1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 10 – Guadalcanal Campaign Major Events Overview

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 10


Guadalcanal is no longer merely a name of an island in Japanese military history. It is the name of the graveyard of the Japanese army.

—Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, IJA
Commander, 35th Infantry Brigade at Guadalcanal

As noted in Part #9, unlike Midway which was almost entirely a carrier vs. carrier battle, the fight to gain and hold Guadalcanal was a land, sea, land-based air, and sea-based air six month give and take. Each element was dependent on the other and the equality of the Japanese and American carrier airpower played a major part in neither side gaining


lasting superiority and drove how each side chose to attack and defend. It was one thing to defend Midway operating in open ocean; being closely tied to the geography of the island and surrounding waters to provide air support was a whole other thing. With intelligence far inferior to that during Midway, staying in one general area exposed the carriers to submarine, land and sea based attack. There was much to be learned – at the expense of all participants.

While this series is focused on airpower and the sub-series on examining that first year of war in the Pacific and the emergence, growth, and operational use of the aircraft carrier, it is crucial to that endeavor to understand that total land-sea-air conflict environment if one is to comprehend the 1942 need for the carrier’s airpower role to be recognized, understood, and used effectively – particularly including those limitations imposed by the threat environment along with the emerging requirements to support expeditionary warfare (best example, close-air-support communications and coordination was non-existent and was not yet part of navy pilot training.) Operational learning in this emerging warfare environment was also critical in regard to preparation for support of the planned operations of 1943-45 along the pathway to Japan itself. Indeed carrier aviation in 1945 would barely resemble that of ’42. Although somewhat lengthy, context and brief reference are necessary. Continued below are abbreviated summaries of the main battles of the Operation Watchtower campaign.

The Battles of Guadalcanal -

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 9 – Guadalcanal Introduction

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 9

On Land, on Sea, in the Air

9 February, 1943

Major General Alexander Patch, USA, Commander, U.S. Forces on Guadalcanal to Vice Admiral William Halsey, Jr., USN, Commander, South Pacific Area, 

Under extreme secrecy, on the nights of 1, 4, and 7 February 1943, the Japanese had completely fooled the ground and sea commanders, pilots, ships and PT boats of the U.S. South Pacific Forces and evacuated the 10,652  remaining of 36,000 soldiers from Guadalcanal.  Operation KE was  indeed a Pacific  Dunkirk. The Guadalcanal Campaign was over.


This series is about the introduction of the aircraft carrier into naval warfare in the four 1942  carrier vs. carrier battles.  Two of those battles – The Battle of the Eastern Solomons and The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands – were part of the Guadalcanal campaign. Tactically similar in many ways to the Coral Sea and Midway battles, the multi-faceted warfare context (land, sea, and both sea and land-based air) created a much different dynamic than the earlier battles. While this discussion of the Guadalcanal battles will not go into any great detail on the land and sea contests, the story of the carriers cannot be told without the broader context.

The battle for Guadalcanal had been a very close run thing. Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 8 – Midway Trilogy Epilogue

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 8

Decisive victory? Depends on how you look

… a fundamental transformation in naval power had just taken place. Carriers usurped the prime strategic role of battleships in that their principal opponents were their enemy counterparts, and they should only to be committed to battle in the proper circumstances .. 

Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway & Guadalcanal , Lundstrom, John B..

0. Carrier Warfare

Today, seventy six years after the battle, Midway still has its paradoxes and conundrums; Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 7 – Midway Trilogy (3 of 3)

 Blown Slick Series #13 Part 7

 “what did Midway really mean?” 

 “An aircraft carrier is a noble thing. It lacks almost everything that seems to denote nobility, yet deep nobility is there. A carrier has no poise. It has   no  grace. It is top-heavy and lop-sided. It has the lines of a cow. It doesn’t cut through the water like a cruiser, knifing romantically along… It just plows… Yet a carrier is a ferocious thing, and out of its heritage of action has grown nobility. I believe that every Navy in the world has it as its No. 1 priority the destruction of enemy carriers. That’s a precarious honor, but it’s a proud one.Ernie Pyle, 1945

Midway books2

On 13 June USS Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor. Thus began the celebration, but also, evaluation of the battle operations, the impact on both US and Japanese capabilities and next steps, and of most importance, the beginning of planning to leverage the victory. And so…

“what did Midway really mean?”  Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 6 – Midway Trilogy (2 of 3)

 Blown Slick Series #13 Part 6

Into the Shredder

The Battle of Coral Sea had provided the first hints that the Japanese high-water mark had been reached, but it was the Battle of Midway that put up the sign for all to see. Midway also marked the gateway to the attritional war that would be fought in the Solomons, a campaign that would irreparably ruin the Japanese Navy by destroying its elite naval aviation cadres and wrecking its surface forces beyond redemption. Midway didn’t produce these consequences by itself, but it created the circumstances whereby the Japanese Navy would be fed into the shredder. *


The Japanese had the overall numbers, they had the experience, they had the initiative, and for all practical purposes they decimated three torpedo squadrons and annihilated the Army Air Corps, Marine, and Navy attackers  from the island. So why did they lose? Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 5 – Midway Trilogy (1 of 3)

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 5

 Paradox and Redemption: 4 to 7 June 1942               The Battle of Midway 

Among the many gems is a reminder to all who study mankind’s self-inflicted cataclysm: “Yet the overwhelming reality during the war…is that nobody knew how it would go.” Winds of War/War and RemembranceHerman Wouk

Before the battle was joined there was  no way the Japanese could have lost it…once it began, there was no way they could have won it. The Barrier and the Javelin, H.P. Willmott


The Battle of Midway occurred six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. Under overall command in the Pacific of Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admirals Frank Jack Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance – neither a naval aviator – defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy under Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chuichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kondo near Midway Atoll, in the second only battle of aircraft carriers vs. aircraft carriers. Inflicting the loss of all four IJN carriers, the U.S. victory is arguably the most well known, researched, scrutinized and written about  naval battle in history. Military historian John Keegan called it “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

Indeed, in the “common wisdom,” the battle has not only been considered the decisive battle of the Pacific war, it has evoked the words/terms miracle, incredible, tide-turning, and no right to win. As noted in 2005 in the much heralded book and basis for much of the re-thinking of the battle,   Shattered Sword,

the defining moment will always be the devastating and seemingly last-minute attack of American dive bombers against the Japanese carrier force at 1020 … hurling down from the heavens to drop their bombs on helpless Japanese  carriers, their decks packed with aircraft just moments away from taking off

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Memorial Day 2018 – Remembering Smokey

Smokey2Remembrance days can be illustrated by stories of war and sacrifice, of great and decisive battles, or of the bravery of whole units who “stood fast” in the face of a massive threat, or most certainly by the above and beyond courage of a single warrior who determined “this will not be allowed on my watch.”  Most often that act is not so much in context of winning a battle, but rather in giving up of life to save one’s comrades.  But memory of all can also be elicited by memory of one, one who chose to be there, to be with those, who like him most certainly loved country, but also resonated with those friends who liked being around others who understood the idea of service at its deepest level, and gave it willingly, joyfully – for love of country most certainly, but also for love of the game. Smokey Tolbert was one of those.  Smokey was my squadron-mate and my great friend. He died over North Vietnam the sixth of November 1972.

“For love of the game” might seem an odd or even inappropriate usage for a day we honor our fallen comrades in arms, but for any who have followed this website over the years, you know I do not take days like Memorial Day, Independence Day or Veterans Day lightly. Service under fire is always about love of those “in the foxhole with you.”  “Love of the game” here reflects those relationships and that service to fellow warriors. I hope you will agree that this denotes and reflects most highly on the very heart of the serviceman when called “under the fire.” Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 4 – The Battle of the Coral Sea

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 4

“Scratch One Flattop!”

The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought from 4 to 8 May 1942 is historically significant as the first action in which aircraft carriers engaged each other, as well as the first in which neither side’s ships sighted or fired directly upon the other. And of great importance, the battle marked the first time since the start of the war that a major Japanese advance had been checked by the Allies.


The Port Moresby Attack Plan, Operation ‘MO’

In an attempt to strengthen their defensive position in the South Pacific, plus provide the air support bases to threaten Australia, the Japanese decided to invade and occupy Port Moresby (in New Guinea) and Tulagi (in the southeastern Solomon Islands). Admiral Yamamoto reluctantly agreed to the plan but was concerned with the potential impact on his effort to lure U.S. Navy carriers into an engagement at Midway. In typically complex fashion, in early May, they deployed five naval forces, including a covering group with the light carrier Shoho and five escorts, and Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi’s striking arm: Carrier Division Five (CARDIV 5) with heavyweights Shokaku and Zuikaku screened by eight escorts. Combined Japanese air strength of the three carriers was 141. Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 3 – The Four Battles

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 3

The Clash of the Carriers

During the course of the first months after the Pear Harbor attack, U.S. carriers had been conducting multiple raids on the periphery of Japanese occupied ocean areas. The raids were not executed at random, but were based on intelligence that indicated Japanese carriers would not be present to oppose the raids. The Doolittle attack on Tokyo launched from USS Hornet can be characterized as the end of that “carrier raiding” period. And indeed, both the U.S. and Japan were ready to move forward. These opposing plans gave rise to the clash of the carriers throughout the remainder of 1942. Both sides would suffer tremendous losses but in the end the Japanese irreplaceable loss of experienced combat aviators and their aircraft were the seeds of final defeat.


By early March 1942, with the exception of isolated U.S. forces valiantly holding out on the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in the Philippines, the Japanese had achieved all their pre-war objectives, over three months ahead of schedule.  What to do next resulted in massive infighting between the Japanese army and navy and also internal to the Navy. Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 2 – The Doolittle Raid

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 2

War, Remembrance, Honor – The Doolittle Raiders

18 April, 1942

Lead Pic

Spotted by a Japanese ship two days before they intended to launch 400-450 miles off the coast of Japan, Admiral Halsey, Hornet commanding officer Captain Marc Mitscher, and LtCol. Jimmy Doolittle determined the necessity to launch immediately – probably 600 plus miles out and meaning the raiders could most probably not reach the Chinese mainland.

The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, on Saturday, April 18, 1942, was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle as the first air operation to strike the Japanese Home Islands including the Japanese capital Tokyo.


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