Military Review

A tactical victory for the Japanese fleet that became a strategic defeat. Battle of Santa Cruz

Read in the material from the creators of World of Warships - is the destruction of an enemy aircraft carrier worth the loss of more than a hundred aircraft? Demonstration naval battle of World War II ...

Despite the victory fleet USA June 6, 1942 at Midway Atoll and the seizure of the strategic initiative, the Imperial Japanese Navy still remained a formidable enemy. The Solomon Islands riveted the close attention of the Japanese command. And it is in this area that the battles will take place in the coming months.

Battle Scheme

The long campaign began on August 7, 1942, following an American landing on Guadalcanal. With 6 aircraft carriers in the region against 4, the Japanese nevertheless were inferior in the air to the allied forces. This position was achieved at the expense of the Henderson Field airfield. Earlier, the American aircraft carrier Enterprise went to Pearl Harbor for repairs, while Wasp and Saratoga caught enemy torpedoes. Only the Hornet remained in the ranks.

In the Solomon Islands area, Admirals Tuichi Nagumo and Kondo Nobutake commanded two formations, which included six aircraft carriers. The supply of the Japanese on Guadalcanal was carried out by means of the "Tokyo Express". This is what the Allies called the detachments of Japanese destroyers who transported supplies and troops at night. Before the offensive, scheduled for October 20th, the Japanese battleships Kongo and Haruna struck Henderson Field.

Thereafter, in response, William Halsey was promoted to Commander of the United States Navy in the South Pacific. This order was given by the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Chester Nimitz. In addition, Enterprise, whose repairs were urgently completed by October 16, received a new air group. Meanwhile, the Japanese irrevocably lost the aircraft carrier Ryūjō, and Hiyō went to Truk for repairs. Only Jun'yō remained in the jurisdiction of Admiral Kondo, while Admiral Nagumo still had three aircraft carriers under command - Zuihō, Zuikaku and Shōkaku.

A great battle was brewing, and this was clear to both sides. Despite the presence of American scouts in the sky, the movement of the Japanese ships remained unnoticed by the enemy. The Japanese, in turn, were aware of the strengthening of the American aircraft carrier group.

Japanese cruiser IJN Chikuma under American attack aviation

Admiral Kondo, who held general command, had 43 ships. Four aircraft carriers, four battleships, two light and eight heavy cruisers, 25 destroyers, and 203 aircraft. It was opposed by 23 American ships - two aircraft carriers, one battleship, three heavy and three light cruisers, 14 destroyers and 177 aircraft.

At 7:30 am on October 26, 1942, 370 aircraft took off from the Japanese aircraft carrier 66 kilometers from the enemy squadron. At the same time, the American Dontless patrols, which had taken off earlier, attacked Zuihō. Two 500-pound bombs hit the target and prevented the aircraft carrier from receiving aircraft on deck. However, the air groups that were on board could take off.

View from the wing of an American plane

To save time, small air groups were lifted from American aircraft carriers. The opposing air groups were in line of sight to each other at about 8:40. The Japanese attacked first from the direction of the sun and shot down five aircraft, losing four. But despite this, Shōkaku received serious damage, which was caused by the Americans who managed to bomb it. In addition, the heavy cruiser Chikuma came out of the battle as a result of the air raid.

The Japanese attack aircraft, which the American patrol interceptors were unable to stop, in turn hit the Hornet aircraft carrier. General confusion and error in the fighter guidance point allowed sixteen D3A bombers and twenty B5N torpedo bombers to reach the target. Despite high-density anti-aircraft fire, the Hornet was hit by three bombs and two torpedoes. In addition, two downed planes crashed into it. In total, the Americans managed to shoot down 25 enemy aircraft, losing six of their own.

Returning aircraft from the Hornet were accepted by the Enterprise, but the deck was already full. Fearing the next wave of Japanese airstrikes, the planes decided to land on the water. While trying to save the crew of a torpedo bomber, destroyer Porter was hit by a torpedo. The destroyer Shaw went to rescue the "colleague", which then finished off the damaged destroyer.

The planes flying towards Enterprise were spotted at 9:30 am. Due to the inconsistency of actions, the Japanese pilots achieved only two bomb hits, while losing 12 of 19 cars. The torpedo bombers never hit at all. Destroyer Smith was damaged, into which the downed plane crashed. A fire broke out, and to cope with the fire, the destroyer commander directed his ship into the wake of the battleship South Dakota.

USS Enterprise at the Battle of Santa Cruz

The next attacked the air group from Jun'yō. The Japanese lost 11 of 17 aircraft in this attack, but were able to hit the cruiser San Juan, the battleship South Dakota, as well as several bombs exploded near the aircraft carrier Enterprise. Given the situation, the latter withdrew from the battle on the orders of Admiral Kincaid.

At about 13 o'clock, despite the losses, another wave of Japanese aircraft went to attack the enemy fleet. Their target was the damaged Hornet, which was in tow of the cruiser Northampton. The aircraft carrier was hit by a torpedo and an aerial bomb, after which it was abandoned by the team. Attempts by the escort destroyers to sink the damaged aircraft carrier were unsuccessful: neither nine torpedo hits nor shelling yielded results. The task was completed only the next day by the Japanese destroyers.

The battle ended on October 27. Since the enemy was not found, and the fuel was running out, the Japanese forces began to withdraw. The battle remained with the forces of the Imperial Navy. Not a single ship was lost. Two aircraft carriers and one heavy cruiser were damaged. However, the losses in the air groups were terrifying - 148 pilots did not return to the decks of aircraft carriers (the Americans lost 81 aircraft). The aircraft carriers Zuikaku and Hiyō left for Japan to replenish the crews of the air groups, while Shōkaku and Zuihō went for repairs.

The Americans lost one destroyer and an aircraft carrier Hornet, the destruction of which was a very sensitive blow to the US Navy. Only the Enterprise remained in the region, which was damaged in this battle and continued to serve in the Solomon Islands region after repairs. One battleship, one light cruiser and two destroyers also suffered minor damage.

By the way, the strike aircraft carrier Enterprise, which went through most of the battles with the Japanese fleet in the Pacific Ocean, was recreated in the vastness of the virtual World of Ships. Take a look at the legendary ship from a non-standard angle in this video from Wargaming.


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  1. Crowe
    Crowe 30 November 2021 09: 13
    Their target was the damaged Hornet.
    “At 07:14, Admiral Kakuto launched 29 bombers into the air. Having formed in three echelons, they rushed to the enemy. Soon a radio message from the aircraft of the first shock wave was intercepted: "The enemy aircraft carrier has been found ... We are attacking with all our might."
    In a decisive attack, which lasted about 10 minutes, forty of our bombers and torpedo bombers achieved several direct hits from bombs and torpedoes on the American aircraft carrier Hornet.
    Aircraft carrier Hornet in the battle of Santa Cruz
    Bomb explosion on the deck of an aircraft carrier
    1. Crowe
      Crowe 30 November 2021 09: 15
      While I was listening to this message, my attention was distracted by the return of another reconnaissance aircraft to the Sekaku. The plane was damaged and was forced to land near the stern of the aircraft carrier. I directed the destroyer towards the emergency plane and began to lower the lifeboat. And at that moment enemy aircraft appeared. Looking up, I saw about a dozen dive bombers jumping out of the clouds at an altitude of about 2000 meters. A little below them were six torpedo bombers. I continued the rescue operation, fully confident that the attacking aircraft would target the aircraft carrier Sekaku, not my little destroyer, anyway.
      When our boat returned with two rescued pilots, all ships had already opened fire on the approaching American aircraft, already attacked by six of our combat air patrol fighters.
      Two enemy torpedo bombers were shot down by our fighters and disappeared, exploding in the air. One of our fighters rammed an American bomber, and both planes literally evaporated in a bright and instant flash of flame, accompanied by the roar of a terrible explosion. I saw two American bombers spinning like fallen leaves fall into the ocean. Strange, but I did not see enemy fighters in the air and was very surprised that the Americans threw a shock wave into the attack without fighter cover.
      1. Crowe
        Crowe 30 November 2021 09: 15
        The number of enemy aircraft was rapidly decreasing. The white and yellow caps of the anti-aircraft explosions of our defensive fire stained the entire sky. There was hope that we would not suffer any damage in this attack. The Amatsukadze zigzagged at a speed of 33 evil, firing from all guns, trying to cover the Sekaku.
        I saw how two American dive bombers, breaking through anti-aircraft fire and fighter cover, rushed to the aircraft carrier from a height of about 700 meters. The planes fell almost vertically downward, finally leveled off the flight and, roaring engines, gained altitude, hiding in the clouds. In the next instant, it seemed to me that two or three silver stripes resembling lightning struck the deck of the aircraft carrier "Sekaku". Bright flashes of fire flashed in the bow and near the island superstructure of the aircraft carrier, and the bright flames instantly engulfed the entire flight deck. Tongues of fire erupted from the aircraft lifts, accompanied by puffs of black and white smoke.
        The flagship aircraft carrier was hit by four bombs at once. Engulfed in flames, trailing a plume of black smoke, the huge ship turned slowly. Apparently, his cars were not damaged at all. The Sekaku increased its speed to 30 knots and began to leave the battle zone, accompanied by two destroyers. At the last moment, I received an order to join the escort of the destroyer Zuikaku, the last aircraft carrier left in the formation. "
        Hara Tameichi "Samurai Odyssey. Japanese Destroyer Commander"
  2. Crowe
    Crowe 30 November 2021 09: 22
    While the Japanese beat the Hornet, its pilots prepared to retaliate. At 08.55 the first strike group of 14 SBDs and 4 F4Fs under the command of Lieutenant Commander Windhlem discovered Admiral Abe's Vanguard Force. Shokaku radar detected this group 15 minutes ago at a distance of 97 miles, which was, oddly enough, the best radar achievement that day. However, this did not bring much benefit to the Japanese. 14 fighters rushed to intercept, which could not stop the Americans. The Americans lost 2 fighters and 1 dive bomber, another 1 SBD made an emergency landing on the water, and 2 abandoned the attack. According to Japanese documents, the remaining 11 Downtless dived into the Shokaku. at 09.27, dropping bombs from 60 to 900 feet. The commander of this group, Lieutenant Vose, claimed to have seen 4 hits on the Shokaku.
    The bombs fell around the middle and stern elevators. The hangar of the aircraft carrier was destroyed, the stern anti-aircraft guns were out of order. There could be no question of any flight operations, since the flight deck most of all resembled a lunar landscape.
  3. Kostadinov
    Kostadinov 1 December 2021 13: 55
    However, the losses in the air groups were terrifying - 148 pilots did not return to the decks of aircraft carriers (the Americans lost 81 aircraft).

    The comparison of pilots and aircraft is not very correct.
    The Japanese lost 97 aircraft, which is commensurate with the American losses (81 aircraft).
    But in the crew, the Americans lost only 26 people irretrievably.