Chapter II: Landings on Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo
Task Group 62.2 separated from the larger body of ships at 02401 and approached Tulagi, its objective, over an independent course. The approach was accomplished without incident, the only departure from mechanical perfection being a failure on the part of the transports to keep closed up in formation. All elements of the group arrived in position at about 0630,2 and word came from Captain George B. Ashe, USN, commander of the Task Group stationed in Neville, that H-hour would be 0800.
Tulagi. The First Day
As the ships approached the transport area, it was seen that the missions assigned to Support Group planes were being carried out. Strafing of designated areas (by Flight #101, 15 fighter planes, from Wasp took place at 0614, and dive bombing by Flight #102, 15 dive bombers, from the same ship) was under way at 0618.3. Fires were observed in the target area--seaplanes in the harbor, caught like sitting ducks, had been set afire.4
Naval gunfire preparation began with 5-inch fire from the destroyer Monssen, directed at a hill on a promontory of Florida Island, west of Tulagi, in the vicinity of the scene of the 2d Marines' first landing (see below). Sixty rounds were expended on the target between 0727 and 0732. In the meantime, both Buchanan and San Juan (an anti-aircraft cruiser) were pumping 100 rounds each into nearby targets, the former concentrating on another point of land east of Haleta, also on Florida Island, while San Juan directed its attention to a small island directly south of the same point of land.5
The first landing of the operation was carried out at 0740, 20 minutes before H-hour. In order to protect the left flank of the force executing the Tulagi landing, Company B (reinforced) of the 2d Marines, under command of Captain Edgar J. Carne, landed at that time on Florida near Haleta. The landing was unopposed, although enemy troops had been reported in position there on 25 July.6 Crane, whose force consisted of Company B, the 4th platoon of Company D, and 21 enlisted personnel from Headquarters Company, all of
Map 3: Guadalcanal-Tulagi Objective Area
1st Battalion, 2d Marines, was on his objective within 40 minutes. The 252 officers and men had come ashore in eight landing boats, and had been guided to their objective by one of the several Australians on duty with the division.7 [Platoon Sergeant Harry W. Schuler commanded the first landing boat, becoming the 1st American to set foot on Japanese-held territory in the Solomons. Sgt. Schuler was wounded 3 days later on Tulagi, and evacuated. See Annexes B & C to Op Order 5-42, attached.]
The main objective, the island of Tulagi, was attacked exactly on schedule. At 0800, under cover of gunfire from San Juan and destroyers Monssen and Buchanan (Fire Support Group Mike) the 1st Raider Battalion went ashore, followed by the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines.8 The landing was made at Beach Blue, 2000 yards from the northwestern end of the island on the western shore.
The island of Tulagi is a long, narrow, hilly, heavily wooded mass surrounded on three sides by extensive coral beds. It is approximately 4000 yards in extreme length and 1000 yards wide at its greatest width, which is fairly constant throughout the length of the island. Its long axis lies roughly in a northwest-southeast direction, and a regular, wooded ridge, 350 feet high, runs lengthwise through the northwestern two-thirds of the island. A smaller southeastern ridge presents a much less regular appearance and is separated from the other by a saddle which forms a sort of corridor between them, running directly across the island. Most of the development of the island was centered in the southeastern section around the coastline and in the corridor itself.
The island had been the seat of the British Solomon Islands Government, and the installations on its consisted of numerous wharves along the northeastern coast, a radio station, a prison, hospital, and other government buildings.
The character of the coast-line of the island presented a problem to those who had planned the landing. The only beaches which seemed to be suitable were those on the eastern and southeastern coast, and these were so dominated by high ground as to make an assault landing in the face of determined resistance an extremely precarious operation. It was finally decided to go ashore on the western coast of the island about 2,000 yards below the northwestern extremity, near the site of a small native cemetery. A map, now in Marine Corps Records, used in preparing the original plan shows the shore line in this vicinity to be badly overgrown with coral, and a notation regarding this growth appears on the map with the following wording: "Bordered with coral reefs. Due to uncertain tides landing not practical except amphibian tanks or rubber boats."
It is not unlikely that the enemy took the same view of the beach characteristics, for the landing here, as on Florida, was made without opposition. The report of one man falling before the fire of a single enemy rifleman, arose from the fact that one man of the Intelligence Section, 1st Raider Battalion, was killed by an accidental discharge while still aboard Little. He was brought ashore for burial.9
As the first waves approached the beach, the accuracy of the description of the coral beds was demonstrated. Not a single landing craft reached the beach. All of them hung up on coral formations at distances varying from 30 to well over 100 yards from the water line, and the assault personnel waded ashore through water initially from waist to armpit depth.10
By this time, the enemy defense forces (later found to be concentrated in the southeastern third of the island) realized that an all-out assault was under way, and not merely an air and surface force raid. Between 0725 and 0749, the Tulagi Communication Base was notifying the Commanding Officer of the 25th Air Flotilla at Rabaul that Tulagi was under bombardment, that the landings had begun, and that the senders were destroying all equipment immediately in view of the situation.
At 0800 the messages said that shells were falling near the radio installation. Ten minutes later, the final and prophetic message went out--"Enemy troop strength is overwhelming, We will defend to the last man."11
By this time, Companies B and D, of the 1st Raider Battalion, had just reached the beach and were to begin movement inland. There had been no opposition to the landing. Company B, reinforced, 2d Marines, was already on its objective on the Florida mainland southwest of Tulagi, likewise having met no opposition. The landing craft carrying Companies A and C, 1st Raiders, were beginning to hang up on the coral, and Company E, whose 60mm mortars had been attached to the rifle companies12 was on the way in to assume responsibility for beachhead security.
The terrain immediately behind the beach dictated the tactics employed. As Marines crossed the narrow beach and entered the undergrowth that bordered it, they faced a steep coral slope, also heavily wooded. This was the southwestern slope of the 350-foot ridge that runs along the length of the island in almost an unbroken wall. The two companies pushed ahead and across the ridge, Company B continued down the slope and occupied, without opposition, a small native village called Sasapi, on the opposite shore of the island. The company then swung to the right preparatory to beginning the advance toward the southeast. Company D, in the meanwhile, had swung right immediately after crossing the ridge line and likewise was ready to begin the advance, with its right flank on the ridge. For the rest of the day this formation was maintained, namely, Company D with its right flank on the crest line, its left flank in contact with Company B. Company B, in turn, was echeloned to the left rear with its left flank on the water's edge. The advance of these two companies was steady and without opposition until B Company reached Carpenter's Wharf, halfway down the east shore of the island, where it encountered a series of enemy outposts.13
In the meantime, the remaining companies of the Raider Battalion had come ashore. Colonel Edson, delayed by a breakdown in the boat which was brining him ashore, did not reach the beach until the initial movement (see below) down the ridge had begun.14 Companies A and C, comprising the second wave, followed closely upon the first wave and in turn were followed by Company E.
Company A, following the path of the leading companies, swung right immediately after reaching the crest of the ridge, tying in on the left with Company D. Company C, keeping its right flank on the beach, also swung right, typing in on the left with the right flank elements of Company A and echeloning itself to the right rear of that company. Company E, meanwhile, remained at Beach Blue and provided beachhead security. The progress of Companies A and C to the southeast was comparable to that of the companies to the left--no opposition was met until Phase Line A was reached at 1120.15
Progress had been steady in all portions of the line. Colonel Edson by this time had reached shore and had caught up with his advancing units, and was ready to begin an attack to the southeast. Fronting him was the more thickly settled portion of the island where the British Government activities of the Solomons had been centered. This area lay in a saddle between the two ridges of the island--the larger one to the northwest, which had just been swept by the advancing Raiders, and a smaller rugged hill mass that
formed the spine of the southeastern end of the island.16
ADVANCE ALONG TULAGI was executed during the morning of 7 August by Col Edson's 1st Raider Battalion as shown in this overprinted photograph. Phase Line A was in Marine hands by 1120.
Up to this time, radio communication between Edson and Brigadier General William A. Rupertus, the Assistant Division Commander (whose Command Post was still afloat) had been satisfactory. Fighting along the ridge had been sporadic and never severe, although number of isolated individual enemy troops had been bypassed during the advance.17 So successful had the action been
that Group Air Commander, Tulagi (flying from Wasp), reported from observation that Marines could be seen over the entire island. At 1404 he reported, most erroneously, that there was no opposition.18
At 1120, as we have seen, Phase Line A was reached and Edson was ready to advance. Preparatory to movement toward the saddle and the hills beyond it, fire was laid down on the area by all weapons of the battalion, save only the machine guns of Company E, which was still in position at Beach Blue. A noisy demonstration, this fire had no discernible effect.19
Radio communication between Rupertus and Edson began deteriorate immediately after the Raider Battalion reached the Phase Line. Thereafter, throughout the afternoon, the Assistant Division Commander knew only that the advance was progressing--he lacked immediate current details.
Actually, the first serious resistance of the operation developed almost as the lines began to move forward. Immediately to the front of Company C, on the extreme right flank position, there arose a knob like hill (Hill 208) forward and independent of the ridge which had just been swept. As the right flank elements of the company began to pass between the beach and the seaward face of the hill, 200 yards inland, they were taken under fire from automatic weapons emplaced on the face of the hill and from rifles. The situation was developed, and after an hour of fighting Company C cleared out the enemy positions by rifle fire and grenades.
Farther to me east, at the same time, the rest of Edson's force was likewise meeting opposition. As Company C was engaged in neutralizing Hill 208, Edson asked for, and received, naval gunfire against the southeastern ridge (Hill 281).20 San Juan complied with his request, made at 1240, laying down a seven minute, 280 round concentration of 5-inch shells on the designated target.
Four hours later, at 1625, Edson was able to notify Rupertus that 500 enemy had broken contact with his force and had withdrawn toward Hill 281, the southeastern ridge.
The advance continued slowly until dusk. By that time Company E, relieved of its mission of providing beachhead security by the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines (see below), had reported to its parent organization. Company D, on the extreme left flank, had met no opposition since midmorning, when it had flushed out the first resisting enemy encountered, near Carpenter's Wharf. This company had pushed south along the eastern beach and had got to the ridge line of Hill 281. Company B, now operating on the right of Company D, had likewise been able to advance without resistance until, just at dusk, it lost contact on the left with Company D and found itself in position on high ground overlooking a cut through which ran a cross-island roadway. Company D, on the far side of the road and to the left of B, went into position for the night with its right flank resting on the southern brink of the cut. Company B, with elements of Headquarters Company, rested its left flank on the cut and extended its lines generally westward along the brink.21 Both companies put out listening posts at intervals forward of the lines.
Companies A and C (less one platoon), meanwhile, had come squarely against a terrain feature that harbored the only serious resistance on the island. on the northwest slope of Hill 821 there was a deep ravine, running approximately east and west, which opened to the west, several hundred yards south of Hill 280. The long axis of the ravine, therefore, lay parallel to the advancing lines of the two companies. Its sides were precipitous, and within it the enemy had prepared positions which made an assault into it through the mouth possible only at the risk of high casualties. Maps that had been captured
and translated during the day confirmed that the ravine would contain the core of enemy resistance.22
Further action against the pocket was impossible at the time, and all elements of the battalion went into position for the night. Company D, on the left, was disposed as explained above, save that its flank elements were bent back to the beach to refuse the left flank. On the right, out of physical contact and separated from it by a cut, was Company B, with a part of Headquarters Company attached. Company E, which had reported to Edson late in the afternoon, was placed on Company B's right, while Companies A and C (less one platoon), respectively, were in position to the right of E Company and in contact with it. Their position ran along high ground facing the ravine and parallel to its long axis. Companies E, C, and A likewise put out listening posts.23
While Edson's battalion had been sweeping southeast down the island, another unit had come ashore. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines (Rosecrans), had landed at 0916--a total of 1085 officers and men. The initial mission was to sweep the northwest portion of the island, which had as yet received no attention. The command post was established west of Beach Blue.
The battalion was committed piecemeal to various tasks. The northwest section of the island was swept by Company F, which reported no opposition. At 1000 Company E was ordered to operate generally in support of Company B (Raiders), and one hour later, the 3d Platoon of Company H (Weapons) was ordered forward to assist Company C (Raiders) in the latter's attack against Hill 208. By 1300, when the Raider Battalion had begun its movement forward from Phase Line A, Company G was ordered to go down the trail along the ridge line and report to Edson for duty in support of the Raider Battalion. The command post of Rosecrans' battalion was established first at Beach Blue, later in the day moving southeast toward the scene of action of the Raider Battalion.24
The first night on Tulagi set the pattern for many nights in the Pacific War's future, for the devices employed by the enemy then were those he was to follow with an almost religious singleness of mind. Four separate attacks were launched against the Raiders' lines, and although minor penetrations occurred, in none of them did the enemy show signs of having thought beyond the mere fact of penetration. No attempt was made to consolidate the gains, and no evidence could be found that the Japanese attempted to exploit them.
Tulagi. The First Night and Succeeding Day
Nightfall found the Marines holding positions as shown on the accompanying map. It will be seen that the Raiders' line followed the high ground around the ravine which, in the closing hours of the day, had proved to be the major obstacle to a complete cleanup of the island. One platoon of Company C was isolated, but not in trouble, on the southeastern tip of the island where, after having pushed ahead along the beach and having become separated from its parent company, it had established a small perimeter for the night. Company D, facing west with its line running
FINAL ASSAULTS ON TULAGI were delivered by elements of 1st Raider Battalion and 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, as shown on overprint. photograph was taken by Navy carrier-planes during strike of 4 May.
from the cross-island road up into the ridge line and back, on the left, until its left flank rested on the beach, was attenuated, but was not threatened. Company B, with elements of Headquarters Company attached, Company E, Company A, and Company C (less one platoon) were in position in that order from left to right, with Company C's right flank elements resting on the beach,. These four companies, closer to and facing the enemy pocket, enjoyed a degree of protection from the fact that the ridge which they occupied dominated the enemy positions They had, as we have seen, a line of forward positions in the form of a series of listening posts.25 The Raider Battalion command post had been set up at the Residency, formerly occupied by the Resident Commissioner, about two hundred yards north of the Company E sector.
Elements of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, were disposed to the rear of the Raiders' positions.
The first enemy attack--and one of the two that had some initial success--was driven home between Companies C and A. Forward positions were thrown back into company lines, and the two companies were forced apart. Company C was isolated from the rest of the battalion by the attack, but was not molested further. Company A refused its
dangling right flank, and awaited developments.
They were not long in coming. Shifting the direction of his attack toward his right front, the enemy force attempted to roll back Company A. The refused flank held, and no penetration was affected, 26 enemy being killed within 20 yards of the company's line.26
That was the last concerted attack of the night. Thereafter, enemy efforts consisted entirely of attempts at quiet infiltration of the Marine positions. Individuals and small groups worked their way from the ravine, through the lines, and launched five separate small scale attacks against the command post at the Residency between 0030 and 0530. These were repulsed without trouble. Efforts on the part of two other groups to make their way up the beaches past the extreme flanks of Companies D, on the east, and C, on the west, likewise were turned back.27
On the morning of 8 August, two companies of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, were moved into position to assist in the sweep of the southwestern part of the island. Companies E and F of that battalion went into position on the northeastern slopes of the Hill 281 after passing through Company D of the Raider Battalion. From that take off position they swept across the hill, down the southwestern slope, and swung right, moving toward the enemy pocket in the ravine.28
The troublesome terrain feature was now flanked on three sides, and the Marines were able to lay down a heavy concentration of mortar shells from the 60mm weapons of the Raiders and the more destructive 81mm mortars of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines. By midafternoon the preparation was complete, and at 1500 the Raiders attacked from the northwest, aided by Company G, 5th Marines, and pushed through the ravine, wiping out all enemy resistance. For several days there was recurrent activity as isolated individual enemy riflemen and small groups of them were flushed out of their hiding places and hunted down. Organized resistance was over with the elimination of the enemy force in the ravine, however, and Tulagi had been retaken by the American forces by nightfall of 8 August.
JAPANESE SEAPLANE ANCHORAGE, GAVUTU-TANAMBOGO, as posted for convenience of pilots, was well punctured by small arms fire. Tanambogo is on the left, Gavutu, the right. Islet at the top is Gaomi.
These Siamese twin islets, each a small, flat affair dominated by a low, precipitous central hill of coral, were ligatured by a causeway 500 yards in length. The hill on Gavutu--148 feet in height and therefore named Hill 148--was slightly higher than its companion on Tanambogo which rose only 121 feet. This difference in height, catalyzed by the military rule of thumb which says that high ground dominates low ground, was a central factor in the making of plans for the assault.
Landings on Gavutu-Tanambogo
The plans,29 in short, called for a landing on the northeast coast of Gavutu,30 with the landing craft coming in from the east. Since
Tanambogo lies approximately north of Gavutu and less than 1000 yards away, it can be seen that, granting the presence of enemy on Tanambogo, the assault force would meet with flanking fire as well as frontal resistance. Opposition from both directions would come from terrain which dominated the flat beach by virtue of height.
The assault itself was to be carried out by two companies of the Parachute Battalion, with a third company of the same battalion being kept in reserve initially for employment in support of the assault companies. Companies A and B, landing in that order, would attack the north and southeast faces of Hill 148 respectively, while Company C, plus attachments, would land last, go into position to the right (north) of the landing beach around the Gavutu end of the causeway. From this position it was expected that Company C would be able to offer assistance in the assault by interdicting the flanking fire from Tanambogo. When Gavutu was secured, Company C was to reembark, pass to Tanambogo, and size that island.31
Naval gunfire support was to be provided, as was close-in support from planes--SBDs from the carrier Wasp. It was expected that these two types of support would neutralize or eliminate entirely enemy emplacements on the hills. Gunfire would be effective, of course, only to the extent that the shells could reach the emplacements--those lying in defilade would be immune to damage. It was this type of protection that the dive-bombers were expected to overcome. A hardly foreseeable detail, and one that was destined to remain a major problem for Marine assault troops for the next two years of the war, was the coral cave. It began to appear as a troublesome obstacle for the Parachute Battalion at about the same time as the Raider Battalion, on Tulagi, was recognizing it as such.
There was to be no possibility of surprise. The hour for assault was set in General Vandegrift's Operation Order No. 7-42 as H plus four hours. Four hours after the Raider Battalion's landing on Tulagi (at a spot estimated to lie well away from the enemy's prepared positions) the Parachute Battalion was to make a frontal assault in the face of fire from an alerted garrison, which was supported by fires from a flanking position.
The battalion went ashore in three waves, one company per wave. The thoroughness with which San Juan had carried out her fire support mission--280 rounds of 8-inch fire against Gavutu in four minutes32--and the intensity of the dive bombing preparation33 caused heavy damage to the enemy installation. So completely had the island been blanketed, indeed, that the destruction worked to the disadvantage of the Parachute Battalion. For whereas the unit had intended to land on a seaplane ramp where it would be easy to get ashore, it was found that this installation had been reduced to an unusable mass of rubble. The landing craft therefore were forced to land slightly to the north and were exposed even more to flanking fire.34 Part of the troops had to scramble over a concrete pier standing four feet out of the water and exposed to fire from both islands. General Vandegrift estimated that ten percent casualties were suffered by the troops landing in the area.35
Company A, comprising the first wave, got ashore without casualties and began working inland without serious opposition. Four minutes later, the four-boat wave carrying Company B came in. This wave, however, and the final wave, carrying Company C and
miscellaneous attachments, which followed it seven minutes later, were brought under fire immediately upon coming within range, during their approach, and during the landing. Company B, moving off to the left t work its way toward the southern end of the island, soon found itself partially protected from enemy fire, the greater part of which came from the northern face of Hill 148 (protected from naval gunfire by its position in defilade) and from Tanambogo. This company therefore continued to move.
The remaining companies, however, were by now under heavy fire that pinned them down. Within 20 minutes of the time the first landing craft touched the beach, Major Robert H. Williams was wounded, and command passed to Major Charles A. Miller, his Executive Officer.36 On the part of these two companies, movement was impossible until Company B worked its way into position to offer support with small arms and mortar fire.
By 1430, the battalion found itself in possession of the greater part of the island. Hill 148, the dominant terrain feature, had been assaulted on the east and the southeast. It had been possible to bring naval gunfire to bear on those slopes, and enemy resistance was thereby lessened to the extent that emplacements could be overrun. The southwest and west slopes, however, were to some extent in defilade, while the north and northeast faces of the hill were protected by flanking fire from Tanambogo. Fire from well protected emplacements on the Tanambogo side of the island continued to impede the movements of part of the already depleted battalion and to inflict further casualties upon it.37 Miller realized that Tanambogo must be reduced. he also realized that he must have reinforcements in order to accomplish this, and he requested them.38
In anticipation of their arrival, Miller also requested that an air strike and naval gunfire be laid down on Tanambogo. In compliance with the request, Wasp planes furnished a ten minute strike, and Buchanan and Monssen, in position south of Gavutu, fired over that island and subjected the exposed faces of the hill on Tanambogo to an intense concentration of 5-inch shell fire.
By this time all forces available to General Rupertus had been committed. on Tulagi the 1st Raider Battalion, reinforced by elements of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, was compressing the enemy into the ravine and was getting into the positions which it would hold for the night. Other elements of the 5th Marines were likewise carrying out special missions--Company E, operating near Sasapi, on the northeast coast of Tulagi, was about to be returned to he beachhead to provide security, and Company F was patrolling in the upper third of the island. The 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, (less Company B) operating without its supporting elements, had met with no opposition since landing near Halavo, opposite Gavutu on Florida Island. Company B, having carried out is mission of a pre-H-hour support landing opposite Beach Blue, likewise had made no contact with Japanese forces and was about to be withdrawn from the area.
Rupertus had not been informed by Miller of the number of reinforcements he needed. He therefore ordered Company B, by radio, to report to Miller on Gavutu for further employment. The message reached Company B as it was preparing to enter the landing craft (LCPs) that had been sent to take it off the island.39
The company, embarked in six landing craft, reported to Miller at about 1800 and was directed to land on Tanambogo and seize that island. Crane was told that the island was held by a few snipers. The landing craft,
badly overcrowded, were guided around the east shore of Tanambogo by Lieutenant Spencer, RAAF, and under cover of darkness attempted a landing on a small pier on the northeastern tip of the island. One boat, containing the 2d Platoon, had hung upon the coral coming into Gavutu and did not take part in the assault on Tanambogo.
The first boat landed without incident, and the men began deploying along the beach. As the second boat was discharging its platoon, however, a shell from one of the fire support ships landed in a nearby fuel dump, and the resulting glare lighted the landing area and exposed the Marines. The enemy opened up immediately, taking all boats under rifle and machine gun fire. Casualties were caused among the Marines ashore and still afloat, but the boat crews suffered most heavily, being exposed. One crew suffered total casualties, and the operation of the craft was taken over by one of the Marines embarked.
The machine gun platoon embarked in the second boat (4th Platoon, Company D) managed to set up two of its weapons on the pier, but the intensity of fire directed by the enemy at the exposed and well illuminated position forced it to withdraw.
In the meantime, Crane and about 30 men had gone ashore. The intensity of resistance, however, made withdrawal inevitable, and Crane succeeded in reembarking all wounded and all but 12 of the able survivors. The boats withdrew, some to Gavutu where they reported the event, and others direct to the ships, where the wounded were taken aboard. Two men of those left on the beach managed to return to Gavutu at about 2200 in a rowboat, while Crane and Lieutenant John J. Smith, leader of the 2d Platoon, and the rest of the dozen men made their way around the beach and over the causeway, arriving at Miller's command post at about midnight.40
After nightfall, action continued. The enemy on Gavutu were reinforced by individuals who swam to the island from Florida and Tulagi. A strong group sallied from a cave under the southern slope of Hill 148 and counterattacked, without effect. The entire group was wiped out. Other enemy, coming ashore at various points around the island, under concealment of heavy rain, attacked and caused a small number of casualties without, however, altering the fact that the Parachute Battalion controlled the island.
At 2200, having been informed of the abortive attack on Tanambogo, General Rupertus requested the release of an additional combat team. This request, reaching Vandegrift during his conference with Admiral Turner on board the USS McCawley, was acted upon immediately. Vandegrift, Turner concurring, decided to release the remaining two battalions of the Division Reserve (2d Marines reinforced). At 0330, 8 August, the USS President Hayes and President Adams, with the 2d and 3d Battalions, 2d Marines (reinforced) embarked, were ordered to proceed from the transport area off Beach Red at Guadalcanal to the Tulagi transport area. Orders were issued at the same time to the battalion commanders to land their troops at Beach Blue and report to General Rupertus for duty.41
Upon arrival at the transport area off Beach Blue at 0730, the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines was directed to pass to Gavutu to reinforce the troops engaged there and seize Tanambogo. Orders for the 1st Battalion were not changed.
The 3d Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel R.G. Hunt, landed in a series of 3-boat waves, spaced at 10-minute intervals, with companies in the following order:
Company L, with 5th Platoon Company M attached, at 1000;
Company K, with 4th Platoon Company M attached, at 1025;
SURPRISE WAS IMPOSSIBLE in the bitterly contested Gavutu-Tanambogo landings as depicted in this overprint. The photograph itself was taken by Japanese aircraft early in 1942 prior to enemy seizure of the Tulagi-Guadalcanal area.
Company I, with 3d Platoon Company M attached, at 1050;
Company M, less 3d, 4th, and 5th Platoons, with Headquarters Company, at 1120.
Upon landing, Lieutenant Colonel Hunt assumed command of the operation. Troops were deployed initially to eliminate all remaining opposition on Gavutu.42
At 1225, Captain W.B. Tinsley, commanding Company I, was ordered to prepare for a landing on Tanambogo. He would have the support of two tanks from the 2d Tank Battalion (one of the reinforcing units of the 2d Marines), and his attack would be preceded by a 10 minute naval gunfire preparation by Buchanan. The company would not be accompanied by its supporting machine gun platoon, which was to stay in position on Gavutu and lay down supporting fires from there.
At 1315 the tanks landed on Gavutu and Lieutenant E.J. Sweeney, commanding them, was ordered to land at 1615 on Tanambogo, using one tank to cover the south side of the hill on that island and the other to cover the eastern slope.
The naval gunfire preparation was laid down as planned, beginning at 1600. Twenty minutes later the assault company landed preceded by the tanks. lieutenant Sweeney, while observing from one of them, was killed, but his vehicle rendered valuable support to the riflemen. The other tank, getting too far ahead of the assault troops, was disabled by an iron bar and set afire by enemy riflemen who used oil-soaked rags. The entire enemy group was wiped out, 42 bodies being piled up around the disabled tank.
At 1620 Company I landed and separated in two groups, one of which worked up the southern slope of the hill and the other, moving off to the right and then inland, fought its way up the eastern slope. Heavy resistance was encountered, coming from small enemy groups in position in dugouts and caves in the coral. The eastern group's position was made more dangerous by the presence of a few enemy riflemen and machine gunners on Gaomi, a tiny islet lying directly east of Tanambogo and only a few hundred yards away. Naval gunfire was requested again, the time from Gridley, and was laid down at 1700 on Gaomi. The interference from that point ceased abruptly.
Immediately after the establishment of the beachhead on Tanambogo, a supporting attack was launched across the causeway, at 1700, by the 1st Platoon of Company K. This platoon secured the Tanambogo end of the causeway and took up positions for the night in that area. At 1900 Company I was supplied by boat with ammunition from Company M.
By 2100 the southeastern two thirds of the island had been secured, and at 2300 a light machine gun platoon from Company M reported to Company I for support against enemy counterattacks. Considerable close in fighting took place during the night between the Marines and individuals or small groups who sallied from foxholes and dugouts. No change in position occurred, however, and late the next day the island was completely secured.
While the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, was assisting in the clean-up on Gavutu, and while one company was securing Tanambogo, the other two battalions of that regiment, with a part of the supporting troops, were coming ashore on Tulagi. The 1st Battalion, unengaged since landing on 7 August on Florida, went ashore at Beach Blue at 0900, followed one hour later by the 2d Battalion.
Here, as at Guadalcanal proper, the amphibian tractor began to emerge as a versatile piece of equipment whose importance and utility could hardly be overestimated. From noon of 8 August throughout the following night, five of these vehicles of the 3d Platoon, Company A, 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion (one of the reinforcing elements of the 2d Marines) operated between Gavutu and the President Adams, where the platoon had been embarked. Carrying water, supplies, and ammunition, as well as personnel, on the ship-to-shore trips, they acted as ambulances on the return trips, evacuating wounded. On one occasion a tractor operated far inshore, interposing itself between a
group of wounded men pinned down by fire from an enemy dugout and the emplacement whence the fire was coming. Using its two machine guns--one .50 caliber and the other .30 caliber--to neutralize the enemy fire, the tractor picked up the wounded and evacuated them. The five tractors of the platoon were taken back on board the Adams before sundown, 9 August.43
With the fall of Tanambogo, the last organized resistance in the island groups ceased, and subsequent operations consisted of mopping up and the establishment of defense. Under the head of mopping up, however, came the taking of several small peripheral islands--Makambo, Mbangai, Kokomtambu, and Songonangona.44 Gaomi, which had caused temporary annoyance to he members of Company I as they were busy on Tanambogo, had been silenced conclusively early in the morning of 9 August by Battery I, 10th Marines, which laid in 60 rounds of 75mm (pack howitzer) fire from its positions on Gavutu.45
The mission of clearing out these small foci of infection was delegated to various units of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines. Makambo was taken by Company E, Mbangai by Company F against slight opposition, and Kokomtambu, with Songonangona, by Company G, which also encountered minor resistance. Occupation of all these smaller islands was completed during the morning of 9 August.
GAVUTU AND THE CAUSEWAY across which the 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, assaulted Tanambogo. View is taken from high ground on Tanambogo.
The taking of the entire Island group--Tulagi and its satellites--had been accomplished in three days. The entire enemy garrison, with the exception of a few survivors who made their way to Florida Island (and to ultimate capture or extinction by native and Marine patrols), was wiped out. A few prisoners were taken, questioned, and sent to rear areas, most of them finally being placed in a prisoner of war camp near Featherstone, New Zealand.
Comparatively, the American losses were not excessive. An early report by Rupertus to the effect that the Parachute Battalion had suffered 50-60 percent casualties can only be explained in terms of inadequate communications between him and his troops ashore.46
The exact number of enemy casualties will never be known. It was estimated that about 1500 enemy, including several hundred conscript laborers, were present on the various islands of the group at the time of the landings. Twenty-three prisoners were taken, and an intelligence summary gives 70 as the approximate number of survivors who escaped to Florida. The distribution of enemy forces, as given in the Final Report, the source for the figures given herein, was about 500 on Tulagi (all Landing Force and Naval Aviation personnel) with the remainder on Gavutu, Tanambogo, and the smaller islands.
Immediately after organized resistance ceased and the isolated defending group
were rounded up and wiped out, Tulagi and its satellite islands were organized for defense against counterattack. The Parachute Battalion shaken by its experience on Gavutu, was moved from that island at 1700 on 9 August to Tulagi, where it went into position in the Government building area. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, occupied the southeastern sector of the island, while two battalions of the 2d Marines took over the defense mission in the northwestern two-thirds, the 1st Battalion at the extreme end of the island and the 2d Battalion at Sasapi. Third Battalion, 2d Marines, took over the occupation and defense of Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Makambo.47
The logistic problem on Tulagi was, in miniature, that which was encountered on Guadalcanal and which well be discussed in detail below. Certain details peculiar to Tulagi complicated the problem, however, and should be mentioned here. The beachhead, for instance, was severely restricted in character, and there were no usable roads. Only after noon of the second day was it possible to move supplies ashore at the piers on the eastern coast.48 At Gavutu, in effect, there was no beachhead, and only ammunition and water could be moved in until the islands were secured.
The supply situation may best be summed up by the following comments from officers of two of the units involved.
E-2-5 landed with three days' rations, and received nothing but captured rice and one (1) 1-gallon can of tomatoes from 7 August until 21 August, when we were transferred to Guadalcanal by APD's. One meal per day from 11 August on.49
The Parachute Battalion landed on Gavutu with weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, and two or three days' supply of "C" and "D" rations only. Prior to embarking in landing craft, each individual made up a roll which consisted of clothing, mess gear, necessary comforts of life, and field bedding. These rolls, together with vital organizational equipment were loaded in landing craft. Almost all these rolls, with most equipment were never received, thus causing undue hardship and inconvenience after the Parachute Battalion moved to Tulagi.50
Another officer has an explanation of the failure of the individual rolls and equipment to reach shore. According to this account, which is substantially the same as the above, the equipment was placed in the landing craft after they reported back to the Heywood, their mother ship, when the troops were put ashore.
An air raid warning occurred as the boats loaded with the packs were almost to the beach, and without allowing them to proceed and unload they were recalled to the ships, and coxswains ordered to throw the gear over the side in order to lighten them sufficiently for cranes to swing them aboard.51
Large quantities of Japanese material were found, including considerable amounts of documentary intelligence matter. Some food, as we have seen above, was also taken, and, like the engineering and radio equipment, was put to immediate use.
The Tulagi area, after the first three days, became quiet. Enemy planes by-passed it in striking at the more tempting air field and perimeter on Guadalcanal. Surface craft shelled it occasionally, but never was it subjected to the kind of bombardment that struck Guadalcanal in October. There is no record that enemy forces landed either on Tulagi or on Florida.
The island served as a base from which were mounted several of the more important patrol actions of the campaign--to Savo Island, to Malaita, and to Guadalcanal itself.
1. Final Report, Phase I, p. 9.
2. "0625--Enemy surface force of 20 ships had entered Tulagi. While making landing preparations, the enemy is bombarding the shore." Message from Tulagi Communication Base, 7 August 1942. (25th Air Flotilla War Diary)--Washington Document Center 161730.
3. Report, Commander, Wasp Air Group to Commanding Officer, USS Wasp, 10 August 1942. In general, during the first day Wasp planes operated over the Tulagi area while Saratoga planes gave comparable support to the main landing off Beach Red at Guadalcanal. Enterprise planes gave protection to the carriers and flew patrol missions.
4. Report, Commander Cruisers Task Force 18, p. 1. "0630--All flying boats have been set afire by the bombardment." WDC 161730.
5. Report, Commander Cruisers, Task Force 18, p. 2.
6. Japanese Dispositions and Defense Installations, Tulagi-Guadalcanal area. ComSoPac, 25 July 1942.
7. Letter, LtCol H.R. Thorpe to Commandant Marine Corps, 19 January 1949. See also Final Report, Phase II, p. 2.
8. Final Report, Phase II, p. 2.
9. Interview, Majors Houston Stiff, John B. Sweeney, and William E. Sperling, 4 February 1949. Letter, Major Henry J. Adams to Commandant Marine Corps, 17 December 1948.
10. Loc. cit. and interview, Major John C. Erskine, 15 March 1949.
11. WDC 161730. Excerpt translation in Marine Corps records.
12. Interview, Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling, 4 February 1949.
13. Final Report, Phase II, p. 2.
14. Interview, Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling, 4 February 1949.
15. Final Report, Phase II, Annex D, p. 1. The term "Phase Line A," unexplained in reports, was used to describe the well defined line running across the southeastern slope of the northwestern ridge where the jungle growth of the ridge gave way to the cultivated area of the Government Station--the line that separates the jungle from the sown. Interview, Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling, 4 February 1949.
16. The Raiders had been well briefed on the terrain of the island by Lieutenant Henry E. Josselyn, RANR, a former resident of the area who had intimate knowledge of it. Major John B. Sweeney, in an interview on 4 February 1949, gave it as his opinion that the men of the battalion could have found their way over the island in total darkness, so lucid and vivid has the briefing been.
17. Record of Events, Tulagi (General Rupertus' report), entries for 7 August.
18. D-3 Journal, 1st Marine Division. Message 73 for 7 August.
19. Interview, Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling, 4 February 1949.
20. Report, Commander, Cruisers, Task Force 18. Two Naval Gunfire Officers were on duty at Edson's Headquarters--Lieutenants (j.g.) Aida and Carlin. Letter, Lt A.L. Moon, USNR, to LtCol R.D. Heinl, Jr., 13 February 1949.
21. Interview, Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling, 4 February 1949.
22. Final Report, Phase II. p. 3.
23. Interview, Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling, 4 February 1949.
24. Final Report, Phase II, Annex L. p. 4.
25. Information on dispositions for the night was obtained in the Stiff, Sweeney, and Sperling Interview, 4 February 1949.
26. Final Report, Phase II, pp. 3 and 4.
27. Final Report, Phase II, p. 4.
28. Ibid., p. 4.
29. Operation Order No. 7-42. See Final Report Phase II, Annex E, p. 2.
30. The importance of Gavutu arose from the fact that there were numerous installations on the islet, including machine shops, jetties, and a radio station. The headquarters of Levers Pacific Plantations Proprietary, Limited, the great copra growing concern, was also located there. Sailing Direction for the Pacific Islands, Vol. I, p. 323. (Issued by the Hydrographic Office, Navy Department, in 1938. H.O. No. 165.)
31. Letter, Major Charles A. Miller to Commandant, Marine Corps, 9 February 1949. It bears mentioning here that the Parachute Battalion was a far smaller unit that its rifle regiment counterpart. Composed of four rather than five companies, its total strength was but 351 men, armed with Reising sub-machine guns, '03 rifles, Browning automatic rifles, and, in the case of three men, with Johnson automatic rifles. Light machine guns and 60mm mortars completed the battalion's armament. Each of its rifle companies had but 102 men--one of them, Company C, had only 77. See also letter, Colonel Justin G Duryea to Commandant Marine Corps, 17 January 1949.
32. Action Report, Commander, Task Force 18, p. 2.
33. From flight 102, 106, 109, 112, 303, 305, 312, and 315, all from Wasp. All planes involved were SBDs. Action Report, USS Wasp.
34. Final Report, Phase II, p. 5.
35. Ibid., p. 5.
36. Letter, Miller to CMC, 9 February 1949. Miller says that Williams was not found until after dusk.
37. An unfortunate blow to the understrength battalion fell when elements of Company B, Parachute Battalion, had just succeeded in working their way to the top of Hill 148. At the moment, one of the supporting aircraft, an SBD, placed a bomb of undetermined size squarely upon the summit of the hill. This mistake in target identification cost the company two men killed and several wounded. A similar error caused more casualties next day in the same spot.
38. Final Report, Phase II, p. 5.
39. Letter, LtCol Wood B. Kyle to Commandant Marine Corps, 10 February 1949.
40. Final Report, Phase II, p. 6. Letters, Major Harold R. Thorpe to Commandant Marine Corps, 19 January, Kyle to CMC 10 February 1949, and Miller to CMC, 9 February 1949.
41. Letter, CWO Thomas W. Huston to Commandant Marine Corps, 29 December 1948. Orders to report to Rupertus did not go through Colonel John M. Arthur, commanding officer of the 2d Marines. Each battalion commander was notified direct, and it was not until he reached Espiritu Santo (see below) that Arthur knew which of his troops had been committed. Interview, Colonel Robert E. Hill, 18 April 1949.
42. Report of Operations, 3d Battalion, 2d Marines (reinforced), p. 2.
43. Details of the operation of 3d Battalion, 2d Marines and reinforcing elements on Gavutu and Tanambogo were taken in toto from Detailed Report of Operations, Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu Sectors, Third Battalion, Second Marines (reinforced). MCR. Evacuation of wounded was supervised by D.S. Oman, of the American Red Cross.
44. Spelling of place names are those which appear in Sailing Direction for the Pacific Islands, Hydrographic Office, U.S. Navy Department, H.O. No. 165, 1948. Vol. I, p. 323. The versions given there differ in numerous cases from those used in official reports of the campaign. Kokomtambu, for instance, appears in at least three different guises, while Songonangona surrendered its musical name to the irresistible American desire to be cute, and emerged as a coy "Singsong" Island.
45. Landed at 1800 on 8 August and went into position to cover Tanambogo. Report of Operations, 3d Battalion, 2d Marines.
46. Final Report, Phase II, Annex N. First entry.
47. Final Report, Phase II, Annex N. Letter, Colonel Cornelius P. Van Ness to Commandant Marine Corps, 12 January 1949. Defense initially was oriented against an anticipated attack from Florida and artillery positions were selected with this, as well as the possibility of a seaborne attack, in view. Interview, Col. Manly L. Curry, 28 January 1949.
48. It had been planned to use these piers at once, apparently on the assumption that the island would be overrun almost without delay. Report, Commander Transport Division 8. According to this report, supplies, except water and ammunition, did not begin moving ashore until nearly midnight of 8 August.
49. Letter, Major Harry S. Connor to Commandant Marine Corps, 14 February 1949.
50. Letter, Miller to CMC, 17 December 1948.
51. Letter, Colonel Justin G. Duryea to Commandant Marine Corps, 17 January 1949.
Compiled and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation