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Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

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Another history wall o'text.

 

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the Guadalcanal (or the Third Battle of the Solomon Sea, for you KanColle folks). Guadalcanal was one of the bloodiest naval battles in the Pacific, where USN and IJN ships fought at close quarters. It's also one of the few battleship-on-battleship engagements of the war, as well as the only battle where USN admirals were killed in surface combat.

 

US Marines had seized a foothold on the island of Guadalcanal and carved out a perimeter around an airfield, later called Henderson field. In order to dislodge them, the IJN was set to deliver supplies and reinforcements to the defenders but in order to do so, they had to break through the USN and bombard the airfield. This was to be done at night, where aircraft could not (yet) operate. The Kongou-class battleships Hiei and Kirishima, accompanied by the light cruiser Nagara and 11 destroyers (Samidare, Murasame, Asagumo, Teruzuki, Amatsukaze, Yukikaze, Ikazuchi, Inazuma, Akatsuki, Harusame and Yuudachi), together with 3 more destroyers in the rearguard (Shiratsuyu, Shigure and Yuugure) were detailed for the bombardment mission. The US were aware of Japanese ship movements, and a force of two heavy cruisers (Portland, lead ship of her class, and San Francisco, a New Orleans-class), three light cruisers (Atlanta, Juneau, both Atlanta-class ships, and Helena, a St Louis-class CL), and 8 destroyers were ordered to intercept.

 

The exceptionally dark night, a rain squall (for the Japanese) and poor radio communication on the part of the Americans meant that both fleets were moderately out of formation when they encountered each other. The Japanese fleet had scattered due to the rain squall and the USN attempted to cross their T, but failed due to poor communication, causing their formation to begin to unravel. It was this juncture that both fleets became aware of enemy ships in very close proximity - the two formations had basically managed to collide and almost intermingle when the battle commenced.

 

Akatsuki and Hiei turned on their searchlights at 0148h, illuminating the poor Atlanta at just under 3km - point blank range and the Japanese light ships moved to launch torpedoes and commence firing. Akatsuki was almost immediately the target of at least six USN ships firing at the only thing they could see. The concentrated fire absolute shattered Akatsuki before she could get her torpedoes away, and sunk her with heavy loss of life. However, the close range and poor communications meant that both fleets lost formation and began a brutal melee battle. The illuminated Atlanta was fired on by multiple IJN ships and took at least one torpedo hit, disabling her. Even worse, she was mistaken for an enemy vessel by the San Francisco and fired on by it, compounding the damage suffered. The lead USN destroyer (the Cushing) was also targeted and shattered by Japanese ships, stopping dead in the water. With Akatsuki gone, Hiei (with her searchlights blazing) became the next target of the USN fleet, still blindly firing at what they could see. Hiei took multiple superstructure hits and suffered severe damage, and a US destroyer (the Laffey) passed within 6m of her to rake the bridge with 5" shells and machinegun fire, wounding the Japanese admiral and killing much of the command staff. Unable to depress her guns enough to hit the destroyers firing at her at close range, Hiei, together with Kirishima, focused on the San Francisco instead, killing the American admiral and severely damaging the heavy cruiser. San Francisco would manage to escape, as the battleships initially fired the bombardment shells they had loaded instead of unloading and switching to their AP rounds, and Helena would escort her away from the battle. However, San Francisco would land a crippling blow on Hiei by knocking out her steering. The damaged Cushing was finished off by Japanese destroyers, and Laffey became the target of at least 3 other destroyers and was destroyed. The cruiser Portland had its steering knocked out by Inazuma and Ikazuchi, and ended up steering in a loop out of the battle. Yuudachi and either Amatsukaze or Harusame independently charged into the USN lines, causing havoc and striking a USN destroyer (the Barton) with a torpedo attack, sinking her. The cruiser Juneau also suffered a torpedo strike from the two and crept away from the field, heavily damaged. However, Yuudachi's consort withdrew at this point, leaving Yuudachi fighting alone. Unaware, she was ambushed by the US destroyers Aaron Ward and Sterett and mortally wounded. Sterett was later ambushed by Teruzuki and heavily damaged, while Aaron Ward found herself under the guns of Kirishima, a duel which Aaron Ward lost. Amatsukaze would attempt to finish off the crippled San Francisco, but failed to notice Helena, who heavily damaged Amatsukaze with several broadsides at close range.

 

After nearly 40 minutes of close quarters combat in what was later described as "a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out", the USN force was virtually unable to stop the Japanese advance, with only the Helena and a destroyer (Fletcher) left combat capable. But the Japanese admiral, deprived of his command staff by Laffey, low on ammunition, unsure of remaining US ships and onboard a crippled flagship, ordered a retreat instead. Dawn revealed 3 crippled Japanese warships: Hiei, Yuudachi and Amatsukaze. Yuudachi was sunk by the vengeful Portland, while Hiei was subjected to multiple air attacks. An attempt by Kirishima to tow her failed, and she was scuttled. Amatsukaze managed to withdraw to Truk for repairs. The battered Atlanta, who survived the night, would later succumb to battle damage, and the retreating Juneau ended up torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, sinking her and killing the five Sullivan brothers onboard her - an act that would later lead to the institution of the Sole Survivor policy in the US armed forces. Of the US ships, Portland, San Francisco, Aaron Ward and Sterett would survive to limp back to bases for repairs.

 

Just one night later, a second Japanese force would approach Guadalcanal to carry out the bombardment mission once more. Low on undamaged ships, the battleships Washington and South Dakota were detached, together with four destroyers, to defend the island. Against them was Kirishima, accompanied by Sendai, Atago, Takao and survivors of the previous night's engagement. The lighter Japanese ships were ordered to clear out the defending American ships, Washington and South Dakota having been misidentified as cruisers. One group led by Sendai and another led by Nagara were detected and fired at, but Sendai's group escaped without damage. Meanwhile, the four escorting US destroyers found themselves the target of Nagara's group and were all shattered. However, the sacrifice of the four destroyers absorbed the initial impact of the Japanese forces. Washington would fire on and shatter the destroyer Ayanami, while South Dakota suddenly suffered major electrical failures. South Dakota's course took her past the burning hulk of a USN destroyer. Believing that the USN force had been wiped out, the Japanese admiral ordered an advance towards Henderson field, while the two remaining US battleships moved forward to detect them. Washington could detect multiple contacts on her radar, but had lost sight of South Dakota and instead just crept forward on her own. The Japanese ships, coming upon South Dakota illuminated by a burning hulk, turned on their searchlights and poured fire into her, disabling her. However, the act of firing removed all doubts as to which ships were which on Washington's radar, and Washington opened fire on Kirishima, brutally damaging her with at least 9 main battery hits and multiple secondary battery hits, crippling Kirishima. Once more, the Japanese force withdrew. Ayanami was scuttled, and Kirishima, having suffered major damage under the waterline, capsized and sunk. Washington would manage to withdraw from the battle, chased by remaining Japanese forces, and break contact from them.

 

The failure of the IJN fleets to bombard Henderson field and ensure delivery of men and material to Guadalcanal would allow the US Marines to hold on to the island, greatly contributing to the final American victory there. The waters around Guadalcanal and Savo Island where the night actions were fought would later be known to Allied sailors as Ironbottom Sound, the final resting place of hundreds of sailors and dozens of ships. Every year around this time, a US navy ship would cruise the waters and drop a wreath to commemorate those who lost their lives in the night actions of 13th-14th November, 1942.

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Beta Tester
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I also thinking the failure of the IJN fleets to commit the combined fleets should be account into this event.

 

While USN able to commit the most advance Battleship they have into the area (USS Washington), All IJN doing was keep sending the old and Kongo Class into the area.

 

Some historian doubt that if IJN able to commit the Yamato in the Battles of Guadalcanal most likely american air power at that state of war won't be able to sink it effectively and the battle should turn other way around.  

 

In my opinion this is account into the failure of Kantai Kessen (Decisive Battle) concept, so IJN never willing to commit any of their powerful ships, but i think this is another topic :D:D:D  

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Beta Tester
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I also thinking the failure of the IJN fleets to commit the combined fleets should be account into this event.

 

While USN able to commit the most advance Battleship they have into the area (USS Washington), All IJN doing was keep sending the old and Kongo Class into the area.

 

Some historian doubt that if IJN able to commit the Yamato in the Battles of Guadalcanal most likely american air power at that state of war won't be able to sink it effectively and the battle should turn other way around.  

 

Yamato remained at Truk throughout the Guadalcanal Campaign because of a lack of 460 mm ammunition suitable for shore bombardment, uncharted seas around Guadalcanal, and her high fuel consumption.

 

Tee

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Yamato remained at Truk throughout the Guadalcanal Campaign because of a lack of 460 mm ammunition suitable for shore bombardment, uncharted seas around Guadalcanal, and her high fuel consumption.

 

Tee

 

And they cannot sent the Fuso-Class, Ise-Class or Nagato because they are not fast enough to left the area before dawn.

 

So Kongo-Class were the last option then BOOOM 2 got rekt by american + lost Guadalcanal :D:D:D 

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And they cannot sent the Fuso-Class, Ise-Class or Nagato because they are not fast enough to left the area before dawn.

 

So Kongo-Class were the last option then BOOOM 2 got rekt by american + lost Guadalcanal :D:D:D 

 

While the Kongo class was fast, they were rather under armoured and under gunned for WW2 standards. Even though Kirishima inflicted heavy damage to the South Dakota, it wasn't fatal as the new USN BB's were sufficiently protected against 14" shells. Washington and her 16" shells pretty much totalled that ship.

 

Unfortunately for the IJN having lost most of their skilled and irreplaceable carrier personnel and pilots (not to mention the vital ships) at Midway and Santa Cruz meant air cover was minimal for the campaign - leaving their navy unable to maintain control outside of decisive night engagements they hoped to bring about like they did at Savo Island earlier.

 

While the US did lose its Carriers at the same battles, better damage control efforts and rescue efforts meant a higher proportion of their skilled personnel survived to win the war - skilled pilots, mechanics and naval crew were often more important than the ships themselves which could be replaced.

Edited by Blitzkreig95

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