The American plan to strike at the Japanese homeland saw a concerted movement along two fronts - the taking of the Marshall Islands (from the Japanese) which also required the taking of the Gilbert Islands to help protect the final advance. The Tarawa Atoll lay within this island chain and was surrounded by thick coral which made for a natural defense against amphibious attack. The Japanese already maintained a useful airbase on the small island and managed a seaplane base out of Makin. U.S. forces would have to wade far offshore against a prepared and fortified foe before setting foot onto the beaches to begin the fight against some 5,000 entrenched Japanese Army soldiers - ready to die for their emperor. The Battle of Tarawa was at hand.
American success hinged upon speed-of-execution and a delayed Japanese response. U.S. naval firepower and air cover added an advantage but the Japanese defenders were prepared and, in some cases, well-stocked for a prolonged fight. The Japanese would not be able to match warship-for-warship at sea but its still-existing submarine fleet would come into play - the submarines arriving to counter the threat posed by the American warships.
American forces first targeted Makin and Navy warplanes were sent over to soften the Japanese resistance. This was then followed by an impressive offshore naval bombardment from warships which opened the way for ground forces hitting the beaches. The reef surrounding the islands forced many to wade into shore while completely vulnerable to enemy fire. The beachhead ultimately fell to the Americans and this action signaled further landings to commence elsewhere.
A second landing against Makin pitted some 6,500 U.S. Marines against 800 Japanese soldiers but the advantageous position of the enemy kept the Marines from an easy victory. Fighting would cover some three days before Makin fell. Next in the crosshairs lay the small atoll of Tarawa and its valuable airfield.
The airfield was garrisoned by no fewer than 5,000 battle-hardened Japanese soldiers and its defense was stout and at-the-ready. Yet another U.S. amphibious landing saw some 5,000 Marines launched against this Japanese contingent without the benefit of offshore bombardment or air cover due to the proximity of friendly forces operating against the enemy. The experienced and prepared Japanese soldiers made short work of the arriving Marines, again slowed by the coral and enemy fire - many of the approaching Marines died before they could set foot on the beaches themselves. Once ashore, the advance was slow-going and lethal close-quarters fighting raged on for the period of three days before the island was made wholly secure. The delay caused by the dogged Japanese defenders ultimately exposed U.S. Navy supply and transport ships to enemy fire, resulting in the loss of USS Liscombe Bay and over 600 of her crew. Likewise, USS Independence, a light aircraft carrier, suffered a torpedo hit and was removed from the battle for needed repairs.
With the island now in check, the airfield lay firmly under Allied control. Nearly all of the Japanese defenders were killed in the fighting save for 150 souls - surrender not a typical option among die hard Japanese warriors. Comparatively 990 Americans were killed and a further 3,400 were injured in the fighting on the march to Tokyo. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (16) entries in the Timeline of the Battle of Tarawa (November 20th - 23rd, 1943). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.