The Central Pacific's Gilbert Islands were strategically important to the Allies in World War II. Tarawa, and atoll in those islands,was the scene of a major amphibious assault and on of the proudest testaments to valor in U.S. Marine Corps history.
Japan's Rear Admiral Shibasaki Meichi was quoted as saying before the assault that it would take the American forces "a million men and a hundred years" to capture the atoll. The Japanese had backed up this boast with an elite force of almost 5,000 men and heavily fortified the island of Betio in the southwestern corner of the atoll. Since capturing the islands three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had spent two years positioning coastal defense guns, antiaircraft guns, anti-boat guns, light and heavy machine guns, and an airstrip they could use to strike at allied troops stationed in the area. The atoll was strategically vital to both sides, and the stage was set for one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.
The Allies were faced with serious problems in capturing Tarawa. The big coastal guns would keep the Navy guns either under constant fire or at bay, and the Japanese had used sunken ships and other pieces of metal to create obstacles which blocked the avenues of approach from the sea. The approaching craft would have to slow down to maneuver, putting them in prearranged ambush sites where they would be subject to deadly, concentrated fire from fortified positions.