Marine Corps

Marine's First-Hand Account of WWII Battle

What was supposed to be a tough but short battle where the Marines would quickly win became some of the bloodiest 76 hours in American history as obstacles on the approach and determined Japanese defenders made the Marines bleed for every bit of sand.

Louis Mamula was one of the Marines assigned to take Betio Island of the Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific.

What was supposed to be a tough but short battle where the Marines would quickly win became some of the bloodiest 76 hours in American history as obstacles on the approach and determined Japanese defenders made the Marines bleed for every bit of sand.

The idea behind capturing Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll was that it would serve as the opening blow in a new front across the Japanese and give the Navy and Marine Corps a corridor through the Central Pacific to Japan.

Casualties and destruction after the battle for the Tarawa Atoll. (U.S. Navy)

But the landings ran into trouble as coral reefs and man-made obstacles in the water proved more troublesome than originally expected. Troops headed to the beaches sometimes had to get out of their amphibious vehicles and wade through chest-deep water to the beaches under fire.

On land, the situation wasn’t much better. The relatively flat island gave defensive machine gun positions wide fields of fire and favored the defender.

Mamula landed in this chaos and pushed forward with the other Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. In the video below, he discusses what it took to capture the island so well defended that the Japanese boasted, “a million Americans could not take Tarawa in 100 years!”


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