Stan Gajda

Tarawa Lagoon

Click For EnlargementIn the book "76 Hours" about the battle of Tarawa, there is a bit about one of the landing craft stopping short of the reef edge because of heavy incoming fire. The ramp was lowered and the men surged off. Too late when it was realized that the water was still out 12ft deep. A number of men went out fully loaded and disappeared. I believe I found this spot where these men sank. There was also a spare mg barrel wrapped in canvas and done up with brass buckles.

Lagoon Diving
Diving around Betio can be a lot of fun for the WWII enthusiast. Lagoon diving is filthy though. Because I used to live there and have a boat and hookah gear I could go out when conditions were perfect and spend hours on the bottom exploring. When I first had a look at the lagoon floor near the jetty opposite red beach 3 the place was just littered with junk. It was like an untouched battlefield. I already told you about the stuff I found before.

30 06 Ammunition Box
Once I found three boxes of 30 06 ammo all encrusted outside. Inside the ammo was like new. I even took some apart here and used the powder to load up some 7.7 rounds which we then fired. It burnt just fine! I have even found land mines in the lagoon which were not fused.

Dumped Ammunition
On the ocean side of Betio when the US cleaned up the island after the battle, they [US forces] dumped vast quantities of ammunition just over the reef. From the reef itself and out to the drop off can be found hundreds of complete rounds of 75mm and 127mm ammo. There is a lot of the 8" stuff for the coastal guns and miles of 25mm ammo and fuzes etc. Even aircraft bombs and a friend has found complete torpedoes (I have seen engines)

Click For EnlargementJapanese Type 95 Light Tank
Knocked out during the Battle of Tarawa. On the beach at Betio in Feb 1983 with the hull. I had just removed complete Type 97 machine gun with telescope. This is the gun now fitted to the Type 97 tankette here in Pohnpei. Gun was big restoration job but I had new springs made in Adelaide and when completed I fired one test round out of it. It is still in working order. Inside of above tank was full of exploded 37mm and 7.7mm ammo.

Coastal 8" Gun
Click For EnlargementOne of four of the 8" coastal guns on Betio, Tarawa. These guns are not from Singapore but are ex-IJN battleship guns from the Japan-Russian war of 1905. I did a Public Works Division preservation job on one of these guns in 1989 and we found that the entire rotating part of the turret below decks is installed in these mountings. We could see cutting and welding modifications made in there by the Japs probably pre-WWII massive guns with 20 ton barrels.

Click For EnlargementQuincy is standing on the gun base which was original at ground level. This part of the island has eroded away badly since the war. For three years I used to live almost right next to this gun, I mean my rented house where I stayed when I was off the outer islands where my main work was. After a big storm I used to pick up lots of human bones on the beach around this gun. There were a lot of bones buried in the yard of my place before I left Tarawa and went to Nauru. This photo shows the Japanese Command Bunker on Betio in 1986

Tarawa Mass Grave
A mass war grave containing a large number of Japanese human remains was discovered in May 1991. The location of this site is at North Tarawa about 1.5 km east of the village of Buariki and near the northern ocean shore of the atoll. From contemporary accounts it appears that a group of Japanese soldiers managed to escape from Betio during the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943 but were pursued by the American marines throughout the length of Tarawa until they were trapped at this location near Buariki.

I was up at North Tarawa on the 5th and 6th of May to make a survey of the old battleground and to see if I could find some relics for eventual display. This search was made with a metal detector with which the location of fired cartridge cases and fired bullets (projectiles) both American and Japanese can determine the position of the opposing forces and the path of the battle.

The search led me to a location beside a substantial babai pit where numerous items were located. On the surface small fragments of bone were noted and an exploratory dig at this site began to reveal a number of Japanese uniform buttons and human bones. At this stage a helmet was recovered and it proved to be the standard WWII Japanese Army/Navy issue helmet. Further digging exposed the remains of at least four individuals. This was in an excavation one metre square and not more than one metre deep.

It could be seen by the appearance of bones in the bottom of the pit and in the sides of the hole that a large number of human remains are present at this location. I believe that all of the remains are of Japanese soldiers who perished at North Tarawa at the end of the Battle of Tarawa. This is because all metallic relics recovered from the excavation include: Japanese Navy brass buttons, Japanese helmets (three of) and Japanese 7.7mm rifle ammunition found on one of the remains.

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