Skip to comments.10 Things You Don't Know About Guadalcanal
Posted on 08/07/2012 3:18:37 AM PDT by PJ-Comix
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first offensive land operation taken by the United States in World War II. On August 7, 1942, the U.S. Marines landed at Guadalcanal. The general outlines of that battle which lasted which lasted 6 months until February 9, 1943 are known by many but here are 19 things about Guadalcanal that you might not know.
This is the first of my regular "20 Things You Don't Know" posts that I hope will encourage the History Channel to bring back that series. You can read my full mission statement about this in my introductory blog post here. And now on to 10 Things You Don't Know About Guadalcanal:
1. Most of the enemy force on Guadalcanal when the Marines landed on August 7, 1942 were actually ordinary laborers, not combat troops. Of the 2800 enemy personnel on the island, 2200 were laborers, of whom many were Korean, not Japanese.
2. The most hated uniform of WWII met its demise at Guadalcanal. It was the one-piece coverall jungle uniform issued to army troops. The main defect was that when the dysentery suffering troops, of which there were many, had to relieve themselves (or what they called the Tulagi Trots), the entire uniform had to be removed. One improvised solution was to use a razor blade to cut the thread in the crotch area and make sure not to wear skivvies. Ultimately the one-piece coverall was replaced by a more practical two-piece jungle uniform.
3. Malaria caused many more American casualties than Japanese bullets on Guadalcanal. One estimate is that every American who served on Guadalcanal between the landing on August 7, 1942 until the official end of the campaign in February 1943 had been infected to one degree or another by malaria.
4. As a result of the many Japanese ships sunk trying to resupply their troops, the waters off Guadalcanal are among the most popular scuba diving sites in the world. Many of these scuba tourists are Japanese.
5. On the morning of August 7, 1942, a Japanese radio operator on Tulagi off of Guadalcanal answered his own question when he keyed off this message to the Japanese base at Rabaul:
LARGE FORCE OF SHIPS, UNKNOWN NUMBER OR TYPES, ENTERING THE SOUND. WHAT CAN THEY BE?
The answer he sent shortly afterwards followed by silence, due to intense shelling:
ENEMY FORCES OVERWHELMING. WE WILL DEFEND OUR POSTS TO THE DEATH, PRAYING FOR ETERNAL VICTORY.
6. The best equipment and supplies that the Marines had in the early days following their landings on Guadalcanal were provided by the Japanese themselves. The landings so surprised the Japanese they did not have time to destroy their equipment at the airstrip which was soon named Henderson Field. Among the supplies left behind were construction equipment, lots of food, and even an ice making machine. The latter must have been very welcome in that tropical environment.
7. The U.S. Navy suffered its worst naval defeat of WWII outside of the Pearl Harbor attack (which can be considered peacetime) at Guadalcanal. On the night of August 8-9 a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyers sank one Australian and three American cruisers near Savo Island off of Guadalcanal. Ironically the Japanese commander, Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa was later strongly criticized for not destroying the unprotected American invasion transports following his naval victory. Had he done so, it would have removed the tenuous American foothold on Guadalcanal.
8. A New Zealand longshoremans union almost caused the cancellation of the Guadalcanal campaign. Even though New Zealand was facing a dire threat from the expanding Japanese Empire, the unionized dockworkers of Wellington went on strike rather than load American naval vessels with supplies during poor weather for the Guadalcanal invasion. The union refused to budge despite the pleas from the navy so finally the dock workers were ordered off the docks and their places taken by Marines. Unfortunately the loading situation was a mess. The food supplies were packed in thin cardboard and the rains made a soggy mess of much of it. The dock was covered with soggy cornflakes and mushed up chocolate bars. Meanwhile the Marines covered much of Wellingtons walls with profane graffiti describing what they thought of the Wellington dock workers.
9. The marines on Guadalcanal became quite skilled in counterfeiting red meatball Japanese flags which they traded to sailors unloading supplies on the beach for candy bars and other products.
10. The number of warships lost by each side during the Guadalcanal campaign was precisely equal: 26 with almost exactly the same amount of tonnage. The big difference was that the Japanese could not replace such losses due to their decreasing industrial output while the Americans were able to vastly increase their supplies and equipment over the course of the rest of the war.
Welcome aboard, PINGEE #1.
Interesting! Number 8 though, just proves that unions are more worried about themselves than for the good of the people. Geez.
#3 takes the old saying “war is hell” to a new level
Yeah, your country is in dire danger of being overrun by Japanese invaders so what do you do...go on strike because you don’t like the working conditions. Imagine the horrible working conditions those dock workers would be working under if their overlords had been the conquering Japanese. BTW, when the Marines went ashore to Wellington, they left a lot of obscene graffiti on the walls expressing how they felt about the striking dockworkers.
Years ago I met an old-timer who served in the army on Guadalcanal and he still was suffering from relapses of malaria after all those years. I asked him how many of those serving at Guadalcanal caught malaria. He replied, “Everyone.” I thought he was exaggerating. He wasn’t.
#8. Typical. What’s changed?
Welcome aboard, PINGEE #2
I would hazard a guess that 99% of those out there born after the war know anything at all about the battle of Guadalcanal. They should; it is one of the greatest examples of what Americans were made of.
I remember reading an account that just prior to the Japanese fleet arriving, Gunner’s Mates were scurrying about to resupply ammo from the freighters to the guns on the other vessels, but the union workers on the freighters refused to unload at 0530 as their union contract didn’t require them to start work before 0800. This prompted a Marine officer to unholster his .45 and reissue to orders to commence their operations, as they wouldn’t be afloat at 0800 otherwise.
Even though these were Aussies, they weren’t any different than the American unions. Of course, we aren’t all that far removed from Aussies. Yes, you have a point, the unions wouldn’t have mattered if the Japanese had taken over.
If Admiral Mikawa destroyed the American transport ships like he could easily have done following his naval victory, history would have been very different. BTW, Mikawa lived quite a long time, well past the lifespans of most other WWII commanders.
Not Aussies. The strike was in Wellington, New Zealand.
Good for the Marine!
Duh, I can’t read this morning...... not Aussies.....Kiwis
Australia was the jumping off point for the New Guinea campaign which was also very hellish.
I love WWII history.
I do too and I’ll have one more post on WWII history next week and then go on to other topics...many of which I think you will find fascinating because I will uncover many things that you might not have known before.
When do we get to see the other ten...?
Oops! Thanx for noticing. I corrected the original blog. BTW, I sure do hope the History Channel brings back that “10 Things You Don’t Know About” program. However, I wish they would ditch those street interviews. They are just a waste of time and cut into the topics of the show.
The marines on Guadalcanal became quite skilled in counterfeiting red meatball Japanese flags which they traded to sailors unloading supplies on the beach for candy bars and other products.
It happened in Viet Nam too. There was a Special Forces camp we occasionally resupplied. Wed trade necessities like womens stockings and underwear for genuine VC flags and sandals. These wed trade to the navy for real ice cream, real milk and other goodies. Our navy had great rations.
Richard Tregaskis. I read it. BTW, it covers the Guadalcanal campaign from August to September. I wonder if Tregaskis caught a bit of malaria while there.
And I just did a quickie bit of research on Richard Tregaskis and, yes, he caught a touch of malaria as well. Avoiding malaria back then was like avoiding mosquito bites which was impossible.
Also a must read.
Challenge For The Pacific: the Bloody Six-month Battle Of Guadalcanal
By Robert Leckie
It wasn`t “just” malaria they suffered with,dengue fever
was one they also came down with.My uncle that served on
Guam said he was as scared of the deseases you could come
down on those islands as of the japs
Thank you for posting
A good read on the naval aspect of the Guadalcanal fight is Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno.
