Chapter 13: The Landings in the Tulagi Area, August 7

0637 Signal "Land the landing force."
0706 Boats leave Jackson for Haleta.
0740 Landing at Haleta.
0740-55 San Juan, Monssen, and Buchanan bombard Tulagi.
0800 Raiders land on Beach BLUE, Tulagi.
0800 San Juan sights submarine.
0800-35 Mine sweepers bombard Gavutu and Bungana Island.
0845 Landing at Halavo.
1000-30 San Juan shells Gavutu twice.
1026 Landing boats for Gavutu leave assembly area.
1141 First wave leaves line of departure for Gavutu.
1200 Landing on Gavutu.
1200-1400 Right flank of landing held to beach by enemy fire.

Our plans contemplated roughly simultaneous landings by Squadron YOKE in the Tulagi area and by Squadron XRAY on Guadalcanal. The debarkation schedule had been carefully worked out to utilize all the boats and landing craft carried by the transports and cargo ships. The boats available included 303 Diesel-driven "T" boats (Higgins Eureka),15 116 gasoline-driven "TR" boats,16 and 48 "WLs."17 In addition there was a number of amphibious tractors. The operation of these craft appears to have proceeded smoothly throughout the morning. only when supplies brought by the boats began to pile up on the beaches did difficulties arise.

Although a smaller number of vessels and of troops was involved in the Tulagi area, the operations there were considerably more complex than on Guadalcanal. On the latter it was merely a matter of pouring first troops and then supplies onto a single beach. In the Tulagi region several landings were to be made, necessitating a more elaborate schedule for both landing boats and for fire support.

The main landing in this area was to be made at Beach BLUE on the southwest shore of Tulagi, which of all the islands bore the most marks of civilization. On its southeastern end were grouped the physical appurtenances of the white man's rule, including a cricket ground which


was soon to see a grimmer game. The approach to Beach BLUE, however, was dominated from the west by a promontory jutting south from Florida Island, near which lay the village of Haleta.18 In order to insure that the enemy would not use this position to enfilade our boats during their landing on Beach BLUE, we had to make a preliminary landing on this promontory.

Our second principal landing in the Florida area was to be made on the island of Gavutu. Coral reefs almost surrounded that island, and the only practicable beach lay on the northeast side. During their approach to this beach our boats would be dangerously exposed to fire from the island, from another Florida peninsula to the east, and, in the final stage of their approach, from Tanambogo. In order to reduce this danger as much as possible, other troops had first to be put ashore at Halavo, on the Florida peninsula, whence they could provide a certain amount of support for our boats.

our program for the Tulagi area therefore ran somewhat as follow:

At 0740 (H-20 min.) one rifle company and one machine-gun platoon (from Combat Team A, Second Marines) were to land at a cove19 near Haleta and hold the point to the southeast.

At 0800 (H-hour) the First Raider Battalion was to be landed at Beach BLUE on Tulagi. After occupying the western end of the island, our men were to fire a green star shell cluster as a signal for a naval bombardment of the eastern end of the island, which they were then to occupy. The Raiders were to be supported in taking Tulagi by the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. From Hill 281 at the southeastern end of the island they were expected to support, by howitzer fire, our troops in their assault on Gavutu. It was anticipated that most of the Raiders could then be reembarked for an assault upon Makambo Island. The entire latter part of this schedule proved impossible, as will be seen.

At 0830 (H plus 30 min.) one rifle company and one machine-gun platoon (the rest of Combat Team A, Second Marines) were to land at Halavo. They were to support by their fire the attack of the First Parachute Battalion on Gavutu.

At 1200 (H plus 4 hrs.) the First Parachute Battalion was to be landed on Gavutu. After seizing that island they were to signal for a naval bombardment


of Tanambogo, after which they were expected to rush the causeway connecting the two islands and establish control.

A schedule had been worked out to provide preliminary bombardment and fire support for all these operations.

With the signal to land the landing force, the transports sprang into orderly activity. The order "Away all boats" was passed, and within a few minutes most of the boats except the tank lighters had been lowered. At the same time the fire support group was relieved of its screening duties and the various ships moved off to take their assigned positions to provide fire support for the landings.

