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November 30, 2012

November 30, 1942: The Battle of Tassafaronga

Part of the desperate struggle in the Solomon Straits, and the last major surface vessel fight over Guadalcanal.

Five American cruisers and four destroyers intercepted a Japanese force of eight destroyers attempting to deliver supplies to Guadalcanal for the Japanese 17th Army. The fighting on Guadalcanal, which began in August of '42 had reached a critical stage for the Japanese, who were using submarines to deliver supplies. But the submarine forces could only deliver enough food and ammunition for a day's worth of fighting.

743px-NewOrleansTulagiBowMissing (400x322).jpg

The battle damaged USS New Orleans

A strategic victory, but a very costly tactical defeat.

The American forces intercepted a Japanese communication, which revealed the plan to drop heavier supplies to the beleaguered 17th Army. The US Navy engaged with superior forces, but the Japanese advantage in night surface fighting, and their more effective "Long Lance" torpedo (SWIDT) turned the fight into a significant tactical loss for the Navy. As the Japanese struggled to disengage, they launched over 40 torpedoes at the American ships.

At 2327, however, the Japanese struck the first of a series of crippling torpedo blows. Within one minute both the Minneapolis and the New Orleans had their bows blown off. Eleven minutes later, at 2339, the Pensacola was hit, and the resulting fire was not extinguished for 4 hours. Two torpedoes struck the Northampton at 2348, causing her to sink within the same space of time. In 20 minutes the fortunes of war shifted disastrously.

The results were horrific. Of the five cruisers that engaged, Northampton was lost. New Orleans, Pensacola and Minneapolis were heavily damaged. New Orleans, was hit in a forward magazine which completely destroyed her bow before the second gun turret. The Japanese lost one destroyer. It was a strategic victory for the Americans, the Japanese could not resupply. And yet one of the worst defeats for the Navy, leaving them only with four operational heavy cruisers and nine light cruisers in the Pacific.

One of those heavy cruisers left to the fight was the USS Indianapolis. A Portland class cruiser which was preceded by the Northampton class, and succeeded by the New Orleans class heavy cruisers of WWII.

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posted by Dave In Texas at 07:54 PM

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