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Naval Battles in the Solomon Islands over August/November 1942 turn the tide of the Pacific War

The Second Battle of Guadalcanal. 14/15th. of November, 1942

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Never one to give up easily, Yamamoto told Admiral Kondo to ready his Bombardment Group and Rear Admiral Tanaka and 12 transports to once more attempt to get hold of Henderson Field. His cruiser division would stand guard outside Savo, Kondo would pound the airfield at night, the transports would run im all the extra troops for one big effort to wrest this important territory from the American’s grasp.

Halsey sends Lee and his group to intervene.
After the debacle of the 13th. of November, Vice Admiral Halsey ordered
Rear Admiral Lee’s Washington, South Dakota and 4 destroyers to close the Guadalcanal area to take on any Japanese naval forces en route for Guadalcanal.

At the same time he told Kinkaid to keep Enterprise well clear of the area, as she was the last carrier available, still being repaired at sea after Santa Cruz.

Lee could not get his group off Savo before 0800 ( 8 AM ) on the 14th. of November, there was nothing to stop Mikawa's cruisers in their watching role outside Savo, whilst the Japanese bombardment group pounded the airfield over a 37 minute period, destroying some 17 fighters, 1 dive bomber, and damaging another 32 more fighters. As fast as the American Cactus airforce was built up , by ferrying in new planes, the Japanese were knocking them over at night, catching them on the airfield.

By 0205 ( 2.05 AM ) the two Japanese surface forces had rejoined, and retired to the north.

US planes go hunting for the Japanese raiders.
Search planes from Henderson were off early on the morning of the 14th. of November, and found the 2 groups of Mikawa's retiring force.

In addition, the next wave of troopships and their escort were sighted on their southwards run.

Avengers and Dauntless aircraft attacked, to hole the heavy cruiser Kinugasa, and hit the light cruiser Isuzu.

Now it was the turn of carrier planes from Enterprise, they came across Mikawa's ships, and sank Kinugasa, they further damaged the heavy cruisers Chokai, and Maya, added to the woes of Isuzu, and damaged the destroyer Michishio, licking their wounds, Mikawa's force made it to the Shortlands.

It was now Tanaka's group to be in the firing line, over the afternoon, they were hammered by Enterprise aircraft, planes from Henderson, and Flying Fortress planes from Espirito Santo, for the loss of only 5 US aircraft, the Japanese lost 7 transports, they were left with 4 transports and 11 destroyers to reinforce the Japanese garrison ashore at Guadalcanal.

For the Japanese, it became evident, that destroyers alone were insufficient protection for their crowded Transports against determined aircraft attacks, whilst the Americans viewed the increased effectiveness of their carrier planes when they had the extra option of a land based airfield.

Halsey withdrew the big E back to Espititu Santo, he could not afford to expose her any further.

Battleship Kirishima sunk at the Second Battle of Guadalcanal
Battleship Kirishima sunk at the Second Battle of GC

Lee's Battleship group.
Lee's ships stood off Guadalcanal about 100 miles to the south west on the 14th. of November, reports of Kondo's force came in, the battleship Kireshima, heavy cruisers Asago, and Takao, 2 light cruisers, and a host of destroyers, they were on their way southwards, it looked as if the Tokyo Express was making another run that night.

The US submarine Trout had sighted and attacked them during that afternoon but without any tangible result.

By evening, Lee was within 9 miles from the western end of the Guadalcanal shoreline, his six ships in column, the destroyers Walke, Benham, Preston, and Gwin, then Washington, and South Dakota.

Lee sailed round Cape Esperance to the north of Savo seeking the remaining transports and the bombardment group, at 2317 (11.17 PM) radar picked up Kondo's force, and Washington opened fire with her 16 inch gun main armament.

Over the next hour an intense night battle raged south west and west in the vicinity of Savo Island. The Japanese had the battleship Kirishimi and the destroyer Ayanami sunk, whilst Lee had 3 destroyers sunk, Walke, Benham and Preston, plus his battleship South Dakota severely damaged.

Kondo sailed north, and Lee retired to the south west, the door now wide open for Tanaka's few remaining transports to run into and beach at Tassafaronga.

It was a US victory, but none the less a costly one, and Admiral Nimitz probably summed it all up well from his headquarters at Pearl Harbor, when he assessed the results of these last two battles in this way:

"As the day ends it seems most probable that while we have suffered severe losses in ships and personnel, our gallant ship mates have again thwarted the enemy. If so, this may well be the decisive battle of this campaign. "

Tanaka beaches his transports.
After the battle, Tanaka shepherded the remaining transports and his destroyers through a rain squall, and steamed at 11 knots for Tassafaronga, at about 0400 ( 4 AM ) this group slid past Savo, and made for the north coast of Guadalcanal.

Japanese Cargo ship beached at Guadalcanal
Japanese Cargo ship beached at Guadalcanal
Three ran up onto the beach, and by 0500 ( 5 AM ) the last transport had run into the beach, they all immediately started to disgorge both troops and supplies.

Tanaka was worried about air attacks as the sky was lightening with the approaching dawn, he collected his destroyers, and took off, to round Savo and sail back to their base.

Comments about these battles.

President Roosevelt publically mourned the loss of his friend Rear Admiral Dan. Callaghan but commented:

"It would seem that the turning point in this war has at last been reached."

Winston Churchill proclaimed:

"This moment is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning."

A captured Japanese document:

"It must be said that the success or failure in recapturing Guadalcanal Island, and the vital naval battle related to it, is the fork in the road which leads to victory for them or for us."

See  The Solomons Campaign for charts.


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