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".
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 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
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.
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.
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
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 is now protected by a
chain link fence. The walls are still marked from bullets and
searchlight, now a pig pen. The same searchlight is visible in a
November 20, 1943 photograph.
Airfield (Hawkins Field)
Japanese built airfield, battlefield used by Americans
U. S. Marine War
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
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
June 6, 2017