Battle of Guadalcanal

Battle of Guadalcanal

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Guadalcanal: Six Months On The Island

“Nighttime on ‘Bloody Knoll’ or ‘Chi. Heights’𔃊 to a foxhole.” Sketch by Yank staff Artist Howard Brodie, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, //

Today, the Veterans History Project (VHP) launches a new online exhibit to commemorate the 75 th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Guadalcanal.

If you’re thinking, “Guadalcanal? Do I know that name?” you might not be alone. A story: not long after I had first moved to Washington, D.C., I was driving around the city with a friend. Idling at a stoplight, I was startled to look up and find that we were on Bataan Street, NW. A few minutes later, I spotted Corregidor Street, NW. When I remarked on this to my friend, musing on the fact that these streets must have been renamed in the immediate post-World War II era, she asked offhandedly, “Where’s Corregidor?” I was shocked at her lack of recognition of these places, the names of which carry such resonance for me.

While there is no Guadalcanal Street in Washington, if there was, it would likely elicit the same reaction (or lack thereof). Guadalcanal—it doesn’t have the immediate name recognition of D-Day, or the Battle of the Bulge. There is no iconic image, such as the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, cemented in American memory. Its name may sound like a misnomer—is there a canal there?—and funny to American ears as veteran Theodore Cummings related, “We couldn’t even pronounce Guadalcanal…”

And yet, for those who know what happened there in late 1942 and early 1943—especially those who lived through it—the name comes off like a punch to the gut.

Arguably the most breathtaking aspect of the campaign was the sheer scope of it, both the length of its duration and the number of troops involved. Fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943, the Battle of Guadalcanal, also known as the Guadalcanal Campaign, was an epic, six-month-long effort to capture and hold the island of Guadalcanal—specifically, a key air field there called Henderson Field—and surrounding islands in the southern Solomon Islands. Only after seven major naval battles, land battles that sometimes involved hand-to-hand combat, and near-daily aerial battles, would the Japanese finally evacuate their remaining troops from the island and cede it to the Allies.

Some of those who took part in the battle, such as Jesus Soto and Harold Ward, were Pearl Harbor survivors. Despite this baptism by fire, many were largely unfamiliar with combat conditions, as Guadalcanal marked the first offensive operation against the Japanese in the Pacific. Sergeant George Arthur Stewart, Jr., who served with the 1 st Marine Division, explained in his oral history, “We were green as grass, most of us.” Though they might go on to become hardened combat veterans, the realities of war on Guadalcanal came as a shock to the system his first night of the invasion, Theodore Cummings explains, “We were enveloped with fear.”

William E. Lentsch in uniform, 1944. William E. Lentsch Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, AFC2001/001/94040.

Given the mortality rate, they had a right to be scared. Nearly 6,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the campaign, with thousands more dying from disease. Most of the veterans profiled in Guadalcanal: 75 Years Later comment on the numerous close calls that they faced, and the loss of friends and comrades during the bloody campaign. In William Parks’ platoon of 44 men, part of the 1 st Marine Division, less than a dozen survived. Marine William E. Lentsch, stationed aboard the USS Vincennes, was badly injured when the ship was torpedoed and sunk. Observing the bay off Guadalcanal from the air after a particularly fierce naval battle, pilot Samuel Folsom remarked, “The bay was unbelievable—ships in all directions in various states of distress, bows blown off and sinking and all.” The bay would later be nicknamed “Ironbottom Sound,” in reference to the vast number of ships sunk during naval battles there.

In addition to the enemy, the tropical island also posed extreme threats to the safety and health of those there. Malaria and dysentery ran rampant, killing thousands. Samuel Folsom was the only member of his unit to avoid malaria possibly ਊs a result of dosing confusion, he took two pills a day instead of one. On the ground, many were forced to bushwhack through and fight in dense, swampy jungle terrain that easily concealed the enemy. Constant rain meant constant mud foxholes would scarcely have been dug before they were flooded. Even for sailors stationed aboard ship, such as Garnett Moneymaker, the equatorial sun felt like “heat waves directly from hell.”

Joseph Lane, Jr. in uniform [ca. 1942]. Joseph Lane, Jr. Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, AFC2001/001/92616.

Grueling seems to be the most appropriate word to summarize their experiences. Whatever their role or perspective—from a muddy foxhole to a ship’s deck or the cockpit of a plane—these veterans spent months dodging bullets, bombs, and grenade fire, over and over and over, under the blistering sun and drenching rain, slapping mosquitoes all the while. Many of those who survived would go on to weather two or three more years of similar conditions in the Pacific Theater.

After experiencing Guadalcanal: 75 Years Later, we hope that next time you see the island on a map or in a history book (or on a street sign), perhaps you’ll think of the personal experiences of those who took part in the fight for Guadalcanal, so many of whom never made it home.


Read With the Old Breed by EB Sledge

My father was with the First Marine Division: “The Old Breed”.
Although he missed Guadalcanal he fought on the major island campaigns which followed.
As a student of these conflicts I often have to fight back tears to continue reading the sacrifices of these men,many under 20 years of age should be known to all U.S. citizens!
I highly recommend watching ‘The Pacific’ produced by Steven Spielberg,Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.
The actors involved performed exceptionally in their roles and in doing so have honored those who served.

My father fought in the 1st Division Marines and fought over in Guadalcanal. He never much about it but did say they staved and had to eat bugs, bark off trees, and other strange things to survive. Back in the 1990s while talking to a friend of my Dads at an Smerican Legion hall I told him how my Dad didn’t talk much as about the war. He told me my Dad told him stories and he repeated some of the stories to me. I wept as I heard him talk about how the planes bringing supplies to the Marines were all getting shot down. My Dad seen many men getting blown up, and how they used marchettis to walked through the jungles so they wouldn’t be spotted by the Japanese. There were men that got jungelitis, and malaria, my Dad was one of them. He was sent home after that battle and spent a year recovering mentally at a hospital in Texas.

My grandfather, Harold Seward Carpenter,fought there as well. He was made a mustang and served onboard subs. (I still have his sub pin and dog tags.) Ten years after the battle, he succumbed to injuries directly related to his service. He had a congenital heart defect made worse by faulty pressurization of the sub. He never really spoke about the battle, other than to mentioned how he assisted with pulling bodies from subs after the battle.

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The Fight for Guadalcanal: The Battles of Henderson Field and the Santa Cruz Islands

Allied forces gained a critical foothold in the Solomon Islands in August 1942 after the successful invasion of Guadalcanal. While this gave the Allies a base of operations, including an airfield, the Japanese still had a presence on Guadalcanal. And by mid-October 1942, two months after the initial invasion, Imperial Japanese forces remained locked in a struggle with American forces over the island and the surrounding seas.

The Japanese held the northwestern coastal strip of Guadalcanal, while the Allies controlled the adjacent central northern coast. The severe tropical environment made land operations complicated for both sides, and neither possessed the strength to defeat the other in a ground offensive. Despite the Americans holding Henderson Field, neither side had air superiority. Naval task forces came and went, often supporting supply ships that delivered cargos and reinforcements with difficulty.

