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Marines land on Tulagi
Wading ashore on Guadalcanal.
Marines Land on Guadalcanal
This series has six easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Japan Expands Into Southwest Pacific.
By the summer of 1942, the naval battle of Midway had stopped Japanese offensives in the Central and North Pacific but in the South Pacific, Japan continued expanding to Australia. Conquest of that continent would have more than offset defeats elsewhere and indeed have placed the Axis Powers in the strategic superior position. At this point in World War II, the United States land forces had yet to engage in major operations.
This selection is from First Offensive: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal by Henry I. Shaw, Jr. published in 1962.
Shaw received the United States Marine Corps Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1954 for his work in military history.
Time: August 7, 1942
Place: Guadalcanal Island
Marine Landing at Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
In the early summer of 1942, intelligence reports of the construction of a Japanese airfield near Lunga Point on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands triggered a demand for offensive action in the South Pacific. The leading offensive advocate in Washington was Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). In the Pacific, his view was shared by Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), who had already proposed sending the 1st Marine Raider Battalion to Tulagi, an island 20 miles north of Guadalcanal across Sealark Channel, to destroy a Japanese seaplane base there. Although the Battle of the Coral Sea had forestalled a Japanese amphibious assault on Port Moresby, the Allied base of supply in eastern New Guinea, completion of the Guadalcanal airfield might signal the beginning of a renewed enemy advance to the south and an increased threat to the lifeline of American aid to New Zealand and Australia. On 23 July 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Washington agreed that the line of communications in the South Pacific had to be secured. The Japanese advance had to be stopped. Thus, Operation Watchtower, the seizure of Guadalcanal and Tulagi, came into being.
The islands of the Solomons lie nestled in the backwaters of the South Pacific. Spanish fortune-hunters discovered them in the mid-sixteenth century, but no European power foresaw any value in the islands until Germany sought to expand its budding colonial empire more than two centuries later. In 1884, Germany proclaimed a protectorate over northern New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the northern Solomons. Great Britain countered by establishing a protectorate over the southern Solomons and by annexing the remainder of New Guinea. In 1905, the British crown passed administrative control over all its territories in the region to Australia, and the Territory of Papua, with its capital at Port Moresby, came into being. Germany’s holdings in the region fell under the administrative control of the League of Nations following World War I, with the seat of the colonial government located at Rabaul on New Britain. The Solomons lay 10 degrees below the Equator—hot, humid, and buffeted by torrential rains. The celebrated adventure novelist, Jack London, supposedly muttered: “If I were king, the worst punishment I could inflict on my enemies would be to banish them to the Solomons.”
On 23 January 1942, Japanese forces seized Rabaul and fortified it extensively. The site provided an excellent harbor and numerous positions for airfields. The devastating enemy carrier and plane losses at the Battle of Midway (3–6 June 1942) had caused Imperial General Headquarters to cancel orders for the invasion of Midway, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, but plans to construct a major seaplane base at Tulagi went forward. The location offered one of the best anchorages in the South Pacific and it was strategically located: 560 miles from the New Hebrides, 800 miles from New Caledonia, and 1,000 miles from Fiji.
The outposts at Tulagi and Guadalcanal were the forward evidences of a sizeable Japanese force in the region, beginning with the Seventeenth Army, headquartered at Rabaul. The enemy’s Eighth Fleet, Eleventh Air Fleet, and 1st, 7th, 8th, and 14th Naval Base Forces also were on New Britain. Beginning on 5 August 1942, Japanese signal intelligence units began to pick up transmissions between Noumea on New Caledonia and Melbourne, Australia. Enemy analysts concluded that Vice Admiral Richard L. Ghormley, commanding the South Pacific Area (ComSoPac), was signalling a British or Australian force in preparation for an offensive in the Solomons or at New Guinea. The warnings were passed to Japanese headquarters at Rabaul and Truk, but were ignored.
The invasion force was indeed on its way to its targets, Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and the tiny islets of Gavutu and Tanambogo close by Tulagi’s shore. The landing force was composed of Marines the covering force and transport force were U.S. Navy with a reinforcement of Australian warships. There was not much mystery to the selection of the 1st Marine Division to make the landings. Five U.S. Army divisions were located in the South and Southwest Pacific:2 three in Australia, the 37th Infantry in Fiji, and the Americal Division on New Caledonia. None was amphibiously trained and all were considered vital parts of defensive garrisons. The 1st Marine Division, minus one of its infantry regiments, had begun arriving in New Zealand in mid-June when the division headquarters and the 5th Marines reached Wellington. At that time, the rest of the reinforced division’s major units were getting ready to embark. The 1st Marines were at San Francisco, the 1st Raider Battalion was on New Caledonia, and the 3d Defense Battalion was at Pearl Harbor. The 2d Marines of the 2d Marine Division, a unit which would replace the 1st Division’s 7th Marines stationed in British Samoa, was loading out from San Diego. All three infantry regiments of the landing force had battalions of artillery attached, from the 11th Marines, in the case of the 5th and 1st the 2d Marines drew its reinforcing 75mm howitzers from the 2d Division’s 10th Marines.
The news that his division would be the landing force for Watchtower came as a surprise to Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, who had anticipated that the 1st Division would have six months of training in the South Pacific before it saw action. The changeover from administrative loading of the various units’ supplies to combat loading, where first-needed equipment, weapons, ammunition, and rations were positioned to come off ship first with the assault troops, occasioned a never-to-be-forgotten scene on Wellington’s docks. The combat troops took the place of civilian stevedores and unloaded and reloaded the cargo and passenger vessels in an increasing round of working parties, often during rainstorms which hampered the task, but the job was done. Succeeding echelons of the division’s forces all got their share of labor on the docks as various shipping groups arrived and the time grew shorter. General Vandegrift was able to convince Admiral Ghormley and the Joint Chiefs that he would not be able to meet a proposed D-Day of 1 August, but the extended landing date, 7 August, did little to improve the situation.
The Battle of Guadalcanal
The Battle of Guadalcanal took place in 1942 when the US Marines landed on August 7th. The landing at Guadalcanal was unopposed – but it took the Americans six months to defeat the Japanese in what was to turn into a classic battle of attrition.
The Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway had forced planners in the Imperial Army to reconsider their plans of expansion and to concentrate their forces on consolidating the territory that they had captured. The victory at Midway was also a turning point for the Americans as after this battle, they could think in terms of re-capturing taken Pacific islands – the first confrontation was to be at Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal is part of the Solomon Islands which lie to the north-eastern approaches of Australia. Though it is a humid and jungle-covered tropical island its position made it strategically important for both sides in the Pacific War. If the Japanese captured the island, they could cut off the sea route between Australia and America. If the Americans controlled the island, they would be better able to protect Australia from Japanese invasion and they could also protect the Allied build-up in Australia that would act as a springboard for a major assault on the Japanese. Hence the importance of the island.
In Japan, they were divided thoughts as to the importance of the island. Many senior army figures believed that Japan should consolidate what it had and that the army itself was already over-stretched policing its vast empire. The hierarchy in the Japanese Navy disagreed. They believed that any halt to an advance would be seen as a sign of weakness that the Americans would exploit. While the Japanese appeared invincible on the advance, American confidence had to be diluted – so they argued. The Japanese Navy won the argument and the Imperial General Headquarters ordered an attack on the Solomon Islands with the view to establishing naval and army bases there. By the end of May 1942, the Japanese had landed men at Guadalcanal.
Islands around Australia had been ‘dotted’ with men from the Australian coast watching team. To begin with, the reports from Guadalcanal seemed innocent enough as the Japanese seemed more interested in the cattle on the island than anything else. However, reports came back that an airfield was being built on the island – at Lunga plantation, probably the only point on the island that could sustain an airfield. By the end of June, there were an estimated 3,000 Japanese soldiers on the island. An up-and-running airfield on Guadalcanal would have been a major threat to the Americans in the region.
The head of all US naval forces, Admiral Ernest King, wanted a full-scale attack on Guadalcanal to off-set this threat. Despite the Roosevelt–Churchill directive that gave the European war zone priority, the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff in Washington gave the go-ahead for the first American offensive campaign since Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
King’s plan seemed simple enough. The 1st US Marine Division would land in Guadalcanal and secure a beach head to allow other US forces to land. However, the 1st US Marine Division, commanded by Major-General Alexander Vandegrift, had many men in it who had no combat experience. Vandegrift was told that his men would get time to train once they were in the Pacific as opposed to their base in North Carolina. However, by the end of June, half his division had still not arrived in the war zone and the date for the attack was just 5 weeks away.
The naval force that was to accompany the 1st US Marines had also not operated together before and had little experience of amphibious landings. The whole force was also lacking in reliable maps, tide charts etc. Those that were used were found to be lacking in the most basic of details. The naval force had no charts for underwater hazards so they could not calculate how far inshore they could take a ship. To undo some of these issues, it was agreed on two occasions to put back the day of the attack – initially from August 1st to August 4th and then to August 7th.
On August 7th, the Americans started their attack on Guadalcanal. Up to that date, the amphibious force was the most powerful ever assembled. Three carriers gave air support (the ‘Saratoga’, the ‘Wasp’ and the ‘Enterprise’) guarded by the battleship USS North Carolina and 24 other support ships. Five cruisers from America and Australia guarded the actual landing craft that gathered off of Tenaru on Guadalcanal.
The Americans achieved complete tactical surprise. When the Marines landed on ‘Red Beach’, they expected major Japanese defences. They found nothing. A great number of men were landed with their supplies – in fact, so much equipment was landed that later in the day, there was general confusion on ‘Red Beach’ and inexperienced coxswains landed equipment wherever they could find a space.
As the Americans advanced inland towards where the airfield was being built, they came across another major problem – the climate. The hot and humid jungle climate quickly took its toll on soldiers carrying heavy equipment. The climate also did a great deal to affect radios and radio communication between those advancing inland and those on the beach was problematic. Regardless of these issues, the Americans made no contact with the Japanese and for the first 24 hours there was no fighting on Guadalcanal.
However, though the first 24 hours on Guadalcanal were relatively painless for the Americans, this was not so for the Marines who landed at nearby islands that lay to the north of Guadalcanal – Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Americans needed to control these as this would give them the opportunity to control the Ironbottom Sound and Nggela Channel that separated Guadalcanal from Florida Island, north of it. Here the Marines encountered fierce resistance and it took the US Marine Raiders 24 hours to eliminate the Japanese who had been based at Tulagi. This was a sign of what was to come. US paratroopers attacked Gavutu and met a similar response from the Japanese and it required fire from nearby naval ships to alleviate the problem. In some parts of the battles for these islands, the Americans took 20% casualties.
The Americans arrived at the airfield on Guadalcanal late on August 8th. Once again, there were no Japanese there as they had fled into the jungle. The news that the Marines had reached the airfield was greeted with joy in Washington and Canberra. But this joy was shattered on the night of August 8th/9th when a Japanese cruiser force attacked the Allied naval force at Guadalcanal and forced it to withdraw. The Marines on Guadalcanal were on their own. Though the landing of equipment had been chaotic at times, equipment had been landed. In this sense, Vandegrift’s men were not in a hopeless situation – and Vandegrift hoped that planes could land at the airfield that they now controlled. However, vital equipment such as barbed wire to defend his base, anti-personnel mines etc had not been landed in quantity.
The Marines were in a difficult position. There were Japanese on Guadalcanal and their tenacity and fighting skills had already been seen in Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Japanese Navy controlled the sea around Guadalcanal and frequently fired on the Marines. The Japanese air force bombed the airfield runway. However, Vandergrift did have one good piece of luck – the Japanese had left a number of very useful vehicles which the Marines used to repair the runway. Their work was rewarded on August 20th when 19 Wildcat fighters and 12 Dauntless bombers landed at the airfield – now known as Henderson airfield.
The Marines now prepared themselves for the expected all out Japanese attack on their positions. Radio Tokyo had made little secret of what the army planned to do and referred to the Marines there as “insects”.
The Japanese had landed men on Guadalcanal on August 18th. A regiment led by Colonel Ichiki and a special naval landing force were assigned the task of defeating the Marines. Ichiki. He had been told to expect more troops to support him but such was Ichiki’s views on the Marines (one shared by many Japanese officer) that he believed that his men were more than a match for the Marines. He decided to attack on August 21st. Ichiki ordered a simple bayonet attack on the American positions. Carefully placed machine gun posts meant that many Japanese were killed. Ichiki ordered his men to withdraw but Vandergrift had ordered one of his reserve battalions to encircle the Japanese. In what became known as the ‘Battle of Tenaru’, the Marines slowly pushed the Japanese back to the sea. Ichiki’s men were surrounded on three sides with the sea on the fourth side. It was here that the Americans first found out that the Japanese did not surrender and that they were willing to die for the emperor. Using the planes at Henderson and some tanks that had been landed, the Marines killed many Japanese. Only a handful got away and moved east down the coast to safety at Taivu. Here, Ichiki committed ritual suicide – such was the defeat he and his men had experienced.
Despite this triumph, Vandegrift knew that another stronger Japanese force would soon be landing on Guadalcanal – the men that Ichiki had not waited for the XXXVth Brigade. The Americans had one major advantage over the Japanese – they had to be transported by sea and the ships transporting these men were open to attack from the American planes based at Henderson airfield. To get around this problem, the Japanese moved their men at night via fast-moving destroyers in so-called ‘rat runs’. By doing this the Japanese could all but escape American fire and they succeeded in landing a large quantity of men to the east and west of the American position at Henderson. Vandegrift decided to do what he could to disrupt the Japanese and he sent a party of Marine Raiders to Taivu. They found few personnel there but they did find out that the Japanese had already moved into the jungle and that an attack on the Americans would not be too far into the future.
The American position at Henderson meant that one side of their defensive perimeter was bound by the sea. Vandegrift concluded that the only way the Japanese could attack his position was from the south of the island. The attack began on September 12th. Japanese bombers attacked US positions to the south of the airfield and as night fell, Japanese destroyers and a cruiser shelled the same positions. At least for Vandegrift, it confirmed that an attack would come from the south.
The Japanese infantry attacked positions to the south of Henderson. However, the march through the jungle had taken its toll on General Kawaguchi’s men and they were exhausted. The jungle had also fouled up his communications. The assault on September 12th was a failure and the Japanese had to re-new their attack the following day. 2,000 Japanese soldiers attacked the American lines but well placed US machine guns and artillery took their toll. The Japanese made two other attempts to attack the Marines and on one occasion got to within 1000 meters of Henderson airfield. However, their casualty figures were mounting. By the end of the night, Kawaguchi had lost 1,200 men killed or wounded. The Marines and paratroopers had also taken heavy casualties with 446 being killed or wounded out of just over 1000 men.
Tokyo ordered a new unit of men to the area – the XXXVIII Brigade – veterans of the capture of Honk Kong – and ordered that all resources in the region had to be directed at taking Guadalcanal. In all, 20,000 Japanese troops were moved to Guadalcanal. The US Marines also got reinforcements which gave Vandegrift command over 23,000 men, though it is thought that one-third of these men were unfit for combat due to a variety of diseases, such as dysentery and exposure. The US air presence at Henderson was also improved.
On October 23rd, 5,600 Japanese soldiers attacked US positions on the east of the defensive zone. Pin point artillery fire ensured the failure of this attack. On October 24th, the Japanese launched a major attack from the south with 7,000 men. At one stage a small number of Japanese troops got inside the defensive perimeter but fierce fighting drove them back. When Kawaguchi ordered a withdrawal, he had lost 3,500 men – 50% of the force that had attacked. Why had both attacks failed?
The American positions in the defensive perimeter had been expertly sited. However, the Japanese had failed to take into account the sheer difficulties they would face by going through a tropical jungle to attack the Americans. Frequently, Kawaguchi’s men were too fatigued to effectively fight and the terrain had forced them to leave mortar and artillery behind. Therefore, any attack on the American lines was done by an old-fashioned infantry charge against positions that were equipped with mortar and artillery. The terrain had also done a great deal to hinder Japanese communications.
With the Japanese in disarray, Vandegrift decided the time was ripe for the Americans to go on the offensive as opposed to being cooped in a defensive role. However, the US 1st Marine Division was in no state to do this and in November 1942, it was replaced by 25th Infantry Division and the US 2nd Marine Division.
The Japanese hierarchy in Tokyo refused to admit defeat and ordered yet more men to Guadalcanal. In mid-November 1942, planes from Henderson attacked a convoy of ships bringing Japanese reinforcements to Guadalcanal. Of eleven transport ships, six were sunk, one was severely damaged and four had to be beached. Only 2,000 men ever reached Guadalcanal – but few had any equipment as this had been lost at sea. On December 1942, the emperor ordered a withdrawal from Guadalcanal. This withdrawal took place from January to February 1943 and the Americans learned that even in defeat that the Japanese were a force to be reckoned with. 11,000 Japanese soldiers were taken off the island in the so-called ‘Tokyo Night Express’.
The American victory at Guadalcanal ensured that Australia was safe from a Japanese invasion while the sea route from Australia to America was also protected. The role played by the US 1st Marine Division and its commander, Vandegrift, have gone down in Marine Corps history.
US Marines land on Guadalcanal – 7 August 1942
The Solomon Islands were formed by two roughly parallel chains of volcanic peaks, separated by the New Georgia Sound. Running northwest to southeast, this body of water led directly to the Japanese’s principal base in the South Pacific at Rabaul on the island of New Britain.
Capturing Rabaul and breaking the “Bismarck Barrier” was the goal of Admiral Ernest J. King’s Operation Watchtower. The amphibious landings in the southern Solomons would be the first task.
King selected Tulagi, Florida Island, as the operation’s primary object, because its protected harbor would be a seaplane anchorage and motor torpedo boat base. This all changed when B-17s, flying reconnaissance missions from Nouméa discovered the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal Island, just fifteen miles from Tulagi.
Once completed, Japanese twin engine bombers would be able to reach the US Navy’s South Pacific headquarters on Espiritu Santo and deep into the Coral Sea, menacing the line of communications between the United States and Australia.
The amphibious landing in the Solomon Islands would be the first undertaken by soldiers and sailors of the United States since 1898. Eleven-thousand Marines of the First Marine Division, embarked in fifteen transports, landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on 7 August 1942. The Marines’ assault was conducted in broad daylight and achieved complete surprise. The airfield, later completed and named Henderson Field, was secured by 1600 on the first day. The 2,000 Japanese soldiers, mostly labor troops, fled into the jungle after a token resistance.
The landings on Tulagi, and smaller islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo, where fewer of the Marines were assigned, were stoutly opposed. Tulagi was not secured until the next afternoon, and the other two, not before midnight the same day.
Thus ended the first days of the campaign for Guadalcanal, but the six-month campaign which ensued, saw some of the most desperate and brutal fighting of the War in the Pacific.
If the New Georgia Sound, nicknamed the “Slot” by Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen, was “the highway” to Rabaul, then Guadalcanal was the toll booth. Although the Allies had caught the watchman napping, the Imperial Japanese Navy, despite their defeat at Coral Sea and Midway, still had a formidable fleet and air flotilla to contest the landings.
Marines land on Tulagi - History
The British colonial government was based on Tulagi to administer the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP). During the prewar era, a small number of Japanese worked on the island in marine industries. Their presence and "yellow peril" sentiments led to the suspicion they were spies and were closely monitored.
Before World War II, the Royal Navy (RN) surveyed Tulagi Harbor as a possible anchorage for the Asiatic Fleet and recommended developing this area as a naval base but the recommendation was never acted upon. A small force of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel and Australian Army commandos defended Tulagi.
On January 22, 1942 the first Japanese aircraft first bombed Tulagi and another air raid happened in early May 1942. Coastwatcher Gordon Train married to Vera Atkinson stayed behind on Tulagi and was lost on a flight to the Shortland Island to warn of the imminent Japanese invasion. On May 2, 1942 the Australian personnel and commandos were ordered to begin demolition of facilities then evacuated aboard two small boats bound for Port Vila in New Hebrides.
On May 3, 1942 during "Operation MO", the invasion of Tulagi and Port Moresby, the invasion force arrives at Tuglagi Harbor and Okinoshima disembarks the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) landing without opposition on Tulagi to establish Tulagi Seaplane Base on nearby Gavutu Island and Tanambogo Island (Tanombago). Starting May 4, 1942 targeted targeted by Allied bombers and fighters until August 7, 1942. American aircraft bombed Tulagi.
On August 7, 1942 during the first phase of the Guadalcanal campaign, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) landed at Blue Beach on Tulagi Island and met fierce resistance from the Japanese defenders. By August 8, 1942 at nightfall, Tulagi was declared secure, but for several days, individual Japanese and small groups continued to be flushed from hiding places and hunted down by patrolling Marines.
Americans killed on Tulagi were buried in three U.S. Cemeteries were established on Tulagi: USN & USMC Cemetery No. 1 (White Beach), USN & USMC Cemetery No. 2 (Police Barracks) and USN & USMC Cemetery No. 3 (Chinese Barracks). Later, these graves were exhumed and transported to American Cemetery Guadalcanal then postwar transported overseas for permenant burial.
After the battle, Tulagi was developed into an American base area supporting future operations in the Solomon Islands and U.S. Navy vessels and PT Boats. Tulagi was targeted by Japanese aircraft during 1942-1943.
After the war, the of colonial government moved to Honiara to utilize the infrastructure left by American forces. Tulagi again became the provincial capital. The facilities left in the area by the U.S. Navy are still used to this day, with pontoons and overhaul areas on the island still used for small craft.
Anchorage to the north of Tulagi also known as Tulagi Anchorage or Tulagi Road.
Located on the western coast of Tulagi. On August 7, 1942 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) landed at this location.
Located on the northeastern tip of Tulagi bordering Tulagi Harbor. During World War II, U.S. Navy base and PT Boat base.
District Residence House on Tulagi Island
Located on one of the higher ridges on the island prewar. This house was built prewar as the home of the British district residence. Today, only the original staircase and stair posts remain. The house was rebuilt postwar until abandoned during 2003.
Located at the center of Tulagi Island. This high ground was the main Japanese defensive position and headquarters on Tulagi, with tunnels and fighting positions built in the area. After the battle, Americans also defended this hill with machine guns for anti-aircraft defense.
Located in the southeast center of Tulagi Island.
Roadcut (The Cutting)
This prewar roadcut into one of the ridges was heavily defended by the Japanese, who built cover into its side walls, most of these are covered with sediment. Also known as "The Cutting".
The Japanese built tunnels on Tulagi for defense. One entrance is located on an overgrown hillside. It opens into a deceivingly large tunnel inside. Another is located on the Catholic church property with two entrances, the second entrance is partially filled.
Thanks to John Innes, Peter Flahavin and Ewan Stevenson for additional information
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
Boots on the Ground
On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Just one day later, the U.S. declared war in the Pacific, launching a campaign that would span four devastating years until the Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945. Although imperialist Japan had been involved in a bloody struggle to capture China since 1937, this declaration marked the first formal U.S. involvement in the war. America had already provided aid to Britain through the Lend-Lease agreement of 1941, an act through which they supplied supplies to the Allied powers, including the Soviet Union and France. The United States had also been building up its troops for a year prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Now, the country engaged in a large-scale offensive, pushing westward across the Pacific Ocean island by island with the ultimate goal of reaching Rabaul, New Guinea, an important strategic outpost for providing supplies to Australia, whose large land mass offered necessary space for naval, air, and land bases. 1 Thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors, and marines shipped off to islands with unpronounceable names to engage an unknown enemy. The unimaginable conditions endured by the infantry in this brutal ground war would leave an indelible mark on all who fought there.
The Americans had discovered that the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal, and that became the primary target for Operation Watchtower. The 1st Marine Division, with the 1 st Raider Battalion attached, received the assignment to invade Guadalcanal and Tulagi as well.
The 1st Raiders received definitive word on Watchtower on 20 July. They would seize Tulagi, with the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, in support. The 1st Parachute Battalion would take the conjoined islets of Gavutu-Tanambogo. The 1st Marine Division, less one regiment in reserve, would capture the incomplete airfield on Guadalcanal.
Edson offered to make amphibious reconnaissance patrols of the objectives, but the naval commander rejected that idea. Most of the information on Tulagi would come from three Australians, all former colonial officials familiar with the area. Tulagi was 4,000 yards long and no more than 1,000 yards wide, and a high ridge ran along its length, except for a low, open saddle near the southeast end. The only suitable landing beaches from a hydrographic standpoint were those on either side of this low ground, since coral formations fringed the rest of the island. Intelligence officers estimated that the island held several hundred men of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force these were elite troops of proven fighting ability. Aerial reconnaissance indicated they were dug in to defend the obvious landing sites. Planners thus chose to make the assault halfway up the western coast at a place designated as Beach Blue. They wisely decided to make the first American amphibious assault of the war against natural obstacles, not enemy gunfire.
On the morning of 7 August the task force hove to and commenced unloading in what would become known as Iron-bottom Sound. Although Edson’s men had trained hard on their rubber boats, they would make this landing from Higgins boats. After a preliminary bombardment by a cruiser and destroyer, the first wave, composed of Companies B and D, headed for shore. Coral forced them to debark and wade the last 100 yards, but there was no enemy opposition. Companies A and C quickly followed them. The four rifle companies spread out across the waist of the island and then advanced in line to the southeast. They met only occasional sniper fire until they reached Phase Line A at the end of the ridge, where they halted as planned while naval guns fired an additional preparation on the enemy defenses.
The attack jumped off again just before noon, and promptly ran into heavy Japanese resistance. For the remainder of the day the raiders fought to gain control of the saddle from the entrenched enemy, who would not surrender under any circumstances. The Marines quickly discovered that their only recourse was to employ explosives to destroy the men occupying the caves and bunkers. As evening approached, the battalion settled into defensive lines that circled the small ridge (Hill 281) on the tip of the island. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, had already scoured the remainder of the island and now took up positions in the rear of the raiders.
The Japanese launched their classic banzai counterattack at 2200 that night. The initial effort punched a small hole in the raider lines between Companies A and C. A second assault, which might have exploited this gap, instead struck full against Company As front. This time the raiders held their ground. For the remainder of the night the Japanese relied on infiltration tactics, with individuals and small groups trying to make their way into the American rear by stealth. By this means they attacked both the 2d Battalion’s command post (CP) and the aid station set up near Blue Beach. They also came within 50 yards of the raider CP. Edson tried to call for reinforcements, but communications were out.
In the morning things looked much better, just as they had on Makin. At 0900 two companies of the 5th Marines passed through raider lines and swept over the southern portions of Hill 281. The remaining enemy were now isolated in a ravine in the midst of the small ridge. After a lengthy barrage by the 60mm mortars of Company E and their heavier 81mm cousins of the rifle battalion, infantrymen from both outfits moved through the final enemy pocket. Grenades and dynamite were the weapons of choice against the Japanese still holed up in their caves and dugouts. At 1500 Edson declared the island secured.
That did not mean the fighting was entirely over. For the next few days Marines scoured the island by day, and fended off occasional infiltrators at night, until they had killed off the last enemy soldier. In the entire battle, the Raiders suffered losses of 38 dead and 55 wounded. There were an additional 33 casualties among other Marine units on the island. All but three of the 350 Japanese defenders had died.
Tulagi (160.160E 9.119S) is a small island, just 3000 yards (2800 meters) long and 880 yards (800 meters) wide, located just 440 yards (400 meters) off the south coast of Florida Island north of Guadalcanal. It is a rugged coral ridge, reaching to 330' (100 meters) elevation. There are reefs off most of the southwest coast, with a gap in the center of the coast, and Tulagi Harbor was located northeast of the north end of the island. Tulagi was the seat of British administration in the Solomon Islands, largely because it had a more bearable climate for Europeans than any other location in the island chain with a decent anchorage. Nevertheless, the climate was uncomfortably damp, with an average annual rainfall was 164 inches (417 cm).
About 3000 yards (2700 meters) east of Tulagi are the small islets of Gavutu and Tanambogo . To the east of these islets was another good anchorage, Gavutu Harbor. The islets were connected by a causeway, and the Lever Brothers copra firm had its local headquarters, warehouses, and wharves on Gavutu.
Florida Island itself is a mountainous island reaching elevations of over 2000' (610 meters). It is covered with jungle and has practically no beach, the coast being backed by steep hills along almost its entire length. This made the island itself of little military value. However, there was a roomy undeveloped anchorage at Purvis Bay , southeast of Gavutu and Tanambogo (160.250E 9.150S). Tulagi Harbor and Purvis Bay together formed the finest deep-water anchorage in the Solomon Islands, and Admiral Jellicoe, who had commanded the British fleet at Jutland in 1916, recommended in vain that it be made into a major naval base.
The Australians stationed some Catalinas here after war broke out in the Pacific. When the Japanese began bombing the island in January 1942, most of the residents were evacuated. The small garrison was evacuated on 2 May 1942 and the Japanese occupied the island the next day.
On 28 May 1942 Admiral Nimitz proposed that 1 Marine Raider Battalion raid Tulagi, but the plan was rejected after MacArthur pointed out that the Allies had insufficient strength at the time to hold the island.
Battle of Tulagi. Tulagi was recaptured on 8 August 1942 following a fierce two-day struggle between four battalions of U.S. Marines and approximately 900 Japanese sailors of 3 Kure SNLF and 14 Construction Unit defending the islet.
The landings commenced on 7 August 1942, preceded by strikes by the Wasp air group which destroyed the flying boats and seaplanes in Tulagi Harbor. Elements of 1 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment went ashore on Florida west of Tulagi at 0740 and east of Gavutu-Tanambogo at 0845 to flank the islets. They found Florida unoccupied by the Japanese.
The lead elements of 1 Marine Raider Battalion landed on the southwest coast of Tulagi at 0800, passing through the gap in the reef, and were joined an hour later by 2 Battalion, 5 Marine Regiment. There was initially little opposition, but Japanese resistance stiffened considerably in the afternoon as the two Marine battalions advanced towards the southeast end of the island. By nightfall the Marines were forced to pull back to a defensive line facing the main Japanese strongholds on Hill 281. Several counterattacks were beaten off during the night. The next day, the Marines were reinforced by 2 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment, and began systematically blasting the remaining Japanese out of their caves. The island was secured by late afternoon.
The majority of the Japanese defenders were on the islets of Gavutu and Tanambogo. 1 Marine Parachute Battalion stormed ashore at the seaplane ramp on the northwest coast of Gavutu at noon on 7 August. They found the defenders holed up in caves and coconut log bunkers where they were practically immune from bombardment. However, Gavutu was secured within two hours, though at the cost of 10% casualties to the Marines. An attempt to land a company on Tanambogo after dusk was repulsed with heavy losses, and late in the morning of 8 August an attempt was made to storm the causeway with a fresh battalion (3 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment) that had originally been assigned to the Guadalcanal invasion. To support the assault, two tanks were landed under heavy covering fire from destroyers. One was destroyed, but the other knocked out enough bunkers to allow the Marines to cross the causeway. By nightfall the islet was secured.
The assault on Tulagi and its neighboring islets cost the Marines 144 killed and 194 wounded. The Marine paratroops were hardest hit, with every other man becoming a casualty. Almost the entire Japanese garrison was killed, with just 23 taken prisoner and another 70 escaping to Florida Island.
The nearby island of Guadalcanal figured prominently in the South Pacific campaign. Tulagi itself served as a seaplane and PT boat base during the campaign. After Guadalcanal was secured, Purvis Bay became an important base for light naval forces operating in the middle and upper Solomon Islands.
Allied order of battle, 7 August 1942
|South Pacific Force, Pacific Fleet (Ghormley) ||Only units directly supporting the Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo landings are listed below.|
| ||Task Force 61 (Fletcher) || |
| || ||Task Group 61.1 Air Support Force (Noyes) || |
| || || ||Wasp Unit (Noyes) ||Other carriers in TG 61.1 were assigned to support the Guadalcanal landings. |
| || || || ||CV Wasp || |
| || || || || ||VF-71: 29 F4F-4 Wildcat|| |
| || || || || ||VS-71: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless|| |
| || || || || ||VS-72: 15 SBD-3 Dauntless|| |
| || || || || ||VT-7: 10 TBF-1 Avenger|| |
| ||Task Force 62 South Pacific Amphibious Force (Turner) || |
| || ||Task Group 62.1 Convoy || |
| || || ||Transport Group Yoke ||3900 Marines (Rupertus)|
| || || || ||Transport Division E || |
| || || || || ||2 Battalion, 5 Marine Regiment || |
| || || || || ||2 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment || |
| || || || || ||Battery E, 11 Marine Regiment || |
| || || || || ||Elements, 3 Marine Defense Battalion|| |
| || || || || ||1 Marine Parachute Battalion || |
| || || || || ||Elements, 1 Marine Raider Battalion || |
| || || || || ||AP Neville || |
| || || || || ||AP Zeilin || |
| || || || || ||AP Heywood|| |
| || || || || ||AP President Jackson || |
| || || || ||Transport Division 12 || |
| || || || || ||1 Marine Raider Battalion, less one company || |
| || || || || ||APD Colhoun || |
| || || || || ||APD Little|| |
| || || || || ||APD McKean|| |
| || || || || ||APD Gregory|| |
| || ||Task Group 62.4 Fire Support Group M (Scott) || |
| || || ||CLAA San Juan || |
| || || ||DD Monssen || |
| || || ||DD Buchanan|| |
Japanese order of battle, 7 August 1942
|8 Fleet (Mikawa at Rabaul) ||Only units already in position to oppose the Tulagi landings are listed below. |
| ||25 Air Flotilla (Yamada) || |
| || ||39 A6M Zero ||Another 20 just delivered and being assembled |
| || ||32 G4M Betty || |
| || ||16 D3A Val || |
| || ||4 H6K Mavis || |
| || ||2 C5M Babs || |
| ||Elements, Yokohama Air Group ||About 430 ground personnel |
| || ||7 H6K Mavis|| |
| || ||9 A6M2-N Rufe || |
| ||Tulagi Garrison ||350 men on Tulagi |
550 men on Gavutu-Tanambogo
| || ||Elements, 3 Kure SNLF|| |
| || ||14 Construction Unit|| |
Allied reinforcements, 8 August 1942
|3 Battalion, 2 Marine Regiment ||Originally assigned to the Guadalcanal landing, but diverted to Tulagi when resistance on Guadalcanal proved unexpectedly light. |
The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia © 2007-2008, 2010, 2012 by Kent G. Budge. Index
This Day In History: The US Marines Land At Inchon (1950)
On this day in 1950 one of the most daring amphibious landings in history took place. During the Korean War, U.S. forces land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea. The landing took place some 80 miles south of the North and South Korean border and 25 miles west of the city of Seoul. General MacArthur the commander of the UN forces had selected the site personally. Many of his fellow commanders criticized his choice and deemed it to be too dangerous. The Inchon area was behind the communist lines and the tides in the area were notorious. However, MacArthur was adamant and he staked his reputation on their success. In the end, the landings went as planned. The North Koreans had little or no forces in the area and the US Marines who spearheaded the attack landed safely on the beaches and experienced only sporadic resistance. The Americans experience of amphibious landings during the Pacific War helped Inchon to be a success.
Fighting in the Korean War
The Korean War began on June the 25 th when North Korean Communist divisions poured over the 37 th Parallel Line and invade South Korea. They took the South Korean army by surprise and they had captured Seoul after a few weeks. They had driven the South Koreans and the Americans into the South West of the Korean Peninsula and were trying to drive them out of Korea, completely.
MacArthur the hero of the Pacific War was appointed as commander of the UN forces who had been charged with expelling the North Koreans from South Korea. Daring as ever, Mac Arthur decided on a bold plan of action. He would land his forces behind the North Koreans lines and cut them off in the South and annihilate them.
MacArthur&rsquos plan worked better than even he expected. The Inchon landing&rsquos cut the North Korean forces in two, and the US and their UN allies moved inland and quickly took Seoul. The North Korean War Machine was in disarray and retreated back to the north. However, many North Korean Divisions are cut off in South Korea and the US and the UN pound these forces. Some 125,000 North Korean troops are taken, prisoner.
