Operation Galvanic (2): The Battle for Makin, November 1943

Operation Galvanic (2): The Battle for Makin, November 1943

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Operation Galvanic (2): The Battle for Makin, November 1943

Introduction The Americans Prepare The Assault Begins Books from Amazon (UK and US)Websites

At the Trident Conference in May 1943, the American and British approved the overall plan for conducting an offensive towards Japan in the Central Pacific. Not everyone approved of this however (one of the main dissenting voices was General Douglas MacArthur) and much time and effort was spent in reconciling the different views in June and July. Initially, an invasion of the Marshall Islands was proposed in October using Marine divisions but MacArthur pointed out that the only troops experienced in amphibious assault were those in the Southwest Pacific area and using them would delay the advance on Rabaul. The Combined Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff all agreed that Operation Cartwheel should not be delayed but at the same time approved of the idea of a limited drive in the Central Pacific. Therefore a compromise was reached where MacArthur would continue his operations, but Nimitz would begin a limited offensive, starting with an invasion of the Gilbert Islands (with two divisions) to develop airfields and facilities in order to support future operations against the Marshall Islands. While Nimitz's command arrangements came into question, Admiral Earnest J King decided Nimitz should retain command of the Pacific Fleet, but steps should be taken to ensure greater Army participation in the planning process. Nimitz also established the Central Pacific Force under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance that had three major subordinate components - the Fifth Amphibious Force (with a ground headquarters, V Amphibious Corps, under Major General Holland M Smith), the Carrier Force and the Defence and Shore-Based Air Force.

Ironically, Makin had been the subject of a raid by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion on the 17th August 1942, about the same time as the 1st Marine Division were landing on Guadalcanal. The raid was designed to keep the Japanese off balance and perhaps force them to divert reinforcements away from Guadalcanal. The 221 Marines landed on Butaritari, the largest island in the Makin atoll, and fought sporadic firefights with the Japanese all day. There was little resistance on the ground but the Japanese subjected the Marines to three air raids and the Marines suffered 30 fatalities. It is a matter of debate as to whether the raid had any lasting impact as to Japanese actions in respect of the Guadalcanal campaign, but what it did do was alert them to the vulnerability of the Gilbert Islands and therefore commit greater men and material to their defence, which would have consequences when the Gilberts became a major objective in the Central Pacific campaign.

The Americans Prepare

The attack on the Gilbert Islands (formerly a British possession) would be a joint Marine and Army operation and initially involved Tarawa and Apamama in the island chain and the island of Nauru, which lay almost 400 miles to the west. The first two would be Marine Corps objectives and Nauru would be the Army's first action in the Central Pacific campaign. While the plans called for two Marine divisions, the use of the 1st Marine Division would jeopardise the timetable for Operation Cartwheel and so General George C Marshall (Chief of Staff, US Army) offered Admiral King the 27th Infantry Division, which was accepted. The division began planning its part in Galvanic, the assault on Nauru (codenamed Operation Kourbash), but Spruance changed its objective from Nauru (a relatively well defended objective that would require more troops than there was available troop transports to lift) to the Japanese seaplane base at Makin. The division was told of the change less than eight weeks before the start of the operation, the planning for which was complicated enough in terms of the logistic support required, the distance between the two participating units (2nd Marine Division was in Wellington, New Zealand while the 27th Infantry Division was still in Hawaii) and the need to continue with offensive operations two months later in the Marshall Islands.

The 27th Infantry and 2nd Marine Divisions were subordinate to the V Amphibious Corps for planning and preparation purposes, while during the assault itself, they would both report to their respective task force commanders. Fortunately, its previous planning for the invasion of Nauru was not entirely wasted, but the change in objective left the 27th Infantry with little time to prepare for its combat debut. The assault force would be limited to one regimental combat team, built around the 165th Infantry Regiment, reinforced with the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry (3/105), and would be known as the Northern Landing Force. It would also have a number of support elements including the 105th Field Artillery Battalion, the 152nd Engineer Battalion and 193rd Tank Battalion. Rehearsals for the operation began in October with the Army units of the Northern Attack Force practising amphibious assaults in Hawaii while the Southern Attack Force (2nd Marine Division) practised in the New Hebrides. By the night of the 19th November 1943, all the units had sailed to their respective objective areas and were in their assigned positions to begin the assault.

The Assault Begins

The assault opened with an intense air and naval bombardment along the beaches and on selected targets inland. The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 165th Infantry (1/165 and 3/165) headed for Red Beaches 1 and 2. These were on the western side of the island and were generally good for amphibious landings, although Red Beach 1 did have some rough boulder strewn terrain, which caused problems for the assaulting forces. Only a small part of the beach was usable for landing combat troops and for supplies a channel would have to be blasted. The two battalion combat teams, supported by light tanks landed with little enemy resistance but the difficult terrain on Red Beach 1 caused confusion in the landing timetable for 1/165. Despite this, the forces of the two battalions rapidly grew and they started the advance inland. Special Detachment Y left one platoon to guard the flank and then moved off towards Flink Point in search of enemy forces while Special Detachment X swung to the right and established defensive positions. Again, enemy resistance was minimal, the greatest difficulty encountered being due to the terrain and the effects of the air and naval bombardment.

The 1/165 advanced with three companies abreast (D, C and B) with A Company in reserve, gradually extending its line to take over the advance from the 3/165, which was to go into reserve after completing its part of the first phase. The 3/165 advanced with three companies in line (K, I and L) and encountered little enemy resistance in its advance to the main highway. Enemy resistance was finally encountered as the battalion neared the point at which the highway crossed the 'Rita Lake' not far from the beachhead line. L Company was detached (along with a reconnaissance party from the 105th Field Artillery Battalion) to search the area of Ukiangong village to the south. Meanwhile, almost two hours after the initial landings on Red Beaches 1 and 2, the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry (2/165) began landing on Yellow Beach (with Special Detachment Z), which was on the coast of the island that faced Northeast. Here the assault forces faced a rather more vigorous and hostile reception than 1/165 and 3/165 had had to face and due to a miscalculation, the assault troops had to wade the last 250 yards in waist high water. However, casualties were relatively light although a number of amtracs were put out of action and two of the tanks that were to support them were drowned out in shell holes. However, the battalion landed and started to clear the general area and the two wharves, while the two old hulks just offshore were subjected to air and naval bombardment. They then began the advance inland, southwards across the island.

This advance was to be closely co-ordinated with the 1/165, who would advance towards the West Tank Barrier (a wide, deep trench zigzagging across the island for most of the distance while a heavy log barricade covered the remainder). Meanwhile the 2/165 would approach from the opposite direction and squeeze the enemy defenders. While the hope was that the first landing on Red Beach would attract the initial attention of the enemy and allow the force landing on Yellow Beach to advance into the enemy rear, the Japanese decided to retreat into the interior and the 165th Infantry was forced to advance and knock out enemy strongpoints one by one. The main point of enemy resistance was, in actual fact, the West Tank Barrier, whose defences were substantially stronger than had been anticipated with numerous rifle pits, gun emplacements and pillboxes scattered along it. The two battalion combat teams attacked and eventually cleared the Barrier, making contact in the late afternoon. The troops settled down for the night and started the advance eastwards the next day meeting only sporadic opposition. The infantry gradually cleared the occasional strongpoint and village but the pattern of fighting continued for the next two days until the 3/165 reached the eastern tip of the island and general mopping up operations could commence. 1/165 and 2/165 re-embarked early and preparations were made to hand over to a garrison force.

Overall, the casualties suffered in the capture of Makin were light for both sides, compared to the fighting that occurred on Tarawa. The Japanese suffered around 400 killed, the US Army suffered 251 casualties (66 killed) and the US Navy suffered 1,043 casualties (752 killed) due to the escort carrier Liscombe Bay being torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. While the fighting cannot in any sense be compared to that of Tarawa, the US Army learned important lessons in the conduct of amphibious operations in its capture of Makin. These included the importance of preliminary reconnaissance, the necessity for stronger pre-assault bombardment, the proper waterproofing of equipment, improved procedures for the co-ordination of assault forces (particularly if they were assault different sections of the island) as well as longer and more integrated pre-assault training exercises.

Books from Amazon (US, UK and Canada)


Center of Military History (US Army), The Capture of Makin
Makin Island raid website
'Central Pacific: The US Army Campaigns of World War II' Webpage, part of the Hyperwar: A Hyperlink History of World War II' Website
'Makin and Tarawa' Webpage

Japanese invasion and fortification Edit

On 10 December 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 300 Japanese troops plus laborers of the Gilberts Invasion Special Landing Force had arrived off Makin Atoll and occupied it without resistance. Lying east of the Marshall islands, Makin was intended as an excellent seaplane base, to protect the eastern flank of the Japanese perimeter from an Allied attack by extending Japanese air patrols closer to islands held by the Allies: Howland Island, Baker Island, Tuvalu, and Phoenix and Ellice Islands.

The end of the Aleutian Islands Campaign and progress in the Solomon Islands, combined with increasing supplies of men and materials, gave the United States Navy the resources to make an invasion of the central Pacific in late 1943. Admiral Chester Nimitz had argued for this invasion earlier in 1943, but the resources were not available to carry it out at the same time as Operation Cartwheel, the envelopment of Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands. The plan was to approach the Japanese home islands by "island hopping": establishing naval and air bases in one group of islands to support the attack on the next. The Gilbert Islands were the first step in this chain.

Marine raid on Makin Edit

On 17 August 1942, 211 Marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion under command of Colonel Evans Carlson and Captain James Roosevelt [1] were landed on Makin from two submarines, USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut. The Japanese garrison only posted 83 to 160 men under the command of a warrant officer. The Raiders killed at least 83 Japanese soldiers, annihilating the garrison, and destroyed installations for the loss of 21 killed (mostly by air attack) and 9 captured. The Japanese moved their prisoners to Kwajalein Atoll, where they were later beheaded. One objective of the raid was to confuse the Japanese about U.S. intentions in the Pacific, but it had the effect of alerting the Japanese to the strategic importance of the Gilbert Islands and led to their further reinforcement and fortification.

After Carlson's raid, the Japanese reinforced the Gilberts, which had been left lightly guarded. Makin was garrisoned with a single company of the 5th Special Base Force (700 – 800 men) on August 1942, and work on both the seaplane base and coastal defenses of the atoll was resumed in earnest. By July 1943 the seaplane base on Makin was completed and ready to accommodate Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat bombers, Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" floatplane fighters and Aichi E13A "Jake" reconnaissance seaplanes. Its defenses were also completed, although they were not as extensive as on Tarawa Atoll—the main Japanese Navy air base in the Gilberts. The Chitose and 653rd Air Corps were detached and deployed here. While the Japanese were building up their defenses in the Gilberts, American forces were making plans to retake the islands.

Operation Galvanic (2): The Battle for Makin, November 1943 - History

By Patrick J. Chaisson

Makin should have been a pushover.

On November 20, 1943, a force of 3,500 highly trained American soldiers invaded this Central Pacific atoll located 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii in the Gilbert Islands. Opposing them were a mere 284 Japanese naval infantrymen along with some 500 support personnel and civilian laborers.

The plan was to overwhelm Makin’s defenders with crushing air and naval barrages followed by an amphibious landing intended to mop up any lingering enemy resistance. Senior U.S. commanders estimated it would take about two days to accomplish this mission. In reality, almost nothing went right for the Americans. Their wood-hulled landing craft could not cross Makin’s barrier reef, so riflemen had to wade 250 yards to shore under heavy machine-gun fire. Critical items such as flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and radio sets all got soaked—with soldiers later paying a heavy price for this ruined equipment.

Japanese snipers, hidden within a tangle of fallen trees and shell craters, took an alarming toll on the attackers. Leaders made excellent targets—the American regimental commander was shot between the eyes while rallying his troops. Shocked by the loss of their colonel, raw U.S. infantrymen stopped advancing and took cover.

Makin’s invasion was in danger of stalling on the beach.

Amid this chaos, soldiers began hearing the deep bark of tank cannons. American armored vehicles had finally made it ashore and were joining the fight. Enemy bunkers began disintegrating under a hail of 75mm shells, while well-placed canister rounds silenced stubborn snipers. No longer pinned down, the GIs continued their attack into Makin’s main defensive area.

Makin has been eclipsed in popular memory by the maelstrom of Tarawa, which was seized by troops of the 2nd Marine Division after three days of vicious fighting. The invasions took place simultaneously, but it was the Marines’ bloody assault of Tarawa Atoll’s primary islet, Betio, that made headlines back home. Indeed, Tarawa was a bigger battle. More than 1,600 Americans and 4,600 Japanese perished there compared to relatively light casualties sustained during the Makin landings.

Yet Makin distinguished itself as the first amphibious assault conducted by U.S. Army forces in the Central Pacific during World War II. Lessons learned there paved the way for larger operations on Saipan, the Philippines, and Okinawa. Makin also marked the combat debut of armor in an Army-led Pacific landing and was the only time American-crewed Lee medium tanks entered battle against Japan. The Lee was actually a stopgap medium tank equipped with a 37mm cannon in a small traversing turret and a hull-mounted 75mm gun. It was something of an anachronism, harkening back to the days of World War I tank design and put together with a minimum of innovation since the M4 Sherman medium tank was still unavailable in great numbers.

Armor of the 193rd Tank Battalion

The Lee tank appeared ponderous and presented a handsome target to enemy gunners with its high silhouette. However, at the time of its debut no turret was available in the American arsenal that could accommodate a gun heavier than 37mm.

These vehicles belonged to the 193rd Tank Battalion (TB). Organized in January 1941, the 193rd was created out of four Federalized National Guard tank companies—the 30th from Forsyth, Georgia (Company A) the 31st from Ozark, Alabama (Company B) the 36th from Houston, Texas (Company C) and the 45th Tank Company from Denver, Colorado (Company D).

When Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, the outfit was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Within nine days, remembered Staff Sergeant James Leach, “The 193rd tankers, reequipped with maneuver worn M3 light tanks repossessed from the 2nd Armored Division, were on a troop train headed west to San Francisco’s Angel Island.” Their destination: Hawaii.

So unprepared was the Army for war that only a few of the 193rd’s tank crewmen had ever seen, let alone trained on, an M3 Stuart light tank (not to be confused with the Lee designation, which was also M3) before deploying. Nevertheless, the battalion set off for Oahu a few days after Christmas 1941. The 193rd men arrived in Honolulu on January 7, among the first reinforcements to reach Hawaii at a time when the threat of Japanese invasion was very real.

Fears eased once additional American forces arrived, especially after February 1942 when the 27th Infantry Division shipped over. Like the 193rd TB, the 27th “Orion” Division was a former National Guard organization, mobilized for Federal duty since 1940. For several months, 27th Division soldiers garrisoned Hawaii’s outer islands. Beginning in November, though, the 27th underwent a relentless training program designed to prepare its troops for jungle warfare.

The 193rd TB also underwent intense training while adapting to several changes in organization and equipment. By 1943 it had converted from a light M3 Stuart tank battalion to one equipped with both light and medium tanks. Many crewmen who had just learned to operate their nimble M3 lights now found themselves on the ponderous M3A5 Lee medium tank.

American soldiers of the 27th Infantry Division wade ashore on Makin atoll in the Gilbert Islands on November 20, 1943, while a tank makes its way along the beach in the distance.

Weighing in at 30 tons, the diesel-engined M3A5 came armed, in addition to the 37mm and 75mm guns, with a .30-caliber machine gun located in its turret. Another .30-caliber could be fired by the driver from his position in the hull. It took seven men to crew the Lee, including three in the turret (tank commander, 37mm gunner, and loader) plus four in the hull (driver, radio operator, 75mm gunner, and loader). The M3A5 was by 1943 an obsolete design, but it still possessed impressive firepower. In the 193rd, Companies A and B fought with mediums.

Only four tankers (commander, gunner, driver, and co-driver/radioman) manned the M3A1 light tanks operated by Company C of the 193rd TB. Much smaller than an M3A5 medium, the light tank weighed 16 tons. Its armament included a 37mm cannon and coaxial .30-caliber machine gun in the two-man turret, plus one hull-mounted .30-caliber for the co-driver. Another externally fitted machine gun provided antiaircraft protection.

Whether equipped with light tanks or mediums, a tank company in the 193rd possessed considerable battlefield muscle. Organized into three platoons of five tanks apiece plus one tank for the company commander and another for his executive officer, each company rode into combat packing a lethal combination of armor protection, firepower, and mobility.

Another tracked vehicle with which the 193rd would soon become intimately familiar was the LVT-1 Alligator. This 14-ton amphibious tractor could deliver up to 24 soldiers or 4,500 pounds of cargo right onto the beach. Typical armament was one .50-caliber and one .30-caliber machine gun. The early model LVT-1 lacked armor plating but was prized by invasion commanders for its impressive handling characteristics both in and out of the water.

Operation Galvanic

While the 193rd TB worked to organize and train for combat, senior leaders in Hawaii set their sights on a Central Pacific counterattack against Japan. During the summer of 1943, Allied victories in the Southwest Pacific and Aleutian Islands signaled a turning of the tide. Having checked Japanese expansion, American commanders now sought to retake island bases that had been overrun during the war’s first weeks.

The Gilbert Islands, 13 coral atolls straddling the Equator, represented Japan’s outer defensive belt in the Central Pacific. From bases at Makin, Tarawa, and Nauru the enemy could launch long-distance Kawanishi H8K Emily flying boats to attack U.S. supply convoys. This threat had to be neutralized.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief Pacific Ocean Areas, also saw an invasion of the Gilberts as the first step in his “island-hopping” campaign across the Central Pacific. He envisioned these atolls serving as stepping stones to the next set of island bases, eventually bringing Allied forces to within striking distance of the Japanese homeland.

By August an overall plan for invading the Gilberts—codenamed Operation Galvanic—had taken shape. In overall command was Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance of the U.S. Central Pacific Force. The landing force commander, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, had the task of putting ashore two simultaneous amphibious assaults, one at Tarawa and another on the phosphate-rich isle of Nauru. Controlling ground operations was the V Amphibious Corps, commanded by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Holland M. Smith.

For Galvanic, the 2nd Marine Division was assigned to seize Tarawa while an element of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division got Nauru as its mission. The operation was tentatively scheduled for November 15, 1943.

U.S. soldiers move forward on Makin as their amphibious LVT-1 tracked landing craft, nicknamed the Alligator, sits in the foreground. Troops of the 193rd Tank Battalion were detailed to operate the Alligators during the Makin landings.

Intelligence on Makin Resistance

In late September, Galvanic planners scrapped Nauru as an invasion objective, stating it was too far away from Tarawa for naval vessels to support each other in case of a Japanese air or sea counterattack. Makin Atoll, 105 miles north of Tarawa, would be the 27th’s new target.

It was not the first time that American forces had visited Makin. Marine Raiders under Lt. Col. Evans Carlson landed there on August 17, 1942, from the submarines USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut. The Raiders battled Makin’s surprised garrison for two days before withdrawing with valuable intelligence. This information later became useful to Orion Division planners.

Makin Atoll is a triangle-shaped formation of reefs and islands, the largest of which is named Butaritari. Resembling a crutch, Butaritari stretches out for 13 miles although its average width measures just 500 yards. Heavily vegetated, the island contains many shallow ponds, hidden marshes, and copra plantations. Thousands of bobai pits, deep holes in which a taro-like foodstuff is cultivated, further restrict cross-country mobility.

Aerial reconnaissance revealed an active enemy presence on Butaritari. Photo interpreters counted ramps and maintenance structures for five Emily seaplanes, a headquarters complex, radio transmitter facilities, and numerous gun emplacements concentrated in the center of the island. Most of these fortifications, analysts noted, were pointed out to sea in the direction from which Carlson’s Raiders struck. The lagoon side, segmented by four piers or wharves, appeared lightly defended.

Protecting the flanks of Butaritari’s main defensive area, nicknamed The Citadel, were two zigzag trenches. Known as the West Tank Barrier System and the East Tank Barrier System, these barricades figured greatly in the assault force’s tactical plan.

Intelligence officers estimated Makin’s garrison at 280 naval infantrymen of the 3rd Special Base Force under Lieutenant Seizo Ishikawa. Including marooned air personnel and civilian construction laborers, approximate enemy strength totaled 800 men. Several howitzers, dual-purpose antiaircraft/antitank guns, and even two Type 95 light tanks formed the backbone of Ishikawa’s defenses. Butaritari also bristled with dozens of machine-gun bunkers and rifle pits.

No Time For Combat Rehearsal

Major General Ralph C. Smith, 27th Division commander, assigned the Makin assault to his 165th Regimental Combat Team (RCT). Led by Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy, the 165th Infantry could trace its lineage back to the “Fighting 69th” of Civil War fame. Reinforcing Conroy’s RCT were several support units, including a field artillery battalion, signal, engineer, and medical detachments plus the entire 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment for use as a special landing party.

Late in September, the 193rd TB also received orders attaching it to the Orion Division. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Harmon L. Edmonson, learned his mediums from Company A and lights belonging to Company C were now part of the Makin operation scheduled to begin in six short weeks.

Edmonson received another startling request. The 27th wanted to use LVT-1s to put ashore its special landing detachments, but no one knew how to operate these amphibious tractors. Could the 193rd crew them?

Using the one available Alligator on Oahu, 193rd Battalion Executive Officer Major M.L. Inskeep formed a detail of Headquarters Company soldiers and within two weeks turned them into LVT drivers. Later, 48 factory-new LVT-1s would show up just in time to load into the Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) bound for Makin.

Meanwhile, the rest of the landing force began making frantic preparations for battle. Unfortunately, all this activity left little opportunity for tank-infantry familiarization. The tankers also discovered their radios were incompatible with those used by the 165th RCT. Precombat rehearsals would have straightened out these issues, but there simply was not enough time for proper training.

While smoke billows from stricken Japanese positions on Makin, American combat engineers lay a metal mat across the soft sand to allow tracked and wheeled vehicles to move forward without becoming mired in the terrain.

Two Battalion Landing Teams

On November 10, Company A of the 193rd loaded its medium tanks onto Landing Craft, Tank (LCTs), which then steered into the cavernous USS Belle Grove. Known as a Landing Ship, Dock, this strange vessel could flood its well deck to float out the LCTs with their medium tanks aboard. Company C’s light tanks were driven onto smaller Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCMs) and distributed among the invasion fleet.

The Northern Task Force (minus five slow-moving LSTs carrying Major Inskeep’s LVT-1s, which had left five days earlier) then set sail to rendezvous off Makin. During its passage, Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of the Seventh Air Force saturated Butaritari with tons of demolition bombs. Betio, the main enemy stronghold on Tarawa, received an even more extensive preinvasion “softening” by Army Air Forces and Navy aircraft.

Operation Galvanic had begun. Heading for the Gilberts were thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, all determined to initiate Admiral Nimitz’s Central Pacific island-hopping campaign. D-day was now set for Saturday, November 20, 1943.

The Makin operation would open at 0830 hours with two Battalion Landing Teams (BLTs) landing along Butaritari’s western shore—the “arm” of the crutch—on beaches designated Red One and Red Two. Also set to hit the Red Beaches were the 1st and 2nd Platoons of Company C, 193rd TB, riding M3A1 light tanks. This force was then to advance on the West Tank Barrier System, two miles to the east.

Providing the Red Beach landings went well, at 1030 an additional BLT would enter Butaritari’s lagoon and assault the island center on Yellow Beach between On Chong’s Wharf and King’s Wharf. Accompanied by 17 M3A5 Lee medium tanks of Company A, 193rd TB and five Stuarts from Company C, this BLT was to strike across Butaritari before wheeling to the west. The Americans would then advance through the Main Defensive Area to link up with other elements moving eastward from the Red Beaches.

Special landing detachments from the 3/105 Infantry, riding in LVT-1s, were to form the first assault wave for all beachheads. After securing the landing areas, these riflemen would establish blocking positions intended to cut off any Japanese defenders trying to escape from or counterattack the main invasion force.

A Complicated Maneuver For an Inexperienced Force

If performed correctly, this complicated maneuver promised to pin the enemy between two powerful U.S. assaults. Yet the plan was fraught with problems not apparent to the inexperienced Orion Division. The danger of fratricide—friendly fire—increases markedly whenever two units approach the same objective from opposite directions. Superb radio communications, fire discipline, and small unit leadership were crucial to the success of such a scheme, and the untested 165th RCT did not then possess these battlefield skills.

Although Makin atoll was a small spit of land in the Gilbert Islands of the Central Pacific, it was extensively fortified by its Japanese occupiers. The Japanese built strongpoints of coconut logs, sand, and concrete.

An uncooperative enemy further disrupted the 27th’s plan. Simply put, most of the Japanese on Butaritari had taken shelter far from where American intelligence officers believed they would be. The massive preinvasion bombardment—an estimated four million pounds of high explosives—did little more than to momentarily stun Makin’s defenders and leave them a perfect warren of downed palm trees, shell craters, and rubble in which to hide.

Still, one could not ignore the overwhelming U.S. advantage in combat troops, armored firepower, and naval gunfire support. Observers offshore certainly felt a sense of confidence in the predawn hours of November 20 when those big guns opened fire. Meanwhile, a flotilla of landing craft, led by the ungainly LVT-1s, began assembling in the calm waters west of Makin Atoll. Jockeying into assault formations, waves of boats and tractors then headed toward the beach.

The Landing’s Unanticipated Obstacles

Finally, after a flight of U.S. Navy fighters strafed Butaritari end to end, the invasion began. At 0829 hours, one minute ahead of schedule, the first Alligators rolled out of the water onto Red Beaches One and Two. As soldiers of the 3/105 Infantry leaped out and took cover, only an eerie silence greeted them. Makin, they thought, was going to be a pushover.

Five minutes behind them were LCMs carrying the light tanks of Company C, 193rd TB. The First Platoon Leader, 2nd Lt. Murray C. Engle, remembered, “When [the] line of departure was reached and [the LCMs] started moving in, the tanks were buttoned up with the exception of the tank commander’s turret lid. The tank commander kept his lid open and observed the beach through field glasses…. About 100 yards from shore the tanks were completely buttoned up and ready to leave the LCM.”

An unexpected reef forced Engle’s LCM to drop its ramp 40 feet off the beach, but his M3A1 had been fitted with a deep water fording trunk and waded in with little difficulty. The other tanks also successfully made it ashore, moving inland to predesignated assembly areas.

In the meantime, American infantrymen advanced eastward against growing resistance. Butaritari’s defenders had shaken off their initial shock and were beginning to fight back. Snipers hidden in treetops picked off unwary GIs while the chatter of well-camouflaged Nambu machine guns drove entire platoons to cover.

Stalled by Japanese sharpshooters and the torn up terrain, infantry commanders began pushing their riflemen forward. This exposed those leaders to deadly enemy fire. On the north (lagoon) side of Butaritari, 2nd Lt. Daniel T. Nunnery of the 1st BLT was killed in an ambush that also injured several of his men. When chaplain Captain Stephen J. Meany went out to render aid, he took a serious wound to the chest.

The regimental commander, Colonel Conroy, saw it all. Stating he was going back for a tank, Conroy stood up in full view of the Japanese position. A rifle cracked, and the colonel fell dead. Command of the 165th Infantry passed to Lt. Col. Gerard W. Kelley of the 1st BLT.

Advance of the Light Tanks

Those light tanks so desperately needed on the front lines instead remained parked in their assembly areas. It took three hours for the armor to organize along Red Beach’s rocky shore and more time to sort out command authority. Initially, the tankers refused to obey orders from infantry officers. Captain Charles B. Tobin, commanding Company C, eventually got them on the road, but precious hours had already been wasted.

Progress was slow along the single coral-surfaced path leading forward. Lieutenant Engle said his tanks “moved in column formation along the main road to catch up with the [infantry]. As there was no engineer equipment available, tank crews had to fill in shell craters with logs, rocks, etc. to enable them to get through. Finally about 1400 [hours] the tanks caught up with [the infantry].”

Engle’s light tanks then advanced on the enemy’s positions. “We were fired on by snipers and machine guns,” reported Technician 4th Grade Frank C. Kulaga, a driver with 1st Platoon. “Our gunner knocked out a machine gun which had been firing on Tank No. 40. We then advanced about 200 yards where Tank No. 40 ran into a shell hole and had to be pulled out.”

Under occasional sniper fire, crewmen extricated the stuck M3A1 and continued on their way. By 1600 hours the platoon was nearing its objective, the West Tank Barrier System. “When about 300 yards from [the] tank trap, [American] medium tanks were sighted,” reported Lieutenant Engle. “We moved up and met them.”

Despite considerable confusion and the loss of their regimental commander, U.S. forces advancing from the Red Beaches had performed well. As of mid-afternoon they controlled Butaritari’s main road and were busy wiping out one last pocket of resistance along the West Tank Barrier.

Trouble on Yellow Beach

The assault on Yellow Beach faced stiffer opposition. Following another furious naval barrage, American landing craft entered Makin’s lagoon at 0952 hours and headed toward shore. First in were the LVT-1s, driven by 193rd TB personnel. A line of barges followed 900 yards back, carrying the M3A5 mediums of Company A, a platoon of light tanks, and Lt. Col. Edmonson’s two headquarters tanks. Behind them rode wooden-hulled LCVPs loaded with infantrymen from the 2nd BLT.

As the first wave approached, enemy machine guns from King’s Wharf and several half-sunken ships caught the Alligators in a lethal crossfire. LVT crewmen shot back with their .50-caliber machine guns. The tractors then clattered up on land, where riflemen from the 3/105 Infantry dismounted to clear out the threat.

Company A’s medium tanks, still aboard their LCTs, joined the fight. “On my right was two old enemy hulks,” remembered Sergeant Wilbur R. Johnson. “I cleared my 37mm by firing into these hulks. I also put several bursts of machine-gun fire on the wharf where enemy guns could be seen.”

An American M3 light tank lies immobilized in a large shell crater on Makin. The tank soldiers nearby appear to be considering options to remedy the situation that occurred on the first day of the fight.

What could not be seen was an underwater coral reef extending 250 yards into the lagoon that blocked passage for flat-bottomed landing craft. It forced the infantrymen to wade through waist-deep water, ruining their poorly waterproofed radios, bazookas, and flamethrowers. Worse, they were lashed by Japanese automatic weapons fire all the way into shore.

Underwater Hazards For the American Tanks

The tanks, although fitted with wading stacks, faced an even more daunting obstacle hidden in Butaritari’s lagoon. Preinvasion bombardment had left deep shell holes under the water’s surface, invisible to tank drivers. Captain Robert S. Brown, Company A’s commanding officer, lost his M3A5 to an unseen crater, as did Sergeant Jean O. Newby, commander of Medium No. 17.

Newby recalled, “We left the barge, went forward about 25 yards and hit a shell hole. We got out of that and went about 15 yards more and hit another. The water was about 7 feet deep, and our tank drowned out. The tank immediately filled with smoke after hitting the second shell hole. My driver said the tank was on fire. The crew dismounted right there with great speed through the right sponson door. I remained inside the tank. As soon as the crew got out of the tank they were machine gunned from shore and with more speed they came back inside the tank.”

Those vehicles managing to make it on land were hardly out of danger. Lt. Col. Edmonson remarked, “After reaching the beach we were held up by [bobai] pits and shell holes, in addition to the coconut trees and a fuel dump that was on fire.” Sergeant Henry F. Knetter, commanding Medium No. 20, was working his M3A5 off a stump when the enemy appeared. “I fired about 100 rounds with the .30 at a bunch of Japs running west on the ocean side,” Knetter reported. “Hung up as we were no other gun could be brought to bear.”

Twelve medium and four light tanks survived the landing, immediately going to work against Japanese fortifications. The tanks’ incompatible communications systems, however, made cooperation with the infantry an almost impossible task. Fighting buttoned up, crewmen could only see the battlefield through glass periscopes. Disoriented tankers were forced to hold their fire, unable to tell friend from foe amid the chaos of battle.

Into this crisis stepped Captain Wayne C. Sikes, the 193rd TB’s operations officer. Using arm and hand signals, he directed a platoon of medium tanks forward against the enemy’s network of rifle pits. Their 75mm high-explosive shells made short work of these log dugouts.

Crumbling Japanese Resistance

As American troops advanced into the heavily fortified Citadel area, they encountered several concrete pillboxes that remained impervious to the tanks’ cannon fire. On the fly, infantrymen, armor crews, and combat engineers improvised a tactic for reducing these dangerous strongpoints.

Lieutenant Colonel John F. McDonough, the 2nd BLT commander, described their method of operation: “We run a tank up to a revetment and blast it with the 75mm guns. Then engineers run in with a TNT charge, poking it into the revetment with a long pole.” By 1700 hours, the GIs had eliminated 10 to 15 enemy positions in this manner.

Japanese resistance throughout the Main Defensive Area crumbled rapidly. One section of medium tanks bypassed The Citadel to link up with Lt. Engle’s light tanks approaching from Red Beach. Another platoon reached the ocean side of Butaritari, where it found several abandoned dual-purpose gun emplacements. More tanks headed east but were forced to withdraw when they encountered unexpectedly heavy enemy fire near King’s Wharf.

After Makin has been secured, American soldiers inspect the wreckage of a Japanese Kawanishi H8K flying boat that lies in the surf. The aircraft was damaged during the preinvasion bombardment and then used by the Japanese defenders as a machine-gun position.

Nightfall on Makin

Nightfall brought on a lull in the action. The 193rd TB gathered its tanks and LVT-1s into assembly areas, where crewmen performed much needed maintenance. Normally they would have refueled and rearmed here as well, but poor landing conditions on the Red Beaches prevented much needed supplies from reaching shore.

The enemy became increasingly active after dark. Snipers took up hiding positions while other Japanese troops probed the American perimeter. Jittery sentries kept everyone awake with a nearly continuous fusillade of rifle fire. Second Lieutenant George P. Evans of Company C recalled, “Many of our own troops fired at each other throughout the remainder of the night.”

One tanker from Company A and another belonging to Company C were killed that first night when they left their foxholes to pursue enemy infiltrators. It remains unknown whether these men died as a result of friendly fire. Another tank commander was shot in his hatch by a Japanese sharpshooter.

Taking the East Tank Barrier System

Dawn on November 21 revealed new problems. Enemy gunners had managed to reoccupy King’s Wharf and were sweeping Yellow Beach with deadly automatic weapons fire. Four medium tanks rolled up on shore and silenced them with 75mm shells. The mediums then shifted their fire to a ruined Emily seaplane, from which another machine gun threatened beach operations. Eighteen Japanese bodies were later found in the wreckage.

Due to sniper activity, light tanks were employed to drag supply pallets from dumps on Red Beach to troops fighting in the center of Butaritari. Bad luck plagued this effort as a Navy dive bomber accidentally dropped its payload on four M3A1s, killing several nearby infantrymen.

After its original occupants have been killed, an American soldier stands in the entrance to a Japanese bunker on Butaritari. Heavy coconut logs that were used to reinforce the enemy strongpoint.

By 1100 hours the tanks on Makin had been fueled and rearmed. They then joined Lt. Col. McDonough’s battalion in a frontal attack on Japanese positions covering the East Tank Barrier System. Rough terrain restricted mobility, but the Americans were learning to fight as a team.

Sergeant Johnson, in Medium No. 8, later wrote: “We had complete infantry support so we moved up slowly, encountering enemy rifle and machine-gun fire. A few snipers were soon wiped out. We encountered a machine gun on the right, so [the] infantry moved back and we blasted it out with a 75mm HE (high explosive round).”

Light tanks operating on the lagoon side of Butaritari helped U.S. riflemen gain 1,000 yards of hotly contested ground that day, yet the foe showed he was still full of fight. The East Tank Barrier System remained in Japanese hands to seize it would require a concentrated effort. Nevertheless, American commanders felt one more day of vigorous action should wrap things up on Makin.

At 0700 hours on November 22, a U.S. artillery barrage pounded enemy positions along the East Tank Barrier. The fresh 3rd BLT, joined by light and medium tanks, surged forward to finish the job. A captured map found the day before helped tank crews pinpoint and eliminate enemy emplacements.

By 0920, advancing U.S. troops had reached the barrier line, where they discovered two derelict Type 95 tankettes. Once across the tank trap, however, attacking armored vehicles were again frustrated by fallen trees, bobai pits, and stumps. Sergeant Johnson remembered, “The going was tough, so every tank followed to cover the leading tanks…. We traveled slow with the infantry spread out in a complete line across the island.”

Missing the Japanese Escape

Meanwhile, other 193rd TB soldiers were making a daring amphibious end run in their LVT-1s. Carrying a company of riflemen, these raiders cruised far up along Butaritari’s shoreline in an attempt to cut off the enemy’s retreat. The effort went for naught, though, as friendly natives informed U.S. officers they were too late—the Japanese had already escaped to neighboring atolls.

Another detachment of Alligator-borne GIs swung wide to occupy the island of Kuma off Butaritari’s eastern tip. There they encountered and killed 10 enemy combatants trying to flee the battlefield.

Across Butaritari the mood was one of cautious optimism. American forces had advanced three miles that day while encountering only sporadic opposition. Tankers of the 193rd returned to their assembly areas for the night, confident their job was nearly done. Headquarters had already issued orders for some units to begin reembarking come morning.

Two Lee medium tanks shell King’s Wharf on Butaritari during the second day of combat. Japanese troops had set up machine gun positions near the wharf during the night, to fire on landing barges unloading supplies.

To the east, Lt. Col. Joseph T. Hart’s 3rd BLT dug in 5,000 yards from the tip of Butaritari. Shortly after dark a party of fleeing natives ran into Hart’s front lines, followed immediately by the first of several Japanese suicide attacks. There appeared to be no organization to these saké fueled bayonet charges. Still, they went on all night and caused numerous American casualties. Hart’s infantrymen held their ground, however, and after daybreak U.S. patrols counted 51 enemy dead in front of their positions.

Final combat operations occurred on the morning of November 23. Five light and 16 medium tanks accompanied Lt. Col. Hart’s battalion to the village of Tanimaiki, on Butaritari’s eastern point. This task force encountered several sniper nests along the way, all of which were quickly eliminated by shotgun-like blasts of canister ammunition from the tanks’ 37mm guns. Tank fire also destroyed an air raid shelter near the island’s tip, killing two Japanese holdouts.

Butaritari had been secured. At 1130 hours the 27th Division commander, Maj. Gen. Smith, radioed “Makin Taken” to Admiral Turner. A few hours later, Orion Division troops began moving back to their transport ships. The 193rd’s Company C left behind its 3rd Platoon to assist with mopping-up operations.

Mistakes Made on Makin

Capturing Butaritari took 75 hours and the lives of 218 Americans. For its part, the 193rd TB suffered four men killed in action and 16 wounded. These comparatively minor losses cause many observers to believe that Makin was an “easy” invasion. The facts tell a far different story.

Many mistakes were made, from the 27th’s overly complex scheme of maneuver to a logistics nightmare caused by Butaritari’s hopelessly inadequate landing beaches. Commanders also realized that tank-infantry coordination needed improvement. General Smith later reported, “The problem of reliable means of communication between the tanks and the close support infantry is not yet solved. It was extremely difficult to transmit information from outside the tank to the tank crew.”

Tank Platoon Leader 2nd Lt. Murray Engle agreed. “There is a great lack of communications between tanks and front line troops. In the tanks, vision is so limited that the crew can’t pick out any targets.” Engle concluded by stating that small unit training should improve this situation.

Despite the problems, much went right at Makin. Overwhelming U.S. firepower dominated the battlefield, pulverizing enemy defenders who chose death before surrender. The tank-infantry-engineer team quickly mastered bunker-busting operations. Technological innovations like the LVT-1 also provided a tactical edge that contributed to the ultimate American victory in the Pacific.

There were many lessons learned during this first amphibious assault undertaken by U.S. Army forces in the Central Pacific. Chief among them was the need for armor in an invasion’s first wave. Maj. Gen. Smith summed it up. “Light and medium tanks were employed continuously throughout the operation, and are considered invaluable both for their combat strength and the morale effect on the troops.”

Starting with the Gilbert Islands, tanks participated in every American offensive action across the Pacific. Their armored power proved decisive on many island battlefields and helped win the war against Japan.

Preparations for the Invasion of the Gilbert Islands

While the landings at Vella Lavella (18 September 1943) and Bougainville (1 November 1943) took place in the Solomons, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands in the Central Pacific was staged, an early experience in amphibious operations and the first atoll operation in the Central Pacific Area. The assault was planned against the Tarawa and Makin atolls where the Japanese had augmented their forces and strengthened positions in anticipation of such an assault.

Operation Galvanic, the landings in the Gilberts, marked the first time that the Pacific landing forces faced a strongly defended beach. On the small atolls there was no undefended place to land due to the narrowness of the beaches. This made the capture difficult and costly in terms of casualties.

About 200 vessels were assembled to carry 27,600 assault troops, 7,600 garrison troops, 6,000 vehicles, and 117,000 tons of cargo. The ships were organized into three main groups, the Assault Force, the Carrier Force, and the Defense Force. The Assault Force was further divided into a Northern Attack Force to assault Makin and a Southern Attack Force to attack Tarawa. The 5th Amphibious Corps under Marine Major General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith provided the troops, consisting of the 2nd Marine Division, assigned to take Tarawa, and the Army's 27th Infantry Division, assigned to take Makin Atoll.

Battle of Tarawa Map

The invasion force for the Battle of Tarawa consisted of 17 aircraft carriers (6 CVs, 6 CVLs, and 6 CVEs), 12 battleships, 8 heavy and four light cruisers, 66 destroyers, and 36 transport vessels. The landing force consisted of the Army’s 27 th Infantry Division and the USMC 2 nd Division for a total of 35,000 Marines and soldiers. The battle would commence with naval gunnery on November 20 th , 1943 that would shell for more than 1.5 hours with a brief respite for carrier-based dive bombers to strike targets.

The invasion plan called for three major beaches on Tarawa to be designated Red 1, Red 2, and Red 3 along the northern coast of the island with Red 1 being on the western toe of the north side of the island. The Green beach was the western base of the island and black beach was the southern shore but were not considered suitable to conduct a beach landing. The Japanese runway divided the island into a north and southern half.

Marines seek cover behind a sea wall on Red Beach 3, Tarawa.

The initial invasion commenced at 0900 local time a tad later than expected and saw a number of Marines stuck on the reef approximately 500 yards off-shore. Planners had expected the rising tide to provide a 5 feet depth over the reef, however, the neap tide being experienced did not provide this much room to spare in most cases being only 3 feet over the reef. As a result, a number of navy boats that were caught on the reef were brought under fire by Japanese mortars and artillery with a number of Marines forced to wade ashore under intense fire. Out of the first wave, only handfuls of men were able to make it to the beach.

Eventually, the Marines initial line began to move inland by 1530 but the arrival of tanks started to help it get moving along Red 3 and the end of Red 2 beach. By nightfall, the Marines had moved the line about half-way across the island close to the Japanese runway. Throughout this time, they continued to take harassing fire seeing a large number of casualties on both sides.

On the 2 nd day of the invasion, the Marines focused on cutting the defending Japanese forces in half. They expanded the bulge on the airfield until they reached the southern shore. At the same time the Marines on Red 1 were directed to secure Green Beach. They would use Nava gunnery to help inch forward during the day and used artillery spotters to help take out the remaining Japanese defense and did not experience a significant number of casualties as compared to the fighting on the rest of the island.

During this time, the Marines on Red 2 and Red 3 saw significantly more fighting on the 2 nd day running into new machine gun posts which cut off friendly forces from each other during the day. By mid-day, the Marines had amassed their own machine guns, and were able to cross the airstrip on Tarawa. During day 2, the Marines also moved to cut-off Japanese attempting to escape to Bairiki. During Day 2, the Japanese atoll commander, Kaigun Shōshō Keiji Shibazaki, was killed in his concrete command post.

On the third day of the battle, the Marines focused on consolidating their existing lines, and moved heavy equipment onshore. By the afternoon, they were then pursuing the Japanese across the southern part of the island and reached the eastern end of the airfield. By the evening, the Japanese started to form for a counterattack, eventually making some progress by the evening, however the Marines would wrap up taking the island by the fourth day of the invasion. By the end of the battle, there was only one Japanese officer, 16 enlisted men and 129 Koreans were alive at the end of the battle. The 2nd Marine Division suffered 894 (48 officers and 846 men) killed in action, with another 84 (8 officers and 76 men) later dying of their wounds. A further 2,188 (102 officers and 2,086 men) men were wounded. Of the roughly 12,000 2nd Marine Division Marines on Tarawa, 3,166 officers and men became casualties.

26 November 1943

26 November 1943: At sunset, Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, Commander Air Group 6, took of from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) as part of an experimental three-plane night fighter team. The U.S. Navy task force was operating in the waters northeast of Tarawa, supporting Operation Galvanic.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of Fighting Squadron TWO (VF-2), piloted by O’Hare and Ensign Warren Andrew Skon, flew formation with a radar-equipped Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, call sign “Tare 97,” flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. (“Phil”) Phillips, commander, Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6).

Butch O’Hare was flying his personal airplane, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 66168. The Hellcat was marked with 󈫰” in white on both sides of its fuselage, the traditional identification of an air group commander’s (“CAG”) airplane.

The Avenger’s radar operator would guide the two fighters to intercept the groups of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” torpedo bombers that had been making nightly attacks against the ships of Task Force 50.2.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, circa 1943. (LIFE Magazine)

The night fighter team engaged several enemy bombers, with the TBF’s pilot, Phillips, credited with shooting down two G4Ms with his Avenger’s two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. O’Hare and Skon both fired on other enemy bombers with their Hellcats’ six machine guns.

At about 7:30 p.m., the TBF was flying at about 1,200 feet (365 meters), staying below the cloud bases, while the two F6Fs rejoined the formation. The TBF’s gunner, Al Kernan, saw both Hellcats approaching to join on the the Avenger’s right wing. When O’Hare was about 400 feet (120 meters) away, the gunner saw a third airplane appear above and behind the two fighters.

A Japanese Mitsubishi G4M twin-engine bomber opened fire on O’Hare’s fighter with it’s 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) nose-mounted machine gun. Kernan returned fire with the TBF’s turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. The G4M quickly disappeared into the darkness.

Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)

Butch O’Hare’s F6F was seen to turn out of the formation, passing to the left underneath Skon’s fighter. Skon called O’Hare by radio but there was no response. The CAG’s Hellcat went into a dive then disappeared in the darkness. Skon tried to follow O’Hare, but had to pull out at about 300 feet (90 meters) to avoid crashing into the ocean.

Neither O’Hare or his airplane were ever seen again. He is believed to have gone into the water at 7:34 p.m., 26 miles (42 kilometers) north-northwest of the carrier Enterprise.

Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called “Betty” by Allied forces.

Lieutenant Commander Edward H. O’Hare was listed as Missing in Action. One year after his disappearance, the status was officially changed to Killed in Action.

Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)

Edward Henry O’Hare was born at St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America, 13 March 1914. He was one of three children of Edward Joseph O’Hare and Selma Anna Lauth O’Hare. He attended the Western Military Academy, Alton, Illinois, along with his friend, Paul Warfield Tibbetts (who would later command the Army Air Forces’ 509th Composite Group, and fly the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay). O’Hare graduated in 1932.

Butch O’Hare was appointed a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, and entered 24 July 1933. He graduated 3 June 1937 and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy. He was then assigned to sea duty aboard the class-leading battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40).

Ensign Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, 30 June 1939. (U.S. Navy)

In 1939, Ensign O’Hare was ordered to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for primary flight training. On 3 June 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade). He completed flight training 2 May 1940.

Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was next assigned to Fighting Squadron THREE (VF-3), a fighter squadron based at San Diego, California, and assigned as part of the air group of the Lexington-class aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga (CV-3).

USS Saratoga was damaged by a torpedo southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, 11 January 1942. While the carrier was under repair, VF-3 was transferred to USS Lexington.

During the early months of World War II, a task force centered around the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) was intruding into Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. In the afternoon of 20 February 1942, she came under attack by several flights of enemy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.

This Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat is marked F-15, as was the fighter flown by Butch O’Hare on 20 February 1942. (Cropped detail from a United States Navy photograph.)

Her fighters, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, were launched in defense and an air battle ensued. Another flight of nine Bettys approached from the undefended side, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, U.S.N. and his wingman were the only fighter pilots available to intercept.

At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the nine incoming bombers and attacked. His wingman’s guns failed, so O’Hare fought on alone. In the air battle, he is credited with having shot down five of the Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth.

A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bomber photographed from the flight deck of USS Lexington, 20 February 1942. (U.S. Navy)

For his bravery, Butch O’Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare married Miss Rita Grace Wooster, a nurse at DePaul Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, 6 September 1941. The marriage was performed by Rev. Patrick Joseph Murphy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (St. Mary’s Church) in Phoenix, Arizona. They would have a daughter, Kathleen.

In a ceremony at the White House, Washington, D.C., at 10:45 a.m., 21 April 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Commander O’Hare. Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander (temporary) with date of rank 8 April 1942.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, on being presented the Medal of Honor at the White House, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1942. Also present are Secretary of the Navy William Franklin Knox, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and Mrs. O’Hare. (U.S. Navy)

One of the best known fighter pilots in the United States Navy, Butch O’Hare was a hero to the people of America. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat during the early months of the war, nominated for a second Medal of Honor, and awarded the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

Lieutenant “Butch” O’Hare in the cockpit of his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. The “Felix the Cat” insignia represents Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3). The five flags, the ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy, signify the enemy airplanes destroyed in the action of 20 February 1942. (LIFE Magazine)

Operation Galvanic: 1943 Battle for Tarawa

The war for the Pacific rages on. The US has set their sights on the Tarawa atoll – a small yet vital island which, if captured, would give the Allies a powerful stepping stone into the heart of Japanese waters and the rest of the Gilbert Islands. Through a coordinated assault of carefully planned beach landings, the Explore the battle for Tarawa in a fascinating new light.

The war for the Pacific rages on. The US has set their sights on the Tarawa atoll – a small yet vital island which, if captured, would give the Allies a powerful stepping stone into the heart of Japanese waters and the rest of the Gilbert Islands. Through a coordinated assault of carefully planned beach landings, the Marines made their attack on November 20th, 1943 . . . and encountered a resistance so fierce and violent it shook the Allies to the core.

This gripping book provides a day-by-day account of this pivotal campaign, shedding light on a little-known part of the World War 2 conflict. Delving into the initial landing and the brutal struggle to seize the Japanese base of operations on Betio, Operation Galvanic recounts the moments which turned the tide of the campaign and gave the Allies a major victory in the Pacific Theatre.

A brilliant read for fans of WW2 history and the lesser-known conflicts which decided the future of the Pacific, this riveting book offers a new and vivid look at the battle for the Tarawa atoll. . more

The Stamford Historical Society Presents


The Battle of Makin

The Battle of Makin was fought on Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands from 20 November to 24 November 1943. It marked the beginning of an island hopping strategy to approach the Japanese homeland. It had been championed by Admiral Chester Nimitz earlier in 1943, but resources had not been available as Navy forces were tied up in the Aleutian campaign to the north and in the ongoing Solomon Island campaign. With the conclusion of the Alaskan campaign and notable progress against the Japanese in Rabaul, forces and materiels were available for an invasion of the Central Pacific.

The Japanese had taken Makin 10 December 1941 without resistance with a small force of 300 troops and laborers of the Gilberts Invasion Special Landing Force. An initial attack by U.S. troops against Makin had been made 17 August 1942. Then 211 Marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion under Colonel Evans Carlson and James Roosevelt were landed on Makin from the submarines Nautilus (SS-168) and Argonaut (SS-166) . Although the Raiders killed 83 Japanese soldiers and lost only 21, nine others were captured and later taken to Kwajalein Atoll and beheaded.

The raid led to the reinforcement of the island by the Japanese. Makin was reinforced with a company of the 5th Special Base Force in August 1942. By July 1943 an airbase was completed on Makin and its defenses were in place. The Marshall Islands were the main target of the United States forces and the Gilberts were the best way to reach them. Thus, 20 July 1943 Admirals Nimitz and Ernest King decided to capture Tarawa and Abemama atolls in the Gilberts, plus Nauru Island. The operation was codenamed Galvanic . On 4 September 1943 the US 5th Fleet&rsquos amphibious troops were designated the V Amphibious Corps under Major General Holland M. Smith, US Marine Corps. It had two divisions: the 2nd Marine Division and the U.S. Army&rsquos 27th Infantry Division. The 27th had 16,000 men in three regiments: the 105th, 106th and 165th Infantry Regiments plus the 105th Field Artillery Battalion and the 193rd Tank Battalion under Major General Ralph Smith. By 28 September 1943 the 27th had been given Makin as a target. Japanese losses in the Solomons forced the Japanese Command to not reinforce or aid the garrisons at Tarawa and Makin.

The Japanese on Makin were garrisoned on the main island, Butaritari, and consisted of 798 men: 284 troops of the 3rd Special Base Force, 100 aviation land personnel, 276 men of the 4th Fleet Construction Unit and all commanded by Lt. j.g. Seizo Ishikawa. Most troops had no combat training and had no weapons. Although some defenses had been constructed, the outnumbered Japanese had no chance of victory. Following U.S. air operations which started 13 November, troops went ashore 20 November. Four days later the island was secure.

The US force suffered 66 killed, 185 wounded. The Japanese had 700 killed, 3 Japanese captured, and 101 Korean laborers captured.

Stamford Service Rolls
Exhibit Photos
Opening Day

Operation Galvanic (2): The Battle for Makin, November 1943 - History

Timeline of Events


December 7, 1941 - Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Hawaii also attack the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, Malaya, Thailand, Shanghai and Midway.
December 8, 1941 - U.S. and Britain declare war on Japan. Japanese land near Singapore and enter Thailand.
December 9, 1941 - China declares war on Japan.
December 10, 1941 - Japanese invade the Philippines and also seize Guam.
December 11, 1941 - Japanese invade Burma.
December 15, 1941 - First Japanese merchant ship sunk by a U.S. submarine.
December 16, 1941 - Japanese invade British Borneo.
December 18, 1941 - Japanese invade Hong Kong.
December 22, 1941 - Japanese invade Luzon in the Philippines.
December 23, 1941 - General Douglas MacArthur begins a withdrawal from Manila to Bataan Japanese take Wake Island.
December 25, 1941 - British surrender at Hong Kong.
December 26, 1941 - Manila declared an open city.
December 27, 1941 - Japanese bomb Manila.


Map of the Japanese Empire at its peak in 1942.

January 2, 1942 - Manila and U.S. Naval base at Cavite captured by the Japanese.
January 7, 1942 - Japanese attack Bataan in the Philippines.
January 11, 1942 - Japanese invade Dutch East Indies and Dutch Borneo.
January 16, 1942 - Japanese begin an advance into Burma.
January 18, 1942 - German-Japanese-Italian military agreement signed in Berlin.
January 19, 1942 - Japanese take North Borneo.
January 23, 1942 - Japanese take Rabaul on New Britain in the Solomon Islands and also invade Bougainville, the largest island.
January 27, 1942 - First Japanese warship sunk by a U.S. submarine.
January 30/31 - The British withdraw into Singapore. The siege of Singapore then begins.
February 1, 1942 - First U.S. aircraft carrier offensive of the war as YORKTOWN and ENTERPRISE conduct air raids on Japanese bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
February 2, 1942 - Japanese invade Java in the Dutch East Indies.
February 8/9 - Japanese invade Singapore.
February 14, 1942 - Japanese invade Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.
February 15, 1942 - British surrender at Singapore.
February 19, 1942 - Largest Japanese air raid since Pearl Harbor occurs against Darwin, Australia Japanese invade Bali.
February 20, 1942 - First U.S. fighter ace of the war, Lt. Edward O'Hare from the LEXINGTON in action off Rabaul.
February 22, 1942 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders General MacArthur out of the Philippines.
February 23, 1942 - First Japanese attack on the U.S. mainland as a submarine shells an oil refinery near Santa Barbara, California.
February 24, 1942 - ENTERPRISE attacks Japanese on Wake Island.
February 26, 1942 - First U.S. carrier, the LANGLEY, is sunk by Japanese bombers.
February 27- March 1 - Japanese naval victory in the Battle of the Java Sea as the largest U.S. warship in the Far East, the HOUSTON, is sunk.
March 4, 1942 - Two Japanese flying boats bomb Pearl Harbor ENTERPRISE attacks Marcus Island, just 1000 miles from Japan.
March 7, 1942 - British evacuate Rangoon in Burma Japanese invade Salamaua and Lae on New Guinea.
March 8, 1942 - The Dutch on Java surrender to Japanese.
March 11, 1942 - Gen. MacArthur leaves Corregidor and is flown to Australia. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright becomes the new U.S. commander.
March 18, 1942 - Gen. MacArthur appointed commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater by President Roosevelt.
March 18, 1942 - War Relocation Authority established in the U.S. which eventually will round up 120,000 Japanese-Americans and transport them to barb-wired relocation centers. Despite the internment, over 17,000 Japanese-Americans sign up and fight for the U.S. in World War II in Europe, including the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in U.S. history.
March 23, 1942 - Japanese invade the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
March 24, 1942 - Admiral Chester Nimitz appointed as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific theater.
April 3, 1942 - Japanese attack U.S. and Filipino troops at Bataan.
April 6, 1942 - First U.S. troops arrive in Australia.
April 9, 1942 - U.S. forces on Bataan surrender unconditionally to the Japanese.
April 10, 1942 - Bataan Death March begins as 76,000 Allied POWs including 12,000 Americans are forced to walk 60 miles under a blazing sun without food or water toward a new POW camp, resulting in over 5,000 American deaths.
April 18, 1942 - Surprise U.S. 'Doolittle' B-25 air raid from the HORNET against Tokyo boosts Allied morale.
April 29, 1942 - Japanese take central Burma.
May 1, 1942 - Japanese occupy Mandalay in Burma.
May 3, 1942 - Japanese take Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.
May 5, 1942 - Japanese prepare to invade Midway and the Aleutian Islands.
May 6, 1942 - Japanese take Corregidor as Gen. Wainwright unconditionally surrenders all U.S. And Filipino forces in the Philippines.
May 7-8, 1942 - Japan suffers its first defeat of the war during the Battle of the Coral Sea off New Guinea - the first time in history that two opposing carrier forces fought only using aircraft without the opposing ships ever sighting each other.
May 12, 1942 - The last U.S. Troops holding out in the Philippines surrender on Mindanao.
May 20, 1942 - Japanese complete the capture of Burma and reach India.
June 4-5, 1942 - Turning point in the war occurs with a decisive victory for the U.S. against Japan in the Battle of Midway as squadrons of U.S. torpedo planes and dive bombers from ENTERPRISE, HORNET, and YORKTOWN attack and destroy four Japanese carriers, a cruiser, and damage another cruiser and two destroyers. U.S. loses YORKTOWN.
June 7, 1942 - Japanese invade the Aleutian Islands.
June 9, 1942 - Japanese postpone further plans to take Midway.
July 21, 1942 - Japanese land troops near Gona on New Guinea.
August 7, 1942 - The first U.S. amphibious landing of the Pacific War occurs as 1st Marine Division invades Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
August 8, 1942 - U.S. Marines take the unfinished airfield on Guadalcanal and name it Henderson Field after Maj. Lofton Henderson, a hero of Midway.
August 8/9 - A major U.S. naval disaster off Savo Island, north of Guadalcanal, as eight Japanese warships wage a night attack and sink three U.S. heavy cruisers, an Australian cruiser, and one U.S. destroyer, all in less than an hour. Another U.S. cruiser and two destroyers are damaged. Over 1,500 Allied crewmen are lost.
August 17, 1942 - 122 U.S. Marine raiders, transported by submarine, attack Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.
August 21, 1942 - U.S. Marines repulse first major Japanese ground attack on Guadalcanal.
August 24, 1942 - U.S. And Japanese carriers meet in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons resulting in a Japanese defeat.
August 29, 1942 - The Red Cross announces Japan refuses to allow safe passage of ships containing supplies for U.S. POWs.
August 30, 1942 - U.S. Troops invade Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands.
September 9/10 - A Japanese floatplane flies two missions dropping incendiary bombs on U.S. forests in the state of Oregon - the only bombing of the continental U.S. during the war. Newspapers in the U.S. voluntarily withhold this information.
September 12-14 - Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal.
September 15, 1942 - A Japanese submarine torpedo attack near the Solomon Islands results in the sinking of the Carrier WASP, Destroyer O'BRIEN and damage to the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA.
September 27, 1942 - British offensive in Burma.
October 11/12 - U.S. cruisers and destroyers defeat a Japanese task force in the Battle of Cape Esperance off Guadalcanal.
October 13, 1942 - The first U.S. Army troops, the 164th Infantry Regiment, land on Guadalcanal.
October 14/15 - Japanese bombard Henderson Field at night from warships then send troops ashore onto Guadalcanal in the morning as U.S. planes attack.
October 15/17 - Japanese bombard Henderson Field at night again from warships.
October 18, 1942 - Vice Admiral William F. Halsey named as the new commander of the South Pacific Area, in charge of the Solomons-New Guinea campaign.
October 26, 1942 - Battle of Santa Cruz off Guadalcanal between U.S. And Japanese warships results in the loss of the Carrier HORNET.
November 14/15 - U.S. And Japanese warships clash again off Guadalcanal resulting in the sinking of the U.S. Cruiser JUNEAU and the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers.
November 23/24 - Japanese air raid on Darwin, Australia.
November 30 - Battle of Tasafaronga off Guadalcanal.
December 2, 1942 - Enrico Fermi conducts the world's first nuclear chain reaction test at the University of Chicago.
December 20-24 - Japanese air raids on Calcutta, India.
December 31, 1942 - Emperor Hirohito of Japan gives permission to his troops to withdraw from Guadalcanal after five months of bloody fighting against U.S. Forces


January 2, 1943 - Allies take Buna in New Guinea.
January 22, 1943 - Allies defeat Japanese at Sanananda on New Guinea.
February 1, 1943 - Japanese begin evacuation of Guadalcanal.
February 8, 1943 - British-Indian forces begin guerrilla operations against Japanese in Burma.
February 9, 1943 - Japanese resistance on Guadalcanal ends.
March 2-4 - U.S. victory over Japanese in the Battle of Bismarck Sea.
April 18, 1943 - U.S. code breakers pinpoint the location of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto flying in a Japanese bomber near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. Eighteen P-38 fighters then locate and shoot down Yamamoto.
April 21, 1943 - President Roosevelt announces the Japanese have executed several airmen from the Doolittle Raid.
April 22, 1943 - Japan announces captured Allied pilots will be given "one way tickets to hell."
May 10, 1943 - U.S. Troops invade Attu in the Aleutian Islands.
May 14, 1943 - A Japanese submarine sinks the Australian hospital ship CENTAUR resulting in 299 dead.
May 31, 1943 - Japanese end their occupation of the Aleutian Islands as the U.S. completes the capture of Attu.
June 1, 1943 - U.S. begins submarine warfare against Japanese shipping.
June 21, 1943 - Allies advance to New Georgia, Solomon Islands.
July 8, 1943 - B-24 Liberators flying from Midway bomb Japanese on Wake Island.
August 1/2 - A group of 15 U.S. PT-boats attempt to block Japanese convoys south of Kolombangra Island in the Solomon Islands. PT-109, commanded by Lt. John F. Kennedy, is rammed and sunk by the Japanese Cruiser AMAGIRI, killing two and badly injuring others. The crew survives as Kennedy aids one badly injured man by towing him to a nearby atoll.
August 6/7, 1943 - Battle of Vella Gulf in the Solomon Islands.
August 25, 1943 - Allies complete the occupation of New Georgia.
September 4, 1943 - Allies recapture Lae-Salamaua, New Guinea.
October 7, 1943 - Japanese execute approximately 100 American POWs on Wake Island.
October 26, 1943 - Emperor Hirohito states his country's situation is now "truly grave."
November 1, 1943 - U.S. Marines invade Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.
November 2, 1943 - Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.
November 20, 1943 - U.S. Troops invade Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.
November 23, 1943 - Japanese end resistance on Makin and Tarawa.
December 15, 1943 - U.S. Troops land on the Arawe Peninsula of New Britain in the Solomon Islands.
December 26, 1943 - Full Allied assault on New Britain as 1st Division Marines invade Cape Gloucester.


January 9, 1944 - British and Indian troops recapture Maungdaw in Burma.
January 31, 1944 - U.S. Troops invade Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
February 1-7, 1944 - U.S. Troops capture Kwajalein and Majura Atolls in the Marshall Islands.
February 17/18 - U.S. Carrier-based planes destroy the Japanese naval base at Truk in the Caroline Islands.
February 20, 1944 - U.S. Carrier-based and land-based planes destroy the Japanese base at Rabaul.
February 23, 1944 - U.S. Carrier-based planes attack the Mariana Islands.
February 24, 1944 - Merrill's Marauders begin a ground campaign in northern Burma.
March 5, 1944 - Gen. Wingate's groups begin operations behind Japanese lines in Burma.
March 15, 1944 - Japanese begin offensive toward Imphal and Kohima.
April 17, 1944 - Japanese begin their last offensive in China, attacking U.S. air bases in eastern China.
April 22, 1944 - Allies invade Aitape and Hollandia in New Guinea.
May 27, 1944 - Allies invade Biak Island, New Guinea.
June 5, 1944 - The first mission by B-29 Superfortress bombers occurs as 77 planes bomb Japanese railway facilities at Bangkok, Thailand.
June 15, 1944 - U.S. Marines invade Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
June 15/16 - The first bombing raid on Japan since the Doolittle raid of April 1942, as 47 B-29s based in Bengel, India, target the steel works at Yawata.
June 19, 1944 - The "Marianas Turkey Shoot" occurs as U.S. Carrier-based fighters shoot down 220 Japanese planes, while only 20 American planes are lost.
July 8, 1944 - Japanese withdraw from Imphal.
July 19, 1944 - U.S. Marines invade Guam in the Marianas.
July 24, 1944 - U.S. Marines invade Tinian.
July 27, 1944 - American troops complete the liberation of Guam.
August 3, 1944 - U.S. And Chinese troops take Myitkyina after a two month siege.
August 8, 1944 - American troops complete the capture of the Mariana Islands.
September 15, 1944 - U.S. Troops invade Morotai and the Paulaus.
October 11, 1944 - U.S. Air raids against Okinawa.
October 18, 1944 - Fourteen B-29s based on the Marianas attack the Japanese base at Truk.
October 20, 1944 - U.S. Sixth Army invades Leyte in the Philippines.
October 23-26 - Battle of Leyte Gulf results in a decisive U.S. Naval victory.
October 25, 1944 - The first suicide air (Kamikaze) attacks occur against U.S. warships in Leyte Gulf. By the end of the war, Japan will have sent an estimated 2,257 aircraft. "The only weapon I feared in the war," Adm. Halsey will say later.
November 11, 1944 - Iwo Jima bombarded by the U.S. Navy.
November 24, 1944 - Twenty four B-29s bomb the Nakajima aircraft factory near Tokyo.
December 15, 1944 - U.S. Troops invade Mindoro in the Philippines.
December 17, 1944 - The U.S. Army Air Force begins preparations for dropping the Atomic Bomb by establishing the 509th Composite Group to operate the B-29s that will deliver the bomb.


January 3, 1945 - Gen. MacArthur is placed in command of all U.S. ground forces and Adm. Nimitz in command of all naval forces in preparation for planned assaults against Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Japan itself.
January 4, 1945 - British occupy Akyab in Burma.
January 9, 1945 - U.S. Sixth Army invades Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.
January 11, 1945 - Air raid against Japanese bases in Indochina by U.S. Carrier-based planes.
January 28, 1945 - The Burma road is reopened.
February 3, 1945 - U.S. Sixth Army attacks Japanese in Manila.
February 16, 1945 - U.S. Troops recapture Bataan in the Philippines.
February 19, 1945 - U.S. Marines invade Iwo Jima.
March 1, 1945 - A U.S. submarine sinks a Japanese merchant ship loaded with supplies for Allied POWs, resulting in a court martial for the captain of the submarine, since the ship had been granted safe passage by the U.S. Government.
March 2, 1945 - U.S. airborne troops recapture Corregidor in the Philippines.
March 3, 1945 - U.S. And Filipino troops take Manila.
March 9/10 - Fifteen square miles of Tokyo erupts in flames after it is fire bombed by 279 B-29s.
March 10, 1945 - U.S. Eighth Army invades Zamboanga Peninsula on Mindanao in the Philippines.
March 20, 1945 - British troops liberate Mandalay, Burma.
March 27, 1945 - B-29s lay mines in Japan's Shimonoseki Strait to interrupt shipping.
April 1, 1945 - The final amphibious landing of the war occurs as the U.S. Tenth Army invades Okinawa.
April 7, 1945 - B-29s fly their first fighter-escorted mission against Japan with P-51 Mustangs based on Iwo Jima U.S. Carrier-based fighters sink the super battleship YAMATO and several escort vessels which planned to attack U.S. Forces at Okinawa.
April 12, 1945 - President Roosevelt dies, succeeded by Harry S. Truman.
May 8, 1945 - Victory in Europe Day.
May 20, 1945 - Japanese begin withdrawal from China.
May 25, 1945 - U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approve Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan, scheduled for November 1.
June 9, 1945 - Japanese Premier Suzuki announces Japan will fight to the very end rather than accept unconditional surrender.
June 18, 1945 - Japanese resistance ends on Mindanao in the Philippines.
June 22, 1945 - Japanese resistance ends on Okinawa as the U.S. Tenth Army completes its capture.
June 28, 1945 - MacArthur's headquarters announces the end of all Japanese resistance in the Philippines.
July 5, 1945 - Liberation of Philippines declared.
July 10, 1945 - 1,000 bomber raids against Japan begin.
July 14, 1945 - The first U.S. Naval bombardment of Japanese home islands.
July 16, 1945 - First Atomic Bomb is successfully tested in the U.S.
July 26, 1945 - Components of the Atomic Bomb "Little Boy" are unloaded at Tinian Island in the South Pacific.
July 29, 1945 - A Japanese submarine sinks the Cruiser INDIANAPOLIS resulting in the loss of 881 crewmen. The ship sinks before a radio message can be sent out leaving survivors adrift for two days.
August 6, 1945 - First Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima from a B-29 flown by Col. Paul Tibbets.
August 8, 1945 - U.S.S.R. declares war on Japan then invades Manchuria.
August 9, 1945 - Second Atomic Bomb is dropped on Nagasaki from a B-29 flown by Maj. Charles Sweeney -- Emperor Hirohito and Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki then decide to seek an immediate peace with the Allies.
August 14, 1945 - Japanese accept unconditional surrender Gen. MacArthur is appointed to head the occupation forces in Japan.
August 16, 1945 - Gen. Wainwright, a POW since May 6, 1942, is released from a POW camp in Manchuria.
August 27, 1945 - B-29s drop supplies to Allied POWs in China.
August 29, 1945 - The Soviets shoot down a B-29 dropping supplies to POWs in Korea U.S. Troops land near Tokyo to begin the occupation of Japan.
August 30, 1945 - The British reoccupy Hong Kong.
September 2, 1945 - Formal Japanese surrender ceremony on board the MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay as 1,000 carrier-based planes fly overhead President Truman declares VJ Day.
September 3, 1945 - The Japanese commander in the Philippines, Gen. Yamashita, surrenders to Gen. Wainwright at Baguio.
September 4, 1945 - Japanese troops on Wake Island surrender.
September 5, 1945 - British land in Singapore.
September 8, 1945 - MacArthur enters Tokyo.
September 9, 1945 - Japanese in Korea surrender.
September 13, 1945 - Japanese in Burma surrender.
October 24, 1945 - United Nations is born.

The History Place - World War II in the Pacific - Selected Battle Photos

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Gilbert Islands

The Gilbert Islands are a chain of atolls some 2500 miles (4000 km) southwest of Hawaii and just north of the equator. There are hundreds of islands in the chain, all small, with a total land area of just 166 square miles (430 km 2 ). The chain is about 500 miles (800 km) long and is located about 300 miles southeast of the Marshalls and just northeast of the Ellice Islands. They were discovered by Europeans between 1764 and 1824 and named after a Royal Navy officer who visited in 1788. Their population was quite small at about 28,000 persons, primarily Micronesian with less than 100 Europeans. However, the tiny land area meant the islands had the highest population density of any in the Pacific.

The islands were under British control in 1941, the islands having been proclaimed British protectorates in 1892 ostensibly to protect the natives from exploitation by traders. The natives had a high degree of self-rule and British law prohibited land purchases by non-native persons. British oversight was exercised through a resident commissioner at Ocean Island who also oversaw the Ellice, Phoenix, Fanning, and other small island groups in the area. Most of the natives had adopted Christianity by 1941.

There are 16 main atolls in the chain, none of which have elevations much greater than 12' (4 meters) and consist of coral bedrock overlaid by sand and some poor soil. These support some scrub and coconut palms. The island were relatively healthy for Westerners, with little incidence of malaria or other tropical diseases. The climate is uniformly warm and wet, with temperatures of 72 to 95F (22 to 35 C) and annual rainfall averaging 150" to 180" (380 to 460 cm), but there are drought conditions every five to seven years, and the islands were in drought at the time of the Allied invasion in November 1943.

Infrastructure was limited to a lagoon-side road on each atoll and a few piers for oceangoing vessels. There were no airfields in the group prior to the arrival of the Japanese.

Elements of 51 Guard Force occupied Makin on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and began developing a seaplane base and radio station. The nearby atolls were visited sporadically by Japanese detachments that rounded up Allied coast watchers and European civilians the civilians were interned while the coast watchers were eventually murdered. Following the Makin raid, the Japanese reinforced their garrisons and began fortifying Tarawa, where they also built an airfield.

Operation GALVANIC . In November of 1943 the Allies recaptured Makin and Tarawa. In proportion to the size of the force involved, the recapture of Tarawa was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the United States, costing the lives of 1100 Marines. The Makin invasion was much less costly on land, but at sea the escort carrier Liscombe Bay was sunk with great loss of life, including that of Admiral Mullinnix.

The Japanese chose not to commit their fleet to the defense of the Gilberts, and, as a result, no fleet action resulted from the invasion. The land campaigns are described in detail in the articles on Makin and Tarawa.

Allied order of battle, Operation GALVANIC

Pacific Fleet (Nimitz)

5 Fleet (Spruance)

Assault Force (Turner)

TF 52 Northern Attack Force (Turner)

TG 52.1 Transport Group
Carrying 165 Regimental Combat Team and 105 Battalion Landing Teams, 27 Division (Smith)

APA Leonard Wood
APA Neville
APA Pierce
APA Calvert
AKA Alcyone

LSD Belle Grove Carrying LVTs and 193 Tank Battalion

Destroyer Screen

DD Mustin
DD Kimberly
DD Burns
DD Dale

TG 52.2 Fire Support Group (Griffin)

Unit 1

BB New Mexico
BB Pennsylvania

Cruiser Division 6 (Griffin)

CA Minneapolis
CA San Francisco

DD Dewey
DD Hull

Unit 2

BB Idaho
BB Mississippi
CA New Orleans
CA Baltimore
DD Maury
DD Gridley

Unit 3

DD Phelps
DD Macdonough

TG 52.3 Air Support Group (Mullinnix)

CVE Liscombe Bay

16 FM-1 Wildcat
12 TBM-1 Avenger

CVE Coral Sea

16 FM-1 Wildcat
12 TBM-1 Avenger

CVE Corregidor

16 FM-1 Wildcat
12 TBM-1 Avenger

Destroyer Screen

DD Morris
DD Hoel
DD Franks
DD Hughes
AM Revenge

TG 54.4 Makin LST Group 1

DD Dale
3 LSTs, each carrying an LCT.

TF 53 Southern Attack Force (Hill)

TG 53.1 Transport Group
Carrying reinforced 2 Marine Division (Smith)

Transport Division 4

APA Zeilin
APA Harry Lee
APA William P. Biddle
APA Arthur Middleton
APA Heywood

Transport Division 6

APA Harris
APA J. Franklin Bell
APA Ormsby
APA Feland

Transport Division 18

APA Monrovia
APA Doyen
APA Sheridan
AKA Thuban
AKA Bellatrix
AKA Virgo
LSD Ashland
AP La Salle

Destroyer Screen

DD John Rodgers
DD Sigsbee
DD Heermann
DD Hazelwood
DD Harrison
DD McKee
DD Murray

TG 53.2 Minesweeper Group

AM Requisite
AM Pursuit

TG 53.4 Fire Support Group (Kingman)

Section 1

BB Tennessee
CL Mobile

Destroyer Division 27

DD Bailey
DD Frazier

Section 2 (DuBose)

BB Maryland
CL Santa Fe
DD Gansevoort
DD Meade

Section 3

BB Colorado
CA Portland
DD Anderson
DD Russell

Section 4

DD Ringgold
DD Dashiell

Section 5

CA Indianapolis
DD Schroeder

TG 53.6 Air Support Group (Ragsdale)

CVE Sangamon

9 TBF-1 Avenger
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
12 F6F-3 Hellcat

CVE Suwannee

9 TBF-1 Avenger
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
12 F6F-3 Hellcat

CVE Chenango

9 TBF-1 Avenger
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
12 F6F-3 Hellcat

CVE Barnes

22 F6F-3 Hellcat

CVE Nassau

22 F6F-3 Hellcat

Destroyer Screen

DD Aylwin
DD Monaghan
DD Cotten
DD Cowell

TG 54.5 Tarawa LST Group 1

DD Bancroft
3 LSTs, each carrying an LCT.

TF 50 Carrier Force (Pownall)

TG 50.1 Carrier Interceptor Group (Pownall)

CV Yorktown

VF-5: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-5: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-5: 18 TBF-1 Avenger

CV Lexington

VF-16: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-16: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-16: 18 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Cowpens

VF-25: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VF-6: 12 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-25: 10 TBF-1 Avenger

Battleship Division 6 (Hanson)

BB South Dakota
BB Washington
BB Alabama

Destroyer Screen

DD Nicholas
DD Taylor
DD La Vallette
DD Izard
DD Charrette
DD Conner

TG 50.2 Northern Carrier Group (Radford)

CV Enterprise

VF-2: 36 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-6: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-6: 19 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Belleau Wood

VF-24: 26 F6F-3 Hellcat
VF-6: 12 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-22B: 9 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Monterey

VF-30: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-30: 9 TBF-1 Avenger

Battleship Division 6 (Davis)

BB Massachusetts
BB North Carolina
BB Indiana

Destroyer Screen

DD Boyd
DD Bradford
DD Brown
DD Fletcher
DD Radford
DD Jenkins

TG 50.3 Southern Carrier Group (Montgomery)

CV Essex

VF-9: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-9: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-9: 18 TBF-1 Avenger

CV Bunker Hill

VF-18: 36 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-17: 32 SB2C-1 Helldiver

CVL Independence

VF-22: 16 F6F-3 Hellcat
VF-6: 12 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-22: 9 TBF-1 Avenger

Cruiser Division 5 (Small)

CA Chester
CA Pensacola
CA Salt Lake City
CL Oakland

Destroyer Screen

DD Erben
DD Hale

Destroyer Division 96

DD Bullard
DD Kidd
DD Chauncey

TG 50.4 Relief Carrier Group (Sherman)

CV Saratoga

VF-12: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-12: 24 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-12: 19 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Princeton

VF-23: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-23: 9 TBF-1 Avenger

Cruiser Division 2 (Wiltse)

CL San Diego
CL San Juan

Destroyer Screen

DD Stack
DD Sterett
DD Wilson
DD Edwards

TF 57 Defense Forces and Land-Based Air (Hoover)

AV Curtiss
AVP Mackinac
AVP Swan

TG 57.2 Striking Group (Hale)

90 B-24 Liberator

TG 57.3 Search and Reconnaissance Group

VP-53: 12 PBY-5A Catalina
VP-72: 12 PBY-5 Catalina
VB-108: 12 PB4Y Liberator
VB-137: 12 PV-1 Ventura
VB-142: 12 PV-1 Ventura
VP-3: 6 F-7 Liberator

TG 57.4 Ellice Islands Defense and Utility Group (Merritt)

4 Marine Base Air Defense Wing

90 fighters
72 scout bombers

Inshore Patrol Squadrons 51, 65, 66

24 observation aircraft

Air Transport Squadron 353

12 transport aircraft

Service Groups (Calhoun)

Service Squadron 8

AO Schuylkill
AO Suamico
AO Neches
AO Neshanic
AO Platte
AO Tallulah
AO Neosho
AO Cimarron
AO Tappahannock
AO Pecos
AO Sabine
AO Guadalupe
AO Lackawanna

Escort Division 26

DE Wintle
DE Cabana
DE Dempsey
DE Duffy

Escort Division 28

DE Greiner
DE Stadtfeld
DE Dionne

AH Relief
AH Solace

Mobile Service Squadron 4

AD Cascade
AO Sepulga
AR Vestal
ARB Phaon
AGS Sumner
ARS Clamp
ATF Ontario
ATO Kingfisher
ATF Arapaho
ATF Tawasa
AN Elder
2 yard tugs
2 yard minesweepers
5 subchasers
2 coastal transports

Patrol Submarines (Lockwood)

Truk Patrol

SS Thresher

SS Corvina

SS Apogon

Oroluk Patrol

SS Sculpin
SS Searaven

Kwajalein Patrol

SS Seal

Jaluit Patrol

SS Spearfish

Wotje-Mili Patrol

SS Plunger

Nauru Patrol
Weather station

SS Paddle

Tarawa Patrol
Abemama occupation force embarked

SS Nautilus

Garrison Groups

TG 54.6 Makin LST Group 3

DD Caldwell
5 LSTs carrying 2 LCTs.

TG 54.8 Makin Garrison Group
Carrying 7 Garrison Force

DE Whitman
DE Wileman
4 merchant transports

TG 54.7 Tarawa LST Group

DD Coghlan
9 LSTs carrying 2 LCTs.

TG 54.9 Tarawa Garrison Group

DE Lehardy
DE William C. Miller
AP President Polk
AK Jupiter
2 merchant transports

TG 54.10 Abemama Garrison Group 1

DE Charles R. Greer
DE Harold C. Thomas
AP President Monroe
3 merchant transports

TG 54.11 Abemama Garrison Group 2

DE Burden R. Hastings
4 LSTs carrying 3 LCTs.
1 merchant transport

The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia © 2007, 2009-2010 by Kent G. Budge. Index

The National Guard In War: An Historical Analysis Of The 27th Infantry Division (New York National Guard) In World War II: Chapter Four - Makin

The 27th Infantry Division in the Fall of 1943 could hardly be called a National Guard division. As was the case with all of the other Guard divisions, the preponderance of soldiers were either volunteers or recent draftees. Of the original 10,000 plus Guardsmen who were activated with the division in the Fall of 1940, there were probably fewer than 6,000 remaining. Most of the senior leadership was still intact however. All of the regimental and battalion commanders save for the commander, 106th Infantry, was a New York National Guardsmen. Colonel Russell Ayers, the only outsider, was an Organized Reserve Corps officer. Of the division staff only the G3, RA LTC Dayton L. Robinson and Colonel Stebbins the Chief of Staff, were not Guardsmen.

Operation GALVANIC, which had been in planning for almost a year, would introduce ground combat forces into the Central Pacific for the first time in the War. V Amphibious Corps warn established as the ground force headquarters for this invasion of the Gilberts. The 2nd Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division were assigned during the planning and training phases of this operation.1 The Marine Division would invade the larger objective, Tarawa, while the Army division would assault Makin. For the Makin operation MG Ralph Smith chose the 165th Infantry Regiment as the base unit to which he added the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, 105th Artillery Battalion, and the non-divisional 193rd Tank Battalion.2 This regimental combat team was commanded by 54 year old Colonel W. Gardiner Conroy, a long time Guardsman who began his career as an enlisted man before World War I. He had served off and on with the Guard as an infantryman and as a Judge Advocate General's Corps lawyer and with the Organized Reserve Corps. He reentered the Guard in 1939 as an infantry colonel and soon thereafter became the commander of the "Old 69th New York", later changed to the 165th Infantry. The 165th Infantry was not highly regarded by the Commanding General of V Amphibious Corps, MG Holland M. Smith:

I took the 165th Regiment (reinforced) for employment at Makin. It was the best in the division but prior to departure it was reported that MPs had been mauled in an incipient riot over at the 27th Division's camp. This. plus the fact that the Army 61 troops were not so well trained as the Marines in amphibious warfare, did not make the 27th an ideal division, but since Makin was only feebly defended, a reinforced regiment should take it easily.3

The 165th embarked for Makin with only one of the battalion commanders who had overseen training at Fort McClellan and through the Army maneuvers of 1941. LTC Gerard Kelley, 40 year old West Point graduate of the class of 1925, commanded the first battalion at Makin. A member of the New York National Guard since 1931, at Fort McClellan he had been the division Adjutant General. He had replaced another West Point graduate, Major John Grombach, and he was the only senior officer in the regiment to graduate from the Army's Command and General Staff School (Special Course, 1941). The second battalion was commanded by 37 year old LTC John McDonough a replacement for LTC Louis Doan. He had been the regimental S2 during the Army maneuvers. 42 year old LTC Joseph T. Hart commanded the third battalion throughout Fort McClellan, the Army maneuvers, and at Makin. LTC's Hart and McDonough had attended the Infantry School's Battalion Commanders and Staff Officers Course and were both long time veterans of the New York National Guard.4

Some of the 165th's quality company commanders were pulled out to fill critical shortages elsewhere in the division. Winslow Cornett, silver star recipient in World War I and commander of Company D, 165th at Fort McClellan, became the commander of the first battalion, 106th Infantry Regiment. And, Henry F. Rose, former commander of Company M, 165th, became the division G3 and later executive officer of the 106th Infantry Regiment. Another significant loss to the regiment was that of decorated World War I veteran LTC Martin Meaney, the executive officer. The 55 year old Meaney was promoted to Colonel in early 1942 and took command of the 108th Infantry Regiment.5

Since mobilization in October of 1940 the division had undergone massive personnel changes in all ranks. Of the 6,000 Guardsmen that had gone to Hawaii in 1942 there were fewer than 3,000 remaining in the Fall of 1943. Of those 3,000 the majority were privates or junior NCOs. The preponderance of the original first sergeants and platoon sergeants had been excused because of age or hardship at home, or had been selected for OCS or as the cadre for another division. The 165th reflected the same turmoil in personnel and had an expected shortfall in experienced NCOs.

