Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands took place in World War II on October 26, 1942 northwest of the Santa Cruz Islands . The fourth carrier battle of the Pacific War was part of the fighting for the Solomon Islands .
The Imperial Japanese Navy under its Commander-in-Chief Admiral Yamamoto did not want to risk using the aircraft carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku still remaining in the Solomon Islands after the Battle of Midway in June and the loss of the light carrier Ryūjō in the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands in August , before they recaptured the important Henderson airfield on Guadalcanal . However, the attacks by the Japanese army on the airfield in August and September all failed. At the beginning of October, the airfield was badly damaged by ship artillery shelling, which enabled a new major attack with ground troops. This operation should be covered by the beginning of October, by the arrival of the porters Hiyo , Junyo and Zuiho , reinforced carrier forces. Hiyō suffered a machine fire on October 22nd and had to return to Truk . The Japanese positioned their forces northeast of the Solomon Islands in order to intercept and destroy the American naval forces that were presumably attracted by the attack. They were divided into three combat groups:
- a group under Vice-Admiral Kondō (at the same time general commander) with the carrier Junyō , two battleships, five cruisers and ten destroyers
- a group under Vice Admiral Nagumo with the other carriers, a cruiser and eight destroyers, this took part in the actual naval battle
- a group under Rear Admiral Abe with two battleships, four cruisers and seven destroyers
The attack on Henderson Field began on October 23rd and was repulsed by the defending forces of the United States Marine Corps by October 26th .
The carrier USS Enterprise , damaged in the Battle of the East Solomon Islands , returned to the fleet of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey , the new US commander in the South Pacific, after repairs in Pearl Harbor on October 24 . Halsey had replaced Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley in this capacity just a week earlier . The loss of the Wasp and the ongoing repairs to the Saratoga , both of which had fallen victim to Japanese submarines, continued to weaken American porters in the region. Halsey nevertheless sought to use his two carriers Hornet and Enterprise immediately against the Japanese carrier fleet cruising northeast of the Solomon Islands. The American forces were divided into two combat groups, each with a carrier, which were under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaids on the Enterprise .
At around 11 a.m. on October 25, the main Japanese forces under Nagumo were discovered by a Catalina flying boat operating from the Santa Cruz Islands . At about 350 nautical miles (650 km), it was still outside the striking range of the American carriers. Kinkaid allowed its porters to run towards the Japanese porters at top speed and launched an attack with 23 aircraft at around 2:25 p.m. However, the Japanese had noticed their discovery, had evaded to the north and were not found by the aircraft.
The Japanese porters turned around 2.50 a.m. on October 26th. At around 5 a.m., the opposing forces were at a distance of 200 nautical miles (approx. 370 km). Both sides sent scouts to locate the enemy. Shortly before 7:00 am, both the Hornet and the main Japanese group were spotted. Two of the Dauntless dive combat aircraft used for reconnaissance were able to strike bombs on the Zuihō at 7:40 a.m., making the flight deck unusable. The Hornet and the Shōkaku were damaged in the following first wave of attacks, which started around this time on both sides and reached their destination around 9:00 a.m. The Japanese crews were also able to determine the position of the Enterprise . In two further attacks by the Shōkaku and the Zuikaku , the Enterprise was damaged and the Hornet set on fire. It had to be abandoned and was sunk during the night by the Japanese destroyers Akigumo and Makigumo .
Kinkaid decided to retreat eastward around 11:30 a.m. for air support from bases in the New Hebrides . The Japanese, cautious after the defeat at the Battle of Midway , failed to track the American fleet and missed the opportunity to sink the Enterprise .
On the return of the US fleet to Nouméa in the early morning of October 30, the battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57) was slightly damaged in a collision with the destroyer USS Mahan (DD-364) when it attempted to attack a reported U - Dodge boat. In the course of the battle, the battleship received a direct hit from a Japanese 250 kg bomb on the roof of turret A, but this did not cause any critical damage.
The damaged Japanese porters Shōkaku and Zuihō had to be repaired in Japan and each failed until early 1943. The Enterprise , on the other hand, was able to be repaired in New Caledonia in just two weeks and was able to take part in the naval battle of Guadalcanal in mid-November 1942.
However, the disproportionately high losses suffered by the Japanese in experienced flight crews were far more serious. While the Americans had only 26 pilots and flight crews to complain about with 81 lost aircraft, it was completely different with the Japanese: The losses - with 99 lost aircraft - totaled 148 pilots and flight crews, including two dive bomber group leaders, three torpedo bombers -Group leaders and 18 other senior officers. 49% of the Japanese torpedo bomber crews involved and 39% of the dive bomber crews involved were killed. Japanese fighter losses were 20%. Thus, the Japanese lost more aircraft crews than in any of the previous three carrier battles in the Coral Sea (90), Midway (110) and the Eastern Solomon Islands (61). At the end of the battle, at least 409 of the 765 elite airmen of the Japanese naval air force who took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor had already died in combat. The losses were so great that the undamaged carriers Zuikaku and Hiyō also had to return to Japan for lack of flight crews.
The Japanese achieved a tactical victory in this battle by taking out the aircraft carrier Hornet and forcing the remaining American ships to retreat. However, they missed their strategic goal of driving the US Marines from Guadalcanal. The aim of dealing a decisive blow to the Allied carrier group before the industrial strength of the United States was fully realized was also missed. Due to the loss of many experienced aircraft crews, the Japanese were robbed of their most important offensive weapon, especially since the limited capacities in the Japanese naval air force's training program meant that there were hardly any young pilots available.
- Richard B. Frank: Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. Penguin Group, New York 1990. ISBN 0-14-016561-4 .
- Eric M. Hammel, Carrier Strike: The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942 , Pacifica Press, 2000, ISBN 0-935553-37-1
- Samuel Eliot Morison , History of United States Naval Operations in World War II
- Mark R. Peattie: Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power 1909-1941. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD 1999. ISBN 1-59114-664-X .
- John B. Lundstrom: First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942. US Naval Institute Press, ISBN 978-1-59114-472-4 , p. 433.
- Richard B. Frank: Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. Penguin Group, New York 1990. ISBN 0-14-016561-4 , pp. 400-401.
- Mark R. Peattie: Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power 1909-1941. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD 1999. ISBN 1-59114-664-X , pp. 180, 339.