WWII in the Solomons

In 1942, WWII's bloodiest and longest campaign saw the loss of nearly 38,000 lives and the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place in and around Honiara. Names like Bloody Ridge, Red Beach, Skyline Ridge and Henderson Field will live long in the memories of both sides. There are many battle sites and relics of the war to be found not only here, but throughout the Solomon Islands.

The assault on Guadalcanal and Tulagi caught the Japanese completely by surprise. As dawn on August 7 revealed the American Armada offshore, an excited Japanese radio operator on Tulagi tapped out a message to Rabaul: “Large force of ships, unknown number or type, entering the sound. What can they be?”

And a little later, just before American navel guns silence the transmitter: “Enemy forces overwhelming. We will defend our posts to the death, praying for eternal victory”. That vow was kept. The Japanese on Tulagi held out for 31 hours of brave, bitter fighting. Some died in suicide charges across what had once been a cricket ground for the British administrators of the Solomons. Others holed up in deep caves in the hills back of the shore, pouring machinegun fire on approaching Marines until they were killed by high-explosives charges tipped into the caves.

Japan’s use of such a natural redoubt technique – which they were to use again and again during the fighting in the Pacific – was a tactic new to the Americans, and one they learned at considerable cost in the honeycombed hills of nearby Gavutu and Tanambogo. On these islets, lined by a causeway, the Japanese fought as fiercely as their comrades on Tulagi. Just getting ashore on Gavutu posed enormous difficulties for the Marines.

The islet was rimmed by coral reefs and the only practical place to land, a Japanese-built seaplane ramp, had been wrecked by the American sea and air bombardment. Forced to go ashore on the exposed areas adjoining the ramp, the Marines proved to be an easy target for the defenders in the hills.

The taking of the three islands cost the Marines, with 144 dead or missing and 194 wounded. But the Japanese had a heavier toll – of an estimated 800 troops, all but approximately 100 were killed. About 70 escaped across to Florida Island, mopping up on Florida was to go on for several weeks.

Of the few Japanese taken alive on Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo, only three of the 23 surrendered, they proved as instructive to the Americans as the Japanese’ tactic of holding up in caves. They now knew that to all but a few Japanese soldiers, death was preferable to what was viewed, in the Japanese code, as eternal dishonour.

By contrast the landing on Guadalcanal itself went easily. The marines swarmed ashore, on the level sands east of the airstrip the Japanese were building at Lunga Point.

Have an adventure in the Solomon Islands! Click here for more information on what you can do - including exploring historic WWII wrecks and battle sites.

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