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Kula Gulf (157.25E
8.1S) is located between Kolombangara
and New Georgia.
"First Battle of Kula Gulf." On the night of 5-6 March 1943, Task Force 68 (four light cruisers, eight destroyers) under the command of "Tip" Merrill was patrolling Kula Gulf when word came that a pair of Japanese destroyers had been spotted sailing south from the Shortlands. At about 2235 the Japanese ships were detected by "Black Cat" Catalinas scouting for TF68. The Japanese ships were carrying provisions for the airfield at Vila on Kolombangara and successfully unloaded their cargoes before heading north into Kula Gulf. The American force picked up the Japanese destroyers on radar and achieved complete surprise, sinking both ships (Murasame and Minegumo) with gunfire and torpedoes. The American task force then carried out a bombardment mission against Vila.
This engagement was not considered major enough to be
given a formal name by Navy historians, but it was known informally as
the First Battle of Kula Gulf.
Battle of Kula Gulf. On
5 July 1943 Allied intelligence learned that a transport force was on
the way to New Georgia from the Shortlands. Ainsworth's force of light
cruisers and destroyers was replenishing at Tulagi, but quickly finished
preparations and raced north to intercept. Ainsworth did not have time
to confer with his ships' captains, but they had trained together and
were familiar with the battle plan. This called for a radar-directed
gunnery duel at medium range, 8000-10,000 yards (7000-9,000 meters).
Ainsworth assumed that his force would have a clear radar advantage and
that the enemy torpedoes would be ineffective at this range, but both
assumptions were incorrect. By this time the
Japanese had begun installing radar
on their lighter warships, and Niizuki was equipped with the
latest model set; and the Long Lance
had a much greater range than Allied intelligence realized. Ainsworth
also planned to stay with a column formation with destroyers in the van
and rear: The Americans had still not learned the lessons of Tassafaronga.
hours of 6 July 1943 the two forces met at the entrance to Kula Gulf,
spotting each other at
about the same time. Ainsworth, overconfident in his radar advantage
and unaware that he had been
detected, closed the range. His cruisers opened fire at 0157, quicky
reducing lead Japanese destroyer Niizuki
to a sinking wreck. The American destroyers held fire until they could
launch torpedoes, which kept them out of the action until very late.
The van destroyers never did get a good torpedo solution, and the rear
destroyers missed. However, two of the Japanese destroyers launched
torpedoes at about the time Niizuki
was crippled, and
sailed directly into their path and was fatally damaged, with her bow
blown off and her keel broken. She sank quickly.
The initial exchange was followed by an indecisive
gunnery duel. While the
American and Japanese warships were exchanging gunfire, and Amagiri
and Nicholas exchanged torpedo
salvos, the Japanese managed to land 850 out of the 2600 reinforcements
for New Georgia. With ammunition running low, Ainsworth ordered a
withdrawal. The Japanese did likewise.
During the withdrawal, destroyer Nagatsuki
ran aground and could not
be pulled free. Aircraft
Field attacked the next day, setting the ship afire, and at about
dusk her magazines exploded.
The Americans had erred in assuming they were undetected; in incautiously closing to within torpedo range; and in relying on gunfire rather than their own torpedoes. As a result, the superior American force was unable to achieve anything better than a draw.
|DD Niizuki||Sunk by gunfire
||Slight damage from gunfire|
||Slight damage from gunfire|
|DD Amagiri||Moderate damage from gunfire|
|DD Hatsuyuki||Moderate damage from gunfire|
|DD Nagatsuki||Sunk by aircraft after
Group 36.1 (Ainsworth)
|CL Helena||Sunk by torpedoes|
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