Action of Kula Gulf, 6 March 1943

The action of Kula Gulf (6 March 1943) was a minor American naval victory that was triggered by a change encounter between two Japanese destroyers attempting to bring supplies to their base at Vila on Kolombangara and an American task force that was bombarding the same base.

After the end of serious fighting on Guadalcanal the American's next target in the Solomon Islands was New Georgia and nearby islands. The invasion was planned for late June and early July, giving the Japanese time to strengthen their defences on the islands and in particular to improve the airfields at Munda on New Georgia and Vila on nearby Kolombangara Island. The US Navy had bombarded both sites in January 1943, and Admiral Halsey decided to repeat the operation in March.

A task force under Admiral Aeron Stanton 'Tip' Merrill was given the job. He split this force into two. The southern force of four destroyers bombarded Munda early on 6 March and returned to base without encountering any Japanese ships.

USS Denver (CL-58) from above
USS Denver (CL-58)
from above

A larger force was assigned to the bombardment of Vila. Admiral Merrill commanded this force, which consisted of the light cruisers USS Denver (CL-58), USS Cleveland (CL-55) and USS Montpelier (CL-57) and the destroyers USS Conway (DD-507), USS Waller (DD-466) and USS Cony (DD-508). This force sailed up the slot (the channel between the northern and southern Solomon Islands, and approached Vila from the north-east, from the Kula Gulf.

Captain's Inspection on USS Cleveland (CL-55), 28 March 1944
Captain's Inspection on USS Cleveland (CL-55), 28 March 1944

The Japanese destroyers Minegumo and Murasame were engaged in the constant efforts to reinforce the garrisons of Kolombangara and New Georgia. On the night of 5-6 March the two destroyers successfully reached Vila, on the south-eastern coast of Kolombangara, and at 23.30 began to transfer their cargo into barges. The Japanese were entirely unaware of the approaching Americans and decided to return to their base by heading up the Kula Gulf.

The detailed course of the battle can be traced from US radar logs. The two Japanese destroyers were detected at 0.57 on 6 March and within a few moments the Americans had correctly interpreted the radar picture and were ready to open fire. The Americans opened fire at 1.01, and focused their attention on the Murasame, the leading Japanese ship. She was hit by their sixth salvo and by a torpedo from the destroyer Waller. By 1.05 the Murasame was dead in the water and at 1.15 she exploded.

At 1.06 the Minegumo came under fire and by 1.10 she too was sinking. Her captain ordered his men to abandon ship and 174 of her crew managed to swim to relative safety on Kolombangara. None of the crew of the Murasame survived.

After this short but brutal naval clash the American ships carried out a sixteen minute bombardment of Vila, before returning back up the slot to their home bases. The action was an excellent example of a radar guided attack, and a sign that the Japanese were no longer safe at night.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 April 2013), Action of Kula Gulf, 6 March 1943 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/action_kula_gulf.html

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