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Combined Guadalcanal Campaign Pt. 5
Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
by Patrick Graham

Editor's Note: Part 4 of this Campaign will be put online on Friday. Since it is another land based scenario, we have moved up today's scenario to give players more naval scenarios immediately, as those are in short supply.

Overview

As an assault was to happen on Henderson Field in late October of 1942, a naval operation was planned to go alongside such an operation with equally decisive goals. Fleet Admiral Yamamoto assembled an impressive carrier force consisting of the Shokaku, Zuikaku, Junyo and Zuiho. The Hiyo was planned to accompany the force but was damaged en route and forced to return. Escorting the force was a formidable surface fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers that numbered in the dozens. This combined force would sweep south through the Solomon Islands and engage the American forces there in what would hopefully be a decisive action, clearing all American ships from the region. Admiral Kondo was assigned to command the task force which was split between him, Vice Admiral Nagumo and Rear Admiral Abe. Once the American fleet was spotted, the Carriers would attack while the surface ships rushed forward to engage the force with their guns. A fight with the Japanese navy was exactly what the new commander in the south Pacific, Vice Admiral William Halsey wanted. With the recently returned, Enterprise, damaged earlier in the Guadalcanal Campaign, the United States had two fleet carriers in her and the Hornet. The Wasp, unfortunately, had been lost to the submarine I-19 on September 14th. With the two remaining carriers, a task force was formed under Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. On October 25th, the force sailed north to the Santa Cruz Islands in search of a Japanese Fleet that intelligence and scouting had revealed was on its way.

Going on false intelligence that Henderson Field had been seized by Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, the massive Japanese carrier fleet sent a small force to bombard the island. Scouting forces would quickly discover the extent of American air power still on Guadalcanal. Aircraft from the still intact Henderson Field would sortie out and sink a cruiser and destroyer that strayed close, hoping to lend support to the Japanese soldiers that should have overrun the airfield.

Action on the 25th would produce a series of feints as both fleets maneuvered around the Santa Cruz Islands. While the American fleet had successfully spotted the Japanese carrier force, the spying Catalina was spotted as well and the Japanese fleet deftly maneuvered out of range. Aircraft from the Hornet and Enterprise would not find their quarry that day. With evening approaching, the battle would have to be postponed until the next day.

The two fleets would continue to close during the night, and at sunrise would launch their scouting planes in the hopes that would find suitable targets. The next twelve hours would prove crucial for the fate of the campaign and perhaps for the course of the war itself.

Aftermath

The Japanese would get a fix on the American position first. Reports as to the location of the Japanese fleet would arrive far to slow for Admiral Kincaid to effectively respond. As aircraft traded blows to the opposing carriers throughout the day, damage began to pile up on both sides. The American aircraft struck first, severely damaging the Zuiho at 0740 hours. Dauntless aircraft struck the Shokaku at 0927 hours, destroying most of the flight deck. The Chikuma, sister ship to the Tone, also fell prey to these attacks and had to be escorted away from the battle.

However, the Japanese planes would find their mark as well. A several bombs rained down on the deck of the Hornet at 0910 hours, excoriating the inside of the ship and knocking out most of her systems. This was followed up by a torpedo strike and the collision of two aircraft into both the superstructure and hull of the carrier. Stricken but not sunk, the crew scrambled to manage the fires and repair enough damage to put the ship under way again. The second strike force would find the Enterprise just after 1000 hours. Concerted attacks inflicted damage to the Enterprise’s elevators and deck, and further damage to her escorts. Very little Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers, but they cobbled enough planes together for a last strike to finish off the crippled Hornet. They came at 1525 hours with surface ships close behind, hoping to attack the Carriers with gunfire. The Hornet was abandoned and the Japanese deemed her too damaged for capture.

While they had successfully sunk one carrier and damaged another, the Japanese victory was hollow. In particular, the carrier aircrews suffered a staggering loss. Between a third and one half of their skilled pilots were killed in the attacks on the American carriers. Pilots, like everything else were increasingly of short supply. The loss of 150 aircrew was staggering in of itself. The undamaged carriers were forced to retire from a continued fight as well in the hopes that could replenish lost pilots before returning to fight in the Pacific again. It was becoming clear that Japanese victory in the war would require far more decisive victories on the sea. As the United States became more seasoned and continued to build up production, the IJN would be at a greater and greater disadvantage.

Scenario Description: On the morning of October 26th, 1942 two carrier forces under the command of the Imperial Japanese Navy and United States Navy converge on the Santa Cruz Island in the South Pacific to join battle. Each force is seeking to achieve a decisive naval victory in order to secure Guadalcanal by robbing each other of air power and their carrier forces.

Maps: Use Battle Map #1 for this scenario.

Carrier Force under Admiral Kincaid:
USS Enterprise x 2
USS Boise x 2
USS Fletcher x 3
USS Tennessee x 1
TBD Devastator x 2
F4F Wildcat x 2
SBD Dauntless x 2
PBY Catalina x 1

Carrier Force under Admiral Kondo:
Shoho x 1
Shokaku x 2
Tone x 2
Yukikaze x 1
Kongo x 1
A6M2 “Zeke” x 2
D3A “Val” x 3
B5N2 “Kate” x 2

Deployment:

Japanese forces deploy first in the Player One Deployment Area for this map configuration.

American forces deploy second in the Player Two Deployment Area for this map configuration.

Victory Conditions: Victory is determined after four turns with victory calculated accordingly:

  • 50 points are scored for each Shokaku or USS Enterprise destroyed for each opposing side respectively.
  • 30 points are scored for each Shokaku or USS Enterprise crippled for each opposing side respectively
  • 15 points are scored for each Shokaku or USS Enterprise damaged for each opposing side respectively

Campaign Instructions: If playing this scenario as part of the Combined Guadalcanal Campaign use the following rules: In the instance of a Japanese win, play scenario Guadalcanal 6-A next. In the instance of an American win, play scenario Guadalcanal 7 next.

No Objective Markers are used in this scenario.

At the end of play, each side tallies victory points equal to the point value of all opposing units destroyed. The player with the highest number of points is the victor.










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