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1962_07_28--022_SP Guadalcanal

The carrier Enterprise steams into waters near Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal-1942 A noted naval historian reviews the blunders and heroism of the crucial battle which started 20 years ago this month and marked a critical turn of fortune in the war in the Pacific. 22 adalcanal Island of the Solomons group, inhabited by a few thousand woolly-haired Melanesians and offering no natural resources but mud, coconuts and malarial mosquitoes, was bitterly contested by the naval, air and ground forces of the United States and Japan for six months of 1942-43. It has the distinction of being the occasion of six major naval engagements and so many ground actions that they have not been counted. In addition there were innumerable shipto ship, air-to-air and air-to-ship fights, which never attained the dignity of being named. Costly these were, in ships and in men. You may search the seven seas in vain for an ocean graveyard with the wrecks of so many ships and the bones of so many sailors as that body of water between Guadalcanal, Savo and Florida islands which our bluejackets called Ironbottom Sound. The Solomons: Hot, Wet and Wanted Situated right under the equator, the Solomons are both hot and wet. There is no difference between seasons except that rain falls more abundantly in the winter than in the summer. On Guadalcanal the mountains, rising to 8000 feet above the sea, are clothed with a dense tropical rain forest through which white cockatoos, mynah birds and a variety of other bright and raucous wildfowl flit and scream. Parts of the northern plain and of the adjacent foothills, which became the scene of much desperate fighting, are covered with green kunai grass, whose stiff blades, edged like a bandsaw, run up to seven feet. The Japanese, in their great period of almost unchallenged expansion after Pearl Harbor, moved into Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Around 30 June, 1942, they landed troops, engineers and By SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON heavy equipment at Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, to build an airfield—the one which we renamed Henderson. It was the discovery of this by an Allied reconnaissance plane on 4 July that put the heat on Operation "Watchtower"—an operation conceived by Adm. Ernest J. King as early as February as the starting point for a drive up the line of the Solomons into Rabaul. Fighting for a Jungle Airfield That is why this wild, jungly island became an immediate and urgent Allied objective. For if the enemy were allowed to complete his Guadalcanal airfield, he should be able to knock out the U.S. and Australian air forces on Espiritu Santo, Efate and even New Caledonia. Rear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, whose grizzled head, beetling black brows, tireless energy and ferocious language were to become almost legendary in the Pacific, was now given command of Amphibious Force South Pacific. Above Turner in the chain of command was Vice Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher, veteran of Coral Sea and Midway, who flew his flag in carrier Saratoga. Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, Commander South Pacific Force and so over Turner and Fletcher, remained at Noumea. The ground troops chosen were of the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandegrift. "Watchtower" was the first amphibious operation undertaken by United States forces since 1898, and the feeling among participants was anything but confident. There was too little time to prepare for it. The Japanese army in Malaya, the Philippines and Java had acquired a reputation of invincibility, especially in jungle fighting, and its losses so far were minute. Their navy, despite its defeat at Midway, still had plenty of ships and planes to throw into the Solomons. Furthermore, there is something sinister and depressing about that Sound between Guadalcanal and Florida islands. Men who rounded Cape Esperance in the darkness before dawn on 7 August remembered "it gave you the creeps." Even the land smell failed to cheer sailors who had been long at sea; Guadalcanal gave out a rank, heavy stench of mud, slime and jungle. And the serrated cone of Savo Island looked as sinister as the crest of a giant dinosaur emerging from the ocean depths. Everything went well for a time. Surprise, one of the most necessary ingredients of a successful landing in enemy territory, was complete. The landings on Guadalcanal were effected in full daylight against slight and scattered opposition, and the incomplete airstrip was occupied at 1600. Tulagi was secured by the afternoon of 8 August. Things looked very bright for the Expeditionary Force. Then, shortly after midnight, there opened the Battle of Savo Island, probably the worst defeat in a fair fight ever inflicted on the United States Navy. The Opening Battle: Savo Island Early in the morning of 7 August news of the American landings reached Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa at Rabaul. Within an hour he began collecting a task group to attack the American Expeditionary Force. Heavy cruisers Chokai (flagship), Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka ; light cruisers Tenryu and Yubari, and one destroyer, Yunagi, made rendezvous in St. George Channel around 1900 August 7 and started hell-bent for Guadalcanal. Mikawa's plan was to enter Ironbottom Sound in the small (Continued on page 62


1962_07_28--022_SP Guadalcanal
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