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By Charles S. Kaune, MAJ, USA.

Chapter 4: Makin

The 27th Infantry Division in the Fall of 1943 could hardly be called a National Guard division. As was the case with all of the other Guard divisions, the preponderance of soldiers were either volunteers or recent draftees. Of the original 10,000 plus Guardsmen who were activated with the division in the Fall of 1940, there were probably fewer than 6,000 remaining. Most of the senior leadership was still intact however. All of the regimental and battalion commanders save for the commander, 106th Infantry, was a New York National Guardsmen. Colonel Russell Ayers, the only outsider, was an Organized Reserve Corps officer. Of the division staff only the G3, RA LTC Dayton L. Robinson and Colonel Stebbins the Chief of Staff, were not Guardsmen.

Operation GALVANIC, which had been in planning for almost a year, would introduce ground combat forces into the Central Pacific for the first time in the War. V Amphibious Corps warn established as the ground force headquarters for this invasion of the Gilberts. The 2nd Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division were assigned during the planning and training phases of this operation.1 The Marine Division would invade the larger objective, Tarawa, while the Army division would assault Makin. For the Makin operation MG Ralph Smith chose the 165th Infantry Regiment as the base unit to which he added the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, 105th Artillery Battalion, and the non-divisional 193rd Tank Battalion.2 This regimental combat team was commanded by 54 year old Colonel W. Gardiner Conroy, a long time Guardsman who began his career as an enlisted man before World War I. He had served off and on with the Guard as an infantryman and as a Judge Advocate General's Corps lawyer and with the Organized Reserve Corps. He reentered the Guard in 1939 as an infantry colonel and soon thereafter became the commander of the "Old 69th New York", later changed to the 165th Infantry. The 165th Infantry was not highly regarded by the Commanding General of V Amphibious Corps, MG Holland M. Smith:

I took the 165th Regiment (reinforced) for employment at Makin. It was the best in the division but prior to departure it was reported that MPs had been mauled in an incipient riot over at the 27th Division's camp. the fact that the Army 61 troops were not so well trained as the Marines in amphibious warfare, did not make the 27th an ideal division, but since Makin was only feebly defended, a reinforced regiment should take it easily.3

The 165th embarked for Makin with only one of the battalion commanders who had overseen training at Fort McClellan and through the Army maneuvers of 1941. LTC Gerard Kelley, 40 year old West Point graduate of the class of 1925, commanded the first battalion at Makin. A member of the New York National Guard since 1931, at Fort McClellan he had been the division Adjutant General. He had replaced another West Point graduate, Major John Grombach, and he was the only senior officer in the regiment to graduate from the Army's Command and General Staff School (Special Course, 1941). The second battalion was commanded by 37 year old LTC John McDonough a replacement for LTC Louis Doan. He had been the regimental S2 during the Army maneuvers. 42 year old LTC Joseph T. Hart commanded the third battalion throughout Fort McClellan, the Army maneuvers, and at Makin. LTC's Hart and McDonough had attended the Infantry School's Battalion Commanders and Staff Officers Course and were both long time veterans of the New York National Guard.4

Some of the 165th's quality company commanders were pulled out to fill critical shortages elsewhere in the division. Winslow Cornett, silver star recipient in World War I and commander of Company D, 165th at Fort McClellan, became the commander of the first battalion, 106th Infantry Regiment. And, Henry F. Rose, former commander of Company M, 165th, became the division G3 and later executive officer of the 106th Infantry Regiment. Another significant loss to the regiment was that of decorated World War I veteran LTC Martin Meaney, the executive officer. The 55 year old Meaney was promoted to Colonel in early 1942 and took command of the 108th Infantry Regiment.5

Since mobilization in October of 1940 the division had undergone massive personnel changes in all ranks. Of the 6,000 Guardsmen that had gone to Hawaii in 1942 there were fewer than 3,000 remaining in the Fall of 1943. Of those 3,000 the majority were privates or junior NCOs. The preponderance of the original first sergeants and platoon sergeants had been excused because of age or hardship at home, or had been selected for OCS or as the cadre for another division. The 165th reflected the same turmoil in personnel and had an expected shortfall in experienced NCOs.

The 27th Division had been conducting training in anticipation of employment in the Pacific Theater since their arrival in the Hawaiian Islands. Beach landing and jungle fighting had been their primary training emphasis for 18 months. With combat now imminent specialized training became intensified. Jungle woodcraft, lore, and tropical hygiene were integrated into the combat training program. Ail of the combat troops familiarized and qualified with their unit's organic weapons and threw live hand grenades. The artillery and tanks fired all of their weapons on ranges designed for that purpose. Tactical problems were conducted from squad through regimental combat team and addressed the following situations: daylight attack in close terrain; hasty and prepared defenses of a position} night operations; perimeter defense; day and night withdrawal; the attack of fortified positions in Jungle terrain; and the elimination of snipers.6 Although the tanks, infantry, and artillery participated in regimental exercises they neverachieved an adequate level of cooperation due, essentially, to incompatible communications systems and techniques. The employment of individual tanks or platoons of tanks in concert with infantry platoons and companies was not attempted.7

The 165th Regimental Combat Team conducted amphibious training on the beaches of Hawaii, Waimanalo, Kahuku Point, and at the Pali Region in anticipation of a contested amphibious assault. They all participated in loading and unloading on the simulated Navy transport (a wooden pier) at the Waianae Amphibious Training Center believing the Navy-Marine Corps dogma that the most difficult phase of the operation would be the movement to and over the shore.8

Organization for the Makin Operation, code named GALVANIC, had Admiral Raymond Spruance commanding the entire operation but with Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner commanding Task Force 54, the operational armof the invasion of Makin and Tarawa. Admiral Turner would also command Task Force 52, the Northern Attack Force consisting of the 165th Regimental Combat Team and divisional support elements. Task Force 53, the Southern Task Force was commanded by Rear Admiral H.W. Hill and consisted of the 2nd Marine Division. Major General Holland M. Smith, the Commanding General of V Amphibious Corps, commanded the expeditionary forces and acted as the ground force advisor to Admiral Turner.9

GALVANIC wasn't the first operation against Makin Atoll. On 17 August 1942, LTC Evans Carlson led the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion in a submarine launched assault against the main island, Butaritari. This raid, an effort to determine the strength of the Japanese forces in the Central Pacific and to demonstrate the resolve of the American fighting man in the early part of the war, accomplished it's missions. The results of the raid were inconsequential to the 27th Division but the Raider executive officer, Major James Roosevelt, provided insights into the nature of the terrain on Makin that were used by the intelligence staff of the 27th Division prior to GALVANIC and he accompanied them as an observer.10

The Japanese responded to the Carlson raid by reinforcing the Gilberts with troops from the Marshalls, the Carolines, and from Japan.11 On 15 February 1943 the Yokosuka 6th Special Naval Landing Force was redesignated the 3rd Special Base Force and elements were sent to Makin and Apamama from Tarawa. The Japanese, along with hundreds of impressed Korean laborers, prepared concrete and log emplacements for guns, transmitting and receiving stations, tank barricades and traps, underwater obstacles and dugouts for machine guns and riflemen.12

Makin Atoll is triangular in shape enclosing a large lagoon. The main islands of the atoll are Butaritari and Kuma and together are 13 miles long and average 300 yards in width. Kuma Island lies to the northeast of Butaritari and is separated by a reef three-quarters of a mile in length. At low water this reef can be crossed on foot, but at high water it is six to eight feet deep with strong cross currents. Butaritari Island, the principal objective of GALVANIC, is shaped like a crutch with the armrest on the west side and the leg of the crutch pointing to the east-northeast. There is one village, Ukiangong, located on the southwestern edge of the island and four wharves along the northern shore of the lagoon.13 The western third of the island is covered with dense sand brush and coconut trees, the latter in great numbers. The center of the island contains extensive swamp lands and during rainy periods and at high tide it is impassable. The eastern third of the island has some swamp land though not impenetrable and coconut trees though in fewer numbers than in the west.14

In the ten months that the Japanese, and their Korean laborers, had been on Butaritari they had built two extensive barriers extending across the island. The barriers consisted of a large trench reinforced with double-apron barbed wire and trip Mires and a log anti-tank barricade. There were numerous gun emplacements and rifle pits with a few concrete pillboxes. There were some 3.8 centimeter coastal defense guns in addition to machine gun pits and anti-tank positions along the western shore. The 2800 yards between the two tank barriers was termed the "Citadel" and was the most strongly defended area on the island.15

According to the division's operation's overlay the strength of the enemy was concentrated along the western shore in four strongpoints and between the two tank barriers ("Citadel"). The G2's intelligence analysis reported that the enemy likely would defend along his beach positions with air support and then fight a delaying action to the east toward Kuma Island.16 The actual numbers of enemy personnel was 798 consisting of personnel of the 3rd Special Base Force, air personnel, men of the 111th Construction unit, and men of the 4th Fleet Construction Department detachment. This force was under the command of Lt (JG) Seizo Ishikawa.17

The division shipped out on five transports. Each of the APAs carried, in addition to the Battalion Landing Teams with attachments, the necessary landing craft to enable the units to move from the larger transports to the shore. Each of the BLTs was task organized to enable them to accomplish their mission. Each had attached a medical collection platoon, a platoon of engineers, a platoon of tanks, and an additional rifle company from the 105th Infantry.18 Aside from the five transports there were three LSTs and an LSD. The LSTs carried the assault wave in LVT 2s, more commonly known as Alligators. The Alligators were tracked vehicles, armed with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, and rockets, and which could move through the water, across reefs, and on land with reasonable speed. Personnel from the 193rd Tank Battalion had been specially trained in the handling of the Alligators and they became the crews for these assault vehicles. The assault wave itself was an ad hoc organization drawn from the 105th Infantry Regiment. Three detachments were established and designated Detachment "X" 105th. Infantry, Detachment "Y" 105th Infantry, and Detachment "Z" 105th Infantry. Each of the detachments contained eleven officers and approximately 130 enlisted men.19

The 27th Division's plan for invading and subjugating Makin Atoll was simple and concise. The Navy would prepare the island with intense gunfire support and then provide air protection for the landing craft as they moved to shore. The 165th RCT would land at H-hour with two BLTs abreast, the right (BLT-3: 3rd Bn, 165th) on Beach Red 2 and the left (BLT-l: 1st Bn, 165th) on Beach Red and advance to the division beach head line with the main effort in the south.

Initially the 2nd Battalion, 165th (BLT-2) would be the  division reserve and then at W-hour land at Beach Yellow 2. BLT-1 would then relieve BLT-3 of their portion of the beach head line and push on to meet BLT-2. At this time BLT-3 would become division reserve. The RCT would consolidate and press on to the east end of the island reducing enemy resistance as it was encountered.20

The assault was to begin at both Tarawa and at Makin at 0830 hour 20 November 1943. At Makin the attack began at 0617 hours with an intense air and naval gunfire preparation of the landing areas.21 At 0829 hours the Alligators landed and the special detachments moved inland against occasional sniper fire. At 0840 hours the landing craft of BLT-3 began to land and would continue until all 1290 men were ashore at 1022 hours.22

Detachment "Y" debarking from the Alligators, cleared the immediate beach and then moved off to the north clearing the area to FLINK Point. BLT-1, assembled quickly and then advanced to the beach head line, 1300 yards to the east against occasional and inaccurate sniper fire. The tanks attached to BLT-1 were of no use as they refused the commands of the infantry officers. In addition the terrain, marsh, extensive debris, shell holes, and shallow lakes, made it impossible for the heavier tracked vehicles to provide any support.23 Natives interrogated by the men of BLT-1 stated that there were approximately 400 Japanese soldiers and 450 workmen on the island.24

BLT-3 encountered no opposition to their landing or in advancing to the beach head line. Although there were several suspected enemy strongpoints in their sector they all proved to be unoccupied. Detachment "X" and Company L, 165th cleared the southern half of the sector including Ukiangong Village while Company K continued to the east. At 1055 hours BLT-3 was relieved by BLT-1, assembled north of Ukiangong Village, and remained there for 36 hours as a reserve for Tarawa.25

On the north side of the island BLT-2 began an opposed landing on Beach Yellow 2. Detachment "Z", 105th Infantry, led the assault in Alligators and were closely followed by LCVPs and LCMs, the latter carrying the medium tanks of Company A, 193rd Tank Battalion. The assault force crossed the line of departure at 1012 hours under intense naval gunfire support. LTC S.L.A. Marshall reported that the men of BLT-2 approached the assault landing in "a gay and confident mood. Many were inattentive to the tumult, some even slept." Landing at 1041 hours Detachment "Z" incurred five killed and 12 wounded in securing the flanks for the follow-on infantry. The Alligators containing the assault wave was able, due to their tracks, to maneuver over the reef and onto the shore. The landing craft bearing the infantry and tanks, however, had to unload their passengers at the reef. This meant that both then had approximately 230 yards of water at varying depths to traverse under enemy fire. Radios, flamethrowers, bazookas, machine guns, and other important equipment was lost during the unanticipated move to shore. Some of the tanks were lost in hidden shell holes, including the company commander, and others to enemy fire.26

BLT-2 moved rapidly across the island reaching the south shore at 1210 hours. Company G, near the lagoon, advanced to the west toward the west tank barrier with Company F on the right and five medium tanks of A/193 Tank Battalion in support. The 1st platoon, along with five medium tanks, met heavy enemy resistance on the southern end of the west tank barrier, yet were able to defeat that force. In the center of the barrier 3rd platoon, Company F, suffered eight killed and six wounded as they attacked an entrenched position supported by an underground shelter. Captain Wayne Sikes led some of his tanks in an aggressive assault which, though inspiring, failed to carry the position. Hand grenades were thrown in and thrown back; the firing mechanism on the flamethrower failed; and 75mm armor-piercing shells from the tanks were ineffective. Finally, an engineer squad under 1Lt Thomas Palliser, C/l02d Engineers, destroyed the bunker with demolitions. As LTC S.L.A. Marshall described the actions "working together, one tank, two infantrymen with BARs, and four engineers reduced the position by setting off the TNT in the entrance."27

Company G at the northern end of the west tank barrier was also making progress clearing out the enemy. They developed a technique at reducing enemy positions which was to prove 100% successful: the squad would crawl forward using the available covert the BAR man and his assistant would cover the entrance with direct fire; two other men would rush forward throwing hand grenades in the pit and through any apertures; once the grenades exploded the BAR man and his assistant would rush the position and bayonet any surviving, Netherlander enemy; the other four men of the squad would lay back in a position to support by fire.28

The 3rd platoon of Company 6, with a platoon of three tanks, advanced on the northern most end of the 165th's attack against a series of formidable machine gun and anti-tank emplacements. The infantry were able to subdue the machine gun positions but the AT strongpoint was another story. Pinned down by the fire of enemy machine guns 3rd platoon leader, SSG Michael Thompson, called forward the three tanks. Due to a misunderstanding the tanks, buttoned up, drove past the enemy emplacement and continued to the other side of the tank barrier where they linked up with friendly tanks which had advanced from the east. Unable to communicate with the tanks SSG Thompson rushed and jumped into the bunker, grabbed an unmanned Japanese machine gun, and moved along the connecting communications trench, clearing it of enemy. 3rd platoon made contact with BLT-1 at 1600 hours while Company F linked up with BLT-l's B Company at 1500 hours. The center of the barrier was finally subdued by frontal assaults and 75mm fire by 1650 hours. By 1755 hours solid contact between the two BLTs was established along the west tank barrier.29

From the east BLT-1 advanced toward the west tank barrier with the lst platoon, C/102nd Engineers. The sum total of activity encountered was in the form of snipers who took a toll in casualties. With Company B on the right and Company C on the left they moved towards BLT-2 with whom they had no communications. The Japanese snipers typically operated in groups of three with one man in a tree and the other two in ground level bushes close by. Because of the intrepidity of the Japanese snipers and the danger of friendly fire from the converging units BLT-1 moved cautiously and sent patrols well ahead of their main bodies. The light tanks of Company C, 193rd Tank Battalion didn't accompany the infantry due to the difficulty of the terrain thus denying them a critical asset. Company C met the stiffest resistance in the attack against the west tank barrier. An enemy machine gun position protected by numerous snipers dominated the northern approach to the barrier approximately 250 yards west of the barrier. Squads and individual riflemen of Company C made countless assaults against the position only to be denied every time. The 165th's Chaplain, Father Meany rushed forward to aid some wounded and he too became a casualty. Other soldiers seeing the chaplain fall came forward only to add themselves to the casualty list.

Colonel Conroy, the regimental commander, came forward with a platoon of light tanks after having conferred with BLT-1 commander LTC Kelley. At 1455 hours he was shot dead by the enemy machine gun and LTC Kelley assumed command of the RCT with the executive officer, Major James H. Mahoney assuming command of BLT-1. The tanks subsequently retired for fear of hitting Company G, BLT-2 advancing from the east. The regiment's Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I & R) platoon attacked the enemy position unsuccessfully but their attack enabled the 2nd and 3rd platoons of Company C to pass around and continue to the barrier where they eliminated the remaining enemy resistance.30

Company E, upon landing at Beach Yellow 2, had advanced inland to the east to establish a blocking position thus protecting BLT-2's rear. Detachment "Z", 105th, was also part of this force which, originally was to have been commanded by Maj Dennis Claire, executive officer of the battalion, but who was detained off shore. In advancing across the island this force incurred numerous casualties from snipers but the preponderance to friendly naval gunfire (three killed and four wounded).31 The most difficult fighting of the day occurred here in the center of the island against a strongly built and well camouflaged Japanese anti-tank and machine gun emplacement consisting of a tankette supported by several rifle pits and a machine gun. Thirty five yards to the east was a concrete pillbox and another machine gun connected by a tunnel. The tunnel was highly camouflaged and contained several burrow holes permitting the enemy to squirm in and out. The tunnel was, in reality, a reinforced air raid shelter capable of withstanding the direct hit of large aerial bombs.32

The third platoon of Company E was engaged with the enemy at this position for four hours. One squad, of three men, managed to maneuver to the tunnel where they were attacked by Japanese soldiers using bayonets from the burrow holes. Two of the men were killed and one badly slashed before the supporting fire of the platoon allowed him to disengage. With artillery sealing off the position from the east Sergeant Hoyl Marsereau led a seven man squad around to attack from the east. Light tanks fired their 37mm in support as engineers placed TNT blocks at identified tunnel entrances. The Japanese made desperate sorties, according to LTC Marshall, charging with bayonets only to be cut down with rifle fire.33 E Company lost eight men killed or wounded in the day's action. Total casualties for the division for 20 November was 25 killed and 62 wounded seriously enough to be evacuated.34

The RCT consolidated and reorganized and would in remain in position until initiating the attack in the morning. The division had accomplished their objectives for the day, that is, the reduction of the west tank barrier, the establishment of two secure shores, artillery ashore and firing in support, and all command posts established ashore except for division's.35

Not everyone was satisfied with he progress of the division. MG Holland Smith, commanding general of V Amphibious Corps, said, "I was very dissatisfied with the regiment's lack of offensive spirit; it was probably not the fault of the men. The 165th was not too well officered."36 Smith believed that the regiment was essentially a man's social club or a fraternal organization designed to promote the peacetime well being of it's members. The officers, he said, in the New York National Guard come from the old 7th New York, the "silk-stocking regiment", with an "unimpeachable reputation for annual balls, banquets, and ship-shape summer camps."37

The night of 20 November saw the bypassed Japanese forces attempt to break out to the east to join the remainder of their forces. One ten man group was engaged and killed by small arms fire and grenades. Sniper fire continued throughout the night disrupting the much needed rest of the forward deployed infantrymen. There was also too much indiscriminate firing by the troops at tree and bushes adding to the tension.38

Company C reduced the enemy strongpoint through vigorous infantry assaults by 1030 hours. There was great confusion as landing craft arriving at Beach Yellow 2 fired into the area as did Company A. The squad conducting the assault against the strongpoint feared the friendly fire more than the Japanese. Apparently, the bulk of the enemy in the pocket had withdrawn during the night and had either gotten through or were killed by BLT-1's security personnel.39 The 165th was scheduled to attack at 0700 hours. However, the attached tanks were out of fuel. Therefore, the Commander 2nd Battalion deferred it until 1100 hours. While fuel was being off loaded onto the beach carrier based aircraft were bombing and strafing the area in front of the 165th. This continued from 0843 til 1100 hours at which time 2nd battalion kicked off the attack.40 The infantry and tanks advanced slowly under sporadic and inaccurate sniper fire. One company first sergeant declared the snipers to be more of a nuisance than an obstacle and as long as the soldiers used the available cover there were few casualties. As the battalion closed to approximately 300 yards from the east tank barrier, in the vicinity of the road emanating from King's Wharf, they met the stiffest resistance of the day.

The enemy, from rifle pits and trenches, poured steady fire into the 2nd Battalion. Each position was reinforced with coconut logs and well camouflaged making it extremely difficult for the infantry to eliminate. The battalion quickly learned an effective technique to reduce the enemy positions through the coordinated use of tanks, infantry, and engineers with demolitions. Infantry would point out enemy positions to the tanks which would then fire their cannon point-blank into it or drive over it to crush the occupants. Another variation was for the infantrymen to crawl forward under the covering fire of tanks and machine guns and place demolitions near the entrances to the emplacements. The infantry was so effective in this situation because of the lack of enemy mortar and artillery fire.41

The worst of the enemy resistance had been overcome by 1400 hours. The remainder of the day until nightfall was spent advancing cautiously in deference to the limited accuracy of the sniper. The total casualties for D+l, 21 November, was 18 killed and 19 wounded seriously enough to be evacuated.42

At 1705 hours Major General Ralph Smith issued the attack orders to LTC John McDonough, executive officer of the 165 RCT for the regiment to continue the attack in the morning. There was a measure of apprehension for the 165 as they prepared for the therefore, they assiduously cleared fields of firs, strung wire with tin cans for early warning, and improvised cough medicine. The men were instructed to use hand grenades against suspected enemy as rifle fire tended to receive return fire. There was much less activity on this night but it was the constant threat that kept the wary American soldiers tense.43 MG Holland Smith was, as usual, irritated that the conquest of Makin wasn't moving at a faster rate. Admiral Kelly Turner, overall commander of the operation, insisted that Smith remain at Makin although a more important clash was on-going at Tarawa involving a division of his Marines."44

The 3rd Battalion departed their assembly area at 0600 hours on the 22nd, en route to the east tank barrier where they would pass through the 2nd Battalion and continue the attack to the east. As they passed through the area near Beach Yellow 2 they picked up engineer and tank assets. At 0700 hours the 105th Field Artillery Battalion commenced their preparation of the cast tank barrier. This was lifted at 0820 hours and the infantry-tank teams of the 3rd Battalion started forward, with Company K on the right and Company I on the left. The attached tanks reduced suspected enemy strongpoints with their main guns with infantry clearing the remaining rubble with grenades and bayonets. The battalion moved forward cautiously protecting against the ever present snipers.45

At 1100 hours, Captain Lawrence O'Brien, commander of Company A, 165th Infantry, embarked with two of his platoons, a heavy machine gun platoon, and a light machine gun section in six LVTs (Alligators). Their destination and mission was to seal, off the retreat of the enemy at a point 3000 meters east of the furthest advance of 3rd Battalion. They landed unopposed, established their blocking position, and, at 1314 hours, killed or captured 49 of the enemy while sustaining no casualties.46

The 3rd Battalion stopped their advance on 1645 hours to enable the companies to properly prepare a defensive position. The day's operation had cost six dead and 17 wounded while the Japanese lost 100 killed and 99 prisoners.47 Only 5,000 yards from the east end of the island the battalion established their defense across a narrow 500 yard strip. Company X occupied a position on the north, alongside the lagoon. Tied in with them on the south was Company K. To their west was Company L which stretched the entire length of the island. Firmly believing that no enemy remained on the island the men of 3rd Battalion built a weak perimeter. Dead tired and having left their entrenching tools at the line of departure, the infantrymen scratched out fighting positions with their hands and put up cursory barriers with available coconut logs.48

The enemy began to infiltrate and otherwise attempt to penetrate the defense at 2000 hours. The attack wasn't the coordinated effort of a tactical unit rather it appeared to be the efforts of individuals fulfilling their oath to the emperor to kill as many of the Americans as they could before dying. The ensuing fighting was a melee of barefooted Japanese attacking with knives and their bare hands. Snipers were active and much of the assault warn in the form of grenade throwing although Colonel Kelley had reported mortar and heavy machine gun fire. LTC Marshall reported that the sounds of clinking glasses and drunken gaiety could be heard as the Japanese soldiers were, apparently, bolstering their courage with Sake. As dawn approached the sporadic fighting ceased with three Americans dead and 23 wounded. The 3rd Battalion counted 51 dead enemy soldiers in front of and amongst their positions.49

At 0715 hours on the 23rd of November, 3rd Battalion began the push to clear the remainder of the island. Company I led the movement with 16 medium tanks and 3 light tanks attached. Company K on the left and Company L on the right formed a skirmish line behind Company I. By 1030 the battalion had reached the farthest extremity of the island having encountered numerous snipers.50

On the last day of the operation, 23 November, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, Liscombe Bay, was sunk by a Japanese submarine. That loss cost the Navy 730 officers and men, including a Rear Admiral.51 The 27th Division suffered 66 killed and 130 seriously wounded and the Japanese had 550 casualties and 105 prisoners. Major General H.M. Smith was not pleased with the performance of the divisions:

The Army troops were infuriatingly slow. Butaritaris the objective island, should have been secured by dusk on 0-day. Any marine regiment would have done it in that time. At Eniwetok the 22d Marine Regiment...captured Engebi, a far stronger island than Makin, in seven hours.52

Notwithstanding General Smith's harsh words the Commanding General Pacific Ocean Areas, LTG Robert C. Richardson, sent the following message on the 24th of Novembers "Warm congratulations to gallant officers and men of your command. A wonderful job well done. Sad by losses of our brave men.53

The seizure of the Gilbert Islands was but the first step in Admiral Nimitz' Central Pacific offensive campaign. The capture of Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama were strategically important to the American push because they provided a base of operations for assaults against the Marshall Islands. This success helped to shorten the lines-of-communication between Hawaii and Australia and further threatened the Japanese' outer perimeter defense.54 Furthermore, the successful invasions of Makin and Tarawa strengthened the resolve of the American public as there had been little to cheer about heretofore. Major General H.M. Smith saw the success as being contradictory, however: "We captured Makin and Tarawa. The people of America were shocked by the slaughter on the beaches and stirred by the heroism of the Marines. Makin was an easy job, with few casualties."55

Despite his deprecatory remarks the successful accomplishment of the division's mission was cause for celebration but not necessarily glee. Everyone, including the Commanding General, identified errors of omission and commission and were bent on eradicating them.

In a report written after GALVANIC (Makin), Major General Ralph Smith stated, in essence, that despite the apparent shortcomings of his subordinate units the tactics and techniques prescribed in U.S. Army doctrine were sound and effective. Ha noted the sometimes lackadaisical attitude of the 27th's fighting man but believed that this was characteristic of the American soldier as a whole and not indicative solely of his men. The fighting spirit was the key to successful ground combat and this could only be taught in training to a limited extent.56

Regarding the nature of combat in the Pacific General Smith stated what was obvious to the participants: "Few of these bombproof and splinterproof emplacements were damaged by either air attack or naval fire, and the defenders had to be blasted out with grenades, pole charges, bangalores, and...flamethrowers." This may account for the deliberate and cautious approach which the 27th took to reduce the Japanese defenses on Makin. Certainly every battle in the Central Pacific after this required the same type of activity to root the enemy out of his well prepared positions.57

The cooperation between tanks and infantry was not satisfactory in General Ralph Smith's estimation. One of the biggest reasons for this was the incompatible radios. The tanks were outfitted with one type and the infantry battalion headquarters another and they didn't interface. The radios of the division's cavalry reconnaissance troop were compatible and, therefore, teams were attached to the battalions to provide the communications link. However, the coordination for employment of tanks is necessarily done at a lower echelon than battalion, typically at company or platoon. In the dense jungles of the Central Pacific, such as Makin, close cooperation between one or two tanks and a squad or platoon of infantry was the hallmark of success. Training prior to Makin had concentrated on the infantry-artillery team to the neglect of the tank and this shortcoming would have to be overcame.58

A conspicuous deficiency noted in the after action report was the movement techniques of the individual rifleman. Advancing under direct and indirect fire, observed or random, was an acquired skill that too few of the 27th's soldiers had mastered. Therefore, the judgement that the use of cover and advance by "creeping and crawling" would have to be stressed in training. Another deficiency attributable to the soldier's first combat experience was their propensity for firing their individual and crew served weapon without proper target identification. This lack of fire discipline was more noticeable at night when the tension of battle combined with the uncertainty of night to exert unanticipated stress on the men. General Smith recognized the tendency as a danger to individual soldiers who might get caught in the errant fire and also to the unit whose position was identified by the enemy and attacked. The solution to this aeries of problems was to conduct more training at night to lessen the soldiers fear of that phenomenon.59

Major General Smith recognized some of the problems he was to incur by virtue of working in a joint endeavor, i.e., subordinate to a Marine who answered to a Navy admiral. In the after action report he summed it up thusly:

There are many conflicting elements involved in the execution of an amphibious operation. The Naval Commander is concerned primarily with his ships, the Army commander with the shore operation, while between these two extremes there are many problems...(notably) conflicting evaluation of time and space.60

It was that factor of time and space that was to continue to plague the 27th Division in the war in the Pacific. Allan R, Millett stated it best: "Even if the 'hurry-up' Marine tactical approach to atoll warfare cost lives in it's early phases, it seemed preferable to the Army emphasis on careful attack." The interpretation of which set of tactics was best obviously lay with the senior commander and, therefore, since the Central Pacific would always be commanded by a Navy admiral the answer was clear. The loss of an aircraft carrier while that ship was protecting the ground farces ashore was an unacceptable loss if the accomplishment of the ground mission could have been speeded up.61

The invasion of Makin was a qualified success. Qualified in that the mission was accomplished but at an unacceptable cost, i.e., the loss of an aircraft carrier. The initiation to combat of one Regimental Combat Team, elements of another battalion, the division staff, all were positive aspects of GALVANIC. The division commander aware of the shortcomings of his troops as was identified in the after action report and measures were taken to overcome them. Despite Major General H.M. Smith's invective, the 27th Infantry Division would continue to do their duty in the Pacific.

Chapter Three


1 Philip A. Crowl, The US Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Campaign in the Marianas (Wash., DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1960), p.35.

2 Edmund G. Love, The 27th Infantry Division in World War II (Wash., DC: The Infantry Journal Press, 1949), p.23.

3 Holland M. Smith, Coral and Brass (NY: Scribners, 1949), p.118.

4 The Pictorial History of the 27th Division (Atl., GA, Army-Navy Publishers, Inc., 1942).

5 Annual Report of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau 1942. (Wash., DC: War Dept, National Guard Bureau, 1942).

6 Historical Division, War Dept, The Capture of Makin. American Forces in Action Series, (Wash., DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1946), p.24.

7 Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, US Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls (Wash., DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1955), p.45.

8 Ibid.

9 HQ, 27th Division, "Participation of Task Force 52.6, 27th Division, in GALVANIC (Makin) Operation", 11 December 1943, p.1.

10 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.62.

11 Ibid.

12 HQ, 27th Division, Annex #2 (Intelligence) to Field Order #21, 20 October 1943, p.l.

13 HQ, 27 Division, Appendix 1 to Annex #2? Field Order #21, 28 October 1943, p.l.

14 Ibid., p.2.

15 Crawl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.72.

16 HQ, 27th Division, Annex #2 to Field Order #21, 20 October 1943, p.l.

17 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.71.

18 HQ, 27th Division, Annex #9 (Embarkation and Debarkation Tables), Field Order #21, 22 October 1943, pp.1-3.

19 The Capture of Makin. p.25.

20 HQ, 27th Division, Field Order #21, 20 October 1943, p.l. 21HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #9. 22 Ibid., serial #18, 19, 20.

23 The Capture of Makin, p.42 and HQ, 27th Division, G2 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #32.

24 HQ, 27th Division, G2 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #35.

25 The Capture of Makin. pp.44-46 and HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 20 November 1943, serial #30,42.

26 The Capture of Makin. pp.51-62.

27 Ibid., pp.71-72.

28 Ibid., pp.72-73.

29 Ibid., pp.72-75.

30 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. pp.95-97.

31 Ibid., p.99 and The Capture of Makin. pp.84-85.

32 Ibid., pp.99-101 and p.85.

33 Ibid., pp.99-101 and pp.86-87.

34 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.100.

35 Ibid., p.106.

36 Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 126.

37 Ibid., pp. 168-169.

38 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.108.

39 HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 21 November 1943, serial #19.

40 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls, pp.112-113.

41 Ibid., p.116, The Capture of Makin. pp.100-106, and HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 21 November 1943, serial #18.

42 Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.116 and HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 21 November 1943, serial #37.

43 The Capture of Makin. p.108.

44 Smith, Coral and Brass, p. 123.

45 HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 22 November 1943, serial #12, 14, 16; The Capture of Makin. pp.111-112; and Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. pp.118-119.

46 Ibid., serial #17; p.115; and pp.118-119. 47The Capture of Makin. p. 118.

48 Ibid., pp.118-119 and Crowl and Love, The Seizure of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. p.123.

49 Ibid., pp.120-121 and p.123.

50 HQ, 27th Division,G3 Journal, 23 November 1943, serial #9 and The Capture of Makin. pp.121-124.

51 Allan R. Millett, Semper Fidelis: The History of the USMC, (NY: The Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980), pp.398-399.

52 Smith, Coral and Brass, p.125.

53 HQ, 27th Division, G3 Journal, 23 November 1943, serial #35.

54 The Capture of Makin. p.132.

55 Smith, Coral and Brass, p.111.

56 MG Ralph Smith, "Reports Participation of the US Army Forces in the Central Pacific in GALVANIC Operation", 17 June 1944, p.7.

57 Ibid., p.2.

58 Ibid., p.l and Annex 1, "Report: Participation of the US Army Forces in the Central Pacific in GALVANIC Operation", p.2.

59 Annex 1, p.l.

60 Ibid.

61 Millett, History of the USMC. pp.398-399.

Chapter Three

New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
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