There are many superbly written and gripping accounts of the disastrous August 1942 engagement known as the Battle of Savo Island. Works that explore the decisions and failures of Allied naval commanders, and sequences of events that led to the annihilation of three US heavy cruisers (and one Australian) in the narrow waters near Guadalcanal. James Hornfischer’s masterpiece Neptune’s Inferno is among the most recent.
However, the document that provides among the most compelling commentary is the Battle Damage Report, filed 13 months after the action, which describes in heartbreaking detail what took place aboard the three doomed vessels. It bears reading and absorbing in its entirety, as it tells both a cautionary tale and one of an incredibly adaptable “learning organization”, to use modern jargon. The report outlines events, without flowery language or hyperbole, but in the solemn professional language of the post-mortem of a catastrophe suffered at the hands of a skillful and determined enemy at a time when control of the Pacific hung in the balance.
Much of the report summarizes the frightful carnage each ship suffered, piecing together eyewitness accounts from ships’ crews who witnessed events on their own ships and on others in the ill-fated Allied cruiser column. Para. 52 tells the tragic tale of Quincy (CA-39):
Events aboard Astoria (CA-34), which had returned the ashes of Japanese Ambassador Saito to Japan just 28 months earlier (commanded by Captain Richmond Kelly Turner), were just as dreadful:
Interesting in the report is Part E, which is Notes and Recommendations by Commanding Officers, and how quickly the wartime Navy took them to heart, and acted upon them. One can only hope we would be so nimble in the present day.
There are twenty-six pages to the Savo Island Damage Report. Every one is worth the read. It was the tragic beginning of the finest hour of the US Navy, and is the unvarnished story behind the stories.