Newsletter No. 469
Despite competition from the now much publicised and long awaited State of the Nation Address by the President, we had an excellent turnout for the February 2015 meeting of the KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the Society, to listen to two very accomplished speakers in Roy Bowman and Dr Alex Coutts.
The Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture, entitled “The Battle of Santa Cruz, 25th October 1942” was presented by fellow member Roy Bowman.
With the Battle for Guadalcanal raging, Allied and Japanese naval forces clashed repeatedly in the waters around the Solomon Islands. While many of these involved surface forces in the narrow waters around Guadalcanal, others saw the adversarial carrier forces clash in an attempt to alter the strategic balance of the campaign. Following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on the 24th August 1942, the U.S. Navy was left with three carriers in the area. This was soon reduced to one, USS Hornet, after USS Saratoga was withdrawn after being badly damaged by a torpedo on 31st August, and USS Wasp, sunk by I-19 on 14th September.
At Pearl Harbour, repairs to USS Enterprise, which had been damaged at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, progressed well. The Allies were able to retain daytime air superiority, due to the presence of their aircraft at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal which allowed supplies and reinforcements to be brought to the island. These aircraft were not able to operate at night and in the darkness, control of the waters around the island reverted to the Japanese. Using destroyers and barges, the Japanese were able to bolster their garrison on Guadalcanal with the so called "Tokyo Express". As a result of this stand-off the two sides were roughly equal in strength.
In an effort to break this stalemate, the Japanese planned a massive offensive on the island during the period 20th – 25th October, supported by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet, which would maneuver to the East with the goal of bringing the remaining American aircraft carriers to battle and sinking them. Command of the operation was given to Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo, who would personally lead the ADVANCE FORCE, centered on the carrier Junyo. This force was to be followed by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s main body containing the carriers Shokaku, Zuikaku and Zuiho.
Supporting the Japanese carrier forces was Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe’s VANGUARD FORCE, which consisted of battleships and heavy cruisers.
Whilst the Japanese were planning, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, made two moves which were to dramatically change the situation in the Solomons.
The first was to expedite repairs to the Enterprise, allowing her to return to action and join Hornet on 23rd October 1942 together with other members of her Task Force, the battleship USS South Dakota, six cruisers and 14 destroyers and the second move was to relieve the increasingly ineffective and pessimistic Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley and replace him as Commander, South Pacific Area with the aggressive Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey on 18th October 1942.
Two Task Forces, under the operational control of Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, were formed, centred on Enterprise and Hornet and they swept North to the Santa Cruz Islands on the 25th October, searching for the Japanese. The odds were only 2 to 1 against them, which was not bad by 1942 standards.
At 11h03, 25th October, a PBY Catalina spotted Nagumo’s MAIN BODY but the range was too great for launching an air strike. Aware he had been spotted, Nagumo turned north.
Remaining out of range through the day, the Japanese turned South after midnight and began closing the distance with the carriers.
Shortly before 07h00 on 26th October, both sides located each other and began racing to launch strikes. The Japanese proved faster and soon a large force was heading towards Hornet. Enterprise launched a search group of 16 SBD Dauntless dive bombers with 500lb bombs. They made first contact and scored two bomb hit on the carrier, Zuiho, damaging the flight deck. However , she and two other IJN carriers had already launched a sixty five plane strike against the U.S. ships With Nagumo launching, Kondo ordered Abe to move towards the American force, while he worked to bring Junyo within range.
Rather than form a massed force, the fifty four American F4F Wildcats, Dauntlesses and TBF Avenger torpedo bombers launched from Hornet, began moving towards the Japanese in smaller groups. At approximately 08h40 the opposing forces passed each other travelling in reciprocal directions and during a brief melee, the Americans lost 5 aircraft to the Japanese 4 Zeros.
Arriving over Nagumo’s carriers, the American dive bombers concentrated their attack on Shokaku, striking the ship with six bombs and inflicting heavy damage taking her out of the fight. Other aircraft inflicted significant damage on the heavy cruiser Chikuma and inflicted sufficient damage from two hits to remove her from the battle as well.
At 08h52 the Japanese aircraft spotted Hornet but missed Enterprise as she was hidden in a rain squall. Within ten minutes, Hornet had been substantially damaged from a frenzied air attack that came from all quarters. Due to command and control issues, the American Combat Air Patrol was largely ineffective and the Japanese were able to focus their attack on Hornet against light aerial opposition. This ease of approach was soon countered by an extremely high level of anti-aircraft fire from the American ships, as the Japanese began their attack.
Though they took heavy losses, the Japanese succeeded in hitting Hornet with three bombs and two torpedoes. On fire and dead in the water, Hornet ’s crew began a massive damage control operation which saw the fires brought under control by 10h00.
Several of her escort destroyers, notably the USS Mustin, Russell and Morris pulled alongside to render assistance. Many of Hornet ’s injured (75) and non-essential personnel (800)were evacuated directly onto these ships or onto life rafts.
The emergency teams concentrated on reducing her list and getting back some of her propulsion. Hornet was taken in tow by the cruiser USS Northampton.