The 27th Division had been conducting training in anticipation of employment in the Pacific Theater since their arrival in the Hawaiian Islands. Beach landing and jungle fighting had been their primary training emphasis for 18 months. With combat now imminent specialized training became intensified. Jungle woodcraft, lore, and tropical hygiene were integrated into the combat training program. Ail of the combat troops familiarized and qualified with their unit's organic weapons and threw live hand grenades. The artillery and tanks fired all of their weapons on ranges designed for that purpose. Tactical problems were conducted from squad through regimental combat team and addressed the following situations: daylight attack in close terrain hasty and prepared defenses of a position> night operations perimeter defense day and night withdrawal the attack of fortified positions in Jungle terrain and the elimination of snipers.6 Although the tanks, infantry, and artillery participated in regimental exercises they neverachieved an adequate level of cooperation due, essentially, to incompatible communications systems and techniques. The employment of individual tanks or platoons of tanks in concert with infantry platoons and companies was not attempted.7

The 165th Regimental Combat Team conducted amphibious training on the beaches of Hawaii, Waimanalo, Kahuku Point, and at the Pali Region in anticipation of a contested amphibious assault. They all participated in loading and unloading on the simulated Navy transport (a wooden pier) at the Waianae Amphibious Training Center believing the Navy-Marine Corps dogma that the most difficult phase of the operation would be the movement to and over the shore.8

Organization for the Makin Operation, code named GALVANIC, had Admiral Raymond Spruance commanding the entire operation but with Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner commanding Task Force 54, the operational armof the invasion of Makin and Tarawa. Admiral Turner would also command Task Force 52, the Northern Attack Force consisting of the 165th Regimental Combat Team and divisional support elements. Task Force 53, the Southern Task Force was commanded by Rear Admiral H.W. Hill and consisted of the 2nd Marine Division. Major General Holland M. Smith, the Commanding General of V Amphibious Corps, commanded the expeditionary forces and acted as the ground force advisor to Admiral Turner.9

GALVANIC wasn't the first operation against Makin Atoll. On 17 August 1942, LTC Evans Carlson led the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion in a submarine launched assault against the main island, Butaritari. This raid, an effort to determine the strength of the Japanese forces in the Central Pacific and to demonstrate the resolve of the American fighting man in the early part of the war, accomplished it's missions. The results of the raid were inconsequential to the 27th Division but the Raider executive officer, Major James Roosevelt, provided insights into the nature of the terrain on Makin that were used by the intelligence staff of the 27th Division prior to GALVANIC and he accompanied them as an observer.10

The Japanese responded to the Carlson raid by reinforcing the Gilberts with troops from the Marshalls, the Carolines, and from Japan.11 On 15 February 1943 the Yokosuka 6th Special Naval Landing Force was redesignated the 3rd Special Base Force and elements were sent to Makin and Apamama from Tarawa. The Japanese, along with hundreds of impressed Korean laborers, prepared concrete and log emplacements for guns, transmitting and receiving stations, tank barricades and traps, underwater obstacles and dugouts for machine guns and riflemen.12

Makin Atoll is triangular in shape enclosing a large lagoon. The main islands of the atoll are Butaritari and Kuma and together are 13 miles long and average 300 yards in width. Kuma Island lies to the northeast of Butaritari and is separated by a reef three-quarters of a mile in length. At low water this reef can be crossed on foot, but at high water it is six to eight feet deep with strong cross currents. Butaritari Island, the principal objective of GALVANIC, is shaped like a crutch with the armrest on the west side and the leg of the crutch pointing to the east-northeast. There is one village, Ukiangong, located on the southwestern edge of the island and four wharves along the northern shore of the lagoon.13 The western third of the island is covered with dense sand brush and coconut trees, the latter in great numbers. The center of the island contains extensive swamp lands and during rainy periods and at high tide it is impassable. The eastern third of the island has some swamp land though not impenetrable and coconut trees though in fewer numbers than in the west.14

In the ten months that the Japanese, and their Korean laborers, had been on Butaritari they had built two extensive barriers extending across the island. The barriers consisted of a large trench reinforced with double-apron barbed wire and trip Mires and a log anti-tank barricade. There were numerous gun emplacements and rifle pits with a few concrete pillboxes. There were some 3.8 centimeter coastal defense guns in addition to machine gun pits and anti-tank positions along the western shore. The 2800 yards between the two tank barriers was termed the "Citadel" and was the most strongly defended area on the island.15

According to the division's operation's overlay the strength of the enemy was concentrated along the western shore in four strongpoints and between the two tank barriers ("Citadel"). The G2's intelligence analysis reported that the enemy likely would defend along his beach positions with air support and then fight a delaying action to the east toward Kuma Island.16 The actual numbers of enemy personnel was 798 consisting of personnel of the 3rd Special Base Force, air personnel, men of the 111th Construction unit, and men of the 4th Fleet Construction Department detachment. This force was under the command of Lt (JG) Seizo Ishikawa.17

The division shipped out on five transports. Each of the APAs carried, in addition to the Battalion Landing Teams with attachments, the necessary landing craft to enable the units to move from the larger transports to the shore. Each of the BLTs was task organized to enable them to accomplish their mission. Each had attached a medical collection platoon, a platoon of engineers, a platoon of tanks, and an additional rifle company from the 105th Infantry.18 Aside from the five transports there were three LSTs and an LSD. The LSTs carried the assault wave in LVT 2s, more commonly known as Alligators. The Alligators were tracked vehicles, armed with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, and rockets, and which could move through the water, across reefs, and on land with reasonable speed. Personnel from the 193rd Tank Battalion had been specially trained in the handling of the Alligators and they became the crews for these assault vehicles. The assault wave itself was an ad hoc organization drawn from the 105th Infantry Regiment. Three detachments were established and designated Detachment "X" 105th. Infantry, Detachment "Y" 105th Infantry, and Detachment "Z" 105th Infantry. Each of the detachments contained eleven officers and approximately 130 enlisted men.19

The 27th Division's plan for invading and subjugating Makin Atoll was simple and concise. The Navy would prepare the island with intense gunfire support and then provide air protection for the landing craft as they moved to shore. The 165th RCT would land at H-hour with two BLTs abreast, the right (BLT-3: 3rd Bn, 165th) on Beach Red 2 and the left (BLT-l: 1st Bn, 165th) on Beach Red and advance to the division beach head line with the main effort in the south.

Initially the 2nd Battalion, 165th (BLT-2) would be the division reserve and then at W-hour land at Beach Yellow 2. BLT-1 would then relieve BLT-3 of their portion of the beach head line and push on to meet BLT-2. At this time BLT-3 would become division reserve. The RCT would consolidate and press on to the east end of the island reducing enemy resistance as it was encountered.20

The assault was to begin at both Tarawa and at Makin at 0830 hour 20 November 1943. At Makin the attack began at 0617 hours with an intense air and naval gunfire preparation of the landing areas.21 At 0829 hours the Alligators landed and the special detachments moved inland against occasional sniper fire. At 0840 hours the landing craft of BLT-3 began to land and would continue until all 1290 men were ashore at 1022 hours.22

Detachment "Y" debarking from the Alligators, cleared the immediate beach and then moved off to the north clearing the area to FLINK Point. BLT-1, assembled quickly and then advanced to the beach head line, 1300 yards to the east against occasional and inaccurate sniper fire. The tanks attached to BLT-1 were of no use as they refused the commands of the infantry officers. In addition the terrain, marsh, extensive debris, shell holes, and shallow lakes, made it impossible for the heavier tracked vehicles to provide any support.23 Natives interrogated by the men of BLT-1 stated that there were approximately 400 Japanese soldiers and 450 workmen on the island.24

BLT-3 encountered no opposition to their landing or in advancing to the beach head line. Although there were several suspected enemy strongpoints in their sector they all proved to be unoccupied. Detachment "X" and Company L, 165th cleared the southern half of the sector including Ukiangong Village while Company K continued to the east. At 1055 hours BLT-3 was relieved by BLT-1, assembled north of Ukiangong Village, and remained there for 36 hours as a reserve for Tarawa.25

On the north side of the island BLT-2 began an opposed landing on Beach Yellow 2. Detachment "Z", 105th Infantry, led the assault in Alligators and were closely followed by LCVPs and LCMs, the latter carrying the medium tanks of Company A, 193rd Tank Battalion. The assault force crossed the line of departure at 1012 hours under intense naval gunfire support. LTC S.L.A. Marshall reported that the men of BLT-2 approached the assault landing in "a gay and confident mood. Many were inattentive to the tumult, some even slept." Landing at 1041 hours Detachment "Z" incurred five killed and 12 wounded in securing the flanks for the follow-on infantry. The Alligators containing the assault wave was able, due to their tracks, to maneuver over the reef and onto the shore. The landing craft bearing the infantry and tanks, however, had to unload their passengers at the reef. This meant that both then had approximately 230 yards of water at varying depths to traverse under enemy fire. Radios, flamethrowers, bazookas, machine guns, and other important equipment was lost during the unanticipated move to shore. Some of the tanks were lost in hidden shell holes, including the company commander, and others to enemy fire.26

BLT-2 moved rapidly across the island reaching the south shore at 1210 hours. Company G, near the lagoon, advanced to the west toward the west tank barrier with Company F on the right and five medium tanks of A/193 Tank Battalion in support. The 1st platoon, along with five medium tanks, met heavy enemy resistance on the southern end of the west tank barrier, yet were able to defeat that force. In the center of the barrier 3rd platoon, Company F, suffered eight killed and six wounded as they attacked an entrenched position supported by an underground shelter. Captain Wayne Sikes led some of his tanks in an aggressive assault which, though inspiring, failed to carry the position. Hand grenades were thrown in and thrown back the firing mechanism on the flamethrower failed and 75mm armor-piercing shells from the tanks were ineffective. Finally, an engineer squad under 1Lt Thomas Palliser, C/l02d Engineers, destroyed the bunker with demolitions. As LTC S.L.A. Marshall described the actions "working together, one tank, two infantrymen with BARs, and four engineers reduced the position by setting off the TNT in the entrance."27

Company G at the northern end of the west tank barrier was also making progress clearing out the enemy. They developed a technique at reducing enemy positions which was to prove 100% successful: the squad would crawl forward using the available covert the BAR man and his assistant would cover the entrance with direct fire two other men would rush forward throwing hand grenades in the pit and through any apertures once the grenades exploded the BAR man and his assistant would rush the position and bayonet any surviving, Netherlander enemy the other four men of the squad would lay back in a position to support by fire.28

The 3rd platoon of Company 6, with a platoon of three tanks, advanced on the northern most end of the 165th's attack against a series of formidable machine gun and anti-tank emplacements. The infantry were able to subdue the machine gun positions but the AT strongpoint was another story. Pinned down by the fire of enemy machine guns 3rd platoon leader, SSG Michael Thompson, called forward the three tanks. Due to a misunderstanding the tanks, buttoned up, drove past the enemy emplacement and continued to the other side of the tank barrier where they linked up with friendly tanks which had advanced from the east. Unable to communicate with the tanks SSG Thompson rushed and jumped into the bunker, grabbed an unmanned Japanese machine gun, and moved along the connecting communications trench, clearing it of enemy. 3rd platoon made contact with BLT-1 at 1600 hours while Company F linked up with BLT-l's B Company at 1500 hours. The center of the barrier was finally subdued by frontal assaults and 75mm fire by 1650 hours. By 1755 hours solid contact between the two BLTs was established along the west tank barrier.29

From the east BLT-1 advanced toward the west tank barrier with the lst platoon, C/102nd Engineers. The sum total of activity encountered was in the form of snipers who took a toll in casualties. With Company B on the right and Company C on the left they moved towards BLT-2 with whom they had no communications. The Japanese snipers typically operated in groups of three with one man in a tree and the other two in ground level bushes close by. Because of the intrepidity of the Japanese snipers and the danger of friendly fire from the converging units BLT-1 moved cautiously and sent patrols well ahead of their main bodies. The light tanks of Company C, 193rd Tank Battalion didn't accompany the infantry due to the difficulty of the terrain thus denying them a critical asset. Company C met the stiffest resistance in the attack against the west tank barrier. An enemy machine gun position protected by numerous snipers dominated the northern approach to the barrier approximately 250 yards west of the barrier. Squads and individual riflemen of Company C made countless assaults against the position only to be denied every time. The 165th's Chaplain, Father Meany rushed forward to aid some wounded and he too became a casualty. Other soldiers seeing the chaplain fall came forward only to add themselves to the casualty list.

Colonel Conroy, the regimental commander, came forward with a platoon of light tanks after having conferred with BLT-1 commander LTC Kelley. At 1455 hours he was shot dead by the enemy machine gun and LTC Kelley assumed command of the RCT with the executive officer, Major James H. Mahoney assuming command of BLT-1. The tanks subsequently retired for fear of hitting Company G, BLT-2 advancing from the east. The regiment's Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I & R) platoon attacked the enemy position unsuccessfully but their attack enabled the 2nd and 3rd platoons of Company C to pass around and continue to the barrier where they eliminated the remaining enemy resistance.30

Company E, upon landing at Beach Yellow 2, had advanced inland to the east to establish a blocking position thus protecting BLT-2's rear. Detachment "Z", 105th, was also part of this force which, originally was to have been commanded by Maj Dennis Claire, executive officer of the battalion, but who was detained off shore. In advancing across the island this force incurred numerous casualties from snipers but the preponderance to friendly naval gunfire (three killed and four wounded).31 The most difficult fighting of the day occurred here in the center of the island against a strongly built and well camouflaged Japanese anti-tank and machine gun emplacement consisting of a tankette supported by several rifle pits and a machine gun. Thirty five yards to the east was a concrete pillbox and another machine gun connected by a tunnel. The tunnel was highly camouflaged and contained several burrow holes permitting the enemy to squirm in and out. The tunnel was, in reality, a reinforced air raid shelter capable of withstanding the direct hit of large aerial bombs.32

The third platoon of Company E was engaged with the enemy at this position for four hours. One squad, of three men, managed to maneuver to the tunnel where they were attacked by Japanese soldiers using bayonets from the burrow holes. Two of the men were killed and one badly slashed before the supporting fire of the platoon allowed him to disengage. With artillery sealing off the position from the east Sergeant Hoyl Marsereau led a seven man squad around to attack from the east. Light tanks fired their 37mm in support as engineers placed TNT blocks at identified tunnel entrances. The Japanese made desperate sorties, according to LTC Marshall, charging with bayonets only to be cut down with rifle fire.33 E Company lost eight men killed or wounded in the day's action. Total casualties for the division for 20 November was 25 killed and 62 wounded seriously enough to be evacuated.34

The RCT consolidated and reorganized and would in remain in position until initiating the attack in the morning. The division had accomplished their objectives for the day, that is, the reduction of the west tank barrier, the establishment of two secure shores, artillery ashore and firing in support, and all command posts established ashore except for division's.35

Not everyone was satisfied with he progress of the division. MG Holland Smith, commanding general of V Amphibious Corps, said, "I was very dissatisfied with the regiment's lack of offensive spirit it was probably not the fault of the men. The 165th was not too well officered."36 Smith believed that the regiment was essentially a man's social club or a fraternal organization designed to promote the peacetime well being of it's members. The officers, he said, in the New York National Guard come from the old 7th New York, the "silk-stocking regiment", with an "unimpeachable reputation for annual balls, banquets, and ship-shape summer camps."37

The night of 20 November saw the bypassed Japanese forces attempt to break out to the east to join the remainder of their forces. One ten man group was engaged and killed by small arms fire and grenades. Sniper fire continued throughout the night disrupting the much needed rest of the forward deployed infantrymen. There was also too much indiscriminate firing by the troops at tree and bushes adding to the tension.38

Company C reduced the enemy strongpoint through vigorous infantry assaults by 1030 hours. There was great confusion as landing craft arriving at Beach Yellow 2 fired into the area as did Company A. The squad conducting the assault against the strongpoint feared the friendly fire more than the Japanese. Apparently, the bulk of the enemy in the pocket had withdrawn during the night and had either gotten through or were killed by BLT-1's security personnel.39 The 165th was scheduled to attack at 0700 hours. However, the attached tanks were out of fuel. Therefore, the Commander 2nd Battalion deferred it until 1100 hours. While fuel was being off loaded onto the beach carrier based aircraft were bombing and strafing the area in front of the 165th. This continued from 0843 til 1100 hours at which time 2nd battalion kicked off the attack.40 The infantry and tanks advanced slowly under sporadic and inaccurate sniper fire. One company first sergeant declared the snipers to be more of a nuisance than an obstacle and as long as the soldiers used the available cover there were few casualties. As the battalion closed to approximately 300 yards from the east tank barrier, in the vicinity of the road emanating from King's Wharf, they met the stiffest resistance of the day.

