Operation Philistine

This was the US occupation of Nanumea atoll, the most north-westerly of the Ellice islands group (28 August 1943).

Some 7 miles (11.25 km) long with an area of 1.5 sq miles (3.9 km˛), this atoll lies some 460 miles (740 km) to the south-east of Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert islands group, and was desired by the Allies for the same reason as Funafuti atoll occupied in ‘Fetlock’, namely the use of its reef-enclosed lagoon as an anchorage and the availability of land area sufficiently large for he construction of an airfield. The atoll was occupied by the 7th Marine Defense Battalion on 18 August 1943, eliciting a Japanese response in the form of bombing attacks on 7 September and 7 November. A 6,000-ft (1830-m) bomber runway, with a 3,000-ft (915-m) fighter runway across it, had been completed by a time late in September, and the first raids against Japanese targets in the Gilbert islands group staged through this new airfield during the following month.

‘Philistine’ was part of a series of US undertakings between 22 August and 1 September to occupy atolls which might prove useful for the construction of air bases. In addition to Nanumea, on 22 August an advance party of the 2nd Marine Airborne Battalion landed on Nukufetau in the Ellice islands group in ‘Picaroon’, and five days later other marine elements and ‘Seabee’ construction units followed. In the area of the Solomon islands group, Arundel island was occupied against strong opposition on 27 August by the 172nd Regimental Combat Team of Major General Leonard F. Wing’s 43rd Division so that US forces would control the Blackett Strait. On 1 September Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee’s task force, which included the dock landing ship Ashland (the first operational use of such a ship) and the transport Hercules, landed men of the US Army on Baker island, whose population of four US civilians had been evacuated in 1942 after the island was attacked by Japanese air and warship attacks. Support for the landing on Baker island was provided by the destroyers Trathen, Spence, Boyd and Bradford, and air cover by the light carriers Princeton and Belleau Wood.