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The Banality of Criminality: Complicity and Dishonor in the Age of Trump, the Example of Michael Flynn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dwight D. Eisenhower noted:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

It is becoming more clear every day that the wheels are coming off the Presidency of Donald Trump, and that as a man and as a person that he is losing any grip on reality and lives in a cloud-Cuckoo land of lies, untruths, and alternate facts. He has shown throughout his life and career that he has no integrity, especially while serving as President, which makes Eisenhower’s words relevant to our present crisis.

Likewise it is quite clear now, that the President has been implicated in what the founders of the country and the writers of our Constitution would understand to be high crimes and misdemeanors. The banality of his and his administration’s criminality is buttressed by the cult of personality that surrounds him. The latter would not be possible without the fifty year process of the moral and ethical disintegration of the Republican Party. Eisenhower wouldn’t recognize the GOP of today.

However, the President has not been indicated in Federal Court, nor charged with crimes and impeached by the House of Representatives yet, but the writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time before Robert Mueller indicts the men closest to the President; his son Donald Jr., and son-in-Law Jared Kushner. The evidence is mounting of their premeditated attempt to collude with Russia for both political and financial gain. The revelations of the past week would be the beginning of the end for the President and his lawless administration if only the GOP members of the Senate would have the courage to do what Barry Goldwater did in 1974 to give Richard Nixon an ultimatum.

Over the past week we have seen countless GOP leaders excuse the blatant lies of the President, and ignore the complicity of him, his family, and his closest collaborators as “they didn’t happen”, “if they did happen they weren’t criminal”, ” they happened and they were against the law, but they are not really Crimes because it’s a bad law”, or “people do them all the time”, and “what about Hillary?” Of course none of these defenses call for personal responsibility or defense of the law and Constitution, it is all about holding onto power.

But even more troubling than the President and his conditorei of putrid family members, bankers, investors, shyster lawyers, and incredibly compromised and often incompetent individuals he has appointed to cabinet positions, are some of the former military men in the cabinet who served in the cabinet. The most notorious of these is the convicted felon and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who after getting a gift in the form of sentencing accused the FBI of tricking him into lying. I won’t even go into Ryan Zinke, John Kelly, or Mike Pompeo.

Flynn’s film-flam act is maddening to me because as an officer he should have known better. He lied to investigators and he certainly knew that lying to them was wrong. I know this because I enlisted the same year that he was commissioned, and was just two years behind him when I was commissioned. We come out of the same post-Vietnam pipeline of Army officers. We both were commissioned from the ROTC program, albeit from different universities. But we knew the rules, our programs were similar in that Ethics was taught, and after Vietnam it was considered a big deal. I don’t know about Flynn, but I had to take a course on military law while in ROTC. We went through officer basic and officer advanced courses that contained a common core of classes, We served as platoon leaders, company executive officers, company commanders, as well as battalion and brigade staff officers.

As officers we both administered the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and both took sworn statements, administered Miranda Rights, conducted 15-6 investigations, Reports of Survey, and as commanders administered non-judicial punishment under Article 15. When doing that we served as prosecutor, judge, and jury over the soldiers charged with violating the UCMJ. There is no way that Flynn didn’t known that lying to an investigator wasn’t wrong. He lied and knew that it was wrong.

My career path veered from his when I returned to the National Guard to attend seminary full time to become a Chaplain. My senior positions have all been served as an Army or Navy Chaplain. Like him I served in combat, except I did so unarmed, far away from big battalions that could protect me.

But maybe I embraced an ethic that Flynn didn’t, let’s call it The Code. Let me explain.

My thirty-seven plus year military career began in the Army. I enlisted in the California Army National Guard when I entered the senior ROTC program at UCLA. Though I never attended West Point, Annapolis, or any of the other military academies, I always embraced the Cadet Code of the United States Military Academy at West Point. It states:

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Likewise I have always subscribed to and tried to uphold the motto of West Point, which General Douglas MacArthur put into such moving words in 1962:

“Duty, Honor, Country” — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.

They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease.

They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman…”

The code may sound old fashioned, a bit puritanical, or even pharisaical to some, including many current and former officers. I actually had a friend, a retired Army Chaplain who retired at a grade higher than I will ever hold told me that in my criticism of the President and his high ranking supporters that he saw “my inner Pharisee” come out. I told him that it wasn’t my “inner Pharisee, but my inner Army company Commander.” I subscribe to a code of honor that far too many people across the political spectrum despise and ridicule, especially those of the Christian Right who defend the President as if he is the Messiah. Sometimes I feel like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, except I wouldn’t order the code red.

The concept of honor may be a punch line to many people but for me it has been a way of life. That honor includes telling the truth, even as an officer to commanders and those that outrank me. Doing this has cost me dearly many times in my career in both the Army and Navy. I cannot shut up an be silent when I see superiors lying, cheating, and tolerating those who do. To enforce such ideas on junior personnel is expected, but to speak those words in a prophetic voice to those in power is dangerous, but I have often lived dangerously, and truthfully I have been lucky. Only once has someone tried to have me tried by Court Martial, and that was a retired officer last year who made a written complain to my commanding officer for a sermon that I preached, but I digress…

The reality is that throughout my life I have tried to live up to the Cadet Code, and the motto of Duty, Honor, Country my whole life and for doing somI have often been treated as an anachronism, out of step with the world, even at times from senior military officers.

I could tell you stories, but only over a beer in a bar about those instances, without any recording devices at hand. That being said, if I ever ran into the people that I am talking about, I would confront them in person and give them a chance to defend their actions. I would then walk away, satisfied that my honor was still intact.

But what bothers me now mor than anything is watching men and women who I once respected, defend the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, and accuse the already acquitted for actions of the President and those around him who if he had been a Democrat they would have already voted to impeach. But my standard has been consistent regardless of who the President is and what his party affiliation. I wanted to see Bill Clinton impeached, I couldn’t support John Edwards because of he cheated on his wife when she had cancer, and as much as I liked and admired him, I thought it was right that former Senator Al Franken resigned, as much as I liked and respected him as a Senator. I have no respect for Newt Gingrich in part for having an affair, and divorcing his wife while she was fighting cancer. Likewise,as much as I like him as a person, I still believe that George W. Bush was a War Criminal for invading Iraq.

The office of the President, the Constitution, and our system of government mean much more to me than my party affiliation. Frankly, that has always been the case for me.

I spent the vast majority of my adult life as a Republican for God’s sakes, but after returning from Iraq, and seeing the claims of the Bush Administration for the war, which I had believed, turn out to be lies on the order of the crimes that we prosecuted at Nuremberg, just couldn’t remain in the party.

When I see people who I know and consider to be friends throw ethics, morality, and faith under the bus to defend the indefensible acts of this President I do get worried, and all of us should be because it is happening all the time.

I was raised to believe that military officers are to hold to a higher moral code than politicians, lawyers, businessmen, or even priests or preachers; I was an officer long before I was ordained. For me it all goes back to the West Point Cadet Code.

So when I see Michael Flynn attack the FBI for “tricking him to lie” after he was cut a huge deal for his testimony, I have to wonder where he was in the classes about military ethics. But then maybe his Professor of Military Science hadn’t been assigned to the Task Force that investigated the My Lai Massacre, or whose primary history professor at California State University Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler, who served as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials. I know what happens when military officers sacrifice their integrity to serve leaders that have none, or in wars where they abandon all the principles that they were supposed to uphold.

But then, just maybe in the words of my friend, mentor, and former superior, maybe I am a Pharisee because I value honor over political expediency, or what helps me the most right now.

So for today I will leave you with the words of General Ludwig Beck who lost his life during the abortive attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

That is what I consider to the moral failure of the officers cannot see anything wrong in the actions of this President and his administration; they place their party and ideology over the Constitution, the law, and the people. They not only tolerate, but they defend those who lie, cheat, and steal to gain political power.

For me it always comes back to that code of honor.

Until tomorrow,

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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Filed under History, Military, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

Bloody Tarawa: One Square Mile of Hell

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 bloodiest 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.

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 Decision: Operation Galvanic

USMC-M-Tarawa-3The Target: Betio Island at Tarawa Atoll

Following Guadalcanal and the shift of significant naval forces from the Solomons the focus of the US shifted to the thrust across the Central Pacific.  Unlike the Solomons which were initially a Navy and Marine Corps Operation and shifted to the Army under MacArthur as the campaign shifted to Borneo, the operations here would be an almost total Navy and Marine Corps operation. Operation Galvanic, the first offensive operation in the Central Pacific, 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 maintaining the offensive in the South Pacific.[i] The driving force behind this strategy was Admiral King who 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 Nimitz in the Central Pacific and MacArthur in the South Pacific would “keep the Japanese guessing.”[iii] The decision was presented to the British at the TRIDENT meetings in May 1943 and though the British resisted the American plans a compromise was reached allowing the Americans to “simultaneously…maintain and extend unremitting pressure against Japan….”[iv]

japanese emplacing gunJapanese Emplacing 8″ Vickers Gun

The decision to begin operations in the Central Pacific meant that MacArthur’s priority 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 while Nimitz seized the Marshall and Caroline islands.[vi] Nimitz’s staff began 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 conducting firing exerciseJapanese conducting Live Fire Range prior to the Assault

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 would be available for operations in the Central Pacific.[xi] CINCPAC did a thorough photo reconnaissance of the Gilbert’s 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

shibasakiAdmiral Shibasaki boasted that it would take a million men a thousand years to take Betio

The Japanese did little to prepare against potential American offensive operations against the Gilbert’s until Makin Island was raided by elements of 2ndRaider Battalion in August 1942.  The Makin raid shook the Japanese and at which time they reinforced Makin and occupied Betio.[xiii] The Japanese occupied Betio with the Yokosuka 6th Special Landing Force, essentially Naval Infantry or Marines[xiv] and the 111th Construction Battalion on 15 September 1942, over nine months after they attacked Pearl Harbor.[xv] These forces were commanded by Admiral Tomanari, who at once began to fortify Betio. Recognizing his need for more troops  Tomanari asked Tokyo for reinforcements.  The reinforcements came in the form of Commander Sugai’s 7thSasebo Special Naval Landing Force, which landed on 14 March.[xvi]Commander Sugai’s troops were the Rikusentai, the best of the Japanese Navy’s land forces.

USMC-M-Tarawa-p6Japanese Conducting Gunnery Exercises

The fortification of Betio proceeded slowly until the arrival of Rear Admiral Shibasaki, who relieved Tomanari who returned to Japan.[xvii] Shibasaki, a tough veteran of service at sea and ashore including 19 months as a Rikusentai[xviii] officer in China was chosen by Admiral Koga to instill a better fighting spirit on the island.  The Imperial General Headquarters “New Operations Plan” 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 and light AA guns and 14 light tanks.[xxiii] These weapons were mounted in well camouflaged armored or reinforced pillboxes.[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

lvtLVT 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 would make the assault at Tarawa was commanded by Major General Julian Smith. The force that sustained in this operation and 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] which greatly “increased the range and power of the Navy in amphibious operations.”[xxxi] The planned assault called for the Army’s 27th Division take Makin and the veteran 2nd Marine Division which had been blooded at Guadalcanal to take Tarawa supported by the carriers and battleships of 5thFleet.

This 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, nicknamed “Amtracks” or “Amphtracks” they 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 would cause other craft to go aground.  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. 93 LVTs would be part of the first wave of the Marine assault.[xxxiv] The LVTs were transported to Tarawa aboard LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks.)  Other innovations included the assignment of Naval Gunfire Support teams to the Marine Regiments and some battalions,[xxxv] and the first use of the M4 Sherman tank by the Marines.[xxxvi] Tarawa was a proving ground for the tactics and equipment which would be improved on and used in every subsequent amphibious operation in the Pacific.  Tarawa would also mark 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. This was despite good intelligence that they had done so. In particular aerial photos taken by the air force and ULTRA intercepts provided good information on the Japanese units on the island and the layout of the defenses.[xl] Additionally some equipment shortages were not remedied. The Marine Bazooka’s did not arrive, and neither the 6th or 8th Marines had made an actual amphibious assault.  At Guadalcanal they made an administrative landing and few field-grade officers remained from the 2nd Marine Regiment who had landed at Tulagi.[xli] They were far from “amphibious experts” that they would become.[xlii] However, they made up for their lack of experience by their cohesiveness, high morale and esprit, being well armed and equipped, in top physical condition and knowing the basic tools of their trade: “weapons proficiency and field firing, close combat techniques, fire and maneuver, tactical leadership, fire discipline.”[xliii]

tarawa 8 inch gun8 Inch 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 unload outside of the lagoon and that the landing craft would have to make a 10 mile trip.[xliv]There was only one entrance into the lagoon and it was not deep enough for heavy ships to enter.[xlv]This meant that heavy ships such as battleships and cruisers would not be able to have direct fire on the Japanese positions 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 itself Navy planned to bombard the island with 3,000 tons of shells in 2 ½ hours.[xlvii] The Navy was confident in the bombardment plans. Rear Admiral Kingman commanding 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 and 2nd Battalion 8th Marines all commanded by Colonel David Shoup. Colonel Shoup who would win the Medal of Honor on Betio and later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps assumed command of 2nd Marines when its Regimental commander fell ill on the journey to Efate.[xlix] The division reserve was the remaining 8th Marine Regiment battalions. The 6th Marine Regiment served as the corps reserve.[l]The assault units would be reinforced by tanks and the 1st and 2nd Battalions 18thMarine Regiment, the division’s combat engineers.

Invasion: Day One

landing craft going to beachGoing Ashore

The naval gunfire bombardment commenced at 0542 on 20 November, and the assault waves began their trek to the beaches.  The transports were out of range of Japanese guns but ththat ensured boats would have to make a 10 mile trip.[li]At this point things began to go wrong.

lcm sinking at tarawaNavy LCT Sinking after Being Hit By Japanese Fire

The Navy had “badly miscalculated the amount of softening-up that could be done in two and a half daylight hours bombardment.” Although major coast defense guns were silenced not enough damage was done to the Japanese defenses.[lii] The Japanese helped the Marines by firing their larger guns at warships, identifying their positions to Navy gunners.[liii] The bombardment 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.[liv] Likewise the destroyers Ringgold and Dashiell inside the lagoon had 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 heavy chop and did not make landfall until 0913 throwing off the landing schedule.[lvii] The expect and planned for rise in tides did not materialize and they remained unpredictably low for the first 48 hours. No landing boats could cross the reef and the Marines were forced to wade ashore from 600 to 1000 yards.[lviii]

marines wade ashore at tarawaMarines Wading Ashore

Shoup’s Marines landed on three beaches.  Red one and two lay to the west of a 500 yard long pier and Red three lay to the east.  3/2 landed on Red-1, 2/2 on Red-2, 2/8 on Red-3, elements of 1/18 and the scout snipers on the pier, with 1/2 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.  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 in the first hour were badly disorganized, 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 K/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]

Col_Shoup_on_TarawaColonel Shoup Directing Operations on Tarawa

Shoup himself 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-1 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] 3/8 had to make their way across 700 yards through the water to get to the beach.  It was a slaughter, only 30 percent of the first wave got ashore, in the second less and the third “were practically wiped out.”[lxix]

taraw close combatClose Combat on Betio

As his Marines struggled ashore those who had gotten ashore engaged the Japanese at point blank range.  Lt. Hawkins of the 2nd Marine Scout and Sniper platoon and 5 of his men engaged the Japanese on the pier in vicious hand to hand fighting,[lxx] 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.  He would be awarded the Medal of Honor.[lxxi]

HD-SN-99-02572Wounded Marines 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 and had Admiral Hill send a message to Admiral Turner stating “Issue in doubt. I concur.” This sent a chill through the listening Naval Staff.[lxxiii] Ashore Shoup brought howitzers from 1st Battalion 10th Marines on surviving Amtracks to the eastern edge of Red-2 near the pier,[lxxiv] which landed in the early evening.[lxxv] He sent Lieutenant Colonel Carlson to make a personal report to General Smith that he would hold 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 37mm anti-tank guns into position to drive off Japanese tanks approaching the beachhead.[lxxvii] The Division Band assisted corpsmen in bringing back wounded Marines.[lxxviii] 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, 3/2 and elements 1/2 and 2/2 was isolated and Major Ryan of Lima Company pulled them back to meet an expected Japanese counter-attack.[lxxix] 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, Admiral Shibasaki and his staff were killed while shifting headquarters during the afternoon,[lxxxii] and their communications were in shambles. A counterattack would have been disastrous in their condition,[lxxxiii] yet they assembled over 1000 men to oppose the Marines on day two.[lxxxiv] Had Shibasaki lived and communications survived a counterattack might have had ramifications far beyond Tarawa.[lxxxv]

Day Two: D+1

marines advancingMarines Advancing

The second day began with 1/8 landing on Red-2 and the 6th Marines began to land on Green Beach at the far western tip of Betio.  1/8’s landing turned into a bloodbath, the tide fell even lower than the previous day and as they hit the reef and waded ashore drifted into some of the heaviest Japanese defenses. Japanese guns, including the dual 5.5” guns took direct aim at the boats, and Marines ashore watched helplessly, and 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 and the “ultimate American victory at Betio evolved from the attack during one intense hour the second morning.”[lxxxix] Taking every available Marine, two surviving Shermans and some mortars, Ryan gathered his force and coordinated Naval Gunfire support.  The area contained a number of heavy guns including two of the 8” mounts.  A destroyer blanked 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 by 1200 and he radioed to let Shoup know the good news and that he intended to advance east against the airfield.[xcii] The attack allowed the Marines to be able to land intact battalions with supporting arms for the first time battle.[xciii]

To the east behind Red-2 and Red-3 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 was mortally wounded.  He too would win the Medal of Honor.  The attack cut the island in two but the Japanese launched a counterattack on the Marine positions which was beaten back.[xcv] The 8thMarines faced a more difficult task going against what was now the heart of the Japanese defense, as its 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 landing, including jeeps, artillery and heavy equipment, and other 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’ 1/6 landed on Green beach in their rubber boats, reinforcing Ryan’s orphans, it was the first of the 7 battalions landed to get ashore intact and the two officers coordinated their units for a night defense and an early attack the next morning.[xcix] 2/6 cleared the nearby island of Bairiki allowing 2/10 to land its howitzers on the island.  This in effect cut off any line of retreat for the defenders of Betio.[c] Colonel Edson came ashore during the evening to relieve Shoup[ci], who remained ashore to help coordinate the next day’s attack.  Again there were no coordinated Japanese counterattacks, the only senior officer, Sugai was isolated in the pocket between the Red and Green beaches and no senior officer could coordinate any attacks.[cii]

Day Three and Four: D+2 and D+3

tarawa wreckageWrecked LVY’s and Bodies on the Beach: The Marines Released Photos to Get the Public to Understand the Cost of the Battle

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 off of 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 eventually taking these heavily fortified and defended positions.  During the assault Lt Sandy Bonnyman of 1/18 won the Medal of Honor for leading the assault on these positions.[civ] Fighting remained fierce throughout the day and General Smith arrived to take command on shore.  The Marines attacked supported by tanks, artillery and naval gunfire.  By the evening they were established at the east end of the airfield.  The Japanese 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 sacrificing strength that might have been used to exact a higher price 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]

Tarawa prisonerOne of the 17 Japanese Who Survived the Battle being Interrogated by Marines, only one Chief Warrant Officer Ota was an Officer

Epilogue

The Marines paid a heavy price for Betio, but it was not to be a useless sacrifice, though it was a source of great controversy especially among politicians.[cix]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 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 alone 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] 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, 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: Leaders on Tarawa

smith and smith at tarawaLieutenant General Holland Smith and Major General Julian Smith on Betio

General Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith USMC: (1882-1967) Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith command 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 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.

shoupColonel Shoup After the Battle

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, HQMC 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.

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 Heavy Cruiser Haguro and Battleship Kirishima and two smaller ships.  Assigned to Tarawa in February 1943 he helped design and supervised the initial construction of Tarawa Defenses until 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 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 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 an impression. 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


[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

Bibilography

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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Moral Injury: The Silent Killer of Veterans

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This morning I woke up and got ready to go to work. My wife was up. She had been up most of the night because unbeknownst to me I had been fighting something in my sleep. Judy tried to wake me up, but I didn’t wake up, and evidently the episode lasted much of the night. I do remember some dreams, or rather nightmares last night dealing with a particular situation that I experienced in Iraq, but such nightmares are so common that unless there is something really unusual about them I really don’t think much about them.

I first heard of Moral Injury in 2009 about a year after I was diagnosed with severe and chronic PTSD. However, that being said as a military historian I have to admit that I have read about it time and time again in less clinical language. What I had more experience with were the memoirs of common soldiers and officers, as well as the experiences of Sailors, Marines and Soldiers who had confided in me at various times as their chaplain.

Marine Major General and two time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjusting, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice, sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them anymore. So we scattered them about without any “three minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades.”

Last year I was interviewed by David Wood of the Huffington Post for a series of three articles that he just published on moral injury.* If PTSD and TBI are considered “invisible wounds” then moral injury must be included. It is a condition as old as war itself and can be seen even in the most ancient of writings about war, Homer’s Iliad, King David’s grief over the loss of his friend Jonathan and many others.

I came home from Iraq forever changed. I served with Marine and Army advisers to Iraqi Army, Border Troops, Police, Highway Patrol and Port of Entry Police in Al Anbar Province in 2007 and 2008. That assignment, which took me throughout the province brought me into contact with a part of the war that many Americans, even those serving in Iraq were shielded from, a part of the war that was never shown in the media that exposed me to realities that before serving there I was unaware.

They were uncomfortable truths. The tensions between the various Iraqi factions, the real hopes for a better Iraq held by many Iraqis and the absolute devastation that the American invasion of Iraq had brought to that unfortunate country. I saw some of the disrespectful and insulting things done by American troops that had to be dealt with by the advisors, men who were as much diplomats as they were Soldiers and Marines. I saw the damage inflicted by bombing campaigns that had little to do with winning a war, but more with destroying infrastructure that even our own war plans had determined was vital to Iraq’s recovery after the success of our campaign. I saw children wounded in fire fights, as well as ministered to the wounded coming through the Fleet Surgical Facility at Ta’Qaddum on their way elsewhere.

I have spent time with Marines and Soldiers who feel real guilt from the actions that they saw or participated in both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise I have dealt with the grief of men and women, Corpsmen, Doctors and Nurses who wish that they could have done more to save the lives of others or done more to prevent suffering. I have also dealt with those who have attempted suicide after taking part in actions that they could not live with or due to what they saw or experienced in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Unfortunately Moral Injury is not taken seriously by the military. This despite the fact many military physicians, mental health providers and chaplains are on the cutting edge of dealing with it. We are doing research, writing and treating those afflicted the services themselves do not even acknowledge it. Even as we do this some in the military, including Chaplains want to call it something more ambiguous using the Orwellian term “inner conflict” to describe something that is far more damaging and insidious.

I suppose that a big part of the reason is that all of the services do an amazing amount of work to built a set of moral values in those that serve. In the Navy we talk about courage, honor and commitment. We talk about being men and women of principle, doing what is right. Such ideas are a part of who we are, Douglas MacArthur spoke of “Duty, Honor Country” and our military academies have long taught the principle that “I will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those that do.”

We teach our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen values that are often more rigorous than what they grew up with at home or in school. Then we send them to war and they see and sometimes do things that are at odds with those values as well as the values that we as Americans cherish. We place them in situations where the moral values we teach them contradicted by what we teach and train them to do, and the real unvarnished truth about war, it is hell. Smedley Butler wrote:

“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill.
If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit  any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”

How we expect anyone to retain their soul and their sanity when we teach them a set of values that we as a nation fail to uphold is beyond me. The fact that the politicians, pundits and preachers who constantly insist on using the under one percent of the population that serves in the military to bear such burdens to satiate their bloodlust and then refuse to recognize their injuries and then deny them care or benefits is abhorrent.

One of the survivors of the famed World War One “Lost Battalion” wrote:

“We just do not have the control we should have. I went through without a visible wound, but have spent many months in hospitals and dollars for medical treatment as a result of those terrible experiences.”

While I was impacted very much by what happened to me and what I saw. The sad thing is that I was far better prepared and seasoned to survive what I experienced than most of my younger counterparts. After years of training and experience I felt that I was immune to PTSD or Moral Injury. Sadly, I was wrong and today, more than six years after I returned from Iraq I deal with the consequences of war, in my life and those of those that I serve.

I don’t pretend to have answers, but I do expect that our country takes responsibility for the injuries and suffering that its policies have created. Specifically I am speaking to that Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who constantly lobby for war and refuse to take personal responsibility for it when it comes, and who then for matters of political expediency throw aside the volunteers who went to war for far higher ideals and motives than those that sent them.

Okay, it is time for me to take a deep breath. But I do get really spun up about this, because I have lived this reality and I get angry when I see look around and realize that for most people in this country, the plight of veterans doesn’t matter. We are just another “special interest group” to use the words of a member of a committee appointed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that wants to decimate military benefits. But even now people like Bill Kristol who have never served a day in the military and never seen a war that they didn’t like, urge that we send more men and women to war over Crimea. But I digress…

Moral injury is a silent killer of the soul and it is high time that we recognize just how deadly it is.

Guy Sager, author of the classic The Forgotten Soldier wrote: “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

I don’t know what nightmares I will have tonight, hopefully at least for Judy’s sake I won’t have any.

With that, I will sign off for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Wood’s Articles can be found here: http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/moral-injury/the-grunts
http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/moral-injury/the-recruits
http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/moral-injury/healing

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Leyte Gulf: The Greatest Naval Battle in the History of the World

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USS Gambier Bay being attacked by Japanese Surface Forces battle 

I will break into Leyte Gulf and fight to the last man…would it not be shameful to have the fleet remaining intact while our nation perishes?” Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita – 1944

”In case opportunity for destruction of a major portion of the enemy fleet is offered, or can be created, such destruction becomes the primary task.”

Admiral Chester Nimitz – In his order to Halsey, prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf – October 1944

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The Old Battleships of the 7th Fleet

Sixty-nine years ago the largest and most geographically expansive naval battle ever fought began. A few days before the forces of General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific command and Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Central Pacific command joined to invade and liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. It was less than three years since Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and two and a half years after MacArthur had left the Philippines vowing “I shall return.” 

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The Japanese knew that the battle for the Philippines was a must win. An American victory would ensure that Japan would be cut off from the vital natural resources of Indo-China, the Dutch East Indies and Borneo, particularly oil, without which it could not remain in the war.

The Imperial Navy was tasked to work with land based air forces to thwart the invasion by drawing off the American Fast Carrier task forces and allowing heavy surface forces to seek out and destroy potentially vulnerable troop transports and supply ships in Leyte Gulf.

It was a complicated plan, but one which had a chance of disrupting the American invasion, and came perilously close to doing so.

Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s Northern force of four aircraft carriers without viable air groups was a decoy. Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura and Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima commanded separate task forces both committed to breaking into Leyte Gulf through Surigo Strait. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita who commanded the main effort, the powerful Center Force which was to break into Leyte Gulf through San Bernardino Strait. Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi commanded the Philippines based 1st Air Fleet which turned to the use of Kamikazes as a means to destroy American warships.

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Kamikaze attack

The US forces included the American Third Fleet commanded by Admiral William “Bull” Halsey was the primary naval force composed of the Fast Carrier Task Forces and fast battleships. Adusmiral Thomas Kinkaid commanded the 7th Fleet which was the invasion force and its escorts, including a number of carrier task forces built around the Escort Carriers and the old battleships of Jesse Oldendorf’s Task Group. The latter included a number of the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack including the USS West Virginia, USS California, USS Tennessee, USS Maryland and USS Pennsylvania. Oldendorf’s flagship, the USS Mississippi was not at Pearl Harbor but likewise one of the “old ladies” of the fleet.

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The battle was unique because of how long it went and how many separate engagements were included.  Not counting patrol craft, submarines and auxiliaries close to 300 warships and nearly 2000 aircraft were engaged in 5 separate engagements waged by surface ships, naval air forces and submarines.

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USS St Lo blows up after being hit by Kamikaze 

The battles included an engagement in which American Submarines took on the Center Force, naval aircraft engaged the Center and Southern Forces, the old battleships fought the last battleship against battleship engagement in history, heavy surface forces engaged and were repulsed by light forces and a decoy force which would suffer terribly would keep the bulk of the best American forces out of the main battle. It would also see the first coordinated use of Kamikaze suicide attack aircraft by Japan.

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USS West Virginia 

Tonight I am linking a number of articles that I have written previously about this amazing battle. In the next few days I will add a couple new articles to the collection.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Introduction and the Battle of Palawan Passage

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Sinking the Musashi 

Slaughter at Surigao: The Old Ladies get their Revenge

For those unfamiliar with the battle that would like a deeper treatment than I provide in these links I recommend The Battle of Leyte Gulf 23-26 October 1944 by Thomas C Cutler, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James Hornfisher, Battle Of Leyte Gulf by Edwin P Hoyt, Leyte: June 1944-January 1945 (History of United States Naval Operations in World War II) by Samuel Elliott Morrison and Battle of Surigao Strait by Anthony P Tully. Hoyt and Morrison’s books were the first that I ever read on the subject back when I was in Junior High School but for an overview I think Cutler’s work is better. The other two works present interesting and informative views of two of the decisive engagements of the battle.

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As I said in the next few days I plan on adding more articles on this fascinating battle. If things work out I should have something on the Battle off Samar, the Battle of Cape Engano and the Kamikaze debut.

Have a nice night and never forget the sacrifice of all of the brave sailors.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Matter of Honor

“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

“For though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first.” Aristotle

Today I write concerning honor. Honor is a precious commodity in today’s world.  It has disappeared from much of public life in the actions of politicians, business leaders and even in various churches and religious organizations which often act in ways no different than people and organizations which make no claims on the Deity and which do not fall back on their relationship with God to justify unjust actions of their own.

Honor is something that I have tried to live my life by, to be honest even when it could be dangerous, to admit my faults even though it might be detrimental and to value the sacredness of friendship, loyalty and perseverance. I have not always succeeded but I do my best and if I am wrong I usually feel the sting of violating my own code and more often than not attempt to make amends or reconcile. As a military officer as well as Priest I have always looked to the words of General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to the Cadets at West Point in my understanding of honor. Macarthur put it well in this immortal paragraph:

“Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”

As readers of this site as well as my friends know last September I was forced to leave the church that I had served for over 14 years by my Bishop. It was something that I knew that I would have to do at some point but when the time came I was unprepared for it; it was an emotional body blow but at the same time a relief. It was quite perplexing actually. Thankfully I found a new Church home that is in reality a much better fit for me.  I wrote about the reasons for my departure without any malice and preferred to leave the matter behind as I exited with honor and dignity without casting dispersions on anyone in the current leadership of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I expected that my intent and action would be reciprocated and in large part it has been with the exception of one person that I know of and possibly one other.

If I was a better man I might be able to shrug off some of the things that have been written about me since I left. But I guess my skin is not as thick as I thought it was. Since leaving I have had my honor, integrity and motivation for my actions questioned or condemned. I have been called a “heretic” and “Apostate.” I have had those that call me such refer to the Church that has graciously cared for me and brought me in as an “apostate Church.” I have even had my faith disparaged.

Some other things happened in the last two days that I will not go into here except to say that my trust and in a person that despite leaving the CEC I viewed as a friend made comments that disparaged me on another website a month ago that I just saw and did something that could cause problems for my military chaplain friends in my former church. I communicated my thoughts to the appropriate people in my former church and pray that they will be able to handle the situation in such a way that my friends to not get dragged down and hurt by this man’s hubris.

One good thing to come out of this was a comment by a bishop that I contacted via e-mail. This bishop had actually by his kindness shown to me in 2000-2001 and again in 2004 allowed me to give the CEC another chance after I had been silenced, demeaned and abused by several former CEC bishops.  That bishop replied to my e-mail with this note which means a lot to me and moved me to tears.

Thanks Fr. Steve,

It was my privilege knowing you during your time with us.  You were a courageous man who well represented your country and church.  I’m sure you will do well and God will bless you where you are.

Blessings,

Since he wrote this in confidence I will not reveal his name but he is one of the best representatives of the CEC that I know.  Thank God for people like him.

I have elected not to include things which would inflame the situation or hurt the CEC national leadership from minimizing the damage from this man’s selfish, deceptive and dishonorable actions and words. While I am no longer in the CEC my heart goes out to my friends in that church.

I do appreciate your prayers because I have had some of my old yet unhealed wounds reopened by this incident and for my friends who are now caught in the middle of a problem created by a man that knows no honor.

Since the subject is painful I hope this will be the last time that it raises its ugly head. Thank you for your prayers and support as always.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Pacific Part Three: Tarawa Paving the Way to Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa

Introduction to Part Three

While the First Marine Division slogged its way through the hell of the New Britain campaign the battle for the Pacific’s primary focus became the Central Pacific which was a far different sort of war than had been fought in  the South Pacific including the Guadalcanal and New Britain campaigns.  Instead of the steaming nearly impenetrable jungles and muck of the Solomons battles shifted to small heavily fortified and defended atolls and islands garrisoned by elite Imperial Naval infantry or veteran Imperial Army units.  The battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert islands was the first step in pushing across the Central Pacific and eventually on to the Japanese home islands.

Tarawa was the combat test bed of many of the weapons and tactics that would be featured in the key battles of the drive across the Central Pacific.  Weapons and tactics that would be applied by the First Marine Division at Peleliu and Okinawa.  Tarawa was a battle that shocked the American public. On this island which was  barely one square mile of coral and sand the Marines of the Second Marine Division suffered over 1000 dead and 2300 wounded while annihilating the Japanese garrison of over 4000 troops.  The carnage of Tarawa would be seen again at Peleliu where the First Marine Division as depicted in the series “The Pacific” fought a no-quarter battle against a determined and well prepared enemy.

This is the story of that battle.

The Decision: Operation Galvanic

The Target: Betio Island at Tarawa Atoll

Following Guadalcanal and the shift of significant naval forces from the Solomons the focus of the US shifted to the thrust across the Central Pacific.  Unlike the Solomons which were initially a Navy and Marine Corps Operation and shifted to the Army under MacArthur as the campaign shifted to Borneo, despite the participation of the 1st Marine Division in the New Britain campaign the operations here would be an almost total Navy and Marine Corps operation.Operation Galvanic, the first offensive operation in the Central Pacific, 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 maintaining the offensive in the South Pacific.[i] The driving force behind this strategy was Admiral King who 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 Nimitz in the Central Pacific and MacArthur in the South Pacific would “keep the Japanese guessing.”[iii] The decision was presented to the British at the TRIDENT meetings in May 1943 and though the British resisted the American plans a compromise was reached allowing the Americans to “simultaneously…maintain and extend unremitting pressure against Japan….”[iv]

The decision to begin operations in the Central Pacific meant that MacArthur’s priority 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 while Nimitz seized the Marshall and Caroline islands.[vi] Nimitz’s staff began 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]

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 would be available for operations in the Central Pacific.[xi] CINCPAC did a thorough photo reconnaissance of the Gilbert’s 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 forGalvanic was issued on 20 July 1943 with its execution planned for November 1943.[xii]

Japanese Preparations

Japanese emplacing 8″ Naval Gun on Tarawa

The Japanese did little to prepare against potential American offensive operations against the Gilbert’s until Makin Island was raided by elements of 2ndRaider Battalion in August 1942.  The Makin raid shook the Japanese and at which time they reinforced Makin and occupied Betio.[xiii] The Japanese occupied Betio with the Yokosuka 6th Special Landing Force, essentially Naval Infantry or Marines[xiv] and the 111th Construction Battalion on 15 September 1942, over nine months after they attacked Pearl Harbor.[xv] These forces were commanded by Admiral Tomanari, who at once began to fortify Betio. Recognizing his need for more troops  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 Rikusentai, the best of the Japanese Navy’s land forces.

Japanese Naval Infantry conducting live fire exercise on Tarawa

The fortification of Betio proceeded slowly until the arrival of Rear Admiral Shibasaki, who relieved Tomanari who returned to Japan.[xvii] Shibasaki, a tough veteran of service at sea and ashore including 19 months as aRikusentai[xviii] officer in China was chosen by Admiral Koga to instill a better fighting spirit on the island.  The Imperial General Headquarters “New Operations Plan” ordered the outer defensive islands, such as Tarawa, to “hold up any American advance while an inner line of fortresses was constructed….”[xix]

Fortified 8″ gun position on Tarawa

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 and light AA guns and 14 light tanks.[xxiii] These weapons were mounted in well camouflaged armored or reinforced pillboxes.[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]

Admiral Shibasaki boasted that it would take a million men a thousand years to take Betio

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.

Japanese conducting gunnery exercise prior to the invasion

American Preparations

The LVT- Landing Vehicle Tracked or the Amtrack

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 would make the assault at Tarawa was commanded by Major General Julian Smith. The force that sustained in this operation and 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] which greatly “increased the range and power of the Navy in amphibious operations.”[xxxi] The planned assault called for the Army’s 27thDivision take Makin and the veteran 2nd Marine Division which had been blooded at Guadalcanal to take Tarawa supported by the carriers and battleships of 5th Fleet.

Tarawa marked the first use of dedicated amphibious ships such as theUSS Ashland LSD-1

This 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, nicknamed “Amtracks” or “Amphtracks” they 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 would cause other craft to go aground.  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. 93 LVTs would be part of the first wave of the Marine assault.[xxxiv] The LVTs were transported to Tarawa aboard LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks.)  Other innovations included the assignment of Naval Gunfire Support teams to the Marine Regiments and some battalions,[xxxv] and the first use of the M4 Sherman tank by the Marines.[xxxvi] Tarawa was a proving ground for the tactics and equipment which would be improved on and used in every subsequent amphibious operation in the Pacific.  Tarawa would also mark the last major use of rubber landing craft by the Marine Corps in an opposed landing.[xxxvii]

Shipboard Briefing

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. This was despite good intelligence that they had done so. In particular aerial photos taken by the air force and ULTRA intercepts provided good information on the Japanese units on the island and the layout of the defenses.[xl]Additionally some equipment shortages were not remedied. The Marine Bazooka’s did not arrive, and neither the 6th or 8th Marines had made an actual amphibious assault.  At Guadalcanal they made an administrative landing and few field-grade officers remained from the 2nd Marine Regiment who had landed at Tulagi.[xli] They were far from “amphibious experts” that they would become.[xlii] However, they made up for their lack of experience by their cohesiveness, high morale and esprit, being well armed and equipped, in top physical condition and knowing the basic tools of their trade: “weapons proficiency and field firing, close combat techniques, fire and maneuver, tactical leadership, fire discipline.”[xliii]

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 unload outside of the lagoon and that the landing craft would have to make a 10 mile trip.[xliv]There was only one entrance into the lagoon and it was not deep enough for heavy ships to enter.[xlv]This meant that heavy ships such as battleships and cruisers would not be able to have direct fire on the Japanese positions 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 itself Navy planned to bombard the island with 3,000 tons of shells in 2 ½ hours.[xlvii] The Navy was confident in the bombardment plans. Rear Admiral Kingman commanding 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 and 2nd Battalion 8th Marines all commanded by Colonel David Shoup. Colonel Shoup who would win the Medal of Honor on Betio and later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps assumed command of 2nd Marines when its Regimental commander fell ill on the journey to Efate.[xlix] The division reserve was the remaining 8th Marine Regiment battalions. The 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.

Invasion: Day One

Landing craft going ashore at Tarawa

The naval gunfire bombardment commenced at 0542 on 20 November, and the assault waves began their trek to the beaches.  The transports were out of range of Japanese guns but ththat ensured boats would have to make a 10 mile trip.[li]At this point things began to go wrong.

USS Colorado at Tarawa

The Navy had “badly miscalculated the amount of softening-up that could be done in two and a half daylight hours bombardment.” Although major coast defense guns were silenced not enough damage was done to the Japanese defenses.[lii] The Japanese helped the Marines by firing their larger guns at warships, identifying their positions to Navy gunners.[liii] The bombardment 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.[liv] Likewise the destroyers Ringgold and Dashiell inside the lagoon had 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 heavy chop and did not make landfall until 0913 throwing off the landing schedule.[lvii] The expect and planned for rise in tides did not materialize and they remained unpredictably low for the first 48 hours. No landing boats could cross the reef and the Marines were forced to wade ashore from 600 to 1000 yards.[lviii]

LCM sinking at Tarawa

Shoup’s Marines landed on three beaches.  Red one and two lay to the west of a 500 yard long pier and Red three lay to the east.  3/2 landed on Red-1, 2/2 on Red-2, 2/8 on Red-3, elements of 1/18 and the scout snipers on the pier, with 1/2 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.  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 in the first hour were badly disorganized, 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 K/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]

Marines wading ashore at Tarawa, since many landing craft could not cross the reef many waded hundreds of yards under constant Japanese fire

Shoup himself 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-1 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]

Marines attempting to advance from behind sea wall

At 1018 General Julian Smith ordered the 8th Marines to dispatch 3/8 to Red-3.[lxviii] 3/8 had to make their way across 700 yards through the water to get to the beach.  It was a slaughter, only 30 percent of the first wave got ashore, in the second less and the third “were practically wiped out.”[lxix]

Aerial view of Tarawa on D-Day

As his Marines struggled ashore those who had gotten ashore engaged the Japanese at point blank range.  Lt. Hawkins of the 2nd Marine Scout and Sniper platoon and 5 of his men engaged the Japanese on the pier in vicious hand to hand fighting,[lxx] 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.  He would be awarded the Medal of Honor.[lxxi]

SSGT William Bordelon a Combat Engineer won the Medal of honor posthumously at Tarawa

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 and had Admiral Hill send a message to Admiral Turner stating “Issue in doubt. I concur.” This sent a chill through the listening Naval Staff.[lxxiii] Ashore Shoup brought howitzers from 1st Battalion 10th Marines on surviving Amtracks to the eastern edge of Red-2 near the pier,[lxxiv] which landed in the early evening.[lxxv] He sent Lieutenant Colonel Carlson to make a personal report to General Smith that he would hold 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 37mm anti-tank guns into position to drive off Japanese tanks approaching the beachhead.[lxxvii] The Division Band assisted corpsmen in bringing back wounded Marines.[lxxviii]

Close Combat on Tarawa

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, 3/2 and elements 1/2 and 2/2 was isolated and Major Ryan of Lima Company pulled them back to meet an expected Japanese counter-attack.[lxxix] 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, Admiral Shibasaki and his staff were killed while shifting headquarters during the afternoon,[lxxxii] and their communications were in shambles.

Admiral Shibasaki’s HQ and a knocked out light tank

A counterattack would have been disastrous in their condition,[lxxxiii] yet they assembled over 1000 men to oppose the Marines on day two.[lxxxiv] Had Shibasaki lived and communications survived a counterattack might have had ramifications far beyond Tarawa.[lxxxv]

Day Two: D+1

Wounded Marines at Tarawa being moved on rubber raft

The second day began with 1/8 landing on Red-2 and the 6th Marines began to land on Green Beach at the far western tip of Betio.  1/8’s landing turned into a bloodbath, the tide fell even lower than the previous day and as they hit the reef and waded ashore drifted into some of the heaviest Japanese defenses. Japanese guns, including the dual 5.5” guns took direct aim at the boats, and Marines ashore watched helplessly, and 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]

Marines advancing

Meanwhile, Shoup ordered Ryan’s “orphans” to make an attack down the right flank of the Japanese positions on Green beach and the “ultimate American victory at Betio evolved from the attack during one intense hour the second morning.”[lxxxix] Taking every available Marine, two surviving Shermans and some mortars, Ryan gathered his force and coordinated Naval Gunfire support.  The area contained a number of heavy guns including two of the 8” mounts.  A destroyer blanked 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 by 1200 and he radioed to let Shoup know the good news and that he intended to advance east against the airfield.[xcii] The attack allowed the Marines to be able to land intact battalions with supporting arms for the first time battle.[xciii]

Marines in action at Tarawa

To the east behind Red-2 and Red-3 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 was mortally wounded.  He too would win the Medal of Honor.  The attack cut the island in two but the Japanese launched a counterattack on the Marine positions which was beaten back.[xcv]

Marines moving inland against tough resistance

The 8thMarines faced a more difficult task going against what was now the heart of the Japanese defense, as its 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 landing, including jeeps, artillery and heavy equipment, and other 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’ 1/6 landed on Green beach in their rubber boats, reinforcing Ryan’s orphans, it was the first of the 7 battalions landed to get ashore intact and the two officers coordinated their units for a night defense and an early attack the next morning.[xcix] 2/6 cleared the nearby island of Bairiki allowing 2/10 to land its howitzers on the island.  This in effect cut off any line of retreat for the defenders of Betio.[c] Colonel Edson came ashore during the evening to relieve Shoup[ci], who remained ashore to help coordinate the next day’s attack.  Again there were no coordinated Japanese counterattacks, the only senior officer, Sugai was isolated in the pocket between the Red and Green beaches and no senior officer could coordinate any attacks.[cii]

Day Three and Four: D+2 and D+3

Wrecked LVTs and dead bodies

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 off of 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 eventually taking these heavily fortified and defended positions.  During the assault Lt Sandy Bonnyman of 1/18 won the Medal of Honor for leading the assault on these positions.[civ] Fighting remained fierce throughout the day and General Smith arrived to take command on shore.  The Marines attacked supported by tanks, artillery and naval gunfire.

Tarawa beach after the fight

By the evening they were established at the east end of the airfield.  The Japanese 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 sacrificing strength that might have been used to exact a higher price 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 few Japanese prisoners being interrogated

Epilogue

The Marines paid a heavy price for Betio, but it was not to be a useless sacrifice, though it was a source of great controversy especially among politicians.[cix]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 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 alone 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] 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, 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: Leaders on Tarawa

General H.M. Smith and General Julian Smith at Tarawa

General Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith USMC: (1882-1967) Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith command 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 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 of the 6th Marines won the Medal of Honor at Tarawa and would rise to become the Commandant of the Marine Corps

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, HQMC 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.

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 Heavy Cruiser Haguro and Battleship Kirishima and two smaller ships.  Assigned to Tarawa in February 1943 he helped design and supervised the initial construction of Tarawa Defenses until 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 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 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 an impression. 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

[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

Bibilography

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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