World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls:(12) Training, Logistics, and Preliminary Air Operations

Training the Army Ground Troops: Of the troops who were to make the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll, only the 17th and 32nd Regimental Combat Teams of the 7th Infantry Division had seen previous combat. The two Army regiments had conducted successful amphibious landings on Attu and captured it in May 1943. The 184th Infantry had made an unopposed landing at Kiska. Neither the 106th Regimental Combat Team of the 27th Infantry Division, nor the 4th Marine Division, nor the 22nd Marines, an independent Marine regiment, had engaged in any previous operations. Even those units that had been in combat were now faced with entirely new problems. The two combat teams of the 7th Division that had landed on Attu had fought under conditions very different from those to be found on a coral atoll. Each unit therefore underwent a period of intensive training with emphasis on the amphibious techniques that would be used at Kwajalein Island and Roi-Namur.

Initial training of the 7th Division for the Marshalls operation fell under the control of General Richardson’s headquarters (USAFICPA). The entire division spent a week at a jungle training center on Oahu, where it was put through battle-conditioning courses and received instruction in jungle fighting, jungle living, booby traps and demolitions, sniping and infiltration, and defense against various types of tactics that might be employed against it in the forthcoming campaign. Each company conducted exercises in the attack of fortified positions involving the use of chemical mortars, flame throwers, grenades, engineer-infantry teams, tanks, and machine guns and rifles.

One of the chief tactical defects that had been revealed in the ground fighting at Makin and Tarawa was the poor communications and co-ordination between tanks and infantry. Steps were taken before the invasion of the Marshalls to rectify this deficiency. On 5 November the 767th Tank Battalion was attached to the 7th Infantry Division and, as soon as reports began to flow in from the Gilberts, tank and infantry officers worked in close conjunction to prevent repetition of errors committed in that operation. To improve co-ordination, tank companies and platoons, as nearly as possible, were trained with the infantry battalion with which they were to work. Frequent conferences were held and a standard tank-infantry doctrine was worked out. It was agreed that tanks should precede infantry in the assault against organized positions, but not beyond the range of infantry covering fire. Tanks were not to be used to eliminate sniper fire, but should be employed against automatic weapons holding up the infantry line. Tanks should be used as forward scouts whenever the infantry was advancing into enemy country via a road. The tank commander was always to be subordinate to the infantry commander.

The difficulty of maintaining communications between infantry front-line companies and the supporting tanks, especially when under machine gun and rifle fire, had been made too painfully evident in the Gilberts. As a solution a phone was devised that could be used from the outside of the tank. The phone was located in a metal box attached to the rear of each tank. On the outside of the phone box was placed a switch that operated a light on the inside of the tank. An infantryman wanting to communicate with his supporting tank had merely to flick the switch to stop the tank, remove the phone, and then talk to the tank commander inside.

In addition to its responsibility for ground combat training, General Richardson’s headquarters also supervised the preliminary amphibious training of the 7th Division and its attached units. Battalion landing teams were rotated through a three-day period of advanced training with floating equipment. Each team practiced embarkation, debarkation, and the formation of boat waves. Following this came battalion landing exercises, ending in a tactical firing exercise ashore. One combat company from each battalion and the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop were given intensive training in rubber boats.

Special schools were set up on Oahu at Waianae and Makua to train 7th Division troops to handle amphibian tractors and amphibian trucks.6 These schools were conducted under the direct supervision of the 7th Division Ordnance Company. The trainees for the DUKW’s came from the infantry regiment service companies and the field artillery battalions. Those for the LVT’s were taken from the infantry regiment antitank companies.

One of the most pressing problems facing the 7th Division after its arrival in the Hawaiian Islands was the procurement and training of shore party personnel. General Corlett had requested of General Richardson’s headquarters that his division be assigned three extra engineer battalions in addition to the organic combat engineer battalion. These were to be employed exclusively for shore party work. General Richardson was unable to meet the request and informed the 7th Division commander that he would have to draw his shore parties from garrison troops assigned to the occupation of Kwajalein after the assault phase was completed, that is the 3rd and 4th Army Defense Battalions.

Consequently, seven engineer companies and two infantry companies of the garrison force were used as a nucleus for the shore parties assigned to the nine battalion landing teams of the division. There was not enough heavy equipment for both the shore party operation and the garrison resident engineer work so it was decided to use the same equipment for both tasks. Each shore party received five bulldozer crawler tractors of various sizes, one 20-ton 20-foot boom crane, one five-kilowatt floodlight system, one sled-mounted four ton power winch, nine 2½-ton trucks, 200 feet of steel roller conveyor, 1,000 feet of beach mat, and a five-horn portable loudspeaker system.

After being issued this equipment each shore party received its training along with the battalion landing team to which it was to be attached. To indoctrinate the shore party personnel with the idea that they “were as important members of the fighting troops as any other component” of the battalion, the shore parties were designated “beach combat teams.” Training included “dry boat” exercises in which beaching conditions were simulated and “wet boat” exercises in which each battalion and its shore party made actual landings in the beaches at Waianae Amphibious Training Center on Oahu.

The amphibious training centers at Waianae and Waimanalo were also used to train joint assault signal company (JASCO) personnel in the special signal and communications problems involved in joint operations. The 75th JASCO, assigned to the 7th Division, totaled 592 officers and men, drawn both from the Army and the Navy. Elements of a similar organization, the 295th JASCO, were assigned to the 106th Regimental Combat Team of the 27th Division. Included in this signal company were three shore fire control teams and three beach and shore party teams. Operating with the 295th JASCO were four air liaison teams.

On 11 December, after the completion of its preliminary training, the 7th Division and its attached units were turned over to General Holland Smith’s V Amphibious Corps for operational control and advanced amphibious training. Shipboard exercises were conducted for the 184th Regimental Combat Team, which had had the least amphibious experience of the three regiments of the division.

Then, just before sailing, final rehearsals were held at Maui and Kahoolawe, Hawaii. On the former island actual landings were made, although naval gunfire was only simulated. The next day, naval ships fired live ammunition against the beaches of unhabituated Kahoolawe. This completed the training for the amphibious units scheduled for the landings on the southern half of Kwajalein Atoll.

Meanwhile, the 106th Regimental Combat Team had been undergoing a similar training program. By 3 October, when it was alerted for the Marshalls operation, it had already completed approximately eight weeks of intensive training as part of the 27th Division’s Nauru task force. Thereafter, until it was turned over to V Amphibious Corps on 11 December, the regiment continued to be trained under the supervision of 27th Division headquarters. All officers and noncommissioned officers were thoroughly briefed upon the division’s experiences at Makin during the week after the return of the Makin force to Oahu. Attempts were made to correct many of the deficiencies that had been found in the Makin plan.

Particular attention was given, as it had been in the 7th Division, to the problem of tank-infantry co-operation. The 106th Infantry was also trained in co-ordination with the 295th JASCO. Upon being assigned to V Amphibious Corps, it reviewed all amphibious training, and on 21 December the regiment embarked on a nine day practice cruise and rehearsal off Maui.

Training the 4th Marine Division

The 4th Marine Division was activated on 15 August 1943 at Camp Pendleton, California, General Schmidt commanding. On 20 September it was assigned to the V Amphibious Corps with the understanding that it would participate in some undesignated Central Pacific landing and that it must be fully trained and equipped by 1 December. The division held frequent boat exercises throughout September and October, using boats furnished by the Amphibious Training Command.

Late in October, Group Three of the V Amphibious Force was organized under command of Admiral Conolly. Conolly’s task force (later designated Task Force 53) was assigned the duty of carrying and supporting the 4th Marine Division in the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll. Admiral Conolly established his headquarters at Camp Pendleton and worked in close conjunction with division headquarters in preparing a training schedule. The proximity of the two headquarters made for excellent co-ordination of their activities. Each regimental combat team of the Marine division was given a two-week period of actual ship-to-shore training from transports. One division rehearsal landing was conducted on the Aliso Canyon beaches of Camp Pendleton during December. After word arrived late in that month that the target would be the northern part of Kwajalein Atoll, plans for a final rehearsal were drawn up to simulate as far as possible the actual conditions that could be expected in the Marshalls.

The 1st Joint Assault Signal Company, with functions similar to the Army JASCO’s, was attached on 2 December and commenced training with its assigned infantry and naval units. On 20 November the 1st Armored Amphibian Battalion was attached. As soon as the reports of the 2nd Marine Division’s experiences at Tarawa were received by 4th Marine Division headquarters, training in the employment of amphibian tractors was stepped up. Early in December a new amphibian tractor battalion—in addition to the one already organic to the division—was organized.

Later still, an amphibian tractor company was added. This led to an undesirable dilution of trained personnel. Also, the fact that the tractors had to be equipped with additional armor kept many of them out of operation at the time when intensive training of tractor crews was most necessary. The result was that the marines assigned to man the amphibian tractors were inadequately trained, a defect that was to have serious effects on the ship-to-shore movement at Roi-Namur. It was the opinion of General Schmidt that “the greatest deficiency in amphibious training [in the 4th Marine Division] appeared to be in methods of boat control, especially during the critical stage of forming boat waves and groups for the assault.” He also noted that his LVT crews lacked adequate training in troop carrying operations, elementary seamanship, and in the use of the compass.

Logistics: Supplying and Loading Army Ground Troops

The burden of initial supply support for the 7th Infantry Division and the 106th Regimental Combat Team fell jointly on Headquarters, United States Army Forces, Central Pacific Area; the V Amphibious Corps; and Commander, Service Force, Pacific Fleet—all in Oahu. This division of responsibility caused some confusion and delay. The main source of difficulty was that the place and responsibility of V Amphibious Corps was never clearly defined in regard to supply, at least to the satisfaction of the logistics officers of the 7th Division.

General Holland Smith was in tactical command of the operation and General Richardson was charged with training and supplying the Army troops that would participate. This dichotomy tended to handicap the easy flow of supplies into the hands of the troops. As the 7th Division’s logistics officer, Lieutenant Colonel David X. Angluin, reported: “On the one hand there was the supply headquarters without tactical authority or especial tactical consideration [USAFICPA], and on the other hand there was the [ultimate] tactical headquarters without supply responsibility [V Amphibious Corps]. Considerable valuable time was lost in processing requests because of the lack of early definition of responsibility.” Logistical planning on the division level was always complicated by the necessity for working through several responsible parties instead of one.

For example, during the four months of planning and equipping, Class III supply (fuels and lubricants) was passed back and forth between Army and Navy authorities until finally it was decided that the Navy would be responsible for supplying bulk fuels and the Army for filling and marking five-gallon containers, while certain other types of oils and greases would be bought on the open market. Luckily, the division was allowed ample time to prepare for the Marshalls invasions and most of the difficulties arising from divided responsibility were overcome. The basic logistics plan was originally prescribed by Admiral Nimitz on 11 November.

Only one major change was later made; this was in the amount of ammunition to be carried by the combat troops. The original directive had provided that the combat troops embarking on the Marshalls expedition would carry five units of fire for each weapon except for antiaircraft guns, which were allowed ten. As a result of the experience in the Gilberts, officers of the 7th Division became dissatisfied with this allotment, particularly the allowance to artillery weapons. Late in the preparatory phase, the division initiated a request for an increase in the total number of units of fire to be taken to the Marshalls. This was finally approved by Admiral Nimitz on 5 January, and the total units of fire for 105-mm. howitzers were increased from five to ten and for other ground weapons from five to eight.

As finally drawn up, the logistics plan for the Marshalls operation provided that assault forces would carry 30 days of B rations, 5 days of C rations, 5 days of K rations, 2 days of D rations, and 5 days of water in cans. Thirty days of Class II (maintenance), Class III (fuels and lubricants), and Class IV (medical, aviation, and construction) supplies were also to be carried by the assault troops. The garrison forces were supplied with like amounts except that the number of units of fire provided for them was reduced.

The 7th Division had been the first in the Pacific to experiment with pallets, and once again, as at Attu, these amphibious sleds were used extensively. The division engineer was charged with the responsibility of palletizing supplies and certain items of equipment. By the end of the preparatory phase a total of 4,174 sled loads were palletized. This included 3 days of K and C rations, 3 days of Class III supplies carried in five-gallon cans, 3 units of fire for all weapons except the artillery howitzers and chemical mortars, 2 units of fire for four 105-mm. howitzer battalions, 8 units of fire for one 155-mm. howitzer battalion, 4 units of fire for the 4.2-inch chemical mortars, and sundry items of engineer, medical, signal, ordnance, and hospital equipment. None of the supplies carried in LST’s or LSD’s were pallet-loaded since these ships were not considered suitable for easy handling of pallets.

No single item of equipment was more eagerly sought by planners at all echelons than the amphibian tractor, whose utility as a carrier of assault troops had been so fully demonstrated at Tarawa and Makin.

Late in November Admiral Nimitz informed General Richardson that a minimum of four tractor battalions per division was desirable for atoll operations. One of these battalions, he added, should consist of amphibian tanks—amphibian tractors carrying extra armor plate and mounting 37-mm. guns. Richardson promptly requested the War Department to make the allocation. This could not be honored in its entirety, but the newly formed 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, then training in California, was dispatched to Oahu. Although the personnel of the battalion had scarcely become acquainted with their vehicles, the unit was attached to the 7th Division on 15 December for the Marshalls operation.

An antitank company from each of the three regiments of the 7th Division was converted into an LVT group and added to the amphibian tank battalion. When finally organized the battalion’s total came to one company of amphibian tanks of seventeen LVT(A)’s and four amphibian tractor groups of thirty-four each. Each of these groups was then organized into waves to carry the assault troops.

The first wave was to consist of eight amphibian tanks, the second of six amphibian tanks and two amphibian tractors, the third and fourth of eight amphibian tractors each. In addition, two tractors in each group were designated as free vehicles. All were loaded on LST’s, seventeen vehicles per ship. Finally, twenty-one tractors were formed into a reserve LVT pool that was to provide immediate replacements to the combat teams when necessary. These spare vehicles were loaded on an LSD. In all, a total of 174 amphibian tanks and tractors was provided for the 7th Division’s invasion of Kwajalein. In order to maintain and repair them it was necessary to make provision for shops to be assigned exclusively to this work. Four LST’s were designated as repair ships and to each were assigned mechanics who were specialists in this field.

One of the novel features of the Marshalls operation was the tactical employment for the first time on any extensive scale in the Pacific of a newly developed amphibian vehicle, the 2½-ton amphibian truck or DUKW. It was a six-wheeled truck with a boat hull, a tunnel propeller, and a small rudder, and could carry twenty-five troops or 5,000 pounds of cargo.28 Just as the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps had been primarily responsible for the development of the LVT, so the Army can be credited with the pioneer work that produced the DUKW. Since 1940 various organizations within the Army had been experimenting with amphibian trucks of the smaller variety, and several models had been perfected, chiefly for employment as personnel carriers. In April 1942 the War Department authorized the Quartermaster Corps to develop an amphibian truck based on the standard Army 2½-ton six-by-six truck. Research was turned over to the National Defense Research Committee, which in turn designated the New York yacht designing firm of Sparkman and Stephens to work out the details.

A contract was signed with General Motors Corporation, and by June 1942 the first model was ready for demonstration. After a series of tests conducted under the auspices of the Quartermaster Corps and the Transportation Corps, the original model, with modifications, was accepted, and production on a large scale commenced. The vehicle was designated “DUKW” according to the code system employed by General Motors and this was inevitably translated into “duck” by the troops in the field.

The 7th Division was allowed a total of a hundred DUKW’s for the invasion of southern Kwajalein. Forty DUKW’s were organized into two groups of twenty each and assigned to the infantry, chiefly for logistical purposes. Sixty were allocated to division artillery. The DUKW’s for the artillery were divided into four groups of fifteen vehicles, each group serving one firing battalion, five DUKW’s to each 105-mm. howitzer battery. They were to be carried aboard LST’s, one ship being assigned to each 105-mm. howitzer battalion. Certain changes had to be made before the DUKW could be used to carry artillery pieces.

First, the center of gravity had to be lowered so that the truck would not capsize in rough water with a top-heavy load. This was accomplished by lowering the floor boards in the cargo box. The second change would have involved widening the cargo space by from six to eight inches but no way was found to do this. It was discovered, however, that the oversize combat wheels on the pieces could easily be replaced by ordinary truck-type wheels and tires, allowing the howitzers to fit perfectly into the DUKW’s. In addition, out of each group of fifteen artillery DUKW’s, three were fitted with A-frames by which the pieces could be easily lifted from the cargo box into position.

As in the case of the LVT’s it was realized that floating shops for repair of DUKW’s would be needed. Certain LST’s were assigned this duty and were issued special parts and a sizable stock of patching and welding material for the purpose. The precaution was to prove its worth in the fighting to come.

One final logistical lesson that had emerged from the Tarawa operation was that pointing to the necessity for establishing some system of floating supply until the beachhead had been expanded sufficiently to permit the uninterrupted operation of inland supply dumps. Shortly after the termination of the Tarawa fight, logistics officers of the 7th Division held a series of conversations with Captain Knowles, naval transport group commander, and Lieutenant Colonel Jesse S. Cook, USMC, the D-4 officer of the 2nd Marine Division. On the basis of the information gained from these interviews it was decided that at Kwajalein a better system of combat supply would have to be set up. It was essential that plans be made for the immediate delivery of priority supplies to the fighting troops ashore before the shore parties were organized. On the suggestion of Warrant Officer (j.g.) John T. Dalton, it was finally decided to stow initial combat supplies on LST’s and use DUKW’s to carry them to the shore as needed. Thus the LST’s would act as floating supply dumps until such time as it was possible to set up inland dumps.

A plan of supply was compiled that required stowage space aboard seven LST’s for two units of fire for all weapons except artillery, four days’ emergency rations, one and a half days of water, two days of Class III supplies, quartermaster and ordnance cleaning and preserving kits, and approximately fifty-five tons of explosives. A portion of these supplies was “preloaded” in the forty infantry DUKW’s that were embarked in two of the seven LST’s. The remaining five LST’s embarked seventeen amphibian tractors each in addition to the priority supplies.

This proposal was presented to Captain Knowles for recommendations and comments. He approved the solution as presented. It was then presented to Admiral Turner, who gave his approval and made the necessary arrangements for the shipping required to carry out the plan.

In addition to the 7th Division, other Army units scheduled for the Marshalls had to be supplied in the Hawaiian area. These were the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division and the 3rd and 4th Army Defense Battalions, the latter two being designated as the chief components of the garrison force for the Marshalls.

The 106th Infantry Regiment, as a reserve, expected to land, if at all, over beaches already secured and was therefore equipped to operate as a combat team only in land operations. The regiment had originally begun training with the 27th Division for operations against Nauru. When that target was dropped in favor of Makin, the Gilberts force was reduced to a single regimental combat team, the 165th. Only a five-day interval elapsed, however, before Admiral Nimitz included the 106th in his plans for the Marshalls invasion. Although under the operational control of the V Amphibious Corps, the regiment remained attached to the 27th Division until 11 December and during this period was brought up to strength and fully equipped by the 27th Division and General Richardson’s headquarters.

The 106th Infantry was reinforced during this period by the addition of one provisional clearing company, a provisional hospital, a tank maintenance ordnance detachment, and a bomb disposal squad. Two tank companies were also added. Company B of the 102nd Engineer Battalion and elements of that battalion’s headquarters were attached to the 27th Division, and from it to the 106th Infantry, as were various special troop detachments from the division’s headquarters. When the 295th JASCO was attached to the division after Makin, detachments were in turn assigned to the 106th Infantry.

The 106th was to carry a thirty-day level of supplies with it to Kwajalein in all classes except ammunition. Five units of fire of all types were allotted. As a result of the Makin experience, 27th Division supply officers sought and received approval of a modification in the USAFICPA unit of fire tables to provide increased supplies of 60-mm. illuminating shells and 37-mm. canister as well as more 81-mm. heavy mortar shells for use against concrete emplacements. In contrast to the regiments of the 7th Division, which altogether used only 4,174 pallets, the 106th Infantry alone used 3,000 for the Kwajalein reserve mission.

Soon after the regiment’s formal attachment to the Marshalls force, further changes in the supply plan had to be made. Late in December the 2nd Battalion was assigned to the Majuro mission and all logistic and loading plans had to be revised. Enough supplies were turned over to the Majuro battalion to make it self-sufficient. The regiment’s shipping, which was reduced by two vessels after the subtraction of those assigned to the 2nd Battalion, proved insufficient, thereby causing shifts on loading plans.

The plans for loading the various ships that would carry the assault troops and their supplies and equipment were worked out by consultation between representatives of the staffs of Admiral Turner, General Holland Smith, and the 7th Infantry Division. Since it was decided to increase the number of units of fire to be carried by the 7th Division, it was impossible to combat-load all the ships assigned to carry the troops. Accordingly, the attack transports and their accompanying attack cargo ships were loaded between decks with initial combat equipment and supplies; the bulk of the remaining supplies was stowed in the holds of the cargo ships without any attempt at genuine combat loading. Loose emergency supplies of all classes were carried aboard the LST’s. This resulted in a combat load of about 600 short tons in each APA and AKA, with an additional 1,000 tons of maintenance supplies in each AKA and emergency supplies on the LST’s. The LST’s that carried the amphibian tractors also were stowed with an average load of 350 tons of miscellaneous supplies.

The procedure established for working out the details of loading was as follows: each regimental commander upon receiving approval of his equipment list conferred with the naval transport division commander to which his regiment was assigned. Together they allocated personnel and cargo to ships in such manner as to support the tactical plans of the ground troops and provide for a balanced unloading of the ships. The next step was for the battalion landing team commander or the senior troop officer embarking on each ship to confer with the ship’s commanding officer, who was responsible for proper loading plans for his ship. Actual loading was performed by troop working details with ships’ crews manning the winches and supervising the stowing of cargo in the holds. The port authorities at Honolulu and Pearl Harbor furnished the necessary dock equipment and the personnel to man it. Each troop unit had a transport quartermaster who dealt with the ships’ transport quartermaster in supervising the actual details of loading.

When the loading was finally completed, the 21,768 officers and men of the 7th Infantry Division, reinforced, with all their initial supplies and equipment were embarked aboard one headquarters ship, eleven attack transports, three attack cargo ships, nineteen LST’s, three LSD’s, and two high-speed transports. The corps reserve, consisting of the 22nd Marine Regimental Combat Team and the 106th Infantry (totaling 9,325 officers and men), was carried aboard six attack transports, one troop transport, one attack cargo ship and one cargo ship (AK). The 2nd Battalion Landing Team of the 106th Infantry Regiment, scheduled to land on Majuro, was for the most part embarked on an attack transport, USS Cambria, which was also Admiral Hill’s flagship. Two accompanying LST’s carried the remainder of the troops. The V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company, also assigned to this mission, was aboard a high-speed transport.

4th Marine Division Logistics

Navy and Marine Corps authorities in the San Diego area assumed responsibility for supplying and loading the 4th Marine Division. In the matter of special amphibious equipment the Marine division was both more and less fortunate than the 7th Division. Altogether the Marines took with them to Roi-Namur 280 amphibian tractors and 75 armored amphibians, a far larger number than was allowed to the 7th Division. These were organized into the 4th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion with Company A of the 11th Amphibian Tractor Battalion attached, and the 1st Armored Amphibian Battalion. On the other hand no DUKW’s were made available to the Marine division and it had to rely exclusively on landing craft and amphibian tractors to carry its artillery and supplies ashore.

The division was also handicapped by the fact that shipping was available for only 30 percent of its transportation. Only eight one-ton cargo trucks and twenty-five 2½-ton dump trucks could be taken along and all the 2½-ton cargo trucks had to be left behind. According to the division commander, at least twice the amount of transportation taken should have accompanied his troops on the invasion.

To carry the marines to their destination Admiral Conolly’s Task Force 53 included one headquarters ship, eleven attack transports, one troop transport, three attack cargo ships, one high-speed transport, fifteen LST’s, and two LSD’s. Four attack transports and one attack cargo ship constituted a transport division, lifting the personnel, equipment, and supplies of a regimental combat team. Each battalion landing team embarked in one attack transport, and the fourth attack transport of each transport division carried the regimental support group and headquarters. The attack cargo ship of each transport division lifted a few personnel and a great part of the regimental supplies.

The division headquarters was embarked aboard the AGC USS Appalachian, which was Admiral Conolly’s flagship. All the 105-mm. artillery was embarked in one LSD (Epping Forest), each weapon with its supply of ammunition preloaded on an LCM. All the Marine 75-mm. pack howitzers were preloaded in LVT’s, which were carried aboard three LST’s. Medium tanks were preloaded in LCM’s and embarked in the other LSD (Gunston Hall), light tanks in the attack transports, amphtracks and armored amphibians in LST’s and LSD’s.

The only serious problem to arise while these vessels were being loaded came about as a result of Admiral Nimitz’ order to increase the number of units of fire from five to ten for 105-mm. howitzers and from five to eight for all other weapons. This had been done in the instance of the 7th Division, but the staff of the 4th Marine Division was opposed to it. Five units, said General Schmidt, would have been sufficient. Certainly this midstream change in the amount of required ammunition complicated the division’s loading in San Diego. Prepared loading plans had to be scrapped and various desired items of supply and equipment left ashore to make room for ammunition. “Of utmost importance,” complained the division commander, “is the cessation of logistical planning once the loading has begun.”

Preliminary Army Air Operations

The first strikes against the Marshalls by land-based aircraft took place as part of the plan to neutralize them in preparation for the landings in the Gilberts on 20 November. Following the seizure of Makin and Tarawa, operations against the various important Marshalls atolls continued without interruption. The previous mission of temporary neutralization now gave way to one of permanent neutralization or destruction of defenses. Until the middle of December all operations were conducted by B-24’s based south and east of the Gilberts and were restricted by the distances that had to be flown; after 23 December flights could be made by planes based in the Gilberts, and in January the B-24’s began operating from the Gilberts to strike more deeply and more powerfully into the Marshalls.

During November and December two atolls received more attacks than the others. Mille, nearest to the Gilberts and therefore more easily reached and immediately dangerous, was the center of attention, but Maloelap with its large air facilities had to be kept under constant surveillance and attack. Jaluit was a less important target. Kwajalein and Wotje received most attention during January as the softening-up before the invasion went into high gear.

Mille Atoll

Mille Atoll was subjected to a carrier strike on 18-19 November, by which time most of its air facilities had been damaged extensively. Because it was their only base within fighter range of the Gilberts, the Japanese concentrated every effort to get the runways back into condition at the earliest possible moment and to keep the base well reinforced with planes. Their success was attested to by the appearance of several Japanese fighters west of Makin as early as 20 November. That same night enemy bombers were over Tarawa.

On 24 November eleven B-24’s staged through Baker Island for a raid on Mille Atoll. At the target they were intercepted by approximately eight fighters that caused minor damage to the bombers but did not prevent the dropping of bombs on Mili, the main island of the atoll. Between that date and 19 December 106 heavy bombers dropped a total of 122 tons of bombs on the runways and installations. All of these missions were flown from Canton, staging through Baker, or from Nanomea, Nukufetau, or Funafuti. The largest single mission was flown on 4 December when thirty-four B-24’s bombed Mili Island. Throughout the period Japanese fighters operated from the Mille base and rose to intercept the American formations.

Beginning on 18 December the pattern of attacks against Mille changed. That day saw the first strike by American attack bombers and land-based fighters. Twelve A-24’s, escorted by thirteen P-39’s, appeared over the atoll and damaged three enemy fighters on the ground. On the same day six more P-39’s destroyed six out of eight interceptors in the air and four more planes on the ground. The following day, the 19th, the last B-24 strike on Mille was executed. Approximately twenty-five interceptors arose to meet the flight of nineteen B-24’s, and seven of the Japanese planes were shot down. From then until 25 December, fighters and attack bombers kept up daily attacks on Mille. Confirmed damage to the enemy during the period 18 through 25 December included virtually all the fuel dumps on the atoll bombed and most of the buildings leveled. A total of eleven enemy planes were destroyed on the ground. There was no further Japanese interception from Mille after 25 December.

On only two occasions after that date were enemy aircraft found on this eastern atoll. Three planes were observed on the ground on 3 January and destroyed. Five days later a routine reconnaissance flight discovered approximately four more parked along the runways. By the time an attack group hit the island on 10 January, even these few planes had disappeared.

After 25 December, with both attack bombers and fighters regularly available from the new bases at Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama, the neutralization of Mille entered its final phase. Fighters conducted daily reconnaissance over the atoll. Their findings were usually transmitted to their home bases, and a task group of either fighters or attack bombers made a flight on the same day to knock out whatever had been uncovered by the reconnaissance flight. On four occasions between 1 January and 31 January American planes were on station over Mille for the whole day. The airfield was rendered useless. Ships disappeared from the lagoon, and even antiaircraft fire became scarce and ineffective. Strafing and bombing had left the installations virtually in ruins and had so completely isolated the atoll that after 22 December only submarines and small fishing craft ventured into the area. All of the latter were destroyed.


Although Mille was extremely dangerous to American bases and offensive efforts because of its nearness to the Gilberts, Maloelap was considered the greatest potential threat to operations in the Marshalls. Taroa, the principal island of this atoll was, except for Kwajalein, the most important air base between Tarawa and Truk. It bristled with antiaircraft installations and heavy guns; its airfields supported by far the largest number of planes in the eastern Marshalls; its garrison was well armed.

The first post-Gilberts air strike on this formidable base was carried out by ten B-24’s flying from Nanomea on 26 November. Primarily directed against Taroa’s runways, the planes dropped twenty-two tons of bombs from an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet. Of the two interceptors that arose to meet the attack one was shot down.

Between 26 November and 10 January all flights against Maloelap were made by B-24’s, flying from Nanomea, Nukufetau, and Canton. The round-trip distance from the two former bases was 2,000 to 2,200 miles, and the Canton squadrons staged through Baker Island on round-trip flights of approximately 3,100 miles. All flights were met by interceptors. For thirty to fifty minutes on each flight bomber crews were forced to fight their way into the target and out again. During the period nine B-24’s were shot down by enemy action and fifty-nine Japanese fighters were destroyed. Damage to the Maloelap base was extensive, but not crippling. Large fires were started, buildings destroyed, and two ships bombed with inconclusive results. Runways were never put entirely out of operation, always being repaired the same day they were damaged.

The second period of the offensive against Maloelap can be said to have begun on 11 January, when the long flights from the south were superseded by shorter and more frequent strikes by B-25’s. The character of the fighting did not greatly change, however. As late as 26 January about twenty-five interceptors rose to meet the attack. The pounding of Taroa and adjacent islands in the atoll continued.

Between 11 and 25 January inclusive, approximately seventy tons of bombs were dropped from the light bombers flying at treetop level, and the island was systematically strafed by machine gun fire and 75-mm. shells from the B-25’s. Fifteen enemy fighters were destroyed as against an American loss of six B-25’s. Shipping was thoroughly cleared from the lagoon, and the ground installations seemed to be totally destroyed; but the airfield remained in operation.

The last phase of the attack on this stubborn base was begun on 26 January with the introduction of fighter escorts for the B-25’s. On the first day nine B-25’s, followed at a considerable distance by twelve P-40’s, flew into Taroa for a low-level attack. The B-25’s destroyed nine interceptors on the ground and five more after they were airborne. The control tower and two other buildings on the airfield were set afire and four tons of bombs were dropped in fuel dump and dispersal areas, starting large fires. As the B-25’s left the target to return to Makin they were followed by about fifteen Japanese fighters. Thirty miles south of Maloelap the twelve P-40’s met the bomber formation and immediately engaged the enemy fighters, destroying eleven of them and severely damaging two more.

The strike of 26 January was decisive. Practically all of the remaining enemy air strength at Maloelap had been destroyed, and the once formidable base was rendered almost powerless to defend itself against air strikes. On 27 January a formation of seven B-24’s struck Taroa from Makin, dropping seventeen tons of bombs on the airfield area, setting fire to more dumps and damaging the runway. No interception was attempted although a few planes were sighted on the ground. On 28 January, the tactics of the first bomber-fighter attack were repeated, the airfield on Taroa again being the target. Five enemy planes managed to become airborne, but their pilots were neither aggressive nor experienced. One was shot down by the B-25’s, but when the formation attempted to lead the other enemy planes back toward the fighter escort, the engagement was broken off. The last low-level attack was made on 29 January, the B-25’s attacking ammunition dumps and buildings on the outer islands. There were no signs of enemy planes. Maloelap had been almost completely neutralized at last, and only on the day the carrier task force moved into the Marshalls.


Because of its reduced importance as a naval base and its lack of air installations, Jaluit received much less attention than Mille and Maloelap. Two strikes against this former administrative center of the Marshalls had been conducted during the action preliminary to the Gilberts invasion.

On 23 November, as the action at Makin and Tarawa was drawing to a close, eight B-24’s struck Jaluit from Nukufetau, dropping eight tons of bombs on the target and meeting little opposition. Three float-type fighters were seen, but instead of attacking the bombers they flew off in the opposite direction. Only two more strikes were directed at Jaluit before the opening of bases in the Gilberts. In both cases large fires were started. There was no interception on either raid and only moderate antiaircraft opposition.

From 12 December through 29 January Jaluit was subjected to a total of thirteen separate strikes, mostly by attack bombers and fighters from Makin and Tarawa. Concentrating on low-level bombing and strafing, the strikes reduced Jaluit to rubble. Oil and ammunition dumps, communications facilities, and buildings were destroyed. Three ships were sunk in the lagoon. At no time during this entire period were the attackers intercepted by enemy planes, although antiaircraft fire was usually intense and accurate. By the time the carrier task force approached, two days before the invasion of Kwajalein, Jaluit had been reduced to impotence. It could send neither reinforcements nor air support to the garrison that would need help.


No American strike at Wotje was conducted until 13 December, when ten B-24’s made the 3,100 mile round trip from Canton, staging through Baker. One subsequent raid by the same route was made before 23 December, on which day bombers based at Canton carried out the first of a series of three flights through Tarawa. After 8 January both B-24’s and B-25’s, using the new bases at Makin and Tarawa, made ten strikes on Wotje in the period through 29 January. On only one occasion did Japanese fighters intercept the flights. On 26 December six planes attacked a formation of seventeen B-24’s. During the period 13 December-29 January approximately 325 tons of bombs were dropped on Wotje. As in the other Marshalls atolls the primary targets were airfields, dumps, and shipping. A few cargo vessels were found in Wotje Lagoon as late as 29 January, but every other form of communication with the outside world, except possibly radio, had been destroyed.


Because, with the exception of Eniwetok, it was the farthest west of all the principal atolls of the Marshalls, Kwajalein received relatively little attention from the Seventh Air Force bombers. During the preliminaries to the Gilberts invasion a group of eight B-24’s had attempted the flight from Nanomea, but because of bad weather and the great distance only one plane managed to get through to drop fragmentation bombs on Roi-Namur. The next Seventh Air Force strike against Kwajalein (there was in the meantime a carrier strike on 4 December) came on 21 December, when four B-24’s and four PB4Y photoreconnaissance planes from Nanomea succeeded in dropping six tons of bombs on various islands of the atoll and in taking valuable pictures of installations. Although they were intercepted by nine fighters, none of the planes was lost.

In nine subsequent missions during December and January, about 200 tons of bombs were distributed throughout the atoll, causing some damage to installations and shipping. No interception of American land-based bombers was made after 22 January. As late as 29 January, however, the airfield at Roi-Namur was still operative, and the Japanese had continued to bring in planes.

Preliminary Naval Action

One naval strike was delivered against the Marshalls in the period between 24 November and 29 January. The force for this strike, Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3, was organized from Task Force 50, which had supported the Gilberts invasion while the ships were still west of Makin and Tarawa late in November. Admiral Pownall combined most of the vessels of his Interceptor and Northern and Southern Carrier Groups into two new task groups for movement to the target area.

Upon arrival there the two groups were brought together for operation against Kwajalein Atoll and Wotje. Pownall’s task groups consisted of six fast carriers, five heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, three of the new class of antiaircraft cruisers, and twelve destroyers. After a rendezvous for refueling 820 miles northeast of Kwajalein Atoll on 1 December, the force moved southwest and arrived unobserved near Kwajalein on the morning of 4 December. The first planes were launched at 0630. A total of 246 took part in the various attacks on this atoll.

[NOTE: the designation Task Force 50 was taken over by Admiral Spruance’s Fifth Fleet. The fast carrier force of the Central Pacific became Task Force 58, and was commanded by Admiral Mitscher.]

At Roi-Namur the early flights discovered Japanese planes parked on the airstrip and many fighters airborne. In addition, two light cruisers and one large freighter were at anchor off the islands. In the ensuing engagement, nineteen of the interceptors were destroyed, and one Japanese medium bomber was shot down as it tried to escape from the field. Three more bombers were destroyed on the ground, but most of the remainder of the Japanese aircraft on the ground escaped damage because the American pilots did not receive word of their camouflaged locations. Several hits were scored on the cruisers and the freighter.

No planes were found at Kwajalein Island since the field there was still under construction. Nearly thirty cargo vessels of various types were anchored, however, in the lagoon off this island. Seven of these were sunk and several others damaged. At a nearby island two large multiengine flying boats were strafed and set on fire. At noon, while the strikes on Roi-Namur and Kwajalein Island were still in progress, twenty-nine aircraft attacked Wotje, where they destroyed five planes on the ground and set fire to hangars, machine shops, and barracks. At both Kwajalein and Wotje complete photographic coverage was secured.

The original plans for the carrier attack on Kwajalein had contemplated a two day strike, but shortly before noon of the first day enemy planes, evidently from Roi-Namur, began a series of counterattacks on the carrier groups. Although no serious damage was inflicted in these daylight attempts to sink the carriers, recovery of planes was hampered by the maneuvers the attacks made necessary. One of the carriers received a torpedo hit but fortunately was not sunk. The task groups withdrew the next day, and the rest of the strike was abandoned.

Damage to the enemy’s bases had been extensive. It was considered necessary, however, for the land-based planes of the Seventh Air Force to continue attacks upon Kwajalein and Wotje, and in actuality a considerable portion of the task of softening Japanese resistance upon Kwajalein was left to the larger carrier force that would arrive in the area on 29 January just ahead of the landing forces.

Approach of the Invasion Force

By 20 January 1944 all preparations in the Hawaiian Islands for the invasion of the Marshalls were completed. Although it was to be surpassed in size later, the combined ground, air, and naval force that was ready to sail for the Marshalls at that time comprised the largest expedition ever assembled in the Pacific under the American flag. About half of the expedition had originated in the Hawaiian Islands, but its other elements had moved there from points as widely separated as San Diego on the west coast, the Fiji Islands, the Samoan Islands, and the Ellice Islands.

Plans called for the neutralization phase to be followed by simultaneous assaults on Majuro, northern Kwajalein, and southern Kwajalein. After the month of intensive bombing and strafing raids by the Seventh Air Force against airfields and shipping, Mille and Jaluit were almost useless to the enemy. Wotje and the great base at Maloelap were largely neutralized, but there were numerous Japanese aircraft at Roi-Namur at the time of the carrier strike on 29 January. Task Force 58—with its four separate groups of carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers and its 700 carrier-based planes—was to enter the Marshalls area on 29 January, two days before D Day, to complete the neutralization.

All of the task groups sailed from the Hawaiian Islands within a few hours of their scheduled times of departure. For the assault troops the day of departure was 22 January. The Southern Attack Force departed from Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, while the Northern Attack Force sailed on the same day from Lahaina Roadstead in the outer islands after a thirty-hour break in their journey from San Diego. The southern force moved about thirty-five miles ahead of the northern group. Embarkation had taken most of the preceding day, and the slower-moving LST groups carrying the amphtracks and a detachment of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion for the defense of Majuro had cast off and departed while the main convoy was being prepared. The Attack Force Reserve and the Majuro Attack Group left together on 23 January. The reserve force was to go to no specified destination other than the general vicinity of the three landings, any one of which might require reinforcement.

The American submarines that had been operating throughout the Marshalls area for the past month now took stations to the west. Three patrolled near Truk, one near Ponape, one near Kusaie, and one near Eniwetok.

