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!