Chapter 7: Japanese Counteroffensive

In spite of the miscarriage of Nakaguma's effort to establish a bridgehead across the Matanikau, the Japanese Seventeenth Army continued preparations for its big push. On 9 October, the same day that Lieutenant Colonel Puller caught a major portion of Nakaguma's 4th Infantry between the devil of small-arms and the deep sea of artillery and mortar concentrations, Seventeenth Army General Haruyoshi Hyakutake landed on Guadalcanal to take personal charge of the Japanese campaign.

Things were serious but not desperate. Although Ichiki and Kawaguchi had allowed unfounded optimism and overconfidence to swamp their missions against the Marines, Hyakutake still had a strong force and a proud confidence that he could wipe out the Lunga positions in one blow. And with Guadalcanal safely back in Japanese hands, Imperial troops then would retake Tulagi and occupy Rennell and San Cristobal. At the same time Seventeenth Army reserves and the Japanese Navy could renew attacks in New Guinea and take Port Moresby by late November. The Bushido spirit would be back at full strength.

By early October the Japanese had brought troops in from the Philippines, the East Indies, China, and Truk to place within the Seventeenth Army command in Rabaul and the Solomons two divisions, a brigade, and a reinforced battalion. Support forces included six antiaircraft battalions plus one other AAA battery; a heavy regiment and an independent tank company; one regiment and one battalion of mountain artillery; an engineer regiment, and other troops including a mortar battalion and a unit of reconnaissance aircraft. Included in this general listing were the Kawaguchi brigade, the Ichiki reinforced battalion and other battalions of the 4th and 124th Infantry Regiments (Nakaguma) already defeated or weakened by the Lunga defenders.

By reason of the odd impasse in which both the Japanese and the Allied navies chose to avoid decisive battle to conserve their fleets, the Solomons waters changed hands every twelve hours, and thus each side kept an important trickle of aid going to its small combat force which represented a single oint of ground contact between the belligerent powers. In daylight when Cactus could fly cover, the Allied ships came in from Espiritu Santo and other southern areas with reinforcements and supplies for the Marines. Barges, landing craft, and YPs shuttled errands across Sealark Channel. By nightfall the larger ships departed, and most of the others still in the Sealark area withdrew to safety in the Tulagi anchorage. Until dawn the Japanese took over.

The destroyers and cruisers of the Tokyo Express habitually lurked in the Shortlands below Bougainville Island until the afternoon when they would start steaming south to be within 200 miles of


Guadalcanal by about 1800. This was just inside the range of SBDs and TBFs from Henderson Field, but the maneuvering ships made poor targets, and the late hour gave the American planes time for only one crack at them before turning back for Lunga. After that the Express had an open line all the way to Sealark.

While transport destroyers unloaded on either side of the Marine perimeter, Japanese warships stood close in at Lunga and went to work with their guns. Louie the Louse dropped flares to aid the naval gunners, and Washing-Machine Charlie lurked overhead to fritter out his bombs during lulls in surface firing. Under such attacks there was little the Marines could do but crouch in their foxholes and pray--or swear. Lunga defenders could estimate 150 new enemy ground soldiers for every destroyer transport--often five or six a night--that made the Express run, and by early October these troops began to land insultingly close, just across the Matanikau eight to ten miles from Henderson Field. The Allied turn to use the waters came at daylight, but U.S. forces did not have the man power to match the Japanese rate of reinforcement.

Fortunately, the Japanese started slowly. Still thinking in terms of their operation against New Guinea, and miscalculating Allied strength in the Solomons, Imperial planners only dribbled reinforcements to Guadalcanal in August when the Marine position was particularly vulnerable. Not until after the Ichiki and Kawaguchi defeats did Japan begin to take serious stock of Vandegrift and his Marines.

But not the Tokyo Express had stepped up its schedule, and by mid-October Hyakutake had landed his 2d Division, two battalions of the 38th Division, one regiment and three batteries of heavy artillery, a battalion and a battery of mountain artillery, a mortar battalion, a tank company, and three rapid-fire gun battalions. Special troops including engineers and medical personnel, and remnants of earlier attacks brought the Japanese force to about 20,000 men.

Facing this mounting Japanese strength was a Marine force of about the same size. Arrival of the 7th marines and the transfer of other troops from Tulagi bolstered General Vandegrift's Lunga positions, but until 7 October there was little hope that more reinforcements would be forthcoming. Rear areas in the South Pacific had gained little strength since Vandegrift had argued for control of his 7th Marines, and the plan for the occupation of Ndeni still was in the pending basket. Marine strength thus promised to deteriorate while Japanese strength continued to mount. More than 800 Marine battle casualties had been evacuated by early October, and malaria continued to take its toll.1

The Cactus fliers were not doing much more than holding their own, either. By 1 October, Lieutenant Colonel Mangrum's original VMSB-232 and Lieutenant Commander Caldwell's Flight 300 were done for,2 Army pilots from the 67th Fighter Squadron had only about six or eight of their P-400s in shape to fly, John Smith's VMF-223 had lost an even dozen pilots--six killed and six wounded--and other units, although stronger, still piled up


their share of losses. On the first day of October General Geiger had 58 planes; two days later the count stood at 49.

If the Japanese had failed to win, place, or show with Ichiki, Kawaguchi, and Nakaguma, the Allies likewise had been unable to improve their odds by any comfortable margin. To General Harmon the situation looked about as grim as it had on 11 August when he expressed doubt that the Marines could hold their perimeter. and on 6 October he wrote to Admiral Ghormley that the Ndeni operation should be quashed until the situation improved. He questioned the logic of holding troops idle for a new operation when things were going so poorly in a battle already joined. He admitted certain factors favoring the Ndeni occupation, but he added that, "... in the final analysis they are individually or cumulatively vital to the success of main offensive operation or .. maintaining security of South Pacific bases and lines of communications."3

Specifically, Harmon recommended abandoning the Ndeni operation until the Guadalcanal situation improved; reinforcement of Cactus (Guadalcanal) by at least one regimental combat team; the maximum possible intensification of naval surface action in South Solomons waters; and the prompt buildup of airdrome facilities and supplies at Henderson Field. Ghormley agreed that Vandegrift needed another regiment and that Henderson Field needed facilities and supplies, but the admiral retained for the time his plan to occupy Ndeni and build an airfield there. For the Guadalcanal reinforcement, Ghormley ordered Harmon to prepare a regiment of the New Caledonia garrison, and on 8 October he ordered Admiral Turner to embark the 164th Infantry of the Americal Division, Harmon's choice for the job, and depart Noumea for Guadalcanal on 9 October.

It was to be a blockade run in force. Transports Zeilin and McCawley, carrying supplies, 210 men of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and 85 Marine casuals as well as the 2,850 men of the Army regiment, sailed under escort of three destroyers and three mine layers while a larger force of four cruisers and five destroyers steamed off the convoy's left flank. These cruisers, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Helena, and Boise and destroyers Buchanan, Duncan, Farenholt, Laffey, and McCalla were commanded by Rear Admiral Norman Scott. Other U.S. Naval forces in the surrounding waters included Rear Admiral George D. Murray's Hornet carrier group some 180 miles southwest of Guadalcanal, and Rear Admiral Willis Augustus Lee's battleship Washington group about 50 miles east of Maliata. Scott's screening station for the unloading was near Rennell Island.

The Battle of Cape Esperance

On 11 October, while the Zeilin and the McCawley made for their 13 October anchorage schedule in Lunga Roads, Admiral Scott learned from aerial observers that two Japanese cruisers and six destroyers were bearing down The Slot. It was the night's Tokyo Express, Scott decided, and at 1600 he started toward Guadalcanal at 29 knots to intercept the run. His orders charged him to protect the transports, and to search for and destroy enemy ships and landing craft; he rushed eagerly to work.


Actually Scott headed to intercept a force stronger than reports had indicated. Observers failed to spot three heavy cruisers, two seaplane carriers, and eight destroyers steaming some distance away outside of The Slot. Japanese Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, commander of the Eighth Fleet and the Outer Sea Forces, and Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka, Eleventh Air Fleet commander, had teamed up to strike the strongest blow yet against the bothersome Cactus fliers. In the afternoon of the 11th, Kusaka had 30 fighters and 35 bombers up to occupy Henderson fliers while Mikawa's bombardment and reinforcing groups steamed south outside the normal Japanese transport route. Heavy cruisers Aoba, Kinugasa, and Furutaka with destroyers Hatsuyuki and Fubuki made up the bombardment group while the reinforcing fleet included seaplane carriers Chitose and Nisshin, and destroyers Akizuki, Asagumo, Natsugumo, Yamagumo, Murakumo, and Shirayuki.

By about 2200, while Scott maneuvered in the waters of Iron Bottom Sound between Savo Island and Cape Esperance, the Japanese bombardment group came into The Slot and steamed south in a double column at 26 knots. At 2330 a spotting plane from USS San Francisco reported Japanese ships 16 miles from Savo and off Cape Esperance,4 but Scott's ships still were unaware of the serious trouble facing them. Gunnery radar failed to pick up the enemy then approximately 35 degrees forward of the port beam, and although theHelena earlier had spotted a Japanese ship bearing 315 degrees and at a distance of 27,700 yards, she didn't report this contact for 15 minutes.

Flagship San Francisco, with rudimentary radar of that early period, had no contacts, and Scott continued to steam toward Savo with his ships in column. He counted this the best area for intercepting the Express he hoped to derail, and at about 2340 he had reversed course to head back toward the Cape when the Helena, at last confident about the blips from her better radar equipment, announced her fix of a target six miles away. Fortunately, since the U.S. fleet was having "eye" trouble, the Japanese ships were completely blind, and even though certain communications misunderstandings5 further delayed American fire, first salvos from the Helena at 2346 caught the enemy by complete surprise. Scott's ships had usurped Tokyo's turn in Sealark Channel.

The Salt Lake City, Boise, and Farenholt quickly added their fire to that of the Helena, and shortly thereafter the U.S. fleet crossed the Japanese "T" (sailed ahead of the Japanese column and at right angles to it) so that a majority of the American guns could bear on each Japanese ships as it came forward. The Japanese destroyer Fubuki sank almost at once, the cruiser Furutaka sank almost at once, the cruiser Furutaka took such a mauling that she limped away to sink later, and the Aoba caught fire. The only sound survivors, cruiser Kinugasa and destroyer Hatsuyuki, withdrew. On the American side, the Boise, Salt Lake City, Farenholt, and Duncan suffered damage, and the Duncan sank the following day.8


Scott could count the engagement a victory, but it did not resolve the seesawing for power in the Solomons waters or skies. The Japanese only stepped up their air attacks on Henderson field and continued preparations for the big push.

Preparation for Battle

Transports McCawley and Zeilin arrived at Kukum with the Army reinforcements early on 13 October, but this was one of the few bright spots of the day. Both radar and the Northern Solomons coastwatchers missed an air attack that came over at 1202, and the F4Fs couldn't get up in time to hamper the 22 fighter-escorted bombers that rained down their bombs from 30,000 feet. Both Henderson Field and Fighter 1 were damaged, and fires from the attack burned 5,000 gallons of aviation fuel.

Between 1330 and 1400 a second strike of 15 Japanese bombers caught most of the American planes back on their fields refueling. Some planes were damaged, and the strike undid the repair work that had been started by the 6th Seabees following the earlier raid. A few Cactus planes got up to pursue the Japanese, but the only American kill was scored by Captain Joseph J. Foss who had arrived on 9 October with Major Leonard K. Davis' VMF-121 of MAG-14. The field was not completely out of action, but big bombers were advised to avoid it except for emergencies.

In spite of these interruptions, Colonel Bryant E. Moore managed to get his 164th Infantry ashore, along with other men and supplies from the transports, but trouble for the perimeter was not over. As the second bomber strike droned away, the 150mm howitzers near Kokumbona were finally heard from. Safely beyond counterbattery range, these weapons began a slow methodical registration on the field and the perimeter. The fire was a brand of damage and destruction the men at Lunga had to live with, and so to have a pinpoint target for their anger if not their weapons they named this new entrant in their war Pistol Pete.

Pete, as was most often the case with Louie the Louse and Washing-Machine Charlie, was plural. Hyakutake had landed 15 of these howitzers. But for the Marines and soldiers it was difficult to imagine batteries getting that personal, and Pete's particular brand of hell was a most personal and singular thing. So Pete became one enemy, the devil himself--the devil and one big gun acting as Tojo's personal Nimrod.

And after he thumped away at the perimeter all that day, an enemy task force built around battleships Haruna and Kongo came into Sealark Channel after nightfall to launch an 80-minute bombardment.7 This was the Japanese Combat Division 3, commanded by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, and it also included light cruiser Isuzu and three ships of Destroyer Division 31 as a screen, plus a rear guard of four ships from Destroyer Division 15. The battleships had on board some new bombardment shells which had just arrived from the home islands. These had a greater bursting radius than former Japanese bombardment shells, and there were enough of them for battleships Haruna and Kongo to have 500 each.

This was the first time that battleships had been used to bombard Henderson Field, and the Japanese hoped these big guns and the improved ammunition would


completely knock out the Marine air and clear the way for a coordinated infantry attack. Louis the Louse illuminated the field, and the big guns cut loose. Coconut trees splintered, buildings and huts ripped open and crashed down, fragments and wreckage tore into planes and men, and more gasoline went up in bright fires which helped Japanese gunners stay on target for their systematic coverage of the field with more than 900 rounds of the high explosive shells.

As Admiral Tanaka described it later:

The scene was topped off by flare bombs from our observation planes flying over the field, the whole spectacle making the Ryogoku fireworks display seem like mere child's play. The night's pitch dark was transformed by fire into the brightness of day. Spontaneous cries and shouts of excitement ran throughout our ships.8

Then, as the ships became silent and withdrew east of Savo Island, the planes came back. Night bombers continued their strikes intermittently until daybreak, and by dawn of 14 October the Cactus Air Force could fly only 42 of the 90 planes that had been operational 24 hours earlier. Forth-one men had been killed and many more wounded, and the airfield was a complete shambles. Among the dead were Major Gordon A. Bell, whose VMSB-141 had finally built up to 21 planes and fliers on 6 October, and four of his pilots: Captains Edward F. Miller and Robert A. Abbott and Lieutenants Henry F. Chaney, Jr. and George L. Haley.

Operations, sorely restricted by the loss of gasoline in the fire, moved to Fighter 1 which was left in better condition than Henderson; and a few B-17s which had been operating temporarily from Guadalcanal managed to bounce aloft from a 2,000-yard stretch of Henderson that still was usable and fly back to Espiritu Santo. The Japanese "Pagoda," air headquarters since the early days, had been partially wrecked, and General Geiger had it bulldozed away. It had proved too good a registration point for bombers, anyway.

For the rest of the day the Japanese ships maintained their control of the waters around Guadalcanal, and the planes continued to press their advantage in the air. Between the bombings and the shellings, Pistol Pete's effective interdiction prevented repair or use of the main airstrip, and by midafternoon Henderson had to chalked off as completely unfit for use. By late afternoon fliers of the Army's 67th Fighter Squadron and 13 dive bomber pilots used Fighter 1--and nearly all of Henderson's remaining supply of fuel--to strike back finally at the Japanese by attacking an early run of the Tokyo Express then only 70 miles north of Guadalcanal. One ship was sunk and another damaged, but the Express did not turn back.

That night (14 October) the Japanese cruisers Chokai and Kinugasa moved down the channel to bombard Henderson Field while the express brought the six transports carrying General Maruyama's 2d Division on down to Tassafaronga. The cruisers fired 752 eight-inch shells at the men around Lunga, and by dawn on 15 October five of the enemy transports were clearly visible from the perimeter as they lay off Tassafaronga smugly unloading troops, supplies, and ammunition.

Cactus fliers, smarting from the two-day hammering, drained gasoline from wrecked planes, searched the surrounding jungle for undamaged drums, and finally collected enough aviation fuel to mount an attack with the three SBDs that could still


fly. But one of these planes had to be scratched when it tumbled into a crater on the way to the strip, and Lieutenant Robert M. Patterson lost SBD number two when the plane hit a shell hole while he raced for his takeoff. Patterson tried it again with the last dive bomber, and this time he made it. His single-plane attack did not hamper the Japanese much, but while he was flying, the ground crews quickly patched other planes. It resembled and informal neighborhood boxkite club, with members hardly able to wait for work to be completed before they tested their craftsmanship. One at a time the first four planes were taken up to have a chance at the cocky Japanese transports. Two minor hits were scored, but General Geiger stopped the assembly line combat action until he could muster more strength.9

At 1000 Cactus was ready with 12 SBDs, and they went up to drop 500- and 1,000-pound bombs on the transports and then strafe their decks. That attack sank one of the transports. Next came attacks from P-39s and the relic P-400s, and fires broke out on two of the ships. After that, fliers from Espiritu Santo began to show up, and B-17s and SBDs from the south sank another transport. The Tokyo Express was in most serious trouble, in spite of 30 Zeros overhead to provide cover, and General Hyakutake might well have considered that the admirals and senior pilots in Rabaul had been somewhat overconfident in this daring daylight delivery of his reinforcements.

Even General Geiger's own pilot, Major Jack Cram, had his turn during that day of desperation when he made a run on the transports with two torpedoes slung under the wings of the general's Blue Goose, a bulbous and gouty PBY-5A. Cram got the torpedoes off, but then he was chased back to Fighter 1 by a clutch of Zeros, like sparrows around a ponderous hawk, and one determined enemy fighter had to be shot away from the smoking Goose as Cram came in for his landing.

By day's end three bombed transports of 7,000 to 8,000 tons each were beached and burning off Tassafaronga, and the other two had fled back up Sealark Channel and The Slot. But in spite of this, the Japanese had managed to unload 3,000 to 4,000 men of the 230th and 16th Infantry Regiments as well as 80 per cent of the ships' cargo. These troops, the last the Japanese were able to land prior to their concentrated effort against the airfield, brought General Hyakutake's strength on the island to about 20,000 men.

General Vandegrift now had approximately 23,000 men, but the Marine force suffered severely from malnutrition, malaria, the exhaustive defensive actions, patrols, and field engineering work they had accomplished. Most of them were veterans, but in the unhealthy tropics that fact did not necessarily mean an advantage in the long run. Only the 164th Infantry of the Americal Division contained fresh troops.

With this additional regiment ashore, the division again reorganized the perimeter, this time into five new defensive sectors, Clockwise from the Kukum area they were:


Since the Japanese attack was expected from the west across the Matanikau, the greatest strength was concentrated on that side of the perimeter. Forward of the 5th Marines' lines, the 3d Battalions of both the 1st and 7th Marines held a strong outpost line from the beach at the mouth of the river inland to Hill 67. This line was supported by a battalion of the 11th Marines and elements of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion. The 3d Battalion, 2d Marines and 1st Tank Battalion units constituted the division reserve, and each regimental sector commander was directed to keep a third of his infantry strength in reserve also.

Against these Marine and Army positions, General Hyakutake prepared to launch his attack for the recapture of the airfield. On 15 October in Kokumbona he issued his attack order to Lieutenant General Masao Maruyama's 2d Division. Date for the assault was set tentatively for 18 October. The 2d Division would swing far inland to hit the Marines from the south with a night attack in two columns of battalions while the Seventeenth Army artillery commander, General Sumiyoshi, would shell the perimeter and then launch a diversionary strike with infantry units near the mouth of the Matanikau. For this coastal attack Sumiyoshi had a force of some 2,900 men comprising the battalions of the 4th Infantry plus a tank company, seven light field artillery pieces, fifteen of the 150mm howitzers, and three 100mm guns.

For his inland attack, Maruyama had some eight or nine infantry battalions totaling 5,600 men, plus artillery and supporting troops. General Kawaguchi, who had tried his hand in the same area before, would command the right arm of the assault with two battalions of the 230th Infantry, one battalion of the124th Infantry, and elements of the 3d Light Trench Mortar Battalion, 6th and 7th Independent Rapid Gun Battalions, the 20th Independent Mountain Artillery, engineers, and medical troops. The left attacking column would be under command of Major General Yumio Nasu and would include the 29th Infantry, the remainder of the 3d Light Trench Mortar Battalion, a rapid fire gun battalion, a mountain artillery battalion, and engineers. The 16th Infantry and some engineers--a part of Nasu's command--would be in reserve behind the 29th Infantry.

General Hyakutake was confident of success. He had left the bulk of his 38th Division at Rabaul. Banzai was to be


Maruyama's signal of victory at the airfield and his attack from the south was ordered to press unrelenting destruction upon the enemy until General Vandegrift himself came forth to surrender.

Thus charged, General Maruyama struck out through the jungle wilderness on 16 October.

The Ground Action

Transportation was pedestrian, cargo moved on bended backs, and hand power drove the engineering tools. Thus the column of enveloping Japanese inched single file across the tortuous Guadalcanal back country like a segmented serpent crawling through the perpetual wet shadows of the tropical forest.

The so-called Maruyama Trail, begun by engineers in September, scratched its thin scar along the floor of the jungle southward from Kokumbona, east across the Matanikau and the Lunga inland from Mount Austen, and then north to an assembly area south of Bloody Ridge. Safely beyond range of Marine patrols and hidden from aerial view by the vine-laced tops of giant hardwoods, the Japanese soldier moved with an artillery or mortar shell lashed to his already heavy load of normal equipment, frequently used ropes to scale the rough ridges and steep valleys, and by turns tugged a line or hunched his shoulder to he common effort of manhandling artillery, mortars, and machine guns.

Heavy rain fell almost every day. The van of the single-file advance often had completed its day's march and bivouacked for the night before the rear elements were able to move. Troops weakened on their half ration of rice. Heavy artillery pieces had to be abandoned along the route, and mortars also became too burdensome to manage. Frequently unsure of their exact location in the jungle, the Japanese by 19 October still had not crossed the upper Lunga, and Maruyama postponed his assault until the 22d. Meanwhile, General Sumiyoshi's fifteen Pistol Petes pounded the Lunga perimeter, air attacks continued, and Imperial warships steamed brazenly into Sealark Channel nearly every night to shell the airfield, beaches, and Marine positions.

The tempo of action obviously was building up for the counteroffensive, and Marines and soldiers worked constantly to improve their field fortifications and keep up an aggressive patrol schedule. Patrols did not go far enough afield, however, to discover Maruyama's wide-swinging enveloping force, and reconnaissance to the east found no indications of a Japanese build-up on that flank. Thus General Vandegrift and his staff were aware only of Sumiyoshi's threat along the coast from the west.

Map 23: October Attacks on the Perimeter

There the first probe came on 20 October. A Japanese combat patrol, augmented by two tanks, ventured into view on the west bank of the Matanikau but turned back after one tank was knocked out by 37mm fire from the lines of the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines. Sporadic artillery fire was the only Japanese answer to this checkmate, and it continued until sunset the next day. Then the artillery fire intensified briefly, and nine infantry-supported tanks debouched from the west bank jungle and drove eastward for the sandspit at the mouth of the river. But again the fire from a 37mm stopped one of the tanks, and the attack turned back without seriously threatening the river-mouth positions of Company I, 3/1. The Marine


FIVE BLASTED JAPANESE TANKS knocked out by marine 37mm guns during the abortive attempt to force the perimeter along the mouth of the Matanikau. (USMC 54898)

MARINE LIGHT TANKS, mounting machine guns and 37mm cannon, were severely hampered in their operations by the jungle terrain of Guadalcanal. (USN 18525)


battalion had taken a few casualties from artillery and mortar fire, but neither of these first two attacks had posed a serious threat.

At the Matanikau positions on 22 October Sumiyoshi continued firing his mortars and artillery but mounted no new assault. Inland, General Maruyama struggled with the jungle some distance from his lines of departure, and he was forced to postpone his proposed assault to 23 October. But on that day he still was unprepared to attack and again he set back his plans another 24 hours.

At about 1800 on the 23d, however, Sumiyoshi once more intensified his artillery and mortar fire to lay down an orthodox preparation pattern on the Marine east bank positions and along the coastal route from the Lunga Perimeter. Near the end of evening nautical twilight the artillery fire ceased, and a column of nine 18-tom medium tanks churned across the sandspit in an attempt to force a penetration. In assembly areas to the rear infantry troops stood by to assault in the wake of the tanks.

Slim-barreled 37s again blasted at the Japanese tanks while infantry mortars and howitzers of the 11th Marines dumped prearranged concentrations farther west to break up the pending infantry assault. The enemy ground troops never got started, and the tank charge miscarried when eight of the vehicles were hammered to a standstill by the 37s. One tank managed to crossing but staggered out of control when a Marine pitched a grenade in its track as it lumbered by his foxhole. Pursued by a half-track 75, the beset machine wallowed into the surf where it stalled to form a sitting duck target for the tank destroyer.

The other eight hulks remained strewn along the sand bar across the river mouth, and artillery fire knocked out three more tanks that never got to attack. Hundreds of the enemy soldiers who had been waiting to follow the tanks were killed. The action was over by 2200, although at about midnight the Japanese made a half-hearted attempt to cross the river farther upstream. This thrust was turned back with little trouble.

From his study of interrogations of the Japanese generals involved, Dr. John Miller, Jr., sums up:

Sumiyoshi had sent one tank company and one infantry regiment forward to attack a prepared position over an obvious approach route while the Americans were otherwise unengaged. The Maruyama force, still moving inland, had not reached its line of departure. In 1946, the responsible commanders gave different reasons for the lack of co-ordination and blamed each other. According to Hyakutake, this piecemeal attack had been a mistake. The coastal attack was to have been delivered at the same time as Maruyama's forces struck against the southern perimeter line. Maruyama, according to Hyakutake, was to have notified the 4th Infantry when he reached his line of departure on 23 October, and he so notified the 4th Infantry. The regiment then proceeded with its attack.

Maruyama disclaimed responsibility for the blunder, and blamed 17th Army Headquarters. His forces, delayed in their difficult march, had not reached their line of departure on 23 October. The 17th Army, he asserted, overestimated the rate of progress of the south flank and ordered the coast forces to attack on 23 October to guarantee success on the south flank.

Sumiyoshi was vague. He claimed that throughout the counteroffensive he had been so weakened by malaria that he found it difficult to make decision. Despite an earlier statement that he did not know why the attack of 23 October had been ordered, he declared that he had attacked ahead of Maruyama to divert the Americans. Communication between the two forces, he claimed, had been very poor. Radio sets gave off too much light, and thus had been used only


in daylight hours. Telephone communication had been frequently disrupted. As a result the coast force had been one day behind in its knowledge of Maruyama's movement.10

Meanwhile the Marine division11 had started a shift of manpower within the perimeter. In the face of Sumiyoshi's attacks, and with no patrol contacts to the south or east, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines on 23 October pulled out of its southern lines east of the Lunga and moved west to relieve the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines at the mouth of the Matanikau. This left the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (Puller) with a responsibility for the defense of all of Sector Five, the 2,500-yard defense line from the inland flank of the 164th Infantry west across the southern slopes of Bloody Ridge to he Lunga River. Puller's extended lines were thin, but there appeared very little danger from the south.

Hanneken's 2/7 did not effect its intended relief, however, because of the heavy Japanese artillery fire that engaged 3/1 on the 23d, and on the following day a new assignment was given to the 7th Marines battalion. On the 24th the Marines of 3/7 on Hill 67 south of the Matanikau mouth had spotted a Japanese column, obviously a flanking force,12 moving east across Mount Austen's foothills. Artillery and air was called in on this enemy movement, but the Japanese disappeared into jungle ravines about 1,000 yards south of Hill 67 before they could be engaged. In the face of this threat apparently headed for the 4,000-yard gap between the Matanikau outpost and the Lunga perimeter, 2/7 was assigned to plug this hole, and the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines retained its positions overlooking the beach and the Matanikau.

Later the same day came other indications that the Sumiyoshi action would not be the only Japanese effort against the perimeter. Late in the afternoon of 24 October an observer in the 1/7 lines south of the airfield saw a Japanese officer studying Bloody Ridge through field glasses, and a scout-sniper patrol reported seeing the smoke from "many rice fires" in the Lunga valley about two miles south of Puller's positions on the Ridge. By this time twilight was settling over Guadalcanal, and there was little the Marines could do but wait out developments from existing positions. The only troops not in front lines were those in reserve in the various defensive sectors and the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, the division reserve, then bivouacked north of Henderson Field.

The rice fires and the officer with field glasses undoubtedly were signs--and the first the Marines had--of the reinforced 2d Division that finally had negotiated the grueling advance from Kokumbona over the Maruyama Trail. With all his artillery and mortars strewn along the route behind him, Maruyama at last had crossed the Lunga into his assembly areas south of Bloody Ridge. There the force stood at twilight on 24 October ready to attack with only infantry weapons against the dug-in Marines who were backed up by artillery and mortars.

Hoping for bright moonlight to aid coordination (the night actually went black


with heavy rain), the Japanese general ordered a narrow attack over the ground Kawaguchi's force had assaulted in mid-September. The main effort was assigned to the 29th Infantry, with the 16th Infantry in reserve, while farther to the east the Kawaguchi command--now led by Colonel Toshinari Shoji13--was to make a parallel assault. At about 2130 a Japanese unit clashed briefly with a 46-man outpost Puller had stationed forward of his tactical wire, but after a short fire fight the enemy bypassed the position, and the battlefield was quiet. Platoon Sergeant Ralph Briggs, Jr., in charge of the outpost, notified Puller that a large force of Japanese were moving about the outpost hill toward the battalion lines, but Puller ordered his men to hold fire so that Briggs could infiltrate to safety. But the outpost already was flanked by the Japanese moving around the hill, and Briggs led his men to the east while the enemy moved closer to Puller's battalion and began to cut the tactical wire in front of the 1/7 positions.14

While Puller's men strained to hear the approaching enemy above the sound of drumming rain which lashed the night, the Japanese prepared their routes through the Marine barbed wire and formed up for their attack. Then at 0030 on 25 October, Nasu's men came out of the jungle screaming their banzais, throwing grenades, and firing rifles and machine guns to strike the left center of 1/7's line with an assault in depth on a narrow front. Puller called in mortar and artillery concentrations, his riflemen took up a steady fire, and the machine guns rattled almost endless bursts down their final protective lines.

From Puller's left, troops of the 2d Battalion, 164th Infantry added their fire to that of the Marines, but still the Japanese assaulted, trying to rush across the fields of fire toward the Ridge. The attack kept up for 10 or 15 minutes, but finally ground itself to a halt against the combined arms of the U.S. Force. Then there was a lull while the Japanese regrouped and came back again, trying to clear a penetration with their grenades and small arms. The Marine commander assessed correctly that his men were standing off the main attack of Rabaul's big counteroffensive, and that the force in the jungle to his front obviously was strong enough to keep such attacks going most of the night. He called for reinforcements, and division headquarters ordered Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Hall to take his 3d Battalion of the 164th Infantry down the Ridge to bolster Puller's thin line.

But the reinforcements had a mile of muddy ridge to cover before they could be of any help, and in the meantime the Japanese continued to assault out of the jungle and up the slopes. A small group forced a salient in the Marine line to fall upon a mortar position, and farther to the front Nasu's soldiers worked close to a water-cooled machine gun and knocked out all but two of its crew. Marines near


the mortar position won back the tube from the enemy, and in the machine-gun section Sergeant John Basilone took rescue matters into his own hands. For this action and later heroism in braving Japanese fire to bring up ammunition, Basilone became the first enlisted marine of World War II to win the Medal of Honor.15

As these attacks continued, Colonel Hall's soldiers began to arrive in small detachments. Puller made no attempt to give this battalion a line of its own on his threatened front, but instead had his men lead these fresh troops into his line where they were most needed at the moment. The fighting was too brisk and the night too rainy for any major reshuffling of lines. By 0330 the reinforcement was complete, and the Japanese attacks were becoming less intense. Infantry and supporting fires had cut down the Nasu force so that each new assault was made with fewer and fewer men.

Fortunately, all had not gone well for the Japanese plans. Nasu bore the burnt of the effort without assistance to his right where the second assaulting column was to have struck. Colonel Shoji, with Kawaguchi's former command, had strayed out of position in the difficult terrain and poor weather and got in behind General Nasu's 29th Infantry. Shoji was unable to correct this error in time for his battalions to participate in the action.

But Maruyama was true to his orders to press unrelenting attacks upon the Americans. With characteristic resolution, the Japanese struck at the Marines again and again throughout the night. The Bushido was unswerving, but the flesh could not endure the concentrated fire from the combined U.S. infantry battalions, the artillery, and 37mms from the neighboring 2d Battalion, 164th Infantry. By dawn Maruyama called back his men to regroup for later attacks, and Puller and Hall began to reorganize their intermingled battalions and readjust their lines. The first strong effort of the counteroffensive had been turned back, but the remainder of 25 October, Sunday in the Solomons, was not a restful day.

Heavy rains on the 23d and 24th had turned Fighter 1 into a mud bog, and at 0800 Pistol Pete opened up again on Henderson to fire at ten-minute intervals until 1100. With Cactus fliers thus effectively grounded, enemy planes from Rabaul took advantage of this, and the first fair weather in three days, by attempting to give the Japanese counteroffensive some semblance of the coordination that Generals Sumiyoshi and Maruyama had muffed. likewise strong enemy naval forces, to be engaged next day in the Battle of Santa Cruz, were known to be approaching, and early in the morning three Japanese destroyers, as bold as the Zeros overhead, cavorted into Sealark Channel to chase off two American destroyer-transports, sink a tug, set fire to two harbor patrol craft, and harass the beach positions of the 3d Defense Battalion. Finally venturing too close to shore, one of the enemy destroyers was chastised by three hits from 5-inch guns of the defense battalion, and the Japanese ships then withdrew. In all, the day earned its name of "Dugout Sunday."

But the name "was a misnomer in a sense."16 Although the lurking Zeros kept "Condition Red" alerts in effect most of the day, bombing raids came over only


twice,17 and Lunga defenders not connected with Cactus operations climbed out of their foxholes to watch the dogfights which began after Fighter 1 dried enough to support takeoffs. These American planes were able to go up at 1430 to meet a 16-bomber strike from Rabaul and hamper this attack; and a nine-plane bombing raid at 1500 dumped its explosives on General Geiger's boneyard of discarded wrecks. It was 1730 before Condition Red lifted, but after getting airborne the Cactus fliers had given a good account of themselves.

For the second time in three days Captain Foss shot down four Japanese fighters, and all other members of the Guadalcanal flying force worked so well to make up for time lost during the wet morning that 22 enemy planes had been downed by late afternoon. Three American planes, but no fliers, were lost in the actions. And while the F4Fs were battling the Zeros, SBDs and P-39s went off to the north to attack a lurking Japanese naval force. They sank a destroyer and put a cruiser out of action.

Meanwhile, in the reorganization of lines south of Bloody Ridge, Lieutenant Colonel Puller's 1st Battalion, 7th Marines hel ground from the Lunga east across the southern slopes of the ridge, and Lieutenant Colonel Hall's 3/164 tied in at that point around four 37mm guns and extended across low jungle country to the right flank of the 2d Battalion, 164th. In the sector west of the Lunga the 5th marines swung a line into the jungle about a half mile in from the beach and made visual contact with the left (east) flank of Colonel Hanneken's 2d Battalion, 7th Marines which extended from 3/7's dangling flank near the Matanikau back toward the Lunga perimeter. It was clear that Maruyama waited in the jungle to launch another attack in the big counteroffensive, and the Lunga defenders were determined to have stronger positions ready to meet him this time.

In spite of his losses the previous night, Maruyama still had manpower sufficient to build a better attack against the Marines and soldiers, but he somehow gained some faulty intelligence which kept the Shoji (Kawaguchi) Force idle for a second night. The intelligence caused Maruyama to expect a U.S. counterattack on his right (east) flank, and he sent Shoji, who had gotten lost in the wet darkness of the first assault, to screen the flank while Nasu's 29th Infantry and the 16th Infantry (previously the Maruyama reserve) made ready to carry the new assault.

After dark (on 25 October), the Japanese repeated the pattern of attack used the previous night. With only machine guns to augment their hand-carried weapons, groups of from 20 to 200 soldiers shouted out of the darkness to assault the entire length of the Puller-Hall line. The strongest of these attacks sent two machine-gun companies with supporting riflemen against the junction of the Marine and Army battalions where a jungle trail led north to the airfield. Artillery, mortars, small arms, and the four canister-firing 37s cut down the repeated Japanese assaults. A company from the 1st Marine Division reserve, as well as an Army platoon, came forward to reinforce, and the lines held.

Taking staggering losses, the Japanese continued hammering against the American


lines, throughout the night while farther to the west Colonel Oka (whose troops probably had been those spotted on Mount Austen's slopes on 23 October) sent his force against the thin line of 2/7. This Marine battalion had been under artillery fire (from the Kokumbona area) throughout the day, snipers also had scored some American casualties, and now from 2130 to 2300 it was jarred by three strong attacks which Oka made in battalion strength. The weight of the attacks fell most heavily on Company F on the left flank of Hanneken's line.

Until midnight these thrusts were thrown back, but at 0300 an assault swept over the Marine company. Enfilading fire from nearby foxholes of Company G failed to dislodge the Japanese, and they took over Company F's high ground. In the haze of morning some 150 Japanese could be observed in F/2/7 foxholes firing American machine guns at adjacent Marine emplacements.

Major Odell M. Conoley, 2/7 executive officer, led a jury-rigged counterattack force of headquarters troops against these Japanese, and he was joined by a platoon from Company C, 5th Marines and by personnel from the 7th Marines regimental CP. Surprising the Japanese, this force killed and drove off the enemy penetration, while a mortar barrage prevented Oka's soldiers from reinforcing.

L This was the end of the Japanese October counteroffensive. The Marines, this time with the valuable assistance of the Army regiment, had driven off the 17th Army's strongest attempt to recapture the Henderson Field area. And again part of the Japanese failure could be laid to faulty intelligence, combined with an over-optimistic evaluation of their own capabilities, and a contemptuous evaluation of the American fighting man. had the enveloping Japanese successfully negotiated the Maruyama Trail with their mortars and artillery, and had the Japanese managed over-all coordination, the battle might well have had a different outcome. At least the Japanese would have taken a heavier toll of Americans and might well have effected serious penetration of the perimeter. But these errors formed the foundation of a grisly monument of failure: some 3,500 Japanese soldiers dead, including General Nasu and his regimental commanders--Colonel Furumiya (29th Infantry) and Colonel Hiroyasu (16th Infantry). It was a beaten and disorganized Japanese force which began withdrawing inland during the morning of 26 October.18

By contrast, although records are sketchy or nonexistent, American losses were far less: probably around 300 dead and wounded, including those hit by shelling and bombing. The 164th Infantry sustained 26 killed and 52 wounded (during all of October), and the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines lost 30 dead in its action against Oka's Japanese. No figures are available on losses of 1/7, but evidence indicates that these probably did not much exceed 100 dead and wounded.19

The Battle of Santa Cruz

As Maruyama's assaults were weakening on the south slopes of Bloody Ridge


JAPANESE TORPEDO PLANE ignores two American cruisers as it heads for the crippled carrier Hornet which was sunk during the Battle of Santa Cruz. (USN 20447)

NAVAL GUNFIRE SUPPORT for the Army-Marine advance up the north coast of Guadalcanal is provided by the 5-inch guns of an American destroyer. (USN 53439)


and while Colonel Oka's brief penetration of 2/7's line still was two hours away, an American patrol plane southeast of Guadalcanal reported sighting elements of a large Japanese fleet in the water near the Santa Cruz Islands. These ships comprised another part of the "coordinated" Japanese counteroffensive. Admiral Kondo of the Second Fleet and Admiral Nagumo of the Third Fleet had teamed up with four carriers and four battleships, eight cruisers, 28 destroyers, and supporting vessels; and they were standing by to steam into Sealark Channel when they got the "Banzai" signal that Henderson Field had been recaptured.20 Meanwhile they guarded against American reinforcements or countermeasures from the south.

Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, then northeast of the New Hebrides with the Enterprise and Hornet carrier groups, moved to attack. At 0650 on 26 October two more observation planes spotted Japanese carriers 200 miles northeast of the American force at about the same time Japanese planes were sighting the U.S. ships.

Air action began almost at once. Japanese carrier Zuiho was hit in her stern by two of the scouting U.S. dive bombers. A hole in Zuiho's flight deck prevented flight operations, but the undamaged carriers Junyo, Shokaku, and Zuikaku mounted air strikes against the American ships.

Twenty minutes later the Hornet sent up 15 SBDs, six Avenger torpedo planes, and eight Wildcats, and a short time after that the Enterprise got her first 19 planes into the air. BY 0830, 73 American planes were airborne to meet the approximately 125 Japanese aircraft. Other flights followed from both forces.

Like some of the previous Pacific naval battles, it was an air-air and air-surface affair. The opposing ships did not close for surface fighting. Twenty U.S. planes were lost to enemy action and 54 to other causes. The Japanese lost 100 planes.

The fate of the USS Hornet is an example of the desperate fighting which took place during the Santa Cruz battle. Lamed by a starboard bomb hit, the carrier next caught a spectacular suicide crash as the Japanese squadron leader's wounded plane glanced off her stack and burst through the flight deck where two of the plane's bombs exploded. Japanese "Kates" then bore in on the carrier to launch their torpedoes from low astern. Two exploded in engineering spaces, and the ship, clouded by thick smoke and steam, lurched to starboard. Dead in the water, she then took three more bomb hits. One exploded on the flight deck, another at the fourth deck, and the third below the fourth deck in a forward messing compartment.

As if that were not enough, a blazing "Kate" deliberately crashed through the port forward gun gallery and exploded near the forward elevator shaft. Salvage and towing operations got underway almost at once and continued, amid repeated Japanese attacks, until dark when the ship was abandoned and later sunk. The Hornet lost 111 killed and another 108 wounded.

Meanwhile the destroyer Porter had sustained fatal damage, and the Enterprise, South Dakota, light antiaircraft cruiser San Juan, and destroyer Smith were damaged but not sunk. The Japanese lost no ships, but three carriers and two destroyers were damaged. One carrier, the Shokaku,


was so badly mauled that she saw no more action for nine months.

Not defeated, but hearing of the Army's failure on Guadalcanal, the Japanese naval force withdrew at the end of the day. Although control of South Pacific waters still had not been resolved, the loss of planes was a serious blow to Japan, and one that was to aid the Allied fleet within a few weeks. A bigger naval battle was brewing.


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[1] In October 1,960 malaria patients were hospitalized.

[2] Mangrum was the only member of his outfit able to leave Henderson Field under his own power. He was evacuated on 12 October. Caldwell, who arrived at Lunga from the carrier Saratoga as a lieutenant, had been promoted.

[3] CGSoPac ltr to ComSoPac, 6Oct42 (located at OCMH).

[4] These ships were from the reinforcement group.

[5] For an account of these misunderstandings and for other descriptions of the Cape Esperance Battle see Struggle for Guadalcanal, Chap VIII.

[6] Also on 12 October Cactus fliers found the Japanese destroyers Murakumo and Natsugumo north of the Russell Islands, and their attack sank both of these ships.

[7] The unloaded American transports had departed late in the afternoon.

[8] Tanaka Article, II, 815.

[9] While this action was in progress, Army and Marine C-47s (R4Ds) flew in with aviation gasoline, and seaplane tender MacFarland brought in additional supplies of the much-needed fuel. Japanese planes next day (16 October) damaged the tender, but she was repaired by here crew in an inlet of Florida Island.

[10] Miller, Guadalcanal, 157-159, quoted by permission of the author.

[11] BriGen Rupertus, ADC, became acting CG of the 1st MarDiv on 23October. MajGen Vandegrift left a dawn that day for conferences at Noumea, flying out with LtGen Thomas Holcomb, Marine Corps Commandant, whose Pacific tour had brought him to Guadalcanal on 21 October.

[12] This force, never positively identified in reconstructions of battle events, is thought to have been that of Col Oka which appears later in night attacks of 25-26 October. Final Rept, Phase V, 22.

[13] Gen Kawagushi, possibly with a justifiable dislike for this ridge terrain, had advocated an attack farther to the southeast, had thereby fallen from favor and had been relieved by Maruyama. Miller, Guadalcanal, citing Sumiyoshi and Tamaki (2d Div CofS), 160.

[14] Thirty-three members of this outpost managed to reach the lines of the 164th Inf the next day, but 13 men remained lost and hunted by the Japanese. Nine of these finally returned to safety after many harrowing adventures with the jungle and enemy, although one of the nine was gone for two weeks. Four of the wanderers were killed by the Japanese.

[15] Basilone was killed in 1945 during the Marine assault of Kwo Jima.

[16] The Island, 178.

[17] Ibid. The final action reports of the 3d DefBn mention seven attacks, but these included also strafing attacks from fighters. The Final Rept, Phase V, 25-26, mentions only that enemy fighters were overhead "at irregular intervals throughout the daylight hours."

[18] A general withdrawal of the force began about 29 October, but there were no more attacks after the morning of 26 October when Maruyama broke contact with U.S. troops and pulled back into the jungle.

[19] Another source lists 7th Marine dead as 182, and total casualties for the 164 Infantry as 166 killed and wounded. Struggle for Guadalcanal, 198. Adm Morison's total apparently are too high, and he lists no sources.

[20] For an account of an over-optimistic Japanese "banzai" in this connection see Struggle for Guadalcanal, 201.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation