Facts, information and articles about the Battle Of Tarawa, a battle of World War II

Battle Of Tarawa Facts


November 20-23 1943


Betio, Tarawa Atoll


American: Julian C. Smith
Japanese: Keiji Shibazaki

Soldiers Engaged

American 35,000 troops
Japanese: 2,69 troops,1,000 laborers


United States Victory


American- 1,696 killed
Japan- 4,690 killed

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Battle Of Tarawa summary: A group of islands about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii makes up those of Tarawa and during 1941-1943 they were held by the Japanese. Second Division U.S. Marines held it after a very short (76 hour) battle that was very bloody. The reason the island was sought after was its strategic location that was centrally located in the Pacific for the Philippine islands.

The high casualties are said to be a result of poor planning on the American side. Marines were forced to wade to shore through coral that was razor sharp and a low tide with constant fire assault from the Japanese along with sniper fire. In addition, the heavy belts loaded with ammunition caused drowning of some Marines who happened upon deeper water.

Heavy Toll On The Beaches Of Tarawa

A sizable force of 4,700 Japanese soldiers was stationed on Betio protecting an airfield and on November 20, destroyers and battleships from the U.S. staged a heavy assault on the three mile long island. As the battle progressed a US landing craft moved in on the island and got stuck on a reef because of the low-tide. This left the craft only 500 feet from shore and sitting in open Japanese fire. Out of the 800 Marines attempting to breach the island only 450 made it to shore. The enemy had sat quiet waiting for opportune moments and many of the Marines left wading to shore were struck down by gunfire.

More reinforcements were brought in by the Americans and the battle started to tilt in their direction with this and the loss of communication the Japanese felt. The Japanese were taught to fight or commit suicide so they turned all their attention to attacking the Marines over the next day. The Marines asked for reinforcements they didn’t get but managed to stand the attack and win.


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Missing Marine Dead Discovered on Tarawa

FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 – The remains of more than 100 marines who were killed during the battle of Tarawa appear to have been discovered in mass graves on the tiny Pacific atoll, according to a group that conducted a search with ground-penetrating radar this fall.

Mark Noah, executive director of History Flight, a Florida-based military history nonprofit, and Ted Darcy, a Massachusetts historian with the private military research organization WFI Research Group, say they have located 139 graves on Tarawa in eight sites. Their find could lead to the largest identification of missing American soldiers in history.

Keiji Shibasaki, commander of the Japanese garrison on the two-mile-long islet of Betio, had bragged that it would take a million Americans a hundred years to take Tarawa. Beginning on November 20, 1943, it took 35,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines three days—in one of the most brutal amphibious assaults of the war, and the first to encounter heavy resistance on the beaches. Of some 4,700 Japanese defenders there, only 17 survived.

More than 900 marines were killed in the fighting, many of them while wading through the surf for hundreds of yards after their landing craft were caught on a reef at low tide. The men were buried in mass graves, where the military planned to retrieve them and bring them home when the war ended. But as navy engineers swooped in to begin airfield construction on the island, many of the burial sites were covered over. After the war, only half of the bodies could be found and returned to the United States. The rest of the dead, a total of 541 soldiers, were listed as missing.

After more than a decade of research and two expeditions, Noah and Darcy, a former marine himself, say they have found at least some of those missing men. Their claim is backed by burial rosters, combat reports, and interviews with construction contractors who have found human remains at the site.

Noah and Darcy planned to share their findings with the Department of Defense in January; the federal government will conduct any excavation of the site. “We’ll make one additional trip to the island to search for the remaining grave sites and make arrangements for the return and identification of the bodies,” says Noah. “Allowing the families of the missing to finally have closure is our foremost goal.”

Several family members of the missing soldiers have said they would like their relatives’ bodies returned to the United States. “In the marines,” Darcy has told reporters, “we were taught to never leave any man behind.”