The campaign for Guadalcanal, which stretched from August 1942 until February 1943, centered on Henderson Field. The airfield was captured by the US on 8 August and placed into operation by 20 August. As long as the airfield was kept operational and stocked with sufficient striking power, the Japanese could not run convoys with heavy equipment and large amounts of supplies to the island. Instead, they were forced to rely on night runs by destroyers which could not carry enough men or supplies to shift the balance decisively against the American garrison on the island.
The American air contingent on the island, named the ‘Cactus Air Force’, comprised Marine, Navy and Army Air Force units. It had the challenging mission of defending the airfield against constant Japanese attacks, and more importantly, of striking major Japanese attempts to reinforce the island. The mission of neutralizing Henderson Field fell primarily to the Imperial Navy’s Air Force flying out of airfields in the Rabaul area. The units charged with this mission were among the most accomplished in the entire Imperial Navy with a high proportion of very experienced pilots and a superb air superiority fighter (the famous ‘Zero’). However, the distance from Rabaul to Guadalcanal handicapped Japanese operations and their primary bomber was terribly vulnerable to interception. This book traces the air campaign from both sides and explores the factors behind the American victory and the Japanese defeat. The text is supported by full-colour illustrations and contemporary photography.