Relief map of Guadalcanal

Guadalcanal (160.17E 9.61S) figured prominently in the South Pacific campaign. It is a large island located towards the southeastern end of the Solomon Island chain, 1300 miles (2100 km) northeast of Townsville, 540 miles (870 km) northwest of Espiritu Santo, and 300 miles (500 km) southeast of Rabaul. The southern half is mountainous, reaching 7520 feet (2292 meters) at the summit of Mount Makarakomburu. So poorly was the interior surveyed that in contemporary records, and many postwar accounts, the peak was identified as Mount Popomanasiu at 8005 feet. The southern coast is precipitous with a fringing reef, so that there were few good landing beaches here. The interior is crossed by sharp ridge lines carved by fast-flowing streams. The climate is characterized by the southwest trade winds from April to October, the cool season, with temperatures from 70F to 90F (20C to 30C). From November to March the northwest monsoon brings temperatures above 90F (30C) and torrential rains.

The northern coastal plains have most of the population and had some Lever Brothers coconut plantations in 1941. There was a two-lane dirt road along the north coast in the vicinity of Lunga Point, with 3-ton timber bridges across the many rivers and streams that descend from the mountains to the coast. Facilities were otherwise all but nonexistent, and the population was estimated at just 8,000 to 10,000 in 1942. Most moved to the south coast after the Japanese occupied Tulagi on 4 May 1942.

The Guadalcanal Campaign

  1. Planning.
  2. Initial Landings.
  3. Fletcher Withdraws.
  4. Battle of Savo Island.
  5. Battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) River.
  6. Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
  7. Battle of Bloody Ridge.
  8. Battle of Cape Esperance.
  9. Battle of "Coffin Corner."
  10. Battle of Santa Cruz.
  11. Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
  12. Battle of Tassafaronga.


After seizing Tulagi during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese found that there was terrain suitable for airfields near the north shore of Guadalcanal. Japanese engineers landed on 8 June 1942 and set to work constructing a wharf. Allied coast watchers spotted smoke on 20 June as the Japanese began burning grass off a cattle pasture near Lunga Point, and they speculated that the Japanese had begun construction of an airfield. This was confirmed by a reconnaissance flight over the island on 5 July. On 6 July the Japanese engineers were joined by 2,571 men of the 11 and 13 Construction Units brought in on a twelve-ship convoy. When completed, the runway would be 3778' (1150 meters) long, and the airfield would threaten Allied bases in the New Hebrides and communications with Australia.

Admiral King had mooted the possibility of a limited offensive through the New Hebrides, Solomons and Bismarcks starting from Efate as early as March 1942, though Larrabee (1987) believes the original impetus may have come from Roosevelt himself. The South Pacific Area had been established with the arrival of Admiral Ghormley in Noumea on 17 May 1942, and Ghormley had gathered what scant hydrographic data was available for the Solomons before leaving Washington. By 25 June King had recommended an early start to the offensive, using 1 Marine Division as the main assault force. By 2 July 1942 the Solomons offensive had been approved as part of Operation CARTWHEEL. The Tulagi-Guadalcanal invasion itself was designed as Operation WATCHTOWER and was given a target date of 1 August 1942. Other parts of the original plan South Pacific offensive included the occupation of Ndeni for construction of a forward airfield, heavy reinforcements to Espiritu Santo, and the occupation of Funafuti.

The discovery of the incomplete airfield on Guadalcanal led MacArthur and Ghormley to recommend that WATCHTOWER be postponed until more forces were available. King felt to the contrary that the airfield made the operation more urgent than ever. On 10 July, King ordered WATCHTOWER to take place as soon as possible, in spite of the risks. This was one of the great decisions of the war and possibly King's single greatest contribution to the ultimate Allied victory. The resulting campaign was, at the strategic level, a meeting engagement, where both sides felt compelled to reinforce a minor skirmish at a place and time neither had intended until it grew into a major battle.

General Vandegrift, commander of 1 Marine Division, had been told his division would have at least six months to train in New Zealand, and he felt his division was far from ready to be committed to combat. The division had been heavily milked for cadre for new formations, and the replacements were far from fully trained. In addition, 7 Marine Regiment had been detached to garrison Samoa, and Vandegrift, believing it would see combat before the rest of the division, had given the regiment many of his best officers, men, and equipment. By the time Vandegrift received the orders for WATCHTOWER, on 26 July 1942, his troops were already in barracks and his equipment had been unloaded at Wellington. While most of the Marines continued training ashore, their equipment was reloaded on four Pacific Fleet transports by detachments of 300 Marines per transport, after the Navy concluded that New Zealand longshoreman could not be counted on to do the job in time. (The powerfully unionized longshoremen refused to work in the rain, and appeals to their patriotism failed because security considerations made it impossible to explain to them that this was not just another training exercise.) A second echelon was loaded at Wellington and ready to sail on 22 July, while a third group of six transports was escorted to the South Pacific from San Diego by the Wasp task force. By 16 July it was clear that the invasion would have to be postponed until 7 August.

Turner claimed much later that Fletcher was "very much opposed in Pearl Harbor to undertaking the attempt against Guadalcanal, as he felt sure it would be a failure" (Lundstrom 2006). However, it seems likely that Nimitz would have replaced Fletcher had he been this pessimistic. Fletcher wrote in 1947 that "Nimitz gave me the impression that he landing force would be ashore in two days and could dig in and accept air attack" (ibid.) Nimitz also told Fletcher that he was still to be governed by the principle of calculated risk, as he had been at Midway, which prohibited him from unduly exposing his carriers unless there was an opportunity to inflict greater damage on the Japanese. Thus Fletcher believed his mission was to dash in, land the Marines, and dash back out with his carriers still intact, leaving the Marines to get the airfield operational and provide their own air cover. While he desired to achieve surprise, he was even more concerned that he not be caught by surprise himself, as the Japanese were at Midway.

A final conference between the commanders on Saratoga on 27 July lasted nearly four hours. Accounts differ on what exactly took place. The only contemporary record of the conversation was the set of notes taken by Dan Callaghan, who represented Ghormley at the conference. According to Vandegrift in his 1964 account, Fletcher was "nervous and tired", lacked knowledge or interest in the operation, and thought it would fail. This contradicts Callaghan's notes, which indicate that Fletcher asked many searching questions about the plan. Turner claimed as early as 1945 that Fletcher spoke against the plan and accused Turner of planning it poorly. Thomas Peyton, Turner's chief of staff, described the conference as "one long argument.... [I was] amazed and disturbed by the way these two admirals talked to each other ... never heard anything like it" (Lundstrom 2006). However, Kinkaid claimed the meeting was "animated rather than stormy ... [Turner] asked for a lot of things, much of which he didn't get, because they were not in the realm of the possible" (ibid.) Fletcher himself claimed in 1947 that "At no time was there any friction between Turner and myself.... Kelly was no shrinking violet and always spoke his piece in conferences. But there was not bitterness in the discussion. Plenty of opinions [were] vigorously expressed as to what or could be done" (ibid.)

