Today in 1943 the Allies have begun pecking away at targets throughout the Gilberts, including Tarawa, in advance of a full-scale operation in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, almost two years after Japan swept in to occupy the islands following the Pearl Harbour attacks.
The forthcoming full battle of Tarawa will prove costly, especially to the Marines, but from November 1943 through February 1944, the Gilbert/Marshall campaign will pry the islands loose from the Japanese enable the Allies to set up critical air bases for the forthcoming central and western Pacific operations. It doesn’t turn out to be quite as grand as Midway, the Coral Sea, and the Solomons, but it does turn out to be critical enough in its own right.
The backstory traces to Japan occupying the Gilberts three days after attacking Pearl Harbour and building a seaplane base on Makin, while sending troops along assorted atoll coastlines to monitor Allied Pacific movements, according to historian Samuel Eliot Morrison. But the Japanese may not have been aware of the region’s strategic significance until the Carlson’s Raiders raid of Makin in August 1942.
Carlson’s Raiders, of course, was the creation of Evans Carlson, the foresighted Marine commander whose observations of Communist Chinese forces led him to develop a system in his Second Marine Raider Battalion in which experienced non-commissioned officers would mentor newly-commissioned lieutenants in field leadership. Ironically, his diversionary Makin raid tipped Japan off to just how important and vulnerable the Gilberts were.
A rapid Japanese buildup followed. The commander of the V Amphibious Corps, Gen. Holland Smith, felt the Carlson raid provoked the Japanese buildup and believed the coming operations should have been set aside, sparing what proved heavy Marine casualties during the operations. Holland’s view isn’t shared by three key Navy admirals—Chester Nimitz, Ernest King, and Raymond Spruance—who believe taking the Gilberts is critical for providing an air base to make the crucial forthcoming Marshall Islands campaign possible.
The Gilbert/Marshall campaign and other critical Pacific naval battles will be recalled two decades later by Richard Newhafer in The Last Tallyho, a novel centered around the coming of age of five young Navy pilots whose first taste of combat together will be Tarawa.
In one of the novel’s more telling scenes, their squadron commander—after dressing down an intelligence officer whom he considered only too well unaware of the advantages of a pre-dawn launch, in hand with the obvious risks a fighter pilot undertakes—is asked by the commanding admiral how valuable he considers the lives of his men. He answers squarely, after pre-punctuating with a long draw on a cigarette.
Sir, men are going to die on this mission and they’re not going to die in a great battle. This won’t be Midway or the Coral Sea or the Solomons. But they’ll die just the same. Now, I don’t expect my men to become admirals, but I expect them to die, if they have to die, as the best damn fighter pilots in the United States Navy.
The U.S. Fifth Army continues its successful push against the Third Reich’s presence around Italy, in the wake of Mussolini’s fall, with the Nazis evacuating Sardinia, while the Allies hit heavily upon Japanese targets in the Gilberts.
The Fifth Army weakens Nazi resistance, especially as they meet the Eighth Army off the Salerno beachheads and await reinforcements, and especially as the Luftwaffe seems to have withdrawn any substantial presence. Concurrently, British Prime Minister Churchill returns to London, opening Parliament after a visit to Italy . . . but facing a potential home front problem involving British industrial strikes.
Meanwhile, details on the Pacific Fleet’s operations against the Gilberts include heavy Navy air raids over and against Tarawa, plus more new medical facilities to handle treatment of wounded sailors and aviators, while troop landings continue against Japanese strongholds on Nassau Beach in the Cook Islands.
Other news: Fighter and bomber clustering over the Mediterranean wreak serious Luftwaffe losses; the entire German front near Russia weakens while there comes a new Russian pushback drive in Smolensk; and, an American ambassador leaves Moscow for Washington, possibly for personal reasons, while laying groundwork for a major Allied summit, even as speculation falls on Gen. George C. Marshall appointed to a key European-based command.
Correspondents: Winston Burdett (Algiers); Charles Collingwood (London); James Fleming (Cairo); Maj. George Fielding Eliot (Washington); Webley Edwards (Honolulu); Larry Meyer (New York); Robert Lewis (Washington). Anchor: Douglas Edwards. Announcer: Warren Sweeney.
WORLD WAR II: OTHER
CBS European News: Government Has Mailed Registration Forms (CBS, 1940)
The forms are those by which young men will register for military service, technically still peacetime conscription but the beginning of the Selective Service System as America would come to know it for three decades plus.
Also: A short alarm in the London morning following yet another night’s “plastering” bombing, with at least ninety confirmed dead in the raid; no news of new military operations by the Third Reich thus far, though British aircraft were forced to divert following anti-aircraft fire; Italy’s advance into Egypt stalls; and, British naval units in the Mediterranean shell Italian coastal guard troops before being forced into retreat, while Nazi foreign minister von Ribbentrop arrives in Rome.
Correspondents: Eric Sevareid (London), Edwin Hartridge (Berlin), Cecil Brown (Rome). Anchor: George Bryan.
Further Channel Surfing . . .
Columbia Workshop: Hamlet (Part One; dramatic anthology; CBS,1936)
The Great Gildersleeve: Preparing for Leila’s Return (Comedy; NBC, 1943)
Our Miss Brooks: Weekend at Crystal Lake (Comedy; CBS; AFRS Rebroadcast, 1948)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Chicken Barbeque (Comedy; season premiere; NBC, 1950)