One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa by John Wukovits


The vast Pacific Ocean hosts at least 20,000 islands, many of which sprouted from the depths like pus filled pimples on the face of Poseidon. Many breed disease carrying insects, venomous snakes and all kinds of noxious creations that can kill or sicken a man. Some of these islands are drenched for months at a time by torrential monsoons, while others are so dry that rainwater is collected in barrels for human consumption.

The island named Tarawa was just such a place in 1943 during the early stages of the American "island hopping" campaign to push back the conquering Japanese during WWII. Tarawa (now named Kiribati) is located in the Central Pacific and is part of the Gilbert Islands. The Japanese built an airfield on the barren, arid island that posed an immediate threat to the Americans advancing up the Solomon Islands and other US bases in the South Pacific. It had to be taken by US forces.

During three days in November of 1943, over 1,000 American servicemen, mostly marines from the Second Marine Division, lost their lives trying to take the prized airfield on Tarawa away from the Japanese.

The Japanese lost thousands of soldiers, many who were so firmly entrenched in defensive positions that they had to literally be blown out of the ground by explosives or burned out with flamethrowers. Only 17 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner.

The quick and bloody battle is respectfully retold through firsthand interviews with veterans who share horrors of the brutal combat, often giving deferential testimony to the tenacity of the Japanese defenders. It is a tale of sloppy American planning, horrible heat, bad water and a low tide that took the lives of many marines who were forced to wade through a machine gun raked lagoon to reach the beaches after the US command misjudged the tides and left US landing craft hung up far from the landing beaches.

Bravo Mr. Wukovits, you've documented a story that needs to be told again and again. The "greatest generation" indeed! Check catalog for availability.

Submitted by Dan @Central.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan K. published on June 29, 2011 8:17 AM.

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