Chapter 8
Night Actions

Section I. General

800. The advent of radar changed previous concepts of night action. By exploiting the use of radar in its various applications, and of radar intercept receivers, night engagements are sought and accepted by small task forces even against numerically superior enemy forces. The composition of such a small task force may include several heavy units, but an action by a small task force is not considered a major action in the sense that is depicted in Chapter 12. Accordingly, the commander's knowledge of the capabilities, limitations, and operating techniques of the radars available in his command is a prerequisite.

801. Combining the use of surprise and concentration at night, which is possible to effect by use of radar, frustrates the enemy when contacted; then superior fire power destroys him.

802. In obtaining surprise by employing radar low visibility is essential. In this regard radar advantage diminishes as visibility increases. Detection by enemy aircraft which usually attempt illumination by flares will, if the illumination is successful, obviate surprise.

803. Concentration of forces as necessary for an engagement is possible at night by employing of radar without prejudicing searching requirements. If available, aircraft assist in searching at night.

804. In lieu of other instructions issued by competent authority regarding the procedure for challenge or the measures for identification of our own vessels the following is normal procedure:

  1. In waters where the presence of enemy vessels is not probable, fire is not opened until hostile character is established beyond a reasonable doubt.

  2. In waters where enemy vessels are to be expected, a suspicious vessel that makes an incorrect challenge or an incorrect reply to challenge, or otherwise fails to establish her friendly character, is assumed to be an enemy vessel and treated accordingly.

  3. When vessels are in formation, the measures to establish the identity of a suspicious vessel or contact usually are prescribed by the officer in tactical command. Normally the challenge of suspicious vessels is made by destroyers or other small vessels if present, but no suspicious vessel goes unchallenged by larger vessels if not sighted promptly by such smaller vessels. No vessel in the formation delays taking appropriate measures to establish the identity of strange vessels if immediate action is necessary.

  4. Failure to make any reply to a challenge is not always an indication of enemy character. The vessel seen or contacted may be a neutral. However, if the vessel can be identified as a combatant type, the normal assumption is that she is hostile.

805. The action to be taken in case any suspicious vessel fails to establish her friendly character is left to the judgment of the commander of the vessel or the formation. The situation or the condition existing at the time, the actions of the suspicious vessel, and the course of the suspicious vessel in comparison with the fleet course are factors to be considered in reaching a decision.

806. Although the normal concepts of night action are based upon exploiting radar to its fullest extent, the fundamental principles of night chance encounter without our use of radar cannot be completely ignored. Effective countermeasures against radar and the use of radar by the enemy are to be expected.

807. On account of the uncertainties of night engagements, particularly when radar is not available for effective use, there is no assurance that such an engagement will be to the advantage


of the stronger force. The decision to seek or avoid a night action is made at the time by the officer in tactical command. Before making this decision the officer in tactical command, knowing his mission, carefully weighs existing conditions in regard to:

  1. The strategical situation.

  2. The tactical situation.

  3. The uncertainty of night engagements. At night the superior or equal force risks forfeiture of the superiority or equality of its most valuable asset, its coordinated hitting power.

  4. The proficiency of our force in night firing compared with its proficiency in day firing.

  5. The proficiency of our force in night firing compared with the enemy's estimated proficiency.

808. If the decision of the officer in tactical command is to seek night engagement, the battle plan ordered by him is likewise dependent on the existing conditions enumerated above.

809. In general a vessel or vessels not prepared or equipped for offensive action avoid contact with the enemy by evasive tactics.

810. The action to be taken by vessels contacting, sighting or encountering enemy vessels at night depends to some extent upon whether our vessels are operating singly or in small detachments, whether they are a part of large dispositions, the location of the area of operations, the proximity to the limits of enemy bases, the intelligence and movement reports. The commander weighs all known considerations and decides his own plan of action for each visualized situation.

811. Promptness of action is essential in all night encounters, and every precaution is taken to prevent being surprised or caught at a disadvantage. Where enemy vessels are likely to be encountered, the appropriate condition of readiness for action is taken, special attention being paid both to lookouts and the operation of radar detection apparatus, and all preparations are made for illuminating immediately with star shell and searchlights, if required, and opening with effective fire. On sighting or contacting a suspicious vessel, guns and searchlights are so trained that fire is opened immediately, if the decision is made to do so, or if the other vessel opens fire first.

Section II. Night Battle Plans

812. The night battle plans which the commander issues take into specific consideration:
  1. Own forces available.
  2. Probable enemy forces to be encountered.
  3. Geographical location of operating area.
  4. Latest intelligence information.
  5. Visibility.
  6. Possibility of early detection by aircraft or by other means.

813. A night battle plan sets forth methods for the coordinated employment of task subdivisions of the command during battle. If prepared in advance, it usually contains.

  1. Assumptions.
  2. Intentions.
  3. Battle disposition.
  4. Gunnery, torpedo, illumination, and smoke doctrines.
  5. Procedure for coordination of own reconnaissance aircraft.
  6. Damaged ship procedure.

814. A night battle plan may include provisions for only a particular combat, or for a connected series of separate or coordinated engagements, possibly culminating in general action, and all directed toward the early attainment of a specified tactical objective.


815. The commander may prepare and issue several night battle plans based on different assumptions and situations. The plan to be used is placed in effect by a battle order, usually given by signal just prior to the battle.

816. It is incumbent on the commander of each force operating in an area where there is a possibility of encountering the enemy to keep his force informed of his general line of action in the event of night encounters. Battle plans are a means of doing this. They may be written or oral, but it is essential that they be clear and thoroughly understood by all concerned. It is also incumbent on the commander to keep his command informed of a rendezvous in event of a night action.

817. Night engagements are best fought in accordance with a set plan. However, the officer in tactical command must be prepared to act in accordance with his best judgment if the situation warrants deviating from prearranged plans. Flexibility of tactical maneuvering is essential. It is impossible to visualize all of the different situations which might arise in a Night Battle.

Section III. Use of Star Shells and Searchlights

818. No illumination is used unless prescribed by the officer in tactical command or other competent authority. Night contact with an enemy normally is made by radar. By effective use of the combat information center, adequate information may be obtained of the enemy to track, approach, and attack if so desired. Although full use of radar in locating an enemy and controlling gunfire may obviate the need of illumination, it is nevertheless incumbent upon responsible commanders to be familiar with the general use of star shells and searchlights, as under some conditions their use may be required.

819. Both searchlights and star shells are visible from considerable distances, star shells from greater distances than searchlights. Therefore, if powerful enemy forces are known or suspected to be within the radius of visibility and our forces are endeavoring to avoid them, it is inadvisable to illuminate or open fire and thus disclose our position. Special instructions issued by the officer in tactical command or other competent authority, the general plan of the operation, the assigned task, the situation existing at the time, and other special circumstances will all influence the action to be taken.

820. When illumination of enemy vessels is required the following are considerations in deciding whether to use searchlights or star shells or both:

  1. Star shells:


    1. Delay in establishing illumination, but not if used in conjunction with radar-controlled fire.

    2. Possible difficulty in maintaining illumination when the bearing of the enemy is changing rapidly, which will generally be the condition when ranges are short.

    3. Low clouds make star shell illumination uncertain and sometimes impossible, even with excellent surface visibility.

    4. If several ships are firing together, a definite control plan is required to prevent interference. One or more low bursts short of the target will ruin the illumination for some vessels and might make it ineffective for all vessels.

    5. Not suitable for use at very short range.

    6. Reduction of volume of effective fire especially in destroyer type.



    1. Greater range.

    2. Do not provide point of aim for enemy vessels except as is provided by flash of guns firing.

    3. Can be used as part of first salvo in radar-controlled fire.

  1. Searchlights:


    1. Range of effective illumination limited to 4,000 to 6,000 yards with searchlights.

    2. Searchlights provide a continuous point of aim for enemy vessels.

    3. Difficult to hold on target in elevation. This sometimes causes lights pointed short of the targets to obscure them completely from view.

    4. Danger of silhouetting friendly ships.


    1. Illumination can be established quickly if the bearing of the target is known. With modern fire control equipment, the searchlights can be pointed at the target before being turned on so that little searching should be necessary.

    2. Can be kept trained on target whose bearing is changing rapidly.

    3. Better suited for illuminating targets at ranges so close that star shell illumination would be impracticable.

    4. Not affected by low clouds provided visibility on surface is good.

    5. Comparatively simple doctrine enables searchlights to be efficiently used by several vessels in formation.

    6. Blinding effect when trained on bridge of target vessel.

  2. General:

    1. The area illuminated by star shells is larger than the area illuminated by a properly adjusted searchlight.

    2. Searchlights, star shells, or aircraft flares will all produce silhouette effects which, depending on conditions, may be advantageous or disadvantageous to us.

    3. On account of the silhouette effect, ships in the center of the disposition normally use searchlights as sparingly as the situation permits.

    4. Burning ships provide good illumination in their vicinity.

821. If the situation requires the use of both searchlights and star shells, searchlights may be used first and gunfire opened immediately. The firing of star shells may be started at the same time, and when illumination is established by star shells the searchlights may be turned off. This method avoids the delay in establishing illumination which always occurs when star shells alone are used, but has the disadvantage of disclosing the position of the illuminating ships to the enemy.

822. Searchlights, if used, are turned on only when trained on the target and ready to open fire, and when by turning them on a positive advantage will be assured without disadvantage to other friendly ships in company.

823. Turning on searchlights and sweeping over wide arcs for the target is avoided. However, when a target is picked up, searchlights are swept short distances on each side in order that any other enemy vessels in the vicinity may be located.

824. In case of attack, no matter what method of illumination is used by the defending force, the greatest vigilance is exercised to guard against additional attacks through dark sectors or wave attacks through the illuminated sector.


Section IV. Night Action Instructions

825. In setting forth instructions for night actions the following assumptions are made:

  1. That heavy units (battleships, carriers, and cruisers) will normally be screened.

  2. That our heavy units do not carry torpedoes but enemy heavy units may.

  3. That no opportunity will be missed to inflict damage on the enemy unless the nature of the mission prevents.

  4. That radar is the primary means of detection at night to prevent surprise attack, but complete reliance cannot be placed on this means due to possible enemy countermeasures.

  5. That if available, and operating conditions are suitable, aircraft will supplement the screen for searching in addition to providing fighter protection.

  6. That some form of intelligence information will be received concerning movements of large enemy forces.

Based on these assumptions, certain situations are indicated in succeeding paragraphs with appropriate action therefor.

Vessel steaming singly making a single contact

826. Since all heavy units are assumed to be screened, this situation indicates a destroyer type making a single contact.

  1. Contact by radar.--The distance at which contact is first established generally indicates the size of the contact. Course and speed obtained by tracking, IFF, and movement report information assist in establishing the identity.

    1. If operating in an area where contact may be friendly, proceed toward contact, ready all stations for battle, identify visually if possible, challenge. If friendly character cannot be established, illuminate by searchlight, and be prepared to take immediate offensive action if contact appears to be hostile.

    2. If operating in an area where contact may be hostile, ready all stations for battle, close range, be prepared to take offensive action using all weapons. If visibility is such that contact's character cannot be made out and there is the slightest doubt that contact may be friendly, flash searchlight on target; if hostile take under gunfire and fire torpedoes. If positive of enemy character prior to flashing searchlight, take offensive action using torpedoes and gunfire without illuminating contact. If enemy gives no indication of being aware of your presence, the gunfire phase may be deferred until torpedo results have been obtained. Submarines normally submerge when discovered on the surface at night. A surprise attack prevents this.

  2. Contact by visual sighting.

    1. If operating in an area where contact may be friendly, alert gun stations prior to challenging. If friendly character cannot be established by proper reply or by visual means, illuminate by searchlight, and avoid closing the range to a dangerous distance until identity is known, as raiders may carry torpedoes.

    2. If operating in an area where contact may be hostile, ready all stations for battle. If positive of enemy character, take under immediate gunfire and fire torpedoes. Hostile contacts must not be permitted to get away. If the enemy has fired torpedoes, evasive action may be taken. If illumination is used, star shell illumination is best, and will help in preventing any other targets from making a surprise attack, as a searchlight offers a good point of aim.


Vessel steaming singly making two or more contacts

827. Since all heavy units are assumed to be screened this situation indicates a destroyer type making two or more contacts.

  1. Contact by radar.--If definitely of hostile character, make surprise torpedo attack, using radar solution. By exploiting radar, no illumination is necessary. By evasive action await results of the torpedo fire, prior to commencing gunfire, unless the enemy is firing at you. If all torpedoes have not been fired, make a second torpedo attack to reduce the enemy to a more nearly equal strength. After the element of surprise no longer exists, if the enemy's strength is still superior, it may be best to avoid further contact by turning away and increasing speed to clear the area.

