The End of the Makin Expedition

Preparations for Departure

The fourth day's operations on Makin included mopping-up activities and the initial stage of arrangements for departure. The eastern end of Butaritari was combed; other islands of the atoll were reconnoitered; and at YELLOW Beach and RED Beach 2, the service forces labored with extraordinary activity. The withdrawal from Makin was being hastened.

Enemy air activity was expected to increase. Repeated bombings of air bases in the Marshalls and on Nauru prevented the use of the nearer Japanese fields, while radar detection and intercepting formations from naval carriers had protected the operations at Makin from attack by long-range enemy planes. Only against night torpedo bombing attacks had the defense been insufficient, and the enemy had preferred to deliver them off Tarawa.

Japanese submarines had been detected by antisubmarine patrols and by the underwater sound apparatus of surface ships. It was

A JAPANESE PRISONER, one of three Japanese and 101 Koreans captured, going to Command Post at Ukiangong village for interrogation.


believed that others were to reach the Gilberts area on 24 November. An early departure of the ships off Makin was required by Admiral Turner. At 1730 on the third day, General Ralph C. Smith was requested to prepare his troops for reembarkation at dawn.

Much remained to be done before the island could be left in suitable condition for the garrison force. Care for the wounded and the dead, including the almost intolerably noisome, unburied enemy dead; disposition of enemy prisoners and captured materiel; unloading of that which was still on the transports and which would be needed by the portion of the original expedition which was to remain with the garrison force; separation of equipment to be left temporarily for the use of occupying troops; reloading of what was to return to Oahu on the transports; unloading from the LST's of high-priority antiaircraft ordnance and construction equipment; disposal of unexploded bombs and shells; provision for the personnel to be left behind-all required attention on the fourth day at Makin.

The wounded had been taken from the aid stations to the transports until the clearing station at Ukiangong village was in readiness at noon of the second day. During the afternoon 15 casualties were brought to the station, and before the expedition had departed from Makin, 59 more came in. Three of these died, but 13 were quickly returned to duty. The transports also received 74 casualties directly, almost all of them before the clearing station had opened. From the total of 160 Army and Marine personnel wounded in action, 40 were evacuated by air, being taken across the lagoon to a seaplane, flown to Funafuti, transferred there to an Army Air Forces transport, and conveyed to Oahu, the whole journey requiring about 24 hours.

Two cemeteries were created for American dead. In the "Gate of Heaven" cemetery near Ukiangong village, 39 were buried, and in "Sleepy Lagoon" cemetery near YELLOW Beach, 21. Boatswain Kaspar and an unidentified naval crewman from the Alcyone were buried on a point on Kotabu Island. The Army graves registration officer and two enlisted men remained with the rear detachment.

Enemy dead numbered over 400, scattered all over the island. On the second day a burial party had been organized among the natives, who had been collected on Flink Point under Maj. Robert K. Ryland and Capt. John P. Collins of the USMC. About 50 natives worked at this task, and had completed about a third of it when the day's work ended. To hasten it to completion, the ditch in the West Tank


Barrier system was used for a common grave. Enemy shelters were also collapsed and sealed by bulldozers. At the time of departure, the eastern part of Butaritari remained to be treated.1

Prisoners were gathered on the Leonard Wood from the other transports and from the cages ashore, Only 3 of them were Japanese; the remaining 101 were Korean laborers. (See illustration) Captured materiel was classified and disposed of in several ways. Weapons and equipment valuable for military study were boxed for reloading. Since this work had not been completed when the convoy departed, a detail consisting of 1st Lt. Ward T. Gilbert and 12 enlisted men was left in charge of it. The two Japanese tankettes were placed aboard the Alcyone, but lesser weapons and even enemy documents were the objects of competition between the souvenir hunters and the intelligence staff. A thorough G-2 study of the defenses on Butaritari was made.

Captured vehicles, sedans, trucks, and motorcycles were converted to the use of the garrison. Engineer supplies, notably cement, iron rails, and lumber, were put under guard for use by the construction crews soon to arrive, while food and clothing were either given out, or stored for later distribution, to the natives.

The fresh water which had been brought with the expedition had supplied the troops during the first 4 days, while an evaporator and purifier were put into operation near RED Beach and accumulated 2,000 gallons in storage there. Before the departure, a 10,000-gallon evaporator was brought ashore and set up on the ocean side of the island across from YELLOW Beach, and in addition, three smaller units were either ashore or awaiting their turns to be unloaded from LST's.

Speedy reloading of the transports was facilitated by freedom to dispense with combat loading and to separate troops from combat equipment which they might use. It was, however, impeded by the necessity of withdrawing the ships in the evening and by the fact that for only a few daylight hours was the tide full enough to permit ample use of YELLOW Beach. By Admiral Turner's orders, YELLOW


Beach was used for almost all the reloading as well as the continued unloading operations.


At 1400 on 23 November, the 2d BLT under Colonel MacDonough started reembarkation at RED Beach 2. They had marched along the main island highway from bivouac near YELLOW Beach, crossed the West Tank Barrier, passed the site where Colonel Conroy had been killed, and reversed the route by which the western landing units had moved to meet the 2d BLT on the first day of battle. Entering the landing barges, they pushed out to the Pierce against 4-foot swells; they were to spend the next ten days aboard her.

From 1900 to 2120 that evening, and again during the next morning, the 27th Division staff and the improvised staff of Colonel Tenney, garrison force commander, conferred. They arranged the transfer to him of command, which was set at 0800 on 24 November, and the release, for use by his force, of materiel which it would need. The main elements of his command were to arrive at 1100 on 24 November and would not be ashore when the assault troops departed.

COLUMN MARCHING TOWARD YELLOW BEACH to reembark. 2d BLT had gone from RED Beach 2 aboard Pierce late on 23 November. Other elements, like 1st BLT here, reembarked next morning. The Task Force sailed in early afternoon, leaving 3d Battalion in defense force.


A considerable quantity of communications equipment already in operation, with the personnel to use it, was left behind until such activities could be assumed by the permanent garrison. All the Alligators and the 1 DUKW were left, and with them, a navy boat pool of 9 officers and 194 enlisted men. Many of the trucks, bulldozers, and jeeps remained also.

The desire to hasten departure was strengthened by the disaster with which the fifth day's operations began. At 0510 the aircraft carrier Liscombe Bay was struck by a torpedo from an enemy submarine white her planes were being readied for flight at dawn. Explosions and fierce fires caused her to sink in 20 minutes, surrounded by flaming oil. Losses included about So percent of her complement, among them Rear Adm. Henry M. Mullinnix, commanding the Air Support Group (TG 52-3), and Capt. 1. D. Wiltsie, in command of the ship. White survivors were being picked up and brought to the transports, reloading operations were expedited.

The 1st BLT under Major Mahoney went aboard the Calvert during the morning, while other detachments were being carried to other transports. (See illustration.) At noon the special detail from Kuma Island arrived just in time to board the Leonard Wood, following the headquarters staff. The troops carried as much equipment as possible with them, but in the haste of departure, not all the desired materiel could be brought to the beach, or, if there, be conveyed to the transports. That which was left was marked for reloading and left in care of the rear detachment.

The 3d BLT remained for the assistance and protection of the construction forces, along with Battery C, 105th Field Artillery; one platoon of Company C, 193d Tank Battalion; the Alligator detachment from Headquarters Company, 193d Tank Battalion; the Collecting Platoon and the Clearing Company and surgical team, 102d Medical Battalion; Company C, 102d Engineers; the 152d Engineers; Batteries K and L, 93d Coast Artillery (AA), Batteries A, B, C, and D, 98th Coast Artillery (AA), and the I and R Platoon, 165th Infantry.

At noon the convoy was prepared to start the trip back to Oahu but was held until after 1400 by threat of attack from enemy airplanes which had been spotted about ten miles away. It was the sixth air raid alarm of the operation. The convoy consisted of the same transports which had brought the Northern Landing Force to Makin


before dawn on 20 November, and, as protecting elements, warships which needed repairs, like the battleship Mississippi and two destroyers from Tarawa. By 2 December, most of the ships had arrived at Oahu, the men having rested, cleaned up, and taken careful stock of their combat experiences, unit by unit.

Mopping Up

On 24 November, when the convoy was getting started, the I and R Platoon completed an overflight investigation of the islands comprising Little Makin without discovering any enemy refugees. The chief of the islanders, who lived there, received a formal visit from the expedition. His people were entirely friendly.

The 3d BLT also sent a reconnoitering detail to the islets of the northwestern corner of Makin atoll early on 24 November, while the main body of the battalion organized the defense of Butaritari from enemy counterattack.

AIRFIELD CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT is being unloaded from LST's at end of King's Wharf. Makin is to become an air base. Its capture is intended not only to deny it to the enemy but also to yield an airstrip from which to launch air strikes upon him at other points.


When the Northern Landing Force left, work had already begun on an airstrip 4,000 by 400 feet, which was expected to be in operation 3 weeks later, and to be extended by another 2,000 feet if needed. (See illustration.) Two fighter squadrons and one fighter-bomber squadron were to use Makin as a base, where provision was planned for 50 fighter planes and 25 fighter-bombers on hardstands of coral pavement. The additional forces for service and defense would aggregate over 5,500 men.

Japanese resistance had not been totally suppressed simply by sweeping Butaritari from west to east and reconnoitering other islands. The 3d BLT, for example, had cleared the island to its eastern tip, as described, during 23 November, after which it retired for its fourth night there to the vicinity of the Bight. It organized a defensive perimeter and settled down. At dusk along the highway from the west came seven Japanese who were dispersed by machine-gun fire. From the east others approached, of whom eight were killed and two were wounded. Still other Japanese who bad somehow remained concealed from the invaders appeared that night on the reef between Butaritari and Kuma; five of them were killed as they tried to cross. Among the Kuma Island detail which barred passage across the reef, enemy rifle, machine-gun, and mortar fire fell, killing three and wounding nine.

The natives engaged in burying enemy dead came upon at least two unwounded live Japanese among the dead occupants of deep shelters. From time to time during the next few weeks, small parties and individuals committed suicide or made suicidal attacks upon the garrison. The main portion of the Northern Landing Force had already spent one day back in Oahu when 9 of the enemy fought 13 American soldiers on Butaritari until only 3 Japanese were left to flee in safety.

Tanks as well as infantry patrolled the possible places of enemy refuge. Two weeks after the assault forces retired, a handful of the enemy still roved the island at night, keeping away from American patrols, and surviving despite the scarcity of water and food. "Today looks like another clear day," wrote the executive officer of the Japanese force in his diary on 11 December. "I feel like singing a song. There is a breeze coming from the northwest. I hope the tanks won't come today, so that I can rest my body in peace." One more day was to pass before his troubles were over.


Contents  **  Previous Chapter (5) *  Next Chapter (7)


1. Hygienic conditions on the island were left in an unsatisfactory condition by the departing force. Among the troops of the garrison a mild form of dengue fever was rampant, and by the first week of January, bacillary dysentery was epidemic. Flies had multiplied amid the fecal and other matter left promiscuously during combat. The epidemic was brought under control quickly by standard methods.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation