Skip to comments.Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Gavutu: American Perseverance in the Summer of '42
Posted on 08/15/2012 5:06:24 AM PDT by Kaslin
The Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese surprise air strike on Pearl Harbor and subsequent attacks on American bases in the Philippines dealt U.S. naval and air forces a savage material blow.
For six months, Japan maintained what military analysts call "the strategic initiative." Japan acted, the U.S. and its allies reacted. Japanese forces, with their fast aircraft carriers providing the offensive muscle, seized territory and threatened allied lines of communication in the central, western and southern Pacific. Japanese commanders determined when and where major combat action would occur.
The heady, fast-paced and sensational days of Japanese offensive superiority lasted until the first week of June 1942, when the U.S. Navy skillfully ambushed an advancing Japanese fleet near Midway Island. The Battle of Midway ended on June 7 with four Imperial Japanese Navy carriers on the sea floor and the rest of the battered Midway invasion fleet retreating west toward Japan.
The strategic initiative had shifted. Where and when major offensive action occurred became American decisions.
U.S. intelligence discovered that Japanese troops were building an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands east of New Guinea. Guadalcanal and its small neighboring islands, Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo, became the first offensive where.
Seventy years ago this month became the when. The 70th anniversary of the Guadalcanal invasion may not seem particularly significant, until we realize that by the 80th anniversary, the World War II generation will be gone.
On Aug. 7, 1942, the 1st Marine Division waded ashore on Guadalcanal and the Japanese garrison disappeared into the island's jungle. The Marines 1st Parachute Battalion hit Gavutu-Tanambogo. First Raider Battalion and 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment landed on Tulagi.
The U.S. had previously struck back at Japanese territory with carrier air strikes on Japanese-held islands and the spectacular Doolittle air raid on Tokyo in April 1942. The Doolittle raid was a truly sensational operation, but a psychological counter to Japan's military and political successes, not a decisive military response.
At Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Gavutu, however, America was engaged in an actual take-back.
Take-back proved to be anything but heady and fast-paced. The Marine's who captured Guadalcanal's airfield (and renamed it Henderson Field) quickly discovered the island was a tropical morass of mud, jungle, oppressive heat and insects. In his official history of the battle, Samuel Eliot Morison described the island as the "happy hunting grounds of the malaria carrying mosquito," with vegetation that "gives the island a strange leprous appearance."
On Tulagi and Gavutu, however, the Japanese didn't flee. They resisted, fiercely. The troops on Tulagi were rikusentai -- Special Naval Landing Forces. First Raider's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson, had observed Japanese soldiers fighting in China, so stiff resistance didn't surprise him. As retired Marine Col. Joseph Alexander noted in his book "Edson's Raiders" (Naval Institute Press, 2001), the Raiders were prepared for night attacks and camouflaged log-and-coral fortifications.
"Yet there was one dramatic element of the Japanese defense of Tulagi," Alexander wrote, that neither Edson "nor anyone else in the Pacific anticipated. The Japanese defenders of the small islands, from Tulagi and Gavutu to Tarawa and Saipan, would fight to the death -- or commit suicide -- rather than surrender. ... The battle for the small islands of Tulagi and Gavutu ... provided a sobering foretaste of the battles to come across the Central Pacific."
Alexander could have added other Pacific island bloodbaths. Japanese defenders on Tulagi utilized caves and conducted local counterattacks in a manner that prefigured their bitter defense of Okinawa.
The Japanese Navy surprised U.S. naval forces near Guadalcanal on Aug. 8. The U.S. Navy temporarily withdrew, leaving the Marines short on heavy weapons and supplies. Japan ultimately reinforced the island. Subsequent Japanese Army attacks on Henderson Field were as ferocious as the death-fight on Tulagi.
The battle for Guadalcanal would last six months, until February 1943. It was a hard slog, anything but sensational. Securing victory over Japan would take another two-and-a-half years of slug-it-out perseverance. Japanese fanatical resistance exacted heavy casualties, which America accepted as the price of victory in the Pacific. Only the sensationally destructive atomic bomb attacks of August 1945 prevented the final battle for Tokyo from being a Tulagi and Okinawa writ large.
Worthwhile reading for those questioning the need for amphibious expertise in this day and age, particularly given the strategic “pivot” toward WESTPAC now ongoing.
When I read the posts of the ABO and GOPe drama queens whining how the country will be utterly destroyed by 4 more years of Obama all I can think is get a grip.
The country survived the Great Depression, WW2, the riots of the 60’s, Stagflation in the 70’,s the Cold War the deficits of the 90’s..the list goes on and on. I truly think that anyone believing the country cant survive 4 years of Obama should reread some of the history of this great land
Four more years of 0bambi will result in dictatorship, since he’ll never step down willingly. By the same token, I am not convinced the Romney will be much better.
Going over a cliff at 100 MPH vs. 75 MPH - the results are the same.
I believe the country will survive but Romney has the potential to do much more damage than Obama especially to the Supreme Court
Seeing footage of the battles on Ken Burns’ documentary (much more than I’d ever seen before, and much less edited than I’d ever seen before); all I can say is, “Lord, Lord, how in the world did the boys manage to do it?” - Daddy was in combat in N. Africa, Sicily, Italy & Germany, and he said that there were times when they didn’t know if they were going to win that war or not.
The greatest generation...no exaggeration. May God bless America.
I believe the country will survive but Romney has the potential to do much more damage than Obama especially to the Supreme Court.
I don’t know what you are smoking but it must be good stuff. I can see how Romneys picks of supreme court justices could be bad but certainly not any worse than Sotomayor or Kagan.
Romneys pick of Ryan has me scratching my head. I like Ryan, I like him a lot, much better than Romney. Why did Romney make such a good conservative choice? I don’t have the answer but maybe, just maybe to show he is really more conservative than he has been given credit for being. I can hope, only time will tell.
I don’t have a lot of time. My four score and 10 are about over. I would like to go down to my grave knowing that the people of this country have seen the light. I would like to know that my children, grand children and great grand children will see good times in a free America.
In case any missed this gem,it can be picked up on IMDB.
Romney appointed liberal judges in Massachusetts. I don't believe what politicians say I base my opinion on what they have done in the past. Romneys picks will take a slightly conservative court and make it liberal for at least the next 25-30 years.
Remember Clinton did not pick a single SC justice in his second term, at most Obama will get to replace the liberal Ginsburg with another liberal. Romney on the other hand will make the court liberal until long after both of us are gone..hope you like Roberts because that's the best we can hope for from Romney picks and even that is optimistic..
You can remove your head from where the sun never shines and re-read that history yourself.
Allowing the reins of leadership to remain in the hands of a demonstrated ANTI-American for four more years because of some kindergartenerish "purity" mindset is not only childish, it is criminally stupid!
When they came out of basic training, Daddy always said they were “ready to charge Hell with a bucket of water”. He had some empathy (but no wimpathy) for the plain German soldier; knew they were only there because they were MADE to be by Hitler, but he really had a great deal of contempt for the German officers at that time in part because of the horrible way they treated their own men - also said that those Panzer divisions were tough. - It was a hard time; but they knew they HAD to win that war. - He’d had the advantage of being brought up on a farm, working hard, hunting, camping out for weeks on end living off the land.
You are living in fantasy land if you think obama would step down. Forced out? Your kidding,Right??
OTOH voting for liberals and expecting them to be conservative is insane.
No one left on FR expects that.
Refusing to vote for an AMERICAN "liberal" (in your mind) in order to get rid of a proven anti-American, communist traitor is truly "stuck on stupid".
Stuff your "I'm going to take my 'pure, virgin conservative' vote and go home -- and let the communists have my country" holier-than-thou attitude! I hope your door is the first visited by Øbama's goon squad!
I have more faith in this country than you seem to have.
I’ll be a purist, I’ll never vote for Romney.
On the other hand if I can be sure my vote wont be counted as a vote for Romney I’ll probably write in Paul Ryan/Allen West
Daddy was never able to talk much about the war; just a sketchy remark every once in a while. He was in combat a long time and had shell shock for most of his life after that. He was able to talk some after he got almost in his eighties. Was at Laiatico, their unit received the Presidential Unit Citation for Laiatico, though I never knew that until much later. At Anzio, he was sent with a group of “commandos” (for lack of a better word) to try to locate and knock out the big German guns that were pounding Anzio beachhead. The Germans had a couple of the guns on a rail car located on railroad tracks; they’d pull them out and shoot, then roll them back in the caves in the Alban mountains. Anzio Annie and another big gun was captured. Daddy’s bunch was cut off from radio contact for several days for secrecy. Things settled down on the beach after that; but it was bad for a while. - He had flashbacks to Laiatico,though, just as real as if he was still in that battle - even into his later years. Lord - Lord - what a price; and no one can understand it but the men and later, their families. - That’s why I have no use for Obama whatsoever - it cost too much for him to piddle away on his big “ideas”.
I’m not blaming, shaming or begging. Vote for Ryan/West. Your vote will go for Barack Hussein Obama. You have that right; I’m praying on it for now for myself.