It was the beginning of one of the most significant battles on the Pacific Front of World War II. The Battle of the Guadalcanal took place on August 7th of 1942, when the United States Marines landed on the Guadalcanal. The landing at the Guadalcanal was unchallenged and it took Americans six months to defeat the Japanese which turned into a battle of attrition. After the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway, Americans thought of taking back the Pacific Islands and the first confrontation was to be at the Guadalcanal. The Guadalcanal is a part of the Solomon Islands and sets to the north-eastern part of Australia.
Guadalcanal is a humid, junglecovered, tropical island. The atmosphere made it important for both sides in the Pacific War. If Japanese were to take the island, they would cut off the sea route between Australia and America. If the Americans took control of the island, they would be more likely to protect Australia from Japanese invasion and protect the Allied build-up in Australia, which would be a major assault on the Japanese. The hierarchy in the Japanese Navy believed that not proceeding forward would be seen as weakness that Americans would exploit.
The Japanese had appeared invincible at the time and Americans weren’t very confident so they argued. The Japanese Navy won the argument. The Imperial General Headquarters ordered an attack on the Solomon Islands with intentions of having naval and army bases there. At the end of May in 1942, the Japanese had landed men on the Guadalcanal. Islands around Australia were marked with men from the Australian coast watching team. The reports from the Guadalcanal were normal and the Japanese seemed more interested in the cattle on the island.
Although, when reports came back there was an airfield being built on the island at the Lunga Plantation which was a major threat to the Americans. At the end of June, there were about three-thousand Japanese soldiers on the island. Admiral Ernest King (the head of all U. S. Naval Forces ) wanted a full-scale attack on the Guadalcanal to even the threat. The first United States Marine Division would land in Guadalcanal and protect a beach head to let other U. S. forces land. The first U. S. Marine Division was commanded by MajorGeneral Alexander Vandegrift, who had a lot of men in it that had no combat experience.
Vandegrift was told that the men would have time to train when they were in the Pacific, but by the end of June, half of the division still had not been in the war zone and the attack was five weeks away. The whole forces were lacking in reliable maps, tide charts, and etc. The ones that were used were lacking the basics of details. The naval force had no charts for hazards underwater, so they could not calculate how far inshore a ship could go. Because of theses issues, it was agreed to put back the day of the attack from August 1st to August 4th and then to August 7th.
The Americans started their attack on Guadalcanal on August 7th. Up to that date, the force was the most powerful it ever could be. The Saratoga, the Wasp, and the Enterprise gave their support guarded by the battleship USS North Carolina and twenty-four other support ships. Five cruisers from Australia and America guarded the real landing craft that came together off of Tenaru on the Guadalcanal. When the Marines landed on Red Beach they thought they were suppose to find major Japanese defences, but they found nothing. thing.
There were instead a large amount of men landed with their supplies. So much equipment was landed later on that day that there was confusion on Red Beach and inexperienced coxswains landed equipment where ever there was a space. As Americans got closer towards where the airfield was being built, the climate became a major problem. The hot, humid, jungle climate took a toll on soldiers carrying heavy equipment. The climate also affected radios and radio communication between those who were moving inland and those who were on the beach.
Even though there were issues, the Americans did not encounter the Japanese and for the first twenty four hours there was no fighting on the Guadalcanal. Though the first twenty four hours on the Guadalcanal for the Americans were not painful, this was not the same for Marines who landed at close by islands north of the Guadalcanal (Tulagi, Gavuta, and Tanambogo). The Americans need to take control of these to give them the chance to control the Ironbottom Sound and Nggela Channel that separated the Guadalcanal from Florida Island.
There the Marines approached fierce resistance and it took the U. S. Marine Raiders twenty four hours to wipe out the Japanese who were based at Tulagi. U. S. paratroopers fought Gavuta and got a similar response from the Japanese and it involved fire from the close by naval ships to alleviate the problem. In some portions of the battles for these islands, Americans took 20% of the problems. Americans got to the airfield on the Guadalcanal late on August 8th. Again, there were no Japanese there because they had fled into the jungle. News that the Marines had encountered the airfield was greeted with happiness in Washington and Canberra.
This happiness was sadly shattered on the night of August 8th and 9th when a Japanese cruiser force fought the Allied naval force at the Guadalcanal and forced it to withdraw. The Marines on the Guadalcanal were at this point on their own. Vandegrift’s men were not completely hopeless in the situation because of the all the equipment that had been landed. Vandegrift hoped that the planes would be able to land on the airfield that they now controlled. Vital equipment like barbed wire used to protect his base, anti-personnel mines, and etc hadn’t been landed in quantity. This the Marines in a difficult position.
There were Japanese on the Guadalcanal and it turns out that they had already fought all through Tulagi, Gavuta, and Tanambogo. The Japanese Navy were in control of the sea around the Guadalcanal and often fired on the Marines. The Japanese Air Force bombed the airfield runway. Although the Japanese left very useful vehicles that the Marines used to fix the runway. There work became rewarding on August 20th, when nine-teen Wildcat fighters and twelve bombers landed at the airfield, which is now known as the Henderson Airfield. The Marines were now ready for the Japanese attack on their positions.
Radio Tokyo had known what the army was doing low key and referred to the Marines there as insects. On August 18th the Japanese had landed men on the Guadalcanal. A regiment that was led by Colonel Ichiki and a naval landing force was given the assignment of defeating the Marines. Ichiki was told to expect more troops to help him, but his views on the Marines was that he believed that his men would put up more of a fight than the Marines. Ichiki decided to fight on August 21st. He ordered an attack on the American positions. Machine gun posts meant that a lot of Japanese were killed.
Ichiki told his men to withdraw, but Vandegrift told one of his reserve battalions to encircle the Japanese. This became known as the Battle of Tenaru. The Marines pushed the Japanese back to the sea. Ichiki’s men were trapped on all three sides with the sea on the fourth side. At this time the Marines realized the Japanese were not going to surrender and that they were willing to die for their emperor. The Marines killed a lot of Japanese by using planes at Henderson and some tanks that had been landed. Only about a handful got away and moved East down the coast for safety at Taivu.
There, Ichiki committed suicide like the defeat he and his men had felt. Despite Ichiki’s death, Vandegrift knew that another stronger Japanese force would be approaching to land on the Guadalcanal. These were the men that Ichiki didn’t wait for; the XXXVth Brigade. The Americans had a great advantage over the Japanese. It was that they had to be transported by sea and the ships transporting the men were able to attack from the American planes based at Henderson airfield. The Japanese moved their men at night by fast-moving destroyers in what was so called rat-runs to avoid this problem.
By the Japanese doing this, they could all but escape American fire and with success landed a large amount of men to the east and west of the American position at Henderson. Vandegrift decided to do what he could to mess up the Japanese and he sent a party of Marine Raiders to Taivu. They found little personnel there but they did find out that the Japanese had already moved into the jungle and that an attack on the Americans was soon going to be underway. The American position at Henderson meant that one side of their defense perimeter was bounded by the sea.
Vandegrift figured that the only way the Japanese could attack his position was from the South side of the island. The attack had began on September 12th. To the south of the airfield, Japanese bombers attacked U. S. positions and as night fell, Japanese destroyers and a cruiser shelled the same positions. For Vandegrift, this meant a conformation that an attack would come from the south. To the south of Henderson, Japanese infantry attacked positions. Though the march through the jungle had taken a toll on General Kawaguchi’s men and they were very tired.
The jungle had also messed up his communications. The assault on September 12th was not a success and the Japanese were planning to renew their attack the following day. Two-thousand Japanese soldiers attacked the American lines but U. S. machine guns and artillery took their toll. The Japanese had made two more other attempts to attack the Marines and on one attempt got within one-thousand meters of the Henderson Airfield. By the end of the night, Kawaguchi had lost one-thousand twohundred men that were either killed or wounded.
The paratroopers and the Marines had been hit with casualties as well as losing four-hundred and forty-six men that were killed or wounded out of just over a thousand men. Tokyo ordered a new unit of men to the area called the XXXVIII Brigade, which is veterans of the capture of Hong Kong, and ordered all equipment and resources to be used directly at Guadalcanal. All twenty-thousand Japanese troop were moved to Guadalcanal. The US Marines also got reinforcements that gave Vandegrift command over twenty-three-thousand men. Although one third of the men were unfit for combat because they carried diseases like dysentry and exposure.
Also, the U. S. air presence at Henderson improved. On October 23rd, five-thousand six-hundred Japanese soldiers attacked U. S. positions on the east side of the defense zone. This attack was a failure ensured by pin-point artillery fire. On October 24th, Japanese with seven-thousand men, launched a major attack from the South. At one point, a small amount of Japanese troops got into the defense perimeter but fighting drove them back. At the time Kawaguchi had ordered a withdrawal he had lost three-thousand and five-hundred men, which was fifty percent of the force that had attacked.
The attacks failed because the American positions in the defense perimeter were sited by experts. Also, Kawaguchi’s men were too tired to effectively fight and the terrain of the jungle forced them to leave mortar and artillery behind. This meant any attack on the American lines was done by and old-fashioned infantry charge against positions that were actually equipped with mortar and artillery. Lastly, the terrain of the jungle affected Japanese communications. Vandegrift decided it was time to go on the offensive, since the Japanese was in disarray. Although, the U. S. st Marine Division was in no state to do this, and in November of 1942, it was replaced with the 25th Infantry Division and the U. S. 2nd Marine Division.
The Japanese hierarchy in Tokyo would not admit to defeat and ordered even more men to the Guadalcanal. In the middle of November of 1942, planes from the Henderson attacked a group of ships that were bringing Japanese reinforcements to Guadalcanal. Of the eleven ships, six were sunk, one was greatly damaged, and four had to be beached. Only two-thousand men had ever reached the Guadalcanal, but very little even had any equipment because it had been lost at sea.
On December of 1942, the emperor ordered a withdrawal from the Guadalcanal. The withdrawal lasted from January to February of 1943. During that time, the Americans learned that even in defeat that the Japanese were a force to be reckoned with. Eleven-thousand Japanese soldiers got taken off the Guadalcanal in what was the so called Tokyo Night Express. The American victory at the Guadalcanal gave assurance that Australia was now safe from a Japanese invasion while the sea route from Australia to America was now too protected.