World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls (15B); Kwajalein: Second Day’s Action

The second day’s action on Kwajalein Island required more co-operation between the two regimental combat teams than had been necessary on the previous day. General Corlett had ordered the two assault regiments to launch a co-ordinated attack at 0715. The 32nd Regiment on the right, with Company A, 767th Tank Battalion, attached, was to drive rapidly to the northern tip of the island. The 184th Regiment, with Company B, 767th Tank Battalion, attached, was to push hard on the left, breach fortified positions, assist the advance of the 32nd Infantry across the tank trap and push rapidly to the end of the island. Division artillery was ordered to support the attack by a fifteen-minute preparation commencing at 0700 and thereafter by successive concentrations. Artillery was to cease fire during a scheduled twenty-minute air strike by naval planes to commence at 0800.

Following the preparatory fire, in which the battleship Idaho, the cruiser Minneapolis, four destroyers, and five field artillery battalions on Carlson participated, the attack opened. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, passed through the 3rd Battalion of the same regiment during the hour after 0715, Company E on the left and Company F on the right. Company G followed about 150 yards behind as a mopping-up force, while the 1st Battalion came on in close support. Each company of the leading battalion was strengthened by one section of heavy machine guns, one 37-mm. antitank gun, five medium tanks, and two light tanks. On the other side of the island, as the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, began to advance, enemy dual-purpose gun and mortar fire struck the leading elements, killing two men and wounding one. At 0800 fifteen dive bombers commenced their scheduled strike against the area in which the dual-purpose guns had been observed from the air, and the battalion pushed forward with its tanks according to plan. Company G was in front, with Company E in close support and Company F in reserve.

Occupation of the Airfield Is Completed The first stage of the second day’s action would bring the leading battalions to the eastern end of the airfield. Carl Road crossed the island there, approximately 800 yards east of the 32nd Regiment’s starting line and 1,000 yards east of the 184th’s. The zone to be covered by the 2nd Battalion, 32nd, contained the westerly portion of Canary Strong Point, just short of which the battalion had spent the night, and all of Cat Strong Point, some 500 yards farther along the ocean shore. The dense vegetation between the shore and Wallace Road and the taller coconut palms between the road and the southern edge of the airfield had been badly blasted and burned by the bombardment, but they were less thoroughly flattened than those at the western end of the island. The tank trap given such prominence in the division’s field orders cut left diagonally across Carl Road in front of the 32nd Infantry, but most of its length was in the area beyond the road.

Because of the northward curve of the island, the area between the airfield and the ocean narrowed quite sharply at the end of the airfield nearest Carl Road, and the regimental boundary down the middle of the island cut diagonally across the airfield’s eastern end. Near Carl Road the wider portion of the 32nd’s zone was thus open ground, consisting of the end of the landing strip and part of the dispersal space just north of it. The 184th Infantry’s zone of advance for several hundred yards ranged from the northern edge of the landing strip to the lagoon. The central, wooded panel between airstrips was at the right; next was the dispersal strip, which curved southward at the far end; to its north was the wooded area between the airfield and Will Road; and between the road and the lagoon beach was a curving belt about seventy-five to a hundred yards wide in which, commencing in the area of Center Pier, there was a continuous series of buildings. Although bombardment and air strikes had wrecked the docks and destroyed most of the buildings and a direct hit during the naval bombardment of 30 January had sent an ammunition dump skyward with devastating results in a wide area near the base of the docks, a number of active gun positions had been spotted along the lagoon. Also, in the area near Carl Road, where the thickly wooded strip between the dispersal strip and Will Road greatly widened, some enemy resistance might be expected.

It was thought, as the battalions jumped off toward Carl Road for the first phase of the second day’s attack, that the 184th could expect more difficulty than the 32nd, unless Cat Strong Point proved to be formidable. Enemy riflemen who had taken positions behind the advanced perimeters of the 3rd Battalion, 184th, fired on the 2nd Battalion as it passed through the 3rd. Return fire carried past them and some of it fell among the 3rd Battalion, causing four casualties. By 0816 the entire 2nd Battalion had passed the 3rd’s advanced positions. At first the advance of the 2nd Battalion was cautious as the men felt their way forward, but after they began to familiarize themselves with the terrain ahead they pushed forward rapidly. Scattered enemy points of resistance were encountered, mostly small pillboxes, sometimes with interconnecting trenches but with no shelters.

The positions on the lagoon shore had been mostly knocked out by the artillery. The assault waves advanced about two hundred yards before they came into a perimeter of heavy sniper fire from an area that was still studded with trees and underbrush in spite of the preparatory bombardment. Snipers worked from behind rubble heaps and from the ruins of old buildings, but the effect was more harassing than deadly.

By 0900 the advance of the leading companies had passed the H Docks and was continuing. The 1st Battalion was closely following the assault, mopping up rear areas and eliminating snipers. In the assault waves the medium tanks and infantry advanced abreast. Tanks sprayed the treetops with their .30-caliber machine gun fire, coming to a stop when it was necessary to turn their 75-mm. guns against pillboxes. The standard procedure when one of these positions was encountered was for the tank to advance up to the pillbox with two or three infantrymen covering it and one tankman on the ground guiding his vehicle. The tank ordinarily then took its position so that its machine gun could cover the entrance to the pillbox while the 75-mm. gun fired at the wall. Frequently while this action was taking place the infantry wave bypassed the structure and continued beating the ground ahead. By 1040 these maneuvers had succeeded so well that Companies E and F were across Carl Road. As of 1030 the advance had cost twenty-five casualties. On the opposite shore of the island, the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, met greater difficulties, although it did reach Carl Road at the same time as the 184th. Shortly after the strafing attack carried out by naval planes from 0800 to 0820, Company G came across an unexpected tank ditch running from the landing strip to Wallace Road. To avoid this obstruction, the accompanying tanks swung wide left to go along the airstrip, thus exposing the infantrymen to fire from a pillbox on the left.

Two of the tanks attempted to silence this position, but failed to do so and moved on toward the airstrip. Three more tanks came along and joined the fusillade, which continued for fifteen minutes. Finally, Captain Albert W. Pence of Company G succeeded in establishing contact with his supporting tanks and in a few minutes the infantrymen had the position under control.

That part of Company G that was moving along the ocean shore had relatively little trouble, but the platoon on the left ran into considerable organized resistance in the form of riflemen working from trees and shallow fire trenches and of automatic fire from strongly revetted pillboxes. The positions backed up those along the ocean front, and while the latter were the more conspicuous, the former were the more deadly. It took two hours of fighting for Company G to advance two hundred yards through this belt of works with the aid of tanks and engineer demolition crews. By 0926 they had reached the end of Canary Strong Point.

The 2nd Battalion then moved on rapidly until it reached the perimeter of fire from Cat Strong Point where its earlier experience was repeated. Once more it became evident that the beach positions were the outer crust and not the core of resistance. They yielded readily and the right platoon advanced well ahead of the left. But inland from the road were well-concealed tiers of defensive works which, in spite of the artillery fire, were still capable of action. Not until 1020 was Cat Strong Point finally cleared on the right, and not until 1040 did the left platoon finally reach Carl Road abreast of the 184th Infantry.

The Area of the Main Tank Trap Upon crossing Carl Road, the two regiments began the second stage of their attack of 2 February. A section between Carl Road and Nora Road, some three hundred yards farther along the island, was to be traversed. Will Road continued to parallel the lagoon beach. Wallace Road, at a point a hundred yards beyond Carl Road, swung left away from the ocean for a hundred yards to join Nora Road, thus narrowing the distance between Will and Wallace Roads.

A deep tank trap lay immediately before the 32nd Infantry. The longer section of this trap ran for two hundred yards straight east from Carl Road to the bend in Wallace Road; and, from the other side of the highway at that point, a shorter section extended for ninety yards south to the ocean beach. Just beyond the angle of the trap, between the long bend in Wallace Road and the ocean shore and short of the Nora Road line, lay one of the most extensive and elaborately organized sets of defensive positions on the island. Designated as Corn Strong Point, it extended inland to a depth of about a hundred yards and was believed to contain three pillboxes and an open artillery position, both near the beach, and up to seven machine gun emplacements inland. These positions were interspersed with storage pits and antitank trenches.

North of the main tank trap a long rifle trench ran in an irregular line across the island diagonally from Corn Strong Point to a point near the junction of Carl Road with Will Road. The 184th Infantry had come upon its northern extremity just before reaching the Carl Road line. The trench, with a connected loop in the middle of the island, extended through most of the ground to be covered by the 184th’s right elements. It was clear that the long rifle trench, the tank trap, and the associated gun emplacements of Corn Strong Point were intended to be the main defense system obstructing movement from the western part of Kwajalein Island, containing the airfield, into the northeastern portion, containing most of the installations.

Along this line the Japanese were expected to make their most determined stand. For the initial assault on the tank trap and Corn Strong Point, the 32nd Infantry’s 3rd Battalion was ordered to pass through its 2nd Battalion at Carl Road and to lead the attack. These fresh troops were to be supported by the tanks of Companies A and D, 767th Tank Battalion and, from the left flank, by the tanks of Company B, which would be temporarily detached from the 184th. Preparatory and supporting fire from the artillery on Carlson Island and from the 32nd’s Cannon Company in Wart Area was to be co-ordinated with the tank and infantry movements. While the new assault units were moving up, the enemy in Corn Strong Point was kept under heavy artillery bombardment and was isolated from possible reinforcement by naval gunfire. Enemy guns that were still active in the northeastern end of the island were struck by dive bombers. The jump-off was ordered for 1245.

A series of delays deferred this crucial attack over an hour. To assemble the staff and co-ordinate the plans for employing tanks, artillery, and infantry while the 3rd Battalion made its approach march, proved difficult to arrange. The time for the assault had passed before the planning difficulties were resolved. Then came notice of an air strike to be made at 1315—later postponed, on Admiral Turner’s order, to 1330—thus necessitating the suspension of all artillery fire.68 Since the attack on Corn Strong Point was to be immediately preceded by a heavy artillery barrage, the whole operation was postponed to 1400.

The tanks of Company A, 767th Tank Battalion, lined up along Carl Road to fire against the strong point, while those from Company B took positions almost at right angles to that road and prepared to strike the enemy from the left flank during the first stage of the attack. One of the batteries on Carlson continued to fire during the air strike, and the Cannon Company’s howitzers also laid a preparation on the target area before the advance commenced at 1400. Then, while the artillery lifted fire to ground northeast of the target, the tanks and infantry approached the tank trap in a 225-yard advance across open ground. The tanks poured machine gun fire into the area. Thirty yards behind them the troops came forward to the shelter of the tank ditch without receiving an enemy shot. The Japanese were pinned down.

While the left wing of infantry troops started to push across the wide tank barrier, the tanks on their left momentarily broke off fire from the flank. A few tanks from Company A, 767th Tank Battalion, moved toward the ocean to bypass the deep ditch, and the others after a brief hesitation laid a base of fire to cover the infantry’s advance. The tanks hesitated to poke out along the flimsy wooden bridge by which Wallace Road cut through the angle of the tank trap.

At this stage, a concentration of white phosphorus shells commenced to fall into the area in which Company I, 32nd Infantry, was moving, and some two score of the men were burned. After hesitating briefly the infantry moved steadily to the tank ditch.

There the troops remained for some time because the medium tanks pulled back claiming they could not get over the ditch. This impasse was finally broken when two light and two medium tanks made their way along the ocean beach around the right end of the ditch and took the pillboxes in Corn Strong Point under fire. The infantry wave then pushed forward and with the aid of engineers proceeded to destroy that strong point in detail. There were no American casualties.

An estimated hundred Japanese were killed in the area, the majority by demolition charges carried forward by engineer details while rifle and BAR men covered them. Little or no defense was put up against these tactics. The Japanese remained huddled in their shelters in spite of efforts made to coax them out to surrender. Only one prisoner was taken in the whole area. Grenades were thrown into the shelters, and those who survived were then destroyed by demolition charges. Altogether, it took about thirty-five minutes to reduce Corn Strong Point once the American infantry got beyond the tank trap.

Contact between the forward battalion of the 32nd Infantry and that of the 184th was temporarily lost during this fray, and Company K, 32nd Infantry, moved through the left platoon of Company I to establish the contact firmly as soon as Corn Strong Point was taken. Advance to the Nora Road line seemed practicable within the time remaining before taking defensive positions for the night. To escape spending the night in an area too heavily wooded for security, the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, planned to advance northeast of the junction of Nora Road and Wallace Road, even though that would place its perimeter slightly forward of the 184th’s front-line elements, which were resting just short of Nora Road itself.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion, 184th, had crossed Carl Road before 1040 but was held up until 1245 in order to advance evenly with the 32nd. At that time it moved out with Company F on the right and Company E on the left along the lagoon.

For the first forty-five minutes no serious resistance was met. There was no tank obstacle in the area and the enemy’s positions along the lagoon shore were less formidable than had been expected. At 1330, however, the 184th had to lend its medium tanks to the 32nd Infantry as the latter moved against Corn Strong Point. This left the infantry unprotected at a time when they began to meet their first serious resistance. The tanks returned about an hour later but were so low on ammunition and fuel that they had to be sent back to Wolf Strong Point for resupply. Without this tank support the infantry advance was stalled. Altogether, the 184th suffered over sixty casualties by the end of the day, including the loss of Company F’s commanding officer. At 1630 Company G was sent forward to relieve Company F.

When the time arrived to organize night defenses, the forward perimeter of the 184th, instead of being located on Nora Road as planned, was withdrawn to a line only seventy-five to a hundred yards northeast of Carl Road. This necessitated an even greater withdrawal on the part of the 32nd Regiment. From a line well beyond Nora Road the 3rd Battalion, 32nd, fell back to another somewhat short of the road and took positions in the abandoned trenches and shell craters of Corn Strong Point. The line bent westerly from Wallace Road to reach the regimental boundary at a point about a hundred yards beyond the main portion held by the 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry.

Situation at the End of the Second Day

As night closed in the naval planes retired to their carriers, having made seventy sorties over Kwajalein Island dropping 40 tons of bombs and expending 20,800 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition in special missions and general ground support. The close support carriers and battleships, with their screens, cruised a few miles south of Kwajalein Island. No enemy aircraft had been discovered operating in the entire Marshall Islands area.

During 2 February the transports had continued unloading the supply and ammunition for dumps on Carlson, Carlos, and Kwajalein Islands. A forward ammunition dump and maintenance point was set up between Wilma Road and the airfield and maintained by DUKW’s until their withdrawal during the late afternoon for service in the next day’s assault on Burton Island. By the end of 2 February the unloading of materiel for Carlos and Carlson had reached a point where it could be estimated that it would be completed by noon of the 3rd. The shore parties on Kwajalein Island were reinforced during the day by elements of the defense force. Green Beach 4, facing the lagoon at the western corner of the island, was put into use during the afternoon.

American casualties recorded on 2 February included 11 killed in action and 241 wounded, of whom 34 were returned to duty. Evacuation of the wounded on 2 February had been rapid, especially after the arrival of the ambulances during the afternoon. Litter squads took the wounded to the battalion aid stations for treatment, after which they were brought along the main highways in ambulances to the two collecting stations. At the beach, the shore party medical section evacuated them to the transports in LVT’s. Late in the afternoon, the collecting station of Company B, 7th Medical Battalion, which served the 32nd Regimental Combat Team, moved along Wallace Road to a position some seven hundred yards east of Red Beach 2. No clearing station had yet been established.

The enemy was believed to be near the end of his strength. His casualties were thought to be from 1,000 to 1,200 dead. One of the few captured prisoners declared the remaining defenses in ruins, communications broken, and only 200 to 300 of the remaining soldiers able to resist. In such circumstances, the stage was set for the characteristic “banzai” attack. General Corlett’s headquarters warned, “Be alert for counterattack at anytime day or night, it’s bound to come. The Jap makes his suicide counterattack at dawn on the day after his cause becomes hopeless. Watch out tomorrow morning.

The night’s operations nevertheless proved to be relatively quiet. Enemy artillery fired some white phosphorus in front of both regiments, dropped a mortar shell near the tanks bivouacked at the western end of the airfield, and after midnight sent over a substantial volume of grenades and small arms, automatic, and mortar fire, such as might be preliminary to a counterattack. Yelling and the throwing of grenades continued in front of Company G, 184th Infantry, but no major counterattack developed, and after 0320 the front line quieted down. From the 32nd Infantry’s side of the island, firing and star shells on the lagoon side could be observed, but no corresponding action, not even active evening patrols, disturbed the waiting men in their own zone.

The night did not pass without some casualties, however. At approximately 2300 an enemy shell burst above the position of the 2nd Platoon, 91st Chemical Company, causing a conflagration that wounded seven men. Soon thereafter one of the 155-mm. howitzers in Battery B, 145th Field Artillery Battalion, suffered a premature burst that split the tube, sent one large piece four hundred yards through the air, and set the nearest powder cases ablaze. One man was killed at once, three later died of wounds, and thirteen others were wounded, of whom five had to be immediately evacuated. Live ammunition was hastily removed to safety, the fire gotten under control, and the position saved.

The situation at the end of the second day’s fighting on Kwajalein Island encouraged expectations of a speedy victory on the following day. For the next day’s operations, General Corlett ordered the two assault regiments: “Organize vigorous attack 0715 tomorrow. . . . Finish the job not later than 1500 3 February. The Northern Force [at Roi-Namur] has finished the job. . . .”

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(16); Kwajalein: The Third Day

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(15A); Kwajalein: Push Inland: First Day


World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(15A); Kwajalein: Push Inland: First Day

There was one main highway on Kwajalein Island, which completely circled it, paralleling the shore line for most of its length and inland from the beach about a hundred yards. The northern (lagoon) section of the highway was known as Will Road; the southern (ocean) section, as Wallace Road. At the western end of the island, the loop ran somewhat farther inland, but there, and at various points along the ocean shore, secondary roads branched from the highway to installations nearer the water. Approximately twenty cross-island roads short circuited the main loop. In the narrow, northeastern end of the island among the various buildings, these cross-island roads were near enough together to seem like streets of a village. Air photographs showed that the small airfield near the center of the island was still under construction just before the landings. It consisted of a single runway paralleled on the north by a narrower strip used for dispersal. Between the dispersal strip and the runway, wooded areas had been separated by two transverse clearings and further divided by straight narrow road’s that ran almost all the way across the island from ocean to lagoon. Less than one eighth of the runway had been paved in concrete.

Construction materials for the Japanese installations on Kwajalein were delivered to the lagoon at wooden docks directly north of the center of the airfield and at a long coral-filled pier nearer the northeastern end of the island. The docks, referred to in the operation maps as Center Pier, were shaped like a wide capital H, and were accessible to boats of shallow draft only. The long pier, designated Nob Pier, almost a mile farther northeast along the lagoon shore, projected westward across the reef for some five hundred yards to reach deep water. It was shaped much like a hocky stick with a wide blade projecting at an angle from its long slender causeway.

Just west of the airfield and lying within the western loop of the island highway was a depressed area of land, largely cleared except for some brush, designated Wart Area on operation maps. It stretched from Will Road on the north to a fringe of trees near Wallace Road on the south, a distance of 450 yards; the distance from the highway loop on the west to a semicircle of trees ringing the eastern edge of this clearing was about 500 yards. In this area the Japanese had set up a radio direction finder with auxiliary radio installations in four buildings. About 1,500 yards farther east, at the eastern end of the runway, another clearing, approximately 300 yards by 600 yards, extended along the ocean shore. It was crossed by Wallace Road, by two cross-island roads (Cox and Carl Roads), and by an antitank ditch. Commencing near the base of Center Pier and extending along the lagoon side of the island to the northeastern tip, the Japanese had constructed most of their buildings. North of the base of Nob Pier these structures filled most of the area within the loop of the highway.

The Advance From the Beaches

The beachhead line lay about 250 yards inland, along the western loop of the main island highway, which there ran north and south roughly parallel to the two Red Beaches. The shore rose just behind the beaches to an island rim a few yards wide and about ten feet above sea level. East of this higher ground as far as the beachhead line were marshy dips covered with thick underbrush. Vegetation was thickest behind Red Beach 2, in the line of the 32nd Regiment advance. The northern zone, which was drier, having been shaded only by tall coconut palms more widely spaced, contained several buildings strung along an additional loop of secondary road that linked the northwest point and the highway.

From the shell-pocked reef and torn-up terrain along the beach itself, the advance had to be made through debris and soft ground, both of which presented great difficulty to tanks and other vehicles. The northern boundary of the 32nd Regiment’s zone ran a little north of the middle of the island, from Red Beach 2 to a road junction at the western edge of Wart Area.

The ocean shore on the regiment’s right curved southeast, widening the area from about 275 yards at the beach to about 400 yards at the beachhead line. Within the 32nd’s zone the enemy defenses, referred to as Wet Strong Point, were expected to consist of pillboxes and antiaircraft gun positions, directly back of Red Beach 2, and a closely associated network of installations along the ocean shore.

As the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, advanced after landing on Red Beach 2, it discovered the enemy defenses surprisingly weak. Although several log shelters not indicated on the operations map were met, the group of prepared firing positions at Wet Strong Point was found to be nonexistent. Moreover, very few dead Japanese were counted by the 1st Battalion as it moved toward the beachhead line with Company A on the right, Company B in the inner zone at the left, and part of Company C following in reserve. The battalion reported only light, scattered enemy resistance to its advance. No large pillboxes remained to be demolished.

Only a few of the enemy were discovered in small underground shelters. Japanese riflemen usually preferred to let the line pass, withholding fire until more profitable targets appeared. The advance platoons were at the north-south portion of Wallace Road within an hour after the landing. The rest came up more slowly, but at 1130 the battalion was at the western edge of the Wart Area clearing.

In the northern zone, the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, experienced more resistance during this phase of the battle than was met in the southern zone. Except for twenty-two men from Company K who had been carried by a disabled LVT to Red Beach 2, and twenty-one men transferred from another damaged tractor to one in the fourth wave, the first two waves of the 3rd Battalion on Red Beach 1 contained all the troops of Companies K, I, and L, plus the 3rd Platoon, Company C, 13th Engineer Battalion.

