I’ve really enjoyed writing about the Battle of Guadalcanal. As the first real offensive action of the Pacific War (and of the war in general) for American forces, I think it’s pretty significant. Since our first discussions of the Solomon Islands campaign back in August, we’ve looked at a number of events, small and large, that helped shape not only the outcome of the conflict, but the Marines (and eventually the Army soldiers) that fought there.
But by mid-January of 1943, the outcome was no longer in doubt. In fact, as we saw just a few days ago, the Japanese had already begun laying the groundwork to extract their soldiers. But there was still fighting going on. Back in December, U.S. Army soldiers had discovered the Gifu, the last major stronghold on Guadalcanal. In close proximity was the Sea-Horse and the Galloping Horse, two smaller strongholds named for the shapes of the hill structures around them. And over the next month, much of the struggle would be focused here.
The Galloping Horse was the first to fall, on January 13th. The Sea-Horse, in between the Gifu and the Galloping Horse, was taken on January 15th, with the few survivors from each of these redoubts heading west and north toward friendly forces.
Though the Gifu was manned by only 500 or so Japanese soldiers, they were extremely well-entrenched in a network of several dozen pillboxes that were heavily camoflauged. And cracking the Gifu turned out to be an exercise in patience.
It wasn’t until artillery pieces were brought in, along with a light tank that was able to traverse the supply trail on the 22nd, that things could really get moving. With the artillery firing at point-blank range, progress became measurable. And then the tank rolled through, blasting away at the pillboxes and blowing them to pieces.
In the very early morning hours of January 23, 1943, the remaining 100 Japanese soldiers in the Gifu attacked in a massed suicide charge, and were wiped out. As the sun rose over the hills of Guadalcanal, the Gifu was in American hands.
The fall of the Gifu, for all intents and purposes, ended organized fighting on Guadalcanal. The remaining Japanese troops were either preparing for evacuation, or retreating toward the evac areas. There would still be some fighting by naval forces around the island (which we may cover at some point), but the first major American victory in World War II was on Guadalcanal’s horizon.
Recommended Reading: Starvation Island – I read this in college, and just found a hardback edition in excellent condition for $8…$8!!!