Thanksgiving Weekend 1942 – Washington DC
The headlines on the front page of the Washington Evening Star on November 28th, 1942 were focused on the recent events in the Battle of Tunis in Northern Africa. Thanksgiving was just completed and the Navy football Team was lauded for a surprise win over Army in the annual traditional game. Mrs. Tom Girdler of Cleveland was granted a divorce in Reno Nevada from her husband who was a Cleveland Steel Manufacturer (Republic Steel) and manufacturer of airplanes in San Diego for the war effort. (buried later in the paper on page A-11 was the announcement of his nuptials to his 36 year old secretary on the same day).
But the interesting story was buried on page A11. Eugene Burns (associated Press War Correspondent) was finally able to file his reports on a battle that had happened between the dates of November 12-15.
In recent conflicts, the American people have been treated to nearly instant reports from the press about the actions of our armed forces. Almost as soon as the missile leaves the tubes of a submerged submarine, reports are made available to the public. Live shots from the shock and awe campaign in Iraq were spread all over the globe with the accompanying sirens of the Iraqi air raid system as a backdrop.
But things were different in November of 1942 and throughout most of the Second World War. Restrictions on information were considered necessary so that the enemy could not gain any advantage from having too much information. The full report from Pearl Harbor’s disaster was not even released until the following year. While rumors of the extent of the damage had already been shared by returning servicemen and civilians who fled the island, official confirmation was rare and sketchy.
So it is no surprise that the Navy and the press would be reluctant to share the complete story of what was later known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
The battle that raged from November 12th to the 15th was both heroic and horrific. The stunning losses would not be revealed for quite some time after the battle but the losses in men and ships on both sides had consequences that changed the course of the war. Combined with the sacrifices of Marines and Army troops on the straggled little island of Guadalcanal, the road to Tokyo took a decidedly sharp turn on the final day of the battle.
To read the story in the Washington Star, however, you would have a sense of the battle but little detail of any use.
From the beginning of the battle to the end, the United States would lose more ships and Navy men than in any battle of its kind to date. It would also be one of the most significant surface actions ever recorded in US Navy history. But at a tremendous cost.
Washington Evening star. [volume], November 28, 1942, Page A-11, Image 13
Jap Task Force Demolished Off Guadalcanal By ‘God’s Help’ and Teamwork of All Hands
Here are three delayed dispatches from Eugene Burns, Associated Press correspondent, giving an eyewitness account of the naval battle at Guadalcanal November 12 to 15.
By EUGENE BURNS,
Associated Press War Correspondent. WITH THE UNITED STATES PACIFIC FLEET, Nov. 16 (Delayed).
We have been slaying the Japs for the last four days. We left some 20,000 of their best pioneer troops swimming in the ocean. We sent tens of thousands of tons of their irreplaceable forced steel into the Jap sinkhole off Guadalcanal. As we steam away from that wreckage the “well done” from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, is still ringing over our loudspeaker system.
This we know: The entire Jap transport fleet of 12 vessels was hopelessly destroyed.
A Jap battleship was badly damaged and perhaps sunk by cruiser gunfire, and then seven torpedoes and several heavy bomb hits. Five Jap cruisers were badly damaged and perhaps sunk by shellfire and heavy bomb hits and torpedoes. Many Jap destroyers were hit and sunk. A Jap air group was knocked from the sky. Some of our heavy ships have yet to send in their bag. Indications are that it will be considerable.
(A Navy communique November 16 describing this action listed the Japanese losses as one battleship sunk, three heavy cruisers sunk, two light cruisers sunk, five destroyers sunk, eight transports sunk, one battleship damaged, six destroyers damaged and four cargo transports destroyed.)
The smashing victory, the biggest since Midway, took a Navy pilot to fly beyond the safe distance of his gasoline supply to locate the Jap transport fleet and to send back a more accurate disposition of the enemy than yet achieved in the Pacific war.
San Francisco Waded in.
It took the cruiser San Francisco, already damaged by a flaming crash-diving plane, to wade in and polish off a Jap destroyer, explode a Jap cruiser, and then slug it out with a Jap battleship of the Kongo class—8-inch batteries against 14 or 16 inchers at a range of 2.000 yards.
It took the Army’s B-17s and fighter planes to keep the Jap fleet harassed, to knock down their fighters, to soften the opposition, to demoralize the Jap air force and to give our attacking force much-needed protection. It took an Army transport with 6-inch guns to get into the fight. It took men in compartments deep below the water line to man their battle stations while relief crews stood by hour after long hour, until night came, ready to replace instantly worn out crews.
It took the marines, who had been bombed and shelled and harried for four months and who had talked of home and had cherished pocketbook pictures of loved ones and who had been sick with dysentery and joked about pulling their belts up tighter to stand off the Jap and to hold Henderson Field so that air superiority never was lost.
Battle Took God’s Help.
It took God’s help. The seamen will be the quickest to acknowledge it. Our striking forces moved in on the Jap with everything but numbers in our favor. The weather was right. The disposition of the Jap was right. The disposition of our forces, gathered from thousands of miles, was right.
To fill out the background of the picture: For four months the Jap had perfected his plans for this knockout blow to keep this Tokio Guadalcanal air express, via Jap mandated and occupied islands, intact. His schedule was upset the dawn of August 7, when the biggest United States naval force ever assembled in the Pacific landed marines who proved a five-to-one match with the jungle-fighting Japs.
He then used Rabaul as a terminal to his hop, skip and jump route from Tokio by making his airpower available to the tips of his conquest. Because his planes from Rabaul could not gain supremacy of the air over Guadalcanal, he projected a terminal to Buin, Faisl, Rekata Bay, Gizo and Buka. The Jap used everything in the book to wipe out American forces from their projected Guadalcanal base. Submarines shelled positions, transports attempted and made landings. Small patrol boats, landing barges, destroyers, cruisers were used to bring in overwhelming numbers of Japs. They hacked at the marines. United States Army forces. Coast Guardsmen, day in and day out, night in and night out.
Camouflaged Invasion Barges.
At one time they had 50 invasion barges camouflaged with trees and brush on their way to Guadalcanal. Two young Navy carrier pilots hit that group and strafed it and sent it back to its base, after which the marine pilots joined with the Navy pilots to wipe it out. The Jap then prepared for a giant frontal assault to overcome any opposition and to take the field at all costs and to drive American forces into the sea.
On October 25 the Japs had what seemed overwhelming power massed to shell the island with battleships, to knock it out with a carrier-based airplanes, and to occupy it with a strong transport force.
On October 26 an American task force sought out the enemy ships in his own submarine filled waters northeast of Santa Cruz and although outclassed 2-to-l engaged him. We lost a carrier and a destroyer. The Japs suffered damage
to one carrier, perhaps the loss of a second and damage to several heavy
warships. More important, perhaps, the Japs had four air groups consisting of 167 to 177 planes chewed up. A carrier attacked by 84 planes knocked down 34.
Reorganized Striking Force
Without air protection the Japs retired and quickly reorganized a surface striking force to move into the Solomons in sufficient numbers for a frontal assault supported by heavy night bombardment by battleships. heavy cruisers and destroyers.
It was an A, B, C maneuver. The battleships, cruisers and destroyers would lie out 250 miles out of reach of our aircraft and protected by carriers farther back. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon they would begin steaming in at high speed for their night shelling.
On the afternoon of November 12, 25 Jap torpedo planes and eight fighters struck at our cruisers screening force and transports at Guadalcanal. One of 30 which were shot down crash-dived on the cruiser San Francisco as announced
by a Navy communique.
That night off Guadalcanal the Japs sent in their mighty sweeping force. They were engaged by what seemed a puny screening force of American cruisers and destroyers.
The hopelessly outmatched American force waded in. Typical of that night’s action was the work of the already damaged cruiser San Francisco. While blowing up a Jap cruiser, she engaged a destroyer on the side and sank it. Then she closed in on a Jap battleship of the Kongo class, called the Pagoda by our flyers because of its superstructure, and hit it 18 times at 3,000 yards. Other Jap units also were hit.
Dead in Water.
The Japanese battleship was observed next morning dead in the water. She got under way at seven knots when seven torpedoes were rammed through her hull and some heavy bombs penetrated her deck. The San Francisco received no vital damage.
This determined action of our staunch little cruiser force and destroyers prevented any shelling of Henderson Field that night, thus enabling aircraft to operate from it to maintain local air superiority.
The next morning, Friday, November 13, two hours’ before day break, Lt. (j. g.) Martin D. Carmody, 25, San Jose, Calif., took off on search and found the Japanese transports by flying beyond his assigned area despite the fact that this endangered his return by lowering his fuel supply. After making his report—described by Lt. Hubert B Harden, Iowa Falls, Iowa, air operations officer, as the most accurate of any aerial report of the war in the Pacific—he flew his Douglas Dauntless back to the Japanese convoy and his bomb was a near miss off the stern of one transport. His group attacked other units, causing heavy damage to two heavy cruisers, perhaps sinking one of them. It was a raging furnace when the flyers left.
Led Flyers for Kill
Lt. Carmody returned to his carrier long overdue and later led attacking bombers and strafers in for the kill. Planes raked the transports with a murderous fire from guns capable of driving projectiles through thick steel plate. Discharged from screaming dive bombers the machine gun bullets can sometimes penetrate several decks and even pass out through the hull of a transport.
After the first group finished knocking out the escort opposition a pilot going in inquired of a returning pilot, “Did you leave any opposition?” “A little but nothing to worry about.” “There isn’t any task force there anymore. Just some transports. I’d say about five good ones left,” it was reported by one of the pilots of the second group which participated. A third attack group was told “I’d suggest you attack the good ones and dump ’em all. Just pick out any one and go to it.”
Carrier Strength Expended
Apparently the carrier strength of the Japanese had been expended the day before when 33 planes attacked our cruiser screening force and as they were engaged in protecting transports. The carriers during this last action apparently had pulled out and were streaking for safety.
On the afternoon of the 14th Lt. Macgregor Kilpatrick. 26, of Southampton. N. Y. “found and downed” a second Kawanishi which sighted our attack force. His wingman. Ensign William K. Blair. 26, of Toledo, said that it took about 40 shots apiece to drop the four-motored job flaming into the water.
During the night of the 14th one Japanese transport and three cargo vessels succeeded in getting to Guadalcanal attempting to land about 10 miles from the American Henderson field positions. These four ships were met with gunfire. A heavily damaged American cruiser limped out of port and completed the utter devastation of the Japanese transports. That night to complete the carnage several of our heaviest units moved into Guadalcanal and gave the Japanese a taste of heavy caliber gunfire. Marines who watched the engagement off Guadalcanal said that today’s firing was the heaviest they had heard.
Planes’ Attack on Battleship Left Only Oil Slick
WITH THE UNITED STATES FLEET IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC, Nov. 17 (Delayed) (A5).
Lt. Albert P. Coffin submitted the first report of how one small squadron of torpedo plane pilots torpedoed a Kongo-class Japanese battleship, two cruisers and four transports.
Lt. Coffin, who was graduated from Annapolis in 1934, was leading his flight through some protective clouds when he saw the enemy battleship, accompanied by a cruiser and four destroyers, steaming slowly past Savo Island, off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. It was the morning of Friday, the 13th. (He was to learn later that the battleship had been hit earlier that morning by a torpedo from a Marine Corps plane.)
Lt. Coffin’s squadron climbed for a torpedoing position. The planes then dived and swooped down from opposite sides for their prize. Columns of water funneled into the air as the Americans’ torpedoes struck the ship’s vitals. The battleship stopped dead in the water.
This action occurred when the battleship was only about 20 minutes from a position to shell Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, where American Marines and Army troops were expecting a Japanese offensive to recapture the island.
May Have Saved Day.
By stopping this battleship short of its objective, Lt. Coffin and his fellow flyers may have saved the day for the Americans in their sea victory over the Japanese fleet during the November 12-15 fight. Navy officers said that if the battleship had succeeded in shelling Henderson Field, it might have been Impossible for our planes to use the field for takeoffs to help the surface ships during the fight.
Lt. Coffin’s torpedo squadron scored more hits on the battleship and, when last seen that evening, the ship’s stern was afire and men were abandoning the vessel. The next morning, the scene was marked only by an oil slick 2 miles in
That was November 14. That day more Japs ships were intercepted by the squadron which torpedoed two cruisers, leaving one of the Mogami class, burning fiercely. The planes also set upon transports, making life most unpleasant for perhaps a division of 15,000 amphibious troops bound for an attack on Guadalcanal.
Turned to Landed Troops.
The flyers then turned their attention to troops and equipment that had been landed on Guadalcanal from four transports which had managed to escape the fire of American planes and surface ships.
Many bombs were dropped on these troops, Lt. Coffin said. During the entire action, every plane in Lt. Coffin’s squadron received at least one anti-aircraft hit, but not one man was injured. Lt. Coffin gave credit for his squadron’s performance to Marine Corps fighter pilots who “gave my planes splendid fighter protection which was beautifully coordinated.”
Log of Action.
“Those marines don’t know fear,” Lt. Coffin declared. “If one of them sees something he’ll go up and take a poke at it regardless.” The log of the attacks gives a picture of what Lt. Coffin’s pilot, with marine fighter protection, did during the battle:
November 13 – first attack. Fish (torpedo) on port side forward and on starboard side amidships. About 13 Zeros overhead. Moderate antiaircraft fire. Second attack. Hits on starboard side of the battleship and on her port bow. At this time the Kongo vessel was about 10 miles north of Savo Island and heading north at about two knots.
November 14—Third attack consisted of intercepting Japs’ ships 170 miles away. Found five cruisers and four destroyers. Lead cruiser of Mogami class. Hits on right flank starboard side. Hit and one near miss and direct bomb hits on second cruiser. Leading Mogami – class cruiser observed burning fiercely and second cruiser observed smoking. Fourth attack against Jap transports some 125 miles distant. Two undamaged transports hit with torpedo amidships. Six Zero fighters gave opposition. Thousands of Japs seen jumping overboard. Fifth attack diving on two transports dead in the water. Hit and near miss scored on each. The hit broke one transport in half.
November 15.—Raids made on four transports which had been aground west of Point Cruz. Direct bomb hits scored and ships burning fiercely. Remnants of Japs estimated at three divisions amphibious troops bombed and received Molotov baskets (bomb clusters) with our compliments
Opening Battleship Salvos Made Direct Hits on Japs
ABOARD A UNITED STATES BATTLESHIP IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC, Nov. 18 (Delayed).
Opening salvos of two United States battleships scored direct hits on the surprised Japanese fleet from a distance of about 8 miles in the historic naval battle off Savo Island the night of November 14-15.
The action was related today by the communications officer on “unidentified ship” which participates in the mighty blow which, sank one Jap battleship or heavy cruiser, three heavy cruisers and at least two Jap destroyers in addition to several ships damaged. Here is his story:
“On the morning of the 14th we received reports of heavy Jap bombardment of Guadalcanal. Our first job was to get there. We were too late. That day we milled out of sight of the Japs. We received news that two large groups of Jap transports with escorts were on the way to Guadalcanal. One group consisted of two battleships, one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers and about six destroyers.
‘‘Engage and Destroy.”
‘‘Orders were given to us “engage and destroy Jap transports which were crippled by air attacks during the day.’ “About 6 p.m. we made our first definite change of course to Savo Island. At sunset, about 7:46 p.m., we went into battle stations. An announcement of our task and known disposition if the enemy was made to the men in keeping with our normal policy of keeping our men intelligently informed.
When that news was delivered the men were asked ‘Men, what is your answer?’ Every man responded ‘Yea!’
A captain or Marines said over the speaker system, ‘the Marines are ready to give them hell any time.’
“Our best record of going into general quarters, was bettered by one and one-half minutes. The men were out to break records. This was the chance we wanted.
“Shortly after 9 o’clock we saw fires which appeared to be explosions to the northwest, about 30 to 40 miles west of the Russell Islands. It is my belief that the Japs were either firing upon their own units or that they were dispatching their own damaged ships to the ocean floor.
Tension on Ships Increased.
“As we approached Savo Island the tension of our ships increased. Our men began seeing things that were not there. Innumerable false reports were received. Rocks looked like ships and shadows like submarines. The men were straining to get a Jap target. “As we came around at 11:15 p.m. we passed over the spot where the cruisers Astoria, Vincennes and Quincy had been sunk August 9.
This word was passed to all hands. Our men were even more determined to get the “There was a quarter moon, the sky was overcast about 60 to 70 per cent. The water was nice and smooth, perfectly calm. “At 12:50 a.m. I sighted what first suspected to be the enemy. My eyesight is unusually good at night. “Right after that others saw three ships. “We received orders, ‘Commence firing when ready.”
Direct Hit on First Salvo
“Our first ship’s first salvo set her target on fire. It was a direct hit. “Within 15 to 20 seconds our target was lined up. We also got a hit on our first salvo. I could see fires start. “The Jap fire started after we got off three salvos. I counted at least six and possibly eight Jap ships returning the fire.
“After firing several minutes, our ships saw two large explosions near Savo Island and silhouetted against them were two large ships, either heavy cruisers or battleships, about 12.000 to 14,000 yards away.
“This engagement lasted about 10 minutes, I would Judge. It was furious. Then we had about a 5 minute lull. During the lull three Jap ships were reported on our starboard beam and suddenly the Japs illuminated us with searchlights. They were right on us. Their range was about 5.500 yards.
One of our ships started firing almost as soon as the Jap searchlights showed up.
Jap Searchlights Went Out.
“Our salvo was still in the air en route to the Jap ship when the Jap searchlight on the leading ship went out.
“The Japs did not begin firing until 20 seconds after their illumination. This is slow.
“The leading Jap ship was enveloped in smoke. It billowed up in great volumes. I am of the opinion that it was a battleship because it had four searchlights on it.
“Our battery concentrated on the second Jap vessel, and her search lights were knocked out. Smoke issued from her also. I believe she was a light cruiser.
“The enemy ceased firing. We fired several more salvos at her in the general direction of the smoke, but the engagement was finished. We ceased firing at 1:02 a.m., the engagement including a five-minute comparative lull lasting 44 minutes.
Jap Fire Opened Safe.
“During the illumination of the second engagement, they hit us. The hits sounded like big chunks of hail dropping on a tin roof. “We had a useless safe aboard which we could not open because the combination was lost. The Japs opened it for us with an 8-incher.
“The supposition that we caught the enemy by surprise I believe is correct.
“Our losses were about 2 per cent of our crew killed and 3 per cent Injured.
“Our bag was one possible battleship or heavy cruiser; three heavy cruisers; at least two destroyers.
“The enemy knows we hit him well.”
The actual battle was much more remarkable in its dramatic fury and devastation on both sides
The Task Force that was employed by the American on the morning of Friday the 13th was badly mauled. Admiral and seaman both shared the crushing blows from the Japanese guns and torpedoes.
In the 34-minute Cruiser Night Action of 12-13 November, one of the most furious sea battles ever fought, our ship losses admittedly were large. The enemy, however, suffered more severely, and his bombardment of Guadalcanal was frustrated with results which became impressively apparent during the next two days. United States losses were as follows:
CA 0 2 (Portland, San Francisco)
CL 0 1 (Helena)
CLAA 2 (Atlanta, Juneau) 0
DD 4 (Barton, Cushing, Laffey, Monssen) 3 (Aaron Ward, O’Bannon, Sterett)
Casualties on both sides were heavy, with the American force having the serious misfortune to lose both its commander, Admiral Callaghan, and its second in command, Admiral Scott.
In the opening salvos, Both Admiral Scott and Callaghan were killed along with MOH awardee Cassin Young and many others on the bridge of the USS San Francisco. The Atlanta was sunk in a blaze of gunfire and the Juneau infamously was sent to the deeps by a Japanese submarine’s torpedo taking along with her the five Sullivan Brothers.
Tenacity is such a mild word compared to what they showed.
It is probably just as well that the country did not have a better idea of how significant the victory in the waters off of Guadalcanal were or how costly. In the end, it was the sheer tenacity of the American Naval fighters that carried the day. It was the spirit of never giving up that the Marines and Army troops on the little island displayed that proved that the Japs could be stopped and their fortunes reversed. These men were giants.
“The fight for this small corner of the south Pacific had cost the Allied navies 24 destroyers and larger warships totaling 126,240 tons, which included two fleet carriers and six heavy cruisers. The Japanese lost two battleships among a total of 24, totaling 134,839 tons. While naval losses were relatively even in terms of tonnage, on the ground Japan lost a great deal more men compared to their American opponents. Japanese lost 25,000 men in action or to starvation and disease out of 60,000 deployed; meanwhile, the Americans had only lost 1,600. Far greater numbers were lost on the seas, but neither side ever counted how many sailors and naval officers were lost during the campaign. Before this campaign, Guadalcanal was an out-of-way tropical jungle island that hardly any had heard of. After, the battles on and near Guadalcanal would come to be known as among the bloodiest in the war across Pacific. “For us who were there,” said Morison, “… Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion, recalling desperate fights in the air, furious night naval battles, frantic work at supply or construction, savage fighting in the sodden jungle, nights broken by screaming bombs and deafening explosions of naval shells.”
General Alexander Vandegrift, the commander of the troops on Guadalcanal, paid tribute to the sailors who fought the battle:
We believe the enemy has undoubtedly suffered a crushing defeat. We thank Admiral Kinkaid for his intervention yesterday. We thank Lee for his sturdy effort last night. Our own aircraft has been grand in its relentless hammering of the foe. All those efforts are appreciated but our greatest homage goes to Callaghan, Scott and their men who with magnificent courage against seemingly hopeless odds drove back the first hostile attack and paved the way for the success to follow. To them the men of Cactus lift their battered helmets in deepest admiration.