Chapter 16

To the Central Pacific and Tarawa

August 1943--Background to GALVANIC

During the twelve months since WATCHTOWER, not only had the amphibious forces of the Pacific Fleet grown tremendously, but the whole concept of future naval operations in the Pacific Ocean Areas had grown tremendously. The primary chore of the amphibians was to storm and occupy enemy-held islands. But the amphibians were but an important part of a whole Fleet which, while ready, able and willing to fight battles on or under the sea, in the air, or on land, was in effect an offensively minded logistical octopus bent on garrotting with its many tentacles the Japanese logistic base.

The primary mission of the Central Pacific campaign was to cut the Japanese lines of logistical movement to and from the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia where Japan had to obtain her essential raw materials. This mission was greatly facilitated by molding a fast moving logistical base out of the old Fleet Train. This fast moving logistical base not only could repair and restore ships, planes and men to fighting condition while on a dead run but could create new operating bases and logistical support bases when and where they were needed in the far reaches of the Pacific.

As has been related, on 15 July 1943, Rear Admiral Turner was relieved of command of PHIBFORSOPAC by Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson. Wilkinson had been in SOPAC for some months, first as Deputy to Vice Admiral Halsey and then for a month in PHIBFORSOPAC learning in detail the Amphibious Doctrine and operational procedures, and participating in the TOENAILS Operation. Rear Admiral Turner proceeded to Pearl Harbor, via Guadalcanal and Noumea, and reported to CINCPAC. After several days of debriefing CINCPAC sent him on to the West Coast on temporary duty orders to confer with Commander Rear Echelon, Amphibious Force. The Rear Echelon was soon to be the Training Command of the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet.

Kelly Turner then spent a welcome three weeks of leave with his wife in


Carmel, California, during which, on 8 August 1943, he was ordered to duty as Commander Amphibious Forces, Central Pacific. On 25 August 1943, he was back in the Hawaiian Islands and reported in Pearl Harbor to Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Commander Central Pacific Forces, for this duty and also as Commander Fifth Amphibious Force.

The changes in the organization of the Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet, came about as a result of a COMINCH despatch, reading about as follows:

Effective 15 August Amphibious Forces reorganized as follows (a) Organize Fifth Amphibious Force (FIFTHPHIBFOR) Rear Admiral Turner (b) Change Amphibious Force South Pacific to Third Amphibious Force (THIRDPHIB) Rear Admiral Wilkinson (c) Change Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet to Ninth Amphibious Force (NINTHPHIB) Rear Admiral Rockwell (d) Change Amphibious Force Southwest Pacific to Seventh Amphibious Force (SEVENTHPHIB) Rear Admiral Barbey (e) Change Rear Echelon of Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet to Amphibious Training Command Pacific Fleet (PHIBTRAINPAC) Rear Admiral Davis. Commander FIFTHPHIBFORCE is Type Commander for all Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet.

August 1943
DTG: 111902

Like any naval officer who takes on a fighting war in the tropics at age 57 and takes it to heart, Kelly Turner was tired when he left the Solomons. He had gotten out of a sick bed on a hospital ship to sail on the TOENAILS Operation; he had been relieved of his command in TOENAILS before he had tidied up the operation and was ready to go; and Savo Island still stuck in his craw like a rotten egg.

The Hepburn Report on the Savo Island disaster was just reaching COMINCH in mid-July 1943. Rear Admiral Turner had not had the benefit of reading CINCPAC's endorsement on the Report when he left the South Pacific, since the endorsement was not signed until 28 June 1943, and no copies of the endorsement were made for interested lower echelons. So it would have been quite natural for Rear Admiral Turner to be concerned as to his future, although he had been buoyed up temporarily when Vice Admiral Spruance told him that he had requested his services in the Central Pacific from Vice Admiral Halsey and that Vice Admiral Halsey and Admiral Nimitz had concurred. Admiral Spruance told the writer:

In October 1942, Bill Halsey who, after a bout with the medicos, was under orders to take over his old Task Force and I flew south from Pearl to Noumea. On the way down, we asked CINCPAC for permission to stop over


at Guadalcanal. CINCPAC turned us down, as being too hazardous. We didn't understand that message then.

As soon as we landed at Noumea, a whale boat came alongside our plane to take us off and the Boat Officer handed Bill a message. The message directed Bill to take over as COMSOPAC. Bill swore a bit, but he was delighted.

When I was in Noumea again later on, I had been told by Nimitz that I was soon to have command of the Central Pacific Force. I immediately wanted to get Kelly Turner from Bill Halsey to head up the amphibious forces in my command, so told Bill, 'I want to steal Kelly from you.' I was much surprised when he answered back real quickly 'all right.'1

Although Kelly Turner wouldn't see his fitness reports covering his service in the South Pacific until the Pacific War was over, Vice Admiral Ghormley had written:

A brilliant officer with fine character. Is somewhat intolerant in dealing with others. Very thorough in planning.

Vice Admiral Halsey wrote:

Handling of the Amphibious Force from the start of the Guadalcanal campaign to date has been superb. Largely through his efforts, the landing of troops and supplies has been continuous and very successful despite enemy opposition. His coolness and courage under fire has been inspiring.

Things were a bit brighter than they seemed.

The Big Chance

When Fleet Admiral Nimitz was asked in 1961, how he happened to pick Kelly Turner for the big command of the Fifth Amphibious Force being formed up for the Central Pacific campaign, he replied:

He was the senior man and a natural for the job. Spruance wanted him, and Halsey was willing to let him go to take on the bigger job.2

When the same question was put to Admiral Spruance, he explained his choice in the following words:

I returned for the second time to the Staff of the Naval War College in April 1935. RKT came to the Naval War College for the course about June 1935, finished the course in 1936, and remained on the staff until I left. I got to know RKT very well during this period. Our ideas on professional


matters were thoroughly worked out together, and we usually thought alike. I was greatly impressed with RKT's brilliant mind, his great capacity for hard work and his fine military and personal character.3

At the same time that Rear Admiral Turner was requested to head the Fifth Amphibious Force, Vice Admiral Spruance presumably asked Admiral Nimitz for the services of Major General Holland M. Smith, USMC. According to a Spruance biographer:

He knew both of these officers to be extremely able fighters. He recognized that each was a strong personality, stubborn in support of his own views, and foresaw that there would be conflicts of views between the two, but believed, correctly, that he could diplomatically reconcile any differences of opinion between them.4

And when Rear Admiral Turner passed through Pearl Harbor on the way back from the New Georgia landings, he submitted a written memorandum to CINCPAC in which he recommended that CINCPAC:

Appoint a corps commander of troops in 'COMAMPHIBFORCENPAC' as soon as possible and base him initially in or near Pearl. Major General Holland M. Smith, USMC, recommended for this latter duty.5

When handing over a personal Turner file labeled "Smith versus Smith" to this writer, in 1960, Admiral Turner said:

I recommended Holland Smith for his job. He was the best man I knew for it. He was a marvelous offensively minded and capable fighting man. It was no mistake, and I would do it all over again. I am very much his friend, despite what he wrote about the Navy.6

Additional support for the point of view that Rear Admiral Turner played a part in the detail of Major General Holland Smith to command the Amphibious Corps, Fifth Fleet, is found in an extract from a personal letter which General Holcomb, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, quoted to me. This extract was from a letter General Holcomb wrote to Lieutenant General A. A. Vandegrift, who in due time would relieve him:

I am practically certain that Holland will get the big job with Kelly. I am sure Nimitz wants him to have it. I believe that King does, and I know the Secretary does. In fact it is all set up that way. Holland has been doing a swell job training those Aleutian soldiers, and it is pretty well recognized.7


The inference from this letter is that all that was needed to ensure the detail was the proper recommendation from the prospective immediate senior and prospective co-worker, Spruance and Turner respectively. This had been supplied in writing by Rear Admiral Turner on 24 July 1943, and presumably was supplied by Vice Admiral Spruance shortly thereafter.

Rear Admiral Turner had been much taken by Major General Smith' s concentration on "first things first." One evidence of this was Major General Smith's publication on 8 July 1942 to his command of the following letter written from Spain in 1810 by the Duke of Wellington to the Secretary of State for War in England:

My Lord:

If I attempted to answer the mass of futile correspondence that surrounds me, I should be debarred from all serious business of campaigning.

I must remind your Lordship--for the last time--that so long as I retain an independent position, I shall see that no officer under my Command is debarred, by attending to the futile drivelling of mere quill driving in your Lordship's office--from attending to his first duty--which is, and always has been, so to train the private men under his command that they may, without question, beat any force opposed to them in the field.

I am
Your obedient Servant

Kelly Turner put a copy of this letter in his personal file.

In any case, Major General Smith arrived in Pearl Harbor on 5 September 1943 and became Commanding General Fifth Amphibious Corps. Five years later he sized up his co-worker for the Central Pacific amphibious campaign as follows:

. . . He commanded the Fifth Amphibious Force, while I commanded the expeditionary troops which went along with the Navy and our partnership, though stormy, spelled hell in big red letters to the Japanese. . . . Kelly Turner is aggressive, a mass of energy and a relentless task master. The punctilious exterior hides a terrific determination. He can be plain ornery. He wasn't called 'Terrible Turner' without reason.8

On 28 October 1943, Major General Smith wrote to the Commandant of the Marine Corps in regard to his not being designated as the Commander Expeditionary Troops for GALVANIC in an early draft of the Operational Order issued by CINCPAC. He informed his Commandant:

Believe it or not, K.T. protested the set up which took me out of the picture.9


The New Staff

The most important and immediate chore for Rear Admiral Turner after his return to Pearl Harbor in late August 1943, was assembling an adequate staff for the newly created Fifth Amphibious Force. He had trouble doing this. In the expanding Navy, first rate people with amphibious background and staff experience were as scarce as glassy seas in the Bay of Biscay.

He had decided not to request to take with him his Chief of Staff, Captain Anton B. Anderson. I asked him "why" and he said:

Andy had not been promoted to Flag rank, while a dozen or more of his classmates had been, and he felt that he hadn't had a proper preparatory command to justify his selection by the Board. During CLEANSLATE and TOENAILS, he had stayed behind working on logistical problems much of the time and hadn't seen too much of the landing phase of our amphibious operations. I wanted a Chief of Staff who was thoroughly familiar with operations, and he wanted a command.10

Fifth Amphibious Force Emblem


Rear Admiral Turner decided in August that he would like to have Captain Paul S. Theiss (1912) as his new Chief of Staff. Captain Theiss had fought through the WATCHTOWER Operation as a Commanding Officer of a transport or a division commander of transports. He was still in the Middle Solomons fighting as Commander Transport Division Two, when in July 1943 Rear Admiral Turner left the Third Fleet. Theiss han turned in a first-rate performance.

However, by early August, Captain Anton B. Anderson, formerly Chief of Staff to COMPHIBFOR Third Fleet had been given command of Transport Division Two, and Captain Theiss was acting as Chief of Staff to Rear Admiral Wilkinson. So when COMPHIBFOR, Pacific Fleet asked Commander Third Fleet for the services of Captain Theiss, he was informed that they were not available. Admiral Nimitz applied the leverage which sprung Captain Theiss from the South Pacific.

This detachment of Captain Theiss very rightfully irked Rear Admiral Wilkinson, who on 22 October 1943, in the final days of preparation for the amphibious landing at Blanche Harbor, in the Treasury Islands, wrote to Rear Admiral Turner:

I am still without a C/S since you robbed me of Theiss. Anderson I had already let go to a Transport Division command, following your recommendation.11

This letter brought forth the following explanatory reply:

When I left the south it was with the understanding that I would fall heir to Rockwell's [Commander Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet] staff, but that turned out not to be the case. Therefore, it seemed to me absolutely essential that I have one or two other people here who were familiar with amphibious operations, as all the rest of the staff are entirely green on it. When Admiral Halsey came back to my request for these officers, stating they could not be spared, I prepared an alternative request with the idea of getting some other people from down there, possibly from the transports, who could be of assistance. However entirely on his own initiative, Admiral Nimitz directed that Theiss, Horne and Neal be sent up here.

This thing [Tarawa] would have been pretty close to impossible if I had had no experienced help. The machinery here is so ponderous, that we have to clear practically everything with several officers before we can go ahead. Even with the very able assistance provided by the officers from the South Pacific, I am not entirely happy about the staff work.12


Paul Theiss and Kelly Turner were old friends, shipmates, and mutual admirers. Returning from the Army-Navy football game, the Theiss' s had stopped overnight with the Turners the weekend before Pearl Harbor.

Paul Theiss was the exception which proves the rule that Kelly Turner could not get along with officers who were slow on the uptake. Commodore Theiss was a glutton for work, and his batting average on details was 99.9 percent. He was cheerful and confident, and when the Boss Man was riding the roller coaster over stormy waves, Paul Theiss was making standard speed on a relatively smooth sea. He was a great balance wheel for the Staff and the Staff spoke well of his efforts.13

Captain Theiss also served another valuable purpose for the Amphibians of the Fifth Fleet, as Captain E. W. McKee observed:

I was shipmates with Paul Theiss in the California. Paul stood near the bottom of the Class of 1912, and like anyone who graduates down towards the end of the class, is a bit wooden at best. He was slow but sure on complicated matters. When I heard that Paul was to be Kelly's Chief of Staff, I said 'Well, Kelly will write the Op Orders so Paul understands them, and when Paul does, everybody will.'14

Many, many who worked for COMFIFTHPHIBFOR during the hard driving amphibious campaigns of 1944 and 1945 had words of praise for Commodore Paul S. Theiss, and none had complaints.

Kelly provided the 'umph' and the 'umpity umph' but Commodore Theiss could always provide a helping hand when I visited the flagship.15

After one had had a session with Kelly, a session with Paul Theiss was always a stabilizer.16

Lieutenant Commander J. S. Lewis, Flag Lieutenant and general handyman on the Staff for the past twelve months, was the only officer who went along with Rear Admiral Turner to the Central Pacific, although several others joined him later after intervening duty.

Admiral Turner told me that he was particularly anxious to take with him to the Fifth Amphibious Staff Captain James H. Doyle, the Operations Officer, whose tall cadaverous frame encompassed a stout heart and a hairtrigger tongue and brain.17


Rear Admiral Turner in the Fall of 1943.

But Captain Doyle had to be left with Rear Admiral Wilkinson to provide the necessary staff member knowledgeable of past, present and future operations. Captain Doyle was detached by orders from Washington, less than three months after Rear Admiral Turner's departure and went to the Headquarters of the Commander in Chief United States Fleet for duty in the Amphibious Warfare Section, in order to make available the latest amphibious experience to the COMINCH Staff. When this happened, Rear Admiral Wilkinson wrote: "I miss Doyle sorely."18

Back in July 1942, when Rear Admiral Turner formed up his first seagoing staff, he had a total of 11 officers on the staff with ten more junior officers attached to the staff for coding, decoding and handling classified communications and for photographic interpretation and intelligence duties.

Being an apostle of Admiral King, his staff tended to remain really small for the tasks undertaken. But by 20 January 1943, the 11 had expanded to 14 and the ten attached officers to 18. By 30 June 1943 there were 16 on the staff and 21 attached for communications and intelligence chores. As has been pointed out, the larger staff included Army officers as well as Marines. The


supporting echelon of the staff for the Fifth Amphibious Force was much more numerous, the roster for Tarawa showing 18 officers on the staff and 31 attached.19

This was the staff that, commencing in October 1943, planned and carried out the amphibious naval phases of the Gilberts Operation:

  ROSTER OF OFFICERS 1 Octobr 1943
Commander Fifth Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Rank Name N.A. Class Duties
Rear Admiral Turner, Richmond K. 1908 Commander FIFTH Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Captain Theiss, Paul S. 1912 Chief of Staff & Aide
Colonel (USMC) Knighton, Joseph W.   Asst Chief of Staff
Commander Wells, Benjamin O. 1917 Intelligence Officer
Commander Leith, Stanley 1923 Operations Officer
Commander Taylor, John McN. 1926 Gunnery Officer
Commander Horne, Charles F., Jr. 1926 Communication Officer
Lieutenant Colonel (Inf.) Herron, George C.   Asst Operations Officer (Ground)
Lieutenant Commander Lewis, John S. 1932 Asst Operations Officer
Major (USMC) Neal, Willis A.   Transport Quartermaster
Lieutenant Commander Ashworth, Frederick L. 1933 Aviation Officer
Major (Sig Corps) Bowen, Francis C.   Asst Communication Officer
Major (USMC) Shuler, Cecil W.   Asst Intelligence Officer
Lieutenant Commander Stark, Harry B. 1936 Aide & Flag Secretary
Lieutenant Commander Kircher, John J. 1936 Aide & Flag Lieutenant
Captain SC-V(G) Bregar, Jacob M.   Force Supply Officer
Captain (MC) Gillett, Robert M.   Force Medical Officer
Lieutenant Commander (CEC) Lovell, Kenneth C. 1936 Force Civil Engineer

Amphibious Force Pacific Expands

When Rear Admiral Turner shifted from the South Pacific Force to the Central Pacific, one of the changes he requested shortly after arriving in


Pearl Harbor on 25 August 1943 to take up his duties was that an Administrative Command for the Fifth Amphibious Force be established at Pearl.

Rear Admiral Turner had sought in his initial "Establishment Order" for the SOPAC Amphibious Forces to divorce himself from the administrative chores, and he had reiterated this desire in January 1943 when he again pointed out that not only his immediate subordinate administrative commanders but also other administrative echelons should communicate directly with COMSOPAC with respect to administrative matters.20

Experience in the South Pacific had indicated that these subordinate commanders were reluctant to pick up all the chores Rear Admiral Turner sought to divest himself of, so in early September 1943 he urged upon CINCPAC and the Navy Department the necessity of this new administrative command.

It was six weeks and many arguments later, before the Administrative Command, Fifth Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was created on 15 October 1943 "in order to permit the Commander Fifth Amphibious Force to devote his principal efforts toward the combat function."21 This large shore-based command provided Rear Admiral Turner with a seasoned subordinate at Pearl Harbor to oversee the hundreds of thousands of administrative details arising from the expansion of the Fifth Amphibious Force to include hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of landing craft.

To head up this administrative command, Captain Wallace B. Phillips, U.S. Navy, Class of 1911, was ordered from command of the Transports, Amphibious Force, Atlantic, and shortly thereafter promoted to Commodore. Commodore Phillips had the benefit of command of the transport Barnett (AP-11) during late 1941 and the first half of 1942. During this period the Barnett had participated in the landing exercises of the 1st Division, U.S. Army in the Chesapeake and carried troops to places as far apart as Ireland and Tongatabu. Later he had been ordered as Commander Transport Division Seven and in the USS Harris (AP-8) had participated in the landings in North Africa as Commander of the Southern Attack Group Transports, and landed the United States 9th Infantry Division at Safi, French Morocco. After this operation, Captain Phillips became Commander Transport Division One, and, upon the detachment of Captain R. R. M. Emmett, U.S. Navy, on 4 February 1943, Commander Transports, Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.22


The Amphibian Personnel

Personnel problems in the Pacific Amphibious Force were at their peak in July 1943. By this date large numbers of new landing ships and landing craft were coming off the building ways and had to be manned. The rate of expansion in numbers of officers and men of the Navy was inadequate to provide the Bureau of Naval Personnel and the Forces Afloat enough time to train afloat sufficient officers and men in amphibious doctrine or just plain seagoing habits to adequately man these new landing ships and craft. There was a shortage of warm bodies and a great shortage of amphibians.

Rear Admiral Fort reported on the Third PHIBFORSOPAC situation at this time:

Most craft arrived without adequate trained personnel. It was necessary to relieve many incompetent officers and to augment the crews with rated and experienced men off the transports. Several LCT's and LCI's had no officers or men who had ever been to sea prior to their trans-Pacific voyage.23

Amphibious Assault on the Gilbert Islands
The Planning--Washington Phase

At the ten-day Casablanca Conference convening on 14 January 1943, the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived without their Chairman, Admiral Leahy, and with a totally inadequate planning staff of only the three senior Service planners of the Joint Planning Staff. An official history states:

Unfortunately the Joint Chiefs had not arrived at Casablanca armed with a paper setting forth their views as to just what should be done in the war against Japan. As has been pointed out, they had not yet agreed among themselves what was to be done after completion of the Guadalcanal campaign. . . .24

The three Joint Staff planners, in a study paper circulated at the Casablanca Conference, listed "Seizure and Occupation of the Gilbert Islands" as an action which they visualized would occur during 1943.

However, in the final document of the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved at the Casablanca Conference, CCS 155/1, "Conduct of the War in 1943, " dated 19 January 1943, the Gilbert Islands were not even mentioned among the operations to be conducted.


Upon the return of the United States planners from Casablanca, CCS 155/1, however, was treated as a statement of concept rather than a detailed working plan. In its place Admiral King's paper on "Pacific Strategy and the Conduct of the War in the Pacific in 1943," which had received the hurried blessing of the United States Joint Chiefs during the Casablanca Conference, and appeared as a memorandum attached to CCS 168, dated 22 January 1943, was considered as controlling the Joint planners during the early months of 1943. This JCS paper averred that the United States could forestall a Japanese offensive from the Gilbert-Ellice Islands towards Samoa by reversing the route with its own forces. Such an offensive would make the Hawaii-Samoa-Fiji-New Caledonia line of communications secure, which was a long-sought and much approved objective.

TRIDENT Conference

Before TOENAILS preparations in the South Pacific had really reached the hectic stage, the TRIDENT Conference between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain and their senior military advisors took place in Washington, D.C. The conference lasted from 12 May to 25 May 1943.

The United States Joint Chiefs paper No. 304 "Operations in the Pacific and Far East in 1943-1944" was an approved JCS paper by that time. It called for operations in the Marshalls and added the pleasant thought that, six months later, our forces should move on to the Caroline Islands.

Having learned from experience at Casablanca, a reasonable military staff was cleared for participation in the Washington conference and a sizable number of papers was approved by the JCS setting forth their military recommendations prior to TRIDENT. After ten days of discussion and nine busy nights of preparing joinders and rejoinders in regard to the landing in France, the ousting of the Japanese from Burma, or keeping the Soviet Union or China in the war, the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 21 May finally got around to endorsing Admiral King's list of six Pacific Ocean operational projects contained in Combined Chiefs of Staff paper No. 239 (CCS 239). Number 4 project was "Seizure of the Marshalls and Caroline Islands." This approval marked the passing of the last real planning hurdle as to whether or not the drive across the Central Pacific would start in 1943, providing adequate resources could be assembled for the operation without hamstringing preparations for the invasion across the English Channel.


A Flagship

Rear Admiral Turner had come out of the South Pacific with the very definite belief that the commander of an amphibious task force should be provided with a flagship which did not have to carry troops and their logistical support to the assault landing and which had adequate working and sleeping accommodations for his staff. Additionally, the flagship had to provide adequate accommodations for the Amphibious Corps Commander, the Landing Force Commander and the Commander of the Support Aircraft and the numerous personnel of their staffs, as well as provide multiple communication facilities adequate for the escalating requirements of three or four commanders aboard the same ship during the early hours of an assault landing.

Since there was no ship currently afloat in the United States Navy to meet such requirements, a transport hull with a wholly new topside design was necessary. This ship was to be called a headquarters ship, although its official title was "Amphibious Force Flagship." But it was reasonably obvious that no ship with the desired characteristics would be available for the coming offensive in the Gilbert Islands.

USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), flagship for Commander Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet in the Gilberts Operation.


Admiral Nimitz did the best he could with what he had to meet the problem. He assigned a ship which had the best communication equipment of any ship in the whole Navy, a ship which had enlarged officers accommodations, and one which would not be directly concerned with carrying troops and their impedimenta.

On 15 June 1943, the old battleship Pennsylvania (BB-38), which had been the CINCUS and then CINCPAC flagship throughout the 1930's, was assigned as flagship for Commander Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet. The Zeilin (AP-9) was designated as relief flagship. The Chilton (APA-38) had been considered as a stop-gap flagship until the first headquarters ship (Appalachian AGC- 1) was delivered, an event scheduled for September 1943. The delays inherent in building and then testing a new type ship made it apparent that the amphibious staff would have to make more than a pier head leap to be aboard a headquarters ship for the Gilbert Islands campaign.25

As a matter of fact, the Chilton did not get commissioned until 7 December 1943, and the Appalachian did not arrive on the Pacific coast until 26 November 1943. D-Day for GALVANIC was 20 November 1943.

The battleship flagship assigned to Rear Admiral Harry Hill's Amphibious Group being formed in the Central Pacific was the Maryland (BB-46), which had previously served as a division flagship in the Fleet. The communication central which had to be added to the Maryland in order that she might function as an amphibious command ship was built on a wing of the Flag Bridge, the only place available where the tremendous amount of electrical and electronic work could be completed in time for the operation. Unfortunately, the Flag Bridge was at about the same level as the muzzles of the 16-inch guns when they were firing at moderate ranges, introducing the hazard that all communications might be interrupted by their blast. This hazard jumped up to bite the Amphibious Group Commander during the gun support part of the landing.

The Early Planning Stage--Pearl Harbor Phase

Just back from the Casablanca Conference, and with the Japanese hightailing it out of Guadalcanal, COMINCH on 9 February 1943, queried


Marshall and Gilbert Islands.


CINCPAC whether an operation to secure the Gilbert Islands could be undertaken. CINCPAC politely demurred, pointing out that an intense Japanese air reaction could be anticipated during a period when our air resources to meet it were inadequate.26

But Admiral King never let up pressing the subject of starting towards the Marshall Islands, either at his bi-monthly conferences with Admiral Nimitz or in the Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings. Various routes were advocated by his planning subordinates. Reportedly Captain Forrest Sherman, a long-time strategical planner, and, at the time Chief of Staff to Commander Air Forces, Pacific, wanted to get to the Marshalls via the island of Wake rather than via the Gilberts. Others, including Rear Admiral Turner, favored a southern approach to Truk, main Japanese base in the Caroline Islands, up through Rabaul, New Britain, rather than via the Marshalls.

By mid-June 1943, the Joint Chiefs had been persuaded by Admiral King that the necessary Joint resources could be found after adequately supporting the 1943 Mediterranean campaign as well as the bombing of Germany, to start moving amphibious forces through the Central Pacific towards the mainland of Asia. This must be done, he urged, in order to cut off and deny Japan the tremendous natural resources she was extracting from Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies.27

Timing and Forces Available

Irrespective of what was being assumed in the South and Southwest Pacific, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were assuming on 15 June that the first phase of CARTWHEEL--the taking of the Middle Solomons and parts of New Guinea--would be completed by General MacArthur not later than 1 August 1943, and that a major part of the naval forces and the Second Marine Division from the South Pacific Area, would be employed against the Marshalls "about 15 November 1943."28

Back on this day, 15 June 1943, the Joint Chiefs directed CINCPAC to submit an outline plan for the seizure of the Marshall Islands, including an estimate of the situation, a general concept of the operation and the terribly difficult specifics: when the operation would be carried out, which of the


many Marshall atolls would be assaulted, and with exactly which amphibious troops, ships and craft.29 It should be noted that the Gilbert Islands were not being mentioned at that high level. And it may be observed that just as Guadalcanal got into the WATCHTOWER operations via the backdoor of an approved operation for the Santa Cruz Islands, Tarawa reached its fame via the backdoor of a JCS approved operation for the Marshall Islands.

By 18 June, the Joint War Planning Committee, correctly anticipating a healthy reaction from General MacArthur about using elsewhere any of the forces currently in his area or directly supporting CARTWHEEL operations, came up with a plan for seizing the Marshalls after the Gilberts had been taken, and doing this without disturbing the forces in the Southwest Pacific Area. While saying that the "Gilberts operation is definitely inferior to the Marshalls operation," they reasoned that it was definitely better than doing nothing in the Central Pacific area.30

By 20 June CINCPAC had examined the when, where and with what sufficiently to inform COMINCH that training would have to overcome the problems involved in landing over coral reefs and asked for major increases in landing craft for use in training, including a hundred rubber landing craft with outboard motors.31

COMINCH on 24 June had directed CINCPAC that, in organizing the amphibious forces for the next operation, the organization should permit three simultaneous attacks on separated objectives. Since there were more than that number of Japanese air bases in the Marshall Islands, this seemed to be a logical directive if the operation was to be against the Marshalls. By the next day, the Joint Staff Planners in Washington were calling the prospective operation "A Marshalls and/or Gilbert Islands Operation," and thought was being given to assaulting simultaneously Tarawa in the Gilberts and Jaluit and Mille in the southern Marshalls.32

By 29 June the CINCPAC Planners had about decided that the Marshalls would have to be seized via the "Ellice and Gilbert Islands," with the two southern atolls of the Marshalls being our initial objectives in that group


Left: Gilbert islands. Right: Central Pacific distance chart.


of islands.33 Following a visit to Washington by Captains James M. Steele and Forrest E. Sherman from the Pacific Fleet on 4 July 1943, there was full discussion of four possible operations:
  1. Initial seizure of Wake Island, then Kwajalein.
  2. Initial seizure of Kwajalein, Wotje and Maloelap.
  3. Initial seizure of Tarawa, Jaluit and Mille.
  4. Initial seizure of Nauru, Tarawa and Makin.

The last was recommended to the Joint Chiefs who accepted it as having definite advantages.

Without being able to say exactly why the planners backed into the Gilbert Island decision, it should be pointed out that any plan for assault and occupation of the Marshalls direct from Pearl Harbor required more amphibious troops and transports than going to the Gilberts, because there were three strongly defended atolls in the Marshalls and only one strongly defended and one weakly defended atoll in the Gilberts. More carriers for close air support would naturally be required for the attack on three atolls than on two. The advantage of moving to the Marshalls under a shore-based air umbrella from the Gilberts would not be available in the first instance. Nor would the limited shore-based air reconnaissance and air bombing from the Ellice Islands be able to reach the Western Marshalls, but would be available in the Gilberts.

Since General MacArthur had protested vigorously against using in the Central Pacific Ocean Area the amphibious troops currently in his area, and since jeep carriers and their support aircraft were just coming on the line in small numbers, it is apparent that the planners at all levels had to trim their sails. Only an operation within the capabilities of the forces available could be projected. Hence the Gilberts won the contest for Rear Admiral Turner's attention.34

The JCS Directive Stage

On 20 July 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued their directive for


amphibious operations in the (a) Ellice Island group (b) the Gilbert Island group and (c) against Nauru. This operation was given the code name GALVANIC.35

There were two main differences and two main similarities between this directive and the one issued for the initial amphibious operation in the Solomon Islands. The two main differences were:

  1. There were four months between issuance of the JCS GALVANIC directive and the target date, instead of one month.
  2. The GALVANIC directive was in proper War College form with paragraph designated tasks, purposes, concept of the operation, forces available and command arrangements, instead of just a straightforward statement.

The two similarities were:

  1. The GALVANIC directive first mentioned a place where no fighting took place--the Ellice Islands--just as the Solomons directive had first mentioned the Santa Cruz Islands, where no fighting took place.
  2. The GALVANIC directive contained a red herring--Nauru--which caused great differences of opinion at lower levels and much hard argument, just as Ndeni had caused great differences of opinion and much hard argument during the early months of the Solomon Island operation.

Nauru--The Place We Didn't Go

Since General "Howling Mad" Smith, the capable corps commander of the Marines in the Fifth Fleet, wrote "Tarawa was a mistake," tens of thousands of words have been written in regard to whether Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands should have been the first objective in the amphibious drive across the Central Pacific. Comparatively little has been written about dropping Nauru from the Joint Chiefs of Staff directive, and replacing that island objective with Makin Atoll.

Admiral Spruance wrote as follows when asked these questions. (a) During the planning for the Gilbert Island operation, who generated the change from Nauru to Makin? (b) Do you recollect your initial reaction to this proposed change?


Neither RKT, Holland Smith, nor I liked Nauru as an objective. I opposed it because its physical characteristics made it a very tough objective to capture and not of much value after we had it, and particularly because our orders from the JCS called for a simultaneous capture of Tarawa and Nauru. They were about 380 miles apart. This would have meant a wide separation of our forces, with the Japanese Fleet at Truk, as strong as our total Fleet forces, able to strike with two amphibious operations going on. At this time we were dependent on submarines for information of enemy movements from Truk eastward through the Marshalls, as we had no air coverage. No one at Pearl seemed interested in my objections to Nauru.

Finally, during a CINCPAC-COMINCH bimonthly conference at Pearl, Holland Smith drew up a letter setting forth his objections to Nauru as an amphibious objective, and recommending that we not take it. RKT endorsed his approval, as did I. Then I went to the CINCPAC morning conference and handed the letter to Nimitz. Nimitz read it and passed it to King. King read it and then, turning to me, asked, 'What do you propose to take instead of Nauru?' I replied, 'Makin,' and said that Makin was 100 miles closer than Tarawa to the Marshalls, which were our next objective, that Nauru would be of little value to the Japanese after we took the Gilberts, that we could keep it pounded down, and furthermore that we did not need Nauru ourselves. Needless to say, the taking of Makin had been thoroughly considered by Holland Smith, RKT, and myself and our staffs prior to this meeting of CINCPAC-COMINCH. Admiral King gave me the fish eye but agreed to recommend the change of objectives to the J.C.S.36

Major General Holland Smith's recommendation to make the change in objectives was committed to paper on 24 September 1943. CINCPAC noted in his Command Summary on that date:

Study is going ahead to substitute Makin for Nauru in the GALVANIC Operation.

On the next day Admiral King arrived in Pearl for a regularly scheduled conference. On this same day CINCPAC made an official recommendation to COMINCH for the substitution of Makin for Nauru. The official reasons CINCPAC gave to COMINCH for supporting the change were:

  1. More troops required for Nauru than for Makin (one division versus one regiment).
  2. No transports available in the Pacific Fleet to carry these additional troops.
  3. Because of shallow border reef, goodly cliffs, and rough terrain due to phosphate evacuations, success was doubtful at Nauru.

COMINCH joined CINCPAC in a despatch to the Joint Chiefs of Staff


urging Makin as the secondary target for GALVANIC. The JCS approved the change on 27 September, "although General Arnold raised some question as to the advisability of substituting an island with only potential air base facilities for one already containing an air base." Less than six weeks were left before sailing date for the Makin forces, when the official approval was relayed to the forces involved.37

Admiral Turner discussed Nauru with this author only in connection with answering the single question as to why he was at Makin instead of at Tarawa on D-Day of the GALVANIC Operation. His answer was:

Nauru looked to be far tougher than Tarawa. It was also a lot closer to Truk and the Japanese Fleet than Tarawa. So it was logical for me to be at Nauru and Hill to be at Tarawa.38

Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill (1911), who was to step into Admiral Turner's big shoes at Okinawa, had become Commander Amphibious Group Two, Fifth Amphibious Force in September 1943, after serving almost a year as Commander Battleship Division Four in the South Pacific.

When Admiral Hill was asked this same question as to why Rear Admiral Turner left him with the Tarawa command, he replied:

I don't really know, but I was darned glad that Kelly picked up Makin and left me with Tarawa. Tarawa was far the bigger and better job.39

It should be pointed out here that as a Captain, Harry W. Hill had served as War Plans Officer on the staff of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, and later as an assistant to Rear Admiral Turner in War Plans, Naval Operations. The two, Turner and Hill, were on intimate terms and had great confidence in each other.

Rear Admiral Turner had a triple planning chore in GALVANIC. In breadth and descending order of importance, they were: (1) As the Commander Assault Force (CTF 54) he had the need for planning in close liaison with Commander Fifth Fleet (Spruance) and Commander Fifth Amphibious Corps (Holland Smith). (2) In the same capacity as CTF 54, he had the duty of coordinating the planning of the two major units of the Assault Force, the Attack Force at Makin and its Attack Force at Tarawa. (3) As the Commander of one of these two Attack Forces, he had the duty


of planning the assault landing in close physical proximity with the Marine or Army Commander Landing Troops.

The reinforced Marine Division for Tarawa was physically in faraway New Zealand. The reinforced Army Regiment for Makin was physically on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

At this late date (1966), it might be guessed that Rear Admiral Turner chose the only solution which permitted him to best carry out simultaneously the three chores. He placed himself at Pearl Harbor.

So located, he had close liaison with Vice Admiral Spruance and Major General Smith, the primary essential. He was situated where the best communication facilities were available for coordination of the planning of the two major units of his Assault Force command, which was the second most important requirement. Having fulfilled these two requirements, the fulfillment of the third meant that he would be the Attack Force Commander at Makin, and at Pearl he would have close liaison with the Army Landing Force Commander, Major General Smith, AUS. He would comply with the basic provision of FTP 167 that, in amphibious assault planning, the Naval Attack Force Commander and the Marine or Army Commander of the assault troops must be physically close at hand during the planning stage for an assault landing.40

The following extract from the letter Commander Fifth Amphibious Force wrote on the way back to Pearl from the Gilberts is also revealing:

In view of the wide physical dispersion of the forces, particularly the ground elements, and the fact that it was necessary for many of the newly appointed commanders to collect and train new staffs, it seemed particularly necessary to assemble the principal commanders in Pearl Harbor for personal conferences, indoctrination, and the discussion and oral approval of plans. This was finally partially accomplished, and useful results followed, although the time for the work was limited. These personal conferences, in fact, provided the basis for drafting the principal directives. . . .41

Amphibious Training Shifts Westward

Most of the amphibious training for the Pacific Ocean operations during the first 18 months of World War II had been conducted on the Pacific


Coast of the United States. In mid-June 1943, COMINCH suggested to CINCPAC that a fair share of the training should be conducted in the Hawaiian Area.42

This was done. Units of the Army 27th Infantry Division were trained by Transport Division 20 at Kauai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe in the Hawaiian Area during October 1943. Five amphibious bases were built in the Hawaiian Islands at Waianae, Waimanalo and Waipio on Oahu as well as bases on the islands of Maui and Kauai.

At the same time that the planning for GALVANIC was going forward, a vast expansion of berthing facilities was undertaken in the Pearl Harbor Area to accommodate the large number of amphibious ships and craft, larger than had been needed for any previous Pacific Ocean amphibious operation.

However, the Marines' Second Division was in New Zealand, so Commander Transport Group, Wellington (Captain H. B. Knowles) was ordered to conduct its advanced amphibious training with Transport Divisions Four, Six and Eighteen during October 1943. Special training with the amphibious tractors (LVT's) was conducted at far away Fiji during this same period in order that the tractors would experience beach conditions more nearly approaching those of Tarawa.43

Some of the problems encountered during this training period are related by Commander Transport Group Wellington:

We came back from Kiska and got orders to be in New Zealand on the 1st of October. On our way down to Wellington, a radio came in saying I was to be in charge of training at Wellington. Training was set up with the Second Division. We didn't know where we were going to land, but we did train on coral beaches in Hawke Bay North Island, New Zealand.

As transports arrived from the states, we found that quite a number, maybe a dozen, were newly converted transports, which had just completed their shakedown cruise. We borrowed everything we could from the older ships to make up for deficiencies in communication equipment, personnel and boats in the newer transports. The transports which arrived [New Zealand] the latest were the ones that needed training the most.

I was notified that I would be Commander Transports for one of the Attack Forces, and that my flagship would be the Monrovia (AP-64). She was the ex-SS Del Argentina. I got a repair ship to build me an Operation Office on the Monrovia's bridge, got flag hoists installed, and borrowed a


set of signal flags for the Flag Bridge. I finally scrounged a couple of TBS from the Heywood (APA-6) my old command and some TBX from the Marines, so I would have voice radio control over the Transport Group.

There had been a Boat Pool in Wellington. The landing boats in it were largely wrecks from long usage and no replacements. We cannibalized all of them in order to get enough to fill up the transports.44

Improved Vehicles
Alligators, Buffaloes, DUKWS

Since Guadalcanal, landing craft types known as ALLIGATORS, BUFFALOES, and DUKWS had come off the building ways in ever increasing numbers. Each had a particular characteristic making it a preferred craft for certain phases of amphibious operations.

An ALLIGATOR was an amphibious tractor, a landing vehicle, tracked (LVT). A WATER BUFFALO was a 5-ton amphibious truck. A DUKW was a 2.5-ton amphibious truck. It was obvious that tractors could make steadier headway over and through shallow coral reef areas of highly irregular pattern and filled with nutheads than the ordinary propeller-driven landing craft.45

Commander Fifth Amphibious Corps was able to arrange for the Second Division to be given 50 new LVT(2)'s to supplement the 75 operable LVT(1)'s available from its regular allowance of LVT(1)'s, and to have these picked up for the Second Division at Samoa by LST's while the division was proceeding from "Down Under" to Tarawa. Commander Transport Group Wellington, commented on this:

One squadron of LST's in Samoa were loading tanks and Marine crews to rendezvous at the landing beach. I had never seen the men or talked to them until we arrived at the beach.

The uncertainties in regard to these LVT(2)'s were such that the Marines got out alternate orders based on their arrival or nonarrival at Tarawa.46

Ellice Islands

The Marines had occupied Funafuti at the southern end of the 200-mile


chain of atolls in the Ellice Islands on 2 October 1942, and had built an airstrip there. In January and February 1943, reconnaissance and occasional bombing missions were made from Funafuti over the Gilberts and Nauru, the latter a long 881 miles away. The Japanese carried out a tit-for-tat surprise retaliation bombing raid on Funafuti on 22 April 1943. In due time, the Joint Chiefs, spurred on by CINCPAC, authorized seizing two northern atolls in the Ellice group and building and defending satellite fields there. Despite difficulties in getting heavily laden planes off the Seabee-built compacted coral runways, reconnaissance and bombing raids were carried out during the pre-GALVANIC Operation period from the airfields on both Nanomea and Nukufetau in the northern part of the Ellice Islands. On both of these atolls, new airstrips had been carved through the dense covering of coconut palms and two bomber squadrons were based thereon.

The Seventh Air Force based in the Ellice Islands (and Canton) provided an "all out" effort in the pre-invasion period. It reported 141 of its B-24s had sortied against the Gilbert Islands in 13 strike missions during the period 13-19 November and dropped 50 tons of bombs on Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll and an unreported amount on Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll. No Japanese air interception of these Ellice Islands planes took place until 16 November.47

The Time

The Joint Chiefs had indicated a contingent target date of 15 November 1943 for the occupation of Japanese positions in the Gilberts.

Rear Admiral Turner picked up his planning chores on 24 August. Major General Holland Smith picked up his on 9 September, and Rear Admiral Hill, his on 24 September. On that late September day, there were less than eight weeks to complete the planning and to get to the objective two thousand miles away.

Concurrent Planning

The planning for GALVANIC was done on a concurrent basis which means that all levels of command were planning at the same time, with


the lower levels galloping along trying to keep their planning abreast of the constant changes introduced at higher echelons and still make progress towards their own final plan. Difficult as this is for the lowest levels, it is an essential when planning time is moderately short. It is also highly desirable if the operation is to be successful, since the problems the lower commands uncover can be taken up at higher levels and adjustments made before the control plans of the higher echelon become frozen into orders.

The Place--The Gilberts

Having decided to take the Gilbert Islands to make possible the opening of the door to the Philippines the immediate question was: Did we know, or could we learn enough about the Gilberts during the next couple of months to make their seizure an amphibious practicality?

The known basic facts were that the Gilbert Islands consisted of two atolls and six coral islands with a total land area of approximately 150 square miles, spread thinly between 3° north of the equator to 3° south of it and centered about 400 miles west of the International Date Line.

Each of the irregular shaped atolls surrounding its placid lagoon was made up of reefs, spits, and coral patches as well as long narrow islets, mainly on the eastern or weather side of the lagoons. These barren atolls were from 5 to 40 miles across. The islets rose to a height of from 4 to 12 feet above sea level.

On the seaward side of these atolls a fringing reef platform of coral extends outward for a distance of about 1/4 mile, at which point it drops off suddenly to very deep water.

The three Gilbert atolls which aroused the main interest of the planners were, from north to south:

MAKIN--Bell shaped atoll--lagoon 16 miles by 8 miles at center. The largest and most important island was Butaritari--crutch-shaped, 13 miles long by about one-quarter mile in width.

TARAWA--Triangular shaped atoll, 83 miles south of Makin. Lagoon 22 miles by 12 miles at south. Largest and most important island--Betio--two and one-quarter miles long by one-half mile wide.

APAMAMA--Oval shaped atoll, 67 miles south of Tarawa. Lagoon ten miles on eastern side.


Apamama was also known as Abemama and Afemama. Apamama was generally used in the operation plans and orders, charts and maps, intelligence summaries, and reports of GALVANIC. Apamama is used herein, despite the fact that present-day charts and atlases favor Abemama.

Grand Central Park in New York City, three blocks wide and 51 blocks long, contains roughly 840 acres. Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll with slightly less than 300 acres resembled a marlinspike much more than it did Grand Central Park. Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll, with about 2,000 acres, was shaped a bit like a pickax with the handle a smidgen less than 11 miles long.

The "Notes on the Gilbert Islands For the Use of U.S. Forces" told all who had time to read:

The following brief notes have been prepared by a European who has resided for many years in the Gilbert Islands. . . . In certain instances, material has been taken from Dr. Kenneth P. Emory's 'South Sea Lore.'

Readers of the notes were informed that Makin was pronounced "Muggin" and Tarawa pronounced "Tarra-wah."

The islands are low, flat and sandy. . . . Mere ribbons of coral about 200 yards wide, often cut up into small islets separated by sandy channels fordable at low water, and surrounding lagoons of surprising beauty . . . . Robert Louis Stevenson who lived for some time in the Gilberts has described them as possessing "a superb ocean climate, days of blinding sun and bracing wind, nights of a heavenly brightness."

All Hands were given the comforting thought that prostitution was unknown and:

Many European traders in the early days were killed by the natives for interfering with their womenfolk.

Reports from Australians who had lived in the Gilberts were to the effect that "boating and landing conditions are good during November and December because the light easterly winds prevail" and that the rainy season begins "during November and lasts through mid-January."48

Equally important to the amphibians as these basic facts and their interpretation were in what manner and with what number of Japanese fighting men were the various atolls and islands being defended, how approachable were the beaches by landing craft, and what was known about the tides.

A year before in mid-August 1942, we had landed a 220-man Marine raiding force on Makin Atoll via rubber boats from a Fleet-type submarine. The success of this much publicized effort unfortunately alerted the Japanese


to the fact that the fringe atolls of their island empire needed greater defensive forces than the 43 Japanese who had held Butaritari Island on the south side of Makin Atoll on 17 August 1942. The raid also alerted the amphibians to the difficulties of landing on these atolls in normal surf via rubber boats. On long term balance, it seems probable that much more was lost by stimulating the Japanese to strengthen garrisons all through the islands than was gained from the nubbins of technical information brought back from the raid.

In order to increase our knowledge of the Gilbert Islands we sought to extract by submarine periscope and by photographic reconnaissance plane bits and pieces of information and intelligence and then to compile them in useful form.

When these were joined and all the data gathered from air and submarine reconnaissance placed on air intelligence maps, it revealed that Betio (or Bititu) Island in Tarawa Atoll was defended by no less than:

8large coast defense guns (4-8", 4-5.5")
6small coast defense guns
4heavy anti-aircraft guns (5")
24light to medium anti-aircraft guns (.50 to 2.3")
68beach defense and anti-boat guns49

The post-operation "Study of Japanese Defenses" by the Second Marine Division showed this pre-battle estimate to be exactly accurate for all the larger guns and possibly a 35 percent underestimate for all machine guns 13-millimeter (.50-inch) or under. Moreover, this study indicated that:

Weapons were, for the most part, mounted in carefully and strongly constructed emplacements of coconut logs, reinforced concrete, and reverted sand.

These basic weapons were complemented by a network of obstacles, which took the form of antitank ditches, beach barricades, log fences and concrete tetrahedrons on the fringing reef, double apron-high wire fence in the water near the beach, and double apron low wire on the sand beach itself.

Butaritari Island in the Makin Atoll was less heavily defended by far. We estimated defenses to include:

4 heavy anti-aircraft guns
10-13 medium anti-aircraft guns


9 pill boxes
39-69 machine guns

In October 1943, Apamama Atoll was believed not to be occupied by the Japanese nor defended. This was just slightly in error.

Based on these data, Commander Fifth Amphibious Corps and his two Landing Force Commanders drafted a Scheme of Maneuver and passed it to the Attack Force Commanders and then to Commander Assault Force for determination of its naval practicality.

Available navigational information indicated that landings on the eastern or weather side of the islets were far more difficult than landings from the lagoon side and could generally only be accomplished at high water. Landings from the lagoon side were less dangerous than over the outer reef, but:

the stage of the tide is of extreme importance in all landing operations.50

On the Japanese Side

The Japanese arrived in the Gilberts three days after Pearl Harbor. In due time they used the lagoon of Makin Atoll as a makeshift seaplane base to touch down and refuel when making reconnaissance seaplane flights originating from the Marshalls and intent on taking a "look-see" at the vast water land to the east of the Gilberts. On 17 August 1942, other than Makin Atoll, the Gilbert Islands were unoccupied by the Japanese.

Following our raid on Makin, the Japanese moved rapidly to increase their defensive forces in the Gilberts. By the time November 1943 had rolled around, the Gilbert Islands, together with Nauru and Ocean Islands, were a subordinate naval command of the Japanese Fourth Fleet, headquartered at Truk in the Caroline Islands. This island command, called a Base Force Command in Japanese naval parlance, had a rear admiral, Keiji Shibazaki, to head it up and was on the same command echelon as the Kwajalein Base Command in the Marshalls.

Japanese at Tarawa Atoll

The Yokosuka 6th Special Naval Landing Force 1,500 strong was the initial mainstay of the defensive forces in the Gilbert Islands, but in May


1943, the Sasebo 7th Special Naval Landing Force was withdrawn from Rabaul and joined the 6th Yokosuka. From this it appears that at this stage of the war, just before TOENAILS, the Japanese were more worried about the Gilberts than they were about the Bismarck Archipelago and the Upper Solomons.

Together with subordinate construction units and pioneers, these two units formed the 3rd Special Base Force (or 3rd Minor Base Force) totaling nearly 5,000 men. On Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll, they developed a regular seaplane base. They then turned to and built up the defenses and facilities of Tarawa Atoll. A main runway 4,750 feet long and 350 feet wide was developed on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, together with a secondary strip and a taxi strip. The runways, taxi strip, service aprons and turnarounds were all surfaced with coral.

It is axiomatic that attack energizes defense. After Army Air Force and Navy planes raided Betio Island on 18-19 September 1943, urgent additional defensive measures were undertaken by the Japanese to protect their command and communication centers against future air raids. Nine out of 18 twin engine bombers on the Betio airfield were still flyable after the 19 September attack and they were evacuated to the Marshalls. Four reconnaissance aircraft at Makin continued their searches. But far from softening up the Japanese defenses, these air raids are believed to have made the taking of Betio Island a far tougher chore for the amphibians.51

Japanese at Makin Atoll

A good comparison of the importance of Makin Atoll versus Tarawa Atoll in Japanese eyes is to be found in the ranks of the atoll commanders. At Tarawa, he was a rear admiral, Rear Admiral Keiji Shibazaki; at Makin, a junior lieutenant, Lieutenant (junior grade) Seizo Ishikama. Lieutenant Ishikama had in his command four reconnaissance seaplanes.

As to defense installations, the Japanese had been able or willing to fortify Butaritari with only a bare minimum. A perimeter defense had been established around the seaplane base on the lagoon shore. Defenses on the


lagoon shore were comparatively light, consisting mainly of three dual purpose centimeter guns at the base of King's Wharf and a few machine guns.52

Japanese at Apamama Atoll

There were 23 Japanese troops on Apamama and no military defenses of any kind.


Admiral Spruance informed this questioner that when the discussions were taking place about the air units to be assigned by Admiral Nimitz to the Central Pacific Force for GALVANIC, Vice Admiral John H. Towers, who was Commander Air Forces Pacific Fleet at the time, resisted having all carriers available so assigned. At a CINCPAC conference, he said:

Spruance wants a sledgehammer to drive a tack.

But Admiral Nimitz did assign his available carrier strength, as Admiral Spruance desired.


The Defense Force and Shore-Based Air Force was new in concept, developing out of the experience at Guadalcanal. Its missions included defending and developing the positions captured, including the construction and activation of airfields on the atolls of Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama. All this was to be done to give air support to the Central Pacific campaign.

Vice Admiral Spruance's Plan

Vice Admiral Spruance's Plan CEN 1-43 called for the following subdivision of his forces:

The plan further indicated the subdivision of the various subordinate Task Forces in considerable detail by breaking them down into specific mission task groups.

Commander Central Pacific's GALVANIC Operation Plan was a massive 324 pages, but it represented a distinct advance over the plans issued for WATCHTOWER and TOENAILS, which Rear Admiral Turner, Commander Assault Force, previously had fought under.

Vice Admiral Spruance's plan provided the following advances in doctrine:

  1. that a ship-based commander--Commander Central Pacific Force--with a determination to be in the objective area, retained immediate personal operational control over the operation.
  2. for the coordination of the various Central Pacific task forces under one commander in the operating or objective area should a Japanese surface or carrier task force show up to threaten or attack the amphibious forces.


  1. in advance, the conditions for the essential change of command from the Amphibious Task Force Commander to the Landing Force Commander at each assault objective.
  2. in advance, the command responsibility for the development of the base facilities at the objective to be seized.
  3. for support aircraft at each assault objective to be under the control of the Amphibious Task Force Commander. These aircraft had a capability for dawn or dusk search of the sea area approaches to the assault objective areas, should the need arise.
  4. for the reconnaissance aircraft to be at the outer limits of their searches at sundown in lieu of arrival back at base at sundown.

In keeping his subordinate Flag officers informed as to his general intentions and desires under various contingencies, Vice Admiral Spruance further provided:

The possibility of an enemy attack in force on the Makin Area with little or no warning necessitates that on and after D-Day, the carrier task groups


operating there with the new battleships in their screens must remain in as close tactical supporting distance of the Northern Attack Force as the nature of their air operations and their fuel situation permits.53

Vice Admiral Spruance's general concept called for:

  1. Assault Forces to take Makin and Tarawa.
  2. Occupation Forces at Apamama.
  3. Air bombing and surface bombardment of Nauru particularly directed at enemy aircraft, air and harbor facilities.
  4. Battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers to take dispositions between amphibious assault ships and enemy Fleet should it appear.
  5. Rapid development of seized atolls into air bases for air reconnaissance and offensive use against the Marshall Islands.

A submarine was to be stationed at Nauru to report daily the weather there and to make special reports of bad or changing weather. Since weather moves from west to east, this would tip off the amphibians on what to expect as they approached the Gilberts.

The movement of the Assault Force into the Gilberts was to be assisted by shore based aircraft of Task Force 57, carrying out long range reconnaissance over the eastern Marshalls and attack missions in the eastern Marshalls and against Nauru, and to be immediately supported and covered by the Carrier Forces (Task Force 50) of the Fifth Fleet.

Vice Admiral Spruance's Operation Plan was issued two days after Rear Admiral Turner, as Commander Assault Force (CTF 54), had issued his Operation Plan A2-43. Since CEN 1-43 has been graphed and discussed, and since it prescribed the same details of TF 54 organization as Op Plan A2-43, there is no need to repeat the latter's details. As an indication of the weight of paper under which the amphibians labored, it is noted that Vice Admiral Spruance's Plan ran to 324 pages and Rear Admiral Turner's a more modest 140 pages, but to that was added 54 pages for those in the Northern Attack Force.

It is necessary, however, in order to follow Rear Admiral Turner, to detail the organization of the Northern Attack Force (TF 52), which he commanded directly in addition to commanding the overall Assault Force. The Northern Attack Force was assigned the mission of seizing, occupying, and developing Makin Atoll and Little Makin Atoll.

As previously mentioned, Makin Atoll held the Japanese seaplane base,


while Tarawa Atoll held the Japanese land plane base. These air facilities were needed by us as the key activities in our establishment of advanced naval bases in the Gilberts from which to support and to provide air cover for the already scheduled Pacific Fleet movement into the Marshall Islands.


The siting and construction of a land plane base at Apamama Atoll was planned to follow close behind the crash rebuilding and expansion effort at Tarawa in order to be able to do air battle on more even terms with the four Japanese air bases in the Marshalls.

Apamama Atoll was chosen for part of the GALVANIC effort because, presumably, it had the largest expanse of smooth water of any lagoon in the Gilbert Island Group and "good holding ground" in its large anchorage. There was a need for a logistic support base west of Pearl to facilitate the western movement of the Pacific Fleet and, before the early and marked success in the Marshall Islands, thought also was given to developing Apamama for this purpose.

The organization and tasks of the Northern Attack Force were prescribed in Rear Admiral Turner's 54-page order as follows:

The detailed assignment of ships and troops of the Northern Attack Force was as follows:



  1. TASK GROUP 52.1 TRANSPORT GROUP Captain Donald W. Loomis (1918)


      Leonard Wood APA-12(F) Captain Marlin O'Neil, USCG
      Calvert APA-32 Commander E.J. Sweeney, USNR
      Pierce APA-50 Commander A.R. Ponto (1919)
      Alcyone AKA-7 Commander J.B. McVey (1922)

    2. TASK UNIT 52.1.2 RESERVE TRANSPORT DIVISION Commander O.R. Swigart (1921)

      Neville APA-9(F) Commander O.R. Swigart (1921)
      Belle Grove LSD-2 Lieutenant Commander M. Seavey, USNR

    3. TASK UNIT 52.1.3 TRANSPORT SCREEN Commander M.M. Riker (1927)

      Mustin DD-341(F) Commander M.M. Riker (1927)
      Kimberly DD-521 Lieutenant Commander Harry Smith (1930)
      Burns DD-588 Lieutenant Commander D.T. Eller (1929)

  2. TASK GROUP 52.2 SUPPORT GROUP Rear Admiral R.C. Giffen (1907)

    1. TASK UNIT 52.2.1 FIRE SUPPORT UNIT ONE Rear Admiral R.C. Giffen (1907)

      Pennsylvania BB-38(F) Captain W.A. Corn (1914)
      Idaho BB-42 Captain H.D. Clarke (1915)
      Minneapolis CA-36(F) Captain R.Q. Bates ((1915)
      San Francisco CA-38 Captain A.F. France (1918)
      Dewey DD-349 Lieutenant Commander J.P. Canty (1929)
      Hull DD-350 Lieutenant Commander A.L. Young, Jr. (1931)

    2. TASK UNIT 52.2.2 FIRE SUPPORT UNIT TWO Rear Admiral R.M. Griffin (1911)

      New Mexico BB-40(F) Captain E.M. Zacharias (1912)
      Mississippi BB-41 Captain L.L. Hunter (1912)
      New Orleans CA-32 Captian SA.R. Shumaker (1915)
      Baltimore CA-68 Captain W.C. Calhoun (1917)
      Gridley DD-380 Lieutenant Commander J.H. Motes (1931)
      Maury DD-401 Lieutenant Commander J.W. Koenig (1933)


    1. TASK UNIT 52.2.3 FIRE SUPPORT UNIT THREE Captain R.E. Libby (1922)

      MacDonough DD-351 Lieutenant Commander J.W. Ramey (1932)
      Phelps DD-360(F) Lieutenant Commander J.E. Edwards (1930)

  1. TASK GROUP 52.3 AIR SUPPORT GROUP Rear Admiral H.M. Mullinix (1916)

      Liscome Bay CVE-56(F) Captain I.D. Wiltsie (1921)
      Coral Sea CVE-57 Captain H.W. Taylor, Jr. (1921)
      Corregidor CVE-58 Captain R.L. Bowman (1921)
      Hughes DD-410 Lt. Commander E.B. Rittenhouse (1934)
      Morris DD-417 Lt. Commander F.T. Williamson (1931)
      Hoel DD-533 Lt. Commander W.D. Thomas (1928)
      Franks DD-554 Lt. Commander N.A. Lidstone (1930)


      Revenge AM-110 Commander F.F. Sima, USNR

  3. TASK GROUP 54.4 MAKIN LST GROUP ONE Commander A.M. Hurst

      LST-31 Lieutenant J.D. Schneidau, USNR
      LST-78 Lieutenant C.J. Smits, USNR
      LST-179 Lieutenant George D. Jagels, USNR
      LCT-82 Lieutenant (jg) Moore
      DD-353 Dale Lieutenant Commander C.W. Aldrich (1932)


    1. TASK UNIT 52.6.1 ASSAULT LANDING FORCE Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy, USA

      RCT 165 (less 2nd Battalion Landing Team) and attached unit of 105th Infantry Regiment

    2. TASK UNIT 52.6.2 RESERVE LANDING FORCE Lieutenant Colonel John F. McDonough, USA

      2nd Battalion Landing Team of RCT 165 and attached unit of 105th Infantry Regiment

    3. TASK UNIT 52.6.3 HEADQUARTERS GARRISON FORCE Colonel Clesen H. Tenney, AUS

      Embarked garrison and service units



      Support Aircraft (from carriers)

      Fighter Cover (from carriers)

Commander Support Group was Commander Cruiser Division Six (Giffen); Commander Fire Support Unit Two was Commander Battleship Division Three (Griffin); and Commander Fire Support Unit Three was Commander Destroyer Squadron One (Libby). Commander Cruiser Division Four (Rear Admiral C.H. Wright) was in Minneapolis.

The error54 of historian Samuel Eliot Morison in listing Rear Admiral Griffin as Commander Support Group in place of Rear Admiral Giffen possibly arose due to last minute arrival of Giffen in Pearl. In his absence Griffin commanded the Support Group at the rehearsal.

The Command Problem--In the Groove

On 25 October, CINCPAC modified his Operation Plan so that command would pass from the Commander Attack Force to Commander Landing Force in accordance with the following procedure:

At each atoll, as soon as the Landing Force Commander determines that the status of the landing operations permits, he will assume command on shore and report that fact to the Commander Attack Force.

This changed the previous directive under which the Commander Landing Force would announce he was ready to assume command ashore, and the Commander Attack Force would direct him to do so.

An additional change made by CINCPAC at the same time provided for an orderly change of responsibility for the defense and development of atolls or islands captured. This had been so sadly lacking in the operation orders for WATCHTOWER and TOENAILS.

Commander Central Pacific Force will determine and announce when the capture and occupation phase is completed, whereupon Commander Defense Force and Shore Based Air will assume his responsibility for the defense and development of positions captured.

This superseded the provision:

Commander Central Pacific Force will determine when the capture and occupation phase is completed and will then direct command of all forces


ashore at objectives pass from Commander Assault Force to Commander Defense Force and Shore Based Air.

Rear Admiral Turner supported both of these changes, and inaugurated the second one.55

The Troops

It had been hoped by some naval planners that the Marine First Division, stationed in the Southwest Pacific in June 1943, would participate with the Marine Second Division in GALVANIC. Since this withdrawal of a Marine Division from General MacArthur's command was unacceptable to the Army, the Army's 27th Division, stationed in Hawaii, was designated to participate, in lieu of the Marine First Division.56

The Rehearsals

It was not possible for either Attack Force to hold a full dress rehearsal with all assault units present. As Rear Admiral Turner reported:

Abbreviated final rehearsals of the assault echelons were held in Efate and Hawaii, though some of the combatant vessels and a large part of the carrier aircraft could not participate.57

Rehearsal sites for the Northern Attack Force (Makin) assembling in the Hawaiian Area were at Maalaea Bay, Maui and at Kahoolawe Island. The rehearsal was held in two distinct parts between 31 October and 4 November. At Maalaea Bay, the troops landed on November 1st and again on November 2nd but no supplies or equipment were sent ashore, and the guns did not shoot nor the bombers drop their bombs because the land area behind the beaches was privately owned and occupied. At Kahoolawe, on November 3rd, the guns shot, the bombs were dropped, and the troops disembarked but did not land because of rocky and quite unsuitable beaches for the landing craft.


The rehearsal site for the Southern Attack Force (Tarawa) assembling in the South Pacific was on the good beaches at Meli Bay off Fila Harbor, Efate Island in the New Hebrides, where the large transports had rehearsed for TOENAILS. Again the gunfire support ships present were shunted off for bombardment practice to Pango Point at the southern end of Meli Bay or to nearby Erradaka Island, while the transports rehearsed troop landings on both 7 and 9 November. Neither the big carriers nor the jeep carriers nor their aircraft participated.

As Rear Admiral Turner wrote to Commander Southern Attack Force:

It was too bad that you could not get TG 50.3 [2 CVs, 1 CVL, 3 CAs, 1 CLAA, 5 DDs] and all the cruisers and destroyers for your rehearsal, but it could not be helped. I hope that you got some benefits from your rehearsals, and are set to go. TF 52 [Northern Attack Force] was finally able to get just three days of rehearsals, with one day's firing. Even then, only a few of the carriers were present, and not all the gunfire vessels. . . . However, we've had some stiff drills on the way down, as well as during rehearsals, and they are not so green as they were.58

One thing happily learned from this rehearsal was that high capacity shells for both the 5-inch and the 16-inch naval gun would detonate upon impact with land at all ranges down to 2,500 yards.59

Concern, Worries, Problems

Missing from most of the writings of the last twenty years dealing with GALVANIC is any mention of the very real concern felt throughout the Central Pacific Force, during the immediate pre-landing period, that the Japanese Fleet at Truk would move out to challenge the first United States amphibious movement headed directly toward the Mandated Islands.60

It was known at high command levels in the Pacific Fleet through radio direction-finder intelligence that the main Japanese Fleet had moved out of Truk and into the Marshalls at the time of the fast carrier raids of 18-19 September and again, for an unknown cause, on 17 October. It was anticipated that the Japanese air reconnaissance would report the amphibians to Admiral Meneichi Koga when they were two to three days steaming distance away from the Gilberts.61


On 26 October, CINCPAC noted in his Command Summary that:

As a result of [our] anticipated raids or action against enemy Central Pacific islands, the main forces of the Japanese Fleet left Truk about 16 October for area northeast of there. This may be interpreted to mean that the Japanese may be expected (a) to station their surface forces now at Truk in positions to counter our moves into the Gilberts or Marshalls, (b) to sortie from Truk on suspicion of any air raid proceeding toward that base.

A few days later, Vice Admiral Spruance in his "General Instructions to Flag Officers, Central Pacific Force, for GALVANIC" wrote:

If, however, a major portion of the Japanese Fleet were to attempt to interfere with GALVANIC, it is obvious that the defeat of the enemy fleet would at once become paramount. . . . The destruction of a considerable portion of the Japanese naval strength would go far towards winning the war. . . . We must be prepared at all times during GALVANIC for a fleet engagement.62

As the final sailing date for GALVANIC forces in the Hawaiian Area approached, loud cries to CINCPAC for the assignment of additional combatant ships to the South Pacific Force arose from Vice Admiral Halsey, an officer not given to crying "wolf" unnecessarily. Amphibious landings by South Pacific Forces at Empress Augusta Bay in Bougainville Island, only a bit over two hundred miles south of hard-held Rabaul, had bestirred the Japanese Fleet at Truk. Cruisers and destroyers from that fleet steaming towards Rabaul from Truk were believed to about tip the balance of sea power to the Japanese side in the Middle and Upper Solomons.63

COMSOWESPAC, to meet the emergency, ordered two cruisers and four destroyers temporarily to SOPAC. CINCPAC, to meet the emergency, ordered GALVANIC Task Group 50.3, containing three carriers and their destroyer screen, diverted to SOPAC with a view to making air strikes on the Japanese. Additionally, he ordered a light cruiser division and a destroyer division, enroute from the Central Pacific to their rehearsal for GALVANIC in the New Hebrides, to dash ahead of the Main Body and join up with SOPAC Forces to bolster the available defensive forces. To indicate that the loans were very temporary ones, CINCPAC directed that the ships be started back to the Central Pacific about 12 November. To provide adequate time


for the reassembly of the GALVANIC Forces, Dog Day for GALVANIC, which had been set for 19 November, was delayed to 20 November. COMINCH indicated his disapproval of further delay.

On 15 November, CINCPAC noted in his Command Summary, and presumably passed on to his senior commanders in the Fifth Fleet, that "Intelligence reports indicated extensive movement of aircraft in the Marshall-Gilbert Islands." This presaged a warm reception for the oncoming amphibians.

The Final Assault Plans--Task Force 54

The Scheme of Maneuver at Makin Atoll called for H-Hour assault landings at the seaward (eastern) beaches of Butaritari Island and a delayed assault landing two hours later on the lagoon beaches of the same island a mile and a half to the northward. The 165th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Infantry Division would provide the main assault troops loaded in LCVP's. A detachment of troops from the 105th Infantry Regiment from the same division, loaded in LVT's, if these became available prior to the sailing of the Task Force from Pearl Harbor, would lead in the assault. At the same H-Hour, a Marine platoon was to capture Entrance Island guarding the lagoon of Makin Atoll.

The Scheme of Maneuver at Tarawa Atoll called for H-Hour assault landings on three lagoon (northern) beaches of Betio by the Second Marine Division. Betio Island had another name, Bititu, which crops up often in the contemporary reports, but Betio is used in this account.

The major part of the Japanese defenses of Makin Atoll were around Butaritari Village. The Intelligence Annex to Rear Admiral Turner' s Operation Order stated that there were 600 to 900 defending troops. This was a considerable overestimate of troop strength but reasonably close for total Japanese and Korean military and paramilitary personnel.

The Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area, on 14 January 1944, after questioning the prisoners and reading the captured documents, believed that there had been a few less than 300 Japanese defending troops. These had been assisted by 100 naval aviation personnel and 150 Japanese laborers (possibly armed), and about 220 Korean laborers, the majority of whom surrendered when an opportunity occurred.64


Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll was much more strongly defended and heavily garrisoned than Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll. The Intelligence Annex to Rear Admiral Turner's order estimated that there were 2,500 troops in the garrison force and 1,000 other construction troops. As far as garrison troops is concerned this was a very good guess. As far as construction troops is concerned, it was just a fair guess; there were considerably more.

On 3 February 1944, the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area, reported that total Japanese strength on Tarawa was 4,836.

Of these, on Tarawa, only 2,619 could be considered first line troops. An additional 800 were reserves of limited value, and the rest can be reckoned non-effective for practical purposes, consisting largely of Korean laborers. . . .

The bulk of the 4th Construction Unit on Tarawa consisted of 4 "dan" of Korean coolies, designated by the names of their leaders--Tokuyama, Matsuyama, Kaneda and Tomoda. These averaged 200 men each and were subdivided into 5 "han." There was in addition, a group of Japanese workmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, divers, laborers, truck drivers, cooks, and intendance and medical personnel. This group averaged between 100 and 200. The whole unit was under the command of a Naval Civilian Engineer (Kaigun Gishi Suga).65

Betio Island was well defended on all sides.

The northern beaches of Betio were chosen as the preferred landing beaches because they vouchsafed better opportunities for securing a foothold than the others.66

Without knowing the Marine thinking behind this statement, it may be pointed out that landings on either the western or southern beaches would have exposed the approaching landing craft to enfilade fire, while the beaches chosen to the eastward of the long pier did not involve this hazard. Mining and obstruction of Betio Island beaches fronting on the lagoon had not been accomplished on 20 November 1943, while it had been accomplished on the southern and western beaches.

In any case, the Japanese alibi published 3 May 1944 by the Imperial General Headquarters (Army Section) for their own benefit indicated that the Marines chose wisely.

The beaches where the enemy landed were the points where both our


fortified positions lacked equipment and our troop disposition was weak, and especially points where there were no anti-tank obstacles.

It was early decided that our assaults at Makin and Tarawa would be:

  1. simultaneous
  2. by troops carried in amphibian tractors (LVT's) (3 waves at Tarawa, 1 at Makin), followed
  3. by medium tanks carried in medium sized landing craft (LCM), followed
  4. by troops carried in personnel landing craft (LCVP).


A comparison of the Expeditionary Forces and their supporting combatant units as initially assigned by CINCPAC, for WATCHTOWER and for GALVANIC, follows:

August 1942
November 1943
1 battleship 13 battleships (7 OBB)
11 heavy cruisers 8 heavy cruisers
3 light cruisers 4 light cruisers
3 carriers 4 carriers
    4 light carriers
    4 jeep carriers
    1 carrier transport
33 destroyers 56 destroyers
    14 destroyer escorts
5 minesweepers 3 minesweepers
13 transports 16 attack transports
4 fast transports    
5 cargo ships 4 attack cargo ships
    9 merchant transports
    38 landing ships (tank)
    11 landing crafts (infantry)
    2 landing ships (dock)
  19,000 troops from First Marine Division Reinforced and Supporting Elements   35,000 troops from Second Marine Division Reinforced and 27th Army Infantry Division Reinforced and Supporting Elements


All the 78 ships named by CINCPAC for WATCHTOWER participated, while there were numerous additions and deletions to the 191 ships named for GALVANIC. The nine merchant transports slated for the Gilberts shrank to seven, but two Navy transports and seven merchant cargo ships were added. One of the main GALVANIC deletions was the group of the 11 Landing Crafts (Infantry). Six submarines supported WATCHTOWER while 10 submarines supported GALVANIC. The logistic support ships for WATCHTOWER were but three lonely tankers, while for GALVANIC they were legion.

When the operation was over, a detailed compilation indicated that the Northern Landing Force had about 6,500 assault troops and the Southern Landing Force about 19,000. Following close along were 7,600 garrison troops. Logistic support included 6,000 vehicles and 117,000 tons of cargo.67

Movement to the Objective

The movement to the objective was complicated by:
  1. the necessity to meld the gunfire support ships and air support ships from the Central Pacific with the main transport force--12 attack transports--coming from the South Pacific.
  2. the necessity to gather together garrison forces from the widely separated islands of Tutuila, Funafuti, Nukufetau, and Wallis, and to put together new model amtracs and their crews at Tutuila.
  3. the vast distances and the slow speeds--8.5 knots--which the LST's could steadily steam.
  4. the desire to confuse the enemy as to the objective should a patrolling Japanese submarine have a chance encounter with any ships of the task force. This was to be accomplished by having the movements take on a general aspect of ships making passage from Pearl to the South Pacific.
  5. the need to loan part of the fast carrier task forces allocated to GALVANIC to bomb Rabaul in support of imminent landings on Bougainville Island in the South Pacific Area, in early November.


Keeping the Japanese Off Balance

On 27 October 1943, amphibians from the South Pacific Force landed in the Treasury Islands, the stepping stone between the Middle to the Upper Solomons. Five days later the step was completed with a full blown amphibious landing on Bougainville in the Northern Solomons. On 11 November carrier aircraft started sweeping across the southeast extension of the Japanese Empire, striking Rabaul on that day and working North through the Gilberts and Marshalls on the 18th and 19th. It was hoped that Japanese realization of the real objective of the Central Pacific Force would be made difficult if not impossible, until Dog Day minus Two (18 November).

Pre-Dog Day Army Air Force Bombing Attacks

An Air Force history records:

When the Marines stormed ashore at Tarawa on 20 November, the Seventh Air Force heavy bombers had completed 13 strike missions for a total of 141 sorties.68

However, of these 141 sorties, the majority had not been directed against the Gilberts, but against the Marshalls.

This was in support of the Fifth Fleet point of view that it was most desirable to have the air bases in the Marshall Islands, from which the Japanese might conduct air attacks against the Assault Force, placed out of commission, at least temporarily, during the early days of the landings.

Unfortunately, while the great majority of the B-24 sorties against Tarawa and Makin got through to drop their bombs in the target area, a large number of the sorties for the Marshalls went awry. Eleven Army Air Force bombers did not reach Mille on 14 November and returned to base. Only five of 11 got through to Mille on the 15th. On the 16th, nine Army Air Force bombers headed for Kwajalein but were unable to make bomb runs because of cloud cover and then due to Japanese interception. On the 18th, none of the 22 bombers due to strike Wotje got through to the primary target.

The detailed record shows that 67 B-24s of the Seventh Air Force (based in Canton and the Ellice Islands) raided the Gilberts in the week before the amphibians landed, as follows:


D-7 (13 November) Tarawa 17 bombers 8,500 to 15,000 feet
D-6 (14 November) Tarawa 9 bombers 16,500 to 17,500 feet
D-5 (15 November) Makin (in lieu of Mille) 3 bombers (no altitude given)
D-4 (16 November) Tarawa (in lieu of Kwajalein) 1 bomber 9,000 feet
D-3 (17 November) Tarawa 3 bombers 2,500 feet
D-2 (18 November) Tarawa (in lieu of Mille) 2 bombers 12,000 feet
D-1 (19 November) Tarawa 20 bombers 1,500 to 11,000 feet
  Makin 12 bombers 10,000 to 10,400 feet

On 19 November the heavy bombers estimated that 55 percent of the demolition bombs and 65 percent of the fragmentation bombs hit the target.69

Total results based on the detailed daily operational reports show that Tarawa received from the Seventh Air Force 34.5 tons of bombs during these seven crucial days and Makin 27.5 tons, the latter largely on Dog Day minus one. These figures bore little resemblance to the ratio of strength between the Japanese defenses at Betio and Butaritari Islands.

The Japanese made things no easier for the B-24s by raiding Nanomea on the night of 11 November and Funafuti on 13 and 17 November, destroying four bombers and damaging 24 others. But no Japanese fighter planes were met over Tarawa or Makin on any of these crucial days by our planes. Perhaps the light attacks by the heavy land-based bombers from the 15th to the 18th encouraged the Japanese to believe that the Gilberts were not to be the next objective.

Tarawa Atoll

Shore bombardment by three cruisers and two destroyers was planned for Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll on Dog Day minus one on the assumption that control of the air in the Gilberts would be achieved by Central Pacific Forces on that day.

Such a bombardment was a necessity since there were two 8-inch coast defense guns at both the east and the west ends of the island which needed to be knocked out before the transports could move into the Transport Area,


as well as numerous 14-centimeter coast defense guns and 127-millimeter twin mount dual-purpose guns, which would make mincemeat of any landing craft within their considerable range.

The dozens of other dual-purpose guns backed up the log barricades which defended a fair share of the beach areas. Thirteen anti-tank trenches covered the various approaches to the airfield from the beaches. Anti-boat mines and high double apron wire fences off shore, and double apron low wire fences on the beach, strengthened the Japanese positions. Ammunition and personnel shelters, large emplacements for guns and fire control equipment, and the main command post were constructed of very heavy concrete, 3 feet to 12 feet thick, as their importance justified. Coral sand, sand bags and coconut logs covered the shelters and emplacements.

Summed up:

Tarawa was the most heavily defended atoll that would ever be invaded by Allied forces in the Pacific. With the possible exception of Iwo Jima, its beaches were better protected against a landing force than any encountered in any theater of war throughout World War II.70

Makin Atoll

There was no shore bombardment of Japanese positions on Makin Atoll planned for Dog Day minus one, primarily because the Japanese defensive preparations on this atoll were judged insufficient to necessitate one.

Japanese defenses were restricted to the 300-yard center part of 400-yard wide Butaritari Island. This center area was well defined by an anti- tank ditch stretching from the ocean to the lagoon, and an anti-tank barricade at each end. These anti-tank defenses were backed up by fire trenches. Nothing larger than an 8-centimeter (3.2) anti-boat gun and anti-aircraft machine guns (70-mm and 80-mm) were known to be in the defensive armament. Most of these guns were on the seaward beach areas a good distance (2.5 miles) from where the early landings were planned to take place.

Thirty-four planes bombed Makin on Dog Day minus one. Five definite hits were registered on designated targets. Unusual trouble with bomb releases was experienced during this operation. The overall results were reasonably effective even though Commander Task Group 50.2, Rear Admiral


Arthur W. Radford, observed in his GALVANIC report: "Bombing accuracy was not up to expectancy."71

Pre-Dog Day Heavy Cruiser Shore Bombardment--Betio

Early on the morning of Friday, 19 November, Cruiser Division Five, Task Unit 50.3.2 (plus destroyers Erben and Hale), under the command of Rear Admiral E. G. Small, was temporarily detached from its protective screening duty in Fast Carrier Task Group 50.3, when about 100 miles south of Tarawa Atoll, and ordered to bombard selected targets on Betio Island.

The Bombardment Plan called for 90 minutes of firing by the 8-inch turrets during a two-hour period. The destroyers did not participate in the bombardment.

Commander Task Unit 50.3.2 reported that seven or eight coast defense guns fired at his ship during their shore bombardment efforts, the Japanese batteries opening fire first, at 1116. Ranges varied from 22,300 yards to 8,600 yards. Cruiser air spot was used. Enemy straddles were numerous but there were no hits. Three enemy guns at the eastern end of Betio were still firing when the bombardment came to an end at 1321 due to the expenditure of the allowance of ammunition authorized for bombardment. The three ships fired 1,941 eight-inch shells as well as eighty-two 5-inch shells (about 250 tons). The Unit Commander reported later that:

This operation, as did the bombardment of Wake, demonstrated the difficulty of destroying well emplaced guns either by air or surface bombardment. Many straddles were obtained, but hits were a matter of chance.72

Neither Commander Task Group 54 (Turner) nor his subordinate, Commander Task Group 53 (Hill), mentioned this bombardment in the main part of their reports on GALVANIC. The latter was to learn early the following morning that the cruisers had not knocked out the 8-inch coast defense guns, their principal task. Turret gun patterns had been irregular and estimated as large as 1,600 yards, probably caused by the use of reduced powder charges.

The Cruiser Division Commander did not request authority to stick around


to continue the effort to knock out the Japanese guns. The Japanese asserted that they fired 46 rounds of 8-inch and 104 rounds of 5-inch in reply to the bombardment, but did not claim any hits.

Pre-Dog Day Carrier Air Attacks

Six carrier groups containing six large carriers (CV), five cruiser-hulled carriers (CVL), and eight merchant ship-hulled carriers (CVE), and carrying a total of some 900 planes provided the naval carrier air support for GALVANIC.

Carrier air strikes were made at Tarawa Atoll on the 18th and 19th, and on Makin Atoll on the 19th, but the main carrier air strike effort was made against the Japanese air bases in the Marshalls and on Nauru Island.

On 18 November, carrier aircraft dropped 115 tons of bombs on Tarawa and this was followed with 69 tons the following day. On 19 November carrier aircraft dropped 95 tons of bombs on Butaritari Island in Makin Atoll. The Enterprise reported that "by the end of the day, AA fire had practically ceased."

Japanese aircraft made unsuccessful counterattacks on the carrier air groups on 18 November.

Time Schedule

The schedule of the Assault Plan was:

Dog Day--20 November 1943 Assault forces arrive
Dog plus one Day--21 November 1943 Anti-aircraft and coast artillery batteries arrive
Dog plus four Day--24 November 1943 First echelon construction units arrive
Dog plus eight Day--28 November 1943 Apamama Garrison units arrive

Stay and Fight

In order that there would be no question in the mind of those serving in the combatant ships of the Assault Force as to whether or not they would be expected to scurry away when the Marines were established ashore, the Operation Plan provided:


Most combatant ships of the Assault Force will remain at Makin and Tarawa or Apamama for the protection of transports, and support of our Fleet until the withdrawal of Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama garrison groups, at a time estimated to be about Dog plus Twelve to Fourteen Day.

The Covering Force was informed that they should plan on being in the area two weeks. A tough fight for the Gilberts was expected and prepared for.73

To the Marines

Before the Marines had arrived at Tarawa, their Commanding General told them:

Our Navy screens our operations and will support our attack tomorrow morning with the greatest concentration of aerial bombardment and naval gunfire in the history of warfare. It will remain with us until our objective is secured and our defenses are established. Garrison forces are already en route to relieve us as soon as we have completed our job of clearing our objectives of Japanese forces.74

In this manner, Major General Julian Smith answered these two questions in every regular Marine's mind after Guadalcanal:

Is the Navy going to really stay and closely support us? Is the Army really going to relieve us, as they are supposed to do?

And the Commanding General added prophetically:

What we do here will set a standard for all future operations in the Central Pacific area . . . your success will add new laurels to the glorious traditions of our Corps.

The Second Marines did just that.

To All Hands

Before All Hands had been turned in for a catnap on 19 November before a long tomorrow, they could read on their bulletin boards another sober sided message from Rear Admiral Turner addressed to the officers and men of his Assault Force:


Units attached to this force are honored in having been selected to strike another hard blow against the enemy by capturing the Gilbert Islands. The close cooperation between all arms and Services, the spirit of loyalty to each other, and the determination to succeed displayed by veteran and untried personnel alike, gives me complete confidence that we will never stop until we have achieved success. I lift my spirits with this unified team of Army, Navy and Marines whether attached to ships, aircraft, or ground units, and I say to you that I know God will bless you and give you the strength to win a glorious victory.

Makin Atoll


Table of Contents  *  Previous Chapter  *  Next Chapter


1. Interview with Admiral Spruance, 5 Oct. 1961.

2. Interview with Fleet Admiral Nimitz, USN, 19 Oct. 1961, and letters from Fleet Admiral Nimitz during 1960, 1961, 1962. Hereafter Nimitz.

3. Interviews with Admiral R.A. Spruance, USN (Ret.), 5, 6, and 7 Oct. 1961 and letters from Admiral Spruance during 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1968. Hereafter Spruance.

4. Emmet P. Forrestel, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1966), p. 69.

5. Turner to CINCPAC, memorandum, 24 Jul. 1943.

6. Turner.

7. Quoted in letter from TH to GCD, 5 Mar. 1961; TH to AAV, letter, 18 Aug. 1943.

8. Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 109.

9. Quoted in letter from TH to GCD, 5 Mar. 1961.

10. Turner.

11. TSW to RKT, letter, 22 Oct. 1943.

12. RKT to TSW, letter, 9 Nov. 1943.

13. Staff interviews.

14. Interview with Captain E.W. McKee (1908), 13 Mar. 1964. Hereafter McKee.

15. Bonney.

16. Knowles.

17. Joseph Driscoll, Pacific Victory, p. 57.

18. (a) TSW to RKT, letter, 22 Oct. 1943; (b) Doyle.

19. (a) COMPHIBFORSOPAC Rosters, 18 Jul. 1942, 20 Jan. 1943, 30 June. 1943; (b) FIFTH PHIBFOR Roster, 1 Oct. 1943.

20. COMPHIBFORSOPAC, Letter, FE25/A3-1, Ser 037 of 20 Jan. 1943.

21. (a) COMFIFTHPHIBFOR to CINCPAC, letter, Ser 46, 3 Sep. 1943; (b) Administrative History of Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Vol. I, p. 64.

22. COMTRANSPHIBLANT, War Diary, 4 Feb. 1943.

23. COMLANCRASOPAC, Letter, Ser 002 of 13 Jul. 1943, sub: Performance of Landing Craft.

24. Grace Hayes, Pearl Harbor through Trident, Vol. I of History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in World War II (1953), p. 391.

25. (a) COMINCH to CINCPAC, 091256 Jun. 1943; (b) CINCPAC to COMINCH, 112105 Jun. 1943; (c) CTF 51 to CINCPAC, 122151 Jun. 1943; (d) Pennsylvania to COMPHIBFORPAC, 160616 Jun. 1943.

26. COMINCH to CINCPAC 092200 Feb. 1943; CINCPAC, 112237 Feb. 1943.

27. King to Marshall, COMINCH Memo, Ser 001150 of 11 Jun. 1943, subj: Future Campaign Operations in the Pacific Ocean Areas.

28. JCS to CINCSWPA in War Department, 151655 Jun. 1943.

29. COMINCH to CINCPAC, 152220 Jun. 1943.

30. (a) MacArthur to Marshall, C3302-CM-IN13149, 20 Jun. 1943; (b) JPS 205/2, Operations Against the Marshall Islands, 18 Jun. 1943.

31. CINCPAC to COMINCH, 200145 Jun. 1943.

32. (a) COMINCH to CINCPAC, 241301 Jun. 1943; (b) COMSOPAC 250515 Jun. 1943; (c) CINCPAC to COMINCH, letter, Ser 0096 of 1 Jul. 1943, subj: The Seizure of the Marshall Islands.

33. (a) CINCPAC to COMSOPAC, 292145 Jun. 1943; (b) CINCPAC to COMINCH 030021 Jul. 1943.

34. (a) JCS 386, Strategy in the Pacific, 28 Jun. 1943; (b) Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York: Whittlesey House, 1950), p. 1943; (c) JCS 386/1 and Draft Directive; (d) Brief of Plan for the Control of the Marshall Islands dated 12 February 1943, called for assaulting Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap; (e) JCS 92nd Meeting, minutes, 15 June 1943, 8th item.

35. JCS to CINCPAC, Info CINSOWESPAC, COMSOPAC, 202149 and 202204 Jul. 1943.

36. (a) Spruance; (b) COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, letter, 05A/A16-3/Ser 0037 of 24 Sep. 1943 and COMCENPACFOR Endorsement thereon on 24 Sep. 1943.

37. (a) CINCPAC to COMINCH 260439 Sep. 1943; (b) COMINCH to CINCPAC, 271805 Sep. 1943; (c) CINCPAC to COMCENPAC, 290139 Sep. 1943; (d) Air Force, Guadalcanal to Saipan, p. 292.

38. Turner.

39. Interview with Admiral Harry W. Hill, USN (Ret.), 9 Jun. 1965. Hereafter Hill.

40. Rear Admiral Hill and staff flew out of Pearl for Wellington on 19 October and were not again in Pearl until after GALVANIC.

41. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR to CINCPAC, letter, C5A/A16-3(3) Ser 00165 of 4 Dec. 1943.

42. COMINCH to CINCPAC 141557 Jun. 1943.

43. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, letters, Ser 0052 of 30 Sep. 1943; 3 Oct. 1943; subj: Amphibious Training.

44. Interview Rear Admiral Herbert K. Knowles, USN (Ret.), 3 Jun. 1962. Hereafter Knowles.

45. Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Va., "Special Landing Equipment," No. 26 in series on Amphibious Operations (1946) p. 43.

46. (a) Smith, Coral and Brass, pp. 120-21; (b) Knowles; (c) COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, Group Two, Op Order A101-43, 17 Oct. 1943, Appendix 1 to Annex D.

47. (a) United States Air Force Historical Studies Division, Historical Study No. 38, Operational History of the Seventh Air Force, 6 Nov. 1943, 31 Jul. 1944, pp. 3-12; (b) USSBS Report No. 70 in Pacific War Series, "Seventh and Eleventh Air Forces in War Against Japan," pp. 3-4; (c) Air Force, Guadalcanal to Saipan, ch. 9.

48. COMCENPAC Op Plan 1-43, 25 Oct. 1943 Annex E, pp. II-3, II-5.

49. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR (CTF 54) Op Plan A2-43, 23 Oct. 1943, Annex B, Appendices A, B, I, K, N and O.

50. ONI Monograph No. 600, "The Gilbert Islands," Oct. 1943.

51. (a) JICPOA Bulletin No. 42-43, "Enemy Positions Gilbert Islands"; (b) Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, Vol. VI of subseries The War in the Pacific in UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1955), pp. 67-68; (c) Japanese Bases in the Mandated Islands, MS, Office of Naval History, Naval Operations; (d) Study of Theater of Operations, Fifth Amphibious Corps, 20 Sep. 1943.

52. JICPOA Bulletin No. 8-44 "Japanese Forces in Gilbert Islands"; (b) Crowl and Love, Gilbert and Marshalls (Army), p. 71; (c) Eight centimeters are roughly 3.2 inches.

53. COMCENPACFOR to All Flag Officers, General Instructions for GALVANIC Operation, 29 Oct. 1943.

54. Morison, Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls (Vol. VII), Appendix II.

55. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, letter, OSA/A16-3/Ser 0023 of 19 Sept. 1943, with endorsements thereon by COMCENPACFOR and CINCPAC, subj: Recommended changes in command arrangements, CINCPAC Operation Plan 13-43.

56. COMINCH to C/S USA, 14 Jun. 1943 and 22 Jul. 1943 and 29 July reply thereto, subj: Release of 1st or 3rd Marine Division for operations in Central Pacific.

57. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, Report of GALVANIC Operation, Ser 00165 of 4 Dec. 1943, para. 12.

58. RKT to Commander Southern Attack Force (TF 53), letter, 17 Nov. 1943.

59. CTF 53, Report of Tarawa Operations, Ser 0036 of 13 Dec. 1943, p. 1 to Encl. (A).

60. (a) Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific (Vol. III), Chs. VII-XI; (b) Crowl and Love, Gilberts and Marshalls (Army), chs. I-X.

61. CINCPAC Command Summary, Book Four, 26 Oct. 1943, p. 1677.

62. COMCENPACFOR, General Instructions, 29 Oct. 1943.

63. COMSOPAC to CINCPAC 030100 Nov. 943; CINCPAC to COMSOPAC 030915, 052111 Nov. 1943; CINCPAC to COMCENPAC 060320 Nov. 1943; COMINCH to CINCPAC 081626 Nov. 1943.

64. JICPOA Bulletin No. 4-44, "Japanese Defenses Makin Atoll."

65. JICPOA Bulletin 8-44, pp. 1-4.

66. James R. Stockman, The Battle for Tarawa (Washington: Historical Section, Division of Public Information Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1947), p. 5.

67. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, Report on GALVANIC, 4 Dec. 1943.

68. (a) Operational History of the Seventh Air Force, 6 Nov. 1943-31 Jul. 1944, pp. 8, 9, 10; (b) CTF 57, Report of Air Strike Operations, Ser 0092 of 16 Dec. 1943.

69. Ibid.

70. Crowl and Love, Gilberts and Marshalls (Army), p. 74.

71. CTG 50.2, letter, FF 11/A16-3, Ser 00133 of 5 Dec. 1943, para 2(3) chronology.

72. (a) CTG 50.302 Action Report, Ser 00155 of 2 Dec. 1943, p. 11; (b) Japanese Military Action in the Gilbert Islands, PACMIRS Captured Document #MR-50 (D-65) dated 3 May 1944; (c) CINCPAC-CINCPOA Monthly Operations Report, November 1943, para 22.

73. COMFIFTHFLT Op Plan CEN 1-43, 25 Oct. 1943.

74. Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC, COMGENSECONDMARDIV to his Marines, letter, 19 Nov. 1943.