If you fire your weapons at night in pitch black you create a self imposed signal as to your position. If you don’t fire you may miss the opportunity to destroy or at least hurt your enemy. Now imagine facing this conundrum EVERY night! Captains faced this every night that they faced their foe around Guadalcanal. The flash and smoke would give you away for only a second and you could change direction, reverse course, something, anything, to throw off your opponent. You could also reverse course or change direction and lose the most important targets or lose your position within your own fleet and take the chance of being destroyed by your own side. This problem is the answer to one great question about the sea fights around Guadalcanal, why did the Japanese never go after the landing craft, merchant men etc. supporting the USA ground forces?
This conundrum plagued the Japanese more so than the Americans. NOT because of radar; as has been assumed through the years; but because they were defending the waters of Guadalcanal. AMERICAN’S KNEW they had friends surrounding them and if they could hold out until dawn their own CAP (Combat Air Patrol) would defend them in daylight. American CAP flew out of Henderson field every morning weather permitting consisting of fighters (F4F) and (P-40s) along with dive bombers (SBDs) and the occasional army bomber. The target these pilots were looking for? Fat, juicy, Japanese fighting ships racing up the slot, laying on every once of steam to get away.
The Japanese by October 1942 KNEW the waters of Guadalcanal did not belong to them, further they had little choice but to run away after only limited time in enemy waters, or face the wraith American CAP’s. So this lead more often than not to the conundrum: To Fire or Not to Fire? The Imperial Navy realized it needed to hit priority targets like landing craft, merchant men, troopships and the like. They understood that the loss of a hand full of American destroyers would not bring victory. But there in lay the trap: The Japanese fighting ships had to either sneak past the patrolling enemy ships; and this got progressively harder as the USN (United States Navy) got better at it’s job; or batter their way through the Americans with enough time remaining to hit the priority targets which lay closer; and therefore deeper in enemy territory; to Guadalcanal. As the Americans coordinated their visual detection and radar detection of the Japanese and as the Japanese had only limited; and therefore predictable; window in which to conduct operations, it got easier for the American to defend the islands and waters off Guadalcanal.