It wasn't as simple as it looked...
The Guadalcanal campaign had all the drama of Verdun, and in many respects was Japan’s Verdun, where she was bled white.
The American operation in the Solomon Islands, called WATCHTOWER, began 7 August 1942, with the Marine landings on the northern coast of the island of Guadalcanal. For all the much-vaunted preparation that would later characterize American amphibious operations, the Americans barely knew how big the island was. All they really knew was that it was large enough to support an airstrip... and that the Japanese were building one there.
Their geographic position was a problem for the Allies in 1942, and an opportunity for the Japanese.
Both Guadalcanal and Tulagi are at the far eastern end of the Solomon Island chain. This collection of scores of islands big and small were mostly uninhabited. They are, however, fortuitously placed across the top of the Coral Sea between the eastern coast of Australia and the western coast of New Zealand, and are north of the French colony of New Caledonia.
What had concerned the Americans before the Japanese started on that airstrip, however, was the seaplane base at Tulagi, just across Skylark Channel.
While it's hard for us to understand now what a seaplane base meant then, the Allies knew this big bruiser to the left as an Emily—a Kawanishi H8K flying boat, with a combat range of about 3,000 miles carrying 4,000 pounds of bombs.
Emilys had bombed Pearl Harbor on 4 March 1942, albeit ineffectively, and could hit Australia from Tulagi... and did NOT need an airstrip.
So the Americans sort of planned this battle for this island...an island hardly anyone had ever heard of. The scant accounts there were of terrain and climate were studied assiduously. Jack London was one of the few Americans who had ever visited the Solomons before the war, writing a non-fiction account, Voyage of the Snark, and a short story, The Red One. But a few thousand words of prose, some descriptions from missionaries, magazine travel articles and information from a planter-refugee from the island didn't provide tidal tables, or ground firmness above the beach, or where there was access to freshwater sources, or any of the other myriad other little bits and pieces the planners needed.
Thus... the troops dubbed it Operation Shoestring.
Because it seemed like they planned it with minimal resources, and it was. But that was, in part, because there were other things going on in other parts of the war that were, if not more important, at least got better PR.
No matter where you go, there you are
At that point in WWII in the Pacific, they spared such niceties from the troops. Not out of necessity, but because the American leadership had a hard time reconciling what they had to do with the resources at their disposal. They didn’t always match.
While the Americans identified an opportunity, not all opportunities are fortuitous.
Some are just there, especially if the resources to exploit them are sparse. So it was with both the Allies and the Japanese. Both Japan and the US were stretched to the very limits of their capabilities, manpower, and availability of transportation. The major difference was that the Allies were building up, and the Japanese were not. Further, because of the American landings on Guadalcanal, the IJN felt compelled to withdraw their fleet from the Indian Ocean, thus saving the Royal Navy based in India.
And then there were the Soviets.
While Moscow wasn’t that concerned about the Pacific War—they had beaten the Japanese rather handily in ‘39—they were interested in a Second Front… anywhere, but against the Germans. By the beginning of August 1942, the Russians were losing nearly a thousand people an hour to the Germans and their allies. When the Marines stormed ashore in the Solomons, a battle was shaping up along the Volga that would help to shape the future of Europe for generations…
The city of Stalin.
The Germans were hoping to form a lodgement across the Volga before the Red Army could stop them. Still reeling psychologically by the sheer numbers of troops the Soviets could field (in 1941, the Germans captured as many Russian soldiers as Britain had in its entire armed forces that year), the panzers raced towards the industrial center of Stalingrad. While the German/Italian/Romanian force reached the city in late August, they could not dislodge the Russians and cross the river. They settled in for a siege by September. This soon-to-be slaughterhouse would occupy German and Soviet attention until after the Americans secured Guadalcanal in February. It would also cost Germany and Russia more casualties than the entire Pacific War from 1941 to 1945.
And there was that thing the US and Britain were getting ready for in North Africa.
When the Anglo-American planners said “Germany first,” they decided two things at the same time:
The British Isles were more vulnerable than were any targets the Japanese could reach, and
The US would have a free hand in the Pacific, if that theater would be on the lower end of the priority list.
Just in time for the Guadalcanal operation, the planners in London and Washington allocated nothing to Guadalcanal. The TORCH landings in North Africa (slated for November) got the highest allocations. Kinda lets you know where the Marines were on Britain’s list.
Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly doesn't talk a great deal about the American planning, but it covers the Japanese plans for the island, their reasoning for being there in the first place, and their clumsy reaction to the American landings. There were fewer than a thousand Japanese combat troops in the Solomons east of Bougainville, which was why the Marines met little initial resistance. Initially, the IJN believed that the American landings were only a Marine regiment—less than 2,000 men—instead of the division-plus-attachments, somewhere around 15,000, who were really there. The Japanese grip on the island slipped more every week, regardless of how the naval battles went because the Americans could replace all their losses and keep getting stronger, and the Japanese could not.
Ending the Nightmare
Who Put The Ram In The Rama Lama Ding Dong?
On 6 August:
1181: China and Japan observed supernova 1181, as mentioned in several texts. We have observed only nine supernovae in recorded history, and it took over a thousand years to figure out just where this one was.
1945: The United States struck the Japanese city of Hiroshima with a uranium-core nuclear device that killed about 100,000 people over the course of the next few weeks. Speaking of supernovae…
And today is NATIONAL ROOT BEER FLOAT DAY. So plop some Gurnsey Farms into a big glass of Faygo, if you’re in Detroit. If not, go there.