Archive for November 30th, 2008

By the end of November, the Battle of Guadalcanal was beginning to turn in favor of the U.S. Marines fighting there.  While they were matched by their Japanese counterparts in terms of tenacity and fighting spirit, the Japanese soldier was now being plagued by a bigger problem…hunger.  Due to constant harrassment from both the U.S. air squadrons stationed on Guadalcanal and the U.S. Navy, the Japanese were having a very difficult time getting supplies to their troops.  This led to malnutrition, weakness, sickness, and the inability to fight.

But still the Japanese leadership persisted in trying to feed and re-arm its soldiers.  The evening of November 30, 1942 saw just such an attempt.  Using 8 destroyers (they were fast and agile, making them less of a target), Admiral Raizo Tanaka loaded up with supplies and headed south.  But the U.S. Navy got wind of the convoy and set off to intercept.  And this time, the U.S. Navy got to be the “Goliath“, as its 4 heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, and some destroyers presented Admiral Tanaka with a huge gap in firepower.

The two forces engaged off Tassafaronga Point during November 30th’s final hour and, as we have seen before, “Goliath” got whipped by “David”.  One heavy cruiser, the USS Northampton (shown above), was sunk, and 3 other cruisers were heavily damaged.  The Japanese lost a single destroyer.

So what caused such a mismatch on paper to go so wrong for the U.S. Navy?  There are a couple reasons.  First, a moonless night meant ships were harder to see.  Second, the Japanese were very close to Guadalcanal, making it even harder to pick out the ships in the dark, either visually or on their primitive radars.  But the biggest reason comprises just four-words…the Long Lance Torpedo.

The Type 93 torpedo was, quite simply, the best torpedo used in World War II.  Compared to its U.S. equivalent (the Mark XV), the Type 93 had nearly 3 times the range (hence the name “Long Lance“), was significantly faster, and packed a 25% larger warhead.  Furthermore, the U.S. torpedoes had a maddening failure rate (they exploded early, they failed to explode on contact, or tracked erratically), a “feature” not seen in the Long Lance.  This torpedo packed a devastating punch and all Japanese destroyers and cruisers carried them.

At first contact with the Americans, Tanaka’s destroyers launched a massive spread of Long Lances with terrific effect…for them.  The U.S. Navy, again bloodied and battered, was forced to leave the scene.  But their intervention had succeeded, at high cost, in preventing Tanaka from landing supplies on Guadalcanal.  The Battle of Tassafaronga Point may have been a battle lost for the Americans, but it was another small step towards winning the war for Guadalcanal.

Recommended Reading: Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea

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