The Old Breed’s Last Bolt-Action Battle

Some 80 years ago this month, a scratch force of Marines waded ashore on a little-known island in the Pacific, with their beloved ’03s in hand, determined to stop the Rising Sun.

Some eight months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and long after Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines fell to the Japanese onslaught during World War II, the Allies in the Pacific moved to seize the initiative and launched the first Allied land offensive in the Theater as well as the first American amphibious assaults of the war. Between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9, 1942, some 11,000 men of the newly-formed 1st Marine Division landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Japanese-occupied Solomon Islands, a chain of islands far closer to Australia than to Tokyo. There, the Marines aimed to seize an airfield the Japanese were carving out of the jungle and use it for their own fighters and bombers.

However, while the Army in 1937 had opted to switch to the M1 Garand from the M1903 Springfield– a bolt-action .30-06 adopted during the administration of Teddy Roosevelt– the Marines were slower to move towards the semi-auto battle rifle. It was only in Feb. 1941, just ten months before Pearl Harbor, that Marine Gen. Alexander Vandegrift wrote that he considered the Garand reliable enough to arm his Marines. With that, it wasn’t until after America was in the war that the Corps officially adopted the M1 Garand and later the M1 Carbine.

“Captured Japanese Battle Flag, Guadalcanal Airfield, circa 1942.” (Photo: Thayer Soule Collection/Marine Corps History Division)

Guadalcanal Campaign U.S. Marines rest in the field on Guadalcanal, circa August-December 1942. Most are armed with M1903 bolt-action rifles and carry M1905 bayonets along with USMC 1941 pattern packs. Two men high on the hill at the right have vests to carry patrol mortar shells and one in the center has a World War I-style hand grenade vest. The Marine seated at the far right has an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)

More in my column at Guns.com.

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