Friday, May 04, 2018

Fullbore Friday

"With audacity one can undertake anything, but not do everything."----- Napoleon Bonaparte
At the beginning of a conflict you need to keep the aggressor off balance. You need to learn, grow, refine, and develop your tactics. Things won't be perfect or even good - but they must be done. Almost always, things do not work as you plan.

Most know of Doolittle's raid on Tokyo - close to perfect if only a few hundred pounds of fuel off. Many don't know about Carlson's Raid on Makin Island though.

From the
Marine Corps Gazette's JUL01 edition,
On 8 August 1942, 222 officers and men embarked on the USS Argonaut and USS Nautilus for Makin. The trip was uneventful and also uncomfortable as evidenced by the numerous cases of heat rash and heat prostration that developed during the voyage. The raiders were to disembark at 0300 on 17 August 1942, assemble alongside the submarines until the two companies were organized, and then move onto Butaritari. Withdrawal from the island was scheduled to take place no later than 2100 that same day. If the raiders had not returned by that time, Task Force Commander John Haines would decide whether to wait or return to Pearl Harbor without them. (See Figure 2.) If the raid was successful, Little Makin, a less important part of the atoll, would be raided the following morning.

Unfortunately, almost every one of Carlson's plans went awry from the beginning. On the night of 16 August, the raiders encountered rain squalls, heavy swells, and an onshore wind. The rubber boats from the Argonaut were loaded and launched. Immediately the heavy sea drowned the outboard motors out. Carlson was then advised that the tide was moving the submarines toward the reef and they would have to start backing away. This meant that the two company commanders would not be able to assemble alongside the submarines and would probably lose control of their men. When no alternatives seemed possible, Carlson issued the order to disembark from the Nautilus with instructions for both companies to follow his boat to the beach.

Although the outboard motors were inoperable, the raiders paddled with all their strength to land at 0530 as planned. Fifteen of the 18 boats reached opposite Government Wharf where they were quickly hidden by sand and palm fronds. Lt Oscar Peatross and his 11 men failed to get the change of plans and landed their boat at the original beach about I mile south of the main body. The two other boats landed just north of the main body. The mix-up in the landing required reorganization on shore, but before it was completed, one man accidentally fired his weapon. The element of surprise was now lost.

One company moved across the island to control the coastal road and to seize the Government House and Government Wharf. The other company stayed in reserve and protected the left rear. Alerted by the gunshot, CWO Kamemitsu informed his headquarters and started his small force up the coastal road by truck and bicycle toward the Government House. A firefight developed near the native hospital. The tenacious enemy defense included four machineguns, a flamethrower, two grenade launchers, infantry armed with automatic weapons, and supported by well-- concealed snipers.

About this time in the rising light, the raiders spotted a 3,500-ton troop transport and a small patrol boat entering the lagoon. Carlson radioed the submarines and requested that they surface to fire their 6-inch guns. Although communications eventually broke down, the Nautilus, shooting blindly at the ships with only a compass bearing furnished by Carlson, fired 65 &inch shells into the lagoon. Through a combination of excellent gunnery and amazing luck, both vessels were sunk.

Carlson renewed the attack, but the Japanese snipers proved to be a formidable problem. From 0730 to 1130 the action consisted of a series of small-unit movements. just before noon two Japanese reconnaissance planes circled over the fighting area for 15 minutes, dropped 2 bombs, and then departed. Soon thereafter, a small force of Japanese made a banzai attack down the center of the island. The raiders quickly repulsed the attack, killing most of the Japanese.

At 0120, 12 planes appeared-2 Kawanishi flying boats (about the size of a U.S. PBY-4), 4 fighters, and 6 reconnaissance bombers. They bombed and strafed the island for over an hour without inflicting any real damage on the raiders. One Kawanishi flying boat and one reconnaissance seaplane landed in the lagoon; the Kawanishi brought about 35 to 40 reinforcements. However, both aircraft were shot down during takeoff. Meanwhile, Lt Peatross proceeded to carry

out his initial orders to rendezvous with a platoon from Company A at the church. They found the church empty. Then Peatross and his men moved toward the main body of the raiders, but they were soon brought under intense machinegun and rifle fire. In the process of knocking out the machinegun and killing several Japanese, three men were killed and most of the others wounded. Peatross decided to pull back to the ocean side of the island. He also sent a runner to Carlson to notify him of their circumstances. When no linkup with the main body took place after several hours, Peatross returned to the Nautilus with his men.

Carlson's raiders held a poor position in the thick brush. Their fields of fire were limited, and they were subjected to heavy sniper fire, so Carlson ordered his men to pull back a few hundred yards. As the Japanese infantry followed, more Japanese planes arrived at 1630 and bombed the area just evacuated, wounding some of the enemy advance. Time, however, was running out. Though the raid had inflicted heavy damage and casualties on the Japanese, the mission had not been fully accomplished. Carlson's orders were to return to the submarines by 1930. With too little time to complete the mission, he ordered a retreat.

The withdrawal from combat was orderly. Carlson and Roosevelt said goodbye to the natives who had helped them, and arranged to have the dead raiders buried. By 1915 all the boats were lined up on the beach with those on either flank entering the water first. The first was Carlson's. The effort to return to the submarines was an unmitigated disaster. Unfortunately, the rapid succession of the breakers, combined with their great force, proved too formidable for even the highly trained raiders. After nearly an hour of struggling, in which almost all the weapons and equipment were lost, about two-thirds of the raiders gave up, and were washed ashore. With a few salvaged weapons, the men posted a security perimeter. One of the guards spotted an eight-man Japanese patrol and fired, killing three of them. The rest apparently ran away. With the possibility of Japanese reinforcements arriving in the morning, the raiders' prospects seemed dreary.

The feeling of helplessness at this point marked the low ebb of the raid. At midnight Carlson called a meeting of his officers and some of his men. What should they do? Try the surf again? Hide on the north end of the atoll? Surrender? When one raider thought surrender was in order, Carlson suggested, "Look-you take anyone you want and go out and find someone to surrender to-and then you have the right to come back here and tell the men, and the men will have an opportunity to express their views." The raider went out, but came back with the news that he could not find any Japanese. Carlson then asked, "Is there anyone else who thinks we ought to surrender?" No one mentioned it further, and the idea was abandoned.

After daylight, a group of men fought a terrible battle with the surf and made it to the submarines. A little later another group was organized and also succeeded in reaching the submarines. Approximately 70 raiders remained on the beach. During the remainder of the day, however, they completed the rest of their mission with the exception of capturing prisoners. Carlson found his dead and confirmed once again with the native chief that they would be buried.

With his wounded men, Carlson decided not to try the ocean side again, but opted to get out through the lagoon side. The Japanese had no coastal guns covering the lagoon.

When darkness came, Carlson, after much difficulty in identifying himself, made contact with the submarines. He arranged for them to pick him and his men off Flink Point at the west end of the lagoon. His men reported that everyone seen that day was loaded in the remaining rubber boats and an outrigger canoe. The trip took 3 very difficult hours. Forty hours had elapsed since the raiders first left the submarines.

The wardroom on the Nautilus was cleared so that four Marines could be operated on. In addition, the officers turned over the staterooms to the wounded. Under the most austere and difficult conditions, the Navy doctors performed magnificently.

In the chaos of the 2-day operation, 9 men were somehow left behind. Remarkably, they eluded capture for nearly a month after the Japanese returned in force-a relief expedition of more than 1,000 men landed on Makin the day after Carlson and his men departed. Eventually caught, the nine raiders were taken to the 6th Base Force Headquarters on Kwajalein. Early in October Vice Admiral Hirokai Abe was informed that any transfer of the prisoners to Japan would be impractical. Consequently, Abe had the raiders formally executed on 16 October 1942. After the war, the admiral was tried for his war crimes in a court in Guam; he was found guilty and hanged.
For details on what conditions in Kwajalein was like - I highly recommend what I am listening to right now, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

First posted JUL2011.

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