Scuttled Ship "Niminoa"
During the first two days of the invasion, November 20 and 21, the Marines making the long trip to the beach from Higgens boats grounded on the reef and those hunkered down behind the seawall were unpleasantly surprised to find they were being fired on not only from Betio's defenses but also from the lagoon to their rear. Most of the fire was coming from the rusting hulk Niminoa situated off Red Beach 2 and near the boundry of Red Beach 1. Nearly every Marine who came ashore on Red Beach 2 or 3 can rememeber this situation.
This picture of the Niminoa was taken from the lagoon facing south toward Betio.
This ship was formerly an inter-island steamer piloted by, Edward Harness, a British citizen living in the Gilbert Islands. After the Japanese invasion in 1941, he scuttled the Niminoa to prevent it from being commandered for Japanese use. Further damage to the ship was caused when the Japanese blew the boilers to prevent any europeans or New Zealanders from using it to escape the islands. Incidentaly a number of europeans and New Zealanders did escape using some boats they had hidden elsewhere on the atoll. (1)
All during D-Day morning, November 20, heavy fire was reported coming from the Niminoa. Somehow the Rikusentai, Japanese Special Naval Landing Force troops, had managed to occupy the derelict hulk. Some amtracs and Higgins boats were recieving fire from the Niminoa even before they made it to the reef.(2) Around 0930 an LCVP, carrying 2nd Lt. Lawrence Vlach and his .30 machinegun platoon of H Co. 2/2, sought some refuge from the Japanese fire behind the Niminoa. During this manuever the boat's bow ramp became stuck on the fantail of the larger ship. While the coxswain attempted to free the craft, Vlach climbed up the bow ramp for a look into the Niminoa. He saw two Japanese rifleman and promptly cut them down with his M1 carbine. Three Japanese appeared and Vlach exchanged fire with them. All three of them were eliminated. The boat then suddenly lurched away from the Niminoa throwing the now wounded Vlach to the deck of the LCVP. Another LCVP was ordered in and raked the Niminoa with its machineguns.(3)
The ship might be further away from the pier then the map indicates.
A naval gunfire mission was requested on D-day and the destroyer Ringgold responded. According to the ship's log the fire mission began at 1219, "At request of of Marine officer in landing boat. opened fire on a grounded hulk near the beach, western end of Betio Island, in the lagoon. Was informed hulk contained snipers. Hit on first salvo; hulk began to smoke. Fired 20 rounds." (4)
Alexander reports that Col. Shoup had thought that the Niminoa had been cleared by Marines had who had "crawled up the anchor chain during morning of D-day."(5) However, during D-Day night the Rikusentai in twos and threes slipped into the lagoon and waded out to man wrecked landing craft and the Niminoa. According to Alexander, the rusting hulk now contained several machine gun crews and plenty of ammunition. (6) In the official USMC training film, "MTF-S3 The Tarawa Operation", the Japanese were said to have occupied at least two amphibious tractors, one off Red Beach 2 and the other off Red Beach 3. .
Shown here is the location of the Japanese occupied amphibious tractors.
In the morning of D+1 the Higgins boats containing the 1st Battalion 8th Marines hit the reef and began discharging the troops. Companies A and B were mauled as they waded across the reef. Fire came from the Pocket on Red Beach 1, from the Japanese occupied disabled amtracs, and from the Niminoa despite the shelling and even bombing on D-Day. (7)
Lt. Eddie Heimberger, also known as Eddie Albert, was picking up the wounded Marines in a LCVP and came under fire from the gunners in the Niminoa. His gunner poured .30 machine gun fire onto the steamer and also silenced a sniper in a wrecked LVT that was also killing Marines.(8)
Another landing craft was grounded just to West of the Niminoa that contained the mobile shore fire control party of 1/8. Although they were pinned down the .50 gunner kept up a steady stream of fire toward the ship until he was hit. Another member of the party, PFC Ted Jachiemowicz, lept up and continued pouring fire onto the ship while someone else called in fire from a jeep radio in the landing craft. (9)
From a different vantage point in the lagoon, Lt. Galen Brown saw an LCVP racing toward the Niminoa. Aboard were three .50 machine guns blazing away at the Japanese on the Niminoa. Balanced precariously on the bow ramp was a "...Bluejacket having the time of his life firing a machine gun barehanded from the hip." (10)
Chaplain Wyeth Willard described the horiffic scene from his vantage point in a landing craft off Red Beach 2, "Fire from many enemy positions mowed them down as a scythe cuts through grass." According to Willard's account his boat landed about 100 yards to the right of the Niminoa. He could see two men, that he thought were Japanese, frantically waving their hands in an effort to persuade them to come over to wrecked ship. Willard later learned that these were Marines who had killed some of the Japanese inside.(11)
From Red 2, Col. Shoup viewed the carnage inflicted on the 8th Marines and could take no more. He, "...grabbed a radio and called in aerial support and naval gunfire. He wanted the Niminoa blown apart."(12) Soon F4F wildcats began to bomb and strafe the Niminoa. Unfortunately the pilots were inconistent with their bombs. Out of 12 500lb bombs dropped, only one hit the ship squarely and one other attempt was approximately 200 yards off target. A number of Marines thought they were mistaken for Japanese and had been the target of the attack. At 0755, Col. Shoup halted the ineffective air attack, "Stop strafing! Bombing ship hitting own troops."(13)
Col. Shoup then sent a group of Marines to clear the ship. They boarded the Niminoa from the aft, the blind side of the Japanese gunners which were still firing. After climbing to the third deck of the ship, the patrol found at least two machine guns and a large number of rifleman, "...well concealed behind the steel plating on the port side." The sargeant and the rest of the group moved out of earshot of the Japanese and radioed Col. Shoup with a report and a request for instructions. Shoup ordered them back to shore and requested naval gunfire on the Niminoa although with some reluctance since there was a chance of hitting friendly troops on the beach or even hitting the ever important pier. The Maryland and Colorado replied with an accurate barrage that left the steamer, "...a smoking, mangled, and silent heap of metal." (14)
For the evening of November 21, the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines placed two of its 75mm pack howitzer sections on the beach to cover the Niminoa and any disabled landing craft that might be occupied by Japanese snipers to be on the safe side.(15) No other fire is reported coming from the Niminoa during the invasion.
A sidenote to the story of the ship is its exact identity. Some historians, like Martin Russ in his Line of Departure and more recently Michael Graham's Mantle of Heroism, have identified the ship as a Japanese frieghter the Sada Maru carrying construction material. Graham writes that a ship was hit and sunk on September 18, 1943 during a raid by Dauntless divebombers launched from the Princeton and Belleau Wood.(16) Later his references to the Sada Maru describe the same events as those connected with the Niminoa. Most likely Russ and Graham, who probably relied on Russ, have incorrectly identifed the Niminoa as the Sada Maru. This missidentification takes nothing away from the integrity of narrative presented by both Graham and Russ.
Another possibly exists that there was another derelict ship off Betio. The following two pictures both refer to the Niminoa. The first is from Hammel's revised edition of 76 Hours, Bloody Tarawa. The second picture is from from film footage that was included in the USMC film, "With the Marines at Tarawa". Obviously these are different ships. The identity of the smaller ship is still a mystery however.
*For the full citation please check the bibliography section.
copyright 2000 Wheaton, Illinois
Created 26 January 2000 - Updated 20 August 2001