Friday, October 26, 2012

The Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 1942

The Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942, was the fourth carrier battle of the Pacific Campaign and the fourth major engagement fought between the US Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy, during the lengthy and strategically important Guadalcanal Campaign. The ships of the two adversaries were rarely in direct visual sight of each other. Instead, almost all attacks by both sides were mounted by carrier or land-based aircraft.

The Americans lost one carrier, the Hornet (CV-8), along with the destroyer Porter. The Enterprise was heavily damaged, as was the battleship South Dakota, in addition to the light cruiser San Juan and the destroyers Smith and Mahan. 81 aircraft were lost.

On the enemy's side, 3 Japanese warships were badly damaged and 99 planes were lost. Though technically a victory for Japan in terms of ships sunk, it came at a high cost for Japanese naval forces. Two damaged carriers were forced to return to Japan for extensive repairs and refitting. And the loss of pilots was a serious blow for Japan going forward. Admiral Nagumo will report: "This battle was a tactical win, but a shattering strategic loss for Japan. Considering the great superiority of our enemy's industrial capacity, we must win every battle overwhelmingly in order to win this war. This last one, although a victory, unfortunately, was not an overwhelming victory."

USS Enterprise at Battle of Santa Cruz
Source: Wikipedia

On today's date, my dad's ship, the USS Vestal, sailed to New Hebrides, but a change of orders brought her to New Caledonian waters instead, arriving in Nouméa on October 31. Her timely arrival nearly coincided with the Battle of Santa Cruz. The battleship South Dakota and the carrier Enterprise, 2 of the most heavily damaged ships at Santa Cruz, were waiting at Nouméa for repairs.

Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V; Wikipedia

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