The depleted parachutists (55 percent casualties in the campaign) left
Guadalcanal on 17 September on board the convoy that brought in the 7th
Marines. The Ist Raiders (33 percent casualties) remained, and received
precious little rest. just six days after the battle, Vandegrift ordered
them to make a reconnaissance south of Edson's Ridge and destroy any Japanese
stragglers. The raiders passed through their old position, now strongly
defended by the 7th Marines, and followed the track of their beaten foe,
a trail marked by abandoned weapons and bodies. Edson made liberal use
of artillery and his crew-served weapons against the slightest sign of
resistance. At a cost of three wounded, the raiders captured a single
dismantled howitzer and killed 19 enemy soldiers. The greatest point of
danger in the operation turned out to be the return trip. As the battalion
neared friendly lines, the jittery new arrivals of the 7th Marines opened
fire on the raiders. Luckily no one was hit.
That same day Vandegrift shipped out several excess colonels and reorganized
the senior ranks of the division. Edson took command of the 5th Marines
and Griffith succeeded him as head of the 1st Raiders. Red Mikes departure
did not take the raider battalion out of the spotlight. Lieutenant Colonel
Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller's 1st Battalion 7th Marines, departed
the perimeter on 23 September with the mission of clearing enemy units
from the vicinity of the
Matanikau River. Once that was accomplished, division wanted to place
the raiders in a patrol base near Kokumbona to prevent the enemy's return.
That would keep Japanese artillery out of rangeof the airfield.
On the 24th Puller's men surprised a Japanese unit and routed it, but
lost seven killed and 25 wounded in the process. Division sent out the
2d Battalion, 5th Marines, as a relief force, since Puller had to use
most of his battalion to get the casualties safely back into the perimeter.
Puller then continued on with his one remaining rifle company and the
2nd Battalion. The combined force reached the Matanikau on 26 September,
proceeded down the east bank, then tried to cross the sandbar at the river's
mouth. A Japanese
company blocked the way and drove the Marines back with heavy fire. Meanwhile
another enemy company moved into defensive positions on the eastern end
of the single-log bridge that served as the only crossing upstream. The
Marines remained ignorant of that move. That afternoon Vandegrift ordered
Edson to take charge of the operation, and sent the raiders along to assist
Puller and Edson jointly devised a new plan that evening. In the morning
the raiders would move upriver, cross at the bridge, and then come back
downriver on the far bank to take the Japanese at the river mouth in the
flank. To ensure that the enemy force did not retreat out of the trap,
the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, would pressure them with its own attack
across the sandbar. Finally, the bulk of the lst Battalion, 7th Marines,
then in the perimeter after the casualty evacuation, would make an amphibious
landing beyond Point Cruz to slam shut any possible escape route. The
ambitious plan received divisions blessing.
After a night of heavy rain, the 2nd Battalion launched its assault at
the river mouth, but made no progress against continuing strong opposition.
The raiders, reinforced by Puller's lone company, advanced upriver, but
soon found themselves wedged into a narrow shelf between the water and
a steep ridge. The Japanese had placed a tight stopper in this bottle
with infantry supported by machine guns and mortars. Bailey responded
in his typical fashion and tried to lead the assault-he soon fell mortally
wounded. Griffith ordered Company C up the ridge in an effort to out-flank
the enemy. The Japanese had this approach covered too. When the battalion
commander appeared on the ridgeline to observe the action firsthand, a
sniper put a bullet in his shoulder. With no outside fire support, the
raiders could make no headway against the dug-in Japanese.
Poor communications made things worse. Edson misinterpreted a message
from the raiders and thought they were across the river. He launched the
2d Battalion, 5th Marines, in yet another assault, this time with help
from additional mortars and 37mm antitank guns, but it met the same fate
as all previous attempts. Upon landing in the enemy's rear, the lst Battalion,
7th Marines, was surrounded by a large-force enemy bivouaced in the vicinity.
The unit had brought no radios ashore and consequently could not immediately
inform division of its plight. Eventually the Marines used air panels
to signal supporting aircraft. When that word reached Puller, he wanted
the 2nd Battalion to renew the assault to take pressure off his men, but
Edson refused to incur further casualties in a hopeless frontal attack.
Puller eventually extricated his beleaguered force with naval gunfire
and messages passed by semaphore flags. Red Mike then ordered the raiders
to pull back to the river mouth to join 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, after
which both units withdrew to the division perimeter. The units engaged
had lost 67 dead and 125 wounded in the course of the operation. This
aborted action along the Matanikau was the only defeat the Marines suffered
during the Guadalcanal campaign.
Raider casualties during the all-day action had been comparatively light-two
killed and 11 wounded -but that total included both senior officers in
the battalion. Command now devolved upon Captain Ira J. "Jake"
Irwin. The battalion was worn down by two months of steady fighting, and
by the ravages of the tropics. Large numbers of men were ill with malaria
and other diseases. The battalion had seen more action than any other
on the island, and rumors persisted that they would soon ship out like
One raider later recalled that "a more sickly, bedraggled, miserable
bunch of Marines would have been hard to find."