Battle narrative to follow. Short version, VADM Fletcher wins; but, Murphy, what a mess!
==================================================================Meanwhile At The Transport Convoy
The Battle Of The Eastern Solomon Islands
"This was a horrible day."
VADM Frank Jack Fletcher
The rather bizarre Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands which comes two weeks rather later than most anyone American or Australian naval expects (23-24-25 August 1942) is the third time the Americans and Japanese meet in a major fleet action. It ends as an American victory, but one must really shake one’s head at the result.
After their first small-scale counterattacks on Guadalcanal had failed the Japanese began to move reinforcements to the island. A force of fast transports, cruisers and light cruisers under Rear-Admiral Raizo Tanaka was allocated to this task. Tanaka's force soon became known to the Americans as the 'Tokyo Express' and it would continue to operate for most of the Solomon Islands campaign. Tanaka's first run was a success, and 815 men were landed on Guadalcanal on the night of 18-19 August.
The Japanese severely misunderstand and underestimate the size and shape of the Australian / American operations in the Eastern Solomon Islands. Southern Expeditionary Forces commander His Highness, the prince / count / Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi and his subordinates are frankly clueless as to what the Allies are about or the large size and multiple objectives that the Americans in particular pursue on Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Florida Islands. The Imperial Japanese Army do understand about the airfield on Guadalcanal at least and they go about to remove the allied threat there and retake the airfield. To that end, it is the local IJA command, who tell the IJN what they will do. This is a fundamental change in how the Japanese operate. A small force of fast transports (10 modified WW I destroyers) and fast warships (8 fleet destroyers) under RADM Raizo Tanaka, arguably Japan’s most able naval officer and tactical genius, is IJN assigned to carry out the orders. Tanaka is not slow to show his genius. He makes his first successful Tokyo Express run exactly 10 days after Gunichi Mikawa disrupts the Allied landings with his own raid (The Battle of Savo Island). Tanaka comes down from Rabaul during the night of 18-19 August 1942 and deposits an IJA troop battalion to the EAST of Henderson field at a miserable spot called Taiyu Point clear inside the Sealark Channel. Contrary to his operational orders, the battalion commander (Ichiki) marches his troops directly west and blunders into Vandergrift’s Marines, who wipe the battalion out in a meeting engagement along the Teibosu Flats (misidentified as the Tenaru River on Marine maps and in Marine Folklore) on 24 August 1942. As an aside, the Marines find out that the Japanese are deadly snipers, good marksmen, excellent at camouflage and have a good battle drill and are excellent infiltrators. The Marines win their engagement, but they realize quickly that the IJA can achieve great feats with small means; i.e. the Japanese are not the clowns the average Americans think they are. Firepower is not enough to beat them.
Although these Japanese troops were quickly lost in battle by their disobedient colonel (who kills himself in an errant act of cowardice rather than face the music as a true Bushido warrior should. McP.), based on his “reported” near success from the retreating survivors^1 of his demolished unit, the Japanese army decides to repeat the exercise and send another small landing force to finish off the “disorganized American survivors”.
^1 RTL and ITTL; one of things that plagues American land operations in 1942 is that the American small unit tactical leaders, on land, are not well trained in pursuit and destruction once they have beaten the enemy force on force. This hurts tactically because it allows the Japanese in contact to break off quickly, escape into the jungle on Guadalcanal, and re-organize quickly. This yielded advantage involves OODA decision cycle LOOPs and the ability to dominate terrain that the Americans either do not pour into or have the manpower to secure. It, in effect, yields the offensive initiative to the Japanese. The Americans, of course, have to protect the key chess piece in the WATCHTOWER, so it is understandable why the Marines fort up and take it, instead of going out into the jungle and hunt the Japanese down. This is why Guadalcanal takes five months RTL, why the naval war assumes the shape it does and why the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands will become the critical ITTL setup battle it is for future events. McPherson.
Near success, means the IJA will try again. Now this peaks Yamamoto’s interest. He realizes that the Americans have been stung, that the USN, despite its heroic resistance off Lunga Point during the Battle of Savo Island, now demonstrates during Tanaka night operation of 18-19 August 1942; that it, the USN, cannot stop Japanese naval raids and landing operations.
Maybe The Americans Can Be Lured Into A Decisive Naval Battle In The Eastern Solomon Islands?
The Japanese, both Combined Fleet staff and Terauchi’s staff, decide to try and combine their next two operations as a single exercise. While Admiral Tanaka carries out the next “reinforcement” of Guadalcanal, the Combined Fleet, complete with three aircraft carriers, will trundle down from Chu’uk (Truk) and operate to the north of the Solomon Islands. Yamamoto hopes to draw the American PACFlt into a major battle and finish it off at Guadalcanal.
Admiral Tanaka's force consists of the transport command ship, Kinshasha Maru # 2 (converted from a auxiliary armed merchant cruiser) Stuttgart Naru, a press-ganged German fast tanker, an IJA fast transport the Daifan Maru, four fast WWI converted destroyer transports, and Destroyer Squadron 2. They will convey two battalions this time, about 1800 troops total.
The main Japanese naval force is formed around the fleet carriers, the repaired Kaga and the repaired Zuikaku. It also includes eight battleships, four heavy cruisers and the light carrier Ryujo, which is to serve as reconnaissance vanguard and fighter sponge. The Japanese navy hopes that the Americans find the Ryujo and strike her first but not their larger carriers, and would attempt to attack her. This would allow the Japanese naval aviation to counterstrike and sink the “two American aircraft carriers” that their naval intelligence section estimates is all that the Americans have left. Now it must be understood that the Japanese navy, (both ITTL and (RTL), actually believe that they sink at least two American attack carriers. And that on that basis of this belief the Combined Fleet staff believes that the Americans can have no more than two or possibly three attack carriers on hand. They, the IJN, know that the Americans will, on that basis, probably only commit two attack carriers forward into the Solomon Islands region.
This “belief” rather than confirmed hard fact, in this ITTL, is a serious force estimate error. The Americans will not commit USS Hornet (Basically because post action review of Midway, shows CINCPAC quickly that the USS Hornet is totally screwed up. The ship’s crew needs massive remedial training, and the ship needs much further work up. Marc Mitscher, who is the one who is the root cause of this combat unreadiness and inefficiency; skates away from the chaos he causes, with a promotion, when he should be court martialed for incompetence. The new captain, CAPT Charles P. Mason, who CINCPAC brings in to fix the mess, is an Atlantic fleet martinet, who will show the USS Hornet is considerably improved in the RTL at the Battle of Santa Cruz. Will he get that chance here, ITTL? Stay tuned, McP.).
There Are Five Lights!
The Americans (ITTL) have USS Yorktown (Spare parts bin for her sisters, USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, at the moment), USS Enterprise, USS Saratoga, USS Hornet, and now the USS Wasp. Of these five flattops, Nimitz will allot USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise and the USS Wasp. This lineup will considerably surprise the Japanese. TF 61 thus has 50% more airpower than the IJN plan anticipates.
In addition to the carriers; USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise and USS Wasp, the new battleship North Carolina, with four cruisers and ten destroyers are part of Task Force 61.
There is something else the Japanese do not anticipate; TF-63. The Japanese have, until now, operated in the area under the delusion that they have the land-based air advantage. But it has been four months since the Battle of the Coral Sea: that incompetent, MGEN Brett has been booted because of his poor performance, and Brereton is out, too. The USN has been rebuilding its patrollers since the massacres of ABDA and Coral Sea. She has adopted a LRMP strategy similar to that which the British employ in the Atlantic, basically because the Japanese submarine force (6th Fleet) has been pestiferous and effective in the New Hebrides and New Caledonia areas and something has to keep those pests’ heads down. So far these patrollers are not having much luck against the IJN 6th Fleet. During the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands, their sad performance against Japanese submarines, will get RADM John McCain into some hot water that almost ends his naval career. What saves RADM McCain’s gluteus, is that they perform sterling reconnaissance / reportage of Japanese surface fleet movements when VADM Nagumo and RADM Hara come within the Guadalcanal airpower circle.
This aspect of the battle begins when RADM Tanaka's transport ships and his escort group are spotted by American LRMP aircraft on 23 August, when they are still 560 kilometers from Guadalcanal. This is a full day before the Japanese expect because Tanaka is using a masking weather front. US aircraft sortie from Henderson Field, but bad weather and wily Tanaka’s ruse de guerre retreat mean that the MAG 23 fliers fail to find their targets the first time out.
Early on 24 August American patrols (USAAF B17Rs) find the Ryujo and Admiral Fletcher sends his fleet towards her as the Japanese anticipate. Once the American aircraft carriers come within range a scouting force of 29 aircraft is sent out to find Ryujo, followed at 1345 by a main attack force of 12 Skyrockets, 12 Sea Wolves, 3 Dauntlesses and 8 Avengers.
At about 1420 the Japanese aircraft from Lae that launched about three hours earlier, that head for Henderson Field, are intercepted by Marine fighters from VMF-223 and their attack is broken up. It turns out that the Guadalcanal Radar^1 is a good piece of gear.
^1The Japanese radar research program is controversial in the claims made.
The Japanese Navy was aware of the potential of radar. The Japanese claimed to have built their first cavity magnetron as early as 1937, and by 1939 JRC had produced a 10cm 500W cavity magnetron. The British did not produce a comparable design until February 1940. However, lack of interest and support meant that Japan quickly lost its lead in this crucial technology. The first inklings of the military potential of radar did not come to the Japanese until late 1939, which was very late in the game. Early experiments in the use of Doppler interference detectors to detect aircraft proved to be a technological dead end. Although the chief of the Armaments Section of the Navy General Staff, Yanagimoto Ryusaka, insisted that the Navy could not go to war without radar,and the Navy Ministry instituted a crash program of radar development on 2 August 1941, the Navy's Electrical Research Department, which was responsible for radar, had grown to just 300 staff by August 1943.
How true this is, is not satisfactorily established to my satisfaction. McP.
The same recon fan of 3 B-17Rs from Espiritu Santa, which discover the Ryujo, now discover the the carriers, Kaga and Zuikaku. A frantic, message radioed in the clear, by LT Bernie Sandlewood, attempts to divert the force Fletcher sends to Ryujo, to vector them onto the new threat, instead of the Ryujo. The American aircraft do divert and as a consequence find the Japanese “main body” and score heavy damage on the CV Kaga. The Kaga is set on fire and left dead in the water by a perfectly coordinated attack, the first in the war that the Americans design from launch from the USS Saratoga to its finish. It comes in three waves, the Skyrockets first with their low level rocket attack. The surprised Japanese CAP caught at angels 11 high, swoop down expecting to deal with slowish American torpedo bombers burdened and hindered by heavy torpedoes to fly straight, slow, and level. To their shock they see their opponents areバズソー(buz zes sawa), American fighters, who unleashロケット(rocketo) and instantly reverse turn on them as soon as theドラゴンテール (nowegon talle) (dragon tails) leave their zero length launch rails and crater the Kaga’s flight deck. The furball is not to the Zero pilots liking as the Skyrockets tear into them. Green the Americans may be, but they know teamwork and they know how to deflection shoot. As for Kaga, her flight deck is smashed up. She cannot surge launch her alert fighters (6 of them) to help the 12 she has in the air, mainly because in addition to splintering her flight deck to ruin as well as setting it on fire, 3 of the 24 Zunies fired at her, have blown her spotted ready launch fighters to bits. CAPT Jisaku Okada has some choice words to say about this event.
Roughly translated with some of the curse words omitted.
“May the useless gods curse the American pilots to whatever Christian hell the Americans believe in. I am afraid Lieutenant Osada that we are about to be their honor guard to lead them in!”
Lieutenant Konichi Osada, who survives Kaga’s sinking tells the Americans, (USS Moondragon plucks him out of the water after the battle.), further, that his captain was “most sorrowfully unhappy” that CV Zuikaku was unable to supply assistance either in the air battle or in the attempts to save Kaga after she is wrecked in the air attack.
The blast-ex is not over yet. The Americans come up with a new one. The Avengers should play torpedo bomber, but they come in at about 40 degrees from the vertical and unload napalm onto Kaga. Now, if the Midway script follows through, the Kaga should light off like a blast furnace, but CAPT Okada has thought Midway through and he has changed things on Kaga. Damage control parties have ballast sand to fight the napalm and they contain the fires at a horrible cost in lives. As soon as the American attack develops Okada orders his fuel lines filled with CO2 and he has his bombs and torpedoes firmly sheltered in flash boxes or sealed in the magazines. Four hits is not enough. Kaga is one TOUGH ship, like Shōkaku it seems. If only he passes on these things he does as experiments, now, to his fellow less imaginative captains! Of course the Americans build in a pad in case the napalm trick does not work, so here come the Sea Wolves, at last, with the Mark XIII torpedoes to fix things properly. Eight attempts, two hits, and it is still not enough. Maybe those useless gods are not so useless?
Meanwhile, before the Americans divert off Ryujo and vector onto the Kaga and Zuikaku the Japanese discover one of the American aircraft carrier task groups. I-31 reports her contact with TG 61.2, the one that contains the vaunted and now Japanese dreaded USS Enterprise. Nagumo orders an immediate attack. Kaga and Zuikaku launch their massive attack in two waves. The USS Saratoga to the west inside a fierce storm manages to avoid this attack, but the USS Enterprise, out in the storm eye in the clear, is not so lucky. Her 15 Skyrocket fighters in her CAP manage to massacre the Japanese torpedo bombers, but the Japanese dive bombers, the Vals, are not intercepted in the low level Skyrocket Kate melee for the same reason that costs Nagumo his four aircraft carriers at Midway. This irony is not lost on RADM Thomas Kincaid, shortly to lose his left leg and heroically earn a Navy Cross, as he watches the Japanese roll in on the Big E. It does not even surprise him when he sees some of the Vals refuse to pull out or even release their bombs as they aim their whole planes at the American carrier. It disappoints him that the D3A1s are thus unopposed. Apparently the new fighter director center using the British style four channel radio setup has failed again. The end result is that LT. Ogawa Sho-ichi † is able to make an uninterrupted plunge attack on the Enterprise from directly ahead. Heavy anti-aircraft fire from the Enterprise and her escorts, and in particular from the battleship USS North Carolina, accounts for 4 of the 7 Japanese aircraft in a last ditch effort as Sho-ichi bores in with his stick of six companions and himself, but the Enterprise still suffers two direct hits, one in the island and one in her amidships elevator and the 4 shot down near misses from this Japanese effort. Instant catastrophe occurs. The hanger goes off like a bomb as the Val that punches through the amidships elevator somehow detonates a fuel main and that in turn sets off an uncovered bomb magazine. Some 550 men are killed and 200 more men are horribly wounded as a result. Included among the dead; are CAPT Arthur C. Davis and most of his command group as casualties. They die in the Combat Information Center. RADM Kincaid, with some junior officers in the remnants of the Island above the pry-fly, and about 1100 crew trapped below the blazing hanger, are all that is left to save USS Enterprise. RADM Kincaid is going to have to earn that Navy Cross the HARD way. He already knows about the lost leg, because a navy corpsman has tied the mangled meat shredded to hamburger, off with a tourniquet just below the knee. If he makes it, the corpsman tells him, it will be amputated. That is a mighty big “If” at the moment.
It will take 17 Medals of Honor, another further 120 lives offered in selfless devotion to save her and 57 more men to be maimed for her, so that the USS Enterprise will live. So why does not Thomas C. Kincaid also receive the Medal of Honor? He refuses the award on the grounds that he is responsible for allowing his task group to be so damaged in the battle in the first place. In a fleet filled with apple polishers like Towers, incompetents such as Browning, clueless innocents like Wilson and even an alibi- happy though very effective Halsey, this is utterly remarkable and sets for the USN a new high standard for her admirals, that even the execrable self-serving highly political Marc Mitscher will be forced to emulate when his time to face the music arrives. Of course when it comes time to recycle Arthur Carpender in three months as SWPOA’s navy boss, guess who MacArthur has on the top of his short list to ask from CINCPAC to replace that 野郎 (na yado)?
While the USS Enterprise and her consorts fight off the Japanese carrier aircraft, MAG 23 is finally able to launch a small attack on Tanaka's command ship, Kinshasa Maru. The Kinshasa Maru is set on fire and now Tanaka, with a mission failure on his hands is forced to retreat from the area for real. He radios VADM Nagumo and warns him, of the aborted troop mission and RADM Tanaka assumes, that VADM Nagumo will take the veiled hint he provides, that is padded into the message for his senior to heed and retreat also.
Said The Fly, "Let Us Flee!"
Said The Flea, "Let Us Fly!"
For once in his checkered naval career, VADM Nagumo listens to some competent advice. Of course he is not going to leave Kaga behind. With the IJN down to 5 flattops, he is not about to scuttle her if he can tow her to safety. He orders this evolution. Hei is to be the tow ship. There is a bit of a delay in the exercise when a couple of Dauntless dive bombers. (Where did they come from?) drop a pair of bombs on Hei. In one of those unfortunate turns of events that seem to still bedevil the Americans, the bomb fuses fail to go off! The frightened Japanese aboard Hei are grateful to see one dud punch a hole ahead number one turret and lodge relatively harmlessly above the magazine. It will be “tricky” to remove at Truk, but it will be accomplished. No more Sasebo idiots using logs to bump American ordnance loose, Thank you! The other bomb bounces off the number three turret into the sea. It leaves a permanent dent. Nothing on Earth is going to fix that wrinkle properly until the USS Juneau does the job in a few months.
At the end of 24 August all of the Japanese aircraft carriers that are able retire from the area do so. Two are being towed, but as the Japanese figure things, they are in the plus column for once. With USS Enterprise dead and they with their wounded ships still intact and repairable, they are the winners. On 25 August the Japanese continue to withdraw, while Fletcher remains in the area. The Japanese look good to make their escape, but the whole formation crawls along at no better than 5 m/s. They are constantly shadowed by reconnaissance planes from the irascible USAAF 11th Heavy Bombardment Group. These guys operate in relays, by now, constantly yakking on their radios giving fairly accurate position reports. The upshot is that a pair of frustrated US submarines, the USS Moondragon (LCDR Oscar Moosbreger) and the USS Mooneye (LCDR James Brazos Azer) finally catch up to the motley collection of Japanese ships. And things begin to go wrong for Nagumo. The first inkling there is trouble is when HIJMS Kazagumo (CDR Masayoshi Yoshida) reports to Zuikaku that they have detected some kind of screw noises nearby and the destroyer is going to leave station to investigate. Ten minutes later there is a loud explosion near the Kazagumo, as seen from the Zuikaku. That must be the Kazagumo dropping depth charges on something. For some inexplicable reason, the Akigumo (CDR Shohei Soma) also leaves station and rushes over to join the fun. Nobody reports back for a half hour as the two Japanese destroyers crisscross the ocean like dachshunds looking for a gopher and for some reason VADM Nagumo takes no action, himself, either. Zuikaku does blinker the other ships in the task force. “Alert. Submarine. Starboard.”; (警告。潜水艦から港へ), but of course by then it is too late. The first salvo of two fish that approach the Hiei miss ahead. LCDR Mossbreger of USS Moondragon curses himself for a fool for attempting a shot with too great an angle solution and too distant from his intended victim. He aims for the Kaga not the Hiei. Hang the Hiei. Flattops are the highest priority target. Battleships come after tankers and troopships. For some reason the USS Moondragon’s torpedo data computer and the Mark 20 torpedo are not meshing properly this day. He has to try again, but to do so he has to get closer and he has to pace his intended victim. He must resort to the snort because the Japanese are crawling faster on the surface than he can run submerged on the battery. This creates a feather wake as the snort mast pokes up and the Hiei’s lookouts see it despite the thunderstorm. Her secondaries open up. CAPT Masao Nishida may not know exactly what he shoots at, but he will drop some 6 inch shells at and around the feather wake and see what blows up.
Meanwhile, LCDR Azer finally has some luck. The dimwitted captain of the Kazagumo has finally taken the periscope bait and the USS Mooneye feeds the charging Japanese destroyer, intent on her overrun and ram, a Cutie Mark II from her own aft number 5 tube. She, the Kazagumo, eats it amidships right under the forward torpedo flat. Kazagumo breaks in two. One Yagumo down, one Kagero to go. Akigumo’s captain is a lot more cautious now. Not so eager to prosecute a submarine is CDR Shohei Soma. LCDR Azer will actually have to chase him. That is suicide, but USS Mooneye Actual will do it, because someone has to keep that starboard flank open to give USS Moondragon her shot. It is what Sleuth bear tactics dictate.
What about USS Moondragon? LCDR Moosbreger is chasing shell splashes by sonar and guessing blind as to track plot. The Japanese seem to be on track 300-330 [T] and they are performing a sloppy 2 minute zig-zag. The next zag is due just about NOW. Moosbreger takes a chance and orders port 50 to 275 [T]. if he guesses wrong the Japanese will be ahead of him about 5000 meters away and too fast to catch, even if he surfaces in these seas. Up goes the mast. Eureka! The Hiei is ahead but the Kaga a good 800 meters astern is a sitting duck! The tow line must have snapped. The firing order is 1, 3, 4, 2 all fish shallow (3 meters run depth, contact fuses, with her starboard list, Kaga needs a few more starboard holes in her to solve her intolerable condition, from an American point of view. Run times are 150, 145, 165 and 170 in a 2 degree spread, launch intervals 8 seconds. Whunk, whunk, whunk, whunk. MURPHY! The water ram is loud! Nose wander right, curse those fish! Two hit. Not enough. Moosbreger moves toward Kaga and dives under her. He pops up on her port side and feeds her tubes 5 and 6 just outside arming safety range. Where are the Japanese destroyers to kill USS Moondragon? It takes ten arduous minutes to reload the stern tubes. This time the firing order is 6 and 5 and the run times are 54 and 69 seconds. One fish is a clanger the other misses astern circles and blows up for no good reason.
Frustration bordering on rage seizes LCDR Moosbreger, who gives LT(s.g.) Howard Cushman “the look” that signifies the weapons officer will stand a court martial if this utter fiasco does not have a happy ending. Cushman uses the 1 Mike 1 and urges the forward torpedo room to not screw up. Firing order is 4 and 1 as Moosbreger brings USS Moondragon’s bow around so that he can use the forward tubes. Run times are 45 and 47 seconds, 15 second interval, contact fuses, and deeper than Moosbreger likes at 5 meters. Number 4 whunk. Number 1 whunk. The times are off. First KaBOOM is 58 seconds. The second KaBOOM is 62 seconds. Up goes the number 2 scope, the one with the movie camera. Moosbreger takes a look. It is enough. Kaga is rolling! Keel up at the sky. It, the film, will be in US movie theaters by March 1943, when the American public needs to be reminded that the Pacific war is headed in the right direction, in spite of the seemingly interminable bad news. Whoops, here come some planes, time to go deep and run for one’s life, USS Moondragon.
Meanwhile, USS Mooneye finally manages to use interior lines to cut off Akiguno’s ”escape”. LCDR Azer is not only a better tactician than LCDR Moosbreger, he is also a better shot. This one is a Mark XIV IIIB and it hits Akiguno just ahead of her first stack. It is a somewhat emotionally flat LCDR Azer who asks SM2ndCl Munfrey Hogg if he records the fate of the Japanese destroyer.
Hogg answers; “Just like the first one, our torpedo’s explosion and then theirs going off as she breaks up. She’s a kill on the wire, sir.”
The 11th Heavy Bombardment Group, which has been staging B-28D Dragons out of Henderson Field during this battle, to sort of leapfrog forward, has made something of a target shift. The staging operation is of course something of a miracle since the 1,200 meter (3,800 foot) runway was a bit short of the 1,610 meter runway desired by the B-28D Dragon. The Japanese parking ramp at the west end of the strip is an additional 400 meter cushion of clayed mud, which the Marines manage to add to the overall runway length by rounding up the 1,100 Korean slave laborers the Japanese abandoned and coaxing them to continue the spade and wheelbarrow work to expand the taxi path that joins the parking ramp to the runway proper as an extension. Of course, Marines being Marines and not trained civil engineers, they do not notice that the graveled runway is not crowned, it sits on an unpacked clay nbed, nor are there drainage runnels, so that wet sloppy mess is an exciting crash-ex for the fliers of MAJ Danial H. Northrop’s (no relation to the airplane designer.); Dragon squadron to participate. The Dragons start to operate from Henderson at 1000 hours, the night of 23 August 1942. Sure, why not? Would not want to make USAAF long range overwater flight operations in the middle of a pair of typical Solomon Islands monsoons during a major aircraft carrier centric naval battle which involves elite IJNAS pilots eager to shoot down enemy bombers too easy, would we?
Speaking of MAJ Danial H. Northrop (no relation to the airplane designer.), what are his orders? Find Nagumo, who is somewhere north of Florida Island at the moment, and sink him.
Northrop tries and fails on the night of 24-25 August. He has no success.
Although he cannot find Nagumo, and one wonders why, because both U.S. Navy PBYs and CAPT Horace “Happy” Paridge’s B-17Rs seem to have no trouble with huff duffing the all too talkative Japanese, Admiral Tanaka's transport fleet, however. is still near Guadalcanal and they come under attack from the USAAF aircraft operating at Henderson Field.
At around 0637 on 25 August Tanaka's fleet gets hit. The Chitose receives damage as does the cruiser, Chokai. Every one of Tanaka’s other ships receives a bomb. One must remark that after Kinshasa Maru; (CAPT Koshiro Hara †), eats a pair of 247 kg GP bombs into her pilot house that Tanaka is briefly knocked unconscious and when he recovers he transfers his flag to the Stuttgart Maru and attempts to continue with his mission. He is rather certain that the mission is to now save as much as he can from the 神のろわれたアメリカの B-28 フライングドラゴンズ (pestiferous American B-28s) which operate like clockwork,four plane sections, striking on the quarter hour.
MAJ Northrop has his own problems. He would like to actually sink Tanaka’s circus, but someone (Probably Richmond Turner, why not blame him?), forgets to stock up on Mark XIII torpedoes at Henderson Field.
The damage to the Kinshasa Maru is more serious than first believed. The command ship catches fire in the forward hold, and the crew has to evacuate from her. The destroyer Muzuki comes alongside, but soon has the misfortune to be bombed. Northrop’s third element from the 11th Bombardment Group attacks at 0730 while the Muzuki attempts the rescue. The immobile Japanese destroyer is hit by three bombs from the B-28-Ds and is a write-off, though not sunk. Her crew has to be rescued by the Stuttgart Maru, while another two destroyers rescue the man from the Kinshasha Maru, which is now listing badly to port. Finally with his command ship hulked, the Muziki wrecked, the Chitose damaged and Chokai on fire, Admiral Tanaka admits total defeat and sends off his message to Nagumo as previously described.
The Japanese fail to land their reinforcements, by now have lost a carrier (Kaga) and a cruiser (Tone) and suffer damage to several other warships. They largely abandon daylight operations in the Solomon Islands, and henceforth will operate at night.
On the American side the USS Enterprise is out of action until March 1943, but she returns in time to take part in the fourth aircraft carrier battle of the war.
But once again, it is not about the aircraft carriers or the clash of fleets, it is about the fact that the Japanese infantry do not get ashore and that RADM Tanaka turns back. Once he does that, the Japanese should have given up the operation. Persistence will cost them dearly.
What Goes Wrong, (It Is A Rather Long Litany of Mistakes. McP.).
