Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
The Landing and August Battles
September and the Ridge
October and the Japanese Offensive
November and the Continuing Buildup
December and the Final Stages
Colonel Alexander A. Vandegrift
Sergeant Major Sir Jacob Charles Vouza
Douglas Albert Munro
Special Subjects
First Marine Utility Uniform Issued in World War II
LVT (1) — The 'Amtrac'
General Vandegrift and His 1st Marine Division Staff
The Coastwatchers
The 1st Marine Division Patch
M3A1 37mm Antitank Gun
Reising Gun
75mm Pack Howitzer — Workhorse of the Artillery
The Japanese Model 89 (1929) 50mm Heavy Grenade Discharger
The 'George' Medal

FIRST OFFENSIVE: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal
by Henry I. Shaw, Jr.

October and the Japanese Offensive (continued)

In the lull before the attack, if a time of patrol clashes, Japanese cruiser-destroyer bombardments, bomber attacks, and artillery harassment could properly be called a lull, Vandegrift was visited by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb. The Commandant flew in on 21 October to see for himself how his Marines were faring. It also proved to be an occasion for both senior Marines to meet the new ComSoPac, Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey. Admiral Nimitz had announced Halsey's appointment on 18 October and the news was welcome in Navy and Marine ranks throughout the Pacific. Halsey's deserved reputation for élan and aggressiveness promised renewed attention to he situation on Guadalcanal. On the 22d, Holcomb and Vandegrift flew to Noumea to meet with Halsey and to receive and give a round of briefings on the Allied situation. After Vandegrift had described his position, he argued strongly against the diversion of reinforcements intended for Cactus to any other South Pacific venue, a sometime factor of Admiral Turner's strategic vision. He insisted that he needed all of the Americal Division and another 2d Marine Division regiment to beef up his forces, and that more than half of his veterans were worn out by three months' fighting and the ravages of jungle-incurred diseases. Admiral Halsey told the Marine general: "You go back there, Vandegrift. I promise to get you everything I have."

Marine machine gunner
During the lull in the fight, a Marine machine gunner takes a break for coffee, with his sub-machine gun on his knee and his .30-caliber light machine gun in position. Department of Defense (USMC) Photo 13628

When Vandegrift returned to Guadalcanal, Holcomb moved on to Pearl Harbor to meet with Nimitz, carrying Halsey's recommendation that, in the future, landing force commanders once established ashore, would have equal command status with Navy amphibious force commanders. At Pearl, Nimitz approved Halsey's recommendation—which Holcomb had drafted—and in Washington so did King. In effect the, the command status of all future Pacific amphibious operations was determined by the events of Guadalcanal. Another piece of news Vandegrift received from Holcomb also boded well for the future of the Marine Corps. Holcomb indicated that if President Roosevelt did not reappoint him, unlikely in view of his age and two terms in office, he would recommend that Vandegrift be appointed the next Commandant.

Operation Watchtower's major staff
On the occasion of the visit of the Commandant, MajGen Thomas Holcomb, some of Operation Watchtower's major staff and command officers took time out from the fighting to pose with him. From left, front row: Col William J. Whaling (Whaling Group); Col Amor LeRoy Sims (CO, 7th Marines); Col Gerald C. Thomas (Division Chief of Staff); Col Pedro A. del Valle (CO, 11th Marines); Col William E. Riley (member of Gen Holcomb's party); MajGen Roy S. Geiger (CG, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing); Gen Holcomb; MajGen Ralph J. Mitchell (Director of Aviation, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps); BGen Bennet Puryear, Jr. (Assistant Quartermaster of the Marine Corps; Col Clifton B. Cates (CO, 1st Marines). Second row (between Whaling and Sims): LtCol Raymond P. Coffman (Division Supply Officer); Maj James C. Murray (Division Personnel Officer); (behind Gen Holcomb) LtCol Merrill B. Twining (Division Operations Officer). Department of Defense (USMC) Photo 53523

This new of future events had little chance of diverting Vandegrift's attention when he flew back to Guadalcanal, for the Japanese were in the midst of their planned offensive. On the 20th, an enemy patrol accompanied by two tanks tried to find a way through the line held by Lieutenant Colonel William N. McKelvy, Jr.'s 3d Battalion, 1st Marines. A sharpshooting 37mm gun crew knocked out one tank and the enemy force fell back, meanwhile shelling the Marine positions with artillery. Near sunset the next day, the Japanese tried again, this time with more artillery fire and more tanks in the fore, but again a 37mm gun knocked out a lead tank and discouraged the attack. On 22 October, the enemy paused, waiting for Maruyama's force to get into position inland. On the 23d, planned as the day of the Sendai's main attack, the Japanese dropped a heavy rain of artillery and mortar fire on McKelvy's positions near the Matanikau River mouth. Near dusk, nine 18-tom medium tanks clanked out of the trees onto the river's sandbar and just as quickly eight of them were riddled by the 37s. One tank got across the river, a marine blasted a track off with a grenade, and a 75mm half-track finished it off in the ocean's surf. The following enemy infantry was smothered by Marine artillery fire as all battalions of the augmented 11th Marines rained shells on the massed attackers. Hundreds of Japanese were casualties and three more tanks were destroyed. Later, an inland thrust further upstream was easily beaten back. The abortive coastal attack did almost nothing to aid Maruyama's inland offensive, but did cause Vandegrift to shift one battalion, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, out of the line to the east and into the 4.000-yard gap between the Matanikau position and the perimeter. This moved proved providential since one of Maruyama's planned attacks was headed right for this area.

Reising Gun

The Reising gun was designed and developed by noted gun inventor Eugene Reising. It was patented in 1940 and manufactured by the old gun-making firm of Harrington and Richardson of Worcester, Massachusetts. It is said that it was made on existing machine tools, some dating back to the Civil War, and of ordinary steel rather than ordnance steel. With new machine tools and ordnance steel scarce and needed for more demanding weapons, the Reising met an immediate requirement for many sub-machine guns at a time when production of Thompson M1928 and M1 sub-machine guns hadn't caught up with demand and the stamped-out M3 "grease gun" had not yet been invented. It was a wartime expedient.

sketch of Marine with Reising gun

The Reising was made in two different models, the 50 and the 55. The Model 50 had a full wooden stock and a Cutts compensator attached to the muzzle. The compensator, a device which reduced the upward muzzle climb from recoil, was invented by Richard M. Cutts, Sr., and his son, Richard M. Cutts, Jr., both of whom became Marine brigadier generals. The other version was dubbed the Model 55. It had a folding metal-wire shoulder stock which swivelled on the wooded pistol grip. It also had a shorter barrel and no compensator. It was intended for use by parachutists, tank crews, and others needing a compact weapon. Both versions of the Reising fired .45-caliber ammunition, the same cartridge as the Colt automatic pistol and the Thompson.

In all, there were approximately 100,000 Reising sub-machine guns produced between 1940 and 1942. Small numbers of the weapons were acquired by both Great Britain and the Soviet Union. However, most were used by the U.S. Marine Corps in the Solomon Islands campaign. The Model 55 was issued to both Marine parachute battalions and Marine raiders, seeing service first on Guadalcanal. After its dubious debut in combat it was withdrawn from frontline service in 1943 due to several flaws in design and manufacture.

The Reising's major shortcoming was its propensity for jamming. This was due to both a design problem in the magazine lips and the fact that magazines were made of a soft sheet steel. The weapons' safety mechanism didn't always work and if the butt was slammed down on the deck, the hammer would set back against the mainspring and then fly forward, firing a chambered cartridge. The design allowed the entry of dirt into the mechanism and close tolerances caused it to jam. Finally, the steel used allowed excessive rust to form in the tropical humidity of the Solomons. Nevertheless, at six pounds, the Reising was handier than the 10-pound Thompson, more accurate, pleasanter to shoot, and reliable under other than combat conditions, but one always had to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. The Model 50 was also issued to Marines for guard duty at posts and stations in the United States.—John G. Griffiths

Although patrols had encountered no Japanese east or south of the jungled perimeter up to the 24th, the Matanikau attempts had alerted everyone. When General Maruyama finally was satisfied that his men had struggled through to appropriate assault positions, after delaying his day of attack three times, he was ready on 24 October. The Marines were waiting.

An observer from the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, spotted an enemy officer surveying Edson's Ridge on the 24th, and scout-snipers reported smoke from numerous rice fires rising from a valley about two miles south of Lieutenant Colonel Puller's positions. Six battalions of the Sendai Division were poised to attack, and near midnight the first elements of the enemy hit and bypassed a platoon-sized outpost forward of Puller's barbed-wire entanglements. Warned by the outpost, Puller's men waited, straining to see through a dark night and a driving rain. Suddenly, the Japanese charged out of the jungle, attacking in Puller's area near the ridge and the flat ground to the east. The Marine replied with everything they had, calling in artillery, firing mortars, relying heavily on crossing fields of machine gun fire to cut down the enemy infantrymen. Thankfully, the enemy's artillery, mortars, and other supporting arms were scattered back along the Maruyama Trail; they had proved too much of a burden for the infantrymen to carry forward.

A wedge was driven into the Marine lines, but eventually straightened out with repeated counterattacks. Puller soon realized his battalion was being hit by a strong Japanese force capable of repeated attacks. He called for reinforcements and the Army's 3d Battalion, 164th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Hall), was ordered forward, its men sliding and slipping in the rain as they trudged a mile south along Edson's Ridge. Puller met Hall at the head of his column, and the two officers walked down the length of the Marine lines, peeling off an Army squad at a time to feed into the lines. When the Japanese attacked again as they did all night long, the soldiers and Marines fought back together. By 0330, the Army battalion was completely integrated into the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines'; lines and the enemy attacks were getting weaker and weaker. The American return fire—including flanking fire from machine guns and Weapons Company, 7th Marines' 37mm guns remaining in the positions held by 2d Battalion, 164th Infantry, on Puller's left—was just too much to take. Near dawn, Maruyama pulled his men back to regroup and prepare to attack again.

Japanese tanks in water
Five Japanese tanks sit dead in the water, destroyed by Marine 37mm gunfire during the abortive attempt to force the Marine perimeter near the mouth of the Matanikau River in late October. Many Japanese soldiers lost their lives also. Marine Corps Personal Papers Collection

With daylight, Puller and Hall reordered the lines, putting the 3d Battalion, 164th, into its own positions on Puller's left, tying in with the rest of the Army regiment. The driving rains had turned Fighter One into a quagmire, effectively grounding Cactus flyers. Japanese planes used the "free ride" to bomb Marine positions. Their artillery fired incessantly and a pair of Japanese destroyers added their gunfire to the bombardment until they got too close to the shore and the 3d Defense Battalion's 5-inch guns drove them off. As the sun bore down, the runways dried and afternoon enemy attacks were met by Cactus fighters, who downed 22 Japanese planes with a loss of three of their own.

As night came on again, Maruyama tried more of the same, with the same result. The Army-Marine lines held and the Japanese were cut down in droves by rifle, machine gun, mortar, 37mm, and artillery fire. To the west, an enemy battalion mounted three determined attacks against the positions held by Lieutenant Colonel Herman H. Hanneken's 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, thinly tied in with Puller's battalion on the left and the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, on the right. The enemy finally penetrated the positions held by Company F, but a counterattack led by Major Odell M. Conoley, the battalion's executive officer, drove off the Japanese. Again at daylight the American positions were secure and the enemy had retreated. They would not come back; the grand Japanese offensive of the Sendai Division was over.

About 3,500 enemy troops had died during the attacks. General Maruyama's proud boast that he "would exterminate the enemy around the airfield in one blow" proved an empty one. What was left of his force now straggled back over the Maruyama Trail, losing, as had the Kawaguchi force in the same situation, most of its seriously wounded men. The Americans, Marines and soldiers together, probably lost 300 men killed and wounded; existing records are sketchy and incomplete. One result of the battle, however, was a warm welcome to the 164th Infantry from the 1st Marine Division. Vandegrift particularly commended Lieutenant Colonel Hall's battalion, stating the "division was proud to have serving with it another unit which had stood the test of battle." And Colonel Cates sent a message to the 164th's Colonel Bryant Moore saying that the 1st Marines "were proud to serve with a unit such as yours."

Amidst all the heroics of the two nights' fighting there were many men who were singled out for recognition and an equally large number who performed great deeds that were never recognized. Two men stood out above all others, and on succeeding nights, Sergeant John Basilone of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige of the 2d Battalion, both machine gun section heads, were recognized as having performed "above and beyond the call of duty" in the inspiring words of their Medal of Honor citations.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division