Guadalcanal Campaign - Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

After the defeat in the Battle for Henderson Field, the IJA planned to try again to retake the airfield in November 1942, but further reinforcements were needed before the operation could proceed. The IJA requested assistance from Yamamoto to deliver the needed reinforcements to the island and to support the next offensive. Yamamoto provided 11 large transport ships to carry the remaining 7,000 troops from the 38th Infantry Division, their ammunition, food, and heavy equipment from Rabaul to Guadalcanal. He also provided a warship support force that included two battleships. The two battleships, Hiei and Kirishima, equipped with special fragmentation shells, were to bombard Henderson Field on the night of November 12–13 and destroy it and the aircraft stationed there in order to allow the slow, heavy transports to reach Guadalcanal and unload safely the next day. The warship force was commanded from Hiei by recently promoted Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe.

In early November, Allied intelligence learned that the Japanese were preparing again to try to retake Henderson Field. Therefore, the U.S. sent Task Force 67, a large reinforcement and resupply convoy carrying Marine replacements, two U.S. Army infantry battalions, and ammunition and food, commanded by Turner, to Guadalcanal on November 11. The supply ships were protected by two task groups, commanded by Rear Admirals Daniel J. Callaghan and Norman Scott, and aircraft from Henderson Field. The ships were attacked several times on November 11 and 12 by Japanese aircraft from Rabaul staging through an air base at Buin, Bougainville, but most were unloaded without serious damage.

U.S. reconnaissance aircraft spotted the approach of Abe's bombardment force and passed a warning to the Allied command. Thus warned, Turner detached all usable combat ships under Callaghan to protect the troops ashore from the expected Japanese naval attack and troop landing and ordered the supply ships at Guadalcanal to depart by early evening November 12. Callaghan's force comprised two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers.

Around 01:30 on November 13, Callaghan's force intercepted Abe's bombardment group between Guadalcanal and Savo Island. In addition to the two battleships, Abe's force included one light cruiser and 11 destroyers. In the pitch darkness, the two warship forces intermingled before opening fire at unusually close quarters. In the resulting mêlée, Abe's warships sank or severely damaged all but one cruiser and one destroyer in Callaghan's force and both Callaghan and Scott were killed. Two Japanese destroyers were sunk and another destroyer and Hiei heavily damaged. In spite of his defeat of Callaghan's force, Abe ordered his warships to retire without bombarding Henderson Field. Hiei sank later that day after repeated air attacks by CAF aircraft and aircraft from the U.S. carrier Enterprise. Because of Abe's failure to neutralize Henderson Field, Yamamoto ordered the troop transport convoy, under the command of Raizo Tanaka and located near the Shortland Islands, to wait an additional day before heading towards Guadalcanal. Yamamoto ordered Nobutake Kondō to assemble another bombardment force using warships from Truk and Abe's force to attack Henderson Field on November 15.

In the meantime, around 02:00 on November 14, a cruiser and destroyer force under Gunichi Mikawa from Rabaul conducted an unopposed bombardment of Henderson Field. The bombardment caused some damage but failed to put the airfield or most of its aircraft out of operation. As Mikawa's force retired towards Rabaul, Tanaka's transport convoy, trusting that Henderson Field was now destroyed or heavily damaged, began its run down the slot towards Guadalcanal. Throughout the day of November 14, aircraft from Henderson Field and Enterprise attacked Mikawa's and Tanaka's ships, sinking one heavy cruiser and seven of the transports. Most of the troops were rescued from the transports by Tanaka's escorting destroyers and returned to the Shortlands. After dark, Tanaka and the remaining four transports continued towards Guadalcanal as Kondo's force approached to bombard Henderson Field.

In order to intercept Kondo's force, Halsey, who was low on undamaged ships, detached two battleships, Washington and South Dakota, and four destroyers from the Enterprise task force. The U.S. force, under the command of Willis A. Lee aboard Washington, reached Guadalcanal and Savo Island just before midnight on November 14, shortly before Kondo's bombardment force arrived. Kondo's force consisted of Kirishima plus two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and nine destroyers. After the two forces made contact, Kondo's force quickly sank three of the U.S. destroyers and heavily damaged the fourth. The Japanese warships then sighted, opened fire, and damaged South Dakota. As Kondo's warships concentrated on South Dakota, Washington approached the Japanese ships unobserved and opened fire on Kirishima, hitting the Japanese battleship repeatedly and causing fatal damage. After fruitlessly chasing Washington towards the Russell Islands, Kondo ordered his warships to retire without bombarding Henderson Field. One of Kondo's destroyers was also sunk during the engagement.

As Kondo's ships retired, the four Japanese transports beached themselves near Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal at 04:00 and quickly began unloading. At 05:55, U.S. aircraft and artillery began attacking the beached transports, destroying all four transports along with most of the supplies that they carried. Only 2,000–3,000 of the army troops made it ashore. Because of the failure to deliver most of the troops and supplies, the Japanese were forced to cancel their planned November offensive on Henderson Field making the results of the battle a significant strategic victory for the Allies and marking the beginning of the end of Japanese attempts to retake Henderson Field.

On November 26, Japanese Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura took command of the newly formed Eighth Area Army at Rabaul. The new command encompassed both Hyakutake's 17th Army and the 18th Army in New Guinea. One of Imamura's first priorities upon assuming command was the continuation of the attempts to retake Henderson Field and Guadalcanal. The Allied offensive at Buna in New Guinea, however, changed Imamura's priorities. Because the Allied attempt to take Buna was considered a more severe threat to Rabaul, Imamura postponed further major reinforcement efforts to Guadalcanal to concentrate on the situation in New Guinea.

Read more about this topic:  Guadalcanal Campaign

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