This document covers the operations of the 27-IR (25-ID), on Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, from Jan 10, 1943, to Jan 26, 1943. The Guadalcanal Campaign opened on Aug 7, 1942, and ended on Jan 9, 1943, was of vital interest to the Allied Command and to the average citizen. The morale of the United States was at an extremely low ebb. Every event was eagerly studied to find some indication that the Japanese were being stopped. The disaster of the United States at Pearl Harbor was a rude awakening to the nation. The success enjoyed by the Japanese on that fateful day completely destroyed our illusion that the superiority of the US Navy was an infallible guarantee against war with Japan.
Our military might was exposed. It brought to light the fact that the forces of our country and those of our allies had been on a continual decline for many years. The Japanese, knowing that the Navies of the Allies were practically non-existent in the Pacific, ruthlessly rushed toward the conquest of foreign territories. The great naval base at Singapore was captured and converted by the Japanese to their own use. The Philippines, meagerly defended by a handful of antiquated planes and stubborn ground forces, finally succumbed after its heroic defenders temporarily slowed the enemy’s progress.
Through other Pacific Islands, the enemy rushed with very little opposition. Their tides swarmed through Sumatra to New Guinea and the Northern Solomon Islands. In The North Pacific, they threatened Alaska by the occupation of the Islands of Kiska and Attu. In Europe, the situation was almost as disheartening with the continual success of the Nazi War machines thrust deep into Russian Territory, while the British were desperately trying to stop the German Africa Corps advance at El Alamein. The Solomon Islands offered the Japanese a series of naval and air bases from which they could attack our supply line to New Zealand and Australia. In addition, they would serve as forward bases with which to launch an assault against New Zealand and the continent of Australia.
In Jan 1942, the Japanese began to exploit this route by the establishment of bases in the Northern Solomon. Airbases such as Bougainville, Kieta, Faisi, and Rekatta Bay were stepping stones to their objective. There were no allied forces available who were capable of stopping the enemy’s advance.
In the Solomons area, a squadron of Royal Australian Air Force Catalina recon flying boats based at Tulagi and a handful of native police were insufficient to offer even token resistance. The first Coral Sea action marked the high tide of the Japanese conquest of the southern Pacific and the defeat of the Japanese in a great naval battle near Midway on Jun 6/8 1942, did much toward establishing a balance of naval power. However, the Japanese, without hesitation, began the occupation of Guadalcanal and Tulagi on Jul 4. They placed ashore a large number of soldiers and laborers who began immediate construction of an airfield on Guadalcanal. The realization that the Japanese must be stopped, focused attention on the Solomon Islands. Since these Islands had been used as a ladder for the approach to our supply lines, the same ladder could be used in rolling back the Japanese.
The decision to invade Guadalcanal was accelerated by several strategic developments.
(1) The presence of Japanese constructing an airfield on Guadalcanal within striking distance of the New Hebrides and the desire to dislodge them before they became firmly established.
(2) The recent successes in the Coral Sea and Midway Battles gave the Allies a limited precarious initiative, demanding the earliest possible exploitation.
The 1st Marine Division, reinforced, completed an amphibious landing on Guadalcanal and the Florida Islands on Aug 7. Their landing on Guadalcanal was practically unopposed while Tulagi and Gavutu in the Florida Islands were bitterly defended. The Japanese immediately began delivering their counter blows. The island of Guadalcanal and the surrounding area became a bitterly contested battleground, with neither side having the desired knock-out punch to drive the other from the island. Great aerial and naval battles were observed from ringside by the beleaguered Marines. The Marines had their own private wars with bitter fighting in small engagements such as Grassy Knoll, Tenaru River, and 1st and 2nd battles of the Mataniku River, as the Japs fanatically staged their mass Banzai charges. The position of the Marines on Guadalcanal was very precarious on several occasions as they struggled to defend the prized airfield.
The tide of battle began to swing toward our side after the Japanese were defeated in several ail-important naval engagements. With the newly acquired Henderson Field and air superiority in the local area, American reinforcements began arriving.
The Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division) and the 2nd Marine Division began arriving on Guadalcanal.
With the arrival of these units and the expected arrival of the 25th Infantry Division, the tired and depleted 1st Marine Division which had made the original landing four months previously prepared to depart. Even though our forces enjoyed local air and naval superiority, the persistent Japanese still were attempting to reinforce their units on Guadalcanal by piecemeal methods.
Meanwhile, the 27-IR, a part of the newly activated 25-ID, was preparing for combat by intense training in the tropical beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. The Regiment had been stationed at Schofield Barracks on Dec 7, 1941, when the Japanese made their sneaking attack on Pearl Harbor and the surrounding airfields. Each officer and soldier, after the humiliation of that attack, trained with extreme vigor prior to departure for the combat zone so that he would be physically fit and have perfected teamwork when the time came to settle that score on the battlefield.
On Nov 25, 1942, the first units of the division departed from Honolulu Harbor for an unknown destination. Those first units debarked at Guadalcanal on Dec 17, the personnel being informed of their destination only a few days prior to landing. The last units of the division arrived on Jan 4, 1943.
Even before the division had completed ship-to-shore operations, the XIV Corps directed that the 25-ID launch an offensive. We wanted to launch the attack very quickly in order that this division, fresh from Hawaii, would not come down with sickness before the attack. We wanted at least one division that could maneuver and go through jungles, capable of tremendous physical effort, capable of the movement necessary to put over the attack.
The island of Guadalcanal is approximately 90 miles long and 30 miles wide. Dense jungle covers the greater part of the island. At the time of the arrival of the 25-ID, American forces were in possession of only a small portion of the island; a strip along the north-central coast some 20 miles long and extending approximately 5 miles inland. The disposition of the American forces was with the main defensive positions to the west of Henderson Field. The 2nd Marine Division occupied the western defenses from Point Cruz south to Hill 66 and extending east to the Matanikau River. The 1st Battalion 2nd Marines was holding Hill 54 and Hill 55. The 182nd Infantry and 132nd Infantry of the Americal Division extended east and south, from the Matanikau River. The Recon Squadron of the Americal Division was in possession of Hill 56. The remainder of the division was occupying the perimeter defense surrounding the area containing the airfields and other vital installations. The 147th Infantry, a separate regiment not belonging to any division, was engaged in guarding certain fighter fields.
147th Infantry Regiment (S)
At the beginning of US involvement in World War II, the 147th Infantry Regiment (Separate) became a lost regiment when it left the 37th Infantry Division roster during the US Divisions triangulation period in 1942. The regiment went to war in the South Pacific as an independent regiment and fought in several battles alongside a greater number of US Marine Corps troops.
The 147-IR-(S) first engaged in combat during the Battle of Guadalcanal, where it took part in the assault on Mount Austen. During this battle, Gen Alexander Patch was forced to reorganize his forces due to combat losses and created the Composite Army-Marine Division (CAM), which consisted of the 147-IR (S), the 182-IR (Americal Division), and the 6th Marine Regiment, along with artillery elements from the Americal Division and the 2nd Marine Division.
Division Plan of Attack
The attack order as published by the XIV Corps directed that the 25-ID launch an offensive to the west on Jan 10 1942, after relieving the 132-IR on Mount Austen, having as the right boundary, the northwest branch of the Matanikau River. The mission assigned to the division by this order was
(1) reduce the strong Japanese positions on Mount Austen;
(2) envelope the enemy’s south flank;
(3) seize the corps objective approximately 3000 yards to the west.
The enemy’s main forces were known to be located west and south of Henderson Field, but reasonable estimates of his strength in the division’s sector was unobtainable. However, information on their disposition was fairly accurate as established by aggressive patrolling. The enemy held the western part of Mount Austen in force and had well organized positions on the Hill 52 and Hill 53 areas. They also had some artillery pieces in the vicinity of Hills X and Y.
The Division Commander realizing that rough and broken terrain confronted the division could not base his plan of maneuver on the enemy’s disposition but had to base it on the problems of supply, communication, and evacuation to be encountered. The division commander’s plan of maneuver assigned the 27-IR the task of seizing Hill 50, Hill 51, Hill 52, and Hill 57. The 35-IR was directed to contain the strong enemy forces between Hill 31 and Hill 27 with one battalion, while the remainder of the regiment executed a turning movement by way of the divide between the Lunga River and the Matanikau River. The 161-IR was to remain in division reserve in the vicinity of the lower forks of the Matanikau River.
Regimental Plan of Attack
Immediately after receiving the warning order and the approximate regimental zone of action, the Regimental Commander, Col William A. McCulloch, began his recon. A study of the zone of action on an aerial photograph revealed that the combination of Hills 50, 51, 52, 53, and 57 appeared in the shape of a horse, thereafter, that particular area was referred to as the Galloping Horse. The long, narrow hill to the west of Hill 57 was named the Snake. The terrain in the vicinity of the Galloping Horse was of peculiar nature. It was made up of hills with extremely steep slopes and the gorges between hills were covered with dense jungle growth.
The Matanikau River, which has its mainstream flowing north between Hills 50, 54, 55, and Hills 47, 49, and 60, is joined by a tributary flowing from the southwest between Hills 55, 56, 57, and Hill 66, thus practically making an island of the zone of action.
However, a bridge to the north of Hill 55 did exist which was supplying the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marines. That unit had started a jeep trail which was only a few hundred yards long up the steep slopes of Hill 55. An approach to the objective from the north was not available due to the deep gorge along the southwest branch of the Matanikau River unless an approach was made through the sector of the Marines utilizing their supply route. The factor of supply was the deciding element in establishing the battalion zones of action as it was believed that two assault battalions could not use the supply route over the bridge across the Matanikau to Hills 55, 54, and beyond. When presented with the difficulties to be encountered, the Marines gladly arranged for the use of the supply route through their sector.
The regimental commander’s general plan of action was nearly complete. To gain unity of command, the Recon Squadron of the Americal Division which was occupying Hill 56 was to be attached to the battalion crossing the ravine between Hills 66 and 57. The Squadron would establish blocks in the ravine north of Hill 56 to prevent the enemy’s possible approach from the east. Between the right boundary of the regiment (also the division boundary) and the left flank of the 2nd Marines would be a gap of approximately 200 yards. A time-consuming conference between commanders on the afternoon of Jan 8, concerning this gap, could arrive at no-decision in spite of the fact that the Marines were responsible for maintaining contact with the 25-ID by XIV Corps order.
The timely arrival of Gen Alexander M. Patch (XIV Corps Commander) and Gen J. Lawton Collins (25th Infantry Division Commander), resulted in a company of Marines being scheduled on the day of the attack to secure the line to the boundary ensuring the safe passage of the 27-IR troops to that point. Based on available enemy information furnished by the Marines, the division commander promised the massing of the fires of the Division Artillery and possibly an air attack on the known enemy resistance in the ravine between Hill 66 and the hoof of the Horse’s foreleg.
Following the final settlement of the boundary dispute, the regimental commander’s plan of action was complete. The 1/27-IR, (Lt Col C. E. Jurney), was to attack from the north from Hill 66 and seize the Horse’s forelegs and Hill 57. The 3/27-IR, (Lt Col G. E. Bush), would pass through the 1/2d Marine on Hills 55, 54 and seize Hills 50, 51, 52, and 53. The 2/27-IR (Lt Col H. V. Mitchell) would remain in regimental reserve in the general vicinity of Hill 55. The Cannon Company was to be in general support of the regiment. The AT Company was attached to the 3/27-IR to hand-carry food, water, and ammunition.
So, on Jan 9, 1943, the entire regiment was in forward assembly areas. The 1/27-IR was located in a ravine on the east slope of Hill 66; the 3/27-IR was at the base of Hill 55; the 2/27-IR remaining in bivouac near the beach to avoid too much confusion in the forward area but scheduled to make a short march early the next morning to a vicinity near Hill 55. The regimental command post was established on the east bank of the Matanikau River at the base of Hill 65.
Attack of the Galloping Horse
On Jan 10, 1943, the attack on the Galloping Horse began at 0550 by the massing of the fires of the Division Artillery plus one battalion of Marine Artillery on the known enemy positions in the ravine between Hills 66 and 67. The artillery concentration lifted at 0615. Navy dive bombers then began dropping depth charges on the same target. Following the aerial bombardment, Fox Co, 2d Marine closed the gap between the division’s right boundary and the 2d Marine without difficulty. The Marines were immediately followed by Baker 1/27-IR, which established a block across the ravine without resistance as a result of the successful artillery and aerial bombardment. The Recon Squadron also occupied their block on schedule.
At 0730, after Baker 1/27 had reported being in position, the 1/27 moved in a column of companies to attack Hill 57. The battalion captured its objective at 1140 after only slight resistance from enemy automatic weapons. The crest of Hill 52, the intermediate objective of the 3/27, commanded the entire Galloping Horse area on three sides. The fourth side or southeast side was almost a sheer cliff, heavily wooded, which could easily protect defenders from our fire. In addition to it’s grim appearance, the dominant thought in the minds of the 3/27 was that the Marines had twice been repulsed in attacks on this hill, the second time with heavy losses. Immediately following the artillery and aerial bombardment, the 3/27 moved across the line of departure with Item Co on the right and Love Co on the left, attempting a double envelopment.
A base of fire including 37-MM AT guns, was then established on Hill 54. Love Co on the left occupied Hill 51 without opposition. Leaving a platoon there to cover their flank and rear the company moved toward Hill 52. After advancing to within 200 yards of the objective, the company was stopped by enemy machine gunfire. Meanwhile, Item Co on the right met resistance from the Jungle on their right flank. The accurate fire of the snipers in the jungle kept a platoon occupied for the better part of the day. The company did advance to within 200 yards of the crest of Hill 52 before, being stopped by superior enemy fire.
The battalion CO, having failed to knock out the resistance with his supporting weapons, committed his reserve, attempting a deeper envelopment of the enemy’s left. In the meantime, an air mission was made available to the battalion commander. The squadron commander personally came to the battalion observation post to view the target area and determine exactly where the bombs were to be placed. While waiting for the air mission, intermittent artillery and mortar fire were placed on the target. King Co, before moving into position on the far right had to clear a small ridge of the enemy to protect their rear.
At 1445, the planes appeared overhead. As planned, the artillery fired a smoke shell to mark the target but the round fell short near the battalion observation post, narrowly missing a group of men. Quick thinking on the part of the battalion commander and teamwork by the 81-MM mortar platoon placed a smoke shell on the objective before the planes started into action. The six planes then each accurately dropped one depth charge two of which failed to explode, on the south slope of Hill 52. Immediately following the strafing by the planes, a heavy artillery concentration was placed on the objective. Item and King Cos then moved in rapidly to assault the objective with bayonets fixed.
At 1625, Hill 52 was in the hands of the 3/27. Since no further action could be made that day, the regimental CO directed that all units establish a cordon defense. Easy Co was moved to occupy Hill 50 and establish a block to the Matanikau River. Fox Co occupied Hill 51. During the night sporadic enemy artillery and mortar fire were received in the unit positions.
The following day the 3/27 continued the attack. The plan was to move Love Co along the right to Hill 57, join the 1/27 and then extend south across the jungle to the Horse’s mouth. Item Co was to attack to the southwest, seize a small ridgeline between Hills 52 and 53 and then King Co would pass through and secure Hill 53. The attack was scheduled for 0900 but by that time only a few gallons of water had been delivered by the carrying parties to Hill 52. However, following an artillery preparation, the companies moved out in the attack with most of the canteens in the battalion completely empty. Love Co advanced as scheduled to the southeast slope of Hill 57. Here it began receiving fire enemy rifles and automatic weapons from three directions. As they were not in view of the 1/27 and could not advance or withdraw, they dug in. Item Co reached the base of the small ridgeline between Hill 52 and 53 but began receiving fire from enemy automatic weapons. The lack of water soon began to tell on the assault units. Exhaustion, casualties began trickling back and forward movement ceased.
As the day wore on the men became more thirsty and exhausted and leaders were lacking in the push necessary to put the attack across. It was noted that as the going became harder, leadership became more important. When things did not run smoothly, a forceful leader was essential to pull out of the difficult position. In spite of the heat and exhaustion that day, the enemy positions could have been overcome if the leaders had shown the push and determination which they had the day before.
About noon, it was seen that the battalion would be unable to continue to the objective and it was withdrawn to their original positions on Hill 52. Love Co also returned from Hill 57 after the enemy opposing them had withdrawn. That night a small enemy attack on the right flank of the 3/27 was repulsed. The 2/27 passed through the 3/27 at 0630 on the following morning, having approximately the same plan of attack as had the 3/27. George Co on the right proceeded to occupy by 1200 their portion of the battalion objective on Hill 57 with only medium resistance encountered in the Jungle northwest of Hill 52.
Fox Co, meanwhile, maneuvered to the left and gained control of Exton Hill but could move no further due to the intense mortar and machine-gun fire coming from Sims Ridge and the Horse’s head. In order to keep the attack moving, Easy Co was committed on the left of Fox Co, but they were also stopped. Fox Co was then disengaged and maneuvered to the north to attack Sims Ridge from that direction. When Fox Co succeeded in securing approximately half of Sims Ridge, the battalion commander believed he could break the Japanese defenses by moving Easy Co to the north and attacking with both companies down the ridgeline. While Easy Co was en route, the base of fire was moved to Exton Hill. Late in the afternoon, a coordinated attack by the two companies failed to make progress.
The next day, Jan 13, the attack again proceeded during a tropical rainstorm. The Battalion Executive Officer, Capt Charles Davis, in attempting to find a way to eliminate the principal machine guns holding up the advance, finally obtained four men of Fox Co to assist him in an attempt against the opposition. Capt Davis and his volunteers wriggled on their stomachs to within 10 yards of the enemy machine guns. Two enemy grenades thrown at the party failed to explode. Capt Davis and his men hurled eight hand grenades into the enemy positions and then assaulted. Capt Davis’ rifle jammed on the first shot, but he drew his pistol and followed by the others, plunged into the middle of the enemy’s position and wiped them out. Fox Co, seeing the actions of these heroic men silhouetted against the sky, leaped to their feet and moved along Sims Ridge, liquidating the surprised enemy. With the same spirit, they moved on to capture the Horse’s head, Hill 53, leaving many enemies dead in their wake. The regimental objective was completely seized at 1200. Patrolling in the immediate area continued throughout the day to eliminate enemy individuals by-passed in the final assault.
The period from Jan 14 to Jan 19, was spent in active and aggressive patrolling to the front and flanks. Offensive action could not be resumed until supply roads were completed.
On Jan 19, the 1/27 occupied the Snake’s Head and Back which had been out posted since Jan 17. The 3/27 moved up to occupy the positions vacated by the 1/27. Two combat patrols sent out on Jan 20 brought back a great deal of information which was very useful in future planning. One platoon-sized combat patrol crossed to Hill 87 and reported that it was clear of enemy but that it had required three difficult hours to reach that objective. The platoon was directed to remain there as an outpost. The other patrol accompanied by an artillery forward observer proceeded down the Snake’s Back. Upon reaching the Snake’s Tail, the platoon with one 60-MM mortar squad attached discovered that they had been allowed to walk into a trap and were practically surrounded by the enemy. The platoon leader called for help while the artillery forward observer calmly proceeded to lay down a curtain of protective fires. The timely arrival of another platoon a short time later extricated the patrol from a serious predicament.
Capture of Kokumbona
The resumption of the offensive to the west was planned for Jan 22. It was anticipated that the enemy would hold Hill 87 in force since it was the dominating feature overlooking Kokumbona and the surrounding area. The general plan of the division commander placed the 161-IR on the left attacking Hills X, Y, Z, then pushing on to Hills 88, 89 while the 27-IR reduced Hill 87. The information supplied by the two patrols two days previously was the deciding element in the routes to be followed by the 27-IR, since the route across to Hill 87 G was known to be torturous, the 1/27 moved out at 0630 down the Snake’s back in order of George, Baker, Able Cos with fire support by Dog Co from the high ground in the Snake’s back.
The expected resistance on the Snake’s tail developed but the CO of Charlie Co quickly knocked out the automatic weapons with one 81-MM mortar fire. After reaching the base of Hill 87 at 0910, killing a few enemy riflemen, the battalion fanned out with the three rifle companies abreast. The battalion swept up Hill 87 encountering no resistance and by 1100 had occupied Hills 87, 88, and 89. The 3/27 and the 2/27 in order closely followed the 1/27 to protect the supply lines.
Gen Collins, CG 25-ID, upon learning of the rapid advance of the 27-IR, secured verbal authority from the XIV Corps to change the division zone of action, and exploit the breakthrough. He traveled to Hill 89 and personally gave the order to Col McCulloch for the 27-IR to continue the advance to the northwest outflank the enemy and capture Kokumbona.
Although the units had already organized perimeter defenses and dug in, they proceeded on at 1400 with great enthusiasm. Supported by Baker and Dog Cos, the other two rifle companies of the 1/27 crossed the heavily wooded ravine between Hills 87 and 90, overrunning the resistance. As determined later from captured documents, the enemy encountered there were manning an artillery command post.
After scaling the slopes of Hill 90 on all fours Able and Charlie Cos were directed to establish a perimeter defense and remain for the night. To strengthen the position of the regiment prior to darkness, the 3/27 was moved up and occupied Hills 89, 91 linking up with elements of the 1/27 on Hill 90. The 2/27 occupied Hill 87 after joining flanks with the 1/27 on Hill 89. Elements of the 161-IR were securing the supply line to Hill 87.
The plan of operations for Jan 23 was to capture the enemy’s supply base at Kokumbona and cut off the escape route of the enemies who were opposing the 6th Marines advancing to the west. To do this the 1/27, with Easy Co attached, was to capture Kokumbona while the 3/27 established a block along Hills 98 and 99 to the sea. The 2/27, less Easy Co, was to follow the 1/27 and protect the regiment’s rear and south flank. On Jan 23, just as the continuation of the attack started, all the supporting artillery and machine guns in the Marine sector opened up. However, their fire was not all landing on the enemy but overs were plunging into Hills 90 and 91. The regimental commander urgently telephoned the division commander to get these fires under proper control.
After a short period the fires were under control; but not until a few casualties were suffered by the 27th Infantry. It was later determined that the information concerning the location of the 27-IR had not been properly disseminated to the Marines. Following that interruption, the regiment moved on to the objectives for that day.
The 3/27, after clearing enemy resistance from the deep ravine between Hills 89 and 90, pushed on to Hill 99 W and the sea, thus blocking the enemy’s escape from the east. Meanwhile, the 1/27 was delayed in moving out as a host of snipers had infiltrated into the gorge between Hills 89 and 90. These snipers were mopped up in short order. The battalion moved in two columns via Hills 98, 99 and after a short skirmish, captured the Japanese main supply base at Kokumbona at 1500. The 2/27, less Easy Co, moved to Hill 90 and joined forces with the 3/27 protecting the south flank of the regiment. Later in the afternoon, Fox Co was directed to occupy Hill 100. This they succeeded in doing only after overcoming stiff resistance. At this point, it might be well to note what effects the swift capture of Kokumbona had upon the Japanese. During that night, Item Co which was occupying the block to the sea killed at least fifty enemies who blundered into their crossfire. The manner of their approach, which was very noisy and lacked alertness, revealed that they were completely unaware that American troops were in possession of their rear area.
During Jan 24 and 25, the 27th Infantry advanced to the Poha River encountering sporadic resistance and capturing great quantities of enemy artillery, ammunition, and other supplies in addition to a few dazed members of the Japanese Imperial Army. As the regiment prepared to continue the drive toward Cape Esperance, an enemy naval force was reported speeding toward Guadalcanal bringing with it the possibility of a Japanese amphibious attack in force upon any of the American positions. In the face of this threat, the 25-ID was withdrawn and placed in corps reserve, the 27-IR was relieved by the 6th Marines and the 182-IR by the Americal Division.