The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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9.61S) figured prominently in
the South Pacific
campaign. It is a large island located towards the southeastern end of
the Solomon Island
chain, 1300 miles (2100 km) northeast of Townsville, 540 miles (870 km)
northwest of Espiritu Santo,
and 300 miles (500 km) southeast of Rabaul.
The southern half is
mountainous, reaching 7520 feet
(2292 meters) at the summit of Mount Makarakomburu. So poorly was the
interior surveyed that in contemporary records, and many postwar
accounts, the peak was identified as Mount Popomanasiu at 8005 feet.
The southern coast is precipitous with a fringing reef, so that there were few good
landing beaches here.
The interior is crossed by sharp
ridge lines carved by fast-flowing streams. The climate is characterized by the
southwest trade winds from April to October, the cool season, with
temperatures from 70F to 90F (20C to 30C). From November to March the
northwest monsoon brings
temperatures above 90F (30C) and torrential rains.
coastal plains have most of the population and had some Lever Brothers coconut plantations in
1941. There was a two-lane dirt road along the north coast in the
vicinity of Lunga Point, with 3-ton timber bridges across the many
rivers and streams that descend from the mountains to the coast.
Facilities were otherwise all but nonexistent, and the population was
estimated at just 8,000 to 10,000 in 1942. Most moved to the south
coast after the Japanese occupied
Tulagi on 4 May 1942.
seizing Tulagi during the Battle of
the Coral Sea, the Japanese
there was terrain suitable for airfields
near the north shore of
Guadalcanal. Japanese engineers landed
on 8 June 1942 and set to work constructing a wharf. Allied coast watchers spotted smoke
on 20 June as the Japanese began burning grass off a cattle pasture
near Lunga Point, and they speculated that
the Japanese had begun construction of an airfield. This was confirmed
by a reconnaissance
flight over the
island on 5 July. On 6 July the Japanese engineers were joined by 2,571
the 11 and 13 Construction Units brought
in on a twelve-ship convoy. When
completed, the runway would be 3778' (1150 meters) long, and the
airfield would threaten
bases in the New
Hebrides and communications with Australia.
had mooted the possibility of a limited offensive through the New Hebrides, Solomons and Bismarcks starting from Efate as early as March 1942, though Larrabee (1987) believes the original impetus may have come from Roosevelt himself. The South
Pacific Area had been established with the arrival of Admiral Ghormley in Noumea on 17 May 1942, and Ghormley
had gathered what scant hydrographic data was available for the
Solomons before leaving Washington. By 25 June King had recommended an
early start to the offensive, using 1 Marine
as the main assault force.
By 2 July 1942 the Solomons offensive had been approved as part of
Operation CARTWHEEL. The Tulagi-Guadalcanal invasion itself was
designed as Operation WATCHTOWER and was given a target date of 1
August 1942. Other parts of the original plan South Pacific offensive
included the occupation of Ndeni for
construction of a forward airfield, heavy reinforcements to Espiritu Santo, and the
occupation of Funafuti.
The discovery of the incomplete
airfield on Guadalcanal led MacArthur
and Ghormley to recommend that WATCHTOWER be postponed until more
forces were available. King felt to the contrary that the airfield made
the operation more urgent than ever. On 10 July, King ordered
WATCHTOWER to take place as soon as possible, in spite of the risks.
This was one of the great decisions of the war and possibly King's
single greatest contribution to the ultimate Allied victory. The resulting campaign was, at the strategic level, a meeting engagement,
where both sides felt compelled to reinforce a minor skirmish at a
place and time neither had intended until it grew into a major battle.
General Vandegrift, commander of 1 Marine Division, had been told his division would have at least six months to train in New Zealand, and he felt his division was far from ready to be committed to combat. The division had been heavily milked for cadre for new formations, and the replacements were far from fully trained. In addition, 7 Marine Regiment had been detached to garrison Samoa, and Vandegrift, believing it would see combat before the rest of the division, had given the regiment many of his best officers, men, and equipment. By the time Vandegrift received the orders for WATCHTOWER, on 26 July 1942, his troops were already in barracks and his equipment had been unloaded at Wellington. While most of the Marines continued training ashore, their equipment was reloaded on four Pacific Fleet transports by detachments of 300 Marines per transport, after the Navy concluded that New Zealand longshoreman could not be counted on to do the job in time. (The powerfully unionized longshoremen refused to work in the rain, and appeals to their patriotism failed because security considerations made it impossible to explain to them that this was not just another training exercise.) A second echelon was loaded at Wellington and ready to sail on 22 July, while a third group of six transports was escorted to the South Pacific from San Diego by the Wasp task force. By 16 July it was clear that the invasion would have to be postponed until 7 August.
Turner claimed much
later that Fletcher was "very much opposed in Pearl Harbor to undertaking the
attempt against Guadalcanal, as he felt sure it would be a failure"
(Lundstrom 2006). However, it seems likely that Nimitz would have replaced
Fletcher had he been this pessimistic. Fletcher wrote in 1947 that
"Nimitz gave me the impression that he landing force would be ashore in
two days and could dig in and accept air attack" (ibid.) Nimitz also told Fletcher
that he was still to be governed by the principle of calculated risk,
as he had been at Midway, which
prohibited him from unduly exposing his carriers unless there was
an opportunity to inflict greater damage on the Japanese. Thus Fletcher
believed his mission was to dash in, land the Marines, and dash back
out with his carriers still intact, leaving the Marines to get the
airfield operational and provide their own air cover. While he desired
to achieve surprise, he was even
more concerned that he not be caught by surprise himself, as the
Japanese were at Midway.
A final conference between the commanders on Saratoga
on 27 July lasted nearly four hours. Accounts differ on what exactly
took place. The only contemporary record of the conversation was the
set of notes taken by Dan
Callaghan, who represented Ghormley at the conference. According to
Vandegrift in his 1964 account, Fletcher was "nervous and tired",
lacked knowledge or interest in the operation, and thought it would
fail. This contradicts Callaghan's notes, which indicate that Fletcher
asked many searching questions about the plan. Turner claimed as early
as 1945 that Fletcher spoke against the plan and accused Turner of
planning it poorly. Thomas Peyton, Turner's chief of staff, described
the conference as "one long argument.... [I was] amazed and disturbed
by the way these two admirals talked to each other ... never heard
anything like it" (Lundstrom 2006). However, Kinkaid claimed the meeting
was "animated rather than stormy ... [Turner] asked for a lot of
things, much of which he didn't get, because they were not in the realm
of the possible" (ibid.)
Fletcher himself claimed in 1947 that "At no time was there any
friction between Turner and myself.... Kelly was no shrinking violet
and always spoke his piece in conferences. But there was not bitterness
in the discussion. Plenty of opinions [were] vigorously expressed as to
what or could be done" (ibid.)
The major bone of contention was how long the carriers should stay in the area. Turner and Vandegrift wanted Fletcher to provide air cover for as long as possible, but Fletcher was concerned about the danger of parking his carriers close to Guadalcanal for a long period of time, and he also questioned whether the logistical support was adequate. A 5 July 1942 summary of Turner's plan called for carrier air cover on D-Day, D+1, and D+2, and Fletc
her later recalled that he expected to be off Guadalcanal for three days, or four if the landings were held up. Had the landings taken place as planned, three days would in fact have been sufficient. Turner intended to have the transports unloaded and out of the area by the end of D+1, with five cargo ships remaining an additional day. There was considerable misunderstanding whether Fletcher planned to stay two days or three, reflected by the contradiction between Callaghan's notes (stating there would be two days of coverage) and a later message from Ghormley indicating that he understood Fletcher to have declared he would stay for three days.
The invasion force refueled south of Fiji on 1 August 1942. The logistics of the operation were already coming unraveled; Ghormley had failed to dispatch Kaskaskia to Turner's force, and Turner was unable to refuel his destoyers. The two chartered tankers, E.J. Henry and Esso Little Rock, were late to rendezvous with Fletcher's tankers. Fletcher refueled from Cimarron south of Efate on 3 August, but the oiler had much less than a full load and Fletcher was unable to fully refuel his ships. Kinkaid estimated his destroyers had only enough fuel for three days at 15 knots plus two days at 25 knots, which turned out to be pessimistic, but this was what he reported to Fletcher and Fletcher remained concerned about his fuel supply throughout the rest of the operation.
On 4 August 1942 the force passed north of New Caledonia and came within the estimated range of enemy reconnaissance aircraft. However, the landing force was completely undetected until the morning of the landings, thanks in part to the concealment provided by a weather front. At one point a Japanese search aircraft passed within ten miles of the force, but visibility was down to a mile because of the poor weather and the force was not detected. Fletcher t
ook the calculated risk of flying no
searches on 6 August, the day before the landings, to maintain
surprise. He had also chosen not to begin bombardment by carrier planes
until the day of the landings, in order to give the Japanese as little
time to react as possible. By dawn on 7 August he had positioned his
carriers in the Coral Sea
southwest of Guadalcanal, where they could conduct flight operations
into the southeastern trade winds while staying within range of
Guadalcanal. Noyes, in
tactical command, began to implement a complex flight operations plan
that sought to simultaneously provide fighter cover for the carriers
and the landings, provide ground support for the Marines, and be
prepared to strike any Japanese carriers that showed up.
The two transport groups split up and their covering forces enthusiastically bombarded suspected enemy positions, lifting their fire to allow carrier aircraft to make their attack runs. Vandegrift's intelligence estimates badly overestimated the number of Japanese at Lunga Point, where the airfield was located, at 5,275 men, including a reinforced regiment. Vandegrift therefore decided to make the Guadalcanal landings further to the east to flank the Japanese. As a result, no resistance worthy of the name was encountered at the Guadalcanal landing beaches. However, supplies piled up on the beach, delaying the unloading of the transport force. This would later prove to be a serious failure. The airfield was captured the next day, against light opposition, along with considerable supplies of rice and canned food. Completion of the airfield began at once using captured Japanese equipment. The field was renamed Henderson Field, after a Marine aviator lost at Midway, and it would become the focal point of the decisive campaign of the Pacific War.
By contrast, the troops landing at Tulagi and nearby islands encountered ferocious resistance, but by nightfall on 8 August the area was secured.
By 0630 the Tulagi garrison had radioed word of the invasion. Yamada was then about to
launch a strike against Milne Bay
with a force of G4M "Bettys"
armed with bombs. Yamada sent a
force of three bombers to search the area around Guadalcanal; unknown
to him, a Japanese coast watcher
had reported the American carriers but could not get through on his
radio. At 0930 Yamada launched a strike of 27 Bettys still armed
with bombs and 18 A6M "Zero"
escorts. He then launched a second wave of 9 D3A "Vals" armed with two 60-kg
(132-pound) bombs each. It was a desperate move: The Vals lacked the
range to make their attack and return, s the were ordered to ditch at
the Shortland Islands.
Their presence over Guadalcanal would cause consternation with the
Americans, who assumed their presence in the area indicated a Japanese
The Americans had warning of the attack from their own coast
watchers, while the Japanese search planes just missed spotting
Fletcher's carriers. The Bettys therefore went after the transports off
Lunga Point. These were protected by 18 F4F Wildcats. The Bettys were
intercepted by the Wildcats at 1315 and a vicious air battle was
joined. Nine of the Wildcats were shot down, along with an SBD Dauntless on a ground
attack mission, while the Japanese lost 6 Bettys and two Zeros.
However, the Japanese scored no hits on Crutchley's screen. The
Vals arrived at 1455 and scored a single hit on destroyer Mugford
that did little damage. Five were shot down. The presence of dive
bombers this far from Rabaul, and their retirement directly to the west
rather than the northwest, left Kinkaid believing that there might be a
Japanese carrier to the west. However, a dusk search turned up nothing.
