The scene of fierce fighting, Henderson Airfield in late August 1942.
seriously, Hiei was hit by at least two torpedoes. The Japanese force, besides the
battleships, was also formed by a light cruiser and 11 destroyers. Those engaged eight
American destroyers and Hiei and Kirishima could focus on five American cruisers.
Their gun turrets however were stocked
with the shrapnel grenades which caused
great damage to the superstructures however were not able to penetrate the hull
and turrets’ armor. Therefore, the cruisers
maintained the ability to sail and fire. One
of them, San Francisco, scored a lucky hit
on Hiei, disabling her steering mechanism.
The huge ship therefore had her maneuvering abilities restricted. Wounded Admiral
Abe had enough and ordered the withdrawal. He did not know that the only two
undamaged American ships were between
his fleet and Henderson airfield – cruiser
Helena and destroyer Fletcher.
Great losses on both sides
During the night battle the Japanese destroyer Akatsuki was sunk as well as the
American destroyers Laffey and Barton.
The first rays of sunshine in the morning
revealed eight more seriously damaged
ships which were either motionless or
moved very slowly. Three of them were
Japanese and five American. The burning
wrecks of Cushing and Monssen were
Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command
cision it was already too late. The American and Japanese ships converged too
close, and his orders caused more chaos.
The encounter turned into 40 minutes long
merciless chaotic combat at close range
where each individual ship made her own
decisions. Several ships even became targets of the friendly fire. As later described
by one of the American officers, it was like
a bar brawl when all lights were shut down.
The inferior American vessels however,
thanks to the close range, were able to deliver serious hits. For example, at one moment Hiei was fired at by three American
destroyers from extremely close range.
One of them almost collided with her, they
missed each other just by six meters! The
huge Japanese ship, under normal circumstances, would have blown the destroyer
off the water by a single salvo.
But now she could not lower her guns
enough and her heavy grenades were flying above the destroyers making loud noise. The American sailors wasted no time
and were shooting at Hiei with all they had,
including the machine guns. They could
not penetrate her armor, but the numerous hits were setting off fires on the superstructure and killed many officers on
the bridge. The fleet commander, Admiral
Hiroaki Abe himself was wounded. More
Photo: US Navy
The first Japanese battleship sunk, the Hiei. Her sister ship Kirishima followed her to the bottom two days later.