The Christmas holiday is often a time for celebrations with family and friends, and for the men stationed on Guadalcanal it wasn’t much different this year. Except of course the sounds of gunfire and explosions.
Gone are the days where the warring sides agree to a temporary cease fire to celebrate the occasion and break from the harshness of war. In its place, American military leaders launched a Christmas Eve attack on the Japanese air base at Munda in an effort to push the Imperial Army farther north in the Solomon Island chain.
Navy fighters and B-24 Liberators took off from the American base on Guadalcanal and made the 205-mile trip from Henderson Field to Munda on New Georgia Island to further decimate the already shrinking Japanese presence in the air, according to a statement from a Navy spokesman.
The spokesman said that over the last two weeks “United States aircraft bombed and strafed the airfield and shore installations on Munda.” During the Christmas Eve attack on Munda, 14 of the Mitsubishi Zeros that were sent up to defend the base were shot down by the fighter escorts while the Liberators’ payload left 10 more planes on the ground destroyed, according to the U.S. Navy.
All of the planes used safely returned to Henderson Field, completing a round-trip journey of 410 miles.
The clearing of the Munda airfield by the Navy allowed the Army Air Force to launch a Christmas Day operation on the Japanese harbor at Rabaul, according to the Navy Department. This time it was the four-motored bombers known as Flying Fortresses whose bomb bays opened some 500 miles from Henderson Field into Rabaul Harbor.
Thanks to the bombardment at Munda a day earlier, the Flying Fortresses were able to fly a straighter path from Henderson Field to Rabaul, staying well within the 2,000-mile range of the aircraft.
The bombers, which were not bothered by the Japanese fighters that took off at Rabaul, landed “three direct hits on a large transport or cargo ship and several near-hits fell close to three small cargo ships,” according to the Navy spokesman.
Rabaul is believed to be the center of the Japanese defense system in the South Pacific.
While the bombardment of Rabaul and Munda was taking place, the rest of the American military have received a bit of a reprieve on the island of Guadalcanal as advances have allowed supply ships to gain access to the island. This in turn has allowed rations to increase for the Christmas holiday.
According to a military spokesman, “supplies are going regularly to our forces while planes and warships are effectively blockading the [enemy] troops on the island.” This will allow the men stationed on the island to have a Christmas dinner that will include turkey among other foods that are customary at Christmastime back in the States.
“Turkeys were sent out to Guadalcanal in plenty of time to get there,” said a spokesman for the Navy Bureau of Supplies and Accounts. “While there has been no direct word from the island, they almost certainly got there.”
There have not been any reports of ground fighting over the last few days, which bodes well for the plans to retake the island from the Japanese, as some officers believe the plan may be to starve out the enemy.
Food and battle successes were not the only cause for joy on the island on Christmas. Lieut. Col. Evans F. Carlson’s battalion was awarded a citation from Maj. Gen. A. A. Vandegrift, commanding officer on Guadalcanal. “Carlson’s Raiders,” as they have come to be known, were awarded the commendation for “[taking] the field against the enemy for a period of 30 days, moving through difficult terrain, pursuing, harrying and, by repeated attacks, destroying an enemy force of equal or greater size and driving the remnants from the area of operations,” according to Vandegrift.
“During this period the battalion, as a whole or by detachments, attacked the enemy whenever and wherever he could be found in a repeated series of carefully planned and well executed surprise attacks.”
“Col. Carlson’s Raiders Win U.S. Citation.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), Dec 27, 1942. Pg. 5.
“Flying Forts Lash at Rabaul from 2 Sides.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), Dec 27, 1942. Pg. 1.
Special to The New York Times. “24 ENEMY PLANES BLASTED AT MUNDA.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Dec 26, 1942. Pg. 1.
Norris, John G. “Yanks on Guadalcanal to Feast at Christmas Dinner Today.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), Dec 24, 1942. Pg. 1.