The most significant event of last month came on 1 February when the Fourth Marine and the Seventh Infantry Divisions established beachheads in the Marshall Islands, first territory held by Japan before Pearl Harbor to be invaded. The Fourth Marines landed on Roi Island. The Seventh Infantry went ashore near Kwajalein. The landings followed an intensive softening-up by aerial and warship bombardment of the strong Japanese bases, just north of the already-won Gilbert Islands.
In six days the American forces had the situation on Roi. Kwajalein, and at least 20 other tiny islands well in hand. The key islands of the Marshalls, which the Japanese had fortified in twenty-five years of peace and twenty-three months of war, were in American hands.
With the exception of a few prisoners, the Japanese were annihilated. American losses were held down by the terrific pre-invasion aerial and naval bombardments the islands received.
For two days strong carrier forces pounded the Marshalls. On the third day the shelling from surface vessels began. Kwajalein took 14,500 tons of naval steel; Roi got 5,000. The islands were all but leveled. How one of the most concentrated naval and aerial bombardments in history churned Kwajalein, Roi, and the island of Namur into a living hell was described by Sgt. David Dempsey, a Marine Corps combat correspondent:
"Japanese dead were sprawled over the island by the hundreds, most of them horribly mutilated when our bombs and shells caught them fleeing for a tunnel or blockhouse. They lay like broken wax dolls in shell holes, near ammunition dumps and in the ruins of buildings.
"Sheets of corrugated iron, formerly the roofs of Japanese barracks, were strewn everywhere-twisted, ripped, full of bomb holes. Concrete pilings on which the barracks had rested stuck out of the ground in rows like tombstones.
"Japanese planes, caught when the shelling began, lay like giant birds, pinned helplessly to the ground, their wings broken. Not a plane got away.
"Everywhere the wreckage testified to the unexpectedness of our bombardment. Into one large shell crater had been driven a recent model English automobile, only to have a shell land squarely on top of it. We found American made radio equipment, a tractor, and Australian made tires.
"The American flag was raised approximately 27 ½ hours after our first units landed."