Guadalcanal Essay

This essay has a total of 6096 words and 25 pages.


Guadalcanal





Dor Brown 1

As war raged on in Europe, the United States remained on the sidelines supplying only aid
to allied countries. The greatest threat at that time was considered to be Hitler and his
German war machine. But on December 7 1941 this idea would drastically change. On this
date the island of Pearl Harbor was hit by a surprise attack from Japanese naval and air
forces. The Japanese managed to drastically cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet, and had the
Pacific carriers been present, the Japanese might have even been able to change the course
of the war. This disaster, which enraged the American public, sparked a Declaration of
war towards Japan and the other Axis powers. This intern marked the United States formal
entry into World War II.

Shortly after this incident, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of the U.S. fleet,
met with British leaders for the first joint conference, given the code name
“Arcadia.” This conference was to reaffirm America’s stance in fighting
the European front first and the Pacific front as merely a defensive position. This
defensive position was stated as defending “vital interests”, however it was
relatively vague. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, was
given the order by Admiral King to protect the U.S.-Australian sea-lanes. This was to be
accomplished chiefly by securing the line between Hawaii and the Samoa islands with an
extension to the Fiji islands. However this task was not considered high priority and
simply “needed to be accomplished” at the earliest possible date.

At this same time Japan was expanding their Pacific Empire at an alarming rate over a vast
area. This caused military leaders to rethink their view on the pacific front.

Dor Brown 2
During the first five months of 1942 all branches of the service argued amongst each other
about what was needed to defend the Pacific. Many of the top military leaders saw the
European front as a more urgent situation. General Eisenhower’s team saw the
Pacific theatre as merely a defensive task. Their opinion was that the Japanese would
attack the oil rich Indies and stop at that. Eisenhower was quoted as stating,
“We’ve got to go to Europe and fight, We’ve got to quit wasting
resources all over the world- and still worse- wasting time.”(Frank pg.9) Soon the
Navy sent Marine reinforcements to strengthen Samoa. The Army then sent 1500 troops to
Canton Island and 2000 troops to Christmas Island, both part of the Atolls island chain.
Admiral King then decided to establish a refueling base at Bora-Bora to support the vast
number of troops deployed on various islands. When 17000 men were sent to New Caledonia,
the Army began to feel it’s first strains on it’s resources. However, the
Navy still demanded more island strong points in the Pacific. The Army insisted that no
more than the minimum number of islands be secured and that none should receive more than
the minimum garrison required to defend it. This buildup was partly due to the British
prediction that the Japanese would next target the Fiji and New Caledonia islands.

Debate slowly started to lean in favor of Admiral King’s campaign to expand efforts
in the South Pacific. In late January President Roosevelt sent troops to defend New
Zealand and Australia at their request, followed by the carrier battle group centered
around the Lexington. The most serious threat at hand was still the defense of the
pacific sea-lanes and on February 15th the Yorktown battle group was sent to the pacific
theatre as well.

Dor Brown 3
Even though military leaders were still somewhat cautious at this time, the Average
American, despite Hitler’s threat, regarded Japan with distrust, Hatred, and fear
and would not tolerate a policy of Idleness in the Pacific theatre after Pearl Harbor.
The plight of the pacific region was constantly an argument between Army and Navy leaders,
intern General MacArthur was given command of the Southwest Pacific area which included
mainly Australia and the Phillipines. Admiral Nimitz was consequentially given command
over the remainder of the region stretching back to the east. This boundary was later to
be moved one degree West so that Guadalcanal would fall under Nimitz’s control when
battle was imminent.

On April 1, President Roosevelt received the “Marshall Memorandum”, which was
essentially a document, which called for a distinct choice between security in the Pacific
and an early offensive in Europe. Marshall believed that prompt American action was
essential to prevent defeat in the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Basically
Marshall was in favor of fighting the European front, and wanted a commitment by the
United States to do the same. At first the British were in favor of King’s campaign
in the Pacific but then decided in favor of the Marshall Plan when the Japanese’s
intentions of merely raiding and not landing became clear. This basically ended British
interests in the Pacific even though the debates raged on. Many opinions changed however
on May 3 when the Japanese captured the island of Tulagi, which boarders Guadalcanal just
to the north. Immediately Nimitz proposed a strike to halt the Japanese advance, but
MacArthur quickly objected on the grounds that he had no forces available to hold Tulagi.

Dor Brown4
The Japanese advance was brought to a stand still later at the battles of Coral Sea and
Midway, thanks to American code breakers. At the battle of Midway specifically the
Japanese suffered a large defeat and a large amount of their air power was diminished. At
this same point in time, the Australian Navy had been operating its’ Coastwatchers

system which was especially helpful during the war. The Coastwatchers consisted of local
natives from the various islands and Australian Navy personnel. Basically these natives
reported any Japanese activity to their superiors who then relayed this information by
radio back to headquarters. It was essentially a basic form of intelligence.

On June 13, Japan decided to establish an airbase on Guadalcanal to strengthen the outer
perimeter of their advance. During the same time span the United States also realized the
strategic importance of Guadalcanal and was in the planning stages of building an airfield
as well. On June 24, King directed Nimitz to prepare to capture Tulagi and adjacent
positions. In the days that soon followed, American intelligence concluded that the
Japanese had landed airfield construction troops on Guadalcanal. Lieutenant Colonel
Merrill B. Twining and Major William McKean soon reinforced this conclusion when they
spotted an airfield under construction on Guadalcanal while flying a reconnaissance
mission in their B-17 on the 17th of July. The Navy acted fast and operation
“Watchtower” soon came into to being.

The landing force was composed of the 1st Marine Division under the command of Major
General Alexander Archer Vandegrift, and their job was the same as it always was, to take
control of Guadalcanal and it’s sister island Tulagi. Meanwhile the Japanese forces
on Guadalcanal were mostly construction workers and a small force of flying boats

Dor Brown 5
off the coast. Unknown to the Japanese, the U.S. convoy had managed to slip right upon
the Japanese position shielded by cloud cover. Around 0600 on the morning of August 7,
Japanese construction workers and the other various soldiers awoke to the blasts of naval
gunfire from off the coast. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats from the carrier Wasp followed soon
after and quickly destroyed the little air opposition the Japanese had, which left them
very vulnerable. After softening the beachhead, the Marines were ready to invade. Men
sprawled down cargo nets from troop transports into landing craft and headed for Beach
Red, a strip of beach near the Tenaru River designated earlier. Expecting to hit the
beach fighting, the Marines were shocked to find absolutely no opposition and they soon
found themselves dulling machetes as they tromped through dense jungle growth.

The nearby by island of Tulagi was also part of the invasion and the Marines had perhaps
more resistance here than on Guadalcanal. Composed of 1st Raider Battalion and 2nd
Battalion, 5th Marines, the landing force for Tulagi embarked on a southern strip of beach
and worked their way east to the main Japanese position. However these Marines were
traveling light, because they weren’t carrying very much food. “Don’t
worry about food,” their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Merrit A. Edson, told one
company commander. “There’s plenty there. Japs eat, too. All you have to do
is get it.”(Frank pg.73) The fighting on Tulagi was fierce but did not last long
and the Marines had soon secured the island, and recovered plenty of food abandoned by the
Japanese.

At this same time Admiral Yamamoto was receiving word that his forces on Guadalcanal and
Tulagi were being slaughtered and he soon sent nearby air reinforcements from Rabaul and
New Guinea. High level bombers arrived around 1315

Dor Brown 6
but heavy cloud cover prevents them doing even mild damage to American forces. Around
1500 nine Japanese dive-bombers arrived. The dive-bombers manage to damage a destroyer,
but in the end only three crews make it back to Rabaul.

On Guadalcanal, the 1st Division was dispersed roughly one mile from their starting point
when they decided to settle in for the night. The first night ashore was a harrowing
experience for the young Marines, as many had not even seen the enemy yet. Very little
sleep was had by that night for fear that the Japanese lay waiting in the jungle.

On the morning of August 8, ground crews at Rabaul tended to the small number of
operational planes that would be launched in attempt to take out supply ships in order to
cut off the Marines. The Japanese torpedo bombers came gliding in just 20 to 40 feet
above the water keeping in sink with tactics that were successful earlier in the war, but
instead this time they were met with much heavier weapons including 20mm antiaircraft
machine guns. Plane after plane burst into flames and flailed into the sea. One bomber
put a torpedo into the bow of the destroyer Jarvis causing severe damage, and one other
managed to crash itself into the transport George S. Elliot. This caused a raging fire
and the transport was soon scuttled in shallow water.

Ashore, Vandegrift defined the line of the Lunga River as the Marine objective for August
8. Colonel Cates redirected one of his battalions towards the new objective, but it still
found heavy going in the dense growth. Cates’s two remaining battalions retraced
their path back to the shore and marched down the beach to the new line. The 5th Marines
enjoyed much more favorable terrain, consisting of flat coconut plains along the shore,
and after scattered resistance, had seized the airfield around 1600. The Marines

Dor Brown 7
were amazed to find that almost all of the Japanese supplies lay intact, and only a few
bodies were left over from the naval bombardment. To this day it is still a mystery why
the Japanese did not establish any form of organized resistance around the airfield. As
the Marines settled in for their second night on Guadalcanal, the situation appeared well
in hand, at least for the time being.

When Vice Admiral Mikawa learned of Guadalcanal, he immediately pulled together every
warship at his disposal and headed south from Rabaul. He arrived off of the southern
shore of Savo Island in the small hours of the morning of August 9th. Ahead of him were
several groups of allied warships, their crews exhausted from days of continuous combat
operations. Due to the three entrances to the soon-to-be-infamous Ironbottom Sound, the
allied forces were compelled to divide their strength into three patrolling squadrons:
Southern, Northern, and Eastern. The Allied vessels were unalert, and their commanders
were in some cases either asleep or away from the actual scene of action. Beyond the
Allied warships lay a transport anchorage off of Lunga Point whose merchant vessels were
still packed with equipment intended for the Marines ashore.

The stage was set for the most humiliating defeat ever inflicted upon the US Navy.
Mikawa’s ships slipped unseen past the destroyer pickets at the mouth of the sound,
and soon came upon the Southern group of Allied warships; two heavy cruisers (HMAS
Canberra and USS Chicago) and two destroyers. True to standard Japanese tactics,
Mikawa’s force first launched torpedoes and then followed up with devastating salvos
of 8- and 6-inch gunfire. Canberra was in a sinking condition almost before she was aware
that a battle had been joined. Chicago fared slightly better (she wasn’t sunk),

Dor Brown 8
but never properly got into action, and (even worse) never alerted the Northern Force as
to the presence of Mikawa’s squadron. Fifteen minutes later, curving northward
around Savo Island’s Eastern Shore, the Japanese came upon the Northern Force, still
steaming sedately along in a box patrol pattern. Mikawa’s forces had become divided
in the earlier exchange, and by chance enveloped the Allied Northern force from both
sides. Taken unaware, and caught in a devastating crossfire, Northern Force’s three
heavy cruisers, Vincennes, Quincy, and Astoria, were quickly gunned into sinking hulks.

At this point, having slaughtered the allied escorts, the transport anchorage behind him
lay open for Mikawa’s taking. But the Japanese admiral’s position was not as
favorable as he would have wished. He had no idea that the US carriers (under Admiral
Fletcher) covering the invasion had been withdrawn from the general vicinity. Attacking
the transport anchorage would require his slowing, reassembling his scattered squadron,
coming about, finding the anchorage, and then attacking it. It was now close to 2:00 AM.
An attack on the anchorage, according to Mikawa’s staff officers, would have added
nearly two hours to the operation, placing Mikawa’s force in a dangerous position
when dawn broke at around 0400. Further, Mikawa had no idea as to what Allied vessels
still remained untouched in the sound. Consequently, shortly after 0200, he ordered a
general retirement up The Slot. Ironically, having survived the fray around Savo, Kako
fell victim to three torpedoes from the American submarine S-44 as a portion of the
Japanese force approached the safety of Kavieng the next day. Thus ending the first
installment in a series of grim night battles around Guadalcanal. It was a spectacular
tactical victory for the Japanese, but it was also shorn of the strategic advantage it
might have achieved.

Dor Brown 9
After learning of the Marines taking the airfield, the Japanese high command quickly
decides on a new plan of action. They pick Colonel Ichiki, the man who was originally
scheduled to take Midway had a naval engagement there permitted a troop landing, to retake
Guadalcanal. On August 12th, the airstrip at Guadalcanal is named Henderson Field in
Honor of a fallen hero from the battle of Midway, Major Lofton Henderson. The field is
declared ready for service but unfortunately no American aircraft are available for
assignment here. Japanese aircraft, however, are making almost daily use of the field as
a bombing target.

On August the 19th, Japanese destroyers deposit Ichiki and his advance-echelon troops at
Guadalcanal at 0100 in the morning. Landing is made at this early hour to avoid
harassment by the fliers of Henderson field. The Japanese are unaware that no American
aircraft have yet arrived at the airfield. The colonel and his 900 troops land undetected
and begin their march toward the airport without waiting for the additional troops that
are following a few days behind. They make it to a tidal lagoon known as Alligator Creek
where they encounter the U.S. 1st Marine Division. There, a furious battle ensues and the
Japanese are quickly and completely annihilated. So crushing is their defeat that Colonel
Ichiki, and many of his staff committed suicide in order to redeem their honor. This has
the unfortunate consequence that his few remaining troops are left without officers to
lead them.

Eight days after the naming of Henderson field, the escort carrier Long Island launches 19
F4F and 12 SBD aircraft from 190 miles south of Guadalcanal. By late afternoon the
marines at Gaudalcanal hear the distant drone of aircraft engines and for the

Dor Brown 10
first time see planes other than Japanese as the Dauntlesses and Wildcats arrive landing
in clouds of dust. Pilots and crews are taken back by the wild joy of the marines who
toss their helmets in the air and cheer. Younger Marines shed tears and old timers are
not ashamed of their moist eyes. No event in this campaign does as much to boost the
morale as this arrival of the first American planes.

The Japanese decide to capitalize on their victory at Savo Island by sending down an
armada to wipe out the remnants of the U.S. Navy and at the same time reinforce their
remaining land troops that are now few in number and of limited effectiveness. But this
time, the Japanese are not so lucky at sea. The U.S. Navy is able to regain some of its
prestige by sinking one of their aircraft carriers, a destroyer, and a large troop
transport while seriously damaging a cruiser. This victory is accomplished largely by the
outstanding performance of U.S. airmen. This is to be known the battle of the Eastern
Solomons and credit for the victory goes to Admiral Scott. American losses include damage
to the aircraft carrier Enterprise forcing its return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. This
victory keeps the Japanese from landing the troops necessary to start a major drive to
retake Henderson Field.

On August 28th the Japanese bounce back and again attempt to land troops this time by the
use of destroyers. The destroyers however must accomplish their mission during the hours
of darkness to avoid the planes of Henderson Field. This attempt, costs them one
destroyer sunk and two damaged. Undaunted, further attempts are made using this method
and by the end of the month the Japanese succeed in bringing enough soldiers to the island
Continues for 13 more pages >>




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