Chapter 9: Final Period, 9 December 1942 to 9 February 1943

Change of Command

At the Noumea conference with Admiral Halsey in October, General Vandegrift stressed the need for getting the 1st Marine Division to a healthier climate. But at that time the Japanese counteroffensive was underway, and another enemy effort against the Lunga perimeter began shortly after this October attack was turned back. Troops could not be spared from Guadalcanal during that period, and sea lanes to the area were too hazardous for a rapid buildup of the island garrison. It was not until after the important naval actions of November that sufficient reinforcements could be brought in to relieve the 1st Marine Division. By that time it was clear to all that these veterans needed to be taken out of the jungle.

Compared to later actions in the Pacific, casualties in the division had not been excessive. From the landing early in August 1942 until relief in December, the division lost 605 officers and men killed in action, 45 who died of wounds, 31 listed as missing and presumed dead, and 1,278 wounded in action. But unhealthy conditions in the jungle were, statistically, a greater hazard than the enemy. While 1,959 Marines of the division became casualties to enemy action, 8,580 fell prey at one time or another to malaria and other tropical diseases.

Records make it impossible to separate these two totals. Many men with malaria were hospitalized more than once and thus added to he total as cases rather than as individuals. Some of these later were killed or wounded in action. But on the other hand many suffered from a milder form of malaria or other illness and did not turn in at the hospital at all. It became a rule of thumb in front-line units that unless one had a temperature of more than 103 degrees there would be no light duty or excuse from a patrol mission. The tropics weakened nearly everyone. Food had been in short supply during the early weeks of the campaign, much of the fare had been substandard, and most of the long-time veterans of the fighting suffered some form of malnutrition.

On 7 and 8 December, men in one of the division's regiments were examined by Navy doctors who thus sought to assess the physical condition of the division. The doctors concluded that 34 per cent of the regiment was unfit for any duty which might involve combat. This percentage would have been higher but for the recent inclusion with the regiment of 400 replacements.

Plans for the operation called for the Marines to be relieved early and reorganized for a new assault mission elsewhere.


This could not be, however, and the Marines who held out in the Lunga perimeter during the dark early days deserved a break. They had taken America's first offensive step against long odds, and they had held out against strong Japanese attacks when Guadalcanal was all but cut off from Allied support. For this they were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and--what was to be immediately more satisfying to the survivors--a rehabilitation and training period in Australia. The 2d Marines, also on hand for the original landing, was to be sent to New Zealand.

On 9 December 1942, command of the troops ashore passed from General Vandegrift to Major General Alexander M. Patch, commanding general of the Americal Division and senior Army officer present. On the same day the 1st Marine Division began to embark for Australia. The 5th Marines sailed that day, followed at intervals of a few days by division headquarters personnel, the 1st Marines and, after a longer interval, by the 7th Marines. The command of General Patch included Henderson Field, the fighter strip, the Tulagi area and seaplane base there, as well as the Guadalcanal perimeter. Although withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division meant that strong actions against the Japanese had to be temporarily suspended, reinforcements began to arrive concurrently with the departure of the Marines.

The third infantry regiment of General Patch's division, the 132d Regimental Combat Team (less 1st Battalion and Battery A, 247th Field Artillery Battalion) arrived on 8 December.2 With this arrival the Army division numbered 13,169 men--more than 3,000 short of full strength. The 164th Infantry, in action since the October fighting on Bloody Ridge, was in little better shape than the 1st Marine Division regiments. Both this regiment and the 182d Infantry were each understrength by about 860 men.

Major General J. Lawton Collins' 25th Division, bound from Hawaii to New Caledonia, was diverted directly to Guadalcanal where its 35th Infantry Regiment landed on 17 December, the 27th Infantry on 1 January, and the 161st Infantry on 4 January. Also on 4 January, the 6th Marines (Colonel Gilder T. Jackson) and division headquarters of the 2d Marine Division landed from New Zealand to join their other regiments, and 2d and 8th Marines. Brigadier General Alphonse De Carre, the ADC, acted as division commander while this division was on Guadalcanal, and also served as commander of all other Marine ground units. Major General John Marston, commanding general of the 2d Marine Division, remained in New Zealand because he was senior to General Patch, the Army officer who now was in command at Guadalcanal.3


37MM GUNS of Americal Division antitank units are landed on the beach at Guadalcanal as Army troops arrive to relieve 1st Division Marines. (SC 164902)

SHOVING OFF as relieving troops arrive, weary men of the 1st Marine Division file on board landing carft and leave the Guadalcanal battle behind. (USMC 52978)


By 7 January arrival of additional replacements had placed Guadalcanal's combined air, ground, and naval forces at about 50,000. The 2d Marine Division now had a strength of 14,783; the Americal Division, 16,000; the 25th Division, 12,629. This was a manpower level beyond even the dreams of the early Lunga defenders, and, with the South Pacific air and naval power also growing, the Allies at last were able to lay plans for attacks that would defeat the Japanese on the island and keep reinforcement landing to a minimum.

With Guadalcanal clearly out of the shoestring category at last, General Harmon on 2 January designated the Guadalcanal-Tulagi command as XIV Corps. General Patch became corps commander and General Sebree, former Americal ADC, assumed command of that division.4

A month and a half earlier than this, on 15 November, installations of the Cactus Air Force also had gained a more dignified title. On that date Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, who had relieved Admiral McCain as ComAirSoPac, designated Henderson Field and Fighter 1 a Marine Corps Air Base, and Colonel William J. Fox became base commander. On 1 December and 30 January two new engineering units came in to improve the air facilities on Guadalcanal. On the earlier date, Major Thomas F. Riley's 1st Marine Aviation Engineer Battalion relieved the 6th Seabees, and on the January date Major Chester Clark's 2d Marine Aviation Engineer Battalion arrived. These were the only units of their kind within the Marine Corps, and, together with the remaining Seabees plus the organic engineer battalions of the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions, they kept the airfields in shape.

Part of this work included construction of a new strip, Fighter 2, closer to the beach near Kukum. Fighter 1, always unusually slow to dry adequately after tropical rains, was abandoned when this new strip became operational, about the middle of December. Both Henderson and Fighter 2 then were built up with coral for better drainage, and steel Marston mats, now becoming available, also were laid on the runways. Tools still were scarce, however, and the old Japanese road rollers, for example, continued to be used.

Brigadier General Louis E. Woods, who had relieved General Geiger at Cactus on 7 November so the wing commander could return to his headquarters at Espiritu Santo, stayed on as Commander Aircraft, Cactus Air Force until 26 December when he in turn was relieved by Brigadier General Francis P. Mulcahy, commanding general of the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing. Colonel William O. Brice succeeded Colonel Albert D. Cooley as strike commander, and Lieutenant Colonel Samuel S. Jack became fighter commander after Lieutenant Colonel Harold W. Bauer was lost to enemy action on 15 November.

By 20 November there were 100 planes on the Guadalcanal fields. This figure included 35 F4F-4s, 24 SBDs, 17 P-38s, 16 P-39s, 8 TBFs, and one lone and battle-scarred P-400. At about this time also, B-17s from two merged Army Air Force


Bomber Groups (the 11th and the 5th) began to operate through Guadalcanal on long-range reconnaissance missions. On 23 November six OS2Us came in to run antisubmarine patrols; on 26 November the 3d Reconnaissance Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force arrived with its Lockheed Hudsons, and during the period 15 to 25 December night patrolling PBYs of VP-12 arrived. Also during December the Army sent in the 12th, 68th, and 70th Fighter Squadrons and the 69th Bombardment Squadron of B-26s.

This additional air strength enabled the Allies to maintain the upper hand they had gained over the Tokyo Express and Rabaul fliers. Japanese commanders pointed up their loss of pilots as the most serious trouble resulting from the fighting around Guadalcanal, and several Japanese officers, including Captain Ohmae, list this loss as the turning point at Guadalcanal and therefore the turning point in the Pacific war.5 Ohmae said later:

We were able to land a number of troops and supplies [on Guadalcanal], but our air losses were too great. Almost all of the Navy's first class pilots and a few of the Army's were lost in the Solomon Operations. The greatest portion of these were lost against Guadalcanal. At one time, we had three or four squadrons at Rabaul, but they were sent down one at a time. The constant attrition was very expensive. The 21st, 24th, 25th and 26th Air Groups were lost. This loss was keenly felt in the defense of the empire during the Marshall-Gilbert campaign.

In 1943, our training program began to be restricted, so we were never able to replace these losses, although we still had a number of carriers. In January 1943, due to your increased strength and our difficulty in supplying Guadalcanal, it was necessary for us to withdraw.6

General Situation

The U.S. forces had not been idle during December. The perimeter now extended west along the beach to Point Cruz, south to Hill 66 (nearly 2,000 yards inland from the beach at Point Cruz) where it was refused east to the Matanikau to join the former Lunga perimeter outpost line east of that river. There was little expansion to the east, but a separate American force held Koli Point outside the main perimeter.

The Aola Bay force, finally giving up airfield construction there because of swampy, unsuitable terrain, moved early in December to Koli Point where a filed later was built. This force, still under the command of Colonel Tuttle, now included the colonel's 147th Infantry, the 9th Marine Defense Battalion, the 18th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees), and elements of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion.

The limited offensive toward Kokumbona was halted late in November when the Japanese tried to mount a second strong counteroffensive against the perimeter, and at that time a Japanese movement to build up forces in the Mount Austen area was noted. Now, early in December, it seemed advisable to concentrate on this important piece of terrain as a prelude to a general corps offensive which would be launched when more troops became available.7 This high ground just to


the south above Henderson Field had to be cleared before many troops went west along the north coast to drive the Japanese beyond Kokumbona. The enemy line from Point Cruz inland was dug in for a determined stand, and Japanese strength was again mounting in the Bismarcks.

On 2 December, General Hitoshi Imamura, commander of the Japanese Eighth Area Army, arrived in Rabaul to assume command of the enemy's South Pacific area and what was left of General Hyakutake's Seventeenth Army. Imamura had been ordered down from Japan to retake Guadalcanal, and for this job he brought along 50,000 men for his Eighth Area Army. Hyakutake remained on Guadalcanal where his troops were disposed generally from Point Cruz inland to Mount Austen, facing the American line west of the Matanikau. The rear areas, and the bulk of Hyakutake's support troops, extended from the Point Cruz line west to Cape Esperance. This Japanese force included remnants of the 2d Division (General Maruyama), 38th Division (General Sano), and the Kawaguchi and Ichiki Forces.

Map 26: Battle Area, December 1942-January 1943

Confronting the Americans on his left flank from Point Cruz inland to Hill 66, General Hyakutake had troops of Maruyama's 2d Division composed of the 4th, 16th, and 29th Regiments. From this division's right (inland) flank were the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 228th Infantry on high ground west of the Matanikau. The 124th Infantry and other units extended from the Matanikau to Mount Austen. Remaining elements of the 38th Division (including the 230th, 228th, and 229th Regiments) plus detachments of the 124th Infantry were deployed in the Mount Austen area.

At this time the total Japanese strength on the island stood at about 25,000 men. But they were incapable of concentrated offensive action, and they had dug in for a defensive stand while awaiting General Imamura's Eighth Area Army reinforcements. Rations were low, malaria now was more prevalent in Japanese ranks than in American, ammunition stocks were nearly exhausted, preventive and corrective medical capabilities were practically nonexistent, and the Tokyo Express was hard pressed to maintain even a starvation-level of supplies. Admiral Tanaka still was in charge of this supply operation down The Slot, and the measures now being taken were desperate ones. Destroyers tried to supply these Imperial troops by making high-speed runs to Guadalcanal and dropping off strings of lashed-together drums into which supplies had been sealed. Barges from the island then were to tow these drums ashore. This procedure was not too successful, however, and the troops managed to retrieve only about 30 per cent of these supplies that Tanaka's destroyers cast upon the water.

Tanaka's first run with the drums occurred on the night of 29 November, and his force was the one engaged by American ships in the Battle of Tassafaronga. With the same sort of aggressive naval action which had characterized the sending of his four destroyers into me fight against Admiral Lee's battleship force earlier in the month, Admiral Tanaka made a creditable show in this action. But this did not get the troops supplied, and that was still the big problem.

With new action shaping up, the Japanese attempts to supply their force by floating drums continued. The force dug


in to face the Americans could not even hold defensive positions unless they could be fed and cared for. Tanaka's destroyers raced down The Slot on 3 December and dropped strings of 1,500 drums. But the island troops managed to haul in only about 300 of these from the waters off Tassafaronga and Segilau. "Our troubles," Tanaka said, "were still with us."8

On 7 December Captain Sato led 10 destroyers to Guadalcanal for the third Japanese attempt to supply the troops. Fourteen U.S. bomber and fighter planes located this force in The Slot at about nightfall, however, and one Japanese ship was hit and had to start back north under tow by another destroyer. Two other ships escorted this aided cripple. Admiral Tanaka went south to the scene in his new flagship, the newly-built destroyer Teruzuki, an improved 2,500-ton model capable of 39 knots. The other destroyers which had been on the drum run went on south toward Guadalcanal but had to turn back when they encountered PT boats and U.S. planes. Thus the third supply run failed completely.

The fourth of these supply runs came in 11 December, and Tanaka himself led this one in his speedy Teruzuki. A flight of 21 U.S. bombers attacked these ships at about sunset but scored no hits. Tanaka's destroyers managed to shoot down two of six fighters which were covering for the bombers, and the Japanese steamed on south. The Teruzuki patrolled beyond Savo Island while the other destroyers dropped some 1,200 drums of supplies off Cape Esperance and then headed north again. Admiral Tanaka sighted some U.S. PT boats, and his new destroyer went to the attack. The Japanese ship chased the PT boats away but in the process got hit in its port side aft by a torpedo. The ship caught fire and became unnavigable almost at once, and the destroyer Naganami hurried alongside to rescue survivors. Tanaka, who had been wounded and knocked unconscious, plus others from the officers and crew were transferred to this other destroyer, and the destroyer Arashi also came up to help. But the heartened U.S. PT boats chased these sound ships away from the sinking Teruzuki, and the Japanese could only drop life rafts to crew members who were still in the water. Some of the drums were recovered by the troops ashore, but with the loss of such ships as the Teruzuki, this sort of supply operation was becoming very costly. And now the moon was entering a phase which caused other such attempts to be temporarily postponed. Japanese defenses had received very little help for the actions which now shaped up against them.

The 132d Infantry of the Americal Division began the offensive against Mount Austen on 17 December, and by early January troops of this regiment had the major Japanese force in the area surrounded in a strong point called the Gifu. Although this pocket was not completely reduced until 23 January, the enemy was sufficiently restricted to preclude any threat to the perimeter of the rear of the general corps attack.

Meanwhile, in other preliminaries of the corps offensive, the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines had taken Hills 65 and 55 west of the Matanikau, and the Americal Division Reconnaissance Squadron had seized Hill 56. These positions which were southeast of the southern anchor of the line extending


inland from Point Cruz served to extend the American positions farther into Japanese territory west of Mount Austen.

Map 27: XIV Cortps Plan--First January Offensive

The Corps Offensive

With the Japanese in the Mount Austen area localized in the Gifu, the drive to the west could get underway. General Patch planned to extend his Point Cruz-Hill 66 line farther inland and then to push west, destroying the Japanese or driving them from the island. General Collins' 25th Division (with 3/182, Marines of 1/2 and the Americal Reconnaissance Squadron attached) would advance west of Mount Austen on the extended flank inland, and at the same time assume responsibility for the Gifu Pocket which now would be behind the XIV Corps line. (See Map 27, Map Section)

The 2d Marine Divison (less 1/2) would provide the corps' right element from the 25th Division's north flank to the beach. The Americal Division (minus the 182d Infantry, division artillery, and 2/132) would hold the main perimeter.

Since the 25th Division apparently would have some fighting to do before it could come abreast of the Point Cruz-Hill 66 line, its phase of the offensive was the first ordered into action. Colonel Robert B. McClure's 35th Infantry, with the Division Reconnaissance Troop and 3/182 attached, was ordered to relieve the 132d Infantry at the Gifu and then advance to the west on the division's inland flank. The 27th Infantry (Colonel William A. McCulloch) would capture the high ground south of Hill 66 between the northwest and southwest forks of the Matanikau. The 161st Infantry (Colonel Clarence A. Orndorff) would be the division reserve.

The ground thus assigned to the 27th Infantry consisted of a jumble of hills (dubbed the Galloping Horse because of their appearance on aerial photographs) which lie some 1,500 yards south of Hill 66. Army units began their attacks against this terrain on 10 January, and, during the final actions here three days later, Marines on the right flank of the corps line began their forward movement.

Launching its attack with the 8th Marines on the right and the 2d on the left, the 2d Division immediately encountered a series of cross compartments in which the Japanese had established very effective defensive positions. Using a minimum of men and weapons, the enemy fired down the long axis of these valleys which were perpendicular to the Marine advance, and thus engaged the attackers in a cross fire in each terrain compartment.

Enemy positions of this type held up the 8th Marines throughout the day, but two battalions of the 2d Marines advanced about 1,000 yards on the inland flank. The 6th Marines then moved up to relieve the 2d Marines which was long overdue for withdrawal from the Guadalcanal area. Lines were adjusted at this time. The 8th Marines now was on the left and the 6th along the coast. This relief was completed by 15 January, and the 2d Marines sailed for New Zealand.

The 8th Marines hammered at the ravine defenses of the Japanese, and operations along the coast during this phase of the campaign as well as during actions later in January provided the first opportunity for Marines to test, in a rudimentary way, their principles of naval gunfire in support of a continuing attack


against an enemy.9 The four destroyers in action fired only deep support missions in this phase of the advance, however, and close-in fighting of the Japanese held the 8th Marines to insignificant gains until the afternoon of 15 January when flame throwers were put in action for the first time on this front. Three Japanese emplacements were burned out that day, and the attack, supported by tanks, began to move forward. By the end of 17 January the 8th Marines had advanced to positions abreast the 6th Marines.

The naval gunfire during this period indicated that both Marines and ships had much to learn. The Navy's peacetime training had not stressed this type of support, and likewise the Marine division had no naval gunfire organization or practice. There was no JASCO (Joint Assault Signal Company) such as appeared later, and no organic shore fire control parties or naval gunfire liaison teams in the infantry battalions and regiments.

But here along Guadalcanal's coast, Marines and ships took advantage of their new freedom from air and surface attacks to develop some gunfire procedures. Each direct support artillery battalion had two naval officers trained in naval gunfire principles, and these officers were sent out with FO (forward observer) teams to train them in shore fire control party (SFCP) duties. And while the naval officers ashore schooled Marine forward observers, artillery officers from the division went on board the support ships to inform commanders and gunnery officers of the missions desired by the division.10

In addition to establishing some sound naval gunfire practices which would be most helpful in later Pacific assaults, the Marine action since 13 January had gained approximately 1,500 yards, killed over 600 Japanese, and captured two prisoners and a variety of enemy weapons and ammunition.

While the Marines fought along the coast, the 35th Infantry (reinforced) battled about 3,000 yards through the twisted ridges of an area southeast of the 25th Division's inland flank to take the Sea Horse complex (so-called because it looked like one on an aerial photograph), and finally cleared Colonel Oka's defenders out of the Gifu Pocket.

The western line of XIV Corps now extended from Hill 53, the head of the Galloping Horse, north to a coastal flank some 1,500 yards west to Point Cruz. With elements of the 35th Infantry south of the Galloping Horse to guard against a flanking attack from that direction, the Americans at last were poised on a line of departure from which an attack could be launched to Kokumbona and beyond.

Drive to the West

Hoping to trap the Japanese at Kokumbona, General Patch in early January had sent a reinforced company (I) of the 147th Infantry around Cape Esperance in LCTs to Beaufort Bay on the island's southwest coast, and from there the force advanced up the overland trail toward Kokumbona to block the mountain passes against a possible Japanese escape to the


south.11 With this unit in place, the XIV Corps attack jumped off with the 25th Division on the left to envelop the enemy south flank, and the CAM Division (Composite Army-Marine) to advance west along the coast. The CAM Division consisted of the 6th Marines, the 182d and 147th Infantry regiments, and artillery of the Americal and 2d Marine Division.12

Map 28: Capture of kokumbona and Advance to the Poha River,
23-25 January 1943

The 25th Division began its flanking movement on 20 January, swinging in toward Kokumbona and taking Hills 90 and 98 by 21 January. This high ground, immediately south of Kokumbona, was in front of the CAM Division and dominated the coastal area around the Japanese base. The enemy troops facing the CAM Division thus were outflanked and partially surrounded by the two forces. The attack continued on 23 January when the 27th Infantry occupied Kokumbona, but by this time most of the enemy already had slipped away along the coast.

Meanwhile, the CAM Division on 22 January had opened a full-scale attack with the 6th Marines on the right by the beach, the 147th Infantry in the center, and the 182d Infantry on the left. Again the Marines had called on naval gunfire, and this time four destroyers provided close support to CAM troops who faced more cross compartments forward of Kokumbona.

A radio spotting frequency was assigned the four SFCPs serving with the assault battalions of the 6th marines and the 182d Infantry, and on this frequency the shore spotters called in fire missions from the destroyers. Another frequency was established between the Division Naval Gunfire Officer (NGFO) and all four of the destroyers, and forward spotters also could use this net if the need arose.

In this phase of the corps advance, Marines in the CAM Division ran into the strongest opposition, and they were stopped the first day by about 200 Japanese in a ravine west of Hill 94. With the help of the close-in naval gunfire adding its weight to artillery, air, and infantry weapons, this opposition was overcome by noon of 24 January when the CAM Division made contact with the 25th Division on the high ground above Kokumbona. Although some of the fighting had been most difficult, the Japanese were pulling back slowly. It appeared that they would probably establish strong defenses farther west.

Actually there would be more stiff fighting on the island, but no all-out stand of Japanese on a strong line of defense, and no more Japanese reinforcements to face. Tokyo and Rabaul had called new signals, and General Hyakutake was withdrawing his troops. The situation now was reversing itself. The U.S. operation, starting as a shoestring, had slowly added other cords in a warp and woof of fabric with a definite pattern. But the Japanese conquest string had ended in the Solomons and New Guinea, and never had a firm knot tied in the end of it.

Affairs in New Guinea suffered when Hyakutake's reserves were diverted from a planned reinforcement there to the November


attempt to retake Guadalcanal. Now a small force of Japanese had met with disaster trying to recapture Port Moresby from across the Owen Stanley Mountains, and the 50,000 troops General Imamura brought down from Java to reinforce Hyakutake would have to be used in New Guinea. Around 15 December the Japanese decided to evacuate Guadalcanal and build up new defenses farther north in the Solomon chain. The starving troops on the island would fight delaying actions toward Cape Esperance, and they would be evacuated in detachments from that point by fast destroyers. Commanding these destroyers would be Rear Admiral Tomiji Koyanagi, former chief of staff of the Second Fleet. He had replaced the wounded and exhausted Admiral Tanaka, who now was on his way to the home islands were he would serve on the Naval General Staff.

XIV Corps maintained the momentum of its western advance by resupplying its attacking division over the beach at Kokumbona, where the Tokyo Express had often unloaded, and ordering the attack to push on toward the Poha River, a stream some 2,500 yards beyond Hyakutake's former headquarters village. The 2d Battalion, 278th Infantry met opposition in the high ground south and west of Kokumbona, but this was overcome in attacks of 24 and 25 January, and units of the regiment reached the Poha before dark on the 25th. (See Map 28)

Final Pursuit

After the corps advance reached the Poha River, intelligence sources began reporting a new buildup of Japanese ships at Rabaul and in the Shortlands, and the Allied command concluded that the enemy was ready for still another attempt to retake Guadalcanal. Admiral Halsey deployed six task forces south of Guadalcanal, and General Patch recalled the 25th Division from the western advance to bolster the perimeter. It was the same problem General Vandegrift had faced so many times in the past, but now there were more troops and the western attack did not have to be completely stopped. Pursuit of the Japanese was assigned to the CAM Division.

This estimate of Japanese intentions slowed pursuit of the enemy and probably aided their escape, but the mistake was an honest one. Actually the Japanese strength at Rabaul had been mounting, and the basic intelligence was good. But this time the activity in the Bismarcks and the Shortlands was the result of Japanese plans to complete the evacuation of Guadalcanal and to start new defensive installations closer to Rabaul.

By this time the Japanese had nearly completed their withdrawal to evacuation areas around Cape Esperance, and when regiments of the CAM Division launched their new attacks early on 26 January they advanced rapidly along the narrow coastal corridor against slight opposition. Naval gunfire again was employed, but once more it fired in deep support at targets of opportunity and to interdict the coastal trail forward of the advancing troops. (See Map 29)

The Marines and soldiers gained 1,000 yards the first day and 2,000 yards the second. Opposition now was such that General Patch on 29 January brought the 182 Infantry back to the perimeter and ordered the 147th Infantry to continue the pursuit while the 6th Marines covered the rear of the Army regiment. The advance


Map 29:Final Phase, 26 January-9 February 1943


resumed on 30 January, and the soldiers ran into resistance near the mouth of the Bonegi River about 2,000 yards northwest of the Poha. There the units fought until 2 February when the Japanese withdrew. The U.S. force advanced again next day, and on 5 February the 147th held up 1.000 yards short of the Umasami River, a stream some 2,500 yards northwest of Tassafaronga Point.

Meanwhile, to form a new trap for the retreating Japanese, General Patch on 31 January dispatched the reinforced 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry around Cape Esperance to land near the western tip of the island. From that point the battalion was to advance to Cape Esperance and cut off the Japanese line of retreat. After landing early on 1 February at Verahue, the force advanced to me village of Titi, nearly a third of the way to the cape. By 7 February this force was ready to push on from that village, and the north coast attack was prepared to advance beyond the Umasami River.

By this time the 147th Infantry had been relieved at the Umasami by the 161st Infantry of the 25th Division, and on 8 February this regiment reached Doma Cove some eight miles from Esperance. On the same date 2/132 arrived at Kamimbo Bay a short distance from the tip of the island, and on 9 February the two units met at the village of Tenaru on the coast below the high ground of the cape. Only token resistance had been met in these final days. Evacuation of the Japanese from the island had been completed on the night of 7-8 February.

The Guadalcanal campaign was over. When the two units met at Tenaru village, General Patch sent to Admiral Halsey a message announcing "Total and complete defeat of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal..."13 From a hazardous early step up the long island path toward Tokyo, the Allies had gained a solid footing which would become an all-important base until after the mounting of the final offensive against Okinawa two years later.

Happy to hear the news that Guadalcanal was at last secured--but hardly disappointed that they had not been there for the final chase--were the veterans of the 1st Marine Division in Australia, the 2d and 8th Marines in New Zealand, and the 1st Raider and 1st Parachute Battalions in New Caledonia. These old island hands were resting, fighting off recurring attacks of malaria, getting the jungle out of their blood, and already training for their next campaign.


Guadalcanal was the primer of ocean and jungle war. It was everything the United States could do at that moment against everything the Japanese could manage at that place. From this the Americans learned that they could beat the enemy, and they never stopped doing it. The headlines from Guadalcanal did more for home front morale than did the fast carrier raids of 1942's winter and early spring, for at last Americans had come to grips with the enemy; and the outcome of this fighting added in the bargain a boost to the spirit of the Pacific fighting man. The benefits from official


and unofficial circulation of lessons learned there by the Army, Navy, and Marines ere many and far--reaching.

Veterans of all ranks from all branches of the service came home to teach and spread the word while many more stayed on to temper the replacements coming out to the war. Barracks bull sessions and bivouac yarns added color and not a little weight to the formal periods of instruction. Thus was the myth that the Japanese were supermen shattered, and the bits of combat lore or the legendary tall tales and true which begin, "Now, on the 'Canal..." still have not entirely disappeared from the Marine repertoire.

General Vandegrift summed it up in a special introduction to The Guadalcanal Campaign, the historical monograph which contains the Marine Corps' first study of the operation:

We struck at Guadalcanal to halt the advance of the Japanese. We did no know how strong he was, nor did we know his plans. We knew only that he was moving down the island chain and that he had to be stopped.

We were as well trained and as well armed as time and our peacetime experience allowed us to be. We needed combat to tell us how effective our training, our doctrines, and our weapons had been.

We tested them against the enemy, and we found that they worked. From that moment in 1942, the tide turned, and the Japanese never again advanced.

Likewise, Guadalcanal was more than just another battle for the Japanese, but the lesson they learned there was a bitter one. The occupation which they started almost on a whim had ended in disaster, and from this they never quite recovered. Captain Ohmae summed it up:

... when the war started, it was not planned to take the Solomons. However, the early actions were so easy that it was decided to increase the perimeter defense line and to gain a position which would control American traffic to Australia. Expansion into the Solomons from Rabaul was then carried out. Unfortunately, we also carried out the expansion at the same time instead of consolidating our holdings in that area. After you captured Guadalcanal, we still thought that we would be able to retake it and use it as an outpost for the defense of the empire. This effort was very costly, both at the time and in later operations, because we were never able to recover from the ship and pilot losses received in that area.14

Unfortunately for the Japanese there were very few lessons from Guadalcanal that they could put to effective use. In a sense this was phase one of their final examination, the beginning of a series of tests for the military force which had conquered the Oriental side of the Pacific, and they failed it. After this there was neither time nor means for another semester of study and preparation. Admiral Tanaka had this to say about the operation and its significance:

Operations to reinforce Guadalcanal extended over a period of more than five months. They amounted to a losing war of attrition in which Japan suffered heavily in and around that island ... There is no question that Japan's doom was sealed with the closing of the struggle for Guadalcanal. Just as it betokened the military character and strength of her opponent, so it presaged Japan's weakness and lack of planning that would spell her defeat.15

The Allies entered this first lesson with sound textbooks. In the field of amphibious warfare, Marine doctrine hammered out in the peacetime laboratory now could be polished and improved in practice and supported by a rapidly mobilizing industrial front at home. Modern equipment which everybody knew was needed began to flow out to the test of combat. There


it took on refinements and practical modifications, as doctrines and techniques improved. New models continued to arrive and were quickly put to use in the hands of now-skilled fighting men.

For example, landing craft which went into mass production aided the tactical aspects of amphibious assaults and also lessened the logistical problems at the beachhead. Improved communications equipment made it possible for the Marine Corps to improve and make more effective many of the special organizations and operational techniques which previously had been little more than carefully sketched theory. Air and naval gunfire liaison parties experimented with on Guadalcanal later became the efficient tools of integrated warfare that Marines had been confident they could become. Improved equipment brought improved technique, and thus began a continuous cycle of increasing efficiency which made the final amphibious assaults by cooperating U.S. forces at Iwo Jima and Okinawa remarkable models of military precision.

This strength of new equipment and ability enabled the Allies to take command of the strategy in a contest in which the enemy had been able to set his men for a checkmate before the contest began. The psychology of total war found expression for the front-line Marine in his observation that "the only good Jap is a dead one." But an even better one was the one bypassed and left to ineffective existence on an island in the rear areas: he cost the Allies less. Strength gave the Allies this capability to bypass many garrisons.

Likewise Guadalcanal proved that it often was cheaper and easier to build a new airfield than to capture and then improve one the Japanese had built or were building. This coincided well with the basic amphibious doctrine long agreed upon: never hit a defended beach if the objective can be reached over an undefended one. Together these principles sometimes made it possible for the Allies to land on an enemy island and build an airfield some distance from the hostile garrison. This the Marines did in November 1943, at Bougainville. A perimeter was established around the airfield, and there defenders sat waiting for the Japanese to do the hard work of marching over difficult terrain to present themselves for a battle if they so desired. It was a premeditated repeat of the Guadalcanal tactic, and when the Japanese obliged by so accepting it, they were defeated.

All services, units and men in the Pacific, or slated to go there, were eager to learn the valuable lessons of early combat and to put them into practice. For the Marine Corps, an important factor in the continuing success of the advance across the Pacific was the delineation of command responsibilities between the naval task force commander and the amphibious troop commander.

Late in this first offensive General Vandegrift was able to initiate an important change in naval thinking concerning the command of amphibious operations. The general and Admiral Turner had often disagreed on the conduct of activities ashore on Guadalcanal, and Vandegrift had maintained that the commander trained for ground operations should not be a subordinate of the local naval amphibious force commander. His theory prevailed, and in the future the amphibious troops commander, once established ashore, would be on the same command


level as the naval task force commander. Both of them would be responsible to a common superior.

With this point cleared, and with the valuable lessons of Guadalcanal combat a part of his personal experience and knowledge, Vandegrift as a lieutenant general became commander of the I Marine Amphibious Corps in the fall of 1943 and was able to guide an ever-expanding fighting force already involved in new actions in the Solomons. Later, on 10 November 1943, he left the Pacific to become the eighteenth Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The cost of Guadalcanal was not as great as some later operations. Total Army and Marine casualties within the ground forces amounted to 1,598 men and officers killed and 4.709 wounded. Marines of the ground forces killed or dead from wounds numbered 1,152; and 2,799 were wounded and 55 listed as missing. In addition 55 individuals from Marine aviation units were killed or died of wounds while 127 were wounded and 85 missing.16 Defeat for the Japanese was more costly. Although some 13,000 enemy soldiers were evacuated from Guadalcanal for new defensive positions farther north, more personnel than this had lost their lives on the island. Japanese sources list approximately 14,800 killed or missing in action while 9,000 died of wounds and disease. Some 1,000 enemy troops were taken prisoner. More than 600 enemy planes and pilots were also lost.

Combat shipping losses were about even for the two opponents. The Allies and the Japanese each lost 24 fighting ships, with the loss amounting to 126,240 tons for the Allies and 134,839 tons for the Japanese.

There would be bigger battles later. There would by tiny atolls for which the Japanese would demand higher prices on shorter terms. And far away to the north a dead volcano waited to be the backdrop of a photograph which would become the symbol of the entire island war ahead. But nothing could take from Guadalcanal its unique spot in history. The first step, however short and faltering, is always the most important.


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[1] These figures refer to organic units only; such reinforcing attachments as the 3DefBn, 1st RdrBn, and the 1st PrchtBn are not included in these statistics.

[2] This division's other infantry regiments, the 164th and 182d, already were on Guadalcanal as were other elements of the division. Widely separated in their New Caledonia camps, the units operated together as a division for the first time on Guadalcanal. Other divisional units included the 221st, 245th, and 247th FA Bns; the 57th EngCBn; the 101st QM Regt; the 101st Med Regt; the 26th SigCo and the Mobile CReconSqn.

[3] LtGen Holcomb, Marine Commandant, later expressed the opinion the Marston should have had the opportunity to command his division in spite of his seniority over Patch. CMC ltr to MajGen C.B. Vogel, 12Feb43. Marston said he was never apprised of the Commandant's attitude, however. MajGen J. Marston ltr to CMC, 30Dec48.

[4] "The XIV Corps's staff section chiefs assumed their duties on 5 January 1943, but most of the posts at XIV Corps headquarters were manned by Americal Division staff officers ... [who] ... acted simultaneously ... as assistant staff section chiefs for the Corps. As late as 1 February 1943 XIV Corps headquarters consisted of only eleven officers and two enlisted men." Miller, Guadalcanal, 218-219.

[5] Ohmae Interrogation, 471.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mount Austen was the "Grassy Knoll" the 1st Marine Division (planning at New Zealand with faulty maps) hoped to take early in the landing phase of the campaign. The importance of this terrain feature as a key to the security of Henderson Field had been recognized throughout the Guadalcanal planning and fighting. Gen Vandegrift's Marines patrolled the area repeatedly, but never had enough manpower to hold the ground permanently.

[8] Tanaka Article, II, 828.

[9] Although the 1st MarDiv landing was supported by naval gunfire, subsequent support fire from ships had been infrequent and on a catch-as-catch-can basis. Col F.P. Henderson, "Naval Gunfire in the Solomons--Part I: Guadalcanal," MC Gazette, March 1956, 44-51.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Japanese did not attempt to escape by this route.

[12] The "Composite Division" was merely a convenient term for the force formed by Marines and Army units during the January drive to the west. The 2d Marine Division staff served as the CAM Division staff. The name first appears in a field order from the XIV Corps on 25 January, but the "division" itself had no administrative identity.

[13] To which Halsey replied in part: "When I sent a Patch to act as tailor for Guadalcanal, I did not expect him to remove the enemy's pants and sew it on so quickly. ... Thanks and congratualtions." FAdm Halsey and LCdr J. Bryan, III, Admiral Halsey's Story (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1947), 148.

[14] Ohmae Interrogation, 474.

[15] Tanaka Article, II, 831.

[16] A tabulation of Marine casualties appears in Appendix D.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation