On the night of 11 October 1942, Japanese naval forces in the Solomon Islands area commanded by Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, sent a major supply and reinforcement convoy to their forces on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands.
The convoy consisted of two seaplane tenders and six destroyers and was commanded by Rear Admiral Takatsugu Jojima.
At the same time, but in a separate operation, three heavy Japanese cruisers and two destroyers planned to bombard the Allied airfield on Guadalcanal (called Henderson Field by the Allies) with the object of destroying Allied aircraft and the airfield’s facilities.
Shortly before midnight on 11 October, a U.S force of four cruisers and five destroyers—under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott—intercepted Goto’s force as it approached Savo Island near Guadalcanal.
Scott’s warships sank one of Goto’s cruisers , the Furutaka, and one of his destroyers, heavily damaged another cruiser, mortally wounded Goto, and forced the rest of Goto’s warships to abandon the bombardment mission and retreat.
During the exchange of gunfire, one of Scott’s destroyers was sunk and one cruiser and another destroyer were heavily damaged. In the meantime, the Japanese supply convoy successfully completed unloading at Guadalcanal and began its return journey without being discovered by Scott’s force.
U.S. cruisers and destroyers defeated a Japanese naval contingent off Cape Esperance during the Guadalcanal campaign . Image via Warfare History Network
Later on the morning of 12 October, four Japanese destroyers from the supply convoy turned back to assist Goto’s retreating, damaged warships. Air attacks by U.S. aircraft from Henderson Field sank two of these destroyers later the same day.
The naval battle of Cape Esperance was the second of four major surface encounters during the Guadalcanal campaign in the region of the strait between Savo Island and Guadalcanal.
When the battle was over, many of the Japanese sailors, whose ships had been sunk refused to be rescued by the American ships, preferring to be devoured by the sharks that infested the waters of the battlefield.