agreed to
counterattack with bombers, submarines, and the main battle fleet.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet/Commander
in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPac/CinCPOA), took these
capabilities seriously. Nimitz directed Spruance to “get the hell in
and get the hell out!” Spruance in turn warned his subordinates to
seize the target islands in the Gilberts “with lightning speed.” This
sense of urgency had a major influence on the Tarawa campaign.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff assigned the code name Galvanic to the
campaign to capture Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama in the Gilberts. The
2d Marine Division was assigned Tarawa and Apamama (a company-sized
operation); the Army’s 165th Regimental Combat Team of the 27th
Infantry Division would tackle Makin.

By coincidence, each of the three landing force commanders in Operation
Galvanic was a major general named Smith. The senior of these was a
Marine, Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, commanding V Amphibious Corps.
Julian C. Smith commanded the 2d Marine Division. Army Major General
Ralph C. Smith commanded the 27th Infantry Division.

Spruance assigned Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly “Terrible” Turner,
veteran of the Guadalcanal campaign, to command all amphibious forces
for the operation. Turner, accompanied by Holland Smith, decided to
command the northern group, Task Force 52, for the assault on Makin.
Turner assigned Rear Admiral Harry W. “Handsome Harry” Hill to
command the southern group, Task Force 53, for the assault on Tarawa.
Julian Smith would accompany Hill on board the old battleship USS
_Maryland_ (BB 46). The two officers were opposites--Hill, outspoken
and impetuous; Julian Smith, reserved and reflective--but they worked
together well. Spruance set D-Day for 20 November 1943.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Personal Papers, Boardman Collection

_Japanese_ Special Naval Landing Force _troops mount a British-made,
Vickers eight-inch naval cannon into its turret on Betio before the
battle. This film was developed from a Japanese camera found in the
ruins while the battle was still on._]

Colonel Shoup came up with an idea of how to tackle Betio’s barrier
reefs. He had observed the Marines’ new Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT or
“Alligator”), an amphibian tractor, in operation during Guadalcanal.
The Alligators were unarmored logistic vehicles, not assault craft,
but they were true amphibians, capable of being launched at sea and
swimming ashore through moderate surf.

Shoup discussed the potential use of LVTs as assault craft with Major
Henry C. Drewes, commanding the 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Drewes
liked the idea, but warned Shoup that many of his vehicles were in
poor condition after the Guadalcanal campaign. At best, Drewes could
provide a maximum of 75 vehicles, not nearly enough to carry the entire
assault and following waves. Further, the thin hulls of the vehicles
were vulnerable to every enemy weapon and would require some form of
jury-rigged armor plating for minimal protection. Shoup encouraged
Drewes to modify the vehicles with whatever armor plate he could
scrounge.

General Julian Smith was aware that a number of LVT-2s were stockpiled
in San Diego, and he submitted an urgent request for 100 of the newer
models to the corps commander. Holland Smith endorsed the request
favorably, but Admiral Turner disagreed. The two strong-willed
officers were doctrinally equal during the planning phase, and the
argument was intense. While Turner did not dispute the Marines’ need
for a reef-crossing capability, he objected to the fact that the new
vehicles would have to be carried to Tarawa in tank landing ships
(LSTs). The slow speed of the LSTs (8.5 knots max) would require a
separate convoy, additional escorts, and an increased risk of losing
the element of strategic surprise. Holland Smith reduced the debate to
bare essentials: “No LVTs, no operation.” Turner acquiesced, but it
was not a complete victory for the Marines. Half of the 100 new LVT-2s
would go to the Army forces landing at Makin against much lighter
opposition. The 50 Marine vehicles would not arrive in time for either
work-up training or the rehearsal landings. The first time the infantry
would lay eyes on the LVT-2s would be in the pre-dawn hours of D-Day at
Tarawa--if then.



_Assault Preparations_


As replacement troops began to pour into New Zealand, General Smith
requested the assignment of Colonel Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson as
division chief of staff. The fiery Edson, already a legend in the Corps
for his heroic exploits in Central America and Guadalcanal, worked
tirelessly to forge the amalgam of veterans and newcomers into an
effective amphibious team.

Intelligence reports from Betio were sobering. The island, devoid of
natural defilade positions and narrow enough to limit maneuver room,
favored the defenders. Betio was less than three miles long, no broader
than 800 yards at its widest point and contained no natural elevation
higher than 10 feet above sea level. “Every place on the island can be
covered by direct rifle and machine gun fire,” observed Edson.

The elaborate defenses prepared by Admiral Saichiro were impressive.
Concrete and steel tetrahedrons, minefields, and long strings of
double-apron barbed wire protected beach approaches. The Japanese also
built a barrier wall of logs and coral around much of the island. Tank
traps protected heavily fortified command bunkers and firing positions
inland from the beach. And everywhere there were pillboxes, nearly 500
of them, most fully covered by logs, steel plates and sand.

The Japanese on Betio were equipped with eight-inch, turret-mounted
naval rifles (the so-called “Singapore Guns”), as well as a large
number of heavy-caliber coast defense, antiaircraft, antiboat, and
field artillery guns and howitzers. Dual-purpose 13mm heavy machine
guns were prevalent. Light tanks (mounting 37mm guns), 50mm “knee
mortars,” and an abundance of 7.7mm light machine guns complemented the
defensive weaponry.

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_An LVT-1 is lowered from a troop transport during landing rehearsals.
Some of the Marines shown here are wearing camouflage utilities while
the others are in the usual herringbone twill. Note that the sea
appears unusually calm._]

The Japanese during August replaced Saichiro with Rear Admiral Meichi
Shibasaki, an officer reputed to be more of a fighter than an engineer.
American intelligence sources estimated the total strength of the Betio
garrison to be 4,800 men, of whom some 2,600 were considered first-rate
naval troops. “Imperial Japanese Marines,” Edson told the war
correspondents, “the best Tojo’s got.” Edson’s 1st Raider Battalion had
sustained 88 casualties in wresting Tulagi from the _3d Kure Special
Naval Landing Force_ the previous August.

Admiral Shibasaki boasted to his troops, “a million Americans couldn’t
take Tarawa in 100 years.” His optimism was forgivable. The island was
the most heavily defended atoll that ever would be invaded by Allied
forces in the Pacific.

Task Force 53 sorely needed detailed tidal information for Tarawa.
Colonel Shoup was confident that the LVTs could negotiate the reef at
any tide, but he worried about the remainder of the assault troops,
tanks, artillery, and reserve forces that would have to come ashore
in Higgins boats (LCVPs). The critical water depth over the reef was
four feet, enough to float a laden LCVP. Anything less and the troops
would have to wade ashore several hundred yards against that panoply of
Japanese weapons.

Major Frank Holland, a New Zealand reserve officer with 15 years’
experience sailing the waters of Tarawa, flatly predicted, “there won’t
be three feet of water on the reef!” Shoup took Holland’s warnings
seriously and made sure the troops knew in advance that “there was a
50-50 chance of having to wade ashore.”

In the face of the daunting Japanese defenses and the physical
constraints of the island, Shoup proposed a landing plan which included
a sustained preliminary bombardment, advance seizure of neighboring
Bairiki Island as an artillery fire base, and a decoy landing. General
Smith took this proposal to the planning conference in Pearl Harbor
with the principal officers involved in Operation Galvanic: Admirals
Nimitz, Spruance, Turner, and Hill, and Major General Holland Smith.

The Marines were stunned to hear the restrictions imposed on their
assault by CinCPac. Nimitz declared that the requirement for strategic
surprise limited preliminary bombardment of Betio to about three hours
on the morning of D-Day. The imperative to concentrate naval forces to
defend against a Japanese fleet sortie also ruled out advance seizure
of Bairiki and any decoy landings. Then Holland Smith announced his own
bombshell: the 6th Marines would be withheld as corps reserve.

All of Julian Smith’s tactical options had been stripped away. The 2d
Marine Division was compelled to make a frontal assault into the teeth
of Betio’s defenses with an abbreviated preparatory bombardment. Worse,
loss of the 6th Marines meant he would be attacking the island fortress
with only a 2-to-1 superiority in troops, well below the doctrinal
minimum. Shaken, he insisted that Holland Smith absolve him of any
responsibility for the consequences. This was done.

David Shoup returned to New Zealand to prepare a modified operations
order and select the landing beaches. Betio, located on the
southwestern tip of Tarawa near the entrance to the lagoon, took the
shape of a small bird, lying on its back, with its breast facing north,
into the lagoon. The Japanese had concentrated their defenses on the
southern and western coasts, roughly the bird’s head and back (where
they themselves had landed). By contrast, the northern beaches (the
bird’s breast) had calmer waters in the lagoon and, with one deadly
exception (the “re-entrant”), were convex. Defenses in this sector were
being improved daily but were not yet complete. A 1,000-yard pier which
jutted due north over the fringing reef into deeper lagoon waters (in
effect, the bird’s legs) was an attractive logistics target. It was an
easy decision to select the northern coast for landing beaches, but
there was no real safe avenue of approach.

Looking at the north shore of Betio from the line of departure
within the lagoon, Shoup designated three landing beaches, each 600
yards in length. From right to left these were: Red Beach One, from
Betio’s northwestern tip (the bird’s beak) to a point just east of
the re-entrant; Red Beach Two, from that juncture to the pier; Red
Beach Three, from the pier eastward. Other beaches were designated as
contingencies, notably Green Beach along the western shore (the bird’s
head).

Julian Smith had intended to land with two regiments abreast and one
in reserve. Loss of the 6th Marines forced a major change. Shoup’s
modified plan assigned the 2d Marines, reinforced by Landing Team (LT)
2/8 (2d Battalion, 8th Marines), as the assault force. The rest of the
8th Marines would constitute the division reserve. The attack would be
preceded by advance seizure of the pier by the regimental scout sniper
platoon (Lieutenant William D. Hawkins). Landing abreast at H-Hour
would be LT 3/2 (3d Battalion, 2d Marines) (Major John F. Schoettel) on
Red One; LT 2/2 (2d Battalion, 2d Marines) (Lieutenant Colonel Herbert
R. Amey, Jr.) on Red Two; and LT 2/8 (Major Henry P. Jim Crowe) on Red
Three. Major Wood B. Kyle’s LT 1/2 (1st Battalion, 2d Marines) would be
on call as the regimental reserve.

[Illustration:

    INTELLIGENCE MAP BITITU (BETIO) ISLAND
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS

    TAKEN FROM 2D MAR DIV
    SPECIAL ACTION REPORT
]

General Smith scheduled a large-scale amphibious exercise in Hawkes
Bay for the first of November and made arrangements for New Zealand
trucks to haul the men back to Wellington at the conclusion in time for
a large dance. Complacently, the entire 2d Marine Division embarked
aboard 16 amphibious ships for the routine exercise. It was all an
artful ruse. The ships weighed anchor and headed north for Operation
Galvanic. For once, “Tokyo Rose” had no clue of the impending campaign.

Most of Task Force 53 assembled in Efate, New Hebrides, on 7 November.
Admiral Hill arrived on board _Maryland_. The Marines, now keenly aware
that an operation was underway, were more interested in the arrival
from Noumea of 14 new Sherman M4-A2 tanks on board the dock landing
ship _Ashland_ (LSD 1). The division had never operated with medium
tanks before.

The landing rehearsals at Efate did little to prepare the Marines
for Betio. The fleet carriers and their embarked air wings were off
assaulting targets in the Solomons. The Sherman tanks had no place
to offload. The new LVT-2s were presumably somewhere to the north,
underway directly for Tarawa. Naval gun ships bombarded Erradaka
Island, well away from the troops landing at Mele Bay.

One overlooked aspect of the rehearsal paid subsequent dividends
for the Marines in the coming assault. Major William K. “Willie K.”
Jones, commanding LT 1/6, took the opportunity to practice embarking
his troops in rubber rafts. In the pre-war Fleet Marine Force, the
first battalion in each regiment had been designated “the rubber boat
battalion.” The uncommon sight of this mini-flotilla inspired numerous
catcalls from the other Marines. Jones himself was dubbed “The Admiral
of the Condom Fleet.”

The contentious issue during the post-rehearsal critique was the
suitability of the naval gunfire plan. The target island was scheduled
to receive the greatest concentration of naval gunfire of the war to
date. Many senior naval officers were optimistic of the outcome. “We
do not intend to neutralize [the island], we do not intend to destroy
it,” boasted one admiral, “Gentlemen, we will obliterate it.” But
General Smith had heard enough of these boasts. In a voice taut with
anger he stood to address the meeting: “Even though you naval officers
do come in to about 1,000 yards, I remind you that you have a little
armor. I want you to know the Marines are crossing the beach with
bayonets, and the only armor they’ll have is a khaki shirt!”

While at Efate, Colonel William Marshall, commanding Combat Team Two
and scheduled for the major assault role at Betio, became too ill to
continue. In a memorable decision, General Smith promoted David Shoup
to colonel and ordered him to relieve Colonel Marshall. Shoup knew the
2d Marines, and he certainly knew the plan. The architect was about to
become the executor.

Once underway from Efate, Admiral Hill ordered the various commanders
of Task Force 53 to brief the troops on their destination and mission.
Tarawa came as a surprise to most of the men. Many had wagered they
were heading for Wake Island. On the day before D-Day, General Julian
Smith sent a message “to the officers and men of the 2d Division.” In
it, the commanding general sought to reassure his men that, unlike
the Guadalcanal campaign, the Navy would stay and provide support
throughout. The troops listened attentively to these words coming over
the loudspeakers:

  A great offensive to destroy the enemy in the Central Pacific has
  begun. Our Navy screens our operation and will support our attack
  tomorrow with the greatest concentration of aerial bombardment
  and naval gunfire in the history of warfare. It will remain with
  us until our objective is secured.... Garrison troops are already
  enroute to relieve us as soon as we have completed our job.... Good
  luck and God bless you all.

As the sun began to set on Task Force 53 on the evening of D-minus-one,
it appeared that strategic surprise had indeed been attained. More good
news came with the report that the small convoy of LSTs bearing LVT-2s
had arrived safely from Samoa and was joining the formation. All the
pieces seemed to be coming together.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87675

_Col David M. Shoup pictured in the field. The clenched cigar became a
trademark._]


[Sidebar (page 3): The 2d Marine Division at Tarawa

Major General Julian C. Smith’s utmost concern when he assumed command
of the 2d Marine Division on 1 May 1943 was the physical condition of
the troops. The division had redeployed to New Zealand from Guadalcanal
with nearly 13,000 confirmed cases of malaria. Half the division would
have to be replaced before the next campaign. The infantry regiments of
the 2d Marine Division were the 2d, 6th, and 8th Marines; the artillery
regiment was the 10th Marines; and the engineers, pioneers, and Naval
Construction Battalion (“Seabees”) were consolidated into the 18th
Marines. These were the principal commanders as the division began its
intensified training program leading to Operation Galvanic:

    CO, 2d Marines: Col William M. Marshall
      CO, 1/2: Maj Wood B. Kyle
      CO, 2/2: LtCol Herbert R. Amey, Jr.
      CO, 3/2: Maj John F. Schoettel
    CO, 6th Marines: Col Maurice G. Holmes
      CO, 1/6: Maj William K. Jones
      CO, 2/6: LtCol Raymond L. Murray
      CO, 3/6: LtCol Kenneth F. McLeod
    CO, 8th Marines: Col Elmer E. Hall
      CO, 1/8: Maj Lawrence C. Hays, Jr.
      CO, 2/8: Maj Henry P. “Jim” Crowe
      CO, 3/8: Maj Robert H. Ruud
    CO, 10th Marines: BGen Thomas E. Bourke
    CO, 18th Marines: Col Cyril W. Martyr

Other officers who would emerge in key roles at Tarawa included
Brigadier General Leo D. Hermle, Assistant Division Commander;
Lieutenant Colonel Presley M. Rixey, commanding 1/10, a pack-howitzer
battalion supporting the 2d Marines; Lieutenant Colonel Alexander B.
Swenceski, commanding the composite 2d Tank Battalion; Major Henry
C. Drewes, commanding 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion; Major Michael
P. Ryan, commanding Company L, 3/2; and First Lieutenant William
D. Hawkins, commanding the Scout Sniper Platoon in the 2d Marines.
Altogether, 18,088 Marines and sailors of the division participated in
the assault on Tarawa Atoll. About 55 percent were combat veterans.
Unlike Guadalcanal, the Marines at Tarawa carried modern infantry
weapons, including Garand M-1 semi-automatic rifles, Browning automatic
rifles, and portable flamethrowers. Assault Marines landed with a
combat load consisting of knapsack, poncho, entrenching tool, bayonet,
field rations, and gas masks (quickly discarded). Many of those
carrying heavy weapons, ammunition, or radios drowned during the hectic
debarkation from landing craft under fire at the reef’s edge.

[Illustration: _Troops of the 2d Marine Division debark down cargo nets
from a troop transport during amphibious training._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63751
]
]


[Sidebar (page 5): Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 70729

_MajGen Julian C. Smith, USMC, right, commanding general, 2d Marine
Division, escorts MajGen Holland M. Smith, USMC, commander, V
Amphibious Corps, on Betio._]

The epic battle of Tarawa was the pinnacle of Julian Smith’s life and
career. Smith was 58 and had been a Marine Corps officer for 34 years
at the time of Operation Galvanic. He was born in Elkton, Maryland, and
graduated from the University of Delaware. Overseas service included
expeditionary tours in Panama, Mexico, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Cuba, and
Nicaragua. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1917 and, as did
many other frustrated Marine officers, spent the duration of World War
I in Quantico. As were shipmates Colonel Merritt A. Edson and Major
Henry P. Crowe, Smith was a distinguished marksman and former rifle
team coach. Command experience in the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) was
limited. He commanded the 5th Marines in 1938, and he was commanding
officer of the FMF Training School at New River until being ordered to
the 2d Marine Division in May 1943.

Smith’s contemporaries had a high respect for him. Although unassuming
and self-effacing, “there was nothing wrong with his fighting heart.”
Lieutenant Colonel Ray Murray, one of his battalion commanders,
described him as “a fine old gentleman of high moral fiber; you’d fight
for him.” Smith’s troops perceived that their commanding general had a
genuine love for them.

Julian Smith knew what to expect from the neap tides at Betio. “I’m
an old railbird shooter up on the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay,” he
said, “You push over the marshes at high tide, and when you have a neap
tide, you can’t get over the marshes.” His landing boats were similarly
restricted as they went in toward Tarawa.

Smith was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for Tarawa to go
with the Navy Cross he received for heroic acts in Nicaragua a decade
earlier. The balance of his career was unremarkable. He retired as a
lieutenant general in 1946, and he died in 1975, age 90. To the end of
his life he valued his experience at Betio. As he communicated to the
officers and men of the division after the battle: “It will always be a
source of supreme satisfaction and pride to be able to say, ‘I was with
the 2d Marine Division at Tarawa.’”
]


[Sidebar (page 7): The Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces

Tarawa was the first large-scale encounter between U.S. Marines and
the Japanese _Special Naval Landing Forces_. The division intelligence
staff had forewarned that “naval units of this type are usually more
highly trained and have a greater tenacity and fighting spirit than
the average Japanese Army unit,” but the Marines were surprised at the
ferocity of the defenders on Betio.

