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Weapons of World War Two

The Campaign of Guadalcanal (Aug 1942 - Feb 1943)

Chokai heavy cruiser

Chokai heavy cruiser

The Imperial Japanese Navy used, since the glorious years of Admiral Togo, who had led them to the victory of Tsushima, a simple but seemingly effective system to keep the sight of the gunners sharp for the eventuality of a nocturnal combat. It consisted of staying in the deck during the night, with all of the ship's lights turned off, while counting the largest possible number of stars. It could seem a rudimentary and naive system, but the American mariners who in the night from the 8th to the 9th August 1942 saw the cruiser squadron led by Admiral Gunichi Kurita falling upon them like a sea monster would think otherwise. Shooting in a frantic way, the Japanese ships passed amid the American ships while sinking four cruisers and damaging a fifth one after ten minutes of combat. The flagship was the heavy cruiser "Chokai", a not very recent ship because she was already eleven years old, but an imposing one nonetheless (1). Ship of low and streamlined profile, she was characterized by having three 203-millimeter twin turrets in the prow, emplaced with the central turret superimposed to the other two, which allowed a notable concentration of fire. The anti-aircraft armament, initially one of normal power, comprised four 120-millimeter cannons and sixty-six 25-millimeter fast-firing cannons in 1944. An acceptable armor, a good speed and a long operational range rendered her an unreservedly good unit. The main war actions on which she took part were: the failed invasion of Midway, along with the heavy cruiser group of the main squadron led by Admiral Kondo, the series of battles for Guadalcanal, as flagship of the squadron led by Kurita, and, finally, the battles of Leyte Gulf, where, after coming out unscathed from the battles of Sibuyan and Surigao, she was sunk by aircraft from American aircraft carriers in the encounter which took place in the island of Samar, in the morning of the 25th October 1944.

(1) The Chokai set the American cruiser Astoria ablaze with the first salvo fired upon her, but the latter managed in turn to hit the Japanese cruiser once, causing damages which would be irreparable during the war operations.

In the spring of 1942 the alarm sent about Guadalcanal took the attention from the Allied High Command. According to informations from an unknown source, the Japanese were busy with the construction of an airfield in that unimportant island of the Solomon Archipelago. The Australian shouted that a Japanese airbase in Guadalcanal would be like a beam in the eye for the Allied defense. All of this caused that the Allied landing in the island obtained the approval at the highest level, so that the first American offensive, contrarily to the so solemnly expressed intentions, was launched in the Pacific, whereas the European front was relegated to a second plane with great disgust from Churchill. Nobody could foresee that the series of battles for Guadalcanal would take longer than six months and that they would require such a great waste of men and materials from both parts. The combats did not end until the 9th February 1943, when it could be considered that Guadalcanal was solidly taken by the American. In any case, the 7th August 1942 an imposing Allied fleet, composed of three Australian ("Australia", "Canberra" and "Hobart") and two American ("San Juan" and "Chicago") cruisers as protection of numerous transport ships of diverse type and accompanied by a single group of destroyers, appeared on the horizon of the northern coast of Guadalcanal. The landing was practically carried out. Only a part of the material, intended for ensuring the defense of the division and for allowing the construction of the airbase that the Japanese had started, had not been yet downloaded. And it was precisely on the night from the 8th to the 9th August when the Japanese made apparition. And they did it in their own way, by surprising the enemy in the less expected place: the sea. As soon as the warning of the unexpected American landing arrived from Guadalcanal the morning of the 7th August, Mikawa hoisted his banner in the "Chokai" and departed to the south along with the intervention force formed with the units which were available in that moment, namely, four heavy cruisers besides the "Chokai", two light cruisers and a destroyer. In those moments, Rear Admiral Mikawa was taking the responsibility of an operation which in no way seemed to correspond to the Imperial Navy. The evening of the 8th August the intervention force, navigating in a line formation, approached the strait south of the island of Savo, one of the two mandatory points for reaching the northern sea of Guadalcanal.

Launched: 30 June 1932 in the Mitsubishi shipyards of Nagasaki

Length: 203.76 meters

Beam: 18.69 meters

Draught: 6.10 meters

Displacement: 13160 tonnes

Propulsion: Steam turbines with gear reduction fed by twelve Kampon naphtha boilers, for a total power of 130000 horsepower; four propellers

Maximum speed: 35.50 knots

Operational range: 15700 kilometers at 14 knots

Armor: 102 millimeters in waterline; 76 millimeters in deck (102 millimeters above magazines); 76 millimeters in main turrets

Armament: Ten 203-millimeter 50-caliber cannons (5 x 2); four 120-millimeter 50-caliber cannons (4 x 1); twelve 25-millimeter cannons (increased to sixty-six in 1944); eight 610-millimeter torpedo tubes (4 x 2); two catapults and two aircraft

Complement: 773

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