Message Area
lblHidCurrentSponsorAdIndex =

  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: They Served

article number 733
article date 08-30-2018
copyright 2018 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
We Quit Running, We Take Action in the Pacific: as Reported by Yank Magazine, Summer 1942
by ’Yank’ magazine writers

U.S.S. Lexington: Carrier Upholds Our Fighting Tradition

We knew the Lexington well.

We saw her in the movies, in the papers, in the magazines. She was part of the American scene. She was a gallant ship manned by a fighting crew. Her planes roared up to carry the hell of war to Japan.

Then the Japs found her. They ripped open her sides and sent her reeling. To spare her agony, our own Navy sent her down. But her name lives on. Her memory blazes forever bright. She fulfilled the purpose of her birth, and died fighting.

The story of the end of the U. S. aircraft carrier Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea can now be pieced together.

It Is a story of a crew with guts. men who nonchalantly ate ice cream as they slithered down the side of their sinking ship after a terrific battle. It is the story of a great ship whose greatest moment was her last.

The carrier Lexington stood up under a concerted attack by Japanese dive-bombers and torpedo carrying planes, only to sink, seven hours later, scarred by fire and broken by internal explosions, beneath the Coral Sea’s shark-infested face. She didn’t want to go down even then, it took torpedoes from an American destroyer to administer the coup de grace.

The Japs paid heavily for the Lexington, and for the destroyer Sims and the tanker Neosho, the only other American ships lost in the battle. To the bottom went the new Japanese carrier Ryukaku. three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, two destroyers, and several transports and small vessels. A total of 37 Japanese ships were sunk or damaged.

The Lexington was a big ship—one of the two largest aircraft carriers in the world, displacing 33,000 tons—and she was old. Launched In 1925. she normally carried 1899 officers and men. She had room for 90 planes.

In 1931, during the Nicaraguan earthquake. she made a record run from Guantanamo to the stricken area to land physicians, medicines and food. When Amelia Earhart was lost in the Pacific, the Lexington directed the search.

Strange Battle

The Battle of the Coral Sea was unique because opposing naval units never came in contact wIth each other. The Lexington never saw the carriers that launched the planes that got her. The Japs found her on May 8, when most of her own planes were away.

The commander of the Lexington tells the story of the attack: “At dawn May 8 our scouting forces went out and finally located two Japanese aircraft carriers and several other enemy ships, hidden in a rain squall about 200 miles away.

“It was evident to us our forces and the enemy had contacted each other at about the same time, however, so we prepared for attack as we sent two raiding squadrons out.

The Smoke Also Rises

“We found one of the Japs, the Sho Kaku. about 11 A.M., and pounded it with heavy 1000 pound bombs and hit it with five torpedoes. Our planes left her settling fast, with flames and smoke rising nearly 1000 feet in the air.

“Thirteen minutes later they came at each of our carriers with 54 planes. We shot down 40 of their 108 planes, but not before they had dropped bombs and torpedoes.

"We counted 11 torpedo wakes in our direction. We avoided all but two. The Jap dive bombers got us with three bombs, one of heavy caliber. There were a lot of close misses, and many men on the flight deck were killed by fragments.”

The Coral Sea was calm. Waves lapped the sides of the great, gaunt carrier, and the smooth face of the water was broken only by the exploding of bombs and the splash of shrapnel. It was noon. and the hot tropic sun burned down on the bomb-scarred decks.

Charles Dorton, a yeoman third class, who was aboard. tells this story of the attack.

The beginning of an end. Jap aircraft carrier Ryukoku takes a torpedo hit flush on port bow. The Ryukoku was one of at least 15 Jap vessels lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Explosion. Flaming blast mushrooms up after further U. S. direct hits. The Ryukoku wallows hopelessly as Navy planes throw steel-encased H. E. into her.
Rocked fore and aft, the Ryukoku’s end is near. At extreme left, near low white flash of explosion, Navy torpedo plane levels off to administer the final touch.

Lousy Shots, the Japs

“The pilots of the torpedo planes were nervous. You could see them as they swept in toward the ship through our machine gun tire. They’re lousy shots.

“Things were happening fast. Anti-aircraft racket was awful. The sky was tilled with lead. One Jap torpedo plane was hit by our machine gun tire when it was about 200 yards away and only about 60 feet above the water. The Jap didn’t have a chance to launch his fish, but turned into a slow barrel roll and kept coming right at us. He crashed into the ship near the port forward gun battery. Our boys quickly shoved the wreck off into the water before it could catch fire and explode the torpedo.”

What was left of the Japanese striking force veered off and vanished into the sun The men of the Lexington grim, sweating, and tired, knew things weren’t going well.

Fire and Explosion

The bombs and torpedoes had started numerous fires below decks, and the Lexington took a six degree list. Her speed was checked. Within half an hour the damage control squads had her back on an even keel, and the damage control officer reported that three of four fires were under control. The other fire still smouldered.

Five minutes later, however, the ship was shaken by a terrible explosion below decks. The communications system broke down. Heavy fires started up again and spread rapidly toward the flight deck.

The fire mains, carrying the water pressure, were severed, and it became difficult to fight the fire. Flames spread to the hangar deck, and ammunition stored forward began to explode at intervals of a few minutes. The hangar deck had to be abandoned, but the engineering crew below stuck to its posts, although the intense heat blistered the paint on the bulkheads around them.

Eventually the fire made it necessary to order the engineering crew on deck. No sooner had they come topside than the telephone communications system failed. Had the order been delayed the engineering crew would never have come out alive.

"Abandon Ship"

At last, with the Lexington’s communications gone, her steering gear smashed, the fires hopelessly out of control, the order came to abandon ship.

The sun was going down, and the Lexington was a lost ship. Friendly vessels hovered about, waiting to remove the men. But the crew didn’t want to go. Some of them had served the Lexington for years, and to these she was home. But there it was, "Abandon ship,” the Old Man had said.

The men took the order in stride. Some matched coins to see who would go first. Others swapped stories. Two gobs curled up and went to sleep while awaiting orders.

Ice cream in the ship’s stores was distributed when the storekeeper, seeing the handwriting on the wall, first offered double-header cones at a nickel a throw, and finally gave it away. Some men filled their tin hats with ice cream and took it overside with them.

At sunset the crew began to abandon ship. sliding down ropes into small boats which carried them to cruisers and destroyers. The men were calm. They even arranged their shoes in an orderly row on the flight deck before abandoning

Crew abandons U.S.S. Lexington.

Casualties Small

No lives at all were lost in the water. The ship’s 8 casualties were sustained in combat.

"I cannot ernphasize too heavily.” the commander said later. “how magnificently the crew performed throughout the entire action. It made one proud as an American to see the way the boys did their jobs.”

Skipper Last

As the Lexington’s commander, the last man off, prepared to leave, a great explosion shook the ship. Debris was blown hundreds of feet into the air. The commander ducked under the edge of the flight deck, then slipped down a rope into the water, where a boat picked him up and carried him to a waiting cruiser.

The Lexington was still afloat. To prevent her from falling into enemy hands or becoming a derelict, a destroyer sent torpedoes into her riddled hull. When she went under, at 7: 45 P. M., she was afire from stem to stern, shuddering from frequent explosions.

Long after she went under the Lexington’s magazine and ammunition exploded with blasts felt 20 miles away. One cruiser was shaken as though hit by a torpedo, and a destroyer clew thought their ship had been struck astern.

That was the end of the Lexington, She went down hard and she died game and she took a lot of enemies with her. It was a moment she had awaited for 17 years, and when it came she was ready.

Cameramen Aren’t Goldbricks

The photographs of the sinking of the aircraft carrier Lexington reproduced in this issue were taken by enlisted men whom the Navy has trained for just this type of work. The Coral Sea photos were made at close-range by men who risked their lives. The photos have been described as “the most dramatic pictures ever taken of a sea battle.”

Telephoto lenses were not used. The men were in there where things were happening, and in at least one instance the blast of an explosion was so intense that it rocked the cameraman and left the picture blurry. It’s still a good picture, though.


On June 4th the Jap tried to take Midway Island and he got his ears slapped back.

He brought up a huge fleet, consisting of battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and transports. He took the fleet away with him, but it was no longer huge. Army, Navy and Marine Corps flyers saw to that.

The Jap swung and he missed. Closest he got to Midway was 125 miles.

Jap Mistake

The mistake he made was in not bombing the Midway runways. He figured, of course, that he’d be landing his own planes there very soon, but Marine planes swarmed off those Farmacs and smashed bombs down on the Jap fleet.

From Pearl Harbor came Army and Navy planes, manned by men anxious for vengeance. In one day Navy planes from Pearl Harbor sunk three Jap carriers.

The U. S. planes had a field day, knocking out Jap battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The Jap withdrew in a panic that spread all over the ocean in wild retreat.

Five Attacks in All

As of June 18, final score of the battle has not yet been released.

The Marines still hold on at Midway. Since December 7 they have stood off five separate attacks, in addition to this most recent one.

Barren Midway. Hardly the place for a beach resort, this sandy pinpoint in the Pacific holds no pleasures either for vacationists or Japs. Marines defending the island have beaten off five attacks; invasion fleet was kept 125 miles away. Picture shows temporary quarters of workers there.

The very first attack of the war came at nightfall on December 7. The Marines damaged a cruiser and a destroyer. The Jap, finding the area unhealthy, scrammed.

On December 29 the Japs tried an air attack, In six minutes, 20 Marine planes were in the air. The area was still unhealthy, and has remained so since. On January 25 a sub shelled the island, then retired after Marine batteries threw 25 rounds at it. Two more sub attacks came on February 8 and 10.

Tokyo expected that the most recent attack, by a full Jap fleet, would crush the island’s resistance. Japan doesn’t like to have Midway sitting out there, within striking distance of her cities. Japan also would like to be just a little closer to Hawaii.

The same planes that bring food to the island’s defenders are quite capable, not to say anxious, to take off from Hawaii with bombs under their belts.

And there sit the Marines, They’ve “told it” to the Jap twice. They’d like to do it again.

Shot above gives some idea of the amount of cover a man can get. The leathernecks ain’t complainin’.


Aircraft Plant at Kobe Bombed With 20-Cent Homemade Sight

(Sgt. Edward J. Saylor is only 23, but he has seen what few men alive have seen. He’s looked down on Japan at war, and when he finished looking there was a little less of Japan down there to make war. Saylor was one of General Doolittle’s men on that raid, and we don’t have to tell you what raid.

(About Sgt. Saylor, he’s a native of Brussett, Montana. He calls it just a little “cross-roads postoffice”, but after a few more raids on Japan like the one he went on, he may be able to describe Tokyo in the same manner.

(Saylor finished high school at Jordan, Montana, in 1937 and spent the next two years working in western states as a logger, farm hand and cow puncher. He enlisted in the air corps in 1939. Eglin Field, Florida, was his last American base before he was engaged in active duty over Japan.)

By Sgt. Edward J. Saylor Engineer-Gunner, U. S. Army Air Force

—Hirohito, the Yanks are coming pal !

They’re coming with a rush and a roar and some hell to be splattered over this little island empire.

I can hardly wait, bub. We’re over Japan now.

It’s 1:40 p.m., and a clear day. Below me the country is rugged, but through the valleys the land is streaked with green, with trees and terraces.

Maybe I got a little bit of a catch in my throat, but I don’t notice it much. We’re just fifteen minutes away from our target, and we’re sailing along at four thousand feet. We’re flying B-25’s, and they’re very new and fast.

The skies are empty and clear. We’ve left the other planes in our squadron, and here we are all alone sitting over several million Japs.

Yes, I have got a catch in my throat, because thinking of all those Japs down there somehow makes me think of Bataan peninsula, and to think of Bataan peninsula makes me sore.

That gives you a strange feeling to be sore when the ground below looks so peaceful and when you see the farmland down below and it looks so damned impersonal.

I used to live out west, and I’ve never been to Japan before, thank God, but I’ve heard stories about how they plant stuff on these terraced hillsides in the Far East, and I keep wondering how they work it, having been a farmer once myself.

I am also keeping a sharp watch out for cherry trees. I have been meaning to go to Washington for years to see them, but I have never seen them and I understand they are out of fashion right now.

These are just random thoughts, and all these thoughts probably come and go in a fraction of a second, because I am looking for enemy planes eight to the dozen every second, and there are no more enemy planes than there are cherry trees.

The skies are empty.

I have been sitting here just feeling the throb and roar of the big B-25. They’re beautiful ships, wonderful ships. I think of the other boys of over Tokyo and Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya now.


We’re headed for Kobe, to hit the big wharves there, and then over to an aircraft factory where they make Yakashimas. I promise I will get a few of those babies which I understand are being used to strafe our troops. After I pour some lead into those babies, those planes will look like St. Valentine’s Day in Chicago has come to the aircraft industry of Japan.

The skies are still empty and vacant, and very clear. It’s 1:43 now, and we’re all at battle stations.

Our pilot is Lt. Donald G. Smith of San Antonio, Texas, and he knows his business. He can throw this little old ship around like I once saw a guy throw an old Jenny around at a fair back in Montana, and he could do more things with that Jenny than a monkey can do with a coconut.

Smith is sure good, all right. When we started coming into Japan, he skimmed the waves so close I could almost taste the salt water from the spray in my mouth, no kidding.

Our navigator-bomber is a guy named Lieut. Howard A. Sessler. He’s from Boston, and he’s ready to go to work with his bombsight.

Hirohito, you better watch out for guys named Sessler and guys from Boston.

Now this will give you birds a laugh. Here we are sitting up over Japan in a few hundred-thousand-bucks-worth of airplanes, and what kind of bombsight you think we got?

The damned thing cost twenty cents, no kidding. Doolittle—General Doolittle—he was afraid that in case any one of us got shot down, we didn’t want the Japs to get hold of those Norden bombsights. So we rigged up a sight that cost twenty cents.

But, brother, that sight is going to cost Emperor Hirohito and what they call the Elder Statesmen several million bucks’ worth of stuff in a few minutes.

Few minutes! Right now, I mean. We just sighted the outskirts of Kobe. The skies are still vacant, and that scares you a little. 1:52 and we’re over the edge of the city.

We’re coming in at 2,000 feet. Lieut. Sessler is talking over the interphone in his Boston accent which always gives me a hell of a boot, it sounds so English:

“That’s our baby,” the looie is saying. “I see the target.”

We roar across the city, raising such an almighty racket the noise kind of bounces back, it seems like, and the Japs down there are running back and forth in the streets like so many ants in an ant hill. Buses are running back and forth, but the Japs don’t seem to catch on to the fact that the Stars-and Stripes Forever are right up there over their heads, equipped with plenty of horsepower and plenty of bombs and that darned old 20-cent bomb sight.

There’s our target.

She’s an aircraft factory, a mess of buildings down there, scattered over a block or better. There are the docks.

All we got to do now is let go.

Hirohito, the Yanks are coming, sprinkling it along the course.

“Let ‘er go, Sess,” Smith yells to the bombardier.

I felt her go when she went. The bombs, I mean. Sweet as you please, that B-25 takes a sudden uplift, a little bit of a lurch, and the minute I feel it I know:

Hirohito, the Yanks have arrived.

I can’t se where the bombs land, but I know that we’re square on the target with the whole works. We’re rolling along at 240 m.p.h., now and that ain’t any cadence-count either. We’re well away from that factory before the hell starts breaking loose and the fires start.

The Japs are waking up, though. They start a mild epidemic—that’s what the lieutenant called it—a mild epidemic of anti-aircraft fire.

The stuff comes up like powder-puffs, but we’re high-tailing it away from the barrage. The Japs can’t estimate our speed, and they never catch up with us. We don’t give them a chance, either. We drop right down almost to water level and haul out of there in a hurry, and there I get salt spray, it seems like, in my mouth again.

I wish I could have stuck around to see the look on Hirohito’s face when they brought him the messages that night.

THEY WERE OVER TOKYO. Two men from the ranks who flew with General Doolittle on his bombing raid of Tokyo are shown tracing their flight with the General. On the left is M/Sgt. Elred Scott, 34, of Phoenix, Ariz. (promoted since picture was taken) and Sgt. David Thatcher, 20, of Billings, Mont. Each was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

D.F.C. for All in Raiding Crews

WASHINGTON. — While Brigadier General Jimmy Doolittle watched with a proud grin, the 20 officers and three enlisted men who helped him bomb Tokyo and other Japanese cities on April 18 received their share of honor here at Boiling Field.

They lined up at attention before a row of bombing planes and Lt. General Hap Arnold, chief of the Air Corps, pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on each one of their khaki tunics.

U. S. Sank 20 Jap Ships at Midway

Enemy Lost Four Carriers 4,800 Men in Naval Battle

WASHINGTON—The Japs took a terrific beating in the Battle of Midway. Just how terrible it was the Navy revealed last week in the first official description of the greatest sea fight in the history of the Pacific.

The enemy lost four big aircraft carriers and 16 other ships, sunk and damaged. We destroyed 275 planes and the staggering total of 4,800 Jap sailors and fliers were killed and drowned.

We lost only one destroyer.

The aircraft carrier Yorktown was badly damaged but only 32 U. S. planes were downed and 307 Yank officers, soldiers, sailors and marines lost.

Those were the scores announced in the Navy’s 97th communique of the war, the official story of the historic three-day battle between June 3 and June 6.

FLAT TOP HIT—Jap plane hits aircraft carrier Yorktown amidships during the Midway battle. They put her out of action but we paid them back.

Navy Guesses Right

It is a story told in crisp official language of men fighting against great odds, the same story as Wake and Bataan and the Coral Sea. Only this time, they caught the Jap with his guard down and gave it to him, instead of taking it. They slugged him with everything in the book and when the round ended, he couldn’t find his way back to his corner.

The story starts after the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 8, when the Japs withdrew toward Nippon.

U. S. Navy men guessed they would make a new thrust in the direction of Hawaii and deployed the Pacific fleet between Midway and the Aleutian Islands.

They guessed right. On the morning of June 3, Navy patrol planes spotted the enemy ships moving eastward, 700 miles off Midway, and flashed the word. Nine Army Flying Fortresses went out to meet them.

Army Gets Carriers

The soldiers got a cruiser and a transport. Then that night, four Navy Catalina Flying Boats attacked the Jap fleet by moonlight and scored two torpedo hits.

When dawn broke the next morning, Army medium and heavy bombers and Marine dive bombers started giving them hell. Brushing aside a heavy screen of anti-aircraft fire, the Army blasted two aircraft carriers.

Screaming down out of the skies, a formation of 16 Marine dive bombers socked three direct hits on another carrier, the Soryu.

For the next two days the Marines and the Army Flying Fortresses and Navy torpedo planes smashed them continually.

Marines Down 40

While this free-for-all was going on at sea, a huge force of carrier-based Jap planes tried to attack Midway. That was an awful mistake. The small collection of Marine fighters shot down 40 of them.

Most of the rest were lost, too, because when they went back to the ocean, there was no place to land. Their carriers were all sunk or battered.

FIRE BEATERS—No hysterics here. These crew members knew what to do when fire broke out on the damaged Yorktown. They stuck on the job.


This remarkable photo was made through an American submarine’s periscope as a Jap destroyer headed for the bottom after being hit by two torpedoes. Note the Rising Sun now sinking in center, and the two men in white scrambling over the conning tower at right. The marks running through the picture are etchings on the periscope.

’Yank’ magazine cover, SEPT. 9, 1942: Story of Our 1st Offensive

SEPT. 9, 1942
VOL. 1, NO. 13

By the men. . for the men in the service.

JAP HUNTERS. Actual combat picture of U. S. Marines, ready with bullet and bayonet, advancing into the jungle after landing on Guadalcanal, one of Solomon Islands. Story on page 3.

Saga of the Solomons


For many it was the first real landing, and for many it was the last. They waded to shore in good order, and then spread out.

They caught the Jap flat-footed, with his pants down, and they hunted him through the jungle and into the caves. They dropped him out of the trees and off of the cliffs, and they didn’t take enough prisoners to fill a subway car.

And when it was all over they said “Thank you very much for this nice equipment,” and settled down to stay for awhile That was the Marines in the Solomon Islands in August, 1942.

THE MARINES were going to work. They sprawled on the decks of great transports and watched the dim shore of the South Pacific Port fade behind them. Around their transports, hulking cruisers and destroyers like whippets sent their smoke pouring out in the blue air of a clear August day, by their mere presence giving a feeling of security to the tough men who were oiling their rifles and polishing their bayonets.

The Marines knew that they were the largest force ever assembled to engage in a landing operation and the amount of scuttlebutt—Marine for “latrine rumor”—about where they were going reverberated from the transports’ decks. Guesses ranged from the geisha houses of Yokahoma to the Admiral Byrd Mountains of Little America.

Wherever they went, the Marines were glad they were going.

The convoy had been out three days when the call came to battle stations. Three planes had appeared, and as they came out of the horizon the Marines waited tensely, trying to identify them. They turned out to be friendly craft—the eyes of approaching reinforcements.

Later that day smoke appeared on all points of the horizon, and as time passed a Marine could see, fore and aft and port and starboard, big aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, and enormous transports moving along with him.

‘Where they were going was still the big question. During the next two days the skies were dark, overcast, Great cloud banks sank down against the water. This was good though; no enemy plane could spot them in weather like that. Occasionally, through fog, they could make out a few friendly islands.

It was not until these islands had been passed that unit commanders called their men together and told them where they were going. Their objective was the Solomon Islands, a Japanese-held group 200 miles south of the equator in mid Pacific.

The Solomons were the Japs southernmost conquest. More important, these were the islands that were being developed by the enemy into a base from which U. S. shipping routes to New Zealand and Australia could be attacked.

MAP: Solomon’s landings, August, 1942.
1200x936 size available. to open in new window.

Now that the Marines knew where they were going, they were ready. The talk and the guesswork subsided. Each man busied himself with his equipment. When a man is going to do a lot of gun-using, he wants his gun to be right.

On the night of August 6-7 all hands turned out at 2 a. m. The ships continued to slip through calm waters as the Marines lined up below decks for a breakfast of steak, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, toast, jam and coffee. They knew that for days to come they would be on iron field rations; no man was going to miss this opportunity for good chow.

Outside the weather had cleared. The mist and low clouds had disappeared and there were bright stars and strange constellations in the southern sky.

To the right the faint outline of an island could be detected. That was Guadalcanal.

Slowly another island loomed into being on the left. That was Florida.

The huge convoy was making its way slowly, silently, stealthily through the passage between Guadalcanal and Florida Islands to the very heart of the Solomons 15 miles north—to the harbor at Tulagi. And not one peep was yet to be heard from the enemy-held shore.

Dawn comes much later this time of year in the tropics than it does in the U. S. Not until 5:25 a. m. did the ship’s crew take to battle stations. Not until 6:05 a. m. was the order given to “stand by to lower boats.” And it was not until 6:17 a. m. that the big cruisers’ guns began to boom.

As the cruisers’ guns opened up the big Navy bombers and the smaller dive-bombers went to work on shore installations and batteries. Jap camps were bombed and strafed.

Jap ships were sunk in the harbor. Most important of all, nine Zeros equipped with floats, five big patrol seaplanes and one four-engined bomber were put out of action before they could get off the water. That left the Japs in the Solomons with not one plane to fly.

Tanambogo Island (foreground) in the Solomons after the American airplanes dropped their loads. Causeway (left) connects with Gavutu Island.

Bothered and Bewildered Japs

All up and down the 15-mile stretch of water hell was breaking loose, to the obvious consternation of a bewildered Jap garrison. So effective was this preliminary bombardment that not one Jap shore battery was able to reply. Here and there, sporadic machine-gun fire; nothing else.

Boats swung out on davits and were lowered as Marine combat groups made ready to strike for shore. Around the big transports hundreds of smaller craft were swarming—landing barges, tank lighters, amphibious tanks that the Marines call “alligators,” amphibious tractors to serve as machine shops on shore. The landing barges all flew small U. S. flags.

Marines roll up on Solomon beaches in a tank that swims like a duck.

“H” hour—the hour for attack—differed up and down the line, but generally it was set at 08:00. A company of Marines under Captain E. J. Crane landed first, the spot chosen being a promontory on Florida Island which overlooked Tulagi. Not a Jap was in sight. Not a Jap shot was heard.

Thirty minutes later’ a marine raider battalion under Col. Merritt Edson landed on a beach at the northwest end of Tulagi. Again not a Jap was seen, and only one Jap shot was fired; that by a lone sniper.

An amber flare from the shore of Guadalcanal announced that Combat Group A, under Lieut. Col. L. P. Hunt, had made a third landing. Again there were no Japs, no shots.

Leaping from their landing barges, U. S. Marines establish a beachhead on Guadalcanal—guns, tanks, jeeps soon followed to take and hold the island.

The lack of defense was eerie, but no Marine believed for a minute that it was going to be this easy all the way. In fact, they would soon discover that the Japs had simply been surprised out of their wits by this early bombardment and had fled in haste to what they thought were safe positions in dugouts, caves and caverns far back in the hills. There they would fight until dead.

On the two biggest Solomons little did happen on that first day. The Marines made no attempt to push inland on Florida. On Guadalcanal they spread out through the coconut groves and tall grass at the same time that tanks and tractors were landed and a headquarters was set up on the beach.

The day was steaming hot and toward night a heavy tropical rain set in. The Guadalcanal Marines bivouacked that night under palm trees, sleeping for the most part in mud puddles. They were uncomfortable, but undisturbed.

The picture was different in the Tulagi area. After landing there, the raiders, their heavy packs on their backs, climbed the steep cliffs, dragged machine-guns up behind them and, after splitting into two separate parties, headed cautiously southeast toward the chief settlement of the Solomon Islands—the town of Tulagi.

This was a hilly, heavily wooded section and it took one party of the raiders two and a half hours to cover a mile and a half of this terrain, At the end of that time they ran into their first serious trouble—a series of machine-gun nests hidden in limestone caves dug into the hillside.

To wipe out these nests men crawled up the hilt under fire, and then slipped down a cliff to throw grenades into the mouths of the caves. This was the first indication of the kind of desperate opposition that the U. S. Marines we’re to face on the Solomon Islands.

Cricket Field Fighting

The other party of raiders worked their way on the other side of Tulagi’s chief ridge into the town. They took the hill on which stood the old British Residency, symbol of happier days, and captured the cricket field just below it. Jap snipers seemed to be behind every rock, in every tree and in every building in the area.

