Gilbert Islands

Gilbert Islands

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The Gilberts are a group of islands south-east of the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific. The Gilberts were occupied by the Japanese Army in 1941.

It was not until 1943 that Admiral Chester Nimitz began to plan the removal of the Japanese from these islands. The attack force was headed by Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance and his fleet included six aircraft carriers, five light carriers, six new battleships and several smaller warships.

The two most westerly of the Gilbert Islands, Makin and Tarawa, were invaded by the 5th Amphibious Corps under Major General Holland Smith on 20th November 1943. Makin, defended by only 800 Japanese soldiers, was taken without too much difficulty.

Tarawa was much more heavily fortified and the 5,000 US Marines that were landed on the first day had to wade ashore under considerable Japanese artillery fire. Further landings took place on the 21st and the island was not made secure until the 23rd November. The capture of these two islands cost nearly 1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded.

The experience convinced the Joint Chief of Staffs that Admiral Chester Nimitz was right to be selective about the islands that should be invaded that were under that control of the Japanese Army.

Gilbert Islands - History

The first record of the discovery of the islands of the group which came to be known as the Gilberts dates back to 1765 when Commander Byron in the ship Dophin discovered the island of Nikunau. In 1788 Captain Gilbert in the Charlotte and Captain Marshall in the Scarborough discovered Apamama, Kuria, Aranuka, Tarawa, Abaiang, Butaritari, and Makin. In the years that followed, many ships ran across the little islands and atolls of the Gilberts in the course of their travels in the central Pacific. Two ships of the United States Exploring Expedition, the Peacock and the Flying Fish, under the command of Captain Hudson, visited many of the Gilbert Islands. While in the Gilberts, considerable time was devoted to mapping and charting reefs and anchorages.

A British protectorate was first proclaimed over the Gilberts by Captain Davis of HMS Royalist on 27 May 1892. In 1915 the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were proclaimed a colony of the British Empire.

The natives of the Gilberts are Micronesian, similar in many respects to the natives of the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. At the time of the Japanese invasion they were a self-governing people, with their tribal consciousness undisturbed by the British system of colony government and administration. Loyal to the British, the Gilbertese looked with dissatisfaction upon the prospects of coming under the rule of the Japanese. During their stay in the Gilberts, the Japanese did nothing to change the opinion of the Gilbertese on this score.

The principal industry found in the Gilberts was the production of phosphate from the deposits on Ocean Island and Fanning Island. In addition, coconut palms were cultivated on some of the islands. All labor was supervised by the British and every effort was made to see that the wages and living conditions were fair and adequate. Sanitary inspections by the British did much to improve the general living conditions on most of the islands.

Native diet prior to World War II consisted mainly of fish, coconuts, pandanus fruit, babai, chicken, and some pork. Accommodations for Europeans employed in the island were simple. Their houses were constructed of both European and native materials and were generally of the bungalow type. There were no hotels or accommodations for tourists.

At the outbreak of the war, about 78 percent of the native population were said to be Christians. This group was divided mainly into two denominations: Congregationalists (43 percent) and Roman Catholics (35 percent). The rest of the population were largely semipagan agnostics they did not adhere to the Christian faith, nor did they retain much of their beliefs in their own ancient gods.

Judged to be about 84 percent literate, the Gilbertese responded readily to the colony's educational efforts. All education in the islands came under the supervision of the Colonial Education Department whose aims were to educate native boys for employment in government and commercial work, and to standardize the level of education throughout the colony. The bulk of the education was provided by the missions, which maintained all the village schools and trained the native school teachers.

When war came in December 1941, the Japanese occupied Makin Atoll immediately and raided Tarawa. In February, the British evacuated most of their people from Tarawa, except for missionaries who elected to remain, and coast watchers. Tarawa and Apamama were occupied in force by the Japanese in September 1942 and during the next year garrisons were built up on Betio (Tarawa Atoll), and Butaritari (Makin Atoll). Only nominal forces were placed on other islands in the Gilberts.

Gilbert Islands - History

Wartime History
During December 1941 Japanese forces occupied Tarawa. Although the Gilbert Islands were deemed "nonessential territories" by Japanese Imperial headquarters at the start of the Pacific War and were developed into airfields and bases to support the Japanese in the central Pacific.

On November 20, 1943 the two most westerly islands Tarawa and Makin were targeted by U.S. forces after a heavy naval and aerial bombardment. After a heavy naval and aerial bombardment of Tarawa the 2mnd Marine Division landed 5,000 Marines against the heavily defended island. During the Battle of Tarawa nearly 1,000 Americans were killed and over 2,000 wounded.

Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
Tarawa Atoll
Tarawa Atoll triangular shaped atoll includes Tarawa (Betio) and Tarawa Lagoon.
Tarawa Island (Betio Island) located at the southwest end of Tarawa Atoll, USMC landing November 20, 1943 .
Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field) located on Tarawa Island used by the Japanese and expanded by the US.
Tarawa Lagoon (Betio Lagoon) borders Tarawa Island November 20, 1943 amphibious landing.
Bonriki Island located at the eastern tip of Tarawa Atoll.
Bonriki Airfield (Mullinix Field) located on Bonriki Island.
Bairiki Island located in Tarawa Atoll, capital of
Buariki Island located at the northern tip of Tarawa Atoll.
Maiana Atoll
Maiana Island located to the south of Tarawa Atoll.
Apemama Atoll
Apamama Atoll (Abemama) located to the southeast of Maiana Atoll and Tarawa Atoll.
Apamama Atoll (Abemama, Hopper) largest island in Apamama Atoll with Apamama Airfield
Apemama Airfield (O'Hare Field) located on Apamama Island.
Abatiku Island (Matt) located on the southwestern side of Apamama Atoll.
Entrance Island (Nick) located on the southwestern side of Apamama Atoll.
Makin Island (Butaritari)
Makin Island (Butaritari) northeast of Makin Atoll, "Makin Raid" Aug. 17, 1942 and USMC landing Nov 20, 1943.
Makin Airfield (Butaritari, Antakana, Starmann) located on Makin Island built by the Americans in late 1943.
Makin Lagoon (Butaritari Lagoon) borders Makin Island used as seaplane operating area.
Makin Seaplane Base located in Makin Lagoon used by the Japanese.
Ocean Island (Banaba) located to the west of the Gilbert Islands, 300km east of Nauru.
Phoenix Island Group (Phoenix Islands, Rawaki)
Canton Island (Kanton) largest island in the north of the Phoenix Islands wartime airfield.
Line Island Group (Line Islands)
Christmas Island (Kiritimati) located 50 miles north of the equator.
Christmas Island Airfield (Cassidy) located at the northern portion of Christmas Island.
Aeon Field located at the northern portion of Christmas Island, built postwar.

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Gilbert Islands - History

An island group containing 16 atolls in the western Pacific Ocean on the equator, southeast of the Marshalls and northeast of the Solomons. On 20 November 1943 Marines made an amphibious assault on Makin and Tarawa Islands, seizing the former without difficulty, but winning Tarawa only after a 100-hour battle in which over 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded.

(CVE-107 dp. 10,900 1. 557'1" b. 75' dr. 32' s. 19.1 k.
cpl. 1,066 a. 2 5" cl. Commencement Bay)

Gilbert lslands (CVE-107) was launched 20 July 1944 the Todd-Pacific Shipyards, Inc., Tacina, Wash. sponsored by Mrs. Edwin D. McMorries, and commissioned 5 February 1945, Captain L. K. Rice in command.

After shakedown training, Gilbert Islands departed San Diego 12 April 1945 for exercises in Hawaiian waters. She sailed 2 May with an escort carrier force that closed Okinawa 21 May. Her aircraft (24-31 May) blasted and strafed concrete dugouts, troop concentrations, ammunition and fuel dumps on Okinawa. In the following days she helped neutralize outlying Japanese airfields and installations with repeated bomb and rocket attacks. Five of her Marine pilots were killed in action. She departed Okinawa 16 June to replenish at San Pedro Bay, thence to Balikpapan, Borneo. She gave air cover to Australians storming that shore 1 July and remained 4 days to attack all targets in sight. With the Australians securely established, she returned to Leyte 6 July.

Gilbert Islands departed San Pedro Bay 29 July to screen logistic ships replenishing 3d Fleet striking forces along the coast of Japan. On that station 15 August she joined a task group that included nearly all the 3d Fleet and heard Admiral Halsey's laconic direction: "Apparently the war is over and you are ordered to cease firing, so, if you see any Jap planes in the air, you will just have to shoot them down in a friendly manner." After replenishment at Okinawa, she departed 14 October to participate in a show of air strength during occupation of Formosa by the Chinese 70th Army. She was then routed onward via Saipan and Pearl Harbor to San Diego, arriving 4 December 1945. She remained in port until 21 January 1946, then set course for Norfolk where she decommissioned 21 May 1946 and was placed in reserve.

Towed to Philadelphia in November 1949, Gilbert lslands recommissioned 7 September 1951 and put in at Boston 25 November for overhaul. She joined the Atlantic Fleet 1 August 1952, sailed 8 days later with a cargo of jets for Yokohama, Japan, arriving 18 September, and returned to her homeport of Quanset Point, R.I., 22 October. She sailed 5 January 1953 for the Caribbean to conduct training exercises off Cuba and returned to New England waters to continue these duties through the summer and fall of the year. Following a cruise to Halifax and overhaul at Boston, the escort carrier stood out 5 January 1954 for a Mediterranean cruise, returning to Quonset Point 12 March 1954 for reserve training and other exercises. She became the first of her class to have jets make touch-and-go landings on the flight deck while she had no way on, a dangerous experiment successfully conducted 9 June 1954.

She left Rhode Island 25 June for Boston and decommissioned there 15 January 1955.

Reclassified AKV-39 7 May 1959, Gilbert lslands remained in reserve until her name was struck from the Navy List June 1961. She was reclassified (AGMR-1) 1 June 1963 and renamed Annapolis 22 June 1963. Annapolis recommissioned 7 March 1964, Captain John J. Bowan in command. As the NAVY'S first major communication relay ship, Annapolis was busy with acceptance trials for the rest of the year. In the fall she handled communications during Operation "Teamwork" and "Steel Pike" before final acceptance into the fleet 16 December.

After operations out of Norfolk during the first half of 1965, Annapolis was assigned Long Beach as home port 28 June 1965. In September she was sent to Viet Nam to assist communications between naval units fighting Communist aggression. With the exception of periodic visits to Hong Kong, Formosa, and the Philippines for upkeep and training, she continued this important service into 1967 assuring a smooth, steady and speed flow of information and orders so necessary to effective conduct of the war.

First Day of Battle: November 20, 1943

The highly coordinated U.S. battle plan at Betio relied on the precise timing of several key elements to succeed, but almost from the beginning there were problems. Heavy sea turbulence slowed transfer operations of the U.S. 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, 5,000 Marines had landed at Betio while at least another 1,500 had perished in the process.

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Welcome to The Islands, one of the finest master planned communities in the East Valley! As a property owner in The Islands, you are automatically a member of The Islands Community Association. The Association is incorporated for the purpose of preserving and enhancing the value of the homes as well as the amenities of The Islands. It is the commitment and responsibility of The Islands Community Association to ensure a quality lifestyle and to provide for appropriate control of the general architectural theme and exceptional maintenance of common areas throughout The Islands.

The Islands Mission Statement
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World War II Mystery: What Happened To the Marines of the Makin Island Raid?

Japanese sources shed light on the Makin Raid conducted by Carlson’s Marine Raiders in 1942.

Key Point: By using Japanese and Gilbert Islands sources of information in addition to American sources, it is now possible to clarify the matter.

In August 1942, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion conducted the Makin Island raid in the Central Pacific. The purpose of the raid was to destroy Japanese installations on the island, gather intelligence, and to test the raiding tactics of the U.S. Marines. If successful, the raid would also boost home front morale. The plan was for 211 men from the 2nd Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, to land at night from two submarines, USS Argonaut and USS Nautilus. They would neutralize the small Japanese garrison and destroy equipment before leaving the island and returning aboard the submarines.

Unfortunately, nine raiders were left behind on the island after the raid, and the submarine crews did not realize it until it was too late to return to rescue them.

As told from Japanese sources, this story relates the capture of the nine men on Makin, their interrogation, transfer to Kwajalein Atoll, and the reason why they were executed there. The Japanese record of Carlson’s raid begins after most of the raiders were on their way home to Hawaii, believing they had lost 30 men in battle and that all of them had died on Makin Island.

Taniura Hideo’s Accounts: What Happened to the Captured Marines

Since 1940, Lieutenant Taniura Hideo had been a squad leader of the Japanese 6th Defense Force stationed on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. Immediately after Carlson’s raid, he was deployed to Makin with reinforcements for the decimated Makin Defense Force. Taniura and his platoon of reinforcements traveled by patrol boat from Truk in the Marianas Islands, arriving at Makin on August 23, six days after the raid. They set about identifying and cremating the Japanese bodies, the ashes of which were then buried in a mass grave. Then they buried the bodies of the 21 dead U.S. Marines and erected a marker labeled “grave of unknown American soldiers.” The nine living U.S. Marines were brought to the burial site so that they could pay respect to their fallen comrades. Taniura’s next task was to interrogate these nine abandoned Marines.

In his memoir, Taniura recorded the accounts given to him by two of the Marines. According to Taniura’s record, four of the raiders had thought surrender would be their best option, and they had done so by making their way to the lagoon shore and waving to a Japanese seaplane that was anchored in the lagoon. The remaining five raiders had opted to try to escape. Under cover of darkness, they took the small trading yacht Kariamakingo, owned by the local branch of the NBK (Nanyo Boyeki Kabushiki Kaisha, or South Seas Trading Company), which was the only Japanese trading company operating in the Gilbert Islands in prewar times. The boat was tied alongside Kings Wharf with nobody aboard.

They left the wharf in the yacht. Even in the darkness, they believed they could see a passage out of the lagoon on the western side of the atoll, and they steered toward it. There are several gaps through which a small boat may pass to gain access to the ocean, all of them on the western side of the atoll. But there are also many places where the reef is close to the surface with insufficient depth of water for a boat to clear it. They ran aground on such a patch of reef and abandoned ship, swimming and wading until they made it to shore. The next morning, Japanese soldiers arrived, and they were captured.

Mistaken Identity at Keuea Village

About this time, Taniura arranged for medical care for the people of Keuea Village who had come under attack from Japanese bombers. He had been alerted to this need by Kanzaki Chojiro, the NBK manager, who had reported that a village on the eastern side of the island had received a random bombing attack by Japanese aircraft, killing and injuring a considerable number of villagers. Taniura dispatched two military doctors who provided medical service to the village for two days.

The attack had come on the morning of August 18, after the Americans had escaped on the yacht from the area around Butaritari Village, the main settlement on Makin. Japanese planes had bombed and strafed Keuea Village, 10 miles to the northeast. It is unclear why Keuea was selected as a target, but it seems that the Japanese mistakenly believed that the Marines were sheltering there. It was a disaster for the small village.

Taniura arranged for the nine prisoners to be transported to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands to the north. There, they were imprisoned at the 6th Naval Base Headquarters for approximately six weeks until executed on October 16. The Japanese explanation as to why and how these prisoners were put to death is as follows.

In September, an inspection mission was sent out by Tokyo, the Southern Defense Inspection Mission, which visited several Japanese bases in Micronesia. They completed inspections at various islands, including Wake Island, Truk, and Tarawa, before reaching Kwajalein on October 14, two days before the execution of the nine prisoners. The mission was headed by Lt. Cmdr. Okada Sadatomo, who was accompanied by Ida Hideo, from the 4th Fleet.

According to an account related by Hayashi Koichi, who was Admiral Koso Abe’s chief of staff at Kwajalein, there was anticipation of a large-scale attack against Kwajalein. Commander Abe therefore wanted an early decision on what was to be done with the nine American prisoners and, seeking advice, had made the following suggestions to Japanese Naval General Headquarters: send the prisoners to a relatively safe location within the control of the 4th Fleet, send them to mainland Japan, or execute them locally by an appropriate method.

Executions on the Western Shore of the Kwajalein Atoll

No reply was received, and so Abe sent another request seeking an urgent decision.

The matter was discussed when the visiting mission arrived on October 14, and Abe was informed by Okada that with regard to the three suggested options for dealing with the prisoners, General Headquarters had responded that transport was extremely difficult at the time and, furthermore, it was impossible to estimate the area of large-scale advancement of U.S. forces under the circumstances, transfer to Japan from a distant location such as Kwajalein was impossible therefore, there was no option other than to dispose of the prisoners locally.

Commander Abe, therefore, believed he had only one option. Two days later, at 9 am on October 16, 1942, an open area near the western shore of Kwajalein Atoll was selected for the executions. The nine prisoners were brought by truck, hands tied behind their backs and blindfolded. Master swordsmen from among the Marshall Islands Area Defense Unit were selected as the executioners. These men were all veterans of the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force. The executions were performed according to Japanese tradition, and the bodies were buried in a pit with local wild flowers offered to the spirits of the deceased.

After the war ended, this matter of the disposal of prisoners became an issue for war crimes investigators. At a U.S. Navy tribunal held on Guam on May 15, 1946, Commander Abe was sentenced to death. Navy Commander Ohara, who was in command at the execution site, received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment, and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Uchiki, who had transported the prisoners to the execution site, got five years imprisonment.

This story clearly shows the different attitudes of the Japanese and Americans toward the rights of prisoners of war, their treatment, and the “right” of the captors to execute them. The following is an example of how incorporating Japanese and local peoples’ information into the otherwise American narrative can shed new light on the story.

The Real Story of the Makin Island Raid

The events of the U.S. Marines’ attack against the Japanese Navy garrison during the Makin Island raid has been well covered in books and magazines. The attack, which occurred on August 17-18, 1942, was designed to draw attention away from another U.S. Marine attack on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Not so well known is that on the afternoon of the first day of the Makin Island raid, Carlson’s Raiders gave up all hope of being able to get away from the island and attempted to surrender. There is still some uncertainty over how the surrender overture was delivered to Japanese military forces and how they responded.

By using Japanese and Gilbert Islands sources of information in addition to American sources, it is now possible to clarify the matter.

The raid had been moderately successful. Although the raiders had lost 30 men, they had killed approximately 46 Japanese. They had also gained experience in atoll warfare and submarine troop transport. But when the time came to withdraw and return to the waiting submarines, there was a problem. They could not get over the reef to the deeper water where the submarines were. The high tide and surf worked against their rubber boats, washing them back onto the beach.

Gilbert and Ellis islands

Gilbert and Ellis islands. See Kiribati.

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USS Gilbert Islands (AKV-39) was a Commencement Bay-class aircraft carrier launched in 1944 and active in World War II. To avoid confusion, it is important to note that this ship operated under more than one name and hull classification number:

  • USS Gilbert Islands
  • USS Anapolis (renamed in 1963)
  • AKV-39
  • CVE-107
  • AGMR-1

The carrier had a relatively quiet, though important and successful, role in the Pacific during World War II her highlights included an air victory in southern Okinawa, missions against Ishigaki Shima, Erabu Shima, and Miyako Shima, and missions against Japanese bases in Borneo. Her most intense combat period was between June 1 and July 4, 1945, during which time her planes attacked Japanese military infrastructure, including radio stations, barracks, supply dumps, and other buildings, as well as surrounding villages.

As Anapolis, she served as a communications hub in the middle of the ocean. She was used minimally during the Korean War and was the first in her class to have jets make unprecedented touch-and-go landings on her decks. During the next several years, she toured both the Pacific and Atlantic, and was finally decommissioned in 1969 she was sold for scrap ten years later.

Attack on Kwajalein, Roi and Namur

On January 30, 1944, after a massive air and naval bombardment lasting some two months, a U.S. Marine and Army amphibious assault force of 85,000 men and some 300 warships) approached the Marshall Islands. On February 1, the 7th Infantry (Army) Division landed on Kwajalein Island, while the 4th Marine Division landed on the twin islands of Roi and Namur, 45 miles to the north. A single Marine regiment captured Roi on that first day, while Namur fell by noon of the second day. The battle for Kwajalein would prove more difficult, as the 7th Infantry pounded the Japanese garrison there for three days until the island was declared secure on February 4.

Though greatly outnumbered from the start (by more than 40,000 on Kwajalein) the Japanese chose to fight until the bitter end. Japanese casualties on Roi and Namur numbered more than 3,500 killed and around 200 captured, with less than 200 Marines killed and some 500 more wounded. On Kwajalein, close to 5,000 Japanese defenders were killed and only a handful captured the 7th Infantry counted 177 soldiers killed and 1,000 wounded.

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