Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Makin Island, Battle of (20–23 November 1943)

Title: Soldier at the battle of Makin
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Makin Atoll is part of the Gilbert Island chain in the Central Pacific. It was the site of two World War II battles, both of which occurred on Butaritari, the largest island. Makin is shaped like a long, crooked, handled hammer; the head is 3.5 miles long and the handle about 11 miles long. In the first battle on 17 and 18 August 1942, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion destroyed the Japanese seaplane base there and decimated the garrison. This outcome had an unfortunate effect for the Americans, for it caused the Japanese to strengthen their defenses in the Gilberts. On Butaritari, they constructed bunkers, trenches, machine-gun nests, gun emplacements, and two deep tank traps; the traps each ran shore to shore across the central part of the handle of the island to defend a 3,000-yard-long area known as the Citadel, where the Americans had landed in 1942. Navy Junior Grade Lieutenant Seizo Ishikawa commanded some 500 Japanese military personnel, and there were 79 Japanese and 200 Korean construction workers.

The invasion of Makin was part of the U.S. campaign against the Gilberts, which included the bloody struggle for Tarawa. The Makin assault force numbered 6,471 men: the 165th Regimental Combat Team and a battalion of the 105th Infantry Regiment of Major General Ralph C. Smith's 27th Infantry Division, originally a National Guard unit. Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner directed operations from the battleship Pennsylvania. The navy supported the landing with 3 battleships, 5 cruisers, 13 destroyers, and planes from 5 aircraft carriers.

Beginning at 5:40 a.m. on 19 November 1943, naval gunfire, including 14-inch shells from the battleships Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Mississippi, pounded Makin. Carrier planes followed a half hour later. The Japanese had no effective means of response.

On 20 November, beginning at 8:30 a.m., the navy's Northern Attack Force put the troops ashore on two beaches on the western part of the island. Later, another force went ashore on the lagoon side. The attackers met little opposition, pushing east toward the Citadel and taking the western Japanese tank barrier by the end of the day.

Here, the attack bogged down, as the troops allowed themselves to be pinned down by Japanese snipers. On the night of the third day, the Japanese mounted a counterattack, during which they lost more than 50 men. But at 10:30 a.m. on 23 November, the army declared Makin secured. The attackers had suffered 64 men killed in action and another 150 wounded. V Amphibious Corps commander Marine Major General Holland Smith regarded the four days it had taken to secure the island, despite the army's overwhelming superiority in manpower, as "infuriating slow." During the invasion of Saipan the next year, he removed General Ralph Smith from command. Following Makin's capture, army engineers built an airstrip to allow further attacks on nearby Japanese forces.

The capture of the island proved far more costly for the U.S. Navy. During the preliminary bombardment, a turret explosion on the Mississippi killed 43 men and wounded 19. Also, the delay in taking Makin caused the supporting warships to remain close by, where they were vulnerable to attack by Japanese submarines sent there from Truk. On 24 November, I-175 torpedoed the escort carrier Liscombe Bay. A terrific explosion tore apart the entire after third of the carrier, and 640 sailors died.

Brandon H. Turner and Spencer C. Tucker

Further Reading
Morison, Samuel E. The United States Navy in World War II. Vol. 7, Aleutians, Gilberts, and Marshalls. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.; Spector, Ronald H. Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.; U.S. War Department, General Staff. The Capture of Makin. Washington, DC: Historical Division, War Department, 1946.

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