The Battle of Guadalcanal
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  1. #1

    Cool The Battle of Guadalcanal

    The Battle of Guadalcanal

    Shortly after defeating the Japanese at the battle of Midway, the United States decided to push into the strategically important area of the southwest Pacific. Now that Hawaii was deemed secure from immediate attack it was time to take the fight to the Japanese. Both American C.O.'s in the Pacific,General Douglas MacArthur (SW Pacific) and Admiral Chester Nimitz (Pacific Ocean) were offensive minded, aggressive leaders, and welcomed the directive that came from the Joint Chiefs on July 2, 1942. This directive called for parallel attacks on Rabaul Island, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands Chain. Plans were started for attacking in these areas immediately.

    Just as fast the plans had to be looked at from a different angle, when air recon showed that the Japanese were moving troops from Tulagi to Guadalcanal and building an airfield on the latter. These islands were next to each other in the lower Solomon Chain. The Americans had been warned earlier by Australian Coast watchers that the Japanese were starting to occupy Guadalcanal,an island 90 miles by 25 miles and covered mostly by rain forests,mountains, and swamps. A Japanese airfield here would jeopardize all U.S.forces in the area. Guadalcanal had to be taken and taken right away. Normally the island would fall under the command of MacArthur,but for now the boundary between the two commands was moved, giving command of the operation to Nimitz.

    Preparation and training started at a feverish pace. Nimitz assiagned three carrier groups (Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprize) under the command of Admiral Fletcher to support the operation. Fletcher was in over-all command of the operation. Admiral Turner was in command of the landing force. This force consisted of the lst Marine division and a regiment of the 2nd Marine Division.(19,000 men) General Vandergrift commanded these troops. Lastly the operation was backed up by a joint force (TF44) of American and Australian cruisers and destroyers.

    Marines quickly exit their landing craft directly in the palm tree line. Landing close to the trees gave the Marines cover from possible Japanese defenses.

    At 0900 hours on 8/7/42 (8 months to the day after the sneak attack on Pearl harbor) 11,000 Marines landed on Guadalcanal after a lengthy naval and air bombardment. The landing was not contested by the Japaese and the airfield was secured that first day. Tulagi was also hit by a force of 1,000 Marines and it was a different story. The Japanese resisted fiercely and in two days fighting the Marines killed just about all of them.

    On the 2nd day things became more difficultt for the Marines on Guadalcanal. Fletcher withdrew the Carrier groups for fear of air attacks from Rabaul. Turner did the same with the transports. The Marines were now on their own in enemy territory. To make matters worse for them, Turner's transports held much needed supplies and equipment. In addittion to the supplies there were also 1,000 Marines still on the transports that would be sorely needed in the coming hours. The only naval force in the area were the patrolling ships of TF44. Vandergrift put the Marines in a five mile long defensive perimeter and started to finish building the airfield with the equipment he had, plus that which the Japanese left.

    Raising the Colors on Guadalcanal after the initial landings, circa 7 August 1942.
    Officer standing second from right in this group appears to be the First Marine Division commander, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC.

    The Japanese Commander in the area, Admiral Mikawa, sent a naval force from Rabaul down between the islands of the Solomon Chain (known as "The Slot") on the night of the 8th and hit TF 44 by suprise. In two quick battles off savo Island the allied force lost the Canberra, Quincy, Astoria, Vincennes, and the Chicago with a great loss of life.


  2. #2

    Captain Warren Frederick Martin Clemens, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defense Force (BSIPDF), with six members of the BSIPDF Scouts, on Guadalcanal circa the later part of 1942.
    Clemens identifies these men as (standing beside him): Daniel Pule (left) and Andrew Langabaea. Those seated are (left to right): Olorere, Gumu, Chaparuka and Chaku.
    Each of the Scouts is armed with a British SMLE #1 rifle. Clemens, the British Colonial Service District Officer on Guadalcanal, had remained on the island throughout its May-August 1942 occupation by the Japanese.

