The US cruiser task force, having organized in line ahead formation, was cruising at twenty one knots; weaving through the island studded channel toward their objective a few hours away. Tasked to arrive in the early morning, the cruisers were scheduled to bombard a Japanese held island to inflict maximum damage on the garrison as preparation for an invasion next month continued. The destroyers USS Russell and Morris led the column followed by USS New Orleans and Chester and USS San Diego. US destroyers USS Anderson and USS Hughes brought up the rear of the column. The admiral of this force was stationed on USS New Orleans. He patiently sat in the command chair on the bridge as the ships quietly glided through the unusually calm waters and clear night sky. The silence of the bridge is broken as the TBS (Talk between Ships) radio crackled to life. An ensign wrote quickly as the TBS spilled forth its report, unintelligible gibberish to the admiral located away from the radio room. The ensign approached the admiral, paper in hand, and reported to the admiral that the lead destroyer, USS Russell, had a radar contact bearing 300 degrees, range 20,000 yards. The contact appeared to be three distinct groups of ships. The admiral nodded as he listened to the report and replied to the ensign to tell USS Russell to continue to track the contact and send updates every five minutes. The admiral turns to the captain of USS New Orleans. He tells the captain to send to all ships….increase to max speed and send the task force to General Quarters!!!
About the time that General Quarters was sounded throughout the US task force, the Japanese admiral on board the heavy cruiser IJN Myoko was still oblivious that a US task force was nearby. The resupply force commanded by the Japanese admiral consisted of two distinct divisions: one was the destroyer transport division of four converted WWII destroyers that had guns and boilers removed to make room for a cargo hold and a landing barge to unload and load supplies to garrisons without harbor facilities. The once speedy destroyers are now slow, eighteen knot cargo vessels that are well suited for work within the confined waters of the Solomon Islands. The destroyer transports had the light cruiser IJN Abukuma escorting them to their scheduled location. The IJN Myoko was not alone. Myoko had a division of four destroyers led by the light cruiser Nagara. The IJN Myoko and the attendant destroyer division were tasked to protect the destroyer transports so they could deliver their precious cargo to the island garrison.
So far, the mission had gone without any interference by the enemy. The Japanese admiral was confident that his experienced sailors would spot trouble in plenty of time. The Japanese heavy cruiser was sailing toward a tight channel between two small unnamed islands to provide a screen as the destroyer transport division transited the gap between the islands. IJN Myoko was intending to hug the shore of one of the islands and swing around the island and hide in the shadow of the island to degrade the ever improving radar on the US vessels. The IJN Nagara and her destroyers were following IJN Myoko to assist in the screening. Just as IJN Myoko approached close to the island to begin her close swing around, lookouts shouted that unidentified ships have been spotted some 20,000 yards off of the starboard bow of the cruiser. At the same time, bright gun flashes broke the darkness from in front of the Japanese heavy cruiser and huge splashes appeared around IJN Myoko. The combination of the gun flashes and lookouts confirmed to the Japanese admiral that a US force was in front of him and had gotten in the first blow.
The US admiral had a clear picture of what he was facing thanks to the magic of radar. A large vessel led a column of ships that approached the channel. If ignored, the enemy column would push in front of his task force. The large vessel was followed by another large vessel and at least four smaller vessels. This was most likely two cruisers leading four destroyers. There was another group of ships with one cruiser target leading four slow moving smaller targets. This force was moving behind the small island. The US task force readied their guns and waited for the fire control director to let them know that they have a visual on the large cruiser target approaching them. The two rear destroyers sped up to maximum speed, swung out from behind USS San Diego and were pushing forward toward the expected battle. Just as the admiral had sorted out all of the data in his head, he heard the fire control director bark that a Japanese cruiser was spotted leading a column of ships visually some 20,000 yards away and requested to open fire…the admiral’s positive response was immediately lost with the boom of the eight inch cruiser guns.
The Japanese admiral did not hesitate due to the intense fire coming from the US cruisers. Calmly, he ordered the cruiser to return fire. IJN Myoko fired back with her forward turrets at her shooters with unknown effect. The US fire as well was not hitting anything. The Japanese admiral knew that the string of good luck would not last. The Japanese admiral’s concentration was interrupted by a report that the light cruiser following him had swung out of the line and taking the four destroyers with him. It appeared that the cruiser captain was attempting to close to torpedo range with his charges. The Japanese admiral watched as the column soon faded into the dark heading toward the rear of the US cruiser force. The USS New Orleans and USS Chester ignored the new move and continued to concentrate on the heavy cruiser. The Japanese admiral’s prediction of their luck came true as the US cruisers began to find their target. IJN Myoko took two eight inch hits that smashed into the hull but doing no significant damage. IJN Myoko’s guns were hitting the area around the US cruisers as well but nothing visual was telling the admiral how effective his return fire was. Both sides traded shots that did not seem to do any more significant damage. The US destroyers USS Russell and USS Morris began to fire at the cruiser as well. The US destroyer’s rapid firing 5’ guns peppered the IJN Myoko with multiple hits and did take out two of the IJN Myoko’s secondary five inch AA guns, but most of the hits were ineffective as they could not penetrate the thick cruiser armor.
There is a decisive moment in the flow of a battle that moves the direction toward victory to one side or another. This battle between the Japanese and the US was no different. Here is the tactical situation at the decisive moment for this battle. The heavy cruiser IJN Myoko is steaming at close to top speed toward a small island with the intention of hugging the shore of the island and swing around to use the island’s shadow to decrease US radar effectiveness. IJN Myoko’s move was detected by the US cruiser task force and now the Japanese heavy cruiser is the sole target of every US ship that is firing. The light cruiser IJN Nagara and the destroyer force that was following IJN Myoko has broken away from the heavy cruiser and is streaking toward the rear of the US cruiser line with the intention of launching their deadly cargo of “Long Lance” torpedoes. The USS San Diego and two destroyers located at the rear of the US line have just spotted the Japanese destroyer line and have begun to engage them. USS New Orleans and USS Chester are continuing to fire at the IJN Myoko as the Japanese cruiser steers toward the small island. US destroyers USS Russell and Morris have added their rapid firing five inch guns to the broadsides by the two US cruisers. The Japanese destroyer transports led by the light cruiser IJN Abukuma have been effectively screened by the Japanese warships and have slipped behind the same small island that IJN Myoko is steering toward. So far the destroyer transports have avoided being engaged. Both sides have avoided major damage from each other gunfire although IJN Myoko has taken two eight inch shell hits into her hull and non-penetrating five inch hits have destroyed two of IJN Myoko’s five inch secondary batteries. IJN Myoko continues to fire her forward eight inch turrets at the US cruisers with no telling hits observed. The US cruisers USS New Orleans and USS Chester along with the destroyers USS Russell and USS Morris return fire.
All of the US ships open fire simultaneously sending a blizzard of eight inch and five inch shells streaking toward the IJN Myoko. The eight inch salvos straddle IJN Myoko with two shells striking her. One twenty four inch torpedo mount disintegrates and bursts into flames. The other shell penetrates into IJN Myoko’s hull and adds to the damage already inflicted by previous hits. The swarm of five inch shells adds their effects to the eight inch shell hits. Four of the swarm hit the thickly armored sections of the ship, adding their explosive effects to the sight of the IJN Myoko being swamped by gunfire but doing no damage. The fifth five inch shell, for reason only known to scientist and God, took a slightly higher trajectory toward the Japanese heavy cruiser. While the other shells hit low on the ship, this shell bore in and struck the unarmored bridge of IJN Myoko.
The Japanese admiral was just beginning to send the order to slightly change course to avoid the island when the US five inch shell slammed into the bridge and exploded. The admiral never got to finish the order as the explosion killed all on the bridge instantly. The IJN Myoko continued on her present course and speed…which meant that six minutes later, IJN Myoko slammed aground on the small island.
The US cruisers did not show IJN Myoko any sympathy for her plight as USS New Orleans and USS Chester continued to shoot at the now grounded Japanese heavy cruiser. The US destroyers decided that maybe this is a good time to launch torpedoes at the hapless IJN Myoko. Torpedoes shot out from USS Russell and USS Morris and they appeared to run hot, straight, and normal. The angle of attack however had the torpedoes transit over the shallow reef before hitting the now grounded Japanese heavy cruiser. The torpedoes slammed into the reef and exploded harmlessly.
The balance of the Japanese force watched in horror as IJN Myoko slammed into the island. The will to fight drained from the two division commanders and all decided that this supply run needed to be aborted. The destroyer transport division used the small island as an effective screen and swung to return to their starting point. The IJN Nagara and her charges had just set up to launch torpedoes when the IJN Myoko grounded. The IJN Nagara’s captain aborted the launch and ordered a general retreat.
The US admiral was elated when he saw the result of their last broadsides. Staring at the burning Japanese heavy cruiser cocked at angle as it lay stranded on the reef sent a wave of satisfaction through him. The US admiral did not savor his victory too long as he still had a job to do. The US admiral sent an order for all ships to cease fire and to reform the battle line. The admiral also sent a message back to naval headquarters notifying them of the battle and sent a position report of a Japanese heavy cruiser grounded. The US admiral knew that in the morning, the planes from Henderson field would seek out the cripple and destroy her. The US admiral sat back into his chair and resumed his mission to sail to the island that he was scheduled to bombard in the morning.
- gregoryk, Kenneth D. Hall, RazorMind and 1 other like this