Foreword to the NHC Edition
The Battle of Cape Esperance and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands comprise one of a series of twenty-one published and thirteen unpublished Combat Narratives of specific naval campaigns produced by the Publications Branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War II. Selected volumes in this series are being republished by the Naval Historical Center as part of the Navy's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II.
The Combat Narratives were superseded long ago by accounts such as Samuel Eliot Morison's History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II that could be more comprehensive and accurate because of the abundance of American, Allied, and enemy source materials that became available after 1945. But the Combat Narratives continue to be of interest and value since they demonstrate the perceptions of naval operations during the war itself. Because of the contemporary, immediate view offered by these studies, they are well suited for republication in the 1990s as veterans, historians, and the American public turn their attention once again to a war that engulfed much of the world a half century ago.
The Combat Narrative program originated in a directive issued in February 1942 by Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, that instructed the Office of Naval Intelligence to prepare and disseminate these studies. A small team composed primarily of professionally trained writers and historians produced the narratives. The authors based their accounts on research and analysis of the available primary source material, including action reports and war diaries, augmented by interviews with individual participants. Since the narratives were classified Confidential during the war, only a few thousand copies were published at the time, and their distribution was primarily restricted to commissioned officers in the Navy.
Following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in late August 1942, the naval phase of the Guadalcanal Campaign entered a lull which lasted through September. During that period, a pattern developed that
prevailed throughout much of the remainder of the operation. In daylight, U.S. forces controlled the waters surrounding Guadalcanal while the Japanese controlled them at night. Under cover of darkness, the enemy conducted resupply and reinforcement efforts, dubbed the "Tokyo Express" by the Americans, which involved the sending of troop transports and escorts down "The Slot"--the naval passageway through the Solomon Islands from Bougainville southeast to Guadalcanal. After completing their escort work, the Japanese warships typically bombarded the Marine perimeter on the northern coast of the island, before heading back up "The Slot" towards Bougainville.
Try as they might, the Japanese never succeeded in gaining the upper hand against the Americans, although they came close to doing so on several occasions. During the September lull at sea, the enemy launched a major attack against the Marine perimeter, producing the second major land engagement of the campaign, the Battle of Bloody Ridge, 12-14 September. The Japanese failure to break through the Marine lines and capture Henderson Field, the Americans' vital air base, prompted them to step up the "Tokyo Express" shipment of troops to Guadalcanal and to increase their naval bombardment of the airfield. Their efforts did not go unchallenged as an American cruiser-destroyer force advanced against them on the night of 11 October, precipitating the Battle of Cape Esperance, the first engagement described in this narrative.
Two weeks later, the two foes fought another major naval engagement, the Battle of the Santa Cruz islands, which also is described in this narrative. It was a carrier battle in which the Navy's Hornet and Enterprise locked horns with a powerful Japanese battleship-carrier fleet.
The Office of Naval Intelligence first published this narrative in 1943 without attribution. Administrative records from the period indicate that Ensign Henry V. Poor wrote the account of the Battle of Cape Esperance and that he coauthored the story of the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands along with Lieutenant (jg) Henry A. Mustin and Lieutenant (jg) Cohn G. Jameson. All three were Naval Reserve intelligence officers. Poor was a laywer, diplomat, and author who became Associate Dean of the Yale Law School after the war. Before World War II, Mustin was a journalist with the Washington Evening Star. After the war, he returned to that newspaper and later was associated with the Columbia Broadcasting System, Mutual Broadcasting, and the
Voice of America. Prior to entering the Navy in 1942, Jameson was a free-lance short story writer who had published about 40 stories.
I wish to acknowledge the invaluable editorial and publication assistance offered in undertaking this project by Mrs. Sandra K. Russell, Managing Editor, Naval Aviation News magazine; Commander Roger Zeimet, USNR, Naval Historical Center Reserve Detachment 206; and Dr. William S. Dudley, Senior Historian, Naval Historical Center. We also are grateful to Rear Admiral Kendell M. Pease, Jr., Chief of Information, and Captain Jack Gallant, USNR, Executive Director, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps WW II 50th Anniversary Commemorative Committee, who generously allocated the funds from the Department of the Navy's World War II commemoration program that made this publication possible.
Dean C. Allard
Director of Naval History
Office of Naval Intelligence
1 October, 1943.
Combat Narratives are confidential publications issued under a directive of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, for the information of commissioned officers of the U.S. Navy only.
Information printed herein should be guarded (a) in circulation and by custody measures for confidential publications as set forth in Articles 75½ and 76 of Naval Regulations and (b) in avoiding discussion of this material within the hearing of any but commissioned officers. Combat Narratives are not to be removed from the ship or station for which they are provided. Reproduction of this material in any form is not authorized except by specific approval of the Director of Naval Intelligence.
Officers who have participated in the operations recounted herein are invited to forward to the Director of Naval Intelligence, via their commanding officers, accounts of personal experiences and observations which they esteem to have value for historical and instructional purposes. It is hoped that such contributions will increase the value and render ever more authoritative such new editions of these publications as may be promulgated to the service in the future.
When the copies provided have served their purpose, they may be destroyed by burning. However, reports acknowledging receipt or destruction of these publications need not be made.
Rear Admiral, U.S. N.,
Director of Naval Intelligence.
8 January 1943.
Combat Narratives have been prepared by the Publications Branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence for the information of the officers of the United States Navy.
The data on which these studies are based are those official documents which are suitable for a confidential publication. This material has been collated and presented in chronological order.
In perusing these narratives, the reader should bear in mind that while they recount in considerable detail the engagements in which our forces participated, certain underlying aspects of these operations must be kept in a secret category until after the end of the war.
It should be remembered also that the observations of men in battle are sometimes at variance. As a result, the reports of commanding officers may differ although they participated in the same action and shared a common purpose. In general, Combat Narratives represent a reasoned interpretation of these discrepancies. In those instances where views cannot be reconciled, extracts from the conflicting evidence are reprinted.
Thus, an effort has been made to provide accurate and, within the above-mentioned limitations, complete narratives with charts covering raids, combats, joint operations, and battles in which our Fleets have engaged in the current war. It is hoped that these narratives will afford a clear view of what has occurred, and form a basis for a broader understanding which will result in ever more successful operations.
E. J. King
ADMIRAL, U.S. N.,
Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations.
Last updated: May 27, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation