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Summary Article: Guadalcanal, Battle of
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In World War II, important US operation 1942–43 on the largest of the Solomon Islands. The battle for control of the area began when the US discovered the Japanese were building an airfield and landed marines to take the site August 1942. The Japanese sent reinforcements by sea to recapture the airfield and a series of bitter engagements took place on land for control of the airfield and at sea as each side attempted to reinforce their own troops and prevent the other from doing so. The naval operations began to dwarf those on the land they were supposedly supporting and both sides lost large amounts of ships and aircraft. The engagements on land and sea were inconclusive until the Japanese concluded such heavy naval losses could not be justified by one island and evacuated 7 February 1943.

Land campaign discovering that the Japanese were building an airfield on the island, the US 1st Marine Division landed there 7 August 1942, scattered the small Japanese garrison, and completed the airfield, which received its first US aircraft 20 August. The Japanese sent reinforcements to recapture the airfield and began naval and air attacks against the beachhead. Both sides built up strength throughout constant fighting until the Marines were relieved 8 December by US 14th Corps which drove the Japanese off the island, finally declaring it secure 7 February 1943. US casualties came to 1,600 killed, 2,400 wounded, and 12,000 hospitalized by disease; Japanese losses were 14,000 killed, 9,000 dead from disease or starvation, and 1,000 captured.

Naval actions while the land battle for Guadalcanal raged, both sides were attempting to reinforce their troops by sea and prevent the other side from doing likewise, resulting in almost constant minor skirmishes and two major naval engagements.

The First Battle began 12 November 1942 when the Japanese sent 2 battleships, a cruiser, 14 destroyers, and transports carrying 13,500 soldiers to the area; 5 US cruisers and 8 destroyers were sent to intercept them off Savo Island. The resulting battle was a confused affair but it ended with 4 US destroyers sunk, 2 cruisers so badly damaged that they sank later, and the rest of the US fleet damaged, whereas the Japanese lost a cruiser and 2 destroyers. However, they withdrew and postponed the reinforcement for 24 hours until they could assemble more cruisers to bombard the airfield. Then 3 cruisers and 2 destroyers arrived and carried out a heavy bombardment, destroying 18 US aircraft but without doing much damage to the airstrip. As they withdrew they were harried by US aircraft which sank 7 of the 11 Japanese troop transports.

The Second Battle followed almost immediately. The Japanese ordered a further bombardment of the airfield and tried landing the remaining reinforcements 14–15 November. They were met by a US force of 2 battleships and 4 destroyers about midnight and a confused battle ensued in which 3 US destroyers were sunk and 1 damaged, while the US battleship South Dakota was severely damaged. However, the Japanese were severely punished by the US 16-in guns and the destroyers and transports withdrew at high speed out of danger, having managed to land no more than 2,000 troops. Although these actions were inconclusive, they convinced the Japanese that there was no future in sending naval units to their doom for the sake of one island, and they evacuated 7 February 1943.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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