Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Battle of Kwajalein, 1944

While my dad, Frank Dolan, completed his training in San Diego for duty on the new repair ship, USS Hector, the war against Japan continued in the Pacific. In November of 1943, the U.S. and its Allies drove Japanese occupiers from Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. The Americans' next objective was the Marshall Island chain. The Battle of Kwajalein, the opening of Marshall Islands Campaign, was fought from January 29 to February 3, 1944.

A small group of 29 atolls and 5 islands in the Northern Pacific settled by ancient Micronesian peoples, the Marshalls were under Japan's control into the Second World War. The islands, located about 2,900 miles east of Japan, formed a key part of the Empire's outer perimeter defense. The location of the islands also made them offensively strategic for the Japanese Navy.

By this point in the war, the Japanese were withdrawing from advanced positions in the Pacific, choosing to defend their nation closer to home. Their strategy for the island chain was to use its defense as a delay action while establishing a new defensive perimeter closer to Japan. They fortified garrisons on the eastern and southern perimeter islands, which were most exposed to attack by the Americans.

The American plan for taking the Marshall Islands, known as "Operation Flintlock," called for hopping over the fortified outer islands and directly attacking Kwajalein, the world's largest coral atoll, and center of Japanese control over the islands.

Source: World War II Database

U.S. aircraft carriers began their air offensive against Kwajalein on today's date in 1944. On January 31, U.S. Marines landed on Majuro Atoll and took it without any casualties, preparing it as a forward base for the full invasion. After overwhelming air and naval bombardment, Kwajalein was stormed by Marines and Army troops on February 1, and declared secured on the 7th, with a loss of only 372 Marines and soldiers killed. In contrast, the Japanese death toll was 7,800. On February 12th, Marines landed on Arno Atoll and began a series of mopping-up operations in the remaining minor atolls of the Marshall Islands.

The capture of Kwajalein allowed the Navy high command to step up its operations in the Marshalls and invade the important Eniwetok Atoll on February 17, 1944. In early April, Dad will sail with the Hector on its maiden voyage to Hawaii. By June, Hector will be repairing ships at the new forward naval base at Eniwetok.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records; The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morison; World War II Database