The raiders, however, ran into something more formidable—a ravine, the other side of which was literally studded with a labyrinth of pillboxes and dugouts from which poured withering fire. This was the Japs’ main line of defense on Tulagi Island. Captain Harold T. A. Richmond, commanding this detachment, decided to bide his time and hold a purely defensive position until reinforcements arrived.

The small islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo, connected with each other by a concrete causeway, lie just off Tulagi. Gavutu, about a mile long, the site of the seaplane base destroyed in the early bombing, was ordered attacked at noon on that first day by Marines under Major Robert H. Williams. Major Williams was badly wounded as he landed under fire on the wharf and the command fell to to Captain George Stallings.

Gavutu was perhaps the best fortified of the islands. Rising abruptly in the center of the island is a hill 148 feet high which was honeycombed with scores of spacious limestone caves. Tunnels connected many of these underground chambers, most of which were also equipped with radios. They were ideal for defense, and the Japs made the most of them.

Landing under a rain of fire, the Marines knew that the only way to get the Japs off this island was to blast in the caves.

Torgeson and TNT

It was Captain Harry L. Torgeson who showed the way to conquer Gavutu. He crept slowly up the hill, covered by the fire of only four men, into the mouth of one cave he hurled charges of TNT tied to boards with short fuses.

The blast was deafening, The hillside seemed almost to fall in. The Japs inside were either blown up or buried alive.

Captain Torgeson proceeded to pay calls on other caves for hours, using up 20 cases of TNT. Once he ran out of matches and had to call for more. He broke a wrist watch; his pants were blasted off. But he also blew up 50 caves and killed unknown numbers of Japs.

Marines landing on Gavutu found the Japs lodged in caves but Captain Harry L. Torgeson made short work of them. He visited each one, tossing TNT inside as a calling card, blowing up 50 caves and leaving countless enemies killed or buried alive.

To mention all the heroes of Gavutu would mean going through the roster of the men who fought there. Cpl. Ralph W. Fordice mopped up seven dugouts, each harboring at least six Japs. Out of one cave alone he dragged eight dead enemies.

Cpl. George F. Brady killed two Japs with his sub-machinegun and when his gun jammed used the butt to kill a third. After that he took his knife and disposed of two more.

Cpl. John Blackan cleaned out five dugouts single-handed.

Sgt. Max Keplow killed three Japs playing dead on a beach, then blasted out two dugouts.

Platoon Sgt. Harry M. Tully operated as a sniper-hunter for 48 hours, pecking off Japs one by one. One night he lay on a beach and watched a Jap swim ashore behind a log flat. He waited patiently without stirring for 18 minutes until the Jap raised his head. Then Tully got his man.

On that afternoon of August 7, the Marines planted the Stars and Stripes on the Gavutu hilltop, the bugles blew and the Marines stopped fighting for a split second to cheer. The Rising Sun still floated above Tanambogo, 500 yards away, but Marine sharp-shooters shot it away.

At dusk that evening, the first attack on Tanambogo took place. The connecting causeway was covered by Jap fire; an advance across it would have been suicide. Another boat-landing operation was thus called for. The Marines here were to be guided by an Australian flght lieutenant who knew every inch of the islands.

Destroyers laid down a 5-minute barrage as the boats came to shore. The last naval shell fired hit a fuel dump which lit up the landing dock so brilliantly that the Marines were exposed to the full view of the Jap machine-gunners; the attack had to be called off for that night, to be resumed the following morning.

Two tanks were sent over to Tanambogo in advance of the landing party. One tank had made its way inland about 100 feet when Japs began to swarm over it. They thrust iron rods into its treads. They poured gasoline over it and set it afire.

At that moment the Marine lieutenant operating the tank opened the turret top, turned his gun on the Japs and killed 23 of them before he himself was knifed to death.

A Marine tank at Tanambogo was stopped by a swarm of Japs who poured gasoline over it and set it on fire. The lieutenant in charge opened the turret and killed 23 Japs with his machine gun before they got inside and knifed him.

Within an hour this lieutenant’s life was avenged when Tanambogo was subjected to the tried-and-true methods which had conquered Gavutu.

Jap Attack Balked

At 22:30 on August 7, with a tropical rain coming down in sheets, the Japs pulled a surprise night attack on Tulagi. They came out of their caves with knives, rifles and grenades. They almost captured one Marine lieutenant colonel, who vacated his post only two minutes before the enemy arrived.

For a time they even surrounded one company of Marines. Lieut. John B. Doyle jr. and eight men held an observation post on a high cliff and spent their time pushing Japs off the precipice. A reserve Marine company was soon brought up to settle matters, and the Japs went back to their caves.

As August 8 dawned the Marines held all of Gavutu, most of Tulagi and had toe-holds on Florida and Guadalcanal.

After taking Tanambogo, the next order of the day was cleaning out the Tulagi ravine. By early morning this ravine was covered by fire from three sides. By 3 p. m. every last Jap in every cave had been killed.

One unnamed sergeant tried to blow out a dugout with grenades, only to find that as fast as he tossed them in the Japs tossed them back out. He tried dynamite next and that came back too. Then he charged inside and trained his machine-gun on four Japs. He found eight others lying dead there.

There was no silencing of any Jap dugout until every one in it had been killed. As soon as one Jap machine-gunner was killed another would take his place. One lone Jap held out in a cave for two days without food or water, surrounded by the corpses of eight fellow soldiers killed by a grenade. He too finally met his death.

In another cave three Japs fought until they had just three bullets left. One of these Japs killed his two buddies with two of the bullets and used the third for himself.

On that second day of fighting the Marines on Guadalcanal moved inland to capture, virtually without opposition, an 85% completed airfield with a 1400-foot runway. They ran into the enemy later, although he offered here no such resistance as the Marines had experienced on Tulagi. The Japs worked mostly from isolated machine-gun nests.

Platoon Sgt. Frank L. Few, a part Indian from Arizona, had a brief encounter with three Japs on Guadalcanal, killed all three in hand-to-hand combat and then was obliged to swim four and a half miles to safety.

Total Surprise for Nips

It was obvious as time went on that the Japs had been overwhelmed by the suddenness of the attack. They left breakfast tables covered with bowls of rice half eaten and with chopsticks handy nearby. Jap soldiers’ pants hung on to wash lines at one field. A Jap officer’s outdoor bath was filled; he obviously had left hurriedly and dripping.

Lonely Saturday night—Jap officer’s bathtub, minus Jap.

Large stores of food were captured, including such luxuries as beer, champagne, soda pop, soap and clothing. But there were also ammunition dumps intact, pom-poms, all sorts of fuel, radios that still were operating, trucks, cars, refrigerators, even an electric light plant. One shore battery was found loaded and ready to fire. The machinery for finishing the magnificent airport—roller and all—was there for Americans to use.

Robbed of aerial resistance in the Solomons themselves, Jap airmen on nearby islands were sent to the rescue. At 15:26 on the first day of the attack, 25 heavy Jap bombers came over, skimming the trees. They hit nothing, but ran into heavy ack-ack fire; many went down in flames. Others met their fate out over the open sea, where Navy fighters were waiting.

At 4 p. m. that day 10 dive-bombers came over and did hit one U. S. destroyer.

At noon the next day 40 torpedo planes attacked. They hit an unloaded transport and another destroyer, but 12 of these were shot down by ships’ anti-aircraft fire and another two by U. S. shore batteries. It was a suicidal raid.

In those first two days the Japs lost at least 47 planes. In days to come the score went up to above 100.

On the night of August 8 Jap warships moved to the attack, but never got within range of either transports or cargo ships.

On the 9th Japs landed some 700 well-equipped men on Tulagi’s beaches. Morning came and 670 of these were killed, 30 taken prisoners.

Meanwhile all transports and cargo ships were unloaded and by nightfall of August 9 the merchantmen departed for safer berths. After that the Jap Navy made several stabs in the direction of the Solomons, and each time were turned back.

Lately Jap planes have been coming over, always at noon. Every once in a while a Jap submarine will pop up in the harbor arid pepper a beach or so, but do little harm.

By noon of August 10 it could be said that all major resistance on five islands had been overcome and that for all intents and purposes the Solomons were ours. Exactly how many Japs were buried alive or killed in this two and a half day battle only Tokyo would know, and Tokyo was not talking about this affair.

On Tulagi there had been at least 600 Japs—and not a one surrendered.

On Gavutu there had been a good 1200—and they were all killed.

Results that Count

On Tanambogo and Guadalcanal there were several hundred more apiece, and virtually none of them was captured. In fact, the only Japs captured during the first two days of fighting were seven from a labor battalion and three who suffered from malaria and were left behind in the camps.

There was no shrinking from the fact that we, too, had had casualties, but they amounted to not one fraction of those suffered by the enemy and, in the words of Major Gen. A. A. Vandegrift, who commanded the Marines in this action, were “by no means disproportionate to the results achieved.”

Summed up the general in congratulating the men in his command:

"God favors the bold and the strong of heart.”

< Back to Top of Page