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Posted on Dec 26, 2005 in Front Page Features, War College

Edson’s Ridge – Guadalcanal

By Wild Bill Wilder

The range soon closed. Even with the devastating fire emanating from the ridge, there were so many of the enemy that they were into American forward positions and the fighting again was hand to hand. Japanese officers whirled their “Samurai” swords in the air. Enlisted men frantically worked the bolts on their rifles, and fired as they charged. Some of the attackers were armed only with bamboo spears, but they fought as valiantly as their better-armed comrades did. In some areas hand grenade duels began, their flat explosions ripping limbs from bodies and filling others with hot, deadly shrapnel. Bayonets and entrenching tools also came into play.
 
One Marine reached for more ammo in the bandoleer at his feet. Suddenly he looked up into the face of a Japanese officer rushing towards him. With no time to fire, he threw up his Springfield rifle to fend off the sword thrust. The steel bit steeply into the butt of the weapon and neatly amputated two fingers on the Marine’s right hand. Then both sword and rifle went spinning off into the darkness from the strength of the blow. The Gyrene quickly reached out with his good left hand and found the throat of the officer. Kicking and choking his enemy, the Marine finished his deadly task and then went to find bandages and a corpsman.

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The attack made some penetration on the right flank, where 1,000 Japanese concentrated their efforts against 100 Para-Marines. Though fragmented, the flank held. The assault finally ran out of steam and the remaining Japanese disappeared as quickly as they had materialized out of the darkness. Another attack, an hour later, closely resembled the first. It too failed. The American line bent under the strain and began to resemble a horseshoe. Five more attacks were launched during the night and none fared any better.
 
Shortly before the last Japanese effort took place, the Marines were nearly out of everything except guts. Edson grabbed a young corporal named Watson, who had some experience in calling in artillery supporting fire. By 12 Noon of that day, he would be Second Lieutenant Watson for the cool skill he demonstrated in calling down hell from the heavens on the relentless enemy. Watching carefully the rocket signals of the Japanese, he pinpointed their assembly points. Then round after round slammed into them. As he worked feverishly, the final attack began. Edson crouched beside Watson controlling the fire. He continued to bring it forward to his own front lines.
 
“Closer,” whispered Edson. “Closer.”

Now the ridge trembled and flamed as the shells landed within 50 yards of the most forward Marine positions. The terrified Japanese leaped into enemy foxholes to escape the hell around them. They were knifed by crouching Raiders and tossed them back out again. The horror of artillery is the way it tears men apart. It does not kill cleanly, but rips their flesh and limbs from their bodies, and hurls them into the air; it bursts internal organs with concussion, and singes away parts of the face away from the skull.

Now Marine mortars added to the holocaust. It was more than the attackers could bear. They withdrew once again. Now Edson sent a message to General Vandergrift’s headquarters, short and simple: “WE CAN HOLD.”
 
By morning, it was over. One of the most important battles of Guadalcanal had ended with the Raiders and Para-Marines, badly beaten up, but still “king of the hill.” The Kawaguchis, meanwhile, had mournfully begun to retrace their steps back from whence they had come. One Japanese officer wrote of this newest ordeal: “I cannot help from crying when I see the sight of those men marching without food for four or five days, drinking from muddy puddles of stinking water, carrying the wounded through the curving and sloping mountain trails. The wounds couldn’t be given adequate medical treatment. There was not a one without maggots. Many died.” In fact, over 600 of them perished at the ridge, another 250 at the Tenaru, and another 100 at the Matanikau. The Marines counted 40 dead, 104 wounded and 12 that were missing in action. Only five of these would be found.

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Thus this nameless spot on the island became another chapter of Marine legend. It would not remain nameless. So crucial to holding Guadalcanal and Henderson Field, the site would gain two names. It came to be known as “Edson’s Ridge,” or “Bloody Ridge, both of which seemed very appropriate.
 
As for the significance of this and other actions on Guadalcanal, a top staff officer at Imperial General Headquarters wrote early in the campaign, “We must be aware of the possibility that the struggle for Guadalcanal in the southeast area may develop into the decisive struggle between America and Japan. It is a fork in the road; one direction leading to ultimate victory for the Americans, the other leads to the final triumph for us.”

Sources:

Delivered from Evil, R. Leckie
War in the Pacific, W. Gailey
Eagle Against the Sun, R. Spector
Guadalcanal, The First Offensive, J. Miller
Guadalcanal, E. Hoyt
The Campaign for Guadalcanal, J. Coggins
Goodbye Darkness, W. Manchester
A Special Valor, R. Wheeler
Semper Fidelis, A. Millet

Author Information:

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War,  and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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