This 6-month long campaign lasted from August 1942 to February 1943, during which 60,000 Marines lost 7,100 dead, the U. S. Navy lost 29 ships sunk, and the U. S. Army Air Corps lost 615 planes shot down. The Japanese garrison of 36,000 men lost at least 31,000 killed in action, with only 1,000 captured, the rest unaccounted for, 38 ships sunk, and about 700 planes shot down.
Savo Sound, the stretch of water amid Savo Island, Florida Island, and Guadalcanal has been nicknamed Ironbottom Sound because of the 4 dozen ships sitting on the ocean floor. It is considered sacred to both navies and silence is observed whenever a ship passes through it.
While the navies dueled to the death off the coast, Guadalcanal was the scene of triple canopy jungle fighting of the same drawn-out attrition as that seen in Vietnam. The most bitter fighting was seen around the airstrip, renamed Henderson Field in honor of Lofton Henderson, killed in action at Midway; and “Edson’s Ridge,” also called “Bloody Ridge,” overseeing the airstrip and which the Japanese attempted to wrest from the Marines.
12,000 men Americans defended the airstrip on the ground while both air forces ought in the air almost non-stop for a month. On Edson’s Ridge, the Marines manned three hilltops and the Japanese, numbering over 3,000, stormed into the machine gun fire. The first night, their attack was defeated primarily by the jungle itself, but they pushed the Marines back to Hill 123 in the center. Then, on the second night, the Japanese were able to advance on 123 in force from the south and west, forcing the Marines into a horseshoe-shaped perimeter. The hill was 123 feet high, quite steep, and throughout the entire night, the Japanese were mowed down by the hundreds, only to reveal hundreds more behind them. The Marines were desperately short of ammunition and the battle became hand-to-hand all over the hillsides. The Japanese were unable to dislodge the Marines by dawn and withdrew with 850 dead, to the Marines’ 104.
A month later, with Henderson Field under heavy attack once again, John Basilone earned the Medal of Honor for manning three .30 caliber machine guns along his platoon’s section of the ridge, until there were only 2 Marines left fighting with him. Ammunition was in short supply. Twice he had to run back to the rear for more, until that ran out, but he personally cut down over 300 men, while repairing one machine gun and abandoning another due to a melted barrel. By dawn, he had only his .45 pistol and a knife. This was from 24 to 25 October. The battle raged like this until February.