Goettge Patrol Map
The Goettge Patrol was a US marine patrol that was ambushed and almost completely wiped out during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The ambush took place between August 12, 1942 and August 13, leaving only three survivors.
But we had another motivating factor, as well: a passionate hate for the Japanese burned through all Marines I knew. The fate of the Goettge patrol was the sort of thing that spawned such hatred. - E.B. Sledge[1]

In all, there were some twenty-two American dead, though none of the bodies have been found to this day. The tale of such an atrocity told by the three survivors only sparked further outrage among American personnel. 


The Goettge Patrol was initially intended to carry out reconnaissance operations in the western Matanikau region and return through the hills to the Marine perimeter the next day. However, after repeated interrogation, a Japanese Naval Warrant claimed that there was a large group of demoralized Japanese who would be willing to surrender. Around the same time, a marine anti-aircraft crew reported seeing a white flag being raised after firing several rounds into the Matanikau area. It is commonly thought now that this was a standard Japanese flag with the red sun obscured and thusly misleading the marines.[2] Combining all of the pieces of evidence, was the recent influx of Korean laborers who had crossed front lines to surrender.[3] Convincing General Alexander Vandegrift of the 1st Marine Division, Frank Goettge, the leader of the patrol and its namesake, changed the purpose officially to a 'humanitarian' operation. With the Marines landing only a few days prior, Goettge was quick to jump at an opportunity to secure much of the island. 

The Patrol

Departing from Kukum beach at dusk on August 12, Goettge's patrol set out by lighter for the west side of Cruz Point. With him were twenty-three marines, a navy surgeon, and the Japanese officer. However, the sighting of a signal flare lead them to turn back, heeding it as a warning to return to the perimeter. After returning, the lighter was once again allowed to embark. Adding to the difficulties of the marines, it was aproximately 9:00 PM on a moonless night. Upon seeing the shore, the lighter ran aground on a sandbar and was forced to put the engine into reverse gear. While free, the events created much unwanted noise. Unknown to the marines, they had landed on the east side of Cruz Point, the precise area which they had been warned not to go. Seeing a coral ridge, Goettge, Captain Ringer, and First Sergeant Steven Custer went to search for a proper place to make a shelter for the night, however, upon leaving the beach area, Goettge was immediately shot and killed by rifle fire while Custer was wounded. 

To check if Colonel Goettge was actually dead, Platoon Sergeant Frank Few, Corporal Joseph Spaulding and Sergeant Charles Arndt went into the jungle and found Goettge and removed his rank to avoid the Japanese discovering he was an officer. Back on the beach, an intense firefight had begun between American and Japanese troops. Even after firing tracer rounds in the air to signal for help, none came. Captain Ringer, now taking control of the situation, ordered Arndt to swim back to the perimeter for help. While he made it back, Arndt would arrive too late to change the dire situation. Another man would be sent, Corporal Joseph Spaulding. He too, would survive the five mile swim to Lunga Point, but arrived far too late. Throughout the night, the Japanese picked off marines one by one, leaving only four left by dawn. Deciding to flee the beach, they moved about fourteen meters toward the jungle before being cut down by machine gun fire. The only survivor, Platoon Sergeant Frank Few, saw a Japanese soldier executing possibly still-alive marines. Few proceeded to kill the Japanese soldier before diving into the sea. 

Notably, Few witnessed the Japanese now going towards the marine dead and mutilating them. By the time he had arrived back in the marine perimeter, he was almost shot for failing a sentry's identification challenge. 


  1. Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Presidio Press (2007), Page 47
  2. Mueller, N. Joseph. Guadalcanal 1942: The Marines Strike Back. Osprey Publishing (1992), Page 38

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