MARINE CORPS HISTORICAL REFERENCE SERIES
                                   Number 29


                          THE UNITED STATES MARINES
                                    in the
                             GUADALCANAL CAMPAIGN


                        HISTORICAL BRANCH, G-3 DIVISION
                        HEADQUARTERS, U. S. MARINE CORPS
                               WASHINGTON, D. C.

                                 Revised 1962



                            DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY
                   HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
                            WASHINGTON 25. D. C.


                      REVIEWED AND APPROVED 14 Jun 1962

                                  
                               C. A. YOUNGDALE
                    Brigadier General, U. S. Marine Corps
                         Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3




 
                           THE UNITED STATES MARINES 
                                     IN THE
                              GUADALCANAL CAMPAIGN
                                      

                               TABLE OF CONTENTS

                                                          
                                                           Original    Online
                                                           Page        Page

The United States Marines In The Guadalcanal Campaign         1           6
Selected Bibliography                                        14          19



            The United States Marines in the Guadalcanal Campaign
                               
                                      by

                              Henry I. Shaw, Jr.

     The first American ground offensive in the Pacific during World War II 
took place at an obscure island in the southern Solomons--Guadalcanal.  There, 
the high tide of Japanese conquest was reached and the ebb began.

     Until the decisive naval Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942), Allied forces 
could do little more than hold what they had, wait, and prepare.  After 
Midway, the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that the strategic situation 
had improved enough to risk the mounting of a limited offensive.  The target 
chosen was Tulagi, a small island once the headquarters of the British Solomon 
Islands Protectorate, and with it such parts of surrounding islands as seemed 
necessary to hold the objective.  A fine deep-water anchorage existed between 
Tulagi and neighboring Florida Island, and on Guadalcanal, 20 miles south 
across Sealark Channel, kunai grass plains amidst the jungle were suitable for 
extensive airfield development.  In July, when aerial reconnaissance showed 
that the Japanese had begun to build an airfield on Guadalcanal, the larger 
island became the principal target.

     The division of the Pacific into operational command areas made by the 
JCS on 30 March 1942 placed all of the Solomons chain in General Douglas 
MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area.  In reviewing the forces available for the 
Guadalcanal-Tulagi 


                                      1




 
operation, however, the Joint Chiefs determined that all of the ships and most 
of the assault troops would have to come from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz' 
Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas.  Accordingly, on 2 July, the boundary 
between Nimitz' and MacArthur's commands was shifted west just far enough to 
bring the lower Solomons within the admiral's South Pacific Area.  At the same 
time, the JCS agreed upon a series of operations in the Solomons and Bismarcks 
that would lead eventually to the capture of the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul 
on New Britain.  General MacArthur was given responsibility for planning and 
coordinating the advance and command of all its phases after Guadalcanal was 
secured. 

     On 25 June, Vice Admiral Richard L. Ghormley, Nimitz' South Pacific Area 
commander, was told to begin preparations to take the Solomons objectives, 
with a tentative D-Day of 1 August.  At least a division of trained amphibious 
assault troops was needed for WATCHTOWER, the code-name of the 
Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation, and only one such unit was available in the 
Pacific--the 1st Marine Division.  Other divisions that might have been 
assigned the task lacked the amphibious experience or were spread thinly to 
hold vital strategic bases.  The reinforcements that were tentatively slated 
for WATCHTOWER would be available only when garrison forces came out from the 
States to relieve combat troops in New Caledonia, Samoa, and Hawaii. 
Initially, the 1st Division would go it alone.

     When he got the word that his division was headed for action in the 
Solomons, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift was


                                      2



just getting set up in New Zealand where the 1st was scheduled to undergo six 
months of intensive combat training.  With Vandegrift at Wellington were his 
command post, the 5th Marines, and elements of the 11th Marines; at sea en 
route to New Zealand were the division rear echelon, the 1st Marines, and the 
remainder of the 11th.  Since one of the division's infantry regiments, the 
7th Marines, was already committed to the defense of Samoa, the 2d Marines of 
the 2d Division was dispatched from San Diego to bring Vandegrift's command up 
to strength.  Other major elements attached to the 1st Division had to be 
assembled from overseas bases, the 1st Raider Battalion from New Caledonia and 
the 3d Defense Battalion from Hawaii.  

     Faced with the task of assembling and loading out a reinforced division 
within a month's time, Vandegrift asked for and got a week's delay of D-Day to 
7 August.  Feverishly, improvising as necessary, the Marines in Wellington 
unloaded the transports as they arrived, sorted and repacked equipment and 
supplies for combat, and loaded ship again.  There was not enough room for all 
the division's motor transport, and most of the heavier cargo trucks were left
behind to come up with a rear echelon.  Re-embarkation was completed by 22 
July and the convoy sailed from Wellington the same day.  As finally loaded, 
the Marines carried along 60 days supplies, enough ammunition for 10 days of 
heavy fighting, and the minimum individual baggage actually required to live 
and fight.

     Rehearsals, unsatisfactory and incomplete, were conducted at Koro in the 
Fiji Islands, where the various components of the


                                      3




 
forces assigned to take Guadalcanal and Tulagi assembled for the first time.  
Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, the commander of the amphibious force which 
included the Marine division, its transports, and the bombardment and escort 
vessels, was given responsibility for the conduct of the operation.  The 
Marine Corps' point of view, one that prevailed and became standard amphibious 
doctrine in later stages of the war, was that the landing force commander 
should have complete control of operations ashore.  During WATCHTOWER, 
however, the command setup of an earlier era held forth, and the naval 
commander continued to have the last word in the employment of ground troops.

     The plan for WATCHTOWER called for two separate landings, one by the 
division's main body near Lunga Point on Guadalcanal and the other on the 
Florida side of Sealark Channel by an assault group built around the 2d 
Battalion, 5th Marines, and the 1st Raider and Parachute Battalions.  
According to intelligence of the enemy gleaned from Allied coastwatcher 
reports and reconnaissance flights, the strongest resistance could be expected 
from Japanese defending Tulagi and two nearby fortified islets, Gavutu and 
Tanambogo.  Enemy air and naval reaction to the assault was expected to be 
violent and strong.

     On 7 August, the prelanding estimates of Japanese defenses proved 
accurate.  After a preliminary bombardment by cruisers and destroyers, the 
assault waves boated in ships' landing craft raced ashore on both Guadalcanal 
and Tulagi.  On the big island there was no enemy response; naval gunfire had 
driven the labor troops working on the airfield into the hills that rimmed the


                                      4



kunai grass plain.  The primary obstacles to the Marine advance were the 
jungle and the enervating effect of the hot, humid climate on men not used to 
the tropics.  By nightfall on D-Day, General Vandegrift's men were dug in in 
positions just short of the airfield site and had yet to contact their first 
enemy soldier.

     The capture of Tulagi and its neighboring islets took three desperate 
days of fighting during which the three battalions of the 2d Marines were 
committed to add weight to American attacks.  The Japanese defenders, about 
1,000 naval landing, aviation, and labor troops, holed up in caves and 
pill-boxes and fought to the death against tank-infantry attacks, point-blank 
artillery fire, and close-in grenade and small arms assaults.  Twenty-seven 
prisoners and a sprinkling of survivors that swam to Florida Island were all 
that was left of the enemy garrison when the last shot had been fired.

     The strongest Japanese countermoves were launched from air and sea.  On 
D-Day afternoon, enemy bombers attacked and scored a hit on an American 
destroyer.  Daily for months thereafter, except when foul weather gave the 
Marines a respite or Allied aircraft intercepted, Japanese planes raided, 
concentrating on shipping when it was present off the beaches but turning 
frequent attention to the division beachhead on Guadalcanal.  The unwelcome 
intrusions of enemy warships had an even more important effect on the course 
of the campaign.  Seven Japanese cruisers attacked on the night of 8-9 August 
and the havoc wrought was staggering.  Torpedoes and gunfire sank four Allied


                                      5




 
cruisers and badly damaged another and two destroyers.  The attacking force 
sailed away intact.

     The grave risk posed by enemy air and naval attacks prompted Admiral 
Turner to withdraw the transports and cargo vessels standing off the beaches 
late on 9 August.  On board the ships that left was a good part of the rations 
and ammunition that the 1st Division had counted upon having in its supply 
dumps and nearly 1,400 Marines of ships' unloading details and reserve units.  
The men and supplies returned to Espiritu Santo and New Caledonia, two of the 
nearest forward bases, eventually reaching Guadalcanal again but not before 
their absense was sorely felt.

     Cast loose, or at best promised only a tenuous lifeline back to rear 
areas, the 1st Marine Division set out to make do with what it had.  Captured 
enemy materiel was used to the fullest extent; weapons were made part of the 
defenses, food stocks were added to the ration dumps, and trucks were put to 
work hauling supplies.  General Vandegrift posted his troops to hold perimeter 
defenses along 5,000 yards of the coast between Alligator Creek and Kukum 
village and along an arc inland which encompassed the airfield site.  Within 
the perimeter, engineers worked around the clock, finishing the job the 
Japanese had begun, in order to ready an airstrip to handle planes.  By 18 
August, it was ready, but an enemy bombing raid knocked it out, and it was the 
20th before the first Allied air units landed.


                                      6



     Fundamental to success of WATCHTOWER plans was the concept that aircraft 
would form part of the defending force and eventually the means of carrying 
the fight up the Solomons chain to enemy bases.  The initial runway, and the 
airfield complex that was gradually built within the Marine perimeter, was 
named Henderson Field after a Marine flyer who was killed at the Battle of 
Midway.  The first flying units to reach Henderson were Marine Fighter 
Squadron 223 and Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 232 which flew in from the 
escort carrier Long Island.  Succeeding flights of Marine and Army planes 
staged through the New Hebrides to reach the field, and Navy dive bombers from 
the damaged carrier Enterprise joined the growing force.

     On 3 September, Headquarters of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing under 
Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger arrived on Guadalcanal and took command of the 
composite organization that came to be known as CACTUS Air Force after the 
code name of the island.  Although Geiger's command was always predominently a 
Marine outfit, it never lost the joint service make-up of its early days.  The 
flight echelons of 21 Marine squadrons served in the forward area during the 
battle to hold Guadalcanal, but only a few of the unit ground echelons reached 
the island.  The resulting burden thrown on the understrength ground crews 
that kept the miscellaneous collection of patched and shot-up aircraft flying 
was tremendous, but the job was accomplished with ingenuity and dispatch.  The 
isolated nature of the first months of fighting on Guadalcanal bred a comrade 
ship of adversity with


                                      7




 
an attitude that the 1st Marine Division and its supporting air could 
accomplish the impossible.

     The Japanese high command at Rabaul assigned the task of erasing the 
American position on Guadalcanal to the Seventeenth Army, but made the mistake 
of underestimating the strength and tenacity of the Marines ashore and in the 
air.  The number of enemy troops available and uncommitted in August and 
September, many of them combat veterans of the fighting in China and the 
Philippines, was more than enough to have overwhelmed the Henderson Field 
defenses.  But the Seventeenth Army sent its forces to the island piecemeal, a 
battalion or a regiment at a time, never in sufficient force to mount and 
sustain a prolonged attack. 
                            
     General Vandegrift, on his part, kept strong and aggressive combat 
patrols forward of his lines and launched limited offensives to keep the 
Japanese off balance.  He never over-committed his men or undertook tasks that 
would place a severe strain on his resources.  He had a mission--hold 
Henderson Field--and he fulfilled it.

     The Japanese method of building up their forces on Guadalcanal, and the 
impetuosity of Japanese leaders, furnished the pattern of the six-month-long 
battle to retake the island.  A few thousand men at a time would land from 
transports outside the perimeter and then would attack almost immediately.  
The action at the threatened point would be bitterly fought with local 
advantage whipsawing back and forth, but with the defenders always able to 
concentrate enough reserve strength to beat the Japanese back with staggering 
losses.


                                      8



     The ground action on Guadalcanal revolved around a series of highpoints 
of intense fighting with intervals marked by vigorous patrol combat.  In 
mid-August, the Marines located and engaged the original island garrison in 
positions about 6,000 yards west of Kukum beyond the Matanikau River.  Then on 
the 21st, a reinforced enemy battalion which had just landed east of the 
perimeter rushed the Marine defenses along Alligator Creek, often misnamed the 
Tenaru River.  The Japanese force was destroyed.

     The same fate befell a brigade of 6,000 men which landed on both sides of 
the perimeter in late August and early September.  Moving through the jungle 
with his main body, the enemy commander attempted to launch a three-pronged 
attack from inland and both flanks.  The spot choosen for the inland drive 
through to the airfield was a ridge manned by the original assault troops at 
Tulagi whom General Vandegrift had brought over to reinforce his defenses.  
Marine raiders, parachutists, infantrymen, pioneers, and artillerymen all had 
a hand in the two-day battle to hold the ridge, but when the last enemy 
soldier withdrew on 14 September, the position was still in American 
possession.  The enemy flank attacks planned to accompany the main assault 
faded away in the face of strong Marine defenses near the coast.

     While the 1st Division was holding its own, helped along by the faulty 
reinforcement strategy of the Japanese, the American Navy was suffering the 
worst series of reverses in its history.  The Japanese and the Americans, the 
latter bolstered


                                      9




 
on occasion by Australian and New Zealand ships, tangled repeatedly in the 
waters off Guadalcanal and in the Solomon Sea.  Sealark Channel won a new 
title, Iron-Bottom Sound, in dubious tribute to the number of ships that sank 
there during frequent and costly night battles.

     The over-all score of ships lost from August through December was 
staggering, but in the final analysis hurt the Japanese more than the 
Americans because of the differing replacement potential of the two nations.  
Two American carriers, 6 cruisers, 13 destroyers, and a score of smaller 
vessels were sunk; many more ships were severely damaged.  The Japanese lost 
one carrier, two battleships, three cruisers, and eleven destroyers and had at 
least an equal number damaged.

     The decisive factor in the sea battles in the Solomons was Allied air.  
The CACTUS Air Force and carrier squadrons exacted a heavy toll of transports 
during Japanese reinforcement attempts, and often evened the tally when enemy 
warships that had come out ahead in an exchange of gunfire and torpedoes at 
Guadalcanal were caught retiring toward Rabaul.

     On 18 September, the 7th Marines arrived on Guadalcanal from Samoa, just 
in time to test themselves against a Japanese force that had landed west of 
the Matanikau.  In a succession of sharply fought engagements lasting through 
9 October, the 1st Division turned back the enemy attackers, exacting a heavy 
toll of dead and wounded for the attempt to break through the perimeter.  The 
arrival of the division's missing regiment was followed on 13 October by the 
landing of the first infantry regiment of the Army's Americal Division to 
reinforce the Marines.


                                      10



The soldiers were assigned their own sector of the defense line to hold and 
took part in the repulse of the heaviest Japanese offensive of the campaign 
during attacks which lasted from 21-28 October.

     The enemy strength at the start of the October offensive had reached 
20,000 men, while General Vandegrift's command had grown to 23,000.  Many of 
the combatants on both sides were in poor health, however, and the figures do 
not reflect men at peak combat efficiency.  Tropical diseases found easy prey 
among men weakened by mental and physical strain and a shortage of rations; 
both the Japanese and Americans had difficulty keeping any more than a bare 
subsistence level of supplies on the island.  Thousands of the Marines within 
the perimeter and in the front-line positions suffered repeated attacks of 
malaria and other fevers, yet they held on because they had to.  For the 
Japanese in the jungle, the case was even worse as medicine and doctors were 
in short supply, food often failed to reach assault troops, and hundreds of 
the enemy died of malnutrition and disease.

     November was the critical month in which the issue of the campaign was 
decided.  Despite terrible losses, the Allied naval forces, aided by CACTUS 
Air Force, won a four-day sea and air battle for control of the waters of the 
lower Solomons.  The 1st Division received further reinforcement from the 
Americal Division and from the 2d Marine Division and used these fresh troops 
to hammer at the Japanese positions.  A month of continuous fighting with 
artillery, air, and naval gunfire support


                                      11




 
all playing a part in the destruction, virtually finished one Japanese 
division and elements of another.

     On 9 December, General Vandegrift turned over command of the forces on 
Guadalcanal to Major General Alexander M. Patch, commander of the Americal 
Division, as the 1st Marine Division was officially relieved.  The 
battle-weary Marines of the 1st, many of them badly in need of hospitalization 
as a result of their bouts with tropical diseases, departed in the next few 
days for Australia and a much-needed rest.  During December and the first few 
days of the new year, General Patch regrouped his forces for a drive 
calculated to push the Japanese off the island.  The 25th Infantry Division 
and the remaining units of the 2d Marine Division arrived to join the soldiers 
of the Americal in the final offensive. 
                                        
     The XIV Army Corps was organized under General Patch's command to control 
the actions of the three divisions.  On 10 January, the corps launched its 
attack west along the coast toward Cape Esperance, the tip of the island.  The 
advance was hotly contested in its first days, but the Japanese gave way 
steadily before the combined Army-Marine offensive.  Late in January, when 
intelligence was received of a build-up of enemy shipping at Rabaul, the 
American advance was slowed.  Thinking that this news might presage a 
large-scale reinforcement attempt as it had many times previously, General 
Patch wanted to keep his combat forces concentrated enough to repel a 
counterlanding.  But the Japanese ships were being readied for another 
reason--the evacuation of Guadalcanal.


                                      12



     The enemy had had enough.  He wished only to rescue the troops still 
alive on the island to fight another day.  In the first week of February, 
during a series of daring night runs by destroyer transports, about 13,000 
Japanese were taken off Cape Esperance.  On 8 February, General Patch could 
report "Total and complete defeat of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal...."

     In winning control of the island, Marine and Army units had over 1,500 
officers and men killed and 4,700 wounded in action.  The Japanese lost 14,800 
killed and counted another 9,000 dead from wounds or disease; a thousand 
prisoners, most of them labor troops, were taken.  Both sides lost about the 
same number of fighting ships and crewmen in the battle for control of the 
seas, perhaps the most costly naval campaign in modern history.  In the air, 
the balance weighed heavily in favor of the Allies who accounted for 600 enemy 
planes and pilots and lost less than half as many in return.  An accounting of 
comparative losses during the Battle for Guadalcanal only emphasizes the 
importance of the campaign.  The seizure of the island from the Japanese was 
the all-important first step forward on the road to Tokyo, the signal of the 
end to a year of retreat and the switch to the offensive.


                                      13




 
                            SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cates, eds.  "The Pacific:  Guadalcanal to 
     Saipan. August 1942 to July 1944 --- The Army Air Forces in World War
     II," v. 4.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1950.  pp. 37-60.

LtCol Frank O. Hough, USMCR, Maj Verle E. Ludwig, USMC, and Henry I. Shaw, Jr.
     "Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal---History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations
     in World War II," v. I. Washington: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, 
     Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1958.  pp. 235-374.

Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl.  "The U. S. Marines and Amphibious War."
     Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1951.  pp. 72-165.

Richard W. Johnston.  "Follow Me!  The Story of the Second Marine Division in
     World War II."  New York:  Random House, 1948. pp. 24-81.

George McMillan.  "The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in 
     World War II."  Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1949.  pp. 25-142.

John Miller, Jr.  "Guadalcanal: the First Offensive---The War in the 
     Pacific---United States Army in World War II."  Washington: Historical 
     Division, Department of the Army, 1949.  xviii, 413 pp.

Samuel Eliot Morison.  "Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 
     1942-August 1942--"History of United States Naval Operations in World War 
     II," v. IV.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company, 1949. 245-296.

-------------------.  "The Struggle for Guadalcanal---History of United States 
     Naval Operations in World War II," v. V. Boston:  Little, Brown and 
     Company, l950.  xxii, 389 pp.

Robert Sherrod.  "History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II."
     Washington: Combat Forces Press, 1952.  pp. 65-129.

Maj John L. Zimmerman, USMCR.  "The Guadalcanal Campaign."  Washington:
     Historical Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1949.  vi, 189 pp.


                                      14

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