World War II History: Sherman Tanks Battled Bonzai Charges at Tarawa

Tarawa

‘Tanks in Hell’ takes you inside a Pacific firestorm

This article was sponsored by Open Road Media.

“Once inside, a man quickly found that you could not be claustrophobic and serve in a tank,” Oscar Gilbert and Romain Cansiere write in Tanks in Hell: A Marine Corps Tank Company on Tarawa. “In fact many infantrymen who tried to ride inside found that they preferred to take their chances outside.”

The November 1943 invasion of the tiny, Japanese-held island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll was the first time the U.S. Marine Corps met an entrenched enemy on the beach in World War II. At Guadalcanal the year before, the Japanese retreated inland.

This time the Japanese were better prepared. And the Marines brought tanks with them for the opening assault.

Gilbert and Cansiere’s history recounts the battle as fought by Charlie Company, 1st Corps Tank Battalion and its M4-A2 Shermans. The book combines a detailed analysis of the company’s tanks, with liberal first-person recollections of the shockingly bloody battle.

More than 1,000 Marines died within three days. Of the more than 3,600 defending Japanese troops and laborers, 17 would survive. By the end, “almost every structure on the island had been destroyed in the fighting, or was filled with enemy bodies rapidly decaying in the brutal heat.”

Read the Remainder at War is Boring

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