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The Second Battle of Salvo Island

Not everything that makes it into the history books is the whole truth.
To illustrate;  During the battle to take Guadalcanal Island from the Japanese, the Japanese Navy was supporting their defenders from their main base at Raubaul by way of a destroyer squadron Commanded by a Captain Tanaka that ran down “the Slot” created by two rows of islands. The Americans called This squadron “The Tokyo Express” because they ran a fairly regular schedule  and at full speed.

The allied area command in Australia sent a 5 cruiser / 2 destroyer squadron,

to intercept and destroy them. They appointing a Dutch Admiral, that happened to be the senior allied officer in the area, to head the cruiser squadron.(you won’t see that in any book but the survivors knew) The Dutch Admiral knew little about the top secret RADAR on board the American Destroyers so he put the air search radar in front of his column and the surface search in the rear. So they had no eyes in the dark, except deck lookouts. In a pitch black night they stumbled on one another in the slot. In that “Second battle of Salvo Island” the allies lost 4 cruisers and 1 destroyer and the last cruiser in the line was badly damaged and the last destroyer also was damaged. The Japanese ships escaped with light damage  mostly from machine gun and anti-aircraft gun fire!

The deep draft cruisers kept to the deep side next to the low islands and the shallow draft Japanese destroyers were on the shallow side near the tall islands so the cruisers were outlined in the starlight and the destroyer line was hidden by the mountains outline. The two lines passed so close that the heavy guns of the cruisers could not be depressed low enough to be effective but the destroyers heavy torpedoes could not miss. Tanaka ran his ships so close that machine guns were effective to knock out search lights. The destroyers ran at flank speed and were gone in the darkness before the torpedoes hit, so the Japanese had little idea of their effectiveness. Just that they were glad to have escaped their destruction. After he returned his squadron to the Japanese Naval base at Raubal. The resupply by destroyers was discontinued. Submarines attempted to continue the supply the Guadalcanal defenders to little avail. The Japanese high command did not know of their success in the battle only that there was a heavy cruiser group operating in the area.

The cruiser New Orleans lost her bow at the first main battery gun turret barbett,  A very heavy tube that runs from the ships keel up to support the gun turret and contains the equipment to load and train the heavy guns. The ship lost 162 feet of bow and a man per foot. Her quick thinking skipper ran his sinking ship aground in a creek mouth and after pumping out flood compartments, shoring up bulkheads and moving ballast, they re-floated the ship with the morning tide. Backed out of the creek mouth.  Reportedly when hailed by the remaining destroyer if they should rig towing gear, the cruiser captain replied “If you need to, rig it from your bow!  Just get the hell out of our way!  We are heading back to Australia.” Accompanied by the remaining destroyer, they steamed back to Australia with their forward deck awash.

When the Japanese were able to get recon aircraft to the area the following day there was nothing to be seen. In Australia the American sailors were slapped under high security and after a temporary bow was welded on, the ships and crewmen were sent back to an American US base to be hidden.

The American Navy Command decided that only a battleship group could have done that kind of damage, so all the support ships for the island invasion were pulled out to sea for safety.

The Marines on shore observed” At sundown there was this vast invasion fleet with air cover and the next morning there was NOTHING to be seen.” the Marines on shore were alone, on their own for the next month.

The Naval Board of Inquiry wrote the history book version to cover up command’s poor judgment in appointing a Dutch Admiral, that happened to be the senior allied officer in the area, to head the cruiser squadron. (you won’t see that in any history book but the survivors knew)

My father was a deck machine gunner on the only surviving cruiser. From time to time he would mention pieces of that experience when in conversation with other veterans.

Japanese destroyer squadron Captain Tanaka wrote a book “Tora-Tora” of his experiences as a destroyer commander during WWII and gave his account of that encounter in one chapter of his book .

One response to “The Second Battle of Salvo Island

  1. p.g.sharrow November 24, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    A Drachinifel U-tube video on Guadalcanal Campaign – The Battle of Tassafaronga, originally called the Second Battle of Salvo Island

    This picture is of the New Oleans, my father was one of those sailors on deck.
    This rendition is a bit different from those of both my father and of Captain Tanaka’s in his book Tora Tora….pg

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