Battle of Cape Esperance
The campaign in the Solomons developed into a grim struggle which was climaxed on the night of 11 and 12 October in the Battle of Cape Esperance. Task Force 64 was formed around cruisers SALT LAKE CITY, BOISE (CL-47), HELENA (CL-50), and SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38) to thwart the Tokyo Express, a steady flow of Japanese vessels maintaining reinforcement and resupply to Guadalcanal. The force was not considered large enough to get involved with a major Japanese covering force, they were interested primarily in inflicting maximum damage to the transports. They arrived off Espiritu Santo on 7 October and, for two days, steamed near Guadalcanal and waited. Land-based search-plane reports came in that an enemy force was steaming down the slot and, that night, the Task Force moved to the vicinity of Savo Island to intercept it. Search planes were ordered launched from the cruisers, but in the process of launching, SALT LAKE CITY's plane caught fire as flares ignited in the cockpit. The plane crashed close to the ship and the pilot managed to get free. He later found safety on a nearby island. The brilliant fire was seen in the darkness by the Japanese flag officers, who assumed that it was a signal flare from the landing force which they were sent to protect. The Japanese flagship answered with blinker light, and receiving no reply, continued to signal. The American force formed a battle line at right angles to the Japanese T-formation, and thus were able to enfilade the enemy ships. The American cruisers opened fire and continued scoring hits for a full seven minutes before the confused Japanese realized what was taking place. They had believed that, by error, their own forces were taking them under fire. When the Japanese warships replied, their fire was too little and too late. The action was over in half an hour. One Japanese cruiser sank, another was reduced to rubble, a third was holed twice, and a destroyer sank. One destroyer of the five-ship force escaped damage. SALT LAKE CITY sustained three major hits during the action. BOISE was severely crippled, but managed to rejoin the group under her own power. The destroyer DUNCAN (DD-485) was left gutted off Savo. The ships formed up and steamed to Espiritu Santo.