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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Castrioti

November 20th, 1943 - The Battle of Tarawa

Conflict: World War II

Combatants: Americans vs. Japanese

Location: Gilbert Islands

Outcome: American victory

Despite days of aerial and naval bombing, some 4,700 battle-hardened Japanese defenders under the command of Admiral Keiji Shibasaki manned the defenses on Tarawa as the landing craft of the 2nd US Marines Division approached the beaches. Reefs along the beachhead often prevented the craft from reaching the sands and Marines were forced to wade to shore amidst Japanese crossfire. Out of the 5,000 Marines who initially joined the assault, 1,500 were killed or wounded. Only 100 of the Japanese defenders would survive after offering fierce resistance and engaging in suicidal counter-attacks.

Marines Advance on Japanese Pill Boxes, Tarawa, November 1943 from USMC Archives

Points of Interest:

  • It would take four days to secure the entire island at a cost of 991 dead Marines.

  • Tarawa was the first step in the advance on Japan itself. Planes were launched from the freshly seized Tarawa strip (Hawkins Field) to bomb the Marshall Islands; the next target in the Americans island-hopping advance.

Admiral Keiji Shibasaki by Zum Voll

General Julian C. Smith, Commander of the 2nd Marine Division by an unknown photographer

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