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

The Battle of Tassafaronga. 30th. November, 1942

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After the Naval Battles of Guadalcanal the IJN wanted to give Guadalcanal away, but Tojo did not agree, so the struggle for supremacy on the Canal continued.

The USS Alchiba whilst unloading a much needed load of aviation gas, was, on the 28th. of November, torpedoed by the Japanese midget submarine 10. She was beached, and burned over a number of days, but was eventually hauled off the beach to survive.

Halsey was promoted to Admiral, and it was decided to relieve Major General AA Vandergrift, as most of the troops on Guadalcanal were now going to belong to the Army, Major General Alexander M. Patch was given this job.

The Japanese Naval bombardments of Guadalcanal seemed to be finished, and Tanaka had to rely on destroyers to carry any reinforcements.

USS Minneapolis damaged at Battle of Tassafaronga
USS Minneapolis damaged at Battle of Tassafaronga
New US Naval Strike force.
Halsey created a new Naval Strike Force consisting of: The heavy cruisers, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pensacola, and Northampton, the light cruiser Honolulu, and a number of fleet destroyers.

Kinkaid was placed in command, but Nimitz wanted him in another role, in command of the North Pacific Force that was based on Dutch Harbour, and Rear Admiral Carleton H. Wright took command in his place.

Wright had been in command but 2 days, when he had to lead his, largely untrained, newly formed group against the redoubtable Tanaka, again running in his Tokyo Express.

Tanaka's Plan.
Tanaka's plan for reinforcement was quite modest, using only destroyers, no transports, they would make a dash into Iron Bottom Sound, then off Tassafaronga, they would toss overboard drums of provisions wrapped in rubber, the troops would be off loaded, to be picked up by small craft from the shore. Speed was paramount, so Tanaka could quickly pull out, and retire back to the freedom and safety of open waters beyond Savo.

On the night of the 30th. of November, with 6 destroyers, filled to the brim with troops and their supplies, plus 2 more destroyers, at 2225 ( 10.25 PM ) before reaching Tassafaronga, Tanaka ran slap bang into Wright's group.

This confontation did not start well for Wright, the US float planes told off to illuminate the enemy, could not get off the very calm water, Fletcher, in the van, and fitted with the latest type radar found the enemy destroyers at 2316 ( 11.16 PM ) on her port bow, they were plodding along the shore of Guadalcanal towards the dumping off point for the supplies and troops. The destroyer Squadron Commander in Fletcher asked Wright for approval for his 4 destroyers to launch their torpedoes. But Wright dithered for another 4 minutes, then he gave his OK, it was too late. The torpedoes were sent on their way, but the Japanese ships had passed, all on an opposite course, no result for the US torpedoes, all of them missed, and were wasted.

Wright now ordered his cruisers to open fire, the gun flashes alerting the wily Tanaka to his enemy, he now unleashed a rash of Long Lance 24 inch torpedoes, which proceeded to rip the guts out of most of the US cruisers.

Minneapolis collected two fish, putting her out of any further action, New Orleans took one torpedo, Pensacola in trying to avoid her burning sisters became silhouetted against the fires, and was soon torpedoed. Northampton got 18 salvoes of 8 inch gunfire away, but then was hit with two torpedoes, to sink after 3 hours of desperate efforts to save her.

Honolulu, the only cruiser to avoid the Japanese torpedo onslought, but only through some fancy ship handling by her Officer of the Deck, Lieutenant Commander George F. Davis.

The only Japanese casualty, one destroyer sunk, Takanami, Tanaka quickly removed the rest of his force from Iron Bottom Sound, all undamaged.

Conclusion on Tassafaronga.
Wright's command of Task Force 64 was an absolute disaster, a superior cruiser force cut to shreds by an inferior enemy destroyer group.

This US force had certainly not all worked together before, whilst the opposition and its commander were a seasoned team, none the less Wright had the advantage of suprise from his radar warning, but he blew it.

The Japanese, with their 24 inch diameter Long Lance Torpedo which packed an incredible punch  in its 1,078 pound warhead, was the best torpedo in the world, it ran longer and faster than any other in service.

In contrast, the US torpedo was 21 inches in diameter with a warhead carrying about 700 pounds of explosive.

This battle was the last in this arena, and Iron Bottom Sound was well named, it was the graveyard for so many ships from both sides, my own HMAS Canberra included.

More importantly, it is the last resting place for so many sailors from the USN and the IJN, who gave their lives for the navy and the country they served.

Summing up a desperate 4 months struggle.
These battles that I have tried to describe were amongst the fiercest and most bloody scraps of the whole war in the Pacific.

Other than the Battle of Leyte Gulf, still to come in October of 1944, these engagements were the last toe to toe fights between ships, often at very close quarters, and during the dark hours, ever to take place in Maritime History.

For the Allies, Guadalcanal was saved, and it was saved by the strength and fortitude of its sailors, the Marines, US Army personnel, and the fliers who manned the aircraft.

I have no doubt, the holding on to the Solomons became the basis for the final victory that led to the signing of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on the 2nd. of September 1945, I had survived, and I was there that day.

These naval battles in the Solomons over August to November in 1942 turned the tide in the Pacific, defeated the Japanese, and laid the groundwork for the march northwards to Tokyo.

From the Battle of Savo Island, I took away with me a memory of enemy ships at very close range, blasting away with 8 inch guns, of fire, of death of shipmates, and destruction of fine ships, that has vividly stayed with me ever since over the intervening 60 years.

Track Chart Tassafaronga 30 November 1942
Track Chart Tassafaronga 30 November 1942

 

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