No end to the bitter struggle on Guadalcanal

Road leading to front line from Bivouac area.

Road leading to front line from Bivouac area.

On Guadalcanal the Japanese had been defeated. They had given up the attempt to remove the the Americans from Henderson Field and the struggle to take the island. It had proved impossible to reinforce their troops on the island or even to resupply them properly. Some Japanese troops were evacuated by the ‘Tokyo Express’, the fast destroyers that crept in overnight, but by no means all.

Yet giving up the attempt to take the island did not mean they were going to surrender. In some ways this was just the first sign of the way the whole Pacific war would develop. There was no realistic purpose in continuing the fight but it was impossible for the Japanese not to continue.

Sergeant Mack Morris was a working on the US Forces Newspaper ‘Yank’ when he started keeping a diary. Perhaps being slightly detached from events gave him a somewhat different perspective on what he saw:

18th January 1943

I fail to see how this can last much longer. By actual figure there are 51,000 of us here and something like 8,000 Japs – all of which aren’t effectives – and this still drags on.

It must be incredible to people who have never seen this place. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not still rounding up strays a year from now unless they all starve to death. It isn’t the Japs so much as it is this god-awful terrain but at the same time the little bastards are as hard to get rid of as a dose of crabs. They dig in and come hell or high water they won’t come out unless you drag them out.

They’re fighting the worst kind of war there is – a sort of fatalistic desperation. They must know they haven’t got a chance, but apparently they mean to die hard. But they’re beginning to break.

This thing wouldn’t have to drag on if some of these men had any sense. It’s disgusting. Higher headquarters is breaking a leg to get all prisoners possible, but look at all these incidents.

On the Marine front last night a Jap came in with his hands up, saying ‘Me sick, me sick.’ The Major, knowing there were other Japs watching, motioned him to come on in – told his men not to fire. One Marine raised his rifle and the Major knocked it down – but on the other side of him another dope brought up a shotgun and blew the Jap apart. The Japs watching melted away – they’ll never give up as prisoners now.

Things like that are always happening – guys get trigger happy or think here’s a good chance to kill me a Jap and let ‘em have it. As long as this situation exists, the Japs will naturally fight to the last man.

On the Army front the men had sense enough to know that if they shot a man who would surrender they were just making it hard on themselves – and they haven’t done it, at least, not the 35th.

Those Marines must have been trying to live up to their reputation. It’s not a matter of humaneness, but purely a matter of practical military operation.

I’ve heard some pretty bad stories of savageness on the part of our boys. Dowling said they shot a sniper 100 yds from him and before he could get there they were kicking his teeth out for souvenirs. That was the Marines, a bunch of kids who get ferocious in a fight.

The Army is a little different. At the 35th I saw a Jap ear passed around. The men didn’t have much stomach for that. But then there’s the case of my young ‘killer priest’ who hacked off heads for the fun of it or something.

When the bars of civilization come down, they hit with a bang. I can understand part of that, but there are other things I don’t get at all. Perhaps that’s because I haven’t seen enough.

See Mack Morriss: South Pacific Diary

Supply dump which was set up on Kokumbona beach after pushing the enemy back; note shell and bomb craters which were used as foxholes by the troops. The enveloping movement trapped several enemy units at Kokumbona which were then quickly destroyed. By the end of the month U.S. troops had reached the Bonegi River.

Supply dump which was set up on Kokumbona beach after pushing the enemy back; note shell and bomb craters which were used as foxholes by the troops. The enveloping movement trapped several enemy units at Kokumbona which were then quickly destroyed. By the end of the month U.S. troops had reached the Bonegi River.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mamie Johnson May 7, 2014 at 8:02 pm

What history, what bitter struggle on Guadalcanal; currently the Solomon Islands. On the map is sets as a small island, not big enough to make out just what it is. However, during World War II it existed as a humidity-heated, snake and bug infested environment; not actually fit for humans to inhabit. Yet, those American soldiers did survive for a good while. On the other hand, many of them died of starvation, dehydration, and infectious disease conditions.

By the way, my father, Lee William Brown, Sr. (deceased), U.S. Army, 1942-1945, was one of the soldiers with his unit assigned to Guadalcanal. He developed a skin rash while at Guadalcanal, one that usually appeared whenever it got hot and humid in the Washington, DC/Maryland area. The condition lasted throughout his life. Also, my father constantly talked about his war experiences elsewhere, but particularly the Guadalcanal islands, whereby he was employed the longest in his service years in the Army. Those stories lasted from my childhood to adulthood, until his speech was impaired due to a stroke in 1980. Lee W. Brown died October 1994, and his body was put to rest at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery, Cheltenham, Prince George County, Maryland.

Editor January 21, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Scott

Many thanks for adding that extra perspective. Gives the issue a bit more context.

Martin

Scott January 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm

I purchased Mack Morriss’ “South Pacific Diary” and this type of passage fills about ten percent of the book. It is indeed his personal diary and never meant for publication. Lots of it is too personal to matter to us.
Morriss came to Guadalcanal late. He had limited access, and knowledge of the fighting (at least, that’s how his diary read). He was ignorant of the early assault by US Marines on Japanese positions on high ground, early in the campaign. The assault was a failure, and the Japanese made a priority of capturing, rather than killing, the enemy. The night after the assault, they tortured captured Marines, and created horrible wailing and screams through the night. When the Marines overran the previously-assaulted position, they found dead Marines with their genitals stuffed in their mouths (Amerindians used to do this to buffalo hunters they caught) and other severe mutilations (this story is found in the book “Machine Gunners”). From that point on, with this intense imagry seared in their minds, it was with blind fury that the US Marines took their fight to the enemy.

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