Peter Flahavin  Guadalcanal Revisited

January 1995 / February 1996  Peter Flahavin / Rod Bellars

Galloping Horse Battlefield
Exton and Sims Ridges

Exton and Sims Ridges - The REAL Thin Red Line in 1999
Galoping Horse / Thin Red Line is an interesting area . The thing that struck me is how small the area is . Before I went the aerial photos made it look huge, but all the firing was only at a few hundred yards range making it hell during the battle!

Nambu Light Machine Gun
discovered on Sims Ridge

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Looking West from
Sims Ridge to Hill 53

Hill 53

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US Trail from
Galloping Horse to Matanikau

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Pouring Rain on the Matanikau Trail

Relics picked up on Sims Ridge

US and Japanese helmets
from Sims Ridg, 1999

ThinRed Line 1998

Thin Red Line 1964

When I first heard they were doing the film I got a map of the battlefield and thought "I must walk up there next trip and check it out". A mate of mine walked up there in mid 1998 and reported plenty of relics... he could trace the advance up Hill 57 by the Garand clips and BAR magazines, he said. He even scored a Jap Nambu LMG that he had found. So I was keen to get up there before seeing the film.

The Solomons museum director told me that they had done some filming on Guadalcanal with Sean Penn and some of the other actors. The locals told them to do it on the real battlefield , but there is no road access to move equipment, only the original US walking trail. They did take a lot of local villagers across to Queensland to use as extras, but I think most of them ended up on the cutting room floor. They filmed most of the scenes in Queensland , up near Cairns about 2 hours drive from one of the luxury resorts (could not have the stars roughing it) with Australian Army guys as extras.

Hollywood vs. Reality
The only Guadalcanal shots that made it into the film where a couple of shots of Savo Island taken from Kukum Beach (native kids would not have been paddling canoes there then!) and one scene that really made me smile . After they land there is a shot where they are marching up a hill with a beautiful shot of Savo Island and Iron Bottom Sound in the background.

This was filmed near the Bonegi river 15 minutes west of Honiara...the road at the bottom of the hill is just out of shot...I recognised it because I had climbed a nearby hill looking for a US jungle junk yard.

If they had landed at that point and gone up that hill in January 1943 they would have been up to their necks in Japs!

I know the Aussie who was the armourer for the film . Whenever he pointed out something wrong they did not care. They had 700 sets of US Army HBT uniforms made for the film and the helmet liners were made in Hanoi! After seeing the real battlefield I almost wanted to jump up and scream "its nothing like this".

Another mate owned the Jap Nambu LMG you see briefly firing...he got paid $3,000 to hire it and it only fired one 30 round clip...easy money man! I could go on and on , but I wont.

Battlefield Relics
I got these helmets from a villager who had a hut on the north slope of Sims Ridge . When we climbed up to the hut the first thing I saw lying on the ground was a US pack strap clip and the Jap helmet -best I saw in 4 visits; no holes and with the star.

At first I thought the hole might be a bullet hit , but it seems more likely to be a rust out caused by water collecting in the bowl . Might have belonged to a soldier who was hit on the way up the slope and the helmet ended up in the grass. Nice 1st pattern rigid chin strap holders too.

The Japanese helmets seem to last longer , must be the primer paint they used . He said he found the Jap one near the MG position and the US one at the bottom of the Eastern slope of the hill. Suffice it to say that I was less than impressed with the production and hope that director doesnt make another film for 25 years. The real Jap MG post on Sims Ridge had no "convenient" large boulders nearby to hide behind.

Shortly after I saw the film, I talked to coastwatcher Martin Clemens . Before I could ask him about it he said: "Oh , have you seen that awful film? I was up there with General Collins during the fighting and it was nothing like that!". So I thought it must really be just wasnt my imagination.

After I read the actual book I appreciated how the author had really been there. Little things about the terrain and stuff that I could instantly recognise.

So after walking the ground I went home and in February 1999, Thin Red Line hit the cinemas and I went to see it. Out of 3 hours 1 hour was worth watching. The producer is supposed to be some sort of legend. It was good from the uniform and equipment angle (although I heard they took the 700 uniforms back to the States to sell off on the colectors market!) but the dialogue and continuity were rubbish!

However I must say one thing in defense of the film - it was better than the 1964 version that I have since seen on video: [US Army GI's] that had them mowing down Japs with German Schmeisser sub machine guns, a real Props Department triumph!

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