Last of the Transports


Sunday, 15 November
Dawn   Four AP/AK's observed by Walke survivors.
0630-0930   Five attacks on transports by Enterprise aircraft launched from Henderson Field.
1000   Meade begins bombardment of transports.
1054   Meade breaks off action.
1100   Torpedo planes attack. B-17's bomb burning vessel near Russell Islands.
1145   Landing parties bombed.
1400   VT-10 takes off for Espiritu Santo.
1450   Enemy ammunition dump blown up.
1550   Enemy aircraft reported. Driven off with heavy loss.

Early Sunday morning three enemy cargo vessels and one transport, which had survived the air assaults of the previous day, beached themselves on Guadalcanal near Tassafaronga, about 7½ miles west of the Marine positions. Survivors of the destroyer Walke, who were floating in the water south of Savo Island, saw the last ship come in and send up an antiaircraft barrage when it was strafed by two P-39's from Henderson Field. The three other vessels were already beached, and there was a large stack of crates on shore near one of them.

The presence of these ships was reported to COMSOPAC by General Vandegrift, and 14 B-17's were dispatched from Espiritu Santo to attack them. At 063087 Lieut. A. P. Coffin, of the Enterprise group now operating from Guadalcanal, made a solitary attack with four 500-pound bombs on a transport which was unloading 3 miles west of Point Cruz. He dived from 4,500 feet, because there were 8 float Zeros at 8,000 feet, and scored one hit on the stern, but his other bombs did not release. There was moderate antiaircraft fire from four shore guns.

An hour later three more scout bombers with 1,000-pound bombs attacked the beached ships. They were intercepted by the eight float Zeros and had to take evasive action. Later they returned and dived on a transport, registering two hits and one near-hit. Again there was slight antiaircraft fire.


At 0740 a B-17 search plane from Espiritu Santo located three burning and abandoned transports northwest of the Russell Islands. These same ships plus another one were sighted at various later times by Henderson Field search planes. Torpedo bombers and fighters were sent to make sure they were not towed away, but the vessels were abandoned and seemingly a complete loss. Two SBD-3's, which left Guadalcanal at 0800 to search the beaches of that island and those of the others nearby, sighted the gutted transports and then returned to make a 1,000-pound hit on one of the beached ships and another on a pile of stores. This last hit was observed by the survivors of the Walke. A column of smoke and flame arose 300 feet into the air, indicating that the target had been ammunition. A single scout bomber attacked the ships later on, and at about 0930 four others made three direct hits, causing fires and explosions.

Two Marine attack groups operating during the morning made five direct hits on the transports and thoroughly strafed enemy personnel in the vicinity.

One of the beached vessels was also in range of Marine 155-mm. batteries on Guadalcanal, which damaged it considerably, while at about 1000 the U.S.S. Meade arrived from Tulagi to conduct a bombardment.88 All four ships were seen to be on fire, particularly a cargo vessel near Aruligo Point, which was burning so badly that it was considered destroyed without further attention. The primary target designated by Guadalcanal Control was a transport of about 10,00089 tons which was beached in Doma Cove. Firing commenced at 1012, range 12,500 yards. In 10 minutes the target was blazing so fiercely that the Meade shifted to a 6,000-ton ship off Tassafaronga. Soon thereafter a spotting plane reported that the Doma Cove vessel was only slightly damaged despite the fires on board. The battery was trained on this target again, and more fires were started.

The Meade pounded a 12,000-ton ship nearby for 10 minutes and set new fires, and then strafed the beach with her 40-mm. guns. The air


spotter now reported that both Tassafaronga vessels were burning with many internal explosions, but that the Doma Cove ship still required further bombardment. While steaming toward this target, the destroyer strafed the beach thoroughly. At 1054 the Doma Cove transport broke in two longitudinally. The air spotter reported no further targets and said there was no evidence of personnel in the vicinity, so the Meade broke off the action. Six hundred rounds had been expended without enemy opposition. A single United States destroyer had exercised complete control of the sea in an area which but a few hours before had swarmed with powerful enemy warships.

The Meade then proceeded to pick up 6 officers and 129 men belonging to the Walke, 10 officers and 121 men from the Preston , and one man lost overboard from the Benham . The rescue was facilitated by a YP boat, an MTB, several Higgins boats, and some scout planes from Tulagi, as well as an SBD-3 of VB-10 which was flying inner air patrol for the destroyer. More than 100 survivors were spotted by this plane, which zoomed them to show their location. Meanwhile 8 fighters of VF-10 flew combat patrol over the area. The rescue work was completed by 1430.

The Meade's, bombardment was observed by the first group of nine B-17's which arrived from Espiritu Santo to bomb the transports. Since the latter appeared to be well taken care of, the Flying Fortresses made no drops. Soon afterward four torpedo planes from Henderson Field scored one hit amidships on one of the beached vessels and a dud hit on the stern of another. This attack was seen by the second group of eight B-17's. One of the latter landed at Henderson Field with engine trouble, and the others made one hit on a burning cargo vessel off the Russell Islands.

At 1145 four more torpedo bombers were launched to attack landing parties and equipment at all 4 beachheads. Three planes were loaded with 10 Molotov breadbaskets each, and 1 with three 500-pound bombs. Approach was made from the land side, with the aircraft diving from 4,000 feet to the tops of the trees and dropping incendiaries on men and equipment concealed beneath them. Two of the 500-pound bombs were dropped near the burning transports, and 1 would not release.

At 1400 the eight serviceable planes of VT-10 departed for Espiritu Santo. The engine of one plane failed, forcing the pilot to land in the water. He and his crew were rescued, however. The other seven air-


craft arrived safely at Espiritu Santo at 1830. On 17 November all but two returned to the Enterprise at Noumea, to be rejoined later by other elements of Air Group TEN.90

About an hour after these planes left Guadalcanal, Lt. (jg) R. D. Gibson and two other pilots of VB-10 took off from Henderson Field to bomb the transports. Lt. Gibson approached his target at 10,000 feet and dived cross-wind at about a 70° angle. He strafed as he came down, because men were unloading the ship. He released his 1,000-pound bomb below 1,800 feet and pulled out low over the water to the north. The missile struck the ship 30 feet from the bow, causing explosions. Ens. E. J. Stevens attempted to attack the same vessel, but his bomb failed to release.

Lt. (jg) R. H. Goddard, whose objective was an antiaircraft battery supposed to be located near Tassafaronga, could not find his target, but about 2 miles south he noticed a road leading up from the beach. It ended in a circular clearing among the coconut palms. Lt. Goddard dropped his 1,000-pound bomb on the open space and was rewarded with an explosion of gratifying proportions. Columns of black smoke rose to an altitude of about 2,000 feet. Radio Guadalcanal reported that it was the "greatest sight ever seen on the island." Lt. Goddard had apparently stumbled on a large supply dump which included much oil and ammunition. It was still burning 16 hours later. Following the attack, Lt. Goddard strafed the neighboring woods.

At 1550 "bogies"91 were reported approaching Guadalcanal from the northwest, distant 65 miles, altitude about 20,000 feet. A projected search for missing pilots was immediately postponed until the next day, and 8 more fighters were launched to reinforce Lt. Comdr. I.H. Flatley's combat patrol of 8 planes which had been protecting the rescue work near Savo. During the approach of what were recognized to be enemy planes, Lt. Comdr. Flatley climbed to 20,000 feet between Henderson Field and Savo, staying within gliding distance of the field because of low fuel. Interception took place over Savo. There were 11 Zeros, which were presumed to be the advance guard of a force of bombers. Six of the Japanese fighters were downed, and 4 were damaged. If bombers were following, they turned tail and fled when their escort was so seriously chopped up. None of our pilots was lost, although one was forced down in the water.


Before the end of the day, all four beached ships were burned out and completely destroyed. It was believed unlikely that any substantial number of men or quantity of supplies reached the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. The four hulks observed off the Russell Islands had also been battered into apparent uselessness. One of them was observed to sink off the coast of Malaita on the 19th.

With the aerial tapering-off here recorded, the Battle of Guadalcanal may be said to have ended. Never again in the 3 months before their final evacuation of the island did the Japanese attempt to launch such an impressive threat to our vital positions in the eastern Solomons. Much hard fighting on both sea and land remained to be done before Guadalcanal was ours, but the decisive action had been fought--and won.

A captured Japanese combat report covering the last 3 weeks of October throws further light on the extent of the United States victory. In this document the following statement occurs: "It must be said that success or failure in recapturing Guadalcanal, and the results of the final naval battle related to it, is the fork in the road which leads to victory for them or us." That the enemy's failure was complete is well shown by a summary of comparative naval losses during the 5-day battle:

U.S. Losses

  Sunk Damaged
BB ... 1
CA ... 2
CL ... 1
CLAA 2 ...
DD 7 4
AK ... 1

Total ships sunk, 9; damaged, 9; sunk or damaged, 18.

Japanese Losses (as recorded by CINCPAC)

  Sunk92 Damaged
BB 2 2
CA 2 2
CL 2 4
DD 8 4
AP/AK 12 ...

Total ships sunk, 26; damaged, 12; sunk or damaged, 38.


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87 All times in this section are Zone minus 11.

88 The destroyer Meade, with the auxiliary Kopara and the YT130, had arrived at Aola Bay on the morning of 13 November. Due to the tactical situation, Admiral Turner, Commander Task Force TARE, then directed the Meade to retire with the Kopara along the south coast of Guadalcanal. COMSOPAC later directed retirement toward Espiritu Santo, but revoked this order when Admiral Turner reported that the time seemed favorable for pushing the Kopara through to Tulagi. The two vessels arrived there on the afternoon of the 14th, the commanding officer of the Meade, Lt. Comdr. Raymond S. Lamb, having fortunately interpreted his orders so as not to put too much distance between him and Guadalcanal.

89 Survivors of the Preston, floating south of Savo, saw the four ships at 0530 and estimated that they were of 3,000-5,000 tons.

90 Eleven planes of VB-10 were left on Guadalcanal with the Marines.

91 "Bogies" are unidentified aircraft.

92 Subsequent information made the following minimum Japanese losses during the Battle of Guadalcanal seem certain: sunk, 2 BB, 1 CA, 5 DD, 10 AP/AK.

Last updated: July 26, 2003

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation