Relief map of Abemama

Abemama (173.833E 0.489N) is an atoll in the Gilberts group located 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Tarawa. The atoll is fifteen miles (24 km) long and six miles (10 km) across with a maximum elevation of 12' (4 meters). The deep lagoon forms an excellent anchorage that could be reached via South Passage or the shallower Western Passage.  However, the islands of the atolls were surrounded by wide reefs. Abemama was the most prosperous of the Gilbert atolls, with unusually fertile soil, which supported stands of coconut palms and sal brush in addition to native crops. The population was about 1000 Micronesians.

The Japanese briefly occupied the atoll between 31 August 1942 and 4 September 1942. The atoll remained very lightly garrisoned thereafter.

Abemama was seized by 5 Amphibious Reconnaissance Company (68 Marines and 10 engineers) on 20 November 1943. The weather made for a rough landing, but there were only 25 Japanese troops on the island, and the Marines decided not to wait for the full invasion force for which they were supposed to be scouting the island. With the help of gunfire from submarine Nautilus, which had brought them to the island, the Marines overcame the Japanese resistance by noon on 25 November. Fourteen of the Japanese were killed by naval gunfire and the remainder committed suicide, at the cost of two Marines killed and one wounded.

The garrison (a battalion of 6 Marine Regiment plus 8 Marine Defense Battalion) arrived on 26 November 1943 on transports Harris and President Monroe, and an airfield with a 7000'(2130 meter) runway (O'Hare Field) was completed on the main island by 95 Seabees on 17 December 1943. This island was supplied by dredging a channel throught the reef wide enough for two LSTs.


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