Guadalcanal - War in the Pacific


Exactly seven months to the day, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, 11,000 American Marines land on a Pacific island called Guadalcanal.  They are about to commence the first Allied offensive against the Empire of Japan.

Their immediate objective is to capture an airfield which Japanese construction workers are building.  If that airfield were completed, and operated by the Japanese, Allied shipping in the Pacific would be dangerously compromised.  This is a mission the Allies cannot lose.

At first, it seems that "Operation Watchtower" (the battle's code name) would go smoothly.  Days have passed without heavy fighting since most of the 2,600 Japanese men on the island are working on the airfield.  Then ... ships from the Japanese fleet arrive, and everything changes for the Allied fighters.

Under heavy bombardment, Allied ships (still stocked with ground supplies) are forced to withdraw.  Marines are left on the island without enough material to support them.

Many of the Marines are barely out of high school.  Although highly trained, they are young.  Their average age is eighteen.  They will ultimately oppose Japanese soldiers - mostly in their 20s - who have seen prior combat.

The Japanese know the island's terrain.  They are extremely confident and, to this point in the war, have been very successful.  They live by a military code known as "Bushido," meaning "way of the warrior." 

Part of a warrior's way is to follow seven virtues: 

  • Rectitude
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Honor
  • Loyalty.

But those virtues also lead to something else, for a Japanese soldier:  A fight to the death.

Five days after the invasion's start, twenty-five Marines find themselves unprotected on a Guadalcanal beach, opposing two hundred Japanese soldiers.  The killing soon begins, in earnest. 

Some of the Americans are using malfunctioning weapons.  Twenty-two Marines die was a result of the shootout.

One survivor has no choice but to swim away from the battle scene.  Bullet shots, from the shore, miss him - but as he turns toward the beach, he observes the glint of bayonets in the sunlight. 

He instantly recognizes what is happening but cannot believe what he sees.

See, also:

Video:  Guadalcanal - Battle of the Tenaru (Ilu River)

Video:  Guadalcanal - Battle at Edson's Ridge Begins (move clip to 8:38)

Video:  Guadalcanal - Battle at Edson's ("Bloody") Ridge

Video:  Guadalcanal - John Basilone at Edson's ("Bloody") Ridge

Video:  Robert Leckie Historical Footage

Image and Brief Bio:  Robert Leckie

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 4279stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Nov 27, 2015

Media Credits

Clip from "Shootout - WWII:  Guadalcanal," online courtesy The History Channel.

Amy Huggins, Arthur Drooker and Darryl Rehr

Series Directors:

Amy Huggins, Brian Coughlin, Douglas Cohen, Laura Verklan and Tony Long

Series originally aired:

Series released on DVD:
A&E Home Video, May 2007

Photo of Marines at Guadalcanal, linked in the above description, from the U.S. National Archives and online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.  The picture is described in the Historical Monograph - Marines in World War II, The Guadalcanal Campaign (by Major John L. Zimmerman, USMCR Historical Section, Division of Public Information Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1949) - as follows:

Fresh troops from the 2d Marine Division during a halt.  Note clean-shaven faces and good condition of equipment and clothing.  (Zimmerman, chp 8, page 129.)


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Guadalcanal - War in the Pacific" Oct 07, 2013. Nov 27, 2015.
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