On this day in 1943, Marines with the 2d Marine Division landed on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, in the Gilbert Islands. For the next 76 hours, Marines battled against intense Japanese resistance to secure the island and gain control of the critical airfield.
The initial landings were especially challenging, as low tides beached many landing craft on an offshore reef, forcing Marines to wade hundreds of yards in the open water under intense enemy fire. Despite fierce resistance and heavy casualties, by the end of the first day 5,000 Marines had made it ashore and carved out a 300m deep beachhead. Over the next two days, tanks and reinforcements made their way ashore and swept the defenders from their pillboxes, bunkers and other fortifications.
SSgt Norman T. Hatch and other combat cameraman assigned to 2d Marine Division shot first-hand video of the battle. Their footage became “With the Marines at Tarawa,” an Oscar-winning short documentary that captures the intensity of the battle, the heroism of the Marines, and the human cost of securing the island.
(Video by Department of the Navy. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Naval Observatory. Created-1942-9/18/1947)