Chapter 4: Westward to Eniwetok1
“Will the enemy attack Eniwetok?” asked Norio Miyada, one of the defenders of the atoll. To him the answer was obvious. “He will strike this island after attacking Roi.” The only problem lay in deciding when the Americans would enter the lagoon. This noncommissioned officer, confident of Japanese aerial superiority in the Marshalls, expected a slow advance. “How will the enemy be able to attack us?” he continued. “Will it be by his hackneyed method of island hopping?”2
Revising the Timetable
Actually, Admiral Nimitz looked forward to leapfrogging the central part of the Marshalls group. He planned to vault from Kwajalein to Eniwetok, neutralizing the Japanese bastions in between. Even before FLINTLOCK was launched, troops were preparing for CATCHPOLE, as the Eniwetok operation was called.
On 1 January 1944, the 2nd Marine Division began intensive training for the assault upon Eniwetok Atoll. Within two weeks, the 27th Infantry Division was alerted to ready itself for an attack on Kusaie Island in the eastern Carolines, the second objective in the current CATCHPOLE plan. The target date for Eniwetok had been fixed at 1 May to enable units of the Fifth Fleet to assist in the seizure of Kavieng, New Ireland, an operation that eventually was cancelled.3
Admiral Spruance, however, felt that his warships should strike at Eniwetok before steaming southward to Kavieng. This opinion was shared by Admiral Turner, whose staff prepared a tentative plan to advance promptly to Eniwetok if the FLINTLOCK operation was executed smoothly. General Holland Smith’s VAC planners also looked ahead to the rapid capture of Eniwetok, but theirs, too, was a tentative concept.4
Execution of the Eniwetok proposals depended upon the intelligence that
could be obtained concerning the objective and on the cost in lives and time of the Kwajalein campaign. During an aerial reconnaissance on 28 December 1943, the first successful penetration of Eniwetok during the war, cameras were trained only on Engebi Island, site of an airstrip. Within a month, however, the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Areas, had amassed enough data to issue a bulletin describing the atoll and its defenses. Last-minute details were provided by the carrier planes which photographed the atoll on 30 January. FLINTLOCK itself brought a windfall of captured documents, among them navigational charts of Eniwetok Atoll. The various parts of the puzzle were assembled, and the task of fitting them together was begun. (See Map 12.)
The fighting within Kwajalein Atoll also was progressing rapidly at a reasonable cost to the attackers. On 2 February, Admiral Turner recommended to Admiral Spruance that the CATCHPOLE operation begin immediately. Turner offered a plan to strike with the 22nd Marines and two battalions of the 106th Infantry as soon after 10 February as the necessary ships had taken on fuel and ammunition and the carrier air groups had been brought up to full strength.
Admiral Nimitz, who had received copies of Turner’s dispatches, now asked Spruance’s views on an amphibious assault upon Eniwetok to be preceded immediately by a carrier strike against Truk. The Fifth Fleet commander favored such a course of action,5 and on 5 February, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Kwajalein to discuss the proposed operation with his principal subordinates. The Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, approved the concept set forth by Admiral Turner. Originally, 15 February was selected as the target date, but D-Day had to be postponed until 17 February to give the fast carriers more time to prepare for their concurrent attack on Truk.6
Admiral Hill, commander of the Majuro attack force, reported to Admiral Turner at Kwajalein on 3 February. “I had no forewarning of the possibilities of my being put in command of the Eniwetok operation,” Hill recalled, but warning or none, he was given overall command of Task Group 51.11, the Eniwetok Expeditionary Group.7 In organizing his force, he followed the pattern he had used for the Majuro landing.
With only seven days for planning, and again only a small segment of a larger hydrographic chart to work
from, Admiral Hill’s “first request was for high and low angle photographs taken at high and low tide and particularly in the early morning with its usually still waters.”8 Using the facilities of Admiral Turner’s AGC, a photo-based map was reproduced in quantity for the use of the task group. Right after this map was run off, Admiral Hill was presented with a captured Japanese chart taken from a ship wrecked on the shore of one of the islands of Kwajalein. The enemy map, which was used during the operation, showed the area clear of mines and the preferred channel into the lagoon at Eniwetok.9
The Eniwetok Expeditionary Group consisted of: Headquarters, Support Aircraft (Captain Richard F. Whitehead, USN); Expeditionary Troops, commanded by Marine Brigadier General Thomas E. Watson; Carrier Task Group 4, under Rear Admiral Samuel P. Ginder; plus the Eniwetok Attack Force and the Eniwetok Garrison Group, these last two commanded by Admiral Hill. The flagship was the USS Cambria, which had served Hill during the conquest of Majuro, but the total number of ships assigned to him was far greater than he had commanded during FLINTLOCK.
The assault troops required eight transports of various types, two attack cargo ships, one cargo ship, an LSD, nine LSTs, and six LCIs. Ten destroyers were assigned to screen the transports and cargo vessels, while three battleships, three heavy cruisers, and another seven destroyers formed the fire support group. An escort carrier group, three carriers and three destroyers, joined a fast carrier group, three larger carriers and their screen, in providing aerial support for the operation.
General Watson was to have operational control over expeditionary troops once the landing force was established ashore. Since General Smith would not be present at Eniwetok, Admiral Turner charged the Commander, Expeditionary Troops, with duties similar to those carried out by the corps commander at Kwajalein Atoll. “General Watson,” Turner has explained, “was in over-all command of all [troop units], but did not exercise detailed tactical command on shore of any one of them.”10 Like Smith during FLINTLOCK, Watson could issue no orders “as to major landings or as to major changes in tactical plans” without the naval commander’s approval.11
Because Turner’s Eniwetok operation plan did not require Watson to report to the attack force commander when he was ready to assume command ashore, a Marine officer on Admiral King’s staff interpreted the command arrangement as a modification of the structure used during FLINTLOCK. “Previous orders,” he noted, “did not give this command to the ground force commander until he stated he was ready to assume it. In other words, it formerly required positive action on the ground force
commander’s part. Now it is established before the operation began.”12
In fact, no change had actually been made, for Watson was, according to Turner, the commander of a small-scale corps. The Marine general in command of the Eniwetok forces was holding a position comparable to that held by Smith at Kwajalein. Both were to “command all landing and garrison forces when ashore.”13 The command structure remained substantially the same, for as one student of amphibious warfare has pointed out, “there was a distinction without a difference.”14
The Eniwetok landing force was to be provided by Watson’s Tactical Group 1, the FLINTLOCK reserve, which had cruised eastward of Kwajalein Atoll while the Northern and Southern Landing Forces had effected their landings. Tactical Group 1 was composed of the 22nd Marines, 106th Infantry (less 2/106, assigned to the Majuro operation), the Army 104th Field Artillery Battalion, the Marine 2nd Separate Pack Howitzer Battalion, 2nd Separate Tank Company, 2nd Separate Motor Transport Company, and 2nd Separate Medical Company, plus shore party and JASCO units. After 3 February, when the group entered Kwajalein Atoll, further attachments were made to strengthen Watson’s command for the CATCHPOLE Operation. The additions were: VAC Reconnaissance Company, Company D, 4th Tank Battalion (a scout unit), 102 LVTs and 17 LVT(A)s from the 708th Provisional Amphibian Tractor Battalion, and a provisional DUKW unit, provided by the 7th Infantry Division, with 30 amphibious trucks and 4 LVTs. By the time CATCHPOLE began, General Watson had command over some 10,000 assault troops, more than 4,000 of them soldiers.15
The tactical group was prepared to handle only such administrative chores as might be incident to combat operations. General Watson’s staff was small in size and suited only to brief periods of combat. This so-called “streamlined” staff, partly an experiment and partly the result of a shortage of officers with staff experience, was not adequate to the strain imposed by CATCHPOLE. “I can personally attest,” stated the group G-3, “that I and all members of the staff came out of the Eniwetok operation utterly exhausted by day and night effort. The streamlined staff idea died a rapid and just death as the staff itself was about to expire.”16
Colonel John T. Walker’s reinforced 22nd Marines, the largest single component of Tactical Group 1, had spent almost 18 months as part of the Samoa garrison force prior to its transfer to Hawaii. The regiment had undergone rudimentary amphibious training in preparation for FLINTLOCK. Late in December, the 106th Infantry, two battalions strong, was detached from
the 27th Infantry Division and assigned to Watson’s group. The Army unit also received a brief refresher course in amphibious warfare. These exercises, according to the commanding general of the group, were far from realistic. “We were sent to attack a coral atoll,” complained General Watson, but “we rehearsed on the large island of Maui on terrain and approaches totally unlike those of the target.” Neither artillery shells, naval gunfire, nor aerial bombs added realism to the exercise. The group’s artillery battalions did not land from DUKWs, few of the infantrymen landed from LVTs, and the assault teams did not practice moving inland from the beach. “In the attack on Eniwetok,” the general concluded, “the infantry, amphibian tractors, amphibian tanks, tanks, aircraft, supporting naval ships, and most of the staffs concerned had never worked together before.”17
As far as the 22nd Marines was concerned, thorough training in infantry tactics offset the effect of haphazard rehearsals. Colonel Walker’s regiment, in the opinion of the group G-3, was “at its peak in small unit training—training which was anchored firmly around a basic fire team organization (three or four-man teams, depending on the battalion).”18 Since each rifle squad could be divided into teams, the squad leader’s problems of control were greatly eased. In jungle or amid ruined buildings, the teams were capable of fighting independent actions against an enemy pillbox or machine guns. The intense training which it had received in Samoa had made the 22nd Marines a spirited, competent unit, one which would distinguish itself in the forthcoming operation.
The 106th Infantry, however, had not received the kind of training that the Marine regiment had undergone in Samoa. An Army officer who was serving in General Smith’s VAC planning section, observed that the Army regiment was “far from being in an ideal state of combat readiness.” Yet, “many fine and highly trained individuals and small units ... collectively made up the 106th Infantry.”19
During CATCHPOLE, moreover, Colonel Russell G. Ayers, commanding officer of the 106th Infantry, would labor under still another handicap. He had only two battalions, and if these were committed to an attack, his reserve would have to be provided by the 22nd Marines. Thus, the colonel might find himself commanding a hastily combined organization, one third of which was differently trained and unfamiliar to him. “Effective combat units,” a member of the VAC staff has pointed out, “are achieved by effective unit training, and can never be replaced by assorted combinations of component units, however highly trained.”20
Tactical Group 1, then, had its shortcomings. Its staff was designed to assist the commanding general during brief operations rather than in an involved campaign against a large atoll. The infantry components were not of
equal quality, nor had they received amphibious training beyond what was necessary for them as FLINTLOCK reserve. Still, this group was available at once, and American planners were determined to sustain the momentum of the Marshalls offensive.
In addition to Tactical Group 1, General Watson, as Commander, Expeditionary Troops, had operational control over the Eniwetok Garrison Forces. Although Hill retained control of the landing force until it was set up ashore, Watson was in overall command of the garrison contingent during the landings. Finding the necessary defense forces proved difficult. No extra occupation units had been included in the FLINTLOCK force, for neither the men nor the transports were available. “When the decision was made to capture Eniwetok without waiting for additional forces,” Admiral Turner remarked, “we had to rob both Kwajalein Island and Roi-Namur of considerable proportions of their garrisons and carry them forward in order to start the more urgent development of the new base.”21 The Marine 10th Defense Battalion, the Army 3rd Defense Battalion, and the Army 47th Engineers formed the nucleus of the hastily formed Eniwetok garrison.
“Before departure from Hawaii our information concerning Eniwetok was scanty,” commented Admiral Turner, “we had only a few high altitude photographs ... and our maritime charts were of small scale made from ancient surveys.”22 Navigational charts, current enough to be considered secret by the Japanese, were captured during the Kwajalein operation. Gradually the photographic coverage was expanded, and the enemy order of battle began to emerge.
A complete aerial mosaic of Eniwetok Atoll would disclose a vast lagoon, which measures 17 by 21 miles, enclosed by a ring of islands and reefs. Both principal entrances to this lagoon, Wide Passage just west of Eniwetok Island and Deep Passage between Parry and Japtan, lie along its southern rim. The largest of the 30-odd islands in the atoll are Eniwetok, Parry, Japtan, and Engebi farther to the north. (See Map 12.)
In its study dated 20 January 1944, JICPOA reported an airstrip, fortifications, and large buildings on Engebi. An installation believed to be a radio direction finder was plotted on the map of Parry, and the stretch of Eniwetok Island bore the legend “no known defenses.”23 Within a few weeks, Admiral Nimitz’ intelligence officers were offering more disturbing news.
Late in January, JICPOA noted that a mobile unit of the Japanese Army, some 4,000 men, had sailed eastward from Truk. The strength of the Eniwetok garrison, once reported as 700 men concentrated on Engebi Island, was revised drastically upward. By 10 February, enemy strength throughout the atoll was placed at 2,900-4,000 men. “These estimates are made without the advantage of late photographs,”
JICPOA explained. “Good photographs should be able to settle the question of the presence of such a large body of troops and furnish a more reliable basis of estimation.”24
The photographs for which JICPOA awaited were taken while FLINTLOCK was in progress. Photo interpreters examined every shadow but discovered few signs of enemy activity. On Engebi, already considered the hub of the enemy defenses, the garrison had improved and extended its network of trenches and foxholes. A few foxholes dug near a collection of storehouses were the only indication that Parry was defended. Eniwetok Island bore the scars of about 50 freshly dug foxholes, and other signs indicated that a small number of Japanese occupied its southwestern tip. In short, the last-minute intelligence belied the presence of a large concentration of troops. Both Parry and Eniwetok Islands appeared weakly held. Whatever strength the enemy had seemed to be massed on Engebi.
Tactical and Logistical Plans
The CATCHPOLE plan, prepared in the light of the intelligence available to Admiral Hill and General Watson, bore certain similarities to FLINTLOCK. The operation was divided into four phases, the first of which was the capture of three islands adjacent to Engebi. On 17 February, D-Day, the VAC Reconnaissance Company was to seize CAMELLIA (Aitsu) and CANNA (Rujioru) Islands southeast of Engebi, while the scouts of Company D, 4th Tank Battalion, took ZINNIA (Bogon) northwest of Engebi. Army and Marine artillery batteries would then land at CANNA and CAMELLIA to support the next phase. On 18 February, the second phase of CATCHPOLE was to begin as the 22nd Marines stormed lagoon beaches of Engebi. Two objectives, Eniwetok Island and Parry, were included in phase III. As soon as it was certain that additional troops would not be needed at Engebi, the 106th Infantry was to assault Eniwetok Island.25 The Army objective was considered so poorly defended that the understrength regiment was directed to prepare to move on to Parry within two hours after the Eniwetok landing. Both regiments were scheduled to see action during phase IV, the securing of the remaining islands of the atoll.
Naval gunfire also was to follow a schedule similar to that employed in the Kwajalein landings. On D-Day, destroyers and LCIs were to support operations against the lesser islands, while battleships, cruisers, and other destroyers shelled Engebi from positions outside the lagoon. During the afternoon, two of the battleships would enter the lagoon and assist in shattering the enemy’s defenses. On D plus 1, the supporting warships were to destroy
beach defenses and other targets. Pausing only when aerial strikes were being executed, battleships, destroyers, and LCIs would hammer the beaches until the assault craft were 300 yards from Engebi’s shore, then shift their fire to bombard for five minutes more the area on the left flank of the landing force. The plan called for a heavy cruiser to interdict enemy movement in the northern part of the island for an hour after the landing.
On the morning of the attack upon Eniwetok Island, which would take place as soon as possible after the securing of Engebi, Admiral Hill’s cruisers and destroyers were to deliver some 80 minutes of preparatory fire. The heavy cruisers would rain down both destructive and interdictory fires for 30 minutes, then pause if the scheduled aerial attack was delivered. When the planes had departed, destroyers were to join the cruisers in shelling the island. In 25 minutes, after a second air attack, the close support phase was scheduled to begin, with the cruisers ceasing fire when the LVTs were 1,000 yards from the beach and the destroyers shifting to targets on the flanks when the assault waves were 300 yards from shore. The schedule for the Parry landing differed in that the bombardment would last 100 minutes and that a destroyer would join two cruisers in the 50-minute shelling that preceded the first air strike. At all the objectives, LCI(G)s and LVT(A)s were to assist in neutralizing the beach defenses.
Aerial support of the CATCHPOLE operation was scheduled to begin on D minus 1, when carrier planes attacked and also photographed the principal islands in Eniwetok Atoll. On the following day, fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers were to attack specified targets on Engebi no earlier than 0800 and no later than 0830. Naval gunfire would be lifted during the strike. Planes were to remain on station over the atoll in the event they were needed to support the day’s operations. Any unscheduled strikes would be directed by the airborne coordinator and the Commander, Support Aircraft.
The schedule of strikes in support of the Engebi landing called for the planes to attack perpendicular to the beach 35 minutes before H-Hour. The strike had to be completed within 10 minutes, for naval guns and artillery pieces would resume firing at H minus 25. No definite timetable was prepared for the Eniwetok and Parry Island operations, but Admiral Hill indicated his intention of scheduling similar aerial attacks 50 and 25 minutes before the troops reached shore.
The 22nd Marines, assault force for the Engebi landing, was directed to load its assigned LVTs with ammunition and water before the convoy sailed from Kwajalein Atoll. The tractors were to be carried to the target area in LSTs. Off the objective, the Marines would load in LCVPs, move to the LSTs, and there embark in the amphibious vehicles. LVT(A)s, manned like the troop carriers by Army crews, had the mission of helping neutralize the beaches and then supporting the advance inland by landing on the flanks of the assault battalions. The group reserve, provided for Engebi by the 106th Infantry, was to remain in
its transports and, if needed, transfer at sea from LCVPs to LVTs.
General Watson, faced with a series of landings, expected a great deal from his amphibian tractor unit. The 708th Provisional Amphibian Tractor Battalion, a composite Army command which included both armored and unarmored tractors, had a total of 119 vehicles. Of these, 17 were LVT(A)(1)s, 46 LVT(2)s, and 56 LVT(A)(2)s, which were simply LVT(2)s with improved armor. Since 8 to 10 tractors were assigned to each of the four or five waves required by each battalion, the 708th would be required to brave enemy fire time and again.
The method of control prescribed for CATCHPOLE differed little from the system used during the conquest of Kwajalein Atoll. Because of the shortage of LVTs, General Watson directed the amphibian tractor battalion commander to embark in the control vessel. After they had landed the assault troops, all LVTs were to report to this vessel. If reserves were needed ashore, the tractors could be routed to a transfer area behind the line of departure where the troops would load from LCVPs. The evacuation of the wounded was left to the supervision of the beachmaster, and a control officer embarked in an LCI was charged with directing empty supply craft to the proper ships.
DUKWs on loan from the 7th Infantry Division helped ease General Watson’s supply problems. Firing batteries of both the 104th Field Artillery and 2nd Separate Pack Howitzer Battalion were to land on D-Day in amphibian trucks. When this task was finished, the DUKWs were to report to certain of the LSTs to assist in unloading. Two pontoon causeways brought to the objective by Admiral Hill’s transport group could be counted upon to speed the unloading of heavier equipment.
In comparison to the huge FLINTLOCK expedition, Tactical Group 1 carried few supplies, but enough ammunition, water, food, and fuel were loaded to sustain the men, weapons, and machines for five days. The rations carried in the convoy included a two-day supply of types C and K along with one day’s D rations. Once the atoll was secured, the stockpile of food was to be increased until there was a minimum of 60 days’ B, 8 days’ C or K, and 2 days’ D rations on hand.
Since ammunition and water were loaded in the tractors of the assault waves, the build-up of supplies would begin at the moment the troops landed. General Watson also directed that boats, each one loaded with a different kind of item, begin collecting at the line of departure as the fourth wave was moving toward the island under attack. Every boat was to fly a particular flag to indicate whether it carried ammunition, rations, fuel, water, or medical supplies. Requests from shore were to be routed through the beachmaster’s radio net to the group logistical control officer who would then direct the appropriate landing craft to the proper beach.
The shore party organization appeared to be the weakest part of the logistical scheme. Major John F. Schoettel, the Betio veteran who commanded the composite shore party unit, would have to rely on “low priority combat personnel” to augment his
organization.26 The additional men were to be provided by the battalion upon whose beach the shore party component was working.
Plans and preparations for CATCHPOLE had been completed in a remarkably brief time. Only five days elapsed between Admiral Nimitz’ arrival at Kwajalein and General Watson’s issuance of his basic operation order; two days later, Admiral Hill’s order was dispatched. The enemy too had been busy, trying frantically to convert Eniwetok into a series of fortified islands.
The Japanese Prepare27
The Japanese were slow to begin fortifying Eniwetok Atoll. The war against the United States had been raging for 11 months before 300 construction workers landed at Engebi Island to begin work on an airstrip. In December, 500 Korean laborers joined this original detachment. The runway was completed in mid-1943, and most of the men who built it promptly sailed for Kwajalein. Meanwhile, the first troops, a few sailors of the 61st Guard Force who arrived from Kwajalein in January 1943, had established lookout stations on Eniwetok and Engebi Islands. By October 1943, a detachment from the Kwajalein guard force had come ashore to garrison the atoll.
Aerial photographs taken late in December showed little activity at Eniwetok Atoll. At the time, Warrant Officer Masimori Osano, in command at the atoll guard detachment, had no more than 61 men at his disposal. He assigned 10 of these to man a picket boat, sent 5 to the lookout station on Eniwetok Island, and retained the rest on Engebi, where a total of three lookout posts had been established. To defend Engebi, he had a pair of 120-mm guns with about 87 rounds of ammunition, machine guns, rifles, pistols, and hand grenades.
The airstrip itself lay idle until November, when it was pressed into service as a maintenance stop for planes being ferried westward. Accommodations had been built for more than 300 aviation officers and men, but fewer than 50 mechanics or other specialists were on hand by the end of 1943. Although the atoll appeared quiet to the intelligence officers who studied the earliest American photographs, Eniwetok soon would become the scene of hectic activity.
On 4 January 1944, the convoy carrying the 1st Amphibious Brigade dropped anchor in Eniwetok lagoon to land 2,586 troops and 95 civilian employees of the unit. The brigade boasted three infantry battalions, each with its own mortar, artillery, and engineer components, plus automatic cannon, tank, engineer, signal, and medical units. One battalion reinforced by elements of the brigade signal, engineer, and medical detachments had been detached for service elsewhere in the Marshalls.
Under strict secrecy, this Army amphibious organization had been detached from the Kwantung Army in
Manchuria and routed to the Marshalls by way of Fusan in Korea, Saeki in the home islands, and finally Truk.28 JICPOA had noted the arrival of the convoy at Truk but had been unable to track it farther eastward. Documents captured at Kwajalein and prisoner of war interrogations placed the bulk of the brigade at Eniwetok.
Major General Yoshima Nishida, the brigade commander, found the atoll almost defenseless, a condition he immediately began correcting. “We have been working without sleep or rest on the unloading,”29 complained one of Nishida’s men on the day after his arrival, but this back-breaking labor marked only the beginning of a hectic period of construction. The Japanese general inspected the atoll, dispatched garrisons to the various islands, and put the troops to work throwing up fortifications.
Additional help came on 13 January, when 200 Okinawan laborers, probably destined for Kwajalein, paused at Eniwetok. Nishida promptly put these men to work alongside the soldiers and the 200 or more Koreans who had remained behind when the airfield construction detachment was transferred. The mechanics and other aviation technicians on Engebi were probably of little help, for these men were in the process of being withdrawn. Evacuees from Kwajalein, however, temporarily swelled the numbers of the aviation unit, and when the American warships entered the lagoon many were trapped on the atoll.30
The general selected Parry as the site of his command post. Here he concentrated 1,115 combat troops and 232 civilians, aviation mechanics, laborers, and members of a naval survey party. The island garrison force was a 197-man rifle company supported by mortar crews, artillerymen, and engineers—305 men in all. Also present on the island was the brigade reserve, with which he could reinforce the other islands. Since an engineer and an antiaircraft unit were deployed to Eniwetok Island prior to the American attack, the reserve numbered only 810 by D-Day. The two reserve rifle companies at Nishida’s disposal were reinforced by tank, signal, medical, engineer, and automatic cannon units.
Although the enemy expended a tremendous effort to fortify Parry, he accomplished comparatively little. The Japanese, who lacked both time and heavy equipment, suffered from the effects of short rations and an unfamiliar climate. “In all units,” wrote a Japanese who visited Parry, “there are many men suffering from exhaustion. The infirmary is full.”31 The foxholes and trenches which the troops hastily gouged out of the island soil were not lined with rocks or logs, as were the few positions dug before the arrival of the brigade. Often a series of emplacements were linked to form a “spider web.” The enemy would construct
a large log-protected bunker sunk close to the surface of the earth. Tunnels led from the shelter to an outlying ring of foxholes, and these holes also were connected by other tunnels. The log-roofed bunker itself and the open foxholes were concealed by strips of corrugated iron covered in turn with a layer of sand. The defenders might take refuge in the large shelters during a shelling, then deploy to the foxholes, lift the roofs and open fire. A spider web, carefully camouflaged, was scarcely visible from the ground, let alone from high-flying photographic planes. Although fortifications on Parry were weaker than the steel-and-concrete pillboxes found on other atolls, they were the best Nishida’s men could prepare.
The next largest garrison was that on Engebi, where the general had stationed a rifle company and support elements, which included mortars, tanks, and artillery. In addition to the 692 soldiers from the brigade, Engebi boasted 44 members of 61st Guard Force, and 540 laborers, civilians, and support troops. The existing 120-mm guns were incorporated into the defensive scheme, as were the few poor-quality pillboxes. The garrison, however, dug new trenches and foxholes along the lagoon coast.
The Eniwetok Island force consisted of a 779-man composite unit provided by General Nishida plus 24 civilians and 5 lookouts from the naval guard force. This smallest of the atoll garrisons had dug the most durable entrenchments. Mines were planted, and work on a system of concrete pillboxes was begun but never completed.
General Nishida clung to the Japanese tactical doctrine of destroying the invader at the beaches. “If the enemy lands, make use of the positions you are occupying during the daytime,” he directed. “Endeavor to reduce losses, and at night strike terror into the enemy’s heart by charges and destroy his will to fight.”32 Colonel Toshio Yano, in command at Engebi, was convinced the Americans would enter the lagoon, seize islands adjacent to the one he was charged with defending, and then storm the lagoon beaches. In keeping with Nishida’s overall plan, the colonel ordered his garrison to “lure the enemy to the water’s edge and then annihilate him with withering fire power and continuous attacks.”33
The Japanese, most of their defensive installations undetected by American cameras, awaited Watson’s soldiers and Marines. Including the crews of stranded vessels, Nishida’s force totaled approximately 3,500 men. Not all were trained for combat, but each of them, with the possible exception of the Korean and Okinawan laborers, would fight to the death.
The first carrier strikes against Eniwetok Atoll were delivered in conjunction with the FLINTLOCK operation, for the Engebi field had to be
neutralized to prevent enemy planes from refueling there to bomb the Kwajalein task force. On 30 January, the Americans destroyed the 15 medium bombers based at Engebi and sunk several small craft in Eniwetok lagoon. Between 1 and 7 February, additional raids battered the objective, and the planes returned on the 11th and 13th. These earlier attacks leveled most of the structures built above ground on the various islands. The preparatory strikes began on 16 February, as Admiral Hill’s ships neared the lagoon.
Life for the enemy garrison was hell on earth. “When such a small island as Engebi is hit by about 130 bombs a day, and, having lost its ammunition and provisions, lies helpless, it is no wonder that some soldiers have gone out of their minds.” The island defenders, this same diarist admitted, were surviving on a single ball of rice each day, for their food had to be sent from Parry in outriggers under cover of darkness. The soldier thought of his family seated at dinner somewhere in Japan: “... my family’s joy helps me to bear these hardships, when I realize that it is because of just such hardships as these I am now suffering that they are able to eat their rice cakes in peace.”35
Conditions were not quite so desperate on Parry, where an occasional issue of rice wine spiced the reduced rations, nor on Eniwetok Island, but the Japanese knew that death was fast approaching. Lieutenant Kakino of the Parry garrison read somber portents in a raid of 12 February. “We celebrated the anniversary of the coronation of the Emperor Jimmu, this fourth year of our holy war, under enemy air attack. There must be some meaning for us in that.”36
While the defenders of Eniwetok Atoll dug and wondered, American forces were attempting to isolate the objective. Army bombers attacked the eastern Carolines, concentrating on Ponape and Kusaie. The most dangerous of the Japanese bases, however, appeared to be Truk, 669 miles southwest of Eniwetok. This enemy Gibraltar of the Pacific was to be neutralized by Task Force 58, commanded during this action by Admiral Spruance himself.
On 17 February, D-Day at Eniwetok, carrier planes began a 2-day hammering of Truk. The aviators sank 2 auxiliary cruisers, a destroyer, 2 submarine tenders, an aircraft ferry, 6 tankers, and 17 merchantmen, a total of about 200,000 tons of shipping. Over 200 Japanese aircraft were damaged or destroyed. The blow at Truk also included a series of one-sided surface actions in which Spruance’s battleships, cruisers, and destroyers sank a light cruiser, a destroyer, a trawler, and a submarine chaser. The larger units of the Imperial Navy had left Truk prior to the raid.
Tactical Group 1, without the benefit of last-minute rehearsals, boarded the transports of Admiral Hill’s task group and on 15 February set sail for Eniwetok. The voyage proved uneventful; neither enemy planes nor submarines tried to contest Hill’s approach. In the morning darkness of
17 February, a soldier on Parry Island looked up and “from the sea toward the east... saw a light and heard something like airplane motors.” As daybreak approached, warships began shelling the atoll. “I thought to myself,” he wrote in his diary, “that finally what must come has come.”37 The battle for Eniwetok had begun.