The first positive evidence that the Japanese were moving on Guadalcanal was the sighting at 1040 on the 23d of an enemy transport force. This force, comprising four transports supported by two cruisers and three destroyers, was sighted by one of COMAIRSOPAC's long-range search planes 250 miles north of Guadalcanal, standing south at an estimated 17 knots. About this time Task Force FOX was in latitude 10° S., longitude 163° E. The Enterprise as duty carrier had conducted the dawn search to a distance of 180 miles, eight SBD's covering sectors 345° to 045°. As was later learned, the enemy was out of range. However, it was significant that our scouts sighted two Japanese submarines proceeding south at high speed, presumably screening and searching ahead of the enemy's main body.3 The first of these submarines was located at latitude 07°30' S., longitude 162°15' E., on course 180° by Lieut. Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., who bombed it without visible effect at 0725. At 0815, two other scouts piloted by Lieut. Stockton B. Strong and Ens. John F. Richey sighted a submarine at latitude 06°48' S., longitude 163°20' E., on course 200°. Both our planes dropped bombs close aboard as the submarine crash-dived, and when it resurfaced twice soon thereafter, strafed it. Some damage was believed done.
The dawn search planes returned at 1020.
Meanwhile, following the receipt of COMAIRSOPAC'S contact report on the enemy occupation force, the Saratoga launched an attack group at about 1510, consisting of 31 SBD's armed with 1,000-pound bombs and 6 TBF's armed with torpedoes. (As was learned subsequently, the enemy changed course to the northwest at about 1300. This information, based on a PBY contact, was not received by the Saratoga until around 0100 on the 24th, and as a result her striking group was launched on a hopeless mission.) Following instructions, these planes, with the exception of 1 torpedo plane which was forced back to the carrier after failing to find the enemy, proceeded to the airfield completed by the Marines at Guadalcanal and spent the night there.
A Marine attack group was launched from Guadalcanal at 1645 with the enemy occupation forces as its objective also, but failed to make contact.
Like the Saratoga planes, it received no word of the enemy's change of course.
While the Saratoga and Marine striking groups were endeavoring to find the enemy, the Enterprise launched an afternoon search at 1450. At 1530, two SBD's of this group piloted by Ens. George G. Estes and Ens. Elmer Maul sighted and attacked an enemy submarine in latitude 08°54' S., longitude 162°17' E., on course 160°. Both pilots scored near-hits with their 500-pound bombs, and a large oil slick evidenced almost certain damage to the enemy.
The Saratoga striking group spent an uncomfortable night on Guadalcanal. Most pilots and crews slept in their planes, and all were aroused about 0200 by an enemy submarine bombarding the Marine shore positions.
Originally it had been planned for the group to rendezvous with the Saratoga at 0800 on the 24th, but this plan was changed after a conference on the island. Comdr. Harry D. Felt, the Saratoga Air Group Commander, decided to keep his planes in readiness on Henderson Field until the Marine scout planes had completed their morning search. Word was sent to Admiral Fletcher that the group would rendezvous with the carrier at 1100 instead of 0800. When the Marine search proved negative, the group, minus two dive bombers which were forced back to the island field, returned to the Saratoga about 1130. They immediately were refueled and rearmed and were launched to attack a Japanese carrier located by a search plane 2 hours earlier.
3 Also of interest regarding the enemy's search and screening tactics was the interception on the 22d of a Japanese four-engine Kawanishi flying boat by an Enterprise fighter plane. The enemy aircraft was picked up by radar scouting at 5,000 feet, 55 miles from Task Force FOX. Lieut. Albert 0. Vorse shot it down at a distance of 25 miles from our force.
Last updated: April 28, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation