A harrowingly effective overview of the 76-hour clash that pitted US naval forces against entrenched Japanese defenders in the blood-drenched battle for a tiny Central Pacific atoll known as Tarawa (capital of the Gilbert Islands) during WW II. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources (including material previously unavailable in English), Alexander provides a detailed account of the late 1943 campaign in which the Allies seized the Gilberts in their island-hopping march on Tokyo. The author, a retired Marine Corps colonel, also puts the significance of the brutal engagement in clear perspective. To begin with, Tarawa had strategic import as a perimeter outpost for Japan's home islands. In American hands, for example, the military airfields there permitted aerial reconnaissance and raids in the Marshalls. The conquest also represented the first test of amphibious assault doctrine against a strongly fortified, fanatically defended objective. The big picture scarcely mattered to the US marines and the rikusentai who fought them to a costly draw during the first day of the offensive. With the issue very much in doubt and casualties mounting on both sides, Alexander observes, it was the resolve and staying power of individual officers and enlisted men that tipped the balance in favor of the invaders from the sea. Even so, over 1,000 marines and sailors lost their lives; almost 2,400 more were wounded. All but a handful of the nearly 5,000 Japanese combatants (whose redoubts withstood what was believed to be a devastating naval bombardment) were slain or died by their own hand. All told, US troops were awarded four Congressional Medals of Honor (three posthumously); the author provides vivid briefings on what it took to win them and the godforsaken atoll called Tarawa. A masterful report on a turning-point encounter in the context of a global conflict.