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Twentieth Anniversary of Battle of Tarawa Observed

Nov. 20, 1963 - At dawn, 20 years ago today, the costliest brief engagement in Marine Corps history began. Four days later, 1,115 marines were dead, and 2,224 were wounded. Of the Japanese defenders, 97 of every 100 died. This was Tarawa. Was the bloodbath necessary? In an interview, the Marine Corps commandant, General David M. Shoup, said the landing was not only necessary but well planned and executed. As a colonel in command of the 11,000-man Tarawa invasion force, General Shoup won the Medal of Honor. His citation says his leadership was “largely responsible for the final victory.” Analyzing the battle today, General Shoup said he knew a Japanese fleet had gathered off Truk Island. He said his men had 72 hours to take Tarawa or face the threat of an attack from the sea while the invasion was under way. General Shoup said his marines broke the Japanese resistance in 76 hours. He said 3,000 tons of explosives were hurled by Naval guns on the tiny island of Betio, the key to control of Tarawa and the focal point of the Japanese resistance. The bombardment partly buried many Japanese bunkers and gun emplacements and destroyed communications. “That was their big disadvantage, lack of communication,” General Shoup remarked. “We landed at the right place — the only spot that wasn’t defended by live mines and barbed wire. The enemy commander had no way of directing the fight or of bringing up reinforcements.” Only 146 Japanese escaped death. Many were suicides. The others were victims of flame throwers, grenades, and rifle fire.


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