MAJGEN PATCH, USA, receives first-hand briefing from Gen Vandegrift and Col R.H. Jeschke. On 9 December 1942 the task of completing the campaign passed to Gen Patch when the 1st Marine Division was withdrawn from Guadalcanal.
THE ARMY ARRIVES. Commencing in mid-October, Army ground units began to reach Guadalcanal. This picture shows elements of the Americal Division hitting Guadalcanal's beaches in late 1942.
Withdrawal of the 1st Division and the consequent diminution in strength of American forces made it temporarily necessary to leave in abeyance all plans for an immediate resumption of the advance westward. The western sector, therefore, remained quiet for the time being, although active and aggressive patrolling continued toward the west and to the southwest. Conclusion of the long patrol of the 2d Raider Battalion on 4 December had reassured General Vandegrift as to the status of enemy forces to the southward, and it was thought that the remaining enemy resistance would be found in the area lying beyond the Matanikau.
On 9 December, while the transfer of command was taking place, elements of the 164th and 182d Infantry, which were still in position near Point Cruz, were relieved by the 2d Marines (less 3d Battalion), the 8th Marines, and the 132d Infantry, (less 2d Battalion). This relief, undertaken one battalion at a time because of the lack of sufficient reserves, was accomplished by 16 December.3
At the time of completion of this relief, the lines of the sector were as follows: The 8th Marines, with its Weapons Company on the beach in the bight which bounds Point Cruz on the west, had three battalions in line. The 3d Battalion, in position across the narrow coastal plain, was in contact with the 2d Battalion, lines of which ran southward for 1000 yards across broken country, in general following the ridge lines of the grassy hills. This battalion in turn tied in with the 1st Battalion, the line of which, after following a southerly course for some hundreds of yards along the ridge lines, doubled back sharply to the left rear and followed an easterly direction for about five hundred yards.4
At that point the regimental sector of the 2d Marines began, and extended eastward across the upper Matanikau and into the grassy reaches which flanked it. The line was irregular in formation, since the Marine regiment and the 132d Infantry, with which it tied in on the left, found it necessary to
take advantage of high ground along the irregular ridge lines.
The sector, which was under the tactical command of Colonel John M. Arthur,5 carved out a rough rectangular strip of land enclosing Point Cruz and the mouth of the Matanikau, a rectangle the long inland side of which took every possible advantage of terrain. Mount Austen (the Grassy Knoll), which had been an immediate objective of pre-landing planning, directly confronted that portion of the sector held by the 132d Infantry (less 1st Battalion). This terrain feature had been crossed by Marine patrols on several occasions, and there was no indication that it was held in great strength by the enemy.
Of greater tactical importance was a knob, immediately southwest of Mount Austen and distinct from it, known as Hill 27. Used by the Japanese as the anchor of their right flank, it was well prepared and strongly held.6
On 19 December, the 132d Infantry was directed by the Sector Commander to take the strategically important Hill 27, still considered to be a menace to the American positions. Preliminary movements of the regiment took it through heavy jungle country of the kind that had caused the disorganization of Japanese troops attacking the inland sector of the perimeter in September and October. On the northern slopes of the hill, while still struggling through heavy jungle, the 3d Battalion, 132d Infantry, ran into unexpectedly heavy resistance and suffered casualties which included the death of the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel William C. Wright, AUS. In view of this opposition and of the relative inexperience of the troops, the advance was halted and lines were consolidated.7
During the next few days preparations were made for a resumption of the attack, and by 27 December the 1st and 3rd battalions were ready to advance. There was a preparation by artillery8 and an air strike, but once more the 3d Battalion ran into heavy opposition. The situation was complicated by the fact that the 1st Battalion, whose mission was to develop a flanking attack from the eastward, had assembled too far west and crowded the lines of the 3d Battalion. Once more heavy casualties were incurred, and once more the advance bogged down.
At the time of the second assault on Hill 27, the American forces in the sector engaged in another offensive, this time with the object of expanding their zone of action to the south and west. This expansion was desirable in order to gain room for maneuver in a projected two-division drive up the coast. Additional troops in the form of the 3d Battalion, 182d Infantry, and the Combat Reconnaissance Squadron, and Army unit and the only cavalry troops used, were made available to the Sector Commander. The expansion was accomplished as planned.
On 30 December, the 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry, was released from division control to the Sector Commander, who thereupon ordered that the attack upon Hill 27 be resumed. Some difficulty was encountered in getting one battalion of the regiment in position for the jumpoff, and the Sector Commander authorized a delay in the attack until 2 January.9
The plan10 for the latest assault upon the hill was an elaboration of tactics used in the second. The 3d Battalion, 132d Infantry, in position immediately below the hill and to the north of it, was to attack forward toward the south. The 1st Battalion, 132d, immediately to its left, was to move southward initially and then swing sharply to the right, against the enemy's right flank. The 2d Battalion,
132d, meanwhile, in position to the southeast of the center battalion, was to move in a southwesterly direction, swing sharp north when behind the hill, and attack from the rear, completing the envelopment.
The movement was well carried out, and the timing allowed a tying in of the three battalions prior to the final drive upon the enemy positions, which was carried through by the 2d Battalion, By late afternoon the heights had been taken, and positions were being consolidated for protection against strong enemy forces on the western slopes of the hill mass.
On 2 January 1943, all ground forces on the island were organized as the XIV Corps, under command of Major General Patch, AUS, who formed his staff from officers already on the island. Included in the command were all Marine Corps units, the Americal Division, and the 25th Division (the 161st Infantry, a component of the latter group, did not arrive on the island until 4 January.) At this time, also, there was a readjustment of the chain of command, after which the Commander, XIV Corps, operated directly under the control of ComSoPac instead of through Admiral Turner. (Commander, Task Force 62) as had been the case up to that time.11
to be prepared to begin relieving elements of the 2d Marines.15
The order of relief was as follows: 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, to relieve 1st and 2d Battalions, 2d Marines, not earlier than 30 minutes prior to sunset on 14 January.16 2d Battalion, 6th Marines, was to supply one reinforced rifle company for the purpose of allowing Companies A and B, 8th Marines to shorten their line. The 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, was to remain in bivouac.
The movements were accomplished as planned, and on 15 January, more companies of the newly arrived troops were fed into the lines. By 15 January, the 2d Marines, (reinforced), had withdrawn from action and retired to bivouac to await evacuation to New Zealand.17
This regiment had been in the area for exactly six months when it embarked and on the same day sailed for Wellington. It had accomplished the first landing of the campaign, had taken the most difficult initial objective, and had been longer in the area than any other unit. On 17 January, the 8th Marines, having taken their last assigned objective by 0930, were likewise relieved and went into bivouac. On 18 January the 147th Infantry (less one reinforced battalion) was attached to the 2d Marine Division.18
Although the three rifle regiments of the 2d Marine Division were now together for the first time since the formation of the division on 1 February 1941, certain circumstances prevented Major General John Marston, Commanding General of the division, from accompanying his command to combat.
On 28 November, the Commanding General of the I Marine Amphibious Corps, Major General Clayton B. Vogel, had written General Marston from Noumea as follows:
Upon relief of the 1st Division (i.e. by the Americal Division] Vandegrift comes out, and inasmuch as the major portion of troops on duty there will then be Army, it had been arranged prior to my arrival for General Patch, the commander of the Americal, to relieve Vandegrift. (Note. Vogel had arrived in Noumea 28 October 1942.) This having been settled by the powers that be, and in accordance with the general policy that the preponderance of strength, either Army or Marine, will more or less determine the commander, I cannot now change matters. I would have preferred to have sent you up with your staff as the relief of Vandegrift, to have remained in command until such time as all Marines were withdrawn. However, this is now out of the question. Since you are senior to Patch you could not go up there for a permanent stay without being in command.
It will be seen that General Vogel did not explain to General Marston whence the decision on command had come. That it had been made without either the concurrence or the previous knowledge of the Commandant, General Holcomb, is evident from the following extract from Holcomb's letter to Vogel, dated 12 February 1943:
The reasons for the assignment of General Patch to command all forces on [Guadalcanal] are entirely obvious and, I believe, entirely fitting.
However, I consider it most unfortunate that the Division Commander should have been denied the opportunity and experience of commanding his division in its first action; and my feeling is that the Corps Commander should have used every endeavor to afford him that opportunity. There is no reason known to the undersigned . . . why General Marston should not have served under General Patch's command.19
While the 6th Marines was being fed into the lines and its two companion regiments of the 2d Division were being relieved, a second important shore-to-shore movement
was being carried out by a small Army force.
It will be recalled that, during the latter part of November, while the 2d Raider Battalion was working its way along the upper Tenaru and Lunga valleys and while the American positions along the Matanikau were being consolidated, a patrol from the 164th Infantry had conducted an eighty-day reconnaissance of the coast line in the neighborhood of Cape Esperance. Only small enemy forces had been encountered, and the negative information brought back by Lieutenant Flo of the Army indicated that the main strength of the enemy was located roughly to the east of Visale on the north coast.
During the early part of January, however, when the final drive up the coast was beginning to get under way, Headquarters XIV Corps decided to plane a strong outpost on the south shore of the island to cut off any enemy forces that might retreat overland from the objective areas beyond the Poha River. Company I (reinforced) of the 147th Infantry executed a shore to shore movement from Kukum to Beaufort Bay, completing the trip in one day, 9 January 1943.20 The passage was accomplished without incident, and while approximately one-half the force set up on the south coast near Beaufort Bay, the reminder, working its way back north across the main trail leading to Kokumbona, established a strong point in the hills near Tapinanja. It was felt that any enemy desiring to escape the westward thrust of the American forces might attempt to make their way across the hills toward the south coast. A strong position on the trail would prevent this move.
As matters turned out, no such enemy movement was attempted, and the company made its way overland to Kokumbona after that area had been cleared later n the month. It had had no contact with the enemy.
The final stages of the campaign were conditioned by two factors. The first of these was that there were now sufficient troops on the island to make possible a sustained offensive toward the west, and offensive in which it was planned that the forward movement would be constant and that the attacking units would halt only overnight. Furthermore, the number of troops involved--more than two full divisions--was such that enveloping movements were possible.
The second factor mentioned above has to do with the enemy situation. There had been signs (large numbers of dugouts and small emplacements, for instance) that instead of gathering his troops for counteroffensives, the enemy had begun strengthening his positions in the rugged territory west of the Matanikau, apparently for the purpose of fighting a delaying action. It is now known21 that a process of withdrawal was going on. A prisoner who was interrogated after the close of the war gave the information that some 13,000 troops had left the island prior to the cessation of hostilities there, although this figure is perhaps an exaggeration.
These things were not known at the time, and all plans were based upon the assumption that the enemy was present in strength
and capable of counterattack as well as resistance. In this connection, it is interesting to read an extract from the Action Report of Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, dated 17 April 1943:
Until almost the last moment, it appeared that the Japanese were attempting a major reinforcement effort. Only skill in keeping their plans disguised and bold celerity in carrying them out enabled the Japanese to withdraw the remnants of the Guadalcanal garrison. Not until after all organized forces had been evacuated on 8 February did we realize the purpose of their air and naval dispositions; otherwise with the strong forces available to us ashore on Guadalcanal and our powerful fleet in the South Pacific, we might have converted the withdrawal in to a disastrous rout.
The groups of Japanese destroyers, ranging in number from 16 to 20 ships per group, made the run from the Northern Solomons to Cape Esperance regularly, in spite of punishment taken from Army, Navy, and Marine Corps planes. Attacks by motor torpedo boats disrupted the service to some extent, and air attacks sank several of the destroyers, while at least one fell victim to a hastily-laid mine field, but three trips were made with at least moderate success. The Action Report of CinCPac, mentioned above, is authority for the statement that during January it was estimated that at least 3,000 enemy effectives were present on the island.
Accordingly, the 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry, with reinforcing elements from the Anti-tank Company of the regiment, a portion of the Weapons Company of the 3d Battalion, 132d Infantry, one platoon of riflemen of Company K, 132d Infantry, Battery F, 10th Marines, and communications, engineer, and medical personnel, was moved by boat from Kukum to Verahue, on the southwestern coast of the island.22 This movement, made on 1 February under destroyer escort, was accomplished without incident by early morning.
During the day, however, a strong enemy air strike developed. Enemy fighter planes, coming in at extreme altitude, drew American planes up in pursuit, and enemy bombers, coming in low over the hills, struck at the airfield and at the congested troop areas around it. One small bridge near Kukum was destroyed, and casualties were inflicted upon Army medical and service troops in the vicinity of the Lunga. After pulling out of their runs, the enemy planes strafed the coastal strip west of the Matanikau, without causing casualties.
The severest loss occasioned by the raid was that of the destroyer DeHaven. This ship, returning from its mission of covering the movement of the 2d Battalion, 132d, was caught by enemy planes in the stretch of water between Savo Island and Tassafaronga and destroyed in plain sight of the troops engaged along the coast.
Several days were spent by the 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry, in preparing for its push around the cape and down the north coast. During this period the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander George, AUS, was wounded and replaced by Lieutenant Colonel George Ferry, AUS. Immediately thereafter, the movement around the cape began which terminated 9 February on the Tanamba River.
place artillery support, against an enemy who was exhibiting a trait that was to become an outstanding factor in the rest of the Pacific War--that of bitter, unrelenting resistance, even when the odds against him were overwhelming.
At no time during the last fortnight of the campaign did the American forces come up against a large Japanese force. Momentary halts in the advance were made necessary by the presence of small and determined bands fighting desperate rear guard actions; now and again a pocket of resistance was encountered that halted the progress of a battalion for several hours. Aside from these isolated and uncoordinated bands, however, no enemy forces were found.
It was expected that the Japanese would make some kind of a determined stand in the neighborhood of Cape Esperance, where the terrain, rough and hilly, was ideal for such tactics. Some basis for this belief lay in the fact that all prisoners taken and interrogated during the period spoke of the withdrawal to the northwest of the main bodies. It now seems apparent that the Japanese higher command was keeping knowledge of the evacuation from its lower echelons until they were withdrawn to the neighborhood of Kamimbo Bay, for the stories told by prisoners from widely separated sectors were in agreement with one another and showed no evidence of collusion.
It will bear mention at this time that only once during the course of the campaign was there an instance on record of attempted deception on the part of a prisoner.
Late in January a noncommissioned officer was captured after having been wounded, and was taken to the division headquarters, just east of the mouth of the Matanikau River. He answered all questions readily, giving his name and unit and all other information desired. His wounds were then treated in the presence of the language officer, who saw to it that he was fed and comfortable before taking leave. As he was about to walk out of the tent in the stockade, the prisoners called to him, and said he had a confession to make.
INSIDE THE STOCKADE, a cooperative Japanese prisoner is interrogated by Marine intelligence officers.
It seems that the medical care and the food that he had received had made him repentant of having falsified a bit of information. He had given the wrong name, a deception which he corrected at once, with the ingenuous remark, "But that is the only lie that I told."
On one occasion, indeed, a captured sergeant volunteered information which proved to be of great importance. On 25 January the man, a member of a company of engineers, had been captured, fed, and interrogated. At the end of the usual schedule of questions and answers, he offered the information that the next day, or the day after that, there was to be a daylight air raid of some strength on the perimeter. This was interesting, especially in view of the fact that there had been very little of such activity since the early part of December--a consideration which made it seem extremely unlikely that the story was fabrication. The raid developed as had been foretold, and the American planes were in the air and awaiting the enemy blow when seven bombers, accompanied by some forty fighter planes,
arrived. Little damage was done as a result of the alert.23
In the advance to the westward, the CAM Division and the 25th Division operated abreast, with the former driving up the coast on a front of about fifteen hundred yards and the latter operating inland, in contact on the left. Most of the resistance encountered was found in the ravines opening out into the coastal plain, while the advance of the division operating along the inland sector was held back more by terrain than by enemy action.
On 189 January, the 6th Marines and the 182d Infantry were advancing abreast with the Marine regiment on the right, its right flank on the beach, when a potentially serious situation developed at the point of contact of the right elements of the 182d and the left elements of the 6th, and a delay of one day was occasioned by a resultant miscarriage of plans, but no lasting damage was done.24 On 20 January, the 147th Infantry relieved the 182d Infantry in its zone of action, and the latter regiment went to division reserve, while the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, relieved the 2d Battalion, of that regiment, which had been operating for eight days across difficult ground and against moderate resistance. Patrolling in the zone of the next projected advance occupied all troops on the 21st.
Resistance developed near the Mamara River in the boundary between the coastal plain and the beginnings of the ridges on 22 January when the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines was pinned down by heavy machine gun and rifle fire after having moved forward 500 yards.25
The advance of the 1st Battalion, operating across the hills on the left, was held up pending the outcome of the engagement. A comparable situation developed on the next day, when the 3d Battalion once more was pinned down after having gone forward some 500 yards.
On 24 January, resistance centered in the zone of action of the 1st Battalion, on the left of the regimental front, for the progress of that unit was held up until a flanking movement down a ravine, where the main resistance was located, cleaned out the enemy and allowed a resumption of the forward movement. By 1535, contact was established just east of Kokumbona River with elements of the 25th Division which, operating along the inland zone of action, had outstripped the units on the coast, and, swinging northward, had cut across ahead of them, bottling up the remaining enemy forces east of the river.26
For the next six days little resistance was encountered, and the division pushed forward beyond the Mamara River. At 0630 on 30 January, the 147th Infantry passed through the 6th Marines, who thereupon went into bivouac in the area between the Mamara and Kokumbona.27 Security detachments were furnished for the flank and the rear of the 147th Infantry, but Marine participation in infantry action on the island was over.
Organized resistance ceased on 9 February when, as the result of a pincers movement on the part of Army units, the last remaining Japanese forces were pinched out west of the Umasami River. The 6th Marines and the advance echelon of the 2d Marine Division embarked at Kukum on 19 February and returned to the vicinity of Wellington, New Zealand.
2 Malaria incidence was estimated at 75%, and time for rehabilitation at three to six months. ComSoPac to ComSoWesPacFor, 10Dec42.
3 Report of Operations, 8th Marines, p. 19.
4 Ibid. Aerial photo #14 and sketch #14, pp. 100 and 101 respectively.
5 Letter, Colonel Arthur, p. 8. Arthur held under Patch the position Sebree had held under Vandegrift.
6 Interview, LtCol M.L. Curry, 28 January 1949.
7 Letter, Colonel Arthur to OinC Historical Division, 11 October 1945, p. 9.
8 By 3d Battalion, 10th Marines in direct support. This battalion fired one round of smoke shell every 15 minutes so that the attacking infantry, working through dense jungle, could guide itself.
9 The hill was separated from Mount Austen by parallel ravines, precipitous and of great depth. The only feasible approach was along a ridge system from the southeast.
10 Contained in detail in Field Order No. 1, 132d Infantry, 30 December 1942.
11 Information given by BrigGen W.E. Riley in interviews during summer and fall of 1947. Refer to Chapter VII, and Halsey's dispatch of 3Nov42.
12 D-3 Log, 2d Marine Division (hereinafter called D-3 Log) entry 0800 of 6 January. The command post, retained throughout the remainder of the campaign, was siutated about 800 yards east of the mouth of the Matanikau River, on the beach. This was due north of the ridges upon which Conoley's action had been fought late in October.
13 The Marine Forces in the area on 6 January were as follows:
|2d Marines (less 3d Battalion)||2,557|
|2d Signal Company||239|
|3d Defense Battalion||789|
|5th Defense Battalion||98|
|9th Defense Battalion||1,134|
|18th Naval Construction Battalion||783|
|3d Battalion, 2d Marines||739|
|A Company, 2d Pioneer Battalion||174|
|A Company, 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion||58|
|A Company, 2d Medical Battalion||67|
|D Company, 2d Medical Battalion||44|
|5" Battery, 3d Defense Battalion||47|
|5th Defense Battalion||629|
|155mm Battery, 9th Defense Battalion||39|
|3d Barrage Balloon Squadron||235|
|Total strength Marine Corps ground forces in area||18,383|
14 The 6th Marines (Reinforced) consisted of the following units and detachments:
15 The "Composite Division" merely a convenient term for referring to the group formed by the 8th Marines, the 2d Marines, and the Army regiments that served with them in the early stages of the January drive to the west. The 2d Division Staff served as the CAM Staff. The name first appears in a field order from the XIV Corps (F.O. #2) dated 25 January, at which time the "division" consisted of the 147th Infantry (less one battalion), the 182 Infantry (less one battalion), the 6th Marines, and Marine Corps and Army artillery units. Prior to that date, although the name was used informally, there seems to have been no official acknowledgment that such a unit existed, and the unit itself had no administrative identity.
16 Operations, 6th Marines, p. 1.
17 Letter, MajGen Leo O. Hermle, 4Jan49.
18 XIV Corps Operation Memorandum No. 7, 16 January 1943.
19 2d Division Command, Guadalcanal Documents, Marine Corps records. General Marston was never apprised of the Commandant's attitude, either by Vogel or by Holcomb himself. Letter, Marston to CMC, 30Dec48.
20 All details of the Beaufort Bay-Tapinanja patrol were obtained from the Historical Division, War Department from Dr. John Miller, Jr., formerly a Marine.
21 Interrogations, USSBS. Various Interrogations, all with varying estimates of the number evacuated, appear in these volumes. See also the Robinson ms., where on page 13 the author gives an account of the operation of the "Express" during January. This task group consisted of from 16 to 20 destroyers, which suffered the following damage during January and February:
22 All details of the shore-to-shore movement of the 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry were obtained fromthe Historical Division, War Department, Dr. John Miller, Jr.
23 Letter, LtCol Thomas J. Colley to Officer-in-Charge, Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 18 September 1945, p. 3. This air victory was recognized and applauded by General Patch in a memorandum to ComAirCactus, in which he voiced the "profound appreciation of every member of this command. . . ." Quoted by LtGen Francis P. Mulcahy, 28Jan49.
24 Record of Operations, 6th Marines, p. 5. See also Statement, LtCol John H. Coffman to CMC, USMC, on subject of completion of report of the Operations Section, Advance Echelon, 2d Marine Division, January 17 to 20, 1943. Guadalcanal Document 1-Q, Marine Corps records.
25 Record of Events, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, p. 2. Report of Operations, 6th Marines, p. 7.
26 Record of Events, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, p. 3. Report of Operations, 6th Marines, p. 8.
27 In compliance with XIV Corps Operation Memorandum No. 11, 28 January 1943. The 2d Battalion, 10th Marines was attached to mthe 147th Infantry, and continued in action.
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