    On the night of the 20th of August the Japanese that had been landed earlier hit the Marine line at the Tenaru River in a fanatical "Banzai" attack. The young Marines held their ground and slaughtered the attackers. When the sun came up the ground before the Marine line was littered with over 800 dead Japanese. These young Americans who had been civilians a short time ago had stood up to a professional, experienced army and beat them.

    Their hardships and heroism was just starting though.

    August 20th was also the day the first Marine fighter planes landed on the now usable airfield. They quickly dubbed themselves "the Cactus Air Force." The field itself was named Henderson Field in honor of Major Lofton R. Henderson killed in the Battle of Midway.

    The Japanese kept underestimating the strength of the Americans on Guadalcanal and kept putting their troops ashore piecemeal. They also kept up the pressure on the U.S. Navy which returned to the area. In ensuing sea battles the Enterprise was crippled by bombs. The Japanese lost a seaplane carrier(the Chitose) and over 70 planes. A Jap troop ship was also sunk, and the USS Saratoga was put out of action for 3 months by torpedoes. The Wasp and the battle ship North Carolina were also sunk. The loss of life inflicted upon the sailors engaged was extremely high.

    The battle for the island continued with the Americans landing troops and supplies during daylight hours and the Japanese doing the same after dark. This procedure the Japanese used with ships (mostly destroyers) shuttling troops in at night became known to the Marines as "the Tokyo Expess." The night of the 21st of August was the scene of another "Banzai" attack against Henderson Field. l,000 Japanese ran screaming into the Marine positons and 800 were killed before morning.

    The "Tokyo Express" dropped off another 6,000 troops and on the 13th of September 3,500 of them hit the south perimeter of the airfield. This area was defended by the lst Marine Raider Battallion under the command of Lt.Col. Merritt (Red Mike) Edson. They were dug in on a ridge and bore the brunt of wave after wave of "banzai" attacks. Edson was all over the field of battle, exhorting his men, and fighting right in the line wih them. At one point the Japanese breached his line and he ordered a pullback and then called in artillery strikes on their previous positions catching the attackers in the open. This area became known as "Bloody Ridge."

    Dawn broke over the bodies of l,000 Japanese lying in and around the Marine positions. The balance had fled back into the jungle. After the battle, Vandergrift sent large patrols into the jungle after the retreating enemy. There was almost a serious setback when a battallion of Marines were hit by a large body of Japanese and were pushed back to the beach. It looked like they'd be overrun until a destroyer responded and bombarded the attacking Japanese while the Marines were evacuated by landing crafts. It was during this operation that Coastguardsman Douglas Munro put himself in harms way while evacuating the Marines and received the Medal of Honor posthumously. He was the only member of the Coast Guard to receive this honor.

    Temporary grave with marker which reads, "Here lies a Devil Dog",


  3. #3
    The tide began to turn against the Japanese when the "Cactus Air Force" started to operate. Now the Japanese no longer had control of the air and soon the skies would be clear of them altogether. Marine Captain John Smith became the first ace of the squadron and also won a Medal of Honor.

    On the 18th of September the 7th Marines landed (4,200 strong) and Vandergrift became even more aggressive. Firefights were a daily occurrence now.The Japanese were still determined to kick the Americans off the island and were landing about a thousand men a night and the Marines kept on shooting them. The Japanese finally landed a full division on Guadalcanal under the command of General Masao Maruyama. Maruyama planned to hit the Americans in full force and put an end to them once and for all. He had his division split into 2 attacking forces. While one hit the Marines from the west the other would hit from the south. This latter force would hit the Marines on Bloody Ridge again. This battle would feature two of the Marine Corps legendary figures, Gunnery Sgt John Basilone and Lt.Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller The young Marines serving with them would soon become war hardened veterans.

    The all out attack that the marines expected hit them on the night of October 24th. The brunt of the assault came against the south perimeter, Bloody Ridge again, in wave after wave of "Banzai" attacks. This position was held by Puller's 1st Battallion, 7th Marines. At almost 10 PM the Japanese came screaming out of the jungle and into heavy machine gun fire. GySgt. John Basilone, set up in the middle of the line, fired a constant stream of bullets from one gun and kept the other guns supplied with ammo.He moved about the positions directing fire and had to run to the rear on several occassions to bring up more ammo. Several times he had to have his men crawl out in front of their position and drag the bodies of the dead Japanese away. They would pile up so high as to block the field of fire. The attacks continued all night(7 in all) as did the rain,and when it ended there were 1,300 hundred Japanese lying dead in front of the marines,a large percentage of them killed by Basilone's machine gunners.

    Basilone received the Medal of Honor for his actions. Sadly to say, he was killed at the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. He could have stayed out of the action. He was offered a commssion and could have stayed Stateside on a bond tour but refused and went back to his fellow Marines.

    By November the 182nd U.S. Army Infantry Regiment was landed to bolster the Marines. The "Tokyo Express" was still landing troops each night and the outcome was still to be decided. The war on the sea was just as savage as that on the land. In fact more Americans would be killed in sea battles in this campaign than would be on the land. Shortly after midnight on November 13th a fierce surface battle erupted north of Guadalcanal. It was one of the largest sea battls of the war. The U.S.Navy took another beating, losing the Juneau, Atlanta, and 4 destroyers. The San Francisco was badly damaged.

    With the loss of the Juneau, 5 brothers who served together aboard her were killed.

    The Japanese also suffered losses. The battleship Hei was sunk. They also lost some 12,000 men from their 38th Division that were drowned when the U.S. sunk their troop transports on the 14th of November. Navy Lt.Cmdrs. Bruce McCandless and Herbert Schonland received the Medal of Honor for their actions in this sea battle. Another member of the "Cactus Air Force" Lt.Col Harold Bauer, who had received the medal for actions taken on October 16th was missing in this action and later declared KIA. Another Medal of Honor winner was Marine Captain Joe Foss, who, between October and January shot down 26 Japanese planes. He became Governor of South Dakota after the war.

    Dead Japanese on the Beach after the Battle of the Teneru


  4. #4
    The Tokyo Express finally petered out and came to a halt on November 30th. The lst Marine Division was officially relieved and the Army took over on December 9th 1942. These men, relatively new to military service, and led mostly by officers that, except for the higher grades, were also new to the military, had fought face to face with a battle hardened, experienced enemy, and had beaten them.

    The battle now was continued by the XIV Corps which consisted of the 2nd Marine Division and the Army 25th and Americal Divisions under the command of Army General Patch. The fighting was still vicious, but while American strength on and around the island was building, the Japanese strenght was on the wane. Attrition was wearing them down. Due to the American buildup of ships and planes the Japanese could only supply the island with men and supplies by submarines. On January 3rd 1943, Japanese headquarters conceded defeat and ordered the evacuation of their remaining troops from Guadalcanal and on the 7th the last of the defeated Japanese left the island via destroyers. They left 25,000 dead on the island and between 600 and 900 pilots in the sea. I don't have any figures on the number of sailors killed. 1,600 Americans were killed on the island and many more killed at sea. The rest of the Solomon Islands chain would take almost another year of fighting before being entirely in American hands.

    This victory, coming after the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, showed the world that the United States was definitely recovered from the devastating damages done at Pearl Harbor and was on the way back.

    Marines, wary of snipers, move into a formerly-held Japanese area.

    Burned Out Tanks Which Tried to Cross the Matanikou

    Guadalcanal was, in many senses, the Thermopylae of the Pacific War. In its urgency, its desperation, its hair-thin margins between success and failure, and in its profound effects upon both the U.S. and the Japanese war efforts, it may well rank as one the decisive campaigns of history.

    Between August and November of 1942, the seemingly irresistible advance of the Japanese collided head-on with the scanty forces which the United States could throw in their path. By the end of November, the enemy had been halted on the ground, turned back at sea, and virtually driven from the air above Guadalcanal. After 7 August 1942, when U.S. Marines opened the assault, the Japanese never again advanced beyond the Pacific positions which they held at that time. Their succeeding movements throughout the war were always to the rear. This turn of the tide, largely accomplished by the forces of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, inflicted at least 27,500 casualties upon the enemy, and cost us 6,111, including 1,752 killed or missing in action.1 What is more, it gained for the United States a strategic initiative which was never relinquished.

    In many respects, Guadalcanal was a victory in relative terms. That is to say, when the Fleet Marine Force was committed to action in the summer of 1942, no one could pretend that we were fully ready, afloat, ashore or in the air, to assume and sustain an offensive of this character. On the other hand, however, as a result of the battle of Midway and their position of extreme extension, the Japanese were less ready, either to meet our resolute thrust or to dislodge our forces, than we were to attempt such a venture. Because of the enemy's unbalanced position, August 1942 was--strategically--a time of now or never. Relatively, the United States was lessunready for the Guadalcanal campaign than were the Japanese.

    Relatively speaking again, the autumn hemorrhage of naval strength between the Japanese and U.S. force told more heavily against the enemy than against ourselves. Both sides sustained serious losses, but, after the November sea-fights, it was the U.S. Navy which held the balance, slim as it was, and with that balance held the sea, and with that control of the sea, inevitably held ultimately victory.

    Examined as a victory of seapower in its broadest sense (which includes all elements of a balanced fleet, by they air, surface, subsurface or ground), it is apparent that the outcome, and indeed the outset, of Guadalcanal, as a naval campaign, was profoundly influenced by the existence within the U.S. Naval Establishment of the Fleet Marine Force. Organized and trained--as no other U.S. force then was--to act as an amphibious expeditionary component within the Fleet, the FMF was ready, just as it had been a year before, in the occupation of Iceland. The fact that Admiral King had at his disposal a balanced ready force of the combined arms, including marine Corps Aviation, enabled the United States to embark without hesitation upon the operation, and at the unique moment. Without the Fleet Marine Force, Guadalcanal would never have taken place.


  5. #5
    In considering the fighting on shore, especially as compared to later great battles such as Iwo Jima or Okinawa, it is easy to dismiss the Guadalcanal campaign as a protracted series of small-unit actions, bitterly fought, perhaps, but small. Unless we can weigh the consequences of those actions, this view is perhaps true. We have already seen, however, that the importance of Guadalcanal lay in its character as a turning-point, as the moment when the Japanese drive reversed itself. That, certainly, is how the most astute of the Japanese themselves evaluated it.

    Prior to the latter part of 1942, Japan had counted on a relatively easy victory and a war effort which could readily be supported by what was, after all, their rather limited economy. In the Japanese thinking, even the battle of Midway was only a single defeat, a disastrous but temporary setback. Guadalcanal, however, removed the blindfold, and it was only from that time on that the Japanese--too late--set their economic and strategic sights for total war. For example, after the war, Mr. Hoshino Naoki, Chief Secretary of the Tojo Cabinet, stated that the calendar of the Japanese war economy should be dated "After Guadalcanal." As an official U.S. Government appraisal of the war (based on interrogation of high enemy officials) added,

    The entire Guadalcanal campaign lasted from 7 August 1942 to 9 February 1943, but the handwriting on the wall had become plainly visible in mid-November 1942. This date, 11 months after the Pearl Harbor attack, marked the end of the first phase of Japanese economic development in the Pacific war. With November 1942 began the really energetic effort. . . .

    At another point, the same source summarizes,

    At midyear 1942 the Japanese could set the occupation of the southern regions, including Burma and much of New Guinea, against the one major defeat at Midway. In August the American forces secured a position on Guadalcanal and thereafter the picture changed rapidly. By October-November the decisive engagements for control of Guadalcanal were being fought. . . . By the end of November, total Japanese merchant shipping was reduced to 5,946,000 tons, or 430,000 tons below the December 1941 and July 1942 level.

    Not only from an economic point, however, did the Japanese feel the immense impact of Guadalcanal. Fleet Admiral Nagano Osami, IJN, Supreme Naval Adviser to the Emperor and (from April 1941 to February 1944) Chief of Naval General Staff, was asked, after the war:

    Admiral, what would you consider was the turning point from the offensive to the defensive for Japan, and what was that caused by?

    After a moment, the Admiral replied,

    I look upon the Guadalcanal and Tulagi operations as the turning point from offense to defense, and the cause of our setback there was our inability to increase our forces at the same speed as you did.

    Captain Toshikazu Ohmae, IJN, one of the foremost of general staff planners of Japan, confirmed this view without hesitation. "After Guadalcanal, in the latter part of 1942, I felt we could not win," he said.

    Lieutenant General Kawabe, former Deputy Chief of the Japanese Army General Staff, reached, from the Army's standpoint, virtually the same conclusion, which he expressed as follows:

    As for the turning point (of the war), when the positive action ceased or even became negative, it was, I feel, at Guadalcanal.

    Not only from those high officers just cited, but from many other such interrogations of the defeated Japanese, comes this same theme: The theme of Guadalcanal as the turning point. From the slim victories by small forces; from the discipline and ability of Marines to hold on despite hunger, fatigue and disease; from the resolution of U.S. airmen and seamen who were often outnumbered but never outfought; and from the fact that, at this ultimate single point of extension and conflict, the United States, straining its utmost, as against Japan straining its utmost, could exert a few more ounces of effort--from this aggregate came victory, not only on Guadalcanal, but ultimately in the whole Pacific.

    Additional Sources:


  6. #6

    Marines struggle up a jungle trail

    The Guadalcanal campaign was an air, sea and land battle that raged for six months to determine who would control an obscure hot, humid, disease-ridden mountainous jungle-clad tropical hell-hole. It claimed thousands of lives, mostly Japanese, who died mainly of fever and starvation.

    The campaign also killed several thousand Americans, many of whom were also struck down by disease and the climate. Naval losses were considerable, each side losing 24 warships each as well as many hundreds of aircraft.

    The Strategic Background

    Guadalcanal is an island in the Solomons group directly to the east of New Guinea, and due north of the New Hebrides. At the outbreak of World War II, it was a colonial possession of Britain inhabited mainly by native Melanesians, with a handful of British colonial officials and other British nationals. Many of these took to the bush when the Japanese arrived and stayed there as "Coastwatchers" to observe and report Japanese movements and activities as part of the organisation.

    Guadalcanal's only significance was its location. In 1942, the Japanese Empire was expanding across the Pacific and South-East Asian regions with dramatic speed, winning almost every battle it fought. Japan had set up a major air and naval base at Rabaul, on New Britain in the northern Solomons. Taking Guadalcanal would enable the Japanese to threaten supply lines to Australia and New Zealand, preventing them from acting as forward bases for future Allied advances.

    The significance of Guadalcanal from an operational point of view was that it provided an opportunity to compare the performance of the US and the Japanese on the land, the sea, and in the air. The lessons learnt during the campaign would be put to good use later on in the war.

    Origins of Operation "Watchtower"

    The struggle to take Guadalcanal had its beginnings when the US Joint Chiefs of Staff began organising a counter-offensive to prevent further Japanese moves. Using available resources, they intended to capture Guadalcanal as the opening move in efforts to push the Japanese out of the Solomon Islands.

    US air reconnaissance and Coastwatchers reports had by 6 July 1942 confirmed that, besides the seaplane base on Tulagi (one of the small islands just north of Guadalcanal), the Japanese had also begun building an airstrip on Guadalcanal itself. 3,100 Japanese were estimated to be on Guadalcanal and that by 15 August the airfield would be complete.

    Speed was of the essence, to take the island before the airstrip became fully operational. A plan - codenamed "Operation Watchtower" - was improvised and put into effect. The operation was mounted in haste, which meant that preparations that would become hallmarks of later amphibious operations could not be carried out.

    Weary Marines march back from the front lines after being relieved by the US Army


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