The Guadalcanal campaign was a turning point of World War II in the Pacific. A vital factor in determining the outcome was U.S. logistics superiority. The diaries of Japanese soldiers at Guadalcanal offer sobering testimony to the privations caused by logistics shortcomings.
After their attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the Japanese were masters of much of Asia and the Pacific. But within the next year, in the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific, on an obscure piece of real estate called Guadalcanal, Japan would lose a campaign that lasted 6 months, involved almost a million men on both sides, and was fought on land, in the air, and at sea. The battles for the island stopped Japanese expansion in the Pacific and, along with the Japanese defeat at Midway in June 1942, turned the tide of the war in favor of the United States.
Logistics for both the Japanese and the United States were stretched to the breaking point as the Guadalcanal campaign began.
On 7 August 1942, U.S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal in the first amphibious assault against Japanese-occupied territory in the Pacific. Even with support from the Air Force and Navy, the Marines' initial logistics support was tenuous. The bottlenecks encountered in getting food and equipment ashore had cut the limited supply rations to the bone. At one point early in the campaign, 6,000 marines were fed rice for breakfast and rice with raisins for lunch and supper. One Marine company captured some Japanese supplies, so they had oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Marines captured the unfinished Japanese airfield, and on 9 August the engineers and assorted helpers began to complete it. Although logistics problems would continue to plague the U.S. forces, they were not on a par with the critical shortages faced by the Japanese.
The following excerpts from captured Japanese diaries are a poignant record of the privations and suffering experienced by the Japanese infantrymen on Guadalcanal. The journals were translated by the G2 Section of XIV Corps. One was a young officer's diary, the second belonged to a noncommissioned officer (NCO), and the third was written by a soldier of unknown rank. The first journal entry of these writers strongly suggests that they were with the Nagoya Division, the last Japanese force to be committed to Guadalcanal.
24 December 1942
First Lieutenant Okajima: Wakuda Noboru died of illness. In the end, those [who are] of weak will [will] die. He was always most eager to drink water.
Unknown soldier: Since the 14th, two officers of the 2d Company have been going insane. They probably have become pessimistic about the war situation. There is no other change in condition. We passed the day as usual.
Japanese soldiers had taken to calling Guadalcanal "Starvation Island," a pun derived from the first phoneme in the Japanese name for the island. "Ga" means "hunger" in one Japanese inflection.
25 December 1942
Okajima: Sawada and Uchida died of illness. That may be because they were unreasonably overworked.
Transport of supplies and equipment was left entirely to the bent backs of soldiers trudging single file for up to 16 hours a day along the narrow jungle paths. No cooking fires were permitted, so the soldiers subsisted on a half ration of cold rice.
Unknown soldier: Today is Christmas Day. Therefore we had many presents from the enemy such as intense bombardment by artillery and naval guns. On the other hand, not one of our planes came from new airfield which was completed on the 15th. Even the soldiers in the front lines have become very disgusted, and do not even talk about our planes anymore. The 1st and 3d Battalions (strength of 90 men) . . . are looking forward to New Year's Day in hope of getting supplies.
NCO: Today is Christmas, a very important day for the enemy. Artillery bombardment is a terrible thing. Again I became sick with malaria and my temperature began to rise, so I fell asleep in the trench. I prayed for a complete recovery, because this is the third time that I had this fever.
26 December 1942
Okajima: Asaba Kazuo also died of illness. Malaria fever affected his mind and he acted peculiarly. After eating his meal, he died suddenly. This death increased the large total of those killed in action and from the disease to 13 men. This makes approximately the total losses we received in the occupation of Hong Kong and Java. Even in the face of the enemy, the men's minds were entirely occupied with thoughts of eating. We are waiting for the spring sprouts to come out, and we dream of the joy of reducing Guadalcanal. Moreover the airfield is finished, and friendly planes will come in large numbers.
Okajima's unit must have been involved in the fall of Hong Kong, which was attacked on 7 December 1941, and Java, which was conquered on 9 March 1942.
NCO: Corporal Abe found some sweets on a dead enemy and divided them among them this evening.
Unknown soldier: There are lice here, and whenever we have time these days we hunt for them. My strength is exhausted, and my ordinary pulse is around 95, which surprises me very much.
27 December 1942
Okajima: Oba Fumio died from illness. It was not that he lacked energy, but he was drenched by the rains which come regularly every afternoon in this life in the jungle.
The 2,500 square miles of Guadalcanal are dominated by the Kavo Mountains, which reach a maximum height of 8,000 feet. The island is heavily forested. Rains came often, and the nights were chilly, forcing men in rotting clothing to huddle together for warmth.
NCO: I went with Corporal Abe to get some more meat, because it was so good yesterday. It was to be eaten by the company. It was buried in the company cemetery to keep it secret. However, maggots had started to develop in it.
28 December 1942
Okajima: First Lieutenant Amai died [of a wound suffered the day before]. Now, without seeing the fall of Guadalcanal, his spirit sleeps eternally in the jungle. My tears overflow.
NCO: First Lieutenant Miyoshi returned with captured enemy rifles and ammunition. The enemy has plenty of these, so they can afford to leave them behind. Because of my dysentery, I stopped eating meat. Health comes first.
Unknown soldier: My body is so extremely exhausted, that one "GO" of rice is all that I can eat, and walking is very difficult. No relief comes for this unit. The army doctor will not even send us to the rear. At present, we are all very sick men. Even if we were relieved, not even one of us may recover. In fact, we are left to die from total exhaustion and malnutrition rather than from bullets.
The Japanese 17th Army took the view that, as long as it had access to seemingly unlimited human resources, no effort would be made to rehabilitate units that were shattered in combat or through the privations brought about by inadequate logistics administration.
29 December 1942
Okajima: Yamamoto Kyoichi died from a wound. Such young soldiers with weak wills are no good, for they die from slight wounds. His wound was trifling with hardly any bleeding. Now the casualties are 25 men.
NCO: Bandages, rifle ammunition, and lots of canned goods of the enemy were found. We are having difficulty in selecting men to go out on patrol on account of our rundown condition.
30 December 1942
Okajima: By the 15th of next month, transportation of supplies and troops will be carried out, and we shall gain air superiority. After the 16th, units from the rear will pass us and, after preparatory bombardment by planes and artillery, will carry out a general attack. In 2 months, all of Guadalcanal will return to our hands. Then the enemy will not be able to hold Tulagi area. Then our combined fleet will concentrate in the Tulagi area. I believe that the decisive battle between U.S. and Japan will end in a complete victory for the Japanese forces in the bright spring of 1943, and will be an everlasting light in military history.
31 December 1942
NCO: Whiskey was brought up by Sergeant Major Mori, to be drunk by everyone as directed by First Lieutenant Miyoshi. According to word from the Regiment, New Year's will be celebrated after the fall of Guadalcanal.
Unknown soldier: Since the 28th, not a single grain of rice has been distributed, and during this time, 3 pieces of hardtack were issued. Today there were 3 cigarettes and only a bit of the nutrition ration. For this New Year's Day in the battlefield, this advance [will be] enough.
1 January 1943
Okajima: Two officers of the company have died, one is ill, and the other is at the front. There is no one to be my rival as company commander. I went to see the company's sergeant major and senior sergeant and had a long talk. I learned many things which I would not ordinarily have learned, such as the deficiency of ordinary training in recruits, deficiency of training in interior guard duties, and lack of education. As company commander, there is much of this that I can put to use.
NCO: Gave 3 banzai [cheers] for the Emperor and sang the national anthem. We toasted with whiskey. We are fortunate to drink whiskey on this island. A number of shells burst around the position at about 1400. It is surprising how many shells the enemy has.
Dismantled field guns and other heavy equipment had to be hauled up the hills. Each downpour left a gooey muck that pulled shoes from the infantry soldiers' feet and left them exhausted and needing rest every few hundred yards. Gun after gun had to be abandoned, as well as many of the sick. The infantry were hungry, tired, and dispirited. Most of the light artillery and mortars littered the trail to the rear.
Unknown soldier: During the 3 days as New Year's [approached] on Guadalcanal Island, we have lived on one piece of hardtack, and this morning finally got one "GO" of rice. In the evening, one compressed ration was divided between two [soldiers]. Now we are eating rice gruel twice a day, and sleeping in the trenches as we are unable to walk. New Year's to us was just in name, for the day was spent suffering from bombardment and hunger.
2 January 1943
Okajima: I am waiting for the battalion commander, Major Nojiri, and I am anxious to see what kind of person he is.
NCO: I was reprimanded by the company commander for wandering along the coast. I'll have to be more careful from now on. I was only doing it for the sake of the company.
Unknown soldier: The enemy has finally become very active, and the front lines are dangerous. I wonder if that relief will come about the middle of the month. It seems that friendly planes will be coming over after the 15th. Sergeant Sato, Kame, died of illness.
3 January 1943
Okajima: As I was ill, I stayed at battalion headquarters . . . The total of those who have died is now 31.
NCO: I went to the battalion headquarters at 7 o'clock, but the company commander was not there as he was looking for a new company position. I apologized about yesterday's misconduct to his messenger. I am waiting every day for our planes to fly over, but I have not seen one yet.
Unknown soldier: The enemy is getting extremely active.
4 January 1943
Okajima: Supplies are gradually improving, and we only have to endure this for 10 days more.
NCO: Various rumors are heard, but their truth cannot be determined. Those are given to us only to revive our spirits. Two rations were given to every three men tonight. Many had the covers torn off because they were transported by air.
Unknown soldier: The enemy is getting extremely active, and I wonder whether it will be today or
5 January 1943
Okajima: In the evening, the main force of the battalion arrived. Although it is called the main force, it consists of only 59 men. The battalion must have taken a serious beating.
NCO: Sergeant Takeya is missing. It is not possible for an active NCO to desert.
6 January 1943
NCO: A report came that rations for 10 days were landed and that 25 enemy planes were shot down.
Unknown soldier: Takayoshi, Jinya, died. He is a friend who has been with me every day in this platoon since we were called to the colors. He worked hard until he died of the usual sickness. Five men were killed in one squad.
7 January 1943
Okajima: 36 more men departed for a battalion of the OKA unit.
NCO: This was the day for an enemy attack, but all is quiet. I drank some whiskey which First Lieutenant Miyoshi had. It was really good. This company is probably the only one that had whiskey at New Year's. New Year's without alcohol would be empty, but because of First Lieutenant Miyoshi's efforts, we were able to get some.
9 January 1943
Okajima: Hearing of conditions in each company from the NCOs, it seems that supplies are not coming, [and] characteristics are revealed which are not known under ordinary circumstances, such as the true nature of human beings. In a certain company, it is said that the NCOs ate twice as much and the officers three times as much as the men. A certain battalion commander received 100 cigarettes to divide among his subordinates, but he only gave 1 or 2 to his company commanders, and he lost all his usual prestige.
Japanese soldiers landing on 9 October reported that many of the men who unloaded the large store of rice made off with the food in as complete a breakdown of discipline as Japanese soldiers could exhibit.
Okajima: Thanks to the actions of equality like an ordinary soldier, the NCOs of the company thanked me, and as supplies started to come in smoothly, they brought me various extra things. There was good feeling all around. From this morning, there was a concentration of artillery fire at the depression near our company. It was most disagreeable to have the shrapnel flying around. We certainly would have been in bad shape if we had been hit by this shrapnel. Fukazawa Noboru died of illness. Because he usually does office work, he was not physically strong. This makes 39, and as a company commander I am deeply struck.
10 January 1943
Okajima: Major Nishimura again drew men from the reserve unit. This afternoon, although I am commander of the main force of the company, there are only 19 men in all. It is really terrible to see electric lights go on at an enemy airfield.
The Japanese had begun constructing the airfield at its two ends. After capturing it, the U.S. engineers at the airfield had to move 100,000 cubic feet of earth by hand to cover the depression in the middle of the airfield. Captured Japanese equipment was kept working and repaired by the ingenious mechanics. Fill dirt in already-measured quantities was kept on the edges of the airfield to be dumped and packed in craters caused by Japanese bombing. Night landings were done by flashlight at first, until a jury-rigged system of captured lamps was put together. The engineers used incredible improvisation to overcome monumental difficulties.
Unknown soldier: Enemy bombardment becomes increasingly intense. We can hold out for one more week. My body is in such condition that I can barely walk. Food is 5 shaku [one-half go] of rice and some compressed rations. This makes 1 month that we have been eating just rice gruel.
