Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Battle of Tarawa Atoll:  Betio:  November 20-23, 1943

(Part of Operation Galvanic)

The Southern Attack Force (Task Force 53), commanded by Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, USN, landed the 2nd Marine Division, commanded by General Julian C. Smith, USMC, on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll on November 20, 1943.   The objective on the thin island was the airfield, located in the southwest corner.   Due to non-existent charts for the tides, the invasion force took a chance with the landing, which worked against them, as did pre-bombardment communication issues.  When the Marines landed on the Red Beaches, they met with fierce opposition, which was the first time this occurred in the Pacific Campaign.   Colonel David M. Shoup, USMC, commanded the landed troops and later received the Medal of Honor for his heroic leadership despite being wounded upon landing.   Green Beach was taken the following day, but the Red Beaches proved to be a hard win as the Japanese bitterly fought, including a banzai charge on November 23, the day the island was secured.   With major loss of life and injuries to the 2nd Marine Division, amphibious operations were reviewed with the recommendations:  landing ships to deliver heavier and more accurate fire; enhanced air support concentrated on bombing fixed positions; pre-invasion bombardment would be sustained until the last moment; more efficient landing craft for reefs, especially during tidal conditions; and the assault commander would be the focus of the landings with effective communication methods.  

Image:  USMC 63658:  Operation Galvanic, November 1943.  U.S. Marine throws a grenade at the enemy at Betio, Tarawa Atoll, November 20-23, 1943.   Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.