Von Steuben was born in Magdeburg fortress where his father was an engineer lieutenant in the military in 1730. Most of his adolescent years were spent in Russia, but with his father at the age of 10, they returned to Germany. He was schooled in Breslau by Jesuits and by the age of 17…was a Prussian officer in the military. He was a member of an infantry unit and a staff officer in the Seven Years War, later being made a member of the General Staff serving in Russia periodically. His service was commendable enough that he was eventually given assignment with Frederick the Great’s headquarters.
His experiences as a General Staff member in the Prussian Army gave him a wealth of knowledge that heretofore was unheard of, even in the British and French armies of the period. His training would eventually bring to the American soldiers the technical knowledge necessary to create an army.
At the age of 33, in 1763, Steuben was discharged as a captain from the army, for reasons that are only speculative. The following year he received his “Baron” title when he became chamberlain at the Petty Court of Hohenzollern-Hechingen. He was the only courtier to accompany his incognito prince to France in 1771, hoping to borrow money. Failing to find funds, they returned to Germany in 1775, deeply in debt. Looking for work to reverse his fortunes, von Steuben tried employment in several foreign armies including Austria, Baden and France. He discovered that Benjmin Franklin was in Paris and that possibly, he could find work with the Continental Army in America.
Steuben traveled to Paris in the summer of 1777. As luck would have it, he was endorsed for service by the French Minister of War (Count de St. Germain) who fully realized the potential of an officer with Prussian General Staff training. Steuben was introduced to General Washington by means of a letter from Franklin as a “Lieutenant General in the King of Prussia’s service,” a certain exaggeration of his actual credentials. He was advanced travel funds and left Europe from Marseilles.
On September 26th, 1777, he reached Portsmouth, New Hampshire and by December 1st, was being extravagantly entertained in Boston. Congress was in York Pennsylvania, after being ousted from Philadelphia for the winter and on February 5, 1778, Steuben was with them.
They accepted his offer to volunteer, without pay for the time, and on the 23rd of the same month, Steuben was reporting for duty to General Washington at Valley Forge. Steuben did not speak English, but his French was such that he could communicate with some of the officers. Washington’s aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton as well as Nathanael Greene were a great help in this area. The two men assisted Steuben in drafting a training program for the soldiers which found approval with the Commander-in-Chief in March.
How did the men at Valley Forge become an army? Steuben began with a “model company,” a group of 100 chosen men and trained them…they in turn successively worked outward into each brigade. Steuben’s eclectic personality greatly enhanced his mystique.
He trained the soldiers, who at this point were greatly lacking in proper clothing themselves, in full military dress uniform, swearing and yelling at them up and down in German and French. When that was no longer successful, he recruited Captain Benjamin Walker, his French speaking aid to curse at them FOR HIM in English.
His instructions and methods have a familiar ring, nor is this strange when we consider that much of what is done today stems from his teachings. To correct the existing policy of placing recruits in a unit before they had received training, Von Steuben introduced a system of progressive training, beginning with the school of the soldier, with and without arms, and going through the school of the regiment. Each company commander was made responsible for the training of new men, but actually instruction was done by selected sergeants, the best obtainable.
Warfare in the Eighteenth Century was a comparitively simple matter, once the battle was joined. Combat was at close range, massed-fire melee, where rapidity of firing was of primary importance. Accuracy was little more than firing faster thatn the opposing line. Much of the Regulations dealt with the manual of arms and firing drills. But battle was close-order drill, and speed of firing could only be obtained by drilling men in the handling of their firearms until the motions of loading and firing were mechanical. Firing was done in eight counts and fifteen motions.
Fire! One Motion.
Half-Cock — Firelock! One Motion.
Handle — Cartridge! One Motion.
Prime! One Motion.
Shut — Pan! One Motion.
Charge with Cartridge! Two motions.
Draw — Rammer! Two motions.
Ram down — Cartridge! One Motion.
Return — Rammer! Two motions.
