Research Paper: Battle of Tarawa

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Battle of Tarawa

War is a unique consequence of human life and interaction. Those willing to participate in way find a way to make themselves relevant and important throughout the annuls of history by providing stories of courage, fear and bravery that can help provide a window of opportunity for those wishing to learn from these violent conflicts and battles.

The extremely violent and deadly Battle of Tarawa that occurred in the island hopping campaigns of World War II provided the world with some of the most gruesome and shocking results of war and armed conflict. The battle itself was an orgy of blood, death and destruction, where a burnt offering of human souls was provided to the energies that purported this battle and war. What good is war if we can not learn and take important lessons from these tragic events ?

The purpose of this essay is to describe how COL David M. Shoup navigated this battlefield and became a useful guiding point for military leadership. This essay will investigate Shoup's role in this battle through several different lenses to evaluate his success in commanding and leading this military operation. This essay will examine Shoup's performance through 4 distinct qualities or steps of leadership. These include; understanding, directing, leading and assessing. The essay will eventually conclude that Shoup's performance during this battle, while not perfect, certainly accredited him with the accolades and honors that were bestowed upon him for his work. His transformation later in life regarding armed warfare and conflict also point to the Battle of Tarawa as a critical point in this stream of understanding.

Battle of Tarawa Background

The massive human death and destruction that occurred during WWII did not escape the Americans and Japanese fighting for supremacy in the Pacific Ocean. Tarawa, an island some miles southwest of Hawaii, provided the necessary background for Shoup and his Marine group to perform amphibious assaults in direct support of the Island Hopping campaign that would lead to Japanese surrender. Despite this campaigns brutal and directed efforts, the eventually failed where the atomic bombs would eventually cause Japan to submit.

Tarawa marked a significant idea in warfare and amphibious assault and Shoup's role in this new and uncharted territory presented the world with a new definition of duty honor and country. Alexander (1993) wrote "few battles have ever matched Tarawa's concentrated violence at point-blank range in such a compressed period of time. Six thousand Japanese and Americans were killed in 76 hours within an area smaller than New York's Central Park. The Tarawa assault had a significant impact on American strategy in the Pacific, the national psyche, and the institution known as the Navy-Marine Corps team. Some of Tarawa's legacies, both positive and negative, persist today."

The insanity of war and the predicament that Shoup found himself as leader of this battle does provide excellent learning lessons for other leaders to help provide a substantial base to help guide the leader in his art and science of leading people to war. The military leadership needed to be successful in Tarawa, can be used and appropriated to all forms of military leadership in today's world, and provides an historical account of bravery, death and strength unmatched in many recorded forms of warfare and struggle throughout recorded history.


Understanding as a leadership quality requires the leaders to synergize and coordinate many different factors. The military leader must derive from a point of purpose, or mission, and creatively apply those qualities throughout the contingency of his unit. Oftentimes in battle, confusion and chaos rule. Understanding allows the brain functions to sympathize and work together with the body itself to perform miraculous feats of bravery and courage. This model is useful when applying it to Shoup and his men.

The style of fight that was represented on Tarawa was almost suicidal as the casualty rates, as predicted were very high and nearly all of the 20000 or so Japanese soldiers were eradicated in this orgy of gruesome death and destruction. Shoup understood this idea and convinced first himself of the insanity of this effort, and then relayed it to his soldiers. Shoup had an internal knowledge of the incoherent nature of warfare, and understood it took required leap of faith to succeed and allow others to succeed.

By ignoring the insanity of this effort, Shoup provided an understanding approach to leadership that eventually worked out in the end as the Marine siege of the island was successful, but paid at a heavy price." At the battle of Tarawa, Shoup's coolness in desperate straits would save the day and earn him the Medal of Honor. He held the assault together during the first critical day and a half as chaos and confusion reigned. Nothing went according to plan. The low tide stranded men and landing craft and prevented reinforcements, radio communication broke down, and naval bombardment did not destroy most Japanese positions, " (Jablon et al. 2005).


Providing direction is a key and implicit task of the leader. For COL Shoup, during the battle of Tarawa, direction was very difficult to give due to the circumstances of the day. But all war is chaos, and this situation, while larger in scope, represents the challenges that all leaders face on the battlefield. Confusion is a leader's worse enemy as it suspends action and places the unit in a comatose state of shock and fear. This tactic is in fact used in many ways by our own strategic implementation of combat resources The psychological impact of artillery and mortar fire on the Japanese during this battle provided more damage to the psyche leading to their physical demise.

Shoup's ability to direct his large Marine amphibious force began prior to the battle. The groundwork for success was laid well in advance of this battle as the essence of directing were formulated in operations orders, training events and combat experience that proceeded this conflict which ultimately led to its success. Directing is essentially allowing things to happen and having faith and confidence in those who work with you to perform at a high level. This is a quiet confidence that Shoup emitted during this battle, as the end results of the conflict was nearly total and all encompassing as less than 20 Japanese soldiers survived and the atoll was brought under American command and control.


Leading is an ambiguous and vague action that can be seen in the fabric of other actions and words. Leading is slightly confusing as the best leaders let their men shine and take the credit for glory, while accepting the blame in a paternalistic fashion. Shoup's ability to lead during this battle was evident by his earning the Medal of Honor for his actions during this battle. "The final rehearsals for the landings on Tarawa were carried out at Efate in the New Hebrides. The designated leader of Regimental Landng Team 2, Col William Marshall, suffered a heart attack and Shoup was given the job of implementing his own plans. Although wounded coming ashore after Shoup landed on D-day, he immediately set up a command post and directed operations throughout the most critical period of the battle. His leadership and devotion to duty won him the Medal of Honor, and he went on to a distinguished career being appointed Commandant of the Marine Corp by President Eisenhower, " (Wright, 2012, p. 15).


The ability to synthesize and correlate the events of the Battle of Tarawa, seems to the have the most long lasting and profound effect on the career and reputation of Col David M. Shoup. Shoup's actions at Tarawa and the battle itself represents mankind at its best and worst simultaneously. Shoup's courage and bravery depended on the depravity of war and the often senseless death… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Research Paper:

APA Format

Battle of Tarawa.  (2015, January 14).  Retrieved December 5, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Battle of Tarawa."  14 January 2015.  Web.  5 December 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Battle of Tarawa."  January 14, 2015.  Accessed December 5, 2019.