Commentary by Justin Taylan
On Guadalcanal, the Americans occupied and defended only a small perimeter centered around the airfield, Henderson Field. Meanwhile, Japanese "Tokyo Express" runs were landing soldiers and supplies to the west of this perimeter and the Japanese were preparing to attack and re-capture the airfield.
The episode depicts the bombardment that damages positions and kills Marines in their air raid shelter. Indeed, the perimeter was under Japanese attack from the land, sea and air. By day, fighters and bombers raided, and nightly nuisance raids by solitary Japanese aircraft dubbed "Washing Machine Charlie" were common. The Japanese Navy conducted their largest bombardment during the night of October 13-14 destroying more than forty U.S. aircraft on the ground. At the height of the battle, Japanese artillery was even within range of the perimeter and dubbed "Pistol Pete".
Battle of Bloody Ridge
Marine commanders Edson and "Chesy" Puller perceived a threat to the south of the airfield and ordered new defense positions on ridgeline that became known as Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge). Prior to the attack, the Marines had time to dig defensive positions and cut lines of fire and sight their weapons. The episode shows Marines setting up 30 caliber machine guns and barbed wire.
Although not portrayed in the episode, the Japanese side of the attack was one of great struggle to reach Bloody Ridge. The Japanese Army attempted a complicated multi pronged attack against the American perimeter: attacking first from the west at the Matanikau and to the south at Bloody Ridge led by General Kawaguchi. The advance to the south was hampered by dense jungle that required everything to be carried by hand. Along their trail, they abandoned heavier equipment to lighten their loads.
When finally in position, the Japanese briefly bombarded the line prior to attacking, but it was ineffective. In the episode, the Japanese are seen at the barbed wire in clean uniforms. In fact, the attackers were worn from their long jungle trek and were unable to attack in coordination with the rest of the offensive.
Not mentioned was pivotal role played by friendly artillery breaking up the Japanese attack and sealing victory. In addition to their machine guns, Marines used 37mm anti-tank guns firing canister shot to devastate the attackers. Despite American artillery and defenses, some Japanese managed to break the perimeter but were unable to exploit their gains. Afterwards, General Kawaguchi was relieved from command because his attack had failed.
Sgt John Basilone
The episode focuses on Sgt John Basilone who manned a 30 caliber machine gun east of the southern edge of Bloody Ridge, inside deep jungle. For his bravery, Basilone later earned the Medal of Honor. In 2001, I met fellow Marine Paul Pyler who was manning a 37mm gun near Basilone during the attack. He remembered seeing Basilone the next morning shirtless carrying his .45 pistol and asking for more ammunition.
Bloody Ridge Today
In 2003 I first traveled to Bloody Ridge. It is relatively easy to reach along a dirt trail and has several memorial markers on the hilltops. Immediately, I noticed American and Japanese rifle cartridges on the ground beneath my feet, evidence that the fighting was everywhere and often at close quarters. At several locations, barbed wire strung on "pig tails" still remain to this day. Fellow historian and traveler Peter Flahavin has done remarkable "Then & Now" photos of Bloody Ridge.
Historian John Innes took me to Basilone's position east of Bloody Ridge. This area remains undisturbed since the battle, but little remains aside from barbed wire, a jerrycan and impressions of fighting positions. I was amazed at the dense jungle. Defending Marines had almost no space to fight. Visiting, I understood why the action here was confusing and ferocious.
Marines Depart Guadalcanal
The episode ends with the Marines departing Guadalcanal during December 1942. Although the immediate threat on the perimeter had passed, events on Guadalcanal were far from over. The US Army continued to fight against the remaining Japanese on Guadalcanal for the rest of 1942 and into early 1943. The Hollywood movie The Thin Red Line (1999) is based on the outstanding book The Thin Red Line by James Jones. The remaining Japanese withdrew from Guadalcanal during early February 1943, but air raids and attacks continued for months afterwards.
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