Brining supplies to Guadalcanal

The American strategy of "island hopping" was simple: to attack and capture Japanese-held islands in the Pacific between Hawaii and Japan and hop scotch from island to island until Allied forces were close enough to make an attack on Japan. Once an island was captured, it was used a staging area for the attack on the next one. The strategy was devised by Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of American naval forces in the Pacific.With the exception of a few major sea battles such as Coral Sea and Midway and the Solomon Island campaign, there was relatively little action in the two years that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. During that time Japan dug itself in and the U.S. poured its resources into arming itself and preparing for a major offensive against the Japanese. Islands that weren’t necessary were skipped. MacArthur said “let them wither on the vine.”

Fighting in the islands followed a similar patter. American landed on the beaches with landing crafts similar to those used during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The Japanese defenses at the landing points were relatively weak. Instead they hid in caves and bunkers on the islands and made the advancing American soldiers pay for every yard they gained.

The Americans took relatively few Japanese prisoners because the majority of Japanese soldiers chose to fight to the death or committed suicide rather than surrender. Many Japanese civilians on some islands were also killed. The goal of the Japanese was not to win but prolong the defeat.

Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal

Forces led by Adm. Chester Nimitz captured the Solomon Islands (a scattered archipelago west of New Guinea) in fierce fighting characterized by island-hopping amphibious landings. The campaign kept New Guinea and the Solomon Islands out of Japanese hands. This denied the Japanese of a staging area for a land invasion of Australia and gave the Americans a foothold in the southern Pacific to advance their island hopping strategy.

The first serious American counterattack of World War II, using ground forces, took place on Guadalcanal, an island at the southernmost end of the Solomon Islands, where the Japanese Navy was building an air base and trying to establish a frontline for operations to divide U.S. and Australian forces.

American Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. After fighting for six months, and enduring leeches, crocodiles, rain, poor food and disease, they prevailed and took the island and seized its all important airfield. About 31,000 Japanese soldiers were sent to the island to recapture the airport, but their supply lines were cut because of U.S. aerial superiority. About 21,000 troops died before Japan pulled out of the island, mainly due to hunger and malaria. The last Japanese units were wiped out on February 8, 1943.

Admirals Nimitz and Halsey are credited with ending the deadlock at Guadalcanal. Admiral Richmond Kelly “Terrible” Turner supplied the Marines at Guadalcanal. The Japanese wrongly predicted when the U.S., attack would be launched and failed to have enough forces and supplies on hand and ultimately gave up on their drive to oust the U.S. Marines from the Solomon Islands. The victory gave the Americans their first stepping stone on their long drive towards Japan. It was followed up the taking of New Georgia on August 6, 1943, and the invasion of Bougainville on November 1, 1943.

Guadalcanal was a turning point because it showed the Americans could capture a heavily-fortified enemy island. The battles gave U.S. Marines a chance to perfect landing tactics that would serve them well later in the war. The assaults consisted of landing elite troops supported by ground-attack aircraft and naval gunfire. They were followed by the Seabees, construction battalions that built docks, roads and airstrips, sometimes while being fired at.

James R. "Rube" Garrett, a Marine who participated in the battle, wrote: “Both sides lost more than 10,000 sailors, most in the bloody 30 minute naval and air battle off Guadalcanal . The Japanese lost two battleships, a cruiser, three destroyers and ten Maru transports. They also lost 106 planes. The Americans lost two cruisers and seven destroyers along with 27 aircraft. The Naval Battles of Guadalcanal were among the last of the great naval battles in which warships would attack each other on the surface firing at virtually point blank range, so close that torpedoes thudded harmlessly off the hulls - they had no time to arm themselves. As a result of engagements off Guadalcanal, there are 48 ships on the bottom at Iron Bottom Sound - 24 of them are American and 24 Japanese.” [Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett ]

Landing and Early Fighting on Guadalcanal in August 1942

Guadalcanal Landings

James R. "Rube" Garrett — a Corporal, Ammo Chief for I Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Regiment and a charter member of the 1st Marine Division, formed in Cuba in 1940 — was 20 years old when he was sent to Guadalcanal. He wrote about his experiences in a diary, which he annotated later with insights into what he experienced. On the Marine landing there on August 7, 1942, he wrote: “Our naval ships started shelling the beach at about 6am and we landed on the beaches at 7:30. We had two air raids. Six Jap planes flew over and one of our American destroyers was damaged while we hauled ammunition and carried guns nearly all day. At night there was shooting in all directions. We stayed low... I was on deck when our ships opened fire. I saw the first shots fired by our naval armada. It only recently occurred to me that I was witnessing the first major offensive shots fired by our side in World War II.” [Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett / ]

“August 19, 1942: Jap cruiser at night shelling us. B-17 got it. Two destroyers left. Cut loose on Jap village. 80 percent effective we heard. The infantry fought in and lost 30 men. Snipers in trees.” This refers to Col. Goettge's patrol which was ambushed. Almost all were killed. The Japanese had sent word that they were ready to surrender. Col. Goettge is said to rashly taken a 30 man patrol up the Matanikou River to accept their surrender. They were ambushed. All were killed except for two men. We heard they cut off the hands of one and the tongue out of the other. Thats how we learned that they were all dead." /

“August 20, 1942: Our planes came in. Boy are we happy. Went to airport and watched them come in. Grumman Wildcats. Douglas Dauntless Dive Bombers and Torpedo Bombers.... August 21, 1942: Firing of every description. 1,200 Japs attacked from Beach Red - Japanese Commandos. We started firing at four o'clock. We fired 129 rounds. Battle of Teneru. Lost 30 men. The Japanese launched a counterattack on U.S. Marine positions but were driven back, suffering 800 casualties to 110 for the Marines. This was the first organized Japanese attack on Guadalcanal. Initial assaults in the early morning hours were held off by a small company of Marines dug-in along the river. After an all-night, hand to hand struggle, the Japanese remnants were bayonetted on the beaches. Marine Al Schmid, though blinded, fired his machine gun all through the night from his position behind the wire along the banks of the Teneru. A movie, The Pride of the Marines starring John Garfield was later made which included this incident.

Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal in September 1942

Japanese with grenade mortar

Bloody Ridge was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting on Guadalcanal. Garrett wrote in his diary: “On 13 and 14 September, the Japanese attempted to support Kawaguchi's attack on Edson's ridge with thrusts against the flanks of the Marine perimeter. On the east, enemy troops attempting to penetrate the lines of the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, were caught in the open on a grass plain and smothered by artillery fire; at least 200 died. On the west, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, holding ridge positions covering the coastal road, fought off a determined attacking force that reached its front lines. This was the beginning of the Battle for Bloody Ridge. [Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett / ]

“Col. Edson's HQ was set up atop the tallest point along the ridge and the main focus of Japanese attacks. From this spot he personally co-ordinated defense of the embattled position. As battle fatigued Marines, wearied from six days of raiding, patrolling and defending the ridge line began to fall back, Col. Edson steeled his men's resolve, pointing toward the fighting and growling, "Listen, the only thing those people have got that you haven't is guts!" The old Marine 'Devil Dog' taunt from World War I, "What do 'ya want to do, live forever?" was heard often. The Ridge held. Heavy fighting left 600 Japanese dead and 143 U.S. Marine casualties. Col. Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of Bloody Ridge. /

“The 11th Marines' 105 mm. Howitzers gave good account of themselves in the battle with the heaviest concentration of artillery fire Guadalcanal had seen so far, dropping well placed barrages into enemy positions just 200 yards from the dug-in Marines. When it was over, the Marines' 105 Howitzers had fired 1,992 rounds into the enemy's ranks - the 75's alone had unloaded more than a thousand. The Japanese suffered 1,200 casualties.

Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Bloody Ridge

Forward observer

Garrett wrote in his diary: September 13, 1942; Shelling all night from three ships. No casualties except they hit hospital. 105's and 75's fired all night and day. Three air raids. We got 52 planes. Our planes just came in. Fired 40 rounds at beach. This was a busy day at Henderson Field. Planes from the USS Wasp, which had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, arrived at the base. American destroyers later sank the mortally stricken carrier Meanwhile, the U.S. Marines held off a determined Japanese force of two battalions which attempted to take Henderson Field. The Battle for Bloody Ridge was underway. Col. "Red Mike" Edson and his tiny force of 300 Raiders held off the attacks from atop Grassy Knoll, a high ridge just 1,000 yards south of the airfield during night engagements over a three day period. [Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett / ]

“September 14, 1942 Battle started at 10 pm. Askey and I were on watch. Naval battle for an hour. Battle of Raiders' Ridge. I Battery troops pulled out and sent to the front as infantry to reinforce the Raiders. P-39's strafed all morning. Casualties coming up the road by our battery. Went on patrol but gave up as jungle too thick. Dive and high altitude bombers overhead - no damage. /

“September 15, 1942: “Firing all night. Corrigan fired a couple of bursts of 50 cal. machine gun. Don't know what he heard. Half the Japs do not have rifles. They try to use grenades and are shot down before they can throw them. One prisoner came out wounded. Another air raid.

