For the Japanese military, 1942 was a study in contrasts. The first half of the year was filled with heady exhilaration, as victory after victory was achieved with stunning speed. One by one, each objective was marked off the list. It started at Pearl Harbor and was quickly followed by the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, and Malaysia. All over the central and south Pacific, Japanese forces pushed their American, British, and Australian counterparts back. As May rolled around, Australia looked ripe for the picking.
It was then that things begin to change. The Americans fought the Japanese to a draw in the waters of the Coral Sea. A month later, Admiral Spruance’s forces shocked a vastly superior Japanese force at Midway, taking down four Japanese carriers and halting Japan’s advance in the central Pacific.
Of course, a defeat at Midway didn’t cause the Japanese Navy to simply roll over or run away. In fact, the Japanese, despite their losses, were still in a much better position than the Americans, who still could only boast a single aircraft carrier to cover the entire Pacific.
At this point, the Japanese started looking for ways to strengthen their perimeter. As early as mid-May, they had been scouting the Solomon Islands, and before a month had passed, the decision was made to build an airfield on the largest of the islands – Guadalcanal. The second week of June, even as final plans were still being made, the first Japanese soldiers arrived, with the task of building a wharf. Before too long, heavy smoke hung in the air as large areas of grass were burned on the Lunga Plain.
And on July 6, 1942, the first serious forces arrived on Guadalcanal. A twelve-ship convoy landed, disembarking 2,500 men of the 11th and 13th Construction Units. Their job was to build an airfield.
Not a single one of these 2,500 men could have possibly known that, just the day before, the American military (through its knowledge of Japanese codes) had discovered Japan’s interest in Guadalcanal. Suddenly, Admirals King and Nimitz were also interested in owning this piece of real estate as well.
And thus was set in motion the single most pivotal land campaign in all the Pacific War…the Battle of Guadalcanal.