The major bone of contention was how long the carriers should stay in the area. Turner and Vandegrift wanted Fletcher to provide air cover for as long as possible, but Fletcher was concerned about the danger of parking his carriers close to Guadalcanal for a long period of time, and he also questioned whether the logistical support was adequate. A 5 July 1942 summary of Turner's plan called for carrier air cover on D-Day, D+1, and D+2, and Fletc

her later recalled that he expected to be off Guadalcanal for three days, or four if the landings were held up. Had the landings taken place as planned, three days would in fact have been sufficient. Turner intended to have the transports unloaded and out of the area by the end of D+1, with five cargo ships remaining an additional day. There was considerable misunderstanding whether Fletcher planned to stay two days or three, reflected by the contradiction between Callaghan's notes (stating there would be two days of coverage) and a later message from Ghormley indicating that he understood Fletcher to have declared he would stay for three days.

Initial Landings.

The invasion force refueled south of Fiji on 1 August 1942. The logistics of the operation were already coming unraveled; Ghormley had failed to dispatch Kaskaskia to Turner's force, and Turner was unable to refuel his destoyers. The two chartered tankers, E.J. Henry and Esso Little Rock, were late to rendezvous with Fletcher's tankers. Fletcher refueled from Cimarron south of Efate on 3 August, but the oiler had much less than a full load and Fletcher was unable to fully refuel his ships. Kinkaid estimated his destroyers had only enough fuel for three days at 15 knots plus two days at 25 knots, which turned out to be pessimistic, but this was what he reported to Fletcher and Fletcher remained concerned about his fuel supply throughout the rest of the operation.

On 4 August 1942 the force passed north of New Caledonia and came within the estimated range of enemy reconnaissance aircraft. However, the landing force was completely undetected until the morning of the landings, thanks in part to the concealment provided by a weather front. At one point a Japanese search aircraft passed within ten miles of the force, but visibility was down to a mile because of the poor weather and the force was not detected. Fletcher t

ook the calculated risk of flying no searches on 6 August, the day before the landings, to maintain surprise. He had also chosen not to begin bombardment by carrier planes until the day of the landings, in order to give the Japanese as little time to react as possible. By dawn on 7 August he had positioned his carriers in the Coral Sea southwest of Guadalcanal, where they could conduct flight operations into the southeastern trade winds while staying within range of Guadalcanal. Noyes, in tactical command, began to implement a complex flight operations plan that sought to simultaneously provide fighter cover for the carriers and the landings, provide ground support for the Marines, and be prepared to strike any Japanese carriers that showed up.

The two transport groups split up and their covering forces enthusiastically bombarded suspected enemy positions, lifting their fire to allow carrier aircraft to make their attack runs. Vandegrift's intelligence estimates badly overestimated the number of Japanese at Lunga Point, where the airfield was located, at 5,275 men, including a reinforced regiment. Vandegrift therefore decided to make the Guadalcanal landings further to the east to flank the Japanese. As a result, no resistance worthy of the name was encountered at the Guadalcanal landing beaches. However, supplies piled up on the beach, delaying the unloading of the transport force. This would later prove to be a serious failure. The airfield was captured the next day, against light opposition, along with considerable supplies of rice and canned food. Completion of the airfield began at once using captured Japanese equipment. The field was renamed Henderson Field, after a Marine aviator lost at Midway, and it would become the focal point of the decisive campaign of the Pacific War.

By contrast, the troops landing at Tulagi and nearby islands encountered ferocious resistance, but by nightfall on 8 August the area was secured.

By 0630 the Tulagi garrison had radioed word of the invasion. Yamada was then about to launch a strike against Milne Bay with a force of G4M "Bettys" armed with bombs. Yamada sent a force of three bombers to search the area around Guadalcanal; unknown to him, a Japanese coast watcher had reported the American carriers but could not get through on his radio.  At 0930 Yamada launched a strike of 27 Bettys still armed with bombs and 18 A6M "Zero" escorts. He then launched a second wave of 9 D3A "Vals" armed with two 60-kg (132-pound) bombs each. It was a desperate move: The Vals lacked the range to make their attack and return, s the were ordered to ditch at the Shortland Islands. Their presence over Guadalcanal would cause consternation with the Americans, who assumed their presence in the area indicated a Japanese carrier nearby.

The Americans had warning of the attack from their own coast watchers, while the Japanese search planes just missed spotting Fletcher's carriers. The Bettys therefore went after the transports off Lunga Point. These were protected by 18 F4F Wildcats. The Bettys were intercepted by the Wildcats at 1315 and a vicious air battle was joined. Nine of the Wildcats were shot down, along with an SBD Dauntless on a ground attack mission, while the Japanese lost 6 Bettys and two Zeros. However, the Japanese scored no hits on Crutchley's screen.  The Vals arrived at 1455 and scored a single hit on destroyer Mugford that did little damage. Five were shot down. The presence of dive bombers this far from Rabaul, and their retirement directly to the west rather than the northwest, left Kinkaid believing that there might be a Japanese carrier to the west. However, a dusk search turned up nothing.

The next morning Yamada launched an attack by 26 Bettys carrying torpedoes escorted by 15 Zeros. Yamada also searched the area northeast and east of Tulagi with three bombers and two flying boats, but a flying boat again missed the American carriers by the narrowest of margins and the strike went against the transport force. The bombers were sighted by coast watchers, but they took a roundabout course north of Florida Island and west to their targets, and there was considerable confusion about their estimated time of arrival. As a result, they were already descending to make their torpedo runs when they were spotted. However, the strike was cut to ribbons by intense antiaircraft fire, with 19 shot down. One crashed into transport George F. Elliot, which had to be abandoned after her fires raged out of control. Another managed to put a torpedo into destroyer Jarvis.

Allied order of battle, 7 August 1942

South Pacific Force, Pacific Fleet (Ghormley)     

AG Argonne

Task Force 61 (Fletcher)

Task Group 61.1 Air Support Force (Noyes)     

Saratoga Unit (Fletcher)

CV Saratoga

VF-5: 34 F4F-4 Wildcat

VB-3: 19 SBD-3 Dauntless

VS-3: 18 SBD-3 Dauntless

VT-8: 16 TBF-1 Avenger

Screen (Wright)      

CA Minneapolis

CA New Orleans

DD Phelps

DD Farragut

DD Worden

DD Macdonough

DD Dale

Enterprise Unit (Kinkaid)

CV Enterprise

VF-6: 36 F4F-4 Wildcat

VB-6: 18 SBD-3 Dauntless

VS-5: 18 SBD-3 Dauntless

VT-3: 15 TBF-1 Avenger

BB North Carolina

Screen (Tisdale)

CA Portland

CLAA Atlanta

DD Balch

DD Maury

DD Gwin

DD Benham

DD Grayson

Wasp Unit (Noyes)

CV Wasp

VF-71: 29 F4F-4 Wildcat

VS-71: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless

VS-72: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless

VT-7: 10 TBF-1 Avenger

CA San Francisco

CA Salt Lake City

DD Lane

DD Sterett

DD Aaron Ward

DD Stack

DD Laffey

DD Farenholt

Fueling Group

AO Platte

AO Cimarron

AO Kaskaskia

AO Sabine

AO Kanawha

Task Force 62 South Pacific Amphibious Force (Turner)     

Task Group 62.2 Escort (Crutchley)

CA Australia

CA Canberra

CL Hobart

CA Chicago

Destroyer Squadron 4

DD Selfridge

DD Patterson

DD Ralph Talbot

DD Mugford

DD Jarvis

Destroyer Division 7

DD Blue

DD Helm

DD Henley

DD Bagley

Task Group 62.1 Convoy
Embarking 959 officers and 18,146 men of the Marine Corps

Transport Group X-Ray (for Guadalcanal)
1 Marine Division less 3/2 Marine Regiment and 2/5 Marine Regiment

Transport Division A

5 Marine Regiment, less one battalion

AP Fuller

AP American Legion

AK Bellatrix

Transport Division B

Headquarters, 1 Marine Division

1 Marine Regiment

AP McCawley

AP Barnett

AP George F. Elliot

AK Libra

Transport Division C

Special Weapons Battalion

5 Battalion, 11 Marine Regiment

Elements, 3 Marine Defense Battalion

Supporting elements

AP Hunter Liggett

AK Alchiba

AK Fomalhaut

AK Betelgeuse

Transport Division D

2 Marine Regiment, less a battalion

AP Crescent City

AP President Hayes

AP President Adams

AK Alhena

Transport Group Yoke (for Tulagi)
3900 Marines (Rupertus) of 1/2 Marine Regiment; 2/5 Marine Regiment; 1 Marine Raider Battalion; and 1 Marine Parachute Battalion.

Transport Division E

2 Battalion, 5 Marine Regiment

2 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment

Battery E, 11 Marine Regiment

Elements, 3 Marine Defense Battalion

1 Marine Parachute Battalion

Elements, 1 Marine Raider Battalion

AP Neville

AP Zeilin

AP Heywood

AP President Jackson

Transport Division 12

1 Marine Raider Battalion, less one company

APD Colhoun

APD Little

APD McKean

APD Gregory

Task Group 62.3 Fire Support Group L

CA Vincennes

CA Quincy

CA Astoria

DD Hull

DD Dewey

DD Ellet

DD Wilson

Task Group 62.4 Fire Support Group M (Scott)

CLAA San Juan

DD Monssen

DD Buchanan

Task Group 62.5 Minesweeper Group

DMS Hopkins

DMS Trever

DMS Zane

DMS Southard

DMS Hovey

Task Force 63 Land-Based Air, South Pacific Force (McCain)     


16 B-17 Flying Fortress

18 F4F Wildcat

6 scout planes

New Caledonia

22 PBY-5 Catalina

9 B-17 Flying Fortress

10 B-26 Marauder
Trained for torpedo attack

38 P-39 Airacobra

16 F4F-3 Wildcat

6 A-28 Hudson

3 scout planes

17 SBD Dauntless


6 PBY Catalina

3 Singapore

12 A-28 Hudson

12 F4F Wildcat

12 B-26 Marauder Trained for torpedo attack

8 B-17 Flying Fortress

9 Vincent


6 scout planes

24 F4F Wildcat


17 SBD Dauntless

18 F4F Wildcat

10 scout planes

Southwest Pacific Area (MacArthur)

Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific (Kenney)

19 Bombing Group

~20 B-17 Flying Fortress

Submarine Force Southwest Pacific (Lockwood)

SS S-38

SS S-39

SS S-41

SS S-43

SS S-44

SS S-46

Japanese order of battle, 7 August 1942

8 Fleet (Mikawa; at Rabaul)     

CVE Unyo
Just completed an aircraft ferry mission

Cruiser Division 6 (Goto)

CA Aoba

CA Kinugasa

CA Furutaka

CA Kako

25 Air Flotilla (Yamada)     

39 A6M Zero
Another 20 just delivered and being assembled

32 G4M Betty

16 D3A Val

4 H6K Mavis

2 C5M Babs

Cruiser Division 18 (Marumo)

CL Tenryu

CL Tatsuta

Destroyer Squadron 6 (Kajioka)

CL Yubari

Destroyer Division 29

DD Oite

DD Asanage

DD Yunagi

Destroyer Division 30

DD Mochizuki

DD Mutsuki

DD Yayoi

Elements, Yokohama Air Group (at Tulagi)     
About 430 ground personnel

7 H6K Mavis

9 A6M2-N Rufe

Elements, 3 Kure SNLF (at Tulagi and nearby islands)     
About 900 men

Elements, 81 Guard Force

11 Construction Unit (at Guadalcanal)     
About 1300 men

13 Construction Unit (at Guadalcanal)
About 1300 men

Fletcher Withdraws.

On the evening of 8 August 1942, the day after the initial landings, Fletcher made the most controversial decision of his career, ordering the withdrawal of his carrier forces due to increased enemy submarine and land-based air activity. This decision was denounced as craven by Turner, though Fletcher's withdrawal was approved by Ghormley and in keeping with Nimitz' instructions to be governed by the principle of calculated risk.

Lundstrom (2006) has analyzed Fletcher's decision and concludes that it was much more prudent than his critics acknowledged, given the information available to Fletcher at the time. Turner had told Fletcher that the transports would be unloaded and away from Guadalcanal by the end of the second day, leaving five cargo ships to finish unloading. Communications between Fletcher and Turner were terrible, and as a result the only progress report that Fletcher actually saw from Turner indicated that things were going smoothly. In fact, they were not, and unloading was taking far longer than anticipated. Fletcher was also concerned about his fuel supply, based on estimates by Kinkaid that were probably too pessimistic, but Lundstrom concludes that fuel was a more serious concern than (for example) Morison (1949) acknowledged.