The Haleta landing

The first landing, scheduled to be made at 0740 immediately east of Haleta, was to be carried out by Company B, Combat Team A (Second Marines) from the President Jackson. This company was under the command of Capt. E.J. Crane. The boats were put over and lowered and the troops embarked without incident. At 0706, well on schedule, they left the Jackson for the line of departure, which was marked by the Monssen and Buchanan.

At 0730 they left the line of departure and started in, guided by Pilot Officer C.E. Spencer, RAAF. At the same time the San Juan began her bombardment of a small island to the south of Haleta, firing 100 rounds while the boats were moving in from 2,700 yards to 1,300 yards of the beach (W7744). This had been marked by our cruiser planes with colored smoke bombs. During the same interval the Buchanan was providing close fire support by pouring 100 rounds onto the promontory to the west of the beach (W7443) and the Monssen was bombarding a hill (W8341) on the promontory to the east which overlooks the western end of Tulagi. Fire lifted as the Marines approached the beach, our boats touched at 0740 and our men went ashore without opposition.

The landing on Beach Blue

As soon as they ceased fire the supporting vessels shifted their position to provide fire support for our principle landing at Beach BLUE. This was not the best beach on the island, but this was precisely its merit. According to Maj. Justice Chambers, U.S.M.C.,20 it "was probably the last place that the Japs thought we would land. It was completely surrounded by coral reefs, and this made it necessary to halt the boats on the edge


of the reef. Then everybody had to plunge into the water and wade to shore. This is no fun, as we had found out during our training in Samoa, because coral reefs are dotted with holes and at any moment your are likely to step into water that is over your head. The best beach on Tulagi was at the other end of the island and the Japanese had clearly expected that any hostile landing would be made there. So they had very lightly fortified the beach where we landed." The beach, however, proved awkward and inconvenient for the unloading of supplies when failure to capture the eastern end of the island the first day prevented immediate use of the facilities there as had been planned.

While the first landing at Haleta was taking place, our transports were making ready for the assault on Beach BLUE. At 0717 the one hundred-odd men of the First Raider Battalion carried by the Neville started clambering down the sides of the ship into the landing boats and then left for the line of departure, while the Heywood embarked about 100 of the Raiders in boats provided by the Zeilin.

Meanwhile the main body of the battalion had mustered in the embarking areas of the four destroyer transports, Little, Colhoun, Gregory, and McKean. As the men were waiting to enter the boats a message was read them from Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson, who commanded the battalion. It contained the news that on August 6th we had intercepted a propaganda broadcast from Tokyo in which the speaker kept saying, "Where are the United States Marines hiding? The Marines are supposed to be the finest soldiers in the world, but no one has seen them yet."

As soon as the men were in the boats, the destroyer transports stood in toward the line of departure, which they were to mark. Presently they were in position, the Little acting as control vessel.

Shortly after 0740 the San Juan began a preliminary bombardment of Hill 208 in about the center of Tulagi's southwest coast--a position which was to cause us a great deal of trouble. She fired 560 rounds from a position bearing 210° from the hill. At 0750 the Monssen and Buchanan moved in to give 5 minutes of close fire support while the boats were moving in from 2,700 to 1,300 yards from the beach. They expended 200 rounds each. While our ships were bombarding the southwestern slopes of the island a scout-bombing squadron bombed the northeastern side from 0750 to 0800. Other planes from our cruiser had meanwhile marked the limits of the beach with smoke bombs.

Five minutes before the hour our naval fire ceased. While out boats


were closing the thousand yards which separated them from the shore a young Marine was heard to mutter, "Here's where the Japs find out where the U.S. Marines have been hiding!" Soon the boats were grinding on the reef; the Raiders leaped overboard and waded ashore. This was at 0800, exactly on schedule. The enemy was taken completely by surprise and there was no opposition. Only one man was hit by a sniper's fire as the Marines splashed ashore, climbed the steep rise of the beach on a 500-yard front and plunged into the thick jungle growth behind it.

This first wave was composed of Company B under Maj. Lloyd Nickerson and Company D under Major Chambers, who was later, upon being wounded, relieved by his executive officer, Capt. W. Sperling. Avoiding the nearby trails, which were dominated by cliffs, these two companies headed directly across the island before turning southeast along the far shore where Company B quickly secured the village of Sasapi. The second wave, which consisted of Companies A and C, commanded by Capt. L.W. Walt and Maj. Kenneth Bailey, respectively, landed shortly afterwards and began the advance southeast along the near shore.

Our ships had just ceased their bombardment when, almost at H-hour, the San Juan sighted a "submarine submerged" standing out of Gavutu Harbor. She at once increased speed to the maximum available to attack. Four minutes later the San Juan, proceeding at 25 knots, dropped a pattern of six 300-pound depth charges and one 600-pound charge. She then maneuvered to pass through the area again and to take position for the next scheduled firing. A large oil slick was noted on the surface, but although several screening destroyers searched the area, no further evidence of the submarine or of its possible destruction was seen. Similar reports of enemy submarine activity continued throughout the next 2 days without confirmation.

The San Juan's next scheduled firing was to give further support to the two companies advancing along the south shore of the island by another 5-minutes bombardment of Hill 208. Her shells failed, however, to dislodge the Japanese, who were well dug in, so that when Companies A and C reached that point they found their advance held up by heavy machine-gun fire from the hill. Meanwhile, the Buchanan was shelling the Tulagi radio station, while the Monssen poured a hundred shells into Japanese antiaircraft positions south of the hospital. A little later the San Juan moved down and shelled the prison.

Fire support MIKE's only casualties during the morning occurred at


1135 when the San Juan's Gun Mount No. 1 exploded, killing 5 men and injuring 13. A fire which followed the explosion was quickly extinguished, and the San Juan, the Buchanan, and the Monssen, continued to provide fire support on Tulagi and Gavutu as requested by the shore fire control parties.

At 0830 Combat Team Two of the Fifth Marines under Col. H.E. Rosecrans landed from the Neville, and advanced rapidly behind the Raiders. At 0900 two tanks were put ashore from the President Jackson. The Heywood had started unloading combat and medical gear at the same time she had debarked the first Raiders, and the A-2 Medical Company soon followed the others ashore. By 1012 all assigned waves had landed on the beach and the Little left her station at the line of departure to fuel from the Neville. Between 1004 and 1239 the President Jackson fueled the destroyer-transport McKean and, after interruptions because of the enemy air attacks, the Colhoun.

Throughout the day the Screening Group, under the command of Admiral Crutchley, engaged in patrolling the waters around Transport Groups XRAY and YOKE to protect them against enemy surface, air, or submarine attack. The screen consisted of the cruisers Australia (F), Canberra, Hobart, and Chicago, and the destroyers Selfridge, Blue, Helm, Henley, Bagley, Mugford, Ralph Talbot, Jarvis, and Patterson. The destroyer-transports, the Colhoun, Little, McKean, and Gregory, joined in the antisubmarine patrol of the transports of Group YOKE.

The Halavo landing

After Beach BLUE, our next landing was scheduled for 0830 at Halavo. This was to be made by the remainder of Combat Team A of the Second Marines from the Jackson (the other part of the team had landed at Haleta.) These troops had left the transport as promptly as possible, but it was some 7 miles to their line of departure and they were somewhat late in arrival.

Fire support for this landing was to be provided by Mine Squadron TWO, under the command of Comdr. W.H. Hartt, Jr. For this task the squadron was divided into two groups: the Hovey, Hopkins, and Trever were to bombard Gavutu Island, while Bungana Island was the target of the Southard and Zane. These two groups moved off in column, endeavoring to provide some protection to the boats by remaining between them and these two islands, from which enemy fire was to be expected.

A little before 0800 the boats were sighted standing east toward the


line of departure, and the Hovey, Hopkins, and Trever turned to form on a line of bearing 270° on a northwesterly course to close their target. As they did so, a battery on Gavutu opened fire at a range of about 4,000 yards. Comdr. Hartt on the Hopkins immediately hosted the emergency signal to commence fire. At about the same time the Southard and Zane met fire from a gun on Bungana Island. While our two minesweeper groups were returning the enemy fire, the first wave of landing boats from the Jackson passed between them on their way to the line of departure. The Hopkins, Trever, and Hovey turned right 90° into column to cross 200 yards to the north of the line of departure and to offer our boats what protection they could. The enemy guns found the range of our ships and their fire crossed them several times, but without scoring any hits. There were numerous very close misses, but the shells were of small caliber and their light bursting charge did no damage at a few yards distance. our own 3-inch and 20-mm. shells were landing on the islands. The Hopkins was firing at the beach line of Gavutu, and also landed several near-hits on top of Gavutu hill near an enemy gun. At about 0830 the Trever landed a salvo very close to the battery on the hill, which then ceased fire. Meanwhile Comdr. Hartt had received a message from Capt. Ashe, Commander Transport Group YOKE, asking the position of the enemy gun, so that he could have it bombed. At 0835 our squadron ceased fire and withdrew to the southwest to begin its assigned sweeping operations. At about the same time one of our scout bombers scored a hit near the battery and demolished a building on the hilltop.

Our landing boats had meanwhile left their line of departure, and by 0845 (15 minutes behind schedule, due to the long distance from their transport) the Marines were going ashore at Halavo without opposition. Soon they were in position to give what fire support they could when our troops should land on Gavutu.

After ceasing fire our minesweepers moved off to begin their sweeping. Their schedule called for two groups to sweep the area south of Gavutu for moored mines, beginning at about 0930. In the early afternoon they were to sweep off Guadalcanal. Before 0900 they were streaming their sweeping gear, and operations started a little later. The channel between Gavutu and Bungana was swept, then the rest of the area, without finding a single mine. Soon after our ships started sweeping, the San Juan came


up and fired over 800 rounds onto Gavutu to protect them from any interference from the island.21

The Gavutu landing

The landing on Gavutu was planned for about 1200 (H plus 4 hours) and was to be made by the First Parachute Battalion (Maj. Robert H. Williams, USMC, commanding) from the Heywood. At about 1000 that transport began disembarking 394 officers and men of the battalion into 12 Heywood boats and 1 ramp boat from the Neville. These were formed into 3 waves:

About an hour later the Heywood completed unloading "the Tulagi gear" and got underway at 15 knots for Guadalcanal, where she was to land the Special Weapons Battalion and other troops and supplies.

About 1026 the first wave of the landing boats left the assembly area and started the 7-mile run to the line of departure. It was followed at 5-minute intervals by the other two waves. During this hour's run the boats bucked choppy seas and by the time they arrived at the line of departure all personnel and equipment were completely drenched. Many marines were seasick, and some of the equipment was in poor condition.

Our planes had bombed Gavutu-Tanambogo at dawn, and Gavutu had been shelled several times during the forenoon. In the half hour between


1000 and 1030 the San Juan had shelled it twice, firing a total of 815 rounds. Now, while our boats were making their long run to the line of departure, our planes repeated their bombing and strafing. All this bombardment, however, failed to drive the enemy from his dugouts near the beach and on the hill. Furthermore, the resistance encountered by our troops on Tulagi prevented their supporting the landing with howitzer fire from Hill 281, as planned.

The boats gathered at the line of departure for their difficult run to the beach. Because the island is almost surrounded by coral shoals, the landing had to be made on the northeastern side of Gavutu, not far from the causeway connecting it with Tanambogo. Consequently our boats had to pass along the eastern shore of the island, between it and the promontory of Florida on which Halavo lay, then turn sharply in toward the beach. During this turn they would be exposed to fire from Tanambogo.

Lieut. Bennink's first wave left the line of departure at 1141. At 1152, while our boats were running north, the San Juan opened fire for 4 minutes from bearing 100° from the island, placing 280 rounds on the northeastern side of Gavutu, while the Monssen and the Buchanan also joined in giving fire support.23

The wreck of a 4-motored Japanese bomber lay on the coral reef just south of Gavutu, and from it came sniper fire as our boats passed. (This nuisance persisted for 2 days, until we eliminated it by mortar fire from the island.) As our boats turned west about 200 yards from the beach they found it littered with debris and small fires and very difficult to distinguish. At the same time they were greeted by scattered gunfire. When our boats were only 100 yards from the beach the supporting fire from our vessels lifted and the fire from shore grew heavier.

"These boats intended to land at the concrete seaplane ramps," says General Vandegrift,24 "but because the heavy naval gunfire and bombing preparation had tumbled huge blocks of cement in the path of the leading waves, several of the boats were forced to land along the concrete dock to the right." The boats of the first wave came into the beach at 3 points about 25 yards apart, all near the dock. They touched shore at exactly 1200 plus 15 seconds. The Japanese let them land, but as our


Landing at Haleta, Florida Island


Reinforcements wading ashore at Beach Blue.


Congestion on Beach Red.


Transports and screen lying off Tulagi.


Boats landing at Beach Red.


men started to cross the beach many were cut down by heavy fire. The boats meanwhile retracted without casualties and stood out.

The second wave, at the request of the senior Marine officer, came in closely behind the first and touched the beach only a minute and a half later. Three Marines were hit before they could leave the boat and others were shot down in the water as they splahsed ashore. While the boats were backing off one was hit and sunk, apparently by a hand grenade thrown from shore, and two of its crew were killed.

Because of the opposition our men were encountering, the third wave followed in closely and landed at 1206, 8 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Again several Marines were hit in the boats and the rest rushed ashore in the face of heavy fire. One out of every 10 men who landed on this beach became a casualty. A hill on Gavutu 148 feet high and another 120 feet high on Tanambogo commanded the beach. These hills were honeycombed with dugout fortresses like those which our Raiders had encountered on Tulagi. The Japanese manning them were well armed with machine guns, rifles, and automatic rifles. Their fire was particularly heavy on those boats which landed along the concrete doc k to the right of the beach and our men there were held up for almost 2 hours. Those on the left flank, however, advanced slowly inland against bitter opposition.

Because of the heavy sniper fire, our boats had withdrawn some 1,000 yards before making rendezvous. They then administered first aid to the wounded and stood by to await any call from the beach. When Lieut. Bennink came through the fire to land at about 1300 he found one platoon of Marines under cover of debris along the dock, held up by the heavy fire. Major Williams, who had been in charge of the landing force, had been wounded, and Lieut. Bennink had to wait half an hour before he was able to contact Maj. C.A. Miller, now in command, in regard to the disposal of boats and supplies. Meanwhile Lieut. Ellis had also brought his boat in, and was instructed to transfer the wounded to a damaged boat and send them to the Neville. While his boat was withdrawing, two of his crew were wounded. During this time enemy fire from both Florida and Gavutu had become so heavy that our boats at the rendezvous had been forced to withdraw farther down the channel.


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Designation Length Breadth Draft Weight
Armament Troop
[15] LCP(L) 36' 10'8" 3' 61/4 1-225 10 2 .30 mg 30-36
[16] LCV 36'4" 10'91/2" 3 61/2 1-225 10 None 36 or 1-ton truck
[17] LCM(2) 45' 14' 3' 29   2-100 81/2 2 .50 mg 100 or 131/2-ton tank or 15 tons of cargo

[18] See chart opposite page 68.

[19] W7744 on gridded chart opposite page 68.

[20] Oral statement recorded in Office of Naval Records.

[21] Admiral Scott, reporting as Commander Fire Support Group MIKE, says, "Upon request from the mine sweeping division the San Juan bewteen 1004 and 1028 silenced an enemy gun on Gavutu Island which had interfered with sweeping operations." However, the Executive Officer of the Hopkins, Lieut. W.T. Dutton, says specifically that no enemy opposition was encountered during the sweeping operations, although he mentions the San Juan's bombardment of Gavutu. It seems that the San Juan was silencing the battery which had previously fired on our minesweepers, not knowing that it had been dive-bombed, or else that the bombardment was at the request of the fire control party on Tulagi. At the request of Rear Admiral Scott, Admiral Crutchley detailed the Henley to assist in silencing the guns on Gavutu and Bungana.

[22] Landing craft, personnel (with ramp), LCP(R)--same as "T" boat, or LCP(L), except that it has a ramp 42 inches wide for debarkation of personnel. Sometimes known as "Modified Higgins Eureka."

[23] The reports of the boat wave commanders say that the destroyers gave fire support at this time, but the report of the Commanding Officer Fire Support Group MIKE, does not list them as firing. It does not appear to have been part of the plan, according to which they were to open fire on Tanambogo upon a signal from the landing party.

[24] First Marine Division Commander's Report.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation