That time the United States Navy lost three cruisers in one night

The United States Navy had some of its greatest moments in World War II — the Battle of Midway is the most notable. But about two months after that “Incredible Victory,” the Navy had a very bad night.

The Battle of Savo Island was not one of the Navy’s shining moments. In fact, it was downright awful.

The United States Navy had transported elements of the 1st Marine Division to Guadalcanal – and the initial invasion went pretty well. Samuel Eliot Morison noted in “The Struggle for Guadalcanal” that, despite the rapid progress in the first two days, August 7-8, 1942, which included taking the partially-complete Henderson Field, seeds for the upcoming disaster were being sown.

Frank Jack Fletcher. (U.S. Navy photo)

Air strikes the day of the attack sank a transport and a destroyer. Then, Vice Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher pulled the carriers back.

This time, the invasion force was left high and dry – and nobody noticed that five heavy cruisers (HIJMS Chokai, HIJMS Aoba, HIJMS Kako, HIJMS Furutaka and HIJMS Kinugasa), two light cruisers (HIJMS Tenryu and HIJMS Yubari), and a destroyer were en route.

Disaster struck in the early morning hours of August 9. The Allies had two picket forces, one north of Savo Island, one to the south. The one to the north had the cruisers USS Astoria (CA 34), USS Quincy (CA 39), and USS Vincennes (CA 44) with two destroyers. To the south were the cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago (CA 29).

(Wikimedia Commons)

In the early morning hours, the Japanese first hit the southern group.

The Chicago was hit by a torpedo and damaged. HMA Canberra took it worse: At least two dozen major-caliber hits left her badly damaged and unable to fight.

The Japanese ships went around Savo Island, then hit the northern group. The Astoria and Quincy were both hit bad in quick order, taking many shell hits. The cruiser Vincennes followed shortly afterward, taking at least 85 hits from enemy gunfire, and three torpedo hits.

Quincy and Vincennes sank by 3:00 a.m. The Canberra was ordered scuttled after it was obvious her engines could not be repaired, and it took over 200 more five-inch shells and four torpedoes to put her down. The Astoria sank a little after noon.

HMAS Canberra prior to being scuttled on Aug. 9, 1942. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Battle of Savo Island served as a wake-up call. During 1942, four more major surface battles would be fought off Guadalcanal before the end of November. But none were as bad as the night the United States Navy lost three cruisers.

TOP ARTICLES
The 13 funniest memes for the week of Sept. 22

Kim Jong Un has an H-Bomb. These good ol' fashioned military memes will make your last few moments less excruciating. Memes are proven to cool hydrogen burns.

How Taco Bell influenced a rapper to become a Marine

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we speak with The Marine Rapper a.k.a. TMR about how he went from wrapping tacos to rapping music lyrics.

These are the best military photos for the week of September 23

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week.

The US just sent 2,200 of these Fort Bragg paratroopers to Afghanistan

Approximately 2,200 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers began quietly deploying this month, part of a long-discussed troop surge to Afghanistan.

The Marines just took a look at this Civil War battlefield to learn military lessons for the future

The battle, which involved 18,456 mounted troops and was the largest cavalry clash in North America, also remains largely unknown by today's students of military history.

The Air Force is finally getting with the program and planning for urban fights

Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein has added urban warfare to his list of top focus areas, predicting that much of the world will live in megacities.

How we found out it's not so easy to fly a Reaper drone

Let's just say computer flight simulator games don't provide enough experience to make a good landing.

Here's what the Marines of 'Full Metal Jacket' are doing today

The Marines killed the enemy together, laughed together, and shared a Da Nang hooker together. But what happened to them after the war? You're about to find out.

Army ditches search for 7.62 battle rifle — for now

Less than two months after the Army issued a request from industry to provide up to 50,000 7.62 battle rifles, sources say the service has pulled the plug on the program.

Navy chief says crew fatigue may have contributed to recent spate of ship collisions

US Navy is blaming high pace of operations, budget uncertainty, and naval leaders who put their mission over safety after multiple deadly incidents at sea.

THE MIGHTY SURVEY GIVE-AWAY

We want to hear your thoughts. Complete our survey for a chance to win 1 of 5 gaming consoles

COMPLETE SURVEY TO WIN