The next morning Yamada launched an attack by 26 Bettys carrying torpedoes escorted by 15 Zeros.
Yamada also searched the area northeast and east of Tulagi with three
bombers and two flying boats, but a flying boat again missed the
American carriers by the narrowest of margins and the strike went
against the transport force. The bombers were sighted by coast
watchers, but they took a
roundabout course north of Florida Island and west to their targets,
and there was considerable confusion about their estimated time of
arrival. As a result, they were already descending to make their
torpedo runs when they were spotted. However, the strike was cut to
ribbons by intense antiaircraft
19 shot down. One crashed into transport George
F. Elliot, which had to be abandoned after her fires raged
out of control. Another managed to put a torpedo into destroyer Jarvis.
Pacific Force, Pacific Fleet (Ghormley)
Force 61 (Fletcher)
Group 61.1 Air Support Force (Noyes)
||Saratoga Unit (Fletcher)|
|VS-3: 18 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|CA New Orleans|
|Enterprise Unit (Kinkaid)
|VF-6: 36 F4F-4 Wildcat|
|VB-6: 18 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|VS-5: 18 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|VT-3: 15 TBF-1 Avenger|
|BB North Carolina
|Wasp Unit (Noyes)
|VF-71: 29 F4F-4 Wildcat|
|VS-71: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|VS-72: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|VT-7: 10 TBF-1 Avenger|
|CA San Francisco
Force 62 South Pacific Amphibious Force (Turner)
Group 62.2 Escort (Crutchley)
Group 62.1 Convoy
||Embarking 959 officers and
18,146 men of the Marine Corps
Group X-Ray (for Guadalcanal)
||1 Marine Division less 3/2 Marine Regiment and 2/5 Marine Regiment
Regiment, less one battalion
|AP American Legion
1 Marine Division
Battalion, 11 Marine Regiment
3 Marine Defense
|AP Hunter Liggett
Regiment, less a battalion
|AP Crescent City
|AP President Adams|
Group Yoke (for Tulagi)
||3900 Marines (Rupertus) of 1/2 Marine Regiment; 2/5 Marine Regiment; 1 Marine Raider Battalion; and 1 Marine Parachute Battalion.
Battalion, 5 Marine Regiment
Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment
E, 11 Marine Regiment
|Elements, 3 Marine Defense Battalion|
1 Marine Raider
|1 Marine Raider Battalion,
less one company
Group 62.3 Fire Support Group L
Group 62.4 Fire Support Group M (Scott)
Group 62.5 Minesweeper Group
Force 63 Land-Based Air, South Pacific Force (McCain)
|16 B-17 Flying Fortress
|18 F4F Wildcat
|22 PBY-5 Catalina
|9 B-17 Flying Fortress|
|10 B-26 Marauder
||Trained for torpedo attack
|38 P-39 Airacobra
|16 F4F-3 Wildcat|
|6 A-28 Hudson
|17 SBD Dauntless
|6 PBY Catalina|
|12 A-28 Hudson|
|12 F4F Wildcat|
|12 B-26 Marauder||Trained for torpedo attack|
|8 B-17 Flying Fortress|
|24 F4F Wildcat|
|17 SBD Dauntless|
|18 F4F Wildcat|
Pacific Area (MacArthur)
Air Forces, Southwest Pacific (Kenney)
|~20 B-17 Flying Fortress|
Force Southwest Pacific (Lockwood)
|8 Fleet (Mikawa; at Rabaul)
||Just completed an aircraft ferry
|Cruiser Division 6 (Goto)|
|39 A6M Zero
||Another 20 just delivered and
|16 D3A Val
|4 H6K Mavis
|2 C5M Babs
Division 18 (Marumo)
|Destroyer Squadron 6 (Kajioka)|
|Destroyer Division 29|
|Destroyer Division 30|
Yokohama Air Group (at Tulagi)
||About 430 ground personnel
|7 H6K Mavis|
|9 A6M2-N Rufe
3 Kure SNLF
(at Tulagi and nearby
||About 900 men
81 Guard Force
Construction Unit (at Guadalcanal)
||About 1300 men
Construction Unit (at Guadalcanal)
||About 1300 men
evening of 8 August 1942, the day
after the initial landings, Fletcher made the most controversial
decision of his career, ordering the withdrawal of his carrier forces due to
and land-based air
activity. This decision was denounced as
by Turner, though Fletcher's withdrawal was approved by Ghormley and in
with Nimitz' instructions
to be governed by the principle of calculated risk.
Lundstrom (2006) has analyzed Fletcher's decision
and concludes that it was much more prudent than his critics
acknowledged, given the information available to Fletcher at the time.
Turner had told Fletcher that the transports would be unloaded and away
from Guadalcanal by the end of the second day, leaving five cargo ships
to finish unloading. Communications between Fletcher and Turner were
terrible, and as a result the only progress report that Fletcher
actually saw from Turner indicated that things were going smoothly. In
fact, they were not, and unloading was taking far longer than
anticipated. Fletcher was also concerned about his fuel supply, based
on estimates by Kinkaid that were probably too pessimistic, but
Lundstrom concludes that fuel was a more serious concern than (for
example) Morison (1949) acknowledged.
Perhaps the most crucial element of Fletcher's decision was his expectation, which ultimately proved quite correct, that Japan would react very strongly to the Guadalcanal landings. Fletcher had already lost 20% of his fighter strength, more than at either Coral Sea or Midway, and there were no replacements nearer than Pearl Harbor at this point in the campaign. He felt a strong need to conserve his force for the carrier battle he was certain would shortly take place. He was under the impression that the Marines had all been landed and most of the transport force was already clearing the area. There was no question of his loitering in the area for the entire length of time required to get Henderson Field in operation, and he had been told by Nimitz that the Marines were prepared to dig in and absorb air attacks. Loitering an extra day with his precious carriers to protect five cargo ships as they unloaded supplies did not seem prudent when he had a carrier battle to prepare for.
