Friday, August 12, 2011

Fullbore Friday

In honor of our guest this Sunday on Midrats - and encore edition of FbF.
The war is only 10 months old and two months after the defeat at the
Battle of Savo Island.

The night action of 10-11 OCT, sometimes know as the Second Battle of Savo Island - but usually as The Battle of Cape Esperance, is an excellent example of the critical importance of training, flexibility, initiative, and aggression - combined with a measure of luck. Luck is always essential, as even the most simple plans become complicated once the battle begins.

First background.
DIVISION 6 of the Imperial Japanese Navy was pretty pleased with itself following its engagement with the Americans off Savo the night of August 8-9, and perhaps with reason. The Japanese felt that they had won a victory, greater than their usual "victories," and although the loss of the KAKO outside the harbor of Kavieng following the battle had cut into their forces by a quarter, they felt themselves to be the backbone of Japan in the Solomons.

But the Americans still clung tenaciously to their ground in the Guadalcanal and Florida islands despite air raids and night bombardments from the "Tokyo Express. " And although their position was precarious, it wasn't enough so for the Jap.

If the Japanese headquarters on Rabaul was busy with plans for marshaling their strength for a knockdown battle for the Solomons, so were the Americans at Espiritu Santo. Something had to be done to stop the Japanese from reinforcing their troops, and from storming Marine positions from the sea, and obviously one way to do it was to reinforce our own land forces at Guadalcanal. For this, a large convoy with Army reinforcements for Guadalcanal was soon to depart from Noumea, in French New Caledonia, halfway between Fiji and Australia. By October 1 1 it would be about 250 miles west of Espiritu Santo, protected by two task forces: one built around the carrier HORNET, the other around the new battleship WASHINGTON.

In Espiritu was a newly organized task force. Its ships had engaged only in target practice together but they were good ships. It would do well, as protection for the left flank of the Army convoy approaching Guadalcanal, to station this task force off the southern shore of that island to intercept any enemy units moving in from the west.

Remember, this is still the "go to war with the Navy you have" part of the war, as the entire Solomon Islands Campaign was.

The post Midway march to Tokyo was on, but this was only the beginning of the beginning.

Let's look at the lineup.

TF 64

Rear-Admiral Norman C. Scott
Bombardment Group

Rear-Admiral Goto
And so, off they went.
Departing New Caledonia on October 8, ships carrying the US 164th Infantry moved north towards Guadalcanal. To screen this convoy, Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley assigned Task Force 64 ... to operate near the island. ... Initially taking station off Rennell Island, Hall moved north on the 11th after receiving reports that Japanese ships had been sited in The Slot.
MicroWorks calls this "Stumbling into Victory." That is one way to look at it.

Me? I call it a lesson on the need for trusting your Commanding Officers with short, direct orders. As an editorial note for brevity, there are two IJN groups NW of Guadalcanal, Goto's Bombardment Group and RADM Jojima's landing force with 4,500 troops.
As he moved north, Hall, aware that the Americans had faired badly in previous night battles with the Japanese, crafted a simple battle plan. Ordering his ships to form a column with destroyers at the head and rear, he instructed them to illuminate any targets with their searchlights so that the cruisers could fire accurately. Hall also informed his captains that they were open fire when the enemy was sited rather than waiting for orders.

Approaching Cape Hunter on the northwest corner of Guadalcanal, Hall, flying his flag from San Francisco, ordered his cruisers to launch their float planes at 10:00 PM. An hour later, San Francisco's float plane sighted Jojima's force off of Guadalcanal. Expecting more Japanese ships to be sighted, Hall maintained his course northeast, passing to the west of Savo Island. Reversing course at 11:30, some confusion led to the three lead destroyers (Farenholt, Duncan, and Laffey) being out of position. About this time, Goto's ships began appearing on the American radars.

Initially believing these contacts to be the out of position destroyers, Hall took no action. As Farenholt and Laffey accelerated to reassume their proper positions, Duncan moved to attack the approaching Japanese ships.
But ahhhh, one man's brevity code is another's order.
A mere 5000 yards distant Goto's ships were moving directly into the center of the American line, which Goto, deeply feeling that no American was present, considered to be Joshima's reinforcement group. It was up to Helena to teach him otherwise. Captain Hoover was certain he had the enemy before him and queried Scott to open fire. Scott replied, "Roger", which he intended as a confirmation of receipt, but if unqualified it meant open fire as well, and Hoover interpreted it as such. He switched on his searchlights, aiming them on Hatsuyuki, the left-wing destroyer, and opened fire with his fifteen 155mm guns at 2346.
That action caught Scott off-guard, but he did not prevent the rest of his line from opening fire on the enemy. Duncan, now only a few hundred yards from Kinugasa, joined in, but was quickly disabled.
Another account describes this classic thus;
At 11:45, Goto's ships were visible to the American lookouts and Helena radioed asking permission to open fire using the general procedure request, "Interrogatory Roger" (meaning "are we clear to act"). Hall responded in the affirmative, and his surprise the entire American line opened fire. Aboard his flagship, Aoba, Goto was taken by complete surprise.
Let's talk about VADM Goto for a second. In a battle that lasted only 30 minutes, the first few were an all-American show. Why? Well, confusion and an inability to realize that your plan was no longer going to happen and that all you were told was wrong. The enemy always gets a vote.
Gotō's force was taken almost completely by surprise. At 23:43 Aoba's lookouts sighted Scott's force, but Gotō assumed that they were Jojima's ships. Two minutes later, Aoba's lookouts identified the ships as American, but Gotō remained skeptical and directed his ships to flash identification signals. As Aoba's crew executed Gotō's order, the first American salvo smashed into Aoba's superstructure. Aoba was quickly hit by up to 40 shells from Helena, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Farenholt, and Laffey. The shell hits heavily damaged Aoba's communications systems and demolished two of her main gun turrets as well as her main gun director. Several large-caliber projectiles passed through Aoba's flag bridge without exploding, but the force of their passage killed many men and mortally wounded Gotō.
CAPT Kijuma, VADM Goto's Chief of Staff stated,
"At first we thought the fire was from our own supply ships. It was a surprise attack. All ships but the KINUGASA immediately reversed course to the right. Due to the shellfire and the congestion, the KINUGASA turned left. As a result of
this turn the KINUGASA only received minor damage from three hits. The AOBA was hit about forty times and was badly damaged. The FURUTAKA and FUBUKI were sunk. The FUBUKI sank before it completed the turn, although it only received four hits. Due to the smoke from the AOBA, the MURAKUMO was not hit. The KINUGASA did most of the fighting for our force.

"Soon after the action started Admiral Goto was mortally wounded. While he was dying, I told him that he could die with easy mind because we had sunk two of your heavy cruisers.

"Following this action we retired to the northwest. The MURAKUMO turned back and rescued about four hundred survivors. When your forces reappeared it departed the area trying to make you chase it within range of our aircraft."
Chaos, on both sides.
Over the next few minutes, Aoba was hit more than 40 times by Helena, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Farenholt, and Laffey. Burning, with many of its guns out of action and Goto dead, Aoba turned to disengage. At 11:47, concerned that he was firing on his own ships, Hall ordered a ceasefire and asked his destroyers to confirm their positions. This done, the American ships resumed firing at 11:51 and pummeled the cruiser Furutaka. Burning from a hit to its torpedo tubes, Furutaka lost power after taking a torpedo from Buchanan. While the cruiser was burning, the Americans shifted their fire to the destroyer Fubuki sinking it.
Two minutes of firing - four minutes of "where and the h311 is everyone" and then firing again. That 4 minutes must have seemed like an hour.
As the battle raged, the cruiser Kinugasa and destoryer Hatsuyuki turned away and missed the brunt of the American attack. Pursuing the fleeing Japanese ships, Boise was nearly hit by torpedoes from Kinugasa at 12:06 AM. Turning on their search lights to illuminate the Japanese cruiser, Boise and Salt Lake City immediately took fire, with the former taking a hit to its magazine. At 12:20, with the Japanese retreating and his ships disorganized, Hall broke off the action.

Later that night, Furutaka sank as result of battle damage, and Duncan was lost to raging fires. Learning of the bombardment force's crisis, Jojima detached four destroyers to its aid after disembarking his troops. The next day, two of these, Murakumo and Shirayuki, were sunk by aircraft from Henderson Field.
The end result of the battle was a complete smacking. Losses:

  • 1 destroyer sunk,
  • 1 cruiser,
  • 1 destroyer heavily damaged,
  • 163 killed
  • 1 cruiser,
  • 3 destroyers sunk,
  • 1 cruiser heavily damaged,
  • 341–454 killed,
  • 111 captured
This was unquestionably a great tactical victory for the USN, but an operational failure as Jojima was still able to get his troops ashore. It also did not supply the right lessons to take forward as we continued not to appreciate the true night fighting capabilities of the IJN and the exceptional danger posed by the Long Lancetorpedo.

This battle was the happy middle between two sobering hammers - The Battle of Savo Island for one, and two months later
Tassafaronga. In the end, I think this best catches the results,
A junior officer on Helena later wrote, "Cape Esperance was a three-sided battle in which chance was the major winner."
A great take-away would be this quote that could be heard after any sea battle for the last 2,500 years, I bet.
In the words of one petty officer who was overheard talking with another on the way back to Espiritu Santo, "I'll never complain of another drill, and I'll deck the man who does."
BTW, that quote and a few others come from Battle Report: Pacific War: Middle Phase by CDR Walter Purdon, USN and CAPT Eric Karig, USN which you can get for free online here, or get the 1947 hardback original here.

This will be crossposted at USNIBlog as part of the SJS led Solomon Islands Campaign thread.


Byron said...

I've always been deeply interested in the Battle for the Solomons. Next to Midway, or even equal to it, it was a hugely importain campaign. The myth of the Japanese soldier was shattered here, as was it's Navy. The entire campaign truly broke the back of the IJN and the waters from Rabaul to Savo are littered with IJN warships and troopships and hundreds of aircraft. Sometime this weekend I'll  be getting Neptunes Inferno and sincerely hoping that Steel Jaw Scribe does the same. We had a lot of discussions on whether or not the Solomons were as important or more important than Midway. I felt the Solomons was more important. SJS, being a Naval Aviator, felt that Midway was ;) .

Truly, this a titanic battle fought over huge reaches of the South Pacific, one with enormous importance to the conduct of the entire war in the Pacific.

steeljawscribe said...


  Midway was key on several levels - strategic to tactical.  It was a pivot point in the Pacific war and the larger war in that it not only dealt a mortal blow to a principle arm of the Imperial Japanese war machine (and one it would never recover from), but it also served as a critical rally point on the home front.  The Solomons Campaign was important because it served to build on the strategic and operational advantages stemming from the pivot at Midway (although, in the early stages, it almost reversed our direction and could've ended in a prolonged stalemate), refined/re-worked our TTP and equipment that folded into the two-pronged drive back across the Pacific and acted as a grinder to further wear and decrement Japanese land and maritime forces. But (and setting aside my brown shoes for the moment), you have to admit,   No Midway -- no Guadalcanal, no Solomons Campaign (as it evolved)and a Pacific War that likely would've stretched to 1947 with very different implications for a post-war US and world.
BTW - have read Neptune's Inferno (very good read btw)

Byron said...

And that's why I've always thought of Midway as the hammer that brought the bull to his knees and the Solomons as the knife to the guts.

sid said...

oh pish...

All this is so "last" century...

Today's Global Force For Good won't be fighting the same archaic way.

It won't have to worry with unanticiapted threats like Long Lances, because of the NETWORK...and Speed!

"Facts"... Come on out of the shadows and explain it to us old farts.

P.S. Wallace said...

In aviation psychology, it is said there are three stages of situational awareness--seeing the stimuli, making sense of them, deciding on the reaction to them. I have long said that if I ever put together a training curriculum, that I was going to use this battle as a classic case study in how you can have sensor contacts and yet still not pull the trigger immediately for a variety of reasons--and also not have full SA even after you do, for a variety of reasons. Because in a world of stealth, there will be more Cape Esperances.

UltimaRatioRegis said...


I would wager that the 29 days encompassing Coral Sea and Midway were not perceived as the turning points they are today.  It was Guadalcanal and the Solomons that determined whether or not the halt of the Japanese advance was very temporary, or whether the Allies had actually blunted the Japanese for good. 

As late as Santa Cruz, when Wasp was lost, things looked damned grim.  It was ironically, the tragedy at Tassafaronga that wound up being the final nail in the Japanese coffin on Guadalcanal.  Despite the overwhelming tactical defeat, the US Navy still managed to prevent Tanaka from resupplying the Japanese garrison.  Two weeks later, the Japanese decided to abandon Guadalcanal. 

Midway and the Solomons in some ways are to the Pacific War what Stalingrad and Kursk are to the Eastern Front.  The loss at Midway meant the Japanese might not win the war, but the defeat in the Solomons confirmed they would lose it.

Anonymous said...

Come on Sid...the IJN would have taken one look at the LCS and run in fear.

Awesomeness is its own weapon!


Aubrey said...

That was me

Aubrey said...

Think of your BH Liddell-Hart - the loss at Midway was as much the destruction of the Japanese equilibrium as it was the destruction of men and material

sid said...


They could hack into the enemy's IT systems and flood them with unadulterated images of "LCS Logic"...

That'll be a war winner! (if not a Crime Against Humanity)

Right DB?

sid said...

And then they can always "Run Away"!!!

Byron said...

URR: Which is exactly my point. One battle stopped the advance; the other started us on the road to the end. One of these days I'm going to sit down and come up with a list of what the Japanese lost during the Solomons campaign. I'll wager it's a lot of precious assets.

UltimaRatioRegis said...


Exactly.  And it was Ernie King who made the absolutely gutsy call that we should move against the Japanese in the Solomons, while they were still off balance.  Against a lot of advice. 

Some good reading on it.  At least I think so!!!!

pk said...

hack the enemies IT.

how do you hack the captain calling down the hatch "Ahmed, more speed, more speed".


Anonymous said...

Awesome Commander.  Eagle1 just posted the First Battle of Savo and now you are following up with the Second Battle of Savo.  Thank you!

Old Farter said...

What really stood out to me in this was how the execution of DIVTACS and standardized reporting in communications affected the course of the battle. All those midwatches spent doing Pub Exercises with CIC and the Bridge could probably be linked back to this. Great stuff for JOs and Deck watchstanders to know.   I certainly would not have wanted to be on one of those destroyers caught between the two forces. After more experience and training, though, they could have put down a smoke screen to mask the Radar Fire Controlled Cruisers from the Japanese.

<span><span>"At 2333,</span></span><span><span> Scott</span></span><span><span> ordered a column turn to the left to reverse his course.....   The turn didn't turn out as thought. San Francisco, Scott's flagship, turned simultaneously with the three leading destroyers, and the rest of the column followed Scott. This brought Captain Robert G. Tobin, in Farenholt and originally leading the formation, out of the same and on the northern flank.</span> </span>
<span><span>    By the time the fleet had concluded its turn, Boise, Helena, Salt Lake City and at least Duncan held contact with Goto, and Boise finally informed Admiral Scott by announcing bogies bearing 65 degrees. This caused considerable confusion, again delaying the general open fire, since Boise failed to amplify whether she meant 65° relative (i.e. sixty-five degrees off to the right of her own heading, which would have been roughly to the east-north-east) or true (i.e., sixty-five degrees on a compass -- dead aft of the formation). It turned out that Boise meant relative, but that information came too late to be of much use as the following minutes would show: Duncan, center ship of the van destroyers, had already had enough and, having the enemy on her fire-control radar, She charged the enemy to deliver a torpedo attack."</span> </span>

ewok40k said...

can 650mm wake homer substitute for long lance in say, second battle of Java Sea? :P

ewok40k said...

IJN would not take into acccount stealthiness of the LCS because they didnt have radar... and they would just old-fashioned optically-aimed gunned it down...

ewok40k said...

Midway and Stalingrad were at strategic level traps for overextended enemy strike forces, while Kursk and Guadalcanal were straight up slugfests that favored one with more industrial capacity...

Salty Gator said...

If I'm not mistaken, the Japanese kept their radar enabled cruisers in the rear where they could do the least amount of good.  Their TTP for radar guidance was nowhere near as evolved as their torpedo TTP.

The thing which is most striking to me after reading books like Japanese Destroyer Captain was the amount of training that both sides did.  A ton.  They went out and they practiced.  Not like today where you basically go out to only do DLQs and you are lucky if you get to do one or two ASW exercises.  Training needs to happen underway. It needs to happen often.  And, if I were king, we'd reopen GTMO and start sending all the East Coast ships back down there to certify prior to deployment.  Add stress to your certification process and your capabilities will only be better.

QMC(SW)(ret) said...

The photo is AOBA post-battle. If you look close you can see the foremast collapsed to starboard. This ship took an incredible amount of punishment during this engagement.