In the early morning hours of August 17, 1943, U.S. Marines landed on Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. It was a small amphibious raid – just over 200 men – and their mission was to destroy Japanese installations and capture prisoners.
Through a difficult landing and an even more difficult battle, the Marines quickly became pinned down. Though outnumbered and outgunned, the Marine’s fought bravely and took out many of the defenders.
“We landed about 100 to 150 yards from the main landing point. We hid the boat as best we could and crossed a road, contacting B Company in the village. The Japanese were in trenches outside the village and were manning several machine-gun nests. There was a lot of small-arms fire. I had the Boys [antitank] gun along with Tiny Carroll. A truck was coming down the road, so I hit the deck, braced myself, and fired, hitting the truck in the radiator. Steam poured out and several Japs tumbled out.
I also used the gun on two seaplanes that landed in the bay. All of us were firing at them. The smaller one caught fire and burned. The bigger plane was a four-engine seaplane. I remember firing about 20 rounds. It took off, and flames came up on it, and then it went down,” Marine Raider Dean Winters recalled.”
The raid was successful, but the overall mission was a failure. The Marine Raiders managed to kill almost half the Japanese garrison but failed to destroy the installations, capture any prisoners, or gain any intelligence.
The story of the Makin Atoll raid is one of heroism and sacrifice. 19 U.S. Marines died during the raid, and 9 were left behind when the rest of the unit withdrew. In 2001, their bodies were reburied at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
The Makin Atoll raid was the basis for the 1943 movie “Gung Ho,” which starred Randolph Scott as Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, leader of the raid.
Today, the surf passage evolution that Navy SEAL candidates go through is a direct result of the lessons learned from operations like the Makin Atoll raid. It is a reminder of the sacrifices made by U.S. Marines in World War II, and of the importance of Amphibious warfare in today’s military operations.
We will never forget the brave men who gave their lives on the Gilbert Islands.