Wednesday, November 20, 2013

70 years ago at Tarawa

Seventy years ago today, on November 20th, 1943, the US Marines assaulted the Japanese-held atoll of Tarawa in the Pacific Ocean.  It was one of the first, and per capita one of the bloodiest, assaults on Japanese-held territory.

Eyewitness To History introduces the battle as follows:

The largest of Tarawa's islets is Betio measuring less than 3 miles in length and 1/2 mile in width. Here, the Japanese built an airstrip defended by 4,700 troops dug into a labyrinth of pillboxes and bunkers interconnected by tunnels and defended by wire and mines. The task of dislodging this force fell to the Marines of the 2nd Division. The resulting struggle produced one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in Marine Corps. History

The landings began on November 20 and immediately ran into trouble. Coming in at low tide, the assault boats were forced to disgorge their men far from shore. Wading through waist-deep water over piercing, razor-sharp coral, many were cut down by merciless enemy gunfire yards from the beach. Those who made it ashore huddled in the sand, hemmed in by the sea to one side and the Japanese to the other.

The next morning, reinforcements made the same perilous journey bringing with them tanks and artillery. By the end of the day the Marines were able to break out from the beach to the inland. The fierce combat continued for another two days.

The cost of victory was high for the Marines who suffered nearly 3,000 casualties. The toll was even higher for the Japanese. Of the 4,700 defenders, only 17 survived. Their willingness to fight to the last man foreshadowed the fierceness of the battles to come.

There's more at the link.  Interesting and recommended reading (as is the whole site - it contains much useful information covering everything from ancient times to modern).

Here's original color footage of the Tarawa operation.  It's worth watching.

It came as a huge shock to the people of the USA when footage of dead and wounded Marines was allowed to be shown in cinemas, to bring home the reality of the war to the population.  The video above contains some of it, but there was more.  WARNING:  Some of the footage shown below is extremely graphic.  Don't watch it if the sight of violent death is likely to upset you.  Don't adjust your sound - it's silent footage.

There are very few veterans of Tarawa left with us today.  May their dead comrades rest in peace.



JohninMd.(too late?!??) said...

"And when he gets to Heaven, to St. Peter he will tell, 'Another Marine reporting, Sir, I've served my time in Hell." Author unknown, Guadalcanal. It certainly applied to "Bloody Tarawa", as well....

Joe said...

I had a great uncle who was at Tarawa, Saipan and Okinawa. Considering he was assistant machine gunner it was amazing that he made it through the whole war.

CenTexTim said...

Saturday I'll be attending the funeral of a Marine who earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart at Tarawa. It's somewhat ironic that he died very close to the 70th anniversary of the battle.

"During WWII, Norman was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, Amphibious Tractors. He was on the first waves of battle at Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa. On Tarawa, after landing assault troops from his amphibian tractor, commanding a platoon of tractors, he returned to the edge of the coral reef with his crew and noticed that the advance of troops wading ashore was stopped by concentrated enemy fire from three sides. Norman and his men with complete disregard for their own safety drove their vehicle between the gunfire and the troops. Using the tractor for a shield and manning the tractor-mounted machineguns to return fire, they were successful in guiding the troops ashore. Norman provided overhead fire for the advancing troops until the tractor was demolished. Norman received the presidential unit citation, a Purple Heart, and was awarded the Silver Star by Admiral Nimitz."