Contents - Hirohito's War
17 Guadalcanal: Henderson Field and the Santa Cruz Islands
[September 1942–January 1943]
[Maps: 17.1, 17.2, 17.3, 17.4, 17.5]
The Battle of Cape Esperance (p 492) The Battle of Henderson Field (p 497) Combat above Guadalcanal (p 500) The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (p 501) Maruyama’s Retreat (p 509) The First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (p 512) The Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (p 516) Besiegers Become the Besieged (p 517)
The Battle of Cape Esperance: [Map: 17.1] With the failure of Captain Tanaka’s convoy mission on 25 August at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons the Japanese had been forced to rely on the nightly runs by destroyer to supply them with food, munitions and reinforcements. Destroyers, submarines, or PT boats would aim to speed down the ‘Slot’ at more than thirty knots in the early evening and then return again by daybreak to avoid air attacks from the bombers at Henderson Field. Albeit costly in terms of resources, the ‘Tokyo Express’ as it became known by the Americans (or Nezumi Yuso, ‘Rat Transportation,’ by the Japanese forces) kept Japanese hopes alive that Henderson Field could be retaken.
In an order direct from the Emperor’s chief of staff that stemmed from the Army and Navy agreements reached in mid-September, operations in New Guinea were downgraded in favor of a major push to recapture Guadalcanal. Horii’s advance on Port Moresby was brought to a halt. [See Chapter 14: Battle of the Kokoda Trail: Aussies Triumphant] The opening lines of the new orders read, “After reinforcement of Army forces has been completed, Army and Navy forces will combine and in one action attack and retake Guadalcanal Island airfield. During this operation the Navy will take all necessary action to halt the efforts of the enemy to augment his forces in the Solomons area.”1
For three weeks from mid-September nightly runs down the 250-mile long ‘Slot’ kept their forces supplied. In addition there was a gradual ‘feed in’ of 17,500 troops of the 2nd and 38th Infantry Division. However, Japanese troops were quickly degraded by the lack of food, malaria and the miserable conditions. Indeed when Lieutenant- General Masao Maruyama, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, arrived on Guadalcanal on 3 October, it was soon revealed that of the original 9,000 Japanese soldiers that had come to the island, 2,000 were dead, and 5,000 were too crippled by illness, disease and exhaustion to be considered for offensive action. It was therefore realized that to sustain a bigger Japanese force on Guadalcanal a larger logistics effort would be required.
Reinforcements would include Emperor Hirohito’s crack Sendai Division. Founded in 1870, the Sendai Division had distinguished itself in the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 by the capture of Crescent Hill at the Siege of Port Arthur. Somewhat less honorably, the Sendai Division had been partly responsible for