Lat 1° 21' 0N Long 172° 55' 60E Tarawa Island (Betio Island) is located at the western edge of Tarawa Atoll in the Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands). During World War II, known as Tarawa Island. The local name is Betio (also spelled Bititu) and pronounced "Bes-she-o". Borders Tarawa Lagoon to the north and Bairiki Island two miles to the east.
On December 9, 1941 Japanese forces occupied the island and gathered all government employees, missionaries and Gilbertese people on the wharf as they looted the Burns Philp & Company store and killed a mental patient.
Japanese missions against Tarawa (Betio)
January 26, 1943–November 19, 1943
In late January 1943, American B-24 Liberators from Funafuti began flying long range bombing missions against Tarawa.
American missions against Tarawa (Betio)
January 26, 1943–November 19, 1943
Battle of Tarawa
November 20, 1943 a heavy naval bombardment
and aerial bombing of Betio Island preceded the amphibious landing of 5,000 U. S. Marines from the 2nd Marine Division (2nd MAR DIV). Due to the coral reef fringing the island, most landing craft could not reach the shore. During the battle, roughly 1,000 Americans
were killed and over 2,000 wounded. The war relics
on Betio are a reminder of the thousands of American and Japanese soldiers
that died on this small island.
Island is the most populous island in Kiribati with the port, shipyard
and main power station and is one of the most densely populated areas in the Pacific. Locals have made a mess of their island, particularly
in the invasion beach areas. If you go there you will be shocked to
see the vast rubbish dump they have made out of red beach two to the
west side of the original jetty of which only the outline can
be seen at low tide.
The Americans designated Red Beach as the landing beaches for the November 20, 1943 amphibious landing. Divided into Red Beach 1, a curved inlet ending at the stone breakwater and Red Beach 2 on the lagoon side of the island. Today, bits of wreckage remain on the coral reef at low tide.
Stan Gajda reports:
"When I first had a look at the lagoon floor near the jetty
opposite Red Beach 3, the place was just littered with junk. It
was like an untouched battlefield. Once I found three boxes of
30 06 ammo all encrusted outside. Inside the ammo was like new.
I even took some apart here and used the powder to load up some
7.7 rounds for the Carlson gun which we then fired. It burnt just
fine! I have even found land mines in the lagoon which were not
Marines died by the hundreds when their landing
craft got hung up on the shallow reefs and they were forced to
wade 500 yards in open water under withering crossfire to reach
these beaches. Landing craft can
still be found although the highly corrosive atmosphere has reduced
them to rusting shells.
200mm Naval Gun Type 41 (1908) No. 1 (Horizontal Barrel)
One of two guns emplaced on Betio and disabled on November 20, 1943
200mm Naval Gun Type 41 (1908) No. 2 (Broken Barrel)
One of two guns emplaced on Betio and disabled on November 20, 1943 the barrel sheered off by a shell
Japanese command bunker is now protected by a
chain link fence. The walls are still marked from bullets and
searchlight, now a pig pen. The same searchlight is visible in a
November 20, 1943 photograph.
Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field)
Japanese built airfield, battlefield used by Americans
U. S. Marine War
Located at the Prince Philip Park, to honor the USMC
veterans of the Battle of Tarawa. Also known as the "USMC War Memorial".
Kiribati: Aspects of History page 90
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December 24, 2018