Monday, February 17, 2014

The Battle of Eniwetok, 1944

Part of America's "island hopping" strategy in the Pacific was the invasion of Eniwetok* Atoll in the Marshall Islands. That attack, known as "Operation Catchpole," began on this date in 1944. It occurred during a simultaneous operation against the Japanese naval and air base at Truk Atoll, 670 miles southwest, on the 16th-17th.

Following up on the success in the Battle of Kwajalein, the Americans set their sights on an airfield and harbor from which to launch attacks on Japanese strongholds in the Mariana Islands further north. The capture of the Eniwetok atoll would provide just what the Allies needed.

Like the other atolls in the Marshall Islands, Eniwetok was a harbor surrounded by tiny coral and sand islands. The circumference of the 30-island ring is 64 miles, with a maximum elevation of only 15 feet above sea level. Three entrances provided passage in and out of the lagoon.

Source: Stamford Historical Society, Inc.

The naval bombardment began on the February 17th. The next day, Marines landed on Engebi Island, the larger of the northern islands, taking it in only 6 hours. On the 19th, Army infantry landed on Eniwetok Island in the south. Fighting there was more difficult, and the island was not secured until the 21st. On the 22nd, Marines took neighboring Parry Island. By the following day, the remaining islands were also under American control. In total, the atoll was secured at a cost of 339 Americans killed and missing, and 2,677 Japanese.

Marine assault waves on the well-bombed Engebi Island, February 18, 1944
Source: US Military Challenge

With the capture of Eniwetok Atoll control of the Marshall Islands, which had been in Japanese hands since 1914, passed to the United States. Eniwetok immediately became a major forward operating base for the Navy and an airbase for the Marines. In June 1944, my dad, Frank Dolan, will arrive on his newly commissioned repair ship, USS Hector, to begin 3 1/2 months of repair jobs. Nearly 500 Allied ships could be seen present in the lagoon when Hector arrived.

* In 1974 the official spelling was changed to "Enewetak."

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

No comments:

Post a Comment