The First Naval Battle for Guadalcanal 12-13 November 1942


The bloody slugging match for the island of Guadalcanal and the surrounding seas reached its peak fury seventy-three years ago this week.  Between November 13th and 15th, 1942, a pair of violent clashes in the waters north and east of the island marked a watershed in the eleven-month long Pacific War.  Those clashes would come to be known as the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal.

The stage was set for this far-flung, savage, running fight a week earlier, when US intelligence gleaned that the Japanese 17th Army was going to make one last, large attempt break the Marine perimeter to overrun Henderson Field.  General Hyukatake, commanding 17th Army, had been arrogantly dismissive of the US Marines’ combat prowess, and entirely slipshod in his intelligence planning.  The Japanese had tried three times to break the Marines’ lines, once in late-August (at the Ilu River), in mid-September (Edson’s Ridge), and again in late-October, which was the first serious thrust, directly at Lunga Point and the airfield.  Each time, the Marines (and in October, joined by the Army’s 164th Infantry) held firm and slaughtered the Japanese in large numbers.  Hyukatake had waited far too long.  Had his efforts been strong during the almost two weeks in mid-August during which the Marines had neither Naval nor air protection, the predicament of the 1st Marine Division might have been extremely grim.  Now, after grievous losses, Hyukatake was to be reinforced for one last major push.

In light of the latest intelligence, Admiral Richmond K. Turner had taken Task Force 67, loaded with troops and supplies, toward the island.  The transports of TF 67 unloaded under intermittent air attack from Bougainville, but managed without serious losses.    The Japanese had pushed a bombardment force of two battleships, a cruiser, and eleven destroyers into the waters north of Guadalcanal with the mission of destroying the airfield and preventing the Cactus Air Force from interdicting the eleven transports packed with Japanese soldiers, supplies, food, and ammunition.  The US Navy had two task groups protecting the transports, under Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott.  Those forces combined, along with remaining escorts from Turner’s transport group, to form a powerful group of two heavy and three light cruisers, and eight destroyers (under Callaghan, aboard San Francisco).

The two forces sighted each other almost simultaneously, at approximately 0125 on 13 November.  Admiral Callaghan, regrettably, had not employed any ship with the improved SG radar in his van, which meant that the Japanese, even in the poor visibility of the night, negated his technical advantage with their superior night combat skills.  The confused melee began at extremely close ranges, and was filled with confusing orders, hesitation, and ferocity.  The IJN battleship Hiei was badly mauled by dozens of 5-inch hits on her bridge and superstructure, pummeled by US destroyers that were so close that Hiei’s 14-inch guns could not depress to engage them.   She suffered at least three 8-inch hits, likely from San Francisco, her steering gear was shot away, and she was a shambles topside.  Hiei and sister Kirishima managed to exacted revenge on Atlanta and San Francisco, landing large caliber (14-inch) hits on both.  The riddled Atlanta drifted across San Francisco’s line of fire, and was almost certainly struck by the latter’s main battery, adding to the carnage on board.    When the action finished less than an hour later, four US destroyers had been sunk, Altanta was a wreck, Juneau and Portland had taken torpedoes, and San Francisco had been savaged, leaving her with only one 8-inch mount in action.   Both American admirals, Norman Scott aboard Atlanta, and Daniel Callaghan on San Francisco, had been killed.  Admiral Abe, the Japanese commander flying his flag on Hiei, had been wounded.

The Japanese attempted to take Hiei in tow, but US air attacks from Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo further damaged the battleship, and she sank in the late evening of 13 November off Savo Island.   Similarly, efforts throughout the day to save Atlanta were unsuccessful, and just after 2000 on 13 November, the cruiser was scuttled on the orders of her captain.   Juneau, down fifteen feet by the bows and listing from her torpedo wounds, was proceeding to Espiritu Santo at 13 knots when she was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-26.  Her magazine exploded, breaking her in two.  Witnesses say Juneau disappeared in twenty seconds.   Fearing the submarine threat and believing very few could have survived the explosion, the senior surviving American Officer (Captain Hoover, aboard Helena) made the agonizing decision to leave the survivors for later rescue.  About one hundred men had survived the sinking, but after eight days in the water, only ten were rescued.  The rest perished from exhaustion, wounds, or sharks, including the five Sullivan brothers.

Aside from the eventual loss of Hiei, the Japanese lost two destroyers sunk, and four damaged.  Japanese killed had numbered around 700, about half the total of Americans killed in the action.  With little in front of him, Abe might have sailed in to bombard Henderson Field at his leisure, but instead he withdrew.  With his withdrawal, Abe had turned a potentially serious tactical reverse into a strategic victory for the US Navy and Marine Corps.  Yamamoto, who had planned the operation, was forced to postpone the landings.  Furious, Yamamoto fired Abe, and ordered a new bombardment force under Vice Admiral Kondo to neutralize the airfield the next day, 14 November.   So ended the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the first act of the tense drama, setting the stage for the second.

Once Again, the Duffel Blog Nails It

Pure genius.

Pentagon Angered At Speed Of French Military Awards System

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American military officials are reportedly shocked at the speed at which France was able to approve of their nation’s highest award which was presented to American Airman Spencer Stone, Spc. Alek Skarlatos, and some random civilians who participated in the righteous beating of a terrorist last week in Paris.

“This was easy when we originally thought it was Marines,” said Sergeant Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green. “I had their charge sheets all written up and was ready to read them their Article 31 rights over the phone, but man, what a letdown.”

Other senior members of the armed forces are grappling with how to deal with this blatant breach in the American military tradition of foot dragging and outright dismissal of awards for junior enlisted personnel.

“There’s no way Airman Spencer rates an actual Legion d’Honneur,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody. “We’ll probably just submit it as a Letter of Appreciation in his record book. It’s not like it will get him any points for promotion anyway.”

Shortly after Cody’s remarks, it was announced Airman Spencer would be nominated for the Air Force’s high non-combat award for being wounded while engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a fully armed enemy.

Major Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the Adjutant General of the Oregon National Guard, agrees.

“Spc. Skarlatos hasn’t even earned an ARCOM yet,” said Hokanson. “How in the world can we justify this medal? Besides, I don’t have one.”

Hokanson further pointed out that Skarlatos hadn’t re-certified on the online Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness module so he couldn’t possibly rate a medal for actually fighting terrorism.

Some senior officials speculate the French didn’t bother to hold an awards board, where in American tradition, awards are sent back to be rewritten multiple times until the originator quits trying in frustration. In other cases the submission is downgraded to a certificate of commendation so junior service members do not earn an award greater than any officers they are subordinate to.

“Rank has nothing to do with the military awards process,” said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley. “Except that it does.”

Senior enlisted from both services are salivating in anticipation of forcing both servicemen to verbally provide the guidance allowing them to wear the award.

Mil Times: VA Doctor Regrets Post Telling Gun Advocate to ‘Off’ Himself


So typically VA.

Gorton was responding to a post that came through his Facebook page by an apparent gun-rights supporter, according to images posted to the website Imgur and described by the newspaper.

“I am all for gun control,” the user wrote. “If there is a gun in the room, I want to be in control of it.”

Gorton replied: “Off yourself, please.”

Gorton said he would not call himself a gun-control activist.

“I have concerns about gun violence, but many of us do,” he said.

He should have concerns about his next paycheck, because he should be fired immediately.

For what it is worth, and it is worth a ton, the VA Hospital in Philadelphia commented on the incident, as the AP tells:

“The post was totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to veterans. We are taking steps immediately to address the situation,” the VA told the newspaper.

Yes, it perfectly portrays your commitment to Veterans.   And is a symptom of a much larger problem.

In an unrelated matter, VA officials told Congress this month that nearly a dozen employees at the regional office in Philadelphia could face discipline over their errant handling of a backlog of benefit claims.

The VA’s inspector general had found that Philadelphia staff neglected mail, altered claims dates and reviews and made $2.2 million in duplicate benefit payments as it tried to reduce backlogs.

Unrelated, my ass.  The debacles in Phoenix and in Philadelphia and across the VA system should result in people being charged with criminal misconduct (including Federal charges relating to retribution against whistle-blowers), and if clinicians are found to have had knowledge or willfully participated in the scandals, they should have their licenses to practice medicine revoked.

The VA is an unaccountable, unresponsive, inefficient, bureaucratic nightmare, where medical care is decidedly uneven.  There are good people trying to do good work, to be sure.  But far, far too many who are of the ilk that begets the kind of despicable and dishonest mismanagement we hear about daily from the VA.  Secretary Bob McDonald, who took over for Eric Shinsecki, needs to fire people, loudly and publicly.  Heads on plates.  Gregg Gorton’s should be among them.  Along with his newly-revoked license to practice psychiatry.   If Gorton’s head is not on that plate today, perhaps Bob McDonald’s head should be served.

Next Marine Commandant: It’s LtGen Rob Neller


LtGen Robert Neller has been nominated to succeed Joe Dunford as the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Neller has more than 40 years of USMC service, has commanded at every level, and has plenty of combat experience.  He was also a semi-feared Captain Tactics Instructor some 29 years ago when Yours Truly was a Second Lieutenant at The Basic School.  He commanded the famous Sixth Marine Regiment in the late 1990s, and at his change of command spoke emotionally and eloquently of the traditions of our Corps, including the grim battle of Belleau Wood, where his 6th Marines (along with the 5th Marines) would win their distinctive fourragére with the famous Marine Brigade in 1918.

LtGen Neller leaps over two Generals, ACMC John Paxton, and John Kelly currently Commander SOUTHCOM.

He is also a grunt, heart and soul.  It has always been my opinion that the Marine Commandant ought to be an 0302 Infantry Officer.  The infantry is the backbone of our Corps, with every other MOS existing to support the ground-pounder.  No artillerymen, no tankers, no amtrackers.  Certainly no aviators.  Rob Neller certainly fills that requirement.

Semper Fidelis, and Godspeed, LtGen Neller.  Guide our beloved Corps through what are sure to be hard and challenging times.  Have us come out the other side as United States Marines, Marines that could fight and win Guadalcanal or the Chosin Reservoir, or Hue City, or Ramadi, if the nation required it once again.

How not to care for your soldiers

Service members are entitled to 30 days of leave per year, accrued at a rate of 2.5 days of leave per calendar month. Leave is an entitlement, not a privilege.* Service members may accrue no more than 60 days of leave. Any leave accrued over 60 days is forfeit at the end of the year.  Informally, any leave over 60 days is termed “use it or lose it.” Most commands closely track the leave accrued by individual members, and strongly encourage those with over 45 days on the books to take leave.

While service members are entitled to take leave, when they take leave is up to the discretion of the unit chain of command. For instance, you aren’t going to get two weeks of ordinary leave authorized right smack in the middle of your unit’s planned rotation to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, or right as your aircraft carrier or destroyer is slated to deploy to the Western Pacific.

As a rule of thumb, units returning from a lengthy deployment authorize what is known as “block leave.” Ordinarily, units are only authorized to have a limited percentage of troops not available for duty, around 10%, as I recall. But block leave waives that requirement, and everyone is encouraged to take as much as 30 days of leave. Unit commanders may authorize 30 days of leave, even for those service members with less than 30 days leave accrued, provided they have sufficient time left on their enlistment to accrue the excess leave.  Other types of leave include PCS leave, that is, time off taken in connection with a Permanent Change of Station; maternity leave; convalescent leave, not chargeable against their accrued leave, and terminal leave, taken in conjunction with ones separation from the service.

In the Army, leaves and passes** are requested and authorized via a form known as DA 31. A service members accrued leave is tracked on the Leave and Earnings Statement, or LES, the military equivalent of a pay stub.  In the Army, requests for ordinary leave are (usually) approved at the battalion level, and tracked by the battalion S-1 (Personnel) shop, after approval by the company chain of command. 

Here’s a scenario. Your humble scribe is a Sergeant stationed at Fort Carson, CO.  With a balance of something like 45 days on the books, I decide to go visit the dear old folks in Washington. A quick look at the unit training calendar to ensure no major training rotations or other critical events are coming up, I pick a block of 30 days that should work. I pick a 30 day window that is about a month out.  I chat with my squad leader and platoon sergeant, and see what they think of the dates in mind. I then fill out a DA 31, and attach a photocopy of my latest LES. I turn it in to my company First Sergeant, who in turn has it signed by the company commander. I then hand carry it across the street to the S-1 shop. Within two or three days, S-1 has the paperwork logged. Then, on the day I’m due to depart, I check with the battalion Staff Duty NCO desk, and sign out on leave in the log.  A month later, I sign back in on the log. And go to work the next day. Easy peasy.

Take a look at DA 31.

[scribd id=265408839 key=key-Tuo7UyHLjxIkeGxscWCM mode=scroll]

So, why is it that some unit at Ft. Campbell, KY has decided to take something simple, an entitlement, one of the more important ones, a key factor in individual and unit moral, and make it a trial to be endured simply to request that which one is entitled to?


I’m sure the commander who issued this puerile policy has his or her reasons. I can generally understand the Privately Owned Vehicle inspection and vehicle registration. Lord knows, the chain of command doesn’t want some young solider setting off driving across country in a car that shouldn’t be on the  road, and doesn’t have valid tags or insurance, driven by a troop with an expired or suspended license.  But one begins to suspect that the commander doesn’t want this to happen not so much out of a deep concern for the well being of his charges, but rather because he wants to cover his own ass in the event something unfortunate should happen. PFC Smith died in a car accident on the way home? Well, here’s the paperwork that shows we mitigated that risk! Can’t blame me!

What the training qualifications have to do with authorizing leave is beyond me. The soldier is entitled to his leave. It’s the commander’s responsibility to ensure he is trained. Those qualifications listed are on the commander’s shoulders, not PFC Smith. If he’s not current, that’s the CO’s fault, not his.

The Army is struggling to keep quality people even as it downsizes. What it really, really doesn’t want to do is brightsize, where the best people get out while the getting is good, leaving behind only those that need instructions to put on their velcro sneakers.

Here’s a hint- 95% of your troops are bright, motivated people. They’re smarter than the national average, and guess what? You have trained them and are willing to take them to war and literally trust them with your life. Why not act like it? Trust them, trust their NCOs. You know who your problem children are. Do they deserve an enhanced level of scrutiny? Of course. There’s the old saying that you’ll always spend 80% of your time on 20% of your people. So why force the good ones to jump through hoops when you know, deep in your heart it is unnecessary, and frankly, insulting.

I cannot tell you how many great soldiers I knew that loved soldiering. Actually getting to do their job, with other great Americans doing theirs. Being challenged to do difficult things under difficult circumstances. And yet these same troops, because they were the competent, mature people the Army supposedly most cherished, were consistently treated as on a par with the lowest common denominator. If the Army wouldn’t unleash them to do great things, they’d unleash themselves from the Army.

We saw the same reaction to infantilization today from a letter from an Airman.

A fair amount of chickenshit in the Army, and the other services, is a matter of the old saw, the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. There was often a real reason for sometimes seemingly nutty procedures. But simply piling more and more burdens on the back of a troop to cover every possible contingency is the worst sort of leadership. It shows the commander doesn’t trust his troops, his NCOs, or even his own judgment.


*with certain very specific exceptions.

**While technically service members who leave an installation after the duty day or are not on duty during the weekend are considered to be in a pass status, a DA 31 approved pass is generally not required, except in unusual circumstances, such as if a member plans to drive an unusual distance from his duty station. Passes, either verbal or on a DA 31, may not exceed 96 hours. That is, you can’t have more than a four day weekend. You have to have at least one complete duty day before you can take another pass. If you want more than four days off, put in for leave.

The Marketing People at 5-Hour Energy Should be All Over This!


From the Daily Caller:

The top defense secretary in North Korea was allegedly executed in a hail of anti-aircraft fire, South Korean news outlets say, for falling asleep at a meeting where Kim Jong-un was speaking.

Though there remains some skepticism regarding the event, certainly there seems to be some credence to the possibility that General Hyon Yong-chol was done away with, because we know that the DPRK has the facility for such an ostentatious (and messy) display of brutality.


But there is a marketing opportunity here.  The annoying 5-Hour Energy commercials could become quite a bit more compelling.  “Feeling tired?  Falling asleep in a meeting with the boss?  Don’t be blasted into smoking lumps of bone and flesh!  Drink 5-Hour Energy!  Now in pomegranate, berry, grape, and citrus orange!”

Wouldn’t it be irony that staunch Communist KJU was the entrepreneurial inspiration for a Capitalist marketing campaign?    Sure, the FDA has some warnings about 5-Hour Energy Drinks, such as prolonged use causing heart attacks.  But it still has to be less harmful than half a dozen 14.5 slugs to the cranium.

Maybe 5-Hour Energy can pick up the NKPA as a sponsor, to go along with NASCAR and Jim Furyk.  Or maybe not, as acquiring personal wealth is a leading cause of being shot to pieces in North Korea.

This Commander’s promotion to Captain is on hold, and that’s a good thing.

Promotion in the US Navy from Commander to Captain is hardly automatic. Promotion boards are legally constituted, and screen the records of officers eligible for promotion, according to law, directives, and guidance from the Secretary of the Navy. Few systems of promotion in America are more carefully designed to give every person a fair, unbiased review. In general, it is a fair process. Unfortunately, it is also an imperfect one.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stopped Cmdr. Jana Vavasseur’s promotion to captain pending the outcome of a review from his office, said Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel.

“Cmdr. Vavasseur’s name is being withheld from the promotion list sent to the U.S. Senate for confirmation while the Secretary of the Navy’s Office considers the report of the investigation into the helicopter accident that occurred while Vavasseur was in command of USS William P. Lawrence,” Servello said in a statement.

After recovering its helicopter, but before securing it in the hanger, Lawrence executed a change of course and speed. As a result, the helicopter was washed overboard, and LCDR Landon Jones and CWO3 Jonathan Gibson were lost at sea.

CDR Vavasseur received a non-punitive letter of counseling from Pacific Fleet Commander, ADM Harry Harris.

Three things- first, because the counseling was non-punitive, it was not available for the promotion board to consider when screening for promotion. It is a likelihood that at least some members of the board were aware of the accident, but we believe that the board remained true to its mandate, and gave CDR Vavasseur the same consideration given to other officers, and made its decision based upon the evidence officially available to them.

Second, Secretary of the Navy normally doesn’t interject his judgment into the promotion lists send through his office to the Senate for confirmation. But in this case, he has, and rightfully so. He has the statutory authority to do so, and a moral mandate as well. One hopes his consideration of this matter results in a decision to deny her promotion.

Third, we believe ADM Harris erred in issuing non-punitive counseling to CDR Vavasseur. That’s not to say every fatal accident should result in the commanding officer’s relief. That would result in such a risk-averse fleet that it would be too scared to leave the pierside. But in an era when commanding officers are routinely fired for non-operational reasons, sometimes for seemingly trifling ones, failure to impose any punishment at all for a failure of basic seamanship in the Surface Warfare community sent the clear message to the junior ranks, and to the other warfare communities in the Navy, that competence is decidedly of secondary importance in the matter of career progression.

May 7th, 1864; The Turn South


Such an occurrence would seem absolutely implausible today, the stuff of trite Hollywood hyperbole.   Yet, it unquestionably happened.  And it is a tribute to the magnificent courage and spirit of men who comprised the Army of the Potomac.

In May of 1864, the war was entering its fourth, and bloodiest, year.  For the previous three, the long-suffering blue-clad soldiers of the Army of the Potomac had suffered from poor leadership and lack of training as they punched and parried with their skilled and elusive foe, Robert E. Lee’s legendary Army of Northern Virginia.   Whatever the shortcomings of the generalship of this Union Army, its soldiers and junior officers had proven time and again to be a match for Lee’s men in the two areas that mattered most:  willingness to endure, and raw courage.   Failures to exploit advantages gained in the Seven Days, at Antietam, and and Gettysburg, rested with the leadership of the Army of the Potomac, not with its soldiers.

But now General Ulysses Grant called the shots.  The aggressive and determined hero of Shiloh and Vicksburg encamped alongside Meade, who still commanded the Army of the Potomac.  In the first week of May, 1864, that army marched into the densely tangled undergrowth of the Wilderness in pursuit of their foes.  Grant, it is said, passed a personal message to Lincoln even as the confused savagery of the Battle of the Wilderness began.  That message said; “Whatever happens, we will not turn back”.


Conf Dead Spotsylvania Cthse

From 5-7 May, the two armies fought a brutal and unrelenting brawl in the dense woods and small clearings of the Wilderness.  Lee, significantly outnumbered, fought the Federal forces, which included Burnside’s IX Corps, to a frustrating standstill.  Union casualties were enormous, nearly 18,000, as the terrain and foliage worked against Grant’s desire to mass overwhelming force anywhere on the field.  Confounded by an enemy that seemed to thwart each maneuver, exhausted from the furious and bloody combat, with dead and wounded strewn everywhere, fires burning, choked with smoke, dust, and the stench of rotting corpses, the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac seemed to be at the end of their tether.

On the afternoon of the 7th, Grant gave the order for the Army of the Potomac and Burnside’s Corps to move after dark.  In the pitch black, along dusty roads jammed with troops, ambulances full of wounded, cannon, supply wagons, and staff officers, the Army moved agonizingly slowly.  Filthy and exhausted, they shuffled onto Orange Plank Road and away from the burning furnace of the Wilderness.  Then, as the lead columns continued east along the road, an absolutely extraordinary thing occurred.  Officers at the scene reported that a palpable murmur arose in the ranks of marching men.  The soldiers knew instinctively that what occurred at the next road intersection would determine the future course of the war.  If the army was ordered to continue east (toward Chancellorsville) or turn left (north), it would be clear that the Army of the Potomac would again disengage from Lee, and the Army of Northern Virginia would be allowed to recover its strength.  If the column instead turned right, to the south along Brock Road, they would be marching toward Richmond.   It would mean Grant, now that he had his claws in Lee, would not let go.

As the columns drew toward the intersection, the orders came for the column to turn right onto Brock Road.  They were heading south, moving toward their enemy.  Grant was going to hold onto Lee and continue the hammer blows that he and his troops knew to be necessary to bring the South to its knees.  In the darkness, the somnambulent men who’d been stumbling along a few minutes earlier exploded with wild and deafening cheers, loud enough to draw fire from Rebel cannon.   Despite all of the suffering and sacrifice of the previous days, and indeed the three years of war, these filthy and exhausted Veterans were cheering, even knowing the grim tasks that lay ahead.  Yet to come would be Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Bloody Angle, Cold Harbor, the Bermuda Hundred, and Petersburg.   And Appomattox, which the weary men in blue knew all too well would never happen without more bitter hammering at their enemy, and without a man like Grant.  Their bravery and fearful sacrifice in the tangled hell of the Wilderness was not to be squandered.

Happy Birthday, Flashy!

From a few years back:


This morning, let’s wish Happy Birthday to perhaps England’s greatest and most decorated military hero. No, not the Duke of Wellington. Nor Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. Not Lord Nelson, nor Viscount Slim, Haig, Mountbatten, nor Montgomery. None of them.

Happiest of Birthdays to Colonel Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC KCB KCIE CdLH MoH, born this day, 1822. The erstwhile bully of Rugby School went on to unlikely fame (if not fortune) in Afghanistan in 1842, the Sikh War, the 1848 revolution, the Crimea (where he participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade), the Indian Mutiny, John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid, both sides of the American Civil War, Maximillian’s Mexico, Little Big Horn, Natal (at Isandlwana), the Peking Legation, and a few other places. The tall, dark, handsome soldier left a trail of accidental heroism, scandal, and empassioned paramours across just about every continent.

Each and every account of his adventures is worth the read.

Happy Birthday, Flashy.