H.M.A.S. Canberra and the Battle of Savo Island

The approach to the invasion area and the landing 7 August

The invasion Armada approached the Solomons still undetected by the Japanese. Over the last two days we were assisted by lowered visibility as we steamed through patchy rain. During the night of 7 August. Fletcher, with his carriers was in position about 100 miles south of the proposed beach head. Early on the morning of 7 August, we slipped past Cape Esperance and CANBERRA, as part of the Tulagi group, proceeded silently to her bombardment position.

HMAS Canberra off Tulagi, during the inasion of the Solomon Islands, 7 August 1942, just two days before we were sunk at the Battle of Savo Island

HMAS Canberra off Tulagi, during the invasion of the Solomon Islands,
7 August 1942, just two days before we were sunk at the Battle of Savo Island

The remainder of the force approached Guadalcanal in the vicinity of the airfield - At 0613 all hell broke loose. Naval bombardment and carrier-borne air strikes began - surprise was complete! The Marines went ashore at Guadalcanal and they met with little opposition as the Japanese took to the hills. It was a different story in the Tulagi area; the Japanese could not withdraw and they offered desperate resistance. Here, the Marines were still securing their positions at the and of the second day. The Japanese reacted quickly to this Allied invasion; determined air attacks were pressed home on the invasion force on 7 August.

I still recall the instruction over CANBERRA's broadcast system "all hands will go to dinner at 1100, we expect an air attack". This Information reached us via an Australian Coast Watcher, Paul Mason, hiding out in the mountains SE of Bougainville. As forecast, this raid materialised and 10 Japanese aircraft were destroyed. We lost 12 carrier-borne planes. The US destroyer MUGFORD was hit, killing 22 of her crew. Morison in his "History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol V, The Struggle for Guadalcanal" at page 315, had this to say: "So reader, if this tale seemed repetitious with shock and gore, exploding magazines, burning and sinking ships and plummeting planes - that is simply how it was". </>

The Solomon Island Theatre - August 1942 - map

[ click for enlarged photograph ]

In the eight hours that had elapsed since the start of the Allied invasion, Mikawa and his staff had prepared a bold Plan and submitted it to the Naval Command in Tokyo. They considered this plan too reckless and thus it was not approved. Mikawa pressed his case and was given approval to decide at the local level. He didn't hesitate and sailed in CHOKAI from the Rabaul area about 1630, in company with light cruisers TENRYU and YUBARI and the destroyer YUNAGI. Three hours later he joined the 4 heavy cruisers, AOBA, KAKO, KINUGASA and FURUTAKA, from Kavieng. The fleet then proceeded south. /P>

Some of Mikawa's force were sighted by B17's from MacArthur's command - these aircraft were flying to attack a targeted airfield in New Britain. One cruiser, 3 light cruisers and 1 destroyer were reported proceeding westerly. Once Mikawa's force entered St. George's Channel and were sailing SE, they were sighted by B17's. This time the enemy report read "six large to medium sized warships". A third sighting was made by Lieutenant Commander Munson in US Submarine S38. The Japanese passed so close to Munson that he could not fire torpedoes. He reported the fleet as 2 destroyers and 3 larger unknown ships, in St. George's Channel on a SE course, moving at high speed. The Allied forces In the vicinity of Guadalcanal did not learn about the B17 reports until about midnight on 7 August and Munson's report was not received until after 0730 on the morning of the 8th.

On 7 August, Turner had asked McCain to use a Catalina aircraft, proceeding from Espiritu Santo via Malaita, to search NW. This sector was actually the responsibility of MacArthur's land-based B17's - Turner was worried that any possible surface threat would be mounted through this area. McCain did not send this requested reconnaissance flight but worse still, he did not report to Turner that it was not flown. This lack of communication was to prove costly as Turner assumed McCain had actioned his search request and wrongly thought, as he received no adverse report - that there were no enemy ships approaching.

Off Tulagi modern day

Off Tulagi, modern day

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