Throughout early September, 1942, the Japanese 17th Army at Rabaul ferried thousands of troops down New Georgia Sound, better known as “The Slot”, to Guadalcanal in a nightly ritual the Marines referred to as “The Tokyo Express”. Because of the aircraft on Henderson Field and the carriers USS Hornet and Wasp, the Tokyo Express would speed down the Slot at night, unload troops and cargo on Guadalcanal’s north tip, shell Henderson Field, and depart before they could be sunk by Allied aircraft in the morning.
By the second week of September, the Japanese were ready to attack. On the evening of 11 September, 6000 men of MG Harukichi Kawaguchi’s reinforced 35th Brigade (of which Ichiki’s Regiment was the vanguard) began the 17 mile approach march through the jungle to Henderson Field. At dawn on the 12th, they attacked the Marine perimeter.
LtCol Merritt Edson, commanding 900 Marines of the 1st Marine Raider battalion and the remnant of the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion, fought off Kawaguchi’s relentless assaults over the next two days. The Japanese launched waves of banzai charges and the Marines engaged in brutal hand to hand combat to stop them. Nonetheless, Edson’s men were forced back along the length of “Bloody Ridge”. In several instances the Japanese broke through to Henderson Field’s flight line where support personnel had to throw them back, or were turned back by Marine gunners firing over open sights at the charging Japanese. In the end though, the Battle of Edson’s Ridge shattered Kawaguchi’s brigade.
On 15 September 1942, LTG Harukichi Hyakutake, commander of the Japanese 17th Army, received the news of the defeat and after receiving concurrence from Yamamoto and the Imperial General Staff, suspended all other offensive operations in order to reinforce Guadalcanal. Yamamoto was seeking the “Kantai Kessen” or decisive battle, with the Americans specifically the US Navy. Yamamoto felt that the battle for Guadalcanal would draw the US Navy into the open where it could be destroyed in a single epic confrontation. Once the bulk of its navy was sunk, America would surely sue for peace, just as the Russians did after Tsushima 40 years before. Japanese operations in the Pacific for rest of the war can be characterized as the search for the Kantai Kessen with the US Navy.
1500 miles away, the Japanese on New Guinea were within sight of Port Moresby (and almost certain capture of the island), when Yamamoto’s order gave the Australians some very much needed time to reorganize. The Japanese would never threaten Port Moresby and the Australian mainland, again.