Tuesday, August 13, 2019


On 7 August 1942, the US went on the offensive in the Pacific. The landings in the Solomon islands kicked off a grueling six month land-sea-air campaign that marked the beginning of the end of the Empire of Japan.

The campaign took place in what Murray and Millett describe as a “strategic black hole” a zone that marked

the transition from short war to long war, the period of extemporization in which the belligerent military establishments would fight a 'broken-back' war with forces that survived the initial onslaught, but which did not yet include forces created after war began.
In this black hole, the US Navy faced an enemy which was better trained, better equipped, and which outnumbered them. Victory did not come cheap: the Navy lost twice as many men at Guadalcanal as at Pearl Harbor.

Before Pearl Harbor Japan’s admiral Yamamoto dismissed the US Navy as “a social organization of golfers and bridge players." In the Solomons the golfers and bridge players matched Yamamoto’s samurai in courage and grit. They completely surpassed them as extemporizers and as students of war.

Japan’s navy was spectacularly well-prepared at the start of the war; they were hideously inadequate in dealing with an enemy who did not collapse quickly in the face of defeat. Further, it had no capacity to maintain its qualitative edge.

H. P. Willmott:
One cannot ignore the simple fact that not a single [Japanese] operation planned after the start of the war met with success
Empires in the Balance

In contrast, the US Navy displayed an impressive climb up the learning curve in 1942 and 1943.

Every action-report included a section of analysis and recommendations, and those nuggets of hard-won knowledge were absorbed into future command decisions, doctrine, planning, and training throughout the service
Ian Toll, Pacific Crucible
Related: Tarawa II: Learning and doing

The fight for Guadalcanal was touch and go for months. A crucial factor in that victory was the Coast Watchers force created by Australia at the outbreak of war. Over 100 hundred stations (many of which eventually found themselves behind Japanese lines) provided eyes and ears for Allied intelligence. Their early warnings proved vital to the Marines and the Navy as they countered Japan’s determined efforts to retake the island.

Adm. William Halsey declared that "the Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific." That sounds like hyperbole but there is a lot of truth in that statement.

Sgt. Jacob Vouza, a native scout working for the Coast Watcher Martin Clement on Guadalcanal deserves to be remembered. Vouza was captured by a Japanese patrol in August 1942. Correctly suspecting that he was working for the Americans, they interrogated him:

The guards tied him to a tree and beat him with rifle butts. Still no answer, so they stabbed him in the chest with their bayonets, and an officer slashed his throat with a sword. Again, no answer. Finally, they left him for dead, still tied to the tree, and hurried on west.
Winston Lord, Lonely Vigil
Vouza managed to free himself and headed for the American lines. He arrived shortly before the Japanese attacked. He insisted on making his scouting report before going to the field hospital. His intelligence was critical in the smashing victory at the Battle of the Teneru.

Two great lectures

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