“I’ve Served My Time In Hell”
So thought many a weary Marine after the bloody, interminable battle for Guadalcanal. It was only a dot in the ocean, but upon its possession turned the entire course of the Pacific war
February 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 2
The Japs cut a hole in the Marine line and pushed some of the flank men back and upward to the crest. There were minutes when the Japanese had it their way, with nothing much left between them and the airfield, at that moment the prize of the Pacific war.
But it was no easier for the Japs to fight in the jungle than it was for the Marines. They couldn’t mobilize enough men to exploit their advantage, and the attack for that night sputtered out with sporadic rifle fire.
There were Japanese planes over the perimeter nearly all the next day, in three major attacks, and the Marine raiders worked with last-minute energy to improve their foxholes and to clear, as best they could, fields of fire between themselves and the jungle. There were about 400 raiders and parachutists on the ridge, holding a line about 1,800 yards long. That’s one man about every five yards. If estimates of Japanese strength are good, there were at least five, maybe six, Japanese for every Marine that second night.
At 2100 on September 13, a Japanese plane dropped a flare over the lines. Destroyers started firing immediately. Then a flare rose from the Kawaguchi lines, and the Japanese struck.
Edson at once called on the Eleventh Marines, the First Division’s artillery regiment. As the Japanese advanced, Edson called the fire closer and closer to his own lines. By 10 P.M. , 105 mm. howitzer shells were falling within 200 yards of the Marine foxholes. By then, the Japanese had again cut through the lines on the side of the hill; the Marines began to fall back to the crest as they had the night before.
In all, the Japanese struck twelve times through the night, “grinding themselves into the fire from Marine artillery, mortars, machine guns and rifles in vain attempts to dislodge Edson from his final knoll of Bloody Ridge,” says the official Marine history.
Squads of a reserve battalion from the Fifth Marines began to filter into the thin raider and parachute lines at 0400. By dawn the Japanese had spent themselves.
That was the September battle, the famous “Battle of Bloody Ridge,” for which both Edson and Major Kenneth Bailey were to get the Medal of Honor.
Almost as soon as the firing died away, men all along the perimeter turned to the simple routines of life, and found them, as fighting men always have, to be gratifying sources of quiet pleasure. By this time there was both a swimming-hole and a laundry-hole on the Lunga. A fallen, half-submerged tree nearly spanned the river at one point. This interval was the time of the great housing project on Guadalcanal. Everybody built himself a crude shack and lean-to, using whatever materials came to hand.
But this tropical pastoral quickly passed. Before the September battle was over, the Japanese held a powwow at Truk and decided to make an even greater effort to retake Guadalcanal in October.
For this one, General Hyakutake himself was coming down. No more battalions, no more brigades: this time there would be two divisions—the 2nd (Sendai) and the 38th (Nagoya)—and then some. No more reliance on mortars alone, either; this time there would be 150 mm. howitzers with which to knock out the airfield and keep it knocked out.
Only one fresh American unit, the 164th Infantry Regiment of the Army’s Americal Division, was sent to Guadalcanal. This outfit left Noumea on October 9 in two transports under escort of a force of four cruisers, eight destroyers, and three mine-layers commanded by Rear Admiral Norman Scott.
Scott was a perfectionist who had his cruiser force drilling for weeks in night operations. He reached Guadalcanal on October 11 and defeated a Japanese naval force in the night battle of Cape Esperance. The American regiment moved in safely.
What Scott had hit was, however, nothing more than a slightly oversized version of the daily Tokyo Express. And the Japanese had bigger things in store: early in the morning of October 13 their big push began. Twenty-two Japanese fighter-bombers came in at 1202, and they had no real opposition. They were after the airfield, and they left thirteen bomb holes in the strip. A subsequent bombing attack caught the American planes refueling and hit the main gasoline storage tanks. Five thousand gallons of precious and almost irreplaceable airplane fuel went up in black smoke.
No sooner had that flight disappeared than fifteen 150 mm. enemy howitzers, newly arrived, opened with their first bombardment of the airfield. They kept this up all afternoon.
Just before dusk two of the largest Japanese ships that had ever entered these waters, the battleships Haruna and Kongo , came plowing in, loaded with 300 shells of a new type, with greater bursting radius. Float planes lit the field with flares and the big ships cut loose, firing over 900 shells. Night bombers continued their strikes until daylight.