Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Tarawa What-if

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by solarfox, Nov 27, 2007.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. solarfox

    solarfox Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2007
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    3
    Hello everyone,

    At my high school we must accomplish a Senior Project. This takes the form of anything, such as Learning to become EMT Certified, Astrology, Tennis Training, Border-cross, Video Yearbook... Mine is "World War II: If the Victors had Lost- A counterfactual History Study in the BAttles of Dunkirk, Tobruk and Tarawa". I am starting with Tarawa, because I have a vetern to speak with from there. It'll be about a 20 page research paper. I plan on actually breaking a lot of ground with this since no one has really done an intense paper like this for Senior Project or in general, at least not these battles.
    Anyway, the project in essence explains how the battle actually occured, how the Japanese could have been victorious, and what would the results have been.
    We all know how the battle went down, and if you don't go check it out. I believe that the Japanese COULD HAVE sucessfully pulled off a win here if three things had changed. First, they needed to counterattack during the first night, which they didn't due to a lack of effective communication. Secondly, if the Imperial Japanese Navy had defended the island by the second day they could have coordinated a counter attack as well. Third is the culture. If a cornered Japanese soldier was cornered they committed ritual suicied or hari-kari. IF the remnants of the first day didn't do this and once again counter attacked they might have been able to inflict higher casualties.

    The result: America would have to rethink their policies for invading Japanese held territory that wasn't held by Britain or America before the war. Since this was the first battle that America was on the offensive against Japan [and Tarawa was needed to take the Marshalls, the Marshalls were needed to take the Marianas and the Marianas were needed to take the Philipines (the big Prize)], then the Marine Corps and the NAvy would need to rehaul their evaluation of Island Hooping. This was one of the first battles with Amphtracs, higgins boats and naval power all in one. If the US had lost more men then they did on Tarawa then the american public would have gotten behind them and said no more.

    Well, please give me your two, five, ten cent thoughts on this. PLEASE:D!!! This is BIG! Stay relatively realistic and debate is welcomed! Anyhting can happen...If you know any place where good facts are located, then have at ME!;)

    I thank you for your valuable input. THANK YOU!
     
  2. jacobtowne

    jacobtowne Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2006
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    4
    "The result: America would have to rethink their policies for invading Japanese held territory that wasn't held by Britain or America before the war."

    Agree. Strategy for the Central Pacific was predicated upon successful amphibious assaults against defended beaches. Had Tarawa failed,
    that strategy would have come under close scrutiny. What the results of that scrutiny would have been is anyone's guess - Try Betio again? Bypass the Gilberts and move on the Marshall's?


    "Since this was the first battle that America was on the offensive against Japan"

    Actually, Guadalcanal was the first major U.S. offensive against Japanese forces - August, 1942.

    Congratulations on taking on such an ambitious topic.

    JT
     
  3. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2007
    Messages:
    1,051
    Likes Received:
    81
    The USMC & USN leaders involved in the Tarawa campaign, and amhibious ops in general choose to look at the Betia battle as a near defeat tactically. This suggests what they would have done had the attack been repulsed entirely.

    1. Preperation. Air and surface reconissance had several failings. Future operations had more thurough reconissance.

    2. Preperatory Fires: Armor piercing ammunition was not used. The high explosive projectiles from the ships used fuzes with instant action or very short delay. The same for the aircraft bombs. Realitively few Japanese bunkers were damamged because of this. Subsequently the preparatory fires included a large portion of armor piercing or penetrating type ammo.

    3. Communications failed. This was found to be a radio problem. The radio operators became casualties, the radios were immersed in water, the radios were destroyed by enemy fires, electromagnetic interferance with the signals interrupted messages... Subsequently there was more cross training for radio use. If the specialist operator became a casualty, there were others capable of using the equipment; Water prooffing improved; leaders and operators learned to be more flexible in getting he message through. If the signal would not go through on the Naval Gunfire Spotting Frequency then the message would be relayed via the battalion tactical frequency, or the administrative channel. Messages for fire support had absolute priority and had to be sent via any radio and any channel that would work.

    4. Distribution of explosive charges and flamethrowers was inadaquate. The assuallt engineer teams became better integrated into the rifle companys. By 1945 USMC rifle companys were in effect assualt engineer companys. Similarly the number of MG available to the company comander was doubled, then tripled.

    5. The M3 Light tank was useless for the assualt. The M4 Medium tank became the sole assualt tank and the light tanks regulated to auxillary roles.

    So, I'd guess a complete repulse would result in more of the same, a evaluation of what was done wrong and improvements implemented. Keep in mind the Betio attack was not the first or the largest amphibious landing, or assualt, to date. There had already been a half dozen such operations in the Pacific theatre and one defeat would not be a show stopper. In Europe the failure of the Dieppe raid did not bring a halt to amphibious operations. So its unlikely the overall strategy in the Pacific would change. Or even the operational technique. Just the tactics would be modified, much as they were continually improved anyway.
     
  4. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    762
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    There were approxmately 4500 Japanese defenders on Betio when the US landed. The US had roughly 18,000 men for the landings (a full reinforced Marine division). It is very unlikely that the Japanese could have mustered sufficent forces to overcome the landings even with better orgainzation and communications. There are two reasons for this. The primary one is that the Marines had established at least two footholds on the island by the evening of the first day of fighting. This would mean the Japanese either split their forces or they concentrate on on enclave. Either way, they are numerically and firepower-wise at a severe disadvantage. If you add just US DD fire support an exposed Japanese attack would result in massive casualties even if it succeeds in overrunning the Marine positions in whole or part.

    The other problem they face is that Betio is only needed for the airfield. The Marines could (and did) still land on the rest of the atoll from Eita Island to Lone Tree Island and establish bases on the other atolls all of which had minimal defenses. As the US has total sea control they could simply come back and try again while holding the outer atolls and continuing to shell and otherwise harass the now isolated Betio defenders.
    This strategy was a big Japanese mistake. Fortifying the entire chain of islands and spreading the defenses more while providing for some sort of naval support like small submarines would have made the island a far tougher nut to crack. By spreading the defenses the other islands could have maintained heavy artillery fire on the one invaded sure in the knowledge that the defenders were well dug in and largely immune to the fire unlike the attackers.
    Submarines and more coast defense guns would have made things hard for the Navy off shore. They would be distracted and having to deal with these other islands. The attackers, likewise, would also have to spread their own forces thinner to deal with the defenders. By concentrating their forces on a single small atoll, the Japanese eased the US problem of taking the entire chain.

    As for the IJN coming to the rescue, what forces did you have in mind solarfox? The Japanese carrier forces (Kido Butai) had hardly recovered from their earlier battles in the Solomons and their air wings were severely depleted in fighting there and against Kenney's Fifth Air Force in New Guniea. Defending Rabaul cost the Japanese a year in recovering their carrier air forces and even then they were ill-trained and equipped to take on a vastly technically and experiance-wise superior US carrier force.

    I don't see the Japanese winning this one.
     
  5. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2007
    Messages:
    1,051
    Likes Received:
    81
    The Japanese opportunity would have been in the first few hours. As the intial serials of Marines crossed the lagoon a greater concentration of fire power could have attritioned enough to weaken the eventual enclave along the seawall. Bringing reinforcements to the bunkers and trenches might increase the firepower to the tipping point. Then a counter attack, or a series of counter attacks to kill off the Marines along and across the seawall. The second landing occured later in the morning and was isolated from the first beachhead for many hours. The smaller second group would have had much more trouble advancing alone, and been more vulnerable to counter attack in the afternoon.

    The breakdown in shore to ship communications aided the Japanese. Unfortunatly their communications fell apart as well. The status of the Japanese commander is not clear. Post battle analysis suggests he may have been killed at his CP by a lucky shot during the preliminary USN fires, or while moving along a communications trench as the first wave of Marines came in. The loss of the commander & possibly the CP staff would explain the lack of any Japanese counter attacks of noticeable size during the morining and early afternoon.
     
    skunk works likes this.
  6. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,281
    Likes Received:
    85
    I fully concur with this one. From what I've read on amphib ops in World War II, the landing force is generally most vulnerable in the first few hours of the assault, even with heavy naval and air support. It really depends on the ability of defending force to react properly.

    The case of Tarawa brings to mind the Japanese landings on Wake. Like Tarawa, the US could've chosen to contest the island. However, the main question is: do the defenders have any forces available to do this?
    generally, Amphib ops rely on surprise. Once surprise is achieved, it becomes very difficult for the defenders to stop the landings.
     
  7. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    762
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    The problem with the early counterattack by the Japanese is full of problems, as is any counter attack they make. The first is that only about a third of their troops are really infantry. The rest are manning heavy weapons in fixed positions. The next problem is that the Japanese lack virtually any mobile heavy weapons. They have no submachineguns. They have few machineguns that can move with the advance. Outside the puny 50mm grenade lauchers they have no mobile fire support and no way to communicate to get fire support. This limits virtually any offensive action to essentially just bolt action rifles, bayonets and hand thrown grenades of dubious quality.
    Another problem is that the defenders are more or less homogeneously spread across Betio. That is, they lack concentration at the point of decision. The Japanese did not have nor did they plan for a mobile reserve force of any size to react to landings. If they had it would have been vulnerable to the preliminary bombardment to some degree. So, in order to launch a counter attack the officers would have had to send runners, communicate with, etc., the various groups of men and move them under fire to a central location to concentrate for the assault. This would have taken alot of time. It also would have required the commanders have a pretty good idea of where the Marines had landed and where to direct the attack. If the Japanese choose wrong they might expend their forces for no gain or they might send them against a strong point in the Marine lines to be exterminated.
    So, the Japanese in order to launch a successful counter attack have to: Achieve a concentration of men at a good point to launch the attack with sufficent numbers present to actually overcome the landing forces at the point of decision. The question is, how many men are required to do this out of the roughly 1500 available for the task and can that many be gotten togeather and orgainzed to perform the task?
     
  8. solarfox

    solarfox Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2007
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    3
    Okay,

    So my theory is still valid though, that it was possible for the Japanese to win, however small. The IJN reinforcements were mostly speculation on my part, i have just begun and am still learning about this battle. I do concur that the Japanese needed to repel the first wave or at least the second wave and counter-attack at night of the first day. More or less America would have put the 6th on shore earlier than it did to reinforce the 2nd Marine division. I like to think that this meant that they would revamp their theroy of island-hopping, especially since we know the home-front response even after we won with such costly results. If we lost! God only knows. Thanks for your feed back!
     
  9. solarfox

    solarfox Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2007
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    3
    Also, the point of this is to prove that the Japanese could have won, explain the ramifications for the US and to say how easily wars can change!
     
  10. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    762
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    The original US casualties, while heavy by US standards, weren't prohibitive:

    Killed: 1009
    Wounded: 2101
    out of 18309 that were involved in the landings (includes naval personnel on landing craft etc).
     
    skunk works likes this.
  11. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,281
    Likes Received:
    85
    I see. The Japanese defenders of Tarawa just didn't have the tools nor the organization needed to properly react to the landings. From what I see, it seems that the Japanese defense was anchored on delaying the attacking force until naval reinforcements arrived. Unfortunately for the defenders, there was no help to send them. That's essentially the story of almost every Japanese held island in the Pacific.
     
  12. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    762
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    Tarawa was primarily defended by two SNLF (Special Naval Landing Force) units each about the size of a large battalion. These were tailor-made for the island's defense. Both consisted primarily of gun crews manning heavy weapons. In each there was also about a reinforced company of infantry for general defense. All of these troops were IJN sailors seconded to function as combat troops (the Japanese had nothing equivalent to the US Marine Corps). There was also a construction battalion with a mix of low grade Japanese soldiers and Korean slave labor amounting to about 900 men.
    The Koreans pretty much refused to fight except under threat and the Japanese soldiers in this unit were armed with just small arms.
     
  13. solarfox

    solarfox Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2007
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    3
    Okay, thanks for shooting holes into my theroy, but how would they have won. Stop and think, don't say they can't, the point of my project is to say that "they could, this is how they did, and heres the US response at the end of the battle".
     
  14. Seadog

    Seadog Member

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2006
    Messages:
    355
    Likes Received:
    11
    The Japanese could not win at Tarawa. If they would have repulsed the American forces, there would have been an intense softening bombardment of the island and another assault, or they would have by-passed it and blockaded it into starvation. The best the Japanese could achieve is a delay and more U.S. casualties. There are several ways that this could be achieved.
     
  15. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,281
    Likes Received:
    85
    Despite the conditions of this Tarawa what-if, I have to agree with this one.

    The defenders of the island couldn't stand against what the US assembled. The only way, I think, the Japanese could have a chance for a tactical win was to force a massive air and naval engagement but I doubt that at this stage of the war the Japanese had any substantial naval units or the fuel needed to stage such a naval sortie.
     
  16. solarfox

    solarfox Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2007
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    3
    OKay, at this point I say that a Japanese victory if in the hands of more US casulities, at what point is the USMC death toll too high?
     
  17. jacobtowne

    jacobtowne Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2006
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    4
    Retreat in the face of heavy casualties is not a Marine Corps tradition.:)

    Carl Schwamberger wrote:

    "So, I'd guess a complete repulse would result in more of the same, a evaluation of what was done wrong and improvements implemented. Keep in mind the Betio attack was not the first or the largest amphibious landing, or assualt, to date. There had already been a half dozen such operations in the Pacific theatre and one defeat would not be a show stopper. In Europe the failure of the Dieppe raid did not bring a halt to amphibious operations. So its unlikely the overall strategy in the Pacific would change. Or even the operational technique. Just the tactics would be modified, much as they were continually improved anyway."

    That's it in a nutshell, and it is doubtful whether anyone could say it better.

    Solarfox:
    IMO, the most likely option would be for the Japanese to leave their pillboxes before the Marines set foot on the beach, and even that is iffy. Since it is your goal to posit a Japanese victory, you might consider that approach. As for the consequences, the advance in the Central Pacific would have been slowed temporarily, but not derailed, as others have pointed out.

    JT
     
  18. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    762
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    I could postulate some means by which the Japanese might have made the US pay far more heavily to take Tarawa (other than simply adding more troops). While this involves additional equipment, what I would propose was available to the Japanese and within their capacity to put in the Marshalls and use.
     
  19. jacobtowne

    jacobtowne Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2006
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    4
    Solarfox wrote:
    I meant to ask this before: Are you limited to Tarawa by someone else's choice? If not, I'd consider a loss at Guadalcanal as having a more profound effect on Allied goals in the Pacific, and postulating an American defeat there might be simpler.

    JT
     
  20. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    762
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    On the basis of the above, one could argue that both Dunkirk and Tobruk (second time around) were Allied defeats. I assume you are going to argue that at Dunkirk the British surrender and do not get withdrawn. I suggest searching this board (or others) for threads on Seelöwe and the Battle of Britain to see just how little effect this would have on subsequent events. Tobruk, likewise, still ends up at Alamein and a German defeat.

    I would recommend the following as potential alternatives that might have had a profound effect on the outcome of things (negatively) for the Western Allies in the Pacific and Europe:

    Guadalcanal. Doable for the Japanese, far moreso than Tarawa.
    New Guiena and Port Moresby. Again possible for the Japanese
    Salerno: The Germans have a realistic chance of stopping that operation
    The battle of the Atlantic (eg., U-boat and surface operations): Possibly a German win if shipping losses were increased up through 1941.
    Biak: MacAuthur's advance on the Philippines is knocked on its heels.
    Malta: A Italo-German invasion.
    A Japanese strike on the Panama canal. Possible.
    Germany abandons or does not support operations in North Africa. Saves nearly 600,000 men and a huge amount of motorized equipment. Alot of potential in the East from that.
    The bomber campaign and Germany's response. Has potential




    As to the list above: "Astrology?" What's with that? Debunking it? This certainly couldn't be a serious subject choice otherwise.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page