Complicated as they seem, the new firing regulations were much simpler than those used by foreign armies and they speeded up firing considerably. The bulk of the fighting in the Revolutionary War was a stand up and slug match. The winning side was the one that could get in a good first volley, take a return fire and re-load faster than its foes. Once the individual could handle himself and his musket he was placed in groups of three, then in groups of twelve, and taught to wheel, to dress to the right and to the left. Alignment and dressing the ranks was emphasized but only because proper alignment was necessary for smooth firing.
Another program developed by Steuben was camp sanitation. He established a standards of sanitation and camp layouts that would still be standard a century and a half later. There had previously been no set arrangement of tents and huts. Men relieved themselves where they wished and when an animal died, it was stripped of its meat and the rest was left to rot where it lay. Stueben laid out a plan to have rows for command, officers and enlisted men. Kitchens and latrines were on opposite sides ot the camp, with latrines on the downhill side. There was the familiar arrangement of company and regimental streets.
The results of the army training were in evidence by May 20, 1778 at Barren Hill and then at Monmouth (ending June 28th). Washington recommended an appointment for Steuben as Inspector General on April 30th, and on May 5th, Congress approved it. It was Steuben serving in Washington’s headquarters in the summer of 1778 who was the first to report the enemy was heading for Monmouth. During the winter of 1778-1779, Steuben prepared “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” also known as the “Blue Book.” It’s basis was the plan he devised at Valley Forge.
The following winter (1779-1780) his commission was representing Washington to Congress regarding the reorganization of the army. He later traveled with Nathanael Greene-the new commander of the Southern campaign.
He quartered in Virginia since the American supplies and soldiers would be provided to the army from there. He aided the campaign in the south during the spring of 1781, culminating in the delivery of 450 Virginia Continentals to Lafayette in June. He was forced to take sick leave, rejoining the army for the final campaign at yorktown. At Yorktown his role was as commander of one of the three divisions of Washington’s troops.
He gave assistance to Washington in demobilizing the army in 1783 as well as aiding in the defense plan of the new nation. He became an American citizen by act of Pennsylvania legislature in March 1784 (and later by the New York authorities in July 1786). He was discharged from the military with honor on March 24, 1784.
He established residency in New York where he became a very prominent figure. His business acumen was not very keen, and he found himself in difficult financial condition once more. The primary reason was most likely the fact he was living off the prospect of financial compensation from the United States government which was unrealized until June of 1790 when he was granted a yearly pension of $2,500.
His financial problems were not ironed out until Alexander Hamilton and other friends helped him gain a “friendly” mortgage on the property he was given in New York (about 16,000 acres). He died a bachelor in 1794, leaving his property to his former aides, William North and Benjamin Walker.
Much of the captured equipment, was incorporated into the Wehrmact, especially vehicles. Many of the trucks used during the invasion of Russia in 1941 were of French manufacture, & would continue to be produced in occupied French factories until liberation. German use of captured/confiscated equipment would become standard practice, & continue until the end of the war. In fact German use of foreign equipment was already under way before the war started.
The Wehrmact already utilized much first class equipment taken from Czechoslovakia whenever they occupied that country in 1938–39,especially weaponry such as the 38t tank, the ZB 26 & ZB 37 MGs,as well as optical instruents. The excellent Belgian made FN Browning “Hi Power” pistol continued in production in occupied Belgium throughout most of the war & large numbers were issued to the German military, especially the Waffen SS.
Not only vehicles & weaponry, but captured stocks of clothing were also utilized. Czech Army helmets were re-issued to German civilian organizations such as air raid wardens & the Fire Police. Kriegsmarine personelle, especially U Boat crews were often issued with British Army battle blouses,taken from large British stocks captured in 1940. French Army tropical shirts captured in 1940 saw widespread service by the Afrikakorps in North Africa as well. Even food was requisitioned, much taken after the fall of Tobruk in 1942. Canned British corned beef & canned fruit being especially prized.
A lot of Russian artillery was utilized by the Germans, the 76mm M1936 F22 anti tank gun for example, as well as captured T 34 tanks & small arms throughout the war on the Eastern Front. In North Africa, the Afrika Korps used captured British vehicles in large numbers. When Italy left the Axis in 1943, the Germans seized much Italian military equipment including vehicles, aircraft, & especially large stocks of cloth for the manufacture of uniforms. Much of the German weaponry used along the “Atlantik Wall” in France was of Czech, French, & Russian manufacture, even Polish machine guns were utilized. Germany received a second infusion of French equipment whenever it occupied the the remainder of France from Vichy in 1942.
Spare parts for vehicles, & as the war progressed, fuel, would become a problem for certain vehicles over time, but many vehicles ( as well as some aircraft, such as the Ju 52, & Fiesler Fi 56 “Storch”) continued to be produced in factories in occupied countries such as France & Czechoslovakia until the end of the war. Ammunition for captured weaponry could be produced in German factories, or sometimes the weapons converted to German calibers.
Captured British Battle Blouse taken from captured British stocks in France in 1940, & reissued to U Boat personelle, has removable German buttons, & German insignia added. (Collectors Weekly)
The excellent Belgian made 9mm “Hi Power”pistol. Large numbers were confiscated by the Germans after Belgium’s surrender in 1940. Large numbers continued to be produced in Belgian factories & issued to the German military. (Simpson Lmtd)
German soldier with Belgian Browning Hi Power 9mm pistol.
French M29 Light MG. Many of these weapons captured in 1940 were issued to German rear area security & Police units in Russia & Yugoslavia for use against partisan units.. (Rock Island Auction)
German soldier manning French made Hotchkiss MG along the Atlantic coast. (Bundarchv).
Renault AHR trucks. Not only did the Germans utilize captured trucks, they continued to manufacture the vehicles in the Renault factory in occupied France.
Captured Soviet T 34.
Captured British Ford truck, North Africa.
Waffen SS “M 43” field cap made from Italian military “Trikot” cloth . Large stocks of Italian cloth were seized by the Germans, after the Italian armistace in 1943, including camouflage, & used by the Germans in uniform manufacturing . (Collectors Guild)
Waffen SS officers wearing tunics & trousers made from Italian Army camouflage clothing material, large stocks of which were seized after the Italian armistace in 1943.
Deploying is just one of those things every troop knows will happen eventually. There are two ways troops look at this: Either they’re gung-ho about getting into what they’ve been training to do for years or they’re scared that they’ll have to do what they’ve been training years to do for years. No judgement either way, but it’s bound to happen.
The truth is, combat only makes up a fraction of a fraction of what troops do while deployed. There are some troops who take on an unequal share of that burden when compared to the next, but everyone shares some of the same downsides of deployment.
Today’s troops have it nicer than those that came before them and some units may inherently have an easier time of things. Still, everyone has to deal with the same smell of the “open air sanitation pits” that are lovingly called “sh*t ponds.”
Yep. And the VA is still debating whether this is unhealthy or not.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka)
Speaking of open pits of disposed human filth that are totally not going to cause health problems down the road, the rest of your deployment won’t be much cleaner.
Sand will get everywhere no matter how many times you sweep. Black mold will always creep into your living areas and cause everyone to go to sick call. That’s normal.
What’s not normal is the amount of lazy, disgusting Blue Falcons that decide that using Gatorade bottles as piss pots is more convenient than walking their ass to a proper latrine but get embarrassed by their disgusting lifestyle so they horde that sh*t under their bunk in some sick, twisted collection. True story.
That is, if you can get to an uncrowded USO tent to actually talk to your folks back home.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael)
Everyone knows they’re going to have to be away from their family, but no one really prepares you for the moments when you’re going to have to tell them you can’t talk a few days because something happened — “Comms Blackouts.” They’re totally normal and it freaks out everyone back home. it’s up to the troops to explain the situation without providing any info that would incur the wrath of the chain of command.
We’ve all heard the constant, nebulous threats. “The enemy is always listening!” “All it takes is one puzzle piece to lose the war!” Such concerns aren’t unfounded — and it leaves troops clammed up, essentially without anything interesting to talk about while deployed.
I’m just saying, we’re doing you a favor by not saluting you where there could be snipers…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
Other units’ officers
Every unit falls under the same overarching rules as set forth by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So, if someone’s doing something that breaks said code, any troop can (and should) step in to defuse the situation. That being said, every unit functions on their own SOPs while downrange and there’s always going to be a smart-ass butterbar who raises hell about not being saluted in a combat zone.
Don’t worry, though. This guy will probably have a a “totally legitimate” copy of all the seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD.
(Official Marine Corps Photo by Eric S. Wilterdink)
Everything you’re going to miss out on
Being deployed is kind of like being put in a time capsule when it comes to pop culture. Any movie or television show that you would normally be catching the night of the release is going to end up on a long checklist of things to catch up on later.
To make matters worse, troops today still have an internet connection — just not a very good one. So, if some big thing happened on that show you watch, it’s going to get spoiled eventually because people assume that, after a few weeks, it’s all fair game to discuss. Meanwhile, you’re still 36 weeks away from seeing it yourself.
You’d think this isn’t comfy. But it is.
Sleep (or lack thereof)
Some doctors say that seven to nine hours of sleep are required for the human body to function. You will soon laugh in the face of said doctors. You’ll be at your physical peak and do just fine on five hours of constantly interrupted sleep.
War is very loud and missions occur at all hours of the day. What this means is just as soon as you get tucked in for the night, you’re going to hear a chopper buzz your tent while a barely-working generator keeps turning over which is then drowned out by the sounds of artillery going off. Needless to say, when the eventual IDF siren goes off, you’ll legitimately debate whether you should get out of bed or sleep through it.
Ever wonder why so many troops make stupid films while in the sandbox? Because we’re bored out of our freakin’ minds!
The fact that you’re actually working 12-hour days won’t bother you. The fact that you’re going to get an average of five hours of sleep won’t bother you. Those remaining seven hours of your day are what will drive you insane.
You could go to the gym and get to looking good for your eventual return stateside. You could pick up a hobby, like learning to play the guitar, but you’d only be kidding yourself. 75 percent of your time will be spent in the smoke pit (regardless if you smoke or not) and the other trying to watch whatever show is on at the DFAC.
“Oh, look! It seems like everyone came back from deployment!”
All that money (and nothing to spend it on)
Think of that episode of The Twilight Zone where the world’s end comes and that one dude just wants to read his books. He finally finds a library but — plot twist — he breaks his glasses and learns that life is unfair. That’s basically how it feels when troops finally get deployment money. It’ll be a lot more than usual, since combat pay and all those other incentives are awesome, but it’s not like you can really spend any of it while in Afghanistan.
If you’re married, that money you’re be making is going to be used to take care of your family. Single troops will just keep seeing their bank accounts rise until they blow it all in one weekend upon returning.
A perceived lack of Navy support for Marines on Guadalcanal led one Marine officer to have an irreverent medal cast in commemoration of the event. But did the Navy really abandon the Marines?
By late November 1942, the tide had turned for American forces on Guadalcanal. If Marine and Navy aircraft were not exerting air superiority, they at least had air parity. Navy ships were interrupting Japanese attempts to land additional forces ashore, and Soldiers and Leathernecks had begun arriving to reinforce the gaunt malaria-ridden Marines already there.
Lieutenant Colonel Merrill B. Twining, the operations officer of the 1st Marine Division, resolved to commemorate the Leathernecks’ participation in the ill-conceived and poorly supported naval campaign. He thought an appropriate medal was required and turned to Captain Donald L. Dickson, a talented artist serving as the adjutant of the 5th Marines.
Who above Twining in the chain of command approved the medal, and its obvious criticism of the senior Navy officers involved in Operation Watchtower, is unknown. But when the division redeployed to Australia in early 1943, a local metal craftsman was hired to cast it.
The image on the front shows a hand and the sleeve of an admiral—obviously Vice Admiral Robert J. Ghormley, Commander, South Pacific, or Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, commander of the invasion force—dropping a hot potato into the arms of a Marine. The inscription on the front reads simply Faciat Georgius (Let George Do It).
The reverse of the medal shows a Japanese soldier with his breeches pulled down and the inscription “In fond memories of the happy days spent from Aug. 7th 1942 to Jan. 5th 1943. U.S.M.C.” Ribbons for the medal were fashioned from the herringbone twill of Marine field uniforms, supposedly washed in the fetid waters of the Lunga River on Guadalcanal.
The appearance of the medal illustrated the frustration Marines felt for what they saw as a lack of Navy support in the Guadalcanal campaign.
With the fresh taste of victory in earlier encounters at the Coral Sea and Midway, naval leaders pressed to continue the initiative in the Pacific. Vice Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander, Pacific Fleet, proposed sending a Marine Raider battalion to destroy a Japanese seaplane base located on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. But in Washington, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King proposed a much larger operation, arguing successfully with the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then the President, to maintain momentum in the Pacific.
Intelligence reports of an enemy airstrip under construction on Guadalcanal reinforced King’s argument that further Japanese threats in the region be stymied. Thus, Operation Watchtower came into being.
The 1st Marine Division began to arrive in New Zealand in June 1942. Its commander, Major General Archer A. Vandegrift, had been told by Commandant of the Marine Corps Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb not to anticipate any combat operations before 1943. In his first conference with Ghormley on 26 June, a dismayed Vandegrift learned of Operation Watchtower with a proposed D-day of 1 August. He reminded Ghormley that his division was grossly understrength. Undeterred, Ghormley ordered it reinforced with the 2d Marines, 1st Raider Battalion, 1st Parachute Battalion, and the 3d Defense Battalion, which increased Vandegrift’s strength to approximately 19,000 men. The Joint Chiefs approved changing D-day to 7 August; reports of the airfield on Guadalcanal prevented further delay of the invasion.
Because Ghormley’s headquarters were in Noumea, on New Caledonia, some distance from the Solomons, he invested command of the expeditionary force with Fletcher. It consisted of the carrier force (3 carriers, 1 battleship, 6 cruisers, 16 destroyers, and 3 oilers) and Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s amphibious force, supported by 5 cruisers and 9 destroyers. Accurate maps of the amphibious objective area (AOA) never appeared, even long after the invasion began, and estimates of Japanese ground forces on Guadalcanal and nearby Tulagi remained uncertain. Later, it was determined that no more than 3,457 were stationed in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area. Aerial photographs revealed the construction of the airfield and no extensive defenses on Guadalcanal’s north shore.
To the Solomons
The forces rendezvoused in the Fijis on 26 July, conducted a disappointing rehearsal, and steamed toward the Solomons three days later. B-17 bombers flying from the New Hebrides began striking targets on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on the last day of July. Reflecting on the exigency precipitating the operation, King provided a droll comment that proved to be the understatement of the entire operation: “Because of the urgency of seizing and occupying Guadalcanal, planning was not up to its usual thorough standard.”
Few of the Navy commanders gave serious thought to the resupply and support for the Marines about to be dumped onto a hostile shore. Most disconcerting was Fletcher’s decision to depart the amphibious objective area after just 48 hours; reluctantly, he agreed to keep his precious carriers in the AOA for a third day, but Vandegrift argued for at least four days.
The commander of the invasion force had grown fearful of exposure to enemy bombers. Without the support of Fletcher’s aircraft, Turner decided to withdraw the ships of the amphibious force whether unloaded or not. When Fletcher left the AOA, Turner followed with ships still half full; they hauled away part of one infantry regiment along with most of the supplies and equipment necessary to sustain the division in combat ashore for a minimum of 30 days.
Meanwhile, senior Japanese officers in Rabaul and as far away as Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo remained convinced that the amphibious invasion consisted of nothing more than a reconnaissance in force. By nightfall on D-Day, Vandegrift had more than 11,000 troops ashore. By then, the Marines had overrun the Japanese airfield and advanced to the banks of the Lunga River. The unit of the Special Landing Force, an estimated 430 Japanese Marines, had fled inland with 1,000 Korean laborers when the preassault bombardment began.
But on nearby Tulagi, the Leathernecks found that the Japanese Marines intended to fight a vicious, no-surrender battle. After two days of ferocious combat, the 1st Raider Battalion and 2/5 had maneuvered to outflank and overrun pockets of die-hard defenders. Earlier, strikes by carrier-based aircraft destroyed the seaplane base that had provided the stimulus for the operation.
In response to the audacious incursion, Japanese headquarters in Rabaul opted for the quick fix of air power. On the morning of D-day, an Australian coastwatcher reported a sizeable formation of enemy bombers. Flying from Fletcher’s carriers, positioned 100 miles south of Guadalcanal, fighters destroyed or chased away the Japanese planes before any of them could disrupt the landing. Inexplicably, enemy pilots focused on the amphibious ships and ignored the beaches crammed with troops and supplies. But on the evening of 8 August, an enemy naval force responded to the American invasion with a stinging response.
In the Battle of Savo Island, the Japanese shattered the covering force with no casualties to themselves; four cruisers went to the bottom, and another lost her bow. Fortunately for the Marines ashore, the Japanese naval force departed without attempting to disrupt the landing further. Nonetheless, the victory caused celebrating superiors in Tokyo to allow the event to overshadow the importance of the amphibious operation. A Japanese journalist proclaimed euphemistically that “the Marines in the Solomons were like summer insects which have dropped into the fire by themselves.”
The Ichiki Detachment Lands
Senior officers in Rabaul and Tokyo concluded that the Japanese Army should drive the Marines from Guadalcanal and ordered the 17th Army to undertake the mission. For this assault force, its commander chose a crack regiment commanded by a notorious firebrand. Colonel Ichiki Kiyonao had once scoffed that it only required swords and sabers to defeat the Americans. On the evening of 18 August 1942, the Ichiki Detachment landed at Taivu Point just 22 miles east of the Marine perimeter; the remainder of the 35th Infantry Brigade followed. The Japanese force deployed ashore with characteristic smugness for the fighting ability of their occidental foe: “Westerners—being very haughty, effeminate, and cowardly—intensely dislike fighting in the rain or mist or in the dark,” snarled one strategist.
Ghormley had warned both Nimitz and King that the Japanese might recapture Guadalcanal unless more carrier support and troop reinforcements were forthcoming. Apparently, his pessimism failed to reach the Oval Office. On 19 August, President Franklin D. Roosevelt informed Soviet leader Josef Stalin that, “We have gained, I believe, a toe-hold in the Southwest Pacific from where the Japanese will find it very difficult to dislodge us.” Closer to the scene, senior officers remained less sanguine. After returning from the South Pacific, an Army Air Forces officer advised Lieutenant General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold that “there’s another Bataan coming and so you’d better get ready for it.”
Meanwhile, on 20 August Vandegrift greeted the arrival of Marine Air Group 23’s two squadrons at Henderson Field: 19 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters and 12 Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bombers. Two days later, five Army Bell P-400 Airacobras flew in to add to the lethality of air assets positioned on Guadalcanal. One grizzled observer was overheard to mutter, “Now let the bastards come!” And they did, with a vengeance.
During the night of 20-21 August, Ichiki’s troops stormed the Marines’ lines in a screaming, frenzied display of the “spiritual strength” that they had been assured would sweep aside their occidental enemy. As the Japanese charged across a sand bar astride the Ilu, the Leathernecks cut them down. Trapped between two Marine battalions and the sea, Ichiki burned the regimental colors after soaking them in his blood and then committed sepuku. Tanks rolled over the bodies, grinding them into their treads; Crocodiles fed on the dead that clogged the river.
Reflecting on the defeat, a senior Japanese officer concluded that the attack was shear folly. “This tragedy should have taught us the hopelessness of bamboo spear tactics,” he remarked to a confidant. More than 800 Sons of Nippon died in the abortive attempt to breach the Marines’ lines, while the defenders suffered only 44 killed and another 71 wounded. Undeterred, the 17th Army headquarters in Rabaul planned another ground assault.
Meanwhile, the remainder of Major General Kawaguchi Kiyotake’s 35th Infantry Brigade had landed. Incredibly, the Japanese continued to believe that no more than 2,000 Marines were ashore with significant air assets supporting them. As plans for an assault on 13 September unfolded, Kawaguchi voiced his misgivings: “Wouldn’t you think that the destruction of the Ichiki Detachment would be a lesson to us? [Imperial General Headquarters] belittles the enemy on gadarukanaru [starvation island, or Guadalcanal] and declares that once we land successfully, the Marines will surrender.”
A captured map revealed that the Japanese intended to attack across the ridge separating the jungle from the airstrip and then burst onto the Lunga Plain only a mile from Henderson Field. Vandegrift predicted the main point of attack and positioned a combined force of raiders and paratroopers commanded by Colonel Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson to block it.
Enemy bombers and artillery pummeled the ridge as a prelude to the ground assault. Enemy ships fired flares over the area, and naval gunfire added to the cacophony. The first blow came during the night of 12-13 September. In desperate hand-to-hand combat, Edson’s force held the ridge as the Japanese made two more attempts to overrun it.
The next night, two of Kawaguchi’s battalions, led by sword-wielding officers shouting “Totsugeki [Charge]” attempted to breach the Leatherneck lines in 12 separate attacks. At first light, the defenders—a total of 840 Marines—counted more than 600 Japanese bodies strewn across the landscape. The survivors of Kawaguchi’s force retreated to the west, dropping the most seriously wounded of their comrades to die along the jungle trails.
Meanwhile, Japanese ships began disgorging the Sendai Division on 7 October without hindrance from Navy ships. On 13-14 October, bomber strikes preceded an intense artillery and naval gunfire bombardment of Henderson Field; the shelling left the vital airstrip in shambles and destroyed most of the facility’s aviation fuel. Vandegrift described his predicament in sober terms to Ghormley and Turner: While his force exceeded that of the enemy, intelligence estimates indicated more than 15,000 Japanese troops assembling in the hills.
In Need of Navy Support
More than half of Vandegrift’s men were in no condition to undertake a protracted land campaign because of malaria. He repeated the requirement for the Navy to control the sea lanes offshore to prevent further Japanese reinforcement and naval gunfire bombardment. He also stressed the need for an increase in his troop strength with the addition of the remainder of the Americal Division from New Caledonia, along with the 2d Marines and 8th Marines from the 2d Marine Division.
As news of the thousands of Japanese pouring ashore spread, a senior Marine officer noted that “the Japs had the run of the waters” and added scornfully, “Where is the Navy, everyone wants to know?” Another disappointed observer noted that “they are landing faster than we can kill ’em.”
After the Sendai Division had massed in the hills east of the ridge bordering the Marine lines, it began to deploy toward Henderson Field. The dense jungle foliage over the 15-mile trek concealed the force, which was buoyed with its commander’s exhortation: “The forthcoming attack on Guadalcanal, which is under the focus of the entire world, is the decisive campaign on which the fate of the Japanese Empire depends.”
Meanwhile, Nimitz had replaced the overcautious Ghormley with the determined and aggressive Vice Admiral William F. Halsey. During the previous ten weeks of the campaign, neither Ghormley nor his chief of staff had bothered to even visit Guadalcanal; Halsey flew there just four days after assuming command. Vandegrift told Halsey that he had no intention of evacuating Guadalcanal but required more active support; Halsey promised Vandegrift “everything I’ve got.”
In Washington, optimism in the South Pacific was matched with guarded pessimism. When a journalist asked Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, “Do you think we can hold Guadalcanal?” he received a waffling response that could hardly encourage any Marine there: “I will not make any prediction, but every man will give a good accounting of himself. There is a good, stiff fight going on—everybody hopes we can hold out.”
In late October, the Sendai Division attempted to overrun Leatherneck positions but failed. Correctly predicting that the Japanese would again attempt to take what had become “Bloody Ridge,” Vandegrift positioned the 7th Marines and the 164th Infantry to hold the vital terrain. The defenders blunted the enemy attack, and the remnants of the Sendai Division fled into the jungle; another 3,500 enemy troops were killed.
Unknown to the Japanese, Vandegrift’s situation had improved considerably by then. An additional airstrip, “Fighter One,” had been completed by the 6th SeaBee Battalion; the 7th Marines had redeployed from Samoa, and the 2d and 8th Marines from the 2d Marine Division were ashore; the first elements of the Americal Division had redeployed from New Caledonia; and both fighters and torpedo aircraft from carriers had begun to reinforce Leatherneck aviation units at Henderson Field.
Once again, Turner took his “field marshal’s baton” out of his briefcase. The amphibious task force commander opined that the 7th Marines should be positioned in little groups all over Guadalcanal’s coast. Vandegrift simply waived that preposterous notion aside, but then Turner suggested that additional raider battalions could be formed out of the 7th and 8th Marines, along with any “spare” Marines.
Fortunately, Nimitz visited Guadalcanal at about that time and, after Vandegrift spoke to him, put Turner on a short leash. By then, Vandegrift and his staff had grown increasingly impatient. His operations officer even interrupted a visiting admiral who started to say, “What you need . . .” by exclaiming, “What we need is an end to arbitrary decisions by people who don’t know what they’re doing!”
In Hawaii and Washington, the war in the Solomons grew increasingly worrisome. A sharp increase in Navy losses fueled the trepidation; severe damage to a carrier and a battleship left only one carrier and a single battleship on station to support the Marines on Guadalcanal. On 9 November, the first elements of the 38th (Hiroshima) Division landed to reinforce the dwindling number of Japanese on the island.
When its remaining 12,000 men and ten tons of supplies sailed from Shortland Island (just south of Bougainville in the Solomons), the U.S. Navy’s surface forces rose up to smash the reinforcement effort. On 13 and 13-14 November, Navy vessels turned back efforts by Japanese warships to bombard Guadalcanal prior to landing the Hiroshima Division. On the 14th, Navy and Marine aircraft sank seven transports packed with division troops. Only four transports managed to offload.
By late November, enemy forces in the region had been defeated or isolated. Halsey brought welcome gifts to the haggard, malaria-ridden, and exhausted Marines on Thanksgiving Day: a turkey dinner with cranberry sauce, and orders to redeploy from Guadalcanal to Australia. As the battle-weary Leathernecks ate their holiday meal, few if any knew or even cared that more than 100 Japanese soldiers died of starvation each day in the jungles of Guadalcanal.
In late December, Imperial General Headquarters concluded that the cost to re-take Guadalcanal had become too great. By that time, all of the elements of the Americal Division were ashore. The 25th Infantry Division and the headquarters of the 2d Marine Division had arrived along with the 6th Marines to constitute XIV Corps.
More than 23,000 Japanese died attempting to eject the Marines from the southern Solomons. Each side lost 24 ships. Leatherneck casualties numbered 1,052 killed, 2,799 wounded, and 8,580 cases of malaria. In more than six months of aerial combat, 94 Marine pilots lost their lives, but they earned an impressive kill ratio of 3:1 against the Japanese pilots.
The Marines at Guadalcanal destroyed the myth of the Japanese as infallible jungle fighters. Emperor Hirohito’s royal decree of 31 December 1943, ordering no further attempts to retake Guadalcanal, foreshadowed the end of the war in the Pacific with an American victory. Japan had entered a war of attrition on Guadalcanal that it could not win.
By the time Imperial General Headquarters concluded that its military and naval forces could not eject the Americans from Guadalcanal, their fruitless efforts had sufficiently eroded Japanese strengths such that General Douglas MacArthur’s campaign to recapture the Philippines and Nimitz’ drive through the Central Pacific could not be stopped.
As one distinguished historian of the Japanese Navy, Paul S. Dull, noted, “At first by accident, later by pride, and then finally in desperation, Guadalcanal became the place the Japanese wanted at all costs to hold.” A Japanese admiral who commanded a surface force in the Solomons reflected, “There is no doubt that Japan’s doom [in the Pacific War] was Guadalcanal.”
The Leathernecks succeeded in spite of lackluster support from Washington and senior Navy commanders on the scene. Years later, the reflections of Merrill Twining (the brains behind the George Medal) placed the epic confrontation in perspective: “You just can’t conceive of the conditions under which that operation came off—the greatest luck, the unbelievable ineptness of the Japanese, everything in the world conspired to make it succeed at all.
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For a generation, Marine veterans of the campaign to seize Guadalcanal-Tulagi remained embittered by the seeming lack of Navy support. Hence the inspiration behind the irreverent commemorative medal. A balanced assessment of the Navy’s support for Operation Watchtower, however, suggests that it deployed all available resources. After the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the Navy could not afford the loss of another aircraft carrier. The disaster at Pearl Harbor left few ships available to control the waters off Guadalcanal. In any event, the Navy was fighting a two-ocean war. Planners in Washington demanded more from the Bluejackets and Leathernecks in Operation Watchtower than could be supported with the meager assets available.