Tarawa vs Abemama

Discussions on WW2 in the Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War.
Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 07 Oct 2021 18:17

To All,

I was re-reading some old threads and I came across this one: viewtopic.php?f=33&t=99883&hilit=Correg ... t&start=15. Somehow it drifted from the 4th Marines on Corregidor to The Gilberts but it did. My contention has always been that taking Tarawa was useless and stupid, we got a lot of guys killed and wounded for what? So this post is in the thread:

“John W wrote:
Why take Betio?

Time.

By mid-1943 the Japanese had lost the initiative in the Pacific. The US controlled the Central Solomons and the Aleutians. Ahead lay northern Solomons, New Guinea and Bougainville.

We must remember that this was a global war - not just a Pacific War. Despite the enormous industrial production capacity of the US, it wasn't limitless. Africa, USSR and Britain had to be supported as well. There are many stories of Marines in the Pacific having to make do with pre-war equipment as production raced to provide the new arms in greater quantities.

The mood - in light of recent American victories - was one of attack! We believed we had wrested the initiative away from the Japanese and that the war was finally swinging our way. Admiral King was the primary proponent of an offensive campaign through the Central Pacific. Decisions made by the Combined Cheifs of Staff of US and UK during many meetings throughout 1943 lent geater support to more offensive campaigns in the Pacific.

The biggest decision ofcourse, was the postponement of the invasion of Festung Europa untill 1944. This meant that the massive amphibious resources needed for Operation Overlord were now temporarily available for use in the Pacific. Whatever offensive was about to be played out in the Pacific had to be sharp, quick and victorious - PACFLT commanders knew they were living on borrowed material on borrowed time. Any delays or a disastrous defeat would permanetly wreck a Pacific offensive campaign for a long period of time.

Now the question arises - Why Gilberts instead of Marshalls? The Marshalls were after all, greater in strategic value.

Believe it or not, one of the primary reasons was lack of good intelligence. After all taking an island is more than rowing a few dingies over and chucking bombs at the enemy and storming the beaches! Unfortunately, America at that point in time still had no effective way of garnering aerial intelligence - only Liberators could reach Marshalls but at that range they couldn't loiter. No fighters could protect them and carrier based aitcraft lacked this capability. Plus the Japanese had good airfields network. Were an assault to be mounted, the Japanese could easily reinforce from Truk.

No, the choice had to be the Gilberts.

And it had to be Betio because there was no time to land on the smaller islands, secure them, build airodromes and then pound/starve Betio into surrender/annihilation.
The biggest factors that resulted in massive casualties on Betio:
1. Lack of good intel on the tides. This completely and utterly wrecked the landing time table.
2. The initial assault bombardment was FUBAR. There was abysmal co-ordination between the Navy and Air Force.
3. Horrible communications. Radios consistently failed and for Day 1 and much of Day 2, there was little to no communication between forward commanders and rear support troops and reinforcements (witness how Landing Team 2/8th were slaughtered as they tried to make landings on Day 2 - sent to the wrong spot on the right beach thanks to miscommunication).
I must also mention that of all the island assaults, Tarawa was perhaps the Japanese's best and easiest chance of success. Nearly all accounts say so - to the point of saying that the American toehold at dusk on Day 1 was so tenuous that had the Japanese pulled even a Banzai, the Marines would have had no choice but to withdraw (or as Col. Shoup noted, "die where they stood rather than wade back under that murderous fire").


Most of this information is sourced/paraphrased from Col. Joseph Alexander's "Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa".
Best,”

Then while searching on the internet I found this: https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

So, we captured a lightly defending island and built an airfield. I have a feeling that we could of landed there much earlier with a battalion of marines instead of a company (-) and started building the runway sometime that afternoon. But, noooo we had to assault the only heavily defended island in the Tarawa Atoll!!! For what? Why?? Time?? Really??

A list of Army Air Force airfields in the Central Pacific: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_St ... cific_Area

Mike

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 15 Oct 2021 12:02

To All,

Does anyone have any information on the number of Japanese planes that were on Tarawa in 1942 prior to Operation Galvanic? Plus, what facilities for handling aircraft were on the island, fuel storage, maintenance facilities, etc.

Thanks in advance.

Mike

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 8847
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 25 Oct 2021 17:28

Alexander in 'Utmost Savagery' indicates there was no permanent air unit there. The previous day a group of twin engined bombers on a reconnaissance mission had redevoused and overnighted there. Their search schedule and pattern had caused them to miss the approaching invasion and covering fleets.

The airfield was a single runway, the island not being large enough to build another. It was paved, had revetted hard stands for aircraft, fuel storage for a couple air groups & the same for ammunition an spare parts. Not clear what aircraft stores were on site, other than some fuel.

The Gilbet island group wa the closest to the US direct sea route from Hawaii to he S Pac operating area. From there japanese raiders could interdict that route, and strike at the Johnston & Ellice island groups. Both refueling and rest stops for aircraft enroll to S Pac. From the Gilberts the Japanese could also strike north to interdict the sea route to the Marshals & Marianas island groups. Taking some island bases in the Gilberts allowed the USN to reconnoiter and strike in that region to protect both sea routes.

In the autumn of 1943 it was not clear the Japanese were on the ropes. The USN had lost a lot of battles in 1942-43 & several bloody actions had been fought that autumn & summer. Leaving Japanese bases intact in the Gilbert was a high risk move on the information available August-November 1943.

USN/Marine intelligence underestimated the number of defenders, 2500 vs 5000, and underestimated the strength of the bunkers and entrenchments. The lessons there in analyzing Japanese defenses were important in later operations. The navy was also unprepared for the fanatical resistance. There were warnings in the previous S Pac battles, but there was a expectation that when the battle became hopeless they would give up. On the Normandy beaches the German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Korean soldiers would either surrender or retreat. On Betio island the marines were nonplussed to find the Japnese and Koreans would fight until killed, period. The 14 Japanese captured were all wounded. 10%, 103 Koreans, of the labor battalion survived. Mostly wounded.

Based on the information at hand in the autumn of 1943 Op GALVANIC made sense. Its unfortunate the intelligence estimates were so far off. A lesson that could only be learned through experience.

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 8847
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 25 Oct 2021 17:42

Delta Tank wrote:
07 Oct 2021 18:17
...

Then while searching on the internet I found this: https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

So, we captured a lightly defending island and built an airfield. I have a feeling that we could of landed there much earlier with a battalion of marines instead of a company (-) and started building the runway sometime that afternoon. But, noooo we had to assault the only heavily defended island in the Tarawa Atoll!!! For what? Why?? Time?? Really??

A list of Army Air Force airfields in the Central Pacific: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_St ... cific_Area

Mike
The perceived need & objective was to secure multiple airfield sites, & deny Betio to the Japanese as a base. One of the defects of Guadalcanal in the early half of that campaign was the distance from other airfields. No mutual support. In the Gilberts Makin Island was also seized in November for the same reason. The USN leaders wanted a group of mutually supporting airfields and anchorages. Not one outpost that might be isolated as Henderson Field was at risk of.

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 26 Oct 2021 15:18

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
25 Oct 2021 17:42
Delta Tank wrote:
07 Oct 2021 18:17
...

Then while searching on the internet I found this: https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

So, we captured a lightly defending island and built an airfield. I have a feeling that we could of landed there much earlier with a battalion of marines instead of a company (-) and started building the runway sometime that afternoon. But, noooo we had to assault the only heavily defended island in the Tarawa Atoll!!! For what? Why?? Time?? Really??

A list of Army Air Force airfields in the Central Pacific: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_St ... cific_Area

Mike
The perceived need & objective was to secure multiple airfield sites, & deny Betio to the Japanese as a base. One of the defects of Guadalcanal in the early half of that campaign was the distance from other airfields. No mutual support. In the Gilberts Makin Island was also seized in November for the same reason. The USN leaders wanted a group of mutually supporting airfields and anchorages. Not one outpost that might be isolated as Henderson Field was at risk of.
Carl,

But didn’t we decide prior to the in invasion of Tarawa (Betio Island) to bypass the largest(?) Japanese Base, Rabaul?

From wiki. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cartwheel
“In the midst of Operation Cartwheel, the Joint Chiefs met with President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Quadrant Conference in Quebec City in August 1943. There, the decision was made to bypass and isolate Rabaul, rather than attempting to capture the base, and to attack Kavieng instead. Soon afterward, the decision was made to bypass Kavieng as well. Although initially objected to by MacArthur, the bypassing of Rabaul, instead of its neutralisation, meant that his Elkton plan had been achieved, and after invading Saidor, he then moved into his Reno Plan, an advance across the north coast of New Guinea to Mindanao.”

So, why bypass the largest Japanese Base and not decide to bypass a worthless, tiny, insignificant island, suffering 3,300 casualties? This just does not make sense! Particularly when you consider we built a large airfield 82 miles away on Abemama.

Mike

EwenS
Member
Posts: 227
Joined: 04 May 2020 11:37
Location: Scotland

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by EwenS » 26 Oct 2021 16:18

While the decision was made to bypass Rabaul itself there was a series of operations undertaken to grab territory for air bases which were then used to keep it pounded down until the end of the war.
Bougainville 11/43 airfields built at Cape Torokina
New Britain 12/43 airfields at Cape Gloucester
Green Island 2/44
Admiralty Islands 2/44 and turned into one of the biggest naval bases in the SWPA
Emirau Island 3/44

IIRC the main air units used for that ongoing job came from the RNZAF and the PBJs of the USMC. Responsibility for clearing Bougainville and New Britain was passed to the Australians who fought on in both places until the end of the war and whose actions have largely been forgotten.

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 26 Oct 2021 17:20

EwenS wrote:
26 Oct 2021 16:18
While the decision was made to bypass Rabaul itself there was a series of operations undertaken to grab territory for air bases which were then used to keep it pounded down until the end of the war.
Bougainville 11/43 airfields built at Cape Torokina
New Britain 12/43 airfields at Cape Gloucester
Green Island 2/44
Admiralty Islands 2/44 and turned into one of the biggest naval bases in the SWPA
Emirau Island 3/44

IIRC the main air units used for that ongoing job came from the RNZAF and the PBJs of the USMC. Responsibility for clearing Bougainville and New Britain was passed to the Australians who fought on in both places until the end of the war and whose actions have largely been forgotten.
EwenS,

That is true but, we built airfields on Makin Island and Abemama. Tarawa did not have an air unit assigned to it, in fact it wasn’t much of an airfield. The airfields on Makin and Abemama could of suppressed the airfield on Betio Island as necessary. Which in a couple of months would of been far behind the front. An airfield with no planes, cut off from supplies is more than worthless.

Mike

EwenS
Member
Posts: 227
Joined: 04 May 2020 11:37
Location: Scotland

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by EwenS » 26 Oct 2021 19:55

I’m not following you. Are you talking about US or Japanese units assigned?

The airfield on Betio had been used as a base by Japanese aircraft which often staged in from airfields in the Marshalls. The US carrier force operating in those waters certainly had a healthy respect for the possibility in the lead up to Operation Galvanic.

As for US use, the Seabees moved onto Betio immediately it was captured and the airfield was repaired and expanded. The first transport units were flying in from 3 days after its capture. USAAF units were based there from mid Dec.
https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html
They also built a second field on Bonriki Is
https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

Makin Is had only had a small seaplane base before its capture.
https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

The Seabees built an airfield and had it ready for USAAF units from mid Dec
https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

Again Apemama was a newly built field.
https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/kir ... index.html

When you look at what was based on these airfields, you can see how there would have been a substantial reduction in US AirPower available for the next push had Betio not been made use of.

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 8847
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 26 Oct 2021 23:07

Delta Tank wrote:
26 Oct 2021 15:18

Carl,

But didn’t we decide prior to the in invasion of Tarawa (Betio Island) to bypass the largest(?) Japanese Base, Rabaul? ...
Rabaul: 70,000+ garrison. Actually 100,000+ at its peak

Beto: 2,500+ garrison. Actually 5,000

Either way there is a difference. When MacArthur originally proposed recapturing Rabaul the garrison was under 10,000. As the position in the Solomons & New Guinea stalled, then started to collapse, the Japanese reinforced & began planning for one of those climatic battles they loved to base their strategy on. Mac Was eventually convinced it was better to try bypassing it. Success of that was not certain in 1943 & the possibility we'd have to do it anyway was in the back of everyones mind.

In the case of Betio your arguments are solidly based on hindsight. Going in, the view of the situation both in the Japanese strategic threat and the defense on Betio or the others was very different from ours eighty years later.

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 27 Oct 2021 02:06

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
26 Oct 2021 23:07
Delta Tank wrote:
26 Oct 2021 15:18

Carl,

But didn’t we decide prior to the in invasion of Tarawa (Betio Island) to bypass the largest(?) Japanese Base, Rabaul? ...
Rabaul: 70,000+ garrison. Actually 100,000+ at its peak

Beto: 2,500+ garrison. Actually 5,000

Either way there is a difference. When MacArthur originally proposed recapturing Rabaul the garrison was under 10,000. As the position in the Solomons & New Guinea stalled, then started to collapse, the Japanese reinforced & began planning for one of those climatic battles they loved to base their strategy on. Mac Was eventually convinced it was better to try bypassing it. Success of that was not certain in 1943 & the possibility we'd have to do it anyway was in the back of everyones mind.

