Editor's note: Dec. 7 marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the start of the Pacific War in 1941. This three-part photo series will follow Japanese and American footprints of the war that remain on and around the Pacific islands today.

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GUADALCANAL ISLAND, Solomon Islands--In the sea off the northwestern coast of Guadalcanal Island lies the remains of the Japanese transport ship Kinugawamaru, testament to a life-and-death struggle to supply a vital lifeline to starving Imperial Japanese Army troops.

Rusting war relics such as the Kinugawamaru tell of a desperate Japanese empire trying to stave off the onslaught of U.S. forces fighting to turn the tide of the Pacific War.

In August 1942, U.S. troops captured the Solomon Islands and claimed a Japanese air base under construction on a piece of flat land on Guadalcanal Island near the water.

The Imperial Japanese Army sent thousands of troops to the island to recapture the air base, but the officers underestimated the strength of U.S. forces and did not organize vital food logistics.

On Nov. 15, 1942, about three months into the battle, the Kinugawamaru and three other transport ships were escorted by four destroyers and intentionally run aground before dawn. They were on a “suicide mission” to deliver supplies to the embattled troops, who were already in a state of severe starvation, along with extra armaments and reinforcements.

The four transport ships were spotted and bombarded by enemy fire. Only a four-day supply of food escaped destruction, and the extra 2,000 soldiers sent in also ended up starving. Most munitions were also lost to enemy fire.

Of about 22,000 Japanese casualties on the island, only 5,000 to 6,000 were killed in action, and the rest are believed to have died of starvation or sickness.

Japan had been expanding its front lines rapidly after the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, but the situation was reversed after the battles of Guadalcanal Island, which continued from August 1942 to February the following year.

Between Guadalcanal Island and the Florida Islands of the Solomon Islands is a small section of the sea called Iron Bottom Sound.

In the fighting during the Pacific War, more than 50 U.S. and Japanese warships and many warplanes were sent to the bottom of the sea here in three battles in the Solomon Sea.

SUNKEN JAPANESE DESTROYER

On the southern side of Florida Island, in a quay nicknamed "Tokio Bay," a Japanese destroyer rests in the shallows of the innermost part of the bay. The wrecked ship is the Imperial Japanese Navy Kikuzuki, which lost steering control after being torpedoed in a U.S. attack on the starboard side in the nearby sea on May 4, 1942, and left in the bay.

The Kikuzuki first took to the water in 1926. It was not a ship with the latest technology, but still served as a capable battleship with a practical design, according to Kazushige Todaka, director of the Kure Maritime Museum in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture.

Despite their effectiveness, the Kikuzuki and all 12 of the other ships of the same model deployed were sunk during the war.

WRECKAGE OF FLYING BOAT

At the bottom of the sea off Tanambogho Island, an islet west of Tokio Bay, lies the wreckage of a Japanese naval reconnaissance aircraft.

It was one of seven Type 97 flying boats of the Imperial Japanese Navy that were destroyed by a surprise U.S. assault on a small naval guard’s base in the island before sunrise on Aug. 7, 1942. No Japanese soldier at the base survived, and another six flying boats were destroyed.

The patrol aircraft could fly the 2,600-kilometer route between Yokohama and Saipan island of the Northern Mariana Islands non-stop in 10 hours. With the Type 97's long range, it was suitable for reconnaissance missions, but not made for aerial combat.

Why were such combat-unworthy aircraft deployed to the front lines? They were dispatched as part of the Japanese military's plan to cut off the air route between the United States and Australia.

In one volume of Japan’s official history book on World War II, the deployment of the scout aircraft was described as part of an “intention to advance beyond Guadalcanal Island.”

Even after losing its main fleet in the Battle of Midway in June 1942, Japanese military leaders predicted that the United States would make a full-scale counterattack in mid-1943 or later.

The optimistic projection of its military's strength and conceit of its leaders led to a tragic chain of events resulting in the starvation of thousands of Japanese soldiers on the island there.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yasuji Nagai, a senior staff writer.)