Santa Cruz 1942
Carrier duel in the South Pacific
Series: Campaign 247
Author: Mark Stille
Illustrator: Howard Gerrard
Length: 96 pages
Formats: Paperback, PDF eBook, ePub eBook
Preamble Santa Cruz 1942 Carrier duel in the South Pacific
is the 247th title in Osprey’s Campaign series. Author Mark Stille utilizes his impressive archival resources and knowledge base to present the story of that important carrier fight. The preceding Battle of the Eastern Solomons is also discussed in a detailed section. You will find detailed descriptions and erudite supposition of the doctrines, theories, assessments, and timelines of the men, units, and weapons that battled each other under the stormy skies of the South Pacific. Supporting the text are dozens of photographs; informational sidebars; Orders of Battle for both combatants; color maps and Osprey’s special bird’s-eye 3-D illustrations; and original color battlescenes.
Guadalcanal was the first offensive in the Pacific for the United States with her Allies. That assault in August 1942 started a domino effect of vicious air, sea, and land battles, one after another, for almost six months. The Battle of Santa Cruz was the second carrier duel of the campaign. Santa Cruz, or The Battle of the South Pacific as Imperial Japan dubbed it, proved that Midway had not shattered the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) carrier force, the Kido Butai. Only two other carrier battles were bigger.
Indeed, at Santa Cruz IJN deployed the two finest carriers in the Pacific, Shokaku
, the last two survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. Three other carriers were employed, and most of the aircrew were still of high quality. The fist of those carriers was their aircraft: the supreme Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter, the ship-killing Aichi D3A “Val” dive-bomber, and the aging Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber. The Kate may have been vulnerable but it had something America did not – a torpedo that worked.
Against the Kido Butai USN fielded only reconstituted USS Hornet
and battered Enterprise
. All other US carriers the Japanese had sent to the bottom or away for repair. Those carriers were fine ships and possessed several technological advantages that the IJN did not have, not the least of which was radar. Only Shokaku
fielded radar for IJN. USN antiaircraft weapons were superior, too. And the American carriers each carried a large airwing. USN aircraft were the outclassed but formidable Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter, the ship-killing Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber, plus the modern and capable Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. If only it had a reliable torpedo… .
Supporting ships were a mismatch. IJN steamed against USN with several battleships and a host of heavy cruisers. Submarines scouted far ahead into the American waters. USN escorted their carriers with two new battleships yet sorely lacked other heavy units, courtesy of maulings by the Japanese in surface actions.
Those forces were commanded by very different personalities, too. The meticulous and balanced Nimitz and the meticulous yet gambling Yamamoto pitted the aggressive Halsey against the cautious Nagumo. American carrier commanders were, by law, aviators while the Japanese carrier captains were not required to have wings.
Thus was the stage set for the fourth carrier battle of the war, a pyrrhic Japanese victory that almost rid the Pacific of USN carriers. It was a battle fought against the background of an intensive Japanese effort to drive the Marines from Guadalcanal into Ironbottom Sound. A battle that saw faints and charges; of lumbering USN flyingboats glide bombing IJN fleet carriers; opposing airstrikes meeting their opposites in midair; aerial ambushes; pilots turning their doomed airplane into a guided missile; failures of technology against successful old-school training; heroic sacrifice and heroic recoveries; enemy destroyers shelling a friendly carrier.
The Battle of Santa Cruz ended with just one damaged American carrier left afloat in the Pacific against Japan’s five. The overcomplicated IJN plan and USN AA fire kept Kido Butai pilots from finishing off the American carrier force, while USN tactical and technical mistakes kept American fighters from effectively defending their carriers or attacking the Japanese. However, IJN losses of pilots and planes were more serious than suffered at Midway, and American Marines still held Guadalcanal. Japan had won an impressive tactical victory they couldn’t afford, and threw away a strategic one they needed.
