BLOODY RIDGE – GUADALCANAL
This narrative deals primarily about events that took place before and the results after the main battles at the ridge during the evening hours on the 12th , 13th and 14th September 1942. The daytime hours of the 12th and 13th were spent by both sides preparing for the night battles. Relocation of the lines, new firing lanes, care of the wounded, patrolling and reorganization of the personnel was the order of day.
We were a well trained and now a veteran infantry battalion. Many in the outfit, back in 1940 and early 1941 had served in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Cuba. There, we had lived under tents and trained in the tropical heat. Our training had included frequent amphibious exercises on various islands in that area. It was also there, that we had become acquainted with the newly re-fitted destroyer troop transports, the APDs, and also rubber boats. The battalion had then moved to Quantico, Virginia in mid-1941, where Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson was assigned as our Commanding Officer. The war in Europe had been going badly for the Allies at the time, which gave new motivation to our daily training efforts. Then had come the Pearl Harbor disaster and our nation had been plunged into war. We knew that the call to ship out would come soon and we were ready. In February ’42 our designation had been changed to the “1st Marine Raider Battalion”. Our unit organization and training had become more focused. Small unit tactics and individual and crew-served weapons were stressed as well as hand-to-hand combat, movement at night, and special operations, including the use of rubber boats in stealth landings at night from the APDs. Most of all, we knew each other well and the bond was strong. We were confident and proud of the Marine Raider image, even though other Marine infantry units showed some disdain. (Or was it perhaps jealously?) Our baptism of fire at Tulagi and Guadalcanal had been prefaced with a journey across the United States in troop trains. Then a blacked-out, crowded troop transport voyage to American Samoa, where we began our three months education in jungle warfare. It was on to New Caledonia where we had made our final preparations before loading out on the APDs. They had rendezvoused with other ships in the Fiji Islands for a two day rehearsal landing exercise. This exercise turned out to be a fiasco, but that’s another story. The ships had formed up as Task Force 61 in the waning hours of July 31st and sailed in the direction of Guadalcanal.
September 9, 1942 – Bloody Ridge Combat Area.
The day after we returned from the raid on the Japanese base at Tasimboko, our morale was sky high. We had pulled off a neat little operation which had won praise from COMSOPAC, Admiral Ghormley stated, “To Edson and his Do or Die men-Well Done!”. The operation had gained much valuable information about General Kawaguchi’s plans. However, the bubble had burst, later in the day orders were received from General Vandegrift’s Headquarters to move “immediately” to a “rest area” located in the boondocks southeast of Henderson Field, along with the attached but under-strength, 1st Parachute Battalion. We moved the following day and occupied a bivouac area in the jungle about 1000 yards south of the airfield astride a low grassy ridge line. It was a peaceful place near the Lunga River. Hot chow was served the first evening and we settled in for a relatively quiet night, but it didn’t last long. On the 11th we had a wake up call when the rifle companies were ordered to take up defensive positions facing south across a wide front, most of it in the jungle. Rumors then began to fly, native scouts reported that several columns of General Kawaguchi’s force were moving through the jungle to positions southeast of the airfield. The outpost line established on the 10th was turned overnight into a front line position; foxholes were dug under the glare of a broiling sun; barbed wire for double apron obstacle was brought in and orders given to front line companies to “dig in” and send patrols deeper into the jungle to the southeast. As one Raider, busy with his entrenching shovel said, “Rest area, my ass!”. Early on the 11th our patrols made contact with Japanese scouts cutting paths through the underbrush. General Kawaguchi’s troops were not far away. The battle, to be known later as “Bloody Ridge” of Guadalcanal, was about to take place. The 1st Raider Battalion along with the Paratroopers would have a vital role to play during the next two days and nights. Everyone in the ranks, down to the lowest private, now knew that the Japanese were to our front, preparing for an attack, with the objective of a breakthrough to capture Henderson Field.
If the enemy were to succeed, the 1st Marine Division would be scattered throughout the jungle, where we would end up fighting as guerillas and eating coconuts to survive. In no way would this Division ever surrender! At this time I was a sergeant in the 1st platoon of “A” Company. Sergeant Harold Floeter, senior to me, was the sergeant guide. The 1st Raiders moved from Tulagi to the ‘Canal’ on August 30th. The 1st Parachute Battalion also arrived about the same time and were attached to Colonel Edson’s command to form the Division Reserve. The 1st Raiders had already been bloodied at Tulagi.
