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    Tarawa Island (Betio) Tarawa Atoll Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
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USN November 1943

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Dennis Letourneau 1999

Tarawa Island (Betio Island) is located in Tarawa Atoll inside Tarawa Lagoon. Known locally as Betio, pronounced "Bes-she-o". Two miles to the east is Bairiki Island. Also spelled "Bititu".

Wartime History
On December 9, 1941 Japanese forces occupied the island and gathered all government employees, missionaries and Gilbertese people on the wharf while they looted the Burns Philp & Company store and killed a mental patient. Just before they arrived, RCS Nimanoa had the engine disabled and was released and drifted onto the reef and destroyed by a Japanese aircraft.

American missions against Tarawa (Betio)
January 26, 1943 - November 19, 1943

On November 20, 1943, a heavy naval and aerial bombardment of Betio preceded the landing of 5,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. Due to the Coral Reefs around the islands, American landing craft could not reach the shore. Close to 1,000 Americans were killed, and over 2,000 wounded during the operation. The war relics on Betio are a reminder of the thousands of American and Japanese soldiers that died on this small island.

Betio Island, probably the most populous place in Kiribati, has the port, shipyard and main power station and s one of the most densely populated areas in the Pacific. Locals have made a mess of their island, particularly in the invasion beach areas. If you go there you will be shocked to see the vast rubbish dump they have made out of red beach two to the west side of the original jetty of which only the outline can be seen at low tide.

Red Beach
The end of the stone breakwater marks the end of Red Beach 1 and the beginning of Red Beach 2 on the lagoon side of Betio Island.   The curved inlet of Red Beach 1 is visible in the distance. Today, bits of rusted wreckage still litter the reef at low tide.

Stan Gajda reports:
"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. 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 for the Carlson gun which we then fired. It burnt just fine! I have even found land mines in the lagoon which were not fused."

Landing Craft
Marines died by the hundreds when their landing craft got hung up on the shallow reefs and they were forced to wade 500 yards in open water under withering crossfire to reach these beaches. Landing craft can still be found although the highly corrosive atmosphere has reduced them to rusting shells.

200mm Naval Gun Type 41 (1908) No. 1 (Horizontal Barrel)
One of two guns emplaced on Betio and disabled on November 20, 1943

200mm Naval Gun Type 41 (1908) No. 2 (Broken Barrel)
One of two guns emplaced on Betio and disabled on November 20, 1943 the barrel sheered off by a shell

Japanese Command Bunker
Japanese command bunker is now protected by a chain link fence. The walls are still marked from bullets and shells.

Japanese Searchlight Bunker
Former Japanese searchlight, now a pig pen. The same searchlight is visible in a November 20, 1943 photograph.

Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field)
Japanese built airfield, battlefield used by Americans

U. S. Marine War Memorial
Located at the Prince Philip Park, to honor the USMC veterans of the Battle of Tarawa. Also known as the "USMC War Memorial".

Kiribati: Aspects of History page 90

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Last Updated
August 25, 2018


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