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Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign
Part of World War II, Pacific War

U.S. Marines attack a Japanese stronghold during the Battle of Tarawa
Date November, 1943 – February, 1944
Location Gilbert and Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean
Result American victory
 United States Japan Empire of Japan
United States Chester W. Nimitz
United States Holland Smith
United States Richmond K. Turner
United States Ralph C. Smith
United States Marc A. Mitscher
United States Harry W. Hill
United States Thomas E. Watson
Japan Kōsō Abe
Japan Kanemitsu
Japan Keiji Shibazaki 
Japan Seizo Ishikawa
Japan Monzo Akiyama 
Japan Chūichi Hara
Japan Yoshimi Nishida 
Casualties and losses
1,800 dead or missing,
4,830 wounded
17,000 dead,
141 captured

In the Pacific Theater of World War II, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, from November 1943 through February 1944, were key strategic operations of the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Central Pacific. The campaign was preceded by a raid on Makin Island by U.S. Marines in August, 1942.

Japanese bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands were the outer perimeter of eastern defenses for the Japanese Empire. The Marianas campaign followed the next summer.


The Japanese forces occupied the Gilbert Islands 5 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As a provided token defense of Tarawa, they built a seaplane base on Makin and dispersed troops along the coastlines of the atolls to monitor the Allied forces movement in South Pacific.[1] It was only after Carlson's Raiders attacked Makin in August 1942 that the Japanese began to fortify and reinforce the Gilberts.[2] The largest and most strategically important islands of the Gilberts was Tarawa. Fortifications were quickly built up by the Japanese starting in March 1943 with nearly 5,000 troops stationed abroad. An additional 3,000 Special Naval Landing Force and base force troops and 940 naval construction units were supplemented by 1,247 laborers.

By comparison, the Makin islands were held by only a total of 798 combat troops, including some 100 isolated Japanese aviation personnel.[3] General Holland M. Smith, Commanding General of V Amphibious Corps blamed the Carlson raid for the rapid build-up of Japanese forces and staunchly felt, even long after his retirement, that Tarawa should have been bypassed, instead of incurring heavy Marine casualties during the seizure.[1][4] Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest King and Raymond A. Spruance believed that retaking the Gilberts was essential and strategically important for continued movement toward the Marshall Islands. The code name for the capture of the Gilberts was Galvanic,[3][4] which called for the seizures of Tarawa, Makin and Apamama.


  1. ^ a b Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. 7; Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls: June 1942-April 1944, (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2001).
  2. ^ Bruce F. Meyers, Swift, Silent, and Deadly: Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942-1945, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004).
  3. ^ a b Benis M. Frank and Henry I. Shaw, Jr., History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, Vol. 5; Victory and Occupation, (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1990).
  4. ^ a b Gen. Holland M. Smith and Perry Finch, Coral and Brass, (New York: Viking, 1974, 1976).

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