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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A battle in the Pacific - the taking of an Island

It was a quiet and peaceful morning as the sun began to rise over this far away island in the Pacific.

 The Japanese garrison was slowly going about its morning routine.

Suddenly, out to sea, the Japanese lookouts spotted a sight they had been fearing since the fall of Guadalcanal. A sight that just a couple years earlier would have been unimaginable: an American invasion fleet approaching.

All across the island, the alarms went off...

The Japanese commander readied his men for battle. Instead of bombing and softening the Japanese defenses in the days leading up to the invasion, the US command had opted for the element of surprise, but the unpredictable weather in the Pacific had pushed them a couple hours behind schedule, and now they were about to attempt an amphibious assault without the cover of darkness.

On the beaches, in the jungle, on the high ground, the men manned the defensive positions they had been preparing for the past two years. It was going to be a hard struggle.

Machine gun nests dug into caves...

Snipers overlooking the island...

Jungle fighters heading into the thickness of the rainforest to spring deadly ambushes...

It was into this mutual death trap that the Marines launched their landing craft. With the coast guard coxswains laying covering fire, and the guns from the destroyers shelling the beach, the Higgins boats made their way to the beach.

The tension was palpable as the Japanese bullets struck the steel ramps of the crafts or whizzed dangerously close overhead. The enemy shells barely missing their boats.

As they approached the beach, the men were eager for the ramp to drop so that they could exit, and simultaneously, they dreaded that precise moment. For most of them this was when they would discover if they could live up to their bravado, and their ideals. For the few 
veterans, this was a far simpler moment. Just one that they were hoping to live through.

And just like that, the wait was over. The ramp dropped and the men poured out of their crafts. To their surprise, what had seemed like a small bluff on the beach from a distance, was in fact a defensive  wall, designed to prevent men and vehicles from moving inland, and to 
provide very good cover for the defenders. Air reconnaissance had totally missed it.

The Marines summoned all their valor and tried to disembark under a hail of bullets from the well protected defenders.
Despite the instinct to freeze, the Marine's training took over. Firing and moving, the Marines stormed up the beach.

The scene was the same all along the shoreline.

Individual acts of valor and leadership kept the men moving forward.

Those men not yet on the ground did their part providing covering fire for their buddies.

The same was true for the Coast Guard men, who stayed on those beaches instead of turning their boats around.

One problem to get off the beach was the barbed wire blocking the only path inland. 

Going directly over the sea wall was going to be close to impossible as long as the defenders were still manning their positions. That seemed unlikely to change, as Japanese reinforcements kept crawling forward to replace those who had fallen.

For a moment it seemed that the attack was losing steam as both sides were locked in an exchange of deadly fire. The Japanese protected by the sea wall, and the Marines, supported by their landing craft. Neither side willing to use artillery anymore that close to their own troops.

The next wave of landing craft arrived, but still, the men could not move off the beach. 

It was then that the Amtracs showed up.

With blazing 50 cal machine guns, armored all around, and the ability to move across rough terrain, they could shift the tide of the battle.

But could they get over that sea wall without exposing their soft underbelly?

As the men saw the Amtracs approach a renewed wave of courage, anger, and hope engulfed them, and they surged forward.

The lead Marines were getting dangerously close to overcoming the barbed wire blocking the exit from the beach.

The Japanese, realizing the criticality of the situation, decided to call in a highly dangerous mortar strike at the edge of their own sea wall positions.

On the left flank and on the right flank, Japanese mortars opened up. Amtracs, being open vehicles, were particularly vulnerable to this counter measure.

The Japanese defenders at the sea wall, sensing that this was the the defining moment disregarded the mortar shells falling all around them and poured more lead onto the Marines which were temporarily in disarray.

The Marines knew they could not stay there any longer. Prior to the mortars, many had taken shelter against the sea wall, but now that was not an option. 

Men were firing at each other from just a few feet apart, and even so, many could not figure out where they were being shot from.

Gradually, the Marines started to overcome the sea wall defenders.

One fox hole at a time.

But the crossfire was still pretty brutal.

And yet, it looked like the most recent wave of Marines was starting to break the stalemate.

Some of the men who had made it to the sea wall were able to sneak up and spring a trap on the unsuspecting Japanese.

In the meantime, the Japanese commander, who wanted to keep the Amtracs from breaking through, dispatched his treasured, few tanks and supporting infantry towards the beach. 

Out of the jungle and mixing in with the din of battle coming from the beach, came the rumbling sound of tank engines and Japanese battle cries.

But could these light battle tanks push the Marines back into the ocean? 

It was right about that time when the first Amtrac reached the gap in the sea wall and broke through the barbed wire defenses.

As the Amtrac climbed up the bluff, it came face to face with the pill box guarding the exit.

However the Marines riding on the Amtrac were able to silence it with a few well placed grenade throws and a good dose of suppressing fire.

This opened up the beach access for several Marine squads to follow up on its tracks.

Just as tthe muzzle of a gun can not hold back its deadly load when the gun powder in the shell's chamber explodes, the Marines who had been crammed and punished along the sea wall burst up the bluff with all guns blazing away.

The Japanese however had another layer of defenders in place ready to meet them. Many of them in prepared positions...

Many others taking shelter in the craters created by US Navy's heavy guns.

Every fold in the terrain was used to the fullest advantage.

But the Marine's pent up fury was hard to contain.

Unfortunately for the Marines, the surviving Japanese at the sea wall were now picking up the Marines from the flank.

But not for long. The Marines following up behind were able to pay them in kind.

The charge up the bluff continued to sweep the defenders. The Marines would need to assume defensive positions very quickly, as the tanks were now dangerously close.

Not to mention a couple of Japanese machine guns which were getting ready to open up on the charging Learthernecks.

The defenders were far from beaten and they continued to throw everything they had at the surging invasion force.

The approaching armor provided extra incentive for the Marines to try to take over some of the prepared positions.

The Japanese men readied themselves for the upcoming hand to hand struggle.

The encounters were swift and decisive. The momentum was on the side of the attackers.

By the time the Japanese tanks and their supporting infantry reached the beach, the Marines had a few well-placed heavy weapons to meet them.

The passionate Japanese men charged fiercely into the withering machine gun fire and were quickly dispatched.

Once the tanks were without infantry cover, they were also easy prey for hidden bazooka men.

Meanwhile, at the beach, the stragglers were following up the bluff, although there were a few who were too battle shocked to let go of the perceived safety of the sea wall.

The human traffic jam was beginning to clear up, albeit not without leaving behind a heavy toll.

As the Marines enveloped and outflanked the sea wall, they also came into vicious hand to hand combat with the last few survivors who refused to fall back to the second line of defense and would rather fight to the bitter end.

Some of the Marines who took over those foxholes also found themselves at the short end of the stick as the Japanese fought back to recapture them.

All across the beach, similar dramatic scenes were unfolding, with some positions changing hands multiple times.

The battle raged on. The last fortification on the beach was within sight of the attacking Marines.

The phone lines had been cut so a runner was dispatched to notify the commander of the situation.

The Japanese commander committed his reserve company to the battle. He knew that unless they held the beach, American reinforcements would continue to pour into the island and it was only a matter of time before they were defeated.

Slowly, the Japanese men moved through the jungle towards the battle. As they advanced, they knew this was most likely a one way mission.

At their commanding officer's order, the men rushed forward in a frenzied banzai charge. A last ditch attempt to take back the beach.

The jarheads were ready and from the protection of the Japanese defensive positions, they annhilated the Emperor's faithful followers.

But while this meant that the battle was lost, it was not over yet. The Japanese knew that without reinforcements, they would not be able to prevent the Americans from capturing the island. But they were determined to exact the highest possible price for the remaining real estate. What the Marines could not see was that within the jungle, at every turn there were many hidden defenders waiting in ambush.

They were carefully spread out, to make the advance painfully bloody and slow.

And let's not forget those hidden pillboxes and caves that had yet to be dealt with.

The Marines had to move very carefully through the jungle. It was within this confined space full of combustible organic matter that the flamethrower became many Marines' best friend.

For the Japanese in the caves, with nowhere to go, this was a dreadful way to meet their end. Some chose to blow themselves up with their last grenades, others charged out to be mowed down by the expecting Marines. Many still discovered how quickly,  thoroughly, and 
painfully, a human body can burn.

For the Marines, it was a hard slug up the island. Its high ground rose several hundred feet above the sea level, and the Japanese retained a commanding view of the approach routes.

Sniper teams made the advance very treacherous, particularly for the junior officers who would regularly be killed to disrupt the command and control of the advancing units.

But the Amtracs, having found their way inland, helped clear those last pockets of resistance.

At last, the Marines reached the main Japanese base camp. Very few men remained. Built mostly out of bamboo, the camp did not offer much protection. Once the commander was killed, the firing ceased.

Without any other Japanese men to witness their shameful surrender, the last two defenders put down their weapons and chose to live. The Marines were tempted to kill them, but were too exhausted, physically and mentally, to do so.

A day later, upon reaching the highest point in the island, the men improvised a flagstaff and Old Glory was raised. The battle for this forsaken piece of land in the middle of nowhere was officially over.