The island of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands was defended by 2,600 well-armed Japanese troops, augmented by 2,000 Korean construction workers who could be trusted to assist in the defense of the island. Its commander, Rear Admiral Shibasaki, boasted that a million Marines would be unable to take Tarawa even if they had a hundred years. At first glance, this claim appeared to be very well-founded.
A thousand yards off shore, a bow-shaped coral reef assured that American landing craft would be unable to reach the beaches with their cargo of American soldiers. The Marines would have to walk to shore under their own power. With water up to their chins and under withering fire from well-placed Japanese positions, hundreds of the assaulting Marines died before even touching the island of Tarawa. Many officers were among the dead in the water; sergeants and corporals took their place, to lead the surviving Marines who did make it to the beaches.
When all was said and done, and the smoke cleared, Tarawa was successfully captured by the U.S. Marine amphibious forces. A thousand Marines lay dead, and another 2,000 were wounded. The Japanese casualties were total: 4,600 defenders loyal to Japan were wiped out. The only survivors on the enemy side were some of the Korean workers, who did not share the suicidal impulse of the men who were their overlords.
NOTE: To honor the memory of those who died at Tarawa, a class of U. S. Navy amphibious assault carriers has been named after this battle.