Chapter 9: The Gilberts and Marshalls

WHILE the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces moved into position for the final assault on Rabaul, the Seventh Air Force helped to initiate the American drive across the Central Pacific. Except for defensive action at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and operations against the enemy fleet during the Battle of Midway, the Hawaii-based air force, designated Seventh Air Force on 5 February 1942, had seen little combat.* It had served as a holding force of decidedly limited strength; its record of operations spoke chiefly of tedious hours of reconnaissance over the vast reaches of the Central Pacific; and its units had engaged the enemy for the most part only when on loan to some other air force. In addition to serving as a reservoir to be drawn upon for emergencies in neighboring theaters, the Seventh had acted also as a forwarding agency for men, aircraft, and units en route from the United States to the more active Pacific theaters.

The Seventh Air Force

Ever since the designation of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz as Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area (CINCPOA) on 30 March 1942,1 the Seventh Air Force had operated under the control of the Navy, and not without some difficulty in the adjustment of procedures and doctrines to the demands of a unified command. Maj. Gen. Willis H. Hale, commanding the Seventh,þ served as air officer on the staff of Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, commanding general of the Hawaiian Department;
*. See Vol. I, 194-201, 452-62.

þ. General Hale assumed command on 20 June 1942 in succession to Brig. Gen. H.C. Davidson, who had assumed command following the loss of Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker in the Battle of Midway.


and in all matters pertaining to problems of administration, supply, and services the Seventh Air Force functioned as a subordinate echelon of the Hawaiian Department.2 Operational control, however, lay with the Navy. In the case of VII Bomber Command, this control was direct and complete, for the bombers operated under the direction of the Navy's Patrol Wing 2 (Patwing 2).3 But VII Fighter Command in its contribution to the immediate defense of the Hawaiian Islands, which remained a responsibility of the Hawaiian Department, received its operational orders through General Emmons.4

In preparation for the Battle of Midway the Seventh Air Force momentarily had enjoyed a high priority in its claims on available planes. At the close of June 1942, it had seventy-three heavy bombers, but this was destined to be the peak of its strength in that category until the fall of 1943.5 In July 1942 the 11th Bombardment Group (H) had been designated as the Mobile Force, Central Pacific* and sent down to meet a new emergency in the South Pacific, where it operated until February 1943.6 This left VII Bomber Command with only the 5th Bombardment Group (H), which for a time did well to keep as many as twelve of its thirty-five B-17's in readiness for combat.7 And as the 5th Group gradually built up its effectiveness, the 11th paid the cost of arduous operations in th South Pacific. In September 1942 the War Department ordered an additional squadron of heavy bombers from Hawaii to the support of the 11th Group, and by the close of November all of the 5th Group had moved into the South Pacific.þ The Hawaiian Department would then have been completely stripped of all bombardment strength had not the 90th Bombardment Group (H), en route to the Fifth Air Force for relief of the war-weary 19th Group, been held for temporary assignment to the Seventh Air Force.8

The assignment proved to be temporary indeed. By mid-October th 90th Group had received orders to proceed, with its B-24's, to Australia, the 307th Bombardment Group (H) having been designated as the replacement for Hawaii.9 But scarcely had the last elements of the 307th come in, when the group was reassigned in December to the Thirteenth Air Force.10 Although Admiral Nimitz held up the transfer until it could be coordinated with the return to Oahu in February 1943

*. See above, p. 28.

þ. The 72d Squadron left Oahu on 21 September, the 23d and 31st Squadrons in October, and by 21 November the 394th Squadron had completed its transfer to the Fiji Islands.


of the 11th Group for rest and reconstitution as a B-24 unit,11 it had been made abundantly clear that the Seventh Air Force operated at a double disadvantage insofar as claims to heavy bomber strength were concerned.12 In addition to the low priority suffered by all Pacific forces, the Seventh was forced to yield its own interests to the prior claims of neighboring theaters. At no time between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1943 did the Seventh Air Force have more than a single group of heavy bombardment, and this one was either an inexperienced unit destined for service elsewhere or a battle-worn outfit badly in need of rest.

It was with serious difficulty, therefore, that General Hale undertook to meet an obligation to furnish a daily minimum striking force of eighteen bombers. His plan had been to follow a threefold division of this force into units of six planes each, one to be on alert and the other two employed for purposes of training and as reserve units except for the alerts maintained at dawn and dusk.13 In the circumstances existing, he could only hope that casuals on the way through Oahu as replacements for the South and Southwest Pacific might provide the margin of strength required to meet a real emergency, and he had to be content with the thought that a training program, which he combined with the maintenance of daily reconnaissance patrols, would prove helpful to Generals Harmon and Kenney. Only occasionally could Brig. Gen. Truman H. Landon, commander of VII Bomber Command, mount an offensive mission. Not only were the forces at hand meager but enemy targets lay at extreme range, Wake Island, seized by the Japanese on 23 December 1941, was approximately 1,194 miles west of Oahu. The naval and air action off Midway in the following June had greatly reduced Wake's importance to the enemy except for defense of the outer perimeter;14 and after single-plane reconnaissance missions of 26 June and 31 July 1942, the Seventh Air Force took no other action against the island until December.15 Then, on the night of 22/23 December, twenty-six B-24D's of the 307th Group staged through Midway for a strike with 135 x 500-pound GP bombs and 21 incendiaries. Apparently the attack took the enemy by surprise, as neither searchlights nor antiaircraft fire were encountered until after the bombing had begun. All planes returned safely, with only slight damage to two. Assessment of the damage proved difficult in the smoke from explosions and resultant fires, but the mission stands first among the air attacks on enemy bases in the Central Pacific.16 The long overwater


flight necessary to its execution and the use of a staging base to stretch the tactical radius of the B-24 would be typical of Seventh Air Force bomber operations throughout the war.

The next offensive mission came on 25 January 1943, when six B-24's of the 371st Bombardment Squadron staged through Midway for daylight reconnaissance and incidental bombing of Wake. The bombers flushed six to eight interceptors, but their reaction was tardy and the damage to the heavies slight.17 Again, on 15 May, seven out of eighteen planes dispatched by the 371st and 372d Squadrons struck Wake during daylight. The enemy intercepted with nineteen Zekes and three Hamps, trading four of the interceptors for a B-24, the first B-24 lost to enemy action by the Seventh Air Force.18 Finally, on 24 and 26 July the reconstituted 11th Group, now flying B-24's, sent two missions of squadron strength against the former American outpost. Diversionary in nature, these attacks had been ordered by the Navy in the hope of confusing the enemy as to our intentions in the Pacific. Japanese defenses seemed to have been greatly improved, but the returning crews claimed a total of twenty interceptors destroyed. One B-24 had crashed into the ocean after a mid-air collision with an enemy fighter falling out of control.19 Wake would not be hit again by the Seventh Air Force until March 1944. These early raids, though small and scattered, had been generally well executed and effective.20

By staging down through Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, for a total distance of well over 2,000 miles via Canton, Palmyra, or Christmas Islands, it had also been possible to strike twice against enemy positions in the Gilberts during April 1943. After the Japanese had seized the Gilberts early in 1942, they had constructed a two-strip airfield and elaborate fortifications on Tarawa. In addition, they had occupied Apamama and Makin and the outlying atoll of Nauru, to the west. These atolls carried a potential threat to the Allied line of communications joining the South and Central Pacific, and as with the coming of 1943 the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave some thought to the possibility of a Central Pacific offensive,* the islands acquired a new importance. After sending two reconnaissance missions in small force over the Gilberts in January and one in February,21 General Hale got the green light from Admiral Nimitz for a quick one-two jab at Tarawa and Nauru. Nimitz designated for the mission the 371st and 372d Bombardment Squadrons, joining them together as Task Force 12 under

*. See above, pp. 133-35.


Map 14: Gilbert and Marshall Islands


the personal command of General Hale. Reconnaissance of all the Gilberts, for the purpose of determining the airfield potentials for either Japan or the Allies, was to be combined with the bomber strikes. The task force would return from its temporary base at Funafuti upon completion of its mission.22

Having dispatched a small boat two weeks in advance with necessary supplies and equipment, General Hale reached Funafuti with the B-24's on 18 April. Two days later at high noon twenty-two of the B-24's droned over Nauru. Since an early morning take-off, they had carried their bomb loads more than a thousand miles, which crowded the tactical radius of the B-24D to the limit. The weather over the target was excellent for the bombing with 28 x 1,000-pound and 45 x 500-pound GP bombs plus 45 frag clusters. Despite heavy interception and antiaircraft fire, direct hits on the runway, dispersal area, and a near-by phosphate plant were achieved. An oil dump at the north end of the runway went up in flames.23 General Hale, who had gone on the mission, returned to Funafuti in high spirits over the performance of his inexperienced crews. The heavy damage sustained by five of the B-24's forced postponement of the Tarawa strike, originally scheduled for the 21st. As it happened, this delay proved fortunate, for the enemy promptly struck back in a predawn raid on the strip at Funafuti that would have caught the American bombers just as they assembled for the take-off. Even so, the B-24's parked along the narrow runway suffered serious damage when a hit on a bomb-loaded plane resulted in its destruction and in damage to five other planes.24

On the next day, however, twelve of the B-24's struck Tarawa, achieving direct hits in the gas storage and barracks areas.25 This attack was to have been followed by the special reconnaissance missions, but General Hale felt that he could not risk his bombers for another night on the exposed Funafuti strip. After "the longest and fastest retreat in military history," as he described his return to Arnold, Hale reached Hawaii on the day following the Tarawa strike.26 Over the ensuing weeks occasional one- to three-plane reconnaissance missions brought back much-needed information regarding the Gilberts. Nineteen B-24's, their crews inexperienced members of the reconstituted 11th Group, went down to Funafuti on 27 June for another attack on Tarawa. But the first plane to attempt a take-off crashed, and after six were airborne, still another crashed, whereupon General Landon ordered the remaining planes to stay on the ground. Perhaps it was


By Thirteenth Air Force C-47

Air Evacuation of Casualties

By Liaison Plane in New Guinea


Seventh Air Force: "One Damned Island After Another"


just as well, for of the six planes which got off, only two found the target.27

Operating thus at extreme range and through the use of an intervening staging point, Seventh Air Force bombers over the long period between the Battle of Midway and the actions preliminary to invasion of the Gilberts had been able to get in an occasional blow at Wake, Tarawa, or Nauru. Such missions served to break the tedium of routine reconnaissance, but they could have little cumulative effect on the enemy's strength and served chiefly to provide for the crews valuable experience and for headquarters no less valuable intelligence.

Meanwhile, VII Fighter Command under Brig. Gen. Robert W. Douglas, Jr., provided local defense for Central Pacific bases. Its force of some 200 fighters in August 1942 had reached a total of 319 by the following October, all of them P-40's except for one squadron of P-39's and another equipped with P-70 night fighters.* In addition to occupying several bases in the Hawaiian Islands, AAF fighters stood guard at Midway, Canton, and Christmas. The 73d Fighter Squadron had been transferred to Midway at Nimitz' request in June to take the place of the badly battered Marine unit hitherto stationed there.28 The squadron's twenty-five P-40E's went from Oahu by the carrier Saratoga, from whose deck they flew in to the new base. The 73d provided daily air patrols for Midway until January 1943, when the 78th Fighter Squadron replaced it. In effecting the transfer, the two squadrons set a theater record for mass overwater flights of fighters by negotiating the full distance separating Oahu from Midway.29 Down on Christmas Island, some 1,340 miles south of Honolulu, and on Canton, approximately 1,910 miles to the southwest of Oahu, the fighter command maintained a squadron each. The bulk of the command's planes, however, occupied bases in the Hawaiian Islands--on Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii.30

The monotony of daily patrol was broken by training exercises in interception, escort, attack, gunnery, bombing, rocket-launching, and support of ground troops.31 Joint Army-Navy exercises instituted in January 1942 sought improved coordination of all arms for the defense of Oahu. In these exercises, the Seventh's bombers usually played the role of an attacking force, their escort being provided by Navy and Marine fighters, while the VII Fighter Command concentrated its

*. This unit, the 6th Night Fighter Squadron, had reached the theater in September, but would be transferred to the South Pacific in March 1943 except for one detachment.


efforts on breaking the simulated attack.32 As was the case with VII Bomber Command, much of the training for fighters would be put to service in neighboring theaters, for the Seventh Air Force served to no inconsiderable extent as a replacement pool for the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces. During the period under consideration, the Thirteenth received two full fighter squadrons and a group headquarters from VII Fighter Command, and for a year prior to the autumn of 1943 the Seventh supplied Kenney and Twining with trained fighter pilots at the rate of approximately twenty-five a month.33 The resulting turnover in the personnel of units stationed in Hawaii sorely tried the patience of responsible commanders.

The VII Air Force Service Command (VII Air Force Base Command prior to 15 October 1942) under Brig. Gen. Walter J. Reed had its special problems too. It quartered, rationed, and supplied all casuals passing through the theater and held the responsibility for making their planes ready for combat.34 Indeed, it had assumed since Pearl Harbor a key position in the logistical organization of the Pacific war, providing through the services of the Hawaiian Air Depot an intransit supply, repair, and modification center for forces scattered all the way from Hawaii to Australia. With forty warehouses on Oahu and additional supply dumps, the depot by the close of 1942 stocked thousands of items in urgent demand by combat units in the South and Southwest Pacific. The critical factor of shipping, a factor aggravated by the great distances of the Pacific, forced heavy dependence on air transport for important items of Air Corps supply. Unfortunately, the Seventh Air Force had no troop carrier unit and could provide air freight to the South Pacific only by loading to the limit all bombers headed that way.35

The bombers thus pressed into service as cargo carriers had in many cases undergone modification at the Hawaiian Air Depot. During peacetime the depot had undertaken no more than the assembly, repair, and reconditioning of the Hawaiian Department's planes. But after Pearl Harbor, large numbers of P-39's and P-40's, rushed out in crates for assembly, flight-testing, and delivery to combat units, greatly expanded the activity. These had been followed in February 1942 by crated B-26's destined for service in the Southwest Pacific. The Hawaiian depot not only assembled these medium bombers, a function which was something new in the activity of an overseas depot, but undertook modifications to meet the demands of tactical experience,


marking the beginning of its development into a major modification center.36

The transition to B-24's for all Pacific heavy bombardment units, a transition begun late in 1942, greatly enhanced the importance of modification as a depot function. The B-24D was sadly lacking in firepower, particularly in the nose of the plane. Japanese pilots soon discovered this defensive weakness, with the result that General Landon reported that approximately half of all early enemy fighter attacks on B-24's were made front ally.37 After Lt. Col. Marion D. Unruh, of the VII Bomber Command, had designed a nose turret to correct the weakness,* it was installed by the Hawaiian Air Depot in more than 200 B-24's during 1943.38 B-24 firepower was further improved by the installation of twin .50-cal. machine guns in the belly and tail of the airplane. The depot also moved the navigator's position to the flight deck and developed pilot and co-pilot blister windows to provide greater visibility. It continued to perform these modifications for the Pacific theaters until the advent of the B-24J, which included most of the changes.39 Other early modifications included the installation of catapult-launching equipment and ignition pressurization systems on P-39's and P-40's for the VII Fighter Command. Much later there would be auxiliary wing fuel tanks, catapult-launching equipment, and rocket projectors to be installed on P-47's.40

Like its counterparts on the mainland, the Hawaiian Air Depot was staffed in large measure by civilians who worked under the direction of AAF officers. Problems of recruitment, housing, and personnel management thus became quite different from those experienced by the regular AAF organization. As the war progressed, an increasingly large number of women employees were sent out from the United States. Their presence on a Pacific island crowded with soldiers, sailors, and Marines--even one so highly Americanized as was Oahu--presented problems as interesting as they were intricate, and "Hickam Housing," domicile for female employees at HAD, became an irresistible magnet for men of all ranks in all the services. Operationally, the normal difficulties of a civilian-staffed service and supply unit working under Army command were accentuated by the extreme precautions taken

*. Unruh later became commander of the 5th Bombardment Group and failed to return from a strike against Rabaul on 30 December 1943. In addition to providing the design and conducting his regular duties, Col. Unruh had devoted many long hours to supervision of the initial modifications.


by those responsible for the defense of the Hawaiian Islands after the debacle of 7 December. As the depot historian explained:

All through the early months of the war, one of the big headaches of the Depot, was the fact that most of the Generals were always yelling about dispersion. Somehow, that seemed to be all they thought about. They were willing to bring all work to a standstill in order to disperse the equipment.41

But these and other difficulties pale into relative insignificance when measured against the accomplishments of the Hawaiian Air Depot in the supply, maintenance, and modification of the aircraft used by our fighting forces in the Pacific.

These and other services rendered by Seventh Air Force agencies to neighboring theaters would be continued, but from the summer of 1943 forward the energies of the air force would be increasingly absorbed in the support of its own expanded operations. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided that the Gilbert Islands should be occupied, and with the mounting of GALVANIC, as that operation was known, the Seventh Air Force entered upon a new phase of its history.


In the early discussions of a Central Pacific offensive,* all plans had envisioned the occupation of the Marshall Islands as the first step toward the capture of such positions in the Carolines as Ponape and Truk. The grand operation was thus conceived as a quick thrust that would bring the Central Pacific forces abreast of those who had been committed to the more difficult and tedious advance on Rabaul by way of the Solomons and the New Guinea coast, and one that would open up a direct and less encumbered line of attack on the Philippines and to the China coast.42 Closer study of the problem, however, had argued for occupation of the Gilbert Islands as a preliminary to the Marshall operations.

The thirty-three atolls forming the Marshall group occupy an area approximately 600 by 670 nautical miles. Mandated to the Japanese in 1920, they had long figured prominently in Nippon's plan for gaining control of the Pacific. An air base and supply facilities had been developed in the 1930's at Kwajalein, central and most important of the atolls in the group. At the war's outbreak, the Japanese also had established air facilities on Wotje and Maloelap and had begun a similar

*. See above, p. 135.


development at Mille. Jaluit provided a seaplane base and fleet anchorage.43 In addition to being strongly defended themselves, the Marshalls were surrounded by an effective ring of relatively well-developed positions. Six hundred miles to the north was Wake, with both sea- and land-plane facilities. Southward lay the Gilberts, with an airfield and strong fortifications at Tarawa and lesser facilities at Makin and Apamama. West of the Gilberts were Nauru and Ocean, the former containing an airstrip as well as the most important phosphate works in the Pacific. These positions all could be easily reinforced by air, and so long as the Japanese fleet enjoyed the advantage of a main base at Truk, it--theoretically at least--was in a position to interfere seriously with any attack on the Marshalls.

Naval planners in Admiral Nimitz' headquarters at Pearl Harbor felt the need for thorough and continued photographic reconnaissance of enemy defenses.44 The nearest bases from which reconnaissance planes could have operated were at Funafuti and at Canton, some 1,300 and 1,600 miles, respectively, from Kwajalein--distances extending beyond the radius of both the Seventh Air Force's B-24D's and the Navy's PBY's. Carrier planes could have been used, but they were not as well suited for photographic purposes as the land-based reconnaissance planes operated by the Seventh.45 Consequently, before launching an attack on the Marshalls, it was considered advisable to secure bases from which the necessary photographic reconnaissance could be conducted.

The reconquest of Wake offered one possibility, but the island lacked the natural facilities on which to base the number of heavy bombers necessary for support of operations in the Marshalls. On the other hand, an approach from the south through the Gilberts promised distinct advantages: U.S. forces would be advancing from an established line of communications joining the Central and South Pacific; the Gilbert atolls possessed islands on which a number of airfields already were built and on which others quickly could be built; the scope of the operation probably could be kept safely within the resources allotted; Nimitz' forces would have an opportunity to test their amphibious equipment and methods against peripheral positions before attacking the presumably well-fortified center; operations against the Gilberts would have the effect of widening the front of the Solomons operation in such a manner that the surface forces involved could be used for either or both areas; and finally, seizure of the


Gilberts would protect Samoa and Canton while shortening and improving the lines of communication with the Southwest Pacific.46

Accordingly, the JCS directive of 20 July 1943 to CINCPOA had ordered amphibious operations against the Gilberts and Nauru with a target date of 1 December 1943, these to be followed about 1 February 1944 with an assault against the Marshalls.* After some study, Admiral Nimitz objected to the inclusion of an assault on Nauru, arguing that the cost would outweigh the advantages. As an alternative he suggested the capture and development of Makin plus vigorous action to deny the enemy use of Nauru's strip during the operation.47 Although General Arnold raised some question as to the advisability of substituting an island with only potential air-base facilities for one already containing an air base, the Joint Chiefs consented to the change late in September.48

Already the preliminary operations, designed primarily to strengthen the American control of the air approaches to the Gilberts, had been launched. Early in September occupation forces and engineers had been put ashore at Baker Island, 350 miles northwest of Canton and almost due east of Tarawa, for the development of air facilities. The operation was covered by the 11th Bombardment Group, which conducted daily six-plane searches out of Canton from 1 to 14 September.49 On 11 September, nineteen P-40"s of the 45th Fighter Squadron flew from Canton to Baker to provide local protection for the engineers.50 Simultaneously, the development of air facilities on Nukufetau and Nanomea in the upper Ellice Islands had been undertaken, and to prevent interference with the construction crews on the three islands, it had been decided to stage a carrier strike against Tarawa in coordination with AAF attacks. For that purpose the 11th Group supplied Task Force 15, under Rear Adm. Charles A. Pownall, with two squadrons of B-24's. One of these, with twelve planes, joined the Canton Air Group, commanded by General Landon, who had six PBY's in addition to his own B-24's. The Funafuti Air Group, under Brig. Gen. Harold D. Campbell, USMC, boasted twelve B-24's, an equal number of PBY's, and ten PV-1's.51

In an effort to immobilize the airstrip for the carrier action, eighteen of the twenty-four B-24's dispatched on the night of 18 September reached the target and achieved excellent results with frag clusters and

*. See above, p. 135. See above, p. 135.


GP bombs. The planes from Admiral Pownall's carriers (Belleau Woods, Princeton, Lexington), having worked over the island on the morning of the 19th with only slight interference, were followed over the target by twenty of the B-24's in a reconnaissance and final bombardment mission. In addition to obtaining complete photographic coverage of the island, the planes dropped thirty tons of GP bombs. The enemy fought back with antiaircraft fire and interception by fifteen to twenty Zekes, which shot down one Liberator and damaged ten others.52 If the photographs promised to be very helpful in the final planning, it was also clear that Tarawa had not been knocked out, even temporarily, by the air strikes.

GALVANIC had been scheduled on the assumption that the Pacific Fleet possessed the bulk of the air forces that would be required. Indeed, a principal argument favoring the Central Pacific offensive had been the opportunity to employ profitably the fleet's growing carrier strength. But even so, it had been agreed to augment the strength of the Seventh Air Force by one heavy and a medium bombardment group.53 These reinforcements, the 30th Bombardment Group (H) and the 41st Bombardment Group (M), arrived from the United States in mid-October.54

Meantime, Nimitz had created the Central Pacific Force, United States Pacific Fleet, a formidable array of sea, land, and air power assembled under the command of Vice Adm. Raymond A. Spruance for the accomplishment of the GALVANIC mission.55 This organization consisted of a fast carrier force, a joint expeditionary force for the landings, and a third force for the operational control of shore-based aircraft and of the bases from which they operated.56 All shore-based aircraft committed to the operation were included in Task Force 57, commanded by Vice Adm. John H. Hoover. The Seventh Air Force was to provide Admiral Hoover with both bombers and fighters--the former to be organized as a striking group (Task Group 57.2) under the command of General Hale, and the latter to be part of the Ellice Defense and Utility Group (Task Group 57.4), commanded by Brig. Gen. L. G. Merritt, USMC.57

GALVANIC represented a new departure in the employment of Central Pacific land-based aircraft. There had been operations conducted over long distances and from advanced bases before, but only for short periods of time; the prospect of sustained operations from tiny atolls situated 2,000 and more miles away from the main base


posed new problems. Many of the solutions agreed upon were necessarily experimental and highly tentative.

The seven squadrons of bombers and three of fighters to be committed by the Seventh Air Force would operate from five islands-Canton, Funafuti, Nukufetau, Nanomea, and Baker. Of these, only Canton and Funafuti had been developed prior to the fall of 1943. Canton had two compacted guano and coral runways, 7,200 and 9,400 feet long; and Funafuti had one 6,660-foot strip of crushed coral.58 On the other three it had been necessary for aviation engineers and Seabees to hew airstrips out of the dense covering of coconut palms. At Nukufetau, approximately forty-three miles northwest of Funafuti, a detachment of Seabees by 16 October had surfaced 4,000 feet of the bomber strip on Motolalo, largest of the atolls, and were progressing rapidly on a fighter strip.59 Before D-day the two strips would be lengthened to 6,100 feet and 3,500 feet, respectively, with hardstands, revetments, and parking areas provided for forty-five fighters and thirty-four bombers. There were a control tower, radio station, and weather station, but no lighting was provided for night flying.60 Construction of the airfield at Nanomea moved somewhat more slowly, but a 7,000-foot bomber and a 3,000-foot fighter strip were usable at the beginning of GALVANIC, together with the necessary hardstands, revetments, and dispersal areas. When basic projects were complete in late November, Nanomea also provided a nose hangar and repair shops for first echelon maintenance, a control tower, and a radio station. Portable boundary lights were installed on one side of the bomber strip.61 The field at Baker, built by the 804th Engineer Aviation Battalion of the Seventh Air Force, had one 5,500-foot runway covered with steel mat, together with hardstands and parking mat to accommodate twenty-five fighters and twenty-four heavy bombers.62

In planning to base air units on these outlying islands, as much in some instances as 2,000 miles from the Hawaiian Air Depot, the Seventh Air Force faced difficult problems of service and maintenance. The individual bomber and fighter squadrons could supply first and second echelon maintenance within their organization, for the ground crews would accompany the flight echelons, but they hardly could be expected to perform third and minor fourth echelon service. In the forward area, anything approaching standard service facilities could be expected only at Canton, where the 422d Sub-Depot and a detachment of the 17th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron


were located after July 1943.63 To meet the need on other islands, conventional types of combat service agencies leaned too much on heavy equipment and lacked the necessary mobility. Consequently, the VII Air Force Service Command devised the air service support squadron (ASSRON), a provisional unit designed "to accomplish a specific task in a given locality."64 By eliminating all possible administrative overhead, thereby reducing the total personnel required from 1,800 to 822 officers and enlisted men, and by replacing the heavy equipment used by the standard service center with motorized shops and easily transportable machinery, the ASSRON became a unit tailored to the size of the islands to be occupied.65

ASSRON functions, as outlined by General Reed, included "such activities as repair, supply, evacuation, sanitation, construction, transportation, traffic control, salvage, graves registration, burials, quartering, training of service units, estimation and supervision of funds, and such other activities as may be required."66 Actually, the duties performed in the field by the ASSRONs embraced a much wider scope of activity than even the foregoing would indicate, particularly when they were assigned to bases formerly occupied by the enemy. In those instances they went ashore shortly after the assault forces, and in emergencies even acted as infantry. In both the Gilberts and the Marshalls, burial teams for the disposition of the enemy dead were formed from the ASSRONS, and they supplied the bulk of the stevedore labor for unloading on the beaches. They also supplied details for clearing away debris and undergrowth from the areas to be occupied, and these details aided in the erection of buildings and in the construction of airfields.67

Altogether, four ASSRONS were formed. The 1st, activated on 21 September 1943, went to Baker to service the 45th Fighter Squadron and bombers staging through from Canton; the 2d, activated the same day, was held for use in the captured Gilberts; the 3d took over the servicing of the squadrons based at Funafuti, Nukufetau, and Nanomea; and the 4th was set up for later movement into the Marshalls when those positions were captured.68 The original concept envisioned moving these service units from island to island as the tactical organizations advanced across the Pacific, but this would never prove to be the case. The idea was abandoned altogether at Kwajalein. The 4th ASSRON, assigned there, was three times the size of any of its predecessors, and with time it assumed an increasingly more permanent


nature. Ultimately its functions were taken over by the Kwajalein Sub-Depot. The 5th ASSRON, activated in February 1944 and intended for service on Saipan, was abandoned before it got beyond the blueprint stage.69 By July 1944, standard service groups had been assigned for the tactical squadrons in the Central Pacific.70

Throughout their relatively brief existence the ASSRONS were subjected to an undue amount of criticism, some of it justified but much of it unwarranted. From the beginning they had operated under serious handicaps. Unconventional and hastily formed organizations, they operated without a background of precedent and regulation. Moreover, they were formed at so late a date and in such a hurry that there was no opportunity for training personnel in advance of operations. Also, inasmuch as the ASSRONS were only provisional units, all personnel were on detached service from other organizations--and by tradition in the Army, DS is a graveyard for hopes of promotion. Likewise, many commanders, in selecting men for DS with the ASSRONS, followed the hoary custom of using the occasion as an opportunity to rid their own units of undesirables. In the QM section of the 1st ASSRON, for example, fourteen men out of thirty-two had court-martial records or other evidences of poor performance,71 and ten court-martial cases developed in the unit while it was on Baker Island.72 Despite such instances, however, there is ample testimony to proper planning and highly creditable performance on the part of the 1st ASSRON: its radar equipment began operation on the day of landing, and the radio five days later; the unit serviced 600 aircraft staged through Baker between 15 November 1943 and 10 January 1944; and one of its ordnance sergeants devised a bomb-loading jig which cut loading time materially.73 Later ASSRONS, taking advantage of the experience gained by the 1st, correspondingly increased their efficiency.

Equal in severity to the problem of servicing tactical units engaged in island warfare was the problem of supply, and once more many of the procedures were experimental in nature. In joint operations, such as those proposed for the Central Pacific, supply was apt to pose an especially delicate problem. The needs of all services had to be adjusted against available stocks and particularly against available shipping space. In matters of supply, too, a complicated command structure had its serious implications. Thus, supplies for the Seventh's tactical units were furnished by the Army Service Forces through USAFICPA


(US. Army Forces in the Central Pacific Area), but were moved in bottoms allocated by the Navy. With all activities operating against shortened deadlines, the opportunities for difficulty inherent in such an arrangement are obvious. The only redeeming feature of the situation was the willingness of almost all persons and agencies concerned to cooperate to the fullest in order that the job at hand might be accomplished. For example, advance information from ASF indicated that certain air force supplies would not be available in time to meet the deadline for GALVANIC, but USAFICPA depots dug into their stocks to cover the shortages on the understanding that items thus advanced would be replaced on receipt of the air force's shipment from the States. Again, there was free exchange of equipment with the Navy and Marines in order to meet the needs of all three forces. Likewise, there was full cooperation with the Navy and Marines in utilizing types of bombs and ammunition common to all services, and at each base the service with the greatest concentration of tactical and service units was designated to supply bombs and ammunition for all three.74

All shipping from Hawaii down to the advanced bases came under the control of the Commander, Fifth Amphibious Force, with priorities for cargo space determined by the Joint Shipping Control established by CINCPOA and including in its membership representatives of all services.75 Items of Air Corps supply were furnished through the Hawaiian Air Depot, which during the course of GALVANIC operations moved 5,319,818 pounds of Air Corps supply forward. The handling of these supplies was greatly complicated by the fact that virtually all of the items received from the mainland arrived in one huge shipment at Honolulu docks and by the necessity for dispersion throughout the island of Oahu during the period of processing for the movement forward. Aviation gasoline, an item of supply peculiar to the needs of air operations, was moved to the forward bases in tankers and stored in bulk fuel systems assembled under the direction of the Seventh's A-4. Where both AAF and Navy systems were used, as at Makin, they were interconnected and filled from a single submarine pipe line tied to a tanker anchorage offshore.76

The personnel shortages which had plagued the Seventh Air Force since Pearl Harbor added to the problem of preparing for island warfare. Special difficulty arose from the fact that the Seventh Air Force never had been furnished a complement of labor troops. With none available from outside the theater--the early Pacific advance, it must be


remembered, was to be conducted with resources already in the theater--the problem was solved by disbanding the air base security battalions, considered nonessential units, and forming aviation squadrons from the personnel made available, thus relieving the critical labor shortage and, in particular, making it possible for VII AFSC to meet the GALVANIC loading deadline.77 Further demands arose from the necessity of establishing advanced headquarters for AAF organizations situated 2,000 miles and more from Hickam Field. General Hale established ADVON Seventh Air Force on 6 November at Funafuti, where it would remain until he moved it to Tarawa on 30 December. 78 In addition to ADVON Seventh Air Force, ADVON VII AFSC and ADVON VII Bomber Command functioned at Funafuti under Generals Reed and Landon.

The original target date established for GALVANIC had been 1 December but this had been pushed forward to mid-November, and the first days of that month saw the planes of the Seventh moving into position for the pre-invasion air attack on the Gilberts. Deployment on the eve of battle was as follows:

Headquarters 11th Bomb. Group Funafuti
  42d Bomb. Squadron Funafuti
  431st Bomb. Squadron Funafuti
  26th Bomb. Squadron Nukufetau
  98th Bomb. Squadron Nukufetau
Headquarters 30th Bmb. Group Nanomea
  27th Bomb. Squadron Nanomea
  38th Bomb. Squadron. Nanomea
  392d Bomb. Squadron Canton
531st Fighter-Bomber Squadron Canton
46th Fighter Squadron Canton
45th Fighter Squadron Baker
1st ASSRON Baker
3d ASSRON Funafuti
Detachment 3d ASSRON Nanomea
Detachment 3d ASSRON Nukufetau
Detachment 17th AB Squadron Canton
422d Sub-Depot Canton

It will be noted that fighter squadrons stood guard over Canton and Baker Islands and that the bomber units had been sent to the Ellice Islands to serve as a striking force. Admiral Hoover's headquarters was aboard the aircraft tender Curtiss, now anchored in the harbor at Funafuti. Direct communications between the Curtiss and ADVON Seventh Air Force were maintained by telephone, teletype, and FM radio. A radio net linked all bases.79


Plans called for the seizure of Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama by the amphibious forces. By far the most important and best defended of these was Tarawa, a triangular-shaped atoll composed of a series of islands on a reef about twenty-two miles long and inclosing a lagoon some seventeen miles long by nine wide at the south end and by less than a mile at the north. The largest and most important island on the atoll is Betio, a narrow strip of land approximately two and one-fourth miles long and less than half a mile wide. The Japanese had first landed at Tarawa on 10 December 1941, but had delayed its development until September 1942, when the atoll was placed under the same administration as the Marshall Islands group. Subsequent to that date, Tarawa had become the principal Japanese air base in the Gilberts. Its two rolled-coral runways could serve defensively as a reconnaissance base to screen larger Japanese concentrations in the Marshalls, or offensively as an advanced base for operations against Allied positions in the South Pacific.80 Naval air reconnaissance revealed that the enemy had repaired the damage caused by the September strikes and constructed additional defenses.81

Makin and Apamama promised less trouble. No serious resistance was expected at Apamama.82 Evidence indicated, however, that since an August 1942 raid on Makin by the Marines, the Japanese had prepared new defensive installations and were conducting patrol operations from the seaplane base located there.83 D-day at Makin for the 27th Infantry Division was 20 November; for the Marines at Apamama, 26 November; and for the Marines at Tarawa, 20 November. The air attack began on 13 November 1943 (D minus 7) when eighteen B-24's of the 11th Group took off from Funafuti to bomb Tarawa. They dropped 126 x 20-pound frag clusters and 55 x 500 pound GP bombs from 8,500 and 15,000 feet, respectively. Returning to Funafuti, the crews for sixty miles could observe fires burning. One airplane did not return, cause unknown.84 All through the following week the Liberators carried out their assigned missions, going back in comparable force to Tarawa on D minus 6, D minus 3, and D minus 1, this last time in coordination with the carriers. But Tarawa and Makin (hit by B-24's on D minus 1) got a worse pounding from carrier strikes on D minus 4 to D minus 1. For Seventh Air Force planes, the important enemy bases were not so much those scheduled for occupation as those from which enemy aircraft might interfere. The enemy's bases in the Marshalls and at Nauru could be reinforced


by air from the Carolines, from Wake, and even from the Japanese homeland. Chief of his bases was Kwajalein Atoll, defensive and administrative center of the Marshalls and already marked for subsequent occupation by U.S. forces. There was a major air base on Roi Island, and one under construction on Kwajalein Island. A well-equipped seaplane base was located on Ebeye Island, and there were large concentrations of military stores of all categories on Kwajalein, Namur, and Bigej Islands.85 Other islands in the Marshalls which constituted a threat to GALVANIC were Jaluit, Mille, and Maloelap. Jaluit was the site of a large seaplane base, the center for Japanese air and surface patrols in the southwestern Marshalls, the submarine base for the area, and an important supply base.86 Mille, supporting a two-runway airfield, was the southern anchor of the eastern Marshalls defense zone.87 Maloelap, formed by more than sixty low-lying islands along a reef thirty-two by thirteen miles, boasted a particularly well-developed air base, located on Taroa and equipped to handle all type of Japanese land-based aircraft. Centrally situated on the rim of the Marshalls, it was the most important enemy base in the entire area except for Roi Island in Kwajalein Atoll.88 Finally, there was Nauru, originally slated for occupation by GALVANIC forces. Strategically linked with the Gilberts and easily reinforced from the Carolines, its newly constructed airfield, in addition to constituting a serious threat to GALVANIC, provided a base from which Japanese patrol planes could cover completely the area between the Gilberts and the Solomons.89 Though it later became a target for planes of the Seventh, during the assault phase of GALVANIC it was assigned to the Relief Carrier Group.90

The B-24's struck Mille as well as Tarawa on D minus 6, hit Jaluit and Mille on the next day, and devoted D minus 4 to Kwajalein and Maloelap. Tarawa and Mille were substituted for Jaluit and Maloelap on the 17th (D minus 3); and on the 18th unfavorable weather forced the bombers headed for Wotje to drop their loads on Mille and Tarawa.91

Although the enemy proved unable to put up effective resistance to these attacks, the Liberators met opposition of sorts every time they went out. There was antiaircraft fire, varying in intensity and accuracy, over every target; over Kwajalein, Jaluit, and Maloelap, fighters were up to meet the bombers.92 Enemy aircraft contributed to the difficulties of both air and ground crews by raiding Nanomea on the night of 11 November and Funafuti on 13 and 17 November.93 As was


true of much of the air war in the Pacific, however, operational diffculties proved more serious than enemy opposition. Chief among these was the remoteness of enemy targets from the widely dispersed operating bases. Missions were flown at ranges rarely attempted before the advent of the B-29, with a maximum round trip from base to target and return of 2,408 nautical miles.94 These distances were over water with few if any intermediate landmarks, and both bases and targets were mere pinpoints virtually lost in a vast expanse of water. Hence, the greatest premium was placed on accurate navigation. The weather also caused trouble. It was difficult in the extreme to forecast conditions at a precise time over a small target a thousand miles or more away, and all too frequently the heavy bombers found their assigned targets completely obscured from view. The VII Bomber Command attributed the generally unsatisfactory nature of the weather reports to the lack of wide and efficient dissemination of information and the brevity of Navy forecasts, on which the Seventh generally depended.95 Another difficulty, and one which had a direct bearing on the quality of the weather reports, was the unsatisfactory manner in which communications facilities functioned, particularly at Funafuti. The tower there used unpublished transmission frequencies, and the erratic and unstable operation of the range and homing stations made them unreliable as aids to navigation.96

Despite these handicaps, the Seventh's heavy bombers had completed thirteen strike missions for a total of 141 sorties when the Marines went ashore at Tarawa on 20 November, The Liberators had dropped 375 x 500-pound GP bombs, 455 x 100-pound GP bombs, and 5,634 x 20 pound frag bombs, destroying five enemy aircraft, probably destroying five others, and damaging two. Two B-24's had been lost in combat, two had been lost operationally, two had been destroyed on the ground, and one had been lost at sea, cause unknown. Personnel losses included six dead, nineteen wounded, and eleven missing.97

Any attempt to assess the effectiveness of the Seventh Air Force in GALVANIC, as in its other operations, is complicated by the fact that in joint operations success is achieved by the sort of teamwork and cooperation which makes it difficult to assign credit to any one specific element of the team for any single phase of the operation. In GALVANIC the aerial strength of Navy carriers operated against many of the targets hit by the planes of the Seventh Air Force; and at Tarawa the island was subjected to heavy bombardment from surface


vessels as well. The U.S. Marines, in seventy-two hours of bitter fighting before the enemy garrison was overcome, found reason to feel that the pre-invasion bombardment of Tarawa had been woefully inadequate.

Subsequent analysis tended to support the view that too much reliance had been placed on surface bombardment and too little use made of bombardment from the air. Over 80 per cent of the fire directed at Tarawa's defenses had been delivered by surface vessels, and approximately 10 per cent each by the B-24's of the Seventh and carrier aircraft.98 The Japanese positions, well dug in on the flat surface of the atoll, offered a difficult target to naval gunfire of high velocity and flat trajectory and were probably more vulnerable to bombardment from the air. It has been argued that had more time been allowed for the preassault air attack, Japanese resistance might have been considerably weakened. The importance of surprise, dictating a time schedule which was calculated to minimize the chance of enemy reinforcement or interference from the Japanese fleet, and the assignment of available bombers to attempted neutralization of widely scattered enemy airfields precluded this possibility. That the best use of the B-24's had been made is certainly open to question. They were too few in number to carry out over such distances any really effective neutralization of the enemy's bases.99 Perhaps it would have been more realistic to concentrate their effort against Tarawa, relying upon a preponderance of carrier strength to protect the assault forces.

Whatever faults of assignment there may have been, GALVANIC had been executed with expeditious success. The cost to the Second Marine Division had been unusually heavy, but the survivors, having won their fight, could be evacuated for rest during the last week in November. Makin had been won in one day. The landing at Apamama on 26 November met no opposition. And all operations had proceeded with negligible air opposition from the enemy. Before November had reached its end, preparations for a forward movement by U.S. air forces into bases on the Gilbert Islands had been begun.


Operations against the Gilberts had been envisioned as merely a preliminary to the main thrust into the Marshalls, which would follow immediately. Target date for FLINTLOCK, the occupation of the Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls, had been set by the Joint Chiefs at


1 February 1944. CATCHPOLE, as operations for the occupation of Eniwetok Atoll had been coded, would take place three months later.100 The ease with which Kwajalein and Majuro were occupied, however, prompted a speed-up in timing which resulted in a decision to mount CATCHPOLE immediately, and by 19 February, Eniwetok, northwesternmost of the Marshalls, also had been captured against light enemy resistance.

So far as air operations were concerned, the campaigns in the Gilberts and Marshalls were continuous. On 21 November 1943 (D plus 1 on Tarawa), B-24's of the 38th Bombardment Squadron escorted Navy PB4Y photo planes over Nauru, while Liberators of the 431st and 42d Bombardment Squadrons conducted daylight bombing raids on the same target.101 During the remainder of November and most of December, Seventh Air Force Liberators, staging through Baker and Nanomea from their bases at Canton and in the Ellices, continued to pound Nauru, Mille, Jaluit, and Maloelap, in tactical support of the base-development phase of GALVANIC and in preparation for CATCHPOLE. Beginning on 16 December, Wotje, site of a strongly fortified and well-defended airfield and extensive seaplane facilities, came under the sights of the B-24's.102

Meanwhile, Seabees and Seventh Air Force aviation engineers prepared the newly won positions in the Gilberts for use. Tarawa had been scheduled for development as the most important of the new bases. The task of preparing two airfields, one on Betio Island in the southwest corner of the atoll and the other on Buota Island at the southeast corner, became the responsibility of the Seabees who landed shortly after the fighting ceased. Construction proceeded slowly, and though two squadrons of the 41st Group's B-25's, on Oahu since October, reached Tarawa on 15 December, per schedule, it was not until 23 December that either of the two fields could be considered operational.103 When completed, Hawkins Field on Betio consisted of a single coral runway, 6,450 feet by 300 feet; parking space for 72 heavy bombers; and hardstands for 100 fighters, plus service facilities. Mullinix Field, on Buota, had two runways--7,050 x 200 feet and 4,000 x 150 feet--both of compacted coral, plus dispersal areas for 76 heavy bombers and the usual service facilities. Boundary lights and flood lights were installed for night flying.104 The Seabees had also undertaken the construction of O'Hare Field at Apamama, but progress was even slower than at Tarawa. The two


squadrons of mediums scheduled for arrival on 15 December had to be delayed a month, until the field became ready even for limited operations.105 O'Hare Field, on its completion, consisted of an 8,000-foot runway of compacted coral, a dispersal area for seventy-two heavy bombers, field lights for night flying, and limited maintenance and repair facilities. At Makin, Seventh Air Force aviation engineers brought to prompt completion facilities at Starmann Field which included a 7,000-foot runway partially covered with steel mat, dispersal areas for seventy-eight fighters and twenty-four heavy bombers, and third echelon maintenance facilities.106

The Seventh Air Force deployed its units forward into the Gilberts as rapidly as the bases became available. The 46th Fighter Squadron, whose P-39's had been kept at Canton for defensive purposes during GALVANIC, was reinforced with new airplanes from Oahu and moved to Makin during the period 14-27 December. Another P-39 organization, the 72d Fighter Squadron, came down to Makin from Oahu, the pilots and planes arriving aboard a carrier on 14 December. The P-40's of the 45th Fighter Squadron, having been assigned to the air defense of Baker during the initial phase of GALVANIC, moved to Nanomea on 28 November, and in January divided into a rear echelon stationed at Apamama and a forward echelon at Makin. The 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadron, equipped with A-24's, assembled on Makin from Oahu and Canton on 22 December 1943.

Liberators of the 27th Bombardment Squadron, staging through Tarawa on 23 December to escort Navy photo planes over Kwajalein, marked the first use by the heavies of the new facilities there. Tarawa continued to serve as no more than a staging base until early in January, when headquarters of the 11th Group and the 26th, 98th, and 431st Squadrons moved into Hawkins and Mullinix. Also in early January, headquarters of the 30th Group and the 392d Squadron moved to Apamama from Nanomea and Canton, respectively. The 27th and 38th Squadrons were retained at Nanomea, and the 42d returned from Funafuti to Hawaii.107 To round out the movement into the Gilberts, ADVON Seventh Air Force and the forward echelons of VII Bomber Command and VII AFSC moved from Funafuti to Tarawa during the last week of December and the first week of January.108

Thus, by mid-January the Seventh Air Force--still a part of Admiral Hoover's Task Force 57, which, in turn, remained a part of Admiral Spruance's Central Pacific Force--was in position to carry out its mission in the occupation of the Marshalls. General Hale remained strike


commander, and only in the inclusion of fighters as a part of Hale's striking force did the task organization differ from that used in GALVANIC.109 In general, the Seventh's mission remained the same: search and reconnaissance, the performance of strike missions to deny the enemy use of his bases, and attempts to destroy his shipping. Specific targets included enemy air facilities at Mille, Jaluit, Roi, Wotje, Taroa, Kwajalein, and Kusaie. The defense of the Ellice and Gilbert Islands and support of the Kwajalein invaders on D-day rounded out the Seventh's assigned duties.110 During the CATCHPOLE phase of the operation, the Seventh would continue its neutralization of bases in the Marshalls and, in addition, undertake, to knock out enemy air facilities at Ponape and Wake in coordination with strikes from Midway, as directed by CINCPAC.111

The targets--except for Wake, which actually would not be hit by Seventh Air Force planes, for Tarawa, which had become a U.S. base, and for Ponape and Kusaie in the eastern Carolines, where airfields assumed importance as a threat to the occupation of Eniwetok--remained thus unchanged from those hit during GALVANIC. The primary difference in the new operations lay in the increased air strength which now could be brought to bear from the more forward bases. No longer did the heavies have to assume responsibility for all of the targets; those at closer range could be turned over in part to B-25's, A-24's, and fighters. Moreover, the shortened distances between the forward bases and B-24 targets (the average B-24 sortie was reduced from 13.7 hours in December to 9.6 hours in February)112 permitted the Liberators to carry heavier loads and to operate more frequently, with less fatigue for their crews.113

As the assault forces assembled for the attack on Kwajalein (Majuro was expected to be occupied without resistance), the diminutive Seventh--"Hale's Handful," it came to be called--threw everything it had against that atoll and against Mille, Jaluit, Maloelap, Wotje, and Nauru, with heavies, mediums, and fighters keeping up an almost round-the-clock pounding of the already battered bases, supplementing heavy and decisive strikes by Rear Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's carriers.*114 The six squadrons of Liberators carried the heaviest burden.

*. Task Force Mitscher, including twelve carriers, eight battleships, six cruisers, and thirty-six destroyers, was charged with the primary mission of obtaining and maintaining control of the air in the Marshalls and providing air support for the assault and capture of Kwajalein. It began its attacks on 29 January, striking airfields at Roi, Kwajalein, Taroa, and Wotje, continuing through the 30th.


Having flown a total of 365 sorties in December from their bases at Canton and in the Ellices, with concentration on Mille and Maloelap, in January the Liberators began softening up Kwajalein for the invasion. They dropped a total of 200.3 tons on the atoll in addition to conducting heavy strikes against Wotje and Maloelap.115 Mille and Jaluit now had been turned over to the light planes, and were hit by the heavies only as alternate or last-resort targets. From D minus 3 to D-day, the B-24's were used in nightly harassment of Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap. In performing this mission they were over their targets from dusk to dawn in small elements, dropping 500-pound, delayed fuze GP bombs. On D-day (1 February) six B-24's of the 392d Squadron furnished part of the ground support for the assault troops of the US. 7th Division at Kwajalein. Coming in at from 4,000 to 4,600 feet, they dropped 1,000- and 2,000-pound GP's and strafed the island with .50-cal. machine guns. As they left the target, the entire northwest part of the island appeared to be on fire.116

With the Liberators concentrating on Kwajalein, the 41st Group's B-25's struck principally against nearer Maloelap and Wotje, with Mille and Jaluit as secondary targets, for a total of 215 sorties in January.117 Carrying a 75-mm. cannon in the nose, in addition to a complement of .50-cal. machine guns, the B-25's specialized during the Marshalls campaign in low-level bombing, cannonading, and strafing attacks against both shipping and shore installations. This gave them certain tactical advantages over aircraft using medium- and high-level techniques: avoidance of radar detection, added precision in bombing, and ability to strafe their targets effectively with both machine guns and cannon.118 But the operations proved costly. The 41st Group lost a total of seventeen B-25's between 28 December and 12 February, in addition to suffering damage on 114 sorties.119 When, beginning 19 February, the B-25's switched to medium-altitude attacks, the number of aircraft destroyed and damaged was greatly reduced.

During most of FLINTLOCK-CATCHPOLE, neutralization of Mille and Jaluit, nearest of the Marshalls, was accomplished by A-24's, P-39's, and P-40's. A-24's of the 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadron had started hitting installations on Mille and Jaluit from Makin on 18 December. Usually armed with 2 x 500-pound GP bombs, the Dauntless dive bombers flew 367 sorties against those two targets between that date and the invasion of Kwajalein.120 Except for forty-one unescorted sorties over Mille, the A-24's were accompanied on all missions by


P-39's of the 46th and 72d Fighter Squadrons, P-40's of the 45th Fighter Squadron, or F6F's of the Navy. Occasionally Navy SBD's (Army A-24) flew with them. The Seventh's P-39's, in addition to furnishing escort for the A-24's, undertook a variety of strike and patrol missions. They made regular fighter sweeps over Mille, 220 miles from their base at Makin, and on 6 February, twelve P-39's made a successful fighter sweep over Jaluit, a distance of approximately 303 miles from Makin. During their period of operation from Makin (18 December-12 February) the P-39's flew a total of 635 sorties, plus 114 abortives. In similar fashion, the P-40's were used on a variety of missions: escort, bombing, strafing, attacks on shipping, and combat patrol. Altogether, from 16 January to 11 March, they flew a total of 501 sorties, plus 80 abortives, dropping 163.9 tons of bombs on Mille and Jaluit.121 In support of the landings on Kwajalein, the 45th, 46th, and 72d Fighter Squadrons conducted continuous daylight combat patrols over Mille from 29 January through 1 February.122

With the occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro completed by 6 February and the decision having been made to use the Reserve Assault Force for the immediate occupation of Eniwetok, the principal emphasis of the Seventh's heavies shifted to attacks on Ponape and Kusaie in the eastern Carolines. Ponape, the largest island in the mandated group, had one medium-sized airfield, a second airfield under construction, and a well-established seaplane base. Its anchorage was suitable for six medium-sized and a number of small vessels but not for a fleet base.123 Although only some 400 miles from Eniwetok, and thus a serious potential threat to landing operations there, Ponape was approximately 1,085 miles from the Seventh's forward base at Tarawa, and missions against it averaged around 2,200 miles of nonstop, overwater flying.124 Ponape was first hit on 14 February, and during the remainder of the month 121 B-24 sorties were flown over it. Kusaie, the easternmost of the Carolines, lies approximately 300 miles east of Ponape. Since the island supported little military activity, it usually served as an alternate target for missions against Ponape.125 The commanding general of the Seventh Air Force later described the reduction of Ponape as "the most interesting phase, and certainly the most important" of the CATCHPOLE operation. In four raids against Ponape, during which approximately 140 tons of GP and incendiary bombs were dropped, the town was practically destroyed and the seaplane base pounded into uselessness.


Though deployment into the Gilberts had shortened the distance from the Seventh's bases to some of its targets, most of the operations pushed the planes near the edge of their tactical radius--and sometimes beyond it. Navigation, as always under such circumstances, was of the utmost importance. As the S-2 of one of the fighter groups pointedly warned the pilots, "214 miles over water with a single prop out in front is a long way and no sensible place to get lost."126 The weather continued to make trouble, though not so much as in the earlier operations. The planes always found a weak to moderate weather front with 2/10 to 10/10 cloud coverage in the central and eastern Marshalls, but this caused little or no interference with operations inasmuch as at least one of the major targets usually was clear. The weather en route to Ponape and Kusaie, however, was generally difficult to forecast. Flights got split and some of the planes frequently had to bomb alternate targets; occasionally missions were canceled because of adverse weather conditions. In addition, daytime cloud cover over Ponape and Kusaie made observation and photo reconnaissance difficult.127

Conditions under which the men of the Seventh Air Force lived and worked at their bases in the Gilberts were primitive, as they had been in the Ellice Islands. There were flies and mosquitoes, the seemingly everlasting C rations, and for the ground crews especially, the monotony of life within the limits of a tiny coral atoll. The fierce fighting and heavy bombardment had left a mass of stripped and uprooted coconut palms and burned and smashed blockhouses filled with the heaped-up bodies of the decaying, stinking dead. Moreover, for days after Tarawa had been declared secure, and even after Seventh Air Force planes were operating from its airfields, the dugouts, in addition to their unbearable stench, could often produce a number of fierce, fighting defenders who would charge or shoot anyone venturing near them. "But even on coral atolls," as the historian of VII Bomber Command put it, "life can become more or less routine with the passing of time, and obstacles which seemed virtually insufferable at first are either eliminated or soon become every-day matters accepted as a part of daily life."128

To U.S. forces, the enemy seemed in the initial stages of FLINTLOCK to be resisting with a vigor and effectiveness he had not demonstrated during GALVANIC. Antiaircraft fire increased in volume and accuracy over what it had been in the Gilberts campaign, and enemy fighters began appearing in larger numbers.129 During December, returning


bombardment crews reported interception over Kwajalein, Wotje, Mille, and Maloelap; but only over the last-named did the enemy make a sustained effort to put fighters into the air against the Seventh's formations, and only over that target was interception en countered after December.130 After the B-24's shifted to night attacks on 2 January, the 41st Group's B-25's, flying low-level, daylight attacks, continued to encounter stiff opposition over Maloelap, with as many as fifty fighters up to meet them on occasion. Gunners on the B-24's claimed fifty-four fighters shot down, sixty-one probably destroyed, and fifty-five damaged. Enemy losses from Mitchell gunfire were twenty-four aircraft shot down, seventeen probably shot down, and thirty-nine damaged, in addition to an undetermined number destroyed on the ground. U.S. losses included eleven B-24's and seven B-25's destroyed, with damage to sixty of the former and forty-eight of the latter. The back of Japanese fighter activity at Maloelap was broken on 26 January, when nine B-25's of the 47th Bombardment Squadron, being pursued by aggressive, experienced fighters, were met at a rendezvous over Aur Atoll by twelve P-40's of the 45th Fighter Squadron. This surprise attack accounted for at least eleven enemy fighters destroyed and two probably destroyed; no Seventh Air Force planes were lost, although eight B-25's were damaged, one of them seriously. On 28 January, a formation of seven B-25's was intercepted by five fighters, but this was the last time enemy aircraft were encountered at Maloelap or any of the Marshall islands.131

For a short time, too, Marshall-based enemy bombers menaced the Seventh's positions in the Gilberts. During December and January, Tarawa and Makin each were raided fourteen times and Apamama, twice. The number of aircraft participating in these raids varied from one to fifteen, but normally not more than five or six appeared. Though these raids caused considerable damage, they did not interfere appreciably with the Seventh's operations.132 Indeed, the most serious damage resulting from the enemy's attacks on US. bases was inflicted during the last of his raids, and the only one he attempted after the landings on Kwajalein. On 12 February, some twelve to fourteen enemy planes made a night attack on our newly occupied base at Roi Island. Coming in from 20,000 feet the Japanese bombers dropped most of their bombs in the lagoon. Their one hit, however, was on a bomb storage area containing 83 x 1,000-pound bombs, and the resulting explosion caused widespread damage, with 20 to 25 men reported killed and 130


wounded; 80 per cent of the supplies on the beach were destroyed, and 20 per cent of the construction equipment damaged. Two LST's in the lagoon were struck and burned out.133

Postwar investigation of enemy sources has revealed that the Japanese were in no position to make a serious effort to hold either the Gilberts or Marshalls. A serious shortage of air strength, a shortage imposed by the heavy losses sustained in the Solomons and New Guinea operations, together with the continuing demand of operations in those two areas, limited the Japanese effort to making the U.S. advance as costly as possible. Reinforcements sent into the Gilberts and Marshalls in advance of GALVANIC were chiefly ground forces. At the beginning of the operation, the Japanese apparently disposed only about 100 aircraft in the entire Marshalls-Gilberts area. Reinforcements up to 135 planes were sent in during November and December,134 but the continuing attrition suffered over Rabaul and in the Solomons made it impossible to send significant reinforcements thereafter. Against this meager strength, the occupation of the Gilberts was supported by ap proximately 900 carrier-based aircraft, the Marshalls by approximately 700. By D-day on Kwajalein, there was not an operational Japanese aircraft east of Eniwetok.135 Throughout the operation the US. Navy dominated the air over the Gilberts and Marshalls. The planes of the Seventh Air Force, flying long overwater missions, maintained the neutralization of bases initially knocked out by planes from the fast carriers. Continued bombardment from the air reduced the by-passed atolls to impotence; their garrisons, cut off even from communication with other positions, were occupied in a struggle merely to keep alive.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (8) * Next Chapter (10)

Notes to Chapter 9:

1 Serial 0080, CINCPOA to all Flag and General Officers, Pacific Fleet, 18 Aug. 1944.

2 AAF Historical Office, History of the Air War in the Pacific Ocean Areas, II, 180.

3 Ltr., Brig. Gen. H.C. Davidson, CG 7th AF to CGAAF, 13 June 1942.

4 History of the Air War in the Pacific Ocean Areas, I, 23-25.

5 USSBS, The Seventh and Eleventh Air Forces in the War against Japan, p. 23.

6 History, 11th Bomb. Gp.

7 AAF Historical Study No. 41, Operational History of the Seventh Air Force, 7 Dec. 1941-6 Nov. 1943, p. 26.

8 CM-IN-5118/27, Marshall to CGHHD, 26 Aug. 1942.

9 CM-IN-773/18, Marshall to CGHHD, 18 Oct. 1942.

10 CM-IN-4989Z/17, CGAAF Washington to CGHHD, 17 Dec. 1942.

11 Growth of Heavy and Medium Bombardment Groups in the Seventh Air Force, 7 December 1941-1 August 1944, pp. 11-19.

12 In a letter of 4 September 1942 to Emmons, outlining the great variety of claims on AAF resources and the necessity to distribute them "in the manner that will best further our strategic plans," Arnold had bluntly refused requested reinforcements for the Seventh and added with equal bluntness: "Nor do I foresee any great augmentation of your forces in the immediate future."

13 Ltr., Maj. Gen. Willis H. Hale, CG 7th AF to CG VII BC, 31 July 1942.

14 USSBS, The Reduction of Wake Island, pp. 6, 29-30.

15 AAFHS-41, p. 28.

16 Ibid., pp. 46-65; ltr., Brig. Gen. H. K. Ramey to CG 7th AF, 30 Dec. 1942; AAF Historical Study No. 38, Operational History of the Seventh Air Force, 6 Nov. 1943-31 July 1944, pp. 87-237.

17 Ltr., Col. Truman H. Landon, CO VII BC to CG 7th AF, 28 Jan. 1943.

18 Ltr., Landon to CG 7th AF, 18 May 1943; 371st and 372d Sq. Mission Reports. USSBS, The Reduction of Wake Island, p. 11, curiously makes the statement that a strike of 8 July, of which no record was found by the Historical Section of the Seventh AF, was "the first recorded land-based strike of 1943."

19 VII BC, Bombing of Wake Island, 4 Aug. 1943.

20 AA-FHS-41, pp. 58-64 passim.

21 Ibid., p. 33.

22 CINCPAC Opn. Order 5-43, 24 Mar. 1943.

23 AAFHS-41, p. 34.

24 Ltr., Hq. 7th AF to Arnold, 27 Apr. 1943.

25 Ltr., Landon to CG 7th AF, 26 Apr. 1943.

26 Ltr., Hq. 7th AF to Arnold, 27 Apr. 1943.

27 Ltr., Capt. John W. McIlvaine, Acting A-2, VII BC to CG VII BC, 2 July 1943.

28 Ltr., CINCPAC to CGHHD, 6 June 1942; History, VII FC, p. 4.

29 VII Fighter Command in the Defense of Midway Islands, and Overwater Mass Flights of P-40 Airplanes, Jan. 1942-4 Aug. 143.

30 History, VII FC, pp. 5-6.

31 Ibid., p. 3.

32 Ibid., pp. 3-4.

33 Ibid., pp. 2-3.

34 7th AF Reg. 35-7, 28 May 1942.

35 History, Air Depot, APO 953, 7 Dec. 1941-Mar. 1944, p. 94.

36 Ibid., pp. 92-93.

37 Incl. I (ltr., Landon to CG 7th AF, 14 June 1943).

38 History, Air Depot, APO 953, p. 95.

39 Ibid., p. 66.

40 Ibid., pp. 66-67.

41 Ibid., p. 93.

42 CCS 239/1, 23 May 1943.

43 USSBS, The American Campaign against Wotje, Maloelap, Mille, and Jaluit, p. 11.

44 Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, quoted in Water Karig, Battle Report (New York, 1948), IV, 76-78.

45 Ibid.

46 JCS 386/1, 19 July 1943.

47 CM-IN-260439, CINCPAC to COMINCH, 26 Sept. 1943.

48 Memo for COMINCH from C/S USA, 27 Sept. 1943.

49 Ltrs., McIlvaine to CG VII BC, 6, 9, 11, and 16 Sept. 1943.

50 History, 47th Ftr. Sq.

51 CINCPAC Opn. Plan 14-43, 10 Sept. 1943.

52 VII BC Consolidated Mission Rpt., 24 Sept. 1943; VII BC, Analysis of Tarawa Mission, 18-19 Sept. 1943, dtd. 30 Sept. 1943.

53 JPS 205/4, 15 July 1943.

54 Histories, 30th and 41st Bomb. Gps.

55 COMCENPAC Opn. Plan Cen. 1-43, Serial 00110, Pearl Harbor, T.H., 25 Oct. 1943.

56 Ibid.; Spruance, as cited in n. 44.

57 COMCENPAC Opn. Plan Cen. 1-43, 25 Oct. 1943.

58 Incl. 1 (memo for CG VII BC from McIlvaine and Maj. Maurice Broner, 10 Oct. 1943).

59 Incl. 2 (memo, Hq. F/E VII BC), Construction Prowess at Funafuti, Nukufetau, and Nanomea, 19 Oct. 1943.

60 The Construction and Development of Airfields in the Central Pacific through June 1944, p. 78.

61 Ibid., p. 80.

62 Ibid., p. 72.

63 History of Air Service Support Squadrons in the Seventh Air Force, Aug. 1943-June 1944, p. 2; History, 422d Sub-Depot.

64 Report, CG 7th AF to CG USAFICPA, 9 Mar. 1944.

65 Seventh Air Force Participation in the GALVANIC Operation, 13 Nov. 1943-6 Dec. 1943.

66 Ltr., CG VII AFSC to CO all ASSRONS, 6 Nov. 1943.

67 History of ASSRONS in 7th AF, p. 9.

68 Ibid., p. 2.

69 Ibid.; p. 3.

70 History of the Air War in the Pacific Ocean Areas, I, 41.

71 Ltr., CO 1st ASSRON to CG 7th AF, 11 Dec. 1943.

72 History, 1st ASSRON, 12 Aug. 1943-8 Apr. 1944.

73 History of ASSRONS in 7th AF, pp. 20-21.

74 7th AF Participation in GALVANIC, as cited in n. 65.

75 Ibid.

76 Ibid.

77 Ibid.

78 Administrative History, 7th AF, 1916 to May 1944, pp. 32-33.

79 The Power of the Heavies in the "Galvanic" Operation, D-7 to D-Day; 7th AF Participation in GALVANIC.

80 JICPOA Bull. 11-43, Tarawa, 1 Feb. 1943; 7th AF PID PI Rpt. 59, 24 Sept. 1943.

81 7th AF PID PI Rpt. 61, 30 Oct. 1943

82 Ltr., Hale to CTF 57, Operations of Seventh Air Force--13 Nov. 1943 through 31 Jan. 1944, dtd. 15 Feb. 1944.

83 Ibid.; Statement on Makin Island, in VII BC files.

84 ADVON 7th AF Cons. Mission Rpt. 1, 14 Nov. 1943.

85 JICPOA Bull. 53-43, Kwajalein, 1 Dec. 1943.

86 Ibid., 56-43, Jaluit, 10 Dec. 1943.

87 Ibid., 50-43, Mille, 15 Dec. 1943.

88 Ibid., 52-43. Maloelap, 25 Nov. 1943.

89 JICPOA Air Target Bull. 30, Nauru, 15 Feb. 1943.

90 COMCENPAC Opn. Plan Cen. 1-43, 25 October 1943.

91 ADVON 7th AF Mission Rpt. 11, 20 Nov. 1943.

92 ADVON 7th AF Mission Rpts.

93 Ltr., Hale to CTF 57, as cited in n. 82.

94 Ibid.

95 TWX, CG VII BC to CG 7th AF, 14 Jan. 1944.

96 Ibid.

97 Power of Heavies in "Galvanic" Opn.

98 USSBS, Air Campaigns of the Pacific War, p. 27.

99 AAFPOA Evaluation Board Rpt. 1, p. 55. This board, headed by Brig. Gen. Martin F. Scanlon, argued that neutralization could not possibly be maintained with the small force of B-24's, which because of the long distances from the most advanced staging bases to the targets were the only planes available. It argued further that it was a matter of hours to repair runways such as the Japanese used, to rebuild their light frame buildings, and to fly replacement aircraft down through the chain of mandated islands, thus making almost daily attacks necessary to maintain complete neutralization. With the distances involved and the force available this was impossible.

100 JCS 386/1, 19 July 1943.

101 ADVON Seventh AF Mission Rpts. 14, 14A, and 14B, 22-24 Nov. 1943.

102 F/E VII BC Mission Rpt. 30, 17 Dec. 1943; JICPOA Bull. 57-43, Wotje, 15 Dec. 1943.

103 Ltr., CO 2d ASSRON to CG 7th AF, Rpt. on GALVANIC Opns., 29 Dec. 1943.

104 Construction and Dev. of Airfields in CENPAC, pp. 83-84.

105 Ltr., CG 7th AF to CG USAFICPA, State of Readiness of Units of the 7th AF, 15 Jan. 1944.

106 Construction and Dev. of Airfields in CENPAC, pp. 85-88.

107 Movement data from histories of 45th, 46th, 72d, and 531st Ftr. Sqs. and 11th and 30th Bomb. Gps.

108 ADVON 7th AF FO 13A, 20 Dec. 1943.

109 COMCENPAC Opn. Plans Cen. 1-44, 6 Jan. 1944, and Cen. 4-44, 9 Feb. 1944.

110 COMCENPAC Opn. Plan Cen. 1-44, 6 Jan. 1944.

111 COMCENPAC Opn. Plan Cen. 4-44, 9 Feb. 1944

112 9th SCU, Seventh AF Operations in the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Carolines, November 1943 to March 1944, p. 9.

113 Ibid.; Lt. Chester W. Taylor, Asst. A-2 VII BC, Operations of the Seventh Bomber Command in the Marshall Islands Offensive, 15 Sept. 1944.

114 AAFHS-38, pp. 17-25.

115 ADVON Seventh AF and F/E VII BC Mission Rpts.; 9th SCU, Operations of Seventh Air Force in Pacific Ocean Areas, November 1943-April 1945, p. 5.

116 F/E VII BC Mission Rpt. 96, 3 Feb. 1944.

117 9th SCU, 7th AF Opns. in Gilberts, etc., p. 17.

118 Taylor, Opns. of VII BC in Marshalls.

119 F/E VII BC Mission Rpts.

120 531st Ftr.-Bomber Sq. Mission Rpts.

121 VII FC Prov. Gp. Cons. Mission Rpts., 16-28 Jan. 1944; 9th SCU, 7th AF Opns. in Gilberts, etc., p. 36.

122 VII FC Prov. Gp. Cons. Mission Rpts., 29-31 Jan. 1944.

123 JICPOA Bull. 27-44, Ponape, 1 Apr. 1944.

124 F/E VII BC Mission Rpts.

125 Ibid.

126 318th Ftr. Gp. Intel. Bull. 3, 28 Jan. 1944

127 Ltr., Brig. Gen. Robert W. Douglass, Jr. to CTF 57, 4 May, 1944.

128 Preliminary Organizational History of VII Bomber Command, 1 May 1931 to 31 July 1944, p. 39.

129 Ltr., Hale to CTF 57, 15 Feb. 1944.

130 F/E VII BC Mission Rpts.

131 AAFHS-38, p. 25.

132 Ltr., Hale to CTF 57, 15 Feb. 1944; Taylor, Opns. of VII BC in Marshalls.

133 Ltr., Douglass to CTF, 4 May 1944.

134 USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War, pp. 199-200.

135 Ibid., p. 193.

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