During the night of 27–28 January, the destroyer group comprising the Fletcher (F, Capt. Robert P. Briscoe; Lt. Comdr. Frank L. Johnson), De Haven (Comdr. Charles E. Tolman), Nicholas (Lt. Comdr. Andrew J. Hill), and Radford (Lt. Comdr. William K. Romoser) was searching the area 6 miles off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal for submarines which were believed to be reinforcing Japanese ground forces. The New Zealand corvettes Kiwi and Moa were patrolling 2 miles off shore, and PT boats were covering the channels between Cape Esperance and Savo Island and between Savo and Sandfly Passage. Visibility was about 500 yards with intermittent heavy rain squalls.

As early as October Admiral Turner and General Vandegrift had planned to land the 2d Marine Raider Battalion at Beaufort Bay on Guadalcanal’s south coast to operate against the enemy flanks and rear. The Japanese landings in October and November had led to the cancellation of these plans, and the raider battalion had been used instead to pursue some of the enemy troops who had landed at Koli Point.

When General Patch assumed command on Guadalcanal, he desired to land an entire regimental combat team on the south coast to prevent further Japanese landings at Cape Esperance, Visale, and Kamimbo Bay, and to press against the enemy’s rear. Naval forces were not then sufficient to transport and supply so large a body of men. During January 1943, however, six tank landing craft arrived at Tulagi to be based there permanently. About 21 January it was decided that naval strength was adequate to make the landing with one reinforced infantry battalion. The reinforced 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry, was selected as the landing force, with Col. Alexander M. George in command.

The landing force would not be sufficiently strong to land against enemy opposition, but General Patch wished it to land as close to the enemy as possible. Troops from I Company of the 147th Infantry at Beaufort Bay were to outpost the area to cover the landing. Lt. Col. Paul A. Gavan, operations officer of the Americal Division and assistant operations officer of the XIV Corps, led a reconnaissance party along the south coast. It picked Titi, near Lavoro Passage, as the landing beach, and Nugu Point (Cape Nagle) as an alternate. Verahue, lying between the two, offered a good beach but Colonel Gavan feared that landing craft would not be able to reach the beach through the narrow channel lined with offshore reefs. An observation post, equipped with a radio, was established at Verahue.

The covering force—eight riflemen and three gunners from I Company, plus machine gunners and automatic riflemen from M Company, 147th Infantry—boarded the island schooner Kocorana at Beaufort Bay at 0100, 31 January. The Kocorana, a local schooner which like others had been hidden from the Japanese and turned over to the Americans, sailed to Lavoro to discharge the force which was to outpost Titi. One officer and five riflemen from the schooner had pulled toward shore in a rowboat about 0600 when enemy troops on a ridge about 100 yards inland opened fire on the landing party and the Kocorana and mortally wounded one soldier on board the schooner. Some confusion resulted; the landing party reached shore and the rowboat went adrift. Since the Kocorana could not be beached, Maj. H. W. Butler, executive officer of the 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry, took the helm and put out to sea, leaving the six men on shore. The Kocorana reached Beaufort Bay about 1600 to take fifteen more riflemen, two automatic riflemen, and three native scouts aboard. Major Butler intended to land his force near Verahue and to march overland to Lavoro to reinforce the six men ashore.

In the meantime, the shore party at Titi had eluded the enemy and recommended to XIV Corps headquarters by radio that the 2d Battalion, 132d Infantry, land at Nugu Point instead of Titi. When Butler and the Kocorana reached Nugu Point the next morning they found the six men there, safe.

Meanwhile the reinforced 2d Battalion of the 132d Infantry had assembled and loaded trucks, artillery, ammunition, and rations on board six tank landing craft at Kukum. By 1800, 31 January, when the last craft had been loaded, the force, escorted by destroyers, left Kukum and sailed around Cape Esperance. Arriving off Nugu Point at dawn on 1 February, an advance party went ashore in small craft and met Major Butler, who reported that Verahue was clear. When the naval beachmaster agreed that the landing craft could beach safely at Verahue, the expedition moved there and, covered by friendly fighter planes, began unloading. About noon Japanese bombers flew over the beach but did not attack. By 1500 all troops and supplies were safely ashore, and the unloaded craft departed for the Lunga area.

