admin's picture


Radio Australia Pacific Beat August 8, 2002

We look back at a battle that altered the course of World War Two – and had a profound effect on Solomon Islands.

This week is the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands - a turning point in the Pacific War.

Following their December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i, Japanese military forces advanced through Southeast Asia and the Pacific – an advance that was finally halted in a series of clashes with U.S., Australian and Pacific Island forces.

It was fighting at Milne Bay, Kokoda and Guadalcanal that saw a reversal of Japanese fortunes during World War Two.

In May 1942, Japan established an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and on August 7, U.S. marines stormed ashore to retake the island.

Hank Nelson, Professor of History at the Australian National University, tells Pacific Beat’s Nic Maclellan it was a crucial conflict of the war.

NELSON: Effectively Guadalcanal and that airfield, soon named Henderson Airfield by the Americans, marks the southern extreme point of the advance of the Japanese down through the island.

And it's a prolonged battle in that area, so from the landing on the 7th of August a fairly quick victory then for the Americans, but then sustained fighting in that area.

So we can see it as one of the key turning point battles, going through to Christmas and not really being determined finally until the early weeks of 1943.

MACLELLAN: What scale of forces were involved both from the United States and from Japan?

NELSON: As in a lot of the Islands fighting it was a three-pronged battle, that is it's taking place on the land.

The forces by say October, when they're building up a fairly evenly matched, probably in the order of 22,000 – 23,000 men on the opposing sides on Guadalcanal.

MACLELLAN: And how are local communities affected?

NELSON: The whole of that Guadalcanal battle has a profound effect down through the Solomons.

First of all you're talking about an area that British Solomon Islands protected that has been lightly attached to the outside world before 1942, lightly attached in economic terms in its administration.

And suddenly you've got the most advanced engines of war operating in that area, at least 50,000 foreigners on Guadalcanal and so it's a sudden exposure to the material and men of an outside world locked in furious battle - just a dramatic demonstration of the outside world and an extraordinary encounter.

The ramifications of that run through those next decades.

MACLELLAN: In many Pacific countries World War Two was an important turning point for relations between the indigenous population and the colonial administrations. Is this true for the Solomons?

NELSON: Yes - in New Guinea you often get those terms the ‘time now’, the ‘time before’ - and that marker is the advent of the war.

I think that is certainly true of the Solomons.

Suddenly the Solomons is known to the world and Solomon Islanders know the outside world.

It is a significant turning point in their history.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment