Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
26th October 1942: Another carrier based Naval battle is a tactical Japanese victory - but leaves them with irreplaceable losses in pilots
On Guadalcanal the Japanese misread a flare signal sent up over Henderson Field - and mistakenly believed that they had captured it. The Japanese Navy despatched a carrier force to ‘finish off’ the US Navy in the area. Meanwhile Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey had sent a Task Force, comprised of the USS Hornet and USS Enterprise and escorts, to seek out the Japanese naval force.
The two opposing forces of carrier based planes found their targets on the morning of 26th October, off the Santa Cruz islands in the Solomons group. The ensuing battle appeared to result in slight victory to the Japanese - the USS Hornet was sunk and the USS Enterprise damaged - whereas their two carriers were only damaged. But the loss of experienced Japanese air crew during the battle was to give the US a long term strategic advantage .
The first wave of Japanese planes attacked the USS Hornet from 0909, causing significant damage. Three bombs hit her and killed around ninety men before Warrant Officer Shigeyuki Sato, his plane already damaged by anti aircraft fire, decided to deliberately crash into the Hornet. Hornet was then hit by torpedoes from a second wave plane attack and disabled.
Less than twenty minutes later, at 0927, planes from the Hornet found the Japanese carrier Shōkaku and hit her with three to six bombs, causing serious damage. The US torpedo planes were unable to locate the Shōkaku.
‘From the time of the first radar report of enemy planes at 0957 (when they were coming in, distance 45 miles) until 1100, there were almost continuous reports of bogies coming in and going out.’
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