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Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group [ESG]
Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group
LHA-1 Tarawa
"Eagle of the Sea"

Global events continue to spotlight the requirement to successfully project power from the sea. Tarawa's capabilities make her the world's most formidable amphibious power projection platform. Her primary war fighting mission is to land and sustain United States Marines on any shore during hostilities. A "national asset," the Tarawa's location and readiness are briefed daily to the National Command Authority.

Tarawa was built by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries at Pascagoula, Mississippi, and commissioned May 29, 1976. Tarawa is the first in a new generation of multipurpose amphibious assault ships, a vital member of the Navy/Marine Corps team in the Pacific Fleet and a major factor in U.S. projection power overseas.

Tarawa's first deployment to the Western Pacific began in March 1979. In addition to an embarked helicopter squadron, the ship operated with temporarily assigned AV-8A "Harrier" jets in a successful experiment to determine the feasibility of operating vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft from an amphibious assault ship. During this deployment, Tarawa rescued 400 Vietnamese refugees who were adrift in the South China Sea. Upon returning, Tarawa won her first Admiral James H. Flatley Memorial Award for Naval Aviation Safety.

The "Eagle of the Sea" began her second deployment in October, 1980, with a composite squadron of 29 helicopters and six AV-8A's. The squadron was the first in Marine Corps aviation history to conduct integrated helicopter/fighter operations aboard an LHA for an extended deployment of more than five months.

At the beginning of 1992, USS Tarawa crew members began preparing for an upcoming deployment to the Western Pacific by completing restricted maintenance availabilities, conducting deck landing qualifications for the embarked Air Combat Element and numerous other pre-deployment requirements.

Battle of Tarawa

The Central Pacific's Gilbert Islands were strategically important to the Allies in World War II. Tarawa, and atoll in those islands, was the scene of a major amphibious assault and on of the proudest testaments to valor in U.S. Marine Corps history.

Japan's Rear Admiral Shibasaki Meichi was quoted as saying before the assault that it would take the American forces "a million men and a hundred years" to capture the atoll. The Japanese had backed up this boast with an elite force of almost 5,000 men and heavily fortified the island of Betio in the southwestern corner of the atoll. Since capturing the islands three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had spent two years positioning coastal defense guns, antiaircraft guns, anti-boat guns, light and heavy machine guns, and an airstrip they could use to strike at allied troops stationed in the area. The atoll was strategically vital to both sides, and the stage was set for one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.

The Allies were faced with serious problems in capturing Tarawa. The big coastal guns would keep the Navy guns either under constant fire or at bay, and the Japanese had used sunken ships and other pieces of metal to create obstacles which blocked the avenues of approach from the sea. The approaching craft would have to slow down to maneuver, putting them in prearranged ambush sites where they would be subject to deadly, concentrated fire from fortified positions. The next line of obstacles included a double apron of barbed wire, log barriers, and concrete obstacles which surrounded the island. After breaching these defenses, the Marines would still be faced with the beach itself, where the Japanese had fortified heavy machine guns which created a series of interlocking fields of fire in addition to antipersonnel mines and anti-vehicle mines in the fringing reefs where the boats would have to land. With the added benefit of antiaircraft guns and planes of their own, the defenders were well prepared for any assault.

The Allies had to take Tarawa, however, and on November 19, 1943 the assault began. Faced with the near-impossible odds and hounded from all sides, the Marines made it to the beach; by the last day of battle the Japanese had been forced into the east end of the the three-mile long island. They had prepared a series of fortified positions to fall back on in their retreat, and had defended each one almost to the last man. Those three miles may be some of the longest in Marine Corps history, as they slowly advanced at a terrible price. Organized resistance on Tarawa ceased by 1:30 PM on the third day.

The Battle of Tarawa took 76 hours and cost the lives of 1,020 Marines. The list of Americans wounded was listed as high as 2,296. The cost was much higher for the Japanese defenders- of the 4,386 elite troops on Betio, only 146 were left alive.

Four Marines received the Medal of Honor for their heroism, three of them posthumously. The fourth, Colonel David M. Shoup, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Marines and Betio Island Assault forces, later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:57:07 ZULU