From August 1942 to mid-October, regional Japanese forces made great efforts to land and sustain a larger force on Guadalcanal. Japanese lines of supply were more tenuous, with no airfield or port facilities, and at a distance from supply bases. Cargoes were unloaded hurriedly, even haphazardly, at night, and lingering supply ships invited American attacks. Critical supplies had priority over cargo vehicles or tractors. Men carried or pulled heavy weapons and supplies over jungle trails and roads cleared by hand. Despite significant challenges, Japanese forces added a company of tanks, and heavy artillery. Even with reinforcements, success of the Guadalcanal garrison would require cooperation of naval and air forces.

Meanwhile, in the western end of the Allied sector, Henderson Field was a key element to continued Allied strength in the region. Defeat at sea or loss of Henderson Field could doom the American effort. They did all they could to improve their position as a secure base, and to strengthen its defenses.

They built a road along the coast for supply trucks and mobile reserves. New docks, landings, and storage sites improved efficient supply delivery, and Henderson Field was expanded. Seaplanes and torpedo boats operated from Tulagi Island across Iron Bottom Sound, then called Sealark Channel. Medical facilities were also established.

Even though Americans forces had no artillery as heavy as the Japanese, they possessed more tanks, heavier antitank weapons, and better supply. Like the Japanese, American naval and air forces were active in the area. The Japanese knew they needed to maintain their air and sea striking ability to give ground forces a hope of victory over the materially superior American beachhead. Each side awaited an opportunity to gain strategic advantage.

In mid-October the Japanese thought they could tip the balance in their favor by coordinating naval, air, and ground attacks on Henderson Field. These destructive attacks would cover landings of tanks, heavy guns and fresh troops to take the airfield. On the night of October 11 – 12, Japanese naval forces, bound for bombarding the airfield, encountered an American force in the inconclusive Battle of Cape Esperance. On the following nights of October 13 and 14, Japanese cruisers and battleships found more success when they seriously damaged Henderson Field, destroying dozens of planes, and fuel stores.

Pharmacist's Mate 1 st Class Louis Ortega, who was at Henderson Field that night, recalled:

“It started about 11 pm on 13 October 1942. We were laying down in our pillbox. A whistling noise and then boom! "What the hell was that?" And then another one. For the next 4 hours we were bombarded by four battleships and two cruisers. Let me tell you something. You can get a dozen air raids a day but they come and they're gone. A battleship can sit there for hour after hour and throw 14-inch shells. I will never forget those four hours. The next morning when they stopped shelling, there was a haze over the whole area. Five miles of coconut groves were gone! Where the day before you had miles and miles of coconut trees, now 5 square miles were wiped clean. Every tree was gone. The airfield was destroyed. And over on Point Cruz you could see six Japanese transport ships merrily unloading troops.”

Henderson Field sustained significant damage, but remained under Allied control. American Seabees repaired damage to the airfield and slowly replacement aircraft and drums of fuel were flown in.

Shortly after the bombardment of Henderson Field, the Japanese troops began cutting a road more than twelve miles through the hilly rainforest to attack Henderson Field from the south. Poor communication and delays over rough terrain turned a complex plan into three days of poorly coordinated assaults. Trail-weary, Japanese troops without heavy weapons made these attacks, desperate to gain a victory. These attacks cost the Japanese several thousand men, while American losses numbered less than 100. Meanwhile other Japanese forces failed in attacks with tanks and artillery on the airfield from the west.

Expecting the success of their ground forces, the Japanese Navy prepared for the capture of Henderson Field. A combined fleet of aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers moved to the northeast of the southern Solomon Islands, to support Guadalcanal or engage intervening American naval forces. Simultaneously, the U.S. Navy approached with aircraft carriers, a battleship, cruisers and destroyers. The fleets clashed in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, 1942. American Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., said of the battle, “… Japanese ships outnumbered ours two to one, I sent my task force commanders this dispatch: ATTACK REPEAT ATTACK.” Japanese naval forces entered the battle with a greater number of ships and, ultimately gained a victory. But this victory came at a significant cost—only one operational Japanese carrier, Zuikaku, remained in the South Pacific after the battle.

While not the end of the fighting in and around Guadalcanal, the Japanese had lost the ability to eject American forces. Two more famous sea battles added to the reason Sealark Channel became known as Iron Bottom Sound. And finally, in January 1943, the Japanese began evacuations, accepting the reality that they had lost Guadalcanal. Nearly 27,000 Japanese had been killed, died of disease or taken prisoner during the fight for the island.

Recommended Reading:

Stamps and Esposito, A Military History of World War Two with Atlas, V.2, (West Point, A.G. Printing Office, 1953).

John Miller, United States Army in World War II – The War in the Pacific - Guadalcanal the First Offensive (Washington, Historical Division of the Army, 1949).

Mary H. Williams, United States Army in World War II – Chronology 1941-1945 (Washington, Historical Division of the Army, 2010)

Richard Humble, Japanese High Seas Fleet (New York, Ballentine, 1973).

Masanori Ito, The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, (New York, McFadden-Bartell, 1965)

Excerpt from Oral History of Pharmacist's Mate First Class Louis Ortega, With the Marines at Guadalcanal, Oral History - Battle of Guadalcanal, 1942-1943, US Navy History and Heritage Command. 10/12/2017

World War Photos

Marines with Captured Japanese 76,2 mm Naval Gun Type 3 (1914) Kukum Guadalcanal 1942 Marine Sells Japanese Items in Souvenir Shop on Guadalcanal Marines Playing Cards Beside Hut on Guadalcanal 1942 Marine at Entrance to Japanese Camp on Guadalcanal 1942
Guadalcanal Japanese bomb airplane hanger 1942 US Reinforcements Landed at Lunga Point Guadalcanal 1942 Marine at Machine Gun Position on Edson’s Ridge Guadalcanal 1942 Marines set up radio communication site on Guadalcanal 1942
US officers ride on the “Guadalcanal, Bougainville & Tokyo Express” Railroad built by Seabees on Guadalcanal Marine eyes captured Japanese bathtub on Guadalcanal 1942 US Officers Question Japanese Prisoner on Guadalcanal 1942 Wreckage of Japanese Ship KINUGAWA MARU on Guadalcanal 1943
First Division General Vandegrift and Staff on Guadalcanal 1942 Marines Inspect Japanese Gun Emplacement on Guadalcanal 1942 Marine after Battle on Edson’s Ridge on Guadalcanal September 1942 Marines digging in on Beach of Guadalcanal 1942
Marines set up mortar under enemy fire on Guadalcanal Soldiers fishing with dynamite on Guadalcanal 1943 35th Infantry troops returning to base after 21 days in a fighting line to capture the Gifu on Guadalcanal 1943 Marines unload supplies on beach of Guadalcanal 1942
Marines search for Japanese snipers on Guadalcanal 1942 Japanese Bomb Blasts as US Ship Pulls into Guadalcanal Port 1943 Ruins of Radio Station on Guadalcanal hit by Japanese bomb 1942 Japanese dispersal area near Lunga Airfield on Guadalcanal 1942
Troops Lay Marsden Mats for Landing Field on Guadalcanal 1943 Marine with captured Japanese Type 92 70 mm light howitzer Guadalcanal 1942 Marine leaves foxhole after Japanese air raid on Guadalcanal 1942 US LCVP PO-20 unloads fuel drums at Kukum Guadalcanal 1942
Unexploded Japanese Torpedo on Kukum Beach Guadalcanal 1942 Soldiers with Japanese Prisoners on Guadalcanal 1943 First Group of U.S. Navy Nurses Arrive for Duty on Guadalcanal 1944 Troops Inspect captured Japanese barge on Guadalcanal 1942
Wrecked Japanese Transport ship and Landing Craft on Guadalcanal Japanese Landing Barges Leave Transport for Guadalcanal Beach Marine guards a captured Japanese steamroller at airfield on Guadalcanal 1942 Marines in LVT Amphibious Tractor on Guadalcanal 1942
Marines Jeeps and landing barges on Guadalcanal Beach 1942 Japanese Soldiers Captured by Marines on Guadalcanal 1942 Marine at Browning .50-cal, water-cooled antiaircraft machine gun – Guadalcanal 1942 Marines use Japanese AAA gun named “Susie Q” 1942
LST, LCT, and LSI’s land US 145th Infantry Troops on Guadalcanal 1943 Wounded Troops Await Transport on Guadalcanal Beach 1943 Guadalcanal Marine LVT amphibian tractors bridge supports 1942 Marine uses bayonet to dig foxhole on Guadalcanal 1942
Marine uses a raft to cross a flooded road during the rainy season on Guadalcanal Jeep on Captured Japanese Air Base on Guadalcanal 1942 Troops on Beach by Wrecked “Kinugawa Maru” on Guadalcanal 1943 Japanese Prisoners Captured by US Troops on Guadalcanal
Ruins of Japanese trucks after US bombardment of Guadalcanal 1942 Wreckage Of Japanese Ship Kinugawa Maru Off Guadalcanal Wreckage Of Japanese Ship Guadalcanal Solomon Islands Marine Patrol In Jungle Of Guadalcanal
1st Marine Division LVT Alligator on Guadalcanal Fall 1942 Seabees Footbridge Over River On Guadalcanal Guadalcana ‘s Bloody Ridge September 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal 1942 Solomon Islands
Bridge Guadalcanal Campaign P 38 Arrive On Aircraft Carrier Guadalcanal June 1944 Guadalcanal Campaign 5 Guadalcanal Campaign 7
Guadalcanal Campaign 4 Marines in LVT Amphibious Tractor Land on Guadalcanal 1942 Marines of VMF 221 by Scoreboard on Guadalcanal Marines Evacuating A Casualty 2nd Marine Division Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal Campaign Beachhead Guadalcanal Campaign Solomon Islands U.S. Marine Mortar Company Sets Up on Bloody Ridge, Guadalcanal Guadalcanal Campaign 2
US Troops Watch Guadalcanal Solomon Islands Burn pacific Marine Chaplain Help Wounded In Jungle Guadalcanal Marines Guadalcanal Campaign Solomon Islands Marine patrol crosses the Matanikau River in September 1942
1st Marine Division Landing on Guadalcanal in LCPs August 1942 Marine Mortar Squad in Action on Guadalcanal 11th Marines Man Japanese 75 mm Gun on Lunga Perimeter, Guadalcanal 1942 Beach Guadalcanal Campaign Solomon Islands
Guadalcanal Campaign 3 Henderson Field Battle of Guadalcanal Guadalcanal US Marines 155mm Howitzers in action 1943 F4F Wildcats TBF Avenger and P-38 Lightnings On Henderson Field Guadalcanal

Battle of Guadalcanal, 1942-1943

Excerpt from Oral History of Pharmacist's Mate First Class Louis Ortega, With the Marines at Guadalcanal.

[Source: Oral history provided courtesy of Historian, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery]

Battle of Guadalcanal, 1942-1943

As corpsmen, did they have [you] lugging medical equipment around?

Yes, Unit 3 medical bag and [Form] 782 [field] equipment [pack, poncho, blankets, cartridge belt, helmet, pack, etc.]. This was the old pack. Today they have the knapsacks. Some of us had the old puttee [WWI-style wrap-around] leggings. Later on we got the regular [lace-up] leggings. We had the old tin hat. The Unit 3 was like a horse harness you put over your head and it had two bags full of first aid equipment. And that was it.

So there we were on the [transport USS] Fuller [AP-14].

On our way overseas with the Seventh [Marine] Regiment. Thirty days later, 10 May 1942, we pulled into a pier at Samoa and that's where they dropped us off. In the meantime, the First and Fifth Marines were being formed at New River [now Camp Lejeune, North Carolina]. They were calling in all the guards from the Navy yards, the recruiters, all the outposts, from the islands of Puerto Rico. All the veterans were in the Seventh Regiment. The Fourth Marines had all been captured in the fall of the Philippines. And of course I would get Chesty Puller [Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. 'Chesty' Puller, USMC, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment at Guadalcanal]. He thought he would be in on the first action. When they dropped us in Samoa it nearly broke his heart.

By then there was nothing between the Japs and Australia. Everything had fallen. When we got to Samoa there was nothing there. We worked day and night building defenses. When the word came that the First Marine Division had landed at Guadalcanal, I thought Chesty was going to kill himself. We were all broken-hearted. And then we started to get the bad news. We lost five cruisers in one night--Savo Island.

Toward the end of August we got the word. We were needed. We were hot to trot. On the 15th of September we landed at Lunga Beach. We went up on the [transport USS] Crescent City [AP-40]. Again, it was one of these over the side and the landing craft didn't have ramps. They went in so far and then you jumped out in to the water and everything had to be passed by hand. We went down the cargo nets into the Higgins boats [wooden 36-foot infantry landing craft]. When we got on the beach we had to take our gear off, lay it on the beach, and form a line to pass supplies.

Was there any opposition?

No. Not at that time. That night everything was pilled up on the beach. I was with a marine driver because the medical companies, the stretcher bearers were all musicians. They used musicians to help with the stretcher-bearing. I was sitting with this corporal on top of these boxes. It was my turn to be on watch--12 to 4 in the morning. So I was sitting with this corporal on top of these boxes. He said, 'I wonder what the hell we're sitting on?' He pries open a box, sticks in his bayonet. 'Hey, peaches!' He just passed one over to me when kaboom! I went flying on my ass. A spotlight came on from the sea and the shells started coming and the trees were falling. It was a mess. A shell cut off the top of a palm tree which fell on me. It was a Jap submarine came up and threw in a couple of shells. Then it disappeared. One guy was wounded.

Then we marched in to the bush and were assigned positions. I dug a little slit trench, put my foot in it and thought, 'That's deep enough.' Then put a piece of tin over it, then some palm trees. A few days went by while we were getting organized. We weren't moving anywhere. Then came the first air raid. Everyone just sat out there and watched. 'Wow, look at that one over there.' Suddenly shrapnel from the antiaircraft started falling. I got in to my trench. I learned two things. When you build a foxhole, build it deep. And secondly, never go alone. When you're by yourself you think and your mind starts doing all kinds of weird things. You hear the swish of a bomb which sounds like shaking tin foil. Then the ground shakes and then you wait for the next one. And the ground shakes again. By that time you really want some company. With two people in there you learn one thing. Look at that sonofabitch, he's scared as hell. And he's looking at you and saying the same thing. Oh, I'm not scared, he's scared. With someone else there, you're able to compensate for the fear but when you're alone, you sweat. You knew when an air raid was coming. Every fly, bird, every insect seemed to head for a foxhole. And sure enough, soon the bombs started falling. I don't know how the insects knew it.

There were always flies all over the place. the coconut groves had been unattended for years. The coconuts were rotting. There was a difference to the smell of the jungle. The rot, the dampness. Some places the sun never shined.

The following day there was another raid and a bomb hit close by. The edge of the crater was 3 yards from my foxhole and caved it in. I saw that and I began digging deeper. We dug it so deep that you could stand up in it and still be underground. And being Americans, we liked our comfort so we put matting around it. We put two stools inside. We put logs over it and sandbags on top of those and ponchos to make it waterproof and then poured dirt on top of that. What we had was a pillbox.

After being on the line almost a month, we pulled back to Henderson Field [airfield on Guadalcanal captured by US Marines and named for deceased Marine pilot] for some rest. It started about 11 pm on 13 October 1942. We were laying down in our pillbox. A whistling noise and then boom! 'What the hell was that?' And then another one. For the next 4 hours we were bombarded by four battleships and two cruisers. Let me tell you something. You can get a dozen air raids a day but they come and they're gone. A battleship can sit there for hour after hour and throw 14-inch shells. I will never forget those four hours. The next morning when they stopped shelling, there was a haze over the whole area. Five miles of coconut groves were gone! Where the day before you had miles and miles of coconut trees, now 5 square miles were wiped clean. Every tree was gone. The airfield was destroyed.

And over on Point Cruz you could see six Japanese transport ships merrily unloading troops. The next day after they unloaded, in comes a [U.S.] transport [ship]. We hadn't seen a transport in over a month since we landed. It brought the 164th Army Infantry [Regiment] with the new Garand rifles [U.S. Rifle, caliber .30, M1]. That helped a lot later on. We had the old Springfield ༿ [U.S. Rifle, caliber .30, M-1903] with the bolt action. When the next battle took place and threw the 164th into the line, the Japs would charge and waited for the five shots the ༿ had. But this time the army would let them have it with two extra shots [actually three - the M1 rifle had an 8-round clip]. They hadn't seen a semi-automatic rifle because theirs were bolt actions, too. We stayed with the Springfield right up to the end of that campaign. It was when we got to Australia that we got M1s.

And, while we were at Guadalcanal we got rid of the old [World War I-style] steel helmet and brought us the pot helmets.

After the battleships worked you over, did you have any casualties to treat?

No, not in our area because though they leveled the whole area, believe it or not, none of us were hurt. When we were underground, unless it was a direct hit. Most of those shells landed on the airfield. We had three medical companies--A Company, First Marines, B Company, Fifth Marines, and C Company, Seventh Marines. And there were line company corpsmen. We saw casualties with our company in action.

What was the situation with malaria?

When you got malaria, you might have it five times. Everybody was getting it over and over again. I had it five times--twice on the island and three times in Australia. Those were reoccurance attacks. If they evacuated people who had it five times there would have been no one left in the field. By the first of December, we had more casualties--four or five thousand casualties from malaria, dengue fever, than we did from actual battle.

What did they do with you when you got it?

When the survey [replacement units] came out in December, the First and the Fifth Marines were evacuated. They sent them to Brisbane and stuck them out in a swamp loaded with mosquitoes. So they were always in the hospital. All day long in Brisbane you could hear the ambulances taking men to the hospital. Since we came in last, we stayed last. We didn't leave there until January 9th. On New years Day we moved to the beach.

Anyway, we were sent to the beach by Lunga Point and were there 7 days when we got the word that the Army was coming in and we were to be relieved. We were all exhausted. We had no clothes. All I had was my shoes, no socks, no underclothes. All I had was a pair of torn dungarees and a khaki shirt. They came ashore with Higgins boats [wooden 36-foot infantry landing craft]. We climbed over the sides into the boats. When we got to the ship we couldn't make it. We started up the cargo net and fell back into the boats. Sailors were tying ropes around us and pulling us up. I had gone to Guadalcanal weighing about 150 I left weighing about 110.

What kind of chow did they serve you at Guadalcanal?

To this day, I will not eat hotcakes because when we landed, the supply ships got sunk. All they got ashore was Spam and pancake flour and peaches. Fortunately for us, we had a guy named Sergeant Duncan who had worked at the Waldorf Astoria. He made pancakes with peaches, he made pigs in blankets with peaches and Spam. And we were having it twice a day, then it was down to once a day. We'd get a hunk of peach on top of Spam or you would roll it up, or he'd bake it, but it was always Spam, and that's all we had, Spam, Spam, Spam and peaches, and hotcakes for 5 months. There was nothing coming in. We never got a decent meal.

When we got out of there, everything started to change. We got new equipment, new weapons. For the Gloucester campaign, we were given the choice of a carbine (U.S. Carbine, caliber .30, M1] or the .45 [U.S. Pistol, caliber .45, M-1911A1].

What did you do with the malaria cases? How did you treat them?

Atabrine and plenty of fluids. And whenever they could they would put them back on the line. They had no choice. If you had it 10 times, they would finally evacuate you. There were no replacements. If you were to send everyone back with two, three, four cases of malaria, you'd have nobody left. The casualties alone from malaria, dysentery, and from battle fatigue.

So you weren't getting medical supplies in either?

Just what we had brought in with us. That was it.

Did you guys feel abandoned?

The first couple of months, yes. Until we came in on the 15th of September, the first guys who had come, hadn't seen anybody since August 7th. When they had that big sea battle of Savo Island and they lost those five cruisers, everybody [i.e., U.S. ships] hauled ass and never came back. They went ashore with a 30-day supply of food and ammunition. So they had to replace that with captured Japanese rice.

Did you actually eat any of that captured rice?

No, because the other two regiments had exhausted supplies. When we came in we shared what we had with them. Because we were able to bring stuff in even though we were only there a couple of days before they took off. We didn't see them again till October when the Army came in. Once the Army came, they came with sea bags, brand new uniforms, food, medical supplies, M1s, new helmets, everything. We said, 'Look at these candy asses!' At night, we'd sneak into their camp and help ourselves because they had so much stuff! They couldn't get it off the beach fast enough.

So, the whole time you were on Guadalcanal you were patrolling.

We were in garrison and on patrol. We had sections we moved around in. Sometimes the 5th got hit pretty bad and they would be pulled back toward the airfield and the 7th would take their place. If the 7th got hit, then the first would take their place. There was the Raider Battalion. When the 2nd Marines were in Tulagi the first week when there was the heaviest fighting over there when they ran into a garrison of over 2,000 Japs and they were dug in. So that was a hard battle. Finally, they had to bring them over by Higgins boats to the island to replace some of the units. They never fought in Tulagi anymore. Everything was on the Canal after that first week.

Did you go out on patrol with these people?

Oh yes. We crossed the Matanikou [River], we crossed in the northern part of the Tenaru [River]. We went about 40 mines as far as the patrols could go. We'd find the Japs on the road dead, on the trails, but we would never catch up to them. And then we'd pull back.

How did they die? Who shot them?

Disease and hunger. They were in worse shape because they would be dropped off and then our planes would come and bomb their food supply and sink their ships. But they could go 16 miles a day with a little ball of rice. But they found out they were not supermen, that they could be defeated. And their diet caused them to explode when they died. Within a couple of hours they were bloated. And the next day, boom, they exploded. The maggots were all over them. An American boy would take two days before he'd turn purple and start bloating. We'd pick them up and wrap them in a poncho and bury them.

When did you leave Guadalcanal?

When January came we left on the [transport USS] Hays [AP-39]. The word got out that we were not going to Brisbane. [Major General Alexander] Vandegrift [Commanding General, 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal] and [Admiral William Frederick] Halsey [,Jr., Commander South Pacific Forces and South Pacific Forces and South Pacific Area] were down there and they blew their stack. We were being assigned to [General Douglas] MacArthur's 6th Army and were going straight to Melbourne. And that was an experience I'll never forget. The ships pulled into the harbor. There were tugboats blowing their whistles. We got to the pier and there were thousands of people. They put us on a train for the 40-mile ride out to Frankston which was the other line. Then we were bused to Mount Martha which was the Australian Army camp. At every stop along the way we heard 'Welcome Yank!' And they were waving their flags. It took hours to get up there because of that.

They fed us mutton and we weren't used to eating lamb. The Australians said, 'If it's good enough for us, Yanks, it's good enough for you.' So we ate mutton and that's where I learned to drink tea.

Let me tell you, the Australians are great fighters but they would stop fighting in the middle of a war to have tea at 10 and 4. There's a fight going on, shells are flying and they're cooking their tea.

At that time I got my promotion. I was called in. He said, 'For the Battle of Matanikou, you and Smitty, and Kyle have been promoted to pharmacist's mate third, and for the Battle of Lunga, you, Kyle, Williams, and Scotty have been promoted to Pharmacist's mate second. We didn't get ribbons, we didn't get medals, but we got promotions. And that's how I made third and second. Then is when they told us we were reorganizing the whole division. 'We are reorganizing the whole division. You people are tired. We're getting replacements in. We're forming a new regiment, the 17th Marine Combat Engineers. You and you and you are going to the 17th.' So we left our C Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and went to F Company, 2nd Battalion, 17th Marine Combat Engineers. A week later they told us we were being transferred to Waga Waga, New South Wales to the Royal Australian Engineering camp for training in combat engineering.

What kind of training did you receive?

We learned how to use gelignite [high explosive compound], how to build and repair bridges, and the [USN medical] corpsman went along because there was a lot of hard labor. You had to cut trees down, you had to build pontoons. We were all marines being trained by the Australian Army. Just below the camp was the AWAS camp--the Australian Women's Army Service. AWAS meant Australian Army Volunteer Service but it really meant Always Willing After Sundown. We made a big joke about that. We had a good time with the Australians.

Then I got malaria and they rushed me to the Australian field hospital. It was a recurrence of a previous attack. To treat it they gave me a 1-ounce glass of quinine daily accompanied by a big sugar ball about that big. That quinine was so bitter but in 7 days you were cured, back on the line.

We stayed up there until we got the word we were shipping out. We went back to Mt. Martha. The 1st had gone on maneuvers. The 5th had gone to New Guinea. So the 17th and the 7th Marines were put on ships and taken up to the Northern Territory of Australia. We were there a week then we went to Goodenough Island off the coast of New Guinea. We were there 3 months training and building a base.

The 1st of December ཧ we got word that we were moving up to the big island of New Guinea. Now we began training with LSTs [Landing Ship Tank], no more cargo nets. On 22 December we left for Finschaven. We crossed the Bismark Sea and Christmas day we lowered the [LST] ramp right on the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain. Aerial reconnaissance had showed luscious green, a nice road. We figured we'd get our jeeps in there. When we landed we found a muddy road and about 10 yards after that was swamps and petrified forest. And then it started raining. It rained for almost 60 days without stopping. We were in the water, the sick bay was in the water. Our camp was in the water. We went out on patrols. It took about a week to take the airfield and then when we got there we were up on high ground. But all around that area was mud, mud, mud.

Was there a lot of opposition when you went in to the beach?

No. Because the Japs were down in Rabaul and we landed 90 miles up at the point right near Cape Gloucester airfield. In the meantime, the Army landed 60 miles on the other side and they couldn't move. They got pinned down.

In early 1942, Japan was on the offensive. Having already occupied sections of mainland East Asia, the empire of the rising sun was expanding south along the island chain that led from there to Australia. Their agenda was a simple one – to control trade routes in that part of the Pacific, thus ensuring their own supplies and cutting off those of their enemies, in particular, China.

To do this, the aggressive Japanese army, supported by a more cautious but no less dedicated navy, aimed to conquer all the way down to Australia, removing any foothold from which the United States and European powers could strike back.

The furthest point of their expansion was Guadalcanal, the largest of the southern Solomon Islands. Owned by the British since 1893, it was occupied by the Japanese in July 1942. As the invaders set about building an airstrip, from which they could launch air defenses as well as bombing raids against Allied fleets, the need to re-take the island became urgent.

Japanese control of the western Pacific area between May and August 1942. Guadalcanal is located in the lower right center of the map.


During the campaign to take Guadalcanal, the Allied losses numbered around 7,100 men, 29 ships, and 615 aircraft. Japanese casualties were approximately 31,000 killed, 1,000 captured, 38 ships, and 683-880 aircraft. With the victory at Guadalcanal, the strategic initiative passed to the Allies for the remainder of the war. The island was subsequently developed into a major base for supporting future Allied offensives. Having exhausted themselves in the campaign for the island, the Japanese had weakened themselves elsewhere which contributed to the successful conclusion of Allied campaigns on New Guinea. The first sustained Allied campaign in the Pacific, it provided a psychological boost for the troops as well as led to the development of combat and logistical systems that would be used in the Allies' march across the Pacific. With the island secured, operations continued on New Guinea and the Allies began their "island-hopping" campaign towards Japan.

Dive With WWII Wrecks in the Solomon Islands

Seventy five years ago, the Battle of Guadalcanal changed the course of World War II in the South Pacific. According to the National World War II Museum statistics, the Solomon Islands Campaign cost the Allies approximately 7,100 men, 29 ships and 615 aircraft. The Japanese lost 31,000 men, 38 ships and 683 aircraft. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy wanted a buffer against attack from the United States and its Allies, and began occupying islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

When the Japanese began construction on what would later be called Henderson Airfield in July 1942, taking control of this strategic airfield became a primary goal for the US Marine offensive. American forces landed on August 7, 1942 to remove the Japanese from the island. The six-month battle in the Solomon Islands on the most easterly advance of the Rising Sun was crucial to preventing Australia and New Zealand from being cut off from the Allies. This was the first decisive battle of the war in the Pacific in which the Japanese forces were turned back.

The United States Marines depended upon the Australian Coastwatchers and the Solomon Island Scouts for local knowledge and assistance. Inscribed in a plaque at the Memorial Garden at Henderson Airport, the United States Marines honor them with these words: “In the Solomons, a handful of men, Coastwatchers and Solomon Islanders alike, operating side by side often behind enemy lines always against staggering odds, contributed heroically to our victory at Guadalcanal.” This partnership between these groups is credited with having saved John F. Kennedy while he was stationed in the area.

Kennedy was at a forward military base on Lubaria Island, where today you can still visit and see the original cement pads from the bakery and mess house, in addition to a well hole. On August 2, 1943, a moonless night, while patrolling between Kolombangara Island and Ghizo Island, Kennedy and his crew were on maneuvers in their patrol boat (PT 109) and in the path of the Japanese destroyer, Amagiru Maru. After being struck, their boat broke apart and began to sink. Two of the seamen—Andrew Jackson Kirksey and Harold W. Marney—were killed, and the remaining eleven survivors swam through flames towards land. Coastwatcher Reg Evans saw the flames and sent two scouts to search for survivors.

There were Japanese camps on the larger islands like Kolombangara, and Kennedy's crew swam to the smaller and deserted Plum Pudding Island to the southwest. The men worked together to push a makeshift raft of timbers from the wreck to move the injured and non-swimmers. Kennedy, a strong swimmer and former member of the Harvard University swim team, pulled the injured Patrick McMahon by clenching his life jacket strap in his mouth. After nearly four hours and more than three miles, they reached their first island destination. In search of food and water, they had to swim to another small slip of land named Kasolo Island, where they survived on coconuts for several days.

Island scouts Biuku Gaza and Eroni Kumana searched for survivors in their dugout canoe. If spotted by Japanese ships or aircraft, they hoped to be taken for native fisherman. When Gasa and Kumana found Kennedy, Gasa encouraged him to carve a message in a coconut shell. This message enabled them to coordinate their rescue:


Years later, that carved coconut shell sat on Kennedy’s desk in the Oval Office and served as a reminder of his time in the dangerous waters. Kasolo Island is now called “Kennedy Island.” And on August 3, 2017, Kennedy’s𧅤th birthday portrait and the 75th Anniversary monument was unveiled at ceremonies on both Kennedy Island and Lubaria Island.

Touring the area is an opportunity to explore what happened on the Solomon Islands three quarters of a century ago.  Today, on the island’s pristine beaches, the violence of the battlefield feels long ago—but physical reminders remain. The area is a graveyard of dozens of World War II destroyers, military ships and aircraft in the clear waters surrounding the islands, and makes for an incredible chance to SCUBA dive through history.


Diving: see the planes, boats, submarines underwater from WWII.

Dive the Toa Maru in Gizo, which is similar in size to the ship that rammed Kennedy’s PT boat. Explore to 90 feet underwater in Mundo and visit the Airacobra P-39 fighter from the USAF 68th Fighter Squadron and the nearby Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless dive bomber, which was hit by fire during a raid on Munda on July 23, 1943.

In Honiara: I-1 submarine, B1 and B2.

Vilu War Museum

Explore the open-air museum at Vilu and walk among planes from the World War II dogfights.

Skull Island:

The ancestors of the Roviana people were warriors, and their skills as trackers enabled them to assist the United States in the battles fought on land and over water.

Battle of Guadalcanal - HISTORY

The Landing and August Battles (continued)

Col Kiyono Ichiki, a battle-seasoned Japanese Army veteran, led his force in an impetuous and ill-fated attack on strong Marine positions in the Battle of the Tenaru on the night of 20-21 August. Department of Defense (USMC) Photo 150993

Even though most of the division's heavy engineering equipment had disappeared with the Navy's transports, the resourceful Marines soon completed the airfield's runway with captured Japanese gear. On 12 August Admiral McCain's aide piloted a PBY-5 Catalina flying boat and bumped to a halt on what was now officially Henderson Field, named for a Marine pilot, Major Lofton R. Henderson, lost at Midway. The Navy officer pronounced the airfield fit for fighter use and took off with a load of wounded Marines, the first of 2,879 to be evacuated. Henderson Field was the centerpiece of Vandegrift's strategy he would hold it at all costs.

Although it was only 2,000 feet long and lacked a taxiway and adequate drainage, the tiny airstrip, often riddled with potholes and rendered unusable because of frequent, torrential downpours, was essential to the success of the landing force. With it operational, supplies could be flown in and wounded flown out. At least in the Marines' minds, Navy ships ceased to be the only lifeline for the defenders.

While Vandegrift's Marines dug in east and west of Henderson Field, Japanese headquarters in Rabaul planned what it considered an effective response to he American offensive. Misled by intelligence estimates that the Marines numbered perhaps 2,000 men, Japanese staff officers believed that a modest force quickly sent could overwhelm the invaders.

On 12 August, CinCPac determined that a sizable Japanese force was massing at Truk to steam to the Solomons and attempt to eject the Americans. Ominously, the group included the heavy carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and the light carrier Ryujo. Despite the painful losses at Savo Island, the only significant increases to American naval forces in the Solomons was the assignment of a new battleship, the South Dakota (BB-57).

Of his watercolor painting "Instructions to a Patrol," Capt Donald L. Dickson said that three men have volunteered to locate a Japanese bivouac. The one in the center is a clean-cut corporal with the bearing of a high-school athlete. The man on the right is "rough and ready." To the one at left, it's just another job he may do it heroically, but it's just another job. Captain Donald L. Dickson, USMCR

Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo had ordered Lieutenant General Haruyoshi Hyakutake's Seventeenth Army to attack the Marine perimeter. For his assault force, Hyakutake chose the 35th Infantry Brigade (Reinforced), commanded by Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi. At the time, Kawaguchi's main force was in the Palaus. Hyakutake selected a crack infantry regiment—the 28th —commanded by Colonel Kiyono Ichiki to land first. Alerted for its mission while it was at Guam, the Ichiki Detachment assault echelon, one battalion of 900 men, was transported to the Solomons on the only shipping available, six destroyers. As a result the troops carried just small amounts of ordnance and supplies. A follow-on echelon of 1,200 of Ichiki's troops was to join the assault battalion on Guadalcanal.

The Coastwatchers

A group of fewer than 1,500 native Coastwatchers served as the eyes and ears of Allied forces in reporting movements of Japanese units on the ground, in the air, and at sea.

Often performing their jobs in remote jungle outposts, the Coastwatchers were possessed of both mental and physical courage. Their knowledge of the geography and peoples of the Pacific made them invaluable additions to the Allied war effort.

Coastwatcher Capt W.F. Martin Clemens, British Solomon Islands Defense Force, poses with some of his constabulary. National Archives Photo 80-G-17080 courtesy of Richard Frank

The concept for this service originated in 1919 in a proposal by the Royal Australian Navy to form a civilian coastwatching organization to provide early warning in the event of an invasion. By the outbreak of war in September 1939, approximately 800 persons were serving as coastwatchers, operating observation posts mainly on the Australian coast. They were, at the outset, government officials aided by missionaries and planters who, as war with Japan neared, were placed under the control of the intelligence section of the Australian Navy.

By 1942, the system of coastwatchers and the accompanying intelligence network covered an area of 500,000 square miles, and was placed under the control of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB). The AIB coordinated Allied intelligence activities in the southwest Pacific, and had as its initial principal mission the collection of all possible information about the enemy in the vicinity of Guadalcanal.

Coastwatchers proved extremely useful to U.S. Marine forces in providing reports on the number and movement of Japanese troops. Officers from the 1st Marine Division obtained accurate information on the location of enemy forces in their objective areas, and were provided vital reports on approaching Japanese bombing raids. On 8 August 1942, Coastwatcher Jack Reed on Bougainville alerted American forces to an upcoming raid by 40 Japanese bombers, which resulted in 36 of the enemy planes being destroyed. The "early warning system" provided by the Coastwatchers helped Marine forces on Guadalcanal to hold onto the Henderson Field airstrip.

The Coastwatchers also rescued and sheltered 118 Allied pilots, including Marines, during the Solomons Campaign, often at the immediate risk of their own lives. Pipe-smoking Coastwatcher Reed also was responsible for coordinating the evacuation on Bougainville of four nuns and 25 civilians by the U.S. submarine Nautilus.

It is unknown exactly how many Coastwatchers paid the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duties. Many died in anonymity, without knowledge of the contribution their services had made to final victory. Perhaps they would be gratified to know that no less an authority than Admiral William F. Halsey recorded that the Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.— Robert V. Aquilina

While the Japanese landing force was headed for Guadalcanal, the Japanese already on the island provided an unpleasant reminder that they, too, were full of fight. A captured enemy naval rating, taken in the constant patrolling to the west of the perimeter, indicated that a Japanese group wanted to surrender near the village of Kokumbona, seven miles west of the Matanikau. This was the area that Lieutenant Colonel Goettge considered held most of the enemy troops who had fled the airfield. On the night of 12 August, a reconnaissance patrol of 25 men led by Goettge himself left the perimeter by landing craft. The patrol landed near its objective, was ambushed, and virtually wiped out. Only three men managed to swim and wade back to the Marine lines. The bodies of the other members of the patrol were never found. To this day, the fate of the Goettge patrol continues to intrigue researchers.

On 20 August, the first Marine Corps aircraft such as this F4F Grumman Wildcat landed on Henderson Field to begin combat air operations against the Japanese. National Archives Photo 80-G-37932

After the loss of Goettge and his men, vigilance increased on the perimeter. On the 14th, a fabled character, the coastwatcher Martin Clemens, came strolling out of the jungle into the Marine lines. He had watched the landing from the hills south of the airfield and now brought his bodyguard of native policemen with him. A retired sergeant major of the British Solomon Islands Constabulary, Jacob C. Vouza, volunteered about this time to search out Japanese to the east of the perimeter, where patrol sightings and contacts had indicated the Japanese might have effected a landing.

The ominous news of Japanese sightings to he east and west of the perimeter were balanced out by the joyous word that more Marines had landed. This time the Marines were aviators. On 20 August, two squadrons of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 23 were launched from the escort carrier Long Island (CVE-1) located 200 miles southeast of Guadalcanal. Captain John L. Smith led 19 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 223 onto Henderson's narrow runway. Smith's fighters were followed by Major Richard C. Mangrum's Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 232 with 12 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers.

From this point of the campaign, the radio identification for Guadalcanal, Cactus, became increasingly synonymous with the island. The Marine planes became the first elements of what would informally be known as Cactus Air Force.

Wasting no time, the Marine pilots were soon in action against the Japanese naval aircraft which frequently attacked Guadalcanal. Smith shot down his first enemy Zero fighter on 21 August three days later VMF-223's Wildcats intercepted a strong Japanese aerial attack force and downed 16 enemy planes. In this action, Captain Marion E. Carl, a veteran of Midway, shot down three planes. On the 22d, coastwatchers alerted Cactus to an approaching air attack and 13 of 16 enemy bombers were destroyed. At the same time, Mangrum's dive bombers damaged three enemy destroyer-transports attempting to reach Guadalcanal. On 24 August, the American attacking aircraft, which now included Navy scout-bombers from the Saratoga's Scouting Squadron (VS) 5, succeeded in turning back a Japanese reinforcement convoy of warships and destroyers.

The first Army Air Forces P-400 Bell Air Cobras arrived on Guadalcanal on 22 August, two days after the first Marine planes, and began operations immediately. National Archives Photo 208-N-4932

On 22 August, five Bell P-400 Air Cobras of the Army's 67th Fighter Squadron had landed at Henderson, followed within a week by nine more Air Cobras. The Army planes, which had serious altitude and climb-rate deficiencies, were destined to see most action in ground combat support roles.

The 1st Marine Division Patch

The 1st Division shoulder patch originally was authorized for wear by members of units who were organic or attached to he division in its four landings in the Pacific War. It was the first unit patch to be authorized for wear in World War II and specifically commemorated the division's sacrifices and victory in the battle for Guadalcanal.

As recalled by General Merrill B. Twining, a lieutenant colonel and the division's operations officer on Guadalcanal, for a short time before the 1st left Guadalcanal for Australia, there had been some discussion by the senior staff about uniforming the troops. It appeared that the Marines might have to wear Army uniforms, which meant that they would lose their identity and Twining came up with the idea for a division patch. A number of different designs were devised by both Lieutenant Colonel Twining and Captain Donald L. Dickson, adjutant of the 5th Marines, who had been an artist in civilian life. The one which Twining prepared on the flight out of Guadalcanal was approved by Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, the division commander.

General Twining further recalled that he drew a diamond in his notebook and "in the middle of the diamond I doodled a numeral one . [and] I sketched in the word 'Guadalcanal' down its length . I got to thinking the whole operation had been under the Southern Cross, so I drew that in, too . About an hour later I took the drawing up to the front of the aircraft to General Vandegrift. He said, 'Yes, that's it!' and wrote his initials, A.A.V., on the bottom of the notebook page."

Designer of the patch, LtCol Merrill B. Twining (later Gen) sits in the 1st Marine Division operations bunker. Behind him is his assistant D-3,a very tired Maj Henry W. Buse, Jr.

After he arrived in Brisbane, Australia, Colonel Twining bought a child's watercolor set and, while confined to his hotel room by a bout of malaria, drew a bunch of diamonds on a big sheet, coloring each one differently. He then took samples to General Vandegrift, who chose one which was colored a shade of blue that he liked. Then Twining took the sketch to the Australian Knitting Mills to have it reproduced, pledging the credit of the post exchange funds to pay for the patches' manufacture. Within a week or two the patches began to roll off the knitting machines, and Colonel Twining was there to approve them. General Twining further recalled: "after they came off the machine, I picked up a sheet of them. They looked very good, and when they were cut, I picked up one of the patches. It was one of the first off the machine.

The division's post exchanges began selling the patches almost immediately and they proved to be popular, with Marines buying extras to give away as souvenirs to Australian friends or to send home to families. Before long, newly established Marine divisions, as well as the raider and parachute units, and as the aircraft wings, sea-going Marines, Fleet Marine Force Pacific units, and others, were authorized to have their own distinctive patch, a total of 33, following the lead of the 1st Marine Division. Marines returning to the United States for duty or on leave from a unit having a distinctive shoulder insignia were authorized to wear that insignia until they were assigned to another unit having a shoulder patch of its own. For many 1st Marine Division men joining another unit and having to relinquish the wearing of the 1st Division patch, this rankled.

Shortly after the end of the war, Colonel Twining went to now-Marine Commandant General Vandegrift saying that he "no longer thought Marines should wear anything on their uniforms to distinguish them from other Marines. He agreed and the patches came off for good." — Benis M. Frank

The frenzied action in what became known as the Battle of the Eastern Solomons was matched ashore. Japanese destroyers had delivered the vanguard of the Ichiki force at Taivu Point, 25 miles east of the Marine perimeter. A long-range patrol of Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines ambushed a sizable Japanese force near Taivu on 19 August. The Japanese dead were readily identified as Army troops and the debris of their defeat included fresh uniforms and a large amount of communication gear. Clearly , a new phase of the fighting had begun. All Japanese encountered to this point had been naval troops.

Alerted by patrols, the Marines now dug in along the Ilu River, often misnamed the Tenaru on Marine maps, were ready for Colonel Ichiki. The Japanese commander's orders directed him to "quickly recapture and maintain the airfield at Guadalcanal," and his own directive to his troops emphasized that they would fight "to the last breath of the last man." And they did.

Too full of his mission to wait for the rest of his regiment and sure that he faced only a few thousand men overall, Ichiki marched from Taivu to the Marines' lines. Before he attacked on the night of the 20th, a bloody figure stumbled out of the jungle with a warning that the Japanese were coming. It was Sergeant Major Vouza. Captured by the Japanese, who found a small American flag secreted in his loincloth, he was tortured in a failed attempt to gain information on the invasion force. Tied to a tree, bayonetted twice through the chest, and beaten with rifle butts, the resolute Vouza chewed through his bindings to escape. Taken to Lieutenant Colonel Edwin A. Pollock, whose 2d Battalion, 1st Marines held the Ilu mouth's defenses, he gasped a warning that an estimated 250-500 Japanese soldiers were coming behind him. The resolute Vouza, rushed immediately to an aid station and then to the division hospital, miraculously survived his ordeal and was awarded a Silver Star for his heroism by General Vandegrift, and later a Legion of Merit. Vandegrift also made Vouza an honorary sergeant major of U.S. Marines.

U.S. M-3 Light Tank

At 0130 on 21 August, Ichiki's troops stormed the Marines' lines in a screaming, frenzied display of the "spiritual strength" which they had been assured would sweep aside their American enemy. As the Japanese charged across the sand bar astride the Ilu's mouth, Pollock's Marines cut them down. After a mortar preparation, the Japanese tried again to storm past the sand bar. A section of 37mm guns sprayed the enemy force with deadly canister. Lieutenant Colonel Lenard B. Cresswell's 1st Battalion, 1st Marines moved upstream on the Ilu at daybreak, waded across the sluggish, 50-foot-wide stream, and moved on the flank of the Japanese. Wildcats from VMF-223 strafed the beleaguered enemy force. Five light tanks blasted the retreating Japanese. By 1700, as the sun was setting, the battle ended.

Colonel Ichiki[*], disgraced in his own mind by his defeat, burned his regimental colors and shot himself. Close to 800 of his men joined him in death. The few survivors fled eastward towards Taivu Point. Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka, whose reinforcement force of transports and destroyers was largely responsible for the subsequent Japanese troop build-up on Guadalcanal, recognized that the unsupported Japanese attack was sheer folly and reflected that "this tragedy should have taught us the hopelessness of bamboo spear tactics." Fortunately for the Marines, Ichiki's overconfidence was not unique among Japanese commanders.

Capt Donald L. Dickson said of his watercolor: "I wanted to catch on paper the feeling one had as a shell comes whistling over. . There is a sense of being alone, naked and unprotected. And time seems endless until the shell strikes somewhere." Captain Donald L. Dickson, USMCR

Following the 1st Marines' tangle with the Ichiki detachment, General Vandegrift was inspired to write the Marine Commandant, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, and report: "These youngsters are the darndest people when they get started you ever saw." And all the Marines on the island, young and old, tyro and veteran, were becoming accomplished jungle fighters. They were no longer "trigger happy" as many had been in their first days shore, shooting at shadows and imagined enemy. They were waiting for targets, patrolling with enthusiasm, sure of themselves. The misnamed Battle of the Tenaru had cost Colonel Hunt's regiment 34 killed in action and 75 wounded. All the division's Marines now felt they were bloodied. What the men on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo and those of the Ilu had done was prove that the 1st Marine Division would hold fast to what it had won.

Cactus Air Force commander, MajGen Roy S. Geiger, poses with Capt Joseph J. Foss, the leading ace at Guadalcanal with 26 Japanese aircraft downed. Capt Foss was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic exploits in the air. Department of Defense (USMC) Photo 52622

While the division's Marines and sailors had earned a breathing spell as the Japanese regrouped for another onslaught, the action in the air over the Solomons intensified. Almost every day, Japanese aircraft arrived around noon to bomb the perimeter. Marine fighter pilots found the twin-engine Betty bombers easy targets Zero fighters were another story. Although the Wildcats were a much sturdier aircraft, the Japanese Zeros' superior speed and better maneuverability gave them a distinct edge in a dogfight. The American planes, however, when warned by the coastwatchers of Japanese attacks, had time to climb above the oncoming enemy and preferably attacked by making firing runs during high speed dives. Their tactics made the air space over the Solomons dangerous for the Japanese. On 29 August, the carrier Ryujo launched aircraft for a strike against the airstrip. Smith's Wildcats shot down 16, with a loss of four of their own. Still, the Japanese continued to strike at Henderson Field without letup. Two days after the Ryujo raid, enemy bombers inflicted heavy damage on the airfield, setting aviation fuel ablaze and incinerating parked aircraft. VMF-223's retaliation was a further bag of 13 attackers.

On 30 August, two more MAG-23 squadrons, VMF-224 and VMSB-231, flew in to Henderson. The air reinforcements were more than welcome. Steady combat attrition, frequent damage in the air and on the ground, and scant repair facilities and parts kept the number of aircraft available a dwindling resource.

Plainly, General Vandegrift needed infantry reinforcements as much as he did additional aircraft. He brought the now-combined raider and parachute battalions, both under Edson's command, and the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, over to Guadalcanal from Tulagi. This gave the division commander a chance to order out larger reconnaissance patrols to probe for the Japanese. On 27 August, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, made a shore-to-shore landing near Kokumbona and marched back to the beachhead without any measurable results. If the Japanese were out there beyond the Matanikau—and they were—they watched the Marines and waited for a better opportunity to attack.

3. War at Sea

Meanwhile, Fletcher withdrew his fleet, leaving the marines unsupported from the sea. A furious Admiral Turner sent two other fleets – one American and one Australian – to fill the gap. But the Japanese Admiral Mikawa had reached the area, and would punish the Allies for Fletcher’s withdrawal.

The fighting at sea was vital to the fate of Guadalcanal, and it began badly for the Allies. The first of five related sea battles ended with the loss of four cruisers – three American and one Australian – as well as a fifth badly damaged.

With the Japanese controlling the seas, Turner had to withdraw vulnerable supply and transport ships, leaving the marines cut off. Fletcher was ordered to return some of his ships to the area, while the Japanese increased their own naval presence, hoping for revenge for their defeat at Midway.

The U.S. battleship Washington fires at the Japanese battleship Kirishima.

For three months, the Japanese retained control of the seas around Guadalcanal. The Americans and Australians could not risk advancing their ships to support the ground forces, and though they managed to stop some Japanese troops landing, many more got through. Meanwhile, Japanese ships sailed up and down the straits bombarding the Marines – a daily event that became known as the Tokyo Express.

Finally, in November, the Allies achieved the naval victory they needed. Sinking two Japanese battleships, one cruiser, and three destroyers in exchange for the loss of two cruisers and five destroyers of their own, they gained control of the seas. Now the Japanese troops were the ones without supplies.

Watch the video: 01: The Pacific: Guadalcanal - Welcome to Guadalcanal 720p HD