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Combined Guadalcanal Campaign
Part 6: The Last Drive on Henderson Field
by Patrick Graham

Background

The loss of the Battle of Cape Esperance forced the Japanese to shelve their latest ground offensive, dubbed Plan-X. By this time in the campaign, the Japanese hoped that with all branches of their military working in a coordinated effort, Guadalcanal could finally be retaken. In order to do that, air attacks and offshore bombardments would have to be carried out in direct support of a ground offensive while it was underway. This presented an enormous logistical problem as it was difficult to coordinate strikes between these three military branches. If one branch failed in their part of the attack it would throw off or negate the efforts of the others.

As it was, on October 12th 1942, the ground offensive was halted. The Japanese soldiers would have to pick their way through the dense jungle again to attack the airfield if another offensive took place. In the meantime, aerial attacks and offshore bombardments would be used to reduce and occupy the defenders. A new plan, known as Plan-Y, was drawn up to be executed on October 18th. The plan would consist of a pincer movement along Edson’s Ridge south of Henderson Airfield. Generals Kawaguchi and Nasu would lead each pincer while General Sumiyoshi held a diversionary force along the Matanikau River that could be used as a reserve force if necessary.

The greatest enemy to the Japanese as they prepared to make their way to the starting point abreast Edsons Ridge was the thick undergrowth of the Guadalcanal jungle. It took an interminably long time to move such large numbers of men through dense jungle and have them mount an uphill attack against a fortified position. To make things worse, the ad-hoc sledges and equipment haulers in addition to poor footwear made the trek all the more treacherous and slow. Heavy mortars and guns had to be ditched as it proved impossible to negotiate the mountainous paths with them in tow.

The Japanese had lost a tank and several men in an attempt to probe the Matanikau River. However, the Japanese soldiers were all in place alongside the river and were ready for a full assault on the opposite bank come what may. As he was forced to wait again and again for the assembling of the assault force along the ridge, Sumiyoshi continually sent probing attacks along the river wasting precious tanks and soldiers.

The 18th of October wore into the 19th and the call went out to postpone Y-Day. By the evening of the 19th, there was no sign that either Kawaguchi or Nasu were going to be in position. Y-Day was moved to October 22nd to give them more time to assemble. It wasn’t until the morning of the 24th of October that the first of the Japanese troops to be used in the pincer against Henderson Field arrived abreast of the ridge. The soldiers had marched only ten miles in as many days, and most were exhausted from the trek. Well aware of the threat posed in the wake of the Battle of Edson’s Ridge, the Marines formed a tight ‘U’ shaped perimeter. With heavy sentries and noise traps along with long rows of barbed wire, the Marines hoped to get ample warning if there was an attack against the ridge.

However, while General Nasu’s soldiers had arrived and begun to file in, Kawaguchi’s were still far behind. The attack had already been severely pushed back, and the navy was getting impatient with the constant delays that were eating up their own fuel supplies. Nasu reluctantly decided to discard any hopes of a pronged assault and instead opted for single massed thrust against the weakest points on the western ridge. At 2130 hours, the Japanese soldiers under Nasu’s command charged forward just as a deluge of rain began to pour from the sky.

Combined Guadalcanal Campaign Pt. 6A: The Last Drive on Henderson Field.
At 2130 hours on October 24th, 1942, Lieutenant General Nasu launches an unsupported attack toward Henderson Field through Edsons Ridge. Marines must slow the attack down to give reserve forces enough time to get in place and help push back the attackers.

Combined Guadalcanal Campaign Pt. 6B: The Last Drive on Henderson Field.
In this fictional scenario, a Japanese battalion has secured Henderson Field, putting the American position on Guadalcanal in extreme jeopardy. An attack must be launched against the forces at the airfield before they can dig in and offshore support can be brought to bear against the off-balance Marines. The Japanese soldiers must hold onto the Airfield for as long as possible.

Aftermath

With such a weight of force pushed against a single point in the American lines, the Marines could not help but bend under the pressure. The western ridge and forward hills were quickly overrun, but the plucky marines had been sure to catch many of the onrushing Japanese in ‘kill-zones’ where they became trapped. A single company made it to the airfield and sent the message back that it had been captured (as erroneous as it was). The reserve battalion of the 164th Infantry swung into action and moved quickly to plug the holes made by the Japanese offensive. The Japanese assault was driven off but would come again no less than six times before the sun rose. By then, there was little left to attack with, and the integrity of the American line had been restored.

Kawaguchi’s force had finally arrived, but by then both the plan and the subsequent attack was in a shambles. Sumyoshi’s force had also begun their attack and after seizing one hill was driven back by the 2nd Marine Battalion and airfield personnel pressed into service. Kawaguchi decided to attack on his own, and after his own force broke up against the ridge, he decided to retire and the attack was over. Moving on the mistaken information of Henderson Airfield’s capture, the Japanese fleet would jockey around looking to support the Japanese soldiers on the island. This would lead to the Battle of Santa Cruz Island covered in Scenario 5.

Combined Guadalcanal Campaign










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