Guadalcanal, volcanic island (1992 est. pop. 63,633), c.2,510 sq mi (6,500 sq km), South Pacific, largest of the Solomon Islands. Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, is there. The island is largely jungle. Mt. Makarakombou rises to 8,028 ft (2,447 m). There are coconut and oil palm plantations and some gold mining. The inhabitants, mostly Melanesians, live along the coasts. Discovered by English navigators in 1788, Guadalcanal became a British protectorate in 1893. During World War II it was occupied by the Japanese. In Aug., 1942, U.S. forces began their first large-scale invasion of a Japanese-held island; after bitter fighting, it was conquered (Feb., 1943). In 1999, attacks by the Gwale majority caused many of the Malaitan minority to flee their homes; by 2000 the conflict had escalated into battling between ethnic militias in Honiara and the jungle. Points of interest include a museum of Melanesian artifacts and Henderson Field, the main objective of the American invasion.

Guadalcanal (local name Isatabu) is a 2,510-square mile (6,500-km²) island in the Pacific Ocean and a province of the Solomon Islands. The World War II Guadalcanal Campaign happened on and round the island. It is mainly jungle, contains the national capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, and has a population of 109,382 (1999).


Guadalcanal is mountainous. Most of the population is along the north coast. The southern coast is known as the Weather Coast. Guadalcanal is infested with mosquitoes, and malaria is an endemic disease. Also, kunai grass thrives.

Transport is by a road along the north coast which extends most of the length of the island. Access to the Weather Coast is on foot or via boat or helicopter. Honiara International Airport, the Solomon Islands' main airport, is just to the east of Honiara. It was formerly known as Henderson Field and was built in 1942.

Much of the northern part of the island is fringed by steeply sloping raised coral reefs. Languages spoken on this island are Tok Pisin and several different indigenous languages.


Western charting

A Spanish expedition under Álvaro de Mendaña charted the island in 1568. It was named by Mendaña's subordinate Pedro de Ortega after his home town in Andalusia, Guadalcanal. However, he did not spell the name consistently (using variously Guadarcana, Guarcana, and Guadalcana), and the island subsequently became known as Guadalcanar. The island later became part of the British Empire and, in 1932, the British changed its spelling to Guadalcanal. 'Guadalcanal' is a the Hispano-Arabic name of a town in Seville. The name comes from Arabic Wādî al-Khānāt, meaning "Valley of the Stalls", from refreshment stalls which were set up there during Muslim rule in Andalusia.

Significance during World War II

Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor and Singapore, Japanese forces advanced into the South Pacific occupying many islands in an attempt to build a defensive ring around their conquests and threaten the lines of communication between the United States and Australia/New Zealand. They reached Guadalcanal in May 1942. When the allied forces spotted construction of an airfield on Guadacanal, the United States conducted the first amphibious landing of the war. It was one of the most hotly contested campaigns for control of the ground, sea and skies of the war. Guadalcanal became a major turning-point in the war as it stopped Japanese expansion. After four months of fighting the Japanese ceased trying to contest the control of the island. They finally evacuated it in February 1943.

Immediately after landing on the island, the allies began finishing the airfield begun by the Japanese. It was then named Henderson Field after a Marine aviator killed in combat during the Battle of Midway. Aircraft operating from Henderson Field during the campaign were a hodgepodge of Marine, Army, Navy and allied aircraft that became known as the Cactus Air Force. They defended the airfield and threatened any Japanese ships that ventured into the vicinity during daylight hours. However, at night, Japanese naval forces were able to shell the airfield and deliver troops and supplies, retiring before daylight. The Japanese used fast ships to make these runs, and this became known as the Tokyo Express. So many ships from both sides were sunk in the many engagements in and around the Solomon Island chain that the nearby waters were referred to as Ironbottom Sound. Many books were written about the Guadalcanal campaign.

The Battle of Cape Esperance was fought on October 11, 1942 off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. In the battle, United States Navy ships intercepted and defeated a Japanese formation of ships on their way down 'the Slot' to reinforce and resupply troops on the island, but suffered losses as well. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November marked the turning point in which Allied Naval forces took on the extremely experienced Japanese surface forces at night and forced them to withdraw after sharp action. Some Japanese viewpoints consider these engagements, and the improving Allied surface capability to challenge their surface ships at night, to be just as significant as the Battle of Midway in turning the tide against them. After six months of hard combat in and around Guadalcanal and dealing with jungle diseases that took a heavy toll of troops on both sides, Allied forces managed to halt the Japanese advance and dissuade them from contesting the control of the island by finally driving the last of the Japanese troops into the sea on January 15, 1943. American authorities declared Guadalcanal secure on February 9, 1943.

Two U.S. Navy ships have been named for the battle:

Interestingly, the crews of both Guadalcanals had the rare experience of capturing another warship. See those ships' pages for more information.

To date, the only Coast Guardsman recipient of the Medal of Honor is Signalman 1st Class, Douglas Albert Munro, awarded posthumously for his extraordinary heroism on September 27, 1942 at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal. Munro provided a shield and covering fire, and helped evacuate 500 besieged Marines from a beach at Point Cruz; he was killed during the evacuation.

Civil war

In early 1999, long-simmering tensions between the local Gwale people on Guadalcanal and more recent migrants from the neighbouring island of Malaita erupted into violence. The ‘Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army’, later called Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), began terrorising Malaitans in the rural areas of the island, to make them leave their homes. About 20,000 Malaitans fled to the capital and others returned to their home island; Gwale residents of Honiara fled. The city became a Malaitan enclave and the Malaita Eagle Force took over government.

In 2003, the Pacific Forum negotiated the intervention of RAMSI or Operation Helpem Fren involving Australia and other Pacific Island Nations.


  • Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, 1990.
  • Hakim, Joy A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press.


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