We Had No Idea How Hard The Japanese Would Fought Until Guadalcanal. Then Again, They Didn’t Know How Hard We Would Fight Either.

by Daniel Russ on January 3, 2013

Marines extract Japanese Casualties on Guadalcanal


Once the smaller islands were in US hands, the Marines moved. At 0910 hours the Ist and 3rd Batteries of 5th Marines took Beach Red. The landing was unopposed. 3rd battery of the 1st Marines took Mount Austin to the southwest. The going was slow. The thickly wooded island was almost impenetrable to anyone, man or pack animal and certainly to vehicles of any kind. The jungle itself was the ultimate enemy of the Marines: Snakes, rats, spiders, mosquitoes, malaria, dysentery and flu. These were the victors on both sides. Unsanitary conditions and lack of high technology emergency medical help made almost any wound a life threatening wound.


On August 8th, Marines took the airstrip and Henderson Field was officially open for business. Well, not really. In fact it was under fire and they had no aircraft to launch from Henderson Field. At this point in the war, the Japanese had more combat pilots, more experienced pilots and better trained pilots than the US had. Yet the first air battle we had with the Japanese we won with authority. Some 45 Japanese Betty and Sally Bombers were shot down by Grumman Wildcats and Hawker Hurricanes and AAA.


The Battle for Guadalcanal was not going to go away. The first slugfest went to the Americans. There was still a lot of misery and a lot of fighting to, but at least we came out on top.


The battle for Savo Island went badly for the Americans. Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa commanded a task force of five heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and one destroyer into New Georgia Sound to attack the Allied screening force for the amphibious operational fleet. British Rear Admiral Crutchley commanded 15 destroyers, 2 light cruisers and 6 heavy cruisers. He outnumbered Gunichi who commanded a destroyer 2 light cruisers and 5 heavy cruisers.  Crutchley split his force into three recon-in-force patrols. Somehow Gunichi slipped past him and sank 3 heavy cruisers, damaged another heavy cruiser, damaged to destroyers and killed over 1100 men and wounded 700. One of the heavy cruisers was Australian.


That night, we had our asses handed to us, score slugfest two for Japan.


The 1st Marines were left on Guadalcanal with few of their supplies unloaded. That included food and clothes and medicine and ammunition. Operation Watchtower became Operation Shoestring over night. The Japanese hit back at the Marines with unrivalled fury, and they did it daily and all night long.

The Japanese were using fatigue to their own advantage.


Nightly, Japanese submarines shuttled in reinforcement through the Savo Island “Slot” and everyday for the next few months, the Japanese grew stronger we grew weaker.


Six days after the airstrip was taken tractors an steamrollers and whatever heavy moving equipment Japan had left were used to upgrade the landing strip. Twelve Dauntless Divebombers and 9 Wildcat Fighters landed. Now Henderson Field was open for business.


A few nights later, Japanese ground commander Ichiki brought a force of 900 men onto the south end of the island. They were discovered on patrol and Ichiki decided to attack immediately. Having lost the element of surprise, Ichiki forded his force over a narrow crossing in the Tunari River. What h did not know what that the Marines were ready for him.


In fact they had placed the only crossing of the river under interlacing fields of fire. With .50 caliber machine guns and 37 mm canister rounds, they cut down almost all of Ichiki’s men.


It was a slaughter.


Round Three Slugfest – Americans.


On October 14th  the IJN battleships Kongo and Haruna pounded Henderson Field with 973 14 inch shells. They destroyed a large portion of the air force and almost all the aviation fuel. Still the Marines were able to get one runway operational and struck back at the Japanese. This strike was to no avail. Before long, the Japanese were able to insert 15,000 fresh troops on Guadalcanal.


Round Four Slugfest- Japanese.


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