Using diary entries, interviews and first-hand accounts, this vivid narrative brings to life the struggle in the air over the island of Guadalcanal between August 20 and November 15, 1942. For 40 years from 1961, the late Eric Hammel interviewed more than 150 American participants in the air campaign at Guadalcanal, none of whom are still alive. These interviews are the most comprehensive first-person accounts of the battle assembled by any historian. More importantly, they involved the junior officers and enlisted men whose stories and memories were not part of the official history, thus providing a unique insight.
The battle of Guadalcanal was the first offensive operation undertaken by the US and its allies in the Pacific War. “Cactus,” the code name for the island, became a sinkhole for Japanese air and naval power, experienced forces whose losses could never be made good. The three months of air battles between August 20, 1942, when the first Marine air unit arrived on the island, and November 15, when the last enemy attempt to retake the island was defeated, were perhaps the most important of the Pacific War. After November 15, 1942, the US never looked back as its forces moved across the Pacific to the war’s inevitable conclusion.
The Cactus Air Force is a joint project between the late Eric Hammel and Pacific War expert Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, and is unlike any other of the many histories of this event that have been published over the years.