Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Battle of Kolombangara, 1943

The Naval Battle of Kolombangara was fought at night in the early hours of July 13, 1943, near the island of Kolombangara in the Solomons. An Allied naval force under Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth, fresh from his success in the Naval Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, attacked a Japanese reinforcement force under Rear Admiral Shunji Izaki. Izaki's force was attempting to land reinforcement troops at Vila, on the southern side of the island of Kolombangara, by way of Kula Gulf on the island's eastern side. Ainsworth's mission was to protect the north shore of the big island of New Georgia—which only recently had become a Marine beachhead—from attack by the enemy. If possible, Ainsworth was to prevent Japanese reinforcements from landing.

Ainsworth was unaware that the Japanese knew of the presence of his naval force at least 2 hours before the battle began. From his Japanese flagship, Jintsu, Isaki ordered a torpedo attack on the Allied ships. In the attack, American cruisers targeted Jintsu with a barrage that killed both the admiral and the ship's captain. Although the Jintsu counterattacked, sinking the destroyer USS Gwin and damaging the light cruisers USS Saint Louis, USS Honolulu, and HMNZS Leander, Jintsu broke in two from an earlier torpedo hit and sank. Most of Jintsu's crew perished along with Admiral Izaki.

Source: HyperWar: USMC Operations in WWII, Vol 2

In a tactical victory, the Japanese force in the Battle of Kolombangara escaped serious damage. It also successfully landed 1,200 men at Vila. On the other hand, at great cost, Ainsworth accomplished his mission of preventing an attack on the Marines on New Georgia, while losing a destroyer plus significant damage to 3 additional ships. Ainsworth also successfully deterred the Japanese from future use of Kula Gulf. After the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese will be forced to use a more dangerous passage, thereby becoming easier prey for US destroyers and PT boats.

For my dad, Frank Dolan, a weldor on the repair ship Vestal at the Naval base on Espiritu Santo, the Battle of Kolombangara will mean a lot more ship repair work to cram into an already busy repair schedule. In the days ahead, Vestal will perform temporary repairs to 2 of the cruisers damaged in the Battle of Kolombangara, USS Saint Louis and HMNZS Leander.

Sources: Wikipedia; National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy

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