Battle of Makin
Battle of Makin was an engagement of the
Pacific campaign of World
War II, fought from 20 to 23 November 1943, on
Makin Atoll in the
1.1 Japanese invasion and fortification
1.2 Marine raid on Makin
1.3 U.S. plans to attack
3.2 Capture of Makin
3.3 Sinking of USS Liscome Bay
5 See also
8 External links
Japanese invasion and fortification
On 10 December 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 300
Japanese troops plus laborers of the Gilberts Invasion
Force had arrived off
Makin Atoll and occupied it without resistance.
Lying east of the Marshall islands, Makin was intended as an excellent
seaplane base, to protect the eastern flank of the Japanese perimeter
from an Allied attack by extending Japanese air patrols closer to
islands held by the Allies: Howland Island, Baker Island, Tuvalu, and
Phoenix and Ellice Islands.
The end of the
Aleutian Islands Campaign
Aleutian Islands Campaign and progress in the Solomon
Islands, combined with increasing supplies of men and materials, gave
United States Navy the resources to make an invasion of the
Pacific in late 1943. Admiral
Chester Nimitz had argued for
this invasion earlier in 1943, but the resources were not available to
carry it out at the same time as Operation Cartwheel, the envelopment
Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands. The plan was to approach the
Japanese home islands by "island hopping": establishing naval and air
bases in one group of islands to support the attack on the next. The
Gilbert Islands were the first step in this chain.
Marine raid on Makin
Main article: Makin Island raid
On 17 August 1942, 211 Marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion
under command of Colonel
Evans Carlson and Captain James Roosevelt
were landed on Makin from two submarines, USS Nautilus and USS
Argonaut. The Japanese garrison only posted 83 to 160 men under the
command of a warrant officer. The Raiders killed at least 83 Japanese
soldiers, annihilating the garrison, and destroyed installations for
the loss of 21 killed (mostly by air attack) and 9 captured. The
Japanese moved their prisoners to Kwajalein Atoll, where they were
later beheaded. One objective of the raid was to confuse the Japanese
about U.S. intentions in the Pacific, but it had the effect of
alerting the Japanese to the strategic importance of the Gilbert
Islands and led to their further reinforcement and fortification.
After Carlson's raid, the Japanese reinforced the Gilberts, which had
been left lightly guarded. Makin was garrisoned with a single company
of the 5th
Special Base Force (700 – 800 men) on August 1942, and
work on both the seaplane base and coastal defenses of the atoll was
resumed in earnest. By July 1943 the seaplane base on Makin was
completed and ready to accommodate
Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat
Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" floatplane fighters and Aichi E13A
"Jake" reconnaissance seaplanes. Its defenses were also completed,
although they were not as extensive as on Tarawa Atoll—the main
Japanese Navy air base in the Gilberts. The Chitose and 653rd Air
Corps were detached and deployed here. While the Japanese were
building up their defenses in the Gilberts, American forces were
making plans to retake the islands.
U.S. plans to attack
In June 1943 the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed Admiral Chester W.
Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the
Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC), to submit a
plan to occupy the Marshall Islands. Initially both Nimitz and Admiral
Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, wanted to attack right
into the heart of the Japanese outer defense perimeter, but any plan
for assaulting the Marshalls directly from
Pearl Harbor would have
required more troops and transports than the
Pacific Fleet had at the
time. Considering these drawbacks and the limited combat experience of
the U.S. forces, King and Nimitz decided to take the Marshalls in a
step-by-step operation via the Ellice and Gilbert Islands. The
Gilberts lay within 200 miles (300 km) of the Southern Marshalls
and were well within range of
United States Army Air Forces B-24
aircraft based in the Ellice Islands, which could provide bombing
support and long-range reconnaissance for operations in the Gilberts.
With those advantages in mind, on 20 July 1943 the joint Chiefs of
Staff decided to capture the Tarawa and
Abemama atolls in the
Gilberts, plus nearby Nauru Island. The operation was codenamed
V Amphibious Corps
V Amphibious Corps and 27th Infantry Division commanders
Maj. Gen. Holland M. Smith, USMC
Maj. Gen. Ralph C. Smith, USA
On 4 September the U.S. 5th Fleet's amphibious troops were designated
V Amphibious Corps
V Amphibious Corps and placed under Marine Corps Major General
Holland M. Smith. The
V Amphibious Corps
V Amphibious Corps had the only two divisions,
the 2nd Marine Division based in New Zealand, and the U.S. Army's 27th
Infantry Division based in Hawaii. The 27th Infantry Division had been
New York National Guard
New York National Guard unit before being called into federal
service in October 1940. It was transferred to
Hawaii and remained
there for 1½ years before being chosen by Lt. Gen. Robert C.
U.S. Army Commanding General in the Central Pacific,
Gilbert Islands invasion. Captain James Jones (father of
Commandant of the Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones), Commanding
Officer of Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, VAC performed a
periscope reconnaissance of the Gilberts aboard the submarine USS
Nautilus, establishing accurate accounts of the beachheads for the
The 27th Infantry Division was tasked to supply the landing force,
with one regimental combat team (the 165th Infantry Regiment, the
famed "Fighting 69th" of the New York National Guard), reinforced by a
battalion landing team (the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment),
supported by the 105th Field Artillery Battalion and the 193rd Tank
Battalion, under Major General Ralph C. Smith, a veteran of World War
I, who had assumed command in November 1942. He was one of the most
highly respected officers in the
U. S. Army
U. S. Army of the time. In April
1943, the 27th Infantry Division had begun preparing for amphibious
Planning for the 27th Infantry Division's role in "Galvanic" (the Army
portion was codenamed "Kourbash") began in early August 1943, with
Nauru Island in the western Gilberts as the original objective. Unlike
the other objectives, Nauru was an actual island, much larger in size
and more heavily garrisoned.
However, in September 1943 the 27th's objective changed. The
difficulty of providing adequate naval and air support of simultaneous
operations at Tarawa and the much more distant Nauru, plus lack of
sufficient transport to carry the entire division required to take the
larger, more heavily defended Nauru, caused Admiral Nimitz to shift
the 27th's objective from Nauru to Makin Atoll, in the northeast
Gilberts. The 27th Infantry Division staff learned the change of
target on 28 September, scrapped the original Nauru plan, and began
planning to capture Makin.
Heavy aircraft losses and the disabling of four heavy cruisers in the
Solomon Islands meant that the original Japanese plan of a strike at
the American invasion fleet by forces based at Truk in the nearby
Caroline Islands (South
Pacific Mandate) was scrapped. The garrisons
at Tarawa and Makin were left to their fate.
Gilbert Islands Naval Order of Battle
The invasion fleet, Task Force 52 (TF 52) commanded by Rear
Richmond K. Turner
Richmond K. Turner left
Pearl Harbor on 10 November 1943. The
landing force, Task Group 52.6, consisted of units of the 27th
Infantry Division commanded by Major General Ralph C. Smith,
transported by attack transports Neville, Leonard Wood, Calvert, and
Pierce; attack cargo ship Alcyone; landing ship dock Belle Grove; and
LSTs −31, −78, and −179 of Task Group 52.1.
On the eve of invasion, the Japanese garrison on Makin Atoll's main
island, Butaritari, numbered 806 men: 284 naval ground troops of the
Special Naval Landing Force, 108 aviation personnel of the 802nd
and 952nd Aviation Units, 138 troops of the 111th Pioneers, and 276
men of the Fourth Fleet Construction Department and Makin Tank
Detachment of 3rd
Special Base Force (3
Type 95 Ha-Go
Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks),
all commanded by Lt.j.g. Seizo Ishikawa. The number of trained
combat troops on Makin was not more than 300 soldiers.
Butaritari's land defenses were centered around the lagoon shore, near
the seaplane base in the central part of the island. There were two
tank barrier systems: The west tank barrier extended from the lagoon
two-thirds of the way across Butaritari, was 12 to 13 feet
(4.0 m) wide and 15 feet (4.6 m) deep, and was protected by
one anti-tank gun in a concrete pillbox, six machine gun positions,
and 50 rifle pits. The east tank barrier, 14 feet (4.3 m) wide
and 6 feet (1.8 m) in depth, stretched from the lagoon across
two-thirds of the island and bent westward with log antitank
barricades at each end. It was protected by a double apron of barbed
wire and an intricate system of gun emplacements and rifle pits.
A series of strongpoints was established along Butaritari's ocean
side, with 8-inch (200 mm) coastal defense guns, three 37 mm
anti-tank gun positions, 10 machine gun emplacements and 85 rifle
pits. The Japanese expected the invasion to come on the ocean side of
Butaritari, following the example of Carlson's raid in 1942, and
established their defenses two miles (3 km) from where the raid
had taken place. Without aircraft, ships, or hope of reinforcement or
relief, the outnumbered and outgunned defenders could only hope to
delay the coming American attack for as long as possible.
Air operations against Makin began on 13 November, with USAAF B-24
bombers of the
Seventh Air Force
Seventh Air Force from the Ellice Islands. Grumman FM-1
Wildcat fighters escorted
Douglas SBD Dauntless
Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and
Grumman TBF Avengers from escort carriers USS Liscome Bay, USS Coral
Sea and USS Corregidor; followed by 8-inch (200 mm) support guns
from fire support ship USS Minneapolis and other war vessels. During
the bombardment, a turret explosion on battleship USS Mississippi
killed 43 sailors.
Troops began to go ashore at two beaches at 08:30 on 20 November. The
initial landings on Red Beach went according to plan with the assault
troops moving rapidly inland after an uneventful trip on the ocean
side of the island. Their progress off the beach was slowed only by an
occasional sniper and the need to negotiate their way around the
debris and water-filled craters left by the air and naval bombardment.
The craters in particular stymied tank support of the Red Beach forces
by the light tanks of the
193rd Tank Battalion when the lead M3 light
tank became partially submerged in a shellhole and blocked passage of
all the vehicles behind it.
Makin Island – M3 Stuart Light Tank, bogged down in a shell crater,
holds up the advance on the narrow causeway north of Jill lake.
As the landing craft approached Yellow Beach from the lagoon, they
began to receive small-arms and machine-gun fire from the island's
defenders. The assault troops were also surprised to discover that
even though they were approaching the beach at high tide as planned, a
miscalculation of the lagoon's depth caused their small boats to go
aground, forcing them to walk the final 250 yards (230 m) to the
beach in waist-deep water. Equipment and weapons were lost or
water-soaked, but only three men were killed approaching the beach,
mainly because the defenders chose to make their final stand farther
inland along the tank barriers.
The U.S. invasion plan was conceived in the hope of luring the
Japanese into committing most of its forces to oppose the first
landings on Red Beach and thereby allow the troops landing on Yellow
Beach to attack from the rear. The Japanese, however, did not respond
to the attack on Red Beach, and withdrew from Yellow Beach with only
harassing fire, leaving the troops of the 27th Division no choice but
to knock out the fortified strongpoints one by one. Reduction
operations were hampered by the frequent inability to use heavy
support weapons, including tanks, because of the danger of cross-fire.
The commander of the 165th Infantry Regiment, Col. Gardiner Conroy,
was killed in action by a Japanese sniper on the afternoon of the
first day and was succeeded by Col. Gerard W. Kelley.
Capture of Makin
Two days of determined fighting reduced Japanese resistance. After
clearing the entire atoll, the 27th Division commander, Maj. Gen.
Ralph C. Smith, reported on the morning of 23 November, "Makin taken,
recommend command pass to commander garrison force."
The most difficult problem capturing Makin was coordinating the
actions of two separate landing forces, made more difficult because
the defenders did not respond as anticipated. The unsuitability of the
narrow beaches for supply landing operations — which went
undiscovered by pre-invasion reconnaissance — was also a severe
Sinking of USS Liscome Bay
In the early hours of 24 November, the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay
was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-175, which had arrived at Makin
just a few hours before. A single torpedo, launched as part of a
torpedo spread by I-175, detonated the Liscome Bay's aircraft bomb
stockpile, causing an explosion which engulfed the entire ship,
causing it to sink quickly. The attack on the Liscome Bay accounted
for the majority of American casualties in the Battle of Makin. Of the
916 crewmen of Liscome Bay only 272 were rescued, while 644 perished
(53 officers and 591 enlisted men), including
Pearl Harbor hero and
Navy Cross recipient Doris Miller.
The loss of the Liscome Bay was due to a few factors. Two destroyers
of the destroyer screen, USS Hull and USS Franks, left the destroyer
screen, leaving a gap in the screen. Also, the task force which
included the Liscome Bay was not zigzagging. The Japanese submarine
I-175 approached the task force undetected and fired a spread of
torpedoes through the gap in the anti-submarine screen, one of which
struck and sank the Liscome Bay.
The complete occupation of Makin took four days and cost considerably
more in naval casualties than in ground forces. Despite possessing
great superiority in men and weapons, the 27th Division had difficulty
subduing the island's small defense force. One Japanese Ha-Go tank was
destroyed in combat, and two tanks placed in revetments were abandoned
without being used in combat.
Against an estimated 395 Japanese killed in action during the
operation, American ground casualties numbered 66 killed and 152
wounded. U.S. Navy loses were significantly higher: 644 deaths on the
Liscome Bay, 43 killed in a turret fire on the battleship
USS Mississippi, and 10 killed in action with naval shore parties
or as aviators, for a total of 697 naval deaths. The overall total of
763 American dead almost equalled the number of men in the entire
69th Infantry Regiment (New York)
Marshall Islands campaign
Battle of Tarawa
^ USMC History Division webpage for James Roosevelt, accessed 8
^ Bruce F. Meyers, Swift, Silent, and Deadly: Marine Amphibious
Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942–1945, (Annapolis, MD: Naval
Institute Press, 2004).
^ The Capture of Makin (20–24 Nov 1943), Center of Military History,
U.S. Army, p. 6.
^ The Capture of Makin, pp. 107–108. Unit identifications here were
sourced from actual documents recovered during the battle.
United States Army in World War II: Seizure of the Gilberts and
Marshalls, p. 71. This source lists the number of troops of the 111th
(which the previous source omitted) but shorts the aviation units. The
total listed is the result of itemized personnel from both sources.
^ The Capture of Makin p. 78.
^ The Capture of Makin, p. 124.
^ USS Liscome Bay: Hit By a Torpedo Near
Makin Atoll During World War
^ Japanese survivors continued to the U.S. garrison for more than a
month after the battle, and except for 104 prisoners, all but 3 of
whom were Korean, the entire Japanese force was annihilated. The
Capture of Makin, pp. 124 and 130.
^ The Capture of Makin, p. 131.
Morison, Samuel Eliot (1961). Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June
1942 – April 1944, History of
United States Naval Operations in
World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ASIN
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Makin.
Cagney, James (2005). "Invasion of Tarawa and Makin".
HistoryAnimated.com. Retrieved 2007-01-23.
United States Army Center of Military History (1946). "The Capture of
Makin (20–24 November 1943)". American Forces in Action. Office of
the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army. Retrieved
Newell, Lt. Col. Clayton R. (2003). Central
Pacific 1941–1943. The
U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II.
United States Army Center of
Military History. CMH Pub 72-4. Retrieved 2007-01-23.
Crowl, Philip A.; Edmund G. Love (1955). "Seizure of the Gilberts and
United States Army in
World War II
World War II – The War in the
Pacific. Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the
Army. Archived from the original on 22 January 2007. Retrieved
George C., Dyer, Vice Admiral, USN(RET) (1956). "The Amphibians Came
to Conquer". The Story of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, Chapter 17,
The Pushover—Makin. Director of Naval History, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, Library of Congress Catalog
Card No. 71-603853. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011.