The battle of Parry Island (22 February 1944) was the final stage of the American invasion of Eniwetok Atoll (Operation Catchpole), and despite the stronger Japanese garrison went more smoothly than the invasion of Eniwetok Island itself.
On 4 January 1944 the 1st Amphibious Brigade arrived on Eniwetok Atoll. The brigade contained 3,940 men, of whome 2,586 were posted on Eniwetok. Most of these men were posted on Parry Island, the location of the HQ of General Nishida Yoshimi, commander of the brigade. When the invasion began the Japanese had 1,115 troops and 250 other personnel on Parry. They had 36 heavy grenade dischargers, thirty six light machine guns, six heavy machine guns, ten 81mm mortars, three 20mm automatic guns, two mountain guns, one 20mm cannon and three light tanks.
Parry was a long tear-drop shaped island, with the rounded larger end at the north and the pointed narrow end at the south. The main buildings were at the northern side, near the lagoon.
The Japanese plan was to use half of their men to defend the beach, organised into a series of strong points around 140ft apart. There was a series of well constructed foxholes and trenches on the ocean side and newer, less well built, trenches on the lagoon side, all of them well camouflaged. There were three strong points on each side of the island and one at each end.
The original American plan had been to invade Eniwetok and Parry on the same day, but during the attack on Engebi evidence was found that the garrison of the two islands was larger than expected. As a result the plan was changed, and Parry was to be invaded after Eniwetok had been secured. This was greatly to the American's benefit. The attack on Eniwetok had suffered because of an inadequate naval bombardment, but Parry was hit by 944.4 tons of Naval shells - three times the amount that hit Eniwetok. Air attack added 99 tons, and the 104th Field Artillery Battalion, based on newly conquered Eniwetok, also contributed, opening fire on 20 February. A Pack Howitzer Battalion landed on another nearby island and also contributed to the bombardment.
The attack was to be carried out by the 22nd Marines. One battalion had briefly taken part in the invasion of Eniwetok and the other two had been engaged on Engebi, but both were now free. The reserve was to be formed by the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry and a battalion of 500 men from the 10th Marine Defense Battalion.
The plan was for the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines, to land on the left, on Green Beach 2, and the 1st Battalion, 22nd Marines on the right, on Green Beach 3. Both would advance east across the island, while the 2nd would also turn north to reach the northern tip and the 1st to turn right to reach a line across the island. The artillery on Eniwetok would be used to block any reinforcements moving up from the southern half of the island.
The naval bombardment began at dawn on 22 February with fire from the Tennessee and the Pennsylvania, firing from only 1,500 yards to the north-west of the beaches. The heavy cruisers Indianapolis and Lousiville and the destroyer Hailey fired from the south-west. This naval fire caused smoke and dust to blow out across the landing zone, causing some problems.
The landings took place at 0900. The first waves came under heavy machine gun fire, but this was silenced by grenades and the LVT(A)s. Once the Marines were past the coastal defences, they found a network of newly constructed foxholes and defensive positions. The Marines now had a standard method of dealing with these - first a combined force of infantry and tanks would advance rapidly ahead. Demolitions and flame thrower teams would then clear out each position that had been left behind. They would be followed by small teams of three or four men who cleared out any remaining troops.
At 1000 Japanese 77mm guns began to hit the right flank of the 1st Battalion. At first all calls for naval support were refused, but eventually 5 salvoes of 5in gun fire silenced the Japanese guns. By 1010 the front line was 300 yards inland. At the same time the 3rd Battalion came ashore. It’s role would be to form the right wing (lagoon side) of the advance south.
At 1155 the 1st Battalion reached the ocean shore, followed five minutes later by the 2nd Battalion. The 2nd Battalion also quickly reached the northern tip of the island, arriving at 1330. It then concentrated on mopping up operations.
At about the same time the advance south was about to begin. The 3rd Battalion attacked down the lagoon coast, the 1st Battalion on the ocean coast. Their attack was preceded by a 15 minute artillery and naval bombardment, and also had the medium tanks. The attack advanced steadily, and by 1930 had reached the southern tip of the island. Parry was declared to be secured that evening.
Overnight star shells and searchlights were used to illuminate the island, to prevent any dangerous counterattacks. The Japanese did make a number of attempts to attack, but each ended with the destruction of the attacking force. More mopping up followed on 23 February. On the same day the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry, landed to form the garrison. The other army and marine units were soon withdrawn.