Following the US Marine landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on August 7-8, 1942, and the mutually shattering battle between the U.S. and Australian cruisers and Gunichi Mikawa’s own squadron in the middle of what is now known to the Marines as Iron Bottom Sound east of Savo Island on 9 August 1942, an uneasy parity exists in the Eastern Solomons that leads up to the catastrophe. Early each afternoon - "Tojo Time" the Marines call it - Japanese bombers from Rabaul raid the Marines' beachhead, and pound the fledgling airstrip the Marines struggle to clear on Guadalcanal. At night, enemy destroyers regularly race down "The Slot" - the narrow course from Rabaul southeast through the islands - to hammer away at the Marine positions, withdrawing before daybreak. American forces are more or less powerless to interfere since the destroyer massacre of Lunga Point and the forced withdrawal of the damaged cruisers to Efate, to Australia or to Pearl Harbor or even to the United States to undergo repairs. Less frequently, Allied destroyer-transports dash into Ironbottom Sound, to deliver badly needed supplies and fuel to the 16,000 increasingly beleaguered Marines.
The ships of the "Tokyo Express" as Japan's raiders are nicknamed, enjoy control of the waters north of Guadalcanal, but Enterprise, Saratoga and Wasp lurk to the southeast, waiting and watching for the inevitable Japanese Combined Fleet operation to recover the two islands.
This will be Operation KA
The Marine's toehold on Guadalcanal is a huge loss of face for the Japanese IJA. In some respects it also addles their strategic thinking. Terauchi and crew (Harukichi Hyakutake
and Tomitarō Horii
) have a far more important strategic operation in progress to take a place called Port Moresby than Guadalcanal. Take that place in New Guinea and the Allies have no forward lodgment to conduct operations against Buna and Goa (Port Moresby has an air base and is a convenient supply dump for air ferried supply drops to Eichelberger, Herring and Vassey if nothing else.) which will eventually lead to the fall of Lae and the unhinging of the entire Japanese defense in the SWPOA. Now to be fair If the Allies are allowed to establish air bases in the eastern Solomon Islands, the Japanese position at Rabaul will be directly threatened. With a solid blocking position in the eastern Solomon Islands, the Americans will slam the door on any Japanese opportunity to cut Australian sea lines of communication.
And without control of the entire island chain, the Japanese are powerless to break the Allied supply line, that stretches from Hawaii in the east, south through Samoa and the Fiji Islands, and westward to Brisbane, Australia.
Whether they realize the decision of proper gravity in this yoke condition, and one suspects they do not, Prime Minister Tojo and FADM Yamamoto personally decide to issue orders aimed at wresting control of the Solomons away from the Allies for their disparate but ultimately similar reasons. It becomes as much a matter of face as it is military necessity to act upon Guadalcanal. In Rabaul, the local 8th Fleet command, when it receives the hot potato, decides to collect the 2,500 man force then stationed at Guam, 3,500 more soldiers deployed at Palau and a 1000 Imperial Marines, combine them and send them against Guadalcanal's defenders. This speaks volumes about Japanese estimates of the Allied resolve to defend Guadalcanal: for the defenders on paper outnumber attackers 5 to 4, a ratio which normally would practically guarantee the planned counterattack's failure. But then the Japanese IGHQ has gone into (雲のカッコウの土地) Cloud Cuckoo Land.
The first assault on Guadalcanal proper begins 14 August, as 500 men of the Special Naval Landing Force wade ashore to the east of the Marines' nearly complete airfield. The next night, 1000 more men land west of the Marines' position. Perfect nutcracker it seems it achieves? Their lunatic commanding officer, COL Kiyano Ichiki, wastes no time declaring his "invasion" a success, and immediately sets about executing a pincer movement to grab the airstrip.
The illusion of success is short-lived, however. Marine patrols detect the Japanese approaching through the jungles, and on the night of 19-20 August the Marines massacre the outnumbered and outgunned Japanese invaders, killing and wounding about half of them (584 and 279 respectively. McP.). The Marines suffer relatively few casualties - 35 Marines killed and 102 wounded - in return. It appears that the Marines are quite correct about their pet Johnson rifles and machine guns. The weapons will kill quite well in spite of all the springs, cams and tiny screws the Army hates inside the little monsters.
This misnamed Battle of Tenura River stuns the Japanese high command, still convinced of its own historically proved invincibility. A sort of McClellan type of panic sets in at Rabaul and is thence communicated upwards to IGHQ in Tokyo. It seems a more concerted effort to dislodge the Marines might be required. But the fly in the chicken soup is overlooked by the IJA and somehow missed by the IJN, as well, who after the Battle of Midway should know better. With the completion of the Henderson Field on 17 Aug. (The field, as noted above, is named after Major Lofton Henderson, a Marine pilot killed at that very Battle of Midway. McP.), the Americans now have an island airfield right exactly where it disputes Japan's operational control of the air over the Solomons. And as a bonus, the Japanese build it right where the Americans need it, and complete it, ahead of their schedule and the Americans’ as well sort of incompetently, to the day when the Marines take it away from them. The Japanese even leave road equipment, a radar, some air traffic control radios, a month’s worth of army rations, and a battalion of confused and drunk Korean slave labor troops for the Marines to use to correct the mistakes that LCOL Inouree Hama, the UCLA trained civil engineer, makes when he lays out the field (Known to the Japanese as RXI or Runga Point (ハマの大誤算) or Hama-no-gi-isan.^1
^1 Hama’s Big Mistake. RADM Tanaka, after being plastered by planes from it, says:
その白痴は、良い工学の学校に行っていた場合, パデューのような, UCLA の代わりに, 彼はアメリカ人に適切に構築された飛行場を残しているだろう.
The only thing that could make Hama’s Big Mistake worse, is if he had gone to a competent engineering school like Purdue and left the Americans a properly built airfield.
So… at Rabaul, more soldiers embark on transports. They cast off on 20 August for Guadalcanal. From the Truk anchorage to the north, Kaga and Zuikaku - fleet carriers, veterans of Pearl Harbor - sortie southwards. Ahead of them, by 150 kilometers, sails Ryujo, a light carrier. Her task is not to decoy as the Americans, especially VADM Frank Jack Fletcher supposes explains her lunatic movements, in his post battle analysis. Ryujo, with “King Kong” Hara leading that show; is actually supposed to cover RADM Tanaka’s approach, that is support the Japanese Transport Force with air-cover and soften US positions on Guadalcanal and Tulagi before the Japanese landing troops disembark. It is an IJN Combined Fleet staff playbook repeat of their Operation MO fiasco, complete with split objectives, forces out of mutual support of each other, each blissfully sailing within reach of American Rikkos!
Yamamoto's Operation KA – and it is his plan which precipitates the Battle of the Eastern Solomons - has too many eerily familiar features which puzzle and confuse the Americans: features like the attempt to achieve the crushing victory over the American aircraft carriers which escapes Yamamoto at Midway, and to support the landing of the 3,000 men Tanaka transports from Rabaul to Guadalcanal. Like the Midway and Coral Sea plans which preceded it; KA is compromised by being saddled with too many objectives, to be carried out by forces spread across too wide an area. To USN Naval War College types and to VADM Fletcher in particular, it strains their credulity that the Japanese naval staff planners would be so incredibly stupid to try the same no-work-at-all trick, three times in a row. This causes Fletcher to make a set of otherwise avoidable mistakes of his own, that he commits because he keeps looking for the Japanese trick in their plan.
American intelligence, (FRUMEL), meanwhile, has a ten-day backlog of Japanese naval messages. They do not quite catch up with the chain of events. Nevertheless these Coral Sea veterans issue an Intelligence Summary on 21 August, in which they predict that a large Japanese force; "although still apparently in Empire waters will definitely go south, if not already under way in that direction." The summary is most accurate: the Combined Fleet sorties on 21 August from Chu’uk (Truk), the same day Tanaka and Mikawa with the transports and that idiot, Goto, with the cruisers, departs Rabaul.
At Pearl Harbor ADM Nimitz, as soon as MacArthur’s brain trust sends it all forward, still 21 August mind you, wastes no time acting on this information. He orders VADM Ghormley that exact same day to concentrate his forces off the Solomon Islands. There is only one problem. VADM Ghormley is HORS de COMBAT en raison de dents pourrIes and is unconscious after the navy dentist gives him a shot. Ghormley’s chief of staff, without a clear vision of commander’s intent, forwards the Nimitz order as given, direct to VADM Fletcher, without comment, clarification or follow up. VADM Fletcher tops fuel for battle and readies his forces to execute.
The following day, the still drugged out of his sane mind, VADM Ghormley orders Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (apparently again) to send his three task groups north to meet the expected Japanese challenge. Along with the USS Wasp (TG 61.3) and USS Saratoga (TG 61.1) task groups, USS Enterprise (TG 61.2) and her escorts steam north, watchfully awaiting signs of the enemy's approach. Somehow, the contingency planned reconnaissance that TF 63 is supposed to conduct ahead of Fletcher’s fleet in support of this dangerous movement is not laid on, or at least RADM John McCain does not get the word. Post-battle (RTL and ITTL) no-one is sure why this mistake occurs. To further compound the mistake, Fletcher, or his staff, assumes the situation is far more urgent than it is, because of the “repeated order” and they charge into battle at high speed, instead of at cruise. This burns a lot of oil fast and depletes destroyer times on station. Now pre-war the tankers would have gone forward with the task groups and Fletcher would have topped his destroyers off again. But Fletcher remembers the Coral Sea and what happens to Neosho because of that “mistake”, so he parts company with his two AOs well south of the Lae and Rabaul Japanese air power circles and goes north.
Shortly before 1100 on 22 August, an unidentified aircraft appears on Enterprise's radar, 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of the ship as TG 61.2 charges north at 14 m/s (27 knots). It is raining with lightning and wet ionized air, so electronics is thoroughly futzed. Although static and communications problems delay the alert and response, eventually a division of four F5F Skyrockets aloft (CAP) vectors towards the intruder. They encounter an H6K Kawanishi flying boat, the ubiquitous lumbering, four-engined scouting Japanese seaplane. In short order it meets the water in an uncontrolled 80 m/s (155 knot) nose down landing from which no-one Japanese survives. It is a big fat question mark if the H6K “Mavis” reported that it is bounced or that it encounters American aircraft carrier borne aviation. Based on where it is/was, if it got a message off, someone Japanese knows where TF 61 is now.
Early the next morning, as both ships and planes patrol hostile waters north of the Solomon Island chain, Enterprise aerial scouts (TBYs) sight two Japanese submarines (Possibly the I-31 and I-34) hurrying south, presaging the approach of the predicted powerful enemy surface forces. A few hours later, an USAAF B-17R , finally finds the Japanese transport convoy east of Bougainville Island (about halfway between Rabaul and Guadalcanal). A strike from USS Saratoga that afternoon fails to find the convoy, which RADM Tanaka turns north after being sighted. Forty five minutes later, another USS Enterprise patrol, another pair of Sea Wolves, spots another Japanese sub (RO-34?) on the surface, proceeding south at high speed. The TBYs attack the sub and she disappears into a rain squall. The pilots, ENS Clevon Gallagher and LT(j.g.) Robert Montrose, claim ½ kills but neither the submarine operations research group (SORG) or Japan Army Navy Analysis Committee (JANAC) confirms it, and the Japanese records are moot on the incident.
On the afternoon of 23 August, CINCPAC intelligence, (This error will be eventually traced to an insanely jealous man, John Redman
,who apparently envies Joseph Rochefort's
success. Historians are still divided over whether Redman makes an honest error or deliberately sets out to make Hypo look bad. McP.^1), astonishes everyone American at sea, who expect imminent battle, when it reverses its earlier assessment. It advises that the main Japanese force is still at Chu’uk (Truk). Admiral Fletcher, with concern for his ships' fuel situation as action with the enemy nears, decides to take advantage of the "delay", and orders USS Wasp and her Task Group to rear guard just in case while he rendezvous with the oilers further south, which he orders now to dash north. It is a decision he soon regrets.
^1 My opinion.
The next morning, 24 August, a Monday, 20 Enterprise TBYs fanned out on 480 kilometers (300 miles) search legs, across a wide arc of ocean north of the Big E's task group. Some 16 Hours of tedious searching uncovers no enemy force. Other reconnaissance flights from other sources, however, have more success. Around 1000, an USAAF B17R reports a carrier, a cruiser and destroyer escort some 300 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of the American force. The carrier is the light carrier Ryujo, escorted by the cruiser Tone, sent in advance of the main Japanese strike force to cover the transports approaching from Rabaul. Then, fighters from the USS Saratoga intercept and splash another enemy flying boat, this one only 30 kilometers or 20 miles from TG 61.1. Early in the afternoon, another Saratoga fighter flames still another enemy scout, this one within visible range of the American ships.
In neither case do American eavesdroppers, who listen in on the Japanese plane freqs, hear a successful contact report transmitted. That might not be too surprising. Mother Nature has conveniently provided artificial jamming in the form of powerful thunderstorms that continually lash the Eastern Solomon Islands region from the early evening of 23 August that lasts clear into the afternoon of 25 August 1942. About the only radios that are going to punch through this static are ship borne ones, like the excellent radios carried by the Japanese I-boats and their American opposites, the Mackerels. By the way, what jams radio also futzes radar. It is surprising how a few tons of water droplets falling from the sky each second, can blind both American and Japanese surface and air search radio-location contraptions, too.
Then RO-34 broadcasts a contact report. The Americans could not fail to hear it since they huff duff it right between TG 61.1 and TG 61.2. There is no question now that the Japanese know the general location of the American aircraft carriers, but with the exception of Ryujo, the Americans can only guess the position of the Japanese forces. Shortly after 1300, some 12 F5F fighters and 12 TBY scouts catapult from USS Enterprise's flight deck, each package of two Skyrockets and two Sea Wolves launched on four 480 kilometer single-leg non-overlap search fan sector legs north and west of the task group.
Another half hour passes with no contacts, other than the solitary B-17R still shadowing Ryujo and broadcasting for all he is worth to get someone American to home in on him. Fletcher, after aborting his tanker rendezvous, struggles to close the distance between Ryujo and his task forces. He grudgingly ordered Saratoga to launch her strike and go for that target which he just knows is a huge mistake, but a target in sight is better than no target at all. Just minutes after Saratoga's 12 F5Fs and 18 TBYs planes form up and head out towards Ryujo, another B17R, just northwest of the one that tracks Ryujo and detects about a half dozen blobs on radar and finds the real threat. Some 300 kiometers (200 miles) due north and midway between USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga, the Japanese aircraft carriers, Kaga and Zuikaku plow southward at 15.4 m/s (30 knots), preparing to strike a blow against the American carriers. With heavy thunderstorm static disrupting communications on both sides, and inexperienced American pilots cluttering the airwaves with their undisciplined radio chatter, the warning reports from that B17R do not immediately reach Fletcher.
When the B17R’s report finally arrives, he immediately has the USS Saratoga’s comms section redirect Saratoga's strike, as they line up the attack which could put Ryujo under the waves by that evening. They break off in disgust, which leaves the Ryujo’s slaughter to become a joint Silent Service (USS Morsa), USAAF (11th Heavy Bombardment Group) and CRUDiv 4 sink-ex. That will be a Bozo the Clown exercise that will last for hours. Meanwhile… every remaining available fighter on both USS Saratoga and the USS Enterprise is gassed, armed and spotted, ready to take off at the first radar sign of an attack.
That sign came at 1632: on radar, many bogies, range 140 kilometers (88 miles), bearing 320 degrees [T]. The USS Saratoga and USS Enterprise task groups are 30 kilometers (~20 miles) apart. Both American flattops turn southeast into the brisk 18 m/s (35 knots) wind and launch their remaining fighters. Aft of USS Enterprise, matching her 13.9 m/s (27 knots), steams the new 33,000 tonne battleship, North Carolina, (BB-55) ; at her flanks the cruisers Portland and Atlanta, with six destroyers in the outer screen of TG 61.2 at their AAA sector stations. On all ships, guns train skyward, and eyes strain towards the northwest, where - still over the horizon - the enemy approaches. Overhead circled 4 plane element fighter sections in 12 flights, 48 planes in all. Sheer circumstance puts the USS Saratoga into a rain squall and masks her. The Japanese will not see her from above. It is not Fletcher’s mistake but the inexperienced RADM Thomas Kincaid who orders CAPT Arthur C. Davis, Enterprise Actual, to maneuver clear into the eye of the storm so that fighters can land and re-arm; that puts the bullseye on the USS Enterprise.
The first contact with the incoming enemy strike is VID^2 made at 1655. At 6,000 meters altitude, (3.4 miles above) the Skyrockets scrambe to intercept, are two formations of Japanese Val dive bombers. For almost 20 minutes, Skyrockets, Zeros and Vals tangle high over the sea. Afterwards, the Enterprise pilots of VF-6 can claim having downed 29 planes: confirmed by gun-camera footage, a figure all the more remarkable because of the inexperience and lack of discipline of the American pilots who every man for himself instead of fighting as teams as they are taught.
^2 VID visually identified.
As the aerial battle rages, drifting steadily closer to Enterprise's task group, Enterprise launches her remaining 7 TBYs and 6 TBFs, on an ultimately fruitless raid against the main Japanese force. The decision to launch the strike, however, suggested by air officer John Crommelin, probably inadvertentlyu saves Enterprise from a fate like that suffered by the Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway. The planes, fully fueled and armed, are spotted in the same area where, in minutes, two suicide plunger Kamikaze Val dive bombers will smash through the Douglas fir planking of Enterprise's flight deck. Had the planes been parked there when the Vals impact (one into the Island and the other into the amidships centerline elevator just adjacent to the crane, Enterprise likely would not have survived the day.
The last plane lifts off Enterprise's deck at 1708. Her gunners now stand ready to defend the ship. Yet even as Radar Plot reports "The enemy planes are now directly overhead!", task force lookouts could not spot the enemy planes through the surrounding towering clouds. Worse, the ship's fire control directors fail to pick up the target, depriving the 5" guns the opportunity to fire on the enemy strike group before it could push over into its attack. At 1742, as the first of the surviving 30 Val dive bombers nosed over at 6000 meters, a puff of smoke attracts the attention of 1stSGT Joseph R. Schinka (USMC). Commanding the aircraft carrier’s #4 20mm anti-aircraft battery, Schinka opens fire well before the Japanese enter his theoretical 3000 meter radius hemisphere shaped effective engagement zone. Though the enemy planes remain still well beyond the reach of the 20mm batteries, the gun's tracers guide the fire of other better guns. In moments, a thundering barrage of 20mm, 28 mm" and 127 mm fire fills the sky over Enterprise's flight deck, as North Carolina, Portland, Atlanta and the destroyers all come to her defense. If the Japanese have forgotten why the USN has the best AAA on Planet Earth three smoking burning comets quickly immediately reteach them that lesson.
In the dark gray cotton cloud mottle, late afternoon sky, the Japanese bombers pitch over into their dives, one every seven seconds: five, maybe six planes in one stick howling down relentlessly as if they form one arrow pressing their attack relentlessly, while seven others form up behind them, or sped away low over the waves after releasing their bombs. For nearly twenty two minutes, as USS Enterprise weaves and bobs with surprising agility to the japanese, the heavy anti-aircraft fire takes its toll on the attacking planes, Enterprise's guns alone destroy 15 Japanese dive bombers. High overhead, reinforcement fighters from USS Saratoga and the USS Enterprise’s own VF-6 make passes at the Japanese planes as they prepare for their dives, sometimes even following the Vals during their descent. It is not enough. Some of these Japanese pilots intend to make sure the only way they can. Fly the bomb into the deck. The first Val to strike Enterprise pierces her flight deck just forward of the amidship elevator, plunges through to the flight deck and detonates.
The time is around 1754. An elevator pump room team, ammunition handlers, and a damage control team stationed in the chief petty officers' quarters are immediately wiped out by the blast. 35 men died instantly. As the explosions of the uncovered center bomb magazine joins in, it rips a series of 2 meter (~6.2 foot) in diameter holes in the hull at the waterline: the ship quickly acquires a list to starboard as seawater pours in. The blast tears 5 meter (~16 foot holes) through the steel decks overhead and underfoot, bulging the hangar deck upwards a full meter, and rendering the punched elevator useless. The concussion whips the warship – 247 meters long (810 feet) and millions of pounds of wood and steel - stem to stern, first upwards, then side-to-side, hurling men off their feet, out of their chairs, across the gun tubs.
Ship and crew have just thirty seconds to recover before the second Val suicides. It’s bomb detonates on impact, just 15 meters ahead of where the first Val hits, It obliterates aircraft carrier’s island forward and kills seemingly everyone below the Pryfly. The violence of the explosion amplified by the ignition of the plane’s own fuel going off with the blast starts the kind of fire that killed Akagi at the Battle of Midway. Some 88 men, 40 of whom are never positively identified, die that immediate moment. A further 400 more men will die before the fire is put out. The guns of the USS Enterprise’s starboard amidships batteries fall silent, their crews are all dead; heavy black smoke pours from newly ignited fires from the base of the island. Sailors from the USS Portland cross themselves and say a prayer for what they believe to be a doomed ship.
Trailing smoke, taking on water, USS Enterprise drives forward still at 14 m/s (27 knots). Below decks and across the flight deck, damage control teams scramble to bring the fires and flooding under control, to pull survivors from the slippery and torn decks and compartments, to restore power and flush holds of explosive vapors. As the ship twists away from under the continuing assault, her remaining guns resume their fire, to rejoin the barrage being thrown up by North Carolina and the other ships in the task force. For almost 90 long seconds the task force fights back against the aerial assault, to protect the precious flat deck at its center.
Just two minutes after the first hit, a third Val slams into Enterprise's flight deck, just forward of the number 2 elevator. A smaller, The Japanese pilot misjudges his dive angle and the Val bounces off like a rock skipped across water. Still the 250 kg bomb comes loose and it punches a 3 meter (10 foot) hole through the flight deck, that disables the No. 2 elevator, killing and wounding yet more men.
As the assault tails off, the USS Enterprise - on fire, listing, spilling black smoke over the water – still keeps her central place in the task force. Within an hour, the damage control parties at the cost of scores of lives bring the fires under control, patch over the hole blown in the flight deck by the third dud bomb, counterflood to correct the ship's starboard list, and improvised mattress and timber plugs for the waterline holes with lumber and mattresses taken from crew quarters and carpentry stores. While the Skyrockets overhead chase off the departing Japanese bombers, Enterprise's returning scouts circle, waiting anxiously for an opportunity to land somewhere, some breaking off to lend the CAP a hand. These aircraft will have to divert to USS Saratoga and refuel to make their way to Henderson Field, as the USS Enterprise is unable to land them. The Enterprise signals the task force that she will require assistance, and as evening comes on the USS North Carolina assumes station forward preparatory to passing a tow byte to haul the Big E out of battle.
An hour before the Vals had begun their suicide attacks, the Japanese commander VADM Chuichi Nagumo, assuming the sacrifice of Ryujo draws off the American planes, launches a second strike. These planes now probed the Pacific, seeking the American ships. They are just appearing on task force radar when Enterprise loses headway.
Below decks, the steering room is effectively sealed, to prevent the small compartment and its crew of seven from being overwhelmed by thick smoke. Between the fires encircling the compartment, and the heat generated by the powerful electric steering motors inside, the temperature inside the compartment rises steadily, from 120 degrees to 150, and then to 170. Both men and machinery fail disastrously. USS Enterprise's rudder swings right, swings left, swing right again and at 1950, jams hard over to starboard.
While radar now shows the incoming strike at 80 kilometers (50 miles), the Enterprise narrowly misses slicing the destroyer USS Balch in two. USS North Caroline immediately conducts a counterturn to port pull with a lateral strain on the 20,000 tonne aircraft carrier. The USS Enterprise has her byte heeled yar left, her tow speed drops down to 3 m/s (~6 knots), as a collision flag runs up her truck. The rudder is jammed so far over that not even the North Carolina going forward 90 degrees on the port tack to Enterpise’s baseline can straighten her course. She corkscrews helplessly, an easy target for bombers and submarines alike and the USS North Carolina with her as the battleship will discover the next morning when she has her own screws blown off and her rudders mangled by the I-31.
An anxious thirty-eight minutes pass as this raid develops while damage control teams and engineers fight their way into the steering compartment, first to pull to safety the men collapsed inside, and then to manually work the second of the two steering motors. On North Carolina’s air search radar, the Japanese squadrons passed 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the task group, wander around in a confused right hand turn loop for 40 minutes, reverse course to the northwest, and miss the American ships entirely. With night coming on, TG 61.2 survives to fight another day.
Despite the severe damage USS Enterprise receives, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons is an outstanding American victory, tactically and strategically. Yamamoto's Operation KA costs the Japanese two aircraft carriers, the light carrier Ryujo and the heavy attack carrier, Kaga. Worse, 100 planes and their aircrews from Kaga and Zuikaku are lost - over 150 experienced airmen that the Japanese will never be able to replace. In comparison, fewer than 20 planes are lost among USS Wasp, USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga. The human cost on Enterprise, however, is grim. For 670 men the attack of 24 August marks the last 45 minutes of their lives, and 257 others are wounded. Fletcher will be savagely criticized for sticking around on 25 August to make sure Nagumo is packed off and that USS Enterprise is saved. USS North Carolina, USS Saratoga USS Wasp and USS New Orleans are dinged up by energetic and effective Japanese submarines in their one and only sterling performance of the war, but this time the Marines cannot complain that the US Navy or that “Whiskey Jack” now more appropriately called by them, “Blackjack”, abandons them.
On 25 August, Yamamoto officially concedes that Operation KA: the first major Japanese attempt to recapture Guadalcanal fails. That same day, USS Enterprise, towed now by the victorious USS Salt Lake City^3, heads slowly for Efate, and then for Pearl Harbor, where repair crews will work with her and the still disabled USS Yorktown 24 hours a day, from September 10 until October 16, whereupon both flattops will then head to Bremerton, Washington for further work. When she reappears off New Caledonia in March 1943, the situation on Guadalcanal, and in the South Pacific, will be somewhat different and better.
^3 TG 61.4 under the command of RADM Norman Scott (Otherwise the formation known as CRUDiv 4 consisting of USS San Juan, USS Salt Lake City and USS San Francisco) detach from TG 61.3 and race forward to engage the “Mobile Force” which consists of the crippled CVL Ryujo, the cruiser / seaplane tender Tone and the destroyers, Amatsukaze (CDR Tameichi Hara), and Tokitsukaze (CDR Giichiro Nakahara). Suffice it to say, that a very nervous RADM Scott is relieved to see the Tone sent off by the USAAF 11th HBG and all he has to do is put Ryujo out of the USN’s misery while the USS Salt Lake City and the USS San Francisco play tag with the two Japanese destroyers. It is a bit like the fiasco the British have with the HMS Glorious off Norway, a bit messier maybe, but one must admit that King Kong Hara is not a nincompoop like Captain Guy D'Oyly-Hughes.
RADM Hara already has seen the handwriting in the bombings and constant American radio chatter and he gets most of the Ryujo’s surviving crew off onto the destroyers after Tone sinks and before TG 61.4 shows up. The two Japanese destroyers make a show of a fight, but their half-hearted torpedo attack is really a face saver so that RADM Hara can point to his surviving ships and say,
(We fought. What did Nagumo do?)