One of the oddities of the Guadalcanal campaign is the fact that battleships were used by both sides in restricted waters, in small numbers, and for very different reasons. Unquestionably the warship with the greatest impact on the campaign was the cruiser. There are many good arguments for saying the destroyer, but destroyers could not perform the multi-functions of a cruiser. Cruisers were for the most part the ‘big guns’ of the battle when battleships weren’t around. And most often battleships weren’t around. Cruisers made good platforms for admiral’s headquarters. Cruisers provided combat information from radar, sea plane, radio intercept and visual spotting to their fleet. Cruisers could more easily control the movement of ships and defend themselves from air attack in daylight. Cruisers were more often used as patrol and first line defense ships than any other type. Cruisers used their big 8 and 6 inch guns in a bombardment function often very close to shore. And yet even with all these reasons, both sides felt compelled to commit battleships from time to time, and the reasons why these commitments were made tells a great deal about the psychology of both the IJN and the USN in this campaign.
Japan’s reason for bringing the battle wagons in, was to ‘soften up’ marines on Guadalcanal island for a land attack to be launched after the bombardment. The failure of the IJN Cruisers and Destroyers to hit meaningful targets and to hit these targets hard enough encouraged the use of battleships. Maybe even as a sort of ‘last resort’ tactic after everything else had failed. The American reason was because the Japanese had brought in battleships. And that in a nut shells tells the whole story of Guadalcanal.
The Japanese spent six very long bloody months trying to pry the allies loose from Guadalcanal using very weapon in their arsenal in the attempt. Hampered by distance and allied air superiority, the Japanese were forced to confine their attempts to take the island to night time. Japanese sailor learned to operate cargo runs at night, sweep the area for enemy ships at night, use spotting planes to detect enemy ships at night, and to attack the island with warships at night. As good as the IJN was at night fighting their inability to perform any function in daylight doomed their mission right from the start.
All the allies had to do was respond meaningfully to any Japanese attempt. And this the allies did brilliantly. The allies never ‘upped the ante’ by introducing new elements into the sea fight, they just kept even with IJN. The allies met Japanese force with force. It cost the allies an Aircraft carrier, several cruisers and destroyers, in fact the allies lost more fighting ships than the IJN did, and yet the Japanese experienced that peculiar aliment of winning the battles and losing the war. The blood shed by the allies on and around Guadalcanal saved thousands of lives later in the war, as a broken Japan stumbled from one loosing battle to another.