27 october 2020

The Soloman Islands.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Guadalcanal. Shore leave in Espiritu Santo Island.

It was now November. In August, Marines had landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and many great Naval battles had taken place in the area known as the “slot,” a stretch of water through the double chain of the Solomon Islands, south of Bougainville. At the southern end lay Guadalcanal with the Sealark Channel separating it from Florida Island and Tulagi. It was in this area that the Navy fought its first surface engagements of the war, and it came out a poor second in all but one of them. In mid-October the Battle of Cape Esperance had been the only clear-cut victory. By the middle of November four major Naval engagements had been fought in it's confining waters.

Up until now all of the action the Northampton had participated in had been either of the bombardment, or of the air sea battle type. We all felt we had been pretty damn lucky being assigned to Carrier escort duties, and although we had been through the mill, with air attacks, and on a couple of occasions under fire from shore batteries, we had not been required to face the Japanese surface fleet and slug It out toe-to-toe. With the loss of the Hornet, we were without a mission, and the rumors were rife that we would at long last be heading for the states, and a long-overdue overhaul. Idle rumor.

We left New Caledonia in early November. We had a new Skipper, Captain Willard Kitts III. We patrolled the outer fringes of the Solomon Islands. Without firing a shot from our guns, we had participated in the mid-November Battle of Guadalcanal. Following the action we made port at Espiritu Santo island in the New Hebrides group (now known as Vanuatu) where we were joined by the Cruiser Pensacola. Cruiser Division Five now consisted of these two ships.

These islands were then under joint British and French rule. Shore leave was granted, and we were warned against making any advances to the native women, we were cautioned against drinking any of the native brews, and then told to go have a good time. Lichliter and I hit the beach and within 30 minutes had found the local distillery, and were into the native sauce, a concoction made by fermenting the hearts of the coconut palm trees. As best I can recall it was called “Agadini” and it had the kick of a mule. The women were ugly, and we had been out there long enough that they all seemed beautiful, but we were content to drink our booze, fight the skeeters, and in general make a couple of asses out of ourselves. While in Espiritu Santo, the Cruiser San Francisco limped into port. It had barely survived being sunk in what is now called the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Parts of her superstructure had been shot away. She had taken a Japanese Betty Bomber into her after Battle Control. She appeared to us to have been mortally wounded, as great gaping holes rent her hull. In that battle the Anti-aircraft Light Cruisers, Juneau, and Atlanta had been with her and had gone down with a great loss of lives. Also lost were 7 Destroyers. Of a force of 19 ships, 9 had been sunk or scuttled. We were seeing the other side of the Naval war. It looked nasty. As the San Francisco got underway to make her way back to the states, we gave what was left of her crew a gallant cheer, and knew we were to be the next to try the “SLOT.”