A few days ago, the United States kickstarted its first offensive of World War II. They carried out a strike on the unsuspecting Japanese garrison on the Solomon Island of Guadalcanal with a fleet of nearly 50 warships, accompanied by thousands of U.S. Marines. Situated at the eastern end of the Solomon Island chain, Guadalcanal is perfectly positioned for the Allies to dig in and prepare a staging point for the long war for the Pacific that lies ahead.
Initial attempts by Japanese aviation to disrupt the invasion have so far been ineffective, so the task has been passed to Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi, in command of the nearest group of Japanese warships: the 8th Fleet, based in Rabaul—some 1,000 km to the northwest.
- His detachment includes 7 cruisers—five heavy and two light—as well as the Kamikaze-class destroyerYūnagi.
The Allied troop landings have been continually taking place within the relative safety of what’s coming to be known as Ironbottom Sound, just off the northern shore of Guadalcanal. With each passing hour, the Allied presence on the island grows stronger. However, this delicate status quo is maintained only by a small joint force of United States and Royal Australian Navy cruisers and destroyers. These are guarding the western approaches to the landing beaches, where dozens of vulnerable transport ships are currently unloading.
The Allied fleet, part of Task Force 62, is divided into two groups that are positioned around the small island of Savo, and separated from each other by over 20km:
- The Southern Force is commanded by British Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley from the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia. With him are two more heavy cruisers—one Australian and one American—and two destroyers.
- The Northern Force is presided over by U.S. Navy Captain Frederick Riefkohl of the New Orleans-class U.S.S. Vincennes. In total, this group consists of three heavy cruisers and two destroyers.
Just yesterday, the commander of the Allied Task Force received the first of several reconnaissance reports of a Japanese flotilla heading towards his position. However, no exceptional action is currently planned or being taken, as the faulty reports seem to suggest that this is not a battle fleet, but simply a passing escort force that poses no immediate danger.
The sun has disappeared over the horizon. The small island of Savo, which protects the entrance to Ironbottom Sound, can now be seen by Mikawa Gunichi from the bridge of his flagship Chokai. Looking through the ship’s Nippon Kōgaku naval binoculars—much coveted by naval officers the world over—the lookout has his eyes trained on American picket destroyer U.S.S. Blue. The Bagley-class destroyer is quietly patrolling in the dark off the starboard side of the Japanese formation, completely oblivious to the dizzying number of 200 mm guns currently pointing at its silhouette.
As the column slips past the first line of the Allied defenses unchallenged and illuminating flares begin falling over Ironbottom Sound, it becomes evident:
The Japanese fleet has achieved complete surprise.
What happens next is up to you, Commander. On August 8th, you’ll be called up to serve. Who will you fight for?
Take this, Commander. You might need it: