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HMAS Canberra and the Battle of Savo Island

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interesting pic, Canberra 1942, being led probably by Australia
interesting pic, Canberra 1942, being led probably by Australia
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Mackenzie Gregory was the officer-of-the-watch on Canberra, 9th August 1942, when the Battle of Savo Island commenced. This is an extract from his web site, reproduced with his kind permission. It provides a first-hand account of the battle, together with some useful background material. Well worth reading.


Savo Fleet night dispositions - 7/8 August

At sunset on 7 August, the following night dispositions were taken up. The objective: to deny access for any Japanese Surface Force seeking to reach the transport areas.

1. The entrance between Savo Island and Guadalcanal was guarded by 8" cruisers AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA and CHICAGO with 2 screening destroyers PATTERSON and BAGLEY-

2- In the entrance between Savo Island and Florida Island, 8" cruisers VINCENNES, ASTORIA and QUINCY stood guard with WILSON and HELM as their destroyer screen.

3. Light cruisers SAN JUAN and HOBART with destroyers BUCHANAN and MONSSEN blocked off the eastern entrance.

4. Two radar and anti-submarine picket destroyers BLUE and RALPH TALBOT were stationed westwards beyond Savo Island to provide early warning of an approachIng enemy.

SATURDAY 8 AUGUST
Marines had now captured the airfield on Guadalcanal. Another Australian Coast Watcher, Jack Read, on the northern end of Bougainville, warned of 40 Japanese bombers flying SE. About midday, we were fiercely attacked, this time by "Betty" twin engined torpedo bombers. The fleet gunners went into action and the Japanese later admitted to losing 17 torpedo bombers. At one stage, 6 blazing aircraft could be seen as they crashed on the water. The destroyer JARVIS was torpedoed and a blazing aircraft crashed on board the transport GEORGE F. ELLIOT (probably the first Kamikaze aircraft). This transport had to be abandoned that night and grounded south of Florida Island.

HUDSON RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS 8 AUGUST
Five RAAF Hudsons had recently moved from Horn Island to the just-completed Fall River strip at Milne Bay. This group was not briefed about the "Watch Tower" operation and had no knowledge of the landings at both Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Early on the morning of 8 August, three of these aircraft took off from Fall River to carry out reconnaissance flights. One Hudson, piloted by Bill Stutt, sighted Mikawa's force NE of Kieta at 1025. He broke radio silence to send off an enemy report of 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers and 2 seaplane tenders or gunboats, course 120 deg speed 15 knots. No acknowledgement could be gained from Fall River and Stutt decided to return immediately to base. En route, two submarines were sighted on the surface and these were unsuccessfully bombed.

On landing at Fall River, the pilot was immediately de-briefed - through unexplained delays, this enemy report did not reach the fleet at Guadalcanal until about sunset that evening. Morison, the American Naval Historian wrote in 1959 "This Hudson Pilot did not break radio silence, completed his search in the afternoon, arrived at Fall River, had his tea and then made his report". In 1983, Hoyt in "Guadalcanal" and again as late as 1987, Larrabee in "Commander-in-Chief" still perpetuated this myth about Stutt having tea before de-briefing.

They all apportioned blame to both Stutt and his RAAF crew over the sighting of Mikawa's striking force. Morison initially and others slavishly followed in his footsteps, without bothering to check that his original statements were in fact, incorrect. Gill, In his 1968 "Royal Australian Navy 1942-45" takes Morison to task for his unwarranted criticism. So much for research!

Just after 1100, a second Fall River Hudson also sighted Mikawa and his ships and was fired upon. The enemy report sent after landing at Fall River indicated the sighting of 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and a small unidentified vessel. Again there was much delay before Turner was appraised of this report, during the evening of 8 August. These reports which included the sighting of 2 seaplane tenders confounded the issue. MacArthur believed the force was probably moving to the Shortlands, south of Bougainvillle, to establish a base there; whilst Turner believed the force was escorting a seaplane group that was moving to Rekata Bay on St. Isabel Island.

The group was reported heading 120deg, which would take them there and, on the morning of 7 August, an aircraft from the US carrier WASP had destroyed a Japanese seaplane just north of Rokata Bay. All the delays prevented mounting air attacks against the Japanese force that day. All in all, this force was not considered to be moving against the Invasion fleet. It was considered that the threat to the Allied force was from submarines and not from surface forces.

Mikawa's Progress and Deployment of Allied Naval Forces - 8/9 August


MIKAWA's PROGRESS - 8 AUGUST
At dawn, 5 seaplanes were catapulted from their cruisers - they reported a count of Allied ships at both Tulagi and Guadalcanal, but more importantly, no sign of any carriers. Mikawa decided to proceed through Bougainville Strait and then steam down the slot i.e. the strait between New Georgia Island and St. Isabel island.
After being sighted by the Hudson at 1025 whilst he was NE of Kieta, Mikawa anticipated further Allied air reconnaissance and therefore decided to delay his proposed arrival for a night attack, until about 0130 9 August. Late that afternoon, Mikawa passed to his Captains his intended plan - the force would enter the battle zone S. of Savo, strike at the main force at Guadalcanal, turn N. to strike the Tulagi area and withdraw N of Savo. At 1830, all ships formed a single column on CHOKAI, 1300 yards between ships.

DEPLOYMENT OF ALLIED NAVAL FORCES - 8/9 AUGUST
At sunset, night dispositions were taken up similar to those used the previous night to protect the two transport groups.

X-ray transports still unloading at Guadalcanal

Yoke transports off Tulagi

EASTERN FORCE:
2 x 6" cruisers SAN JUAN and HOBART with destroyers MONSSEN and BUCHANAN. They were to steam a line 360deg - 180deg between Tulagi and Guadalcanal.

SOUTHERN FORCE:
3 x 8" cruisers, AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA and CHICAGO, with destroyers PATTERSON and BAGLEY proceeding on a patrol line 310 - 130 degrees at 12 knots, between the transport area at Guadalcanal and Savo Island. Course reversing on the hour.

NORTHERN FORCE:
3 x 8" cruisers, all American, QUINCY, ASTORIA and VINCENNES, the Senior Captain was in VINCENNES, destroyers WILSON and HELM were their screen. They steamed clockwise on a box patrol at 10 knots 045 - 135 - 225 - 315 degrees, turning 90 degrees on the half hour.

SEAWARD SIDE OF SAVO ISLAND:
A radar, anti-submarine patrol by destroyers BLUE and RALPH TALBOT course 051 - 231 degrees, speed 12 knots.

The stage was set, with the Allied forces seeking to block all seaward passages to the landing areas. Mikawa boldly leading his pack of marauding dingoes, soon to set upon the unsuspecting sheep.

ENEMY REPORTS
I had seen enemy reports at 1900, indicating that there were 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, aircraft tenders and submarines. As far as I knew, they were not expected to arrive in our area.

Fletcher to depart, meeting at Guadalcanal, Middle watch


FLETCHER TO DEPART - EVENING OF 8 AUGUST
Shortly after we had taken up night patrol positions, Rear Admiral Turner intercepted a message from Vice Admiral Fletcher to Vice Admiral Ghormley

"fighter strength reduced from 99 to 78 in view of large number of enemy torpedo planes and bombers in this area. I recommend the immediate withdrawal of my carriers. Request tankers be sent forward immediately as fuel running low".

Fletcher, in fact did not wait for Ghormley to approve or reject his withdrawal of the carriers, he headed South immediately away from his support role of the Beach Head. In fact, it was some hours later before Ghormley gave his approval for Fletcher to withdraw. There was no way Fletcher was going to risk losing his third carrier - he had gone!! Turner was appalled. This removal of carrier support after only 2 days (instead of the 3 days promised at the Koro meeting) meant his transports, still unloading, would be naked and vulnerable to Japanese aircraft attacks the next day - there would be no air cover.

The Marines ashore would lack equipment and necessary food. Larrabee in "Commander-in-Chief" having examined the ships' logs says Fletcher's fuel was not running low. The carriers had oil for 17 days, the NORTH CAROLINA for 18 days, the cruisers for 11 and the destroyers for 7 days. As for enemy air attacks, the Japanese had not sighted his carriers and Fletcher had no reason to suggest they had. Morison's verdict on this desertion by Fletcher - "his force could have remained in the area with no more severe consequences than sunburn".

MEETING AT GUADALCANAL CALLED BY REAR ADMIRAL TURNER
At 2045, Turner summoned Rear Admiral Crutchley and Major General Vandegrift to his Flagship McCAWLEY, anchored with the transports off Lunga Point. Crutchley had some 20 miles to cover to attend this meeting, whilst Vandegrift had to leave Guadalcanal to meet Turner. At 2005, Crutchley decided to pull AUSTRALIA out of the line leaving Captain Bode in CHICAGO in command of the Southern Force. Turner informed this meeting that he intended to withdraw all surface forces at 0730 the next morning, 9 August. The sighting of Mikawa's force was discussed but Turner believed its' destination was Rekata Bay.

MIDDLE WATCH
At 2400 as 8 August became 9 August, I took over the middle watch (2400 - 0400) as Officer of the Watch in CANBERRA. Sub Lieutenant Dawborn, in handing over the watch indicated: course was 130deg, speed 12 knots, reversing that course on the hour by turning to starboard without signal.

CHICAGO was stationed 3 cables (600 yards) astern, PATTERSON and BAGLEY 45deg on our port and starboard bow respectively, each at a distance of 5 cables (1,000 yards). He told me that AUSTRALIA had left the group as Crutchley had been summoned by Turner. Captain Bode in CHICAGO whilst senior to Captain Getting in CANBERRA had decided to follow us rather than lead - as AUSTRALIA was expected to return. The ship was in the 2nd degree of readiness, with 2 X 8" turrets "A" and "X" manned.

A 4" gun crew was manned both port and starboard sides. The guns were not loaded. Part of the damage control crews were in place. Dawborn finally told me that during his watch, aircraft engines had been heard and the Captain had been informed. My Principal Control Officer was Lieutenant Commander E. J. Wight. The Captain and the Navigating Officer Lieutenant Commander J. S. Mesley were both on the bridge when I took the watch, but shortly after midnight they left the bridge for their sea cabins.

THE WEATHER
Savo island was cloaked in rain, mist hung in the air - there was no moon. A light N.E. wind moved the low-lying cloud, thunder rolled across the sky. I particularly remember the phosphorescence of the ship's wake and that of our 2 destroyer escorts. At 0100, CANBERRA and CHICAGO (then at the transport end of our patrol) altered course 1800 to starboard to a course of 310deg.

At about this time we heard aircraft engines overhead, Lieutenant Commander Wight reported this fact to the Captain. (The Japanese had catapulted 2 seaplanes from 2 of their cruisers - their task to reconnoitre the anchorages and illuminate the transports at the appropriate time). RALPH TALBOT on the seaward side of Savo actually reported sighting an aircraft before 2400; she reported by T.B.S. (talk between ships), CANBERRA was not fitted with T.B.S. and thus did not receive this report.

Just prior to 0100. Mikawa in CHOKAI, leading the Japanese column of 7 cruisers and 1 destroyer were steaming on a course of 120deg at 26 knots. He was steering for the centre of the 7 mile gap that separated Savo Island from Guadalcanal. CHOKAI sighted BLUE on their starboard bow, distance about 5 miles. Mikawa reduced speed and held his fire - BLUE continued to close his force.

But after a few more minutes BLUE reversed course, Mikawa breathed again. The whole Japanese column passed very closely to BLUE but were undetected either visually, or picked up on BLUE's radar. The US destroyer JARVIS which had been damaged earlier during one of the air raids was all alone, limping along at 10 knots on her way to Australia for repairs. She was South of Savo Island at 0134, when she was sighted from CHOKAI 1.5 miles on her port bow.

Once again, the Japanese force held its' fire and sailed past. JARVIS didn't see a thing! JARVIS was sunk by a large group of Japanese aircraft the next afternoon (9 August) and was lost with all hands. For Mikawa, the gate was open and his fleet sailed through. At 0130 at a range of 6 miles, the Japanese sighted CANBERRA and CHICAGO. In CANBERRA we were approaching the Savo Island end of our patrol - I was very conscious of the fact that I had to call the Navigator at 0145. He wanted to fix our position prior to the scheduled course alteration at 0200.

I had just checked the chart table clock, It was 0143 (this time is still engraved in my memory) several incidents crowded in - an explosion almost due north, the Captain was called by the Principal Control Officer. The port lookout reported a ship ahead but neither the P.C.O. , the Yeoman of Signals nor myself could discern anything. PATTERSON on our port bow signalled to us by blinker tube. The action alarms were sounded and we assumed the first degree of readiness.

We are hit


I called the Navigating Officer and the Gunnery Officer; the P.C.O. sighted 3 ships on our starboard bow and gave the alarm and the order to load the 8" turrets. The Captain quickly arrived to be first to reach the bridge. I sighted torpedo tracks approaching down the starboard side - the Captain ordered full ahead and starboard 35 to quickly swing the ship to starboard.

The Navigating Officer reached the bridge and told me he had the "Con", thereby taking over from me. The Gunnery Officer had taken over from the P.C.O. and moved to the Port enemy bearing indicator. Further torpedo tracks crossed the bow. Ahead, star shell were lighting up the scene and aircraft dropped flares to starboard. As I left the bridge, we again altered course.

I hurried to my action station in the fore control - there was an explosion amidships, we were hit on the 4" gundeck, the Walrus aircraft was blazing fiercely on the catapult. A shell exploded on the port side just below the compass platform and another just aft of the fore control.

The plotting office received a direct hit. The shell that demolished the port side of the compass platform mortally wounded the Captain, killed Lieutenant Commander Hole, the Gunnery Officer, wounded Lieutenant Commander Plunkett-Cole, the Torpedo Officer and severely wounded Midshipmen Bruce Loxton and Noel Sanderson. I had virtually been surrounded by shell hits but luckily remained unscathed. In the fore control standing alongside me, Able Seaman Oliver was hit from the explosion just aft of our position - he was given morphene but was a very sick young man.

The ship now lost power and took on a noticeable list to starboard. For CANBERRA, the war was over. Only 2-3 minutes had elapsed since the ship went to action stations.

CHICAGO had about 16 feet of her bow blown off by another torpedo but she could still steam and the bulkheads held. She charged off to port but did not, in fact fire her 8" armament - she fired star shell from both her port and starboard 5" guns in the direction of her perceived position of an enemy cruiser - none of these star shells functioned. CHICAGO did not apparently warn the Northern cruiser force, but I will return later to this ship's movements and actions.

PATTERSON had sighted the enemy and quickly broadcast on her T.B.S. "Warning, Warning, Strange Ships Entering Harbour". You will recall earlier I indicated CANBERRA was not fitted with T.B.S. , so that warning was not received by us. She had also signalled to us using a small blinker tube. PATTERSON had opened fire, but an order to fire torpedoes was not heard, the noise of her guns firing swamped out this command given by her Captain. PATTERSON was illuminated by the Japanese, fired upon and hit. However, PATTERSON did get off star shell and 50 rounds of gun fire.

BAGLEY sighted the Japanese after PATTERSON and altered course to port so that she could fire torpedoes. But she swung too far before the primers were Inserted, It took another 3 or more minutes to bring her starboard tubes to bear and 4 torpedoes were fired, but without any positive result. BAGLEY also proceeded to the west, but of course Mikawa had long gone.

After Mikawa had decimated the Southern Force, he swept on, split into 2 groups and opened fire on the Northern Cruisers at 0150 and 0200. Twice CHOKAI was hit, but not impeded. By 0240 the 2 Japanese groups were clear, they rejoined as one and made off for Rabaul and Kavieng at high speed.

QUINCY sank at 0235, VINCENNES at 0250 and, finally the last of the Northern cruisers sank at 1215 on 9 August. RALPH TALBOT was also damaged as the Japanese withdrew. WILSON was an escorting destroyer with the Northern Force and in her report after the battle is an amusing comment

"The times in the above narrative are approximate, for the hands fell off the bridge clock on our first salvo and it was not realised that the Quarter Master was not making exact time records of the occurrences until some time later".

Canberra - 6.30am after the Savo Island battle, alongside is USS Blue, USS Patterson astern.
Canberra - 6.30am after the Savo Island battle, alongside is USS Blue, USS Patterson astern.
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BACK TO THE CANBERRA
We were blazing amidships with 4" ammunition exploding and we had developed a severe list to starboard. There was no power and no water pressure for fire fighting. The fore control was abandoned and I went to assist with the wounded and dump ammunition. At one stage, I went below docks in the vicinity of the Sick Bay flat - it was a shambles below. There were no lights, I used a torch, but the list made it difficult to proceed. Whilst I was below decks, the ship gave a shudder and suddenly took on an even greater list to starboard. I feared CANBERRA was about to capsize, I would be trapped and that this was the end for me. However the ship steadied and I scrambled back to the upper deck, and survival. I tried to move to the stern but could not pass the fierce fires amidships.

Sinking of Canberra


MY EMBROIDERED CAP BADGE AND BRUCE LOXTON
Even in times of crises, one acts quite illogically. During my Sub Lieutenant's courses In England, I had purchased a gold embroidered cap badge from "Gieves", the famous Naval outfitters. The officer cap badges available in Australia were, at this stage, stamped out of metal. I prized my Special cap badge and on reaching my action station in the fore control, I had thrown my cap and badge into a corner to don my tin hat. I decided to try and retrieve my cap and badge. I made my way up to the starboard side of the bridge area and finally scrambled up to the fore control, alas, no cap or badge, just a large hole where I had discarded them - so much for foolish pride.

On my way down, I came across two sailors with a body on a stretcher. They were lifting up this person to drain away the trapped blood. On investigation I made out Bruce Loxton, who as the Captain's Midshipman on the bridge, had been severely wounded. Bruce had ghastly wounds and I did not believe he would survive. He was conscious and I said "How are you Bruce?" His response was "I will be alright" and his fighting spirit pulled him through. He survived and continued as an Executive Officer in the RAN, to retire as a Commodore.

PATTERSON TO THE RESCUE

Patterson in 1944
Patterson in 1944
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At about 0330, PATTERSON came alongside our port side forward of the 4" Gun Dock. She provided pumps and hoses for fire fighting and proceeded to take on board wounded from the fore half of CANBERRA. Captain Getting was amongst those removed to PATTERSON. We were informed by PATTERSON that Rear Admiral Turner had indicated if CANBERRA could not steam by 0630, she would have to be abandoned and then sunk. At 0430, PATTERSON ordered all lights to be extinguished - she had sighted a hostile ship on her Port Quarter so she quickly slipped or cut all lines.

I vividly recall her captain's reassuring words "don't worry, we'll be back." As PATTERSON quickly got underway, the enemy ship opened fire. I still had my 1900 binoculars (from the fore control) around my neck. I quickly used them and recognized CHICAGO - she had mistaken CANBERRA for a burning Japanese cruiser. PATTERSON used her search light and exchanged fire with CHICAGO before their true identity was established. Both ships ceased fire. Another error in a night that may well be described as a comedy of errors - but then, we did not have much to laugh about. It commenced to rain to add to our discomfort.

At about this time, the ship's list suddenly increased and Lieutenant Commander Mesley ordered "stand by to abandon ship" I discarded my boots but kept my binoculars. CANBERRA steadied and the final order to leave was not given - at that time. I put on my boots again.

SURVIVORS REMOVED
As daylight broke over the area, PATTERSON, keeping her promise, returned and secured Starboard side Aft and proceeded to take on board the ship's company gathered there. BLUE secured to the Port side Forward and took off the rest of CANBERRA'S crew, including myself; the time was about 0630. BLUE transferred her load of survivors to the transport FULLER, whilst PATTERSON transferred her survivors to BARNETT.

Canberra sinks with Savo Island in the background
Canberra sinks with Savo Island in the background
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survivors from Canberra - Mac is in the centre, holding binoculars
survivors from Canberra - Mac is in the centre, holding binoculars
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SINKING OF CANBERRA
I did not actually see CANBERRA sink, but Gill in his book "Royal Australian Navy 1942-45" reports that the US destroyer SELFRIDGE, attempting to sink CANBERRA, fired some 263 x 5" shells and 4 torpedoes. It was left to the USS ELLET to administer the coup de grace with one of her torpedoes and at 0800, our ship finally slipped beneath the waves; at last she was gone.

survivors from Canberra
survivors from Canberra
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COULD CANBERRA BE SAVED?
Could CANBERRA have been saved and towed to safety? My initial reaction was "perhaps", but that question needs a lot of research and thought before any definite answer could result. Time was against us, given Turner's orders and his decision to withdraw.

WITHDRAWAL
Turner then withdrew the entire surface force and the Marines were left abandoned with only part of their equipment and food supplies unloaded.

REASONS FOR THE JAPANESE SUCCESS - AND SUBSEQUENT ENQUIRIES
Crutchley attributed the Japanese success to;

1. Lack of experience - particularly in night fighting.

2. Lack of alertness in almost every ship due to fatigue.

3. Absence of AUSTRALIA from Southern Group.

4. Failure of the majority of ships to receive the TRS warning broadcast by PATTERSON.

US OUTCRY
After the loss of 3 American 8" cruisers at Savo Island, there had been an outcry in the American Press. Why were these ships under the command of an English Admiral? Who was to blame etc., etc.,? Admiral A. J. Hepburn USN, Ret., was selected in December 1942 to interview all relevant personnel involved in "Watch Tower" and report to Admiral King USN.

Hepburn travelled widely, accompanied by Commander Ramsay USN, visiting Australia, seeing MacArthur, Crutchley and Australian politicians, but did not interview any RAAF aircrew. He produced a very detailed report running to about 85 pages

Hepburn's Conclusions


HEPBURN'S CONCLUSIONS
The primary cause of defeat was complete surprise achieved by the Japanese. The reasons for this surprise were-

1. Inadequate condition of readiness on all ships to meet sudden night attack.

2. Failure to recognize the implication of the enemy planes in the vicinity prior to the attack.

3. Misplaced confidence in the capabilities of radar in BLUE and RALPH TALBOT.

4. Failure in communications which resulted in the lack of timely receipt of vital enemy contact information.

5. Failure in communications to give timely information of the fact that there had been practically no effective reconnaissance (my emphasis) covering the enemy approach during 2 Auqust. Finally Hepburn noted "as a contributory cause, must be placed the withdrawal of the carrier group by Fletcher, on the evening before the battle".

This withdrawal was responsible for the calling of Turner's conference and for the fact that there was no force capable or available to inflict damage on the withdrawing enemy. It also meant that AUSTRALIA was not leading the Southern Force; but who could have predicted the final outcome of the Battle of Savo Island, had AUSTRALIA been present on that fateful night?

AUSTRALIAN BOARD OF ENQUIRY
The Australian Commonwealth Naval Board set up a "Board of Enquiry" to hold a full and careful investigation into the circumstances attending the loss of HMAS CANBERRA. The Board made two reports, one dated 23 August 1942 and the second report dated 30 September 1942. The latter report found that CANBERRA was not torpedoed, but was hit by 24 Japanese shells.

Rear Admiral Crutchley disagreed with this finding, as did a number of other witnesses from CANBERRA. I had told the Board of Enquiry I did not know if CANBERRA had been torpedoed. Since that fateful night, I have given a great deal of thought, reflection and research to this subject. Thus, in hindsight, and the evidence in Bruce Loxton's book The Shame of Savo, I now believe we were hit in the starboard side by a torpedo which emanated from our destroyer escort USS Bagley.

CASUALTIES

KILLED / WOUNDED

CANBERRA 84 / 109
US NAVY 939 / 654
JAPANESE NAVY 35 / 51

SINKING OF KAKO
The US Submarine S44 sank one of Mikawa's force, the cruiser KAKO, before they reached the safety of their base, but KAKO only lost 34 of her ship's company.

JAPANESE GUNFIRE AND TORPEDO FIRINGS
In this night action, the Japanese fired 1,028 x 8" shells, 768 x 5" or 5-1/2" shells, 1,000 rounds of smaller calibre ammunition and an amazing 61 x 24" torpedoes, each with a war head carrying 1,200 pounds of explosive.

VICTORY FOR MIKAWA
Although Mikawa had won a brilliant victory, he subsequently had his critics for not pressing on to attack and destroy the transports that were so vulnerable. Although the Allies paid a heavy price with the loss of 4 x 8" heavy cruisers, 1 x 8" heavy cruiser damaged, 1 destroyer sunk and 1 destroyer damaged, all but one transport survived and Guadalcanal remained In US hands.

ROOSEVELDT TO STALIN
On 15 August 1942, Churchill had met with Stalin at the Kremlin - he later cabled to Rooseveldt (who had been unable to go Moscow) his report of this meeting. Rooseveldt then cabled Stalin his regret at his absence and included "we have gained, I believe, a toe hold in the South West Pacific, from which the Japanese will find it very difficult tn dislodge us. We have had substantial naval losses there, but the advantage gained was worth the sacrifice, and we are going to maintain hard pressure on the enemy." The toehold in the South West Pacific" , to which Rooseveldt referred, was, of course, the landings by US Marines on Tulagi, Florida Islands and Guadalcanal on 7 August, 1942.

SHERWOOD'S COMMENT
It is of interest, that Sherwood in his second volume of "The White House Papers of Harry L. HopkIns" noted,

"on September 7, three American cruisers and an Australian Cruiser were surprised and sunk in the slot between GuadalcanaI and Savo Island and the position of the land forces was critical and terrible, with the Japanese largely in control of the sea communications."

Sherwood, was of course referring to the Battle of Savo Island on the night of 9 August, 1942, during which the US cruisers QUINCY, ASTORIA, VINCENNES and the Australian cruiser CANBERRA were all sunk. I find it very difficult to comprehend how the "Hopkins Papers" could record the loss of the 3 US cruisers and CANBERRA as 7 September instead of 9 August. Hopkins was very much a trusted personal aide to Rooseveldt. He wielded great influence and used the President's authority to the utmost through the years of 1939-45 and would have had access to all of Rooseveldt's service intelligence and records.

CAPTAIN BODE OF CHICAGO
Captain Bode in CHICAGO was in command of the cruiser force covering the western approaches between Savo and Guadalcanal, whilst Crutchley in AUSTRALIA was absent meeting with Turner, off Guadalcanal. He was criticised for not leading CANBERRA, but staying in the rear, for not warning the Northern Cruiser Force and for his general conduct at Savo on 9 August. He later committed suicide.

MESSAGE FROM C.O. of PATTERSON
PATTERSON'S Commanding officer, Commander F. R. Walker USN, in a message sent to Rear Admiral Crutchley, paid this tribute: "The C.O. and entire ship's company of the PATTERSON noted with admiration, the calm, cheerful and courageous spirit displayed by the Officers and men of the CANBERRA. When PATTERSON left from alongside because of what was then believed to be an enemy ship close by, there were no outcries, or entreaties, rather a cheery 'Carry on PATTERSON - good luck' and prompt and efficient casting off of lines, brows etc,- Not a man stepped out of line. The PATTERSON feels privileged to have served so gallant a crew".

THE BLUE LOST
USS BLUE, which rescued many of CANBERRA's survivors, myself included, was herself sunk off Guadalcanal on 23 August 1942. I felt great sadness and a sense of personal loss when I read this report.

CHURCHILL'S MEMO - PRIME MINISTER

TO FIRST LORD AND FIRST SEA LORD 23 AUGUST 1942

"Australia have lost their 8" cruiser CANBERRA. It might have lasting effect on Australian sentiment if we gave freely and outright to Royal Australian Navy one of our similar ships. Please give your most sympathetic consideration to the project and be ready to tell me about it when I return. Meanwhile I am not mentioning it to any one."

This suggestion by Churchill was adopted and the cruiser SHROPSHIRE was presented to the Australian government.

Shropshire's crew, Lingayen Gulf January 1945.
Shropshire's crew, Lingayen Gulf January 1945.
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HMAS SHROPSHIRE
Many of CANBERRA's crew, including myself, were to join SHROPSHIRE and were present in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945. SHROPSHIRE and her company made a magnificent team and did not lose one man to enemy action.

IN CONCLUSION
It was Admiral Bill Halsey, USN who said "The Coast Watchers saved Guadalcanal and it was Guadalcanal that saved the Pacific".

POST SCRIPT
In 1943, Lady Dixon, the wife of the then Australian Minister to Washington, launched a US cruiser and named her CANBERRA. (This was the first time the US Navy had named a ship after a foreign warship). In May 1967, the USS CANBERRA visited Australia for her only visit. Alongside Station Pier at Port Melbourne on 15 May, our only son, Raymond, was christened on board, using the struck ship's bell as the font. Lady Dixon and the CANBERRA's CO, Captain Edwin Rosenberg, USN, became his Godparents. CANBERRA will always be a proud name for my family, but especially for me.

ONLINE BOOK
The Battle of: Savo Island 9 August 1942, Navy Department, Office of Naval Intelligence, Combat Narrative

 


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