Battle of Rennell Island, 29-30 January 1943

The battle of Rennell Island (29-30 January 1943) was a clash between Japanese aircraft and a US Navy task force escorting reinforcements to Guadalcanal that ended as a clear Japanese victory after they sank the heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29). Although the Japanese were close to defeat on the island, they still had strong forces in the area, and American reinforcements were still needed on the island. Accordingly, in late September a troop convoy was dispatched towards Guadalcanal from the south, protected by an escort group.

USS Montpelier (CL-57), December 1942
USS Montpelier (CL-57),
December 1942

The escort was provided by cruisers and destroyers from Task Force 18, which included the heavy cruisers Wichita (the flagship), Chicago (CA-29) and Louisville (CA-28), the Cleveland class light cruisers Cleveland, Columbia and Montpelier and the destroyers Waller (DD-466), Chevalier (DD-451), La Vallette (DD-448) and Edwards (DD-691). A number of other American ships were close enough to participate in the battle, most importantly the carrier Enterprise, whose fighters were involved on the second day.

Aerial View of USS Louisville (CA-28)
Aerial View of USS Louisville (CA-28)

The Japanese aircraft involved came from the land-based 701st and 705th Kokutai. They found the American escort ships to the north of Rennell Island (Mangana, the southernmost of the Solomon Islands, 120 miles to the south of Guadalcanal). The first attack came on the evening of 29 January. A number of Japanese aircraft were shot down, but two of them crashed into the sea behind the Chicago, and she was silhouetted against the flames. Mitsubishi G4M-l 'Betty' Bombers from the 701st Kokutai hit the Chicago with two torpedoes. The first hit, at 19.45, stopped three of the cruiser's four drive shafts, while the second hit between number three fireroom and the forward engine room. The Chicago was left dead in the water, although her damage control parties were able to bring her back onto the level.

Soon after this the Japanese attack ended. The Louisville was able to take her damaged sister in tow, and the task force began a slow retreat back towards Espiritu Santo. The Japanese didn't renew their attack until the afternoon of 30 January, by which time the Chicago was 30 miles to the east of Rennell Island, being towed by the tug Navajo (AT-64) and the destroyer La Vallette (DD-448). At 14.45 twelve 'Betties' were detected to the south of New Georgia heading for the damaged cruiser. A combat air patrol of F4Fs from VF 10 on USS Enterprise intercepted the Japanese bombers, but were only able to shoot down three of the twelve. Anti-aircraft fire from Task Force 18 claimed seven more, but the remaining two aircraft scored two more torpedo hits on the Chicago. This time the damage was too severe to be repaired, and the Chicago had to be abandoned, sinking stern-first at 16.44. The La Vallette (DD-448) was also hit by a torpedo which killed 22 and meant that she too had to be towed away from the damage area. This ended the battle. Although Task Force 18 had been forced to turn back, and had suffered the loss of the Chicago, the transport ships reached Guadalcanal safely.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 July 2009), Battle of Rennell Island, 29-30 January 1943 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_rennell_island.html

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