November 1943, our forces were undertaking the final phase of the Solomons
campaign, the reduction of Bougainville, and had progressed up the New
Guinea coast as far as Finschhafen. Rabau, the key Japanese position in
that part of the Pacific, was under constant bombardment. On November 20,
a third thrust against the enemy-held area was opened by our invasion of
the Gilbert Islands.
Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama, atoll islands, became the objects of our assaults in this opening move of a major offensive which was to carry us across the Pacific Ocean during the the year that lay ahead. The assault on Tarawa was bitterly contested, and casualties to the Second Marine Division ran high. Within four days the islands had been captured, however, and the key position of the Gilberts was in our hands. Immediately thereafter, three construction battalions arrived at the tiny atoll to build airfields for both fighter and bomber planes.
Army units made the landing on Makin, and although the islandís defenders put up a belatedly stiff resistance, the position had been taken by November 22.
The landing on Apamama on November 24 met no serious opposition; on November 28 the 95th Battalion arrived to build an airfield.
Control of the Gilberts was only the first objective in the great Central Pacific offensive which had been put in motion. Next came the Marshalls group; at the end of January 1944, our forces moved against Kwajalein and Majuro atolls. After a terrific bombardment by carriers and battleships, on February 1 the Fourth Marine Division accompanied by the 121st Construction Battalion, landed on Roi and Namur, the northernmost islands of the Kwajalein atoll, while Army forces landed on ist southern islands. By February 8 the entire atoll was in our possession. Four more construction battalions followed closely on the heels of the 121st; again, air-base construction became the first task after the assault period was over.
Landings made on Majuro at the same time found that atoll unoccupied by the enemy. A battalion of Seabees, the 100th, went ashore the next day to build a bomber field on one of the islands.
On February 17 our forces, moving still farther westward, landed on Eniwetok, and by February 20 ist capture was announced. Engebi, and by February 20 ist capture was announced. Engebi, the northernmost island of the Eniwetok atoll, was captured on February 18. Another bomber strip was put under construction within a week by the 110th Battalion, which arrived at Eniwetok on February 21.
Control of these strategic positions in the Marshlls was of vital importance. The by-passed Japanese garrisons at Mille, Wotje, Maleolap, and Jaluit were put in a position of helpless isolation. Moreover, the Japanese line of communication south from Wake Island had been effectively severed.
Great inroads had been made on the Japanese-mandated islands by our successes in the Gilberts and Marshalls. Ahead lay the important Mariana chain of islands. In the summer of 1944 the invasion of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam was put under way, involving some of the most important operations of the Pacific war. An account of the conquest and development of the Marianas is presented in Chapter 28.
Following closely upon the capture of the Marianas, Pacific Ocean areas forces moved to the west and south to attack Japanese positions in the western Carolines. Establishment of our forces in that area would complete the isolation of the enemy-held central and eastern Carolines, including the base at Truk.
Peleliu, in the Palau group of islands, was the point chosen for the first beach assault. On September 15, 1944, units of the First Marine Division went ashore. With two days the airfield, which had been the prime object of the operation, had been captured, but thereafter enemy resistance stiffened and it was not until the middle of October that the defending forces were completely overcome.
On September 17, Army forces landed on Angaur, 6 miles south of Peleliu. Opposition encountered was much less severe than that at Peleliu, and by September 20 the entire island had been over-run. Prompt steps were taken to develop a heavy-bomber field, to be used in the projected moves against the Philippines.
Control of the western Carolines was completed by the capture of Ulithi atoll on September 23. The Japanese had abandoned the position, and our landings met no opposition. Possession of the atoll gave us an extensive anchorage.
By this time the net was closing on the Philippines; Southwest Pacific forces were in complete control of New Guinea and had extended their strength as far west as Morotai by an operation coincident with the assault on the Palaus; the Marianas were in our hands and were already being developed as major Central Pacific bases; Rabaul, Truk, and Yap were isolated and neutralized. Recapture of the Philippine archipelago was the task that lay ahead.
in the Gilberts
Tarawa, in the Gilberts
Eniwetok, in the Marshalls
Kwajalein, in the Marshalls
Majuro, in the Marshalls
Ulithi, in the Carolines