Marshalls Campaign file photo

Marshall Islands Campaign

29 Jan 1944 - 21 Feb 1944

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

About 4,000 kilometers southwest of the Hawaii Islands, the Marshall Islands represented part of the perimeter of the Japanese Pacific empire. The former German colony was given to Japan after the closure of WW1, and had since been an important part of both offensive and defensive plans of the Japanese Navy. By the end of 1943, Admiral Mineichi Koga of the Japanese Combined Fleet knew the Americans were eyeing the islands, but he could not figure out where they would strike. His difficulties were further complicated by the lack of carrier aircraft, as they were taken away from him in an attempt to reinforce land-based squadrons. With his hands tied, all Koga could do was to send his submarines out as forward observers and order the regional commander in Truk Admiral Masashi Kobayashi to reinforce the island garrisons that were most exposed to American attacks. Kobayashi shifted men to the outer islands of Jaluit, Mili, Wotje, and Maloelap. In total, Kobayashi had 28,000 troops available to him in the Marshall Islands. For a garrison that size ground fortifications were sub-par, but that was rather by design at this stage of the war, for that Tokyo had since decided that the Marshall Islands were to serve only as a part of a delay action campaign. The new defensive perimeter was to be established much closer to the home islands.

American intelligence decoded Japanese messages and detected movements for the outer islands, and decided to change the invasion plans. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, the Americans were now bypassing the reinforced outer islands; they were now directly attacking Kwajalein and Eniwetok.

Prelude
Nov-Dec 1943

Rear Admiral J. H. Hoover's land-based B-24 Liberator bombers and other attack aircraft of the 7th Air Force from Ellice and Gilbert Islands attacked Mille and Maloelap as early as Nov 1943. ON 3 Dec, Rear Admiral Charles Pownall's Task Force 50 launched a carrier strike against Kwajalein with planes from four fleet carriers and two light carriers. The strike destroyed four transports and fifty Japanese aircraft, though the damage achieved little strategic importance. Upon recovery of the planes, Pownall cancelled a planned second strike against the Wotje Atoll in fear of a Japanese counterattack. The counterattack came in the form of night bombing attacks, which the Americans had no means of defense from the air since the American pilots had no night flight training. Lexington took a torpedo hit in one of the night strikes, but the entire task force would eventually return to Pearl Harbor.

Majuro atoll was named to be a forward base in preparation of the invasion. Rear Admiral Harry Hill landed the Reconnaissance Company of the V Amphibious Corps of the United States Marine Corps and the 2nd Battalion of the 106th Infantry of the US Army's 7th Infantry Division, taking the lightly defended atoll on 31 Jan without any casualties.

Battle of Kwajalein Atoll
29 Jan-3 Feb 1944

Logistical problems caused the invasion plans against the Marshall Islands to become delayed for one month, but as soon as Chester Nimitz could gather all the troop transports he needed, he launched Operation Flintlock against the Kwajalein atoll in the south. Rear Admiral Richmond Turner commanded the forces against Kwajalein Island, with Major General Charles Corlett's 7th Infantry Division of the US Army on board. Rear Admiral Richard Connolly, with Major General Harry Schmidt's 4th Marine Division, sailed the Roi-Namur Islands in the north. Rear Admiral Harry Hill's task force was designated the reserve force ready to assist any of the two invasion forces after securing Majuro. The entire operation was covered in the sky by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's planes from six fleet carriers and six light carriers, which was escorted by eight battleships and a full compliment of cruisers and destroyers.

Overall The Japanese garrison at the Kwajalein atoll consisted of 8,000 men, but only half of them were combat capable. The other half consisted of conscripts, laborers (many of whom were Koreans), and the Navy's aircraft support personnel. Rear Admiral Monzo Akiyama, located on Kwajalein Island, knew he lacked strong fortifications but his capability to coordinate a damaging aerial counterattack potentially could make up for his shortfalls.

The opening chapter of the invasion destroyed On 29 Jan 1944, American carrier aircraft attacked Roi-Namur, destroying 92 of the 110 Japanese aircraft that survived the pre-invasion strikes over the previous two months. Akiyama had just lost his ability to mount an effective aerial counterstrike.

The Roi-Namur invasion started smoothly on 31 Jan on five nearby small islands, but weather and inexperience in amphibious operations caused major confusion and delays during the actual landing on Roi-Namur on the next day. Nevertheless, luck stood with the Americans as Japanese resistance was much lighter than expected after the successful pre-invasion aerial and naval bombardment. The landers only faced a garrison of 300 Japanese. Roi-Namur was secured with only 51 Japanese survived out of the garrison of 3,000 men.

After a similar first phase of capturing smaller outlying islands in the atoll on 31 Jan, the 1 Feb southern Kwajalein landings went much more smoothly. The 7th Infantry Division's men, vehicles, and equipment were unloaded with order and efficiency. Part of the reason was because most of the Japanese defenses were established on the ocean side of the island instead of the reef siding; when the defenses were constructed, the Americans had not yet achieved the ability to traverse over coral reefs. Another reason was an effective pre-landing bombardment. Commander Anthony Kimmins of the British Royal Navy observed the American landings at Kwajalein, and was amazed at the effectiveness of the pre-invasion bombardment. He said

"Nothing could have lived through that sea and air bombardment. [The bombardment] was the most damaging thing I have ever seen. [Ashore] I have never seen such a shambled in my life. As you got ashore the beach was a mass of highly colored fish that had been thrown up there by nearby explosions."

He commented that the bombardment was "the most brilliant success" he ever witnessed.

Akiyama countered the Americans with a series of fierce infantry charges backed by strong bunkers and pillboxes when the Americans advanced. By the start of 2 Feb, only 1,500 out of the original 5,000 garrison were still alive. Much like Roi-Namur, by the time the island was secured, only 265 men survived as captured prisoners; all the rest perished. The Americans lost one for every 100 killed.

Battle of Eniwetok Atoll
17-21 Feb 1944

Eniwetok was an atoll with a series of small islands and islets offering little more than two square miles of land, but the location was strategic, for that they could provide airfields for the subsequent invasion of the Marianas. Major General Yoshimi Nishida bolstered the defenses of the main island some time before Jan 1944, but the small size of the island meant that defense in depth was nearly impossible. Any American attempt to invade the island must be stopped at the beaches, otherwise the main island of Eniwetok would be lost. The main island was guarded by 4,000 men, of which about half were of the Japanese Army and the other half various naval personnel.

The invasion, Operation Catchpole, began with a naval bombardment on 17 Feb, while 8,000 Marines and 2,000 Army infantry waited aboard transports. On the same day, the 22nd Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel John Walker on Engebi Island in the northern side of the atoll. The Engebi landing was a logistical nightmare that embarrassed Marine Corps Brigadier General Watson who oversaw the operation, though he made up his initial mistakes by securing the island at a casualty count of only 85. On 19 Feb, the 106th Infantry Regiment landed on the main island of Eniwetok after only a brief bombardment. The brief bombardment proved to be ineffective. With automatic fire cris-crossing the landing beaches, American men and equipment soon formed a congested mess, repeating the same logistical nightmare that haunted the invaders. Nevertheless, the island was secured by 21 Feb at the loss of 37 Americans; similarly, nearly the entire 800-strong Japanese garrison died. Next, Watson led his Marines (leaving the Army to occupy Eniwetok Island) to Parry Island. The landers faced similar defenses on Parry, but the logistical problems were averted by a thorough naval bombardment led by battleships Tennessee and Pennsylvania, delivering over 900 tons of explosives on the Japanese defenses before the 22nd Marine Regiment made their landing. Parry Island was secured the next day.

With the Marshall Islands under American control ten weeks ahead of schedule, Allied engineers started to construct the islands as forward bases for the next phase of the island hopping campaign toward the Japanese home islands.

Sources: The Pacific Campaign, Wikipedia

Marshall Islands Campaign Interactive Map

Marshall Islands Campaign Timeline

20 Aug 1943 Admiral Chester Nimitz submitted a general plan for the invasion of the Marshall Islands.
31 Jan 1944 Americans landed on Kwajalein and Majuro atolls in the Marshall Islands.
7 Feb 1944 American troops completed the conquest of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls in the Marshall Islands.
17 Feb 1944 US Marines landed on Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
20 Feb 1944 American troops captured Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands.
22 Feb 1944 Japanese aircraft attacked US Naval Task Force 58 approaching the Mariana Islands but suffered heavy losses. Meanwhile, another Allied forces operating around Rabaul and Kavieng encountered no Japanese aircraft, hinting that Japanese resources were now becoming scarce.

Photographs

Lexington pilots celebrated a successful attack on the Marshall Islands, Nov 1943A B6N2 torpedo bomber exploded in mid-air after direct hit by 5-inch shell from carrier Yorktown, off Kwajalein, 4 Dec 1943US Marines with haircuts that spelled out USS Minneapolis being refueled at sea in the Marshall Islands area, Jan 1944
See all 37 photographs of Marshall Islands Campaign

Maps

1943 map of the Marshall and Gilbert IslandsMap depicting the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, 31 Jan-4 Feb 1944Map illustrating Operation Catchpole against Eniwetok, Engebi, and Parry Islands of Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, 18-22 Feb 1944Map depicting Operation Cartwheel and the invasion of Gilbert and Marshall Islands, 30 Jun 1943-26 Apr 1944
See all 5 maps of Marshall Islands Campaign



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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Anonymous says:
    2 Aug 2006 01:08:33 PM

    An article appeared in the Atlanta Georgia paper,saying that a Georgia marine and a N.Y. marine had captured the first prisioners on the Island The Georgia boy was my brother Henry Durwood Howard. This must have been Jan. of 1944. I was a child of 4 at the time and many years have passed since my brother was killed just a few days later. In June I went to the burial site in ohau,and it has kindled an interest that I didnt even know still existed. I have tried in the last few years to locate the other man who was envolved in my brothers heroism. It would be so great to talk to someone about all of this. Thanks to whomever,
    Wylene Howard Brown
    Quitman Georgia
  2. wylene howard brown says:
    22 Oct 2006 12:18:47 PM

    I am still hoping to hear from someone familiar with this situation. Wylene
  3. Charles Aucoin says:
    15 Feb 2007 10:05:59 AM

    Does anyone have any info on PLT SGT Charles Lada KIA Roi-Namur in operation flintlock He was my uncle and I never met him although I am named after him
  4. thomas j rose says:
    28 Feb 2007 06:02:54 PM

    my father in law fought in this battle, as well as others in this campaign. we have photos of the aftermath.
  5. john biggs says:
    16 Sep 2007 06:53:26 AM

    My dad fought in this battle...he was in the 4th Marine div. he left the US and sailed directly to the island...This was the first for him and seven more invasions follow...And they cry because they have to extend thier tour in Iraq????
  6. Anonymous says:
    24 Sep 2007 02:53:45 PM

    The USS Competent swept two mines at Arno Atoll in the Mashalls.They were said to be the first **** mines swept in the pacific
  7. j.petkovich says:
    11 Nov 2007 10:14:11 AM

    My dad, Sam Petkovich, fought in this invasion and was wounded. He was taken to Pearl Harbor to recover. Dad passed away just three years (2004) but I have photos and a certificate Domain of Neptunus Rex ( a pirate document of sorts) that the marines signed giving the name of the ship and the date, January 25th, 1944.
  8. arogers says:
    11 Mar 2008 01:43:37 PM

    My father, P. Mims Rogers, was a Major with the 7th Infantry and fought in this battle under General Corlett, and I have a picture of them together. I would love any information about this battle.
  9. Jamie LeClair says:
    25 Nov 2008 10:43:30 AM

    If anyone has information on PLTSGT Herbie "Frenchy" LeClair please call. Unit was VAC 5th Amphib Corps Recon Company with LT Harvey Weeks when they captured the **** Warrent Officer on Majuro. My uncle transported him back to the ship USS Kane. 320-629-3212
  10. Tom says:
    9 Apr 2010 03:08:25 AM

    I have a photograph of my father, Captain Maguire, MD, with Mag. Gen Corlett on Kwajalein.
    The number in the bottom tight corner is W-CPA-44-106-AV.
    Can anyone translate that and how is it possible to look up in Army Archives?
    Thanks,
    Tom
  11. Doris says:
    22 Apr 2010 04:07:01 AM

    My father told me he fought in Marshell Island in 1944?, he recieved the bronze star what I dont know. I have a picture of him and a buddy in their MP unifrom taken in
    South Pacific. He was in Army infantry, thats all I know would love to know more.
    His name Roy Patton.
  12. mark wheeless says:
    24 Apr 2010 09:06:11 AM

    My dad Tommy Oran Wheeless was in the army 1939-45. he passed in 1994. he recieved 3 purple hearts, i believe he fought on the marshall islands.
  13. Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker says:
    4 May 2010 12:02:41 AM

    After a long effort, I finally obtained my father's USMC records of his service in WWII--or what's left of them or available. There's a big gaping hole instead of details for the period between Feb. 25, 1944 and August, 1945 and then again until 1946 when he was sent to San Diego. This "hole" begins with him being sent "into the field" on Feb. 25, 1944 via "Cape Victory" (a troop ship made by Consolidated Steel, Wilmington DE. He was in the Provisional Signal Corps, Service Battalion, 5th Amphib.. He verbally told me and my brother that he'd been at Peleliu, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He told my brother he was captured on Okinawa and escaped on his second try. After the first try the Japanese skinned his best friend alive and made him watch. We believe he had been promoted at one point from Cpl. to Sgt, sometime in 1944 and busted back to Cpl after what he did to the Japanese who killed his friend. However, we have only a few verbal bits from my late father. The most he ever talked about his experiences was about 10-15 minutes and only about four times that any of us can remember. He was still having occasional "bad dreams" etc. that he wouldn't discuss but sent him at last to a psychologist in the last couple of years before he died in 2005. I wish the VA had provided that service when he spent the first six years of my life avoiding the contiguous 48 states, cities, noise, etc.--and his family, or when he finally "came home" he had such anger management issues that he nearly killed me twice--before I was 8 years old. If anyone recognizes the name John George Fabos, out of the Signal Corp for the Service Battalions in the 5th Amphib. Corps, please let me know, especially if you know anything about what all he did, when and where. We have nothing in the "declassified" record we were given. He did have several medals, etc. and all were stolen in a burglary of his late parents' house when it had passed to a cousin, while she was in a nursing home, after a traffic accident. I didn't even receive a record of his medals from the National Archives. As I said, there is this big hole in his records.

    Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker, San Jose, CA
    celia.lfsbecker@sbcglobal.net
  14. sola says:
    4 May 2010 03:30:26 AM

    Amazing Flintlock operation.
    My question why the boss of landing force in Kwajalein (south) is Army General ? Not Marine General ?

    Thanks
    Sola
  15. Gunnar Bersos says:
    8 Jul 2010 11:24:30 AM

    I hope anonymous of item #6 will email me I was there and would like to talk to him
  16. Gunnar Bersos says:
    8 Jul 2010 08:25:15 PM

    Looking for any of the crew of the Competent who were at the Palau Islands September 1944
  17. Stephen Stafford says:
    27 Aug 2010 11:07:38 PM

    My father, Donald Edward Stafford, was shot down and crashed into the lagoon. His plane was a B-26. He was rescued by natives. He spent the next year in Hawaii recovering from his wounds and was headed to Guam aboard ship when the war ended.
    This is all I know.
    I would like to know what unit he would have been with during the Marshall islands campaign and any other info that some one could provide.

    Thank You
  18. Faith Juano "Tsuwano" says:
    29 Nov 2010 05:49:26 AM

    My grandfather by the name, Terruo Tsuwano, if i'm correct, was captured by the american after the world war 2 on Aerok, Ailinglaplap, Marshall Islands, and haven't been heard from sinced.
    I am hoping to find information about on him, and hopefully to reconnect with any relatives, if any.
    Please feel free to contact me at the e-mail above, if any info on this man.
    He left a son behind my grandmother passed away 4 years ago.
  19. Ryan Lelwoj says:
    21 Feb 2011 07:16:58 PM

    as a Marshallese, it hurts my feeling while looking at the pictures of the war in the Marshall Islands.....it reminds me about my great grandparents who were there during the war...
  20. Michelle Gulik says:
    19 Jul 2011 09:45:01 PM

    My uncle was a Private in the 184th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, and he was killed in action at Kwajalein on Feb 2, 1944. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, but that's all the information I've ever been able to get. His name was Frederick J Gulik, but he went by Fred or maybe Fritz. My dad--his brother--was stationed in Hawaii at the time, and he said his captain told him that Fred was shot while coming off an LST...
  21. Clint Stein says:
    12 Dec 2011 07:04:02 PM

    My father who was in the toke the troops onshore in the Marshal Islands. The only thing he told me about the invasion that after the invasion was over him and one other person was in charge of burring the bodies of the Japanese. He brought back with him a bayonet,rifle, and some Japanese money. He also said while on the island Japanese aircraft flew over but had no bombs.
  22. Anonymous says:
    16 Jan 2012 07:17:43 PM

    I had a Uncle who serviced in the 4th Marine Division He died on Feb. 2 1944 in the first invasion in the Marshall Islands.
  23. Anonymous says:
    8 Feb 2012 03:08:45 PM

    I have so many family members who were kill on world warII on,kwajelin, Marshall Islands. My mom was 2 years that time. I am a Marshallese and I am Very Proud of The U.S Army and soilder who were die for My country ." I joseph,boas ,promoise to do my best,to do my duty to God and my Country and to obey the people from United state of America."
  24. Phil Pyle says:
    18 Apr 2012 08:18:10 AM

    I understand that both the Japanese and the Americans tried to warn the Marshallese people away from where the worst killing would be, leading up to and during the Feb 1944 WWII battles in the Marshalls. I guess there were people, sailor fishermen, perhaps, who would hear and pass the warnings. For example, I see in Morison's Volume-7 p.226-227, on the unopposed taking of Majuro, "Blessed with fair weather, Admiral Hill prepared to assault the atoll --- which photographic interpretation of the buildings had informed him, might be defended by three to four hundred Japanese. This intelligence was confirmed by natives on the channel islets, where a scout party of Marines, Lieutenant Harvey W. Weeks USMC, had made a landing the previous evening.... Before D-day dawned they had overrun Dalap and Uliga, found nary a Jap, and heard from natives that there were none on Darrit. Captain Jones was unable to convey this information to Admiral Hill in time to stop his scheduled bombardment of Darrit. At 0655, after the shoot had been going on for 18 minutes, he managed to get the word through. The Admiral then ordered his guns to stop talking .... Fortunately nothing was seriously damaged during the 18 minute bombardment...." Any stories would be appreciated as to the underground between the Marshalese, Americans and Japanese." I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has any information or stories as to how it actually worked in reality for the Japanese and Americans trying to get the Marshallese people our of the impending harm's way. Thank you. Phil Pyle PPyle@Comcast.Net
  25. Anonymous says:
    18 Apr 2012 08:36:55 AM

    PS. I missed an important footnote in Morison. "The natives meant that the Japanese had formerly been on the atoll, but the Marines' Gilbertese translator, who did not know Marshallese very well, slipped up. (Conversation with Capt. Jones 24 April 1944. He is brother to Maj. William K. Jones USMC of the Betio battle." PPyle
  26. Colton Ribera says:
    6 May 2012 11:25:30 AM

    My grandfather served in the Marshall islands as a Sgt. in the Army Air Corps. we have photos of him with a PFC. Charles Lubic. if anybody knew about the units that were stationed there, or airbases plz contact me via email.
  27. Anonymous says:
    27 Jun 2012 11:54:33 AM

    MY FATHER, PFC FRANK H. ERNST FOUGHT IN THE
    MARSHALL ISLANDS DURING WWII! THANKS DAD FOR
    YOUR EFFORTS. IT WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.
  28. Relieved says:
    16 Nov 2012 01:12:26 PM

    seriously interesting helps with my project for history
  29. James LaVerdure says:
    6 Mar 2013 06:26:09 AM

    If any of your fathers or uncles were with the 7th Infantry Division, during the battle for Kwajalein, please do get back with me as i have info that i can share with you. My father was in Co B 17th Regiment 7th Division.
    James LaVerdure
    josie56@sbcglobal.net
  30. marlene garmon says:
    27 May 2013 02:51:21 PM

    my father leland skinner was in the marshall islands where he got shot in june 1944.He was in camp Roberts California in march25 - june 23,1943.I have alot of pictures of him & his buddies there would like to share with anyone who father has been there too.He also was in 7 infantry division in Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands.
  31. Al Davis says:
    14 Oct 2013 12:29:52 PM

    My Uncle, PFC Merle V Davis was killed on Eniwetok, Feb 1944. Any info from anyone on this site would be sincerely appreciated.
    my em studduck999@yahoo.com
  32. LAURA says:
    10 Nov 2013 01:37:05 PM

    iso info on Douglas Ralph Byers who served in Australia and New Gineau in WWII.
  33. Baldwin Bellu says:
    20 Jan 2014 06:42:16 PM

    there is family leave in Ailinglaplap half japanese half marshallese Tsuwano.
  34. Anonymous says:
    18 Feb 2014 01:29:15 PM

    GULIK, FREDERICK J
    PVT US ARMY
    WORLD WAR II
    DATE OF BIRTH: 01/15/1922
    DATE OF DEATH: 02/02/1944
    BURIED AT: SECTION N SITE 907 Click to view the cemetery map
    NATIONAL MEMORIAL CEMETERY OF THE PACIFIC
    2177 PUOWAINA DRIVE HONOLULU, HI 96813
    (808) 532-3720
  35. Ron Villi says:
    22 Jun 2014 10:50:47 AM

    My uncle was on Kwajalein with the Army Air Corps, right after the battle. Does anyone know the Air Corps unit numbers at that time?
  36. Anonymous Lucky Lucky says:
    5 Jul 2014 11:55:25 PM

    I would be so proud if U.S military could remember the Marshallese men and also list their names who served as scout for the U.S military during the WW2 in the Marshall Islands and send their names to RMI government.
  37. Leslie Mead says:
    23 Aug 2014 05:20:21 PM

    To Charles Aucoin. Your uncle Charles Lada is memorialized on a plaque on Roi-Namur Island that was put in place in February of this year in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the battle of Roi-Namur.
  38. Leslie says:
    23 Aug 2014 05:22:34 PM

    To Anonymous Lucky Lady. there are currently several efforts underway to memorialize the efforts of the Marshallese Scouts during World War II. I believe these effects include one by the U.S. Army and one on behalf of the U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands.

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More on Marshall Islands Campaign
Participants:
» Browning, Miles
» Erskine, Graves
» Evans, Ernest
» Feller, Robert
» Tokuno, Hiroshi
» Turner, Richmond

Location:
» Marshall Islands

Ship Participants:
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Documents:
» Interrogation Nav 18, Lieutenant Commander Hiroshi Tokuno
» Interrogation Nav 30, Commander Goro Matsura
» Interrogation Nav 34, Commander Chikataka Nakajima
» Interrogation Nav 38, Captain Toshikazu Ohmae
» Interrogation Nav 96, Rear Admiral Shunsaku Nabeshima


Marshall Islands Campaign Photo Gallery
Lexington pilots celebrated a successful attack on the Marshall Islands, Nov 1943
See all 37 photographs of Marshall Islands Campaign



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Famous WW2 Quote
"I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."

General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944