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This Day In History: American Forces Invaded & Took Control Of The Marshall Islands

February 03, 2017

This day in history, February 3, 1944, American forces invaded and took control of the Marshall Islands, which had been used as a base of military operations since World War I.

Occupied by the Japanese in 1914, they were made part of the “Japanese Mandated Islands” as determined by the League of Nations. The Treaty of Versailles stipulated certain islands formerly controlled by Germany–including the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas (except Guam)–had to be ceded to the Japanese, though “overseen” by the League. However, the Japanese withdrew from the League in 1933 and began transforming the Mandated Islands into military bases. Non-Japanese, including Christian missionaries, were kept from the islands as naval and air bases–meant to threaten shipping lanes between Australia and Hawaii–were constructed.

During the Second World War, these islands, as well as others in the vicinity, became targets of Allied attacks. The U.S. Central Pacific Campaign began with the Gilbert Islands, south of the Mandated Islands. U.S. forces conquered the Gilberts in November 1943. Next for the United States was Operation Flintlock, a plan to capture the Marshall Islands.

Adm. Raymond Spruance led the 5th Fleet from Pearl Harbor on January 22, 1944, to the Marshalls, with the goal of getting 53,000 assault troops ashore the Roi and Namur islets. Using the Gilberts as an air base, American planes bombed the Japanese administrative and communications center for the Marshalls, which was located on Kwajalein.

By January 31, Kwajalein was devastated. Continuous carrier and land-based air raids destroyed every Japanese airplane on the Marshalls. By February 3, U.S. infantry overran Roi and Namur atolls. Only 400 American lives were lost in the operation.