11 January 1943
Okajima: By artillery fire, 3 more were killed and four wounded. It is too much to receive naval bombardment also.
This was the last diary entry for Okajima.
12 January 1943
NCO: I ran out of ink, so I shall have to write in pencil from now on. I reconnoitered the enemy situation in front of the 3d Battalion.
13 January 1943
NCO: Enemy artillery is shelling as usual. I went out of the fox hole for some fresh air and heard an argument about food going on in the leading squad—principally between Sergeant Inoue and Sergeant Major Mori. I was surprised to find out they were such NCOs. Morale among NCOs should be better. At 10 o'clock, Sergeant Inoue came to apologize.
Unknown soldier: About 5:30 this morning, we received artillery fire. First Lieutenant Oyama, Superior Private Abe, and Lance Corporal Senobi were killed. Lance Corporal Watsbe was wounded. Kato and I were the only ones left . . . . Won't relief for this unit come quickly?
This was the last entry for the unknown Japanese soldier. The remainder of the entries are those of the NCO.
14 January 1943
Men are dying one after another, and now the company roster has 20 men, besides the company commander. The enemy keeps firing from distance, so we shall have to be careful of stray bullets. The enemy does not come close enough that we can kill them and get their rations. I am very hungry. I wonder if this is how it is when a man is starving. Rice cakes and candies appear in my dreams. I must train myself to suppress these desires.
Another Japanese recorded a typical advance: The march was too much for many of the injured; scores of wounded Japanese were left by the wayside with scores of dead. They had neither food nor medical supplies. By the fifth day, NCOs were beating their flagging charges with switches, cursing them onward.
Five destroyed Japanese tanks on the beach at Guadalcanal
16 January 1943
I heard one of the enemy talking busily in Japanese over a loud speaker. He was probably telling us to come out. What fools the enemy are! The Japanese Army will stick it out to the end. This position must be defended with our lives. There was no artillery shelling because of the broadcast. The enemy is broadcasting something vigorously at a distance. It will probably have no effect at all.
17 January 1943
According to the enemy broadcast, today they are going to attack our position. However, we have no fear. I went to the battalion headquarters in the morning and saw enemy propaganda sheets which were found in First Lieutenant Kasahara's area. The writing was very poor. The enemy artillery barrage became fiercer and fiercer, and the company area was riddled with craters like a bee's nest. The enemy artillery stopped at 1500, and then we suffered from the rain leaking into the fox hole.
18 January 1943
About 7 o'clock, a messenger came from the Nachi Company and said that there would be a meeting of unit leaders. I should like to make a suggestion, but the battalion commander would probably not make use of it. Sergeant Major Mori gave his opinion on some communication matters. I became angry and told him to just do his own duties. In the evening, the battalion commander came to inspect the company, so I expressed the opinions of all of us to him at that time. He told us not to worry because everything would be all right.
19 January 1943
[The contents of] Ant nests are good to eat when one is starving. I received some meat from battalion headquarters. My orderly is sick, so I had to cook it myself. Enemy artillery began to fire about 1100, and there was an enemy attack in front of the 8th Company about 1300. We fired on them with light machinegun, and I believe they got a surprise.
Approximately 37,000 Japanese ground troops died on Guadalcanal; 9,000 of these casualties were noncombat deaths caused by malaria, dengue fever, and starvation. The victory was in logistics: The Japanese could not compete with American logistics. For example, both sides lost 26 warships with nearly equal tonnage. The Japanese would never be able to replace their losses, while the productive arsenals of America were providing ateriel for the allies while at the same time supplying their own armed forces.
What is fascinating in these journals is reading how the Japanese infantrymen on Guadalcanal were affected on all levels by poor logistics, in everything from their ability to patrol to strains in relationships between ranks.
19 January 1943
I felt very dazed and only semiconscious because of my empty stomach. At 1330, I prepared my equipment to put it in my haversack so that it can be packed on a moment's notice. It will be so heavy that I don't know whether I'll be able to carry it or not, because of my run-down condition . . . Only my spirit keeps me going.
This was the NCO's final entry. The Japanese began evacuating Guadalcanal on 31 January and completed their withdrawal by 7 February.
Master Sergeant John Blair, USAR, is the NCO in charge of the Corps Liaison Team (Forward), Readiness Operations Division, 55th Materiel Management Center, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.