1 March 1944
A sequential raid of Japanese aircraft and heavy cruisers at the Army’s landings on Manus Island in the Admiralties was beaten back.
So said the official report from Rear Admiral William Fechteler to General Douglas MacArthur.
In actuality, it was a near disaster.
The day before Fechteler had landed elements of the First Cavalry on the island and they had made good progress. That morning more troops were being landed from three APDs and supplies were being ferried ashore at a frantic pace. Two DDs were on station providing gunfire support to the cavalrymen. Radar picked up an incoming swarm from Rabaul.
Fighter control aboard USS San Diego vectored the 16 P-40s flying cover from New Guinea to intercept. Poor coordination between the Army Air Force flyers and the Navy gunners proved catastrophic. Fifteen Warhawks were shot down, five by “friendly” AA fire.
However, the Japanese displayed their deteriorating pilot skill as well. Twenty-seven Betty bombers and a dozen Zero fighters swooped in on the packed harbor. Heavy, accurate AA fire and the doomed Warhawks shot down 11 Zeroes and 9 Bettys. The survivors dropped 20 bombs and 13 torpedoes and succeeded in getting only a single hit. It was a spectacular hit, however, penetrating three decks on the seaplane tender Curtiss to land in the depth charge magazine and rip the ship to tiny pieces.
As the surviving planes swept over the land and out of sight, USS Barton signalled “Unidentified ships, 30,000 yards and closing!”
They turned out to be IJN Tone and IJN Myoko who had crept up on the landing by using the shore to mask themselves from radar.
Left with no choice, Admiral Fechteler ordered his covering force to charge the Japanese heavy cruisers, whose 8-inch main guns easily outranged the 5-inchers of the Americans.
The ensuing gun battle saw the volume of American fire smother the two heavy cruisers. While the 8-inchers hit much harder, the rapid-fire 5-inchers hit exponentially more often, eventually turning both Japanese ships into infernos.
The heavy fire did claim San Diego, sinking with no less than 10 heavy caliber hits and six hits by smaller guns. Four destroyers were also hit, two seriously, but gunnery honors went to USS Barton, the ship who gave first warning, which scored an unbelievable 21 hits on Myoko and 4 more on Tone.
The landing was saved but McArthur was forced to divert USS Phoenix and two destroyers from protecting coastal traffic in New Guinea to replacing the losses sustained by Fechteler. As for the Japanese, they had thrown their last roll of the dice to support the infantry now doomed to destruction on Manus.
We played a representation of the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, of November 1-2, 1943. While the actual battle was a mass of confusion with ships of both sides colliding with each other in the dark and shooting at friends, ours was a much more controlled scenario exploring “what if” the American plan was carried out to perfection.
The Japanese under Admiral Unlucky Tomiachi approached as they had historically with the two heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro in line ahead flanked by two columns each of a light cruiser leading and three destroyers. The Americans under Admiral Just-Follow-the-Plan Caccamerrill and Close AtSpeed Burkox started in line ahead across the Japanese “T” with four destroyers then four “light” cruisers and four trailing destroyers. The Japanese also had two scout planes intended to drop flares.
The battle began with some tentative radar contacts and a flash of anti-aircraft fire as gunners on the Cleveland and Claxton opened up on the two scouts. The AA gunners were met by spectacular success as both Suisei exploded in mid-air, foreshadowing the rest of the game.
Admiral Tomiachi, acting on imperfect information, split three destroyers to his right (west) and turned the rest of the squadron hard left, intending to match the American gun line with his own four cruisers, screened by the three eastern-most destroyers. Admirals Caccamerrill and Burkox executed the historical plan with the lead four destroyers continuing forward and the rest of the command reversing course.
The entire Japanese squadron opened fire on Cleveland, scoring hits and starting fires but not knocking her out. The Americans opened fire with the few ships who had made radar contact, with a couple minor hits.
Both squadrons now established on their new courses, and with plenty of gun flashes to fire at, the battle was joined in earnest. The Japanese launched torpedoes from every ship but were quickly smothered by the American shells.
Myoko was first to be crippled, then Sendai and, one by one, the destroyers. The return fire was less effective, causing minor damage to Denver, Ausburne, and Foote.
Tomiachi ordered a withdrawal only 5 minutes after launching torpedoes and ordered all ships to make smoke. But it was too late. The Americans had full acquisition by radar and, at ranges from 5000-9000 yards, simply smothered the Japanese fleet. Deftly turning into the torpedo salvoes only Ausburne was hit out of the nearly 70 Long Lances launched, and that hit proved to be a dud.
Every Imperial ship was sunk with only Cleveland and Foote being damaged enough to be forced to leave the landing area the next day.
With no confusion, unerring radar, and perfect execution, the Americans in the game won an overwhelming victory denied the actual Americans 75 years before. No matter, historically the Japanese had been bloodied sufficiently that they never again made a significant sortie in the Solomons.
Game was played using 1:2400 ships and Sbase3 computer-assisted rules.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..