One of the most important sources of intelligence the Americans used during the struggle for Guadalcanal was the coastwatchers. Most of these incredibly courageous men came from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) or its reserve component (RANVR). The reserve officers had been civilians who had owned businesses such as plantations in the Solomon Islands. They lived in this inclement climate for many years and had built friendly relationships with the natives of these islands.
When the war in the Pacific began, the Australians had governmental control of the Solomons and tried to withstand the Japanese onslaught. Australia was not ready to go to war with the militarily powerful Japanese Empire but did the best they could under the circumstances. Many of their soldiers had been sent to the North African desert to fight the Germans and Italians to meet their commitments to the British Commonwealth. Therefore, their military resources were stretched too thin to directly meet the Japanese threat.
After General Douglas MacArthur escaped from the Philippines to Australia in March 1942, the Americans and the Australians became close allies. Many believed a Japanese invasion of Australia was a distinct possibility after they invaded New Guinea. MacArthur chose to take the fight to the Japanese on that island rather than wait to defend on the Australian mainland itself.
But the Australians had one big advantage the Japanese did not possess. They knew the territory very well they had administrated since being given the responsibility to administer these islands by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. The Australian Navy recruited several of their citizens to spy and report on all Japanese ships, planes and troop movements in the Solomons after the Japanese had taken possession of many of these islands. The coastwatchers, living in Japanese-held territory and always in danger of being captured, tortured and killed as spies, became one of the most effective intelligence gathering organizations in World War II.
While there were several coastwatchers in the Solomons before, during, and after the fight for Guadalcanal, four men made the largest impact. They were Martin Clemens, Eric A. Feldt, W. J. “Jack” Read, and Paul Mason. If you want to know more about these men, just click their pictures above to go to a web page that provides more detail.
Admiral William F. Halsey paid his highest tribute to the heroism of the coastwatchers by stating, “"The coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific." In my opinion, I cannot add anything to Halsey’s tribute.