US Navy: Six Naval Battles for Guadalcanal, Orbat, First Battle of Savo Island, August 9th-10th, 1942
v.1.0 June 9, 2002

Ravi Rikhye


      Orbat: Richard Worth, Daniel Muir, Don Edwards

Six major sea battles took place between the United States and Imperial Japanese Navies during the Guadalcanal Campaign in 1942:

      Savo Island (The First battle)

      Eastern Solomons

      Cape Esperance

      Santa Cruz

      Guadalcanal (First and Second, also known as Second and Third Savo)


The First Battle of Savo Island (also called the First Battle of the Savo Sea) was the biggest sea battle disaster endured by the US Navy in all its history. As weve seen with the Royal Navys battles, a particular battle can be named in different ways. The First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal is also known as the Second Battle of the Savo Sea, fought on November 13, 1942. The Third was fought just a day later.

Americans treat First Savo as their disaster; most of us forget that one of the three task forces engaged was Australian, with two Australian cruisers and the Chicago, which had been working with them as a team for some months. The Allies lost Canberra, Astoria, Quincy, and the Vincennes, in two short, sharp actions.

We know of at least three warships that have connections with this battle. In honor of their Australian compatriots, the Americans, in an extremely rare gesture, named a new heavy cruiser the Canberra. (We welcome information on how often the US Navy has named ship after another countrys ship. The Polaris missile submarine program featured names of foreign commanders, for example, Lafayette and von Steuban, but these were men who fought in the Continental Army during the War of Independence.) The Vincennes lived on in the shape of a light carrier, and then the name passed to an Aegis cruiser that achieved notoriety for shooting down an Iranian civil airliner during the Persian Gulf confrontation of the 1980s. Captain Farncomb is remembered with the second of the RANs modern submarines of the Collins class. He and Collins were classmates who were from the first batch of RAN officers (1913 commission). Oddly, his short biography listed on makes no mention of First Savo. If you know of other connections, particularly among the Japanese warships, please do write to us.

The Battle of Savo Island

The background to the battle is simple. On August 7, US Marines began landing at Guadalcanal. The Imperial Japanese Navy set out immediately from Rabul, to counter US naval forces in the area. US Navy Task Force 62s western screen, the main covering force for the amphibious landing, was split in three parts to protect American transports unloading at Guadalcanal, and was unaware of the Japanese approach. The Japanese, in a brilliantly fought night action, first knocked out the Southern Screening Force, sinking the Canberra and badly damaging the Chicago. They then proceeded to engage the Northern Screening Force, sinking the other three cruisers. During the battle, the Japanese flagship received several hits and the Japanese, unaware of the victory they had scored, and worried about American carriers, decided to withdraw, thus saving the American landing force at Guadalcanal.

The main reasons for the Japanese victory, aside from Allied mistakes, were surprise, the IJNs skill at night fighting and their Long Lance torpedo, a one-ton warhead weapon that could run 37,000 meters, or cover shorter distances at a speed of 49 knots. Conversely, the Allies had little night-fighting experience or experience in covering landings this was, after all, the first such operation of the US Navys war.

A powerful three carrier US Navy task force with a battleship, six cruisers, and 16 destroyers was east of Guadalcanal, but could play no part in the action. The reasons for this and the Allied debacle can be summarized as follows, not necessarily in order of importance.

      A divided command arrangement existed, making for poor coordination between the higher HQs involved in the operation.

      Rear Admiral Turner, commander of TF 62, gave the landing force the day extra they needed to get their supplies ashore. This was the US Navys first amphibious assault of the war, and there were problems with the landing. But Admiral Turner failed to inform any higher commander of his decision.

      Admiral Turner was holding a conference on issues related to the landing; for this conference the Southern Task Force commander in HMAS Australia was pulled from his position, depriving the task force of one third of its heavy cruiser strength. The captain of the Chicago was designated as temporary task force commander. In effect, no flag officer commanding the task force was on the scene, as the captain had, first and foremost, to concern himself with his ship.

      The Americans did expect a reaction to the Guadalcanal landings from the Japanese. Air reconnaissance was requested. Because of the split command arrangement, this was spotty, but Admiral Turner was left with the impression a complete reconnaissance had been conducted. An Australian flying boat did spot the Japanese, but due to radio problems was unable to communicate immediately with base. The crew returned to report personally, but it had seen only a part of the Japanese task force. Admiral Turner, when informed of the Japanese approach, assumed he was not the target; in any case, his combined force outgunned both the assumed and the actual size of the task force.

      Admiral Fletcher, commanding the carrier force, believing the landing was essentially over, was withdrawing as planned.

      When the Chicago was struck, her captain, more concerned about his ship than the landing transports, withdrew from the scene without telling any one.

      The speed and shock of the Japanese assault allowed no time for effective Allied reaction. The Canberra, for example, was hit by 20 main battery rounds in five minutes and was out of action without getting off a single main battery round in return. [Canberra was still afloat but had to be abandoned and sunk by an accompanying American destroyer.] The action against the Northern Task Force may have lasted, in the main, around 20 minutes. The Northern Task Force saw the flashes from the Japanese fight with the Southern Task Force, but thought some minor action involving the landing was underway.

First Savo is a perfect example of the part luck plays in combat. In retrospect, the Japanese decision to counter-attack Guadalcanal without any clear idea of where the Allied ships were they had their share of misinformation, and without any carrier air of their own, could have turned into a disaster. TF 62 itself could have defeated the Japanese had things happened differently. Admiral Mikawa would have been reviled as a failure.


8th Fleet

VAdm. Gunichi Mikawa

Chokai (flag)  

Capt. Mikio Hayakawa



Cruiser Division 6

RAdm. Aritomo Goto

Aoba (flag)

Capt. Yonejiro Hisamune


Capt. Araki Tsutau


Capt. Yuji Takahashi


Capt. Masao Sawa



Cruiser Division 18

RAdm. Mitsuharu Matsuyama

Tenryu (Flag)

Capt. Shinpei Asano


Capt. Masami Ban






Lt. (sg) Okada Seiichi



Task Force 62

RAdm. Richmond K. Turner



Task Group 62.6 (Western Screen)

RAdm. Victor A. C. Crutchley, RN, VC

Radar Pickets



Cdr. Harold N. Williams

Ralph Talbot  

LtCdr. Joseph W. Callahan

Southern Group

RAdm. Crutchley

HMAS Australia (flag)

Capt. H.B. Farncomb RAN

HMAS Canberra         

Capt. Frank E. Getting RAN


Capt. Howard D. Bode


LtCdr. George A. Sinclair


Cdr. Frank R. Walker

Northern Group

Capt. Frederick L. Riefkohl


Capt. Riefkohl


Capt. Samuel N. Moore


Capt. William G. Greenman


LtCdr. Chester E. Carroll


LtCdr. Walter H. Price



Task Group 62.4 (Eastern Screen)

RAdm. Norman Scott

San Juan (flag)           

Capt. James E. Maher

HMAS Hobart             

Capt. H.A. Showers RAN


Cdr. Roland N. Smoot


Cdr. Ralph E. Wilson






LtCdr. William W. Graham, Jr.

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All content © 2003 Ravi Rikhye. Reproduction in any form prohibited without express permission.