Guadalcanal Campaign August 1942 to February 1943

USS Wasp hit by Japanese torpedoes 15 September 1942

The Battle of Guadalcanal, the first major offensive against Japan by Allied forces in the Second World War, finally ended on 9 February 1943.

Six months earlier on 7 August 1942 predominantly American forces landed on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Florida in the southern Solomon Islands to try and protect vital supply and communication routes between the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The Allied invasion quickly overpowered the Japanese forces on the islands and the Allies quickly captured Tulagi and Florida, along with a partially completed airfield on Guadalcanal that was renamed Henderson Field.

During much of the remainder of 1942 the Japanese launched numerous attacks in an attempt to retake Henderson Field, including three land battles and seven major naval offensives. The attacks reached their climax in November 1942 when a final push to retake the airfield was defeated by the Allies. By February 1943 the Japanese had given up all attempts to capture the islands and withdrew their remaining forces.

Henderson Field airfield, Guadalcanal

On 1 February 1943 nearly 5,000 soldiers were evacuated and by 7 February the Japanese had successfully extracted over 10,000 servicemen from the islands. On 9 February the Allies had confirmed that the Japanese had gone and Guadalcanal was declared secure.

Following Japan’s withdrawal from the islands the Allies quickly developed strategic military bases at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, which supported the Allied advance further along the Solomon Islands archipelago. Henderson Field was repaired and further airbases were constructed at Lunga Point and Koli Point. Naval facilities at Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Florida provided invaluable anchorages and the islands soon housed extensive barracks for soldiers in preparation for further campaigns across the Pacific.

Japan’s defeat at Guadalcanal marked a major turning point in the campaign across the Pacific, putting them very much on a defensive footing. Japan had poured resources into the defence of Guadalcanal that weakened their positions in other key points in the Pacific, which in early 1943 directly contributed to a successful Australian and American counteroffensive in New Guinea and the capture of key bases at Buna and Gona. The Allies had achieved a major step forward in the War, which they did not relinquish.