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Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign
Part of World War II, Pacific War
SBD VB-16 over USS Washington 1943.jpg

An SBD Dauntless flies patrol over the USS Washington and USS Lexington during the Gilbert and Marshall islands campaign.
DateNovember, 1943 – February, 1944
LocationGilbert and Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean
Result United States victory
 United States Japan Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
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 (USMC)
Japan Kōsō Abe
Japan Kanemitsu
Japan Keiji Shibazaki
Japan Seizo Ishikawa
Japan Monzo Akiyama
Japan Chūichi Hara
Japan Yoshimi Nishida
Casualties and losses
3,300 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 Pacific Fleet and Marine Corps in the Central Pacific. The purpose was to establish airfields that would allow land based air support for the upcoming operations across the central pacific. The campaign began with a costly three-day battle for the island of Betio at the Tarawa atoll. The campaign was preceded a year earlier by a diversionary 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.


1944 US newsreel about the invasion

The Japanese forces occupied the Gilbert Islands 3 days 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 the South Pacific.[1] Following Carlson's Raiders diversionary Makin Island raid of August 1942, the Japanese command was made aware of the vulnerability and strategic significance of the Gilbert Islands.[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 did not agree, and believed that retaking the Gilberts to provide an air base for the next step, the battle for the Marshall Islands, was essential for continued movement toward Japan across the Pacific. The code name for the capture of the Gilberts was Operation Galvanic,[3][4] which called for the seizures of Tarawa, Makin and Apamama.


  1. 1.0 1.1 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. 3.0 3.1 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. 4.0 4.1 Gen. Holland M. Smith and Perry Finch, Coral and Brass, (New York: Viking, 1974, 1976).

Further reading

Coordinates: 6°55′34″N 168°39′43″E / 6.926°N 168.662°E / 6.926; 168.662

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