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Battle of Guadalcanal Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 3/19/2015

The Battle of Guadalcanal prevented Japanese forces from establishing an all-important airfield in the Solomons.

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.


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There are a total of 24 Battle of Guadalcanal Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1941
Sunday
June 22nd

Operation Barbossa is put into effect - the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

1941
Sunday
June 29th

General Guderian's Panzergruppe 2 meets General Hoth's Panzergruppe 3 in Minsk.

1941
Sunday
June 29th

Russian army forces are encirlced at key cities across the Soviet Union.

1941
Tuesday
July 1st

Panzergruppe 2 and Panzergruppe 3 cross the Berezina River west of Minsk, heading towards Smolensk and Vitebsk.

1941
Thursday
July 3rd

Panzergruppe 2 and Panzergruppe 3 now form up as part of General Gunther von Kluge's 4th Panzer Army.

1941
Wednesday
July 9th

Soviet defenses at Brest-Litovsk, Bialystok, Volkovysk, Gorodishche and Minsk fall to the invading German Army.

1941
Wednesday
July 9th

Panzergruppe 3 continues north to Vitebsk.

1941
Wednesday
July 9th

Gurderian's army moves south towards Mogliev.

1941
Thursday
July 10th

Guderian's forces cross the Dniepr River 50 miles outside of Smolensk.

1941
Sunday
July 13th

Defenses across Smolensk are prepared under the direction of the Soviet 16th Army.

1941
Sunday
July 13th

The Soviet 19th Army makes its way into Smolensk.

1941
Sunday
July 13th

The Soviet 20th Army arrives in Smolensk.

1941
Wednesday
July 16th

Smolensk falls to the German 29th Motorized Division.

1941
Wednesday
July 16th

Panzergruppe 3 heads towards Yartsevo.

1941
Wednesday
July 16th

Marshal Timoshenko and his 4th and 13th Armies near the Sohz River counterattack the Germans at Smolensk.

1941
Tuesday
July 22nd

The Soviet counterattack at Smolensk is driven back by Guderian's forces.

1941
Tuesday
July 22nd

The German Army begins to encircled in Soviet Army pockets held up outside of Smolensk, Vitebsk and Mogilev.

1941
Thursday
July 17th

The German Army begins to tighten the noose around the encircled Soviet forces numbering some 25 divisions.

1941
Thursday
July 24th

The German encirclement of Soviet forces is completed.

1941
Tuesday
July 22nd

A Soviet offensive meant to break the German stranglehold fails due to poor coordination.

1941
Saturday
July 19th

A German High Command directive calls for the army to complete the destruction of Soviet forces around Smolensk and then head south to tackle forces in Kiev instead of marching on Moscow herself - this decision is viewed as the turning point to Germany's defeat in Russia.

1941
Tuesday
August 5th

The Soviet defense of Smolensk is obliterated and falls taking with it the end of the Soviet 16th and 20th Armies.

1941
Tuesday
August 5th

300,000 Soviet prisoners, 3,200 tanks and 3,100 artillery guns are captured by the Germans at Smolensk.

1941
Tuesday
August 5th

The drive to Smolensk nets a total of 600,000 Russian prisoners of war, 5,700 tanks and 4,600 artillery pieces.