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Battle of the Bloody Ridge – Pacific War

Ten months after the start of the Pacific War, we are reaching one of the high points of the conflict. In the Kokoda Track, General Horii’s South Seas Detachment relentlessly continues its advance towards Port Moresby, and unbeknownst to him, he’s marching to his final doom; and in Guadalcanal, the Japanese forces of General Kawaguchi are preparing for their second major offensive of the campaign, an operation that would be even more bloody than the catastrophic Battle of the Tenaru. With both events happening at the same time, the Japanese came to be as close as possible for them to materialize their objectives of seizing New Guinea and recapturing Guadalcanal, but alas, fate would see them fail on both enterprises. Join us today as we cover the Battle of Edson’s Ridge, one of the major milestones of the Pacific War.

The Japanese had successfully transported more than 5000 soldiers into Guadalcanal, including the renowned Kawaguchi Detachment and the remnants of the 28th Regiment. Now, General Kawaguchi was preparing his forces for what he envisioned would be the final offensive to retake Guadalcanal and its key airfield. Just like the Ichiki Detachment before him, Kawaguchi had a false estimate about the number of US Marines in the island, so he believed the 6200 men of his detachment to be more than enough for the task at hand. Despite being outnumbered, the fresh Japanese troops were facing men that were beginning to show the debilitating effects of the short rations and the heavy aerial bombardments, so Kawaguchi had reason to be optimistic. Meanwhile, as the Japanese carried out a massive air buildup at Rabaul, the Marines were not receiving many air reinforcements and replacements because the Joint Chiefs of Staff were prioritizing operations in Europe over the success of Operation Watchtower. On September 3, however, Brigadier-General Roy Geiger finally arrived to take command of the Cactus Air Force, bringing his expertise with him to provide a more effective defense of Henderson Field; and one day later, Squadron VF-5 would arrive to reinforce the Marines, with more planes coming on their way. General Vandegrift and his Marines also received some reinforcements for the defense of the airfield perimeter: this was Edson’s Raiders of the 1st Marine Raider battalion of Colonel Edson, reinforced with the remnants of the 1st Parachute Battalion for a total of 849 men.

Kawaguchi’s Plan of Attack on the South-Southwest Frontier

In the meantime, Kawaguchi issued his plan of attack on September 7. With his 5200 men at Taivu Point, Kawaguchi would initially move to Koli Point and then loop down into the jungle from Tetere to storm the Marine positions from the south and thus seize the airfield. At the same time, the Kuma Battalion of Major Mizuno Eishi, comprising all the remaining strength of the 28th Regiment, would puncture the American line from the southeast and push north to annihilate the enemy at Alligator Creek, a sort of poetic justice for the fate of the Ichiki Detachment; and the 1000 soldiers that had landed on Kamimbo, under Colonel Oka, were also to launch an attack towards the bridge southwest of the airfield. By September 8, Kawaguchi had successfully moved to Koli point, readying his forces to commence the approach to the Marine positions the following day.

But first, Vandegrift wanted to carry out an attack similar to the recent Kokumbona raid due to reports of heavy Japanese presence east of the perimeter. During the morning of September 8, the first wave of Edson’s Raiders sloshed ashore at Taivu, where they found immediate signs of recent enemy landings. Edson then directed his men to attack west, meeting some 300 enemy troops and their dreadful field guns near Tasimboko.

By midday, a company of the Raiders got to burst upon the Japanese from the rear, inflicting many casualties and eventually scattering the defenders. Not long after, Edson’s Raiders entered Tasimboko to find it deserted but full of camouflaged food and equipment. The Americans then took what they could and destroyed the rest, re-embarking back to Lunga by late afternoon and concluding one of their most successful raids of the war. From Taivu and Tasimboko, Edson didn’t only return with captured supplies, he also brought documents about a new force numbering 4000 Japanese troops that scouts had seen moving south and southwest from Tetere. His verdict about these stories was conclusive: the enemy was coming again. Looking at an aerial photo of the area, Edson believed that the Japanese were going to approach through a broken grassy ridge, barely a mile south of the airfield: this would later be known as Edson’s Ridge. In the meantime, Kawaguchi continued his advance westwards, with his forces peeling off into the jungle one by one.

Soaked in sweat or bathed in rain, the Japanese found the march very exhausting and rapidly came to learn that the moisture made the footing treacherous, so they had to be very careful on top of relentless. On the other side of the island, Colonel Oka finally made contact with Captain Monzen’s 450 Navy troops and 1200 construction workers on the Matanikau, which further increased his forces, although he had only managed to round up 650 men from the 1000 that had landed on the island. Additionally, a battalion of the Aoba Detachment landed at Kamimbo on September 11 because the 17th Army still feared Taivu Point was in the hands of the Raiders, though the soldiers of the 4th Regiment would fail to arrive in time to join the attack.

Unexpected Attack on Edson’s Ridge

During these last few days, Vandegrift would also work to strengthen his right flank along Alligator Creek and southwest of it; and Edson’s Raiders would amble towards the ridge south of the airfield, digging foxholes and clearing fields of fire with bayonets. At noon on September 11, the regular Japanese raids over Henderson Field would also unexpectedly target Edson’s Ridge. The results were devastating: 14 wounded and 11 dead; but this was indeed the confirmation that an attack was coming at this location.

On top of this bad news, Vandegrift received a message from Admiral Ghormley informing him that the enemy was amassing overwhelming forces to retake the island and that the naval support that he could provide was insufficient, leaving the Marines alone to fend off the Japanese offensive. By midday on September 12, another Japanese air raid wreaked havoc on Henderson Field, while Kawaguchi’s forces moved into position for the start of the battle, yet they would actually arrive late at their assembly areas and would lose their sense of direction. In front of them, Edson had placed the Parachutists on the eastern side of the ridge and the Raiders to the west in a series of strongpoints with fields of fire behind a single-strand barbed-wire fence. By nightfall, Japanese floatplanes began to drop flares over the Marine positions while naval forces bombarded the American perimeter. Kawaguchi’s uncoordinated assault then began, with his forces missing the ridge and instead pushing down the east bank of the lagoon to the west, finally striking at Companies B and C of the Raiders.

Amidst the heavy firefight, the 3rd Battalion of Lieutenant-Colonel Watanabe Kosukichi rapidly sliced through two platoons in line of Company C, forcing the Marines to fall back to the ridge. But at this point, Kawaguchi had lost control of his forces, his men becoming lost, then scattered and finally intermingled. At last, he had to call off the attack to reassemble his units for a new effort the following night. As for the Oka Unit and the Kuma Battalion, both of them failed to assemble at the right positions in time, still thrashing in the jungle far away from the actual battle. On September 13, while Kawaguchi prepared for a second night attack, Edson was preparing a surprise for the enemy: he pulled his line back some 200 yards into stronger ground that was unfamiliar for the Japanese. At 18:30, darkness had barely settled over the ridge before the Japanese commenced their attack. The 1st Battalion of Major Kokusho Yukichi moved early and struck at the line of Company B of the Raiders, rapidly surrounding it and forcing the defenders to retreat towards the ridge; yet the tenacious Japanese soldiers were rapidly met with one artillery barrage after another as the invaders began rolling up the ridge.

A Strong Assault on a Parachute Knoll in the Jungle

Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion of Major Tamura Masao began to infiltrate among the positions of Company B of the Parachutists, who managed to hold off the enemy with grenades until Tamura started an intense mortar barrage at 22:30 followed by a strong assault that finally forced Captain Harry Torgerson to withdraw behind the knoll known as Hill 123. With the retreat of the Parachutists, Tamura then joined the attack on Company B of the Raiders, which had no other choice but to pull back to the same high knoll. In the meantime, Watanabe’s forces got lost in the jungles, but a company managed to launch an attack against Company C of the Parachutists, rapidly infiltrating their positions and forcing them to withdraw as well towards Hill 123. Kokusho also reassembled his men and then surged forward through the swampy lowlands towards the airfield; but in their way, they came across a pile of supplies and rations. After pausing to eat, Kokusho’s battalion finally continued forward towards Hill 123.

And to the east, the Kuma Battalion also started its attack on the Alligator Creek line, rapidly engaging the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines in hand-to-hand combat. Although the Japanese managed to overrun an outpost ahead, they then became entangled in Marine wire, finally getting pushed back by Company K in their efforts to infiltrate the airfield. Covered by the shells of the 11th Marines, which caused many casualties on the enemy, Edson’s Raiders managed to successfully retreat despite the confusion of the dark and the heavy pressure of Tamura’s men; and to the east, Torgerson reorganized his Parachutists and launched a counterattack that managed to extend the new defensive line. Waves after waves of Japanese soldiers then started to assault the knoll from the west, moving rapidly at the crouch and yelling banzai as they charged into the Marines’ ring of fire.

Edson himself moved to the frontlines during the assaults, exhorting his troops and directing the defense. Closing in, the invaders were always at last repelled with grenades and machine-gun fire, leaving hundreds of corpses on the slopes of the Bloody Ridge, including that of Kokusho. At this point, Edson’s Raiders were very exhausted and many were wounded, so Vandegrift sent forward his reserves from the 5th Marines to stiffen the line at about 04:00, stopping many attacks before dawn. A company of Tamura’s battalion, however, would manage to penetrate the Marine line, reaching the northeastern side of the ridge in a final effort to make a breakthrough. Pressing northeast, the bloodied Japanese soldiers reached the western fringe of the Fighter One runway, where they overran a company of the 1st Engineer Battalion. Yet the engineers quickly reorganized and finally stopped the enemy advance, forcing the invaders to wait for reinforcements. With no-one coming to help, the Japanese would finally have to pull back south of the ridge. Soon, dawn came and American aircraft lifted off to harry the Japanese, but the battle was effectively over.

General Hyakutake Immediately Ordered Kawaguchi to Resign from the Bloody Ridge

Almost 600 Japanese soldiers perished in the attack, but the invaders had been very close in their assault. Kawaguchi was livid about this, for he knew that if Watanabe had joined the assault they might have been successful. Instead, Kawaguchi now had to retreat deep into the jungle with the survivors of his shattered brigade. On September 15, General Hyakutake learned of the defeat at the Bloody Ridge and then ordered Kawaguchi to withdraw west towards the Matanikau to join Oka’s unit. Kawaguchi would then commence his long and arduous march on September 16, his men being exhausted and gnawed by hunger.

They had to carry around 500 wounded men and all the heavy equipment through the slippery slopes of the jungle and through the sticky mud of the streams. Many of the wounded would finally perish while the equipment had to be abandoned as the strength of Kawaguchi’s men waned, but the Japanese would at last arrive at Kokumbona on September 19. As for the Kuma Battalion, they would be attacked with light tanks on the morning of September 14, but the Japanese got to disable four of them with anti-tank guns. Right after this, they carried two more attacks against the Marines, but they were too weak to break through the strong Marine defenses and eventually had to withdraw.

The remnants of the Kuma Battalion then tried to follow Kawaguchi’s retreat but got lost, so they had to wander for three weeks in the jungle, losing all their weapons and becoming severely malnourished. And to the east, Oka’s men, who had departed the Matanikau very late and thus had been thrashing through the jungle all night, finally attacked the American perimeter during the morning of September 14. They were confronted by the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines, who could easily drive off the invaders with some timely artillery barrages, finally forcing them to withdraw back into the Matanikau. The end of the battle also brought an end to the air struggle that had been unfolding since September 1, in which the Japanese lost 35 planes against 41 losses of the Americans, yet the efforts of the defenders were crucial to stop the air raids and to disperse Kawaguchi’s forces during the offensive. For the Japanese high command, the defeat at the Bloody Ridge was very bad news, as they believed that Guadalcanal might develop into the decisive battle of the war. Thus, Japanese operations in other areas of the Pacific began to be neglected and Hyakutake realized that he could no longer support General Horii’s drive on the Kokoda Track if he wanted to adequately contest the control of Guadalcanal. More forces would then be committed for the Guadalcanal Campaign, but this would have a tremendous impact elsewhere in the Pacific.

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