At the “Ridge”, we knew that a battle was about to start and we could feel the tension. Our fight on Tulagi had been fierce but of relatively short duration and we had overcome the Jap defenders. Now we would be on the defensive and the word was that there were several thousand Japanese, two or three battalions, moving in our direction. It was evident, from some of the things that we saw going on, that this was going to be a major showdown. Artillery forward observers from the 11th Marines were looking for observation post locations and plotting likely target areas, staff officers from Division headquarters were checking out the situation, observation planes were circling over the jungle and ridge lines where enemy activity was suspected. In addition, our own officers and NCO were constantly pushing us to lay barbed wire, dig foxholes, build machine gun emplacements and cut fire lanes. I recall one [chicken] incident that happened during this hectic period. I had laid my rifle on a reel of wire so I could assist one of my men in carrying a heavy roll of wire to where it was needed. When I returned my rifle was missing. I made immediate inquiries. One Marine told me that a Raider company had just passed through and he had seen an officer pick up the rifle. I took off on the double and caught up with a captain leading the column who had an ’03 on his shoulder. I informed him, “You have my rifle…sir!” He asked me to verify the rifle number which I did. He handed my rifle to me with a warning to “take better care of it in the future.” I learned later the captain was Captain Robert Thomas who took over Charlie Company when Ken Bailey was wounded on Tulagi. Thomas was later killed in Korea in a helicopter accident.
Our Able Company bivouac area was east of the main ridge and located on the Lunga River. We were living in small tents, made with the GI shelter halves or ponchos and make-shift lean-tos made from tree branches and underbrush. ,We now were eating our rations cold, as fires were not permitted. ,Our food, known as C- rations, consisted of a pork and bean meal, beef stew and a hash meal. The pork and bean meal was my favorite, while the cold meal of hash eaten out of the can was a challenge. Especially difficult was a breakfast of this in a damp jungle. Even as we prepared our defensive positions, there was no rest, because we needed to clean our weapons and bayonets and sharpen our K-Bar knives. Captain Tony Antonelli, normally our company executive officer, was acting now as CO, because Lew Walt our regular CO was in the Division Hospital with a bad case of malaria. Capt Walt would one day be a four star general and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. Two of our platoon leaders, Lieutenants Tom Mullahey and Ed Dupras, were also in the hospital with the same illness.
Because of their absence, several senior NCO had stepped up as unit leaders. Platoon Sergeant Cliff McGlocklin took over as the leader of my platoon. Another Platoon Sergeant, Joe Buntin was ordered to lead a reconnaissance patrol on the 11Th into the jungle area that ran parallel to the Lunga River, where we were told the Japanese were heading. Buntin selected several men from his platoon and asked McGlocklin to pick a like number from his platoon. Mac wanted one sergeant to lead that detachment. There were two sergeants, Harold Floeter and me in his platoon, so he said one of us would go and that we should flip a coin to decide which. We did and Floeter won so he elected to stay behind. I would be the leader of the lst Platoon detail. Buntin gathered the entire patrol, consisting of about 25 men and gave us detailed instructions. He told us that our mission was to obtain information as to the enemy’s location and strength, and after we made contact, he could determine Jap strength and we would then disengage and withdraw.
We moved out in column on a trail leading to the Charlie Company’s front line position, passing through its’ still under construction, barbed wire protection, and on into the unknown (to us) jungle. The Lunga river was on our right flank. Bunting with two “point” men ahead was leading the patrol, which now had strung out nearly one hundred yards on the faint trail that we followed. Our forward progress was slow and cautious. Shortly before noon the point halted when the sound of Jap voices were heard, along with the sound of the chopping of underbrush. As Bunting and his scouts were sizing up the situation, they were taken under fire and a lively fire fight quickly developed. I led my group forward quickly and then cleared the trail to await developments. The rifle and BAR firing tapered off but no word came back from those engaged in the fire fight. We remained very alert. I got behind a large banyan tree along with my barman Sylvester Niedbolski from South Bend, Ind. Suddenly, in the distance we heard the drone of aircraft at high altitude. Here came the Jap bombers with their noon time raid! Henderson Field was going to get pasted again! That was not to be this day, however. The enemy formation now appeared to be almost overhead from our location when the WHAM! , WHAM! of the first bombs could be heard directly AHEAD OF US! Bombs continued exploding closer and closer to our location and continued on toward our battalion positions on the ridge. One exploded near Niedbolski and me. The concussion picked up both of us, slammed us down and covered us with debris. I looked over at Ski, who was flat as a pancake as was I. He had a rosary in one hand and was well along into his prayers. Luckily, no one in the patrol was injured. What was good about this raid was that the Japanese ahead of us also got bombed and broke off the coming fire fight. Our mission completed, we made our way back to the bivouac area. We were greeted by a scene of destruction. Our tents and lean-tos were scattered; personal gear was strewn throughout the jungle. The one personal loss that I suffered was 40 dollars in cash, that I had left behind in my khaki trousers which were destroyed. The material loss could not compare to the personnel loss that we saw before us. There was Sergeant Fleeter, sitting against a banyan tree with his rifle between his legs, dead from the concussion of a bomb. The Jap’s air strike told us that they knew we were there. Heavy damage was reported at Henderson Field. The 1ST Raiders suffered two killed and ten wounded as a result of the raid.
