Marshall Islands

Digital relief map of Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands comprise two parallel chains of atolls extending some 800 miles (1300 km) from southeast to northwest.  They lie 2200 miles (3500 km) southwest of Hawaii and contained the easternmost Japanese bases in 1941.  As a result, Kimmel’s attention was riveted on this island group as war approached, rather than to the north, from which the Pearl Harbor attack would come.

The Marshalls include numerous excellent anchorages, but an astonishingly small land area totaling just 70 square miles (180 km2). The average elevation is is just 7' (2.1 meters) with a maximum elevation of 34' (10 meters). However, this was enough for a handful of airfields.  The population was about 10,000 natives and 490 Japanese in 1935.

Japan had seized the Marshalls from Germany during the First World War, and retained control after the war under a League of Nations Class C mandate that forbade any military fortification.  When Japan withdrew from the League, she retained control of the islands and refused to allow foreigners to visit the area.  This led to rumors that the islands had been heavily fortified, but in fact nothing but airfields and seaplane ramps had been constructed prior to December 1941. The Japanese could not come to a decision whether to make the Marshalls their outer line of defense or to abandon the Marshalls and concentrate on fortifying the Marianas. As a result, neither was adequately fortified when the American Central Pacific offensive swept west.

The administrative center of the Marshalls was at Kwajalein, but there were also significant facilities at Maloelap, Wotje, and Jaluit.

February 1942 Raids

American carrier forces struck at the Marshalls on 1 February 1942. The operation was the brainchild of King, who put strong pressure on Nimitz starting on 2 January 1942 to take the initiative rather than use his carrier task forces defensively to cover his main base at Hawaii and the sea lanes to Australia. McMorris developed plans for a strike against the Marshalls by Brown with Task Force 11 (Lexington) on 14 January and the Gilberts by Halsey with Task Force 8 (Enterprise) on 17 January while Leary's Task Force 14 (Saratoga) covered Oahu and Fletcher's Task Force 17 (Yorktown) covered a reinforcement convoy to Pago Pago. Still wary of running such risks, Nimitz ran the plan past Pye, who recommended that the raids take place after Fletcher was finished escorting his convoy. The plans had to be further reshuffled when Saratoga was torpedoed and heavily damaged on 11 January 1942.

The plan that was finally adopted called for Halsey to make a daring penetration of the Marshalls and launch his aircraft from a point practically within visual range of the north part of Wotje. The bulk of Halsey's aircraft would strike Kwajalein while Spruance led a cruiser bombardment of Wotje and a third cruiser struck at Maloelap. Further south, Fletcher would simultaneously launch strikes against Jaluit, Mili, and Makin in the northern Gilberts. Because intelligence showed the Japanese carriers were moving south of Truk, Brown was assigned to make a preliminary raid on Wake while the door was ajar. King was anxious for the raids to take place as soon as possible, to be driven home, and the carriers to then rapidly withdraw so that they could prepare to counter the Japanese move south.

Brown's raid had to be cancelled when his oiler, Neches, was sunk by a submarine on 23 January 1942 and no other oiler could be made available on time. However, the other raids went forward. Enterprise and Yorktown both refueled at midnight on 29 January 1942 and then made their final approaches the next day and night, crossing the international date line to reach their launch points early in the morning of 1 February. Halsey's force came within a very narrow margin of detection on 31 January when a Japanese snooper came within thirty miles on radar but failed to detect the force. Thus complete surprise was achieved by both task forces.

Fletcher's force ran into very poor weather, with overcast and squalls, but he was able to launch 17 SBDs and 11 TBDs against Jaluit and 14 SBDs against Makin and Mili. The Makin strike damaged gunboat Nagata Maru (2900 tons) and destroyed two seaplanes, while the Mili strike found no worthwhile targets. The Jaluit strike encountered horrible weather and several planes never found a target, and the remainder inflicted only light damage on transport Kanto Maru (8900 tons). Eight aircraft were lost, but Fletcher's destroyer screen was able to rescue four aircrew. Japanese search aircraft soon located Fletcher's force (though one was shot down within sight of Yorktown) in spite of the terrible weather, but there was no counterstrike. Fletcher was considering lingering another day in hopes that the weather would improve enough for another strike against Jaluit when he received a recall order from Halsey.

Halsey had encountered better weather and had accordingly had greater success. Fifteen ships were claimed sunk at Kwajalein and there was extensive damage to shore facilities at Wojte and Maloelap. Actual damage was three small auxiliaries sunk, two old warships and four transports damaged, and fifteen planes destroyed, at the cost of six of Halsey's fighters, light damage from a bomb hit on cruiser Chester, and very slight damage to Enterprise from a bomber that barely missed crashing into her flight deck. Impressed with the ferocity of the Japanese counterstrikes, Halsey decided a speedy withdrawal was in order.

The raids inflicted only moderate damage.  However, the raid provided valuable combat experience to the American air groups, bolstered Allied morale, and badly shocked the Japanese. Yamamoto quietly pulled Shokaku and Zuikaku back to Japan, but the remaining four Japanese carriers continued operations to the south. Nimitz decided that the raids had given him sufficient breathing space to send Saratoga to the West Coast for repairs and to recall Yorktown and Enterprise to Pearl Harbor for much-needed refit and reprovisioning.


When the time came for the U.S. Navy’s central Pacific offensive, Nimitz disregarded the almost unanimous recommendation of his staff and struck directly at Kwajalein in the heart of the Marshalls.  This turned out to be a brilliant move, one of the finest examples of "hitting ‘em where they ain’t" in the war.  The Japanese were expecting an attack on one of the outer atolls first and were caught by surprise.  U.S. air power from Kwajalein was able to isolate the Japanese garrisons on the other atolls, leaving them to wither on the vine.  However, these garrisons did not surrender until ordered to by the Emperor in August of 1945.

Allied order of battle, Operation FLINTLOCK

Pacific Fleet (Nimitz)

5 Fleet (Spruance)

TF 51 Joint Expeditionary Force (Turner)     

TF 52 Southern Attack Force (Turner)    

Southern Landing Force
Carrying 7 Division (Corlett) 21,768 men

Destroyer Transport Group

APD Overton
ADP Manley

Advance Transport Unit

APA Zeilin
APA Ormsby
AP President Polk
APA Windsor
AKA Virgo
LSD Ashland

Tractor Unit 1

8 LSTs
Carrying 708 Amphibian Tractor Battalion in LVTs

TG 52.5 Southern Transport Group

Transport Division 6

APA Harris
APA Fayette
APA Harry Lee
APA Leedstown
AKA Centaurus
LSD Lindenwald

Transport Division 18

APA Monrovia
APA J. Franklin Bell
APA Pierce
APA Feland
AKA Thuban
LSD Belle Grove

Tractor Unit 2

8 LSTs Corps reserve

TG 52.6 Control Group

3 SC

TG 52.7 Destroyer Screen

DD John Rodgers
DD Hazelwood
DD Haggard
DD Franks
DD Schroeder
DD Hailey
DMS Zane
DMS Perry

TG 52.8 Fire Support Group (Giffen)

Unit 1

DD McKee
DD Stevens

Unit 2 (Giffen)

CA Minneapolis
CA New Orleans
BB Idaho
BB Pennsylvania
DD Bailey
DD Frazier
DD Hall
DD Meade

Unit 3 (Griffin)

BB New Mexico
BB Mississippi
CA San Francisco
DD Colahan
DD Murray
DD Harrison

Unit 4

DD Ringgold
DD Sigsbee

LCI(L) Unit

LCI(L) Division 15

6 LCI(L)

LCI(L) Division 13

6 LCI(L)

TG 52.9 Carrier Support Group (Davison)     

CVE Manila Bay

9 TBF-1 Avenger
3 TBF-1C Avenger
16 FM-2 Wildcat

CVE Coral Sea

4 TBF-1 Avenger
6 TBF-1C Avenger
2 TBM-1 Avenger
5 FM-1 Wildcat
9 F4F-4 Wildcat

CVE Corregidor

3 TBF-1C Avenger
8 TBM-1 Avenger
6 FM-1 Wildcat
3 F4F-4 Wildcat

Destroyer Screen

DD Bancroft
DD Coghlan
DD Caldwell
DD Halligan

TG 52.10 Minesweeping and Hydrographic Group     

Unit 1

AM Revenge
AM Pursuit
AM Requisite

Unit 2


TG 52.11 Southern Salvage Unit

AT Tekesta
ATF Arapaho
ATF Tawasa

TG 51.3 Southern Defense Group
Carrying elements of 3 and 4  Army Defense Battalions

