By Sundown 9 August, all ships had cleared the area, and the Marines were left with inadequate supplies, no idea as to when that condition would be ameliorated, and very meager intelligence of the enemy forces on the island. Task Force 61, whose planes had done yeoman service during the fist two days, had withdrawn, and the remnants of the cruiser force which had patrolled the western approaches to the island had been forced to leave the vicinity.
Because the force at his command was a relatively small one, General Vandegrift decided that every emphasis be placed on
defense of the Lunga point region, including the all-important airfield.1
The defense itself would be centered on the field, with the strongest positions of the perimeter placed along the beach proper as a precaution against counter-landings. This sector was organized in two regimental subsectors. Automatic weapons were sited for water's edge defense. Thirty caliber machine guns were set up so that their final protective lines would lie along the actual edge of the beach. The heavier weapons, .50 caliber machine guns and 37mm guns, were so emplaced as to be able to deliver antiboat fire. Emplacements were dug some distance back of the beach for the half-track 75mm, but the weapons themselves were kept mobile in readiness for movement forward to other prepared positions near the water's edge.2
Infantry was assigned the task of protecting these weapons emplacements and was scattered in foxholes along the line. The larger part of the force, however, was kept within the perimeter, ready to move in any direction to deal with possible penetration of the lines, as well as for counter-attacks at the proper time. Mortars in general were retained in the rear of their respective battalion positions, while the artillery, 75s and 105s of the 11th Marines, was grouped well inland to the south of the airfield in such position that it could be used for the defense of any threatened sector of the perimeter.
The entire defense area was generally in the shape of a long, flat oval with the long axis running in an east-west direction. One curve lay along the beach where there was no natural defense save the water itself. The right, or east portion, of the perimeter was bounded by Alligator Creek, a sluggish, deep stream. Such was the character of the land through which it flowed, and of the banks and the undergrowth along the, that it formed an admirable defensive position, and on e of which full advantage was to be taken in the first land action of the campaign. The left bank of this river was used as a line for the extension inland of the right flank. Machine gun emplacements were constructed at the
only point where crossing seemed feasible--at the very mouth of the river, where, at low tide and during dry weather, a sand bar permitted foot passage from bank to bank along the beach.
The left or west flank of the perimeter had no such naturally advantageous terrain upon which to depend. Westward of the mouth of the Lunga, there is a re-entrant in the coast, a long sweeping concave curve toward the Matanikau River, four miles away. At a point midway between the two rivers, the grassy ridges, which are the outward boundary of the rough country of the interior, impinge suddenly upon the coastal plain, and the latter is reduced to a narrow corridor several hundred yards wide, between the beach and the hills. In this terrain, the coconut palms disappear and are replaced by lowland jungle. Passage through the region, save by the coastal road, is difficult. It was decided to anchor the left flank on this higher ground and extend the lines from the beach and across the narrowing coastal plain on the theory that the knolls could be used to an advantage in dominating the corridor.
Between the inland extremities of each flank extension lay a chaotic jumble of ridges, ravines, and flat jungle country. It was impossible to establish a continuous line across such terrain even had there been sufficient Marines for the task. The alternative to such a defense was to dispose various units in compact areas along the general defensive line and maintain contact and security by a system of out-posts. It was realized that any attack from inland could result in a penetration of the perimeter, but such a disposition of troops would permit the various unit sectors to be defended separately, so that the normally disruptive effect of penetration would be minimized.3 This was supplemented by the practice of sending patrols inland for about 1500 yards. These patrols in general were formed from units defending inland sectors.
The enemy struck back quickly as a result of the stimulus of American attack. Low-level bombing attacks were frequent and effective, both against the troops and the engineers who were struggling to finish the partially completed air strip. The initial effectiveness of these attack was lessened when the antiaircraft group of the 3d Defense Battalion succeeded in emplacing one battery of four 90mm guns on the periphery of the airfield.4 The attacks, however, continued into the following year, becoming sporadic after 15 November.
Enemy surface craft meanwhile enjoyed practically undisputed possession of the waters adjacent to Guadalcanal during the period 9-20 August. Shelling by submarine, as well as by larger craft, became a regular occurrence, causing relatively minor damage to shore installations, but seriously impeding operations of small craft back and forth to Tulagi.5
An all-out offensive on the part of the Marine forces was out of the question. Only a part of the reinforced division was in the perimeter, and even that small part was, logistically, in a precarious position.6 The area which it had occupied and which it was prepared to defend was but a tiny fragment of the total surface of the island.
Of the several possible methods of obtaining information to supplement the existing scanty knowledge, only one ultimately proved to be useful, patrolling. Aerial observation,
even had there been planes to carry it out, would have been of limited usefulness. The heavily wooded areas of the island provided overhead cover for ground troops under which they could operate with almost perfect freedom from discovery. Aerial photographs were subject to almost the same limitations as direct aerial observation.
The information received from observation posts likewise was largely negative in character. The same natural peculiarities that operated against adequate aerial observation on the first and second days of the campaign also operated to prevent any appreciable amount of information being obtained visually from fixed posts. Once more, it is necessary to point out that, save along the coastal plain in the vicinity of the coconut groves and the coastal road, the terrain is characterized by precipitous ridges running in every direction and separated by deep, narrow ravines. Visibility from observation posts in country of this type is extremely limited, and the negative character of information to be obtained from them is by no means as indicative or as valuable as similar information obtained from similar posts in open or flat country.
Third method of obtaining information, and the one which was actually used by the Marine forces, was that of patrolling.7 Each regiment in the perimeter including the 11th Marines was assigned certain areas outside the perimeter for such operations. Patrols of varying size were sent out daily and in general operated between the hours of 0700 and 1800.
