The Battle for Guadalcanal was a smaller war
in and of itself. Lasting about six months and filled with smaller
conflicts with names of their own Guadalcanal was a costly gamble on the
part of the American forces. The tactical plans had been thrown together
with little prior intelligence reports, no proper landing rehearsals for
the ground troops, no Army reinforcements prepared to back the marine's
landing party, the command arrangements were tenuous, and air cover would
be problematic. However none of this stopped veteran soldiers
such as Colonel LeRoy Hunt (commander of the 5th Marines Division) from
telling their troops they expected the operation to be a complete
success. And indeed it seemed as much on August 7, when there was
no resistance and no casualties to their landings. Fifth and First
Division Marines secured the beachhead by late afternoon, however did not
reach assigned objectives due to difficult terrain. Coupling the
terrain with the hot and extremely humid climate made life hard on all
combatants, as well malaria and dengue fever carrying mosquitos were ever
By the next day the Marines reached assigned objectives, secured an unfinished Japanese air base, and established a rudimentary defensive perimeter to repel Japanese counter landing. On the same day (the 8th of August) General Rupertus' marines encountered determined Japanese dug into caves and other defensive positions. Americans succeeded in rooting them out by the end of the day. General Vandergrift (command of ground forces on the Guadalcanal campaign) could not have asked for a better start, however his luck did not hold. Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, the Eighth Fleet commander at Rabaul, immediately took action against the invading American forces. Japanese aircraft and naval forces attacked on the 8th of August. After loosing a fifth of its fighters and needing refueling the American carrier withdrew that afternoon. The following day American Amphibious forces withdrew as well. Now lacking air cover and proper equipment to unload cargo sailors were forced to unload only the essentials onto the small beach as best they could. Eventually the supplies were moved into the Marine defensive. After the carrier leaving American forces learned that Japanese naval forces were en route. A warship defensive perimeter was deployed, but failed in the dark of night to spot Admiral Mikawa's five heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and one destroyer. At 1:36 A.M. August 9, Mikawa opened fire and in the following 32 minutes sunk four heavy cruisers and one destroyer. Perhaps the greatest defeat for American naval forces in a fair fight. Fortunately, Mikawa did not attack the American transports. American naval forces continued to unload troops and supplies until late afternoon on August 9th, then were forced to withdraw. Leaving the Marines short on supplies, and 1,400 less soldiers whom still sat inside a ship. The ground forces were in serious trouble, with only 37 days worth of food and only 4 days worth of ammunition many men began to doubt their own survival.
In such a circumstance, the marines were forced to quickly complete the air base they had captured from the Japanese. By the 18th of August they did so (Naming it Henderson Field, after an air leader who died at Midway) and two days later 31 Marine aircraft arrived. With the air base usable the American force's chances brightened greatly. All the while Vandergrift fortified his base rather than attempt to destroy all the Japanese on the island, however by the 19th sent out reconnaissance teams to scout Koli Point. He did so, in order to verify his fear that Japan was sending reinforcements. At noon of that day the patrol encountered Japanese soldiers, obviously not from the original garrison, that had detailed maps of the American fortifications on Guadalcanal. This indicated a renewed attack on the part of the Japanese. Outraged that they had been prematurely discovered Japan quickly launched a ground force attack, without artillery to back it. At 3:10 A.M. on August 21st Japanese infantry stormed the marine perimeter, penetrated, but were quickly ejected. Ichiki (the Japanese general in charge of ground forces on Guadalcanal) quickly launched a second attack, this time with his naval guns backing his infantry. However the Marines quickly repelled this attack as well. America continued to do well, destroying a Japanese troop convoy on the 24th of August with B-17's and dive bombers.
Unfortunately, these successes merely awakened the Japanese as to the dangers of an American beach head so near their home territory. At that they unleashed attack after attack of ground, air and naval forces. America would continue to take a pounding until September 18th, upon the arrival of 4,612 reinforcement troops, ammunition and additional aircraft. The navy continued to suffer though, as they learned (just as Japan had), it was hard to sail to Guadalcanal. In the reinforcement effort America would lose the Wasp, a heavy carrier.
On October 26th, Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid (American) maneuvered two carriers (the Enterprise and the Hornet) to attack Japanese naval forces. In a battle of vicious bombings and kamikazes the Japanese sunk the Hornet and a destroyer, also damaging the Enterprise and a battleship. America succeeded in damaging two Japanese carriers (the Zuiho and the Shokaku) as well as two destroyers. More importantly Kinkaid held the advantage in one specific statistic. He had lost 75 aircraft, while destroying 100 Japanese. It was a loss that the Combined (Japanese) Fleet could not afford. The battle for Guadalcanal was proving costly for both sides, and left both scrounging for forces wherever they could find them.
By December 17th America launched its first offensive against the Mount Austen area (Under the command of General Patch), an initial objective for the First Division back on August the 7th. And as of January 10th the final offensive press was made with the arrival of the 25th Infantry Division. The onslaught of American forces would eventually cause the final withdrawal of Japanese troops on February 8, 1943.
Summation of the Battles
|August 7,1942||1st Marine Division seizes Guadalcanal and nearby islands.|
|August 8, 1942||Naval Battle of Savo Island|
|August 21, 1942||Battle of the Tenaru (Ichiki defeated)|
|August 24, 1942||Naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons|
|September 12-14, 1942||Battle of the Ridge (Kawaguchi defeated)|
|October 11-12, 1942||Naval Battle of Cape Esperance|
|October 22-25, 1942||Japanese Counteroffensive (Hyakutake defeated)|
|October 26-27, 1942||Naval Battle of Santa Cruz Island|
|November 12-15, 1942||Naval Battle of Guadalcanal|
|November 30, 1942||Naval Battle of Tassafaronga|
|December 17, 1942 - February 8, 1943||General Patch's ground force offensive|
|February 8, 1943||Japanese complete withdrawal.|