Prudent or not, the decision created lasting animosities and colored the treatment of Fletcher by postwar historians. A number of myths have arisen from the episode, among them that Fletcher did not even wait for Ghormley's permission to begin his withdrawal. Perhaps the most persistent myth is that Fletcher was responsible for the subsequent debacle at Savo.
Battle of Savo Island.
Crutchley's Screening Force was taken unaware by a Japanese strike
force very early on the morning of 9 August 1942. The Battle of Savo
was a disaster for the Allies, with four cruisers sunk at little cost
to the enemy, but it could have been worse. The
were left undamaged, though they were stripped of most of their escort
force. Admiral Turner
made the courageous decision to continue unloading for another twelve
hours before withdrawing the transport force. He was lucky: 25 Air
Flotilla at Rabaul was
looking for Fletcher's carriers that
day and left the transports alone. Nevertheless, much of the Marines'
remained unloaded when Turner finally felt compelled to leave the area,
and the Marines were left
with just four units of fire
and 37 days' worth of rations.
Vandegrift had his Marines establish a perimeter
around the airfield, judging that his force was too weak for further
offensive action until he was reinforced, the airfield was in
operation, and his supply line was secured. This proved to be a wise
On 10 August Vandegrift, eager to get air support,
announced that the airstrip was ready to receive fighters and fuel and
ammunition were available. However, no ground crews were yet on the
island. On 15 August a group of four destroyer-transports
dashed into Ironbottom Sound to bring in 120 sailors from CUB-1, a
largely untrained Navy engineer unit intended to build up
the airfield, plus
additional gasoline and munitions for Henderson Field.
On 15 August, a Marine sentry was astonished to see a group of 20
natives with rifles marching toward the perimeter in close order and led
by a single white man. This was Martin Clemens, the chief coast watcher
on Guadalcanal, who had decided that this showy approach was his best
chance to avoid being gunned down by mistake. Clemens and Vandegrift quickly developed a rapport, and Clemens' scouts would play a vital role in the battle for the island.
Battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) River.
By this time the Japanese Army had taken
over responsibility for land
operations on Guadalcanal from the Navy. Hyakutake, commander of 17 Army at Rabaul, believed
only 2000 Americans remained ashore and that 6000 Japanese would be
adequate to root them out. This underestimate of the strength of the American force, an intelligence failure that persisted long into the campaign, was initially based on a cable from the Japanese military attaché in Moscow
reporting that only a few thousand panic-stricken American troops were
on the island and were conducing nothing more than a large raid. (The attaché's
source for this faulty information has never been identified.) The
large number of American transports involved was explained away as
reflecting American softness and desire for "the amenities" aboard ship.
Hyakutake was assigned 28 Regiment at Saipan and 35 Brigade (Kawaguchi) at Mindanao. However, rather than take
the time to gather
that many men, he immediately committed the reinforced 28 Regiment, known as the Ichiki Detachment after its
Yamamoto was more concerned about the Guadalcanal landings than the Army, but he also saw an opportunity to avenge Midway. He moved the headquarters of Combined Fleet to Truk and committed 2 Fleet (Kondo and 3 Fleet (Nagumo) to the campaign to retake Guadalcanal. 3 Fleet was reorganized from the surviving carriers of 1 Air Fleet plus powerful surface units (including battleship Mutsu), and it was divided into two divisions of two fleet and one light carrier each. The Navy also committed the 600 sailors from 5 Yokosuka SNLF to support the Army troops.
Nimitz rejected the idea of redeploying the old battleships of Pacific Fleet to the South Pacific for lack of logistical support, but he sent Hornet on 17 August 1942 to replace Wasp and ordered Wasp to leave part of its air group as replacements for the other carriers. He also made plans for South Dakota and Washington to arrive in the South Pacific by mid-September.
Ichiki had reached Truk by 15 August, but Kawaguchi would not arrive until 23 August. The Japanese were anxious to counterattack as quickly as possible, before the Americans put the airfield into operation, and on 15 August Mikawa ordered Tanaka to take six destroyers of Destroyer Divisions 4 and 7 and land Ichiki and 917 of his men on Guadalcanal at once. Tanaka was to leave the next morning and arrive at Guadalcanal on the night of 18 August. The rest of Ichiki's force (1411 men plus his artillery) would leave Truk the same day, but in two old Army transports that could not make better than nine knots and would not arrive until 22 August. They were routed to the east to avoid Allied air reconnaissance out of Milne Bay; the Japanese were not yet aware that the Allies had an operational airfield at Espiritu Santo and believed that searches from the southeast originated at Efate. The operation to clean out the Solomons, KA-Go, was to begin on 24 August 1942. On that date, two battalions of Kawaguchi's brigade were to leave Truk for Tulagi. By 27 August, Ichiki was to have recapture Henderson Field, and Zeros would immediately be flown in. The next day Kawaguchi would arrive to mop up Guadalcanal and retake Tulagi. Port Moresby would simultaneously be taken.
On 17 August, the first Japanese reinforcements staged a counter landing east of the Marine perimeter. These were 113 sailors from 5 Yokosuka SNLF delivered by Oite, which dashed in and out without being spotted. That same day, Kondo arrived at Truk. Nagumo's carrier fleet arrived about four days later, followed closely by Yamamoto himself in Yamato escorted by an escort carrier and three destroyers. All these moves were detected by Allied intelligence, but the Japanese put into effect a major revision of their codes on 15 August that greatly hindered the code breakers.
Ichiki and 917 of his men landed undetected near midnight on 18 August at Taivu Point, some 25 miles (40 km) east of Henderson Field. The next morning, three of the destroyers lingered to bombard Tulagi. Fletcher was at that time some 450 miles (720 km) to the southeast covering Long Island, which was ferrying the first aircraft to Henderson Field, but B-17s damaged Hagikaze and drove the Japanese ships off.