Perhaps the most crucial element of Fletcher's decision was his expectation, which ultimately proved quite correct, that Japan would react very strongly to the Guadalcanal landings. Fletcher had already lost 20% of his fighter strength, more than at either Coral Sea or Midway, and there were no replacements nearer than Pearl Harbor at this point in the campaign. He felt a strong need to conserve his force for the carrier battle he was certain would shortly take place. He was under the impression that the Marines had all been landed and most of the transport force was already clearing the area. There was no question of his loitering in the area for the entire length of time required to get Henderson Field in operation, and he had been told by Nimitz that the Marines were prepared to dig in and absorb air attacks. Loitering an extra day with his precious carriers to protect five cargo ships as they unloaded supplies did not seem prudent when he had a carrier battle to prepare for.

Prudent or not, the decision created lasting animosities and colored the treatment of Fletcher by postwar historians. A number of myths have arisen from the episode, among them that Fletcher did not even wait for Ghormley's permission to begin his withdrawal. Perhaps the most persistent myth is that Fletcher was responsible for the subsequent debacle at Savo.

Battle of Savo Island.

Crutchley's Screening Force was taken unaware by a Japanese strike force very early on the morning of 9 August 1942. The Battle of Savo Island was a disaster for the Allies, with four cruisers sunk at little cost to the enemy, but it could have been worse. The transports were left undamaged, though they were stripped of most of their escort force. Admiral Turner made the courageous decision to continue unloading for another twelve hours before withdrawing the transport force. He was lucky: 25 Air Flotilla at Rabaul was sent looking for Fletcher's carriers that day and left the transports alone. Nevertheless, much of the Marines' supply remained unloaded when Turner finally felt compelled to leave the area, and the Marines were left with just four units of fire and 37 days' worth of rations.

Vandegrift had his Marines establish a perimeter around the airfield, judging that his force was too weak for further offensive action until he was reinforced, the airfield was in operation, and his supply line was secured. This proved to be a wise decision.

On 10 August Vandegrift, eager to get air support, announced that the airstrip was ready to receive fighters and fuel and ammunition were available. However, no ground crews were yet on the island. On 15 August a group of four destroyer-transports dashed into Ironbottom Sound to bring in 120 sailors from CUB-1, a largely untrained Navy engineer unit intended to build up the airfield, plus additional gasoline and munitions for Henderson Field.

On 15 August, a Marine sentry was astonished to see a group of 20 natives with rifles marching toward the perimeter in close order and led by a single white man. This was Martin Clemens, the chief coast watcher on Guadalcanal, who had decided that this showy approach was his best chance to avoid being gunned down by mistake. Clemens and Vandegrift quickly developed a rapport, and Clemens' scouts would play a vital role in the battle for the island.

Digital relief map of area around Henderson Field

Battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) River.

By this time the Japanese Army had taken over responsibility for land operations on Guadalcanal from the Navy. Hyakutake, commander of 17 Army at Rabaul, believed that only 2000 Americans remained ashore and that 6000 Japanese would be adequate to root them out. This underestimate of the strength of the American force, an intelligence failure that persisted long into the campaign, was initially based on a cable from the Japanese military attaché in Moscow reporting that only a few thousand panic-stricken American troops were on the island and were conducing nothing more than a large raid. (The attaché's source for this faulty information has never been identified.) The large number of American transports involved was explained away as reflecting American softness and desire for "the amenities" aboard ship.

Hyakutake was assigned 28 Regiment at Saipan and 35 Brigade (Kawaguchi) at Mindanao. However, rather than take the time to gather that many men, he immediately committed the reinforced 28 Regiment, known as the Ichiki Detachment after its commander.

Yamamoto was more concerned about the Guadalcanal landings than the Army, but he also saw an opportunity to avenge Midway. He moved the headquarters of Combined Fleet to Truk and committed 2 Fleet (Kondo and 3 Fleet (Nagumo) to the campaign to retake Guadalcanal. 3 Fleet was reorganized from the surviving carriers of 1 Air Fleet plus powerful surface units (including battleship Mutsu), and it was divided into two divisions of two fleet and one light carrier each. The Navy also committed the 600 sailors from 5 Yokosuka SNLF to support the Army troops.

Nimitz rejected the idea of redeploying the old battleships of Pacific Fleet to the South Pacific for lack of logistical support, but he sent Hornet on 17 August 1942 to replace Wasp and ordered Wasp to leave part of its air group as replacements for the other carriers. He also made plans for South Dakota  and Washington to arrive in the South Pacific by mid-September.

Ichiki had reached Truk by 15 August, but Kawaguchi would not arrive until 23 August. The Japanese were anxious to counterattack as quickly as possible, before the Americans put the airfield into operation, and on 15 August Mikawa ordered Tanaka to take six destroyers of Destroyer Divisions 4 and 7 and land Ichiki and 917 of his men on Guadalcanal at once. Tanaka was to leave the next morning and arrive at Guadalcanal on the night of 18 August. The rest of Ichiki's force (1411 men plus his artillery) would leave Truk the same day, but in two old Army transports that could not make better than nine knots and would not arrive until 22 August. They were routed to the east to avoid Allied air reconnaissance out of Milne Bay; the Japanese were not yet aware that the Allies had an operational airfield at Espiritu Santo and believed that searches from the southeast originated at Efate. The operation to clean out the Solomons, KA-Go, was to begin on 24 August 1942. On that date, two battalions of Kawaguchi's brigade were to leave Truk for Tulagi. By 27 August, Ichiki was to have recapture Henderson Field, and Zeros would immediately be flown in. The next day Kawaguchi would arrive to mop up Guadalcanal and retake Tulagi. Port Moresby would simultaneously be taken.

On 17 August, the first Japanese reinforcements staged a counter landing east of the Marine perimeter. These were 113 sailors from 5 Yokosuka SNLF delivered by Oite, which dashed in and out without being spotted. That same day, Kondo arrived at Truk. Nagumo's carrier fleet arrived about four days later, followed closely by Yamamoto himself in Yamato escorted by an escort carrier and three destroyers. All these moves were detected by Allied intelligence, but the Japanese put into effect a major revision of their codes on 15 August that greatly hindered the code breakers.

Ichiki and 917 of his men landed undetected near midnight on 18 August at Taivu Point, some 25 miles (40 km) east of Henderson Field. The next morning, three of the destroyers lingered to bombard Tulagi. Fletcher was at that time some 450 miles (720 km) to the southeast covering Long Island, which was ferrying the first aircraft to Henderson Field, but B-17s damaged Hagikaze and drove the Japanese ships off.

