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Bloody Betio, The God of Death Has Come: The Battle of Tarawa

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight an interlude before I resume my narrative on the Nuremberg Trials. This article is about the Battle of Tarawa, one of the sharpest, bloodiest battles of the Pacific War, all for one square mile of barren land which within the next half century will probably be under water due to sea rise and climate change.

That leads me to tonight’s article. There are some things that should not be forgotten, unfortunately many of them are lost to history. One of these events was the American assault against the Japanese fortress on Tarawa Atoll in November 1943. The battle was one of the deadliest encounters of the Second World War, and was waged for the control of a tiny coral atoll that only occupied one square mile of the earth’s s surface. Dug in on that atoll were about 4,000 Japanese defenders.

The only Japanese officer to survive, Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Ota recalled, “We could see the American landing craft coming towards us like dozens of spiders over the surface of the water.  One of my men exclaimed, ‘The God of Death has come!’”

I hope that this small attempt to detail that battle helps you understand the sacrifice of the men who fought there.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The American Decision: Operation Galvanic

The Target: Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll

Following the Guadalcanal campaign and the shift of significant naval forces away from the Solomons, the focus of the U. S. Navy and Marine Corps shifted to operations in the Central Pacific. Unlike the Solomons campaign, which was initially a Navy and Marine Corps Operation, but shifted to Army control under General Douglas MacArthur as the campaign shifted to Borneo; the operations in the Central Pacific would be an almost total Navy and Marine Corps operation.

Operation Galvanic was the first offensive operation in the Central Pacific. It came about as a result of the Joint U.S. Strategic Committee decision in April 1943 to favor an advance in the Central Pacific while continuing to maintain McArthur’s offensive in the South Pacific.[i]

Betio Island after the Battle

The driving force behind this strategy was Admiral Ernest King. King fought for the plan and “insisted that any campaign should focus on the destruction of Japan’s overseas resources, which meant an offensive directed only toward the Western Pacific sea lanes.”[ii] The Joint Chiefs believed that a simultaneous attack by the forces of Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Central Pacific, and MacArthur in the South Pacific would “keep the Japanese guessing” in regard to which direction the Americans would strike. [iii] The decision of The Joint Chiefs was presented to the British at the TRIDENT meetings in May 1943 and while the British resisted the American plans, a compromise was reached which allowed the Americans to “simultaneously…maintain and extend unremitting pressure against Japan….”[iv]

Japanese Troops Emplacing 8″ Vickers Gun

The decision to begin operations in the Central Pacific meant that the priority that MacArthur’s had been given in logistics and personnel would be reduced in order to launch the Central Pacific operation.  MacArthur protested to no avail, and the Joint Chief’s stood firm in their decision that the Central Pacific operation “would make it easier to isolate Japan from her domain in the south.”[v]

MacArthur was allowed to continue OPERATION CARTWHEEL in order to neutralize the key Japanese base at Rabaul while Nimitz’s forces attacked the Marshall and Caroline islands.[vi] Nimitz’s staff began their preparations and decided on a conservative course to capture the Gilberts first before taking the more heavily defended Marshalls.[vii] This was in part due to the “need to minimize the risks to his untried amphibious forces against such heavily fortified enemy bases out of reach of air cover.”[viii]

Japanese Naval Infantry conducting Live Fire with Type 99 Machine Guns

Several factors were considered by Nimitz and his planners considerations in this choice.  Nimitz did not have enough troops to capture all of the vital heavily defended locations in the Marshalls without dividing his forces.[ix] Additionally the Gilbert operation could be supported by land based bombers.[x] A final consideration was the Joint Chief’s decision to allow MacArthur to retain control of 1st Marine Division, which Nimitz had hoped to employ in his operations in the Central Pacific.[xi] The Staff of CINCPAC did a thorough photo reconnaissance of the Gilbert’s, and convinced the Joint Chiefs that Tarawa and Makin needed to be taken to provide air bases for the assault on the Marshalls.  Finally, the order for Galvanic was issued on 20 July 1943 with its execution planned for November 1943.[xii]

Japanese Preparations

Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki

“It will take a million men a thousand years to take Betio”

The Japanese had done little to prepare against potential American offensive operations against the Gilbert’s until Makin Island was raided by elements of the 2nd Raider Battalion in August 1942.  The Makin raid shook the Japanese and they reinforced Makin and occupied Betio.[xiii]

The Japanese deployed the Yokosuka 6th Special Landing Force, essentially Naval Infantry or Marines[xiv] and the 111th Construction Battalion to Betio on 15 September 1942, over nine months after they attacked Pearl Harbor.[xv] What many people do not know is that these Special Naval Landing Forces were some of the most murderous and criminal elements of the Japanese military during the Second World War. They fully embraced the twisted version of Bushido and Emperor worship to justify their brutal conduct of war. While the Japanese on Betio were not accused of war crimes, it was only because they had no prisoners, military or civilian to torture and kill as other Special Naval Landing Forces had in the Pacific.

The forces on Betio were commanded by Admiral Tomanari Sachiro, who at once began to fortify Betio. Tomanari was a skilled officer who appreciated the value of strong fortifications on exposed islands like Betio. Likewise, recognizing that his forces were inadequate to the mission, Tomanari asked Tokyo for reinforcements. The reinforcements came in the form of Commander Sugai’s 7th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force, which landed on 14 March.[xvi]Commander Sugai’s troops were the famed Rikusentai, the best of the Japanese Navy’s land forces and considered to be better disciplined, trained, and effective than Imperial Army Units of the same size.

Japanese Gunnery Exercises before the Invasion

The fortification of Betio proceeded slowly until Rear Admiral Shibasaki relieved Tomanari, who returned to Japan. [xvii] Shibasaki was a tough veteran of service at sea and ashore including 19 months as a Rikusentai[xviii] officer in China. Shibasaki was chosen by Admiral Mineichi Koga, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto’s to instill a better fighting spirit on the island.

The Imperial General Headquarters, issued a “New Operations Plan,” which ordered the outer defensive islands, such as Tarawa, to “hold up any American advance while an inner line of fortresses was constructed….”[xix]

Shibasaki drove the garrison hard, inspiring them to “extraordinary heights of labor that resulted in Betio’s superb defenses.”[xx]Betio mounted four 8” Naval guns[xxi], four 14 cm guns, four dual mount 5.5” dual purpose guns[xxii] six 80 mm anti-boat guns, eight 75 mm dual purpose guns, ten 75 mm mountain guns, six 70 mm guns and nine 37 mm anti-tank guns, numerous machine guns. The defenders were also equipped with light AA guns and 14 Type 95 Ha-Gō light tanks.[xxiii]

These weapons were mounted in well camouflaged, armored, or reinforced pillboxes, connected by trenches. [xxiv] In accordance with the directives of the high command, Shibasaki ordered his troops “to defend to the last man all vital areas and destroy the enemy at the waters’ edge.”[xxv]

The Japanese records note that Shibasaki “immediately began to strengthen morale and carried out advanced training, and as a result…the garrison remarkably enhanced its fighting capability and they were full of confidence.”[xxvi] Even the service troops were thoroughly trained to fight from their superb defensive positions.[xxvii] Shibasaki reportedly told his men that it would take a million men a thousand years to take Betio.

American Preparations for Galvanic

LVT Amphibious Tractor

Nimitz organized his forces into three major commands, the 5th Fleet, commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance, the 5th Amphibious Force under Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner, and the V Amphibious Corps under Major General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, USMC.[xxviii] The 2nd Marine Division, which was assigned to assault Tarawa, was commanded by Major General Julian Smith.

The force that sustained this operation, and the subsequent amphibious operations was the Service Force Pacific Fleet.[xxix] This was a collection of ships whose mission it was to sustain the fleet in mobile operations. [xxx] This force, greatly “increased the range and power of the Navy in amphibious operations.”[xxxi] The plans for Galvanic called for the Army’s 27th Division take Makin Island, and the 2nd Marine Division which had been blooded at Guadalcanal, to take Tarawa, supported by the carriers and battleships of Admiral Raymond Spruance’s 5th Fleet.

Galvanic was the first application of new amphibious tactics developed for the Pacific war.[xxxii] Air and sea bombardment would precede the actual assault. The Marines would be transported ashore in a new vehicle called an LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked) and other amphibious ships and craft including the LSD (Landing Ship Dock), LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) and LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel).

The LVTs were absolutely vital at Tarawa because of the distance that the reef extended from the beaches. The LVT’s, nicknamed “Amtracks” or “Amphtracks” were essentially a tracked amphibious personnel carrier. They were developed from a commercial vehicle used by U.S. Forrest Service Rangers in the Florida Everglades and were capable of crossing coral reefs that other craft could not cross.

The early LVTs had retrofitted armor and mounted a .50 cal. machine gun.  At Tarawa the Marines deployed 75 LVT-1s[xxxiii] and 50 LVT-2s. A total of 93 LVTs were part of the first wave of the Marine assault.[xxxiv] The LVTs were transported to Tarawa aboard LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks.)

Other innovations in this new form of amphibious warfare included the assignment of Naval Gunfire Support teams to the Marine Regiments, and down to some battalions. [xxxv] The attack at Tarawa was the first time that the Marines used the M4 Sherman tank in combat. [xxxvi]

Tarawa, ended up being a real combat proving ground for the tactics and equipment which would be improved on and used in every subsequent amphibious operation in the Pacific.  Tarawa also marked the last major use of rubber landing craft by the Marine Corps in an opposed landing.[xxxvii]

There were limitations to American preparations. First the size of the force meant that it could not be assembled in one place for rehearsals or to train as a team.[xxxviii] A second problem for the Americans was the assumption that high and low tides would be sufficient to get their landing craft across the reef in spite of warnings to the contrary.[xxxix] Likewise, the Americans failed to completely anticipate the scope to which the Japanese had fortified the island.

The latter was a failure of commanders to appreciate good intelligence that had been provided to them. In particular, aerial photos taken by the Air Force, and ULTRA intercepts provided good information on the strength and composition of the Japanese units on the island, as well as the layout of the defenses.[xl]

Likewise, some important equipment shortages were not remedied. The Marine Bazooka’s did not arrive, and neither the 6th or 8th Marines had ever made an actual amphibious assault.  At Guadalcanal the these regiments made an administrative landing, and few field-grade officers remained from the 2nd Marine Regiment who had landed at Tulagi.[xli] Despite their combat experience, they were far from the “amphibious experts” that they would become.[xlii]

However, they made up for their lack of practical amphibious experience by their cohesiveness, high morale and esprit. Likewise, they were well armed and equipped, in top physical condition and knew the basic tools of their trade: “weapons proficiency and field firing, close combat techniques, fire and maneuver, tactical leadership, fire discipline.”[xliii]

Japanese Vickers 8″ Gun Emplacement

The most critical aspect of the operation was to get across the reef onto the island.  There were few good landing sites and it was decided to make the landings from inside the atoll’s lagoon onto the Betio’s north shore.  This decision meant that transports embarking the Marines would have to unload outside of the lagoon and that the landing craft would have to make a 10 mile trip to get to the beaches.[xliv]

Another problem was that there was only one entrance into the lagoon, and it was not deep enough for heavy ships to enter.[xlv] This meant that ships such as battleships and cruisers would not be able provide direct, close range fire on the Japanese positions which were best situated to disrupt the Marines.

The execution of the plan involved land based bomber strikes beginning on D minus 7. Carrier aircraft would begin their operations on D minus 2.  Cruisers and destroyers joined the cacophony of destruction on D minus 1 and the battleships on D-Day itself.[xlvi]

On D-Day the Navy planned to bombard the island with 3,000 tons of shells in 2 ½ hours.[xlvii] The Navy was confident in its bombardment plans. Rear Admiral H. F. Kingman, who commanded the fire support group declared “We will not neutralize; we will not destroy; we will obliterate the defenses on Betio!”[xlviii]

Four battalions of Marines would land in the first wave, the three battalions of the 2nd Marines Regiment, and 2nd Battalion 8th Marines, all commanded by Colonel David Shoup.

Colonel Shoup would win the Medal of Honor on Betio and later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps. However, he assumed command of the 2nd Marines when the Regimental commander fell ill on the journey to Efate.[xlix] The division reserve were the remaining two battalions of the 8th Marine Regiment. The Division’s 6th Marine Regiment served as the corps reserve.[l]The assault units would be reinforced by tanks, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions 18th Marine Regiment, the division’s combat engineers.

The Invasion: Day One

Marines Going Ashore on Day One

The final naval gunfire bombardment commenced at 0542 hours on 20 November, and the assault waves began their trek to the beaches.  The transports were out of range of Japanese guns, but since they were so far out, the small amphibious craft boats have to make a 10 mile trip to get to the beaches. [li]At this point things began to go seriously wrong for the Marines.

LCT (Landing Craft Tank) Sinking after Being Hit

Unfortunately, Admiral Kingman and the Navy had “badly miscalculated the amount of softening-up that could be done in two and a half daylight hours bombardment.” Although the bi Vickers guns were silenced, not enough damage was done to the Japanese defenses.[lii] The Japanese unwittingly helped the Marines by firing their larger guns at the warships instead of holding fire, thus identifying their positions to Navy gunners.[liii]

The bombardment was lifted to allow an attack by carrier based aircraft. However, the aircraft were late to arrive and the ships did not resume fire, allowing the Japanese to emerge and re-train their weapons on the approaching landing craft.[liv] Likewise the destroyers USS Ringgold and USS Dashiell, the only ships operating inside the lagoon and providing close Naval Gunfire Support, were ordered to cease fire, knowing the Japanese gunners along the shore were still active.[lv] Some believe that an extra half hour of direct fire from the destroyers would have saved many lives.[lvi]

The LVTs in the first three waves were delayed by a heavy chop outside the lagoon and did not make landfall until 0913, which threw off the landing schedule.[lvii] The expected and planned for rise in tides did not materialize, and tides remained unpredictably low for the first 48 hours. As a result, no landing craft other than the LVTs could cross the reef, and the Marines were forced to wade ashore from distances of 600 to 1000 yards.[lviii]

Marines Wading Across the Lagoon

Shoup’s Marines landed on three beaches.  Red One and Red Two lay to the west of a 500 yard long pier, while Red Three lay to the east.  Third Battalion Second Marines (3/2) landed on Red-1, while 2/2 on Red-2. Second Battalion Eighth Marines (2/8) landed on Red-3, while elements of 1/18 and the scout snipers landed at the pier, with First Battalion Second Marines (1/2) remained at sea in reserve to land behind the battalion making the best progress.[lix]

As soon as the Amtracks hit the reef the Japanese began firing.  Every “working weapon along the north and west shorelines….blazed forth in fierce, interlocking fields of fire.”[lx] As they watched the Amtracks craw over the reef that Japanese knew they were in for a tough fight, one of Warrant Officer Ota’s men exclaimed “Heavens! The God of Death has come!”[lxi]

The Marines of 3/2 on Red-1 received enfilade fire from Japanese guns emplaced in a U around the beach. Even before the Marines landed they began to take causalities, Amtracks were hit in the lagoon and most that were not sunk or destroyed were unfit for further use.[lxii] The 2000 Marines who landed on the beaches in the first hour of the assault were badly disorganized, and the commanding officer’s of 2/2 and the Amtracks were killed. 3/2’s commander was isolated on the reef and only 2/8’s commander was with his troops. 2/8 was the only battalion being to reach the shore relatively intact.[lxiii] 3/2 was down to 65% of its strength and Kilo Company, 3/2 had taken over 50% casualties.[lxiv]

The Marines in the fourth to sixth waves were struggling to wade ashore from the reef. Landing craft “ran aground or milled about helplessly outside the reef, which was swept by crossfire from behind the beaches and from a grounded hulk northwest of the pier.”[lxv] Most of the tanks were put out of action either through accurate fire by Japanese guns or by sinking in deep areas of the lagoon, the Tank battalion commander was blown out of his Amtrack, wounded and survived 24 hours by clinging to a pile of dead bodies to keep from drowning.[lxvi]

Colonel Shoup Directing Operations

Colonel Shoup landed at Red-2 and began directing operations on the beach.  He knew that he had to get more troops ashore to exploit the minimal gains his Marines had made.  The news from Red One and Two was bad; he decided to bring 1/2 in at Red-2 thought that 3/8 should go in at Red-3.[lxvii] At 1018 General Julian Smith ordered the 8th Marines to dispatch 3/8 to Red-3.[lxviii] The Marines of 3/8 had to make their way across 700 yards through the water to get to the beach. They were slaughtered, and only 30 percent of the first wave got ashore, while the second and the third “were practically wiped out.”[lxix]

Close Combat

As Shoup’s Marines struggled to reach the beaches, those who had gotten ashore engaged the Japanese at point blank range. First Lieutenant William Hawkins of the 2nd Marine Scout and Sniper platoon and five of his men engaged the Japanese on the pier in vicious hand to hand fighting. [lxx] Staff Sergeant Bordelon of the Engineers on Red-2 though grievously wounded knocked out four gun positions, some by lobbing dynamite charges into them and galvanizing survivors into action, finally being killed while taking on a Japanese position alone.  Both Marines would be awarded the Medal of Honor.[lxxi]

Wounded Being Evacuated by Rubber Raft

By afternoon Julian Smith realized that he needed more troops, his last battalion, 1/8 waited to go ashore.[lxxii] Smith asked for the 6th Marines. He had Rear Admiral Wilbur Hill, Commander of Amphibious Group Two, send a message to Admiral Richmond K. Turner stating “Issue in doubt. I concur.” This message sent a chill through the listening Naval Staff.[lxxiii]

Ashore, Colonel Shoup brought in howitzers from 1st Battalion 10th Marines on his surviving Amtracks to the eastern edge of Red Two near the pier. [lxxiv] The howitzers landed in the early evening.[lxxv] Shoup sent Lieutenant Colonel Carlson to make a personal report to General Smith that he would hold onto his beachhead no matter what happened.

Shoup ordered his Catholic Chaplain to lay out a cemetery and begin burying the dead who were already decomposing in the tropical heat.[lxxvi] As this transpired, 2/8 got two of its 37mm anti-tank guns into position to drive off Japanese tanks approaching the beachhead.[lxxvii]

Members of the Second Marine Division Band assisted Navy Hospital Corpsman in bringing back wounded Marines.[lxxviii] For the rest of the day the Marines continued to eke out a beachhead. Shoup’s Marines on Red-2 and Red-3 managed to advance about halfway across the island, while 3/2 and elements 1/2 and 2/2 were isolated. Major Ryan of Lima Company 3/2 pulled them back to meet an expected Japanese counter-attack.[lxxix]

By nightfall the Marines had taken over 1500 casualties of 5000 men landed the first day.[lxxx] There is no evidence that Shoup considered withdraw that night.[lxxxi] No counterattack occurred due to Japanese command and control problems. The primary cause was that Admiral Shibasaki and his staff were killed while shifting the position of their headquarters during the afternoon,[lxxxii] and the Japanese communications were in shambles. A well organized counterattack would have been disastrous for the Marines,[lxxxiii] but it did not happen, even though the Japanese assembled over 1000 men to oppose the Marines on day two.[lxxxiv] Had Shibasaki lived and the Japanese communications survived, a counterattack might have had ramifications far beyond Tarawa.[lxxxv]

Day Two

Advancing Under Fire

The second day began with the First Battalion EighthMarines landing on Red Two, while the 6th Marines began to land on Green Beach at the far western tip of Betio.  Like the Marines who landed on the first day, 1/8’s landing turned into a bloodbath, the tide fell even lower than the previous day. As they hit the reef and waded ashore they drifted into some of the heaviest Japanese defenses. Japanese guns, including the dual 5.5” guns took direct aim at the boats, while Marines ashore watched helplessly. War correspondent Robert Sherrod noted: “This is worse, far worse than it was yesterday.”[lxxxvi] Only half of 1/8 reached the beach with none of their heavy weapons or equipment.  Shoup ordered the remnants of the battalion into line on his western flank in preparation for an advance inland.[lxxxvii] During five hours of landings on day two, the “Marine casualties reached a higher rate than that sustained on the first morning.”[lxxxviii]

Meanwhile, Shoup ordered Ryan’s “orphans” to make an attack down the right flank of the Japanese positions on Green Beach. Shoup’s decision and Ryan’s leadership made the attack a success. The “American victory at Betio evolved from the attack during one intense hour the second morning.”[lxxxix]

Taking every available Marine, two surviving Sherman tanks, and some mortars, Ryan gathered his force and coordinated Naval Gunfire support. The area contained a number of heavy guns including two of the remaining 8” mounts.  A destroyer blanketed the Japanese positions with 5” shells and fire from her light AA guns.[xc] Attacking behind the beach, Ryan’s Marines isolated and destroyed everyone and everything that looked hostile.[xci] Against minimal opposition Ryan’s Marines quickly seized the gun positions and the western end of the airfield.  Within an hour his Marines occupied the entire western side of Betio up to a 200 yard depth. At 1200 he radioed Shoup to let him know the good news, and that he now intended to advance east against the airfield.[xcii] The attack allowed the Marines to land intact battalions with supporting arms for the first time battle.[xciii]

To the east behind Red Two and Red- Three, the 8th Marines and survivors of 1/2 and 2/2 attacked against fierce Japanese opposition near Shibasaki’s former command bunker and two other large bunkers which were mutually supporting.  The attack by the 2nd Marine survivors eventually succeeded in getting completely across the south side of the island.[xciv] During the attack Lt. Hawkins of the Scout Snipers, who had distinguished himself at the pier the previous day was mortally wounded.

The attack cut the island in two, but the Japanese launched a viscous counterattack on the Marine positions which was beaten back.[xcv] The 8th Marines faced a more difficult task going against what was now the heart of the Japanese defense as the defenders had been reinforced by Lt. Minami and his third company of the 7th Special Naval Landing Force.

Vicious fighting ensued and by nightfall “the Marines had little to show for their heavy losses,[xcvi] but they did make significant inroads against the Japanese to warrant optimism for D+2.[xcvii] By evening the Marines on Red-1 and Red-2 had consolidated their beachhead so that reinforcements were finally able to land, including jeeps, artillery and heavy equipment.

By mid-day the Marines noted that Japanese defenders were beginning to commit suicide, and they began to feel that Japanese morale had broken.  By late afternoon Shoup transmitted the message: “Casualties many. Percentage of dead unknown. Combat efficiency-We are winning.”[xcviii] By late afternoon Major Jones’s First Battalion Sixth Marines landed on Green beach in their rubber boats, reinforcing Ryan’s orphans. It was the first of the 7 battalions on the island to get ashore intact.

Ryan and Jones coordinated their units for a night defense and an early attack the next morning.[xcix] Meanwhile, Second Battalion Sixth Marines cleared the nearby island of Bairiki, allowing the artillery of Second Battalion Tenth Marines to land its howitzers on the island.  This in cut off any line of retreat for the defenders of Betio.[c] Colonel Merritt Edson came ashore during the evening to relieve Shoup[ci], who remained to help coordinate the next day’s attack. Once again there were no coordinated Japanese counterattacks. The senior officer, Commander Takes Sugai, was isolated in the pocket between the Red and Green beaches, and no senior officer could coordinate any attacks.[cii]

Mopping Up: Day Three and Four

Wrecked LVT’s and Dead Marines Litter the Beach

Day three began with attacks against Japanese strong points and the arrival of more reinforcements, including 3/6 which landed on Green Beach, and three light tank platoons which landed on Red-2.[ciii] The Marines attacked from Green Beach, sweeping east to join the 2nd Marines who had cut the island in two the day before.  The 8th Marines continued to attack the heavily fortified bunker complex, and eventually captured the heavily fortified and defended positions.

During the assault First Lieutenant Sandy Bonnyman of 1/18 won the Medal of Honor for leading the assault on these positions, including destroying a major bunker defended by 150 Japanese, he was killed during the fight.[civ] Fighting remained fierce throughout the day and General Smith arrived to take command on shore.  The Marines continued to attack supported by tanks, artillery and naval gunfire.  By the evening they were established at the east end of the airfield.

The now desperate Japanese defenders launched a series of Banzai charges which beginning about 1930 hours and ending about 0400 when the Marines annihilated the last attack with the assistance of artillery.[cv] The attack, which could have succeeded the first or early the second day, now aided the Marines by killing troops that might have been used to exact a higher price in Marine lives for the tail of the island.[cvi]

The next morning the Marines pushed forward and eliminated the last Japanese defenders, and by 1200 Betio was secured.  Of about 5000 defenders only 17 Japanese and some Korean laborers were taken prisoner.[cvii] The Marines lost over 1000 killed and 2300 wounded.[cviii]

One of the Japanese Survivors being Interrogated

Epilogue

The Marines paid a heavy price for Betio, but it was not to be a useless sacrifice. However, it was a source of great controversy especially among politicians.[cix] Historian Ronald Spector wonders if waiting for better tides or a full moon would have saved lives.[cx] Holland Smith later argued that Tarawa should have been bypassed, but Nimitz’s biographer, E. B. Potter notes “if the lessons of the amphibious assault had not been learned at Tarawa, they would have to be learned elsewhere, probably at greater cost.”[cxi]

The lessons learned aided all future amphibious operations in the Central Pacific and elsewhere.  Timing and coordination of naval gunfire support, air strikes and combat loading of transports were all refined in future operations. Large numbers of armored and up-gunned Amtracks would be part of every future operation.[cxii] Intelligence was emphasized and replicas of the Japanese fortifications were built and tested to determine the best way of destroying them.[cxiii] Likewis, the Marines shocked the public by releasing photos and films of the carnage on Tarawa to awaken them to the challenges ahead.[cxiv]

Today the battle is remembered annually by the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Each year, an ever shrinking number of veterans of the battle attend the ceremonies.  Samuel Eliot Morison put it best: “All honor, then, to the fighting heart of the United States Marine. Let the battle for that small stretch of coral sand called Betio of Tarawa be remembered as terrible indeed, but glorious, and the seedbed for victory in 1945.”[cxv]

Appendix: The Commanders

Lieutenant General Holland Smith and Major General Julian Smith

General Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith USMC: (1882-1967) Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith commanded V Amphibious Corps during the Gilberts operation.  Prior to the war he had worked extensively on amphibious warfare doctrine for both the Marine Corps and Navy. Unlike many senior officers Smith was not a Naval Academy graduate having matriculated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1903 and law school in 1903.  Smith served as Adjutant of the 4th Marine Brigade in the First World War and served in Panama and the Dominican Republic in addition to other Marine tours afloat and ashore.  He served well and had many key assignments between the wars culminating in as the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Subsequent to the Gilbert campaign he served as Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and later commanded the Marines at Iwo Jima.  He retired in 1946.

Major General Julian Smith USMC: (1885-1975) Major General Julian Smith served as Commanding General 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa.  He graduated from the University of Delaware and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1909.  He served in Haiti, Santo Domingo and the Vera Cruz expedition. During the First World War he served as an instructor in the Marine Officer training camps at Quantico. After the war he served in Cuba, Nicaragua and various command and staff posts including the Army Command and General Staff College.  He commanded 5th Marines in 1938 and in 1942 was promoted the Major General serving as director of Fleet Marine Force Schools, New River, NC.  He took command of 2nd Marine Division in May 1943 and served there until April 1944 when he became Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops, Third Fleet and in December 1944 took command of the Military Department of the Pacific.  He retired in 1946.

Colonel David Shoup

Colonel David Shoup USMC: (1904-1983) Colonel David Shoup commanded the 2nd Marines at Tarawa, being appointed as commander when its commander fell ill.  Shoup won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Tarawa.  A 1926 graduate of DePauw University, Shoup was commissioned a Second Lieutenant through the ROTC program that year.  He served in various assignments to include service in China, at sea on the battleship Maryland and Marine Barracks Puget Sound Navy Yard. He joined the staff of 6th Marines in October 1940 and assumed command of 2/6 in February 1942.  He was assigned as the Assistant Operations Officer for 2nd Marine Division in July 1942 and promoted the Lieutenant Colonel.   He went with the Division to New Zealand where he became the G-3 and from which he was fleeted up to command 2ndMarines at Tarawa.  After Tarawa he served as the Division Chief of Staff at Saipan and Tinian.  After the war Shoup continued to be assigned in key billets at the Pentagon and as commanding General, 1st Marine Division and then the Third Marine Division.  He became Chief of Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps in 1958 and was appointed as the 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps by President Eisenhower, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1963.

Rear Admiral Tomanari Sachiro

Admiral Tomanari Sachiro IJN: (1887-?) Commander of Tarawa garrison until relieved by Rear Admiral Shibasaki.   Graduate Naval Academy 1910, initially a communications officer he held various commands including three destroyers, an Oiler, the Light Cruiser Yuma, Heavy Cruisers, Furutake and, Haguro and the Battleship Kirishima. Assigned to Tarawa in February 1943, he helped design and supervised the initial construction of the defenses until he was relieved by Admiral Shibasaki on 20 July1943.  He returned to Japan and served the remainder of the war on Navy Division of Imperial General Headquarters.  Tomonari survived the war though nothing is mentioned as to his postwar fate.

Rear Admiral Shibasaki Keiji

Rear Admiral Shibasaki Keiji IJN: (1894-1943) Commanded Tarawa Garrison until his death during the battle.  He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1915 and he was a skilled navigator and instructor.  Prior to the war he had served afloat and ashore and ashore and had commanded a ship and naval station and served as a naval attaché to Prince Kuni Asaakira, a member of the Imperial Family.  Among his assignments was 19 month combat tour with the special Naval Landing Forces in China, where he served as Chief of Staff of Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force.  Shibasaki’s leadership helped the garrison improve their defensive capabilities and combat skills as he inspired them to great heights and executed an intense training program. He was killed in the battle.

A Personal Note

I have not been to Tarawa but feel that I know it well.  I served in Second Marine Division from April 1999 through December 2001.  Due to my prior service experience I was used to fill gaps where chaplains were needed and ended up serving in four different battalions.  I served in 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, the descendant of 1/18, the combat engineers.  We had a WWII Bulldozer outside our command post named after Sergeant Bordelon, the Medal of Honor Citations for Bordelon and Boonyman were prominently displayed.  I also served in 1/8 and 3/8.  I knew the accounts of the slaughter of these Marines as they attempted to land but as I re-read the accounts I was moved by their courage under fire.  The CPs of these battalions are also adorned with citations of their heroes lost at Tarawa.  Veterans would visit our units during Tarawa Days at Camp LeJeune, worn by the battle and the years they always made a great impression on me.

There is almost a mystical connection between the Second Marine Division and the Marines of Tarawa; it was a crucible that defined the division, whose motto is the same as the Army Infantry School. “Follow Me!”

Semper Fidelis,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[i] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  The Free Press, New York, NY 1985. p.253

[ii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.338

[iii] Ibid. Spector. p.253

[iv] Ibid. p.255 The conference also set a date for the invasion of France.

[v] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. Random House, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.468

[vi] Ibid. Spector. p.255

[vii] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945. Quill Publishing, New York, NY 1982. p.430

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1976, Third Printing with Revisions 1979. p.243. Nimitz’s forces would have had to seize 5 major Japanese bases and his staff was not sure that the Pacific carrier force would be strong or experienced enough to provide the necessary air cover for the operation.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid. pp.243-245

[xii] Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Little Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.296.

[xiii] Hammell, Eric and Lane, John E. Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943. The Zenith Press, St. Paul MN 2006.  Text copyright 1998 Eric Hammell and John E. Lane. p.4

[xiv] See Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa.Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1995. pp. 39-40.  This unit became the Third Special Base Unit on its deployment and was joined by the 111th Construction Battalion.

[xv] Ibid. Hammell. p.4

[xvi] See Alexander pp.39-40. This unit was basically a reinforced infantry battalion with 3 rifle companies, a weapons battery, anti-aircraft battery, a light tank company and support units numbering about1600 men.

[xvii] Ibid. Alexander. p.43

[xviii] Alexander p.27 The Rikusentai was the Japanese equivalent of Marines, who numbered about 50,000 men.  The officers attended Army schools and qualified enlisted men attended additional Army specialist training.

[xix] Ibid. Costello. p.431

[xx] Ibid. Hammell. p.22

[xxi] See Alexander p.77. While most writers say that these guns were brought from Singapore, Alexander notes that British writer William H Bartsch submitted proof (serial numbers) that the guns were sold by Vickers to Japan in 1905 as a legitimate business transaction.

[xxii] These are the same guns (127mm) mounted as the secondary armament of Nachi and Takao Class Heavy Cruisers and later mounted on light cruisers to replace the main battery with a more effective anti-aircraft armament.

[xxiii] Ibid. Hammell. p.22

[xxiv] Hammell notes that many of these bunkers and pillboxes were so well concealed that they could not be seen.

[xxv] Ibid. Toland. p.469.

[xxvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.43.

[xxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.28

[xxviii] Ibid. Morison. p.297

[xxix] Ibid. Costello. p.429

[xxx] At this point the force could provide everything except major permanent repairs to warships.

[xxxi] Liddell-Hart, B.H.  History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY 1970. p.511

[xxxii] Ibid. Costello. p.431

[xxxiii] The older LVT-1s had boiler plate armor added as a field modification and were given a heavy machine gun. Prior to this they were unarmored and had two light machine guns.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[xxxv] Hammell includes a by name list of these officers in Appendix B.  Of note for today, each MEUSOC (Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable) has an assigned Naval Gunfire Support Team.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Alexander. pp. 61-62.  The Shermans had to be transported aboard pre-loaded LCM-3s carried in the well decks of the LSDs.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.58-59

[xxxviii] Ibid. Morison. p.297.  As a sidebar discussion it should be noted that Galvanic helped provide the model for the organization of all further Marine Corps amphibious doctrine now known by the acronym PERMA; Planning, Embarkation, Rehearsal, Movement and Assault, which describes the 5 phases of a amphibious assault.

[xxxix] Ibid. Hammell details the intricacies of the particular tides seen at Tarawa and the knowledge that the Marines had from the former Resident Commissioner of the Island, Major Frank Holland who warned the division staff that he knew that there would not be enough water over the reef to get landing craft across it. (pp.18-20)

[xl] Ibid. Alexander. pp.75-77

[xli] Ibid. Alexander. pp.67-68.

[xlii] Ibid. p.70

[xliii] Ibid. p.71

[xliv] Ibid. Morison. p.302

[xlv] Ibid. Hammell. p.16

[xlvi] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in world War II.  Copyright 1948 by the Second Marine Division History Board and published by Random House Publishers, New York, NY 1948. p.106

[xlvii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.511  Johnson says 2,700 tons. (p.106)

[xlviii] Ibid. Johnston. p.106

[xlix] Ibid. Hammell. p.17

[l] Ibid.

[li] Ibid.. Hammell. 46-47

[lii] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[liii] Ibid. Alexander. p.113.  Alexander notes that the Japanese would have been better served by using these guns on the stalled out landing craft.

[liv] Ibid. Hammell. p.47.

[lv] Ibid. Hammell. p.58

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[lviii] Ibid. Alexander. p.79

[lix] Ibid. Hammell. p.17

[lx] Ibid. Alexander. p.121

[lxi] Wukovits, John. One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa. NAL Caliber, published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group USA, New York NY, 2006. p.112

[lxii] Ibid. Johnston. p.116

[lxiii] Ibid.

[lxiv] Ibid. Wukovits. P.119  Other companies suffered as grievously, K/3/2 was not alone in its suffering.

[lxv] Ibid. Spector. pp.263-264

[lxvi] Ibid. Alexander. pp.136-138

[lxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.90

[lxviii] Ibid. p.95

[lxix] Ibid. Spector. p.264

[lxx] Ibid. Wukovits. p.114

[lxxi] Ibid. Alexander. pp.139-140

[lxxii] 1/8 did not arrive on the beach due to botched communications until D plus 1.

[lxxiii] Ibid. p.150  The last time this signal had been sent it was by Major Devereaux at Wake Isalnd

[lxxiv] Ibid. p.151

[lxxv] Ibid. Johnston. p.132

[lxxvi] Ibid. Hammell. p.112

[lxxvii] Ibid. p.130

[lxxviii] Ibid. Johnston. p.122

[lxxix] Ibid. Johnston. p.122

[lxxx] Ibid. Costello. p.436

[lxxxi] Ibid. Alexander. p.163

[lxxxii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.157-158  Hammell notes that Shibasaski was most likely killed by fire from Ringgold or Dashiell.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Hammell.pp.139-140

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Alexander. p.162

[lxxxv] Ibid.  Wukovits. p.176. Wukovits notes how this could have affected the planning for the Normandy invasion.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.173

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.160

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Costello. p.437

[lxxxix] Ibid. Alexander. p.170

[xc] Ibid. Hammell. p.163

[xci] Ibid. Hammell. p.166

[xcii] Ibid. Wukovits. p.178

[xciii] Ibid. Alexander. p.170 Ryan would be awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.

[xciv] Ibid. Hammell. p.172

[xcv] Ibid. Alexander. p.179

[xcvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.181

[xcvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.178

[xcviii] Ibid.. Wukovits. p.194

[xcix] Ibid. Hammell. p.202

[c] Ibid. Hammell. p.212

[ci] Shoup would be awarded the Medal of Honor and eventually go on to be the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[cii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.191-192

[ciii] Ibid. Johnston. p.134  2 platoons landed on Red-2 and one on Green Beach.

[civ] Ibid. Alexander. pp.202-205

[cv] Ibid. Johnston. pp.145-146

[cvi] Ibid. Johnston. p.147

[cvii] Ibid. Toland. p.470

[cviii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.345

[cix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.511

[cx] Ibid. Spector. p.266

[cxi] Ibid. Potter. P.264

[cxii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.347  The Amtrack in improved forms has been part of the Marines ever since. The current model serves in a traditional amphibious role as well as a Armored Personnel Carrier for Marines involved in ground combat operations ashore.

[cxiii] Ibid. Costello. p.439. The method found to work best was long range plunging fire by heavy guns found on battleships and heavy cruisers.

[cxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.346

[cxv] Ibid. Morison. p.306

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1995.

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945. Quill Publishing, New York, NY 1982

Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Little Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Hammell, Eric and Lane, John E. Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943. The Zenith Press, St. Paul MN 2006.

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in world War II.  Copyright 1948 by the Second Marine Division History Board and published by Random House Publishers, New York, NY 1948

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1976, Third Printing with Revisions 1979

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  The Free Press, New York, NY 1985 Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. Random House, Inc. New York, NY 1970

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Filed under History, imperial japan, Military, US Marine Corps, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Battle Of the Philippine Sea, the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot at 75 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was out late tonight at a fundraiser for #VBStrong at Gordon Biersch where the proceeds went to the major organization helping the victims and the families impacted by the mass murder that took place here in Virginia Beach on May 31st. It was also a night that I got to meet and have dinner with one of my blog followers, and his wife who are in town for their church denominational conference. It was a wonderful evening. Judy and I really enjoyed meeting Brian and his wife Ruth, and thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. It is really a wonderful experience to meet and have a wonderful time with people that enjoy what you write. Hopefully, when any of my books get published I will get the chance to meet others like them. Since I don’t do my blog for money, it is the people who are kind enough to comment, and even those who disagree with me at times that make it worthwhile. Trolls are another matter, but people interested in intelligent discussion without personal invective even when we disagree are a joy to behold.

Because of that I am reposting an older article on the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot which was fought on the 19th and 20th of June 1944. That was 75 years ago, and unlike D-Day I have not seen a single news article or mention of it, even on Navy and DOD websites. But is was the battle that broke the back of Japanese Naval Aviation in the Pacific and helped speed the defeat of Japan.

U.S. Navy personnel observe the Air Battle from a Carrier

This battle was the largest battle between aircraft carrier fleets in history.  Twenty four aircraft carriers, 15 American and 9 Japanese embarking over 1400 aircraft dueled in the Central Pacific in a battle that so decimated Japanese Naval Aviation that it never recovered. The battle and the subsequent fall of Saipan brought down the government of General Tojo and was the beginning of the collapse of the Japanese Empire and the “Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/destroyed-in-seconds-marianas-turkey-shoot.html

In late 1943 the Japanese realized that they needed to recover the initiative in the Pacific.  Between the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Santa Cruz Japanese Naval aviation suffered crippling losses especially among the elite pilots and aircrews with who they had begun the war.  These losses were compounded when the Navy attempted to support the operations of the Army to defend the Solomons and New Guinea.  Squadrons sent to battle the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Corps suffered at the hands of the every more skilled and well equipped American fighter squadrons the victims of which included Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto the Commander of the Combined Fleet when the Betty bomber that he was traveling on was ambushed by U.S. Army Air Corps P-38 Lightening fighters.

Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa

By late 1943 the Japanese were attempting to train new pilots and aircrews to man the carriers of the Combined Fleet’s Carrier Striking Forces.  Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the new commander of the Combined Fleet and its third commander in less than a year developed “Plan A-Go” as a means to mass carrier and land based aviation assets to defeat the Fast Carrier Task Forces of the United States Navy.  The rebuilt Carrier Striking Groups built around 9 carriers embarking 473 aircraft was commanded by Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa who had taken over from Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

D4Y3 “Judy” Dive Bomber

The Japanese discerned the intentions of the Americans when American Carrier aircraft struck Saipan and Guam. The Japanese had expected the Americans to strike further south and the Marianas had few land-based aircraft in the area. Toyoda made the decision to engage the Americans and ordered the fleet to attack. American submarines discovered the gathering Japanese forces. The Japanese forces were assembled by the 17th and by the 18th the 5th Fleet under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance spearheaded by Task Force 58 Commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher had assembled west of Saipan to meet the Japanese.  The Americans fielded 15 carriers including 9 Fleet Carriers of which 6 were the new Essex Class Fleet Carriers which embarked 956 aircraft.

The F6F Hellcat cemented its place as the premier fighter plane of the Pacific war during the “Turkey Shoot”

The Americans held both a quantitative and qualitative advantage against the Japanese. The American fighter squadrons were equipped with the F6F Hellcat which was far superior to the now obsolescent Japanese Zero fighters and their pilots and aircrews were now more experienced and proficient than the newly minted Japanese aviators who by and large had little combat experience and were flying inferior aircraft.  The Japanese had not planned for a long war and had done little to systemically address the heavy losses that their force experienced during 1942 and 1943 at Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and in the Solomons campaign.

Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher aboard the USS Lexington

Mitscher desired to move aggressively against the Japanese. However he was overruled by Spruance who acting on the advice of his Battle Line Commander Vice Admiral Willis Lee decided that a possible night surface action with the Japanese was not desirable. Spruance instead directed Mitscher to be ready to defend against Japanese air strikes knowing that his carriers and carrier based air groups was more than a match for the Japanese air groups.   Spruance has been criticized for his decision but the words of Willis Lee, a veteran of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where he defeated a Japanese force sinking the Battleship Kirishima.  He prevailed in his flagship the USS Washington but losing three of four escorting destroyers and seeing his second battle wagon the USS South Dakota heavily damaged. A night surface engagement was not worth the risk as in Lee’s eyes it evened the playing field for the Japanese and took away the American air power advantages.

A Japanese aircraft goes down in flames

The Japanese began the action on the 19th sending successive attack waves against Task Force 58. They were met by massed formations of Hellcats vectored in by air controllers in the Combat Information Centers of the American carriers using their superior air search radar systems.  In less than two hours well over 200 Japanese aircraft were downed by the Hellcats.  Lieutenant Alexander Vraicu shot down 6 “Judy” dive bombers in minutes before low on fuel he returned to the USS Lexington.

Lieutenant Alexander Vraicru holds up six fingers for six kills

While the Hellcats were chewing up the Japanese squadrons the American submarines USS Albacore and USS Cavalla each sank a Japanese Fleet Aircraft Carrier.  The Albacore hit the Ozawa’s flagship, the new Tiaho with a torpedo which caused minimal damage, but ruptured fuel lines. The Japanese damage control officer opened vents in the ship which allowed the fumes to spread throughout the carrier. They were ignited by a generator causing massive explosions and forcing Ozawa to abandon his flagship. Tiaho would sink by late afternoon after being ripped apart by a series of massive explosions taking with her 1650 of 1750 officers and crew. Cavalla hit the Pearl Harbor veteran Shokaku with a spread of three torpedoes causing that ship to burst into flames with aircraft and ordnance adding to the conflagration. A massive explosion ripped through the ship causing her to sink with a loss of over 1200 officers and crew.

The Japanese flagship Tiaho (above) and her killer the USS Albacore

Toyoda desired that Ozawa retire from the battle before he suffered more losses but Ozawa wanted to stay around and hit the Americans with everything that he had left. The Americans sailed west during the night to seek out the Japanese Fleet. It took the majority of the day to find the Japanese. With only 75 minutes of daylight remaining Mitscher launched a strike despite the risk to his aircrew the majority whom were not trained in night landings.  The American strike sank the carrier Hiyo and two tankers and damaged the carriers Zuikaku, Chitoyda and Junyo as well as the battleship Haruna.  By the end of the day Ozawa had 35 aircraft in flyable condition. About 435 of the aircraft operated from the Japanese carriers were lost with the vast majority of their pilots and aircrew.

The Japanese Fleet under attack, carrier Zuikaku and two destroyers on June 20th

The final part of the drama was the return of the American strike group to the carriers. Knowing that if he maintained darken ship he would lose many aircraft and the men that flew them Mitscher ordered that the fleet turn on its lights. This act was incredibly risky but helped bring the majority of the returning aircraft to land or ditch near the task force.  The Americans lost less than 100 aircraft during the battle, most due to the night landings and unlike the Japanese who lost the majority of their aircrews, most of the American pilots and aircrew were rescued. In addition to their carrier based losses the Japanese lost nearly 200 land based aircraft.

Admiral Raymond Spruance

The battle was the death-kneel of Japanese Naval Aviation. Later in the year the carriers again under Ozawa sailed against the Americans only this time they were a decoy force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a role that they succeeded in admirably. The American carriers now had free run of the Pacific only opposed by land based aircraft many used in a Kamikaze role until the end of the war. These would cause fearful losses among the American ships heavily damaging a number of carriers.

The battle is often forgotten by due to its proximity to the Normandy landings but was a significant step in the fight against Japan. The islands captured by the Americans, Saipan, Tinian and Guam would provide major sea and air staging areas for the final assault against Japan. Tinian would become the base of many Army Air Corps B-29 “Superfortress” bombers including those that dropped the Atomic bombs less than 14 months later. It was a turning point both militarily and politically. With the fall of the Tojo government the Japanese leaders began to slowly tell the truth about wartime setbacks and losses to a people that it had lied to since their invasion of China and occupation of Mongolia.  It was a setback that even Tojo and the highest leadership of Japan knew that they could not recover.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Battle Of Midway at 77 Years: “A Magic Blend of Skill, Faith, and Valor”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we remember the Battle of Midway, the turning point of World War Two in the Pacific. By all empirical means the vastly superior Japanese fleet should have defeated the Americans, but success in war is not based on material alone. There are things unaccounted for, things that happen in the confusion of battle that The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote.

“War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.” 

Six months after Pearl Harbor the United States Navy met the Imperial Japanese Navy in battle on the seas and in the airspace around Midway Island. It was a battle between a fleet that had known nothing but victory in the months after Pearl Harbor and one with the exception of a few minor tactical successes was reeling.

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Akagi April 1942

The Japanese had swept across the Pacific and the Indian Oceans and decimated every Allied Naval forces that stood in their way. After Pearl Harbor they had sunk the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse off of Singapore.  Next in a series of engagements destroyed the bulk of the US Asiatic Fleet in the waters around the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea where the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian (ABDA) naval forces engaged were annihilated attempting to fight superior Japanese forces.

Hermes_sinking

HMS Hermes sinking after Japanese Carrier air attack in the Indian Ocean

In the Indian Ocean Admiral Nagumo’s carriers dispatched a force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes. In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from achieving its goal. At the Battle of the Coral Sea where Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby sinking the light carrier Shoho, damaging the modern carrier Shokaku and decimating the air groups of the Japanese task force.

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USS Hornet launching B-25 Bombers during the Doolittle Raid

In May US Navy code breakers under the direction of Commander Joe Rochefort at Pearl Harbor discovered the next move of the Imperial Navy an attack on Midway Island and the Aleutian islands. Since the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor Admiral Chester Nimitz committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers, a total of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway. Nimitz also sent a force of 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers to cover the Aleutians.

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SBU-2 Vindicator Dive Bomber landing on Midway (above) PBY Catalina (below)images-43

Land based air assets on Midway were composed of a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft, many of which were obsolete. Aboard Midway there were 32 US Navy PBY Catalina Flying Boats, 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced pilots.

Nimitz’s instructions to his Task Force Commanders was simple “You will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting … greater damage on the enemy.”

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                            Isoroku Yamamoto

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto commanded the Combined Fleet. The victor of Pearl Harbor and the triumph’s in the first six months of the Pacific War was determined to end the war with a decisive battle at Midway. His plans were opposed by many in the Imperial General Staff, especially those in the Army but when the US raid on Tokyo, the Doolittle Raid, all opposition to the attack was dropped.

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The Japanese sent a force of 7 battleships and 7 carriers against Midway. These included the elite First Carrier Striking Group composed of the Pearl Harbor attackers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu and their highly trained and combat experienced air groups. Among the surface ships was Yamamoto’s flagship, the mighty Battleship Yamato, at 72,000 tons and armed with 9 18” guns, the most powerful and largest battleship ever to see combat.

The strike force included 273 aircraft and was escorted by 14 cruisers and 39 destroyers. They were to take Midway and then destroy the US Navy when it came out to fight. Yamamoto sent a force force of 4 battleships, 12 destroyers assigned screen to the Aleutian invasion force which was accompanied by 2 carriers 6 cruisers and 10 destroyers. The other carriers embarked a further 114 aircraft.

Despite this great preponderance in numbers Yamamoto’s plan was complex and his forces too far apart from each other to offer support should and get into trouble. The powerful Japanese Task forces were scattered over thousands of square miles of the Northern Pacific Ocean where they could not rapidly come to the assistance of any other group.

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With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway eluding the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance and Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher with the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of calculated risk when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina discovered the Japanese invasion force and US long range bombers launched attacks against it causing no damage. The morning of the 4th the Americans adjusted their search patterns in and the Japanese came into range of Midway and commenced their first strike against the island.

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In response land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failing to damage the Japanese task force. The American Carrier task forces launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind of the Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier  was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

Orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island and then on discovery of the Yorktown task force, orders changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. The hard working Japanese aircrew did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft but by 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers.

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As the Japanese crews worked the Japanese carriers were engaged in fending off attacks by the US torpedo bomber squadrons, VT-6 from Enterprise, VT-8 from Hornet and VT-3 from Yorktown. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators were shot down. Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron.

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LCDR Lance Massey CO of VT-3

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LCDR John Waldron CO of VT-8

LCDR Eugene Lindsey CO of VT-6

Torpedo 6 from Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo 3 from Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey from the Yorktown. These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown.

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There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet did not find the carriers and had to return for lack of fuel while losing a number of bombers and their fighter escort having to ditch inn the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when the wake of a Japanese destroyer was spotted.  McClusky followed it to the Japanese Task Force. The Yorktown’sgroup under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

Dauntless_dive_bombers

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

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Akagi dodging bombs at Midway

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

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LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’slookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.  Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

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VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her.

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The remaining Japanese flattop the Hiryu attained the same fate later in the day after engaging in an epic duel with the Yorktown which her aircraft heavily damaged. Yorktown would be sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168 while being towed to safety.

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USS Yorktown under attack from Kate Torpedo Bombers from Hiryu on June 4th 1942

In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed. Authors have entitled books about Midway Incredible Victory by Walter Lord and Miracle at Midway by Gordon Prange and those titles reflect the essence of the battle.

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

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USS Enterprise

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the EnterpriseHornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world.

Walter Lord, whose history of the battle is still the classic presentation of it wrote:

“Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The God of Death has Come” The Battle of Tarawa

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some things that should not be forgotten, unfortunately many of them are lost to history. One of these events was the American assault against the Japanese fortress on Tarawa Atoll in November 1943. The battle was one of the deadliest encounters of the Second World War, and was waged for the control of a tiny coral atoll that only occupied one square mile of the earth’s s surface. Dug in on that atoll were about 4,000 Japanese defenders.

The only Japanese officer to survive, Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Ota recalled, “We could see the American landing craft coming towards us like dozens of spiders over the surface of the water.  One of my men exclaimed, ‘The God of Death has come!’”

I hope that this small attempt to detail that battle helps you understand the sacrifice of the men who fought there.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The American Decision: Operation Galvanic

The Target: Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll

Following the Guadalcanal campaign and the shift of significant naval forces away from the Solomons, the focus of the U. S. Navy and Marine Corps shifted to operations in the Central Pacific. Unlike the Solomons campaign, which was initially a Navy and Marine Corps Operation, but shifted to Army control under General Douglas MacArthur as the campaign shifted to Borneo; the operations in the Central Pacific would be an almost total Navy and Marine Corps operation.

Operation Galvanic was the first offensive operation in the Central Pacific. It came about as a result of the Joint U.S. Strategic Committee decision in April 1943 to favor an advance in the Central Pacific while continuing to maintain McArthur’s offensive in the South Pacific.[i]

Betio Island after the Battle

The driving force behind this strategy was Admiral Ernest King. King fought for the plan and “insisted that any campaign should focus on the destruction of Japan’s overseas resources, which meant an offensive directed only toward the Western Pacific sea lanes.”[ii] The Joint Chiefs believed that a simultaneous attack by the forces of Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Central Pacific, and MacArthur in the South Pacific would “keep the Japanese guessing” in regard to which direction the Americans would strike. [iii] The decision of The Joint Chiefs was presented to the British at the TRIDENT meetings in May 1943 and while the British resisted the American plans, a compromise was reached which allowed the Americans to “simultaneously…maintain and extend unremitting pressure against Japan….”[iv]

Japanese Troops Emplacing 8″ Vickers Gun

The decision to begin operations in the Central Pacific meant that the priority that MacArthur’s had been given in logistics and personnel would be reduced in order to launch the Central Pacific operation.  MacArthur protested to no avail, and the Joint Chief’s stood firm in their decision that the Central Pacific operation “would make it easier to isolate Japan from her domain in the south.”[v]

MacArthur was allowed to continue OPERATION CARTWHEEL in order to neutralize the key Japanese base at Rabaul while Nimitz’s forces attacked the Marshall and Caroline islands.[vi] Nimitz’s staff began their preparations and decided on a conservative course to capture the Gilberts first before taking the more heavily defended Marshalls.[vii] This was in part due to the “need to minimize the risks to his untried amphibious forces against such heavily fortified enemy bases out of reach of air cover.”[viii]

Japanese Naval Infantry conducting Live Fire with Type 99 Machine Guns

Several factors were considered by Nimitz and his planners considerations in this choice.  Nimitz did not have enough troops to capture all of the vital heavily defended locations in the Marshalls without dividing his forces.[ix] Additionally the Gilbert operation could be supported by land based bombers.[x] A final consideration was the Joint Chief’s decision to allow MacArthur to retain control of 1st Marine Division, which Nimitz had hoped to employ in his operations in the Central Pacific.[xi] The Staff of CINCPAC did a thorough photo reconnaissance of the Gilbert’s, and convinced the Joint Chiefs that Tarawa and Makin needed to be taken to provide air bases for the assault on the Marshalls.  Finally, the order for Galvanic was issued on 20 July 1943 with its execution planned for November 1943.[xii]

Japanese Preparations

Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki

“It will take a million men a thousand years to take Betio”

The Japanese had done little to prepare against potential American offensive operations against the Gilbert’s until Makin Island was raided by elements of the 2nd Raider Battalion in August 1942.  The Makin raid shook the Japanese and they reinforced Makin and occupied Betio.[xiii]

The Japanese deployed the Yokosuka 6th Special Landing Force, essentially Naval Infantry or Marines[xiv] and the 111th Construction Battalion to Betio on 15 September 1942, over nine months after they attacked Pearl Harbor.[xv]

These forces were commanded by Admiral Tomanari Sachiro, who at once began to fortify Betio. Tomanari was a skilled officer who appreciated the value of strong fortifications on exposed islands like Betio. Likewise, recognizing that his forces were inadequate to the mission, Tomanari asked Tokyo for reinforcements. The reinforcements came in the form of Commander Sugai’s 7th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force, which landed on 14 March.[xvi]Commander Sugai’s troops were the famed Rikusentai, the best of the Japanese Navy’s land forces and considered to be better disciplined, trained, and effective than Imperial Army Units of the same size.

Japanese Gunnery Exercises before the Invasion

The fortification of Betio proceeded slowly until Rear Admiral Shibasaki relieved Tomanari, who returned to Japan. [xvii] Shibasaki was a tough veteran of service at sea and ashore including 19 months as a Rikusentai[xviii] officer in China. Shibasaki was chosen by Admiral Mineichi Koga, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto’s to instill a better fighting spirit on the island.

The Imperial General Headquarters, issued a “New Operations Plan,” which ordered the outer defensive islands, such as Tarawa, to “hold up any American advance while an inner line of fortresses was constructed….”[xix]

Shibasaki drove the garrison hard, inspiring them to “extraordinary heights of labor that resulted in Betio’s superb defenses.”[xx]Betio mounted four 8” Naval guns[xxi], four 14 cm guns, four dual mount 5.5” dual purpose guns[xxii] six 80 mm anti-boat guns, eight 75 mm dual purpose guns, ten 75 mm mountain guns, six 70 mm guns and nine 37 mm anti-tank guns, numerous machine guns. The defenders were also equipped with light AA guns and 14 Type 95 Ha-Gō light tanks.[xxiii]

These weapons were mounted in well camouflaged, armored, or reinforced pillboxes, connected by trenches. [xxiv] In accordance with the directives of the high command, Shibasaki ordered his troops “to defend to the last man all vital areas and destroy the enemy at the waters’ edge.”[xxv]

The Japanese records note that Shibasaki “immediately began to strengthen morale and carried out advanced training, and as a result…the garrison remarkably enhanced its fighting capability and they were full of confidence.”[xxvi] Even the service troops were thoroughly trained to fight from their superb defensive positions.[xxvii] Shibasaki reportedly told his men that it would take a million men a thousand years to take Betio.

American Preparations for Galvanic

LVT Amphibious Tractor

Nimitz organized his forces into three major commands, the 5th Fleet, commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance, the 5th Amphibious Force under Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner, and the V Amphibious Corps under Major General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, USMC.[xxviii] The 2nd Marine Division, which was assigned to assault Tarawa, was commanded by Major General Julian Smith.

The force that sustained this operation, and the subsequent amphibious operations was the Service Force Pacific Fleet.[xxix] This was a collection of ships whose mission it was to sustain the fleet in mobile operations. [xxx] This force, greatly “increased the range and power of the Navy in amphibious operations.”[xxxi] The plans for Galvanic called for the Army’s 27th Division take Makin Island, and the 2nd Marine Division which had been blooded at Guadalcanal, to take Tarawa, supported by the carriers and battleships of Admiral Raymond Spruance’s 5th Fleet.

Galvanic was the first application of new amphibious tactics developed for the Pacific war.[xxxii] Air and sea bombardment would precede the actual assault. The Marines would be transported ashore in a new vehicle called an LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked) and other amphibious ships and craft including the LSD (Landing Ship Dock), LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) and LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel).

The LVTs were absolutely vital at Tarawa because of the distance that the reef extended from the beaches. The LVT’s, nicknamed “Amtracks” or “Amphtracks” were essentially a tracked amphibious personnel carrier. They were developed from a commercial vehicle used by U.S. Forrest Service Rangers in the Florida Everglades and were capable of crossing coral reefs that other craft could not cross.

The early LVTs had retrofitted armor and mounted a .50 cal. machine gun.  At Tarawa the Marines deployed 75 LVT-1s[xxxiii] and 50 LVT-2s. A total of 93 LVTs were part of the first wave of the Marine assault.[xxxiv] The LVTs were transported to Tarawa aboard LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks.)

Other innovations in this new form of amphibious warfare included the assignment of Naval Gunfire Support teams to the Marine Regiments, and down to some battalions. [xxxv] The attack at Tarawa was the first time that the Marines used the M4 Sherman tank in combat. [xxxvi]

Tarawa, ended up being a real combat proving ground for the tactics and equipment which would be improved on and used in every subsequent amphibious operation in the Pacific.  Tarawa also marked the last major use of rubber landing craft by the Marine Corps in an opposed landing.[xxxvii]

There were limitations to American preparations. First the size of the force meant that it could not be assembled in one place for rehearsals or to train as a team.[xxxviii] A second problem for the Americans was the assumption that high and low tides would be sufficient to get their landing craft across the reef in spite of warnings to the contrary.[xxxix] Likewise, the Americans failed to completely anticipate the scope to which the Japanese had fortified the island.

The latter was a failure of commanders to appreciate good intelligence that had been provided to them. In particular, aerial photos taken by the Air Force, and ULTRA intercepts provided good information on the strength and composition of the Japanese units on the island, as well as the layout of the defenses.[xl]

Likewise, some important equipment shortages were not remedied. The Marine Bazooka’s did not arrive, and neither the 6th or 8th Marines had ever made an actual amphibious assault.  At Guadalcanal the these regiments made an administrative landing, and few field-grade officers remained from the 2nd Marine Regiment who had landed at Tulagi.[xli] Despite their combat experience, they were far from the “amphibious experts” that they would become.[xlii]

However, they made up for their lack of practical amphibious experience by their cohesiveness, high morale and esprit. Likewise, they were well armed and equipped, in top physical condition and knew the basic tools of their trade: “weapons proficiency and field firing, close combat techniques, fire and maneuver, tactical leadership, fire discipline.”[xliii]

Japanese Vickers 8″ Gun Emplacement

The most critical aspect of the operation was to get across the reef onto the island.  There were few good landing sites and it was decided to make the landings from inside the atoll’s lagoon onto the Betio’s north shore.  This decision meant that transports embarking the Marines would have to unload outside of the lagoon and that the landing craft would have to make a 10 mile trip to get to the beaches.[xliv]

Another problem was that there was only one entrance into the lagoon, and it was not deep enough for heavy ships to enter.[xlv] This meant that ships such as battleships and cruisers would not be able provide direct, close range fire on the Japanese positions which were best situated to disrupt the Marines.

The execution of the plan involved land based bomber strikes beginning on D minus 7. Carrier aircraft would begin their operations on D minus 2.  Cruisers and destroyers joined the cacophony of destruction on D minus 1 and the battleships on D-Day itself.[xlvi]

On D-Day the Navy planned to bombard the island with 3,000 tons of shells in 2 ½ hours.[xlvii] The Navy was confident in its bombardment plans. Rear Admiral H. F. Kingman, who commanded the fire support group declared “We will not neutralize; we will not destroy; we will obliterate the defenses on Betio!”[xlviii]

Four battalions of Marines would land in the first wave, the three battalions of the 2nd Marines Regiment, and 2nd Battalion 8th Marines, all commanded by Colonel David Shoup.

Colonel Shoup would win the Medal of Honor on Betio and later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps. However, he assumed command of the 2nd Marines when the Regimental commander fell ill on the journey to Efate.[xlix] The division reserve were the remaining two battalions of the 8th Marine Regiment. The Division’s 6th Marine Regiment served as the corps reserve.[l]The assault units would be reinforced by tanks, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions 18th Marine Regiment, the division’s combat engineers.

The Invasion: Day One

Marines Going Ashore on Day One

The final naval gunfire bombardment commenced at 0542 hours on 20 November, and the assault waves began their trek to the beaches.  The transports were out of range of Japanese guns, but since they were so far out, the small amphibious craft boats have to make a 10 mile trip to get to the beaches. [li]At this point things began to go seriously wrong for the Marines.

LCT (Landing Craft Tank) Sinking after Being Hit

Unfortunately, Admiral Kingman and the Navy had “badly miscalculated the amount of softening-up that could be done in two and a half daylight hours bombardment.” Although the bi Vickers guns were silenced, not enough damage was done to the Japanese defenses.[lii] The Japanese unwittingly helped the Marines by firing their larger guns at the warships instead of holding fire, thus identifying their positions to Navy gunners.[liii]

The bombardment was lifted to allow an attack by carrier based aircraft. However, the aircraft were late to arrive and the ships did not resume fire, allowing the Japanese to emerge and re-train their weapons on the approaching landing craft.[liv] Likewise the destroyers USS Ringgold and USS Dashiell, the only ships operating inside the lagoon and providing close Naval Gunfire Support, were ordered to cease fire, knowing the Japanese gunners along the shore were still active.[lv] Some believe that an extra half hour of direct fire from the destroyers would have saved many lives.[lvi]

The LVTs in the first three waves were delayed by a heavy chop outside the lagoon and did not make landfall until 0913, which threw off the landing schedule.[lvii] The expected and planned for rise in tides did not materialize, and tides remained unpredictably low for the first 48 hours. As a result, no landing craft other than the LVTs could cross the reef, and the Marines were forced to wade ashore from distances of 600 to 1000 yards.[lviii]

Marines Wading Across the Lagoon

Shoup’s Marines landed on three beaches.  Red One and Red Two lay to the west of a 500 yard long pier, while Red Three lay to the east.  Third Battalion Second Marines (3/2) landed on Red-1, while 2/2 on Red-2. Second Battalion Eighth Marines (2/8) landed on Red-3, while elements of 1/18 and the scout snipers landed at the pier, with First Battalion Second Marines (1/2) remained at sea in reserve to land behind the battalion making the best progress.[lix]

As soon as the Amtracks hit the reef the Japanese began firing.  Every “working weapon along the north and west shorelines….blazed forth in fierce, interlocking fields of fire.”[lx] As they watched the Amtracks craw over the reef that Japanese knew they were in for a tough fight, one of Warrant Officer Ota’s men exclaimed “Heavens! The God of Death has come!”[lxi]

The Marines of 3/2 on Red-1 received enfilade fire from Japanese guns emplaced in a U around the beach. Even before the Marines landed they began to take causalities, Amtracks were hit in the lagoon and most that were not sunk or destroyed were unfit for further use.[lxii] The 2000 Marines who landed on the beaches in the first hour of the assault were badly disorganized, and the commanding officer’s of 2/2 and the Amtracks were killed. 3/2’s commander was isolated on the reef and only 2/8’s commander was with his troops. 2/8 was the only battalion being to reach the shore relatively intact.[lxiii] 3/2 was down to 65% of its strength and Kilo Company, 3/2 had taken over 50% casualties.[lxiv]

The Marines in the fourth to sixth waves were struggling to wade ashore from the reef. Landing craft “ran aground or milled about helplessly outside the reef, which was swept by crossfire from behind the beaches and from a grounded hulk northwest of the pier.”[lxv] Most of the tanks were put out of action either through accurate fire by Japanese guns or by sinking in deep areas of the lagoon, the Tank battalion commander was blown out of his Amtrack, wounded and survived 24 hours by clinging to a pile of dead bodies to keep from drowning.[lxvi]

Colonel Shoup Directing Operations

Colonel Shoup landed at Red-2 and began directing operations on the beach.  He knew that he had to get more troops ashore to exploit the minimal gains his Marines had made.  The news from Red One and Two was bad; he decided to bring 1/2 in at Red-2 thought that 3/8 should go in at Red-3.[lxvii] At 1018 General Julian Smith ordered the 8th Marines to dispatch 3/8 to Red-3.[lxviii] The Marines of 3/8 had to make their way across 700 yards through the water to get to the beach. They were slaughtered, and only 30 percent of the first wave got ashore, while the second and the third “were practically wiped out.”[lxix]

Close Combat

As Shoup’s Marines struggled to reach the beaches, those who had gotten ashore engaged the Japanese at point blank range. First Lieutenant William Hawkins of the 2nd Marine Scout and Sniper platoon and five of his men engaged the Japanese on the pier in vicious hand to hand fighting. [lxx] Staff Sergeant Bordelon of the Engineers on Red-2 though grievously wounded knocked out four gun positions, some by lobbing dynamite charges into them and galvanizing survivors into action, finally being killed while taking on a Japanese position alone.  Both Marines would be awarded the Medal of Honor.[lxxi]

Wounded Being Evacuated by Rubber Raft

By afternoon Julian Smith realized that he needed more troops, his last battalion, 1/8 waited to go ashore.[lxxii] Smith asked for the 6th Marines. He had Rear Admiral Wilbur Hill, Commander of Amphibious Group Two, send a message to Admiral Richmond K. Turner stating “Issue in doubt. I concur.” This message sent a chill through the listening Naval Staff.[lxxiii]

Ashore, Colonel Shoup brought in howitzers from 1st Battalion 10th Marines on his surviving Amtracks to the eastern edge of Red Two near the pier. [lxxiv] The howitzers landed in the early evening.[lxxv] Shoup sent Lieutenant Colonel Carlson to make a personal report to General Smith that he would hold onto his beachhead no matter what happened.

Shoup ordered his Catholic Chaplain to lay out a cemetery and begin burying the dead who were already decomposing in the tropical heat.[lxxvi] As this transpired, 2/8 got two of its 37mm anti-tank guns into position to drive off Japanese tanks approaching the beachhead.[lxxvii]

Members of the Second Marine Division Band assisted Navy Hospital Corpsman in bringing back wounded Marines.[lxxviii] For the rest of the day the Marines continued to eke out a beachhead. Shoup’s Marines on Red-2 and Red-3 managed to advance about halfway across the island, while 3/2 and elements 1/2 and 2/2 were isolated. Major Ryan of Lima Company 3/2 pulled them back to meet an expected Japanese counter-attack.[lxxix]

By nightfall the Marines had taken over 1500 casualties of 5000 men landed the first day.[lxxx] There is no evidence that Shoup considered withdraw that night.[lxxxi] No counterattack occurred due to Japanese command and control problems. The primary cause was that Admiral Shibasaki and his staff were killed while shifting the position of their headquarters during the afternoon,[lxxxii] and the Japanese communications were in shambles. A well organized counterattack would have been disastrous for the Marines,[lxxxiii] but it did not happen, even though the Japanese assembled over 1000 men to oppose the Marines on day two.[lxxxiv] Had Shibasaki lived and the Japanese communications survived, a counterattack might have had ramifications far beyond Tarawa.[lxxxv]

Day Two

Advancing Under Fire

The second day began with the First Battalion EighthMarines landing on Red Two, while the 6th Marines began to land on Green Beach at the far western tip of Betio.  Like the Marines who landed on the first day, 1/8’s landing turned into a bloodbath, the tide fell even lower than the previous day. As they hit the reef and waded ashore they drifted into some of the heaviest Japanese defenses. Japanese guns, including the dual 5.5” guns took direct aim at the boats, while Marines ashore watched helplessly. War correspondent Robert Sherrod noted: “This is worse, far worse than it was yesterday.”[lxxxvi] Only half of 1/8 reached the beach with none of their heavy weapons or equipment.  Shoup ordered the remnants of the battalion into line on his western flank in preparation for an advance inland.[lxxxvii] During five hours of landings on day two, the “Marine casualties reached a higher rate than that sustained on the first morning.”[lxxxviii]

Meanwhile, Shoup ordered Ryan’s “orphans” to make an attack down the right flank of the Japanese positions on Green Beach. Shoup’s decision and Ryan’s leadership made the attack a success. The “American victory at Betio evolved from the attack during one intense hour the second morning.”[lxxxix]

Taking every available Marine, two surviving Sherman tanks, and some mortars, Ryan gathered his force and coordinated Naval Gunfire support. The area contained a number of heavy guns including two of the remaining 8” mounts.  A destroyer blanketed the Japanese positions with 5” shells and fire from her light AA guns.[xc] Attacking behind the beach, Ryan’s Marines isolated and destroyed everyone and everything that looked hostile.[xci] Against minimal opposition Ryan’s Marines quickly seized the gun positions and the western end of the airfield.  Within an hour his Marines occupied the entire western side of Betio up to a 200 yard depth. At 1200 he radioed Shoup to let him know the good news, and that he now intended to advance east against the airfield.[xcii] The attack allowed the Marines to land intact battalions with supporting arms for the first time battle.[xciii]

To the east behind Red Two and Red- Three, the 8th Marines and survivors of 1/2 and 2/2 attacked against fierce Japanese opposition near Shibasaki’s former command bunker and two other large bunkers which were mutually supporting.  The attack by the 2nd Marine survivors eventually succeeded in getting completely across the south side of the island.[xciv] During the attack Lt. Hawkins of the Scout Snipers, who had distinguished himself at the pier the previous day was mortally wounded.

The attack cut the island in two, but the Japanese launched a viscous counterattack on the Marine positions which was beaten back.[xcv] The 8th Marines faced a more difficult task going against what was now the heart of the Japanese defense as the defenders had been reinforced by Lt. Minami and his third company of the 7th Special Naval Landing Force.

Vicious fighting ensued and by nightfall “the Marines had little to show for their heavy losses,[xcvi] but they did make significant inroads against the Japanese to warrant optimism for D+2.[xcvii] By evening the Marines on Red-1 and Red-2 had consolidated their beachhead so that reinforcements were finally able to land, including jeeps, artillery and heavy equipment.

By mid-day the Marines noted that Japanese defenders were beginning to commit suicide, and they began to feel that Japanese morale had broken.  By late afternoon Shoup transmitted the message: “Casualties many. Percentage of dead unknown. Combat efficiency-We are winning.”[xcviii] By late afternoon Major Jones’s First Battalion Sixth Marines landed on Green beach in their rubber boats, reinforcing Ryan’s orphans. It was the first of the 7 battalions on the island to get ashore intact.

Ryan and Jones coordinated their units for a night defense and an early attack the next morning.[xcix] Meanwhile, Second Battalion Sixth Marines cleared the nearby island of Bairiki, allowing the artillery of Second Battalion Tenth Marines to land its howitzers on the island.  This in cut off any line of retreat for the defenders of Betio.[c] Colonel Merritt Edson came ashore during the evening to relieve Shoup[ci], who remained to help coordinate the next day’s attack. Once again there were no coordinated Japanese counterattacks. The senior officer, Commander Takes Sugai, was isolated in the pocket between the Red and Green beaches, and no senior officer could coordinate any attacks.[cii]

Mopping Up: Day Three and Four

Wrecked LVT’s and Dead Marines Litter the Beach

Day three began with attacks against Japanese strong points and the arrival of more reinforcements, including 3/6 which landed on Green Beach, and three light tank platoons which landed on Red-2.[ciii] The Marines attacked from Green Beach, sweeping east to join the 2nd Marines who had cut the island in two the day before.  The 8th Marines continued to attack the heavily fortified bunker complex, and eventually captured the heavily fortified and defended positions.

During the assault First Lieutenant Sandy Bonnyman of 1/18 won the Medal of Honor for leading the assault on these positions, including destroying a major bunker defended by 150 Japanese, he was killed during the fight.[civ] Fighting remained fierce throughout the day and General Smith arrived to take command on shore.  The Marines continued to attack supported by tanks, artillery and naval gunfire.  By the evening they were established at the east end of the airfield.

The now desperate Japanese defenders launched a series of Banzai charges which beginning about 1930 hours and ending about 0400 when the Marines annihilated the last attack with the assistance of artillery.[cv] The attack, which could have succeeded the first or early the second day, now aided the Marines by killing troops that might have been used to exact a higher price in Marine lives for the tail of the island.[cvi]

The next morning the Marines pushed forward and eliminated the last Japanese defenders, and by 1200 Betio was secured.  Of about 5000 defenders only 17 Japanese and some Korean laborers were taken prisoner.[cvii] The Marines lost over 1000 killed and 2300 wounded.[cviii]

One of the Japanese Survivors being Interrogated

Epilogue

The Marines paid a heavy price for Betio, but it was not to be a useless sacrifice. However, it was a source of great controversy especially among politicians.[cix] Historian Ronald Spector wonders if waiting for better tides or a full moon would have saved lives.[cx] Holland Smith later argued that Tarawa should have been bypassed, but Nimitz’s biographer, E. B. Potter notes “if the lessons of the amphibious assault had not been learned at Tarawa, they would have to be learned elsewhere, probably at greater cost.”[cxi]

The lessons learned aided all future amphibious operations in the Central Pacific and elsewhere.  Timing and coordination of naval gunfire support, air strikes and combat loading of transports were all refined in future operations. Large numbers of armored and up-gunned Amtracks would be part of every future operation.[cxii] Intelligence was emphasized and replicas of the Japanese fortifications were built and tested to determine the best way of destroying them.[cxiii] Likewis, the Marines shocked the public by releasing photos and films of the carnage on Tarawa to awaken them to the challenges ahead.[cxiv]

Today the battle is remembered annually by the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Each year, an ever shrinking number of veterans of the battle attend the ceremonies.  Samuel Eliot Morison put it best: “All honor, then, to the fighting heart of the United States Marine. Let the battle for that small stretch of coral sand called Betio of Tarawa be remembered as terrible indeed, but glorious, and the seedbed for victory in 1945.”[cxv]

Appendix: The Commanders

Lieutenant General Holland Smith and Major General Julian Smith

General Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith USMC: (1882-1967) Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith commanded V Amphibious Corps during the Gilberts operation.  Prior to the war he had worked extensively on amphibious warfare doctrine for both the Marine Corps and Navy. Unlike many senior officers Smith was not a Naval Academy graduate having matriculated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1903 and law school in 1903.  Smith served as Adjutant of the 4th Marine Brigade in the First World War and served in Panama and the Dominican Republic in addition to other Marine tours afloat and ashore.  He served well and had many key assignments between the wars culminating in as the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Subsequent to the Gilbert campaign he served as Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and later commanded the Marines at Iwo Jima.  He retired in 1946.

Major General Julian Smith USMC: (1885-1975) Major General Julian Smith served as Commanding General 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa.  He graduated from the University of Delaware and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1909.  He served in Haiti, Santo Domingo and the Vera Cruz expedition. During the First World War he served as an instructor in the Marine Officer training camps at Quantico. After the war he served in Cuba, Nicaragua and various command and staff posts including the Army Command and General Staff College.  He commanded 5th Marines in 1938 and in 1942 was promoted the Major General serving as director of Fleet Marine Force Schools, New River, NC.  He took command of 2nd Marine Division in May 1943 and served there until April 1944 when he became Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops, Third Fleet and in December 1944 took command of the Military Department of the Pacific.  He retired in 1946.

Colonel David Shoup

Colonel David Shoup USMC: (1904-1983) Colonel David Shoup commanded the 2nd Marines at Tarawa, being appointed as commander when its commander fell ill.  Shoup won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Tarawa.  A 1926 graduate of DePauw University, Shoup was commissioned a Second Lieutenant through the ROTC program that year.  He served in various assignments to include service in China, at sea on the battleship Maryland and Marine Barracks Puget Sound Navy Yard. He joined the staff of 6th Marines in October 1940 and assumed command of 2/6 in February 1942.  He was assigned as the Assistant Operations Officer for 2nd Marine Division in July 1942 and promoted the Lieutenant Colonel.   He went with the Division to New Zealand where he became the G-3 and from which he was fleeted up to command 2ndMarines at Tarawa.  After Tarawa he served as the Division Chief of Staff at Saipan and Tinian.  After the war Shoup continued to be assigned in key billets at the Pentagon and as commanding General, 1st Marine Division and then the Third Marine Division.  He became Chief of Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps in 1958 and was appointed as the 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps by President Eisenhower, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1963.

Rear Admiral Tomanari Sachiro

Admiral Tomanari Sachiro IJN: (1887-?) Commander of Tarawa garrison until relieved by Rear Admiral Shibasaki.   Graduate Naval Academy 1910, initially a communications officer he held various commands including three destroyers, an Oiler, the Light Cruiser Yuma, Heavy Cruisers, Furutake and, Haguro and the Battleship Kirishima. Assigned to Tarawa in February 1943, he helped design and supervised the initial construction of the defenses until he was relieved by Admiral Shibasaki on 20 July1943.  He returned to Japan and served the remainder of the war on Navy Division of Imperial General Headquarters.  Tomonari survived the war though nothing is mentioned as to his postwar fate.

Rear Admiral Shibasaki Keiji

Rear Admiral Shibasaki Keiji IJN: (1894-1943) Commanded Tarawa Garrison until his death during the battle.  He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1915 and he was a skilled navigator and instructor.  Prior to the war he had served afloat and ashore and ashore and had commanded a ship and naval station and served as a naval attaché to Prince Kuni Asaakira, a member of the Imperial Family.  Among his assignments was 19 month combat tour with the special Naval Landing Forces in China, where he served as Chief of Staff of Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force.  Shibasaki’s leadership helped the garrison improve their defensive capabilities and combat skills as he inspired them to great heights and executed an intense training program. He was killed in the battle.

A Personal Note

I have not been to Tarawa but feel that I know it well.  I served in Second Marine Division from April 1999 through December 2001.  Due to my prior service experience I was used to fill gaps where chaplains were needed and ended up serving in four different battalions.  I served in 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, the descendant of 1/18, the combat engineers.  We had a WWII Bulldozer outside our command post named after Sergeant Bordelon, the Medal of Honor Citations for Bordelon and Boonyman were prominently displayed.  I also served in 1/8 and 3/8.  I knew the accounts of the slaughter of these Marines as they attempted to land but as I re-read the accounts I was moved by their courage under fire.  The CPs of these battalions are also adorned with citations of their heroes lost at Tarawa.  Veterans would visit our units during Tarawa Days at Camp LeJeune, worn by the battle and the years they always made a great impression on me.

There is almost a mystical connection between the Second Marine Division and the Marines of Tarawa; it was a crucible that defined the division, whose motto is the same as the Army Infantry School. “Follow Me!”

Semper Fidelis,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[i] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  The Free Press, New York, NY 1985. p.253

[ii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.338

[iii] Ibid. Spector. p.253

[iv] Ibid. p.255 The conference also set a date for the invasion of France.

[v] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. Random House, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.468

[vi] Ibid. Spector. p.255

[vii] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945. Quill Publishing, New York, NY 1982. p.430

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1976, Third Printing with Revisions 1979. p.243. Nimitz’s forces would have had to seize 5 major Japanese bases and his staff was not sure that the Pacific carrier force would be strong or experienced enough to provide the necessary air cover for the operation.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid. pp.243-245

[xii] Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Little Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.296.

[xiii] Hammell, Eric and Lane, John E. Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943. The Zenith Press, St. Paul MN 2006.  Text copyright 1998 Eric Hammell and John E. Lane. p.4

[xiv] See Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa.Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1995. pp. 39-40.  This unit became the Third Special Base Unit on its deployment and was joined by the 111th Construction Battalion.

[xv] Ibid. Hammell. p.4

[xvi] See Alexander pp.39-40. This unit was basically a reinforced infantry battalion with 3 rifle companies, a weapons battery, anti-aircraft battery, a light tank company and support units numbering about1600 men.

[xvii] Ibid. Alexander. p.43

[xviii] Alexander p.27 The Rikusentai was the Japanese equivalent of Marines, who numbered about 50,000 men.  The officers attended Army schools and qualified enlisted men attended additional Army specialist training.

[xix] Ibid. Costello. p.431

[xx] Ibid. Hammell. p.22

[xxi] See Alexander p.77. While most writers say that these guns were brought from Singapore, Alexander notes that British writer William H Bartsch submitted proof (serial numbers) that the guns were sold by Vickers to Japan in 1905 as a legitimate business transaction.

[xxii] These are the same guns (127mm) mounted as the secondary armament of Nachi and Takao Class Heavy Cruisers and later mounted on light cruisers to replace the main battery with a more effective anti-aircraft armament.

[xxiii] Ibid. Hammell. p.22

[xxiv] Hammell notes that many of these bunkers and pillboxes were so well concealed that they could not be seen.

[xxv] Ibid. Toland. p.469.

[xxvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.43.

[xxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.28

[xxviii] Ibid. Morison. p.297

[xxix] Ibid. Costello. p.429

[xxx] At this point the force could provide everything except major permanent repairs to warships.

[xxxi] Liddell-Hart, B.H.  History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY 1970. p.511

[xxxii] Ibid. Costello. p.431

[xxxiii] The older LVT-1s had boiler plate armor added as a field modification and were given a heavy machine gun. Prior to this they were unarmored and had two light machine guns.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[xxxv] Hammell includes a by name list of these officers in Appendix B.  Of note for today, each MEUSOC (Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable) has an assigned Naval Gunfire Support Team.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Alexander. pp. 61-62.  The Shermans had to be transported aboard pre-loaded LCM-3s carried in the well decks of the LSDs.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.58-59

[xxxviii] Ibid. Morison. p.297.  As a sidebar discussion it should be noted that Galvanic helped provide the model for the organization of all further Marine Corps amphibious doctrine now known by the acronym PERMA; Planning, Embarkation, Rehearsal, Movement and Assault, which describes the 5 phases of a amphibious assault.

[xxxix] Ibid. Hammell details the intricacies of the particular tides seen at Tarawa and the knowledge that the Marines had from the former Resident Commissioner of the Island, Major Frank Holland who warned the division staff that he knew that there would not be enough water over the reef to get landing craft across it. (pp.18-20)

[xl] Ibid. Alexander. pp.75-77

[xli] Ibid. Alexander. pp.67-68.

[xlii] Ibid. p.70

[xliii] Ibid. p.71

[xliv] Ibid. Morison. p.302

[xlv] Ibid. Hammell. p.16

[xlvi] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in world War II.  Copyright 1948 by the Second Marine Division History Board and published by Random House Publishers, New York, NY 1948. p.106

[xlvii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.511  Johnson says 2,700 tons. (p.106)

[xlviii] Ibid. Johnston. p.106

[xlix] Ibid. Hammell. p.17

[l] Ibid.

[li] Ibid.. Hammell. 46-47

[lii] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[liii] Ibid. Alexander. p.113.  Alexander notes that the Japanese would have been better served by using these guns on the stalled out landing craft.

[liv] Ibid. Hammell. p.47.

[lv] Ibid. Hammell. p.58

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[lviii] Ibid. Alexander. p.79

[lix] Ibid. Hammell. p.17

[lx] Ibid. Alexander. p.121

[lxi] Wukovits, John. One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa. NAL Caliber, published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group USA, New York NY, 2006. p.112

[lxii] Ibid. Johnston. p.116

[lxiii] Ibid.

[lxiv] Ibid. Wukovits. P.119  Other companies suffered as grievously, K/3/2 was not alone in its suffering.

[lxv] Ibid. Spector. pp.263-264

[lxvi] Ibid. Alexander. pp.136-138

[lxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.90

[lxviii] Ibid. p.95

[lxix] Ibid. Spector. p.264

[lxx] Ibid. Wukovits. p.114

[lxxi] Ibid. Alexander. pp.139-140

[lxxii] 1/8 did not arrive on the beach due to botched communications until D plus 1.

[lxxiii] Ibid. p.150  The last time this signal had been sent it was by Major Devereaux at Wake Isalnd

[lxxiv] Ibid. p.151

[lxxv] Ibid. Johnston. p.132

[lxxvi] Ibid. Hammell. p.112

[lxxvii] Ibid. p.130

[lxxviii] Ibid. Johnston. p.122

[lxxix] Ibid. Johnston. p.122

[lxxx] Ibid. Costello. p.436

[lxxxi] Ibid. Alexander. p.163

[lxxxii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.157-158  Hammell notes that Shibasaski was most likely killed by fire from Ringgold or Dashiell.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Hammell.pp.139-140

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Alexander. p.162

[lxxxv] Ibid.  Wukovits. p.176. Wukovits notes how this could have affected the planning for the Normandy invasion.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.173

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.160

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Costello. p.437

[lxxxix] Ibid. Alexander. p.170

[xc] Ibid. Hammell. p.163

[xci] Ibid. Hammell. p.166

[xcii] Ibid. Wukovits. p.178

[xciii] Ibid. Alexander. p.170 Ryan would be awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.

[xciv] Ibid. Hammell. p.172

[xcv] Ibid. Alexander. p.179

[xcvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.181

[xcvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.178

[xcviii] Ibid.. Wukovits. p.194

[xcix] Ibid. Hammell. p.202

[c] Ibid. Hammell. p.212

[ci] Shoup would be awarded the Medal of Honor and eventually go on to be the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[cii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.191-192

[ciii] Ibid. Johnston. p.134  2 platoons landed on Red-2 and one on Green Beach.

[civ] Ibid. Alexander. pp.202-205

[cv] Ibid. Johnston. pp.145-146

[cvi] Ibid. Johnston. p.147

[cvii] Ibid. Toland. p.470

[cviii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.345

[cix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.511

[cx] Ibid. Spector. p.266

[cxi] Ibid. Potter. P.264

[cxii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.347  The Amtrack in improved forms has been part of the Marines ever since. The current model serves in a traditional amphibious role as well as a Armored Personnel Carrier for Marines involved in ground combat operations ashore.

[cxiii] Ibid. Costello. p.439. The method found to work best was long range plunging fire by heavy guns found on battleships and heavy cruisers.

[cxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.346

[cxv] Ibid. Morison. p.306

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1995.

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945. Quill Publishing, New York, NY 1982

Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Little Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Hammell, Eric and Lane, John E. Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943. The Zenith Press, St. Paul MN 2006.

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in world War II.  Copyright 1948 by the Second Marine Division History Board and published by Random House Publishers, New York, NY 1948

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1976, Third Printing with Revisions 1979

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  The Free Press, New York, NY 1985 Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. Random House, Inc. New York, NY 1970

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The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been another long day or work in the house, dealing with contractor complications and delays, and running back and forth to Lowe’s and going in to work to take care of business despite being on leave. Tomorrow promises to be similar. So for now part two of my article dealing with my favorite resistors will have to wait.

Because of that I am reposting an older article on the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot which was fought on the 19th and 20th of June 1944.

U.S. Navy personnel observe the Air Battle from a Carrier

This battle was the largest battle between aircraft carrier fleets in history.  Twenty four aircraft carriers, 15 American and 9 Japanese embarking over 1400 aircraft dueled in the Central Pacific in a battle that so decimated Japanese Naval Aviation that it never recovered. The battle and the subsequent fall of Saipan brought down the government of General Tojo and was the beginning of the collapse of the Japanese Empire and the “Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/destroyed-in-seconds-marianas-turkey-shoot.html

In late 1943 the Japanese realized that they needed to recover the initiative in the Pacific.  Between the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Santa Cruz Japanese Naval aviation suffered crippling losses especially among the elite pilots and aircrews with who they had begun the war.  These losses were compounded when the Navy attempted to support the operations of the Army to defend the Solomons and New Guinea.  Squadrons sent to battle the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Corps suffered at the hands of the every more skilled and well equipped American fighter squadrons the victims of which included Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto the Commander of the Combined Fleet when the Betty bomber that he was traveling on was ambushed by U.S. Army Air Corps P-38 Lightening fighters.

Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa

By late 1943 the Japanese were attempting to train new pilots and aircrews to man the carriers of the Combined Fleet’s Carrier Striking Forces.  Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the new commander of the Combined Fleet and its third commander in less than a year developed “Plan A-Go” as a means to mass carrier and land based aviation assets to defeat the Fast Carrier Task Forces of the United States Navy.  The rebuilt Carrier Striking Groups built around 9 carriers embarking 473 aircraft was commanded by Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa who had taken over from Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

D4Y3 “Judy” Dive Bomber

The Japanese discerned the intentions of the Americans when American Carrier aircraft struck Saipan and Guam. The Japanese had expected the Americans to strike further south and the Marianas had few land-based aircraft in the area. Toyoda made the decision to engage the Americans and ordered the fleet to attack. American submarines discovered the gathering Japanese forces. The Japanese forces were assembled by the 17th and by the 18th the 5th Fleet under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance spearheaded by Task Force 58 Commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher had assembled west of Saipan to meet the Japanese.  The Americans fielded 15 carriers including 9 Fleet Carriers of which 6 were the new Essex Class Fleet Carriers which embarked 956 aircraft.

The F6F Hellcat cemented its place as the premier fighter plane of the Pacific war during the “Turkey Shoot”

The Americans held both a quantitative and qualitative advantage against the Japanese. The American fighter squadrons were equipped with the F6F Hellcat which was far superior to the now obsolescent Japanese Zero fighters and their pilots and aircrews were now more experienced and proficient than the newly minted Japanese aviators who by and large had little combat experience and were flying inferior aircraft.  The Japanese had not planned for a long war and had done little to systemically address the heavy losses that their force experienced during 1942 and 1943 at Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and in the Solomons campaign.

Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher aboard the USS Lexington

Mitscher desired to move aggressively against the Japanese. However he was overruled by Spruance who acting on the advice of his Battle Line Commander Vice Admiral Willis Lee decided that a possible night surface action with the Japanese was not desirable. Spruance instead directed Mitscher to be ready to defend against Japanese air strikes knowing that his carriers and carrier based air groups was more than a match for the Japanese air groups.   Spruance has been criticized for his decision but the words of Willis Lee, a veteran of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where he defeated a Japanese force sinking the Battleship Kirishima.  He prevailed in his flagship the USS Washington but losing three of four escorting destroyers and seeing his second battle wagon the USS South Dakota heavily damaged. A night surface engagement was not worth the risk as in Lee’s eyes it evened the playing field for the Japanese and took away the American air power advantages.

A Japanese aircraft goes down in flames

The Japanese began the action on the 19th sending successive attack waves against Task Force 58. They were met by massed formations of Hellcats vectored in by air controllers in the Combat Information Centers of the American carriers using their superior air search radar systems.  In less than two hours well over 200 Japanese aircraft were downed by the Hellcats.  Lieutenant Alexander Vraicu shot down 6 “Judy” dive bombers in minutes before low on fuel he returned to the USS Lexington.

Lieutenant Alexander Vraicu holds up six fingers on board the USS Lexington

While the Hellcats were chewing up the Japanese squadrons the American submarines USS Albacore and USS Cavalla each sank a Japanese Fleet Aircraft Carrier.  The Albacore hit the Ozawa’s flagship, the new Tiaho with a torpedo which caused minimal damage, but ruptured fuel lines. The Japanese damage control officer opened vents in the ship which allowed the fumes to spread throughout the carrier. They were ignited by a generator causing massive explosions and forcing Ozawa to abandon his flagship. Tiaho would sink by late afternoon after being ripped apart by a series of massive explosions taking with her 1650 of 1750 officers and crew. Cavalla hit the Pearl Harbor veteran Shokaku with a spread of three torpedoes causing that ship to burst into flames with aircraft and ordnance adding to the conflagration. A massive explosion ripped through the ship causing her to sink with a loss of over 1200 officers and crew.

The Japanese flagship Tiaho (above) and her killer the USS Albacore

Toyoda desired that Ozawa retire from the battle before he suffered more losses but Ozawa wanted to stay around and hit the Americans with everything that he had left. The Americans sailed west during the night to seek out the Japanese Fleet. It took the majority of the day to find the Japanese. With only 75 minutes of daylight remaining Mitscher launched a strike despite the risk to his aircrew the majority whom were not trained in night landings.  The American strike sank the carrier Hiyo and two tankers and damaged the carriers Zuikaku, Chitoyda and Junyo as well as the battleship Haruna.  By the end of the day Ozawa had 35 aircraft in flyable condition. About 435 of the aircraft operated from the Japanese carriers were lost with the vast majority of their pilots and aircrew.

The Japanese Fleet under attack, carrier Zuikaku and two destroyers on June 20th

The final part of the drama was the return of the American strike group to the carriers. Knowing that if he maintained darken ship he would lose many aircraft and the men that flew them Mitscher ordered that the fleet turn on its lights. This act was incredibly risky but helped bring the majority of the returning aircraft to land or ditch near the task force.  The Americans lost less than 100 aircraft during the battle, most due to the night landings and unlike the Japanese who lost the majority of their aircrews, most of the American pilots and aircrew were rescued. In addition to their carrier based losses the Japanese lost nearly 200 land based aircraft.

Admiral Raymond Spruance

The battle was the death-kneel of Japanese Naval Aviation. Later in the year the carriers again under Ozawa sailed against the Americans only this time they were a decoy force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a role that they succeeded in admirably. The American carriers now had free run of the Pacific only opposed by land based aircraft many used in a Kamikaze role until the end of the war. These would cause fearful losses among the American ships heavily damaging a number of carriers.

The battle is often forgotten by due to its proximity to the Normandy landings but was a significant step in the fight against Japan. The islands captured by the Americans, Saipan, Tinian and Guam would provide major sea and air staging areas for the final assault against Japan. Tinian would become the base of many Army Air Corps B-29 “Superfortress” bombers including those that dropped the Atomic bombs less than 14 months later. It was a turning point both militarily and politically. With the fall of the Tojo government the Japanese leaders began to slowly tell the truth about wartime setbacks and losses to a people that it had lied to since their invasion of China and occupation of Mongolia.  It was a setback that even Tojo and the highest leadership of Japan knew that they could not recover.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

“A Magic Blend of Skill, Faith, and Valor” The Battle of Midway

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we remember the Battle of Midway, the turning point of World War Two in the Pacific. By all empirical means the vastly superior Japanese fleet should have defeated the Americans, but success in war is not based on material alone. There are things unaccounted for, things that happen in the confusion of battle that The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote.

“War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.” 

Six months after Pearl Harbor the United States Navy met the Imperial Japanese Navy in battle on the seas and in the airspace around Midway Island. It was a battle between a fleet that had known nothing but victory in the months after Pearl Harbor and one with the exception of a few minor tactical successes was reeling.

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Akagi April 1942

The Japanese had swept across the Pacific and the Indian Oceans and decimated every Allied Naval forces that stood in their way. After Pearl Harbor they had sunk the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse off of Singapore.  Next in a series of engagements destroyed the bulk of the US Asiatic Fleet in the waters around the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea where the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian (ABDA) naval forces engaged were annihilated attempting to fight superior Japanese forces.

Hermes_sinking

HMS Hermes sinking after Japanese Carrier air attack in the Indian Ocean

In the Indian Ocean Admiral Nagumo’s carriers dispatched a force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes. In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from achieving its goal. At the Battle of the Coral Sea where Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby sinking the light carrier Shoho, damaging the modern carrier Shokaku and decimating the air groups of the Japanese task force.

Hornet_launches

USS Hornet launching B-25 Bombers during the Doolittle Raid

In May US Navy code breakers under the direction of Commander Joe Rochefort at Pearl Harbor discovered the next move of the Imperial Navy an attack on Midway Island and the Aleutian islands. Since the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor Admiral Chester Nimitz committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers, a total of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway. Nimitz also sent a force of 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers to cover the Aleutians.

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SBU-2 Vindicator Dive Bomber landing on Midway (above) PBY Catalina (below)images-43

Land based air assets on Midway were composed of a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft, many of which were obsolete. Aboard Midway there were 32 US Navy PBY Catalina Flying Boats, 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced pilots.

Nimitz’s instructions to his Task Force Commanders was simple “You will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting … greater damage on the enemy.”

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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto commanded the Combined Fleet. The victor of Pearl Harbor and the triumph’s in the first six months of the Pacific War was determined to end the war with a decisive battle at Midway. His plans were opposed by many in the Imperial General Staff, especially those in the Army but when the US raid on Tokyo, the Doolittle Raid, all opposition to the attack was dropped.

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The Japanese sent a force of 7 battleships and 7 carriers against Midway. These included the elite First Carrier Striking Group composed of the Pearl Harbor attackers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu and their highly trained and combat experienced air groups. Among the surface ships was Yamamoto’s flagship, the mighty Battleship Yamato, at 72,000 tons and armed with 9 18” guns, the most powerful and largest battleship ever to see combat.

The strike force included 273 aircraft and was escorted by 14 cruisers and 39 destroyers. They were to take Midway and then destroy the US Navy when it came out to fight. Yamamoto sent a force force of 4 battleships, 12 destroyers assigned screen to the Aleutian invasion force which was accompanied by 2 carriers 6 cruisers and 10 destroyers. The other carriers embarked a further 114 aircraft.

Despite this great preponderance in numbers Yamamoto’s plan was complex and his forces too far apart from each other to offer support should and get into trouble. The powerful Japanese Task forces were scattered over thousands of square miles of the Northern Pacific Ocean where they could not rapidly come to the assistance of any other group.

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With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway eluding the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance and Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher with the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of calculated risk when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina discovered the Japanese invasion force and US long range bombers launched attacks against it causing no damage. The morning of the 4th the Americans adjusted their search patterns in and the Japanese came into range of Midway and commenced their first strike against the island.

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In response land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failing to damage the Japanese task force. The American Carrier task forces launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind of the Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier  was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

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Aichi D3-A “Val” Dive Bomber 

Orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island and then on discovery of the Yorktown task force, orders changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. The hard working Japanese aircrew did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft but by 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers.

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As the Japanese crews worked the Japanese carriers were engaged in fending off attacks by the US torpedo bomber squadrons, VT-6 from Enterprise, VT-8 from Hornet and VT-3 from Yorktown. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators were shot down. Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron.

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LCDR Lance Massey CO of VT-3

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LCDR John Waldron CO of VT-8

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LCDR Eugene Lindsey CO of VT-6

Torpedo 6 from Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo 3 from Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey from the Yorktown. These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown.

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There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet did not find the carriers and had to return for lack of fuel while losing a number of bombers and their fighter escort having to ditch inn the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when the wake of a Japanese destroyer was spotted.  McClusky followed it to the Japanese Task Force. The Yorktown’sgroup under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

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When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

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Akagi dodging bombs at Midway

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

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LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’slookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.  Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

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VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her.

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The remaining Japanese flattop the Hiryu attained the same fate later in the day after engaging in an epic duel with the Yorktown which her aircraft heavily damaged. Yorktown would be sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168 while being towed to safety.

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USS Yorktown under attack from Kate Torpedo Bombers from Hiryu on June 4th 1942

In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed. Authors have entitled books about Midway Incredible Victory by Walter Lord and Miracle at Midway by Gordon Prange and those titles reflect the essence of the battle.

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

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USS Enterprise

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the EnterpriseHornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world.

Walter Lord, whose history of the battle is still the classic presentation of it wrote:

“Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

Requiem for Yamato…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have read my site since the beginning know that I have written much in terms of Naval History. One of the things that I am drawn to are the great ships that were sacrificed with the crews in futile attempts of salvage victory from defeat, or which were sacrificed in order to save others. Regardless of the circumstance I have a soft spot in my heart for sailors of any nation who pay with their lives when their ships are sunk. This is the story of the IJN Yamato, who along with her sister ship, the Musashi were the largest battleship ever constructed.

As dawn broke on April 7th 1945 the great Super-Battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy and nine escorts steamed toward Okinawa on a suicide mission. It was literally the end of empire and the end of a navy. What had begun on December 7th 1941 was now winding down as the Imperial Navy launched its last offensive operation against the United States Navy.

The Imperial Navy was already at the end of its tether. Following the disasters at the Battle of the Philippine Sea which decimated the carrier air arm of the Imperial Navy; the subsequent losses in the defense of Formosa which used up the majority of any remaining carrier aircraft and crews; and the Battle of Leyte Gulf which decimated the surface forces of the navy what remained was a pitiful remnant of a once dominant fleet.

The great battleship Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest warships ever built until the advent of the USS Enterprise CVN-65. Displacing over 72,000 tons 863 feet long and 127 feet in beam these ships mounted the heaviest artillery battery ever placed on a warship. Their nine 18.1” guns mounted in three triple turrets each weighing over 2500 tons weighed as much or more than the largest destroyers of the time. They could fire their massive shells 26 miles and even had the capability of firing a special anti-aircraft shell known as the Sanshiki or beehive round.

Musashi was sunk during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea at Leyte Gulf on October 24th 1944 after being hit by 19 aerial torpedoes and 17 bombs. Yamato engaged the American Escort Carriers and destroyers of Taffy-3 at the Battle off Samar the following day but was prevented by the audacity of the inferior American destroyers and timidity of the Japanese commander Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita from achieving any notable success.

The remains of the Imperial Navy were hampered by a lack of fuel, air power and training time. When the United States attacked Iwo Jima in February 1945, barely 700 miles from the home islands of Japan not a single Japanese surface ship sortied to challenge the American Navy.

However when the American attacked Okinawa on April 1st the Navy launched Operation Ten-Go. In spite of overwhelming American superiority in both naval air and surface forces the tiny task force was to fight its way to Okinawa, beach their ships and once the ships were destroyed the crews were to join Japanese Army forces on the island.

The doomed sortie was in part due to the insistence of the Imperial Army which derided the Imperial Navy for its failures at Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and pressure from Emperor Hirohito who asked “But what about the Navy? What are they doing to assist in defending Okinawa? Have we no more ships?” In response the Naval High command devised what amounted to a suicide mission for Yamato and her escorts. The plan was opposed by many in the Navy and leaders of the task force who saw it as a futile mission. Only the insistence of Admiral Kusaka who told the reticent commanders that the Emperor expected the Navy to make its best effort to defend Okinawa persuaded the Captains of the doomed force to accept the mission.

At about 1600 on April 6th the ships of the task force weighed anchor and departed their anchorage at Tokuyama hoping to take advantage of approaching darkness to mask their departure. They were detected and shadowed by American submarines which provided real time information on the course and speed of the Japanese ships to the American leadership.

The next morning the task force was spotted by patrol planes and its position relayed to the American fleet commander, Admiral Raymond Spruance, the victor of Midway. Spruance ordered the six fast battleships, accompanied by two battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 21 destroyers engaged in shore bombardment to intercept the Japanese force. However, Admiral Marc Mitscher of Task Force 58, the fast carriers launched a massive air strike of over 400 aircraft against the Japanese.

At 1232 the first wave of American aircraft began their attacks on the doomed Japanese force. As the succeeding waves of American aircraft attacked Yamato was hit by 15 bombs and at least 8 torpedoes, almost all of which struck her port side created an imminent risk of capsizing. The damage control teams’ counter flooded the starboard engine and boiler rooms which kept the ship from turning turtle, but which also further reduced her speed.

By 1405 the great ship was dead in the water and just minutes before her commander had ordered the crew to abandon ship. At 1420 she capsized and began to sink and at 1423 she blew apart in a massive explosion that was reportedly heard and seen 120 miles away and created a mushroom cloud that reached 20,000 feet.

Captain Tameichi Hara of the light cruiser Yahagi which had already sank described the demise of the great ship in his book Japanese Destroyer Captain:

“We looked and saw Yamato, still moving. What a beautiful sight. Suddenly smoke belched from her waterline. We both groaned as white smoke billowed out until it covered the great battleship, giving her the appearance of a snow-capped Mount Fuji. Next came black smoke mingled with the white, forming to a huge cloud which climbed to 2000 meters. As it drifted away we looked to the surface of the sea again and there was nothing. Yamato had vanished. Tremendous detonations at 1423 of that seventh day of April signaled the end of this “unsinkable” symbol of the Imperial Navy.”

Only 280 men of the estimated 3000 crew members were rescued by the surviving escorts. Of her escorts, the Yahagi and four destroyers were also sunk. The Americans lost a total of ten aircraft and 12 men. Never again would the surface forces of the Imperial Navy threaten U.S. forces or take any meaningful part in the war.

The sacrifice of Yamato and her escorts was a futile was of lives and though many in Japan revere their sacrifice as noble it served no purpose. The loss of Yamato, named after the ancient Yamato province in a sense was symbolic of the demise of the Japanese Empire.

I cannot help but think of gallantry of the doomed crews of these ships, sacrificed for the “honor” of leaders that did not really value their sacrifice.

It is a commentary that is timeless.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific