Chapter 18
That Real Toughie--Tarawa

Tarawa Atoll

Tarawa Atoll was quite another matter from Makin Atoll. Both were victories, but Tarawa was a tremendous victory. Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill was the Task Force Commander at Tarawa. The detailed naval planning was his, including the naval chores in the gunfire plans and the landing plans. His was the responsibility for establishing the Landing Force on shore. This he did.

Rear Admiral Turner, the Task Force Commander and Immediate Senior in Command, was well over the horizon and busy with the problems of

Tarawa Atoll


Makin. Vice Admiral Spruance, the Commander Central Pacific Force, was present at Tarawa in the Indianapolis (CA-35), but with that quality which endeared him to all his subordinates, did not undertake to kibitz on the minute-by-minute performance of the local Task Force or Task Group Commanders.

To Rear Admiral Harry Hill belongs full credit for a great and hard-fought victory.

Despite the tremendous victory, there were some caustic comments and a few old shoes thrown about. Some of these were directed at Rear Admiral Turner, and a few at Vice Admiral Spruance. As at Guadalcanal, Rear Admiral Turner accepted his responsibilities for the decisions that were his as the Task Force Commander and Immediate Senior in Command. He suggested that the facts be laid on the table and examined.

Without in any way attempting to describe all the naval operations at Tarawa, this will be done.

Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill Gets a New Job

The first secret letter which Rear Admiral Turner had written after he undertook the duties of Commander Fifth Amphibious Force was to recommend to CINCPAC that a Flag officer be ordered to command the Naval Attack Force which would assemble, plan and train for the GALVANIC operation in New Zealand where the Second Marine Division was located. Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill was the officer chosen for this assignment by Admiral King. He became Commander TF 53, the Southern Attack Force. Like nearly all the other Flag officers moving into amphibious commands at this stage of the war, this officer was commanding his first amphibious assault force.1

The Southern Attack Force (TF 53) of necessity was markedly larger in transport strength than the Northern Attack Force (TF 52) because its task was to land a division, while TF 52 was to land only a regiment or one-third of a division. At the same time, the combined gunfire and air power of TF 53 and its nearby Southern Carrier Group, in comparison with TF 52 and the Northern Carrier Group, did not reflect the known strong Japanese defenses on Betio Island of Tarawa Atoll versus the known modest Japanese defenses on Butaritari Island of Makin Atoll. This imbalance in total gunfire


and air power readily available to CTF 53 was decided on by Commander Central Pacific Force because of a belief that an attack by the Japanese Fleet would come in from the north or northwest--the directions of the Marshalls and of Truk--and that adequate battle line strength and air power to meet any aspect of such an attack should be deployed in that direction, and included in the Northern Attack Force.

Comparative strength of the two task forces follow:

TF 52
TF 53
Attack transports 4 12
Transports 0 1
Attack Cargo Ships 1 3
LSTs 3 3
LSD 1 1
Destroyers, transport screen 4 8
Battleships (OBB) 4 3
Cruisers, heavy 4 2
Cruisers, light 0 2
Destroyers, fire support screen 6 9
Minesweepers 1 2
Carriers, Jeep (CVE) 3 5
Destroyers, air support screen   4   5
  35 56

TF 53 was organized as follows:


Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill (1911)

  1. TASK GROUP 53.1 TRANSPORT GROUP Captain Herbert B. Knowles (1917)

    TASK UNIT 53.1.1 TRANSPORT DIVISION FOUR Captain John B. McGovern (1921)

      Zeilin (FF) (APA-3) Commander Thomas B. Fitzpatrick (1919)
      Harry Lee (APA-10) Commander Joseph G. Pomeroy (1921)
      William P. Biddle (APA-8) Commander Leon F. Brown, USNR (1916)
      Arthur Middleton (APA-25) Captain S.A. Olsen, USCG
      Heywood (APA-6) Commander Paul F. Dugan (1923)
      Thuban (AKA-19) Commander James C. Campbell, USNR


    TASK UNIT 53.1.2 TRANSPORT DIVISION EIGHTEEN Captian H.B. Knowles (1917) TASK UNIT 53.1.3 TRANSPORT DIVISION SIX Captain Thomas B. Brittain (1920) TASK UNIT 53.1.4 TRANSPORT SCREEN Captain Edward M. Thompson (1921)

  1. TASK GROUP 53.2 MINESWEEPER GROUP Lieutenant Commander H.R. Peirce USNR
      Requisite (F) (AM-109) Lieut. Comdr. Herbert R. Peirce, USNR
      Pursuit (AM-108) Lieutenant Romer F. Goo, USNR

  2. TASK GROUP 53.3 LST GROUP Lieut. Comdr. Ray M. Pitts (1932)
      LST-242 Lieutenant Justin W. Winney, USNR
      LST-243 Lieutenant Floyd H. Blaske, USNR
      LST-34 Lieutenant(jg) James J. Davis Jr., USNR
      LCT-247 [Ensign James N. Martin, USNR]
      LCT-250 Ensign Gordon S. Foster, USNR
      LCT-251 Ensign Roland W. Holmes, USNR
      Bancroft (DD-598) Lieut. Comdr. Ray M. Pitts (1932)

  3. TASK GROUP 53.4 FIRE SUPPORT GRUP Rear Admiral H.F. Kingman (1911)

      TASK UNIT 53.4.1 FIRE SUPPORT SECTION 1 Rear Admiral Howard F. Kingman (1911)
        Tennessee (F) (BB-43) Captain Robert S. Haggart (1912)
        Mobile (CL-63) Captain C. Julian Wheeler (1916)


  1. TASK GROUP 53.5 SOUTHERN LANDING FORCE Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC
      Embarked Units of
      Second Marine Division Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC

  2. TASK GROUP 53.6 CARRIER (SUPPORT) GROUP Rear Admiral Van H. Ragsdale (1916)
      (Escort Carrier Division 22)
        Sangamon (F) (CVE-26) Captain Edward P. Moore (1921)
        Suwannee (CVE-27) Captain Frederick W. McMahon (1920)
        Chenango (CVE-28) Captain Eixwell Ketcham (1920) Barnes (CVE-20_ Captain George A. Dussault (1923)
        Nassau (CVE-16) Captain Stanley J. Michael (1920)
      TASK UNIT 53.6.2 SCREEN (DESTROYER DIVISION TWO) Commander Ira H. Nunn (1924)
        Farragut (F) (DD-348) Lieut. Comdr. Edward F. Ferguson (1931)
        Alwyn (DD-355) Commander Robert O. Strange (1928)
        Monaghan (DD-354) Lieut. Comdr. Peter H. Horn (1930)
        Cotten (DD-669) Lieut. Comdr. Frank T. Sloat (1930)
        Cowell (DD-547) Comdr. Charles W. Parker (1927)


Three days before the assault at Tarawa commenced, Kelly Turner sent a letter by destroyer seamail to his old friend Harry Hill:

I'm not going to interfere with you, but will help in any way possible, if you will keep me advised.2

According to Admiral Hill, this understanding for GALVANIC was observed.3

The only major command decision reserved to higher authority and likely to arise in the Southern Attack Force related to the commitment of the Corps Reserve. The Corps Reserve was held available for use either at Makin, or Tarawa, or for the subsequent occupation of Apamama. By the written operation orders a recommendation for its release and commitment had to be referred for decision by the Commander Southern Landing Force to the Commander Southern Attack Force, and by him to the Commander Fifth Amphibious Corps and to Commander Assault Force.

Covering this matter, as well as the pre-landing bombardments, Rear Admiral Turner wrote to his senior naval amphibious subordinate as follows:

Both Holland Smith and I feel that the scheduled advance bombing and bombardment, and the maximum amount of effective bombing and bombardment on Dog Day, must be relied on to break down strong resistance, if we are to be successful in getting a secure beachhead . . . .

We also feel that, while the Corps Reserve should not be committed unnecessarily, you should not hesitate to request its assignment to you if you consider there is any real chance of failure without it.4

Naval Operational Aspects

There will be no effort to detail herein the shoreside action of the Southern Landing Force at Betio Island. It is one of the fine sagas of the United States Marine Corps. And Admiral Turner always touched his cap to the Marine Corps.

There were a number of naval aspects of the assault landing which were criticized. The operational occurrences relating to the more important of these will be related, without making any effort to detail in full all the naval


Batio Island, Tarawa Atoll

operational events of the Tarawa victory. Specifically, the faulted aspects included:

  1. Delay in landing the three assault waves of amtracs.
  2. Pre-landing gunfire bombardment.
  3. Pre-landing air bombardment.
  4. The timing of the air and gun bombardments with the actual touchdown of the amtracs at the beach.
  5. Lack of adequate water over the apron reef for the LCM and LCVP to unload their tanks and troops reasonably close to the beach.

Except for item (1) above, the operation orders which Rear Admiral Turner, as Commander Assault Force, issued to Commander Southern Attack Force had a bearing on the decisions which Rear Admiral Hill, the Commander Southern Attack Force, could make in these areas. To understand these better, the following background is essential.

Scheme of Maneuver--Tarawa Atoll

The Scheme of Maneuver at Tarawa called for the landing of three battalion landing teams abreast on RED Beach One, Two and Three, on the


lagoon shore of Betio Island with subsequent landings on Betio or adjacent islands as found necessary. Three battalion landing teams were held in reserve, one by the regimental commander and two by the divisional commander. Additionally, there was the Corps Reserve, the Marine 6th Regiment.

Time Schedule

The assault was based on teh time schedule shown below. The time of actual events is given by taking a mean of the times reported after the action by various participants or observers.

Planned   Actual Event

Counter Battery Fire As Needed   0058 Moonrise--Third quarter moon.
  0507 Shore batteries opened fire against heavy ships.
  0540 Daylight
  0548 Shore batteries re-opened fire--this time on a few transports.
    0610 Sunrise.
0545   0613 Air bombardment commences. W-Hour minus 30.
0615   0622 W-Hour is completion of initial air attac; commence phase #1 of scheduled gun bombardment. Officially set as 0620 by CTF 53, but actual air bombardment continued until at least 0622 and possibly 0627.
0730   0736 Cease scheduled gunfire Phase #1. W-Hour plus 75. Fire support ships fire at targets of opportunity while shifting positions for Phase #2 of scheduled gunfire, and continue counter battery fire.

  Actual Event

    0741 H-Hour confirmed as 0830.
0745   0745 Commence Phase #2 of scheduled gunfire--beach preparation. (The Plan assumed that coast defense and enemy AA batteries would have been destroyed during Phase #1.)
    0801 H-Hour changed to 0845.
At first 0750 then 0746   0825 Assault waves cross Line of Departure, forty-four minutes' run to RED 1 Beach at four and a half knots speed.


  Actual Event

0805   0805 Check gunfire for 5 minutes; silent period.
    0825 H Hour changed to 0900.
Beach preparation by ships' gunfire; actual times were based on new H-Hour.
0820   0850 Cease fire all 8" guns and larger caliber guns.

H Hour
Actual Event

Aircraft strage beaches. No gunfire on beaches.
0830 0900 0910 Land 1st assault wave. (Actual time is for Beach RED One only.)
0830 0900 0917 Aircraft attack second defense installations behind beaches.
Land 2nd to 6th assault waves. (Actual time is for 2nd wave on RED One only.) Fire support ships maintain neutralizaiton with secondary battery fire.

The pre-battle instructions had two very important provisions:

  1. All ships must immediately use counter-battery fire against gun installations which open fire on our surface ships prior to W-30 minutes.
  2. Times of ceasing fire given with reference to How Hour are approximate. The distance of boats from the beach is the governing factor.5

The ships complied when the first contingency arose. The aircraft did not comply with provision (2), looking at their watches instead of the assault boats.

The Approach to Tarawa

At 0251 on 20 November, the Southern Attack Force, then just south of the mid-latitude between Tarawa Atoll and Maina Atoll, turned to a course of due west and slowed to ten knots as it was experiencing the same strong set by the westerly current as the Northern Attack Force met enroute to Makin Atoll. This set had been reported by the Nautilus, the submarine scout. One ship, the Harris, logged this current as 1.5 to 2 knots.


Presumably there were 17-18 miles separating Tarawa and Maina atolls, but the widespread screens were ordered to close in from the flanks in order to narrow the formation front, as existing charts were known to be inaccurate. As Rear Admiral Hill later wrote:

To get proper fixes from the bearing lines taken by Radar, it was necessary to improvise an approach chart of Tarawa, rotating the compass rose 11° clockwise.6

The transports arrived in what they judged to be the Transport Area some eight miles from the northwest corner of Betio Island about 0345 and almost immediately started putting into the water the LVT(1)'s for the 1st Assault Wave and getting the troops into them in the pale light of the third-quarter moon. About 0415 the LST's carrying the LVT(2)'s hove into position near the appropriate transports and then began the complicated chore of melding the LVT(2)'s with the Marines from the transports.

Dawn was slated to break at 0455 but even before that enlightening event occurred, the transports were carried by the current southerly out of the Transport Area and, at 0421, were ordered by Rear Admiral Hill to get back into proper position.

At 0441 the Japanese fired a red cluster as an official acknowledgement of the presence of Task Force 53.

The transports' troubles due to current and the enemy had just commenced.

The Japanese Become Alert

For the next 26 minutes after firing their red star cluster, the Japanese, being without radar controlled coast defense guns, apparently just peered into the darkness of the night. Finally, at about 0507, a bit over an hour before sunrise, they opened fire with their heavy coast defense guns located at the southwestern end of Betio. These 8-inch guns had been taken out of Singapore after the Japanese captured that port from the British. Cruiser Division Five failed to knock out these guns on the previous day and they provided the first hitch in the scheduled landing operations. Their fire was apparently directed towards the Expeditionary Force in general, rather than any particular ship, since no ship logged a close miss from their big 8-inch shells.

The flagship Maryland fired ten salvos from her 16-inch main battery in


reply, and reported that on the fifth salvo she had scored a hit on the battery as there was an explosion and the Japanese stopped firing. Other heavy support ships opened counter-battery fire at other Japanese guns which had opened up on the Expeditionary Force and continued shooting until about 0542, three minutes before the initial Dog Day air strike was scheduled to start.

Shortly after the fire support ships stopped firing, the Japanese came to life again and about 0550, in the dawn's early light, discovered and started shooting at some of the transports. At this moment the assault transports were debarking the Marines into the LCVP's for the fourth and subsequent assault waves.

By and large, the transports, which were under orders not to reply to enemy gunfire from the shore, did not take much note in their log books of the initial burst of Japanese gunfire about 0507. Some, when they did, assumed they were not the target.7

For instance, an old amphibian, the Harry Lee, logged at 0510:

Fire support vessels exchanged shell fire with beach.8

During the second burst of Japanese firing commencing about 0550, shells from coast defense guns were logged as falling close aboard the transports J. Franklin Bell, William P. Biddle, Harris, LaSalle, Monrovia, Virgo and by LST-34.

This second burst of Japanese shelling three-quarters of an hour after the welcoming salvos officially put the transports in the battle. At 0614, the LaSalle (AP102) logged:

Many near misses burst near this vessel. One shell burst twenty feet from bow, lightly denting shell plating and spraying personnel with water.9

The LST-34, that had brought one-third of the precious new amtracs to Tarawa, logged the following:

0612. Enemy shelling from beach by 5" and 6" guns commenced. First salvo splashes observed 700 yards off port bow. Second salvo splashes observed 300 yards off port beam.

0614. Third salvo splashes observed 100 yards off starboard quarter.

0615. Fourth salvo 30 yards astern. Underway on evasive courses, speed forced flank.10


By and large, the transports continued with their primary task. As their commander reported:

In spite of this shelling, transports completed disembarking their assault waves, and got underway to northward at 0616 . . . only when enemy shells up to probably 8" size began getting too dangerously close.11

Or as another observer, Commander, Transport Division Four, saw it:

At 0625 transports were under desultory enemy fire from the beach and were obliged to move out of range to a distance of 18,000 yards.12

Two men in the Harris and one man in the William P. Biddle were wounded by shell fragments during this period.

As the initial air strike did not arrive on schedule, and after learning that the air strike would not arrive until about 0610, the heavy support ships opened counter-battery fire again about 0600 and ceased again about 0612. A report stated:

The actual number of guns on Betio which fired at the transports on the morning of D-day is unknown, but it was estimated that at least two 8" guns and six 5" guns opened fire.13

If this observation is at all accurate, it meant that out of four 8-inch guns and eight 5-inch guns on Betio, from 50 percent to 75 percent survived all the pre-Dog Day air bombardments as well as the single pre-Dog Day ship gun bombardment. It was indicative that both the prior air and long-range ship gun bombardment had been of limited value.

Landing the Assault Waves--Tarawa Atoll

The Scheme of Maneuver for the landing of the assault waves at Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll brought forth the most comprehensive landing attack orders promulgated up to that date in the Pacific amphibious campaigns.

The Operation Order of Commander Transport Group, Southern Attack Force ran to 33 pages. It contained three pages of hand-colored "sectional sketches of the weather reef and beaches showing landing conditions at spring neap tides" as anticipated on 20 November 1943. These sketches indicated the beaches were marginal for regular LCVP landing craft use.


Landing craft allocation for troop loading plan.


The personal copy of his own operation order held by Commander Transport Group, Southern Attack Force bore his handwritten note opposite the colored sketch for the time on 20 November when the landing was to be made:

This is the condition we may expect except possibility ess water.14

The LCVP landing craft in this particular sketch was shown grounded 50 yards from the beach.

The Operation Order 2-43 at the next lower echelon of command in the Transport Group, Commander Assault Transports, Southern Attack Force, ran to 22 pages, making at least 55 pages of essential reading for those at the bottom of the amphibian totem pole.15

The basic problem for the amphibians was that of producing with amtracs of two models with different top speeds, a simultaneous landing on three contiguous beaches about six and a half miles over the horizon from the Boat Rendezvous Area. This was to be done after the execution of a simultaneous 70° turn of the first three assault waves, when they were about three miles from the designated beaches.

The basic problem was complicated by the necessity of first putting together, in darkness, the amtracs carried on each of ten transports with the Marines carried on three of these transports (Heywood, Zeilin, Arthur Middleton), and secondly, putting together, in darkness, the second and third waves of amphibious tractors which arrived off Betio in LST's and other Marines, arriving off Betio in the same three transports.

The plan called for the Marines to be loaded from the three transports into ten different ships' LCVP's and transferred therein to designated amtracs.

The extent of this boating complication is shown by the intricate plan needed to solve it. A diagram of the issued order is shown herewith. There were 42 amtracs and four LCSs in the first waves, 24 LVT(2) in the second wave and 21 LVT(2)'s in the third wave. The Landing Craft Support (LCS) armed with rockets accompanied the leading waves.

(1) Delay in Landing the Three Waves of Amtracs

Tarawa was the first landing in the Pacific where the actual speed which


the amtracs made was a vital factor in the coordination of offensive action at How Hour.

According to the "book," the LVT(1) had a top water speed of 6.5 miles per hour, while the newer LVT(2) was capable of 7.5 miles per hour.16 But, experience indicated that these craft did not make their designed speed in the open sea when loaded for an assault landing.

The slower LVT(1)'s from the ten large transports coming from New Zealand were designated for the 1st Assault Wave. This was a wise decision because it was known that they would be present, while the availability of the newer, faster model to be delivered by the LST's coming from Samoa was doubtful during the pre-embarkation planning period. The LVT(1)'s had been fitted out by the Second Division at Wellington, New Zealand, with Bren Gun Carrier armor around the forward portion of the vehicle. While this was highly desirable, it undoubtedly increased their weight, and reduced their speed.

When the LVT(2)'s came out through the bow doors of the LST's, it was dark and each LVT driver was pretty much on his own. Hence:

Considerable confusion resulted while attempting to transfer troops into the LVT's brought from Samoa in the LST's, as the LVT drivers failed to carry out the instructions issued to them relative to their position in the rendezvous.17

From the Transport Area, the individual amtracs of the assault waves had to grope about in the breaking dawn to find the Rendezvous Area, and form up in columns, the shorter 2nd and 3rd Assault Waves on the left flank of the long 1st Assault Wave. Then, in daylight, all three waves moved in columns abreast up to the Line of Departure, which was from 6,000 yards to 6,600 yards from the assault beaches, RED One, RED Two and RED Three. When abreast the beaches, all the amtracs of the first three waves executed a simultaneous turn toward the beach.

The great difficulty was that due to the strong westerly set, these slow moving craft were being carried away from the Line of Departure at a rate of speed close to one-quarter of their actual speed over the ground. So the amtracs took much time and open throttle operation in regaining yards lost due to current. The prelanding schedules for these amphibious vehicles were worked out on a basis of 4.5 knots, which is slow enough. When the actual


Landing Plan RED Beaches, Betio Island.


speed over the ground was reduced to 3.5 knots or less by the current, the landing schedules developed considerable slippage.

As Commander Transport Group reported:

After the troops were transferred to the LVT's at the USS Zeilin, there was considerable confusion due to the constant moving and drifting of the LVT's. It was a jumbled mess and proved very difficult to get the LVT's in some sort of order early enough to arrive at the rendezvous at the designated time. There were also many LVT's which became disabled due to mechanical failure between the assembly area and the Line of Departure necessitating transfer of troops and equipment to spare LVT's which of course separated many units from their organizations.18

The Virgo noted in her GALVANIC Report:

Three LVT's being carried in the hold had a low priority but due to the situation as it developed some LVT's in the first wave had broken down and fell out. The three LVT's were hoisted out and the troops from the first three broken down LVT's that were sighted, transferred to the three new ones and were despatched to the beach.19

But despite these handicaps, the well-planned very early arrival of the transports in the Transport Area permitted the first three assault waves to leave the Transport Area for the Rendezvous Area on time at 0540 and then to leave the Rendezvous Area a bit ahead of time for the Line of Departure.20

Long before the first three assault waves reached the Rendezvous Area, the Japanese coastal defense batteries had again opened fire on the Expeditionary Force and the big transports had retreated out of range.

Despite this:

The first three waves left the rendezvous area at 0636, as scheduled, but arrived at the Line of Departure at 0825, thirty-nine minutes late. Overloading, wind, sea, and an ebb tide together with the poor mechanical condition of a number of the leading amtracs combined to slow the first wave to a speed . . . one-half knot below the allowed speed which was based on information received from Marine headquarters to the effect that the amtracs could make a speed of four and one-half knots in fully loaded condition.21

Since from the cockpit of the amtracs little could be seen of a flat island four to five miles away, the Line of Departure was to be marked by a ship


of reasonable size as well as by buoys. A new minesweeper, the Pursuit (AM-108), drew the assignment for this hot spot.

The Pursuit took position at the Line of Departure at 0715 and was under shore battery fire until 0727. Commander Transport Group later reported that the Pursuit:

was considerably to the northward of the Line of Departure.22

Be that as it may, the Pursuit informed CTF 53 early that the amtracs were running 24 minutes behind time, and:

Due to a headwind they were not only unable to make up time but lost more time.23

It was obvious to a good many people well before the LVT's reached the Line of Departure that making something less than four knots' speed and with three miles or a bit more to go from the Line of Departure to the beach the Navy was not going to land the Marines at the scheduled time. So at 0803, Commander Southern Attack Force postponed How Hour to 0845, and then at 0824, to 0900, still an impossible requirement from the viewpoint of the boat officers guiding the early waves to the beach and the drivers in the amtracs.

Change in Run in Time for the Assault Waves

When Commander Transport Group first issued the time schedule for the Assault Boat Waves, he advised his subordinates:

Be prepared for some changes in this schedule as the result of further time studies on rehearsals.24

All the pre-rehearsal time schedules for the first three assault waves called for a 40-minute run in to the beaches from the Line of Departure.

An examination of Annex JIG (time schedule) of Transport Division Four's Operation Order 2-43, issued on 10 November 1943 after the dress rehearsal, indicates that by this date it had been accepted at the transport level of command that the run to the beach from the Line of Departure should be based on 44 minutes instead of the long accepted 40 minutes, and that the 1st Assault Wave should leave the Line of Departure at 0746, or


How Hour minus 44, instead of 0750 or How Hour minus 40, as previously planned.

This change shows up in file Copies of the Debarkation Schedules and Time Schedules for the Assault Boat Waves issued by Commander Transport Division Four, by the Heywood and by the Harry Lee, a relief ship for the first wave. All their orders show a 44-minute run to the beach for Wave One. The Arthur Middleton report for GALVANIC states:

The first wave was not turned toward beach until 0830 or 44 minutes late.

This further confirms that at the transport level an important four minutes had been added to the coordination schedule.

The four-minute increase in time for the run to the beach was based on that fact that Beach RED One was 6,600 yards not 6,000 yards from the Line of Departure. It would take four minutes for an amtrac at 4.5 knots to run that extra 600 yards. If a simultaneous landing at RED One, RED Two and RED Three was to take place at 0830, the schedule had to be geared to the amtracs which had the furthest to go.

The file copy in Group Two, Fifth Amphibious Force (Rear Admiral Hill's administrative command) files and Admiral Hill's personal copy of the CTF 53 Operation Order turned over by him to the Naval History Division, each contain Commander Transport Division Four's Op Order 2-43 of 10 November 1943.

This latter order showed the change indicating the first wave would leave the Line of Departure at 0746, instead of 0750 as required in the Transport Landing Attack Order issued on 28 October 1943 prior to the dress rehearsal.25

It is possible that Commander Transport Group (Knowles) did not appreciate the impact of this four-minute change on the coordination of air and gun bombardment on the beaches, should How Hour be changed on the basis of the time the First Assault Wave left the Line of Departure. It is further possible that CTF 53's (Rear Admiral Hill) attention was never drawn to this important change.

In any case:

At a point 6,000 yards from the Line of Departure, the Boat Flotilla Commander received word from the Control Boat that he was twenty (20) minutes behind schedule. Because of the fact that the LVT(1)'s which comprised the first wave were then operating at full speed, he was unable to make up lost


time, and upon arrival at the Line of Departure, he was an additional nineteen (19) minutes or a total of thirty-nine minutes late. This was due to the poor mechanical condition of the tractors as well as to their overloaded condition.26

At 0740 the Dashiell reported by TBS to CTF 53:

Chickens are 24 minutes behind schedule.

The transport Zeilin noted:

Overloading, strong westerly set and probably faulty navigation were the principal causes for the failure of the LVT's to make the Line of Departure on time. The ship boat wave commander reports that the LVT's could not keep up with the assault boat as they did during the rehearsals at Efate.27

The Pursuit, the control vessel on the Line of Departure, reported to Rear Admiral Hill that the lead wave was 39 minutes behind time at the Line of Departure, crossing at 0825. This indicated the Pursuit also had received the word about the change to 0746 as to the correct moment for the lead wave to leave the Line of Departure.28 Rear Admiral Hill in his GALVANIC report, and on the basis of a TBS report from his staff aviator flying over the lagoon, logged the lead wave as having crossed the Line of Departure at 0823 - which was 37 minutes after 0746 when this event should have taken place.

With this information and an awareness that a 44-minute run in was required, it would seem that How Hour should have been reset by Rear Admiral Hill to 0907 or 0909 depending on whether the 0823 or 0825 crossing time reported to him by TBS was used.

In any case, the 1st Assault Wave was followed across the Line of Departure, as planned, by the next two waves at approximately three-minute intervals.29

The amphibians and their landing craft on the morning of 20 November were shooting for a How Hour of 0830. Perhaps as they got behind schedule they remembered and took some solace from the fact that at the post-rehearsal conference, Colonel Merritt A. Edson, the Chief of Staff of the Second Marine Division, had:

Criticized early arrival of first wave; early arrival of waves inexcusable; late arrival preferable.30


This comment was made because the first rehearsal wave had arrived at the beach five minutes early.

Touch down on Beach RED One was 0910 for Wave One and at about 0919 and 0917 for Beach RED Two and Beach RED Three respectively. Rear Admiral Hill logged the first wave landing at 0917 but a number of TBS logs show that CTF 53 sent a message at 0914 saying "First troops hit the beach at 0913." The Pursuit at the Line of Departure logged the landing at 0913. The Ringgold, in the lagoon, logged it at 0905. The Dashiell, also in the lagoon and specifically stating her position as 1,500 yards off the beach, logged it at 0913. The commands much closer to the beach than Rear Admiral Hill's flagship, the Maryland, and seeing it more clearly, all logged the first wave landing earlier than CTF 53. The Marines reported they landed on RED One at 0910 and that time is supported by a TBS message.31

Merely to indicate that observers who came along for the ride do not always get the word, one observer recorded:

At 0800 H-Hour was changed to 0845 pursuant principally to discovery that high water would be later than calculated. The original H-Hour was chosen so as to be a little before extreme high water so as to give boats other than LVT's . . . the advantage of coming in and getting out under the optimum condition.32

In any case the delays in H-Hour meant that the 20 to 25 Marines in many of the amtracs had to endure more than four hours in a crowded, wallowing craft before being deposited on their appointed hostile beach.

Fronting some 2,600 feet of the beaches and some 20 yards inland from the water's edge, was a barricade of sand bags and logs about five feet in height. This barricade offered some real protection to the Marines from those Japanese still alive and fighting bitterly from rifle pits and pillboxes. It was a minor break for the better in a tough day for the Marines.

Summary--Tardy Assault Waves

To this scribe, who was not there, but who has studied the record, the delay in landing the early assault waves seemingly arose from an inadequate anticipation of known adverse currents and a scanty bow to the modest


reserve speed of the amtracs, coupled with the failure to adjust How Hour to the number of minutes the amtracs were behind time at the Line of Departure and the time needed for them to run to the beach. This "time needed for the run in" might well have been tempered by a seaman's guess that having lost time up to the Line of Departure, the amtracs might lose a bit more before reaching the beach.

In adjusting How Hour it appears very definitely that a 40- minute run to the beach was used by CTF 53 in lieu of a 44- minute run to the beach. The latter figure was an essentiality for a simultaneous landing and for the exact timing of naval gunfire support.

(2) Pre-landing Gunfire Support--Tarawa

Based on experience gained primarily during the North African invasion by the amphibious forces of the Atlantic Fleet, a completely revised chapter on Naval Gunfire in FTP 167 ("Landing Operations Doctrine") was promulgated by COMINCH on 1 August 1943 and distributed to the Fleet.

This newly issued chapter provided that the Naval Gunfire Annex to an operational order issued by a Commander Naval Attack Force would:

contain the directions for furnishing naval gunfire support for the Landing Force. Its preparation is a joint function of the Staff of the Commander Attack Force and the Staff of Commander Landing Force.

The detailed instructions provided that:

The staff of the Marine Division Commander [should] outline on the map prepared for the operation the probable target locations and probable enemy dispositions in the area to be attacked.
* * * * *
The assignment of fire missions is a function of the Staff of the Commanding General, Marines.
* * * * *
The Combined Staffs of the Commander Naval Attack Force and Commanding General, Marines now prepare the plan of naval gunfire. Upon approval, this plan is authenticated and issued as the Naval Gunfire Annex.

As Admiral Hill wrote to General Holland M. Smith:

As for the fire support plan itself, I personally have no apologies for it. I think that in the light of our knowledge at the time, it was the best that could be devised, particularly under the conditions of the operation which permitted no supporting bombardment until the morning of the landing. You


were not there, but must have been familiar with the problem, which we anticipated correctly, viz., that once the heavy gunfire commenced, the whole island would be obliterated by a cloud of dust, thereby requiring that practically all fire be conducted by indirect (radar) control. The problem was further complicated by the decision to make the landing on the lagoon side where the shallow water prevented any but a couple of destroyers being able to get into bombardment position for the destruction of beach defenses.33

Major General Holland M. Smith was the officer responsible for naming the fire missions to be carried out by naval gunfire, and as Admiral Hill wrote:

Actually, as you and I both know, there never was the slightest disagreement over these fire support plans for Dog Day either at Tarawa or subsequent operations. For Tarawa, the gunnery officer of your staff and of my staff worked together day and night and in complete harmony on this plan. It received my approval, and must have received yours, inasmuch as you were the responsible officer for it.34

The primary planning task of Rear Admiral Hill, placed on him by his Task Force Commander, was to compress into the less than three hours between daylight and touchdown time for the first wave of amtracs, air and gun bombardment which would destroy or neutralize the strong Japanese defenses. It was a formidable task, but it was believed that the means available were adequate, even though this was the first United States assault against a heavily defended and compact beach area.

Gunfire Support Tarawa--The Plan

Commander Assault Forces Operation Plan called for gunfire support in three phases as follows:

Phase I. Prearranged neutralization and counter-battery fires delivered mainly by heavy ships at moderately long range. The ships were told that "For knocking out heavy turret guns, it may be necessary for heavy ships to close the range to 2000 or 3000 yards, and to employ AP (armor piercing) projectiles."

Phase II. Close support fires mainly by cruisers and destroyers at close range on the landing beach areas just before H-Hour to support amtrac landings.

Phase III. Called fires on targets of opportunity controlled by Shore Fire Control Parties after they have landed (not earlier than H plus THIRTY,


but continuing possibly for one or more days). Continued slow neutralization fire on target areas 400 to 800 yards from the nearest troops.35

Thirty-five minutes were allocated to air bombardment and strafing and one hour and fifty minutes to gun bombardment.

When all the figures had been added up, Rear Admiral H. F. Kingman, Commander Fire Support Group, reported that the total rounds of ammunition which had been fired at Betio Island approximated the following:

19,500 rounds 5-inch, average range 6,400 yards
2,650 rounds 6-inch
800 rounds 8-inch, average range 7,900 yards
600 rounds 14-inch, average range 12,500 yards
850 rounds 16-inch36

By and large, gun ranges were excessive, as CINCPAC later noted:

The Indianapolis opened fire at Tarawa at 22,000 yards using indirect fire. The range was excessive and the results were unsatisfactory.37

As has been remarked before, WATCHTOWER and TOENAILS were poor operations for training gunfire support ships, and for bettering the judgment of either planners or operators in the fine art of first-rate gunfire support against a well-defended coral atoll.

One marked improvement in gunnery did result from TOENAILS, where it had been learned that high-capacity ammunition with thinly cased shells was inadequate to pierce Japanese defense structures. However, if armor-piercing projectiles were used, an appreciable angle of fall had to be provided by increasing the gun range and reducing the powder charge, otherwise the AP projectile would ricochet without exploding.

When writing his autobiography after the war was over and done, General Holland M. Smith depreciated the shore bombardment at Tarawa in these words:

Perhaps the bombardment did stun them and disrupt their communications. Otherwise, they might have sunk some of our transports and wrecked our planes. As it was, the damage . . . was minor.
* * * * *


Instead of three days' preliminary bombardment, Betio needed at least ten.38

This should be compared with what Major General Holland M. Smith wrote in his Action Report on GALVANIC:

The naval bombardment plans for GALVANIC were prepared in collaboration with representatives of the Fifth Amphibious force, 2nd Marine Division and 27th Infantry Division. These plans in turn were approved by the Commanding Officer of the respective units or force. Future bombardment plans will be prepared in the same manner.

The naval bombardment prior to the actual landing was greater per square unit of ground than had ever previously been given in preparation for a landing operation. Nevertheless, it did not prevent enemy resistance. This does not mean it was not effective, for without naval gunfire, the landing could not have been made . . . .39

On 17 December 1943, the same officer wrote:

This corps is working in close relations to the Navy echelons on Naval gunfire and air support. All Naval call fire training is conducted with Corps supervision. All direct support aircraft training with ground elements of the Corps is conducted under the supervision of the Corps.40

A further problem in connection with the neutralization phase of gun bombardment arose due to the changes in How Hour. Neutralization gunfire support was due to lift five minutes before the amtracs touched down. At this time an air strike on the beach areas coming off of the big carriers lasting about five minutes was to take over.

The Aircraft Don't Get The Word

The aircraft from Task Group 53.6 (Escort Carrier Support Group)--and ordered to take over this chore only at 0749 on the morning of D-Day-- were in the air when the delays in H-Hour were made. They did not get the word about the change in How Hour. Communication logs of these carrier squadrons and their carriers are no longer available in the files, so it cannot be determined if the Task Group Commander or their Unit Commander tried to get the word to them.

The original plan called for the planes to strafe from 0825 to 0830. So


the planes strafed from 0825 to 0830. Since until Rear Admiral Hill's despatch was received this task had not been theirs, the escort carrier planes had not been previously instructed in this particular strafing assignment.

When the strafing aircraft flew away about 0830, the gunfire support ships picked up their neutralization firing chore again and continued to shoot until 0855. CTF 53 ordered them to cease fire at that hour. As the scheduled fire bombardment shrouded Betio Island in a pall of dust and smoke, actual pinpointing of targets became most difficult to impossible and, by and large, area bombardment was the best that could be done during this phase.

Rear Admiral Hill reported that the reason he stopped all gunfire at 0855 was:

Continuation of naval gunfire through the heavy smoke at this uncertain period was considered unsafe to assault troops and reliance had to be placed on VF aircraft being able to continue strafing and holding the enemy neutralized until the troops landed.41

The Gunnery Officer of the USS Dashiell (DD-659) commented on Rear Admiral Hill's order to stop all gunfire at 0855:

In this case everything was very clear and the necessity for continuing fire appeared to be quite obvious but it could not be continued because of a schedule and because apparently the Commanding Officers of Fire Support [section] [in the Dashiell] could not be depended upon to make a clear estimate of the situation when they were only 1500 yards from the scene of action and the controlling authority was over the horizon.42

The Dashiell was in the lagoon but did not fire between 0855 and 0912, and then fired only three minutes of counter-battery fire on the northwestern end of Betio upon receipt of orders from CTF 53. It was 0934 before the Dashiell opened fire again. The Ringgold, also in the lagoon, ceased fire at 0855 and reopened fire at "about 0925." In other words, only one of the two destroyers in the lagoon fired during the crucial minutes of the amtracs landing, and that one only for three minutes, and not for the sole purpose of supporting the troop landings.

It seems possible that CTF 53 was hoping against hope that the amtracs would land close to 0900 when he made this decision for all ships to cease fire at 0855. Definitely, he was not preparing the beach for an amtrac landing ten minutes or more later.

In any case, Rear Admiral Hill in his GALVANIC report frankly said:


To prevent recurrence of the error made at Tarawa of ceasing this neutralization fire too early, those ships which can actually see the boat wave and accurately determine its distance from the beach at all times, must be authorized to continue this close supporting fire after the general order to cease firing is given, until, in the opinion of the Commanding Officer, further firing becomes dangerous to the landing personnel.43

Major General Julian C. Smith, Commanding the Marine Second Division, in making his post-Tarawa recommendations for future naval gunfire support, voiced the inadequacies of the gunfire on the landing beaches just prior to the landings, but added that subsequent thereto:

Naval Gunfire in close support of Assault Landing Teams was excellent.44

(3) Pre-Landing Air Bombardment

Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery, Commander Task Group 50.3, temporarily in the Essex (CV-9), issued his Operation Plan 53-43 for GALVANIC on 7 November 1943. The flagship was anchored in Pallikulo Bay, Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides most of that day.

Unfortunately, the Air Support Commander, CTG 50.3, did not fly off to confer with Rear Admiral Hill, CTF 53, who was only 150 miles away conducting the dress rehearsal at Efate, New Hebrides on the same day.

As Admiral Hill later said:

I never had a chance to meet and discuss plans with Admiral Montgomery, my air support commander.

This was two days after the GALVANIC rehearsal critique for Task Force 52 and its Makin Atoll assault had been held in far away Hawaii. One of the lessons of these far away TF 52 rehearsals was that the first air strike should not be so early in the morning that the pilots could not visually distinguish targets on the ground as small as slit trenches or individual pillboxes.

In February, 1952, Admiral Turner wrote that Rear Admiral Pownall, Cornmander Carrier Force (CTF 50), agreed at the rehearsal critique in Pearl Harbor on 5 November 1943, that in order to benefit from this rehearsal experience, the first air strike at Makin and Tarawa should be at 0610 instead of at 0545 as prescribed in the existing operation orders.45


It is a fact that the first air strike at Makin was rescheduled to 0610 from 0545 and actually occurred at 0615.

This change from the existing operation orders at Tarawa would similarly require that W-Hour, the completion of the planned half hour of air bombardment at Betio Island, would be set for 0640.

However, when CTG 50.3 issued his Op Plan he specified W-Hour at Tarawa as 0600.46 If there was to be half an hour of air bombardment, the first bombs would be dropped at 0530. This was neither in accord with the written Operation Orders he had received from higher authority (which would have W-Hour at 0615) nor with the post-TF 52 rehearsal decision which would have started the strikes at 0610 and completed them at a W-Hour of 0640. Neither was it in accord with the voice radio-announced W-Hour of 0620.

And CTF 53 was another man in far off New Hebrides who did not get the word about the change. His revised Operation Order A104-43, issued at 0800 4 November, which specified W-Hour at 0615, remained unchanged so far as the copy of this order in his Flag files and in lower echelon files reveal.

It appears logical to assume that Rear Admiral Turner did not pass on the word about the change to Rear Admiral Hill, and that Rear Admiral Pownall did not pass on the word about the change to Rear Admiral Montgomery. This was both a personal failure by these officers and presumably also a serious staff failure.

But, in any case, the planes from Essex (CV-9) and Bunker Hill (CV-17) in TG 50.3 were late for their first air strike on 20 November. This tardiness exists no matter whether the operational plans or order of their immediate senior, Rear Admiral Montgomery, or the requirements of the written operation orders of Rear Admirals Turner or Pownall, were controlling. The first air strike commenced about 0613 and lasted past 0622 (one participating squadron reporting until 0627). Neither Commander Task Group 50.3 nor the Commanding Officers of the two carriers, Essex and Bunker Hill, who carried out the first strike on Dog Day mention this delay or its cause in their GALVANIC reports. The matter, however, was mentioned indirectly at a lower level in Task Group 50.3.47 And Commander Fighting Squadron Nine stated:


It is the opinion of this squadron that the take-off time of early morning strikes was too early.
* * * * *
Considerable difficulty was experienced in affecting join up after take-off due to darkness and the fact that so many planes of Essex and Bunker Hill were in the same immediate vicinity.
* * * * *
At the times the strafing of strikes I and II was started, it was still dark enough for the tracers to blind the pilots.48

Another fault in Rear Admiral Montgomery Op Plan was its failure to carry forward for the aviators of his command to read the vital amphibious requirement set forth in Rear Admiral Turner's order:

Time of strafing beaches with reference to H-hour are approximate. The distance of the boats from the beach is the governing factor.49

The definite and clear requirement of the last sentence of this order was modified by Rear Admiral Montgomery to provide that the strafing would take place:

From H-5 (when 1st wave of boats has approached to 1000 yards from RED Beaches) to H+15, and after naval gunfire on beach areas has ceased.

Strafe installations from water's edge to 100 yards inland, from RED Beach 1, 2 and 3.50

So read the instructions to the Bunker Hill and Essex.

When Rear Admiral Hill made the important decision at about 0745 to direct the jeep carriers (TU 53.6.2) to make the pre-landing strafing attack instead of letting the planes from the Bunker Hill and Essex, in the Southern Carrier Group (Task Group 50.3), carry through their planned assignment, it seems most unlikely that there was any time to brief the jeep carrier pilots that the distance the amtracs were from the beach was the controlling factor in starting their strafing. Just getting the 12 planes from the Nassau (CVE-16) and 16 aircraft of the Barnes (CVE-20) into the air and to the beach for what was then an 0825 deadline probably seemed the most important thing at the moment. The Barnes launched her first plane for this flight from a position 41 miles southeast of Tarawa at 0751 and only three minutes after CTF 53 issued his order. Her last plane for this mission was off at 0813. The planes from the jeep carriers just made this 0825 deadline and did their tasks as they understood them. Then, due to the postponement


of How Hour for 30 minutes, they were told to do the strafing over again at 0855. Some of the planes had a very short supply of ammunition for this second strafing attack. Apparently no one thought to tell them to watch the amtracs and strafe just before they touched down. None of the carriers nor squadrons mention the coordination of the strafing with the lead amtracs in their reports.51

The results of the strafing attacks and of the air bombardment on Betio Island were far less than expected or hoped for, partially because the jeep carriers were unable to furnish as many planes as the big carriers would have, due to the overriding requirement of the small carrier to provide CAP (Combat Air Patrol). One experienced naval aviator, Commander Carrier Air Group Nine, in Essex further reported:

The apparent effect of the subject strikes was very disappointing to this observer. About ninety per cent of all bombs were seen to hit in assigned areas. Hits were seen within 10 or 15 feet of assigned gun targets - but after a slight pause these guns were firing again . . . . Incendiaries had no effect. The great majority of all bombs merely dug a nice well and raised a great cloud of coral dust which hampered the bombing of other planes.52

The Commander Fighting Squadron One who made the "special strafing mission during troop landing," reported:

Enemy concealment was good. Only way to spot targets was by gunflashes.

The Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet reported to COMINCH in his GALVANIC report:

It was evident that the carrier squadrons were not fully trained to provide efficient air support of amphibious operations. One carrier commander reported that flights from carriers operated over the target area on D-Day with little semblance of orderly procedure. Serious confusion resulted from dive and glide bombing and strafing being done to the taste of individual leaders.53

Naval Air Effort at Tarawa

As the Army's history softly says:

Clearly, the most disappointing aspect of the entire Tarawa operation was the execution of air support for the landing.


It seems reasonable that some of the problems in connection with the air support and air bombardment arose because, during the early planning and training stages for GALVANIC, there was no designated Commander Aircraft assigned to the staff of Rear Admiral Turner as Commander Fifth Amphibious Force. Commander Aircraft, Fifth Amphibious Force was a necessary cog in planning for the employment of air units in direct support of the amphibious operation, including developing air bombardment plans as well as control of all aircraft in the objective area.

During September 1943, no one was assigned to this task. Then on 3 October 1943, Admiral Nimitz provided Colonel William O. Eareckson, Army Air Force, from his own staff for this important task during the next three weeks until Captain H. B. Sallada, U.S. Navy, arrived and relieved Eareckson on 23 October 1943. Rear Admiral Hill and his staff had left for New Zealand four days previously, too late for any personal liaison. Colonel Eareckson continued on as Support Aircraft Commander GALVANIC.54

Commander Air-Ground Support Tarawa, a long time naval aviator, noted in his GALVANIC report on 29 November 1943 that:

  1. During the assault phase, it was noted that the carrier squadrons had little concept of their mission in detail and only a rudimentary idea of how to accomplish this mission.

  2. With the type of beach fortifications employed by the Japanese, longitudinal strafing up and down the beach by fighters is not only ineffective but a mere waste of ammunition.

There were several air support "firsts" at Tarawa, but by and large, few officers were happy about what had been accomplished. As one historian phrased it:

Air support, handicapped by the small size of the atolls consisted of a few strikes requested by the Marines and many strikes initiated and directed by the Support Air Commander. A total of 650 close support sorties were flown during the three days of battle with good to excellent results. Air observation and photographic missions were also flown and were controlled by the Air Support Commander for the first time. The Tarawa operation also marked the first use of a Support Air Control Unit ashore.55

In this connection a comment by another senior naval aviator, Richard F. Whitehead, present at Tarawa seems pertinent:

Sufficient rehearsals were conducted to familiarize personnel with details of the operation. However, it is to be noted that the Naval Aviation Squadrons


did not participate in the training or rehearsals with the Marine Division. As naval air plays such an important part in amphibious operations, particularly so in the phase during the passage of the assault troops from the Line of Departure to the actual landing on the beach, this training is considered vital.56

As a Captain, Whitehead had reported to the Commanding General Second Marine Division at Wellington, New Zealand on 29 October 1943, and served with the Division as a PHIBCORPS Staff representative in connection with training and operations. In due time, he became Commander Air Support Control Units for the Fifth Amphibious Force. The root of any support aircraft inadequacies that developed during GALVANIC was explained years later by then Vice Admiral Whitehead, who opined:

My basic problem as Commander Air Support Control Units was with the big carrier pilots. In the mind of most of them, providing close air support was always a diversionary effort. Just like the Army Air Force, they had their eyes focused on the wild blue yonder. Anything as mundane as circling in the target area on call for half an hour or more was pretty irksome.

The pilots from the jeep carriers soon got in the groove and provided A-1 results, but I was constantly having to give a sales talk to the big carrier people. I had to explain the amphibian problem to them, and also I had to explain them to the Amphibian Commander.57

(4) Timing of Air and Gun Bombardments With Amtrac Touchdown

The delay in arrival of the first air bombardment, due to the orders of the Carrier Task Group Commander, CTG 50.3, not being in accord with the orders of the Task Force Commander, had a far greater effect than its just being late. It led to a change in assignment by Rear Admiral Hill of the aircraft to do the strafing attacks immediately following the cessation of gunfire. Hence there was a lack of time to brief these pilots in the important amphibious requirement of the timing of the strafing attack based on the distance the amtracs were from the beach.

When How Hour was not adjusted to the actual time the amtracs crossed the Line of Departure, and to the time required for them to reach the


beaches, the anticipated coordination of gun and air bombardments with amtrac touchdown could not materialize.

(5) Lack of Water Over the Apron Reef--The Off Beat Tide

The apron reef at Betio was reported on by a Boat Officer guiding in the first amtrac assault wave as follows:

When approximately 800 yards from the beach, a coral reef with about three feet of water over it was encountered. The water depth remained approximately constant until it shelved up gradually forming the beach itself . . . .58

Rear Admiral Turner's Operation Plan included these statements:

The lagoon reef at Betio is covered to a depth of from 3 to 4 feet from the period two hours before to two hours after high water springs . . . . During high water neap tide the reef is covered by from one to two feet of water and is three-quarters dry at low water.

Being of firm hard coral the reef at low water may be used for transportation and will bear medium tanks. It is considered landing craft could approach the edge of the reef sufficiently close to drop ramps on the coral to enable the safe and early landing of vehicles . . . . Mean spring range is 6 feet and neap range 4 feet.59

For those who have not lived with tide tables all their lives, spring tides are normally the highest tides of the lunar month and occur either at, or shortly after, the new moon or at, or shortly after, the full moon. During neap tides the high tide is not very high and the low tide is not very low. In other words the difference between the high and low tide is the smallest during the lunar month. This condition occurs just after the first and after the third quarters of the moon.

Since on 20 November 1943, at Tarawa Atoll, the moon was dwindling to its third quarter, the landing was made during neap tides.60 A neap tide period is judged advantageous for amphibious landings because extreme low water is not encountered. It is also advantageous to land the assault waves on a rising tide because then the work horses of the assault logistic movement, the LCVP and the LCM's, have the best possible conditions for landing their first important logistic support loads near the flood water period. Specifically,


two hours before a flood tide occurring in mid-morning has been judged by experience as the most desirable moment for the first assault troops to hit the beach.

An examination of the 1943-1944 Tide Tables indicates that it would have been necessary to wait until 5 December 1943, for the next favorable neap tide period and until 14 January 1944, for the next favorable spring tide period.

In view of the data furnished in the tide tables, which Rear Admiral Turner issued as Commander Assault Force (CTF-54), it is apparent that the statement beginning "During high water neap tides" already quoted from the operation plan, meant there were only one to two feet of water up to the shore line at high water neap tide. It was obvious that it was anticipated that most LCVP and LCM would ground well before the beach was reached even at this ideal condition.

Commander Southern Attack Force, looking back the short space of five years, wrote in 1949:

From the commencement of planning, the question of water over the reef at Betio was considered to be one of paramount importance. To assist in this planning, Admiral Nimitz had gathered in Pearl Harbor several former residents of Betio and also some masters of ships who had traded in and out of the lagoon. The opinions of all of these experts indicated that normally four feet of water could be expected over the reef at neap tide.

Commencing on the evening of Dog plus One Day, and extending through the rest of the Assault and Consolidation period . . . . the tides were perfectly normal and ran within an inch or two of those predicted prior to the assault. On those days, at half tide, LCVP's could run right up to the beach, and at high water fully loaded LCM's could land there as well.

Evidence indicated, however, that occasionally, for no apparent reason, there was a failure in the normal functioning of tides within the lagoon, so the Assault Forces were faced with the problems of preparing for all of these contingencies.61

Among those who had sailed in the Gilberts there was a strong tradition of the existence of "dodging" tides, days when the water ebbed and flowed irregularly. There were those in TF 53 who did not unduly fear, in advance, "a dodging tide." For, in the sectional sketches of weather reef and beaches showing landing conditions at various phases of the tide, there appears this statement:


State of Reef at Dodging Tides
Not regular. But may possibly be experienced on Nov. 18, 19, or 20. In very fine weather, it has been possible to land boats all day from sunrise to sunset under these conditions, but such occasions are rare.62

The Foreign Legion

The first contingent of the "Foreign Legion" to arrive in Pearl Harbor for work with the intelligence staff were men knowledgeable in regard to Nauru and Ocean Island. These included Mr. W. Bott, civil engineer and former manager of the phosphate plant on Nauru. Then came a considerable number of ex-Gilbert Islanders, including traders, mariners and native born.

Lieutenant Commander Gerhard H. Heyen, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, whose experience in the Gilbert Islands covered some 13 years, and Lieutenant Gordon J. Webster, Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve who, as a Merchant Mariner, had been ship-based at Tarawa Atoll from 1939 to 1942, were the two foreign officers who, prior to the Gilbert Island operation, worked closest with Rear Admiral Turner and with Rear Admiral Hill and their staffs. Lieutenant Commander Heyen was a regularly assigned member of the Staff of Commander, Fifth Amphibious Force commencing October 1943.63 However, there were 13 or 14 others in this "Foreign Legion," of which the following have been identified as participating in GALVANIC:

Major F. L. G. Holland, Fiji Military Force, former Director of Education, Gilbert and Ellice Island Group.
Lieutenant E. Harness, Royal Australian Naval Reserve.
Lieutenant Bruno Raymond, Royal Australian Naval Reserve.
Lieutenant G. J. Webster, Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve.
Lieutenant J. F. Forbes, Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve.
Lieutenant S. S. Page, Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve.
Karl A. Tschaun, Master in the Australian Merchant Marine.
Captain D. C. Warnham, Fiji Military Force.64
Private Fred C. Narruhn, 1st Fiji Infantry.


All the above contributed from their knowledge and memories in regard to the hydrography of the Gilberts.

These knowledgeable Allied representatives working with the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Areas (JICPOA) and with topographical engineers from the Army, produced hydrographic information for grid overprinted charts and maps for use by gunfire support and air support units. Air reconnaissance sweeps by planes from the Seventh Army Air Force based in the Ellice Islands, and from the new carrier Lexington (CV-16) on 18 and 19 September, provided much data for intelligence maps prepared by the Intelligence Section of the Fifth Amphibious Force. Submarines came up with more data including information of a strong westerly current in the vicinity of Tarawa Atoll.65

The "Foreign Legion" also produced a joint estimate of five feet of water over the "bottom of seaward end of Betio Pier" (which in effect was the seaward end of the barrier reef) for 1115 on the morning of 20 November 1943. This estimate was tempered by a seaman's bow to a general prudential rule:

Neap tides are variable and occasionally ebb and flow several times in 24 hours, but variations from the height given should not be greater than one foot.

This precaution was repeated verbatim above the Tarawa tide tables issued by Rear Admiral Turner, and the hazard of a "dodging tide" was mentioned in the following paragraph of the "Foreword" to these tide tables:

During neap tides, a 'dodging' tide has frequently been observed when the water ebbs and flows several times in 24 hours.66

So it is quite apparent that the point had been made strongly and explicitly by the assisting experts, that five feet might be expected but was not promised over the bottom at the seaward end of Betio Pier. As far as they could promise anything, four feet might be anticipated during neap tides, except during "dodging" tides.

In view of all that has been written or said about the tide by those who were present at Tarawa on the forenoon of 20 November 1943, it is worthwhile to reproduce the actual predicted tidal data at Tarawa by the old-time Gilbert Island residents for the 19th through the 21st of November as it


appeared in the CTF 54 Operation Plan and as prepared by the "Foreign Legion."

Date High   High Low   Low  
1943 AM   PM   AM   PM  
Zone Time+12 Time Feet Time Feet Time Feet Time Feet
November 19 1009 5.0 2242 5.0 0353 1.0 1625 0.9
November 20 1115 5.0 2348 5.1 0459 0.9 1731 0.9
November 21 --- --- 1218 5.3 0603 0.8 1833 0.8

The authorities for this action are:

Lieutenant Commander G. H. Heyen, RANR(S)
Lieutenant G. J. Webster, RNZNR
Major F. L. G. Holland, Director of Education, Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.67

A member of Major General Holland M. Smith's Staff who examined the reef after the operation reported:

Since the beach (reef) is to all practical purposes flat from outer edge to shore, landing craft or landing boats may ground at any distance out from the shore, depending upon the position of slight shallows which they may enounter. The reef width varies from six hundred (600) to eleven hundred (1100) yards.68

It might also be noted that, using the above table, at 1115 on 20 November about 18-inch clearance over the outside edge of the barrier reef was all that an LCVP coxswain could hope for with normal combat loading and a normal neap tide, since an LCVP combat loaded had a draft of about three foot six inches. How far this one and a half feet would carry the LCVP on in toward the shore line would certainly vary with the undulations of the bottom from Beach RED One to Beach RED Three and probably at various parts of the individual beaches. It was obvious that it was not anticipated at the command level that the LCVP's would land any Marines dry shod.


The Efate rehearsal critique was highlighted by a prediction by Major Holland, who had signed his name to a piece of paper saying otherwise,


that there would be no more than three feet of water over the barrier reef at Betio at 1000 on 20 November.69 If this was so, it was obvious that the LCVP' s would be only shuttle craft between the transports and the LVT's, and that a tremendous transfer operation between these two types of craft would very measurably slow up any wave of assault troops after those carried ashore in the first three waves of LVT's, since all the later assault waves were in LCVP's. It would also slow all later logistic support.

Even prior to this prediction, various procedures had been worked out in the transport commands for the amphibious tractors, after the initial assault, to shuttle between where the LCVP's grounded and into the beach, carrying essential logistic support the last important hundred yards.70 No such procedure reached the formal written plan stage, however, as far as the existing files disclose.

Major Holland's statements markedly increased the worry factor but otherwise wrought no change in the basic plan. It had long before been decided by higher authority that a delay to about 27 November in order to land the assault waves during the high spring tides next occurring then would be impracticable, if the JCS date for the Marshalls was to be met.

A surprise landing was believed to be the first requisite for success in GALVANIC. This was to allow time for the Marines at Tarawa and the Army troops at Makin to be firmly established ashore, before an approaching Japanese Fleet from Truk would draw off the gunfire and air support ships to do battle with the Japanese Fleet, leaving the Landing Force unsupported. Admiral Spruance had raised this possibility in his instructions and there was a general feeling throughout the lower levels of the Central Pacific Force that the Japanese Fleet would have to be fought before the Gilbert Islands were secured. It was sound reasoning that the troops must be well established ashore before any Fleet battle took place.71

A dawn assault landing would provide no time on that day to beat down the island defenses by pinpointed ship gunfire. A late afternoon assault would put the troops on the beach with only a couple of short hours to accomplish their chores, before darkness would deny them first-rate close air support or close gunfire support.

On balance, therefore, a late morning assault on the chosen day seemed the best.


Just Who Predicted What

The 1943 printed Tide Tables of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey for Tarawa were made out for time zone - 12 and for standard time. Thus D-Day Tarawa, according to these printed Tide Tables was 21 November 1943. Correcting this date to time zone + 12 and to war time, as used by the Southern Attack Force, predicted morning tides as follows:

Date AM
High Water
in feet
Low Tides
in feet
19 November 1105 4.8 0516 1.7
20 November 1147 4.9 0602 1.7
21 November 1226 5.0 0642 1.7

The USS Sumner Survey

After GALVANIC was over and done, and the slim margin by which the Marine landings at Betio on D-Day had succeeded was appreciated, there was a very considerable amount of criticism from within the Navy raised over the inability of the landing boats to deliver Wave Four and later waves of the Marines, or their support, to the beachheads on schedule.

The hydrographic ship Sumner (AGS-5) which had been ordered earlier to Tarawa Atoll to blast coral shoals and coral heads in the lagoon, to install buoys, and to prepare temporary charts, was ordered also to develop tide tables.72

The Sumner tide tables begin 15 January 1944. The ship's formula for high tide at Tarawa stated that, using zone+12 time, it occurred two hours and seven minutes before high water at Apia, Samoa. The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Tide Tables showed that this important event occurred (using zone-12 time) three hours and 55 minutes before high water at Apia, Samoa. This is a sizeable variation in exact local times, even when the tide table of one day later is used. Using the "Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean Tide Tables 1943," and applying the formula developed by the Sumner to earlier dates, tide predictions for 19-21 November 1943 at Tarawa would have been as follows:73


Zone Time+12
Feet High
Feet Low
Feet Low
November 19 1103 5.1 2306 5.2 0450 1.6 1711 1.9
November 20 1153 5.3 2357 5.3 0552 1.6 1806 1.9
November 21 0044 5.3 1235 5.3 0628 1.5 1854 1.8

An examination of the "Foreign Legion" prediction, as published in the Assault Force Operation Plan, indicates that they were not based on a standard difference from the Apia, Samoa reference station. It seems possible that they were based on British Admiralty tide tables, considering that the officers producing them were products of the far flung British Commonwealth.

In any case, post-mortems on teh tide have produced the following post-invasion predicted high tides for the morning of 20 November 1943:

4.0 feet at 1200 to 1300 British Hydrographic Office
4.0 feet at 1236 U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey
5.2 feet at 1153 Sumner74

The pre-invasion high tide predictions were:

4.9 feet at 1047 U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Tide Tables
5.0 feet at 1115 "Foreign Legion"

Who Conducted What RE Tarawa

In an article in the Naval Institute Proceedings in 1962 it was stated:

After the assault, a naval inquiry board convened at Pearl Harbor to investigate the Tarawa action.75

If this was done, those who might have ordered it deny it. Those in authority still living who should have participated in an inquiry deny such participation. Dozens of other officers who might have participated in such an inquiry have drifted into Valhalla without recording the fact. The Office of the Navy's Judge Advocate General reports it has no record of any formal or informal Court of Inquiry or Board of Investigation on the subject, or anything which might be related to the subject, and no record has been


located in either CINCPOA, CINCPAC, or Fifth Amphibious Force files. And the simplest refutation is probably found in the fact that it is not a custom of the United States Navy to investigate victories.

What was done evidently was to take a second look into the tidal data produced by the "Foreign Legion."

One of the merchant marine members of this group wrote on 10 January 1959:

When the American newspapers started feeling that the information about the tides was not right, we asked for an inquiry, which was held in Pearl Harbor.76

The author of the Naval Institute Proceedings article wrote this scribe that the above statement and a similar one by Lieutenant Commander Heyen, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, the senior member of the "Foreign Legion," were the basis of his statement in the article in the Naval Institute Proceedings.77

Admiral Spruance and Admiral Hill, the two senior surviving commanders at Tarawa, deny that any Court of Inquiry, Board of Investigation, or any unofficial investigation of any kind was convened to investigate the Tarawa action. When furnished with quotes from the Naval Institute Proceedings article, Admiral Spruance wrote:

I have no recollection whatever of that kind.

Admiral Hill said:

When I read that article in the Naval Institute Proceedings, I said to myself, 'That writer is way off the beam--completely mistaken'. There was no official or unofficial inquiry of any kind. There was a very great desire at all levels of command to gain every practicable ounce of knowledge from the operation, and the operation was thoroughly studied by a great many people. If there had been an inquiry of Tarawa, I would have been in it, because I was the boss man at the spot.78

Three of the present senior survivors of the FIFTHPHIBFOR Staff all gave strong negative replies to the question, whether there had been an inquiry or investigation.

There are papers in the files showing that subsequent to Tarawa, conferences at the CINCPAC or PHIBPAC level were held during December 1943


or January 1944 dealing with the following subjects as they related to the Gilbert Island Operations.
  1. LVT's
  2. Naval Gunfire
  3. Logistic and transport loading
  4. Support aircraft operations and communications
  5. Communications
  6. Radar
  7. Underwater demolitions
  8. Smoke and Rockets

But nary a piece of paper indicates formal discussions on the tides of Tarawa. This researcher has concluded that there was no inquiry. "It just taint so."

It seems quite probable that attempts to extract the last measure of experience from Tarawa, an effort to satisfy consciences of members of the "Foreign Legion," combined with some differences in terminology and procedures used in the Navies of the United States and the British Commonwealth in regard to the handling of unsatisfied grievances, brought this statement into print.

In regard to the "Foreign Legion," Rear Admiral Turner in a report dealing with GALVANIC wrote in 1943:

The information obtained from them was invaluable, in spite of some of it being inaccurate in matters affecting many of the details, particularly applicable to our operations.79

Admiral Nimitz reported to Admiral King:

Hydrographic information was known to be incomplete. Tidal conditions were about as expected.80

Tide Summary

In summary, it can be said that:

  1. All those in command at Pearl realized that the shallow coral reef, aptly called a barrier reef, and spreading offshore like a long wide apron in all directions from Betio Island, was a major hazard for the assault forces from the Southern Attack Force. All were acquainted


    with the possibility of "dodging tide," but the chances of it occurring on 20 November 1943 were judged slim. The risk was accepted along with dozens of other risks.

  1. What was predicted ahead of time in regard to tides turned out not to be too important, because on 20 November 1943 the tides at Tarawa Atoll did not run true to form. Like other sudden variations in natural phenomena, "Man proposes, God disposes." The tide suddenly and dramatically failed. There was inadequate water at the outer edge of the reef. Tidal flow did not correspond to any pre-assault landing prediction.

The Japanese Naval Plan for Defense

The Japanese stated that their plans for defense of the Gilberts were as follows:

When the enemy attacked the Gilberts, our operational plans, which had been drawn up in complete form on about 8 September, were as follows:
  1. Large submarines in the Rabaul area (and if possible, small submarines) were to move up and operate in the vicinity of the Gilberts.
  2. 2nd Fleet was to advance to sea area from west to north of Nauru and decoy the enemy fleet. Then, after 36 land based attack planes from Rabaul had carried out attacks on the enemy, it (2nd Fleet) was to move up to Mille area and continue operations.
  3. If necessary, a destroyer squadron was to come up from the Rabaul area and participate in the operations.
  4. Planes of 3rd Fleet were undergoing training, but even those elements, of a low degree of training were to join in these operations depending on the enemy's attack.81

Japanese Reactions--GALVANIC

One description of Japanese reaction reads:

. . . In November, as Bougainville landing operations commenced, [Admiral] Koga was forced to send his air strength to Rabaul. As it turned out, practically all of them were lost at Rabaul and Bougainville. Consequently, the Fleet air strength was almost completely lost, and although the Gilbert's fight appeared to be the last chance for a decisive [Fleet] fight, the fact that the Fleet's air strength had been so badly depleted, enabled us to send only


very small air support to Tarawa and Makin. The almost complete loss of carrier planes was a mortal blow to the Fleet, since it would require six months for replacement.82

The Chief of Staff of the Japanese Fourth Fleet stated in regard to the Fourth Fleet:

Two days prior to your initial attacks on the Gilberts, an attack in the general area was anticipated. The headquarters of the Fourth Fleet was moved to Kwajalein by air on 19 November. It was also planned to bring troops from Truk to the area for reinforcement, using three cruisers and two destroyers. It was also planned to bring reinforcement aircraft into the area from Rabaul and Truk . . . . We [the Staff] flew to Kwajalein and based ashore . . . . On 18 November, the cruisers Naka, Istizu and Nagara and four unidentified destroyers left Truk. The Nagara and Istizu plus two destroyers were carrying troops to Mille. The Naka and remaining two destroyers were carrying Army troops to Kwajalein.

Units of the Second Fleet arrived Kwajalein on 22 November. A conference was held between the Commander in Chief Second and Fourth Fleets to discuss the situation then developing in the Gilbert Islands . . . . However, since there were no aircraft groups available for the carriers, the use of this force was not possible.83

The Senior Staff Officer of Commander Second Fleet, Captain Tsuneo Shiki, stated that:

It was our purpose to assist in repelling your invasion of the Gilberts by attacking a portion of your fleet if our air squadrons had successfully beaten off your air force, and to bombard your positions in the Gilberts, if possible.84

In connection with why the Expeditionary Force had not been sighted sooner, a Japanese naval pilot reported that the Japanese had discontinued full coverage by scouting planes of the approaches to the Marshall-Gilbert Islands after the 5 October attack on Wake. This was due to low aircraft strength.85

Timing of GALVANIC

It has been suggested that GALVANIC should have been postponed until the next full moon to take advantage of higher tides. The problem in


this connection for the working beavers of the Fifth Amphibious Force involved the impossibility of complying with the directive of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to undertake the Marshall Islands operation in January, 1944 if the Gilbert Islands operation was not over and done well before the end of November, 1943.

We learned after the war that there was a definite advantage in our not delaying the GALVANIC Operation until the next full moon. From interrogation of senior Japanese naval officers in October 1945, it was learned:

There was a plan in existence to reinforce the garrison strength of Makin by transporting about 1500 Army troops to that island. The troops were loaded on the 4th Fleet's Nagara, Isuz and 2 destroyers which departed Truk about 19 November. Due, however, to the commencement of strikes on the Gilberts by United States carrier task forces, the troops were eventually diverted to reinforcement of the Marshalls although the possibility of making counter landings on Makin had once been under consideration. The ships arrived at Mille about the 22nd or 23rd and landed the troops there.86

The Changing Character of the Transport Skippers

A glance at the amphibious rosters for GALVANIC reveals that nine senior officers from the Naval Reserve were exercising command among the 21 transports in the Attack Force. These very capable officers mostly came from the Merchant Marine Reserve and were well accustomed to doing a job at sea. This is not to say that they all were accustomed to the Navy style of doing things.

Their presence introduced a few problems which, when they had been eased, caused Commander, Transport Group to remark in his official GALVANIC Report:

The only comment seems to be that Commanding Officers in general expected Commander Transport Group to 'seal, sign and deliver' boats, crews and personnel to them without any special effort on their own part being necessary. It is believed they know better now.87

This heretic philosophy sounded a bit like RKT himself.


Why Tarawa?

The Marshall Islands lay squarely across the line of communications from the Hawaiian Islands to the Philippines. Some or all of the Marshalls had to be taken to cover or clear this line of approach to the far Western Pacific.

To take the main bastions of Japanese strength in the Marshalls we had to have airfields to provide (a) extensive and regular reconnaissance by land planes of the sea areas covering the approaches to this island group, (b) regular integrated photo intelligence of the islands themselves, (c) shore-based air bombardment groups to destroy Japanese island air resources and reduce defensive strength.

Our closest held islands to the Marshalls in the spring of 1943 were Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, 1,300 miles distant from Kwajalein. This gap was reduced during the late summer of 1943 to a little over 1,000 miles after occupation and building of air bases on Nanomea Atoll in the northern Ellice Islands and isolated Baker Atoll, 365 miles northwest of Canton Island.

Based on the speed and range of the 1943 aircraft, and the limited facilities which could be placed on the scanty land areas of these atolls, these distances were just too great to permit the extensive reconnaissance requirements to be met by land-based air. Naval air could not be substituted for land-based air because, as Fleet Admiral Nimitz later said:

In the fall of 1943 the Navy lacked the carrier strength to provide the necessary air power.88

Admiral Turner in one of his very few post retirement public statements in regard to a controversial matter said:

The story of Tarawa began before Pearl Harbor, when I was Plans Officer in the Navy Department . . . .

When the decision was made in the spring of 1943 to advance through the Central Pacific islands, there were several points of view as to the best strategic approach. One was to go from New Ireland to Truk, another to come down through Wake to Kwajalein, and a third plan, which was adopted, to go up through the Gilberts toward the Marshall Islands in order to broaden our base and to employ these various atolls, for mutual defense and for attack points on the Marshalls.

We have to remember that at that time, the Japanese Fleet was at least as strong as our own. We needed bases.


I believed that the decision was sound although at the time I favored going from Rabaul to Truk, rather than through the Gilberts to the Marshalls. However, the possession of Rabaul was essential to any such plan, and as we know now--and as Admiral Nimitz believed then--capture of Rabaul would have been an exceedingly difficult and costly operation, to say nothing of Truk. The Gilbert Islands were the natural and obvious road into the eastern part of the Japanese Empire.89

Vice Admiral Spruance was an early advocate of taking the Gilberts. He

argued strongly that photo intelligence of the Marshalls was necessary and that it could not be obtained unless reconnaissance planes could fly from fields in the Gilberts.90

Fleet Admiral King stated his belief in the matter in these few words:

Their location [Gilbert Islands] was of great strategic significance, because they lay north and west of islands in the possession of the United States and immediately south and east of major Japanese bases in the Caroline and Marshall Islands. Consequently the capture of the Gilberts was a desirable step in any serious advance against the Japanese Empire.91

A French naval writer covering the war from the Japanese point of view has said:

For [the Japanese] Tarawa was the natural staging base to the Fiji and Samoan Islands, and although the need for its capture was not too apparent in November 1943, its possession by the United States was the final link in the denial of the South Pacific to Japan.92

From the perspective of more than 25 years after the event, it can be said that seizing the Gilberts had these positive benefits:

  1. The seizure made the South Pacific bases, which had been a worry bone for Admiral King since 7 December 1941, more secure.

  2. The seizure made possible a shortening of the seaborne logistic support line to the Solomons and Australia by permitting a more direct route from Pearl Harbor to those areas.

  3. The seizure made available dispersed land-based air sites to make possible the regular reconnaissance and effective (continuous) bombing of the Japanese-held Marshalls.

  4. The seizure cracked open the southeastern door to carrier air raids on the Pearl of the Carolines, Truk.


The question of "Why Tarawa" can be answered in three words: "It was necessary."

In the immediate post-battle period, the Commanding General Fifth Amphibious Corps indicated some pleasure with the manner in which the Gilberts had been taken. On 11 January 1944, he wrote:

The very closest of cooperation between Army, Navy and Marine Corps was necessary to make the operation the success that it was. This cooperation existed throughout the planning as well as the operational phases of GALVANIC.93

When All Is Said And Done

General H.M. Smith's statement that "Tarawa was a mistake" was no more a far out statement than General of the Army Eisenhower's statement:

An amphibious landing is not a particularly difficult thing.94

General Smith's statement, however, was more closely associated with death and dying. So the parents of some grasped at the statement as though it were a club to beat down those who had planned and carried out the operation.

The Good And Bad Dividends

While CINCPAC reported to COMINCH that "casualties were somewhat less than had been expected,"95 the shocking news to those in the Navy and Marine Corps who had not planned in detail the operation and visualized the strong Japanese defenses was that the Naval officers killed in action off Makin and Tarawa amounted to 62 and the Marine officers dead at Tarawa numbered 58. The Marine enlisted dead at Tarawa numbered 922, while the Navy's enlisted killed in action off Makin and Tarawa were 74 percent of that total (684). This included 591 from the Liscome Bay, 39 from the Mississippi, 27 ashore at Tarawa, and 17 in the Independence. The other 14 were killed in landing craft or in air action with the enemy.


The good dividend, according to General Fuller, the famous English historian, was that the GALVANIC operations:

Misled the Japanese into believing that the enemy's intention was to make his main thrust toward the Solomons and New Guinea in support of the Rabaul campaign.96

At least it definitely laid to rest the Japanese plans to use Mille Atoll in the Marshalls as a staging area in the campaign they planned against the Ellice, Fiji, and Samoan Islands.97

By the end of December 1943, the total number of our military and naval personnel present on Tarawa Atoll was 11,567. The old Japanese airstrips on Betio had become operational for fighters on 1 December. Japanese raids against Tarawa Atoll, and in particular against Betio, came in almost nightly during December. Despite this, Mullinix Field, named after Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinix who had gone down with the Liscome Bay, was brought to completion on Buota Island. Bombing of the Marshalls started in earnest from Hawkins Field on Betio and Mullinix Field on Buota. It became a daily occurrence.

The Gory Glory

Rear Admiral Turner's victory despatch to Rear Admiral Hill and his Task Force 53 read as follows:

To the officers and men of all Services of Task Force Fifty Three. I offer my heartiest congratulations and commendations for the splendid victory over a tough enemy and tough material obstacles. We are all thoroughly proud of you.

R. K. Turner.

It was Admiral Nimitz's December 1943 opinion that:

The most powerful naval force ever assembled under one Flag was employed in GALVANIC. Many units were newly commissioned and only a very short time could be allotted to training and rehearsal. The fact that the operation was carried out according to plan reflects credit on Commander Central Pacific and officers and men under his command.98

To many who fought through the campaigns of the Central Pacific and on north to Japan, GALVANIC was the foundation and the portend of the future. Others thought of the masterly way the blow was struck, the grimness of the task, and the incomparable courage of the men who struck it.


Table of Contents  *  Previous Chapter  *  Next Chapter


1. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR to CINCPAC, letter, P14/Ser 001 of 4 Sep. 1943.

2. RKT to HWH, letter, 17 Nov. 1943.

3. Interview with Admiral H.W. Hill USN (Ret.), 16 Dec. 1965. Hereafter Hill.

4. RKT to HWH, letter, 17 Nov. 1943.

5. Compiled from CTF 54 Op Order A2-43, Annex C. para 3(8); CTF 53 Op Order 104-43 (Revised), 4 Nov. 1943; GALVANIC Reports.

6. CTF 53 GALVANIC Report, 13 Dec. 1943, Encl. (A) p. 7. See also COMCENPAC Op Plan CEN 1-43, 25 Oct. 1943, Annex E, para. 2

7. Ashland, J. Franklin Bell, Ships' Logs.*

8. Harry Lee, Ship's Log.*

9. LaSalle, Ship's Log.*

10. LST-34, Ship's Log.*

11. CTF 53.1, GALVANIC Report, 1 Dec. 1943, p. 1.

12. COMTRANSDIV Four, GALVANIC Report, Ser 004 of 4 Dec. 1943, p. 1.

13. COMFIFTHPHIBFORPAC, Extracts from Observers' Comments on GALVANIC Operation, 23 Dec. 1943, p. 1.

14. Then Captain, now Rear Admiral H.B. Knowles, USN (Ret.).

15. (a) COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, Group Two (CTF 53) Op Order A104-43 (Revised, 4 Nov. 1943; (b) CTU 53.1.1 Op Order 2-043, 10 Nov. 1943.

16. FTP 207, subj: Characteristics of British and United States Landing Craft, Landing Ships, Landing Vehicles (2nd ed.), Feb. 1943, pp. 116, 120.

17. COMTRANSDIV Four, GALVANIC Report, 30 Dec. 1943, p. 6.

18. Commander Transport Group Four GALVANIC Report.

19. Virgo (AKA-20) Action Report, 27 Dec. 1943.*

20. (a) CTF 53 Op Order A104-43, Time Schedule in para. 7 of Appendix 1 to Annex D; (b) Heywood and Monrovia GALVANIC Reports.*

21. COMTRANSDIV Four GALVANIC Report, 30 Dec. 1943, p. 1. The Marines had had Amphibian Tractor Battalions since the fall of 1941.

22. CTG 53.1 GALVANIC Report, 1 Dec. 1943.

23. Pursuit GALVANIC Report, 6 Dec. 1943, p. 4.

24. COMFIFTHPHIBFORGRP Two, (CTF 53), Op Order A104-43 (Revised), Appendix 1 to Annex D, para 7c.

25. (2) CTF Op Order A104-43, Appendix 1 to Annex D, para. 7c; (b) COMTRANSDIV Four Op Order 2-43, 10 Nov. 1943. Annex J.

26. COMTRANSDIV Four GALVANIC Report p. 6.0

27. Zeilin Action Report, 15 Dec. 1943, p. 2.*

28. Pursuit Action Report, 6 Dec. 1943, p. 4.*

29. Heywood, (APA-6) and Monrovia (APA-31) Action Reports.*

30. Memoranda of a Conference of CTF 53 on 10 Nov. 1943, para. 2.

31. Stockman, Tarawa.

32. COMGENFIFTHPHIBCORPS GALVANIC Report, Vol. 4, 11 Jan. 1944, Encl. (G), para. 6. Observations by Brigadier General J.L. Underhill, USMC.

33. HWH to HMS, letter, 5 Nov. 1948.

34. Ibid.

35. COMGENFIFTHCORPS Op Plan 1-43, 13 Oct. 1943, p. 1.

36. (a) CTG 53.4 (Commander Fire Support Group), GALVANIC Action Report, Ser 00187 of 25 Dec. 1943; (b) Reply by COMGENFIFTHPHIBCORPS to Bureau of Ordnance letter S78/PL/002077 of Dec. 1943, Ser 00187 of 21 Jan. 1944.

37. CINCPAC GALVANIC Operations, Preliminary study of Action Reports, Ser 00294 of 31 Dec. 1941, para. 14.

38. Smith, Coral and Brass, pp. 122, 131.


40. COMGENFIFTHPHIBCORPS, Corps Training Memorandum No. 11-43, Ser 00701 of 17 Dec. 1943, p. 5.

41. CTF 53 GALVANIC Report, 13 Dec. 1943, Encl. (A), p. 32.

42. Dashiell Action Report, 5 Dec. 1943, p. 8.*

43. Ibid., p. 49.

44. CGSECONDMARDIV, Ser 00104 of 2 Jan. 1944.

45. RKT to Chief of Military History, letter, 12 Feb. 1952, Encl (1), p. 12.

46. (a) CTG 50.3 Op Plan 53-43, 7 Nov. 1943, Encl. (C), Annex B, pp. 1-4; (b) CTF 53 Report of Tarawa Operation, 13 Dec. 1943, Part VI, para. 3(a)(3), p. 55.

47. CTG 50.3, Essex, Bunker Hill, Independence, GALVANIC Reports and War Diaries.*

48. Independence GALVANIC Report, 4 Dec. 1943, Encl. (B).

49. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR Op Plan A2-43, 23 Oct. 1943, Annex C, para. 3(X)(8).

50. COMCARDIV 12 (CTG 50.3) Op Plan 53-43, 7 Nov. 1943 Encl. (D) to Annex B, p. 2.

51. Nassau, Barnes, CTU 63.6.2 GALVANIC Reports.

52. Memorandum for Air Officer, USS Essex of 30 Nov. 1943, para 2(A) in CAG Nine, Action Report, 18 to 25 Nov. 1943, no ser, no date.

53. CINCPAC GALVANIC Report, 31 Dec. 1943, p. 5.


55. Administrative History of Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet, Vol. IV, Part 7, p. 266.

56. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, Extracts from observers' comments on GALVANIC, Ser 0371 of 23 Dec. 1943, p. 2.

57. Interview with Vice Admiral Richard F. Whitehead, USN (Ret.), 4 Oct. 1961. Hereafter Whitehead.

58. Arthur Middleton Action Report, 7 Dec. 1943, para. 3, subj: Report of Ensign F.W. Gleason, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, Wave Officer, First Wave Beach Red One.*

59. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR (CTF 54) Op Plan A2-43, Annex B, pp. 11, 29.

60. Ibid., Annex B, p. 35.

61. Vice Admiral Harry W. Hill to Chief, Historical Division, Department of the Army, letter, 14 Feb. 1949.

62. COMFIFTHPHIBGRP Two (CTF 53) Op Order A104-43, Appendix 3, to Annex D.

63. (a) Staff Interviews; (b) Staff Roster.

64. Captain Warnham is named in The Battle for Tarawa by Captain James R. Stockman, USMC, 1947. Other records spell his name Wernham.

65. (a) JICPOA Bulletin No. 11-43. Air Target Bulletin of Tarawa Island, Oct. 1943; (b) COMFIFTHPHIBFOR, Op Plan A2-43, Annex C, Intelligence Map of Betio.

66. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR Op Plan A2-43, Annex B, pp. 29-31.

67. Ibid., Annex B, p. 32.

68. COMFIFTHPHIBCORPS GALVANIC Report, Vol. 3, Encl. (F), Part IV, Ordnance Officer, letter, 22 Dec. 1943.

69. (a) Knowles; (b) Crowl and Love, Gilbert and Marshalls (Army), p. 33

70. Knowles.

71. (a) COMFIFTHFLT to Flag Officers, CENPACFOR, General Instructions for GALVANIC Operation, 29 Oct. 1943; (b) Forrestel, Admiral Spruance, p. 74.

72. (a) COMSERVRON Four to Sumner, 012206 Dec. 1943; (b) Sumner (AGS-5) War Diary, Dec. 1943-Jan. 1944.*

73. JICPOA Bulletin No. 6-44, Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean Tide Tables--1943, 15 Jan. 1944.

74. (a) Patrick L. McKiernan, "Tarawa: The Tide that Failed" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (February 1962), pp. 48-49); (b) JICPOA Bulletin 6-44(c), Annex B, p. 31.

75. McKiernan, p. 46.

76. Karl A. Tschaun to Patrick L. McKiernan, letter.

77. Patrick L. McKiernan to Director of Naval History, letter, 23 Nov. 1965 and reply thereto.

78. Admiral Hill to GCD, letter, 16 Dec. 1965. See also Admirals Wells and Lewis to GCD letters, 1, 7, and 21 Dec. 1965 and Admiral Spruance to GCD letter, 20 Dec. 1965.

79. COMFIFTHPHIBFOR to CINCPAC, report, Ser 00165 4 Dec. 1943.

80. CINCPAC to COMINCH, 080720 Dec. 1943.

81. USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War, p. 200.

82. USSBS Interrogations of Japanese Officials, USSBS No. 503, Vol. II, p. 516 (Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, IJN).

83. USSBS Interrogation No. 445, Vol. II, p. 411.

84. USSBS Interrogation No. 396, Vol. II, p. 360.

85. USSBS Interrogation No. 123, Vol. I, p. 132.

86. USSBS Pacific Campaigns, p. 201.

87. CTG 53.1 GALVANIC Report, 1 Dec. 1943, para 9(e).

88. Fleet Admiral Nimitz' statement to United Press, 16 Nov. 1948.

89. Monterey Tribune, 17 November 1948.

90. Forrestel, Spruance, p. 91.

91. King's Record, pp. 495-96. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.

92. Andrieu d'Albas, Death of a Navy, p. 277.

93. COMGENFIFTHPHIBCORPS Final Report on GALVANIC, 11 Jan. 1944.

94. U.S. News and World Report, 3. Feb. 1950.

95. CINCPAC to COMINCH, 080703 Dec. 1943.

96. John F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1938-45, A Strategical and Tactical History (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1949), p. 205.

97. USSBS, The American Campaign against Wotje, Maloelap, Mille and Jaluit, p. 18.

98. CINCPAC GALVANIC Operations, 31 Dec. 1943, para 9.

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