November 13th, 1942
Essential to Japan conduct of their war effort was the relative quick defeat of the Allies. Japan knew that she would only grow weaker as the Allies grew stronger as the war progressed. After Pearl Harbor, in which the Japanese made a vital mistake in not destroying the fuel supplies maintained on the island, Japan's leaders entered into a debate as to their next step. One faction opted for an invasion of India, to link with the German forces in the Middle East. The other faction wanted to establish bases in New Britain, New Guinea and the Solomon's from which Australia would finally be invaded.
Admiral Yamamoto objected to both plans and wanted to adopt a plan that would bring the American fleet into an engagement that would lead to its destruction. He proposed an attack on Midway Island.
This plan encountered strong objections as it was felt that supplying the garrison on the island once taken would be a logistical nightmare.
The argument seemed to be settled with Doolittle's raid on Tokyo. Japan's leaders felt that the American carriers had to be destroyed to protect Japan from further attack.
Even though it was recognized that the carriers had to be destroyed, the other objectives seemed to enticing to ignore and Japan finally settled on four objectives. In the east, Port Moresby in New Guinea was to be taken, along with the Bismarck Archipelago; to the southwest, the islands comprising New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa were to be occupied; and to the northwest Kiska and the Attu Islands in the Aleutians were to be invaded. Finally, Midway would be captured to force a showdown with the US fleet.
During May, the Japanese occupied Tulagi Island in the Solomon chain, across from Guadalcanal.
There were a number of major sea battles fought for control of the sea ways to Australia including the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle which was fought entirely by air. The United States was determined to keep these sea lanes opened.
After Japan's defeat at Midway in June and the loss of four aircraft carriers and hundreds of it best pilots, Japan changed its strategy from attack and occupation of Samoa to one of establishing island airbases along the Solomon Island Chain and the occupation of Port Morseby on Papau ..This would enable them to mass an attack on Australia.
During July 1942, the Navy had penetrated a new Japanese code which revealed that Japan was building an airfield on Guadalcanal which would enable it to make a renewed bid for the Coral Sea and also close the eastern sea approaches to Australia and threaten Fiji and Noumea.
With this information in hand, Admiral King ordered a change in strategy and changed the requirement from securing bases on Santa Cruz Island to occupying Guadalcanal and Tulagi. This was the beginning of operation Watchtower!
Admiral Ghormley was the Commander of the South Pacific area and was charged with devising and executing the plan. General Vandergrift and Admiral Turner were charged with carrying out the invasion. They had 5 weeks to plan the invasion and assemble all the men and material required, an monumental task at best!
One interesting note - there were no up-to-date charts or maps of the Solomon Island area so information from National Geograhpic magazines were used where available!
The Japanese were on Guadalcanal constructing an air strip and also occupied Tulagi across Savo Sound.
D - Day was set for August 7th. Admiral Turner was in charge of nineteen transports carrying the First Marine Division in two combat teams. They would be escorted into the two landing areas (Tulagi and Guadalcanal). The landing force would be covered by 4 destroyers while a force of three cruisers and six destroyers bombarded the enemy positions. Also standing close guard over the landings were three Australian cruisers and five destroyers under Rear Admiral Sir Victor Crutchley reinforced by the heavy cruiser USS Chicago and four Pacific Fleet destroyers. Air cover was provided by the three carrier task groups reinforced by the new battleship North Carolina.
At 6:13 AM, the heavy cruiser Quincy open fire on Guadalcanal. No resistance as met on Guadalcanal while fierce fighting was encountered on Tulagi.
The Japanese were taken by complete surprise and had no intelligence concerning the operation. To try to retake Guadalcanal, they dispatched a force of five heavy and two light cruisers to attack the transports still unloading supplies. Japanese aircraft attacked them that afternoon sinking one transport and damaging a destroyer which later had to be scuttled. The whereabouts of the Japanese cruisers were not known, a situation which would lead to disaster that evening. Admiral Turner felt that they wouldn't be within range to threaten the landings before the next day. Of more concern was the decision of Admiral Fletcher to withdraw his carrier support due to concerns about fighter losses and low fuel.
The Battle of Savo Island.
Admiral Mikawa entered Savo sound undetected. His task group passed by the USS Blue which had radar but did not detect the task group although they had guns already trained on her. At 1:42 AM the destroyer USS Patterson sighted the enemy task group and issued a warning. The heavy cruiser IJN Chokai launched a float plane which dropped flares over the unsuspecting heavy cruisers USS Chicago and HMAS Canberra. At point blank range the Japanese scored numerous hits on the Canberra, leaving her in sinking condition. The Chicago was hit buy a torpedo and moved out of the battle severely damaged.
The Japanese task group then swung around Savo Island and came upon the heavy cruisers USS Quincy, USS Astoria, USS Vincennes. The allied ships were again caught off guard and in short order all three were severely damaged and sinking while only the Quincy managed to get off a few salvos.
Thus was established the Japanese expertise and overwhelming superiority in night fighting tactics which would come back again and again in the numerous night surface engagements in the Solomon campaign, especially in the Naval Battle for Guadalcanal on November 13th.
While the Japanese won an overwhelming naval victory, they failed to move on the transports off Guadalcanal. Had they followed through, the American efforts on Guadalcanal would have been defeated as the invasion was still in progress.
Naval Battle of the Eastern Solomon's - (content will be posted shortly, so please check back!)
Information obtained from decrypting Japanese naval messages indicated that a large carrier group which on August 21 CINCPAC Intelligence predicted that it would head toward Guadalcanal. Admiral Nimitz ordered Ghormley to concentrate his South Pacific force off the Solomons while Admiral Fletcher was ordered to send a three carrier task force in support.
The Allied strength of 30 warships was at a 2 to 2 disadvantage against the Combined Fleet of 58 warships. Admiral Nagumo's fleet only fielded 2 carriers and 177 planes compared to Admiral Fletchers 259 planes and three carriers. Admiral Yamamoto was hoping that his new "Operation KA" would bring the decisive battle he was hoping for although the main objective was to provide air cover for the transport group that was to land 1,500 Imperial Marines on Guadalcanal.
Admiral Yamamoto was at sea in his flagship, plagued by the same lack of communications and intelligence during the early phases of this action as he was at Midway.
Navy PBY Catalinas found the Japanese transport convoy at sea east of Bougainville Island, covered by the heavy cruiser Tone (the only Japanese heavy cruiser to survive the war) and the light carrier Ryujo. The convoy was about 100 miles ahead of Yamamoto's advance forces. Admiral Fletcher, upon receiving this information, ordered an air strike from the carrier Saratoga. Neither the carrier patrols nor the 23 Marine dive bombers that flew off Henderson Field located the convoy as it was ordered to change course north. The following morning, a PBY Catalina spotted a carrier and cruiser heading south about 260 miles from Fletchers task force. That morning at about 11AM a Japanese flying boat appeared over the northern horizon as Fletcher ordered 23 avengers from the Enterprise launched for a wide range search mission.
to be continued
USS Cushing (DD-376); Commander Thomas M. Stokes, COMDESDIV 15 ; Lt Commander Edward Parker, CO - Heavly damaged, sank 1400; 71 killed, 67 wounded; Presidential Unit Citation.
USS Laffey (DD-459); Lt. Commander William E. Hank, CO (KIA) - Blew up and sank 0330; had dueled with IJN BB Hiei at a range of 75 feet, 56 killed, 109 wounded: Presidential Unit Citation.
USS Sterett (DD 407); Commander Jessy Coward, CO - damaged, 26 killed, 18 wounded, Presidential Unit Citation.
USS O'Bannon (DD-450); Commander Edwin Wilkinson, CO; underwater damage when Laffey exploded; no casualties, survived the war with 17 Battle Stars and Presitential Unit Citation.
USS Atlanta (CL-51); Flagship Rear Admiral Norman Scott (KIA), Captian Samuel B. Jenkins, CO, Commander Campbell D. Emory, XO - Severly damaged, torpedoed by IJN DD Akatsuki after firing the initial rounds of the battle at her which played a significant part in her destruction, 172 killed , 79 wounded, towed to Lunga Point and scuttled1800; Presidential Unit Citation.
USS San Francisco (CA-38); Flagship TF 67.4, Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan (KIA), Captain Cassin Young (KIA), CO; Commander Mark H. Crouter, XO - Heavily damaged by IJN BB Kirishima, 115 killed, 150 wounded; Presidential Unit Citation.
USS Portland (CA-33); Captain Lawarence T BuBose, CO - torpedoed starbord side in the stern - rudder and screws damaged, 16 killer and 2 wounded, the following morning, while steaming in a circle due to rudder damage she fired 3 8" salvos and sank the Japanese Destroyer Yudachi with the third one (my father was an eye witness to this event as were most survivors and was a cause for much cheer); was towed to Tulagi by the USS Bobloink (ATA 131); Presidential Unit Citation.
USS Helena (CL- 50); Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, CO; minor damage, 1 killed , 9 wounded; excellent SG surface search radar but placed 8th in line and not chosen as Flagship (San Francisco had older less accurate radar which was not relyed on), first ship to make radar contact but was not given permission to fire; First ship awarded Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon. Note that the ship was torpedoed at Pearl Harbor and was the Flagship of Admiral Scott in the US victory at the night surface engagement off Cape Esperence the previous month, was finally sunk in the night surface engagement in Kula Gulf when hit by 3 24'"Long Lance" torpedo's, one severed the bow while 2 hit amidship breaking the keel and splitting her in two! Was also the first ship to down an enemy aircraft with a proximity fused 5"/38 round in January 1943.
USS Juneau (CL-52); Captain Layman K. Swenson, CO - torpedoed in the port forward fire room, breaking the keel. Juneau was again torpedoed at 1100 by IJN I-26 while retiring, igniting the magazine, causing the ship to blow up, with the loss of most of the crew. Approximately 100 to 140 survived the initial sinking, only 10 ultimately survived to be rescued.
USS Aaron Ward (DD-483); Captain Robert G.Tobin COMDESRON 12; Commander Orville F. Bregor, CO, Lt Commander F. Julian Becton, XO, author of " The Ship That Would Not Die", 15 killed, 57 wounded; damaged, towed to Tulagi by Bobolink. Note that she was subsequently sunk in an air attack on Guadalcanal April 7th, 1943.
USS Barton (DD-599); Lt. Commander Douglas H. Fox, CO; took 2 torpedoes admidship, broke in two and sank immediately, lost 90 percent of her officers and crew!
USS Monssen (DD-436); Lt. Commander Charles E. McCombs, CO, turned on recognition lights, was riddled by 37 shell hits, 110 killed, 33 wounded, sank at 1400.
USS Fletcher (DD-445); Commander William M. Cole, CO; had one of the best radar sets , SG surface search, but was poorly placed at the rear of the column, no damage or casualties, claimed torpedo hits on Hiei!
Destroyer Squadron 4: Read Adm Tamotsu Takama
Picket Unit - (Covering the passage between the Russells and Guadalcanal)