Friday, August 6, 2010

Turning Back the Empire, Pt. II: Guadalcanal

Henderson Field to Tenaru River

As we saw in our last entry, the beach landings on Guadalcanal went well, without a hitch. But it was not before long after the landing crafts reached the shore than Japanese air attacks swarmed down on the transport ships landing troops and supplies onto Guadalcanal. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for supplies to be landed. While casualties resulting from the air attacks were low, the greatest problem on the beaches was the chaos that resulted from inexperienced boat captains unloading gear, ammo, and food on the beach in an extreme hurry to get out of the area and back to safety--leaving the beaches littered in a disarray of vehicles, troops, and supplies. Needless to say, this provided a tempting target for Japanese bomber pilots.
When the 1st U.S. Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal virtually un-opposed by enemy land forces, they were dumbfounded. "Where are the Japanese?" was the question on every body's minds. Other than the air attacks, there was virtually no sign of the enemy's presence. As the Marines moved inland, however, they did meet slight pockets of resistance as we saw in the entry below. The Japanese airfield on Guadalcanal was captured without opposition only 36 hours after the landings. The airstrip was renamed "Henderson Field", after an American pilot who died in the battle of Midway the previous June. Before long several American aircraft were arriving from aircraft carriers. These were mostly Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and Dauntless Dive-bombers.

A Dauntless Dive-bomber warms up on Henderson Field before take-off. A Dauntless Dive-bomber flies over the jungle of Guadalcanal. Two American Soldiers move along a jungle trail on their way inland. Trees are felled to make the rural paths wider....
...until roads are formed, wide enough for vehicles.
In reality, the Japanese were completely caught unaware of the U.S. Invasion. When the severely understrength and outnumbered Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal came under attack, the troops guarding the coast fled inland to put up a fight elsewhere on the island. When the Japanese High Command learned that Guadalcanal was under attack, it was decided that all efforts would be taken by the Imperial Army and Navy both the push the Americans off of Guadalcanal. Things for the Americans soon got tough; as Japanese planes attacked the Marines and their supply ships from the air, Japanese ships brought fresh troops from other islands to fight on Guadalcanal. And in the early hours of August 9th, four ships from the American Navy were sunk in a night battle by a Japanese naval force with superior night-fighting skills and experience.
But the Marines were not easily removed; rather, despite attacks from fresh Japanese infantry on Henderson Field a few days after it's capture, the Americans held onto their 3x6 mile toehold they had gained on the island and stubbornly resisted all the Japanese could throw at them.
More and more Japanese troops poured into Guadalcanal's Japanese-held territory. Japanese supply and troop ships came and went so frequently on a regular schedule that the Marines dubbed the endless back-and-fourth movements of boats "The Tokyo Express".

Reports pour into the U.S. Headquarters. Communication was vital for the Americans for decision-making. A Dauntless Dive-bomber takes off from Henderson Field to bomb Japanese infantry positions facing the Marines front. On August 21st, the Japanese Army took up position on the Tenaru River, very close to Henderson Field. A fight ensued between the Marines and the Japanese, and each side contested for full control of both river banks.
Two U.S. Marines advance in high grass towards the Tenaru River.
Orders are given to send four American Tanks to the Tenaru river fight, to assist in flushing out the Japanese from the riverbanks. Japanese Soldiers rush in to the front on the Tenaru river. The battle lasted for several hours. A Japanese Marine keeps a wary eye on the enemy as he reaches into his ammo pouch for more ammunition to re-load his rifle. Fighting conditions were difficult; grass and trees higher than a man's head covered the island, and only a small patch of open ground ran along each river bank between the sandy waterline and the treeline.

A U.S. Marine breaks out into the open to let loose with his M1 Thompson Sub-Machine gun. The firing is kept up.... Anyone who steps into the open risks being shot. Here a U.S. Marine reloads his M3 Sub machine gun (nicknamed a "grease gun" because of it's appearance). The Americans won the battle, partially in thanks to the use of Tanks to help flush the Japanese out of concealed riverside positions. The fight for the Tenaru took place very near the delta, close to where the river met the open sea. Soldiers took cover behind sand bars, curves in the riverbank, and tall river grass or anything that offered the slightest bit of cover.

The battle for Guadalcanal was tough, but the Marines were doing well. Japanese losses were very high, and the Marines garrison was holding out despite the hardships. Jungle Heat: a Marine offers a drink from his canteen to a buddy during a break on a patrol through the jungle. Patrols were conducted throughout day and night to detect all enemy movement possible. Here a Marine refills his canteen. In the blistering heat of the South Pacific, water was more essential than bullets in jungle campaigns. When water was found, it didn't always have to be crystal-clear to be accepted as "drinkable"... Despite the hardships, the Marines were doing well--so far. But they braced themselves for something else that they knew was inevitable: a major, all-out attack on Henderson Field in an attempt to break the Marines line of defense and push them off Guadalcanal once and for all. Only 1,000 Japanese troops had been sent to take Tenaru, and were defeated; but thousands more were being massed for another attack somewhere else on the American lines.
More is to follow in the next upcoming post.