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"3rd try to ask about Henderson field attack in 'The Pacific'" Topic

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Skarper31 May 2021 3:43 a.m. PST

So I finally watched this series. It was quite good better than the reviews indicated.

I was struck by the charge conducted to capture the airfield.

Is it correctly portrayed? I would have expected some covering fire at least. Maybe there was a reason for this no vantage point over the Japanese defenses maybe.

Can anybody shed any light on this for me? I'm not much interested in the Pacific theatre but trying to learn a little.

Thanks in advance.

Bismarck31 May 2021 4:22 a.m. PST

Are you sure you didn't mean the assault on the airfield
on Peleliu? IIRC, there was over 300 yards of cratered open ground to cover before reaching Japanese defensive positions.

Skarper31 May 2021 5:52 a.m. PST

Could well be – that was not Henderson field? I'm no expert.

300 yards of open ground could make it hard to set up a firebase.


Starfury Rider31 May 2021 6:36 a.m. PST

Henderson Field was the US name given to the airstrip started by the Japanese on Guadalcanal. It was, I think, abandoned by the Japanese at the outset of the Marine landings and taken uncontested very early on. It was renamed Henderson Field after Major LR Henderson, USMC, and was quickly completed and used as a base for US aircraft.

I haven't seen the series (did have it downloaded, just couldn't get into it) so I'm not sure which episode you're describing. I'd agree it's a different battle. Peleliu was the scene of the famous Japanese tank attack, which did involve the airfield, itself a key objective.


Skarper31 May 2021 6:45 a.m. PST

OK – so the airfield is the one on Peleliu.

Pity we can't edit titles… maybe I need a 4th attempt!!

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2021 7:31 a.m. PST

Initially, Guadalcanal was defended by construction troops building the airfield and didn't put up much of a fight. IIRC the amphib landing was not really contested either.

Picture of the Peleliu airfield: link

Scroll back and forth for more pictures of the battle.


Zephyr131 May 2021 9:10 p.m. PST

IIRC the charge across the Peleliu airfield was masked in a lot of smoke and dust, and the Japanese defensive fire was very heavy. There was no other way to the other side, so the Marines did it…

"watched this series."

Skarper31 May 2021 11:51 p.m. PST

Thanks Zephyr1. The series I watched is 'The Pacific', if that was you query at the end.

It must have been a brutal attack to be part of. I guess the smoke/dust would have made the scenes impossible to follow so they missed it out.

Significant smoke and dust would also have limited the suppressive fire possible from the Marines Mortars and MGs too…

So I guess it looked more inept on screen than it was in reality. And indeed, sometimes a straightforward charge into enemy fire really is the only way and just getting on with it saves lives in the long run.

Sitting in sangars and shallow shell holes under harassing fire from artillery and snipers, while running out of food and already out of water was only prolonging the agony.

Zephyr101 Jun 2021 9:10 p.m. PST

According to the Marine account I read (Eugene Sledge, I think), they took off to cross the airfield & it was pretty much luck if you made it across without getting hit. And you didn't stop even if the guy next to you was hit, you just kept your head down and ran.
And yes, all that dust & smoke would have ruined their pretty TV pictures, but I think it would have been better filmed that way (figures moving through the murk, tracers flashing past, explosions everywhere, would have added much more suspense… ;-)

Skarper02 Jun 2021 12:00 a.m. PST

I agree I'd have preferred that but I think Joe Public would have whinged more about 'not understanding what was going on'.

It would also make continuity in editing impossible.

Glad they made the series despite its shortcomings.

CeruLucifus02 Jun 2021 2:41 a.m. PST

Just reviewed Sledge and Leckie and watched the scenes from "The Pacific".

Sledge (With The Old Breed, p75-80, Amazon: link ) describes assaulting in the open through bombardment and states "The attack across Peleliu's airfield was the worst combat experience I had during the entire war."

Leckie (Helmet for My Pillow, pp219-233, Amazon: link ) gives quite a lot more detail. His unit lands in one of the first waves, advances to the airfield, is pushed back by Japanese tank counterattack, then advances again. They take cover and engage the enemy built-up area, and watch another company assault across. He is caught in shellfire and concussed and evacuated.

Sledge doesn't describe the terrain much. Leckie mentions scrub, coral, and shell craters. The series looks like what he describes. Sledge says it was 105 degrees that day (later days were 115) and the air shimmered with waves of heat.

Neither mention dust or smoke obscuring the view. The picture linked by Wolfhag doesn't show this either.

Skarper asked about covering fire. There is covering bombardment by ships and planes shown in the episode. A common factor of amphibious landings during WWII was that bombardment wasn't sufficient to knock out all emplaced defenses, so infantry still took fire when advancing. Or maybe you mean covering fire by the Marines themselves? Leckie mentions a machine gun emplaced in one of their shell craters supporting the assault. The episode shows Sledge's mortar team engaging/suppressing the built-up area as part of the assault.

Skarper02 Jun 2021 3:22 a.m. PST

Thanks CeruLucifus.

I saw the mortar setting up and engaging Japanese positions, but that was later on.

I did not see the machine gun in the TV series.

Thanks for checking the books about smoke and dust.

I guess the tactical situation precluded effective supporting fire from the marines heavy weapons. They would have known to do that, as they were fully trained and experienced units.

I was wondering if the TV show skipped that to make it look more heroic, or if it was absent due to some reason.

Seems like the consensus is a small amount of covering fire, but not that much.

Thanks again.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP02 Jun 2021 9:41 a.m. PST

On D+1, the 5th Marines (landed on Orange 1 and Orange 2) moved to capture the airfield and push toward the eastern shore. They quickly raced across the airfield under heavy artillery fire from the highlands to the north, suffering heavy casualties in the process. After capturing the airfield, they rapidly advanced to the eastern end of Peleliu, leaving the island's southern defenders to be wiped out by the 7th Marines. This area was hotly contested by the Japanese, who still occupied numerous pillboxes. Temperatures remained around 115 F (46 C), and the Marines soon suffered high casualties from heat exhaustion. Further complicating their situation, the Marines' only available water supply was contaminated with oil. Still, by D+8 the 5th and 7th Marines accomplished their objectives, holding the airfield and the southern portion of the island.

It was the battalion that landed on Orange 1 (2/5) that seems to have made the assault and breakthrough according to the map.

PDF link


Skarper03 Jun 2021 3:42 p.m. PST

Much appreciated Wolfhag.

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