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The Battle of Guadalcanal took place in 1942 when the US Marines landed on August 7th. The landing at Guadalcanal was unopposed - but it took the Americans six months to defeat the Japanese in what was to turn into a classic battle of attrition.
The Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway had forced planners in the Imperial Army to reconsider their plans of expansion and to concentrate their forces on consolidating the territory that they had captured. The victory at Midway was also a turning point for the Americans as after this battle, they could think in terms of re-capturing taken Pacific islands - the first confrontation was to be at Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal is part of the Solomon Islands which lie to the north-eastern approaches of Australia. Though it is a humid and jungle-covered tropical island its position made it strategically important for both sides in the Pacific War. If the Japanese captured the island, they could cut off the sea route between Australia and America. If the Americans controlled the island, they would be better able to protect Australia from Japanese invasion and they could also protect the Allied build-up in Australia that would act as a springboard for a major assault on the Japanese. Hence the importance of the island.
In Japan, they were divided thoughts as to the importance of the island. Many senior army figures believed that Japan should consolidate what it had and that the army itself was already over-stretched policing its vast empire. The hierarchy in the Japanese Navy disagreed. They believed that any halt to an advance would be seen as a sign of weakness that the Americans would exploit. While the Japanese appeared invincible on the advance, American confidence had to be diluted - so they argued. The Japanese Navy won the argument and the Imperial General Headquarters ordered an attack on the Solomon Islands with the view to establishing naval and army bases there. By the end of May 1942, the Japanese had landed men at Guadalcanal.
Islands around Australia had been 'dotted' with men from the Australian coast watching team. To begin with, the reports from Guadalcanal seemed innocent enough as the Japanese seemed more interested in the cattle on the island than anything else. However, reports came back that an airfield was being built on the island - at Lunga plantation, probably the only point on the island that could sustain an airfield. By the end of June, there were an estimated 3,000 Japanese soldiers on the island. An up-and-running airfield on Guadalcanal would have been a major threat to the Americans in the region.
The head of all US naval forces, Admiral Ernest King, wanted a full-scale attack on Guadalcanal to off-set this threat. Despite the Roosevelt-Churchill directive that gave the European war zone priority, the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff in Washington gave the go-ahead for the first American offensive campaign since Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
King's plan seemed simple enough. The 1st US Marine Division would land in Guadalcanal and secure a beach head to allow other US forces to land. However, the 1st US Marine Division, commanded by Major-General Alexander Vandegrift, had many men in it who had no combat experience. Vandegrift was told that his men would get time to train once they were in the Pacific as opposed to their base in North Carolina. However, by the end of June, half his division had still not arrived in the war zone and the date for the attack was just 5 weeks away.
The naval force that was to accompany the 1st US Marines had also not operated together before and had little experience of amphibious landings. The whole force was also lacking in reliable maps, tide charts etc. Those that were used were found to be lacking in the most basic of details. The naval force had no charts for underwater hazards so they could not calculate how far inshore they could take a ship. To undo some of these issues, it was agreed on two occasions to put back the day of the attack - initially from August 1st to August 4th and then to August 7th.
On August 7th, the Americans started their attack on Guadalcanal. Up to that date, the amphibious force was the most powerful ever assembled. Three carriers gave air support (the 'Saratoga', the 'Wasp' and the 'Enterprise') guarded by the battleship USS North Carolina and 24 other support ships. Five cruisers from America and Australia guarded the actual landing craft that gathered off of Tenaru on Guadalcanal.
The Americans achieved complete tactical surprise. When the Marines landed on 'Red Beach', they expected major Japanese defences. They found nothing. A great number of men were landed with their supplies - in fact, so much equipment was landed that later in the day, there was general confusion on 'Red Beach' and inexperienced coxswains landed equipment wherever they could find a space.
As the Americans advanced inland towards where the airfield was being built, they came across another major problem - the climate. The hot and humid jungle climate quickly took its toll on soldiers carrying heavy equipment. The climate also did a great deal to affect radios and radio communication between those advancing inland and those on the beach was problematic. Regardless of these issues, the Americans made no contact with the Japanese and for the first 24 hours there was no fighting on Guadalcanal.
However, though the first 24 hours on Guadalcanal were relatively painless for the Americans, this was not so for the Marines who landed at nearby islands that lay to the north of Guadalcanal - Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Americans needed to control these as this would give them the opportunity to control the Ironbottom Sound and Nggela Channel that separated Guadalcanal from Florida Island, north of it. Here the Marines encountered fierce resistance and it took the US Marine Raiders 24 hours to eliminate the Japanese who had been based at Tulagi. This was a sign of what was to come. US paratroopers attacked Gavutu and met a similar response from the Japanese and it required fire from nearby naval ships to alleviate the problem. In some parts of the battles for these islands, the Americans took 20% casualties.
The Americans arrived at the airfield on Guadalcanal late on August 8th. Once again, there were no Japanese there as they had fled into the jungle. The news that the Marines had reached the airfield was greeted with joy in Washington and Canberra. But this joy was shattered on the night of August 8th/9th when a Japanese cruiser force attacked the Allied naval force at Guadalcanal and forced it to withdraw. The Marines on Guadalcanal were on their own. Though the landing of equipment had been chaotic at times, equipment had been landed. In this sense, Vandegrift's men were not in a hopeless situation - and Vandegrift hoped that planes could land at the airfield that they now controlled. However, vital equipment such as barbed wire to defend his base, anti-personnel mines etc had not been landed in quantity.
The Marines were in a difficult position. There were Japanese on Guadalcanal and their tenacity and fighting skills had already been seen in Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Japanese Navy controlled the sea around Guadalcanal and frequently fired on the Marines. The Japanese air force bombed the airfield runway. However, Vandergrift did have one good piece of luck - the Japanese had left a number of very useful vehicles which the Marines used to repair the runway. Their work was rewarded on August 20th when 19 Wildcat fighters and 12 Dauntless bombers landed at the airfield - now known as Henderson airfield.
The Marines now prepared themselves for the expected all out Japanese attack on their positions. Radio Tokyo had made little secret of what the army planned to do and referred to the Marines there as "insects".
The Japanese had landed men on Guadalcanal on August 18th. A regiment led by Colonel Ichiki and a special naval landing force were assigned the task of defeating the Marines. Ichiki. He had been told to expect more troops to support him but such was Ichiki's views on the Marines (one shared by many Japanese officer) that he believed that his men were more than a match for the Marines. He decided to attack on August 21st. Ichiki ordered a simple bayonet attack on the American positions. Carefully placed machine gun posts meant that many Japanese were killed. Ichiki ordered his men to withdraw but Vandergrift had ordered one of his reserve battalions to encircle the Japanese. In what became known as the 'Battle of Tenaru', the Marines slowly pushed the Japanese back to the sea. Ichiki's men were surrounded on three sides with the sea on the fourth side. It was here that the Americans first found out that the Japanese did not surrender and that they were willing to die for the emperor. Using the planes at Henderson and some tanks that had been landed, the Marines killed many Japanese. Only a handful got away and moved east down the coast to safety at Taivu. Here, Ichiki committed ritual suicide - such was the defeat he and his men had experienced.
Despite this triumph, Vandegrift knew that another stronger Japanese force would soon be landing on Guadalcanal - the men that Ichiki had not waited for; the XXXVth Brigade. The Americans had one major advantage over the Japanese - they had to be transported by sea and the ships transporting these men were open to attack from the American planes based at Henderson airfield. To get around this problem, the Japanese moved their men at night via fast-moving destroyers in so-called 'rat runs'. By doing this the Japanese could all but escape American fire and they succeeded in landing a large quantity of men to the east and west of the American position at Henderson. Vandegrift decided to do what he could to disrupt the Japanese and he sent a party of Marine Raiders to Taivu. They found few personnel there but they did find out that the Japanese had already moved into the jungle and that an attack on the Americans would not be too far into the future.
The American position at Henderson meant that one side of their defensive perimeter was bound by the sea. Vandegrift concluded that the only way the Japanese could attack his position was from the south of the island. The attack began on September 12th. Japanese bombers attacked US positions to the south of the airfield and as night fell, Japanese destroyers and a cruiser shelled the same positions. At least for Vandegrift, it confirmed that an attack would come from the south.
The Japanese infantry attacked positions to the south of Henderson. However, the march through the jungle had taken its toll on General Kawaguchi's men and they were exhausted. The jungle had also fouled up his communications. The assault on September 12th was a failure and the Japanese had to re-new their attack the following day. 2,000 Japanese soldiers attacked the American lines but well placed US machine guns and artillery took their toll. The Japanese made two other attempts to attack the Marines and on one occasion got to within 1000 meters of Henderson airfield. However, their casualty figures were mounting. By the end of the night, Kawaguchi had lost 1,200 men killed or wounded. The Marines and paratroopers had also taken heavy casualties with 446 being killed or wounded out of just over 1000 men.
Tokyo ordered a new unit of men to the area - the XXXVIII Brigade - veterans of the capture of Honk Kong - and ordered that all resources in the region had to be directed at taking Guadalcanal. In all, 20,000 Japanese troops were moved to Guadalcanal. The US Marines also got reinforcements which gave Vandegrift command over 23,000 men, though it is thought that one-third of these men were unfit for combat due to a variety of diseases, such as dysentery and exposure. The US air presence at Henderson was also improved.
On October 23rd, 5,600 Japanese soldiers attacked US positions on the east of the defensive zone. Pin point artillery fire ensured the failure of this attack. On October 24th, the Japanese launched a major attack from the south with 7,000 men. At one stage a small number of Japanese troops got inside the defensive perimeter but fierce fighting drove them back. When Kawaguchi ordered a withdrawal, he had lost 3,500 men - 50% of the force that had attacked. Why had both attacks failed?
The American positions in the defensive perimeter had been expertly sited. However, the Japanese had failed to take into account the sheer difficulties they would face by going through a tropical jungle to attack the Americans. Frequently, Kawaguchi's men were too fatigued to effectively fight and the terrain had forced them to leave mortar and artillery behind. Therefore, any attack on the American lines was done by an old-fashioned infantry charge against positions that were equipped with mortar and artillery. The terrain had also done a great deal to hinder Japanese communications.
With the Japanese in disarray, Vandegrift decided the time was ripe for the Americans to go on the offensive as opposed to being cooped in a defensive role. However, the US 1st Marine Division was in no state to do this and in November 1942, it was replaced by 25th Infantry Division and the US 2nd Marine Division.
The Japanese hierarchy in Tokyo refused to admit defeat and ordered yet more men to Guadalcanal. In mid-November 1942, planes from Henderson attacked a convoy of ships bringing Japanese reinforcements to Guadalcanal. Of eleven transport ships, six were sunk, one was severely damaged and four had to be beached. Only 2,000 men ever reached Guadalcanal - but few had any equipment as this had been lost at sea. On December 1942, the emperor ordered a withdrawal from Guadalcanal. This withdrawal took place from January to February 1943 and the Americans learned that even in defeat that the Japanese were a force to be reckoned with. 11,000 Japanese soldiers were taken off the island in the so-called 'Tokyo Night Express'.
The American victory at Guadalcanal ensured that Australia was safe from a Japanese invasion while the sea route from Australia to America was also protected. The role played by the US 1st Marine Division and its commander, Vandegrift, have gone down in Marine Corps history.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack crippled much of the U.S. battleship fleet and precipitated an open and formal state of war between the two nations. The initial goals of Japanese leaders were to neutralize the U.S. fleet, seize possessions rich in natural resources, and establish strategic military bases to defend Japan's empire in the Pacific and Asia. In further support of these goals, Japanese forces captured the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, Gilbert Islands, New Britain, and Guam. The U.S. was joined in the war against Japan by the Allied Powers, several of whom, including Great Britain, Australia, and the Netherlands, had also been attacked by Japan.
Two attempts by the Japanese to maintain the strategic initiative and extend their defensive perimeter in the south and central Pacific were thwarted at the naval battles of Coral Sea and Midway respectively. These two strategic victories provided the Allies an opportunity to take the initiative and launch an offensive in the Pacific. The Allies chose the Solomon Islands (a protectorate of Great Britain), specifically the southern Solomon Islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida as the target.
Allied strategists knew the Japanese Navy (IJN) had occupied Tulagi in May 1942 and had constructed a seaplane base near there. Allied concern grew when in early July 1942 the IJN began constructing a large airfield at Lunga Point on nearby Guadalcanal. By August 1942, the Japanese had about 900 naval troops on Tulagi and nearby islands, and 2,800 personnel (2,200 of whom were Korean and Japanese construction specialists) on Guadalcanal. These bases, when completed, would protect Japan's major base at Rabaul, threaten Allied supply and communication lines, and establish a staging area for possible future offensives against Fiji, New Caledonia, and Samoa. The Japanese planned to deploy 45 fighter and 60 bomber aircraft to Guadalcanal once the airfield was complete. The aircraft based at Guadalcanal could provide air cover for Japanese naval forces advancing further into the South Pacific.
The Allied plan to invade the southern Solomons was conceived by U.S. Admiral Ernest King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. He proposed the offensive to deny the use of the islands by the Japanese as bases to threaten the supply routes between the United States and Australia, and to use them as starting points, in conjunction with an Allied offensive in New Guinea under Douglas MacArthur, to capture the Admiralty Islands and the Bismarck Archipelago, including the major Japanese base at Rabaul. The eventual goal was the American reconquest of the Philippines. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff created the South Pacific theater, which Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley took command of on June 19, 1942, to direct the offensive in the Solomons. Admiral Chester Nimitz, based at Pearl Harbor, was designated as overall Allied commander in chief for Pacific forces. The airfield at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal under construction by Japanese and Korean workers in July 1942.
In preparation for the future offensive in the Pacific in May 1942, U.S. Marine Major General Alexander Vandegrift was ordered to move his 1st Marine Division from the United States to New Zealand. Other Allied land, naval, and air force units were sent to establish bases in Fiji, Samoa, New Hebrides, and New Caledonia. Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, was selected as the headquarters and main base for the southern Solomons offensive, codenamed Operation Watchtower, with the commencement date set for August 7, 1942. At first, the Allied offensive was planned just for Tulagi and the Santa Cruz Islands, omitting Guadalcanal. However, after Allied reconnaissance discovered the Japanese airfield construction efforts on Guadalcanal, its capture was added to the plan, and the Santa Cruz operation was (eventually) dropped.
The Watchtower force, numbering 75 warships and transports (including vessels from both the U.S. and Australia), assembled near Fiji on July 26, 1942, and engaged in one rehearsal landing prior to leaving for Guadalcanal on July 31. The on-scene commander of the Allied expeditionary force was U.S. Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher (flag in aircraft carrier USS Saratoga). Commanding the amphibious forces was U.S. Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner. Vandegrift led the 16,000 Allied (primarily U.S. Marine) infantry involved in the landings.
Bad weather allowed the Allied expeditionary force to arrive in the vicinity of Guadalcanal unseen by the Japanese on the morning of August 7. The landing force ships split into two groups, with one group assaulting Guadalcanal, and the other Tulagi, Florida, and nearby islands. Allied warships bombarded the invasion beaches while U.S. carrier aircraft bombed Japanese positions on the target islands and destroyed 15 Japanese seaplanes at their base near Tulagi.
Tulagi and two nearby small islands, Gavutu and Tanambogo, were assaulted by 3,000 U.S. Marines. The 886 IJN personnel manning the naval and seaplane bases on the three islands fiercely resisted the Marine attacks. With some difficulty, the U.S. Marines secured all three islands; Tulagi on August 8, and Gavutu and Tanambogo by August 9. The Japanese defenders were killed almost to the last man while the Marines suffered 122 killed.
In contrast to Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo, the landings on Guadalcanal encountered much less resistance. At 09:10 on August 7, Vandegrift and 11,000 U.S. Marines came ashore on Guadalcanal between Koli Point and Lunga Point. Advancing towards Lunga Point, they encountered no resistance except for "tangled" rain forest, and they halted for the night about 1,000 yards (910 m) from the Lunga Point airfield. The next day, again against little resistance, the Marines advanced all the way to the Lunga River and secured the airfield by 16:00 on August 8. The Japanese naval construction units and combat troops, under the command of Captain Kanae Monzen, panicked from the warship bombardment and aerial bombing, had abandoned the airfield area and fled about 3 miles (4.8 km) west to the Matanikau River and Point Cruz area, leaving behind food, supplies, intact construction equipment and vehicles, and 13 dead.
During the landing operations on August 7 and August 8, Japanese naval aircraft based at Rabaul, under the command of Sadayoshi Yamada, attacked the Allied amphibious forces several times, setting afire the U.S. transport George F. Elliot (which sank two days later) and heavily damaging the destroyer USS Jarvis. In the air attacks over the two days, the Japanese lost 36 aircraft, while the U.S. lost 19 aircraft, both in combat and to accident, including 14 carrier fighter aircraft.
After these clashes, Fletcher was concerned about the losses to his carrier fighter aircraft strength, anxious about the threat to his carriers from further Japanese air attacks, and worried about his ship's fuel levels. Fletcher withdrew from the Solomon Islands area with his carrier task forces the evening of August 8. As a result of the loss of carrier-based air cover, Turner decided to withdraw his ships from Guadalcanal, even though less than half of the supplies and heavy equipment needed by the troops ashore had been unloaded. Turner decided, however, to unload as many supplies as possible on Guadalcanal and Tulagi throughout the night of August 8 and then depart with his ships early on August 9.
That night, as the transports unloaded, two groups of Allied warships, under the command of British Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley, screening the transports were surprised and defeated by a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyer from the 8th Fleet, based at Rabaul and Kavieng and commanded by Japanese Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa. One Australian and three American cruisers were sunk, and one other U.S. cruiser and two destroyers were damaged. The Japanese suffered moderate damage to one cruiser. Mikawa, who was unaware Fletcher had withdrawn with the U.S. carriers, immediately retired to Rabaul without attempting to attack the now unprotected Allied transports. Mikawa was concerned about U.S. carrier air attacks during daylight hours if he tarried in the southern Solomons area. Turner withdrew all remaining Allied naval forces by the evening of August 9, leaving the Marines ashore without much of the heavy equipment, provisions, and troops still aboard the transports. Mikawa's decision not to destroy the Allied transport ships when he had the opportunity would prove to be a crucial strategic mistake for the Japanese.
The 11,000 Marines remaining on Guadalcanal initially concentrated on forming a loose defensive perimeter around Lunga Point and the airfield, moving the landed supplies within the perimeter, and finishing the airfield. In four days of intense effort, the supplies were moved from the landing beach into dispersed dumps within the perimeter. Work began on the airfield immediately, mainly using captured Japanese equipment. On August 12, the airfield was named Henderson Field after a Marine aviator killed during the Battle of Midway. By August 18, the airfield was ready for operation. Five days worth of food had been landed from the transports which, along with captured Japanese provisions, gave the Marines a total of 14 days worth of food. To conserve the limited food supplies, the Allied troops were limited to two meals per day. Allied troops encountered a "severe strain" of dysentery soon after the landings, with one in five Marines afflicted by mid-August. Although some of the Korean construction workers surrendered to the Marines, most of the remaining Japanese and Korean personnel gathered just west of the Lunga perimeter on the west bank of the Matanikau River and subsisted mainly on coconuts. A Japanese naval outpost was also located at Taivu Point, about 35 kilometres (22 mi) east of the Lunga perimeter. On August 8, a Japanese destroyer from Rabaul delivered 113 naval reinforcement troops to the Matanikau position.
On the evening of August 12, a 25-man U.S. Marine patrol, led by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Goettge and primarily consisting of intelligence personnel, landed by boat west of the Lunga perimeter, between Point Cruz and the Matanikau River, on a reconnaissance mission with a secondary objective of contacting a group of Japanese troops that U.S. forces believed might be willing to surrender. Soon after the patrol landed, a nearby platoon of Japanese naval troops attacked and almost completely wiped out the Marine patrol. Chart showing the U.S. Marine attacks west of the Matanikau River on August 19.
On August 19, Vandegrift sent three companies of the U.S. 5th Marine Regiment to attack the Japanese troop concentration west of the Matanikau. One company attacked across the sandbar at the mouth of the Matanikau river while another crossed the river 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) inland and attacked the Japanese forces located in Matanikau village. The third landed by boat further west and attacked Kokumbuna village. After briefly occupying the two villages, the three Marine companies returned to the Lunga perimeter, having killed about 65 Japanese soldiers while losing four. This action, sometimes referred to as the "First Battle of the Matanikau", was the first of several major actions around the Matanikau River during the campaign.
On August 20, the escort carrier USS Long Island (CVE-1) delivered two squadrons of Marine aircraft to Henderson Field, one of 19 Grumman F4F Wildcats, the other 12 SBD Dauntlesses. The aircraft at Henderson became known as the "Cactus Air Force" (CAF) after the Allied codename for Guadalcanal. The Marine fighters went into action the next day, attacking one of the Japanese bomber air raids that occurred almost daily. On August 22, five U.S. Army P-400 Airacobras and their pilots arrived at Henderson Field.
Battle of the Tenaru
In response to the Allied landings on Guadalcanal, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters assigned the Imperial Japanese Army's (IJA) 17th Army, a corps-sized command based at Rabaul and under the command of Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake, with the task of retaking Guadalcanal from Allied forces. The army was to be supported by Japanese naval units, including the Combined Fleet under the command of Isoroku Yamamoto, which was headquartered at Truk. The 17th Army, at that time heavily involved with the Japanese campaign in New Guinea, had only a few units available to send to the southern Solomons area. Of these units, the 35th Infantry Brigade under Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi was at Palau, the 4th (Aoba) Infantry Regiment was in the Philippines and the 28th (Ichiki) Infantry Regiment, under the command of Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki, was onboard transport ships near Guam. The different units began to move towards Guadalcanal via Truk and Rabaul immediately, but Ichiki's regiment, being the closest, arrived in the area first. A "First Element" of Ichiki's unit, consisting of about 917 soldiers, landed from destroyers at Taivu Point, east of the Lunga perimeter, on August 19.
Underestimating the strength of Allied forces on Guadalcanal, Ichiki's unit conducted a nighttime frontal assault on Marine positions at Alligator Creek (often called the "Ilu River" on U.S. Marine maps) on the east side of the Lunga perimeter in the early morning hours of August 21. Ichiki's assault was defeated with heavy losses for the Japanese attackers in what became known as the Battle of the Tenaru. After daybreak, the Marine units counterattacked Ichiki's surviving troops, killing many more of them, including Ichiki. In total, all but 128 of the original 917 members of the Ichiki Regiment's First Element were killed in the battle. The survivors of Ichiki's force returned to Taivu Point, notified 17th Army headquarters of their defeat in the battle, and awaited further reinforcements and orders from Rabaul.
Battle of the Eastern Solomons
As the Tenaru battle was ending, more Japanese reinforcements were already on their way. Departing Truk on August 16 were three slow transports carrying the remaining 1,400 soldiers from Ichiki's (28th) Infantry Regiment plus 500 naval marines from the 5th Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force. Guarding the transports were 13 warships commanded by Japanese Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka, who planned to land the troops on Guadalcanal on August 24. To cover the landings of these troops and provide support for the operation to retake Henderson Field from Allied forces, Yamamoto directed Chuichi Nagumo to sortie with a carrier force from Truk on August 21 and head towards the southern Solomon Islands. Nagumo's force included three carriers and 30 other warships.
Simultaneously, three U.S. carrier task forces under Fletcher approached Guadalcanal to counter the Japanese offensive efforts. On August 24 and August 25, the two carrier forces fought the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, which resulted in the fleets of both adversaries retreating from the area after taking some damage, with the Japanese losing one light aircraft carrier. Tanaka's convoy, after suffering heavy damage during the battle from an air attack by CAF aircraft from Henderson Field, including the sinking of one of the transports, was forced to divert to the Shortland Islands in the northern Solomons in order for the surviving troops to be transferred to destroyers for later delivery to Guadalcanal.
Air battles over Henderson Field and strengthening of the Lunga defenses
Throughout August, small numbers of U.S. aircraft and their crews continued to arrive at Guadalcanal. By the end of August, 64 aircraft of various types were stationed at Henderson Field. On September 3, the commander of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, U.S. Marine Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger, arrived with his staff and took command of all air operations at Henderson Field. Air battles between the Allied aircraft at Henderson and Japanese bombers and fighters from Rabaul continued almost daily. Between August 26 and September 5, the U.S. lost about 15 aircraft while the Japanese lost approximately 19 aircraft. More than half of the downed U.S. aircrews were rescued while most of the Japanese aircrews were never recovered. The eight-hour round trip flight from Rabaul to Guadalcanal, about 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) total, seriously hampered Japanese efforts to establish air superiority over Henderson Field. Australian coastwatchers on Bougainville and New Georgia islands were often able to provide Allied forces on Guadalcanal with advance notice of inbound Japanese air strikes, allowing the U.S. fighters time to take off and position themselves to attack the Japanese bombers and fighters as they approached the island. Thus, the Japanese air forces were slowly losing a war of attrition in the skies above Guadalcanal.
During this time, Vandegrift continued to direct efforts to strengthen and improve the defenses of the Lunga perimeter. Between August 21 and September 3, he relocated three Marine battalions, including the 1st Raider Battalion, under Merritt A. Edson (Edson's Raiders), and the 1st Parachute Battalion from Tulagi and Gavutu to Guadalcanal. These units added about 1,500 troops to Vandegrift's original 11,000 men defending Henderson Field. The 1st Parachute Battalion, which had suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo in August, was placed under Edson's command. The other relocated battalion, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (1/5), was landed by boat west of the Matanikau near Kokumbuna village on August 27 with the mission of attacking Japanese units in the area, much as in the first Matanikau action of August 19. In this case, however, the Marines were impeded by difficult terrain, hot sun, and well-emplaced Japanese defenses. The next morning the Marines found that the Japanese defenders had departed during the night, so the Marines returned to the Lunga perimeter by boat. Losses in this action were 20 Japanese and 3 Marines killed.
Small Allied naval convoys arrived at Guadalcanal on August 23, August 29, September 1, and September 8 to provide the Marines at Lunga with more food, ammunition, aircraft fuel, and aircraft technicians. The September 1 convoy also brought 392 construction engineers to maintain and improve Henderson Field.
By August 23, Kawaguchi's 35th Infantry Brigade reached Truk and was loaded onto slow transport ships for the rest of the trip to Guadalcanal. The damage done to Tanaka's convoy during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons caused the Japanese to reconsider trying to deliver more troops to Guadalcanal by slow transport. Instead, the ships carrying Kawaguchi's soldiers were sent to Rabaul. From there, the Japanese planned to deliver Kawaguchi's men to Guadalcanal by destroyers staging through a Japanese naval base in the Shortland Islands. The Japanese destroyers were usually able to make round trips down "The Slot" (New Georgia Sound) to Guadalcanal and back in a single night throughout the campaign, minimizing their exposure to Allied air attack; they became known as the "Tokyo Express" to Allied forces and were labeled "Rat Transportation" by the Japanese. Delivering the troops in this manner, however, prevented most of the soldier's heavy equipment and supplies, such as heavy artillery, vehicles, and much food and ammunition, from being carried to Guadalcanal with them. In addition, this activity tied up destroyers the IJN desperately needed for commerce defense. Either inability or unwillingness prevented Allied naval commanders from challenging Japanese naval forces at night, so the Japanese controlled the seas around the Solomon Islands during the nighttime. However, any Japanese ship remaining within range of the aircraft at Henderson Field during the daylight hours, about 200 miles (320 km), was in great danger from damaging air attack. This tactical situation would exist for the next several months during the campaign.
Between August 29 and September 4, various Japanese light cruisers, destroyers, and patrol boats were able to land almost 5,000 troops at Taivu Point, including most of the 35th Infantry Brigade, much of the Aoba (4th) Regiment, and the rest of Ichiki's regiment. General Kawaguchi, who landed at Taivu Point on the August 31 Express run, was placed in command of all Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. A barge convoy took another 1,000 soldiers of Kawaguchi's brigade, under the command of Colonel Akinosuke Oka, to Kamimbo, west of the Lunga perimeter.
Battle of Edson's Ridge
On September 7, Kawaguchi issued his attack plan to "rout and annihilate the enemy in the vicinity of the Guadalcanal Island airfield." Kawaguchi's attack plan called for his forces, split into three divisions, to approach the Lunga perimeter inland, culminating with a surprise night attack. Oka's forces would attack the perimeter from the west while Ichiki's Second Echelon, now renamed the Kuma Battalion, would attack from the east. The main attack would be by Kawaguchi's "Center Body," numbering 3,000 men in three battalions, from the jungle south of the Lunga perimeter. By September 7, most of Kawaguchi's troops had departed Taivu to begin marching towards Lunga Point along the coastline. About 250 Japanese troops remained behind to guard the brigade's supply base at Taivu.
Meanwhile, native scouts under the direction of Martin Clemens, a coastwatcher, officer in the Solomon Islands Protectorate Defense Force, and the British district officer for Guadalcanal, brought reports to the U.S. Marines of Japanese troops at Taivu, near the village of Tasimboko. Edson planned a raid on the Japanese troop concentration at Taivu. On September 8, after being dropped-off near Taivu by boat, Edson's men captured Tasimboko as the Japanese defenders retreated into the jungle. In Tasimboko, Edson's troops discovered Kawaguchi's main supply depot, including large stockpiles of food, ammunition, medical supplies, and a powerful shortwave radio. After destroying everything in sight, except for some documents and equipment carried back with them, the Marines returned to the Lunga perimeter. The mounds of supplies, along with intelligence gathered from the captured documents, informed the Marines that at least 3,000 Japanese troops were on the island and apparently planning an attack on the U.S. defenses.
Edson, along with Colonel Gerald Thomas, Vandegrift's operations officer, correctly believed that the Japanese attack would come at a narrow, grassy, 1,000-yard (900 m)-long, coral ridge that paralleled the Lunga River and was located just south of Henderson Field. The ridge, called Lunga Ridge, offered a natural avenue of approach to the airfield, commanded the surrounding area and, at that time, was almost undefended. On September 11, the 840 men of Edson's battalion deployed onto and around the ridge and prepared to defend it.
On the night of September 12, Kawaguchi's 1st Battalion attacked the Raiders between the Lunga River and ridge, forcing one Marine company to fall back to the ridge before the Japanese halted their attack for the night. The next night, Kawaguchi faced Edson's 830 Raiders with 3,000 troops of his brigade, plus an assortment of light artillery. The Japanese attack began just after nightfall, with Kawaguchi's 1st battalion assaulting Edson's right flank, just to the west of the ridge. After breaking through the Marine lines, the battalion's assault was eventually stopped by Marine units guarding the northern part of the ridge.
Two companies from Kawaguchi's 2nd battalion charged up the southern edge of the ridge and pushed Edson's troops back to Hill 123 on the center part of the ridge. Throughout the night, Marines at this position, supported by artillery, defeated wave after wave of frontal Japanese attacks, some of which resulted in hand-to-hand fighting. Japanese units that infiltrated past the ridge to the edge of the airfield were also repulsed. Attacks by the Kuma battalion and Oka's unit at other locations on the Lunga perimeter were also defeated by the Marine defenses. On September 14, Kawaguchi led the survivors of his shattered brigade on a five day march west to the Matanikau Valley to join with Oka's unit. In total, Kawaguchi's forces lost about 850 killed and the Marines 104.
On September 15, Hyakutake at Rabaul learned of Kawaguchi's defeat and forwarded the news to the Imperial General Headquarters in Japan. In an emergency session, the top Japanese IJA and IJN command staffs concluded that, "Guadalcanal might develop into the decisive battle of the war." The results of the battle now began to have a telling strategic impact on Japanese operations in other areas of the Pacific. Hyakutake realized that in order to send sufficient troops and materiel to defeat the Allied forces on Guadalcanal, he could no longer at the same time support the major Japanese offensive currently ongoing on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea. Hyakutake, with the concurrence of the General Headquarters, ordered his troops on New Guinea, who were within 30 miles (48 km) of their objective of Port Moresby, to withdraw until the "Guadalcanal matter" was resolved. Hyakutake prepared to send more troops to Guadalcanal for another attempt to recapture Henderson Field.
As the Japanese regrouped west of the Matanikau, the U.S. forces concentrated on shoring up and strengthening their Lunga defenses. On September 14, Vandegrift moved another battalion, the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (3/2), from Tulagi to Guadalcanal. On September 18, an Allied naval convoy delivered 4,157 men from the 3rd Provisional Marine Brigade (the 7th Marine Regiment plus a battalion from the 11th Marine Regiment and some additional support units), 137 vehicles, tents, aviation fuel, ammunition, rations, and engineering equipment to Guadalcanal. These crucial reinforcements allowed Vandegrift, beginning on September 19, to establish an unbroken line of defense around the Lunga perimeter. While covering this convoy, the aircraft carrier Wasp was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-19 southeast of Guadalcanal, temporarily leaving only one Allied aircraft carrier (Hornet) in operation in the South Pacific area. Vandegrift also made some changes in the senior leadership of his combat units, transferring off the island several officers who did not meet his performance standards, and promoting junior officers who had proved themselves to take their places. One of these was the recently promoted Colonel Merritt Edson, who was placed in command of the 5th Marine Regiment.
