And back once again to Guadalcanal Campaign. October had been disappointing, with only a bunch of destroyers sunk of both sides. The Japanese had lost precious time, and I don’t see them destroying the grip of the US Marines have on the island, but at least they managed to damage the Wasp, and I will be fighting with only one, and then two carriers in November.
1st to 14th of November 1942 – The Long Wait
The first week of November, the only US carrier available is the USS Enterprise. It patrols some distance away from Henderson Field, close enough that its scout planes are likely to detect any approaching fleet, far enough to avoid being jumped on by a surprise Japanese carrier fleet.
Meanwhile, my transports are carrying supplies and men on Guadalcanal – only interrupting when an enemy surface fleet is detected. Dividing my transports in several small groups allows me to be sure that the island is resupplied shortly after being bombarded.
With the USS Enterprise sending all its planes to search for enemy fleets, the airbase of Espiritu Santo can allocate almost every single of its planes to submarine search (weirdly, planes are either searching for submarines or searching for surface fleets – I just imagine the convos aboard my scout planes : “Is that the Japanese carrier fleet ?” “Were you paying attention during briefing ? We are looking for submarines”).
Japanese submarines are immediately detected North of Espiritu Santo, and the 10 bombers I kept aside for attack are immediately launched :
I can only attack one submarine by turn, but the Japanese subs unwisely stay around and a few days later I have quite the tally :
After losing 4 submarines, the wolfpack is either destroyed or moved away.
The 8th, the Hornet is available. She is transferred to Espirutu Santo where she arrives on the 11th , ready to pounce whenever the Japanese carrier fleet is detected (a fleet transferring and arriving with almost full fuel/endurance does not have to spend any time refitting before being launched). Not much else happens, I have 29 000 men on Guadalcanal and counting, and the only additional cost paid was the loss of the APD Colhoun. She had been hit by Bettys while unloading at Henderson Field, and finished by a submarine as she tries to beeline home.
Finally, finally, on the 14th, as the USS Enterprise had been relieved by the USS Hornet and was returning to Brisbane to refit…
… the Japanese Carrier Fleet is detected.
15th to 18th of November 1942 – The Third Battle of Savo Island
I detected 4 Japanese carriers, including I suppose the large Shōkaku, and I have only 2 carriers on my side. The Saratoga is training new pilots, and the Wasp is still under repair.
If I want to achieve aircraft parity, I need to leverage the airfield on Guadalcanal to add land-based planes to my number, which means I need to protect the island from Japanese battleships. For this role, let me introduce you to the newly formed Task Force 8, just launched from Espiritu Santo.
Three battleships, two heavy cruisers and large number of destroyers – it should be enough !
Leaving Espiritu Santo the 15th, the US battleships approach Guadalcanal the 17th. A Japanese battleship is also approaching, but the Japanese Carrier Fleet is nowhere to be seen. I am not worried : the weather is not great, and I had decided to be conservative with my scout planes, as I needed a strike force as powerful as possible.
Just before the Enterprise and the Hornet merged their task forces, though the Enterprise has a close call with a Japanese submarine – but a destroyer throws herself at the torpedo :
The MacDonough immediately sinks, the depth charges are as inefficient as always, and there is no plane to spare to find the submarines.
The night of the 17th, Task Force 8 arrives in front of Henderson Field, and there it waits for the Japanese battleship. They don’t have to wait for long : the Japanese arrive, and the Americans shoot first :
It turns out the Japanese “battleship” was three heavy cruisers after all, probably stacked on top of each other inside a raincoat. Each of them is targeted by one of the US battleships, and each of them receives catastrophic damage. But they and their escorts managed to shoot back, landing several torpedoes on the American capital ships :
When the losses are counted at the end of the battle, the Japanese lost their three heavy cruisers, and I did not lose anything !
But not everything went perfectly. My capital ships received significant damage, and they have to return to Brisbane :
On the way back, the Task Force is ambushed by a submarine. The South Dakota, the only ship that was still combat-ready, receives a torpedo the night of the 18th.
The same night, with the approach to Guadalcanal not protected, one of my heavier supply runs, which had been waiting for the battleships to clear the way, meets the Tokyo Express in the night.
The USS Libra is sunk.
Still, the supply made it through, and I can transfer planes from Henderson Field. The Cactus Air Force is active again the 19th of November :
19th and 20th of November – The Cactus Air Force
With 70 fighters, the Cactus Air Force will be flying mostly combat air patrol missions. 70 Wildcats in long range CAP translates into roughly 50 fighters to defend against raids on its tile (whether against the airfield or a surface fleet).
Henderson Field is immediately put to good use against Japanese stragglers, two destroyers damaged in the combat of the previous night.
They are easy pickings :
The following day, another battleship fleet is detected, approaching Guadalcanal. I had also brought my aircraft carriers closer, and I send everything I have :
It turns out it is the battleship Mutsu ! She receives a torpedo and a couple bombs, but evades the rest of the bombers. The Japanese task force does not stay round, and return to its base without attacking Guadalcanal.
The Japanese Bettys counter-attack, as ineffectively as always. But they reduce the US Carriers’ endurance to almost nothing.
Time to go home.
20th to 30th of November – The Second Long Wait
It takes roughly one week before all my carriers and all my battleships are back to Brisbane. During that period, nothing happens, except the sinking of a Japanese destroyer (the Ariake) by the SS Amberjack, and a chance sighting of the Japanese Carrier Fleet… still next to Truk.
In Brisbane, the damage report is clear enough : the battleships are out of action until the end of the campaign, and so is the heavy cruiser Australia :
In other words, I sank 3 cruisers, at the cost of 3 battleships that will not be available any more for the campaign.
Meanwhile, the Saratoga has trained new pilots, and she takes position East of Guadalcanal. Japanese activity is low, with only a few Tokyo Express runs detected. Later, on the 30th of November, the Enterprise and the Hornet are ready again, ready for the last month of the campaign.
After a boring first half of October, the second half of October had been high in expectation- with the Japanese Carrier Fleet somewhere – but low in delivery. There had been some significant action, of course, but nothing decisive.
The Japanese seem to keep their assets in reserve – a bit too much so. They have aircraft carriers, but they have not tried to intercept my deliveries. They have transports, but they have not really tried to land troops.
Ultimately, I know I have won already, not due to any major battle, but because there is no way the Japanese can catch up to me now. I have an advantage of 400 VP on sunk ships alone, and holding Guadalcanal (500 VP) with 33 000 men (160 VP) is placing me beyond the American Decisive Victory threshold (>1000 VP).
Still, I really want to sink a few more Japanese carriers… provided they actually commit them in December. We’ll see if that happens.
Time played so far for the main campaign : 12 hours 30 minutes