Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942
Aaron Ward screened transports unloading men and material off Guadalcanal on 11 and 12 November, shooting down one enemy plane and damaging two others on the former day and two more planes off Lunga Point on the latter. The Allies learned that the Japanese were sending a large force to disrupt air operations based at Henderson Field and land reinforcements for the Japanese forces on the island. The resulting Naval Battle of Guadalcanal proved to be the climactic engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign.
On the evening of 12 November, Aaron Ward retired with her task force — five cruisers and eight destroyers under Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan — in an eastward direction, escorting the transports out of "Ironbottom Sound". Later, the force reversed course and stood back through Lengo Channel. At about 0125 on 13 November, the American ships which possessed radar picked up numerous contacts on their screens — the "Volunteer Attack Force" under Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe, which consisted of battleships Hiei and Kirishima, light cruiser Nagara, and 14 destroyers.
Aaron Ward, leading the four destroyers bringing up the rear of Callaghan's column, ranged in on the Japanese ships, opening fire soon afterwards on a target she took to be a battleship. A short time later, after the ship had fired approximately ten salvoes, she saw that the cruisers ahead of her had apparently changed course; Aaron Ward observed two torpedoes pass beneath her.
An instant later, Barton blew up, torpedoed by Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze. Aaron Ward, with the waters clear ahead of her, surged ahead once more. She prepared to fire torpedoes at a target to port, but did not because she sighted a ship which she took to be San Francisco 1,500 yards (1.4 km) away. Observing what she took to be Sterett heading directly toward her port side, Aaron Ward put her rudder over hard to port to avoid a collision.
A short time later, the destroyer commenced firing on an enemy ship, and hurled some 25 salvoes in her direction; her target may have been Akatsuki, which did blow up and sink, taking all hands with her. Changing course to bear on a new target in the melee, Aaron Ward managed to get off four salvoes on director control until a Japanese shell put the director out of action and forced the destroyer's gunners to rely on local control.
In the minutes that followed, Aaron Ward received eight more direct hits; unable to identify friend from foe and certain that the enemy had surely established her American character, the destroyer then stood out to clear the area. She lost steering control at 0225, and, steering with her engines, attempted to come to the right. Seeing no more firing after 0230, when the battle apparently ended, Aaron Ward went dead in the water at 0235, her forward engine room flooded with salt water and her feed water gone.
Utilizing a gasoline pump the destroyer's crew managed to pump salt water into the tanks and light the boilers off. At 0500, Aaron Ward moved slowly ahead, bound for Sealark Channel; ten minutes later, American motor torpedo boats closed, and the destroyer signaled them to ask Tulagi for a tug. She kept up her crawling pace for only a half hour before going dead in the water again.
Thirty minutes after she had slowed to a stop, Aaron Ward spotted the Japanese battleship, Hiei steaming slowly in circles between Savo and Florida Islands. Also nearby, nearer to Guadalcanal, lay Atlanta, Portland, Cushing and Monssen, all damaged, and the destroyers both burning. Destroyer Yudachi’s presence in the vicinity proved to be her own undoing: Portland summarily sank her.
Aaron Ward, perhaps prompted to do so with more urgency due to Hiei's proximity, got underway at 0618, and two minutes later greeted tug Bobolink, which had arrived to take the destroyer in tow. Before the towline could be rigged, Hiei spotted Aaron Ward and opened fire with her heavy guns. Four two-gun salvoes were laid, the third of which straddled the crippled destroyer. Fortunately for the American ships, planes sent from Henderson Field began attacking Hiei, distracting her from further fire.
Losing power again at 0635, Aaron Ward was taken in tow by Bobolink, and the ships began moving toward safety. The tug turned the tow over to a local patrol boat at 0650, and the destroyer anchored in Tulagi harbor near Makambo Island at 0830. The nine direct hits she had received resulted in 15 men dead and 57 wounded. After receiving temporary repairs locally, Aaron Ward sailed for Hawaii soon afterwards, reaching Pearl Harbor on 20 December 1942 for permanent repairs.
|“||"The Aaron Ward gave another fine example of the fighting spirit of the men of our destroyer force. Though hit nine times by both major and medium caliber shells which caused extensive damage she nevertheless avoided total destruction by the apparently superhuman efforts of all hands. The superb performance of the engineers' force in effecting temporary repairs so that the ship could move away from under the guns of the enemy battle ship largely contributed to saving the ship."
— Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander, South Pacific Forces
The destroyer rejoined the fleet on 6 February 1943 and soon resumed escort work. During one stint with a small convoy on 20 March she aided in driving off attacking Japanese planes. A short time later, on 7 April, she had escorted Ward and three tank landing craft from the Russell Islands to Savo. Not expecting to arrive until 1400, the destroyer went ahead at 25 knots (45 km/h) to provide Ward and the three LCTs with air cover until they reached Tulagi. At about noon the destroyer received notification of an impending air raid at Guadalcanal.
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