Photograph of Tulagi

Navy History and Heritage Command #NH 97743

Tulagi (160.160E 9.119S) is a small island, just 3000 yards (2800 meters) long and 880 yards (800 meters) wide, located just 440 yards (400 meters) off the south coast of Florida Island north of Guadalcanal. It is a rugged coral ridge, reaching to 330' (100 meters) elevation. There are reefs off most of the southwest coast, with a gap in the center of the coast, and Tulagi Harbor was located northeast of the north end of the island. Tulagi was the seat of British administration in the Solomon Islands, largely because it had a more bearable climate for Europeans than any other location in the island chain with a decent anchorage. Nevertheless, the climate was uncomfortably damp, with an average annual rainfall was 164 inches (417 cm).

About 3000 yards (2700 meters) east of Tulagi are the small islets of Gavutu and Tanambogo. To the east of these islets was another good anchorage, Gavutu Harbor. The islets were connected by a causeway, and the Lever Brothers copra firm had its local headquarters, warehouses, and wharves on Gavutu. 

Florida Island itself is a mountainous island reaching elevations of over 2000' (610 meters). It is covered with jungle and has practically no beach, the coast being backed by steep hills along almost its entire length. This made the island itself of little military value. However, there was a roomy undeveloped anchorage at Purvis Bay, southeast of  Gavutu and Tanambogo (160.250E 9.150S). Tulagi Harbor and Purvis Bay together formed the finest deep-water anchorage in the Solomon Islands, and Admiral Jellicoe, who had commanded the British fleet at Jutland in 1916, recommended in vain that it be made into a major naval base.

The Australians stationed some Catalinas here after war broke out in the Pacific. When the Japanese began bombing the island in January 1942, most of the residents were evacuated. The small garrison was evacuated on 2 May 1942 and the Japanese occupied the island the next day.

On 28 May 1942 Admiral Nimitz proposed that 1 Marine Raider Battalion raid Tulagi, but the plan was rejected after MacArthur pointed out that the Allies had insufficient strength at the time to hold the island.

Battle of Tulagi. Tulagi was recaptured on 8 August 1942 following a fierce two-day struggle between four battalions of U.S. Marines and approximately 900 Japanese sailors of 3 Kure SNLF and 14 Construction Unit defending the islet.

The landings commenced on 7 August 1942, preceded by strikes by the Wasp air group which destroyed the flying boats and seaplanes in Tulagi Harbor. Elements of 1 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment went ashore on Florida west of Tulagi at 0740 and east of Gavutu-Tanambogo at 0845 to flank the islets. They found Florida unoccupied by the Japanese.

The lead elements of 1 Marine Raider Battalion landed on the southwest coast of Tulagi at 0800, passing through the gap in the reef, and were joined an hour later by 2 Battalion, 5 Marine Regiment. There was initially little opposition, but Japanese resistance stiffened considerably in the afternoon as the two Marine battalions advanced towards the southeast end of the island. By nightfall the Marines were forced to pull back to a defensive line facing the main Japanese strongholds on Hill 281. Several counterattacks were beaten off during the night. The next day, the Marines were reinforced by 2 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment, and began systematically blasting the remaining Japanese out of their caves. The island was secured by late afternoon.

The majority of the Japanese defenders were on the islets of Gavutu and Tanambogo. 1 Marine Parachute Battalion stormed ashore at the seaplane ramp on the northwest coast of Gavutu at noon on 7 August. They found the defenders holed up in caves and coconut log bunkers where they were practically immune from bombardment. However, Gavutu was secured within two hours, though at the cost of 10% casualties to the Marines. An attempt to land a company on Tanambogo after dusk was repulsed with heavy losses, and late in the morning of 8 August an attempt was made to storm the causeway with a fresh battalion (3 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment) that had originally been assigned to the Guadalcanal invasion. To support the assault, two tanks were landed under heavy covering fire from destroyers. One was destroyed, but the other knocked out enough bunkers to allow the Marines to cross the causeway. By nightfall the islet was secured.

The assault on Tulagi and its neighboring islets cost the Marines 144 killed and 194 wounded. The Marine paratroops were hardest hit, with every other man becoming a casualty. Almost the entire  Japanese garrison was killed, with just 23 taken prisoner and another 70 escaping to Florida Island.

The nearby island of Guadalcanal figured prominently in the South Pacific campaign. Tulagi itself served as a seaplane and PT boat base during the campaign. After Guadalcanal was secured, Purvis Bay became an important base for light naval forces operating in the middle and upper Solomon Islands.

Allied order of battle, 7 August 1942

South Pacific Force, Pacific Fleet (Ghormley)     
Only units directly supporting the Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo landings are listed below.
Task Force 61 (Fletcher)

Task Group 61.1 Air Support Force (Noyes)     

Wasp Unit (Noyes)
Other carriers in TG 61.1 were assigned to support the Guadalcanal landings.

CV Wasp

VF-71: 29 F4F-4 Wildcat

VS-71: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless

VS-72: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless

VT-7: 10 TBF-1 Avenger

Task Force 62 South Pacific Amphibious Force (Turner)     

Task Group 62.1 Convoy

Transport Group Yoke
3900 Marines (Rupertus)

Transport Division E

2 Battalion, 5 Marine Regiment

2 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment

Battery E, 11 Marine Regiment

Elements, 3 Marine Defense Battalion

1 Marine Parachute Battalion

Elements, 1 Marine Raider Battalion

AP Neville

AP Zeilin

AP Heywood

AP President Jackson

Transport Division 12

1 Marine Raider Battalion, less one company

APD Colhoun

APD Little

APD McKean

APD Gregory

Task Group 62.4 Fire Support Group M (Scott)

CLAA San Juan

DD Monssen

DD Buchanan

Japanese order of battle, 7 August 1942

8 Fleet (Mikawa; at Rabaul)     
Only units already in position to oppose the Tulagi landings are listed below.

25 Air Flotilla (Yamada)     

39 A6M Zero
Another 20 just delivered and being assembled    

32 G4M Betty

16 D3A Val

4 H6K Mavis

2 C5M Babs

Elements, Yokohama Air Group     
About 430 ground personnel

7 H6K Mavis

9 A6M2-N Rufe      

Tulagi Garrison
350 men on Tulagi
550 men on Gavutu-Tanambogo

Elements, 3 Kure SNLF  

14 Construction Unit

Allied reinforcements, 8 August 1942

3 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment     
Originally assigned to the Guadalcanal landing, but diverted to Tulagi when resistance on Guadalcanal proved unexpectedly light.


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