Academic journal article Military Review

Guadalcanal: A Case Study for Multi-Domain Battle

Academic journal article Military Review

Guadalcanal: A Case Study for Multi-Domain Battle

Article excerpt

The battle for the Pacific island of Guadalcanal from August 1942 until January 1943 provides a clear historical example of the concept and benefits of fighting a battle simultaneously in multiple domains. While new domains, such as space and cyber, have emerged since the end of World War II, the capabilities and force-multipliers enabled by these domains, including information superiority, secure communications, wide-area surveillance and economic and popular support for a fully-mobilized wartime economy all impacted the struggle for control of the island in 1942. Ground forces, including elements of the Marines and Army eventually secured the island in early 1943, but their success depended heavily on direct air and naval support that ensured essential logistical support and effectively interdicted Japanese efforts to build combat power and sustain their forces. Farther afield, seaplane tenders conducted constant reconnaissance patrols to provide vital intelligence of Japanese fleet movements and intentions, heavy bombers raided Japanese bases such as Rabaul on the island of New Britain, and submarines interdicted the flow of raw materials into the Japanese economy, enabling the Allies to prevail in the contest for logistics and sustainment. While only one step in the long march to the liberation of the Philippines and the defeat of Imperial Japan, Guadalcanal was the pivotal attritional struggle that turned the tide and established the pattern of multi-domain cooperation that eventually led to Allied victory in World War II.

In the late spring of 1942, Japanese forces were ascendant across the Pacific. With the surrender of the American and Filipino forces on Bataan and Corregidor in April and May, Japan had largely completed the conquest of the "Southern Resources Area." They had pushed British naval forces back to the eastern coast of Africa after a successful carrier raid on Royal Navy bases on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), just south of India, and American and Australian forces absorbed heavy air raids while clinging to New Guinea, the last barrier between the expanding Japanese empire and Australia itself Only the naval battle in the Coral Sea in May, a tactical draw but a strategic victory in that it repelled an amphibious force destined for the Allied supply hub of Port Moresby, upset the unbroken string of Japanese successes thus far.

An event in late April would put the Japanese on a far more dangerous course. On 18 April, Lieutenant Colonel James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle led a force of sixteen AAF B-25 medium bombers off the deck of the USS Hornet and over the Japanese home islands before traveling on to Nationalist-held areas of China. The raid, an embarrassment to the Japanese military, convinced them that their defensive barrier had to be expanded further, primarily by the capture of the Aleutian Islands off Alaska and Midway in the Central Pacific. The U.S. Navy, alerted by skilled cryptographers in the Pacific Fleet headquarters, accurately divined the Japanese intentions, enabling the Navy's carriers to effectively oppose the planned invasion of Midway. The resulting victory further demonstrated the value of accurate intelligence to military operations, no matter what technology enables its collection.

On 4 June 1942, flying from the besieged island of Midway, Major Lofton R. Henderson, commanding officer of VMSB-241, led sixteen Marine SBD dive bombers in an attack on the Japanese carrier force escorting the invasion force. The carrier's combat air patrol destroyed Henderson's plane and he posthumously received the Navy Cross for his efforts to disable the Japanese carriers. Though his squadron scored no hits, they did force the carriers to maneuver and contributed to a delay in the recovery, refueling, and rearming of their own aircraft. This and other attacks facilitated the destruction of all four Japanese carriers by a strike that arrived just over an hour later, when dive bombers from the U. …

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