Guadalcanal: The Lost Soul of The Pacific

In 1568, the first voyage of Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira of Spain, resulted in the expedition and discovery of the Solomon Islands. Initially, the expedition was put together in search for Terra Australis, a hypothetical continent that was believed to lie below Australia. It appeared on maps from the fifteenth century through to the eighteenth century and further research has shown that it was the region known today, as Oceania. Guadalcanal was named by Pedro de Ortega Valencia, a member of the voyage, in homage to his hometown of Guadalcanal, in Seville, Spain and this was verified in 1932. The name Guadalcanal means ‘Valley of the Stalls’ or ‘River of Stalls’ which referred to the refreshment stalls that were set up during the Muslim rule of Andalusia.

After the European settlers and missionaries began to arrive in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British Solomon Islands Protectorate was proclaimed in 1893. Germany was the first Empire to claim a Protectorate over the Northern Solomons following an Anglo-German Treaty of 1886. The British followed, claiming the Southern Solomons in 1893. The Samoa Tripartie Convention of 1899 established, that by surrendering all rights in Samoa, the United Kingdom ‘obtained extensive compensation from Germany elsewhere’. The UK became the sole Protectorate of the Solomon Islands. The agreements made at this treaty remained until the outbreak of WWI.

Most infamously, Guadalcanal was the first battle for American troops in WWII. During the first six months of the Pacific War, Japan had conquered hundreds of thousands of land in the Pacific and the only way to ensure the progression and survival of the US in the war, was to set the precedent in this battle. The lifeline between the USA and Australia could have been cut if Japan had taken Guadalcanal, which meant that US Marines could have faced a brutal execution, as supplies were virtually non-existent. The first division of US Marines on Guadalcanal averaged around 19 years old, the first battle of the war, none were considered veterans and therefore many were inexperienced and faced with unimaginable conditions – both physical and mental.

However, one of the most positive pieces of information received was the Japanese were dumbfounded that the US had arrived on Guadalcanal in 1942. This provided the US Marines with an initial element of surprise and a short amount of time for the Japanese armies to organise troops and gear up for war. The expectation implied was that the US would have to go hard and fight their way into the jungles of Guadalcanal as the Japanese would come at them heavy – however, it was discovered that the majority of Japanese soldiers were ordinary labourers and not combat troops. Of the 2,800 enemy personnel on the island, around 2,200 were labourers. Nevertheless, quantity rather than quality appeared to be the trait required in a Japanese soldier as replenishing of weaponry, food and troops way outpaced the American capability of resupplying.

On the night of August 8th 1941, a day after the first division had arrived, the Naval battle for the control of waters around Guadalcanal commenced. US Marines overlooking the canal witnessed huge explosions between Japanese and US Navy and from their viewpoint, there was no way of knowing who was winning. The result was obvious when the following morning, the Navy were nowhere to be seen on the coast of Guadalcanal, it had become evident they had lost huge numbers at sea and the Marines who were relying on the Navy for supplies, ammo and troops, were left alone to fight. The seas around the coast of Guadalcanal have become a massive tourist site as the largest number of Japanese ships was sunk in these waters and provide for the most interesting diving experience.

The Japanese, now controlling the seas and the skies over Guadalcanal, were relentless with their bombing of the island. At least two or three times a day without fail, the Japanese army would bomb the US Marines and there was very little the troops on the ground could do about it. Ground fighting began on August 21st 1942. The Japanese army had arrived on the beach and waiting for them across the coastline, were the first division marines. The Japanese Colonel thought that a small outpost of US Marines would meet them and that he was going to be able to run straight through them. A slight underestimate on his behalf led to the decimation of that particular branch of the Japanese army.

When morning arrived and the Marines witnessed the Japanese bodies all over the beaches, fear began to set in. It was widely speculated that as this was only their first encounter with Japanese soldiers, what would the rest of their time on the island be like. Their survival rates were also a point of interest when they realised that firstly, the average Japanese soldier was not going to surrender and secondly, the average Japanese soldier that was thought to be attempting to surrender, was in fact trying to take one last American with him. This first ground battle was to set the precedent for the rest of the battle.

The turning point in the war came on October 24th and the actions of John Basilone, awarded the Medal of Honour for his services to his country on the island of Guadalcanal. The Japanese had tried and failed to counterattack. On this night in 1942, from around midnight to dawn, the Japanese pushed forward around five or six times in small bursts, not an entire battalion; a fatal tactic on the behalf of the Japanese, a life-saving and battle-changing result on the behalf of the first division, as this formation made it easier for the Marines to pick the Japanese off one by one, with rifles and machine guns.

On December 9th 1942, the first marines left the island. The first division was on Guadalcanal from August 7th 1942 to December 22nd 1942. It was going to take a long time for the marines to rehabilitate and set the standard for the rest of the war, indicating that it would be anything but easy as they were fighting an enemy who would never appear to surrender. Victory on the island was declared in February 1943 and despite the loss of over 3,000 marines, they had managed to stop the enemy’s sweep of aggression. This battle was a beacon of hope to America for the future. It proved that the axis powers were mortal and could be defeated even under the conditions of adversity

More than fifty years after the end of WWII, Guadalcanal entered into a civil war in 1999. Tensions between the local people and migrants from the neighbouring island of Malaita had eventually erupted into violence. The Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army began terrorising the Malaitans in the rural areas of the island, the areas in which the Japanese soldiers and US Marines fought only decades previously, forcing the jungle, once again, to give way to gunfire and hostility. Around 20,000 Malaitans fled to the capital of Honiara, causing the Gwale residents of Honiara to flee leaving the city to become Malaitan territory, where their Eagle Forced took over the government. After the involvement of Australian and New Zealand forces, the Townsville Peace Agreement was signed in 2000 by both the Eagle Force and the Revolutionary Army (later Freedom Movement), and peace was restored.

Beginning with the Battle of Guadalcanal, the island has seen much disturbance and this has filtered through and affected its inhabitants. From the civil war at the turn of the century, to the riots in 2006 regarding the general election which resulted in the creation of RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands after their never-ending conflicts after achieving independence. Guadalcanal has a lot of history that has only been created in the past century and this, possibly, has been too much for an island of only 85,000 inhabitants, to process.

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2 thoughts on “Guadalcanal: The Lost Soul of The Pacific

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. I completely agree. It’s most definitely morally dubious – but unfortunately necessary and successful in stopping the spread of evil in this world.

      Thank you very much, glad you liked it.

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