War At Sea - The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942

Posted on Friday 9th November 2012

In order to shift the balance on Guadalcanal, the Japanese planned a major resupply operation for mid- November that would bring in food and ammunition for nearly a month along with 7,000 fresh troops. The escort for this valuable convoy, loaded onto eleven transports, would be nearly the entire available strength of the Eighth and Combined Fleets. The latter was reduced to only one carrier after the losses incurred by the air groups in late October resulted in three carriers having to return to Japan. Instead, battleships would provide the core strength and, as part of the plan, along with their escorting destroyers they would conduct a bombardment of Henderson Field in an attempt to destroy American air power on the island. At the same time as the Japanese convoy was getting underway to move down the Slot, six American transports unloaded troops and supplies at Lunga Point on 12 November.
American reconnaissance aircraft spotted Rear Admiral Abe’s bombardment force approaching from the north as well as the convoy. It was reasonable to assume that the Japanese battleships were either going to conduct a bombardment or attempt to sink the transports. Thus all available cruisers and destroyers were assembled for a night-time engagement where it was hoped torpedo attacks would negate the broadside advantage that the Japanese force enjoyed. The Americans had the advantage of radar and were preparing to attack when the surprised Japanese spotted them. The battle was a confused affair. Rear Admiral Callaghan was killed when a Japanese shell hit San Francisco’s bridge and his deputy, Rear Admiral Scott, was killed when Atlanta was mistakenly hit by American gunfire in addition to the Japanese torpedoes. Hiei was badly damaged and subjected to numerous American air strikes throughout the day before being sunk.


The engagement on 13 November delayed the Japanese convoy from Shortland to Guadalcanal. Instead, Vice Admiral Kondo would first take the Kirishima, the cruisers and destroyers, and bombard Henderson Field late on 14 November. Two more battleships and the sole carrier available would remain north of Guadalcanal in case a large American force arrived. As the remaining naval forces were no longer capable of any action, Vice Admiral Halsey ordered the battleships Washington and South Dakota, then with TF 16 well over 300 miles to the south, to patrol off Savo. TF 64 under Rear Admiral Lee also had four destroyers.

Vice Admiral Mikawa bombarded Henderson Field during the night of 13–14 November with his cruisers. Meanwhile, the convoy under Rear Admiral Tanaka also left Shortland at dusk on 13 November. Both these forces were subjected to American airstrikes from Henderson Field and Enterprise, throughout 14 November. Tanaka’s force took heavy casualties, with some ships turning back, and only nightfall protected the remaining ships that arrived off Guadalcanal. At around 9pm, Rear Admiral Lee began to patrol off Savo. Kondo, who was around an hour away, split his force and sent Rear Admiral Hashimoto ahead to scout. His ships identified the American battleships as cruisers leading Kondo to underestimate the force he faced. This time the Americans had the broadside advantage, although Lee assumed that he would be facing a superior force as he did not anticipate the Japanese deploying only a fraction of their strength.
The Americans made radar contact with Hashimoto’s force at 11pm and fifteen minutes later opened fire, but soon ceased as the approach of a second force from the west caused confusion. The American destroyers were subjected to torpedo attacks and two were sunk; the others were ordered to turn southwest. Despite receiving numerous warnings, Kondo failed to believe he was facing two battleships when South Dakota was illuminated at midnight. The Japanese then focused their fire on her but remained unaware of Washington’s presence, which in turn poured fire into Kirishima. South Dakota turned southwest and Washington continued to fight before also withdrawing. Kondo abandoned the operation, and this was the second Japanese defeat in two days as, in addition to a second battleship, a number of transports were sunk in the morning; the resupply operation had failed.

Further Reading

War at Sea
(Hardback - 288 pages)
ISBN: 9781848320475

by Marcus Faulkner
Only £50.00

In the vast literature of the Second World War there has never been a naval atlas showing graphically the complexities of the war at sea, a war which spread across every ocean. This new book will fill the gap.

With more than 200 beautifully-designed maps and charts, the atlas sets out to visualise the great campaigns and major battles as well as the smaller operations, amphibious landings, convoys, sieges, skirmishes and sinkings. While whole sections are given over to the Pacific war, the battle of the Atlantic…
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