Tarawa Challenge. Singapore Guns?

The battle of Tarawa is a somewhat forgotten fight, dwarfed in magnitude by the other Pacific battles such as Iwo Jima, Okinowa and Guadlacanal, just to mention a few.

What distinguishes Tarawa is the intensity. Mistakes were made and valuable lessons were learned concerning amphibious warfare, which were applied in Kwajalein a few months later.

Initially the battle for Tarawa was considered a bit of a jaunt. The small flat coral atoll was pounded by ship and plane for several days before the troops were landed. Hardly a tree remained. It seemed inconceivable that any Japanese troops could have survived.

What was not known was that the Japanese had build a large network of underground concrete bunkers over which they piled layers of coconut trees and sand. The pounding hardly touched them - most bunkers survived undamaged.

The American comanders in their dismissive manner, chose to ignore warnings of spring tides and launched their amphibious troop carriers regardless - at low tide. The carriers hit the edge of the reef just as the Japenese came out of their bunkers and opened fire.

In panic, troops were forced out of the carriers, with full packs, into a hail of bullets - and 8 feet deep water. Many died without stepping foot onto the island.

Radio operators were killed. Equipment destroyed. Confusion reigned. More carriers were sent in. It was carnage.

2 days later, 6,000 corpses littered the 300 acres of coral sand. Over 1,000 American soldiers lost their lives and nearly 2,500 were injured. Very few Japanese prisoners were taken.

The battle for the Pacific moved on. Unlike many other battles, they left no ammunition dumps for collectors to fossick through and for several decades, metal recyclers visited the island to buy the brass casings from the locals who derived an income from the sale.

Consequently, there is little remaining evidence of the battle and the ammunition that was used. I was posted to the island for 3 years in the early 90’s and took an interest in searching out the few pieces that remained. Being early in the war, I’m sure some of the pieces have a great story to tell.

I thought I’d do a series of posts to see what information can be gathered to add to the story of Tarawa.

This first post is about the identification and history of a large casing believed to be from one of the several ex british naval guns on the island. Said to have been taken off a decommissioned British WW1 ship and used to defend Singapore. The Japanese were then said to have re located the guns to Tarawa.

Do the markings on the casing verify this story or tell another?

I’ll post more casings on seperate topics - without the long prologue!



Another image of the casing

Definitely appears to be a British shell, not sure of anything else personally, but there’s probably someone here who could decipher it.


Can you provide some case dimensions such as case length, mouth diameter, base (rim) diameter and diameter of the case just above the rim.

My stab at identifying some of the case markings:

The date April, 6, 1903 may indicate case production date. The " 21 " between the " 6 4 03 " and the Pheon may be a lot number.


It looks like the 6" coast gun case. Should be 152x404R .
Case length and rim diameters help with unknown queries.

I’ve just put a tape to it:
6.5 inch (170mm) bore
7.5 inch (195) base
16 inch (400) long


Any chance of a 12/02 manufacture and a reload date of 03? Is the “RL” a reload stamp?

It is definitely a 6" coast gun case. The mouths sometimes are around 160mm inside diameter and the rim diameter is correct at 195mm. They are all usually Mk111* cases. I have one by B 1901, RL 1906 and these cases are often found shortened to 370 or 380mm for use as catapult rounds mid war years.
That RL in a rectangle looks like an inspection mark or when reloaded as you suggest.
The primer is extended out from the base for use with percussion or electric tubes and extraction.

Were coast guns ever deployed on Battleships? I guess that it fits that the coast guns could have been at Singapore before being moved to Tarawa

One of the coast guns at Tarawa, from memory there were 3 of them. All pointed seaward. The attack came from the lagoon side so they may not have been much use.

Up until the 1920s, Japan was allied with the UK.

The UK sold a lot of military equipment to Japan in this period, which would have included these coastal guns and ammunition.

As far as I know, that 1902 case would have been long obsolete from UK use by 1943.

Thanks Falcon, following your post I did a bit more research and found some background on the pacificwrecks.com site. I should have gone there first as the author, Stan Gajda, is a WW2 nutcase, has an amazing knowledge - and was my main wreck dive buddy for 3 years! In fact, the first photo on the site of Stan holding several recovered US machine guns, is one I took of him, on my boat! Apparently the guns are “not from Singapore but are ex-IJN battleship guns from the Japan-Russian war of 1905. I did a Public Works Division preservation job on one of these guns in 1989 and we found that the entire rotating part of the turret below decks is installed in these mountings. We could see cutting and welding modifications made in there by the Japs probably pre-WWII massive guns with 20 ton barrels.

© Stan Gajda - Tarawa (Betio)
Source: https://www.pacificwrecks.com/people/visitors/gajda/tarawa.html

The inference is that the same guns were used for both coastal and naval deployments.


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The British 6" QF guns were certainly used on ships by the Japanese Navy.
Here is some information from the internet in case you missed this. Ron.


I notice that the case in the photo looks too long to be the 404mm case ??

That long case was the black powder version. The later cordite (smokeless) type as seen in the first post was shorter.

I managed to get hold of Stan. He said it eas 30 years back that he did the work and can’t recall how he made the connection to the IJN battleships. The IJN Asahi was involved in the Japan - Russia conflict and carried 6 inch guns provided by the British, so it is possible I’m hoping he manages to dig up the paperwork.

Certainly an interesting journey for the casing if verified: England to Japan, the Russia conflict and then the war in the Pacific vs the US.