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.

November and the Continuing Buildup (continued)

The buildup on Guadalcanal continued, by both sides. On 11 November, guarded by a cruiser-destroyer covering force, a convoy ran in carrying the 182d Infantry, another regiment of the Americal Division. The ships were pounded by enemy bombers and three transports were hit, but the men landed. General Vandegrift needed the new men badly. His veterans were truly ready for replacement; more than a thousand new cases of malaria and related diseases were reported each week. The Japanese who had been on the island any length of time were no better off; they were, in fact, in worse shape. Medical supplies and rations were in short supply. The whole thrust of the Japanese reinforcement effort continued to be to get troops and combat equipment ashore. The idea prevailed in Tokyo, despite all evidence to the contrary, that one overwhelming coordinated assault would crush the American resistance. The enemy drive to take Port Moresby on New Guinea was put on hold to concentrate all efforts on driving the Americans off of Guadalcanal.

Native guides lead 2d Raider Battalion Marines
Native guides lead 2d Raider Battalion Marines on a combat/reconnaissance patrol behind Japanese lines. The patrol lasted for less than a month, during which the Marines covered 150 miles and fought more than a dozen actions. Department of Defense (USMC) Photo 51728

On 12 November, a multifaceted Japanese naval force converged on Guadalcanal to cover the landing of the main body of the 38th Division. Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan's cruisers and destroyers, the close-in protection for the 182d's transports, moved to stop the enemy. Coastwatcher and scout plane sightings and radio traffic intercepts had identified two battleships, two carriers, four cruisers, and a host of destroyers all headed toward Guadalcanal. A bombardment group led by the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, with the light cruiser Nagura, and 15 destroyers spearheaded the attack. Shortly after midnight, near Savo Island, Callaghan's cruisers picked up the Japanese on radar and continued to close. The battle was joined at such short range that each side fired at times on their own ships. Callaghan's flagship, the San Francisco, was hit 15 times, Callaghan was killed, and the ship had to limp away. The cruiser Atlanta (CL-104) was also hit and set afire. Rear Admiral Norman Scott, who was on board, was killed. Despite the hammering by Japanese fire, the Americans held and continued fighting. The battleship Hiei, hit by more than 80 shells, retired and with it went the rest of the bombardment force. Three destroyers were sunk and four others damaged.

The Americans had accomplished their purpose; they had forced the Japanese to turn back. The cost was high. Two antiaircraft cruisers, the Atlanta and the Juneau (CL-52), were sunk; four destroyers, the Barton (DD-599), Cushing (DD-376), Monssen (DD-436), and Laffey (DD-459), also went to the bottom. In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser Portland and the destroyers Sterret (DD-407), and Aaron Ward (DD-483) were damaged. One one destroyer of the 13 American ships engaged, the Fletcher (DD-445), was unscathed when the survivors retired to the New Hebrides.

With daylight came the Cactus bombers and fighters; they found the crippled Hiei and pounded it mercilessly. On the 14th the Japanese were forced to scuttle it. Admiral Halsey ordered his only surviving carrier, the Enterprise, out of the Guadalcanal area to get it out of reach of Japanese aircraft and sent his battleships Washington (BB-56) and South Dakota with four escorting destroyers north to meet the Japanese. Some of the Enterprise's planes flew in to Henderson Field to help even the odds.

USS San Francisco, RAdm Callaghan
In the great naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November, RAdm Daniel J. Callaghan was killed when his flagship, the heavy cruiser San Francisco (CA-38) took 15 major hits and was forced to limp away in the dark from the scene of action. Department of Defense (Navy) Photo 80-G-20824 and 80-G-G-21099

On 14 November Cactus and Enterprise flyers found a Japanese cruiser-destroyer force that had pounded the island on the night of 13 November. They damaged four cruisers and a destroyer. After refueling and rearming they went after the approaching Japanese troop convoy. They hit several transports in one attack and sank one when they came back again. Army B-17s up from Espiritu Santo scored one hit and several near misses, bombing from 17,000 feet.

Moving in a continuous pattern of attack, return, refuel, rearm, and attack again, the planes from Guadalcanal hit nine transports, sinking seven. Many of the 5,000 troops on the stricken ships were rescued by Tanaka's destroyers, which were firing furiously and laying smoke screens in an attempt to protect the transports. The admiral later recalled that day as indelible in his mind, with memories of "bombs wobbling down from high-flying B-17s; of carrier bombers roaring towards targets as though to plunge full into the water, releasing bombs and pulling out barely in time, each miss sending up towering clouds of mist and spray, every hit raising clouds of smoke and fire." Despite the intensive aerial attack, Tanaka continued on to Guadalcanal with four destroyers and four transports.

Japanese intelligence had picked up the approaching American battleship force and warned Tanaka of its advent. In turn, the enemy admirals sent their own battleship-cruiser force to intercept. The Americans, led by Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee in the Washington, reached Sealark Channel about 2100 on the 14th. An hour later, a Japanese cruiser was picked up north of Savo. Battleship fire soon turned it away. The Japanese now learned that their opponents would not be the cruisers they expected.

The resulting clash, fought in the glare of gunfire and Japanese searchlights, was perhaps the most significant fought at sea for Guadalcanal. When the melee was over, the American battleships' 16-inch guns had more than matched the Japanese. Both the South Dakota and the Washington were damaged badly enough to force their retirement, but the Kirishima was punished to its abandonment and death. One Japanese and three American destroyers, the Benham (DD-796), the Walke (DD-416), and the Preston (DD-379), were sunk. When the Japanese attack force retired, Admiral Tanaka ran his four transports onto the beach, knowing they would be sitting targets at daylight. Most of the men on board, however, did manage to get ashore before the inevitable pounding by American planes, warships, and artillery.

The Japanese Model 89 (1929)
50mm Heavy Grenade Discharger

Born out of the need to bridge the gap in range between hand grenades and mortars, the grenade discharger evolved in the Imperial Japanese Army from a special purpose weapon of infantry assault and defense to an essential item of standard equipment with all Japanese ground forces.

Commonly called Juteki by the Japanese, this weapon officially was designated Hachikyu Shiki Jutekidarto, or 1189 Model Heavy Grenade Discharger, the term "heavy" being justified by the powerful 1-pound, 12-ounce high explosive shell it was designed to fire, although it also fired the standard Model 91 fragmentation grenade.

Japanese soldier with grenade discharger

To the American Marines and soldiers who first encountered this weapon and others of its kind in combat they were known as "knee mortars," likely so named because they generally were fired from a kneeling position. Typically, the discharger's concave baseplate was pressed firmly into the surface of the ground by the firer's foot to support the heavy recoil of the fired shell, but unfortunately the term "knee mortar" suggested to some untutored captors of these weapons that they were to be fired with the baseplate resting against the knee or thigh. When a Marine fired on of these dischargers from his thigh and broke his upper leg bone, efforts were swiftly undertaken in the field to educate all combat troops in the safe and proper handling of these very useful weapons.

The Model 89 (1929) 50mm Heavy Grenade Discharger is a muzzle-loaded, high-angle-of-fire weapon which weighs 10-1/4 pounds and is 24 inches in overall length. Its design is compact and simple. The discharger has three major components: the rifled barrel, the supporting barrel pedestal with firing mechanism, and the base plate. Operation of the Model 899 was easy and straightforward, and with practice its user could deliver accurate fire registered quickly on target.

Encountered in all major battles in the Pacific War, the Model 89 Grenade Discharger was an uncomplicated, very portable, and highly efficient weapon operated easily by one man. It was carried in a cloth or leather case with a sling, and its one-piece construction allowed it to be brought into action very quickly. This grenade discharger had the advantage over most mortars in that it could be aimed and fired mechanically after a projectile had been placed in the barrel, projectile firing not being dependent upon dropping down the barrel against a stationary firing pin as with most mortars, where barrel fouling sometimes caused dangerous hangfires. Although an instantaneous fuze employed on the Model 89 high explosive shell restricted this shell's use to open areas, the Model 91 fragmentation grenade with its seven-second fuze made this discharger effective in a jungle or forest setting, with complete safety for the user from premature detonation of projectiles by overhanging foliage. Smoke and signal shells, and an incendiary grenade, were special types of ammunition used with this versatile and effective weapons which won the respect of all who came to know it.—Edwin F. Libby

Ten thousand troops of the 38th Division had landed, but the Japanese were in no shape to ever again attempt a massive reinforcement. The horrific losses in the frequent naval clashes, which seemed at times to favor the Japanese, did not really represent a standoff. Every American ship lost or damaged could and would be replaced; every Japanese ship lost meant a steadily diminishing fleet. In the air, the losses on both sides were daunting, but the enemy naval air arm would never recover from its losses of experienced carrier pilots. Two years later, the Battle of the Philippine Sea between American and Japanese carriers would aptly be called the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" because of the ineptitude of the Japanese trainee pilots.

Japanese troop transport
A Japanese troop transport and her landing craft were badly damaged by the numerous Marine air attacks and were forced to run aground on Kokumbona beach after the naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Many enemy troops were killed in the attacks. Department of Defense (USMC) Photo 53510

The enemy troops who had been fortunate enough to reach land were not immediately ready to assault the American positions. The 38th Division and the remnants of the various Japanese units that had previously tried to penetrate the Marine lines needed to be shaped into a coherent attack force before General Hyakutake could again attempt to take Henderson Field.

General Vandegrift now had enough fresh units to begin to replace his veteran troops along the front lines. The decision to replace the 1st Marine Division with the Army's 25th Infantry Division had been made. Admiral Turner had told Vandegrift to leave all of his heavy equipment on the island when he did pull out "in hopes of getting your units re-equipped when you come out." He also told the Marine general that the Army would command the final phases of the Guadalcanal operation since it would provide the majority of the combat forces once the 1st Division departed. Major General Alexander M. Patch, commander of the Americal Division. would relieve Vandegrift as senior American officer ashore. His air support would continue to be Marine-dominated as General Geiger, now located on Espiritu Santo with 1st Wing headquarters, fed his squadrons forward to maintain the offensive. And the air command on Guadalcanal itself would continue to be a mixed bag of Army, Navy, Marine, and Allied squadrons.

The sick list of the 1st Marine Division in November included more than 3,200 men with malaria. The men of the 1st still manning the frontline foxholes and the rear areas—if anyplace within Guadalcanal's perimeter could properly be called a rear area—were plain worn out. They had done their part and they knew it.

On 29 November, General Vandegrift was handed a message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The crux of it read: "1st MarDiv is to be relived without delay ... and will proceed to Australia for rehabilitation and employment." The word soon spread that the 1st was leaving and where it was going. Australia was not yet the cherished place it would become in the division's future, but any place was preferable to Guadalcanal.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division