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Christmas was like any other day on Guadalcanal. It rained, and the job of ferreting out Japanese and killing them went right on as usual. A skirmish called the Battle of Grassy Knoll was in the seventh day. It, too, was like battles that had gone before and have come after.

Grassy Knoll was the nickname given to Mt. Austin, which rises 1,300 ft. above Henderson Field. From it Japanese artillery was pounding the valuable landing strips. As the first offensive for the Army troops, who had relieved the Marines on Guadalcanal. Major General Alexander Patch had decided to take the heights. The battle began on December 18, in the rain, with a heavy artillery bombardment of the Japanese positions. The Americans moved forward in the dark, black jungle.

By next day the battle had turned into a battle of supply. With bulldozers, the engineers were ripping a jeep road over the ridges and through the jungles toward the front, but for the last mile and a half everything had to be carried. For the work the native Solomon Islanders were useful. They lugged ammunition, food, mortar shells and water cans up twisting, narrow defiles.

The battle continued through Christmas, on through New Year’s Day. On January 2 the Americans made their final push, up a 500 ft. jungle wall. The Japanese did not retreat, and 267 of them were killed where they fought.

The pictures on this website were taken by LIFE Photographer Ralph Morse. They were taken on his second trip to Guadalcanal and published in LIFE on 1st February 1943. The first time he landed with the Marines on August 7 but lost all his films. In addition he has been present at the Battle of the Coral Sea, at Midway, and at Savo Island, where the cruiser on which he was stationed, the Vincennes, was sunk. The coloured images are from the Jane Resture collection.


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