Guadalcanal: Henderson Field
So . . . it wasn't a trap. The Japanese were initially stunned by the landing and attack on the island.
Taking advantage of the initial panic and retreat, the Marines quickly pressed forward a mile inland, and captured the unfinished air strip. From then on, the air base would be know as Henderson field. Immediately after it was captured, construction battalions began work to finish the airfield for the arrival of the Marine Air units, which would support the Guadalcanal operation.
It didn't take the Japanese long to see the threat caused by the Americans, and Japanese bombers and fighters from Rabaul, over 500 miles to the west, were on their way to storm the beachhead. Fortunately for the American troops, Navy fighter from the three carriers were able to drive the enemy off. However, as a result of this, the American Naval fliers faced heavy losses.
For many months following, the Marine's hold on Henderson Field would remain precarious. The Japanese were determined to drive the Americans back to the sea, and the Americans were just as determined not to go.
The Cactus Air Force
The Cactus Air Force was the name adopted by the Marine fliers at Henderson field. Many of these men and planes had been flown over from Pearl Harbor, taken to Henderson field by the carrier Long Island.
In the words of one of the marines present when they arrived on the island, "It looked so good to see something American circling in the sky over the airfield. It was like being alone, and the lights come on, and you've got friends from home in the same room with you." (Quote taken from the book The Conquering Tide by Ian Toll)
This small band of fliers would face many difficult days ahead. Though the carriers and their aircraft stayed around to help for a while, all too soon the ships left to avoid getting captured by the Japanese Navy. This left the small air force as the protectors of the island. Though, by now, the U.S. Army also had come to assist the Marines.
The fliers, planes, and commanders all played a crucial role in the capture and conquest of the island. And though it would still be many months before the battle was considered over, the men who were a part of the Cactus Air Force contributed to the eventual American victory more than they were ever given credit for.
Harold W. Bauer
(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 the research book United States Naval Fighters of WWII.
(Fun fact, this guy was born in Kansas. He gets extra bonus points for being amazing. xD)
Harold Bauer, known more commonly as Joe Bauer, entered the Naval Academy in 1926 and was appointed a Marine second lieutenant upon graduation in 1930. Bauer's two younger brothers also followed him into the Academy.
Following his commissioning, Bauer attended the Officers Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. He was then assigned as a company officer with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines at Quantico.
In 1932, he became assistant basketball and lacrosse coach at the Naval Academy and an instructor in marksmanship, until his assignment to the San Diego Naval Base, where he was the Assistant Range Officer. He was promoted to first lieutenant on May 29, 1934.
He was then assigned to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, in December 1934 where he earned his wings as a Marine aviator in February 1936. He was promoted to captain on June 30, 1937 and served with several squadrons at Quantico including Marine Scouting Squadron 1 (VMS-1) and Marine Fighting Squadron 1 (VMF-1). Bauer was transferred to the Naval Air Station San Diego, California, in June 1940 where he served as executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 221 (VMF-221). While stationed at San Diego, he participated in carrier group exercises on the USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3). The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor found Bauer and VMF-221 preparing to embark aboard the Saratoga for transport to Hawaii.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bauer and VMF-221 were transported to Hawaii and were slated to reinforce Wake Island, but were diverted to Midway after Wake fell. Transferred to Hawaii in February 1942, Bauer took command of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Eleven, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, and on March 1, 1942 commissioned and took command of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Twelve (VMF-212). Promoted to Major on April 29, 1942, Bauer and VMF-212 were deployed to the South Pacific and were stationed at New Caledonia, and later Efate, Vanuatu. Although still the commanding officer of VMF-212, Bauer was also responsible for the operation of the airfield the squadron operated from and was utilized to select possible sites for additional airfields in the South Pacific. Bauer's promotion to lieutenant colonel, after only three months as a major, was effective
On September 28, 1942, Bauer performed the first feat cited for the Medal of Honor. His squadron was attacked by a superior force of Japanese planes. He engaged the enemy and shot down one of their bombers. Again attacking a superior force on October 3, 1942, he shot down four of the enemy and left a fifth badly damaged.
While leading a reinforcement flight on October 16, 1942, from Espirito Santo, Vanuatu to Guadalcanal, 600 miles (970 km) away, Bauer was about to land at Henderson Field when he noticed a squadron of Japanese planes attacking the USS McFarland (DD-237) offshore. Though the long flight from Espirito Santo had almost exhausted his fuel and he knew no friendly planes were able to assist him, he immediately proceeded alone to attack the enemy and succeeded in destroying four of them before lack of gasoline forced him to return to Henderson Field.
On November 14, 1942, he was shot down over water after downing two enemy aircraft in an attack 100 miles (160 km) off Guadalcanal. He was seen in the water in his Mae West water flotation device as light was fading. He did not appear to be seriously hurt. The following morning began days of intense searching by planes and Russell Island natives, but no further trace of him was found.
The squadron under his command at Guadalcanal was officially credited with downing 92 Japanese planes and helping to sink two destroyers. Lieutenant Colonel Bauer was commended for his action in the South Pacific by commanders of Army, Navy and Marine Corps units including Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., then Commander of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force.
Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila, Vanuatu is named in his honor.
And . . . that's it for today's post! Are you guys enjoying this mini-series so far? Come back next week for the third and final installment!