Matanikau Offensive - Action


Between 01:00 and 06:00 on November 1, U.S. Marine engineers constructed three footbridges across the Matanikau. At 06:30, nine Marine and U.S. Army artillery batteries (about 36 guns) and U.S. warships San Francisco, Helena, and Sterrett opened fire on the west bank of the Matanikau, and U.S. aircraft, including 19 B-17 bombers, dropped bombs in the same area. At the same time, the 1st Battalion (1/5) of the 5th Marine Regiment crossed the Matanikau at its mouth while the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5) and the Whaling Group crossed the river further inland. Facing the Marines was the Japanese 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry under Major Masao Tamura.

The 2/5 and the Whaling Group encountered very little resistance and reached and occupied several ridges south of Point Cruz by early afternoon. Along the coast near Point Cruz, however, the 7th Company from Tamura's battalion fiercely resisted the U.S. advance. In several hours of fighting, Company C, 1/5 suffered heavy casualties, including the loss of three officers, and was driven back towards the Matanikau by Tamura's troops. Assisted by another company from 1/5 and later by two companies from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5), plus determined resistance by Marine Corporal Anthony Casamento, among others, the Americans were successful in stopping the retreat.

Reviewing the situation at the end of the day, Edson, along with Colonel Gerald Thomas and Lieutenant Colonel Merrill Twining from Vandegrift's staff, decided to try to encircle the Japanese defenders around Point Cruz. They ordered 1/5 and 3/5 to continue to press the Japanese along the coast the next day while 2/5 wheeled north to envelop their adversaries west and south of Point Cruz. Tamura's battalion had taken heavy losses in the day's fighting, with Tamura's 7th and 5th Companies being left with only 10 and 15 uninjured soldiers respectively.

Fearing that the U.S. troops were on the verge of breaking through their defenses, Hyakutake's 17th Army headquarters hurriedly sent whatever troops could be found on-hand to bolster the 4th Infantry's defensive efforts. The troops included the 2d Anti-Tank Gun Battalion with 12 guns and the 39th Field Road Construction Unit. These two units took position in pre-prepared fighting emplacements around the south and west of Point Cruz.

On the morning of November 2, with the Whaling Group covering their flank, the men of 2/5 marched north and reached the coast west of Point Cruz, completing the encirclement of the Japanese defenders. The Japanese defenses were centered in a draw between a coastal trail and a beach just west of Point Cruz and included coral, earth, and log bunkers as well as caves and foxholes. U.S. artillery bombarded the Japanese positions throughout the day on November 2, causing an unknown number of casualties to the Japanese defenders.

Later in the day, Company I of 2/5 conducted a frontal assault with fixed bayonets on the northern portion of the Japanese defenses, overrunning and killing the Japanese defenders. At the same time, two battalions from 2nd Marine Regiment, now committed to the offensive, advanced past the Point Cruz area.

At 06:30 on November 3, some Japanese troops attempted to break out of the pocket but were beaten back by the Marines. Between 08:00 and noon, five Marine companies from 2/5 and 3/5, using small arms, mortars, demolition charges, and direct and indirect artillery fire, completed the destruction of the Japanese pocket near Point Cruz. Marine participant Richard A. Nash described the battle:

A jeep wheeled up towing a 37-mm anti-tank gun and Captain Andrews of D Company put a crew of men to setting the thing up to fire into the palm grove. Then I heard it—just before the gun began firing—a weird wailing and moaning, almost a religious chant...coming from the trapped Japanese soldiers. Then the gun fired canister shot into them, again and again, and after a while the chanting stopped and the firing stopped and for a moment it was all-quiet. Some of us went among the palm trees to look, and there, row on row, were the torn and shattered bodies of perhaps 300 young Japanese soldiers. There were no survivors.

The Marines captured 12 37mm anti-tank guns, one 70 mm field artillery piece, and 34 machineguns and counted the dead bodies of 239 Japanese soldiers, including 28 officers.

At the same time, the 2nd Marines with the Whaling Group continued to push along the coast, reaching a point 3,500 yards (3,200 m) west of Point Cruz by nightfall. The only Japanese troops left in the area to oppose the Marines' advance were the remaining 500 soldiers of the 4th Infantry augmented by a few frail survivors from units involved in the earlier Tenaru and Edson's Ridge battles plus malnourished naval troops from the original Guadalcanal garrison. The Japanese feared that they would be unable to prevent the Americans from taking the village of Kokumbona, which would cut-off the retreat of the 2nd Infantry Division and seriously threaten the rear-area support and headquarters units of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. Nakaguma, in despair, discussed taking the regimental colors and seeking death in a final charge at the U.S. forces, but was dissuaded from doing so by other officers on the 17th Army's staff.

A significant event now occurred which granted the Japanese forces a reprieve. Early on November 3, Marine units near Koli Point, east of the Lunga Perimeter, engaged 300 fresh Japanese troops that had just been landed by a Tokyo Express mission of five destroyers. This, plus the knowledge that a large body of Japanese troops was in the process of relocating to Koli Point after the defeat in the Henderson Field battle, led the Americans to believe that the Japanese were about to conduct a major attack on the Lunga Perimeter from the Koli Point area.

To discuss these developments, the Marine leaders on Guadalcanal met on the morning of November 4. Twining recommended that the Matanikau offensive continue. Edson, Thomas, and Vandegrift, however, urged the abandonment of the offensive and a shift of forces to counter the Koli Point threat. Thus, that same day the 5th Marines and the Whaling group were recalled to Lunga Point. The 2nd Marine's 1st and 2nd Battalions, plus the 1st Battalion, 164th Infantry took up positions about 2,000 yards (1,829 m) west of Point Cruz with plans to hold in that location. With their route of retreat still open, the Sendai (2nd) Division survivors began to reach Kokumbona this same day. Around this time, Nakaguma was killed by an artillery shell.

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