The week’s voyage to the area of the eastern Marshalls was made by all the groups without mishap. At dawn on 29 January the four task groups of Task Force 58 and the Neutralization Group (Task Group 50.15) moved into the first attack positions assigned to them. Despite squally weather and overcast skies, which severely handicapped action, Rear Admiral John W. Reeves of Task Group 58.1 launched aircraft from Enterprise, Yorktown, and Belleau Wood. A few moments later the planes were attacking Taroa, giving special attention to the airfields and shipping. Air strikes were continued all day, and by nightfall Taroa’s airfield, which had still been considered able to put up interceptors, was completely neutralized. The second task group (Task Group 58.2) of Task Force 58, under Admiral Montgomery, had meanwhile attacked Roi-Namur. Planes from Essex, Intrepid, and Cabot bucked northeasterly winds to bomb and strafe once more the important airfield at that base. Ninety-two enemy planes were based on Roi airfield when the attack developed. Command of the air was seized by American planes at the outset and after 0800 no enemy planes was seen airborne over Roi-Namur. Numerous hits were made on runways, hangars, fuel dumps, and gun positions.

The third group (Task Group 58.3) of Task Force 58 had sortied from Funafuti under the command of Admiral Frederick Sherman. An hour before sunrise the group took position southwest of Kwajalein Island and planes of Cowpens, Monterey, and Bunker Hill took off for the target. The airfield and adjacent buildings on Kwajalein Island were bombed on the first strike.

During the rest of the day the remainder of Kwajalein Island was subjected to strafing and bombing. During the evening Admiral Sherman’s group moved northwestward toward Eniwetok to be in position to launch an attack at dawn of D minus 1. The fourth task group (Task Group 58.4), under Rear Admiral Samuel P. Ginder, included the carriers Saratoga, Princeton, and Langley. It sent a succession of flights against Wotje, beginning early in the day and met very little serious opposition. In addition to the attack, Wotje was subjected to fire by units of Task Group 50.

While the carriers were still operating in the vicinity of the targets, land-based planes from the Gilberts joined in the general attack. At Kwajalein one flight of seven B-24’s dropped fifteen tons of bombs on Roi-Namur and three more tons on Kwajalein Island during the morning and early afternoon. As the carrier planes retired at dusk another seven heavy bombers arrived for a night attack, dropping twenty tons of bombs on Kwajalein Island.

At Wotje, flying through heavy overcast, one flight of three B-24’s dropped seven tons of bombs, causing fires and damaging the runways. A few hours later a flight of nine B-25’s dropped three tons of bombs on the island in a low-level attack and strafed and sank a small cargo vessel in the lagoon. During this late attack carrier planes from the task force mistakenly intercepted the B-25’s and shot down two before it was realized they were American planes.

Maloelap, Jaluit, and Mille also received land-based attacks during the day. At Taroa, two and a half tons of bombs were dropped by B-25’s, which then joined carrier planes in strafing the island. At Jaluit, attack bombers and fighters dropped seven tons of bombs and afterwards strafed the island. Mille was covered all day by twenty fighters, flying in flights of four. Planes that had been scheduled to strike these targets but that were unable to get through because of weather or mechanical difficulty flew over Mille on the way back to American bases in the Gilberts and dropped their bomb loads on the islands of that atoll.

The air strikes from the various task groups were supplemented by naval bombardment from battleships, cruisers, and destroyers in the carrier groups. In the cases of Wotje and Maloelap the Neutralization Group moved in when the faster ships had finished their day’s work late on the afternoon of 29 January. While the initial strikes of this day were going forward, Task Forces 52 and 53, conveying the two landing forces, were about to enter the waters between the two chains of atolls. Approaching from the northeast, their gradually converging courses finally met north of Ailuk Atoll in the eastern chain, approximately 200 miles east of Kwajalein. The tractor groups were still ahead although their lead was being steadily reduced. In another twenty-four hours it disappeared.

On the morning of 30 January the destroyers and cruisers accompanying the landing forces turned aside to bombard Maloelap and Wotje, joining the other forces already there. During the afternoon the vessels resumed their journey to Kwajalein, joining the main convoys there in time for the bombardment preparatory to the landings of the two assault groups. On 30 January the strikes of carrier-based aircraft continued at Kwajalein, Wotje, Taroa, and Roi-Namur, but with some adjustment in forces to allow one task group to take Eniwetok under attack. This task group, which on the previous day had struck Kwajalein Island, had now moved northwestward toward the new target. Its place was taken by Task Group 58.1, which had previously been engaged at Taroa. Task Group 58.4, which had previously been concerned only with Wotje, now assumed responsibility for continued neutralization of Taroa as well. Task Group 58.2 continued to be primarily concerned with Roi-Namur.

The group attacking Wotje and Taroa concentrated upon runways at Taroa and airfield installations and buildings at Wotje. At Kwajalein Island and Roi-Namur over 400 sorties were flown. During the afternoon surface ships of the force conducted a four-hour bombardment of both targets. Task Group 58.3 launched its planes for the attack on Eniwetok at 0450. Torpedo bombers, which made the first sweep over the atoll, and later fighters found and destroyed nineteen planes on the ground. In subsequent action virtually every building in the atoll was destroyed, the runways were filled with craters, and various defensive positions were taken under gunfire from the surface ships. Task Group 58.3 was to remain south of Eniwetok until 6 February and was to be joined there by Task Group 58.4, which would move from the Wotje-Maloelap area on 3 February.

While the second day’s bombardment was being carried out, the Northern and Southern Attack Forces remained on course together for approximately half the distance between Ailuk and Kwajalein, then separated, each going directly to its own transport and fire support area off Kwajalein. All elements arrived in their assigned places during the night of 30-31 January. Lights could be seen on Kwajalein Island by troops aboard the ships of the Southern Task Force as the vessels neared the end of their journey. These lights were presumably from fires started by the air strikes of the day just passed. Before the sun rose on the new day, the first phase of the occupation of Kwajalein Island was to begin.

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 & Marshalls (13); Japanese Defenses Marshalls

World War Two: Gilberts and Marshals(11); Complex Tactical Planning Marshalls


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