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"Operations and Tactics—Guadalcanal" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following informal report on operations and tactics on Guadalcanal in WWII was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 22, April 8, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



The following is an informal report on Guadalcanal operations by a high-ranking U.S. Marine officer. It is not, and was not intended to be, a complete report, but consists of observations on certain aspects only. For purposes of security certain portions of the original report have been omitted.

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You are all acquainted with the endeavor of the Japanese to knock out our air and neutralize our effort on Guadalcanal. They tried it time after time without success, and their whole counteroffensive was frustrated on that account. Seeing that they could not knock the air out, they attempted on several occasions to come down with navy transports without air coverage.

Throughout late September and early October the so-called "Tokio Express" landed troops on the islands from cruisers and destroyers. This method the enemy found slow and unsatisfactory. In the first place, they could carry very few troops in the cruisers and destroyers; and in the second place, they could carry no heavy materiel. It was therefore absolutely necessary for them to come down with naval transports. On the night of the 13th and 14th of October, they came in with a striking force of surface ships off Guadalcanal. The battleships lay off Savo Island at a range of 34,500 yards. The cruisers were closer in, and the destroyers were just out of range of our 5-inch shore batteries. They bombarded Henderson Field for 2 hours and 45 minutes with 16-, 8-, and 5-inch shells. The damage to personnel was negligible. The damage to ground materiel was also negligible.

We could not prevent the convoy of six transports from coming in. One of them, however, was sunk on the way down. Four of the transports were beached in order to unload. By 1 o'clock that afternoon all four of the beached transports were on fire. The dive-bombers had accounted for three of them, and the B-17's, which flew over, accounted for one. The sixth, and remaining transport, was hit with a thousand-pound bomb. It turned away and left, together with its escort vessels. This belated destruction could not prevent the enemy from landing some 16,000 Japanese troops on the island. They did not succeed, though, in getting off very much heavy materiel. They managed to get off a company of light tanks and a battery of long-range artillery. ***


The Jap attacks on October 25 to 28 were ground attacks, which were a result of this landing. *** This was their last really major effort. It was put on by a division, plus two additional attached regiments. They attempted to cross from the west with a mass attack of tanks followed by infantry. The rivers, in the dry season (except the Lunga and the Matapona), are more in the nature of lagoons than rivers. There is a beach which closes up the mouth of the river, and they are about 15 to 20 feet deep down at the mouth. They go up to about 10 feet for 1 1/2 or 2 miles inland. There is a sand-spit that runs across the Matanika River, and the enemy (very foolishly) drove these tanks right along it. I can assure you it was certainly fine shooting for the antitank guns. They knocked out the tanks with the 37's and the 75-mm half-tracks. One enemy tank got through. It might interest you to know that he stopped over a rather deep fox-hole of a man who had the presence of mind enough to reach up with a hand grenade, place it in the tread, pull the string, and duck. It blew a tread off, and the tank wheeled around like a wounded bird, and started right out to sea. He went out until he couldn't run any further. He was then up to his turret -- and so a half-track knocked that off.

The command tank in that performance, for some reason or other, decided to come straight across the river, about 50 to 60 yards up from its mouth and he was not a submarine. He just stayed there, and disappeared out of sight. Realizing that tanks don't go strolling off by themselves, we put down a concentration by 13 batteries on the west flank of the river and walked it back. The next morning we counted 657 Japanese in there.


The night of November 12 was really the turning point of the whole show. The Japanese were making a major effort. They had concentrated up in Rabaul and the Shortland Islands; and also, coming down from Truk, they had from 20 to 40 merchant ships and a sizable fleet, together with 2 carriers. Their striking force for bombardment, with which they hoped to duplicate the October show, came in and was met in a very memorable battle, which almost reminded you of the days of John Paul Jones. The leading destroyer of our fleet opened up on a Japanese destroyer at 200 yards on the port bow. *** The Japanese broke away. ***

For an hour after our ships had broken off, the Japanese were firing at each other.

The next morning, 11 transports appeared. (Our morning search-and-strike had been warned they were on the way down.) We combined a search-and-strike, and fanned out and found 11. The Southwest Pacific air arm had sunk one ship off the Shortland Islands on the way down. They had a full division, some corps troops, a full headquarters staff, and some extra regiments.

By noon, 4 of the 11 transports were sunk. By afternoon, three of the others were burning fiercely and were dead in the water. The other four were burning. The dive-bombers just ran a shuttle service from Henderson Field to the transport group, with our Grummans and P-39's acting as escort. Just as fast as they could get back and fuel and re-arm, they took off again. Those boys worked like nobody has ever worked before, to my knowledge; and certainly they did a splendid job.

That night a U.S. Navy task force came through, and much to the surprise of the Japanese it included two battleships. The opening salvo *** landed on a Japanese battleship, and the thing disintegrated. It was a marvelous sight to see. I had a grandstand ticket for which I paid nothing, sitting up on my observation hills, watching it. The *** put another battleship out so that it could not go more than 5 knots an hour, and we sank two or three cruisers and some destroyers.

The next morning the enemy battleship was lying just north of Guadalcanal between Florida and Savo Islands, and our dive-bombers went out after it. The more they went at it, the madder they got. They hit it with 1,000-pound bombs, and our torpedo planes put their torpedoes in it. At dusk it was still there, though nobody was on it. The next morning she wasn't there; ***.


I won't give you a day-by-day account of our air fights. We went in on the 7th, and the field was 90 percent completed. *** It took us 10 days to complete the strip so it could take light craft -- the Grummans and the dive-bombers. A week later the P-40's and the P-39's came in. Daily, after the third day, for72 days the Japanese came down with their usual formation of 26 twin-engine high-altitude bombers. They fly a beautiful formation. They were rather inaccurate in their bombing, but I can assure you that nothing stopped them from coming for the first 10 days. They just kept on coming, they had the air to themselves, and they came over and dropped them. When our planes got there, we were very fortunate in being able to knock down a number of Japanese planes -- 541 to be exact.

Our antiaircraft consisted of 90-mm's, plus the lighter 20's, 37's, and 40's. Our antiaircraft knocked out 48 planes. I watched them one day knock out 6, and the Japanese closed in just like it was a parade formation, and kept on coming. They dropped their bombs.

As a little digression, one day after we had been bombed for about 40 days, we got word that this bomber formation was on its way down and we thought that, "Well, this is one time we up here in the jungle are not going to get hit." For there were some 12 of our merchant ships out there in the roadstead. We felt very sorry for the ships -- we knew they were going to get it. However, somebody had told the Japs at Rabaul that they were to bomb Henderson Field, and they paid no more attention to those ships than if they weren't there. The bombers came right along and dropped them in the same old place on Henderson Field. This is just an idea as to how they work.

When our P-39's joined us -- one squadron of them -- they proved themselves to be invaluable as ground-strafing planes. We used them constantly on ground installations and they proved most valuable.

We were most fortunate towards the end to get a squadron of P-38's. They could get upstairs so fast. When we moved towards the west our air support was splendid.

I would like to say here that it is most difficult in jungle country for air reconnaissance to give you any valuable aid as to ground installations which are in dense jungle.


Prior to our landing, we sent our intelligence officer over to Australia. The Australians gave us what they had in the way of maps (which was practically nothing). We had one strip map that went about 500 yards inland and had been taken on a day when there were clouds around -- and when you would get nice blank spaces with a picture of the clouds. We were to get additional photographs dropped on us on our way up. We got one -- which did help out materially. It was of Tulagi. In that section there are practically no maps available; and, unless you do have constant aerial reconnaissance and pictures, you are going it blind. We were very fortunate on Tulagi. We met with very little resistance; and therefore the lack of maps and photographs was not such a handicap as it would have been under other conditions.


I will just give you a brief sketch of the landing. We were very fortunate on our approach day in having a very low ceiling, without a break in it. So we arrived off Savo Island without the enemy knowing we were there. At that place, the Tulagi support group went to the north of the island, and the Guadalcanal force to the south. As we approached, the opening shot was fired just off Lunga Point. A Zero float plane took off with a cold engine and flew directly at the Australia, the flag ship of the Australian cruisers. It was knocked out by broadside guns when within about 300 yards of the ship. Just at that time our dive-bombers came over and destroyed 18 float planes in the Tulagi area, and in addition destroyed 2 four-engine Japanese Navy flying boats.

The Tulagi landing was first. It was preceded by a naval gun bombardment which took the forward slopes of the hills, supported simultaneously by the dive-bombers taking the reverse slopes. It was a regimental landing, battalions in column. They landed without losing a man. They made for high ground, straddled the ridge, and turned east where the major installations of the Japanese were, throwing in a block to the west to hold whatever was there. I can assure you it was rather rough as they worked their way down through jungle country, against defenses of machine-gun nests supported by mortars.

The Japanese took to the caves and the dugouts that they had built, and tried to defend from there. We tried to drive them out of there with hand grenades, which they immediately threw back to us. When that didn't work, we tied TNT onto sticks and threw that in with a fuse. The men held them as long as they could and then threw them into the caves.

On Gavutu, which was 2 hours later, the Japanese took to the caves first but they had a good machine-gun defense of the island. We lost quite a few men there; and it goes to show that if they have enough head protection you cannot shoot them out with naval gunfire, nor can you bomb them out with aerial bombs. On Gavutu the commander, being rather air-minded, had 57 feet of rock over most of the dugouts. They were dug right into the mountains and hills.

In Guadalcanal there was not much opposition, as I said -- and our air support over there, every time they had to go back to refuel, would ask for a target. We told them to drop them on Gavutu. So, in addition to getting the bombardment scheduled for it, Gavutu also got practically all of that scheduled for Guadalcanal. Yet, according to a Japanese prisoner's statement, there were only three people killed either by artillery or by ships' gunfire on that island. They were stunned, yes, but they were able to work their machine guns when the landing came off. Gavutu was pure and simple assault. The island was small. It had to be taken in a rush; and that was the way it was taken; and they were eventually driven out of their dugouts as they were driven out on Tulagi.

On Guadalcanal, the ships' guns put down a bombardment on the beach, and, as the assault boats approached the beach, the ships' guns left off. When the leading wave was within 300 yards of the beach, the aerial bombardment lifted. The scheme of maneuver there was to land regiments in column, the leading regiment to seize the beachhead which was 5 miles east of Lunga point, and the second regiment to pass through and attack -- the idea being to get behind the Japanese in an endeavor to keep them from getting to the mountains. It went off as planned, with no opposition. They moved -- and then the regiment which formed the beachhead moved up the beach, and another one came up the hills on the flank. That going was very dense. *** We arrived at Henderson Field the next morning at 10 o'clock.

The Japanese thought, according to the prisoners that we took, that it was an air-and-sea raid; and they had been instructed on Guadalcanal that in event of air-and-sea raids they were to leave the vicinity of the field, go to the jungle, and not come back until the ships left. When they came back, of course, we were there.


The first real opposition of any kind that we met on Guadalcanal was when the Japanese Commando battalion of a thousand or twelve hundred men landed south of Henderson Field one night from two cruisers and six destroyers, and made a direct drive at the field right down the beach. Evidently their intelligence was poor or they thought very well of themselves; or perhaps there was a combination of the two. When they hit the Tenaru River, which was 15 feet deep except at the mouth, they tried to force the mouth of this river across a sand-spit in a mass rush. Our 37's loaded with cannister stopped that. We put artillery down on them and then sent a battalion down from the south and pushed them toward the sea. Then, when they were down on the beach line where it was open, we sent a company of tanks down their flank. We accounted for 670 of that Commando Group in that one location, and the next day 156 washed up from the sea.

*** On the night of the 14th and 15th of October, a Japanese regiment had cut their way around the field. This unit was equipped with scaling ropes every three men had one. They cut in and attacked from the south at the junction of the *** Marines and the *** Regiment [Army], with the *** Regiment taking the brunt of the attack. There was a double-apron wire around there. The attacking battalions thought they had gotten through all the wire because their pictures did not show the other apron we had in the jungle -- just on the edge of it. So, when they got through the outer apron, they rose up and with that Banzai of theirs, which they had thought would do half of the work for them, they charged. They were caught on the second apron, and 1,200 of them were knocked out with machine guns and remained at that place.


I would like to give you, for what it is worth, what we who were there feel that we learned as to what is necessary for a landing force. In the first place, I don't believe that any landing against opposition is in anyway feasible unless you have an umbrella of air over you which can protect your transports, your surface ships, and your ground troops in landing. There has got to be the closest coordination and the closest timing between the bombardment of the ships' guns, and the lifting of the ships' gunfire and the picking it up by the air. For, there is a little space in there where you cannot have ships' gunfire support, because of the flat trajectory, and where your assault waves are approaching the beach -- and unless somebody keeps that beach defense down, it will be rather costly.

I want to say along that line that in this instance the bombardment was beautifully coordinated by the naval air and the naval surface ships; and that from the time a battalion commander called for a concentration on a certain locality by air to the time that the concentration was delivered, it was in one instance exactly 3 1/2 minutes -- which is very good going.

I would like to say a few words about the types of planes we felt should accompany a landing force in the South Pacific Theater of Operations. Because of the type of ground we have there, and the type of islands that we have to deal with, the planes must be light aircraft capable of operating from small fields. They must be aircraft that can operate on a reasonable fuel supply.

We had some difficulties along that line. All of our fuel had to be brought in, unloaded into small boats, and then taken ashore. It was unloaded from small boats across open beach, or onto finger docks which we constructed out of palm trees and other material we had. It was then hauled to dumps, and then put into our gas carriers by hand pumps. *** All of that gas had to be man-handled in 50-gallon drums. The first storage tanks went into commission just about the first week in December. When we staged the B-17's through, they took a tremendous supply of gas, which we had to handle by hand in that manner. *** Our major labor question there was handling the gas. The sooner that you can get bulk storage into a place, the better it will be for everyone concerned. ***


These Japanese opinions on American tactics are derived from U.S. Navy sources. The Japanese based these opinions on operations in the Philippines and the fighting on Guadalcanal up to November 1942. It should be noted how strongly the Japanese emphasize the importance of infantry shock action. This is not shock action as we think of it; rather, their concept is limited to the carrying of a position with the bayonet. The emphasis is on the individual soldier, rather than the unit and the coordinated action of all arms. It will be interesting to note what changes, if any, the Japanese may make in their tactics as the result of their defeats in New Guinea and Guadalcanal.

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American troops on Guadalcanal consist of a main body of Marines, whose quality in character and equipment is the pride of the American forces. With them are cooperating some Army troops and Army and Navy air forces. Although the Army forces will probably be reinforced in the future, it is estimated that the Marines will still be the backbone of their forces.

Judging by the results of the fighting up until now, the information set forth in the "Material for Study on American Tactics" just about hit the nail on the head.

The following investigates the results of their usual methods of fighting, especially in the light of past fighting on this battlefield [Guadalcanal], and will be used as a reference in the next operation.

NOTE: With regard to land warfare, this report is chiefly compiled on the basis of Army combat.


The organization and equipment of the Marine force are as given in the Table of Organization and Equipment of the American Marine Division and the American Marine Force Independent Battalion, compiled by the General Staff Office in August 1942. For more on equipment and weapons, see the Army Technical Headquarters reference book.

CHARACTER (from official reports on the national characteristics of the American people).

(1) National unity is fairly strong.

(2) They like novelty and are adventurous.

(3) They are good at every sort of technique. [It is believed the Japanese mean "good in all technical matters."]

(4) Although they are given to discussion, they possess practicality. However, they take a lot of time.

(5) Although they are optimistic, they lack perseverance.

(6) The American soldier, without support of firepower, is easily overcome and in combat is easily made to throw up his hands and surrender. If wounded, he immediately raises a cry of distress, etc. He lacks hand-to-hand fighting ability and spiritual strength. However, with the support of firepower, he acts fairly aggressively.


(1) Marksmanship is generally good.

(2) Hand-to-hand fighting ability is extremely poor.

(3) Night actions are inexpertly carried out.

(4) Communication technique is excellent.

(5) Reconnaissance and security patrol training is very inadequate; however, their reconnaissance aviation is generally all right.

(6) Air-ground liaison is good.

(7) The training of artillery and their method of using it are generally good.

(8) They are skillful in operating tanks and automobiles.


(1) They subscribe to the principle that fire-power is everything, and their tactics are marked by a strong tinge of position warfare.

(2) They distribute their forces in great depth.

(3) They neglect the power of cold steel (i.e., sword and bayonet).

(4) Their flanks and rear are particularly sensitive. It is said that many times, even when only small units or patrols are on their flanks or in their rear, they have lost calmness of command [literal translation] and their actions have been hampered.


Even though we may say that the enemy is on the offensive, unless they have a complete faith in their material strength, especially their artillery superiority, they have a tendency not to attack. To judge by the enemy's landing on Guadalcanal and his advance to the west in the last 10 days of September, the advance of his first-line units is begun only after considerable pressure has been placed on us by ground strafing by the air force or by the fire of heavy guns. The distance they will advance at one time is limited to the range at which the main artillery force can support them from the rear. Further advance is begun after the artillery is displaced forward and preparations completed. Ordinarily the attacking forces advance during the daytime, accompanied by trench mortars and supported by artillery and aircraft. At night they generally remain at rest in the position where sunset finds them.

There is a tendency for the main body to keep close to both sides of roads and not utilize the jungle, except for small forces and patrols. If they stop and do not move out for a day or two, they construct light wire entanglements.


Although they make it a principle to destroy the enemy in front of the main line of resistance of a defensive position, they also advocate active counterattacks within the positions. [The Japanese principle of defense is to give with the blow, let the attacking enemy become disorganized by his advance, and then counterattack in force.]

In front of and within their positions, they prepare thorough concentrations of firepower, especially that of trench mortars and artillery, and they use ammunition abundantly. Furthermore, in not a few cases, the troops holding the position fell back and then artillery fire was concentrated in the area they had evacuated. Also, artillery fire concentrations are laid down in the jungle in front of the positions. There are units that have received heavy casualties on this account. It seems that they carry out test firing beforehand at each place. [This must mean registration fire. It is amazing to find a remark like this. It shows a remarkable lack of appreciation, on the part of the Japanese, of the capabilities and limitations of artillery. This has been intimated by other sources.]

They install microphones in front of and within positions, and utilize mobile artillery-observation stations to perceive our approach so that fire may be concentrated on our force. The "mikes" are gray in color and of large type, in large leather cases. They are installed at the roots of trees, etc. The wires are black insulated wire.

Their airplanes, particularly fighters, reconnoiter and make bombing and strafing attacks, and act very aggressively. As the fighters carry out their strafing and bombing at low altitudes by diving, there are frequent opportunities to shoot them down when infantry units can carry out AA firing.

Their forward units sometimes use a successive resistance. [Probably means delaying actions.]

For security to the front of their positions, they send out forces about the size of a platoon and generally avoid posting sentries in small groups, with the result that there are many gaps. The security measures in the position itself are also insufficient, and it often happens during a battle that our patrols stumble upon enemy positions and find AA gun positions, provisions, dumps, etc. On account of their not posting observers in front of the positions, the attackers [i.e., Japanese] sometimes, contrary to what might be expected, suddenly and without warning come in contact with the main position and receive unexpected losses.

Although their counterattacks are not vigorous, they sometimes execute them against our flanks and rear at very short distances in front of their positions. However, they don't use cold steel (bayonets).


Their wire entanglements consist of roof-shaped and net-shaped entanglements, and low wire entanglements, and are constructed over the whole front of the position. Although there are three or four bands of wire at important points, there are also light entanglements of about three strands of barbed wire. Empty cans and so forth are fastened to the wires. Electrically charged wire entanglements have not yet been observed.

Pillboxes are chiefly covered machine-gun positions, and are deployed in depth every 200 or 300 yards along the front. Many log ones have been used, but as yet none of the concrete type have been observed for certain.

At present the enemy is burning back the jungle here and there to clear the field of fire, establishing more covered machine-gun positions, and constructing other installations so the positions will be made increasingly stronger.


Withdrawal from the field is carried out under the protection of the main artillery force. When in a coastal area, they use landing boats a great deal.


They fire actively at night, especially trench mortars, and where preparation has been made, the fire has considerable effect. They almost never make night attacks.


Extremely few patrols are sent out, and when they execute a reconnaissance mission, it is generally with a platoon or a larger force, and almost like a reconnaissance in force. The afternoon of September 24, about 100 of the enemy appeared in the vicinity of the OKA Force's observation post and ran into some of our people who were cooking. They were scouting in preparation for the advance which the enemy made several days later in the vicinity of the Matanika River.

They carry out vigorous air reconnaissance. They execute especially thorough strafing and bombing attacks when they spot the smoke of our cooking fires, or when our soldiers are moving in the open.


Their tanks traverse almost any kind of terrain; however, their action is independent, and there should be many opportunities to take advantage of this.

Automobiles are used everywhere in large numbers, and are used even off the roads.


(1) In many cases our attacks on positions are ineffective without organized fire support. Even a night attack must have a thorough artillery preparation, and we should not hesitate to use firepower support forces. [The composition of these "firepower support forces" is probably battalion and regimental infantry guns, 37-mm antitank guns, mortars, and machine guns: in other words, the infantry heavy weapons. The Japanese have a tendency to neglect proper use of these, placing their dependence on the maneuver and "cold steel."]

(2) In infantry fighting at close quarters, crawling forward and utilizing dead ground has many advantages.

(3) The terrain of the battlefield is generally hilly; on high ground are mostly grassy plains, and in the low places there is jungle. In the jungle we can conceal our intentions, but it is extremely difficult to maintain direction there, so it is necessary to make careful plans and preparations beforehand, and to gain and maintain complete control of the unit.

(4) It is difficult to determine (in the jungle) where one is and where the objective of the attack is; therefore, it is necessary for commanding officers of all units to have a complete knowledge of the locality, the route of attack, etc.

(5) Effective shelling is often received in the jungle in front of the enemy positions, and there have been cases where this disorganized the ranks and ultimately rendered a charge impossible. The commanding officer must give special attention to the control of his force.

(6) Search out the "mike" positions, and at a predesignated time destroy them simultaneously, taking care to cut the wires.

(7) Since the enemy reacts very quickly to our artillery fire, we should establish artillery positions everywhere, and by utilizing dummy positions, smoke, etc., confuse the enemy and make him waste his shells. In not a few cases, the skillful establishment of false positions at the front and flanks of important points occupied by the infantry in the face of the enemy has been attended with great success.

(8) While preparing the attack, full attention should be given to the supply and concentration of ammunition, provisions, water, and so forth.

(9) If we close with their firepower [Translator's note: This phrase may also be translated "closely allied with firepower."], our cold steel still has a decisive force and the enemy fears it greatly.

(10) Considering the difficulties of the terrain, unusual amounts of exertion and time must be expended in the preparation for the attack.

(11) As the health situation is not good, the men must not be allowed to catch cold while they sleep.

(12) In case you stay rather long in one place, air-raid trenches must be dug, without fail. If the earthworks are completed, any sort of concentrated fire, or bombing, can be withstood without great loss.

(13) During the day, smoke from cooking fires is absolutely forbidden. In case of cooking at night, you must not allow firelight to show.


To sum up, the enemy's military preparations may be said to be built on a framework of a materialistically organized firepower, with the benefits of air activity added. They are never seen to maintain any particular fighting power, and although they are at present exerting themselves in the extreme and strengthening their positions, if we make especially thorough preparations, prepare our fighting strength to deal hammerlike blows against the enemy, concentrate on using all sorts of original plans, and carry them out with a flourishing aggressive spirit, our success in the present operation is certainly beyond doubt.


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