Aug 7

Commencing the Attack on Guadalcanal

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 2:00 PM

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On 7 August 1942 the Allied forces began their first major counter-offensive against the Japanese at Guadalcanal. Since Pearl Harbor the U.S. had spent most their time recovering from the attack and re-building the badly damaged Pacific fleet. One high-poin, however, were the highly successful attacks known as “Doolittle’s Raids.” This “lull” in activity ended with the invasion of Guadalcanal. Code-named “Operation Watchtower,” Marines conducted a surprise raid of their primary target, the airfield, and quickly established a presence that allowed troops to arrive on the island. The initial invasion was such a surprise that the first Marines encountered little resistance.

The HIJMS Kirishima, an Imperial Japanese battleship that would later be sunk by the USS Washington in November 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign (Photo: NHHC)

The HIJMS Kirishima, an Imperial Japanese battleship that was sunk by the USS Washington (BB-56) in November 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign (NHHC)

The landing culminated years of training and doctrine reform spearheaded by Marine Corps Commandant Maj Gen John A. Lejeune. The Marines developed new tactics and strategy for amphibious warfare in the 1920s, and Guadalcanal demonstrated that the preparation paid off. They readily adopted their new primary role of amphibious warfare, which has come to define the Corps.

Sgt. John Basilone was the first World War II Marine awarded the Medal of Honor for his action during the Guadalcanal campaign. His citation reads,

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area. Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machineguns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

(Congressional Medal of Honor Society)

 

An early version of the famed "Higgin's boat," which became the primary vehicle used for amphibious assaults during World War II. Its shallow draft and bow-opening ramp allowed for closed access and quick extraction. (Photo: USNI Archive)

An early version of the famed “Higgin’s boat,” were the primary vehicle used for amphibious assaults during World War II. Its shallow draft and bow-opening ramp allowed for close access and quick extraction. (U.S.Naval Institute Archive)

 

Marine forces training for an amphibious landing prior to the beginning of the Guadalcanal campaign. (Photo: USNI Archive)

Marine forces training for an amphibious on Guadalcanal, ca. 1945 (U.S.Naval Institute Archive)

For most future amphibious landings, the U.S. Navy provided gunfire support from ships, as well as aerial bombardment from carrier-based fighter and bomber squadrons.

In this excerpt from his oral history, VADM Roland Smoot details how his ship, the USS Monssen (DD-346), helped the Marines during the invasion. His account conveys the emotions during his first combat engagement and some of his thoughts from the action.

 

The USS Monssen (DD-346) seen shortly after her commissioning in May of 1941. Smoot served as the CO of the ship during the Guadalcanal campaign. (Photo: USNI Archive)

The USS Monssen (DD-346) seen shortly after her commissioning in May of 1941. Smoot served as the CO during the Guadalcanal campaign. (U.S. Naval Institute Archive)

In the same manner that Midway stopped the advancement of the Japanese eastward into the Pacific, Guadalcanal started the Allies advancement westward. Building off the success achieved here in the Solomons, the U.S. slowly began its march towards mainland Japan and to an eventual end to the war three years later.

 
 
 
  • Barrett Tillman

    The next to last caption certainly is wrong. The LVT(A)-4s depicted did not become operational until well after the Guadalcanal campaign, probably in 1944.

  • That is correct, sir. The photo was filed in 1945, and shows training operations on Guadalcanal Island, not training prior to it. The author misinterpreted the photo and probably assumed that it was prior to the landings. This has been corrected.