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Titans of the Seas: Chapter 19

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  • DJ
    Tarawa and Makin. The Marshalls held a stratigic position that meant that there was no way that they could be ignored. Close to the supply lines that ran
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2006
      Tarawa and Makin.

      The Marshalls held a stratigic position that meant that there was no
      way that they could be ignored. Close to the supply lines that ran
      between Pearl Harbor and New Zealand. Not all of the islands were
      equally important though. Most weren't large enough to support coral
      runways, and many of the ones that were, weren't facing in the right
      direction to allow the building of a runnway. Thus, the CinCPac
      planners decided that the best way to get airfields quickly was to
      take them from the enemy. Interestingly enough, wise as this strategy
      seems, it appears in a footnote that Nimitz when speaking to the
      authors stated that if he had realized just how fast the SeeBees could
      build coral runways he probably would have bypassed many of the
      islands that were taken.

      In preperation for the comming offensive, Nimitz had reorganized the
      Pacific Fleet. The Fifth Fleet now included all the ships in the
      Pacific save for thos that belonged to Halsey in the Soutwest adn
      Frank Jack Fletcher's in the North and those that were under the
      command of General MacArthur. Command of the Fifth Fleet had gone to
      Ray Spruance. The amphibious component was placed in the experienced
      hands of Kelly Turner. Save for major operations Spruance was found
      ashore in the midst of planning. Nimitz designated all of the Fifth
      Fleet Carriers as Task Force 50, this was then broken up int for Task
      Groups, 50.1 under Pownall, 50.2 under Radford, 50.3 under Mongomery
      and 50.4 under Ted Sherman. These task groups had six large and five
      light carriers divided amongst them. The role these carriers would
      play in the upcoming campaign was two fold as far as Nimitz was
      concerned. They would bomb and plaster the two islands slated for
      invasion, Makin and Betio. They would also stand ready to deal with
      Koga's Combined Fleet in case it decided to put in an appearance.

      For this first operation the Fast Carrier groups weren't kept together
      but were spread across the compass points around the target islands.
      This might be viewed as an arrogance, but it should be considered that
      the groups were fairly close to each other and were in a decent
      position to be mutually supporting if the need arose. Also considering
      the time it might be thought that the Americans with their descent
      access to Japanese planning would have been able to project their
      force in a manner of their choosing based on the knowledge of the need
      of the moment.

      Previously off Guadalcanal Fletcher had pulled out his fleet carriers
      almost as soon as the landings had started. Kelly Turner saw to it
      that such a thing could not happen during the Gilbert invasion. Even
      though the amphibious forces had five Jeep Carriers these were to
      provide air support and antisubmarine patrols. The big flattops would
      stay close until Betio and Makin had fallen and the transports had
      unloaded. Although I find it somewhat difficult to invision Spruance
      acting in such a fashion with the forces in hand. Considering his
      later actions it is hard to think that he would have done so.

      Had it not been for the raid on Wake the Japanese might have been able
      to easily predict that the next blow would land on the islands of
      Makin and Betio. The problem was that the Wake island raid had
      convinced many on the Japanese staff that the Americans were going to
      attack the Marshalls from the north instead of the south. The Combined
      Fleet HQ had sent out warnings to the various parimiter islands
      warning them that more attacks could be forthcoming in the future.
      Unfortunetly they were strapped for aircraft they could send.
      Stripping the remote islands to send planes to Rabaul had turned out
      to be a bad mistake.

      Because of the fact that Koga choose not to come out and fight the
      Gilberts operation proved to be something of an anticlimax for the
      antagonists. At least as far as the Navy was concerned. The Marines
      and the Army had a different thought on the subject. The Makee Learn
      raids had given the Navy a tactical control that was admirable, but it
      hadn't really impoved the pilots ability to damage fixed positions
      that had been improved. This was the case here. Pillboxes and dugout
      and corvered positions seemed to have been little affected by the
      plastering the islands recieved before the landings. This led to some
      heavy fighting on the islands.

      The Japanese reaction to the landings in the Gilberts was pitifully
      weak. A plan to rush reinforcements in by cruiser and destroyer was
      abandoned, leaving hte only response air attacks from outlying
      islands. Most of these attacks were night based attacks, but they
      failed to score any hits. Other attacks also failed.

      On the fourth day of the fighting on the land the area was declared
      secure and all but Pownall's group were withdrawn. It was decided that
      pictures were needed of Roi and Kwajalein and he was the one that drew
      the short stick for the task. Although to be fair it was more likely
      that being farther north then the rest of the groups his was probably
      the most rested. In this endeavour Pownall once again showed his
      cautious and defensive minded nature. With six carriers in hand, he
      assigned two of them to purely defensive roles. He also witheld nearly
      a third of the Hellcats of the Big Carriers to perform Cap missions.

      Pownall was asked if they could launch a strike that would come in
      before dawn, but Pownall decided against it, saying that with surprise
      not an option they should plan for the worst and hope for this best.
      Which in his mind, meant pleanty of covering protection and having the
      fighters escorting the attacking aircraft sticking close to their
      charges. At least he desired flexibility in the attack, so he assigned
      local tactical command to an airborne skipper. Commander Snowden.

      Pownall was right about one thing, surprise wasn't obtained. Zeros
      were launched and attacked as the strike aircraft were coming in. This
      was the start of something less then spectacular results on the part
      of the American pilots. When the pilots returned to their carriers the
      results were assessed. One good thing about the raid was that if the
      American bombing was off, the Japanese AA was off as well. There were
      few hits on the shipping in the area, and the aircraft of the enemy on
      Roi were intact. Pownall weighed what this might mean and decided to
      retire. Although he was abandoning a second planned strike on
      Kwajalein, he would instead attack Wotje the northernmost of the
      Marshall atolls on the way by.

      As the strike on Wotje was forming up, six inbound boogies were
      detected. These turned out to be Kate torpedo bombers. They came in
      and tried to focus their attention on the Lexington, Pownall's
      flagship. The planes forming up for the raid ignored the shooting
      below and headed off on their assigned task. The attack on the
      Lexington was exciting, but ended with no results other then the loss
      of more Japanese aircraft. The Wotje raid itself was somewhat more
      impressive, it destroyed a Betty that was taking off and for planes on
      the ground as well.

      After taking in the planes from the raid Pownall attempted to get out
      of the area. He didn't make it before suffering another attack, this
      one nearly failed like all the rest. It was a group of night flying
      Betty's this time, all of them either getting shot down or missing the
      wildly manuevering ships. All that is save one, that planted a torpedo
      into the stern of the Lexington.

      This series of raids removed Pownall from command of the Task Force
      comprising the Carrier forces. He was in the words of Nimitz, "All
      defensive!" The officer chosen to replace him was Marc "Pete"
      Mitscher. Mitscher had commanded the Hornet during hte riad on Tokyo
      by Doolittle and during the battle of Midway. It was a fateful choice.

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