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Savo Island

9th August 1942

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Additional photos of the ships involved are on the Savo pics page.

Chokai in the late 1930s
Chokai in the late 1930s
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Mikawa sailed from Rabaul aboard his flagship Chokai, rendezvousing with the four heavy cruisers already at sea and heading determinedly down through the island chain, along the route which came to be known as 'The Slot'. Although his ships were detected by aircraft of the RAAF their composition was wrongly reported and delayed so the commanders had no idea this powerful squadron was rapidly closing their vulnerable transport anchorage. A conference was called during the night which the leader of the close escort Vice-Admiral Crutchley was ordered to attend. He unfortunately he took his flagship, the Australia, with him.

Not expecting a major surface attack, the ships of the Screening Force had taken up their night patrol positions covering the approaches to the Tulagi anchorage both north and south of Savo Island which straddled the 'Slot' to the west. The dispositions of these forces are shown below.

Battle of Savo Island-List of Forces.

Japanese Allied.
Striking Force
Chokai
Aoba
Kako
Kinugasa
Furutaka
8-inch cruisers Ralph Talbot
Blue
Radar Picket Destroyers.
Tenryu
Yubari
Light cruisers Northern Force
Yunagi Destroyers Vincennes
Quincy
Astoria
8-inch cruisers
Wilson
Helm
Destroyers
Southern Force
Canberra
Chicago
8-inch cruisers
Bagley
Patterson
Destroyers
Eastern Force
San Juan
Hobart
Light cruisers
Buchanan
Monssen
Destroyers

Both the picket destroyers were fitted with radar but despite this further advantage it was the Japanese who achieved complete surprise. Mikawa only had the vaguest ideas of the disposition of the allies around Savo but his spotter planes were able to give him a rough estimate that he was outnumbered.

Kako in the 30s - she had been rearmed before Savo
Kako in the 30s - she had been rearmed before Savo
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Furutaka
Furutaka
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In a single extended two-mile column Mikawa's Force bore down on the Allied forces patrolling in the darkness. At 0054 on the 9th they sighted the radar picket destroyer Blue patrolling the southern channel but she was steering away and did not sight them. At 0100 Mikawa ordered a slight diversion of three degrees to pass safely astern of Blue and then swung his column back on course entering the southern channel. The Chokai, Kako and Furutaka had all earlier, around 2300, launched their spotter planes to provide them with illumination during the battle. Unaware of what was about to happen the Allied Southern Force was steaming up the southern channel to meet Mikawa, with the two destroyers ahead on either bow and the Canberra leading the Chicago in line ahead. Canberra (Captain Getting) had taken Australia's position in the lead.

Canberra - a RN Kent class built for the Australian navy, leaving Wellington July 42, to take part in what was to be her last operations off Guadalcanal
Canberra - a RN Kent class built for the Australian navy, leaving Wellington July 42, to take part in what was to be her last operations off Guadalcanal
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At 26 knots that the Japanese Striking Force at 0138 sighted the second destroyer picket, Ralph Talbot, some eight miles off their port bow. She too was on her outward leg, that is steering away from the Japanese column, and she too failed to sight them. The Japanese pressed on without altering formation. Almost at once the dim silhouettes of the Canberra and Chicago loomed up ahead and, at 0138 Chokai launched a full salvo of torpedoes at both these targets from a range of only 5,000 yards, ordering her companions to open fire as she did so. It was not until after they had fired their torpedoes that, at 0143, the destroyer Patterson spotted the Japanese and raised the alarm. Too late!

The float planes from the Japanese cruisers now dropped flares to illuminate their targets and all their ships opened fire. At the same time as Patterson sighted the enemy the first torpedoes reached the end of their runs and one slammed into the Canberra's starboard side. (There are alternative theories that Canberra was actually hit by a torpedo from the destroyer USS Bagley). This was followed by a deluge of shells which ripped the ship apart, killing many of her crew before they had time to know what was happening, including her captain. Her fires rapidly got out of control and she drifted northward until sunk at 0800 by orders of Admiral Turner after her survivors were taken off.

Chicago, shortly after the action, carrying damage to her bow caused by a Japanese torpedo
Chicago, shortly after the action, carrying damage to her bow caused by a Japanese torpedo
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Canberra sinking
Canberra sinking
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The Chicago, astern of her, fared no better, being hit by a torpedo at 0147 which wrecked her bows. Then shells brought her mainmast crashing down as her captain struggled to the bridge. He turned his ship away, not catching sight of his opponents. A rain squall passed between the opposing groups and after six minutes one Allied force had been eliminated.

The Northern Force meanwhile had assumed that the bedlam on their flank was anti-aircraft fire against night attackers and continued on their way. But not for long. Mikawa swung his ships north at 0147, some ships losing touch for a few moments. When they resumed contact the Japanese force was in two columns about 1,000 yards apart which opened up to 7,500 yards after a while. Further reports of Allied destroyers had been received, so Mikawa turned north straight for the Northern Force and soon the three American cruisers were in sight from the Japanese flagship.

Firing re-commenced at once at about 4,000 yards. All guns, main batteries, anti-aircraft guns and light weapons joined in, and again the Japanese launched their deadly torpedoes. The engagement started at 0149.

Aoba - Kinugasa was the same class of cruiser
Aoba - Kinugasa was the same class of cruiser
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Aoba illuminated the Quincy with her searchlights and blanketed her with 8-inch salvos at close range. Then they switched their lights off and left her crippled and blind, under fire from both columns with all her forward guns out of action. She turned to starboard and sank at 0235.

Quincy on fire after the attack
Quincy on fire after the attack
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Vincennes, leading the line, was also smothered without chance for effective reply and after taking numerous torpedo and shell hits sank at 0250.

Vincennes July 1942 exercising off Hawaii with Astoria
Vincennes July 1942 exercising off Hawaii with Astoria
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The last ship of the line, Astoria, managed to fire eleven salvos, one of which scored a hit in Chokai's operations room, but did not harm her fighting efficiency. In return Astoria was soon reduced to the same blazing shambles as the others and she sank at 1215 close by Savo Island after the fires reached her magazines.

Astoria, July 1942, exercising off Hawaii
Astoria, July 1942, exercising off Hawaii
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Mikawa continued his sweep round Savo and headed off back the way he had come, fortunately ignoring the transports, leaving the carnage of sinking and burning ships behind him. On their way out the Japanese ran into the Ralph Talbot and crippled her with several salvos after she had switched on navigation lights. The two light cruisers of the Eastern Force probably owe their survival to Mikawa's decision to break off the battle.

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