THE BATTLE FOR GUADALCANAL
7 August 1942 - 7 February 1943
Americans, with some help from their Australian friends, fight a bloody war of attrition to defeat Japan's second attempt to block the lines of communication between the United States and Australia.
Although the Japanese Navy General Staff plan for an early invasion of the Australian mainland had been blocked by Japan's generals at the joint navy and army conference in Tokyo on 7 March 1942, Imperial General Headquarters was very conscious of the pressing need to deny the United States access to Australia as a base for a counter-offensive against Japan.
On 15 March 1942, Imperial General Headquarters approved Navy General Staff's alternative plan to block American access to Australia. The alternative plan envisaged extension of Japan's defensive perimeter to Port Moresby on the southern coast of the island of New Guinea, and then across the Pacific Ocean to the Fiji Islands and Samoa. New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa would be heavily fortified by Japan and equipped with forward air and naval bases. The waters between each island fortress in this chain would be guarded by the Japanese Navy. Once completely isolated from the United States and American help, Australia could then be absorbed into Japan's planned Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere when it was convenient for the Japanese military to achieve that result.
"ATTACK ON THE HIEI" by Robert Taylor
By November 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy appeared to be narrowly winning the battle for control of the seas around Guadalcanal, and control of the seas was essential to supply and reinforce the American Marines and Japanese troops engaged in a bloody battle of attrition on the island. The exceptional night warfare skills of the Japanese Imperial Navy, and its choice of the hours of darkness to carry out important naval activities, placed the United States Pacific Fleet at a grave disadvantage. The critical factor in favour of the United States was the resolute defence by US Marines of a captured Japanese airstrip on Guadalcanal called Henderson Field. No matter what the Imperial Japanese Navy achieved during the nights, its gains were largely cancelled by intrepid US Marine aviators of the famous "Cactus Air Force" flying out of Henderson Field during the days.
After the first Naval Battle of Guadalcanal had ended disastrously for the US Navy during the hours of darkness on the morning of 13 November 1942, Marine aircraft of the "Cactus Air Force" attacked and caused the destruction of the Japanese battleship Hiei off Savo Island. In this fine painting by Robert Taylor, F4F Wildcat fighters of Marine squadron VMF-121, commanded by Captain Joe Foss, are engaged in a high level diversionary attack on the Japanese battleship to cover a low level attack by Avenger torpedo bombers of Marine squadron VMSB-131.
This painting by internationally recognised marine and aviation artist Robert Taylor is displayed on the Pacific War Web-site by courtesy of the Military Gallery. More of Robert Taylor's fine art work can be viewed at the Military Gallery web-site.
The Japanese Navy General Staff plan to isolate Australia from the United States was given the code reference "Operation FS", and was to be carried out under the overall direction of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye at Rabaul in the occupied Australian Territory of New Guinea.
The first Japanese targets would be Port Moresby on the southern coast of Australia's Territory of Papua and the island of Tulagi at the southern end of the Solomon Islands.
The Japanese captured the island of Tulagi on 3 May 1942, and began to develop it as a naval base.
The first attempt by Japan to capture Port Moresby by means of a powerful seaborne invasion force also occurred in the first week of May 1942. This attempt was defeated by a joint United States and Australian naval task force at the Battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942).
An even worse defeat occurred when the Japanese attempted to seize the American base on the Midway Atoll on 4 June 1942. In the Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942), Japan lost four of its best aircraft carriers and its naval superiority over the United States Pacific Fleet. The Japanese Navy concealed the full extent of its disastrous losses at Midway, and without awareness of the changed strategic situation, Imperial General Headquarters resolved to press on with the plan to isolate Australia from the United States. It was agreed that the Navy's "setback" at Midway justified postponement of Japan's plans to seize New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. However, it was deemed to be even more urgent to capture Port Moresby and all of the Solomon Islands.
The Americans were aware of the Japanese plan to block access by them to Australia, and appreciated that control of the whole of the Solomon Islands chain would greatly facilitate Japan's capacity to prevent troops, and military equipment and supplies, reaching Australia from the United States. On 24 June 1942, Admiral King directed Admiral Nimitz to prepare to capture "Tulagi and adjacent positions". On 27 June, Nimitz directed the seizure of a site for an airfield in conjunction with the Solomons operation, but Nimitz did not mention Guadalcanal specifically. On 3 July, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, chief of the War Plans Division, recommended adding Guadalcanal to the planning for the Solomons operation which had been assigned the code reference "Watchtower".
On 29 June 1942, the Japanese crossed the 30 mile (48 km) stretch of sea separating Tulagi and the large island of Guadalcanal. Two thousand Japanese troops and construction workers were soon engaged in building an airbase at Lunga Point on the northern coastal plain of Guadalcanal. Their progress on the airfield was reported to the Americans and Australians by Coastwatcher Martin Clemens from his hide-out in the hills above Lunga Point.
Upon learning that the Japanese were building an airbase on Guadalcanal, Admirals King and Nimitz agreed on 5 July 1942 that capture of this airstrip should be included in the Solomons operation. Despite the limited time available to prepare for such a complex and hazardous operation, Admiral Nimitz directed that the 1st Marine Division would seize and hold the Japanese airfield on Guadalcanal before it reached operational status. The capture of this airfield was prophetically assigned the code reference "Cactus". Fortunately, the 1st Marine Division had been stationed at Wellington, New Zealand, and training for amphibious operations since 14 June 1942. Although the division was mostly composed of raw recruits, they were trained and led by tough and experienced profesionals.
"D Day" for the Tulagi and Guadalcanal operations was fixed for 7 August 1942.
The situation became critical for the United States and Australia when Coastwatcher Martin Clemens reported from Guadalcanal in mid-July that the Japanese airfield was nearing completion. The stage was now set for a massive test of strength between the United States and Japan for control of the island of Guadalcanal and its vital airbase which would soon become famous as Henderson Field.
US Marines land on Guadalcanal
The Battle of Savo Island
The Battle of Tenaru River
The Battle of the Eastern Solomons
The Battle of Edson's or "Bloody" Ridge
Battles on the Matanikau River
The Battle of Cape Esperance
The Battle for Henderson Field
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
Attack on the carrier Shokaku at Santa Cruz - Clayton Fisher tells his story
The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
The Battle of Tassafaronga
The final Offensive
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