Buckled deck plates -- torpedo damage at 2nd battle of Kula Gulf

Updated 04/26/2015

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Introduction to, memories and Comments of
 "Solomon Islands Battles and Raids"

    On 4 December, she departed San Francisco with transports bound for New Caledonia. She shepherded the convoy into its Noumea anchorage on the 21st, then shifted to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, whence she proceeded into the Solomons. She commenced operations there in January 1943 with bombardments of Japanese air facilities at Munda .-and Kolombangara and, during the next five months, repeated those raids and patrolled the "Slot" in the Central Solomons in an effort to halt the "Tokyo Express" -- reinforcement and .supply shipping that sought, almost nightly, to bolster Japanese garrisons.

    Honolulu, Helena and St. Louis formed the core of Rear Admiral Walden A. Ainsworth's Bombardment Group, and were frequently seen shelling Japanese airfields in the Solomons. The cruisers fought in one, respectively two battles. At Kula Gulf, Helena was torpedoed and sunk, with 1155 survivors, rendering her unable to participate at the Battle of Kolombangara, where St Louis and Honolulu fought together with HMNZS Leander, and as the two others, suffered torpedo hits.

    Shortly after midnight on 4-5 July, she participated in the bombardment of Vila and Bairoko Harbor, New Georgia. Her division, Cruiser Division 9 (CruDiv 9) and its screen, Destroyer Squadron 21 (DesRon 21), then retired back toward Tulagi to replenish as troops were landed at Rice Anchorage. Early on the morning of the 6th, however, the cruiser-destroyer force located and engaged ten enemy destroyers headed for Vila with reinforcements embarked In the ensuing Battle of Kula Gulf, USS HELENA (CL-50) and two enemy ships were sunk.

    Six nights later, the force, TF 18, reinforced by DesRon 1.2, moved back up the "Slot" from Tulagi and soon after 0100 on the l3th, engaged an enemy force of one light cruiser, JINTSU, and five destroyers in the Battle of Kolombangara. During the battle, which raged for over an hour, JINTSU and GWIN (DD-433) were sunk and HONOLULU (CL-48) , ST. LOUIS (CL-49) and New Zealand light cruiser LEANDER , were damaged. ST. LOUIS took a torpedo which hit well forward and twisted her bow, but caused no casualties.

    She returned to Tulagi on the afternoon of the 13th. From there, she moved on to Espiritu Santo for temporary repairs; then steamed east, to Mare Island, to complete the work. In mid-November, she returned to the Solomons and, from the 20th to the 25th, covered marines fighting for Bougainville. In December, she returned to that island to shell- troop concentrations and, in January 1944, shifted southward to bombard enemy installations in the Shortland Islands.

William M. Goode 7021 Mercedes Avenue Citrus Heights, CA 95621 (916) 969-2096

Dear Jack:

    Thence, she moved back to Bougainville to cover the landing of reinforcements at Cape Torokina. On 10 January she headed back to Florida Island. In February, she again moved northwest, this time into the extreme northern Solomons and the Bismarck's. 

   When two or three old salts get together the lies and exaggerations defy imagination. The sea stories suggest that we sank more Japanese ships than ever existed and that our roles bordered on the heroic. When I read the copy of the Navy Unit Citation given us in the last HUBBLE BUBBLE, I suspected that the descriptions of the July 1943 actions in the Solomon's were misleading. I admit that after the two engagements in July 1943 I thought that we should have been given the Presidential Citation. I was convinced that we had destroyed half the Jap Navy. Here are of my observations regarding these two actions:

    Steaming up the slot with her Task Force (our unit was Task Group 36.1)...........Shortly before midnight on July 5 to intercept the Japanese on their nightly run from Bougainville, the USS ST. LOUIS met and engaged a superior force of cruisers and destroyers, sinking or severely damaging a majority of these ships of the Japanese cruiser-destroyer force.

    Because of frantic Japanese efforts in early 1943 to construct airfields at Munda on New Georgia, and Vila on Kolombangara Admiral Halsey directed that both areas be eliminated. On July 5, 1943 our mission was to enter Kula Gulf and destroy Japanese installations on Vila Plantation and facilities on the north coast of New Georgia. After the bombardment we left Kula Gulf and headed back to Tulagi.

    Word was received that a Japanese destroyer force had left Buin on the southern tip of Bougainville headed for Kula Gulf. Course was reversed and we headed north to intercept the enemy. Radar contact was made at 0136 on July 6 at a range of 23,000 yards. Admiral Ainsworth believed he had the element of surprise but the Japanese had already detected the Americans. On July 5 and 6 1943 there were NO Japanese cruisers anywhere in the area, NON, ZIP, ZERO.

    The Japanese Replenishment Force which had departed Buin consisted of a three destroyer Support Group, a three destroyer First Transport Group, and a four destroyer Second Transport Group. The transport group destroyers were loaded with troops headed for Vila. As we finished the bombardment and departed, the Support Group was east of Vila close to the Kolombangara coastline .They fired a spread of "long lance" torpedoes striking the STRONG from a distance of 11 miles. RALPH TALBOT detected the Japanese but the Support Group broke off and headed north along the Kolombangara coast, seeking to avoid a confrontation.

    The First Transport Group was detached and ordered to land its troops at Vila. Shortly later the Second Transport was ordered to Vila. The Support Group continued northward, but when the size of the American Force was recognized, both Transport Groups were ordered to rejoin. Both sides continued to close. The Japanese were maneuvering for a surprise torpedo attack and Admiral Ainsworth apparently wanted to get close so the enemy could be smothered by gunfire.

    The Japanese launched their torpedoes at the same time we opened fire. Admiral Ainsworth changed course to the southwest, moments later HELENA was hit by a torpedo, followed by two more. We were hit by one on the starboard side, fortunately a dud. All American ships concentrated fire on the lead destroyer NIIZUKI, the Japanese flagship, which quickly sank. The other two destroyers in the Support Group, turned away, made smoke and retired, sustaining only minimal damage.

    The Second Transport Group came under fire. AMAGIRI suffered slight damage and retired. HATSUYUKI received heavy damage but was able to rejoin the First Transport group. NAGATSUKI received one direct hit but was able to withdraw and ran aground short of Vila. She was destroyed by aircraft the next day.

    Official Japanese sources state that the superior firepower of the Americans should have carried the day, but indecision and the failure to open fire caused confusion and loss of initiative. Other factors were the use of flash powder and the failure to make effective use of torpedoes, in fact, the Americans fired no torpedoes and the destroyers were tightly controlled in a battle line.

    The Japanese retired and we headed back to Tulagi with RADFORD and NICHOLAS detailed to recover HELENA survivors.

    "In another furious night engagement off Kolombangara Island one week later she assisted in damaging or destroying five more ships of the Japanese cruiser destroyer force."

    In this action there was in fact one Japanese cruiser, the JINTSU, an old (1923) scout cruiser armed with 7-5.5" guns, JINTSU and five destroyers were escorting four destroyer-transports headed for Vila. This force was detected leaving Buin by "black cats" (PBY's), We headed north to intercept with three light cruisers (HMAS LEANDER replacing the sunk HELENA and ten destroyers. Radar detection was made at 23,000 yards with the range decreasing rapidly. I remembering plotting ranges in main Battery Plot as the ranges decreased at an alarming rate. I visualized a confused melee like Savo Island. I kept cursing and shouting, "Why in the hell don't he start shooting." Finally when the range had dropped to less than 6000 yards we opened fire.

    By that time the water was filled with torpedoes and there was great confusion. Admiral Ainsworth ordered the van destroyers to launch a torpedo attack but there were no hits, Fire was concentrated on JINTSU with substantial damage. Finally a torpedo hit her and she sank. The Japanese destroyers after launching their torpedoes retired to the north and reloaded their torpedoes this was a unique ability that no other Navy possessed.

    Had the action stopped at that point it would have been a clear American victory, but Admiral Ainsworth ordered a pursuit of the retiring Japanese to the north, but unfortunately he learned too late that instead of fleeing the Japanese had just reloaded their torpedoes and rejoined the attack, severely damaging ST. LOUIS, HONOLULU, and LEANDER and sinking the destroyer GWIN. In the face of attacks by our destroyers the Japanese broke off and withdrew to Bougainville.

    By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that we engaged a superior enemy force in each of these actions. Nor can it be said that we inflicted crippling damage on enemy forces The Japanese were a worthy enemy. They fought as bravely and as energetically as we did. They were better trained in night actions and had vastly superior torpedoes. I think we deserve some credit for opposing such a force without really knowing what we were up against. But the image created by the Citation is a somewhat distorted picture.

    One of major lesson learned from these two actions was that it was not wise to chase destroyers with light cruisers and to restrain the operations of screening destroyers. Admiral Ainsworth later admitted this and it did not happen again. The subsequent battles of Vella Lavella and the second battle of Kula Gulf validated this lesson.

    I am convinced that we were extremely lucky to survive both these night actions, but then what can one expect from the "Lucky Lou". Admiral Ainsworth,, like many American commanders, was inexperienced in night actions and the employment of destroyers. His tactical errors in July 1943 did not result from a lack of effort, rather from the failure to recognize that night actions in the Slot involved problems never before faced.

Regards, Bill Goode
William M. Goode 7021 Mercedes Avenue Citrus Heights, CA 95621 (916) 969-2096
William M. Goode - USS ST. LOUIS:

Data on night action on July 13th obtained from range finder operators.

Received Jap gun fire of about two salvos, both of which were well short of us and consisted of about seven shots per salvo. After about eight salvos, a salvo from the ST. LOUIS , hit a large ship with a sheer deck and high bow. The ship burst into flames at about seven different points from stem to stern.

Comment: this ship probably was a light cruiser, old type, because of her flush deck, the number of gun in her salvos, and the guns appeared to spread out in a long , straight line. She also was larger than the other targets, which could be distinguished by mass alone.......

    About the time of the torpedo hit on our ship, there were several star shells in the air. One large ship with towering superstructure, with target angle nearly of 180 was seen. When a view more on the beam was obtained, the ship appeared to have 1 or 2 stacks with the bridge and area aft of Batt II in flames. General mass: One turret aft of after flames was visible Range 5000 yds.

Comment: Everyone who saw this believed that she was CA of the MOGAMI class because of her size and general lines. At the time of the torpedoing, two large two stack destroyers were seen at a range of about 6500 yards. These may have been our own DDs A single stack destroyer with narrow superstructure and on fire pulled up alongside a four stack cruiser. After we were hit this cruiser burst into flames. The ship believed to be CA was on fire at this time.

Comment: The four stack cruiser is believed to have been a CL of the SENDAI class and may possibly have been the same ship as our first target, if not then there was more than one CL in the enemy group. General opinion of range finder operators is that there were more than six Jap vessels. Operators were able to range on outgoing salvos and also on enemy salvos. Intensity of flames on enemy ships made recognition difficult.


W.M. Goode
Lt(jg), U.S.N.

Additional Memories Received from William (Bill) A. Goode:

    In September 1942, during the Aleutian operations, the aircrews were overhauling one of the SOC's in the hanger. One of men accidentally touched the detonation button and blew up the radio. During the investigation that followed, the investigating officer directed that the man show him exactly what he done. Unfortunately, another A/C was used for the investigation." Sir, all I did was press the button like this," Another radio was detonated.

    On a bright sunny day we were steaming in "torpedo alley" between Espirito Santos and Guadalcanal astern of the HONOLULU. A submarine off our starboard beam fired a fish. It passed between us and the Honolulu, hit her wake and broached into the wake and overtook the Honolulu, hitting her square in the middle of her transom just above the water-line where it rested without exploding. The Honolulu's damage control party gingerly surveyed the problem but fortunately the fish worked itself free and dropped clear. leaving a round 21 " hole in the ship's square transom.

    Again in "torpedo alley" the Division Commander decided to hold a simulated target practice with a division of destroyers. The destroyers formed up in a column off the port side. LT(jg) Dale Cox was in the forward Mk.37 director. He briefed the crews of five inch Mts 1 and 2 and informed them that this was to be a simulated exercise and that all orders would be met with simulated actions. Everyone understood. As we approached the targets the bridge decided to make the simulated firing run parallel to the targets instead of closing. Control was shifted to Mts. 2 and 4 at the last minute. Up to that point Mt. 4 had been controlled by the after Mr.. 37 director and had no knowledge of the instructions given by LT(jg) Cox. When the order was given to "Commence Fire" Mt. 4 actually loaded and fired while Mt. 2 was still simulating. Fortunately the round fell well astern of the destroyer target, but the destroyer skipper had some choice words in which he expressed his views on the TBS.

Hope you can use some of these.

William M. Goode