[Illustration: _Japanese on Betio conduct field firing exercises before
the battle. The film from which this picture was developed came from a
Japanese camera captured during the assault._

    Photo courtesy of 2d Marine Division Association
]

The Japanese “Imperial Marines” earned the grudging respect of their
American counterparts for their esprit, discipline, marksmanship,
proficiency with heavy weapons, small-unit leadership, manifest
bravery, and a stoic willingness to die to the last man. Major
William K. Jones, whose 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, engaged more of
the enemy in hand-to-hand combat on Betio than any other unit, said
“these [defenders] were pretty tough, and they were big, six-foot, the
biggest Japs that I ever saw.” Major Lawrence C. Hays reported that
“their equipment was excellent and there was plenty of surplus found,
including large amounts of ammo.”

The Japanese used _Special Naval Landing Forces_ frequently in the
early years of the war. In December 1941, a force of 5,000 landed
on Guam, and another unit of 450 assaulted Wake Island. A small
detachment of 113 men was the first Japanese reinforcing unit to land
on Guadalcanal, 10 days after the American landing. A 350-man SNLF
detachment provided fierce resistance to the 1st Marine Division
landings on Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo early in the Guadalcanal
campaign. A typical SNLF unit in a defensive role was commanded by
a navy captain and consisted of three rifle companies augmented by
antiaircraft, coast defense, antiboat, and field artillery units of
several batteries each, plus service and labor troops.

[Illustration:

    Photo courtesy of 2d Marine Division Association

_The Japanese garrison on Betio conducts pre-battle training._]

The Japanese garrison on Betio on D-Day consisted of the _3d Special
Base Force_ (formerly the _6th Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force_),
the _7th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force_ (which included 200 NCOs
and officers of the _Tateyama Naval Gunnery School_), the _111th
Pioneers_, and the _4th Construction Unit_, an estimated grand total of
4,856 men.

All crew-served weapons on Betio, from 7.7mm light machine guns
to eight-inch naval rifles, were integrated into the fortified
defensive system that included 500 pillboxes, blockhouses, and other
emplacements. The basic beach defense weapon faced by the Marines
during their landings on the northern coast was the M93 13mm, dual
purpose (antiair, antiboat) heavy machine gun. In many seawall
emplacements, these lethal weapons were sited to provide flanking
fire along wire entanglements and other boat obstacles. Flanking fire
discipline was insured by sealing off the front embrasures.

Admiral Shibasaki organized his troops on Betio for “an overall
decisive defense at the beach.” His men fought with great valor. After
76 hours of bitter fighting, 4,690 lay dead. Most of the 146 prisoners
taken were conscripted Korean laborers.

Only 17 wounded Japanese surrendered.
]



_D-Day at Betio,_

_20 November 1943_


The crowded transports of Task Force 53 arrived off Tarawa Atoll
shortly after midnight on D-Day. Debarkation began at 0320. The captain
of the _Zeilin_ (APA 3) played the Marines Hymn over the public address
system, and the sailors cheered as the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines,
crawled over the side and down the cargo nets.

At this point, things started to go wrong. Admiral Hill discovered that
the transports were in the wrong anchorage, masking some of the fire
support ships, and directed them to shift immediately to the correct
site. The landing craft bobbed along in the wake of the ships; some
Marines had been halfway down the cargo nets when the ships abruptly
weighed anchor. Matching the exact LVTs with their assigned assault
teams in the darkness became haphazard. Choppy seas made cross-deck
transfers between the small craft dangerous.

Few tactical plans survive the opening rounds of execution,
particularly in amphibious operations. “The Plan” for D-Day at Betio
established H-Hour for the assault waves at 0830. Strike aircraft from
the fast carriers would initiate the action with a half-hour bombing
raid at 0545. Then the fire support ships would bombard the island from
close range for the ensuing 130 minutes. The planes would return for a
final strafing run at H-minus-five, then shift to inland targets as the
Marines stormed ashore. None of this went according to plan.

The Japanese initiated the battle. Alerted by the pre-dawn activities
offshore, the garrison opened fire on the task force with their
big naval guns at 0507. The main batteries of the battleships
_Colorado_ (BB 45) and _Maryland_ commenced counterbattery fire almost
immediately. Several 16-inch shells found their mark; a huge fireball
signalled destruction of an ammunition bunker for one of the Japanese
gun positions. Other fire support ships joined in. At 0542 Hill ordered
“cease fire,” expecting the air attack to commence momentarily. There
was a long silence.

The carrier air group had changed its plans, postponing the strike
by 30 minutes. Inexplicably, that unilateral modification was never
transmitted to Admiral Hill, the amphibious task force commander.
Hill’s problems were further compounded by the sudden loss of
communications on his flagship _Maryland_ with the first crashing salvo
of the ship’s main battery. The Japanese coastal defense guns were
damaged but still dangerous. The American mix-up provided the defenders
a grace period of 25 minutes to recover and adjust. Frustrated at every
turn, Hill ordered his ships to resume firing at 0605. Suddenly, at
0610, the aircraft appeared, bombing and strafing the island for the
next few minutes. Amid all this, the sun rose, red and ominous through
the thick smoke.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Personal Papers

_A detailed view of Division D-2 situation map of western Betio was
prepared one month before the landing. Note the predicted position
of Japanese defenses along Green Beach and Red Beach One, especially
those within the “re-entrant” cove along the north shore. Intelligence
projections proved almost 90 percent accurate and heavy casualties
resulted._]

The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of Task Force 53 began
a saturation bombardment of Betio for the next several hours. The
awesome shock and sounds of the shelling were experienced avidly by the
Marines. Staff Sergeant Norman Hatch, a combat photographer, thought
to himself, “we just really didn’t see how we could do [anything] but
go in there and bury the people ... this wasn’t going to be a fight.”
_Time_ correspondent Robert Sherrod thought, “surely, no mortal men
could live through such destroying power ... any Japs on the island
would all be dead by now.” Sherrod’s thoughts were rudely interrupted
by a geyser of water 50 yards astern of the ship. The Japanese had
resumed fire and their targets were the vulnerable transports. The
troop ships hastily got underway for the second time that morning.

For Admiral Hill and General Julian Smith on board _Maryland_, the
best source of information throughout the long day would prove to
be the Vought-Sikorsky Type OS2U Kingfisher observation aircraft
launched by the battleships. At 0648, Hill inquired of the pilot
of one float plane, “Is reef covered with water?” The answer was a
cryptic “negative.” At that same time, the LVTs of Wave One, with 700
infantrymen embarked, left the assembly area and headed for the line of
departure.

The crews and embarked troops in the LVTs had already had a long
morning, complete with hair-raising cross-deck transfers in the choppy
sea and the unwelcome thrill of eight-inch shells landing in their
proximity. Now they were commencing an extremely long run to the beach,
a distance of nearly 10 miles. The craft started on time but quickly
fell behind schedule. The LVT-1s of the first wave failed to maintain
the planned 4.5-knot speed of advance due to a strong westerly current,
decreased buoyancy from the weight of the improvised armor plating, and
their overaged power plants. There was a psychological factor at work
as well. “Red Mike” Edson had criticized the LVT crews for landing five
minutes early during the rehearsal at Efate, saying, “early arrival
inexcusable, late arrival preferable.” Admiral Hill and General Smith
soon realized that the three struggling columns of LVTs would never
make the beach by 0830. H-Hour was postponed twice, to 0845, then to
0900. Here again, not all hands received this word.

The destroyers _Ringgold_ (DD 500) and _Dashiell_ (DD 659) entered
the lagoon in the wake of two minesweepers to provide close-in fire
support. Once in the lagoon, the minesweeper _Pursuit_ (AM 108) became
the Primary Control Ship, taking position directly on the line of
departure. _Pursuit_ turned her searchlight seaward to provide the LVTs
with a beacon through the thick dust and smoke. Finally, at 0824, the
first wave of LVTs crossed the line, still 6,000 yards away from the
target beaches.

A minute later the second group of carrier aircraft roared over Betio,
right on time for the original H-Hour, but totally unaware of the new
times. This was another blunder. Admiral Kelly Turner had specifically
provided all players in Operation Galvanic with this admonition: “Times
of strafing beaches with reference to H-Hour are approximate; the
distance of the boats from the beach is the governing factor.” Admiral
Hill had to call them off. The planes remained on station, but with
depleted fuel and ammunition levels available.

The LVTs struggled shoreward in three long waves, each separated by a
300-yard interval: the 42 LVT-1s of Wave One, followed by 24 LVT-2s of
Wave Two, and 21 LVT-2s of Wave Three. Behind the tracked vehicles came
Waves Four and Five of LCVPs. Each of the assault battalion commanders
were in Wave Four. Further astern, the _Ashland_ ballasted down and
launched 14 LCMs, each carrying a Sherman medium tank. Four other LCMs
appeared carrying light tanks (37mm guns).

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_Troops of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, 2d Marine Division, load
magazines and clean their weapons enroute to Betio on board the attack
transport_ Zeilin _(APA 3)._]

Shortly before 0800, Colonel Shoup and elements of his tactical command
post debarked into LCVPs from _Biddle_ (APA 8) and headed for the
line of departure. Close by Shoup stood an enterprising sergeant,
energetically shielding his bulky radio from the salt spray. Of the
myriad of communications blackouts and failures on D-Day, Shoup’s radio
would remain functional longer and serve him better than the radios of
any other commander, American or Japanese, on the island.

Admiral Hill ordered a ceasefire at 0854, even though the waves were
still 4,000 yards off shore. General Smith and “Red Mike” Edson
objected strenuously, but Hill considered the huge pillars of smoke
unsafe for overhead fire support of the assault waves. The great noise
abruptly ceased. The LVTs making their final approach soon began to
receive long-range machine gun fire and artillery air-bursts. The
latter could have been fatal to the troops crowded into open-topped
LVTs, but the Japanese had overloaded the projectiles with high
explosives. Instead of steel shell fragments, the Marines were “doused
with hot sand.” It was the last tactical mistake the Japanese would
make that day.

The previously aborted air strike returned at 0855 for five minutes
of noisy but ineffective strafing along the beaches, the pilots again
heeding their wristwatches instead of the progress of the lead LVTs.

Two other events occurred at this time. A pair of naval landing boats
darted towards the end of the long pier at the reef’s edge. Out charged
First Lieutenant Hawkins with his scout-sniper platoon and a squad
of combat engineers. These shock troops made quick work of Japanese
machine gun emplacements along the pier with explosives and flame
throwers. Meanwhile, the LVTs of Wave One struck the reef and crawled
effortlessly over it, commencing their final run to the beach. These
parts of Shoup’s landing plan worked to perfection.

But the preliminary bombardment, as awesome and unprecedented as it
had been, had failed significantly to soften the defenses. Very little
ships’ fire had been directed against the landing beaches themselves,
where Admiral Shibasaki vowed to defeat the assault units at the
water’s edge. The well-protected defenders simply shook off the sand
and manned their guns. Worse, the near-total curtailment of naval
gunfire for the final 25 minutes of the assault run was a fateful
lapse. In effect, the Americans gave their opponents time to shift
forces from the southern and western beaches to reinforce northern
positions. The defenders were groggy from the pounding and stunned at
the sight of LVTs crossing the barrier reef, but Shibasaki’s killing
zone was still largely intact. The assault waves were greeted by a
steadily increasing volume of combined arms fire.

For Wave One, the final 200 yards to the beach were the roughest,
especially for those LVTs approaching Red Beaches One and Two. The
vehicles were hammered by well-aimed fire from heavy and light machine
guns and 40mm antiboat guns. The Marines fired back, expending 10,000
rounds from the .50-caliber machine guns mounted forward on each LVT-1.
But the exposed gunners were easy targets, and dozens were cut down.
Major Drewes, the LVT battalion commander who had worked so hard with
Shoup to make this assault possible, took over one machine gun from
a fallen crewman and was immediately killed by a bullet through the
brain. Captain Fenlon A. Durand, one of Drewes’ company commanders, saw
a Japanese officer standing defiantly on the seawall waving a pistol,
“just daring us to come ashore.”

On they came. Initial touchdown times were staggered: 0910 on Red
Beach One; 0917 on Red Beach Three; 0922 on Red Beach Two. The first
LVT ashore was vehicle number 4-9, nicknamed “My Deloris,” driven by
PFC Edward J. Moore. “My Deloris” was the right guide vehicle in Wave
One on Red Beach One, hitting the beach squarely on “the bird’s beak.”
Moore tried his best to drive his LVT over the five-foot seawall, but
the vehicle stalled in a near-vertical position while nearby machine
guns riddled the cab. Moore reached for his rifle only to find it shot
in half. One of the embarked troops was 19-year-old Private First
Class Gilbert Ferguson, who recalled what happened next on board
the LVT: “The sergeant stood up and yelled ‘everybody out.’ At that
very instant, machine gun bullets appeared to rip his head off....”
Ferguson, Moore, and others escaped from the vehicle and dispatched two
machine gun positions only yards away. All became casualties in short
order.

Very few of the LVTs could negotiate the seawall. Stalled on the beach,
the vehicles were vulnerable to preregistered mortar and howitzer fire,
as well as hand grenades tossed into the open troop compartments by
Japanese troops on the other side of the barrier. The crew chief of one
vehicle, Corporal John Spillane, had been a baseball prospect with the
St. Louis Cardinals organization before the war. Spillane caught two
Japanese grenades barehanded in mid-air, tossing them back over the
wall. A third grenade exploded in his hand, grievously wounding him.

[Illustration: _Marines and sailors traveling on board a troop
transport receive their initial briefing on the landing plan for Betio._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 101807
]

The second and third waves of LVT-2s, protected only by 3/8-inch
boiler plate hurriedly installed in Samoa, suffered even more intense
fire. Several were destroyed spectacularly by large-caliber antiboat
guns. Private First Class Newman M. Baird, a machine gunner aboard
one embattled vehicle, recounted his ordeal: “We were 100 yards in
now and the enemy fire was awful damn intense and getting worse. They
were knocking [LVTs] out left and right. A tractor’d get hit, stop,
and burst into flames, with men jumping out like torches.” Baird’s
own vehicle was then hit by a shell, killing the crew and many of the
troops. “I grabbed my carbine and an ammunition box and stepped over a
couple of fellas lying there and put my hand on the side so’s to roll
over into the water. I didn’t want to put my head up. The bullets were
pouring at us like a sheet of rain.”

[Illustration:

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection

_“Down the Net,” a sketch by Kerr Eby._]

On balance, the LVTs performed their assault mission fully within
Julian Smith’s expectations. Only eight of the 87 vehicles in the first
three waves were lost in the assault (although 15 more were so riddled
with holes that they sank upon reaching deep water while seeking to
shuttle more troops ashore). Within a span of 10 minutes, the LVTs
landed more than 1,500 Marines on Betio’s north shore, a great start to
the operation. The critical problem lay in sustaining the momentum of
the assault. Major Holland’s dire predictions about the neap tide had
proven accurate. No landing craft would cross the reef throughout D-Day.

Shoup hoped enough LVTs would survive to permit wholesale transfer-line
operations with the boats along the edge of the reef. It rarely worked.
The LVTs suffered increasing casualties. Many vehicles, afloat for five
hours already, simply ran of gas. Others had to be used immediately for
emergency evacuation of wounded Marines. Communications, never good,
deteriorated as more and more radio sets suffered water damage or enemy
fire. The surviving LVTs continued to serve, but after about 1000 on
D-Day, most troops had no other option but to wade ashore from the
reef, covering distances from 500 to 1,000 yards under well-aimed fire.

Marines of Major Schoettel’s LT 3/2 were particularly hard hit on Red
Beach One. Company K suffered heavy casualties from the re-entrant
strongpoint on the left. Company I made progress over the seawall
along the “bird’s beak,” but paid a high price, including the loss
of the company commander, Captain William E. Tatom, killed before he
could even debark from his LVT. Both units lost half their men in the
first two hours. Major Michael P. “Mike” Ryan’s Company L, forced
to wade ashore when their boats grounded on the reef, sustained 35
percent casualties. Ryan recalled the murderous enfilading fire and the
confusion. Suddenly, “one lone trooper was spotted through the fire and
smoke scrambling over a parapet on the beach to the right,” marking a
new landing point. As Ryan finally reached the beach, he looked back
over his shoulder. “All [I] could see was heads with rifles held over
them,” as his wading men tried to make as small a target as possible.
Ryan began assembling the stragglers of various waves in a relatively
sheltered area along Green Beach.

Major Schoettel remained in his boat with the remnants of his fourth
wave, convinced that his landing team had been shattered beyond
relief. No one had contact with Ryan. The fragmented reports Schoettel
received from the survivors of the two other assault companies were
disheartening. Seventeen of his 37 officers were casualties.

In the center, Landing Team 2/2 was also hard hit coming ashore over
Red Beach Two. The Japanese strongpoint in the re-entrant between the
two beaches played havoc among troops trying to scramble over the sides
of their beached or stalled LVTs. Five of Company E’s six officers
were killed. Company F suffered 50 percent casualties getting ashore
and swarming over the seawall to seize a precarious foothold. Company
G could barely cling to a crowded stretch of beach along the seawall
in the middle. Two infantry platoons and two machine gun platoons were
driven away from the objective beach and forced to land on Red Beach
One, most joining “Ryans Orphans.”

When Lieutenant Colonel Amey’s boat rammed to a sudden halt against
the reef, he hailed two passing LVTs for a transfer. Amey’s LVT then
became hung up on a barbed wire obstacle several hundred yards off Red
Beach Two. The battalion commander drew his pistol and exhorted his
men to follow him into the water. Closer to the beach, Amey turned to
encourage his staff, “Come on! Those bastards can’t beat us!” A burst
of machine gun fire hit him in the throat, killing him instantly. His
executive office, Major Howard Rice, was in another LVT which was
forced to land far to the west, behind Major Ryan. The senior officer
present with 2/2 was Lieutenant Colonel Walter Jordan, one of several
observers from the 4th Marine Division and one of only a handful
of survivors from Amey’s LVT. Jordan did what any Marine would do
under the circumstances: he assumed command and tried to rebuild the
disjointed pieces of the landing team into a cohesive fighting force.
The task was enormous.

The only assault unit to get ashore without significant casualties
was Major “Jim” Crowe’s LT 2/8 on Red Beach Three to the left of
the pier. Many historians have attributed this good fortune to the
continued direct fire support 2/8 received throughout its run to the
beach from the destroyers _Ringgold_ and _Dashiell_ in the lagoon.
The two ships indeed provided outstanding fire support to the landing
force, but their logbooks indicate both ships honored Admiral Hill’s
0855 ceasefire; thereafter, neither ship fired in support of LT 2/8
until at least 0925. Doubtlessly, the preliminary fire from such short
range served to keep the Japanese defenders on the eastern end of the
island buttoned up long after the ceasefire. As a result, Crowe’s team
suffered only 25 casualties in the first three LVT waves. Company E
made a significant penetration, crossing the barricade and the near
taxiway, but five of its six officers were shot down in the first
10 minutes ashore. Crowe’s LT 2/8 was up against some of the most
sophisticated defensive positions on the island; three fortifications
to their left (eastern) flank would effectively keep these Marines
boxed in for the next 48 hours.

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

Heywood _(APA 6) lowers an LVT-1 by swinging boom in process of
debarking assault troops of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, on D-Day at
Betio. The LVT-1 then joined up with other amphibian tractors to form
up an assault wave._]

Major “Jim” Crowe--former enlisted man, Marine Gunner, distinguished
rifleman, star football player--was a tower of strength throughout the
battle. His trademark red mustache bristling, a combat shotgun cradled
in his arm, he exuded confidence and professionalism, qualities sorely
needed on Betio that long day. Crowe ordered the coxswain of his LCVP
“put this goddamned boat in!” The boat hit the reef at high speed,
sending the Marines sprawling. Quickly recovering, Crowe ordered his
men over the sides, then led them through several hundred yards of
shallow water, reaching the shore intact only four minutes behind his
last wave of LVTs. Accompanying Crowe during this hazardous effort was
Staff Sergeant Hatch, the combat photographer. Hatch remembers being
inspired by Crowe, clenching a cigar in his teeth and standing upright,
growling at his men, “Look, the sons of bitches can’t hit me. Why do
you think they can hit you? Get moving. Go!” Red Beach Three was in
capable hands.

[Illustration: _LVT-1s follow wave guides from transport area towards
Betio at first light on D-Day._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63909
]

The situation on Betio by 0945 on D-Day was thus: Crowe,
well-established on the left with modest penetration to the airfield;
a distinct gap between LT 2/8 and the survivors of LT 2/2 in small
clusters along Red Beach Two under the tentative command of Jordan;
a dangerous gap due to the Japanese fortifications at the re-entrant
between beaches Two and One, with a few members of 3/2 on the left
flank and the growing collection of odds and ends under Ryan past the
“bird’s beak” on Green Beach; Major Schoettel still afloat, hovering
beyond the reef; Colonel Shoup likewise in an LCVP, but beginning his
move towards the beach; residual members of the boated waves of the
assault teams still wading ashore under increasing enemy fire; the
tanks being forced to unload from their LCMs at the reef’s edge, trying
to organize recon teams to lead them ashore.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 65978

_LVT-1s in the first assault wave enter the lagoon and approach the
line of departure. LVT-2s of the second and third waves proceed on
parallel courses in background._]

Communications were ragged. The balky TBX radios of Shoup, Crowe, and
Schoettel were still operational. Otherwise, there was either dead
silence or complete havoc on the command nets. No one on the flagship
knew of Ryan’s relative success on the western end, or of Amey’s death
and Jordan’s assumption of command. Several echelons heard this ominous
early report from an unknown source: “Have landed. Unusually heavy
opposition. Casualties 70 percent. Can’t hold.” Shoup ordered Kyle’s LT
1/2, the regimental reserve, to land on Red Beach Two and work west.

This would take time. Kyle’s men were awaiting orders at the line of
departure, but all were embarked in boats. Shoup and others managed
to assemble enough LVTs to transport Kyle’s companies A and B, but
the third infantry company and the weapons company would have to
wade ashore. The ensuing assault was chaotic. Many of the LVTs were
destroyed enroute by antiboat guns which increasingly had the range
down pat. At least five vehicles were driven away by the intense fire
and landed west at Ryan’s position, adding another 113 troops to Green
Beach. What was left of Companies A and B stormed ashore and penetrated
several hundred feet, expanding the “perimeter.” Other troops sought
refuge along the pier or tried to commandeer a passing LVT. Kyle got
ashore in this fashion, but many of his troops did not complete the
landing until the following morning. The experience of Lieutenant
George D. Lillibridge of Company A, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, was
typical. His LVT driver and gunners were shot down by machine gun fire.
The surviving crewman got the stranded vehicle started again, but only
in reverse. The stricken vehicle then backed wildly though the entire
impact zone before breaking down again. Lillibridge and his men did not
get ashore until sunset.

The transport _Zeilin_, which had launched its Marines with such
fanfare only a few hours earlier, received its first clear signal that
things were going wrong on the beach when a derelict LVT chugged close
astern with no one at the controls. The ship dispatched a boat to
retrieve the vehicle. The sailors discovered three dead men aboard the
LVT: two Marines and a Navy doctor. The bodies were brought on board,
then buried with full honors at sea, the first of hundreds who would be
consigned to the deep as a result of the maelstrom on Betio.

[Illustration: _Three hundred yards to go! LVT-1 45 churns toward Red
Beach Three just east of the long pier on D-Day. Heavy fighting is
taking place on the other side of the beach._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 64050
]

Communications on board _Maryland_ were gradually restored to working
order in the hours following the battleship’s early morning duel with
Betio’s coast defense batteries. On board the flagship, General Julian
Smith tried to make sense out of the intermittent and frequently
conflicting messages coming in over the command net. At 1018 he ordered
Colonel Hall to “chop” Major Robert H. Ruud’s LT 3/8 to Shoup’s CT Two.
Smith further directed Hall to begin boating his regimental command
group and LT 1/8 (Major Lawrence C. Hays, Jr.), the division reserve.
At 1036, Smith reported to V Amphibious Corps: “Successful landing on
Beaches Red Two and Three. Toehold on Red One. Am committing one LT
from Division reserve. Still encountering strong resistance throughout.”

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_LVT-1 49 (“My Deloris”), the first vehicle to reach Betio’s shore,
lies in her final resting place amid death and destruction, including
a disabled LVT-2 from a follow-on assault wave. This photo was taken
after D-Day. Maintenance crews attempted to salvage “My Deloris” during
the battle, moving her somewhat eastward from the original landing
point on “the bird’s beak,” but she was too riddled with shell holes to
operate. After the battle, “My Deloris” was sent to the United States
as an exhibit for War Bond drives. The historic vehicle is now at the
Tracked Vehicle Museum at Camp DelMar, California._]

Colonel Shoup at this time was in the middle of a long odyssey trying
to get ashore. He paused briefly for this memorable exchange of radio
messages with Major Schoettel.

  0959: (Schoettel to Shoup) “Receiving heavy fire all along beach.
  Unable to land all. Issue in doubt.”

  1007: (Schoettel to Shoup) “Boats held up on reef of right flank
  Red 1. Troops receiving heavy fire in water.”

  1012: (Shoup to Schoettel) “Land Beach Red 2 and work west.”

  1018: (Schoettel to Shoup) “We have nothing left to land.”

When Shoup’s LCVP was stopped by the reef, he transferred to a passing
LVT. His party included Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson, already
a media legend for his earlier exploits at Makin and Guadalcanal,
now serving as an observer, and Lieutenant Colonel Presley M. Rixey,
commanding 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, Shoup’s artillery detachment.
The LVT made three attempts to land; each time the enemy fire was too
intense. On the third try, the vehicle was hit and disabled by plunging
fire. Shoup sustained a painful shell fragment wound in his leg, but
led his small party out of the stricken vehicle and into the dubious
shelter of the pier. From this position, standing waist-deep in water,
surrounded by thousands of dead fish and dozens of floating bodies,
Shoup manned his radio, trying desperately to get organized combat
units ashore to sway the balance.

For awhile, Shoup had hopes that the new Sherman tanks would serve
to break the gridlock. The combat debut of the Marine medium tanks,
however, was inauspicious on D-Day. The tankers were valorous, but
the 2d Marine Division had no concept of how to employ tanks against
fortified positions. When four Shermans reached Red Beach Three late
in the morning of D-Day, Major Crowe simply waved them forward with
orders to “knock out all enemy positions encountered.” The tank crews,
buttoned up under fire, were virtually blind. Without accompanying
infantry they were lost piecemeal, some knocked out by Japanese 75mm
guns, others damaged by American dive bombers.

Six Shermans tried to land on Red Beach One, each preceded by a
dismounted guide to warn of underwater shell craters. The guides were
shot down every few minutes by Japanese marksmen; each time another
volunteer would step forward to continue the movement. Combat engineers
had blown a hole in the seawall for the tanks to pass inland, but
the way was now blocked with dead and wounded Marines. Rather than
run over his fellow Marines, the commander reversed his column and
proceeded around the “bird’s beak” towards a second opening blasted in
the seawall. Operating in the turbid waters now without guides, four
tanks foundered in shell holes in the detour. Inland from the beach,
one of the surviving Shermans engaged a plucky Japanese light tank. The
Marine tank demolished its smaller opponent, but not before the doomed
Japanese crew released one final 37mm round, a phenomenal shot, right
down the barrel of the Sherman.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Personal Papers

_Aerial photograph of the northwestern tip of Betio (the “bird’s beak”)
taken from 1,400 feet at 1407 on D-Day from a Kingfisher observation
floatplane. Note the disabled LVTs in the water at left, seaward of
the re-entrant strongpoints. A number of Marines from 3d Battalion, 2d
Marines, were killed while crossing the sand spit in the extreme lower
left corner._]

By day’s end, only two of the 14 Shermans were still operational,
“Colorado” on Red Three and “China Gal” on Red One/Green Beach.
Maintenance crews worked through the night to retrieve a third tank,
“Cecilia,” on Green Beach for Major Ryan. Attempts to get light tanks
into the battle fared no better. Japanese gunners sank all four LCMs
laden with light tanks before the boats even reached the reef. Shoup
also had reports that the tank battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel
Alexander B. Swenceski, had been killed while wading ashore (Swenceski,
badly wounded, survived by crawling atop a pile of dead bodies to keep
from drowning until he was finally discovered on D+1).

Shoup’s message to the flagship at 1045 reflected his frustration:
“Stiff resistance. Need halftracks. Our tanks no good.” But the
Regimental Weapons Companys halftracks, mounting 75mm guns, fared
no better getting ashore than did any other combat unit that bloody
morning. One was sunk in its LCM by long-range artillery fire before it
reached the reef. A second ran the entire gauntlet but became stuck in
the loose sand at the water’s edge. The situation was becoming critical.

Amid the chaos along the exposed beachhead, individual examples of
courage and initiative inspired the scattered remnants. Staff Sergeant
William Bordelon, a combat engineer attached to LT 2/2, provided the
first and most dramatic example on D-Day morning. When a Japanese shell
disabled his LVT and killed most of the occupants enroute to the beach,
Bordelon rallied the survivors and led them ashore on Red Beach Two.
Pausing only to prepare explosive charges, Bordelon personally knocked
out two Japanese positions which had been firing on the assault waves.
Attacking a third emplacement, he was hit by machine gun fire, but
declined medical assistance and continued the attack. Bordelon then
dashed back into the water to rescue a wounded Marine calling for help.
As intense fire opened up from yet another nearby enemy stronghold,
the staff sergeant prepared one last demolition package and charged the
position frontally. Bordelon’s luck ran out. He was shot and killed,
later to become the first of four men of the 2d Marine Division to be
awarded the Medal of Honor.

In another incident, Sergeant Roy W. Johnson attacked a Japanese tank
single-handedly, scrambling to the turret, dropping a grenade inside,
then sitting on the hatch until the detonation. Johnson survived this
incident, but he was killed in subsequent fighting on Betio, one of 217
Marine Corps sergeants to be killed or wounded in the 76-hour battle.

On Red Beach Three, a captain, shot through both arms and legs, sent
a message to Major Crowe, apologizing for “letting you down.” Major
Ryan recalled “a wounded sergeant I had never seen before limping up
to ask me where he was needed most.” PFC Moore, wounded and disarmed
from his experiences trying to drive “My Deloris” over the seawall,
carried fresh ammunition up to machine gun crews the rest of the day
until having to be evacuated to one of the transports. Other brave
individuals retrieved a pair of 37mm antitank guns from a sunken
landing craft, manhandled them several hundred yards ashore under
nightmarish enemy fire, and hustled them across the beach to the
seawall. The timing was critical. Two Japanese tanks were approaching
the beachhead. The Marine guns were too low to fire over the wall.
“Lift them over,” came the cry from a hundred throats, “LIFT THEM
OVER!” Willing hands hoisted the 900-pound guns atop the wall. The
gunners coolly loaded, aimed, and fired, knocking out one tank at close
range, chasing off the other. There were hoarse cheers.

[Illustration: _“D-Day at Tarawa,” a sketch by Kerr Eby. This drawing
captures the desperation of troops wading ashore from the reef through
barbed wire obstacles and under constant machine gun fire. The artist
himself was with the invading troops._

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

_Time_ correspondent Robert Sherrod was no stranger to combat, but the
landing on D-Day at Betio was one of the most unnerving experiences in
his life. Sherrod accompanied Marines from the fourth wave of LT 2/2
attempting to wade ashore on Red Beach Two. In his words:

  No sooner had we hit the water than the Japanese machine guns
  really opened up on us.... It was painfully slow, wading in such
  deep water. And we had seven hundred yards to walk slowly into
  that machine gun fire, looming into larger targets as we rose onto
  higher ground. I was scared, as I had never been scared before....
  Those who were not hit would always remember how the machine gun
  bullets hissed into the water, inches to the right, inches to the
  left.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63956

_Maj Henry P. “Jim” Crowe (standing, using radio handset) rallies
Landing Team 2/8 behind a disabled LVT on Red Beach Three on D-Day.
Carrying a shotgun, he went from foxhole to foxhole urging his troops
forward against heavy enemy fire._]

Colonel Shoup, moving slowly towards the beach along the pier, ordered
Major Ruud’s LT 3/8 to land on Red Beach Three, east of the pier. By
this time in the morning there were no organized LVT units left to help
transport the reserve battalion ashore. Shoup ordered Ruud to approach
as closely as he could by landing boats, then wade the remaining
distance. Ruud received his assault orders from Shoup at 1103. For the
next six hours the two officers were never more than a mile apart, yet
neither could communicate with the other.

Ruud divided his landing team into seven waves, but once the boats
approached the reef the distinctions blurred. Japanese antiboat guns
zeroed in on the landing craft with frightful accuracy, often hitting
just as the bow ramp dropped. Survivors reported the distinctive
“clang” as a shell impacted, a split second before the explosion. “It
happened a dozen times,” recalled Staff Sergeant Hatch, watching from
the beach, “the boat blown completely out of the water and smashed and
bodies all over the place.” Robert Sherrod reported from a different
vantage point, “I watched a Jap shell hit directly on a [landing craft]
that was bringing many Marines ashore. The explosion was terrific and
parts of the boat flew in all directions.” Some Navy coxswains, seeing
the slaughter just ahead, stopped their boats seaward of the reef and
ordered the troops off. The Marines, many loaded with radios or wire
or extra ammunition, sank immediately in deep water; most drowned. The
reward for those troops whose boats made it intact to the reef was
hardly less sanguinary: a 600-yard wade through withering crossfire,
heavier by far than that endured by the first assault waves at H-Hour.
The slaughter among the first wave of Companies K and L was terrible.
Seventy percent fell attempting to reach the beach.

Seeing this, Shoup and his party waved frantically to groups of Marines
in the following waves to seek protection of the pier. A great number
did this, but so many officers and noncommissioned officers had been
hit that the stragglers were shattered and disorganized. The pier
itself was a dubious shelter, receiving intermittent machine gun and
sniper fire from both sides. Shoup himself was struck in nine places,
including a spent bullet which came close to penetrating his bull neck.
His runner crouching beside him was drilled between the eyes by a
Japanese sniper.

Captain Carl W. Hoffman, commanding 3/8’s Weapons Company, had no
better luck getting ashore than the infantry companies ahead. “My
landing craft had a direct hit from a Japanese mortar. We lost six or
eight people right there.” Hoffman’s Marines veered toward the pier,
then worked their way ashore.

Major Ruud, frustrated at being unable to contact Shoup, radioed his
regimental commander, Colonel Hall: “Third wave landed on Beach Red 3
were practically wiped out. Fourth wave landed ... but only a few men
got ashore.” Hall, himself in a small boat near the line of departure,
was unable to respond. Brigadier General Leo D. (“Dutch”) Hermle,
assistant division commander, interceded with the message, “Stay where
you are or retreat out of gun range.” This added to the confusion. As
a result, Ruud himself did not reach the pier until mid-afternoon. It
was 1730 before he could lead the remnants of his men ashore; some did
not straggle in until the following day. Shoup dispatched what was left
of LT 3/8 in support of Crowe’s embattled 2/8; others were used to help
plug the gap between 2/8 and the combined troops of 2/2 and 1/2.

Shoup finally reached Betio at noon and established a command post 50
yards in from the pier along the blind side of a large Japanese bunker,
still occupied. The colonel posted guards to keep the enemy from
launching any unwelcome sorties, but the approaches to the site itself
were as exposed as any other place on the flat island. At least two
dozen messengers were shot while bearing dispatches to and from Shoup.
Sherrod crawled up to the grim-faced colonel, who admitted, “We’re in
a tight spot. We’ve got to have more men.” Sherrod looked out at the
exposed waters on both sides of the pier. Already he could count 50
disabled LVTs, tanks, and boats. The prospects did not look good.

The first order of business upon Shoup’s reaching dry ground was to
seek updated reports from the landing team commanders. If anything,
tactical communications were worse at noon than they had been during
the morning. Shoup still had no contact with any troops ashore on
Red Beach One, and now he could no longer raise General Smith on
_Maryland_. A dire message came from LT 2/2: “We need help. Situation
bad.” Later a messenger arrived from that unit with this report: “All
communications out except runners. CO killed. No word from E Company.”
Shoup found Lieutenant Colonel Jordan, ordered him to keep command of
2/2, and sought to reinforce him with elements from 1/2 and 3/8. Shoup
gave Jordan an hour to organize and rearm his assorted detachments,
then ordered him to attack inland to the airstrip and expand the
beachhead.

Shoup then directed Evans Carlson to hitch a ride out to the _Maryland_
and give General Smith and Admiral Hill a personal report of the
situation ashore. Shoup’s strength of character was beginning to show.
“You tell the general and the admiral,” he ordered Carlson, “that we
are going to stick and fight it out.” Carlson departed immediately, but
such were the hazards and confusion between the beach and the line of
departure that he did not reach the flagship until 1800.

[Illustration: _Captain and crew of_ Zeilin _(APA 3) pause on D-Day
to commit casualties to the deep. The three dead men (two Marines and
a Navy surgeon), were found in a derelict LVT drifting through the
transport area, 10 miles away from the beaches._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

Matters of critical resupply then captured Shoup’s attention. Beyond
the pier he could see nearly a hundred small craft, circling aimlessly.
These, he knew, carried assorted supplies from the transports and cargo
ships, unloading as rapidly as they could in compliance with Admiral
Nimitz’s stricture to “get the hell in, then get the hell out.” The
indiscriminate unloading was hindering prosecution of the fight ashore.
Shoup had no idea which boat held which supplies. He sent word to the
Primary Control Officer to send only the most critical supplies to the
pierhead: ammunition, water, blood plasma, stretchers, LVT fuel, more
radios.

Shoup then conferred with Lieutenant Colonel Rixey. While naval gunfire
support since the landing had been magnificent, it was time for the
Marines to bring their own artillery ashore. The original plan to land
the 1st Battalion/10th Marines, on Red One was no longer practical.
Shoup and Rixey agreed to try a landing on the left flank of Red Two,
close to the pier. Rixey’s guns were 75mm pack howitzers, boated in
LCVPs. The expeditionary guns could be broken down for manhandling.
Rixey, having seen from close at hand what happened when LT 3/8 had
tried to wade ashore from the reef, went after the last remaining
LVTs. There were enough operational vehicles for just two sections of
Batteries A and B. In the confusion of transfer-line operations, three
sections of Battery C followed the LVTs shoreward in their open boats.
Luck was with the artillerymen. The LVTs landed their guns intact
by late afternoon. When the trailing boats hung up on the reef, the
intrepid Marines humped the heavy components through the bullet-swept
waters to the pier and eventually ashore at twilight. There would be
close-in fire support available at daybreak.

Julian Smith knew little of these events, and he continued striving to
piece together the tactical situation ashore. From observation reports
from staff officers aloft in the float planes, he concluded that the
situation in the early afternoon was desperate. Although elements
of five infantry battalions were ashore, their toehold was at best
precarious. As Smith later recalled, “the gap between Red 1 and Red 2
had not been closed and the left flank on Red 3 was by no means secure.”

Smith assumed that Shoup was still alive and functioning, but he could
ill afford to gamble. For the next several hours the commanding general
did his best to influence the action ashore from the flagship. Smith’s
first step was the most critical. At 1331 he sent a radio message to
General Holland Smith, reporting “situation in doubt” and requesting
release of the 6th Marines to division control. In the meantime, having
ordered his last remaining landing team (Hays’ 1/8) to the line of
departure, Smith began reconstituting an emergency division reserve
comprised of bits and pieces of the artillery, engineer, and service
troop units.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 64142

_U.S. Navy LCM-3 sinks seaward of the reef after receiving a direct
hit by Japanese gunners on D-Day. This craft may have been one of four
carrying M-3 Stuart light tanks, all of which were sunk by highly
accurate coastal defense guns that morning._]

General Smith at 1343 ordered General Hermle to proceed to the end of
the pier, assess the situation and report back. Hermle and his small
staff promptly debarked from _Monrovia_ (APA 31) and headed towards the
smoking island, but the trip took four hours.

[Illustration: _SSgt William J. Bordelon, USMC, was awarded the Medal
of Honor (posthumously) for his actions on D-Day._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 12980
]

In the meantime, General Smith intercepted a 1458 message from Major
Schoettel, still afloat seaward of the reef: “CP located on back of
Red Beach 1. Situation as before. Have lost contact with assault
elements.” Smith answered in no uncertain terms: “Direct you land at
any cost, regain control your battalion and continue the attack.”
Schoettel complied, reaching the beach around sunset. It would be well
into the next day before he could work his way west and consolidate his
scattered remnants.

At 1525, Julian Smith received Holland Smith’s authorization to take
control of the 6th Marines. This was good news. Smith now had four
battalion landing teams (including 1/8) available. The question then
became where to feed them into the fight without getting them chewed to
pieces like Ruud’s experience in trying to land 3/8.

[Illustration: _Getting ashore on D-Day took great courage and
determination. Attacking inland beyond the relative safety of the
seawall on D-Day required an even greater measure._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63457
]

At this point, Julian Smith’s communications failed him again. At
1740, he received a faint message that Hermle had finally reached the
pier and was under fire. Ten minutes later, Smith ordered Hermle to
take command of all forces ashore. To his subsequent chagrin, Hermle
never received this word. Nor did Smith know his message failed to
get through. Hermle stayed at the pier, sending runners to Shoup (who
unceremoniously told him to “get the hell out from under that pier!”)
and trying with partial success to unscrew the two-way movement of
casualties out to sea and supplies to shore.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Center Combat Art Collection

_“Tarawa, H-Hour, D-Day, Beach Red.” Detail from a painting in acrylic
colors by Col Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR._]

[Illustration: _This aerial photograph, taken at 1406 on D-Day, shows
the long pier on the north side of the island which divided Red Beach
Three, left, from Red Beach Two, where “a man could lift his hand and
get it shot off” in the intense fire. Barbed wire entanglements are
visible off both beaches. A grounded Japanese landing craft is tied to
the west side of the pier. Faintly visible in the right foreground, a
few Marines wade from a disabled LVT towards the pier’s limited safety
and shelter._

    Marine Corps Personal Papers
]

Throughout the long day Colonel Hall and his regimental staff had
languished in their LCVPs adjacent to Hays’ LT 1/8 at the line of
departure, “cramped, wet, hungry, tired and a large number ...
seasick.” In late afternoon, Smith abruptly ordered Hall to land his
remaining units on a new beach on the northeast tip of the island
at 1745 and work west towards Shoup’s ragged lines. This was a
tremendous risk. Smith’s overriding concern that evening was a Japanese
counterattack from the eastern tail of the island against his left
flank (Crowe and Ruud). Once he had been given the 6th Marines, Smith
admitted he was “willing to sacrifice a battalion landing team” if it
meant saving the landing force from being overrun during darkness.

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_Marines try to drag a wounded comrade to safety and medical treatment
on D-Day._]

Fortunately, as it turned out, Hall never received this message from
Smith. Later in the afternoon, a float plane reported to Smith that a
unit was crossing the line of departure and heading for the left flank
of Red Beach Two. Smith and Edson assumed it was Hall and Hays going
in on the wrong beach. The fog of war: the movement reported was the
beginning of Rixey’s artillerymen moving ashore. The 8th Marines spent
the night in its boats, waiting for orders. Smith did not discover this
fact until early the next morning.

[Illustration: _Col Michael P. Ryan, USMC, wears the Navy Cross
awarded to him at Tarawa. Ryan, the junior major in the Division, was
instrumental in securing the western end of Betio, thereby enabling the
first substantial reinforcements to land intact._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

On Betio, Shoup was pleased to receive at 1415 an unexpected report
from Major Ryan that several hundred Marines and a pair of tanks had
penetrated 500 yards beyond Red Beach One on the western end of the
island. This was by far the most successful progress of the day, and
the news was doubly welcome because Shoup, fearing the worst, had
assumed Schoettel’s companies and the other strays who had veered in
that direction had been wiped out. Shoup, however, was unable to convey
the news to Smith.

Ryan’s composite troops had indeed been successful on the western
end. Learning quickly how best to operate with the medium tanks, the
Marines carved out a substantial beachhead, overrunning many Japanese
turrets and pillboxes. But aside from the tanks, Ryan’s men had
nothing but infantry weapons. Critically, they had no flamethrowers or
demolitions. Ryan had learned from earlier experience in the Solomons
that “positions reduced only with grenades could come alive again.” By
late afternoon, he decided to pull back his thin lines and consolidate.
“I was convinced that without flamethrowers or explosives to clean
them out we had to pull back ... to a perimeter that could be defended
against counterattack by Japanese troops still hidden in the bunkers.”

The fundamental choice faced by most other Marines on Betio that day
was whether to stay put along the beach or crawl over the seawall and
carry the fight inland. For much of the day the fire coming across
the top of those coconut logs was so intense it seemed “a man could
lift his hand and get it shot off.” Late on D-Day, there were many
too demoralized to advance. When Major Rathvon McC. Tompkins, bearing
messages from General Hermle to Colonel Shoup, first arrived on Red
Beach Two at the foot of the pier at dusk on D-Day, he was appalled at
the sight of so many stragglers. Tompkins wondered why the Japanese
“didn’t use mortars on the first night. People were lying on the beach
so thick you couldn’t walk.”

Conditions were congested on Red Beach One, as well, but there was a
difference. Major Crowe was everywhere, “as cool as ice box lettuce.”
There were no stragglers. Crowe constantly fed small groups of Marines
into the lines to reinforce his precarious hold on the left flank.
Captain Hoffman of 3/8 was not displeased to find his unit suddenly
integrated within Crowe’s 2/8. And Crowe certainly needed help as
darkness began to fall. “There we were,” Hoffman recalled, “toes in
the water, casualties everywhere, dead and wounded all around us. But
finally a few Marines started inching forward, a yard here, a yard
there.” It was enough. Hoffman was soon able to see well enough to call
in naval gunfire support 50 yards ahead. His Marines dug in for the
night.

West of Crowe’s lines, and just inland from Shoup’s command post,
Captain William T. Bray’s Company B, 1/2, settled in for the expected
counterattacks. The company had been scattered in Kyle’s bloody
landing at mid-day. Bray reported to Kyle that he had men from 12
to 14 different units in his company, including several sailors who
swam ashore from sinking boats. The men were well armed and no longer
strangers to each other, and Kyle was reassured.

[Illustration:

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection

_“The Hard Road to Triumph,” a sketch by Kerr Eby. The action shows
Maj Crowe’s LT 2/8 trying to expand its beachhead near the contested
Burns-Philp pier._]

Altogether, some 5,000 Marines had stormed the beaches of Betio on
D-Day. Fifteen hundred of these were dead, wounded, or missing by
nightfall. The survivors held less than a quarter of a square mile of
sand and coral. Shoup later described the location of his beachhead
lines the night of D-Day as “a stock market graph.” His Marines went
to ground in the best fighting positions they could secure, whether
in shellholes inland or along the splintered seawall. Despite the
crazy-quilt defensive positions and scrambled units, the Marines’
fire discipline was superb. The troops seemed to share a certain grim
confidence; they had faced the worst in getting ashore. They were
quietly ready for any sudden _banzai_ charges in the dark.

Offshore, the level of confidence diminished. General Julian Smith on
_Maryland_ was gravely concerned. “This was the crisis of the battle,”
he recalled. “Three-fourths of the Island was in the enemy’s hands,
and even allowing for his losses he should have had as many troops
left as we had ashore.” A concerted Japanese counterattack, Smith
believed, would have driven most of his forces into the sea. Smith and
Hill reported up the chain of command to Turner, Spruance, and Nimitz:
“Issue remains in doubt.” Spruance’s staff began drafting plans for
emergency evacuation of the landing force.

The expected Japanese counterattack did not materialize. The principal
dividend of all the bombardment turned out to be the destruction of
Admiral Shibasaki’s wire communications. The Japanese commander could
not muster his men to take the offensive. A few individuals infiltrated
through the Marine lines to swim out to disabled tanks and LVTs in the
lagoon, where they waited for the morning. Otherwise, all was quiet.

[Illustration: _Marines of Landing Teams 2/8 and 3/8 advance forward
beyond the beach._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

The main struggle throughout the night of D-Day was the attempt by
Shoup and Hermle to advise Julian Smith of the best place to land the
reserves on D+1. Smith was amazed to learn at 0200 that Hall and Hays
were in fact not ashore but still afloat at the line of departure,
awaiting orders. Again, he ordered Combat Team Eight (-) to land
on the eastern tip of the island, this time at 0900 on D+1. Hermle
finally caught a boat to one of the destroyers in the lagoon to relay
Shoup’s request to the commanding general to land reinforcements on
Red Beach Two. Smith altered Hall’s orders accordingly, but he ordered
Hermle back to the flagship, miffed at his assistant for not getting
ashore and taking command. But Hermle had done Smith a good service in
relaying the advice from Shoup. As much as the 8th Marines were going
to bleed in the morning’s assault, a landing on the eastern end of the
island would have been an unmitigated catastrophe. Reconnaissance after
the battle discovered those beaches to be the most intensely mined on
the island.

[Illustration:

    INTELLIGENCE MAP BITITU (BETIO) ISLAND
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS
    SITUATION 1800 D-DAY

    NOTE: LINES ARE GENERAL INDICATION ONLY.
          GAPS WERE COVERED BY SMALL GROUPS
          AND BY FIRE. SECONDARY LINES WERE
          ESTABLISHED WHERE POSSIBLE BEHIND
          FRONT LINES.

    TAKEN FROM 2D MAR DIV
    SPECIAL ACTION REPORT
]


[Sidebar (page 10): LVT-2 and LVT(A)2 Amphibian Tractors

The LVT-2, popularly known as the Water Buffalo, was built to improve
upon shortcomings in the design of the Marine Corps’ initial amphibian
vehicle, the LVT-1. The new vehicle featured a redesigned suspension
system with rubber-tired road wheels and torsion springs for improved
stability and a smoother ride. The power train was standardized with
that of the M3A1 Stuart light tank. This gave the LVT-2 greater power
and reliability than its predecessor and, combined with new “W”-shaped
treads, gave it greater propulsion on land and in the water. The new
vehicle also could carry 1,500 pounds more cargo than the original
LVT-1.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63646

_LVT-2 comes ashore on Green Beach on approximately D+2_]

The LVT-2 entered production in June 1942, but did not see combat until
Tarawa in November 1943. The Marines used a combination of LVT-1s and
LVT-2s in the assault on Betio. The 50 LVT-2s used at Tarawa were
modified in Samoa just before the battle with 3/8-inch boiler plates
installed around the cab for greater protection from small arms fire
and shell fragments. Despite the loss of 30 of these vehicles to enemy
fire at Tarawa, the improvised armor was considered promising and led
to a call for truly armored LVTs.

The LVT(A)2 [“A” for armored] requested by the U.S. Army was a
version which saw limited use with the Marine Corps. The LVT(A)2 had
factory-installed armor plating on the hull and cab to resist heavy
machine gun fire. The new version appeared identical to the LVT-2
with the exception of armored drivers’ hatches. With legitimate armor
protection, the LVT(A)2 could function as an assault vehicle in the
lead waves of a landing. The armored amphibian vehicle provided
excellent service when it was introduced to Marine operations on New
Britain.

More than 3,000 LVT-2s and LVT(A)2s were manufactured during World War
II. These combat vehicles proved to be valuable assets to Marine Corps
assault teams throughout the Pacific campaign, transporting thousands
of troops and tons of equipment. The overall design, however, left
some operational deficiencies. For one thing, the vehicles lacked a
ramp. All troops and equipment had to be loaded and unloaded over the
gunwales. This caused problems in normal field use and was particularly
hazardous during an opposed landing. This factor would lead to the
further development of amphibian tractors in the LVT family during the
war.

_Compiled by Second Lieutenant Wesley L. Feight, USMC_
]


[Sidebar (page 14): ‘The Singapore Guns’

The firing on Betio had barely subsided before apocryphal claims
began to appear in print that the four eight-inch naval rifles used
as coastal defense guns by the Japanese were the same ones captured
from the British at the fall of Singapore. Many prominent historians
unwittingly perpetuated this story, among them the highly respected
Samuel Eliot Morison.

In 1977, however, British writer William H. Bartsch published the
results of a recent visit to Tarawa in the quarterly magazine _After
the Battle_. Bartsch personally examined each of the four guns and
discovered markings indicating manufacture by Vickers, the British
ordnance company. The Vickers company subsequently provided Bartsch
records indicating the four guns were part of a consignment of 12
eight-inch, quick-firing guns which were sold in 1905 to the Japanese
during their war with Russia. Further investigation by Bartsch at the
Imperial War Museum produced the fact that there were no eight-inch
guns captured by the Japanese at Singapore. In short, the guns at
Tarawa came from a far more legitimate, and older, transaction with the
British.

The eight-inch guns fired the opening rounds in the battle of Tarawa,
but were not by themselves a factor in the contest. Earlier bombing
raids may have damaged their fire control systems. Rapid counterbattery
fire from American battleships took out the big guns in short order,
although one of them maintained an intermittent, if inaccurate, fire
throughout D+1. Colonel Shoup stated emphatically that the 2d Marine
Division was fully aware of the presence of eight-inch guns on Betio
as early as mid-August 1943. By contrast, the division intelligence
annex to Shoup’s operation order, updated nine days before the landing,
discounts external reports that the main guns were likely to be as
large as eight-inch, insisting instead that “they are probably not more
than 6-inch.” Prior knowledge notwithstanding, the fact remains that
many American officers were unpleasantly surprised to experience major
caliber near-misses bracketing the amphibious task force early on D-Day.

[Illustration: _Destruction of one of the four Japanese eight-inch
Vickers guns on Betio was caused by naval gunfire and air strikes._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63618
]
]


[Sidebar (page 22): Sherman Medium Tanks at Tarawa

One company of M4-A2 Sherman medium tanks was assigned to the 2d Marine
Division for Operation Galvanic from the I Marine Amphibious Corps.
The 14 tanks deployed from Noumea in early November 1943, on board the
new dock landing ship _Ashland_ (LSD 1), joining Task Force 53 enroute
to the Gilberts. Each 34-ton, diesel-powered Sherman was operated by a
crew of five and featured a gyro-stabilized 75mm gun and three machine
guns. Regrettably, the Marines had no opportunity to operate with their
new offensive assets until the chaos of D-Day at Betio.

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_M-4A2 Sherman tank (“Charlie”) of 3d Platoon, Company C, Medium
Tanks, was disabled inland from Red Beach Three by mutually supporting
Japanese antitank guns firing from well-dug in positions not too far
from the beaches._]

The Shermans joined Wave 5 of the ship-to-shore assault. The tanks
negotiated the gauntlet of Japanese fire without incident, but five
were lost when they plunged into unseen shell craters in the turbid
water. Ashore, the Marines’ lack of operating experience with medium
tanks proved costly to the survivors. Local commanders simply ordered
the vehicles inland to attack targets of opportunity unsupported. All
but two were soon knocked out of action. Enterprising salvage crews
worked throughout each night to cannibalize severely damaged vehicles
in order to keep other tanks operational. Meanwhile, the Marines
learned to employ the tanks within an integrated team of covering
infantry and engineers. The Shermans then proved invaluable in Major
Ryan’s seizure of Green Beach on D+1, the attacks of Major Jones
and Major Crowe on D+2, and the final assault by Lieutenant Colonel
McLeod on D+3. Early in the battle, Japanese 75mm antitank guns were
deadly against the Shermans, but once these weapons were destroyed,
the defenders could do little more than shoot out the periscopes with
sniper fire.

Colonel Shoup’s opinion of the medium tanks was ambivalent. His
disappointment in the squandered deployment and heavy losses among
the Shermans on D-Day was tempered by subsequent admiration for
their tactical role ashore. Time and again, Japanese emplacements of
reinforced concrete, steel, and sand were reduced by direct fire from
the tanks’ main guns, despite a “prohibitive ammunition expenditure.”
Shoup also reported that “the so-called crushing effect of medium
tanks, as a tactical measure, was practically negligible in this
operation, and I believe no one should place any faith in eliminating
fortifications by running over them with a tank.”

The Marines agreed that the advent of the Shermans rendered their light
tanks obsolete. “Medium tanks are just as easy to get ashore, and they
pack greater armor and firepower,” concluded one battalion commander.
By the war’s end, the American ordnance industry had manufactured
48,064 Sherman tanks for employment by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps
in all theaters of combat.
]



_D+1 at Betio,_

_21 November 1943_


The tactical situation on Betio remained precarious for much of the 2d
day. Throughout the morning, the Marines paid dearly for every attempt
to land reserves or advance their ragged beachheads.

The reef and beaches of Tarawa already looked like a charnel house.
Lieutenant Lillibridge surveyed what he could see of the beach at first
light and was appalled: “... a dreadful sight, bodies drifting slowly
in the water just off the beach, junked amtracks.” The stench of dead
bodies covered the embattled island like a cloud. The smell drifted out
to the line of departure, a bad omen for the troops of 1st Battalion,
8th Marines, getting ready to start their run to the beach.

Colonel Shoup, making the most of faulty communications and imperfect
knowledge of his scattered forces, ordered each landing team commander
to attack: Kyle and Jordan to seize the south coast, Crowe and Ruud
to reduce Japanese strongholds to their left and front, Ryan to seize
all of Green Beach. Shoup’s predawn request to General Smith, relayed
through Major Tompkins and General Hermle, specified the landing of
Hays’ LT 1/8 on Red Beach Two “_close to the pier_.” That key component
of Shoup’s request did not survive the tenuous communications route to
Smith. The commanding general simply ordered Colonel Hall and Major
Hays to land on Red Two at 0615. Hall and Hays, oblivious of the
situation ashore, assumed 1/8 would be making a covered landing.

[Illustration:

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection

_“The Wave Breaks on the Beach,” a sketch by Kerr Eby. The scene
represents the unwelcome greeting received by LT 1/8 off Red Beach Two
on the morning of D+1._]

The Marines of LT 1/8 had spent the past 18 hours embarked in LCVPs.
During one of the endless circles that night, Chaplain W. Wyeth Willard
passed Colonel Hall’s boat and yelled, “What are they saving us for,
the Junior Prom?” The troops cheered when the boats finally turned for
the beach.

Things quickly went awry. The dodging tides again failed to provide
sufficient water for the boats to cross the reef. Hays’ men, surprised
at the obstacle, began the 500-yard trek to shore, many of them
dangerously far to the right flank, fully within the beaten zone of the
multiple guns firing from the re-entrant strongpoint. “It was the worst
possible place they could have picked,” said “Red Mike” Edson. Japanese
gunners opened an unrelenting fire. Enfilade fire came from snipers
who had infiltrated to the disabled LVTs offshore during the night. At
least one machine gun opened up on the wading troops from the beached
inter-island schooner _Niminoa_ at the reef’s edge. Hays’ men began to
fall at every hand.

The Marines on the beach did everything they could to stop the
slaughter. Shoup called for naval gunfire support. Two of Lieutenant
Colonel Rixey’s 75mm pack howitzers (protected by a sand berm erected
during the night by a Seabee bulldozer) began firing at the blockhouses
at the Red 1/Red 2 border, 125 yards away, with delayed fuses and high
explosive shells. A flight of F4F Wildcats attacked the hulk of the
_Niminoa_ with bombs and machine guns. These measures helped, but for
the large part the Japanese caught Hays’ lead waves in a withering
crossfire.

[Illustration: _Readily disassembled and reassembled, the 75mm pack
howitzers of 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, were ideal for Tarawa’s
restrictive hydrography. The battalion manhandled its guns ashore
under heavy fire late on D-Day. Thereafter, these Marines provided
outstanding fire support at exceptionally short ranges to the infantry._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

Correspondent Robert Sherrod watched the bloodbath in horror. “One boat
blows up, then another. The survivors start swimming for shore, but
machine gun bullets dot the water all around them.... This is worse,
far worse than it was yesterday.” Within an hour, Sherrod could count
“at least two hundred bodies which do not move at all on the dry
flats.”

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_Navy medical personnel evacuate the wounded from the beachhead on
D-Day. This was difficult because there were few places anywhere that
Marines could walk upright. The shortage of stretchers compounded the
problems of the landing force._]

First Lieutenant Dean Ladd was shot in the stomach shortly after
jumping into the water from his boat. Recalling the strict orders to
the troops not to stop for the wounded, Ladd expected to die on the
spot. One of his riflemen, Private First Class T. F. Sullivan, ignored
the orders and saved his lieutenant’s life. Ladd’s rifle platoon
suffered 12 killed and 12 wounded during the ship-to-shore assault.

First Lieutenant Frank Plant, the battalion air liaison officer,
accompanied Major Hays in the command LCVP. As the craft slammed into
the reef, Plant recalled Hays shouting “Men, debark!” as he jumped into
the water. The troops that followed were greeted by a murderous fire.
Plant helped pull the wounded back into the boat, noting that “the
water all around was colored purple with blood.” As Plant hurried to
catch up with Major Hays, he was terrified at the sudden appearance of
what he took to be Japanese fighters roaring right towards him. These
were the Navy Wildcats aiming for the nearby _Niminoa_. The pilots were
exuberant but inconsistent: one bomb hit the hulk squarely; others
missed by 200 yards. An angry David Shoup came up on the radio: “Stop
strafing! Bombing ship hitting own troops!”

At the end, it was the sheer courage of the survivors that got them
ashore under such a hellish crossfire. Hays reported to Shoup at
0800 with about half his landing team. He had suffered more than 300
casualties; others were scattered all along the beach and the pier.
Worse, the unit had lost all its flamethrowers, demolitions, and heavy
weapons. Shoup directed Hays to attack westward, but both men knew
that small arms and courage alone would not prevail against fortified
positions.

Shoup tried not to let his discouragement show, but admitted in a
message to General Smith “the situation does not look good ashore.”

The combined forces of Majors Crowe and Ruud on Red Beach Three were
full of fight and had plenty of weapons. But their left flank was
flush against three large Japanese bunkers, each mutually supporting,
and seemingly unassailable. The stubby Burns-Philp commercial pier,
slightly to the east of the main pier, became a bloody “no-man’s land”
as the forces fought for its possession. Learning from the mistakes of
D-Day, Crowe insured that his one surviving Sherman tank was always
accompanied by infantry.

[Illustration: _Marines under fire along Red Beach Three near the
Burns-Philp pier hug the ground as Navy planes continually pound the
enemy strongpoints in front of them._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

Crowe and Ruud benefitted from intensive air support and naval gunfire
along their left flank. Crowe was unimpressed with the accuracy and
effectiveness of the aviators (“our aircraft never did us much good”),
but he was enthusiastic about the naval guns. “I had the _Ringgold_,
the _Dashiell_, and the _Anderson_ in support of me.... Anything I
asked for I got from them. They were great!” On one occasion on D+1,
Crowe authorized direct fire from a destroyer in the lagoon at a large
command bunker only 50 yards ahead of the Marines. “They slammed them
in there and you could see arms and legs and everything just go up like
that!”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 12448

_1stLt William Deane Hawkins, USMC, was awarded the Medal of Honor
posthumously for sustained bravery throughout the first 24 hours ashore
at Betio. Hawkins commanded the 2d Marines’ Scout-Sniper Platoon, which
seized the long pier to begin the assault._]

Inland from Red Beach Two, Kyle and Jordan managed to get some of their
troops across the fire-swept airstrip and all the way to the south
coast, a significant penetration. The toehold was precarious, however,
and the Marines sustained heavy casualties. “You could not see the
Japanese,” recalled Lieutenant Lillibridge, “but fire seemed to come
from every direction.” When Jordan lost contact with his lead elements,
Shoup ordered him across the island to reestablish command. Jordan did
so at great hazard. By the time Kyle arrived, Jordan realized his own
presence was superfluous. Only 50 men could be accounted for of LT
2/2’s rifle companies. Jordan organized and supplied these survivors to
the best of his abilities, then--at Shoup’s direction--merged them with
Kyle’s force and stepped back into his original role as an observer.

The 2d Marines’ Scout Sniper Platoon had been spectacularly heroic
from the very start when they led the assault on the pier just before
H-Hour. Lieutenant Hawkins continuously set an example of cool disdain
for danger in every tactical situation. His bravery was superhuman,
but it could not last in the maelstrom. He was wounded by a Japanese
mortar shell on D-Day, but shook off attempts to treat his injuries.
At dawn on D+1 he led his men in attacking a series of strongpoints
firing on LT 1/8 in the water. Hawkins crawled directly up to a major
pillbox, fired his weapon point blank through the gun ports, then
threw grenades inside to complete the job. He was shot in the chest,
but continued the attack, personally taking out three more pillboxes.
Then a Japanese shell nearly tore him apart. It was a mortal wound.
The division mourned his death. Hawkins was awarded the Medal of Honor
posthumously. Said Colonel Shoup, “It’s not often that you can credit a
first lieutenant with winning a battle, but Hawkins came as near to it
as any man could.”

[Illustration: _Working parties ignore sniper and artillery fire to
unload 75mm ammunition delivered by LCVPs from_ Biddle _(APA 8) at the
head of the long Burns-Philp pier._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

It was up to Major Mike Ryan and his makeshift battalion on the western
end of Betio to make the biggest contribution to winning the battle on
D+1. Ryan’s fortunes had been greatly enhanced by three developments
during the night: the absence of a Japanese spoiling attack against
his thin lines, the repair of the medium tank “Cecilia,” and the
arrival of Lieutenant Thomas Greene, USN, a naval gunfire spotter with
a fully functional radio. Ryan took his time organizing a coordinated
attack against the nest of gun emplacements, pillboxes, and rifle pits
concentrated on the southwest corner of the island. He was slowed by
another failure in communications. Ryan could talk to the fire support
ships but not to Shoup. It seemed to Ryan that it took hours for his
runners to negotiate the gauntlet of fire back to the beach, radio
Shoup’s CP, and return with answers. Ryan’s first message to Shoup
announcing his attack plans received the eventual response, “Hold
up--we are calling an air strike.” It took two more runners to get the
air strike cancelled. Ryan then ordered Lieutenant Greene to call in
naval gunfire on the southwest targets. Two destroyers in the lagoon
responded quickly and accurately. At 1120, Ryan launched a coordinated
tank-infantry assault. Within the hour his patchwork force had seized
all of Green Beach and was ready to attack eastward toward the airfield.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63492

_Navy hospital corpsmen attend a critically wounded Marine on Betio.
The 2d Marine Division’s organic medical personnel paid a high price
while administering aid to fallen Marines: 30 Navy doctors and corpsmen
were killed; another 59 wounded._]

Communications were still terrible. For example, Ryan twice reported
the southern end of Green Beach to be heavily mined, a message that
never reached any higher headquarters. But General Smith on board
_Maryland_ did receive direct word of Ryan’s success and was overjoyed.
For the first time Smith had the opportunity to land reinforcements on
a covered beach with their unit integrity intact.

General Smith and “Red Mike” Edson had been conferring that morning
with Colonel Maurice G. Holmes, commanding the 6th Marines, as to the
best means of getting the fresh combat team ashore. In view of the
heavy casualties sustained by Hays’ battalion on Red Beach Two, Smith
was reconsidering a landing on the unknown eastern end of the island.
The good news from Ryan quickly solved the problem. Smith ordered
Holmes to land one battalion by rubber rafts on Green Beach, with a
second landing team boated in LCVPs prepared to wade ashore in support.

At this time Smith received reports that Japanese troops were escaping
from the eastern end of Betio by wading across to Bairiki, the next
island. The Marines did not want to fight the same tenacious enemy
twice. Smith then ordered Holmes to land one battalion on Bairiki to
“seal the back door.” Holmes assigned Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L.
Murray to land 2/6 on Bairiki, Major “Willie K.” Jones to land 1/6 by
rubber boat on Green Beach, and Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth F. McLeod
to be prepared to land 3/6 at any assigned spot, probably Green Beach.
Smith also ordered the light tanks of Company B, 2d Tank Battalion, to
land on Green Beach in support of the 6th Marines.

These tactical plans took much longer to execute than envisioned. Jones
was ready to debark from _Feland_ (APA 11) when the ship was suddenly
ordered underway to avoid a perceived submarine threat. Hours passed
before the ship could return close enough to Betio to launch the
rubber boats and their LCVP tow craft. The light tanks were among the
few critical items not truly combat loaded in their transports, being
carried in the very bottom of the cargo holds. Indiscriminate unloading
during the first 30 hours of the landing had further scrambled supplies
and equipment in intervening decks. It took hours to get the tanks
clear and loaded on board lighters.

Shoup was bewildered by the long delays. At 1345 he sent Jones a
message: “Bring in flamethrowers if possible.... Doing our best.” At
1525 he queried division about the estimated landing time of LT 1/6. He
wanted Jones ashore and on the attack before dark.

Meanwhile, Shoup and his small staff were beset by logistic support
problems. Already there were teams organized to strip the dead of their
ammunition, canteens, and first aid pouches. Lieutenant Colonel Carlson
helped organize a “false beachhead” at the end of the pier. Most
progress came from the combined efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Chester
J. Salazar, commanding the shore party; Captain John B. McGovern, USN,
acting as primary control officer on board the minesweeper _Pursuit_
(AM 108); Major Ben K. Weatherwax, assistant division D-4; and Major
George L. H. Cooper, operations officer of 2d Battalion, 18th Marines.
Among them, these officers gradually brought some order out of chaos.
They assumed strict control of supplies unloaded and used the surviving
LVTs judiciously to keep the shuttle of casualties moving seaward
and critical items from the pierhead to the beach. All of this was
performed by sleepless men under constant fire.

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_This desperate scene hardly needs a caption. The Marine is badly hurt,
but he’s in good hands as his buddies lead him to safety and shelter
just ahead for treatment._]

Casualty handling was the most pressing logistic problem on D+1. The
2d Marine Division was heroically served at Tarawa by its organic Navy
doctors and hospital corpsmen. Nearly 90 of these medical specialists
were themselves casualties in the fighting ashore. Lieutenant Herman
R. Brukhardt, Medical Corps, USN, established an emergency room in a
freshly captured Japanese bunker (some of whose former occupants “came
to life” with blazing rifles more than once). In 36 hours, under brutal
conditions, Brukhardt treated 126 casualties; only four died.

At first, casualties were evacuated to troopships far out in the
transport area. The long journey was dangerous to the wounded troops
and wasteful of the few available LVTs or LCVPs. The Marines then
began delivering casualties to the destroyer _Ringgold_ in the lagoon,
even though her sickbay had been wrecked by a Japanese five-inch shell
on D-Day. The ship, still actively firing support missions, accepted
dozens of casualties and did her best. Admiral Hill then took the
risk of dispatching the troopship _Doyen_ (APA 1) into the lagoon
early on D+1 for service as primary receiving ship for critical cases.
Lieutenant Commander James Oliver, MC, USN, led a five-man surgical
team with recent combat experience in the Aleutians. In the next three
days Oliver’s team treated more than 550 severely wounded Marines.
“We ran out of sodium pentathol and had to use ether,” said Oliver,
“although a bomb hit would have blown _Doyen_ off the face of the
planet.”

Navy chaplains were also hard at work wherever Marines were fighting
ashore. Theirs was particularly heartbreaking work, consoling the
wounded, administering last rites to the dying, praying for the souls
of the dead before the bulldozer came to cover the bodies from the
unforgiving tropical sun.

[Illustration: _Some seriously wounded Marines were evacuated from the
beachhead by raft._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63926
]

The tide of battle began to shift perceptibly towards the Americans
by mid-afternoon on D+1. The fighting was still intense, the Japanese
fire still murderous, but the surviving Marines were on the move, no
longer gridlocked in precarious toeholds on the beach. Rixey’s pack
howitzers were adding a new definition for close fire support. The
supply of ammunition and fresh water was greatly improved. Morale was
up, too. The troops knew the 6th Marines was coming in soon. “I thought
up until 1300 today it was touch and go,” said Rixey, “then I knew we
would win.”

By contrast, a sense of despair seemed to spread among the defenders.
They had shot down the Marines at every turn, but with every fallen
Marine, another would appear, rifle blazing, well supported by
artillery and naval guns. The great _Yogaki_ plan seemed a bust. Only
a few aircraft attacked the island each night; the transports were
never seriously threatened. The Japanese fleet never materialized.
Increasingly, Japanese troops began committing suicide rather than risk
capture.

Shoup sensed this shift in momentum. Despite his frustration over the
day’s delays and miscommunications, he was buoyed enough to send a 1600
situation report to Julian Smith, which closed with these terse words
that became a classic: “Casualties: many. Percentage dead: unknown.
Combat efficiency: _We are winning_.”

At 1655, Murray’s 2/6 landed against light opposition on Bairiki.
During the night and early morning hours, Lieutenant Colonel George
Shell’s 2d Battalion, 10th Marines, landed on the same island and began
registering its howitzers. Rixey’s fire direction center on Betio
helped this process, while the artillery forward observer attached to
Crowe’s LT 2/8 on Red Beach One had the unusual experience of adjusting
the fire of the Bairiki guns “while looking into their muzzles.” The
Marines had practiced this earlier on New Zealand. Smith finally had
artillery in place on Bairiki.

Meanwhile, Major Jones and LT 1/6 were finally on the move. It had
been a day of many false starts. At one point, Jones and his men had
been debarking over the sides in preparation for an assault on the
eastern end of the Betio when “The Word” changed their mission to Green
Beach. When _Feland_ finally returned to within reasonable range from
the island, the Marines of LT 1/6 disembarked for real. Using tactics
developed with the Navy during the Efate rehearsal, the Marines loaded
on board LCVPs which towed their rubber rafts to the reef. There the
Marines embarked on board their rafts, six to 10 troops per craft, and
began the 1,000-yard paddle towards Green Beach.

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_Light tanks debark at the reef from LCMs launched by_ Harris _(APA 2)
and_ Virgo _(AKA 20) to begin the 1,000-yard trek towards Green Beach
the evening of D+1._]

Major Jones remarked that he did not feel like “The Admiral of the
Condom Fleet” as he helped paddle his raft shoreward. “Control was
nebulous at best ... the battalion was spread out over the ocean from
horizon to horizon. We must have had 150 boats.” Jones was alarmed at
the frequent appearance of antiboat mines moored to coralheads beneath
the surface. The rubber rafts passed over the mines without incident,
but Jones also had two LVTs accompanying his ship-to-shore movement,
each preloaded with ammo, rations, water, medical supplies, and spare
radio equipment. Guided by the rafts, one of the LVTs made it ashore,
but the second drifted into a mine which blew the heavy vehicle 10 feet
into the air, killing most of the crew and destroying the supplies.
It was a serious loss, but not critical. Well covered by Ryan’s men,
the landing force suffered no other casualties coming ashore. Jones’
battalion became the first to land on Betio essentially intact.

It was after dark by the time Jones’ troops assumed defensive positions
behind Ryan’s lines. The light tanks of Company B continued their
attempt to come ashore on Green Beach, but the high surf and great
distance between the reef and the beach greatly hindered landing
efforts. Eventually, a platoon of six tanks managed to reach the beach;
the remainder of the company moved its boats toward the pier and worked
all night to get ashore on Red Beach Two. McLeod’s LT 3/6 remained
afloat in LCVPs beyond the reef, facing an uncomfortable night.

That evening Shoup turned to Robert Sherrod and stated, “Well, I think
we’re winning, but the bastards have got a lot of bullets left. I think
we’ll clean up tomorrow.”

After dark, General Smith sent his chief of staff, “Red Mike” Edson,
ashore to take command of all forces on Betio and Bairiki. Shoup had
done a magnificent job, but it was time for the senior colonel to take
charge. There were now eight reinforced infantry battalions and two
artillery battalions deployed on the two islands. With LT 3/6 scheduled
to land early on D+2, virtually all the combat and combat support
elements of the 2d Marine Division would be deployed.

Edson reached Shoup’s CP by 2030 and found the barrel-chested warrior
still on his feet, grimy and haggard, but full of fight. Edson assumed
command, allowing Shoup to concentrate on his own reinforced combat
team, and began making plans for the morning.

Years later, General Julian Smith looked back on the pivotal day of 21
November 1943 at Betio and admitted, “we were losing until we won!”
Many things had gone wrong, and the Japanese had inflicted severe
casualties on the attackers, but, from this point on, the issue was no
longer in doubt at Tarawa.


[Sidebar (page 33): Colonel David M. Shoup, USMC

An excerpt from the field notebook David Shoup carried during the
battle of Tarawa reveals a few aspects of the personality of its
enigmatic author: “If you are qualified, fate has a way of getting you
to the right place at the right time--tho’ sometimes it appears to be
a long, long wait.” For Shoup, the former farm boy from Battle Ground,
Indiana, the combination of time and place worked to his benefit on
two momentous occasions, at Tarawa in 1943, and as President Dwight
D. Eisenhower’s deep selection to become 22d Commandant of the Marine
Corps in 1959.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 310552

_Col David M. Shoup, here as he appeared after the battle, was the
fourth and only living Marine awarded a Medal of Honor from the Tarawa
fighting._]

Colonel Shoup was 38 at the time of Tarawa, and he had been a Marine
officer since 1926. Unlike such colorful contemporaries as Merritt
Edson and Evans Carlson, Shoup had limited prior experience as a
commander and only brief exposure to combat. Then came Tarawa, where
Shoup, the junior colonel in the 2d Marine Division, commanded eight
battalion landing teams in some of the most savage fighting of the war.

_Time_ correspondent Robert Sherrod recorded his first impression of
Shoup enroute to Betio: “He was an interesting character, this Colonel
Shoup. A squat, red-faced man with a bull neck, a hard-boiled, profane
shouter of orders, he would carry the biggest burden on Tarawa.”
Another contemporary described Shoup as “a Marine’s Marine,” a leader
the troops “could go to the well with.” First Sergeant Edward G.
Doughman, who served with Shoup in China and in the Division Operations
section, described him as “the brainiest, nerviest, best soldiering
Marine I ever met.” It is no coincidence that Shoup also was considered
the most formidable poker player in the division, a man with eyes “like
two burn holes in a blanket.”

Part of Colonel Shoup’s Medal of Honor citation reflects his strength
of character:

  Upon arrival at the shore, he assumed command of all landed
  troops and, working without rest under constant withering enemy
  fire during the next two days, conducted smashing attacks against
  unbelievably strong and fanatically defended Japanese positions
  despite innumerable obstacles and heavy casualties.

Shoup was modest about his achievements. Another entry in his 1943
notebook contains this introspection, “I realize that I am but a bit of
chaff from the threshings of life blown into the pages of history by
the unknown winds of chance.”

David Shoup died on 13 January 1983 at age 78 and was buried in
Arlington National Cemetery. “In his private life,” noted the
_Washington Post_ obituary, “General Shoup was a poet.”
]



_The Third Day:_

_D+2 at Betio,_

_22 November 1943_


On D+2, _Chicago Daily News_ war correspondent Keith Wheeler released
this dispatch from Tarawa: “It looks as though the Marines are winning
on this blood-soaked, bomb-hammered, stinking little abattoir of an
island.”

Colonel Edson issued his attack orders at 0400. As recorded in the
division’s D-3 journal, Edson’s plan for D+2 was this: “1/6 attacks at
0800 to the east along south beach to establish contact with 1/2 and
2/2. 1/8 attached to 2dMar attacks at daylight to the west along north
beach to eliminate Jap pockets of resistance between Beaches Red 1 and
2. 8th Mar (-LT 1/8) continues attack to east.” Edson also arranged for
naval gunfire and air support to strike the eastern end of the island
at 20-minute interludes throughout the morning, beginning at 0700.
McLeod’s LT 3/6, still embarked at the line of departure, would land at
Shoup’s call on Green Beach.

The key to the entire plan was the eastward attack by the fresh troops
of Major Jones’ landing team, but Edson was unable for hours to raise
the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, on any radio net. The enterprising
Major Tompkins, assistant division operations officer, volunteered
to deliver the attack order personally to Major Jones. Tompkins’
hair-raising odyssey from Edson’s CP to Green Beach took nearly three
hours, during which time he was nearly shot on several occasions by
nervous Japanese and American sentries. By quirk, the radio nets
started working again just before Tompkins reached LT 1/6. Jones had
the good grace not to admit to Tompkins that he already had the attack
order when the exhausted messenger arrived.

[Illustration:

    INTELLIGENCE MAP BITITU (BETIO) ISLAND
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS
    SITUATION 1800 D+1

NOTE: LINES ARE GENERAL INDICATION ONLY. GAPS WERE COVERED BY SMALL
GROUPS AND BY FIRE. SECONDARY LINES WERE ESTABLISHED WHERE POSSIBLE
BEHIND FRONT LINES.

TAKEN FROM 20 MAR DIV SPECIAL ACTION REPORT]

On Red Beach Two, Major Hays launched his attack promptly at 0700,
attacking westward on a three-company front. Engineers with satchel
charges and Bangalore torpedoes helped neutralize several inland
Japanese positions, but the strongpoints along the re-entrant were
still as dangerous as hornets’ nests. Marine light tanks made brave
frontal attacks against the fortifications, even firing their 37mm
guns point-blank into the embrasures, but they were inadequate for the
task. One was lost to enemy fire, and the other two were withdrawn.
Hays called for a section of 75mm halftracks. One was lost almost
immediately, but the other used its heavier gun to considerable
advantage. The center and left flank companies managed to curve around
behind the main complexes, effectively cutting the Japanese off from
the rest of the island. Along the beach, however, progress was measured
in yards. The bright spot of the day for 1/8 came late in the afternoon
when a small party of Japanese tried a sortie from the strongpoints
against the Marine lines. Hays’ men, finally given real targets in the
open, cut down the attackers in short order.

On Green Beach, Major Jones made final preparations for the assault of
1/6 to the east. Although there were several light tanks available from
the platoon which came ashore the previous evening, Jones preferred the
insurance of medium tanks. Majors “Willie K.” Jones and “Mike” Ryan
were good friends; Jones prevailed on their friendship to “borrow”
Ryan’s two battle-scarred Shermans for the assault. Jones ordered the
tanks to range no further than 50 yards ahead of his lead company, and
he personally maintained radio contact with the tank commander. Jones
also assigned a platoon of water-cooled .30-caliber machine guns to
each rifle company and attached his combat engineers with their flame
throwers and demolition squads to the lead company. The nature of the
terrain and the necessity for giving Hays’ battalion wide berth made
Jones constrain his attack to a platoon front in a zone of action only
100 yards wide. “It was the most unusual tactics that I ever heard of,”
recalled Jones. “As I moved to the east on one side of the airfield,
Larry Hays moved to the west, exactly opposite.... I was attacking
towards Wood Kyle who had 1st Battalion, 2d Marines.”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63505

_CP scene, Betio, D+2: Col Shoup, center, with map case, confers
with Maj Thomas Culhane, 2d Marines R-3, while Col Merritt A. Edson,
Division chief of staff, stands in left background (hands on hips).
Col Evans Carlson, an observer from the 4th Marine Division used as
high-priced courier by Shoup, rests in the foreground._]

Jones’ plan was sound and well executed. The advantage of having
in place a fresh tactical unit with integrated supporting arms was
immediately obvious. Landing Team 1/6 made rapid progress along the
south coast, killing about 250 Japanese defenders and reaching the thin
lines held by 2/2 and 1/2 within three hours. American casualties to
this point were light.

At 1100, Shoup called Jones to his CP to receive the afternoon plan of
action. Jones’ executive officer, Major Francis X. Beamer, took the
occasion to replace the lead rifle company. Resistance was stiffening,
the company commander had just been shot by a sniper, and the
oppressive heat was beginning to take a toll. Beamer made superhuman
efforts to get more water and salt tablets for his men, but several
troops had already become victims of heat prostration. According to
First Sergeant Lewis J. Michelony, Tarawa’s sands were “as white as
snow and as hot as red-white ashes from a heated furnace.”

Back on Green Beach, now 800 yards behind LT 1/6, McLeod’s LT 3/6 began
streaming ashore. The landing was uncontested but nevertheless took
several hours to execute. It was not until 1100, the same time that
Jones’ leading elements linked up with the 2d Marines, before 3/6 was
fully established ashore.

[Illustration: _“March Macabre,” a sketch by combat artist Kerr Eby,
reflects the familiar scene of wounded or lifeless Marines being pulled
to shelter under fire by their buddies._

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

The attack order for the 8th Marines was the same as the previous
day: assault the strongpoints to the east. The obstacles were just
as daunting on D+2. Three fortifications were especially formidable:
a steel pillbox near the contested Burns-Philp pier; a coconut log
emplacement with multiple machine guns; and a large bombproof shelter
further inland. All three had been designed by Admiral Saichiro, the
master engineer, to be mutually supported by fire and observation. And
notwithstanding Major Crowe’s fighting spirit, these strongpoints had
effectively contained the combined forces of 2/8 and 3/8 since the
morning of D-Day.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_Col William K. Jones, USMC, a major during the battle of Tarawa,
commanded Landing Team 1/6, the first major unit to land intact on
Betio. The advance of 1/6 eastward on D+2 helped break the back
of Japanese resistance, as did the unit’s repulse of the Japanese
counterattack that night. Jones’ sustained combat leadership on Betio
resulted in a battlefield promotion to lieutenant colonel._]

On the third day, Crowe reorganized his tired forces for yet another
assault. First, the former marksmanship instructor obtained cans of
lubricating oil and made his troops field strip and clean their Garands
before the attack. Crowe placed his battalion executive officer, Major
William C. Chamberlin, in the center of the three attacking companies.
Chamberlin, a former college economics professor, was no less dynamic
than his red-mustached commander. Though nursing a painful wound in his
shoulder from D-Day, Chamberlin was a driving force in the repetitive
assaults against the three strongpoints. Staff Sergeant Hatch recalled
that the executive officer was “a wild man, a guy anybody would be
willing to follow.”

At 0930, a mortar crew under Chamberlin’s direction got a direct hit
on the top of the coconut log emplacement which penetrated the bunker
and detonated the ammunition stocks. It was a stroke of immense good
fortune for the Marines. At the same time, the medium tank “Colorado”
maneuvered close enough to the steel pillbox to penetrate it with
direct 75 mm fire. Suddenly, two of the three emplacements were overrun.

[Illustration: _Against the still potent and heavily defended,
entrenched Japanese positions the 6th Marines advanced eastward on D+2._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

The massive bombproof shelter, however, was still lethal. Improvised
flanking attacks were shot to pieces before they could gather momentum.
The only solution was to somehow gain the top of the sand-covered mound
and drop explosives or thermite grenades down the air vents to force
the defenders outside. This tough assignment went to Major Chamberlin
and a squad of combat engineers under First Lieutenant Alexander
Bonnyman. While riflemen and machine gunners opened a rain of fire
against the strongpoint’s firing ports, this small band raced across
the sands and up the steep slope. The Japanese knew they were in grave
danger. Scores of them poured out of a rear entrance to attack the
Marines on top. Bonnyman stepped forward, emptied his flamethrower into
the onrushing Japanese, then charged them with a carbine. He was shot
dead, his body rolling down the slope, but his men were inspired to
overcome the Japanese counterattack. The surviving engineers rushed to
place explosives against the rear entrances. Suddenly, several hundred
demoralized Japanese broke out of the shelter in panic, trying to flee
eastward. The Marines shot them down by the dozens, and the tank crew
fired a single “dream shot” canister round which dispatched at least 20
more.

[Illustration:

    BETIO
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS
    ATTACK OF THE 1ST BN. 6th MARINES (LT 1/6)
    NOV. 22 1943
]

Lieutenant Bonnyman’s gallantry resulted in a posthumous Medal of
Honor, the third to be awarded to Marines on Betio. His sacrifice
almost single-handedly ended the stalemate on Red Beach Three. Nor is
it coincidence that two of these highest awards were received by combat
engineers. The performances of Staff Sergeant Bordelon on D-Day and
Lieutenant Bonnyman on D+2 were representative of hundreds of other
engineers on only a slightly less spectacular basis. As an example,
nearly a third of the engineers who landed in support of LT 2/8 became
casualties. According to Second Lieutenant Beryl W. Rentel, the
survivors used “eight cases of TNT, eight cases of gelatin dynamite,
and two 54-pound blocks of TNT” to demolish Japanese fortifications.
Rentel reported that his engineers used both large blocks of TNT and an
entire case of dynamite on the large bombproof shelter alone.

[Illustration: _The 8th Marines makes its final assault on the large
Japanese bombproof shelter near the Burns-Philp pier. These scenes were
vividly recorded on 35mm motion picture film by Marine SSgt Norman
Hatch, whose subsequent eyewitness documentary of the Tarawa fighting
won a Motion Picture Academy Award in 1944._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63930
]

At some point during the confused, violent fighting in the 8th
Marines’ zone--and unknown to the Marines--Admiral Shibasaki died
in his blockhouse. The tenacious Japanese commander’s failure to
provide backup communications to the above-ground wires destroyed
during D-Day’s preliminary bombardment had effectively kept him from
influencing the battle. Japanese archives indicate Shibasaki was able
to transmit one final message to General Headquarters in Tokyo early
on D+2: “Our weapons have been destroyed and from now on everyone is
attempting a final charge.... May Japan exist for 10,000 years!”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 310213

_1stLt Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., USMC, was awarded the Medal of Honor
posthumously for extreme bravery during the assault on the Japanese
bombproof shelter on D+2. Two of the four Marines awarded the Medal of
Honor for Tarawa were combat engineers: Lt Bonnyman and SSgt Bordelon._]

Admiral Shibasaki’s counterpart, General Julian Smith, landed on Green
Beach shortly before noon. Smith observed the deployment of McLeod’s LT
3/6 inland and conferred with Major Ryan. But Smith soon realized he
was far removed from the main action towards the center of the island.
He led his group back across the reef to its landing craft and ordered
the coxswain to make for the pier. At this point the commanding general
received a rude introduction to the facts of life on Betio. Although
the Japanese strongpoints at the re-entrant were being hotly besieged
by Hays’ 1/8, the defenders still held mastery over the approaches to
Red Beaches One and Two. Well-aimed machine gun fire disabled the boat
and killed the coxswain; the other occupants had to leap over the far
gunwale into the water. Major Tompkins, ever the right man in the right
place, then waded through intermittent fire for half a mile to find an
LVT for the general. Even this was not an altogether safe exchange. The
LVT drew further fire, which wounded the driver and further alarmed the
occupants. General Smith did not reach Edson and Shoup’s combined CP
until nearly 1400.

“Red Mike” Edson in the meantime had assembled his major subordinate
commanders and issued orders for continuing the attack to the east that
afternoon. Major Jones’ 1/6 would continue along the narrowing south
coast, supported by the pack howitzers of 1/10 and all available tanks.
Colonel Hall’s two battalions of the 8th Marines would continue their
advance along the north coast. Jump-off time was 1330. Naval gunfire
and air support would blast the areas for an hour in advance.

Colonel Hall spoke up on behalf of his exhausted, decimated landing
teams, ashore and in direct contact since D-Day morning. The two
landing teams had enough strength for one more assault, he told
Edson, but then they must get relief. Edson promised to exchange the
remnants of 2/8 and 3/8 with Murray’s fresh 2/6 on Bairiki at the first
opportunity after the assault.

Jones returned to his troops in his borrowed tank and issued the
necessary orders. Landing Team 1/6 continued the attack at 1330,
passing through Kyle’s lines in the process. Immediately it ran into
heavy opposition. The deadliest fire came from heavy weapons mounted in
a turret-type emplacement near the south beach. This took 90 minutes to
overcome. The light tanks were brave but ineffective. Neutralization
took sustained 75mm fire from one of the Sherman medium tanks.
Resistance was fierce throughout Jones’ zone, and his casualties began
to mount. The team had conquered 800 yards of enemy territory fairly
easily in the morning, but could attain barely half that distance in
the long afternoon.

The 8th Marines, having finally destroyed the three-bunker nemesis,
made good progress at first, but then ran out of steam past the
eastern end of the airfield. Shoup had been right the night before.
The Japanese defenders may have been leaderless, but they still had an
abundance of bullets and esprit left. Major Crowe pulled his leading
elements back into defensive positions for the night. Jones halted,
too, and placed one company north of the airfield for a direct link
with Crowe. The end of the airstrip was unmanned but covered by fire.

On nearby Bairiki, all of 2/10 was now in position and firing artillery
missions in support of Crowe and Jones. Company B of the 2d Medical
Battalion established a field hospital to handle the overflow of
casualties from _Doyen_. Murray’s 2/6, eager to enter the fray, waited
in vain for boats to arrive to move them to Green Beach. Very few
landing craft were available; many were crammed with miscellaneous
supplies as the transports and cargo ships continued general unloading,
regardless of the needs of the troops ashore. On Betio, Navy Seabees
were already at work repairing the airstrip with bulldozers and graders
despite enemy fire. From time to time, the Marines would call for help
in sealing a bothersome bunker, and a bulldozer would arrive to do
the job nicely. Navy beachmasters and shore party Marines on the pier
continued to keep the supplies coming in, the wounded going out. At
1550, Edson requested a working party “to clear bodies around pier ...
hindering shore party operations.” Late in the day the first jeep got
ashore, a wild ride along the pier with every remaining Japanese sniper
trying to take out the driver. Sherrod commented, “If a sign of certain
victory were needed, this is it. The jeeps have arrived.”

The strain of the prolonged battle began to take effect. Colonel Hall
reported that one of his Navajo Indian code-talkers had been mistaken
for a Japanese and shot. A derelict, blackened LVT drifted ashore,
filled with dead Marines. At the bottom of the pile was one who was
still breathing, somehow, after two and a half days of unrelenting
hell. “Water,” he gasped, “Pour some water on my face, will you?”

[Illustration:

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_South side of RAdm Shibasaki’s headquarters on Betio is guarded by a
now-destroyed Japanese light tank. The imposing blockhouse withstood
direct hits by Navy 16-inch shells and 500-pound bombs. Fifty years
later; the building stands._]

Smith, Edson, and Shoup were near exhaustion themselves. Relatively
speaking, the third day on Betio had been one of spectacular gains, but
progress overall was maddeningly slow, nor was the end yet in sight. At
1600, General Smith sent this pessimistic report to General Hermle, who
had taken his place on the flagship:

  Situation not favorable for rapid clean-up of Betio. Heavy
  casualties among officers make leadership problems difficult. Still
  strong resistance.... Many emplacements intact on eastern end of
  the island.... In addition, many Japanese strongpoints to westward
  of our front lines within our position that have not been reduced.
  Progress slow and extremely costly. Complete occupation will take
  at least 5 days more. Naval and air bombardment a great help but
  does not take out emplacements.

General Smith assumed command of operations ashore at 1930. By that
time he had about 7,000 Marines ashore, struggling against perhaps
1,000 Japanese defenders. Updated aerial photographs revealed many
defensive positions still intact throughout much of Betio’s eastern
tail. Smith and Edson believed they would need the entire 6th Marines
to complete the job. When Colonel Holmes landed with the 6th Marines
headquarters group, Smith told him to take command of his three landing
teams by 2100. Smith then called a meeting of his commanders to assign
orders for D+3.

Smith directed Holmes to have McLeod’s 3/6 pass through the lines
of Jones’ 1/6 in order to have a fresh battalion lead the assault
eastward. Murray’s 2/6 would land on Green Beach and proceed east in
support of McLeod. All available tanks would be assigned to McLeod
(when Major Jones protested that he had promised to return the two
Shermans loaned by Major Ryan, Shoup told him “with crisp expletives”
what he could do with his promise). Shoup’s 2d Marines, with 1/8 still
attached, would continue to reduce the re-entrant strongpoints. The
balance of the 8th Marines would be shuttled to Bairiki. And the 4th
Battalion, 10th Marines would land its “heavy” 105mm guns on Green
Beach to augment the fires of the two pack howitzer battalions already
in action. Many of these plans were overcome by events of the evening.

The major catalyst that altered Smith’s plans was a series of vicious
Japanese counterattacks during the night of D+2/D+3. As Edson put it,
the Japanese obligingly “gave us very able assistance by trying to
counterattack.” The end result was a dramatic change in the combat
ratio between attackers and survivors the next day.

Major Jones sensed his exposed forces would be the likely target for
any _Banzai_ attack and took precautions. Gathering his artillery
forward observers and naval fire control spotters, Jones arranged for
field artillery support starting 75 yards from his front lines to a
point 500 yards out, where naval gunfire would take over. He placed
Company A on the left, next to the airstrip, and Company B on the
right, next to the south shore. He worried about the 150-yard gap
across the runway to Company C, but that could not be helped. Jones
used a tank to bring a stockpile of grenades, small arms ammunition,
and water to be positioned 50 yards behind the lines.

[Illustration:

    BETIO
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS
    ATTACH OF THE 2d BN., 8th MARINES
    NOV. 22, 1943

    TAKEN FROM 2d BN 8th MARINES
    SPECIAL ACTION REPORT.
]

The first counterattack came at 1930. A force of 50 Japanese
infiltrated past Jones’ outposts in the thick vegetation and
penetrated the border between the two companies south of the
airstrip. Jones’ reserve force, comprised of “my mortar platoon and
my headquarters cooks and bakers and admin people,” contained the
penetration and killed the enemy in two hours of close-in fighting
under the leadership of First Lieutenant Lyle “Spook” Specht. An
intense fire from the pack howitzers of 1/10 and 2/10 prevented the
Japanese from reinforcing the penetration. By 2130 the lines were
stabilized. Jones asked Major Kyle for a company to be positioned 100
yards to the rear of his lines. The best Kyle could provide was a
composite force of 40 troops from the 2d Marines.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63640

_Destruction along the eastern end of Red Beach Three leads toward
the long pier in the distant background. Japanese gunners maintained
a deadly antiboat fire in this direction, as witnessed by these two
wrecked LVTs and the various sunken craft._]

The Japanese struck Jones’ lines again at 2300. One force made a
noisy demonstration across from Company A’s lines--taunting, clinking
canteens against their helmets, yelling _Banzai!_--while a second
force attacked Company B with a silent rush. The Marines repulsed
this attack, too, but were forced to use their machine guns, thereby
revealing their positions. Jones asked McLeod for a full company from
3/6 to reinforce the 2d Marines to the rear of the fighting.

A third attack came at 0300 in the morning when the Japanese moved
several 7.7mm machine guns into nearby wrecked trucks and opened fire
on the Marine automatic weapons positions. Marine NCOs volunteered to
crawl forward against this oncoming fire and lob grenades into the
improvised machine gun nests. This did the job, and the battlefield
grew silent again. Jones called for star shell illumination from the
destroyers in the lagoon.

At 0400, a force of some 300 Japanese launched a frenzied attack
against the same two companies. The Marines met them with every
available weapon. Artillery fire from 10th Marines howitzers on
Red Beach Two and Bairiki Island rained a murderous crossfire. Two
destroyers in the lagoon, _Schroeder_ (DD 301) and _Sigsbee_ (DD 502),
opened up on the flanks. The wave of screaming attackers took hideous
casualties but kept coming. Pockets of men locked together in bloody
hand-to-hand fighting. Private Jack Stambaugh of B Company killed three
screaming Japanese with his bayonet; an officer impaled him with his
samurai sword; another Marine brained the officer with a rifle butt.
First Lieutenant Norman K. Thomas, acting commander of Company B,
reached Major Jones on the field phone, exclaiming “We’re killing them
as fast as they come at us, but we can’t hold out much longer; we need
reinforcements!” Jones’ reply was tough, “We haven’t got them; you’ve
_got_ to hold!”

[Illustration: _Marines use newly arrived jeeps to carry machine gun
ammunition, demolitions, and other ordnance forward from the beach to
troops fighting in the front lines._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

Jones’ Marines lost 40 dead and 100 wounded in the wild fighting,
but hold they did. In an hour it was all over. The supporting arms
never stopped shooting down the Japanese, attacking or retreating.
Both destroyers emptied their magazines of 5-inch shells. The 1st
Battalion, 10th Marines fired 1,300 rounds that long night, many shells
being unloaded over the pier while the fire missions were underway. At
first light, the Marines counted 200 dead Japanese within 50 yards of
their lines, plus an additional 125 bodies beyond that range, badly
mangled by artillery or naval gunfire. Other bodies lay scattered
throughout the Marine lines. Major Jones had to blink back tears of
pride and grief as he walked his lines that dawn. Several of his
Marines grabbed his arm and muttered, “They told us we had to hold, and
by God, we held.”

[Illustration:

    INTELLIGENCE MAP BITITU (BETIO) ISLAND
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS
    SITUATION 1800 D+2

NOTE: LINES ARE GENERAL INDICATION ONLY. GAPS WERE COVERED BY SMALL
      GROUPS AND BY FIRE. SECONDARY LINES WERE ESTABLISHED WHERE
      POSSIBLE BEHIND FRONT LINES.

    TAKEN FROM 2D MAR DIV
    SPECIAL ACTION REPORT
]



_Completing the Task:_

_23-28 November 1943_


“This was not only worse than Guadalcanal,” admitted Lieutenant Colonel
Carlson, “It was the damnedest fight I’ve seen in 30 years of this
business.”

The costly counterattacks during the night of 22-23 November
effectively broke the back of the Japanese defense. Had they remained
in their bunkers until the bitter end, the defenders probably would
have exacted a higher toll in American lives. Facing inevitable defeat
in detail, however, nearly 600 Japanese chose to die by taking the
offensive during the night action.

The 2d Marine Division still had five more hours of hard fighting on
Betio the morning of D+3 before the island could be conquered. Late
in the morning, General Smith sent this report to Admiral Hill on
_Maryland_:

  Decisive defeat of enemy counterattack last night destroyed bulk of
  hostile resistance. Expect complete annihilation of enemy on Betio
  this date. Strongly recommend that you and your chief of staff
  come ashore this date to get information about the type of hostile
  resistance which will be encountered in future operations.

Meanwhile, following a systematic preliminary bombardment, the fresh
troops of McLeod’s LT 3/6 passed through Jones’ lines and commenced
their attack to the east. By now, Marine assault tactics were well
refined. Led by tanks and combat engineers with flamethrowers and
high explosives, the troops of 3/6 made rapid progress. Only one
bunker, a well-armed complex along the north shore, provided effective
opposition. McLeod took advantage of the heavy brush along the south
shore to bypass the obstacle, leaving one rifle company to encircle
and eventually overrun it. Momentum was maintained; the remaining
Japanese seemed dispirited. By 1300, McLeod reached the eastern tip of
Betio, having inflicted more than 450 Japanese casualties at the loss
of 34 of his Marines. McLeod’s report summarized the general collapse
of the Japanese defensive system in the eastern zone following the
counterattacks: “At no time was there any determined defensive....
We used flamethrowers and could have used more. Medium tanks were
excellent. My light tanks didn’t fire a shot.”

[Illustration:

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection

_“Tarawa No. II,” a sketch by combat artist Kerr Eby, reflects the
difficulty in landing reinforcements over the long pier throughout the
battle. As Gen Julian Smith personally learned, landing across Green
Beach took longer but was much safer._]

[Illustration: _Marines fire a M-1919A4 machine gun from an improvised
“shelter” in the battlefield._

    Department of Defense Photo 63495
]

The toughest fight of the fourth day occurred on the Red Beach One/Two
border where Colonel Shoup directed the combined forces of Hays’ 1/8
and Schoettel’s 3/2 against the “re-entrant” strongpoints. The Japanese
defenders in these positions were clearly the most disciplined--and the
deadliest--on the island. From these bunkers, Japanese antiboat gunners
had thoroughly disrupted the landings of four different battalions, and
they had very nearly killed General Smith the day before. The seaward
approaches to these strongpoints were littered with wrecked LVTs and
bloated bodies.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63455

_A Marine throws a hand grenade during the battle for the interior of
the island._]

Major Hays finally got some flamethrowers (from Crowe’s engineers
when LT 2/8 was ordered to stand down), and the attack of 1/8 from
the east made steady, if painstaking, progress. Major Schoettel,
anxious to atone for what some perceived to be a lackluster effort on
D-Day, pressed the assault of 3/2 from the west and south. To complete
the circle, Shoup ordered a platoon of infantry and a pair of 75mm
halftracks out to the reef to keep the defenders pinned down from the
lagoon. Some of the Japanese committed _hara-kiri_; the remainder,
exhausted, fought to the end. Hays’ Marines had been attacking this
complex ever since their bloody landing on the morning of D+1. In those
48 hours, 1/8 fired 54,450 rounds of .30-caliber rifle ammunition. But
the real damage was done by the special weapons of the engineers and
the direct fire of the halftracks. Capture of the largest position,
a concrete pillbox near the beach, enabled easier approaches to the
remaining bunkers. By 1300, it was all over.

At high noon, while the fighting in both sectors was still underway,
a Navy fighter plane landed on Betio’s airstrip, weaving around the
Seabee trucks and graders. Nearby Marines swarmed over the plane to
shake the pilot’s hand. A PB2Y also landed to take out press reports
and the haggard observers, including Evans Carlson and Walter Jordan.

[Illustration:

    BETIO
    TARAWA ATOLL, GILBERT ISLANDS
    ATTACK OF 1st BN, 8th MARINES and
    3d BN, 2d MARINES
    MORNING OF NOV. 23, 1943

    TAKEN FROM 2D MAR DIV
    SPECIAL ACTION REPORT
]

Admiral Hill and his staff came ashore at 1245. The naval officers
marveled at the great strength of the Japanese bunker system, realizing
immediately the need to reconsider their preliminary bombardment
policies. Admiral Hill called Betio “a little Gibraltar,” and observed
that “only the Marines could have made such a landing.”

When Smith received the nearly simultaneous reports from Colonels
Shoup and Holmes that both final objectives had been seized, he was
able to share the good news with Hill. The two had worked together
harmoniously to achieve this victory. Between them, they drafted a
message to Admiral Turner and General Holland Smith announcing the end
of organized resistance on Betio. It was 1305, about 76 hours after PFC
Moore first rammed LVT 4-9 (“My Deloris”) onto the seawall on Red Beach
One to begin the direct assault.

The stench of death and decay was overwhelming. “Betio would be more
habitable,” reported Robert Sherrod, “if the Marines could leave for
a few days and send a million buzzards in.” Working parties sought
doggedly to identify the dead; often the bodies were so badly shattered
or burned as to eliminate distinction between friend and foe. Chaplains
worked alongside burial teams equipped with bulldozers. General
Smith’s administrative staff worked hard to prepare accurate casualty
lists. More casualties were expected in the mop-up operations in the
surrounding islands and Apamama. Particularly distressing was the
report that nearly 100 enlisted Marines were missing and presumed dead.
The changing tides had swept many bodies of the assault troops out to
sea. The first pilot ashore reported seeing scores of floating corpses,
miles away, over the horizon.

The Japanese garrison was nearly annihilated in the fighting. The
Marines, supported by naval gunfire, carrier aviation, and Army Air
Force units, killed 97 percent of the 4,836 troops estimated to be on
Betio during the assault. Only 146 prisoners were taken, all but 17 of
them Korean laborers. The Marines captured only one Japanese officer,
30-year-old Kiyoshi Ota from Nagasaki, a Special Duty Ensign in the
_7th Sasebo Special Landing Force_. Ensign Ota told his captors the
garrison expected the landings along the south and southwest sectors
instead of the northern beaches. He also thought the reef would protect
the defenders throughout periods of low tide.

Shortly before General Julian Smith’s announcement of victory at Betio,
his Army counterpart, General Ralph Smith, signalled “Makin taken!” In
three days of sharp fighting on Butaritari Island, the Army wiped out
the Japanese garrison at the cost of 200 American casualties. Bad blood
developed between “Howling Mad” Smith and Ralph Smith over the conduct
of this operation which would have unfortunate consequences in a later
amphibious campaign.

The grimy Marines on Betio took a deep breath and sank to the ground.
Many had been awake since the night before the landing. As Captain
Carl Hoffman recalled, “There was just no way to rest; there was
virtually no way to eat. Mostly it was close, hand-to-hand fighting and
survival for three and a half days. It seemed like the longest period
of my life.” Lieutenant Lillibridge had no nourishment at all until
the afternoon of D+3. “One of my men mixed up a canteen cup full of
hot water, chocolate, coffee, and sugar, and gave it to me, saying he
thought I needed something. It was the best meal I ever had.”

The Marines stared numbly at the desolation that surrounded them.
Lieutenant Colonel Russell Lloyd, executive officer of the 6th Marines,
took a minute to scratch out a hasty note to his wife, saying “I’m on
Tarawa in the midst of the worst destruction I’ve ever seen.” Chaplain
Willard walked along Red Beach One, finally clear of enemy pillboxes.
“Along the shore,” he wrote, “I counted the bodies of 76 Marines
staring up at me, half in, half out of the water.” Robert Sherrod also
took the opportunity to walk about the island. “What I saw on Betio
was, I am certain, one of the greatest works of devastation wrought by
man.” Sherrod whistled at the proliferation of heavy machine guns and
77mm antiboat guns along the northwest shore. As he described one scene:

  Amtrack Number 4-8 is jammed against the seawall barricade. Three
  waterlogged Marines lie beneath it. Four others are scattered
  nearby, and there is one hanging on a two-foot-high strand of
  barbed wire who does not touch the coral flat at all. Back of the
  77mm gun are many hundreds of rounds of 77mm ammunition.

Other Japanese forces in the Gilberts exacted a high toll among the
invasion force. Six Japanese submarines reached the area during D+2.
One of these, the _I-175_, torpedoed the escort carrier _Liscome
Bay_ just before sunrise on 24 November off Makin. The explosion was
terrific--Admiral Hill saw the flash at Tarawa, 93 miles away--and the
ship sank quickly, taking 644 souls to the bottom.

The Marines on Betio conducted a joint flag-raising ceremony later that
same morning. Two of the few surviving palm trees were selected as
poles, but the Marines were hard put to find a British flag. Finally,
Major Holland, the New Zealand officer who had proved so prophetic
about the tides at Tarawa, produced a Union Jack. A field musician
played the appropriate bugle calls; Marines all over the small island
stood and saluted. Each could reckon the cost.

At this time came the good news from Captain James Jones (brother
to Major “Willie K.” Jones) at Apamama. Jones’ V Amphibious Corps
Reconnaissance Company had landed by rubber rafts from the transport
submarine _Nautilus_ during the night of 20-21 November. The small
Japanese garrison at first kept the scouts at bay. The _Nautilus_ then
surfaced and bombarded the Japanese positions with deck guns. This
killed some of the defenders; the remainder committed _hara-kiri_. The
island was deemed secure by the 24th. General Julian Smith sent General
Hermle and McLeod’s LT 3/6 to take command of Apamama until base
defense forces could arrive.

[Illustration: _One of the few Japanese prisoners taken on Betio, this
man was captured late in the battle._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

General Smith kept his promise to his assault troops at Tarawa.
Amphibious transports entered the lagoon on 24 November and backloaded
Combat Teams 2 and 8. To Lieutenant Lillibridge, going back on board
ship after Betio was like going to heaven. “The Navy personnel were
unbelievably generous and kind ... we were treated to a full-scale
turkey dinner.... The Navy officers helped serve the food.” But
Lillibridge, like many other surviving troop leaders, suffered from
post-combat trauma. The lieutenant had lost over half the members of
his platoon, and he was consumed with guilt.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Personal Papers, LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection

_Navy Seabees managed to get their first bulldozer ashore on D-Day.
With it, and the ones that followed, the Seabees built artillery
revetments, smothered enemy positions, dug mass graves, and rebuilt the
damaged runway--all while under fire._]

With the 2d Marines and 8th Marines off to Hawaii, McLeod’s 3/6 enroute
to Apamama, and Murray’s 2/6 beginning its long trek through the other
islands of the Tarawa Atoll, Major Jones’ 1/6 became the last infantry
unit on Betio. Its work was tedious: burying the dead, flushing out
die-hard snipers, hosting visiting dignitaries.

The first of these was Major General Holland Smith. The V Amphibious
Corps Commander flew to Betio on 24 November and spent an emotional
afternoon viewing the carnage with Julian Smith. “Howling Mad” Smith
was shaken by the experience. In his words: “The sight of our dead
floating in the waters of the lagoon and lying along the blood-soaked
beaches is one I will never forget. Over the pitted, blasted island
hung a miasma of coral dust and death, nauseating and horrifying.”

Major Jones recalled that Holland Smith had tears in his eyes as he
walked through the ruins. Robert Sherrod also accompanied the generals.
They came upon one sight that moved all of them to tears. It was a dead
Marine, leaning forward against the seawall, “one arm still supported
upright by the weight of his body. On top of the seawall, just beyond
his upraised hand, lies a blue and white flag, a beach marker to tell
succeeding waves where to land.” Holland Smith cleared his throat and
said, “How can men like that ever be defeated?”

Company D, 2d Tank Battalion, was designated as the scout company for
the 2d Marine Division for the Tarawa operation. Small elements of
these scouts landed on Eita and Buota Islands while the fighting on
Betio still raged, discovering and shadowing a sizeable Japanese force.
On 23 November, Lieutenant Colonel Manley Curry’s 3d Battalion, 10th
Marines, landed on Eita. The battalion’s pack howitzers were initially
intended to augment fires on Betio; when that island finally fell,
the artillerymen turned their guns to support the 2d Battalion, 6th
Marines, in clearing the rest of the islands in the atoll.

[Illustration: _“Ebb Tide--Tarawa,” a sketch by Kerr Eby, evokes the
tragic view of the beachhead._

    U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

Lieutenant Colonel Murray’s LT 2/6 boarded boats from Betio at 0500 on
24 November and landed on Buota. Murray set a fierce pace, the Marines
frequently wading across the sandspits that joined the succeeding
islands. Soon he was out of range of Curry’s guns on Eita. Curry
detached Battery G to follow Murray in trace. The Marines learned from
friendly natives that a Japanese force of about 175 naval infantry was
ahead on the larger island of Buariki, near the northwest point of the
atoll. Murray’s lead elements caught up with the enemy at dusk on 26
November. There was a sharp exchange of fire in very thick vegetation
before both sides broke contact. Murray positioned his forces for an
all-out assault in the morning.

The battle of Buariki on 27 November was the last engagement in the
Gilberts, and it was just as deadly as each preceding encounter with
the _Special Naval Landing Forces_. Murray attacked the Japanese
defensive positions at first light, getting one salvo of supporting
fire from Battery G before the lines became too intermingled in the
extended melee. Here the fighting was similar to Guadalcanal: much
hand-to-hand brawling in tangled underbrush. The Japanese had no
elaborate defenses as on Betio, but the Imperial sea soldiers took
advantage of cover and concealment, made every shot count, and fought
to the last man. All 175 were slain. Murray’s victory was dearly
bought: 32 officers and men killed, 59 others wounded. The following
day, the Marines crossed to the last remaining islet. There were no
more Japanese to be found. On 28 November, Julian Smith announced
“remaining enemy forces on Tarawa wiped out.”

Admirals Nimitz and Spruance came to Betio just before Julian Smith’s
announcement. Nimitz quickly saw that the basic Japanese defenses were
still intact. He directed his staff to diagnose the exact construction
methods used; within a month an identical set of bunkers and pillboxes
was being built on the naval bombardment island of Kahoolawe in the
Hawaiian Islands.

Admiral Nimitz paused to present the first of many combat awards to
Marines of the 2d Marine Division. In time, other recognition followed.
The entire division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Colonel
David Monroe Shoup received the Medal of Honor. Major “Jim” Crowe and
his executive officer, Major Bill Chamberlin, received the Navy Cross.
So did Lieutenant Colonel Herb Amey (posthumously), Major Mike Ryan,
and Corporal John Spillane, the LVT crewchief and prospective baseball
star who caught the Japanese hand grenades in mid-air on D-Day before
his luck ran out.

[Illustration: _MajGen Julian C. Smith, wearing helmet liner at center,
describes the nature of the recently completed conquest of Betio to Adm
Chester Nimitz, facing camera, and Army LtGen Robert Richardson during
their visit to the island on 27 November 1943. An exhausted Col Edson
looks on at right. While they talked, the smell of death pervaded over
the island._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 65437
]

Some of the senior officers in the division were jealous of Shoup’s
Medal of Honor, but Julian Smith knew full well whose strong shoulders
had borne the critical first 36 hours of the assault. Shoup was
philosophical. As he recorded in his combat notebook, “With God and
the U.S. Navy in direct support of the 2d MarDiv there was never any
doubt that we would get Betio. For several hours, however, there was
considerable haggling over the exact price we were to pay for it.”


[Sidebar (page 46): Incident on D+3

A small incident on the last day of the fighting on Betio cost First
Sergeant Lewis J. Michelony, Jr. his sense of smell. Michelony, a
member of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, was a former boxing champion
of the Atlantic Fleet and a combat veteran of Guadalcanal. Later in the
Pacific War he would receive two Silver Star Medals for conspicuous
bravery. On D+3 at Tarawa, however, he very nearly lost his life.

First Sergeant Michelony accompanied two other Marines on a routine
reconnaissance of an area east of Green Beach, looking for likely
positions to assign the battalion mortar platoon. The area had been
“cleared” by the infantry companies of the battalion the previous
morning. Other Marines had passed through the complex of seemingly
empty Japanese bunkers without incident. The clearing was littered with
Japanese bodies and abandoned enemy equipment. The three Marines threw
grenades into the first bunker they encountered without response. All
was quiet.

“Suddenly, out of nowhere, all hell broke loose,” recalled Michelony.
“The front bunker opened fire with a machine gun, grenades hailed in
from nowhere.” One Marine died instantly; the second escaped, leaving
Michelony face down in the sand. In desperation, the first sergeant
dove into the nearest bunker, tumbling through a rear entrance to land
in what he thought was a pool of water. In the bunker’s dim light,
he discovered it was a combination of water, urine, blood, and other
material, “some of it from the bodies of the dead Japanese and some
from the live ones.” As he spat out the foul liquid from his mouth,
Michelony realized there were live Japanese in among the dead, decaying
ones. The smell, taste, and fear he experienced inside the bunker
were almost overpowering. “Somehow I managed to get out. To this day,
I don’t know how. I crawled out of this cesspool dripping wet.” The
scorching sun dried his utilities as though they had been heavily
starched; they still stank. “For months after, I could taste and smell,
as well as visualize, this scene.” Fifty years after the incident,
retired Sergeant Major Michelony still has no sense of smell.
]



_The Significance of Tarawa_


The costs of the forcible seizure of Tarawa were two-fold: the loss
of Marines in the assault itself, followed by the shock and despair
of the nation upon hearing the reports of the battle. The gains at
first seemed small in return, the “stinking little island” of Betio,
8,000 miles from Tokyo. In time, the practical lessons learned in the
complex art of amphibious assault began to outweigh the initial adverse
publicity.

The final casualty figures for the 2d Marine Division in Operation
Galvanic were 997 Marines and 30 sailors (organic medical personnel)
dead; 88 Marines missing and presumed dead; and 2,233 Marines and 59
sailors wounded. Total casualties: 3,407. The Guadalcanal campaign had
cost a comparable amount of Marine casualties over six months; Tarawa’s
losses occurred in a period of 76 hours. Moreover, the ratio of killed
to wounded at Tarawa was significantly high, reflecting the savagery of
the fighting. The overall proportion of casualties among those Marines
engaged in the assault was about 19 percent, a steep but “acceptable”
price. But some battalions suffered much higher losses. The 2d
Amphibian Tractor Battalion lost over half the command. The battalion
also lost all but 35 of the 125 LVT’s employed at Betio.

Lurid headlines--“The Bloody Beaches of Tarawa”--alarmed American
newspaper readers. Part of this was the Marines’ own doing. Many of the
combat correspondents invited along for Operation Galvanic had shared
the very worst of the hell of Betio the first 36 hours, and they simply
reported what they observed. Such was the case of Marine Corps Master
Technical Sergeant James C. Lucas, whose accounts of the fighting
received front-page coverage in both _The Washington Post_ and _The New
York Times_ on 4 December 1943. Colonel Shoup was furious with Lucas
for years thereafter, but it was the headline writers for both papers
who did the most damage (_The Times_: “Grim Tarawa Defense a Surprise,
Eyewitness of Battle Reveals; Marines Went in Chuckling, To Find Swift
Death Instead of Easy Conquest.”).

Nor did extemporaneous remarks to the media by some of the senior
Marines involved in Operation Galvanic help soothe public concerns.
Holland Smith likened the D-Day assault to Pickett’s Charge at
Gettysburg. “Red Mike” Edson said the assault force “paid the stiffest
price in human life per square yard” at Tarawa than any other
engagement in Marine Corps history. Evans Carlson talked graphically of
seeing 100 of Hays men gunned down in the water in five minutes on D+1,
a considerable exaggeration. It did not help matters when Headquarters
Marine Corps waited until 10 days after the battle to release casualty
lists.

[Illustration: _A Marine combat correspondent assigned to the Tarawa
operation interviews a Marine from the 18th Engineers, 2d Marine
Division, during the course of the fighting._

    LtGen Julian C. Smith Collection
]

The atmosphere in both Washington and Pearl Harbor was particularly
tense during this period. General MacArthur, still bitter that the 2d
Marine Division had been taken from his Southwest Pacific Command,
wrote the Secretary of War complaining that “these frontal attacks
by the Navy, as at Tarawa, are a tragic and unnecessary massacre
of American lives.” A woman wrote Admiral Nimitz accusing him of
“murdering my son.” Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox called a press
conference in which he blamed “a sudden shift in the wind” for exposing
the reef and preventing reinforcements from landing. Congress proposed
a special investigation. The Marines were fortunate to have General
Alexander A. Vandegrift in Washington as the newly appointed 18th
Commandant. Vandegrift, the widely respected and highly decorated
veteran of Guadalcanal, quietly reassured Congress, pointing out that
“Tarawa was an assault from beginning to end.” The casualty reports
proved to be less dramatic than expected. A thoughtful editorial in the
27 December 1943 issue of _The New York Times_ complimented the Marines
for overcoming Tarawa’s sophisticated defenses and fanatical garrison,
warning that future assaults in the Marshalls might result in heavier
losses. “We must steel ourselves now to pay that price.”

The controversy was stirred again after the war when General Holland
Smith claimed publicly that “Tarawa was a mistake!” Significantly,
Nimitz, Spruance, Turner, Hill, Julian Smith, and Shoup disagreed with
that assessment.

Admiral Nimitz did not waver. “The capture of Tarawa,” he stated,
“knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central
Pacific.” Nimitz launched the Marshalls campaign only 10 weeks after
the seizure of Tarawa. Photo-reconnaissance and attack aircraft from
the captured airfields at Betio and Apamama provided invaluable
support. Of greater significance to success in the Marshalls were the
lessons learned and the confidence gleaned from the Tarawa experience.

Henry I. Shaw, Jr., for many years the Chief Historian of the Marine
Corps, observed that Tarawa was the primer, the textbook on amphibious
assault that guided and influenced all subsequent landings in the
Central Pacific. Shaw believed that the prompt and selfless analyses
which immediately followed Tarawa were of great value: “From analytical
reports of the commanders and from their critical evaluations of what
went wrong, of what needed improvement, and of what techniques and
equipment proved out in combat, came a tremendous outpouring of lessons
learned.”

All participants agreed that the conversion of logistical LVTs to
assault craft made the difference between victory and defeat at Betio.
There was further consensus that the LVT-1s and LVT-2s employed in the
operation were marginal against heavy defensive fires. The Alligators
needed more armor, heavier armament, more powerful engines, auxiliary
bilge pumps, self-sealing gas tanks--and wooden plugs the size of 13mm
bullets to keep from being sunk by the Japanese M93 heavy machine
guns. Most of all, there needed to be many more LVTs, at least 300 per
division. Shoup wanted to keep the use of LVTs as reef-crossing assault
vehicles a secret, but there had been too many reporters on the scene.
Hanson W. Baldwin broke the story in _The New York Times_ as early as 3
December.

Naval gunfire support got mixed reviews. While the Marines were
enthusiastic about the response from destroyers in the lagoon,
they were critical of the extent and accuracy of the preliminary
bombardment, especially when it was terminated so prematurely on D-Day.
In Major Ryan’s evaluation, the significant shortcoming in Operation
Galvanic “lay in overestimating the damage that could be inflicted on a
heavily defended position by an intense but limited naval bombardment,
and by not sending in the assault forces soon enough after the
shelling.” Major Schoettel, recalling the pounding his battalion had
received from emplacements within the seawall, recommended direct fire
against the face of the beach by 40mm guns from close-in destroyers.
The hasty, saturation fires, deemed sufficient by planners in view of
the requirement for strategic surprise, proved essentially useless.
Amphibious assaults against fortified atolls would most of all need
sustained, deliberate, aimed fire.

While no one questioned the bravery of the aviators who supported the
Betio assault, many questioned whether they were armed and trained
adequately for such a difficult target. The need for closer integration
of all supporting arms was evident.

Communications throughout the Betio assault were awful. Only the
ingenuity of a few radio operators and the bravery of individual
runners kept the assault reasonably coherent. The Marines needed
waterproof radios. The Navy needed a dedicated amphibious command ship,
not a major combatant whose big guns would knock out the radio nets
with each salvo. Such command ships, the AGCs, began to appear during
the Marshalls campaign.

Other revisions to amphibious doctrine were immediately indicated. The
nature and priority of unloading supplies should henceforth become the
call of the tactical commander ashore, not the amphibious task force
commander.

Betio showed the critical need for underwater swimmers who could
stealthily assess and report reef, beach, and surf conditions to
the task force before the landing. This concept, first envisioned
by amphibious warfare prophet Major Earl “Pete” Ellis in the 1920s,
came quickly to fruition. Admiral Turner had a fledgling Underwater
Demolition Team on hand for the Marshalls.

The Marines believed that, with proper combined arms training, the
new medium tanks would be valuable assets. Future tank training
would emphasize integrated tank, infantry, engineer, and artillery
operations. Tank-infantry communications needed immediate improvement.
Most casualties among tank commanders at Betio resulted from the
individuals having to dismount from their vehicles to talk with the
infantry in the open.

The backpack flamethrower won universal acclaim from the Marines on
Betio. Each battalion commander recommended increases in quantity,
range, and mobility for these assault weapons. Some suggested that
larger versions be mounted on tanks and LVTs, presaging the appearance
of “Zippo Tanks” in later campaigns in the Pacific.

Julian Smith rather humbly summed up the lessons learned at Tarawa by
commenting, “We made fewer mistakes than the Japs did.”

Military historians Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl used different
words of assessment: “The capture of Tarawa, in spite of defects in
execution, conclusively demonstrated that American amphibious doctrine
was valid, that even the strongest island fortress could be seized.”

The subsequent landings in the Marshalls employed this doctrine, as
modified by the Tarawa experience, to achieve objectives against
similar targets with fewer casualties and in less time. The benefits of
Operation Galvanic quickly began to outweigh the steep initial costs.

In time, Tarawa became a symbol of raw courage and sacrifice on the
part of attackers and defenders alike. Ten years after the battle,
General Julian Smith paid homage to both sides in an essay in _Naval
Institute Proceedings_. He saluted the heroism of the Japanese who
chose to die almost to the last man. Then he turned to his beloved 2d
Marine Division and their shipmates in Task Force 53 at Betio:

  For the officers and men, Marines and sailors, who crossed that
  reef, either as assault troops, or carrying supplies, or evacuating
  wounded I can only say that I shall forever think of them with a
  feeling of reverence and the greatest respect.

[Illustration: _Themes underlying the enduring legacy of Tarawa are:
the tide that failed; tactical assault vehicles that succeeded; a high
cost in men and material; which in the end spelled out victory in the
Central Pacific and a road that led to Tokyo._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 63843
]


[Sidebar (page 51): Tarawa Today

Tarawa is one of the few Pacific battlefields that remained essentially
unchanged for the half century that followed World War II. Visitors
to Betio Island can readily see wrecked American tanks and LVTs along
the beaches, as well as the ruins of Japanese gun emplacements and
pill boxes. Admiral Shibasaki’s imposing concrete bunker still stands,
seemingly as impervious to time as it was to the battleship guns
of Task Force 53. The “Singapore Guns” still rest in their turrets
overlooking the approaches to the island. A few years ago, natives
unearthed a buried LVT containing the skeletons of its Marine Corps
crew, one still wearing dog tags.

General David M. Shoup was recalled from retirement to active duty for
nine days in 1968 to represent the United States at the dedication of
a large monument on Betio, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the
battle. As Shoup later told _The National Observer_, “My first reaction
was that Betio had shrunk a great deal. It seems smaller in peace than
in war.” As he toured the ruined fortifications, Shoup recalled the
savage, desperate fighting and wondered “why two nations would spend so
much for so little.” Nearly 6,000 Japanese and Americans died on the
tiny island in 76 hours of fighting.

Twenty years after Shoup’s dedication ceremony, the American memorial
had fallen into disrepair; indeed, it was in danger of being torn
down to make room for a cold-storage plant for Japanese fishermen.
A lengthy campaign by the 2d Marine Division Association and Long
Beach-journalist Tom Hennessy raised enough funds to obtain a new, more
durable monument, a nine-ton block of Georgia granite inscribed “To our
fellow Marines who gave their all.” The memorial was dedicated on 20
November 1988.

Betio is now part of the new Republic of Kiribati. Tourist facilities
are being developed to accommodate the large number of veterans who
wish to return. For now, the small island probably resembles the way it
appeared on D-Day, 50 years ago. American author James Ramsey Ullman
visited Tarawa earlier and wrote a fitting eulogy: “It is a familiar
irony that old battlefields are often the quietest and gentlest of
places. It is true of Gettysburg. It is true of Cannae, Chalons,
Austerlitz, Verdun. And it is true of Tarawa.”
]



_Sources_


Much of this history is based on first-hand accounts as recorded
by the surviving participants. One rich source is contained in the
USMC archives maintained by the Washington National Records Group in
Suitland, Maryland. Of special value are the 2d Marine Division’s
Operations Order 14 (25Oct43) and Special Action Report (6Jan44).
Other useful documents in the archives include the combat reports of
2d Tank Battalion and 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion; the Division D-3
Journal for 20-24Nov43; the D-2 POW Interrogation Reports; “comments
on equipment and procedures” by the battalion commanders; and the
exhaustive intelligence report, “Study of Japanese Defenses on Betio
Island” (20Dec43). The Marine Corps Historical Center’s Personal Papers
Collection contains Colonel Shoup’s combat notebook, as well as his
after-action report, comments during the Pearl Harbor conference on
LVTs, comments on draft histories in 1947 and 1963, and his remarks for
the record at various anniversaries of the battle. A lengthy account
of the Betio assault is found in the transcript of Colonel Merritt
Edson’s briefing to the staff officers of the Marine Corps Schools
after the battle (6Jan44). The Personal Papers Collection also includes
worthwhile Tarawa accounts by General Julian C. Smith, 2dLt George D.
Lillibridge, 1stLt Frank Plant, and LtCol Russell Lloyd, used herein.

Other useful Tarawa information can be gleaned from the MCHC’s Oral
History Collection, which contains recollections by such participants
as General Smith; Eugene Boardman; Major Henry P. Crowe; Staff Sergeant
Norman Hatch; Brigadier General Leo Hermle; Admiral Harry Hill, USN;
Captain Carl Hoffman; Major Wood Kyle; Major William K. Jones; and
Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murray. Other contemporary accounts
include newspaper essays written by war correspondents on the scene,
such as Robert Sherrod, Richard Johnston, Keith Wheeler, and Earl
Wilson.

The author also benefitted from direct correspondence with four
retired Marines who served with valor at Tarawa: Lieutenant General
William K. Jones; Major General Michael P. Ryan; Sergeant Major Lewis
J. Michelony, Jr.; and Master Sergeant Edward J. Moore. Further, the
author gratefully acknowledges the donation of two rare photographs of
the Japanese garrison on Betio by the 2d Marine Division Association.


_Errata_

Please make the following changes in the World War II 50th anniversary
commemorative monograph noted:

_Opening Moves: Marines Gear Up For War_

Page 16, the correct armament for the Grumann F4F Wildcat is two
.50-caliber machine guns mounted in each wing instead of four.

_First Offensive: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal_

Page 43, the correct hull number for the cruiser _Atlanta_ should be
CL(AA) 51 instead of CL 104.

_Outpost in the Atlantic: Marines in the Defense of Iceland_

Photographs accredited to the Col Chester M. Craig Collection should be
accredited instead to the Col Clifton M. Craig Collection.

Page 5, sidebar on “Uniforms and Equipment”--the enlisted Marine wore
an almost black cow-skin belt called a “fair leather belt” instead of
“... a wide cordovan leather ‘Peter Bain’” belt.

Page 8 and _passim_, the British division based on Iceland was the 49th
Division, not the 79th Division.



_About the Author_


[Illustration]

Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret), served 29 years on active duty
as an assault amphibian officer, including two tours in Vietnam. He
earned an undergraduate degree in history from the University of North
Carolina and masters’ degrees in history and government from Georgetown
and Jacksonville. He is a distinguished graduate of the Naval War
College, a member of the Society for Military History, and a life
member of the Marine Corps Historical Foundation.

Colonel Alexander, an independent historian, is the author of
military essays published in _Marine Corps Gazette_, _Naval Institute
Proceedings_, _Naval History_, _Leatherneck_, _Amphibious Warfare
Review_, and _Florida Historical Quarterly_. He is co-author (with
Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett) of “Sea Soldiers in the Cold
War” (Naval Institute Press, accepted).



[Illustration]


THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in
the World War II era, is published for the education and training of
Marines by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine
Corps, Washington, D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense
observance of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.

Printing costs for this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by the
Defense Department World War II Commemoration Committee. Editorial
costs of preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by a
bequest from the estate of Emilie H. Watts, in memory of her late
husband, Thomas M. Watts, who served as a Marine and was the recipient
of a Purple Heart.

    WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES

    _DIRECTOR OF MARINE CORPS HISTORY AND MUSEUMS_
    =Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)=

    _GENERAL EDITOR,
    WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES_
    =Benis M. Frank=

    _CARTOGRAPHIC CONSULTANT_
    =George C. MacGillivray=

    _EDITING AND DESIGN SECTION, HISTORY AND MUSEUMS DIVISION_
    =Robert E. Struder=, Senior Editor;
    =W. Stephen Hill=, Visual Information Specialist;
    =Catherine A. Kerns=, Composition Services Technician

    Marine Corps Historical Center
    Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
    Washington, D.C. 20374-0580

    1993

    PCN 190 003120 00


[Illustration]



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

To make this eBook easier to read, particularly on handheld devices,
some images have been made relatively larger than in the original
pamphlet, and centered, rather than offset to one side or the other;
and some were placed a little earlier or later than in the original.
Sidebars in the original have been repositioned between chapters and
identified as “[Sidebar (page nn):”, where the page reference is to the
original location in the source book. In the Plain Text version, the
matching closing right bracket follows the last line of the Sidebar’s
text and is on a separate line to make it more noticeable. In the HTML
versions, that bracket follows the colon, and each Sidebar is displayed
within a box.

Page 13: “ran of gas” is a misprint for “ran out of gas”.

Page 14: “executive office, Major Howard Rice” is a misprint for
“officer”.

Page 48: Opening quotation mark added before “The sight of”.

Page 49: “before the lines become too” probably is a misprint for
“became”.

Page 50: “100 of Hays men” probably is missing a possessive apostrophe.





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