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Kiribati Flag

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The Battle for Makin

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The main body of the northern attack force left Pear Harbour bound for Makin during the afternoon of the 10th November 1943. The main body was the third portion of the force to leave Hawaii. The first was part of the garrison force who left on the 31st October with an escort destroyer. Five days later, the special landing groups sets forth with an escort destroyer on a somewhat shorter route and at a speed which would bring them to their destination at the same time as the main assault convoy. On the 15th November, two transports and three cargo vessels were to begin taking the bulk of the garrison force to Makin.

Before dawn on the 20th November, 1943, an assemblage of American military might lay waiting off the western shore of Makin, the northernmost atoll in the Gilbert Group.

Click on the above for a dtailed map of Makin and Butaritari.

A strong task force, with transports carrying men of the US Army was about to commence the assault on Makin. The attack upon Makin would be the first seizure of an atoll by an army landing force bringing the war in the Central Pacific to a new phase. The assault opened with air strikes on the carriers at 0617. Enemy aircraft fire was very weak. Dive bombers bombed and strafed the beaches while glide bombers worked over the clearing at the west tank barrier.

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Naval bombardment of the two Red Beaches on 20th November 1943.

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Landing barges circle while waiting off Butaritari Island.

The transports moved to the allocated area 6,000 yards from the beach and lowered small boats. The war ships took their stations and, after the airplanes had completed their missions, opened at 0640 a systematic bombardment of the entire area of the assigned ground operation. It was to continue for almost four hours. The assault waves then started landing on the designated area of Red Beach 1 and Red Beach 2.

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Troops on Red Beach One await the signal to advance.

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Landing on Red Beach Two.

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Location plan for Red Beach One and Red Beach Two.

The inland advance from the Red Beaches proceeded according to plan with the main difficulty being encountered coming from the terrain. They met in significant sniper fire only; their main difficulty came from the debris and the watery holes resulting from the air and naval bombardment. Great masses of tough, closely matted root fibres barred their way working through them and through the other obstacles, the men found that preserving contact required constant attention.

When the landings on the Red Beaches were known to be progressing without significant opposition, the landing on the yellow beach began. This landing was preceded by a naval bombardment, fluctuating in violence since 0720, grew noticeably heavier at 0930 and began once more to sweep the main defensive area. Smoke soon rose from several fires among the warehouses, barracks, and other structures, and was visible through the trees to some of the units advancing overland from the west.

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The scene confronting the landing forces as they moved towards Yellow Beach was far from beautiful. The renewed bombardment was raising banks of grey smoke and dust over which swirled billows of thick, black smoke from fuel stores on the shore between the wharves and in the area behind King's wharf.

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First wave landing at Yellow Beach.

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Second wave landing at Yellow Beach.

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Location map for Yellow Beach.

The first night on Butaritari was marked by energetic enemy activity. Moving in total darkness, the Japanese used many ruses to discover the hidden locations of the American troops. The men had been ordered to observe complete silence. They even struggled to control their coughs by chewing on handkerchiefs and shirt sleeves. When an armed Japanese came to a perimeter and called out, as several did: "Psst! Hey, Sarge!" he was therefore readily recognised as an imposter and shot. Although this dispose of the offender, the spurts of flames from rifles revealed targets at which other Japanese promptly fired riffles or threw grenades.

Other ruses were to call out "Medics! Medics! Send a Medic out here," while others called out "Hey, Charlie! Where is my buddy?" As daylight approached, there boldness increased. One crawled to the edge of a foxhole, as he was observed, blurted out: "Me got no gun." He was instantly shot, and fortunately so, as morning showed that he had died while taking aim.

The plan of attack for the second day provided that one company should push along the island towards the east tank barrier, while another company remained in reserve near Yellow Beach. At 0835, bombing and strafing of the area ahead of the advancing company was supplied as far as the east tank barrier. The line advanced steadily and progressively, but slowly averaging about three yards a minute. The operations of the advancing front consisted primarily of eliminating pillboxes, dugouts and log-rivetted emplacements. Between noon and 1400, the advanced passed through the area containing the structures of greatest importance to the Japanese. These were the buildings used by the Japanese aviation personnel, and stores of fuel and ammunition. Also included was a set of hospital buildings and the Japanese radio transmitting station.

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Infantry moves along the main island road.

Other installations captured or destroyed left the main area of enemy military positions entirely in American possession. Before them now was the East Tank Barrier system, designed primarily to stop an assault from the east. Once it was taken over from the rear, little would remain except the outpost defences scattered over the remaining half of the island. The buildings along the lagoon near the Government wharf were old British structures erected for civilian purposes. Tanimaiaki village also lay ahead near the eastern tip. At 0600 on the morning of the third day at Makin unloading was completed from the support ships and they return to the open sea.

At 0700 artillery on Ukiangang Point started shelling the east tank barrier and the advanced met more stubborn resistance from the Japanese. The first zone of advance contained a stone church and other buildings, most of which were constructed in the period of British occupation before the war. South of them, extending all the way to the ocean, were babai pits and marshy gardens associated with the native village of Butaritari. The tanks were obliged to proceed in single file along the highway with the infantry on either wing until the advance reached the Stone Pier road. The tanks shelled the buildings ahead of them, while the infantry grenaded surface installations and small shelters. 

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Infantry marching early on
22nd November to continue the eastward attack.

The fourth day's operations on Makin included mopping-up activities and the initial stage of arrangements for departure. The eastern end of Butaritari was combed; other islands of the atoll were reconnoitered; and Yellow Beach and Red Beach 2, the service forces laboured with extraordinary activity. The withdrawal from Makin was already underway.

The cost of capturing Makin in casualties among army personnel was not great; 58 killed in action, 8 died of wounds, 150 wounded in action, and 35 injured, but not in combat. For this expenditure at Makin, the American forces obtained strategic advantages which had been anticipated. Shorter lines to the Southwest Pacific could not be maintained and Japanese interference with them could be more readily utilised.      

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Copyright 2000 by Jane Resture ( -- Rev. 11th January 2001)