Battle of Guadalcanal: Strategic & Operational Overview

Element of Surprise

After the Battle of Midway, there was a lull in the fighting in the Pacific. The military contact between the opponents remained only in the Aleutians and New Guinea, where after the cancellation of the operation “MO”, Japanese troops tried to force the Owen-Stanley Range to capture Port Moresby from the land. In late June, as part of a plan to strengthen the defensive perimeter of the Empire, Japanese sappers began the construction of a field airfield on the island of Guadalcanal. This is not to say that this airfield posed too much of a threat to the Allies. If the Japanese had time to put it into operation, this would allow them to control the southern part of the Solomon Islands more reliably, and would also create some problems for convoys going to Australian ports (Diamond, 2016). Theoretically, Japanese bombers from Guadalcanal could reach New Caledonia and even at the limit of the range of Sydney and other points on the east coast of Australia, but the organization of any large-scale air attack, especially from such a remote and poorly equipped base, clearly went beyond the capabilities of the Japanese Air Force.

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Strategic/Operational Overview

The American Chiefs of Staff at this time planned an offensive, the ultimate goal of which was to be the Philippines, and the northwestern part of New Guinea to be the intermediate. According to General MacArthur, to implement this plan, it was necessary to eliminate the flank threat posed by the powerful sea and air base created by the Japanese in Rabaul (Kawano, 2017). This required the organization of an auxiliary offensive along the chain of the Solomon Islands. The Guadalcanal possessed a number of features that made it a suitable starting point for this attack: the presence of an almost ready airfield, a sufficient distance from Rabaul, complicating the actions of Japanese aviation, and finally the ability to use bombers from the base on the island of Espiritu Santa to support the landing on the island.

Area of Operation

At dawn on August 7, US Marines landed on Guadalcanal and almost without a fight took an unfinished airfield. Less than two days later, the first of a long series of battles in the waters around the island, which is the battle near the island of Savo that ended with the brilliant victory of Admiral Mikawa, out of 5 heavy Allied cruisers covering the landing area, 4 were sunk; the damage sustained by Japanese ships was minimal (Wheelan, 2017). However, then the inexplicable happened. where instead of destroying vehicles with assault cargoes crowded in the anchorage at Tulagi Island, which was the main task of the raid, the Japanese cruisers began to retreat. After the war, many attempts were made to justify this decision of Mikawa somehow. They talked about the death of navigational maps when a shell hit the navigational cabin of the flagship, that the Japanese admiral was afraid of being attacked from the air the next morning. However, the matter was completely or somewhat different.

Principle of Antagonist vs UN Forces

The principle of antagonist and UN forces was deeply manifested in the battle of Guadalcanal. After Midway, the Japanese commanders had the feeling that intervention operation could have taken place, because Mikawa, leading his ships to Guadalcanal, was hardly too sure of the success of the action. Having won the battle with the Allied cruisers, he considered that he had exhausted the “luck limit” given to him this time and decided not to tempt fate (Diamond, 2016). This battle was the first striking manifestation of the “Midway complex” – a premonition of the inevitability of defeat, fettering the will of Japanese commanders at crucial moments in the battle, which then pursued the Japanese sailors until the end of the war.

Unfold of Mission

The overall mission and the land campaign on Guadalcanal in its nature resembled operations on the Western Front of the First World War. Throughout the campaign, the US Marines held a relatively small bridgehead around the airfield. Japanese army units stormed this position over and over again (Wheelan, 2017). At the same time, the role that heavy artillery played in the fields of World War I was represented by aircraft and ship guns on Guadalcanal.


The total losses of Japan during the entire battle for Guadalcanal amounted to 24,600 ground forces, two battleships, a light aircraft carrier, three heavy and two light cruisers, 12 destroyers, four submarines, and 23 vehicles (Kawano, 2017). The Americans lost 6,696 killed and wounded, two heavy aircraft carriers, six heavy and two light cruisers, and 15 destroyers (Diamond, 2016). Unlike the Americans, the Japanese naval losses were, due to the weakness of the Japanese economy, practically irreparable, while dozens of new aircraft carriers and cruisers were then built on the stocks of American shipyards. This exhausting battle, which led Japan to another defeat, made it subsequently abandon attempts to continue offensive operations in the Pacific Ocean and switch to strategic defense along the entire vast seafront.


In conclusion, an attempt by the Japanese fleet to support the last major Japanese offensive on Guadalcanal led to a series of extremely fierce night battles, notable mainly for numerous miscalculations and heavy losses on both sides. Apparently, it was these battles that pushed the highest Japanese command to the decision to evacuate Guadalcanal, which became the beginning of a large-scale retreat of the Japanese Empire. The official decision of the deal was made, where not a single Japanese soldier was left on the island.

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Diamond, J. (2016). Guadalcanal: The American campaign against Japan in WWII. New York, NY: Stackpole Books.

Kawano, H. (2017). Combat leadership on Guadalcanal: In extremis leadership of the Japanese and American soldiers in World War II. Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications, 55(4), 347-369.

Wheelan, J. (2017). Midnight in the Pacific. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.

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