World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(17); Kwajalein Island Secured

Occupation of Kwajalein Island had reached an advanced stage by the morning of 4 February. The end of enemy resistance during the day could definitely be anticipated. The advance from the western beach had covered more than three fourths of the island’s length and considerably more than three fourths of its area. The stretch that remained was less than 1,000 yards long and 400 yards wide, a section containing the ruins of about thirty buildings amid the scorched and battered remnants of many trees. The ground north of Nathan Road was divided into segments by four east-west roads at intervals of approximately 100 yards and, some 300 yards farther north, by the loop of the island highway. The ocean shore was studded with pillboxes, gun positions, machine gun emplacements, antitank sea wall barricades, and shelters. Most of these works were oriented toward attack from the water rather than along the island from the south, and all had been heavily pounded by naval gunfire, artillery fire, and air bombing. The interior could be presumed to hold concrete shelters and earth-and-log bunkers resembling those that had proved to be such substantial obstacles to the advance of the previous day.

Plans for the Attack of 4 February

Plans for the attack on 4 February had been made during the night of the 3rd in partial misconception of the actual location of the front-line troops. At division and regimental headquarters it was supposed that the Nob Pier-Nathan Road line had been reached. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, was understood to have reached the base of the pier, and the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, was believed to be on the Nathan Road line, from which the 32nd Infantry was to take over the entire assault to the end of the island. These estimates were based on the overoptimistic reports of the front-line units, issued the evening before, and had not been contradicted during the night. Nor was there full recognition of the condition of the areas directly behind the reported front lines. As indicated, the late afternoon drive on 3 February had been pushed forward with little attention to the task of mopping up the enemy troops hiding under rubble piles, in shelters, and in the few buildings still left standing. Reserve units had not been able to complete the task. Until the remnants of the enemy force thus bypassed could be destroyed, confusion would exist, communications would be disrupted, and the attack delayed.

An exact knowledge of the location of various units still could not be had as morning approached. Company and battalion commanders did not know where many of the components of their units were, and radio contact with the rear continued to be poor. In the 184th Infantry zone of action, moreover, one entire section of enemy-held territory—that south of Nob Pier between Will Road and the lagoon— had not even been entered, although regimental and division headquarters assumed that it had been seized. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, which had been charged with the capture of this ground, had failed to enter it by dark on 3 February and planned to complete its mission early the next morning.

Regimental orders for the 32nd Infantry attack of 4 February called for the 1st Battalion to attack through the front lines held by the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, and by the 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry. It was to jump off at 0715, following fifteen minutes of preparatory fire by artillery and naval guns.2 In order to execute this attack, however, it was thought necessary to get all companies of the 1st Battalion into position before dawn. Company A was to form the right of the battalion line, Company B the center, and Company C the left. At the moment this plan was decided upon, Companies A and B were in reserve some distance to the left rear of the 3rd Battalion line, and Company C was stretched out across the rear of the front in a badly disorganized state. The weapons platoon of the latter company was “missing” after becoming involved in the previous night’s counterattack, having actually pulled back to the ocean shore.

To launch the attack as early as possible, Colonel Logic about midnight ordered 1st Lieutenant Robert J. Kretzer, the Company C commander, to move his men to the lagoon side of the island before dawn. Company A would relieve Company C in its earlier position at approximately 0230. Lieutenant Kretzer, realizing that such a movement would be extremely dangerous under the conditions then existing behind the front lines, made a personal reconnaissance of the route his company would follow and visited the command posts of the 184th’s advance companies, notifying them that Company C would be moving through the area later in the night.

Company A arrived in the area behind the front lines at 0230, as ordered, but because of the confusion the relief was not completed until 0400. By that time the moon had gone down, but fires and flares still cast enough light over the area to silhouette moving men. Lieutenant Kretzer executed his move to the lagoon shore in the simplest manner possible. After organizing his company, he simply faced them to the left and marched them westward in a long column. At one time two of the platoons became separated in the debris, but they found each other again quite accidentally. At another time the column passed close to a Japanese shelter.

The men could hear the enemy soldiers talking inside. As the rear marched along the side of the dugout, four enemy soldiers came charging out of it straight for the last few men. A Japanese officer, swinging a saber and yelling, threw a grenade from about thirty feet away. The Americans, who could see the trail of sparks as it sailed toward them, scattered in all directions. Two men were wounded in the explosion, but the four Japanese were all killed in exchange. During the rest of the march two other Company C men were hit in the legs by rifle fire. By 0530 the company was in position somewhere in the rear of the 184th Infantry line.

Morning Attack of 4 February

Sunrise on 4 February came at a few minutes after 0700. It found the forward elements of the attacking force intermingled with the defending enemy in a wide zone between Noel and Nathan Roads. The attack began in considerable confusion. Companies A and B, 32nd Infantry, moved forward on the right according to plan. Supporting tanks were with them from the start. Ten medium tanks preceded the main body of the infantry by about fifty yards, and four light tanks moved along the ocean beach. Before either company reached the front-line positions of the 3rd Battalion, however, they had become involved in a full-scale battle with the Japanese who had been bypassed the day before and who now poured heavy fire on the companies as they advanced toward the line of departure. By 0730 the 32nd Infantry attack had almost stalled as groups of infantrymen turned aside to clean out the positions that poured fire into their ranks. It was not until 1000 that the two 1st Battalion companies reached the lines held by the 3rd Battalion. Company L, 32nd Infantry, was finally pinched out by Company B at 1030.

Until after 1000 the whereabouts of Company C on the lagoon side of the island was unknown at the 32nd Infantry command post because of failure of the company’s radio communications. During this period Lieutenant Kretzer found himself confronted by a peculiar situation. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, was still following the orders issued to it the day before and, despite the presence of Company C in its rear, it proceeded to complete mopping up the last 300 yards between it and Nathan Road as well as the area between Will Road and the lagoon. Without further orders from his own battalion, Lieutenant Kretzer could do nothing but wait until the units to the front moved out of his way.

As many Japanese had been bypassed in the 184th’s zone as had been overlooked on the ocean side of the island. Company G, 184th Infantry, had serious difficulty even in organizing the attack upon which Lieutenant Kretzer’s unit was waiting. Besides withstanding counterattacks, Company G had been under fire in its perimeter throughout the night from enemy riflemen firing from every direction but west. When daylight came, riflemen—especially in buildings along the eastern edge of the perimeter—pinned the unit down and prevented it from forming for an attack at 0715. Low in ammunition, hampered by un-evacuated wounded, and facing an extensive air raid shelter in the center of the perimeter in which a large contingent of the enemy was believed to have taken refuge, the company decided to await the arrival of tanks. When the tanks arrived, fire was directed into the shelter, and the first large-scale surrender on Kwajalein took place. Thirty-one Koreans and one Japanese scurried out of the structure with their hands up and much of their clothing removed. One of the tanks herded them to the rear.

Company C, 32nd Infantry, began the day by capturing many prisoners while waiting for the battalion ahead of it to move. Aided by tanks of Company B, 767th Tank Battalion, the platoon on the left brought five Koreans up from an underground shelter. Then, covering the Koreans with BAR’s, the unit moved from shelter to shelter while the prisoners persuaded others to surrender. In less than an hour thirty-three of the enemy were taken in this fashion.

In the area between the Admiralty ruins and Noel Road the 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry, began mopping up at daybreak. When at 0830 an order was received from the regimental commander to send one company to participate in the assault, Company B was attached to the 2nd Battalion, which ordered it to attack along the lagoon shore from the northern limit of the 1st Battalion’s night perimeter. The company moved along Will Road in columns of platoons, crossed its line of departure at approximately 0900, and worked through the area in the rear of Companies E and G, at the same time swinging toward the lagoon.

The action of Company B, as had been hoped by Colonel O’Sullivan, commander of the 184th Infantry, cleared out many of the Japanese who had been harassing the 2nd Battalion and gave Company C, 32nd Infantry, a chance to move through the front lines and proceed with its attack to the north. At approximately 1100 Lieutenant Kretzer pushed his company beyond Nathan Road for the first time, and shortly before 1200 the unit came abreast 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, the right flank of which had reached Nate Road, two hundred yards north of Nathan, in a badly disorganized condition a short time before. Some of the tanks were approximately three hundred yards ahead, approaching the northern highway loop, but orders had been issued for the 1st Battalion to halt its advance pending relief by the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry. The latter unit was to carry the battle for Kwajalein Island through to the end.

Completion of the Mission of the 184th Infantry

At daylight on 4 February the actual disposition of the forward troops became known to 184th Infantry headquarters, and the plan of attack in that regiment’s zone was modified. The movement of Company B, 184th Infantry, and the use of Japanese-speaking teams to induce surrender were the earliest of several steps taken to restore motion to the northward attack and to control the enemy within the area south of Nathan Road. To drive to Nob Pier and secure that structure, “the remnants of all three companies” of the 2nd Battalion were placed under the command of Captain Rene E. Maysonave of Company G, with orders to bypass Company B whenever B should be held up. Shortly after 1300 Captain Maysonave’s consolidated unit swept by Company B’s right wing and took up the attack on the base of Nob Pier. The 2nd Battalion cut off any enemy withdrawal across Nathan Road and sent patrols, by tank, on foot, and in a small boat, out to the pier’s end. No enemy was found on the pier. By 1435 all resistance had ceased along the lagoon side of the island from Nob Pier back to Green Beach 4.

The surrender of a considerable number of Japanese and Koreans continued to be a notable feature of the action of 4 February. Only a remnant of the original garrison was still capable of fighting. Fragments of the enemy force, after several days in isolation and without water, abandoned their shelters. From the first hour of the renewed attack until darkness, the compounds filled with a stream of prisoners.

Major Jackson C. Gillis, intelligence officer of the 184th Infantry, accompanied Company B with a loudspeaker and a Nisei interpreter. After heavy tank fire on shelters, the loudspeaker went into action. The enemy was promised food and water and immunity from further harm if he came out and surrendered. When the loudspeaker broke down, prisoners were recruited to talk directly to the men in the shelters, in some cases even going down among them. Though two Koreans were tortured by the Japanese in one shelter that they entered on such a mission, before the end of the morning over ninety prisoners were taken by the 184th. The 32nd Infantry used the same method beyond Nathan Road.

The Afternoon Attack of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry

The 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, passed through the 1st Battalion at 1345 to complete the assault along Kwajalein Island. All forward movement of the 1st Battalion had stopped, its line consisting of a series of small, exhausted groups in a dense confusion of debris. The ground was interlaced with innumerable trenches and foul with bodies of the enemy, many of them long dead. Some of the corpses had been mangled by maneuvering tanks, adding greatly to the nauseating stench that blighted the area.

Company F, on the right, held its position until Company G brought the left wing in line; then both advanced. After going for seventy-five yards, Company F and its seven supporting tanks came to a large blockhouse into which the tanks directed their fire. While Company F was thus engaged, Company G moved ahead for about a hundred yards, occasionally coming under fire from Company F. Both companies eventually resumed their progress with the left still far advanced; they cleared the surface and underground shelters of living enemy all the way to Nero Point at the end of the island. Camouflaged dugouts and ruined concrete blockhouses and shelters contained Japanese against whom it was necessary to employ scores of satchel charges, hundreds of grenades, and, ultimately, flame throwers.

The 1st Platoon, Company G, on the extreme left, reached Nero Point at 1515 and reported its arrival to the regimental command post. The men then sat around on the beach and discussed the battle, oblivious of further combat behind them.

The 3rd Platoon, Company F, nearer the island’s center, in the meantime came upon three long concrete shelters, side by side. The first was sixty feet long and about six feet above ground. Its left end had been blown off and a hole had been broken in the top near the right end, but the remainder held some of the enemy. Under command of Staff Sergeant Raymond Borucki, the platoon started to pass the structure after hurling two satchel charges in an entrance.

Finding that living enemy were still inside, they then threw in more heavy demolition charges and many grenades. Private Elmer Collins and Private First Class Franklin S. Farr volunteered to investigate. They crawled to a door, walked in, and found themselves facing several of the enemy. Firing as fast as they could, they hurriedly backed out, dropped to the ground, and threw in grenades while their comrades fired into the doorway. Another squad covered a second entrance most effectively. When Collins and Farr re-entered, the only man they saw alive was the leader of the other squad, Staff Sergeant Eugene M. Rider; he had just come in through the other entrance on the same mission. All the enemy were dead. After this operation, which required nearly half an hour, the 3rd Platoon, Company F, took the two remaining shelters in a similar manner.

Machine gun bullets began to whine over the heads of the 1st Platoon, Company G, on the beach. The men investigated. Soon they were back in action, mopping up circular 5-inch twin-mount gun positions and other places concealing small numbers of the enemy, and helping to establish a cordon within which to confine the remnants of the enemy at the island’s tip.

Company F’s methodical movement among the enemy positions in its path subjected it to well-aimed rifle fire, which inflicted numerous casualties and delayed the last stages of the battle. Obstinate Japanese resistance continued as evening approached. About 1900, Captain Pence, commanding Company G, walked over to Company F’s area to confer with Captain Mark E. Barber, and was shot by an observant enemy rifleman before he could heed the warning shouts of men in Company F’s forward line. Even with the battle’s end so near, the troops became increasingly cautious.

At dusk tanks were brought up to reduce the last 150 yards of the island. The tanks remained for only a few minutes, but they either drove to cover or killed the enemy riflemen who had been pinning down Company F. The attack again got underway and continued until 1920, when the entire northern end of the island was secured.

Even before that time, General Corlett had announced the island of Kwajalein secured. At 1610 he radioed to Admiral Turner: “All organized resistance . . . has ceased. The troops have been organized for mopping up operations.” The cost of the fourth day’s fighting had been somewhat higher than that of the preceding day. The number killed in action on Kwajalein Island and adjacent Burton Island came to 65; 252 men were wounded.

The operation had been a model one in almost every respect. The attacking force had achieved strategic surprise. The Japanese were not expecting a landing in the central Marshalls and were generally unprepared to meet one when it came. To a degree, even tactical surprise was won since it was obvious that the enemy was better prepared to meet an invasion either from the lagoon shore or from the ocean side than from the end of the island where it came. Except for the occasional failure of tank-infantry co-ordination, no important deficiency had been revealed in the execution of the plan. Artillery preparation, naval gunfire, and aerial bombardment had softened up the target in a fashion unexcelled at any other time in the Pacific war. The ship-to-shore movement had been conducted expeditiously and without serious hitch. Supplies flowed ashore and to the front lines smoothly and without interruption. The infantry-engineer teams assisted by tanks moved steadily, if somewhat more slowly than had been anticipated, up the axis of the island clearing the enemy from shelters and pillboxes. American casualties were light. All together, the battle for Kwajalein Island represented the ideal for all military operations—a good plan, ably executed.

Completing the Conquest of Southern Kwajalein

The Southern Attack Force, which had captured Kwajalein Island after establishing supporting units on Carlson, Carlos, and the channel islands, was also charged with the seizure of the many other islets and coral outcroppings of southern Kwajalein Atoll north as far as Bennett Island (Bigej) on the eastern leg of the atoll and Cohen Island (Ennugenliggelap) on the southwestern leg. Running north from Kwajalein Island on the eastern leg, these included in order, Byron, Buster, Burton (Ebeye), Burnet, Blakenship (Loi), Beverly (South Gugegwe), Berlin (North Gugegwe), Benson, and Bennett. Running north from Chauncey (Gehh) lay Chester, Clarence (Torrulj), Clement (Mann), Clifford (Legan), Clifton (Eller), and Cohen. No specific times for the capture of these outlying islands had been set, since the situation on Kwajalein Island was to be the determining factor in governing the timing of the landings on each.

Chauncey Island

During 1 February the troops that had landed by mistake on Chauncey Island that morning were removed without completing the occupation. The infantry went to Cecil Island, and the reconnaissance troops were brought back aboard their high-speed transport, Overton. Only a small force of eleven sailors was left to guard the barges on the nearby reef, but when the enemy opened fire on these men it was decided to send reinforcements ashore from Overton and complete the occupation of the island without further delay.

Between 0800 and 0900 on 2 February elements of the 7th Reconnaissance Troop landed from Overton on the northwestern end of Chauncey. Four 60-mm. mortars were set up at once and began a searching fire over the island. For twenty minutes the APD also shelled the ocean side. Three platoons formed abreast and moved along the island through the thick woods, with the headquarters platoon in the center rear. None of the enemy was discovered until the left wing of the line had reached that part of the island opposite the beached tugboat. Then the silence was broken by heavy machine gun and rifle fire, falling mostly on the left center of the American force.

A long mound of earth, about five feet high and sloping at both ends, was discovered to be undefended. Investigation of the end of the mound brought rifle fire from nearby trees, and it soon became apparent that the Japanese were concentrated about twenty yards beyond the mound in a shallow trench behind a rock parapet. Over their heads was a tent, camouflaged with palm fronds and masked by the deep shade of tropical vegetation.

To overcome this position the 1st and 3rd Platoons, on the flanks, moved forward far enough to assault the position obliquely, while the 2nd Platoon crawled near enough to direct machine gun fire at the parapet and to throw grenades into the position beyond it. For about forty-five minutes a fire fight ensued, and only after a bazooka rocket exploded inside the tent in which the Japanese were concealed were they finally subdued.

A count of the enemy dead revealed that sixty-five had fallen in the action. Out on the tugboat, to which troopers of the 2nd Platoon rowed in rubber boats, twelve others were found dead, possibly from shelling by Overton. In a small landing barge were thirteen others, and along the beach were thirty-five more probably killed by air attacks earlier in the day.

While the American flag was being raised on the beached Japanese tugboat, charts and other document were found containing intelligence material that was to prove of considerable assistance in completing the capture of Kwajalein. The rest of Chauncey was soon secured without further trouble. The total American loss on the island that day was fourteen wounded.

Burton Island

Among the islands in southern Kwajalein known to have Japanese garrisons, Burton was believed to be second to Kwajalein Island in importance. A plan for its capture was prepared before and during the approach from the Hawaiian Islands, and perfected after arrival at the atoll. The assault forces were to be drawn from the 17th Infantry.

This regiment had completed its mission of taking Carlos and Carlson Islands on 31 January and had been assembled on Carlos to reorganize and re-equip while holding itself in readiness on 1 February to support the attack on Kwajalein Island, if necessary. When such employment was deemed to be unlikely, it was decided to make the landing on Burton Island at 0930 on 3 February.

Terrain and Enemy Defenses

The southern extremity of Burton Island is less than three miles north of Kwajalein Island, and there are two minute outcroppings of the atoll reef between them. Along a straight axis, Burton extends almost directly north for 1,800 yards, its width being an unvarying 250 yards. The southern end curves to the southwest and is shaped somewhat like the bow of a freighter; the northern shore line runs squarely east and west.

Before being heavily bombarded, it had had more than 120 machine shops, warehouses, and other buildings. Coconut palms dotted most of the island, but along the ocean shore the major vegetation was sand brush and small mangrove trees. The most conspicuous clearing was a concrete apron for seaplanes, extending 100 yards in width for about 300 yards along the lagoon shore in the northern quarter of the island. Jutting a hundred yards into the lagoon from the apron were two concrete seaplane ramps, and nearby were large hangars and repair shops. From the southern edge of the hangar area to the southwestern point of the island, a narrow, surfaced road paralleled the lagoon beach for 1,200 yards. From the northern side of the seaplane area, a curving road with several spurs ran to the northwestern point. Trails extended along the ocean shore.

In addition to the seaplane area and the roads, one of the most noticeable of the enemy’s improvements at Burton Island was a concrete pier 160 yards long extending into the lagoon from a point almost midway along the coast. Known to the attacking force as Bailey Pier, it was shaped like an L, with the arm jutting north at right angles to the main stem, but with a spur extending obliquely southwest halfway out from shore. At the pier’s base were several buildings and two high radio masts.

Preliminary air reconnaissance indicated that Burton was defended by pillboxes and machine gun emplacements near the beaches and surrounding the seaplane area. The enemy had evidently originally expected an attack to come from the ocean side, where the shore could be more closely approached by ships of deep draught. Prepared positions had been organized to meet such an assault. Much attention had recently been given, however, to defense of the lagoon side. On the lagoon beach and near the hangars a number of pillboxes and machine gun emplacements had been spotted. One heavy and eight medium antiaircraft guns had also been observed near the apron.

The lagoon beach had been designated by the invading force as Orange and marked off into four sections, of which that farthest south was known as Orange 4. On Orange 4, a stretch about five hundred yards in length, the defenses seemed lightest, and here the landing was to be made. After getting ashore and making a left turn, the attacking force would move northward along the axis of the island.

On 2 February, Major Maynard E. Weaver, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, with engineer officers and representatives of other elements of the regiment, made an offshore reconnaissance of Burton Island from the destroyer Franks, which was supplemented by a two-hour seaplane flight by Major Weaver. These investigations confirmed the earlier choice of Orange 4 and revealed defenses that had been concealed by vegetation before the bombardment.

The Landings and First Day’s Action

The 17th Infantry was to hit Orange Beach at 0930, 3 February. The last details of the assault plan, including naval participation, were co-ordinated during the night of 2-3 February.30 The first four waves of the 1st Battalion had already embarked from Carlos Island in two LST’s, and the first waves of the 3rd Battalion were in two other LST’s. The 2nd Battalion, in reserve, was in a transport equipped with LCVP’s.

To support the landing, not only the platoon of light tanks from Company D, 767th Tank Battalion, but also the seventeen mediums of Company C that had been landed by error on Kwajalein Island, were assigned to the force. The amphibian tanks of Company A, 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, were also ready. During the night the regimental field order for the attack was distributed. Harassing artillery fire was thrown at Burton from the 155-mm. howitzers emplaced on Carlson, supplementing the pounding that had been given the island by the guns of Minneapolis and San Francisco during the afternoon. The landings on Orange Beach 4 followed the standard pattern. At 0730 the 5-inch and 8-inch guns began firing.

Half an hour later the artillery on Carlson Island again opened fire. The 145th Field Artillery Battalion sent 981 rounds of 155-mm., while the 31st and 48th Battalions fired so intense a barrage of 105-mm. that the enemy were driven to cover and the ground over which the attack was to move was devastated.33 The bombardment was suspended for an air strike from 0845 to 0906 in which carrier planes dropped thirty-three tons of general purpose bombs and fired 88,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition. Artillery fire was lifted inland at 0933 and farther inland at 0951. The bombardment had been so effective that at the beach itself and for the first two hundred yards no live enemy was encountered. The 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, commanded by Colonel Hartl, landed in LVT’s with two companies abreast. Despite the mechanical failure of one tractor and a collision between two others, the first three waves made the shore without casualty.

An LCI gunboat moved shoreward on each flank of the first wave, blasting the area near the beach with rockets and machine gun fire. The amphibian tanks and tractors directed their machine guns into the few palm trees that still retained enough foliage to conceal snipers. At various points about 150 yards offshore the reef was hit, and then the tractors ground their way through the foamy water to make the beach at 0935. Far off at the left, a machine gun on the end of the pier fired among the boats of the fourth wave and caused the first casualties of the landing. Four men were wounded. An LVT containing artillery observers drew machine gun fire from Buster Island but this was quickly silenced by counter-fire from the 31st Field Artillery Battalion. While the men still afloat were meeting the fire, those on shore reorganized and formed a line of attack.

Company A, under Captain Richard H. Natzke, was on the right and Company C, commanded by 1st Lieutenant George E. Linebaugh, was on the left, each reinforced by a platoon of heavy machine guns from Company D. Company B, the remainder of Company D, and one platoon from the 50th Engineer Battalion were in reserve. After traversing the southern end of the island, the line started toward the northern end. The amphibian tanks moved at its left flank, pouring fire ahead of the troops. The ground was thoroughly torn up and strewn with debris, but few enemy dead were seen. Almost an hour passed after the first wave hit the beach before the first general contact with the enemy was made. When the battalion was stretched across the island on a line even with the northern limit of Orange Beach 4, it received small arms fire at all points. The enemy had come up from shelters after the artillery barrage moved northward and was taking full advantage of the plentiful cover. Bursts of Japanese machine gun fire swept diagonally across the front from positions near the beaches.

Supporting tanks began to cross the landing beaches at 1016. They assembled at the southwestern point of the island and then struggled through the rubble north toward the line of attack. A tank trap across the island was easily passed, but the island was too narrow to make use of more than four tanks on the line at a time, and co-ordination with the infantry was unsatisfactory.

The attacking force met its strongest opposition on the extreme left, along the lagoon shore, where Company C bore the brunt. At the right, movement was deliberately retarded to keep the line even; Company A could have gone forward much more rapidly than it did. Enemy resistance consisted of individual and small-group activity, without apparent general plan or direction. Japanese troops were armed with .25-caliber rifles, 7.7-mm. and 13-mm. machine guns, and one 77-mm. dual-purpose antiaircraft gun that was still in operation after the bombardment. Some of the Japanese, and even the Korean laborers among them, had taken up crudely improvised dynamite throwers and spears made of bayonets attached to poles.

Most machine gun positions were eliminated by directed artillery or mortar fire. Some were destroyed by tanks. In the forward line demolition charges were used by the infantrymen, while combat engineers worked among the supporting elements. The enemy, following a pattern of behavior now familiar to the American troops, remained in shelters until they were blasted out by explosive charges, flame throwers, and sometimes bazookas. Holes were made by repeated point-blank fire from the 75-mm. guns of the tanks and by the self-propelled M8’s, of which four came ashore in the afternoon. More often, hand-placed charges were used to create working space for flame throwers. Although this type of work on the larger shelters was frequently left for the engineers by the advancing front-line infantry, the work of the 1st Battalion in eliminating riflemen lurking in rubble heaps and among the trees was very thorough and the advance, while persistent, was slow. The rear was well secured.

Progress on the extreme left wing was slowed not only by the many active pillboxes but also by the large number of individual rifle pits in which the enemy lay concealed under palm fronds, waiting as usual for opportunities to fire or to throw grenades upon our troops from behind. First the 2nd Platoon, Company C, and then the 3rd carried the advance in this zone. The 3rd thoroughly cleared one hole after another and in one place eliminated a group of the enemy firing from a large excavated pigpen.

Although one tank had made an advanced reconnaissance as far as the base of Bailey Pier, the line was about a hundred yards south of the pier when, shortly before 1700, Company B passed through Company C to take over the front at the left. About 1900 consolidation for the night began. The forward elements of the 1st Battalion were strung across the island on a line just south of Bailey Pier, and the area inland from the landing beaches and to the rear of the 1st Battalion was covered by the 3rd Battalion.

Evacuated from Burton Island during 3 February were twenty litter cases and twenty-three ambulatory wounded. The 1st and 3rd Platoons, Company A, 7th Medical Battalion, had landed within the first ten minutes, set up a collecting station near the beach, and operated together under company control. They had used five ¼-ton trucks converted to ambulances and had also served as the shore party medical section in evacuating wounded by LVT’s to ships.

On Burton during the night of 3-4 February constant illumination and artillery, mortar, machine gun, and naval fire helped to forestall any counterattack that might have been organized. An enemy 77-mm. dual-purpose gun was silenced by the intermittent counterbattery fire of 81-mm. mortars, which was later found to have killed several Japanese relief crews. In the half light of dawn the enemy attempted several counterattacks, none of which materialized into any serious threats. The last was broken up at about 0700 with the aid of called artillery concentrations.

Completion of the Conquest of Burton

When on the second morning the attack was resumed at 0730, the main enemy resistance had shifted to the eastern side of the island. The Japanese had reoccupied four pillboxes close to the American front line on the ocean side, and were able to hold up Company A until, with the aid of self-propelled mounts, the company took the positions. During the morning, a flight of five Navy bombers made two runs over targets that had been spotted with the aid of information from a prisoner. The planes dropped a total of two and three-quarters tons on an ammunition dump, a shelter, and a heavy machine gun that had an excellent field of fire across the hangar apron. Direct hits on these targets apparently disheartened the enemy. Not a single shot was fired by them at any later time during the operation. They remained buried in their dugouts until forced out or until they killed themselves.

By 1130, when the 3rd Battalion passed through and took up the assault, Company B had moved about 350 yards to the southern edge of the concrete apron, and on the right Company A was fifty to seventy-five yards farther back. On the left Company L advanced behind the tanks across the open area, while on the right Company K pushed swiftly through the heavily bombarded section of hangars, repair shops, small buildings, trenches, and shelters, arriving at the northeastern corner of the island at 1210. After this the last of the enemy were readily mopped up. By 1337 the island was fully secured. The official estimate of the enemy dead totaled almost 450. Seven Japanese were captured. The 17th Infantry lost seven killed in action. Eighty-two were wounded.

Final Mop-up

During the two days in which Burton Island was being captured (3 and 4 February), two pairs of smaller islands south and north of it were also brought under American control. Detachments of amphibian tanks were dispatched on 3 February to Buster and Byron, two tiny outcroppings above the main reef between Kwajalein and Burton. The amphibian tanks met no opposition. Troops of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry, landed the following day on Burnet and Blakenship north of Burton. On the former, about forty natives cheerfully submitted to capture. On the latter, somewhat more than a score of marooned Japanese sailors and Korean laborers had to be clubbed or bayonetted into submission before the island could be declared secure at 1212.

For the continuation of the mop-up on 5 February, the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry, less a beach combat team and the Blakenship security detail, was organized into an Eastern Force and a Western Force, each consisting of a reinforced rifle company. The Eastern Force went first to the northern end of the southeastern leg of Kwajalein Atoll and worked south toward Bennett Island. In succession it visited Ashberry, August, Barney, Augustine, and Bascome Islands, meeting no resistance, but finding seven natives on Augustine Island.

The Western Force moved northward from Carlos Island. Clement, Clarence, and Clifford Islands were quickly secured and without opposition. On Clifton a small Japanese force had to be subdued before the island could be declared secured.

Troops of Company E met some desultory machine gun fire as they moved up the island from the landing beach on the southern tip. From a wounded prisoner it was learned that over a hundred sailors had come ashore from ships that had been bombed in the lagoon and had brought with them antiaircraft machine guns and other weapons. This little force could offer no serious resistance to the attackers, although one American soldier was killed and four others were wounded. By nightfall the island was declared secure. The enemy had lost 101 killed, many of them suicides. The next day neighboring Cohen Island was occupied without opposition.

Meanwhile, the remaining islands on the southeastern leg of the atoll were being seized by other units of the 17th Infantry, the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, and a detachment from the 184th Infantry. At 0930, 5 February, the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry, made an unopposed landing on the northern end of Beverly Island and completed its occupation in less than an hour, having discovered only three Japanese on the island. Simultaneously, the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, landed on Berlin. After moving slowly through the underbrush some distance up the island from the southern end, the attackers encountered some small arms fire from dugouts, costing them altogether three men killed and four wounded. These dugouts were quickly demolished and by 1514 Berlin was secured. One hundred and ninety-eight enemy were killed and one captured. Immediately thereafter, Company C, preceded by a platoon of medium tanks, crossed the reef to Benson Island. The crossing was unopposed and the advance up the island was rapid. One Japanese was killed and two natives taken prisoner at the cost of one American killed and one wounded.

The task of capturing Bennett Island was assigned to the 7th Reconnaissance Troop, which was to repeat the procedure it had followed in capturing Carter and Cecil Islands on D Day. The troops were taken from Carlos through the lagoon to a point near Bennett in the high-speed transports Manley and Overton and disembarked before dawn. In rubber boats they moved ashore, landing at the northern point of the island at 0600. Hastily, before daybreak, a defensive position was established there. At dawn the force moved out, with the 3rd Platoon in front, the 1st Platoon on the left flank, the headquarters platoon supporting the center rear, and the 2nd Platoon acting as rear guard.

About a hundred yards from the line of departure, the advance platoon came across a well-protected bunker containing an unknown number of Japanese. Neither grenades, bazookas, nor clusters of grenades were powerful enough to destroy the position, so Captain Gritta, commanding officer, ordered it bypassed. The 1st and 3rd Platoons then moved forward to meet an attack of Japanese infantry approaching from the south. After a brief exchange of machine gun and small arms fire, fifteen of the enemy were killed and one machine gun was captured, another knocked out. As the front line continued toward the center of the island, it came across another bunker, which appeared to be much stronger than the first.

Meanwhile, Captain Gritta had called for reinforcements. The 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, had been standing by in floating reserve to assist in the capture of Berlin or Beverly, if necessary. The battalion was ordered instead to Bennett, where the resistance appeared to be heavier. Accompanied by two medium tanks and under command of Lieutenant Colonel William B. Moore, executive officer of the 17th Infantry, this reserve force began to come ashore on Bennett about 1100. The unit moved up at once, getting into the front lines shortly before noon. Meanwhile, the destroyer Noel had moved to a station west of Bennett in order to furnish fire on call.

In the absence of other orders, Colonel Moore and his infantrymen took over the ocean side of the island while Captain Gritta’s troop covered that nearest the lagoon. By this time the occupants of the first dugout had committed suicide, and after the tanks subdued the second dugout the advance southward along the island began. After hardly more than twenty-five yards’ progress, machine gun fire from a pier on the right stopped the advance for a few minutes while mortar and tank fire knocked out the machine guns.

The attack was almost halfway to the southern tip before division orders authorized Colonel Moore to take command of the operation. The 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop withdrew to the beach, and the infantry, supported by two light and two medium tanks, completed the attack. Early in the afternoon the troop overcame another set of pillboxes near the center of the island. Through the dense underbrush the process of mopping up was continued until 1642, when the island was reported fully secured. At the cost of one killed and two wounded in the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop and no casualties among other components, Bennett Island had been captured and some ninety-four Japanese had been killed or had died by their own hands.

The Southern Landing Force thus completed its mission, with losses for the entire operation in southern Kwajalein reported as 142 killed, 845 wounded, and two missing in action. The best estimate of enemy losses was 4,938 dead and 206 prisoners, 79 of whom were Japanese and 127 Korean. Meanwhile, some forty-five miles to the north, operations of the Northern Landing Force against the sixty-two islands of the upper half of Kwajalein Atoll were also nearing

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(18); Capture of Majuro and Roi-Namur

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(16); Kwajalein: The Third Day


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