A lull occurred in the air war over Guadalcanal, with no Japanese air raids occurring between September 14 and September 27 due to bad weather, during which both sides reinforced their respective air units. The Japanese delivered 85 fighters and bombers to their air units at Rabaul while the U.S. brought 23 fighters and attack aircraft to Henderson Field. On September 20, the Japanese counted 117 total aircraft at Rabaul while the Allies tallied 71 aircraft at Henderson Field. The air war resumed with a Japanese air raid on Guadalcanal on September 27, which was contested by U.S. Navy and Marine fighters from Henderson Field.
The Japanese immediately began to prepare for their next attempt to recapture Henderson Field. The 3rd Battalion, 4th (Aoba) Infantry Regiment had landed at Kamimbo Bay on the western end of Guadalcanal on September 11, too late to join Kawaguchi's attack. By now, though, the battalion had joined Oka's forces near the Matanikau. Tokyo Express runs by destroyers on September 14, 20, 21, and 24 brought food and ammunition, as well as 280 men from the 1st Battalion, Aoba Regiment, to Kamimbo on Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, the Japanese 2nd and 38th Infantry Divisions were transported from the Dutch East Indies to Rabaul beginning on September 13. The Japanese planned to transport a total of 17,500 troops from these two divisions to Guadalcanal to take part in the next major attack on the Lunga Perimeter, set for October 20, 1942.
Actions along the Matanikau
Vandegrift and his staff were aware that Kawaguchi's troops had retreated to the area west of the Matanikau and that numerous groups of Japanese stragglers were scattered throughout the area between the Lunga Perimeter and the Matanikau River. Vandegrift, therefore, decided to conduct another series of small unit operations around the Matanikau Valley. The purpose of these operations was to mop-up the scattered groups of Japanese troops east of the Matanikau and to keep the main body of Japanese soldiers off-balance to prevent them from consolidating their positions so close to the main Marine defenses at Lunga Point.
The first U.S. Marine operation and attempt to attack Japanese forces west of the Matanikau, conducted between September 23 and 27 by elements of three U.S. Marine battalions, was repulsed by Kawaguchi's troops under Akinosuke Oka's local command. During the action, three Marine companies were surrounded by Japanese forces near Point Cruz west of the Matanikau, took heavy losses, and barely escaped with assistance from a U.S. destroyer and landing craft manned by U.S. Coast Guard personnel.
In the second action between October 6 and 9, a larger force of Marines successfully crossed the Matanikau River, attacked newly landed Japanese forces from the 2nd Infantry Division under the command of generals Masao Maruyama and Yumio Nasu, and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese 4th Infantry Regiment. The second action forced the Japanese to retreat from their positions east of the Matanikau and hindered Japanese preparations for their planned major offensive on the U.S. Lunga defenses.
Between October 9 and 11 the U.S. 1st Battalion 2nd Marines raided two small Japanese outposts about 30 miles (48 km) east of the Lunga perimeter at Gurabusu and Koilotumaria near Aola Bay. The raids killed 35 Japanese at a cost of 17 Marines and three U.S. Navy personnel killed.
Battle of Cape Esperance
Throughout the last week of September and the first week of October, Tokyo Express runs delivered troops from the Japanese 2nd Infantry Division to Guadalcanal. The Japanese Navy promised to support the Army's planned offensive by not only delivering the necessary troops, equipment, and supplies to the island, but by stepping-up air attacks on Henderson Field and sending warships to bombard the airfield.
In the meantime, Millard F. Harmon, commander of United States Army forces in the South Pacific, convinced Ghormley that U.S. Marine forces on Guadalcanal needed to be reinforced immediately if the Allies were to successfully defend the island from the next, expected Japanese offensive. Thus, on October 8, the 2,837 men of the 164th Infantry Regiment from the U.S. Army's Americal Division boarded ships at New Caledonia for the trip to Guadalcanal with a projected arrival date of October 13. To protect the transports carrying the 164th to Guadalcanal, Ghormley ordered Task Force 64, consisting of four cruisers and five destroyers under U.S. Rear Admiral Norman Scott, to intercept and combat any Japanese ships that approached Guadalcanal and threatened the arrival of the transport convoy.
Mikawa's 8th Fleet staff scheduled a large and important Express run for the night of October 11. Two seaplane tenders and six destroyers were to deliver 728 soldiers plus artillery and ammunition to Guadalcanal. At the same time but in a separate operation three heavy cruisers and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Aritomo Gotō were to bombard Henderson Field with special explosive shells with the object of destroying the CAF and the airfield's facilities. Due to the fact that U.S. Navy warships had yet to attempt to interdict any Tokyo Express missions to Guadalcanal, the Japanese were not expecting any opposition from Allied naval surface forces that night.
Just before midnight, Scott's warships detected Gotō's force on radar near the entrance to the strait between Savo Island and Guadalcanal. Scott's force was in a position to cross the T of Gotō's unsuspecting formation. Opening fire, Scott's warships sank one of Gotō's cruisers and one of his destroyers, heavily damaged another cruiser, mortally wounded Gotō, and forced the rest of Gotō's warships to abandon the bombardment mission and retreat. During the exchange of gunfire, one of Scott's destroyers was sunk and one cruiser and another destroyer were heavily damaged. In the meantime, the Japanese supply convoy successfully completed unloading at Guadalcanal and began its return journey without being discovered by Scott's force. Later on the morning of October 12, four Japanese destroyers from the supply convoy turned back to assist Gotō's retreating, damaged warships. Air attacks by CAF aircraft from Henderson Field sank two of these destroyers later that day. The convoy of U.S. Army troops reached Guadalcanal as scheduled the next day and successfully delivered its cargo and passengers to the island.
Battleship bombardment of Henderson Field
In spite of the U.S. victory off Cape Esperance, the Japanese continued with plans and preparations for their large offensive scheduled for later in October. The Japanese decided to risk a one-time departure from their usual practice of only using fast warships to deliver their men and materiel to the island. On October 13, a convoy comprising six cargo ships with eight screening destroyers departed the Shortland Islands for Guadalcanal. The convoy carried 4,500 troops from the 16th and 230th Infantry Regiments, some naval marines, two batteries of heavy artillery, and one company of tanks.
To protect the approaching convoy from attack by CAF aircraft, Yamamoto sent two battleships from Truk to bombard Henderson Field. At 01:33 on October 14, the Japanese battleships Kongō and Haruna, escorted by one light cruiser and nine destroyers, reached Guadalcanal and opened fire on Henderson Field from a distance of 16,000 metres (17,000 yd). Over the next one hour and 23 minutes, the two battleships fired 973 14-inch (360 mm) shells into the Lunga perimeter, most of them falling in and around the 2,200 metres (2,400 yd) square area of the airfield. Many of the shells were fragmentation shells, specifically designed to destroy land targets. The bombardment heavily damaged both runways, burned almost all of the available aviation fuel, destroyed 48 of the CAF's 90 aircraft, and killed 41 men, including six CAF pilots. The battleship force immediately returned to Truk.
In spite of the heavy damage, Henderson personnel were able to restore one of the runways to operational condition within a few hours. Seventeen SBDs and 20 Wildcats at Espiritu Santo were quickly flown to Henderson and U.S. Army and Marine transport aircraft began to shuttle aviation gasoline from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. Now aware of the approach of the large Japanese reinforcement convoy, the U.S. desperately sought some way to interdict the convoy before it could reach Guadalcanal. Using fuel drained from destroyed aircraft and from a cache in the nearby jungle, the CAF attacked the convoy twice on the 14th, but caused no damage.
The Japanese convoy reached Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal at midnight on October 14 and began unloading. Throughout the day of October 15, a string of CAF aircraft from Henderson bombed and strafed the unloading convoy, destroying three of the cargo ships. The remainder of the convoy departed that night, having unloaded all of the troops and about two-thirds of the supplies and equipment. Several Japanese heavy cruisers also bombarded Henderson on the nights of October 14 and 15, destroying a few additional CAF aircraft, but failing to cause significant further damage to the airfield.
Battle for Henderson Field
Between October 1 and October 17, the Japanese delivered 15,000 troops to Guadalcanal, giving Hyakutake 20,000 total troops to employ for his planned offensive. Because of the loss of their positions on the east side of the Matanikau, the Japanese decided that an attack on the U.S. defenses along the coast would be prohibitively difficult. Therefore, Hyakutake decided that the main thrust of his planned attack would be from south of Henderson Field. His 2nd Division (augmented by troops from the 38th Division), under Lieutenant General Masao Maruyama and comprising 7,000 soldiers in three infantry regiments of three battalions each was ordered to march through the jungle and attack the American defences from the south near the east bank of the Lunga River. The date of the attack was set for October 22, then changed to October 23. To distract the Americans from the planned attack from the south, Hyakutake's heavy artillery plus five battalions of infantry (about 2,900 men) under Major General Tadashi Sumiyoshi were to attack the American defenses from the west along the coastal corridor. The Japanese estimated that there were 10,000 American troops on the island, when in fact there were about 23,000.
