Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ironbottom Sound

This month's battle over at GFT: Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Fourth Savo Island) 14-15 NOV 1942.
Death revisits Sealark Channel, the great gray ghost-ship, a Japanese admiral turns away with decision in his grasp - again - and the thunder of cannon in the night.


  1. FDChief – Thanks for another great post. You bring it alive.

    There has always been some confusion in my mind on the naming and number of naval battles in and around Guadalcanal. Naval Historian Samuel Eliot Morison calls out seven (or eight) separate naval battles in or near the waters around that island. In his volume V of the history of US Naval Operations in WW2 he says the struggle for Guadalcanal included:

    1] Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942

    2] Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24 August, aka Battle of the Stewart Islands

    3] Battle of Cape Esperance on 11-12 October, aka 2nd Battle of Savo Island where Rear Admiral Scott crossed the Japanese T and the Japanese TF Commander Admiral Goto was mortally wounded

    4] Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26- 27 October, where A/C Carrier USS Hornet a veteran of the Doolittle Raid and Midway is sunk

    5] Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 12-15 November which he subdivides into the night action of Friday the 13th (where both Admirals Scott and Callaghan are KIA) and the battle you describe that he calls the Joust of Giants

    6] Battle of Tassafronga on 30 November

    7] Battle of Rennell Island on 29-30 January 1943

    These do not include all the other naval confrontations in the area such as the sinking of A/C Carrier USS Wasp by IJN submarine I-19; PT boat actions in the Slot; and ASW ops that accounted for sinking six Japanese subs. This campaign as a whole may not have been THE decisive battle of the Pacific war but both we and the Japanese considered it decisive. With a Japanese airfield on Guadalcanal it would have been damn near impossible to supply the Aussies and MacArthur’s campaign in New Guinea and the Philippines may have never taken place. After this 6-month long campaign the Japanese never again mounted an offensive operation.

  2. What I got from researching this one, mike, is that the night action of 12-13 November is also called the "Third Battle of Savo Island" and this one is often named the "Fourth Battle of Savo Island". The Japanese seem to combine the two; they consider there to be only three fleet actions (which the call "Battle(s) of the Solomon Sea"), 9 AUG being the first, Cape Esperance the second, and the 12-15 NOV the third.

    And my sources included all the actions you list as part of the larger southern Solomons campaign, yeah.

    The funny thing about the Pacific War is that you can list a half dozen "decisive" actions; the failure to complete the destruction at Pearl, Midway, the south Solomons campaign, the Kokoda Track/Buna-Gona campaign in New Guinea, the Battle of the Philippine Sea which finally killed off the Kito Budai for good...

    But like I said in the post, Yamamoto was right to begin with. The economic and military disparity was so great that the Imperial Japan had six months of time to try and force a decision, after which - provided the U.S. refused to capitulate - their defeat was a matter of brutal, bloody time.

  3. BTW Chief, the Japanese Navy had been shelling Henderson Field off and on since August. My take on Abe and Kondo turning back without shelling Henderson in mid-November is that like you commented they wanted to refight Tsushima with a great victory at sea. So they wanted to leave the land war to the Army. Some American Navy officers felt the same way using shore bombardment as not worthy of their ships except as target practice.

    I also meant to add regarding the land battle, the 164th Infantry was brought there on 13 October 42 as an emergency reinforcement to the 1st Marine Division. It was the first US Army unit in WW2 to fight offensive action. When they first arrived they, along with the Marines, spent the next four nights under heavy IJN Naval Gunfire barrage – 1000 14-inch the first two nights, 750 8-inch the third night and 1300 8-inch and 5-inch on the night of 16th. The daylight hours were no better as they endured Japanese air raids and 150-mm howitzer barrages.

    From Jon T Hoffman's bio of Chesty Puller I note that two of their battalions fought beside Chesty Puller’s 1st Bn, 7th Marines at ‘coffin corner’ during the battle of Henderson Field of 19-26 October and destroyed the Sendai Division. They joined him again later at Koli Point. Quite an outfit, they were given the honorary and affectionate title of “the 164th Marines”. As a former a North Dakota National Guard regiment their ranks were full of Norwegian farm boys, Sioux Indians, and Canuck Metis. They were led by Bryant E. Moore, a West Pointer from the great state of Maine, who would have made a hell of an Army Chief of Staff if he had not been killed in a helicopter crash eight and a half years later in Korea as CG of IX Corps.

  4. Hmmm...

    Well, Abe maybe. He doesn't seem to have really been with the program.

    But Kondo, though - he'd been given a pretty thorough spanking from Yamamoto about the importance of putting the Cactus Air Force out of action so that the transports could get landed the next day. He should have known the "commander's intent". There seems to be no real definitive answer for why he turned away; the three reasons I mentioned have all been attributed to him as partial explanations, but nobody really knows.

    The IJN and IJA didn't play well together, sure. But I think the pattern we're seeing; Nagumo, Abe, Kondo, Kurita...all those guys seemed to have some central inner dread about risking their ships regardless of the importance of the objective. There seems to have been something - either a distrust of the overall strategic plan, or just a plain fear of losing their ships - that prevented them from taking that final step, to risk all and win the game.

    Halsey would have laughed.

    And I didn't really touch on the land battle aspects of this campaign, but I read about the 164th and the later work of the Americal on Guadalcanal. Kind of sad that what most people who even remember the unit (and I'm guessing that not many do...) remember is probably My Lai and Bill Calley instead of the hardcore boys of the 164th Marines...

  5. Chief -

    Perhaps you are right regarding Kondo. I am rereading an excerpt of Lawrence Cortesi’s ”Bloody Friday”. In addition to American accounts he uses many Japanese sources including Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff Captain Ohmae, destroyer squadron commander Captain Tara, and ‘Tokyo Express” TF commander Admiral Tanaka (Americans called him Tanaka the Tenacious). Their story was that Kondo was the tenacious one when it came to shelling Henderson Field. Then why did he leave? The timeline is fuzzy but one suggestion was that lifesaving efforts of the crews of the Kirishima and Ayanami were not complete until an hour or so from dawn giving Kondo only a short time to get his ships out of range of American air that ruled the skies in daylight.

    What surprised me was Cortesi’s comparison of rescue efforts. Halsey had reprimanded Captain Hoover and relieved him of command for abandoning the survivors of the Juneau sinking on the 13th. He also criticized the Port HQ at Tulagi for delaying rescue efforts. ”The efforts of rescue teams was shocking,” Halsey said later. ”They allowed dozens of sailors to perish in a mere twenty mile width of Sealark Channel where we controlled the coastline on both sides. Rescue boats should have gone after survivors the moment they got word of ship abandon ments.” Meanwhile the Japanese rescued most of their sailors (and soldiers) that went overboard.

    PS – let us know how that Hornfischer book is that you mentioned. I have read his other book ”Ship of Ghosts” on the USS Houston and it was well written and well documented.

  6. "...lifesaving efforts of the crews of the Kirishima and Ayanami were not complete until an hour or so from dawn giving Kondo only a short time to get his ships out of range of American air that ruled the skies in daylight."

    Don't get me wrong; Kondo had some good reasons for grabbing a hat.

    But what strikes me is that here we're talking about "what's wrong with American generals" and speculating about how something in the way we select and train people for flag rank in the U.S. Army seems to produce guys who are fundamentally deficient in some critical ways...

    And there seems to have been something like that involved in the selection and training of IJN flag officers. For every Tanaka and Yamamoto you got two Abes, Nagumos, Kuritas, or in this case Kondo. Something there seems to have produced an officer who could get just short of making the hard decision to risk everything and win big...but would shy away there.

    Compare that with the actions of Cliff Sprague off Samar, or Spruance pursuing after Midway, or Halsey lunging after the carriers at Leyte (yeah, he effed up, but because of aggression rather than caution...)

    So I can't put my finger on it, but the IJN senior officer corps seems to have been infected with a sort of reverse-victory disease that caused them to hesitate at that last step...and here, as at Pearl, as at Midway, and Samar, it would cost them.