World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls (2); Targets and Tactical Planning

The Washington conference of May 1943 (TRIDENT) set forth the general outline of proposed operations in the Pacific for the second half of 1943 and for 1944, but much work, thought, and discussion remained before detailed plans could be devised to carry out these broad concepts. Two main problems were still to be decided.

The first of these was the choice of exact targets within the Marshalls group. The group consists of a double chain of coral atolls lying between latitude 5° and 15° north and longitude 162° and 173° east. There are altogether thirty-two islands and atolls and some selection had to be made between them. Also, the possibility early presented itself that the Marshalls might best be approached by way of the Gilberts, a group of sixteen islands and atolls formerly belonging to the British and lying athwart the equator in the general area of longitude 173° east.

 More difficult of solution was the second problem, which involved the balance and co-ordination of the Allied offensive as between the Central Pacific theater and General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area.

Although the “Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan” had clearly indicated that the “main effort” in the westward advance would be through the Central Pacific, there were still those among the various planning staffs in Washington—in addition of course to General MacArthur himself—who doubted the wisdom of giving the Central Pacific offensive priority over MacArthur’s proposed drive against Rabaul.

These doubts had to be resolved or the objections overruled before final plans for a Marshalls operation could be developed. Any troops, aircraft, and shipping that were to be made available to the Central Pacific drive would have to be diverted from the pool either already under MacArthur’s control or potentially assignable to his theater. It was to these delicate and difficult problems that planners in Washington addressed themselves in June and July of 1943.

Work began immediately after the Washington conference. On 27 May the Joint Staff Planners directed the Joint War Plans Committee to estimate the forces required for an invasion of the Marshalls and to recommend target dates. The War Plans Committee promptly delivered a preliminary report suggesting that the invasion of the Marshalls be carried out in three phases: (1) seizure of Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap Atolls in the center; (2) occupation of Eniwetok and Kusaie as outposts to the north and west; and (3) mopping up to seize or neutralize the entire Wake-Gilberts-Marshalls system.

The operation, it was recommended, should be launched toward the end of October to coincide with planned Burma operations. Since the initial attacks against the Marshalls would be the first attempt in U.S. military history to assault defended atolls, it was believed that “battle-tested shock troops with amphibious training” totaling one corps of two divisions would be needed for the first phase. The committee recognized that the best assault craft for the invasions would be amphibian tractors (landing vehicles, tracked) which, when launched from tank landing ships outside the range of shore batteries, could deploy and proceed shoreward without much danger of being stopped by the fringing reefs so abundant in that part of the world.

The only available battle-tested amphibious troops were the 1st Marine Division in the Southwest Pacific and the 2nd Marine Division in the South Pacific, although it was thought possible to substitute the 7th Infantry Division for one of the Marine divisions once the Aleutian operations were concluded. Invasion of the Marshalls in October would necessarily deprive MacArthur and Halsey of their only amphibious divisions with combat experience and thus require that South-Southwest Pacific operations be halted by early August. The Joint War Plans Committee therefore recommended that MacArthur and Halsey be ordered to conduct a holding action along the line Russell Islands-Woodlark-Kiriwina-Buna until the Marshalls operation was concluded.

The proposition that MacArthur and Halsey merely conduct a holding action until the conclusion of the Marshalls operation was met with little favor in the Operations Division of the War Department General Staffer by General MacArthur. Members of the Operations Division argued that for both political and military reasons MacArthur’s campaign against Rabaul (CARTWHEEL) should not be impeded. Halting this campaign, it was held, would cause difficult political repercussions “both in Australia-New Zealand, and in this country.” On the military side, any such cessation of the offensive would decrease pressure on the Japanese, warn them that they would be attacked elsewhere, create a lull in an area where Allied air operations were most effective, and eliminate operations tending to relieve pressure on Burma. A defeat in the Marshalls, continued the Operations Division’s thesis, would leave the United States for a time without forces to bring pressure on Japan, and might expose the line of communications to the Southwest Pacific.

If forces were transferred from MacArthur’s area to Nimitz’, any stalemate that might develop in the Marshalls could only result in an interval of complete inactivity. The commitment of all available amphibious equipment would postpone for a long time the renewal of amphibious operations in the South-Southwest Pacific. There were other logistical difficulties as well. There probably would not be enough cargo ships and transports. Besides, delivery of amphibian tractors (LVT’s) in quantity had just begun, and it was doubtful that enough would be ready by October. Success in these operations would be dependent on this “new and untried type of equipment,” and the troops would need to be trained in its use.

Both the Joint Planners and the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that MacArthur’s campaign against Rabaul should not be interrupted but concluded that the Central Pacific drive could be launched concurrently anyway. The Joint War Plans Committee was ordered to prepare a plan for an offensive against the Marshalls to be executed in November or December of 1943, but with the understanding that MacArthur’s campaign should proceed according to schedule. The Joint Chiefs directed Nimitz to prepare a tactical plan for seizing the Marshalls and submit it to Washington. They also radioed MacArthur explaining to him that more extensive operations in the Pacific were warranted by the increasing Allied naval strength, and that they were contemplating invading the Marshalls about mid-November, employing the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions plus all assault transports and cargo ships and the major portion of naval forces from Halsey’s area.

General MacArthur’s response was immediate and unfavorable. On 20 June he radioed the Chief of Staff that he was disturbed over the effect the proposed invasion of the Marshalls would have on future operations in the South and Southwest Pacific. Withdrawal of the two Marine divisions would prevent the ultimate assault against Rabaul toward which his current operations were leading. He refused to accept the proposition already agreed to by the joint planners in Washington that the main effort against Japan should be made through the Central Pacific. On the contrary, he argued that “a diversionary attack [in the Marshalls] would of course assist the main effort in this theater [Southwest Pacific],” but that troops should come from the continental United States, “rather than be subtracted from the main attack to the extent that may result in its collapse. … I am entirely in ignorance regarding the discussions and decisions of the recent Washington conference and request that I be advised in this respect insofar as it affects the broad concept of operations in this theater. . . .” MacArthur went on to urge the principles of the RENO plan, long cherished by his headquarters.

“From a broad strategic viewpoint,” the best method of defeating Japan would be to move from Australia through New Guinea to Mindanao with “utterly essential” land-based air support all the way. In this fashion could Japan best be cut off from her conquered territory. An attack through the Marshalls, he argued, would involve a series of carrier-supported (MacArthur was referring here to the attempted Japanese invasion of Midway, which was supported exclusively by carrier aircraft.) amphibious attacks against objectives defended by naval units, ground troops, and land-based aircraft. He made reference to Midway as an example of what he considered such folly. “Moreover,” he maintained, “no vital strategic objective is reached until the series of amphibious frontal attacks succeed in reaching Mindanao.”

In the end, none of these arguments was deemed compelling enough to dissuade the Joint Chiefs of Staff from their intention to launch the Central Pacific drive in 1943. But the fear of diverting too large a force from MacArthur’s theater was primarily responsible for the eventual decision to initiate that drive against the Gilberts rather than directly against the Marshalls.

Even before the receipt of General MacArthur’s radiogram, the Joint War Plans Committee had proposed as a possible alternative to a direct strike against the Marshalls the preliminary capture of islands in the Gilberts as well as Nauru, some 390 miles to the westward. The committee’s general concept embraced simultaneous landings on Nauru, and on Makin and Tarawa in the Gilberts, to be covered by carrier attacks against other Japanese bases in the Gilberts and Marshalls. These islands, once secured, could then be employed as air bases from which to attack the Marshalls and reconnoiter the Caroline’s.

Invasion of the Gilberts and Nauru would require, in addition to naval forces, one Marine division and one regimental combat team, several amphibian tractor battalions and other reinforcing units, five heavy bomber squadrons, and one fighter group. The committee still considered this approach to be inferior to a direct invasion of the Marshalls, but recommended that it be undertaken if enough forces could not be mustered for the Marshalls.

This proposal to attack the Gilberts rather than the Marshalls found immediate favor with the Operations Division. It would obviously require fewer forces and thus be less likely to interfere with MacArthur’s plans. Although recognizing that heavy and medium bombers for the Gilberts could only be provided by taking them from somewhere else, the division nevertheless expressed itself to Colonel Frank N. Roberts, then acting as Army member of the Joint Staff Planners, as favoring this alternative plan.

While various staff planners were thus approaching what might be considered a compromise between the Central and Southwest Pacific concepts of strategy, the idea of giving priority to the Central Pacific once again received strong support on 28 June when the Joint Strategic Survey Committee presented its views of Pacific strategy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This committee, consisting of Lieutenant General Stanley D. Embick of the Army, Vice Admiral Russell Willson of the Navy, and Major General Muir S. Fairchild of the Army Air Forces, pointed out that the Allies in the South and Southwest Pacific, by driving northward against Rabaul, had been attempting to reverse the polarity of the Japanese campaign of early 1942. This reversal held “small promise of reasonable success in the near future.” The committee therefore recommended that a campaign in Nimitz’s area be given priority over MacArthur’s campaign against Rabaul.

Only in operations against the Marshall and Caroline Islands, argued Embick, Willson, and Fairchild, was there a chance to use the fleet to best advantage. Central Pacific advances would also support the defense of Australia and shorten the line of communications to the Southwest Pacific. The Strategic Survey Committee therefore recommended that seizure of the Marshalls and Caroline’s, which it regarded as the best action that could be inaugurated in 1943, be the first step in the drive toward the Celebes Sea.

Next day this committee sat with the Joint Chiefs and discussed the suggestions. Admiral William D. Leahy, always a strong supporter of MacArthur and his strategic ideas, pointed out that granting priority to the Central Pacific would be a “complete reversal” of existing policy and projected plans. On the other hand Admiral King, expressing dissatisfaction with the slow “inch-by-inch” progress to date, asserted that although Rabaul was important, Luzon was even more so, and that the latter could best be approached by way of the Japanese Mandated Islands and the Marianas. The Joint Chiefs then turned over the committee’s recommendations to the Joint Staff Planners for further study. What emerged was in general a vindication of the Central Pacific concept, with the qualification that the first steps in that direction be made by way of the Gilberts.

On 19 July the Joint Staff Planners submitted to the Joint Chiefs a long analysis summing up the relative importance of Central and Southwest Pacific operations as well as a draft of a directive to Admiral Nimitz. The Staff Planners recommended that continued pressure be applied against Rabaul and then in detail spelled out the reasons for the desirability of a concurrent push through the Central Pacific. Such a move, they argued, would have advantages: (1) it would force the Japanese to disperse their air strength; (2) it would allow the United States to use its superior naval forces in an area where enemy ground and air forces were weak; and (3) it would enlarge the Allied front facing the Japanese and at the same time take place near enough to the Solomon’s to allow naval forces to support operations in either or both areas.

The first step in the Central Pacific drive, they recommended, should be an invasion of the Gilberts and Nauru. Good air photographs of the Marshalls would be required before an invasion there, and the islands to the south would provide convenient bases for air reconnaissance. Capture of the Gilberts and Nauru, however, was considered only a preliminary to the main offensive against the Marshalls and Caroline’s—a drive already agreed on by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The Staff Planners therefore recommended that the Gilberts and Nauru be invaded by Admiral Nimitz’ forces about 1 December 1943.

Next day (20 July) the Joint Chiefs of Staff met to discuss this analysis. Once again Admiral Leahy expressed his sympathy with MacArthur’s point of view by insisting that the proposed Central Pacific drive not be allowed to “interfere with operations being conducted by General MacArthur. . . .”To this Admiral King replied that the invasion of the Gilberts would augment rather than curtail MacArthur’s campaigns. General Marshall added that the United States could ill afford to let her great carrier forces in the Pacific stand idle and agreed that a campaign in the Central Pacific would be helpful to MacArthur’s planned offensive against Rabaul. General Henry H. Arnold, the commanding general of the Army Air Forces, agreed with the concept behind the new offensive and stated that four additional bomber squadrons could be provided. The Joint Chiefs thereupon approved the Joint Planners’ directive but, on Admiral King’s motion, set 15 November rather than 1 December as the date for the invasion of the Gilberts.

The Joint Chiefs sent Nimitz his orders the same day. He was instructed to organize and train necessary forces, to “capture, occupy, defend, and develop bases in the GILBERT GROUP and NAURU” on 15 November, and to occupy other islands and develop “airfields and facilities thereon” as necessary to support the invasion of the principal objectives.

All surface forces of the Pacific Fleet were available to Nimitz. The Joint Chiefs estimated he would require five modern battleships, seven old battleships, seventeen carriers (including four light and seven escort carriers), and twelve cruisers, plus thirty-seven troop transports and cargo ships as well as other amphibious craft assigned the Central Pacific. Air units would include all Pacific Fleet naval aircraft except those in the South and Southwest Pacific, in addition to elements of the Seventh Air Force and the additional bomber groups.

Ground troops would include the 2nd Marine Division and one Army division not yet designated, three Army aviation engineer or construction battalions, one port battalion, and three Marine defense battalions. Task force commanders would be appointed by Nimitz. The general concept, the Joint Chiefs announced, involved mounting out the task forces from Pearl Harbor and the Fijis, or from both, and seizing the target areas in simultaneous attacks. CARTWHEEL would meanwhile be continued.

Purpose of the invasion of the Gilberts and Nauru, the Joint Chiefs told Nimitz, was “to improve the security of lines of communication,” “to inflict losses on the enemy,” and “to prepare to gain control of the Marshalls.” They therefore ordered him to prepare plans for seizing the Marshalls about 1 February 1944, under the assumption that MacArthur would be operating against positions in New Guinea, the Admiralties, and New Ireland about the same time.

With the transmission of these orders to Nimitz, there remained but one problem—selection of the other division for the Gilberts. Admiral King for some time had been advocating withdrawing the 1st Marine Division from the Southwest Pacific, and General Marshall for some time had been opposing its withdrawal. On 22 July King wrote Marshall to urge withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division and of the 3rd Marine Division from the South Pacific to “avoid the inevitable consequences of ‘mixed forces.’ The Marines are by tradition, experience, and training eminently suited for amphibious operations,” especially on the small islands of the Central Pacific as contrasted with the large land areas in the South and Southwest Pacific. Marshall replied seven days later. He pointed out that removal of the two Marine divisions would cause profound dislocations in shipping as well as seriously affect CARTWHEEL. In his view, the 27th Division in Hawaii was the only unit, Army or Marine, that could be made available without creating great shipping problems. It had not yet received its first amphibious training but Marshall, stating that amphibious training could start at once and that by November the division should be able to render good service, offered the 27th Division. This offer must have satisfied King, for on the last day of July Marshall was informed that King acceded to the employment of the 27th Division in the Gilberts-Nauru operation.

With the preparation of the directive of 20 July and the designation of ground combat forces, then, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had laid the strategic groundwork for launching the Central Pacific drive that would eventually bring American and Allied forces almost to the doorstep of Japan. Tactical planning for the operation was left to the theater commanders involved. The code name established for the operation was GALVANIC.

Planning for Galvanic

Planning and training responsibilities for the forthcoming landings fell eventually to six separate headquarters. As in all Pacific operations outside of General MacArthur’s theater, Admiral Nimitz, as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPAC-CINCPOA), exercised supreme command and held ultimate responsibility for the success of the endeavor. Next in the chain of command was Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, then designated Commander, Central Pacific Forces, the highest operational fleet command in the theater. Under him was the Fifth Amphibious Force, an organization that was established on 24 August 1943 and commanded by Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner.

For purposes of training and controlling the troop elements of future amphibious landings in the Central Pacific, a separate command was created on 4 September 1943. This was the V Amphibious Corps, commanded by Major General Holland M. Smith, USMC.22 For this particular operation General Smith had at his disposal the 2nd Marine Division, commanded by Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC, and the 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Ralph C. Smith, USA, both of whom prepared their own tactical plans for assaulting their separate targets.

Responsibility for preliminary training and logistical supply of the Army troops committed to the operation fell to the headquarters of the Commanding General, Central Pacific Area, Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson, Jr., USA. This organization was activated on 14 August 1943 and was charged among other things with the duty of administering and training all Army ground forces and Army air forces in the Central Pacific, subject to the direction of Admiral Nimitz.

In view of the fact that both the Fifth Amphibious Force and V Amphibious Corps were undergoing organization during the planning phase of the Gilberts operation, much of the burden of devising tactical plans for the troops fell originally to the staffs of the two divisions involved, the 27th Infantry Division and the 2nd Marine Division. Both were under some handicaps. The 2nd Marine Division was stationed in New Zealand. Its commanding general, General Julian Smith, had been alerted by Admiral Spruance early in August to the fact that the capture of Tarawa and Apamama (Abemama) Atolls would be assigned to his forces, but not until 15 September was the division formally attached to V Amphibious Corps and not until 2 October did General Smith and his staff personally report to General Holland Smith, the corps commander, in Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, the division staff prepared its own plans, which were eventually approved with modifications by the corps commander.

For the 27th Infantry Division, tactical planning for its particular task was complicated by a midstream change of objectives. The original directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff had assigned the entire division to the capture of Nauru. Acting on this directive, the division’s staff proceeded to gather intelligence data about that island from various sources and by early October had devised a tentative plan of attack employing two regiments in the assault with the third regiment (less one battalion) in floating reserve. Landing beaches were laid out on the northwest coast of the island.

Meanwhile, higher headquarters were beginning to doubt the feasibility of attacking Nauru at all. On 19 September V Amphibious Corps submitted a revised estimate of the situation that “envisaged considerable difficulty in the capture of Nauru” with the forces made available.

After further study in conjunction with the various Navy echelons involved, it became evident that the original concept of GALVANIC should be revised. Nauru offered too many hitherto-unsuspected hazards for an amphibious attack at this particular time.

It was about 390 miles west of the westernmost of the Gilberts and hence would place an additional strain on available shipping. Simultaneous landings in the two places would furthermore necessitate a wide dispersal of supporting fleet elements—a dangerous division of forces in view of the presumed possibility of a Japanese naval counterattack. Finally, the precipitous terrain on Nauru would make an amphibious assault and the land fighting thereafter too costly to be warranted by the strategic advantages to be gained. Makin Atoll was considered no less suitable than Nauru as an air base for operations against the Marshalls and was thought to be considerably less well defended. Furthermore, the fact that it was only about 105 miles north of Tarawa made it possible to concentrate the supporting fleet in one area and thus avoid the danger of excessive dispersion.

Hence, on 24 September Admiral Spruance recommended to Admiral Nimitz that the projected invasion of Nauru be dropped and that an amphibious landing on Makin be substituted. After obtaining the consent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nimitz accepted this recommendation, and early in October a revised plan was issued to his command. Spruance was ordered to seize Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama, to cover the amphibious landings on each of these targets with air and naval surface forces, and to deny to the enemy use of land bases in the Marshalls and on Nauru during the operation. D Day for the landings was originally set as 19 November 1943. A month later this was postponed one day, to 20 November.

Intelligence on the Gilberts

From the very outset of the planning phase of the Gilberts operation, the chief hurdle to be overcome was the initial absence of much reliable information about the physical nature of the target islands and of the disposition of the enemy defenses thereon. The most critical gap in American intelligence, and one never satisfactorily filled, was the lack of any very precise hydrographic data. Charts published by the Navy’s Hydrographic Office were so out of date and so inaccurate as to be worse than useless. Also, published tide tables were sketchy in the information they contained. They listed only a few of the Central Pacific islands and for these the figures given for high and low tides were in reference to points as distant as Valparaiso in Chile and Apia in Samoa, thus rendering them highly unreliable.

It is axiomatic that in amphibious operations reasonably accurate data on tides and on hydrographic conditions offshore of the proposed landing beaches are essential. On such information hinges the solution to such important problems as what is the best time of day, month, and year to launch the operation, what beaches are most accessible, and what type of landing craft can be employed to get troops ashore in proper order with a minimum danger of capsizing, grounding, broaching, or being swept off course by tidal currents.

In obtaining this essential information, as well as intelligence of the probable number and disposition of enemy troops and defense installations on the islands, intelligence officers of the appropriate staffs had to rely on three main sources—aerial reconnaissance, submarine reconnaissance, and reports from British citizens who had lived or traveled in the Gilberts.

Photographic coverage of Tarawa was made on 18-19 September and on 20 October, and of Makin on 23 July and 13 October. Excellent vertical and oblique shots of Tarawa were obtained, both of great value in studying beaches and locating weapons and installations. For Makin, the vertical photographs were good, but no large-scale oblique’s were turned in and this hampered considerably the study of hydrographic conditions as well as the interpretation of installations.

Additional and highly detailed information was received from a reconnaissance mission of the submarine USS Nautilus conducted in late September and early October. From this vessel’s report much of the missing data on hydrographic and beach conditions on both of the main islands could be filled in. Information as to condition of surf, reefs, and beaches, characteristics of lagoon entrances, current data, tidal data, and so forth, was supplied. Periscopic photographs of the beach lines showed many more details than had appeared on the aerial photographs.

[NOTE 2929IF: Fifth Amph Force Rpt, Capture of Gilbert Islands, Annex A, p. 5. Both of these target dates were arbitrarily fixed as west longitude dates, although the Gilberts lie in east longitude about seven degrees west of the international date line. During this operation then, the target islands were presumed to be in plus twelve time zone, although actually lying west of it. In effect this meant that all local date-time groups during the operation were computed as Greenwich civil time minus twelve hours.]

Finally, during September and October, a total of sixteen former residents or travelers in the islands were attached to Admiral Turner’s staff to supply additional information from memory. These included Australian, New Zealand, and Fiji naval reserve officers, officials of the Western Pacific High Commission, Australian Army reserve officers and enlisted men, and civilians. Part of this group was sent to Wellington to assist the 2nd Marine Division. Others, more familiar with Makin, worked directly with the staff on Oahu.

Among the latter were Lieutenant Commander Gerhard H. Heyen, R.A.N., and Private Fred C. Narruhn, 1st Fiji Infantry Regiment, a native of Makin. Private Narruhn was assigned directly to the 27th Division’s intelligence section and was particularly helpful in providing necessary information for planning that operation. Another source of information made available to the division shortly before it sailed was Lieutenant Colonel James Roosevelt, USMCR, who had been a member of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson, USMC, which had staged a raid on Makin on 16 August 1942.

Final Intelligence Estimates: Makin

On the basis of these various sources of information, V Amphibious Corps and the two division headquarters committed to the Gilberts were able to draw up reasonably complete and on the whole not too inaccurate estimates of the geographical nature and defensive strength of the target islands.

Makin is an atoll located approximately 2,000 nautical miles southwest of Oahu. It is north of Tarawa by about 105 miles, southeast of Kwajalein in the Marshalls by 450 miles, and east of Truk by 1,265 miles. The atoll is triangular in shape enclosing a large lagoon. The southeastern leg of the triangle holds the main land formation, consisting of two long islands, Butaritari and Kuma, which with their connecting reef are about thirteen miles long and average five hundred yards in width with the highest land point rising no more than twelve feet above sea level. Butaritari was rightly believed to contain the largest number of natives, the entire population of the atoll being estimated as about 1,700 at the time of the Japanese occupation in December 1941.

Butaritari, according to the 27th Division’s G-2 terrain study, was “shaped like a crutch with the armrest facing generally West and the leg of the crutch pointing East and slightly North.” For purposes of tactical study the island was divided into three parts. The extreme western area, that is the armrest of the crutch, was thought to be generally of good substantial footing with scattered coconut trees and sand brush on the northern part and thick coconut groves interspersed with bobai (taro) pits in the southern. East of this area was a stretch of land designated the inland lagoon area.

Except near the shore this was believed swampy, covered with salt-brush, and impassable in many parts for vehicles. Near the geographical center of the island was the main village of Butaritari situated on fairly dry ground. The easternmost segment of the island was believed to contain good land, with some bobai pits and gradually thickening coconut growth as the extreme eastern tip was approached. A road had been observed running from Ukiangong Village, near the southwest point, in a northerly direction about half way out Flink Point, a promontory on the northwest side. The road connected with another that ran in a northeasterly direction along the north shore of the island to its eastern tip. A short cross-island road ran through Butaritari Village from the northern (lagoon) to the southern (ocean) shore.

On the all-important question of suitable spots for landing, it was believed that the best beaches were those on the lagoon (north) shore and on the southern half of the west coast of the island. On the west coast the reef was thought to be very close to the beach, therefore offering no particular hazard to ordinary landing craft. On the lagoon side, the reef was estimated to extend 500 to 1,500 yards out from the shore, but was considered to be flat and even enough to permit troop landings at the reef’s edge. Four prominent landmarks presented themselves on the lagoon side.

These were, from west to east, On Chong’s Wharf, King’s Wharf, Stone Pier, and Government Wharf. All projected far enough into the lagoon to be useful as guide marks for landing craft. No particular difficulties were contemplated by the division planners from tidal or hydrographic conditions. It was believed that single boats could land at almost any point on the island during high water and two hours before and after high water. This was an error as events were soon to prove. Had the division planners carefully consulted Admiral Turner’s operation plan, they would have discovered that during periods of neap tide (and 20 November fell in such a period) standard Navy landing craft would be grounded on the reef off the lagoon shore some 100-150 yards out.

The Japanese garrison on Butaritari was estimated to be from 500 to 800 troops consisting of one rifle company, one field battery of four heavy antiaircraft guns, and two antiaircraft machine gun batteries totaling four medium antiaircraft guns and twenty machine guns. It was apparent from aerial photographs that the enemy had concentrated the major part of his defenses in the central area of the island around Butaritari Village. This fortified area was bounded on east and west by tank traps running generally in a zigzag path from lagoon to ocean shore.

Final Intelligence Estimates: Tarawa

Tarawa, like Makin, is a triangular coral atoll and is roughly 18 miles long on the east side, 12 miles long on the south side, and 12.5 miles long on the west side. None of the small islands comprising the atoll rises to more than ten feet above sea level.

 The entire west leg of the triangle consists of a barrier reef through which there is only one entrance into the lagoon passable by deep-draft vessels. Just 3.5 miles south of this entrance lies the island of Betio, resting on the southwest corner of the triangle. It was here that the Japanese had constructed an airfield and had concentrated their major defenses. It was here that the first major amphibious assault by American forces in the Central Pacific would take place.

Betio itself is surrounded on all sides by reefs. Along the south shore the reef extends to a uniform distance of about 600 yards from the high-water line. On the narrow west shore it varies from 800 to 1,200 yards at the extreme southwest point of the island where strong rip currents occur. Off the north shore, facing the lagoon, also lies a fringing reef, but this is wider and shelves more gradually than the reefs elsewhere. This, plus the fact that the lagoon was on the lee side of the island and somewhat sheltered from heavy swells, made this coast line the most desirable for landing operations.

Most of these facts were known to planners of the operation as a result of aerial and submarine photographs and consultation with former residents and visitors familiar with the atoll. What was not known with any certainty, however, was the condition of prevailing tides in the area.

The central problem that plagued all planners of the Tarawa operation was the question of the probable height of water over the fringing reef off the north coast of Betio. The 2nd Marine Division, which was assigned to the operation, had available only a limited number (eventually 125) of amphibian tractors. These vehicles, which could carry about twenty troops each, were equipped to operate both through water and overland, and to them reefs offered no particular obstacle. However, there were not enough on hand to transport all of the necessary assault troops from ship to shore.

The remainder would have to be carried in standard “Higgins boats” (LCVP’s) which, when fully loaded, drew at least 3.5 feet. Thus about four feet of water above the reef was essential if the landing craft were to carry the assault troops from ship to shore without interruption.

To complicate matters further the date chosen for the invasion was in a period of neap tide at Tarawa. Neap tides occur during the first and third quarters of the moon. During these times the range of tide, that is the difference between high and low water, is at its lowest point and high tides are lower than usual. Thus, the probability of there being sufficient water over the reef even at high tide on the particular date chosen for the invasion was decreased.

These problems were all appreciated by planners on both corps and divisional levels, but their sources of information were contradictory. Admiral Turner’s intelligence staff, as for Makin, made a correct estimate of tidal conditions at Tarawa on the proposed day of landing. His operation plan reads in part: “During high water neap tides the reef [that is, the lagoon reef] off the north coast of Betio is covered by from one to two feet of water. . . .” If this analysis were to be believed, then it was obvious that nothing but amphibian tractors could negotiate the reef on 20 November, which was known to fall in the period of neap tide. Standard landing craft drawing from three to four feet would be grounded on the reef. Admiral Turner’s staff also knew that during neap tides a “dodging” tide frequently occurred at Tarawa, that is, the tide instead of following the usual semidiurnal pattern, ebbed and flowed several times in twenty-four hours. This might further complicate the problem of getting standard landing craft ashore, even through channels blown in the reef.

Either this information was improperly understood or it was disbelieved, because up to the very date of the landing there was still hope that at Betio there would be enough water over the reef to float standard landing craft. This hope was nurtured by several former residents of the Gilberts and shipmasters who had navigated the adjacent waters. All but one of these consulted by the staff of the 2nd Marine Division affirmed that five feet of water could be expected over the reef at Betio at high tide. The single exception was Major F. L. G. Holland, a British officer who had lived on Bairiki, the island adjacent to Betio, for fifteen years. During the Marine division’s final rehearsals on Efate in the New Hebrides before sailing for the target island, Major Holland announced that during neap tide periods less than three feet of water could be expected at high tide. Major Holland was right and in general his pessimism was shared by General Julian Smith, the 2nd Marine Division’s commander. At least his troops were briefed to expect no more than a fifty-fifty chance of getting into the shore on Betio in boats. As events turned out even this was far too optimistic an estimate.

Although hydrographic information for Tarawa was faulty, the pre-landing intelligence of Japanese troop strength and defense dispositions was excellent. This was largely derived from aerial and submarine photographs assembled by the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Areas, and interpreted by that headquarters and by the intelligence section of the 2nd Marine Division. As of 11 November, the division estimated enemy troop strength on Betio alone to be not less than 2,500 and not more than 3,100, a prediction that post-battle studies proved to be remarkably accurate. Betio was known to be far more heavily fortified than Makin. From aerial photographs it appeared that the north shore was defended by an elaborate system of fire trenches, rifle pits, coastal and antiaircraft weapons, anti-boat emplacements, and machine gun positions. Defenses on the west and south shores were thought to be similar in all respects, including density.

On this tiny, narrow island only three miles long and less than six hundred yards across at its widest point, the Japanese were believed to have 8 or 9 coastal defense guns, 12 heavy antiaircraft guns ranging from 75-mm. to 12-cm., 12 medium antiaircraft guns from 40-mm. to less than 75-mm., 81 anti-boat positions for weapons of sizes ranging from heavy machine guns to 40-mm. guns, and 52 light weapons. There was good reason to believe that this would be the fiercest amphibious battle yet fought in the Pacific.

Organization and Command of the American Forces

Admiral Spruance’s Operation Plan Number Cen 1-43 was issued on 25 October and, subject to some subsequent modifications, set forth the command organization of the GALVANIC operation and outlined the tasks assigned to each subordinate command. The immediate task of capturing and occupying Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama, of destroying inferior enemy surface forces attempting to interfere with the landing operations, and of initiating the establishment of advance bases and the construction of airfields on the three islands was assigned to Admiral Turner’s assault force (Task Force 54). This was in turn subdivided into a Northern Attack Force (Task Force 52), also commanded by Admiral Turner, and a Southern Attack Force (Task Force 53) under Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, USN, plus sundry other lesser task groups including a reconnaissance group for Apamama, and garrison groups for the three islands. The duty of the Northern Attack Force was to capture Makin; that of the Southern Attack Force to take Tarawa and Apamama.

The main troop components of the Northern Attack Force were to consist of the 165th Regimental Combat Team (reinforced) of the 27th Infantry Division. This combat team plus units of the 7th Army Defense Battalion and various service units were to constitute the Northern Landing Force, under command of General Ralph Smith. The parallel command for the seizure of Tarawa was the Southern Landing Force, consisting mainly of the 2nd Marine Division plus assigned units of the 2nd and 8th Marine Defense Battalions, all under command of General Julian Smith. A separate task group was set up for occupying Apamama. The commanding officer of the submarine Nautilus, Commander Donald G. Irvine, USN, was directed to land a reconnaissance platoon of V Amphibious Corps on that presumably undefended island some time after the main landings on Tarawa and Makin.

To transport the 165th Regimental Combat Team and its supplies and equipment to Makin, Admiral Turner was able to allocate four attack transports (APA’s), one attack cargo ship (AKA), one LSD, and nine LST’s. To screen the transports and LST’s, and to provide naval gunfire and aerial support for the landing on Makin, a total of four old battleships, four heavy cruisers, thirteen destroyers, and three escort carriers (CVE’s) was provided.

To the 2nd Marine Division for the assault on Tarawa was assigned one transport (AP), twelve attack transports, three attack cargo ships, one LSD, and twelve LST’s. To screen these vessels and to bombard the shore at Tarawa, Southern Attack Force had a total of three battleships, three heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, twenty-one destroyers, and five escort carriers.

Thus, about equal shares of naval gunfire support were apportioned to the Makin and Tarawa landings, although it was known that the latter would be by far the more formidable target. If the only problem involved in the operation had been that of landing troops on the two islands, then logic would have dictated allocating a far heavier portion of naval gunfire support to the Southern Landing Force. As it was, purely naval considerations prompted a more equal division of fire power. Makin was more than a hundred miles closer than Tarawa to the Marshalls and if any major sortie by the elements of the Japanese fleet should develop, it would probably be from that direction. Hence, it was considered prudent to dispose a good part of the American combat vessels in a position where it could more quickly intercept a Japanese naval counterattack.

[NOTE 5048N: The main differences between the AP and APA were that the latter carried more landing craft and was better constructed and rigged to unload assault troops and their supplies rapidly.]

Within Admiral Turner’s assault force (Task Force 54), but not enjoying any clear-cut authority, was the Commander, V Amphibious Corps, General Holland Smith. During the planning and training phase, both the 2nd Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division were clearly attached to Holland Smith’s headquarters and were under his command. But for the operational phase, his position in the chain of command was ambiguous. Admiral Spruance’s operation plan provided that the “Commanding General Fifth Amphibious Corps will be embarked in the flagship of the Assault Force [Task Force 54] and will command all landing force troops.” However, by the same order, all directives by Commander, V Amphibious Corps, had to be approved by Admiral Turner as Commander, Assault Force, before they could be issued. Furthermore, the only authority specifically delegated to Holland Smith under Admiral Turner’s own operation plan was that “Commanding General, Fifth Amphibious Corps, embarked in the Force Flagship of the Commander Assault Force, will advise the Commander Assault Force in regard to the employment of the Landing Forces at each objective and the employment of reserve troops . . . .”

On the question of the immediate command of troops to be committed ashore at Makin and Tarawa, both Spruance’s and Turner’s orders bypassed Holland Smith. At both objectives the related attack force commanders—Turner, Commander, Task Force 52, at Makin, and Hill, Commander, Task Force 53, at Tarawa—were to command the troops through the appropriate landing force commanders (that is, General Ralph Smith, USA, at Makin and General Julian Smith, USMC, at Tarawa). These last two officers would assume command ashore only when Admiral Turner, as commander of the assault force, should so direct.

In other words, General Holland Smith was given no tactical command over troops. His capacity during the operation was merely that of an adviser to Admiral Turner. However, there is evidence that in his own mind General Smith believed that he held a more exalted position.

Later, he wrote, “As soon as the assault waves hit the beach the status of my command was parallel, not inferior to, Kelly Turner’s.” This misconception could easily have arisen from the paragraph of Admiral Spruance’s operation plan cited above, which seemed to give the V Amphibious Corps commander command over “all landing force troops.” The confusion was further compounded when at the last minute Admiral Nimitz issued a directive removing General Holland Smith’s name from the command. Smith protested and at last, in his own words, “Admiral Spruance insisted that I go along.” Go he did, but as an adviser, not a troop commander.

Comparable to, but not exactly analogous with, the position of General Smith in the chain of command was that of the Commander, Support Aircraft, Colonel William O. Eareckson, AAF. At this juncture in the Pacific war, the Navy’s development of a centralized system of ground control of support aircraft in amphibious operations was still in a formative stage. At Guadalcanal Admiral Turner had set up a rather hasty, temporary control organization for aircraft assigned to troop support.

Under his plan, during the amphibious phase of the operation, all troop support aircraft were controlled by an air support director group attached to his staff and aboard his flagship, the USS McCawley, with a similar stand-by group aboard the USS Neville, which was assigned to waters off Tulagi. In addition, a fighter squadron, flown from carriers located far out at sea and assigned the duties of combat air patrol in the immediate area of the landing, was controlled by Rear Admiral Victor A. C. Crutchley, R.N., Turner’s second in command, through a fighter director group located aboard the USS Chicago.

Although this plan did not permit completely centralized control, it did embody two important principles. First, all aircraft in the objective area were under command of units on board ships actually present. Secondly, after the initially scheduled strikes, all missions for troop support aircraft were established by the air support director group aboard the force flagship as a result of requests from the commanders of the landing forces, that is, of the troops ashore.

After his appointment to the post of Commander, Fifth Amphibious Force, Central Pacific, Admiral Turner sought to capitalize on his experience at Guadalcanal by setting up an air support control organization on a permanent basis. But he found little enthusiasm for the project among naval air circles at Pearl Harbor and no naval aviator who, in his opinion, had sufficient rank or experience to do the job. However, in the person of Colonel Eareckson, then temporarily attached to Admiral Nimitz’s headquarters, he discovered an aviator who met his requirements.

Colonel Eareckson had acted as an air co-ordinator and air-ground liaison officer for close support missions flown by planes of the Eleventh Air Force during the invasion of Attu in May 1943. Although he had not previously worked with naval aircraft, he was borrowed from Admiral Nimitz’s staff for the Gilberts operation and designated Commander, Support Aircraft.

The scope of his duties and authority for the forthcoming invasion was not made entirely clear in the covering operation plans, the ambiguity being a reflection of a yet un-matured conception of the role of close air support control in naval amphibious doctrine. According to Operation Plan A2-43, issued by Admiral Turner as commander of the assault force for the entire Gilberts operation (Task Force 54), “The Commander Support Aircraft, GALVANIC [Eareckson], embarked in the Force Flagship of the Commander Assault Force [Turner], will advise the Commander Assault Force in regard to the employment of support aircraft at all objectives.” In another paragraph of the same plan it is stated, “At each objective, during the assault, the related Attack Force Commanders [that is, Turner at Makin, and Hill at Tarawa] will command the support aircraft through the Air Commander of the base to be established at the objective..”

This would seem to indicate that Colonel Eareckson’s position in the chain of command was, like General Holland Smith’s, merely that of adviser to the assault force commander, Admiral Turner. Also, according to the above cited plan, the attack force commander at each objective would presumably exercise direct command over support aircraft through the air base commander ashore, once such bases were established. However, in practice, this was not to be the case. Since this command setup had been ordained by directives from higher authority, it could not be changed. But Admiral Turner did succeed in radically modifying the arrangement by directing that at both Tarawa and Makin flight leaders of combat air patrols, upon being relieved from this type of duty, should report to the Commander, Support Aircraft, and be prepared to strafe ground installations as directed by him before returning to their carriers. To insure safety to the ground troops, pilots were warned that it was “imperative that strafing attacks be delivered only as directed by the Support Aircraft Commander.”

Also, supporting aircraft at both Makin and Tarawa were ordered to maintain twelve scout bomber planes and six torpedo bomber planes on each station during daylight at an “initial point” designated by the support aircraft commander to give direct support to ground troops and to replace the Support Aircraft Group as requested by the support aircraft commander. In addition, antisubmarine patrol aircraft were ordered to report to the support aircraft commander upon arrival on and departure from station.

As it finally went into effect, then, the duties of the support aircraft commander both at Makin and at Tarawa were made more positive than had originally been contemplated. Colonel Eareckson, who would sail aboard Turner’s flagship, was given general direction over close air support and antisubmarine patrol for the whole assault force (Task Force 54). In addition, he had direct command duties with respect to support aircraft of the attack force at Makin (Task Force 52). For the Tarawa phase, a second commander of support aircraft was assigned to Task Force 53 and accompanied Admiral Hill on his flagship Maryland, from which he too would directly command close air support and antisubmarine patrol at that objective. In later amphibious landings in the Central Pacific this allocation of air responsibilities was formalized and clarified, but it was in the Gilberts operation, in spite of some confusion in the covering plans, that this subsequent development was clearly forecast.

Aerial support, both tactical and strategic, was to be provided in the main by two separate task forces. The carrier force (Task Force 50) was under command of Rear Admiral Charles A. Pownall, USN, and consisted of six large and five small carriers with their accompanying battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The bulk of this force was assigned the task of destroying enemy aircraft and defenses on Tarawa on D minus 2 and D minus 1 and on Mille, Jaluit, and Makin on D minus 1. At the same time, planes from this force were to photograph both Makin and Tarawa and deliver copies, together with information of sea conditions at landing beaches, to Admirals Turner and Hill on their respective flagships. On D Day and daily thereafter they were to conduct early morning searches to the north and west of the Gilberts and to provide air support for the land operations. One relief group of this task force was ordered to destroy aircraft and air harbor facilities on Nauru by both air and surface bombardment.

All shore-based aircraft for the operation were organized into Task Force 57 under the command of Rear Admiral John H. Hoover. The Seventh Air Force provided Admiral Hoover with both fighters and bombers. Ninety heavy bombers were organized into Task Group 57.2, commanded by Major General Willis H. Hale, AAF. Fifty-six Navy patrol bombers were placed in Task Group 57.3 under direct command of Admiral Hoover. A third task group (57.4) consisted of ninety Marine fighter planes, seventy-two Marine scout bombers, twenty-four scout and utility planes, and sundry Army and Navy transport planes—all to be based on the Ellice Islands and all under command of Brigadier General Lewie G. Merritt, USMC.

Task Force 57 was to attack enemy air bases at Tarawa, Nauru, Mille, Jaluit, and such other enemy positions in the Marshalls as were within range. The force was to conduct photographic reconnaissance’s of Kwajalein, Wotje, Maloelap, Mille, and Jaluit, all in the Marshalls. Starting on D minus 3, it was to conduct long-range searches in areas not covered by carrier planes. Other general duties were to attack enemy ships and shipping, defend American bases in the Ellice and Gilbert Islands, and provide air transportation.

All of this air power was in addition to the planes attached to the two attack forces. At Makin, three escort carriers would accompany Admiral Turner’s Northern Attack Force. Admiral Hill’s Southern Attack Force at Tarawa would enjoy the support of five such vessels.

Admiral Turner’s Plan for the Attack

The general plan for the operation, as worked out by Admiral Turner in conjunction with the staff of V Amphibious Corps, contemplated the simultaneous capture of Makin by the 165th Regimental Combat Team of the 27th Infantry Division and of Tarawa by the 2nd Marine Division, reinforced. One regimental combat team of the Marine division (later designated the 6th RCT) was to be held as corps reserve for the support of one or both of these operations or for the subsequent occupation of Apamama. This corps reserve was to be employed only as authorized by Admiral Turner as Commander, Task Force 54, on the advice of General Holland Smith.

The assault was to be made initially by troops carried in amphibian tractors, some fitted with grapnels for destroying wire and thus opening boat routes to the beaches. The tractors would be carried to the target areas in LST’s, each of which had space in its tank deck for seventeen vehicles. The amphibian tractors would be followed by troops in LCVP’s (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) and by medium tanks transported in LCM’s (landing craft, mechanized), which would be carried forward by Navy transports and by LSD’s.

On D Day at both Makin and Tarawa Navy planes were to strike from 0545 to 0615, attacking coast defense guns, heavy antiaircraft guns, observation towers, radio installations, aircraft, and personnel, as well as any barracks and buildings undamaged by previous attacks. From about H Hour minus 5 minutes to H Hour plus 15 minutes (that is from 5 minutes before to 15 minutes after the first troops hit the beach), planes would attack installations on the landing beaches. They were to strafe along the water’s edge until the first wave of landing craft approached to within 100 yards of the beach, then shift fire inland to a depth of 100 yards. Immediately thereafter, they were to bomb all secondary defense installations behind the beaches clear across each island as well as all beach installations between 500 and 1,000 yards to both sides of the landing areas. Following these scheduled missions, aircraft were to fly combat air patrol and antisubmarine patrol and carry out bombing and strafing attacks in close support of the ground troops.

For Makin, naval gunfire support would be provided by four old battleships, four cruisers, and six destroyers. For Tarawa, three battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and nine destroyers would be assigned to this duty. The general plan for the employment of these vessels at both objectives was as follows: During the early morning of D Day, commencing about 0615, the heavy ships would deliver prearranged neutralization and counterbattery fires at moderately long range. As mine sweepers gradually closed the beaches off Makin and swept the lagoon off Betio, support vessels would move to closer range. Battleships and heavy cruisers were permitted to move in as close as 2,000 or 3,000 yards (that is, one to one and a half nautical miles) in order to knock out heavy turret guns ashore.

Shortly before the landing, light cruisers and destroyers were instructed to move to still closer range for a last-minute saturation fire. This was to terminate at H minus 5 minutes so as to permit a final air strike on the beaches immediately before the first wave of troops hit. Under no circumstances were ships and planes to bombard the same areas simultaneously. After the landings had been made ships were to stand by to fire on targets of opportunity on request of shore fire control parties attached to troop units and to deliver slow neutralization fire on areas 400 to 800 yards or more from the nearest troops.

It was believed by some naval planners of the operation that this tremendous volume of preliminary naval gunfire coupled with the proposed aerial bombardment would surely be ample to knock out most of the heavier Japanese installations and at the very least neutralize the beaches during the assault phase of the operation. Just before the 2nd Marine Division sailed from Efate, one of the ranking naval officers is reported to have stated of Betio: “We do not intend to neutralize it, we do not intend to destroy it. Gentlemen, we will obliterate it.” Such optimism was extravagant, as the course of the battle would show, but it was based on the knowledge that in no previous amphibious operation had such a tremendous weight of naval and air power been available to landing troops. That a mere two and a half hours of preliminary naval bombardment, no matter how concentrated, was still not enough to “obliterate” even tiny islands the size of Betio and Butaritari was still to be proved.

The 27th Division’s Plan: Butaritari

For the landing on Butaritari, total troop strength of the 165th Regimental Combat Team with its attached units came to 6,470 men. This included, besides the infantry troops of the 165th, detachments from the 105th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division, part of the 193rd Tank Battalion, the 152nd Engineer Battalion, coastal artillery and antiaircraft batteries of the 98th and 93rd Coastal Artillery Battalions, a platoon from the V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company, plus sundry medical, signal, ordnance, quartermaster, and bomb disposal detachments.

The plan for getting these troops ashore on Butaritari was elaborate in the extreme and unlike any adopted before or since in the Pacific war. It was devised by General Ralph Smith, Commanding General, 27th Division, and approved somewhat reluctantly by General Holland Smith, commander of the V Amphibious Corps.

The basic principle of the plan was to land two battalions on the west coast of Butaritari, followed quickly by tanks and artillery pieces. Two hours after the main landing, a third battalion was to be put ashore on the north (lagoon) side of the island roughly 4,000 yards east of the main landing beaches. This battalion would then split into two groups, one heading eastward, the other westward in the general direction of the main landing force. The object was to envelop in an amphibious pincers movement the Western Tank Barrier that lay athwart the island between the main landing beaches on the west coast and the most heavily fortified area in the center—the so-called Citadel area.

 The first wave to land on the west coast (at Red Beaches) was to consist of thirty-two LVT’s embarked on two LST’s, manned by separate detachments of the 105th Infantry (called Detachments X and Y). These were to land at Red Beaches at H Hour and to clear a passage through any barbed wire or other underwater obstacles that might impede the succeeding landing craft. On hitting the shore, the troops were to move south and north respectively and cover the right and left flanks of the main landing beaches.

This scheme of manning the first wave of LVT’s with troops drawn from a regiment outside of the one that made up the main landing force was a product of necessity rather than choice. Because of the prevailing shortage of LVT’s at the time of the operation, General Ralph Smith could not be certain that any of these vehicles would be available for the Makin landing. Not until about two weeks before sailing from Pearl Harbor did the tractors assigned to the 27th Division actually arrive. Hence, in working out a landing plan, General Smith had to take into account the possibility that no amphibian tractors might be ready for the operation, and therefore assigned all of the assault troops of the 165th Regimental Combat Team to LCVP’s. Against the contingency that the desired tractors would show up at the last minute, he detached special units from the 105th Regimental Combat Team of his division to make up the first wave and to perform whatever duties thereafter that might be considered desirable.

Following this first wave of LVT’s would come the assault troops of the 1st and 3rd Battalion Landing Teams, 165th Regiment, boated in LCVP’s. On the right, the 3rd Battalion Landing Team would land on Red Beach 2 and seize the right half of the division beachhead to about 1,600 yards inland. It would then move right to clear the area around Ukiangong Village and Ukiangong Point. On the left, the 1st Battalion Landing Team would land on Red Beach, seize the division beachhead in its zone of action and move left to capture the area from the north end of Red Beach to Flink Point. Upon capture of the division beachhead, it was to relieve the right battalion on the entire front line and push reconnaissance as far east as “Jill” Lake. Upon being relieved, the 3rd Battalion would assemble in dispersed formation as division reserve in the area north of Ukiangong Village.

[NOTE GM-7474-D: General Ralph Smith’s personal diary, which he kindly loaned to the authors, gives evidence of an original disagreement between himself and General Holland Smith on the landing plan. Holland Smith at first favored a head-on assault from the lagoon, instead of landing two battalions on the west coast and a third, later, on the lagoon shore. (Entry, 9 Oct 43)

Two hours later, at W Hour (1030), the second landings were to be made on Yellow Beach 2 on the north shore between On Chong’s Wharf and King’s Wharf, both of which projected out into the lagoon. Here, too, the first wave would consist of sixteen LVT’s mounted aboard an LST and would be manned by Detachment Z of the 105th Infantry Regiment.

On arrival at the beach the troops were to dismount, half of them moving directly east to clear the enemy from King’s Wharf and establish a beach block and defensive position on the left flank of the beach. The other half was to move directly west, clearing any Japanese found on On Chong’s Wharf and protecting the right flank of the beach. Following this wave would come the assault troops of the 2nd Battalion Landing Team, 165th, with Company A of the 193rd Tank Battalion attached and boated in LCVP’s and LCM’s. Upon seizing the beachhead, this battalion was to make its main effort to the westward to effect contact with the 1st Battalion Landing Team, which at that juncture was supposed to be moving eastward from the main division beachhead.

Meanwhile, at H Hour the platoon of the V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company with one reinforced infantry platoon from the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, was to have landed on tiny Kotabu Island just north of Flink Point so as to secure the seaward approaches into the lagoon from possible enemy fire from that quarter. As soon after H Hour as was permissible, the three artillery batteries of the 165th Regiment were to be landed over Red Beach 2 and take position on Ukiangong Point. Two of these batteries consisted of the standard 105-mm. howitzers organic to regiment. Because of limitations in shipping space, 75-mm. pack howitzers had to be substituted for the third battery.

The basic premise upon which this plan was made was that the first main obstacle to a quick capture of the island would be the West Tank Barrier. This consisted of a trench about six feet deep and over fourteen feet wide and extended by log fences. The whole system was laid out in a north-south direction across the island about 3,400 yards east from Red Beaches. It was believed that this barrier would seriously impede the progress of tank-infantry teams approaching from the west coast, and that the best method of eliminating the hazard was to envelop it. Since this would necessitate two battalions moving toward each other, each was instructed to use special colored-smoke grenades and to maintain close radio contact. By these safeguards it was hoped that the danger of a fire fight between the American units would be minimized.

What this plan failed to take into account was the potentiality of naval gunfire. The tank barrier offered an ideal target for enfilade fire by destroyers lying off either the lagoon or the ocean side of the island. However, as of the autumn of 1943, the efficacy of naval gunfire against shore targets had not yet been proved to the satisfaction of 27th Division planners. General Ralph Smith and his staff were still skeptical of this particular type of fire, hence they felt compelled to rely almost entirely on their tank-infantry teams to overcome the western tank barrier and establish a foothold on Butaritari.

Another defect in the plan was that it relied too heavily on the assumption that communications between separate units would be adequate. To avoid the danger of a fire fight between the two infantry forces as they approached each other, it was essential that they be in perfect communication with each other. Also, if artillery was to be used at all in the gap between the two forces, it would be imperative that close radio or telephone contact be maintained between the artillery battalion and the various infantry commanders. As it turned out, no such contact was established during the first day’s fighting on Makin.

2nd Marine Division’s Plan: Betio

By contrast, the plan for landing the 2nd Marine Division on Betio was a model of simplicity. General Julian Smith had under his control only two reinforced regiments of his division, the 2nd and 8th Regimental Combat Teams. The 6th Regimental Combat Team was to be held in corps reserve to be landed at Tarawa, Makin, or Apamama as the situation dictated. General Smith’s plan called for the landing of three battalion landing teams abreast on Red Beaches 1, 2, and 3 on the north (lagoon) shore of Betio.

 The first three assault waves were to be made up of amphibian tractors, the fourth wave would be tanks boated in LCM’s, the fifth would be LCVP’s, each carrying about thirty-six troops. The first troops to land would be, from east to west (left to right) the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines; 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines; and 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. The 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, was to be held in regimental reserve. In division reserve, to be committed when and where the situation warranted, would be the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 8th Marines.

As soon as the beachhead was secured, the assault troops were to move directly across the island to the south, seizing the airfield and mopping up enemy positions along the ocean beaches. When this task had been completed, the two battalions on the east were to pivot and move to the left along the axis of the island to clean it off to its eastern tip. The artillery regiment (10th Marines) was to land on order on the main beaches and prepare to mass the bulk of its fires from Central Pier (which jutted out into the lagoon almost on the boundary between Red Beaches 2 and 3) to the eastern end of Betio.

With the withdrawal of the 6th Marines from division control, General Julian Smith could count on having only about a two-to-one superiority over the Japanese, who were reckoned to number somewhere between 2,500 and 3,100. This was considerably under the classic three-to-one superiority which, according to standard amphibious doctrine, is the minimum ratio desirable. If the assault was to proceed with the speed and ease hoped for, this deficiency in troop strength would have to be made up for by the preliminary naval and aerial bombardment and by the sustained momentum of the first five waves of assault troops and tanks. If any of these failed to materialize—that is, if aerial and naval bombardment proved less destructive than expected or if the ship-to-shore movement broke down—then the burden imposed on the invading troops would be unduly heavy. Events at Tarawa were soon to prove this to be the case.

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls(3); Preparing for the Attack

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls (1); Pacific Objective’s 1943-44


World War Two: North Africa (2-9); End of Hostilities in Morocco, 11 November 1942

Late on the afternoon of 10 November General Nogues was indirectly apprised at Fes that Admiral Darlan had issued orders in the name of Marshal Petain to stop the useless fighting. While awaiting confirmation, he telephoned to General Lascrowe: and advised him of this turn of events. At 1810, the latter accordingly radioed orders to Marrakech and Casablanca to refrain from active hostilities pending the negotiation of an armistice. About an hour later the exact text of Admiral Darlan’s orders was telephoned from Oujda to General Nogues, and transmitted by him to Generals Lascrowe: and Lahoulle and to Admiral Michelier. They were instructed to arrange for a meeting of General Nogues with the American commander next day.

At about 0200 on 11 November, a French car, heralded by the blowing of a bugle, its lights on, and white flags flying, appeared at an outpost of Company G, 30th Infantry, northeast of Fedala, carrying two French officers and two enlisted men from Rabat. This group was conducted to the regimental command post and thence to task force headquarters at the Hotel Miramar in Fedala, bearing orders from General Lascroux to General Desre, that the Casablanca Division cease firing. Colonel Gay, as General Patton desired, authorized the four Frenchmen to continue through American lines to Casablanca, but warned them that they must return quickly with an agreement to negotiate an armistice if the city were to escape the drastic consequences of the coordinated attack scheduled for daybreak.

Otherwise, the attack would not be postponed. Admiral Hewitt was at once informed that an agreement to suspend all hostilities was imminent and would be made known to him as soon as possible. The French reply, an agreement to terminate hostilities at once and to arrange terms at an afternoon conference in Fedala, was received at Headquarters, Western Task Force, only a few minutes before the attack was scheduled to begin. The ships were taking up firing positions, planes assembling, and field artillery batteries alerted for the preparation fire when the cease-fire orders were flashed. The orders, however, did not reach every American unit in time, and for a few minutes gunfire opened from tanks and from the 39th Field Artillery Battalion south of Casablanca, only to be suppressed by the commander when the failure of the air bombardment to take place indicated a change in plans.

The defenders of Casablanca, represented by Admiral Ronarch and General Desre, surrendered to General Anderson shortly before noon at the headquarters of the Casablanca Division. American troops were to occupy the key positions in the area while the French troops remained in barracks but retained their arms. General Anderson himself shifted his Headquarters, Sub-Task Force BRUSHWOOD, from the Villa Coigny in Fedala to the Villa Mas in one of Casablanca’s suburbs. At Safi, parallel action took place early next day.

At General Patton’s urgent request, conveyed by an advance party which included General Eagles and Colonel Harry McK. Roper, Admiral Michelier went from Casablanca to Fedala to participate in armistice negotiations at General Patton’s headquarters in the Hotel Miramar. The presence of Miche1ier, the naval commander in chief, led Admiral Hewitt to come ashore to join the conference. With the arrival of General Nogues from Rabat, about 1400, it was soon possible to begin formal negotiations. At this session, the French leaders would discover to what extent the military opposition of the past three days had forfeited the sort of partnership offered them at the beginning.

Their resistance had cost the U.S. Army and Navy 337 killed, 637 wounded, 122 missing, and 71 captured. French losses had been much heavier. The scene which ensued remained indelibly impressed on the memories of those present. It was World War I Armistice Day. A guard of honor had been established.

With great dignity General Patton received the French commanders, complimented them on the effectiveness of their forces, and had read to them the draft armistice terms which had been approved before the operation by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Of the two prepared sets of terms, one was clearly irrelevant, for it presupposed only a token French resistance. The other was also inappropriate, for it envisaged prolonged fighting resulting in the destruction of French military power. No draft terms took adequate cognizance of the Allied dependence on continued French capacity to control the Sultan’s native subjects, or of the French legal position as the Sultan’s protector. The harsh arrangements which otherwise might have been imposed were therefore dismissed as inapplicable. Instead, an informal understanding was adopted, a gentleman’s agreement that the Americans should occupy areas required for security and for future operations, that prisoners should be exchanged, that the French should be confined to barracks but not disarmed, and that without General Eisenhower’s approval no punishment should be inflicted on anyone for having assisted the Americans. Lasting terms were left for determination in Algiers, where negotiations were in progress, as will be narrated later.

When this generous arrangement had been concluded, the anxieties of the French were revived by General Patton’s insistence that one more requirement must be met, and were then suddenly relieved by his explanation of its nature. For he proposed a toast to the liberation of France by the joint defeat of the common enemy.

At Gibraltar, meanwhile, the fragmentary character of the reports from the Western Task Force which filtered through the overburdened communications system to the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, had become increasingly disturbing with the passage of each day. On 10 November, General Eisenhower informed General Patton in a personal communication that Algiers had been won for two days, Oran’s defenses were rapidly crumbling, and the only “tough nut” was in Patton’s hands. “Crack it open quickly and ask for what you want,” the message said. Next day a British plane, sent to gain information, was shot down. On 12 November, Rear Admiral Bernhard H. Bieri and a small Army staff went to Casablanca by fast mine sweeper ( H.M.S. Welshman) to check with Admiral Hewitt and General Patton, and to transmit instructions. By that time, the military situation in Morocco was no longer in doubt.

Enemy Submarines Attack

Hostilities between the French and the Americans in the Casablanca area ceased only two days before the expected arrival of a second convoy of four personnel and twenty cargo transports and escorting warships. When the fighting stopped, the transports off Fedala were pushing cargo into that small port at a rate which would require at least a week for completion. This slow rate of unloading heightened the risk of using the offshore anchorage in the Fedala roadstead. Neither the destroyer screen nor the new mine field furnished complete security against expected Axis submarines.

[NOTE: On 8 November 1942 fifteen German submarines were ordered to stations from Safi to Fedala, and two days later, Group Schlaglol, consisting of eight submarines, was in action off Casablanca. The enemy’s undersea line was extended to the Strait of Gibraltar and reinforced by 12-13 November.]

The situation subjected Admiral Hewitt to an exceedingly difficult decision. If the transports were moved to Casablanca, they could finish unloading in reasonable security and the materiel would be concentrated there instead of being set ashore in two places. But the harbor would first have to be cleared of idle ships. This task would delay unloading and force the second convoy to cruise off the coast instead of coming directly into port, holding the troops at sea that much longer. To leave the transports at anchor off Fedala would be to rely heavily on the tide of good fortune which had supported American naval activities thus far, but it would expedite the entire operation.

Admiral Hewitt decided to keep the vessels off Fedala. All Army personnel except 180 casualties in sick bays were sent ashore on 11 November. The fifteen ships, including some which had just begun to discharge cargo, the Joseph Hewes, the Edward Rutledge, the Hugh L. Scott, and the Tasker H. Bliss continued unloading under such protection as a diligent screening group could furnish.

Axis submarines came indeed. U-173 struck the Hewes and the tanker Winooski with torpedoes from the west, early in the evening of 11 November, and before leaving hit the destroyer Hambleton. During the next morning several submarines of Group Schlaglol attacked the Ranger well out at sea and forced her to engage in violent evasive movement to escape torpedoes which swept close by her. On the afternoon of 12 November the U-130 approached from the northwest in 100 feet of water, slipped between the transports at Fedala and the shore, avoided the mine field, and, taking careful aim during a calm sunset, sent six torpedoes in quick succession into the Scott, the Rutledge, and the Bliss, fires raced through the vessels, each of which sank during the night. Hundreds of surviving sailors were taken into Fedala and two days later brought to Casablanca by train. The other ships of the Center Attack Group formed into column and steamed out to more open waters. Five of the transports went next day into Casablanca where they completed unloading before 15 November and took aboard the survivors from the sunken ships.

Except for treatment at a shore party dressing station, over 100 casualties had to wait until they were on transports for thorough medical attention. Seven more ships of the Fedala group with five from Mehdia docked at Casablanca on 15 November and began discharging cargo around the clock. The ships had to be ready to start back to the United States on 17 November.

The second convoy hovered off the Moroccan coast. On 17 November, the bulk of the Western Naval Task Force left the harbor, assembled behind a newly laid protective mine field, and departed; on 18 November, this convoy was able to come in. Mountainous piles of half-sorted supplies and ammunition on Casablanca’s docks were being eroded steadily by the strenuous efforts of Army units and native labor gangs. Operations of the U.S. Army in this part of Northwest Africa were already entering the next phase.

[NOTE 12-T: (1) Supplies lost on the torpedoed ships were: Hewes, 93 percent; Rutledge, 97 percent; Scott, 67 percent; Bliss, 64 percent. A considerable loss of vehicles on the Rutledge and Bliss also occurred. CTG 34.9 Action Rpt, Incl D. (2) Extract from War Diary of U-130, 11 Jun 41-13 Mar 43,12 Nov 42, Incl D to COMNAVEU Rpt (I.D. No. 251776). • The transports were the Leonard Wood, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Carroll, Thurston, and Elizabeth C. Stanton.]

Political Conditions

The Americans intended that the general character of the new relationship between them and the French in Morocco should follow the formula of “forgive and forget.” The American flag would henceforth fly but the French flag would not be lowered. American forces would occupy key positions, but the French otherwise would not be dispossessed. Military facilities previously defended would now be at the disposal of the Americans. All flights from Moroccan airfields would be under American control. For the victorious visitors, this formula was easier to follow than it was for the French, whose memories of the recent events rankled.

At the higher levels of command, the changes seemed to be made with no great difficulty. Admiral Michelier soon held a position of confidence and esteem among the American commanders. General Nogues qualified as an invaluable agent. But to the officer corps of the three armed services, particularly the higher grades of the Navy, as well as to pro-Axis civilian sympathizers, the situation was galling.

Circumstances surrounding the imprisonment of General Bethouart illustrated the prevailing attitudes. General Bethouart and his associates accepted the leadership of General Giraud in bringing about an active partnership between the French forces in North Africa and the Allies four days before General Nogues, Admiral Michelier, and their immediate subordinates adopted the same course under the leadership of Admiral Darlan. Darlan professed to have the authorization of Marshal Petain, but he also accepted General Giraud as his principal military commander in North Africa.

Bethouart should have occupied a like position of trust and honor in Morocco. Indeed, had all these men been politicians, Bethouart and his associates could have made incontestable claims to major rewards for being the first to act. But they were military men in an Army zealous to maintain its integrity, and Bethouart’s group had clearly broken the bonds of military discipline, even though acting under the highest sense of patriotic duty.

They had been “dissident.” In French military hands they were actually in danger of paying with their lives for anticipating the orders which their superiors were to issue four days later, after Darlan had taken the responsibility on his shoulders. General Nogues, who had believed Admiral Michelier rather than General Bethouart on the night of 7-8 November, initiated measures to bring Bethouart to trial, but General Patton insisted that “no action whatsoever would be taken against him except upon final approval by General Eisenhower.” As soon as Bethouart’s plight was made known through American channels to General Giraud and thence to General Eisenhower, the Allied commander in chief interceded on 15 November to request the immediate release not only of General Bethouart but of “any others now in prison for the same kind of reason.” On 17 November, Bethouart and Colonel Pierre Magnan, commander of the troops which had shielded him at Rabat on the night of the unsuccessful coup, were released and taken to Algiers by American airplane.

General Patton sought to prevent or to mitigate the punishment of all who were held in French custody for pro-Allied conduct before the surrender, and eventually to procure their release. Screening those who merited release as purely political prisoners from others was a process bound to take time, since it would be necessary to depend upon the counsel of reliable men who knew French Moroccan politics. With the invasion, an entirely new group of Americans was substituted for those who had previously served the interests of the United States in Morocco. Although Mr. Frederic P. Culbert was selected from the Office of Strategic Services representatives among the consular staff to be General Patton’s deputy adviser on civil affairs with broad authority, the staff as a whole was not used effectively to protect the pre-invasion friends of the Allies.

The Americans discouraged all attempts at reprisal during the period of released restraint following the French capitulation. Wherever it could be done with effect they publicly demonstrated support of exactly the same police and military agencies which had previously been in control. For an undue length of time pro-American French remained in custody, while those hostile to the Allies before the landings, followers of Pierre Laval, remained in positions of trust and power. The Frenchmen of authoritarian sympathies, some of them members of fascistic societies like the Service d’Ordre Legionnaire des Anciens Combattants and the Parti Populaire Française and others in less formal associations, seemed prepared even to assist an Axis counter-invasion. They propagandized against the Allies. Frenchmen of pro-Allied views, whether Giraudist or Gaullist, were the object of their surveillance and open hostility. Specific denunciations of these anti-American individuals to American civilian officials were of little or no avail, for their hands were tied by military control. The position which General Patton took was that “the anti-Darlan-Nogues group does not have the personnel nor is it in a position to control Morocco if given that mission.” General Patton’s conclusion may be subject to challenge but not to disproof, for the surviving evidence is partisan and inconclusive.

A sweeping shift of administration in French Morocco would have required the retirement of General Nogues from the residency. He had won the hostility of the anti-Vichy French before the American landings in Morocco. He could not expect it to diminish as a result of his conduct during the landings and the negotiations in Algiers which followed. His ambiguous behavior then excited distrust, and he was made to bear the major blame for the fighting and for the resulting losses. His initial choice was founded upon an erroneous military estimate by Admiral Michelier, and upon his wish to maintain the integrity of the French Army. His conduct of the operations was in obedience to General Juin’s standing orders and was intended to avert or delay German military intervention. He tried to avoid the evil consequences to France of an obvious and voluntary defection of French Morocco to the Allies in violation of France’s obligations to the Axis powers under the armistice, but he had no opportunity to arrange with the Americans any pseudo defense involving little damage to either side which might. mislead the enemy.

He was suspected of maintaining ties with Vichy and perhaps thus with the Germans even after 15 November. In general, he was the victim of the lack of forthrightness which characterized his political, as distinguished from his military, role. Successful control of French Morocco through the intricate structure of French supervision and native rule required qualifications not readily found anywhere and certainly not in the Western Task Force. For lack of a substitute, General Nogues was more necessary to the Americans than those who protested against his retention. General Patton became in effect a defender of General Nogues as an indispensable agent who could keep the native population in hand while the French in Morocco were in general kept friendly or neutral.

Early in December General Giraud visited French Morocco, where General Keyes was in command during General Patton’s absence on a trip to AFHQ in Algiers and to Tunisia. The military leader in the effort of French North Africa to gain liberation for the mother country was enthusiastically received by the populace. He made it possible for French enlisted men who had deserted to the Americans during the November fighting in Morocco to return to their units without punishment. Pro-American officers were, he promised, not to be neglected.

The Western Task Force After the Surrender

The situation facing the Western Task Force following the capitulation of the French was difficult. Any appearance of overwhelming superiority was superficial. The French might no longer challenge American strength, but, as indicated above, it remained to be seen how genuine their co-operation would be. Between the French and the natives, the imperialist relations of the protectorate rested upon the French military and the French police. Allied propaganda had encouraged among the Moslem and native Jewish population the hope of liberation from the French. Between Moslems and Jews endless animosities threatened to boil over unless firmly suppressed. In the native situation, therefore, was the basis for a dangerous diversion from complete concentration on the major military objectives of the Allies.

The French and the Spanish Governments shared the role of protectors over the realm of the Sultan of Morocco. The boundary between the two areas under their respective controls was one which the Spanish desired to see much farther south. Should the Spanish forces stationed north of the boundary succumb to the temptation to strike while the French were weakened, American forces would almost certainly become embroiled. If the Axis used Spanish bases for air or ground attacks upon the supply lines across northern Morocco, the Western Task Force would be required to join in countermeasures. Thus the force commanded by General Patton, barely sufficient for the amphibious assault, incompletely established on shore, dependent on subsequent increments of men and materiel to renew the power of attack, and intruded among a population of great political complexity at a distance of 4,000 miles from the United States and over 400 miles from Oran, felt obliged to move with circumspection, to co-operate rather than to command.

Western Task Force headquarters was established temporarily in Casablanca. To check on the situation at interior points various inspection trips were made. From the 47th Infantry regimental headquarters in Safi, officer patrols visited Mazagan, Mogador, and Marrakech, while from General Truscott’s headquarters in Port-Lyautey, another party made a trip through the Taza gap to Msoun, about 20 miles southeast of Taza, stopping at Petitjean, Meknes, and Fes, and returning through Rabat-Sale.

From Casablanca a patrol to Kasba Tadla confirmed the reports made from all such visits to the military and civilian leaders, that the French were well-disposed and ready to co-operate. Systematic air reconnaissance extended from 20 miles offshore to more than 100 miles inland, between Agadir and Guercif. Within this area, ground reconnaissance also covered the territory inland to the base of the Atlas Mountains, with a farther extension northeast of Fes.

Areas of special responsibility along the coast were assigned. The 47th Infantry Regiment remained in Safi to the end of November, and a detachment remained there even later. Casablanca and Fedala were linked under the protection of the 3rd Division, reinforced, less the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry. That unit, with the 2nd Armored Division, was stationed in the vicinity of Rabat-Sale. The Mehdia-Port-Lyautey area was occupied by the 1st Provisional Brigade ( Cavalry) , General Truscott’s command.

During the reorganization and redeployment of the Western Task Force, and other preparations for the future, the gigantic task of clearing the ports, establishing supply points, and unloading the succession of troops and cargo convoys was fulfilled. Native labor and civilian transport were utilized, the former thus being able to purchase the cotton cloth, tea, and rice which were otherwise unobtainable. Battle damage to Casablanca Harbor was repaired as rapidly as possible. The sunken ships and drydock, the shell-pocked and burned wharves, and the damaged cranes and railway sidings were put in order. Defense of the harbor there, as well as the ports at Safi and Fedala, was organized around 105-mm. howitzers, antiaircraft batteries, and smoke generators. Airfields were reconditioned and improved, and protected by additional antiaircraft batteries and other ground units. The railroad and highway routes to the east were surveyed. French guards protected the bridges and tunnels. To solve the problem of stepping up the capacity of the railroad, it was necessary to increase the rolling stock and to import coal for use by locomotives east of Fes on the portion not electrified.

[NOTE: Company C, 263rd Quartermaster Battalion, worked to clear and operate the port of Safi until sent to Oran, en route to Tunisia, on 12 February 1943.]

Military collaboration with the French proceeded steadily. French antiaircraft batteries were not only used to guard the Spanish Moroccan frontier and the routes to the east, but were also interspersed among American guns for the defense of Casablanca. French Army units were permitted to engage in training exercises and were taught the use of American weapons and eventually of American signal equipment.

Operation of the coastal defense batteries taken from the French Navy-controlled units was returned to Admiral Michelier’s men. The French gave ample warning of an expected tide of great height on 13 December, so that when· it came, tugs were able to recover American ships which had broken from their moorings. French army units began to move eastward into Algeria for service along the line of communications and eventually for use in Tunisia.

During the first month following the French surrender, the primary concern of the Western Task Force shifted from insuring the ability to hold the area and to deter aggressive Spanish action to preparing for prospective battles elsewhere against Axis forces. American air units, after a training period, either moved eastward as a group or else contributed planes to other units already in combat. Ground units were consolidated, as far as possible. A striking instance was the 229-mile march of the 47th Infantry Regiment from Safi to Port-Lyautey which began on 1 December. With elements brought over since the assault, the 9th Division would eventually assemble near Port-Lyautey all its units except the 39th Infantry, which had been part of the Eastern Assault Force, and which was to stay in eastern Algeria. Armored units of the 2nd Armored Division were concentrated east of Sale. The 3rd Division’s units were stationed near Fedala and Rabat, except for the 30th Infantry Regiment, which went to Guercif and Oujda to protect an airdrome and part of the line of communications of the Allied drive in Tunisia were reflected in the transfer by air to Bone and Blida of several antiaircraft batteries, and the prospective movement of others. Several French units, including the 7th Moroccan Tirailleurs Regiment, had already started for Tunisia. For those remaining in Morocco, the program was one of preparation by systematic training and field exercises.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (2-10); Oran and Algiers

World war Two: North Africa (2-8); Mehdia to Port-Lyautey, Landings

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World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls (1); Pacific Objective’s 1943-44

In November 1943 American forces successfully invaded the Gilbert Islands, which the Japanese had wrested from British control shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor almost two years earlier. Thus the United States initiated the great westward drive across the Central Pacific that would eventually bring Allied forces to the very doorstep of the Japanese homeland. This drive would constitute the northern or upper part of a two-pronged movement against the heart of Japanese military and economic power in the Pacific.

The lower prong would be represented by General Douglas MacArthur’s steady progress up the Solomon Islands, up the northern coast of New Guinea, and into the Philippine Islands. But it was to the Central Pacific route, westward from Hawaii through the myriad islands and atolls of Micronesia, that the American strategic planners had assigned the “main effort” in the war against Japan. Along this path U.S. naval, ground, and air forces under command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz were to begin a series of amphibious assaults of size and scope unparalleled in the history of oceanic warfare.

Prewar Plans

There was nothing new in the idea that the United States would have to seize strategic island bases in the Central Pacific in the event of a war against Japan. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s strategic planners in Washington had prepared a series of plans, designated the ORANGE plans, to provide for that contingency. All of these chose the Central Pacific as the main avenue of approach for a decisive move against the prospective enemy. The first ORANGE plan, approved by the Joint Army and Navy Board in 1924, conceived of an offensive war against Japan that would be essentially naval in character.

By cutting the Japanese Empire’s sea routes, and by air and naval operations, Japan, it was believed, could be isolated. The plan further provided that troops from the continental United States would be assigned to seize and hold islands in the Central Pacific, including the Marshall group, and that large bodies of troops would be dispatched to reinforce the Philippines.

Between 1925 and 1938 this original ORANGE plan was revised many times. In the final revision it was decided that the Philippines could be defended by their peacetime garrison plus whatever other local forces were available, without reinforcements from the United States. But none of the changes affected one basic aspect of the plan—U.S. naval forces would move westward through the islands of the Central Pacific to establish naval dominance in the western waters of that ocean.

The ORANGE plans had been prepared on the assumption that only the United States and Japan would be at war. By 1941 this assumption was no longer valid. The emergence of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis, the American decision to support Great Britain in her struggle against Germany and Italy, and the growing realization that the United States was likely to become involved in war against the Axis caused American and British officials to prepare tentative plans for combined action.

The last American plan made before 7 December 1941 was prepared on the assumption that the United States and Britain would be allied and at war with a combination of enemy powers and was designated RAINBOW 5. Although never formally approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was the plan put into effect at the outbreak of war between the United States and the Axis Powers. In the belief that Germany was the major enemy and would have to be defeated first, RAINBOW 5 declared the Atlantic-European theater to be the main area of operations. In the Pacific and the Far East the Allies would assume a role primarily defensive, although limited naval offensive measures were to be undertaken at the earliest possible moment.

Specifically, the U.S. Army was to help defend the Hawaiian and the Philippine Islands, and to help hold the entrance to Manila Bay. The U.S. Navy’s role in the Pacific was naturally more extensive. The Navy was to conduct raids, defend such American bases as Wake, Guam, Midway, and Samoa, “prepare to capture” the Japanese Mandated Islands and establish a fleet base at Truk, maintain the line of communications between the United States and the Philippines, and establish naval superiority in the western Pacific. Thus, with the assignment to the U.S. Navy of the task of seizing the Japanese Mandated Islands, including Truk, the role of the Central Pacific in the forthcoming war was reaffirmed.

Pacific Organization and Early Strategy

The success of Japan’s offensive moves in late 1941 and the first months of 1942 did not completely invalidate all Pacific provisions of RAINBOW 5, but it did postpone any attempt to carry out the offensive provisions in the early part of 1942.

By May 1942 the Japanese had seriously weakened the U.S. Pacific Fleet, had seized the Philippines, Wake, Guam, and the Gilberts, had captured Malaya, Burma, and the Netherlands Indies, and had installed themselves in the Bismarck Archipelago-New Guinea-Solomon’s area. They held an enormous perimeter of bases that included the Kurils, the Marianas, Wake, the Marshalls, Rabaul in New Britain, the Netherlands Indies, and Malaya, with outposts in the Gilberts, the Solomon’s, and New Guinea. They apparently expected the United States to grow war-weary launching attacks against these strong positions, and to give up the fight and agree to a negotiated peace.

But by mid-1942 the Japanese had overreached themselves. Confident after their first successes, they decided to capture positions in the Aleutians, the Fijis, Samoa, New Caledonia, and Midway, enlarge their holdings in New Guinea, and then to expand the main perimeter to include the newly won bases as well as the Gilberts. Seizure of Port Moresby in New Guinea and of the Fijis, Samoa, and New Caledonia would have cut the line of communications between the United States and Australia. Thus isolated, Australia could not be used as a base for Allied counteroffensives.

Frustrated in their attempt to take Port Moresby by the Allied Coral Sea victory in early May 1942, the Japanese turned to Midway and the Aleutians and met with disaster. Although they did obtain footholds in the Aleutians, their effort against Midway was a costly failure. In the Battle of Midway, 3-4 June 1942, the U.S. Pacific Fleet destroyed four large aircraft carriers plus hundreds of planes and many of their best-trained pilots. Thus crippled, the Japanese Combined Fleet was no longer capable of offensive action. The time had come for the Allies to seize the initiative. The groundwork had already been laid since the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), who had been assigned responsibility for the strategic direction of the war in the Pacific, had already organized the Pacific theater and undertaken measures to initiate at least limited offensives.

The Joint Chiefs on 30 March 1942, with the approval of President Roosevelt and the Allied governments concerned, had organized the Pacific theater into two great commands—the Southwest Pacific Area and the Pacific Ocean Areas.

 The Southwest Pacific Area, under General MacArthur, consisted principally of Australia, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Netherlands Indies, the Philippines, and adjacent waters. The Pacific Ocean Areas included nearly all the rest of the Pacific Ocean. It encompassed virtually everything south of the Bering Strait, west of continental United States, north of the South Pole, and east of the Southwest Pacific Area and China. The Pacific Ocean Areas was divided into three commands: the North Pacific, which stretched north of latitude 42° north; the South Pacific, which lay south of the equator and east of the Southwest Pacific; and the Central Pacific, lying between the equator and latitude 42° north. Major islands and groups in the Central Pacific were the Hawaiian Islands, Wake, part of the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Caroline’s, the Marianas, the Bonins, the Ryukyus, Formosa, and the Japanese home islands.5

Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, was Admiral Nimitz, who concurrently served as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet. By the terms of his orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nimitz commanded virtually all Allied forces in his areas. He directly commanded the Central and North Pacific Areas, but according to his instructions he appointed a subordinate as Commander, South Pacific Area.

After October 1942 this post was held by Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. Missions assigned Nimitz and MacArthur were practically the same. They were to hold bases essential to the security of the U.S.-Australia line of communications, support operations that would contain the Japanese, support the defense of North America, protect necessary sea and air communications, and prepare for major amphibious offensives.

The first offensive moves of the Allies in the Pacific were undertaken in accordance with the basic Allied strategy for the conduct of the war—Germany would be defeated first and, pending the defeat of the German forces, the Allies would defend in the Pacific. But it had long been agreed that the Commonwealth of Australia and the Dominion of New Zealand, valuable as integral economic and political units of the British Commonwealth of Nations and as bases for future operations, would not be allowed to fall to the enemy. It was therefore necessary that the Allies hold the British Pacific possessions and retain control of the vital lines of communications to them. In early 1942 a substantial number offerees were sent from the United States to Australia and the bases along the line of communications. Defense of that line was also a primary mission of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Thus, when that fleet thrashed the Japanese at Midway, the Joint Chiefs’ next move was clear. With the Japanese infiltrating southward from Rabaul through the Solomon’s and New Guinea toward the line of communications and Port Moresby, General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, and Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations, on 2 July 1942 ordered the South and Southwest Pacific forces to advance through the Solomon’s and New Guinea to seize Rabaul and remove the enemy threats. Forces of the two areas moved promptly to the attack, and in the lengthy Guadalcanal and Papua Campaigns, which dragged on until early 1943, succeeded in halting the enemy’s southward advance.

By February 1943 the armed forces of the two areas were still far from capturing Rabaul, but they had insured the safety of the line of communications between the United States and the British Pacific dominions. With the Japanese on the defensive, the supply lines fairly safe, and Allied air and surface strength on the increase, the Joint Chiefs of Staff could consider the possibility of further offensive operations in the Pacific, especially in the areas under Nimitz’ immediate command.

The Casablanca Conference

While the Guadalcanal and Papua Campaigns were slowly drawing to a close, American and British planners met once more to decide, among other things, a future course of operations for the Pacific theater. The meeting was convened in Casablanca, French Morocco, in January of 1943. In attendance were President Roosevelt with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill accompanied by the British Chiefs of Staff.

At Casablanca, although the British and Americans were agreed on such larger issues as the necessity for beating Germany first, there were some points of disagreement that had to be settled before the Allied program for 1943 could be determined. The British were generally reluctant to go immediately as far in the Pacific as the Americans desired.

The position taken by the American representatives was that, having seized the the initiative from Japan the previous August at Guadalcanal, it would be unwise to relinquish it and allow the Japanese to dig in too strongly or to mount a counteroffensive. Throughout the conference they continually stressed the importance of keeping constant pressure on Japan. The British, on the other hand, expressed their opposition to greater efforts in the Pacific at that time. They reminded their American colleagues of the extreme importance of beating Germany first, and in that connection of giving substantial aid to the Soviet Union. The Japanese, they suggested, should be contained by limited offensives until Germany fell.

The most articulate spokesman for the American position was Admiral King, who introduced the question of a Central Pacific offensive to the Combined Chiefs in the afternoon of 14 January. He began his discussion with an analysis of the strategic situation in the Pacific, where, he declared; the Allies were engaging the enemy on four fronts: the Alaska-Aleutians area, the Hawaii-Midway line, the South and Southwest Pacific Areas, and the China-Burma-India theater. After pointing out that the object of the Guadalcanal and Papuan operations was to secure the approaches to northeast Australia, and that Rabaul was the key to the situation there, he brought forward the problem of where to go after Rabaul was captured by the Allies.

The Philippine Islands, King advocated should certainly be a major objective, although he was not prepared at that time to rule out completely the possibility of driving through the Aleutians against the Japanese home islands. As between the East Indies and the Philippines, the latter was preferable since an attack on the Indies would be a frontal assault against a strong position, whereas the Philippines could be taken on the flank. Although King did not make the point explicitly, implicit in his analysis was the fact that seizure of the Philippines would cut off Japan from the vast riches of the Indies, especially oil, since the Philippines squarely blocked the sea routes between Japan and the Indies.

With the Philippines as a major objective, King argued, the next problem was the selection of a route of approach. He did not definitely commit himself on that point, though from his analysis it appears that he favored the Central Pacific. For years, he observed, the Naval War College had been studying the question of how to recapture the Philippines in the event they were taken by the enemy. Three routes of approach had been considered: an approach from the north to Luzon via the Aleutians; a southern route that was outflanked by enemy bases; and a direct route through the Central Pacific. The direct thrust, King declared, would necessitate “establishing a base in the northwestern Marshalls and then proceeding to Truk and the Marianas.” Later in the meeting he spoke strongly in favor of taking Truk and the Marianas. Both Admiral King and General Marshall re-emphasized the importance of keeping the Japanese under pressure by retaining the initiative, for, as King warned, there was always the danger that the Japanese might mass their remaining aircraft carriers for another great strike at either Midway or Samoa.

Three days later the American representatives at Casablanca submitted a more detailed proposal for immediate operations in the Pacific. Again arguing that it was essential that the Japanese be kept under “continual pressure sufficient in power and extent to absorb the disposable Japanese military effort,” they proposed that the following steps be taken:

  1. Seizure and consolidation of positions in the Solomon’s and in eastern New Guinea up to the Huon Peninsula, and of the New Britain-New Ireland area;
  2. Seizure of Kiska and Agattu in the Aleutians;
  3. Seizure of the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Caroline’s (including Truk) after the capture of Rabaul;
  4. Occupation of New Guinea as far as the Dutch border as an extension of the Truk operation; and
  5. Operations in Burma to keep China in the war and to intensify attacks by China-based planes against shipping.

Increases in Allied forces for the Pacific and Burma in 1943 would partly depend on what the Japanese did, but the reinforcements were planned: 250,000 air and ground troops, 500 planes, the larger portion of new U.S. warships, 1,250,000 tons of shipping, and reinforcements to the British Eastern Fleet for Burma.

Once more the British objected on the ground that Pacific operations might divert enough Allied strength to jeopardize the fight against Germany. Again both King and Marshall rose to defend the American position. To the British suggestion that the Allies confine their Pacific operations in 1943 to Rabaul and Burma alone, King replied that there were resources available to include the Marshalls as well. The month of May might find Rabaul in Allied hands, he argued, and since the Burma campaign would not begin until November, combat forces would remain idle in the interim unless they could be re-employed in the Marshalls. General Marshall was able to allay the British worries that Pacific offensives would cut into operations against Germany by proposing that the Gilberts-Marshalls-Caroline’s invasions be undertaken “with the resources available in the theater.” The British finally assented, and there were no more disagreements at Casablanca over Pacific strategy.

Thus, for their Pacific program for 1943, the Allies decided to “make the Aleutians as secure as may be,” to advance northwest from Samoa to protect the line of communications to Australia, and to mount diversionary operations against the Malay Barrier. They decided to advance directly west “as practicable” through the Central Pacific toward the line Truk-Guam, particularly against the Marshall Islands, in conjunction with operations against Rabaul, whose capture in 1943 was practically taken for granted. The advance through the Central Pacific would not be allowed to prejudice the recapture of Burma, nor would there by any northward advance from Rabaul toward Truk and Guam unless sufficient forces were available to complete the task and follow up.

As far as Pacific strategy was concerned, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had accomplished much at Casablanca. They had expounded in some detail the significance of Pacific operations to their British colleagues, and had secured approval of at least a start on the drive across the Central Pacific in 1943. The possibility of beginning the advance was of course closely connected with MacArthur’s and Halsey’s operations against Rabaul.

MacArthur’s Strategic Plans

At his headquarters in Brisbane, General MacArthur had been preparing for the recapture of Rabaul for some time, and by February 1943 had completed a detailed, comprehensive plan known as ELKTON. In addition, he and his staff were considering ways and means to accomplish the ultimate defeat of Japan. Looking far into the future, they concluded that the recapture of Rabaul would gain “important, but not decisive advantages” that would help future operations but would not adversely affect Japan’s war economy. In order to strike a great blow at the enemy’s capacity to wage war, MacArthur and his planners reasoned, Japan should be cut off from the Netherlands Indies with its great quantities of oil, tin, and rubber. If the Allies seized the Philippines and developed air and naval bases there, Japan could be denied access to the Indies. Thus far MacArthur’s conclusions agreed with those expressed by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca. But there was one major difference—the route of approach.

Whereas the Joint Chiefs had clearly intimated that the Philippines were to be approached through the Central Pacific, MacArthur concluded that a drive through the Marshalls and Caroline’s would have to be made without land-based air support, would be slow, would cost heavily in naval power and shipping, and would “require a re-orientation of front.” Since according to his reasoning the Central Pacific route was unwise, MacArthur desired that after he and Halsey had captured Rabaul, Southwest Pacific forces should advance west along the north coast of New Guinea and thence into Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Neutralization of the Palaus and seizure or neutralization of various islands in the Banda and Arafura Seas would protect the flanks of the advance. This long-range plan prepared by General MacArthur’s headquarters was designated RENO.

 In March 1943 representatives of the Central, South, and Southwest Pacific Areas convened in Washington to meet with the Joint Chiefs and Joint Staff Planners in a series of sessions known as the Pacific Military Conference. This conference paid only slight attention to the Central Pacific; its primary purpose was to decide what should be the next immediate steps in the South and Southwest Pacific theaters. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were not at this time apprised of MacArthur’s RENO plan, but they were given the full details of ELKTON.

 ELKTON contemplated a drive against Rabaul along two axes—through New Guinea and New Britain on the west and through the Solomon’s to New Ireland on the east—to culminate in a converging assault on Rabaul. But to execute ELKTON would have required 22 2/3 divisions and 45 groups of aircraft. The South and Southwest Pacific Areas together had a total of only 15 2/3 trained divisions and less than half enough aircraft. Some reinforcements could be provided, but the everlasting scarcity of troop transports and cargo ships prevented reinforcement on anything like the scale required by ELKTON. As a result, the Joint Chiefs decided not to try to take Rabaul in 1943. Cutting the objectives for 1943 in half, they ordered MacArthur and Halsey to take Woodlark Island and Kiriwina (Trobriand Islands) in the Solomon Sea, to seize the Lae-Salamaua-Finschhafen-Madang area of New Guinea, to capture western New Britain, and to drive through the Solomon’s to southern Bougainville.[NOTE GM-1616A]

[NOTE GM1-14: GHQ SWPA, ELKTON Plan for the Seizure and Occupation of the New Britain-New Ireland-New Guinea Area, 12 and 28 Feb 43 versions. A copy of the 12 February ELKTON is in OCMH files; a copy of the 28 February version is in G-3 files. For a more detailed treatment, see John Miller, jr., CARTWHEEL: The Reduction of Rabaul, a forthcoming volume in this series.]

[NOTE GM-1616A: GHQ SWPA, ELKTON Plan for the Seizure and Occupation of the New Britain-New Ireland-New Guinea Area, 28 Feb 43; Notes on Pacific Conf Held in March 1943, DRB AGO; JCS 238/5/D, 28 Mar 43, Directive: Plan for Opns for Seizure of the Solomon Islands-New Guinea-New Britain-New Ireland Area. In the end, Rabaul was never assaulted, but was neutralized by air action. For a fuller discussion of these and related points see Miller, CARTWHEEL.]

 Thus, the Pacific Military Conference of March settled for the time being the immediate future in MacArthur’s and Halsey’s theaters of operation. By curtailing the list of objectives to be captured in 1943, the conference also indirectly gave impetus to the Central Pacific drive since any addition to the total shipping, manpower, and equipment that might be made available to the Pacific in the future would not have to be sent to bolster the capture of Rabaul. Instead, it could be assigned to Nimitz’ Central Pacific theater. It remained for the Combined Chiefs of Staff to come to a final decision at their next meeting in respect to forthcoming operations in the Central Pacific and to determine which of the two theaters, MacArthur’s or Nimitz’, should be allocated priority in the drive against Japan.

The Washington Conference and the Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan

In May 1943 President Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff met once more with Prime Minister Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff, this time in Washington. The purpose of the Washington conference, which is generally known by its code name TRIDENT, was to re-examine Allied strategy for 1943 in the light of changes in the situation since the meeting at Casablanca. Little had developed in the Pacific since early February, and the conference concerned itself primarily with the European bomber offensive, the cross-Channel attack, possible operations after the seizure of Sicily, and the Burma-China-India theater. But the conference was called upon to consider a tentative plan for the war in the Pacific drawn up after Casablanca by the highest American strategists.

This plan, prepared by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and their subordinate committees and submitted to the Washington conference on 20 May 1943, was entitled “The Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan.”Strategic Plan” was actually a misnomer. It was not a plan according to strict military definition, for it gave no estimates of enemy strength and dispositions, did not mention the types and numbers of Allied forces that would be required to accomplish the missions it described, said nothing about command or commanders, and did not establish time schedules. Nevertheless, although more of a set of ideas than a plan, the “Strategic Plan” became the cornerstone of Pacific strategy for the remainder of 1943 and for 1944. Furthermore, it diverged widely from MacArthur’s strategic concepts as expressed in RENO.

The plan as it stood in May 1943 involved operations by China, Great Britain, and the United States. It also apparently encompassed action by the Pacific dominions of the British Commonwealth of Nations, although these were not mentioned by name.

The ultimate objective of all operations was naturally the unconditional surrender of Japan. It was then thought that securing unconditional surrender might require an Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, although the U.S. Chiefs of Staff and their subordinates agreed that control of the sea, especially of the western Pacific, might bring about unconditional surrender without invasion, and even without an air offensive. If invasion proved necessary, it could not be successful unless the Japanese will to resist had been seriously weakened.

Undermining the enemy’s powers of resistance and his desire to keep fighting by a large, sustained air offensive against the home islands was regarded as the best method. The possibility of employing air bases in the Kuril Islands, Formosa, and Siberia to mount the offensive was discussed, but it was agreed that China offered the best sites. (The Marianas were not mentioned as a possible base for B-29’s, whose capabilities had been briefly discussed at Casablanca) China would thus have to be maintained, and United States and British forces would need to fight their way to China in order to secure a good port, preferably Hong Kong.

The two Allies would, according to the plan, get to China by three general routes: through Burma; through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea to Hong Kong from the west; and from the east across the Pacific and through the Celebes Sea to Hong Kong. The British, assisted by the Americans and Chinese, would recapture Burma, and would make the drive through the Strait of Malacca to Hong Kong by a series of amphibious operations. The Chinese would help capture Hong Kong and with American aid would seize and defend the necessary air base sites. Meanwhile, United States forces would be driving through the Celebes Sea to Hong Kong. Then China, Great Britain, the United States, and apparently the Pacific dominions would join forces in a grand air bombardment of Japan. Nothing was said about the invasion of Japan beyond the statement that it might be necessary. Although exact timing was not discussed, it was then generally thought that the final advances would not be undertaken before the fall of Germany, and might last until 1948.

The next problem dealt with by the plan was that of the selection of the route and methods by which U.S. forces would approach Hong Kong from the east. Here was one of the basic strategic decisions of the Pacific war. United States forces, it was decided, were to advance westward from Pearl Harbor through the Central Pacific, and through the South and Southwest Pacific Areas to open a line of communications to the Celebes Sea, recapture the Philippine Islands, secure control of the northern part of the South China Sea, and join in the descent upon Hong Kong. The main effort in the westward advance would be made in the Central Pacific, a subsidiary effort through the South and Southwest Pacific. This choice of the Central Pacific as the most advantageous route of advance was dictated by several considerations. It was much shorter and less roundabout than the southern route and would not require as many ships, troops, and supplies.

It was far more healthful than the pest-ridden jungles of the Solomon’s and New Guinea. Through the Central Pacific, the Allies could strike the enemy’s most vulnerable flank and isolate Japan from her overseas empire. Furthermore, if Allied fleets destroyed or contained the enemy fleet, they could then strike directly from the Pacific against the Japanese home islands, without relying exclusively on aerial bombardment from fields in China.

The Japanese could deploy only limited air and ground forces in the islands and atolls of the Central Pacific, whereas on the southern route only the availability of troops, planes, and ships would limit the size of the Japanese forces. The Allies, on the other hand, were under no such handicap because of their superiority in carrier-based air power. In the absence of land-based aircraft, carrier-based planes could support amphibious operations against island fortresses.

A successful drive through the Central Pacific would outflank the Japanese in New Guinea, whereas operations along the northern New Guinea coast would neither eject them from nor outflank them in the Central Pacific, and the Japanese would retain relative freedom of naval maneuver. And, as Admiral King had pointed out at Casablanca, an Allied drive exclusively along the southern route would expose flanks and rear to enemy attacks. Whereas an attack through New Guinea into the Philippines or the Indies would be a head-on push against large islands containing positions closely arranged in depth, one directed through the Central Pacific would strike at vulnerable positions separated from one another by vast ocean reaches, and thus not quite so well placed to support one another. Seizure of the Marshalls and Caroline’s would give the Allies control of much of the Pacific and place them in position to isolate Japan from the Philippines-Indies salient, perhaps by the seizure of Formosa. Further, the great American naval shipbuilding program would be largely wasted if the southern route were used, and certainly the U.S. Pacific Fleet could best be used in long-range offensives.

But if all these factors favored the Central Pacific as the area where the “main effort” against Japan should be launched, other considerations argued for continuing the South-Southwest drive at least as a secondary effort in support of the principal offensive. In the first place, it was believed that Australia would doubtless object to a redirection of all offensive effort to the Central Pacific. Besides, the oil fields of the Vogelkop Peninsula of New Guinea, then in Japanese hands, might be of some use to the Allies. Furthermore, Allied forces in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas were already in close contact with the Japanese, and shifting them all to the Central Pacific would waste time and shipping. Finally, and most important, was the fact that twin drives along the central and southern axes would provide more opportunities for mutual support, and by preventing the Japanese from being able to guess the time and place of forthcoming advances would keep them strategically off balance. For these reasons, then, American strategic planners decided to make the twin drives, with the main effort through the Central Pacific.

On 20 May the “Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan” was submitted to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It was accepted as a “basis for combined study and elaboration of future plans.” Next day Admiral King spoke to the Combined Chiefs at some length to explain the American proposals. He reverted to many of the statements he and Marshall had made at Casablanca regarding routes across the Pacific, the importance of the various Allied lines of communications, and the necessity for maintaining constant pressure on the Japanese communication lines and recapturing the Philippines. In pursuit of these goals, Rabaul, Truk, and the Marianas were important intermediate objectives. The Marianas, which King stated were an important base on the Japanese lines of communications, he regarded as a key to success.

Two days later the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved a lengthy paper containing the U.S. Joint Chiefs’ proposals for Allied objectives in the Pacific and Far East in 1943 and 1944. This paper, based on the “Strategic Plan,” repeated previous arguments and provided estimates of forces required and forces actually available for particular operations.

Offensives in 1943 and 1944 should aim at the following:

  1. Conduct of air operations in and from China;
  2. Conduct of operations in Burma designed to increase the movement of supplies to China;
  3. Ejection of the Japanese from the Aleutians;
  4. Seizure of the Marshalls and Caroline’s;
  5. Seizure of the Solomon’s, the Bismarck Archipelago, and enemy-held New Guinea; and
  6. Intensification of operations against the Japanese lines of communications.

It was estimated that capture of the Bismarck Archipelago, which would secure the line of communications to Australia and help provide access to the Celebes Sea, would require perhaps seven divisions of which five would be amphibious units. If Rabaul were effectively neutralized by air bombardment, perhaps only five—three amphibious—would be needed. Assuming that Allied forces could capture western New Britain and southern Bougainville by December 1943, the Joint Chiefs concluded that the Bismarck Archipelago operations would not be completed before April 1944.

Seizure of the Marshalls, it was agreed, was essential to an extension of the line of communications to the Celebes Sea, and would also shorten and secure the routes to Australia. From the Marshalls, land-based aircraft could help support naval surface operations against the enemy’s communication lines, and there was always the possibility that an Allied push into the Marshalls would force the Japanese fleet to come out fighting. The Marshalls operation would require two reinforced amphibious divisions, four heavy bombardment and two fighter groups of land-based planes, and aircraft from four standard and four auxiliary aircraft carriers, in addition to four battleships, three more auxiliary carriers, twelve cruisers, sixty-three destroyers, twenty-four attack transports, forty-four tank landing ships (LST’s), plus landing craft. Garrison forces would include one reinforced division, 10 defense battalions, 545 planes, and 18 motor torpedo boats. The entire operation, from the initial invasion to the time the assault troops were withdrawn and readied for the invasion of the Caroline’s, would last six and three-fourths months. Capture of the Caroline’s would be a much larger affair. Possession of this enormous string of atolls would help give the Allies control of the Central Pacific, provide them with a major fleet base at Truk, and put them in position to push on to the southwest or to threaten the Japanese archipelago directly. Truk and Ponape, as well as various other atolls, would have to be captured; air raids against Guam and Saipan in the Marianas would be necessary. It was agreed that the Caroline’s should be approached through the Marshalls even if Rabaul were in Allied hands.

No specific time limit was set, but the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed that the proposed Caroline’s campaign would be lengthy. And it would require, they estimated, 3 reinforced amphibious divisions, 2 heavy bomber groups, 10 carriers of the Enterprise and Essex classes, 7 auxiliary carriers, 4 modern battleships, 9 old battleships, 31 cruisers, 108 destroyers, 20 submarines, 45 attack transports, 15 attack cargo ships, 6 LSD’s (landing ships, dock), 3 headquarters ships (AGC’s), and miscellaneous auxiliaries. To garrison the islands would take two reinforced divisions and three defense battalions, plus aircraft.

Controlling factors would include amphibious equipment and availability of divisions with amphibious training. There were then two Marine divisions (the 1st and 2nd, in the Southwest and South Pacific Areas, respectively) that were ready to go, with the 3rd Marine Division in the South Pacific supposed to be ready for combat by 15 July. The 4th Marine Division in California was expected to complete its training before the end of the year. Since transferring divisions from the South and Southwest Pacific to the Central Pacific would take many ships that were urgently needed elsewhere, it was agreed that two more Marine divisions and two more Army amphibious divisions were required in the Pacific.

As far as naval forces were concerned, the picture was bright. The huge fleet could be provided, the Combined Chiefs asserted, and they concluded that the forces listed would be sufficient to carry or simultaneous operations in the Central and South Pacific Areas in 1943 and 1944.

The final resolutions of the conference, as approved by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, established the Allied objectives for the remainder of 1943 and part of 1944, and allotted certain forces for reaching those objectives. All decisions reached at Casablanca that did not square with the Washington resolutions were canceled. The Americans and British restated their determination to force the unconditional surrender of the Axis at the earliest possible date. They decided to “maintain and extend unremitting pressure” on Japan to reduce her war-making power and to gain new bases with the expectation that Britain, the United States, and all Allied Pacific powers (including the Soviet Union if possible) would direct all their resources to force the surrender of Japan soon after Germany’s defeat.

The program for the Pacific and Far East was ambitious and complicated. Using as a basis the U.S. “Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan,” the Combined Staff Planners were to prepare an “appreciation leading to a plan for the defeat of Japan,” including an estimate of the necessary forces. Recapture of Burma in 1943 was considered impossible, but preliminary operations were to be started, air operations intensified, and the flow of supplies to China augmented.

In the Pacific, the objectives recommended by the Joint Chiefs—ejection of the Japanese from the Aleutians, seizure of the Marshalls and Caroline’s, seizure of the Solomon’s, Bismarck Archipelago, and Japanese-held New Guinea, and intensification of operations against the Japanese lines of communication—were all accepted. Unlike Casablanca, the Washington decisions included estimates offerees required, concluding on the cheering note that the Allies had enough of everything, granted that the rate of losses, especially in shipping, did not markedly increase.

By 1 January 1944, according to existing plans, one Marine and three Army divisions would be in the Central Pacific; the South Pacific would have two Marine, five U.S. Army, and one New Zealand divisions; the Southwest Pacific, four U.S. Army infantry, one U.S. Army airborne, one Marine, and eleven Australian Army divisions, of which three would be available for offensive operations. According to the Joint Chiefs’ estimates of 12 May two more divisions were thus needed for the Marshalls, two more for the Caroline’s, and three additional for New Guinea.

Thus the Washington conference of May 1943, although not primarily concerned with Pacific strategy, made important decisions regarding the conduct of the Pacific war. By approving in a general way the “Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan,” it set the pattern of strategy for the duration of the war against Japan. By authorizing the drive through the Marshalls and Caroline’s and approving allocation of the required forces, it determined the course of Admiral Nimitz’ operations for about a year.

With the selection of the classic Central Pacific route, the Joint Chiefs now faced the tasks of deciding on exact objectives and of picking the precise units for the forthcoming drive across the Pacific. In May 1943, while the Washington conference was under way, naval forces from Nimitz’ command and the 7th Infantry Division from the Western Defense Command recaptured Attu. The Japanese evacuated Kiska shortly before the landing of a joint U.S.-Canadian force there in August. The Aleutians were thus free of Japanese.

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshalls (2); Targets and Tactical Planning


World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Battle of Java Sea

The diminution of the ABDA naval forces was caused by more than battle damage; ironically, there was then a fuel shortage in Java’s ports. Java had large oil deposits, but not in the quantity that Borneo and Sumatra did. It did have large storage facilities, but these were inland, and the Japanese who operated the oil facilities at the ports refused to work after the Japanese air raids began. Oil, then, was not readily available to warships needing to refuel. Likewise, munitions were running low; the destroyer tender Black Hawk issued her last torpedoes on 21 February, which meant that the destroyers Pillsbury and Parrott were eliminated from the ABDA naval force, since they had no torpedoes in their magazines.

The repair facilities in Java, which had always been inadequate for large naval forces, also had suffered from the bombing. Since such facilities could not accomplish necessary repair and overhaul, the number of warships available and ready for action was further diminished. The Stewart, which was damaged in the Battle of Badung Strait, was placed in dry-dock at Surabaja, only to have the dry-dock to collapse. The light cruiser Tromp, having been hit eleven times on her bridge and control tower in the Battle of Badung Strait, had to be sent to Australia for repairs, because there were no facilities in Java which were not already in use. The destroyer Banckert was knocked out of the war, severely damaged by a bombing raid on Surbaja on 24 February. The destroyer Whipple had collided with the De Ruyter and was inoperative; she was temporarily given a “soft’ bow but was still unfit for inclusion in the Combined Fleet. The destroyer Edsall had been damaged when depth charges were incorrectly set and exploded too near her stern. She too, could perform only limited escort duty. The Marblehead could not be repaired in Java and was sent to Ceylon. The Black Hawk was sent to Australia, escorted by the destroyers Bulmer and Barker, which were in a sorry state of disrepair, with their torpedo supplies almost exhausted.

Even among those left in the ABDA force, the heavy cruiser Houston’s after turret were still inoperable, although her forward guns were still working. Indeed all the ships left to Admiral Doorman were in need of overhaul; the fore that was to face Japan in a last effort to stop the invasion of east Java was simply inadequate. So desperate was the situation that General Wavell, after consultation with Washington, dissolved ABDA Command on 25 February 1942 and placed the defense of Java under the operational command of Admiral Helfrich. All Army, naval and air forces were now commanded by Dutch officers.

In contrast, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, with the riches prize now locked in, prepared a massive assault with both army and navy units. Their plan called for three landings on the western end of Java, in Sunda Strait–at Bantam Bay, Merak, and Eretenwetan–for the capture of the capital of Batavia. An eastern wing was to land at Kragan, 100 miles west of Surabaja. Preliminary to the landing, Bawean Island, 80 miles north of Surabaja, was to be invaded to set up a radio station.

Two covering forces hovered south of Java. These were Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Southern Force, Main Body, and Admiral Nagumo’s First Mobile Fleet, Carrier Strike Force, the latter still constituted as it had been for the Pearl harbor raid. They were so placed as to cut off Australia from Java and India. Nagumo’s planes thus interdicted and sank the seaplane tender Langley, with thirty-two desperately needed P-40’s near Tjilatjap.

Java was important to the Japanese, for it had considerable oil deposits and it also had a number of important refineries. The island, the most densely populated region in the world (50 million inhabitants) was the administrative, industrial, and vital working center for the 3,000-mile-long chain of the Netherlands East Indies. It was the heart of the Dutch possessions in the South Seas.

The responsibility for the capture of Surabaja was given to the Imperial Japanese Army’s 48th Division, which had been fighting in the Philippines. It was brought to Jolo and embarked on transports, sailing on 19 February as the First Escort Force. The convoy put in at Balikpapan to take on the 56th Regiment (without the detachment at Bandjarmasiin), and sailed again on 23 February. On 25 February, it was joined by the Second Escort Force, led by the Jintsu (light cruiser) and her nine destroyers.

For the invasion of Batavia in the west, the Japanese Army combined the headquarters of the 16th Army, 2nd Division , and the 230th Regiment of the 38th Division. The convoy of fifty-six transports left Camranh Bay on 18 February. On the first leg of it’s journey, this Third Escort Force was screened by the Natori (light cruiser) and her eight destroyers. As it neared it’s three beachheads, it was further backed up by the West Support Force of four cruisers and three destroyers, the Yura and her eight destroyers, and by the light carrier Ryujio and seaplane tenders Chitose and Mizuho.

ABDA Command knew of the concentration of ships at Jolo and received correct information on 24 February that several invasion armadas were headed south. It had guessed correctly that the invasion would be a two-pronged one. There was little that could be done about it, beside awaiting the appearance of Japanese ships and attacking them as the situation developed. AbDA naval forces had been under constant attack by land-based planes, from the east, north, and west, it’s retaliatory force was thus being reduced daily. Nevertheless, ABDA Command planned to use it’s remaining bombers on the first warships that appeared, and then to throw its’ combined Strike Fleet at the convoy.

It was the Eastern Force that appeared first, when destroyers from the First Escort Force backed the occupation of Bwean Island on 25 February. At once Admiral Helfrich commander-in-chief of all naval forces in Java, ordered Admiral Doorman to concentrate his naval forces at Surabaja, thus bring in the heavy cruiser Exeter, the light cruiser Perth, and the destroyers Jupiter, Electra and Encounter from Batavia. (the light cruiser Hobart was also in Batavia, but was low on fuel, because the tanker that could have refueled her was put out of action by an air raid on the morning of 25 February.) Admiral Doorman did not await the arrival of the ships from Batavia, however. On 25 February, he used this ships at Surabaja in a dusk-to-dawn sweep along the coast westward toward Madura, hoping to intercept transports. He was joined by the Batavian contingent upon his return to Surabaja. By then reports of large convoys, headed for both east and west Java, were coming in. Doorman ordered the remaining ships at Batavia–the Australian light cruiser Hobart, two old Royal Navy light cruisers, the Dragon and the Scout, and the Dutch destroyer Evertsen–all now Mobil, to intercept a Japanese convoy, reported to be nearing Muntok. They sortied at 2200, back were back in port by 0100hrs on 26 February.

On 27 February, the same force was ordered to make another sweep to the north from Batavia; if no enemy was sighted by 0430 on 28 February, the force was to escape through the Sunda Strait to the British naval base at Trincomalee, Ceylon. All but the Dutch destroyer Evertsen went to Ceylon. The Evertsen, however lost contact with her siter ships, because of a squall. She then tried to join the Houston and Perth, which were in action at Bantam Bay. Engaged in a fire fight with the destroyers Murakumo and Shirakumo, she received hits, caught fire and was beached.

The Second Escort Fleet, leaving the armada bound for Kragan, was disorganized as it neared Java. Lieutenant Commander Tameichi Hara (later to be captain), skipper of the destroyer Amastukaze, felt that Admiral Yamamoto, who was convinced that air power in Java had been eliminated, was unwise in sending the Carrier Strike Force to make a raid in to the Indian Ocean , while cancelling air cover from land-based planes. “This audacity resulted in jeopardizing the operation of at least the convoy I escorted.”

The convoy of forty-0ne transports was disposed in two columns, sailing slowly at 10 knots and zigzagging in what Hara thought was a disgraceful manner. Many of the transports were requisitioned merchant ships, whose captains were inexperienced in this kind of operation. The convoy straggled over a length of 20 miles. At its head were four minesweeper, in line abreast at 3,300 yards, followed by three destroyers with a similar spacing. Behind this double advance line came the light cruiser Naka with a small patrol ship on either side. The middle section of he transports had one destroyer on each side. Much father away to port came the light cruiser Jintsu with the four destroyers of Destroyer Division 16 ( of which the Amatsukaze was a part). The eastern Region Support Force of the heavy cruisers Nachie and Haguro was 200 miles astern.

Hara’s dears might well have been realized it the Dutch had had more planes, or if Admiral Doorman had attacked the convoy when its exact position had been given to him, at 1357 on 27 February. A PBY had attacked the Amatsukaze at 0600 on the 26th February, its bomb dropping, however 300 yards ahead of the destroyer. A few fighter planes flying from Balikpapan were giving afternoon cover for the Japanese ships that day. At 1748, two American b-17’s flying from Malang broke through a low ceiling, this time dropping six 500-lb bombs. The bombs were poorly aimed , however; four hit about 1,000 yards from the Amatsukaze and two about 500 yards from the Hatsukaze.

Admiral Doorman’s strike force did not make an immediate assault on the reported invasion fleet-probably out of weariness and fear of the enemy planes, rather than a command indecision. His fleet had spent the night of 26 February o a searching sweep that took him to Bawean Island shortly before the Japanese occupied it. Luck was against Doorman, for the Bawean Island occupation force had only a light naval escort. He turned back toward Surabaja at 0900 on 27 February. Although Admiral Helfrich had asked him to immediately attack convoys now being constantly reported by air reconnaissance, Doorman nevertheless returned to Surabaja at about 1400. But again Helfrich ordered him to turn and fight, so he once more reversed course to seek the enemy.

A scout plane from Balikpapan had reported the morning movement of Doorman’s force. Its proximity to the advance echelons of the eastern convoy now began to alarm the Japanese naval command. The Nachi catapulted a plane which was to keep Doorman’s force in sight, and both heavy cruisers, the Nachi and Haguro, with the destroyers Ikazuchi and Abebono, went to top speed in order to be in a position when Admiral Doorman finally made his sortie from outer Surabaja harbor toward the convoy. The Battle of the Java Sea was about to begin.

FIRST PHASE: 1525-1650—-27 February

The Japanese were not caught by surprise, for the Nachi’s scout plane had been radioing accurate ships’ positions. Doorman’s strike force had its cruiser in column led by the light cruiser De Ruyter (flagships), followed by the heavy cruisers Exeter and Houston( the latter could fire only her forward turrets), and the light cruiser Perth and Java. On the columns port beam were the two Dutch destroyers Witte de With and Kortenauer.

On the port quarter of the cruiser column came the U.S. destroyers John D. Edwards, Alden, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones. (the Pope was in Surabaja harbor but could not catch up with Doorman’s force) Three miles from the main columns starboard bow were the English destroyers Electra, Jupiter and Encounter. The group set a course northwest by west almost crossing, at first, the Japanese convoys column’s escorts heading south.

The Japanese had, in column, the light cruiser Jintsu (flagship Destroyer Squadron 2) with four destroyers: the Yukikaze (with Rear Admiral Tanaka on board) and the Tokitsukaze, Amastsukaze, and Hatsukaze. These ships had been sailing northwest, but on sighting Doorman’s force they turned toward it, and headed due south, still in single column. The time was 1521. The Jintsu’s group maintained this course for nine minutes, until, again in column, it turned due west for nine more minutes, paralleling Doorman at distance of 30,500yards.

Coming up fast, on a southerly course, were the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro, screened on their port side by the destroyers Ushio, Sazanami, Yamakaze and Kawakaze. At 1525 they were still some 13, 000 yards north of the Jintsu’s destroyers. As they gained ground, they, too swung westward but were 10,000 yards north of Destroyer Squadron 2, which was making a deep south-to-west loop. Japanese heavy cruisers fired their first salvos at Houston and the Exeter at 1547, and kept up their fire until 1650.

Another 13,000 yards to the west, and nearly parallel to the heavy cruisers, a third column was sailing south preparing for battle : Destroyer Squadron 4, with the light cruiser Naka and the destoryers Asagumo, Minegumo, Murasame, Samidare, Harukaze and Yurdachi. They went the farthest south of the three groups, not turning south-west till 1557. Thus the three separate groups of ships were roughly parallel to Doorman’s column.

At this point the Japanese began using their favorite weapons-the “ long lance“, their 24-inch torpedoes, which because they were oxygen propelled, made almost no wake. Naka and he destroyers made torpedo launches at 1603, 1610 and 1615, at distances of between 13,000 and 15, 000 yards. They also involved in afire fight witht eh outranged British destroyers Electra , Jupiter and Encounter, and with Doorman’s cruisers, no real damaged was suffered on either side.

The Haguro launched either torpedoes at 1622 at 12-1/2 miles. Meanwhile the Jintsu with her destroyers made a sagging loop, from south to west, and then fired at the De Ruyter at 1545. He column received return fire from the British destroyers Electra, Jupiter, and Encounter., but missed the mark. The Jintsu’s ships made smoke at 1600 and continued west.

At 1623 the De Ruyter took a hit in an auxiliary engine room, but the 8-inch shell failed to explode. The first real damage occurred at 1638, when the Nachi scored a direct hit on the Exeter, setting her afire. The rest of the column simultaneously turned ninety degrees, so that all ships ended up in a line of abreast. A Japanese torpedo struck the destroyer Kortanaer, which blew up and sank immediately at 1640. (time span between 1622 launch and the distance to be covered suggests that the torpedo came from the Haguro)

The strike force was now in disarray, with the Exeter on fire and destroyer gone, so the force turned south, away from the Japanese transports. The three Japanese groups, having blocked the course to the west, then turned south toward Java at 1640, with the cruisers continuing their fire. The strike force was being turned back toward Surabaja.

During this phase the Japanese heavy cruisers fired 1,271 rounds of 8-inch shells, the Jintsu and Naka fired 171 rounds of 5-1/2-inch shells and 39 torpedoes were launched by the Japanese ships. The American destroyers, on the disengagement side of the battle line, had not entered the fray. Because the distances were so great, neither side distinguished itself in marksmanship. The Japanese, however, prevented Doorman from attacking the transports.


At 1650, Doorman’s strike force was in a state of considerable confusion, which was compounded by the poor communication between ships. When ABDA was in existence, a French/English code book had been published, but for some reason, it was never issued to the ships of Navy ABDA. On board the De Ruyter and English officer could relay Doorman’s Dutch orders to the English Exeter, which could then relay them to the officers of the other English speaking ships. But when the Exeter was hit, and her communications room was destroyed, orders could not be flashed to the other English-speaking ships by blinker lights or semaphones, because those ships did not have the code book.

The Exeter, still in flames, headed on a nearly straight course steaming southeast by south before 1700 she had become the outermost ship on the port side of the force. As she slowly pursued this course, the four American destroyers cut her wake and formed a screen for the main column of cruisers. Farther south, the Perth and Java turned ninety degrees to the west, and then, having arranged themselves in column, reversed their course. The Houston and De Ruyter, after making a complete circle, joined the Perth and Java thus forming a four-ship column, which sailed southeast by south. Gradually some order had been restored, two separate groups had emerged. The port group consisted of the limping Exeter, and the Witte With, Jupiter, Encounter, and Electra, acting as a screen on the Exeter’s starboard side. Ten thousand yards ahead and some 6,000 yards to the starboard side of the Exeter group’s course were the De Ruyter, Perth, Houston and Java, in column, screened to port by the four American destroyers, Both columns continued sailing southeast by south , until 1713.

The three group’s of Japanese ships were in pursuit, sweeping in along paralleling arc from south to southeast, with the tow heavy cruisers, the Nachi and Haguro, making the most extensive swing to the east. All three groups had set their courses so that they would intersect the Allied columns. This was a phase of maneuver, and there was no firing of torpedo launching by either side until 1715.

When the battle began again, the Haguro and the Nachi were farthest to the north, crossing Doorman’s “T” from the rear. Five to six thousand yards to the southeast were the Jintsu‘s eight destroyers, in two columns of four, about 2,000 yards apart. The Jintsu herself was on the starboard side of the two columns, equally distant from the Naka and her six destroyers.

At 1715, the Haguro and Nachi began firing again at the De Ruyter’s column, and at 1718 the Nachi launched torpedoes at the Exeter’s column. The Allies did not return fire, but the De Ruyter’s column at once turned hard to port toward the transports, to avoid the torpedoes. Then the Naka’s Destroyer Squadron 4 launched twenty-four torpedoes at a range of 21,000 yards; all missed. The Naka’s destroyers had another engagement with the Exeter and her screen, at 18,000 yards. The Houston, now in a position to use her undamaged forward turrets, returned the Naka’s fire. The Combined Strike Force, however, was headed for new trouble, for its two groups were on a collision course when the De Ruyter’s column turned northeast to ward the Exeter’s column, which was still southbound. A second melee, with ships falling out of formation, was in the making. Furthermore, the force was being squeezed together form the north and the west, as the Japanese began to sense Doorman’s predicament. Read Admiral Takeo Takagi, commander-in-chief of the Eastern Support Force, ordered the transports to reverse course and head again for their beachheads.

THIRD PHASE: 1720-1750

A new Japanese attack was forming up. The heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro continued east at a distance of about 19,000 years from Doorman’s force, which after its unavoidable confusion, had gathered itself and started south again. The two heavy cruisers kept up a long-distance barrage from their twenty 8-inch guns, and at 1724, the launched more torpedoes. Finally at 1726 they reversed course and head southwest by west, ceasing fire. About 12,000 yards northwest of the reconstructed Exeter column, the Jintsu and her eight destroyers, steaming southeast by east, were readying a torpedo attack against the Exeter group. South and slightly west of the Jintsu, the Naka was forming up her destroyers into two columns (of four and two) on her starboard quarter, also to attack the crippled Exeter.

On the Allied side, the Exeter was screened to starboard by destroyers Jupiter, Witte de With, Encounter, and Electra. The group moved slowly, since the Exeter could only make five knots. The De Ruyter column, now ahead of the Exeter and screened on its port side by the four American destroyers, had set a northeasterly course, at right angles to the Exeter.

By 1720, visibility at the battle scene was becoming rather poor. During the previous half hour, the Allied columns and been making smoke, which was added to by the Exeter’s fires. This was to the Allied ship’s advantage, for they could not see the Nachi and Haguro as well, and at times the other two Japanese groups would also be obscured. Meanwhile, the Japanese fleet had planes from the Nachi, Jintsu and the Naka marking Doorman’s position and spotting the salvos of their own ships.

The Jintsu’s advancing destroyers released their torpedoes at 15,000, from 1726 , then reserved course, streaming to the northwest . The Jintsu fired a torpedo salvo at 1728 and also reserved course. The Naka fired torpedoes at 1720 at 18,500 yards made smoke, and reversed course to almost due west. . Her column of four destroyers closed under 10,000 yards, launched their torpedoes, and reserved course, to ward Naka. For some reason, the other two ships in the Naka’s group, the Asagumo an d Minegumo, kept closing and did not launch until they were only 6,5000 yards from their targets. No Japanese explanation for these two-destroyers closer-range charge has been found; perhaps it was sort of banzai charge.

In the meantime, the British destroyers Encounter and Electra had seen the danger of a torpedo attack and, leaving the Exeter group, they headed due south to counter the torpedo attack. The two ships looped to the west, eventually heading to the northeast. The Encounter engaged the Minegumo in a fire fight, as the two ships paralleling one another, closed to 3,000 yards. This duel went on from about 1730 to 1740, strangely enough, neither ships inflicted much damage, even at close range. The Electra scored a direct hit on the Asagumo at 5,000 yards, causing her to go dead in the water for a few minutes, with four of her men killed. She made it back to Balikpapan, however the next day. At the same time, the Asagumo made two direct hits on the Electra, she limped a long, tried to continue her circle to the east, but finally went down at 1746. Nevertheless, the bravery shown by the two British destroyers in countercharging a superior force ( at the start of the charge, they faced two light cruisers and fourteen destroyers) exemplified the British style of destroyer training, in the best tradition of the Royal Navy.

Meanwhile , Admiral Doorman was determined to have another try at the transports. Which he knew were close by. At 1720, the De Ruyter column began swinging to the northeast, and since all the Japanese ships appeared to retiring (except the Asagumo and Minegumo), it continued to circle. The four American destroyers, however, struck out own their own transport hunt, sailing almost due north. Admiral Doorman temporarily gave up on the transports shortly thereafter, and the column, completing its circle, headed toward the southeast, on the port side of the Exeter and her two escorts, The American destroyers, 10,000 yards north-northeast of the De Ruyter group, also turned. The crews of the strike force were exhausted and frustrated, and the ships were low on fuel and ammunition. For the moment it looked as if the battle was over. Doorman’s force had been weakened, with one heavy cruiser a fire and another destroyer lost.

FOURTH PHASE: 1850-1910 (27 February 1942)

After sailing east for a few minutes and seeing no Japanese ships, Admiral Doorman decided to make another try for the transports, and heading almost due north, directly for the convoys. His counterpart, Admiral Takagi in the Nachi, did not know whether the Allied force had returned to Surabaja to refuel, whether it knew of the presence of Admiral Takahashi’s Main Force led by the heavy cruiser Ashigara, east of Madura Island, or whether Admiral Doorman would still make another try for the transports. Since Admiral Takagi’s biggest responsibility was the protection of the transports, he set a course which would block Doorman’s group if it came from the south. He guessed correctly, for, at 1850, the sighted each other again.

The Allied column was still led by the De Ruyter, followed by the Perth, Houston, and Java. One British destroyer, the Jupiter, screened to the port van and the four American destroyers protected the starboard rear,

The Japanese had the Jintsu and her eight destroyers headed north on an exactly parallel course, 17,500 yards away on the port beam of Doorman’s column. The Nachi and the Haguro were also on the port side at 16,000 yards, slightly north of the Allied ships. They turned on searchlights briefly and opened fire at 1855, then turned northwest, making smoke. The Allied cruisers returned fire from 1855 t0 1910 and then, again heading away from the transports, began a slow turn to the east. The Jintsu’s group continued north until 1907, when they fired torpedoes at the turning Allied column, at a range of slightly under 21,000 yards. The Jintsu and her two destroyer column turned to the northwest. No damage was sustained by either side in the long range skirmish, but once again the transports had been protected.

FIFTH PHASE: 2230-2300 ( 27 FEBRUARY 1942)

After losing contact with the enemy, Doorman again tried a northern thrust. But by this time his force had been further diminished. Although she had been clearly informed of a minefield in the area the destroyer Jupiter suffered a hugh explosion, probably from amine, and sank. Doorman had also sent the four American destroyers (the old four-pipers simply could not make the speed necessary) back to Surabaja to refuel, and then to Tanjomg Priak, to pick up torpedoes. His column of cruisers, now stripped of destroyers, remained in the same order as before, heading north. It was spotted at 16,000 yards by a lookout on the Nachi at 2233. At that time the Nachi and Haguro were headed due south, with Doorman’s column on their port bow. The ever present Jintsu with her eight destroyers, steaming on a southwesterly course was 16,000 yards north-northwest of Doorman. She slowly turned to starbaord, until she was on a northeasterly course, protecting the transports.

The two Japanese Heavy cruisers, then, took on the four Allied ships alone. The Nachi and Haguro opened fire at 2237, continued south for five minutes, and then reserved course to the north, again blocking Doorman’s path to the transports. Beginning at 2240, Doorman’s column fired on the Japanese cruisers for four minutes, as the column turned five degrees to starboard and then held course. The Nachi and Haguro reopened fire at 2252 for four minutes; meanwhile the Nachi launched eight torpedoes, and the Harugo four., at a range of 14,000 yards. A torpedo struck the De Ruyter aft, erupting into flames, her ammunition exploding, she fell out of line to starboard and soon sank, taking Admiral Doorman and 344 of his men down with her. She had done all that could be asked of an outnumbered and outgunned ship. Four minutes later, a torpedo slammed into the Java. She burst into flames and soon followed the De Ruyter to the bottom. Only the Houston and the Perth were left afloat. Doorman’s last order to them was to go to Batavia, rather than stand by to pick up survivors.

SIXTH PHASE: 0900-1140 (MARCH 1, 1942)

There would be no safety for the Houston and Perth even if they made it to Batavia, for another Japanese battle fleet was already close by to protect the landings in west Java. Nevertheless, the two Allied ships tried for Batavia, and arriving during the mid-watch. The damaged Exeter and Encounter, and the Pope were still back at Surabaja. The Exeter had made emergency repairs, buried her dead, and refueled. The three ships sortied on the evening of 28 February, with orders to try to reach Colombo, Ceylon, via the Sundra Strait. Their plan of escape was to sail during daylight, east of Bawean Island, toward the south coast of Borneo, and then make a night run for Sunda Strait. Their hopes, which were slim to begin with, vanished altogether on 1 March, when they were spotted by Japanese aircraft as they left Surabaja, Admiral Tagai was ready and waiting for them.

The Nachi and Haguro and their two destroyers, the Yamakaze and Kawakaze, sighted the three Allied ships to the northeast, at about 33,000 yards. For about an hour, the Japanese ships steamed northwest and then at 0950 they turned to the northeast, thus cutting the Allied ships off from a retreat to Surabaja. Admiral Takahashi had arrive from the west with the Ashigara and Myoko, which at 0940, were due west of the Exeter, at 33,750. Nearer, to the east, were the Akebono and Isazuchi. Although trapped, the three Allied ships nevertheless continued sailing on a northwesterly course, the battle began at around 0904, with the Allied ships firing at the Akedono and Ikazuchi, which returned fire, along witht eh Ashigara and Myoko. The three excaping ships immediately made smoke and turned to starboard; by 1000, they were headed due east. The Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara and Myoko paralleled to the northeast at about 16,000 yards, firing almost continuously. The Akebono and Ikazuchi were south of the trapped ships, paralleling them atabout 12,000 yards, while the Nachi, Myoko and their two destroyers were father south, on parallel course at 27,000 yards. Gunfire and torpedo launchings were made continuously by the Japanese. The Exeter, after repeated torpedo hits from the southern ships, sank at 1130. The Encounter, on the Exeter’s port side, took fire mainly from the Ashigara and the Myoko, and sank five minutes after the Exeter. The destroyer Pope, was sunk at about 1205 (theexcat time has never been determined).

The four remaining American destroyers, the John D. Ford, Paul Jones, John D. Edwards, and the Alden, left Surabaja on 28 February, slipped into Bali Strait during the night, broke through the Bali Strike Force (the destroyers Hatsuharu, Nenohi, Nenhi, Wakaba, and Hatsushimo) and escaped to Australia.

The Battle of the Java Sea could hardly be called classic, by any criterion. Doorman’s forces, on paper, were almost equal to those of the Japanese on the afternoon of 17 February. But a variety of factors cut into the strength of Doorman’s group; fatigue from constant patrol against invasion, older ships, the lack of a common language or common code book, the lack of communication with shore commanders, and a command and force which where composed of men of different nationalities, who therefore lack training in common tactic’s. It has also been claimed that the loss of air contributed to the Allied defeat; yet this battle was fought almost exclusively by ships. (Australian Buffalo aircraft did attack Japanese ships, but without result. Still, the Japanese planes, from both the heavy and light cruisers, which acted as spotters, gave the Japanese a great advantage. In addition, Japanese aviation was wreaking havoc with Java’s naval facilities ashore, thus adding to Helfrich’s difficulties.

All this expenditure of energy and equipment, and loss of life (almost all from the Allied side) delayed the invasion of east Java by less than twenty-four hours. Whatever the size, quality, and quantity of Japanese naval strength, the Japanese warships executed their assigned tasks. They had displayed an extraordinary skill in night fighting that would work to their advantage again and again. The eastern Java invasion transports were completely untouched.

SOURCE: Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1941-45; BY: Paul S. Dull

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Battle of Sundra Strait-February 1942

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Fall of Singapore, Bangka, Palembang, Southeast Sumatra