  2. Contact by visual sighting.--If numerous contacts are made and they are possibly enemy, turn away at high speed and await a more favorable opportunity to attack or to commence offensive action, inflicting as much damage as possible prior to the enemy's commencing his gunfire. Such an encounter may be a complete surprise. Make ready for action as quickly as possible after sighting, if not already done. If not positive of identity, it may be best to avoid further contact by turning away and increasing speed to clear the area. The enemy would have a distinct advantage if our position is disclosed by a flashing light.

Formation making a single contact


  1. Contact by radar.--The vessel making contact reports by primary warning system to the officer in tactical command. The vessel in the screen closest to the contact is normally designated to investigate. A second unit of the screen may be detailed to assist. If contact is believed to be hostile, the officer in tactical command may maneuver the remainder of the force away from the danger area until the situation has been clarified. The investigation proceeds in accordance with the instructions for a single vessel. The commanding officer of the vessel designated to investigate informs the officer in tactical command, prior to opening with gunfire, as it may not be advantageous to disclose the force's position until large enemy forces are encountered.

  2. Contact by visual sighting.--Visual contacts may be made by units of the screen, or if contact has successfully penetrated the screen, by units of the force screened. The vessel making contact reports by primary warning system to the officer in tactical command, and identifies. If necessary to illuminate for identification, use searchlight, training the beam on the bridge of the contact, and if hostile, take immediate offensive action, with due regard to the position of friendly ships. The officer in tactical command may maneuver the remainder of the force away from the danger area.

Formation making two or more contacts

829. Numerous contacts if friendly are normally known to the officer in tactical command.

  1. Contact by radar.

    1. The vessel making contact reports by primary warning system to the officer in tactical command, stating the number of contacts. The officer in tactical command, weighing the situation, transmits to the force his battle order, which places in effect one of his battle plans, or takes such other action as he decides upon.

    2. If engaging, the action then takes place in accordance with plan, or as modified by the officer in tactical command. Type doctrines for control of various weapons are used as applicable. Important developments are transmitted to the officer in tactical command as they become evident.


    1. In general, if the element of surprise is attained, the officer in tactical command may order a torpedo attack by destroyers in the van, opening fire with heavy units at the most effective ranges for types of heavy units, after torpedoes have been fired and van destroyers are clear. The range to the enemy is not closed unnecessarily by our heavy units in consideration of the enemy's torpedo threat. If within torpedo range a turn away is ordered by the officer in tactical command just prior to the time that enemy torpedoes are expected to reach our battle line. Additional torpedo attacks by the van or rear destroyers are ordered as appropriate. Targets of opportunity are taken under fire and no detached enemy ships are permitted to close our heavy units. It is imperative that combat information centers immediately inform flag and commanding officers if such a unit is detected so that it may be destroyed prior to attacking our forces, particularly with torpedoes.

    2. Carriers, if present, generally turn away from the direction of the contact and keep our battle line interposed between the enemy and the air (carrier) group. The screen accompanies as designated.

    3. If visibility is good and complete surprise is not possible, the officer in tactical command may open with gunfire from all units prior to ordering the destroyers to close for a torpedo attack.

    4. It is essential that combat information centers keep an accurate summary plot of the location of own as well as enemy forces because in night actions a force may become scattered and the recognition of friend or enemy becomes difficult.

    5. The officer in tactical command designates certain units to destroy cripples and rescue survivors.

  1. Contact by visual sighting.

    1. Unless visibility conditions are good it is doubtful if numerous contacts could be sighted visually at one time by one unit of a force. Visibility permitting, upon contact, the officer in tactical command may find it possible to form a battle disposition and fight an action in accordance with a prearranged plan, tasks having been assigned to the various task subdivisions of the force. Also if visibility is good there is always the possibility of launching a night air attack which may be coordinated with a surface attack.

    2. The vessel making contact reports by primary warning circuit to the officer in tactical command giving the information observed. Depending upon circumstances and the situation at the time, the officer in tactical command declares his intentions. If visibility is poor, forming a battle disposition as indicated above may not be feasible. If contacts are only from one direction, carriers are turned away and are gotten clear, while other heavy units are maneuvered by signal away from dangerous waters but in general interposing between our carriers and the enemy.




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