After two days of constant action, the tired crews of the Allied ships were at Condition II which meant that half were on duty while half rested. In addition, several of the cruiser captains were also asleep. Approaching Guadalcanal after dark, Mikawa again launched floatplanes to scout the enemy and to drop flares during the upcoming fight. Closing in a single file line, his ships successfully passed between Blue and Ralph Talbot whose radars were hampered by the nearby land masses. Around 1:35 AM on August 9, Mikawa spotted the ships of the southern force silhouetted by the fires from the burning George F. Elliot.
Though spotting the northern force, Mikawa commenced attacking the southern force with torpedoes around 1:38. Five minutes later, Patterson was the first Allied ship to spot the enemy and immediately went into action. As it did so, both Chicago and Canberra were illuminated by aerial flares. The latter ship attempted to attack, but quickly came under heavy fire and was put out of action, listing and on fire. At 1:47, as Captain Howard Bode was attempting to get Chicago into the fight, the ship was hit in the bow by a torpedo. Rather than assert control, Bode steamed west for forty minutes and left the fight.
Defeat of the Northern Force:
Moving through the southern passage, Mikawa turned north to engage the other Allied ships. In doing so, Tenryu, Yubari, and Furutaka took a more westerly course than the rest of the fleet. As a result, the Allied northern force was soon bracketed by the enemy. Though firing had been observed to the south, the northern ships were unsure of the situation and were slow to go to general quarters. At 1:44, the Japanese began launching torpedoes at the American cruisers and six minutes later illuminated them with searchlights. Astoria came into action, but was hit hard by fire from Chokai which disabled its engines. Drifting to a halt, the cruiser was soon on fire, but managed to inflict moderate damage on Chokai.
Quincy was slower to enter the fray and was soon caught in a crossfire between the two Japanese columns. Though one of its salvos hit Chokai, nearly killing Mikawa, the cruiser was soon on fire from Japanese shells and three torpedo hits. Burning, Quincy sank at 2:38. Vincennes was hesitant to enter the fight for fear of friendly fire. When it did, it quickly took two torpedo hits and became the focus of Japanese fire. Taking over 70 hits and a third torpedo, Vincennes sank at 2:50.
At 2:16, Mikawa met with his staff about pressing the battle to attack the Guadalcanal anchorage. As their ships were scattered and low on ammunition, it was decided to withdraw back to Rabaul. In addition, he believed that the American carriers were still in the area. As he lacked air cover, it was necessary for him to clear the area before daylight. Departing, his ships inflicted damage on Ralph Talbot as they moved northwest.
Aftermath of Savo Island
The first of a series of naval battles around Guadalcanal, the defeat at Savo Island saw the Allies lose four heavy cruisers and suffer 1,077 killed PLUS TWO USN Admirals. In addition, Chicago and three destroyers were damaged. Japanese losses were a light 58 killed with three heavy cruisers damaged. Despite the severity of the defeat, the Allied ships did succeed in preventing Mikawa from striking the transports in the anchorage. Had Mikawa pressed his advantage, it would have severely hampered Allied efforts to resupply and reinforce the island later in the campaign. The US Navy later commissioned the Hepburn Investigation to look into the defeat. Of those involved, only Bode was severely criticized.
Just what went badly wrong ????
Quo Fata Vocant-Whither the Fates call