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Kwajalein & Eniwetok
Written By: Scott Collins
*Click images below to view larger versions.
Kwajalein & Eniwetok
Admiral Raymond Spruance in April 1944.
Kwajalein & Eniwetok
Charles H. Corlett, Commander 7th Infantry Division, at Boynton Manor, England June 3, 1944.
Kwajalein & Eniwetok
The main island in the Kwajalein atoll, Kwajalein Island.
Kwajalein & Eniwetok
Battle of Kwajalein
Kwajalein & Eniwetok
Marines, Kwajalein 1944

    The Battle of Kwajalein began on January 31, 1944 and the Island was secured on February 3, 1944. The invasion of Eniwetok began on February 17, 1944, and the battle ended February 25, 1944. The two battles were part of the "Island Hopping" strategy that was the basis of the Allies’ plan to retake the Pacific. The idea was to take out and capture selected Japanese held islands and atolls while skipping many other enemy bases to leave them to "die on the vine" without any support or re-supply.
    This strategy allowed the Allies to subsequently reach and take the Marianas Islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. They would then be close enough to begin the campaign of strategic bombing of the Japanese Home Islands which led to the end of the war. In fact the atomic bombing missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki took off from the Island of Tinian.
    The Kwajalein Atoll is the largest coral atoll in the world measured by enclosed water. While the land area consists of 97 small islands totaling only about 1560 acres, they enclose a lagoon of 324 square miles. The Japanese forces defending this huge area were commanded by Rear Admiral Monzo Akiyama and consisted of approximately 8000 troops, over half of whom were engineer or construction troops and not considered combat effective.
    The main island in the atoll, Kwajalein Island, while two and a half miles long, was only eight hundred yards wide. Thus there could be no defense in depth. The Japanese sited their defenses facing the ocean, but the Allies’ amphibious vehicles simply drove across the coral reefs between the numerous islets which made up the atoll and landed on the undefended lagoon side.
    Prior to the landings, Admiral Monzo had 110 combat airplanes to defend the atoll, but on January 29, 1944, carrier based aircraft attacked the airfield and destroyed 92 of them. Then on January 31st, waves of B-24 bombers, artillery and battleships pounded the small islands with hundreds of tons of high explosives. In the U.S. Army’s History of the attack, one participant stated that, "the entire island looked as if it had been picked up 20,000 feet and then dropped." When the 7th Division landed on Kwajalein Island, the next day, most of the defenders were already dead.
    The casualty count reflected the success of the American strategy. Out of 8160 Japanese defenders, 7870 were killed and only 230 were captured, and more than half of those captured were Korean construction workers. The Allies lost 372 killed. The worst incident for the Allies was when a Marine threw a satchel charge of high explosives into a Japanese bunker. The bunker was in fact an ammunition magazine holding torpedo warheads. Twenty Marines were killed in the subsequent explosion.
    The next hop in the campaign was Eniwetok Atoll, a few hundred miles closer to Japan and within flying distance of the Marianas Islands where the Allies intended to build airfields to attack Japan.
    Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance preceded the invasion on Eniwetok by Operation Hailstone, a carrier strike against the Japanese base at Truk in the Caroline Islands on February 16th. Truk was considered the major Japanese logistical base in the South Pacific, some calling it the "Japanese Pearl Harbor". Truk held the only Japanese airfield within range of Eniwetok. Admiral Spruance used overwhelming force, seven battleships, and twelve aircraft carriers with 589 aircraft. This raid destroyed 15 warships and more than 250 planes, cutting off Eniwetok from air support and supply.
    On February 17, 1944, the Allies began a naval bombardment followed by landings on the north side of the atoll on Engebi Island. Resistance was so light that the naval bombardment was shortened for the landings on Eniwetok Island the following day. This proved to be a mistake, as dug in Japanese troops killed 37 Americans and held out for three days, suffering 800 killed before the island was secured. This error was not repeated, and the next day the battleships Tennessee and Pennsylvania pounded Parry Island with over 900 tons of shells. After the landing, Japanese resistance was described as "light".
    Major General Yoshimi Nishida, commanding the defense of Eniwetok, had the same problem as the Japanese commander on Kwajalein. Due to the ring of small narrow islands surrounding a huge lagoon, he could prepare no defense in depth. There were no mountains or jungles from which to fight or retreat. He had no air or naval support. He could only fight on the beaches against overwhelming odds and die for the Emperor. As was their usual mode of operation, the Japanese fought to almost the last man, suffering 2670 killed and only 16 captured. American casualties were 262 killed - a ratio of ten to one.
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