Guadalcanal is one of the larger of the hundreds of islands that make up the Solomon Islands. It is located about 625 miles due east of the tip of Papua New Guinea and a little over 1,000 east northeast of Australia.
In 1893, some of the Solomon Islands became British protectorates. By 1900, Great Britain gained control over all of the Solomon Islands when Germany agreed to give up their claims to the islands that Great Britain didn’t already control.
The Solomon Islands, including Guadalcanal, were along busy and important sea trading routes and when the Japanese decided to expand their claim over the western half of the Pacific region, Guadalcanal and the rest of Solomon Islands became one of their prime targets.
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By the end of 1941, Japan had attacked and/or invaded Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Guam, Philippines, Siam (Thailand), Hong Kong, Gilbert Islands, Burma and Borneo.
On January 11, 1942, Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies, which at that time consisted of most of what today we know as Indonesia.
On February 15, 1942, Singapore surrendered to Japan.
On February 19, 1942, Japan bombed Darwin, Australia, located on the northern coast.
On March 9, 1942, Java surrendered to Japan.
On March 13, 1942, Japan invades the Solomon Islands.
On April 5, 1942, Japan attacks and raids Ceylon (Sr Lanka), pushing their reach into the Indian Ocean.
On April 9, 1942, US and Philippine forces surrendered Bataan, leading to the infamous death march which resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,000 US troops and as many as 10,000 Filipino forces.
On April 18, 1942, 16 B-25B bombers took off from the US aircraft carrier, USS Hornet. Their mission, led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, was to bomb Tokyo and several other targets on the Japanese island of Honshu. After the bombing, they flew on with plans to land in China, since returning to the USS Hornet was impossible. The mission has become known as the Doolittle Raid.
On May 7-8, 1942, the Japanese moved to control the Coral Sea, only to be thwarted by US aircraft launched from aircraft carriers belonging to a US task force commanded by Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher. Both sides suffered losses and damages to their carriers, but in the end, the US inflicted enough damage to the Japanese fleet to claim the victory.
On May 8, 1942, the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese after the fall of Corregidor.
On May 20, 1942, Burma surrendered to Japan.
On June 4-7, 1942, US Admirals Frank Fletcher, Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance led US naval forces in defeating Japanese admirals Nobutake Kondo, Chuichi Nagumo and Isoroku Yamamoto, who were leading Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway.
On June 7, 1942, Japanese forces capture Attu Island, the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands, located about 450 miles west of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
On July 6, 1942, Japanese forces landed on Guadalcanal, one of the larger of the Solomon Islands. They spent the next month constructing an airfield from which they could launch air attacks on targets in Australia, Southeast Asia and any other location within a thousand miles.
On this day, August 7, 1942, members of the US 1st Marine division landed on Guadalcanal. Their mission was to take the island and valuable airfield from the Japanese. The mission was dubbed Operation Watchtower.
At first, the Marines met little resistance and took control of the airfield. The US invasion had caught the Japanese by surprise and they were not aware of the Marines landing until the next day. When the Japanese discovered the US Marines on the island, fierce fighting broke out, but the Marines drove the Japanese forces into a retreat.
Eventually, Japanese reinforcements arrived and Guadalcanal became one of the first experiences of hand-to-hand guerrilla type fighting, which lasted for months.
On February 9. 1943, the last of the Japanese forces were evacuated off of Guadalcanal after losing over 25,000 troops compared to 1,600 lost by US forces. Both Japan and the US lost 24 warships during the 6 months of fighting for control of Guadalcanal.
Sources for the above includes: World War II in the Pacific; The First Days of Guadalcanal; The Pacific War; U.S. Forces Invade Guadalcanal; World War II: Battle of Guadalcanal; Guadalcanal: Pivotal in World War II; Dutch East Indies