Buoyed by the success of the Inchon landings and seeing the North Koreans in full retreat, Mac Arthur was to order his forces deep into Northern territory. It seemed like the Americans were about to conquer North Korea. However, the Chinese intervened in the winter of 1950-1951 and this denied Mac Arthur a total and comprehensive victory. The war descended into a bloody stalemate with neither side seemingly capable of earning a decisive victory.
The Korean War ended in 1953 and it is estimated that some two million people died in the bloody three-year conflict. To this day there remains the threat of war between the Communist North Korean and the Democratic South Korea.
Tulagi Island, in the Nggela Islands, was the administrative capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1897 until 1942. In the local Vavaea language, lagi means 'to throw' and tu means 'to put a foot forward' and the name seems to have come from a descent group that lives in the area. The small island was the official port of entry, the home of the Resident Commissioners, and along with neighbouring Gavutu-Tanambogo and Makambo Islands, the Protectorate's main commercial base. There were also Chinese traders in Tulagi's Chinatown. The main shipping was by several small trading ships, some of them run by Chinese, which travelled from island to island, and the various recruiting ships run by Europeans. The main facilities of the Protectorate were in Tulagi: the courthouse, prison, post office and the government hospital.
The first Resident Commissioner, Charles Woodford (q.v.), took up residence on Tulagi in 1897. On 29 September 1896 Woodford paid Tambokoro and other owners £42 in gold sovereigns to buy the island for the new Protectorate Government-Tambokoro and his sons took £12, while the inhabitants of Matanibana, Haleta, and Tugumata villages received £10 per village. The island up to then had been used only for gardening, and Woodford misled the villagers by assuring them that their garden rights would not be disturbed.
The first two buildings were almost completed by November 1897 and the police quarters were finished in March 1898. Woodford had also had bananas and sweet potato planted. (AR 1897-1898, 12, AR 1901-1902, 18) All of the police were able to relocate to Tulagi on 16 August, and by the time the carpenters left at the end of November the first Residency, prison and road were practically complete and a permanent water supply had been installed. The prison and the small police headquarters built in 1898 were a useful advance when Woodford had brought prisoners back from Guadalcanal in September 1897 he had to chain them to house posts. (Boutilier 1984b, 47) Between December and January tracks were improved, gardens were planted and the building of a permanent police headquarters was underway (completed in March). During 1898-1899, a house was constructed for Woodford's assistant, the Protectorate's first District Officer Arthur Mahaffy, and general improvements were made by draining swamps and planting coconut trees, root crops, and other experimental tropical crops such as cocoa, rubber and coffee. Around twenty-four hectares were under cultivation, which by 1901 had expanded to forty hectares, including thirty of coconut palms. Woodford continued to have all swampy areas filled, aware that this reduced the incidence of malaria. Two years later, sixty hectares were under cultivation, fifty-four of them coconuts palms. The Residency was linked to the landing place by concrete and stone stairs, which are all that remains of the Residency today aside from a couple of concrete posts. Later photographs indicate that the coconut plantations continued to increase in size. The nuts were used for food and commercial purposes. The inner foreshore of the town became a pleasant promenade and transport route. ('New Guinea and the Solomons: Their Future Development. Senator Staniforth Smith's Views', Daily Mail (Brisbane), 4 Jan. 1905, cutting in Woodford Papers, reel 2, bundle 8, 9/23, enclosed in 8.3, PAMBU AR 1897-1898, 12-13, AR 1898-1899, 14-15, AR 1899-1900, 13, AR 1900-1901, 16, AR 1901-1902, 18-9, AR 1902-1903, 21)
Initially, shipping communication was via the SS Titus, which called every two months at Norfolk Island, Port Vila, the Santa Cruz Islands and Tulagi. Woodford was critical of this route, which took three weeks when a direct Sydney-Tulagi trip only took eight days and would allow tropical produce to reach Australian markets. In 1900, Burns Philp & Co. (q.v.) steamers established regular shipping to and from Sydney. Burns Philp & Co. received a subsidy from the Australian government for its shipping service, but they still claimed to be operating at a loss due to the circuitous route. Only the passenger and cargo traffic to Tulagi was profitable, which indicates its volume. (AR 1926-1927, 8) By the 1910s, communications had improved: Burns Philp & Co. ran a direct steamer service from Sydney to Tulagi every six weeks, and their Gilbert and Ellice Islands steamer called in for mail on its way to and from Australia. Lever's Pacific Plantations Ltd. (q.v.) steamer SS Upolu called every eleven weeks, and they also operated two small steamers within the Protectorate. (AR 1902-1903, 17, AR 1912-1913, 8) All overseas ships were boarded upon arrival by Tulagi-based officials who carried out medical checks on passengers and crews. They would then amble over to Gavutu or Makambo to unload at their respective company headquarters before setting off around the Protectorate. From 1903 labour trade vessels from Queensland and Fiji had to call at Tulagi before discharging their human cargoes or commencing recruiting. Twenty-three plantation companies were then operating in the Protectorate, using smaller craft that called at Tulagi.
The shipping services allowed direct communication with Sydney twenty times each year. Internally, beginning in 1899, the Protectorate had its own vessel, the yacht Lahloo (q.v.), which Woodford used on patrol and to communicate with his deputy Mahaffy once Mahaffy opened a base in Gizo. In later years, a series of small vessels served the districts and the Resident Commissioner used the handsome Tulagi. It was the largest government ship but was unstable in bad weather. Gavutu was central to replenishing coal supplies of ships, the coal being placed into baskets and wheeled down to the wharf on a rail track. (Sinker 1900, 42-43 Horton 1965, 21-22)
As the 1900s progressed, Tulagi developed the standard trappings of an isolated colonial outpost. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, its swamps continued to be drained and low-lying areas were reclaimed, which eradicated most mosquito breeding places and made the island a healthier place. Sanitation was also improved by building proper latrines for use by indentured labourers, police and prisoners, and incinerators were established to destroy empty tins and refuse. The hospital was opened in 1914, initially only to Europeans, although a ward for Solomon Islander patients was added in the same year and expanded in 1920-1921. Also added was an isolation ward, which was converted in 1926 for use by Asians. In another health measure, in 1928 a quarantine station was established on an adjacent island and four new isolation wards for infectious cases were built at Tulagi hospital. (WPHC no. 2954 of 1926, C. M. Woodford to WPHC, 21 Feb., 3 Apr. 1914, WPCH to R. R. Kane, 15 Oct. 1926, N. Crichlow to Government Secretary, 27 May 1926 and WPHC no. 800 of 1914, S.C.M. Davies to Woodford, 16 Feb. 1914)
A new Residency, prefabricated in Sydney, was erected in 1905 near the first primitive house. The second Residency was single-storey with deep verandas in colonial Australian style. Once this was ready, the first Residency was allocated to the Treasurer until a new house was built for him on the same site in 1914. In the 1900s, the town grew to around twenty residents, with others on Makambo and Gavutu. Stanley G. C. Knibbs arrived in 1912 to become the Government Surveyor. In the 1910s, several stores developed to trade directly with the Solomon Islands labourers who passed through on their way to or from plantations. The Chinese who came to work in the Protectorate were quick to start trading ventures and a small Chinatown soon sprang up next to the administrative centre. Woodford remained Resident Commissioner until January 1915 when he retired after twenty-nine year's association with the Solomon Islands. He was replaced by Frederick Joshua Barnett (1915-1917) (q.v.), Woodford's assistant (1908-1914) and Treasurer and Collector of Customs (1914-1915). Barnett left in 1918, and Charles H. Workman (q.v.) was appointed Acting Resident Commissioner in 1917, and continued on a full appointment from 1918 until 1921 when the next permanent appointment was made to Richard Rutledge Kane (q.v.), who had been the BSIP Government Secretary. Kane served until October 1928, when he took his final leave and retired. The position was taken over in an acting capacity by Captain N.S.B. Kidson, the Government Secretary, then by District Officer Jack C. Barley and then Ralph B. Hill until the arrival of Francis Noel Ashley (q.v.) in 1929. Ashley, who had previously served in Africa, remained until 1939, when he was replaced by William S. Marchant (q.v.), who left in 1943 during the Second World War.
Under the Resident Commissioners was a strictly ordered hierarchy of officials, with their relative importance expressed in their houses' sizes and positions on the ridges. Most senior were the Government Secretary, the Chief Magistrate, the Treasurer and Collector of Customs, and the Commissioner of Lands and Crown Surveyor. The first Chief Magistrate and Legal Adviser to the Protectorate, twenty-six-year-old Issac Grainger Bates, was appointed in 1913 and remained until 1923. He was replaced in 1924 by the incompetent N.W.P. de Heveningham, who stayed until 1928. The next Chief Magistrate was P. C. Hubbard, who began as a Cadet in 1928, took over the position in 1930, and stayed for four years. The post was left vacant during the Depression from 1934 until 1937, when D. R. McDonald filled it for a year. The last prewar incumbent was Ragnar Hyne, the former Chief Justice of Tonga. (Boutilier 1984b, 44) Frederick E. Johnson (q.v.), the able Treasurer and Collector of Customs (1919-1947), acted as Resident Commissioner for periods of 1938, 1939, 1941, and was in that position when the Japanese invaded in 1942. 'Pop' Johnson, born in 1878, had previously worked in the New Hebrides (1904-1919) and was the longest-serving member of the early Administration. He ran the BSIP administration in Sydney from 1942 to 1946. (Golden 1993, 95-96) Two other fixtures were S.G.C. Knibbs and Alexander 'Spearline' Wilson. Knibbs, mentioned above, held a series of posts: Government Surveyor (1913-1924), Commissioner of Lands and Crown Surveyor (1924-1939), acting Superintendant of Public Works (1918-1939), Registrar of Land Titles (1919-1939), and Chairman of the Mining Board (1927-1939). Wilson served the Protectorate from 1919 to 1942 as a surveyor (1919-1924), Government Surveyor (1924-1939) and Commissioner of Lands and Public Works, and Registrar of Land Titles and Chairman of the Mining Board (1939-1942). (Wilson 1946)
Tulagi, or New Florida as it was sometimes called, faced onto an extensive harbour. The protected waterway between the island and the mainland extended east to Gavutu Harbour, with easy access to Port Purvis and the narrow Mboli Passage between Gela Sule and Gela Pile through to the Anglican headquarters at Siota. In 1907, Levers Pacific Plantations Ltd. Purchased Svensen's (q.v.) Gavutu Island as their depot, and in 1908 Burns Philp & Co. purchased small Makambo Island, opposite Tulagi but closer to the mainland. A photograph from circa 1909 shows the beginnings of the Makambo settlement. (Golden 1993, 68-69, 416) Martin and Osa Johnson's 1917 film shows Makambo with substantial development. Levers later built a causeway to link Gavutu to close-by Tanambogo, creating an excellent port facility. Most overseas arrivals were via a series of Burns Philp & Co. steamers, first the SS Titus and then the larger SS Mataram, and over years the successors SS Makambo, SS Marsina and SS Malaita. Makambo had large retail and bulk stores, an insurance agency, staff quarters and a substantial manager's residence, but never a large wharf. Photographic evidence suggests that large vessels either anchored offshore and used lighters to ferry cargo and passengers, or used Levers' substantial concrete wharf at Gavutu if they needed to berth. From 1905 until 1916, Levers operated their own overseas steamers, SS Upolu and SS Kulambangara, which berthed at Gavutu. After Gavutu, the overseas steamers proceeded north as far as the Shortland Islands, calling at several ports, collecting freight and delivering cargo over a two-week period before returning to the capital. W. R. Carpenters & Co. also operated an intermittent steamer service via New Guinea, using SS Inga to call at Tulagi and Vanikolo on the way back to Australia. Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese and U.S. steamers also called to collect copra. Internal Protectorate communications were maintained by the government vessel Ranadi (q.v.), Burns Philp's SS Malaita, Lever's motor vessel Koonookarra and Carpenter's Duranbah, all of which regularly called at Tulagi, Makambo and Gavutu. (AR 1928, 9, AR 1929, 8)
Merchant companies such as Australian companies Burns Philp & Co., W. R. Carpenter & Co., Morris Hedstrom Ltd. From Fiji, and several Chinese companies provided early commercial services, including banking and credit facilities, but only for foreigners. Sometimes Solomon Islanders could gain credit facilities through traders. However, they were protected by Native Contracts' Regulation No. 2 of 1896 under which no civil action could be taken to recover debts from Solomon Islanders, and hence the government discouraged such advances. Solomon Islanders also often refused to recognise debts when one company representative was replaced by another, which meant that it was safer to refuse any credit. Only mixed-race Solomon Islanders had reasonably secure access to limited credit. Between 1918 and 1937, the Protectorate issued its own paper currency to supplement the gold coins and Australian Commonwealth bank notes in circulation. From 1919, this local currency was also used to pay labour, with £4,154 in circulation that year. (AR 1917-1918, 5, AR 1918-1919, 4) District Officers also served as postmasters, and from the 1920s ran a money order service through the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which enabled money to be remitted throughout the world. Even so, most large transactions were carried out in Tulagi where Burns Philp & Co. managed the agency. (AR 1922-1923, 6)
The first Chinese tradesmen seem to have reached the Protectorate in 1910. By 1913, Ah Choi had applied for a land lease on Kokona Island in the Nggela Islands, and in 1914 Kwong Cheong had a trading business at Tulagi. They probably came south from Rabaul, where the Germans had allowed Chinese immigration. (In 1914 around 1,000 Chinese lived in or near Rabaul.) In 1918, there were sixty-one Chinese in the Protectorate, the majority on Tulagi, attracted by trade with time-expired labourers when they were paid off. A few (four in 1934) worked as mechanics and carpenters in government service. (AR 1934, 13) Chinese stores were beginning to provide the necessities of life, and a Chinatown developed on reclaimed mangrove swamps on the edge of the government centre. In 1917, the American visitor Osa Johnson did nearly all of her shopping at one of the Chinese stores, 'which had everything from fish and vegetables and dry goods and hardware'. (Johnson 1945, 111-112)
Tulagi's Chinatown was well established by the late 1920s and had grown to such an extent that in 1929 the Lands Department surveyed it and imposed a street plan. (AR 1929, 12 Knibbs 1929, 264) There are several good photographs of Chinatown that show its extent and complexity. In the 1930s, it was replete with trade stores and eating places, and when Saturday became the regular market day on the nearby shore, swarms of canoes brought produce to sell. (Knibbs 1929, 274 Godfrey 1928, 6) Smart Chinese traders turned up their gramophones to attract customers to buy their enticing wares. They also let off firecrackers and lit their premises with colourful paraffin lamps, particularly to celebrate the Chinese New Year. (Knibbs 1929, 275)
A branch of Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, had its own premises on Tulagi. Although many Chinese were single men, there was a nucleus of married couples and a few children. Chinese were also allowed to set up stores on Isabel, at Gizo and in the Shortlands in the north, and at Auki on Malaita. The Protectorate Chinese community slowly increased: from 55 in 1920, to 90 in 1925, 164 in 1931 and 193 in 1933. Most stayed only for the duration of their contracts but some used their savings and connections in Rabaul, Hong Kong and Sydney to import trade goods and establish stores. (Laracy 1974, 29 Resident Commissioner C. M. Woodford to District Officer T. W. Edge-Partington, 24 Dec. 1911, BSIP 14/6 District Officer W. R. Bell to Resident Commissioner, 12 June 1927, BSIP 14/60)
Chinese also operated ships on trading circuits around the Protectorate. A 1930s photograph shows seven rickety jetties in Chinatown, an indication of the network of Chinese traders that existed, and the centrality of the Chinese community to commerce. Chinese numbers had dropped to 180 by 1941, probably because the administration tried to tighten entry requirements in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Hong Kong government did not issue passports and they were difficult to obtain in China. The Resident Commissioner had complete control of all entries without passports and in 1928 a new regulation levied a bond of not less than £20 on jobless immigrants. Restrictions were increased the next year, but most restraints on Chinese were lifted in 1933, although they were still forbidden to obtain freehold land. The major merchant companies-Carpenters, Burns Philp and Levers-did not want competition from Chinese merchants and raised the usual complaints about their corrupting influence on the natives through gambling, alcohol and vice. (Wilson, Moore and Munro 1990, 98-99 Laracy 1974 Bennett 1987, 152, 206, 208-209, 216, 224-25, 230, 236, 237-38, 249, 250, 252, 253, 254, 256, 268, 269, 271, 288, 319, 330) Asians outnumbered Europeans on Tulagi by about four to one, and were central to the retail end of commerce in the Protectorate, although they were always marginalised in other ways. Europeans appreciated their tradesman skills but cursed their entrepreneurial flair Solomon Islanders availed themselves of the cheap goods sold in their trade stores.
Solomon Islanders at Tulagi
From the early 1920s all indentured labourers had to go to Tulagi to sign off at the Labour Department. This meant that around thirty-eight thousand final wages passed to the local traders in return for trade goods, a remarkably lucrative process for the large merchant companies and Chinese businesses. From about 1914, Levers and Burns Philp operated trade stores at their labour transit depots at Gavutu and Makambo, while Carpenters and Morris Hedstrom had direct access to labourers singing-off at Tulagi, as did the Chinese stores. (Bennett 1993, 148)
In 1939, alarmed by the deteriorating situation in Europe, Resident Commissioner Noel began to prepare for invasion and formed the British Solomon Islands Defence Force, with G.E.D. Sandars (q.v.) as its Commanding Officer and David Trench (q.v.) and Martin Clemens as his deputies. Prisoners helped build a maze of trenches and gun sites and squads were trained, including a Chinese squad. (Horton 1965, 127) In preparation for the upcoming war, Gavutu-Tanambogo became an Australian naval base, a side-product of which was photographs of Tulagi Harbour and probably the first aerial photo of Gavutu-Tanambogo, showing the causeway joining the two and the full extent of Levers' commercial development of the complex. Early in 1941, an Australian Air Force Patrol Base was established at Tulagi, and in November nineteen Australian soldiers arrived to help train the Defence Force, but the idea was never carried forward. Evacuation of Tulagi began in late December 1941, first the women and children, followed by government and commercial companies staff and equipment. (Baddeley 1942) The Japanese first bombed Tulagi on 22-23 January 1942, and continued bombing there, Makambo and Gavutu-Tanambogo through March and April, forcing a hurried evacuation. The attack concentrated on Tulagi and the antiquated radio station and ignored the Australian Air Force station recently established on Tanambogo. Resident Commissioner William Marchant withdrew the administration to Auki, Malaita, although the R.A.A.F. base at Gavutu-Tanambogo continued to operate until it was abandoned on 1 May. The Japanese 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force captured Tulagi without resistance on 3 May and established a Japanese seaplane base at the R.A.A.F. facilities. (Trench 1956 Archives, in Australian National University Noel Butlin Archives, N115-250, Kenneth H. D. Hay to Chairman of Directors, Burns Philp (South Seas) Co. Ltd., 7 Feb. 1942, Burns Philp & Co.) The base was obliterated by American retaliatory raids on 7-8 August, which forced out the Japanese, who had dug tunnels into the higher reaches of Tulagi and Gavutu.
Ironically, the aerial photographs of Tulagi taken by Australian defence forces just before the war and photographs of Tulagi, Makambo and Gavutu-Tanambogo under bombardment are some of the best ever taken of the four small islands at the core of the Protectorate. War photography also reveals many details about Tulagi unavailable from written records. By late 1942, many tracks criss-crossed the small island and extensive clearing and reclamation had been done to create facilities on the opposite side of the island accessed mainly via what was called 'The Cut' from the first settlement. Another photograph, of American Marines wading ashore in a relaxed manner suggests they were not in the first wave of arrivals, but it also shows the surprisingly low central ridge and the still undeveloped northwest end of the island. A third photograph shows the Chinatown wharves after the Allied bombardment on 7 August 1942. Others show the Tulagi police and prison compounds, and the Gavutu-Tanambogo and Makambo complexes, all during or after heavy bombing.
After August 1942, Tulagi Harbour became a crucial base for the American fleet and various facilities were rebuilt. A Protectorate Gela (Nggela) District Officer was stationed there and in a rudimentary way the business of British government continued, although the accommodation available to District Officer Cyril Belshaw when he arrived in 1944 was little better than that which Woodford constructed in 1897. After the war, there were suggestions that a new capital should be established on the mainland of Nggela Sule, which would have utilized the same commodious harbour. However, in October 1945 the Advisory Council (q.v.) agreed to move the capital to a site just west of the Mataniko River on Guadalcanal, centred on Point Cruz, which already held an American military base and since 1943 had also been used by the remnant Protectorate Government. Despite initial reticence by the 'old hands', by mid-1949 Tulagi was almost deserted. Even the post office closed that year when the Central District Headquarters moved to Honiara. Tulagi went into decline, although its docks remained in partial use until new port facilities were established in Honiara in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, Solomon Taiyo, a large tuna-fishing company, was based at Tulagi and sparked a temporary revival, but eventually the company headquarters were shifted to Noro in the Western Solomons, and Tulagi was left once more to deteriorate. Today, it is a pleasant but sleepy diving destination with a plentiful supply of Second World War wrecks that lure tourists and Regional Assistance Mission personnel on weekends.
Little remains of the original Tulagi settlement today, or of that on Gavutu, which has become infamous in the 2000s as 'Dolphin Island', the home of a porpoise export business. The remnants of a few prison cells still stand on Tulagi. 'The Cut' remains, easing access across the island, and Japanese tunnels honeycomb the central ridge. The concrete front steps of the Residency are an indication of the past grandeur. On Gavutu, the only remnant of Levers' long tenancy is the strongroom, now used as a quaint residence, and the decaying but still grand wharf. The acres of coconut plantations are no longer evident on Tulagi, since the vegetation has grown back on most of the upland areas. The beautifully tended tropical gardens full of flowers and orchids, and the white coral paths remain only in old photographs and written accounts.