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1. During World War II, the US and Japan waged an extended battle for control of the Solomon Islands, including the island of Guadalcanal, in the South Pacific. I visited there over Memorial Day weekend, and have put together my own photos and historical pics to tell that story.
2. The story begins in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With the US battleship fleet crippled, Japanese forces rapidly advanced south to capture the Philippines, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), driving towards Australia.
3. In May 1942, a Japanese invasion force moved in to capture Port Moresby in New Guinea by sea. The US Navy threw two aircraft carriers (the Lexington and Yorktown) into the Coral Sea to stop them.
4. Here I am flying over the Coral Sea from Brisbane to the Solomon Islands. It was a new kind of war, with planes from each side searching over vast expanses of open ocean to find the enemy's aircraft carriers and strike them first.
5. The US Navy did stop the Japanese invasion fleet aimed at Port Moresby, in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, but at a high cost: the USS Lexington, one of only a handful of big carriers the US had, was sunk.
6. Its companion, the USS Yorktown, was severely damaged and was only just repaired to participate with the Hornet and Enterprise in the decisive Battle of Midway (northwest of Hawaii) in June, where four Japanese carriers were sunk.
7. In the lead-up to the Battle of the Coral Sea, a small Japanese force occupied Tulagi, the tiny capital of the British protectorate in the Solomon Islands, just north of the larger but sparsely inhabited island of Guadalcanal.
8. When the Japanese invaded these islands, the British officials and their local constables went into hiding, where they served as scouts or "coast watchers" who secretly radio-ed reports of Japanese movements back to the Allies.
9. Across from Tulagi on Guadalcanal, the British administrator Martin Clemens and his team of local scouts reported that the Japanese had begin building an airstrip on the island.
10. This tiny airstrip on Guadalcanal alarmed war planners in Washington, DC, because it could potentially extend Japanese air power to threaten the main maritime supply routes linking the US to Australia.
11. And Australia was where US General Douglas MacArthur, recently escaped from the Philippines, was holed up in this hotel in Brisbane hoping to (eventually) lead the big US Army offensive to take back Asia from the Japanese. (Recall his famous declaration: "I shall return").
12. Something I had wondered: why did the Japanese build an airstrip on Guadalcanal, not the British colonial "capital" of Tulagi? Because while Tulagi (pictured here) has a big harbor, the land around it is hilly. There's no flat land to easily build an airfield.
13. Whereas across the channel, the northern edge of sparsely inhabited Guadalcanal has the largest plain in the Solomon Islands. Great place to build an airfield - and why that airfield (pic taken from my plane) is still the country's main international airport today.
14. So in July, US naval forces spread thinly across the South Pacific - including Marines recently arrived in New Zealand - to make emergency plans to seize Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The preparations were scraped together so fast the Navy called it Operation Shoestring.
15. It's easy to forget, but up to that time, the main Allied experience with amphibious landings was the failed British landings at Gallipoli (in Turkey) in World War I. So there was a lot of concern that amphibious assaults were impractical and a recipe for disaster.
16. There were other problems as well. The top theater commander in the South Pacific, Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley, was an experienced naval diplomat and trusted friend of top Pacific commander Admiral Nimitz, but he was not a "hands on" or particularly assertive leader.
17. The commander of the naval expeditionary force, Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher, was terrified of losing the few remaining US aircraft carriers entrusted to his care, and faced major fuel shortages that limited his operations.
18. The naval commander of the amphibious landing force, Rear Admiral Richmond Turner (left), and the Marines commander, General Alexander Vandegrift (right), were more determined, but knew they would quickly be left on their own, once the landings had taken place.
19. One more thing: the US was publicly committed to a Germany-first strategy. The priority was for men and material towards the planned Allied landings in North Africa, and the Pacific Theater would just have to make do.
20. So on August 7, 1942, in Operation Watchtower, a force of about 14,000 US Marines slipped around Guadalcanal to the west - undetected by the Japanese - and landed on both Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the first US ground offensive of the war.
21. About 11,000 Marines landed with little opposition on Guadalcanal and quickly captured the airfield, as the small Japanese force building it fell back inland into the jungle.
22. The anti-climactic nature of the landings on Guadalcanal were captured in the first episode of "The Pacific", here:
23. And here's me making a similar approach to Guadalcanal (coming back from Tulagi) just the other day:
24. The biggest problem the Marines had upon landing on Guadalcanal was coping with the massive amount of supplies that needed to be unloaded, quickly, before the transport ships had to leave. They were completely unprepared, and it just piled up on the beach.
25. The 3,000 US Marines who landed on Tulagi got a much hotter reception. The Marines landed on Blue Beach and swept south, but by sunset found themselves held up by Japanese dug in deep on Hill 281.
26. Students studying and playing on Blue Beach, where the US Marines came ashore on Tulagi on August 7, 1942.
27. Blue Beach later served as the location of the US Marines' hospital on Tulagi. It's now been replaced by an elementary and middles school donated by a US Marine Corps veterans association.
28. Signs painted on the nearby cliffs at that time, and still clearly visible, show where vehicles were to be parked at the US Marines hospital on Tulagi's Blue Beach.
29. Schoolboys waging a mock battle of "capture the fort" on Blue Beach, where US Marines landed on Tulagi on August 7, 1942.
30. The cliffs facing Blue Beach on Tulagi are steep, and the Marines had to battle uphill to secure the island's high ground.
31. One of many concealed tunnels on Tulagi, from which the small number of Japanese troops on the island fought back fiercely against the arriving US Marines.
32. The concrete base for a US flagpole on Tulagi, constructed a year later when the island was securely in Allied hands.
33. The foundations of the British Commissioner's Residence on Tulagi, on the high ground captured by the US Marines on the first day they landed on the island.
34. Looking south at Hill 281, the last hold-out of the Japanese, from the British Commissioner's Residence on Tulagi. This was the front line at sunset on the first day the US Marines landed, where the Japanese made several "banzai" charges that night.
35. Behind it (same photo) across the bay you can see the small islands of Tanambogo and Gavutu, which were also Japanese strongpoints which held out fiercely against landings that day by the Marines.
36. It took three days of vicious fighting, including barrages of artillery and dive-bombing at suicidally close range, to kill all the Japanese dug into Tanambogo (right) and Gavutu (left). Hardly any defenders surrendered.
37. US Marine Corps Sergeant Frank McCulloch, who was not at the battle, later memorialized the Marines who fight and died in the battle on Gavutu.
38. Brigadier General Rupertus (center) supervising the US Marines assaults on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo from his command ship in August 1942.
39. US Marine officers commanding the units that assaulted Tulagi pose for a group photo shortly after the battle. By August 8, Hill 281 had been captured and the island secured. 307 Japanese and 45 US troops died. Three Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner.
40. The Raiders Hotel and Bar, where I landed on Tulagi, is named in honor of two special Marines commando units, one led by Lt. Col. Merritt Edson, which played a key role in the capture of Tulagi - and which we'll meet again on Guadalcanal.
41. On their wall, they have a map that gives you a better sense of the layout of Tulagi, its harbor, and the islets of Tanambogo and Gavutu.
