The Battle of Guadalcanal was the earliest major ground battle of the Pacific War, fought between 7 August 1942, and 9 February 1943. It was a pivotal battle that saw the Allies, primarily the United States, take a crucial step towards victory in the Pacific Theater. The battle was the first offensive launched by the U.S. in the Pacific, and it was also the first time that the Japanese Imperial Army had been defeated on land. Additionally, the battle was a turning point in the war, and it marked the first stage of failure for the Japanese Empire. The Japanese had been using Guadalcanal as an airbase to launch attacks on Allied forces, and they had also been using the island to transport supplies and troops to other areas in the Pacific. The U.S. knew that if they could capture the island, they could disrupt the Japanese supply lines and gain a strategic foothold in the Pacific. The Marines landed on the island and quickly secured the airfield, which they renamed Henderson Field in honor of a Marine pilot who had been killed earlier in the campaign. The Japanese responded with a massive counter-offensive, and for the next six months, both sides engaged in a brutal and bloody battle for control of the island.


The Battle of the Tenaru, also known as the Battle of Alligator Creek, took place on 21 August 1942. The battle was a fierce and intense battle that lasted for several hours. The United States Marines, led by Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson, faced off against a larger Japanese force commanded by Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki. The Japanese force consisted of 916 soldiers, while the American force was only 840 strong.

Photo at right: Marine Patrol Crossing Lunga River, Guadalcanal, circa 1942. “1775-1943, November 10, the 168th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps: These photos depict some of the events in the history of the Marine Corps during the past year. MARINES ON THE MARCH--- Through jungle thickets, swamps and burning sands, the fighting Leathernecks march on to their goals. With rifle and full packs, on day and nights of endless marching it is plain to see why they are called the toughest fighting men in this world."A picture taken by me personally. It is a patrol crossing the Lunga river upstream a way and this was quite a bit later in the campaign." Source: From the Thayer Soule Collection (COLL/2266) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division. OFFICIAL USMC PHOTOGRAPH. Click to enlarge.

Just after midnight on 21 August, the main body of Colonel Ichiki’s detachment troops of the 28th Infantry Regiment (IJA) reached the east bank of Alligator Creek, only to be unexpectedly met by U.S. Marine Corps infantry positions. These Japanese forces had not anticipated encountering U.S. opposition so distant from the airfield. Nearby marine listening posts detected sounds of clanking, human voices, and other noises, prompting them to withdraw to the west bank of the creek.

At 0130, Ichiki's forces initiated an assault with machine guns and mortars on the Marine positions situated on the west bank. In a fierce encounter, about 100 Imperial soldiers advanced over a sandbar, facing a severe onslaught of machine gun fire and canister shots from 37 mm cannons by the Marines. As they traversed the sandbar, the vast majority of the Japanese forces were slain. A handful managed to penetrate the Marine defenses, resulting in close-quarters combat and the capture of a few frontline positions. Despite suffering casualties from Japanese machine gun and rifle fire, a company of Marines held in reserve counterattacked, killing nearly all of the Japanese soldiers who had breached their defenses, thus ending Ichiki’s first assault within an hour.

At 0230, a second wave consisting of approximately 150 to 200 Japanese troops launched another attack across the sandbar, only to be almost entirely annihilated once more. Despite the heavy losses, Ichiki refused to heed the advice of his surviving officers to retreat. Regrouped east of the creek, Ichiki's forces initiated mortar bombardments on the Marine defenses. In response, the Marines launched 75mm artillery barrages and mortar fire targeting the eastern creek areas. At approximately 0500 AM, a subsequent wave of Japanese soldiers tried to outflank the Marines by advancing through the ocean surf to attack from the beach. However, the Marines' heavy machine gun and artillery fire inflicted significant casualties along the beachfront, compelling the Japanese to retreat to the east bank. Intense exchanges of rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire between both sides persisted across the sandbar and creek for the following hours.

Despite the significant losses, Ichiki's troops remained entrenched on the east bank, either unwilling or unable to retreat. At daybreak on 21 August, U.S. Marine Corps leadership moved forward with their counterattack. The 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, under the command of LtCol. Leonard B. Cresswell, crossed Alligator Creek upstream, enveloping Ichiki’s troops from the south and east, cutting off any retreat. The marines began to compress the Japanese forces into a small area within a coconut grove on the east bank. Aircraft from Henderson Field strafed Japanese soldiers trying to flee along the beach. In the afternoon, several Marine M3 Stuart tanks crossed the sandbar to the coconut grove. They unleashed machine gun and canister cannon fire, decimating Japanese soldiers unable or unwilling to move. General Vandegrift later commented that "the backs of the tanks resembled meat grinders."

By 1700 hours on 21 August, the Japanese resistance had ended. Colonel Ichiki either died in the battle's final stages or, as some reports suggest, committed ritual suicide (seppuku) shortly after. While Marines were assessing the battlefield, injured Japanese soldiers began shooting, leading to further Marine casualties. As a result, the Marines responded by shooting or bayoneting any moving Japanese soldier on the ground. Approximately 15 wounded and unconscious Japanese soldiers were captured, and around 30 managed to flee and rejoin their unit's rear at Taivu Point.  The defeat of the Japanese at the Tenaru River marked the first time that the Japanese Imperial Army had been defeated in a night battle. The victory gave the American forces a much-needed morale boost, and it helped to turn the tide of the war in the Pacific in favor of the Allies. The Battle of the Tenaru was a brutal and devastating battle, with both sides suffering significant losses. The Marines lost 34 killed and 75 wounded, while the Japanese suffered close to 800 killed and 15 taken prisoner. (Hough, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, 291)

12621218455?profile=RESIZE_710xBATTLE OF EDSON’S RIDGE

The Battle of Edson's Ridge, also known as the Battle of the Bloody Ridge, was fought for the control of a strategic ridge on Guadalcanal Island, which was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. The battle was intense and brutal, with both sides suffering significant losses. However, in the end, the United States Marines emerged victorious, marking a turning point in the Pacific War.

In early September 1942, the United States Marines had secured Guadalcanal and its crucial airfield; however, their control over the island remained precarious. A dominant Japanese Naval presence resulted in supply shortages for the Marines, who were also deprived of naval support. Aware that losing the island could alter the war's momentum, the Japanese intensified efforts to reclaim the airfield from the US Marines. Although US air and sea power managed to keep the Japanese Navy at bay during daylight hours, the Japanese exploited the cover of night to transport troops and supplies secretly via an undefended corridor, which US forces referred to as the Tokyo Express. The Allies' initial inability to sever this supply route bolstered Japanese resistance and posed a significant risk of overpowering the Marines on the island.

Photo at right: Evacuating a Wounded Marine, Guadalcanal, circa 1942. “JAP SNIPER VICTIM BROUGHT SAFELY IN. These four Marines are pictured carrying in their wounded comrade while under heavy sniper fire. As calmly as they would walk on their village green, these Marine Devildogs carry their buddy to safety somewhere on Guadalcanal. Bringing in the wounded. That always required a lot of personnel. A lot of effort." From the Thayer Soule Collection (COLL/2266) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division. OFFICIAL USMC PHOTOGRAPH. Click to enlarge.

The Marines became aware of substantial Japanese troop movements when scouts, assisted by local islanders, discovered and destroyed an enemy supply cache. Through recovered documents, they anticipated an imminent attack from a formidable enemy force. Marine Corps leaders assessed the terrain and projected that the assault would occur along Lunga Ridge, a natural approach to the airfield that had previously been undefended. In response, 840 Marines, including the First Marine Raider Battalion under Colonel Merritt "Red Mike" Edson and the First Parachute Battalion, were deployed to defend the ridge. With limited time and resources, the Marines fortified their positions and braced for the impending attack.

On the evening of September 12th, after a naval bombardment, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers initiated an assault on Edson's Marines positioned at Lunga Ridge. After several hours of intense close-quarters combat, the Japanese forces breached the American lines. Although the Japanese eventually withdrew for the night, the Marines had suffered a one-third casualty rate and were compelled to retreat and consolidate their defenses. Marine Corps leadership anticipated another assault the following evening. As the outnumbered Marines pondered their situation, Colonel Edson addressed them, stating, "It is useless to ask ourselves why it is we are here. We are here. There is only us between the airfield and the Japs. If we don’t hold, we will lose Guadalcanal."

Throughout the day, under Edson’s command, the Marines prepared for the forthcoming battle by reinforcing defenses, digging fortifications, calibrating mortars, securing artillery support, and resting. That night, wave after wave of Japanese attacks ensued, each reducing Marine numbers and weakening their defenses. Despite this, the Marines held their ground. The Japanese forces retreated, too diminished to mount an effective assault on the airfield.


One of the defining moments of the battle came on 13 November 1942, when the Japanese tried to retake Henderson Field. The battle took place over a period of six days, from 23 October to 27 October 1942. The fighting was intense and brutal, with both sides suffering heavy losses. The Japanese forces consisted of a combination of naval and ground troops, while the Allied forces were primarily composed of U.S. Marines. The battle began with a Japanese assault on the airfield at Henderson Field, which was the key to the Allies' defensive position in the Solomon Islands. The airfield was crucial because it allowed the Allies to launch air attacks against Japanese ships and ground troops, and to resupply their own forces. The Japanese knew that if they could capture Henderson Field, they would have a significant advantage in the region.

12621218471?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Japanese began their assault on the night of 23 October, with a heavy bombardment of the airfield. This was followed by a series of ground attacks, which were repelled by the Allied defenders. The fighting continued for several days, with both sides suffering heavy losses. The Japanese were able to make some gains on the ground but were unable to capture the airfield. On 24 October, John Basilone won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the fighting with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1st Marine Division). The battle ended on 26 October, when the Japanese finally retreated. The Allies had won a major victory and had successfully defended Henderson Field from the Japanese assault.

Photo at right: Marines Leaving Guadalcanal, circa 1942. “FAREWELL TO GUADALCANAL. By truck and afoot, U. S. Marines leave Guadalcanal after months of bitter fighting for that South Pacific Island. These men participated in the first landings and were among the last to leave after the U.S. Army took over and completed the American occupation of the island. A group going down ready to leave and they look very happy about it." From the Thayer Soule Collection (COLL/2266) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division. OFFICIAL USMC PHOTOGRAPH. Click to enlarge.

The battle was a turning point in the Pacific Theater and marked the first stage of failure for the Japanese in the region. The Battle of Guadalcanal was a costly one for both sides. The Americans suffered over 7,000 casualties, while the Japanese lost over 31,000 soldiers. The battle was a devastating blow to the Japanese war effort, and it marked the first stage of failure for their empire. The Allies had gained a strategic foothold in the Pacific, and they used this advantage to launch further offensives that eventually led to the defeat of Japan.



Bartsch, William H. Victory Fever on Guadalcanal: Japan's First Land Defeat of World War II. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014.

Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. London: Penguin Books, 1992.

Hoffman, Jon T. Once a Legend: "Red Mike" Edson of the Marine Raiders, 2nd ed. Novato: Presidio Press, 2000.

Hough, Frank O., LCOL F. USMCR, Verie E. Ludwig, MAJ V. USMC, and Henry I. Shaw. Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal: History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. Nashville: Battery Press, 1993.

Leckie, Robert Challenge for the Pacific: The Bloody Six-Month Battle of Guadalcanal. New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.

Leckie, Robert. Helmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific. New York: Bantom Books Publishing, 2015.

Toll, Ian W. Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (Vol. 1) (The Pacific War Trilogy). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.



You need to be a member of War History Network to add comments!

Join War History Network

Votes: 0
Email me when people reply –