Makin Island Raid
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Makin Atoll, with the main island of Butaritari, was taken by the Japanese at the first phase of the quick expansion across the Pacific, two days after the Pearl Harbor attack. A week after the actions at Savo, the US Navy and US Marine Corps joined forces, launching 222 marines on a daring raid on the Makin via submarines USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut. It was the first time a Marines raid was launched from submarines in history. The primary objective was to destroy installations and seaplanes, disrupt enemy communications, and most importantly to divert Japanese reinforcements to Guadalcanal. The marines left the submarines by rubber boat powered by motors. The surf was much more treacherous than expected, and the commander of the raid Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson had to change plans on the spot, decreasing the complexity of the attack plan due to the surf conditions.
An accidental shot alerted the island garrison of 43 Japanese soldiers, and soldiers from the other atoll were alerted to send reinforcements. While Carlson's men attacked Makin's defenses, USS Nautilus sunk a pair of boats bringing reinforcements, and killed the sixty Japanese passengers. Sergeant Major Kanemitsu on Makin attempted to organize a defense around the island radio station, while bringing in reinforcements to strengthen his defense. After killing 83 Japanese soldiers and destroying ships and seaplanes, the US Marines attempted to return to the submarines, but the heavy surf slowed the motor boats, and Japanese bomber activity led to the US submarines to periodically dive under the surface. By nightfall, 70 marines still remained on the island. Panicking after mistakenly believe that they had been marooned, some marines attempted to surrender, but found the Japanese unwilling to take any prisoners. Most of the marines were able to evacuate after the third night, with the exception of nine. The nine remaining marines were ordered to be executed by beheading by Vice Admiral Abe Koso. Koso was sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of these nine men during the post-war trials.
The raid on Makin caused the Japanese to believe each island garrison must be strengthened, meaning major targets that the Allied command wish to hit would become less defended as the men and resources were diverted to the many island garrisons all across the Pacific. An entire company of the 5th Special Base Force was assigned to guard Makin Atoll. Historian Dan van der Vat, author of The Pacific Campaign, believed that the Makin operation was "completely unnecessary and was not repeated elsewhere" as pinprick raids anger the Japanese, and may backfire on the American forces in other ways.
In 1999 the US Army Central Identification Laboratory located the remains of 19 marines lost during the raid, in a mass grave. The US Marines' bodies returned home to the United States and received proper burials.
Sources: the Pacific Campaign, the Struggle for Guadalcanal.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939