The Japanese Destroyer Kagero


The American superiority in the region did not mean the end of the “Tokyo Express” missions, although they did become significantly more risky. The Americans not only ruled the waters around Guadalcanal, but also maintained air superiority. In the second half of November Kagero escorted several Japanese warships, including the damaged destroyer Umikaze before running another “Tokyo Express” mission at the end of the month. Six of the eight destroyers taking part in the re-supply run (including Kagero) were loaded with waterproof containers designed to stay afloat once off-loaded from the ships. In order to make room for the supplies, the torpedo reloads were removed from the destroyers’ decks, limiting their war-fighting capabilities. To make matters worse, the U.S. forces in the area received intelligence about the upcoming operation and launched a task force consisting of five cruisers (four of which were in the heavy class) and four destroyers to interdict the Japanese supply convoy. The U.S. force packed enough punch to stop Rear Admiral Tanaka’s ships in their tracks. On November 29 the Japanese ships steamed out of Buin hoping to reach Cape Tassafaronga on the following day. Late in the night the American radars picked up the convoy led by Tanaka’s flag ship, destroyer Naganami. Having approached the coastal waters Tanaka ordered the ships to slow down to 12 knots, when he received an urgent message from Takanami: “Possible enemy ships, bearing 100”. A moment later another message confirmed contact with seven enemy destroyers. At 23.30 the U.S. Navy warships launched the first salvo of torpedoes, followed by a barrage of fire from their guns. Soon a mix of 203, 152 and 127 mm shells literarily rained down on the Japanese force. However, the Americans made a mistake of focusing their fire on only one of the eight enemy destroyers. Although Takanami was all but blown to pieces by the U.S. fire, she did manage to launch her torpedoes before going down. The remaining IJN destroyers quickly responded with a massive torpedo counterattack, something that Tanaka’s people could do very well indeed. The Japanese warships let loose as many as 20 torpedoes, although in this phase of the engagement Kagero, laden with the supply containers, did not get a chance to use her “Long Lance” weapons. The Japanese response was indeed devastating: the heavy cruiser USS Minneapolis received two hits that put her out of action; USS New Orleans was hit only once, but the torpedo caused a massive explosion in the ammunition magazines, which tore off the ships bow, complete with the forward gun turret, while USS Pensacola sustained serious damage after taking a single “Long Lance” hit. The least lucky of the U.S. force was heavy cruiser USS Northampton which found herself at the receiving end of as many as eight “Long Lances” launched by the destroyer Oyashio. Two of the torpedoes found their mark dealing a deadly blow to the ship and her crew. The victorious Tanaka now proceeded to regroup. Destroyers Kagero and Kuroshio launched their torpedoes at the burning U.S. ships hoping to finish them off, but this time they missed. If they had not, the U.S. losses would have been much greater. Tanaka’s force scored a brilliant victory, although it did exactly nothing to alter the results of the Guadalcanal campaign.
Kagero spent December running re-supply missions for Guadalcanal and for the newly established Munda airfield (New Georgia). On December 16 the ship sustained minor damage in an air attack by SBD Dauntless dive bombers. The re-supply missions for Guadalcanal garrison continued until mid January, although they did little to help the Imperial troops, decimated by diseases and starving to death. On the last day of December a decision was made to evacuate the 11 000 exhausted Japanese troops from the island. The extraction operation, conducted in early February by the IJN destroyers, was a brilliant success, but, clearly, this is not how wars are won. Kagero took part in the operation as one of the protection vessels.
Americans waited five months after the end of the Guadalcanal campaign to launch another offensive. Which is not to say that all was quiet around the Solomons: there were still frequent skirmishes involving air and sea assets from both sides and the IJN destroyers took the brunt of the fighting. Cmdr Hara Tameichi complained that the Imperial Navy command used the destroyers as an expandable asset that can be put to work 24 hours a day. The destroyers did score occasional victories, but there was little their crews could do to have a serious impact on the outcome of the war in the Pacific. Their efforts were in stark contrast to a largely passive stance of the majority of Japanese battleships.