The Grim Tale of Savo: Battle Damage Report from Quincy, Astoria, and Vincennes


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):

Quincy BDR

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.

recommendations savo

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.    

2 thoughts on “The Grim Tale of Savo: Battle Damage Report from Quincy, Astoria, and Vincennes”

  1. Quincy, Astoria and Vincennes were all treaty cruisers. One wonders how much the need to keep their displacement below 10,000 tons influenced the choice of how they were equipped, as far as fire mains and emergency diesel generators.

    Of course, taking two 24″ Long Lance torpedoes in the side kind of makes worrying about gunfire superfluous. For another year, Japanese surface torpedo attacks would bedevil US surface action groups.

  2. Bard another consideration, and perhaps the major issue that the US had never fought a war like we fought with Japan. WW2 was the first Holocaustic war this country had fought since the War of Northern Aggression, and the US Navy was of a far different character in the 1860s than it was 80 years later. The lessons learned at Savo Island are most often paid for with blood. While being treaty cruisers I doubt that many of the changes in future ships were even thought of until after the blood letting began.

    I didn’t know that Astoria had been commanded by Terrible Turner. I’ve leaned today’s new fact.

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