Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Making Makin

The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (remember the date line, so this event happened on the 9th of December), the Japanese took control of Butaritari Island. The Japanese troops would leave again in short order, only to return on Christmas Eve. Almost immediately they began construction of a seaplane base in the lagoon of the island.

Butaritari seen from above during the later invasion in 1943
In 1942 the USMC were given the task of raiding the island, mainly to capture enemy POW's and intelligence material. The task was given to the 2nd raider battalion. Around 200 men of the battalion were loaded onto two submarines, which then sailed for the island. During the nine day journey the Marines on board were allowed one hour a day with the submarine surfaced for exercise. The submarines arrived off Butaritari on the 16th of August 1942. The following morning, at 0330 the submarines surfaced and began to land their troops. Things went wrong from the outset, the heavy swells meant that the boats were swept away before they could be manned, this included a large portion of the unit’s machine guns. The rubber boats then chugged through the dangerous surf, it took nearly 40 minutes to travel just 500 yards due to the conditions, even then it would not be until 0500 before everyone was ashore and the rubber boats stowed and camouflaged. Originally two landing beaches had been selected, but this idea was abandoned due to the difficulties at sea. One boat, however, did not get the message to divert and continued on its way to land at the original beach. At 0530 as the raiders advanced one of the BAR gunners had a negligent discharge, which alerted the Japanese garrison. Things continued to go wrong when one raider saw shapes moving ahead of him and fired on them with the shotgun he was carrying. Luckily the shot missed as these were USMC raiders as well, this was the first of several friendly fire incidents.
 Butaritari as seen through the periscope of one of the transport submarines.
There had still been no contact with the Japanese forces, however, local natives were soon contacted who informed the US troops that the Japanese were near the seaplane base, some 2,000 yards away.
Then a Japanese truck appeared, and soldiers began to disembark. The lead platoon of the raiders laid a very careful ambush, which the Japanese force walked right into and were mown down. The truck was destroyed by a weapon the raiders called the "Elephant gun". This was a Canadian manufactured Boys anti-tank rifle. They had been purchased specifically for the raiders and would continue to crop up in raider operations throughout 1942 and 1943.
Reported to be a Boys rifle team. The SMG pouches were apparently the right size to store a spare round or two.
From this initial contact a front-line began to establish itself, with the raiders pinned down by the Japanese riflemen’s high degree of marksmanship. Japanese training had three core areas of competency. Marksmanship, bayonet work and night fighting. This is why you will often hear about Japanese "snipers". In reality it is likely that the rifle fire from a lone Japanese soldier was often very accurately aimed but lacking in rate of fire.

This skirmishing lasted until about 1130, when several things happened at around the same time. First, the boat that had not diverted to the new landing beach had actually made it to the planned destination. The twelve men in it had pushed inland and became lost. They found themselves behind the Japanese line, as they advanced they bumped into a small group of Japanese at a building, whom they killed, one of which was the Japanese commander. At the main line, the Japanese troops tried to charge into contact with the raiders. However, they were outnumbered, and the US force had a large number of automatic weapons and the charge was annihilated.
The lost squad pushed towards the battlefield blowing up targets of opportunity including radios and supplies. These repeated blows lead to the Japanese forces more or less disintegrating and only being able to provide limited skirmishing for the rest of the time.

At around the same time two Japanese reconnaissance planes started to circle the island for about fifteen minutes before leaving.
At 1255 a mixed gaggle consisting of twelve assorted types of Japanese aircraft appeared overhead. These loitered overhead conducting strafing and sporadic bombing for over an hour. Then ten of them turned for home, while two seaplanes attempted to land. The first one to land, was met with a salvo from the Elephant guns, as well as some machine gun fire, and burst into flames before sinking. The second seaplane attempted to make a wide turn and take off again. It too was engaged by the Boys rifles. Panicked by the incoming fire the pilot attempted to lift before building enough speed, whereupon it stalled and crashed into lagoon.
A Japanese Seaplane destroyed in the later invasion.
The raiders began to withdraw at this point, however the Japanese skirmishing was still an irritation. By 1900 the men had reached the boat, despite being under sporadic, but prolonged air attacks. That evening they tried to reach the submarines by paddling their boats out. However, the strong waves battered them and very few would make it. To make matters worse constant air patrols disrupted the attempt to evacuate. Only the lack of organised large-scale Japanese forces prevented the raiders being wiped out. The next morning a few men managed to make it to the submarines before they had to dive for the day to avoid the air attacks.

Finally, that night the raiders managed to link up with the submarines by using their rubber boats, some native canoes and tying each boat together. Despite this one boat was lost and the raiders in it were never seen again. Both submarines made it back to Pearl Harbour unscathed, and the first land based counter attack against the Japanese was completed.

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Image Credits:
www.worldwarphotos.info, www.j-hangarspace.jp, www.ibiblio.org and www.warhistoryonline.com