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The Bloody Battle of Tarawa in 20 extraordinary photos

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By Robert Mullen (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
11/21/2014 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Seventy-first anniversary of Battle of Tarawa

The Battle of Tarawa was one of the bloodiest and costliest battles to the U.S. in WWII in terms of men lost per time spent in combat. During the 76 hour battle from November 20-23, 1943, on that small Pacific Island, about 1,700 U.S. personnel were killed, and another 2,100 were wounded.

U.S. Marines advance while under fire from Japanese defensive positions.

U.S. Marines advance while under fire from Japanese defensive positions.

Highlights

By Robert Mullen (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
11/21/2014 (4 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: U.S., History, WWII, Japan, Pacific Theater, U.S. Marines


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The U.S. Marines suffered the brunt of these casualties; of the 1,700 deaths, 1,009 were Marines, as were all the wounded.

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An aerial view of the Tarawa atoll.

An aerial view of the Tarawa atoll.


The Japanese lost nearly 4,700 hundred men, including Korean slave laborers, and just 17 of the islands' defenders were captured.

A destroyed Japanese defensive position and coastal gun.

A destroyed Japanese defensive position and coastal gun.


Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands chain in the middle of the Pacific near the equator, was viewed as a necessary stepping stone in the war against the Japanese, a critical launch point into the Marshall islands and into Japan's recently accrued defensive perimeter.

Marines with flamethrowers destroy Japanese positions.

Marines with flamethrowers destroy Japanese positions.


As critical as the American brass thought of it, the Japanese military knew it to be even more significant.

Japanese prisoners of war taken during the battle. Of the more than 4,500 defenders, only 17 survive

Japanese prisoners of war taken during the battle. Of the more than 4,500 defenders, only 17 survived.


A loss here would punch a massive hole into the defensive line they had established across the Pacific, from the Aleutian islands in Alaska to the Philippines. The island had to be held at all costs.

An aerial view of Tarawa during the battle.

An aerial view of Tarawa during the battle.


Unlike Guadalcanal, in which Japanese forces withdrew into the jungles and allowed Marines to take the beaches unopposed, Tarawa would give stiff resistance from the get go.

Marine casualties lying on the beach of Tarawa.

Marine casualties lying on the beach of Tarawa.


The two mile by half mile islands was heavily fortified. A seawall and extensive trench system for safe movement were built, light tanks, machine guns and coastal and antiaircraft guns were installed, and 100 concrete pillboxes were constructed.

Marines wade ashore through the lagoon after their transport ran aground on the exposed coral.

Marines wade ashore through the lagoon after their transport ran aground on the exposed coral.


One of the Japanese commanders, Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, boasted that even with a million men and 100 years, the Americans would not be able to take Tarawa.

Marines on the beach, taking cover from Japanese fire behind the seawall.

Marines on the beach, taking cover from Japanese fire behind the seawall.


On November 19, the U.S. fleet tasked with seizing the atoll arrived with its contingent of 12 battleships, 17 aircraft carriers,  12 cruisers, 66 destroyers and 35,000 soldiers and Marines from the 2nd Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division. It was a massive force, and the largest naval invasion of the Pacific war up to that point.

A Marine with a belt of ammunition for a machine gun, prepares to advance.

A Marine with a belt of ammunition for a machine gun, prepares to advance.


On November 20, heavy swells and poor weather caused delays in dismounting the initial landing forces of Marines from their troopships into landing crafts. A pre-landing air bombardment was also canceled.

Marines aboard a landing vehicle which will take them ashore.

Marines aboard a landing vehicle which will take them ashore.


Even worse, lower-than-anticipated tides around the island meant that the coral reefs were not adequately submerged.

Marines take cover behind a sea wall while an amphtrac attempts to make it inland.

Marines take cover behind a sea wall while an amphtrac attempts to make it inland.


Most of the amphtracs-amphibious tractors that could carry 20 men-which comprised most the first assault wave were able to cross the exposed coral, but the larger and heavier landing boats which held more men, vital equipment and supplies, ran aground on the coral reefs.

Marines advancing over the seawall.

Marines advancing over the seawall.


Those in these boats had to dismount and wade 500 yards ashore under murderous enemy fire. Their radios were wet and useless, they were exhausted and wounded and unable to contact supporting forces and subsequent assault waves.

The abandoned landing vehicles clogged up the lagoon and made subsequent trips to reinforce the beach or evacuate wounded much more difficult, if not outright impossible.

By the end of the day, 5,000 Marines had landed, and 1,500 had died in the process.

Marines in a Higgins boat. Larger than the amphtracs, these flat bottomed boats could carry upwards

Marines in a Higgins boat. Larger than the amphtracs, these flat bottomed boats could carry upwards of 30 men, but were to heavy to make it over the exposed coral.


The second day of battle followed much like the first. Landing ships were unable to cross the coral, and Japanese snipers who had entered the lagoon during the night began to assault their flanks and rear.

Marines on the beach under fire from Japanese defensive positions.

Marines on the beach under fire from Japanese defensive positions.


By noon of the 21, the tide was rising, and U.S. destroyers were able to maneuver in closer to lend accurate fire against bunkers and fortified emplacements.

Inch by murderous inch, the Marines were able to advance into the islands interior.

Marines destroy a Japanese bunker with explosives.

Marines destroy a Japanese bunker with explosives.


During the breakout, one Marine officer, Colonel David M. Shoup, sent a brief message to his superiors aboard the ships.

"Casualties many; Percentage of dead not known; Combat efficiency; we are winning."

Marines wading ashore through the lagoon.

Marines wading ashore through the lagoon.


As more Marines rushed to reinforce the beach and tanks and weapons were able to make it ashore, the assault was finally coming together, allowing Marines to move inland, in brutal close quarters combat.

An amphtrac attempting to make it inland.

An amphtrac attempting to make it inland.


Grenades, demolition charges, flamethrowers and heavy ordinance were all used to destroy positions that the Japanese would not surrender.

A Marine takes a drink during a lull in the fighting.

A Marine takes a drink during a lull in the fighting.


On the last real day of fighting, November 22, Marines destroyed or overran the final Japanese bunkers and fighting positions.

Marines marching inland during the second day of fighting.

Marines marching inland during the second day of fighting.


At four in the morning the next day, the final Japanese defenders on the island-about 300-launched a banzai charge against the exhausted Marines, who held their positions, and with supporting fire from howitzers further back, destroyed the last remnant of the enemy.

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