The Battle of Guadalcanal was a major battle between the United States and Japan in World War II. The battle marked the first time since entering the war that the United States had gone on the offensive and attacked the Japanese. The battle lasted six months from August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943.
U.S. Marines Landing on the Beach Source: the National Archives
Where is Guadalcanal?
Guadalcanal is an island in the South Pacific Ocean. It is part of the Solomon Islands located to the northeast of Australia.
Who were the commanders?
On the ground, the U.S. forces were led first by General Alexander Vandegrift and later by General Alexander Patch. The naval forces were led by Admiral Richmond Turner. The Japanese were led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and General Hitoshi Imamura.
Leading up to the Battle
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese swept through much of Southeast Asia. As of August of 1942 they had control of much of the South Pacific including the Philippines. They were starting to threaten the U.S. ally of Australia.
The United States had finally gathered enough forces in the Pacific to begin to attack Japan back after Pearl Harbor. They chose the island of Guadalcanal as a place to begin their attack. The Japanese had recently built an air base on the island which they planned to used to invade New Guinea.
How did the battle begin?
The battle began on August 7, 1942 when marines invaded the island. They first took the smaller islands of Florida and Tulagi just to the north of Guadalcanal. Then they landed on Guadalcanal. The marines had taken the Japanese forces by surprise and soon had control of the air base.
Back and Forth
A US Marine patrol crosses the Matanikau River Source: National Archives
The Japanese did not give up easily, however. They won a naval battle off of Savo Island sinking four Allied cruisers and isolating the U.S. marines on Guadalcanal. Then they landed reinforcements on the island to take it back.
Over the next six months the battle waged. The U.S. was able to protect the island during the day by sending out planes to bomb incoming Japanese ships. However, the Japanese would land at night using small fast ships, sending in more soldiers.
The Final Attack
in the middle of November, the Japanese launched a major attack involving over 10,000 soldiers. The fighting was fierce, but the Japanese were unable to advance. They were forced to retreat. From that point the battle turned in favor of the United States and they claimed total control of the island on February 9, 1943.
Results of the Battle
This was the first time that the Japanese had lost ground in the war and had a major impact on the morale of both sides. The Japanese lost 31,000 soldiers and 38 ships. The Allies lost 7,100 soldiers and 29 ships.
Interesting Facts about the Battle of Guadalcanal
The code name for the initial invasion of the island by the U.S. was Operation Watchtower.
The nighttime convoys of Japanese reinforcements to the island were nicknamed the Tokyo Express by the U.S. soldiers.
The Americans named the airfield on the island Henderson Field after an American pilot that died during the Battle of Midway.
It is estimated that around 9,000 Japanese soldiers died from disease and starvation during the battle.
Several movies and books have been written about the battle including Guadalcanal Diary and The Thin Red Line (both were books that were later made into movies).