Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

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CuttleFish
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Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by CuttleFish » Tue Nov 13, 2012 7:32 am

Since I first chose the subject of the War in the Pacific as my history project essay back in high school, in 1980, I have been gripped and intrigued by the actions of the lengthy campaign to secure the Solomons. It has been on my mind today, off and on while I did my job of work, that it is the 70th anniversary of the beginning one of the most climatic naval battles of the campaign, one in particular that ended with the loss for the IJN of Hiei and Kirishima.

Far from this being the only significant battle, or the most significant point, however. It is an old saying that the "school of life is hard, but the naive will not learn in any other". I often feel the importance of the battles of this campaign, both land and sea, are somewhat overlooked in the contemporary view of World War II. Where almost everyone who professes to know something about World War II (conversationally) will invariably mention the Battle of Midway as the great turning point in the Pacific, their knowledge appears to wane as we get onto the topic of what transpired afterwards. My own feeling is that though Midway was, indeed, a great victory for the USN, helped along by some decryption, and let us face it, also a bit of luck, where the allied forces REALLY learned how to fight the Japanese and eventually beat them at their own game (especially night surface engagements) was in the seesawing Solomons campaign, quite often at great cost in matériel and lives. Some known, almost legendary, names in the military "Hall of Fame" emerged from this campaign; Arleigh Burke and Alexander Vandegrift, to mention two. And yet others who deserve an accolade, like the grimly professional Raizo Tanaka, are sadly almost completely forgotten outside of anything but naval historian circles. All that, for a little old airfield, one might say.

I would love to keep writing and entering into more and more detail on this particular subject, as I leaf through the yellowed and dog-eared 38 pages of typed print (with some of my own hand drawn illustrations inset); that is to say, my essay written 32 years ago and which I have not dug out and read in almost as long. I notice how much I was impressed by events such as the battle of Savo Island and Tassafaronga, tactics like the Tokyo Express, and weapons such as the Long Lance.

Suffice to say, from me; I am paying homage in my own way, today, to those triumphant and yet poignant moments of bygone history, 70 years on. I would love to hear some perspectives from other, more knowledgeable members on the subject, as my global appreciation of the campaign may well be flawed.

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Dave Saxton
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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by Dave Saxton » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:10 pm

I share your interest and would like to join you in paying homage to the sacrifices made in these battles. My interest goes all the way back to when I discovered Morison's accounts. In my opinion they were the decisive battles of the Pacific War. In my opinion they were more important than Midway or the later battles such as Leyte Gulf. We have a lot more primary document and other resources available today than the same old secondary accounts, and they are eye opening to say the least. One of the most shocking things is the failure of Kondo's Long Lances at GCII (at Friday the 13th they didn't work that well either) and what a close shave it was for the US battleships between the historical victory and an unmitigated disaster like Force Z.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by CuttleFish » Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:39 pm

Thanks for that post. I have already looked around and spotted some books that I want to obtain on the subject, next time I am on a visit to the USA (the country where I live is not a place where good WWII books are readily available, and also where the mail service is not that trustworthy to order them and actually receive them. I have had the experience previously).

Indeed, as my interest in the subject is once more rekindled on this milestone date, I find in my preliminary searches that there is so much more to study in depth to do regarding the campaign. For instance, I had always been under the impression that the final foundering of Hiei had been a result of US air attacks after a failed attempt by the crew to scuttle her, and that Kirishima had been fairly and squarely defeated and actually sunk by enemy action the following night. Looking up now, I see there is a bit of a controversy afoot where these previous "assumptions" were made in the texts I used as my references. It is suggested now, apparently, that both sank as a result of scuttling!

What does remain clear still are the various "faults" in the command selection and assignments on the part of the US Navy. I am being careful not to spark off a junior controversy of my own here with that statement, as I am not really up to scratch as yet, but am reviewing some areas of interest from years ago. If anyone cares to do so, please justify views to the contrary, bearing in mind that my interest is to take up the study of the campaign once more. Any comment or reference is appreciated. Hindsight may well be said to be 20/20 (and I keep that concept firmly in mind while reading about commanders' "mistakes"), however, it is only so if one is looking in to the past without a tinted view of the events. I had developed a certain sentiment of sympathy for Rear Admiral Crutchley for the criticism he received in the Savo debacle, and had felt that the event was somewhat inflated beyond its perspective, in the long run and considering the scenario on that night. I almost consider that he was post facto "nominated" as a scapegoat to be recorded in history in order to mitigate some other "blunders of command" that, though probably unintentionally, nonetheless appeared to have transpired in the campaign on the US Navy's part. That Savo was a disaster I thought was a result more of the quick action of the IJN and the (let us say) "dash and daring" of Mikawa in commanding a rather hastily assembled and rather light force, in comparison, at such short notice. That said, I always supposed that the Japanese victory could have been greater, and that Mikawa demonstrated that strange trait that seemed to dog Japanese naval commanders from day one, excessive caution at the crucial moment. After starting the way he did, his sudden retirement from action seemed incongruous. Have I got it right? But then, my own hindsight factor is working here. He did not know exactly to a number what he was up against, and seems that he felt that he had already struck a hard enough blow (which indeed he had), when Chokai started coming under damaging fire.

But that is aside the point. I was somewhat mesmerized by the selection of Callaghan over Scott in the battle for which I started this thread, the latter of whom had already developed a reasonably keen eye for the tactics to be used against the Japanese in night surface actions, and the former of whom seemed to retain a rather unhealthy disdain for the tactical advantage radar could have offered him. Whether there was any negative sentiment between the two regarding this assignment we shall not know, as both commanders very unfortunately (and somewhat unusually) perished in the same action. Is there anything on this matter?

Yes, a close and costly shave indeed.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by paul.mercer » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:53 pm

Dave Saxton wrote:I share your interest and would like to join you in paying homage to the sacrifices made in these battles. My interest goes all the way back to when I discovered Morison's accounts. In my opinion they were the decisive battles of the Pacific War. In my opinion they were more important than Midway or the later battles such as Leyte Gulf. We have a lot more primary document and other resources available today than the same old secondary accounts, and they are eye opening to say the least. One of the most shocking things is the failure of Kondo's Long Lances at GCII (at Friday the 13th they didn't work that well either) and what a close shave it was for the US battleships between the historical victory and an unmitigated disaster like Force Z.
What was wrong with the Long Lance torpedoes, I was always led to believe that they were the best of any side in WW2?

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by Dave Saxton » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:20 pm

paul.mercer wrote:[What was wrong with the Long Lance torpedoes....?
I have the same the same question but do not know for sure the correct answer. We know they failed Kondo. Kondo launched no less than 34 LL's at the South Dakota at ranges of less than 10km with excellent firing angles and got nothing in return. SD was actually completely unaware and took no evasive action. Later attacks against Washington also yielded no results, although in one attack BB56 turned away at just the right moment. This turn was not from taking evasive action but because Lee changed his mind about continuing on toward the northwest. They were unaware they were under torpedo attack. In another instance of torpedoes fired against BB56 they apparent exploded short when they ran into the bow wave extended out from the Washington.

Against Lee's destroyers, they didn't get a high percentage of hits per amount of torpedoes fired. Most of the work of destruction wrought upon the DD's was by Japanese (and American) gunfire. At Friday the 13th they got hits against the Atlanta and some DDs but once again, the % of hits was poor. In more than one case they passed right underneath American DD's without exploding. Did the Japanese think they were firing at cruisers rather than DD's and so set the depth wrong, or did the LL have a tendency to run too deep just like American and German torpedoes early war?

They certainly worked two weeks later at Tassafaronga.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by Dave Saxton » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:55 pm

CuttleFish wrote: I had developed a certain sentiment of sympathy for Rear Admiral Crutchley for the criticism he received in the Savo debacle, and had felt that the event was somewhat inflated beyond its perspective, in the long run and considering the scenario on that night. I almost consider that he was post facto "nominated" as a scapegoat to be recorded in history in order to mitigate some other "blunders of command" that, though probably unintentionally, nonetheless appeared to have transpired in the campaign on the US Navy's part. ...
Crutchley was in large part (unwittingly) mislead by the Americans to put too much faith in radar to cover the approaches to the sound. SC radar on a destroyer had an effective range of only about 5 miles to surface ships in practice. As a result, the two picket destroyers were inadequate to cover the areas involved.
and that Mikawa demonstrated that strange trait that seemed to dog Japanese naval commanders from day one, excessive caution at the crucial moment. After starting the way he did, his sudden retirement from action seemed incongruous.
Mikawa couldn't stay around any longer and be far enough away come day light to not likely be wiped out by American airpower. He had to get out. This was the constant proplem for the IJN. They always suffered from the Cactus Airforce come dawn. This is why it was imperative that they bombard Henderson field with battleships in each of the Nov. battles. They failed to do so, and so suffered at the hands of Cactus the next day. The Friday the 13th Battle was smashing tactical victory for the IJN that was thrown away by recalling Kirishima before it could deliver the bombardment. This is also why Kondo kept loitering with Kirishima waiting for his cruisers to sweep aside the two American "cruisers" so he could complete the bombardment-until a look out confirmed a South Dakota class BB.
I was somewhat mesmerized by the selection of Callaghan over Scott in the battle for which I started this thread, the latter of whom had already developed a reasonably keen eye for the tactics to be used against the Japanese in night surface actions, and the former of whom seemed to retain a rather unhealthy disdain for the tactical advantage radar could have offered him.
Callaghan was selected because he was senior in rank. It was just that simple. He was trying to follow the same tactics that Scott used at Cape Esperance but things got ahead of him too fast. He was trying to maintain tactical control over the TBS radio system and that quickly became overloaded. He had no experience using tactical radar and quickly found it was far more difficult than expected. He probably didn't know or understand the difference between SG with a PPI indicator and SC or FC/FD radar, but that may not have mattered. At the time only the radar operator had access to the only ppi in the radar cabin. The ship's command still had to rely upon the narrative by the radar talker. He could not benifit much from SG anyway in 1942.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by CuttleFish » Wed Nov 14, 2012 3:31 am

Dave Saxton wrote: Crutchley was in large part (unwittingly) mislead by the Americans to put too much faith in radar to cover the approaches to the sound. SC radar on a destroyer had an effective range of only about 5 miles to surface ships in practice. As a result, the two picket destroyers were inadequate to cover the areas involved.
That was the unfortunate circumstance; that the Japanese force slipped past the picket undetected. If I am not mistaken the whole affair was to cost the US Navy's confidence in the RN, henceforth. I do not think an RN officer was ever to command a combined task force again throughout the whole Pacific operation until the end of the war, as a result. Then again, Ernest King did not seem to have been a great fan of the Royal Navy and was probably only to content to have the motive to be done with metering out commands with his allies.
Mikawa couldn't stay around any longer and be far enough away come day light to not likely be wiped out by American airpower. He had to get out. This was the constant proplem for the IJN. They always suffered from the Cactus Airforce come dawn.
Yes, there was that ever present threat. I had not been ignoring it, but had assumed that as the invasion had only just occurred at the time of Mikawa's strike, perhaps he might have considered that Henderson may not have been operational for the US forces yet. Nonetheless, Mikawa was most probably of those who were not in the habit of underestimating his adversary, and maybe considered that, if not from Henderson, air attacks may proceed from at least one US carrier that could have been lurking in the vicinity. The shortage of Japanese carriers during this campaign really seemed to have molded the Japanese psyche here, as they had always placed such faith in them themselves, previously.
Callaghan was selected because he was senior in rank. It was just that simple. He was trying to follow the same tactics that Scott used at Cape Esperance but things got ahead of him too fast. He was trying to maintain tactical control over the TBS radio system and that quickly became overloaded. He had no experience using tactical radar and quickly found it was far more difficult than expected. He probably didn't know or understand the difference between SG with a PPI indicator and SC or FC/FD radar, but that may not have mattered. At the time only the radar operator had access to the only ppi in the radar cabin. The ship's command still had to rely upon the narrative by the radar talker. He could not benifit much from SG anyway in 1942.
I was overlooking that detail. That Callaghan attempted to emulate Scott's methods can actually be considered conceded praise enough, really. That he could not bring it all together as effectively as Scott might have done is, well, conjecture. It is precisely gaps like these, regarding some of the personal traits and probable motivations in action of the commanders, both Japanese and USN, that I now intend to fill in.

Many thanks for making those points!

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by Dave Saxton » Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:19 am

and maybe considered that, if not from Henderson, air attacks may proceed from at least one US carrier that could have been lurking in the vicinity
Absolutely. Mikawa probably had some intel about US carriers or at least expected them, and he could not know that a nervous Fletcher had bugged out.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by Francis Marliere » Thu Nov 15, 2012 4:47 pm

Dave Saxton wrote:Mikawa couldn't stay around any longer and be far enough away come day light to not likely be wiped out by American airpower. He had to get out. This was the constant proplem for the IJN. They always suffered from the Cactus Airforce come dawn.
Mikawa was of course worried by US carriers, but he told after that he withdrew because he folloed doctrine. The doctrine was to go after the warships and don't bother with merchants (they would be sank evenytually if warships were destroyed).

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by sandym » Sat Nov 17, 2012 12:58 pm

One of the factors in many of the battles around Guadalcanal and the Solomons was just how bad the US Navy commanders were, not only admirals but individual captains as well.

The theory propounded by some is that, quite frankly, captains of US warships were just too old, and at that stage in the war, had spent all of their naval careers in a peacetime service where the prospects of advancement were strictly limited and this engendered in them a mindset that is contrary to that required in a naval service at war.

In the battle of Savo Island, Crutchley, at 48, was ten years younger than his US contemporaries, and the captains of the three Australian cruisers, all 43, were also ten years younger than the captains of the US cruisers. In fact, the captains of the Australian cruisers were the same age as the captains of the US destroyers. I have not be able to find out quite why progress through the US Navy was so slow in comparison with the RN/RAN but the implication is that you had got command of US cruisers/destroyers by longevity and survival in service rather than by merit or ability. The complete inaction of the three US cruiser captains in the northern covering group to re-act to what was happening to the south could maybe be attributed to their peacetime mindset. To me, this has always been perplexing as by that stage in the war the US Navy had had nearly three years to observe and learn lessons from the war that was already taking place. The RN made plenty of mistakes during its early months of naval conflict, the analysis of which should surely have been part of US naval study not least because the British passed over so much information (and technology) to the US Navy in those years so the US Navy should have entered the war already running, unlike the dead start the RN was faced with.

This lack of knowledge and, you could say senility, combined with the 'superiority complex' that the US Navy had at the the time, both from a technical and a cultural/racist point of view, severely hampered all the US Navy operations around the Solomons not only in the battles around Guadalcanal but until the very late stages of the whole Solomons campaign. It was only really cured when the US industrial/manpower complex started to crank out ships by the dozen, young sailors by the thousands, enforced rapid promotion of peacetime officers to wartime commands and heavily invested in useful and usable technology, witness the rapid growth in radar and the equally and vitally important skill of radar interpretation.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by Byron Angel » Sat Nov 17, 2012 2:02 pm

It has often been observed that the nature and qualities which promise success and promotion in a peacetime military bureaucracy are quite alien to those which promise success during wartime. Clay Blair (Silent Victory) made the point that, early on in the war, the USN had found it necessary to weed out its older overly cautious and risk averse peacetime sub captains and replace them with younger, more aggressive officers. I would venture that the USN surface fleet was not exempt from this problem.

On the other hand, allowance must be made for the fact that surface forces committed to the defense of Guadalcanal (certainly through the first half of the campaign) were desperately thrown together agglomerations assembled with no regard to existing force organizations. Most of these captains, and the admirals who commanded them, came from numerous different squadrons and divisions and had never previously sailed or trained together.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by steffen19k » Sun Nov 25, 2012 10:04 pm

One thing I learned from reading Bern Keatings book on US PT boats was that the wooden cockleshells fought almost nightly engagements against the Tokyo Express, and they earned their reputation against the Japanese in their nightly slot battles.

The battle between South Dakota, Washington, and Kirishima was one of the few times when Main Force elements of the US Navy actually ventured forth at night and won, and was actually a disappointment for the PT boat skippers who had their hopes set on torpedoing a "Big One".


John D. Bulkeley and MTB 3 are only known for their part in getting MacArthur out of the Phillipines, and yet they had more engagements under their belts than the rest of the US Navy's surface fleet. Its absolutely crazy how many PT boatmen were given awards with oak leaf clusters for their action.

PT boat skippers were usually ensigns or lieutenant (j.g.) and were just as hands deep in the maintenance and operation of their vessels as their motormen, torpedomen, and gunners. Therefore they knew more about what their boats could do, and were less afraid of ending up in a situation they couldn't handle, and that permitted them to be much more aggressive than their "heavy vessel" counterparts.
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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by aurora » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:53 pm

"The battle between South Dakota, Washington, and Kirishima was one of the few batles the USn heavy units fought at night.
South Dakota's "laurels" came from an unknowing American press, subject to navy PR and slavering for "the good story" at all costs, including fact checking (which they couldn't really have done anyway at that time with wartime censorship) when South Dakota returned to the state's for extensive repairs. As "Battleship X" she got the good press, some of it engineered by CPT Gatch, some by Navy PR desk-flyers in Washington (who were anxious to justify the huge costs of the newer battleships at a time when it was obvious aircraft carriers were the new dreadnoughts.) Washington didn't get a stateside break, and her story was buried in the official navy reports, to surface post war in books like Musicant's. However, the real story was known within the senior navy officer corps -- including Halsey, Nimitz and King, the only ones that counted as far as the official record went. this PR bit explains the intense dislike between Washington and South Dakota crews.

Gatch claimed later that "he had to PR the story to the max" because of the navy's desire to promote the new battleships as weapons systems. To me that means he was promoting himself, and got caught out by those in know later, using the navy's PR anxieties as an "out". One notes he never made four stars.

South Dakota already had a reputation problem made earlier at the Battle of Santa Cruz with her claims of shooting down "at least 26 aircraft" with her (then new to battle) massive 5" and 40 mm batteries. This was hotly disputed by USS Enterprise whose chief gunner, Orlin Livedahl simply pointed out that Enterprise had all the zero deflection shots, whereas South Dakota was thousands of yards out covering Enterprise. South Dakota's claims weren't bought within the navy then, either, but of course it got the press eventually, while Enterprise did not. Enterprise won out at the end of the war as the best combat ship in the Pacific and without a doubt the most destructive warship in history.
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Comment is invited on this topic

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by alecsandros » Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:02 am

aurora wrote:
South Dakota already had a reputation problem made earlier at the Battle of Santa Cruz with her claims of shooting down "at least 26 aircraft" with her (then new to battle) massive 5" and 40 mm batteries. This was hotly disputed by USS Enterprise whose chief gunner, Orlin Livedahl simply pointed out that Enterprise had all the zero deflection shots, whereas South Dakota was thousands of yards out covering Enterprise.

aurora
SOuth Dakota was also under heavy air attack [at least 9 Vals and Kates]. I dont' know how many planes they shot down, but I'm sure they were quite a few.

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Re: Naval Battles of Guadalcanal

Post by aurora » Tue Nov 27, 2012 12:34 pm

South Dakota sailed with Task Force 16, which was centered around carrier Enterprise, from Hawaii to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, where they joined with Task Force 17 to form Task Force 61, commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. On 25 Oct, she was engaged in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, where she acted as an anti-aircraft gun platform. She was attacked by dive bombers and sustained a 500-pound bomb hit on the top of her number one turret. At the end of the battle, she was credited with downing 26 Japanese aircraft.-this is the figure disputed by Enterprises Chief gunnery office for the reasons given previously " This was hotly disputed by USS Enterprise whose chief gunner, Orlin Livedahl simply pointed out that Enterprise had all the zero deflection shots, whereas South Dakota was thousands of yards out covering Enterprise. South Dakota's claims weren't bought within the navy then, either, but of course it got the press eventually, while Enterprise did not"

aurora
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