Remembering the war in the South Pacific

Kiribati is a small country situated in the Pacific Ocean.  It is a series of atolls which was formerly known as The Gilbert Islands, but is now an independent Republic.

The Gilbert Atolls were invaded by Japanese forces in December, 1941, and it is one of the places in the world where the remnants of the fighting is still very much in evidence.  Hence it is a popular destination for those who fought in the Pacific War.

The Gilbert Atolls did not feel the impact of World War II until the Japanese entered the Pacific and invaded the Gilberts on December of 1941, 2 days after bombing Pearl Harbour. On the 9th of December 1941 the Japanese landed and occupied the atolls Makin andTarawa. Later occupying Banaba and Abemama in 1942.

As part of the United States WWII Pacific campaign, US Marines made two attack operations on the Japanese in the Gilberts, “The Makin Raid” in 17th-18th August 1942 and “Operation Galvanic” of November 1943, a large scale amphibious operation in the Gilbert Islands that featured the “The Battle of Tarawa,” “The Battle of Makin” and Reconnaissance missions to wipe out Japanese from the atolls.    

A reminder of what can be seen today on those shores is both the brutality and futility of the bloody battle and even though these scars are gradually disappearing, the memory of the war and lessons to be learned will never be forgotten.

Today, after more than 50 years, relics of the Battle of Tarawa are still standing. You will be able to see the remains of the four eight inch coastal defence guns that command Temakin and Takoronga Points at the western and eastern ends of Betio.  Solid concrete bunkers and pillboxes can be found scattered all over Betio. Rusted tanks, amtracs, war ship wrecks, plane wrecks can be seen on the shores at low tide you can lagoon and reef flats on Betio.

The US Marine Corp Memorial Monument is located at Prince Park on Betio.  The Memorial is dedicated to the Marines who fell during the Battle on Betio.   The Coast Watchers Memorial Monument can be viewed at the grave cemetery at Temakin, Betio. This memorial is dedicated to 22 British Coast watches who were beheaded by the Japanese prior to the invasion of Tarawa.

A unique collection of WWII artefacts are available on display from John and Molly Brown residence at Betio, and at the National Cultural Museum “Te Umanibong” at Bikenibeu in Tarawa.

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