Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blood Is Thicker Than Water: November in Guadalcanal continues *5

FIRST OFFENSIVE: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal
by Henry I. Shaw, Jr.
November and the Continuing Buildup

cont'd from previous post

As Hanneken's battalion executed a fighting withdrawal along the beach, it began to receive fire from the jungle inland, too. A rescue force was soon put together under General Rupertus: two tank companies, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 164th. The Japanese troops, members of the 38th Division regiment and remnants of Kawaguchi's brigade, fought doggedly to hold their ground as the Marines drove forward along the coast and the soldiers attempted to outflank the enemy in the jungle. The running battle continued for days, supported by Cactus air, naval gunfire, and the newly landed 155mm guns.

The enemy commander received new orders as he was struggling to hold off the Americans. He was to break off the action, move inland, and march to rejoin the main Japanese forces west of the perimeter, a tall order to fulfill. The two-pronged attack scheme had been abandoned. The Japanese managed the first part; on the 11th the enemy force found a gap in the 164th's line and broke through along a meandering jungle stream. Behind they left 450 dead over the course of a seven-day battle; the Marines and soldiers had lost 40 dead and 120 wounded.

Essentially, the Japanese who broke out of the encircling Americans escaped from the frying pan only to fall into the fire. Admiral Turner finally had been ably to effect one of his several schemes for alternative landings and beachheads, all of which General Vandegrift vehemently opposed. At Aola Bay, 40 miles east of the main perimeter, the Navy put an airfield construction and defense force ashore on 4 November. Then, while the Japanese were still battling the Marines near Tetere, Vandegrift was able to persuade Turner to detach part of this landing force, the 2d Raider Battalion, to sweep west, to discover and destroy any enemy forces it encountered.

Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson's raider battalion already had seen action before it reached Guadalcanal. Two companies had reinforced the defenders of Midway Island when the Japanese attacked there in June. The rest of the battalion had landed from submarines on Makin Island in the Gilberts on 17-18 August, destroying the garrison there. For his part in the fighting on Makin, Sergeant Clyde Thomason had been awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously, the first Marine enlisted man to receive his country's highest award in World War II.

In its march from Aola Bay, the 2d Raider Battalion encountered the Japanese who were attempting to retreat to the west. On 12 November, the raiders beat off attacks by two enemy companies and they relentlessly pursued the Japanese, fighting a series of small actions over the next five days before the contacted the main Japanese body. From 17 November to 4 December, when the raiders finally came down out of the jungled ridges into the perimeter, Carlson's men harried the retreating enemy. They killed nearly 500 Japanese. Their own losses were 16 killed and 18 wounded.

The Aola Bay venture, which had provided the 2d Raider Battalion a starting point for its month-long jungle campaign, proved a bust. The site chosen for a new airfield was unsuitable, too wet and unstable, and the whole force moved to Koli Point in early December, where another airfield eventually was constructed.


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