The Japanese operational concept at the start of the Pacific War was to establish a defensive perimeter of naval and air bases and then to use air and surface forces to wear down any advancing Allied force.  In pursuit of this concept, the Japanese resolved in early 1942 to build an airfield on Guadalcanal -- an island in the southeastern Solomon chain.  An airfield there would expand the Japanese defensive perimeter in the South Pacific, cramp the supply routes from the US to Australia, and extend the Japanese intelligence-gathering network.

After the destruction of much of the Japanese carrier strength at the Battle of Midway, the Allied had the opportunity to take the initiative in the Pacific.  They took that initiative by invading Guadalcanal and taking over the nearly completed Japanese airfield.  The landings went smoothly and the airfield was quickly captured, but the Japanese response was violent and prolonged.  The campaign went on until February 1943, when the exhausted Japanese finally evacuated the island.

The Guadalcanal campaign was ironic in that it stood the Japanese operational concept on its head.  By electing to fight for Guadalcanal, the Japanese brought their forces into the range of Allied airpower flying from the captured airfield.  This was the opposite of the Japanese idea; instead of the Allies being drawn into the range of Japanese aircraft, Japanese naval forces were steaming into Allied air strikes.

The Allied air dominance meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy could only operate off Guadalcanal at night.  Then, superior Japanese night-fighting skills reversed the margin of superiority that the Allies enjoyed during the day.  The flip-flop resulted in a pattern that came to characterize the fighting in the Solomons.  During the day, Allied naval forces resupplied and reinforced their troops.  At night, swift Japanese forces dashed down from Rabaul to resupply their forces in turn.  These forces became known as the “Tokyo Express” and their route -- down the central channel of the Solomons -- became the “Slot.”  When the Allies remained behind at night, fierce surface actions were fought.  When daylight caught the Japanese within air strike range of Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field, American air power stung the Japanese surface forces.

The results of the naval campaign reflect this pattern.  In five major night surface actions, the Japanese accounted for 60.000 tons of Allied ships.  The Allies sunk only 22,000 tons of Imperial Japanese Navy ships directly in night actions, but Allied air power and long distances over which damaged Japanese ships had to withdraw accounted for another 68,000 tons.  Thus did the Japanese abandon their own strategy, with disastrous consequences.  

Note: For older scenarios, see the updated ship forms on the  FOTW Ships page.  These have been revised to include the gun tables on the forms, to make merchant ships easier to sink, and in other minor details.

Savo Island -- The Japanese react to the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal.

Tin Can Collision -- Opposing convoy escort forces collide.

Cape Esperance -- An American force tries to stop a Japanese night bombardment mission.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal -- the Cruiser Action  -- The Americans throw a cruiser force in the way of a powerful Japanese bombardment group.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal -- the Clash of the Light Forces -- The US Navy commits two new battleships to the night actions fought off Guadalcanal.  In this first installment of the battleship action, Japanese light forces stalk the big ships.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal -- the Capital Ships Engage -- In this second installment of the climactic naval battle off Guadalcanal, opposing big ships go into action.

Tassafaronga   -- The Americans tangle with the Tokyo Express in Ironbottom Sound.

Komandorski Islands -- The Japanese try to run a supply convoy into their Aleutian conquests against American resistance.