Monday, February 26, 2007

Blood Is Thicker Than Water: November and the Continuing Buildup (cont'd) *6

FIRST OFFENSIVE: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal

by Henry I. Shaw, Jr.

The buildup on Guadalcanal continued, by both sides. On 11 November, guarded by a cruiser-destroyer covering force, a convoy ran in carrying the 182d Infantry, another regiment of the Americal Division. The ships were pounded by enemy bombers and three transports were hit, but the men landed. General Vandegrift needed the new men badly. His veterans were truly ready for replacement; more than a thousand new cases of malaria and related diseases were reported each week. The Japanese who had been on the island any length of time were no better off; they were, in fact, in worse shape. Medical supplies and rations were in short supply. The whole thrust of the Japanese reinforcement effort continued to be to get troops and combat equipment ashore. The idea prevailed in Tokyo, despite all evidence to the contrary, that one overwhelming coordinated assault would crush the American resistance. The enemy drive to take Port Moresby on New Guinea was put on hold to concentrate all efforts on driving the Americans off of Guadalcanal.

On 12 November, a multifaceted Japanese naval force converged on Guadalcanal to cover the landing of the main body of the 38th Division. Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan's cruisers and destroyers, the close-in protection for the 182d's transports, moved to stop the enemy. Coastwatcher and scout plane sightings and radio traffic intercepts had identified two battleships, two carriers, four cruisers, and a host of destroyers all headed toward Guadalcanal. A bombardment group led by the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, with the light cruiser Nagura, and 15 destroyers spearheaded the attack. Shortly after midnight, near Savo Island, Callaghan's cruisers picked up the Japanese on radar and continued to close. The battle was joined at such short range that each side fired at times on their own ships. Callaghan's flagship, the San Francisco, was hit 15 times, Callaghan was killed, and the ship had to limp away. The cruiser Atlanta (CL-104) was also hit and set afire. Rear Admiral Norman Scott, who was on board, was killed. Despite the hammering by Japanese fire, the Americans held and continued fighting. The battleship Hiei, hit by more than 80 shells, retired and with it went the rest of the bombardment force. Three destroyers were sunk and four others damaged.

The Americans had accomplished their purpose; they had forced the Japanese to turn back. The cost was high. Two antiaircraft cruisers, the Atlanta and the Juneau (CL-52), were sunk; four destroyers, the Barton (DD-599), Cushing (DD-376), Monssen (DD-436), and Laffey (DD-459), also went to the bottom. In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser Portland and the destroyers Sterret (DD-407), and Aaron Ward (DD-483) were damaged. One one destroyer of the 13 American ships engaged, the Fletcher (DD-445), was unscathed when the survivors retired to the New Hebrides.

With daylight came the Cactus bombers and fighters; they found the crippled Hiei and pounded it mercilessly. On the 14th the Japanese were forced to scuttle it. Admiral Halsey ordered his only surviving carrier, the Enterprise, out of the Guadalcanal area to get it out of reach of Japanese aircraft and sent his battleships Washington (BB-56) and South Dakota with four escorting destroyers north to meet the Japanese. Some of the Enterprise's planes flew in to Henderson Field to help even the odds.

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