Gilbert Islands

Gilbert Islands

The Gilberts are a group of islands south-east of the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific. The Gilberts were occupied by the Japanese Army in 1941.

It was not until 1943 that Admiral Chester Nimitz began to plan the removal of the Japanese from these islands. The attack force was headed by Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance and his fleet included six aircraft carriers, five light carriers, six new battleships and several smaller warships.

The two most westerly of the Gilbert Islands, Makin and Tarawa, were invaded by the 5th Amphibious Corps under Major General Holland Smith on 20th November 1943. Makin, defended by only 800 Japanese soldiers, was taken without too much difficulty.

Tarawa was much more heavily fortified and the 5,000 US Marines that were landed on the first day had to wade ashore under considerable Japanese artillery fire. Further landings took place on the 21st and the island was not made secure until the 23rd November. The capture of these two islands cost nearly 1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded.

The experience convinced the Joint Chief of Staffs that Admiral Chester Nimitz was right to be selective about the islands that should be invaded that were under that control of the Japanese Army.