Advance of the 2nd Battalion to the Barrier: Following the leading waves of amphibian tractors and medium tanks in to Yellow Beach of Butaritari came the assault companies of the 2nd Battalion Landing Team, Company E on the left and Company F on the right. To Company E, commanded by Captain Bernard E. Ryan, was assigned the task of establishing a line across the island west of the East Tank Barrier and holding there against possible attack from the east until the West Tank Barrier had been eliminated. This was intended to be primarily a defensive mission and the details of the company’s actions on D Day will be treated later.1 Company F, under command of Captain Francis P. Leonard, with elements of Company G later attached, had the main offensive mission of moving against the West Tank Barrier in co-ordination with the 1st Battalion Landing Team, which was supposed to be approaching the same objective simultaneously from the opposite direction.
The preliminary mission of Company F was for its two assault platoons, the 2nd on the left and the 1st on the right, to move directly across, the atoll. This mission completed, the 1st and 3rd Platoons were to swing right, with the 1st on the left flank, and head westward for the West Tank Barrier. The 2nd Platoon was to revert to company reserve and follow the center of the line some fifty yards behind. Two light machine guns were stationed between the assault platoons, and the 60-mm, mortars remained in the vicinity of Yellow Beach to support the attack from that area. To the rear of Company F, Company G (minus 2nd Platoon), commanded by Captain Paul J. Chasmar, was to land and to act as reserve force for Captain Leonard’s company as it moved to the south and west.
The main enemy installations of the West Tank Barrier were first encountered by Company F rather than by the right half of the special landing group of the 105th Infantry, which had been landed in amphibian tractors. That group had become involved almost immediately in cleaning up the lower end of On Chong’s Wharf and in demolishing various shelters between the wharf and the highway in the area through which they were to deploy for the move westward.
As soon as the two assault platoons of Company F waded ashore and finished their reorganization at the beach, they plunged inland. Only scattered rifle fire greeted them during this movement. The only established enemy positions found by the assault troops during the first two hours in this area were two machine gun emplacements and seven wholly or partly demolished buildings located at the base of On Chong’s Wharf and abandoned by the enemy.
Company F’s initial move from the beach was, as planned, almost due south. The 1st and 2nd Platoons, with the two light machine guns of Company H, the heavy weapons company, carried along between them, started out for the ocean shore. It took them until shortly after noon to reach the opposite side of the island. They struggled through the debris and over the marshy ground beyond the east-west highway without coming to grips with the unseen and scattered Japanese riflemen. Some of the defenders withdrew deeper into the woods, but some remained behind in concealment to keep up a nerve-wracking fire on the American infantrymen as they advanced across the island. Company F lost one man killed and one wounded from this harassment and managed to eliminate four Japanese and four Korean laborers. Although a number of shelters were encountered, no fire was received from them.
The only serious handicap to the troops as they moved southward was the terrain and vegetation and a breakdown of communications between the 1st and 2nd Platoons of Company F. Their radios had become waterlogged and messenger service between the platoons was inadequate. The result was a gap between the two assault platoons. To fill this growing hole in the line, Company F’s 3rd Platoon was brought forward from reserve and committed. This meant moving Company G (less 2nd Platoon) closer to the advance where it could be used if further strength was needed. However, Company G’s 3rd Platoon had already been ordered to take a light machine gun squad and relieve the special landing group at the base of On Chong’s Wharf. This relief started at 1145, and the diversion of 3rd Platoon, Company G, from the main line of advance necessitated calling on some elements of Company H as reinforcement for Company G in its role as reserve. These reserve troops now moved into the center of the island and combed the area behind the advancing line.
The mopping-up operations were described in detail by 1st Sergeant Pasquale J. Fusco: Smoking out the snipers that were in the trees was the worst part of it. We could not spot them even with glasses and it made our advance very slow. When we moved forward, it was a skirmish line, with each man being covered as he rushed from cover to cover. That meant that every man spent a large part of his time on the ground. While at prone, we carefully studied the trees and the ground. If one of our men began to fire rapidly into a tree or ground location, we knew that he had spotted a sniper, and those who could see the tree took up the fire. When we saw no enemy, we fired occasional shots into trees that looked likely.
As the advance elements of Company F reached the ocean shore they found no live installations. The center platoon did come upon two unoccupied machine gun emplacements with a barbed-wire barricade and a rifle trench—all abandoned by the enemy. Though these positions had been primarily designed to resist a landing from the south and to control the road along the ocean shore, they could have been used upon troops advancing from the lagoon. Luckily they were not. Company F’s first mission was accomplished with amazing ease.
On arrival at the ocean Company F immediately began to reorganize its lines, a movement completed by about 1230. The platoon of Company G that had relieved the special landing group near On Chong’s Wharf had been forced to withdraw during the time the destroyer Dewey shelled the hulks, but it now recovered the ground it had given up and took position straddling the island highway on the right flank of Company F.
Meanwhile, Colonel McDonough, 2nd Battalion commander, had accompanied Company F in its advance toward the southern shore. Shortly before its reorganization, he left the line and returned to Yellow Beach in an effort to bring up the medium tanks to support the coming advance toward the West Tank Barrier. He ordered Captain Wayne C. Sikes, a tank officer, to take charge of the tanks in the center of the line while Lieutenant Colonel Harmon L. Edmondson, commander of the 193rd Tank Battalion, proceeded at once to the south shore with two of the mediums. By 1230, five more had crossed the island and were ready to assist on the left flank of Company F’s line.
With these five tanks in support, Company F immediately jumped off for the main attack to the westward. The tank-trap clearing still lay some 300 to 400 yards away. As the troops approached it they found a number of underground shelters that yielded both Japanese soldiers and labor troops. Some of the labor troops were armed with knives and at least one carried a rifle. After the tanks had moved up and put heavy fire against the shelters, infantrymen followed with TNT pole charges, which were shoved into the openings of shelters. Flame throwers, which would have been the ideal weapon against such emplacements, had been doused during the landing and were of no use. During this first engagement Company F lost eight killed and six wounded. By that time it had come within range of fire from entrenchments running along the West Tank Barrier. Later, five machine gun nests buttressing the trench defenses in this area were discovered. For two hours no advance was made on the right. Meanwhile, on the left, the 1st Platoon, which was supported by Colonel Edmondson’s five tanks, reached the barrier by 1330.
On the right half of the line advancing westward, the 3rd Platoon of Company F found the going tougher, partly because it had only three tanks to support it. Directly south of On Chong’s Wharf and about half way across the island was a large enemy air raid shelter in the path of the advance. It was about thirty feet long with blast-proof entrances on either end. Hand grenades tossed into the shelter had been tossed out again. One medium tank had come up and shelled it with 75-mm. with no apparent success. Finally the same tank, accompanied by two infantrymen and four engineers, succeeded in reducing it. The tank, covering the dismounted personnel, moved slowly in from the left flank. Two BAR men, one on the flank of the tank and one in the rear of it, moved with it until they got to ground where they could cover the baffle entrance. The four engineers, one of whom was 1st Lieutenant Thomas B. Palliser, a platoon commander of Company C, 102nd Engineers, advanced to the rear of the tank and then between the two BAR men. Palliser himself took the lead. Behind him came the platoon sergeant. Both were covered by two engineer riflemen.
