Battle of Ironbottom Sound 13/14-11-1942
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TF44 Commanded by Commodore John Collins - HMAS Darwin (CA), HMAS Geelong (CA), HMAS Woolongong (CA), HMAS Melbourne (CL), HMAS Bathurst (CLA), 1, Tribal class & 4 N class destroyers.
The 8th Fleet cruiser force, under the command of Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, included the heavy cruisers Chōkai, Kinugasa, Maya, and Suzuya, the light cruisers Isuzu and Tenryū, and six destroyers.
Although the reinforcement effort to Guadalcanal was delayed, the Japanese did not give up trying to complete the original mission, albeit a day later than originally planned. On the afternoon of 13 November, Tanaka and the 11 transports resumed their journey toward Guadalcanal. A Japanese force of cruisers and destroyers from the 8th Fleet (based primarily at Rabaul and originally assigned to cover the unloading of the transports on the evening of 13 November) was given the mission that Abe's force had failed to carry out—the bombardment of Henderson Field.
Two of the four Japanese heavy cruisers were caught and pounded by the Australis cruisers. One sunk next day by Admiral Halsey's carrier aircraft, while the other was run aground and became a total loss.
Mikawa's force was able to slip into the Guadalcanal area uncontested, the force had been sighted but the new Allied cover force was still trying to get into position. Suzuya and Maya, under the command of Shōji Nishimura, bombarded Henderson Field while the rest of Mikawa's force cruised around Savo Island, . The 35-minute bombardment caused some damage to various aircraft and facilities on the airfield but did not put it out of operation. The US cruiser force mauled the night before had withdrawn to lick its wounds and was in the process of being replaced by the 1st Australis cruiser squadron, Commodore John Collins in command aboard HMAS Melbourne.
The 1st cruiser squadron was on its way at 15 knots when the call for help came from Henderson field that they were being bombarded by Japanese forces. Commodore Collins ordered speed increased to 25 knots and the chase was on to see if the squadron could arrive in time to do some damage to the Japanese. 2am and the Japanese squadron bombarding Henderson field turned away to leave the area, unfortunately for them, the Australis force had got inshore of the Japanese and had their ships highlighted against the lighter background of the moonlit night sky. The four larger Australis cruisers targeted the two Japanese heavies and opened fire. Searchlights from both sides were lit and crisscrossed the 6,000 yards of sea between the two forces. Commodore Collins ordered the destroyers out toward Savo Island to see if they could work behind the two Japanese cruisers and attack them with torpedoes. The Australis cruisers had caught the Japanese pair and half a dozen salvoes had been fired at them with hits sparkling on the Japanese ships with fires started aboard providing excellent aiming points. The Australis cruiser line change its heading which saved it from the full force of the torpedo salvo the Japanese cruisers had launched. The Melbourne, leading the line, received three hits from the last torpedoes in the salvo, the others missing ahead. The Melbourne staggered out of the line and went down by the head, its damage control was good and saved the ship from sinking but it would be many months before the Melbourne would be ready for service again. The Bathurst went to Melbourne's aid and as soon as it was ascertained that the ship would not sink, Commodore Collins transferred his command pennant to the Bathurst and went after the rest of his force.
The two Japanese ships were putting out screams for assistance and Admiral Mikawa, who had been caught on the wrong side of Savo Island, came around the western end and ran into the Australis destroyer force. The destroyers were looking the wrong way and it was only the radar that saved them, picking up Mikawas cruisers and destroyers as they emerged out of Savo Islands radar shadow. The destroyers went to full ahead. The semi-auto 4.5" turrets on the Australis destroyers were pumping out shells at a prodigious rate with hits ravaging the Japanese destroyers and cruisers. The Japanese were coming on strong themselves and searchlights and gunfire falling on and around the destroyers, torpedoes from both groups slashing through the water to turn into wrecks whatever the torpedoes hit. A torpedo hit on Nizam and the destroyer fell out of line, its boiler and engine rooms flooding. The Tribal class Woolara was doing well until it received three 24" torpedo hits, all forward, the fore part of the ship to the bridge just vapourised, the sudden influx of water at 32 knots destroyed bulkheads and the Woolara dived under. Thirty seconds and the Woolara, Captain (D) and crew were gone.
It was the Japanese Long Lance torpedo that made the difference, they just tore ships apart. The cruiser Geelong also received 8" shell hits, but it was the two 24" torpedo hits that sunk it. The Geelong and Woolongong had had their revenge though, the pair had been firing at the Maya and the 7.5" hits were more than enough to wreck the Maya and force the ship to be run aground to save it from foundering and allowing the crew to escape onto a reef and be picked up by other ships. Melbourne and Darwin wrecked the Suzuya then the Darwin was firing at the main Japanese cruiser line by itself as the Melbourne dropped out.
The two cruiser forces drew apart around 02:45 on 14 November and the Japanese cleared the area to head towards Rabaul on a course south of the New Georgia island group, leaving the 1st cruiser Squadron in control. The damage to both groups had been serious. The Allies lost the Geelong, had the Melbourne crippled, the Woolara and Nizam were sunk as well. The other ships of the group had all received damage of varying degrees. The Japanese lost two cruisers and two destroyers and had varying damage on the rest.
The battle had been a draw but strategically the Allies won as the Japanese had been unable to land their reinforcements and supplies while the US reinforcements arrived during the day.
Both the Allies and Japanese were having problems keeping enough ships at sea to dispute the waters around the Guadalcanal area.
HMAS Geelong succumbs to 8" gunfire and 24" torpedo hits 14/11/1942.
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