Battle of Edson’s Ridge
Japanese Admiral Tanaka’s so-called “Tokyo Express” had at this point become quite successful in landing reinforcement troops and supplies on Guadalcanal undetected and undeterred by American naval forces. In a campaign of attrition where the battle became increasingly more about succeeding in landing your reinforcements, or stopping the enemy from doing so, the Tokyo Express’ success in landing General Kawaguchi’s 35th Infantry spelled trouble for American forces on Guadalcanal. General A. A. Vandegrift, commander of the 1st Marine Division, recognized the problem and quickly began transferring troops from secure Tulagi to Guadalcanal proper, including the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Parachute Battalion under Col. Merritt “Red Mike” Edson.
Henderson Field was the center of the months-long campaign. With the airfield in Japanese hands, Allied shipping routes to and from Australia were under the threat of being halted. With it in American hands, that threat was taken out, and the Allies would also be one step closer to taking the massive Japanese base at Rabaul. So when Edson’s Raiders arrived at Guadalcanal, they were sent to set up a southern perimeter around the airfield, and keep the Japanese from retaking it.
After a few small skirmishes in the days leading up to the main battle, Japanese forces had withdrawn southward further into the jungle. “Betty” bombers began dropping bombs on the Raiders’ position on 11 September as they dug in atop the ridge. Colonel Edson knew an attack was imminent, and on this day 70 years ago, 12 September 1942, what is now known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge (or Edson’s Ridge if you ask a marine) began.
Kawaguchi’s troops and elements of the 124th Infantry Regiment waited for the naval shelling of the Henderson Field area to die down before making their ground attack on the night of 12 September, in which they succeeded in pushing back the defending marines. Battle continued on the 13th, with the main thrust of Kawaguchi’s forces of about 2,000 men headed for the ridge. In a macabre scene reminiscent of the Battle of Alligator Creek, nearly half of the attacking force was killed in action, while the raiders lost approximately 60 of their 800 plus defending troops.
American victory was not a foregone conclusion, however, and could easily have been lost. Due to communication issues, there were many marines who believed they were withdrawing, heading north towards Henderson Field. For his actions in of “rendering invaluable service…in stemming the retreat, reorganizing the troops and extending the reserve position to the left, Major [Kenneth] Bailey, despite a severe head wound, repeatedly led his troops in fierce hand to hand combat for a period of ten hours.” Major Bailey stopped retreating marines, and ensured that they turned around and faced the battle they were trained for. Without his actions, the Japanese may have taken the ridge and thereby Henderson Field and Guadalcanal itself. In the end, Edson’s Raiders succeeded in holding the ridge, and dealing the Japanese on Guadalcanal yet another devastating blow. This would be the second of three major Japanese ground offensives in the Guadalcanal Campaign.
Gen. Merritt Edson’s Medal of Honor Citation:
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, with Parachute Battalion attached, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands on the night of 13–14 September 1942. After the airfield on Guadalcanal had been seized from the enemy on August 8, Col. Edson, with a force of 800 men, was assigned to the occupation and defense of a ridge dominating the jungle on either side of the airport. Facing a formidable Japanese attack which, augmented by infiltration, had crashed through our front lines, he, by skillful handling of his troops, successfully withdrew his forward units to a reserve line with minimum casualties. When the enemy, in a subsequent series of violent assaults, engaged our force in desperate hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, rifles, pistols, grenades, and knives, Col. Edson, although continuously exposed to hostile fire throughout the night, personally directed defense of the reserve position against a fanatical foe of greatly superior numbers. By his astute leadership and gallant devotion to duty, he enabled his men, despite severe losses, to cling tenaciously to their position on the vital ridge, thereby retaining command not only of the Guadalcanal airfield, but also of the 1st Division’s entire offensive installations in the surrounding area.
To see artifacts from the Museum’s collection and read stories of the men that fought in the Guadalcanal Campaign, click here.