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    Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field) Tarawa Atoll Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
Click For Enlargement
USN November 1943

Click For Enlargement
USN November 22, 1943
Tarawa Airfield was a single runway orientated east to west that spanned roughly two-thirds of Tarawa Island (Betio) in the Gilbert Islands (Republic of Kiribati).

Built by the Japanese as a single runway surfaced with crushed coral for military aircraft with a turnaround on the eastern end of the runway and a taxiway with revetments between the runway and the taxiway.

Wartime History
Used by Japanese fighters and bombers, including A6M Zeros, D3A Vals, G3M2 Nells and G4M1 Bettys.

Japanese units based at Tarawa Airfield
204 Kokutai (A6M Zero) February 1943
281 Kokutai (A6M Zero)
755 Kokutai (G3M Nell)

American missions against Tarawa (Betio)
January 26, 1943–November 19, 1943

During November 20-21, 1943 Tarawa Airfield became a battlefield when U.S. Marines landed on the island and captured the airfield as the objective of the operation. At Tarawa Airfield, the Marines captured several Japanese aircraft including: A6M5 Zero 4220 Tail 81-151, G3M2 Nell Tail Y1-3?? and G3M2 Nell Tail 65.

Immediately after the battle, Tarawa Airfield was repaired and expanded for use by American forces. U.S. Naval Construction Battalion "Seebees" bulldozed all the debris off the airfield and extended the runway to the western end of the island and resurfaced it using crushed coral. The wreckage of many Japanese aircraft were bulldozed onto the coral reef flats. Using Tarawa Airfield, U.S. and-based bombers were able to reach targets in the Marshall Islands.

By late December 1943, renamed "Hawkins Field" in honor of Marine 1st Lt. William Dean Hawkins who was killed in the battle to recapture Tarawa and earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

During the U.S. occupation, Tarawa Airfield was used by fighters, light aircraft, medium bombers and for emergency landings. The runway was considered considered marginal for heavy bomber usage, so B-24 Liberators used nearby Bairiki Airfield (Mullinix) instead.

American units based at Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field)
VF-1 USS Barnes and USS Nassau November 25, 1943
41st BG HQ December 17, 1943 - April 24, 1944 Makin
41st BG, 396th BS (B-25) Hickam December 24, 1943 - April 20, 43 Makin
41st BG, 820th BS (B-25) Hickam December 24, 1943 - April 27, 43 Makin
7th AF HQ Funafuti December 30, 1943 - March 25, 1944 Kwajalein
11th BG, 431st BS (B-24) Funafuti January 16, 1944 - March 31, 1944 Kwajalein
11th BG, 26th BS (B-24) Nukufetau January 25, 1944 - April 14, 1944 Kwajalein
11th BG, 98th BS (B-24) Nukufetau January 25, 1944 - April 14, 1944 Eniwetok
11th BG HQ ? - April 5, 1944 Kwajalein
28th BG, 77th BS (B-25) from Amchitka February 11, 1944 - ?
VMF-422 (F4U) USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) January 24 - 25, 1944 Funafuti (22 lost due to bad weather)

Disused since the war, wreckage of Japanese aircraft remains on the offshore coral reef flats, where they were bulldozed during late 1943.

Marine Corps Chevron, Volume 2, Number 51, 25 December 1943 "Betio Airfield Named For Hero Of Bloody Fight"
"Second Field In Pacific Named For Marine After Being Wrested From Japs WASHINGTON — Betio Airfield on Tarawa island has been' named for Lt. William D. Hawkins, who fell taking the most hazardous strip of sand ever taken in combat. Lt. Hawkins, leading a special scout-sniper group, struck the initial blow against the Japs on Betio 10 minutes before the zero hour 20 Nov. The group was told to seen re the 600 yard pier jutting out from Betio Beach and to wipe out all the Jap machine gun nests threatening the invasion force. Continuing on his mission though wounded, Lt. Hawkins was hit by an explosive shell in the shoulder. During the night he died.
BRAVEST MAN Robert Sherrod, correspondent for Time Magazine, cabled: "The bravest man I have ever seen was Lt. William D. Hawkins, a Texas boy from El Paso who commanded a platoon. To say that his conduct was worthy of the highest traditions of the Marine Corps is like saying the Empire Stale building is moderately high," Lt. Hawkins is the second Marine whose gallantry has been recognized during this war in the naming of an airfield. Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named for Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, commanding officer of a dive bomber squadron. GALLANT CONQUEST TARAWA, Nov. 22 (Delayed)— Thirty five daring Marines and their indomitable "skipper"', 1st Lt. William I. Hawkins, wrote one of the most gallant chapters in the conquest of Tarawa. Lt. Hawkins and more than a dozen of his men arc buried beneath the sands of Bloody Betio Beach. Their job was one of the mast ticklish ever assigned any contingent. They were to wipe out all the Jap machine gun nests threatening the invasion force. They routed six nests before our first wave struck the beach. Rut when our carrier-based planes began the terrific bombardment i that rocked Tarawa without letup for two days, Lt. Hawkins and his Marines were right in the middle of it. Blasts from the bombs were bad | enough. Then the canny Japs dynamited one section of the pier, set off several mines near the scout-snipers and raked them from the beach with all types of fire. The plucky Devil Dogs refused to retreat and stormed forward with rifles blitzing. They used grenades almost every 10 yards, and finally it was the Japs who retreated —far enough to lessen the danger to the troops scrambling ashore.—Sgt. Pete Zurlinden, combat correspondent. When you argue with a fool, make sure that he isn't similarly occupied."

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Last Updated
April 7, 2020


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