Battle of Cape Esperance

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The Battle of Cape Esperance was a naval battle between Japanese and American ships in October 1942, and part of the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. It was the US Navy’s first successful night action.

On the evening on October 11, 1942, a Japanese convoy under Rear Admiral Goto was on the way to Guadalcanal. The convoy consisted of troop-laden transports and an escort of cruisers and destroyers. Once they reached the island, the plan was to unload the troops in the Japanese-occupied portion of the island while three cruisers and two destroyers went to the American-held Henderson air field to bombard it. Defending Henderson was an American force of four cruisers and three destroyers, under Rear Admiral Scott. Up to this point in the war, the Japanese Navy had had a decisive advantage in night fighting, as shown two months earlier at the Battle of Savo Island. This time, however, the American ships had new and much more effective radar.[1]

The forces met off of Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal’s northernmost point, and the new American radar allowed them to surprise their opponents. The Japanese flagship Aoba was heavily hit (mortally wounding Admiral Goto), and the cruiser Furutaka and a destroyer were sunk. The American force lost the destroyer USS Duncan with over a hundred casualties, and the cruiser Boise was damaged.[2] The fleets broke contact, but when day broke on October 12, Navy and Marine Corps bombers from Henderson Field were airborne, and attacked the convoy, sinking two destroyers.[3]

The United States had won a clear victory at Cape Esperance, but not a decisive one. The Japanese were prevented from bombarding Henderson Field, but had still been able to offload their troops. The next evening, October 13, Japanese battleships bombarded Henderson and temporarily put it out of action, and the Japanese army launched an (unsuccessful) offensive on the American defense lines a week later.[4] But the US Navy had shown they could now outfight the Japanese at night, which greatly improved American morale.


  1. Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symonds, the Naval Institute, 1995
  2. A History of War at Sea, by Helmut Pemsel, Naval Institute Press, 1975
  3. Semper Fi in the Sky: The Marine Air Battles of World War II, by Gerald Astor, Presidio Press, 2005
  4. The West Point Atlas of War, World War II: The Pacific, ed. by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito, Tess Press, 1959