On Guadalcanal in the Pacific the Japanese finally gave up the fight to take back the island from the US Marines. The end had been in sight for a long time but the Japanese had refused to accept the inevitable. It was going to be the same story for the rest of the war.
Dave Levy was a U.S. Navy PT – Patrol Torpedo – boat commander. It was a hazardous business and he had lost a lot of colleagues since arriving in September 1942:
PT boats were not designed for what we used them for. We lost an awful lot of people to small-arms fire in going up against Japanese barges in the Solomons. The Japanese would move all their people in small barges. And they’d have, maybe, thirty guys with small arms in each barge.
We’d come up to them and all hell would break loose. We lost a lot of people trying to sink those barges, and we were not equipped for it. We had machine guns and 40mm cannon on the back of the boat, but PT boats stood up from the water, maybe, six feet, and we had 3,000 gallons of high octane gas aboard. And we had depth charges and torpedoes.
PT boats were such easy targets, standing up like that in the water. Their barges were almost flat with the water, and you’ve got all that gunfire. It was just a stupid thing to use PT boats for that purpose, and it was done during the whole war.
But now the Japanese were leaving. They only had a limited number of craft capable of making the night time trip into the island, usually fast destroyers that could not accomodate that many men. So the Japanese withdrawal proved to be rather less than salvation for a large proportion of the few thousand Japanese troops left on the island:
The night the Japanese left Guadalcanal, they came in with destroyers to pick up as many of their guys as they could. We knew they were going to leave because we had their code.
The Navy thought that they were going to take their men around to another part of Guadalcanal- on the back side. So they put us out on the back side of the island and let the Japs get on their ships. And we had lost so many PT boats by then, they didn’t want us to directly attack their ships. So we went to the back side of Guadalcanal and the Jap planes bombed us, but we didn’t get hit.
The next morning, before it got light, we headed back around toward Tulagi, and we went past where the Japs had been loading their guys on destroyers off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal.
The destroyers were all gone. They’d had to leave in a hurry as it got light, because they were worried about getting attacked and sunk by our airplanes. As we got there, we saw many Japanese in the water. The destroyers just left them behind, left them floating there in the water.
I picked up thirteen of them and sat them up on the bow of my boat, and we took them back to Tulagi. I thought it was sensible, that maybe we’d be successful in getting information from them, but the Marines were mad as hell when I got them there. And they took control. They took those Japs off our boat, and I don’t know what happened to them.
But it was amazing to be out there just floating around among all those Japs in the water and picking them up. There must’ve been 500 of them out there floating around. We didn’t shoot any Japs in the water. They’d had it, and they weren’t going to fight.
Dave Levy commanded PT Boat 59, a boat that he later transferred to another young PT Boat commander, John F. Kennedy.
For more on the boats see PT King