As part of our 12-part series of WW2 battle maps, this month we’re looking at one of the most significant battles of the war – Guadalcanal. Fought in a remote part of the Pacific, this battle would ultimately mark a turning point in the campaign and pave the way to Allied victory.
In the wake of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and it’s lighting conquest of much of the Pacific, Imperial Japanese forces stood poised to cut off Australia and New Zealand from their American allies. In order to do this, they had occupied the Solomon Islands, including the island of Guadalcanal in May 1942. The Japanese rapidly began constructing an airstrip on the island, from which they would be able to threaten the strategically vital shipping routes between the U.S. and its allies in the region. In addition to this, the island would provide a base for further Japanese advances towards Australia and New Zealand.
In order to prevent this from happening, the US deployed a powerful fleet consisting of 75 ships and including over 16000 troops to carry out amphibious landings and retake Guadalcanal. On 7 August 1942, US Marines landed on the northern shore of the island and began advancing towards their main objective – the partially built airstrip. This had been secured by the 12 August and work on completing it began immediately. Meanwhile, the battle for the island still raged. Japanese troops offered stiff resistance and held their ground effectively. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-September when reinforcements arrived that the Allies started to make meaningful progress.
By the end of the year, it was clear that the Japanese position was no longer tenable. Plans to evacuate their remaining forces were drawn up and were completed by 7 February 1943, ending the battle of Guadalcanal. The battle had lasted just over 6 months and claimed thousands of lives on both sides. However, it was a major strategic victory for the Allies, who succeeded in stemming the Japanese advance. Over the course of the following months, it would become clear that Japan had lost the initiative in the Pacific and would be fighting on the back foot until the end of the war. The battle for Guadalcanal served to mark the beginning of the end for Japan’s conquest of the region.