Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign

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Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign
Part of the Pacific War, World War II
SBD VB-16 over USS Washington 1943.jpg

An SBD Dauntless flies patrol over USS Washington and USS Lexington during the Gilbert and Marshall islands campaign.
DateNovember 1943 February 1944
Result U.S. victory
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg Japan
Commanders and leaders

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Chester W. Nimitz
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Raymond A. Spruance

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Richmond K. Turner
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Marc A. Mitscher
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Harry W. Hill
Marine Corps:
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Holland M. Smith
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Thomas E. Watson
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Ralph C. Smith
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Kōsō Abe
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Keiji Shibazaki  
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Monzo Akiyama  
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Chūichi Hara
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Yoshimi Nishida  
Casualties and losses
est. 5,100 dead or missing,
6,700 wounded
est. 21,000 dead,
375 captured

The GilbertandMarshall Islands Campaign were a series of battles fought from November 1943 through February 1944, in the Pacific Theater of World War II between the United States and Japan. They were the first steps of the drive across the central Pacific by the United States Pacific Fleet and Marine Corps. The purpose was to establish airfields and naval bases that would allow air and naval support for upcoming operations across the Central Pacific. Operations Galvanic and Kourbash were the code names for the Gilberts campaign that included the seizures of Tarawa and Makin. Operations Flintlock and Catchpole were aimed at capturing Japanese Bases at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, and Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

Pacific War Theater of World War II fought in the Pacific and Asia

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean theatre, the South West Pacific theatre, the South-East Asian theatre, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the Soviet–Japanese War.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of more than 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.



The Imperial Japanese Navy occupied the Gilbert Islands three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They built a seaplane base on Makin and dispersed troops along the coastlines of the atolls to monitor the Allied forces' movement in the South Pacific. [1]

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack led to the United States' formal entry into World War II the next day. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

Hawaii State of the United States of America

Hawaii is the 50th and most recent state to have joined the United States, having received statehood on August 21, 1959. Hawaii is the only U.S. state geographically located in Oceania, although it is governed as a part of North America, and the only one composed entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean.

The Marshall Islands are located approximately 220 miles (350 km) northwest of the Gilbert Islands, [2] and had been occupied by the Japanese since World War I as part of the South Pacific Mandate. The Japanese regarded the islands as an important outpost for their navy. [3]

South Pacific Mandate former country

The South Pacific Mandate was a League of Nations mandate given to the Empire of Japan by the League of Nations following World War I. The South Pacific Mandate consisted of islands in the north Pacific Ocean that had been part of German New Guinea within the German colonial empire until they were occupied by Japan during World War I. Japan governed the islands under the mandate as part of the Japanese colonial empire until World War II, when the United States captured the islands. The islands then became the United Nations-established Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands governed by the United States. The islands are now part of Palau, Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Marshall Islands.

Allied commanders knew that an eventual surrender of Japan would require penetration of these islands. While commander of the U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur wanted to push towards the Philippines via New Guinea, the U.S. Navy's Admiral Chester Nimitz favored a drive across the central Pacific, through the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Carolines, and eventually the Marianas, which would put American B-29 bombers within range of Tokyo. [4] In addition to forcing the Japanese to fight two fronts against the Allies (Nimitz driving from the east and MacArthur from the south), Nimitz's plan would neutralize the outer Japanese defenses, allowing American ground, naval, and air bases to be stationed there for future attacks against other occupied island groups. These outer islands included the atolls of Tarawa and Makin in the Gilberts, and Majuro, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok in the Marshalls. [5]

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Douglas MacArthur U.S. Army general of the army, field marshal of the Army of the Philippines

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign, which made him and his father Arthur MacArthur Jr. the first father and son to be awarded the medal. He was one of only five to rise to the rank of General of the Army in the US Army, and the only one conferred the rank of field marshal in the Philippine Army.

Philippines and the Spratly Islands

Philippines and the Spratly Islands – this article discusses the policies, activities and history of the Republic of the Philippines in the Spratly Islands from the Philippine perspective. Non-Filipino viewpoints regarding Philippine occupation of several islands are currently not included in this article.



Japanese forces occupied the Gilbert islands on 10 December 1941, landing troops of the South Seas Detachment on Tarawa and Makin islands, [6] a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in order to protect their south-eastern flank from allied counterattacks, and isolate Australia. The islands were to become a staging post for the planned invasion of the Tuvalu islands by the Japanese, under the codename Operation FS, but their setback at the Battle of the Coral Sea delayed the plans, and their defeat at the Battle of Midway and later in the Solomon Islands put a definitive end to it.

South Seas Detachment

The South Seas Detachment of the Imperial Japanese Army was a brigade-size force formed in 1941 to be the army unit used in the Japanese seizure of the South Pacific island groups of Wake, Guam and the Gilberts. As part of the South Seas Force, it fell under Imperial Japanese Navy command and control. It was drawn from the 55th Division and was commanded by Major General Tomitarō Horii. It consisted of the following units:

Tarawa atoll in the central Pacific Ocean

Tarawa is an atoll and the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, in the central Pacific Ocean. It comprises North Tarawa, which has much in common with other, more remote islands of the Gilberts group; and South Tarawa, which is home to 56,284 people as of 2010 – half of the country's total population. The atoll was the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.

Makin (islands) island

Makin is the name of a chain of islands located in the Pacific Ocean island nation of Kiribati. Makin is the northernmost of the Gilbert Islands, with a population of 1,798.

Following Carlson's Raiders' diversionary Makin Island raid and the defeat at Guadalcanal, the Japanese command was growing aware of the vulnerability and strategic significance of the Gilbert Islands, and started adopting a defensive stance. Although Imperial leaders wanted to heavily fortify the Marianas and Palau before the Americans could get there, commanders in the outer islands were told to try and hold the island as long as possible. [5] [4] [7] Fortifications were quickly improved by the Japanese, starting in March 1943. Makin Atoll had a seaplane base built on the main island of Butaritari, while Tarawa housed barely enough room for an airfield on its largest island, Betio. When the Americans landed, nearly 5,000 soldiers, among them 3,000 Special Naval Landing Forces, and 1,247 construction laborers were stationed on Tarawa; the Makin Islands, in contrast, were only held by a total of 798 combat troops, including some 100 isolated Japanese aviation personnel. [8] A detachment of soldiers from Tarawa island also occupied the island of Abemama in September 1942, [9] and though initially numbering about 300, by the time the Americans invaded the island on November 1943, most of them had been evacuated back to Tarawa, leaving only 25 Special Naval Landing Forces behind to defend the island. [10]

Evans Carlson United States Marine Corps general

Evans Fordyce Carlson was a decorated and retired United States Marine Corps general officer who was the legendary leader of "Carlson's Raiders", during World War II crediting him as the forefather of one of America's first special operations forces. He is renowned for the "Makin Island raid" in 1942, and their "Long Patrol" behind Japanese lines on Guadalcanal, in which 488 Japanese were killed.

Betio Town in Gilbert Islands, Kiribati

Betio is the largest township of Kiribati's capital city, South Tarawa, and the country's main port. The settlement is located on a separate islet at the extreme southwest of the atoll.

Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces

Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces of World War II were ground combat units consisting of navy personnel organized for offensive operations and for the defense of Japanese naval facilities both overseas and in the Japanese home islands. It consisted of the following:

Lieutenant Junior Grade Seizo Ishikawa, the Japanese commander in charge of defending Makin, ordered his troops to build extensive fortifications on the island. These included 8 inches (200 mm) coastal defense guns, 1.5 in (38 mm) anti-tank gun positions, machine gun emplacements, rifle pits, 15 feet (4.6 m) deep tank barriers with anti-tank guns, and barbed wire. These were designed to hold the island until reinforcements could arrive.

On Tarawa, Keiji Shibazaki had 4,836 troops, including around 2,600 Special Naval Landing Forces, 1,000 Japanese construction workers, and 1,200 Korean laborers. He planned to use these units to primarily defend Betio, the largest island in the atoll. Betio was the site of a crucial Japanese airfield. To protect it from capture, Keiji had 14 coastal defense guns, 50 pieces of field artillery, 100 machine gun nests, and 500 pillboxes installed, as well as a large wall built across the northern lagoon. [11]



A 1944 US newsreel about the invasion

After the Gilberts fell to the Americans in late November 1943, Admiral Mineichi Koga of the Japanese Combined Fleet was unsure of which islands the Americans would strike. Without any carrier aircraft to inform him, he ordered Admiral Masashi Kobayashi to disperse his 28,000 troops primarily to the outer islands of Maloelap, Wotje, Jaliuit, and Mili. However, Allied intelligence intercepted Imperial code, informing the Americans of which islands were more heavily defended. The Americans decided to invade the least protected but strategically important islands of Majuro, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok.

As early as November, B-24s from the 7th Air Force stationed in the Ellice Islands had flown bombing missions over Mili and Maloelap. On 3 December 1943, Task Force 50, under Rear Admiral Charles Pownall, including fleet carriers Essex, Intrepid, Lexington, and Yorktown and light carriers Belleau Wood and Cowpens, launched carrier aircraft against Kwajalein. Four transports and fifty Japanese aircraft were lost, but the attack lacked strategic value. Fearing a counterattack from Wotje, Pownall ordered a second strike against the island. The Japanese did counterattack via a night bombing strike, in which Lexington sustained a torpedo hit but was not sunk. The task force later returned to Pearl Harbor. The Yorktown's aircraft would continue to fly air cover over the atoll on 29 January, 31 January, and from 1 February to 3 February.

The invasion of the Marshalls was delayed for about a month due to logistical problems. Japanese commander Rear Admiral Monzo Akiyama was aware that he lacked sufficient fortifications. [3] He had 8,000 men, but only about half of them were soldiers; a large fraction of the rest were Korean laborers. [8] To defend Kwajalein, Akiyama planned to use an aerial counterstrike with his 110 aircraft to weaken the American landing forces. [3] However, on 29 January 1944, American carrier aircraft from carriers Yorktown, Lexington, and Cowpens destroyed 92 Japanese fighters and bombers. Akiyama now lacked the ability to effectively mount a successful counteroffensive. [1]

Battle of Majuro

On 31 January 1944, Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill dispatched the Reconnaissance Company from the V Amphibious Corps of the Marines and the Army's 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry, 27th Infantry Division to land on Majuro. This marked the beginning of Operation Flintlock, the invasion of Kwajalein. [3] The island was seen as an important base for conducting air operations against the rest of the Marshall Islands and eventually the Marianas. [7] The force took the lightly defended island in one day without any casualties. [3]

Battle of Kwajalein

The same day as the Majuro invasion, the 4th Marine Division under Major General Harry Schmidt began their assault on Kwajalein. [1] Schmidt's troops first landed on Roi-Namur, a group of islands in the northern part of the atoll. [3] [2] Major confusion and delays were caused by poor weather and American troops inexperienced in amphibious operations, but the pre-invasion naval and air bombardment was extremely effective. Out of roughly 3,000 Japanese soldiers, only about 300 were left to guard the island.

On the southern island of Kwajalein, Major General Charles Corlett's 7th Infantry Division landed on southern Kwajalein with relative ease. Although the Japanese pillboxes, bunkers, and intense infantry offensives slowed the Americans, more troops, more experience in amphibious landings, effective pre-landing bombardment, and Japanese defenses on the opposite side of the atoll from where the Americans landed contributed to the capture of Kwajalein and its surrounding islands on 7 February. [3] [12] Of the entire force of about 8,000 Japanese guarding Majuro and Kwajalein, only 51 survived, and 253 were taken prisoner. The Americans suffered 348 men killed, 1,462 wounded, and 183 missing in the eight days it took to take the atoll. [12]

Battle of Eniwetok

Eniwetok's islands and islets housed enough room for airfields critical for the upcoming invasion of the Marianas. [1] Major General Yoshimi Nishida knew that it would be extremely difficult to hold the main island of Eniwetok against the invasion. He had roughly 4,000 troops, half of them Army soldiers, while the rest were a variety of Navy sailors. Since the Americans would be landing with naval and air support, therefore giving them the upper hand, he decided to stop them at the beaches. [3]

On 17 February 1944, a naval bombardment of Eniwetok Atoll began. This marked the beginning of Operation Catchpole. The same day, the 22 Marine Regiment under Colonel John Walker landed on the northern island of Engebi. [12] The landings were a logistical nightmare, with American troops, gear, and supplies scattered along the beach. [3] Walker and his Marines took the island on 18 February with 85 dead and 166 wounded. On 19 February, the 106th Infantry Regiment, under Lieutenant General Thomas E. Watson, landed on the main island of Eniwetok after a heavy bombardment. [12] However, the Japanese spider holes and bunkers repelled much of the bombardment by battleships. The landing group also faced the same logistical problems as the 22nd Infantry Regiment. Japanese forces concentrated in the southwest corner of the island counterattacked the American flank, forcing the Americans to attack mainly at night. [3] Eniwetok Island was captured on 21 February with the loss of 37 Americans and nearly 800 Japanese. On another one of Eniwetok's islands, Parry Island, the Americans used heavy gunfire support from battleships before the 22nd Marine Regiment, under Watson, waded ashore at Parry Island on 22 February. They captured the island and the entire atoll on 23 February. Of those engaged, 313 Americans died, 879 were wounded, and 77 were reported missing on Eniwetok, while the Japanese suffered 3,380 dead and 105 captured. [12] This marked an end to the Marshall Islands campaign. [3]


In the Gilberts, the Americans emerged victorious, but were caught unprepared, suffering 2,459 dead and 2,286 wounded. Japan suffered a total of 5,085 dead and 247 captured. [12] The heavy casualties and gruesome fighting conditions for both sides convinced General Holland M. Smith, Commanding General of the V Amphibious Corps, that Tarawa should have been bypassed, although other American admirals disagreed. [13]

The Marshalls, by contrast, were a much easier landing. The Americans used the lessons learned at Tarawa by outnumbering the enemy defenders nearly 6 to 1 with heavier firepower (including use of armor-piercing shells) after the islands took nearly a month of heavy air and naval bombardment. [7] In the Marshalls, the Americans lost 611 men, suffered 2,341 wounded, and 260 missing, while the Japanese lost over 11,000 men and had 358 captured. [12]

After the Gilberts and Marshalls were taken, the Allies built naval bases, fortifications, and airfields on the islands to prepare for an assault on the Marianas. [3] The Japanese defeat forced military leaders to draw back to a new defensive perimeter, the Absolute National Defense Zone, which included the Marianas and Palau. These islands were heavily fortified for an upcoming assault because if captured, they would put American heavy bombers within range of Tokyo. [4]

See also

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  13. Smith, Holland M.; Finch, Perry (1976). Coral and Brass. New York, NY: Viking.

Further reading

Coordinates: 6°55′34″N168°39′43″E / 6.926°N 168.662°E / 6.926; 168.662