Patrolling on the first two days of the campaign was somewhat characterized by over-caution and lack of aggressiveness, but these faults were overcome eventually. On 9 August, a 4th Marines patrol operating several miles southwest of the Kukum sector of the perimeter met a heavily armed enemy patrol in the first definite encounter with enemy forces. A small action resulted, and unspecified casualties were suffered by both parties. Again on 10 August, a similar patrol also from the 5th Marines operating still farther afield, and attempting to cross the Matanikau River at its mouth, was denied that crossing by a strong, well armed, and apparently well-emplaced enemy force on the west bank. Similar patrols operating in the opposite direction to the southeast of the perimeter had as yet made no contact with enemy forces.
The information so obtained indicated that the nearest enemy force was somewhere west of the perimeter. The negative information, on the other hand, while it by no means ruled out the possibility of other forces to the southeast, showed at least that patrol activity could be pushed farther afield in that direction.8
The necessity for gaining more exact information regarding enemy forces near the Matanikau impelled the division intelligence section to lay tentative plans for a thorough reconnaissance of the territory.9
The initial plan, as far as it is possible to reconstruct it, seems to have been sound. A sortie was to be made by boat from Kukum in the early morning and a landing made on the beach near Point Cruz. The patrol, having
landed, was to make its way up the left bank of the Matanikau River, making careful observation of the terrain, and establish a bivouac for the night as far back in the hills as time would allow. The second day was to be spent in a cross country return to the perimeter. The patrol was to b e large enough to permit combat if the occasion demanded.
According to an officer present at the time, Lieutenant Colonel Goettge, Division Intelligence Officer, was already committed to accompany a patrol toward Tetere, which will be described below, when he was advised of the tentative plans of the Matanikau operation. He immediately assumed personal charge of the project, and, in view of two bits of information that had recently come to him, decided upon several radical changes in plans.
A naval warrant officer had been taken prisoner in the vicinity of Kukum, behind the lines of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.10 Subjected to routine questioning by regimental and divisional language officers, he had said that it was possible that some of his fellows to the west might be persuaded to surrender under certain conditions. The information he gave was such as to place the group somewhere in the general area of the proposed patrol. The second item of information was the reported appearance of a white flag, seen by a patrol on 12 August, also in the area the patrol was to cover. This was taken as further evidence that the enemy in that neighborhood desired to surrender.
There was no reason to doubt the sincerity of the prisoner. He was reticent and did not volunteer information, and it was only after considerable questioning that he agreed to the possibility of the surrender. Moreover, it is probable that the putative white flag of surrender was an ordinary Japanese battle flag flying so far from the observers that the red center was not visible.11
The original plan called for an early start so that the landing could be made by daylight and ample time could be available for reconnaissance before going into bivouac. Colonel Goettge, however, had introduced additional details that caused almost twelve hours' delay. He was convinced that many noncombatant Japanese were wandering through the jungle in starving and disorganized groups and that every effort should be made to enable them to surrender. This humane attitude caused him to alter the composition of the proposed patrol to include, among others, the 5th Marines' surgeon, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm L. Pratt, and Lieutenant Ralph Cory, a Japanese linguist. A large part of the intelligence section of the 5th Marines likewise was taken, and, since the patrol as it was finally organized, contained only 25 persons, it seems obvious that one result of the last-minute changes had been to reduce the combat effectiveness of the group.
As a result of these changes, the patrol did not depart from the perimeter until 1800 on 12 August,12 and the landing, of course, was made after dark, at about 2200. As far as can be determined at this time, Goettge planned to land the group west of Point Cruz. On the day of departure he had been warned specifically against attempting to land between the
mouth of the Matanikau River and the point, for a patrol action three days before had established beyond question the fact that strong enemy positions commanded that area.13
As a matter of fact, the landing was made on the very beach against which Goettge had been warned--darkness and lack of familiarity with the terrain led to the error. The patrol got ashore without difficulty and the landing craft withdrew. As the men began working their way inland, however, they were taken under intense fire at once from rifles and machine guns, and by shortly after midnight the group, with the exception of three men sent out to report the event, was wiped out.
The three survivors arrived at intervals of about an hour, beginning at 0530 on 13 August. At that time Sergeant Charles C. Arndt came to the perimeter with the news that the patrol had encountered the enemy immediately after landing. He had been sent back at 2230. A relief patrol (Company A, 5th Marines) was sent out immediately by boat. As it made its way up the coast, the two other survivors came in--Corporal Joseph Spaulding at 0725 and Platoon Sergeant Frank L. Few at 0800. They brought work of the wiping out of the party.14
Company A, meanwhile, landed west of Point Cruz, at what was thought to be the scene of the Goettge landing. After receiving a reinforcement in the form of two platoons of Company L, 5th Marines, and a light machine gun section, the group began moving east, toward the perimeter. Company A, coming along the coastal road, encountered minor resistance from enemy emplacements near the mouth of the Matanikau. It returned to the perimeter late in the evening of 13 August. Company L, with its attached light machine gun section, followed a route lying farther inland, and arrived at midday on 14 August, having been held back by difficult terrain.15 Neither group found traces of the patrol.16
The operation set the pattern for several attacks in the future, attacks which were to enjoy varying degrees of success. The assault was to be in the form of a three-pronged attack, supported by fires from the 2d, 3d, and 5th Battalions, 11th Marines, division artillery regiment.
Company B, 5th Marines, from a position at the mouth of the river, was to attack westward, across the river, while Company L, 5th Marines, after crossing the river far upstream at 0800 on 18 August and cutting its way toward the mouth along the left bank, was to attack the area from inland on 19 August. Company I, in the meanwhile, after traveling by boat from the perimeter on 19 August to the small village of Kokumbona, which lay several miles to the west of Matanikau, was to cut off the retreat of the enemy to the west and clear out the village itself.17
The attack was partially successful. Company
L, traveling through the difficult inland terrain, achieved something of a surprise, and, pressing home its attack, succeeded in taking the village of Matanikau. Company B, meanwhile, prevented from crossing the river by a heavy volume of fire from the opposite bank, nevertheless filled a useful role--that of keeping the enemy active and alert on one front while an attack against his right flank was developing from inland. Company I, traveling by boat, was shelled enroute by two enemy destroyers and one cruiser standing far out. No casualties resulted from this attack, although several near misses fell among the boats. The enemy craft remained all morning, finally being driven off by two B-17s.18 Fire from light machine guns on the beach was encountered. Resistance was met after the company landed, but the village was assaulted with inconclusive results, the enemy retreating into the hills with all weapons instead of making a stand. All companies returned to the perimeter, having inflicted losses in excess of 65 killed, and an unknown number wounded, on the enemy, while suffering the comparatively small loss of four killed and 11 wounded.
On 12 August, a group of engineers set out from the perimeter with the mission of beginning that survey, and accompanying them, for purposes of security, was one platoon of Company A, 1st Marines, under command of Second Lieutenant John J. Jachym. On 13 August, while the group was passing through a small native village, it was greeted by a young Catholic priest, Arthur C. Duhamel of Methuen, Massachusetts. He said that there were rumors of an enemy force farther to the east, along the coast.19 No definite details could be obtained, and in view of the nature of the information, Lieutenant Jachym decided to return to the perimeter, report the news, and, if necessary, return with a larger body to verify it.
Two days later, a partial verification of Duhamel's advice was made by Captain W.F.M. Clemens, a coastwatcher and former official in the British Solomon Islands Civil Government. Accompanied by Sergeant Major
Vouza20 and several other natives, Clemens arrived at the command post on 14 August, and reported that he had received news of an enemy radio station near Taivu. On the same day, Admiral Turner advised Vandegrift that the Japanese were planning an attack in force on the perimeter.21
At 0700 on 19 August, therefore, the patrol was formed and set out toward Tetere. It consisted this time of a part of Company A, 1st Marines, and was led by Captain Charles H. Brush. Its route lay along the coastal road that leads from the Lunga to the Koli Point-Tetere area. By noon the group had come to a small village, and Captain Brush ordered a halt there for food and for a short respite from the heat. Someone recalled, however, that, a short distance farther along the road, there was said to be a grove of fruit trees, and, with the idea of securing this supplement to the meager canned rations, the company took to the road once more.22
Midway between the two villages, the scouts preceding the main body caught sight of a group of Japanese traveling westward between the road and the beach. The group consisted of four officers and 30 men, not in military formation. Brush's patrol attacked frontally with part of its strength, with an enveloping movement of one platoon, led by Jachym, around the right flank. Fifty-five minutes of action resulted in the wiping out of the enemy force--31 of them were killed, and three escaped into the jungle. The Marine patrol lost three killed and three wounded.
An inspection of the dead revealed a number of interesting details. There was an inordinate amount of rank, for one thing, and there was the additional fact that when it had been surprised by Brush's patrol, the enemy group had been at work laying communication wire--an almost certain indication of the presence or expected early arrival of a much larger force.
A further, and more immediately disturbing detail, was that of the nature of some of the documentary material found with the bodies. Major (then Captain) Brush has the following remarks to make:
With a complete lack of knowledge of Japanese on my part, the maps the Japanese had of our positions were so clear as to startle me. They showed our weak spots all too clearly. For example, the First Battalion, First Marines, had been preparing positions on the right of the Second Battalion, but were not occupying these positions. On the right of the First Battalion there was nothing. This fact was clearly shown on the Japanese map which I inspected on the scene of the patrol action.23
Subsequent translation of the documents, which were rushed back to the perimeter by runner at once, confirmed the impression made upon Brush--that the enemy group was the advance party of a much larger force.
The 13 days which elapsed between the landing and the arrival of the first combat planes were marked by daily air raids as well as by attacks from surface craft, submarines,
destroyers, and, from time to time, cruisers. Defenses against these attacks were scanty and ineffective. The antiaircraft weapons emplaced around the airfield by the 3d Defense Battalion succeeded only in keeping the attacking planes at a reasonably high altitude. Enemy bombing was fairly accurate even from the 25,000 feet level.25 There were occasions on which 75mm half-tracks succeeded in driving off enemy submarines.26
A survey of the airfield conducted on 8 August revealed the fact that about 2,600 feet of the runway, which was 160 feet wide, could be completed within two days and that the remaining stretch of approximately 1,178 feet could be made ready for use within a week.27 Actual construction was begun the next day, 9 August, when the 1st Engineer Battalion began operating. Supply and equipment, however, were at a premium. It is estimated that Fomalhaut, carrying most of the earth moving equipment, departed when only 15 percent of her cargo had been discharged.28
The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area,29 supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.
The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks. One bulldozer,
property of the Pioneer Battalion, had come ashore, but was not immediately available for work on the airstrip.30 Here again, however, good fortune played a deciding role, for it was found that the Japanese equipment which had been landed for the purpose of constructing an airfield was largely undamaged and usable, although antiquated.
Concurrently with the establishment of the perimeter, the strenuous efforts of the under-equipped engineers, and the probing patrol activities of the rifle regiments, a new and significant phase of the campaign began. The first elements of Marine Corps aviation began moving toward the island.
On 12 August, the USS Long Island, with VMF-223 and VMSB-232--Marine fighter squadron and dive bomber squadron respectively--was about to depart from Suva, where she had taken refuge upon receipt of the news of the Battle of Savo. She was expected to arrive in position to fly off the planes of the two squadrons about 16 August.
The ground echelon of Marine Air Group (MAG) 23, however, was embarked on the USS William Ward Burroughs, which was not scheduled to arrive at Guadalcanal until 19 or 20 August. This circumstance would create a problem, for although there was some aviation gasoline at the newly completed airfield--400 drums of fuel which the Japanese had stocked in anticipation of the scheduled arrival of their own planes on 7 August--the absence of trained ground crews would make it impossible to operate the fighters and dive bombers.
Admiral McCain (CTF 63 and COMAIRSOPAC) found his way out of this dilemma, thanks to the presence of CUB-1 at Espiritu Santo. On 13 August he ordered Major C.H. Hayes, executive officer of VMO-251, to proceed to Guadalcanal with the aviation component of this unit in order to provide ground facilities for the squadrons when they landed. Hayes accordingly alerted the senior naval officer of the CUB--Ensign George W. Polk31--and prepared to embark his detail.
The embarkation of the five officers and 118 navy enlisted was strangely reminiscent of the embarkation of the 1st Division. Recently arrived, the unit had only begun to unload its gear when, shortly before noon on the 13th, it was notified that it would embark that night and sail at once for Guadalcanal. It would use the four destroyer transports of Transdiv 12 for the movement.
This posed the problem of space upon that of transfer of cargo. Each APD could receive only 30 tons of cargo. Essential material only could be taken, much of which was either difficult of access or entirely unreachable in the holds of the ships which had brought it. The total supply carried northward by the four craft included as principle items 400 drums of aviation gasoline, 32 drums of aviation lubricant, 282 bombs ranging from 100 to 500 pounds, belted ammunition, and miscellaneous critically important tools and parts. The men carried light packs and arms only--it was thought that rations, mess and organizational equipment, medical supplies, and tentage could be supplied by the 1st Division quartermaster.
Hayes was briefed hurriedly by McCain
prior to setting out. His instructions directed him to expedite completion of the airfield (General Vandegrift had already declared it to be usable by fighter planes), prepare camouflage or concealment for the planes with particular attention to concealment for the SBDs, and provide ground service for the incoming aircraft until the arrival of the regular ground crews.32 His last act before going aboard was to conduct a frantic--and successful--search for chamois to be used in straining fuel from drums. This indispensable material he carried aboard under his arm.
The APDs departed on schedule, arriving off Kukum after dark on 15 August. Passengers and supplies were put on the beach, and next day CUB-1 took over from the 1st Engineering Battalion its share of the task of making ready the field.33
By 19 August, in spite of daily raids by enemy aircraft, work on the airstrip was completed, and the field was ready to receive the planes which arrived the next day.34
On 20 August, from a point 200 miles south of the island 19 planes of VMF-223 (F4F-4s led by Major John L. Smith) and 12 dive bombers of VMSB-232 (SBD-3s under Lieutenant Colonel Richard C. Mangrum) took off from the flight deck of the Long Island. Beginning at 1330, the flight ended with the safe arrival of all planes at Henderson Field35 at 1700.36 Within eight hours of their arrival the first great counterattack of the Japanese was thrown back, and within 12 hours the newly arrived planes were performing their first mission in support of the ground troops--patrolling the beaches east of the Tenaru to cut off any attempt at escape by the remnants of the enemy force which Pollock's 2d Battalion, 1st Marines had cut to pieces at the mouth of Alligator Creek (the "Tenaru").37
The Marine planes were followed, on 22 and 27 August, by elements of the 67th Fighter Squadron, Army Air Force. These 14 planes were P-40s, inadequate machines that could not do justice to the degree of training and spirit of their pilots. Unable to attain, and operate at, sufficient altitude, they eventually undertook close-support missions.38
The Lunga defenses had already assumed the basic form which they were to retain throughout the campaign, but, within the period of the past week, a considerable amount of improvement had been effected. The defenses on the east or right flank, as we have seen, were formed along the west bank of Alligator Creek. This flank extension had been lengthened to about 3,000 yards.39 It was planned to clear off the terrain by burning and by cutting, and to construct permanent fortifications, but there had not been sufficient time for such development.
General Vandegrift now had five rifle battalions available for manning the defenses. The entire 1st Marines was present, but the 5th Marines still lacked its 2d Battalion, which had been detached prior to D-day to the Assistant Division Commander for service on Tulagi. Of the available battalions, four
were committed to beach defenses and one was held in reserve.
Being reasonably certain of the existence of a Japanese force to the east, the Division Commander found two possible courses of action open. The first of these, which consisted of sending the single reserve battalion (1st Battalion, 1st Marines) eastward to met and destroy the enemy was rejected almost at once, since it depended upon the accuracy of the premises that the enemy had already landed and could be dealt with by one battalion. Also, there was no assurance whatever that the Japanese would not attempt an assault from the westward, a direct frontal assault, or indeed a combination of the two. Such a contingency would require the presence within the perimeter of every Marine capable of bearing arms.
The second course, which was actually adopted, consisted of strengthening all defenses in every way possible to a force which was inadequately equipped with defensive materials, and to institute and continue an intensive program of patrolling in the direction whence it was expected an attack would be launched. In this way, it was hoped, the hostile forces could be located, fixed, and their intentions more precisely divined.
Implementation of this program was begun at once. Native scouts operating under the direction of Captain Clemens assisted the Marine forces in active patrolling as far east as the Nalimbiu River. Day observation posts were set up in the vicinity of the Tenaru. The latter were withdrawn by night and in their place a system of listening posts was established in the neighborhood of the Tenaru and a small stream closer to the perimeter, known as the Block Four River.40
A study of enemy documents which was begun during the Guadalcanal campaign and carried on for many months after the close of the campaign, indicates that the attack on Guadalcanal by the Marines had caused serious disruption of Japanese plans.41 It appears that such plans envisaged a two-Army attack on Port Moresby in southeastern New Guinea. The attack was to be mounted from Davao in the southern Philippines and was to be carried out by the 17th and 18th Armies. The unexpected Fleet Marine Force landing upon Guadalcanal, however, caused the enemy to withdraw from their projected assault the 17th Army (less one division). This weakened army was thereupon earmarked for an attack upon the newly established Marine positions.
The first large Japanese reinforcement to reach Guadalcanal consisted of approximately one reinforced battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment, a 7th Division unit, under the command of Colonel Kiyono Ichiki. This force, which had been detached for duty with the Imperial Navy in the attempted but unsuccessful occupation of Midway, was returning to Japan for rehabilitation on 7 August. Orders from Lieutenant General Hyakutake, commanding general of the 17th Army, intercepted the unit and brought it to Truk, where it arrived on 12 August. There it received orders to embark, pass to Guadalcanal, assault and retake the area held by the 1st Marine Division.42
Accordingly, Ichiki embarked his battalion reinforced by engineers and artillery on six new destroyers--Arashi, Hagikaze, Hamakaze, Tamikaze, Urukaze, and Kagero. The force passed down to me island without incident, and landed near Taivu on 18 August.43
Ichiki then sent out a reconnaissance party to explore the territory lying between the point of landing and the Marine positions.44 This patrol, as we have seen, was intercepted and wiped out by Captain Brush's patrol on 19 August.
Midnight of 20 August found the 1st Marines in position around the right flank of the perimeter, with the 2d Battalion in the crucial position at the mouth of the river, its right flank extending several hundred yards up-stream. The 3d Battalion, on the left of the 2d, held the beach line from that point to the mouth of the Lunga, while the 1st Battalion, not in prepared positions, was located to the right rear of the 2d Battalion, in division reserve. Listening posts from the 2d Battalion were established in the territory forward of the lines.
Some time after midnight45 these forward elements began falling back on the main positions, bringing word that there appeared to be a rather large enemy force in the neighborhood of the Tenaru River. Flares had been seen, and sounds of movement of men had been heard, but no visual contact with the enemy body had been made.
At about the same time, a dramatic confirmation of the presence of enemy to the eastward occurred when Sergeant Major Vouza (retired) of the Native Constabulary appeared, badly wounded, at the command post of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines. He had been caught by the Japanese on 18 August in his village several miles to the east of the perimeter. When he refused to give them information, he was tortured and left for dead. He made his way, at night, through the enemy force and arrived at the mouth of Alligator Creek in time to tell Lieutenant Colonel Edwin A. Pollock, the battalion commander, of its presence.46
Vouza's own account of his capture has epic qualities. The following extract is from a letter written by Vouza to Hector MacQuarrie, who had known him during the early 1920s:
Well, I was caughted by the Japs and one of the Japanese Naval Officer questioned me but I was refuse to answer & I was bayoneted by a long sword twice on my chest, through my throught, a cutted the side of my tongue & I was got up from the enemies & walked through the American front line & there my Officer Mr. Clemens who D.C. at Guadalcanal during the War, later he is Major & his Clerk a native from New Georgia he was Staff Sgt his name was Daniel Pule. Both got the reports information from the Marine Division at the Front Line by one of the Colonial of the American Marine Div, his name was Col. Buckley that I was wounded. So then boths Major Clemens & Staff Sgt. Daniel Pule they came up to the front line & took me to the American Hostpital at Lunga Guadalcanal & there they done the treatment and the wounded was healthed up, only 12 days I was in Hospital.
After I wad discharged from the Hospital I wad do my fighting with the Japs & paid back all what they have done with me & now, here I'm I, still alive today. . . .47
No serious apprehension seems to have been felt by Colonel Cates, the regimental commander at this news of enemy activity.48 At about 0300, however, a sentry posted on the west bank of Alligator Creek--then believed to be the Tenaru River--heard sounds of motion on the far bank of the river. He challenged, and, when there was no answer, he fired.
By this time Colonel Ichiki had assembled his force in positions on the narrowing point of land on the right bank of the river. At 0310 there was a sudden and violent attack by a group of approximately 200 Japanese, who rushed the sand bar at the mouth of the stream in a column.49 In site of the concentrated fire from rifles, emplaced machine guns, and cannister-firing 37mm cannon, and in spite of the extremely heavy casualties immediately inflicted upon them, a part of the group succeeded in gaining the left bank and in overrunning a few emplacements. A quick counterattack by Company G, 1st Marines, which had been in reserve behind and slightly to the right of the point of attack, cleared the left bank before the enemy had time to consolidate his gains.50
The main force of the Ichiki unit remained on the point without giving any direct support to the attack while it was being delivered. Immediately it became evident that the assault had failed, however, the enemy began delivering fire from his mortars and 70mm infantry cannon, in an attempt to reduce the Marine position.51 The Japanese then initiated a frontal assault on the perimeter--a large group, about the size of a company, went out into the sea beyond the breakers and came directly ashore against the left flank of the 2d Battalion. This attack, however, was likewise shattered at the water's edge by heavy fire from machine guns and from 37mm guns loaded with cannister.52
The Japanese artillery and mortar fire from the right bank of the river spoke eloquently of a fairly large force, and, at about 0400, the 75mm batteries of the 3d Battalion,
11th Marines, laid down a concentration in that area. A fire-fight of great intensity and at close range developed, with the Marine forces enjoying the advantage of a partial enfilading of the enemy position by fire from weapons emplaced on the projecting left bank of the river. A second artillery concentration was placed on the enemy force at about 0515.53
In the meanwhile, General Vandegrift decided to execute an enveloping movement, since most of the enemy appeared to be concentrated within a reasonably small area. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, (Lieutenant Colonel Lenard B. Cresswell), reverting from division reserve to regimental control, was ordered orally by Cates to go upstream, cross the river, and attack to the northwest along the right bank, thereby taking the enemy on his rear and his left flank.54
The movement was an unqualified success. The battalion crossed the dry upper stream bed of the creek, debouching from the jungle onto a grassy plain 3000 yards inland. At this point it assumed the formation which it was to hold for the rest of the action. Companies A and C, each with one platoon of Company D (Weapons) attached struck out straight for the beach at an azimuth of 15º to allow the force to come in well behind the enemy pocket.
Company B, with the mortar platoon and one machine gun platoon of Company D attached, formed the reserve. Operating under the battalion executive officer, this company moved toward the beach with its right flank resting on the left bank of the Tenaru--or Ilu, as it was then called. As it moved toward the mouth of the river, the company left details of squad size in position along the bank to impede any attempt of the Japanese to withdraw across the river. The rest of Company D, operating as riflemen, also moved north with its left flank on the right bank of Alligator Creek. Headquarters Company moved generally in the rear of the assault companies.
Immediately upon reaching the beach, Companies A and C swung to the left and began moving toward Alligator Creek (the "Tenaru"). Several attempts were made by the enemy to break through the force that was compressing them into an ever decreasing area. A thrust toward the east, along the beach, was stopped by elements of Company C. Another, up the right bank of Alligator Creek (the "Tenaru") ran into Company D and was wiped out.55
An attack by light tanks, advancing across the bar, was moderately successful, one tank being lost to enemy mines and weapons. Marine riflemen thereupon closed with the survivors of the enemy force and exterminated them. The action concluded at 1700, after 16 hours of constant fighting.
The Japanese suffered almost total casualties in a group that numbered about 900 men. A few stragglers managed to escape into the hills to the south, and 15 enemy were taken prisoner. The cost to the Marines was 34 killed and 75 wounded.56
While Pollock's battalion was holding its positions at the mouth of the river and Cresswell was getting into position on the enemy's left flank and rear, four pilots of VMF-223, led by Major Smith, made their first interception. At 1207 they engaged a flight of six enemy fighters near Savo Island, and the leader scored the first of his many
kills. This was the only enemy plane shot down in the engagement, which cost the Marines one plane when Technical Sergeant Johnnie D. Lindley crash-landed upon return to the airstrip.57
While the preliminary gambits which led up to the Battle of the Tenaru were being performed, the Japanese likewise deployed forces for a second attempt to build up their strength on Guadalcanal. On 19 August, the day upon which Ichiki's reconnaissance patrol was wiped out, the rear echelon of his force departed Rabaul en route to Guadalcanal. About 700 of this unit were embarked in four old destroyer transports (Patrol Boats #1, #2, #34, and #35), together with 800 "marines" of the 5th Yokosuka Special Landing Force on the converted cruiser Kinryu Maru, screened by light cruiser Jintsu and three destroyers.
This force, in itself unable to cope with anything in the nature of an air attack, was covered by two task forces, each built around carriers, that operated generally to the eastward of the transports. Closer in there was the seaplane carrier Chitose, fitted with four catapults and carrying 22 float planes.58
To counter this attempt, two United States task forces were operating in an area generally
southeast of the lower Solomons and conducting searches to the northwest. Each of these forces likewise formed around a carrier, Enterprise forming the nucleus of one and Saratoga that of the other.
Contact with the enemy was made first on the morning of 23 August, two days after Ichiki and his battalion had been annihilated. The contact, made by long distance reconnaissance plane, was not developed. Marine planes from Henderson Field, attempting to follow it up, were not successful because of a heavy overcast, and returned to the field. They were followed by 35 Navy planes from Saratoga--29 dive bombers and six torpedo planes--which landed just at nightfall, at 1700.59 The night was marked by a shelling of the perimeter by the enemy destroyer Kagero, one of the ships which had brought the Ichiki unit to the island.60
Next day--24 August--the enemy task force was located and attacked. Ryujo was hit repeatedly and finally went out of control and burned. Chitose, also hit, was able to make her way, badly damaged, to Rabaul.61 While the ships were under attack, Henderson Field was struck by 16 single engine carrier type bombers, escorted by 12 Zeros. The enemy planes were attacked in turn, at 1420 by F4F-4s of MAG-23, which shot down 10 bombers and six Zeros at a loss to themselves of three pilots missing and one wounded. Minor damage only was done to the airstrip.62
On the night of 24 August, the persistent Kagero returned again to shell the perimeter, accompanied by four sister destroyers--Musuki, Yayoi, Isokaze, and Kawakaze. Once again there was only minor damage to the perimeter.63
The Enterprise, meanwhile had also been struck and damaged by enemy air attacks to such extent that she had to withdraw from the action. This ship casualty resulted in an accretion of strength by the Guadalcanal Air Force. Flight 300, airborne when the carrier retired, took refuge at 1845 on Henderson Field. It consisted of 11 SBD-3s (6 from VS-5, 5 from VB-6) under command of Lieutenant Turner Caldwell, USN.64
Enemy transports, whose movement toward Guadalcanal had precipitated the action, continued on their assigned mission. They were attacked by 12 SBDs from the Guadalcanal airstrip, and the cruiser Jintsu was hit, damaged, and forced to withdraw to
Truk for repairs. The auxiliary cruiser Kinryu Maru was hit, set afire, and abandoned, and a destroyer, the Mutsuki, was sunk by B-17s of the 11th Bombardment group, based on Espiritu Santo, while standing by her.65
The untoward results of the attempted reinforcement were such as to force the Japanese to abandon the effort. Surviving units of the enemy transport force withdrew to the Shortland Islands.
Some time immediately after the defeat of the Ichiki unit, the Japanese forces to the east of the perimeter committed the only atrocity against European civilians on Guadalcanal of which we have record. At an undetermined date late in August two priests, Father Arthur C. Duhamel, of whom we heave heard above, and Father Henry OudeEngberink were tortured and killed, as were Sister Sylvia, a French nun, and Sister Odilia, of Italy. The murders were witnessed by a third nun, Sister Edmée, also of France.
These people, all missionaries of the Society of Mary, had been on the island at the time of the Japanese invasion. They were stationed at the mission at Ruavatu, between the perimeter and Aola. Other members of the order were Father Michael McMahon at Visale, a mission near Cape Esperance and Father Emery De Klerk, a Dutch priest at Tangarare, on the south coast directly across the island from Kokumbona, All of them had refused to leave their posts at the time the European colony at Tulagi was evacuated.
Prior to the coming of the Marines, they were not molested by the Japanese. After the American landings, however, the people at Visale were forced to go to Tangarare and then to the mountains. Duhamel and OudeEngberink, however, remained at Ruavatu because of its remoteness from the scene of action. They were taken at that place by survivors of the Ichiki force led by Ishimoto,66 the local spy, and were ordered to go through the American lines with tales of an overpowering Japanese force, in order to persuade the Marines to surrender or withdraw from the island.
When the two priests and the nuns refused to obey, on the grounds that they took no part in anything but religious matters, they were subjected to a week of torture and starvation. Since they remained obdurate, they were bayonetted. The bodies were buried in a native hut, whence they were recovered and buried by Father Frederic P. Gehring, at the time on duty with CUB-1.67
2 Final Report, Phase III, p. 2.
3 Final Report, Phase III, Annex E.
4 Ibid., p. 5 of narrative portion of report.
5 D-3 Journal, 12 August. A message at 1200 from Rupertus to Vandegrift reported that Tulagi forces had fired upon and hit an enemy submarine one hour before. This craft had been molesting Higgins boats.
19 August: Dawn--three unidentified ships sighted off Guadalcanal. 0850--ships appear to be firing on Guadalcanal. 0900--One destroyer reported coming toward Tulagi area. 0915--Salvo fired on Makambo. All hand to battle stations.
Report of Operations, 3d Battalion, 2d Marines.
6 Some of the idea of the supply situation can be obtained from a message sent by the Assistant Division Commander on 10 August at 0902 when the last of the transports had left the area and when all available supplies had been landed. The message said that the situation was changing. It requested entrenching tools, sandbags, barbed wire, diesel oil, and TBX (radio) batteries, saying that none of these materials had been landed. Final Report, Phase III, p. 5.
7 Final Report, Phase II, pp. 17 and 18.
8 Ibid., Phase II, p. 5.
9 The account of the Goettge Patrol has been taken from the Final Report, from contemporary accounts such as Merillat's Island, and from the initial drafts of the annexes to the Final Reports, which are on file in the Archives of the Marine Corps. The details obtained from those sources have been elaborated on the basis of accounts given the compiler by officers and men present on the island at the time--Colonel (now Brigadier General) Gerald C. Thomas, Lieutenant Colonel (now Colonel) Edmund J. Buckley, who replaced Goettge as D-2, First Lieutenant (now Captain) John J. Jachym, and others.
10 Interview, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon D. Gayle, 14 February 1949.
11 The reliability of information gotten from prisoners was a source of amazement to Marines throughout the campaign. No documentary record can be found of attempted deception. See incident in Chapter IX below.
12 Final Report, Phase II, p. 6. Another important, and happier event took place on 12 August. The first American plane to use the newly won air strip landed and took off with two wounded Marines--a method of evacuation that was to be used throughout the campaign with outstanding success. The plane was a PBY-5A, number 05045, and was piloted by Lieutenant W.S. Sampson, USN. Ibid., Annex B, p. 2.
13 Letter, Colonel William J. Whaling to Commandant Marine Corps, 26 January 1949. The matter of warning given to Goettge prior to his departure was confirmed by Lieutenant Colonel Lyman D. Spurlock in an interview held 27 January 1949.
14 Final Report, Phase III, Annex J, p. 2.
15 Ibid., pp. 2 and 3.
16 According to official records, no trace was ever found of the group. Subsequent to 21 August, a patrol led by Lieutenant W.S. Sivertsen found a dispatch case containing Commander Pratt's equipment and a torn piece of clothing marked with Goettge's name. No identifiable remains were found, however, and the members of the ill-fated group continued to be classified as missing in action. Letter, Sivertsen to Commandant Marine Corps, 17 February 1949.
17 Final Report, Phase III, pp. 6 and 7. Ibid., Annex J, p. 4.
18 Letter, LtCol W.H. Barba to Commandant Marine Corps, 28 January 1948. The cruiser was fired upon by the 1st Platoon, Company M, 5th Marines, under 2dLt Drew Barrett, using two captured 3-inch dual purpose naval guns. The platoon fired 20 rounds, all short. The cruiser bracketed the position with a starboard salvo, but there were no casualties.
19 He probably referred to the Japanese coastwatcher station at Taivu, set up in June or July by Yoshimoto. That small group continued to operate until some time in October.
20 Vouza had first appeared at the mouth of the Tenaru River on 10 August, accompanied by several friends. A retired Sergeant Major of the native constabulary, he spoke good English, and was taken at once to the perimeter and then to the command post. During his absence, his friends instructed the Marines in the usefal art of husking a coconut with three strokes of a machete--the first gambit in a relationship that was to be of tremendous value to the Marines, and that was to have unforeseen economic and political repercussions among the natives. Letter, Hawley C. Waterman to Commandant Marine Corps, 17 January 1949.
21 D-3 Journal, 14 August, messages 12, 13, and 14.
22 Details of the Jachym and Brush patrols were taken from Final Report, Phase III, p. 9, supplemented by information given by Jachym to the Historical Section during an interview in the autumn of 1944.
23 Letter, Major Charles H. Brush, Jr., to Commandant Marine Corps, 15 January 1949.
24 Final Report, Phase III, pp. 2 and 3.
25 WD, MAG-23, 25 August.
26 D-3 Journal, entry 17 of 11 August.
27 This smaller stretch was completed by 12 August and the full length by 18 August. Final Report, Phase III, p. 3.
28 Letter, LtCol. Alonzo D. Gorham to Commandant Marine Corps, 9 February 1949.
29 Final Report, Phase III, Annex C, p. 5. This annex gives an excellent account of the amount of enemy equipment found and put to use, especially in the building of the air strip.
30 Letter, LtCol Henry H. Crockett to Commandant Marine Corps, 10 June 1949. This lone bulldozer was eulogized long after the war by Colonel Ballance, already quoted above. In the matter of this piece of equipment, he has the following eloquent passage in his letter to the Commandant dated 12 February 1949:
One R-4 bulldozer--actually an angle-dozer--was landed by the 1st Pioneer Battalion, and the yeoman service performed by this lone piece of power equipment in the hands of one Corporal Cates, its skilled proiprietor--no one else was allowed to operate it--seems worthy of a place in the record. Cates drove that dozer from morning till night, he automatically ceased whatever task he was performing when condition RED sounded and headed for the airfield ready to fill bomb craters on the strip. He buried dead Japns, worked the roads and prepared bridge bank seats, cleared the Kukum beach for unloading operations, pulled, tugged, and towed all manner of things. That lovely R-4 finally fell apart like the one hoss shay, never to run again, some time in late October.
31 Polk was killed in Greece in 1948 while serving as a news correspondent. His merder attracted world wide attention, and at the time of the preparation of this monograph--March 1949--no acceptable solution of the mystery surrounding his death had been reached.
32 SBDs, according to Admiral McCain's instructions, were to be used only against ships of cruiser size or better, and were to be kept well concealed until such time as that class of target presented itself.
33 All details of the movement of CUB-1 from Espiritu Santo were obtained from Colonel Charles H. Hayes, USMC, by letter dated 8 February 1949.
34 Final Report, Phase III, p. 5.
35 The airstrip had been named for Major Lofton R. Henderson, Marine air hero of the Battle of Midway, by General Vandegrift.
36 War Diary, Marine Air Group 23 (hereinafter WD, MAG 23), p. 1. MCR.
37 WD, MAG 23, p. 2.
38 "One of these planes bore the name of 'Corky'. Perched on the west end of Henderson Field through bombing, artillery, and naval gunfire [it] survived to take the air on daily sortie. As long as 'Corky' stayed in there, many a young Marine felt that he could go on too." Letter Wieseman to CMC.
39 Final Report, Phase III, pp. 10 and 11.
40 Final Report, Phase III, p. 11.
41 USAFISPA Report, p. 8, and manuscript prepared by Captain William H. Whyte on enemy order of battle in the Solomon Islands. (Subsequently published in Marine Corps Gazette, in July anbd August, 1945 as "Hyakutake Meets the Marines."
42 For details of this unit's planned role in the occupation of Midway, see Marines at Midway, cited above in Chapter I. It bears mention parenthetically at this point that the strength of the 1st Marine Division was--and continued for some time to be--badly underestimated by the Japanese.
Ichiki is sometimes erroneously called Ikki. Although both readings of the name are possible, in this case Ichiki is the correct rendering. (Confirmed by Lt Roger Pineau, USNR, in Tokyo, June, 1949.)
43 The landing of the Ichiki Unit had been preceded by one day by the landing of elements of the 5th Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force, which came ashore on 17 August near Tassafaronga, west of Point Cruz and far removed from the perimeter. USAFISPA Report, pp. 4 and 5 as also used as a source for this information.
44 USAFISPA Report, p. 5.
45 Final Report, Phase IV, Annex G. This account places the beginning of the night's activity at 2030, 20 August, when the first flare was seen.
46 Interview with Colonel Pollock, 12 March 1948.
47 Letter, ex-SgtMaj Vouza, Headman, Tasimboko District, to Hector MacQuarrie, 6th May, 1948. For his heroism, Vouza was given the Silver Star by the United States, and the George Medal by Great Britain.
48 At this point in its chronological account of the campaign, the Final Action Report says, "This was followed by a small amount of rifle fire, but neither fact was considered of particular significance as minor affrays with small enemy parties were of almost nightly occurrence." Final Report, Phase IV, p. 1, and Annex G.
49 The position was not wired in. Ibid., p. 1 of narrative section. On 21 August C Company, 1st Engineer Battalion, wired in the positions of 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, laid a minefield and an antitank obstacle on the sandspit, and dug emplacements. This work was done under intermittent enemy small arms fire, and was completed on 22 August. (Letter, LtCol Henry H. Crockett to Commandant Marine Corps, 10 January 1949.)
50 Ibid., p. 2.
51 Final Report, Phase IV, p. 2.
52 Details given by Col. Pollock in an interview 12 March 1948. Col. Pollock is of the opinion that all phases of the action during night of 20-21 August took place somewhat earlier than the times quoted in the Final Report and subsidiary reports.
53 Final Report, Phase IV, p. 2.
54 Details of the movements of the 1st Battalion as given here were supplied by Col. Cresswell during interviews held in November and December 1947.
55 Details of the movements of Cresswell's battalion were obtained from a letter, Lieutenant Colonel Marion A. Fawcett to Commandant, Marine Corps, 8 February 1949, and from an interview with Cresswell in November 1948. Cresswell says that it was intended to have his movement supported by tanks, but that they found it impossible to cross the stream bed.
56 The 2d Battalion, 1st Marines which bore the brunt of assault, suffered most heavily, losing 25 killed and 44 wounded. Seven were killed and 13 wounded in the 1st Battalion of the same regiment, while the Special Weapons Battalion, a Division unit, lost two killed and 14 wounded. One man was wounded in the 1st Marines' Regimental Weapons Company and three in Headquarters and Service Company. Final Report, Phase IV, Annex g.
57 The psychological effect of the arrival of friendly planes is indicated in the following anecdote contributed by LtCol Joseph N. Renner. When he arrived on 30 August, he was told by a Marine of the 1st Division that the planes had done a wonderful job. The Marine was loud in his praise of "that guy Smith" who, he assured Renner with the utmost sincerity, had shot down at least fifty planes--he hadnt' heard anything within th epast few days, and the score perhaps was larger. Interview, LtCol Renner, December 1948.
58 Robinson ms.
59 The Navy planes left next morning, leaving behind them the welcome figt of 27 1000-pound bombs. WD, MAG-23, p. 3.
60 Robinson ms.
62 WD, MAG-23, entry 24 August.
63 FInal Report, Phase IV, Annex I, p. 4. Message sent 2358, 24 August. See also Robinson ms, p. 3.
64 WD, MAG-23, entry 24 August.
65 Campaigns, USAFISPA, p. 111.
66 Report of Police Boy, 27 August 1942, MCR.
67 All information regarding this group of missionaries was obtained from (1) records at the Marist College at Washington, (2) from correspondence with Father Frederic P. Gehring, C.M., of Philadelphia, and (3) Saving the Solomons, The Reverend Mother Mary Rose, S.M.S.M., pp. 121-125.
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