The First Day
It will be recalled that the mission of seizing the southern portion of Kwajalein Atoll was assigned the Army's 7th Infantry Division under Major General Charles H. Corlett. This task required a week to complete and included the assault on the main objective, Kwajalein (PORCELAIN) Island, and D-plus 1, as well as the capture of various small islands both before (as has been seen) and after that date.
As noted in Chapter II, Kwajalein Island is shaped roughly like a crescent. Division planners ruled out a broadside attack because of the danger of receiving enfilading fire from the island's tips and decided to land on the narrow western end and drive the length of the island, 5,000 yards to the northeastern beaches.
The controlling reasons for the selection of the landing beaches . . . was that the ones [eventually] selected were in the lee of the atoll from the prevailing wind, and the long axis of the island provided an ideal situation for a very strong attack with two regiments abreast in column of battalions, the narrowing dimension of the island to the northeast contributing to the strength of the attack.2
The 32d (Colonel Marc Logie) and 184th (Colonel Curtis D. O'Sullivan) Regimental Combat Teams would spearhead the assault, landing in columns of battalions on Beaches Red 2 (right) and 1 (left) respectively at 0930, W-Hour for the soldiers. Once ashore, the boundary separating the two units more or less followed the center of the island's long axis from the landing beaches to the vicinity of NOB Pier. At that point the demarcation line veered to the left and thereby squeezed out the 184th, leaving the remaining northeastern end entirely within the province of the 32d Infantry. The 17th RCT constituted division reserve.
A devastating torrent of explosives covered Kwajalein the morning of D-plus 1 in preparation for the infantry's assault. From Naval Fire Support Units 2 (Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen) and 3 (Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin) nearly 7,000 shells blanketed the objective.3
TROOPS OF THE 7TH INFANTRY DIVISION transfer from LCVP's to the LVT's which will take them into Kwajalein. (Army photo.)
Established on Enubuj (CARLSON), the 7th Division's artillery, reinforced by the 145th Field Artillery Battalion, rained 25,000 rounds onto neighboring Kwajalein.4 Six B-24's from the 392d Bombardment Squadron (based at Apamama) droned high over the shell trajectories and dropped fifteen 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs on the island's fortifications.5 And from the six carriers of Task Force 58, 60 bombers and fighters made 96 sorties against the enemy.
At 0900 the control vessel signaled the assault waves to begin the 30-minute run to the beach. LVT Groups BAKER and CHARLIE of the Army's 705th Provisional Amphibian Tractor battalion,6 responded promptly, preceded by Company A, 705th Amphibian Tank Battalion. Aircraft, artillery, and naval weapons combined in giving the beaches a final lashing before Landing Teams 32-1 and 184-37 jumped ashore. Hopelessly inferior in firepower, the Japanese replied bravely with small arms and mortars. But this was a futile gesture at best and inflicted few casualties among the incoming troops.
At 0930 the tractors crunched ashore and the crouching infantry leaped from them, finding
that the preliminary bombardment had neutralized what beach defenses the Japanese had constructed. A few diehard defenders utilized shell holes, undergrowth, and debris as cover for their sniping, but initial resistance was desultory. Within two hours after hitting the beach, BLT's 184-3 and 32-1 secured the beachhead line, a thoroughfare 250 yards inland designated WALLACE Road.8
With the beachhead line secured, the two assault battalions effected a reorganization and then began moving forward over 500 yards of broken terrain toward the next objective, WILMA Road. About 1200 BLT 32-1 encountered WHISTLER Strong Point, the first of a series of fortified areas the Japanese had established on the ocean side of Kwajalein.9 But 20 minutes later it was reported unoccupied, and the battalion moved forward. By 1450 both landing teams had reached WILMA Road. (See Map 10, Map Section.)
Kwajalein (PORCELAIN) Island
Immediately beyond WILMA lay a plane
LANDING CRAFT churn their way toward Red Beaches 1 and 2 on Kwajalein. (Navy photo.)
dispersal area and Kwajalein's two 1,200-yard-long operational airstrips. One was a 50-yard-wide dispersal strip and the other a 100-yard wide runway. The terrain was wooded on both the lagoon and ocean sides of the airdrome, as was a 100-yard-wide interval between the two strips. RCT 32's zone took in about three-quarters of the runway, while RCT 184 was responsible for the remainder of the runway and the dispersal strip.
Following an artillery preparation, BLT's 32-1 and 184-3 moved forward, but not for long. On the right, BLT 32-1 came up against CANARY Strong Point which proved more durable than its predecessors. A little later BLT 32-2 relieved the 1st Battalion, but could make no headway against CANARY.
In the division's left zone, BLT 184-3 was meeting stiff opposition from an aggregation of pillboxes and underground shelters. An exploding fuel dump added to this unit's woes. At 1700 the battalion dug in for the night, being abreast of BLT 32-2. This latter unit established nightly defensive positions an hour later, after unsuccessfully attempting to break through CANARY.
During the day the 7th Infantry Division had been able to get ashore a preponderance of men, guns, and supplies. As daylight faded there were on Kwajalein six infantry battalions, 44 medium tanks, 18 light tanks, five self-propelled 75mm guns, and two platoons of 4.2 inch chemical mortars. In the late afternoon General Corlett left Rocky Mount and moved to the advance division command post established on Enubuj.
The first night on Kwajalein was punctuated by a series of local counterattacks against the 7th Infantry Division's elements. Both the infantrymen and the Japanese fired at each other, and there was some infiltration by the latter, but no large-scale attacks were made or attempted.
The Second Day
At 0700 on D-plus 2 artillery and naval gunfire poured a 15-minute concentration on Kwajalein, and upon its completion the 7th Infantry Division once again took up the attack.
MAJOR GENERALS SMITH AND CORLETT watch the progress on Kwajalein from the Appalachian. (Navy photo.)
BLT 32-2 relieved BLT 184-3 just prior to the forward movement. The division's first objective of the day was CARL Road, which lay just ahead of the airdrome.
Opposition consisted of essentially the same fanatical, disorganized defense encountered the preceding day. Japanese opposition throughout the operation is best described by the division report:
There were no innovations in tactics displayed by the enemy. In general, the defense amounted to a retreat through a maze of previously prepared positions--pillboxes, trenches, air-raid shelters, blockhouses, log emplacements and building ruins. It was, in effect, a static defense with short periods of active operations as evidenced in nightly limited counterattacks by small units and attempts at infiltration.10
By 0926 BLT 32-2 cleared CANARY and at 1040 the battalion's advance elements crossed
TROOPS OF THE 7TH INFANTRY DIVISION take a break while a Japanese warehouse burns. (Army photo.)
CARL Road. On the left, BLT 184-2 had kept pace and reached CARL Road 10 minutes earlier. With this objective attained, the airdrome was secured.
On the right the 3d Battalion, 32d Infantry, was directed to pass through BLT 32-2, relieving that unit and continuing the advance at 1245. Within its area lay CORN Strong Point, the most difficult obstacle yet encountered. Preparations to overcome this position delayed BLT 32-3's jumpoff until 1400, but BLT 184-2 on the left began its advance at the original time set. Leading the attack on CORN were two platoons of medium tanks, two light tanks, and three M-10 tank destroyers. The position was overrun and BLT 32-3 penetrated to NORA Road.
The 3d Battalion, 184th Infantry, had also penetrated to NORA, but during the advance contact had been lost between the two assault battalions. Moreover, BLT 184-2's tanks had been withdrawn for the CORN attack. This unit's position on NORA now became untenable, and it was forced to withdraw to a series of Japanese trenches just forward of CARL Road. The rearward movement eventually required BLT 32-3 to follow suit. Contact was reestablished, and BLT 32-3 set up positions at CORN and dug in for the night.
During the night the 32d and 184th Regimental
Combat Teams received a message from General Corlett which cautioned them to be especially on the alert for a Japanese suicide counterattack. He also pointed out that the 4th Marine Division had completed its job at Roi-Namur, and he exhorted his troops to attack vigorously in the morning and finish the job by 1500.
No counterattack was forthcoming, however, the Japanese limiting themselves to mortar and artillery fire and attempting infiltration.
The Third Day
The initial objective for D-plus 3 was NATHAN Road, a cross-island track abreast of NOB Pier and lying roughly halfway between NORA Road and the northeastern extremity of the island. Jumpoff time was 0715, a ten-minute artillery and mortar preparation preceding it.
On the left the 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry, relieved BLT 184-2, while on the right BLT 32-3 continued as the leading unit.
BLT 32-3 moved forward some 400 yards without meeting serious opposition, then its left flank was stopped by the Admiralty area. This portion of the island contained Admiralty Headquarters, consisting of a number of reinforced concrete administration buildings, barracks, and fortifications. The battalion's right flank continued advancing smoothly, reaching NOEL Road by 1142. The left flank meanwhile, had sidestepped the Admiralty area, leaving it to be mopped up by rear elements, and was now some 200 yards north of it.
In the division's left zone, BLT 184-1 had jumped off on schedule, but without some of its attached tanks because of a misunderstanding. By 0806 the soldiers had covered 225 yards and
INFANTRYMAN leans against a concrete structure on Kwajalein and eats while he has the chance. (Army photo.)
A 37MM GUN is used against a Japanese position. (Army photo.)
were describing enemy opposition as "weak." A short time later, however, the battalion's assault elements bumped into totally unexpected Japanese opposition. In its line of advance on either side of WILL Road lay wrecked buildings, shelters, and pillboxes. It was immediately apparent that many of these had survived the bombardment and were occupied in some strength. The next four hours were filled with confusion which stalled BLT 184-1's left flank and eventually caused a change in the regimental attack plan.
At 1225 the 32d Infantry's assault elements were 300 yards forward of the neighboring 184th, contact was broken, and it was obvious some positive action was required. BLT 184-2 was thereupon directed to execute a pivot movement through the Admiralty area, reestablish contact with the 32d RCT, and resume the attack forward of the obstacles which had stopped BLT 184-1. The 2d Battalion moved out at 1330, but as it approached the Admiralty area at 1400 a series of fires prevented passage through it.
The Admiralty area was by this time an almost hopeless maze of rubble, in which demolished wooden buildings, deeply revetted air-raid shelters and the mounds of still operative blockhouses and pillboxes were practically indistinguishable. Gunfire had torn and shredded the once thickly built-up area almost beyond recognition, and the litter of wreckage was a stumbling mass of splintered coral sand, blasted concrete and the ever-present drying palm fronds. Added to the continuous cloud of gunfire and rising dust was the smoke of fire which broke out here and there. . . . [None of the fires] reached large dimensions; but the choking smoke . . . . was a continual obstacle to vision, control, and movement throughout this area.11
Faced with these difficulties, the battalion did not pass through the Admiralty area, but split and spilled around it. Contact within the unit was lost and confusion was the natural result.12 By 1440, however, the battalion reported itself at WILL Road and advancing northward. But sunset found BLT 184-2 short of NATHAN Road and NOB Pier and it dug in for the night.
On the division's right, BLT 32-3 had advanced rapidly during the day, clearing NAP Strong Point in the process. Advance elements had reached NATHAN Road, but the unit established positions for the night somewhat short of the objective.
The advance during the third day had been loose. Japanese infiltration was much greater than the two preceding days, and many more of the enemy were by-passed. This situation was pointed up during the night when the Nipponese boldly operated as far as 1,000 yards to the rear, and small-arms fire rattled on all sides of the dug-in 7th Division infantrymen. Three enemy attacks were mounted against BLT 184-2's lines during the night, but were beaten off.
The Fourth Day
The 32d Infantry was directed to take over the entire line on the morning of D-plus 4 and drive to the northeastern tip of Kwajalein. This mission was assigned BLT 32-1, the plan
TANKS AND INFANTRY move along together toward Kwajalein's northeastern tip. (Army photo.)
being that it would relieve BLT 32-3 and BLT 184-2 on line and jumpoff at 0715. But the by-passed Japanese complicated this scheme. Upon moving forward to effect a relief, BLT 32-1 found that it had to fight its way to the front lines and did not arrive at the jumpoff point until 1000. An hour later the battalion had "a closed line across the island to NOB Pier,"13 and units in the rear were busily mopping up the by-passed enemy.
Some 90 prisoners were collected by RCT 184 during the day, among them being Petty Officer Fujita Minoru, who had been on Rear Admiral Akiyama's staff and reported Akiyama's death in the Admiralty area two days earlier.14
Upon establishing the line at NOB Pier, BLT 32-1 was relieved by BLT 32-2. At 1345 the latter unit began a methodical advance to the northeastern tip of Kwajalein, following the usual procedures in cleaning out dugouts, pillboxes, and air-raid shelters. The infantrymen reported the job completed at 1920. Three hours earlier General Corlett had radioed Admiral Turner that all organized resistance had ceased and mopping up operations were in progress.
Thus ended the fight for Kwajalein Island. The 7th Infantry Division had its share of confusion and difficulties. It had tended to bypass too many Japanese during its advance. On the credit side it had effected a relatively smooth landing and achieved tactical surprise by going ashore on the western beaches.
With Kwajalein secured, the main objectives of the campaign were attained. But there were a great many lesser objectives to be taken before the atoll itself could be considered secure. Even now these were under attack.
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1. Unless otherwise cited, this chapter represents a synthesis of RCT 32, Rpt of Opns, PORCELAIN (Kwajalein) Island, FLINTLOCK Operation, 31Jan-6Feb44 (7th InfDiv FLINTLOCK Rpt, Vol IX); RCT 184, Rpt of Opns, PORCELAIN (Kwajalein) Island, FLINTLOCK Operation, 31 Jan-6Feb44 (7th InfDiv FLINTLOCK Rpt, Vol XI); S. L. A. Marshall, Kwajalein Notes, hereinafter cited as Marshall Notes. For an excellent and detailed history of the Kwajalein operation, see previously cited Crowl and Love, Chapters XIV, XV, XVI, XVII.
2. Ltr MajGen Charles H. Corlett to CMC, 14Jan53.
3. TF 51 Rpt, Table 3, App 1, Encl. E. A highlight of the naval bombardment was attained when RAdm Turner ordered Mississippi to close within 1,500 yards of the island and knock down a concrete seawall on the landing beaches. Historical Branch interview with BrigGen John C. McQueen. 5Feb53.
4. 7th InfDiv Southern Artillery Rpt, Kwajalein, 11.
5. AAF in WWII, 306.
6. This battalion was organized into four groups--ABLE, BAKER, CHARLIE, DOG--of 34 LVT's each. Groups ABLE and DOG had participated in the D-Day landings, leaving Groups BAKER and CHARLIE fresh for the D-plus 1 assault.
7. Army documents consulted for this monograph use this form in referring to landing teams. The Marine style would be 3/184. Inasmuch as this deals with an Army unit and is taken from Army sources, Army style is used.
8. Kwajalein's road net played an important role in the operation inasmuch as it was used extensively to mark boundaries. The road net consisted of two thoroughfares extending along the long axis of the island, one on the lagoon shore (WILL Road) and the other on the ocean shore (WALLACE Road). These were connected by numerous cross-island lanes, the westernmost also bearing the name, WALLACE Road. It was this western cross-island road that was used to demark the beachhead line.
9. These strong points consisted of trenches, obstacles, gun positions, and pillboxes. They were designed for defense against amphibious assault from the ocean, but were so situated that they could offer resistance on the flanks. During the planning phase division staff officers had tagged the strong points with code names such as WHISTLER, WHEELER, CAT, CANARY, etc.
10. G-2 Rpt of Opns, 6 (7th InfDiv FLINTLOCK Rpt, Vol IV).
11. Ltr LtCol Jackson C. Gillis to CMC, 2Feb53.
12. The best account of this action is given in Marshall Notes, 60-64, 70-74. Col Marshall points out that the official records of the movement are at variance with what participants said occurred. And even the participants do not always agree. Obviously it was a most confused situation in which imponderables played a part.
13. Ltr LtCol Ernest H. Bearss to CMC, 5Feb53.
14. G-2 Periodic Rpt 5, 4Feb44, G-2 Rpt of Opns (7th InfDiv FLINTLOCK Rpt, Vol IV). Details concerning the Japanese on Kwajalein from 31Jan-4Feb44 are virtually nonexistent. The only information found dealing with Akiyama's death is given above.