PART TWOAir Attacks on the 13th and 14th
PRELIMINARY--THE ENTERPRISE DEPARTS FROM NOUMEA
Wednesday, 11 November 1200 Task Force KING, including Enterprise, Washington, South Dakota, leaves Noumea. Thursday, 12 November 1200 Task Force KING reaches latitude 19°48.4' S., longitude 163°35.1' E.
At 090241 Tuesday, 10 November, Admiral Halsey ordered Task Force KING to sortie from Noumea with all available units at such time after 2300 as the Task Force Commander (Admiral Kinkaid) might indicate. The Enterprise, Washington, South Dakota, and supporting ships were to proceed westward from New Caledonia, reaching the vicinity of latitude 14° S., longitude 161°30' E. (250 miles south of Guadalcanal Island) about 2100 on the 12th, when they were to be ready to strike targets in the Guadalcanal area.
A dawn search north and west on the 10th was conducted by six B-17's, seven PBY's, and four PBO's42 from Espiritu Santo and by three PBY's from Vanikoro.43 The arc covered extended to 800 miles. PBO's from the Fijis ranged 280 miles northeast at dawn and 400 miles at dusk. The PBO's, which belonged to the Royal New Zealand Air Force, were not employed from Guadalcanal because they were not fitted with recognition equipment.
The sole contact made by these search planes was at 1255, when a PBY found a Kawanishi four-motored flying boat in latitude 12°15' S., longitude 161°30' E. Marine planes from Guadalcanal located 5 destroyers 210 miles northwest at 1610 and 170 miles northwest at 1900. These were attacked with slight success (see footnote p. 8). The large concentration of warships and transports in the Buin area was again observed by
Army flyers under General MacArthur's command. However, because of the gasoline shortage at Guadalcanal and the impossibility of refueling Flying Fortresses at Henderson Field, the 28 B-17's which were being maintained at normal alert44 at Espiritu Santo were offered no feasible targets during the day.
On Wednesday dawn searches were negative, except that Marine planes from Henderson Field again located the five destroyers to the northwest. At 0740 these ships were reported to be 155 miles from Guadalcanal.45
The apparent lack of activity on the part of the enemy did not diminish Admiral Halsey's efforts to build up our land-based air power in the potential combat area. At Espiritu Santo 20 SBD-3's, 12 TBF-1's, and 6 F4F-4's of Marine Aircraft Group EIGHT, destined for Guadalcanal, were flown ashore from the auxiliary aircraft carrier Nassau, which had arrived at 1700 from Noumea. One SBD was forced down at sea, but the crew was rescued. The Jane Addams also unloaded 5 TBF-1's. All available B-26's in the Fijis were ordered equipped with torpedoes and held ready to proceed to Espiritu Santo on an hour's notice. COMGENSOPAC was requested to send 15 P-38's and 11 B-26's (loaded with torpedoes) to Espiritu Santo on the 12th.
Task Force KING did not get underway from Noumea till Wednesday noon. After the channel was cleared, Air Group TEN, composed of 38 fighters (F4F-4), 16 scouts (SBD-3), 15 dive bombers (SBD-3), and 9 torpedo planes (TBF-1), flew out from Tontouta Field and landed aboard the Enterprise.
The damage inflicted on the carrier at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands had not yet been fully repaired. The forward elevator was out of commission, and watertight integrity in the area between frames No. 35 and No. 54 was still dubious. The ship's repair force, aided by 59 officers and men from the repair ship Vestal and a construction battalion, worked continuously, watch and watch, preparing the carrier for battle. They reported that the elevator would be in working order by the following day. The Task Force proceeded at 14.5 knots and by 1200 on Thursday had reached latitude 19°48.4' 5., longitude 163°35.1' E.
Dawn searches that day located three groups of enemy combatant vessels to the northwest, including battleships, cruisers, and destroyers,
which were in a position to arrive at Guadalcanal that night (Cf. p.14). Two probable seaplane tenders were erroneously identified as aircraft carriers. This report, received aboard the Enterprise at 1804, was a source of concern to the Task Force Commander, since the "carriers" were only 150 miles from Guadalcanal and might soon menace his partly crippled ship to the southeast.
Minor contacts of the day included a twin-float enemy seaplane at latitude 04°00' S., longitude 165°10' E., which was shot down by the PBY which discovered it.
During Thursday COMSOPAC strengthened Henderson Field by dispatching from Espiritu Santo 6 F4F-4's of VMF 122, 10 SBD-3's of VMSB 142, and 6 TBF-1's of VMSB 131. Already available at Guadalcanal were 34 F4F-4's, 20 SBD-3's, 13 TBF-1's, and 1 F4F-7 (all Marine planes except 3 Navy VT-8 bombers, which were turned over to VMSB 131 on 14 November), and 13 P-39's and 2 P-400's belonging to the Army. General MacArthur was asked to send 8 P-38's from Milne Bay, New Guinea, to Guadalcanal on Friday and to alert 18 B-24's preparatory to a flight to Espiritu Santo or Efate in the New Hebrides, or to New Caledonia, as designated later. Many planes were flown to Efate from the bomber field at Espiritu Santo to make room for the B-26's and Army fighters which had already been requisitioned from the Fijis, and which were to be staged to Henderson Field if necessary.
ACTION ON FRIDAY, THE 13TH--FATE OF THE HIYEI
Friday, 13 November 0810 Enterprise launches attack group to proceed to Guadalcanal. 0838 Pensacola, Gwin, Preston join Task Force KING. 1100 En route, attack group torpedoes BB Hiyei. Hiyei also bombed by B-17's. 1110 Task Force KING ordered north to cover damaged ships of Task Force TARE. 1430 Hiyei attacked by Enterprise group based on Guadalcanal and by Marine planes. 1653 Washington, South Dakota, four DD's are constituted separate striking force under Admiral Lee. 1830 Hiyei still afloat. Sinks during night.
At 0615 on Friday, the Enterprise, which was now at latitude 14°44' S., longitude 161°28' E. (about 270 miles south of Guadalcanal), began launching the dawn search. An arc from 270° to 030° T. was to be
covered to a depth of 200 miles by single aircraft. If the supposed carriers actually existed and were steaming to the attack, the search planes would discover them. An attack group was to be held in readiness while the area was being combed.
No contacts were made, however. The enemy units which survived the action of the night before were not within range.46 At 0810, when the reports were in, it was decided to reduce the number of planes aboard. The damaged No. 1 elevator was still out of commission, and if fewer aircraft were on hand flight operations would be facilitated in case of attack. Also Henderson Field could readily use reinforcements. Consequently nine torpedo planes with a six-plane fighter escort were ordered to proceed to Guadalcanal and place themselves temporarily under General Vandegrift's command. Eight TBF-1's were armed with torpedoes and one with three 500-pound bombs. Lieut. Albert P Coffin, squadron commander, was advised to approach from the west, as there was a better possibility of making a contact by this route.
As has been mentioned (p.32), dawn found the damaged Japanese battleship Hiyei lying northwest of Savo Island. Her forward turrets were smoking; the after turrets were dangling. A destroyer with a fire amidships was limping around the battleship in a circle.
The Hiyei was first attacked by Marine torpedo planes from Guadalcanal. Later (0800) she was reported as heading toward Guadalcanal from a position 30 miles northeast of Savo in company with a cruiser47 and four destroyers. At 0923 she was located north of Savo, heading west, with a light cruiser which was apparently out of control.
When Lieut. Coffin's squadron approached Cape Esperance at 1100, the Hiyei, a light cruiser, and four destroyers were sighted heading for Guadalcanal at 12-15 knots. The enemy's intention may have been to bombard Henderson Field or to finish off the Portland, which was still lying helpless off Lunga Point. The torpedo planes spiraled up from 500 to about 5,000 feet and launched an attack on both bows of the battle-
ship. Two hits were scored on the port side, one on the bow and one on the stern. Another hit was registered on the starboard side amidships. The Hiyei circled north and seemed dead in the water. The torpedo planes proceeded to Henderson Field.
At 0500, 17 B-17's, carrying four 500-pound bombs apiece, were dispatched from Espiritu Santo to attack enemy shipping in the Guadalcanal area. At 0850 an Army search plane sighted an enemy carrier, resembling the Saratoga, with an Ise-class battleship and three destroyers at latitude 05°45' S., longitude 161°20' E., on course 000° T.48 The B-17's were ordered to bomb this target, but because it was out of range they proceeded to the Guadalcanal area, arriving either just before or just after the torpedo plane attack.49 They discovered what was probably the Hiyei (although she was identified by some observers, including the B-17's, as of the Fuso class) about 10 miles east of Savo. The fact that the battleship was apparently closer to Guadalcanal at this time would indicate that the B-17's followed the torpedo planes. All sixty-eight 500-pound bombs were dropped from 14,000 feet. One sure hit was made and possibly up to five others. Pilots noted that the ship had previously been damaged. Heavy antiaircraft fire was encountered.
At 1430 the Hiyei was again attacked by six torpedo bombers, eight dive bombers, and eight fighters belonging to the Marines and to the Enterprise group now based on Guadalcanal. They climbed to about 5,000 feet and attacked on both beams of the battleship, which lay about 10 miles north of Savo and was practically dead in the water with her bow headed north. One torpedo hit was made amidships on the starboard side and another on the stern. One was also scored on the port side. Two torpedoes were duds which struck the ship and bounced off.
In other sorties, three planes of VT-8 and two Marine torpedo bombers made two more torpedo hits, while Marine dive bombers made three direct 1,000-pound bomb hits and two near-hits. All told, the Hiyei was subjected to seven torpedo, five dive bombing, and two strafing attacks (including those made by Marines) on Friday. In addition to torpedo damage, she received at least four 1,000-pound bomb hits. But at 1830
she was still afloat and making slow headway, escorted by five destroyers.50 During the late evening it was noted that some of the crew were being removed from the battleship. Nevertheless, it is possible that she was towed into position for the bombardment of Henderson Field which occurred that night. Next day she had disappeared, and an oil slick 2 to 3 miles across was observed in the Savo area. It is probable that she was scuttled or sank from the shock of her own gunfire.51
At 0838 Task Force KING sighted the Pensacola, Gwin, and Preston, which had been detached from Task Force TARE (p.27), and which now joined as reinforcements. After this the speed of advance of the Enterprise and her escort was reduced by submarine contacts, which necessitated zigzagging, and by occasional turns into a light breeze on the starboard quarter in order to conduct flight operations. At 1045 the Benham sighted a torpedo. A few minutes afterward Lieut. Stanley W. Vejtasa's combat patrol, which had been vectored out on course 025° T., shot down a Kawanishi type 97 flying boat which had been shadowing the fleet from 40 miles ahead.
At 1110 COMSOPAC directed Admiral Kinkaid to proceed to a northerly position to support the damaged ships of Task Force TARE. He was to stay south of latitude 1140, unless circumstances required, and to guard against observation from Rennell Island and Indispensable Reef. At 1358 a report was received from Guadalcanal which indicated that an enemy carrier was operating east of Malaita Island. Later reports suggested that this vessel may have been a seaplane tender.
About 3 hours later COMSOPAC directed that the battleships and four destroyers of Task Force KING be constituted a separate striking unit under Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., to operate east of Savo Island and intercept enemy bombardment forces which might arrive that night.
Task Force KING increased speed to 23 knots and set course 000° T. At 1929, a few minutes after Admiral Lee's command had left the formation, Admiral Halsey designated it as a separate task force52 and ordered it to clear the Guadalcanal area by daylight. Task Force KING had remained too far south for Admiral Lee to be able to arrive at Guadalcanal before 0800 the next morning, so the destroyer Mustin was detached to proceed 50 miles east and inform COMSOPAC of this fact by radio.53 Later Admiral Halsey ordered Task Force KING to reach an approximate daylight position of latitude 11°30' S., longitude 158°30' E. (about 125 miles southwest of Guadalcanal). Course was altered to 300° T., and speed was increased to 25 knots.
ENEMY TRANSPORT FLEET SHATTERED
Saturday, 14 November 0220 Henderson Field bombarded. 0340 Bombardment cut short by PT boat attack.
After Task Force TARE broke up the Japanese attempt to bombard Henderson Field on the night of 12-13 November, the enemy transport group which had originally been scheduled to make a landing the next night retired toward Buin. On Friday morning a B-17 search plane from Espiritu Santo located 12 transports escorted by 4 light cruisers and 6 destroyers still withdrawing slowly on course 330° T. in latitude 07°30' S., longitude 156°30' E. (off the northwestern tip of Vella Lavella Island). That night a strong force of cruisers and destroyers, perhaps assisted by the damaged Hiyei, finally accomplished the bombardment, shelling Henderson Field from about 0220 to 0340. An attack by the Tulagi-based MTB unit cut this operation short. Six boats fired 17 torpedoes with one or more hits. Next morning, 5 enemy ships were sighted retiring to the northeast, one of them trailing oil. At Guadalcanal 1 SBD-3 and 2 F4F-4's had been destroyed and 17 F4F-4's damaged. The field was not seriously injured. Other Japanese vessels which had perhaps participated in the bombardment retired to the northwest, skirting the southern shore of New
Georgia.54 The transports reversed course and again steamed toward Guadalcanal.
At 0518 on the 14th COMSOPAC directed Task Force KING (the Enterprise), which was then about 200 miles southwest of Guadalcanal, to proceed northwest to attack the convoy, remaining about 100 miles from the Solomon chain. Task Force LOVE (the Washington and South Dakota) was ordered to operate along the same general northwesterly course, staying about 50 miles from the islands. Shortly thereafter, COMGENSOPAC was ordered to dispatch available B-26's with torpedoes from New Caledonia and Nandi (Fiji Islands) to Espiritu Santo, where they were to be staged to Guadalcanal, and to send P-39's and P-40's to Efate immediately.
Attack on Bombardment Group
Saturday, 14 November 0712 Dawn search launched by Enterprise. 0715 Henderson Field launches attack group to intercept bombardment force retiring from Guadalcanal. 0810 (Approximately.) Guadalcanal group attacks. Two cruisers hit. 0850 Two Enterprise search planes contact bombardment group. 0856 Enterprise launches attack group. 1014 Search planes score 2 hits on Nachi CA. 1023 Other search planes hit CL. 1115 Enterprise attack group intercepts enemy. Two hits registered on a CL. Vessel in location of Nachi CA is seen to sink.
At dawn on Saturday the situation was obscure to the Enterprise. No further contact reports dealing with the supposed enemy carriers had been received. Guadalcanal had imparted no information as to the presence or absence of other Japanese forces. There had been no report of Henderson Field's condition or indeed of the bombardment the night before. If these facts had been available, the Enterprise, with orders to exploit targets in the Guadalcanal area, might have been able to launch a pre-dawn attack group which could have made an early strike at the retiring enemy bombardment group after having been refueled at Henderson Field.
Air attacks on enemy bombardment group
Four Japanese AP/AK beached and burning on Guadalcanal, 15 November
A closer view of the fire-gutted vessels
Air attacks on transport group
Beached on Guadalcanal: the Yamazuki Maru
Battered afterdeck of the burned-out Kinugawa Maru
Being so completely uninformed, the Enterprise found it necessary to launch 10 scout bombers for a dawn search at 0712.55About an hour later, Lieut. William I. Martin, leading the 2 planes which were covering sector 000°-015° to a distance of 250 miles, reported 10 unidentified aircraft 140 miles to the north and heading in the direction of our carrier. On receipt of the message, 12 fighters were launched to augment the regular combat air patrol. It was also decided to clear the flight deck further by sending off the attack group, consisting of 17 scout bombers with 1,000-pound bombs, and 10 fighters, to bomb the targets which probably would be found in the Guadalcanal area. The group was dispatched on a northerly course after being instructed to listen for contact reports and to be guided by them.
The flight of unidentified planes was never picked up by radar, and nothing more was heard about it; but at 0855 Lieut. Martin located a large number of planes over the Russell Islands. They were too far away for identification, and since they were not headed for the Enterprise, no report was made.
Meanwhile, at 0715, six torpedo bombers, seven scout bombers, and seven fighters (all Marine planes except three of the torpedo bombers, which belonged to VT-10) were launched from Henderson Field to intercept the enemy ships south of New Georgia which have been mentioned as possibly taking part in the bombardment of the night before. After flying 170 miles on course 280° T., a group of Japanese vessels, identified as five heavy cruisers and four destroyers, was sighted on the same course, speed 16.56 The VT-10 planes made three torpedo hits on the starboard side of the leading cruiser, which was thought to be a Mogami,57 but which in the light of later events may have been a Nachi. The Marine torpedo planes attacked from port, getting one hit. The scout bombers made two 1,000-pound bomb hits on another cruiser, identified as a Maya but possibly a Nachi. The leading vessel began burning, and the other gave off smoke. Antiaircraft fire was moderate. One plane had to be grounded on return to base because of wing damage.
At 0850 Lt. (jg) R. D. Gibson and Ens. R. M. Buchanan of the Enterprise dawn search located what was apparently the same group in latitude
08°45' S., longitude 157°10' E. (south of Rendova Island). Parts of the force were occasionally obscured by clouds. At 0915 Lt. Gibson began transmitting contact reports, the first of which stated that there were nine enemy ships, including one possible XCV. The final report identified the force as two battleships, two heavy cruisers, one converted carrier, and four destroyers.58
The two scout bombers shadowed the Japanese for some time from 17,000 feet. At 1015 Lt. Gibson, followed by Ens. Buchanan, dived down-sun on a Japanese Nachi-class cruiser which was leaving an oil slick in her wake.59 The pilots each released their 500-pound, 1/100 second delayed action bombs at about 2,000 feet and pulled out at about 1,000. Lt. Gibson's bomb hit on the starboard side forward of the superstructure. Ens. Buchanan's struck on the port side amidships. The ship burst into flames. Lt. Gibson reported to the Enterprise that the two planes did not have enough fuel to return to the ship and would land at Guadalcanal.
Antiaircraft fire, which had been heavy for 20 minutes prior to the attack, ceased during the dives. Ens. Buchanan's plane was discovered to have an 8-inch hole in the fuselage when he landed at Henderson Field at 1220.
About 1023 Ens. R. A. Hoogerwerf and Ens. P. M. Halloran, also of the Enterprise dawn search, located part of the same force, now scattered and apparently composed of two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and four destroyers. The damaged Nachi cruiser was burning badly and lay low in the water. Two destroyers were circling her as if preparing to take off personnel. The light cruiser and one destroyer were 10 miles west. Five miles south the other heavy cruiser and one destroyer were proceeding on a westerly course.
The search planes climbed to 17,500 feet and circled the force twice to pick the best targets. Ens. Hoogerwerf dived downwind on the heavy cruiser which was apparently undamaged, released at 3,000 feet, and pulled out to the south, maneuvering to low altitude in his withdrawal. His bomb fell about 15 feet astern. Ens. Halloran dived on the light cruiser and scored a direct hit. Heavy black smoke arose. Antiaircraft fire ceased during the retirement of the planes.
On his withdrawal, Ens. Hoogerwerf noted a heavy explosion aboard the damaged Nachi cruiser. He had no further contact with Ens. Halloran, although he called him several times.
The Enterprise attack group had intercepted one of Lt. Gibson's contact reports and had altered course so as to cut off the enemy force if it headed for Guadalcanal.60 When the planes reached latitude 09°10' S., longitude 157°50' E. (southeast of the eastern end of New Georgia), they changed course again so as to intercept the Japanese if they were headed for Shortland Island. At about 1000 the Enterprise transmitted the location of the enemy and ordered the group to attack and then proceed to Guadalcanal. Eight of the fighters became separated from the main body, however, and after a vain search returned to the ship, not having received the order to go to Guadalcanal.61 The other two landed there when their fuel began to give out. One bomber also headed for Henderson Field before the attack because of incipient fuel trouble.
After having shot down one of two float-type Zeros, the group sighted the damaged Nachi cruiser, burning and listing, with two light cruisers or destroyers standing by. The ships were about 10 miles southwest of Rendova Island. Nearby was a heavy oil slick about a mile long. Accurate antiaircraft fire from the escorting ships was encountered.
At 1115 the attack group found an enemy force "of about six cruisers and four destroyers" 25 miles to the northwest. After searching for the possible carrier reported by Lt. Gibson, Lt. Comdr. James R. Lee, commanding VS-10 and the attack group, directed the five VB-10 pilots to bomb the heavy cruisers. At 1130 Lt. Comdr. John A. Thomas dived on one of them and missed, as did Lieut. Vivien W. Welch and Lt. (jg) J. D. Wakeham. Ens. J. H. Carroum and Ens. E. J. Stevens scored near-hits on the same ship. At about 1140 Lt. Comdr. Thomas saw a ship sink in the vicinity where the Nachi cruiser had been. The two cruisers or destroyers which had been standing by got underway.
Meanwhile the 11 VS-10 pilots had attacked the light cruisers. Two direct hits and one near-hit with 1,000-pound bombs were made on one of them. It was left listing and burning. Four near-hits were registered on another light cruiser. Two bombs failed to release.
At 1300 on the way to Henderson Field the attack group sighted a large force of transports in about latitude 08°30' S., longitude 158°40' E. Presumably this was the convoy descending on Guadalcanal.
Attacks on the Transports
Saturday, 14 November 0518 Task Forces KING and LOVE, 200 miles south of Guadalcanaal, directed to attack approaching Japanese convoy. 0830 COMSOWESPAC reports 12 AP's "in the slot" north of New Georgia, approaching Guadalcanal. 0949 Two Enterprise search planes locate transports and score 1 probable hit. 1250 Marine and Enterprise planes from Guadalcanal attack convoy and make 3 torpedo and 5 bomb hits. 1345 Another Henderson Field group attacks. Two hits by Enterprise planes, four by Marines. 1348 Enterprise retires to the south. 1500 B-17's attack, scoring 1 hit. 1530-45 Enterprise planes from Guadalcanal score 7 more direct hits. 1630 Second attack group from Enterprise makes six 1,000-pound bomb hits on 5 ships. Four Zeros shot down. Group launched from Henderson Field scores two 1,000-pound bomb hits on each of 2 AP's without having fighter protection. 1730 Enterprise plane makes another hit. 1900 Fifteen miles north of Russell Islands 4 AP/AK's are dead in water and burning. Four AP/AK's, damaged and smoking, are proceeding slowly northwest with several DD's. The other 4 AP/AK's have probably sunk.
At 0830 COMSOWESPAC reported that 12 transports had been sighted at latitude 07°55' S., longitude 157°45' E., about 20 miles north of the central portion of New Georgia. Analysis of captured Japanese documents later enabled COMSOPAC's Combat Intelligence center to estimate that most of these ships were carrying supplies. Two battalions of the Japanese Two Hundred Twenty-ninth Infantry Regiment and 2 battalions of the Two Hundred Thirtieth Infantry Regiment (4,600 men all told) were aboard, as well as the Two Hundred Twenty-ninth Regiment Artillery, the Two Hundred Thirtieth Regiment Artillery, and the Thirty-eighth Division Engineer Battalion. General Vandegrift, however, stated that captured documents proved that the enemy had 30,000 to 35,000 men aboard, including a division, some corps troops, a full headquarters staff, and some extra regiments.62
The transports were convoyed by a force which was identified by search planes at various times as (a) 2 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, and 6 destroyers; (b) 1 heavy cruiser, 1 light cruiser, and 6 destroyers; (c) 6 to 8
light cruisers and destroyers; (d) 2 carriers and other ships; (e) 6 seaplane tenders and other ships. The convoy was preceded by a separate group of combatant vessels, which were reported as (a) 2 battleships, 1 light cruiser, and 11 destroyers, and as (b) 1 battleship, 1 carrier, 2 heavy cruisers, and 4 destroyers.
At 0949 Lt. (jg) M.D. Carmody and Lt. (jg) W. E. Johnson of the Enterprise search group located "many transports, six DD, three CL, and two CA" in latitude 08°45' S., 158°00' E. (between New Georgia and the northwest tip of Santa Isabel), on course 130° T., speed 14; A contact report was sent, and the planes then climbed for an attack. The pilots had been directed to consider the transports as the primary target and so dived on a large one. Lt. Carmody's bomb was a near-hit, and Lt. Johnson's was a probable hit on the stern. After the pull-out Lt. Carmody strafed a destroyer which was in his path.
At this time the planes were attacked by about seven Zeros. While maneuvering to reach a cloud layer they became separated, and it is probable that Lt. Johnson was shot down. Liska, J., Aviation Radioman Second Class, Lt. Carmody's rear seat gunner, saw a plane plunge into the sea, and Lt. Carmody himself saw Zeros strafing the water in this vicinity.
Meanwhile, at 0950, a B-17 search plane had reported 2 carriers and 23 other ships in this area, and at 1018 sixteen B-17's were ordered off from Espiritu Santo in 2 flights to attack the carriers.63
The transports apparently were not molested again until 1220, when 7 torpedo planes of VT-10, now operating from Guadalcanal, 18 Marine scout bombers, and 12 Marine fighters took off on a contact report of 26 ships, including 6 seaplane tenders, 126 miles away on a bearing of 310° T. At 1250 a large convoy was sighted, but it did not include any seaplane tenders. Marine SBD's made two direct hits on one transport and three on another. The torpedo planes followed the bombers in and picked two transports which were not under attack. Two hits were made on the port side of one of them and one hit on the starboard side of the other. Six Zeros attempted interception. One of them was damaged by a torpedo plane and possibly finished off by a fighter. Two were damaged by SBD's. Antiaircraft was moderate.
At 1255 seventeen scout bombers, including 2 VB-10 and fifteen Marine planes, 8 Marine torpedo bombers, and 8 fighters, left Guadalcanal to
attack the transports.64 The bombers reached the convoy at 1345 and reported it as 12 transports and 6 to 8 light cruisers in the channel between New Georgia and Santa Isabel Islands, distant about 100 miles from Guadalcanal. The first section of the VF-10 Marine bombers dived on one transport, securing 2 direct hits, and the second section of 6 planes on another, scoring 2 more direct hits. Lt. (jg) R. D. Gibson and Ens. L. Robinson, both of VB-10. and Sgt. Beneke, USMC, formed the third section and dived from 12,000 feet on another transport. Lt. Gibson made a 70° dive. Because Zeros were present, Ens. Robinson dived on the same ship with flaps up until he overtook Lt. Gibson. Both pilots released their 1,000-pound bombs at 2,000 feet and pulled out at 1,200, going away low over the water as their rear gunners strafed the decks. Both bombs hit amidships. Lt. Gibson's was instantaneous, while Ens. Robinson's was delayed action. Sgt. Beneke, who made a near-hit, saw the ship break in two. Antiaircraft fire was very heavy below 6,000 feet and during the withdrawals. A Zero got on Ens. Robinson's tail and shot away his antenna, but Lt Gibson's rear seat gunner drove off the attacker with a short burst. Marine SBD's shot down 2 Zeros.
