Battle of Savo Island


Battle of Savo Island

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Savo Island


caption=The U.S. cruiser "Quincy" on fire and sinking as a result of numerous gunfire and torpedo hits from attacking Japanese cruisers. The flames at the far left of the picture are probably from the U.S. cruiser "Vincennes", also on fire from gunfire and torpedo damage. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 306–307.]
partof=the Pacific Theater of World War II
date=August 8 – August 9, 1942
place=Vicinity of Savo Island, Solomon Islands
coord|9|8|0|S|159|49|0|E|type:isle|display=inline,title
result= Japanese victory
combatant1=flagicon|USA|1912 United States
flagicon|Australia Australia

combatant2=flagicon|Japan|alt Empire of Japan
commander1=flagicon|USA|1912 Richmond K. Turner (USN) flagicon|UK|naval Victor Crutchley (RN)
commander2=flagicon|Japan|naval Isoroku Yamamoto (IJN) flagicon|Japan|naval Gunichi Mikawa (IJN)
strength1=8 cruisers,
15 destroyers [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 100–101.]
strength2=7 cruisers,
1 destroyer [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 100.]
casualties1=4 cruisers sunk,
1 cruiser,
2 destroyers damaged,
1,077 killed [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 121. Breakdown of Allied deaths by ship: "Quincy"-389, "Vincennes"-342, "Astoria"-235, "Canberra"-85, "Ralph Talbot"-14, "Patterson"-10, and "Chicago"-2. Although "Jarvis" was sunk later on August 9 with the loss of her entire crew of 233, this loss is usually considered a separate action from the battle. "Chicago" was under repair until January, 1943. "Ralph Talbot" was under repair in the U.S. until November, 1942. "Patterson" was repaired locally.]
casualties2=3 cruisers moderately damaged,
58 killed [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 117. Breakdown of Japanese deaths by ship: "Chōkai"-34, "Tenryū"-23, and "Kinugasa"-1. Although "Kako" was sunk the next day (August 10) before reaching home port at Kavieng with 71 personnel killed, this loss is usually considered a separate action from the battle. All of the other damage to the Japanese cruisers was repaired locally.]

The Battle of Savo Island, also known as the First Battle of Savo Island and, in Japanese sources, as the nihongo|First Battle of the Solomon Sea|第一次ソロモン海戦|Dai-ichi-ji Soromon Kaisen, took place August 8 – August 9, 1942. It was a naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II, between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Allied naval forces. The battle was the first major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign.

In the battle, a Japanese warship task force surprised and routed the Allied naval force, sinking one Australian and three American cruisers, while taking only moderate damage in return. The Japanese force consisted of seven cruisers and one destroyer, commanded by Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa. In response to Allied amphibious landings in the eastern Solomon Islands, Mikawa brought his task force down New Georgia Sound (also known as "the Slot") to attack the Allied amphibious fleet and its screening force. The screening force consisted of eight cruisers and fifteen destroyers, commanded by British Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley VC, but only five cruisers and seven destroyers were actually involved in the battle.

As a result of the defeat, the remaining Allied warships and the amphibious force withdrew from the Solomon Islands. This temporarily conceded control of the seas around Guadalcanal to the Japanese. Allied ground forces had landed on Guadalcanal and nearby islands only the day before. The withdrawal of the fleet left them in a precarious situation, with barely enough supplies, equipment, and food to hold their beachhead.

Background

Operations at Guadalcanal

On August 7, 1942, Allied forces (primarily U.S. Marines) landed on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida Island in the eastern Solomon Islands. The landings were meant to deny their use to the Japanese as bases. From the eastern Solomons, Japanese forces threatened the supply routes between the U.S. and Australia. The Allies also wanted to use the islands as starting points for a campaign to recapture the Solomons, isolate the major Japanese base at Rabaul, and support the Allied New Guinea campaign. The landings initiated the six-month-long Guadalcanal campaign. [Hogue, "Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal", p. 235–236.]

The overall commander of Allied naval forces in the Guadalcanal and Tulagi operation was U.S. Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. He also commanded the carrier task groups providing air cover. U.S. Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner commanded the amphibious fleet that delivered the 16,000 Allied troops to Guadalcanal and Tulagi. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 14.] Also under Turner was British Admiral Victor Crutchley's screening force of eight cruisers, fifteen destroyers, and five minesweepers. This force was to protect Turner's "amphibs" and provide gunfire support for the landings. Crutchley commanded his force of mostly American ships from the heavy cruiser HMAS "Australia" as his flagship. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 621–624.]

The Allied landings took the Japanese by surprise. The Allies secured Tulagi, nearby islets Gavutu and Tanambogo, and the airfield under construction on Guadalcanal by nightfall on August 8. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 14–15.] On August 7 and August 8, Japanese aircraft based at Rabaul attacked the Allied amphibious forces several times, setting afire the U.S. transport ship "George F. Elliott" (which sank later) and heavily damaging the destroyer "Jarvis". [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 90–103.] In these air attacks, the Japanese lost 36 aircraft, while the U.S. lost 19 aircraft, including 14 carrier fighter aircraft. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 80.]

Concerned over the losses to his carrier fighter aircraft strength, "anxious" about the threat to his carriers from further Japanese air attacks, and worried about his ships' fuel levels, Fletcher announced that he would be withdrawing his carrier task forces on the evening of August 8. [Hammel, "Carrier Clash", p. 99.]

Some historians contend that Fletcher's fuel situation was not at all critical but that Fletcher implied that it was to justify his withdrawal from the battle area. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 104–105; Frank "Guadalcanal" p. 94; and Morison "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 28.] Fletcher's biographer notes that Fletcher concluded that the landing was a success and that no important targets for close air support were at hand. But concerned over the loss of 21 of his carrier fighters, he assessed that his carriers were threatened by torpedo-bomber strikes and wanting to refuel before Japanese naval forces arrived, withdrew as he had previously forewarned Turner and Vandegrift. Turner, however, believed that Fletcher understood that he was to provide air cover until all the transports were unloaded on August 9. [Lundstrom, "Black Shoe Carrier Admiral", p. 368–385.]

Even though the unloading was going slower than planned, Turner decided that without carrier air cover, he would have to withdraw his ships from Guadalcanal. He planned to unload as much as possible during the night and depart sometime during the next day. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 59.]

Japanese response

Unprepared for the Allied operation at Guadalcanal, the initial Japanese response included airstrikes and an attempted reinforcement. Mikawa, commander of the newly formed Japanese Eighth Fleet headquartered at Rabaul, loaded 519 naval troops on two transports and sent them towards Guadalcanal on August 7. However, when the Japanese learned how many Allied troops had landed on Guadalcanal, the transports were recalled. [Newcomb, "The Battle of Savo Island" p. 13. The Eighth Fleet was also known as the Outer South Seas Force and included Cruiser Divisions 6 and 18.]

Mikawa also assembled all the available warships in the area to attack the Allied forces at Guadalcanal. At Rabaul were the heavy cruiser "Chōkai" (Mikawa's flagship), the light cruisers "Tenryū" and "Yubari" and the destroyer "Yunagi". En route from Kavieng were four heavy cruisers of Cruiser Division 6 under Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto: "Aoba", "Furutaka", "Kako", and "Kinugasa". [Dull, "Imperial Japanese Navy", pp. 193–194, Coombe, "Derailing the Tokyo Express", p. 21. After the two transports were recalled, one of them, "Meiyo Maru", was sunk near Cape St George, Bougainville at 21:25 on August 8 by the submarine USS "S-38" with the loss of 373 personnel. This loss is usually regarded as a separate action from the Battle of Savo Island.]

The Japanese Navy had trained extensively in night-fighting tactics before the war, a fact of which the Allies were unaware. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 43–44. Japanese night battle preparations included the use of lookouts intensively trained for night operations, specially designed optical devices for nighttime observation, the long-range Type 93 torpedo, use of battleship and cruiser-carried floatplanes to drop flares, and frequent and realistic fleet night-training exercises.] Mikawa hoped to engage the Allied naval forces off Guadalcanal and Tulagi on the night of August 8 and August 9, when he could employ his night-battle expertise while avoiding attacks from Allied aircraft, which could not operate effectively at night. Mikawa's warships rendezvoused at sea near Cape St. George in the evening of August 7 and then headed east-southeast. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 19, Coombe, "Derailing the Tokyo Express", p. 21.]

Battle

Prelude

Mikawa decided to lead his fleet north of Buka Island and then down the east coast of Bougainville. The fleet would pause east of Kieta for six hours on the morning of August 8. (This would avoid daytime air attacks during their final approach to Guadalcanal.) [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 126.] Then they would proceed along the dangerous channel known as "The Slot", hoping that no Allied plane would sight him in the fading light. But the Japanese fleet was sighted in St George Channel, where their column almost ran into USS "S-38", lying in ambush. She was too close to fire torpedoes, but her captain, Lieutenant Commander H.G. Munson, radioed:

TWO DESTROYERS AND THREE LARGER SHIPS OF UNKNOWN TYPE HEADING ONE FOUR ZERO TRUE AT HIGH SPEED EIGHT MILES WEST OF CAPE ST. GEORGE. [Toland, John, "The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945", Random House, 1970, p. 355.]

Once at Bougainville, Mikawa spread his ships out over a wide area to mask the composition of his force and launched four floatplanes from his cruisers to scout for Allied ships in the southern Solomons.

At 10:20 and 11:10, his ships were spotted by Australian Hudson reconnaissance aircraft based at Milne Bay in New Guinea. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 88. The floatplanes launched by Mikawa included three Aichi E13A "Jakes" and one Kawanishi E7K2 "Alf". One Jake was shot down by aircraft from USS "Wasp", and its crew was killed. (Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 129).] The first Hudson to sight Mikawa's warships identified them as "three cruisers, three destroyers, and two seaplane tenders".

The Hudson's crew tried to report the sighting to the Allied radio station at Fall River, New Guinea. But receiving no acknowledgment, they abandoned the patrol and returned to Milne Bay (at 12:42) to ensure that the report was received as soon as possible.

The second Hudson also failed to report its sighting by radio but completed its patrol, landing at Milne Bay at 15:00, and then reported sighting "two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and one unknown type".

For unknown reasons, these reports were not relayed to the Allied fleet off Guadalcanal until 18:45 and 21:30, respectively, on August 8. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 139–150. The misidentification of two of Mikawa's cruisers as seaplane tenders by the first Hudson may have been because of the wide dispersal of the Japanese warships; also, the Hudson's crew sighted a floatplane returning. The first Hudson's report was not received by radio because the Fall River station was shut down at that time for an air raid alert. When the second Hudson tried to radio its sighting of Mikawa's force, Fall River refused to receive the report and rebuked the Hudson's crew for breaking radio silence. Loxton calls the claims by Morison, Dull, Richard Newcomb, and other historians that the first Hudson crew made no attempt to radio their sighting report, routinely and leisurely completed their patrol, and then "had tea" before submitting their report at Milne Bay an "outrageous rumor" and "calumny" that is at odds with what he found in his research.]

Mikawa's cruisers' aircraft returned by 12:00 and reported two groups of Allied ships, one off Guadalcanal and the other off Tulagi. Mikawa reassembled his warships and began his run towards Guadalcanal, entering the Slot near Choiseul by 16:00 on August 8. Mikawa communicated the following battle plan to his warships, cquote|On the rush-in we will go from S. (south) of Savo Island and torpedo the enemy main force in front of Guadalcanal anchorage; after which we will turn toward the Tulagi forward area to shell and torpedo the enemy. We will then withdraw north of Savo Island. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 20.]

Mikawa's run down the Slot was not detected by Allied forces. Turner had requested that U.S. Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., commander of Allied air forces for the South Pacific area, conduct extra reconnaissance missions over The Slot in the afternoon of August 8. But, for unexplained reasons, McCain did not order the missions, nor did he tell Turner that they were not carried out. Thus, Turner mistakenly believed that the Slot was under Allied observation throughout the day. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 89–92.]

s, such as the effectiveness of the radar could be greatly degraded by the presence of nearby landmasses. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 99.] Wary of the potential threat from Japanese submarines to the transport ships, Crutchley placed his remaining seven destroyers as close-in protection around the two transport anchorages. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 80–81.]

The crews of the Allied ships were fatigued after two days of constant alert and action in supporting the landings. Also, the weather was extremely hot and humid, inducing further fatigue and "inviting weary sailors to slackness." In response, most of Crutchley's warships went to "Condition II" the night of August 8, which meant that half the crews were on duty while the other half rested, either in their bunks or near their battle stations. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 32.]

In the evening, Turner called a conference on his command ship off Guadalcanal with Crutchley and Marine commander Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift to discuss the withdrawal of Fletcher's carriers and the resulting withdrawal schedule for the transport ships. At 20:55, Crutchley left the southern group in "Australia" to attend the conference, leaving Captain Howard D. Bode of "Chicago" in charge of the southern group. Bode, awakened from sleep in his cabin, decided not to place his ship in the lead of the southern group of ships, the customary place for the senior ship, and went back to sleep. At the conference, Turner, Crutchley, and Vandegrift discussed the reports of the "seaplane tender" force. They decided it would not be a threat that night, because seaplane tenders did not normally engage in a surface action. Vandegrift said that he would need to inspect the transport unloading situation at Tulagi before recommending a withdrawal time for the transport ships, and he departed at midnight to conduct the inspection. Crutchley elected not to return with "Australia" to the southern force but instead stationed his ship just outside the Guadalcanal transport anchorage, without informing the other Allied ship commanders of his intentions or location. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 96–97.]

As Mikawa's force neared the Guadalcanal area, the Japanese ships launched three floatplanes for one final scout of the Allied ships, and to provide illumination by dropping flares during the upcoming battle. Although several of the Allied ships heard and/or observed one or more of these floatplanes, starting at 23:45 on August 8, none of them interpreted the presence of unknown aircraft in the area as an actionable threat, and no one reported the sightings to Crutchley or Turner. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 165–166.]

Mikawa's force approached in a single 3 kilometre (2 mi) column led by "Chōkai", with "Aoba", "Kako", "Kinugasa", "Furutaka", "Tenryū", "Yubari", and "Yunagi" following. Sometime between 00:44 and 00:54 on August 9, lookouts in Mikawa's ships spotted "Blue" about 9 kilometres (5.5 mi) ahead of the Japanese column. [Dull, "Imperial Japanese Navy", p. 197. Dull says the time was 00:44, Loxton 00:53 ("Shame of Savo", p. 171), Morison 00:54 ("Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 35), and Frank says 00:50 ("Guadalcanal", p. 103).]

Action south of Savo

To avoid "Blue", Mikawa changed course to pass north of Savo Island.Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 36.] He also ordered his ships to slow to convert|22|kn|km/h, to reduce wakes that might make his ships more visible. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 103.] Four minutes later, Mikawa's lookouts spied either "Ralph Talbot" about 16 kilometres (10 mi) away or a small schooner of unknown nationality. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 171.] [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 103. Morison claims that "Blue" later sighted a "Japanese auxiliary schooner" in that same area but gives no supporting evidence for why he or "Blue" believed that the schooner was of Japanese nationality ("Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 55). Loxton states that "Blue" found the schooner to be "harmless" (Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 216).] The Japanese ships held their course while pointing more than 50 guns at "Blue", ready to open fire at the first indication that "Blue" had sighted them. When "Blue" was less than 2 kilometres (1 mi) away from Mikawa's force, she suddenly reversed course, having reached the end of her patrol track, and steamed away, apparently oblivious to the long column of large Japanese ships sailing by her. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 171–173.] Seeing that his ships were still undetected, Mikawa turned back to a course south of Savo Island and increased speed, first to convert|26|kn|km/h, and then to convert|30|kn|km/h. At 01:25, Mikawa released his ships to operate independently of his flagship, and at 01:31, he ordered, "Every ship attack." [Dull, "Imperial Japanese Navy", p. 197.]

At about this time, "Yunagi" detached from the Japanese column and reversed direction, perhaps because she lost sight of the other Japanese ships ahead of her, or perhaps she was ordered to provide a "rear guard" for Mikawa's force. One minute later, Japanese lookouts sighted a warship to port. This ship was the destroyer "Jarvis", heavily damaged the day before and now departing Guadalcanal independently for repairs in Australia. Whether "Jarvis" sighted the Japanese ships is unknown, since her radios had been destroyed. "Furutaka" launched torpedoes at "Jarvis", which all missed. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 103–104.] The Japanese ships passed as close to 1,100 metres of "Jarvis", close enough for officers on "Tenryū" to look down onto the destroyer's decks without seeing any of her crew moving about. If "Jarvis" was aware of the Japanese ships passing by, she did not respond in any noticeable way. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 176–177.]

Two minutes after sighting "Jarvis", the Japanese lookouts sighted the Allied destroyers and cruisers of the southern force about 12,500 metres away, silhouetted by the glow from the burning "George F. Elliot". [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 178.] Several minutes later, at about 01:38, the Japanese cruisers began launching salvos of torpedoes at the Allied southern force ships. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 36–37.] At this same time, lookouts on "Chōkai" spotted the ships of the Allied northern force at a range of 16 kilometres (10 mi). [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 104.] "Chōkai" turned to face this new threat, and the rest of the Japanese column followed, while still preparing to engage the Allied southern force ships with gunfire. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 179–180.]

"Patterson"’s crew was alert because the destroyer's captain had taken seriously the earlier daytime sightings of Japanese warships and evening sightings of unknown aircraft, and told his crew to be ready for action. At 01:43, "Patterson" spotted a ship, probably "Kinugasa", 5,000 meters dead ahead and immediately sent a warning by radio and signal lamp: "Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering the harbor!" "Patterson" increased speed to full, and fired star shells towards the Japanese column. Her captain ordered a torpedo attack, but his order was not heard over the noise from the destroyer's guns. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 206–207.]

At about the same moment that "Patterson" sighted the Japanese ships and went into action, the Japanese floatplanes overhead, on orders from Mikawa, dropped aerial flares directly over "Canberra" and "Chicago". [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 37.] "Canberra" responded immediately, with Captain Frank Getting ordering an increase in speed, a reversal of an initial turn to port, which kept "Canberra" between the Japanese and the Allied transports, and for her guns to train out and fire at any targets that could be sighted. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 180–184.] Less than one minute later, as "Canberra"’s guns took aim at the Japanese, "Chōkai" and "Furutaka" opened fire on her, scoring numerous hits within a few seconds. "Aoba" and "Kako" joined in with gunfire, and within the next three minutes "Canberra" took up to 24 large caliber hits. Early hits killed her gunnery officer, mortally wounded Getting, and destroyed both boiler rooms, knocking out power to the entire ship before "Canberra" could fire any of her guns or communicate a warning to other Allied ships. The cruiser glided to a stop, on fire, with a 5- to 10-degree list to starboard, and unable to fight the fires or pump out flooded compartments because of lack of power. Since all of the Japanese ships were on the port side of "Canberra", the damage to the ship's starboard side occurred either from shells entering low on the port side and exiting below the waterline on the starboard side, or from one or two torpedo hits on the starboard side. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 105. Frank does not believe that Japanese torpedoes hit "Canberra" and does not discuss the possibility that Allied torpedoes hit the ship.] If torpedoes did hit "Canberra" on the starboard side, then they may have come from a nearby Allied ship, and at this time the U.S. destroyer "Bagley" was the only ship on that side of the Australian cruiser and had fired torpedoes moments earlier. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 185–205. Loxton firmly believes that "Canberra" was hit by a torpedo from "Bagley", citing survivor accounts, ship's records, and damage assessments. Morison ("Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 37–38.) states that "Canberra" was hit by two torpedoes on the starboard side but believes they were of Japanese origin.]

The crew of "Chicago", observing the illumination of their ship by air-dropped flares and the sudden turn by "Canberra" in front of them, came alert and awakened Captain Bode from "a sound sleep". Bode ordered his five-inch (127 mm) guns to fire star shells towards the Japanese column, but the shells did not function. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 39.] At 01:47, a torpedo, probably from "Kako", hit "Chicago"’s bow, sending a shock wave throughout the ship that damaged the main battery director. A second torpedo hit but failed to explode, and a shell hit the cruiser's mainmast, killing two crewmen. "Chicago" steamed west for 40 minutes, [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 213.] leaving behind the transports she was assigned to protect. The cruiser fired her secondary batteries at the trailing ships in the Japanese column and may have hit "Tenryū", causing slight damage. Bode did not try to assert control over any of the other Allied ships in the southern force, of which he was still technically in command. More significantly, Bode made no attempt to warn any of the other Allied ships or personnel in the Guadalcanal area as his ship headed away from the battle area. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 105–106.]

During this time, "Patterson" engaged in a gun duel with the Japanese column. "Patterson" received a shell hit aft, causing moderate damage and killing 10 crew members. "Patterson" continued to pursue and fire at the Japanese ships and may have hit "Kinugasa", causing moderate damage.Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 107.] "Patterson" then lost sight of the Japanese column as it headed northeast along the eastern shore of Savo Island. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 207.] "Bagley", whose crew sighted the Japanese shortly after "Patterson" and "Canberra", circled completely around to port before firing torpedoes in the general direction of the rapidly disappearing Japanese column; one or two of which may have hit "Canberra". "Bagley" played no further role in the battle. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 38–39.] "Yunagi" exchanged non-damaging gunfire with "Jarvis" before exiting the battle area to the west with the intention of eventually rejoining the Japanese column north and west of Savo Island. [Dull, "Imperial Japanese Navy", p. 199. "Chicago"’s crew witnessed the gun battle between "Jarvis" and "Yunagi" (Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 208).]

At 01:44, as Mikawa's ships headed towards the Allied northern force, "Tenryū" and "Yubari" split from the rest of the Japanese column and took a more westward course. "Furutaka", either because of a steering problem, [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 208.] or to avoid a possible collision with "Canberra", followed "Yubari" and "Tenryū". Thus, the Allied northern force was about to be enveloped and attacked from two sides. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 107–108.]

Action north of Savo

When Mikawa's ships attacked the Allied southern force, the captains of all three U.S. northern force cruisers were asleep, with their ships steaming quietly at convert|10|kn|km/h. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 40–47.] Although crewmen on all three ships observed flares or gunfire from the battle south of Savo or else received "Patterson"’s warning of threatening ships entering the area, it took some time for the crews to go from Condition II to full alert. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 217–221.] At 01:44, the Japanese cruisers began firing torpedoes at the northern force. At 01:50, they aimed powerful searchlights at the three northern cruisers and opened fire with their guns.

"Astoria"’s bridge crew called general quarters upon sighting the flares south of Savo, around 01:49. At 01:52, shortly after the Japanese searchlights came on and shells began falling around the ship, "Astoria"’s main gun director crews spotted the Japanese cruisers and opened fire. "Astoria"’s captain, awakened to find his ship in action, rushed to the bridge and ordered a cease fire, fearful that his ship might be firing on friendly forces. As shells continued to cascade around his ship, the captain ordered firing resumed less than a minute later. However, "Chōkai" had found the range, and "Astoria" was quickly hit by numerous shells and set afire. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 41–44. "Astoria"’s captain's exact words upon arriving on the bridge were, "Topper, I think we are firing on our own ships. Let's not get excited and act too hasty! Cease firing!" "Astoria"’s gunnery officer replied to this command with, "For God's sake give the word to commence firing!" The captain, after witnessing "Chōkai"’s fourth salvo straddle his ship, declared, "Whether our ships or not, we will have to stop them. Commence firing!" (Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 226–227.)] Between 02:00 and 02:15, "Aoba", "Kinugasa", and "Kako" joined "Chōkai" in pounding "Astoria", destroying the cruiser's engine room and bringing the flaming ship to a halt. At 02:16, one of "Astoria"’s remaining operational main gun turrets fired at "Kinugasa"’s searchlight, but missed and hit "Chōkai"’s forward turret, causing moderate damage. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 231.]

"Quincy" had also seen the aircraft flares over the southern ships, received "Patterson"’s warning, and had just sounded general quarters and was coming alert when the searchlights from the Japanese column came on. "Quincy"’s captain gave the order to commence firing, but the gun crews were not ready. Within a few minutes, "Quincy" was caught in a crossfire between "Aoba", "Furutaka", and "Tenryū", and was hit heavily and set afire. "Quincy"’s captain ordered his cruiser to charge towards the eastern Japanese column, but as she turned to do so "Quincy" was hit by two torpedoes from "Tenryū", causing severe damage. "Quincy" managed to fire a few main gun salvos, one of which hit "Chōkai"’s chart room 6 meters (20 ft) from Admiral Mikawa and killed or wounded 36 men, although Mikawa was not injured. At 02:10, incoming shells killed or wounded almost all of "Quincy"’s bridge crew, including the captain. At 02:16, the cruiser was hit by a torpedo from "Aoba", and the ship's remaining guns were silenced. "Quincy"’s assistant gunnery officer, sent to the bridge to ask for instructions, reported on what he found:cquote|When I reached the bridge level, I found it a shambles of dead bodies with only three or four people still standing. In the Pilot House itself the only person standing was the signalman at the wheel who was vainly endeavoring to check the ship's swing to starboard to bring her to port. On questioning him I found out that the Captain, who at that time was laying [sic] near the wheel, had instructed him to beach the ship and he was trying to head for Savo Island, distant some four miles (6 km) on the port quarter. I stepped to the port side of the Pilot House, and looked out to find the island and noted that the ship was heeling rapidly to port, sinking by the bow. At that instant the Captain straightened up and fell back, apparently dead, without having uttered any sound other than a moan. "Quincy" sank, bow first, at 02:38. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 111–113.]

, ordered an increase of speed to convert|25|kn|km/h, but shortly thereafter, at 01:55, two torpedoes from "Chōkai" hit, causing heavy damage. "Kinugasa" now joined "Kako" in pounding "Vincennes". "Vincennes" scored one hit on "Kinugasa" causing moderate damage to her steering engines. The rest of the Japanese ships also fired and hit "Vincennes" up to 74 times, and, at 02:03, another torpedo hit her, this time from "Yubari". With all boiler rooms destroyed, "Vincennes" came to a halt, burning "everywhere" and listing to port. At 02:16, Riefkohl ordered the crew to abandon ship, and "Vincennes" sank at 02:50. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 225–228.]

During the engagement, the U.S. destroyers "Helm" and "Wilson" struggled to see the Japanese ships. Both destroyers briefly fired at Mikawa's cruisers but caused no damage and received no damage to themselves. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 114.]

At 02:16, the Japanese columns ceased fire on the northern Allied force as they moved out of range around the north side of Savo Island. "Ralph Talbot" encountered "Furutaka", "Tenryū", and "Yubari" as they cleared Savo Island. The Japanese ships fixed the U.S. destroyer with searchlights and hit her several times with gunfire, causing heavy damage, but "Ralph Talbot" escaped into a nearby rain squall, and the Japanese ships left her behind. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 50–51.]

Mikawa's decision

At 02:16 Mikawa conferred with his staff about whether they should turn to continue the battle with the surviving Allied warships and try to sink the Allied transports in the two anchorages. Several factors influenced his ultimate decision. His ships were scattered and would take some time to regroup. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 115.] Mikawa did not know the number and locations of any remaining Allied warships and his ships had expended much of their torpedoes and ammunition. [Dull, "Imperial Japanese Navy", p. 201.] More importantly, Mikawa believed that U.S. aircraft carriers were in the area and that his ships had no air cover.Mikawa was probably aware that the Japanese Navy had no more heavy cruisers in production, and thus would be unable to replace any that he believed he might lose to air attack the next day if he remained near Guadalcanal. [Toland, John, "ibid", p. 362.] He was unaware that the U.S. carriers had withdrawn from the battle area and would not be a threat the next day. Although several of Mikawa's staff urged an attack on the Allied transports, the consensus was to withdraw from the battle area. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 237–239.] Therefore, at 02:20, Mikawa ordered his ships to retire. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", p. 53.]

Aftermath

At 04:00 on August 9 "Patterson" came alongside "Canberra" to assist the cruiser in fighting her fires. By 05:00, it appeared that the fires were almost under control, but Turner, who at this time intended to withdraw all Allied ships by 06:30, ordered the ship to be scuttled if it was not able to accompany the fleet. After the survivors were removed, the destroyers USS "Selfridge" and USS "Ellet" sank "Canberra" with torpedoes and gunfire. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", pp. 117–118.]

Later in the morning of August 9 General Vandegrift advised Admiral Turner that he needed more supplies unloaded from the transports before they withdrew. Therefore, Turner postponed the withdrawal of his ships until mid-afternoon. In the meantime, "Astoria"’s crew tried to save their sinking ship. "Astoria"’s fires, however, eventually became completely out of control, and the ship sank at 12:15. [Morison, "Struggle for Guadalcanal", pp. 57–59.]

On the morning of August 9, an Australian coastwatcher on Bougainville radioed a warning of a Japanese airstrike on the way from Rabaul. The Allied transports ceased unloading for a time but were puzzled when the airstrike did not materialize. Allied forces did not discover until after the war was over that this Japanese airstrike instead concentrated on "Jarvis" south of Guadalcanal, sinking her with all hands. The Allied transports and warships all departed the Guadalcanal area by nightfall on August 9. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", pp. 250–253. "Jarvis" shot down two of the attacking Japanese aircraft, whose crews were not recovered.]

In the late evening of August 9, Mikawa on "Chōkai" released the four cruisers of Cruiser Division 6 to return to their home base at Kavieng. At 08:10 on August 10, "Kako" was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS "S 44" 110 kilometers (70 mi) from its destination. The other three Japanese cruisers picked up all but 71 of her crew and went on to Kavieng. [Dull, "Imperial Japanese Navy", p. 203.]

From the time of the battle until several months later, almost all Allied supplies and reinforcements sent to Guadalcanal came by transports in small convoys, mainly during daylight hours, while Allied aircraft from the New Hebrides and Henderson Field and any available aircraft carriers flew covering missions. During this time, Allied forces on Guadalcanal received barely enough ammunition and provisions to withstand the several Japanese drives to retake the islands. [Murray, "War to be Won", pp. 211–215.]

Despite their defeat in this battle, the Allies eventually won the battle for Guadalcanal, an important step in the eventual defeat of Japan. In hindsight, if Mikawa had elected to risk his ships to go after the Allied transports on the morning of August 9, he could have ended the Guadalcanal campaign at its inception, and the course of the war in the southern Pacific could have gone much differently. Although the Allied warships at Guadalcanal that night were completely routed, they did accomplish their mission, which was to protect the vital transports from harm. Many of these same transports were used many times to bring crucial supplies and reinforcements to Allied forces on Guadalcanal over succeeding months. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 121.]

A formal United States Navy board of inquiry, known as the Hepburn Investigation, subsequently prepared a report of the battle. The board interviewed most of the major Allied officers involved over several months, beginning in December 1942. [Frank, "Guadalcanal", p. 122.] The report recommended official censure for only one officer: Captain Howard D. Bode. The report stopped short of recommending formal action against other Allied officers, including Admirals Fletcher, Turner, McCain, and Crutchley, and Captain Riefkohl. The careers of Turner, Crutchley, and McCain do not appear to have been affected by the defeat or the mistakes they made in contributing to it. Riefkohl, however, never commanded ships again. Captain Bode, upon learning that the report was going to be especially critical of his actions, shot himself in his quarters at Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, on April 19, 1943, and died the next day. [Shanks, Sandy, "The Bode Testament: Author's Interview", [http://www.microworks.net/pacific/library/shank_interview.htm] and Hackett, "CombinedFleet.com".] Crutchley was gazetted with the Legion of Merit (Chief Commander) in September 1944.

Admiral Yamamoto signaled a congratulatory note to Mikawa on his victory, stating: Cquote|Appreciate the courageous and hard fighting of every man of your organisation. I expect you to expand your exploits and you will make every effort to support the land forces of the Imperial army which are now engaged in a desperate struggle. Later on, though, when it became apparent that Mikawa had missed a "golden" opportunity to destroy the Allied transports, he was intensely criticised by his comrades. [Loxton, "Shame of Savo", p. 267.]

Admiral Turner later assessed why his forces were so soundly defeated in the battle: cquote|The (U.S.) Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise.Frank, "Guadalcanal", page 123.]

Historian Richard B. Frank adds: Cquote|This lethargy of mind would not be completely shaken off without some more hard blows to (U.S.) Navy pride around Guadalcanal, but after Savo, the United States picked itself up off the deck and prepared for the most savage combat in its history.

Notes

References

*cite book
last = Coombe
first = Jack D.
authorlink =
year = 1991
title = Derailing the Tokyo Express
publisher = Stackpole
location = Harrisburg, PA
id = ISBN 0-8117-3030-1

*cite book
last = Dull
first = Paul S.
authorlink =
year = 1978
chapter =
title = A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1941–1945
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-87021-097-1

*cite book
last = Frank
first = Richard B.
authorlink = Richard B. Frank
year = 1990
title = Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle
publisher = Penguin Group
location = New York
id = ISBN 0-14-016561-4

*cite book
last = Loxton
first = Bruce
authorlink =
coauthors = Chris Coulthard-Clark
year = 1997
chapter =
title = The Shame of Savo: Anatomy of a Naval Disaster
publisher = Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd
location = Australia
id = ISBN 1-86448-286-9

*cite book
last = Lundstrom
first = John B.
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2006
chapter =
title = Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location = Annapolis:
id = SBN 1-59114-475-2

*cite book
last = Morison
first = Samuel Eliot
authorlink = Samuel Eliot Morison
coauthors =
year = 1958
chapter =
title = The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942 – February 1943", vol. 5 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II
publisher = Little, Brown and Company
location = Boston
id = ISBN 0-316-58305-7

* cite book
last = Murray
first = Williamson
coauthors = Allan R. Millett
year = 2001
title = A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War
publisher = Belknap Press
location = United States of America
id = ISBN 0-674-00680-1

*cite book
last = Newcomb
first = Richard F.
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1961 (Reissue 2002)
chapter =
title = The Battle of Savo Island: The Harrowing Account of the Disastrous Night Battle Off Guadalcanal that Nearly Destroyed the Pacific Fleet in August 1942
publisher = Owl Books
location = New York
id = ISBN 0-8050-7072-9

External links

*cite web
last = Bates
first = Richard W.
year = 1950
url = http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/PTO/Hell/NWC-Savo.pdf
title = The Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942. Strategical and Tactical Analysis. Part I
format = PDF
work = Naval War College
accessdate = 2006-08-11

*cite web
last = Cagney
first = James
year = 2005
url = http://www.historyanimated.com/SavoIslandPage.html
title = Interactive Animation of The Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942
format = javascript
work = HistoryAnimated.com
accessdate = 2006-05-17

*cite web
last = Horan
first = Mark
year =
url = http://www.navweaps.com/index_oob/OOB_WWII_Pacific/OOB_WWII_First-Savo.htm
title = First Battle of Savo Island
work = Order of Battle
accessdate = 2006-05-17

*cite web
last = Lanzendörfer
first = Tim
year =
url = http://www.microworks.net/pacific/battles/savo_island.htm
title = Opening Salvos: The Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942
work = The Pacific War: The U.S. Navy
accessdate = 2006-05-17

*cite web
last = Office of Naval Intelligence
first =
year = 1943
url = http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/USN-CN-Savo/index.html
title = The Battle of Savo Island 9 August 1942
work = Combat Narrative
publisher = Publications Branch, Office of Naval Intelligence, United States Navy
accessdate = 2006-05-17

Further reading

*cite book
last = D'Albas
first = Andrieu
authorlink =
year = 1965
title = Death of a Navy: Japanese Naval Action in World War II
publisher = Devin-Adair Pub
location =
id = ISBN 0-8159-5302-X

*cite book
last = Hammel
first = Eric
authorlink = Eric M. Hammel
coauthors =
year = 1999
chapter =
title = Carrier Clash: The Invasion of Guadalcanal & The Battle of the Eastern Solomons August 1942
publisher = Zenith Press
location = St. Paul, MN, USA
id = ISBN 0-7603-2052-7

*cite book
last = Kilpatrick
first = C. W.
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1987
chapter =
title = Naval Night Battles of the Solomons
publisher = Exposition Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-682-40333-4

*cite book
last = Lacroix
first = Eric
authorlink =
coauthors = Linton Wells
year = 1997
chapter =
title = Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-87021-311-3

*cite book
last = Warner
first = Denis Ashton
authorlink =
coauthors = Peggy Warner & Sadao Senoo
year = 1992
chapter =
title = Disaster in the Pacific: New Light on the Battle of Savo Island
publisher = Naval Institute Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-87021-256-7

ee also

* USS "Savo Island" (CVE-78)


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