Source: US Army’s history of combat operations in World War II.

At 0412 the Radford made a radar contact on the starboard quarter at a range of 6,000 yards. Although the location was not that assigned to the corvettes, it was possible that one of them had moved off station because of navigational or weather hazards. The Radford closed the range, and at 0515 sighted what appeared to be a small surface craft. At 400 yards it was identified as a submarine. It submerged before guns could be fired and two 600-lb. depth charges were dropped. The projectors were not used because of misinterpretation of orders. At 0602, after vain attempts had been made to reestablish contact, a heavy slick was noted in the vicinity of the attack. The destroyer group made a thorough search of the area until 1432. It is probable that the oil slick was an old one emanating from a sunken vessel northwest of Savo, and that the submarine escaped with possible damage.

On the 29th the destroyer Anderson (Lt. Comdr. Richard A. Guthrie), on detached duty from Task Force SUGAR (the Enterprise), conducted successful bombardments of Japanese positions on the Guadalcanal shore, and at night the destroyer task group mentioned above continued its search for the Tokio Express. Its operations on this night, as on others, were somewhat hampered by the curiosity of Black Cat planes which approached within dangerously close range without identifying themselves. On at least one occasion a Black Cat had to be fired upon before it showed IFF.

At 1450 on the 31st the transport group which had been supported in such costly fashion by Task Force GEORGE successfully completed its debarkation and unloading operations. The Second Marines (Reinforced), a part of the Eighth Marines, and a small number of other troops were taken aboard, and course was set for Wellington, N.Z.

By this time U.S. ground forces had reached the Bonegi River, near Tassafaronga, and 10 miles from Cape Esperance. Enemy troops as of this date were estimated to consist of 3,000 men. As most of them appeared to be concentrated in the Cape Esperance area, it was decided to initiated a pincer movement on both sides of the Cape. On the 1st the Anderson and Wilson (Lt. Comdr. Walter H. Price) bombarded Japanese positions to the west of the Bonegi River. At dawn on the same day the attack force, including the fast transport Stringham (Lt. Comdr. Adolphe Wildner) and the four destroyers of the Guadalcanal task group as escort, sailed from Lunga and Tulagi. The troops landed without opposition at Verahue, about 7 miles southwest of Cape Esperance, before 1600. En route the destroyers shot down one enemy bomber of an attack group which had been raiding Henderson Field.

The De Haven and Nicholas were detailed to escort to Tulagi the first group of three LCT’s which were unloaded. Before 1530 all ships were notified by Radio Guadalcanal that enemy planes were approaching, but this warning was soon cancelled. However, at 1543 when the first group of ships was near Savo Island, the Nicholas reported receiving a second warning. The De Haven, which was circling two of the LCTs on antisubmarine patrol at 15 knots, went to general quarters and lighted off two more boilers. Speed was increased to 20 knots but was soon dropped to 15 again.

At 1550 the Nicholas received a report of enemy planes over Florida Island. Two minutes later she sighted them at 5,000 feet. They were identified as carrier-type dive bombers and were probably from a carrier group known to have been based at Buin on Bougainville Island. The De Haven reported sighting nine of them, while the Nicholas stated that there were 14, six of which attacked the De Haven while the rest concentrated on the Nicholas.

The De Haven had laid her guns on the approaching aircraft as soon as they were identified as hostile. When the six planes went into their dives, fire was opened, but apparently in small volume. The ship was struck by three bombs in quick succession. The first landed amidships and blew out the port side. The next two demolished the bridge structure, killing the Commanding Officer. They also probably exploded the forward magazine, causing the ship to break up and sink in 5 minutes. Ten officers and 157 men were lost. The De Haven and the LCTs shot down three of the planes.

The Nicholas had gone to general quarters and increased speed to 25 knots as soon as she received the aircraft warning. Before any planes dived on her, she opened fire with her main battery and thereafter began maneuvering at 32 knots. Personnel estimated that all eight bombs dropped at their ship exploded between 20 and 200 feet from the vessel. Steering control was lost and two men were killed by fragments. Three planes were sent away smoking. The four friendly fighters which had provided as cover for the unloading operation had not left the landing area and were therefore unable to engage.

At 1545 on 1 February an air striking group took off from Henderson Field to attack 20 destroyers which had been reported standing down New Georgia sound en route to Guadalcanal. It was intercepted by about 30 Zeros near Savo Island and shot down 12 at a cost of two SBD’s. Presumably our planes then returned to base, although the reports are not clear on this point. At 1920, however, the enemy destroyers were attacked by 17 SBD’s seven TBF’ and 17 F4F’s at latitude 08° 15' S., longitude 158° 16' E. Three 1,000-lb. bomb hits were scored on one destroyer and three 1,000-lb. hits and one 500-lb. on another.

Thirty escorting Zeros shot down four of our planes and lost three of their own. The enemy ships continued toward Guadalcanal.

After taking De Haven survivors to Guadalcanal, the Fletcher, Radford, and Nicholas stood out for the Russell Islands west of Guadalcanal to intercept the oncoming Tokio Express. At 2100, when northwest of Cape Esperance, they picked up a group of six or more planes flying from the northwest. These divided into groups and commenced to harass the destroyers to divert them from their task. Every time the ships attempted to close Cape Esperance by steering evasive courses at slow speeds the planes would come in from as far as 15–20 miles away, suggesting the use of radar, and make the destroyers turn to unmask their batteries. The aircraft approached until they were fired on and then retired. One which closed to 2,400 yards was shot down. The planes dropped float lights to mark the course of the ships and red and green flares to show the port and starboard sides of the track. Thus the three destroyers were unable to carry out a surprise attack on the Tokio Express. However, other U.S. forces had slightly better luck. At 2200 the minelayers Preble, Montgomery, and Tracy, which had left Noumea on the 29th, arrived and laid a field of mines from Doma Reef half way to Cape Esperance. This was the first offensive field laid by our surface craft in the Pacific. Prior to the arrival of the minelayers, 11 PT boats had sortied from Tulagi to strike the expected Japanese destroyers. While awaiting the enemy, the PT boats were strafed and bombed several times by hostile aircraft without damage.

At 2340 two of the patrolling PT boats encountered three enemy destroyers and attacked them with torpedoes. The Japanese replied with such heavy gunfire that results of the torpedo attack could not be observed. One PT was sunk and the other ran aground on Savo. She was hauled clear next day. Two other boats got two torpedo hits on a destroyer which burned for three hours. One of these boats was destroyed by a bomb from an enemy plane, and the other escaped.

Twelve Japanese destroyers trapped three of the PTs close to Guadalcanal. The light craft fired eight torpedoes. One detonation was observed, but it is probable that this was a mine explosion. In any case, it damaged one enemy destroyer so seriously that it later had to be sunk. One of the PT’s was also sunk, leaving one survivor. Another boat ran aground but made Tulagi the following day. The third was unharmed. The remaining four failed to make contact.

After midnight six SBD’s took off from Henderson Field and attacked the two burning destroyers, claiming a 1,000-lb. hit on one of them and near-hits on the other. Next morning 10 SBD’s and 11 TBF’s contacted the retiring Tokio Express, which now appeared to consist of only 16 destroyers. One 500-lb. hit was scored without damage to our aircraft. Search planes later discovered that there had been three destroyers ahead of the main body, one under tow. The final score for the night’s operations was therefore one destroyer sunk and one heavily damaged by the combined efforts of mines, PT boats, and aircraft.

Source: Navy Department Office of Naval Intelligence Combat Narrative: Japanese Evacuation of Guadalcanal,29 January—8 February 1943 (including loss of the Chicago).