Content Santa Cruz 1942
is brought to you through 96 pages in nine chapters:
3. OPPOSING COMMANDERS
a. The United States Navy
b. The Imperial Japanese Navy
4. OPPOSING FLEETS
a. The United States Navy
b. The Imperial Japanese Navy
c. Orders of battle
5. OPPOSING PLANS
a. The US plan
b. The Japanese plan
6. THE CAMPAIGN
a. The battle of the Eastern Solomons
b. The battle of Santa Cruz
c. The carriers clash
d. The Japanese respond
e. The Americans attack
f. The Japanese attack
g. Analysis of the battle
Author Mark Stille does a fine job of taking archival information and rewriting it so that it does not sound like it is copied from a report. He put a great deal of information into these pages. He details the strategic and tactical situations of October 1942. The first Guadalcanal carrier clash, Eastern Solomons, is recounted in enough detail to set the stage for Santa Cruz. The main theater and task force commanders of both sides are explored in detail reflecting their rank and position. Strengths and weaknesses of American and Japanese doctrine are explored. The reader is familiarized with both sides’ weapon systems.
Whether you are acquainted with Santa Cruz or have never heard of it before, you will come away with a high understanding of the battle. I did find a couple of typos; one is the swapping of dates thus listing a subsequent event as several months early. The text carries the reader along in an organized manner. Many accounts are captivating, such as Lieutenant-Commander Murata Shigehara’s expertly orchestrated attack on USS Hornet
. Another story is a freak incident that that resulted in the loss of USS Porter
. Although there is something for almost everyone in this book, two types of accounts are absent. There are no ‘yank-and-bank’ dogfight stories nor are there any firsthand personal statements. The detail which Mr. Stille provides is appreciated as he not only lists the number and types of aircraft involved in a strike, he also includes which carried bombs instead of torpedoes, and how many were unarmed.
Photographs and Artwork
The text is firmly supported by dozens of exceptional photographs. Pacific War carrier battles are extraordinarily well documented on film. Santa Cruz was no exception. Santa Cruz also witnessed several events when a Japanese pilot – one known by name – intentionally crashed his stricken airplane into a ship, and these are shown. While I did not find any photos that I haven’t seen before, several images benefit by being printed on the quality paper Osprey uses. However, a few seem cropped and a couple seems to have cropped away detail referenced in the caption. There are two color photos. One is a photo of bomb damage to the Enterprise
; although the color has deteriorated the clarity of detail remains. The other is a 1942 aerial portrait of USS Saratoga
Three full-spread battlescenes and three full spread 3-D ‘bird’s-eye-view’ maps help the reader visualize the combat:
a. Attack On Zuiho. Dauntless dive-bombers piloted by Lt. Strong and Esn. Irvine from Enterprise surprise and neutralize the Japanese light carrier.
b. Junyo Attacks. Eight “Vals” attack Enterprise.
c. The End of Hornet. Japanese destroyers torpedo USSHornet.
I. American Carrier Aircraft Attack Shokaku. Hornet’s air group attacks Carrier Division One.
II. Attack On Hornet. The Japanese assault destroys the carrier.
III. The Japanese Carrier Aircraft Attack On the American Carrier Enterprise. Zuikaku and Shokaku attempt to destroy USN’s last flattop.
Several color maps orient and depict the battle:
i. Strategic situation, September 1942
ii. American and Japanese bases in the South Pacific, September – October 1942
iii. The battle of the Eastern Solomons, August 24, 1942
iv. The battle of Santa Cruz, October 26, 1942, 0000-1200hrs
v. The battle of Santa Cruz, October 26, 1942, 1200-2400hrs
I have read several accounts in varying detail of the battle of Santa Cruz over the years, but haven’t read the newer ones of the past 20 years. This book is a very thorough account of this surprising battle. I find it to be more than just a sketch of the battle. Certainly, more information could be offered, such as the name of the F4F pilot who shot down five Japanese planes over Enterprise
. However, that is not within the scope of the book. Key players are named. Even the lack of aircraft performance figures is not a concern as they add little to the description of the battle.
What are important are the blow-by-blow narratives of the commanders and task forces, and the descriptions of the attacks. IJN aircrew delivered a professional performance against the Americans, and IJN well learned lessons of search and CAP from Midway. USN still needed work on deploying and controlling their fighters and air groups. Both sides suffered from communication trouble, although it seems USN was the worst. Santa Cruz breaks some myths of the carrier clashes. It is a fascinating work.
Santa Cruz 1942
is a hot seller and I certainly understand why. And I certainly recommend it to students and historians of carrier battles, the Kido Butai, the Guadalcanal campaign, and the Pacific War in general.
This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.