National Geographic : 1945 Sep
Our New Military Wards, the Marshalls BY W. ROBERT MOORE Editorial Staff Correspondent in the Pacific With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author FTER nearly 30 years of jealous Japa; nese control, the Marshall Islands have been opened under entirely new man agement! Uncle Sam now has taken charge. The opening began on D Day, January 31, 1944, when our forces unleashed a superbly coordinated amphibious attack against Kwaja lein Atoll, center of the Marshall Islands area. While the 7th Infantry Division beat down Japanese opposition on Kwajalein and its flanking islets at the southern end of the atoll, the 4th Marine Division was dealing a similar blow against the twin islands of Roi and Namur to the north. By D Day plus six, organized resistance on Kwajalein Island had ended. Roi and Namur had fallen even sooner. On February 8, authority passed from the commander, am phibious troops, to the commander, garrison forces. Kwajalein Atoll was ours. So, too, was Majuro, about 250 miles to the southeast, where other D Day forces had landed unopposed (map, page 329). The assault of far-westerly Eniwetok Atoll followed on February 17, by the combined 22d Marine and 106th Army combat teams. From these centers our control has since been extended throughout the Marshalls, ex cept for four by-passed atolls-Jaluit, Mili, Maloelap, and Wotje. Japs Await Help That Cannot Come On those, as I write, thousands of Japanese still sweat and look for help that cannot come. They refuse to surrender, though imported food grows scarce and our bombers give them little rest. Many stories are told of the way pilots have dumped tin cans and garbage onto these Japa nese-held islands just to show their contempt! I know the temptation. Flying up from the Gilbert Islands,* our plane passed so close to bomb-pitted Mili that I felt disappointed that I could throw nothing myself. Bombers pay these Japs frequent calls.. So routine are strikes made against the isolated garrisons that pilots have dubbed the runs the "milk route." "We make sure that our bombs drop on land," said crews with whom I talked. "If any fall in the water, they only kill fish, which the Japs can collect." Meanwhile work goes on in the rest of the Marshalls. Scattered enemy groups posted on various atolls have been rounded up and re moved. An orderly United States Navy mili tary government administration is in progress for these new military wards, first of prewar Jap-ruled Micronesia to fall to our forces. As I flew over these atolls or threaded among them on surface craft, I never needed to ask which islands saw fighting. On untouched islands there is a massed pro fusion of coconut palms and pandanus (screw pines). Frequently big breadfruit and other trees add to the greenery. Areas Razed by Bombs and Shellfire Wherever we uprooted the Japanese and their fortifications whole areas were razed and ripped to pieces by bombs and shellfire. Take Kwajalein Island. As you make its landfall, only a ragged fringe of a few score beaten coconut trees appears above its flat coral sands. Hour after hour, following the opening of our assault, planes and battlewagons hurled an erupting fury of bombardment upon this tiny land spot and its flanking islets. Our forces first swarmed ashore on the ad jacent islands and there set up artillery to pour more tons of hot steel onto the crouching Japanese. Then our amtracs lumbered ashore over the coral reef behind this deadly barrage. When a sea wall stood in the way at the western end of the island, whence the attack was being launched, United States battleships took turns moving in to blast openings through the barrier with their guns at a range of 2,000 yards. Steadily, systematically, the tornado of bursting steel moved across the island ahead of advancing tanks and infantry. Against it no Jap could survive. "Someone has estimated that an average of 100 pounds of steel from bombs and shells plowed into every square foot of the island," commented one of the officers who saw the entire action. "The nightmare of noise was almost inconceivable." * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Gilbert Islands in the Wake of Battle," by W. Robert Moore, February, 1945; and "War Finds Its Way to Gilbert Islands," by Sir Arthur Grimble, January, 1943.