42. The closest Japanese naval and air base to the US landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi (blue star) was Rabaul (red sun). Its bombers and fighters could just reach Guadalcanal at the end of their striking range.
43. Which is what they did. Here are Japanese G4M "Betty" bombers making a torpedo run on US transports off Guadalcanal on August 8, the day after the US landing. They took heavy losses but sank one US transport ship.
44. Spooked by these air raids, Admiral Fletcher announced he was withdrawing his aircraft carriers immediately. Admiral Turner and his small fleet of cruisers and destroyers would stick around to try to finish offloading his transports, without any air coverage.
45. The Americans didn't know it, but immediately on hearing news of their landing, Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa sent a force of seven cruisers and one destroyer steaming from Rabaul down the channel called "The Slot" to hit the US invasion fleet.
46. Unaware the Japanese were coming, Admiral Turner put out his cruisers and destroyers as pickets to protect the approaches to the vulnerable transports, which were still unloading. But only on half-alert.
47. As the sun set on August 8, they were posted on either side (left and right) of Savo Island, a volcanic outcrop known as "the round mound in the sound", seen here looking west from near the US Marines perimeter on Guadalcanal.
48. The Japanese had trained intensively in night fighting. A few US ships had radar, but were new at using it, and were caught completely by surprise.
49. First the Japanese swung south, blew the bow off the cruiser USS Chicago, and set the Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra on fire.
50. View from the Japanese cruiser Chokai as aerial flares illuminate the Allied southern group of ships during the Battle of Savo Island.
51. Then, without any alarm being raised, the Japanese swung north to hit the northern pickets. Three US cruisers, the Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria, were all sunk.
52. The Japanese cruiser Yūbari shining searchlights towards the northern force of US warships during the Battle of Savo Island.
53. Last photo of the cruiser USS Quincy, on fire and illuminated by searchlights from attacking Japanese ships, during the Battle of Savo Island.
54. As this clip from "The Pacific" shows, US Marines on Guadalcanal could easily see the ships slugging it out and catching fire. They hoped it was the Japanese fleet catching hell. In fact, it was their own US warships being blown up before their eyes.
55. Admiral Mikawa now had a choice: attack the US transports and risk being exposed to US carrier-based planes at sunrise, or leave now, almost completely unscathed. He chose the latter. He didn't know that the US carriers were already departing the area.
56. But the Battle of Savo Island would still go down as one of the worst defeats suffered in the US Navy's history. Four Allied cruisers were sunk and others severely damaged. 1,077 Allied sailors lost their lives.
57. Japanese artwork from during the war depicts the Battle of Savo Island, a resounding nighttime victory for the Imperial Japanese Navy off Guadalcanal.
58. US destroyers rescuing Australian sailors from the burning HMAS Canberra, which sank soon afterwards, the morning after the Battle of Savo Island.
59. Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra sinking after the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal.
60. With that, Admiral Turner decided to stop offloading supplies and get his transport ships out of there immediately, leaving the US Marines now sitting on Guadalcanal to their fate ...
61. The Marines now worked diligently to finish the airstrip on Guadalcanal that was started by the Japanese. They named it Henderson Field after a US aviator killed in the Battle of Midway, a few months before.
62. Henderson Field is now the international airport for Honiara, the new capital of the Solomon Islands that was founded after the war. It's where I arrived on Guadalcanal.
63. The arrival and departure areas at Henderson Field, modest as they may be, don't let you forget the heritage of this unique airport.
64. Henderson Field opened for business on August 20, 1942, with the arrival of one squadron each of 19 F4F Wildcat fighters (pictured here) and 16 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers.
65. These were later augmented and (when bombed or shot down) replaced by a hodgepodge of Army, Navy, and Marine aircraft that came to be known as the Cactus Air Force (Cactus was the codename for Guadalcanal).
66. Henderson Field was both the reason the US Marines were on Guadalcanal, in the first place, and the key to their defense, by providing invaluable air cover.
67. Constantly strafed, shelled, and bombed, the Cactus Air Force at Henderson was always in the constant process of being patched back together, salvaging parts and scarce fuel from one plane to make sure another could fly.
68. Soon the Seabees (naval construction units) were brought in to lay down a metal grating for the airstrip and taxiways. Some of it's still lying around.
69. Today, some of the old metal airstrip grating from the war has been repurposed as housing material along the outskirts of Henderson Field.
70. As long as Henderson Field and the Cactus Air Force were in operation, it meant that US forces controlled the sea lanes around Guadalcanal during daylight, and were able to (piecemeal) bring in reinforcements and supplies.
71. That is, with the exception of Japanese submarines lurking in the approaches south of Guadalcanal, at what was dubbed The Junction. When Marines could hear the explosion of torpedoes from these attacks, they would murmur that "there's a function at the junction."
72. But when night came, the Cactus Air Force was blind, and the Japanese sent convoys of fast destroyers dubbed "The Tokyo Express" down "The Slot" to reinforce and resupply their forces on Guadalcanal, and even shell the airfield, and get away under cover of darkness.
73. The Marines' perimeter around Henderson Field wasn't that large. In the distance, on the right, you can see Mount Austen aka "the grassy knoll" which was held by the Japanese and offered excellent views of everything happening in and around the US airstrip.
74. Admiral Yamamoto, the author of the attack on Pearl Harbor, didn't really care about retaking Guadalcanal, for its own sake. But he believed the Americans did care, and that pressure on Guadalcanal could be used to lure the remaining US carriers into battle.
75. So the Tokyo Express began landing an elite unit led by Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki (who helped stage the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident" in 1937 that triggered Japan's invasion of China), along the coast east of the US Marines perimeter.
76. Ichiki was a real firebrand whose past victories caused him to underestimate his enemy. He didn't even wait for his whole unit to show up before launching an attack on the US Marines, who he was confident would be swept away by Japanese valor.
77. On August 20, Ichiki's forces captured a local native Coastwatcher named Jacob Vouza scouting for the Americans east of the US perimeter. The Japanese tied him to a tree, tortured him, and - when he wouldn't talk - stabbed him in the neck to finish him off.
78. But amazingly, Vouza wasn't dead. When the Japanese left, he untied himself and somehow lurched back to American lines to inform them of Ichiki's impending attack. He recovered and continued serving thru the campaign. Vouza was later knighted and remains a huge local hero.
79. The Marines now knew where the Japanese attack was coming, from the east, along Alligator Creek (which they mistakenly thought was the Tenaru River) - and they dug in accordingly.
80. The banks of Alligator Creek today, just east of Henderson Field, are covered with 2nd-growth forest. At that time, both banks hosted coconut groves, part of a plantation owned by Lever Brothers. The Americans held the left (west) bank, the Japanese attacked from the right.
81. Here's Alligator Creek looking in the other direction (south). The US Marines were dug in with machine guns on the right (west), amid the coconut palms.
82. This isn't Alligator Creek, it's another river further west, but it gives you an idea of the sandbar that spanned the mouth of the creek, across which the Japanese led a nighttime "banzai" attack.
83. The misnamed Battle of the Tenaru is depicted in this clip from "The Pacific", which gives an accurate depiction of the nighttime attack by 800 elite Japanese troops against the dug-in and ready US Marines, across Alligator Creek
84. By the way, the character "Lucky" in "The Pacific" series is Robert Leckie, who later went on to become an author and historian, and whose book on Guadalcanal is well worth a read: amazon.com/Challenge-Paci…
85. The result was a horrific Japanese defeat. Ichiki and his unit, confident their charge would sweep all before it, were wiped out nearly to the man.
86. Actually this clip from "The Pacific", starting at the 4:00 point, accurately shows the aftermath of the battle, along the sandbar at the mouth of Alligator Creek.
87. It also accurately depicts the dying efforts by wounded Japanese to grenade US medics who came to their aid. This fanaticism had a chilling effect on the Americans. For the rest of the Pacific war, they would rarely take prisoners, even wounded, for fear of falling prey.
88. Dead Japanese soldiers lying under the coconut palms beside Alligator Creek, after the Battle of the Tenaru on August 21. Many have been run over and chewed up by the treads of advancing US light tanks.
89. In response to the new Japanese landings and ground attacks on Guadalcanal, Admiral Fletcher brought his three carriers, the USS Saratoga, USS Wasp, and USS Enterprise, farther north to provide air cover for the threatened Marines.
90. That put them on a collision course with a Japanese carrier task force commanded by Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo, cruising north of the Solomon Islands. Just as Admiral Yamamoto had hoped, here was their chance to destroy the precious US aircraft carriers.
91. The dance began between the opposing sides to locate and launch strikes against each other's carriers first, in what became known as the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
92. The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise throwing up anti-aircraft fire, under attack by Japanese dive-bombers and on fire from an earlier bomb hit. During the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on August 24, 1942.
93. Japanese Val dive-bomber, being shot down over the USS Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
94. Bomb hitting the flight deck of the USS Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
95. The Battle of the Eastern Solomons, in late August, was basically a draw. The USS Enterprise was badly damaged, and the US sank one smaller Japanese carrier, sent out as a diversion. Both sides were playing it safe, and withdrew.
96. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Express nighttime destroyer runs were gradually landing more Japanese troops on Guadalcanal, building up for new attack.
97. And the carrier USS Saratoga was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, putting it out of action for the foreseeable future, leaving just two US carriers in the South Pacific.
98. By mid-September, the Japanese were ready to try to break through the US perimeter again. Under the command of Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, they drilled a tortuous path through the jungle to hit the Marines from an unexpected direction - the south.
99. Except that it wasn't entirely unexpected. General Vandegrift had guessed the Japanese intentions and positioned the elite Marine Raiders under Col. Edson on a key ridge blocking the planned Japanese attack. It would be known as Edson's or Bloody Ridge.
100. The Japanese attacked on two successive nights, September 12-14, but piecemeal, because they had gotten spread out trekking through the jungle. The first attack came through this valley just east of the Lungga River (looking south from the US positions atop "Hill 2").
101. On the second night, the Japanese attacked along the ridgeline from Hill 1 (in the distance) to Hill 2 (where I'm standing). Both attacks were successfully repulsed.
102. US Marine standing on Bloody Ridge, south of Henderson Field, after the battle in mid-September.
103. Dead Japanese soldiers on Bloody Ridge after their unsuccessful night attacks in mid-September.
104. I asked my local guide on Bloody Ridge whether the vegetation or topography had changed at all. He said he asked a US veteran of the battle, who was touring the site again, the same question, and the veteran said it looked exactly the same.
105. After the successful defense on Bloody Ridge, the Marines were finally able to bring in enough men and supplies to start building up a full perimeter around Henderson Field, in every direction.
106. Through the center of it ran the Lungga River, which this picture shows (looking south) from the window of my plane when I landed at Henderson Field.
107. The Marines also established a more offensively-oriented position further west, at the mouth of the Matanikau River. You can see it across the river here, from the vantage point of the US Memorial. The post-war capital of Honiara has since grown up around this area.
108. In September, the Marines started sending out patrols beyond their perimeter to probe for Japanese activity and weaknesses.
109. But there were also severe setbacks. On September 15, a Japanese submarine torpedoed and sank the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, forcing the Navy to send the USS Hornet as a replacement. Attrition was taking its toll.
110. Still, the Navy was learning to take the offense. On the night of October 11, in the Battle of Cape Esperance, a cruiser force under Rear Admiral Norman Scott blocked a run of the Tokyo Express. Both sides got bloodied, but it was a far cry from the disaster at Savo Island.
111. The Battle of Cape Esperance demonstrated that the US Navy surface fleet could hit back against the Japanese Imperial Navy, even at night.
112. But just two days later, on the night of October 13, the Japanese battleships Kongō and Haruna showed up and bombarded Henderson Field. The shelling, which deeply rattled the US defenders on Guadalcanal, is depicted in this clip from "The Pacific":
113. By mid-October, this US situation on Guadalcanal was becoming critical. The Cactus Air Force was running out of planes and fuel. And bit by bit, the Tokyo Express was delivering more Japanese troops to the island in preparation for a big new offensive.
114. The Japanese had now landed artillery guns (the actual remains of which I saw here, at local "museum" in the Japanese-held zone west of Honiara) which could hit Henderson Field day and night - though with less devastating effect than the naval bombardment.
115. Lying next to them, here, is the turret of a US light tank, as well as the first US flag pole that flew over Henderson Field.
116. Here's the nose-window of a Japanese "Betty" bomber from Rabaul that got shot down over Guadalcanal, and the wing of a Japanese Zero fighter (next to a woman mowing the grass with a machete).
117. The giant folding wings of a Grumman TBF Avenger carrier-based torpedo bomber, with early-war USA insignia on them, probably part of the Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field.
118. A Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter, the workhorse of the American air patrols defending the skies over Guadalcanal. It was less agile than the Japanese Zero, but could take a lot more damage (unarmored Zeros tended to blow up when hit).
119. The remains of an SBD Dauntless carrier-based dive-bomber, with its distinctive flaps, likely part of the Cactus Air Force, which played a key role in hitting the ships of the Tokyo Express whenever they got caught out in daylight.
120. The bulk of Japanese forces were now landing and consolidating to the west of the American perimeter. There were now nearly 20,000, outnumbering the US Marines.
121. Though often low on supplies, they were secretly cutting a path, the "Maruyama Road", that swung south through the thick jungle leading to Bloody Ridge, this time from the west.
122. One of the small mountain guns which Japanese troops lugged along the "Maruyama Road" through the jungle at Guadalcanal, to provide close support for their planned infantry assaults to capture Henderson Field.
123. There was - and still is - this myth that the Japanese were crack jungle fighters. In fact, most Japanese soldiers, raised in a largely urban environment and temperate climate, suffered greatly in the jungle on Guadalcanal, at least as much as the Americans.
124. This realization, by the British fighting in Southeast Asia, gave rise to the expression "The Jungle is Neutral", which went on to inform - some would argue misinform - US thinking in the Vietnam War. amazon.com/Jungle-Neutral…
125. The idea being that if the tropical heat and humidity, and thick and unfamiliar vegetation, impose hardships on your own troops, they impose equal hardships on the enemy. (Which may not be quite as true if you're fighting locals).
126. It was at this critical point, October 18, that Nimitz reluctantly relieved his friend Admiral Ghormley, who he worried had been infected with defeatism, and replaced him with William Halsey as overall commander in the South Pacific.
127. Halsey's appointment immediately boosted morale. He was seen as a fighter, and a hands-on commander. Someone willing to take risks to beat the Japanese on Guadalcanal.
128. The wave quickly crested, on both land and sea. On October 23, the Japanese launched an attack across the Matanikau River to the west - as a diversion to their surprise all-out assault to take Henderson Field, once again from the south by way of Bloody Ridge.
129. Wrecked Japanese tanks at the mouth of the Matanikau River, now on the built-up eastern edge of the post-war capital of Honiara.
130. The main Japanese assault on Bloody Ridge was fought off in part due to the bravery of Sergeant John Basilone. His actions are depicted in this clip from "The Pacific", and won him the Medal of Honor.
131. John Basilone's Medal of Honor citation can be read below. He survived Guadalcanal and toured the US to help sell war bonds, but returned to battle and was killed on Iwo Jima in 1945. He's one of the main characters portrayed in "The Pacific".
132. The USS John Basilone (DDG-122), the second US Navy destroyer to be named after him, is expected to be commissioned soon.
133. Looking southeast from Bloody Ridge today, the place where Basilone fought is the clump of green trees just behind and left (to the east) of the ridge.
134. The Japanese assault on Henderson Field was intense, and almost broke through. But the cost of the failed attack was horrific. Up to 3,000 Japanese soldiers were killed (half the attack force), compared to just 86 of the defending Americans.
135. But early in the battle, Japanese ground forces sent a radio message that they had CAPTURED Henderson Field. That was wrong, but in response, the Japanese Navy ordered its main carrier fleet in to finish the job.
136. Admiral Halsey, throwing caution to the wind, sent in his only two remaining carriers, the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, to meet them, and the opposing fleets clashed in the seas east of Guadalcanal in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
137. Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter on the USS Enterprise on 24 October 1942, as it heads into the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
138. Japanese Zero fighters and Val dive bombers on the carrier Shōkaku preparing to launch for an attack on US carrier forces the morning of October 26, 1942
139. TBF Avenger torpedo bomber preparing to take off from the USS Enterprise on October 26, 1942. Crew are holding up signs telling the pilot the latest known location of the Japanese carriers.
140. The sky fills with anti-aircraft fire as the USS Enterprise comes under attack from Japanese carrier planes in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
141. The crew of the Japanese carrier Shōkaku fights fires on the flight deck after the strike by US carrier aircraft, during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
142. Somebody has done a pretty neat job depicting the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands using CGI, and it's worth a watch here:
143. Damaged Japanese bomber dives towards the carrier USS Hornet, and seconds later hits, during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
144. F4F Wildcat fighter plane skids across the flight deck as the USS Hornet makes violent evasive maneuvers to avoid attacking Japanese dive bombers.
145. The USS Hornet, crippled by Japanese bombs and torpedoes, sinking. Its loss, leaving the US with just one (heavily damaged) carrier in the South Pacific, was a heavy blow.
146. The wreck of the USS Hornet, sunk in October 1942 in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, was only recently found on the ocean floor. foxnews.com/science/wreck-…
147. The crew of the USS Enterprise conducts a burial at sea on October 27 for crewmen killed during the battle the day before. 262 American sailors and airmen were lost in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
148. But while US sunk no Japanese carriers in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Japanese losses of aircraft and - more crucially - irreplaceable pilots was devastating, and effectively put their carriers out of commission.
149. Fully half of the trained pilots who had taken part in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, less than a year before, were now dead.
150. Back home, all eyes were on Halsey and Guadalcanal, the only place in the world - so far - where US ground troops were fighting the enemy in sizable numbers.
151. And fighting they were. US Marines attacked west across the Matanikau River and surrounded and destroyed Japanese troops holding Point Cruz. Here they are dragging bodies of Japanese soldiers from their bunkers on Point Cruz.
152. Point Cruz is now the main port area of the post-war capital of Honiara. You can see the mouth of the Matanikau River, also now inside the city, just to its right.
153. Here's a video of the container port at Point Cruz as seen from the sea.
154. The main boat landing at the western base of Point Cruz, in Honiara. The tiny peninsula, now filled with docks, warehouses, and fuel storage tanks, was once a battlefield for US and Japanese troops.
155. The Japanese realized that destroyer runs by the Tokyo Express just weren't enough to supply and reinforce their men on Guadalcanal. They needed to send in cargo ships, and the only way to do that was to send in their big battleships to shell and destroy Henderson Field.
156. Japan's big-gun battleships would clash in two night engagements with US naval forces - once again, the waters surrounding Savo Island.
157. In the first battle, in the early morning of November 13, the US rushed a force of outmatched cruisers and destroyers on a nearly "suicidal" mission to block a taskforce led by the Japanese battleships Hiei and Kirishima from reaching Guadalcanal.
158. The "Cruiser Night Action", also called the "First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal" was a confused slugfest that one participant called "a barroom brawl with the lights out".
159. The fighting was horrific, with ships exchanging fire at brutally point-blank range in the dark. Twisted steel, fire, and torn limbs covered decks running with blood. One participant compared it to a scene from Dante's Inferno.
160. The US commander, Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, and his second in command, Rear Admiral Norman Scott (the victor at the earlier Battle of Cape Esperance) were both killed on the bridges of their warships, in the melee.
161. Four US destroyers and one cruiser, the USS Atlanta, were sunk outright. Three other US cruisers were badly damaged and nearly sunk. 1,439 US sailors were killed in action.
162. But the Japanese battleship Hiei was crippled in the battle, and sunk the next day by US planes off Savo Island - a huge victory. The battleship Kirishima was forced to turn back, and Henderson Field was saved - for the moment.
163. One of the US ships that was badly damaged was the cruiser USS Juneau. With the rest of the task force, it limped its way back to New Caledonia and safety.
164. On board the USS Juneau were five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa: the Sullivans. The brothers enlisted together in January on the stipulation that they serve together on the same ship, a request the Navy reluctantly honored - then vigorously promoted for publicity purposes.
165. The USS Juneau was limping along south of Guadalcanal when a torpedo from a Japanese submarine hit it from out of nowhere. The ship ... evaporated. It exploded and sank in the terrible blink of an eye.
166. The other US ships, severely damaged and just as vulnerable to submarine attack, could not stop to rescue survivors. Halsey relieved the captain of the USS Helena, Gil Hoover, for failing to do so, but later regretted his harsh judgment.
167. Out of a crew of nearly 700 men, about 140 survivors of the USS Juneau ended up in the water, many severely injured. After days drifting at sea, just 10 were found alive. The rest had succumbed to their wounds or been eaten by sharks.
168. Sharks. Time to mention sharks. The warm waters around the Solomon Islands are full of them, including deadly hammerheads once you get beyond the reefs. When a ship sank, even if there were rescue ships nearby it was a race between them and the feasting sharks.
169. Four of the Sullivan brothers were killed instantly when the USS Juneau exploded and sank. The fifth and eldest survived but, driven mad by grief, swam out from the life raft in search of his brothers and was never seen again.
170. In 1944 a wartime film was made about them called "The Fighting Sullivans"
171. After their deaths, the parents of the Sullivan Brothers toured the country helping to sell War Bonds. In 1943, their mother launched a destroyer (DD-537) named after them. She smashed the champagne bottle ... then moments later fell to the ground sobbing.
172. Today the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) is the second ship to bear their name and memory. Its ship's motto is "We Stick Together".
173. In "Saving Private Ryan", Tom Hanks' character briefly mentions the fate of the five Sullivan brothers as the rationale for their mission (Ryan's brothers have all been killed, so he is to be sent home).
174. Like the USS Wasp, the wreck of the USS Juneau was recently found at the bottom of the sea off the Solomon Islands.
175. Here is an interview with one of the handful of survivors from the USS Juneau. The video says only six were rescued (not 10).
176. The Japanese were making one more go of it, however. The battleship Kirishima, undamaged in the first battle, would try to slip in again to bombard Henderson Field, joined by the cruisers Atago and Takao plus destroyers. Here they are en route:
177. Halsey had no choice. He had to detach his two battleships, the USS Washington and USS South Dakota, from protecting his carriers and send them into the dangerously restricted waters off Savo Island to beat back the latest threat.
178. The US battleship task force was led by Rear Admiral Willis "Ching" Lee. His nickname came from his pre-war time in China. He was a Kentucky boy with a flair for mathematics and a keen understanding of radar.
179. As his ships approached Savo Island, their compasses twitched noticeably due to all the steel wrecks beneath them, on the bottom of what was now dubbed "Iron Bottom Sound".
180. On the night of November 14, using his radar to maximum effect, Lee saw the Japanese battleship Kirishima and its task force coming and opened fire with his powerful 16-inch main guns.
181. Three of his four destroyers screening his battleships were sunk, and the USS South Dakota was damaged, but the USS Washington blasted away until the Kirishima was sunk, and the other Japanese ships fled.
182. Four Japanese transport ships, rushing to deliver supplies and reinforcements under cover of the battleship task force, were forced to beach themselves on the northwest coat of Guadalcanal. When dawn arrived, they were bombed and set on fire by US warplanes.
183. One of those transports beached on Guadalcanal was the Kinugawa Maru. The wreck along the beach, here, is pictured after the war.
184. And here is what can be seen of the Kinugawa Maru today, after an Australian salvage company took most of what was above the waterline in the 1950s.
185. The wreck of the Kinugawa Maru - destroyed in the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on November 15, 1942 - is an easy swim from shore.
186. A video I took snorkeling over the remains of the Kinugawa Maru off the coast of Guadalcanal.
187. The outline of the wreck of the Kinugawa Maru, as seen from the air.
188. Rear Admiral Willis "Ching" Lee being awarded the Naval Cross by Admiral Halsey in January 1943, in recognition of his battleships' decisive victory off Guadalcanal on November 14-15.
189. It wasn't clear at the time, but the battleship battle in mid-November was a decisive turning point. With the US controlling the sea and air around Guadalcanal, it became increasingly difficult for any Japanese supplies or reinforcements to get through.
190. By the end of November, out of the 30,000 Japanese soldiers on the island, just 4,200 were fit to fight. By the end of December, 100 were dying each day from starvation.
191. At the same time, the US was landing fresh Army troops to replace the exhausted US Marines. The Army's arrival on Guadalcanal is what is portrayed in the novel and movie "The Thin Red Line".
192. Meanwhile, the departure of the Marines from Guadalcanal is portrayed in this scene from "The Pacific":
193. US Army Major General Alexander Patch (farther right) assumed command of US troops on Guadalcanal in December 1942.
194. American radio intercepts were hearing of something called "Operation Ke". In fact, it was an operation to secretly withdraw Japanese troops. But they assumed it was another big push to reinforce Japan's position on Guadalcanal.
195. So the Americans launched a big offensive to root out the Japanese from the high grounds overlooking the coast, in positions colorfully named the Gifu (on Mount Austen), the Galloping Horse, and the Sea Horse. (The modern capital of Honiara lies along the coast in this map).
196. Mount Austen is now home to the Japanese Memorial on Guadalcanal.
197. From the Japanese Memorial, you can see the back side of Mount Austen that made up the heavily fortified hilltop position called "the Gifu".
198. One of the Japanese pillboxes that made up the fortified Gifu position on Mount Austen.
199. From atop the American Memorial on Guadalcanal, looking south, you can see the hilltops that made up the Galloping Horse and the Sea Horse.
200. The 1962 novel "The Thin Red Line" by James Jones, an Army veteran of Guadalcanal, depicts the battle for the Galloping Horse, the Sea Horse, and Kokumbona (a town west of modern-day Honiara), renamed as "The Dancing Elephant", "The Sea Slug", and "Bunabala".
201. This scene in "The Thin Red Line" depicts the initial approach of US Army troops to these well-fortified hilltop Japanese positions on Guadalcanal.
202. This scene in "The Thin Red Line" depicts US soldiers taking the heavily-fortified bunkers atop the Galloping Horse and the Sea Horse in January 1943.
203. This scene in "The Thin Red Line" depicts the taking of a Japanese base area on Guadalcanal (perhaps at Kokumbona), and the abject condition of the Japanese defenders, cut off from supplies and reinforcements.
204. This photo, taken further west of Honiara, shows what these hills looks like before urban development set in. It's also (not coincidentally) where those scenes from "The Thin Red Line" were filmed.
205. An injured American soldier from the 35th Infantry Regiment is prepared for evacuation from the front lines on Guadalcanal on January 15, 1943.
206. Wounded US Army soldier is assisted off of the front line in the hills near Guadalcanal's Matanikau River on January 15, 1943. This area is now the outskirts of the post-war capital of Honiara.
207. Japanese prisoners captured by US troops on Guadalcanal in the closing months of the battle for the island.
208. US Army troops on Mount Austen on Guadalcanal.
209. US supplies piling up on Guadalcanal. By the start of 1943, the US now had 50,000 troops on the island.
210. US troops building a bridge across a river on Guadalcanal. Virtually no infrastructure existed on the island before the battle.
211. Local Solomon Islanders bringing US supplies up to the front lines on Guadalcanal.
212. American artillery firing on Japanese positions on Guadalcanal, in the closing days of the campaign, with hard-won victory assured.
213. Guadalcanal is now safe enough for the top brass to pay a visit: Secretary of the Navy Frank Know, General Patch, Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Halsey, and General Collins.
214. The Japanese were successfully able to evacuate 10,652 men from Guadalcanal, in early February.
215. On February 9, 1943, General Patch declared Guadalcanal free of Japanese forces: "Tokyo Express no longer has terminus on Guadalcanal."
216. The Japanese ground commander, Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, also recognized the reality of defeat: "Guadalcanal is no longer merely a name of an island in Japanese military history. It is the name of the graveyard of the Japanese army."
217. The US victory on Guadalcanal coincided with other signs that the tide of World War II was turning. In October, the British defeated Rommel at El-Alamein in Egypt, and in November, US forces landed in Morocco and Algeria, on the other side of North Africa.
218. And on February 2, 1943, an entire German army surrendered at Stalingrad, after a campaign that run roughly the same length as the battle for Guadalcanal. It is considered the key turning point on the Eastern Front.
219. But Guadalcanal, like North Africa and Stalingrad, was no sure thing. Historian James D. Hornfischer writes: "An American defeat was strongly possible well into November."
220. But at Guadalcanal, Hornfischer continues, "the Japanese saw for the first time the terrifying aspect of the American nation resolved to total war and bent to slaughter." Japanese morale, bolstered by early victories, was shaken, and would not recover.
221. As Admiral Halsey put it:
222. The US lost nearly 7,000 men killed in the Guadalcanal campaign, including 5,041 sailors and 1,592 Marines and soldiers. That's more than 3 times as many men killed at sea as on land.
223. The Japanese lost anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 men, most on land, and only about 8,500 in combat. As this poster at the Henderson airport terminal gives unsettling evidence, to this day many of their bodies have never been found.
224. But the battle for the remote Solomon Islands was not over. And no one would experience this more directly than a young man born to privilege who arrived in Tulagi in April 1943, to take command of a PT patrol boat. His name was John F. Kennedy.
225. This quonset hut on Tulagi was the repair shed for damaged PT boats, which began to be deployed in the waters around Guadalcanal in late 1942.
226. PT (short for "patrol torpedo") boats were a glamorous new weapon. Packing torpedoes and depth charges and engines that could propel them at over 40 knots, they were also an opportunity for a relatively junior officer to have his own command.
227. They had several shortcomings, however. First, their torpedoes often didn't work - a serious problem that plagued US submarines as well, and which the Navy was in total denial over.
228. Second, in the daylight the PT boats were sitting ducks for Japanese dive-bombers, which continued to hit Tulagi and Guadalcanal from a new airbase they built at Munda (red circle).
229. Third, at night in the Solomons, when moving at fast speeds the PT boats gave off phosphorescent wakes, making them nearly as visible - and vulnerable. They had to slow down and maintain radio silence, which made it hard to communicate and coordinate any kind of fast attack.
230. On the day in April 1943 that Kennedy arrived in Tulagi harbor (pictured here), a Japanese bombing raid came in and nearly sank his transport.
231. But the US could hit back in the air as well, with the arrival of new planes in the South Pacific Theater like the quick and longer-ranged P-38 Lightning.
232. In fact, it was a squadron of P-38s that, acting on a decrypted Japanese radio message, was able to ambush and shoot down a plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto (the author of the attack on Pearl Harbor) over the island of Bougainville on April 18, 1943.
233. Admiral Yamamoto, a few hours before his death, saluting Japanese naval pilots at Rabaul. His death deprived Japan of one of its greatest military strategists.
234. Back in Tulagi, Kennedy (far right) was assigned command of the PT-109.
235. Meanwhile, US commanders were drawing up a plan to encircle the Japanese base at Rabaul. Called Operation Cartwheel, its left hook was to be led by troops under General MacArthur driving northeast from New Guinea.
236. Its right hook would consist a drive northwest from Guadalcanal, including US landings on and around New Georgia to neutralize the Japanese airstrip at Munda.
237. To get to this theater of operations, I flew to that Japanese airstrip at Munda, now the local airport.
238. And when I say local airport, well ... it's a pretty modest affair.
239. Munda is basically about two blocks long, with the airport on the inland side and an informal marketplace by the shore. Like in most parts of the Solomon Islands, the town's 3 or 4 general stores are all run by migrants from China.
240. The roads give out soon beyond the town's edge, so boats serve as the local buses.
241. Before Christian missionaries arrived in 1909, the area around Munda was known for headhunting. After most villages converted, some holdout warriors repaired to the isolated islands of the nearby Vonavona Lagoon.
242. They brought their collection of skulls to what is now called "Skull Island", about half an hour off Munda.
243. A metal bowl on Skull Island in Vonavona Lagoon used for rituals to swirl the water they contain and call up storms. Best not to touch.
244. The skulls kept on Skull Island consist of both slain enemies and revered relations, mixed together.
245. The most powerful skulls are kept in this special stone hut. The skull on the upper right belonged to a renowned warrior chief who relocated to the Vonavona Lagoon after the Christian missionaries arrived.
246. Next to the skulls is an altar to the Fish God (whose totem is in the center), where people could come and pray for successful fishing.
247. The Christian descendants of the headhunting chief are still buried on Skull Island in Vonavona Lagoon.
248. My boat back to Munda, tied up on Skull Island.
249. From Munda, you can see the peaks of Rendova Island, across the channel to the south.
250. On June 30, 1943, US troops landed on Rendova Island as part of what was dubbed Operation Toenails, in a preliminary to moving on Munda.
251. And soon afterward, Kennedy's PT squadron was relocated to a primitive "bush camp" on tiny Lumbaria island, just off Rendova. From my plane window, it's the island I've circle in white.
252. The first part of the crossing from Munda to Kennedy's PT base near Rendova, inside the coral reef, was smooth as glass.
253. On the horizon, the surf line is like a clear step in elevation. Once you cross it, and get out into the channel, between Munda and Rendova, the ride is a lot bouncier. These are the waters the squadron of PT boats Kennedy belonged to would have patrolled, usually at night.
254. The American PT base at Lumbaria island may look like a tropical paradise, but ti was tiny, primitive, and rife with tropical diseases. The shallow waters protected it from Japanese destroyers, but it was subject to bombing raids from Japanese aircraft in the vicinity.
255. There's a local family that lives on the island and looks after the old PT base. They don't get that many visitors and were especially excited when they learned I'm an American.
256. The base was damaged by the tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands in 2007. Many relics were lost or stolen in the aftermath.
257. They've reconstructed a hut over the concrete base of the original mess (left), and are building a "museum" over the concrete base of the officers' quarters that Kennedy shared (right).
258. Yep, future President John F. Kennedy may have drank one of these Coca-Colas in the mess of his PT base on Lumbaria Island.
259. Here's the remains of the bunker where they took shelter during Japanese air raids.
260. They had a bakery (bottom left) and a fresh-water well (behind it), but things were pretty spartan.
261. When I first arrived, the little monument they have to Kennedy's memory was bare. "We didn't know you were coming!" But the family rushed back to their huts and got out all the gear and set it up for me.
262. They really have carved quite a respectable looking bust of JFK out of local wood!
263. The man who looks after the PT base hopes that someone from the Kennedy family will come someday to visit. He also hopes to set up a small cabin for visiting tourists to stay overnight.
264. His family was shy but very welcoming. His daughter (second from left) is studying in the Philippines to become a nurse.
265. As we waved goodbye, I thanked them for preserving a piece of my own country's history, in such a distant land.
266. Back at my quay-side lodgings at Munda, I was reminded more than a little of another famous PT boat base in the South Pacific: the one in the TV sitcom "McHale's Navy".
267. The original pilot for "McHale's Navy" was actually an action drama that aired in 1962, starring Ernest Borgnine (a WW2 navy veteran) as a captain of PT boat who is stranded, with a handful of survivors, on a remote island base (like Lumbaria Island) after a Japanese attack.
268. It was, of course, recast as a comedy series featuring McHale (Borgnine) as the captain of a misfit PT boat crew defying Navy rules to enjoy themselves in the tropics.
269. It's actually pretty fun, in the context of this thread, to go and watch the first full comedy episode of the series.
270. McHale and his crew are supposedly based on "Taratupa", which sounds like Tulagi and looks a lot like what the base there probably looked like (quonset huts and all). At one point, his CO points on the map to southern New Zealand as their location, which is ridiculous.
271. But look at the map that's actually behind them on the wall in the CO's hut in the first episode. Recognize it? That's Guadalcanal and Tulagi/Florida Islands, with Iron Bottom Sound between them.
272. By the way, McHale's martinet commander, Captain Wally Binghamton, bears more than a passing resemblance to the descriptions I've read of Kennedy's PT boat squadron commander. He was not much loved.
273. On July 2, 1943, US Army troops made their main landing on New Georgia, aimed at capturing Munda. But over the next few days, they found their advance bogged down against determined Japanese defenders.
274. The Japanese had no intention of giving up New Georgia without a fight. They quickly sent 4,000 troops via the Tokyo Express to Vila on Kolombangara Island, where they would be ferried across Kula Gulf to Bairoko harbor, and then marched by an 8-mile jungle trail to Munda.
275. I traveled to Bairoko harbor (seen here), where some remnants of that Japanese reinforcement and supply effort remain.
276. Here I am snorkeling over the wreck of the Kashi Maru, a Japanese freighter that was carrying food and ammo to supply the defenders at Munda. It was sunk in Bairoko harbor by a US air raid on July 2, 1943 - the same day the US Army landed near Munda.
277. Here are some Japanese coastal artillery guns further north of Bairoko, near the northern tip of New Georgia, looking out over the Kula Gulf.
278. The vegetation surrounding it gives you a good idea what the fighting environment was like along these "jungle trails" that linked the main Japanese positions on New Georgia.
279. US soldier fighting in the same environment on New Georgia in August 1943.
280. On July 5, the US Army landed another force along the Kula Gulf north of Bairoko, aiming to capture that harbor and key Japanese supply link.
281. Rain clouds over Kula Gulf, looking south towards Bairoko harbor.
282. On the next night, August 5-6, the covering force of 3 US cruisers and 4 destroyers was sent to intercept the Tokyo Express sending reinforcements to Bairoko, via Kolombangara Island (seen here across Kula Gulf, shrouded in clouds).
283. Cruisers USS Helena and USS St. Louis in nighttime action against the Tokyo Express in the Battle of Kula Gulf, seen from USS Honolulu.
284. The cruiser USS Helena - a surviver of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor AND the bloody Night Cruiser Action on November 12-13 off Guadalcanal - was hit by several Japanese torpedos in Kula Gulf and sunk.
285. Most of the USS Helena's 900 sailors were rescued right away, but about 275 found themselves adrift, clinging to wreckage, for several days.
286. Storm cloud over the Kula Gulf, looking north, where USS Helena's survivors were drifting for days.
287. This story has a much happier ending than the USS Juneau, however. Most of the survivors ultimately made it ashore, and hid from the Japanese with local help. Nearly all of them were eventually rescued successfully.
288. The wreck of the USS Helena was recently discovered in Kula Gulf, in March 2018.
289. The naval battle to stop the Tokyo Express (fast Japanese destroyers) from reinforcing New Georgia involved repeatedly clashes. The cruiser USS St. Louis later got its bow blown off by a Japanese torpedo at the Battle of Kolombangara on July 13.
290. The cruisers USS St. Louis and HMNZS Leander intercepting the Tokyo Express at the Battle of Kolombangara, also known as the Second Battle of Kula Gulf, on July 13, 1943.
291. All of which leads to the inadvertently most famous incident of the New Georgia campaign ... the sinking, struggle for survival, and rescue of John F. Kennedy's tiny PT-109.
292. On the night of August 1-2, 1943, 15 PT boats including Kennedy's PT-109 were sent from their base near Rendova to Blackett Strait to intercept the Tokyo Express coming in from the north to supply the Japanese base at Vila on Kolombangara Island.
293. The nighttime raid was a total SNAFU for all the reasons I earlier described: torpedoes that didn't work, wakes that glowed in the dark (and made easy targets for Japanese shore gunners), and radio silence leading to confusion. They didn't hit much less sink a single thing.
294. The PT boats that hadn't shot their torpedoes, including PT-109, were told to go back north into the main channel and wait around in the dark, hoping to attack the Tokyo Express destroyers on their return trip that same night.
295. So PT-109 is sitting there and suddenly, out of the dark, comes the bow of the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, which sees the American PT boat and intentionally turns to ram the smaller boat, cutting it in half and causing its fuel tank to explode and catch fire.
296. The Japanese take one look at the burning wreckage and assume all of the American crew must be dead, and drives on. The other PT boats in the area take one look and assume the same thing, and head back to Rendova.
297. In fact, all but two (which are never found) of the 13-man crew are alive, clinging to the wreckage in the middle of the strait, though at least two of the survivors have serious burns.
298. They drift for 12 hours, hoping for rescue, afraid to swim ashore to the mostly Japanese-held islands. Finally, in daylight, they swim nearly 4 miles in 4 hours towards shore. Kennedy personally pulls the most seriously wounded crewman behind him.
299. They finally come ashore at tiny, uninhabited Plum Pudding Island, south of Gizo. This isn't it (it's me snorkeling near an island in the lagoon off Munda), but it's a good idea what the final stretches of that swim might have looked like.
300. Here's the real Plum Pudding Island that Kennedy and his crew landed on. See, I told you, just like it. Bet you would have believed me if I said the first one was it.
301. Problem is, Plum Pudding Island has no fresh water. And the coconuts were all inedible. And nobody was even looking for them, assuming they were dead. The wounded were fading, and if they didn't find help soon, they were all going to die.
302. Over the next several days, Kennedy swam out several times on his own to search for help, cutting himself repeatedly on the sharp coral. At times he found himself adrift and semi-delirious on the ocean currents, barely making his way back to his injured crew.
303. Eventually, on August 5, they encountered two Solomon Islanders paddling a canoe, who worked with local Coastwatchers. At first the natives were suspicious Kennedy's men were Japanese soldiers and ran away, but eventually the PT crew were able to communicate their situation.
304. With no pen or paper at hand, Kennedy carved a message onto a coconut for the two islanders to deliver to their PT boat base at Rendova. After a treacherous journey through Japanese-controlled waters, they and the message got through.
305. The carved coconut message was later turned into a paperweight that President Kennedy kept on his desk in the Oval Office. Today it can be seen in the Kennedy Presidential Library.
306. Fellow PT boat captain William Liebenow led a night rescue mission from Rendova that picked up the stranded crew. All 11 survivors of the initial sinking were saved. Here's Liebenow with Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign.
307. The PT-109 story played a very prominent role in Kennedy's political career, giving him the aura of an experienced war hero. When he was elected president in 1960, members of his crew marched in the Inaugural Parade.
308. The ordeal did change Kennedy. People who knew him said it was though he had passed through a test, and gained some secret knowledge of himself.
309. Normally, after losing his boat, Kennedy would have been entitled to return back to safer duty in the US. But in September 1943 he returned to combat duty and took command of another PT boat, PT-59, and led a number of hazardous missions in the Solomons.
310. In 1944, Kennedy was sent back to the US and hospitalized in Massachusetts for a serious back injury. While there, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions in saving the crew of PT-109 on August 1–2, 1943.
311. While Kennedy and his crew were still stranded on Plum Pudding Island, the Army was slugging it out in the jungles east of the Japanese airstrip at Munda.
312. To learn more about this, I met up with Barney, a Munda resident who scours the local hills for relics of the WW2 battle for New Georgia.
313. Barney was, um, already well into celebrating Saturday afternoon when we linked up. He was, as they say, three sheets to the wind. He cheerfully apologized for his handicap, and welcomed me to his home to view his "collection".
314. Barney started "collecting" war artifacts when he found the dog tag of a man named Peter Joseph Palatini. He later successfully tracked down the man, who had not been killed but just somehow lost his ID tag while serving as US Navy airplane tail gunner on the island.
315. Here's a "knuckleduster" - a US Army knife grip with spikes for hand-to-hand combat.
316. Who doesn't have the wing flaps from an SBD Dauntless diver bomber in his garage? Barney does.
317. Tail fins from expended American mortar bombs used in the battle for New Georgia, in July and August 1943.
318. Bayonets, dog tags, and a couple of morphine capsules Barney found, with the powder still in them.
319. The engine of a Japanese warplane, actually (Barney tells me) manufactured in the US before the war.
320. Japanese saki bottles, found on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.
321. American Coca-Cola bottles, found on New Georgia. The Coca-Cola company actually set up bottling plants in every theater of the war, to give US troops a taste of home. It also made sure the company got its wartime sugar quota and could stay in business.
322. I asked Barney if he's got a metal detector. He said he got one from Australia a couple years ago and yeah, it's great, can find stuff buried half a foot down.
323. I asked Barney if he ever comes across live ordinance. He said yes, all the time, but he never touches it. One look around his yard makes me wonder if this is entirely true.
324. Actually logging (seen here on Guadalcanal), often by Malaysian firms, is a big (if controversial) business in the Solomon Islands. But the presence of so much live WW2 munitions spread throughout the jungle can make it a hazardous activity.
325. Bullets still embedded in tree trunks can damage a chain saw or even go zinging off and injure loggers.
326. In any case, I said my thanks and goodbyes to Barney and left him to resume his well-earned weekend R&R at the Munda Bar.
327. Through late July and early August 1943, US troops fought their way through the jungle towards the Japanese airstrip at Munda.
328. ... finally capturing it on August 4 (view from the air today) *not my photo
329. US TBF Avengers on a bombing mission targeted at Munda, in July 1943.
330. Destroyed G4M "Betty" bomber at the captured Japanese airstrip at Munda.
331. Through the rest of August 1943, US forces mopped up Japanese resistance on New Georgia, between Munda and Bairoko.
332. The Japanese airstrip at Munda was rapidly turned into a US air base to support the offensive against the next step in the drive towards Rabaul, the island of Bougainville.
333. US aircraft based at Munda (on New Georgia) during the subsequent Bougainville Campaign.
334. Bougainville (circled in yellow) is actually in modern Papua New Guinea, and the campaign to conquer it from the Japanese - which raged from November 1943 all the way to the end of the war (in August 1945) - is outside the range of this thread.
335. But I did pay a visit to another US airstrip, northwest of Munda on New Georgia, that played a supporting role in that campaign, and is now lost to the jungle.
336. Hey, that's an unexploded artillery shell right next to where we're tying up our boat. What could go wrong?
337. An old Coca-Cola bottle left behind by US troops in WW2, where the pier used to be for a US airfield in the mangrove swamps of Vonavona Lagoon, northwest of Munda.
338. I followed this local man and his daughter down what was once a US military access road carved in the jungle from the pier to the airstrip.
339. Ruins of a Japanese tanker truck in the jungle on New Georgia, in the Solomon Islands. It was destroyed during a US bombing raid.
340. The tanker appears to have been empty when it was taken out, because whatever hit it punctured the fuel tank and come out this side without causing an explosion.
341. Wreckage of a US warplane that crash-landed in the jungle on New Georgia, after taking Japanese fire over Bougainville.
342. I'm told this was a P-40 Warhawk fighter plane (hard to tell, from the wreckage) and that the pilot was killed on crashing, and his body found and returned to the US.
343. The home of the local family that lives on the former US airstrip, deep in the jungle in New Georgia.
344. They live on the papaya and other crops they grow on clearings in the jungle. They can't clear fields by burning, however, because of all the unexploded WW2 ordinance in the vicinity.
345. Nearly stuck on a coral reef in Vonavona Lagoon, near an old US WW2 airfield in the jungle on New Georgia, in the Solomon Islands. This is where you have to watch out for salt water crocodiles, which can be fast and deadly.
346. This is nearly the end of my history tour, but I'm going to wrap it up back in Brisbane, Australia, which served as a key Allied naval base for the South Pacific in World War II.
347. I mentioned that the Bougainville Campaign lasted all the way through the end of the war, with Japanese troops there holding out even as islands behind them, closer and closer to Japan, fell to Allied invasion.
348. The Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina was commissioned in 1945 and took part in the Bougainville Campaign, and offers a glimpse of what life aboard ship was like during the naval battles to control the South Pacific.
349. Seamen's quarters on the HMAS Diamantina, an Australian frigate that fought in WW2 in the South Pacific.
350. Galley (kitchen) on the HMAS Diamantina, now in dry dock in Brisbane.
351. Elevator for bringing up shells from the magazine to the main deck gun, on the WW2 Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina.
352. The main engine room of the WW2 Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina.
353. Sick bay aboard the WW2 Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina. This would have been a busy and horrible place during the naval battles I've described in this thread.
354. Officer's wardroom aboard the WW2 Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina. Clubby.
355. Cabin of the ship's medical doctor, aboard the WW2 Australia frigate HMAS Diamantina.
356. Captain's cabin aboard the WW2 frigate HMAS Diamantina.
357. The Captain's chair on the open-air bridge of the WW2 Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina, which joined the Allied fight in the South Pacific starting in 1945.
358. The radar scope on the HMAS Diamantina - a critical but often underutilized advantage against the Japanese early in the war.
359. The sonar for the HMAS Diamantina, located right under the captain's chair on the bridge, for locating enemy submarines.
360. Depth charges on the aft deck of the WW2 Australian frigate HMAS Diamantina, now a museum ship in Brisbane.
361. And there's a reason why we've ended up on the aft deck of the HMAS Diamantina, because it was here on September 13 and again on October 1, 1945 that the Allies accepted the surrender of Japanese forces to the northeast of the Solomon Islands.
362. This was one of the last Japanese surrenders of the war, and brought the South Pacific campaigns I've covered in this thread finally to an end.
363. I hope you've enjoyed this journey to these fascinating landscapes and the stories they have to tell even a fraction as much as I enjoyed traveling there and learning about them myself. Thanks.
For those who are interested in my separate thread on visiting a local family in the Solomon Islands and seeing their traditional way of life, check it out here:
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You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

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