World war Two: Gilberts and Marshalls(4); Japanese Fortify

Japanese interest in the Gilberts dated from the earliest days of the war. The primary strategic purpose of the empire at the beginning of the war was the occupation and development of what was called the Southern Resources Area—the Netherlands Indies and adjacent regions. It was this part of the Pacific that contained most of the raw materials considered essential to Japan’s economic welfare and military potential. As a corollary to the seizure of these islands, it was also believed necessary to maintain free lines of communication between the Japanese homeland and the Southern Resources Area. Finally, to guarantee the permanent success of its ventures, Japan hoped to cripple Allied naval strength in the Pacific and establish a strong defensive perimeter to protect the homeland and its new economic adjunct to the south. To accomplish these objectives, Japanese strategists contemplated three successive steps: the establishment of a perimeter along a line from the Kurils through the Marshalls, the Bismarck’s, Timor, Java, Sumatra, and Malaya to Burma; the consolidation and strengthening of this perimeter; and the defense of the perimeter.

The responsibility for carrying out this plan in the Central Pacific and in the Bismarck’s area fell to the 4th Fleet, which before Pearl Harbor commanded naval ground force garrisons in the mandated islands from its headquarters at Truk. According to Imperial Navy plans formulated in November 1941, the mission of the 4th Fleet at the beginning of the war was:

  1. Defend the South Sea Islands, patrol, maintain surface communications, capture Wake. At opportune time attack and destroy enemy advanced bases in South Pacific Area. In co-operation with Army capture Guam and then Bismarck Area.
  2. Defend and patrol points in South Sea Islands and Bismarck’s. Maintain surface communications. Search for and attack enemy shipping. Make surprise attacks and destroy enemy bases on our perimeter.

The main offensive thrust was to reach southward to the Bismarck’s area, while in the east the perimeter was to be held and strengthened by the capture of Wake. A minor part of this plan was the seizure of Makin Atoll in the Gilberts in order better to protect the more important Marshall Islands to the north. Makin, lying 0°40′ east of the boundary of the Japanese Mandate, offered the advantage of being located about 240 nautical miles southeast of Jaluit, the most important seaplane base in the lower Marshalls. The seizure of Makin and its subsequent development into a seaplane base would make it possible to extend air patrols closer to Howland, Baker, and the Ellice Islands and to protect the eastern flank of the Japanese perimeter from possible Allied advance through the Ellice-Gilberts chain. Also, since Makin was the northernmost of the Gilberts, it could be the most easily supplied by transport from the Marshall Islands.

On 3 December 1941 one company was detached from the 51st Guard Force based on Jaluit and constituted the Gilberts Invasion Special Landing Force under Air Force command. This force, consisting of from 200 to 300 troops plus laborers, left Jaluit by ship on 8 December and on the 10th reached Makin Atoll, which was forthwith occupied. One of the troopships also visited Tarawa on 24 December. The entire operation yielded nine prisoners.

[NOTE GM-4A: The 51st Guard Force was part of the 6th Base Force, which was under command of 4th Fleet. Base Forces, Guard Forces and Defense Forces (Konkyochitai, Keibitai, Bobitai), Vol. 1, Dec 41-May 42, in U.S. National Archives, World War II Seized Enemy Records, Record Group 242, NA 12029, WDC 161090; 6th Base Force War Diary (Dairoku konkyochitai senji nisshi), NA 12654, WDC 160599. Hereafter documents contained in the National Archives collection will be cited by title, National Archives (NA) number, and Washington Document Center (WDC) number.]

After the invasion the Makin garrison set about constructing a seaplane base and coastal defenses. By August of 1942 the garrison had dwindled to only 43 men under a warrant officer, and it was this tiny group that was called upon to defend the atoll against the first American landing in the Central Pacific.

World War Two: Marines; Carlson’s Raiders-Makin Atoll 17 August 1942

Carlson’s Raid and Its Aftermath

On 17 August 1942 the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, consisting of 221 marines under the command of Colonel Carlson, landed on Makin from two submarines. The primary purpose of this raid was to confuse the Japanese and cause them to divert forces that might otherwise be assigned to the Guadalcanal area. Carlson himself stated the secondary purposes of the raid: This task group will execute landings on Makin from the USS NAUTILUS and USS ARGONAUT on 17 August for the purpose of destroying enemy troops and vital installations and to capture important documents and prisoners.

In the early hours of 17 August the raiders disembarked from the two submarines into rubber boats powered by outboard motors and landed on the southern coast of Butaritari. Heavy swells and mechanical failures in some of the engines prevented the party from making two separate landings as originally planned, but eventually fifteen out of the eighteen boats managed to get ashore at one landing beach, while two others landed a mile north and another a mile south.

[NOTE CR-88K: This account of Carlson’s raid is taken from the following sources: CO 2nd Marine Raider Bn, Rpt of the Raid Against Makin, 17-18 Aug 42, dated 3 Sep 42; Ltr cited n. 6; Ltr, CTG 7.15 (USS Nautilus) to CTF 7, sub: Rpt of Marine-Submarine Raider Expedition. All of these reports are on file at Headquarters, USMC Historical Division.]

Just after the landing one of the marines accidentally discharged his rifle. Believing that all chance of surprise was lost, Colonel Carlson ordered Company A of his battalion to proceed across the island to the lagoon shore. By 0545 the company commander, Captain Merwin C. Plumley, USMC, reported that he had captured Government House without opposition, and he was then ordered west along the lagoon road. By this time it had become apparent that the Japanese defenses were concentrated at the base of On Chong’s Wharf on the lagoon shore and at Ukiangong Point, the southwestern most promontory of Butaritari. Carlson asked for naval gunfire in this area, and Nautilus complied by firing some twenty-four rounds. Throughout the day isolated groups of Japanese were encountered, spirited fire fights ensued, and a number of enemy were killed. The chief Japanese response to the landing was from the air.

At 1130, two Japanese naval reconnaissance planes scouted the island, dropped two bombs and then flew back north to a base in the Marshalls. About two hours later, twelve enemy planes arrived and bombed and strafed for an hour and a quarter. Two of the planes landed in the lagoon and were destroyed by Marine machine gun and antitank rifle fire. The third and last air raid occurred at 1630.

Shortly thereafter, at 1700, the marines began an orderly withdrawal to the southern coast, and within two hours the bulk of the battalion was boated, but only a few were able to get through the heavy surf and back to the submarines. A hundred and twenty men were left on the beach that night. By the following morning still more marines made their way through the surf, but at 0920 further evacuation was halted by an air raid, leaving seventy men, including Colonel Carlson, stranded on the beach.

At this point, the battalion commander discovered that Japanese resistance was practically nonexistent, consisting of only a few troops scattered about the island. He sent out patrols to search for food and destroy the Japanese radio station at the base of On Chong’s Wharf. A cache of aviation gasoline of 700 to 1,000 barrels was fired, and the marines ranged freely about the island, meeting only the most feeble resistance. The office of the Japanese commandant was searched and all available papers secured. Finally, on the evening of the second day, evacuation was completed and all of the rubber boats reached the Nautilus.

 This expedition cost the lives of thirty marines. Left ashore were twenty-one dead and nine others who were later captured and beheaded. In retrospect, the entire expedition appears to have been ill advised. Though little of any importance was learned and no subsequent attempt was ever made in the Pacific war to emulate the Makin raid, the observations of Major Roosevelt, who was Carlson’s executive officer, were later of some value to the intelligence staff of the 27th Infantry Division in preparing plans for the ultimate invasion of Makin. Otherwise, there is no evidence that the raid of August 1942 made any significant contribution to Allied victory in the Pacific.

On the other hand, there is every reason to believe that this raid induced the Japanese to commit to the Gilberts far heavier forces than they had originally contemplated. To that extent the progress of American arms across the Central Pacific was made more difficult. The Japanese response to Carlson’s expedition was immediate.

Troops were drawn from the Marshalls, the Caroline’s, and Japan and sent to garrison hitherto-unoccupied islands in the British Mandates. The Gilberts now were occupied in force, and garrisons were established as well on Nauru and Ocean Islands. Before August, in all the islands south of the Marshalls the enemy had only the small force on Makin. After August they began a build-up in this area that was to result in several island strongholds under an entirely new base force command. Even if it cannot be proved conclusively that Carlson’s expedition was the sole cause of this change in policy, the raid can with certainty be credited with a rapid acceleration in the Japanese program of building up defenses in the Gilberts.

No time was lost in replacing the Makin garrison. On 19 August, four reconnaissance seaplanes from Kwajalein made a close search of the Makin area and found no trace of the Americans. This indicated that the coast was clear for a counter-landing, in full company strength, which the Japanese had started to organize at Jaluit as soon as news of the raid was received. On the 20th a small advance detachment was flown to Makin from Jaluit and was shortly followed by the bulk of the force transported by ship. The nine marines left on Butaritari were taken prisoner and the equipment that Carlson was forced to abandon was captured.

Now began a series of small troop movements from all directions into the fringe of British island possessions bordering the Marshalls. Nauru was invaded on 25 August and Ocean Island on the 26th. On the 29th a landing force composed of one company of the 43rd Guard Force (western Caroline’s) took over Nauru. Two days earlier a company detached from the 62nd Guard Force (Jaluit) commenced to garrison Ocean. This unit was joined a few days later by a company from the 41st Guard Force from Truk. Another company, from the 5th Special Base Force, left Saipan on 28 August and on the 30th arrived at Makin, where it was to remain pending the arrival of a special naval landing force from the Japanese homeland.

These moves were followed by the invasion of Apamama, which lasted from 31 August to 4 September. More important still, the entire Yokosuka 6th Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) was dispatched from Japan to the Gilberts in September. This force consisted of 1,509 officers and men and was the first unit of any considerable size to arrive in the area. It was these troops that were to remain in the Gilberts, chiefly on Tarawa, until the American invasion in November 1943. On 15 September the main portion of the 6th SNLF arrived at Tarawa, and detachments were subsequently transferred to Apamama and Makin.

In September and October small parties were sent from Tarawa to snuff out the few remaining communications centers maintained by the Allies in the area. Since the beginning of the war a number of Australian and New Zealand coast-watchers had stayed in various islands of the central and southern Gilberts, observing Japanese air and surface movements and radioing important information to the Allies. These the Japanese now proceeded to eliminate quickly. On 26 September a small party landed on Beru Atoll and destroyed a British wireless station there. Next day Tamana Atoll was invaded. Here the Japanese destroyed communications equipment and captured two Allied soldiers and one wireless operator. Also on the 27th, a second landing party captured communications equipment on Maiana, Nonouti, and Kuria Atolls. Later, in October, Maiana and Nonouti were revisited and Abaiang and Beru raided, netting more wireless sets and a few prisoners. By 6 October the Japanese declared that the Gilberts were completely cleared of enemy personnel, and that all communications installations had been destroyed.

Thus the Makin raid of August 1942 constitutes a clear line of demarcation in Japanese policy in the Gilberts. Before that time there were only forty-three men, under command of a warrant officer, stationed in the whole area. Within a month after Carlson’s battalion landed on Makin, the total garrison for the Gilberts came to more than 1,500 troops plus four companies on Nauru and Ocean. Just as significant was the change in the command structure for the area. Before August 1942 the only command located in the Gilberts was the Special Landing Force at Makin. This force was subordinate to the 62nd Guard Force based on Jaluit, which was subordinate to the 6th Base Force on Kwajalein, in turn subordinate to the 4th Fleet at Truk. The Yokosuka 6th SNLF, assigned to the Gilberts with headquarters at Tarawa after the Carlson raid, was immediately under the 6th Base Force at Kwajalein. Under this headquarters two subordinate commands were set up at Makin and Apamama. In addition, two new commands were set up under the 6th Base Force—the 43rd Guard Force Dispatched Landing Force on Nauru and the 62nd Guard Force Dispatched Landing Force on Ocean Island. The Gilberts and the nearby islands of Ocean and Nauru were obviously achieving greater status in Japan’s defensive strategy.

Throughout the winter and early spring of 1943 other steps were taken to improve defenses in the Gilberts. Another recognition of the increased importance of this area came on 15 February 1943 when the Yokosuka 6th Special Naval Landing Force was deactivated and the command in the Gilberts was renamed the 3rd Special Base Force. The new command was made responsible not only for the defense of Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama Atolls, but also of Nauru and Ocean Islands. This was a significant command reorganization reflecting clearly the change in Japanese attitude toward the importance of the Gilberts after Carlson’s raid. In the beginning of 1942 Japan had nothing more than a lookout station in the Gilberts subordinated to a guard force command, which was in turn responsible to a base force at Kwajalein. Now, in February 1943, Japanese forces in the Gilberts were constituted as a base force command on an echelon equal to that of the Kwajalein base force command.

Parallel to these developments in command organization was the steady progress being made in fortifying the various islands and improving their military potentialities. Beginning about 1 January 1943, the Japanese steadily shipped 4th Fleet laborers, mostly Koreans, to the islands south of the Marshalls for construction work. Some indication of the cost involved in the fortifications under construction is afforded by the fact that, on 4 March 1943, 7,409,000 yen ($1,736,669.60) was earmarked for air base construction in the Gilberts and land fortifications on Nauru.

An even stronger indication of the increasing importance of the Gilberts to Japanese defensive strategy was the detachment of the Sasebo 7th Special Naval Landing Force from the Southeastern Area Fleet (Rabaul) and its commitment to Tarawa under the 4th Fleet. Arriving in May, the force remained on Tarawa until the American invasion in November.

This move as much as any other single event was evidence of the declining significance attached by the Japanese high command to the Solomon’s-New Guinea area, and by the same token of the increasing importance of the Central Pacific, including the Gilberts. Also in May, the Japanese established a new plan of overall defense called the Z Operation. According to this plan the defensive perimeter was drawn through the Aleutians, Wake, the Marshalls, the Gilberts, Nauru, Ocean, and the Bismarck’s. The principal positions along the perimeter were to be strengthened and local commanders were to be responsible for defense in case of invasion.

Garrison forces at the point of attack were instructed to destroy the enemy at the shore line. If the enemy should succeed in forcing a landing, local forces were to counterattack persistently in an effort to delay the invaders as long as possible and to prevent the establishment of bases.

Meanwhile, construction of fortifications and airfields was proceeding apace. The main concentration of effort was on Tarawa. Concrete and log emplacements for guns of all sizes up through 14 centimeters were constructed, transmitting and receiving stations set up, coconut trees logged and transported from outlying islands, tank barricades and tank pits constructed, underwater obstacles emplaced, and dugouts made for individual riflemen and machine gunners. Similar though not nearly so extensive preparations were being made concurrently on Makin.

The air base on Makin was completed and ready to accommodate reconnaissance and fighter seaplanes by July 1943. At Tarawa construction on an airstrip was begun in October 1942, and a trial landing of a land-based bomber was made on 28 January 1943. By 31 May the major runway on Betio, Tarawa Atoll, was 80 percent completed, positions for planes 100 percent, and a secondary runway 40 percent.

Thus, while high-level staff planners of the Allied forces were gradually coming to the decision to institute a drive across the Central Pacific, the Japanese in that area were preparing against the expected attack as rapidly as conditions permitted.

Necessity had compelled the Japanese to admit the probability of defeat in the Solomon’s-New Guinea area though Rabaul, it is true, had not yet been given up as lost, and valiant efforts were to be made in the autumn of 1943 to save that bastion from disaster. As the year wore on, however, it became more and more apparent that the most immediate threat to Japan’s perimeter defense was in the Central Pacific, and it was here that the Japanese high command hoped to force a showdown with the invading forces from the east.

American Attacks and Japanese Responses

September witnessed the opening of the first large-scale American aerial attacks against the Gilberts and nearby islands. Planes of Admiral Pownall’s fast carrier force, assisted by Army Air Forces B-24’s from Canton and Funafuti, struck Makin, Tarawa, and Nauru on 18-19 September.

According to one Japanese diary, twenty-eight laborers were killed during the strike on Makin, probably from a direct hit on a shelter. The damage done by the raid on Betio was more serious. The runway was hit, although not seriously enough to prevent repair by labor troops. The antenna mast of a receiving station was knocked half down, and a transmitting station completely destroyed. A storehouse and a hospital were completely destroyed, as were the entire air force kitchen and half of the Sasebo 7th Special Naval Landing Force kitchen. The damage to air communications installations was particularly serious. The transmitting station destroyed by the air raid was evidently the chief means of communication with other islands and on Betio itself, judging by the measures taken to restore it—two transmitters were borrowed from the Sasebo 7th Special Naval Landing Force (one set from the receiving room and one from the medium attack plane command post) and another from the 3rd Special Base Force.

 Following the raid, one of the island defenders wrote in his diary: “The island is a sea of flames. . . . Seven of our medium attack bombers were destroyed and a great number of our guns were damaged. Moreover, shell dumps, ammunition dumps, various storehouses and barracks on Bairiki [the island just east of Betio] were destroyed. A great number of men were killed and wounded.”

Whether or not this individual report was exaggerated, the response of the Japanese at Tarawa was immediate. On 24 September, Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, IJN, commanding officer of the 3rd Special Base Force, ordered the commanding officers of the 111th Construction Unit and the 4th Fleet Construction Department Detachment to build immediately a bombproof shelter for communications equipment. Later, it was reported: “Work was started immediately and is scheduled to be completed during October. After the work is completed, one transmitter and three receivers will be installed in the station. No matter what happens, we hope to be able to maintain radio communications.” At the same time work was begun on a transmitting station, which according to plans was to be of concrete and to contain three short-wave transmitters and one longwave transmitter with attachments. Completion date was scheduled for December.

Another important result of the September raids was the evacuation of aircraft from Tarawa. Before the raids there had been three air installations in the 3rd Special Base Force area, airfields at Nauru and Tarawa, and a seaplane base at Makin.

One of the most important duties of these installations was to maintain patrols in the southeast corner of the Japanese-held Central Pacific. Patrols from Nauru covered the area south of that island; patrols from Makin covered the area to the east; and patrols from Tarawa extended to the southeast between the other two. The Japanese had originally intended to build up the Tarawa airfield and plane complement to considerable strength, and by early September there were 330 air personnel on the island and 18 planes. However, the Allied carrier strike of 18-19 September seriously disrupted operations and installations and destroyed nine of the planes. After this it was decided to evacuate the air units, and Tarawa was never again used as a Japanese air base. After the removal of the planes from Tarawa, Makin assumed full responsibility for patrolling the Gilberts. By November there were only four amphibious reconnaissance planes at Makin charged with the dual mission of reconnaissance and antisubmarine patrol. For all practical purposes, Japanese local air defenses were eliminated by the strikes of 18-19 September.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Navy was preparing its own plans for a defense of the Gilberts-Marshalls area and for a decisive engagement with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Plans for the defense of the Gilberts by the Japanese Fleet were drawn up about 8 September 1943 and included the following moves:

(1) Large and, if possible, small submarines in the Rabaul area were to move up and operate in the vicinity of the Gilberts.

(2) The 2nd Fleet was to advance and operate in an area west and north of Nauru so as to decoy the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Then, after thirty-six land-based attack planes from Rabaul had carried out attacks against the invading fleet, the 2nd Fleet was to move up to the Mille area and continue operations.

(3) If necessary, a destroyer squadron was to come up from the Rabaul area and participate in the operations.

(4) Planes of the 3rd Fleet that were undergoing training were to join in these operations if necessary, regardless of the amount of training they had completed.

In September 1943 the main striking force of the Japanese Navy was based at Truk and was under the command of Admiral Mineichi Koga, Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet. It consisted chiefly of the super battleships Yamato and Musashi, and two battleships and a destroyer squadron from the 1st Fleet. Also included in Koga’s force were the 2nd and 3rd Fleets, which had the combined strength of 3 carriers, 2 battleships, 11 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, and a large number of destroyers.

It was this force that Koga tried to hold together for a decisive blow against the U.S. Fleet. His was “ . . . not a plan of any positive action to draw the American Fleet into a decisive action, but rather to wait until the American Fleet came up; and he felt sure that they were bound to come up if he only waited.”

On two occasions before the American landings on Makin and Tarawa, Koga sortied from Truk with part of this formidable task force in the hope of meeting American warships. Each time he had to return to his home base without having given battle. The first expedition occurred in September when the admiral learned that Pownall’s fast carrier force was approaching the Marshalls-Gilberts area. Immediately he dispatched a large force, composed of elements of the 2nd and 3rd Fleets, which proceeded to Eniwetok, the location from which he considered it best to base an attack. The force consisted of 3 carriers, 2 battleships, 7 heavy cruisers, and 3 light cruisers. It left Truk on 18 September and arrived at Eniwetok on the 20th. Not finding the expected American task force (then operating well to the south and east) the Japanese fleet returned to Truk.

The second large fleet sortie from Truk occurred in October when Koga’s radio intelligence indicated the strong possibility of an Allied raid against Wake or the Marshalls. Koga, hoping that this was the opportunity for the decisive engagement he had missed the previous month, once again dispatched a large fleet from Truk to Eniwetok on 17 October. The October force was even more powerful than the September one. Included were the same 3 carriers, plus 6 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, and 3 light cruisers. These ships remained in Eniwetok for a few days then sailed north some 300 miles toward Wake and returned once again to Truk. No elements of the American fleet were encountered. Pownall’s carriers, which had conducted a highly successful strike against Wake on 5-6 October, were by that time safely back in the Pearl Harbor area.

While Admiral Koga was playing cat and mouse with the elusive American task forces in the Marshalls, American pressure was threatening the Japanese Southeast Area. At the end of September Imperial General Headquarters adopted an operational policy for the Rabaul area “consisting merely of a whittling-down campaign against the enemy which relied upon the momentary use of crucial battle forces when conditions were favorable.” This policy was embodied in the RO Operation, which was to utilize the planes of Koga’s Carrier Division 1 from land bases in the Rabaul area, and was to have been activated around the middle of October. Since the carriers of Division 1 were the only vessels of this type in the entire Japanese Navy with anywhere near full plane complements at the time, the RO Operation would partially incapacitate the Japanese Fleet. It was undoubtedly this consideration that led Koga to postpone the RO Operation in order to make one last attempt at a decisive naval engagement while he still had his fleet intact. After failing in this attempt and after his arrival at Truk on 26 October, he ordered the RO Operation activated and took steps to dispatch the planes of Carrier Division 1 to the Rabaul area. This decision had a profound, and from the American point of view, wholly beneficial effect on the forthcoming invasion of the Gilberts and Marshalls.

Leaving their carriers behind at Truk, a total of 173 planes of Carrier Division 1 flew down to Rabaul on 1 November and remained in the area until the 13th. While there, they engaged in three air battles and lost 121 planes or roughly two thirds of the entire force. At the same time, on receiving word of the Allied landing at Bougainville (1 November), Admiral Koga dispatched the 2nd Fleet along with elements of the 3rd Fleet to Rabaul. The force arrived at Rabaul on 5 November and was immediately subjected to a fierce attack by planes from Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman’s fast carrier force (Task Force 38) and again on the 11th not only by Sherman’s force but also by Admiral Montgomery’s Task Group 50.3. Altogether, four of Koga’s heavy cruisers (Takao, Maya, Atago, and Mogami) were so damaged during these strikes as to be nonoperational during the Gilberts invasion.

[NOTE NB-44G: USSBS, Interrogations of Japanese Officials, Vol. II, p. 516. Perhaps even more important than the plane losses was the attrition of carrier pilots. Of 192 flight crews from Carrier Division 1 dispatched to the Rabaul area in November 1943, 86 were lost. Japanese Studies in World War II, No. 50, Vol. III, p. 26.]

Another two (Myoko and Haguro) had been put out of operation by gunfire and by collision during the initial landings on Bougainville at Empress Augusta Bay. Still another (Tone) was in dry dock undergoing periodic check-up. Thus, of the eleven heavy cruisers that Koga had had under his command in September of 1943, only four remained operational in mid-November. All but one of the remainder had been temporarily put out of operation at Rabaul or Bougainville.

The loss of these cruisers, coupled with the tremendous attrition of carrier planes at Rabaul, meant that the Japanese battleships based at Truk were virtually immobilized, since they would not dare enter combat without proper protection. The sorry plight in which the Japanese Navy now found itself, facing as it did an impending American invasion of the Central Pacific, can best be summarized in the words of Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, IJN: But in November, as Bougainville landing operations commenced, he [Koga] was forced to send his air strength to Rabaul. As it turned out, practically all of them were lost at Rabaul and Bougainville. Consequently, the Fleet air strength was almost completely lost, and although the Gilberts fight appeared to be the last chance for a decisive fight, the fact that the fleet’s air strength had been so badly depleted enabled us to send only very small air support to Tarawa and Makin. The almost complete loss of carrier planes was a mortal blow to the fleet since it would require six months for replacement. … In the interim, any fighting with carrier force was rendered impossible.

No better testimony could be adduced to the mutual interdependence of the various Allied forces operating in different areas of the Pacific. Without the tremendous losses inflicted on the Japanese by forces under General MacArthur and Admiral Halsey, the Central Pacific forces under Admiral Nimitz would certainly have faced far greater odds in their invasion of the Gilberts.

Japanese Defenses on the Eve of the Attack

By the morning of 20 November when the ships of Admiral Turner’s Northern Attack Force hove into view of Makin Atoll, the Japanese had on the main island of Butaritari an estimated 798 men under command of Lt. (j.g.) Seizo Ishikawa, commander of the 3rd Special Base Force Makin Detachment. This figure by no means represents the enemy’s combat strength since the majority were labor troops (mostly Korean) whose combat effectiveness was only slightly more than nil. The organization of Japanese forces on D Day was roughly as follows: 3rd Special Base Force Makin Detachment.(284); Air personnel (100); 111th Construction Unit.(138); 4th Fleet Construction Department Detachment (276). The air personnel were ground crews left marooned on the island after the planes had escaped. How well they were armed or how effective they were as combat troops it is impossible to know. Of the labor troops, about 220 were Korean, the remainder Japanese who were not in the service either because of age or physical infirmities. None of the labor troops was assigned a battle station and none had any training, although it appears that the Japanese workers and perhaps a few Koreans were issued rifles on D Day. Thus, the maximum total of trained combat troops on Makin came to no more than 384, and the actual number was probably no more than 300.

As to defense installations, the Japanese had been able or willing to fortify Butaritari with only a bare minimum. A perimeter defense had been established around the seaplane base on the lagoon shore. Defenses on the lagoon shore were comparatively light, consisting mainly of three dual-purpose 8-cm. guns at the base of King’s Wharf and a few machine guns. Running from the lagoon to the ocean were two tank barrier systems, each partially guarded by strands of trip wire and covered by antitank guns, machine guns, and rifle pits. The West Tank Barrier was made up of a wide ditch and a coconut log barrier. The ditch extended from the lagoon approximately two thirds of the way across the island, was 12 to 13 feet wide, and about 5 feet deep. The log barrier, starting at the south end of the ditch and extending to the ocean shore, was about 4.5 feet high and braced from the east by diagonal logs. Altogether a total of one antitank gun, one concrete pillbox, 6 machine gun positions, and 50 rifle pits covered this barrier.

The East Tank Barrier, more heavily fortified than that to the west, consisted of a trench 14.5 feet wide by 6 feet deep stretching from the lagoon about two thirds of the way across the island and bent in the middle toward the westward. From the southern terminus of this trench to the ocean shore a log antitank barricade had been erected and a similar barricade lay to the east of the northern section of the trench. Double-apron wire and trip wire had been laid in continuous lines across the entire island in the same area. West of the trap itself was an intricate system of gun emplacements and rifle pits. Three pillboxes of either log or cement barred the approach to the trap. Lying between these emplacements and connecting them was a series of forty-three rifle pits, interspersed with machine guns. Immediately to the west of this line in the center of the island was another group of twenty-three rifle pits. On the south shore between the terminus of the road running from the end of Stone Pier and the southern end of the tank barrier were located nineteen more rifle pits, two machine guns, and a 70-mm. howitzer, all placed to protect the ocean shore.

Along the ocean shore a series of strong points had been established, incorporating 3 8-cm. coast defense guns, 3 antitank positions, 10 machine gun emplacements, and 85 rifle pits. Obviously, the Japanese expected that any invasion of the island would be made on the ocean shore, following the example of Carlson’s raid. On either side of the heavily defended area was an outpost consisting of a squad of men, a lookout tower approximately 70 feet high, and telephone communication to command posts within the fortified area. The defended area was divided into three parts. Aviation personnel were quartered in the eastern portion, the majority of the garrison force lived in the center, and the Korean laborers were billeted in the western part.

The island of Betio in Tarawa Atoll was much more heavily manned and fortified. There the garrison, commanded by Admiral Shibasaki, consisted of an estimated 4,836 men organized as follows: Total = 4,836: 3rd Special Base Force (1,122); 7th SNLF (1,497); 111th Construction (1,247); 4th Fleet Construction Department Detachment (970). Of this number, the members of the 3rd Special Base Force and the Sasebo 7th Special Naval Landing Force were trained combat troops. The extent of combat effectiveness of the labor troops on the island is more difficult to determine. The combat importance of these construction units usually varied with the number of Japanese personnel since the Koreans were almost never given weapons. The 4th Fleet Construction Department was about 85 percent Korean and the 111th Construction Unit about 30 percent Korean. Thus, if all of the Japanese laborers at Tarawa were trained and equipped for combat, the total effective strength on that atoll would have been over 3,600. However, it appears that the military organization of the labor troops may have existed mostly on paper, and the training program set up for them by the Japanese, even if carried out, would at best have provided a reserve force of limited value. Thus, a safe guess as to the number of combat effectives on Tarawa would probably be about 3,000.

Betio itself had been built into an island fortress of the most formidable aspect. The island had been organized for an all-round decisive defense at the beach. The basic beach defense weapon along the entire north coast and on both sides of the eastern tip was the 13-mm. machine gun. Along the western and southwestern coasts the 7.7-mm. machine gun was used for the same purpose. The guns were located in open emplacements to allow the additional mission of antiaircraft fires. Those on the northern coast were so positioned as to permit flanking fire to the front of artificial barriers (tetrahedrons) that had been emplaced along the reef, or frontal fire on the direct approaches to the beach.

Inshore, organization for defense was more haphazard. Bombproof ammunition and personnel shelters were put to use as defensive positions in depth, although they had not originally been constructed for that purpose. In some cases, the fire from the doorways of these shelters was mutually supporting, but this was only by accident.

For the most part they were blind to attack from several directions, and since they had not been designed as blockhouses, had only a few firing ports. The basic weapons were complemented by a network of obstacles including antitank ditches, beach barricades, log fences and concrete tetrahedrons on the fringing reef, double-apron-high-wire fences in the water near the beach, and double-apron low-wire fences on the beach itself. The larger obstacles on the reef were designed to canalize the approach of boats into areas that could be swept effectively by anti-boat fires from 127-mm., 80-mm., 7-cm., 37-mm., and 13-mm. guns. The lighter double-apron fences were laid along diagonal lines from the beaches, and machine guns were emplaced in every case so that flanking fires could be laid parallel to the wire and just forward of it. Altogether, on Betio there was a total of four 8-inch guns, four 14-cm., four 12.7 cm., six 8-cm., ten 75-mm. mountain guns, six 70-mm. howitzers, eight 7-cm. dual-purpose single mounts, nine 37-mm. field guns, twenty-seven 13-mm. single mounts, four 13-mm. double mounts, and seven tanks mounting 37-mm. guns.

Fire control equipment was installed for the coast defense, and antiaircraft batteries, including range finders, directors, and searchlights, had been set up. For the most part weapons were mounted in carefully and strongly constructed emplacements of coconut logs, reinforced concrete, and revetted sand. Ammunition and personnel were protected from shelling and bombing by log and concrete bombproof shelters covered with sand to increase safety and improve camouflage. These shelters were ordinarily placed opposite the interval between, and inshore of, pairs of guns. Heavy gun ammunition was handled from bombproof shelters to ready boxes in concrete emplacements by narrow-gauge railway and overhead chain hoist gear.

This bare recital of enemy defense installations on Betio does only scant justice to the really horrible obstacles that the attacking forces would have to overcome. Tarawa was the most heavily defended atoll that would ever be invaded by Allied forces in the Pacific. With the possible exception of Iwo Jima, its beaches were better protected against a landing force than any encountered in any theater of war throughout World War II. Makin, by comparison, was lightly held. But any beach guns that are manned and ready to fire are formidable enough to the men of the first waves of an amphibious landing force.

Boated in slow-moving craft, as they make their way from ship to shore they offer ideal targets to the waiting defenders—unless the latter have been destroyed, or at least dispersed, by the attackers’ naval and aerial bombardment. It was the hope of the landing forces at both Makin and Tarawa that this would be accomplished before the first troops touched shore.

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 (5); Landings on Makin

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


World War Two: Clearing the Aleutians; Amchitka-Kiska-Attu

As soon as the decision to occupy Amchitka was taken in December 1942, preliminary planning to drive the Japanese out of the Aleutians was set in motion. Initially Kiska, the nearer, more strongly fortified of the enemy-held islands, and offering a more satisfactory harbor and better airfield sites, was the objective of the counterassault. As a starting point, General DeWitt proposed to organize and train a task force built around one infantry division and totaling 25,000 men. For commander and assistant commander he recommended Major General Charles H. Corlett and Brigadier General Eugene M. Landrum, both of whom had participated in joint amphibious exercises and were familiar with conditions in the Aleutians. Although Admiral Nimitz, estimating Japanese strength on Kiska at 10,000 men, suggested that two divisions might be required, the War Department concurred in the outline plan presented by General DeWitt. In place of the 35th Division, originally recommended, the War Department proposed, and General DeWitt agreed, to employ the 7th Division, since it was in a better state of training and readiness, was scheduled for early “demotorization” and could be brought up to full strength more readily, was stationed near Fort Ord, where the amphibious training was to be conducted, and was more ably led and staffed.

A joint Army-Navy planning staff was set up at San Diego under Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell, commander of the Amphibious Force, North Pacific, who was designated to command the assault force for the actual operation. Major General Albert E. Brown, commanding general of the 7th Division, was named commander of the landing force. While Admiral Rockwell and a group of officers from the Western Defense Command were making plans, with the help of several Alaskan experts from General Buckner’s headquarters, General Brown was leading his troops through the amphibious training course directed by Major General Holland M. Smith, USMC. By the beginning of February the forces training at Fort Ord for the descent on Kiska included, in addition to the 7th Division, the 184th Infantry Regiment, the 78th Coast Artillery (AA) (less one battalion), and the 2d Battalion, 501st Coast Artillery (AA).

Meanwhile, in the Aleutians the Eleventh Air Force had been sending its planes over Kiska whenever the weather permitted, which in December and January was not often. Fog and foul weather held the planes to the ground during most of January, and the few missions that were flown proved more costly to the Eleventh Air Force than damaging to the enemy. Only about 10 tons of bombs were dropped -the lightest since the beginning of the air assault- and at least ten planes were lost, none of them by enemy action. Partly because the weather improved, and partly because P-38 and P-40 fighter-bombers were now based on Amchitka, February and March were much better months. In February Army planes attacked Kiska on nine separate days, flying twenty-four missions (not including twenty weather and reconnaissance missions), and dropping about 150 tons of bombs. The attacks continued with equal vigor and intensity during March. There was, to be sure, no comparison between the air assault on Kiska and the huge raids taking place against German-occupied Europe, but it is to be noted that in the South Pacific the Allied air forces loosed 197 tons of bombs on Rabaul during the month of December.

On 26 March a solid opportunity came to the Eleventh Air Force to strike a major blow, when a naval task group cruising off the Komandorski Islands under Rear Admiral Charles H. McMorris intercepted a strong Japanese force that was attempting to run reinforcements into Kiska and Attu. But the opportunity was lost. When Admiral McMorris’ report of contact reached Adak, the bombers loaded with antipersonnel bombs were poised for an attack on Kiska. Although General Butler estimated that it would take at least an hour or so to unload the light bombs and replace them with heavy, armor-piercing ones, it seemed logical to accept the delay and make the change. Admiral Kinkaid therefore sent a message to McMorris suggesting that he fight a retiring action to the eastward in order to get under cover of the bombers, but McMorris at that point was completely cut off by an enemy force twice the strength of his own. Furthermore, the shift of bomb loads cook much longer than anticipated, and by the time the planes were ready a snow storm had closed in the field. When they finally took to the air, they were unable to reach the scene of action before the Japanese had retreated beyond range. Although Admiral McMorris succeeded in thwarting the enemy attempt at reinforcement, the support of Army bombers might have enabled him to turn the engagement, brilliant as it was, into an unmistakable disaster for the Japanese.5

Attu Retaken

By this time the plans and preparations in motion on the west coast had been given a new objective. Realizing that not enough shipping would be available for the Kiska operation, Admiral Kinkaid had recommended early in March that Attu be substituted as the target, for, in comparison with Kiska, Attu appeared to be weakly defended. Estimates based on air photographs placed the Japanese strength on Attu at only 500 men, of which three rifle companies constituted the effective tactical strength, the remainder being antiaircraft and labor troops. Instead of the reinforced division called for in the Kiska plans, one infantry regiment plus the 7th Division’s mountain artillery was considered by Admiral Kinkaid and General Buckner as probably sufficient for the capture of Attu. Only four attack transports (APA’s) and two or three cargo ships (AKA’s) would be required. Also in capturing Attu and with an airfield in operation there, American forces would be astride the Japanese line of communications between the home islands and Kiska. The latter, cut off from supply and reinforcements, would “wither on the vine.” On 10 March Admiral King notified Admiral Nimitz and General DeWitt that the joint Chiefs of Staff had approved the projected change of plan, provided the operation could be carried out with only those means that Admiral Nimitz could spare and those already on hand for the assault on Kiska, which was now deferred. The approval of the joint Chiefs, Admiral King made clear, extended only to planning and training; it was not to be considered as a directive to execute the operation. This would hinge upon the outcome of the discussions on Pacific strategy about to begin in Washington. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 21 March agreed to postpone any major offensive in the South Pacific, the way was cleared for the reduction of Attu. Information received by the Navy that the Japanese were establishing an airfield on Attu offered an additional reason for putting the plans into execution. Therefore, on 22 March, General Marshall and Admiral King decided that the operation should proceed “as soon as practicable. The shift of objective did not upset the training program or make an appreciable difference in the preliminary planning activity of Admiral Rockwell’s joint staff in San Diego. A new estimate of the situation, including a study of the shipping that would be available and the forces required, was necessary. This was prepared by the joint planning staff; and, after the decision to go ahead with the operation was reached, General Brown’s staff, in co-operation with Admiral Rockwell’s joint planners, began drawing up the detailed tactical plans.

Seldom has an operation been planned with less knowledge of the conditions the troops would have to face. From Cape Wrangell in the west to Chirikof Point in the east, the fog-surrounded island of Attu is about forty statute miles in length. Its greatest width is about twenty miles. At the head of the deep coastal indentations lie narrow beaches, from which small, snow-fed streams lead back into the jumbled, barren mountain-mass of the interior, a desolate region of twisted, precipitous crags, whose snowcapped peaks mount upwards to heights of two and three thousand feet. The valley floors are carpeted with tundra: the black muck, covered with a dense growth of lichens and moss, which is characteristic of the far North. On the northern mainland, in Alaska and northern Canada, the tundra is frozen solid during most of the year; but in the outermost Aleutians the Japan Current has a moderating effect on temperatures and much of the time the tundra is barely firm enough for a man to cross it on foot. The same Japan Current accounts for the pea-soup fogs, the constant pervading wetness, and the frequent storms that help to make the outer Aleutians so inhospitable. To the soldiers who had to fight not only the Japanese but the weather and terrain of the island, it must have seemed that the Creator of the universe was an unskilled apprentice when He brought Attu into existence.

The eastern end of Attu, indented by four bays, is roughly shaped in the form of a trefoil: the northern lobe lies between Holtz Bay and Sarana Bay; the elongated midsection, terminating in Chirikof Point, is shaped by Sarana and Massacre Bays; and the southern lobe lies between Massacre Bay and Temnac Cove. From Holtz Bay in the north and Temnac Cove in the south, steep-walled valleys run back in a generally westward direction until they disappear in the mountainous maze of the interior. The Massacre Bay valley, about a mile and a quarter wide at the beach, is soon divided into two by a hogback, which, although rather steep on the sides, slopes gradually along its length to an elevation of about 550 feet at the upper end. At Holtz Bay, likewise, a ridge divides the valley into two; but here the central ridge projects into the bay for a distance of nearly a mile, and its highest, steepest sides face the water. About a mile and a half up the west arm of the valley a low pass crosses this ridge into the eastern Holtz Bay valley, from which, at this point, over a 600-foot saddle, it is possible to cross into the head of West Massacre Valley. A slightly lower saddle separates the head of East Massacre Valley from the valley leading out of Sarana Bay.

Only the bare details of the topography were known to those planning the assault. The only available map of Attu was a Coast and Geodetic Survey chart showing the terrain back to approximately one thousand yards from the shore line, and warning all shipping not to approach closer than two and one-half to three miles. Very little was known about the harbors. Oblique aerial photographs filled in a few gaps, but, because of the prevailing fog, the coverage was far from complete. A terrain model was constructed of the eastern portion of the island, east of a line running from Temnac Cove to the ridge north and west of Holtz Bay, but the model did not clearly delineate the key passes or the areas behind Henderson Ridge (the southwestern wall of Massacre Valley) and in the interior, west of Holtz Bay. The American planning staff had only scant information concerning the Japanese defenses. During late fall and early winter the Attu garrison had been gradually reinforced. A redeployment of naval forces ordered by Admiral Kinkaid shortly after he took command and the subsequent battle off the Komandorskis put an end to the process, but in the meantime the Japanese strength had been increased to a total of approximately 2,400 men. The nucleus of combat troops included about one and a half battalions of infantry, three antiaircraft batteries armed with 75-mm. dual-purpose guns and lighter weapons, and two platoons of a mountain gun battery armed with 75-mm. pack howitzers.

In addition to medical and other service detachments there were several engineer units whose primary mission was to construct an airfield at the head of the East Arm of Holtz Bay. The whole force was commanded by Col. Yasuyo Yamazaki, with headquarters at Chichagof Harbor, a small bay midway between Holtz and Sarana Bays. The bulk of the garrison was concentrated in the vicinity of Holtz Bay and around Chichagof Harbor, where the strongest positions had been installed. One of the antiaircraft batteries, consisting of four guns, commanded the West Arm of Holtz Bay; another was placed at the head of the East Arm of the bay; and the third was part of the Chichagof Harbor defenses. The pass between Holtz Bay and Massacre Valley was guarded by the mountain artillery, one platoon of which was in position to enfilade Massacre Valley itself. Along the ridges flanking Massacre Valley and overlooking Sarana Bay the Japanese had built machine gun and mortar positions. The plans being developed in California took note of the fact that Holtz Bay and Chichagof Harbor were the most heavily defended of the possible landing places. Reconnaissance planes had noted signs of Japanese activity in the vicinity of Temnac Cove, Sarana Bay, and at the head of Massacre Valley, but it was almost impossible to spot the cleverly concealed emplacements along the ridges. Additional details kept coming to light with the result that the original estimate of Japanese strength was progressively raised. By the time General Brown and his staff had completed the operational planning, it was estimated that the enemy garrison amounted to something between 1,600 and 1,800 men, of whom one battalion or its equivalent was composed of infantry and troops available for infantry service. Aerial photographs received from the planning staffs in early April indicated that a number of Japanese positions existed in the lower part of Massacre Valley commanding the beaches and the bay, but, because there was no sign that these positions were occupied, the assumption was that they had been built and abandoned the year before.

As soon as it was clear that the Japanese garrison exceeded the first estimate of 500 men, General Brown’s landing force was increased by an additional battalion combat team. Thus, for the initial attack, the following troops would be available: one regimental combat team built around the 17th Infantry and a field artillery battalion; one battalion combat team from the 32d Infantry and including a battery of field artillery; the 7th Division Reconnaissance Troop; one battalion of antiaircraft artillery; and one battalion of combat engineers. The remainder of the 32d Infantry, with reinforcements similar to those of the 117th Infantry combat team, was to be held at Adak as a floating reserve and was expected to be available at Attu on D plus 1. The total strength of the assault force and floating reserve amounted to approximately a 11,000 men. Admiral Kinkaid, as commander, North Pacific, was in command of the entire operation. Under his direct command were the shore-based air group, the naval escort, cover, supply, and service groups, the floating Army reserve, and a force consisting of the 4th Infantry and one engineer regiment which, after Attu had been taken, was to occupy Shemya Island and construct an airfield there. Under the direct command of Admiral Rockwell was the assault force, which consisted of the naval air and fire support group, the transport group, a mine sweeper group, and the landing force under General Brown, who was to assume tactical command ashore from the time of landing.

The lack of information on topography and offshore hazards made it necessary to prepare several optional plans. By the time the main assault force sailed from San Francisco on 24 April five different plans of operation had been worked out. Under Plan A the major landing was to take place in Massacre Bay and a secondary one was to be made at a small beach (Beach Red) 600 yards west of the entrance to Holtz Bay. Under Plan B the major assault was to be launched from Sarana Bay. Plan C was based on landing the entire force in Massacre Bay. In Plan D as in Plans A and B, two landings were to take place: the major one in the West Arm of Holtz Bay and the other at Beach Red. Plan E provided for three landings: one at either Beach Red or the West Arm of Holtz Bay, another in Massacre Bay, and a third in Sarana Bay. Final decision as to which plan to adopt was postponed until the arrival of the force at its rendezvous at Cold Bay, where it was hoped more reliable information as to navigable waters could be obtained from Aleutian pilots. Admiral Rockwell was inclined to view Plans B and D with disfavor, and General Brown preferred not to depend on a single effort, as in plan C. At Cold Bay, a revised Plan E was, after considerable discussion and study, adopted as the plan of attack. Sarana Bay was ruled out entirely. The major landing was to take place at Massacre Bay, and a landing on the north side of the island was to be made wherever it proved most feasible by a reconnaissance on the morning of D-day. The main force, landing at Massacre Bay, was to “advance rapidly” up the valley, seize the passes leading to Holtz and Sarana Bays, and then move into the Holtz Bay area where it was to join the northern force in destroying the enemy in that vicinity. As soon as this had been done, the main force was to advance against Chichagof Harbor, while the northern force secured the valley running west from Holtz Bay. The assumption apparently continued to be that not more than three days would be required to take the island.

Delayed twenty-four hours because of weather; the attack force headed out of Cold Bay on 4 May and turned westward through chill rain and a stormy sea toward Attu. D-day was set for 8 May. As the force drew near the run-in point 115 miles off the north shore of Attu, the weather grew even worse. Admiral Kinkaid ordered Admiral Rockwell to postpone the landing a day. While Admiral Rockwell took his battleships off to the west on the strength of a rumor that a strong Japanese force was approaching from that direction, the transports and a destroyer screen circled eastward in the dense fog, rain, and rough seas. With the weather continuing foul and reconnaissance planes reporting that a heavy surf was running on the landing beaches, Admiral Kinkaid again postponed D-day. Finally, as there seemed to be no prospect of the weather clearing, he ordered the attack to proceed, on 11 May. In the midst of the fog the battleships made rendezvous with the transports on the evening of 10 May, and the force split into two groups for the approach. General Brown, who had his headquarters on board the transport Zeilin, accompanied the group heading for Massacre Bay. Admiral Rockwell, in Pennsylvania, remained off the northern coast.

The weather had helped to frustrate plans of the Eleventh Air Force for softening up Attu before the assault. The Army had concentrated about two dozen of its most efficient fighter-bombers on Amchitka for pre-invasion bombings of the island, and during the ten days preceding the landings Army planes dropped 95 tons of bombs on Attu. But the foul weather that forced the postponement of the landings for four days stopped all attack missions against Attu during the same period, and also most of the more elaborate air support measures planned for D-day.

The assault opened according to plan, quietly, like a commando raid, when the 7th Scout Company paddled ashore from submarines in the predawn darkness on a small beach (Beach Scarlet) about four miles northwest of Beach Red, on the north shore of the island. This unit, the 7th Scout Company, was part of a Provisional Battalion commanded by Captain William H. Willoughby, the remainder of which consisted of the 7th Division’s Reconnaissance Troop (minus one platoon). The Reconnaissance Troop, on board the destroyer Kane, was scheduled to follow the Scout Company ashore immediately, but a blanket of fog had again descended on the entire eastern end of the island and the Kane lost its bearing. As a result, the Reconnaissance Troop did not land until nearly noon. By then, the Scout Company had moved well up a steep valley that led south from the beach. At the head of the valley was a pass which gave access to one of the valleys leading back from Holtz Bay, and from which it was hoped the Scout Company could attack the enemy in the rear. Meanwhile a reconnaissance party of Alaskan Scouts and Company A, 17th Infantry, had groped its way through the pea-soup fog to a landing on Beach Red. Its mission was to explore the feasibility of using this beach to land the entire northern force, a combat team (BCT 17-1) built around the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry. Two obstacles presented themselves: a rock-studded approach that prevented more than two or three boats from unloading at one time; and a steep escarpment that began about 75 yards from the water’s edge and rose to a height of 200 or 250 feet above the beach. From the top of this bluff, a fairly level, but broken, tableland stretched south along the coast to the heights overlooking Holtz Bay. The Navy beachmaster and Colonel Frank L. Cullin, commanding officer of the 32d Infantry who had gone ashore with the reconnaissance party, reported that a landing on Beach Red was feasible, and at 1230 Lieutenant Colonel Albert E. Hartl, commanding officer of BCT 17-1, requested General Brown’s permission to land the rest of his troops. On board the Zeilin off Massacre Bay, General Brown had been waiting impatiently for the fog to lift enough to permit the main landings to take place. The first assault waves had been on the water since shortly after 0800, awaiting better visibility and a signal to proceed, while H-hour was twice postponed. Finally, at about the same time that he received Colonel Hartl’s request, General Brown received a message from Admiral Rockwell advising him that, since the weather now promised to improve, the boats should be sent off as soon as they could feel their way into Massacre Bay. When General Brown was assured that the landing craft could return to the transports for a second trip, he recommended that the Massacre Bay assault begin at 1530 and that Colonel Hartl’s land his force on Beach Red as soon as he was ready. At 1615, Company B, 17th Infantry, set foot on Beach Red. Minutes later, advance elements of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 17th Infantry, landed on Beaches Blue and Yellow, in Massacre Bay.

No enemy opposition was encountered at any of the landing beaches. The fog, which hampered the landings, likewise concealed them from the enemy. For several weeks the Japanese had known that an attack on their Aleutian outposts was in the offing, although until the end of April they thought Kiska would be the target. Their first intimation of the American approach to Attu came at 0200 on 11 May, when planes from the carrier Nassau combined a bombing and strafing run over Chichagof Harbor with the dropping of leaflets demanding surrender. At 1000, Colonel Yamazaki was informed of American shipping offshore and he ordered combat positions strengthened. Shortly thereafter, battleships Pennsylvania and Idaho engaged in a radar-controlled bombardment of the Chichagof area. The enemy responded by strengthening the defensive positions that guarded the passes leading out of Massacre Valley.

By 2130, five hours after the main landings commenced, a total of 3,500 men had gone ashore; 400 at Beach Scarlet, 1,100 at Beach Red, and 2,000 at Massacre Bay. The Northern Landing Force, BCT 17-1, had made contact with the enemy at about 1800, when a patrol party that was moving along the beach at the foot of the escarpment encountered four unsuspecting Japanese about a mile southwest of Goltsov Point. Two of the Japanese were killed; the other two escaped. Soon afterward the beach patrol came under the fire of the dual-purpose guns at the head of Holtz Bay, and its advance slowed. The main body of BCT 17-1, on the tableland above the escarpment, had continued on apparently undetected. Its objective was Hill X, an 800-foot camel back about two miles south of Beach Red, which dominated the Japanese positions at the head of Holtz Bay. By 2230 the gathering darkness merged with the thick fog to disguise the lay of the land completely. BCT 17-1 dug in for the night, not quite sure where it was, but hoping that the hill on which its outpost positions were placed was Hill X. The Provisional Battalion, which had landed on Beach Scarlet, had been climbing most of the day up a steep watercourse. By midafternoon the advance unit, the 7th Scout Company, had reached an elevation of nearly 2,500 feet, at what appeared to be the summit of the pass. But from here on the only maps the men had were blank. Rather than risk getting thoroughly lost in the uncharted jumble of peaks, ridges, and canyons that lay beyond, Captain Willoughby ordered his men to bivouac for the night.

The Southern Landing Force, advancing in Massacre Valley, had come under enemy fire shortly after 1800. BCT 17-2, which was moving up along the right side of the hogback and along the floor of the valley to the east, had advanced approximately 2,500 yards when it was stopped by rifle and machine gun fire coming from the high ridge, later named Gilbert Ridge, that formed the east rim of the Massacre Valley. After being pinned down for about forty-five minutes, the battalion began working forward, although it was still under scattered rifle fire. Immediately the enemy fire became more intense, mortars and light artillery joined in, and BCT 17-2 was again stopped. Unable to move in any direction, at 2100 the battalion dug in for the night along the east slope of the hogback about 3,000 yards from the beach which it had left almost five hours earlier. On the left flank, west of the hogback, BCT 17-3 had made about the same progress. Somewhat behind in the early stages of the advance, BCT 17-3 caught up with BCT 17-2 when the latter was stopped. It was now 2030. The two battalions, BCT 17-2 on the right side of the hogback and BCT 17-3 in the west arm of the valley, were abreast of each other, with the enemy in front of them firing from the heights that guarded the passes to Holtz Bay and Sarana Bay and from the ridges on both sides of the valley. At the request of BCT 17-3 the 105mm. guns back at the beachhead delivered a concentrated fire against the high ground at the head of the valley, and the battalion then attempted to resume its advance. But as soon as the artillery fire ended and the troops began to move forward, the Japanese again opened up. BCT 17-3 again halted and dug in somewhat ahead of BCT 17-2 on the other side of the hogback.

While the two battalions had been moving up Massacre Valley, two small detachments had been sent out on each flank to secure the ridges, Gilbert Ridge on the right and Henderson Ridge on the left. One of these detachments, a platoon of the 7th Reconnaissance Troop, landed on Alexai Point about four miles east of Massacre Bay Beach and halfway out the peninsula toward Chirikof Point. It was assigned the mission of establishing an outpost line across the peninsula from Alexai Point to Sarana Bay, of reconnoitering “to the west to include area between Lake Nicholas and Massacre Bay,” and of afterwards reconnoitering the peninsula to the east, in the direction of Chirikof Point. It was to “make contact and co-ordinate efforts” with a platoon of the 17th Infantry in the pass between Sarana Bay and Massacre Bay. After landing on Alexai Point, the platoon from the 7th Reconnaissance Troop was out of contact with the main landing force for two days. During this time it encountered none of the enemy and played no direct part in the battle. Had the Japanese attempted to infiltrate across Gilbert Ridge, the platoon might have played a more active role, even though its position was far to the east of any probable point of counterattack. The other platoon was from Company F, 17th Infantry. Reinforced with a light machine gun section and a 60-mm. mortar squad, this platoon had moved east along the shore of Massacre Bay and up into a steep pass leading over Gilbert Ridge to Sarana Beach. Its mission was to seize this pass and the “high ground along right flank” (i.e., Gilbert Ridge) to establish defensive positions in the Sarana end of the pass from which Sarana Beach and Lake Nicholas could be fired upon, and to “clear the ridge of enemy.” It was to assist BCT 17-2, “if practicable,” in the capture of the important pass at the head of Massacre Valley by firing on enemy installations at the western end of Gilbert Ridge. The platoon climbed all night and on the morning after D-day it was on the Sarana Beach side of the mountains. There it was discovered by the Japanese. For two days the men fought off strong enemy patrols, while they struggled westward along Gilbert Ridge. They finally managed to rejoin the main force in Massacre Valley near the point where BCT 17-2 had established itself on the night of D-day. The full story of their experience is one of the minor epics of Attu. Meanwhile, the detachments which had been sent out on the left flank of the Southern Landing Force to secure Henderson Ridge and the country beyond had likewise run into difficulty. A platoon of Company I, 17th Infantry, which on landing at Massacre Beach had been dispatched to secure the valley side of the ridge found rough going along the lower slopes. When fog and darkness finally halted the platoon, it had reached a point approximately 700 yards short of the position where BCT 17-3 had established itself in the valley. A week later, on 18 May, the platoon was only some 500 yards beyond its original positions. Further out on the left flank, behind Henderson Ridge, Company F of the 32d Infantry ran into several blind alleys after reaching its first objective, Temnac Cove. Although delayed by having landed farther to the east than it should have, Company F reached Temnac Cove by nightfall of D-day. There an enemy outpost was discovered and destroyed before the defenders were aware of the approaching Americans. Company F reported that its first mission, that of clearing the Temnac Cove area, was accomplished. The next morning the company proceeded on its second mission, to move northeast toward Holtz Bay, under orders to clear, as it went, all enemy installations from the flank of the main landing force advancing up Massacre Valley. It made no progress, however. Everywhere it turned it found itself in a cul-de-sac, and finally General Brown ordered the company to retrace its steps to Massacre Beach.

When General Brown went ashore toward the end of D-day the tactical situation was far from clear, but what information was available would not have indicated that a long drawn-out struggle was in prospect. The Southern Landing Force appeared to be close to its immediate objective-the passes leading from the head of Massacre Valley to Holtz Bay and Sarana Bay. BCT 17-3 reported that its position was about 600 yards short of the Holtz Bay pass, and BCT 17-2 was believed to be within 1,000 yards of the pass leading to Sarana Bay. There was a possibility that, on the northern front, BCT 17-1 had reached its first objective, Hill X. BCT 32-2, except for Company F, had not yet been committed, and the other two battalions of the 32d Infantry were due to arrive from Adak within twenty-four hours. If additional reinforcements were needed, General Buckner was willing to release for this purpose the 4th Infantry, which was being held in readiness to occupy Shemya Island as soon as Attu was secured. Everything considered, it would not have been unreasonable to suppose that within a few days the island would be taken.

Unfortunately, things were not entirely as they seemed. When the situation began to unfold on the morning of D plus 1, it became apparent that a long, hard fight was in store. In Massacre Valley, BCT 17-2 was at least 500 yards further from its objective than it had supposed, and BCT 17-3, apparently having mistaken a blind valley (Zwinge Valley) for the Holtz Bay pass, was a good 2,000 yards south of its immediate objective. Since neither Gilbert Ridge nor Henderson Ridge had been cleared, both battalions came under fire from each flank as well as from the front. BCT 17-2, which had been ordered to consolidate and hold its position with mission of blocking the Sarana-Massacre pass, thus found it necessary to move forward over very rough terrain in the face of heavy fire. Among the casualties was the regimental commander, Colonel Edward P. Earle, killed by machine gun fire while with one of the forward elements. His death was a severe blow to the 17th Infantry, and, in appointing Colonel Wayne L. Zimmerman to take his place, General Brown deprived himself of the services of an extremely able chief of staff. At the end of D plus 1 the battalion was in position to block the pass, but the Japanese defenses were still intact. To the left of the hogback, BCT 17-3 managed to move forward to the rising ground at the mouth of the Holtz Bay-Massacre (Jarmin) pass, where it was pinned down. Frontal attacks against the mouth of the pass failed completely on each of the two days following, although BCT 17-3 now had the support of BCT 32-2 (minus Company F). By the middle of D plus 3 (14 May), it appeared that the Massacre Valley assault was stalemated. On the north side of the island, BCT 17-1 was faring no better in its attack against Holtz Bay. The height reached by the battalion on the night of D-day turned out to be some 900 yards short of Hill X, which the Japanese had occupied during the night. After bitter day-long fighting, BCT 17-1 won its objective during the early evening of D plus 1, but another two days passed before it could force the stubbornly resisting Japanese off the reverse slope and the shoulders of the hill. At the end of D plus 3, the battalion, now joined by BCT 32-3, was only 300 yards nearer Holtz Bay, while the Provisional Battalion, which had moved down into the canyon leading to the rear of the Holtz Bay positions, had been bottled up in the same position for nearly three days, about a mile from the mouth of the canyon. In a memorandum for Admiral Rockwell, General Brown summed up these first days of the battle in the following words:

Reconnaissance and experience of four days fighting indicates Japanese tactics comprise fighting with machine guns and snipers concealed in rain washes or in holes or trenches dug in each side and at varying heights of hill along narrow passes leading through mountain masses. These positions are difficult to locate and almost impossible to shoot out with artillery. They produce casualties in excess of casualties which can be returned. Number of machine gun positions out of proportion to estimated enemy strength. In addition, small infantry groups are dug in high up on sides of pass parallel to axis of approach through pass as well as all commanding terrain features in passes. Impossible to approach positions on sides of pass from above due to precipitous slopes more or less snow covered and extremely slippery footing. Progress through passes will, unless we are extremely lucky, be slow and costly, and will require troops in excess to those now available to my command.

After repeated inquiries on the part of General Brown, the two battalions of the 32d Infantry (BCT 32-3 and BCT 32-1) that constituted the force reserve had arrived at Attu on 13 May (D plus 2). Although their arrival greatly eased the solution, General Brown and his staff were of the opinion that further reinforcements were necessary, specifically, part of the 501st AA Battalion, and a few miscellaneous units of the 7th Division, which were at Adak, and the 4th Infantry, which General Buckner had promised to make available for tactical employment on Attu if needed. At a conference on board the Pennsylvania, on 15 May, Admiral Rockwell was not at first convinced that these additional troops were necessary, but he finally agreed to forward General Brown’s recommendations to Admiral Kinkaid with his concurrence. Upon his return from the conference aboard Admiral Rockwell’s flagship, General Brown drafted a message for General DeWitt, who was then at Adak, informing him that he had “made frequent attempts to . . . procure additional troops but without success,” and requesting General DeWitt’s assistance in the matter.

Both Admiral Kinkaid and Admiral Rockwell were becoming increasingly concerned over the exposed position of the naval support forces. Japanese submarines were in the area. A torpedo had just missed the Pennsylvania on D plus 1 and on the morning of 15 May, soon after General Brown had returned on shore from his conference with Admiral Rockwell, four torpedoes narrowly missed one of the transports near the flagship. The other two battleships, Nevada and Idaho, had expended all their 14-inch high-capacity ammunition and, with their screen, had withdrawn to the northward to await orders. In view of the submarine threat, Admiral Kinkaid thought that the naval support group had tarried long enough in the dangerous waters of Attu. Accordingly, Admiral Rockwell had informed General Brown during the conference of 15 May that the ships would withdraw the next day, or in any event no later than the 17th. The continued requests for reinforcements, a long dispatch requesting large quantities of engineering and road building equipment, and the lack of any positive indications of a speedy breakthrough ashore persuaded Admiral Kinkaid that General Brown was bogged down. General DeWitt and General Buckner, whom Kinkaid consulted, agreed with him that it was necessary to relieve General Brown. Upon their recommendation, Admiral Kinkaid appointed General Landrum to take over the command of Attu. The new commander arrived on the scene during the afternoon of 16 May and assumed command of the landing force at 1700, just as the fighting for Holtz Bay was reaching its final stage.

General Brown’s relief coincided with an advance of the Northern Force that broke the deadlock on Attu. Intense shelling by naval guns and bombardment from the air persuaded the enemy to start withdrawing from the West Arm area at Holtz Bay on 14 May, and on the next two days the Northern Force after making contact with the Provisional Battalion moved into the West Arm area and, against hot resistance, on to the high ridge that separated the two arms of the bay. The ridge itself was won during the night of 16 May. This placed the Northern Force (BCT 17-1 and BCT 32-3 ) directly in the rear of the Japanese defending the Massacre Valley pass, and on the morning of 17 May the Japanese began to withdraw toward Chichagof Harbor. The junction of the Northern and Southern Forces took place during the early morning hours of 18 May (D plus 7) , when a patrol from K Company of BCT 17-3 met the 7th Reconnaissance Company on the western slope of the Holtz Bay-Massacre Pass.

The Japanese withdrawal and the junction of forces marked the turning point of the campaign. Although nearly two weeks more of hard, costly fighting remained, the uncertainty and frustration of the first few days on Attu never recurred. It was a slow business taking the machine gun and mortar nests left on the heights by the retreating Japanese, but eventually the combined American force, reinforced with a battalion of the 4th Infantry, drew a net around Chichagof Harbor. The end came on one frenetic night when most of the surviving Japanese, from about seven hundred to a thousand strong, charged madly through the American lines, screaming, killing, and being killed. The next day, 30 May, the enemy announced the loss of Attu, and units of the 32d, 17th, and 4th Infantry cleared out pockets of surviving enemy troops as they advanced to occupy the Chichagof installations. Although mopping-up operations continued for several days, organized resistance ended with the wild charge of 29 May, and Attu was once more in American hands.

Out of a force that totaled more than 15,000 men before the campaign ended, 549 Americans had given their lives on Attu, 1,148 had been wounded, and about 2,100 had been taken out of action by disease and nonbattle injuries. Most of the nonbattle casualties were exposure cases, victims of the climate and weather and of inadequate clothing. Trench foot was the most common affliction. The Japanese lost their entire force: approximately 2,350 enemy dead were counted and 29 taken prisoner. The price of victory was high. In terms of numbers engaged, Attu ranks as one of the most costly assaults in the Pacific. In terms of Japanese destroyed, the cost of taking Attu was second only to Iwo Jima: for every hundred of the enemy on the island, about seventy-one Americans were killed or wounded.

Kiska-Grand Anticlimax

Before the guns had ceased firing on Attu, preparations got under way for the next moves against the Japanese in the Aleutians. An airfield was begun on Alexai Point, scene of one of the Attu landings, and on 30 May garrison troops and engineers landed on Shemya Island, thirty-five miles east of Attu, to begin construction of a bomber field there. Fighter strips were completed at both places before June ended, and in mid-July bombers from the new Alexai Point field made their first strike against Japan, a raid against the northern Kurils.

Even before the Attu landings took place preparations had been started for assaulting Kiska. 43  For this purpose on 4 May 1943 General DeWitt’s headquarters had authorized the activation of an amphibious training force under General Corlett. Preliminary training was to be conducted at Fort Ord and San Diego by the Joint Staff that had planned the Attu operation, but advanced training at Adak was also to be provided. As a result of the Attu experience and of revised estimates of the Japanese strength on Kiska, the assault force was doubled in size over that originally planned and among the additions were a mountain combat team, a regimental combat team from the Alaska Defense Command, and the hard-bitten First Special Service Force, all of them trained in the type of fighting that had developed on Attu. It was decided also, after the Attu campaign ended, to substitute the battle-tested 17th Regiment for one of the infantry units from California. By the end of July, about 34,000 Allied troops were assembled at Adak and Amchitka for final training in preparation for the assault on Kiska. Included among them was a Canadian brigade group numbering 4,800 officers and enlisted men, and about 700 men of the First Special Service Force were Canadians. The enemy’s strength on Kiska was estimated at from 9,000 to 10,000 men. Although some of the War Department planners favored postponing the operation, the joint Chiefs of Staff, upon the recommendation of the joint Staff Planners, gave their formal approval on 22 June.General DeWitt and Admiral Nimitz designated 15 August as the target date. The force commanders, in conference at Adak on 30 July, decided that D-day ought to be postponed until 24 August to permit further training and regrouping of the battalion combat teams; but Admiral Nimitz was opposed to the delay, and D-day was definitely set for 15 August.

Unlike Attu, Kiska was subjected to a heavy pre-invasion bombardment. Reinforced during June and operating from the new airfields, the Eleventh Air Force dropped a total of 424 tons of bombs on Kiska during the month of July. On 6 July and 22 July, strong naval task groups blasted the island with an additional 330 tons of explosives. On 2 August a strong force consisting of two battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and nine destroyers carried out another bombardment, supported by seventeen bombers and eight fighters of the Eleventh Air Force. Over 200 tons of shells and bombs fell on Kiska on that day. Two days later, on 4 August, the Eleventh Air Force dropped a record-breaking 152 tons of bombs. Returning fliers claimed excellent results and reported “only meager and inaccurate” flak and small arms fire. Then, for several days while bad weather grounded the Army bombers, destroyers of the naval blockading force continued the attack. On 10 August the Eleventh Air Force came back into the picture with another hard blow, and between then and D-day it dropped 335 tons of bombs on Kiska.


Surprisingly enough, most pilots saw no signs of activity on the island; a few reported that they had encountered light antiaircraft fire. Earlier, there had been considerable success against Japanese submarines going to and from Kiska; then the enemy submarine traffic seemed to stop. The reports were the cause of considerable speculation at Admiral Kinkaid’s headquarters. On one occasion, when someone raised the question whether the Japanese might not have been evacuating troops by submarine, Admiral Kinkaid, with a laugh, said he’d be glad to provide free transportation to Japan for half their garrison. His serious opinion was that the enemy had taken to the hills, as they had on Attu, and after wrecking all installations not already destroyed by the air and sea bombardment, were digging in for a last stand back from the beaches. The possibility of evacuation was not ignored, however. Shortly before D-day the suggestion was made that a small reconnaissance party be landed on Kiska by submarine in order to clear up the situation, but it was vetoed by Admiral Kinkaid. His position was that if the Japanese were still on the island the assault force was ready for them, but a reconnaissance party might be wiped out; that if the Japanese were not there, a landing would be a “super dress rehearsal, good for training purposes,” and the only foreseeable loss would be merely the let-down experienced by the highly keyed troops. With D-day only a few days away, Admiral Kinkaid decided to let the assault proceed as planned, without sending in a reconnaissance party.

Early on the morning of 15 August General Corlett’s forces made a feint toward the south shore of Kiska and then landed on the north and west sides of the island. Not a shot was fired as the troops came ashore and moved up into the mist-shrouded interior. As on Attu, complete surprise seemed to have been achieved. All through the first night and the next day, and for several days afterward, American and Canadian patrols probed deeper into the island, occasionally hearing the noise of gunfire, but never encountering any Japanese. Kiska was an uninhabited island. The only guns that fired were those of friend against friend, and partly on that account casualties ashore during the first four days of the operation numbered 21 dead and 121 sick or wounded. The Navy lost 70 dead or missing and 47 wounded when destroyer Abner Read struck a mine on 18 August.

The entire enemy garrison had slipped away unseen, as the remnants of the Japanese Army on Guadalcanal had done six months earlier. To make the embarrassment complete, the Kiska evacuation had been carried out as early as 28 July, almost three weeks before the Allied landings. The original plan of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters had been to withdraw the garrison gradually, by submarine, but this scheme had been given up late in June because of the loss or damaging of most of the submarines assigned to the operation and because of some anxiety that, by weakening the garrison over a prolonged period, the operation might fail. It was then decided to evacuate the entire force at one time, in one movement, using cruisers and destroyers as transports. The date, at first fixed for early July, was postponed until 28 July. Between then and D-day Kiska had been under attack and close surveillance by American naval units and the Eleventh Air Force, but the reports of flak and Japanese activity when there was none, which inexperienced observers brought back, obscured all the evidence from which the proper deduction might have been drawn. Surprise was achieved, but it was not the Japanese who were surprised.

The retaking of Attu was the high point of the war, as far as it concerned Alaska. Kiska was anticlimactic, and what happened afterward was chiefly a matter of tying up the loose threads of unfinished business: of deciding upon the role that Alaska and the Aleutians could play in defeating Japan, and of making the organizational changes that the situation seemed to require.

In ridding the Aleutians of Japanese invaders, the objective had been partly to eliminate a potential military threat, but mostly to eradicate a psychological blot. As for using the western Aleutians as steppingstones to Japan, that idea had still to receive official imprimatur. General DeWitt and others had from time to time urged an assault by this route, but commitments to other theaters, and the desire of the Soviet Union not to have its neutrality with Japan compromised, had precluded acceptance of the idea. With the Aleutians cleared, and about 144,000 American and Canadian troops in the Alaska-Aleutians area, a reconsideration of the strategic role of that area seemed to be in order.

An invasion of Shumushu and Paramushiro, the northernmost of the Kuril Islands, was the substance of a plan that General DeWitt submitted to General Marshall early in August. This plan contemplated using the combined forces that had been engaged in the Attu and Kiska operations, after they had been raised to a strength of approximately 54,000 men. It proposed a reinforcement of the Eleventh Air Force in heavy and medium bombers in order to provide the necessary long-range air support, and recommended organizing a North American theater to carry out the invasion in April or May 1944. Neither the Army’s Operations Division, nor the Navy as represented by Admiral King and Admiral Nimitz, nor the joint Staff Planners saw any immediate possibility of implementing the plan. Pacific Fleet forces were fully committed to operations in the Central and South Southwest Pacific Areas; the creation of a North American theater in the North Pacific was not acceptable to Admiral King; and the seizure of the two northern Kurils without immediately pressing on toward Japan proper would, according to the Operations Division, place the forces in a position as hazardous as that of the Japanese in Kiska had been.In deciding against an invasion of the northern Kurils in early 1944, the joint Chiefs nevertheless held the door open to the possibility of the situation in the North Pacific being altered, perhaps in favor of invading the Kurils, by the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan. The War Department accordingly directed General Buckner to co-operate with Admiral Kinkaid in planning an assault on Paramushiro with the target date, for planning purposes only, set for the spring of 1945.

By the time the target date rolled around, the American forces on Iwo Jima and Okinawa were only half as far away from Tokyo as Paramushiro was. After August 1943, whatever plans were discussed or even drawn up for assaulting the Kurils or Japan proper, Alaska like the Caribbean area and the Atlantic bases, was actually called upon to retrench, to reduce the strength of its garrison and curtail facilities. Within two weeks after the reoccupation of Kiska, four bomber squadrons of the Eleventh Air Force were designated for withdrawal, a reduction of the garrison strength to 80,000 by July 1944 was planned, the question of reducing the category of defense was brought up, and the reorganization of the Alaska Defense Command into a separate department was proposed. The cutback of bomber strength was carried out in September. In the following month, October, the separation of the Alaska Defense Command from the Western Defense Command and its re-designation as the Alaskan Department was announced, effective 1 November.

Both the proposed cut in garrison strength and the lowering of the category of defense were approved by the joint Chiefs before the end of October. By the end of 1943 Army forces in Alaska had been reduced to about 113,000 men and General Buckner was notified to prepare for a further cut-to a total strength of 50,000. This figure was approximately reached by the end of 1944. In spite of the fact that at this time the possibility of staging an offensive via the Aleutians began to revive, the process of retrenchment continued, and no serious consideration of reversing the trend was entertained. Any danger to Alaska and the Western Hemisphere had long since disappeared.

SOURCE: GUARDING THE UNITED STATES AND ITS OUTPOSTS; by: Stetson Conn, Rose C. Engelman, Byron Fairchild (United States Army Center of Military History)

A Personal Project of Mine Right Now

My personal project right now is to get the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam removed from office. You are probably familiar with him because of the recent photo of him, the black face and KKK one. Even though painting your face or wearing a KKK outfit is appalling enough, his views on abortion are criminal.

In case the photo has overshadowed his views on abortion, then let me give you a quick run down. He has come out publicly and announced that he is for doing abortions after the mother has delivered the baby. You heard right, after the newborn has been brought into this world, he wants people to have the right to abort that baby. He said his words were taken out of context but I sincerely don’t believe that nor do others.

I can’t understand the thinking of this man or should I say monster. Anyone wanting to kill a newborn is a  monster in my book. But he said the mother would have the right to have the baby revived if need be. Then they would take the baby, put it in a little bassinet, make it as comfortable as possible, while they decide whether or not this child should live. He said this would only come up if the child had some deformity or something that would prevent the child from having the quality of life it deserved. To me, this is playing God. Who gives any doctor the right to decide if the newborn has a right to live or die? Doesn’t that go against the Oath they took when they became doctors. The one that stated they would heal, protect and do everything possible to preserve life. Perhaps the doctors have forgotten that Oath.

There are too many people in this country that are wanting to adopt babies. Why would you terminate a life whether it is deformed or not. That baby has the right to live just like the rest of us. Put him/her up for adoption. Let a loving family take that baby, raise it and give it the best quality of life available. You just don’t take a life and discard it so easily. It is killing.  I should add he has never come right out and said how the baby would be killed. Knocking it in the head with a hammer the way they do cows, ringing its’ neck like a chicken, sounds cruel doesn’t it. Well, murdering a new born child is cruel. To think an elected official thinks this way is unbelievable, more over, he should not be in an office which can make the laws that govern our lives.

If this governor is permitted to get this legislation passed, then others will follow suit. He has to be removed from office and we have to make it very plain, we will not tolerate the killing of newborn babies in this country.

I have provided a link below that goes straight to the Governor’s Office of Virginia. I have asked my site to write him a note. You can mention the black face/KKK photo, if you like. But I would like for you to place a special emphasis on his views about abortion. We cannot permit this to happen in our country. If it does, what next? The baby has brown eyes and I wanted a blue eye baby, so kill it. This one proposal the monster is suggesting can sky-rocket out of control. We have to stop him and the only way we can do this is by forcing him to resign.

I would ask that you follow the link below and write to the Governor’s Office of Virginia. Make sure you tell him that we will not tolerate the killing of newborn babies in this country. Make your voice heard today and drop him a note.

Thank you,

Lady of the Abyss


Link to the Governor’s Office of Virginia


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

The Marine V Amphibious Corps, under General Holland Smith, was responsible for supervision of the ship-to-shore amphibious training of all units scheduled to take part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. General Richardson, commanding general of United States Army Forces in the Central Pacific Area (USAFICPA), was in charge of the rest of the training of Army units for this operation in addition to discharging the logistical and administrative duties of his command.

Before its specific assignment to the Gilberts operation, the 27th Infantry Division had been conducting preliminary amphibious training for a period of about eight months.1 The division had been a National Guard unit from New York State and was called into Federal service in October 1940. Beginning in March 1942 it was transferred to Hawaii and for the next year and a half served as base defense force, first in the outer islands and later on Oahu after the 25th Infantry Division was sent to Guadalcanal in November 1942.

While in Hawaii the division was triangularized, losing its fourth regiment, the 108th Infantry, to the 40th Division. This left it with the 165th, the 105th, and the 106th Infantry Regiments. Since November of 1942 the division’s commanding general had been General Ralph Smith. His previous wartime duty had been with Military Intelligence Division of the War Department General Staff (G-2) and with the 76th Infantry Division at Fort George G. Meade.

In spite of the fact that its original duties in the Hawaiian area were largely defensive in character, the division early commenced to make preparations against the day when it might be called upon to participate in amphibious operations. In December 1942 two of its officers were detailed to attend an amphibious school conducted by the U.S. Marine Corps in San Diego. On their return an amphibious school was opened in Hawaii. This school, conducted from 7 April to 12 May 1943, was attended by regimental and battalion commanders and their executive officers, and staff intelligence, operations, and logistics officers, and others.

Between May and August each battalion landing team was assembled at Schofield Barracks on Oahu and given instructions in the use of ropes, cargo net climbing and descending, boat team drill, debarking and deployment from mock-up boats, passage through wire entanglements and other obstacles, and various other techniques peculiar to amphibious warfare.

Battalion staffs prepared boat assignment tables, boat diagrams, shore party organization, landing diagrams, and debarkation and approach schedules. Next, each battalion landing team received one week’s instruction at the Waianae Amphibious Training Center where a pier was used to simulate a Navy transport, and where a specially constructed barge was anchored offshore to give the troops experience in embarking and debarking from a listing vessel.

In August, when General Richardson assumed command of United States Army Forces in the Central Pacific Area, steps were taken forthwith to expand the amphibious training program in the Hawaiian area with special attention given to the units of the 27th Division scheduled to participate in the forthcoming Gilberts operation. Construction of three new training centers had already commenced and before the end of August these were completed and ready for use. They were located at Waimanalo on the southeastern shore of Oahu, at Kahuku Point on the northernmost tip of Oahu, and in the Pali region in the central part of the island. All were equipped with mock-up ships’ platforms and other facilities for specialized amphibious training. It was planned that each combat team of the 27th Division would be rotated through each of these camps as well as through the Schofield training area. Each team was to spend three weeks at each center.

In addition to this general “pre-amphibious” training, various specialist courses were set up. Shore fire control parties were trained by division artillery for the purpose of directing naval gunfire after hitting the beach. The division’s G-4 (supply) officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Ferris, set up a school for transport quartermasters, commencing on 17 September. Officers and noncommissioned officers were made familiar with the characteristics of Navy transports by visiting Pearl Harbor, measuring the ships, and observing the loading of ships. Stowage plans used in the Attu operation were studied and tentative stowage plans for the forthcoming operation were devised.

One of the main sources of amphibious training doctrine available at this time was the War Department Field Manual 31-5, entitled Landing Operations on Hostile Shores (1941). This was based in large part on a previous Navy Department publication, Fleet Training Publication 167 (1938), which in turn originated in earlier studies in amphibious warfare produced by the Marine Corps in 1934 and 1935. In addition, at the suggestion of General Ralph Smith, General Richardson’s headquarters obtained copies of a detailed set of notes prepared by the 9th Infantry Division covering its training at Navy amphibious training centers on the east coast of the United States. These items and other literature obtained from the Marine training base at Camp Elliott, San Diego, made up the bulk of the theoretical doctrine upon which the training in Hawaii was based.

Only one serious shortcoming in the training program was subsequently noted. No systematic training of Army tanks in conjunction with small infantry units was attempted. In view of the importance of a smoothly functioning tank-infantry team in the forthcoming Makin operation, the omission was serious.

Following this period of shore-based training, the 165th Regimental Combat Team conducted joint amphibious training on beaches in the Hawaiian area with ships of Transport Division 20. Adverse weather conditions and poor beaches detracted somewhat from the success of this program. Also, no fire support or control vessels were available, thus adding undesirable artificialities to the maneuvers.

Finally, after all transports were loaded, last-minute rehearsals were held between 31 October and 3 November 1943. Admiral Turner’s Task Force 52, with the troops and the equipment of the Northern Attack Force aboard, proceeded from Pearl Harbor to the vicinity of Maalaea Bay, Maui, on the night of the 31st. Next morning rehearsals were held off the coast of Maui, with simulated naval gunfire and air support. All troops were landed but no supplies and equipment were sent ashore for fear of damage to landing craft and equipment, which could not be repaired before final embarkation for Makin. This exercise was repeated at daylight on 2 November. Finally, at dawn of 3 November a full-scale dress rehearsal was held off the coast of Kahoolawe Island employing actual gunfire and air support. Assault troops were embarked and proceeded to the line of departure, but did not land because Kahoolawe’s beaches were rocky and therefore dangerous to the safety of landing craft. After the completion of this final exercise, the task force returned to Pearl Harbor for final loading, repairs, and briefing before sailing for Makin.

Meanwhile at Wellington, New Zealand, the 2nd Marine Division was carrying on its own training program. One of its regiments, the 2nd Marines, had already made one amphibious landing at Guadalcanal and the other two, the 6th and 8th Marines, had participated in the subsequent land fighting on that island. In the words of General Holland Smith, “They were veterans of a campaign and needed little training other than amphibious training.” This the division got during the month of October as Navy transports were made available.

Final rehearsals of the entire Southern Attack Force, less its escort carriers, were held at Efate in the New Hebrides between 7 and 12 November. Two separate landing exercises were conducted at Mele Bay and fire support ships held bombardment practice on Erradaka Island. Communications equipment was tested and communications exercises were held at the same time. Although this training was valuable, especially for the personnel who had recently joined the division to replace losses at Guadalcanal, the rehearsals were still not as satisfactory as desired, principally because the forces involved had too short a time to prepare and co-ordinate their plans.


The chief logistical problem in preparing for the Gilberts operation was the shortage of amphibian tractors in the Pacific Ocean Areas. This vehicle was one of the few truly amphibian pieces of equipment to be put to extensive use throughout the war in the Pacific. It was capable of about 4.5 knots in the water, and its tracks enabled it to traverse coral reefs and other obstacles not negotiable by standard landing craft. About twenty-six feet in length, it could carry (at this date) upward of twenty troops.

The LVT (sometimes called the “Alligator”) had been first designed by one Donald Roebling, a retired manufacturer, for rescue work in the Everglades of Florida. Shortly thereafter the vehicle was brought to the attention of Marine officers stationed at Quantico, Virginia, who set about adapting it to military purposes. By 1940, under Marine Corps pressure, the Navy Department set aside funds for further development and by the outbreak of the war the amphibian tractor’s utility both as a troop carrier and as a cargo carrier for amphibious landings had been satisfactorily demonstrated. At Guadalcanal a few were used logistically to carry supplies and ammunition directly from shipboard to inland dumps, to move guns, and to evacuate the wounded.

Early during the planning stage for the Gilberts, it was realized that certainly at Tarawa and possibly at Makin standard landing craft could not pass through the protective wire and log barricades that were known to have been erected to seaward on the reefs and beaches. Also, there was some doubt as to whether there would be enough water over the reef at Tarawa to permit Higgins boats to get through. Experiments in breaking up such barricades as were expected in the Gilberts were made with these amphibian tractors and turned out favorably.

Steps were then taken to procure enough amphibian tractors to carry the assault troops ashore at both Tarawa and Makin. At Efate the 2nd Marine Division had on hand about one hundred tractors, of which seventy-five were considered to be operational. These were old models (LVT(1)’s), unarmored and susceptible to mechanical failure. The division requested the assignment of a hundred new models (LVT(2)’s) from San Diego. The request was granted but sufficient transport to carry the vehicles into the combat area could not be provided. In the end, naval authorities released three LST’s to do the job and fifty additional amphibian tractors reached the 2nd Marine Amphibian Tractor Battalion at Samoa just before it set sail for Tarawa. Thus, for the attack on Betio, the marines had a total of 125 amphibian tractors which, excluding those earmarked for purely logistical duties, was sufficient to make up the first three waves of the assault.

The 27th Division received forty-eight LVT’s for use at Makin. These were not delivered at Oahu until 29 October, only thirteen days before sailing for the island. Before the 29th only one tractor had been available for training. Nevertheless, a provisional company from Headquarters, 193rd Tank Battalion, had been organized on 21 October to operate these vehicles and was felt to be trained sufficiently to warrant use in the operation.

Another amphibious development introduced into the Central Pacific Area during the Gilberts operation was the extensive employment of pallets for unloading supplies. Pallets had been employed by the 7th Infantry Division in the Aleutians and had been reported upon favorably by that division after its arrival in the Hawaiian Islands. Pallets are sled-like structures to which supplies are strapped. Those used in the Aleutians had measured about four by six feet and were smooth-bottomed, like toboggans. Experiments were conducted on Oahu both with this type and with one that had runners attached.

The toboggan type was found to be more satisfactory on rough coral, while the sled type was discovered to be better on sand and finger coral. Fifteen hundred pallets of the toboggan type and 350 of the sled type were built for the Makin operation. In the end, the assault force palletized virtually all of its supplies with the exception of 55-gallon drums. These pallets, heavily loaded with supplies, could be unloaded from landing craft by tractor and moved to inland dumps so rapidly that under ideal conditions a lighter could be unloaded in an estimated one twelfth of the time taken by the standard manhandling method.

In the Gilberts operation, this technique of palletization was used to an appreciable degree only at Makin. The 2nd Marine Division constructed few pallets. However, the one battalion commander at Tarawa who reported on the subject considered that the employment of pallets there would have been feasible, and the transport quartermaster of Holland Smith’s V Amphibious Corps later commented favorably on the experiment conducted by Army troops at Makin.

Troops, supplies, and equipment of the Northern Attack Force were loaded in the Hawaiian area aboard four APA’s and one AKA. Three LST’s carried between them the forty-eight amphibian tractors assigned to the assault force and a company of medium tanks was carried aboard the LSD Belle Grove. These four amphibious vessels also carried between them 791 troops. All of the transports were combat loaded—this is to say, each tactical unit was embarked aboard a single ship with its supplies and equipment stowed in inverse order to their probable tactical employment during the landing. High-priority material was normally stowed near the top and center of ships’ holds; low-priority near the bottom and on the outside. Thus, the 1st Battalion Landing Team of the 165th Regimental Combat Team, consisting of 1,044 officers and men with their essential supplies and equipment, was loaded aboard the Neville; 2nd Battalion Landing Team, numbering 1,219, aboard Leonard Wood. In addition, each of these vessels carried shore parties from the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, and sundry other personnel including air liaison parties, shore fire control parties, observers, and newspaper correspondents.

[NOTE: The troopships were Leonard Wood, Calvert, Neville and Pierce; the cargo ship Alcyone (which also carried some troops)

The attack cargo ship Alcyone carried, in addition to its load of supplies and equipment, miscellaneous units of the 165th Regimental Combat Team such as the Service Company, the Cannon Company, 27th Division Quartermaster Company Detachment, 27th Division Signal Company Detachment—in all 288.

.Besides their troops, each of the three attack transports was loaded with the following supplies and equipment: all Table of Basic Allowance equipment and individual and organizational property for the units aboard except for certain items, such as chemical warfare equipment, that were ordered left behind; 10 days’ rations plus 2 days’ K rations carried by each individual on board; one 5-gallon container of water per man on board; 7 days’ motor fuel for bulldozers and other vehicles aboard, 5 units of fire for all weapons, 10 days’ medical supply for all units, and 7 days’ supply of ordnance cleaning and preserving materials, and spare gun parts. Average poundage per soldier on these three ships came to 1,322.

The Alcyone, the only attack cargo ship assigned to the Northern Attack Force, carried in addition to the troops mentioned, the following supplies and equipment: 24 days’ B rations for the entire force; approximately 3,000 5-gallon cans of water; sufficient gasoline for 8 days’ operation for all motor vehicles; approximately 18,750 gallons of white gasoline; over 70,000 gallons of diesel oil; 28,200 gallons of high-octane gasoline for the amphibian tractors; 7,684 gallons of motor oil; 3,655 pounds of grease; 5 units of fire for all weapons on board; 5 units of fire for one battery of 105-mm. howitzers; 4 units of fire for the weapons of the medium tanks carried aboard the Belle Grove; 4 units of fire for the two .30-Caliber and one .50-caliber machine guns on each of the amphibian tractors carried aboard the 3 LST’s; slightly more than 30 days of medical supplies; 30 days of maintenance for all items in ordnance; about 1.5 tons of chemical warfare supplies; approximately 30 days’ quartermaster supplies for the entire force; 30 days’ signal supplies; and 30 days’ engineer maintenance for an engineer combat battalion and 20 days’ maintenance requirements for an infantry division less the combat battalion.

The 2nd Marine Division, loading in New Zealand, experienced somewhat more difficulty than did the 165th Regimental Combat Team. This was because in many cases ships assigned to the division failed to arrive in Wellington until just before the scheduled time for loading. Before their actual arrival, division headquarters had little information about ships’ characteristics. Not knowing in many cases the names of the ships or even the type of ships to be assigned, Marine planners had no reliable information on such vital matters as the size of ships’ holds and hatches, troop spaces, and so forth. Hence, loading plans could be only tentative and had to be revised at the last minute as individual vessels put in their appearance at Wellington. (The following ships were used to lift the 2nd Marine Division: Zeilin, Heywood, Middleton, Biddle, Lee, Monrovia, Sheridan, La Salle, Doyen (all APA’s); Thuban, Bellatrix (AKA’s); and Ashland (LSD). 2nd Marine Div Special Action Rpt, 6 Jan 44, Incl A, Narrative Account of Gilbert Islands Opn, p. 1)

Nevertheless, the ships were combat loaded in a manner at least satisfactory enough to elicit no adverse comment from the division commander. Thirteen APA’s, three AKA’s and one LSD completed loading and left Wellington on 1 November 1943. In addition, three LST’s carrying amphibian tractors met the division at Samoa.

Preliminary Air and Naval Action

Well before the crystallization of plans for the invasion of the Gilberts, bombers of the Seventh Air Force had commenced to harass those islands as well as nearby Nauru. In January and February reconnaissance missions were sent over the Gilberts and on 20 April a flight of twenty-two B-24’s took off from Funafuti for a thousand-mile run to Nauru. There, in spite of heavy interception, they hit the runway recently constructed by the Japanese as well as the local phosphate plant. Two days later twelve B-24’s struck Tarawa with moderate success.

At this time Funafuti and Canton were the only two Allied bases within range of the Gilberts, and these were so far away as to make regular bombing runs difficult and hazardous. Hence, in order to strengthen American control of air approaches to these islands, the Joint Chiefs in July authorized the seizure of other islands for the construction of new airfields from which to conduct neutralization and reconnaissance. Accordingly, early in August, Admiral Nimitz ordered three Marine defense battalions to “occupy, organize, and defend the atolls of Nukufetau and Nanomea at the earliest practicable date . . . and to construct airfields thereon.” These two islands, both in the Ellice group, were respectively about 600 miles south and 350 miles east of Tarawa.

An advance survey party landed at Nanomea Atoll on 18 August to determine whether it was occupied by the enemy and, after reconnoitering, to select a site for an airfield. No Japanese were discovered on the atoll, and ten days later the advance party was followed ashore by the forward echelon of the 7th Marine Defense Battalion and detachments from two naval construction battalions. Meanwhile, on 22 August, an advance party of the 2nd Marine Airdrome Battalion landed at Nukufetau, and was followed five days later by the remainder of the battalion and elements of a naval construction battalion. The Marine contingent at Funafuti was strengthened and naval construction troops sent there. All units began at once the construction of new airfields and the improvement and enlargement of existing facilities.

The transformation of these atolls into air bases progressed rapidly. By 7 September a 5,000-foot airstrip was ready for use at Nanomea, and by the end of the month a full squadron of planes was operating from there. Work at Nukufetau was somewhat slower, but the strip was ready for use by 9 October.

On 11 August a small task force was sent by General Richardson to develop Baker Island, a U.S. possession about 480 miles due east of the Gilberts. This expedition was composed of the 804th Aviation Engineer Battalion, a provisional antiaircraft artillery battalion, a provisional air service support squadron, a fighter squadron, and miscellaneous service elements. The force carried equipment and supplies sufficient to construct, operate, and maintain a base for ninety days. It arrived at Baker on 1 September. A week later a strip capable of supporting fighter planes was already in use.

Thus, on the eve of the invasion of the Gilberts, the Seventh Air Force had five bases within bombing range of those islands. Funafuti, Nukufetau, and Nanomea each had two bomber squadrons; on Canton were stationed one bomber squadron, one fighter-bomber squadron, and one fighter squadron; Baker had one fighter squadron. Advance headquarters of the Seventh Air Force was opened at Funafuti on 6 November, and at approximately the same time Admiral Hoover’s flagship Curtis anchored in the lagoon.

The first air attack in the Gilberts operation occurred on 13 November when eighteen B-24’s took off from Funafuti to bomb Tarawa. They dropped about fifteen tons of bombs on the target, starting a large fire but causing no other observable damage. Although no enemy interception was met, antiaircraft fire was unusually heavy.

On the next day nine B-24’s bombed Tarawa again, causing some damage to the airstrip. The same day, the first strike was launched against Mille Atoll, the nearest of the Marshalls. Of the twenty planes that started for Mille, only nine reached the target. They dropped four tons of bombs on the airfield. Although antiaircraft fire from both Tarawa and Mille was heavy, there was still no interception by enemy planes. On 15 November the strikes were extended to include Jaluit in the Marshalls. Seventeen bombers hit that atoll, causing damage to the seaplane base and sinking ships in the lagoon. Another strike by eight B-24’s was conducted against Mille and Makin the same day. The airfield at Mille was again damaged and again there was no air opposition.

On 16 November the air offensive moved farther west, to Kwajalein Atoll. Of twenty planes assigned the mission that day, only one reached the primary target. The others turned back and dropped their bombs on Jaluit, in the Marshalls, and Tarawa and Little Makin, in the Gilberts. The same day six B-24’s set out for Maloelap, but were unable to drop their bombs because of poor weather. For the first time, enemy fighters arose to intercept the attack.

On 17 November, the day immediately preceding the scheduled arrival of the American carrier force in the target area, twenty bombers hit Tarawa, Mille, and Maloelap. Considerable damage was reported to have been done to the airfields at Tarawa and Mille. At Maloelap the bombers were intercepted by Japanese fighters and in the ensuing action one B-24 was badly damaged and crashed at Baker Island on its return flight.

In all, the heavy bombers of the Seventh Air Force had flown 141 bombing sorties against the Gilberts and Marshalls between 13 and 17 November. They dropped about 173 tons of bombs and destroyed at least five enemy aircraft. Of course, it is impossible to calculate the extent of the damage done to the airfields and defense installations in the Gilberts, since the same area was later covered by carrier aircraft and then by naval guns just before the invasion.

While the bases for the air offensive against the Gilberts were being built and reinforced, other preliminary moves against the targets were taking place. A fast carrier task force (Task Force 50) under command of Admiral Pownall was organized early in September to strike the Gilberts in order to “decrease enemy pressure on our holdings in the Ellice Islands,” which the Japanese had bombed from Tarawa and Makin. This force was to destroy aircraft and installations at Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama and to conduct such reconnaissance as was possible.

The naval force that approached the Gilberts during the night of 17-18 September consisted of three carriers, three cruisers, and eleven destroyers. It was to be supported by twenty-four B-24’s flying from Canton and Funafuti and fourteen flying from Guadalcanal. The planes of the first group were to attack Tarawa just before dawn on 18 September; those from Guadalcanal were to hit Nauru at the same time. Twenty-eight photoreconnaissance planes from Canton and Funafuti were to join the task force in the area of Tarawa and combine bombing runs on that island with their photographic mission.

Arriving near Tarawa during the early morning hours of 18 September, the carriers launched their first flight at approximately 0330, hoping to take advantage of moonlight for their initial runs. There was not enough light, however, and the planes had to hover over the island until daybreak. Between then and 1822 of the same day six separate attacks were made against Tarawa, during which eighty tons of bombs were dropped and all visible installations strafed. One attack was launched against Makin at daylight and another against Apamama later in the morning.

The airfield at Nauru was reported to be neutralized. At Tarawa considerable quantities of fuel and ammunition were destroyed, several buildings were wrecked, and a small freighter was sunk. At Makin three large flying boats were set on fire, and some damage was done to shore installations. The most important single achievement of the strike was the photographic coverage of Tarawa and Makin by both carrier- and land-based aircraft. At Tarawa opposition from antiaircraft artillery was intense, but at Makin it was extremely weak. No fighter interception was encountered at either target, but two Japanese medium bombers were shot down northwest of Makin.

The carrier force retired to the south during the night. Next day the attack was continued by twenty B-24’s from Canton and Funafuti. The bombers were intercepted by enemy fighters over Tarawa, where the airfield had been repaired during the night. Of the eighteen Japanese fighters that rose to meet the attackers, six were definitely destroyed and four more listed as probably destroyed. During these two days of operations American losses were five planes, one of them a bomber that crash-landed at Nanomea on its return from the second flight.

The raid on the Gilberts was followed eighteen days later by a naval carrier strike against Wake. Led by Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery, USN, Task Force 14, the largest carrier striking force yet assembled in the Pacific, hit Wake on 5 and 6 October. Sixty-seven Japanese planes were reported destroyed in the air and on the ground, and shore installations were heavily damaged.

Then, commencing on 13 November, the land-based bombers of Admiral Hoover’s Task Force 57 made nightly attacks on Tarawa and Makin as well as on Nauru and islands in the central Marshalls. A total of sixty-six planes participated in these raids before November 20.

Finally, during the two days before the landings, both Navy and Army planes delivered last-minute softening-up blows. The first strike was against Nauru. At 0300 on 18 November one group of Admiral Pownall’s task force launched eighteen fighter planes for a dawn strike against that island. They were followed, three hours later, by twenty more fighters and then, at intervals of two to three hours, by dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and more fighters. All day long these planes bombed and strafed Nauru. By the day’s end about ninety tons of bombs had been dropped. Installations on the island were reported to have been severely damaged. One Japanese ship was left burning, and three or four medium bombers were destroyed on the ground. Four or five enemy fighters sought to intercept the attack, but all were shot down.

The carrier attack on Nauru was followed next day with strikes by land-based planes. Seventh Air Force bombers, accompanied by Navy photoreconnaissance aircraft, bombed both airfields and shipping, causing considerable damage and removing Nauru as a threat to operations in the Gilberts.

At the same time the Gilberts themselves were brought under heavy aerial attack. On 19 November, nineteen B-24’s from Nukufetau and Funafuti dropped about ten tons of bombs on Tarawa, causing fires throughout the area and damaging the airfields. Twelve more planes, from Nanomea, dropped twenty-three tons on Liaison Office, Washington, D. C. Makin. Planes from the Northern and Southern Carrier Groups released ninety-five tons of bombs on Makin and sixty-nine on Betio Island. One enemy plane was shot down by the Northern Carrier Group off Makin while three were disposed of near Tarawa. Cruisers and destroyers of the Southern Carrier Group moved close to Tarawa shortly before noon on 19 November and, between air strikes, bombarded ground defenses.

The same day the Interceptor Carrier Group of Admiral Pownall’s task force moved into position northwest of Makin and, from a point about midway between the Gilberts and the Marshalls, launched a series of attacks against Jaluit and Mille. One hundred and thirty tons of bombs were dropped on these two atolls. Power stations at both places were destroyed, hangars burned, and other buildings hit. Runways were rendered unserviceable at Mille and three vessels in the lagoon were damaged. Seven aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

Although it is impossible to determine the exact amount of damage wrought by this pre-D-Day bombardment, one certain fact emerges—the Japanese wasted a considerable amount of their precious ammunition against these aerial attacks. Whatever else the preliminary bombardment may or may not have accomplished, it wreaked havoc on the enemy’s ammunition supply. The heavy expenditure of 13-mm. machine gun ammunition was particularly important since these weapons were to form the main basis of ground fire defense. It is clear that the Japanese recognized the seriousness of the problem. One of their dispatches sent back to Tokyo warned, “We must quickly replenish ammo for the 13 mm. MGs on both Tarawa and Makin.”

Movement Overseas

Following the final rehearsal at Maui on 4 November the Northern Attack Force had returned to Pearl Harbor, where most of the troops debarked for a week’s rest and rehabilitation. Part of the task force had already left for the Gilberts. On 31 October six LST’s, escorted by a destroyer, had left Oahu carrying part of the garrison troops that would occupy Makin after its capture. Five days later, as soon as refueling could be completed after the return from the rehearsal, the three LST’s carrying amphibian tractors and the special landing groups that would man them departed for Makin with a destroyer escort.

They traveled by a shorter route than the first convoy and were scheduled to arrive at their destination at precisely the same time as the main body of the assault force, which was to leave Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of 10 November. Although the Northern Attack Force, the Northern Carrier Group, and the Interceptor Carrier Group all departed from the Hawaiian Islands at the same time, they did not travel together; the two carrier groups moved along a course parallel to that followed by the Northern Attack Force but about 300 miles to the northwest. The two routes of approach changed approximately 800 miles east of the Gilberts, with the Northern Attack Force turning to meet the Southern Attack Force, the two carrier groups diverging and moving directly to their assigned stations.

Meanwhile, following rehearsals in Efate, the Southern Attack Force, composed of transports, fire support ships, and auxiliaries, sortied from that island on 13 November. It was followed by the fast battleships, cruisers, and carriers of the Southern Carrier Group. Two days later, on 15 November, the Relief Carrier Force, composed of two carriers, three cruisers and four destroyers left Espíritu Santo, also in the New Hebrides. The last-named force moved almost directly north, toward Nauru. The Southern Carrier Group and the Southern Attack Force moved along courses roughly parallel to each other, which brought them to points just south of Funafuti, where all ships refueled. From there the courses diverged, the Southern Carrier Group going directly to its appointed area west of Apamama and Tarawa, and the Southern Attack Force moving in a northerly direction to a rendezvous on 18 November with the Northern Attack Force coming from Pearl Harbor.

Thereafter, ships of the two convoys moved along parallel courses toward the Gilberts to the northwest, the Northern Attack Force pulling slightly to the north as the islands were approached. Late on the afternoon of 18 November the northern LST group, still ahead of the rest of the assault force, had been discovered by Japanese planes. One enemy bomber attacked the little convoy but was driven off by antiaircraft gunfire. On 19 November at 1435 another Japanese plane appeared overhead, but just as it was about to launch an attack, four U.S. fighter planes arrived on the scene and shot it down in flames. A more determined attack on the LST’s was made after dark when two other Japanese bombers swooped low over the slow-moving vessels.

The first, hit by ships’ antiaircraft fire, burst into flames and fell into the sea, just missing the bow of one of the vessels. Burning gas lighted up the entire convoy for several minutes. Soon afterwards the second enemy plane left without inflicting any damage.

Aboard the transports, troops were undergoing their final briefing. At the last minute (on 19 November) General Ralph Smith decided to make one minor revision in the landing plan for the 165th Infantry on Makin. He requested permission to land one infantry company and one shore fire control party on the northeast tip of Butaritari on the afternoon of D Day and to land the balance of the battalion and one shore fire control party on the south end of Kuma Island on the morning of D plus 1. The object of this scheme was to set up a second envelopment of the Japanese—to catch the enemy as he was pushed eastward by the main attack or as he attempted to move across the reef to Kuma Island. Whatever merit the plan may have had, it went untested. On General Holland Smith’s advice, Admiral Turner turned down the request and reaffirmed his intention to go through with the original landing plan.

In the early hours of 20 November the two attack forces reached their separate destinations. The transports moved toward their debarkation areas and the fire support ships moved into shore for the initial bombardment. In the dim light of the early morning, the invasion of Butaritari and Betio began.

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 (2); Targets and Tactical Planning

World War Two: China-Burma-India(1-1A); Stilwell Mission & Aide

The geographic circumstance that placed China across the Pacific Ocean from the United States, the history and culture that gave it some 400,000,000 industrious, clever, prolific people of an ancient civilization, and the disorders that vexed the Chinese land as its people sought to adapt themselves to the industrial ways and materialist culture of the West long combined to make China an object of peculiar interest and concern to the people and Government of the United States. Itself the outstanding example of revolt against European colonialism, the United States of America was sympathetic to the efforts of the Chinese to work out their destiny in their own way and supported them as the situation permitted.

The United States could not believe that the possession of modern industrial techniques by European states and the one Oriental nation successfully imitating them, Japan, conferred the right to dispose of the freedom and patrimony of Asia and considered that the long-range interests of the United States were best served by the support of Asiatic nationalism. As the twentieth century progressed, Asiatic nationalism began to rise ever closer to the flood stage. Large-scale fighting threatened Asia as Japan, the latecomer to industrialism, started to repeat, at China’s expense, the imperialist behavior of her Western tutors. Japan’s actions seemed contrary to the course and spirit of international political developments of the 1920’s; they threatened to upset the status quo in the Pacific in a manner dangerous to American security, and so the United States, fearing the ultimate menace, moved ever closer to open support of China, which was immediately menaced.

The history of Japanese efforts to establish a special position for the Japanese Empire in China is far too long to detail here. China’s markets and resources and the absence for many years of a strong central government seemed to the Japanese to offer natural and obvious opportunities, while the undisciplined troops of Chinese war lords on occasion subjected Japanese citizens to treatment of the sort to which, fifty years before, Japan’s western mentors had habitually responded by the dispatch of gunboats. So there were incidents, diplomatic notes, and diplomatic crises. Lending hope for the future, the period 1922-1930 after World War I brought forth liberal cabinets in Japan which signed treaties pledging their nation to allow China the chance to work out her destiny in her own way. Then came the Great Depression of the thirties. Japan’s overseas markets contracted and unrest grew. The most powerful voices of protest in Japan came from factions allied to, or even part of, the Japanese Army. These sought a remedy for Japan’s troubles at home in seizing the raw materials and monopolizing the markets of China and her northern possession, Manchuria.

The Japanese Army’s continental adventure began 18 September 1931 when a carefully staged incident near Mukden, Manchuria, offered the pretext under which the Japanese Army, while the Japanese Foreign Office offered polite regrets and promises that soon proved empty, soon overran all Manchuria. The United States was then under Republican administration. President Herbert C. Hoover was a man of peace, profoundly averse to the United States’ taking any course in the Pacific, in restraint of Japan, that might mean war. The rest of the Great Powers, for diverse reasons, were equally reluctant to undertake vigorous action.

Faced with a situation in which military and economic sanctions, by European powers or the United States or both, were out of the question, Mr. Hoover’s Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, suggested that the United States adopt a policy of not recognizing the legality of any changes in Asia that the Japanese might effect by force. To Mr. Stimson, announcement of the policy on 7 January 1932 was a reassertion of cherished American convictions and a notice to the Chinese that the United States would not condone violations of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The note had no discernible effect on the Japanese, but it placed on record for all to see that American and Japanese interests, as defined by the two governments, were clashing and identified Stimson as a firm opponent of Japanese aggression in the Far East.

Having separated Manchuria from China the Japanese found themselves faced by a Chinese boycott. One of the few means of retaliation open to China, the boycott was a severe blow to Japan’s trade in one of her principal markets. Chinese indignation was steadily rising and there were attacks on Japanese residents in China. The Japanese had occupied Manchuria on less provocation. On 28 January 1932 they landed an expeditionary force in Shanghai. Heavy fighting followed in which for the first time the Chinese gave a good account of themselves against the Japanese. World opinion, governmental and public, quickly hardened, and in May 1932 the Japanese withdrew their forces from Shanghai. An uneasy peace followed in Asia.

In the years that followed there were great changes in China and the United States. In the United States, the Democratic administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March 1933. In China, the Chinese gave the appearance of rapidly and steadily coalescing into a unified state. Their finances improved, their manufactures increased, and peace and stability gradually spread through the land as the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China, controlled by the Kuomintang Party under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, brought one after another of the war lords to heel and attracted more and more Chinese to its banner. By 1937 there was but one major dissident element, the Chinese Communists. Possessed of their own small army, they were compressed into the far northwest of China. Generalissimo Chiang was bitterly opposed to them and by one expedition after another had steadily whittled away their territory.

The Japanese did not watch the unification and progress of China with complacence. In the four and a half years from 1932 to summer 1937 there were incidents on China’s Manchurian and Mongolian frontiers; Japanese troop movements and maneuvers involved the Japanese garrisons, which treaty rights permitted in north China; Japanese naval landing parties went ashore at Hankow, Pakhoi, Tsingtao, and a suburb of Shanghai; and within Japan the forces favoring aggressive policies in Asia grew steadily in strength. The behavior of the Japanese toward China greatly irritated Chinese opinion, which was growing ever more nationalistic, and there was increasing popular pressure on the Chinese Government to resist Japan.

Japanese imperialists and Chinese Communists posed a grave problem for the Generalissimo. The resources of China’s new government did not permit him to deal with both simultaneously. The solution that he preferred, and that he sought to follow, was to crush the Communists while opposing Japan by diplomacy alone. This did not meet with general approval. Chinese opinion generally was outraged by the Japanese, and since the articulate elements in China were either sincerely nationalist or thought it politic to profess such sentiments, it may well be that many Chinese overrated their resources and underestimated their enemy’s. Be that as it may, in December 1936 a group of Chinese led by Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang kidnapped the Generalissimo. To their captive, they insisted that he lead both Nationalists and Communists into a United Front, which would stand firm against the Japanese. The Generalissimo won his freedom by agreeing, and honored his bargain. The next Japanese move meant large-scale hostilities.

On 8 July 1937 Japanese troops attacked a Chinese garrison near Peiping, in north China. At first a local incident, it spread as the Japanese manifested an aggressive, intransigent attitude, while the Chinese, having already lost Manchuria and seen their control of north China whittled away, showed no disposition to yield further. Military operations on the grand scale were soon under way with the national forces supporting the provincial troops who were first involved. The Nationalist Government of the Republic of China had tried to create a modern army, for only thus could it continue to dominate China’s factions and provinces and hope to resist further Japanese encroachments on Chinese territory.

For military advice and martial gear the Kuomintang had turned to Germany, Italy, and Russia, not to the United States, whose Army in the thirties was unimpressive. By 1937 the skilled and highly regarded German Military Mission (1928-38) had brought about thirty divisions, loyal to Chiang Kai-shek, to a standard of efficiency never before known in China. These troops fought in the defense of the lower Yangtze valley, but by 1939 the Japanese possessed the lines of communications, the seaports, and the key cities of China, including the capital, Nanking.

As the Chinese fell back into the interior, the Chinese and sympathetic observers released accounts to the Western world claiming that the Chinese had lost only because they lacked modern arms. Neither the German Mission, which had trained and advised the best Chinese divisions, nor Colonel Joseph W. Stilwell, the American Military Attaché (1935-39), agreed with the press releases. According to their reports, the Chinese committed basic military errors: neglect of fundamental principles of strategy and tactics; improper use of supporting weapons; indifference to military intelligence; inability to adopt sound command and staff procedures; failure to establish a communications net; and failure to keep vehicles and weapons in operating condition.

After the capture of Canton and Hankow in October 1938, the Japanese paused to consolidate their positions. The Chinese seized the opportunity to raise a series of obstacles ahead of the river lines and mountain barriers of west and south China. Roads were trenched, railways dismantled, bridges removed, ferry sites destroyed, and mountain passes barricaded to give the Chinese a buffer from fifty to one hundred miles wide. Walled towns attracted remnants of the national divisions and housed makeshift arsenals. Chungking became the seat of the Generalissimo’s wartime government. A stalemate settled over the vast front, broken by sporadic Japanese forays to disperse Chinese troop concentrations and, in 1939, by two abortive Chinese offensives which could not gain enough momentum. Both sides engaged in diplomatic maneuvering, with each other and with possible allies. Nationalist China sought closer ties with Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Japan drew closer to heavily armed and increasingly aggressive Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, the Axis Powers. Opportunities for Japanese aggrandizement in Asia at the expense of European colonial powers developed steadily as war clouds in Europe gathered. In China, the Japanese reorganized their twenty-three divisions and twenty independent mixed brigades on a garrison basis in order to free mobile troops for service elsewhere. In March 1940 the Japanese installed Wang Ching-wei’s puppet regime in Nanking, but his defection from the Nationalist cause had no decisive result.

China Seeks U.S. Aid

War in Europe after September 1939 made it unlikely that European powers friendly to China could spare arms and technical assistance, so the Chinese Government approached the United States, whose sympathy for it was openly manifested by government and people alike, though not on a scale to commit the United States to intervention in the Sino-Japanese conflict. In two loans the American Export-Import Bank lent the Chinese-owned Universal Trading Corporation $45,000,000, its use restricted to purchase of civilian supplies.

Following the occupation of Poland by German and Russian armies in September 1939 there was a period of undeclared truce in Europe, called at the time the “phony war.” War was real enough at sea, but on land, save in Finland where the Russians struck to extend their borders, there was quiet.

Then on 9 April 1940, without warning, the Germans attacked Norway and Denmark. The long training and preparation of the Germans carried all before them, and the campaign in Norway was obviously in its final stages when on 10 May 1940 the Germans struck again, this time against Holland, Belgium, and France, the first two of them declared neutrals. Being then at the peak of their power, the German Army and Air Force overran France and the Low Countries in six weeks. The British Expeditionary Force, plus a considerable number of Frenchmen, was successfully withdrawn through Dunkerque harbor, but this deliverance, though hopeful for the future, could not obscure the fact that Adolf Hitler’s Germany was master of Europe from the Pyrenees to North Cape, from the Atlantic to the Polish marshes, on the far side of which Russia stood in strange, uneasy partnership. Italy joined Germany in the closing days of the fight, and there seemed every prospect that Japan might soon do the same and seize the chance of taking French, British, and Dutch possessions in Asia. Britain stood alone, and the United States had to make decisions of the utmost gravity.

In June 1940 Mr. T. V. Soong [NOTE CBI-55K-5] visited the United States to ask for arms and more credits. Two factors weighed heavily in favor of a loan to China for arms. U.S. sympathy lay with China’s cause and American planners, in appraising the possibility and probable course of a conflict with Japan, recognized the advantages for the United States in having China’s manpower and geographic position as an aid. However, the United States was most anxious not to provoke Japan to ally herself with Germany since that alliance would further jeopardize England’s already desperate position. Moreover, since Germany had just overrun western Europe to the English Channel, the United States itself seemed in danger, and the American munitions stock was not great enough to provide for China after American needs were met and after the United States supported Great Britain, whose plight seemed most directly to affect the United States. Furthermore, it was not feasible to diminish the U.S. stockpile in order to send supplies to China since matériel previously sent was not reaching the fronts because lines of communications were inadequate for forwarding it.

[NOTE CBI-55K-5: Mr. Soong, brother-in-law of the Generalissimo, received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1915. Following graduate work at Columbia, he returned to China. Showing great aptitude for finance, Soong became Minister of Finance in the Sun Yat-sen regime in Canton in 1925. From 1930 to 1933 he was governor of the Central Bank of China. Soong then became chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Bank of China. Shortly after the beginning of war in the Pacific on 23 December 1941, he became Minister of Foreign Affairs.]

Two blows fell hard on Chinese morale with the advent of autumn. The first was the entrance of the Japanese into northern Indochina on 23 September, by agreement with the Government of Unoccupied France. Then, four days later, Japan, Germany, and Italy signed a pact whose wording suggested they would join in offensive action against the British Commonwealth and the United States. To encourage the dejected Chinese, the United States gave a third credit of $25,000,000 to China. But the loan did not answer China’s pleas for arms, and in October the Chinese renewed their requests. They were spurred on by the fact that the Japanese occupation of northern Indochina closed the Yunnan-Indochina Railway, leaving the Burma Road, which extended from Chungking to the terminus of the Burma Railways, Lashio, Burma, as China’s sole supply link with the outside world. The Burma Road, though maladministration and corruption had reduced its inherently low capacity, now had great symbolic value as China’s last tie with freedom. That summer the sorely tried British had closed the Lashio terminal for three months to placate the Japanese. Although the Burma Road was reopened on 10 October 1940, the Chinese and British saw the events of September bringing the Japanese ever closer to it, and there was little Britain could do to keep the Japanese out of Burma.

On 18 October 1940 the Generalissimo described his problems and made his proposals to the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. Nelson T. Johnson. The Generalissimo admitted that the Japanese blockade had weakened China’s economy and hurt public morale. The Chinese Communists were taking advantage of the situation, and by his own admission the Generalissimo feared them more than he feared the Japanese. (It must be recalled that this was the era of the Russo-German nonaggression pact of 1939, and that the Russian and German Foreign Ministers were soon to meet and debate the parceling out of the Middle East.) The Generalissimo was anxious lest the Japanese seize Singapore or cut the Burma Road. Before either of these disasters, China must have economic aid plus numbers of U.S. aircraft manned by American volunteers.

Unless this aid came soon, China might collapse. If it came in time, the internal situation would be restored and the Japanese forestalled. The aircraft would also permit the Generalissimo to effect a “fundamental solution” of the Pacific problem by destroying the Japanese Navy in its bases.8 Proposed a month before British carrier aircraft attacked the Italian Navy at Taranto, the Generalissimo’s plan might indeed have been the fundamental solution, but in the irony of history it was the Japanese who attempted the method at Pearl Harbor.

Mr. Johnson considered this a time for decision and urged the State Department to effective action to uphold the U.S. position in the Far East. The Department’s reply on 23 October was guarded in tone. It reassured the Generalissimo by observing that both Singapore and the Burma Road appeared safe for the present, and went on to describe Chinese and American interests as parallel, even though the traditional U. S. policy was one of shunning alliances.

It concluded with the statement that the U.S. Government would continue to study the matter to see what could be done within the framework of existing law. Every reader of the press knew that the United States had found it legally possible to ship large quantities of arms to the British, and therefore, although the Generalissimo did not say so specifically, he impressed Ambassador Johnson as being pleased with the American reply. He asked the American envoy to convey his deep gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the American note of 23 October, the Chinese closed their ears to offers of mediation from Japan’s ally, Germany.

The fear of the Chinese Communists that the Generalissimo communicated to Ambassador Johnson may have reflected awareness of a widening breach between the Nationalists and Communists, which became evident a few months later in January 1941. No outsider could hope to untangle the rights and wrongs of the incident that marked the end of the United Front, but in January 1941 the Nationalists and the Communist New 4th Army clashed. When the battle ended, the New 4th Army headquarters staff were dead or captive, together with their troops. Thereafter, many Nationalist divisions were deployed against the Communists, who, for their part, were quite willing to join in fratricidal war. This meant that the Generalissimo had another factor to consider in the shifting political balances within China.

In November 1940 the Generalissimo sent a mission under Major General Mao Pang-Tzu, Director of the Operations Division, Chinese Air Force, to the United States. With him was an American citizen, Captain Claire L. Chennault (USA-Ret.), who had been an articulate and forceful advocate of fighter aviation vis-à-vis the bomber and a daring and skillful pilot. After his retirement from the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1937 for physical disability, Chennault had gone to China, where he had won the confidence and affection of the Chinese. As one of their technical advisers he had become a colonel in their Air Force. Studying Japanese equipment, tactics, and military potential, Chennault had devised a plan to defeat Japan with a small air force, operating under a tactical system designed by him to exploit the relative strengths and weaknesses of American and Japanese aircraft and pilots.

Since 1937 the Chinese had been discussing with two other Americans the possibility of using their influence and business organizations in placing American air power in China. Mr. William D. Pawley and Lieutenant Commander Bruce Leighton (USNR-Ret.) were asked by Soong and Mao to co-operate in giving air support to the Chinese.

The Mao mission presented its request on 25 November 1940 to the President’s Liaison Committee, the civilian agency co-ordinating foreign arms purchases in the United States. The Chinese wanted 500 combat planes delivered to China in 1941. They also wanted crews to fly them since, despite the efforts of successive European and American air missions, the Chinese had been unable to train a body of pilots. One hundred and fifty basic trainers and ten transports would complete a small but balanced air force. Twenty percent spare parts were requested, plus matériel to build 14 major airfields and 122 landing strips, and ammunition and ordnance requirements for one year’s operation.

Concurrently with Mao’s aircraft proposal came a Chinese bid for $30,000,000 worth of ground force matériel. This first bid was on a scale appropriate to the equipping of thirty Chinese divisions. Extension of a $100,000,000 credit on 1 December 1940 became the first step toward initiating military aid for China. Of the total sum, 25 percent could be used to purchase arms. Obviously this amount was insufficient to finance either Mao’s aircraft program or the Chinese bid for ground force matériel. Nor was the U.S. Army able to find facilities to manufacture the caliber of weapons which the Chinese requested. The Chinese were also told that the U.S. Army had no authority to sell ordnance from its own stocks to China.

With $25,000,000 available, Mao’s aircraft requests fared better. On 4 December Dr. Stanley K. Hornbeck of the State Department hinted that military aid to China would start with aircraft and that no objection would be raised to the American volunteer scheme. On 19 December 1940 Mr. Roosevelt approved military aid for China and asked the State, War, Navy, and Treasury Departments to find ways of implementing a program.

Fearing Japan’s intentions since the Japanese sank the USS Panay in December 1937, the Navy Department closely studied the Mao proposals. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, assisted by his aide, Captain Morton L. Deyo (USN), discussed both the strategic implications and the Chinese ability to use and maintain 500 modern aircraft with Mr. Pawley and Commander Leighton. Both had had years of experience in selling transport and combat aircraft to the Chinese Government. Having served on the U.S. Navy’s Yangtze River patrol, Commander Leighton had acquired a deep appreciation of the strategic importance of China-based air power to deter further Japanese aggression, but he was quick to point out its limitations in the hands of the Chinese. He insisted that American technicians would have to assist in all phases of the 500-plane air force scheme, otherwise there would be failures and waste. Though proceeding with caution, Mr. Knox soon became a leading advocate of aircraft and volunteers for the Chinese Air Force.

Unfortunately, the Mao program conflicted with American and British requirements, whose high priorities were to keep this matériel from China until June 1942. The thought behind aid to China was to keep the Japanese fully occupied there beginning in the last six months of 1941, not twelve months later, and the time lag suggested this could not be done. The size of the program was quite acceptable, for the policy then was to accept foreign orders which would lead to enlargement of the U.S. munitions plant. The initial step in resolving priority conflicts was the agreement of the British purchasing mission to let the Chinese have 100 P-40B’s allocated to Britain, if the Chinese in turn would yield their priority rights to 100 later model fighters. The British assumed responsibility for completing the armament of the P-40’s. In their haste to get fighters, the Chinese agreed and accepted the first thirty-six P-40’s without essential combat gear.

While the various bureaus worked on these proposals, which Chennault had prepared with expert care, Mr. Soong and his Chinese colleagues laid before the President a scheme to bomb Japan from Chinese bases with B-17’s manned by American volunteers. This proposal won considerable attention, unlike the Generalissimo’s proposal to sink the Japanese fleet. General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said it had the approval of the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and his colleague, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau. Appearing at the War Department with that august support, the plan underwent a more searching examination, during which it appeared that the Chinese had already expended a group of Martin bombers without result by operating them without fighter cover or antiaircraft support, just as they proposed to operate the B-17’s. Trained American crews were as scarce as B-17’s. Permitting them to volunteer would greatly handicap the Army Air Corps’ expansion program. Moreover, because it was most difficult to ship spare parts to airfields within bombing range of Japan, maintenance problems for the B-17’s would be insoluble. Although the War Department did not grant the request for B-17’s and volunteer crews, the discussions showed that at this early date the Department entertained the idea of containing Japan by putting air power into China.

Origins of Lend-Lease Aid for China

After the purchase of 100 P-40’s, the Chinese were in need of more credits to complete the Mao air program and to contract for matériel for the Chinese Army. Early in January 1941 the War Department told the Chinese to await developments on both of their projects since the American aid program was about to undergo a profound change. Because of the pending exhaustion of British dollar resources, President Roosevelt in December proposed the device of removing the “dollar sign” by lending or leasing arms to Great Britain or any other nation whose defense was thought vital to American security. Lend-lease was a tremendous weapon in the bloodless struggle then under way between the United States on the one hand and Germany and Italy on the other, because it put the prodigious resources and industry of the United States behind Great Britain and China.

The Lend-Lease bill went before Congress on 6 January 1941. In comparison with Great Britain, China played a very minor role in the planning of lend-lease legislation. One reason was that, apart from the Mao program, Washington had little specific, itemized information as to what China’s overall needs were, for Soong’s staff had offered only vague generalities. The British, on the other hand, had presented concrete programs on which the estimate of the first lend-lease appropriation was based. A second reason lay in the fact that, though the War Department wanted Japan to be contained in China, the British Commonwealth with its vast holdings in the Orient was considered to have a predominant interest in maintaining China as a belligerent. The Commonwealth would have received U.S. approval of any reasonable program of transfers to China.

At this point the Generalissimo asked that Dr. Lauchlin Currie, one of the President’s administrative assistants, be sent to China to examine the military and economic situation. Dr. Currie subsequently visited China from 28 January to 11 March 1941. Without, it would seem, having actually explored the scope and degree of completion of the various projects presented to him by the Chinese, Currie returned to tell the President that in anticipation of increased U.S. support the Generalissimo was rushing completion of airfields for B-17’s, making plans to centralize administrative control of the Burma Road, and assembling troops at strategic points to receive American weapons. Currie also presented Chinese requests for technicians, advisers, and further credits for currency stabilization.

The President signed the Lend-Lease Act on 11 March 1941. On 31 March Soong presented China’s requirements to Major General James H. Burns, Executive Officer of the Division of Defense Aid Reports, the forerunner of the Office of Lend-Lease Administration. This and subsequent Chinese requests were considered in the light of the availability of matériel and of the already formulated policy of making the major American effort in the Atlantic or European area.

Soong’s first request for supplies and services fell under seven heads, but close analysis revealed it centered about three related projects. These were:

  1. An enlargement of the Mao-Chennault proposals, calling for a modern air force of 1,000 aircraft, with American training and technical help.
  2. Arms which, if issued on the basis of organization finally presented by the Chinese in March 1942, would equip thirty divisions.
  3. An efficient line of communications between China and friendly powers, with:
  4. A narrow-gauge railway from Yunnan to the Burma Railways.
  5. A highway from Sadiya, India, across north Burma to China.
  6. Trucks, repair shops, and resurfacing for the Burma Road.
  7. Transport aircraft to supplement the road and railways.

Scattered through the request were indications of the strategy behind them, which suggested a Chinese hope that the air force would protect China’s airfields and cities and their approaches. With these secure, the lines of communications to them could operate efficiently. Expanded lines of supply would then support the newly equipped divisions, some of whose requirements would be supplied from China’s arsenals. Soong believed that a revitalized Chinese Army could not only hold key defensive points, thereby forcing Japan to keep troops in China, but could ultimately assume the offensive. He estimated that with adequate lend-lease aid these strategic aims might be achieved in two years’ time.

On his return from Chungking, Dr. Currie had received from Mr. Harry L. Hopkins, the President’s confidential adviser, the task of expediting Chinese lend-lease aid. Currie found Soong’s program faring badly in the initial confusion of setting up lend-lease machinery. Powerful impetus toward expediting aid to China came from the signature on 13 April of the Russo-Japanese neutrality pact, which stunned the Chinese. The Chinese had found the USSR willing to sell them small quantities of arms, and now this source had dried up. So the Generalissimo again appealed for help, while Washington was eager to find means to offset the pact’s effect on world public opinion.

Dr. Currie rushed Mr. Soong’s program to the War Department, where it received searching analysis. The consensus at the Department was that the Chinese were not prepared to take full advantage of the Lend-Lease Act because they did not know what they needed. Requirements for ordnance and aircraft were in specific quantities and understandably identified, but engineering and medical requirements were in “general statements . . . to be followed by detailed information as soon as available.” For the Yunnan-Burma Railway they asked 30,000 tons of rails but omitted specifications. In asking for trucks, Soong gave elaborately worked out tables, all on the basis of 4-ton trucks, which were not available in quantity in the United States and which would have torn the unimproved Chinese roads to pieces. The spare parts problem for these vehicles was met by the simple request for some, with no estimate based on operating experience as to what quantity might be needed. To be sure, the program promised “future details” on these matters, but this was March 1941 and Soong had been asking aid ever since the previous June. Every day of delay in giving the specifications meant a day of delay in procurement, while the general air of vagueness and unreality about these requirements made an unfavorable impression on the War Department.

On 22 April the War Department gave Currie a preliminary report on Soong’s program and a list of matériel which if available could be supplied to China without interfering to any appreciable extent with U.S. Army and British programs. Scarcity of trucks and road-building machinery forced Currie to cut the list, and the President earmarked $45,100,000 to initiate China’s lend-lease program. Since funds were available, Soong’s initial requisition on 1 May (as against a requirement) for 300 2½-ton trucks was speedily approved by Mr. Roosevelt on 6 May. Within a fortnight this first lend-lease equipment left New York bound for Rangoon, Burma. Meanwhile, the War Department completed its estimate of availability, dollar costs, and shipping data for the whole Soong program. This study laid the basis of all Chinese lend-lease programing before Pearl Harbor. Singling out ordnance items, Currie secured War Department and presidential approval for funds to start the ground force project. Currie learned that the War Department’s approval of funds for the production of any item on a Chinese program did not make its delivery to China a sacred commitment. The War Department emphasized that emergencies might force shifting priorities when the weapons were ready for distribution.

By late spring 1941 an additional $100,000,000 of lend-lease funds was divided between Soong’s communications and air force projects. Since he had been given little hope that ordnance and communications items would be available for China in any quantity before mid-1942, Currie concentrated his efforts on a more promising air program. Putting Air Power in China: The AVG and Currie’s Lend-Lease Program; Two air programs were clearly emerging from the original Chinese 500-plane proposal by the early spring of 1941. The availability of 100 Curtiss P-40B’s in January and February 1941 afforded an opportunity that Chennault and Soong had exploited, with powerful and essential aid from the services.

Soong’s aim was to rush the organization of a fighter group for earliest possible service in China. Currie, on the other hand, was eager to secure lend-lease funds to fill a larger long-range air program, which, if successful, would have created a potent Chinese Air Force. While both programs developed concurrently, the P-40 project outdistanced its lend-lease counterpart in the period before Pearl Harbor.

On 15 February 1941, General Marshall told the Acting Secretary of State, Mr. Sumner Welles, that a man had been found who was willing to take a chance on recruiting pilots for the P-40B’s in spite of existing neutrality legislation. This was the same Mr. Pawley who had been conferring with Secretary Knox since December 1940 on a volunteer scheme. Two months later Pawley signed a nonprofit contract with Soong to equip, supply, and operate the American Volunteer Group (AVG), as it was to be known. Under the contract, Colonel Chennault bore the un-martial title of supervisor. To insure co-ordination between the different branches of the organization setting up the AVG, the contract required Chennault to maintain close liaison with Pawley’s organization in the Far East and in New York.

Although the AVG was not supported by lend-lease funds, the War and Navy Departments, giving effect to the President’s policy, were soon involved. Both services extended facilities to Pawley’s recruiting agents and released pilots and crews for service in China’s Air Force. Pawley’s agents toured Air Corps and Navy training fields everywhere save in Hawaii and the Philippines, offering big salaries and hinting of bonuses for victories confirmed. Administrative and technical staffs were complete on 9 August, but pilot recruiting was not complete for another month. There were 101 pilot volunteers, 63 from the Navy and 38 from the Army, each with a one-year contract dating from the time the volunteer reached the Far East. Overseas movement began on 9 June with the first pilots sailing later on a Dutch vessel escorted through the Japanese mandate islands by American warships. Though contrary to the neutrality laws, the escort was considered by Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, to be essential to U.S. support of China.

Having signed a contract with Soong on 15 April 1941 to secure volunteers for the 100 P-40’s (which had already been put on board ship for Rangoon), Mr. Pawley sent his brother Edward to Chungking to check the preparations the Chinese had promised to make to receive the American Volunteer Group in China. Edward Pawley reported that the Chinese had not begun their preparations to receive the volunteers. Consequently, Pawley told his brother to ask the British military authorities in Burma for training facilities. At Lashio, Mr. Edward Pawley was so fortunate as to encounter Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the British commander-in-chief in the Far East, who numbered the defense of Burma among his many responsibilities. Sir Robert was most helpful, and obtained permission of the British War Office to offer facilities at Toungoo and Magwe to the American Volunteer Group.

When the first contingent of volunteers arrived on 28 July, they were promptly sent to a recently completed Royal Air Force (RAF) airdrome in the midst of a pestilent jungle six miles from Toungoo. This airfield was turned over to the AVG by London for full combat training with the proviso that the Burmese airfields would not be used as a base to attack the Japanese, for Britain was anxious to avoid war with Japan. Administrative difficulties with the British and Burmese civil authorities resulted from the arrangement.

Having been forbidden to use American armed guards or to employ the Burmese as guards, the AVG felt its security jeopardized and was finally able to obtain Gurkha guards. The AVG could make no additions or changes in airfield construction without the official permission of the RAF. The position of the American volunteers training in Burma was anomalous, for the AVG was part of the Chinese Air Force, and, until war between the United States and Japan broke out, they had no official connection with the United States Army Air Forces.

At Toungoo the volunteers for three squadrons of P-40’s were trained in Chennault’s system of tactics, which was based on years of study and observation of the Japanese Air Force. Chennault’s men used a two-ship element, always flying and fighting in pairs, diving in, making a quick pass, and then breaking away, thus exploiting the superior diving speed of the P-40 and refusing the turning combat for which the frail, maneuverable, Japanese aircraft were designed. Gunnery was stressed, that the brief contact might be lethal. As a unit, the AVG was trained to break up the Japanese formations, confront their pilots with unexpected situations, and exploit the resulting confusion.

The training in these tactics took a heavy toll of the planes, which were badly in need of proper and complete equipment. In the haste to obtain fighters, the P-40’s had been accepted without necessary equipment and spare parts, on the understanding that the British would release guns and ammunition from their lend-lease stocks. This division of responsibility produced much debate in the days ahead, with the principal Chinese purchasing and supply agency, China Defense Supplies, Inc., arguing that if the British could not equip the aircraft the War Department had to.50 The latter was not eager to be charged with support of a fighter group so far from U.S. bases, and was further embarrassed by the current grave shortage of .30- and .50-caliber ammunition. Though the War Department approved the concept of keeping the Japanese contained in China, when faced with the concrete problem of creating and supporting the AVG some of its senior members had misgivings.

Fully admitting that the details of logistical support made “the whole thing so confusing” and convinced that the sober facts of inadequate ordnance and signal equipment had not been brought to Mr. Roosevelt’s attention, Secretary of War Stimson refused to entertain any claim that the Department was not responsible for the AVG. “Unfortunately, it is,” was his comment. Ultimately, Currie had to take the matter to the President with the pertinent remark that if the fighters were sent to China without ammunition, there would be an international scandal and the rest of the lend-lease program might as well be forgotten. The President ordered the release of ammunition, and 1,500,000 rounds came from Army stocks. Spare parts were just as hard to find, for the factory no longer made many of them for the outmoded P-40B. The larger question of the War Department’s relation to the AVG was not settled before war commenced.

Though involved in the effort to rush creation of a fighter group Dr. Currie was also at work on his larger program. After considering U.S. aircraft production figures and bearing in mind that China received but $53,000,000 for aircraft out of the first lend-lease allocations, Currie outlined his program on 28 May 1941.52 To supplement the AVG’s 100 fighters, he arranged with the British to release 144 Vultee P-48’s. At the Republic aviation plant he found 125 P-43’s. In addition he located 66 Lockheed and Douglas bombers under British contract for which the RAF lacked pilots. These he proposed to obtain by transfer from the British. Placing his program before Secretary Knox, Currie argued: “If this program were adopted China would possess, in early 1942, a respectable air force, judged by Far Eastern standards, which should be sufficient to (a) protect strategic points, (b) permit local army offensive action, (c) permit the bombing of Japanese air bases and supply dumps in China and Indo-China, and the bombing of coastal and river transport, and (d) permit occasional incendiary bombing of Japan.” Currie set 31 October 1941 as the date for the completion of the program, and claimed that such a force would be “a powerful means to check a Japanese attack on Singapore and the South Seas.” Studying these proposals, the highest joint service echelon, the Joint Board, raised no objections to their strategic concepts.

The Indochina Crisis and Aid to China

During the winter of 1940-1941 the greatest military events took place on the shores of the Mediterranean. The German armies placed ever more men opposite the Russian frontier, but in the Mediterranean only their air arm was active. There the Germans had to support Fascist Italy, which in fall 1940 proved incapable of overrunning Greece and in December 1940 lost its military reputation at the hands of General Sir Archibald P. Wavell, the British commander in the Middle East. This German air support was not enough, while the German southern flank opposite Russia needed strengthening. Germans in various guises moved into the Balkans in ever greater numbers. The Yugoslav people in March 1941 revolted against an attempt to bring them into the German camp as a satellite. It was the first spontaneous popular defiance of Germany’s “new order” in Europe.

The Germans could not let the challenge pass. By a great feat of rapid planning and logistical improvisation they so quickly altered their dispositions in the Balkans that on 6 April 1941 they could attack Yugoslavia and Greece. The events of spring 1940 were repeated as the perfectly equipped, splendidly trained German veterans overran the Yugoslavs who tried to defend their borders, while the inability of the Greeks to withdraw their best troops from Albania made futile Wavell’s attempts to support the Greeks with a small air contingent and a task force of some 60,000 men, of whom about 33,000 came from Australia and New Zealand. The evacuation under the blows of the Germans, whose air superiority could not be disputed in the campaign’s later phases, was a painful experience.

After Greece surrendered on 24 April 1941, the Germans organized an airborne attack on the island of Crete. The Germans began their operation on 20 May and after a week’s hard fighting had another victory, for Crete was theirs. But the triumph, though technically of great interest, was as costly to the Germans as to the Allies for the German airborne units which took part were thoroughly shaken up and the Germans never tried to duplicate Crete. Much of the burden of Crete’s defense was borne by Dominion troops; their losses in Crete and Greece had effect on the policies of their governments. Then the German divisions moved back north and east, leaving garrisons in the Balkans. In May and June they rejoined the principal German forces, which for months past had been quietly gathering along the Russian frontier.

The Russians were alarmed; the Germans, enigmatic. The Russians attempted various forms of appeasement, but the Germans were bent on their project and crossed the Soviet frontier on 22 June 1941. Like Napoleon, Hitler had turned his back on the Channel and was marching to Moscow. It appeared certain that the German armies would be occupied for some weeks to come. A few even hoped the Russians might last out the winter.

About 4 July 1941 British and American intelligence agencies became aware that the Japanese were on the verge of a major move. The United States had broken the Japanese diplomatic code, and so the President and Cabinet in early July had the full revelation of how Japan would react to the situation created by the German attack on Russia on 22 June 1941. They learned that Japan would not attack Russia, but would try to end the undeclared war in China and prepare for a southward advance, toward the oil and rubber of British Malaya and the Netherlands Indies. As a first step, Japan would occupy southern French Indochina and Thailand, even at the risk of war with Great Britain and the United States. This was alarming news, for the British might not survive the loss of their Far Eastern possessions. Furthermore, the motorized American economy, now pledged to support Britain’s cause, depended on Malayan rubber.

The Japanese steps were soberly and earnestly debated by the President, his Cabinet, and at the highest service levels during July’s summer heat. An oil embargo, striking at the weakest spot in the Japanese economy, was proposed, but Admiral Stark and General Marshall opposed it, warning that it might mean war, for such an embargo would offer Japan the somber choice of surrender or striking for the oil of the Indies. Diplomatic warnings over the next few days failed to stop the Japanese, and the United States was confronted with Japanese occupation of southern French Indochina on 21 July 1941. Following as it did on the seizure of northern Indochina in September 1940 and Hainan in February 1939, the Japanese advance southward was an ominous step.

The American reaction was strong and culminated in a decisive step that set a time limit within which the Pacific problem would inevitably be brought to the crisis stage and which would greatly affect any long-range program of aid to China. On 23 July the President approved a Joint Board paper which recommended that the United States equip, man, and maintain the 500-plane Chinese Air Force proposed by Currie. The paper suggested that this force embark on a vigorous program to be climaxed by the bombing of Japan in November 1941. Joint Board Paper 355 also defined the strategy behind aid to China: “The continuation of active military operations by the Chinese is highly desirable as a deterrent to the extension of Japanese military and naval operations to the South.”

The general concept of giving China lend-lease aid, as distinguished from any specific program that might be submitted, was approved because at this time in Washington there was a myth and a hope about China. An ardent, articulate, and adroit Sinophile faction claimed that the Chinese were courageously and competently resisting the Japanese and needed only arms to drive them into the sea. The services were too well informed to share that belief, but they hoped that if the Chinese were rearmed, reorganized, and trained they might cause the Japanese such concern as to bar any adventures in the South Seas. So the myth and the hope converged, and lend-lease aid to China found increased support in high places.

A presidential proclamation calling the armed forces of the Philippine Commonwealth into the service of the United States was issued, and Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur became head of a new army command in the Far East. Plans were set in motion to reinforce the Philippines. General Marshall and Admiral Stark believed it was understood that economic sanctions would not go beyond the licensing of Japanese trade, to control all exports to Japan. On 26 July an order was issued from the summer White House at Hyde Park freezing Japanese assets. Press and public hailed it as an “oil embargo,” and when no licenses for the purchase of oil were ever issued to the Japanese under the executive order, it became in effect the decisive step of embargo, setting about a twelve-month limit within which the Japanese would have to reach an understanding with the United States or attack the Netherlands Indies.

The Joint Board recommendations approved by the President on 23 July were that (a) 269 fighters and 66 bombers be furnished for “effective action against Japanese military and naval forces operating in China and in neighboring countries and waters“; (b) the United States provide means to train Chinese to fly and maintain these aircraft; (c) the United States send a military mission to China to advise the Chinese on the proper use of the large amount of arms being furnished by the United States. Aircraft allocations were left subject to U.S. and British requirements; most of them would have to be transferred from British allocations. Thus, the Joint Board accepted Currie’s aircraft program.

Immediately after the President’s approval of these recommendations, Soong and Pawley initiated plans for a second American Volunteer Group, based on American concepts of a light bombardment unit, with American pilots for the thirty-three Lockheed Hudson bombers and Chinese pilots for the thirty-three Douglas. Hiring began on 1 November, but Pawley had difficulty in finding trained bombardiers. On 21 November forty-nine ground personnel for the second AVG left for China. The outbreak of the war stranded them in Australia.

In November and December 1941 there was a distinct possibility that the AVG might become an Anglo-American organization. Following a warning from the British Ambassador to China on 31 October 1941 that the situation in China was very grave, Air Chief Marshal Brooke-Popham’s headquarters began preparations to place a volunteer fighter squadron and, if possible, some bombers in China to operate with the American Volunteer Group. William D. Pawley strongly urged the British project and cooperated in the logistical preparations.

[NOTE CBI-112A] (1) In the margin of a draft manuscript of this chapter, Admiral Stark wrote: “. . . statement about oil is correct—but I understood at the time—it was not an oil embargo though it ultimately did develop into it.” HIS 330.14 CBI 1950. (2) In commenting on a draft manuscript for this portion of the text, Admiral Stark and Captain Kittredge, Joint Chiefs of Staff Historical Section, outlined the following Joint Board recommendations of 25 July 1941 which the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations thought had been approved by the President:

“1 A Presidential proclamation calling the Philippine forces in U.S. service, with the appointment of General MacArthur as Commanding General of a new army command, ‘U.S. Army Forces in the Far East’ (USAFFE) with proposals for immediate strengthening of U.S. forces in the Philippines.

“2 Approval of the program for aid to China, including the CAF [Chinese Air Force] project, the AVG program, the supply of further ordnance material for the 30 division program, and the sending of a U.S. military mission.

“3 Approval of proposals for release of munitions for Russia, including items from the Army and Navy and future production previously allocated to the U.S. and British forces.

“4 Maintenance of the closing of the Panama Canal to Japanese ships, with provision for co-operation with British and Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific for reduction of shipments to Japan.

“5 No general embargo on Japan, but introduction of a licensing system for exports, assuring U.S. control of all shipments to Japan.”]

The aircraft procurement recommended by the board went more slowly. When the complicated details of transferring aircraft from British to Chinese allocations had been completed and Currie had been rescued from the embarrassment caused by his having promised aircraft to China before the British consented to release them, it appeared that deliveries could not start until November 1941 and would not be complete until April 1942.66 So went another hope of containing the Japanese in 1941.

The Thirty Division Program

Mr. T. V. Soong’s requirements of 31 March for artillery and arsenal materials clearly implied a plan to rearm thirty divisions. He gave priority to thirty battalions of 75-mm. pack howitzers, with 2,000 rounds per piece, and thirty battalions of 37-mm. antitank guns, with 1,500 rounds each. The War Department understood this artillery was organic to the Chinese division, but Mr. Soong did not elaborate the point. Lower priority went to thirty battalions of 105-mm. and eight battalions of 155-mm. howitzers, with ammunition. For the Chinese infantry, Soong asked 15,000 7.92-mm. machine guns with 500,000,000 rounds of ammunition. China had perhaps 200 obsolete tanks, and Soong wanted 360 light tanks and 400 scout cars to replace them.

As the War Department studied Soong’s proposals, it found there was little that it could spare from existing stocks or current production. However, if the President was to allocate $184,000,000 from lend-lease funds, future production might meet China’s ordnance needs by mid-1942. In mid-May 1941 the Secretary of War agreed with Dr. Currie that the Chinese might begin their rearmament with $50,000,000 of lend-lease funds and that $23,000,000 worth could be from U.S. Army stockpiles or current production. From the latter sources the War Department hoped to find before mid-1942: 144 75-mm. guns, 235 75-mm. howitzers, 265 scout cars less armament, 360 light tanks with machine guns, and 1,000 ¼-ton trucks (jeeps). Ammunition would be included. Additional lend-lease funds were set aside for an arsenal program and signal, engineering, and medical items.

In May 1941 the Chinese purchasing and supply authority in the United States, China Defense Supplies, began to present its detailed requisitions against the approved thirty division program.69 Although China Defense Supplies’ officials could call on War Department personnel to assist them in preparing these requisitions, complaints soon arose that these Chinese agents not only had no idea of what was actually needed for war in China but were ignorant of the inherent limitations and qualities of the weapons desired. One example was the story of the Chinese requisition for 50,000 .30-caliber rifles, M1917-A (Enfield), with bayonets, scabbards, and accessories. The War Department had some on hand in mid-194l, though 1,000,000 had already gone to Britain. The weapon compared very well with the standard Japanese piece, and the Chinese and their sympathizers represented their need for arms as desperate. The War Department considered making these rifles available to the Chinese even before their request was received, though there was no .30-caliber ammunition immediately available. On 17 June Soong bid for 50,000 Enfield rifles, but when a sample was delivered to his ordnance expert the latter said “it would jeopardize his reputation” to send the Enfields to China and demanded 50,000 Garand semiautomatics. Supply of the Garand was quite inadequate for the U.S. Army at this time, and none were available.

There was the further problem of finding enough ammunition for this weapon, with its high rate of fire. Later the War Department learned in confidence that the Chinese were negotiating with a small New York manufacturer to convert the Enfields into semiautomatics, a difficult and most un-satisfactory operation. Still later, China Defense Supplies urged that the 50,000 rifles be sent to China, there to be converted to 7.92-mm., a task which would have absorbed the energies of the Chinese arsenals for months on end. In February 1942, after some had been shipped to Great Britain and others issued to the state militias, the War Department still had 20,000.70 These Enfields went to India and ultimately were used by the Chinese to retake north Burma.

In their requisitions for tanks, the Chinese again revealed ignorance of what was possible for operations in China. Soong asked for the standard U.S. light tank, a 13-ton model. Since it was pointed out repeatedly that this tank could not cross the majority of bridges in China and Burma, Chinese insistence on the 13-ton type until as late as November 1941 typified something that appeared over and over again—Chinese demands for the biggest and newest equipment regardless of availability or practicality. The story of the Marmon-Herrington 7-ton tanks was very like that of the Enfields. The tank was in production, it was available in quantity, and it could be used on the primitive Chinese road net. The Chinese objected to its armament of one .50- and two .30-caliber machine guns and demanded it carry three .30-caliber machine guns, a flame thrower, and a 37-mm. antitank gun, an impossible problem in design and production on a 7-ton chassis. When the Chinese had been persuaded to accept the standard armament, it then developed there was a shortage of .50-caliber machine guns, so Marmon-Herrington was told to use three .30-caliber pieces. When the tanks began coming off the assembly line in December 1941, it was found the turrets would not permit replacing the .30’s with .50’s when the latter became available. The Chinese at once charged bad faith and refused to take delivery. Excited tempers were cooled when arrangements were made at London to supply the Chinese with 1,200 Bren gun carriers from British and Canadian production in place of the tanks, which the United States accepted and used for guarding airfields. Such action by China Defense Supplies resulted in increased and irresistible pressure within the War and Treasury Departments to secure a greater measure of control over the whole process of rearming the Chinese Army.

SOURCE: Stilwell’s Mission to China: BY: Charles F. Romanus & Riley Sunderland (United state Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: China-Burma-India(1-1B); AMMISCA-Lashio Road