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

Savo Fleet night dispositions - 7/8 August

At sunset on 7 August, the following night dispositions were taken up. The objective: to deny access for any Japanese Surface Force seeking to reach the transport areas.

1. The entrance between Savo Island and Guadalcanal was guarded by 8" cruisers AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA and CHICAGO with 2 screening destroyers PATTERSON and BAGLEY-

2- In the entrance between Savo Island and Florida Island, 8" cruisers VINCENNES, ASTORIA and QUINCY stood guard with WILSON and HELM as their destroyer screen.

3. Light cruisers SAN JUAN and HOBART with destroyers BUCHANAN and MONSSEN blocked off the eastern entrance.

4. Two radar and anti-submarine picket destroyers BLUE and RALPH TALBOT were stationed westwards beyond Savo Island to provide early warning of an approachIng enemy.

Marines had now captured the airfield on Guadalcanal. Another Australian Coast Watcher, Jack Read, on the northern end of Bougainville, warned of 40 Japanese bombers flying SE. About midday, we were fiercely attacked, this time by "Betty" twin engined torpedo bombers. The fleet gunners went into action and the Japanese later admitted to losing 17 torpedo bombers. At one stage, 6 blazing aircraft could be seen as they crashed on the water. The destroyer JARVIS was torpedoed and a blazing aircraft crashed on board the transport GEORGE F. ELLIOT (probably the first Kamikaze aircraft). This transport had to be abandoned that night and grounded south of Florida Island.

Five RAAF Hudsons had recently moved from Horn Island to the just-completed Fall River strip at Milne Bay. This group was not briefed about the "Watch Tower" operation and had no knowledge of the landings at both Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Early on the morning of 8 August, three of these aircraft took off from Fall River to carry out reconnaissance flights. One Hudson, piloted by Bill Stutt, sighted Mikawa's force NE of Kieta at 1025. He broke radio silence to send off an enemy report of 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers and 2 seaplane tenders or gunboats, course 120 deg speed 15 knots. No acknowledgement could be gained from FalI River and Stutt decided to return immediately to base. En route, two submarines were sighted on the surface and these were unsuccessfully bombed.

On landing at Fall River, the pilot was immediately de-briefed - through unexplained delays, this enemy report did not reach the fleet at Guadalcanal until about sunset that evening. Morison, the American Naval Historian wrote in 1959 "This Hudson Pilot did not break radio silence, completed his search in the afternoon, arrived at Fall River, had his tea and then made his report". In 1983, Hoyt in "Guadalcanal" and again as late as 1987, Larrabee in "Commander-in-Chief" still perpetuated this myth about Stutt having tea before de-briefing.

They all apportioned blame to both Stutt and his RAAF crew over the sighting of Mikawa's striking force. Morison initially and others slavishly followed in his footsteps, without bothering to check that his original statements were in fact, incorrect. Gill, In his 1968 "Royal Australian Navy 1942-45" takes Morison to task for his unwarranted criticism. So much for research!

Just after 1100, a second Fall River Hudson also sighted Mikawa and his ships and was fired upon. The enemy report sent after landing at Fall River indicated the sighting of 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and a small unidentified vessel. Again there was much delay before Turner was appraised of this report, during the evening of 8 August. These reports which included the sighting of 2 seaplane tenders confounded the issue. MacArthur believed the force was probably moving to the Shortlands, south of Bougainvillle, to establish a base there; whilst Turner believed the force was escorting a seaplane group that was moving to Rekata Bay on St. Isabel Island.

The group was reported heading 120deg, which would take them there and, on the morning of 7 August, an aircraft from the US carrier WASP had destroyed a Japanese seaplane just north of Rokata Bay. All the delays prevented mounting air attacks against the Japanese force that day. All in all, this force was not considered to be moving against the Invasion fleet. It was considered that the threat to the Allied force was from submarines and not from surface forces.

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