As the first wave of Japanese aircraft departed, they spotted Enterprise and reported her position. The next wave focused their attack on the undamaged carrier around 10h08. Again attacking through intense anti-aircraft fire, the Japanese scored two bomb hits but failed to connect with any torpedoes. In the course of the attack, the Japanese aircraft took heavy losses. Dousing the fires, Enterprise resumed flight operations around 11h15. Six minutes later, she successfully evaded an attack by aircraft from Junyo. Assessing the situation and correctly believing the Japanese to have two undamaged carriers, Kinkaid decided to with draw the damaged Enterprise at 11h35. Departing the area, Enterprise began recovering aircraft.
As the Americans were moving away, Zuikaku and Junyo began landing the few aircraft of the Japanese force remaining that were returning from the morning strikes. Having united his ADVANCE FORCE and MAIN BODY, Kondo pushed hard towards the last known American position, with the hope that Abe could finish off the enemy. At the same time, Nagumo was directed to withdraw the stricken Shokaku and damaged Zuiho. Launching a final set of raids, Kondo’s aircraft located the Hornet just as the crew was beginning to restore power. At 16h30, another torpedo hit her starboard side and two more bombs blasted the flight deck. She was again dead in the water and key engineering compartments were now flooded. It was clear the Japanese had no plans to let Hornet escape.
The flight leader from Shokaku, whose plane had been fatally hit by anti-aircraft fire, intentionally crashed his aircraft into Hornet ’s island superstructure. This destroyed the signal bridge and rained live ordnance and flaming debris onto and through the flight deck below. As the last group of bombers dived, the torpedo aircraft closed in from multiple directions. Two torpedoes struck her hull on the starboard side, three more bombs exploded at various levels within the ship and a burning “Kate” torpedo aircraft made a suicide crash into the forward hull on the Port side.
By 17h30, Hornet was completely abandoned. Not wanting her to fall into the hands of the approaching IJN fleet, destroyers Mustin and Anderson were tasked with sinking her. In the span of two hours they fired nine torpedoes and 369 rounds of 5 inch ammunition into her hull. While burning furiously, Hornet refused to sink even as the first Japanese vessels appeared on the horizon. Within a few hours the Japanese destroyers Makigumo and Akigumo fired four of the deadly Long Lance torpedoes into the flaming hulk. Hornet slipped beneath the waves at 01h35 on 27th October 1942.
The Battle of Santa Cruz cost the Allies a carrier, a destroyer, 81 aircraft and 266 killed as well as damage to Enterprise. Japanese losses totaled 99 aircraft and between 400 and 500 killed. In addition heavy damage was sustained to Shokaku which removed her from future operations for 9 months. Though a Japanese victory on the surface, the fighting at Santa Cruz saw them sustain heavy seasoned aircrew losses which exceeded those of Coral Sea and Midway. These necessitated withdrawing Zuikaku and the uncommitted Hiyo to Japan to train new air groups. As a result, the Japanese carriers played no further offensive role in the Solomon Islands Campaign.
In this light, the battle may be seen as a strategic victory for the Allies.
NEXT MEETING (Venue – Murray Lecture Theatre, Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College Campus, Durban. Time: 19h00 for 19h30):
Thursday 12th March 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “The Colesberg Campaign, December 1899 to March 1900” by Steve Watt.
Main Talk: “The Myths of the Anglo-Boer War” by Chris Ash.
Thursday 9th April 2015
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: Another in the WW1 100 Commemorative lecture programme: “WW1 Comes to the Northern Cape”, by Ken Gillings
Main Talk: “Normandy Massacres”, by Charles Whiteing
Thursday 14th May 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “Leon Schauder – South African War Correspondent, 1945” by Donald Davies.
Main Talk: “Aspects of Atomic Warfare”, by Major Dr John Buchan.
Thursday 11th June 2015:
Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture: “Operation Vimbezela”, by Major General Chris le Roux.
Main Talk: “August 1914: The escape of Goeben and Breslau”, by Robin Smith.
POSSIBLE CENTENARY PILGRIMAGE TO DELVILLE WOOD. Colonel Mike Bradley (who was the Specialist Guide during the SAMHS tour to the Battlefields of Egypt and Libya in May 2009) has offered to put together a Centenary Pilgrimage of about 10 days to Delville Wood (and other battlefields of the Somme) in July 2016. Members will be kept informed of developments, but in order for us to determine the viability of such a tour, please advise Ken Gillings (031 703 4828 / 083 654 5880 / email@example.com ) if you are interested in participating. A day’s visit to Normandy will also be included in the itinerary.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING. April is AGM month for all four Branches of the South African Military History Society. Our current Chairman, Charles Whiteing, has completed his two year term of office. Please forward your nominations for the position of Chairman and Committee Members to the Scribe, Ken Gillings on 031 702 4828 / 083 654 5880 / firstname.lastname@example.org
RENATO PALMI. Members will recall the fact-filled and information-laden “Balsak” newsletter by fellow member Renato Palmi. Renato is fighting a rearguard action against cancer and is in the Highway Hospice at Sherwood, Durban. He has asked us to advise members that he is no longer able to compile the Balsak. Please keep him in your thoughts.