FIRST OFFENSIVE: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal
by Henry I. Shaw, Jr.
September and the Ridge
Admiral McCain visited Guadalcanal at the end of
August, arriving in time to greet the aerial reinforcements he had
ordered forward, and also in time for a taste of Japanese nightly
bombing. He got to experience, too, what was becoming another unwanted
feature of Cactus nights: bombardment by Japanese cruisers and
destroyers. General Vandegrift noted that McCain had gotten a dose of
the "normal ration ofshells." The admiral saw enough to signal his
superiors that increased support for Guadalcanal operations was
imperative and that the "situation admits no delay whatsoever." He also
sent a prophetic message to Admirals King and Nimitz: "Cactus can be
sinkhole for enemy air power and can be consolidated, expanded, and
exploited to the enemy's mortal hurt."
Sergeant Major Sir Jacob Charles Vouza
Jacob Charles Vouza was born in 1900 at Tasimboko,
Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands Protectorate, and educated at the
South Seas Evangelical Mission School there. In 1916 he joined the
Solomon Islands Protectorate Armed Constabulary, from which he retired
at the rank of sergeant major in 1941 after 25 years of service.
After the Japanese invaded his home island in World
War II, he returned to active duty with the British forces and
volunteered to work with the Coastwatchers. Vouza's experience as a
scout had already been established when the 1st Marine Division landed
on Guadalcanal. On 7 August 1942 he rescued a downed naval pilot from
the USS Wasp who was shot down inside Japanese territory. He
guided the pilot to friendly lines where Vouza met the Marines for the
Vouza then volunteered to scout behind enemy lines
for the Marines. On 27 August he was captured by the Japanese while on a
Marine Corps mission to locate suspected enemy lookout stations. Having
found a small American flag in Vouza's loincloth, the Japanese tied him
to a tree and tired to force him to reveal information about Allied
forces. Vouza was questioned for hours, but refused to talk. He was
tortured and bayoneted about the arms, throat, shoulder, face, and
stomach, and left to die.
He managed to free himself after his captors
departed, and made his way through the miles of jungle to American
lines. There he gave valuable intelligence information to the Marines
about an impending Japanese attack before accepting medical attention.
After spending 12 days in the hospital, Vouza then
returned to duty as the chief scout for the Marines. He accompanied
Lieutenant Colonel Evans. F. Carlson and the 2d Marine Raider Battalion
when they made their 30-day raid behind enemy lines at Guadalcanal.
Sergeant Major Vouza was highly decorated for his
World War II service. The Silver Star was presented to him personally by
Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, commanding general of the 1st
Marine Division, for refusing to give information under Japanese
torture. He also was awarded the Legion of Merit for outstanding service
with the 2d Raider Battalion during November and December 1942, and the
British George Medal for gallant conduct and exceptional devotion to
duty. He later received the Police Long Service Medal and, in 1957, was
made a Member of the British Empire for long and faithful government
After the war, Vouza continued to serve his fellow
islanders. In 1949, he was appointed district headman, and president of
the Guadalcanal Council, from 1952-1958. He served as a member of the
British Solomon Islands Protectorate Advisory Council from 1950 to 1960.
He made many friends during his long association
with the U.S. Marine Corps and through the years was continually visited
on Guadalcanal by Marines. During 1968, Vouza visited the United States,
where he was the honored guest of the 1st Marine Division Association.
In 1979, he was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. He died on 15
March 1984. Ann A. Ferrante
On 3 September, the Commanding General, 1st Marine
Aircraft Wing, Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger, and his assistant wing
commander, Colonel Louis Woods, moved forward to Guadalcanal to take
charge of air operations. The arrival of the veteran Marine aviators
provided an instant lift to the morale of the pilots and ground crews.
It reinforced their belief that they were at the leading edge of air
combat, that they were setting the pace for the rest of Marine aviation.
Vandegrift could thankfully turn over the day-to-day management of the
aerial defenses of Cactus to the able and experienced Geiger. There was
no shortage of targets for the mixed air force of Marine, Army, and Navy
flyers. Daily air attacks by the Japanese, coupled with steady
reinforcement attempts by Tanaka's destroyers and trrts, meant that
every type of plane that could lift off Henderson's runway was airborne
as often as possible. Seabees had begun work on a second airstrip,
Fighter One, which could relive some of the pressure on the primary
M3A1 37mm Antitank Gun
The M3 Antitank gun, based on the successful German
Panzer Abwehr Kanone (PAK)-36, was developed by the U.S. Army in
the late 1930s as a replacement for the French 37mm Puteaux gun, used in
World War I but unable to destroy new tanks being produced.
The M3 was adopted because of its accuracy, fire
control, penetration, and mobility. Towed by its prime mover, the 4x4
quarter-ton truck, the gun would trail at 50 mph on roads. When
traveling crosscountry, gullies, shell holes, mud holes, and slopes of
26 degrees were negotiated with ease. In 1941, the gun was redesignated
the M3A1 when the muzzles were threaded to accept a muzzle brake that
was rarely, if ever, used.
At the time of its adoption, the M3 could destroy
any tank then being produced in the world. However, by the time the
United States entered the war, the M3 was outmatched by the tanks it
would have met in Europe. The Japanese tanks were smaller and more
vulnerable to the M3 throughout the war. In the Pacific, it was used
against bunkers, pillboxes and, when loaded with canister, against
banzai charges. It was employed throughout the war by Marine regimental
weapons companies, but in reduced numbers as the fighting continued. It
was replaced in the European Theater by the M1 57mm antitank gun.
The 37mm antitank gun, manned by a crew of four who
fired a 1.61-pound projectile with an effective range of 500 yards.
Stephen L. Amos and Kenneth L. Smith-Christmas
is an oblique view of Henderson Field looking north with Ironbottom
Sound (Sealark Channel) in the background. At the left center is the
"Pagoda" operations center of Cactus Air Force flyers through their
first months of operations ashore. National Archives Photo
Most of General Kawaguchi's brigade had reached
Guadalcanal. Those who hadn't, missed their land-fall forever as a
result of American air attacks. Kawaguchi had in mind a surprise attack
on the heart of the Marine position, a thrust from the jungle directly
at the airfield. To reach his jump-off position, the Japanese general
would have to move through difficult terrain unobserved, carving his way
through the dense vegetation out of sight of Marine patrols. The rugged
approach route would lead him to a prominent ridge topped by Kunai grass
which wove snake-like through the jungle to within a mile of Henderson's
runway. Unknown to the Japanese, General Vandegrift planned on moving
his headquarters to the shelter of a spot at the inland base of this
ridge, a site better protected, it was hoped, from enemy bombing and
The success of Kawaguchi's plan depended upon the
Marines keeping the inland perimeter thinly manned while they
concentrated their forces on the east and west flanks. This was not to
be. Available intelligence, including a captured enemy map, pointed to
the likelihood of an attack on the airfield and Vandegrift moved his
combined raider-parachute battalion to the most obvious enemy approach
route, the ridge. Colonel Edson's men, who scouted Savo Island after
moving to Guadalcanal and destroyed a Japanese supply base at Tasimboko
in another shore-to-shore raid, took up positions on the forward slopes
of the ridge at the edge of the encroaching jungle on 10 September.
Their commander later said that he "was firmly convinced that we were in
the path of the next Jap attack." Earlier patrols had spotted a sizable
Japanese force approaching. Accordingly, Edson patrolled extensively as
his men dug in on the ridge and in the flanking jungle. On the 12th, the
Marines made contact with enemy patrols confirming the fact the Japanese
troops were definitely "out front." Kawaguchi had about 2,000 of his men
with him, enough he thought to punch through to me airfield.
Marine ground crewmen attempt to put out one of many
fires occurring after a Japanese bombing raid on Henderson Field causing
the loss of much-needed aircraft. Marine Corps Personal Papers
Japanese planes had dropped 500-pound bombs along the
ridge on the 11th and enemy ships began shelling the area after
nightfall on the 12th, once the threat of American air attacks subsided.
The first Japanese thrust came at 2100 against Edson's left flank.
Boiling out of the jungle, the enemy soldiers attacked fearlessly into
the face of rifle and machine gun fire, closing to bayonet range. They
were thrown back. They came again, this time against the right flank,
penetrating the Marines' positions. Again they were thrown back., A
third attack closed out the night's action. Again it was a close affair,
but by 0230 Edson told Vandegrift his men could hold. And they did.