Honour - SAVO ISLAND 1942

Date - 09-August
Type - Fleet or Squadron Actions
Conflict - World War 2; 1939-45

Description The action took place near Savo Island, in the Solomon Islands north east of Australia.

US Marines from the US 1st Marine Division reinforced with Marine Raider and parachute units landed on Guadalcanal on the 7-Aug and on Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo Islands, across the northern side of Sealark Channel from Guadalcanal, the following day.

A mixed cruiser force was deployed to protect the transports unloading at each landing area.

They were split into three divisions to cover each of the three approaches.

A Northern group comprising the cruisers USS Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes, plus destroyers  Helm and Wilson patrolled to the north and east of Savo Island. A southern Group comprising Heavy cruiser USS Chicago, cruisers HMAS Australia and Canberra, plus the destroyers Bagley and Patterson patrolled between Guadalcanal and Savo island. An Eastern group comprising the light cruisers USS San Juan and HMAS Hobart plus 2 destroyers patrolled the eastern approaches..

In addition the destroyers USS Blue and Ralph Talbot, each with primitive radar aboard were stationed as pickets covering the southern and northern approaches around Savo island respectively.

The allied ships had only recently been assembled, used different signal systems and night-fighting procedures. Had no recent night fighting practice, and none had fired their guns at a night time target for over eight months.

The attacking Japanese heavy cruiser squadron comprising 5 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and a destroyer, had for several years been intensively trained in night battles, and mounted night vision binoculars and Long Lance torpedoes.

They slipped past the southern picket destroyer USS Blue unobserved, just before 0100hrs and at 0130hrs entered the channel between Savo Island and Guadalcanal. A few minutes later the Canberra and Chicago were sighted on the opposite track, the attack order given and a salvo of torpedoes launched at 0138hrs. The allied ships were unaware of the Japanese approach and their guns were trained fore and aft.

A few minutes later the Japanese were sighted but too late, Japanese aircraft dropped flares, and Canberra was hit with many 8" shells, and came to a halt a blazing, sinking wreck. Chicago was struck by a torpedo on the port bow and fired star shells which failed to ignite. By this time the Japanese ships had raced past and were lost sight to.

The Japanese then sighted the northern group to the north east and turned to engage. They struck the three allied cruisers and left them in a sinking condition, raced past and away around Savo island, damaging the Ralph Talbot as they disappeared into the night and back to their base at Rabaul.

Allied casualties comprised 1,023 killed and 709 injured. Japanese losses were minimal.


HM Ships
Australia (RAN)  Canberra (RAN)  Hobart (RAN)     
This page last edited - 23 October, 2012.

Copyright Ian M King, except where otherwise indicated.