Chapter 16: Land Fighting, Afternoon and Night of August 7


Tulagi is shaped somewhat like an hourglass. (See chart p. 69.) The Raiders, meeting almost no opposition easily occupied the


western wide area, and then pressed on through the jungle to the narrow midsection. At 1135, according to Maj. Chambers, his company reached "line A" in the island's center and then, in accordance with orders, fired a cluster of green star shells to notify the ships to bombard the eastern and more populous end of the island. This fire support was not received until 2 hours later. It is possible that the request for fire support by the ships was delayed by Col. Edson because he thought that some of our men were probably then in the projected line of fire.28

The Raiders found the going exceedingly rough at the eastern end of the island. The air and ship bombardment had killed few of the enemy, due to the fact that they had sought shelter in dozens of long-tunneled caves deep in the limestone cliffs. When the Marines entered the area, the Japanese emerged from their holes and fought furiously from machine-gun nests and from sniping posts in the trees. Cornered and forced back into their caves, many escaped through other holes, or, refusing to surrender, fought until killed by grenades of Molotov cocktails.29 This meant that, although the Marines were able to go forward at a reasonable pace, they repeatedly found it necessary to retrace their steps in order to hunt down snipers whom they had passed. "Every building that we met had its quota of Japs and we had to drive them out or kill them with hand grenades," Maj. Chambers reported. "We had thought that coconut trees would not have enough branches to conceal snipers. But we found that the Japs were small enough to hid in them easily and so we had to examine every tree before we went by. If they had been good shots, few of us would have survived, but, happily, there was no comparison in marksmanship between the Marines and the Japs."

At Hill 208 Company C of the Raiders was delayed for an hour by enemy machine-guns which it finally reduced with small arms fire and hand grenades. A and C Companies then moved on to the hill west of the cricket ground. There Major Bailey of Company C was wounded and Capt. Robert H. Thomas took over command. So vigorous was the enemy's resistance that only one platoon of C Company could advance farther, but it managed to edge along the southern shore to the eastern tip of the island.

On the north side of the ridge, D Company advanced slowly and by


nightfall was on the north side of Hill 281, about parallel to A Company to the south. Company B established itself for the night near the government wharf to the north, while C Company protected A Company's right flank to the southern shore. E Company (Weapons) of the Raiders, commanded by Capt. George Herring, was in support along the ridge to the west.

Meanwhile, two companies of Combat Team 2 (Fifth Marines) had been active in cleaning out snipers in the western end and center of the island. These were Companies E and F, commanded by Capt. Harry S. Connor and Capt. Charles R. Baker, respectively. Company G, commanded by Capt. Harold T.A. Richmond, however, followed the Raiders to the Government House area in the eastern end where it reported to Colonel Edson. he ordered it to mop up a ravine north of the cricket ground where there was a break in our line between Companies A and D of the Raiders. Although three attacks failed to drive out the enemy, contact was established and maintained along our line.

The enemy had concentrated his forces on the steep slopes of Hill 281 and in the shovel-shaped ravine west of the hill and to the north of the cricket ground. During the night he sortied and counterattacked. He succeeded in driving a wedge between C and A Companies of the Raiders and in isolating Company C along the beach. Then he turned on Company A in the hope of sweeping up the ridge toward the residency. In this he failed, Company A halting the attack and killing 26 Japanese within 20 yards of its defense line. Later the enemy, "at his best in a savage all-night fight," succeeded in infiltrating almost to the command post in the residency, making five separate attacks between 0030 and 0530.

According to Major Chambers, who had been wounded in the afternoon fighting, "it was a pretty bad night. The Japs tried every trick on us that we had been told they would but that we really never imagined they would. They shouted, whistled, and sniped at us all night. In fact, you might say that they slept with us. At first there was considerable promiscuous night firing, the Japs trying to locate our units by firing at us at random. But our men eventually learned to hold their fire and not to give away their position unless attacked in hand-to-hand assault."


By 1400 the men on the left flank of our landing had made sufficient progress to be able to relieve by mortar fire the pressure on our right flank. A command post and dressing station was set up in the Lever Brothers


store at the head of the slip, and the paratroops rapidly extended their control over the island. In driving out the Japanese from the dugouts and tunnels in Hill 148, however, they were greatly hampered by sniper and machine-gun fire from Tanambogo. Therefore at 1430 Maj. Miller asked for the bombing of Tanambogo to silence this fire, and for land reinforcements. During the afternoon that island was hit by both our planes and our destroyers so that "hardly a tree was left standing on the island."

By evening we had substantial control of Gavutu and the paratroops raised the American flag on Hill 148 at 1800. But they were utterly unable to advance across the causeway, raked by machine-gun fire, to take Tanambogo. before dark five boats from the Jackson arrived with reinforcements for a landing on Tanambogo. These were the men (Company B, Combat Team A, Second Marines) who had landed earlier that day at Haleta. At 1500 the Jackson had sent six boats to retrieve them, but instead of returning to the transport they were ordered to land at Gavutu. There three boats were directed to proceed to northeastern Tanambogo and attempt to take the Japanese from the rear. While they were approaching, at about 1500, the Monssen and Buchanan began bombarding the wharves and jetty on Tanambogo's eastern shore in preparation for the attack. Sunset was at 1820 and the Marines hoped to make their landing about 1845 under cover of darkness, but this design was shattered when one of the last shells from our fire support ships30 exploded a gasoline tank and brightly illuminated the shore.

Flight Officer Cecil E. Spencer, one of the Australian officer-guides accompanying the expedition, gives this story of the attack31 which evidently occurred at about 1900. "We reached Gavutu about dusk. But by that time Gavutu was under control. The Marines, however, had been unable to cross the narrow causeway leading to Tanambogo. We had about 5 minutes of naval gunfire support prior to landing. As we were coming in, the last shell hit a fuel dump on the beach, lighting up the beach like day, and the Japs opened fire from their dugout on Tanambogo Hill.32


"Only two boat loads of our men got ashore. The coxswain of the third boat had been hit in the head by a bullet and killed, and there had been some confusion as to who was to take over the wheel. In the confusion the boat got turned around. We on shore were jammed between two piers. The only cover we could get was afforded by the side of the pier. As soon as we opened fire the Japs spotted our tracers, and in addition we were silhouetted against the flaming oil of the fuel dump."

One of the two boats retired, taking the wounded, and Flight Officer Spencer went with it. Shortly after he returned with the boat to Tanambogo to evacuate the others. "We found only six men in the boat which had been left at Tanambogo," he said. "They said that the Japs had raided our positions along the piers, and that they believed Capt. Crane and the other Marines had been wiped out. But Capt. Crane arrived with 6 of his men. They had escaped from the Japs by hiding in the bushes. By 9 or 10 o'clock two more Marines returned, swimming naked toward our boats. Our people fired. But the Marines in the water yelled and were saved."

*    *    *

A good example of the air support given our landing forces by the carrier groups is provided in the report by Lt. Comdr. Wallace m. Beakley of the Wasp, who served as air support commander in the Tulagi area. He reports that at 1315 on August 7th he made a close inspection of our troops in the vicinity of their landing beaches at Tulagi and Halavo Peninsula and reported his observations to the Air Support Director in the McCawley. No opposition could be discovered although inspection was made at altitudes of 50 to 150 feet. At Halavo Beach the troops had pulled the one remaining boat up under the bushes, and it was necessary to make several turns over this area to make sure that they were our men in the boat and that they were all right. No distress signals were received from troops at either Tulagi or Halavo. While circling close above Gavutu and Tanambogo at about 1340, he saw three Japanese run into a dugout on the northeast side of the hill at Tanambogo. Shortly thereafter the Marines at Gavutu laid out panel strips in the form of the letter "H," which was interpreted to mean that aircraft support was needed. This was reported to the Air Support Director in the McCawley, and flights 320 and 121 were ordered to bomb and strafe Tanambogo and the point of land of Florida Island closest to Gavutu.

At 1410 Comdr. Harry D. Felt relieved the commander of the Wasp


Air Group in the Tulagi area. Shortly after his arrival he received a request for immediate bombing of Tanambogo. Five 1,000-pound bombs and machine guns were used, setting fire to fuel and ammunition dumps which exploded and burned spectacularly for a couple of hours. During this period he made a reconnaissance flight over Tanambogo, sighting no Japanese troops but noticing dugouts and trenches on the small hill. He observed an enemy flag flying from a staff on a house on Makambo and requested permission to shoot it down. Within a few minutes 15 dive bombers arrived on the station, and he received word that on sighting a green rocket signal on Gavutu he was to order bombing of Tanambogo. he also received permission to put 2 dive bombers on the flag. At 1625 the signal was sighted and the attacks were launched. At the same time Tanambogo and Makambo were being bombarded by 1 destroyer each. More fires were set on Tanambogo, and the house harboring the Japanese flag was burned to the ground.

From all accounts it is evident that our ships and planes demolished virtually all military installations above ground on these small islands and drove the Japanese defenders underground. This, in most cases, effectively neutralized enemy activity in the critical period when our landing boats were approaching the shore. Shelling and bombing could obviously not continue to any great degree after our men had landed, and the infantry had to reduce the surviving centers of enemy resistance virtually unaided.

Fighting for our objectives on Tulagi and Gavutu continued throughout the night. Shortly after dark the Neville, President Jackson, and Zeilin anchored in the swept area off Tulagi, and landing boats were almost continuously moving back and forth between the ships and the shore, carrying supplies to the Marines and bringing back the wounded. At 1635 survivors of a Neville ramp boat, which had been sunk by Japanese gunfire, were brought on board the ship. One member of its crew, Robert D. Russell, Fireman Second Class, was killed and his body was recovered, while other members of the boat crew returned uninjured. The Neville had previously been designated to accommodate all hospital cases resulting from the fighting in the Tulagi-Gavutu area.

In this connection an item from the War Diary of the Ellet which was serving as part of Fire Support Group LOVE in the Guadalcanal area is pertinent. It is dated 0730, the following morning, August 8th: "Sighted amphibious tractor bearing 300° T. Proceeded to investigate and found


Map 7: Landings in the Tulagi Area


The Tulagi area.


Map 8: Night Disposition of Screening Force


Gavutu and Tanambogo Islands.


it to be from the U.S.S. Neville manned by Corporal Doran, Privates Kimball and Macielo. They had run out of fuel the night before while returning to the Neville with six men aboard.

"Personnel were taken aboard and the wounded treated. The tractor was towed into the Tulagi transport area and turned over to a tank lighter for delivery to Neville. Proceeded toward Neville and transferred injured men and corpse to Neville via Neville boat."

The paratroops held their hard-won positions on Gavutu during the night at considerable cost from snipers' fire. The Japanese endeavored to land reinforcements on Gavutu from Tanambogo by floating men across the water on logs, but most of them were beaten off. However, a strong group of enemy snipers held out in a cave on the south side of Hill 148. Heavy rain added to the troubles of our men.

Although Beach BLUE, the only beach open to us on Tulagi, was also subjected to heavy sniper fire, The Neville's beach party under Lieut. Hermann B. Jorgensen managed to keep boats moving in and out. About midnight General Vandegrift reported that he had been informed by General Rupertus, the assistant division commander at Tulagi, that the Raider Battalion had suffered 22 percent casualties and the paratroops 50 to 60 percent casualties,33 and that reinforcements were needed. General Rupertus requested that one combat team of the Second Marines be assigned to secure Tanambogo. Early the next morning the two remaining teams of the Second Marines were released for mopping up Tanambogo and Tulagi.


The first Marines to land on Guadalcanal were Combat Group A (Fifth Marines), less Second Battalion, commanded by Col. LeRoy P. Hunt. They advanced inland at once, occupying a shallow beachhead bounded by the east branch of the Ilu, which runs generally parallel to the beach and 600 yards inland from it, and on the west by the mouth of the Ilu, which runs northward into the sea.

Combat Group B (First Marines), commanded by Col. Clifton B. Cates, landed shortly afterwards on Beach RED and, passing through Combat Group A, began an advance southwest into the interior. About the same time the First Battalion of Group A crossed the Ilu, and moved directly west along the shore with its objective the mouth of the Tenaru River. Combat Group B, with its three battalions echeloned to the left rear, advanced


on magnetic azimuth 260° toward an objective loosely defined as a "grassy knoll." Unfortunately, information obtained and maps provided failed to identify the objective accurately. The rear and eastern flank of the force was covered by the Third Battalion of Combat Group A, which remained in position along the Tenavatu. It was hoped that Combat Group B, by immediately moving into the interior of the island, could get in behind the Japanese and stop them from escaping to the mountains.

The advance proceeded slowly during the afternoon. The Ilu River and its east branch formed a half-ring around the beachhead, and, although these crossings had been anticipated and materials for temporary bridges had been brought along, our progress was delayed during their construction. Then, the dense jungle on the other side of the river provided another obstacle. "Some units advanced with unnecessary and time-consuming caution," General Vandegrift wrote,34 "others pushed ahead aggressively and lost contact with their neighbors." Therefore, the advance was halted at dusk in order to organize our lines and reorient the advance for the next day. By nightfall, however, the First Battalion of Combat Group A had reached the mouth of the Tenaru about 2 miles west of Beach RED, and established our right flank there. No contact with the enemy had been made anywhere.

As General Vandegrift has written in a personal letter, our easy success at Guadalcanal in the first few hours of the attack was doubtless due to the enemy's surprise and his hasty surmise that we did not intend to occupy the islands. "The Japs thought it was an air and surface ship raid," he wrote, "and with the first salvo they beat it to the hills, intending to come back after we had departed . . . I wish they had stayed put!"


Table of Contents * Previous Chapter (15) * Next Chapter (17)


[28] The San Juan's War Diary states that at 1256 she fired on Hill 281, Tulagi Island, and that this target of opportunity was designated by Commander Squadron YOKE as requested by shore fire control party.

[29] Bottles containing explosives and incendiary materials.

[30] The Monssen reported that at 1830 she fired 200 rounds of 5" on Tanambogo Island on instruction received from Commanding Officer Marines on Gavutu. This started heavy fires. The Monssen remained in the vicinity of Gavutu the remainder of the night.

[31] Tregaskis' Guadalcanal Diary.

[32] An account (oral statement recorded in the Office of Naval Records) by Lieut. Herbert L. Merrillat, USMCR, states that the Marines landing at Tanambogo found themselves caught between 2 jetties, one of which had been built only recently and was unknown to their Australian guide.

[33] It was later learned that this estimate was exaggerated.

[34] First Marine Division Commander's Report.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation