The largely overlooked Guadalcanal Island in the Solomon Island chain held little to no value for most prior to the Pacific War of World War 2 and its importance came to bear during the period of Japanese expansion which threatened overall stability in the region. To the south, Australia was attempting to prevent all-out invasion from the Japan, a power whose reach began to encompass more than was deemed comfortable for the island nation. Additionally, the United States maintained several key interests in the region and was also an ally to Australia. As such, forces from the United States and the British Royal Navy, as well as Commonwealth participants, all attempted to stem the tide of Japanese aggression. Guadalcanal would now become an important staging area for both sides.
Should the Japanese maintain control of the island, they would construct an airfield suitable for fighters and bombers that could target the Australian mainland in preparation for an all-out ground invasion. Additionally, this forward staging area could be used by the Japanese Army and Navy to harass, and ultimately disrupt, vital shipping lanes between the United States and Australia in effect placing a stranglehold on the island.
Conversely, American control of Guadalcanal could net an important forward airfield to bring the fight to the enemy. It became important for the U.S. Navy and Marines and their allies to secure the region island-by-island in what became known as "Island Hopping". This step-by-step doctrine would ensure that the Allies could bring a much more coordinated and fully-backed response against a determined foe.
By May of 1942, the Japanese forces in the Solomons had increased to considerable numbers. Australian reconnaissance showed additional forces beginning construction of an airfield at Guadalcanal and, upon receiving the word of the Japanese intent, American General Douglas MacArthur recognized the danger and acted quickly.
Having played mostly on the defensive up to this point in the Pacific War, American forces - led by the U.S. Marines and supported by the U.S. Navy - landed on Guadalcanal on August 7th, 1942. In all, some 19,000 Marines were sent ashore at points near Lunga Point and Tulagi. Virtually unopposed, the Marines secured the airfield under construction and killed, captured. or drove away the Japanese defenders. Some 1,500 Japanese soldiers at Tulagi were also killed. With the airfield in American control, the field was christened "Henderson Field" by its new owners. The first of thirty-one aircraft, this a Grumman F4F "Wildcat" fighter, landed on the field during August 20th. Wildcats were later joined by Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers and these aircraft formed vital air cover needed to retain control of the airfield.
On August 18th, a Japanese ground force numbering about 6,000 attempted to storm the airfield and retake it. In their way stood 2,000 determined Marines utilizing whatever defense they could. Against a fanatical Japanese enemy, the Marines made short work of the waves of soldiers attempting to break the defensive perimeter. By the end of it all, this Japanese force was completed annihilated.
Despite further attempts to fortify their forces near and around Guadalcanal, the Japanese suffered mounting losses. Of the 8,000 troops landed on September 13th, 1,200 of these were killed in one night of fighting. Reinforcement from the Japanese mainland soon took its toll on the Marines but their ranks numbered 22,000 to 23,000 men plus several thousand reinforcements at Tulagi. Allied forces were funneled to the island by way of Australia.
Japanese battlecruisers attempted a bombardment of the airfield that largely succeeded in destroying aircraft, exploding fuel stores, and cratering the airfield. However, their ground forces failed, yet again, to overtake the defenders and suffered thousands more casualties.
After a failed delivery of 11,000 additional Japanese troops resulting in 6,000 being lost during transit as the transports were sunk by the Allies, the Marines now pressed against the remaining enemy. The defensive perimeter was widened considerably against a tired and beaten enemy. Losses soon became insurmountable for the Japanese to the point that, by January of 1943, the signal was given by high command to evacuate Guadalcanal. In the first week of February, 11,000 Japanese soldiers returned to friendly territory and left thousands of dead on the island. To add to Japanese losses in the battle, some 800 aircraft were either damaged or destroyed and at least 65 naval vessels were lost. By this time, American forces had increased to 50,000 ground troops further backed by warships and air cover. After the Japanese evacuation, American forces closed in on the remaining pockets of enemy to ensure a compete victory. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (29) entries in the Timeline of the Battle of Guadalcanal (August 7th, 1942 - February 9th, 1943). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.