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“Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure – after Guadalcanal he retreated at ours.” With those words by Admiral “Bull” Halsey, we begin a special four-part series about North Dakota’s role in America’s first offensive action in World War II.

In 1941, Imperial Japan’s war was limited to the Asian mainland, but on December 7th, they left their shores and flew east and south to simultaneously attack the Philippines, Wake, Guam, Hong Kong, the Malay Peninsula and . . . Pearl Harbor.

Preoccupied with the German threat, the United States was poorly prepared for war in the South Pacific. But, Japan’s rapid expansion demanded an immediate response. First and foremost, the supply lines between the U.S. and Australia had to be protected. New Zealand, New Guinea, and a host of other islands were also at stake, so the Allies devised a plan in which American troops would attack separately – from a different direction – to trap Japan in a giant pincer.

The campaign in the South Pacific differed from previous wars, because island warfare demanded equal participation of air, land, and sea forces. In the first six months alone, the number of surface-to-surface naval battles in the South Pacific outnumbered the naval battles fought by the all the British Navy battles in World War I. In fact, so many ships were sunk in the strait between Guadalcanal and Savo Island, it became known as the “Iron Bottom Sound.”

The administration wanted to concentrate on “Europe first” and was reluctant to divert manpower and equipment to the South Pacific. In fact, American troops in the Pacific Theatre called it “Operation Shoestring.” American citizens, on the other hand, were far more focused on Japan than on Germany. They wanted revenge for Pearl Harbor.

The first American offensive against Japan took place on August 7th when the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal. This island was the most threatening of the enemy strongholds. It was the last one between the Solomon Islands and Australia and was a must-have.

The Marine landing was unfortunately plagued by a lack of planning and inexperience with island warfare. After a heavy artillery barrage, they landed almost unopposed, but because their position was vulnerable, many of their transports pulled away before the cargo was unloaded. Too late, the Marines found themselves without adequate food, construction equipment or barbed wire for defending their front-line positions.

They found an airstrip the Japanese had been building – the Japanese had abandoned it, leaving behind equipment, machinery and a large supply of food, including many cases of canned crab. So, the Marines finished the runway for themselves and named it Henderson Field.

In the following weeks, Japan tried again and again to take back the airstrip. Attacking in ever increasing numbers, Japanese temporarily dislodged the U.S. in mid-September, but the Marines managed to stop the assault on a knoll they called “Bloody Ridge.”

By mid-October, the two sides had reached a stalemate. The Japanese couldn’t budge the Marines, and the Marines didn’t have enough men to mount an offensive. Then, on this day in 1942, the U.S. Army came to their aid in what was the Army’s first offensive engagement of World War II. The regiment assigned to the campaign was the 164th Infantry, otherwise known as. . . the North Dakota National Guard. Tune in tomorrow to learn the fate of the 164th at Guadalcanal.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm