Solomon Island Campaign
First Island taken was Tulagi, where 1st Lt Myles Crosby Fox was was one of the 38 Marines from the 1st Marine Raider Battallion that were Killed in Action. The following day, the Japanese Navy caught the Allied Navies by surprise and sank several ships, sending over 1,200 sailors to their watery graves.
Tulagi in foreground, 7 August 1942
1. Intelligence photos 2. Japanese torpedo bombers attack US Naval Forces 3. Marine Raiders coming ashore 4 & 5. Structures afire after bombardment. 6. Cartoon after Japanese routed on Tulagi.
Official Account of the Battle of Tulagi:
(a long read, but
interesting; highlighted area is enemy action that caused his death.)
Chapter 3: Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo Tulagi: The First Day After Task Group Yoke separated from the larger body of ships at 0240 on D-Day, its approach to Tulagi was accomplished without incident. All elements of the group arrived in position at about 0630 and made ready for the landing. As the ships approached the transport area, 15 fighters and 15 dive bombers from Wasp strafed and bombed the target area, setting fire to seaplanes that were caught in the harbor. Five-inch naval gunfire from the destroyer Monssen, opened up at a promontory of Florida Island, west of Tulagi, and 60 rounds were expended on the target between 0727 and 0732.
In the meantime, both the Buchanan and San Juan (an antiaircraft cruiser) pumped 100 rounds each into nearby targets. Buchanan concentrated on a point of land east of Haleta, on Florida, while the San Juan blasted a small island south of the same point of land. At 0740, 20 minutes before H-hour, Company B (reinforced) of the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, under command of Captain Edward J. Crane, landed on Florida near Haleta to protect the left flank of the Tulagi Force. The landing was unopposed, although enemy troops had been reported in position there on 25 July. Crane, his company reinforced by the 4th platoon of Company D and 21 men from Headquarters Company, reached his objective within 40 minutes.
The 252 officers and men went ashore in eight landing boats and were guided to their objective by one of the several Australians on duty with the division. While this covering force deployed inland from its Florida beach, the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Hill) made a similar security landing at Florida's Halavo Peninsula near Gavutu and Tanambogo. The craft drew some fire from Gavutu but there were no casualties, and no enemy forces were encountered on the peninsula. These Marines later returned to their ships. At Tulagi not a single landing craft of the first wave was able to set its passengers directly ashore. All of them hung up on coral formations at distances varying from 30 to well over 100 yards from the beach line, and the assault personnel of raider Companies, B and D waded ashore against no opposition, through water initially from waist to armpit deep. Map 15: Landings in Tulagi Area, 7 August 1942 Meanwhile the enemy defense forces, concentrated in the southeastern third of the island, realized that an all-out assault was underway.
Between 0725 and 0749, the Tulagi Communication Base notified the Commanding Officer of the Twenty-Fifth Air Flotilla at Rabaul that Tulagi was under bombardment, that the landings had begun, and that the senders were destroying all equipment immediately. At 0800 the Japanese messages said shells were falling near the radio installation. Ten minutes later, the final message went out: "Enemy troop strength is overwhelming. We will defend to the last man." Companies B and D had reached the beach, and the landing craft carrying raider Companies A and C now began to hang upon the coral.
The Weapons Company (Captain George W. Herring) of the raider battalion, whose 60mm mortars had been attached to the assault companies, headed ashore to assume responsibility for beachhead security. Assaulting Marines crossed the beach and moved up the face of a steep, heavily wooded coral slope, the southwestern portion of the 350-foot ridge that forms an almost unbroken wall along the island's entire length.
Major Lloyd Nickerson's Company B pushed on to the far coast of the island where it captured, without opposition, the native village of Assapi. This company then swung to the right and, trying in with Major Justice Chambers' Company D which had gained the high ground, began moving southeast. The advance of these two companies was steady and without opposition until Company B reached Carpenter's Wharf, halfway down the east shore of the island, where it encountered a series of enemy outposts.
Meanwhile additional raiders had landed. Captain Lewis W. Walt's Company A, landing to follow the leading companies, swung right atop the ridge spine, and tied in on the left with Company D. Major Kenneth Bailey's Company C also swung right, tied its left flank to Company A, and echeloned itself to the right rear to the beach.
Spread out across the island, the raiders swept southeast against little opposition until Phase Line A, from the high ground northwest of Hill 281 to Carpenter's Wharf, was reached at 1120. Here Major Chambers was wounded by mortar fire, and Captain William E. Sperling assumed command of Company D. By this time Colonel Edson, commanding the 1st Raider Battalion, was ashore and ready to begin a coordinated attack to the southeast. Confronting him was the more thickly settled portion of the island where the British governmental activities had centered. This area is a saddle between the ridge first swept by the raiders and a smaller hill mass at the island's southeastern end. After directing a preparatory fire of infantry weapons into the area to their front, the raiders moved out toward the high ground beyond the saddle.
Company C, on the right flank of the attack, drew fire almost immediately from Hill 208, a knob forward of the ridge that had just been cleared. The bulk of the Japanese resistance concentrated in the seaward face of the high ground, and Company C was caught by fire from enemy infantry weapons as it tried to pass between the hill and the beach. The raider company then turned its attack toward the hill and fought for nearly an hour before the Japanese positions were silenced.
Radio communications between Edson and General Rupertus deteriorated rapidly after this attack was launched, but the raider commander remained in contact with his fire support ships. Operation orders called for the various fire support sections to provide the landing force with naval gunfire liaison parties, and two of these were in Edson's CP with their radios. When the other raider companies came under fire from Hill 281 while Company C fought against Hill 208, Edson put these naval gunfire teams to work.
The San Juan fired a seven-minute, 280-round concentration of 6-inch shells onto Hill 281. When it lifted the raiders advanced with a steady pressure against the enemy. Four hours later, at 1625, Edson notified Rupertus that 500 enemy had broken contact with his force and had withdrawn into the southeastern ridge. The advance continued slowly until dusk. At that time Company E (raiders), relieved of the beach defense mission by 2/5 which had landed at 0916, reported to its parent organization. Company D, now on the extreme left flank, had met little opposition since midmorning, when the first enemy encountered were flushed near Carpenter's Wharf by Company B. After this contact Company D pushed south along the eastern beach and at dusk reached the crest of Hill 281. Meanwhile Company B moved up again, now on the right of Company D, and gained high ground overlooking the cut of a cross-island roadway through the saddle between Hills 281 and 230. Company D, on the far side of the road and to the left of B, took up night defensive positions with its right flank resting on the southern brink of the cut. Company B, augmented by elements of Headquarters Company, rested it left flank on the cut and extended its lines generally westward along the brink. Both companies put listening posts forward of the lines.
Companies A and C (less one platoon) meanwhile encountered the terrain feature which harbored the island's most serious resistance. In the forward slope of Hill 281, a deep ravine lay almost parallel to the raider advance and debouched several hundred yards southeast of Hill 208. Its sides were precipitous, and within it the enemy held strong positions which made assault hazardous. Maps which had been captured and translated during the day confirmed that this ravine would contain the core of enemy resistance. With further action against the pocket impossible at the time, all battalion elements went into position for the night.
Company E was placed on Company B's right, while Companies A and C (less one platoon) respectively tied in from the right of Company E. The positions extended along high ground facing the ravine's long axis, and listening posts were established. During Edson's sweep down the island, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines (Rosecrans), had landed 1,085 officers and men and committed its units to various tasks. Company F scouted the northwest section of the island but met no opposition. At 1000 Company E was ordered to operate generally in support of Company B (Raiders), and one hour later the 3d Platoon of Company H (weapons) went forward to assist Company C (raiders) in the latter's attack against Hill 208. By 1300, when the raider battalion began its attack from Phase Line A, Company G moved down the trail along the ridge line and supported the raider battalion. Rosecrans' command post later displaced southeast from near Beach Blue toward the scene of this action.
Tulagi--The First Night and Succeeding Day The first night on Tulagi set the pattern for many future nights in the Pacific war. During darkness, four separate attacks struck the raider lines, and, although minor penetrations occurred, the enemy made no attempt to consolidate or exploit his gains. The first attack, which met with some initial success, hit between Companies C and A. Outposts fell back to the main line of resistance (MLR), and the two companies were forced apart. The attack isolated Company C from the rest of the battalion, but the company was not molested again. Company A refused its right flank and awaited developments. They were not long in coming. Shifting the direction of his attack toward his right front, the enemy attempted to roll back Walt's men from the refused flank. But the flank held, killing 26 Japanese within 20 yards of the MLR. That ended the concerted attacks of the night. Thereafter, enemy efforts consisted entirely of attempts at quiet infiltration of the Marine positions. Individuals and small groups worked from the ravine through the raider lines and launched five separate small-scale attacks against the command post between 0030 and 0530. These were repulsed, and efforts of the part of two other enemy groups to skirt the beach flanks of Companies D and C likewise were turned back.
On the morning of 8 August, two companies of the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, moved up to assist in the sweep of the southeastern part of the island. Companies E and F, 5th Marines, passed through Company D raiders, attacked down the forward slope of Hill 281, and swung right toward the enemy pocket in the ravine. Now flanking this troublesome terrain feature on three sides, Marines laid down a heavy mortar concentration from the 60mm weapons of the raiders and 2/5's 81s.
By midafternoon the preparation was complete, and at 1500 the raiders and Company G, 5th marines, pushed through the ravine to wipe out remaining resistance. This ended organized opposition on the island, and by nightfall of 8 August Tulagi was labeled secure. For several days, however, individual Japanese and small groups continued to be flushed from hiding places and hunted down by patrolling Marines.
The Landings on Gavutu-Tanambogo: These islets, each dominated by a low, precipitous central hill of coral, are joined by a 500-yard causeway. Gavutu's hill, 148 feet in height, stands some 25 to 30 feet higher than Tanambogo's highest point, and Gavutu thus became the main objective of the landing which aimed at the higher ground. The plans called for the landing to strike the northeast coast after an approach from the east, and since Tanambogo lies approximately northwest of Gavutu the assault force faced the possibility of flanking fire from that island as well as frontal resistance from the main objective.
Opposition from both islands was expected from the terrain dominating the flat beach. Naval gunfire and close air support by SBDs from the Wasp were expected to neutralize most enemy emplacements on these hills, but the fire plan did not reckon with the coral cave. Caves of this type began to appear as serious obstacles for the parachute battalion of Gavutu at about the same time the raiders began to encounter them on Tulagi.
Surprise was impossible. There were not sufficient craft for simultaneous landings, and the hour of assault was established in General Vandegrift's Operation Order Number 7-42 as H-plus four hours. So four hours after the raider landing on Tulagi, the parachute battalion made its frontal assault in the face of fire from an alerted garrison which was supported by fires from a flanking position. The battalion went ashore in three waves, one company per wave.
The thoroughness with which the antiaircraft cruiser San Juan had carried out her fire support mission--280 rounds of 6-inch fire against Gavutu in four minutes--and the intensity of the Wasp's dive-bombers' preparation caused heavy damage to the enemy installations, but this destruction actually worked to the disadvantage of the parachute battalion in one instance. The unit intended to land on a seaplane ramp from which the beach could be easily reached, but the ramp had been reduced to an unusable mass of rubble.
Observing this, the landing wave commanders altered course slightly to the north where craft became even more vulnerable to flanking fire. Part of the troops, scrambling over a concrete pier that jutted four feet out of the water, were exposed to fire from both islands. General Vandegrift estimated that troops landing in this area suffered ten per cent casualties. Company A, the first wave, got ashore without casualties to work inland against no serious opposition.
The four boats carrying Company B and the final wave, with Company C and miscellaneous attachments, came under fire as they neared the island. The landing succeeded, however, and Company B, moving left and working toward Gavutu's southern end, gained some protection from enemy fire and continued to attack. Pinned down on the beach under heavy fire, the other companies made no advances until Company B gained high ground from which its fire assisted in getting the attack off the beach. Hill 148, Gavutu's high ground, was plastered by naval guns and assaulted on the east and southeast.
By 1430, Major Charles A. Miller, who had succeeded the wounded Major Robert H. Williams in command, controlled most of the island. Partially defiladed positions on Hill 148's west-southwestern slopes, however, still were active, and enemy emplacements there and on Tanambogo threatened further advance. Miller requested reinforcements to complete the capture of both islands. In anticipation of their arrival, Miller also requested an air strike and naval gunfire on Tanambogo, and Wasp planes furnished a 10-minute strike while Buchanan and Monssen, in position south of Gavutu, fired over that island and subjected the exposed faces of the hill on Tanambogo to an intense concentration of 5-inch shells.
By this time all forces available to General Rupertus had been committed, but since Captain Edward Crane's Company B (1/2) had met no opposition on Florida near Tulagi, this unit was ordered to report to Miller. The message reached the company just as landing craft arrived to withdraw the Marines from their Florida beach. Embarked in six landing craft, the company arrived at Gavutu at about 1800, and Miller directed Crane to land on Tanambogo and seize that island.
Told that only a few snipers held the island, Crane guided his overcrowded craft around the east shore of Tanambogo according to directions provided by Flight Lieutenant Spencer, RAAF, and under cover of darkness attempted a landing on a small pier on the northeastern tip of the island. (One boat, containing the 2d Platoon, hung up on a coral reef at Gavutu and took no part in the Tanambogo assault.) The first boat landed without incident, and the men deployed along the beach; but as the second boat discharged its men, a shell from one of the fire support ships ignited a nearby fuel dump, and the resulting glare lighted the landing area and exposed the Marines.
The enemy opened up immediately, taking all boats under rifle and machine-gun fire. Casualties mounted among the Marines ashore and still afloat, but the boat crews, being exposed, suffered most heavily. One crew was completely wiped out and a Marine assumed control of the craft. The reinforcing machine-gun platoon (4th Platoon, Company D) in the second boat managed to set up two of its weapons on the pier, but intense enemy fire forced a withdrawal. In the meantime, Crane and about 30 men had gone ashore. The intensity of resistance, however, made withdrawal inevitable, and Crane succeeded in re-embarking all wounded and all but 12 of the able survivors. The boats withdrew, some to Gavutu where they reported the event, and others direct to ships where the wounded were put aboard.
Two of the men left ashore managed to return to Gavutu at about 2200 in a rowboat, while Crane and Lieutenant John J. Smith, leader of the 2d Platoon, and the remainder of the dozen men made their way around the beach and over the causeway to arrive at Miller's Gavutu command post about midnight. At 2200, having been informed of the abortive attack on Tanambogo, General Rupertus requested the release of an additional combat team. This request reached Vandegrift during his conference with Admiral Turner on board the USS McCawley, and Vandegrift, Turner concurring, released the remaining two battalions of the Division Reserve.
At 0330, 8 August, the USS President Hayes and President Adams, with the 1st and 3d Battalions, 2d Marines (reinforced) embarked, were ordered to cross from the transport area off Guadalcanal's Beach Red to the Tulagi transport area. Simultaneously battalion commanders received orders to land their troops at Beach Blue on Tulagi and report to General Rupertus. Upon arrival at the transport area off Beach Blue at 0730, the 3d Battalion was directed to pass to Gavutu, reinforce the troops engaged there, and seize Tanambogo. Orders for the 1st Battalion were canceled and this unit did not land.
The 3d Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Hunt, landed on Gavutu in a succession of boat waves, with companies in the following order: Company L, with 5th Platoon, Company M attached, at 1000; Company K, with 4th Platoon, Company M attached, at 1025; Company I, with 3d Platoon, Company M attached, at 1050; Company M, less 3d, 4th, and 5th Platoons, with Headquarters Company, at 1120. Troops deployed initially to eliminate Gavutu opposition and to take Tanambogo under fire. Company L, for example, assumed positions generally around the base of Hill 148 facing Tanambogo, while Company K moved up the hill to relieve parachute battalion elements in positions there.
At 1330 Company K had just accomplished its mission when as SBD pilot dropped a bomb within company positions on the northwest nose of the hill. Three men were killed and nine wounded. Eight of the casualties were men of the supporting platoon of Company M. At 1225, Captain W.B. Tinsley, commanding Company I, was ordered to prepare for a landing on Tanambogo. He would have the support of two tanks from Company C of the 2d Tank Battalion (one of the reinforcing units of the 2d Marines), and his attack would be preceded by a 10-minute naval gunfire preparation by the Buchanan. The company would not be accompanied by its supporting machine-gun platoon, which was to stay in position on Gavutu, and lay down supporting fires from there.
At 1315 the tanks landed on Gavutu. Lieutenant E.J. Sweeney, commanding them, was ordered to land at 1615 on Tanambogo, using one tank to cover the south side of the hill on that island and the other to cover the eastern slope. The naval gunfire preparation began at 1600. Twenty minutes later the assault company, following the tanks, made its landing. Lieutenant Sweeney was killed, but his tank rendered valuable support to the riflemen.
The other tank, getting too far ahead of the assault troops, was disabled by an iron bar and set afire by oil-soaked rags employed by Japanese riflemen. The entire enemy group was wiped out; 42 bodies were piled up around the disabled tank. At 1620 Company I landed and formed two attack groups. One worked up the southern slope of the Tanambogo hill while the other, moving to the right and then inland, attacked up the eastern slope. Japanese fought fiercely from caves and dugouts, and the eastern group drew fire from a few enemy riflemen and machine gunners on Gaomi, a tiny islet a few hundred yards east of Tanambogo.
Naval gunfire from USS Gridley was directed upon Gaomi at 1700 and positions on the small island were silenced. At this time the 1st platoon of Company K attacked across the causeway from Gavutu, secured the Tanambogo end of the causeway, and took up positions for the night. By 2100, the southeastern two-thirds of the island had been secured, and at 2300 a light machine-gun platoon from Company M reported to Company I for support against enemy counterattacks. Considerable close-ion fighting took place during the night between the Marines and Japanese who sallied from foxholes and dugouts. No change in position occurred, however, and by late the next day continued attacks had secured the island. While Gavutu and Tanambogo were mopped up, the 1st and 2d Battalions, 2d Marines unloaded at Tulagi.
The 1st Battalion, unengaged since its 7 August landing on Florida, went ashore at Beach Blue at 0900 on 9 August. The 2d Battalion (Major Orin K. Pressley) followed an hour later. Here, as at Guadalcanal, the amphibian tractor emerged as a versatile piece of equipment whose importance and utility could hardly be overestimated. From noon of 8 August throughout the following night, five of these vehicles of the 3d Platoon, Company A, 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion (one of the reinforcing elements of the 2d Marines) operated between Gavutu and the President Adams. They carried water, supplies, ammunition, and personnel to shore and evacuated wounded on the return trips. On one occasion a tractor moved some distance inland to attack a Japanese position that had pinned down and wounded a number of Marines. Using their two machine guns, one .30 and one .50 caliber, the tractor's crew neutralized the enemy fire and then evacuated the wounded Marines. The five tractors of the platoon were taken back on board the Adams before sundown on 9 August.
With the fall of Tanambogo, the last effective resistance in the Ngella island group ceased. Subsequent operations consisted of mopping up, consolidating defenses, and occupying several small peripheral islands including Makambo, Mbangai, Kokomtambu, and Songonangona. The mission of clearing out these small islands fell to various units of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines. Makambo was taken by Company E, Mbangai by Company F, and Kokomtambu and Songonangona, by Company G. Occupation of all these smaller islands was completed during the morning of 9 August. In all cases, opposition was slight.
Occupation of the entire island group and destruction of the Japanese garrison had been accomplished in three days. The few prisoners taken were questioned and sent to rear areas. Most of them finally were placed in a prisoner of war camp near Featherstone, New Zealand. Comparatively, the American losses were not excessive. An early report by Rupertus to the effect that the parachute battalion had suffered 50-60 per cent casualties can only be explained in terms of inadequate communications between him and his troops ashore.
The exact number of Japanese casualties will never be known. An estimated 750-800 enemy were present in the Tulagi-Gavutu-Tanambogo area at the time of the landings. Twenty-three prisoners were taken, and an intelligence summary gives 70 as the approximate number of survivors who escaped to Florida. Immediately after organized resistance ceased and the isolated defending groups were rounded up or wiped out, Tulagi and its satellite islands were organized for defense against counterattack.
The 1st Parachute Battalion, depleted by its experience on Gavutu, moved from that island at 1700 on 9 August to Tulagi where it went into position in the Government building area. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines occupied the southeastern sector of the island, while two battalions of the 2d Marines took over the defensive mission in the northwest. The 1st Battalion occupied the extreme end of the island while the 2d Battalion established positions at Sasapi. Third Battalion, 2d Marines, took over the occupation and defense of Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Makambo.
The logistic problem on Tulagi was a miniature of that encountered on Guadalcanal. Although certain details were peculiar to Tulagi. The beachhead, for instance, was severely restricted by the abrupt ridge, and there were no roads. Only after noon of the second day was it possible to move supplies ashore at the piers on the eastern coast.
Both Gavutu and Tanambogo were so small that only ammunition and water were landed until the islands were secured. Naval gunfire on this side of the Solomon Islands operation had more of a work-out than it had received across the channel at Guadalcanal where opposition was at first light, but it was not an unqualified success. As a matter of fact it was "very poor," according to naval headquarters in Washington. But this failing was caused mostly by lack of intelligence and time for planning and coordinated training. Improper ordnance made for another failing. Only armor-piercing shells could have blasted the Japanese from their caves, but the ships repeatedly fired high-capacity bombardment projectiles.
Although many naval officers were still of the opinion that a ship was a "fool to fight a fort," some began to agree with the Marine Corps that naval gunfire properly employed could be a big help in an amphibious assault. It was a case of the gunfire ships needing to move in closer for their fire missions. The commander of one ship reported: It was observed that the enemy had not been driven from the beach at Gavutu by the shelling and bombing preceding the landing. Furthermore Tanambogo withstood two days of intermittent bombing and strafing and was not taken until a destroyer closed in to point blank range and shelled it for several minutes. It was evident that this fire was necessary to insure the capture of Tanambogo without further heavy casualties. Taking into account the indications that these shortcomings would be corrected in TULAGI ISLAND, framed against the background of the larger Florida Island, is fire-swept from the hits scored by American carrier dive-bombers. (USN 11649) TANAMBOGO AND GAVUTU ISLANDS photographed immediately after a pre-landing strike by USS Enterprise planes; Gavutu is at the left across the causeway. (USN 11034) later operations, the Marine Corps was generally satisfied with the ships' fire. "The operation did not involve a real test ... [but] nothing developed during the operation to indicate the need for any fundamental change in doctrine."
After these three days of fighting in the Tulagi area, this side of the operation remained quiet. Enemy planes bypassed it to strike at the more tempting Guadalcanal airfield and perimeter. Surface craft shelled Tulagi occasionally, but never was it subjected to the kind of bombardment that struck Guadalcanal in October. There is no record that enemy reinforcements landed either on Tulagi or on Florida Island. With this sharp fighting out of the way, the division could give all its attention to things on the larger island of Guadalcanal. There the picture was not a bright one.
 At 0625, Tulagi sent its message to Japanese stations to the north that an
enemy surface force had entered the channel. Tulagi CommB msg of 7Aug42 in 25th
AirFlot War Diary, August-September 1942, hereinafter cited as 25th Air Flot
Diary.  ComWaspAirGru Rept to CO Wasp, 10Aug42. In general, during the first
day Wasp planes operated over the Tulagi area while Saratoga planes gave
comparable support to the main landing off Beach Red at Guadalcanal. Enterprise
planes gave protection to the carriers and flew patrol missions. 
"0630--All flying boats have been set afire by the bombardment." CTF
18 ActRept, 6-10Aug42, 1, hereinafter cited as CTF 18 AR.  Ibid., 2. 
ComSoPac War Diary, 25Jul42 (located at NHD).  LtCol H.R. Thorpe ltr to CMC,
19Jan49.  Maj J.C. Erskine interview in HistDiv, HQMC, 15Mar49.  25th
AirFlot Diary.  Majs J.B. Sweeney, H. Stiff, W.E. Sperling interview in
HistDiv, HQMC, 4Feb49, hereinafter cited as Sweeney Interview.  The raiders
had been well briefed on the terrain of the island by Lt H.E. Josselyn, RANR, a
former resident of the area who had intimate knowledge of it. Ibid.  CTF 18
AR; 2; Lt A.L. Moon ltr to LtCol R.D. Heinl, Jr., 13Feb4  Sweeney Interview.
 Ibid.  1st Mar Div OpOrd No. 7-42, 20Jul42.