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Gilbert Islands

Relief map of the Gilbert Islands

The Gilbert Islands are a chain of atolls some 2500 miles (4000 km) southwest of Hawaii and just north of the equator.  There are hundreds of islands in the chain, all small, with a total land area of just 166 square miles (430 km2). The chain is about 500 miles (800 km) long and is located about 300 miles southeast of the Marshalls and just northeast of the Ellice Islands.  They were discovered by Europeans between 1764 and 1824 and named after a Royal Navy officer who visited in 1788. Their population was quite small at about 28,000 persons, primarily Micronesian with less than 100 Europeans. However, the tiny land area meant the islands had the highest population density of any in the Pacific.

The islands were under British control in 1941, the islands having been proclaimed British protectorates in 1892 ostensibly to protect the natives from exploitation by traders. The natives had a high degree of self-rule and British law prohibited land purchases by non-native persons. British oversight was exercised through a resident commissioner at Ocean Island who also oversaw the Ellice, Phoenix, Fanning, and other small island groups in the area. Most of the natives had adopted Christianity by 1941.

There are 16 main atolls in the chain, none of which have elevations much greater than 12' (4 meters) and consist of coral bedrock overlaid by sand and some poor soil. These support some scrub and coconut palms. The island were relatively healthy for Westerners, with little incidence of malaria or other tropical diseases. The climate is uniformly warm and wet, with temperatures of 72 to 95F (22 to 35 C) and annual rainfall averaging 150" to 180" (380 to 460 cm), but there are drought conditions every five to seven years, and the islands were in drought at the time of the Allied invasion in November 1943.

Infrastructure was limited to a lagoon-side road on each atoll and a few piers for oceangoing vessels. There were no airfields in the group prior to the arrival of the Japanese.

Elements of 51 Guard Force occupied Makin on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and began developing a seaplane base and radio station.  The nearby atolls were visited sporadically by Japanese detachments that rounded up Allied coast watchers and European civilians; the civilians were interned while the coast watchers were eventually murdered. Following the Makin raid, the Japanese reinforced their garrisons and began fortifying Tarawa, where they also built an airfield.

Operation GALVANIC. In November of 1943 the Allies recaptured Makin and Tarawa. In proportion to the size of the force involved, the recapture of Tarawa was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the United States, costing the lives of 1100 Marines. The Makin invasion was much less costly on land, but at sea the escort carrier Liscombe Bay was sunk with great loss of life, including that of Admiral Mullinnix.

The Japanese chose not to commit their fleet to the defense of the Gilberts, and, as a result, no fleet action resulted from the invasion. The land campaigns are described in detail in the articles on Makin and Tarawa.

Allied order of battle, Operation GALVANIC

Pacific Fleet (Nimitz)

 
5 Fleet (Spruance)


 
Assault Force (Turner)



 
TF 52 Northern Attack Force (Turner)     




 
TG 52.1 Transport Group
Carrying 165 Regimental Combat Team and 105 Battalion  Landing Teams, 27 Division (Smith)




 
APA Leonard Wood
APA Neville
APA Pierce
APA Calvert
AKA Alcyone






LSD Belle Grove Carrying LVTs and 193 Tank Battalion





Destroyer Screen






 
DD Mustin
DD Kimberly
DD Burns
DD Dale





TG 52.2 Fire Support Group (Griffin)     






Unit 1







BB New Mexico
BB Pennsylvania







Cruiser Division 6 (Griffin







 
CA Minneapolis
CA San Francisco







DD Dewey
DD Hull






Unit 2







BB Idaho
BB Mississippi
CA New Orleans
CA Baltimore
DD Maury
DD Gridley






Unit 3







DD Phelps
DD Macdonough





TG 52.3 Air Support Group (Mullinnix)






CVE Liscombe Bay
Sunk






16 FM-1 Wildcat
12 TBM-1 Avenger






CVE Coral Sea







16 FM-1 Wildcat
12 TBM-1 Avenger






CVE Corregidor







16 FM-1 Wildcat
12 TBM-1 Avenger






Destroyer Screen







DD Morris
DD Hoel
DD Franks
DD Hughes
AM Revenge





TG 54.4  Makin LST Group 1






DD Dale
3 LSTs, each carrying an LCT.




TF 53 Southern Attack Force (Hill)





TG 53.1 Transport Group
Carrying reinforced 2 Marine Division (Smith)





Transport Division 4







APA Zeilin
APA Harry Lee
APA William P. Biddle
APA Arthur Middleton
APA Heywood






Transport Division 6







APA Harris
APA J. Franklin Bell
APA Ormsby
APA Feland






Transport Division 18







APA Monrovia
APA Doyen
APA Sheridan
AKA Thuban
AKA Bellatrix
AKA Virgo
LSD Ashland
AP La Salle







Destroyer Screen








DD John Rodgers
DD Sigsbee
DD Heermann
DD Hazelwood
DD Harrison
DD McKee
DD Murray





TG 53.2 Minesweeper Group






AM Requisite
AM Pursuit





TG 53.4 Fire Support Group  (Kingman)





Section 1







BB Tennessee
CL Mobile







Destroyer Division 27








DD Bailey
DD Frazier






Section 2 (DuBose)







BB Maryland
CL Santa Fe
DD Gansevoort
DD Meade






Section 3







BB Colorado
CA Portland
DD Anderson
DD Russell






Section 4







DD Ringgold
DD Dashiell






Section 5







CA Indianapolis
DD Schroeder





TG 53.6 Air Support Group (Ragsdale)






CVE Sangamon







9 TBF-1 Avenger
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
12 F6F-3 Hellcat






CVE Suwannee







9 TBF-1 Avenger
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
12 F6F-3 Hellcat






CVE Chenango






9 TBF-1 Avenger
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
12 F6F-3 Hellcat






CVE Barnes







22 F6F-3 Hellcat





CVE Nassau






22 F6F-3 Hellcat





Destroyer Screen







DD Aylwin
DD Monaghan
DD Cotten
DD Cowell





TG 54.5 Tarawa LST Group 1






DD Bancroft
3 LSTs, each carrying an LCT.




TF 50  Carrier Force (Pownall)





TG 50.1 Carrier Interceptor Group (Pownall)





CV Yorktown







VF-5: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-5: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-5: 18 TBF-1 Avenger






CV Lexington






VF-16: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-16: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-16: 18 TBF-1 Avenger






CVL Cowpens







VF-25: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VF-6: 12 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-25: 10 TBF-1 Avenger






Battleship Division 6 (Hanson)







BB South Dakota
BB Washington
BB Alabama






Destroyer Screen







DD Nicholas
DD Taylor
DD La Vallette
DD Izard
DD Charrette
DD Conner





TG 50.2 Northern Carrier Group (Radford)






CV Enterprise







VF-2: 36 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-6: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-6: 19 TBF-1 Avenger






CVL Belleau Wood







VF-24: 26 F6F-3 Hellcat
VF-6: 12 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-22B: 9 TBF-1 Avenger






CVL Monterey







VF-30: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-30: 9 TBF-1 Avenger






Battleship Division 6 (Davis)







BB Massachusetts
BB North Carolina
BB Indiana






Destroyer Screen







DD Boyd
DD Bradford
DD Brown
DD Fletcher
DD Radford
DD Jenkins





TG 50.3 Southern Carrier Group (Montgomery)






CV Essex






VF-9: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-9: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-9: 18 TBF-1 Avenger






CV Bunker Hill







VF-18: 36 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-17: 32 SB2C-1 Helldiver






CVL Independence







VF-22: 16 F6F-3 Hellcat
VF-6: 12 F6F-3 Hellcat
VC-22: 9 TBF-1 Avenger






Cruiser Division 5 (Small)







CA Chester
CA Pensacola
CA Salt Lake City
CL Oakland






Destroyer Screen







DD Erben
DD Hale







Destroyer Division 96








DD Bullard
DD Kidd
DD Chauncey





TG 50.4 Relief Carrier Group (Sherman)






CV Saratoga







VF-12: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-12: 24 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-12: 19 TBF-1 Avenger






CVL Princeton






VF-23: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-23: 9 TBF-1 Avenger






Cruiser Division 2 (Wiltse)







CL San Diego
CL San Juan






Destroyer Screen







DD Stack
DD Sterett
DD Wilson
DD Edwards




TF 57 Defense Forces and Land-Based Air (Hoover)     





AV Curtiss
AVP Mackinac
AVP Swan





TG 57.2 Striking Group (Hale)






90 B-24 Liberator





TG 57.3 Search and Reconnaissance Group






VP-53: 12 PBY-5A Catalina
VP-72: 12 PBY-5 Catalina
VB-108: 12 PB4Y Liberator
VB-137: 12 PV-1 Ventura
VB-142: 12 PV-1 Ventura
VP-3: 6 F-7 Liberator





TG 57.4 Ellice Islands Defense and Utility Group (Merritt)     






4 Marine Base Air Defense Wing







90 fighters
72 scout bombers






Inshore Patrol Squadrons 51, 65, 66







24 observation aircraft






Air Transport Squadron 353







12 transport aircraft


Service Groups (Calhoun)



Service Squadron 8




AO Schuylkill
AO Suamico
AO Neches
AO Neshanic
AO Platte
AO Tallulah
AO Neosho
AO Cimarron
AO Tappahannock
AO Pecos
AO Sabine
AO Guadalupe
AO Lackawanna




Escort Division 26





DE Wintle
DE Cabana
DE Dempsey
DE Duffy




Escort Division 28





DE Greiner
DE Stadtfeld
DE Dionne




AH Relief
AH Solace



Mobile Service Squadron 4




AD Cascade
AO Sepulga
AR Vestal
ARB Phaon
AGS Sumner
ARS Clamp
ATF Ontario
ATO Kingfisher
ATF Arapaho
ATF Tawasa
AN Elder
2 yard tugs
2 yard minesweepers
5 subchasers
2 coastal transports


Patrol Submarines (Lockwood)



Truk Patrol




SS Thresher




SS Corvina
Sunk



SS Apogon



Oroluk Patrol




SS Sculpin
SS Searaven
Sunk


Kwajalein Patrol




SS Seal



Jaluit Patrol




SS Spearfish


Wotje-Mili Patrol
Lifeguarding



SS Plunger



Nauru Patrol
Weather station



SS Paddle


Tarawa Patrol
Abemama occupation force embarked



SS Nautilus


Garrison Groups



TG 54.6 Makin LST Group 3




DD Caldwell
5 LSTs carrying 2 LCTs.



TG 54.8 Makin Garrison Group
Carrying 7 Garrison Force



DE Whitman
DE Wileman
4 merchant transports



TG 54.7 Tarawa LST Group




DD Coghlan
9 LSTs carrying 2 LCTs.



TG 54.9 Tarawa Garrison Group




DE Lehardy
DE William C. Miller
AP President Polk
AK Jupiter
2 merchant transports



TG 54.10 Abemama Garrison Group 1




DE Charles R. Greer
DE Harold C. Thomas
AP President Monroe
3 merchant transports



TG 54.11 Abemama Garrison Group 2




DE Burden R. Hastings
4 LSTs carrying 3 LCTs.
1 merchant transport


References
Morison (1951)

Rottman (2002)



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