The Guadalcanal Campaign

The Guadalcanal campaign, carried out in August 1942 was an immense battle conducted in the first year of World War II in the Pacific.

At sea, in the air, and most certainly on land, the bitter struggle between American and Japanese forces resulted in the loss of 1,200 aircraft, 49 ships, and as many as 35,000 American and Japanese lives. It was a fight for dominance of the Pacific in the early days of the war.

The fierce fighting ended all Japanese expansion attempts and was the first step in a long string of successes that turned the tide for American and Allied forces. What is less known is that New Zealand was intimately involved in the campaign – in several ways.

In March 1942, shortly after the fall of Singapore, Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked U.S. President Roosevelt to send American forces to keep New Zealand free from invasion, so that New Zealand forces (2NZEF) could remain engaged in the Middle East. New Zealand was therefore a staging base for US operations. With six weeks to prepare, Public Works Department and master builders created camps in Auckland for thousands of Army personnel and in the Wellington region for 25,000 Marines. These facilities were chosen by Lieutenant-Colonel Merrill Twining, US Marine Corps and others. Not long after, on a reconnaissance flight, Twining reported that Japanese and Korean labourers were building an air strip on Guadalcanal that could threaten New Guinea and Australia.

Units of the Ist Marine Division arrived in New Zealand on 14 June 1942, only to be sent to capture Guadalcanal six weeks later. The 2nd Marine Division came in their place in November but, before the year ended, they were sent to relieve the embattled Guadalcanal garrisons. When they themselves were relieved they returned to New Zealand late in February 1943. They were all exhausted, sick and wounded and many filled the specially-built Silverstream Hospital and wards at the major camps. However, rest, recuperation and retraining in the more relaxed New Zealand environment helped build them back into fighting fitness. On 1 November 1943 a fleet of sixteen ships took them to face one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific War, at Tarawa in today’s Kiribati.

New Zealand forces were also involved in the Solomon Islands. From November 1942, squadrons of the RNZAF operated from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal and in August 1943 the troops of our 3 Division joined the Americans on Vella Lavella and Moro Islands.

Related Pages

The Field Notebook of Jim Wallace, a remarkable firsthand account of the Battle of Tulagi (8 August 1942) and its aftermath.

External Links

Read about the book Leaving Mac Behind: The Lost Marines of Guadalcana by Geoffrey Roecker.