In the height of World War II, American and Japanese forces were engaged in a series of battles as part of the Pacific Campaign. Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands’ largest island, was among the major battlegrounds throughout the war, and where Japanese naval convoys regularly tried to sneak past American troops with the aim of unloading as many soldiers and weapons. Fast forward to the 21st century, the rusty remnants of one of these Japanese vessels, Kinugawa Maru, now adorns the remote beach of Mbonege, imbuing it with a sense of solemnity.
On August 1942, in the midst of WWII, Allied forces landed on the Japanese-controlled island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, seizing large swathes of land in a matter of hours. In the following six months, the Japanese and American troops on the island were involved in fierce fighting over every square inch of territory.
Determined to emerge victorious, the Japanese army sent multiple supply convoys of freight vessels to the frontline, aptly nicknamed “the Tokyo Express”. One of these convoys departed in early November 1942 on its way to the shores of Guadalcanal. Comprised 11 cargo ships and 12 destroyers, the task force was spotted by a reconnaissance aircraft, and soon thereafter was subjected to a barrage of heavy fire by Allied planes.
In the aftermath of the airstrikes, seven out of the eleven freighters were sunk. Despite their heavy losses, the Japanese opted to continue the mission with the four remaining vessels. On the dawn of the following day, the surviving ships were all beached near the village of Bonegi. In a battle against the clock, they managed to unload hefty amounts of ammunition as well as thousands of soldiers. Upon sunrise, the four freighters were detected by the Americans, who set them ablaze with artillery fire, airstrikes and ship raids. By noon, all 4 cargo ships were sunk in the shallow waters of Guadalcanal.
On February 1943, all Japanese soldiers stationed in Guadalcanal left the island following their decisive defeat. While Japan’s military presence in the area came to an end, the island was still littered with debris of dozens of its ill-fated ships and planes. In fact, one of the four aforementioned freighters, Kinugawa Maru, remained largely intact for years, towering over the surrounding Mbonege Beach.
By the 1950’s, the lone vessel was swarmed by an army of savvy scrappers, who salvaged every piece of valuable material they could lay their hand on. What was left of the ship was then reduced to rubble by the 1977 earthquake and tropical storms. As of today, only the tip of the bow protrudes above sea level, while the rest of the shipwreck has become a popular site for intrepid scuba divers.