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Combined Guadalcanal Campaign Pt. 7
The First Battle of Guadacanal
by Patrick Graham

Overview

As the battle for Guadalcanal entered its fourth month, the fight on the island itself remains locked in a deadly stalemate. However, the Japanese are becoming increasingly frustrated with their attempts to resupply and reinforce their own troops on the island. Armed night-time convoys of destroyers lack the equipment to transport heavy equipment and more over can only transport so many soldiers at a time. Those Japanese soldiers on the island lack the extensive range of military and logistic equipment necessary for making a breakthrough. On the other hand, with the return and entrenchment of naval forces in the vicinity of Guadalcanal, even with the carrier losses at Santa Cruz, the Marines on shore have been resupplied almost with impunity since their fight in isolation ended.

What made American resupply so comparatively easy was the enduring presence of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The aircraft stationed at the field were in such numbers as to be able to interdict any daytime resupply efforts to the island and cover their own ships when in range to the island. Several attempts had been made to take the field during land, ending in failure, however, successful offshore bombardments managed to keep the field out of action for a significant amount of time. Continued, possibly decisive, pressure on the airfield would allow for a significant bolstering effort for the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. The last offensive against Marines on Guadalcanal had drained Japanese resources significantly, and for further offensive action to continue it would be necessary for another attempt against the Field and the naval forces protecting it to be made. To that end, eleven transports were assembled and loaded in early November and a new task force was assembled to defeat the American ships protecting Guadalcanal and cover the transports themselves. In the wake of the heavy fighting at Santa Cruz, carrier support for any operation on either side was virtually non-existant, with only the damaged Enterprise being available to the Americans. It too was recently patched up at New Caledonia and just recently arrived in the area.

To command the Japanese force was Vice-Admiral Hiroaiki Abe. Abe was an accomplished veteran of several naval campaigns in the Pacific. He was present at Pearl Harbor and Midway. He was not a ‘battle-ship’ man like many of his colleagues, which made him somewhat of an outsider in Japan’s naval elite. However, his adroitness in operating groups of cruisers and destroyers especially during the Battles of Santa Cruz and The Eastern Solomons earned him a promotion and a place at the lead of the new task force.

The aim of the force was to successfully suppress the aircraft at Henderson field during a night operation where they would be unable to sortie. However, the new task force was quickly detected by Allied reconnaissance and Admiral Turner assembled another counter force under Rear Admiral Callaghan to be ready by November 12th. Callaghan himself was rather inexperienced in this role; he was primarily a staff officer. Unfortunately, he was the most senior to command such a force at the time. In deploying his forces in Iron Bottom Sound, he failed to make proper use of new radar technology installed on a few of the newer ships. Bad weather would also further hamper communications and organization. On November 12th, a Japanese force once again moved down the slot and arrived in vicinity of Savo Island close to midnight. In the pitch darkness and pounding rain, the two forces were about to walk right into each other.

Aftermath

At 1:48 am the Atlanta was lit up by the searchlights of two Japanese Battlecruisers. The ship was at point blank range and was promptly pummeled her until she was disabled. Admiral Scott, who had made the Atlanta his flagship, was killed in the firefight. The unceremonious meeting in the dark of night, practically stumbling into each other led to one of the closest and most intense naval engagements of the entire war. Poor communications and signaling would only hamper efforts on both sides to coordinate their forces during the engagement. The ensuing melee was confused with ships firing on whatever spotlights they saw and opening salvoes at pointblank range. Not surprisingly, there was a significant amount of friendly fire. The battle became known as “The Barroom Brawl’. An officer on the USS Monssen which sank had the comparison and it stuck. The USS San Francisco, Admiral Callaghan’s flagship, was put out of action by the Hiei, killing the Admiral as well. She managed to do damage to the Hiei as well before leaving the area, a valiant attack by a crippled ship that would play a role in Abe’s decisions after the battle.

This battle stands as a prime example of the Japanese inability to follow up tactical successes with real strategic gains by the mid-point of the war. While Abe had mauled the defending US naval forces he chose to withdraw, unaware of the extent of the damage he had done to the American fleet and overestimating the state of his own forces. However, such an assessment overlooks the possible factors that must have played on his mind at the time. His flagship was severely damaged, and he himself was injured; several members of his staff were also killed during the fighting. It is the nature of such confusing engagements that they also have no clear resolution, especially to the participants. Either way, Abe was cashiered, tendering his own resignation a few months later. Another attempt would have to be made to break the American defenses around Guadalcanal and move fresh reinforcements directly into the coming battle.

Scenario Description: In the early morning of November 13th, 1942, a Japanese naval force, under Admiral Abe, moves toward Guadalcanal with orders to bombard Henderson Airfield. The force is detected on radar and American ships sortie out to do battle.

Maps: Use Battle Map #6 for this scenario.

Task Force under Admiral Callaghan

USS Baltimore x 2
USS Samuel B. Roberts x 4
USS Fletcher x 4
USS Atlanta x 2
USS Salt Lake City x 1

Screening Force under Vice-Admiral Abe:

Kongo x 2
Jintsu x 1
Yukikaze x 4

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 as per normal rules.

Special Rules

All ships may waive round restrictions for the use of their ‘Night-Fighting’ SA.

Units may only attack other targets in the same square as them. Alternatively, they may fire at targets that have fired against units that are adjacent or in the same square as the target.

Campaign Instructions: If playing this scenario as part of the Guadalcanal Campaign. In the instance of a Japanese or American win, play scenario Guadalcanal 8 next.

The Combined Guadacanal Campaign










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