PEARL HARBOR, Nov. 3, 1942.... A "toe to toe" naval battle fought off Savo Island northwest of the Solomons in the dead of night October 11-12, 1942 which resulted in the sinking of two Japanese ships and possibly seven others was graphically told Monday by
Capt. Ernest Gregor Small, New Haven, Conn., commander of one of the American cruisers which fought the entire 40 minute engagement.
The battle was fought at ranges from one to five miles and the American force practically "obliterated" the enemy group, Capt. Small said.
"Our task force was off the northwest corner of Guadalcanal on the prowl. We knew the Japanese had been sending down ships and we went up there with our fingers on the trigger. We had them in a very advantageous position."
Capt. Small explained that the forces came together at right angles while traveling at high speed with the American group finally forming an arc in front of the on-coming Japanese.
"It was like a Fourth of July Celebration that usually lasts 40 minutes or so and ends with the charred remains of the fireworks in the backyard. We could see burning ships on the horizon," the captain, formerly head of the English and History departments of the US Naval Academy, explained.
"You know a night action is a hell of a melee. We just got in there and slugged it out toe to toe. I saw at least two of the Japanese ships keel over and sink. We caught them absolutely 'de-panted.' I saw one of our salvos, which looked like glowing red box cars flying through the air, hit one of the enemy ships directly. You could just feel the terrific impact. The ship stopped immediately and then sank. One of the Japanese destroyers came head on at us and got within 1,500 yards. Naturally we obliterated it.
It was coming in to fire torpedoes."
Capt. Small said when the enemy force was trapped by the American group many of the Japanese cruisers and destroyers were hit before they even fired a shot.
Although the night was pitch black and with little wind, the Captain pointed out that he had excellent illumination from the search lights of the US ships.
"We could see them clearly," he said. "The battle was fought intermittently and during the intervals we left the field and fired on other burning ships."
The Captain was very gratified at the conduct of his crew. He told of one man in a gunnery room that was badly wounded by a shell but stuck to his position until he dropped over dead.
"He was wounded in the stomach and part of his hand was shot away, but he kept his gun pointed until he died right there."
"Everybody did the right thing at the right time. They were courageous, that's all. You know there is a saying on my ship that there is a right way, wrong way and our way."
He told of another incident that happened about 10 o'clock...two hours before the battle started.
"We started launching planes. One catapulted off my ship and got up about 80 or 90 feet when I noticed flames shooting out near the tail. The pilot brought it up to about 150 feet and by that time the flames were well forward."
"We had little hope for two men in the plane, but the pilot made a perfect three point landing although badly burned. He dived into the water eight times and finally got his rubber boat inflated. While he was in the water he became covered with gasoline so that during the three days he and the radioman spent in the boat he burned by day and froze by night."
"Although shot at by Japanese snipers and strafed by planes, the men reached the nearest land which was 45 miles away, on the third day and were picked up by an American ship about 800 yards off shore."
"The pilot at first was reluctant to come aboard the rescue vessel. He said he felt like he wanted to complete the journey without aid." Capt. Small said the men have labeled the area between Guadalcanal and Savo Island "sleepless lagoon."