Document Source: Operations of the 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, January 10, 1943, to January 26, 1943. Guadalcanal Campaign. Personal Experience of the Regimental S-2, Maj Robert L. Bereuter. (Note to the Readers – If you have the original caption of the photos in this archives use the Comment box below and I will add your text to the photo. Thank You)
This archive covers the operations of the 27th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, from Jan 10, 1943, to Jan 26, 1943. The Guadalcanal Campaign opened on August 7, 1942, and ended on January 9, 1943, was of vital interest to the Allied Command and to the average citizen. The moral 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 for 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 with the occupation of the Island of Kiska and the Island of 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 forwarding bases with which to launch an assault against New Zealand and the continent of Australia.
In January 1942, the Japanese began to exploit this route by the establishment of bases in 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 July 4. They placed ashore a large number of soldiers and laborers who began the 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 August 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 counterblows. 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 the 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 all-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.
On December 7, 1942, Gen Alexander Vandegrift, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division relinquished his command to Gen Alexander M. Patch whose command was to be known as the XIV Corps. Meanwhile, the 27-IR, a part of the newly activated 25-ID, was preparing for combat through intense training in the tropical beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. The Regiment had been stationed at Schofield Barracks on December 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 November 25, 1942, the first units of the division departed from Honolulu Harbor for an unknown destination. Those first units debarked at Guadalcanal on December 17, the personnel being informed of their destination only a few days prior to landing. The last units of the division arrived on January 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. A 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 extended 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 (SEPARATE))
At the beginning of the 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 Army new 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 USMC 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 January 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 were 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 in the Hill 52 and Hill 53 areas. They also had some artillery pieces in the vicinity of Hill X and Hill 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 a 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 Hill 50, Hill 51, Hill 52, Hill 53, and Hill 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 Hill 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 that 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 Hill 66 and Hill 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 January 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.