Mopping up the last Japanese on Kwajalein

Kwajalein Atoll. Private First Class N. E. Carling stands beside the American M4 Sherman medium tank "Killer" on which is mounted a knocked-out Japanese Type 94 tankette / light tank.

Kwajalein Atoll. Private First Class N. E. Carling stands beside the American M4 Sherman medium tank “Killer” on which is mounted a knocked-out Japanese Type 94 tankette / light tank.

Men of the 7th Div. using flame throwers to smoke out Japs from a block house on Kwajalein Island, while others wait with rifles ready in case Japs come out. February 4, 1944.

Men of the 7th Div. using flame throwers to smoke out Japs from a block house on Kwajalein Island, while others wait with rifles ready in case Japs come out. February 4, 1944.

In the Pacific the US Navy had moved on to Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands and the surrounding islands. After the bloody losses on Tarawa new tactics were adopted – the assault was preceded by a massive Naval bombardment, combined with heavy bombing, that ploughed up the Japanese positions, sometimes to a depth of 15 feet. Over 15,000 tons of explosives were dropped on the small islands.

The devastation was so great that the engineers were not needed to clear beach obstacles. There remained a number of concrete block houses that held surviving Japanese troops – and the infantry still had to clear these out. On this occasion much more use was made of offshore artillery support to blast these apart. By the 3rd February the battle was largely over.

7,870 Japanese were killed and 105 taken prisoner, the US casualties were 372 killed and
1,592 wounded.

Lt. Cmdr. John D. Schneidau, commanding LST-31 had a view of the whole battle from offshore:

The battle for the main island in this section is still going on but the Japs are now pushed into a corner and it shouldn’t be long before they are wiped out. They fight right on to the end though, no matter how hopeless the situation is. They figure if they can kill two or three of our troops before they kickoff they have saved their face, or some such rot as that.

All night long star shells have been bursting over the battlefield. They shed an eerie light over the scene. Several of our small ships boats have been in to that section of the beach [so] that we have well in hand with supplies.

Mr Gurley, who went in on one of the trips says that the troops ashore dread the night, as the Japs hide in their holes and underground chambers all day, or lie among the dead, and as soon as it gats dark they sneak in through the lines in the hope of getting a few of our men before they are seen. Its a ticklish business as it is difficult to tell friend from foe in the darkness.

Yesterday morning troops landed on another island next to the main one. This one was the second best defended in the group here. We took part in that also. This morning troops will land on three more islands farther up the chain.

Shortly after the landing we moved in, to only a little less than a mile from the beach, so that we had a ringside seat for the whole battle. This island is very narrow and about a mile and a half long so that with the glasses we could watch our tanks and infantry as it advanced along its length. The tanks were out in front and would crawl along slowly.

Every now and then a puff of smoke would land near one as a Jap threw a hand grenade. They would all stop and open up on the Jap position until it was cleaned out or, if it was too tough, the artillery from the other island would work on it or maybe a destroyer would steam right up to the beach and pound it. Then the tanks would move on.

One tank was way out in front of all the others, too far out front. About ten Japs ran out of a blockhouse and surrounded it, throwing hand grenades at it. The tank would have been done for except that another tank a good way behind could see what was going on through a break in the trees and wiped out the Japs with light machine gun fire.

Through the glasses we can see the infantry picking their way along behind the tanks. The boys step warily and rather gingerly an they advance, believe me. At the first sound of rifle fire they all dash for cover and then proceed to locate the point where it came from. When they do they sneak up on it from all sides and toss in grenades. They were about two thirds of the way up the island amd now and should finish up by tonight.

All of the really tough islands havs now been taken. There are a good many more that we haven’t landed on yet but they are lightly defended and unimportant and can be taken at leisure with a small force. I think we will have everything cleaned up here in another week at the most.

I guess we will probably be around longer than that though. How long it is hard to guess. There are other atolls in this group that they may take before we go back, in which case we might well be around here over a month. None of us are anxious to stay any longer than is necessary as it is certain we will get some air raids eventually.

Lt. Cmdr. John D. Schneidau photographs can be seen at the National World War II Museum, and his whole account of the battle can be seen in the original.

Marines of the 4th Division mop up after taking Roi-Namur Island at Kwajalein Atoll, February 1944.

Marines of the 4th Division mop up after taking Roi-Namur Island at Kwajalein Atoll, February 1944.

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Chuck February 4, 2014 at 10:59 pm

I used to live on Kwajalein for 6 months and one day off, with a guide book I walked the length of the island and find out where the army stopped for the night. This was in 1994 and they were still finding explosive ordinance on the island and had to have disposal announcements of when they had to explode it on a remote island. I used to fly for free to Roi-Namur on weekends just for fun. It was about a 60 mile flight and took a prop passenger plane. I think on the flight I could see see the German Cruiser Prinz Eugen. They still had a Japanese naval gun on Roi and a number of bunkers, buildings and even a torpedo testing pool on Namur. I had to wait out a heavy rain once in one of the buildings. I learned to dive there (PADI) and was able to dive on a sunken cargo ship at 127 ft. in the Lagoon. Pretty surreal. Being 24 and a WWII history buff, it was an amazing place to be and also a paradise.

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