Friday, May 12, 2017

Operation: Guadalcanal - Part 1

Guadalcanal: Introduction

Early June, 1942 

Hello all, and welcome to the first post in the Operation: Guadalcanal blog series! Right now, the plan is to have three parts. A bit of an introduction to the island and the war in this post, next week's will have the battle over Henderson Field and the final post will be on the battle of Guadalcanal. So, are you ready to join me? Awesome! 


By late June/early July, the American Navy was in a bit of a precarious position. The battle at Midway, taking place the first few days of June, had sent the aircraft carriers back to the docks for repair. While the men enjoyed some shore leave, the Pacific commanders consisting of Admiral King (Commander in Chief, United States Fleet), Admiral Nimtz (Commander in chief, United States Pacific Fleet), and General MacArthur(Chief of Staff of the planned the next offensive.

Why is General MacArthur listed above? Well, the invasion of Guadalcanal was going to be an amphibious assault, and would consist of not only the navy, but U.S. Marine and Army troops as well. Such cooperation between the branches of the military was almost unheard of, and none of the commanders were too happy about it. Problem was, the Navy couldn't do it alone. Neither could the army. And for the first time since the war had begun, they had to depend on one another.

But why Guadalcanal?

On the island, there was a group called the Coastwatchers. This consisted of an Australian man and a group of native who monitored the coast, and sent reports back to the U.S. high command.
Their latest report had transmitted to the U.S. command that the Japanese were building an airfield and runway on the island. This was a concern to the U.S, because whoever controlled the islands also controlled the shipping lanes to Australia.

That helped to decide the matter. The first landing and U.S. offensive of the war would be at Guadalcanal.


They date was set for August first. However, it didn't take long before the decision to delay a week was made. Various uncontrollable delays got in the way, and it was rescheduled for the seventh.

Task force 61 set out for Guadalcanal on July 22nd, 1942, consisting of the carriers U.S.S Enterprise, and the U.S.S. Saratoga, and their accompanying battleships, cruisers, transports, fleet oilers, and cargo vessels. They made good time speeding across the Pacific, and were ready to begin the operations right on schedule.
On August sixth, it was time to put the first part of the plan into action. Carrier fighters were launched before dawn and they made their way to the island and began strafing runs over the unfinished airfields. Dive bombers, also from the Enterprise, and Saratoga, planted bombs in marked enemy targets just inside the shoreline.

When they were finished, it was the Destroyer's turn. as August 7th dawned, they began blasting the landing beaches. This went on for several hours as the Marine forces made their way from the ships into landing craft, and at last, onto the island.
As the first boat touched the sand, the guns fell silent, and an eerie stillness settled over everything.

And nothing happened. For the next several hours, the island was quite and peaceful. None of the attacks that had been expected. Some of the men were uneasy. Could it have somehow be a trap?

Come back next week to find out. ;) 

Unknown Hero

James Southerland

(All information below taken from Wikipedia. I cross referenced with different sources, and found it all to be true. In fact, the first place I read about him was in a research book.) 

James Julien "Pug" Southerland II (October 28, 1911 – October 12, 1949) was a United States Navy fighter pilot during World War II. He was an ace, being credited with five victories (some accounts say seven), flying Grumman F4F Wildcats. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

At the beginning of the Battle of Guadalcanal, August 7, 1942, American forces shelled Guadalcanal and neighboring Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Soon after the attack began, 27 Japanese bombers and an escort of 17 fighters took off from Rabaul, Japan's stronghold and strategic base in the South Pacific. Their mission was to bomb the ships that were supporting the American attack.

Lieutenant Southerland commanded a group of eight American Wildcats aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga as a part of VF-5. Due to planning errors and the loss of planes to a recent training exercise, this was the only fighter cover available to patrol the landing area. Southerland (flying Wildcat F-12) and his flight took off to intercept the Japanese bombers before they could reach the American ships.

Southerland shot down the first Japanese aircraft of the Guadalcanal campaign, a G4M1 "Betty" bomber of the 4th Kōkūtai, under the command of Shizuo Yamada. After shooting down a second bomber, Southerland was engaged in a dogfight with an A6M2 "Zero", piloted by Yamazaki Ichirobei of the Tainan Kōkūtai. He lined up the Zero in his sights only to find his guns would not fire, probably due to damage from fire by the tailgunner from the second bomber he had downed.

Although he was now defenseless, Southerland had to stay in the fight. Two more Zeros engaged him, as Kakimoto Enji and Uto Kazushi joined Yamazaki's assault, but he successfully outmaneuvered all three of them. Southerland analyzed their tactics. Two fighters worked their runs from opposite flanks, while the third waited to take its turn. He coolly and carefully executed his defensive maneuvers. The dogfight was spotted by Saburo Sakai. Sakai also joined the battle. These Zeros finally shot down Southerland's Wildcat. 
Yamazaki, Uto and Sakai shared Southerland's Grumman kill. 

Southerland later wrote:

My plane was in bad shape but still performing nicely in low blower, full throttle, and full low pitch. Flaps and radio had been put out of commission...The after part of my fuselage was like a sieve. She was still smoking from incendiary but not on fire. All of the ammunition box cover on my left wing were gone and 20mm explosives had torn some gaping holes in its upper surface...My instrument panel was badly shot up, goggles on my forehead had been shattered, my rear view mirror was broken, my plexiglass windshield was riddled. The leak proof tanks had apparently been punctured many times as some fuel had leaked down into the bottom of the cockpit even though there was no steady leakage. My oil tank had been punctured and oil was pouring down my right leg.At this time a zero making a run from the port quarter put a burst in just under the left wing root and good old 5-F-12 finally exploded. I think the explosion occurred from gasoline vapor. The flash was below and forward of my left foot. I was ready for it...Consequently I dove over the right side just aft immediately, though I don't remember how.

As Southerland bailed out of his doomed Wildcat, his .45 caliber automatic pistol caught in the cockpit. He managed to free himself, but lost his pistol, leaving him weaponless, wounded, and alone behind enemy lines. Suffering from eleven wounds, shock and exhaustion, Southerland struggled through the brush, carefully evading Japanese soldiers. He finally reached the coast, where he was found by some natives, who at the risk of their own lives, fed him and treated his wounds. With their assistance, he eluded Japanese ground forces and returned to American lines. Southerland was evacuated from Guadalcanal on the first patrol boat to land at Henderson Field, on August 20, 1942.


Well, that wraps up today's post! What are your thoughts? Did you enjoy it? Was it a bit too long? Any questions? Let me know! :) 


  1. I found this very interesting! I learned so much. Thanks, Jesseca! :) You have a wealth of knowledge. ;)

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Bethany! :) You're welcome! Hehe, not sure about that, but I do so enjoy learning and sharing with others! :)

  2. That was really interesting! I especially liked the part about Southerland. That's an incredible story!

    1. So glad you found it to be so!! :) Ah, I know, isn't it?! I love it to much! All the stories of these guys most people don't know of are just... incredible!