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    Battle of Santa Cruz Islands (Battle of the South Pacific)  Solomon Islands
USN October 26, 1942
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands occurred on October 26, 1942 off the Santa Cruz Island Group (Santa Cruz Islands) in the southeastern Solomon Islands in present day Temotu Province. The Japanese call this action the "Battle of the South Pacific". Also known as the "Battle of the Stewart Islands" or "Naval Battle of Santa Cruz".

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was the fourth carrier battle in the Pacific War, following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 24-25, 1942), Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942) and the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942). During the battle, the vessels of the opposing forces were never within visual range, with carrier planes instrumental in the battle. This was the last of the carrier battle of the Guadalcanal campaign.

U.S. Navy Force
The U.S. Navy fleet was comprised of Task Force 16 (TF 16) USS Enterprise CV-6 under command of Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, who was overall command with Task Force 17 (TF 17) USS Hornet CV-8 under command of Rear Admiral George Murray. Together, both forces formed Task Force 61 (TF 61) and steamed to intercept a Japanese task force bound for Guadalcanal. The carriers were supported by USS South Dakota BB-57, three heavy cruisers USS Portland CA-33, USS Northampton CA-26 and USS Pensacola CA-24, three light cruisers USS San Juan CL-54, USS San Diego CL-53 and USS Juneau CL-52 plus 14 destroyers. A third group Task Force 64 (TF-64) under the command of Rear Admiral Willis Lee, consisted of battleship USS Washington BB-56, heavy cruiser USS San Francisco CA-38, light cruiser USS Helena CL-50, USS Atlanta CL-51 plus six destroyers withdrew southeast to refuel and did not participate in the battle.

Japanese Force
The Japanese fleet comprised of four carriers maneuver off the southern Solomon Islands in hopes of encountering U.S. Navy forces. The Japanese force was divided into three forces: Advance Force, Main Body and Vanguard Force. The "Advance Force" including Junyō, two battleships, four heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and 10 destroyers, and was commanded by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondō in heavy cruiser Atago, who also acted as overall commander of the other two forces involved in the battle. The "Main Body" consisted of Shōkaku, Zuikaku, and Zuihō plus one heavy cruiser and eight destroyers, and was commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo aboard Shōkaku. The "Vanguard" force was under the command of Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe aboard Hiei included two battleships, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and seven destroyers.

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
On October 25, 1942, the battle began when a U.S. Navy PBY Catalina located the Japanese force at 11:03am just beyond the range of carrier aircraft. The U.S. carriers steamed towards the contact and launched carrier aircraft at 2:25pm but failed to locate the enemy because the Japanese had turned to the north to stay out of range.

On October 26, 1942 at 2:50am the Japanese fleet turned to the south and the two forces closed to 200 miles by 5:00am. The Japanese were spotted again at 3:12am by another PBY Catalina equipped with radar, but the report was not relayed to Rear Admiral Kinkaid until 5:12am. By 6:45am spotted by B-17E "Old Maid" 41-2409 and shadowed. Meanwhile by 6:58am the Japanese had located USS Hornet CV-8 and Task Force 17 (TF 17).

By 7:40am, the Japanese were first to launch a strike by 64 aircraft (21 x D3A Vals, 22 x B5N Kates escorted by 21 A6M2 Zeros. Meanwhile two SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise CV-6 managed to locate, dive bomb and scored two 500 pound bomb hits on the deck of Zuihō causing it unable to land aircraft. At 8:10am, Shōkaku launched a second strike by 19 D3A Vals escorted by 8 A6M2 Zeros. At 8:40am, Zuikaku launched 16 B5N Kates.

Meanwhile, U.S. carrier planes from Hornet severely damaged carrier Shōkaku, and cruiser Chikuma. Meanwhile, USS Hornet CV-8 was fighting off a coordinated dive bombing and torpedo plane attack which left her severely damaged and had to be abandoned. Destroyers USS Mustin DD-413 and USS Anderson DD-411 attempted unsuccessfully to sink the burning hulk with nine torpedoes and shellfire. Later, Japanese destroyers Japanese destroyers Makigumo and Akigumo sank her by firing four 24" torpedoes at her blazing hull.

During the battle, USS Enterprise CV-6 was twice hit bombs and suffered 44 Killed In Action (KIA) and 75 Wounded In Action (WIA). Despite serious damage, she remained in action and landed aircraft from USS Hornet (CV-8) when the carrier was damaged and abandoned.

USS Porter (DD-356) stopped to pickup a downed air crew from a ditched TBF Avenger was hit by a torpedo. An Enterprise pilot dived to machine gun the torpedo, but was not in time. Damaged, USS Porter was abandoned and sunk by USS Shaw (DD-373) after that ship took off her crew. This torpedo was either a U.S. torpedo accidentally released or aimed or possibly fired by Japanese submarine I-21. That evening the American forces retired to the southeast.

The U.S. sustained more severe losses including aircraft carrier USS Hornet CV-8 a destroyer USS Porter (DD-356). Also, USS Enterprise CV-6 sustained damage plus two other destroyers. In addition, 81 aircraft were lost and a total of 266 personnel were killed or missing.

The Japanese sustained damage to aircraft carrier Zuihō plus damage to Shōkaku and a heavy cruiser. In addition, 99 aircraft were destroyed and between 400-500 personnel were killed or missing.

At the conclusion of the battle, both sides sustained damaged and withdrew. Although the battle had been costly, combined with the U.S. Marine Corps victory on Guadalcanal, the Americans had stopped the Japanese from recapturing Guadalcanal.

Afterwards, USS Enterprise CV-6 steamed to Nouméa and was quickly repaired by Vestal (AR-4) then departed with repair crews still aboard and participated in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (November 12-13, 1942) launched her planes then retreated. Her aircraft then landing at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal to join the Cactus Air Force. USS South Dakota that sustained a bomb hit in the forward gun mount but also participated in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. USS San Juan suffered a bomb through the fantail and was repaired in Sydney Harbor but missed the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Combat Narratives - Solomon Islands Campaign IV: Battle of Cape Esperance 11 October 1942 V: Battle of Santa Cruz Islands 26 October 1942 pages 26-62
The Battles of Cape Esperance 11 October 1942 and Santa Cruz Islands 26 October 1942 (2017) PDF

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Last Updated
October 25, 2021


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