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BATTLE OF THE PACIFIC: More Came On

4 minute read
TIME

Now that the first flush of hero stories had almost run its course, more comprehensive news about the Solomon Islands began to find its way through the ironbound Navy censorship. The Marines still held what they had taken, but they would need still more reinforcements and ample supplies if the slender thread of their strength was to endure. Nobody knew this better than their 55-year-old commander, Major General Alexander Archer Vandegrift. Despite destruction of 42 Japanese planes, without U.S. loss, and damage to enemy ships, he was in a tight spot. Aware of this fact, Admirals Ghormley and Nimitz, this week were conferring “somewhere in the Pacific” with Air Forces General Arnold.

Initial jubilation over the Solomons offensive seemed destined to go the way of the wild predictions which followed General MacArthur’s arrival in Australia. It was not a case of “Here we go to Tokyo”; rather it was: “We are fighting like hell to hold on.” Navy communiques, which last month optimistically had the Marines “mopping up” Guadalcanal, now said only “our positions remain intact”—without mentioning that those positions covered but 6,000 yards of beachhead, including a captured airdrome.

“The largest force of Marines ever to engage in landing operations” was learning what others had learned before, in the Philippines, in Java, in New Guinea: the stubborn, wily Jap means to win or to die. Last week came details of the Japs’ most pressing attack on the Solomons.

A Dangerous Situation. The New York Times’s military analyst, Hanson Baldwin, who flew from the U.S. to the Solomons to look for himself, aptly described the Jap attack on the Marines as one prong of a three-pronged offensive. A second prong was feeling its way down the “impassable” Owen Stanley Mountain Range of New

Guinea toward Port Moresby, key to Australia. The third was moving down the southern Gilberts, possibly toward the Fijis. Wrote Correspondent Baldwin: “The American-held portion of the southeastern Solomons stood like a bastion in the path of these enemy operations.”

A Bitter Battle on Sept. 13 and 14 temporarily decided the fate of the Solomons.

The general position was “as if the Marines held Jones Beach and the rest of Long Island were loosely dominated by the enemy.” On dark nights the Japs landed more and more troops. After U.S. tanks slaughtered 700 Japs, 700 men replaced the dead. The battle, as told by Baldwin:

“The enemy made three coordinated night attacks against three separate sectors of the Marines’ perimeter defenses of Henderson Field. One attack came from the south, another from the west, another from the east. The flank attacks were beaten back—one of them with relative ease, probably because about half of a thousand Japanese troops d >stined for it had been slaughtered by 01 planes while the enemy was attempting to land.

“But the main attack, in the center—delivered with strong forces—gained ground at first. Our Marine raider battalion, depleted and tired from weeks of intensive action, was at first only unit to oppose them. The Japanese advanced, shouting ‘Banzai!’ and illuminating our position with calcium flares. Many were killed, but more came on. There was a mad scramble of fighting in the dark with grenades, rifles and bayonets. Many Japanese filtered through to the borders of the airfield and took part of it under machine-gun fire.

“Our field artillery opened up, planes strafed and bombed just above the tops of the palm trees and eventually reserves counterattacked, drove the enemy back and cut off some of his troops. But the Japanese infiltrated again, and the struggle went on. Finally—and not until a large part of the Japanese force had been annihilated—the enemy withdrew deep into the jungle.

“During the course of this ferocious two-day struggle, three Japanese soldiers —one a lieutenant waving his sword and shouting ‘Banzai!’—burst out of the jungle into the command post of Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift. The three Japanese almost reached the General’s headquarters. They killed a Marine sergeant in their fanatical charge, but another Marine tackled the lieutenant around the knees. The lieutenant and one of his men were shot and killed, and the third Japanese lost his nerve and took to the jungle.”

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