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World War II Wiki
World War II Wiki

The Battle of Tarawa was name for the US invasion of Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific Theater that began on November 20, 1943. The battle was a part of the wider island hopping strategy used by American Admiral Chester Nimitz during the war. More specifically, the Battle of Tarawa was included in Operation Galvanic, the codename for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. Another island invaded as part of Galvanic was Makin Atoll which had been fortified prior to invasion alongside Tarawa due to the Makin Atoll Raid which had occurred earlier in the war. In all, the battle for Tarawa lasted approximately three days, ending on November 23, 1943.

Tarawa was a strategic island to the United States because it was a launching point for the future invasion of the Marshall Islands and later, the Mariana Islands. Following the American capture of Tarawa, out of about 35,000 US marines, 978 had been killed with 2,190 marines wounded. By comparison, out of the 4,690 original Japanese troops, 17 soldiers, including 1 officer survived, alongside 120 laborers.

Planning and Preparations[]


An American soldier on Tarawa, holding a rifle with a bayonet.

The objective for the invasion of Tarawa was the main island of Betio. It was the only island out of nineteen smaller islands that held Japanese forces. Tarawa also possessed an airfield, though was very heavily fortified. The commander of the garrison on Tarawa was admiral Keji Shibasaki.[1] Among the other defenses, there were a number of Type 95 Ha-Go Tanks, anti-vehicle mines, light machine gun emplacemnts, barbed wire, and log barriers. American planners believed that the coral reef where they had chosen to land would not be a problem to landing craft because of high tide.

The Battle[]

Perhaps it was when I noticed that bullets were hitting six inches to the left or six inches to the right. I could have sworn that I could have reached out and touched a hundred bullets.-Robert Sherod, an editor of TIME magazine, on Tarawa.

The battle began at about 4:00 AM off the beach of Betio. The United States Navy and aircraft bombarded the Atoll of Tarawa, hoping to lighten the defenses theJapanese had set up. United States LCVPs and LVTs began to deploy about two hours after the initial bombardment and most marines thought the Japanese forces were decimated.[2]

The marines soon hit a major problem; they came at low tide and most of the landing craft were stuck on the reef. Japanese artllery immediately opened fire and many landing craft were destroyed before getting anywhere close to the beach. The marines were forced to wade ashore and were facing severe machine gun fire as they were doing this. In order to establish a beachhead, United States forces sent more and more marines in landing craft.[3]

Dead marines on Tarawa

Dead marines washing ashore on Tarawa.

Eventually a beachhead was established, but the marines still had to fight against Japanese pillboxes. US forces pushed through Japanese lines at about midday, although they still hadn't made much progress. Early the next day, marines had managed to push their way to the airfield. Tanks, artillery, and other support came later that day.

United States intel said that Japanese forces were heading to another islet in Tarawa but they were soon eliminated by elements of the 6th Marines. Keji Shibasaki was one of these casualties. The battle raged for about 1 and half more days. It ended after a final Banzai charge was repelled by marines. The island still had some Japanese resistance, but these pockets were later dealt with.