The Battle of Eastern Solomon Sea
Aug 24, 1942
The Japanese underestimated the number of Americans on Guadalcanal
but could not underestimate the need to remove them. Major elements
of the Imperial Japanese Navy were sent to escort only 1,500 troops,
which was thought to be sufficient to destroy the Marines on the
island and any defending naval force as easily as they had
destroyed the screening force at Savo Island.
The Imperial fleet comprised three carriers : both remaining
fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and
light carrier Ryujo ;
three battleships : Mutsu, Hiel and Kirishima ;
13 heavy cruisers ; 3 light cruisers ; seaplane carrier Chitose ; and 31 destroyers.
These were escorting auxiliary cruiser Kinryu Maru
with Naval Landing Force of 800 men and four APDs with an army
detachment of 700 soldiers.
Land air support was 100 operational aircraft ; underwater were 10 submarines.
The American defenders under VAdm Fletcher had three fleet carriers:
Saratoga (CV-3), Enterprise (CV-6), and Wasp (CV-7)1 ;
one battleship, North Carolina (BB-52) ;
five heavy cruisers : Minneapolis (CA-36), New Orleans (CA-32),
Portland (CA-33), San Francisco (CA-38) and Salt Lake City (CA-25) ;
two new anti-aircraft light cruisers : Atlanta (CLAA-51) and San Juan (CLAA-54); and 18 DDs.
Land air support was 23 Marine planes that had arrived a few
days before at Henderson Field; 39 PBY reconnaissance planes from seaplane tenders ; and
30 B-17's from the New Hebrides.
Three picket lines of submarines kept watch for the Japanese fleet.
Although the Japanese were known to be coming, they refueled at sea and arrived before
expected -- Wasp was on refueling rotation ; she and her task
force escorts, 3 cruisers and 7 DDs ; one third of the already outnumbered
U.S. fleet missed the fight.
The Japanese had the light carrier ahead of the strike fleet.
She opened the battle with an air strike on Henderson Field.
Fletcher sent dive and torpedo bombers to attack and Ryujo
was successfully sunk without loss. Meanwhile the two big Japanese carriers attacked the two American fleet carriers before their strike was ready. The ensuing battle was essentially
a giant aerial dog fight interspersed with ship borne antiaircraft fire.
The U.S. lost 20 planes (mostly fighters), the Japanese lost 70 (mostly bombers).
Enterprise took three bombs and Chitose was
nearly sunk, but survived. There was superficial damage from near-misses to North
Carolina and Shokaku, but major damage to two Japanese light cruisers,
a DD, and 2 subs.
When steering control was returned
Fletcher retreated in the direction of Wasp for the night.
The Japanese fleet, expert in night warfare charged forward and
found nothing ; destroyers bombarded Guadalcanal.
Marine pilots attacked the transports, sinking the flagship, Kinryu Maru, and eight B-17's from Espiritu Santo
sank a destroyer, Mutsuki, while stopped to rescue troops.
Wasp advanced to the scene but found nothing. Without air
cover, the Japanese had retreated without delivering the troops
or destroying an American fleet half its size. The third of
the five great aircraft carrier battles of the Pacific War had ended with
the Japanese minus a carrier, destroyer, submarine and an air group.
Enterprise transferred her bombers to Henderson
Field, Guadalcanal, and returned to Tongatabu for temporary repairs before heading
for Pearl Harbor. The Japanese gave up on major fleet actions as a way to deliver troops and
initiated the Tokyo Express in which destroyers delivered
reinforcements and supplies at night and retreated beyond U.S. air
range by daylight.
--- 1 . These are the carriers that Fletcher had saved the third day of the invasion of Talagi and Guadalcanal.
Milne Bay At the same time the IJN failed to reinforce Guadalcanal,
a Japanese naval landing force was put ashore on the tip of
New Guinea to take Milne Bay. Initial advances were made during
rain storms, but out-numbered ten to one and with Australian
aircraft able to attack when the weather cleared, the Japanese
were forced to withdraw after the third day. The Japanese general
staff had decided that reinforcements had to be sent to Guadalcanal.
The Japanese had overextended ; the priority became to
expel the Americans. That effort continued until February 1943 when
they were forced to begin the long retreat from the Pacific.
The New Guinea campaign resisted MacArthur until May 1944.
Aleutians Up North the Japanese transferred their garrison at
Attu to Kiska.
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About this page: EastSol.html - The third of the four aircraft
carrier battles of 1942 repelled the Japanese fleet's attempt to
Ref : The Carriers Meet Again
"Carrier Clash" by Eric Hammel. isbn: 0-7603-2052-7
Last updated on June 28, 2002