The patrol led by Lt. Col. Frank Goettge, tragically lost on August 13th, was just one of several that routinely went out in those early days on Guadalcanal. And while Goettge’s patrol ran into trouble (that quickly became disaster), others had very little contact with their Japanese enemies.
At the same time the last of Goettge’s surviving men was escaping the death trap on the Matanikau River, Lt. Joseph Jachym’s platoon was having its first encounter…with a Catholic priest. The priest had heard rumors of Japanese forces farther east along the coast, not far from Alligator Creek. Rather than risk a major encounter with a small force, Jachym returned to base to prepare a larger force.
On August 19, 1942, Jachym set out at 7:00am. His 60-man patrol was overseen by Captain Charles Brush, who wanted to tag along. Along the way, they got to watch some action out to sea as a U.S. B-17 planted a string of bombs on the fantail of the Japanese destroyer Hagikaze. But bigger action was coming.
Brush said it was time for lunch, and Jachym convinced the Captain to move a little farther to where his troops had found oranges on a previous patrol. On the way they ran into a 40-man Japanese patrol, part of the Ichiki Butai.
Ichiki Butai was a regiment trained and commanded by Col. Kiyano Ichiki (shown above). One of Japan’s elite fighting units, Ichiki Butai was the infantry on the ships headed toward Midway, and would have been the first men on the ground had that occupation actually occurred in June.
Brush’s patrol and this small group of Ichiki Butai, led by Col. Shibuya, ran into each other almost before they realized what was happening, though the U.S. Marines had the slight advantage of knowing that the enemy might be around.
In less than 30 minutes, Brush’s men had killed all but 5 of the enemy, while losing three Marines killed and three more wounded…a much better outcome that Goettge’s men had experienced the week before.
But as the Marines looked through the bodies, there were too many maps, and binoculars, and swords…too many officers. It spoke of a larger, more powerful force in the vicinity, probably more than his current force was equipped to handle. They returned to base and, with the help of intelligence reports, discovered their enemy was, indeed, Ichiki Butai.
Recommended Reading: Guadalcanal: Starvation Island