On October 12, a company of Japanese engineers began to break a trail, called the "Maruyama Road", from the Matanikau towards the southern portion of the U.S. Lunga perimeter. The 15 miles (24 km) long trail traversed some of the most difficult terrain on Guadalcanal, including numerous rivers and streams, deep, muddy ravines, steep ridges, and dense jungle. Between October 16 and October 18, the 2nd Division began their march along the Maruyama Road.
By October 23, Maruyama's forces still struggled through the jungle to reach the American lines. That evening, after learning that his forces had yet to reach their attack positions, Hyakutake postponed the attack to 19:00 on October 24. The Americans remained completely unaware of the approach of Maruyama's forces.
Sumiyoshi was informed by Hyakutake's staff of the postponement of the offensive to October 24, but was unable to contact his troops to inform them of the delay. Thus, at dusk on October 23, two battalions of the 4th Infantry Regiment and the nine tanks of the 1st Independent Tank Company launched attacks on the U.S. Marine defenses at the mouth of the Matanikau. U.S. Marine artillery, cannon, and small arms fire repulsed the attacks, destroying all the tanks and killing many of the Japanese soldiers while suffering only light casualties.
Finally, late on October 24 Maruyama's forces reached the U.S. Lunga perimeter. Over two consecutive nights Maruyama's forces conducted numerous, unsuccessful frontal assaults on positions defended by troops of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines under Lieutenant Colonel Chesty Puller and the 3rd Battalion, 164th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hall. U.S. Marine and Army rifle, machine gun, mortar, artillery, and direct canister fire from 37 mm anti-tank guns "wrought terrible carnage" on the Japanese. A few small groups of Japanese broke through the American defenses, but were all hunted down and killed over the next several days. More than 1,500 of Maruyama's troops were killed in the attacks while the Americans lost about 60 killed. Over the same two days American aircraft from Henderson Field defended against attacks by Japanese aircraft and ships, destroying 14 aircraft and sinking a light cruiser. Dead soldiers from the Japanese 2nd Division cover the battlefield after the failed assaults on October 25 – 26
Further Japanese attacks near the Matanikau on October 26 were also repulsed with heavy losses for the Japanese. As a result, at 08:00 on October 26, Hyakutake called off any further attacks and ordered his forces to retreat. About half of Maruyama's survivors were ordered to retreat back to the upper Matanikau Valley while the 230th Infantry Regiment under Colonel Toshinari Shōji was told to head for Koli Point, east of the Lunga perimeter. Leading elements of the 2nd Division reached the 17th Army headquarters area at Kokumbona, west of the Matanikau on November 4. The same day, Shoji's unit reached Koli Point and made camp. Decimated by battle deaths, combat injuries, malnutrition, and tropical diseases, the 2nd Division was incapable of further offensive action and would fight as a defensive force along the coast for the rest of the campaign. In total the Japanese lost 2,200 – 3,000 troops in the battle while the Americans lost around 80 killed.
Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
At the same time that Hyakutake's troops were attacking the Lunga perimeter, Japanese aircraft carriers and other large warships under the overall direction of Isoroku Yamamoto moved into a position near the southern Solomon Islands. From this location, the Japanese naval forces hoped to engage and decisively defeat any Allied (primarily U.S.) naval forces, especially carrier forces, that responded to Hyakutake's ground offensive. Allied naval carrier forces in the area, now under the overall command of William Halsey, Jr. who had replaced Ghormley on October 18, also hoped to meet the Japanese naval forces in battle. Nimitz had replaced Ghormley with Halsey after concluding that Ghormley had become too pessimistic and myopic to effectively continue leading Allied forces in the South Pacific area.
The two opposing carrier forces confronted each other on the morning of October 26, in what became known as the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. After an exchange of carrier air attacks, Allied surface ships were forced to retreat from the battle area with the loss of one carrier sunk (Hornet) and another (Enterprise) heavily damaged. The participating Japanese carrier forces, however, also retired because of high aircraft and aircrew losses and significant damage to two carriers. Although an apparent tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of ships sunk and damaged, the loss by the Japanese of many irreplaceable, veteran aircrews provided a long-term strategic advantage for the Allies, whose aircrew losses in the battle were relatively low. The Japanese carriers would play no further significant role in the campaign.
November land action
In order to exploit the victory in the Battle for Henderson Field, Vandegrift sent six Marine battalions, later joined by one U.S. Army battalion, on an offensive west of the Matanikau. The operation was commanded by Merritt Edson and its goal was to capture Kokumbona, headquarters of the 17th Army, west of Point Cruz. Defending the Point Cruz area were Japanese army troops from the 4th Infantry Regiment commanded by Nomasu Nakaguma. The 4th Infantry was severely understrength because of battle damage, tropical disease, and malnutrition.
The American offensive began on November 1 and, after some difficulty, succeeded in destroying Japanese forces defending the Point Cruz area by November 3, including rear echelon troops sent to reinforce Nakaguma's battered regiment. The Americans appeared to be on the verge of breaking through the Japanese defenses and capturing Kokumbona. At this time, however, other American forces discovered and engaged newly landed Japanese troops near Koli Point on the eastern side of the Lunga perimeter. To counter this new threat, Vandegrift temporarily halted the Matanikau offensive on November 4. The Americans suffered 71 and the Japanese around 400 killed in the offensive.
At Koli Point early in the morning November 3, five Japanese destroyers delivered 300 army troops to support Shōji and his troops who were en route to Koli Point after the Battle for Henderson Field. Having learned of the planned landing, Vandegrift sent a battalion of Marines under Herman H. Hanneken to intercept the Japanese at Koli. Soon after landing, the Japanese soldiers encountered and drove Hanneken's battalion back towards the Lunga perimeter. In response, Vandegrift ordered Puller's Marine battalion plus two of the 164th infantry battalions, along with Hanneken's battalion, to move towards Koli Point to attack the Japanese forces there.
As the American troops began to move, Shōji and his soldiers began to arrive at Koli Point. Beginning on November 8, the American troops attempted to encircle Shōji's forces at Gavaga Creek near Koli Point. Meanwhile, Hyakutake ordered Shōji to abandon his positions at Koli and rejoin Japanese forces at Kokumbona in the Matanikau area. A gap existed by way of a swampy creek in the southern side of the American lines. Between November 9 and 11, Shōji and between 2,000 and 3,000 of his men escaped into the jungle to the south. On November 12, the Americans completely overran and killed all the remaining Japanese soldiers left in the pocket. The Americans counted the bodies of 450–475 Japanese dead in the Koli Point area and captured most of Shōji's heavy weapons and provisions. The American forces suffered 40 killed and 120 wounded in the operation.
Meanwhile, on November 4, two companies from the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson landed by boat at Aola Bay, 40 miles (64 km) east of Lunga Point. Carlson's raiders, along with troops from the U.S. Army's 147th Infantry Regiment, were to provide security for 500 Seabees as they attempted to construct an airfield at that location. Halsey, acting on a recommendation by Turner, had approved the Aola Bay airfield construction effort. The Aola airfield construction effort was later abandoned at the end of November because of unsuitable terrain.
On November 5, Vandegrift ordered Carlson to take his raiders, march overland from Aola, and attack any of Shōji's forces that escaped from Koli Point. With the rest of the companies from his battalion, which arrived a few days later, Carlson and his troops set off on a 29-day patrol from Aola to the Lunga perimeter. During the patrol, the raiders fought several battles with Shōji's retreating forces, killing almost 500 of them, while suffering 16 killed themselves. In addition to the losses sustained from attacks by Carlson's raiders, tropical diseases and a lack of food felled many more of Shōji's men. By the time Shōji's forces reached the Lunga River in mid-November, about halfway to the Matanikau, only 1,300 men remained with the main body. When Shōji reached the 17th Army positions west of the Matanikau, only 700 to 800 survivors were still with him. Most of the survivors from Shōji's force joined other Japanese units defending the Mount Austen and upper Matanikau River area.
Tokyo Express runs on November 5, 7, and 9, delivered additional troops from the Japanese 38th Infantry Division, including most of the 228th Infantry Regiment to Guadalcanal. These fresh troops were quickly emplaced in the Point Cruz and Matanikau area and helped successfully resist further attacks by American forces on November 10 and 18. The Americans and Japanese would remain facing each other along a line just west of Point Cruz for the next six weeks.
After the defeat in the Battle for Henderson Field, the IJA planned to try again to retake the airfield in November 1942, but further reinforcements were needed before the operation could proceed. The IJA requested assistance from Yamamoto to deliver the needed reinforcements to the island and to support the next offensive. Yamamoto provided 11 large transport ships to carry the remaining 7,000 troops from the 38th Infantry Division, their ammunition, food, and heavy equipment from Rabaul to Guadalcanal. He also provided a warship support force that included two battleships. The two battleships, Hiei and Kirishima, equipped with special fragmentation shells, were to bombard Henderson Field on the night of November 12 — 13 and destroy it and the aircraft stationed there in order to allow the slow, heavy transports to reach Guadalcanal and unload safely the next day. The warship force was commanded from Hiei by recently-promoted Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe.
In early November, Allied intelligence learned that the Japanese were preparing again to try to retake Henderson Field. Therefore, the U.S. sent Task Force 67, a large reinforcement and resupply convoy carrying Marine replacements, two U.S. Army infantry battalions, and ammunition and food, commanded by Turner, to Guadalcanal on November 11. The supply ships were protected by two task groups, commanded by Rear Admirals Daniel J. Callaghan and Norman Scott, and aircraft from Henderson Field. The ships were attacked several times on November 11 and 12 by Japanese aircraft from Rabaul staging through an air base at Buin, Bougainville, but most were unloaded without serious damage.
U.S. reconnaissance aircraft spotted the approach of Abe's bombardment force and passed a warning to the Allied command. Thus warned, Turner detached all usable combat ships under Callaghan to protect the troops ashore from the expected Japanese naval attack and troop landing and ordered the supply ships at Guadalcanal to depart by early evening November 12. Callaghan's force comprised two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers.
Around 01:30 on November 13, Callaghan's force intercepted Abe's bombardment group between Guadalcanal and Savo Island. In addition to the two battleships, Abe's force included one light cruiser and 11 destroyers. In the pitch darkness, the two warship forces intermingled before opening fire at unusually close distances. In the resulting melée, Abe's warships sunk or severely damaged all but one cruiser and one destroyer in Callaghan's force and killed Callaghan. Two Japanese destroyers were sunk and another destroyer and Hiei were heavily damaged. In spite of his defeat of Callaghan's force, Abe ordered his warships to retire without bombarding Henderson Field. Hiei sank later that day after repeated air attacks by CAF aircraft and aircraft from the U.S. carrier Enterprise. Because of Abe's failure to neutralize Henderson Field, Yamamoto ordered the troop transport convoy, under the command of Raizo Tanaka and located near the Shortland Islands, to wait an additional day before heading towards Guadalcanal. Yamamoto ordered Nobutake Kondo to assemble another bombardment force using warships from Truk and Abe's force to attack Henderson Field on November 15.
In the meantime, around 02:00 on November 14, a cruiser and destroyer force under Gunichi Mikawa from Rabaul conducted an unopposed bombardment of Henderson Field. The bombardment caused some damage but failed to put the airfield or most of its aircraft out of operation. As Mikawa's force retired towards Rabaul, Tanaka's transport convoy, trusting that Henderson Field was now destroyed or heavily damaged, began its run down the slot towards Guadalcanal. Throughout the day of November 14, aircraft from Henderson Field and Enterprise attacked Mikawa's and Tanaka's ships, sinking one heavy cruiser and seven of the transports. Most of the troops were rescued from the transports by Tanaka's escorting destroyers and returned to the Shortlands. After dark, Tanaka and the remaining four transports continued towards Guadalcanal as Kondo's force approached to bombard Henderson Field.
In order to intercept Kondo's force, Halsey, who was low on undamaged ships, detached two battleships, Washington and South Dakota, and four destroyers from the Enterprise task force. The U.S. force, under the command of Willis A. Lee on Washington, reached Guadalcanal and Savo Island just before midnight on November 14, shortly before Kondo's bombardment force arrived. Kondo's force consisted of Kirishima plus two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and nine destroyers. After the two forces made contact, Kondo's force quickly sank three of the four U.S. destroyers and heavily damaged the fourth. The Japanese warships then sighted, opened fire, and damaged South Dakota. As Kondo's warships concentrated on South Dakota, Washington approached the Japanese ships unobserved and opened fire on Kirishima, hitting the Japanese battleship repeatedly and causing fatal damage. After fruitlessly chasing Washington towards the Russell Islands, Kondo ordered his warships to retire without bombarding Henderson Field. One of Kondo's destroyers was also sunk during the engagement.
As Kondo's ships retired, the four Japanese transports beached themselves near Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal at 04:00 and quickly began unloading. At 05:55 U.S. aircraft and artillery began attacking the beached transports, destroying all four transports along with most of the supplies that they carried. Only 2,000–3,000 of the army troops made it ashore. Because of the failure to deliver most of the troops and supplies, the Japanese were forced to cancel their planned November offensive on Henderson Field.
On November 26, Japanese Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura took command of the newly formed Eighth Area Army at Rabaul. The new command encompassed both Hyakutake's 17th Army and the 18th Army in New Guinea. One of Imamura's first priorities upon assuming command was the continuation of the attempts to retake Henderson Field and Guadalcanal. The Allied offensive at Buna in New Guinea, however, changed Imamura's priorities. Because the Allied attempt to take Buna was considered a more severe threat to Rabaul, Imamura postponed further major reinforcement efforts to Guadalcanal to concentrate on the situation in New Guinea.
Battle of Tassafaronga
The Japanese continued to experience problems in delivering sufficient supplies to sustain their troops on Guadalcanal. Attempts to use only submarines the last two weeks in November failed to provide sufficient food for Hyakutake's forces. A separate attempt to establish bases in the central Solomons to facilitate barge convoys to Guadalcanal also failed because of destructive Allied air attacks. On November 26, the 17th Army notified Imamura that it faced a critical food crisis. Some front-line units had not been resupplied for six days and even the rear-area troops were on one-third rations. The situation forced the Japanese to return to using destroyers to deliver the necessary supplies.
Eighth Fleet personnel devised a plan to help reduce the exposure of destroyers delivering supplies to Guadalcanal. Large oil or gas drums were cleaned and filled with medical supplies and food, with enough air space to provide buoyancy, and strung together with rope. When the destroyers arrived at Guadalcanal they would make a sharp turn and the drums would be cut loose and a swimmer or boat from shore could pick up the buoyed end of a rope and return it to the beach, where the soldiers could haul in the supplies.
The Eighth Fleet's Guadalcanal Reinforcement Unit (the Tokyo Express), currently commanded by Raizo Tanaka, was tasked by Mikawa with making the first of five scheduled runs to Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal using the drum method on the night of November 30. Tanaka's unit was centered around eight destroyers, with six destroyers assigned to carry between 200 to 240 drums of supplies apiece. Notified by intelligence sources of the Japanese supply attempt, Halsey ordered the newly formed Task Force 67, comprising four cruisers and four destroyers under the command of U.S. Rear Admiral Carleton H. Wright, to intercept Tanaka's force off Guadalcanal. Two additional destroyers joined Wright's force en route to Guadalcanal from Espiritu Santo during the day of November 30.
At 22:40 on November 30, Tanaka's force arrived off Guadalcanal and prepared to unload the supply barrels. Meanwhile, Wright's warships were approaching through Ironbottom Sound from the opposite direction. Wright's van destroyers detected Tanaka's force on radar and the destroyer commander requested permission to attack with torpedoes. Wright waited four minutes before giving permission, allowing Tanaka's force to escape from an optimum firing setup. All of the American torpedoes missed their targets. At the same time, Wright's cruisers opened fire, quickly hitting and destroying one of the Japanese guard destroyers. The rest of Tanaka's warships abandoned the supply mission, increased speed, turned, and launched a total of 44 torpedoes in the direction of Wright's cruisers.
The Japanese torpedoes hit and sank the U.S. cruiser Northampton and heavily damaged the cruisers Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Pensacola. The rest of Tanaka's destroyers escaped without damage, but failed to deliver any of the provisions to Guadalcanal.
By December 7, 1942, Hyakutake's forces were losing about 50 men each day from malnutrition, disease, and Allied ground or air attacks. Further attempts by Tanaka's force to deliver provisions on December 3, December 7, and December 11, failed to alleviate the crisis, and one of Tanaka's destroyers was sunk by a U.S. PT boat torpedo.
Japanese decision to withdraw
On December 12, the Japanese Navy proposed that Guadalcanal be abandoned. At the same time, several army staff officers at the Imperial General Headquarters (IGH) also suggested that further efforts to retake Guadalcanal would be impossible. A delegation, led by IJA Colonel Joichiro Sanada, chief of the IGH's operations section, visited Rabaul on December 19 and consulted with Imamura and his staff. Upon the delegation's return to Tokyo, Sanada recommended that Guadalcanal be abandoned. The IGH's top leaders agreed with Sanada's recommendation on December 26 and ordered their staffs to begin drafting plans for a withdrawal from Guadalcanal, establishment of a new defense line in the central Solomons, and a shifting of priorities and resources to the campaign in New Guinea.
On December 28, General Hajime Sugiyama and Admiral Osami Nagano personally informed Emperor Hirohito of the decision to withdraw from Guadalcanal. On December 31, the Emperor formally endorsed the decision. The Japanese secretly began to prepare for the evacuation, called Operation Ke, scheduled to begin during the latter part of January 1943.
Battle of Mount Austen, the Galloping Horse, and the Sea Horse
By December the weary 1st Marine Division was withdrawn for recuperation, and over the course of the next month the U.S. XIV Corps took over operations on the island. This corps consisted of the 2nd Marine Division and the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry and Americal Divisions. U.S. Army Major General Alexander Patch replaced Vandegrift as commander of Allied forces on Guadalcanal, which by January totaled just over 50,000 men.
On December 18, Allied (mainly U.S. Army) forces began attacking Japanese positions on Mount Austen. A strong Japanese fortified position, called the Gifu, stymied the attacks and the Americans were forced to temporarily halt their offensive on January 4.
The Allies renewed the offensive on January 10, reattacking the Japanese on Mount Austen as well as on two nearby ridges called the Seahorse and the Galloping Horse. After some difficulty, the Allies captured all three by January 23. At the same time, U.S. Marines advanced along the north coast of the island, making significant gains. The Americans lost about 250 killed in the operation while the Japanese suffered around 3,000 killed.
On January 14, a Japanese Express run delivered a battalion of troops to act as a rear guard for the Ke evacuation. A staff officer from Rabaul accompanied the troops to notify Hyakutake of the decision to withdraw. At the same time, Japanese warships and aircraft moved into position around the Rabaul and Bougainville areas in preparation to execute the withdrawal operation. Allied intelligence detected the Japanese movements, but misinterpreted them as preparations for another attempt to retake Henderson Field and Guadalcanal.
Patch, wary of what he thought to be an imminent Japanese offensive, committed only a relatively small portion of his troops to continue a slow-moving offensive against Hyakutake's forces. On January 29, Halsey, acting on the same intelligence, sent a resupply convoy to Guadalcanal screened by a cruiser task force. Sighting the cruiser task force, Japanese naval torpedo bombers attacked the task force that same evening and heavily damaged the U.S. cruiser Chicago. The next day, more torpedo aircraft attacked and sank Chicago. Halsey ordered the remainder of the task force to return to base and directed the rest of his naval forces to take station in the Coral Sea, south of Guadalcanal, to be ready to counter the perceived Japanese offensive.
In the meantime, the Japanese 17th Army withdrew to the west coast of Guadalcanal while rear guard units checked the American offensive. On the night of February 1, 20 destroyers from Mikawa's 8th Fleet under Shintaro Hashimoto successfully extracted 4,935 soldiers, mainly from the 38th Division, from the island. The Japanese and the Americans each lost a destroyer from air and naval attacks related to the evacuation mission.
On the nights of February 4 and 7, Hashimoto and his destroyers completed the evacuation of most of the remaining Japanese forces from Guadalcanal. Apart from some air attacks, Allied forces, still anticipating a large Japanese offensive, did not attempt to interdict Hashimoto's evacuation runs. In total, the Japanese successfully evacuated 10,652 men from Guadalcanal. On February 9, Patch realized that the Japanese were gone and declared Guadalcanal secure for Allied forces, ending the campaign.
Aftermath and historical significance
After the Japanese withdrawal, Guadalcanal and Tulagi were developed into major bases supporting the Allied advance further up the Solomon Islands chain. In addition to Henderson Field, two additional fighter runways were constructed at Lunga Point and a bomber airfield was built at Koli Point. Extensive naval port and logistics facilities were established at Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida. The anchorage around Tulagi became an important advanced base for Allied warships and transport ships supporting the Solomon Islands Campaign. Major ground forces units were staged through large encampments and barracks on Guadalcanal before deployment further up the Solomons.
The Battle of Midway is widely considered to be the turning point in the Pacific theater, as it was a strategic naval victory which stopped Japan's eastern expansion toward Hawaii and the U.S. west coast. However, the Empire of Japan continued to expand in the southern Pacific, until receiving two decisive defeats at the hands of the Allies. Australian land forces had defeated Japanese Marines in New Guinea at the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1942, which was the first land defeat suffered by the Japanese in the Pacific. And, by the end of 1942, it was clear that Japan also had lost the Guadalcanal campaign, a more serious blow to Japan's strategic plans and an unanticipated defeat at the hands of the Americans.
The Guadalcanal campaign was costly to Japan strategically and in material losses and manpower. Roughly 25,000 experienced ground troops were killed during the campaign. The drain on resources directly contributed to Japan's failure to achieve its objectives in the New Guinea campaign. Japan also lost control of the Solomons Islands and the ability to interdict Allied shipping to Australia. Japan's major base at Rabaul was now further directly threatened by Allied air power. Most importantly, scarce Japanese land, air, and naval forces had disappeared forever into the Guadalcanal jungle and surrounding sea. The Japanese aircraft and ships destroyed and sunk in this campaign were irreplaceable, as were their highly-trained and veteran crews, especially the naval aircrews. It thus can be argued that this Allied victory was the first step in a long string of successes that eventually led to the surrender of Japan and the occupation of the Japanese home islands.
The Battle of Guadalcanal was one of the first prolonged campaigns in the Pacific. The campaign was a battle of attrition that strained the logistical capabilities of both sides. For the U.S. this need prompted the development of effective combat air transport for the first time. A failure to achieve air superiority forced Japan to rely on reinforcement by barges, destroyers, and submarines, with very uneven results. Early in the campaign, the Americans were hindered by a lack of resources due to the "Germany First" policy of the United States. The U.S. Navy suffered such high personnel losses during the campaign that it refused to publicly release total casualty figures for years. However, as the campaign continued, and the American public became more and more aware of the plight and perceived heroism of the American forces on Guadalcanal, more forces were dispatched to the area. This spelled trouble for Japan as its military-industrial complex was unable to match the output of American industry and manpower. Thus, as the campaign wore on the Japanese were losing irreplaceable units while the Americans were rapidly replacing and even augmenting their forces.
After Guadalcanal the Japanese were clearly on the defensive in the Pacific. The constant pressure to reinforce Guadalcanal had weakened Japanese efforts in other theaters, contributing to a successful Australian and American counteroffensive in New Guinea which culminated in the capture of the key bases of Buna and Gona in early 1943. The Allies had gained a strategic initiative which they never relinquished. In June, the Allies launched Operation Cartwheel, which, after modification in August, 1943, formalized the strategy of isolating Rabaul and cutting its sea lines of communication. The subsequent successful neutralization of Rabaul and the forces centered there facilitated the South West Pacific campaign under General Douglas MacArthur and Central Pacific island hopping campaign under Admiral Chester Nimitz, with both efforts successfully advancing toward Japan. The remaining Japanese defenses in the South Pacific area were then either destroyed or bypassed by Allied forces as the war progressed to its ultimate conclusion.
Perhaps as important as the military victory for the Allies was the psychological victory. On a level playing field, the Allies had beaten Japan's best land, air, and warship forces. After Guadalcanal, Allied personnel regarded the Japanese military with much less fear and awe than previously. In addition, the Allies viewed the eventual outcome of the Pacific War with greatly increased optimism.
Several Japanese political and military leaders, including Naoki Hoshino, Osami Nagano, and Torashirō Kawabe, stated shortly after the war that Guadalcanal was the decisive turning point in the conflict. Said Kawabe, "As for the turning point (of the war), when the positive action ceased or even became negative, it was, I feel, at Guadalcanal."