Friday, December 28, 2018

Fullbore Friday

While much has been written about the questionable operational and strategic use of the Imperial Japanese Navy's submarines in WWII, precious little has been written about some of the superb tactical leadership, performance, and effect some of their units had.

When re-reading portions of James Hornfischer's exceptional book, Neptune's Inferno, I was reminded of one of the most influential warships and commanders of the entire Pacific Campaign; then LCDR Kinashi Takakazu, IJN (later CDR and posthumously promoted to Rear Admiral).

It isn't just what he sunk or damaged (click here for his entire patrol record) - but the impact he and his crew had on the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

The first year of the war was not a good time to be an aircraft carrier, Japanese or American. USS YORKTOWN (CV 5) was sunk in June 1942 at the Battle of Midway. USS LEXINGTON (CV 2) was sunk a month before YORKTOWN at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Then, one beautiful Pacific day,
15 September 1942:
At 0950, while running submerged, the soundman reports a contact with many heavy screws at 12-18S, 164-15E. LtCdr Kinashi orders I-19 to periscope depth. He makes a sweep with his 'scope but no ships are in sight.

250 miles SE of Guadalcanal. Captain (later Admiral) Forrest P. Sherman's USS WASP and Captain Charles P. Mason's (later Rear Admiral) HORNET (CV-8) are escorting a reinforcement convoy of six transports carrying the 7th Marine Regiment from Espiritu Santo to reinforce Guadalcanal. The carriers are steaming in sight of each other about 8 miles apart. Each carrier forms the nucleus of a task force. Captain George H. Fort's (later Rear Admiral) battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55) is with the HORNET task force to the NE of the WASP force.

At 1050, Kinashi raises his periscope again. This time he sees a carrier, a heavy cruiser and several destroyers (Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes' Task Force 18) bearing 045T at 9 miles. Kinashi estimates the task force's course at 330 and begins a slow approach. The Americans, zigzagging at 16 knots, change course to WNW. Then at 1120, the target group again changes course -this time to SSE. WASP makes a slow left turn into the wind to launch and recover her aircraft - and heads toward the I-19.

LtCdr Kinashi estimates that his target is on course 130 degrees making 12 knots. At 1145, from 50 degrees starboard, he fires a spread of six Type 95 oxygen-propelled torpedoes at the enemy carrier from 985 yards. Two or possibly three hit the WASP and start an uncontrollable fire.

HORNET force continues a right turn to a 280 degree base course. Suddenly, an alarm is heard the tactical radio speakers from USS LANSDOWNE (DD-486) in the WASP's screen "... torpedo headed for formation, course 080!"

At 1152, a torpedo from I-19's salvo hits NORTH CAROLINA in her port bow abreast of her forward main battery turret. The blast holes the side protection below the armor belt and NORTH CAROLINA takes on a thousand tons of water. She takes on a five-degree list but counter flooding quickly levels her and she makes 25 knots.

At 1154, a torpedo hits destroyer O'BRIEN's (DD-415) port quarter and another just misses HORNET.

I-19 dives to 265 feet under the carrier's wake. The first depth charge explodes six minutes after the last torpedo hit. Soon the depth charges were exploding all around. American destroyers try to surround I-19 to attack together and finish her off. They rain down 30 depth charges.

At noon, WASP's avgas tanks explode. At 1515, two cruisers and destroyers abandon WASP and withdraw to the south. At 1520, Captain Sherman orders "Abandon Ship". The carrier is scuttled by five torpedoes from LANSDOWNE and sinks by the bow at about 2100. WASP suffers 193 killed and 367 wounded.
The USN was spooked by I-19 for weeks and months - seeing her everywhere and avoiding every hint of her.

Six weeks later, on 26 October 42, USS HORNET (CV 8) was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands by aircraft. That left just one carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CV 6) - safely kept 200nm or so south of Guadalcanal - for the upcoming naval battles in November that saw close in surface actions that chewed up battleships, cruisers, destroyers, aircraft and men unlike anything either navy had seen in its modern history.

If you want that extended story, you need to get the book.

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