Today in History, August 9, 1942:
Two days after the US Marines had made an amphibious landing on Guadalcanal seized what would become Henderson Field, the transports that brought them still stood off the coast, protected by 8 American and Australian Cruisers and 14 destroyers.
In the early morning hours a force of Japanese Heavy and Light Cruisers moved silently into the waters between Guadalcanal and Savo Island and opened fire on the American and Australian warships, which they caught, quite literally, napping. The British commander of the Allied force, Admiral Crutchley had taken his flagship to a conference with the amphibious force commander, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner and Marine Gen. Alexander Vandergrift, leaving a subordinate in command.
The Japanese Navy had been practicing and perfecting night time combat tactics for years, a fact the USN was not aware of, so they weren’t really expecting an assault. The Japanese also had very effective torpedoes. Several of the Allied ships managed to get off some shots that caused minor damage to the IJN cruisers, but the experienced, practiced Japanese crews poured withering torpedo and gunfire into the American and Australian ships, whose crews were exhausted from 2 days of shelling the enemy ashore in humid high temperatures.
Within an hour the USS Astoria, USS Quincy and USS Vincennes were on their way to the sea floor, making the first of many deposits that would give this passage the name “Iron Bottom Sound” because of all of the Allied and Japanese ships that now rest there with their crews. The next day, Admiral Turner would order the HMAS Canberra scuttled due to her damage.
The US aircraft carriers that had been providing air cover for the landings had been ordered out of the area by their commander, Adm. Frank “Black Jack” Fletcher. The transports and their covering surface ships could not remain with range of Japanese aircraft without air cover of their own, so they too left the area, leaving the Marines to their own devices for quite some time. Numerous battles would be fought in the waters of Guadalcanal, Savo and Tulagi Islands, and in “The Slot” leading from Guadalcanal to the enemy bases in the Solomons.