Battle of Tarawa

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The Battle of Tarawa was a significant battle during World War 2 on November 20, 1943. The island was defended by 4,700 Japanese troops protecting a vital airstrip on the island of Tarawa, from which, if captured, the United States could launch an air offensive against the Philippines. The battle involved 18,600 marines from the 2nd Marine Division.[1]

Codename: Operation Galvanic[2]

Battle Timeline

November 20, 1943 D-Day[3]

Marines from the 2nd Marine Division assault the island at low tide forcing the men off the boats far from shore. This makes the landing marines easy targets as they attempt to gain a foothold on the beach. They suffer many casualties but are able to gain a toehold on the beach.

November 21, 1943 The Second Day

An attack by the 2nd Marine reserves is ordered for 6 am. Of the 800 reserves attacking that morning, only 450 make it to the shore but it is enough to push farther inland.[4]
Meanwhile,the tide has risen allowing the boats to pass over the reef and make it possible for tanks to be brought up to the front lines. The tanks are able to cut a hole in the Japanese defenses.

"Marine Colonel Shoup radioed the daily situation report back to the command ships: "Casualties: many. Percentage dead: unknown."[4]

The Japanese marines with their weapons all but destroyed, prepare their final suicidal charge.

November 22, 1943 Victory

On the third day of the battle, three Marine battalions moved inland destroying the last remaining Japanese opposition. At twilight, the Japanese began their suicidal "Bonzai" charge. They rushed the 6th Marines, Company B in almost overwhelming force. Although reinforcements were unavailable, the Marines dug in and held their positions until dawn the next day, taking heavy casualties in the process.

November 23 The Final Act

When morning broke, the 6th Marines looked around their positions to discover the dead bodies of 300 Japanese fighters around their positions. This turned out to be the last of the strongest resistance to U.S. forces with the exception of a few Japanese snipers that would continue to fire on US forces for the next few days. At 1:12 pm, seventy-six hours after the battle of Tarawa had begun, the area was declared 'secure'.[5]


United States: 990 dead and 2,391 wounded[1]

Japan: Of the 4,700 defenders, only 17 survived[6]

See also