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The Battle of the Eastern Solomons occurred on August 24, 1942 and August 25, 1942 in the eastern Solomon Islands. Known to the Japanese as the "Second Battle of the Solomon Sea". Also known as the "Battle of the Stewart Islands".
The Battle of the Eastern Solomons was the third carrier battle of the Pacific War, following the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942) and Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942). During the battle, neither side was ever within sight of each other. All actions were carried out by carrier or land-based aircraft.
On August 24, 1942 at 1:45am, Admiral Nagumo ordered Rear Admiral Chūichi Hara's forces including light carrier Ryūjō, heavy cruiser Tone and destroyers Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze to proceed ahead of the main Japanese force and launch carrier aircraft at dawn for an attack Henderson Field on Guadalcanal as a feint maneuver to divert U.S. attention and neutralize the airfield.
Meanwhile, in the early morning PBY Catalinas from Ndeni and scout planes from USS Enterprise CV-6 were searching for the Japanese. At 9:35am a PBY Catalina sighted Ryūjō and later in the morning several more sightings were made plus Kondo's and Mikawa's forces were spotted by other U. S. aircraft. The Japanese believed they were spotted but the U. S. was still not sure of their fleet or if other Japanese air carriers were in the area.
At 12:20am, Ryūjō launched 6 x B5N2 Kates escorted by 15 x A6M2 Zeros on a strike against Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in conjunction with a force of 24 x G4M1 Bettys escorted by 14 x A6M2 Zeros from Rabaul, but this force encountered severe weather and aborted the mission. The aircraft from Ryūjō were detected flying inbound to Guadalcanal by radar aboard USS Saratoga CV-3 and arrived over the target at 2:23pm and were intercepted by U. S. aircraft from Henderson Field but managed to bomb but cause no significant damage on the ground. In the air combat, 3 x B5N Kates and 3 x A6M2 Zero were lost. The U. S. lost F4F Wildcat 02095 (MIA), F4F Wildcat 02084 (MIA) and another Wildcat.
At 1:40pm USS Saratoga CV-3 launched 38 aircraft to attack Ryūjō but kept other aircraft in reserve in case other threats were encountered or other enemy carriers were spotted. Around 4:00pm, they attacked Ryūjō and scored three to five bombs hits and possibly a torpedo hit that damaged the carrier and killed 120 aboard. Also, B-17s bombed Ryūjō but caused no additional damage. Heavily damaged, Ryūjō was abandoned and sank after dark with Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze rescuing her surviving crew and aircraft who ditched nearby. The U. S. aircraft returned to Saratoga by 6:05pm.
At 2:45pm a scout plane from cruiser Chikuma spotted and reported USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Saratoga CV-3 before being shot down. After receiving the report, at 2:50pm Shōkaku and Zuikaku launched a strike including 27 x D3A Vals and 15 x A6M2 Zeros. At roughly the same time, two U. S. scout planes spotted the main Japanese force and made a futile attack. Due to communication problems, their reports never reached Admiral Fletcher.
At 4:00pm, the Japanese launched a second wave of 27 x D3A Vals and 9 x A6M2 Zeros. At 4:02, still waiting for a definitive report on the location of the enemy carriers the U. S. carriers radar spotted the incoming first wave and launched 53 F4F Wildcats to intercept. Due to poor communication problems and control plus the efforts of escorting Zeros, only a few reached the dive bombers before they attacked. Prior to their attack both U. S. carriers launched all available planes to clear the area and search for the Japanese and to clear the flight decks.
At 4:29pm the D3A Vals began attacking, at first targeting USS Saratoga then shifted to USS Enterprise which was nearer and the target of nearly the entire attack. In defense, the U. S. fleet opened up with an intense anti-aircraft barrage and evasive maneuvers. Several F4F Wildcats attempted to follow the dive bombers as they dove, resulting in four being shot down by friendly anti-aircraft fire.
The first nine Vals missed USS Enterprise but she sustained three bomb hits. The first bomb impacted at 4:44pm she was hit by an armor-piercing delayed action bomb that penetrated the deck near the rear elevator and passed through three decks before exploding below the waterline and resulted in 35 killed and 70 wounded. From the flooding that resulted, the carrier developed a slight list. A second bomb hit at nearly the same time, landing 15' from the first impact and detonated 5" gun power that caused a large secondary explosion and resulted in 35 killed and fires. At 4:46 a third bomb hit the flight deck forward of the other two and exploded on impact creating a 10' hole. Meanwhile, four Vals attacked USS North Carolina (BB-55) but all missed and were shot down by AA and Wildcats and the attacks ended by 4:48 and the remaining Japanese aircraft departed.
By 6:15pm, the second wave of Japanese aircraft arrived in the area but was unable to locate the U. S. fleet due to poor communication and returned without attacking any targets and loosing five planes due to accidents. Aboard USS Enterprise, damage control efforts allowed the carrier to resume flight operations by 5:46pm. Two SBD Dantless dive bombers from USS Saratoga spotted and attacked Chitose and scored two near hits that damaged the vessel. After the battle, some U. S. carrier aircraft land at Henderson Field instead of their carriers.
That evening, the Japanese "Vanguard" force and "Advance" force continued to proceed southward in an attempt to reach the U. S. task force and engage in a surface action, but they failed to make contact and aborted around midnight. The rest of the Japanese carrier force retreated northward, low on fuel and having sustained heavy aircraft losses.
Each side claimed they inflicted more damage than they really caused. The Japanese incorrectly claimed damaged to two carriers. The U. S. claimed 70 aircraft shot down, although only 42 had attacked and the Japanese had only lost 25. The U. S. lost only six aircraft with most crews rescued.
On August 25, 1942 before dawn, five Japanese destroyers shelled Henderson Field. Meanwhile, Tanaka's reinforcement convoy headed towards Guadalcanal and by 8:00am, they were within 150 miles of the island when joined by five destroyers after their shore bombardment.
At 8:05am, eighteen U. S. aircraft from Henderson Field attacked the Tanaka's convoy and caused heavy damage to Jintsu, aboard 24 were killed and Tanaka was knocked unconscious but was later revived. Also, Kinryu Maru was hit and later sank. Afterwards, Mutsuki went along side to perform a rescue and was bombed by four B-17 Flying Fortresses hit and sank Mutsuki. Tanaka survived and was rescued by Kagero. By noon, the surviving Japanese force withdraws northward. Damaged Jintsu to Truk while the rest of his force withdrew to the Shortland.
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