Ahead of them lay a network of several pillboxes, which still contained live Japanese in spite of the heavy preliminary bombardment. These were silenced in short order in a series of almost simultaneous actions in which many varieties of weapons were used. Typical of the action at this juncture was the experience of two infantrymen of Company K, Private Parvee Rasberry and Private First Class Paul Roper. The two men had landed near the left of Red Beach 1 and had run about twenty-five yards inland when they came under fire from one of the pillboxes in the area.

Quickly taking shelter in a shell hole, they started lobbing grenades at the enemy position about fifteen yards ahead. The Japanese merely threw the grenades back and the volley kept up until a flame thrower was brought forward. That, too, proved ineffective; the flames only hit the box and bounced back. Finally, Private Rasberry got out of his foxhole, crawled to within about five yards of the pillbox and threw in a white phosphorus smoke grenade. This flushed several Japanese from their cover into open positions where they could be taken under rifle fire. Those who weren’t hit ran back to the pillbox. Rasberry threw white phosphorous grenades until he had none left, by which time about eight of the enemy had been killed. At this juncture, T. Sergeant Graydon Kickul of Company L was able to crawl up to the pillbox and on top of it. He emptied his M1 rifle into it, killing the remainder of the Japanese inside. To make doubly certain that the job was done, an amphibian tank was then brought forward to fire both its flame thrower and its 37-mm. gun into the aperture.

In much the same manner, all of the pillboxes were taken out or sufficiently neutralized to permit bypassing. When the work was completed, the assault Companies L and I passed through the first landing wave and continued on up the island. Company K now went into battalion reserve and, to the rear of the assault wave, continued to mop up positions that were bypassed as the attack progressed. Company I on the right and Company L on the left moved rapidly forward under protection of artillery from Carlson Island. The 184th Infantry was receiving direct support from the 57th Field Artillery, which at 0947 had already established communications with its forward observers in the 3rd Battalion’s front lines.

Meanwhile, the 49th Field Artillery was furnishing direct support to the 32nd Infantry and at 0949 had its forward observers for Battery A reporting at a point 150 yards inland from Red Beach 2. The remaining three battalions of divisional artillery continued general support by dropping barrages successively farther inland. During the initial phase neither battalion had effective support from tanks, and the LVT(A)’s were left behind near the beaches. In the southern sector the swampy terrain held up the tanks until the infantrymen and engineers were well beyond the beachhead line. In the northern sector the two medium tanks that had not foundered on the reef or at the approach to the beach joined the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, just before it reached the beachhead line.

Enemy dead, estimated at 250, lay scattered among the desolate ruins and tangled wreckage of the coconut grove or in the rubble and debris of shattered buildings behind Red Beach 1. Although for over half an hour hidden Japanese stragglers fired on the beach and harassed the advancing troops, both advance companies of the 184th reported insignificant opposition. By 1135 they had come up to the north-south sector of Wallace Road and had reorganized for the next stage of the advance.

The Second Phase

The next objective of the two assault battalions was the line of Wilma Road, a north-south road that ran east of Wart Area and west of the landing strips, connecting Will Road on the north with the ocean-shore stretch of Wallace Road. The zone ahead of the 32nd Infantry included the southern part of Wart Area at the left and at the right some 550 yards of the shore stretch of Wallace Road, together with a band of wooded ground between that road and the ocean. The shore defenses in this section were grouped in two organized systems, designated Whistler Strong Point and Wheeler Strong Point. Each was thought to consist of machine gun and antiaircraft gun positions fronting the ocean, and a line of rifle pits and connecting trench just inland.

After halting at the beachhead line, Company B furnished covering fire over Wart Area while Company A continued to advance, with Company C behind it, along the wooded ground that stretched from the clearing to the ocean shore. The forward company was out of communication with the battalion for over half an hour. At 1220 it was reported to be progressing against rifle and machine gun fire only, and to have pushed to a point 250 yards west of Wilma Road. Whistler Strong Point had proved to be unoccupied.

Moving on toward Wheeler Strong Point, Company A encountered its first organized resistance of the day from pillboxes along the ocean shore and suffered ten or eleven casualties. At 1330 steps were taken to shift the burden of the assault from the 32nd Regiment’s 1st Battalion to its 2nd, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Glen A. Nelson. Company C, which had been following behind Company A, was sent northeastward to clean up the dispersal area east of Wilma Road. Companies A and B were to be relieved by the 2nd Battalion.

As the latter came abreast of Wheeler Strong Point, it was fired upon from three pillboxes that Company A had failed to mop up completely. These were attacked and wiped out by infantrymen with the assistance of a platoon of medium tanks that had moved ahead to support the 2nd Battalion.

Meanwhile, to the north, the 3rd Battalion, 184th, was finding the resistance somewhat tougher, as it had earlier in the morning. Before jumping off for the second phase of the attack, the battalion reorganized. Company K took up the right half of the battalion line along the north-south segment of Wallace Road to furnish covering fire over Wart Area, and Company I shifted to the rear of Company L, supporting its advance at a distance of about two hundred yards. Jumping off at noon, Company L fought for twenty minutes to reduce a bunker of reinforced concrete that had an extension constructed of logs and sand. Halfway between Will Road and the lagoon shore, it had been spotted as a pillbox but proved instead to be a very large shelter. Flame throwers proved ineffective, and the occupants emerged one at a time only after high-explosive and white phosphorus charges were used.

Rifle fire and thick underbrush along Will Road north of the direction finder site, as well as machine gun and small arms fire, slowed Company L’s progress. By 1310, nevertheless, it had come to the positions defending Wilma Road, and at 1450 reported that the road in its zone was secured. Company I pushed southeastward through the wreckage of a group of buildings to establish contact along Wilma Road with the left-hand elements of the 32nd Regiment. Some difficulty in achieving contact arose from the fact that Company C of the 32nd had continued beyond Wilma Road into the dispersal area of the airfield, which was actually within the

Seizure of the Airfield Begins The area east of Wilma Road contained the airfield. Two bands of wooded ground, studded with fortified positions and laced with trenches, lay along and back of the lagoon and ocean beaches on either side of the airfield. In the center of the field, between the airstrips, stretched a third wooded area about a hundred yards wide. The rest of the sector had been cleared of trees by the Japanese. Immediately east of Wilma Road was a major dispersal area, shaped much like a fishhook, curving away from the line of advance at the right to a barbed point on the regimental boundary, and broadening at the left into the western terminus of the airstrips. This terminus was a single clearing, 300 yards from north to south and 75 yards from west to east.

The two airstrips—one a runway strip and the other a dispersal strip—extended eastward about 1,200 yards to another unbroken cleared area. The northern (dispersal) strip was about 50, and the southern over 100 yards wide. The boundary between the zones of the 184th and 32nd Regiments had been set along the southern (runway) strip, about one fourth of the distance from its northern edge. Bombardment had shattered most of the trees not previously cleared by the Japanese from the wide area extending from Will Road on the north to Wallace Road on the south.

Except for a jumble of trunks, branches, and fronds in the area between the airstrips and between the southern strip and Wallace Road, the island seemed to have become one broad clearing between coastal fringes of vegetation. Some of the enemy held out at the western end of the field as the advance battalions continued the attack and the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, moved forward to pass through the 1st Battalion. No firm defensive position commanding the entire width of the island had been established, however. The bulk of the defenders had simply retired eastward.

Three coastal defense positions were anticipated on the ocean side along the shore. They were labeled on the operations map Worden, Canary, and Cat Strong Points. Worden Strong Point was believed to contain a covered artillery position for a field piece, a heavy antiaircraft gun, four machine gun emplacements, a network of rifle trenches, and some unidentified buildings. Canary Strong Point was thought to include two groups of positions, each similar to Worden and separated by over a hundred yards of brush-covered ground, in which the presence of pillboxes and connecting trenches was suspected but not definitely established. Worden was 200 yards beyond the Wilma Road line, and Canary about 800 yards farther. Four hundred and fifty yards beyond Canary was Cat Strong Point, extending along some three hundred yards of ocean shore south of the airfield’s eastern end. The troops of the 32nd Infantry would not reach it until the next day.

The attack eastward began to move into the airfield area as early as 1440. An air attack on the defenses at Canary Strong Point, south of the middle of the airfield, was not thought safe because of the presence of American troops within 500 yards of the target. Artillery fire, however, was heavy; 300 rounds of 105-mm. and 155-mm. artillery fire from Carlson Island was delivered between 1405 and 1425. Company A, 32nd Infantry, remained temporarily near the south end of Wilma Road, mopping up enemy positions, while Company B pushed forward about 100 yards beyond the road. Company C, after passing through the western dispersal area, continued eastward into the wooded area between the airstrips, well into the zone of the 184th Regiment.

The progress of the 1st Battalion, 32nd, from Wilma Road along the ocean side of the island continued to be somewhat more rapid than that of the 3rd Battalion, 184th, in its zone. Company B, 32nd Infantry, met only scattered resistance during its first two hundred yards of advance, while Companies L and I, 184th, ran at once upon large underground shelters and defenses as well as rifle fire. Moreover, a fuel dump that had been ignited by artillery fire from Carlson Island exploded and temporarily barred the 184th’s advance.

Any attempt of the enemy to reinforce his troops already in the wooded strip between the lagoon and Will Road was prevented by a creeping barrage along Will Road and by a concentration from 155-mm. howitzers upon an assembly of Japanese troops observed near the northeastern end of the island. Organized enemy resistance to the 3rd Battalion, 184th, was also forestalled by sixty rounds from the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, dropped on a nearer concentration of the enemy forces between the airfield and the lagoon.

At 1525, Company L, 184th Infantry, was reported to be two hundred yards east of Wilma Road, while Company I of the same regiment was at the northwestern corner of the airfield. On the right, Company C, 32nd Infantry, had moved into the wooded panel between the airstrips, pursuing a few of the withdrawing enemy. Company B, 32nd Infantry, pushed through the ruined concrete-mixing plant and the other debris at Worden Strong Point, leaving the mopping up of all bunkers to Company A. Company B then moved forward against Canary Strong Point, preceded by an artillery preparation that commenced at 1515. By 1540 friendly troops were so close to the target that artillery fire had to be discontinued.

At 1525 Company B, 32nd Infantry, was ordered to hold while Company E of the 2nd Battalion passed through and commenced reducing the defensive positions in the western section of Canary Strong Point. Some of these positions, which extended along each side of Wallace Road, were defended by Japanese who ducked and crawled through rubble heaps and bunkers in such a way that Lieutenant John L. Young, commanding Company E, became convinced that they were using connecting tunnels. For an hour the fighting persisted, but not more than ten enemy dead could be counted above ground.

Company E continued through a litter of small works, moving so slowly that it was necessary to commit Company F, which undertook a flanking movement at the left. The maneuver was intended to cut the strong point off, but the company promptly ran into fire that slowed its advance to about fifty yards in thirty minutes. It then became clear that the whole movement had been stopped. The attack was consequently broken off at 1800 and defensive positions were organized for the night. At 1820 the 32nd Regimental Combat Team casualties were reported at seven dead and twenty-three wounded.

In the 184th Regiment’s zone, the attack stopped at 1700, when Company L arrived at the western edge of a group of ruined storage buildings that extended as far as the H Docks (Center Pier). Defensive perimeters were prepared. The day’s casualties in the 184th’s 3rd Battalion were reported to be ten killed and thirteen wounded.

The enemy losses on Kwajalein at the close of the day’s fighting were estimated at five hundred killed and eleven captured. Approximately 450 of the dead Japanese counted were in the zone of the 184th, and this regiment also was responsible for the capture of ten of the eleven prisoners taken.

Of course, a large share of the enemy casualties must be attributed to the heavy bombardment from ships and aircraft and from artillery based on Carlson. Estimates made by assault troops and by others, including doctors following the assault, indicated that the preparatory bombardment caused from 50 to 75 percent of all Japanese casualties on Kwajalein Island. These estimates probably run high, but there can be no doubt that the preliminary fire, especially from ships’ guns and shore based artillery, was exceptionally effective.

The first day’s field artillery operations, however, were not without cost to the American units involved. When Battery C, 145th Field Artillery, fired its first round, one gun had a premature burst of a fuzed projectile, causing two casualties. A few minutes later, a muzzle burst in Battery A occurred, seriously wounding five men. Not long afterward, just after 1000, the principal air observer, Captain George W. Tysen, USN, and his pilot, Ensign William J. Sayers, USNR, in a spotting plane from Minneapolis flew below the safety level into a curtain of artillery shells from Carlson Island. The plane was struck and destroyed in mid-air.

The two forward battalions established defensive perimeters that crossed the terrain on each side of the airfield but then looped westward along its edges and joined in the dispersal area near Wilma Road. In the northern zone Companies L and I, 184th Infantry, shared the most advanced position, with Company L on the left. Company K, except for one platoon sent to support Company L, extended along Will Road and linked the two forward companies with those of the 2nd Battalion, 184th, east of Wilma Road. In the southern zone, Company F, 32nd Infantry, alone held the forward line from the ocean beach to the southern edge of the landing strip.

The remainder of 2nd Battalion, 32nd, took up positions west and northwest of Company F. Three antitank guns were set up at equal intervals, interspersed with machine guns, in Company F’s easterly line. The men were well dug in, two or three men to a foxhole.

Between the southernmost position of Company I, 184th Infantry, and the northernmost position of Company F, 32nd Infantry, the width of the landing strip intervened; moreover, Company F’s line lay about 250 yards farther east than that of Company I. The wide gap was devoid of cover for either defending or attacking troops, but to guard against the possibility of infiltration, Company C was again sent forward early in the morning of 2 February to guard the area.

The First Night on Kwajalein Island When darkness fell on Kwajalein Island after the first day of battle, the front lines crossed the island at points more than one fourth of the distance from the landing beaches to the northeastern tip. Six infantry battalions were ashore, supported by four tank companies (forty-four medium and eighteen light tanks were operative), five self-propelled 75-mm. guns, and two platoons of 4.2-inch chemical mortars. The two Red Beaches had been fully organized, cleared of enemy explosives, graded by bulldozers, and linked with the island’s road system. Shell holes in the highways had been filled, debris removed, and supply points established. Command posts were established in each battalion area, and regimental command posts were set up about fifty yards inland, near the northern limits of each of the two beaches. The 13th Engineer Battalion had its command post near that of the 184th Infantry, while the 767th Tank Battalion’s was a hundred yards east of Red Beach 2.

[NOTE: Kwajalein and Eniwetok Operations, 14 Mar 44 (hereafter cited as Roberts Report), pp. 34ff. The Roberts Mission was sent to the Marshalls to evaluate the effect of both U.S. and enemy weapons and report its findings to General Richardson.]

In the lagoon, the destroyer Sigsbee was stationed to furnish searchlight illumination of a zone crossing the island at the eastern end of the airfield. It was scheduled to light the area during the first half of each hour. Provision was made for harassing fire to be delivered into the areas east and north of the illuminated zone from the divisional artillery on Carlson Island, the regimental Cannon Companies, and the twelve mortars of the 91st Chemical Company.

While the men were being soaked by a chill rain in the perimeter foxholes and in bivouac areas nearer the landing beaches, plans for the next day’s operations were reviewed at the regimental command post. Intelligence from prisoners and from enemy documents indicated that about 1,500 Japanese remained alive on Kwajalein Island. Contrary to an earlier estimate that only small arms and light machine guns remained, the enemy was known to be able still to use some artillery, although his heavier 5-inch guns had been destroyed.

Despite a hard day, the divisional artillery batteries on Carlson prepared for the night’s action. During the day they had fired 20,949 rounds of 105-mm. and 759 rounds of 155-mm. shells, most of them during the artillery preparation from 0800 to 1200.40 A strong wind had swept the smoke and dust away from the guns and cooled the crews as they maintained a rate of fire of from three to four rounds per minute. Cooks, clerks, and drivers participated as ammunition handlers, while the guns were manned by teams of eight, permitting rest periods for three or four men at a time. The crews broke open pallets and passed tons of ammunition. “The men can stand more than the guns,” said Lieutenant Colonel George D. Preston, commanding the 145th Field Artillery.

The 49th and 57th Field Artillery Battalions prepared to deliver night barrages east of the battalions that they were supporting. The 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, had reached an area dangerously near that on which the guns of the 57th Field Artillery had registered in front of the 184th less than an hour earlier, and that artillery battalion had to swing its fire closer to the lagoon and farther from the 184th’s night perimeter. The 32nd’s late advance also delayed, until twilight, the registration of the 49th. The first shells from the 49th Field Artillery’s preparatory fire fell among troops of the 32nd Infantry. After the 49th’s range had been corrected, however, later barrages were repeatedly requested during the night. A total of 4,556 rounds was expended by the unit between 1800 and 0600.

Naval gunfire on 1 February totaled 6,574 rounds of which 1,342 were 14-inch shells from four battleships, 397 rounds were 8-inch projectiles from three cruisers, and 4,835 rounds were 5-inch shells fired from battleships, cruisers, and five destroyers. In addition to the fire preparatory to landing, naval guns were repeatedly employed in close support of the infantry advance as it moved up Kwajalein Island. As the day’s advance had entered the last stage, General Corlett and the rear echelon of his staff moved ashore to the command post on Carlson Island previously held by the advance party under General Ready. General Holland Smith, commanding the V Amphibious Corps, remained aboard the flagship Rocky Mount with Admiral Turner.

During the day’s operations the enemy had fought primarily from underground shelters and pillboxes. A few large bunkers and interconnected positions had delayed the advance until details “peeled off’ to dispose of them while the remainder of the American line continued forward. Certain positions thought to have been wiped out by grenades, flame throwers, and high-explosive charges or projectiles remained quiet for hours, only to have surviving occupants recover and resume the battle by any means remaining to them. Those Japanese who fired rifles from trees or underbrush were relatively few and scattered. The organized resistance that occasionally developed in the open had provided a series of skirmishes for small details working with the tanks but had resulted in no large-scale encounters.

After dark, however, a large number of the enemy emerged from bunkers and air raid shelters and tried to disrupt the invading force by a series of counterattacks upon the forward perimeters. Individual enemy riflemen and machine gun squads sought to infiltrate along the flanks of the American line or between the two regiments. To the men in the foxholes it was a long night full of action and confusion.

At the northern tip of the island, three enemy dual-purpose guns continued in action, dropping shells at various points near the Red Beaches. Japanese mortars, which had registered along the northern end of Will Road late in the afternoon, struck repeatedly during the night. The enemy directed an antiaircraft gun, mounted on Nob Pier, against the destroyer Sigsbee to suppress the searchlight illumination it was furnishing. When the destroyer succeeded in silencing the gun, another was brought to bear from the same position, and when that was knocked out, enemy artillery on Burton Island tried unsuccessfully to hit Sigsbee. Though it seemed to annoy the Japanese, illumination by searchlight did not serve the needs of the infantry as well as did flares and star shells closer to their front lines.

Naval gunfire from the lagoon, and the division and regimental artillery deprived the Japanese of any opportunity to deliver blows with great force. Nevertheless, they were able to mount a series of counterattacks covered in part by their own sporadic artillery and mortar fire. A number of these were broken up by American artillery while still in the preparatory stages, but several had to be repulsed by the infantry in close-range fighting.

In addition to concerted attacks, the Japanese tried persistently to infiltrate in small groups. In the 32nd Regiment’s zone, flares over the ground in front of Company F revealed the enemy to the Americans, but enough got through to justify a warning order to the 1st Battalion, 32nd, to be ready to come to the support of the 2nd Battalion. From the panel between the airstrips, intermittent enemy machine gun fire from the flank passed over the forward troops, most of it too high to do any damage. Similar tactics in the 184th’s zone brought Japanese riflemen deep within the American lines. One Japanese was killed by a sentry as far west as the message center on Wolf Point, near the northern end of Red Beach 1.

One attack almost attained the proportions of a successful break-through in the American defenses but was not exploited by the enemy, either because of ignorance of his opportunity or because of insufficient strength. This attack was launched against the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, and started at about 0130. During a heavy rain squall in the last hour before midnight, the Japanese had moved back into positions that they had vacated in the afternoon. They had located Company L’s machine guns in the course of an earlier assault, and proceeded to lay down a dense concentration of light mortar fire on the portion of Company L’s line nearest to the lagoon. Three mortar shells fell directly on the heavy machine gun position, wounding several men and killing one. A light machine gun went out of operation nearby, and the remainder of the 1st Platoon, Company L, was forced into a temporary, hasty withdrawal. While some of the enemy infiltrated through this gap and struck the left of the 2nd Platoon, the heavy machine gun in the center of that part of Company L’s line was swung to the left and fired over the previous location of the 1st Platoon. By this fire on the Japanese flank, a machine gun was silenced and Will Road was closed to the enemy.

While the 1st Platoon withdrew, a call for reinforcements and a resupply of ammunition had been sent to the regimental command post. Company C, 184th Infantry, was sent forward but the thin lines were restored even before the reinforcements had arrived. The two machine gun sections of Company C were placed at the extremities of the 1st Platoon line with the rifle platoons in supporting positions. From division artillery heavy fire was sent into the area directly in front of Company L, starting at 0158, and the immediate threat of a break-through in this area was forestalled.

During the early hours of morning, enemy offensive action dwindled to occasional harassing fire. Just before dawn, mortar fire hit one of the machine gun crews that had come forward as reinforcement to Company L, 184th Infantry, causing six casualties. About 0600 steps were being taken for the day’s attack by the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, when another shell fell squarely beneath one of the antitank guns in Company F’s line killing two, wounding one, and disabling the gun. The 3rd Battalion, 184th, was to be relieved at the end of this first dismal night on Kwajalein. It had sustained casualties of 14 killed and 54 wounded for the entire period of its fighting on the island. The 2nd Battalion of the same regiment was ordered to move through the 3rd’s forward positions and take up the attack. In the 32nd regimental zone, the 2nd Battalion was to continue in the line. Fresh troops would relieve that unit later in the morning.

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 (15B); Kwajalein: Second Day’s Action

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshall (14); Invasion of Southern Kwajalein