Battle for the Gilbert Islands, WWII

The Gilbert Islands, now the Republic of Kiribati, included Tarawa and Betio Islands, along with Makin Island, where the Japanese had dug in as they had all over the Pacific. There were 800 Japanese sailors, Marines, and Korean civilian slave workers on Makin Island. This was one of the places where the battle for the Gilbert Islands would play out.

Makin Island was well defended by ingenious Japanese engineering with tank abutments, machine gun nests and bunkers, artillery, and anti-aircraft weaponry. As prepared as they were, they had no idea of what level of lethal force was headed their way in the form of the air assets of the “Big E,” the USS Enterprise, and the U.S. Army’s 27th Division. The next four days would disabuse them of any confidence they may have had in defending the island.

Photo: YouTube/HISTORY

In mid-November, The Big E would begin launching her fighters and bombers from 75 miles out to begin pounding all of the defensive infrastructures on Makin Island. That first day, the Enterprise would launch 33 Hellcat fighters and bombers off of her deck. They would hit the island with speed and force. The accuracy of the strafing and bombing on the first day was devastating, but it was only the beginning.

On November 20, the Big E’s aerial onslaught would continue as the troops of the U.S. Army’s 27th Division entered the landing crafts off of the Navy ships that brought them to the battle. They would head ashore while the fighters and bombers kept up their attacks from above.

Photo: YouTube/HISTORY

The Navy fleet of Cruisers and destroyers would also rain heavy artillery down on the small island from up close and personal positions within sight offshore. The troops of the 27th Division came ashore and began taking position after position. The fighting was fierce, as it had been at Guadalcanal, but by this time the Navy had learned some valuable strategic lessons, and the forces brought to bear were more effective in softening up the defenses at Makin Island.

The simultaneous attack on another pair of the Gilbert Islands, namely Tarawa and Betio, where the Marines landed, was a tougher nut to crack. That is another story for another day. Suffice it to say, though the Marines were successful, the cost was great. The casualties in a short period of time would be greater than those encountered at the other island-hopping campaigns.

Photo: YouTube/HISTORY

Honor, Courage, Duty. These were the virtues that were brought to bear throughout the island-hopping campaigns against the Imperialist Japanese forces. It was a long and bloody struggle brought to the world by tyrannical regimes in Japan and Germany. Brave men, men dedicated to freedom and liberating the world from such evil, were needed. And those men were found on farms and in the small towns and the big cities of this country. What they did, what they suffered and sacrificed in the name of liberty and democracy, was epic in the annals of heroism. They truly were the Greatest Generation. Gratitude and honor are our duty toward them. There are only a few of them still among us. Remember them and study them. We still need their kind of courage and selfless dedication to duty today.

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