Battle of Cape Esperance11 October 1942
Damaged Boise entering Philadelphia Navy Yard
Scarcely had American forces consolidated their positions on Guadalcanal after the successful landing of 7 August 1942, when the Japanese indicated their resolve to regain control of the southern Solomons. Although they made no immediate effort to capitalize on their success in the Battle of Savo Island on the night of 8-9 August, strong forces appeared in the vicinity of the Santa Cruz Islands on 24 August. These forces included three and possibly four carriers. They withdrew after a violent attack by our carrier planes in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, 23-25 August, which cost them the carrier Ryujo.1
For a time after this Japanese defeat, surface actions were confined to minor clashes, chiefly at night, between light destroyer and torpedo boat units.2 Japanese surface forces attempting to land additional troops and matériel in the Cape Esperance area were continually harassed by planes from Henderson Field.
By mid-October, however, the Solomons had become for both the American and Japanese navies a magnet attracting increasingly large fleet units. The two great battles which assured the United States at least temporary control of the South Pacific were still distant 2 weeks and a month respectively, but they were clearly imminent. Neither side felt able to dominate the southern Solomons with the forces then on Guadalcanal; neither had marshalled sufficient strength to challenge the other to a full-size engagement; yet both were determined to fight, and by the end of the first week in October both were ready to risk their heaviest naval units.
During the latter part of September and early October, the Japanese were concentrating surface units in the Shortlands area, and sending them
south toward Guadalcanal--through the inside passage between New Georgia, Choiseul and Santa Isabel Islands--so as to reach the northwest tip of Guadalcanal, Cape Esperance, at night. These ships would debark reinforcements, or bombard our Henderson Field positions, and retire by daybreak.
To consider means of halting these reinforcements and raids, which increasingly threatened our Solomons positions, a conference was called at Espiritu Santo. Our available surface forces in the South Pacific were few, and plans for the heaviest of them had already been laid. A large convoy with Army reinforcements for Guadalcanal was soon to depart from Noumea. By 11 October it would be about 250 miles west of Espiritu Santo. Task Force KING,3 which included the aircraft carrier Hornet, was to support the convoy to the westward. Protection to the east was to come from a battleship-cruiser force, built around the Washington, which was expected to assume a position east of Malaita.
1 See Combat Narratives, "The Landing in the Solomons," "The Battle of Savo Island," "The Battle of the Eastern Solomons."
2 See Combat Narrative, "Miscellaneous Actions in the South Pacific."
3 Task force numbers have been omitted from Combat Narratives for reasons of security. In their stead the Navy flag names for the first letter of the surnames of the commanding officers are used.
Last updated: May 27, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation