Posts Tagged ‘General Alexander Patch’

It’s been a really long time since we visited the Second World War battleground of Guadalcanal.  Of course, it’s been a while since we discussed any topic at all on these pages.  But I’m around this evening, so we should look at something.  As you probably well know, Guadalcanal (the largest of the Solomon Islands) was the site of a pivotal six-month battle during 1942.

The First Marine Division had come ashore on the 7th of September – exactly nine months after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, achieving a measure of surprise of their own – and, with a bit of help from the Navy, had taken command of the situation.  But the cost had been high.  The cemetery on Guadalcanal held the bodies of 650 Marines.  Nearly 1,300 had been wounded, and more than 8,500 had suffered through crippling tropical disease, namely malaria.  They, along with their leader General Alexander Vandegrift, were ready for a rest.

And on December 9, 1942, that rest began.  Transports unloaded the last of the Army’s American Division, and General Vandegrift turned over command to Army General Alexander Patch.  The ceremony had little fanfare.  Richard Frank writes that the departing General read “a concise letter that paid generous tribute to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who had worked, fought, and died side by side with his marines.

For another two months, Americans would still fight and die on Guadalcanal.  But for the First Marine Division, the end of this battle was drawing to an end.

Recommended Reading:  Guadalcanal

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In January of 1942, when southeast Asia and the Pacific were collapsing under the weight of one Japanese victory after another, looking ahead to January of 1943 and any glimmer of hope probably required, in the minds of the military, a telescope.  Names like Pearl Harbor, the Prince of Wales, Wake Island, and Guam may have been mentioned with hushed voices, but still fell like hammer-blows on the anvil, painful and scarring.  And places like Malaysia, Singapore, Bataan, and Corregidor would soon be added to that list.  Trying to find any ray of victory required a long look into the future.  Even names like the Coral Sea and Midway only served as reminders of the distance left to travel.  Guadalcanal still seemed on the far horizon.

In August of 1942, the focus narrowed on Guadalcanal and, over the next six months, another look at January 1943 was taken.  Only this time, the instrument of choice was the microscope, and the focus of the U.S. (and much of the world) zeroed in on the island, one of the Solomons, where the momentum of the Pacific War would largely be determined.  Under that microscope’s glare, more localized names like Edson’s Ridge, Lt. Col. Goettge, Henderson Field, the USS Juneau, Iron Bottom Sound, and Tassafaronga Pt. came into sharp relief.  And there the focus remained for six long months of intense combat…on land, on (and under) the sea, and in the air.

But now it was February 9, 1943.  And looking at January 1943 could only be done with the aid of a rearview mirror.  The Germans had been shut down at Stalingrad.  Slow, though very painful, progress was being made in North Africa.  Orde Wingate was prepping his Chindit forces for battle in Burma.  And the Allies were beginning the initial planning for an attack into southern Europe.

And Guadalcanal?  Well, February 9th’s rearview mirror showed final victory.  The Japanese military, unable to continue supplying its exhausted and dying troops, made a most unusual decision (for the Japanese military anyway) to evacuate.  That decision, made in December, was put into action in January as Operation Ke.  On February 1st, the first of more than 10,000 Japanese troops departed and, by the 8th, all were gone.  U.S. forces, still expecting an offensive, arrived at the northwest tip of Guadalcanal to find nothing but bodies among the flotsam and jetsam of war.

General Alexander Patch announced, on February 9, 1943, that Guadalcanal was in U.S. hands.  But the cost was high.  More than 7,000 U.S. fighting men went to Guadalcanal…and didn’t return.  The same could be said of more than 30,000 Japanese soldiers.  But victory had been achieved, and the pain of 1942 and the search for that ray of hope was now over, even though the rearview mirror would have to again be shelved for the telescope, which would be trained on the next objective.

Covering the Battle of Guadalcanal has been so rewarding and educational for me…I hope you can say that as well.  We’ll visit the island again, but we’re not likely to cover it with the same focus we’ve had over the last six months.  Rather than a “Recommended Reading“, I’m going to take an abnormal turn and link back to all the pieces covering Guadalcanal.  I know it smacks of pretentious self-promotion, but it’s really a look through the rearview mirror.

I haven’t said this nearly enough, but thank you for reading and for all your feedback.

Jul 6 (1942) – Two Enemies, One Island – Guadalcanal
Aug 7 (1942) – At Dawn They Slept
Aug 7 (1942) – Saburo Sakai Flights for his Life
Aug 9 (1942) – Japanese Rout Opponents at Savo Island
Aug 13 (1942) – Welcome to the Jungle
Aug 19 (1942) – Lunch and a Battle for Brush’s Men
Aug 21 (1942) – Ichiki Butai Bitten Hard at Alligator Creek
Oct 12 (1942) – “Treat a Stranger as a Thief”
Oct 15 (1942) – High Gas Prices Cost USS Meredith Dearly
Oct 20 (1942) – Bull Halsey Steps in, Prepares for Battle
Oct 26 (1942) – Japan Wins Big and Loses Bigger at Santa Cruz
Nov 13 (1942) – “A Barroom Brawl With the Lights Out”
Nov 15 (1942) – The Momentum Shifts at Guadalcanal
Nov 30 (1942) – The Long (Lance) Arm of the Law
Dec 9 (1942) – Marines, We are Leaving!
Dec 24 (1942) – Twas the Night Before Christmas
Dec 26 (1942) – Operation Ke: Japanese “Soldier-ectomy”
Jan 14 (1943) – “He Who Fights and Runs Away…”
Jan 23 (1943) – Guadalcanal Victory in Sight
Jan 30 (1943) – USS Chicago Sunk by Bombs and Bumbling

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The fight for the island of Guadalcanal had entered its sixth month, but the situation was vastly different than it had been when the 1st Marine Division walked ashore in August of 1942.  Back then, the Marines were the newcomers, with a mission to dislodge a well-equipped, confident Japanese foe.

But as 1943 began, the U.S. Army and Marines 2nd Division now controlled the  majority of Guadalcanal.  In fact, the last major Japanese stronghold near Mount Austen, called the Gifu, was now being reduced.  There was no doubt about the winner now, it was just a matter of how long and how tenaciously the remaining Japanese would hold out.

Japan’s military establishment knew it, and had been debating it back in mid-December.  They had been given details of the starving soldiers, the struggle to keep them supplied, the burgeoning U.S. power in the Solomon Islands, along with the certainty that Guadalcanal could no longer be held.

Out of the discussions came Operation Ke, a rather unusual plan (for the Japanese anyway) to, as quietly as possible, evacuate the remaining soldiers from the island without alerting the Americans.  To that end, a battalion of Japanese soldiers landed on Guadalcanal’s northwest corner on January 14, 1943.  Their arrival, primarily to act as an evacuation rearguard, signalled the start of Operation Ke.

At the same time, ships and aircraft moved into the area to assist with the evacuation.  These movements actually served to confuse General Alexander Patch into thinking another offensive was in the works.  So Patch acted more conservatively with his troops which, in addition to fighting at the Gifu, were converging on the Japanese from both sides of the island.

I mention Operation Ke’s commencement because, throughout the Pacific War, a “retreat” by the Japanese military was almost unheard of.  Usually it was a fight to the death.

Recommended Reading:  Guadalcanal

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