While most folks go on about the Marine casualties the Navy lost over twice what the Marines did
According to Wikipedia Guadalcanal was named after a town in Spain with the same name. As for the name of that town: "The name, etymologically, comes from the Arabic phrase Wadi al-Qanal (وادي القنال), meaning "river of the stalls" or "valley of stalls", referring to the refreshment stalls set up there during the Muslim rule in Andalusia."
Let me add something to the above paragraph. The reason the Japanese equipment was the best was because the Navy decided to leave and take most of the food, equipment and many of the troops that were supposed to be landed at the 'canal leaving the Marines stranded. If it wasn't for the Japanese food that was captured the Marines would have starved to death and they had no equipment to work the airfield except the captured Japanese equipment, another shining example of the ineptitude of the US Navy in the early days of WWII, and I include Pearl Harbor in that assessment.
If you want the “History Channel” to go bak to rep[orting on history you had better find a way to get aliens to be responsible for the miracles written in the Bible and for pawn broker or picker to start handling those souvenirs the GI’s brought home. Maybe a Swamp man killing gators there would bring the History channel back in on these stories.I know the Ice Road truckers cannot be brought there unless they deliver that ice machine the Japs left behind.
I was born one week before the invasion of Guadalcanal. As soon as I could read, I devoured everything I could about WW II. In those days, it was almost like “current events.” That interEst has continued up to this very morning.
Interesting stuff. Put me on the ping list, kind Sir.
Yep, read it as a yute as well. Glad you mentioned it. I'm going to see if it's available for my Kindle or Nook Color.
Oh, and no Lutherans were harmed in the posting of this blog...yet.
Ping me, please!
Henderson Field was actually built by the Japanese. But it was captured and named after a Marine aviator, Maj. Lofton Henderson, who had died at Midway leading his squadron in combat. The Marine Air Corps went on to dominate the skies of the South Pacific and provide invaluable support at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and a score of other campaigns.
Marines couldn't wait to raid/trade/borrow/steal Army M1 Garands.
Guadalcanal Diary isn’t available for the Kindle, but Challenge For The Pacific is. I’ve just downloaded it. Only, the book’s name has changed. It’s now “Challenge For The Pacific: The Turning Point of the War”. Same author, a 2010 publishing date (Kindle). I’m also sending it to my Nook Color.
Lutherans are well prepared to fight back...
My dad lost two cousins there.
Welcome aboard, PINGEE #4.
They did during Prohibition...but that is the subject for a future 10 Things edition.
In reading "An Army at Dawn" about the US Army operations in North Africa & Sicily I was also struck by the inadequacies of USN operations. Had there been serious naval opposition that would have been very messy. Even so, the Luftwaffe took out a lot of ships around Sicily while the Navy's jumpy AAA gunners were responsible for whacking the 82nd ABN drop there. Patton took a lot of heat for the failure to pass the word adequately, something that I hadn't known about prior to reading that book.
Great thread, PJ-Comix, thanks for posting it.
What many people don’t know is that three times as many sailors versus ground forces (Marines and Army) were killed in the Guadalcanal campaign.
The accounts are horrible. Richard Franks “Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle” is a great read on this battle, and from a Naval perspective, one of the best books on the subject I have read is James D. Hornfischers “Neptunes Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal”. It is brilliant and gripping. But horrifying. Everyone knows about sharks in the Pacific due to the USS Indianapolis, but few seem to understand the horrible commonality of this gruesome fact of naval warfare in the South Pacific.
As James Michner said about Guadalcanal in his book: “...They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge.”
Gives me goosebumps.
Don’t forget the Army Air Corps’ contribution. The P-39 Air Cobra’s with their nose cannons shredded a lot of IJN landing barges along with some destroyers. I believe the US Enterprise put some of her dive bombers ashore before retiring. So the “Cactus Air Force” consisted of Marine, Army & Navy fliers.
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