72 years ago this week the war got real hot in the South West Pacific.

You keep hearing about how Japan was smashed at the battle of Midway and that decided the war. Not exactly. The victory at Midway roughly equalized the balance of power between Japan and the US. You don’t think so? Look at the first week of October, 1942. Japan had 8 functional Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific, the US had … one. Japan doesn’t look so smashed!

Yet, in just a few months, Japan would be set back on her heels – completely on the defensive.

via Ace of Spades HQ.

Nov 13 Hiei vs. Honey Badgers.jpg

A friendly reminder that Comrade Arthur is live-tweeting the Guadalcanal campaign. The initial landings, and the Battle of Savo Island feature prominently this week.


9 thoughts on “Guadalcanal”

  1. Look at the first week of October, 1942. Japan had 8 functional Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific, the US had … one. Japan doesn’t look so smashed!

    Doesn’t sound right. We should have had Saratoga, Enterprise, and Hornet. And the reason we lost (and had damaged) carriers in late 1942 was because we were fighting for Guadalcanal. There would have been more choice about how and where to engage if there was not a requirement to support the Marines on the island.

    And of course this leaves out the issue of losses in planes and pilots at Midway. The IJN had eight carriers… mostly CVE/CVL not fleet carriers… but what was flying from them?

    1. The Japanese had a limited number of pilots to man all those carriers. The IJN had no extra carrier pilots at the start of the war, with 1,500 pilots and around 1,800 aircraft. About 600 of these were on carriers or embarqued souts on BBs and CAs.

      A poor training pipeline, lack of pilot relief, and low overall numbers in the training pipeline (100 pilots a year) limited the IJN response to the pilot casualties of Midway. In addition, some of their trained Navy pilots were diverted to Rabaul and were land-based. These units were eventually worn down to few pilots per unit by combat around Guadalcanal.
      The carrier battles north of Guadalcanal also featured irreplaceable losses in pilots of the remaining air groups. Lack of flexability in cross-decking pilots hurt the IJN carrier groups as well. After Guadalcanal the IJN had lost most of their pre-war carrier pilots.

      A good overview with references is has a few relevent comments.

      The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions (2011) by Alan Zimm is a very interesting corrective to the myth of Japanese planning / pilot excellence. I only have one major disagreement with his conclusions.

  2. Sara was torpedoed again in Late-August, Wasp torpedoed and sunk mid-September, Leaving only Hornet until Enterprise came back on the line mid-October; After Santa Cruz, Hornet was gone, leaving Enterprise standing alone. This is where the legend of the Big-E is really cemented.

    The brunt of the fighting around Guadalcanal was borne by the surface forces, which both opponents were closely matched. The Japanese had more experience night-fighting, but the USN was fast learners. Probably the only boner mistake was at Guadalcanal 1, where due to seniority, the OTC was one of Ghormley’s people (now fired and replaced by Halsey) Callaghan over Scott (who had night-fighting experience and success against the IJN) was a colossal blunder which likely contributed to losses.

    Guadalcanal 2 on the other hand, was the ne plus ultra of who you’d want in command of a gunnery force (Willis Lee). While the light forces again were roughly handled, and South Dakota bashed around due to engineering screwups, USS Washington utterly brutalized Kirishima, scoring between 18-20 hits with her main battery at point-blank range. (until read the damage survey, backed up by the IJN DC reports, I didn’t believe it)

    The immolation of the supply convoy the next day by naval and marine air slammed the coffin shut on the Japanese. All that remained was their version of Dunkirk in January

    1. The Navy lost 6 heavy cruisers, 14 destroyers, and 2 carriers during the campaign, along with 5,041 KIA. But somehow Marines rarely mention that when they talk about the Navy scurrying away and abandoning them. =)

    2. Even more nerve wracking. There was a 2-3 week period after Wasp was taken out where Hornet survived *6* submarine attacks. I’ll be covering one those on @GuadaBattle in some detail were an ensign depth-charged a torpedo.

  3. Fletcher DID scurry off and abandon them…:)

    But that doesn’t diminish the actions and successes of the surface fleet from that point through to the end of the campaign. There were moments of both glory and utter stupidity, but at the end of the day, the IJN was the one that was broken and on the retreat.

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