18 August also saw the First Battle of the Matanikau, a river
descending from rugged country to enter the ocean west of the Marine
perimeter. Vandegrift had intelligence that the remnants of the
Japanese garrison on the islandwere gathered here, and he sent out three rifle companies from 5 Marine Regiment to trap
and destroy the Japanese. The Marines assembled at their start line on
the evening of 18 August and Company B began advancing along the
coastal trail at 1400. A number of Japanese snipers and lookouts were
encountered, as well as several murdered natives, and Japanese attempts
to infiltrate the Marine positions during the night were unsuccessful.
The next morning, a barrage at 0850 took the Japanese by surprise, but
the Marines encountered heavy machine gun fire near the river. By 1600
the Marines had fought their way into Matanikau village, but the main
body of the Japanese had escaped into the jungle and the Marines were
urgently called back to the main perimeter because of the threat posed
by the Ichiki Detachment.
Believing that the Americans
and weak, Ichiki
immediately marched on Henderson Field without
waiting for the remainder of his unit. In fact, there were 17,000
Americans on the island who were well dug in and far
demoralized. The Americans were aware of the Japanese advance
almost at once. Native
troops under the direction of Australian
coast watcher Major Martin Clemens were scouting the area east of the
Marine perimeter, and a Marine patrol ambushed a careless Japanese
patrol on 19 August. The Japanese patrol was carrying documents that
the Japanese plans and also showed the Japanese had excellent maps
pinpointing most of the Marine positions around the airfield.
On 20 August three American destroyer-transports
120 tons of rations, which was enough for just three and a half days.
Meanwhile 1 Marine Engineer Battalion had completed the airstrip.
Though still primitive, it was ready to receive its first aircraft, a
of 19 F4Fs and 12 SBDs of Marine
23 flown in from Long Island,
which was covered
by Fletcher's carriers. Henderson Field was now in business.
Early the next morning, on 21 August, in the
Battle of the Tenaru River (it was actually the Ilu River), Ichiki's
men attacked the eastern Marine perimeter. They were repulsed by Marine
rifle and machine gun fire, supplemented with canister from a 37mm antitank gun. The
survivors, thrown into confusion, retreated into a coconut grove east
of the river, where they were counterattacked by Marines
supported by light tanks. The
Marines rolled up the Japanese positions from the south and annihilated
Ichiki's command. Ichiki's fate has been variously reported: He either
was killed in action or killed himself
after burning his regimental flag. The Marines suffered 35 dead and 75
wounded but killed almost a thousand Japanese.
Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
On 20 August 1942 a Japanese flying boat out of the Shortlands discovered Long Island and Fletcher's fleet
carriers 240 miles (390 km) southeast of Tulagi. Tanaka immediately
carried out his orders to retire if American carriers were spotted.
Yamamoto considered the situation, concluded (correctly) that the
Americans were simply ferrying aircraft and had not spotted Tanaka's convoy, and ordered Tanaka to
postpone his landings by two days, to 24 August, by which time Yamamoto
expected to have neutralized Henderson Field.
On that date, Japanese and American carrier forces clashed in the eastern Solomons. Like the Japanese, the Americans were attempting to run reinforcements into Guadalcanal. The battle was inconclusive and both carrier groups retired from the area. However, the Japanese transports pressed on until they came under attack from Henderson Field the next day. Two transports were damaged and a destroyer sunk, and the Japanese force turned back. This was the first indication that control of Henderson Field meant control of the daylight waters around Guadalcanal.
On 27 August 1942 the American carrier Saratoga was damaged by I-26 and put out of action for two months. With Enterprise already repairing damage from the action a few days earlier, Wasp was the only operational carrier left in the Pacific.
On the night of 27 August 1942, the Japanese switched tactics, running in reinforcements at night on four of the destroyers of Tanaka's Destroyer Squadron 2. The first such run was intercepted by 11 SBDs from Henderson Field, which sank Asagiri, damaged Yugire and Shirakumo, and ran off the survivors. However, Nagumo had transferred 30 of his Zeros to Buka, and the run on the night of 28 August succeeeded in landing a thousand men and artillery without loss. This set the pattern for much of the Solomons campaign. The Americans controlled the air by day; at night, control passed to the Japanese with their superior night-fighting tactics. So regular were the Japanese reinforcement runs that they became known to the Americans as the "Tokyo Express." By 9 September General Hyakutake himself had landed with most of 2 Division.
On 1 September transport Betelgeuse brought elements of 6 Naval Construction Battalion (5 officers, 387 men). It was the first deployment of Seabees to a combat zone. Betelgeuse also delivered six 5" coastal defense guns. The Seabees brought two bulldozers and other construction equipment with them and promptly set to work improving the facilities at Henderson Field.
Sources disagree on when Henderson Field got its first radar, but this may have been an SCR-270 set brought in by Betelgeuse and rushed into operation the next day.
Battle of Bloody Ridge.
paratroops attacked the Japanese positions at Taivu on 8 September,
with 501 Raiders making the initial assault with 312 paratroops in
reserve. The raid
temporarily drove the Japanese rear echelon out of their base at
Tasimboko, and, before pulling out, the raiders destroyed much of the
Japanese artillery and supplies. It was one of the most successful
raids of the war: At a cost of just two dead and six wounded, the Marines had disrupted
Japanese preparations for an attack on Henderson Field, killing at
least 27 Japanese and capturing documents of great intelligence value. However,
the Japanese had their own intelligence that a transport convoy had arrived in Fiji on 5 September, and Kawaguchi actually moved up the date of his attack to 12 September.
attack was a major effort
southern perimeter of Henderson Field, where Kawaguchi correctly judged
the American defenses to be weakest. The brunt of the
fell on the Marine Raiders and Marine paratroops, who, following the
Tasimboko raid, had been moved inland to recuperate in what Vandegrift
anticipated would be a quiet sector. (Vandegrift moved his own
headquarters to the area at about the same time.) However, the Raider
commander, Merritt Edson, anticipated the Japanese attack and had his
men dig in on what thereafter became known as
Bloody Ridge. Attacks on two consecutive nights were broken up,
it was a close fight. The Japanese attacked with no reserve and their attack suffered from lack of
coordination due to the difficulties of movement and communication in
The Japanese attacks on the wings, in particular, were an unnecessary
diversion of effort and the Japanese troops involved showed unusual
lack of night combat discipline. The Marine artillery was repositioned
after the first night attack, and gave crucial support during the
stronger Japanese attack on the second night. Marine casualties were 104 dead and 278 wounded, while Japanese casualties were far greater:
When Kawaguchi regrouped at Kokombonu, he found that almost half his
original force of 3450 men was gone.
On 14 September Wasp
was attacked by I-19
while escorting a major convoy to Guadalcanal. Three torpedoes hit the
ship, destroying water mains and starting fires. The gasoline pumping
system was in use at the time and fed the fires, which raged out of
control and forced the crew
to abandon ship. Wasp was
then scuttled by torpedoes
from destroyer Lansdowne. Her
loss left just the
active in the theater. North Carolina
was also damaged and destroyer O'Brien
sunk. However, the transports
pressed forward, and on 18 September 1942, the reinforced 7
(4157 men) was
successfully landed at Guadalcanal. This brought the American strength
to 23,000 men. The transports also brought in 137 vehicles, 4323
barrels of fuel, food, engineering equipment, and ammunition, including
10,000 rounds of 37mm canister and 10,000 hand grenades.
Vandegrift also had 3/2 Marine Regiment brought in from Tulagi.
However, the Japanese had also landed reinforcements, consisting of a
force of 1100 men of 4 Regiment, from seven destroyers that came in the night of 15 September.
Meanwhile, the Americans were tightening their
control of the daylight air over the island. On 27-28 August the Allies
shot down 32 raiding Japanese aircraft without loss. The Japanese
responded with fighter sweeps, using a few bombers as bait, that
briefly evened the score.
On 23 September 1/7 Marine Battalion, supported by 1 Marine Raider
Battalion and 2/5 Marine Battalion, launched a strong
reconnaissance-in-force towards Matanikau and points further west.
However, American intelligence was faulty, and instead of the 400
Japanese thought to be in the area, the Marines ran into 1900 men of 124 Regiment. Poor
maps and a confused command structure dogged the American operation,
and a rapidly improvised attack against the entrenched Japanese on the
Matanikau River on 27 September nearly ended in disaster. A landing by
elements of 1/7 Marine Battalion behind the Japanese lines left the
Marines trapped on a ridge near the coast, and the other Marine
battalions were unable to break across the Matanikau and relieve the
trapped battalion. Air observers sighted an improvised HELP! message
laid out on the ridge, and gunfire support from offshore destroyers
blasted a route for the trapped Marines to pull back to the coast for
evacuation. Although the Marine official history claimed otherwise,
this Second Battle of the Matanikau was an embarrassing defeat
for the Marines, who lost 91 killed and 100 wounded at a cost to the
Japanese of perhaps 30 dead (Smith 2000).
On 7 October 1942, 7 Marine Regiment carried out a third attack towards Matanikau in order to deny
the Japanese the use of artillery
positions within range of Henderson Field.
The Marines made some progress, but because of intelligence
indicating another Japanese effort against the main Henderson position,
the Marines were pulled back.
Battle of Cape Esperance.
On the night of 11 October 1942. Admiral Norman Scott succeeded in surprising a "Tokyo Express" run off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. American losses were a destroyer sunk and two cruisers and another destroyer damaged. The Japanese lost a cruiser and a destroyer and have two other cruisers damaged. Two more Japanese destroyers were sunk by aircraft from Henderson Field the next day. However, the Americans failed to prevent Japanese landings, although they were able to land their own reinforcements from the Americal Division.
The night of 13 October 1942 was
known simply as
"The Night" to the Americans who lived through it. The
brought up battleships
to plaster the American positions for 80 minutes. Four American PT boats attempted to
interfere but were brushed aside. Henderson Field was very
nearly put out of action, with over half its aircraft destroyed, and
the Japanese used the disruption of
American air cover to bring in supplies and reinforcements for their
next attack. However, the Americans managed to get the
operating and some planes in the air the next day, which wrecked three
beached Japanese transports. Three others were driven off before they
could unload all
Fuel became a critical item at Henderson Field. C-47 Skytrains flew in gasoline
from Espiritu Santo.
Submarine Amberjack was fitted to carry
9000 gallons of gasoline and ten tons of bombs. But this was just a
trickle. Most of the needed fuel had to be brought in in whatever
auxiliaries were available, often at great cost.
Battle of "Coffin Corner."
"The Night" probably marked the
nadir of the campaign for the Allies. On 18 October Halsey
as commander of the South Pacific Area, and he began at once to
restore morale throughout the
theater. Simultaneously 2 Division
preparations for another major effort
against Henderson Field. Like previous efforts, this one was
poorly coordinated, and one Japanese lieutenant remarked in his diary
that Japanese morale was deteriorating even before battle was joined.
The first attacks, along the Matanikau
were beaten off on 22 October. The Japanese force here, led by Sumiyoshi Tadeshi, had
twelve light tanks and some artillery in support, but the Marine
artillery destroyed the tanks and broke up the attack. However, other
Japanese elements succeeded in infiltrating across the upper Matanikau
River, just as a battalion of U.S.
Army infantry was pulled out of
southern perimeter to reinforce the western perimeter.
The main effort, directed
the now-weakened southern part of the American perimeter, came on the
night of 24
October. The main thrust of the attack came at a point thereafter
nicknamed "Coffin Corner." It was beaten off after a vicious fight in a
pouring rain. A a second attempt on the night of the 25th was joined by
a brigade under Kawaguchi
Kiyotake, who had taken too long working his way through the jungle
to coordinate his attack with that of the previous night. This second
attack was also beaten back. Total Japanese losses on the two nights
were at least 941 killed outright.
Battle of Santa Cruz.
The Japanese had brought their carrier forces forward to fly aircraft into Henderson once it was taken by the ground offensive. Though the ground groops failed to take Henderson, the Japanese carriers moved forward to clear the Solomons area of American naval forces. The resulting Battle of Santa Cruz was a clear Japanese victory, the Americans losing the Hornet. However, the Japanese failed to exploit their victory, and because Henderson remained in American hands, the aircraft ferry mission became moot.
With the most recent victory in the
the Americans finally felt strong enough to expand their operations
outside the Henderson perimeter. On 30 October 1942 a small convoy
brought in the heavy artillery (155mm) of 1 Marine Division. These guns
outranged the Japanese artillery that had been placing harassing fire
on Henderson Field. On 1 November, two Marine
regiments began a drive against
Japanese positions west of the
Matanikau. Other units advanced east to forestall a Japanese
counter landing at Koli Point, but were forced back on 3 November.
Japanese landings by 38
took place to the west on 7 November. However, by 11 November
Japanese forces east of the Henderson perimeter were dispersed.
From this point on, the initiative in the land war would
with the Allies.
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
The Japanese had yet not given up. Between 2 and 10
November the Japanese made 65 destroyer runs to bring in more troops.
Intelligence showed more Japanese shipping massing at Truk, Rabaul and the Shortland Islands. Halsey
dispatched Kinkaid's Task Force 16 with the still-damaged Enterprise and a battleship force
under Lee. These were to
provide cover for two convoys, one led by Turner departing 8 November
from Noumea and a second led by Scott departing 9 November from
Espiritu Santo. Turner's convoy was escorted by a cruiser-destroyer
force under Callaghan.
Scott's convoy reached Guadalcanal on 11 November and was joined by
Turner the next morning. The Japanese responded with an air raid from Hiyo
on 11 November that badly damaged transport Zweilin. A second raid from Rabaul
on 12 November badly damaged destroyer Buchanan
and lightly damaged heavy cruiser San Francisco, which remained
The night of 12-13 November 1942 opened the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The Japanese Navy, shamed by its failure to supply the Guadalcanal forces, made an all-out effort to run in a convoy of 11 transports and 11 destroyers under Tanaka. This was covered by a force under Abe consisting of two battleships, two cruisers, and 14 destroyers. Turner had accurate intelligence about Abe's force, but Kinkaid's force was too far away to help. Turner felt he had no choice but to defend the waters around Guadalcanal with Callaghan's force of five cruisers and eight destroyers. The Americans were badly outgunned but had the advantage of radar. The two forces met in the early hours of the morning. Callaghan had his force in a long line with destroyers to van and stern, and the ships with the best radar were not well positioned in line. However, this formation resembled the one used by Scott at Cape Esperance.
Abe had intelligence that there were American
cruisers and destroyers off Guadalcanal, but he seems to have assumed
that they would depart after dark, as had been the pattern for some
time. His ships were loaded with high-capacity bombardment shells
rather than the armor-piercing
shells appropriate for a
naval engagement. He reversed course on encountering bad weather, and
by the time he resumed his advance he had lost 40 minutes and his
destroyer screen was out of position.
detected the Japanese on radar at about 0124 on 13 November. Callaghan
the American line to charge into the midst of the Japanese, who had
spotted the Americans and were frantically trying to reload with
armor-piercing shells. Callaghan gave
highly unorthodox order "Odd ships commence fire to starboard, even
ships to port." The battle
quickly turned into a close-quarters brawl whose exact sequence of
events may never be worked out. Both Callaghan and Scott were killed
early in the action by shellfire. When dawn broke, the
had suffered terrible casualties (cruiser Atlanta
and four destroyers
sunk or sinking, and almost all the other ships damaged) but the
lost their nerve and retreated after losing two destroyers and
suffering severe damage to battleship Hiei.
Kinkaid sent many of the strike aircraft from Enterprise to operate from Henderson Field, while carriers Junyo and Hiyo were held well back and contributed little to the air defense of the Japanese surface forces in the Solomons. Hiei had had her upper works shattered during the night battle, and as she crept away, TBF Avengers from Henderson Field hit her with four torpedoes and damaged her so badly that she was ordered scuttled. In turn, Juneau, already severely damaged by a torpedo, was blown to shreds by a Japanese submarine as she attempted to escape to Espiritu Santo. Her ten survivors did not include the five Sullivan brothers, who had enlisted together to avenge the death of a friend on the Arizona.
Kinkaid received intelligence during the day
indicating that another Japanese bombardment group was closing on
Guadalcanal. Unfortunately, the need to steam into the wind during
flight operations meant that the Enterprise
group was too far away for Lee's battleships to reach the area in time
to intercept. Mikawa's force was able to pump hundreds of 8" (200mm)
shells into Henderson Field before withdrawing. The next day, 14
November 1942, Tanaka made a second attempt to reach Guadalcanal
with his transports. However, while eighteen aircraft had been
destroyed and many more damaged, the field had not been put out
of action by the previous night's bombardment. Navy and Marine
aircraft from Henderson and the Enterprise
flew sorties all through the day, sinking seven
transports and two warships, but Tanaka refused to turn back. Meanwhile
Enterprise, with just eighteen
fighters left, used a weather front to evade a Japanese strike and
shaped course for Noumea.
The second round of the surface battle came on the night of 14 November. Tanaka had refused to give up and was still advancing towards Guadalcanal. His covering force this night was battleship Kirishima, four cruisers, and nine destroyers under Kondo. The Americans had rushed forward the battleships South Dakota and Washington under Willis Lee, escorted by four destroyers. The American destroyers suffered badly, two being sunk, and the upper works of South Dakota were shattered when she suffered an electrical breakdown and was silhouetted by the burning destroyers; but Lee on the Washington, who probably understood radar better than any other American naval officer, attacked Kirishima from out of the darkness and sank her in a devastating 7-minute burst of fire. The Japanese covering force then retreated, but Tanaka ran his remaining transports aground on Guadalcanal. Aircraft from Henderson attacked them the next day until their decks ran red and the attacking pilots "retched and puked" at the sight (Morison). Only about 2000 troops and a paltry 260 cases of ammunition and 1500 bags of rice were landed intact. By contrast, Turner had gotten almost all his men and supplies ashore on 11-12 November. The Japanese troops on Guadalcanal were already low on supplies, and they were now starving to death.
A strong case can be made that the Naval Battle of
Guadalcanal represented the turning point in the Pacific War.
Fittingly, the two admirals killed leading the first surface action,
Callaghan and Scott, were both posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Pacific Force (Halsey)
Force 67 (Turner)
||Task Group 67.1
||Carrying 182 Regiment less one
battalion, a Marine
replacement battalion, and Naval Local Defense Force personnel.
|AP Crescent City
Group 67.4 Support Group (Callaghan)
||Killed in action
|CA San Francisco||Badly damaged
Group 62.4 (Scott)
||Killed in action
||Carrying 1 Marine Aviation
Engineer Battalion, Marine replacements, MAG-1 ground personnel, and
Force 63 (Fitch)
||27 F4F-4 Wildcat
|18 P-38 Lightning
|37 SBD Dauntless
|9 TBF Avenger
|1 F4F-7 Wildcat|
|1 P-39 Airacobra
|8 F4F-4 Wildcat|
|13 F4F-3P Wildcat|
|16 TBF Avenger|
|37 B-17 Flying Fortress
|5 B-26 Marauder
|2 PB2Y Coronado
|24 PBY Catalina
|1 PBY-5A Catalina|
Force 16 (Kinkaid)
||1 TBF-1 Avenger|
|VF-10: 38 F4F-4 Wildcat|
|VB-10: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|VS-10: 16 SBD-3 Dauntless|
|VT-10: 9 TBF-1 Avenger|
Force 64 (Lee)
|BB South Dakota
Squadron 10 (Kimura)
|DD Amatsukaze||Lightly damaged
|DD Ikazuchi||Lightly damaged
|Sweeping Unit (Takama)|
Support Group (Kurita)
Striking Unit (Kakuta)
|27 A6M Zero
|12 D3A Val
|9 B5N Kate
|15 A6M Zero|
|23 D3A Val|
|9 B5N Kate|
|Outer South Seas Force (Mikawa)|
|Support Group (Mikawa)|
|AP Arizona Maru
|AP Kumagawa Maru
|AP Sado Maru
|AP Nagara Maru
|AP Nako Maru
|AP Canberra Maru
|AP Brisbane Maru
|AP Kinugawa Maru
|AP Hirokawa Maru
|AP Yamaura Maru
|AP Yamatsuki Maru
Air Force (Kusaka; at Rabaul)
26 Air Flotillas: 215 aircraft
Expeditionary Force (Komatsu;
|SS I-7 (off
Battle of Tassafaronga.
The night of 30 November marked the Battle of
Wright attempted to
intercept another "Tokyo Express" with five heavy
cruisers and seven destroyers. In spite of the advantage of
radar, Wright's gunfire and torpedoes were inaccurate, sinking a single
Japanese destroyer. The remaining Japanese destroyers launched
shoals of Long Lances
retreated that sank one cruiser and severely damaged three others.
However, the vital supplies once again failed to make it
The Japanese now turned to even more
measures. On the night of 3 December, Tanaka's destroyers
supply drums overboard off Guadalcanal in the hopes that some would
float ashore. Only about one in five did. Another
on the night of 7 December was defeated by American PT boat
attacks. The last resupply effort of the year came on 11 December, when
Tanaka brought ten destroyers down the Slot. Aircraft from Henderson
failed to score any hits, but PT boats again attacked and managed to
sink Teruzuki at the cost of PT-44.
Meanwhile, Patch's XIV Corps (consisting of 2 Marine Division, Americal Division, and 25 Division) relieved the exhausted 1 Marine Division and, on 16 December, began a drive on Mount Austen, southwest of the Henderson perimeter. They met heavy resistance around the Gifu Strong Point, named for the Japanese prefecture from which most of its troops were drawn. But the Japanese High Command decided on 31 December that the island must be evacuated, and the orders were issued on 4 January 1943. Gifu and other strong points became rear guards for the Japanese evacuation, though the Americans did not realize this until the very end of the campaign. Gifu did not fall until 23 January, but by then the American offensive was advancing systematically to the west.
During January 1943, Tanaka continued to run
destroyers to Guadalcanal to try to bring supplies in, but PT boats
became increasingly proficient at interfering with these efforts. The
"Tokyo Express" run on 11 January suffered a destroyer badly damaged.
Another run on 14-15 January had heavy air support that helped drive
off the PT boats, but it was itself attacked by American aircraft on 15
January. One destroyer was lightly damaged and the Japanese fighter
cover suffered heavy losses.
On 1 February, as the Americans were
closing in on
Cape Esperance, the Japanese began their evacuation.
evacuation continued until 9 February, when the Americans
finally realized that the final "Tokyo Express" runs were not
reinforcement runs. The Japanese were able to evacuate about 10,652
The campaign was over. The Americans lost 1769 killed to about 25,600 Japanese fatalities in the land battle. Of the Japanese deaths, only about 8500 were killed in combat, the rest succumbing to malnutrition and disease. Losses at sea were 4911 for the Americans and about 3500 for the Japanese. Including operational losses, the Americans lost 615 aircraft, while the Japanese lost 683. About 420 American aircrew were killed, while the Japanese lost two to four times this figure, mostly because their losses included a large number of aircraft with multiple aircrew. It was a major Japanese defeat and arguably the turning point of the war.
Temperatures: Jan 82, Apr 82, Jul 81, Oct 82
Rainfall: Jan 21/14.3, Apr 19/10.0, Jul
17/7.6, Oct 18/8.7 ==
123.4" per annum
Pearce and Smith (1990)
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