Magazine article Sea Classics

Ghost Ships OF IRON BOTTOM SOUND

Magazine article Sea Classics

Ghost Ships OF IRON BOTTOM SOUND

Article excerpt

Street fighting at sea - No quarter asked and none given PART Ii - 8/9 August 1942

A FORENSIC VIEW OF THE BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND

The body of water bordered by the Florida Islands, Guadalcanal, and Savo Island had been known as Sealark Sound with the entrance being Sealark Channel. Shortly after the conclusion of World War II, those in command decided that the sound's name should be changed to Ironbottom as there was several hundred thousand tons of shipping and aircraft lying on its bottom.

Interestingly, the islands had little or no importance in world politics, economies or, for that matter, anything until 1942. Their period of value lasted a mere 3-yrs, and then they returned to anonymity.

For 123 days and nights (9 August 1942 until 9 February 1943), the jAJlies and their blood enemies, the Imperial Japanese military (many of which were top of the line marines, soldiers, Naval personnel, and pilots), fought each other with every weapon conceivable. During this period, there were five major battles at sea, and land and air battles that were too numerous to count. The losses were staggering, and the standard of victory became whosoever had sufficient weaponry and could go out to fight the following night. In the end, the carnage amounted to 1 1 1 ships located on the bottom of Sealark Sound.

The six months of 1942/1943 were the most violent times in the Solomon Islands when thousands of men fought and died nightly for supremacy of small patches of ground. There were horrible losses on both sides. The Japanese felt that the airfield on Guadalcanal was so valuable that its destroyers were pressed into nightly high-speed transport runs of marines and soldiers including limited equipment and supplies. This became known as the "Tokyo Express," and for the Imperial Naval Command's efforts they lost 21 destroyers which were vitally needed elsewhere.

Until an unbiased count was made by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in 1999, no one was certain as to the trae battle losses. Incredibly, there were far more vessels lost and damaged than reported during the war, and very little thought was given to damaged ships and aircraft that crashed in Ironbottom Sound. The Commission spent a considerable amount of time and had the resources to make a reasonable assessment of the military hardware damage. Their report helped provided the following information:

* There were 65 Imperial Japanese Naval vessels totaling 321,822-tons and 44 American warships that displaced 110,793-tons lying on the bottom of the sound. Included were two Japanese battleships, eight American cruisers, 20 American destroyers, and 21 Japanese destroyers. There were also dozens of other ship types (transports, APDs, PT boats, etc. ) that found their way to the bottom of Ironbottom Sound.

* 157 Japanese ships were damaged in Ironbottom Sound and 37 American ships were also seriously damaged.

* 1450 aircraft of all types lie on the bottom of Ironbottom/Sealark Sound - 330 American and 1120 Japanese machines. All of this carnage took place in a four-month period.

* One Australian cruiser (HMAS Canberra) and a New Zealand minesweeper (Moa) were sunk in Ironbottom Sound/Sealark Sound.

* The count of the dead was not very accurate, however it is estimated that 15,000-20,000 men lost their lives in the Sound. On mornings after a major sea conflict, boats and tugs were sent out from Tulagi to rescue sailors from all Navies. Incredibly, most Japanese chose to drown rather than fall into Allied hands.

* The five battles fought in the 3500-sq-mi area were of a very short duration. The First Battle of Savo Island took 45-min, the Second Battle of Savo Island (Cape Esperance) consumed 31-min, the Third Battle of Savo Island (Night battle of Guadalcanal) was 32-min in length, the follow up to the Third Battle (2nd Night Battle of Guadalcanal) was 31-min in length, and the Fourth Battle (Tassafaronga) took 29-min. …

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