“1942” – Part 23 (1 of 2)- Reflections; Guadalcanal Endgame

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 23 (1 of 2)

In 1945 U.S. fast carriers supported the final amphibious operations of the war—the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa—drawing the noose tight around Tokyo’s neck. Aircraft from Third and Fifth fleet carriers also pounded the Home Islands, disproving the airpower theory that naval aviation could not match land-based air. In July three days of strikes against the major naval base at Kure finished off the floating remnants of the Imperial Japanese Navy.7

For all the American satisfaction of an overwhelming victory for U.S. naval aviation in 1945, the essence of the tailhookers’ war actually had occurred three years earlier. The most decisive victories for carrier airpower had been achieved during six months of 1942, when the United States and Japan fought four of the Pacific war’s five carrier battles. First defensively at Coral Sea and Midway, and then supporting the Guadalcanal offensive at the Eastern Solomons and the Santa Cruz Islands, U.S. carriers pointed the way to the Marianas—and to Japan itself.  The Carrier Comes of Age  by Barrett Tillman

This series was never intended to be a complete summary of the war in the Pacific in 1942 or of any of the particular battles. Its focus has been  on the evolution of aircraft carrier operations in 1942. But the reality is, it’s near impossible to isolate  the war itself from “the how of ops.” So, four posts will be used for  concluding  the series. Beginning here in the first of a two part Reflections the focus is on the nature of the Pacific war as 1942 closes, then followed by a second part addressing selected pieces of how carrier operations were conducted and evolved.

The final two posts will be Part 24 – Afterword by Barrett Tillman, addressing the state of carrier warfare as the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944 begins and #25 – Implications for Current Ops.

This offering contains the following two  discussion areas:

  1. The Endgame for Guadalcanal (and 1942 carrier operations)
  2.  Noted historian/author summaries of Guadalcanal and the state of the war in the Pacific at the end of 1942

1] Endgame for Guadalcanal 

Summaries of World War II  in the Pacific in general, and even narrower focus on the Guadalcanal Campaign itself tend to cover the period after the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal  till the final abandonment in Feb 1943 with short summaries letting that mid-November battle stand as the final serious confrontation.

This allows a possible misrepresentation of the serious Japanese effort to retake the island in that the Japanese continued on into December to attempt supplying their troops ashore with multiple means. Indeed the  naval Battle of Tassafaronga on the night of 30 November–1 December 1942,  was one of the worst defeats suffered by the US Navy in World War II, third only to the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Savo Island. Yet, despite their continued efforts and  U.S. losses, the Japanese were still thwarted in their attempts at re-supply. Guadalcanal remained Starvation Island for Japanese troops.

Even with the substantial (longed for decisive battle) victory in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands which left the US Navy with no operational carriers in the Solomons, the Japanese were unable to close out the overall attempt to retake the island. Aviation leadership had been decimated, and troops on the island were starving and resupply simply wasn’t possible.

Finally, on December 12, the Navy proposed that Guadalcanal be abandoned. This was opposed by Japanese Army leaders, who still hoped that Guadalcanal could eventually be retaken from the Allies,  but on December 31, 1942 Japan’s Imperial General Headquarters, with approval from the Emperor, agreed to the evacuation of all  forces from the island and the establishment of a new line of defense for the Solomons on New Georgia.

Conceding the hard-fought campaign to the Allies, Operation Ke – in all aspects a  Japanese Dunkirk conducted over three nights  between February 2 and February 7, 1943 – succeeded in the  evacuation of 10,652 troops. Over 20,000 Japanese  had died on Guadalcanal.

Even in the end it was a close run fight. The most striking thing  is the virtual equality of the results — 24 ships on each side, with comparable tonnage. However, the meaning of this was very different for each side. One is that the Allied losses, all American except for the Australian cruiser Canberra, were going to be replaced. The new ships were building at the time. Japanese losses mostly could not be made good. They were constrained to fighting the War with what they had and could not build replacements.

Total Naval Losses at Guadalcanal
Aircraft Carriers
Heavy Cruisers
Light Cruisers

With the U.S. victory, Guadalcanal signaled the end of any significant offensive endeavors by the Japanese. Noted by Richard Frank in GUADALCANAL; The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle (800 pages):

The discussion of the operational elements of the campaign draws us back to its overall strategic impact. Quite simply, Guadalcanal was the literal turning point of the war in the Pacific. The Japanese remained on the offensive in the Southeast Area in the summer of 1942 and persisted in an offensive in New Guinea until checked there and forced to focus their attention on the southern Solomons.  Moreover, up until the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal the Japanese threatened to crush the attempt of the Allies to move to the offensive. Thus, Guadalcanal, not Midway represented the actual shift in strategic postures.

The victory at Midway didn’t mean we had all the answers for carrier aviation or its support roles, particularly when tied to a “box” defined by staying close to an invasion/occupation site. This geography linkage – CV ops in light of the need to support the land campaign – created  significantly different requirements than open ocean warfare.   CV vs Cv was one thing, support of amphibious ops and then long term support was quite another. There was a real dichotomy of needs for 1) maintaining maneuverability meaning sea space/open waters for carrier battles and 2) staying within range of the land forces while operating within range of land-based air, submarine forces and potential enemy carriers.

Over the course of 1942 Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp, and Hornet were all lost, but the line was held.  The Marine and Army grunts, the sailors, the Cactus Air Force, the Carrier Air Groups, and of note, the blackshoe admirals had made the Japanese pay dearly. Instead of reeling on the defensive post Pear Harbor, the Allies were able to move forward in a positive offensive context. 1943 would bring on the Essex CV and Independence CVL classes and the fast carrier task group would emerge to lead the fight across the central Pacific until Japan was in range of the B-29s.

By way of closing the loop selected elements of the ’42 operations are discussed in Reflections Part #2, and below the overleaf  further  insight from key authors and historians, are provided for readers interested in more aspects and perspective of the campaign and Pacific warfare throughout 1942.

2] Selected Summaries by noted authors and historians James Hornfischer, Admiral Samuel Cox, Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully: Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: The Little Things

Testimony of Pilot# 21

No matter what they might tell you, people do not enter into aviation by chance.  Some may leave, but those that stay have dreamed and they come to comprehend the gift that came out of the dream. Boris

The purpose of the Testimony of Pilot series  is to provide an anthology of stories of aviation,  particularly those often referred to as TINS (“this is no shit” ) – a term of endearment for true events or at least those with only minor aviator-can’t-help-it embellishment as contrasted with fairy tales and “once upon a time.” The focus mostly is on finding good stories from aviators in their own words with a major consideration of preventing some really good TINS from being lost within the vastness of Google or lost forever through the passage of time.

This piece is from a current naval aviator and squadron commanding officer flying EA-18G Growlers from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN -69). His extraordinary insight is in perfect alignment with testimony and I’m honored to have his permission to re-post from his own site on Medium.

The Little Things

CDR Jack ‘Farva’ Curtis Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: Pilgrimage of Honor

Testimony of Pilot# 20

On the evening of 10 January 1973 , VA-115 “Arabs” aircrew Lt. Mike “Mondo” McCormick and Ltjg. Alan “Arlo” Clark, were catapulted from the  USS Midway, flying  “Arab 511.” They were on a single plane low level SAM and Radar Suppression mission in support of B-52’s on a bombing operation over North Vietnam.  That night Mondo and Arlo would become the last Intruder Crew to make the ultimate sacrifice in that long war.

This January 10th on the anniversary of the shoot down of his father, Col Tad Clark (USAF) returned to the crash site to honor his Dad and Mondo.

VA-115 Family,

A few thoughts, as this trip to Vietnam comes to an end and I reflect on the last several days.  Right or wrong, one man’s perspective… Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 22 – Guadalcanal – Enterprise, Cactus and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 22

Japanese cargo ship Kinugawa Maru  beached on the Guadalcanal shore.  She had been sunk by U.S. aircraft on 15 November 1942 while attempting to deliver men and supplies to Japanese forces holding the northern part of the island. Savo Island can be seen is in the distance. 

The provision of daytime airpower  by 1) the Cactus Air Force, 2) Air Group 10 (both from Enterprise and in augmenting the Cactus Air Force from Henderson Field), and  3) the 11th Bombardment Group from Espiritu Santo by Navy, Marine and Army Air Corps aircrews was a significant but only partially  recognized element of the U.S. victory in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 21 – Guadalcanal – Enterprise, Cactus and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 21

On the morning of 13 November 1942, Marine aircraft of the “Cactus Air Force” attacked and caused the destruction of the Japanese battleship Hiei off Savo Island.  F4F Wildcat fighters of Marine squadron VMF-121, commanded by Captain Joe Foss, are engaged in a diversionary attack on the  battleship to cover an attack by Avenger torpedo bombers of Marine squadron VMSB-131. By  Robert Taylor.

As the end of this series approaches please note that the year of the carrier is not intended to address the overall war in the Pacific nor all aspects of the Guadalcanal Campaign which included significant land and sea battles in addition to the two carrier vs. carrier battles. While the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was the last of four carrier battles in 1942, the series would not be complete without some discussion of the actions of the Cactus Air Force and USS Enterprise/Air Group Ten during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal fought November 12-15, 1942.

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal 

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 20 – Guadalcanal – Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands: Discussion

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 20 (2/2)

Who won? As the two navies carrier battle groups retreated from the fourth and last carrier battle of 1942, the Japanese by multiple metrics could be judged to have won the day. Both sides were damaged greatly in similar manner, but for the Japanese, in a singular way that would be unrecoverable and thereby fatal when next  Japanese and American carriers dueled – their experienced squadron and section leadership was decimated.

What Price Victory?

American observers take a variety of positions on the outcome at Santa Cruz. Marine General Vandegrift termed the battle a “standoff.” Theater commander Admiral “Bull” Halsey wrote that “tactically, we picked up the dirty end of the stick but strategically we handed it back.” Similarly, official Navy historian Samuel Eliot Morison rated the battle a Japanese tactical victory that gained precious time for the Allies. And aviation historian John Lundstrom, author of the most detailed examination of the aerial exchanges, wrote of a “supposed” Japanese decisive victory. Robert Sherrod, chronicler of Marine aviation in the war, said Santa Cruz was a case in which “the box score is deceptive.” Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 19 – Guadalcanal – Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 19 (1/2)

On the morning of 26 October, during the attack on the Enterprise,  Task Force 61 Commander Admial Thomas Kinkaid remarked with pardonable hyperbole to AP correspondent Eugene Burns: “You’re seeing the greatest carrier duel of history. Perhaps it will never happen again.”

John Hamilton’s depiction of fighting around the battleship South Dakota and carrier Enterprise during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

We come now to the fourth and final carrier battle of 1942, what the Japaneses referred to as the Battle of the South Pacific. Yet despite the task force commander’s comment above, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands  is arguably either the forgotten or least noted of the carrier battles of that year or at best remembered as the battle where the USS Hornet was sunk and a Japanese victory. But, the Japanese “victory” was Pyrrhic. The true mark of the Battle of the Santa Cruz is that Japanese losses were so grievous that they withdrew from significant carrier participation, not to return until the the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 – the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, [25–27 October 1942]  was the fourth carrier battle of the Pacific campaign and was the fourth major naval engagement fought  during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands 

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Testimony of Pilot (19): Chapter 3 Ending -Such Men and Women

Testimony of Pilot# 19

“… They leave this tiny ship and fly against the enemy.  Then they must seek the ship, lost somewhere on the sea.  And when they find it, they have to land upon its pitching deck.  Where did we get such men?”

As the closing post in testimony’s Chapter 3 – Where did we get such men?  – the purpose is first, to add to the collection a fairly well traveled  but I think spot on piece The Fighter Pilot, by an unknown – obviously Air Force –  author;
and second, to provide some discussion of the characterization of what such men and women really do – despite the fighter pilot label – and will continue to do in the future.  Truth be told, it’s really what they’ve always done though sometimes Red Baron semantics and  emerging technology tends to blur the picture.

Cdr James Stockdale leading the Operation Pierce Arrow strike on Vinh, North Vietnam as the result of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 by R.G. Smith.

The Fighter Pilot

 author unknown

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Testimony of Pilot (18): Eulogy For a Fighter Pilot

Testimony of Pilot# 18

They do tell stories about fighter pilots and indeed, fast mover combat pilots of the fighter/attack  clan are seldom reluctant to pass on a little this is no s..t  (TINS) with quite possibly some embellishment of their swashing of buckles derring -do over time. 

Most readers are familiar with Pat Conroy’s book and follow-on movie The Great Santini, and some most certainly are knowledgable about Conroy’s Marine aviator father Colonel Don Conroy. Even though there is most certainly a dark side to Don Conroy as a father, for me this series and particularly for a chapter labeled “where did we get such men,” not capturing Pat Conroy’s eulogy for his father would just be incomplete … and so here’s to the Great Santini – and note, even among fighter and attack guys, carrying off that call sign required some real TINS.


by his son, Pat Conroy. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot (17): Naval Aviation Culture

Testimony of Pilot# 17

Proceedings Magazine – September 2011  published an article by Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman  “Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?” discussing  the fallout of Tailhook ’91 and the effect political correctness has had on a hard-earned mystique, noting The swaggering-flyer mystique forged over the past century has been stymied in recent years by political correctness.

Secretary Lehman’s focal point and full text go beyond the scope of Testimony of Pilot Chapter 3,Where did/do we get such men?” but his lead in defines our heritage very well.


Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead?

by John Lehman
Proceedings Sept 2011, U.S. Naval Institute

We celebrate the 100th anniversary of U.S. naval aviation this year, but the culture that has become legend was born in controversy, with battleship admirals and Marine generals seeing little use for airplanes. Even after naval aviators proved their worth in World War II, naval aviation faced constant conflict within the Navy and Marine Corps, from the War Department, and from skeptics in Congress. Throughout the interwar period, its culture was forged largely unnoted by the public.

It first burst into the American consciousness 69 years ago when a few carrier aviators changed the course of history at the World War II Battle of Midway. Continue reading

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