The Japanese column consisted of four destroyers: Hagikaze, Arashi, Kawakaze and Shigure.

The first three carried 900 soldiers and many tons of supplies on deck, including drums of gasoline. Hagikaze, received two torpedo hits, Arashi three and Kawakaze two, apparently before sighting Moosbrugger’s ships. All three sank.

Japanese Destroyer Captain

American records regarding the Battle of Vella Gulf are clear, in good agreement and accurate in light of postwar findings with one exception: four Japanese destroyers were engaged; no Japanese cruiser was present. This and other details of the Japanese perspective are well told in Japanese Destroyer Captain by Shigure’s commanding officer Capt. Tameichi Hara, IJN (Naval Institute Press, 2007; originally published by Ballantine Books in 1961).

Shigure, carrying troops but not supplies, sighted torpedoes passing close aboard and even under her keel, but did not realize she had been hit until her rudder was inspected and a hole found. She managed to get off a hasty torpedo spread, which missed because of Moosbrugger’s turn away, laid smoke and turned north to escape. Obscured by rain squalls as she reloaded torpedoes, she briefly turned south again but retired when the extent of the devastation became apparent to Capt. Hara, who reluctantly decided to retire to Rabaul to fight another day.

It is understandable that in the poor visibility and excitement of battle, American observers thought they saw a cruiser present: while Hagikaze and Arashi were both Kagero-class destroyers, among Japan’s newest and largest at 389 ft. LOA and 2,033 tons standard displacement (similar to an American Fletcher-class destroyer), Tassafaronga veteran Kawakaze and sister Shigure of the 1,500-ton Shiratsuyu class, completed in 1936–37, were smaller at 353 ft. LOA, comparable in size to the six American ships.