The Battle of Guadalcanal, also known as the Guadalcanal Campaign, was the first major Allied offensive against the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It took approximately six months for Allied troops to take and hold the islands of Tulagi, Guadalcanal and Florida, which make up the Southern Solomon Islands. The long duration stands in stark contrast with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which from start to finish lasted two hours and two minutes. Along with the Battle of Midway, the Guadalcanal Campaign is considered a turning point in the war and key to the eventual Allied victory over the Japanese.

Lead-up to the Guadalcanal Campaign

The Allied forces, in addition to the United States, included the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, British Solomon Islands, the Colony of Fiji, and Tonga. The operation began on August 7th 1942, eight months to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Guadalcanal operated as an important strategic location in protecting supply and communication routes between the Allied forces as well as served as a forward operating base, crucial in the conquest of Japanese Rabaul on New Britain Island.

The Attack Begins

Guadalcanal campaign

US bombardment of Tulagi

Similar to the United States at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were taken by surprise by the invasion and quickly lost control of Florida and Tulagi Islands. Immediately after losing those two islands, a fierce firefight occurred as the Japanese attempted to retake them. Seven large naval battles, three more on land, and persistent aerial battles made up the bulk of the fighting for the geographically crucial islands.

In a fitting retribution for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, troops landed under the cover of inclement weather at midnight on August 7th. Japanese patrols could have had the jump on incoming Allied forces if not for heavy cloud cover and driving rain. As the troops were landing, Allied warships blitzed the beaches and planes bombed their targets. Between the three main islands and two smaller ones, 14,000 Marines made landing. Despite relentless fighting by the Japanese, the Marines took the islands.

Battles of the Guadalcanal Campaign

Guadalcanal campaign

Japanese prisoners on Guadalcanal

Undeterred by the disheartening loss of the islands, the Japanese launched furious counterattacks over the next six months. Many individual battles—including the Battles of Mount Austen, Galloping Horse, Tassafaronga, and Edson’s Ridge, among numerous others—were all integral to holding these indispensable islands. The human cost was high; in all, the Allies lost 7,100 men while approximately 8,000 were injured. On the Japanese side, 19,200 were killed and 1000 more were captured. Without the sacrifices made by these brave Allied troops, Pearl Harbor might never have been avenged and the United States and could have paid an even higher price in the war against the Empire of Japan.

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