The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, which lasted from 13 November to 15 November 1942, was of one of a series of naval battles that took place between Allied and Japanese forces during the months-long Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. In a series of combined air and sea engagements spread over three days, both sides lost a number of vessels in Ironbottom Sound; although the US lost more ships, the Japanese lost their battleships Hiei and Kirishima and lost loaded transports crucial to the resupply and reinforcement of their troops on Guadalcanal.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's previous attempt to land troops to capture the American airfield at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal had been turned back at the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, though with heavy American losses. Determined to try again, Yamamoto assembled a convoy on November 12, commanded by Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe. The powerful battleships Hiei and Kirishima were equipped with fragmentation shells for shore bombardment.
On November 13 1942 at about 01:00 the convoy entered Ironbottom Sound between Savo Island and Guadalcanal. Waiting for them was Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan's force of cruisers and destroyers. In bad weather, the two forces did not engage until 01:48 at the point-blank range of around 2,000 m. The result was a disorganized mélée with severe damage on both sides. Abe gave the order to retreat at about 02:00.
The Americans were in no condition to chase: the cruiser Atlanta was mistaken for Japanese and severely damaged by 8-inch shells from the San Francisco (Atlanta would be scuttled later). Four destroyers were sunk (Barton , Cushing , Laffey , and Monssen ) and the cruisers San Francisco, Portland, Helena and Juneau were heavily damaged (Juneau was sunk by a torpedo from a submarine the next day as she struggled south).
The Japanese had lost only the destroyer Akatsuki in the battle, but disaster followed. Dawn revealed three crippled Japanese ships in the strait. The destroyer Amatsukaze was attacked by dive-bombers but managed to escape. Yudachi was sunk by Portland. The Hiei had taken 85 hits, including an 8-inch shell that destroyed her rudder. Her fire control systems for her main and secondary batteries were knocked out, her superstructure set afire and 188 of her crew killed. On the morning of November 14, she was attacked repeatedly by Marine Grumman Avenger TBF torpedo planes from Henderson Field, TBFs and Douglas Dauntless SBD dive-bombers from the USS Enterprise and B-17 bombers of the United States Army Air Force 11th Heavy Bombardment Group from Espiritu Santo. After 70 sorties, she was scuttled by her crew.
Abe claimed victory, having sunk two American cruisers and four destroyers, but strategically it was a defeat, because the attack on Henderson Field was abandoned. Abe was court-martialled and retired from service.
The Japanese made a second attempt two nights later, on November 14, sending in the survivors of the first engagement with the battleship Kirishima and the heavy cruisers Atago and Takao.
Running out of ships, Admiral William Halsey, Jr detached the fast battleships Washington and South Dakota, of Enterprise's support group, together with four destroyers, as Task Force 64 under Admiral Willis A. Lee. That both sides were willing to risk their capital ships in the narrow waters around Guadalcanal shows the importance their commanders placed on the battle.
South Dakota came under heavy fire from the three Japanese ships, taking 42 hits. Her radio communications failed; radar plot was demolished; three fire control radars were damaged; there was a fire in her foremast. During this bombardment, Calvin Graham (the youngest person ever to enlist in the US Navy) was injured and for his actions he later received a Bronze Star.
But by drawing the Japanese fire, South Dakota had allowed Washington to approach undetected. Just after midnight on 14 November Kirishima came under heavy 16-inch fire and after receiving 75 hits in just seven minutes she was a floating wreck. She and the destroyer Ayanami were scuttled the next morning.
The American destroyers Walke and Preston were sunk. Benham had part of her bow blown off by a torpedo and, while en route to Noumea with the damaged Gwin as her escort, was abandoned and sunk by gunfire.
The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal was the last attempt by the Japanese to contest the control of the seas around Guadalcanal. The Tokyo Express of supply convoys began to run in reverse, evacuating Japanese soldiers to New Guinea. The last resistance in the battle of Guadalcanal ended on February 9 1943.