At 1348 the Enterprise retired to the south to avoid possible air attacks. At 1400 she entered a weather front about 300 miles from Guadalcanal. It is probable that just prior to this an enemy plane reported the location of the Task Force. As the afternoon wore on, Task Force LOVE in its position southwest of Guadalcanal established radar contact with 20 to 30 planes heading south. These aircraft returned north at a later time after missing Task Force KING. They did not observe Task Force LOVE either, due to the squally weather.65
At 1500 the first flight of B-17's which had been dispatched from Espiritu Santo in the morning, and which had failed to find the carriers they were looking for,66 attacked the enemy transports, followed in 15 minutes by the second flight. One direct hit and one near-hit were
scored on one ship, and several near-hits on others. The B-17's were intercepted by enemy fighters of which they shot down six, plus one probable, with no losses to themselves.
At 1505 ten B-26's of the Seventieth Bombardment Squadron (USAAF), which had arrived at Espiritu Santo from the Fijis, were loaded with torpedoes and 1,000-pound bombs (six with the former and four with the latter). They took off with four P-38's as escort, intending to attack the convoy and then land at Guadalcanal. The P-38's turned back because of bad weather, and the B-26's landed without making an attack, for reasons which do not appear.
At 1445 two scout bombers of VS-10 and seven Marine bombers took off from Guadalcanal to attack the transports. They dived through antiaircraft fire, and Lt. Comdr. J. R. Lee obtained a direct hit. Lt. (jg) J. F. Richey also took off about 1445, leading three Marine planes, and scored a direct hit. Both these attacks were completed about 1545. A third attack group composed of eight VS-10 planes left Guadalcanal at the same time as the others. They scouted to the northwest for a possible enemy carrier and then attacked from 16,000 feet, obtaining four hits and one near-hit. They completed their attack about 1600. All planes returned.
A single plane of VS-10, piloted by Ens. C. B. Irvine, took off at 1455 and encountered both antiaircraft fire and enemy fighters. Nevertheless, Ens. Irvine managed to register a direct hit.
The Enterprise had launched a second attack group at 1412, consisting of 8 scout bombers and 12 fighters, which left 18 fighters aboard for the protection of the ship. The group had orders to hit undamaged transports with only one 1,000-pound bomb each. At 1630 the disordered enemy group was sighted northwest of the Russell Islands. There were about 9 transports and 7 escort vessels--light cruisers and destroyers. Seven transports appeared undamaged. Three or four others were seen to be burning in the distance. Five Zeros attacked Lt. (jg) W. C. Edwards (the squadron leader), Lt. (jg) M. D. Carmody, and Lt. (jg) R. F. Edmondson. Colley, W. C., Aviation Radioman Second Class, Lt. Edwards' rear seat gunner, shot down 2 of them with his free guns. Reames, R. E., Aviation Radioman Second Class, Lt. Edmondson's rear seat gunner, accounted for another. Each of the planes then scored a direct hit on a separate transport.
Ens. N.E. Wiggins scored a near-hit, 5 to 10 feet from the starboard side of a transport. Ens. D. H. Frissell dived down sun across the beam of
another ship and released at 1,900 feet, pulling out gradually at 1,000. His 1,000-pound delayed action bomb (1/100 second) struck the extreme port side of the well deck, probably passing through the side of the ship before it exploded. There was a geyser of water with large pieces of debris.
Lt. (jg) B. A. McGraw dived on a vessel to the southwest, releasing at 2,500 feet and pulling out low over the water. His bomb hit on the port side amidships, blowing out the side of the ship, which thereafter lay dead in the water, although no fire was observed.
Lt. (jg) F. R. West chose a transport which had been missed by another pilot and released at 1,800 feet. His bomb struck directly amidships, and a serious fire broke out. During the plane's withdrawal, the rear seat gunner fired about 150 rounds at the antiaircraft battery of a light cruiser which had the range. Its fire was mostly 3-inch and smaller and was heavy but ineffectual.
A Zero made a run on Ens. Wiggins as he went away at 300 feet, but he turned into the attacking plane, forcing it to pass by on his starboard side, and enabling Mayer, C. V., Aviation Radioman Third Class, rear seat gunner, to register some hits.
The last three transports bombed were reported to be among the largest in the force at this time--from 12,000 to 15,000 tons--and "crowded with soldiers."
The fighters went down directly after the dive bombers and strafed the two remaining undamaged transports, which were large and heavily loaded. They were left burning. Lt. Comdr. James H. Flatley's flight then strafed a destroyer, all shots seeming to enter the target. One of the planes in the other attacking flight, piloted by Ens. E. B. Coalson, became separated and was jumped by four Zeros, one of which was shot down. The high-altitude covering planes were also attacked by enemy fighters. One Zero was sent away smoking. Thereafter the whole force proceeded to Guadalcanal, arriving at about 1700, when they placed themselves under the orders of General Vandegrift. According to the reports, six 1,000-pound bomb hits had been scored on five transports, and two other ships had been set on fire. Four Zeros had been shot down and possibly one more. None of our aircraft was lost or damaged in this highly successful action.
At 1630 an attack group was launched from Henderson Field which included 7 VB-10 pilots. Fighter protection, so effective in the engagement just described, had been promised but did not put in an
appearance. The group proceeded without it. About 10 miles northeast of the Russell Islands an estimated 10 transports and 3 destroyers were sighted. Two of these transports were burning to the northwest. Four or five were still proceeding toward Guadalcanal. One or two were headed west. Three or four were dead in the water.
The planes approached from the southwest at 12,000 feet and were immediately attacked by Zeros. Gardner, G. C., Aviation Chief Radioman, rear seat gunner in Lt. Comdr. J. A. Thomas' plane, shot down one of them with his two free guns. Lt. Comdr. Thomas then dived and let go his 1,000-pound bomb at 2,000 feet, pulling out at 800. The bomb struck the target amidships, but no fire was observed. Gardner strafed the ship during the withdrawal. Lt. Gibson's rear-seat gunner, Schindele, C. E., Aviation Radioman Second Class, saw about 10 Zeros come in on the port side of the formation. Two of them attacked, and Schindele hit one of them and saw smoke coming out of its engine. Lt. Gibson's plane was badly shot up, with about 27 or 28 holes in it, and he went into a spin, but he recovered and managed to get back to Henderson Field without cracking up.
Several covering Zeros attacked Ens. E. J. Stevens, but he pushed over into a dive following Lt. Comdr. Thomas. He released at 2,500 feet and pulled out low over the water. The bomb hit amidships in about the same location as Lt. Comdr. Thomas' and at almost the same instant. During his withdrawal Ens. Stevens and his rear-seat gunner, Nelson, I. W., Aviation Radioman Third Class, strafed the bows of two transports.
A Zero got on the tail of Lt. Wakeham's and Ens. Robinson's planes, and another made a head-on run. Ens. Robinson found the range of this last plane with his fixed guns, but the Zero astern began hitting the wings of both American aircraft, which were very close together. Ens. Robinson pulled slightly away to avoid a collision with Lt. Wakeham. At that moment a 20-mm. shot hit his engine, and it cut out and burst into flames. Ens. Robinson sideslipped, putting out the blaze in the engine and one which had started in the rear cockpit. Then he pushed over into a steep, no-flap dive. The engine started up again. The Zero followed and kept on firing. Ens. Robinson made an aileron roll to the right. The Zero started hitting, so he turned to the left and then to the right, continuing his dive with his 1,000-pound bomb still in place to give him speed. When he pulled out at 2,500 feet, he had 320 knots in level flight, but the Zero came up astern again. Ens. Robinson made a
split-S from 2,500 feet to 3,000 and recovered at a speed of about 240 knots. The Zero got on his tail once more, so he flew low among the coconut trees on one of the Russell Islands till he got to the hills and had to go up to clear them. The Zero continued to fire. Ens. Robinson dived at an angle of 30° to gain speed and zoomed up toward some clouds. As he neared them, the Zero rocked its wings and sheered away toward the ships. Ens. Robinson returned to Henderson Field about 1630 with 68 holes in his plane.
Lieut. Welch hit a transport amidships from 2,000 feet and withdrew to the north. He was not seen again. Ens. Carroum's bomb, dropped at 1,500 feet, landed slightly aft of Lieut. Welch's. His plane was then struck by antiaircraft fire, which damaged the engine, and he was forced down into the water. The impact knocked Ens. Carroum unconscious for a moment, but he and Hynson, R. C., Aviation Radioman Third Class, rear seat gunner, finally succeeded in getting their rubber boat into the water. They did not inflate it for fear of being strafed, and the tail of the plane fouled the boat and took it under. Ens. Carroum's gun belt was also caught, and he was pulled down to a depth of 10 feet before he could free himself. Before he again lost consciousness, he popped the C02 cartridges on his life preserver which carried him to the surface. After reviving, he and Hynson swam around together all night. In the morning, however, they lost contact. Hynson was never heard from again. Ens. Carroum swam and floated 73 hours till he made one of the Russell Islands. There natives cared for him till he was picked up by a PBY on 26 November and brought to Tulagi.
At 1645 one VS-10 plane, piloted by Lt. (ig) C. G. Estes, took off with three Marine dive bombers to attack the transports. The mission was completed about 1745, one direct hit having been scored by the Navy plane.
By 1800 the transports were milling around about 60 miles northwest of Savo Island. At this time one or more were sunk, and six were seriously damaged. Another successful attack was then launched from Guadalcanal by Marine planes. All told, according to the reports, four transports and cargo vessels were damaged so badly that they sank, four were set on fire and completely burned out (their smoking hulks were discovered next day), and four ships (three AK's and one AP), which had received more or less damage, were beached near Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal early the next morning.
During the day the pilots of Air Group TEN had scored six torpedo hits, twenty 1,000-pound bomb hits, and six 500-pound bomb hits.
In his final report CINCPAC noted these enemy losses as a result of the air operations of the 14th:
Sunk67 Damaged CL 0 2 DD 2 1 AP/AK 8 4 Totals 10 7
Air Group TEN shot down 17 planes and probably 7 more. It lost only 5 aircraft, 4 officers and 2 men, and 2 officers wounded.
As Admiral Halsey pointed out, the operations of Air Group TEN on 14 November offered "an excellent example of the effective employment of carrier aircraft from an intermediate staging point." With her planes landing and operating at Guadalcanal, the Enterprise was able to retire from the area where she was the most vulnerable to air attack. Furthermore, her aircraft were thereafter located at a fixed advance base where a maximum number of strikes could be made against targets which were comparatively accessible.68 After the operations of the 15th it was possible for the planes to rejoin their carrier, 800 airline miles away, because we possessed a chain of friendly bases between Guadalcanal and Noumea. Had it not been for the night surface action of the 12th and 13th, however, Henderson Field might not have been available to Air Group TEN, and the story might have been quite different. Another controlling factor was the enemy's lack of carrier support, probably due to the damage to carriers and the destruction of planes wrought in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. By playing a major part in that engagement, the Enterprise had, in effect, paved the way for the success achieved by her planes on 14 and 15 November.69
41 All times in Part Two are Zone minus 12. Occasionally the original reports are not clear as to the zone used. In such instances events have been placed with reference to approximately concurrent happenings the zone designation of which is known.
42 Lockheed patrol bombers ("Hudsons").
43 Vanikoro is just south of Santa Cruz Island
44 "Normal alert": Twenty-eight B-17's on half-hour alert for 1 hour before daylight; 20 planes on half-hour alert 2½ hours after daylight and then on 1-hour alert till 1330; 6 planes on 1-hour alert after 1330.
45 It is possible that they took part in the surface action the next night.
46 Those which could do so had been hastily putting blue water between themselves and Guadalcanal because of possible attack by land-based aircraft. At 0900 a B-17 search plane from Espirito Santo sighted an enemy force identified as three heavy cruisers and two destroyers at latitude 06°10' S., longitude 160°30' E. (about 170 miles north of Florida Island). Course was due north and speed was 25. If, as is possible, this location was spotted somewhat too far north, and if the Japanese ships had maintained high speed continuously during the night, it is conceivable that they were retiring from the Cruiser Night Action, or from a support position to the north of the vessels involved.
47 Some reports suggest that this was the other battleship involved the night before.
48 This force was reported to be only 27 miles from the one noted in the footnote on page 36. The number of ships was the same, the course was the same and the time difference was only 10 minutes. Presumably the two groups were identical. If so, the probability of an aircraft carrier, or even a battleship, being present is somewhat diluted.
49 Five PBY's from Espiritu Santo and Vanikoro were also sent out with torpedoes to attack the reported carrier. Weather forced them to return to base without completing the mission.
50 At 1745 a Marine dive bomber scored a near-hit on a light cruiser which was circling her. Presumably one of these destroyers was the "light cruiser."
51 Analysis of the reports of the Cruiser Night Action shows that the Hiyei had probably suffered severely from gunfire and received 10 torpedo hits. During the 13th she was struck by 11 torpedoes, at least four 1,000-pound bombs and 1 to 6 500-pound bombs. Yet she was still afloat. One factor which contributed to her apparent invulnerability was the setting of many of the torpedoes. A depth of 10 feet was considered sufficient for most operations in this area, and, since the ship was low in the water, it is likely that several warheads exploded against the armor. (The Hiyei was comparable in age and armament to our Nevada and of the same displacement. She was, however, 120 feet longer, had 26 knots as against the Nevada's 20, and had been rearmed since being decommissioned under the London Naval Treaty of 1930. Her main belt armor was only 8 inches thick, while the Nevada's is 13½. The Hiyei and the other three Kongo-class battleships were designed by Sir George Thurston.)
52 Hereafter referred to as "Task Force LOVE."
53 It was perhaps fortunate that Admiral Lee could not reach Guadalcanal in time to prevent the bombardment which occurred that night. If he had been able to do so, the enemy transport fleet which was destroyed by our planes next day might have remained in the safety of the Buin-Faisi anchorages.
54 As will be noted later, this force was first intercepted by our planes about 0800, in latitude 08°45' S., longitude 157°10' E. (south of Rendova Island). Allowing for possible errors in time and location, these ships could have comprised part of the bomhardment group if they took their departure early. The Portland, then lying at Tulagi, advised that a Japanese battleship (the Hiyei?) shelled Henderson Field at 0315, but other reports indicated that the bombardment had been going on for nearly an hour at that time. Perhaps the later phase of the operation involved only the battleship and the units which retired to the northeast after the PT boat attack.
55 This launching was delayed by heavy rain squalls. Farther north, however, the weather was good. Ceiling was about 17,000 feet or above, with a few scattered clouds at 3,000-4,000 feet. Winds were light.
56 Later contacts indicated that this force probably consisted of three heavy and three light cruisers, with five destroyers.
57 Another report from the attacking planes states that it was a light cruiser.
58 Ships in this area (09°00' S., 157°15' E.) were also reported by a B-17 from Espiritu Santo at 0905 and identified as two battleships or heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and six destroyers.
59 The fact that she was trailing oil is evidence that she was the "Mogami" previously torpedoed, or the "Maya" which had been damaged by bombs.
60 Apparently the group did not receive the course data sent by Lt. Gibson.
61 The fighter planes were not on the same radio frequency as the bombers, so it was impossible to transmit to them information on propective changes of course, etc.
62 Interview given Intelligence Service. U.S.A.A.F., 3 February 1943. General Vandegrift also said at that time that the transports were unusually large, some of them displacing from 18,500 to 22,000 tons.
63 At about this time also, six TBF-1's of VMSB 131 were dispatched from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal with a supply of torpedoes.
64 Half an hour later a flight of VF-10 took off from Henderson Field "to cover dive bombers." The reports are not clear as to whether these planes are the same as those here mentioned as accompanying the bombers. The VF-10 fighters encountered Zeros over the transports and shot one of them down.
65 Admiral Kinkaid feared submarine interception. Consequently, he made a wide jog during the night to avoid any submarines which might have been stationed with reference to the meridian on which his Force had been located.
66 These were probably camouflaged transports. Some of the enemy vessels were painted with black and white dazzle stripes which tended to give them the lines of converted carriers when observed from the air.
67 Subsequent information made the following minimum Japanese losses seem certain: sunk or destroyed, one CA, six AP/AK; four AP/AK damaged (destroyed next day).
68 The continuous and relentless attacks made on the 14th and 15th by the planes based on Gaudalcanal are all more remarkable when it is considered that servicing crews and handling equipment at Henderson Field were most inadequate. Rearming time was excessive, so much so that on one occasion only three out of eight planes of VT-10 were able to take off, and two of these were only partially loaded.
69 For air action on the 15th, see p. 80.
Last updated: July 25, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation