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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Halsey's Story

by
Fleet Admiral
William F. Halsey, USN


published by
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
New York : London
1947

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p108  
[image ALT: 5 five-pointed stars arranged in a pentagon]

7

My war career was divided into three phases. From the outbreak until May 28, 1942, when I was put on the sick list, I commanded a task force at sea. From October 18, 1942, until June 15, 1944, I commanded an area and the forces within it. During the rest of the war, I commanded a fleet.

The first phase was now finished. Between it and the second, I had to spend an impatient two months in hospitals at Pearl Harbor and Richmond, Virginia, waiting for my dermatitis to abate. When the doctors finally certified me fit for active duty again, I was able to spend a few days with my family in Wilmington, before reporting back to Pearl. Some friends were having cocktails with us on a Sunday afternoon when one of my young grandsons, Halsey Spruance, burst into the room, popeyed with excitement. "Look, Granddaddy!" he shouted. "You're famous! Here you are in the funny papers!'

This stimulating realization I took with me to Pearl early in September. Because of the secrecy surrounding the movements of senior officers, only my staff and a very few other men knew that I had returned. On the twelfth, Chester Nimitz invited me to a ceremony on the Saratoga, where he was presenting decorations. All hands were lined up on the flight deck. Chester stepped to the microphone, beckoned me forward, and said, "Boys, I've got a surprise for you. Bill Halsey's back!"

They cheered me, and my eyes filled up.

My new job, commander of a carrier task force built around my old flagship, the Enterprise, was not quite ready for me, so I decided  p109 to improve the interim with a tour of the area where we would operate — the South Pacific. I wanted to familiarize myself with our bases there, meet the men I would work with, consult the leaders in New Zealand, and pay my respects to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur, over in SOWESPAC.

Our Coronado took off from Pearl on October 15, with Miles Browning, Julian Brown, two rear admirals, and myself as passengers. Our intended itinerary was Canton Island, in the Phoenixes, to Funafuti, in the Ellices, to Guadalcanal; but at Canton I received a dispatch from COMSOPAC (Commander South Pacific Area and Force), Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, suggesting that we by‑pass Guadalcanal in view of the tactical situation. I replied that I expected to continue as planned, unless otherwise directed, and sent copies of both dispatches to CINCPAC. I was wakened at 0200 next morning for CINCPAC's answer: Proceed Suva and Noumea.

We settled down on Nouméa Harbor at 1400 on the eighteenth. Our four propellers had barely stopped turning when a whaleboat came alongside. As I stepped aboard, Admiral Ghormley's flag lieutenant saluted and gave me a sealed envelope. Inside was a second envelope, marked "SECRET" and also sealed. I would have been aboard the flagship in a few minutes, so I realized that the message must be highly important. It was another dispatch from CINCPAC: You will take command of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Forces immediately.

Colonel Brown:

The Admiral read the dispatch twice, then showed it to me. His exact words were, "Jesus Christ and General Jackson! This is the hottest potato they ever handed me!"

My reactions were astonishment, apprehension, and regret, in that order.

I was astonished because I had not had the slightest inkling of the appointment. Nimitz's instructions to cancel my trip to Guadalcanal might have served as a warning to someone more percipient than myself, but I hadn't read them that way, and this second dispatch dumbfounded me.

 p111  Colonel Brown:

I too was astonished at first, but later I remembered something that had occurred when we came through San Francisco early in September. The Admiral and Miles and I went to a meeting one afternoon. Nimitz and King were there; so was Randall Jacobs, the Chief of BuPers [the Bureau of Personnel] Jacobs made a gesture towards the Admiral and asked King, "Can we tell him now?"

King said, "No, not yet."

At the time, Miles and I thought they meant that the Admiral was slated for four stars, or possibly for ComAirPac [Commander Aircraft Pacific], but after we had been in Pearl for a month, doing nothing but sitting on our dead duffs, we gave up guessing. I still don't know for certain what they were referring to, but it may well have been the COMSOPAC job.

I was apprehensive for two reasons. First, I knew nothing about campaigning with the Army, much less with Australian, New Zealand, and Free French forces. Second, although I knew little about the military situation in the South Pacific, I knew enough to realize that it was desperate. That sunny afternoon in spring — October is spring in those latitudes, of course — the hopes of the area were icebound. Japan was grasping island after island, always southward. New Zealand had begun to clamor for its regiments to be rushed back from Africa for home defense. Australia was prepared to withdraw halfway down the continent to "the Brisbane Line. " At sea, the Pacific Fleet had lost a carrier, three heavy cruisers, five destroyers, and four transports in the area since August. Ashore on Guadalcanal, our troops were locked in a savage struggle to maintain their foothold. A crisis was obviously imminent, and we would have to meet it.

Editor's Note:

One of these heavy cruisers was the Astoria, which in 1939 had carried the ashes of Ambassador Hirosi Saito home to Japan.a Emperor Hirohito in person thanked her then captain, R. Kelly Turner (see page 118 ff.),º for President Roosevelt's courtesy.

Lastly, I was regretful because Bob Ghormley, whom I was relieving, had been a friend of mine for forty years, since the days when we had played on the same football team at the Naval Academy.

 p112  COMSOPAC's headquarters were on the Argonne, a merchantman converted to a repair ship. The whaleboat took us across to her, and Bob met me as I stepped on the quarterdeck. He was as cordial and friendly as ever, but we were both ill at ease.

Bob said, "This is a tough job they've given you, Bill."

I said, "I damn well know it!"

We went to his cabin. He briefed me on the area and the problems facing me, then the ship's company was called to quarters, and we read them our new orders, changing the command.

The second phase of my war career had begun. In fact, it began with a bang. Within forty-eight hours after I took command, and despite my ignorance of the terrain, I had to make two important decisions.

Let me sketch in the strategic situation. As early as January, the Japanese had occupied Rabaul and Bougainville, both under Australian mandate, and had started their march down the steppingstones of the Solomons, with the obvious intention of jumping to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, from which they could easily hack through our thin life line to New Zealand and Australia.
(p110) 
[image ALT: A map of the South Pacific Area: the eastern parts of Australia and New Guinea, and the arc of islands to the NE, defining the Coral Sea. In insets at the top of the map, the Caroline Islands and the Marshall Islands.]

Although their progress was unopposed, it was slow. By April they had reached only as far as Tulagi, across Sealark Channel from Guadalcanal, but they were assembling an invasion force there when planes from the Yorktown found it and shattered it on May 4 and, with planes from the Lexington, turned back their battle force in the Coral Sea on the seventh and eighth. The enemy lost a carrier, the Shoho, and we lost the Lexington, but we gained a breathing spell. It lasted two months. On July 4, the Japs moved into Guadalcanal, and presently our reconnaissance planes reported that construction of an airstrip had started near Lunga Point, the strip that later became famous as Henderson Field.

The presence of land-based air only 555 miles from Espiritu Santo, which we had occupied in March, was a threat that we had to parry at once. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had envisaged the Japs' program and had issued a counterdirective in April. It was not popular, even among themselves. Two- and three-starred officers in both the Navy and the Army opposed it. The probability of success was too remote, they argued. Too many advantages lay with the enemy — he was thoroughly prepared for war (with the help of the  p113 fuel and scrap iron we had sold him); his fighting was confined to one ocean; he had the initiative and was on the offensive; his lines of communication and supply were internal; he had many more bottoms available; and three of his major bases — Rabaul, Truk, and Kwajalein — were within 1,200 miles, whereas our own nearest major base — Pearl Harbor — was 3,000 miles away.

All this was true, and it was all disheartening, but there was another consideration which outweighed the rest: our life line had to be held, whatever the handicaps, whatever the cost. COMINCH, Admiral King, grasped this vital fact and never relaxed his grip. His adamant insistence — bless him for it! — that we meet the enemy at Guadalcanal finally wore down his opponents, and they authorized the directive.

The code name of Guadalcanal Island was CACTUS, and God knows it was a thorny spot. I don't remember the code name of the operation, but it should have been called SHOESTRING. The Navy and Army commanders charged with seeing it through made repeated requests for additional troops and ships, but Europe was Washington's darling; the South Pacific was only a stepchild. None the less, the Marines landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on August 7. They might have won a reasonably quick victory if we had been able to protect them, supply them, and reinforce them, but we weren't. We didn't have the ships, either cargo or combat, and the enemy did.

The disproportion rapidly became more acute. Early on the morning of the ninth, a force of five Japanese heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and a destroyer steamed down "the Slot" — New Georgia Sound — to pick off our transports, whose unloading had been delayed by air attacks on the seventh and eighth. To screen them, we had five heavy cruisers — the Chicago, Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria, and Canberra (of the Royal Australian Navy) — and six destroyers — the Bagley, Patterson, Helm, Wilson, Ralph Talbot, and Blue. The Battle of Savo Island lasted eight minutes. When it was over, we had lost all the cruisers except the Chicago, and she and the Ralph Talbot were damaged. Although the Japs had no losses, for some strange reason they did not follow through and attack our helpless transports; instead, they returned north, mission uncompleted.

 p114  I forbear to comment on this battle since I had no part in it. Nor, for the same reason, will I comment on the next two battles.

Savo Island was followed by a two weeks' lull, during which the enemy, at will and almost with impunity, bombarded our positions, reinforced and supplied his troops, and reduced our own support to a trickle. We had three carriers in the area, the Enterprise, Wasp, and Saratoga, but they were being held well south of the combat zone, out of range of search planes, until the enemy should commit an important part of his strength to the business of dislodging us from our foothold.

His attempt began on August 23, when one of our long-range patrol planes from Guadalcanal sighted four transports escorted by four destroyers, 250 miles north, on a southerly course. This was the occupation force. About 100 miles to its eastward, later sightings discovered a striking force of five carriers (one for seaplanes), eight battleships, six cruisers, and twenty‑one destroyers. Since the battle that was joined on the twenty-fourth was a carrier duel, it would be superfluous to itemize our surface force, beyond the statement that only the air groups from the Enterprise and Saratoga were engaged; a combination of fuel requirements and confused Intelligence reports had resulted in the Wasp's being withdrawn to the south. But for this, our victory in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons might have been more decisive. As it was, our two air groups, with the help of eight Marine dive bombers from Guadalcanal (Henderson Field was now operational) and eight Army B‑17's from Espiritu Santo, sank the carrier Ryujo, a destroyer, and a transport, and scored damaging hits on one battleship and a cruiser. Marine fighters shot down twenty‑one planes at the cost of three F4F's, and Navy planes and AA shot down seventy more, at a cost of seventeen planes. The Enterprise took three direct hits and several near misses which killed about seventy men and required her return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. But we had beaten off the Japanese and gained another reprieve.

A few days after the Enterprise left, the Hornet arrived, so our carrier strength was back to three. It stayed at that figure for two days. On the thirty-first, the Saratoga was torpedoed by a submarine, for the second time. Fortunately there were no fatalities, and damage was slight, but she too had to go to the yard at Pearl. Her departure  p115 may have keyed the enemy to his next assault: on September 14, one of our scout planes reported a large force again standing down toward Guadalcanal. Something alarmed it, because the Wasp's and Hornet's planes never made contact, and both carriers were retiring to cover a northbound transport group next after, when three torpedoes suddenly smashed into the Wasp. Nearly 200 men were killed, and the fires were so fierce that she had to be abandoned and sunk. Now we had one carrier in the whole South Pacific.

