Occupation of Burton Island, 3-4 February 1944

The occupation of Burton Island (3-4 February 1944) was one of a series of operations that saw the Americans capture the defended islands in Kwajalein Atoll, and saw them occupy the next major island to the north of Kwajalein island (Operation Flintlock).

Burton Island (or Ebeye) was long and narrow (250 yards) and almost rectangular, running north-south for 1,800 yards on the eastern side of Kwajalein atoll. Most of island was covered with thick vegetation (mainly a mix of coconut palms and mangrove trees), but there was one large clear area in the north, where an apron for the seaplane base had been concreted. There were also two seaplane ramps jutting out from the apron into the lagoon, as well as boat pier about half way down the coast. A road ran along the lagoon side of the island. There were over 120 machine shops, warehouses and other buildings on the island before the American pre-invasion bombardment began.

Burton was the third best defended island in the Kwajalein atoll. There were two 13mm single mount machine guns, three 7.7mm machine guns and a pill box near the south seaplane ramp at the seaplane base in the lagoon. Two 8cm dual purpose guns were mounted on the ocean shore. There were also a number of other dual purpose machine gun posts concentrated around the seaplane base. A few pillboxes had been completed around the seaplane base. Most of the rest of the defences were facing out to the ocean.

On the night of 31 January-1 February 1944 Burton was bombardment by guns located on Carlson Island, to the west of Kwajalein, and by the destroyer USS Hall. At 0745 on 1 February the battleship Mississippijoined the bombardment of Burton.

USS Minneapolis (CA-36) with New Bow, 11 April 1943
USS Minneapolis (CA-36)
with New Bow,
11 April 1943

After an examination of the visible defences the southern end of the west coast, facing the lagoon, was chosen for the invasion. The job was given to the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 17th Infantry, with the 2nd Battalion as the reserve. The landing was timetabled for 0930 on 3 February. A platoon of light tanks and seventeen medium tanks were allocated to the attack. On the afternoon of 2 February the Minneapolis and San Francisco bombarded the island. On the night of 2-3 February the artillery on Carlson Island joined the bombardment.

At 0730 on 3 February the navy began a bombardment with 8in and 5in guns. At 0800 the guns on Carlson joined in. Carrier aircraft attacked between 0845 and 0906, and the artillery then resumed fire. At 0933 the artillery lifted their fire further inland, repeating the move again at 0951.

The 1st Battalion landed with two companies abreast. The only immediate resistance came from a machine gun on the end of the pier, all Japanese troops within two hundred yards of the landing troops having been killed or forced to retreat. The Americans quickly advanced across the width of the island and turned north. Only then did they encounter resistance, mainly coming from the lagoon shore. Company C, on that coast, made slow progress, forcing Company A on the ocean coast to slow down. Even so there was no real sign of organised resistance, only of scattered individual positions that had survived the bombardment. By the end of the first day half the island was in American hands. The only attempts at counterattacks came early on 4 February, but they were all repelled easily.

On 4 February the main resistance came on the ocean side, where the Japanese occupied four surviving pillboxes. An attack by five Navy aircraft helped subdue this resistance, and the 3rd Battalion, which took over the attack, reached the north-eastern corner of the island by 1210. Mopping up operations lasted until 1337, when the island was considered to be fully secured.

The Japanese lost 450 dead and seven prisoners during the fighting on Burton Island, the Americans 7 dead and 82 wounded.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 December 2017), Occupation of Burton Island, 3-4 February 1944 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/occupation_burton.html

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