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Tanambogo and Gavutu Seaplane Base, Solomon Islands - April 1942

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Tanambogo and Gavutu Seaplane Base, Solomon Islands - April 1942

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Date Posted:October 27th, 2008
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Description: Fine-screen halftone reproduction of an annotated vertical aerial photograph, apparently prepared on 17 April 1942, while the base was still in use by the Royal Australian Air Force. Seized by the Japanese in early May, these islands were captured by U.S. Marines on 7-8 August 1942.
The small island in the upper right center is Gaomi.

The original photograph came from the illustrations package for Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II", volume IV (originally published opposite page 289).

Though the fight for Tulagi was intense, that for the tiny islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo a few miles to the east was much more so. Joined by a narrow causeway, these two small spots of land had been developed before the war as a Royal Australian Air Force seaplane base. After they took the Southern Solomons in early May 1942, the Japanese continued that use, and had over five hundred men (or perhaps as many as a thousand) there, along with several four-engined patrol seaplanes and single-engined floatplane fighters when dawn broke on 7 August. Shortly afterwards, these aircraft had all been destroyed by U.S. carrier planes. The islands' occupants, a mixture of aviation personnel, construction troops and Special Naval Landing Force "marines" now confronted their fate as infantrymen.

Gavutu and Tanambogo gave them good defensive positions. Each island was dominated by a large hill, while buildings and entrenchments provided cover for Japanese machine guns and small artillery pieces. A brief pre-landing bombardment did little to reduce the defenses, so casualties were serious when U.S. Marines came ashore on Gavutu's northeastern side at about noon on August Seventh. Fighting continued on that island for the rest of the day, through the night and into the Eighth before Gavutu was reasonably secure. Meanwhile, Marine reserves had been called over from Guadalcanal, where they were not required, to Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo, which needed them badly.

A small Marine attack on Tanambogo had failed during the evening of the 7th, and that island was still Japanese well into the following day. During the morning fresh Marines arrived on Gavutu to help complete the fight there. After a heavy bombardment by Navy ships, landings began on Tanambogo, led by a pair of tanks, and by nightfall the island was basically in American hands. Again, as on Tulagi, "mopping up" of well-dug-in Japanese continued for some time afterwards, a pattern that would become all too familiar as war swept across the Pacific during the next three years. The cost of taking Gavutu and Tanambogo was seventy Marine lives. As on Tulagi, there were few Japanese survivors.

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