The enemy, from rifle pits and trenches, poured steady fire into the 2nd Battalion. Each position was reinforced with coconut logs and well camouflaged making it extremely difficult for the infantry to eliminate. The battalion quickly learned an effective technique to reduce the enemy positions through the coordinated use of tanks, infantry, and engineers with demolitions. Infantry would point out enemy positions to the tanks which would then fire their cannon point-blank into it or drive over it to crush the occupants. Another variation was for the infantrymen to crawl forward under the covering fire of tanks and machine guns and place demolitions near the entrances to the emplacements. The infantry was so effective in this situation because of the lack of enemy mortar and artillery fire.41

The worst of the enemy resistance had been overcome by 1400 hours. The remainder of the day until nightfall was spent advancing cautiously in deference to the limited accuracy of the sniper. The total casualties for D+l, 21 November, was 18 killed and 19 wounded seriously enough to be evacuated.42

At 1705 hours Major General Ralph Smith issued the attack orders to LTC John McDonough, executive officer of the 165 RCT for the regiment to continue the attack in the morning. There was a measure of apprehension for the 165 as they prepared for the therefore, they assiduously cleared fields of firs, strung wire with tin cans for early warning, and improvised cough medicine. The men were instructed to use hand grenades against suspected enemy as rifle fire tended to receive return fire. There was much less activity on this night but it was the constant threat that kept the wary American soldiers tense.43 MG Holland Smith was, as usual, irritated that the conquest of Makin wasn't moving at a faster rate. Admiral Kelly Turner, overall commander of the operation, insisted that Smith remain at Makin although a more important clash was on-going at Tarawa involving a division of his Marines."44

The 3rd Battalion departed their assembly area at 0600 hours on the 22nd, en route to the east tank barrier where they would pass through the 2nd Battalion and continue the attack to the east. As they passed through the area near Beach Yellow 2 they picked up engineer and tank assets. At 0700 hours the 105th Field Artillery Battalion commenced their preparation of the cast tank barrier. This was lifted at 0820 hours and the infantry-tank teams of the 3rd Battalion started forward, with Company K on the right and Company I on the left. The attached tanks reduced suspected enemy strongpoints with their main guns with infantry clearing the remaining rubble with grenades and bayonets. The battalion moved forward cautiously protecting against the ever present snipers.45

At 1100 hours, Captain Lawrence O'Brien, commander of Company A, 165th Infantry, embarked with two of his platoons, a heavy machine gun platoon, and a light machine gun section in six LVTs (Alligators). Their destination and mission was to seal, off the retreat of the enemy at a point 3000 meters east of the furthest advance of 3rd Battalion. They landed unopposed, established their blocking position, and, at 1314 hours, killed or captured 49 of the enemy while sustaining no casualties.46

The 3rd Battalion stopped their advance on 1645 hours to enable the companies to properly prepare a defensive position. The day's operation had cost six dead and 17 wounded while the Japanese lost 100 killed and 99 prisoners.47 Only 5,000 yards from the east end of the island the battalion established their defense across a narrow 500 yard strip. Company X occupied a position on the north, alongside the lagoon. Tied in with them on the south was Company K. To their west was Company L which stretched the entire length of the island. Firmly believing that no enemy remained on the island the men of 3rd Battalion built a weak perimeter. Dead tired and having left their entrenching tools at the line of departure, the infantrymen scratched out fighting positions with their hands and put up cursory barriers with available coconut logs.48

The enemy began to infiltrate and otherwise attempt to penetrate the defense at 2000 hours. The attack wasn't the coordinated effort of a tactical unit rather it appeared to be the efforts of individuals fulfilling their oath to the emperor to kill as many of the Americans as they could before dying. The ensuing fighting was a melee of barefooted Japanese attacking with knives and their bare hands. Snipers were active and much of the assault warn in the form of grenade throwing although Colonel Kelley had reported mortar and heavy machine gun fire. LTC Marshall reported that the sounds of clinking glasses and drunken gaiety could be heard as the Japanese soldiers were, apparently, bolstering their courage with Sake. As dawn approached the sporadic fighting ceased with three Americans dead and 23 wounded. The 3rd Battalion counted 51 dead enemy soldiers in front of and amongst their positions.49

At 0715 hours on the 23rd of November, 3rd Battalion began the push to clear the remainder of the island. Company I led the movement with 16 medium tanks and 3 light tanks attached. Company K on the left and Company L on the right formed a skirmish line behind Company I. By 1030 the battalion had reached the farthest extremity of the island having encountered numerous snipers.50

On the last day of the operation, 23 November, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, Liscombe Bay, was sunk by a Japanese submarine. That loss cost the Navy 730 officers and men, including a Rear Admiral.51 The 27th Division suffered 66 killed and 130 seriously wounded and the Japanese had 550 casualties and 105 prisoners. Major General H.M. Smith was not pleased with the performance of the divisions:

The Army troops were infuriatingly slow. Butaritaris the objective island, should have been secured by dusk on 0-day. Any marine regiment would have done it in that time. At Eniwetok the 22d Marine Regiment. captured Engebi, a far stronger island than Makin, in seven hours.52

Notwithstanding General Smith's harsh words the Commanding General Pacific Ocean Areas, LTG Robert C. Richardson, sent the following message on the 24th of Novembers "Warm congratulations to gallant officers and men of your command. A wonderful job well done. Sad by losses of our brave men.53

The seizure of the Gilbert Islands was but the first step in Admiral Nimitz' Central Pacific offensive campaign. The capture of Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama were strategically important to the American push because they provided a base of operations for assaults against the Marshall Islands. This success helped to shorten the lines-of-communication between Hawaii and Australia and further threatened the Japanese' outer perimeter defense.54 Furthermore, the successful invasions of Makin and Tarawa strengthened the resolve of the American public as there had been little to cheer about heretofore. Major General H.M. Smith saw the success as being contradictory, however: "We captured Makin and Tarawa. The people of America were shocked by the slaughter on the beaches and stirred by the heroism of the Marines. Makin was an easy job, with few casualties."55

Despite his deprecatory remarks the successful accomplishment of the division's mission was cause for celebration but not necessarily glee. Everyone, including the Commanding General, identified errors of omission and commission and were bent on eradicating them.

In a report written after GALVANIC (Makin), Major General Ralph Smith stated, in essence, that despite the apparent shortcomings of his subordinate units the tactics and techniques prescribed in U.S. Army doctrine were sound and effective. Ha noted the sometimes lackadaisical attitude of the 27th's fighting man but believed that this was characteristic of the American soldier as a whole and not indicative solely of his men. The fighting spirit was the key to successful ground combat and this could only be taught in training to a limited extent.56

Regarding the nature of combat in the Pacific General Smith stated what was obvious to the participants: "Few of these bombproof and splinterproof emplacements were damaged by either air attack or naval fire, and the defenders had to be blasted out with grenades, pole charges, bangalores, and. flamethrowers." This may account for the deliberate and cautious approach which the 27th took to reduce the Japanese defenses on Makin. Certainly every battle in the Central Pacific after this required the same type of activity to root the enemy out of his well prepared positions.57

The cooperation between tanks and infantry was not satisfactory in General Ralph Smith's estimation. One of the biggest reasons for this was the incompatible radios. The tanks were outfitted with one type and the infantry battalion headquarters another and they didn't interface. The radios of the division's cavalry reconnaissance troop were compatible and, therefore, teams were attached to the battalions to provide the communications link. However, the coordination for employment of tanks is necessarily done at a lower echelon than battalion, typically at company or platoon. In the dense jungles of the Central Pacific, such as Makin, close cooperation between one or two tanks and a squad or platoon of infantry was the hallmark of success. Training prior to Makin had concentrated on the infantry-artillery team to the neglect of the tank and this shortcoming would have to be overcame.58

A conspicuous deficiency noted in the after action report was the movement techniques of the individual rifleman. Advancing under direct and indirect fire, observed or random, was an acquired skill that too few of the 27th's soldiers had mastered. Therefore, the judgement that the use of cover and advance by "creeping and crawling" would have to be stressed in training. Another deficiency attributable to the soldier's first combat experience was their propensity for firing their individual and crew served weapon without proper target identification. This lack of fire discipline was more noticeable at night when the tension of battle combined with the uncertainty of night to exert unanticipated stress on the men. General Smith recognized the tendency as a danger to individual soldiers who might get caught in the errant fire and also to the unit whose position was identified by the enemy and attacked. The solution to this aeries of problems was to conduct more training at night to lessen the soldiers fear of that phenomenon.59

Major General Smith recognized some of the problems he was to incur by virtue of working in a joint endeavor, i.e., subordinate to a Marine who answered to a Navy admiral. In the after action report he summed it up thusly:

There are many conflicting elements involved in the execution of an amphibious operation. The Naval Commander is concerned primarily with his ships, the Army commander with the shore operation, while between these two extremes there are many problems. (notably) conflicting evaluation of time and space.60

It was that factor of time and space that was to continue to plague the 27th Division in the war in the Pacific. Allan R, Millett stated it best: "Even if the 'hurry-up' Marine tactical approach to atoll warfare cost lives in it's early phases, it seemed preferable to the Army emphasis on careful attack." The interpretation of which set of tactics was best obviously lay with the senior commander and, therefore, since the Central Pacific would always be commanded by a Navy admiral the answer was clear. The loss of an aircraft carrier while that ship was protecting the ground farces ashore was an unacceptable loss if the accomplishment of the ground mission could have been speeded up.61

The invasion of Makin was a qualified success. Qualified in that the mission was accomplished but at an unacceptable cost, i.e., the loss of an aircraft carrier. The initiation to combat of one Regimental Combat Team, elements of another battalion, the division staff, all were positive aspects of GALVANIC. The division commander aware of the shortcomings of his troops as was identified in the after action report and measures were taken to overcome them. Despite Major General H.M. Smith's invective, the 27th Infantry Division would continue to do their duty in the Pacific.


1 Philip A. Crowl, The US Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Campaign in the Marianas (Wash., DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1960), p.35.

2 Edmund G. Love, The 27th Infantry Division in World War II (Wash., DC: The Infantry Journal Press, 1949), p.23.

3 Holland M. Smith, Coral and Brass (NY: Scribners, 1949), p.118.

4 The Pictorial History of the 27th Division (Atl., GA, Army-Navy Publishers, Inc., 1942).

5 Annual Report of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau 1942. (Wash., DC: War Dept, National Guard Bureau, 1942).

6 Historical Division, War Dept, The Capture of Makin. American Forces in Action Series, (Wash., DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1946), p.24.

7 Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, US Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls (Wash., DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1955), p.45.

9 HQ, 27th Division, "Participation of Task Force 52.6, 27th Division, in GALVANIC (Makin) Operation", 11 December 1943, p.1.

10 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.62.

12 HQ, 27th Division, Annex #2 (Intelligence) to Field Order #21, 20 October 1943, p.l.

13 HQ, 27 Division, Appendix 1 to Annex #2? Field Order #21, 28 October 1943, p.l.

15 Crawl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.72.

16 HQ, 27th Division, Annex #2 to Field Order #21, 20 October 1943, p.l.

17 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.71.

18 HQ, 27th Division, Annex #9 (Embarkation and Debarkation Tables), Field Order #21, 22 October 1943, pp.1-3.

19 The Capture of Makin. p.25.

20 HQ, 27th Division, Field Order #21, 20 October 1943, p.l. 21HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #9. 22 Ibid., serial #18, 19, 20.

23 The Capture of Makin, p.42 and HQ, 27th Division, G2 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #32.

24 HQ, 27th Division, G2 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #35.

25 The Capture of Makin. pp.44-46 and HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #30,42.

26 The Capture of Makin. pp.51-62.

30 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. pp.95-97.

31 Ibid., p.99 and The Capture of Makin. pp.84-85.

33 Ibid., pp.99-101 and pp.86-87.

34 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.100.

36 Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 126.

38 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.108.

39 HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 21 November 1943, serial #19.

40 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls, pp.112-113.

41 Ibid., p.116, The Capture of Makin. pp.100-106, and HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 21 November 1943, serial #18.

42 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.116 and HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 21 November 1943, serial #37.

43 The Capture of Makin. p.108.

44 Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 123.

45 HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 22 November 1943, serial #12, 14, 16 The Capture of Makin. pp.111-112 and Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. pp.118-119.

46 Ibid., serial #17 p.115 and pp.118-119. 47The Capture of Makin. p. 118.

48 Ibid., pp.118-119 and Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.123.

49 Ibid., pp.120-121 and p.123.

50 HQ, 27th Division,G3 Journal, 23 November 1943, serial #9 and The Capture of Makin. pp.121-124.

51 Allan R. Millett, Semper Fidelis: The History of the USMC, (NY: The Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980), pp.398-399.

52 Smith, Coral and Brass, p.125.

53 HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 23 November 1943, serial #35.

54 The Capture of Makin. p.132.

55 Smith, Coral and Brass, p.111.

56 MG Ralph Smith, "Reports Participation of the US Army Forces in the Central Pacific in GALVANIC Operation", 17 June 1944, p.7.

58 Ibid., p.l and Annex 1, "Report: Participation of the US Army Forces in the Central Pacific in GALVANIC Operation", p.2.