In the case of Betio your arguments are solidly based on hindsight. Going in, the view of the situation both in the Japanese strategic threat and the defense on Betio or the others was very different from ours eighty years later.
Carl,

Either way Betio Island was the only heavily defended island in the Gilbert’s. I think what has happened over the last 78 years is trying to justify absolute stupidity. When I read that the “Lessons Learned” were worth twice as many casualties as actually occurred, I just shake my head. The lesson that should of been learned is don’t attack heavily defended islands!! 2,500 men defending a postage stamp fits the definition of heavily defended.

Mike

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 8847
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 27 Oct 2021 14:15

The lessons had to be learned. If not there then elsewhere. How bad would the casualties be were those mistakes made vs 10,000 or 20,000 defenders? Trying to pick at this battle without considering the broader context does not work very well.

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 28 Oct 2021 11:32

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
27 Oct 2021 14:15
The lessons had to be learned. If not there then elsewhere. How bad would the casualties be were those mistakes made vs 10,000 or 20,000 defenders? Trying to pick at this battle without considering the broader context does not work very well.
Carl,

I think it works very well! You don’t have to sacrifice marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors needlessly to learn stuff. I almost believe and you can find it in books that we just had to test our amphibious doctrine, we just had too!! Why? Do we have to test our nuclear war doctrine? Get 10s of millions killed so we can learn how to really do it!?!? Correct me if I am wrong, the three bloodiest amphibious assaults in World War II were all conducted by the Marine Corps, ordered to do so by the US Navy, yet the lesson learned from Betio Island was not applied, don’t attack heavily defended islands if you have other options that accomplish the mission.

We could of easily bypassed this Betio Island and Peleliu and some have argued we could of bypassed Iwo Jima.

Mike

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 8847
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 28 Oct 2021 17:23

Delta Tank wrote:
28 Oct 2021 11:32
... I think it works very well! You don’t have to sacrifice marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors needlessly to learn stuff. I almost believe and you can find it in books that we just had to test our amphibious doctrine, we just had too!! ...
That argument might be valid if the enemy is understood well enough, & if the purpose were actually to test & learn. What the Japanese defense of these islands would be was not understood & the Navy/Marines were blindsided by the fanaticism of the defense. The previous operations in S Pac had not revealed clearly just how bad that would be. For the second part, lessons learned are a by product & inevitable. If you don't acquire them sooner you are taught them later.

If you want to criticize avoidable operations there are better examples. ie: Pelilieu. It does not require hindsight or mental gymnastics to drop that one. Less than perfect communications, lack of critical staff thinking, and perhaps a flaw in command structure. led to that decision failure.

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 28 Oct 2021 18:14

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
28 Oct 2021 17:23
Delta Tank wrote:
28 Oct 2021 11:32
... I think it works very well! You don’t have to sacrifice marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors needlessly to learn stuff. I almost believe and you can find it in books that we just had to test our amphibious doctrine, we just had too!! ...
That argument might be valid if the enemy is understood well enough, & if the purpose were actually to test & learn. What the Japanese defense of these islands would be was not understood & the Navy/Marines were blindsided by the fanaticism of the defense. The previous operations in S Pac had not revealed clearly just how bad that would be. For the second part, lessons learned are a by product & inevitable. If you don't acquire them sooner you are taught them later.

If you want to criticize avoidable operations there are better examples. ie: Pelilieu. It does not require hindsight or mental gymnastics to drop that one. Less than perfect communications, lack of critical staff thinking, and perhaps a flaw in command structure. led to that decision failure.
Carl,

I will let it go, no one will be able to convince me this was a sound military operation. Sun Tzu “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.

Mike

Delta Tank
Member
Posts: 2371
Joined: 16 Aug 2004 01:51
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: Tarawa vs Abemama

Post by Delta Tank » 28 Oct 2021 18:21

Carl,

Before I go, I have a friend who has a Masters Degree in Asian Philosophy and he also has a PhD from Oxford in European Philosophy and one day while discussing World War II in the Pacific he asked me if Nimitz had an Asian Philosopher on his staff? I told I did not know, so do you or anyone else reading this thread know? Apparently, a lot of unknowns may of been known if an Asian Philosopher was on the staff.

Mike

Return to “WW2 in the Pacific & Asia”