At first they tried to use a flame thrower, but as in all other efforts to use this weapon on Makin, the attempt failed because of the soaking the equipment had received during the landing. This failing, a TNT pole charge was employed. The platoon leader placed the charge between the outside of the baffle entrance and the interior wall of the shelter. A fifteen-second fuze gave the detail ample time to clear back to cover. The resulting explosion did not collapse the shelter, but it killed all the personnel inside—twelve Japanese. In spite of this successful engagement in the center of the line, the men on the right remained pinned down by fire from rifle pits fringing on the eastern edge of the barrier. At this juncture Colonel McDonough sent in the 3rd Platoon of Company G with orders to take three medium tanks and move around the Japanese left (north) flank. On each side of the highway, along which the center of this platoon advanced, were three machine gun positions. Two that faced the lagoon between road and beach were connected by a trench with a small shelter.
To knock out these two emplacements, two eight-man squads crawled forward to within about fifteen yards of them and then took stations according to available cover. The BAR men and their assistants covered the main entrances. Two men from each squad armed with grenades made ready on either side of the entrances. They rushed the pits and heaved grenades in them; then, without stopping, dashed to the other side and blasted the entrances with several more grenades. Once the grenades exploded, the BAR men and assistants followed up with bayonets. Two other men then inspected the pits covered by the rest of the squad. Not a man was lost in this action, and the enemy positions were silenced.
This left one remaining machine gun position in the area assigned to the 3rd Platoon of Company G. Efforts on the part of infantrymen to direct their supporting tanks to attack it failed. No radio communications existed between tanks and infantry and an attempt on the part of one lieutenant to direct one tank against this target by pounding his rifle butt on the top of the tank failed to elicit any response from the crew inside. As the three tanks moved on past the emplacement without attacking it, Staff Sergeant Michael Thompson, commanding Company G’s 3rd Platoon, undertook to rush the position singlehanded. His action can best be described in his own words: I worked my way slowly forward, hugging the ground. I could see the muzzle of the gun, projecting beyond the pit, but it did not seem to be manned. . . . I rushed the pit, jumped in and seized the machine gun to swing it around and face it down the connecting trench. … I dropped the machine gun. . . and grabbed my rifle. Three Japs in the trench, a short distance from me, were beginning to stir. They looked as if they had been stunned by an explosion. So I shot them. Then I walked down the trench and came to an object, well covered with palm leaves. I pulled the leaves back and discovered a much-alive Jap soldier. So I shot him also. Then the rest of the platoon came up and took over. The three tanks that had left this emplacement undisturbed continued on across the tank barrier without serious opposition. About 1600 they met some light tanks attached to the 1st Battalion that had come along the main highway from the western beaches. Thus, a preliminary junction of the two attacking forces on the northern end of the line was achieved.
Meanwhile, at the south end of the line an advance patrol from Company B had succeeded in contacting Company F at about 1500.17 In the center resistance continued until about 1650, by which time most of the enemy fire had been eliminated by the guns of the four medium tanks leading the assault in that area. By 1655 firm contact was established on the southern end of the line between Companies B and F and an hour later the troops of the 1st and 2nd Battalions had established contact all along the West Tank Barrier.
Advance of the 1st Battalion
While the 2nd Battalion was moving across the island from Yellow Beach and gradually wiping out resistance east of the West Tank Barrier, Colonel Kelley’s 1st Battalion was moving toward the same objective from the opposite direction. On the right (south) was Company B, commanded by Captain Henry Berger; on the left Company C with Captain Charles E. Coates, Jr., commanding. Company A, commanded by Captain Lawrence J. O’Brien, after securing Flink Point went into reserve. From the heavy weapons company a machine gun platoon was assigned to each of the two companies in attack. The mortar platoon was assigned to operate as a separate entity in support of the whole battalion, although actually mortars were not used by the battalion during the first day’s operation because of the thin deployment of the enemy and because of the narrow gap between troops of the 1st and 2nd Battalions that were approaching each other from opposite directions.
