Guest blogger Chuck Hill checks in with the first of two parts of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (12-13 November). We are less than a month out from the attack at Pearl Harbor and Allied forces are on the move – in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But so too are the Italian, German and Japanese forces and while the trend may be more in the defensive direction, the Allies’ footholds are precariously narrow. In the Atlantic the U-boat campaign is sending tonnage to the bottom in numbers unimaginable in pre-war planning. The skies over Europe are still held by the Luftwaffe – a least during the day as the RAF was finding out in trying to carry out “Bomber” Harris’ strategic bombing campaign. Soon the losses were too great, forcing the RAF to a night campaign and forfeiture of any semblance of “precision” bombing. Progress is being made in Africa – but it isn’t Europe, and Russian and English demands for a second front in Europe are unceasing. Meanwhile, in the Pacific – US Marines are occupying a scrap of land on a rugged island in the Solomons… – SJS

November 1942 was a busy month.

ww2_new_zealand_soldier_r_dysart_western_desert_egypt._ca_6_november_1942_da02713fAFRICA: 4 Nov., The Battle of El Alamein ends. 6 Nov., Vichy French forces surrender Madagascar to the Allies. 8 Nov., OPERATION TORCH, Allied forces land in French North Africa.

ANTI-SUBMARINE WARFARE: U-boat campaign sinks 119 ships totaling 729,100 tons, against the loss of 13 German and 4 Italian submarines. Total Allied losses to all causes are 807,700 tons, of which 131,000 are sunk in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, where German and Italian Submarines are also active. 4 Nov. The first meeting of the Anti-U-boat Warfare Committee takes place in London, including service chiefs, government ministers, and several scientists in the field of radar and operations research. Churchill chairs the meeting himself.

INDIAN OCEAN: 11 Nov., Indian minesweeper Bengal (1-3” gun) and the Dutch merchantile tanker Ondina (1-4”) are attacked by Japanese armed merchant cruisers Hokoku Maru and Aikoku Maru (both armed with 6-6”). Hokoku Maru was sunk and Aikoku Maru was driven off.

NEW GUINEA: November 2, Kokoda airstrip is recaptured by the Australian 25th brigade. 11-13 Nov., The Japanese are driven back to their beachheads at Gona and Buna.

ATOMIC RESEARCH: Work begins on the first atomic pile at the University of Chicago under direction of Enrico Fermi.

EASTERN FRONT: At the beginning of the month, Axis forces are advancing, but on November 19 the Soviets launch their winter offensive which will result in the German defeat at Stalingrad.

GUADALCANAL: The Tokyo Express has been very active. On 12 Nov, for the first time, Japanese troops on the island outnumber Americans. Both sides will rush to build up their forces for the expected showdown.


The Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November

In November the Japanese would, again, attempt a major reinforcement of their forces on Guadalcanal. They hoped to land the 38th Division, with the bulk of the division embarked on eleven high speed merchant transports.

Between November 2 and 10, the Japanese had used 65 destroyer and 2 cruiser sorties to bring in about 8,000 men, but to clear the way for the transports, Henderson Field would have to be neutralized.

Yamamoto intended to repeat the success of the October 14 bombardment, when battleships Kongo and Haruna fired 918 rounds from their 14 inchers into Henderson Field, effectively emasculating it by the destruction of more than half of its aircraft and reduction of gasoline supplies to a single sortie for the remaining aircraft. That bombardment was followed up the next two nights by heavy cruisers that added an additional 752 of 8” on the night of 14/15 October and 912 more the following night.

But there had been a change of leadership on the American side. Shortly after the bombardment Halsey had replace Ghormley, and he was not about ready to let it happen again.

Still the odds of American success were long when available forces are compared:

Japan US
Aircraft Carriers 1(light)* 1 (damaged)
Battleships 4 2
Cruisers 11 8
Destroyers 36 22

Total (standard displacement)

324,966 tons 203,305 tons

*(Morison contends the Japanese had Junyo and Hiyo, but Dull specifically confirms that the Hiyo was not available)

Additionally Japanese operations were to be supported by 14 submarines, one of which, I-172 had been sunk on 10 November. Allied forces included 24 submarines, but these were handicapped by poor torpedoes.

Numbers of aircraft was close, but Henderson Field’s position on Guadalcanal gave the allies a huge advantage, as long as they could keep it operational.


The Night Melee of 12/13 Nov 13, BLOODY THIRTEENTH

IJNPage1Fictionalized in the Movie “In Harm’s Way,” staring John Wayne, the night battle that took place in the early morning hours of 13 November, 1942 has been described as a knife fight in a phone booth. Ranges were incredibly short, looking more 19th century than 20th.

When Halsey and his staff learned that a bombardment force was coming down the slot to hit Henderson field, they had to put together a force with what they had in the immediate area. Two groups of transports had arrived on the 11th and 12th. Using most of the units from their escort groups, a force of five cruisers (2 CA, 1 CL, 2 CLAA) and eight destroyers, totaling 58,748 tons, was hastily assembled.

The two escort group commanders were academy classmates, Rear Admirals Norman Scott (in USS Atlanta) and Daniel J. Callaghan (in USS San Francisco). Callaghan was senior, so became task force group commander (CTG67.4) despite Scott’s previous success at Cape Esperance. Scott went along for the ride.

Coming down the slot was Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe, with two Battleships (Kiei and Kirishima) a light cruiser serving as destroyer leader and 14 destroyers totaling 96,393 tons.

Both sides had good intelligence about the others forces available, location, and direction of movement, so there should have been no surprises, but of course there were. For the Japanese, the big surprise was that, unlike most of their previous experience, the Americans would not vacate Iron Bottom sound at night, they would stand and fight.


Perhaps due to the limited time, Callaghan issued no battle plan, provided the ships’ COs no intelligence about what they were facing, and did not discuss how the battle was to be fought.

The choice of formation and the positioning of ships within it have been criticized. Callaghan chose a linear formation with four destroyers in the van and four following the line of five cruisers. A similar formation had seemed to work at Cape Esperance and it would tend to minimize confusion in the dark. But Callaghan’s column was at least 7400 yards long. The formation chosen tied the destroyers to the cruisers and virtually eliminated the possibility of a torpedo attack before the guns opened fire.

The new SG radar with its plan position indicator (PPI) that could show a clear picture of the relative position of all the ships and their position relative to the land, greatly improved situational awareness for those who had access to it, but they were still rare. Neither of the flagships had it, and the ships equipped with it were not placed forward in the formation where they would have the clearest picture: O’Bannon was forth in line, Helena eighth, and Fletcher last in the conga line.

Callaghan’s attempts to get a clear tactical picture from his seeing-eye dogs, O’Bannon and Helena crowded the TBS (Talk Between Ships), the single voice radio circuit. Frequently it was unclear if bearings passed on TBS were true or relative.

In the middle of the battle as USS San Francisco was aiming at a Japanese ship beyond USS Atlanta, but hitting her because she in the line of fire and the ranges were short, Callaghan ordered a cease fire that momentarily confused the US task force. Fortunately the order was widely ignored.

The Japanese were using flashless powder, the Americans had none.

The Japanese also had problems. Abe’s formation was not as he intended. Apparently designed to counter the threat of torpedo boats, the two battleships in column were protected by a horse shoe shaped formation with his light cruiser, Nagara, in the lead and three destroyers on either side. There were also to have been advanced elements, three destroyers ahead to his left, and two USNPage2ahead to his right. Three more destroyers were left behind to guard his rear. But in transit Abe had encountered a prolonged thunderstorm and had reversed course. When the weather cleared he had reversed course again. As a result, the destroyers on his left wing were out of position, behind the rest of the formation on his left side. As the battle developed, the two destroyers on the right wing were cutting across the main body’s line of advance.

1:24 The Americans detect the Japanese at 27,000 to the outer screen (two DDs) and 32,000 yards to the main body.

1:41 The leading US destroyer, Cushing, spotted the forward most Japanese destroyer, Yudachi, crossing left to right at 3,000 yards. To avoid a collision and unmask his torpedo battery Cushing made an abrupt left turn. All those behind followed in her wake, turning the column directly toward the Japanese main body. Permission to open fire was withheld.

1:42 Yudachi in turn, detected Callaghan’s force and instantly alerted the Japanese task group, but the Japanese also held their fire. Abe had not expected to encounter surface ships so his battleships had been prepared to fire only anti-personnel high explosive shells for the bombardment of Henderson field. For eight minutes these shells are struck below and armor piercing shells brought up, as the forces closed at over 40 knots (4,000 yards every three minutes).

1:50 Atlanta was bathed in the light of Japanese search lights and opened fire on a Destroyer at just 1600 yards. Battleship Hiei opened fire on Atlanta at only 4500 yards, less than one eighth of its maximum range.

When fire was commenced, at least the leading US destroyer, as much as 2300 yards ahead of Atlanta, if the formation had been maintained, must have been inside the Japanese’s inner screen, piercing it between the leading light cruiser in the center and the first destroyer on the Japanese right flank,

The opportunity to make a torpedo attack before opening fire with guns in lost. (US torpedoes are not working anyway, but they don’t know that at the time.)


IJNPage2Samuel Elliot Morrison remarked that Callaghan had made a mistake in not crossing the enemy’s “T.” In my opinion, crossing the “T” might only have made the American ships better targets for Japanese torpedoes, but why did Callaghan wait so long to open fire?

As Admiral Callaghan closed the enemy, he called out over voice radio, “We want the big ones!” Callaghan did not distribute a plan of attack, and apparently did not discuss how he planned to conduct the battle, so we cannot know what he was thinking, but I will propose what his actions suggest.

The “big ones” were Hiei and Kirishima. Sister ships Kongo and Haruna were escorting the Junyo in support of this operation. These four ships were built as battlecruisers to a British design. The first of class, Kongo, had in fact been built in Britain by the Vickers Barrow yard before WWI. The rest were built in Japan. Their design was a modification of the British Lion Class that included Princess Royal and Queen Mary that were sunk at Jutland. Their design preceded the Tiger, Renown, Repulse and the Hood.

Callaghan would have known the history of these ships, and would have known that their side armor was considerably lighter than that of most battleships. In fact the side armor was only 8 inches (Breyer). What he probably would not have known, was that two reconstructions had added 4,230 tons of armor and doubled their horsepower, increasing their speed to 30 knots (Chesneau). Even so, most of the additional armor had gone to horizontal protection so this change would have only reaffirmed a conviction that he could not fight these ships at long range. Get close enough and not only would his torpedoes be more accurate, the 8” guns of his heavy cruisers could penetrate their side armor.

In simple terms, the greater the range of the engagement, the more advantage the battleships enjoyed. The closer the engagement, the better chance he would have to actually hurt the battleships. In fact, it was later learned that it was an 8” shell that disabled Hiei’s Steering gear and led to her destruction. (Crenshaw, p23)

Why did Abe wait so long to open fire? And why was he so determined to use armor piercing (AP) ammunition when high explosive (HE) round would have still been highly effective against cruisers and destroyers? Why did he choose to retire almost as soon as the shooting started? Perhaps in the near total darkness of that moonless night with an American force, seen end on, advancing boldly toward him, Abe may have wondered if he was facing modern battleships. Could he have known that the North Carolina had left the Theater two months earlier after being torpedoed at extreme range. If he had received reports Washington and South Dakota well to the south, could he believe them? Reports were frequently inaccurate. Did he fear the shame of possibly loosing ships that were the personal property of the Emperor? Did the fact that the Americans were not using flashless powder add to the impression that he was facing a superior foe?

For whatever reason, Abe soon had enough and ordered his ships to retire. Morison remarked that while Kirishima turned promptly, Hiei was slow to do so. It appears that Hiei actually passed through Callaghan’s disintegrating column astern of Laffey, the second ship in the US line, then looped back around to pass South of Savo. During the course of the battle, the San Francisco, and perhaps others, passed between the two Japanese battleships.


The result of the battle might have been much more satisfactory if our torpedoes had worked properly. Barton fired five without a hit. Cushing fired six at Hiei at 1000 yards, observed three bull’s eyes but no effect on the ship, apparently they had prematurely exploded. Laffey fired two at Hiei at point blank range and watched them bounce off her blisters. Sterett fired four at only 2,000 yards and thought she had gotten two hits, but Hiei seemed to be undamaged. O’Bannon fired two hot, straight, and true, no explosion. Monssen got off five at 4,000 yards, again no explosions. Fletcher made a deliberate attack with 10 fish at 7,000 yards using her SG radar and while there was a red glow, it did not appear she got any hits either. (Crenshaw, p231) At least 34 torpedoes fired from close range with no hits. This compares with at least six hits by Japanese torpedoes.


As soon as Tanaka learned that Abe had withdrawn without bombarding Henderson Field, he turned the transports around and headed back to Shortlands.

Damage was extensive on both sides.

Destroyer Akatsuki, caught in a cross fire between San Francisco and a Destroyer sank suddenly taking nearly all its crew.

Destroyer Yudachi, the first ship to make contact had reversed course, had a near collision with Aaron Ward, passed through the American line and torpedoed the Portland, but then her luck ran out. Hit and heavily damaged, she went dead in the water. Her crew was removed. The wreck was sunk by Portland the following morning.

Kirishima took only a single 8 inch shell hit and would be back to fight again in less than 48 hours. Three Japanese destroyers were also damaged, two severely.

When the sun came up, Hiei was West of Savo Island, badly damaged, hit more than 30 times, and unable to steer. In a more benign environment, she might have been saved. She even fired a few rounds at Portland before the bombers arrived with the daylight, but she was only a few minutes from Henderson field. She was attacked repeated. Ultimately her crew accepted the inevitable. She was abandoned and sank the evening of the 13th.

In some ways it looked like the Americans got the worst of it. Barton sank in 10 seconds after being hit by two torpedoes.

Cushing, hit an estimated 17 times, survived the night. Abandoned and on fire, she blew up and sank the following afternoon.

Laffey, torpedoed astern and having taken shells in the bridge structure, mount 52, and amidships, was abandoned and sank after a large explosion at the stern.

Monssen, hit 37 times, caught fire and blew up the following afternoon.

Atlanta, hit by at least one torpedo and 49 shells, with damage to seven of her eight 5” mounts, survived the night, staying afloat long enough for her survivors to be taken off, but she could not be saved.

Juneau, torpedoed during the night battle, sank in approximately 60 seconds after being hit by a second torpedo from submarine I-26 while transiting away from the scene.

Portland, having taken a torpedo and two projectiles, could only steam in circles and was almost untowable.

San Francisco took 45 hits in addition to the torpedo bomber that had crashed into her before the battle had even begun.

Helena was hit 5 times, Aaron Ward (DD483) 9 times, O’Bannon (DD450) once, and Sterett 11 times. Only Fletcher came away untouched.

Personnel losses were much heavier for the Americans, primarily because of the loss of all but 10 men from the crew of the Juneau, but the ultimate material losses favored the Americans who could more easily absorb the losses which would be more than made up by new construction. Counting both Hiei finished off by aircraft and Juneau finished off by submarine; the Japanese lost a Battleship and two destroyers totaling 36,015 tons; the US lost two cruisers and four destroyers totaling 20,441 tons.

Yamamato was not pleased with Abe’s performance. He was given a lateral transfer ashore and retired a few months later, still a relatively young man. (Don’t confuse him with other Adm. Abes that may show up later. There were at least four in the Japanese Navy during WWII.)

When Admiral Halsey was promoted to four stars on November 26, 1942, he sent his three stars to the widows of Admirals Scott and Callaghan, recognizing that his success was founded on their sacrifice.

Both Scott and Callaghan received the Metal of Honor. Of the 57 Metals of Honor awarded to Navy personnel in WWII, five were awarded for this battle. In addition to the two admirals, the award was also given to three members of the San Francisco’s crew. They were:

  • LCdr Herbert Emery Schonland who was acting first lieutenant and a DC officer and the senior surviving officer on the San Francisco, for leading the damage control efforts that save the ship.
  • BM1 Reinhardt J. Keppler (namesake for DD 765), posthumously, for actions leading a damage control party that put out a fire in the San Francisco’s hanger, and for his actions the previous day when a torpedo bomber had crashed on board.
  • LCdr Bruce McCandless (1911-1968) (Namesake with his father, FF-1084), father of astronaut Bruce McCandless II and son of Commodore Byron McCandless (1881-1967), who was the only surviving officer on the bridge. He took San Francisco’s conn as she led the remaining ships of the column against the Japanese.
  • San Francisco’s captain, Capt. Cassin Young (namesake DD-793, now a museum ship in Boston, moored near Constitution) who was also killed on the bridge, had already been awarded the medal for his actions on Dec. 7, 1941, as CO of the Vestal (AR-4) which had been birthed forward of the Arizona.

After so much sacrifice on both sides, the Marines and sailors might have reasonably expected a respite, but it was not to be. For the next two nights as well, the sounds of heavy guns would echo across Iron Bottom Sound.


Cross-posted at



Breyer, Siegfried, Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905-1970, translated form the German by Alfred Kurti, Doubleday, 1973

Campbell, John, Naval Weapons of World War Two, Conway Maritime Press Ltd, 1985

Chesneau, Roger, ed., Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922-1946, Conway Maritime Press Ltd, 1980

Crenshaw, Russell Sydnor, Jr., South Pacific Destroyer, Naval Institute Press, 1998

Dull, Paul S., A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945), Naval Institute Press, 1978

Lacroix, Eric and Linton, Wells II, Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War, Naval Institute Press, 1997

Morison, Samuel Eliot, History of United States Naval Operations of World War II, Vol. V, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942—February 1943, Little, Brown and Co., 1948

SWD-1, Summary of War Damage to US Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, and Destroyer Escorts, 17 October 1941 to 7 December 1942, reprint by The Floating Drydock

Tanaka, Raizo, “The Struggle for Guadalcanal,” from The Japanese Navy in World War II, Dr. David C. Evans, editor, Naval Institute Press, 1969, 1986

Young, Peter, ed., The World Almanac Book of World War II, Bison Books Ltd, 1981

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  • For obvious reasons, memorials to sea battles are few and far between, but the Nov. 12-13, 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal has a marvelous one. It overlooks the Pacific from Land’s End in the Point Lobos section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (n.b., not Golden Gate Park). The memorial, dedicated in 1950 by survivors of USS San Francisco (CA-38), is assembled from two badly shot-up bridge wings that were removed from that ship in late ’42/early ’43, when the damage from Nov. 12-13 was being repaired. The memorial is oriented on a great circle heading for Ironbottom Sound.


    The first part of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal is certainly one of the most confused in military history, and many conflicting details have emerged in the decades following. Historians seem to agree that the choice of Callaghan over Scott (seniority-based) was probably not a good idea, especially as he had no prior combat experience whereas Scott had recently come off of success at Cape Esperance.

    Nobody disputes that they were both brave men, but a troubling irony emerges: in the confusion of the battle, did 8” gunfire from Callaghan’s flagship cause Scott’s death? Richard Frank’s Guadalcanal (pp. 443-4) states that the green dye from San Francisco was found in many places on Atlanta, including the location where Scott was killed. As Atlanta was sunk, the only substantiation for this friendly fire incident relied on after-action reports.

  • Byron

    I read the same thing, CINCLAX, and had the same conclusions.

  • Chuck Hill

    There is not much doubt that San Francisco’s shells hit Atlanta. The wartime “Summary of War Damage” lists under remarks, “Eight-inch A.P., 5.5″ H.E., 5″ common, and 3″ projectile damage topside. One destroyer torpedo struck forward engine room, port side. Moderate flooding.” Since there were no Japanese 8″ that was recognition of “friendly fire.” It also says “Gunfire-49, surf. torp.-1” and that she was sunk by demolition charges. She stayed afloat all though the next day as they tried to save her, so they got a good look at the damage. Crenshaw in “South Pacific Destroyer” also talks about the Green Dye found on Atlanta. It was not, apparently, that San Francisco had mistaken Atlanta for an enemy but rather that the firecontrol was tracking an enemy beyond Atlanta, but because the ranges were short and the trajectory flat, shells hit Atlanta. You can understand how this happens. The firecontrol station is high in the ship with a limited view or alternately they are using radar with the range gate closely bracketing the target. They are locked on the target. Bearings are changing rapidly. Atlanta is disabled so she seems to sweep by San Francisco rapidly as they are firing for effect. Tragic, but certainly not a function of who was commanding the Task Force. It might have been only one 8″ shell, but at that point she had been hit so many times, there is a good possibility the damage had already been done. It was apparently the reason Callaghan called for a cease fire over the TBS, although it probably should have gone only to San Francisco. On the other hand, if Atlanta was being passed by the entire line, he might have been concerned that other ships would shoot at her as well.

    At any rate it is clear, that it was not San Francisco that knocked her out of the fight. That had happened earlier.

  • Chuck Hill

    Actually, given that our torpedoes didn’t work, I don’t see how this battle could have come out much better, and it could have gone much worse. The US went in badly overmatched, with no time to prepare, but they not only thwarted the attempt to bombard Henderson Field, they managed to damage a battleship so severely it was unable to navigate. That a Battleship was taken down by cruisers, without additional torpedo hits, was I believe unique in WWII. Apparently Hiei was damaged worse than Kirishima two days later after at least nine 16″ hits.

    Comparing the results with the the Battle of Cape Esperance and Tassafaronga.

    At Cape Esperance we outnumbered the Japanese, but despite considerable luck and the advantage of radar, despite contemporary perception of a great victory, sinking eight ships, we actually did little better than a tie.

    At Tassafaronga, the US had a very similar force to that under Callaghan, facing a much smaller Japanese force. We had had time to plan and had incorporated many lessons learned (but still did not recognize the range of Japanese torpedoes). Even so, the losses were extremely lopsided in favor of the Japanese.

    If Scott had been in command, he probably would have had the same sort of linear formation Callaghan used, but it is likely he would have handled his ships more like was done at Tassafaronga. If Abe had not been panicked by the aggressiveness of Callaghan’s approach, a more typical Japanese response might have been expected, and if their torpedoed had done to Callaghan’s cruisers, what was done at Tassafaronga, the Hiei and Kirishima would have annihilated our cruisers with impunity.

    As it was, the Japanese destroyers never got to make a coordinated torpedo attack. There were probably cases where they hesitated to fire because they might have hit their own ships, and if they had fired torpedoes, they withdrew before they had a chance to reload their tubes for a second salvo.

    Before getting into the details, I did not fully appreciate what Callaghan had done, but under the circumstances, I think he did a remarkable job.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    That is a superb synopsis of Atlanta’s (and ADM Scott’s) fate. And of the reasons for the mixed results of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

    It is tough to remember in today’s instant 24-hour news cycle, blame-pinning culture, and hindsight analysis, that these errors, however tragic in their consequences, were not due to dereliction or incompetence, which is what we almost always tend to hear today. And the US Navy was fast trying to close the two-decade disparity in training and experience for night surface action. Your last sentence of your last comment is a gem.

    Well-done, in the post and the comments.


  • Chuck Hill

    Reading how Morison talks about Callaghan, and knowing that President Roosevelt regarded him as a personal friend, (after a tour as his naval aide) he must have been an extraordinary gentleman. I don’t think Morison understood why he persisted in getting in so close.

    There is a nice bio here:

    Callaghan was a San Francisco native. He had served on an older cruiser San Francisco and on the battleship California and commanded the San Francisco in 1941. I wondered if he might have transferred his flag to Helena, to take advantage of her radar, if he had not been so attached to his old ship and his home town. It probably never occurred to him.

    He had been gunnery officer on the staff of the Commander, US Fleet, so there is every reason to believe he had a good understanding of the interaction of shells and armor.

    If the Americans had used the typical Japanese anti-surface formation they would have advanced in three columns with San Francisco, Portland, and Helena in the center and Atlanta and Juneau each leading four destroyers on either side and a bit ahead of the central column.

    Modifying that, to take advantage of radar, the Helena should have lead the central column with the flag on board and a radar equipped destroyer should have lead the columns on the wings with a division commander on board.

    Despite all the carnage on the American ships, this was not a disaster, this was a victory against all odds, the first move in a chain of events that destroyed Japanese hopes of ever regaining Guadalcanal.

  • More on the USS San Francisco Memorial here.
    – SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “this was a victory against all odds, the first move in a chain of events that destroyed Japanese hopes of ever regaining Guadalcanal.”

    It could be said that many events had already made Japanese hopes remote (including some shattering US victories on the ground), but this one made it impossible.

  • Byron

    It’s always been my contention that Midway was a body blow; the Solomons Campaign (including all the battles fought on land, air and sea) was the KO punch. After the Solomons, we started to roll them up one by one. After Midway AND the Solomons, IJN and Japanese Army air were noticably lacking in expertise. No longer could the Japanese expand; they were now on the road back home and bleeding every step of the way.

  • Chuck Hill

    I thought about comparing this battle to the final phase of the Battle of Cape Matapan where three British battleships surprised and sank three Italian heavy cruisers and two destroyers, because it was the only other battle I could think of where cruisers fought battleships at close range (less than 4,000 yards), but of course the circumstances and the result were very different.

  • Byron

    How about the one where DEs fought battleships…and won?

  • Chuck Hill

    Perhaps Steel Jaw will organize a series on Leyte Gulf

  • Perhaps Steel Jaw will organize a series on Leyte Gulf
    Maybe in the spring — definitely not in the next month or so… 🙂
    – SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Here is a very sobering read, it should stand as a testament to building tough ships that can absorb punishment and continue to engage the enemy:

  • Byron

    FYI: When attempting to calculate the forces involved, keep in mind that the Navy typically does not use the thickness of material involved; rather, it uses the weight of steel for one square foot. Common rule is 1/4″ steel weights 10.2 pds/sq. foot. 20 pd would be half inch. And I’m not surprised to see STS (stregthned steel)…it was still being used up into the early 50s aboard Saratoga and Forrestal. Miserable stuff to weld, had some very odd properties that tended towards cracking.



    In view of your observation that STS tended to crack and was difficult to weld, could this material have been employed on Liberty ship hulls? There was widescale cracking in these vessels, and most got sheer strake gusseting (riveted) to compensate.


    The damage report on San Francisco was fascinating and amazingly extensive. And grim, too, especially when one realizes that each of those many splinter splatters likely resulted in American casualties.

  • Byron

    Design has as much to do with cracking as anything else, more when the design was screwed up like Perry FFGs (well-known area at FR 196, and yes, NAVSEA, you knew about it and decided not to put an expansion joint in that area). Liberty ships as I recall was a design issue. The sheer strake gusseting was to buttress the affected weak area.

  • Chuck Hill

    UltimaRatioReg, Thanks, never saw that much detail before.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Makes one wonder what damage like that would do to an unarmored vessel and what the resulting casualties would be in a 100-man “super crew”. Methinks the computerized and automated stations would not fare well taking that kind of shrapnel and spall.

  • Chuck Hill

    Found it interesting that several of the hits were listed as 8″. If the report is correct, these could have come only from Portland. It might have happened as Hiei as passing through the line. Would have been another reason for Callaghan to give his ceasefire order. He did confirm it to the CO of Portland.

    Also found it interesting that the 14″ projectiles that hit San Francisco were not armor piercing (AP) after all. In most cases,since they were hitting superstructure, AP would have just gone through without exploding anyway.

    Modern small ships against modern ship killing torpedoes and missiles, it’s one shot, one kill, at least mission kill.

    Even back then, you could armor a battleship all you liked, but you couldn’t armor its radar fire control and non-penetrating hits would render even optical firecontrol systems unusable.

  • Byron

    Chuck, given that Starke ate two Exocets (only one of which actually detonated, but used the fuel of the first to add damage), that is not always true. Starke was a definite mission kill, but lived to sail again. Great training, motivated crew, outstanding DC.

    Would LCS survive the same?

  • Chuck Hill

    When a small ship takes a big hit, I’m happy if it doesn’t fold and take the entire crew down with it. I no longer expect it to continue fighting.

  • Byron

    Starke did accomplish one very important mission: She kept her sailors alive and able to fight another day.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    The point being re: LCS is that the less able a vessel is to absorb punishment, the greater the spectrum of weapons that can disable/destroy the ship. I am not worried in the littoral about a super-modern ASM or torpedo. It is the weapons that are plentiful and cheap, and easy to use that one will find in spades on a hostile shore. 14.5mm and 12.7mm HMGs, RPG-18s, 82mm mortars with a time fuze, antitank guns, grenade launchers, the whole gamut. They will tear through a vessel not built to withstand punishment, putting systems out of commission (including automated DC), and killing or wounding the precious few crewmen aboard. Talk about your asymmetric warfare. A salvo of $300 mortar rounds or a belt of machine gun ammunition getting a mission kill on a $500 million warship. Or worse. Unless the LCS can outrun an RPG, an antitank round, or a 14.5 or 23mm machine gun bullet, 40 knots is not much help.

  • FWIW, the above running discussion is one of the principal reasons why, following Byron’s off-line prodding, I thought a series on the Solomons campaign would be a good idea, providing a background for discussion of one form of littoral warfare as it were…
    – SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg

    You mean…. learning from history? That’s CRAZY talk!

  • Chuck Hill
  • Glad people found that damage report of some value… made the time spent scanning it in and converting it worthwhile. Another Solomons campaign piece I’ve posted is at
    Albeit this was a september action and not the November knife fight…

    The one that impresses me the most (in reference to damage control, etc.) is CL-81 Houston:
    Selected quotes:
    HOUSTON underwent a period of negative initial stability while B-1-1 and B-4 were flooding. The vessel finally stabilized at a displacement of 20,900 tons with 6400 tons floodwater aboard, GM of +0.2″, a 16° starboard list, and the main deck awash when the ship rolled.

    At 1348 on 16 October, a second aircraft torpedo detonated at frame 145, starboard. The resulting hole in the bottom and side plating extended from frame 138 aft and partially across the stern…Flooding after the second hit increased displacement by 1100 tons to 20,300 tons, reduced the starboard list from 8° to 6°, and reduced GM to 4.0′.

    I thought it interesting that the second torpedo helped counterflood, even at the cost of some stability…

  • UltimaRatioReg


    We owe you a debt of gratitude for the work you did to make San Francisco’s damage report available to us. Such contemporary documentation is worth its weight in gold. We often take the role of the “inevitable historian” when we assume because we won, we couldn’t have lost. Records of the struggle written at the time often remind us how precarious the balance truly was.


  • My biggest hope with this stuff is that it will help some aspect of the Navy in the future, be it inspirational or informational.

  • Callaghan has been criticized, but by turning it into a point-blank Irish brawl, he nullified the Japanese advantage in longrange/battleship firepower and Long Lance torpedo attack.
    … and the supposedly unbreakable Japanese were the ones that fled the battle … saving the Marines and GIs on Guadalcanal.
    Good man, Callaghan … and Norman Scott.

  • Reading the comments here, note that the oldest comments are at the bottom and the later comments at the top.