Archive for February, 2016

Engineer Moment in History – February 2016

US Army Engineer Actions in the Marshall Islands Campaign the Assault on Kwajalein Atoll
Jan 29 1944 to 21 February 1944
Provided by the U.S Engineer School Historian’s Office

Flamethrower in use against a Japanese blockhouse.

Flamethrower in use against a Japanese blockhouse.
(National Archives)

In this month in 1944, combined US Army, US Marine and US Navy forces put boots on the ground in the Marshall Islands campaign. Beginning on the 31st of January with the four islets to the northwest of Kwajalein and then with the two islands closest to it. The initial landing forces consisted of infantry and elements of the 13th Engineers who were well versed in the use of rocket grenades, explosives and flame throwers, hit the beach by 0900 hours and the assault met with no resistance. The initial waves cleared the coral reefs without issue but by early afternoon as tides changed; a number of landing craft were forced to offload their cargo roughly sixty yards short of the beach. Engineers assisted in the offloading of jeeps and trucks utilizing bulldozers, once material had been brought ashore they set to work on clearing positions for artillery emplacements. By 1600 that day the 105mm Howitzers had completed their registration fires in preparation for the following day’s assault on Kwajalein.

By 0800 landing craft began to line up for the assault. Infantry and engineer climbed down the nets into the awaiting Higgins boats and, under the cover of naval artillery and air bombardment, began their journey ashore. Enemy resistance was light, consisting mostly of anti-aircraft fire. By 0930 hours the first wave of men came ashore to find that the bombardment had been effective in knocking out enemy fortifications along the shoreline. The attack plan called for two regimental combat teams to land abreast and then move up the length of the island. Then protected by naval and air bombardment they would advance inland. The landing forces were able to advance inland approximately 150 yards before running into enemy resistance. Japanese soldiers were occupying pillboxes that were emplaced amongst piles of rubble and the infantry-engineer teams were able to eliminate the threat with relative efficiency.

Once the initial landing phase was completed, the first group of shore party engineers came ashore with Col. Brendan A Burns who was the shore party commander. The two beaches were organized for receiving supplies and equipment being brought ashore by LVTs (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) and Dukws. At the same time the combat engineers, having run into fewer problems than originally anticipated, joined the shore party engineers and with their bulldozers smoothed the rough ground stretching from the beach to the western section of the road which skirted the island. By nightfall the front lines had reached a point that was one fourth the distance from the landing beaches to the northeastern tip.

On the third day the invasion force encountered increased resistance from Japanese forces who were entrenched in pillboxes and other fortifications constructed from coconut logs and sand. Infantry-Engineer teams were set to work on destroying these positions and utilized every resource they had from flame throwers and explosives, firing into the firing and observation slits and even placing Bangalore torpedoes down ventilation pipes. The engineers moved from position to position while suppressing fire from the infantry kept the Japanese soldiers heads down. Larger structures were handled with the support of tanks following behind the tanks as they closed in on targeted structures. Meanwhile shore party engineers were improving the capability of bringing supplies ashore by clearing roadways and areas for supply dumps and building causeways on the lagoon side of the island. On the end of the third day, supply boats were being unloaded by the shore arties faster than landing craft could bring materiel ashore.   Thanks to the efforts of the Engineer augmented infantry operating in teams and the quick working engineers in the shore party allowing the movement of supplies and equipment further inland, three-fourths of the island were in the hands of US forces the 4th of February. Though increased resistance was met and the remaining Japanese forces fought with a ferocious intensity, by 1600 hours that day the word was sent back to the commander of the Joint Expeditionary Force, Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner that “All organized resistance…has ceased.”


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