About 1130 Colonel Kelley set up his command post on the beachhead line on the west edge of Rita Lake and began personally to direct the advance westward. The first objective was the Second Phase Line, which ran through the east end of Joan Lake about 1,200 yards ahead. Between these two lines the enemy was afforded excellent opportunities to set up positions easily covering the firm ground. The defenders had taken advantage of the first of these opportunities. In the area around Jill Lake the Japanese had established two machine gun positions and an antitank gun emplacement commanding the main east-west highway, while fire trenches and another machine gun nest covered the ocean shore and the area immediately to the north of it. However, these were unmanned and no fortifications were to be found at the Second Phase Line.
Only occasional rifle fire met the advancing American troops. Most of this came from lone riflemen, or snipers, stationed in trees or in the underbrush. Undoubtedly the prevalence of tree snipers on Makin was sometimes exaggerated by the American troops that fought there, with the result that there was much promiscuous and sometimes dangerous strafing of tree tops. Nevertheless, in this particular area the Japanese had prepared among the fronds at the tops of certain trees places where they cached rifles and left gourds of water and sake. To mark such trees they tied to them girdles of fronds about four feet above the ground so that a rifleman could run to a tree, snatch off the marker, climb up by notches cut in the trunk and wait for likely targets.
The light tanks had not come forward beyond Jill Lake because on the highway, between that pond and another just north of it, a large crater made by a naval shell had engulfed the leading tank of the column causing a roadblock. The highway at that point was a causeway off of which other tanks could not move to bypass the first. Hence, the lead tank had to be towed off and the shell hole filled before the column could proceed.
By about 1400 the troops had reached the Second Phase Line just east of Joan Lake. In the advance from Jill Lake only two Japanese were reported killed. About the same time, the light tank mired on the causeway was extricated, and the entire tank platoon commenced moving to the front to support the infantry. Meanwhile, no direct radio communication had been established with the 2nd Battalion. Frantic radio messages from Colonel Kelley to the supporting planes and to regimental and division command posts failed to elicit any very clear information as to the position of the 2nd Battalion, which was advancing toward his own troops. At the same time fire from friendly troops had pinned down his own front lines. In spite of these difficulties, division headquarters dispatched the message, “Continue your attack vigorously to effect a junction with McDonough without delay.” The advance was resumed.
Company B on the right made the most rapid progress. Fire from the east side of the West Tank Barrier, then under attack by the 2nd Battalion, held them up for a while, but an advance patrol under 1st Lieutenant Patrick J. Raleigh was sent forward and about 1500 succeeded at last in establishing contact with Company F. On the left, Company C ran into more difficulty when it encountered the only determined resistance between Red Beach and the West Tank Barrier. About 150 yards west of the barrier and to the south of the east-west road, the enemy had emplaced a Lewis machine gun concealed by a natural dip in the terrain and protected by riflemen concealed in and among surrounding trees.
The gun’s fire cut obliquely across the main highway, between two sharp bends, and stopped the 1st Platoon, Company C, in a small clearing south of the highway. North of this emplacement, on the lagoon side of the highway, was a large palm tree that had around its base a square of heavy coconut logs and raised earth. The platoon leader, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel T. Nunnery, took cover at the base of this tree and proceeded to study the surrounding area. He was shortly joined by Captain Coates, Company C’s commander.
In a moment, Colonel Kelley, the 1st Battalion commander, moved to reconnoiter the position indicated by Lieutenant Nunnery. In an effort to keep Company C moving to the tank trap and join with the 2nd Battalion, he sought out Captain Coates. On the way, he met Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy who was ordering a tank up to fire into the enemy position. Colonel Kelley advised that his troops would be endangered by such fire and informed the regimental commander that he would have Captain Coates continue the advance, bypassing the pocket, and leave his support platoon to reduce it.
Colonel Kelley moved out to the trees to instruct Captain Coates, who promptly shouted “get down.” Just in time Colonel Kelley threw himself to the ground, avoiding an enemy machine gun burst. When Captain Coates signaled to his left platoon, that unit moved over to the lagoon, and under the cover of a three-to-four-foot bank proceeded east and around the clearing toward the tank barrier.
In the meantime Lieutenant Nunnery, still under the palm tree, was shot through the head and killed. Between his body and the machine gun lay an American rifleman, shot through the arm. Chaplain Joseph A. Meany, who had come up with Colonel Conroy a few minutes before, rushed out to the wounded man and dropped down beside him. He too was shot, although his life was saved by a small medal and identification disk that deflected one of the bullets. Another soldier dashed out to aid the chaplain and dropped dead at his feet. The whole area was now alive with the cracking of rifles and the rattle of the machine gun.
From the lagoon side now appeared a lone figure walking into the center of the scene. It was Colonel Conroy, erect, evidently believing that only a few Japanese riflemen were holding up the company. Colonel Kelley shouted to him to get down. He hesitated, and as he did a rifle cracked and the regimental commander went down with a bullet between his eyes. The time was then 1455.
[NOTE GM2828-AC: This account of the incidents leading up to the death of Colonel Conroy was derived from the following sources: Interv, Captain Coates, Marshall Intervs, p. 24; Marshall, Makin Notes, pp. F18-F19; Ltr, Colonel Gerard W. Kelley to Major General Harry J. Malony, 31 Jan 49, OCMH; 27th Inf Div G-3 Msg File, 20 Nov 43, Msg 89. Colonel Conroy’s body was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery on Makin Island on 21 November 1943, L. W. Yarwood conducting burial services. (Sworn affidavit of L. W. Yarwood, 14 Sep 50, filed in OCMH.) General Holland Smith’s report that Colonel Conroy’s body was still lying where it had fallen two days after his death is erroneous. Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 126.)]
Command of the regiment now passed to Colonel Kelley, while that of the 1st Battalion was assumed by its executive officer, Major James H. Mahoney. The light tanks that had been brought forward by Colonel Conroy retired on Colonel Kelley’s order without firing a shot because of the danger of their hitting friendly troops. For the same reason mortar and machine gun fire had to be withheld.
1st Lieutenant Warren T. Lindquist, leader of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon was ordered to await the reduction of the position by the support platoon of Company C, or under cover of darkness (whichever occurred first) to crawl out and bring Chaplain Meany in. The latter proved to be the solution, and as darkness fell Lieutenant Lindquist and several of his men crawled out, found the chaplain, who had administered first aid to himself, and carried him back to the 1st Battalion aid station.
Meanwhile, Company C had advanced to the edge of the West Tank Barrier clearing. Company A, which had been in reserve throughout the first phase of attack, was ordered to advance from its position near Rita Lake and mop up in the rear of Company B. By the time it had come up to Company B, the latter unit had established contact with Company F on the opposite side of the barrier. By 1755, after Company F had finally destroyed the last of the enemy in the center of its line, contact between the two battalions extended the length of the barrier.
The first portion of the plan for occupying Butaritari Island was accomplished, therefore, late on D Day. In the entire zone from the western beaches to the center of the Citadel area, enemy resistance had been overcome except for one small wedge-shaped pocket northwest of the West Tank Barrier clearing. On orders from division headquarters the attack was halted, and positions for the night were selected and secured.
Holding Action on the East
While Company F, with elements of Company G attached, was moving across the island and toward the West Tank Barrier, a second force of the 2nd Battalion moved to the left to take up a holding position. This left-wing force consisted of Company E, half of Detachment Z of the 105th Infantry aboard LVT’s, and before the end of the day a platoon of light tanks. Company H, the heavy weapons company, was in reserve on the beach.
The prescribed plan was for the 1st Platoon of Company E to push due south across the island to the ocean shore on the left flank of Company F. It was then to turn left and act as company reserve behind the 2nd Platoon. The mission of this latter unit was to advance inland from the beach to a point roughly fifty yards behind the main east-west highway and then to swing left and extend its line to the ocean shore. The 2nd Platoon would then form the right flank of a line, running from the lagoon to the ocean, which was intended to seal off the eastern portion of the island.
