The battle for Tarawa was a pivotal event in the Pacific Theater at the end of 1943. The Gilbert Islands were the south easternmost outposts of the Japanese Empire, and Betio Island of Tarawa Atoll had been transformed into the most heavily fortified base, yard-for-yard, of any in the Pacific. When the 2nd Marine Division headed for the invasion beaches on Nov. 20, 1943, prognostication ran from cakewalk to death trap. The fighting was fierce, “utmost savagery,” and the Marines suffered heavy casualties, with over 1,000 dead. The 4,800 Japanese defenders, however, were virtually wiped out. Only 17 Japanese remained alive on Nov. 23 when the battle ended.
There are many accounts of the battle. This is the story of Tarawa and Betio before and after the assault, including life there through the rest of the war years. Tarawa served as a staging base for the next attack of the Central Pacific Drive toward Japan, the assault on the Marshall Islands. Much was learned from Tarawa, and the lessons were implemented during subsequent campaigns. Life on Tarawa was forever changed.
Tarawa - the Aftermath contains many personal accounts of life on the atoll, from Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, who swept the remainder of Tarawa, to Seabees who turned Betio into a U.S. base. Each man had a different viewpoint, and no two stories are exactly alike. We hope that many more Tarawa veterans will add their memories to this website.
There is an extensive bibliography in Tarawa - the Aftermath with practically everything published about the battle listed. To learn more about the three-day assault itself we highly recommend two books, in this order. The first was written by Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent who went ashore with the assault forces, entitled Tarawa: The Story of a Battle. His first-hand story is riveting coverage that puts the reader down on the blood-stained coral sand of Red Beach 2. Fifty years later, Col. Joseph H. Alexander completed the most thoroughly researched and documented account of the assault, Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Colonel Alexander reveals many significant details of the assault, including the likelihood that the Japanese commander and much of his staff were killed the first afternoon by a shell from one of the supporting destroyers.