USS Minneapolis (CG 36) following repairs to damage sustained at Tassafaronga.

The charts below show the tracks of the American cruisers and Japanese destroyers.

Approach Torpedo phase Gunfire phase Torpedo hits
The cruisers RAdm. Wright had available included the name ships of three classes. As the formation approached two-mile-wide Lengo Channel with the van destroyers 4,000 yards ahead, he formed his cruisers into column with flagship Minneapolis (CA 36) leading New Orleans (CA 32), Pensacola (CA 24), RAdm. Tisdale’s flagship Honolulu (CL 48) and RAdm. Kinkaid’s old flagship Northampton (CA 26). The plan to station a picket destroyer 10,000 yards ahead of the main group was not executed. At about 2100, Lamson and Lardner detached from the transport formation they were escorting and joined the rear of his cruiser formation.

At 2225, clearing Lengo Channel at 20 knots, rather than continuing along the Guadalcanal coast, Wright ordered a turn to starboard into deeper water on course 320° T.; then at 2238 from the middle of Iron Bottom Bay, a simultaneous turn to 280° T. toward Cape Esperance, about 25 miles distant. The van destroyers executed the same course changes, but remained in column.

At 2306, flagship Minneapolis’ SG radar made contact dead ahead at 284° T., range 23,000 yards. Two minutes later at 2308, as Cole in Fletcher reported his own contact, Wright restored his column formation via a simultaneous turn to starboard; then at 2314, led his cruisers left again to 300° T.

According to Wright’s action report, at 2317, Cole’s request for permission to fire torpedoes was received; he then granted it in time to receive a report at 2320 that the van destroyers had fired torpedoes and then order commence firing with guns; his flagship did so half a minute later at range of 10,000 yards, followed by other cruisers and destroyers by 2324. (Wright later claimed that the van destroyers had opened gunfire first; it may be that he had seen a flash from a torpedo salvo.

Meanwhile, at 2312, Japanese picket destroyer Takanami had detected the American formation and, as the American force opened fire, launched eight torpedoes at 2322. While she immediately drew much of the American gunfire, which soon reduced her to sinking condition, three of her torpedoes struck at 2327–8—two into Northampton and one into New Orleans, blowing off both their bows, putting them out of action and forcing Wright to transfer tactical command to RAdm. Tisdale in Honolulu.

Zigging to port to avoid the two flaming cruisers in front of her and then returning to her base course between them and the enemy, Pensacola was immediately silhouetted for four Japanese destroyers, which promptly fired 26 torpedoes at her, one of which hit at 2338.

Meanwhile, Honolulu and Northampton sheered to starboard. While Honolulu increased speed and followed the van destroyers to the northwest, Northampton was hit at 2348 with a massive explosion. She capsized and sank at 0304.