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Naval Battle of Vella Lavella: October 1943

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#1 mikebatzel

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Posted 21 May 2008 - 12:55 AM

Following the Japanese success in evacuating the stranded men on Kolombangara Island, it was now time for the Japanese to evacuate the forward operating base established at Horaniu for that task. The mission would once again fall on the shoulders of RADM Ijuin. To successfully retrieve the 589 men at Horaniu Ijuin Was given a force of two transport groups and one escort group. The first transport group consisted of 20 barges and 4 subchasers, and the second transport group consisting of the destroyers Fumizuki, Matsukaze, and Yunagi. The escorting force would consist of destroyers Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazagumo, Yugumo, Shigure, and Samidare. On 6 October, the nine destroyers departed Rabaul while the barges departed Buin later in the day.

RADM Wilkinson was once again informed of the Japanese movements. This time he only had one destroyer squadron available to throw at the Japanese. The three destroyers in the squadron where Selfridge, Chevalier, and O’Bannon under the command of Captain Frank Walker. To bolster this force Wilkinson as dispatched another three destroyers from convoy duty under the command of Captain Harold Larson with Ralph Talbot, Taylor, and LaVallette. Larson and Walker where to rendezvous off Marquana Bay.

Japanese planes detected Walkers approach up the west coast of Vella Lavella at 1940. Ijuin decided to split up his forces. He sent Shigure and Samidare along with the three transport destroyers to meet with the barges coming in from Buin, while he led Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazagumo, and Yugumo on toward Marquana Bay. By doing this Ijuin hoped to both throw off Allied reconasense while setting up Captain Hara in Shigure for a surprise attack from the Americans flank. At about 2200 Ijuin received another sighting report. This report had claimed a sighting of 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers. Ijuin ordered Hara to join him as quickly as possible, and the transport destroyers turned back. The barges would continue on their mission.

At about 2330 and at about the same time Isokaze spotted the Americans visually while American Radar began to pick up the Japanese. With reinforcement still 20 miles away, Walker decided to attack. The Japanese where moving SSW and where in danger of crossing their “T” but RADM Ijuin was thinking about a torpedo attack. Ijuin executed a couple turns to port while Walker turned his column west, negating any positional advantage the Japanese held. As the two forces passed each other the American destroyers launched 14 torpedoes at 2355 and followed with gunfire a minute later.

The Japanese where in an echelon formation and so only Yugumo could return fire initially. She turned towards the enemy and fired eight torpedoes by 2357. Her turn opened a line of fire for Kazagumo, and she opened fire. Ijuin brought his ships back into column and headed away from the battle are to the south. Yugumo, being the closest Japanese ship to the Americans, was unable to follow as she lost rudder control and was adrift quickly.

At 2303 a single torpedo slammed into the forward magazine of Chevalier. The blast ripped off the bow to the bridge. Two minutes later O’Bannon slipped through the smoke left by Chevalier and rammed into her. O’Bannon was able to back clear but was unable to return to the fight. Selfridge would be on her own for the rest of the battle.

Shigure and Samidare where moving in for a good torpedo attack. At 11000 yards distance Selfridge began to fire on Shigure. At 2300 The Japanese launched their torpedoes. The shells from Selfridge began to straddle Shigure when at 2306, before any shells could find the mark. Selfridge was hit by a torpedo, and left dead in the water.

At 2313 aircraft informed Ijuin of the second American force moving up from the south. Thinking that this force was more cruisers (of which he though he had just been fighting), Ijuin decided to turn away. The Japanese would fire one last spread of torpedoes at the crippled American ships but none would hit. Larson group arrived at the battle area and patrolled until 0200, unable to find the Japanese barges.

Chevalier was unable to be saved and was scuttled the next day. Ijuin claimed a score of two cruisers and three destroyers sunk in the battle but returned to Rabaul ashamed. Walker was criticized in the battle for not waiting for the second group of destroyers. Although the Japanese performed badly in the battle they still obtained victory. It would however, be the last victory the IJN would get to taste in the war.
Please give the Combined Fleet the chance to bloom as flowers of death. This is the navy’s earnest request. RADM Tasuku Nakazawa prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf
It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz




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