Preparations Prior to H-HourAt 0441 on the morning of D-day, 20 November 1943, the Japanese on Betio fired a red star cluster. Less than a half hour later enemy shore batteries opened fire and U.S.S. Colorado and U.S.S. Maryland swung their main batteries into action to reply to the challenge. With this action the battle for Betio got underway. At the same time the shore batteries began to fire, two of the fire-support sections of Task Force 53 were in position and were able to deliver counterbattery fire at once. Within a few minutes, another section had reached its station and could add its fires to those of the other ships. Shell splashes were observed all around the firing ships but none caused any damage.
Combat Team 2 (i.e., the 2d Marines, reinforced) had breakfasted early and at 0320 the assault waves began to debark from the transports of TRANSDIV 4 (temporary) into LCVP's for further transfer to the LVT's. From the beginning there was a certain amount of confusion, for the transports were too far south of their proper stations and found themselves within range of the enemy guns ashore on Betio. There was difficulty, too, in getting the first waves of the LVT's organized, and with the transports shifting positions even more delay and confusion was caused.
Until 0542 the fire-support ships delivered fire intermittently in an effort to reduce the shore batteries and to neutralize enemy positions on the island as much as possible. At this time an order was given by the task force commander to cease firing so that the planes could make their air strike scheduled for 30 minutes prior to W-hour. It was believed that the air strike and naval gunfire bombardment should not be carried on simultaneously for two reasons: (1) Because the smoke and dust caused by naval gunfire would make it impossible for the dive bombers to see their targets; (2) Because naval projectiles in flight would constitute a menace to aircraft operating in the vicinity. The planes did not come in for their strike on time.
With the cessation of naval gunfire, the Japanese defenders of Betio had almost 30 minutes to fire on the transport area without being molested. At 0605 the order was given for the battleships, the cruisers, and the destroyers to resume their firing in order to counter the shore battery fire. Finally, at 0615, the planes came in for the air strike. Plenty of good targets remained for them to destroy. The 2d Division had asked that all buildings on the island be burned or destroyed by the plane strikes in the preliminary-to-D-day "softening up" strikes. Some were burned or demolished; many still remained standing. Some of these buildings were constructed of reinforced concrete and were so well built that the bombs and neutralizing naval gunfire had little effect upon them. The air strike lasted for about 10 minutes and while it was in progress W-hour was announced, at 0620, and the naval shelling began again. The island was almost completely covered with smoke by now and the ships could not see any point targets; however, the prearranged fires to begin at W-hour were to obliterate marked areas and the smoke only hampered the ships in making their adjustments.
Sunrise was at 0612 and a few minutes later the minesweeper Pursuit started to sweep the channel leading into the lagoon. On board to guide the ship was a pilot thoroughly familiar with these waters, a Lieutenant Forbes, of the New Zealand Navy. Behind the Pursuit was the Requisite, another minesweeper. Waiting to enter as soon as the entrance
Map 1: Tarawa Atoll showing transport area, line of departure and landing beaches
20 Nov 43
was clear were two destroyers, the Ringgold and the Dashiell. Immediately the minesweepers entered the lagoon they were taken under fire by two shore batteries, located about 200 yards east of the long pier, and the Pursuit requested the destroyers to lend their assistance. Both destroyers engaged the shore batteries at once and their fire was very effective; temporarily, at least, the shore batteries firing at the minesweepers were silenced. Small boats had accompanied the Pursuit, carrying smoke pots. It had bene planned to use this smoke to conceal the movement of the first waves of LVT'S as they neared the line of departure. The use of the smoke boats was not altogether successful, although the smoke did make it difficult for the Japanese to observe the fires of their batteries and to adjust them.
At 0715 the Pursuit took station on the line of departure and turned its searchlight on in the direction of the approaching LVT's in order to provide them with a guide. Meanwhile, the enemy opened fire again with his shore batteries and a number of splashes were observed in the water near the line of departure. At 0706 the Ringgold entered the channel leading into the lagoon, piloted by Lt. Gordon J. Webster, an officer of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Five minutes later the ship was hit by an enemy shell, believed to be a 5-inch shell, on the starboard side in the after engine room; fortunately, the shell did not explode. Seconds later, another enemy shell hit the barrel of a forward torpedo mount and glanced off to pass through the destroyer's sick bay and the emergency radio room. Again, this shell failed to explode. Through the smoke and dust, the Ringgold could see the flashes of the shore battery believed to be doing this firing. The guns of the ship were trained on the enemy battery and fired. There was a big explosion in the area where the flashes had been seen. Apparently, the ammunition dump of this battery was hit; the battery was silenced.
Meanwhile, the Pursuit was tracking the leading waves of the amphibian tractors with radar, and when they were within 5,000 yards of the line of departure, the ship reported them 25 minutes behind schedule. The tractors were moving against a head wind and could not make up the lost time.
In the half-light preceding sunrise, USS Maryland, the flagship of Task Force 53, had launched her two float planes. In one was Lt.(jg) F.C. Whaley, and piloting the other was Lt. Comdr. R.A. MacPherson. Whaley was to observe gunnery and MacPherson was instructed to observe the movement of the landing craft toward the beach and to control the use of the screening smoke. By 0730 reports from MacPherson and from the control vessels at the line of departure indicated that the first wave of tractors was behind schedule and would be unable to reach the beach at 0830, the time set for H-Hour. Changing H-hour was necessary, not as a guide for the first waves of the assault landing teams, since they were already on their way and could move only so fast, but as a measure to coordinate naval gunfire and the air strikes. At 0803, Admiral Hill, after consultation with General Smith, announced that H-hour would be at 0845.
Within 10 minutes it became apparent that 0845 was too early; the amphibian tractors were still behind schedule and were well short of the line of departure. At 0824 the first wave crossed the line of departure and headed in toward the beach. Again H-hour was delayed, this time until 0900. It was believed now that the first wave would reach the beach at 0900. Planes began to strafe the landing beaches at 0830 while naval gunfire continued to send salvo after salvo into the smoky burning island of Betio. At 0854 the order was given by Admiral Hill to cease all naval gunfire except for the destroyers inside the lagoon and they were instructed to keep firing until the troops were endangered. Twenty-three minutes were to elapse during which the amphibian tractors moved slowly toward the beaches without a covering barrage of naval gunfire except from the two destroyers mentioned before. The strafing of the planes had stopped temporarily.
There was a good reason, of course, for the cease-fire order. Admiral Hill and General Smith, on the Maryland, could see neither the island nor the leading wave of tractors due to the heavy blanket of smoke that hung between the ship and the island. It would have been to invite disaster had the naval gunfire continued without exact knowledge of the position of the first wave of assault troops. The planes made one more strafing run when the tractors were about halfway in to the beach from the line of departure. This strafing run and the fire from the two destroyers in the lagoon was the last support given the assault waves on their way to their respective beaches.
The firing of the support ships prior to H-hour was excellent, as far as it went. The coast defense guns on Betio were silent, the guns destroyed or their
Another view of the 8-inch gun emplacement overrun by Maj. "Mike" Ryan's men. Palm fronds were used to camouflage these guns, brought from Singapore to strengthen Betio's defenses.
crews killed. Most of the dual purpose antiaircraft guns were neutralized. Many of the antiboat guns were out of action. Unfortunately, however, few of the smaller beach defense guns or pillboxes were destroyed. The machine guns, some of the 37-mm antiboat guns, and the emplacements holding riflemen were still operative and constituted a serious menace to the approaching waves of landing craft. Another item of major importance that could be credited to naval gunfire was the destruction of the enemy's means of communication. The communication system on Betio was completely disrupted. According to some of the prisoners taken later, the W-hour bombardment had broken down the island's communications and control was lost. The Japanese then resorted to the use of runners but the heavy naval gunfire kept them from getting through.
The order for landing issued by Col. David Shoup called for the employment of three of the landing teams under his control in the assault and one team in reserve. Attached to the 2d Marines was the 2d Battalion 8th Marines, commanded by Maj. Henry P. Crowe and this reinforced battalion was assigned the mission of landing on Beach RED 3, to the left, or east of the long pier which extended from the north side of the island for some 500 yards. On the right of Crowe's battalion was that of Lt. Col. Herbert Amey, the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines. Amey was to land his battalion on Beach RED 2, on the right, or west, of the long pier. This beach was about 500 yards wide and its right flank rested on that part of the western portion of the northern side of the island where the shoreline makes a deep indentation. On Amey's right was the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, commanded by Maj. John F. Schoettel. This battalion was to land on Beach RED 1 on the western end of the north side of Betio. The beach was about 500 yards wide with a shoreline shaped like a crescent. In reserve for the regiment was the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, commanded by Maj. Wood B. Kyle.
All three of the assault battalions were delayed
while debarking from their transports, due to the movement of the ships from the area where they had first stopped to an area farther north. After the first waves were away from the transports in LCVP's, they had to transfer to the LVT's which would carry them to the beach. Finally, after a great deal of confusion, the troops were loaded in the amphibian tractors and reached the rendezvous area to the northwest of the entrance to the lagoon. There the waves were formed and the tractors were guided to the line of departure marked by the Pursuit. At 0824 the first wave crossed the line and headed toward the beach. Three minutes later the second wave of tractors crossed the line, and at 0830 the third wave was dispatched by the control vessel. The fourth wave was still boated in small boats (LCVP's and LCM's). It waited at the line for orders to go in.
Between the line of departure and the fringing reef which guarded the north side of Betio, the waves began to receive fire from the beach. About 3,000 yards from the beach the tractors came under air bursts, but these were not effective, due to the heavy charge in the shells which broke the vases into shrapnel almost a small as sand. Then came long-range machine-gun fire but still the tractors moved on toward the reef and the island. So far none of the tractors had been hit.
The LandingsThe first unit to reach its beach was the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines. At 0910 the tractors of this team crawled up on the coral sand of RED 1, located at the west end of the north side of the island. The first three waves were hit hard by machine gun and antiboat fire, damaging most of the tractors. Company I, upon climbing out of its LVT's, clambered up over the log barricade and began to advance inland on the right half of the beach. At the dividing line between RED 1 and RED 2 there was a Japanese strongpoint and the fire from it was raking the flank of the 3d Battalion. Company K was hit before it
After the Battle. This is how the same emplacement, pictured before, looked.
could reach the temporary protection of the log barricade. During the next 2 hours the two companies were to lose over half of their men. Meanwhile L Company and the mortar platoon came in as far as they could in their boats. About 500 yards from the beach, the boats ran aground on the reef and the troops were forced to get out and start wading toward the beach. While in the water, this company was hit hard by machine gun and antiboat fire, which caused casualties amounting to over 35 percent.
The next battalion to reach its beach was the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, on RED 3. Its leading tractors climbed out of the water at 0917. From 3,000 yards out until the leading waves had crossed the reef and were within 200 yards of the beach, the air was filled with bursts from enemy 3-inch shells. In the assault were E Company and F Company, with one platoon of G Company close behind. Two of the amphibian tractors, upon reaching the beach, found a break in the sea wall and crawled through with their troops still aboard and got as far as the south side of the northwest taxiways and the main strip. All the rest of the tractors were stopped by the barricade and the troops were forced to dismount there. Out of 522 men, fewer than 25 became casualties on the way in to the beach and during the time the troops were climbing out of the amphibian tractors. Five of the six officers in Company E were wounded or killed as they hit the beach. Company E landed on the right portion of RED 3 on a 200-foot front. On the left, and with its left flank extending to the Burns-Philp pier, was Company F. The platoon from Company G came in behind E and began cleaning out snipers left behind by that company; E moved rapidly across the taxiway and on toward the main air strip in its zone of action. It is possible that one reason why Maj. "Jim" Crowe was able to get his first waves ashore with very light casualties, was because the two destroyers in the lagoon, the Ringgold and the Dashiell, continued to fire after the other support ships had ceased firing, and these two ships laid down a blanket of destruction on a large part of Crowe's beach until about 7 minutes before the troops actually landed.
At 0922 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, reach Beach RED 2. From the reef on in, the assault companies were under heavy antiboat-gun and machine-gun fire. Company E, less one platoon, managed to reach the right half of RED 2 but enemy fire was so intense that only a shallow foothold on the western part of the beach could be established. The 1st Platoon of E Company was driven off its course on the way in and became separated from the rest of the company. This platoon landed over on Beach RED 1 under heavy fire and took refuge in a large bomb crater. From this crater, the platoon engaged nearby enemy strongpoints but could not move from its position to join its parent company or elements of the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, to its right. Company F landed on the eastern half of Beach RED 2 after suffering heavy casualties in reaching the beach. At first, it was impossible for this company to contact E Company over to the west; a small beachhead, about 50 yards in depth, was gained but further attempts to move forward failed due to the intense fire delivered by enemy machine guns and riflemen in front of the company. Between the two assault companies of the 2d Battalion, Company G, the reserve company, less one platoon, made its way ashore and organized a small foothold, joining contact on the left with Company E.
Behind the first three waves of the landing teams--the waves loaded in amphibian tractors--were the other waves boated in LCVP's. At the time when the first waves crossed the fringing reef, it was discovered that the reef was partly exposed, covered in some places with 2 or 3 feet of water; in other places the water over the reef could be measured in inches. In effect, the reef acted as a barrier, excluding all craft except the amphibian tractors, and the waves of troops loaded in small boats had no way to reach the beach except to transfer to the tractors when they returned from their initial trips to the beach, or to wade ashore. Some of the later waves transferred some units to the tractors; others, and in some cases as much as an entire landing team was involved, waded the 400 or 500 yards of fire-swept water. As a result, there was a great deal of confusion at the reef and in the space between the reef and the shore. Units became separated, troops were mixed, officers lost contact with their units, and there was a serious break-down in control. Few reserve units landed on the beach as a fighting team; platoons and sections lost sight of their parent units and intermingled with other units. Much of the efficiency normally associated with a battalion landing team was lost as a result of this unfortunate situation.
Lt. Col. Herbert Amey was in command of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines. When his first three waves in amphibian tractors left the line of departure,
Amey was in an LCM with the forward echelon of his command post group. Among those with him was Lt. Col. Walter I. Jordan, an observer from the 4th Marine Division. After the third wave left the line of departure, Amey followed with his group in the LCM. Upon reaching the reef, it was found that the boat could not go any farther; there was not enough water of the reef to float the LCM clear. Lieutenant Colonel Amey then secured two LVT's and transferred his group to the tractors. At this time the immediate area was under heavy enemy fire and the two LVT's were soon separated. The amphibian tractor, with Amey, Jordan, and about 13 other officers and men aboard, then headed in toward Beach RED 2. About 200 yards out from the beach the tractor was forced to stop because of a barbed wire entanglement ahead, and the group climbed over the side of the LVT and started to wade on in. Just before the group reached the barbed wire, it was hit by heavy machine gun fire from its right front. Lieutenant Colonel Amey was killed instantly and three others were casualties. The remainder of the group waded and swam to the protective lee of an abandoned boat. There was no other officer present to take over the command of the landing team; the executive officer of the team was with another wave and was deflected to Beach RED 1. Lieutenant Colonel Jordan announced at this time that he, the senior officer present, would assume command until such time as Maj. Howard Rice, the executive officer, could get ashore. Then the little group started to wade on in to the beach and at about 1000 set up a command post in a shell hole on RED 2. There was no way to communicate with other units. The radios were inoperative, either from immersion in the salt water, or because they were riddled with machine-gun bullets. Shortly after the command post began to operate, runners reported from the three companies. Their reports were gloomy. The three companies were pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire from their front and flanks and sniper fire from the trees in the area. The depth of the beachhead of the landing team was about 75 yards and its width was roughly 300 yards.
Behind the assault landing teams of the 2d Marines, and in radio communication with his battalion commanders initially, Col. David Shoup and his staff watched the waves move ashore. At this time Colonel Shoup's party was boated in an LCVP, and upon reaching the reef, found that the boat could not go on in to the shore. A nearby amphibian tractor carrying a load of wounded men out from the beach was hailed and Colonel Shoup had the wounded transferred to an LCVP to be taken on out to a ship. Then he, Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, an observer, Maj. T.A. Culhane, Commander Nelson, the regimental surgeon, and Lt. Col. Presley M. Rixey, artillery commander, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, climbed into the amphibian tractor and headed in toward the left half of Beach RED 2. Before the tractor had gone far, it came under heavy machine-gun cross-fire and intermittent antiboat gun fire and was forced to withdraw to the end of the pier. Next the tractor went around the east end of the pier and joined a wave of LCM's carrying medium tanks toward Beach RED 3. When this wave was within 100 yards of the shore, the enemy opened fire with two 77-mm. guns scoring direct hits on 2 of the boats of the tank wave. One boat sank and the other was forced to withdraw in a sinking condition. Obviously, this was no place to attempt to land the regimental command post group, so the tractor turned around and went back to the end of the pier to try another landing on RED 2. About halfway along toward the beach, at about 1030, the engine stopped and the group was forced to dismount and wade over to the shelter of the pier.
As early as 1000 Colonel Shoup began to worry about the 3d Battalion over on RED 1. The assault companies were in partial communication with their landing team commander, Maj. John F. Schoettel. He was with his fourth wave which was boated in LCVP's and LCM's. At 0959 Colonel Shoup received this message from Schoettel:
Receiving heavy fire all along beach. Unable to land all. Issue in doubt.
Eight minutes later Schoettel again radioed Shoup:
Boats held up on reef of right flank RED 1. Troops receiving heavy fire in water.
To this Shoup replied:
Land Beach RED 2 and work west.
Schoettel's reply was extremely disheartening:
We have nothing left to land.
All reports from the landing teams ashore mentioned heavy casualties and although it was difficult at first to decide where the first of the reserve teams should be landed, the fragmentary reports indicated that things were going better on Crowe's beach than
the other two. At 0958, Colonel Shoup ordered his combat team reserve, the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, commanded by Maj. Wood B. Kyle, to land on Beach RED 2 and work its way to the west to assist the 3d Battalion. Kyle left the line of departure and got as far as the reef with his waves loaded in boats. At the reef Kyle was informed by the boat flotilla commander that the troops would have to transfer to LVT's. There were enough of the amphibian tractors to take Company A and Company B, but C Company had to wait until noon for transportation. The first two waves of the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, were hit while landing at about 1130 by heavy enemy fire from the right portion of Beach RED 2 and part of the tractors veered off to the west where they landed on the west part of RED 1 and joined the Marines fighting there. This group from the 1st Battalion which landed on RED 1 consisted of 1 officer and about 100 men. The rest of the landing team landed on the left half of RED 2 and suffered heavy casualties while landing.
3d Battalion, 8th Marines is CommittedGen. Julian C. Smith, at his command post out on the USS Maryland, kept abreast of the situation through the radio messages. From the reports received aboard the ship, it appeared that a fairly good toe-hold had been secured on the beach and that it was time to think about committing more troops. At 1018 the division radioed Col. Elmer E. Hall, the commanding officer of the 8th Marines, to send his 3d Battalion to the line of departure where it would pass to the control of Colonel Shoup.
At 1103 the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, at the line of departure and in contact with Colonel Shoup, who had been notified that the landing team was now under his command, received orders from Colonel Shoup to land on Beach RED 3 and support the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines.
The first waves of the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, started in toward Beach RED 3 in their boats but were stopped by the reef and the troops were forced to leave the boats. As soon as the boats grounded on the reef, the coxswains lowered the ramps and the men rushed out over the end to begin wading ashore. Unfortunately, the water was deep, well over a man's head in places, and some of the Marines, loaded with equipment, drowned. The men scattered upon leaving the boats and deployed in a wide formation. Then the enemy opened up with 40-mm. machine-gun and mortar fire, causing heavy casualties and scattering the formation. Out of the first wave about 100 got ashore and paused to reorganize.
Over on the pier, Colonel Shoup and Colonel Carlson could see what was happening to the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, By waving to the men of the second wave and attracting their attention, Shoup, Carlson, and Rixey directed the remainder of the landing team to come over to the protection of the pier and follow it in to the beach. Considerable time was lost, for the pier was under fire and the men had to wade along its sides, utilizing what little protection was offered. Many of the officers of the companies of the 3d Battalion and a great many of the noncommissioned officers, were either killed or wounded. As a result, the battalion was badly disorganized and shaken by its experience.
The commanding officer of the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, Maj. R.H. Ruud, tried to get his fourth wave in on the west side of the pier on RED 2. The boats got hung up on the reef and began to receive machine-gun fire, so they were withdrawn and joined the fifth and sixth waves to reorganize.
After giving the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, assistance, Colonel Shoup and his party worked their way to RED 2 and found Lieutenant Colonel Jordan who reported that his troops (2d Battalion, 2d Marines), were about 125 yards south of the beach with snipers, and cross-fire from blockhouses making progress very difficult.
The operations during the morning had taken a heavy toll of the amphibian tractors. Until the first waves crossed the line of departure everything had gone smoothly. In the first wave were 42 tractors; in the second, 24; and in the third wave there were 21. Near the line of departure, the tractors began to receive fire from shore guns but there were not hits. About 700 yards from the beach, the tractors came under machine-gun fire, but none of the machines was stopped. Then, about 200 yards out from the beach the LVT's received fire from all types of weapons. At least eight tractors were hit and failed to reach the beach. Most of the .50-caliber machine gunners were killed. After discharging their troops, the LVT's backed off the beach before turning around in order to get full benefit from their armor protection. A few more tractors were put out of action at this time; the rest backed off into the water and returned to the reef. Upon reaching deep water an undetermined number (estimated to be about
15) sank, due to holes in the hulls caused by rifle, machine-gun, antiboat-gun, and mortar fire. It appeared at this time that there was only one route to the shore that was safe to use, and this route was only relatively safe. It was the boat passage along the west side of the long pier. The amphibious tractors were used thereafter to transport troops and supplies from the end of the pier and from the small boats off the end of the pier to the beach, the inland dumps, and to the front lines.
When the naval gunfire bombardment and the bombing and strafing attacks of the planes were lifted as the first waves approached the beaches, the enemy seemed to recover from his demoralizing shock and began to use every weapon at his disposal. The immediate area of the landing beaches was raked with small-arms, machine-gun, mortar, and grenade fire. From the reef on in to the shore, except for the boat passage next to the west side of the pier, the approach to the beach resembled a trip across a veritable no man's land.
At 1036 Gen. Julian C. Smith radioed to V Amphibious Corps:
Successful landing on Beaches RED 2 and 3. Toe hold on RED 1. Am committing one LT from division reserve. Still encountering strong resistance throughout.
Due to the reef and the murderous hail of fire that blanketed the approaches to the landing beaches, there developed a slowness about the operation that was maddening to the officers and men alike. The attention was unique. In order to defeat the enemy and to seize the island, General Smith had to achieve the numerical superiority ashore demanded by this type of operation.1 The front lines were only a matter of a few feet inland from the water's edge, so close to the beach in fact that the troops began to fight immediately they walked out of the water and set foot ashore. As the initial waves dismounted from the amphibian tractors they were joined in action with the enemy at once. Then as the first thin lines pushed inland men began to drop out, wounded or dying. The later waves were forced to leave their boats at the reef and wade from there to the beach, a long trip through water suddenly dotted by the spurts kicked up by machine-gun fire. Most of the men stayed as low in the water as possible, offering limited targets to the enemy. Holding their weapons above their heads when they could, the men waded slowly in, sometimes stumbling in the pot holes in the coral.
This state of affairs resulted in disorganization among the units and control was virtually impossible. To compensate for this lack of control, there was a certain unity of purpose in the minds of the troops. Committed to the danger from enemy fire from the reef on in, the men moved forward anxiously to gain the beach where they could begin to fight back. Many were hit in the water; others kept up the relentless struggle, staggering through the waist-to-shoulder deep water, moving doggedly to join their comrades.
There were no covered routes of approach to the beach. There was no way to get a battalion landing team into the fire fight ashore without running the risk of casualties in the space between the reef and the beach. There was the problem of units scattering and becoming disorganized, or drifting too far to the right or left. These problems offered no easy means of solution.
By noon the situation ashore began to clear up as some measure of order appeared in what had seemed chaos. Colonel Shoup was in partial communication with his landing team commanders. Forward progress was slow, a matter of a few feet at a time, for the enemy kept the Marines pinned down. It was worth a man's life to raise his head a few inches to try to gain a view of the situation to his front. Still, there was no way to employ the firepower of his weapon unless the man did expose himself, however briefly.
From the beach the division command post aboard the USS Maryland received urgent calls. There were requests for bombing and strafing missions; calls for blood plasma and medical supplies; calls for ammunition.
During the early morning of D-day, the situation on Betio was literally cloudy, for the shells from the battleships, the cruisers, and the destroyers, as well as the bombs from the planes, had raised a high column of smoke and dust from the island. As the morning wore on, the smoke from burning emplacements and buildings continued to mask portions of the island so that it was impossible, even from the air, to see much of the island at one time. Neither Colonel Shoup ashore, nor General Smith out on the Maryland, could see what was actually going on. Shoup's vision was limited due to the fact that he was pinned down most of the time. General Smith was too far out from the beach to see the fighting, but as regards communications facilities, he was in the right
place to control his division, his prime responsibility. Fortunately, the general could rely on another man to act as his eyes. Lt. Comdr. Robert A. MacPherson, Admiral Hill's Kingfisher pilot, spent most of the day flying back and forth over the smoldering little island, sometimes accompanied by a representative from the division staff. MacPherson radioed back to the Maryland what he saw on the ground and made appropriate recommendations. Lieutenant (jg) Whaley, in the other plane from the Maryland, was accompanied by Lt. Col. A.F. Johnston in a flight at 1447, during which the progress of the attack was observed.
From the plane, Colonel Johnston watched for signs of the enemy on Betio, as Whaley flew at tree-top height, but although detail could be observed easily (Johnston could read the license numbers on two Japanese civilian cars), no enemy troops were to be seen except for a few moving laterally behind the sea wall at the west end of BLACK Beach. It was evident that the Japanese, on the whole, were taking full advantage of cover and concealment.
Later Lt. Col. Jesse Cook, from the division staff, went up with Ensign G.K. French to have a look at the situation.
Besides the landing teams, there was one other unit that landed early in the morning of D-day; in fact, this unit landed prior to the landing teams. In the Headquarters and Service Company of CT 2, there was a small and select group of specially trained riflemen called the Scout-Sniper Platoon, commanded by Lt. William D. Hawkins. In the landing plan for his combat team, Colonel Shoup proposed to use the Scout-Sniper Platoon to clear out machine guns and enemy riflemen on the long pier. Unless this were done, the two landing teams assigned to assault the beaches on either side of the pier would run the chance of being hit in their interior flanks as they moved toward the beach.
Fifteen minutes before any troops reached the shore on Betio, Hawkins and his platoon arrived at the end of the pier and began their hazardous work. With Hawkins' group was Lt. A.G. Leslie with a squad of engineers. Under the covering fire of the scout-snipers, Leslie brought his flamethrower into action against the first of the Japanese positions on the pier. While burning out the Japanese, Leslie set the pier afire. It burned for several hours, resulting in a breach for a distance of 30 to 50 feet being burned completely to the water line. This damage later complicated the using of the pier as a transfer point for unloading supplies en route from ship to shore.
Not only did the scout-snipers under Hawkins clean up the pier but they then reported to Colonel Shoup ashore and were used many times during the next three days to knock out pillboxes, blockhouses, and bunkers.
At about 1530, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston reported back to the division command post aboard the Maryland after an aerial flight over Betio during which he had an opportunity to observe the ground action. The picture ashore was as follows:
Along Beach RED 1 it looked as though Marines were inland about 150 yards but not moving. On Beach RED 2 there were few Marines visible except on the left (east side), where they were packed closely against the first line of enemy revetments and in the shelter of the west side of the pier. On Beach RED 3 the troops seemed packed along the water line. The eastern end of the island seemed desolate; there was no sign of life there. It appeared that about 15 amphibian tractors were abandoned on the beach and the reef; also on the reef were a few landing boats, apparently not in running condition. There was little activity between the line of departure and the beach. Four tanks could be seen near RED 1, but none were moving. So appeared the action on Betio when observed from the air midafternoon on D-day.
Colonel Shoup, at his command post on RED 2, was in communication with Crowe (2d Battalion, 8th Marines), with Jordan (2d Battalion, 2d Marines), Kyle (1st Battalion, 2d Marines), Ruud (3d Battalion, 8th Marines), but the trouble was that Schoettel was not ashore with his troops and Shoup had no means of knowing how that part of the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines which had landed on RED 1 was getting along. Schoettel could not get his fourth wave ashore on RED 1 and at 1458 had radioed to Shoup:
"CP located on back of RED Beach 1. Situation as before. Have lost contact with assault elements."
The answer to this came not from Shoup, but from General Smith:
"Direct you land at any cost, regain control your battalion and continue the attack."
Earlier Colonel Shoup had called division requesting information on the situation on RED 1 and suggested that a reconnaissance plane be sent over that
end of the island. Ensign French and Lieutenant Colonel Cook left immediately in one of the observation planes from the USS Maryland.
Situation on Beach RED 1Although isolated from the other Marines on Betio, those on Beach RED 1 were better off than was suspected. The two assault companies of the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, were separated for a while after landing on RED 1. Enemy fire from the strong point over on the little point of beach on the boundary line between RED 1 and RED 2 had caused heavy casualties in the leading waves and had forced the tractors to scatter. In addition, fire was coming from one or two guns on GREEN Beach; this fire swept across the western end of RED 1. The Japanese held their fire well while the first waves were approaching, opening up when the LVT's were in very close. Some of the tractors were hit before they got all the way up to the beach barricade just in from the water's edge; others unloaded their troops and backed away to return to the reef before they were hit. Still others, miraculously, were able to get back out to the reef without being hit, but these were few. Command of the scattered elements ashore on RED 1 fell to Maj. Michael P. Ryan. He organized, as best he could, the remnants of K and I Companies and went about the business of clearing out a foothold on the western part of RED 1. Assisting Maj. "Mike" Ryan were Captain O'Brien and Capt. James W Crain of K Company, and First Lt. Samuel C. Turner of I Company.
For a while K Company was in communication with Major Schoettel who was in a boat out at the reef. Schoettel was behind his fourth wave and was on his way to the beach when he observed the boats carrying the medium tanks, which were to land on RED 1, turning out to sea as though to leave the area. He immediately went to this group and ordered the tanks to go on in to the beach. Out of the six medium tanks that started for the beach, only two got ashore. The tanks had to leave their LCM's at the reef and cross the intervening distance of some 1,200 yards under their own power.
Guiding the tanks were tank reconnaissance men carrying flags to mark potholes in the coral. As one of these men was shot by Japanese on the island, another would take his place. Upon reaching the beach, the tanks found the area from the water's edge to the base of the log barricade littered with wounded and dead Marines. Accurate enemy fire had the men down behind the barricade; any attempt to crawl over the barricade resulted in a heavy burst of enemy fire on that particular area. The tank men were faced with making the decision of running their heavy tanks over the bodies of the dead and wounded to reach a gap blown in the barricade by the engineers, or going around through the water to reach that gap. They decided on the latter. In moving through the water around the dead and wounded, four tanks were lost in potholes. Only two tanks got up on the island proper.
These two tanks, with the Marines under Major Ryan, began to work over the pockets of resistance on the western half of RED 1 and a part of the northern end of GREEN Beach. After his trip over to the tank boats, Schoettel returned to the reef and started to go in, but his group came under fire as soon as the boat grounded on the reef.
A part of L Company and a platoon from M Company followed the assault waves in and landed on the right, or west, part of RED 1, being driven to the right on the way in by the fire from the Japanese pillboxes on the boundary of Beaches RED 1 and 2. Major Ryan, in command of all the troops on RED 1, had a mixed group. The heavy and disastrous fire from the above-mentioned strong point split the assault waves of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, and later those of the 1st Battalion. By midafternoon Ryan had what was left of K and I Companies, part of L Company, and a platoon of M Company, all from his own battalion, i.e., 3d Battalion, 2d Marines. In addition there were the following units from the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines: 1st Platoon, E Company; 1st Platoon, G Company; 2d and 3d Platoons, H Company; Battalion Executive Officer and his command group; part of Headquarters Group.
Besides these troops, there was about 100 men and 3 officers from 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, who were driven off their course on the way into the beach and landed on RED 1.
The battalion executive officer of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, Maj. Howard Rice, was forced by intense Japanese fire to drift to the right as he and his group attempted to land on RED 2 13 minutes after H-hour. Lieutenant Colonel Amey, the commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, had divided his command post personnel into two tactical groups,
one under himself and the other under Major Rice. Both of these groups were fairly complete and each had its own radio. Upon landing on RED 1, Major Rice joined Major Ryan and it was through Rice's radio that Ryan was able to contact Colonel Shoup and advise him of the situation on Beach RED 1.
The mixed group under Ryan worked through the afternoon of D-day to expand the perimeter on the western end of the island. With the medium tanks to lend their fire power, the Marines drove to the south and by later afternoon had cleared an area 500 yards deep and about 150 yards wide.
The farthest point reached during the drive was the antitank ditch, about 300 yards from the south shore. By this time enemy fire from the south and east had become intense. Ryan had no flamethrowers or demolitions. His men could overrun the pillboxes (and did) but had no means with which to destroy the enemy therein. After the ground was overrun, Japanese popped back up to harass troops from their rear and to prey on stretcher bearers who were carrying the numerous casualties to the northwest point of Betio to be evacuated by tractor.
During the afternoon's drive the two tanks had been invaluable. As a matter of fact, they constituted the only supporting weapons Ryan had. Beyond the tanks, his men had only their individual weapons.
Late in the day, Ryan decided to pull his line back in to enclose a smaller area which he believed he had a better chance to hold through the night.
At 1800 Ryan received a message from Colonel Shoup's command post asking him to report his situation. Ryan called back and reported that the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, and other troops were holding a defensive perimeter along some Japanese tenches about 300 yards in from the northwest tip of Betio.
Almost 600 yards of enemy-held ground lay between the Marines on the west end of the island and the nearest troops on Beach RED 2.
When the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, was ordered ashore, Gen. Julian C. Smith had one landing team left as his reserve out of the six landing teams under his command for the operation. Early in the afternoon, it appeared that it might be necessary to send in the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, the last of the landing teams, to help those already committed. If this were done, General Smith would be left with no reserve except those troops in what was called the support group. This group consisted of the following:
- 10th Marines, less detachments: H&S Battery, less detachments, 4th Battalion.
- 18th Marines, less detachments: Detachment H&S Company, H Company, I Company.
- Special Troops, less detachments: Division Headquarters, less detachments; Signal Company, less detachments; Military Police Company, less detachments; H&S 2d Tank Battalion, less detachments; D Company (Scout), 2d Tank Battalion; Detachment 3d Band Section; One Argus Air Warning Unit.
- Service Troops, less detachments: Detachment H&S Co., 2d Medical Battalion; E Company, 2d Medical Battalion; A Company, 2d Motor Transport Battalion; A Company, 2d Motor Transport Battalion; Detachments, Service and Supply Company, 2d Service Battalion; Detachments, Ordnance Company, 2d Service Battalion.
It may be seen, then, that General Smith would have an assortment of artillerymen, engineers, and other specialists, as his last reserve element. If a crisis arose where the difference between victory and failure might depend upon the troops of the support group, the general would have no choice except to commit them. In the meantime, there was another combat team from the 2d Marine Division still aboard its ships in the transport area off Betio. This was the 6th Marines, the reserve element for V Amphibious Corps, and it was to be committed only on corps order.
At 1331, General Smith radioed Maj. Gen. Holland M. Smith, V Amphibious Corp Commander, at Makin, requesting that CT6 be released to the control of the 2d Marine Division.
Then he turned to plan for organizing his support group into provisional battalions. Unless his radio request, concurred in by Admiral Hill, was approved and the 6th Marines released to him, General Smith planned on leading his last reserves into the battle. In his mind, the critical period of the battle was fast approaching, with success or failure hanging in the balance.
Within an hour, a message was received from Maj. Gen. Holland M. Smith granting the request. Col. Maurice G. Holmes, commanding officer of the 6th Marines, was notified of the change in status of his regimental combat team.
Now General Smith could send the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, ashore without worrying about a lack of reserve strength. Col. Elmer E. Hall, commanding officer of CT8, began to boat his headquarters
Leaving Cover offered by the log beach barricade Marines advance across the fire-swept open ground.
personnel and his remaining landing team, the 1st Battalion, commanded by Maj. Lawrence C. Hays, Jr., long before noon. At 1343 Hall's group and the 1st Battalion were ordered to the line of departure to await further orders. An hour later this message was sent from division to Colonel Shoup:
Do you consider a night landing by LT 1/8 suitable and practicable on Beach GREEN? If not, can reinforcements land on Beaches RED 2 and 3 after dark?
Apparently, this message never reached Colonel Shoup. There is no record that it was answered. This was due, probably, to the frequent break-downs in communication. Many of the radios ashore had received rough treatment during the landing. Some of the sets were wet and had to be dried out thoroughly before they would work; some remained inoperative during the remainder of the operation. Other radios fell victim to shrapnel fragments or rifle bullets. By cannibalizing one set, sometimes another could be made to work. At best, the radios were not altogether dependable. The SCR 300's and 610's, so common in later operations were not available to the 2d Marine Division in time for Tarawa. The division was using the TBX and the TBY; the latter was cursed by radio operators and battalion commanders alike.
The boats of Col. Elmer D. Hall, commander of the 8th Marines, and those of the 1st Battalion, idled at the line of departure during the early afternoon. Finally, at 1625, General Smith sent a message to Colonel Hall directing him to land his remaining elements (i.e., the regiment, less its 2d and 3d Battalions), on the north shore of the extreme eastern end of Betio. The landing beach designated was about 2,500 feet wide at a place where the island narrowed to a distance of from 200 to 500 feet across. The time of the landing was set at 1745. Upon reaching the shore, the scheme of maneuver called for Hall to attack to the northwest. The message never reached Colonel Hall. The message was acknowledged on the Monrovia but Hall was not on the ship; he was in a boat at the line of departure, waiting near the Pursuit for orders to land. These he believed would come to him via the Pursuit. His radio did not pick up division's message.
At 1548 the USS Maryland catapulted its No. 1 observation plane, piloted by Lt. Col. Jesse S. Cook, division supply officer; the mission of the flight was to observe the progress of the assault. Col. Merritt A. Edson, chief of staff of the division, and Lt. Col. A.F. Johnston, the plans and operations officer, contacted the observation plane and requested that French and Cook watch the line of departure and report any movement of boats from that area. It was believed that Hall had received the message from division ordering him to land on the eastern end of the island; division wanted to be kept abreast of the progress of Hall's movements ot the beach. It so happened that at this precise moment, a battery of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, left the line of departure and headed toward Beach RED 2, the beach where the artillerymen were ordered to land. The report came into the division command post on the Maryland from the air observers that the wave was not going toward the east end of the island, but was moving in toward RED 2. Considerable consternation resulted at the command post but nothing could be done about it. Lieutenant Colonel Johnston accordingly plotted the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, on his situation map as being on Beach RED 2. It wasn't until midnight that division learned that Hall and his troops were still at the line of departure awaiting orders.
Tanks on D-DayCompany C, Corps Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Amphibious Corps, arrived at Betio in the USS Ashland (LSD-1). (This company was attached to the 2d Tank Battalion and after Tarawa became an organic part of it. Hereafter in the monograph it will be referred to as being a part of the 2d Tank Battalion, since it was operationally.) The tanks had been loaded at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 3 November. The company joined the 2d Division at Efate. The medium tanks of Company C ran into considerable trouble during D-day. Over on RED Beach 1, the 1st Platoon finally got two tanks on the beach at about 1130. These two tanks, supported by infantry, started an advance to the south which got as far as the antitank ditch about 300 yards from the south side of the western end of the island. During the advance one of the tanks was hit by antiboat gunfire, disabling the turret traverse mechanism. While the tank moved in to destroy the gun, it was hit again, this time on the tube of its 75-mm. gun, and was forced to retire. The enemy fire that immobilized the 75-mm. gun on the tank came from a Japanese tank which was promptly put out of action by the other medium tank. Shortly after, the one tank remaining
in action was hit by enemy fire and burned. The disabled tank was used for flank protection on RED 1 for the night; its bow machine gun was still working.
The 2d Platoon landed on Beach RED 3 and found a break in the seawall where the tanks could get up off the beach and move inland. The platoon, with three tanks, moved over to Beach RED 2 to a previously designated assembly area. At 1130 Colonel Shoup directed the tanks to move to the right flank of the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines. As they moved to the west, the tanks were waved back by infantry. Finally, the platoon gave its support to a part of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, and helped the advance over to the west runway of the airfield. While working on pillboxes and shelling enemy positions, one tank dropped into a shell hole and could not be retrieved until next morning. Another tank was put out of action by what was believed to be a magnetic mine.
The 3d Platoon of Company C, 2d Tank Battalion, landed on RED 3 without losing a tank. Upon reaching the beach, the platoon commander reported to Major Crowe of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, and was ordered to attack to the south and knock out all enemy positions encountered. During the first hour's operation, one of the tanks was lost when hit by a friendly dive bomber. Shortly afterwards two more tanks were hit, this time by enemy gunfire. One of these tanks dropped into an excavation holding an enemy fuel dump. The dump was set on fire by the dive bombers and the tank was burned. The other tank hit by enemy fire caught on fire and had to be abandoned. Another tank caught on fire and returned to the beach where the fire was extinguished; this tank remained in action throughout the operation. At the end of the day only one of the four tanks of the platoon remained operative.
With Colonel Shoup all during D-day was Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, detailed for the Tarawa operation as an observer. Carlson came ashore in the morning in Shoup's LVT and accompanied Shoup to RED 2 where the command post of the 2d Marines was installed. At 1230 Colonel Shoup asked Carlson to make a trip out to the Maryland to see General Smith and present to the general and staff a verbal picture of the situation on Betio. Shoup considered this liaison mission necessary to supplement the regular means of communication. Shoup asked Carlson to tell General Smith that he (Shoup) intended to stick and fight it out regardless of how tough the situation became, and that RED 2 was the beach to use to send reserves ashore. Shoup said that his plan was to expand the beachhead to the south and to link up all the landing teams on all of the beaches. Carlson requested permission to use an amphibian tractor to bring in some of the elements of Ruud's battalion from where they were clinging to the pier. Shoup agreed to this and Carlson left immediately. After carrying in several loads of troops from the end and sides of the long pier, Carlson left his tractor at the reef and took a boat out to the Pursuit; there he transferred to a boat going to the Zeilin and finally caught another boat which took him over to the Maryland. Upon his arrival at the command ship, Carlson then presented his information to General Smith and Colonel Edson.
Hermle's MissionEarly in the afternoon the Assistant Division Commander, Brig. Gen. Leo D. Hermle, was ordered by General Smith to assemble boats and prepare to land his group on order. General Hermle was embarked aboard the USS Monrovia, where he maintained a command post with his own staff. At 1343 General Hermle received the orders which stated that he was to proceed to the end of the pier, form an estimate of the present situation, and report his findings to division. He was instructed that Maj. Rathvon McC. Tompkins was en route to the pier and that he was to contact Tompkins. On the way to the pier, General Hermle radioed to Colonel Shoup, requesting the location of Shoup's command post, but received no answer. At 1740 division received a message from Hermle saying that he had arrived at the end of the pier and was under fire. He had picked up Tompkins on the way. Seventeen minutes later, General Hermle attempted to get a message through to division, but because of communication difficulties was unable to do so. He and his staff were still under fire at the end of the pier, and were with elements of the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines. Being unable to apprise division of his situation, Hermle sent his information by messenger out to one of the ships so that it could be radioed on to division.
Upon reaching the end of the pier, General Hermle contacted Maj. Stanley E. Larsen, executive officer, 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, who was pinned down under the end of the pier with remnants of his headquarters company and two other companies of the battalion. Larsen stated that Major Ruud had
gone forward with Colonel Shoup and the rest of the battalion and that he had been out of communication with Ruud for several hours.
Through intermittent radio communication with Shoup and Crowe, General Hermle learned that their immediate need was ammunition and water. Many casualties were under the pier and in the water. With General Hermle was the assistant division surgeon Capt. French Moore (MC), USN.
Under Moore's direction casualties were collected, given first aid, and then evacuated in boats as supplies were unloaded on the pier. Captain Moore later returned to a transport with a boat load of seriously wounded Marines.
Hermle directed Larsen to form carrying parties from his troops and, as they moved along the pier toward the beach, they were to carry ammunition and water. Throughout the night, supplies arriving at the end of the pier were sent forward along the pier as far as the boats could go and then unloaded by the carrying parties and manhandled to the beach. The Marines in the carrying parties had to wade along the pier through a fire-swept area about 50 yards wide as they approached the beach.
Radio contact with Shoup and Crowe, intermittent thus far, failed completely at about 1930, so General Hermle sent Major Tompkins and Capt. Thomas C. Dutton to find Shoup's command post. They were to find out from Shoup which beaches he thought were best for landing reserve units, and when he wanted the reserves landed.
The distance from the end of the pier to Shoup's position was slightly more than 600 yards, but because the pier and adjacent areas were under Japanese machine-gun and antiboat-gun fire, the trip involved was, of necessity, slow and laborious. Tompkins and Dutton accomplished their mission, but did not return until 0345. Hermle now had his information, but had no means of communicating it to division. Consequently, he and his party moved out in the lagoon to the USS Ringgold and went aboard to use the ship's communication facilities. At 0445 Hermle sent a message to division recommending that the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, land on Beach RED 2 close to the pier; the message never reached division. He also informed division that he was on the Ringgold awaiting further instructions. At 0510 General Hermle radioed Colonel Shoup and told him of his recommendation to division. A few minutes later he received a message from General Smith which instructed him to remain on the Ringgold and to come aboard the USS Maryland when the Ringgold came alongside.
What General Hermle did not know was that at 1750 General Smith had sent a message to him instructing him to take command of the troops ashore and to report when a command post had been established on the island. This message, because of communication difficulties, never reached Hermle. The command ashore was to remain the responsibility of Colonel Shoup for another day.
When General Hermle left the Monrovia, he left behind the ADC-4 group under Lt. Col. Cliff Atkinson, Jr., whose mission it was to coordinate the ship-to-shore movement of supplies under Capt H.B. Knowles, USN, the transport group commander.
When, following the dispatch from General Smith directing General Hermle to land on Betio and assume command, subsequent dispatches from forces ashore still continued to bear Colonel Shoup's signature, concern was felt on the Monrovia for the safety of General Hermle and his staff.
Shoup's dispatches repeated earlier requests for ammunition, water, plasma, etc., and since such material was being sent continuously from the transports with no report of its receipt on the beach, Captain Knowles directed Maj. Ben. K. Weatherwax, Assistant D-4, to proceed to the beach, locate General Hermle or Colonel Shoup, and determine the status of supplies ashore.
At 2100, Weatherwax left the Monrovia and went to the Pursuit where he obtained directions for landing. From the control ship, he then went on in to the pier, landing along its side on the beach side of the gap burned by Lieutenant Leslie early in the day. Weatherwax did not know that General Hermle was at the end of the pier, the part that was separated by the burned-out section from the rest of the main pier. Upon reaching the side of the pier, Weatherwax worked his way to Colonel Shoup's command post and obtained the required information about supplies, desired by Captain Knowles. He made two attempts to get this information through to the Monrovia by radio, but had no success. He then made his way back out on the pier to the landing boat and arrived on the Monrovia shortly before dawn. Weatherwax's reconnaissance was duplicated by Tompkins and Dutton who went ashore from Hermle's boat, as mentioned before.
Landing the ArtilleryIt had been planned to land artillery in support of the 2d Marines as soon as a sufficient beachhead had been established by the assault units. The artillery annex to the operation order of the 2d Marines called for the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, to land on Beach RED 1, since this area seemed the only feasible position area from which the artillery could give full support. In command of the battalion, which was a 75-mm. pack howitzer unit, was Lt. Col. P.M. Rixey. As a member of Colonel Shoup's command post group, Colonel Rixey had landed before noon. In the meantime, the batteries of his battalion assembled at the line of departure where they waited for further orders. During the afternoon, it became apparent to
With Fixed Bayonets Marines pause in the cover of the beach barricade before moving out into the open. Wrecked amphibian tractors lie in the water to the left.
both Shoup and Rixey that it would be impracticable to land the artillery on RED 1, and it was finally decided later in the afternoon to bring it ashore on RED 2. Since boats could not cross the reef, it was necessary to procure LVT's. Two gun sections, one from A Battery and one from B Battery, were transferred and ordered in at dusk. Through a misunderstanding that three sections of C Battery were in LVT's, they were also ordered to land. Actually, the C Battery sections were still in boats, but they went to the end of the pier anyway, and the men carried the pieces of their guns along the pier through waist-deep water in to the beach. The A and B sections landed in LVT's on RED 2. At the close of D-day, then, there were five sections of artillery ashore and they were ready to go into position at dawn.
Due to the fact that all the approaches to Betio were under enemy fire, the logistical problem was a difficult one all through D-day. Since small boats could reach the end of the pier, supplies were landed there and some ammunition and water reached the shore through manhandling. A few of the LVT's were still in operation during the afternoon and some supplies were sent directly to the beach in them.
The transports unloaded as quickly as possible all through the day. As a result, the area around the Pursuit was filled with loaded boats unable to reach the beach where their cargo could be discharged. There were too few LVT's still operative, to relieve this congested situation.
Evening D-DayAs darkness fell on Betio, the situation of the Marines of the 2d Marine Division ashore was precarious. On the left of the beachhead (looking south) was the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, whose left flank was anchored on the beach just short of the Burns-Philp pier. A part of the battalion landing team was in the eastern portion of the triangular area enclosed by the air strip and its taxiways. Helping to hold th line with the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, was that part of the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines which had reached the shore during the afternoon. Next on the beachhead line, and on the right of Crowe's battalion, were the troops of the 1st and 2d Battalion, 2d Marines. There was no continuous line; the defensive perimeter was held by small groups of men who occupied shell holes and covered positions in the western part of the before-mentioned triangular area. The positions continued in a northerly direction from the west taxiway over to about the center of RED 2. The ground west of these positions remained in Japanese hands, except for the foothold on the northwestern tip where Maj. "Mike" Ryan and the mixed troops under his command were dug in for the night. Most of the work done during the afternoon had been directed toward expanding the initial positions of the assault troops and in attempting to join contact in order to form a defensive perimeter by sundown. Most of the Marines prepared for the night with the feeling that a Japanese counterattack was inevitable. Even out on the control vessels and on the ships in the transport area, there was a restless feeling that any moment during the night, reports would come in saying that the Japanese were attempting to force the Marines back into the sea. Despite the universal apprehension, there was no counterattack. The first night ashore on Betio saw remarkable fire discipline. There was no promiscuous shooting. What little firing was done happened only when a wandering Japanese stumbled near the fox holes of the Marines. Out on the Maryland the staff of the division listened for reports of rifle fire announcing an enemy counterattack. They were relieved when the night passed quietly.
According to Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith, Japanese General Shibasaki made his greatest mistake by not counterattacking the slim Marine beachhead during this night. Never again was it so vulnerable. Shibasaki's failure to counterattack may be traced, probably, to a break-down in control. Naval gunfire had disrupted his communications so that he was never able to control his units after early morning of D-day. He was killed on the second day of fighting on Betio.
Colonel Shoup's Japanese language officer, Capt. Eugene P. Boardman noted that: "Strangely enough, the naval troops on Tarawa used no field message blanks. In previous operations, as on Guadalcanal, field message blanks constituted a prominent part of the 'take' of captured Japanese documents. This total absence of message blanks surprised us. It showed, I believe, the complete doctrinal reliance of the defenders of Betio upon wire communication and indicated a lack of training in using runners. The effectiveness of the preliminary naval bombardment in breaking up the Japanese wire communication system was possibly all the more fateful on this account."
Map 2: Situation 1800 D-Day
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)
1. At least 3 to 1.