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    Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Third Battle of the Solomon Sea)  Solomon Islands


USN November 12, 1942
Location
The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal occurred during November 12–15, 1942 in Iron Bottom Sound between Guadalcanal and Savo Island in the Solomon Islands. The Japanese refer to this action as "Third Battle of the Solomon Sea". Also known as the "Third Battle of Savo Island" or "Battle of the Solomons" or sometimes "Battle of Friday the 13th". This was the last of five major naval engagements during the Guadalcanal campaign.

Wartime History
The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal had two phases. The first phase during the night of November 12-13, 1942 (also known as the "First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal"). The second phase was during the night of November 14-15, 1942 (also known as the "Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal").

Japanese Force
On November 12, 1942 the Japanese force under the command of Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe include Hiei (flagship of Vice Admiral Abe) and Kirishima, light cruiser Nagara plus eleven destroyers: Samidare, Murasame, Asagumo, Teruzuki, Amatsukaze, Yukikaze, Ikazuchi, Inazuma, Akatsuki, Harusame and Yūdachi. This powerful force assembled 81 miles north of Indispensable Strait for a for a planned shore bombardment of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. In addition, destroyers Shigure, Shiratsuyu, and Yūgure provide a rear guard off the Russell Islands.

Meanwhile, the convoy with 7,000 infantry troops and their equipment escorted by twelve destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka departed Shortland down "The Slot" and were scheduled to land on Guadalcanal during the night of November 13, 1942. After the Japanese losses at 3:00am Admiral Yamamoto recalled the transports which returned to Shortland to await further orders.

U.S. Navy Force
The opposing U.S. Navy force under the command of Admiral Callaghan included heavy cruisers USS San Francisco (CA-38) (Admiral Callaghan's flagship) and USS Portland (CA-33), light cruisers USS Helena (CL-50), USS Juneau (CL-52), and USS Atlanta (CL-51) plus eight destroyers: USS Cushing DD-376, USS Laffey DD-459, USS Sterett (DD-407), USS O'Bannon (DD-450), USS Aaron Ward (DD-483), USS Barton (DD-599), USS Monssen (DD-436), USS Fletcher (DD-445) and USS Buchanan (DD-484).

On November 12, 1942 in the afternoon Japanese G4M1 Bettys each armed with a torpedo escorted by A6M2 Zeros attack U.S. warships and transports in Iron Bottom Sound off the north coast of Guadalcanal. At 2:16pm a G4M1 Betty released a torpedo that missed USS San Francisco (CA-38) then was hit by anti-aircraft fire and deliberately crashed into the after control station that killing 30 crew. This was the only damage inflicted on the American vessels by the bombers. Also damaged was USS Buchanan (DD-484) that was hit by friendly gunfire that killed five aboard and forced it to be withdrawn for repairs.

First Phase of Battle: November 13, 1942
On November 13, 1942 at 1:25am in the first phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal began when Japanese warships entered the western end of Savo Strait between Savo Island to the north and Guadalcanal to the south and steamed to the southeast with San Shiki (Sanshikidan) shells loaded for a shore bombardment of Henderson Field. The weather was poor with a dark moon making visibility minimal.

The American force was in a single column formation with the destroyers in the lead with the cruisers in the center. Although five of the ships had SG radar, none were in the front of the column, nor did flagship USS San Francisco (CA-38). At 1:24am the U.S. ships with radar detected the Japanese but the report was not communicated in time due to radio trouble and confusion.

Minutes later, both forces spotted each other at roughly the same moment visually. The Japanese warships were surprised and their guns loaded for the shore bombardment but decided to proceed. Meanwhile, Americans orders to attempt a "cross the T" maneuver but the Japanese force was scattered in several groups and orders were delayed as the U.S. line began to fall apart. The two forces began to overlap as they waited for permission to open fire.

At 1:48am Hiei and Akatsuki turned on their searchlights to illuminate USS Atlanta (CL-51) only 3,000 yards away and opened fire. Simultaneously, several other ships in both forces opened fire. Adding to the confusion, Callaghan issued the order, "Odd ships fire to starboard, even ships fire to port" as the forces intermingled into a confused close range combat where the Japanese had the advantage with extensive training for night combat.

Illuminated, Akatsuki drew gunfire from several destroyers and cruisers and sustained repeated hits and blew up and quickly sank south of Savo Island.

During the melee, USS Juneau (CL-52) was hit by a torpedo and stops dead in the water.

Second Phase of Battle: November 14-15, 1942
The Second phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal began November 14, 1942 around 11:00pm and ended November 15, 1942. This engagement is also known as the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

On November 14, 1942 in the evening, U.S. Navy Task Force 64 (TF-64) under the command of Admiral Willis A. "Ching" Lee entered Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal to defend the Henderson Field area. The force was comprised of USS Washington and USS South Dakota (BB-57) with destroyers USS Preston (DD-379) and USS Walke (DD-416), USS Benham (DD-397) and USS Gwin (DD-433). The force was ad hoc, the battleships had only operated together for a few days and the destroyers were from different divisions and were assigned as screens based on their fuel supply. The force began patrolling south of Savo Island in column formation with the destroyers in the lead with the battleships close behind.

Meanwhile, the Japanese force under the command of Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondō approached via Indispensable Strait to the Savo Island area. The force includes battleship Kirishima, heavy cruisers Atago (flagship) and Takao, light cruisers Nagara and Sendai plus nine destroyers (including several that participated in the first phase).

Approaching Savo Island, the force divided into three sections: the bombardment group; a close screen of the cruiser Nagara and six destroyers; and a distant screen of the cruiser Sendai and three destroyers in the van of the other forces. At the start of the battle, Sendai with destroyers Shikinami and Uranami were to sweep the east side of Savo Island. Destroyer Ayanami patrolled counter clockwise around the southwest of Savo Island.

At 10:55pm radar on the American battleships began to detect the approaching Japanese force near Savo Island at a distance of roughly 20,000 yards / 18,000m. At 11:00pm the Japanese spotted the Americans but misidentified the battleships as cruisers. At 11:17pm the U.S. battleships using radar targeting opened fire on Sendai, Uranami, and Shikinami but failed to score any hits.

At 11:22pm the four U.S. destroyers engaged Ayanami and the Nagara that responded with accurate gunfire and torpedoes and within ten minutes hit and sank USS Preston (DD-379) and USS Walke (DD-416). Also hit in the bow and severely damaged was USS Benham (DD-397) and USS Gwin (DD-433) was hit in her engine room and both damaged destroyers were ordered to withdraw.

The two battleships went into action with USS Washington engaged Ayanami setting the destroyer on fire. USS South Dakota suffered a series of electrical failures and temporarily lost radar, radio and gun battery control but remained in formation towards western Savo Island until 11:35pm when the battleships separated to pass the burning destroyers and USS South Dakota was silhouetted.

On November 15, 1942 around midnight, USS South Dakota was targeted with gunfire and torpedoes and was hit 26 times including several duds that knocked out communications and all gunfire control and caused fires on deck. The battleship managed to return fire scoring a few hits on Kirishima jamming her rudder and causing her to circle to port. Damaged, South Dakota turned away from the engagement at 12:17am with 39 killed and 59 wounded.

Afterwards, both Rear Admiral Scott and Rear Admiral Callaghan earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

References
Combined Fleet: #3. First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (November 13, 1942)
Combined Fleet: #4. Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (November 14-15, 1942)
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) - Naval Battle of Guadalcanal Historical Summary
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) - Naval Battle of Guadalcanal Chronology

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Last Updated
November 12, 2021

 

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November 13, 1942

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Iron Bottom Sound
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