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    Tarawa Lagoon (Betio Lagoon) Tarawa Atoll Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
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Stan Gajda 2001
Tarawa Lagoon (Betio Lagoon) borders the northern edge of Tarawa Island (Betio) at the western edge of Tarawa Atoll in the Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands). Prewar and during the Pacific War part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (GEIC). Today part of the Republic of Kiribati.

Ocean Side
On the ocean side of Tarawa (Betio) when the US cleaned up the island after the battle, they dumped vast quantities of ammunition just over the reef. From the reef itself and out to the drop off can be found hundreds of complete rounds of 75mm and 127mm ammo. Stan Gaja Reports: "There is a lot of the 8" from the coastal guns and 25mm ammo and fuses etc. Even aircraft bombs and a friend has found complete torpedoes (I have seen engines) Diving around Betio can be a lot of fun for the WWII enthusiast. Lagoon diving is filthy though. Because I used to live there and have a boat and hookah gear I could go out when conditions were perfect and spend hours on the bottom exploring."

Main Jetty (Communications Jetty)
Stan Gajda reports:
"The communications jetty they talk about was the main jetty that existed in Tarawa in World War II and further to the east but before the site of the giant command bunker was the smaller Burns Philp wharf. There was no boat harbour then. The main jetty was maybe about 500-600 yards long and was a rock walled filled with reef and coral material. At the end it had a fork like a 'Y' but the left arm was straight on from the main jetty line and the right arm was the one that forked (to the east) These arms were each about 30 yards long. and I think they were wooden piles and the forked part of this jetty was wood decked.

The jetty was a useful place to take cover when the marines had to wade in to the beach but many were hit in this area and a lot of material was lost all around the 'Y' area. Also the boats were coming in to the same place and unloading everything and anything during the battle. In the end the jetty forks were piled high with crates etc. Even conveyor rollers were used to unload quickly but a lot of stuff was dropped or fell over the side into the water and left there.

In about 1988, it looked just like an abandoned battlefield with every kind of war object lying on the bottom. There were many helmets, many gas masks with eye pieces and canisters, M1 carbines, M1 Garands, even a 03 Springfield once and another time an Arisaka. Ammo by the cases, there were thousands of rounds of 30-06 loose, in charger clips and in Garand clips. There were boxes of 30-06 belted and un-belted. There were many thousands of .50 cal ammo, much of it belted, hundreds of 60mm mortars, still in cardboard cylinders all fused and ready, hundreds of 81mm mortars and occasionally the long 81mm Brandt rounds. I found three wooden cases of US pine-apple grenades, each grenade in its own tin can with the peel-off strip at the top of each, inside the grenades looked just great. I found a case of 37mm rounds once and another time a triangular wooden box containing three complete 75mm howitzer rounds, I have the cases right here still. I picked up a complete 60mm mortar another time and I have seen unfused land mines in the same area. Of course there are also hundreds of various Jap beer bottles off the end of the jetty. Also water bottles, the 1918 models and the stainless two-piece models. Once I even found a GI boot which was dark red leather and was dated inside 1943. I have a compass here from that place and I once picked up a set of headphones from a radio set which I gave to John Brown in Betio. In fact I gave John a whole pile of stuff when I was in Tarawa last to clean out my container a bit. Also in amongst that stuff was a set of unloading rollers, just as described in '72 Hours'. Another time just a little bit further out from the forks I found three model 1919 Browning 30-06 machine guns with a spare barrel wrapped in canvas all held together with straps and brass buckles. Also there was a Garand and a BAR with a wooden stock.
I used to recover some of my finds but once they dried out these things would tend to fall apart, no treatment seemed to work. Electrolysis treatment is required to preserve these items and in the absence of this knowledge in the early days I lost a few pretty good items. It was expensive for various chemicals and the equipment to do this work properly and it was time consuming. There is a lot of other stuff in the lagoon of course and on the ocean side of Betio on the reef drop-off, aircraft bombs, torpedoes and full 127mm and 210mm rounds etc."

Reef Edge
Stan Gajda adds: "In the book '76 Hours' about the battle of Tarawa, there is a bit about one of the landing craft stopping short of the reef edge because of heavy incoming fire. The ramp was lowered and the men surged off. Too late when it was realized that the water outside it was 12' deep. A number of men went out fully loaded and disappeared. I believe I found this spot where these men sank. There was also a spare mg barrel wrapped in canvas and done up with brass buckles. Here, three .30 caliber Browning machine guns model 1919, 1 BAR rifle and two M-1 Garand rifles have been found."

RCS Nimanoa
Scuttled December 9, 1941 prior to the Japanese landing and destroyed by a Japanese aircraft

Saidu Maru
Used as an firing position during the November 20, 1943 Battle of Tarawa

M4 Sherman Tank
Sunk November 20, 1943

Type 95 Ha Go
Abandoned after the battle

B-24J "Miss Bee Haven" 42-72982
Pilot Skaalen crashed January 21, 1944

B-24J Liberator 42-72999
Pilot Lurcott crashed January 21, 1944

A sunken Amtrak is located about 50 yards to the east of the main jetty once full of aluminum case of .50 caliber belted ammunition. After discovery, all the ammunition was removed. A live bomb was between the Amtrak and the shipwreck.

Further east again is a sunken Japanese work barge that got hit and blown in half, the ramp and the deck separate from the rear which is upright complete with engine, propeller and even batteries. Stan Gajda salvaged one of those batteries for the Nauru Museum.

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Last Updated
November 20, 2022


Nov 21, 1943

Jan 21, 1944
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