Saturday, 29 September 2012

Coral Sea Campaign Part 2

This is my second report of proceedings. The first report is here. In between the two, I have been sailing in company with the Port Moresby invasion fleet while a major carrier battle was fought.

Scouting Force Report. Under way in the Coral Sea, 6 May

In accordance with your orders, I took under command the cruisers CL Tenryu, CL Yubari and CL Tutsata; and the destroyers DD Yuzuki, DD Kikuzuki, DD Yayoi and DD Oite.

I proceeded for 2hrs in a NNE direction at 15Kts in order to investigate the suspected enemy activity in that direction. This low speed was designed to minimise our visibility to any enemy, so that we could secure surprise for a torpedo attack. Maximum visibility distance was about 5 nautical miles, and ships were disposed that distance apart. The left of the line passed within sight of the small island in V2 shortly after 01:00hrs and the line was extended from V22 to W23, the right hand destroyer having partial observation into W24, no contacts were reported.

At 03:00 the right hand destroyer reported sporting the western tip of Woodlark coming into view. The line was extended across U23, U24 and part of V25.

I appreciated that, if there ever was an enemy force present, its course was either North or East (in either of which case there was no real threat to the main force), or it may have been proceeding South, in which case it might be between me and the main force. This I considered unlikely, but if the enemy were on an easterly course, there was then no prospect of finding them as they would be in or about W26 and heading away from us.

As I had fulfilled your orders, and judged that there was no likelihood of contact by continuing on my current course, I therefore turned the scouting force to the SSW, closed up to normal stationkeeping distance, and worked up to 30 knots with the intention of returning to the main fleet.

Shortly after 05:00hrs, the force was in line abreast heading SSW at 30 knots. DD Yuzuki was out of position a little ahead of the starboard wing when she detected three enemy destroyers in arrowhead formation about 1 nm apart at a range of about 5 nm. The enemy were heading due North at high speed. The enemy were to my SSW.

The enemy’s formation indicated that they were screening a heavy force to their rear against submarine attack. The range was well within effective reach for Type 93 torpedoes, however our position was too fine on the enemy’s bow for effective torpedo engagement.

I therefore wished to gain a position broader on the enemy’s bow whilst maximising my presumed advantage from having sighted first. My force was not suitable for a prolonged gunnery engagement. I therefore detached DD Yuzuki to the W to distract and confuse the attention of the enemy, changed course with the rest of the force together to the SE and began to make smoke in order to obscure the silhouettes of our ships and to provide for a rapid escape under smoke when our attack had been completed.

These manoeuvres were completely successful. DD Yuzuki engaged the enemy’s destroyer screen with guns and torpedoes. Shortly afterwards the main force engaged. An enemy cruiser of the Portland class was sighted at the head of the enemy line and at once engaged with torpedoes. Two hits were observed, and the first 20 metres of the enemy’s bow was seen to have been blown off. Enemy return fire against the main force was ineffective.

The enemy now turned sharply away under smoke, on to a course to the NW. This placed us in a poor position to engage further with torpedoes. Moreover we were brought under fire by highly accurate 6” gunnery directed from beyond visual range by unknown technical means. I therefore concluded that it was time to disengage.

Unfortunately at this time an enemy shell came inboard DD Yuzuki and decapitated her captain, who had hitherto been fighting his ship with great success against superior numbers of the enemy’s destroyer screen. The loss of the captain, and other members of the bridge crew, disrupted the command of the ship and Yuzuki also came under fire from 6” guns directed from beyond visual range. The enemy secured a number of hits in this way which resulted in the loss of all steam power. As the enemy’s change of course had placed DD Yuzuki squarely in the path of the entire enemy force, her loss was now inevitable and the order to abandon ship was given.

I consider that this order was entirely appropriate. The order to abandon ship ensured that many of the crew were saved, and the lives of these trained and experienced sailors were of greater value than any limited damage that Yuzuki could have done to the enemy with her weak gun armament, her torpedoes having previously been fired.

Having broken contact, I returned to the scene in order to rescue survivors from Yuzuki, and any Americans who might be in the water. A limited search around the area of the last position of the Portland revealed some patches of burning oil, a few bodies and much rubbish and floating debris in the water. No survivors seemed to be present. I have therefore not been able to confirm that Portland was sunk, although I consider it likely.

The enemy were equal in numbers to my force, superior in strength (particularly in relation to gunnery armament, having 6” and 8” guns to our 5.5”) and possessed of unknown technical means to direct their gunnery beyond visual range. I consider it a credit to the training and professionalism of the force under my command that we were able to engage successfully under such conditions. Had a lucky enemy hit not killed the captain of DD Yuzuki at an inopportune moment, I believe this ship might also have escaped unscathed, but in any event her loss is well worth the certain crippling and probable sinking of an enemy heavy cruiser.

Since daylight, the enemy have re-established visual contact with me, but have not sought to engage. I judge there is limited benefit in leading them away from the main fleet, as their air searches are likely to discover the main fleet very rapidly wherever I lead them. My force is not suitably armed to engage enemy heavy cruisers by daylight.

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