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Battle of Tarawa - 1943,  WWII LVT Museum

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Visited 2-11-11

Tarawa - Operation Galvanic

Photo of LVT # 49, My Deloris, was the first vehicle to land on Tarawa (Betio).

Disabled LVTs at Tarawa (Betio Island). Photo on display at the World War II Korea LVT Museum.

Tarawa is an atoll in the Pacific which is part of the Gilbert Islands.

The attack on Tarawa, code named Operation Galvanic,was intended to secure the Gilberts as a location for future assault on the Marshall Islands. as well as help eliminate Japanese threat to allied communications and supply lines to Australia. D-Day was 20 November, 1943.

According to LVT Museum information, the upper amtrac in the photo above, # 49, My Deloris, was the first vehicle to land on Tarawa (Betio Island). Next to her is an LVT-2. Both vehicles were knocked out of action during the battle.

Japanese Defenses at Tarawa

This is a twenty minute video filmed live at the Battle of Tarawa by combat photographers of the 2nd Marine Division. US Department of the Navy. U.S. Marine Corps film.

Tarawa was protected by powerful Japanese defenses, particularly on Betio Island, which was equipped with an airfield and twenty coastal gun emplacements. Betio, which was surrounded by a coral reef, was also protected by thirty-one heavy automatic weapons, twenty-five field pieces, seven light tanks, and an array of light infantry weapons. Barbed wire, mines, tetrahedrons, and sea walls further deprived the movement inland by invaders, manned by 2,600 combat troops and 2,000 construction personnel, under the command of Rear-Admiral Keiji Shibasaki. Against these unfavorable odds, the plan was to focus maximum strength at the point of assault.1

Marine Assault waves on the Beaches of Tarawa

After the beaches were softened up with naval gunfire and air strikes, at 0824, forty-two LVT(1)s set out for the shore. This wave was followed by two more waves; twenty-four LVT(2)s, 300 yards behind the first wave, and twenty-one LVT(2)s behind the second wave. Since maintenance on these early amtracs was an ongoing concern, eight LVT(1)s and five LVT(2)s (all empty) followed, for use as replacements. Within 10 minutes, 1,500 Marines had landed. 2

Victory at Tarawa Bought with High Casualties

* Tarawa Statistics

Japanese 5000 on Tarawa
All killed except 17 combat troops and 129 construction workers.
35,000 troops
Marine casualties: 3,301, of which 1,084 were KIA
Amtracs 125 LVTs
Units involved: 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion comprised of (75) LVT-1s & (50) LVT-2s
Thirty-five LVTs remained operational after the battle of Tarawa. Eight failed mechanically and the rest were knocked out by enemy fire. Two were blown up by mines, nine caught on fire crossing the reef, and ten were hit and destroyed on the beach. Twenty-six were hit on the reef and knocked out of action, and thirty-five disappeared, presumed sunk.
* Based on numbers from display sign at the WWII Korean LVT Museum

Initially, the casualties were light, but as troops began to disembark, under intensified Japanese fire, the situation changed. Within two hours, two assault companies lost half their men with little to no advance.1

Even thought the casualties were alarmingly high, beach-heads were established by the Marines and the Japanese failed to conduct counter-attacks. Throughout the engagement, the LVTs transported additional troops, ammunition, and supplies, as well as assisted with evacuation of the wounded. At 0500, D + 3, the Japanese on Tarawa were defeated. See statistics in right sidebar.

1 Information from sign at the WWII Korean LVT Museum at Camp Del Mar Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California.

2 Joseph H Alexander. Across the Reef: The Marine Assault of Tarawa. Washington, D.C. : Marine Corp Historical Center, 1993. p.13.