Alligator Creek, Sans Alligators

I’ll start with the video this time. It’s actually compressed. Then if you’re interested, you can get my amateur historical synopsis.

VIDEO (Quicktime, 4.7MB): Alligator Creek

[amateur historical synopsis]

Essentially at the far western end of Red Beach is Alligator Creek, which is actually the Ilu River and is known to historians as the site of the Battle of the Tenaru (the name of another river with which the Ilu was confused). It was called Alligator Creek by US Marines because of the number of crocodiles that were seen swimming in it. Anyway — Red Beach was where D-Day happened on Guadalcanal, but it was a quiet D-Day with virtually no opposition. The Battle of the Tenaru was the first real battle of the campaign.

Prior to Tenaru, Japanese ground forces had been essentially undefeated. In fact, with the exception of the Japanese taking of Wake Island (where a small force of Marines managed to hold off an overwhelming Japanese force longer than they had any right to), there’d been no indication to the Japanese that anyone in the world had the courage to stop them. They’d taken Manchuria, parts of China, Singapore, and much of Southeast Asia without much effort. In the Philippines, at the close of the Battle of Bataan, a US and Filipino force of 75,000 had surrendered to fewer numbers of Japanese soldiers (and then endured the Death March for which Bataan is famous).

With that in mind, the Japanese were expecting to be able to re-take Guadalcanal from the Americans without much effort. Which helps explains the actions of the Ichiki Regiment. Commanded by Col. Kiyono Ichiki, a group of 800 Japanese soldiers started what they’d imagined would be a walkover battle in trying to cross the mouth of Alligator Creek. Given that these were soldiers seasoned by earlier battles in Asia and that the Americans were entirely untested, it was thought that the Japanese soldiers’ superior spirit and fighting know-how would carry the day. So, with USMC machine gun emplacements at the ready, they ran across the river attempting bayonet charge after bayonet charge.

Turns out machine guns are more effective at a distance of 5-100 feet than are bayonets. The result of the battle was the majority of the Japanese regiment getting killed. (Only a few dozen Marines died in the battle.) Just from a historical context, then, Alligator Creek is where the battle occurred where Japanese soldiers for the first time in the war realized that they were not invincible and where it became apparent that the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere wasn’t necessarily a fait accompli.

[/amateur historical synopsis]

Man that was long-winded. The area around Alligator Creek was sort of pretty — at least there weren’t so many people living around there to generate the kind of garbage tossed into and around the Matanikau. Never saw any crocs there myself, though. Sadly. Maybe next time.

bkd

Red Beach, July 4th, Guadalcanal

For some reason I thought it’d be great to see as many war sites as I could on the Fourth of July. I dunno — maybe that was a good idea.

Red Beach on Guadalcanal was the Normandy of the Pacific — not in terms of battle ferocity, but in the sense that it was the location where the landing took place that turned the tide of the war. Um, not including Stalingrad I guess.

Actually, Red Beach and Guadalcanal were arguably more important to the Pacific Theater than the Normandy landings on Utah and Omaha Beaches were to the European. The war in Europe was over by the time Normandy happened, nothing left there but to kill, get killed, and win.

Red Beach was the site of the first land invasion by the US in the war. Until Red Beach, US ground troops were entirely untested (the Navy had already fared well at Midway, though less well elsewhere). Most of the Marines who landed on Red Beach (purportedly 90% of them) had joined the service after the attack on Pearl Harbor — only eight months earlier. Guadalcanal is where the US — and, for that matter, Japan and the rest of the world — discovered whether it was a country whose people had a stomach for war.

Fortunately, this video of my walk down Red Beach a couple weeks ago isn’t as heavy-handed as those last three paragraphs. I don’t think.

VIDEO (Quicktime): Red Beach

I know, I should probably start compressing these videos. And stop narrating them.

Robin was a cool kid, although his coolness waned as the day progressed until eventually he got downright petulant when I only gave him S$100 for his time — that’s like a week’s wage there — then finally started begging for more money. Oh well.

Also, in case you care, Robin’s English in the video is a little better than that of most people I met in Honiara — but not necessarily by a lot. It was easy to communicate with people there; their pidgin has enough English in it that eventually American and SIer alike can understand each other pretty well.

bkd

The Mouth of the Matanikau River

Late summer, early fall of 1942, the decisive land battles of the Pacific Theater were being fought on Guadalcanal. There were two key battle locations that, essentially, held the key to victory: Edson’s Ridge and the mouth of the Matanikau River. The mouth of the Matanikau was important because it was the only reasonable place to cross the river due to the density of the jungle upriver (and the upriver depth). Meanwhile, the mouth of the river was essentially a sandbar, so shallow that as often as not the river never actually got around to emptying into the Pacific.

If the Japanese had been able to cross the river, especially given the “cordon defense” employed
by the USMC in the early campaign, they would have had a clear shot to Henderson Field, the true objective of the campaign. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that the mouth of the Matanikau River was one of the absolute most important places in terms of turning the Pacific Theater in the Americans’ favor.

Since then, the Solomons’ capital of Honiara has been built on top of the old battlefields where most of the fiercest fighting on Guadalcanal occurred. Here’s what the mouth of the Matanikau looked like on July 3, 2007:

VIDEO (Quicktime): Mouth of the Matanikau

The route to the mouth of the river runs from the Kukum Highway (which was apparently known as “Highway 50″ when it was built by the US military after the campaign) through “Matanikau Village”. There was an original Matanikau Village that existed on this spot before WWII, but it was leveled probably by the naval bombardment that immediately preceded the USMC landing on the island (it had likely already been abandoned by the time that happened). Here’s what the current Matanikau Village looks like (the village is in the heart of The Big City, Honiara, with a population of 50,000; the country has a population of around 300,000):

VIDEO (Quicktime): Matanikau Village

(Apologies for the low quality and tiltyness — I was trying to be inconspicuous for some reason. And for some reason everyone I passed on the way in thought it was funny that I was there, but they didn’t seem to care when I was leaving.)

I guess one could conclude a few things here. A couple conclusions I made:

1. In the Solomons, sites that are held holy by US and Japanese military aren’t considered that way by the locals. At all.

2. The Solomon Islands is a poor country and, aside from the happy people, kind of a sad place.

BK

Saltwater Crocodiles Can Grow to 20 Feet in Length

Got my semi-annual bonus check yesterday, so bought my tickets to the Solomons today. Ended up cutting a day off the Fiji part of the trip in order to save $600 on airfare, but that’ll probably be okay (although it might mean I end up staying those two days somewhere closer to Nadi). Now all I gotta do is figure out how one manages to be a tourist in the Solomon Islands. Stay tuned (or not, whatever works for you).

bkd

(Looks friendly enough, right?)