USS ATLANTA CL 51 - Action Report

The following is the "Action Report" prepared by Capt. Jenkins (Commander of the USS Atlanta)regarding the Atlanta's participation and subsequent loss in the "Naval Battle of Guadalcanal" on November 13th,1942. Below are the attachments that accompanied the report and Adm.Halsey's comments on this report. Note that Adm Halsey's reports are copies of the actual report with his signature attached. Many thanks to Preston Cook, who supplied this information.

File No. U.S.S. ATLANTA - A16-5 - Advanced Naval Activities - Cactus-Ringbolt Area - November 20, 1942 - DECLASSIFIED -

From: The Commanding Officer

To: Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Via: Commander Task Force 67

Subject: Engagement with Japanese surface forces off Guadalcanal night of 12-13 November 1942, and Loss of U.S.S. ATLANTA

1. On the evening of November 12, 1942, Task Group 67.4 (Rear Admiral Callaghan in SAN FRANCISCO) was formed composed of the following units: CUSHING (CDD10), LAFFEY, STERRETT, O'BANNON, ATLANTA (Rear Admiral Scott), SAN FRANCISCO, PORTLAND, HELENA, JUNEAU, AARON WARD (CDS12), BARTON, MONSSEN, FLETCHER. This group was divided into three tactical units: van destroyers, base unit, and rear destroyers. Battle formation was column, order of ships as listed above.

2. At about 1800/L12th, TG 67.4 departed viscinity of Lunga Point, proceeding eastward through Sealark Channel, to cover withdrawal of TG 67.1. At about 2300, TG 67.4 reversed course to the westward and returned to the Cactus area via Lengo Channel. Ship was at general quarters.

3. Times of course changes and other evolutions listed hereafter are approximate as all records have been lost.

4. The task group proceeded westward along the north-east coast of Guadalcanal at 18 knots until about opposite Kokumbona, at which time the HELENA reported radar contacts bearing 310 degrees true, 26000 yards. Course was then changed by head of column movement to 310 degrees and shortly thereafter to 355 degrees. Radar contacts reported by the HELENA indicated a rapidly closing range, and shortly after reaching course 355 degrees the number of contacts reported increased to 10 or 12, at least some of which were shown on the port bow and separated from the original group. ATLANTA's SC radar made contact bearing about 340 degrees, course of contact about 110 degrees, speed 20. Gunnery radars picked up and tracked this contact. Almost immediately after the contacts on the port bow developed, a change of course 45 degrees left, by head of column movement, was ordered by TBS.

5. ATLANTA was forced to turn left almost immediately after execution of the above signal, in order to avoid collision with a destroyer of the van group. It appeared that these destroyers might have executed a ships left maneuver, rather than a column movement, and the nearest one was close underfoot. An unidentified ship reported "Torpedo passing from port to starboard", and another reported "Fishing" (interpreted to mean "firing torpedoes") by TBS. At this time the Task Group Commander interrogated ATLANTA's maneuver by TBS; ATLANTA began maneuvers to come right and resume station ahead of SAN FRANCISCO.

6. While in the above situation, the radar contact ahead, which had continued to be tracked, became visible bearing about North, distance 3000 yards, crossing from port to starboard on course about 110 degrees. Several of the destroyers were between ATLANTA and this vessel, which was identified as a CL similar to the NATORI class.

7. At that instant the ATLANTA was illuminated by a battery of two or four searchlights from a ship bearing about 270 degrees true. The battery was immediately shifted to this target; in the instant before opening fire the TBS order was received "Open fire, odd ships to starboard, even ships to port." ATLANTA opened fire at estimated range 1600 yards on the illuminating ship, ATLANTA firing before being fired upon.

8. During the first instants of firing upon this vessel, two enemy destroyers were sighted crossing the line of fire from left to right, on course about North. They were clearly identified in the searchlight beam as Japanese destroyers similar to the ASASHIO class, firing upon ATLANTA. Fire of the forward group (the battery having been divided throughout) was shifted from the illuminating vessel to the rear DD, which was seen to receive about twenty hits in the hull from 1200 yards range, erupt in flames, and later disappear.

9. Meanwhile the after group continued firing on the illuminating ship, which was seen to be hit. An additional unidentified ship opened fire on the ATLANTA from about 10 degrees left of the illuminating ship. At that time two heavy jolts were felt, the first possibly a torpedo hit forward, and the second definitely a torpedo hit in the forward engine room. Both of these were distinctly heavier and different in character from our gunfire hits. All power except auxiliary diesel was lost, our fire was interrupted, and steering control had to be shifted to the steering engine room. At about the same time all of the above described gunfire against the ATLANTA ceased, and illumination went out. The illuminating ship, which had been under fire also by another ship in our force, was seen to sink.

10. Because of the subsequent loss of the conning officer and many other bridge personnel, each maneuver of the ship during the foregoing cannot definitely be recorded here. By the time all action had broken off, the ship has swung slowly left to a heading of about South.

11. Within a minute or so after the termination of the above action, and the ship dead in the water, without power, and on fire from hits forward, she was taken under fire by a heavy cruiser which is very strongly believed to have been of our own force. The cruiser in question opened fire from about 240 degrees relative, range about 3500 yards, without illuminating, and put several salvoes into the ship, totaling about 19 hits, detailed later. The firing ship was on a slightly converging course, and as illuminated by her own gun flashes could be seen to have a distinctly non-Japanese hull profile. Efforts to take her under fire were suspended on the above recognition; she also ceased fire after three or four salvoes. One officer is positive that the ship firing at us was the SAN FRANCISCO, however, this cannot be substantiated from any other source. A few minutes later in a flash of light from elsewhere the ship was seen passing close aboard to port.

12. Upon conclusion of the above it was discovered that all telephones on the bridge were out. The Commanding Officer then proceeded to Battle Two to find out what power was available obtain more information as to the condition of the ship. About six unidentified vessels were observed scattered to the North, dead in the water, burning and exploding. Fire was exchanged between various of these ships from time to time. Perhaps two were Japanese; these were observed to discharge what appeared to be a pyrotechnic identifications signal when fired upon. The nature of the signal was a luminous cloud of snowflakes, projected vertically to about masthead height, where it floated for some ten seconds before burning out. One ship which emitted this signal blew up and sank within a short time of the foregoing. Of the remainder, fire was exchanged on several occasions between ships both of which were very strongly believed to be of our force. Their fire was characteristic of the 5"/38 gun, with nitrocellulose powder, and of the 20mm automatic gun. Some of the above were also directed against this vessel, without results, and without return.

13. After some time one ship of the above group got way on and stood off to the East, crossing under the ATLANTA's stern, and firing several salvos which passed overhead, producing one hit in the crow's nest. This ship is believed to have been a one-stack destroyer.

14. After the 8" fire ceased, opportunity was available for taking stock of the situation. First efforts were directed toward getting under control the various fires burning about the ship; this had been accomplished within one hour. Before the fire in the bridge structure was extinguished the foremast fell to port. The ship was listing slightly to port and down by the head, taking water steadily, which it continued to do despite all efforts. No power other than the emergency diesel was available, but steps were inaugurated to clear one fireroom, which later proved futile. The many wounded had first aid administered, and evacuation boats for them were requested by auxiliary radio from Cactus. Every effort was devoted to the one end of clearing the ship of debris, jettisoning useless weights, and getting her ready to steam out. Details of damage and the damage control situation are included later.

15. With the coming of daylight, the CUSHING and two additional U.S. destroyers (all burning), the PORTLAND, and one Japanese destroyer of the ASASHIO class were sighted. The Jap DD was shortly sunk by three salvoes from the PORTLAND's main battery. Several Japanese dead, in life jackets, were seen floating close aboard, and other swimming Japs were seen around the area of the engagement. Many were seen to be captured by Cactus boats which appeared shortly after daylight. As the ship appeared to be drifting ashore on Jap held coastline, a few miles East of Cape Esperance, the starboard anchor was dropped with 90 fathoms of chain. Port anchor and chain were jettisoned to help correct list. About this time the following was sent to the PORTLAND, quote "damage as result night action X six turrets out of commission, both firerooms and forward engine room flooded, after engineroom gradually flooding, have only diesel auxiliary power, steering gear inoperative, foremast gone X ship received many 8 inch hits and one or more torpedo hits, latter in viscinity of number one engine room port, bridge structure completely gutted X have requested assistance from Cactus intend to send wounded and others there retaining nucleus crew aboard in case facilities available for towing X if not available condition of ship warrants sinking X request instructions regarding" unquote. Cactus boats began evacuating out wounded, the most serious cases first: All the wounded were cleared by mid-morning. The unwounded and those slightly wounded remained on board.

16. At about 0930, USS BOBOLINK arrived in the area and was ordered by PORTLAND to tow ATLANTA to an anchorage off Kukum. Chain was then veered to 105 fathoms. During passage to this area, one Japanese type 1 Navy twin engined bomber appeared, low, and was taken under fire by turret number 8 (the only turret with power). This plane withdrew.

17. It was by now apparent that efforts to save the ship were useless, and that the water was gaining steadily. The ship had about a 10 degree list to port and was gradually settling at that angle. Had efficient salvage facilities been available to save the ship, such assistance would have been of doubtful value due to the great extent of damage. Commander South pacific Forces had authorized the Commanding Officer to act at discretion regarding the destruction of ATLANTA. It was therefore decided to abandon the ship and sink her with a demolition charge.

All personnel except the commanding Officer and a demolition party were removed by Cactus boats, and the charge set and exploded. The ship was then completely abandoned. The area around was patrolled by boats to prevent boarding by unauthorized persons, until the ship sank. At 2015, November 13, 1942, the ship sank, approximately 3 miles West of Lunga Point, in about 80 fathoms of water.

18. It is considered that all classified matter in the ship was effectively destroyed, the majority by the fire which gutted the bridge, radio, and coding room areas; the remainder with the sinking of the ship. The bridge structure was inspected by several officers who reported that the intense heat still existing prevented complete inspection and that all burnable and easily fusable material was completely destroyed.

19. The conduct of the officers and men was exemplary. They remained at their stations until no longer tenable. There was no panic and after the action all hands energetically turned to the various duties fighting fire, tending wounded, etc., all of which was handled in a most efficient manner. Their actions during the battle and afterwards were in the best traditions of the Naval Service.

20. Recommendations for awards and commendations will be made in a separate letter.

21. The Commanding Officer, officers, and men of ATLANTA cannot express satisfactorily their appreciation to the Commanding General Cactus, the Commanding Officer of Naval Activities, Cactus Ringbolt area, and all officers and men on the island for their efficient care of our wounded shipmates and the assistance given ATLANTA survivors before and after their arrival at Guadalcanal.


S. P. Jenkins


Copy to: ComSoPac

(Separate Cover)

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