“The Japanese had infiltrated the area around Henderson Field during the Battle for Bloody Ridge...In our motor section - and anybody who's ever been around an artillery motor section knows they are more or less on their own - they lived off to one side and they were pretty careless about keeping night guards and so on. For some reason, I remember a Japanese slipped in on the motor section. Pfc. Tucker woke up, saw the Japanese, as I recall, lurking around there. He had been sleeping on top of the ground - he hadn't bothered to dig a hole - and the way I understand it, the Japanese threw a hand grenade at him but it didn't go off. I think Tucker shot the guy and finished him. After searching him, we found that he had taken some coffee, some sugar and I think he had taken one of our American rifles and some ammunition. We buried him there in the motor section the next morning. He was probably starving...he was after anything which he could eat. We didn't have much food laying around so he didn't find much."

Eyewitness Account of Fighting on Guadalcanal in October 1942

Dead Japanese on Tenaru Sandbar

Garrett wrote in his diary: “October 3, 1942: Two bombings at night. Seven bombs each time. A raid at dawn but they were intercepted. We lost four to their two. Major Smith was shot down. He said they'd all pay. Another raid and he got four planes. We got five altogether. Seven bombers, three Zeros strafed field. Sgt. Kruse at HQ got one with 50 cal. [Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett / ]

October 15, 1942: “First shelling since cruiser on September 13. This time was worse as shells were falling everywhere. Few casualties. Three waves of bombers - 25 in the first, nine in the second, eight in the third....For several days, Japanese naval and air units unleashed heavy attacks on Guadalcanal. The battleships Kongo and Haruna bombarded U.S. positions on the island for 90 minutes with 14 inch guns and inflicted great damage. Henderson Field was knocked out temporarily. Only 42 aircraft were left operational and aviation fuel was down to critical levels. It is estimated the Japanese battleships fired 973 rounds. This was the worse shelling the Marines endured during World War II. /

"All of the Cactus Air Force guys slept in the woods right behind our position. And during shellings and things you know we had large bunkers; eight or nine men could lay down in side by side and it was covered over by logs and sand bags and things like that. Of course, I don't think they would of held up to a direct hit or anything. Those pilots would come out and would get in our fox holes with us during naval shellings and night bombing raids. And there's something about combat that's mysterious in the sense can be laying in a fox hole and go into uncontrollable shaking or shivering and its contagious. It'll just go right down the line. And if, say you're the one that started it - or I'm the one that started it - you'll hear somebody say "Garrett you bastard" (laughs)...and I'm shaking like hell and everybody else is shaking like hell too...its a quivering sort of state; I guess its nervous tension." /

“October 16, 1942: Short shelling in night. Japs are landing on beach 20 miles distance. Six transports and four destroyers. One of our PBY's kept us awake most of night but got a Jap ship. 22 bombers came over at 12:40am. An alert at four. They say our fleet is out there. 'Maytag Charlie' came over three times with one, two, and seven bombs. Shelling that lasted 1 1/2 hours. Seven dive bombers came in morning. Raining too....Japanese reinforcements (about 4,000 men) landed at Tassafaronga point on Guadalcanal. U.S. supplies also reached the island, mostly aboard transport planes. /

Looking for Beer and Sake on Guadalcanal in October 1942

Field rations

Garrett wrote: "Old Kruse was a Marine private when I first met him with 12 or 15 years service. He'd been kicked out of the Marine Corps on a bad conduct discharge, and re-instated back into the service. Anyway, Frank had a whole bunch of hash marks and one Pfc. stripe. [Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett / ]

“One time we had a tent there that was supposed to be full of Japanese beer or Saki. I took a truck one day with two or three of my people...and I went down there and there was a Marine sentry walking around with a rifle in his hands and he said "Wait til I get on the other side, then duck under and get some". So he went on around and we zipped under this tent and grabbed three or four or five cases of whatever and away we went. And we get out there somewhere and we run across Frank Kruse. /

“So old Frank says "Garrett, what you got... what you got over there..." and I say "Hey Frank, we got a bunch of Japanese beer." He had some Japanese liquor or Saki or something - we didn't know what we had. And he said "Hey, I'll give you a bottle of this for a case of that..." I said "Hell no Frank, you think I'm crazy?" Anyway we went on to the battery and you know these bottles were all written in Japanese; they were brown bottles, looked like beer bottles. Turned out to be vinegar. I wonder if its possible it might have been wine that went bad? I have never thought of that...but I sure wished I had taken Frank Kruse up on his offer." /

Serving as a Medic in Heavy Fighting at Guadalcanal


John Francis Richter, a medic in the 1st Marine Division, wrote in Memoirs of War: I can only offer info affecting MY limited world, made up of 5 rugged Marines on a 75mm Gun Half-Track that operated in isolated areas. Guadalcanal was a jungle-like, hot, damp, mosquito-infested island blessed further with heavy downpours and lightning flashes that at times could not be distinguished from that of enemy Naval gun flashes! An island that rocked back and forth as a broadside of 14-inch shells from a Jap battleship sank deep within its innards! An island that trembled almost daily from heavy enemy bombings (and head-bashing falling coconuts). An island continually invaded by an increasing number of Japanese troops, predetermined to have their say!! [Source:]

“'Front line' battle wounds were treated with the topical application of a moderate coating of sulfanilamide powder sprinkled directly into the open wound. Sulfathiazol tablets were given orally (if not an abdominal wound) for help in the fight against bacterial infection. Then a dry padded battle dressing was applied. If the patient was in extreme pain, morphine sulfate (1/4 gram) was injected intramuscularly (into the deltoid muscle if practical). The morphine solution was in a small squeezable tube affixed with sterile needle, ready for immediate use. [Ibid]

“I carried in an emptied Jap gas mask case various first aid items ranging from simple Band Aids to morphine sulfate. Many other items necessary to maintain a healthy fighting crew, were also carried in that case, or in my 'Unit Three' (pouches with shoulder harness). Men with symptoms of malaria (chills--fever--chills--fever, etc.) were referred to the Regimental Aid Station as were any cases I could not handle in isolation. Preventive medicine included Atabrine tablets administered semiweekly to suppress malaria symptoms; salt tablets prior to or after excessive perspiration; proper hygiene -- the 'whore's bath' accomplished with helmet shell filled to capacity with rainwater. The all-purpose helmet shell also substituted as washtub for our 'delicate' undergarments (which in time rotted away!) As the cry went out: "There's fungus among us!" I admonished the men to keep themselves as dry as possible.(You could hear their sharp, snide retorts echo throughout that clammy, steaming, rain- drenched jungle: "YEAH!! RIGHT!!") [Ibid]

Litterbearers on Guadalcanal

“Evacuation of casualties by Field Hospital was initially by Higgins Boats to off-shore ships. Later with the availability of the airstrip on Guadalcanal, military transport planes evacuated patients to rear area hospitals, some distance from the island. One of our crew was reluctant to leaving his private foxhole at any time. He ate, slept, etc. there until his sparse clothes began to mold. After several unsuccessful attempts to entice him out, we forcefully took him to the Regimental Surgeon for evaluation. (He was immediately replaced.)

“I Used my shelter-halved 'Sick Bay' area as 'Headquarters' for poker playing, gripe sessions and sea story telling. In addition to medical treatment for various conditions, I also believed in dispensing MEGA-DOSES of much needed 'Positive Thinking' to help neutralize the debilitating affect of surrounding and never ending CHAOS!!

“During a Japanese air raid on Guadalcanal, our newly formed Half-Track coastal defense position was completely leveled wounding a Marine crew member and blowing Yours Truly out of my shallow foxhole. The man, a no-nonsense type of rugged Marine, whispered in my ear as I treated his very extensive wounds: "Doc! I think I did it in my pants!!" Knowing of his macho image, I reassured him that under those circumstances, 'doing it' in one's pants is par for the course. Besides, none of the Half-Track crew now knew nor need ever know it happened to him. With this assurance, the apprehensive tension on his face suddenly disappeared as he was then transported to a medical facility in the rear (as if there ever WAS a safe 'REAR' on Guadalcanal!!).

Fighting in the Air near Guadalcanal and Bougainville

Sid Ulmer wrote in Memoirs of War, “Owen Carr flew his first combat mission on Thumper on August 24th. The target was Kihili Airdrome on Bougainville. However, weather prevented Thumper from reaching Kahili and bombs were dropped on Rekata Bay, the secondary target. While a few shots from Jap anti-aircraft gunners came up, (non too close) no fighter interception appeared. [Source:]

“On August 26, the Berry crew was not slated to fly but the McKinley crew was scheduled to strike Kahili Airdrome again. This would be Carr's second combat bombing mission. The Commanding Officer of the 31st Bomb Squadron, Colonel Joseph C. Reddoch Jr., decided to go along--using The Cisco Kid. He had been checked out earlier in the Kid by Jim Berry. The Bombardier on the McKinley crew was Donald B. MacAllister who was already gaining a reputation for hitting the targets assigned him. That may account for Reddoch's decision to ride with McKinley and his boys.

“Although major fighter cover had been expected, only four Corsairs and three New Zealand P-40s went along. Reddoch's plane took the lead, dropping forty 100 pound demolition bombs on the target. Then all hell broke loose with 75 Zeros in screaming dives all around the formation. They came with a vengeance! After getting off only a few rounds, Carr was hit in the leg by a 20 mm shell from the wing cannon of a Zero. The shell exploded on contact with the Liberator, taking off a large chunk of the fuselage. He felt, he says "... as if my left leg was being torn to shreds." That is about what was happening. As he fell to the floor, the other waist gunner, Harold Nerstad called over the intercom: "You better send someone back. They got Carr and me."

“MacAllister, the Bombardier, was also the first aid member of the crew. In response to Nerstad's call, he came back immediately. He could not begin first aid right away as he had to take over the waist guns to fend off the Japs who were still attacking as if there were no tomorrow. Turning from one waist gun to another, MacAllister kept the waist fifties hot. And Carr was feeling the heat as the hot, empty 50-caliber shell casings from the right gun kept hitting him in the face. While MacAllister shot at Japs, he kept feeling Carr pulling on his leg and begging for morphine, a Hobson's choice to be sure; damned if you do and damned if you don't! As soon as possible, MacAllister turned to see about his wounded comrades. He proceeded to place a tourniquet on Carr and to give morphine--1/4 grain syrettes--three before getting back to base, the last plane to land at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.

Japanese casualties

“Don also had the presence of mind to pin the three empty vials to Carr's electrically heated suit so the medics would know how much morphine had been administered. According to the medics at Henderson, this was critical information since, in their judgment, one more vial would have been fatal. While Don was placing the tourniquet on Carr, Nerstad was lying with his back to Carr. Nerstad had gone down saying he had no feeling in his legs and couldn't move. Don examined Nerstad but could find no damage. After return to base, it was discovered that the nose fuse of a 20 mm shell had severed Nerstad's spine. Since nothing could be done for him on Guadalcanal, he was sent by hospital ship to New Zealand. Unfortunately, he did not survive and was buried in New Zealand. Eventually, his body was disinterred and returned to the United States.

“Before landing, MacAllister tore open a parachute to make cushions for his wounded buddies in the event of a crash landing. As it happened they did not crash. The hydraulic system, along with the mechanism for raising the Sperry ball turret, was shot out over Kahili. Since a Liberator cannot land with the ball turret in the down position, this presented a quandary. The landing gear had to be cranked down and the ball turret up--both by hand.

“The gear presented no major problem but the ball turret was another story. Gravity helped in the first case but was a significant enemy in the second. Don MacAllister, Bill Krimer, the tail gunner, and Colonel Reddoch had to work for a considerable length of time before the task was accomplished. On landing, Carr was lifted out through a waist window. Though out of his head by this time, he still remembers Jim Berry standing beside the plane as the medics removed him and rushed him to the 20th station tent hospital. [Ibid]

Leg Amputation at Guadacanal

The hospital was in a very rough setting--but fairly well equipped with the essential medical items. Owen Carr wrote in Memoirs of War, "The operating room of the hospital was a Quonset hut with a concrete floor in the front portion and a tile floor in the rear where surgery was performed. The temperature in the hut was 98 degrees Fahrenheit and a large pedestal fan was circulating the air. I remained in the operating room for 48 hours. During the first 24 hours I was given four pints of whole blood and six pints of plasma, and they continued pumping blood and plasma into me for about a week. My red blood count was at the very dangerous level of about 1 1/2 million. I was truly on the brink." [Source:]

"I was extremely fortunate in having an excellent surgeon, Major Patrick J. Nagle, work on me. Members of my crew were asking the doctor to try and save my leg while I was screaming at him to 'cut the damn thing off'. In my condition I falsely believed that by cutting off the leg they would also cut off the horrible pain. Anyway, they had no choice as dry gangrene was moving up from my toes at about two inches per hour. I remember clearly Major Nagle pulling the lamp cord over my table, staring down at my leg, and saying to another doctor, 'We better get to work on this man.' The next thing I remember was a sharp instrument cutting into my thigh. I screamed and sat straight up. After that, I remember nothing until I woke up in a tent ward. I told the attendants that I had to get back to my squadron and started to get up. They pushed my shoulders down." The leg had been removed at or near the hip joint.

One "essential" item the hospital did not have was good food. But it mattered little for at that time Carr had no appetite. His weight proceeded to drop from 120 pounds to a mere 90. At one point, medics offered Owen whiskey to improve his appetite, but he couldn't drink it. So a couple of the ward boys got a windfall, but not before arguing over who should get the ration. Another time, a Chaplain, who visited regularly, asked Owen what he would like to eat. The answer: "fruit cocktail." But, of course, he might as well have asked for a ten course meal prepared by the finest chef in Paris. Fruit cocktail would have been a real luxury in that place at that time. Yet, it was obtained, eventually, from an aircraft carrier. A kindness Carr has never forgotten.

Climax of Guadalcanal Fighting in November 1942

raft ferrey

Garrett wrote in his diary: November 12, 1942: Was given word to pack up and move at 3 o'clock. In rear echelon. Saw the most unusual sight yet. 16 torpedo planes shot down by 28 ships that were in the harbor. Big planes being shot down by Grummans and anti-aircraft fire. Really beautiful.” the Japanese planes “flew in low, about 50 feet over the water. I remember we had 30 or 40 or 50 ships sitting in the harbor there, and tall grass covered dunes which you could get on and pretty much have a panoramic view of the whole bay. I remember seeing a big air raid come in and black anti-aircraft fire was coming crazy from all the ships in the harbor -- all kind of puffs of smoke hit the sky. In fact there were 16 torpedo bombers come over and I don't think they hit a thing; they were all being shot down and I think one or two got past the fleet. Our planes were after them too. And way out there on the horizon, we saw the last one go down -- all of them were shot down -- we could see the fire and the smoke. These were big two motor bombers: Japanese bombers burn real good."[Source: “A Marine Diary: My Experiences on Guadalcanal” by James R. "Rube" Garrett / ]

“November 14, 1942 False air raid alarm. Shelling at one. Fell all around us. No one hurt. Big naval battle. We lost five ships. Atlanta. Japs are supposed to have 80,000 troops on transports. ...History now tells us that the U.S. and Japanese had the same idea. For each, it would be a desperate gamble to re-inforce their garrisons. Both Navies sent large transport ships, loaded with fighting men and escorted by battleships, cruisers and destroyers. The U.S. had five cruisers, several destroyers and the carrier Enterprise. The Japanese plan was to attack Henderson Field with naval shelling by night, destroying the aircraft on the ground, while landing troops and supplies west of Marine positions. So the race was on. And on the morning of the 12th, the large number of ships in the Harbor were ours - the U.S had arrived first with supplies and reinforcements. But that did not deter the Japanese. They were determined to reinforce their dwindling garrison. /

“In the early morning hours of November 13th--a Friday-- Admirals Callaghan and Scott encountered the enemy in the dark as they came down Iron Bottom Sound. As a result of the American task group attempting to cross the enemy's 'T', the columns ran head-on into each other. A wild melee ensued. In the confusion of ships running through each other's lines, many were sunk, some by hits from their own side. Both Admirals were killed and of their ships, the Atlanta was destroyed and the San Francisco critically damaged. But they had turned back the Japanese task force. Of 14 troop transports nearing the island - 10 were sunk. /

“The unsuccessful naval bombardment of the Marines on Guadalcanal and the naval battles of the 13th, 14th and the 15th were the final deciding factors in the defeat of Japan in the Solomons. "Its all over, we are lost" Admiral Tanaka told his aide - 'Tanaka the Tenacious'.” /

Fighting in New Guinea

The Japanese invaded New Guinea from New Britain in August 1942 and came within 30 miles of the Allied base Port Moresby on September 12, 1942 after hiking across New Guinea on the Kokoda Trail, a jungle foot path through the inhospitable, mountainous, rain-forest-covered interior of New Guinea.

MacArthur and Adm. W.F. "Bull" Halsey directed much of the Allied fighting in New Guinea. B-17 bombers were used to airlift troops to New Guinea. Most of the troops were Australians because supplies and manpower were slow in coming from the U.S. Navy. The Papuan troops were affectionately nicknamed the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angles.”

In heavy fighting in jungles and swamps in "the green hell" Japanese troops failed to capture Port Moresby and were driven back on the Kokoda Trail. They retreated to their landing sites at Buna and Gona, where they were defeated by Australian and U.S. troops, ending Japan's offensive on Australia in January 1943. The Australians in New Guinea were better equipped than the Japanese. Some Japanese soldiers shot their own officers as they sought to retreat.

Between June 1943 and July 1944, the Allies leapfrogged along the northern coast of New Guinea and advanced to within 1,300 miles of Japan, in the process by passing 135,000 Japanese troops in southwest Pacific, At this point the Allies were ready to move on the Philippines.

Describing the fate of a famous Japanese mangaka, Tom Baker wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Shigeru Mizuki was barely into his 20s when he got drafted by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II and was deployed to Rabaul, in what is now Papua New Guinea. There, he lost an arm...If it were not for his injuries, Mizuki would have been part of a unit that was sent on a suicide charge. Amazingly, they survived. But their commanding officers did not welcome this news. "Since the men's 'glorious death' had already been reported to headquarters, [they were] sent back to the front with orders not to return alive." [Source: Daily Yomiuri, April 29, 2011]

Action in New Guinea on the Japanese Side

Naotsugu Naiki saw action on the battlefields of New Guinea as an Imperial Japanese Army 2nd lieutenant. He lost his left leg in a battle in what is now the Indonesian part of New Guinea. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Naiki was conscripted in December 1941 at the age of 20. He was sent to China, Palau and then New Guinea. In June 1944, his left leg was shattered by a mortar shell fired by the Allied forces. In the jungle, a military doctor amputated his leg at the thigh using a saw. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 10, 2015 |+|]

“The logistics unit, which housed those who were injured or sick, had no medicine and only hardtack for food. After spending countless nights there, he heard the blasts of grenades: They were grenades set off by soldiers committing suicide. On many occasions, he said that he, too, had thought to himself, “Even death would be better than this.” His suffering did not end even after the war. After returning to Japan, Naiki was hospitalized for two years for tuberculosis and malaria. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg. “I lost my comrades in the war and I experienced only suffering from injuries and illness. Why did I survive?” said Naiki, recalling his immediate postwar life marked by despair. |+|

“But his life changed after he got married and had a son. His family became his reason to live. While helping out with the family business, Naiki attended university classes at night. After turning 50, he set up his own business as a notary public. He cut back on his sleeping hours to work, despite the pain from old injuries that he periodically reexperienced during the cold months of winter.” |+|

Kokoda Track

Although the Japanese abandoned a plane to invade Australia they wanted to keep the Australian military tied up by setting up a base in Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea. They first planned to take Port Moresby with an amphibious assault but these plans were scuttled after their fleet was damaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The alternative plan was to take the port through a overland assault after landing in north of New Guinea.

The Kokoda Track, a 98-kilometer-long single-file footpath through the Owen Stanley Mountains, was used by the Japanese to bring supplies from northern New Guinea to the south. The terrain was unforgiving, The trail was rough, slippery and steep. There were leeches and malarial mosquitos. The Japanese fought a series of battles against a combined force of American, Papuan and Australian soldiers. Both armies had supply problems and lost as many men to disease and starvation as to bullets and bombs. There were stories that the Japanese ate their own dead and corpses of the enemy

In October 1942, Japanese forces army and Australian forces fought a fierce battle at Eora Creek on the Kokoda trail . The Japanese were forced to flee into the jungle after sustaining hundreds of casualties. The Australia dead numbered 99. The battle was significant in that it kept the Japanese from reaching Port Moresby, which would have put them in striking range of northern Australia. At the site of the battle today weapons and war dead have been left exactly as they fell, engulfed by rain forest vegetation. Until recently only members of the local Alolo people knew about it. They called it their “village secret” and periodically performed rituals there for the dead.

The Japanese got within 48 kilometers of Port Moresby when their supply lines reached their limits and they were steadily driven back by the Allies in a tactical retreat the Japanese called an “advance to the rear.” After a bitter fight to dislodge the Japanese from the northern coast of northern New Guinea, the Allies eventually abandoned their effort and focused their attention on moving towards mainland Japan.

Australians refer to the campaign as the battle that saved Australia, or Australia’s Thermopylae. Among the heros were Captain Sam Templeton, who temporarily held hundreds of Japanese marines with a few dozen Australia and Papuan soldiers before being killed.

Charles Lindbergh in Action Over New Guinea in 1944

In 1944 Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator who crossed the Atlantic, took part in over 50 combat missions in the South Pacific. He participated in numerous bombing and strafing attacks and shot down one Japanese aircraft. Describing the mission that brought down that plane “an attack on a Japanese airfield on an island near New Guinea by a squadron of p-38s in July 1944'Lindbergh wrote in his diary: We jettison our drop tanks, switch on our guns, and nose down to the attack. One Jap plane banks sharply toward the airstrip and the protection of the antiaircraft guns. The second heads off into the haze and clouds. Colonel MacDonald gets a full deflection shot on the first, starts him smoking, and forces him to reverse his bank. [Source: The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, 1970] “We are spaced 1,000 feet apart. Captain [Danforth] Miller gets in a short deflection burst with no noticeable effect. I start firing as the plane is completing its turn in my direction. I see the tracers and the 20's [20mm. cannon] find their mark, a hail of shells directly on the target. But he straightens out and flies directly toward me. I hold the trigger down and my sight on his engine as we approach head on. My tracers and my 20's spatter on his plane. We are close - too close - hurtling at each other at more than 500 miles an hour. I pull back on the controls. His plane zooms suddenly upward with extraordinary sharpness.

“I pull back with all the strength I have. Will we hit? His plane, before a slender toy in my sight, looms huge in size. A second passes - two three - I can see the finning on his engine cylinders. There is a rough jolt of air as he shoots past behind me. By how much did we miss? Ten feet? Probably less than that. There is no time to consider or feel afraid. I am climbing steeply. I bank to the left. No, that will take me into the ack-ack fire above Amahai strip. I reverse to the right. It all has taken seconds.

“My eyes sweep the sky for aircraft. Those are only P-38's and the plane I have just shot down. He is starting down in a wing over - out of control. The nose goes down. The plane turns slightly as it picks up speed-down-down-down toward the sea. A fountain of spray-white foam on the water-waves circling outward as from a stone tossed in a pool-the waves merge into those of the sea-the foam disappears - the surface is as it was before.

“My wingman is with me, but I have broken from my flight. There are six P-38's circling the area where the enemy plane went down. But all six planes turn out to be from another squadron. I call 'Possum 1,' and get a reply which I think says they are above the cloud layer. It is thin, and I climb up through on instruments. But there are no planes in sight, and I have lost my wingman. I dive back down but all planes below have disappeared, too. Radio reception is so poor that I can get no further contact. I climb back into the clouds and take up course for home, cutting through the tops and keeping a sharp lookout for enemy planes above. Finally make radio contact with 'Possum' flight and tell them I will join them over our original rendezvous point (the Pisang Islands).

“The heavies are bombing as I sight the Boela strips; I turn in that direction to get a better view. They have started a large fire in the oil-well area of Boela - a great column of black smoke rising higher and higher in the air. The bombers are out of range, so the ack-ack concentrates on me-black puffs of smoke all around, but none nearby. I weave out of range and take up course for the Pisang Islands again. I arrive about five minutes ahead of my flight. We join and take up course for Biak Island. Landed at Mokmer strip at 1555. (Lieutenant Miller, my wingman, reported seeing the tracers of the Jap plane shooting at me. I was so concentrated on my own firing that I did not see the flashes of his guns. Miller said the plane rolled over out of control right after he passed me. Apparently my bullets had either severed the controls or killed the pilot.)"

Allied Offensive to Retake Indonesia

Carrier strike on Surabaya in May 1944

In early 1944, the Allied forces under General MacArthur, launched an operation from what is now Papua New Guinea to liberate the Dutch East Indies from Japanese occupation. Much of the fighting took place in and along the north coast of what is now Irian Jaya and in caves on the nearby island of Biak. People knew little about Irian Jaya until then.

The first objective of the operation was to capture Hollandia (Jayapura) which was achieved with the help of more than 80,000 Allied troops in what was the largest amphibious operation of the war in the southwestern Pacific. The second objective, the capture of Sarmi, was achieved despite heavy Japanese resistance. The third and primary object was the capture of Biak to gain access to its airfields. Allied intelligence underestimated the Japanese presence in the area and a series of bloody battles was the result. Fighting also took place along the souther coast of Irian Jaya. The Allies captured Merauke, which they thought the Japanese might use to launch an attack on Australia.

The move into Indonesia’s islands was part of the island hopping operation to free the Philippines. After Biak was captured the airfields and bases were used to capture islands between New Guinea and the Philippines. The Americans captured the Japanese air bases on Morotai, an island near Halmahera, in the northern Moluccas and used that airfield to bomb Manila. A Japanese soldier hide out on Morotai island until 1973 not realizing the war was over.

Image Sources: YouTube, National Archives of the United States; Wikimedia Commons; Gensuikan;

Text Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, Lonely Planet Guides, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, “Eyewitness to History “, edited by John Carey ( Avon Books, 1987), Compton’s Encyclopedia, “History of Warfare “ by John Keegan, Vintage Books, Eyewitness to, “The Good War An Oral History of World War II” by Studs Terkel, Hamish Hamilton, 1985, BBC’s People’s War website and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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