Book Review
Guadalcanal 1942-43
Guadalcanal 1942–43 Japan's bid to knock out Henderson Field and the Cactus Air Force
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Battleship duels, vicious dogfights, carrier battles, takeoffs and landings under artillery fire, Banzai charges, destroyers raking battleship bridges with small arms fire, tank attacks, nocturnal dive-bombing of maneuvering ships by flare light, and enemy transports beached within sight of the defenders positions, the fight for the pestilent island of Guadalcanal saw it all - and then some. This book deals with the viscous air war fought under extremely harsh conditions, recounted in great detail.

Guadalcanal 1942–43
Japan's bid to knock out Henderson Field and the Cactus Air Force
is a newer book from Osprey Publishing LTD. Authored by Mark Stille and illustrated by Jim Laurier, it is the 13th title of their Air Campaign series. This 96-page book is catalogued with Osprey's short code ACM 13, and ISBN 9781472835512.

As Osprey describes this book:
    The campaign for Guadalcanal, which stretched from August 1942 until February 1943, centered on Henderson Field. The airfield was captured by the US on 8 August and placed into operation by 20 August. As long as the airfield was kept operational and stocked with sufficient striking power, the Japanese could not run convoys with heavy equipment and large amounts of supplies to the island. Instead, they were forced to rely on night runs by destroyers which could not carry enough men or supplies to shift the balance decisively against the American garrison on the island.
    The American air contingent on the island, named the ‘Cactus Air Force', comprised Marine, Navy and Army Air Force units. It had the challenging mission of defending the airfield against constant Japanese attacks, and more importantly, of striking major Japanese attempts to reinforce the island. The mission of neutralizing Henderson Field fell primarily to the Imperial Navy's Air Force flying out of airfields in the Rabaul area. The units charged with this mission were among the most accomplished in the entire Imperial Navy with a high proportion of very experienced pilots and a superb air superiority fighter (the famous ‘Zero'). However, the distance from Rabaul to Guadalcanal handicapped Japanese operations and their primary bomber was terribly vulnerable to interception.

    This book traces the air campaign from both sides and explores the factors behind the American victory and the Japanese defeat. The text is supported by full-colour illustrations and contemporary photography.

If I was told that I could only study and model one campaign for the rest of my life, it would be Operation Watchtower and the "Cactus air force".

Author Mark Stille brings us the story of Guadalcanal 1942–43 through 96 pages:
    Attacker's Capabilities
    Defender's Capabilities
    Campaign Objectives
    The Campaign
    Analysis and Conclusion
Those chapters are not always what Osprey shows on their website but that is irrelevant to the book.

Mr. Stille presents this story in an easy to follow text that is packed with information. Introduction and Chronology prepare the reader by explaining Japanese and Allied advances in the first summer of the war. The chronology helps orient the reader with a time frame. Next, 23 pages of Attacker's Capabilities and Defender's Capabilities, introduces and describes subjects including:
    Aircrew characteristics.
Everything from the various commanding officers to muddy airfields to the performance of the aircraft to communications is explored. Like the battle of Britain two years and a world away earlier, radar was essential since the main American fighter aircraft had low performance that allowed scant time to reach the offensive strikes against their airfield. Campaign Objectives examines why the Japanese and Allies turned Guadalcanal into a combat zone, and how air power became the trump card for the Allies, and just how extreme it was to even support the campaign on both sides. The Campaign is the main event we've been waiting for. Great detail is crammed into this 48-page chapter. The dogfights and shoot-downs were nothing in numbers compared to Europe, but neither were the conditions. It is interesting to learn just how many or few aircraft on both sides were shot down per day. Some encounters saw the defenders trounced by the Japanese. Other interceptions found the Japanese suffering serious losses, and some were draws. Then there were the losses on the ground to bombing, strafing, artillery fire and naval barrages. Mr. Stille includes the number of aircraft lost throughout the campaign. This core chapter is organized in sub-chapters focusing on the significant phases of the campaign, including a carrier battle, and the "high-speed convoy". I am impressed with the detail provided.

Guadalcanal's air war is debriefed in Analysis and Conclusion. Again, facts and figures offer succinct understanding of the air war. It also looks at the affect of Japanese naval action against the airfield and contrasts the American and Japanese commanders, Adm. Halsey and Adm. Yamamoto.

Whether this is one's first exposure to the Cactus Air Force, or another visit to the remarkable history of the Guadalcanal campaign, this book provides a wealth of information. It is very interesting the data and commentary.

Artwork, Photographs, Graphics
Osprey supports the text with a good gallery of imagery. There are no photos that I have not seen before, almost all specific to Guadalcanal. Only 16 pages lack an image.

Artist Jim Laurier created an excellent gallery of original color artwork including battlescenes, bird's-eye views, and maps and diagrams.


A. The Solomon Islands, August 1942- January 1943, keyed to airbases, seaplane bases, anchorages, coast-watchers, and range rings.

B. American and Japanese Bases in the South Pacific, August-December 1942 showing US and Japaneses airbases, naval bases, and seaplane bases.

C. Henderson Field and the Marine Perimeter on Guadalcanal keyed to six USMC facilities and gun positions.


A. Japanese Raid Profiles displays strafing Zeros and high-altitude Bettys with their escorts.

B. American Defensive Scheme to Protect Henderson Field shows the combat air patrol altitudes of the various fighters, as well as the range of the main anti-aircraft cannon and machine-guns.

C. Cactus Air Force Attack Profiles Against Japanese Shipping by B-17 heavy bombers, SBD dive-bombers, TBF torpedo planes, and strafing fighters.

D. Two-page battlescene The First Dogfight shows four F4Fs of VMF-223 and engaging head-on four of 13 Zeros.

E. Two-page battlescene Attack on the "High-Speed Convoy" presents the legendary torpedo attack upon a beached reinforcement transport by a PBY, pursued by Zeros which are in turn pursued by Wildcats.

F. Two-page bird's-eye view Cactus Air Force's Lowest Ebb, October 13-14, 1942 keyed to the eight US and Japaneses air units engaged during four air attacks during 10 significant events.

G. Two-page battlescene Attack on the Hiei showing a wave-top view of torpedo planes and fighters attacking the Japaneses battleship Hiei.

H. Two-page bird's-eye view The Destruction of the November Convoy keyed to 12 events, 9 Japanese units, and 10 US raids.

As usual for this Osprey series, the graphics are excellent in presentation and supporting the text. The bird's-eye views list various units by type of aircraft, squadron or group, and number involved; these graphics help to digest the complexity of air attacks and intercepts, and where they occurred. The attack profiles show the varying ratios of altitudes and ranges for attackers and defenders, visually reinforcing the text. Each of the battlescenes brings to life with high-quality artwork incredible events for which there are no surviving photographs.

If I was told that I could only study and model one campaign for the rest of my life, it would be Operation Watchtower and the Cactus Air Force. I believe Guadalcanal 1942–43 is another excellent book in Osprey's Air Campaign series. I am particularly impressed with this presentation of that remarkable battle. Mr. Stille presents this story in an easy to follow text that is packed with information. Thousands of pages in dozens of books have recounted Operation Watchtower and it is impressive how that detail is distilled into such a focused and detailed work as this.

Photographic and other graphical support of the text is first-rate, although I found no photos that are now widely published.

I eagerly recommend this book to modelers and historians of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Cactus Air Force, the Solomon campaign, and the South Pacific theater of operations.

Highs: Photographic and other graphical support of the text is first-rate. Writing style makes it easy to follow and digest that complex campaign.
Lows: Nothing significant.
Verdict: It is impressive how so much information is distilled into such a focused and detailed work as this. Modelers and historians of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Cactus Air Force should find it valuable.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ACM 13; 9781472835
  PUBLISHED: Aug 05, 2020
  NATIONALITY: Solomon Islands

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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