Dudek's Battlelog: The Battle of Henderson Field

By John Dudek 09 Oct 2015 0
 
Inside a dimly lit, humid, coconut log roof bunker on the bitterly contested island of Guadalcanal, Lt. Col, Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller tried to keep track of the frantic night battle currently raging outside a scant few yards from his forward position.  The US Marines of his 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment were engaged in a fierce toe to toe fire fight against the Japanese Army troops of General Maruyama and his Sendai Division. Machine gun tracers lit up the darkness as mortar shells, both friendly and enemy exploded all around him.  Puller was close enough to the front lines to hear the loud blood curdling Japanese cries of "BANZAI!" and  "MARINE' YOU DIE!"  US Marine artillery, in return blasted Japanese troop assembly areas a few hundred yards away. Marine troops in their bunkers and foxholes banged away at the screaming, charging Japanese hordes with their WWI vintage Springfield bolt action rifles, supporting automatic weapons and 37mm anti tank guns firing canister shot like giant shotguns. The night was reduced to a heated, blazing, never ending, exploding hell of shot and shell.  On this desperate night of savage fighting Puller would win the third of the five Navy Crosses awarded to him during his long, colorful and much storied military career. A Marine Catholic chaplain Father Matt Keough now entered the bunker, as sand sifted down from the sand bagged roof. He told Puller.  "I brought fresh Army troops up from the beach head.  Where do you want them?"  Puller smiled gratefully before eagerly shaking his hand in appreciation, saying "Thank you Father! We sure can use them!" Puller then ordered the handful of subordinate officers and NCO's inside the bunker to monitor the field telephones while he and the priest went out into the darkness to reinforce his own embattled and lightly manned US Marine defense positions with the squads of fresh Army troops.  The fresh troops would add much badly needed additional firepower with their new semi-automatic Garand rifles for the protection of Guadalcanal's fiercely contested Henderson airfield.  Upon his return to the bunker, the gunfire and explosions outside now reached an unprecedented din of noise as an Army Captain  entered the dimly lit bunker. He saluted and asked Puller.  "What and where is our avenue line of retreat sir?"  Puller dipped  his head in utter astonishment at the young officer's remarks, but paused only a scant second before ringing up his field telephone to notify his tank commander's tank platoon located almost directly behind his bunker, telling him that any friendly troops found retreating from the present line of battle should be immediately fired upon.  Puller slammed down the field phone before growling emphatically to the captain.  "Does that answer your question old man?!" 
 
One of the greatest, most enduring figures of US Marine Corps folklore, life and legend to this day revolves around the persona of Lt. General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller.  Possessing a bull horn voice and standing but five feet six inches in height, he was a bigger than life character who received the nick-name of "Chesty" for his pouter pigeon chest.  Puller joined the Marine Corps in 1918 but saw no action in WWI.  He attained the rank of second lieutenant before the post-war reduction in force reduced him to the rank of corporal.  After receiving orders to serve in Haiti as a lieutenant in their Gendarmerie d'Haiti, Puller fought in over forty fierce engagements against the Caco rebels over the next five years.  Upon returning stateside, Puller once again resumed the rank of lieutenant in 1924.  For the next four years he served at a number of Marine duty stations throughout the US and Territory of Hawaii.  In December 1928 Puller was sent to Nicaragua to serve in their national guard detachment in their war against armed bandit forces.  He received his first Navy Cross medal after leading "five successive engagements against superior numbers of armed bandit forces."  Two years later he received a second Navy Cross for dynamic leadership and bravery under fire against greatly superior numbers of enemy bandit troops.  Puller was then assigned to command a unit of US "China Marines" at the American Legation in Beijing China.  It was here that Puller received his first exposure to the Japanese military, their weapons and way of doing battle during their long war against the Chinese.  He returned to the US in August 1941 and was given command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines at New River, North Carolina.  He immediately began intensively training his troops towards fighting a Pacific War against Imperial Japan that he knew was coming. With twenty years of battlefield experience to draw upon, Puller schooled his men in the traditional tactics of "fire and maneuver" as well as the non traditional use of camouflage and other tactics and fighting skills not in the Marine Corps guide book. His battle credo was "Conditioning and Attack" His enlisted men recognized him as a natural leader of men, a kindred spirit sympathetic to their cause; They practically worshipped the man and the ground he walked upon. Four months after the Pearl Harbor attack in April 1942, the 7th Marines were sent to Samoa to defend it against a possible Japanese invasion.
 
 
The US invasion of Guadalcanal in August 1942 was an unparalleled battle in the history of warfare in the Pacific because of its desperate nature, its sheer and utter ferocity and the complete and total commitment of all available resources by both sides.  At no other time during the four year war in the Pacific was so much manpower and equipment brought to bear and so casually expended in battle for so great a time over a single piece of real estate.  The U.S. Marines and later Army troops on Guadalcanal were under daily Japanese aerial bombardment and near nightly naval bombardments ranging from destroyers to battleships.  There were no safe "rear-areas" where shell shocked troops suffering from PTSD could take any refuge.  It was a slow, grinding sort of war, more in tune with the battles of WWI, except waged in a humid, fetid, tropical climate teeming with much disease and sickness.  Near starvation caused by cut supply lines only increased the suffering on both sides while greatly affecting the men's combat effectiveness.
 
Well over two dozen major and secondary land battles were fought on Guadalcanal, as well as several major naval fleet engagements that saw both Allied and Japanese navies losing the exact same number of warships at its conclusion; some 22 warships in all. The battle was also a major learning experience for the US and Allied forces committed to battle there during the 7 month long campaign.  Before Guadalcanal, the American forces had never won a decisive land battle against the Japanese.  After Guadalcanal they never again lost a battle against them.  Imagine if you will a high stakes game of poker where both sides keep upping the ante until all of the chips are on the table and awaiting the turning of a single card.  Victory or defeat there always rested on the very slimmest razor's edge margin of fate, luck and skill.  The battle's outcome could easily have gone the other way and on a few occasions it almost did.  Through no fault of its own, the US Navy was forced to invade Guadalcanal with a hodge-podge collection of hastily converted troop transports and other jury rigged support ships. When the Marines came ashore on 7 August 1942, the US Navy lacked even enough troop transports to bring the entire 1st Marine Division ashore in a single invasion landing wave.  The 7th Marine Regiment was forced to remain on Samoa until they could be embarked at a later date.  The invasion was derisively referred to as "Operation Shoe String" for the patchwork quilt of material and ships, all hastily cobbled together towards successfully bringing it off.  The US Navy was still recovering from the destruction wrought at Pearl Harbor, a scant 8 months before; and while the American wartime ship building boom was just hitting its stride, there were then few combat support vessels of every stripe available in the Pacific.  It would be over a month before the 7th Marine Regiment could finally be brought to Guadalcanal; They landed on 18 September 1942.  Soon after their arrival, Chesty Puller quickly made his fierce presence known to the Japanese in battle.  His 1st Battalion embarked upon a series of hard fought patrol actions along the Matanikau River against the Japanese.  On one such occasion, his men caught an entire Japanese battalion of their 4th Infantry Regiment in bivouac at the bottom of a steep sided ravine.  The Japanese had taken refuge there to avoid aerial bombardment from planes based at the nearby Henderson Field.  Puller couldn't believe his luck.  He ordered his mortars to be set up, called in artillery support and deployed his automatic weapons, all pointed at the smoky plumes of rice cooking fires burning below them.  As the first Marine mortar shells impacted among them, the frantic Japanese troops tried climbing the treeless sides of the ravine, only to be cut down by withering Marine gunfire.  As soon as they returned to the valley floor, additional mortar and artillery shells landed among them and again they tried to scramble out of the trap.  This process continued several times until Puller's mortars finally ran out of ammunition; Whereby he ordered a withdrawal back to Marine lines.  Puller thought the fight had killed only a few hundred Japanese troops, but in reality his unit's ambush completely destroyed an entire battalion of 700 men and at little cost to himself.
 
From the very beginning of the battle of Guadalcanal, the Japanese were slow in realizing the true number of Marines on the island and their earlier commitments of troops and the disastrous battles they fought to the death only bore this out.  Only late in the game did they realize there were over 20,000 American troops on the island.  As a result, the Japanese put their reinforced Sendai Division onto troopships and sent them to Guadalcanal under heavy naval and aerial escort to augment their naval and army troops already there.  Their commanding General Hyakutake had landed earlier to assess the miserable and unhealthy Japanese military situation ashore.  Their troops from the earlier landing operations were desperately short on food, riddled with disease and parasites and many so weak from starvation they were unable to fight other than from a sedentary position.  They were also greatly in need of weapons and ammunition. The general requested that the Japanese aerial bombardments of the Marine perimeter at Lunga Point to be redoubled as well as the night time naval bombardments in order to knock out Henderson Field's aircraft and airfield to expedite this latest delivery of Japanese reinforcements; This would allow the maximum number of their men and material to arrive safely.  Hyakutake then devised a battle plan to defeat the Americans once and for all.  With the recent loss of their positions on the east side of the Matanikau River, Hyakutake decided that an attack on the U.S. defenses along the coast would be extremely costly and difficult.  
 
"Thus, after observation of the American defences around Lunga Point by his staff officers, Hyakutake decided that the main thrust of his planned attack would be from south of Henderson Field. His reinforced Sendai Division (augmented by one regiment from 38th Division), under Lieutenant General Masao Maruyama and comprising 7,000 soldiers in three infantry regiments of three battalions each was ordered to march through the jungle and attack the American defences from the south near the east bank of the Lunga River. On 12 October, a company of Japanese engineers began to break a trail, called the "Maruyama Road", from the Matanikau towards the southern portion of the U.S. Lunga perimeter. The trail traversed some 15 mi (24 km) of the most difficult terrain on Guadalcanal..."  
 
 
It was hoped the road would make possible the easy and quick transport of Japanese tanks, artillery, men and material to the battle zone.  However, the Japanese engineers soon found they were in error as to their choice of road building locations.  The terrain they traversed was filled with steep razor back ridges, many rivers and streams with much dense jungle throughout.  The daily rate of advance in the humid tropical heat slowed to a pitiful crawl.  The Sendai Division began its long march down the Maruyama Road on 16 October and quickly caught up to the tail of the exhausted engineer units.  The sheer impossibility of hauling their artillery up and down the high hills forced the Japanese to abandon many of their guns in the jungle.  In addition, each soldier on the march was forced to carry one 30 lb. artillery shell meant to be used by their remaining artillery as well as their normal load of kit.  This meant each man carried a load of nearly 100 lbs. in steaming hot jungle conditions. Their rations were also cut to a third because of the slowness of the advance; This alone greatly increased the suffering of their troops.
 
General Hyakutake, standing in his main encampment at Kokumbona looked with pity upon a ragged, half starved Special Naval Landing Force soldier, shivering with malaria and lying on a nearby pallet.  The SNLF troops had been on the island since July, one month before the U.S. Marine invasion, when work on the airfield had first commenced.  Only proper medical care and decent food could save this man now.  The General stooped down, opened his own mess kit and gave the man all the food it contained.  As he stood up, the General became aware of dozens of other hollow eyed, starving men looking hungrily up at him from all around.  Small wonder that Japanese troops now secretly referred to the island of Guadalcanal as "Hunger Island" and the "Island of Death."
 
Marine commander Maj. General Archer Vandegrift wiped the sweat from his brow in the noonday heat as he reviewed his latest Divisional situation report of the Guadalcanal garrison.  Since the Marine landing in August he'd been forced to make war and hold his defense perimeter with an ever dwindling number of troops.  Battle casualties and disease had already greatly sapped their strength.  His elite Marine Raiders and Para Marine battalions had been largely withdrawn from the island after suffering heavy casualties in the Battle of Bloody Ridge a few weeks before.  They'd held the ridge and saved Henderson Field but had paid a heavy price in doing so.  In addition, the remaining Marines of the garrison had been living on half rations of largely wormy captured Japanese rice since early August and they too were wasting away in the tropical heat.  The arrival of the Seventh Marine Regiment in September had finally enabled him to fully man his perimeter defenses, but even they too were beginning to suffer ever growing casualties in jungle skirmishes and Japanese infantry probes.  Now, it was late October and the US Army's 164th Infantry Regiment was said to now be somewhere offshore.  They couldn't come ashore soon enough to suit him.  
 
Upon the return of Puller and his men to friendly lines, they were placed in reserve to the rear near Henderson field to get a few days much needed rest before going back into the line.  Puller was keenly aware through Marine intelligence briefings that a major Japanese attack was coming and knew also that his depleted battalion would soon be in the thick of it.  Therefore he ordered his troops to scrounge up all the automatic weapons they could find inside the perimeter to make up in firepower for what they lacked in manpower.  Sixteen WWI vintage Lewis machine guns were found mounted upon beached landing craft along the shore and "appropriated" along with their panniers of ammunition; These were quickly cleaned and pressed into service as old Gunnery Sergeants instructed  Marines of a younger generation in their maintenance and deadly use.  U.S. Marine and now Army arms dumps were raided through "midnight requisitioning" forays and more Browning water cooled machine guns secretly added to Puller's unit TOE  (Table of Organization and Equipment)  Puller's battalion now had nearly twice as many machine guns than were normally allocated to a unit of its size.  He would need them.  His depleted battalion of 500 men was sent to defend a line 2,500 yards in length: A distance normally occupied by regimental strength or larger formations of troops  With axes, machetes and bulldozers the Marines hacked a defense line position out of the jungle, cutting down trees and clearing fire lanes of a hundred yards in length before stringing barbed wire.  There was now plenty of it on Guadalcanal so "..the Marines strung apron after apron of it until the rim of Vandegrift's defense ring was formed of concentric collars of cruel black lace."  Booby traps of grenades with their pins half pulled were placed with trip wires as machine gunners interlocked the fire of their guns to make man-killing cross-fires, impossible to walk through while standing.  In Captain Regan Fuller's well armed sector alone it was defended by "a rifle platoon, a heavy machine gun section  with four .50 caliber machine guns, six .30 caliber water cooled machine guns, two 37mm anti tank guns firing canister shot (much like a giant shotgun) a half dozen Lewis machine guns,18 Browning automatic rifles and a 60mm mortar."  The only thing missing from the planned party was Maruyama's Japanese assault troops, but the Marines in their fortified positions wouldn't be waiting long for their arrival.
 
The deepening tropical dusk of 23 October 1942 was suddenly and violently split asunder as four battalions of U.S. Marine artillery, some forty 105mm. and 75mm howitzers began firing the first of 6,000 rounds expended that night.  The artillery rounds soon impacted around nine attacking Japanese tanks and two battalions of Colonel Nakaguma's charging 4th infantry Regiment at the mouth of Guadalcanal's Matanikau River.  The tanks attacked in pairs of two abreast as they rolled across the river mouth sand bar towards the forward Marine positions.  Marine 37mm. anti tank guns along with half track mounted 75mm. artillery fire made quick work of the Japanese tanks, leaving nearly all of them ablaze and burning along the shoreline or in the incoming surf. Marine rifle and machine gunfire cut down the Japanese infantry in the growing twilight. Only one tank made it into the Marine front lines, close to the shore's surf line; It sprayed the area with machine gun and light cannon fire as it rolled along.  One cool-headed Marine waited until the tank passed nearby. He jammed a primed hand grenade into the tank's track and the resulting explosion badly damaged its suspension, eventually knocking the track off.  The tank lurched into the surf and remained there for several minutes firing at the Marine positions until an American half track 75mm gun motor carriage dispatched it with one well placed shot.  The resulting funeral pyre was but one of eight other enemy tanks blazing along the shore.  The Japanese infantry attacks would continue sporadically until 0115 the following morning,  hammered continuously by Marine artillery and lessening in intensity with each doomed assault.  Sunrise found a Marine captain standing amongst a platoon of his men well in front of his own defense line positions.  They were probing the bodies, looking for intelligence material from the dead officers. The captain held a canteen cup of steaming hot C-ration coffee in one hand and a loaded .45 caliber automatic pistol in the other as he viewed the carnage end results from the night's poorly coordinated attacks.  There appeared to be several hundred bodies lying stiff and still along the shore line sand as well as 9 blackened, burned out Japanese tank hulks.  The captain clicked his teeth and shook his head saying.  "One hell of a waste of good infantry."
 
 
The savage series of battles along the sand spit of the Matanikau RIver beginning on 23 October 1942 was but one of several that would rage over the next three days and shake Guadalcanal down to its very volcanic core.  The fighting there had already raged largely unchecked for three straight months with both the Japanese and American forces dealing endless and telling body blows to the other while preventing either side from gaining the final upper hand.  Battles raged on land, sea and in the air throughout these many weeks, with each side constantly committing ever growing numbers of men and material into the fighting.  The Battle of Guadalcanal would surely make or break one of the two embattled powers and it was still an even money bet over who would walk away the victor.  At the start of the third week of October the Japanese Imperial Army troops of General Masao Maruyama's elite and reinforced 2nd Sendai Division was approaching the U.S. Marine defense perimeter positions near Lunga point.  The defending U.S Marines of the 2nd and 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment were deployed in a horse shoe-shaped perimeter well forward of the main Marine perimeter. 
 
 
Colonel Nakaguma's doomed and suicidal tank-infantry attacks of 23 October had been launched without full participation from the Japanese main body of troops. This was because of delays and poor communications with their main body of slowly advancing Japanese troops in the jungle who were not yet in position to attack.  Once the Japanese had tipped their hand and showed their avenue of attack, the 7th Marine regiment's 2nd Battalion under Lt Colonel Herman Henry Hanneken was ordered to be deployed to the very same place to reinforce the Marines already there.  This left the Marine Corps living legend and model Marine, Lt. Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller's 3rd Battalion with over 2,500 yards of positions to defend with his already combat depleted battalion.  Luckily for Puller he had some of the best long service Marine NCO's and enlisted men in the division within his battalion.  In addition, the industrious and intrepid officer had far more automatic weapons than were usually issued as part of a battalion's TOE  (Table of Organization and Equipment.) Puller's men had dug well prepared, strongly fortified positions, using much barbed wire to solidify them even more.  Yet another advantage, Puller had good communication links with all of his company and platoon commanders. Lastly, he had a direct communications link with the divisional artillery commander Lt. Col. Pedro Del Valle.  With the oncoming Japanese assault troop's arrival less than a day out, Puller spoke to Del Valle about his readiness and degree of artillery barrage commitment.  
 
"Del Valle was reassuring.  'I'll give you what you want.  I know you won't be unreasonable.  Just call for all you need.'  At dusk the artillerymen registered their guns and shells exploded in the thick growth beyond Puller's lines."  Puller knew a fight was coming that night and he spoke to Sgt. Major Frank Shepard about it.  "Shep', we'll probably get mixed up in a scrap tonight.  The weather is right and the moon won't be much.  It'll rain like hell-and the Nips are out there."  As darkness fell, a heavy rain began. Puller had all the field telephone circuits opened "so that all companies and platoons could hear his every message."  He made one last check on his lines in the fading light before returning to his bunker to await developments. At 2130 hours, a Marine listening post located well in front of Puller's lines detected the approaching Japanese troops.  A sergeant in the listening post rang up the command bunker telling Puller in a hoarse whisper. "Colonel, there about 3,000 Japs between you and me."
 
"Are you sure?"
 
"Positive. They've been all around us singing and smoking cigarettes heading your way."
 
Puller told him he would hold his fire for as long as possible to allow the men to return to the Marine lines, but he'd better be quick about it.  Puller waited a good length of time before looking at his watch. It was now 2200 hours and he could hear the chilling noise of high, reedy Japanese voices yelling in broken English  "BLOOD FOR THE EMPEROR!" and "US MARINE BE DEAD TOMORROW!"  This call was taken up by a growing number of other Japanese troops; but one leather-lunged US Marine shouted them all down yelling.  "TO HELL WITH YOUR GOD DAMNED EMPEROR!  BLOOD FOR FRANKLIN AND ELENOR ROOSEVELT!!" Obscenities flew fast and furious for several seconds before Puller picked up his phone and shouted.  "Commence Firing!"  The Marine front lines erupted in fiery sheets of automatic weapons fire as the first of Pedro Del Valle's artillery rounds began landing among the packed Japanese infantry who were halted before the thick barbed wire defenses.  Marine 81mm. and 60mm. mortars joined in to add their own particular brand of slaughter to the battle.  In the middle of C-Company's machine gun positions near the center of the Marine line, Sgt. Manila John Basilone's two .30 caliber Browning water cooled machine guns fired into each attacking wave of Japanese infantry, dropping them by the dozens. Firing at full trigger at a rate of 500 rounds a minute, they cut a devastating swath through each succeeding wave of Japanese troops.  This prolonged firing soon left the water cooled machine gun's steaming water jackets bone-dry.  The guns were in danger of seizing up and jamming for lack of any coolant water.  Manila John shouted.  "PI%# in the water jackets!" "Pi%# in the water jackets!"  A number of Marines stood up and unbuttoned their trouser flies. The missing water in the empty water jackets was soon replaced by another water based liquid as the guns fired on.  As this latest attack was repulsed and the front momentarily quieted down,  Basilone ran barefooted down the muddy trail through the darkness back to Puller's command post in search of more ammunition belts and extra machine gun barrels.  The bores in both his machine guns had been worn smooth from prolonged firing and needed changing.  Throwing several belts of ammunition over his shoulders and with fresh gun barrels carried under one arm, he dashed back to his gun position with a .45 caliber automatic pistol in his free hand.  Along the way, he shot several Japanese infiltrators who'd made it through the barbed wire and gotten behind the Marine lines.
 
With the Sendai DIvision massing for another attack, Chesty Puller was again on the phone to Col. Del Valle, making corrections in range and asking for additional barrage strength.  Del Valle replied. "I'll give you all I've got Puller, but God knows what'll happen when the ammo we have is gone."  Puller replied. "If we don't need it now, we'll never need it.  If they get through here tonight, there won't be a tomorrow."
Del Valle said. "She's yours for as long as it lasts." and the artillery shelling continued with yet even more savage intensity. As the fighting continued, Captain Regan Fuller called Puller's bunker on the field telephone.  His men had killed a large number of Japanese troops while repulsing a number of their assaults.  Fuller told Puller that his men were running out of ammunition and had already used up three and a half units of their four units fire.  Puller replied. "You've got bayonets don't you Fuller?  Fuller replied " Sure. Yes Sir!"  Puller said. "Then hang on!" Fuller put down the phone, grimly set his jaw before shouting  "FIX BAYONETS!!"
 
At 0330 hours General Maruyama hurled a third assault at the Marine lines "and for the first time time his men heard the sound of the eight round semi automatic firing of Garand rifles in the hands of American troops."  The U.S Army's 164th Infantry Regiment had arrived and was now in business.  They'd been brought up from the beach and fed in by small squads into the front lines alongside their Marine counter parts by Chesty Puller and their guide Catholic Chaplain Father Matt Keough.  Up to that time, the Marine riflemen were still equipped with Springfield 1903 bolt action rifles. The addition of Army troops armed with semi automatic rifles greatly increased the Marine's fire power and sealed the deal to crush the final Japanese infantry assaults of the night.  By 0700 of  "Dugout Sunday25 October, the Japanese infantry assaults halted; There were well over a thousand dead Japanese bodies sprawled grotesquely in front of the Marine front lines as many others crawled or were carried back toward their assembly areas.  It was called "Dugout Sunday" because the Marines could not venture far from their dugouts for the entire day. Heavy and continued Japanese aerial bombing raids throughout the entire day saw to that.  There was also an attempted Japanese naval counter invasion offshore that was thwarted by Marine defense battalion coastal artillery fire. Sadly, about the only supplies the rear echelon Marines along Puller's line could get up to the men in the front lines that day was in the form of rifle ammunition and mortar shells.  There was little food for the hungry Marines other than C-ration crackers and jam. However, this was far better than what the hungry Japanese troops were experiencing a few thousand yards away.  They were completely without any food and with no resupply of medical supplies or ammunition forthcoming.  The coming night's battle would have to be fought by the Japanese using the ammunition remaining in their bandoliers or with their bayonets.
 
This night's battle began the same way the preceding night's battle had started.  There was a light smattering of Japanese artillery and mortar fire on the Marine positions before the first Japanese assault wave hit the Marine barbed wire defenses in front of Puller's battalion line.  However, the enemy troops didn't attack with the same utter abandon and rabid ferocity of the night before. Marine mortar and artillery fire quickly smothered the first Japanese assaults and their main body of troops recoiled back into the jungle. They disengaged and moved down to the extreme Marine left flank to attack the less well defended section of line held by Lt. Colonel  Hanneken's 2nd Battalion.  There, the Japanese tightly concentrated their forces and struck hard, quickly overrunning a company of Marines and seizing a crucial ridgeline.  Over 150 Japanese troops occupied the former Marine fox holes there and now represented a major breech in the Marine lines.  Only one Marine machine gunner remained atop the ridge to offer any final resistance and he was Sgt. Mitchell Paige.  Paige continued hammering away with short bursts from his Browning machine gun long after the last man in his platoon was killed or wounded.  He succeeded in killing a large number of the Japanese attackers, but they were slowly closing in on his position from all sides as the morning sun arose.  He later wrote: "Over the nose of the ridge I thought I saw some movement.  Right off the nose, in the tall grass, thirty Japs stood up.  One of them was looking at me through field glasses.  I let them have it with a full burst and they peeled off like grass under a mowing machine. After that I was so wound up that I couldn't stop."  Paige charged down the hill at the Japanese with the machine gun cradled in his arms.
 
Seeing the dire nature of the Japanese incursion representing a potential major break through in the Marine lines, Major Odell Conoley, Hanneken's executive officer, rounded up a small force of 17 nearby Marine bandsmen, cooks, mess men and communications specialists. Joined by elements of three other companies, the skirmish line charged the former Marine positions with fixed bayonets, hooting and hollering like wild Indians the entire way.  Sgt. Paige had supported and joined the group. He fired into the enemy troops with two belts of machine gun ammunition hanging from his shoulders.  They chased the Japanese from atop the ridge and followed them down into the valley screaming and shooting the entire way.  Paige cut down a number of fleeing enemy troops as he fired the machine gun still cradled in his arms. A Japanese officer suddenly stood up from the tall kunai grass and Paige quickly disemboweled him with a single sweeping burst of machine gun fire.  Reaching the edge of the jungle, the Marine skirmish line halted; They were wringing-wet with sweat and still breathing hard from exertion as they listened to the peculiar stillness and unearthly quiet all around them.  They'd killed every enemy soldier atop the ridge and restored the Marine lines.  Paige later wrote: "My hand felt funny.  I looked down and saw through my tattered shirt a blister that ran from my fingertips to my forearm" from carrying the burning hot machine gun during the final minutes of the battle."  Some 98 Japanese bodies were later found atop the ridge with 200 more in the valley below it, all at a cost of 14 Marines killed and 32 wounded.
 
"At 08:00 on 26 October, Japanese commanding General Hyakutake called off any further attacks and ordered his forces to retreat. Maruyama's men recovered some of their wounded from near the American lines on the night of 26–27 October, and began to withdraw back into the deep jungle. The Americans recovered, buried or burned as quickly as possible the remains of 1,500 of Maruyama's men left lying in front of Pullers's, Hanneken's and Hall's lines. Said one U.S. Army participant, John E. Stannard, of the scene after the battle, "The carnage of the battlefield was a sight that perhaps only the combat infantryman, who has fought at close quarters, could fully comprehend and look upon without a feeling of horror. One soldier, after a walk among the Japanese dead, said to his comrade: 'My God, what a sight. There's dead Japs stretched from the Corner back along the edge of the jungle for a half a mile."
 
 
 During their long retreat, many of the Japanese wounded, denied adequate medical care, died from their wounds and were buried along the same Maruyama road they'd earlier advanced upon. Meanwhile, many of the remaining Japanese troops were literally starving to death from lack of food in the steaming jungle. "One of Maruyama's men, Lieutenant Keijiro Minegishi, noted in his diary, "I never dreamed of retreating over the same mountainous trail through the jungle we crossed with such enthusiasm... we haven't eaten in three days and even walking is difficult. On the up hill my body swayed around unable to walk. I must rest every two meters."
 
The first starving, tottering remnants of the Japanese Sendai Division didn't arrive back at their starting point of Kokumbona, some 20 miles from the US Marine perimeter until 4 November.  The grueling, disastrous campaign, all of its resulting horrendous battle losses and those additional losses from starvation or disease had left the once elite division completely broken and unable to act in any further offensives for the remainder of the Guadalcanal campaign. The battle's final death toll was well over 3,500 Japanese deaths.  In addition, a large number of their high ranking officers perished in the fighting including " General Nasu and his regimental commanders--Colonel Furumiya (29th Infantry) and Colonel Hiroyasu (16th Infantry)."
 
For the battered, hungry and disease ridden 1st Marine Division troops, their participation in the continued fighting would continue unabated for nearly another two months until they were relieved by fresh Marine and Army troops.  The Marines were sent to Australia for reorganization and a prolonged period of rest and badly needed recuperation. Lt. Colonel "Chesty" Puller would receive his third Navy Cross award.  Captain Regan Fuller would be awarded the Silver Star and eventually retired a Major General.  Sgt's Basilone and Paige would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for their participation in the savage three days of battles along the Matanikau river. Sgt. Manila John Basilone could have rested on his laurels and sat out the remainder of the war safe at home stateside performing War Bond tours, but he was at heart a warrior and wanted to return to active duty.  He was later killed on the first day of the invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945.  Sgt. Paige was promoted to lieutenant and fought on New Britain in 1943.  He survived the war and died in 2003.  Lt Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller was wounded at Guadalcanal a few weeks later, but continued to serve in the Pacific Theatre of Operations, fighting on New Britain, where he won his fourth Navy Cross and later at Peleliu.  He won his fifth Navy Cross during the Korean War for his role in the fighting around the Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950.  He retired as a lieutenant general in 1955 and died in 1971.  Puller, the living legend model Marine continues to inspire Marine fighting men to this very day.  There are many former Marine recruits who recall their drill sergeants leading them in song during "Boot Camp" singing.  "Good night Chesty!  Good night Chesty!  Good night Chesty, wherever you may be.  After you the Corps will roll onto victory."
 
In spite of this latest disastrous and extremely costly Japanese defeat along the Matanikau River near the vital Henderson Airfield, the fighting was not yet over. The Japanese would mount one final all out attempt to retake the long and fiercely contested island of Guadalcanal and its priceless airfield within the month.
 
Sources:
 
Davis, Burke  Marine: The Life of Chesty Puller.
 

Jon T. Hoffman.  Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC

 

Lt. Col. Frank O. Hough, USMCR, Maj. Verle E. Ludwig, USMC, & Henry I. Shaw, Jr.  History of U.S Marine Corps. Operations in WWII.

 

Richard B. Frank  Guadalcanal, The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle.

 

Hugh Ambrose.  The Pacific.

 

Robert Leckie.    A Helmet for My Pillow.

 

Robert Leckie.  Strong Men Armed. United States Marines Against Japan.

 

Robert Leckie.  Challenge For the Pacific.  Guadalcanal The Turning Point of the War.

 

Jack Coggins.  The Campaign for Guadalcanal:  A Battle That Made History.

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