Battle of Savo Island, Part I
Last Monday was the 75th anniversary of the initial US landings on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagu, Gavutu and Tanambogo in the Solomons. Under cloud cover on the morning of 7 August 1942, the invasion fleet had approached from the Southwest; units included 22 transports, carrier groups for USS Saratoga (CV-3), USS Enterprise (CV-6), and USS Wasp (CV-7), the escorting Australian cruisers HMAS Canberra and Australia, four US heavy cruisers, and a variety of smaller warships. USS Quincy (CA-39), shown here at Noumea, New Caledonia on 3 August, was one of the four US heavy cruisers that would open fire on the island just before dawn on the 7th. The first American offensive in the Pacific War had begun.
After the successful landings, the transports were tasked with unloading supplies. The work was slow and required the use of smaller boats. Pressing the issue was a near-promise to withdraw carrier protection by 9 August; by the end of the 8th, there was still much to be done. That night, defensive positions of the ships were arranged with the goal of blocking Japanese entrance into what would become Iron Bottom Sound.
The cruisers Canberra, Australia, and USS Chicago (CA-29) patrolled in a NE-SW rectangle to the South of Savo Island, an outcropping roughly between Cape Esperance and Florida Island, with destroyers USS Bagley (DD-386) and Patterson (DD-392). The Northern side of Savo was patrolled in a broader square by the three heavy cruisers USS Vincennes (CA-44), USS Quincy, and USS Astoria (CA-34) with escorts USS Wilson (DD-408) and Helm (DD-388). A destroyer was stationed as a radar picket on either side as well, much further up New Georgia Sound; these ships were thought to have a detection range of 12 miles, when really it was less than 3. The only capable surface search radar was aboard USS San Juan (CL-54), stationed South of Florida Island guarding Eastern approaches.
The transports, moored at Lunga Point, were protected in nearly all directions by warships. Yet unbeknownst to them, Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa had ordered an IJN force into motion a day prior at Rabaul.