Our transport group, carrying the 7th Marine Regiment, reached Guadalcanal safely; and early in October another group, carrying elements of the Army's Americal Division, started up from Nouméa. Protecting its left flank was a small task force assigned to block "the Tokyo Express," the enemy's nightly raiders from the northern Solomons. The American force comprised the heavy cruisers San Francisco and Salt Lake City, the light cruisers Boise and Helena, and the destroyers Duncan, McCalla, Farenholt, Buchanan, and Laffey. The Tokyo Express comprised three heavy cruisers and two destroyers. They met at midnight on October 11, off Cape Esperance, the northern tip of Guadalcanal. The battle was almost a duplicate of the Battle of Savo Island: a small number of cruisers and destroyers were opposed; they were fairly evenly matched; they fought in darkness; and the action was short and furious — only thirty-four minutes between "Open fire!" and "Cease fire!" Moreover, the two scenes were only a few miles apart. But there was this considerable difference: in the Battle of Cape Esperance, we surprised the Japanese, and at the price of the Duncan sunk and Boise damaged, we sank a heavy cruiser and a destroyer, and crippled another destroyer.

Contrasting our naval resources with the enemy's, Cape Esperance was an American victory, but it was not a disastrous Japanese defeat. Although we landed the Americal Division, the enemy landed two divisions under cover of his shore-based air and his surface superiority. Worse, before his escorts withdrew, they subjected our positions to fire so obviously unhurried that it was contemptuous. At times we had only one dive bomber at Henderson Field able to leave the ground. At times the pilots were so weak from incessant combat, sleepless nights, and scanty rations that they would land after a battle and crawl under the wings of their planes  p116 and sob. Brig. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, Commander of the Marine Air Force on Guadalcanal, had to kick them — literally kick them — back into their cockpits.

Deterioration of morale kept pace with attrition of personnel and matériel. Our beleaguered troops knew that their predicament was critical, and they knew that these bombardments from the sea and air were only a preliminary to the all‑out assault which was massing at Rabaul, Bougainville, and Truk. They began to echo the question that the public had asked in the weeks following Pearl Harbor, "Where is the Navy?"

As of October 18, it was my grim task to give them an answer.

Lt. Comdr. John E. Lawrence, an Air Combat Information Officer who was on Guadalcanal at this time, and later on Admiral Halsey's staff:

We were living off captured rice and driving our trucks on captured gas. Our AK's [cargo ships] were loaded with the stuff we needed, debate every time there was a Condition Red [enemy air raid], they had to up‑anchor and get out. First the planes pounded us, and then the battleships. During thirty‑six hours on October 13 and 14, the Kongo and the Haruna gave us 1,000 rounds of 14‑inch. But it wasn't that; it was the hopelessness, the feeling that nobody gave a curse whether we lived or died. It soaked into you until you couldn't trust your own mind. You'd brief a pilot, and no sooner had he taken off than you'd get frantic, wondering if you'd forgotten to tell him some trivial thing that might become the indispensable factor in saving his life. . . .

Lt. Comdr. Roger Kent, also an Air Combat Information Officer on Guadalcanal:

Then we got the news: the Old Man had been made COMSOPAC. I'll never forget it! One minute we were too limp with malaria to crawl out of our foxholes; the next, we were running around whooping like kids. I remember two Marines working up to a brawl. One of them was arguing that getting the Old Man was like getting two battleships and two carriers, and the other was swearing he was worth two battleships and three carriers. If morale had been enough, we'd have won the war right there.

I began my new job under the crippling handicap of never having seen Guadalcanal, the keystone of the area I was defending. My information about it was not even secondhand, since Bob Ghormley and his Chief of Staff, Rear Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan,  p117 had never had an opportunity to see it either. It was impossible for me to leave headquarters this early for a trip to the front, so I asked the men who knew the local situation best to fly down and describe it to me in person.

We met in my cabin on the Argonne on the night of October 20 — Maj. Gen. A. Archer Vandergrift, commanding the 1st Marine Division; Maj. Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander M. Patch, who later commanded the Army troops that took over from the Marines; and Maj. Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Millard F. Harmon, the senior Army officer in the South Pacific. Also present, in addition to my skeleton staff and Ghormley's subordinate commanders, were Lt. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who happened to be in Nouméa on an inspection tour, and Maj. Gen. C. Barney Vogel, who had just arrived as Commander of the I Marine Amphibious Corps.

Archie Vandergrift and "Miff" Harmon told their bitter stories. It was quite late when they finished. I asked, "Are we going to evacuate or hold?"

Rear Adm. Kelly Turner, commanding the Amphibious Forces Pacific, protested that the Navy was already doing its utmost. He correctly pointed out that the few bottoms we had were becoming fewer almost daily; we did not have the warships to protect them; there were no bases at Guadalcanal where they could shelter, no open water permitting evasive tactics; and enemy submarines were thick and active.

When Kelly had finished, Archie looked at me, waiting. What Kelly had said was of course true. It was also true that Guadalcanal had to be held.
(p118) 
[image ALT: A relief map of a large island, more or less rectangular NW to SE, with a group of smaller islands near it; a number of naval engagements schematically shown in the channel between them. It is Guadalcanal.]

I told Archie, "All right. Go on back. I'll promise you everything I've got."

Some pages ago I wrote, "Within forty-eight hours after I took command, and despite my ignorance of the terrain, I had to make two important decisions." Supporting Guadalcanal was not one of them; here I was merely a willing mouthpiece for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. My first independent decision was whether or not we should proceed with construction of an airfield on the island of Ndeni, the largest of the Santa Cruz group. Not only was Henderson our sole  p119 advanced field, but it was at the weather's mercy as well as the enemy's; an hour's rain turned it into a marsh. Ndeni was 330 miles from Henderson, but at that it was 205 miles closer than our nearest field, on Espiritu. The plan for the Ndeni field had been approved, and Army troops were on their way to occupy the island, when the situation at Guadalcanal became so desperate that I intercepted them and rushed them into the defenses. This decision brought me considerable adverse criticism, but I never had reason to regret it; Ndeni's importance soon evaporated.

A supplementary field was still needed, however, and Kelly Turner recommended that one be built at Aola Bay, about 30 miles east of Henderson. Now I had to make my second decision. I had no personal information about Aola Bay and no time to consult COMAIRSOPAC, Rear Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch, or Roy Geiger, both of whom were at the front. I submitted Kelly's recommendation to a conference on the Argonne, accepted the vote of approval, and ordered a Seabee battalion to begin construction, with the support of the 14th Infantry and Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson's 2d Marine Raider Battalion.

The reaction from Fitch and Geiger was immediate and violent; both notified me that the terrain at Aola Bay was utterly unsuited to a field. I canceled the order, of course, but the men were already ashore, and I was confronted with the problem of evacuating them. They could not join up with the troops fighting around Henderson, because the Japs had just landed 1,500 men at Koli Point, between our two forces; and they could not withdraw, because air attacks had made our transports retire. We eventually sent them back in and moved the Seabees and the infantry to Henderson, but the Raiders chose the hard way out. They went overland, joined up with some other Marines and an infantry regiment, fell on the Jap force at Koli Point, nearly annihilating it, and made a brilliant thirty‑day march behind the Jap lines in which they killed 600 men and lost two. However, I couldn't take that performance as standard for all troops. From then on, I waited until I had all available information before I put a plan in motion.

Frequently, to be sure, "all available information" was hardly a handful, as in the case of the battle now looming. We knew the enemy's program only in broad outline. The mounting ferocity of  p120 his efforts to recapture Henderson Field implied his intention to use it first as a staging point for his carrier planes in the mop‑up of our presumably shattered troops, and then as a base from which his bombers could support the final, crushing assault on our ships, after which he would sever us from our South Pacific allies and engulf them at leisure.

So Guadalcanal, with its potential facilities, was the key to the whole campaign. To turn it and lock us out, the enemy poured in men and matériel almost nightly and sent his submarines, planes, and light surface units to harry our supply lines while he assembled a powerful fleet to the northward. At a minimum it comprised four carriers, four battleships, possibly two score cruisers and destroyers, and an armada of transports and other auxiliaries. To oppose them, I had the Third Fleet, which then consisted of two small task forces. One, commanded by Rear Adm. Norman Scott, was the survivors of the Battle of Cape Esperance — one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser, and three destroyers, plus the battleship Washington. The other, commanded by Rear Adm. George D. Murray (the former skipper of the Enterprise) was built around the Hornet and included the heavy cruisers Northampton and Pensacola, the light cruisers San Diego and Juneau, and the destroyers Morris, Anderson, Hughes, Mustin, Russell, and Barton. A third task force, built around the Enterprise and including the battleship South Dakota, the heavy cruiser Portland, the light cruiser San Juan, and the destroyers Porter, Mahan, Shaw, Cushing, Preston, Smith, Maury, and Conyngham, was enroute from Pearl, where the Enterprise had gone for repairs after the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. I directed Rear Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, commanding this force, to expedite his return, but I knew he could not arrive by October 23, which Intelligence had picked as Zero Day.

However, the twenty-third passed with the enemy's fleet still poised, waiting for word that his troops had driven the Marines from Henderson, at the moment the "key-to‑the‑key" of Guadalcanal. The Marines bought time with blood, but they never got a better bargain; at 1245 on the twenty-fourth, the Enterprise's task force met the Hornet's northeast of the New Hebrides. Carrier power varies as the square — two carriers are four times as powerful as one. Until the Enterprise arrived, our plight had been almost hopeless. Now we had a fighting chance.

 p121  I sent the combined carrier forces northward, to a position off the Santa Cruz Islands where they would be beyond reach of the enemy's land-based air, yet able to hit his flank when he closed Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, our submarines patrolled the Solomon Sea; we channeled eighty-five patrol planes and heavy bombers into Espiritu; and bombers from the SOWESPAC command hacked for three nights straight — although ineffectually — at the concentration of shipping in Rabaul Harbor and at the air bases on New Britain.

The crescendo of the fighting ashore made it plain that the climax was rushing toward us. I thought that the twenty-fifth would precipitate it. Before dawn that morning, a Japanese heavy cruiser and four destroyers landed troops and supplies on Guadalcanal, then stood off and added their broadsides to the artillery. Rain had made a bog of Henderson; our dive bombers could not retaliate until noon, when six Espiritu B‑17's joined them in scoring two hits on the light cruiser and two on a destroyer. Almost at the same minute, our patrol planes reported two large forces steaming southward. The Enterprise launched a search and a strike, but no contact was made; the enemy had retired. On the chance that he was biding the cover of darkness, I ordered Scott to make a night sweep around Savo Island. Again nothing developed, but action was now so obviously a matter of hours that I sent a final dispatch to all my combat commands: Attack repeat attack. The rest was in their hands.

The Battle of Santa Cruz was another carrier duel. Scott's task force had no part in it; and except for one torpedo attack by an enemy submarine, ships' fire was strictly defensive, against planes. The preliminary skirmishes began at 0804 on the twenty-sixth, when the enemy attempted to shoot down four Enterprise scouts who were reporting his movements and composition — an advance force of two battleships, a carrier, five cruisers, and eleven destroyers; a carrier striking force of three carriers, a heavy cruiser, and seven destroyers; and a battleship striking force of two battleships, three cruisers, and eight destroyers.

The opposing carriers, 250 miles apart, launched their attacks at approximately the same time. Seventy-four fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes from the Hornet and the Enterprise fought their way through vigorous interception and intense antiaircraft, and the survivors struck the enemy at 1040. They sank none of his  p122 ships, but they put two carriers out of commission and damaged a cruiser and two destroyers. Meanwhile, at 1010, the Hornet had been subjected to an air attack so violent that within five minutes she was smashed by four bombs, two torpedoes, and two suicide planes; and within another five she was dead in the water, afire, with communications disrupted and all power lost. At 1101, the destroyer Porter, in the Enterprise's task group, was torpedoed by a submarine and eventually had to be abandoned. The explosion had hardly subsided when twenty-four dive bombers plunged at the Enterprise. One bomb struck the forward end of her flight deck, penetrated the fo'c'sle deck, and burst in the water. Another twisted her forward elevator and caused a number of casualties. A third was a near miss, but the shock tossed a parked plane overboard and also ruptured a seam in one of her fuel tanks, so that she left a trail of oil across the ocean. Despite her injuries, she took aboard the Hornet's planes and fought on.

In the next two hours, her task group withstood three more attacks. A torpedo plane crashed on the deck of the destroyer Smith; a bomb put the South Dakota's No. 1 turret out of commission and wounded her skipper, Capt. Thomas L. Gatch; the San Juan was damaged by a direct hit and five near misses; and the Enterprise herself was slightly damaged by a near miss. The Hornet, however, was the focus of five attacks, spaced over six hours. One of them was fatal; a torpedo in her starboard side increased her list to 20 degrees, and at 1727 she was ordered abandoned and sunk.

Our surface‑ship losses in the Battle of Santa Cruz were thus a carrier and a destroyer sunk, with 283 men killed or missing, as against mere crippling to the enemy's ships and unknown casualties. Tactically, we picked up the dirty end of the stick, but strategically we handed it back; our carrier-plane losses from all causes were seventy-four, of which only twenty were combat losses, whereas the enemy lost a minimum of 100 planes in combat alone, and presumably a great many more in operational accidents. Even this minimum meant that the four air groups on his carriers had been cut to pieces, and with two of the carriers themselves damaged, we had weakened him so much that he was unable to provide effective air support in the Battle of Guadalcanal, sixteen days later.

Our damaged ships retired to Nouméa. Before they arrived, I  p123 called in the senior officers of all branches of all services and directed them to pool their available mechanics in a repair force. Our shoestring had held at Santa Cruz but it had been badly frayed, and it had to be patched up as quickly as possible for the tougher fight we felt sure was coming.

While the repair force worked around the clock, I took advantage of the lull to make my postponed trip to Guadalcanal, accompanied by the chief of my war plans section, Brig. Gen. Dewitt Peck of the Marine Corps, and my new flag lieutenant, Lt. William J. Kitchell, who had come down from Pearl on the Enterprise, with the rest of my staff. Archie Vandergrift met our plane and took us on a tour of the front.

Commander Kitchell:

The Admiral's purpose was to familiarize himself with the spot situation, but the staff had anding purpose: we wanted him to let the men in the front lines see him in person. Our purpose was not served. Since the Admiral's informal costume was almost indistinguishable from a pfc's, we begged him to stand up in his jeep, to wave, to make some gesture that would help them identify him. He refused. He said, "It smells of exhibitionism. The hell with it!"

It was at a press conference on this trip that he gave his recipe for winning the war: "Kill Japs, kill Japs, and keep on killing Japs!"

Archie put us up in his shack that night, November 8. Soon after we turned in, an enemy destroyer somewhere near Savo Island began lobbing over shells, and our artillery started an argument with the Japs'. It wasn't the noise that kept me awake; it was fright. I called myself yellow — and worse — and told myself, "Go to sleep, you damned coward!" but it didn't do any good; I couldn't obey orders.

Early next morning we flew down to Efate, where I stopped to visit the base hospital. One of the patients was a Navy doctor, with his head in bandages. I asked, "What happened, son?"

"I don't know, Admiral," he said. "Last thing I remember, I was talking to you at the 'Canal last night."

That's how the Navy takes care of its men. They get wounded, and twelve hours later, they're safe in a hospital 700 miles behind the lines.


Thayer's Note:

a The Astoria's Official Home has a very good page on the cruise, with several dozen photographs.


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Page updated: 4 Jul 17