The eight destroyers of RAdm. Raizo Tanaka’s Destroyer Squadron 2 that drew the first assignment in this duty were a mix of old and new ships. Two, Yugumo-class flagship Naganami and sister Takanami, were fully loaded. Six others, sister Makanami, plus five older destroyers, landed their reload torpedoes removed to compensate for the weight of the supplies they carried. The force took departure from Buin, Bougainville late on 29 November and initially headed east, hoping to avoid detection, before shaping a course south toward their objective.
Closing Guadalcanal on the night of 30 November, they split up as they rounded Savo Island. While Takanami remained offshore in the five-minute interval after the first American radar contact at 2306 and before they detected the American formation, the other seven began to split up. While tail-enders Kawakaze and Suzukaze slowed off Doma Cove and Naganami held back, Oyashio, Kuroshio, Kagero and Makinami continued on, holding course and speed for Tassafaronga Point farther down the coast—the formation at which the American van destroyers fired their torpedoes beginning at 2320.
At 2312, Takanami detected the American formation. At 2316, Tanaka ordered supply operations suspended. At 2321, the Americans began commencing fire.
At 2322, Takanami got off a full torpedo spread at the head of the American cruiser column. As point of aim for several hundred American shells, she was immediately disabled, but two of her torpedoes hit Minneapolis at 2327 and one New Orleans at 2328.
When Pensacola became silhouetted against the flames from the first two cruisers, four of them launched 26 torpedoes at her, one of which hit. A subsequent salvo missed.
Northampton was the last victim. More distant from the Japanese, it may have been a torpedo aimed at Pensacola or one from Kurashio launched at 2345 that hit her at 2348.