Completing the Job
Following the successful assault on Roi and Namur, the Northern Landing Force undertook the remainder of its assigned mission in Kwajalein Atoll: seizure of the islands within 13 miles west and south of the main objectives. In addition, the aftermath of combat presented the normal problems of clearing the captured islands, organizing a defense, and reorganizing the attack force.
The most pressing and distasteful job was the burial of several thousand dead Japanese. Many of these had been killed in the preliminary bombardment, and lying about in the hot sun over a period of days had not helped their condition. Bodies had to be located and removed from drainage culverts and piles of debris. Inasmuch as time was of the essence in this matter, all hands turned to and participated in the burial of enemy dead: assault troops, reserve elements of the 4th Marine Division; the Seacoast Artillery Group, 15th Defense Battalion; naval personnel and natives all worked on the oppressive task.1 And this was "further complicated by the fact that the elevation of the island prohibited deep trenches from being dug and left very little cover over the bodies."2
With the cessation of organized combat, many of the combat teams' attached elements reverted to parent control. Thus the 20th Marines (Engineers) began functioning as a regiment and promptly set to work clearing Roi's airfield, repairing existing roads and constructing new ones.3 On D-plus 5, the 109th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) took over the airfield mission and five days later the first American plane landed there--a disabled bomber returning from a raid on Wotje.4
The 4th Marine Division had been unable to embark adequate transportation for the Roi-Namur operation, as noted in Chapter II, and the trucks of the 15th Defense Battalion were now constantly in use. Nor was the lack of wheeled vehicles entirely the cause of the acute transportation problem.
It may be interesting to note that the real shortage was not in vehicles but rather in tire-patches. The preparatory bombardment. . . . resulted in a well-distributed coating of shell and bomb fragments and assorted junk all over both islands [Roi and Namur]. Hardly a square foot of airstrip or roadway existed but what it had its share of puncture-producing debris. The 15th Defense Battalion's transportation was operating simply because the battalion's Motor Transport officer . . . had somehow, before leaving Pearl Harbor, accumulated a great deal more tire-patching material than the TBA provided.5
On D-plus 3, the day after Namur was declared secure, the 2d Battalion, 23d Marines and the 2d Battalion, 24th Marines were embarked to relieve congestion on Roi-Namur. The following day the Division Scout Company was assigned to the Eniwetok force now forming, and the 4th Amphibian Tractor Battalion and the 1st Armored Amphibian Battalion were loaded for the South Pacific. Four days later the 14th Marines (less 1st Battalion), the 23d Marines and 2/24, all under General Underhill's command, departed the Kwajalein area for Maui. The remainder of the division (less Combat Team 25 [reinforced] and Company A, 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion) followed in various echelons on 12, 14, and 15 February 1944.6
The 15th Defense Battalion had begun landing survey teams on Roi as soon as sufficient room permitted, and while fighting was still in progress. By the time Roi-Namur was secured "all antiaircraft units of the battalion were in position and ready in all respects to engage air and surface targets."7
During the early morning hours of 12 February, the Japanese retaliated to the Marshalls invasion with a bombing attack on Roi by some 12 to 14 seaplanes.8 The raiders effected
COLONEL L. R. JONES, commanding the 23d Marines, raises the flag on battered Roi.
surprise by dropping large amounts of "window"9 on the way to the target and thus fouled the defense battalion's radar scopes.10 Droning in between 14,000 and 21,000 feet at 0249 hours, the planes made a sighting run over Roi and then followed with a bomb run.11 Some of the explosives struck an ammunition dump, while others landed elsewhere on Rol's bare surface. "This explosion was seen as far away as Kwajalein Island, some 40 or more miles distant."12
Tracer ammunition lit up the sky as far as we could see, and for a full half hour red-hot fragments rained from the sky like so many hailstones, burning and piercing the flesh when they hit. . . . A jeep
exploded in our faces a few yards away. Yet half an hour after the first bomb hit, several hospitals and first-aid stations were functioning with all the efficiency of urban medical centers.13
For almost an hour colorful bursts of small-arms ammunition were punctuated by large explosions as unprotected ammunition and gasoline dumps blew up. Several badly dazed and wounded men made their way across the sandspit and the causeway to our location [on Namur] and on to medical aid at the pier. From our vantage point it appeared that Roi was completely afire. Daylight showed the destruction to be almost complete. Little of anything appeared still serviceable.14
The devastating raid produced the greatest number of casualties that any United States land target had suffered since December 1941.15 Thirty men were killed, some 300 more were wounded and evacuated to ships in the lagoon, and an additional 100 received treatment for wounds ashore and returned to duty. Damages
ROOTING INDIVIDUAL JAPANESE out of hiding places was the major task in mopping up.
amounted to an estimated 85 percent of supplies (including all provisions except for a seven-day supply of K-rations) and 33 percent of construction equipment. In addition, 75 percent of all tentage and miscellaneous buildings on Roi were flattened and rendered unfit for further use. Two LCT's beached for unloading were burned out, as was the 20th Marines' command post, with the loss of regimental records and journals.16 The Japanese had struck a heavy blow, but they made no attempt to follow it up, which was probably fortunate for them. On Admiral Conolly's recommendation, three Marine night fighters landed at Roi the next night prepared for any subsequent nocturnal raids.
While the bulk of the 4th Marine Division was reorganizing, clearing Roi-Namur and preparing to depart for Hawaii, Colonel Cumming's Combat Team 25 (reinforced) and Company A, 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion searched the remaining islands in the northern portion of Kwajalein Atoll. This movement had begun on the morning of D-plus 2 when General Schmidt ordered Colonel Cumming to proceed with the seizure of those islands scheduled for the later phases of the over-all operation. Landing Team 2 under Lieutenant Colonel Hudson was picked to make the initial movement, its landings to be preceded by 14th Marines' artillery preparations. But after the first two landings were effected without meeting opposition, the 75mm pack howitzers remained silent. By utilizing LVT's, Hudson's unit secured eight islands during the day.
I remember distinctly the unusual sensation of navigating LVT's between the islands by means of a small pocket compass held as far as possible above the metal of the LVT. At times, due to the low freeboard17 of the LVT, we were out of sight of all land.18
The Marines encountered no resistance and picked up 47 natives and three Japanese, the natives being established in a camp on Ennubirr (ALLEN) Island.19
COMMUNICATORS raised their wires from the ground to makeshift telephone poles when the shooting quieted down.
Lieutenant Colonel O'Donnell's Landing Team 1 was assigned the task of securing three islands: Boggerlapp (HUBERT), Boggerik (HOMER), and HOLLIS. This was accomplished in two days, no Japanese being met. On the afternoon of D-plus 4 Lieutenant Colonel Chambers' Landing Team 3/25 took over the mission, augmented by Battery C, 14th
Marines, 34 LVT's and a miniature fleet of two LST's, two LCI's, six LSM's, and the destroyer, Hopewell. By the afternoon of D-plus 7 this force had secured 39 islands, met some 250 natives and found no Japanese.20
In addition to completing the Northern Landing Force's mission, Combat Team 25 was ticketed as a garrison force for Kwajalein Atoll. On D-plus 8 the unit, together with Company A, 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, was temporarily detached from the 4th Marine Division, and Colonel Cumming reported to Rear Admiral Alva D. Bernhard, atoll commander. Landing Team 1 constituted the defense force for Roi-Namur, Landing Team 2 for Kwajalein Island, and Landing Team 3 a mobile defense group stationed on the western islands.
The combat team retained these dispositions until February 29 when it was relieved by the 22d Marines.21 It then departed the area and rejoined its parent division in the Hawaiians.
All Islands Secured
On D-plus 2, the same date that Combat Team 25 began the seizure of minor islands in the northern zone, the Army's 7th Reconnaissance Troop initiated similar operations in the southern sector.
Between 0800 and 0900 this unit returned to Gehh (CHAUNCEY), the island it had hit by mistake in the dark early hours of D-Day. Light resistance was encountered, and with the assistance of Overton's guns, the Reconnaissance Troop overran the Japanese positions. The infantrymen counted 135 enemy dead that day at a cost of 14 wounded soldiers.22
North of Kwajalein lay Ebeye (BURTON) Island, 2,000 yards long and containing machine shops and warehouses before the preliminary bombardment. This became the target of Colonel Zimmerman's 17th Regimental Combat Team, an unopposed landing being effected the morning of D-plus 3 by BLT 17-1.
As the infantrymen pushed northward on the island, enemy resistance was encountered and
NAMUR immediately after the 24th Marines secured the island. In the background is Ennugarret (ABRAHAM).
JAMES V. FORRESTAL (center), Under Secretary of the Navy, visited Roi-Namur a few days after the battle ended. Here he is accompanied by (left to right) Admirals Spruance and Conolly, Generals Schmidt and Smith.
it steadily increased. Many of the island's defense installations had been destroyed during the preliminary bombardment, but the Japanese took full advantage of the remaining pillboxes, dugouts, and air-raid shelters to put up a disorganized fanatical fight. By nightfall BLT 17-1 had cleared two-thirds of Ebeye.
The morning of the second day, a Japanese prisoner pointed out the location of an ammunition dump and a requested air strike scored a direct bit on this choice target. The dump's elimination apparently took the heart out of the remaining defenders, for not a resisting shot was fired after it exploded. The Nipponese then surrendered or committed suicide, a majority of them choosing the latter course.
The 3d Battalion, 17th Infantry, relieved BLT 17-1 at 1130, and 40 minutes later Ebeye was declared secured.
While his main effort was being made on Ebeye, Colonel Zimmerman used the remaining troops available to him to secure four other nearby islands, resistance being encountered on one of them and that only light.
By D-plus 5 the 17th Regimental Combat Team and the 7th Reconnaissance Troop had secured all islands but one in the Southern Landing Force's zone. In addition to those already noted, 12 islands or islets were secured, only two of these offering any degree of resistance. The 7th Reconnaissance Troop neutralized an enemy force of about 100 men on Bigej (BENNETT) and Landing Team 17-2 subdued 102 Japanese on Eller (CLIFTON).23
On the morning of D-plus 6 Landing Team 17-2 took without opposition Ennugenliggelap
DYESS FIELD on Roi after the Seabees completed their work there.
(COHEN), thus completing the mission of the Southern Landing Force.
The 7th Infantry Division was directed to embark for the Hawaiian Islands as soon as its mission was completed. At 0800 on 6 February, Regimental Combat Teams 184 and 32 began loading ship, followed two hours later by RCT 17. But transportation was not immediately available for the entire Southern Landing Force. The morning of 8 February (D-plus 8), General Corlett and the bulk of his command departed the Kwajalein area, followed a few days later by the Division Artillery Group, one company of RCT 17 and detachments of the tank LVT battalion which had been left behind, except for those earmarked for the next operation. Company A, 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, the 708th Provisional Amphibian Tractor Battalion, and 30 DUKW's were all assigned to Tactical Group-1 to assist in the seizure of Eniwetok.
The Kwajalein operation clearly showed that heavy casualties are not a requisite for seizure of an enemy-held atoll. As noted earlier, the Tarawa operation loomed large in the minds of the men planning the Kwajalein landings, and it was their intent to avoid a repetition of the costly assault on Betio. This was accomplished. Marines at Tarawa, incurred 3,301 casualties in combating a Japanese force of 4,690.24 At Kwajalein, the Northern Landing Force overran 3,563 Japanese, and the Southern Landing Force defeated 4,523 of the enemy.25 The 4th Marine Division's total casualties for the operation amounted to 313 killed in action or died of wounds, and 502 wounded in action.26 The 7th Infantry Division lost 173 killed in action or died of wounds and 793 wounded in action.27
This is no reflection on the 2d Marine Division's action at Betio. There it was conclusively demonstrated that much more artillery, air and naval assistance was required to seize an atoll without prohibitive losses. Such support was overwhelmingly provided at Kwajalein. Actually, only one more atoll operation remained in the war in the Pacific, and that was Eniwetok.
All elements of the Armed Forces participated as a team in the Kwajalein assault. Marines, Navy ships and aviation, Army air and ground units, Coast Guard, all worked together in the seizure of the first prewar enemy-held territory.
An important aspect from the Marine point of view was that the Roi-Namur operation was the initial one for the 4th Marine Division. One more Marine combat force was blooded and therefore better able to participate in subsequent amphibious assaults, as it conclusively demonstrated at Saipan,28 Tinian,29 and Iwo Jima.30 As a direct result of the difficult lessons learned at Roi-Namur, the LVT units were able to effect a smooth landing in their next operation, Saipan.31
Kwajalein was another steppingstone on the road across the Central Pacific, with Japan as the final goal. Kwajalein's seizure, together with that of Eniwetok a few weeks later, cleared the path for attacks on Truk, the capture of the Marianas,32 and the other Central Pacific operations that followed.
In addition to providing aerial and naval bases for subsequent offensive operations, the
MEMBERS OF THE 4TH MARINE AIR WING on Roi devised a system of windmills to wash their laundry.
captured Marshall Islands also served as a springboard for neutralization of the by-passed atolls. From Kwajalein and Majuro the 4th Marine Air Wing pounded the Japanese fortresses of Mille, Maloelap, Wotje, and Jaluit, making it unnecessary for ground forces to assault and occupy those heavily held atolls.
What was involved in the Central Pacific was later explained by Vice Admiral Harry W. Hill:
If you will examine an air map of the Central Pacific, you will note that the successive objectives of attack, namely Kwajalein and Eniwetok, Saipan and Iwo Jima are all approximately 500 miles away from the last objective seized. At that time, none of our fighters was capable of operating 500 miles from base. Therefore, the job of fighter protection and ground supported troops devolved completely upon our carrier task forces. . . . The question naturally arises, therefore, why did we not utilize shorter sea hops in order to have better land based air support. . . . The only islands we wanted were ones which had sufficient land mass to provide a runway into the direction of the prevailing wind, which was northeast, and also to provide a harbor. Such islands and atolls were few and far between. Practically all that there were had been already occupied by the Japanese. For the same reason, therefore, we could not do in the Central Pacific as General MacArthur had done in the Southwest Pacific--make unopposed landings. Instead, we were forced to go to the atolls or islands already held by the Japanese and which, of course, were heavily defended.33
Although the Marines had to go to defended islands and atolls, there were varying degrees of defense at various objectives. Thus, Admiral Nimitz' decision to make a bold stroke into the heart of the Marshalls, by-passing the more heavily defended "anchored aircraft carriers," both increased the tempo of the war in the Central Pacific and obviously kept the casualty rate low. So quickly and successfully was the Kwajalein mission accomplished that the Eniwetok landings, tentatively planned for May, were shoved forward three months, and the first troops stormed ashore on 17 February.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (6) * Next Chapter (8)
1. CT 24 Rpt, Medical Report, 7, says: " . . . It became necessary for officers, doctors, corpsmen, bandsmen and assault troops, that had just completed two days arduous fighting, to work night and day collecting and disposing of some 1,200 Japanese dead. . . . The personnel who performed this work did not have gloves or equipment for this sort of task." On the other hand, a participant relates, " . . . A 'Burial Unit' was formed consisting partially of naval personnel and partially of personnel of the Seacoast Artillery Croup, 15th Defense Bn. This unit was equipped with rubber gloves, aprons, stretchers and other special gear . . . . and did an outstanding job of clearing Roi-Namur of enemy dead." Ltr Col Peter J. Negri to CMC, 22Jan53, hereinafter cited as Negri. Moreover, another participant narrates, "I do remember that troops that came ashore in later waves, such as 4th Special Weapons Bn Headquarters personnel, who saw very little action in this operation, were fully utilized in burial details." Ltr LtCol Alvin S. Sanders to CMC, 9Feb53.
2. Ltr LtCol Melvin D. Henderson to CMC, 15Jan53.
3. FLINTLOCK Operation, Report on Operations of 20th Marines, 16Mar44, 2.
4. Planes from Saratoga were flown in to the airfield the next day.
5. Ltr Col Peter J. Negri to CMC, 5Feb53.
6. 4th MarDiv war Diary, 25Mar44, 2-4.
8. "My recollection is that at the time we believed [the planes] had come from Saipan and probably been staged through Truk and perhaps Ponape or Kusaie." Ltr Adm Raymond A. Spruance to CMC 18Feb53.
9. Strips of metal foil dispersed by aircraft to create a great many false targets for radar sets by causing them to register spurious readings.
10. Wendt; Ltr LtCol Arthur E. Buck, Jr., to CMC 23Jan53, hereinafter cited as Buck II.
11. Ltr Col Otto Lessing to CMC, 25Feb53.
13. Combat Correspondent Bernard Redmond, as quoted in Carl W. Proehl (ed), The Fourth Marine Division in World War II, Washington, 1946. Redmond was with the 20th Marines.
14. Buck II.
15. Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, Combat Forces Press, Washington, 231, hereinafter cited as Sherrod.
16. CTF 53 Rpt FLINTLOCK, 8, 22-23; 20th Mar SAR, 3; Report of Island Commander to Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, 4Apr44, 4.
17. Freeboard is the height of a vessel's side from the water line to the main deck or gunwale.
18. Ltr Col Lewis C. Hudson, Jr., to CMC, 12Feb53.
19. "[The natives] were looked after by a detachment of Regimental Weapons Company under the command of Maj James T. Kisgen. During the 30 days together, the natives and the men of R/W 25 became fast friends. . . . Upon leaving, the native chief made a most touching speech and presented the Marines with presents." Ltr Maj Thomas H. Rogers, Jr., to CMC, 13Feb53.
20. Rpt on the 25th Marines (reinforced) in the FLINTLOCK Operation, 3-4.
21. Earlier activities of the 22d Marines will be taken up in Chapter VIII.
23. 7th Div Rpt, 9. 11-12.
24. Capt James R. Stockman, The Battle for Tarawa, historical monograph prepared by Historical Section, HQMC, 1947, Appendices B and C.
25. VAC G-2 Rpt, 19Feb44, 12.
26. Marine casualty figures furnished by Personnel Accounting Section, Records Branch, Personnel Department, HQMC. Figures certified and released 26Aug52.
27. 7th InfDiv G-1 Rpt, 15-19 (7th InfDiv FLINTLOCK Rpt, Vol III).
28. Maj Carl W. Hoffman, Saipan: The Beginning of the End, historical monograph prepared by Historical Division, HQMC, 1950.
29. Maj Carl W. Hoffman, The Seizure of Tinian, historical monograph prepared by Historical Division, HQMC, 1951.
30. LtCol W. S. Bartley, Iwo Jima, Amphibious Epic, historical monograph prepared by Historical Branch, G-3, HQMC, 1954.
32. See monographs cited in preceding footnotes; also Maj O. R. Lodge, The Recapture of Guam, historical monograph prepared by Historical Branch, G-3, HQMC, 1954.