Flight Journal - - FEATURES -

A bloody six-month cam-paign in a pre­vi­ously ob­scure part of the world sealed the fate of the Ja­panese Em­pire. The stun-ning vic­tory at Mid­way al­lowed the United States to take the of­fen­sive, start­ing at Guadal­canal in the Solomon Is­lands. The Amer­i­can code name for Guadal­canal was “Cac­tus.”

The First Ma­rine Di­vi­sion waded ashore on Au­gust 7, sup­ported by tail­hook air­craft from En­ter­prise, Saratoga (CV-3), and Wasp (CV-7). Ja­pan was quick to re­ply, send­ing land-based bombers and fighters from Rabaul, New Bri­tain, New Guinea, over 600 miles north­west. So be­gan an al­most daily round of air and sea bat­tles, in­clud­ing two car­rier en­gage­ments.

The Im­pe­rial Navy con­sis­tently bested the Al­lies in sur­face con­tests, be­gin­ning the sec­ond night of Op­er­a­tion Watch­tower. But the first two Ma­rine squadrons landed on Au­gust 20, with steady re­in­force­ment by other fly­ing leath­er­necks and Navy and Army units. Thus, a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship grew in the equa­to­rial cli­mate of Cac­tus. Air­men sought to limit the Ja­panese seaborne re­in­force­ments, while in­fantry sought to keep en­emy troops from over­run­ning “the Cac­tus patch.”

A pat­tern soon emerged: Amer­i­can air­power ruled by day, Ja­panese seapower by night. Prob­a­bly nowhere else in the war had such a pat­tern emerged for so long.

Two ma­jor Ja­panese re­in­force­ment at­tempts pro­duced the third and fourth car­rier bat­tles. On Au­gust 24, En­ter­prise and Saratoga faced three Im­pe­rial flat­tops in the Bat­tle of the Eastern Solomons. Saratoga planes sank the lone Ryūjō, but Ja­pan again fielded Shōkaku and Zuikaku, which had slain Lex­ing­ton at Co­ral Sea. En­ter­prise took bomb hits that re­quired re­pair at an ad­vanced base, but she soon re­turned.

Mean­while, Ja­panese sub­marines struck again. They sent Saratoga back to the States and sank

Wasp in Septem­ber. That left “The Big E” and Hor­net to op­pose the next re­in­force­ment. In the Oc­to­ber 26 bat­tle near the Santa Cruz Is­lands, Im­pe­rial avi­a­tors sank Hor­net and again bat­tered

En­ter­prise. Nonethe­less, her air group was cru­cial in de­feat­ing the fi­nal Ja­panese at­tempt to land re­in­force­ments.

Guadal­canal could not have been held with­out U.S. air­power, afloat and ashore. In the course of the cam­paign, the United States lost 29 ships, Ja­pan 38. The Amer­i­cans wrote off at least 600 air­craft to all causes, Ja­pan per­haps more than 800. Some 7,100 Amer­i­cans per­ished in the cam­paign and nearly three times as many Ja­panese.

An early F4F-4, the Grum­man Wild­cat bore the brunt of car­rierand is­land-based op­er­a­tions un­til the ar­rival of the F6F late in 1943. (Photo cour­tesy of Stan Piet)

Above: On the af­ter­noon of June 16, 1943, Capt. Jim Shu­bin of the 339th Fighter Squadron stands by his P-38F #129 on Fighter Two Airstrip on Guadal­canal. Shu­bin holds two 20mm shells cas­ings in a “V” sig­ni­fy­ing his down­ing of five Ja­panese Ze­ros...

Below: Pi­lots of the the 68th Fighter Squadron pose with one of the squadron’s P-40F-5 Warhawks on Fighter Two Airstrip on Guadal­canal in Fe­bru­ary 1943. The 68th FS was the first of two Mer­lin-pow­ered Warhawk squadrons to see ac­tion in the Pa­cific...

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