Thursday, October 23, 2014

Foodhammer Theme Table: Assault on Tarawa - M3 Stuarts

Foodhammer is on the way and we're ramping up our Bolt Action efforts for it this year. We've been working hard the last few months to stage forces ready to go for the Battle of Tarawa. This battle was one of the first Allied victories in the Pacific and one of the first opposed landings on an 'island hop'.

An M3 Stuart attempts to make it to shore from its landing craft
Tarawa provides us a really iconic battle to represent. The Marines needed to take the atoll of Tarawa to start 'constricting the net' around the Japanese home islands. With each island they took they could further stage airplanes and navy operations to continue the war of attrition. Tarawa was home to such an airstrip that could be used.

The Navy provided a massive bombardment beforehand that actually killed the SNLF (Special Navy Landing Force - basically Japanese Marines) commander. It didn't do much to the rest of the troops holed up in their foxholes and bunkers, though. This strategic strike that took out the commander would prove a boon the Marines - the SNLF were scattered and unorganized.

The Marines landed in LVTs (armored amphibious transports) and Higgins boats, which were basically plywood deathboxes. The Marine planners hadn't planned for a phenomenon that causes the tide to be very low, so the Higgins boats bottomed out on the coral reefs 500 yards out, while the LVTs were able to make it over with three feet of clearance. Some made it to shore but couldn't clear the sea wall, so Marines went to ground right at the edge of the island.

From there the Marines fought inland but the Japanese troops were fanatical to say the least. They fought to the last man - only 17 soldiers were captured out of 2,619 that defended the island. Pockets of resistance held out. Looking at the maps over the 72 hours it took to clear the island it shows how hard the Marines had to fight, even with huge odds on their side, to take the airstrip and clear the island.

To give you an idea of the action they faced, 22 year old Staff Sgt William Bordelon's Medal of Honor citation contains this:

"SSgt Bordelon hurriedly made demolition charges and personally put two pillboxes out of action. Hit by enemy machine gun fire just as a charge exploded in his hand while assaulting a third position, he courageously remained in action and, although out of demolition, provided himself with a rifle and furnished fire coverage for a group of men scaling the seawall. Disregarding his own serious condition, he unhesitatingly went to the aid of one of his demolition men, wounded and calling for help in the water, rescuing this man and another who had been hit by enemy fire while attempting to make the rescue. Still refusing first aid for himself, he again made up demolition charges and single-handedly assaulted a fourth Japanese machine gun position but was instantly killed when caught in a final burst of fire from the enemy."

I'll cover my efforts to paint the infantry in a later post. Suffice it to say that I am doing camo and things that are easy to assembly line but take a while. Blending three colors on skin with highlights is currently what I am working on.

I took a time out to paint the three M3 Stuarts (one M3A1, two M3A3s) that I had purchased from CompanyB. They make some really amazing in-depth stuff for the Pacific war and specifically Tarawa. I guess that is partly the reason I wanted to decide on this battle - I knew there was a really sweet supplier for the stuff we needed.

By the time Tarawa happened (late 1943) the Marines had moved away from strictly using Stuart light tanks and started using the M4A1 Shermans provided to them. The Sherman was a lot harder to kill with Japanese weapons and tanks, while the Stuart would easily get mired in craters and not survive hits from Japanese AT weapons. This was to be the first deployment of Shermans by Marines during WW2. Out of the 14 Shermans employed by Company C, only two survived the first day operational. 

They did use Stuarts in the second wave on some beaches, however, as they were still a large part of their tank Battalion. Two Stuarts made it to the east end of the beach but were destroyed pretty early on. Out of the 36 Stuarts that landed, 19 were knocked out of operation by the Japanese or the environment. 

With that in mind, I wanted to represent this usage of Stuart light tanks mostly because I think they're really cool but also because I can still use them in earlier landings for Marines in the Pacific and later landings. They're pretty universal through that time period.

I obviously started by assembling the kits. I really like what CompanyB does with the kits they send. They come with a little stat sheet with all the information and a part listing and diagram so you know what goes where. The parts are cleaned well with not much flash and not much bubbling. I like how they do a resin main hull with pewter tracks - it really gives a nice weight to the model so they don't move around a lot accidentally. They also offer many decals specifically for USMC Stuarts and LVTs, which is great and really helps with some of the historic reference.

You can see here an overview with some terrain and my Corsair that I'll cover later. I'm going to use these guys as an armored platoon using the Tank War rules. You'll notice they have some camoflauge. The Americans in WW2 didn't really use nearly as much camoflauge as the Germans, especially in Europe, but the Marine tankers did take time to put some camo on their tanks. There aren't a whole ton of good color pictures but I've replicated what I've seen elsewhere. I used blu-tac or poster putty to mask off the areas I wanted to camo.

I added the decals and camo netting. Obviously they wouldn't have time to put camo netting on right after hitting the beach but perhaps on D+1 they did. This M3A1 really shows the difference well between early Stuarts and later builds.

The M3A3 has track guards as well as a sloped hull. From what I can tell these weren't used on Tarawa but may have been used later on. Some historical inaccuracies are bound to happen. I really dig the symbols that CompanyB sells (and they're from historical vehicles, too).

You can see the whole group here again. I think in terms of the platoon the one with the commander popped out of the hatch will be the platoon leader.

The tank commander also comes from CompanyB. I did a lot of wear marks on these dudes on the edges and I really like how it looks; I didn't go overboard or sloppy as I have in the past. The tracks have been weathered using Secret Weapon weathering powders

Thanks for checking out this update. I plan to continue the infantry and then begin on the LVT and Higgins boats when I get bored. Stay tuned!

Hit the beach!


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.