One reinforced squad of the 3rd Platoon was to mop up the sandspit near King’s Wharf, while the main body of this platoon pivoted to the left and tied in with the 2nd Platoon. The extreme left flank of the new line would be manned by the left half of the special landing group, Detachment Z. It was expected that by nightfall this composite force would reach a line along a dirt road that crossed the island from the foot of King’s Wharf, an advance of about 500 yards from the point of pivot on Yellow Beach. During most of D Day these maneuvers would be commanded by the Company E commander, Captain Ryan, since the battalion commander, Colonel McDonough, was personally supervising the drive on the West Tank Barrier. Colonel McDonough’s executive officer, Major Claire, had been detained in his small boat off the reef while the hulks were being brought under fire.
As Captain Ryan’s 1st Platoon moved south across the island it met only desultory resistance—chiefly random fire from lone riflemen in trees and bushes. On its left flank, near the main island highway, the platoon encountered two fortified positions, one a machine gun and the other an antitank emplacement containing a 37-mm. gun commanding the highway. The first had been abandoned and the second, with its cover still on, had been disabled by preliminary bombardment.
Near the ocean shore road the troops discovered storage buildings for bombs and food, but these too were undefended. Just beyond the road was a machine gun emplacement that had been designed principally to cover the ocean approach and was flanked by rifle pits and double-apron barbed wire. The gun was turned against the Americans approaching from the north but was shortly put out of action by the 75-mm. gun of a medium tank. Ten Japanese were killed. Altogether the 1st Platoon suffered only three killed and one wounded during its trek across the island.
The 2nd Platoon of Company E met even lighter opposition in an area having fewer enemy installations. It moved up quickly to take its position on the right flank of the eastern line across the island. The platoon met sniper resistance but continued to move forward slowly to the line, only being held up for a short while until the 3rd Platoon on its left was able to move forward. Three men were wounded during this movement.
Mopping up the sandspit proved to be an easy job for the reinforced squad of the 3rd Platoon. All resistance in that area had previously been eliminated either by preliminary aerial and naval bombardment or by the amphibian tractors that had landed part of Detachment Z on the left flank of the first wave. The squad, its mission completed, waited for the left wing of the Company E line to move along the beach as far as the base of the sandspit.
Just southwest of King’s Wharf, the main body of the 3rd Platoon, Company E, was stopped before a group of positions, strongly constructed and cleverly disguised, lying directly opposite the sandspit south of the island’s main highway. Essentially, this emplacement consisted of a well-reinforced pit, three feet deep, immediately off the road and a tunnel that ran some thirty-five yards south connecting the pit to a concrete pillbox. The American troops approached the tunnel’s west side, which was “blind,” that is, had no apertures. It was merely a part of a dirt bank that rose about eight feet from the taro patch before it. The top of the tunnel was no different in appearance from the surrounding terrain, except that it contained small concealed burrow holes large enough to permit a man to squirm out. Running across the top was a shallow trench about fifteen yards long. The east wall contained a number of oblong apertures wide enough to permit ingress and egress. The entire structure was heavily constructed and may have served as an air raid shelter as well as an entrenchment. In front of this position the 3rd Platoon was stopped for about four hours. As the troops came up to the position, the Japanese held their fire and the nature of the emplacement was not at first discerned.
Three men climbed the west wall and took positions in the kneeling trench, apparently not realizing that there were Japanese beneath them and not noticing the burrow holes. Meanwhile, the machine gun on the right flank of the tunnel had pinned down the body of the platoon, thus leaving the men on top unsupported. Suddenly from the apertures on the east, or far side of the tunnel, a group of Japanese emerged and charged the men on top with bayonets. One of the Americans was killed and another wounded before the platoon’s fire cut the Japanese down. More came out. The wounded man was bayoneted to death and the third man was bayoneted but later escaped. Other skirmishers who had not approached the tunnel embankment withdrew immediately.
Next, bazookas and rifle grenades were brought to bear against the tunnel position but with small success. Enemy fire was now holding back the entire line. Finally the battery of 105-mm.’s, which had by now come ashore and set up positions on Ukiangong Point, was requested to fire into the area. A total of five missions was fired, chiefly to interdict reinforcements that might be brought to the tunnel from the woods beyond King’s Wharf. Company E’s 60-mm. mortars also laid down a barrage for the same purpose.
Upon completion of the artillery fire, Captain Ryan sent a detail of seven men under Staff Sergeant Hoyl Mersereau to work around to the rear, east of the position. Their mission was to take the apertures under fire and keep any more enemy raiding parties from emerging. Mersereau and his men crawled and crept in a wide circle, eventually reaching a point about forty yards away from the reverse slope of the mound. Here, taking shelter behind a low bank, they began firing into the openings.
With this protection, Company E now worked men forward on the west side of the tunnel. An attempt to use flame throwers at this juncture failed since these weapons were still out of commission. The company commander then turned to the engineers, who brought up charges of TNT and dropped them into the machine gun positions at either end of the tunnel. After these were detonated, light tanks were brought up to fire their 37-mm. shells into the entrances. At last the enemy, driven to desperation, began to emerge from the apertures with bayonets fixed, only to be cut down by rifle fire from Mersereau’s detail. About 1600, some four hours after the mound was first encountered, it was possible to leave it and move forward. Eight Americans had been killed or wounded in the action. A small detail was left to mop up as Ryan’s company moved on. Another fifty yards eastward the advance was again halted, this time by enemy fire coming from a log emplacement and a trench about five feet deep and thirty-five yards in length. The terrain in the area was too thickly wooded to set up all-night positions, so, under orders received at 1720, Company E withdrew to an area south of the sandspit’s western edge near the center of the island. As it was digging in for the night, a platoon of Company G appeared to reinforce it.
First Day: The Summing Up
Thus by the end of the first day of fighting a firm foothold had been established on Butaritari. The 2nd Battalion occupied an area between the West Tank Barrier and a line extending from the base of King’s Wharf across the island to the ocean shore. The 1st Battalion was in contact with the 2nd all along the West Tank Barrier, although a small wedge like pocket northwest of the barrier, which was contained by Company C, remained to be cleaned out.
Artillery was in position on Ukiangong Point and had already fired missions in support of the 2nd Battalion on the eastern front. About 1100, the 105th Field Artillery had commenced landing immediately behind the combat elements of the infantry. All three batteries (less B Battery’s 105-mm. howitzers) were in position by 1430.
However, no artillery support was called for or delivered in the main battle zone. The scheme of maneuver did not permit firing in support of the 1st and 3rd Battalions after the landing of the 2nd Battalion on Yellow Beach. With the two forces moving toward each other, the gap between them was too narrow to permit safe delivery of supporting fire.
American casualties on the first day were low. The total reported for 20 November was twenty-five killed and sixty-two wounded seriously enough to require evacuation. Estimates as to Japanese casualties are impossible to arrive at with any degree of accuracy. As of 2100 on D Day, division intelligence estimated that fifty Japanese had been killed. But next morning, the 2nd Battalion reported a total of 200 Japanese dead to have been discovered in the Citadel area alone as of 0700. In addition, the battalion reported the capture of forty-one prisoners, mostly labor troops.
One thing was clear. A far smaller number of enemy had been engaged by the attacking infantry and tanks than had been anticipated. From Yellow Beach south to the ocean and west to Red Beaches, only a few fortifications and entrenchments had been located and many of these were abandoned. The supposition upon which the landing plan had been based—that the western end of the island would be the main area of resistance—had proved false. By the end of the day it was clear that the bulk of enemy troops (estimated next morning to be about 200) had abandoned whatever defenses they had built up in the area and had withdrawn to the eastern end of the island to await the advance of the attacking troops.
SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love