H.M.A.S. Canberra and the Battle of Savo Island

Preparation and our approach to the Solomons

Vandegrift made it clear to Admiral King that his Marines could not be ready to land on 1 August. He was given a three day postponement. Ghormley then joined Vandegrift in a further plea to King for more time, but they gained only three days more grace.

"Dog Day", 7 August was set for the landing - and it would not be altered. Coast Watcher reports and air reconnaissance flights indicated that the Guadalcanal airfield would shortly be operational for the Japanese. King was not going to allow his invasion force to be at the mercy of close range, land-based aircraft attacks. The necessity for speed had precluded detailed planning and the collection of relevant information about the target areas. The name of "Guadalcanal", situated In the Solomon Islands, did not mean much to the planners: most people were even unaware of it's location. It was Jack London who said, 'If I were King, the worst punishment I could inflict on my enemies would be to banish them to the Solomons. On second thought, King or no King, I don't think I'd have the heart to do it'.

The invasion fleet including HMAS CANBERRA, sailed from New Zealand on 22 July, 1942. I had joined CANBERRA In December 1941 as a 19 year old Sub-Lieutenant, RAN. I had not long returned from England on 7 December 1941, the day Pearl Harbour had been attacked by Japan and the US declared war against them. During 1942, I was learning my craft as a bridge watch-keeping officer. In May, I had been awarded my Watch-Keeping Certificate by Captain G. D. Moore, RAN, before he gave up command to become 2nd Naval Member. Captain F. E. Getting RAN assumed command of CANBERRA on 10 June 1942.

Vice Admiral Fletcher USN In the carrier SARATOGA had arrived at Koro not really believing in the viability of "Watch Tower". He had spoken out against this operation earlier at a conference held at Pearl Harbour. At Koro, he was reported to be looking tired and drawn. Fletcher met with his Amphibious Forces Commander, Rear Admiral R. K. Turner USN - the Commander of the Marines Landing Force, Major General A. A. Vandegrift and Rear Admiral J. A. McCain USN, in command of the Air Task Force.

Vice Admiral Ghormley didn't even make this vital meeting - he was desk-bound in Noumea. He sent his representative. Fletcher asked Turner 'How long will it take you to unload? - "Five days" was the response. Fletcher indicated he would provide air cover from his carriers for only two days and then he would withdraw them. A strong protest from both Turner and Vandegrift only moved Fletcher to say "He would stay for a third day".

It is my very strong opinion that the seeds of the disaster I will soon unfold were sown at that fateful meeting at Koro on 22 July. The Marines staged their rehearsal for the Solomons invasion over the next three days at Koro Island. Vandegrift was not happy with these mock landings, but there was no more time available - and the invasion fleet sailed for their destination.

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