Contents - Hirohito's War
19 Guadalcanal: Battle of Tassafaronga and Final Reckonings
[November 1942–February 1943]
[Maps: 19.1, 19.2]
Imperial Japan’s Reluctance to Face Defeat (p 547) The Battle of Tassafaronga (p 548) The US Navy’s Torpedo Scandal (p 551) Japanese Torpedoes and Tactics (p 554) Shipboard Radar Developments in the Pacific War (p 556) Japan’s Defeat at Guadalcanal (p 556) Guadalcanal’s Final Reckoning (p 559) Rifles, Carbines, Shotguns (p 561) Admiral King Attends to Logistics (p 564) Reflections and Consequences of the Guadalcanal Campaign (p 564)
Imperial Japan’s Reluctance to Face Defeat: As the New Year, 1943, was about to arrive, Vice-Admiral Ugaki reflected on the roller coaster of Japanese emotions in 1942; he noted in his diary
How brilliant was the first stage operation up to April! And what miserable setbacks since Midway in June! The invasions of Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia [the] liberation of India and destruction of the British Far Eastern Fleet have all scattered like dreams. Meanwhile, not to speak of capturing Port Moresby, but the recovery of Guadalcanal . . . turned out to be impossible.1
For public consumption, Hirohito’s New Year’s Day message for 1943 was more upbeat, “The Darkness is very deep but dawn is about to break in the Eastern Sky. Today the finest of the Japanese Army, Navy and Air Units are gathering. Sooner or later they will head toward the Solomon Islands where a decisive battle is being waged between Japan and America.”2 In fact the Emperor and his Army had already thrown in the towel in their bid to retake Guadalcanal.
With November’s sinking of transports at the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal, the Navy’s efforts to re-supply the army there with a fresh force of troops capable of retaking Henderson Field effectively came to an end; however, it would take many weeks for the scale of the disaster and the new reality to sink in. The few troops who struggled ashore were no longer a viable fighting unit. Meanwhile on Guadalcanal a desperate Lieutenant-General Hyakutake informed Lieutenant-General Hitoshi Imamura, “. . . an average of 100 men starve to death daily.”3 By December over half of his troops had beri beri or malaria. The position was clearly hopeless. Imamura retreated into a state of mute indecision. On 12 November the Japanese Navy, having muttered darkly for well over a month, finally proposed that Guadalcanal should be abandoned. For a Navy still gorged on expansion it was a bitter blow; by the nature of Japan’s regime and its creed of Empire, the decision to retreat was for a long time too painful to contemplate.
However, by early November some senior staff officers at the Imperial General Headquarters were coming to a similar conclusion. On 18 November, Colonel Tanemura