The Order of the Deep: A Story of the Pacific Battles in World War II
Despite heavy resistance from the 4, Japanese troops dug in on Betio, the Marines finally took the island after a bloody, hour battle in which both sides suffered heavy casualties. American commanders next set their sights on an island-hopping campaign across the central Pacific. The Gilbert Islands, a group of 16 atolls near the equator, were viewed by the U. In November , the U.
As part of Operation Galvanic, the U. Compared with the taking of Tarawa, the U. By November 19, , American warships had arrived near Tarawa. Marines to seize the island. However, the taking of Tarawa would prove to be more difficult than the Americans had anticipated. Tarawa was the most fortified atoll America would invade during the Pacific Campaign. Japanese Admiral Keiji Shibasaki , confident in his command, reportedly bragged that the U. Measuring around two miles long and a half-mile wide, the island of Betio was crisscrossed with defenses: pillboxes dug-in concrete bunkers , seawalls, an extensive trench system for defensive movements and an airstrip were supported by coastal guns, antiaircraft guns, heavy and light machine guns and light tanks.
The Japanese garrison at Betio was defended by at least 4, troops.
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The U. Marines were to approach the shore in new amphibious tractor vehicles dubbed amphtracs. These landing crafts, armed with machine guns and carrying 20 troops each, were able to crawl over shallow reefs and other barriers. The highly coordinated U. Heavy sea turbulence slowed transfer operations of the U. Marines to the ship-side landing crafts. A pre-invasion air raid was delayed, upsetting the timetable for other parts of the assault. Holding for the air raids, support ships ready to launch massive pre-invasion bombardments lingered in position longer than expected.
They were forced to dodge increasingly accurate fire from the island where Japanese defenders were dug in. Compounding these problems was a lower-than-anticipated tide level around the island that morning. Most amphtracs in the first assault wave were able to reach the beach as planned, but nearly all the larger, heavier landing crafts behind them jammed into coral reefs exposed by the shallow tide. Marines were forced to abandon their landing crafts and wade through chest-deep water amidst enemy fire.
Precious gear, especially radios, became soaked and useless. Many Marines were hit in the open water, and those who made it to shore arrived exhausted or wounded, ill-equipped and unable to communicate with supporting forces. Making matters worse, the assault path through the lagoon to the shore became congested with disabled landing crafts and bloodied bodies, which hindered the dispatching of reinforcements.
Marines on the beach crawled forward, inch by inch, knowing that to stand or even rise slightly made them easy targets. By the end of the first day, 5, Marines had landed at Betio while at least another 1, had perished in the process. On the morning of November 21, the second day of fighting, unexpectedly low tides continued to plague the U.
Again, assault troops had to leave their crafts short of the shore and wade in through enemy fire. In addition to being fired upon from shore, Marines were also assaulted from their sides and rear by enemy snipers who had entered the lagoon under the cover of night to position themselves on crafts that had been wrecked and abandoned the day before.
By noon, however, the tide finally began to rise, and U. Reserve combat teams and support craft transporting tanks and weapons raced to shore, and the ground assault finally took orderly form. The Marines moved inland, blasting surviving enemy emplacements with grenades, demolition packs and flamethrowers. Australia, isolated and with no options, would have done what was unthinkable before Midway: signed a friendship pact with Japan guaranteeing neutrality, with a mutually beneficial trade agreement included.
At about the same time of Midway, the Germans launched an offensive in the south that would evolve into the Battle of Stalingrad.
The offensive surprised the Soviets, who were expecting the assault to come on Moscow. At the same time, the Soviets would have seen the American defeat at the Battle of Midway and understood that it would mean a decrease in lend-lease, if not its complete disruption. The British, who also depended on lend-lease, would be in no position to replace it, and Soviet industrial production was not yet capable of providing for a powerful defense at Stalingrad by itself.
And the Soviets had a second problem. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the Soviets had feared, and the Japanese had considered, an alternative strike into Siberia. The Japanese attacked south toward the Dutch holdings instead, but the interest in Siberia was still there. With a victory at Midway, the Japanese could have halted operations in the Pacific and focused on building defenses on Pacific islands that would bog down the American counterattack in mid in island-to-island fighting, with a vast Japanese fleet to challenge the landing party.
But Siberia was open. It was this force under Gen. Georgy Zhukov that stopped the Germans.
A Japanese victory at Midway would have reopened the possibility of a Japanese invasion. But the Soviets would not have been able to send Zhukov back. Until the defeat of the German southern thrust, which would happen in early , everything had to go there. The Soviet Union faced two problems. The other was that critical Soviet lands were at serious risk.
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If they won but Japan attacked Siberia, they would still have lost the east, and the Japanese would control the Western Pacific, China and Siberia. In and , there were discussions between Germany and the Soviets on a peace agreement that never worked out. I think without the assistance of the Americans in , the Soviets would have lost the war. In our alternate history, the Americans probably would have thought the Soviets were going to lose anyway, but history proved them wrong. That was the purpose of Midway, and had it worked, I think there would have been a different outcome in the global war.
This is because the United States was the industrial foundation of the Allies, but in , that production had not really gotten underway.
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A defeat at Midway would have forced a reallocation of industrial production and warships. This would have left key allies, Australia and the Soviet Union, in an impossible position. The U. But the Soviets would not be there anymore. Nor, I suspect, would Australia. The problem was that massive production without Allied forces and forward bases would have left the U. This all raises a serious question for me. My work is in finding the order and predictability in history. There was nothing predictable at Midway. The Japanese should have won even with the U.
The numbers were so lopsided in their favor that their defeat was a freak. And that freak created the world we live in. The Japanese were as brave and as smart, their weapons as good if not better, and they had far greater numbers. They should have won, and the things I have described should have happened, and the history of the world should have been quite different. Do you have information you want to share with HuffPost? Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you.
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