DE Duffy
4 LSTs

TG 51.4 Southern Garrison Group
Carrying elements of 3 and 4  Army Defense Battalions, 13,325 men

DE Burden R. Hastings
DE Lehardy
5 merchantmen

TF 53 Northern Attack Force (Conolly)

TG 53.9 Initial Transport Group

APA Sumter
APA Callaway
APA Warren
APA William P. Biddle
AKA Almaack
LSD Epping Forest

Raiding Unit

APD Schley

Transport Screen

DD Remey
DD Macdonough
DMS Hogan

LST Unit 1

DD La Vallette
6 LSTs with LCTs aboard
3 LSTs
2 SC

TG 53.3 Minesweeper Group

DMS Palmer
AM Chief
AM Heed
AM Motive

TG 53.4 Northern Landing Force (Schmidt)
4 Marine Division, 20,778 men

Preliminary Landing Group (Underhill)

Combat Teams 23, 24, and 25
1 SC

TG 53.5 Northern Support Group (Oldendorf)

Fire Support Unit 1 (Kingman)

BB Tennessee
BB Colorado
CA Louisville
CL Mobile
DD Morris
DD Anderson

Fire Support Unit 2 (DuBose)

BB Maryland
CA Indianapolis
CL Santa Fe
CL Biloxi
DD Mustin
DD Russell

Fire Support Unit 3

DD Porterfield
DD Haraden
3 LCIs

Fire Support Unit 4

DD Hopewell
DD Johnston

Fire Support Unit 5

DD Phelps
6 LCIs

TG 53.6 Carrier Group (Ragsdale)

CVE Sangamon VF-37 and VC-37

12 F6F-3 Hellcat
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
4 TBM-1C Avenger
6 TBF-1 Avenger

CVE Suwannee VF-60 and VC-60

12 F6F-3 Hellcat
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
7 TBM-1C Avenger
2 TBF-1 Avenger

CVE Chenango VF-35 and VC-35

12 F6F-3 Hellcat
9 SBD-5 Dauntless
5 TBM-1C Avenger
4 TBF-1 Avenger

Carrier Screen

DD Farragut
DD Monaghan
DD Dale

TG 53.10 Main Attack Detachment

APA DuPage
APA Wayne
APA Elmore
APA Doyen
AKA Aquarius

Transport Division 28

APA Bolivar
APA Calvert
AP La Salle
AKA Alcyone
LSD Gunston Hall

Transport Screen

DD Fletcher
DD Hughes
DD Ellet
DMS Stansbury
DMS Hamilton

LST Unit 2

DD Aylwin
6 LSTs
2 SC

TG 53.12 Northern Salvage Group

AT Mataco
AT Chickasaw
AT Molala

TG 51.5 Northern Defense Group
Carrying elements of 15 Marine Defense Battalion

DMS Long
5 LSTs

TG 51.6 Northern Garrison Group 1
Carrying elements of 15 Marine Defense Battalion, 10,885 men

DE Harold C. Thomas
DE Wileman
4 merchantmen

TG 51.7 Northern Garrison Group 2
Carrying service units

DE Sederstrom
2 merchantmen

TG 51.1 Reserve Force

APA Leonard Wood
APA Arthur Middleton
APA Heywood
AP President Monroe
AK Electra
Carrying 22 Marine Regiment reinforced (Watson)

Transport Division 30
Carrying 2 battalions of 106 Regiment

APA Neville
APA Custer
AP Wharton
AK Mercury

Reserve Transport Screen

DD McCord
DD Trathen
DD Heermann
DD Hoel
DD Stembel
DD Dewey
DD Hull

TG 51.2 Majuro Attack Group (Hill)
1595 assault troops

CA Portland

APA Cambria
APD Kane
APD Schley
Carrying a battalion of 106 Regiment
Carrying reconnaissance party, V Amphibious Corps

CVE Nassau VC-66

14 FM-1 Wildcat
5 TBM-1C Avenger
4 TBM-1 Avenger

CVE Natoma Bay

12 FM-1 Wildcat
6 TBM-1C Avenger
6 TBM-1 Avenger

Attack Group Screen

DD Bullard
DD Black
DD Kidd
DD Chauncey
DMS Chandler

TG 51.8 Fast Carrier Force (Mitscher)

TG 58.1 Carrier Task Group 1 (Reeves)

CV Enterprise

VF-10: 32 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-10: 30 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-10: 16 TBF-1C Avenger

CV Yorktown

VF-5: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-5: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-5: 18 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Belleau Wood

VF-24: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-24: 8 TBF-1 Avenger

BB Washington (Lee)
BB Massachusetts
BB Indiana (Davis)
CL Oakland


DD C.K. Bronson
DD Cotten
DD Dortch
DD Gatling
DD Healy
DD Cogswell
DD Caperton
DD Ingersoll
DD Knapp

TG 58.2 Carrier Task Group 2 (Montgomery)

CV Essex

VF-9: 36 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-9: 34 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-9: 19 TBF-1 Avenger

CV Intrepid

VF-6: 37 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-6: 36 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-6: 19 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Cabot

VF-31: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-31: 9 TBM-1C Avenger

BB South Dakota (Hanson)
BB Alabama
BB North Carolina
CL San Diego (Wiltse)
DD Owen
DD Miller
DD The Sullivans
DD Stephen Potter
DD Ickock
DD Hunt
DD Lewis Hancock
DD Sterett
DD Stack

TG 58.3 Carrier Task Group 3 (Sherman)

CV Bunker Hill

VF-18: 38 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-17: 31 SB2C-1 Helldiver
VT-17: 20 TBF-1C Avenger

CVL Monterey

VF-30: 25 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-30: 9 TBM-1C Avenger

CVL Cowpens

VF-25: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-25: 9 TBF-1C Avenger

BB Iowa (Hustvedt)
BB New Jersey
CA Wichita
DD Izard
DD Charrette
DD Conner
DD Bell
DD Burns
DD Bradford
DD Brown
DD Cowell
DD Wilson

TG 58.4 Carrier Task Group 4 (Ginder)

CV Saratoga

VF-12: 36 F6F-3 Hellcat
VB-12: 24 SBD-5 Dauntless
VT-12: 18 TBM-1C Avenger

CVL Princeton

VF-23: 24 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-23: 9 TBF-1 Avenger

CVL Langley

VF-32: 22 F6F-3 Hellcat
VT-32: 9 TBF-1C Avenger

CA Boston (Thebaud)
CA Baltimore
CL San Juan
DD Maury
DD Craven
DD Gridley
DD McCall
DD Dunlap
DD Fanning
DD Case
DD Cummings

TG 50.15 Neutralization Group (Small)

CA Chester
CA Pensacola
CA Salt Lake City
DD Erben
DD Walker
DD Hale
DD Abbot
DMS Preble
DMS Ramsay

TF 57 Defense Forces and Land-Based Air (Hoover)

AV Curtiss
AVP Mackinac
AVP Casco

TG 57.2 Strike Command (Hale)

11 and 30 Bomber Groups

72 B-24 Liberator

41 Bomber Group

64 B-25 Mitchell

Fighter-Bomber Squadron 531

24 A-24 Dauntless

45, 46, and 72 Fighter Squadrons

75 P-39 and P-40

TG 57.3 Search and Patrol Group (Merritt)

VP-53: 12 PBY-5A Catalina
VP-72: 12 PBY-5 Catalina
VP-202: 12 PBM-3D Mariner
VB-108: 12 PB4Y Liberator
VB-109: 12 PB4Y Liberator
VB-137: 12 PV-1 Ventura
VB-142: 12 PV-1 Ventura
VD-3: 6 PB4Y-1 Liberator
VS-51: 6 SBD-5 Dauntless
VS-65: 6 SBD-5 Dauntless
VS-66: 6 SBD-5 Dauntless
VMSB-151: 18 SBD-5 Dauntless
VMSB-331: 18 SBD-5 Dauntless

Patrol Submarines (Lockwood)

Truk Patrol

SS Permit
SS Skipjack
SS Guardfish

Ponape Patrol

SS Seal

Kusaie Patrol

SS Sunfish

Eniwetok Patrol

SS Searaven


Evans and Peattie (1997)

Lundstrom (2006)

Miller (1991)

Morison (1948, 1951)

Rottman (2002)

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