How The US Navy’s Worst Defeat Lead To Future Dominance

Guadalcanal

In 1942, the Battle of Savo Island was one of the most devastating defeats for the U.S. Navy. Due to a long string of missteps, the well-trained Japanese cruiser easily defeated the Allied forces.

Adapting To Change

A year went by, and the United States found itself in a similar spot. They used the same technology but employed different tactical strategies and achieved a better result.

On August 6, 1943, Commander Frederick Moosbrugger was leading a force of six U.S. destroyers. They moved to intercept the Japanese in Vella Gulf, Solomon Islands.

The task force sunk three out of four of the Japanese destroyers and sustained no damage themselves. This victory was the direct result of learning from their errors at Savo Island.

Transitioning to War

The U.S. had been working on training their fleet, but the attack on Pearl Harbor caught them off guard. As a result, the fleet went out fully unprepared for what they were about to face.

Plus, the sheer number of ships they lost on December 7 left them with fewer battleships than they were preparing for. After each defeat, the Asiatic Fleet commanders made detailed after-action reposts detailing what went wrong and what lessons they learned.

Unfortunately, they did not learn from their mistakes for more than a year after taking a heavy loss at Guadalcanal. Since the ships had radar, they heavily relied on it.

But the Japanese relied on their night-fighting strategies and won.

The Allies did not immediately address what caused the devastating defeat at Salvo Island. When the lessons they learned were finally addressed, they did not get to the fleet until March of 1943.

Changing Their Ways

Commander Burke was an engineer and was not involved in the interwar Fleet Problems. He wanted to be in combat commanded, though, and studied hard to get there.

Burke looked at the surface actions in the area and found several things that needed to be adjusted. First, Burke determined that they would be less vulnerable if they fought in short columns instead of the long columns they were accustomed to.

He paired the radar with updated tactics, ensuring success. His updated strategies were used at the Battle of Savo Island, giving the U.S. Navy a win.

Sources: 1, 2

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