On this day (13Sept) “A” Company was assigned to patrol an area just beyond the ridge area where “C” Company had engaged the enemy the night before. They had suffered heavy casualties and had to pull out during the night. The next day our battalion commander ordered a counter-attack by Able Company. Able company proceeded to the area, moving along in a dry stream bed. The going was easy, walking over dry rocks. Our company commander, Captain Antonelli (who would attain the rank of Brigadier General and earn a Navy Cross on Iwo Jima as a battalion commander), halted the column as we neared the former position of Charlie Company the night before. We formed a skirmish line with two platoons on line and a platoon in support. As we moved slowly into the jungle, loud, shrill Japanese voices broke the stillness of the jungle. The line froze. The voices continued as the Japanese officers or NCO were placing their men into position to halt our attack. I was on line with my squad and we were trying to stay on line with the squads on our flanks but the thickness of the jungle made this difficult. We were moving forward slowly, since we only had about 30 ft of visibility ahead of us. It was difficult to maintain silence. We were constantly brushing aside long stems and branches and the thorny ones would cause one of the men to curse aloud. The Japanese were now quiet.
The silence of the enemy was a bad omen, because it meant they were all in position and awaiting our attack. Finally it came. The Japanese fire, mostly Nambu machine guns was heavy, but, since we all fell to the prone position and crawled for cover, their initial fire was ineffectual. We returned fire with our Springfields and BARs. There were no targets. We were only firing in the direction of the Japanese positions. We could actually see the jungle foliage just above our position being moved by the Japanese bullets. We could not move to any upright position or we would have been cut down quickly. I remember off to my left someone tossed a grenade toward the Japanese positions. Suddenly we saw a tail of smoke heading toward us. It was our grenade coming back. We rolled around for cover and fortunately when it exploded no one was hurt. There was sporadic shooting and some more Japanese commands. We were waiting for a decision. We did not have the force to move through the Japanese. Fortunately, Capt. Antonelli was readying the mortars for action, but he was not certain of the target area. Apparently he decided to move all hands back to the river bed, from where he would have a chance to shoot the mortars freely.
When the order came to start pulling back, I sent most of my squad back and kept a couple of men with me as a rear guard. It was during this time that I heard a voice from our front and it sounded as though someone was saying “marine”. Also at this time there was another stream of fire from the Japanese. I heard the voice again. This time it was clear. It had to be someone from Charlie Company, who had been there all night. I had Bob Hunt and Sylvester up with me. Of course, we were highly suspicious because of the many tricks the Japanese were noted for and how some of them spoke English very well. There was also intermittent fire from the Japanese positions so this required us to be in the prone position. I decided to move ahead a few yards to try and see where this person might be. It seemed he was not too far away. We crawled ahead toward the Japanese position. At this time Captain Antonelli had his mortars ready to fire until one of the non-coms told him I was still up there with some of the squad. Antonelli then detailed Staff Sgt “Red Hills” to go into the bush and bring me out, or at least find out what was holding me up. Finally we could see a body on the ground lying still. He was dressed in marine garb and from all appearances was one of us. We were now close enough to talk to him. He was from Charlie company, had been there all night and he was wounded. The Japanese had walked all around him during the night but had not seen him. He said he was wounded in both legs by machine gun bullets. He had removed his web belt and used it to wrap around both legs to immobilize them and help to cut down the bleeding. This marine was not small and we had to drag him out of there with everyone being in a prone position as the Japanese were still firing in our direction. We also knew that we were in a most vulnerable position if the Japanese came charging toward us. Three of us, in a prone position, dragging a limp body with us while he groaned and moaned, was no easy task. This was coupled with intermittent gun fire from the Japanese who knew something was going on toward their front. Niedbolski and I had given Hunt our weapons. He crawled with our weapons while Ski and I labored with the wounded marine. Finally, we reached a small knoll and had some protection and more help. At the river bed Antonelli noting that everyone was back, unleashed his 6Omm mortars in the direction of the enemy. We did not know the name of the Charlie company marine, when he was being evacuated, he looked in our direction and nodded his appreciation. That was worth more than his name to us. We later found out that the wounded marine we rescued from the battlefield was PFC Charles Everett. He survived his wounds and was given an Honorable Discharge. He returned to his home and family.
Afterward, for some unknown reason, as we were getting ready to move down the river bed, we were ordered to double time. Apparently word had come down that the area was to be the target of our artillery. It was helter-skelter for a while until we re-acquired control of ourselves and started to act like Marines again.
Despite the Japanese numerical superiority we defeated them at the ridge. Kawaguchi could not return to his rear echelon, which we had destroyed at Tasimboko and Henderson Field remained in the hands of the Marines. The Japs never advanced beyond Guadalcanal.