Relief map of Funafuti

Funafuti (179.2E 8.52S) is a sizeable atoll, some 13.5 miles (22 km) long and ten miles (16 km) across, located in the Ellice Islands (nowadays known as Tuvalu), south of the Gilberts. The atoll has thirty islands of which the largest is Fongafale on the northeast, which the Americans usually called Funafuti. This island is eight miles (13 km) long and 50 to 150 yards (45 to 140 meters) wide along most of its length, but it widens to 700 yards (640 meters) at one point. There are several passes navigable to shallow-draft ships, but the Navy dredged Te Bua Bua Channel on the north to make it navigable to large oceangoing vessels. The population in 1941 was 680 persons.

The United States began construction of an airstrip on the wide section of Fongafale shortly before the war. However, the U.S. Army refused a Navy request to garrison the island in early 1942 to help protect the lines of communications to Australia. The island was secretly reoccupied on 2 October 1942 by elements of 5 Marine Defense Battalion (Operation FETLOCK) and Navy base forces began dredging the passes and charting of the lagoon. The Japanese did not discover the American forces until 27 March 1943, after which ten separate air attacks were launched from Nauru and staged through Tarawa.

Eventually the lagoon could accomodate 100 ships. A 5000' (1520 meter) runway was completed by November 1942 and extended to 6600' (2010 meters) by April 1943. This was enough to accomodate B-24 bombers that  played a role in the Gilberts campaign in 1944. Because shore space was limited, Service Squadron 4 was activated here in 1 November 1943 to act as a floating naval base.


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