Guadalcanal Diary (1943)



Director:  Lewis Seiler.

Cast:  Preston Foster (Father Donnelly), Lloyd Nolan (Gunnery Sgt. Hook Malone), William Bendix (Cpl. Aloysius T. 'Taxi' Potts), Richard Conte (Capt. Don Davis), Anthony Quinn (Pvt. Jesus 'Soose' Alvarez), Richard Jaeckel (Pvt. Johnny 'Chicken' Anderson), Roy Roberts (Capt. James Cross), Lionel Stander (Sgt. Butch), Minor Watson (Col. Wallace E. Grayson), Reed Hadley (War correspondent/Narrator), John Archer (Lt. Thurmond).


A lot of these war stories are very similar, but this one at least is one of the best of them.  It's one of the best because of the presentation of the great camaraderie among the men. The movie takes the point of view of the average marine.  William Bendix (Corporal "Taxi.") provides a lot of comic relief.   Anthony Quinn (Pvt. Jesus 'Soose' Alvarez) also does a great job. 

The film begins with the marines on ship, wondering where they are headed.  The unit was the Fifth Regiment, First Marine Division, under the command of Colonel Grayson.

My father, a 20 year marine, served on Guadalcanal.  He didn't say that much about it, except that he was extremely frightened on guard duty, imagining any little noise indicated a Japanese soldier.  He also mentioned that he would prefer to go through an aerial bombardment than a naval bombardment, because the aerial assault lasted a shorter amount of time, and that a fellow marine saved his live when he grabbed him and pulled him into a foxhole just before a shell hit the ground near where he was standing.   Malaria took him out of further action. 

The action presented here is more evocative of the history of the battle than that presented in The Thin Red Line (1998), which I did not really like that much.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



Historical Background:

In the first six months of the war Japan had great success. In mid-1942 they took the Solomon Islands. Using Guadalcanal as a base, the Japanese might have been able to sever the lifeline between the US and Australia.

Solomon Islands (northeast of Australia):
New Georgia Group

The US schedules a quick counter blow to stop the Japanese shortly. From the first marine division, troops under the command of Alexander Van der Grip were hurriedly loaded on the transports. They moved north in deep secrecy. They wanted to use the weather as cover. A cold front was coming in. Under cover of the bad weather they moved into the water without detection from Japanese planes.

1942 (August 7)  --  the plan worked perfectly. D-day morning the seas were calm. Naval guns started shelling and the landing went on east of the Tenaru River. Additional amphibious attacks were made on the islands of Florida, Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo.

At 8 a.m. the marines set foot on the first piece of Japanese territory. Tulagi. The main attack was on Guadalcanal east of the Tenaru River. No contact was made until the second day when the Japanese opened up. The Japanese 17th Army was led by Lieutenant-General Hyakutake Haruyoshi..

August 8  --  by nightfall the marines had captured only a mile inland by 4 miles long piece of real estate. The weather was damp with lots of mud.

Aug 9 -- naval battle off Savo Island. A Japanese fleet of 7 cruisers and 1 destroyer came down the slot and snuck into the waters. A Japanese victory. The Japanese had air superiority. They came down the slot daily to bomb the Americans. They came regularly. The main target was the airstrip. An airfield had been seized on the second day.  It was named Henderson Field after Major Lofton Henderson, a Marine pilot killed at the Battle of Midway.  

US fighter pilots took off from others bases to battle the Japanese. US bombers plastered Japanese bases in the northern Solomons. This lessened the pressure on Guadalcanal.

September 11-14  --  6,000 Japanese attacked 1,000 marines at the "Battle of Edson's Ridge";  the marines finally beat back the attack. 

Marines were helped by friendly natives, Melanesian inhabitants. The Japanese counter attack failed. Marine Commandant Thomas Holcombe.

US foothold firmly established.

October 13 & 14  --  the Japanese navy shelled the airfield and severely damaged it, but it was returned to service.

October -- Japanese sent a fast fleet to search out and destroy American ships in the area. After 2 days of sparring the Battle of Santa Cruz began on October 26. This naval engagement followed the new pattern of attacking first with planes. The battle raged throughout the morning. The Hornet was a big target and, badly damaged, laid dead in the water. Santa Cruz was a tactical victory for the Japanese.

On Guadalcanal US army troops arrived to relieve the original assault unit. They were to hold the land captured. Henderson Field was built into a good usable field.

Dec 9 --  the command went to the army. First marine division left for the rear for rest and recreation.

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox came to see how well the soldiers were doing. Admiral Chester Nimitz and Admiral Bull Halsey were also along for the trip.

1943 (February 9)  --the island of Guadalcanal was declared secure. There were more than 2,000 dead on Guadalcanal, but it was the first victory on the road to Tokyo.  (4,911 died in the naval battles.)


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