18 August also saw the First Battle of the Matanikau, a river descending from rugged country to enter the ocean west of the Marine perimeter. Vandegrift had intelligence that the remnants of the Japanese garrison on the islandwere gathered here, and he sent out three rifle companies from 5 Marine Regiment to trap and destroy the Japanese. The Marines assembled at their start line on the evening of 18 August and Company B began advancing along the coastal trail at 1400. A number of Japanese snipers and lookouts were encountered, as well as several murdered natives, and Japanese attempts to infiltrate the Marine positions during the night were unsuccessful. The next morning, a barrage at 0850 took the Japanese by surprise, but the Marines encountered heavy machine gun fire near the river. By 1600 the Marines had fought their way into Matanikau village, but the main body of the Japanese had escaped into the jungle and the Marines were urgently called back to the main perimeter because of the threat posed by the Ichiki Detachment.

Believing that the Americans were demoralized and weak, Ichiki immediately marched on Henderson Field without waiting for the remainder of his unit. In fact, there were 17,000 Americans on the island who were well dug in and far from demoralized. The Americans were aware of the Japanese advance almost at once. Native troops under the direction of Australian coast watcher Major Martin Clemens were scouting the area east of the Marine perimeter, and a Marine patrol ambushed a careless Japanese patrol on 19 August. The Japanese patrol was carrying documents that gave away the Japanese plans and also showed the Japanese had excellent maps pinpointing most of the Marine positions around the airfield.

On 20 August three American destroyer-transports brought in 120 tons of rations, which was enough for just three and a half days. Meanwhile 1 Marine Engineer Battalion had completed the airstrip. Though still primitive, it was ready to receive its first aircraft, a group of 19 F4Fs and 12 SBDs of Marine Air Group 23 flown in from Long Island, which was covered by Fletcher's carriers. Henderson Field was now in business.

Early the next morning, on 21 August, in the misnamed Battle of the Tenaru River (it was actually the Ilu River), Ichiki's men attacked the eastern Marine perimeter. They were repulsed by Marine rifle and machine gun fire, supplemented with canister from a 37mm antitank gun.  The survivors, thrown into confusion, retreated into a coconut grove east of the river, where they were counterattacked by Marines supported by light tanks. The Marines rolled up the Japanese positions from the south and annihilated Ichiki's command. Ichiki's fate has been variously reported: He either was killed in action or killed himself after burning his regimental flag. The Marines suffered 35 dead and 75 wounded but killed almost a thousand Japanese.

Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

On 20 August 1942 a Japanese flying boat out of the Shortlands discovered Long Island and Fletcher's fleet carriers 240 miles (390 km) southeast of Tulagi. Tanaka immediately carried out his orders to retire if American carriers were spotted. Yamamoto considered the situation, concluded (correctly) that the Americans were simply ferrying aircraft and had not spotted Tanaka's convoy, and ordered Tanaka to postpone his landings by two days, to 24 August, by which time Yamamoto expected to have neutralized Henderson Field.

On that date, Japanese and American carrier forces clashed in the eastern Solomons. Like the Japanese, the Americans were attempting to run reinforcements into Guadalcanal. The battle was inconclusive and both carrier groups retired from the area. However, the Japanese transports pressed on until they came under attack from Henderson Field the next day. Two transports were damaged and a destroyer sunk, and the Japanese force turned back. This was the first indication that control of Henderson Field meant control of the daylight waters around Guadalcanal.

On 27 August 1942 the American carrier Saratoga was damaged by I-26 and put out of action for two months. With Enterprise already repairing damage from the action a few days earlier, Wasp was the only operational carrier left in the Pacific.

On the night of 27 August 1942, the Japanese switched tactics, running in reinforcements at night on four of the destroyers of Tanaka's Destroyer Squadron 2. The first such run was intercepted by 11 SBDs from Henderson Field, which sank Asagiri, damaged Yugire and Shirakumo, and ran off the survivors. However, Nagumo had transferred 30 of his Zeros to Buka, and the run on the night of 28 August succeeeded in landing a thousand men and artillery without loss. This set the pattern for much of the Solomons campaign. The Americans controlled the air by day; at night, control passed to the Japanese with their superior night-fighting tactics. So regular were the Japanese reinforcement runs that they became known to the Americans as the "Tokyo Express." By 9 September General Hyakutake himself had landed with most of 2 Division.

On 1 September transport Betelgeuse brought elements of 6 Naval Construction Battalion (5 officers, 387 men). It was the first deployment of Seabees to a combat zone. Betelgeuse also delivered six 5" coastal defense guns. The Seabees brought two bulldozers and other construction equipment with them and promptly set to work improving the facilities at Henderson Field. 

Sources disagree on when Henderson Field got its first radar, but this may have been an SCR-270 set brought in by Betelgeuse and rushed into operation the next day.

Battle of Bloody Ridge.

Marine Raiders and paratroops attacked the Japanese positions at Taivu on 8 September, with 501 Raiders making the initial assault with 312 paratroops in reserve. The raid temporarily drove the Japanese rear echelon out of their base at Tasimboko, and, before pulling out, the raiders destroyed much of the Japanese artillery and supplies. It was one of the most successful raids of the war: At a cost of just two dead and six wounded, the Marines had disrupted the Japanese preparations for an attack on Henderson Field, killing at least 27 Japanese and capturing documents of great intelligence value. However, the Japanese had their own intelligence that a transport convoy had arrived in Fiji on 5 September, and Kawaguchi actually moved up the date of his attack to 12 September.

The Japanese attack was a major effort against the southern perimeter of Henderson Field, where Kawaguchi correctly judged the American defenses to be weakest. The brunt of the attack fell on the Marine Raiders and Marine paratroops, who, following the Tasimboko raid, had been moved inland to recuperate in what Vandegrift anticipated would be a quiet sector. (Vandegrift moved his own headquarters to the area at about the same time.) However, the Raider commander, Merritt Edson, anticipated the Japanese attack and had his men dig in on what thereafter became known as Bloody Ridge. Attacks on two consecutive nights were broken up, but it was a close fight. The Japanese attacked with no reserve and their attack suffered from lack of coordination due to the difficulties of movement and communication in the jungle. The Japanese attacks on the wings, in particular, were an unnecessary diversion of effort and the Japanese troops involved showed unusual lack of night combat discipline. The Marine artillery was repositioned after the first night attack, and gave crucial support during the stronger Japanese attack on the second night. Marine casualties were 104 dead and 278 wounded, while Japanese casualties were far greater: When Kawaguchi regrouped at Kokombonu, he found that almost half his original force of 3450 men was gone.

On 14 September Wasp was attacked by I-19 while escorting a major convoy to Guadalcanal. Three torpedoes hit the ship, destroying water mains and starting fires. The gasoline pumping system was in use at the time and fed the fires, which raged out of control and forced the crew to abandon ship. Wasp was then scuttled by torpedoes from destroyer Lansdowne. Her loss left just the repaired Enterprise active in the theater. North Carolina was also damaged and destroyer O'Brien sunk. However, the transports pressed forward, and on 18 September 1942, the reinforced 7 Marine Regiment (4157 men) was successfully landed at Guadalcanal. This brought the American strength up to 23,000 men. The transports also brought in 137 vehicles, 4323 barrels of fuel, food, engineering equipment, and ammunition, including 10,000 rounds of 37mm canister and 10,000 hand grenades. Vandegrift also had 3/2 Marine Regiment brought in from Tulagi. However, the Japanese had also landed reinforcements, consisting of a force of 1100 men of 4 Regiment, from seven destroyers that came in the night of 15 September.

Meanwhile, the Americans were tightening their control of the daylight air over the island. On 27-28 August the Allies shot down 32 raiding Japanese aircraft without loss. The Japanese responded with fighter sweeps, using a few bombers as bait, that briefly evened the score.

On 23 September 1/7 Marine Battalion, supported by 1 Marine Raider Battalion and 2/5 Marine Battalion, launched a strong reconnaissance-in-force towards Matanikau and points further west. However, American intelligence was faulty, and instead of the 400 Japanese thought to be in the area, the Marines ran into 1900 men of 124 Regiment. Poor maps and a confused command structure dogged the American operation, and a rapidly improvised attack against the entrenched Japanese on the Matanikau River on 27 September nearly ended in disaster. A landing by elements of 1/7 Marine Battalion behind the Japanese lines left the Marines trapped on a ridge near the coast, and the other Marine battalions were unable to break across the Matanikau and relieve the trapped battalion. Air observers sighted an improvised HELP! message laid out on the ridge, and gunfire support from offshore destroyers blasted a route for the trapped Marines to pull back to the coast for evacuation. Although the Marine official history claimed otherwise, this Second Battle of the Matanikau was an embarrassing defeat for the Marines, who lost 91 killed and 100 wounded at a cost to the Japanese of perhaps 30 dead (Smith 2000).

On 7 October 1942, 7 Marine Regiment carried out a third attack towards Matanikau in order to deny the Japanese the use of artillery positions within range of Henderson Field. The Marines made some progress, but because of intelligence indicating another Japanese effort against the main Henderson position, the Marines were pulled back.

Battle of Cape Esperance.

On the night of 11 October 1942. Admiral Norman Scott succeeded in surprising a "Tokyo Express" run off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. American losses were a destroyer sunk and two cruisers and another destroyer damaged. The Japanese lost a cruiser and a destroyer and have two other cruisers damaged. Two more Japanese destroyers were sunk by aircraft from Henderson Field the next day. However, the Americans failed to prevent Japanese landings, although they were able to land their own reinforcements from the Americal Division.

The night of 13 October 1942 was known simply as "The Night" to the Americans who lived through it. The Japanese brought up battleships Kongo and Haruna to plaster the American positions for 80 minutes. Four American PT boats attempted to interfere but were brushed aside. Henderson Field was very nearly put out of action, with over half its aircraft destroyed, and the Japanese used the disruption of American air cover to bring in supplies and reinforcements for their next attack. However, the Americans managed to get the airfield operating and some planes in the air the next day, which wrecked three beached Japanese transports. Three others were driven off before they could unload all their supplies.

Fuel became a critical item at Henderson Field. C-47 Skytrains flew in gasoline from Espiritu Santo. Submarine Amberjack was fitted to carry 9000 gallons of gasoline and ten tons of bombs. But this was just a trickle. Most of the needed fuel had to be brought in in whatever auxiliaries were available, often at great cost.

Battle of "Coffin Corner."

"The Night" probably marked the nadir of the campaign for the Allies. On 18 October Halsey relieved Ghormley as commander of the South Pacific Area, and he began at once to restore morale throughout the theater. Simultaneously 2 Division under General Maruyama made final preparations for another major effort against Henderson Field. Like previous efforts, this one was poorly coordinated, and one Japanese lieutenant remarked in his diary that Japanese morale was deteriorating even before battle was joined. The first attacks, along the Matanikau River, were beaten off on 22 October. The Japanese force here, led by Sumiyoshi Tadeshi, had twelve light tanks and some artillery in support, but the Marine artillery destroyed the tanks and broke up the attack. However, other Japanese elements succeeded in infiltrating across the upper Matanikau River, just as a battalion of U.S. Army infantry was pulled out of the southern perimeter to reinforce the western perimeter.

The main effort, directed against the now-weakened southern part of the American perimeter, came on the night of 24 October. The main thrust of the attack came at a point thereafter nicknamed "Coffin Corner." It was beaten off after a vicious fight in a pouring rain. A a second attempt on the night of the 25th was joined by a brigade under Kawaguchi Kiyotake, who had taken too long working his way through the jungle to coordinate his attack with that of the previous night. This second attack was also beaten back. Total Japanese losses on the two nights were at least 941 killed outright.

Battle of Santa Cruz.

The Japanese had brought their carrier forces forward to fly aircraft into Henderson once it was taken by the ground offensive. Though the ground groops failed to take Henderson, the Japanese carriers moved forward to clear the Solomons area of American naval forces. The resulting Battle of Santa Cruz was a clear Japanese victory, the Americans losing the Hornet. However, the Japanese failed to exploit their victory, and because Henderson remained in American hands, the aircraft ferry mission became moot.

With the most recent victory in the land battle, the Americans finally felt strong enough to expand their operations outside the Henderson perimeter. On 30 October 1942 a small convoy brought in the heavy artillery (155mm) of 1 Marine Division. These guns outranged the Japanese artillery that had been placing harassing fire on Henderson Field. On 1 November, two Marine regiments began a drive against Japanese positions west of the Matanikau. Other units advanced east to forestall a Japanese counter landing at Koli Point, but were forced back on 3 November. Further Japanese landings by 38 Division took place to the west on 7 November. However, by 11 November the Japanese forces east of the Henderson perimeter were dispersed. From this point on, the initiative in the land war would remain with the Allies.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

The Japanese had yet not given up. Between 2 and 10 November the Japanese made 65 destroyer runs to bring in more troops. Intelligence showed more Japanese shipping massing at Truk, Rabaul and the Shortland Islands. Halsey dispatched Kinkaid's Task Force 16 with the still-damaged Enterprise and a battleship force under Lee. These were to provide cover for two convoys, one led by Turner departing 8 November from Noumea and a second led by Scott departing 9 November from Espiritu Santo. Turner's convoy was escorted by a cruiser-destroyer force under Callaghan. Scott's convoy reached Guadalcanal on 11 November and was joined by Turner the next morning. The Japanese responded with an air raid from Hiyo on 11 November that badly damaged transport Zweilin. A second raid from Rabaul on 12 November badly damaged destroyer Buchanan and lightly damaged heavy cruiser San Francisco, which remained on station.

The night of 12-13 November 1942 opened the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The Japanese Navy, shamed by its failure to supply the Guadalcanal forces, made an all-out effort to run in a convoy of 11 transports and 11 destroyers under Tanaka. This was covered by a force under Abe consisting of two battleships, two cruisers, and 14 destroyers. Turner had accurate intelligence about Abe's force, but Kinkaid's force was too far away to help. Turner felt he had no choice but to defend the waters around Guadalcanal with Callaghan's force of five cruisers and eight destroyers. The Americans were badly outgunned but had the advantage of radar. The two forces met in the early hours of the morning. Callaghan had his force in a long line with destroyers to van and stern, and the ships with the best radar were not well positioned in line. However, this formation resembled the one used by Scott at Cape Esperance.

Abe had intelligence that there were American cruisers and destroyers off Guadalcanal, but he seems to have assumed that they would depart after dark, as had been the pattern for some time. His ships were loaded with high-capacity bombardment shells rather than the armor-piercing shells appropriate for a naval engagement. He reversed course on encountering bad weather, and by the time he resumed his advance he had lost 40 minutes and his destroyer screen was out of position.

Helena detected the Japanese on radar at about 0124 on 13 November. Callaghan ordered the American line to charge into the midst of the Japanese, who had spotted the Americans and were frantically trying to reload with armor-piercing shells. Callaghan gave the highly unorthodox order "Odd ships commence fire to starboard, even ships to port." The battle quickly turned into a close-quarters brawl whose exact sequence of events may never be worked out. Both Callaghan and Scott were killed early in the action by shellfire. When dawn broke, the Americans had suffered terrible casualties (cruiser Atlanta and four destroyers sunk or sinking, and almost all the other ships damaged) but the Japanese had lost their nerve and retreated after losing two destroyers and suffering severe damage to battleship Hiei.

Kinkaid sent many of the strike aircraft from Enterprise to operate from Henderson Field, while carriers Junyo and Hiyo were held well back and contributed little to the air defense of the Japanese surface forces in the Solomons. Hiei had had her upper works shattered during the night battle, and as she crept away, TBF Avengers from Henderson Field hit her with four torpedoes and damaged her so badly that she was ordered scuttled. In turn, Juneau, already severely damaged by a torpedo, was blown to shreds by a Japanese submarine as she attempted to escape to Espiritu Santo. Her ten survivors did not include the five Sullivan brothers, who had enlisted together to avenge the death of a friend on the Arizona.

Kinkaid received intelligence during the day indicating that another Japanese bombardment group was closing on Guadalcanal. Unfortunately, the need to steam into the wind during flight operations meant that the Enterprise group was too far away for Lee's battleships to reach the area in time to intercept. Mikawa's force was able to pump hundreds of 8" (200mm) shells into Henderson Field before withdrawing. The next day, 14 November 1942, Tanaka made a second attempt to reach Guadalcanal with his transports. However, while eighteen aircraft had been destroyed and many  more damaged, the field had not been put out of action by the previous night's bombardment.  Navy and Marine aircraft from Henderson and the Enterprise flew sorties all through the day, sinking seven transports and two warships, but Tanaka refused to turn back. Meanwhile Enterprise, with just eighteen fighters left, used a weather front to evade a Japanese strike and shaped course for Noumea.

The second round of the surface battle came on the night of 14 November. Tanaka had refused to give up and was still advancing towards Guadalcanal. His covering force this night was battleship Kirishima, four cruisers, and nine destroyers under Kondo. The Americans had rushed forward the battleships South Dakota and Washington under Willis Lee, escorted by four destroyers. The American destroyers suffered badly, two being sunk, and the upper works of South Dakota were shattered when she suffered an electrical breakdown and was silhouetted by the burning destroyers; but Lee on the Washington, who probably understood radar better than any other American naval officer, attacked Kirishima from out of the darkness and sank her in a devastating 7-minute burst of fire. The Japanese covering force then retreated, but Tanaka ran his remaining transports aground on Guadalcanal. Aircraft from Henderson attacked them the next day until their decks ran red and the attacking pilots "retched and puked" at the sight (Morison). Only about 2000 troops and a paltry 260 cases of ammunition and 1500 bags of rice were landed intact. By contrast, Turner had gotten almost all his men and supplies ashore on 11-12 November. The Japanese troops on Guadalcanal were already low on supplies, and they were now starving to death.

A strong case can be made that the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal represented the turning point in the Pacific War. Fittingly, the two admirals killed leading the first surface action, Callaghan and Scott, were both posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

U.S. order of battle, 13 November 1942

South Pacific Force (Halsey)

Task Force 67 (Turner)

Task Group 67.1 Transport Group     
Carrying 182 Regiment less one battalion, a Marine replacement battalion, and Naval Local Defense Force personnel.

AP McCawley

AP Crescent City

AP President Adams

AP President Jackson

Task Group 67.4 Support Group (Callaghan)     
Killed in action

CA San Francisco Badly damaged

CA Pensacola

CA Portland
Badly damaged

CL Helena
Lightly damaged

CLAA Juneau

DD Barton

DD Monssen Sunk

DD Cushing

DD Laffey Sunk

DD Sterett

DD O'Bannon

DD Shaw

DD Gwin

DD Preston Sunk

DD Buchanan Damaged

Task Group 62.4 (Scott)
Killed in action

CLAA Atlanta Sunk

DD Aaron Ward

DD Fletcher

DD Lardner

DD McCalla

AKA Betelgeuse
Carrying 1 Marine Aviation Engineer Battalion, Marine replacements, MAG-1 ground personnel, and supplies

AKA Libra

AKA Zeilin

Task Force 63 (Fitch)

Henderson Field

27 F4F-4 Wildcat

18 P-38 Lightning

37 SBD Dauntless

9 TBF Avenger

1 F4F-7 Wildcat

1 P-400

1 P-39 Airacobra

Espiritu Santo

8 F4F-4 Wildcat

13 F4F-3P Wildcat

16 TBF Avenger

37 B-17 Flying Fortress

5 B-26 Marauder

2 PB2Y Coronado

5 Hudson

24 PBY Catalina

1 PBY-5A Catalina

Task Force 16 (Kinkaid)

CV Enterprise

Air Group 10

1 TBF-1 Avenger

VF-10: 38 F4F-4 Wildcat

VB-10: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless

VS-10: 16 SBD-3 Dauntless

VT-10: 9 TBF-1 Avenger

Screen (Good)

CA Northampton

CLAA San Diego

DD Clark

DD Anderson

DD Hughes

DD Morris

DD Mustin

DD Russell

Task Force 64 (Lee)

BB Washington

BB South Dakota

DD Walke

DD Benham

Japanese order of battle, 13 November 1942

Combined Fleet (Yamamoto)     

BB Yamato

Advanced Force (Kondo)     

Raiding Group (Abe)

BB Hiei

BB Kirishima Sunk

Destroyer Squadron 10 (Kimura)     

CL Nagara

DD Amatsukaze Lightly damaged

DD Yukikaze

DD Akatsuki

DD Ikazuchi Lightly damaged

DD Inazuma

DD Teruzuki

Sweeping Unit (Takama)

DD Asagumo

DD Murasame Damaged

DD Samidare

DD Yudachi Sunk

DD Harusame

Patrol Unit

DD Shigure

DD Shiratsuyu

DD Yugure

Main Body (Kondo)

CA Atago

CA Takao

Screen (Hashimoto)

CL Sendai

DD Ayanami Sunk

Carrier Support Group (Kurita)

Supporting Unit

BB Kongo

BB Haruna

CA Tone

Air Striking Unit (Kakuta)

CV Junyo

27 A6M Zero

12 D3A Val

9 B5N Kate

CV Hiyo

15 A6M Zero

23 D3A Val

9 B5N Kate

DD Hatsuyuki

DD Shirayuki

DD Uranami

DD Shikinami

Outer South Seas Force (Mikawa)

Support Group (Mikawa)

Man Unit

CA Chokai

CA Kinugasa

CL Isuzu

DD Asashio

DD Arashio

Bombardment Unit (Nishimura)

CA Suzuya

CA Maya

CL Tenryu

DD Makigumo

DD Yugumo

DD Kazagumo

DD Michishio

Reinforcement Group (Tanaka)

Escort Unit

DD Hayashio

DD Oyashio

DD Kagero

DD Umikaze

DD Kawakaze

DD Suzukaze

DD Takanami

DD Makinami

DD Naganami

DD Amagiri

DD Mochizuki

Transport Unit

AP Arizona Maru

AP Kumagawa Maru

AP Sado Maru

AP Nagara Maru

AP Nako Maru

AP Canberra Maru

AP Brisbane Maru

AP Kinugawa Maru

AP Hirokawa Maru

AP Yamaura Maru

AP Yamatsuki Maru

Land-Based Air Force (Kusaka; at Rabaul)     

25 and 26 Air Flotillas: 215 aircraft

Advance Expeditionary Force (Komatsu; at Truk)     

Patrol Groups

SS I-16

SS I-20

SS I-24

SS I-15

SS I-17

SS I-26

SS I-122

SS I-172

SS I-175

SS Ro-34

Scouting Units

SS I-7 (off Santa Cruz)

SS I-9

SS I-21

SS I-31

Digital relief map of north coast of Guadalcanal

Battle of Tassafaronga.

The night of 30 November marked the Battle of Tassafaronga. Wright attempted to intercept another "Tokyo Express" with five heavy cruisers and seven destroyers. In spite of the advantage of radar, Wright's gunfire and torpedoes were inaccurate, sinking a single Japanese destroyer. The remaining Japanese destroyers launched shoals of Long Lances as they retreated that sank one cruiser and severely damaged three others. However, the vital supplies once again failed to make it ashore.

The Japanese now turned to even more desperate measures. On the night of 3 December, Tanaka's destroyers dropped supply drums overboard off Guadalcanal in the hopes that some would float ashore. Only about one in five did. Another attempt on the night of 7 December was defeated by American PT boat attacks. The last resupply effort of the year came on 11 December, when Tanaka brought ten destroyers down the Slot. Aircraft from Henderson failed to score any hits, but PT boats again attacked and managed to sink Teruzuki at the cost of PT-44.

Meanwhile, Patch's XIV Corps (consisting of 2 Marine Division, Americal Division, and 25 Division) relieved the exhausted 1 Marine Division and, on 16 December, began a drive on Mount Austen, southwest of the Henderson perimeter. They met heavy resistance around the Gifu Strong Point, named for the Japanese prefecture from which most of its troops were drawn. But the Japanese High Command decided on 31 December that the island must be evacuated, and the orders were issued on 4 January 1943. Gifu and other strong points became rear guards for the Japanese evacuation, though the Americans did not realize this until the very end of the campaign. Gifu did not fall until 23 January, but by then the American offensive was advancing systematically to the west.

During January 1943, Tanaka continued to run destroyers to Guadalcanal to try to bring supplies in, but PT boats became increasingly proficient at interfering with these efforts. The "Tokyo Express" run on 11 January suffered a destroyer badly damaged. Another run on 14-15 January had heavy air support that helped drive off the PT boats, but it was itself attacked by American aircraft on 15 January. One destroyer was lightly damaged and the Japanese fighter cover suffered heavy losses.

On 1 February, as the Americans were closing in on Cape Esperance, the Japanese began their evacuation. The evacuation continued until 9 February, when the Americans finally realized that the final "Tokyo Express" runs were not reinforcement runs. The Japanese were able to evacuate about 10,652 men.

The campaign was over. The Americans lost 1769 killed to about 25,600 Japanese fatalities in the land battle. Of the Japanese deaths, only about 8500 were killed in combat, the rest succumbing to malnutrition and disease. Losses at sea were 4911 for the Americans and about 3500 for the Japanese. Including operational losses, the Americans lost 615 aircraft, while the Japanese lost 683. About 420 American aircrew were killed, while the Japanese lost two to four times this figure, mostly because their losses included a large number of aircraft with multiple aircrew. It was a major Japanese defeat and arguably the turning point of the war.

Climate Information:

Temperatures: Jan 82, Apr 82, Jul 81, Oct 82

Rainfall: Jan 21/14.3, Apr 19/10.0, Jul 17/7.6, Oct 18/8.7 == 123.4" per annum

Photo Gallery

Martin Clemens debriefed

U.S. Marine Corps

Martin Clemens with scouts

U.S. Marine Corps

Henderson Field

U.S. Navy

4 Regiment on Guadalcanal

Wikimedia Commons

Edson's Ridge

U.S. Marine Corps

View from Edson's Ridge

U.S. Marine Corps

Coast Guard barges resupply Guadalcanal

U.S. Coast Guard

Raider patrol on Guadalcanal

U.S. Marine Corps

Japanese bunker

U.S. Army


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