Chapter 9
Mopping Up the Marshalls1


The 22d Marines arrived at Kwajalein Atoll on 26 February 1944 and began the relief of Colonel Cumming's 25th Marines, that 4th Marine Division unit having remained as a temporary garrison force. By 5 March Colonel Walker's command was disposed as follows: 1st Battalion, Bigej Island; 2d Battalion, Roi-Namur; 3d Battalion on Edgigen, and the remainder of the regiment on Ennubirr and Obella Islands, with the regimental command post on Ennubirr. The 2d Separate Pack Howitzer Battalion relieved 1st Battalion, 14th Marines, on Edgigen,2 but Company A, 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, was directed to remain at Kwajalein and work with the 22d Marines.

But if the tired victors of Eniwetok thought that they would merely occupy Kwajalein Atoll, this illusion was quickly dispelled. On 1 March Rear Admiral Alva D. Bernhard, Atoll Commander, received orders to neutralize and control the Lesser Marshalls, consisting of those atolls and islands thought to be undefended or lightly held. Specifically, the admiral was directed to:

  1. Destroy Japanese installations or materials which might be of benefit to their submarines, aircraft or surface forces.

  2. Make prisoner Japanese or suspicious natives.

  3. Instruct the natives in the war situation and their changed sovereignty.

  4. Assist them in any way practicable economically, and establish relations of friendliness and good will.

Admiral Bernhard and Colonel Walker set up a joint staff to direct the Lesser Marshalls campaign, which was dubbed FLINTLOCK, JR. Five areas of operations were established

  1. West Group (Wotho, Ujae, and Lae Atolls).

  2. South Group (Namu, Ailinglapalap,


    Namorik, Ebon Atolls, and Kili Island.)
  1. North Group (Bikini, Rongelap, Ailinginae, and Rongerik Atolls).

  2. Northeast Group (Bikar, Utirik, Taka, Ailuk, Likiep Atolls, Jemo and Mejit Islands).

  3. Separate (Lib Island).

Each atoll and island was reconnoitered by low-level PBY flights prior to moving troops to the objective, and aerial photographs were delivered to the various naval and troop commanders. The naval force for each operation usually consisted of one LST transporting six to nine LVT's, two LCI's, one destroyer or destroyer escort, and one mine sweeper. Three SBD's from VMSB-1513 were called on to furnish air support.

Inasmuch as native reaction was considered important in the scheduled operations, a flag-raising ceremony was evolved to be carried out whenever this formality took place. One civil affairs report best describes it:

After the proclamation explanation and posting formality, the American flag was raised . . . one platoon at present arms, staff officers at hand salute, natives in a group in the center. A Marine photographer made a picture record of each raising. The ceremony appealed to the natives, and was an aid in inculcating

THE AMERICAN FLAG was raised on a great many islands of the Lesser Marshalls in the six weeks following the Eniwetok operation.


the idea that they now were under American protection and no longer subject to Japanese rule.4

It was further planned that each force of Marines would be augmented by civil affairs officers, medical personnel to examine the natives, interpreters and native scouts from Kwajalein.

On 7 March the first reconnaissance group departed Kwajalein Atoll with the West Group as its objective. The Marines included two reinforced companies from 1st Battalion, under Major Crawford B. Lawton, battalion executive officer.5 The next morning this force lay off Wotho Atoll where it was learned that the only Japanese at hand numbered 12, the stranded crew of a crashed bomber. On the morning of 9 March 180 Marines landed on Wotho Island without opposition. During the night the 12 Nipponese had fled to a nearby island where they committed suicide when later they were pursued by 1st Platoon, Company C. On Wotho the proclamations were read, the flag raised and the expeditionary group departed, but not before one Marine had been killed by the accidental explosion of a hand grenade.

At Ujae Atoll the following day, Major Lawton learned that only six Japanese were there, the crew of a weather station. Once again 180 Marines landed, and once again the enemy reacted by committing suicide--with one exception. One of the six, not so fervent as his comrades, made a halfhearted attempt at suicide and then permitted himself to be taken prisoner.

Lae Atoll was secured next. No Japanese were found, but the naval officer in charge of the task force noted that "the natives were not as friendly as at the other atolls." This unfriendly attitude was apparently due to an unfortunate event which occurred a few days prior to the Marines' arrival. A hand grenade box containing one grenade floated ashore. The bomb had exploded, killing a child. When the armed troops landed on Lae the natives connected them with the hand grenade and decided that the Marines were in some measure responsible for the child's death.6 The reconnaissance force returned to Kwajalein, arriving there the evening of 14 March, mission successfully completed.

During the absence of the 1st Battalion group there had been a change in regimental command. On 10 March Colonel Walker was detached to V Amphibious Corps and was succeeded in command by Colonel Merlin F. Schneider, regimental executive officer.

One other reconnaissance took place during the 22d Marines' first two weeks at Kwajalein Atoll. On 11 March a reinforced platoon from the 1st Battalion landed on Lib Island, listed as a separate operation on the schedule. No trace of Japanese was found, natives were assembled and questioned, proclamations read, and at 1130 that day the American flag was raised. The platoon returned to its home base the same day.7

Secure in the South

On 19 March, after a false start the preceding day,8 two landing forces, each containing about 325 Marines, departed Kwajalein Atoll to clear the South Group. Both forces were taken from the 3d Battalion with Major Shisler and his executive officer, Major William E. Sperling III, the respective commanders. It was planned that the two forces would part company after securing Ailinglapalap Atoll, which objective was reached the morning of 20 March. Native scouts reported some 10 armed Japanese on Ailinglapalap Island, and that afternoon Major Sperling's force landed, followed the next morning by Major Shisler's group.

Company I, reinforced by both a heavy machine-gun platoon and an 81mm mortar platoon, made contact with the enemy the morning of 21 March. The Japanese defense line was entrenched across a narrow portion of the island, and the 81mm mortars began pounding it, the Marines overrunning it in the early afternoon.


SEVENTH AIR FORCE B-24 banks toward Wotje during the bombing of the by-passed atolls. (Air Force photo.)

Two Marines were wounded and 39 Nipponese killed,9 two surviving enemy escaping to other islands in the atoll where they were eventually picked up.

Having overcome this resistance, Major Shisler's force reembarked the afternoon of 21 March and steamed toward Ebon Atoll, the southernmost of the Marshalls. Major Sperling's unit remained to bury the enemy dead, scout the other islands in the atoll10 and proceed with proclamations and flag-raising formalities.

Ailinglapalap Atoll is the residence of the clan which controls the Ralik (western) chain of islands in the Marshalls, and the civil affairs officers took pains to make clear the new order of things. Chief Jemata, the head of the clan, assured the Marines that his people would adhere to the proclamation notices, and that he looked upon all Americans as friends--as no doubt he had previously looked upon all Japanese.

Major Sperling's group next proceeded to Namu Atoll where native scouts were dispatched to reconnoiter the islands. The scouts duly reported that the Japanese on the atoll consisted of one policeman and one schoolteacher together with his wife and three children. The next day (24 March) the Marine commander sent a surrender note to the Nipponese who quickly gathered on the beach waving white flags. Major Sperling noted that the number of Japanese present was correct "with addition of one child." The seven interned civilians were taken on board ship, and the troops departed, arriving at Kwajalein the next afternoon.

Meanwhile, Major Shisler's command arrived at Ebon Atoll on the morning of 23 March. Native scouts landed, followed shortly by Marines. Only friendly natives were found during the day, but the next morning contact was made with the enemy on Ebon Island. A 20-minute fire fight ensued in which two Marines were killed and 17 armed Japanese wiped out.11


GRAPHIC EVIDENCE of the aerial pounding given the by-passed Japanese strongholds in the Marshalls. Six months intervened between these photographs of Emidj Island, Jaluit Atoll. (Air Force photo.)

Six civilians were picked up at Ebon for internment, and the troops thereupon proceeded to Namorik Atoll and Kili Island. No Japanese were found at either objective. Consequently, the usual formalities were expeditiously accomplished, and the Marines returned to Kwajalein Atoll, arriving there 28 March.

Mejit, Ailuk and Likiep

Two days after Major Shisler's return to Kwajalein, a reinforced company from his 3d Battalion, under Major Earl J. Cook, moved toward the Northeast Group. The entire group was not assigned this force, however. Its objectives were Ailuk, Likiep and Taka Atolls, Jemo and Mejit Islands. Aerial reconnaissance indicated that Jemo and Taka were uninhabited, and inasmuch as native scouts confirmed this, it was decided to by-pass them.

Ailuk was reconnoitered by the Marines on 31 March and 1 April and the usual formalities followed. No Japanese were found, but an important question was settled as far as the natives were concerned.

On Ailuk the question was raised [by Typhoon, the native chief] as to whether the people could now pray again, and considerable pleasure was expressed when they were assured that they could.12

The reconnaissance force stood off Mejit Island on the morning of 2 April, and six LVT's carried the troops ashore. Six Japanese assigned to a naval weather station there were killed resisting the landing.

During reembarkation, however, trouble developed. The LST ramp chains parted, leaving three LVT's still in the water with no way to be loaded on board. Rather than risk the vehicles falling into enemy hands, the naval commander ordered them stripped of equipment and then sunk by gunfire.

On Likiep Atoll, which was reconnoitered on 3 April, no Japanese were located, but the


Marines met a plantation owner, Carl F. Hahn, who said he had been an American citizen since 1900. Hahn, a native German, told the Marines he was shipwrecked in the Marshalls in 1891, had married a native woman and had lived there ever since.13

With its mission completed, Major Cook's reconnaissance force returned to Roi-Namur, arriving there at 0800 on 5 April.

Finale in the North

While elements of the 3d Battalion were reconnoitering to the south and north, a reinforced company of the 2d Battalion was equally active. On 27 March this unit, under Major Robert P. Felker, 2d Battalion executive officer, stood out to sea with the mission of raising the flag in the North Group and a portion of the Northeast Group. Aerial reconnaissance and native reports indicated that Ailinginae, Rongerik, and Bikar Atolls were uninhabited. These were ignored, therefore, Major Felker concerning himself with only Bikini, Rongelap, and Utirik Atolls.14

From the morning of 28 March until the evening of 30 March the Marines scouted Bikini Atoll. Only five Japanese were found, but they committed suicide instead of resisting or surrendering. The proclamations were read, the flag was raised, and the miniature task force steamed toward Rongelap Atoll. Here the reconnaissance elements paused until 3 April, fruitlessly searching for a reported group of six Japanese soldiers.

Utirik Atoll was reached the morning of 5 April, but the naval commander decided the pass was dangerous and the lagoon "exceptionally full" of coral heads. He thereupon ruled that his vessels could not enter the lagoon. This made it necessary for the Marines to make a seven-mile run in amphibian tractors in order

MARINE SBD'S such as this one over Majuro helped keep the Japanese "anchored aircraft carriers" ineffective until the war ended.


TWO COMMANDERS of the 4th Marine Air Wing during the tour of duty in the Marshalls were Generals Cushman (left) and Woods.

to land on Utirik Island. Fourteen armed Japanese resisted the invasion, but they were quickly overrun. A motor generator set was blown up, the flag raised, and the troops departed, reaching Kwajalein the next afternoon.

Major Felker's group arrived not a moment too soon, for the 22d Marines were loading transports. "The force [Felker's] . . . tied up alongside APA's and transferred troops just in time to sail with the regiment . . . to another staging area for preparations for further operations against the enemy."15

Between 7 March and 6 April 1944, elements of the 22d Marines, reinforced, had established American sovereignty over 12 atolls and three islands of the Lesser Marshalls, a water area of some 60,000 square miles. Thus the American forces fixed grip on what had been Japanese territory only three months earlier. And definitely on the profit side was the experience gained by junior officers in exercising command during actual landing operations.

As noted in Chapter VIII, Tactical Group-1 was disbanded on 22 March. On that same date the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was organized and the 22d Marines assigned to it. A week later Colonel Schneider was alerted for a move to Guadalcanal, and on 6 April the 22d Marines, together with attached units,16 departed for the new base.

Last Stage

During the month of April, Marine and Army forces reconnoitered three other atolls, the last to be secured in the Marshalls before the end of the war.

On 17 April a force of 199 Marines from the 1st Defense Battalion, VAC, embarked from Majuro on two LCI(L)'s with the mission of reconnoitering Erikub and Aur Atolls. Erikub lies a mere five miles from Wotje, and Aur only ten miles from Maloelap. Despite the proximity of the small atolls to the two formidable Japanese bases, no enemy was found on either. The Marines thereupon returned to Majuro only four days after departing it.17

The seizure of Ujelang Atoll, westernmost of the Marshalls, was virtually a repetition of the 22d Marines' landings in the smaller eastern atolls. A reinforced company from 3d Battalion, 111th Infantry, proceeded from Kwajalein 20 April and stood off the tiny atoll the next afternoon. For two days the infantrymen reconnoitered the various islands at Ujelang, killing 18 Japanese in the process. The American flag was raised and the soldiers reembarked, arriving at their home base on 24 April.18


Remaining in enemy hands were Kusaie Island in the western Marshalls, and Wotje, Maloelap, Mille, and Jaluit Atolls in the east, and the Japanese garrisons of these were left to wither on the vine.19 (See Map 15, Map Section.) To apply the heat necessary to keep them withered, the 4th Marine Base Defense Air Wing20 (4th MBDAW) staged into the Marshalls. In mid-February 17 planes of MAG-31 arrived at Dyess Field21 on Roi joining the ground echelon which had arrived a few days earlier. At the newly acquired fleet base of Majuro the Seabees completed an airstrip on 19 February, and the planes of MAG-13 flew in during the next seven days. Aviation elements also followed on the heels of Marine landing forces at Eniwetok Atoll. On 19 February a ground echelon of MAG-22 arrived at Engebi, planes setting down there 10 days later.

Map 15
The Occupation of the Marshall Islands

The 4th Marine Base Defense Air Wing's campaign against Mille, Maloelap, Jaluit, and Wotje, a campaign that was to continue until Japan's surrender, began on 4 March 1944 when VMSB-331 of MAG-13 conducted a bombing mission against Jaluit. Five days later Brigadier General Lewie G. Merritt, commander of

JAPANESE SURRENDER OF MILLE ATOLL, 22 August 1945. Captain Masanori Shiga, IJN (left) and Captain H. B. Grow, USN (right). (Navy photo.)


the 4th MBDAW,22 established his headquarters at Kwajalein.

Navy carrier planes had flown 1,671 sorties against Wotje, Jaluit, Mille, and Maloelap before the Marine pilots got in on the act. Since the preceding November, Navy and Army planes, principally the bombers of the Seventh Air Force, had struck at the four atolls. The Army planes continued attacking the by-passed targets until the Seventh Air Force moved to Saipan in June 1944, and Navy land-based planes struck at the atolls throughout the remainder of the year.

But the bulk of the dull job of pounding the enemy bases in the Marshalls until the end of the war fell to the Marine pilots.23 For awhile the Japanese attempted to repair airstrips, just as they continued constructing realistic dummy gun positions. But a shortage of food and supplies, plus the progressive deterioration of morale, eventually put a stop to their efforts. As long as their antiaircraft guns were operational, the Nipponese continued to handle them against attacking planes, sometimes with telling effect.

But strength and time were on the side of the American forces. The Japanese on the bypassed atolls could only sit out the war, concentrating on a struggle for survival. Wotje, Maloelap, Mille, and Jaluit had been considered by the enemy as "unsinkable aircraft carriers," key links in the chain of defenses protecting Japan's eastern perimeter. Strong reinforcements had been rushed to them in order to contain or delay the inexorable American advance across the Pacific. But with war's end, the tattered, starving garrisons could only surrender.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (8) * Next Chapter (Appendix I)


1. Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter is a synthesis of the following sources: 22d Marines Report of Operations into Lesser Marshalls, 6Apr44; Maj Paul H. Bird, "Atoll Hopping-The Lesser Marshalls," an undated report dealing with the 22d Marines in the Lesser Marshalls hereinafter cited as Atoll Hopping; Atoll Commander, Report of Occupation of Wotho, Ujae and Lae Atolls, 28Mar44; Atoll Commander, Report of Occupation of Ailinglapalap and Namu, 2Apr44; Atoll Commander, Report of Occupation of Ebon and Namorik Atolls and Kili Island, undated; Atoll Commander, Report of Occupation of Ailuk Atoll, Mejit Island, Jemo Island and Likiep Atoll, 12Apr44; Atoll Commander, Report of Occupation of Bikini, Ailinginae, Rongelap, Rongerik, Utirik, Bikar and Taka Atolls, 14Apr44; Campaign; Sherrod.

2. "This consisted of a relief in place to continue the defense. . . . During this relief the pack howitzers of [1/14] were left in place and exchanged for those of the 2d SepPkHowBn. Such procedure is often recommended but seldom accomplished." Mahoney.

3. The squadron at this time was divided into two echelons, one based at Roi, the other at Engebi. The air support mentioned was to be provided from Roi.

4. Report of Reconnaissance of Wotho, Ujae and Lae Atolls, Chief of Civil Affairs Section, 15Mar44, 1-2.

5. Atoll Commander, Report of Occupation of Wotho, Ujae and Lae Atolls, 28Mar44.

6. LtCol Crawford B. Lawton, comments on preliminary script.

7. Report of Reconnaissannce Unit, Landing on Lib Island, 11Mar44, 1-2.

8. The force originally included an LCT loaded with medium tanks. Upon departing the lagoon on 18Mar44, however, the craft began shipping water and all vessels returned to the lagoon. There it was decided to dispense with the LCT and the tanks.

9. Included in the enemy armament were several 1903 Springfield rifles, a Browning light machine gun, and two cases of United States hand grenades. McCabe.

10. Seven Japanese civilians were found and taken back to Kwajalein.

11. The Japanese force consisted of one woman, 11 male civilians, and five soldiers.

12. Reconnaissance of Ailuk and Likiep Atolls and Mejit Island, Report of Civil Affairs Section, 7Apr44.

13. How Hahn could have established American citizenship in 1900 is not disclosed.

14. Likiep Atoll was originally included in this list, but Adm Bernhard canceled it for Felker's group and turned it over to Maj Cook's force.

15. Atoll Hopping, 10.

16. Included here is the amphibian tractor company. During the period just covered, the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion was at Maui and another LVT company there was designated Company A, 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. The LVT company then working with the 22d Marines was thereupon redesignated as a unit within the 11th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, then forming, and it sailed to Guadalcanal with the 22d Marines.

17. War Diary for April 1944, 1st Defense Bn, VAC. Troops from this organization also conducted reconnaissance of Arno Atoll which had been reconnoitered shortly after the occupation of Majuro. No enemy was found on Arno.

18. Company I, 111th Infantry, Report of Operations, Occupation of Ujelang Atoll, 27Apr44.

19. The remainder of this narrative is taken principally from Campaign; Sherrod.

20. The "Base Defense" portion of the Wing's designation was dropped 10Nov44.

21. Named in honor of LtCol Aquilla J. Dyess, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Namur, as previously noted in Chapter V.

22. Succeeding commanders of the 4th MBDAW while in the Marshalls were BrigGen Thomas J. Cushman, MajGen Louis E. Woods, and BrigGen Lawson H. M. Sanderson.

23. One pilot subsequently recalled that as he was returning from a mission he spotted two LCI(L)'s which had reconnoitered Aur Atoll and were on the way back to Majuro. Somehow the two vessels made an incorrect turn and were inadvertently heading for Mille. The pilot flew low over the craft, sending them a message in Morse by means of a flashing light. He thus notified them of their error and in all probability saved the lives of the men on board. Capt Ernesto H. Giusti, comments on preliminary script.

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