May 1945

Click here to watch the WWII Documentary on Tarawa 

Dave Story came to my office today.

May 1, 1945 – TULAGI TO TARAWA. Tomorrow will mark 1 year to the day since I first set eyes on LCI222.  Just a few hundred yards from where I stand today, I came aboard as a scared kid from Utah, in a far away and exotic place with no idea what to expect, how long I would live, or where I would go.  Little did I realize that I would spend an entire year here, in a place that is half hell and half paradise, and literally end up in the same place where I started.  But today all that is about to change.  As of 6 am this morning we are underway for the Island of Tarawa.

The island of Tarawa, where we are headed, is an atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, previously the capital of the former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. At the start of the war Tarawa was occupied by the Japanese, but beginning on November 20, 1943 it was the scene of the bloody Battle of Tarawa.  For all intents and purposes the battle lasted only 3 days – November 20 to November 23, 1943 but it was a horrible scene of destruction.  On the day that the Marines landed on Tarawa they suffered heavy losses from Japanese soldiers occupying entrenched positions on the atoll. The Marines secured the island after 76 hours of intense fighting with around 6,000 dead in total from both sides. American casualties on the beach were so severe that over a hundred corpses were never repatriated.  Staff Sgt Norman T. Hatch, a combat cameraman who filmed the bodies on the beach, produced images that were so disturbing that he had to obtain permission from President Franklin Roosevelt before they could be shown to the public.The footage was included in the 1944 short documentary With the Marines at Tarawa, and was the only film to contain gruesome scenes of American dead up to that date.

Convoy en route to Tarawa

As we pulled away from the dock at Green Beach, Tulagi Island, I looked back over the 7 LCIs and the 17 LCTs that were following us, strung out behind us for a far as the eye could see.  I felt like we were a big duck being followed by a bunch of ugly ducklings.  We took the lead as the flagship for the formation.  At 7:30, with everyone in position we ramped up slightly, engaged 2 more engines for a total of 4 power units, or half our capacity. Our heading was basically a course that took us nearly due north for a day, then Northeast the rest of the time, a heading we followed for the next 60 hours and 1200 miles.

Tulagi to Tarawa

May 6, 1945 – Sunday. BREAK AWAY FROM THE CONVOY.  At 5:30 am this morning Lt. Lawrence reported aboard from LCT 1324 for passage to Tarawa at which point LCI222 left the convoy on independent duty for Tarawa.

May 7, 1945 – Monday.  We continued our course for Tarawa though out the day and night traveling at an average of about 14 miles an hour.  Our progress is slow but sure, managing about 100 miles a day.

May 8, 1945 – Tuesday.  ARRIVAL AT TARAWA.  At 4:10 am we stopped our engines, but shortly continued on our course and within 2 hours we were approaching Tarawa.  My first sight of the island was a shock.  This small flat atol is a mere spot in the vastness of the ocean and hardly seems like an important place at all, yet one of the worst battles of the war was fought here.  Tarawa consists of around 24 larger islets, of which at least eight are inhabited. The largest islet (South Tarawa) extends from Bonriki (southeast corner of the atoll) along the entire south side but Betio of the lagoon to Bairiki. A causeway, called the “Japanese causeway”, connects Bairiki to Betio. The largest town, Bikenibeu, is where the only airport on Tarawa exists.  This airfield was the reason the Japanese came here in the first place.  They needed a waypoint in the vastness of the pacific in order to move efficiently from Japan to Australia. Tarawa is located at approximately latitude 1°22’47” N, longitude 173°09’06” E (Bonriki Airport). After anchoring in the shallow waters surrounding the island we were obliged to let out 20 fathoms of cable even though we were anchored in only five fathoms of water just so we could pull ourselves back out in low tide.  Low tides are what defeated the allies more in the invasion of Tarawa than the Japanese.  We attacked at the wrong time of day and the tides cut the men off from ships and the backup support they need.  The men were left like sitting ducks.

Map of Tarawa

Anyway, after so many days at sea it felt good to be at anchor and we remained there for the rest of the day, having delivered Lt. Lawrence. At 4:15 pm we took on fresh water supplies, topping off our water tank with 2,300 gallons of water.

May 9-10, 1945 – Wednesday to Thursday.  IN TARAWA HARBOR.  After a good nights rest we awoke and started about our work for the day.  At 9:42 LCI(L)332 came along and moored to our starboard side.   LCI332 was also in our convoy. In the afternoon a working party brought aboard radio parts, batteries and fresh provisions. I got a few minutes to drop my mother a note to let her know I was ok and that I had moved on from the South Pacific.  Of course I couldn’t tell her that I was on Tarawa as that would have been censured in my letter.  We had pretty strict rules on security.  Looking back it seems silly but at the time it was taken very seriously.  On Thursday we LCI332 pulled away while we remained behind.

Letter Home 5.9.1945

Also today we crossed the International Date Line as we assumed our next assignment in the Gilberts.  Crossing the Date Line was big deal.   We were honored to be inducted into “The Ancient and Sacred Order of the Golden Dragon” as it was called when you crossed the dateline.  We all received a certificate showing we had realized this remarkable achievement.

Certificate of Dateline

May 11, 1945 – Friday.  TARAWA TO ENIWETOK ATOLL.  After 3 days on Tarawa we moved out at 6:25 am with orders to proceed to Eniwetok Atoll.  Eniwetok lies about 1,000 miles to the the Northwest and will take us through the Marshall Islands group. We pulled out and after being out for about an hour we lost our steering again and for a few minutes we were forced to shift over to manual steering while repairs were made.  At 11:00 am we rendezvoused with LCI332 and reversed course to review their situation.  They are towing LCT770 as it became stranded.  An LCT is a landing craft for tanks.

This is a photo of a typical LCT (Landing Craft Tank)

At 1:30 we were steering various courses and speeds standing by for LCT770 to get underway.  At 2:15 we set a true course of 336 and headed out using 4 engines.  We continued this course till about 10pm when we changed course slightly and also reset all ship’s clocks back 1/2 hour to -11 1/2 time zone.

Sailing from Tarawa to Eniwetok Atoll - 7 days, 1051 miles


May 12, 1945 – Saturday.  ENROUTE TO ENIWETOK. We continue plying our way northward, now 4° above the equator  in the waters of the North Pacific.  By the end of the day we reached a position of 4°52’0.00″N 171°18’0.00″E, placing us about 260 miles from Tarawa.

May 13-14, 1945 – Sunday to Monday.  ENROUTE TO ENIWETOK. We sailed on a true course of 341 degrees, standard speed, and made about 182 miles in the past 24 hours.  Thats and average speed of  about 7.5 miles an hour.  We were slowed down in our progress today for a couple of reasons.  First of all, right after daylight we stopped for about two hours to await the arrival of LCI(L)336 and LCT1311.  Then just after 9:oo am our starboard gear box broke down.  Nevertheless by 9:30 am we had caught up with our convoy and returned to our position.  On Monday we continued in a more westerly course and covered 168 miles, expending 540 gallons of fuel, or about 3.5 gallons per mile.

May 15, 1945 – Tuesday.  PASSING KWAJALEIN ISLAND.  During the night we cruised past Kwajalein Island without stopping and without noting it in the logs.  Nevertheless Kwajalein Island is a significant place it being one of the world’s largest coral atolls as measured by area of enclosed water. Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 16.4 km² (6.33 mi²), and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 2174 km² (839 mi²).On January 31, 1944, the 7th Infantry Division, spearheaded by the 111th Infantry Regiment performed an amphibious assault on Kwajalein. Following the battle 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry regiment remained as a garrison force while the remainder of the regiment went elsewhere. On February 1, 1944, while I was enroute from San Francisco to New Caledonia, Kwajalein was the target of the most concentrated bombardment of the Pacific War. Thirty-six thousand shells from naval ships and ground artillery on a nearby islet struck Kwajalein.American B-24 Liberator bombers aerially bombarded the island, adding to the destruction.

Of the 8,782 Japanese personneldeployed to the atoll (including Korean laborers), it has been argued that only 2,200 were combat trained. Despite this likelihood, Japanese resistance was strong and resilient, even given the fact that Japanese troops were outnumbered by tens of thousands of American troops. By the end of the battle, 373 Americans were killed, 7,870 “Japanese” were killed, and an estimated 200 Marshallese were killed. Kwajalein was one of the few locations in the Pacific war where Islanders were killed while actually fighting for the Japanese, though of course this does not necessarily imply that they were fighting for the same reasons as their comrades. As a result of the battle, the lagoon contains wrecks of mostly Japanese ships and a few planes.

May 16, 1945 – Wednesday.  We have traveld a total of 950 miles and we have moved about 750 miles further West in latitude than when we were in Tarawa. Thus we were obliged to adjust our clocks again today by another 1/2 hour.  One of my jobs on board ship is to adjust all the clocks and the chronometer.  There are 5 or 6 aboard ship so whenever the time changes, its my job to keep the clocks straight.  We are now -11 hours timezone in our reckoning.  By 8pm we closed in on what will be our final leg in the journey to Eniwetok Atoll.  In the past 24 hours we have covered 157 miles and have expended 1,277 gallons of fuel.

May 17, 1945 – Thursday.  ARRIVAL AT ENIWETOK ATOLL.  Underway all day as before using first two engines, then three, then four before the convoy reduced speed. At 8:35am we stopped all engines in preparation to enter Eniwetok Atoll.  We anchored in 30 fathoms of water, letting out 45 fathoms of calbe from the bow anchor just off Parry Island.  All ships clocks were set one hour ahead to -12 time zone.  Parry Island was occupied by the Japanese prior to the war. On February 22, 1944 US Marines captured Parry Island which was the last Japanese held island in the Marshall Islands. Afterwards, the island was developed by the Americans. A Japanese built pier at Perry Island was improved by Americans and that is where we landed.  A seaplane ramp was built here by the Japanese but after American occupation, the 110th Battalion developed its own seaplane base, using the existing Japanese ramp, and coral-surfaced parking area, and engine overhaul area. This base was capable of supporting one squadron of patrol bombers, but activities were limited by the eistence of only one ramp and by tides which were unfavorable to beaching activities.

Eniwetok would become somewhat famous in history many years after the war as a detonation and testing grounds for the hydrogen and nuclear bombs programs that virtually vaporized some of the tiny land masses in the atoll.  In the 1950s native islanders were evacuated, sometimes by force, so that the program could be carried out on their island.  They were allowed to return in the 1970s and efforts to decontaminate the island were carried out.  Contaminated soils were mixed with cement and dropped into the bomb crater.

Nuclear bomb crater on Runit, Eniwetok Atoll as revealed by Google Earth

Cactus Dome at Eniwetok Atoll where the nuclear contamination was encapsulated

In the evening a crane came along our port side and transferred a new gear bo aboard.  We moored on our port side to ARG5, otherwise known as the USS Oahu.  ARG5 is a repair vessel and has been stationed here at Eniwetok for the past 10 months.  Here she has kept Allied vessels, both naval and merchant, in trim, preparing them for the Philippine and Iwo Jima operations as well as the invasion of Okinawa.

USS Oahu (ARG-5)

May 18 – 19, 1945 – Friday to Saturday. Repairs continued.  We took on fresh water, a total of 3,000 gallons.  On Saturday USS PC465 moored to our starboard side. PC465 is a submarine chaser and her assignment here at Eniwetok is to serve primarily as a convoy escort, patrol, and hunter-killer craft. Saturday was more of the same.  When we first arrived here we procured some liquid amusement and entertained ourselves with an old fashion college style beer party, while we played baseball games on the gorgeous white sandy beaches.  I personally didn’t play ball nor did I take any pleasure in drinking beer, so instead I indulged myself in swimming with the surf in body-warm crystal blue water near where the baseball game was taking place.  What a great memory.  I shall never forget that afternoon.

May 20, 1945 – Sunday.  A working party went ashore to fetch 300 feet of 3 1/2 inch line for mooring to replace the line we broke day before yesterday. We repaired our other line but the captain wants it replaced, so today we did it.

May 21, 1945 – Monday.  DEPART ENIWETOK FOR GUAM.  With repairs completed we got underway from mooring alongside ARG5 and PC465 and proceeded to join in convoy for Guam.  We proceeded for about three hours then we ran a full general quarters drill and gun drill. This is partly because we are inching ever closer to Japan and we run the risk of attach now more than ever before.

Sailing from Eniwetok to Guam - 7 days, 1205 miles

May 22-23, 1945 – Tuesday to Wednesday. On Tuesday we sailed in a westerly direction all day and by 8pm that evening we have come  at total of 282 miles from Eniwetok with about another 900 miles left to go before we reach Guam.  On Wednesday we continued west, adjusting our clocks 1/2 hour for the time zone change.

May 24, 1945 – Thursday to Saturday.  HAPPY 20TH BIRTHDAY!  I found myself in the North Pacific for my 20th birthday.  What a beautiful day!  The weather was a perfect 85 degrees, with mostly clear skies. A few mediam cumulus clouds moved toward the southeast throughout the day, wishing me a happy birthday as we passed.  Nothing else of note really.  We sailed nearly West all day.  Friday and Saturday we sailed the same.

May 27, 1945 – Sunday.  ARRIVAL AT GUAM.  At 8:40 am me we came in sight of Rota Island, bearing 16 degrees, some 15 miles distance from us.  We did not stop there, but continued sailing till noon when we came into the west side of the Island of Guam.  Shortly thereafter we laid in a course taking us in a northerly direction, away from Guam.  We continued sailing Northeast through the night

Guam to Saipan May 27-28, 1945

May 28, 1945 – Monday.  ARRIVAL AT TINIAN.  Through the night we continued Northeast and at 5:10am this morning we sighted Tinian Island off our Starboard bow.  With our destination in site, insubordination suddenly broke out.  The offense was perpetrated by Nelson W. Allen, Cox, and a captain’s mast was held.  As punishment he was placed in solitary confinement for five days on bread and water with one full ration on the third day.  The order was carried out as we proceeded to enter Saipan outer harbor at about 10:00 am.  By noon we were anchored in Saipan (Garipan) Harbor in 10 fathoms of water with 50 fathoms of cable out from the bow anchor. While in the harbor the water kegs were drained from the life rafts and refilled with fresh water.

May 29, 1945 – Tuesday.  SAIPAN HARBOR.  The crew as mustered this morning at 8:00 am sharp.  Everyone is a bit on edge after yesterday’s mast.  We flew morning colors and an inspection of the mess gear was carried out.  Nelson Allen, the fellow who went crazy yesterday, was tentatively transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Saipan, M.I. with records and papers to follow.  Pursuent to Bu New Order No. P16-A/100/(60) of 24 March 1945, ensign S Erlanger USNR, reported for duty on board our ship.  At 7:30 this evening Allen returned to the ship after consultation with the Port Surgeon with instructions to return May 31 to the hospital.

I was able to go ashore and I got to see my old friend, DeMile Scown this evening.  Boy was I glad to see someone I knew.  Karl Tegans here now too but I doubt I’ll get a chance to see him.  It turns out that I was within a block from DeMile for two days and I couldn’t get a boat to get over to see him. We talked to each other for quite a while before I went over by blinker (that is flashing light) being we were both signalmen (in a way).  We could talk back and forth by light.  Karl Tegans is a signalman too.  How I happened to know is that Karl is here too and DiMile ran into him accidentally on the beach.  When DeMile got back aboard he found a message there that I was there too, just a little ways away.  That is quite a coincident, isn’t it? Here I’ve been out 14 months and I’ve only seen one person I knew since I ran into John Carson.  Now Karl and DiMile both are here.  Karl had just given DeMile my address too.  I told mother that I am qualified for leave after 18 months and I have 14 down already.  But I’d like to see the war to the end and then go home for good.  I also told mother about all the places I’ve been so far as the rule on secrecy is over and we can talk about where we have been.  Whenever I write home I think of home cooking, and fresh milk and ice cream.  Man, how I miss a good cold glass of fresh milk.  I haven’t had any of that since I have been out here.

I also shared with my mother that I have kept straight.  I haven’t picked up any bad habits, even coffee.  I can’t stand the stuff. I guess that just shows that I have been brought up right.

May 30, 1945 – Wednesday.  SAIPAN HARBOR.  We took our ship into the repair docks this afternoon where we moored alongside LCI(L)223.  The two of us seem to go together everywhere like peas and carrots.  We moored between piers 2A and 3A in Tanapag Harbor.  YTB257 (Yard Tug Boat) moored to our port side.

View approaching Tanapag harbor, Saipan

Tanapag Harbor, Sipan (aerial view)

While we were in port I took a few minutes and I wrote a letter home to tell my mom all about the news.

Letter Home 5.30.1945 - Click here to read the entire letter

May 31, 1945 – Thursday.  We pulled out of the repair harbor this morning at 6:30 shuffled around and then reentered the dock.  That was all we did today and that brings the month of May to and end for me, now having completed over 1 year at sea.  I hope this war will be over soon.