Naval Battle of Guadalcanal continues

Photo taken during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 14-15 November 1942, showing the U.S. battleship USS Washington (BB-56) firing upon the Japanese battleship Kirishima. The low elevation of the barrels shows how the close range of the adversaries; only 8,400 yards, point blank range for the 16″/45 caliber main armament of Washington.

The Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Kirishima at Tsukumowan, Japan in 1937, sunk by a surprise attack by the USS Washington on the night of the 14th-15th November 1942.

The second stage of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal took place on the night of the 14th November after both sides sent further ships into the area. Once again there was confusion as to the identity of the different ships involved. The USS Washington crept up upon the scene because she could not identify a target as definitely Japanese – there was some doubt that she might be the USS Dakota, the ship that she had sailed with. As soon as she was identified as the Kirishima nine shells from the Washingtons main armament and over forty from her secondary guns were smashed into her.

The Japanese tactic of attempting to illuminate targets with searchlights did not work in their favour. Some aspects of the battle were not cleared up until the end of the war.

Interrogation of: Lieut.-Comdr. Horishi TOKUNO, IJN, who was Assistant Gunnery Officer of the Kirishima:

Q. Give a description of the battle the night of the 14th.
A. The Kirishima was again proceeding towards GUADALCANAL to support the transport landing by shelling the airfield. Our speed was about 28-30 knots. One of our destroyers turned its search light on the South Dakota and we opened fire. We think we hit the South Dakota many times, inflicting much damage. We received about 9×16″ hits and about 40×5″ hits. We didn’t think that the South Dakota hit us at any time. However a second battleship was firing upon us. We couldn’t see it because of the glare from the destroyers searchlights. Because we were hitting the South Dakota and couldn’t see the second battleship, we did not shift fire. Two heavy cruisers were with us and were hit but not damaged badly. They were of the Takao class.

Q. Did the Kirishima sink as a result of the gunfire?
A. No. Shortly after the American ships opened fire the steering of the Kirishima was so badly damaged that we were unable to steer or repair it. We kept turning in a circle but couldn’t get away. We slowed down to try to steer with the engines but it was no use. Our engines were not badly damaged, but we were receiving many hits from the Washington. Then the Captain decided that since we couldn’t steer and the engines were damaged that it would be better to scuttle the ship. He then gave the order to open the Kingston valves. We did not receive any torpedo hits.

Q. How long did the ship remain afloat after receiving the first hit?
A. It took about two and one-half hours to sink. Destroyers came alongside and took off about one quarter of the men. The rest of the men jumped over the side and were later picked up by destroyers. We had about 1400 men on board and lost about 250. I stepped from the Kirishima to a destroyer and did not even get wet.

Q. How do you know that the ship was not sunk by shell fire?
A. I heard the Captain give the order to scuttle the ship. Later; on the destroyer, one of the engineers told me that they had opened the Kingston valves. The Captain was also informed that the valves had been opened before he transferred to a destroyer.

See Interrogation of Japanese Officials, 1945.

It was a battle that ranged far and wide. During the day US planes from Henderson Field and the USS Enterprise had had considerable success in locating and attacking Japanese ships and their transports attempting to land troops on Guadalcanal. One man’s Medal of Honor citation gives us an idea of what these men were going through.

Harold W. Bauer, US Marine Corps aviator in WWII – awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the battle for the Solomon Islands.

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous courage as Squadron Commander of Marine Fighting Squadron TWO TWELVE in the South Pacific Area during the period May 10 to November 14, 1942.

Volunteering to pilot a fighter plane in defense of our positions on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Lieutenant Colonel Bauer participated in two air battles against enemy bombers and fighters outnumbering our force more than two-to-one, boldly engaged the enemy and destroyed one Japanese bomber in the engagement of September 28 and shot down four enemy fighter planes in flames on October 3 leaving a fifth smoking badly. After successfully leading twenty-six planes in the over-water ferry flight of more than six hundred miles on October 16, Lieutenant Colonel Bauer, while circling to land, sighted a squadron of enemy planes attacking the USS McFarland.

Undaunted by the formidable opposition and with valor above and beyond the call of duty, he engaged the entire squadron and, although alone and his fuel supply nearly exhausted, fought his plane so brilliantly that four of the Japanese planes were destroyed before he was forced down by lack of fuel.

His intrepid fighting spirit and distinctive ability as leader and an airman, exemplified in his splendid record of combat achievement, were vital in the successful operations in the South Pacific Area.

On November 14, Harold W. Bauer shot down two enemy aircraft in an attack 100 miles off Guadalcanal before being shot down himself. He was seen in the water apparently unhurt, floating in his life jacket. An intensive air and sea search over the following days failed to find him.

The Japanese transports Hirokawa Maru and Kinugawa Maru beached and burning after a failed resupply run to Guadalcanal on 15 November 1942.

The U.S. Navy battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57) and two destroyers alongside the repair ship USS Prometheus (AR-3) for repairs, probably at Noumea, New Caledonia, in November 1942. The inboard destroyer, with the distorted bow, is probably USS Mahan (DD-364), which was damaged in a collision with South Dakota at the close of the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 27 October 1942. South Dakota received damage in both that battle and in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 15 November 1942. The other destroyer may be USS Lamson (DD-367).

The wreck of one of the four Japanese transports, Kinugawa Maru, beached and destroyed at Guadalcanal on November 15, 1942, photographed one year later.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul November 14, 2017 at 4:33 pm

The failure of Japanese naval leadership to press an overwhelming advantage on the night of November 13 – when it had an undamaged battleship, at least two undamaged cruisers, and other vessels and the Americans were down to one heavy cruiser and a couple of destroyers – was the fatal blow to its defense of Guadalcanal.

This was one of at least three occasions where tactical blundering cost the Japanese the advantage of overwhelming superiority. It happened in the Coral Sea, and again at Leyte Gulf where the battleship force reached our landing area only to turn tail.

Charles Beckman May 10, 2017 at 10:56 pm

Look for the WWII Ship Damage report about HIJMS Kirishima. It presents a rather different picture.

Kirishima absorbed 20 16″ hits, including one under the stern that turned one rudder well beyond its limits, the reason for the helpless circling. Damage control included a lot of counterflooding to correct list – of a ship with numerous free-water problems. Kirishima capsized and sank as a result.

The explosion that destroyed the bow magazines occurred after Kirishima sank, a result of the shock of an abruptly-failing bulkhead setting off the bursting charges in the main battery shells. By that time Washington and South Dakota had departed the scene.

Scott November 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Regarding the sinking of the battleship Kirishima, see the wikipedia article:

Underwater explorer Robert Ballard has visited the wreck. It lies in 4000 ft of water, upside down with the bow missing. Speculation in the wikipeida article states that the armor was “incredibly thin” by WWII standards, and the conclusion stated is that the ship’s forward magazine probably exploded, taking off the bow, and that the ship was not scuttled.

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