Co-Authored by Kelsey Noel and Corbin Apkin.
This August marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Watchtower, otherwise known as the Guadalcanal Campaign. Operation Watchtower was a series of engagements between the Allied forces (comprised heavily of U.S. Marines) and the Japanese military. The campaign began on August 7th, 1942 with the first amphibious landings by U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida islands. By August 8th, the Japanese airfield at Lunga Point was secured.
Other nearby islands including Gavutu and Tanambogo were taken by Allied forces in quick succession over the next several days, but the campaign was not soon over. The Allies and the Japanese continued to engage throughout the region through air strikes and amphibious operations for six months, making Guadalcanal one of the first extended campaigns in the Pacific. Finally, on February 9th, 1943, following a four night long Japanese evacuation, Guadalcanal was declared secured – the Allies had won.
Many consider the Allies’ success at Guadalcanal to be one of the major turning points of WWII. As such, photographic documentation of U.S. activities and experiences at Guadalcanal is particularly insightful. The Still Picture Branch is excited to share many of the Guadalcanal photos that can be found in RG 127-GR here on The Unwritten Record, presented with transcribed original captions. The entire series was recently digitized for online access and will soon be available to researchers through our Catalog.
Maps housed in the Cartographic Branch also help to provide insight into military operations at Guadalcanal. A number of different types of maps were used by Allied forces to plan the campaign, in which some 60,000 Allied troops outnumbered the Japanese defenders by nearly twofold. Interesting examples can be found among the Marine Corps WWII Strategic Maps from RG-127WWII. A wide variety of information was used by the Marine Corps to create these maps, including hydrographic charts, photographic interpretation, sailing directions, and captured Japanese maps.
The Allied strategy for the Guadalcanal operation is also seen in maps that accompanied General Douglas MacArthur’s reports. These maps detail various aspects of Operation Watchtower and provide context for the battle, including the location and types of weaponry used and the military units involved. Because they depict the situation during different parts of the battle, these maps provide a more complete picture of the campaign.
The Allied forces lost around 7,100 men during the Guadalcanal Campaign; the Japanese lost somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. Many more were wounded on both sides. While the Japanese suffered greater loss (not only in lives but in ships and aircraft as well), the Guadalcanal Campaign was indeed a costly victory for the Allies. Yet a victory it was, and undoubtedly one of the most significant campaigns of WWII. The islands continued to hold strategic importance for the Allies following their victory there, and Operation Watchtower continues to capture our interest even today.