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1962_07_28--022_SP Guadalcanal

On August 8, in the battle of Savo Island, the U.S. Navy suffered its worst defeat. A Japanese task group raced down The Slot, torpedoed Australia's heavy cruiser Canberra and surprised the Chicago, which raced off in the wrong direction. Splitting their force, the Japanese then sank three more cruisers and escaped northward. 62 Guadalcanal (Continued from page 22) hours of the ninth, strike the warships guarding the Expeditionary Force, shoot up the unloading transports, and so leave the Marines out on a limb. Owing to a series of blunders on our side, Mikawa's approach down the Slot (as we named the channel between the central Solomons) was not properly covered by air search on 8 August, and the morning sightings of Mikawa's force by Australian Hudsons were so mishandled that Admiral Turner did not receive the reports until more than eight hours had passed. The first report, moreover, was misleading in that the pilot mistook two Japanese cruisers for seaplane tenders. On that basis Turner made the bad guess that the Japanese were not coming through that night, but intended to set up a seaplane base at Santa Isabel Island, about 150 miles from Savo, and attack later. This was not Turner's only mistake on that fatal night. He allowed his fighting ships to be divided into three separate groups to guard three possible sea approaches by the enemy. Divide and Be Conquered Rear Adm. Norman Scott with two light cruisers and two destroyers patrolled the transport area between Tulagi and Guadalcanal, and never got into the battle. The two western approaches, on either side of Savo Island, were guarded by six heavy cruisers and four destroyers, besides two more destroyers thrust out as pickets, under Rear Adm. Victor Crutchley, RN. This British flag officer in the Australian navy was a gallant and jovial figure, sporting a full red beard to hide a wound scar, and known to the bluejackets as "Old Goat's Whiskers." He divided his force into two groups: one half, under himself in HMAS Australia, with her sister ship Canberra, USS Chicago and two destroyers, guarded the southern entrance to the sound, while U.S. cruisers Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy, with two destroyers, guarded the northern entrance. Turner was so certain that the enemy would not attack that night that he made the further mistake of summoning Crutchley, in Australia, to a conference on board his flagship, McCawley, twenty miles away, in Lunga Roads, Guadalcanal. Turner's untimely, if necessary, conference stemmed from the worst of all blunders that night: Admiral Fletcher's decision to retire his three-carrier task force from its covering position, thus depriving the landing force of air cover. Consequently Turner felt that he must consult Crutchley and Vandegrift to decide whether the partly unloaded transports should depart that night or risk repeated Japanese air attacks without air protection. The result was that Crutchley and cruiser Australia were not on hand to fight when badly needed and that the depleted cruiser group south of Savo Island was commanded by Capt. Howard D. Bode of Chicago, who acted as a man dazed. This was a hot, overcast and oppressive night. At 2315 the two cruiser groups off Savo Island were steaming at low speed on their monotonous patrol courses. Officers and men were dog tired after being at general quarters for forty-eight hours. Half an hour later came the first disturbance, an unidentified aircraft reported by picket destroyer Ralph Talbot. The cruiser captains even saw three planes overhead, yet with incredible optimism assumed that they were friendly. These planes had been catapulted by Mikawa's cruisers to scout for him. They droned unmolested over the sleepy American ships for an hour and a half, sending exact information of their movements that was very helpful to the Japanese admiral. At 0040 August 9, Admiral Mikawa, having sighted Savo Island in the darkness, summoned his men to battle sta- tions. Three minutes later, lookouts in flagship Chokai sighted a ship, obviously enemy, on their starboard bow. This was picket destroyer Blue. Mikawa wisely deciding that this was no moment to alert the enemy by shooting, ordered a slowdown to twenty-two knots. The Japanese column steamed stealthily by the destroyer, nobody in her suspecting a thing. Half an hour later the Japanese sighted ahead two American cruisers and two destroyers. At 0136 Mikawa ordered "Commence firing." A flock of torpedoes leaped out of their tubes, aimed at Chicago and Canberra. For seven more minutes the Japanese force approached undetected. Not until 0143 did destroyer Patterson, the only American ship properly awake that night, sight them. Immediately she broadcast the tocsin : "WARNING, WARNING, STRANGE SHIPS ENTERING HARBOR !" Too late, too late. The three Japanese float planes dropped brilliant flares which silhouetted the southern American group, and at that moment the Japanese cruisers opened gunfire. A few seconds later HMAS Canberra, with her guns still trained in, was hit by two torpedoes. Then she was taken apart by twenty-four shell hits. Her captain and gunnery officer were killed, unquenchable fires spread, and this fine Australian cruiser had to be abandoned and scuttled. Chicago, too, was completely surprised. Captain Bode, who in Crutchley's absence was O.T.C. of this group, awoke out of sound sleep, and, with a column of five heavy cruisers to shoot at, steamed off in the wrong direction, out of the battle. He even forgot to inform the northern American group that he was under attack. Mikawa, having dealt with these two cruisers and their destroyers, divided his yet untouched column and promptly went after the northern group. Ordeal by Shellfire These had heard Patterson's warning at 0143, but no other word ; and, providentially for the Japanese, a heavy rain squall had dropped an opaque curtain between them and the southern group, so they could see nothing of the fight. Vincennes was followed in column by Quincy and Astoria. At about 0150 Chokai began pouring salvo after salvo of eightinch shell into Astoria, which became a blazing shambles. She went dead in the water and sank next noontime. Quincy was even less prepared for action and took the worst beating; but she put up the best fight of any Allied ship that night. A searchlight from Aoba found her guns still pointing fore and aft. Promptly Quincy trained them on the target and got off two nine-gun salvos, from which two shells hit Chokai, one of them demolishing the Japanese admiral's staff chart room. Now the doomed cruiser was caught by cross fire between the two Japanese columns. Turret No. 2 exploded after a shell hit, No. 4 fireroom took a torpedo, engine rooms became sealed deathtraps, the sick bay was wiped out, a shell ignited the ammunition for a fiveinch gun, fires raged all over. The only question now was whether she would burn to death or sink. Capt. Samuel N. Moore, mortally wounded by a shell hit that killed almost everyone on the bridge, ordered the helmsman to try to beach her on Savo Island, and died. The senior surviving officer—seventh in the chain of command—ordered "Abandon ship." Quincy rolled over and sank at 0235, first installment on the steel carpet to Ironbottom Sound. Vincennes Meets Her Doom Leading the northern cruiser column and last to be engaged was Vincennes. At 0150 Capt. Frederick L. Riefkohl was still speculating about Patterson's warning, and what the sound of distant gunfire meant, when Japanese searchlights fastened on his ship. An eight-inch salvo from Kako near-missed her. Vincennes replied at 0153, and her second salvo registered on Kinugasa, but enemy gunfire exploded the planes on her fantail and their flames provided an illumination which helped the Japanese cruisers, as they swept by, methodically to destroy Vincennes by gunfire and torpedoes. She took three torpedoes in two fireroonts, floundered to a halt and, pounded by repeated gunfire, with direct hits on every gun turret, went down into the depths a' few minutes after Quincy took the plunge. By this time the Japanese force, owing to each ship's maneuvering to fire at best advantage, was in disorder, and Admiral Mikawa had lost track of some of his units. At 0220 he ordered all ships to reform northwest of Savo Island, intending next to fall on the almost undefended transports. He could see the victims of his accurate torpedoes and gunfire exploding and burning, but at 0240 he thought better of returning to the fray, and ordered all ships to make for Rabaul at top speed. His reason, curiously enough, was fear of being bombed in the approaching daylight by planes from Admiral Fletcher's carriers, which by that time were hightailing to safety. Even though Mikawa lacked the strategic savvy to gather more fruits of victory, a resounding victory it 'was. In a battle lasting exactly thirty-two minutes he had sunk or put in a sinking condition four heavy cruisers and chased away a fifth, with negligible damage to his own force.


1962_07_28--022_SP Guadalcanal
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