Victory at Guadalcanal

U.S. #2697i from the World War II 1942: Into the Battle sheet.

On February 9, 1943, the Allies claimed a major victory and marked the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign.

The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as Operation Watchtower, was the Allies’ first major offensive against the Japanese Empire. The campaign began on August 7, 1942, with the Allies’ arrival on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida in the southern Solomon Islands. The landing, consisting largely of U.S. forces, was intended to keep the Japanese from using the islands to disturb supply and communication chains between the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

Upon their landing, the Allies successfully overwhelmed the Japanese defenders, who’d occupied the islands since May, and captured Tulagi, Florida, and Henderson Field (an airfield). Between August and September 1942, the Japanese made several attempts (three land and seven naval battles) to retake Henderson Field.

U.S. #2697i FDC – Guadalcanal Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

One of the first attacks took place during the night of August 9. The Japanese Navy had trained in night fighting, giving them an advantage. Allied aircraft couldn’t fly effectively at night so the planes offered no support during the attack.

The Japanese ships positioned themselves around Savo Island, where the Allied fleet was patrolling. Though a couple U.S. ships spotted them during the approach and sent warnings, the threats were not taken seriously by the Allied commanders.

U.S. #3962 – Chesty Puller earned his third Navy Cross on Guadalcanal.

At about 1:30 a.m. on the 9th, the Japanese commander gave the order, “Every ship attack.” The fleet had been divided into two forces, one moving to the north of the island, the other to the south. Over the next hour, the Japanese fired on American and Australian warships, destroying some and severely damaging others. The Japanese then moved out of range of the remaining Allied vessels to discuss whether or not to continue the battle. Faced with low ammunition and a limited knowledge of the strength of the opponent’s fleet, the commander decided to withdraw.

But the Japanese returned to attack almost daily. Much of the fighting was centered around the airfield. Though the Japanese continued to bomb the runway, the Allied planes were still able to take off and hold back the Japanese ground forces. While the Allies had the advantage on land and in the air, the two battles at sea damaged American aircraft carriers.

U.S. #3963 – Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal.

Following the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Japanese abandoned their attempts to retake Henderson Field, though fighting would continue for a few more months. In all the campaign lasted a total of six months and two days. During the course of the campaign there were a total of 17 battles, which included Tulagii, Tenaru, Edson’s Ridge, Matanikau, Henderson Field, Mt. Austen, Eastern Solomons, Cape Esperance, and Santa Cruz Island, among others.

U.S. #2559/2981 – Complete set of five WWII 50th anniversary stamp sheets.

The Japanese made their last evacuations in early February, and when the Allied commanders realized this, they declared the Guadalcanal Campaign to be over on February 9, 1943. The Guadalcanal Campaign marked a shift in the war’s dynamic. The Allies transitioned from defensive operations to creating a strategic offensive, leading to the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and Central Pacific Campaigns. Additionally, the Japanese suffered over 19,000 dead and were unable to replace lost aircraft and ships, placing them at a disadvantage for the remainder of the war.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
Share this Article


  1. By the summer of 1942 when the Guadalcanal battle was taking p[lace I was 18 and just called to active duty in the Navy, assigning me back to my college in their V-12 officer training program at 131 colleges & universities to create the hundreds of new Ensigns they would need for the final invasion of Japan. An amazingly forward-thinking plan of the Navy. After a year more of college as an Apprentice Seaman, I spent 3 months at Midshipman’s school at /Columbia University and was commissioned an Ensign, USNR. And in July 1945 I was a Communications Officer on a ship in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, one of the many being assembled for the November planned invasion of Japan. Over 120,000 of us participated in the V-12 program. Fortunately for us, the two atomic bombs brought VJ Day and by November 1945, we were in Norfolk Navy Yard decommissioning our ship. In in the spring of 1946 I returned for 4 more years of college & graduate school under the GI Bill. The Navy V-12 Program and the even larger GI Bill were significant and hugely successful government programs that changed the lives of thousands of young kids of that generation.

    1. Also reaching 18 years in the summer of 1942, I had a similar military history. Starting college at Cornell University but joining the Army Reserve, I was in the Army by the spring of ’43. An Army program (ASTP) put me temporarily back in school in engineering at Louisiana State, but I went on to Officer Candidate School to become a 2nd Lt., Corps of Engineers. After a short tour of duty in the European Theater of Operations, my battalion of combat engineers was sent on to the Philippines in preparation for the expected invasion of Japan. As horrendous were the atomic bombings of Japanese cities, I was personally much relieved by their effectively cancelling the need for invasion. Our experience, I’m sure, was shared by many others, most already passed on. And, I have great respect for those who fought those difficult early battles on Guadalcanal, proving American ability to defeat the foe in the Pacific.

  2. Since I was born in September of 1942 I don’t remember too much about what happened then. I do remember my family going from Huntington, Indiana and picking up my just discharged from the Army Uncle in Battle Creek, Michigan and taking him home to Charlotte, Michigan. That was in 1945.
    This was another good and informative article by Mystic.

  3. What hard sacrifices these brave Americans made to ensure freedom for so many in WWII. many were mere boys who never got to grow into mature men. God bless them and the work they did for generations to come. May we prove faithful to their sacrifices.

  4. Although unopposed at the landing, the planes didn’t land at Henderson for many weeks to aid the basically stranded troops. The nights were the worst because Japanese commandos would sneak into our positions and slit the throats of many men- especially at the wounded infirmary. Just see the look on the faces of the men in documentaries when they came off the hills when it was all over. The lieutenant is all happy and making his movie- but those guys were pissed off big time! They had no idea how bad it was going to be.
    Little did they know it would be worse at Tarawa.
    Very brave men and illusions of a quick victory were smashed.
    note: watch Guadalcanal Diary with Anthony Quinn .

  5. As I mentioned before, one of my uncles was assigned to the machine gun ‘turret’ located at the under side of the B17 Flying Fortress. My other uncle, was a fighter pilot in the Korean War. I THANK YOU all for your service!!
    And it is the: Greatest Generation, to quote Tom Brokaw.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *