Cruisers USS Colombia and USS
Montpelier firing their guns in the battle
The Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, on 1–2 November
1943—also known as the Battle of Gazelle Bay, Operation Cherry Blossom, and
in Japanese sources as the Sea Battle of Bougainville Bay Shore (ブーゲンビル島沖海戦)—was
a naval battle fought near the island of Bougainville. The naval battle was
a result of Allied landings on nearby Bougainville in the first action in
the Bougainville campaign of World War II and may also be seen as part of
the Solomons and New Guinea campaigns. The battle was significant as part of
a broader Allied strategy—known as Operation Cartwheel—aimed at isolating
and surrounding the major Imperial base at Rabaul. The intention was to
establish a beachhead on Bougainville, within which an airfield would be
On 1 November 1943, the U.S. 3rd Marine Division
landed at Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay. The bay had been chosen
because it was at the outer limit of Allied fighter plane range, and because
the numerically-superior Japanese 17th Army was concentrated at other, more
strategic sites in the north and the south. The Marines were backed by a
force of four light cruisers (USS Montpelier, Cleveland,
Columbia, and Denver) and eight destroyers "The Little Beavers" (USS Charles
Ausburne, Dyson, Stanly, Claxton, Spence,
Thatcher, Converse, and Foote), commanded by Rear Admiral
Aaron S. "Tip" Merrill.
Picture at right IJN HC-Myoko
The Japanese responded with air attacks from Rabaul
and by dispatching a powerful naval force from Rabaul commanded by Admiral
Sentaro Omori: heavy cruisers Myōkō and Haguro, light cruisers
Agano and Sendai, and destroyers Shigure, Samidare,
Shiratsuyu, Naganami, Hatsukaze, and Wakatsuki.
The Americans evacuated most of their landing craft
and troop transports and lay in wait. They made radar contact at 02:30 on 2
November and Merrill dispatched his destroyers forward for a torpedo attack,
after which his cruisers would open fire from a safe distance. The
destroyers were seen by the Japanese, who dodged the torpedoes, but their
evasive maneuvers threw them out of formation.
Picture at right IJN HC-Haguro
At around 02:50, the American cruisers opened fire,
quickly disabling Sendai. The destroyer Samidare launched a
torpedo attack but in doing so collided with another Imperial ship,
Shiratsuyu. Myōkō also collided with the destroyer Hatsukaze,
slicing off her bows. The Imperial deficiency in radar meant that they had a
great deal of difficulty finding the American cruisers, but at 03:13 they
made contact and opened fire.
Merrill turned away under cover of smoke, and
Omori—believing that he had sunk a heavy cruiser—considered that he had done
enough and turned away to the east. The damaged Sendai and
Hatsukaze were later found and sunk by gunfire. After the Imperial ships
returned to Rabaul, they were joined by four large cruisers and more
destroyers from Truk in order to reattack the Allied landing forces at
Bougainville. On 5 November, however, two U.S. aircraft carriers raided
Rabaul, heavily damaging four heavy cruisers and forcing them to retreat
back to Truk, ending the Japanese warship threat to the Allied landing
forces at Bougainville.
Picture at right IJN HC-Agano
battle of Empress Augusta Bay (2 November 1943) was a night-time victory for
the US Navy that defeated an attempt by the Japanese navy to interfere with
the landings on Bougainville. The Americans chose to land in Empress Augusta
Bay, on the western side of the island, because it was weakly defended and
inaccessible by land. Although the landings themselves didn't take place
until 1 November, the naval campaign began a few days earlier, and the
invasion fleet sailed on 31 October, while other elements of the American
fleet carried out pre-invasion bombardments of Japanese positions all around
chance on 30 October Admiral Sentaro Omori, with Cruiser Division 5,
normally based at Truk, was visiting Rabaul with his two heavy cruisers. The
local commander wanted these ships to return to Truk, but when an American
Task Force was detected sailing up the slot Admiral Koga, the commander at
Truk, decided to sent Omori with any other elements of the Eighth Fleet
present at Rabaul to attack this fleet. At 10.00 on 31 October Omori, with
the heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro, the light cruisers
Sendai and Agano, and two destroyers, was ordered into the slot
to intercept this task force.
Picture at right IJN
fact this force, Admiral Merrill's Task Force 39, had left the slot to
bombard Japanese positions around the Buka passage, at the northern tip of
Bougainville, and the two fleets missed each other. At 2.30pm Omori learnt
that Merrill was off Buka, and returned to Rabul, arriving at 11.00pm on 31
October. On his arrive he was informed that American troops had landed in
Empress Augusta Bay. Admiral Samejima, the commander at Rabaul, added four
destroyers to Omori's fleet and ordered him to rendezvous with five
transport ships carrying 1,000 troops and then escort them to Empress
Augusta Bay, where they were expected to launch a counterattack.
17.00 on 1 November Omori left port for the second time. The rendezvous was
delayed until 20.30. The combined force was then forced to evade an American
submarine, before at 21.20 a single American aircraft bombed the fleet.
Omori decided that the transport ships were too vulnerable, and would have
to be sent back, while he continued on in an attempt to catch the American
transport ships believed to be in the bay.
Picture at right IJN DD-Shigure
the Japanese were slowly making their way south-east from Rabaul towards
Bougainville Admiral Merrill, with Task Force 39, was resting off Vella
Lavella, but he was soon informed of the location of the Japanese fleet by
Army reconnaissance aircraft, and by 23.15 on 1 November he was steaming
north to prevent Omori from entering the bay. The transport ships had
actually been moved away, but the Japanese would still have been able to
bombard the beaches and prevent reinforcements reaching the newly landed
troops. Merrill sailed in a long line, with his four light cruisers 1,000
yards apart and a destroyer division at each end of the fleet. As the two
fleets closed the Japanese were sailing in cruising order, with the two
heavy cruisers in the centre and two flanking divisions, each made up of a
light cruiser and three destroyers.
Picture at right IJN
battle began at 1.30am on 2 November when American aircraft attacked the
Japanese fleet, hitting the Haguro, opening up her side plating and
slowing the entire formation by two knots. Ten minutes later a float plane
from the Haguro reported sighting one cruiser and three destroyers –
Omori would be badly let down by his reconnaissance forces during the
battle, which first underreported the size of the fleet facing him, then
reported sighting non-existent troop transports, then overestimated the size
of the American force – until 1950 Omori remained convinced that he had
faced seven heavy cruisers and twelve destroyers!
turned towards the reported cruiser, but a few minutes later his scout plane
claimed to have sighted transports unloading troops in the bay – probably a
misidentification of three minelayers and a destroyer that had been laying a
protective minefield across the entrance to the bay. Omori turned towards
the reported transport ships.
Picture at right IJN DD-
Japanese ships appeared on American radar at 2.27am. Merrill formed his
fleet into three columns, and prepared to send his two destroyer divisions
to make torpedo attacks on the Japanese. At 2.31 Burke's destroyers were
sent to make their attack, then at 2.39 Merrill ordered the cruisers to
reverse direction, so that they would be sailing south. His aim was to force
the Japanese to move west and engage them at 16,000-20,000 yards to reduce
the danger from the excellent Japanese torpedoes. The rear destroyer
division became the new van divisions, with orders to attack the Japanese
southern flank as soon as possible.
2.45am Omori received a more accurate report of the American position and
decided to turn right and sail to the south-west. This allowed him to move
from cruising order to battle formation, and engage the American cruisers,
but it was the Americans who opened fire first, at 2.46am. The first few
volleys were the most effective of the day. The light cruiser Sendai
was hit several times. Her rudder was jammed and a number of fires broke
out. The destroyers Samidare and Shiratsuyu collided while
attempting to avoid 6in shells, and were forced to retreat from the fight.
At the same time the Japanese shells fell short.
Picture at right IJN DD-
2.51 Merrill ordered his cruisers to turn onto a course of 200 degrees (just
to the west of south) and make smoke. This moved probably contributed to the
inaccuracy of the Japanese shellfire at this stage, and also caused the two
Japanese heavy cruisers to lose contact with the Americans. They sailed in a
large 360 degree loop in an attempt to find the Americans, with the southern
flanking force (Admiral Osugi) following. During this manoeuvre the
destroyer Hatsukaze attempted to run between the two heavy cruisers,
collided with one and was heavily damaged (3.07).
the Japanese were making their full turn Merrill began a massive figure of
eight manoeuvre, designed to make it harder for the Japanese guns to hit,
and to move his cruisers away from Destroyer Division 46. This move did
reduce the amount of hits suffered by the Americans to three 8in shells
which struck the Denver at 3.20-3.25 but failed to explode, but it
also meant that the Americans failed to score any hits themselves.
Picture at right IJN DD-
around 3.27 three Japanese shells fell short of the American cruisers, which
then disappeared from view (probably into smoke). Omori believed that these
shell splashes had actually been torpedo hits and that the three cruisers
had been sunk, but he still believed that he faced four heavy cruisers, and
with one of his one cruisers sinking and three destroyers damaged he decided
to withdraw, issuing the order at 3.37.
ended the main cruiser battle. The two American destroyer divisions were
engaged for another hour, but without having much impact. DesDiv45 (Burke)
was scattered after the torpedo attack and out of action for an hour. At
3.49am it fired at the Sendai, then attempted to catch the
Samidare and Shiratsuyu, before playing a part in the sinking of
Picture at right IJN DD-
DesDiv46 (Austin) was scattered by the first American 180 degree turn. The
Foote ran into a Japanese torpedo aimed at the cruisers, and her
stern was blown off. She was then only narrowly missed by the Cleveland.
At 3.20 the Spence was hit close to the waterline by a shell, which
allowed salt water into one of the fuel tanks, badly reducing her speed. The
rest of the division then attacked the Sendai, Samidare,
Shiratsuyu and Hatsukaze in the same order as Burke's division,
sharing in the sinking of the Hatsukaze.
5.00am the scattered American fleet was back together, ready to repel a
Japanese air attack. 18 Vals and 80 Zeros had been detected leaving Rabaul,
and eventually over 100 aircraft attacked the fleet. Poor conditions
prevents a strong air cap being put over the fleet, and a mixed force of
eight Hellcats, one Marine Corsair, three Army Lightnings and four RNZAF
Warhawks managed to shoot down eight Japanese aircraft, while the task
forces anti-aircraft guns claimed 17. The Japanese attack was a failure –
only two hits were scored, both on the Montpelier's starboard
catapult, wounding one. More air attacks were planned, but the 5th Air Force
then launched a major raid on Rabaul which prevented the Japanese from
making any more air attacks.
battle of Empress Augusta Bay was a clear American victory, and showed that
the Japanese were beginning to lose their advantage in night engagements
that had led to some crushing victories earlier in the war. The remaining
Japanese naval threat to the Bougainville landings was removed by a series
of heavy carrier-borne assaults on Rabaul, giving the Americans possession
of the sea around the island. The only worrying feature of the battle for
the Americans was the poor accuracy of their 6in guns – of more then 4,000
shells fired only about 20 scored hits.
Japanese Order of Battle
Cruiser Division 5: Rear Admiral Omori
Heavy Cruisers Myoko and
Screen, Left Flank: Rear Admiral Matsuji Ijuin
Light Cruiser: Sendai
Destroyers: Shigure, Samidare and
Screen, Right Flank: Rear Admiral Morikazu Osugi
Light Cruiser: Agano
Destroyers: Naganami, Hatsukaze and
American Order of Battle
Force 39, Rear Admiral A. Stanton Merrill (Montpelier)
Destroyers: Desdiv 45, Captain Arleigh A. BurkeCharles F. Ausburne, Dyson, Stanly
Body: Crudiv 12, Rear Admiral MerillMontpelier, Cleveland, Columbia
Destroyers: Desdiv 46, Commander B. L. AustinSpence, Thatcher, Converse and
BATTLE OF EMPRESS AUGUSTA BAY - November 2, 1943
by Vincent P. O'Hara
WEATHER: Overcast with scattered showers.. Gentle wind, force 1 from SW.
VISIBILITY: Dark night with no moon and poor visibility,
SEA STATE: Smooth with gentle swell from SW.
MISSION: Japanese interception mission. Allies defend beachhead.
"We must fight
and fight desperately. Japan will topple if Bougainville falls.”
at right USS Colombia CL-56
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal the Japanese were conservative -- even stingy --
in their use of major ships to contest the Allies drive up the Solomon
chain. Only at Kolombangara, did they risk (and lose) any ship heavier than
a destroyer. This policy of hoarding cruisers didn't change until the 3rd
Marine Division landed at Cape Torokina just north of Empress August Bay,
Bougainville Island on November 1, 1943 and only then because the Japanese
considered Bougainville essential to the defense of Rabaul
The largest of
the Solomon chain, Bougainville was mountainous and covered with dense
jungle, especially in the north. The indigenous population of around 43,000
spoke eighteen distinct languages.. The Japanese garrison more than doubled
the island's population, but they could hardly defend every potential
landing site. Only 3,000 men guarded the Empress Augusta Bay area and just
men covered the actual landing beaches. These troops fought well, but were
no match for 14,000 marines.
at right USS Denver CL-58
For their part,
the Americans were becoming practiced in amphibious operations. The
transports discharged all troops and most supplies by 1800 hours on the day
of the landing. The bulk of the amphibious force cleared the island, but
four partially unladen ships remained in the vicinity to complete unloading
the next day. Then reports reached the Americans that a major Japanese force
had sailed from Rabaul.
Division (Sentai) 5, heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro under
Vice Admiral Sentaro Omori, reinforced the 8th Fleet at Rabaul on 21 October
Admiral Samejima, commander of the 8th Fleet, attempted to use Omori on the
31st to intercept American units reported sailing up the slot. Omori failed
to make contact, but as he was returning to harbor, news of the American
landing arrived. At Truk Admiral Koga, commander of the Combined Fleet saw
an opportunity to repeat and perfect the victory at Savo Island, by
immediately hitting the beachhead with a counterlanding and by destroying
the transport fleet. When Omori made port Samejima gave him with this
assignment. Reinforced by four destroyers, he would escort a landing force
of 1,000 men carried on five transports to Empress Augusta Bay, see them
ashore and then conduct a devastating strike against the American
transports. Of necessity, this mission was devised in haste; the commanders
of the three flotillas involved, none of whom had operated together, had
time for just a brief conference. But the campaign had reached a nexus and
the Japanese had more cruisers than they had time. Six hours after making
Rabaul, Omori was at sea once again.
at right USS Cleveland CL-55
warships rendezvoused with the transports in St. George Channel, but Omori
was quickly able to revise his original mission and obtain permission to
continue without them. Various reasons were given: the transports were late
in arriving and then too slow to make up the lost time, command realized
that 1,000 troops would be more of a gesture than a remedy, given the size
of the American landing force, or Omori simply didn't want to be bothered
reason, the decision to leave the transports was wise because Tip Merrill's
Task Force 39 was waiting. Merrill bombarded Buka's airfields on October
31and then withdrew south. The news of Omori's sortie brought him rushing
back north. TF 39 arrived at the point of conflict fully aware of Omori's
whereabouts. For his part, Omori had little expectation of achieving
surprise. American aircraft snooped him about 15 miles east of Cape St.
George and shadowed his force, even making two attacks. The second, at about
0130, an hour before surface contact, scored a near miss on Haguro,
that reduced her speed to 26 knots. Shortly after Haguro launched a
scout plane and at 0146 she reported an enemy force of one cruiser and three
destroyers twenty miles south. Omori reacted by ordering a 180° simultaneous
turn away from the bay marking time while his plane provided additional
intelligence. He was not disappointed. After 0200 the Haguro scout
radioed that the bay was crowded with transports
and so Omori ordered another 180° simultaneous turn, this time toward the
enemy. He also hoped his maneuvers would confuse the Americans as to his
exact position. The time was 0225.
at right USS Montpelier CL-57
opposition, Omori's force sailed in three columns. On the port side light
cruiser Sendai under Rear Admiral Ijuin led destroyers Shigure,
Samidare and Shiratsuyu. Ten thousand yards to starboard
sailed heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro while the third column
of light cruiser Agano under Rear Admiral Morikazu Osugi followed by
destroyers Naganami, Hatsukaze and Wakatsuki< cruised
5,400 yards to the starboard of the heavies. The columns were supposed to be
staggered with Sendai 1,100 yards ahead of Myoko. However, two
180° turns had disordered Omori's formation. The port column had fallen back
so it was on Myoko's beam and the spacing between ships had dropped
to 325 rather than the prescribed 540 yards; it had also drawn closer to the
heavy cruisers. Merrill's force loitered off the mouth of Empress Augusta
Bay (Gazelle Bay to the Japanese). Destroyers Charles Ausburne,
Dyson, Stanley and Claxton led his main body of light
cruisers Montpelier, flag, Cleveland, Columbia and
Denver by 5,000 yards. Destroyers Spence, Thatcher,
Converse and Foote followed, 3,000 yards behind the rear cruiser.
not only enjoyed superior position and intelligence, radar gave them the
advantage of surprise as well, scooping the Sendai column at 0227
from 36,000 yards. With this contact, Merrill's battle plan went into
effect. TF 39 turned due north. The cruisers would fight at long range to
avoid Japanese torpedo waters. Merrill led the only cruiser task force left
in the South Pacific. He intended to avoid a battle of annihilation; it
would be enough to merely repulse the Japanese if he could avoid serious
damage. His plan also recognized that destroyers had proven themselves more
effective operating independently instead of as a rigidly controlled cruiser
screen and that torpedoes were the best way to disclose one's presence to an
enemy force. At 0231 Desdiv 45, commanded by Arleigh Burke turned to port
heading north, northwest positioning itself for a surprise torpedo attack..
At 0239 the rear destroyers under Commander B. Austin, and the cruisers
countermarched to the south, the rear becoming the van. These destroyers
were to bear to the southwest to obtain clear waters for their own torpedo
attack; the cruisers were to hold fire until the torpedoes struck home.
Orders were transmitted via TBS. On Foote, the rear destroyer, the
order to countermarch was misunderstood. She fell seriously out of position,
with serious consequences later.
which ensued was essentially a series of independent actions. The Japanese
and Americans each operated their fleets as three autonomous units (by
design, in the case of the Americans, by accident in the case of the
Japanese). These six formations fought their own private battles hardly
coordinating with other ships on their own side. The first ten minutes
between 0245 and 0255 set the tone for what was to follow.
Austin's destroyers obtained radar contact with the Japanese and all except
Foote turned 90 degrees west to starboard. The prospect for a double
hammer surprise blow from both destroyer divisions was looking good, but
then a lookout on Shigure brought Merrill's plan crashing down. He
spotted Burke's destroyers and broadcast the alarm.
At 0246 Burke's
division had 25 torpedoes in the water.
He ordered each destroyer to fire half salvos of five but the captain of
Claxton felt his commander would not condemn a little extra aggression,
so he fired off his entire load of ten.
On Agano, Rear
Admiral Osugi received the alarm. He had never fought a night surface
engagement, but he aggressively rang up full speed and charged ahead in
search of the enemy, apparently without reference to his commander.
Sendai and Hara on Shigure were both very experienced in night
actions, unlike Omori and Osugi. They realized the American destroyers
probably already had torpedoes running and did not hesitate to react.
Sendai's column turned to starboard, toward the southeast, but the
results of the just completed 180° turn, which reduced the spacing between
ships, did them in. Sendai's turn was very sharp. She cut inside of
Shigure and the two almost collided, clearing each other by only ten
feet. Meanwhile, at 0248 Shigure fired a counter-barrage of 8
torpedoes. Merrill, observing the maneuvers of Ijuin's column realized
surprise was lost and that Burke's attack would likely fail. Merrill's
greatest asset in night surface battles (this was his second) was that when
he concluded it was time to use his guns, he used them. At 0249.5 the four
light cruisers lit up the sky with their opening salvos, their targets being
the largest blip in the port column, e.g. Sendai. Sendai, meanwhile
had eight Type 93 torpedoes in the water within a half minute of this event.
of the IJN Hatsukaze (DD) and IJN Sendai (CL) sunk by US ships
meanwhile, turned his heavy cruisers south. He opened fire, but could not
see what he was shooting at. His salvos were tight, but several thousand
Merrill's cruisers made a simultaneous turn to course 200 to maintain the
range, then at 19,000 yards. This change of course ruined Ijuin's torpedo
At 0252, or
maybe even before (Hara credits the Americans with a first salvo hit) 6”
shells hit Sendai's boiler rooms. Heavy fires blazed up, broadcasting
her position to Omori who was surprised to see her close off his port beam.
More hits followed in her aft engine room, stopping her engines and jamming
her rudder. At this same moment, Samidare, fired 8 torpedoes from
16,000 yards range. She had previously avoided a collision with Sendai,
but in so doing, she sideswiped Shiratsuyu, the last destroyer in
line at 0253, extensively damaging Shiratsuyu on her port side.
torpedo attack Burke's destroyers headed northeast, always from the battle.
Then at, 0251, Ausburne, followed by Dyson turned east,
southeast. Stanley and Claxton made a sharper turn and became
separated to the south of their leader, responding to a TBS order intended
for the light cruisers, not them.
burned Samidare and Shiratsuyu lingered in the vicinity.
Samidare took three hits during the action and they probably occurred
shortly after Sendai was first struck. Shigure's subsequent
actions are more difficult to interpret. She was also standing by Sendai
and received orders to come along side; instead, she independently struck
out to the south in a fruitless search for targets.
Foote had finally cleared the cruiser line and was streaming hard to
regain her position in Austin's column. However, her efforts were not helped
by Austin's change of course to 255° at 0300, required to stay clear of the
cruiser's line of fire.
unclear of his enemy's location and heading. His heavy cruisers made a
complete circle and at 0301 came to a generally southerly heading. At this
time Merrill was executing a figure 8 firing at both the center and
starboard columns from long range. At 0301, as the Japanese cruisers turned
south, he turned north. Merrill's TBS order to turn one-eight was overheard
on two of Burke's destroyers' Stanley and Claxton and
misinterpreted as having originated with Burke. At 0306 they turned to
starboard and began steaming southeast, in the direction of the American
cruisers becoming separated from their two companions. At 0308 Ausburne
and Dyson turned to chase them, thinking, perhaps, they were Japanese
warships closing the bay.
Also at 0301 a
"Long Lance", probably from Samidare hit unfortunate Foote as
she steamed at 34 knots, still trying to rejoin Austin. The explosion blew
off her three aft compartments, opened six more to the sea and cost 19
lives. Strenuous damage control kept her afloat and she was eventually towed
At 0305, the
Agano column was the most easterly of the three Japanese forces, about
12,000 yards due west of the American cruisers which, at the time, were
heading north in column and southeast of the heavy cruisers. His aggressive
impulse spend with nothing to show for it, Osugi reversed course back to the
west to conform to Omori's movements, unwittingly leading his destroyers
across the course of the oncoming heavy cruisers.
Myoko collided with Hatsukaze and sheered off her bow. This
fragment, still wrapped around Myoko's bow, was the only portion of
Hatsukaze to make it back to Rabaul. Haguro barely avoided
Wakatsuki, the last ship in the Agano column.
At 0308 as
these two Japanese columns were inflicting significant self damage, and
sorting themselves out, Merrill ordered Austin's DesDiv 46 to attack with
torpedoes while he turned his cruisers back to the south. The timing was
excellent, but once again, misunderstood TBS orders fouled the effectiveness
of the American destroyers. At 0310, Austin ordered his ships to prepare to
turn, but on Thatcher, the order was heard as turn and so she did. At
0311 Spence and Thatcher sideswiped each other, heading in
opposite directions at thirty knots. Thatcher suffered extensive
damage along her upperworks and her starboard shaft was thrown out of line.
The damage to Spence was less extensive. However, both ships were
able to remain in the fight.
The battle was
only twenty minutes old, but the only force under effective command was
Merrill's light cruisers. As the direct result of misunderstood orders,
Burke was chasing his own tail and Austin had one ship out and one damaged.
The situation for Omori was worse. His port column had lost its leader and
its component destroyers were fighting – or not – as they choose. His center
and starboard columns were maneuvering ineffectively casting about for an
enemy they couldn't pinpoint, damaging each other and the Americans not at
all. Although he was flinging generous amounts or ordnance at these two
Japanese formations, Merrill had only scored with his initial salvos against
the port column. And even his cruisers had barely avoided a collision at
0255. Up to this point, it had not been a particularly well fought battle.
from course 180° to 160° and at 0313 he finally pinpointed Merrill's
location. The excellent Japanese pyrotechnics lit the sky and finally
provided Omori's gunners with the targets they had been struggling so hard
to obtain. He opened fire at 0315 and followed with torpedoes at 0318. Once
they had targets, the veterans of Myoko and Haguro exhibited
remarkable marksmanship. Tight salvos repeatedly straddled Montpelier.
Then, between 0320 and 0325 Myoko and Haguro each scored hits
on Denver, from three different salvos. These shell were all duds ,
but they still caused considerable damage, holing the light cruiser forward,
forcing her to sheer out of formation and to reduce her speed to 28 knots to
keep from submarining. Columbia was also lightly damaged by the base
plug from an 8” shell that penetrated her plating and came to rest in a sail
locker. At 0326, with the Japanese firing so effectively, Merrill ordered
smoke and a 180° counterclockwise turn back north to open the range which
had closed to 13,000 yards. For his part Merrill scored about ten 6” and 5”
hits on Haguro between 0310 and 0320. Most of the shells were duds
and only one man was killed while five were wounded.
By 0327 Omori
believed he had sunk one cruiser and severely damaged two others with
torpedo hits. The geysers from his misses were wistfully interpreted as
explosions and when the American cruisers disappeared from sight, due to
sudden turns and smoke, he thought they had been instantaneously sunk. As
well as exaggerating the damage he was inflicting, he also exaggerated the
force he was facing as seven heavy cruisers and twelve destroyers.
Considering himself the victor, and not wishing to tempt fate, he creased
fire at 0329 and ordered withdrawal at 0337, turning east away from the
As the cruisers
slugged it out, Austin's destroyers sped north by northwest between the two
columns. Myoko found Spence at 0320, damaging her with two
near misses and scoring a solid hit at the junction of the mess hall, the
baker's living compartment and the fuel tanks. Again, the shell was
fortunately a dud, but salt water contaminated the destroyer's fuel supply
forcing a reduction in speed. Spence's damage control party plugged
the hole with bags of beans. Continuing north, DesDiv 46 encountered
tortured Sendai at 3028 and sent 8 torpedoes toward her, two of which
may have hit. Sendai had gotten steam back up, but her jammed rudder
permitted her to only go in circles. She returned a heavy, but ineffective
fire as Samidare and Shiratsuyu fled northwest. Austin's three
destroyers gave chase and a running fight developed. Desdiv 46 fired 19
torpedoes, but scored no hits. Neither side managed to damage the other with
gunfire, even though ranges closed to 3,000 yards.
As the Japanese
heavy cruisers turned away Merrill turned northwest at 0336, and at 0342
came back to the south.
destroyers spent the bulk of the battle and all of the cruiser action
sorting themselves out. It was an hour from the time of their initial
torpedo attack before they returned to battle, engaging the burning
Sendai with gunfire at 0349. They then picked up the Samidare and
Shiratsuyu on radar and set off in pursuit of them. However, they
became mixed with Austin's destroyers and in the confusion, the two damaged
Japanese destroyers made good their escape. Burke fired on Austin's ships at
At 0454 the destroyers received orders to rejoin the cruisers, but another
target appeared on the radar, the damaged Hatsukaze. The two groups
collectively finished her off with gunfire. She sank at 0539.
cruisers came west and looked for additional targets, but found nothing,
with the exception of Hatsukaze at 0500. They lobbed some shells at
her at a range of 17,500 yards, but scored no hits.
Bay was a confusing battle. Omori has been criticized for maintaining a
complicated formation, for permitting his columns to become disorganized and
most severely, for the maneuver he ordered at 0252. His biggest error,
however, was to give up the fight when he was doing so well. The American
destroyers were largely ineffective. Burke's force made an attack and then
disappeared for an hour. Austin's destroyers wandered through the middle of
the battle, but likewise inflicted little damage except against cripples.
Merrill's figure 8 maneuvers were more complicated than Omori's turnabouts.
However, he managed to keep his cruisers safe from Japanese torpedoes,
which, given past history, was a major accomplishment, and his cruisers
didn't fire on friendly ships, another accomplishment. It is a little
remarkable that the radar controlled fire could be so incredibly effective
when first used and then so ineffective for the balance of the battle. The
four cruisers shot off 4,591 rounds of 6” and 705 5” shells. During the
short period when the Japanese heavy cruisers were engaged, their visual
fire was much better than American radar. In any case, the Japanese suffered
the greater damage, much of it self-inflicted, and failed to accomplish both
their tactical and strategic objectives. Empress Augusta Bay was a clear
The Japanese lost one light cruiser mainly to gunfire with, perhaps, an
assist from torpedoes. One destroyer was damaged by collision and sunk by
gunfire. Another destroyer was moderately damaged by collision and gunfire
while a fourth was damaged by collision. One light cruiser was slightly
damaged by near misses. Haguro was lightly damaged by gunfire and
Myoko lost two torpedo tubes as the result of her collision. The
Americans had one destroyer heavily damaged by torpedo, one moderately
damaged by gunfire and collision, one destroyer lightly damaged by collision
and one light cruiser moderately damaged, also by gunfire. As a final note,
it is remarkable that all of the Japanese shells and many of the American
shells that did strike a target were duds. The sailors that risked their
lives in ships that took so much money and time to build would have been
well served by better quality control in the armament factories back home.
US Government produced
documentary of the naval battle at Empress Augusta Bay
on November 1-2, 1943.
Admiral Aaron Tip Merrill gives
his opinion on the battle at the end of the video.