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Combined Guadalcanal Campaign
Part 2a and 2b
by Patrick Graham

Background

On the 7th of August, 1942, American soldiers of the 1st Marine Division began their offensive in the South Pacific on the ground by landing forces at Tulagi, Florida Island and Guadalcanal. The islands were the southern most point in the island chain known as the Solomons. In staging ground forces in this area, Japanese pressure against Australia would be relieved and path would be opened up into Japans Pacific defenses and her bases at Truk and Rabaul. The Japanese knew quite well what the strategic value of Guadalcanal was. They had planned to construct an airbase in the island and from their further interdict allied supply and shipping efforts and launch continued attacks toward Australia.

To that end, the Japanese forces on the Island on August 7th were completely taken by surprise when a massive, and just as importantly American, invasion force landed on these islands. The defenders put up a fierce fight, but were simply overwhelmed. The airfield under construction at Guadalcanal was quickly put to American use and the Japanese equipment on the island was requisitioned to finish the airbase as soon as possible. However, the Japanese High command was quick to react to the landings and sought to cut off the island’s naval link to the outside world. A cruiser force under the command of Admiral Mikawa engaged Allied warships off of Savo Island and delivered a telling blow, sinking four Allied cruisers and damaging three other vessels.

Although the defeat of Allied naval forces at Savo Island hastened the unloading and departure of the transports already at Guadalcanal, close to 17,000 soldiers and a good portion of their equipment was successfully unloaded. However, until the Naval force returned the Marines would be left to their own devices and need to rely on everything they brought ashore. They had only 30 days worth of food, no reconnaissance planes and lacked the equipment need to construct coastal batteries for defense.

To further exacerbate the necessity for resupply, the Japanese had taken to delivering soldiers and what supplies they could at night when air cover was ineffective to the eastern portion of Guadalcanal. They used armed destroyers, due to the fragility of transport vessels, which while relatively safe were unable to carry heavier equipment. This mode of transport was dubbed the ‘Tokyo-Express’. The first group of 900 soldiers was landing in the early morning of August the 19th using six destroyers in all to complete the transfer. The Japanese Force now gathered at Taivu Point consisted of the 2nd Battalion of the 28th Infantry Division. It was an ad hoc force, owing to the restrictions of transport that Japan had to endure in the Solomons. Consisting of 2000 men, the unit was a mish-mash of artillery and heavy weapons specialists, engineers and line infantry. Their reconnaissance by air had shown a lack of American naval vessels around Guadalcanal, and they mistakenly took this to mean that the majority of the marines on the island had been withdrawn when this was not the case.

The 1st Marine Division had organized itself along the perimeter by aligning a battalion along each axis of approach and keep a fourth in reserve near Henderson field along with three field artillery battalions. Scouting, much of which had been accomplished with help of native guides under British Captain Martin Clemens, quickly revealed that Japanese forces had landed in the east on Guadalcanal. However, their numbers could not be properly ascertained. This would be an issue for the Japanese as well who had little if any knowledge on the make-up of Allied resistance on Guadalcanal.

Either way, the man in charge of the landing forces, General Vandergrift was initially unwilling to send out probing attacks of his own. There was a very real possibility that the Japanese forces around Taivu were comparatively larger than the Marine contingent at Henderson Airfield. Instead, the marines prepared for defense. In particular, the front lines along the Ilu River were bolstered with the entrenchment of the 2nd Battalion along its western bank. A single 37mm gun armed with canister rounds formed the anchor for the defense, and it in turn was protected by machine gun nests. At 0300 hours on August 21st, the

Note: These scenarios, while they can be played singly, build upon the first scenario in this series.

Combined Guadacanal Campaign Pt. 2A: Strike Across the Ilu River.
At 0310 hours on the 21st of August 1942, an attack force under Colonel Ichiki attacks American Marines defending the sand bar at the Ilu River. The marines must organize a defense that limits the depth of any Japanese penetration of the western bank of the Ilu River.

Combined Guadacanal Campaign Pt. 2B: Strike at Taivu Point.
In this alternate scenario to be played if the Allies win Scenario #1. On August 21st, American Marines fully equipped and with ample time to prepare go on the offensive, hoping to strike out against the main Japanese Base on Taivu Point. Isolated and under strength Japanese forces must hold out until reinforcements arrive.

Aftermath

The attack drew an equally strong response from across the river. Ichiki Force charged in the face of Marine resistance and actually succeeded in breaching the perimeter of their defenses. However, Ichiki Force was unable to maintain its momentum and press the attack. G Company had moved from the rear and just as the force had created their first lines of defense at the river, they were beaten back, first to the river, then across to the sandbar with heavy casualties. Defeated and isolated, the force still remained at Ilu rather than retreat. 3rd battalion would register in artillery fire on the sand bar and pound it with heavy fire from 0500 to 0800 hours. In the interim, A, B and C companies had circled around to the sides and rear of the force to cut them off. The final assault began at 1230 supported by light tanks and concluded at 1300 hours with further assault by infantry across the Ilu River. The smaller Ichiki Force had been obliterated, the soldiers having nowhere to run simply died where they stood. The Japanese had suffered casualties numbering 800 dead and wound to 110 Americans. Ichiki himself was dead, thought to have committed suicide on the failure of his attack.

The battle also showed a colossal degree of underestimation on the side of the Japanese. Ichiki did not know the true strength of American forces on the island. Though they would attempt to be more cautious in future operations, a persistent underestimation of American strength in numbers and in fighting prowess would plague further Japanese offensives in Guadalcanal. Resources were also scarce for the Japanese. With insufficient means to transport soldiers and supplies to the island, forces would be committed piecemeal and without proper support, an issue that would have serious consequences in the battles to come and have a drastic impact on the outcome of the campaign itself.










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