The major factor in the victory, as stated by Admirals Nimitz and Scott, was surprise. Our ships fired on the enemy with devastating effect for 7 minutes before his guns replied. Reasons for his delay in firing are difficult to ascertain. The most plausible are two: first, that the Japanese lacked radar as effective as that aboard the Salt Lake City, Boise and Helena; second, that the enemy ships engaged comprised two forces.30 If two units were in fact involved, it is probable that the Japanese were, at
the outset, uncertain regarding who was firing on them, and hesitated to retaliate for fear of hitting their own ships.31
But surprise alone would not have produced so one-sided a victory under the confused conditions prevailing when the action commenced. The cool judgment exercised by individual captains in handling their vessels, combined with gunnery as effective as could ever be expected, enabled our Task Force to wrest a decisive victory from an inherently dangerous opening situation.
30 It is also possible that the Japanese vessels believed that they were being fired upon by the one large and two small ships reported by the San Francisco's plane before the action started. These three vessels were later seen, at 0230 on 12 October, by Lt. (jg) R. C. Bartlett, the pilot of the Boise plane which had made a forced water landing midway between Guadalcanal and Florida Islands. Three Japanese warships, one of which was the light cruiser Itukusima, passed within 300 yards of him.
31 Boise officers, interviewed while she was undergoing repairs in Philadelphia, strongly inclined toward this second theory, particularly because of their conviction that the ships which fired so effectively on their vessel during the second phase of the action were not part of the force first engaged.
Last updated: May 28, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation