Friday, November 12, 2004

On this day in military 1942 and 1944

On this day in military 1942. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal starts. Fresh from their victory over the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway, US Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in August 1942 to capture an unfinished airfield and start the long campaign to defeat the Japanese. The US and Japanese naval forces had been fighting for control of the waters around Guadalcanal with no clear victor. The Japanese had organized a convoy of merchant vessels the night of 12-13 November carrying troops and supplies for the Japanese army still fighting on Guadalcanal. Two battleships, a light cruiser and nine destroyers escorted the convoy. The plan was to sail off-load the troops on Guadalcanal and then bombard the US controlled-airfield and surrounding areas.

Facing the Japanese fleet was an American fleet of two heavy cruisers (the San Francisco and Portland), three light cruisers (the Atlanta, Helena and Juneau) and eight destroyers. The US fleet wanted to "cross the T" where the only guns of the Japanese fleet that would be able to engage the American fleet would be those in front, but due to the "fog of war" and other organizational problems, instead of crossing the Japanese "T", both fleets headed toward each other on a collision course. The ensuing battle happened at point-blank ranges as both fleets passed thru each other. When the smoke cleared, the US had lost the light crusier Atlanta and four destroyers. The other cruisers (San Francisco, Portland, Helena and Juneau) were all heavily damaged. The Japanese were prevented from bombarding the airfield on Guadalcanal and they lost two destroyers and three others were heavily damaged. The Japanese battleship Hiei was also damaged enough that when daybreak came, it was still within range of aircraft based at Guadalcanal, who promptly used it for a day of daylight bombing practice until it sank.

It was also during this battle that one of the sadder incidents of war happened. As the US fleet was limping home, it was spotted by the Japanese submarine I-26. The submarine attacked the US fleet and sunk the light cruiser Juneau. On board the Juneau were the Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa. None of the brothers survived the sinking of the Juneau and Congress later passed a law (the Sullivan Law) barring brothers from serving on the same ship to prevent another Sullivan tragedy. In remembrance of the five brothers and their sacrifice, the Aegis guided missile destroyer, DDG-68 USS Sullivans, carries their name.

On this day in military 1944. The British finally sink the German battleship Tirpitz. Hitler had sent the Bismarck's sister ship north to Norway to attack Allied convoys headed to Russia. However, she mostly stayed holed up in Tromso Fjord, never really sailing out attack anything. The British tried to sink her using two-man mini submarines, but only succeeded in damaging the ship. Finally, 32 RAF Lancaster bombers, each one carrying a 12,000 pound bomb, attacked her and scored two hits, where upon, the ship capsized.


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