Blazing Star, Setting Sun

Blazing Star, Setting Sun

The Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign November 1942–March 1943

General Military
  • Author: Jeffrey Cox
  • Short code: GNM
  • Publication Date: 25 Jun 2020
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From popular Pacific Theatre expert Jeffrey R. Cox comes this insightful new history of the critical Guadalcanal and Solomons campaign at the height of World War II. His previous book, Morning Star, Rising Sun, had found the US Navy at its absolute nadir and the fate of the Enterprise, the last operational US aircraft carrier at this point in the war, unknown. This new volume completes the history of this crucial campaign, combining detailed research with a novelist's flair for the dramatic to reveal exactly how, despite missteps and misfortunes, the tide of war finally turned. By the end of February 1944, thanks to hard-fought and costly American victories in the first and second naval battles of Guadalcanal, the battle of Empress Augusta Bay, and the battle of Cape St George, the Japanese would no longer hold the materiel or skilled manpower advantage. From this point on, although the war was still a long way from being won, the American star was unquestionably on the ascendant, slowly, but surely, edging Japanese imperialism towards its sunset.
Jeffrey Cox's analysis and attention to detail of even the smallest events are second to none. But what truly sets this book apart is how he combines this microscopic attention to detail, often unearthing new facts along the way, with an engaging style that transports the reader to the heart of the story, bringing the events on the deep blue of the Pacific vividly to life.

Biographical Note

Jeffrey R. Cox is a litigation attorney and an independent military historian specializing in World War II, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. His first interest was in the Pacific War, which he has studied for more than 30 years. A student of history, international affairs, and defence policy for most of his life, Cox holds a degree in National Security Policy Studies from The Ohio State University and a doctorate of jurisprudence from Indiana University School of Law. He is a contributor to Military History Online ( and resides in Indianapolis.


Prologue: Rumblings
Theme is "the water seemed to freeze and turn white.”
Starts the slight earthquake in which "the water seemed to freeze and turn white,” that was the first warning of the later cataclysmic eruption of Krakatoa that literally broke the planet and changed geography
USS Southard depth charges I-15, the explosions causing the "the water [to] seem[…] to freeze and turn white.”
Strategic situation for Allies on November 1, 1942
Leave the availability of the Enterprise ambiguous - part of recreating the drama and the tension lost when we split the books up
Sinking of I-15 was the slight earthquake, the first warning of the cataclysm that would that would break the stalemate on Guadalcanal and change the strategic geography of the Pacific War

I. Ka Continued
Setting is Admiral Tanaka not happy with his orders - Operation Ka, the perpetual plan to reinforce Guadalcanal, to resume.
Strategic situation for Japan on November 1, 1942.
Tanaka's Tokyo Express - good and bad points
Plan is for Tokyo Express under Admiral Tanaka covered by bombardment by battleships Hiei and Kirishima under Admiral Abe

II. Everything I Have - American Reinforcement of Guadalcanal
US cruisers and destroyers escort convoy of supplies and reinforcements to Guadalcanal
Japanese air attack against transports is a disaster for the Japanese and the end of Base Air Force as a major air threat
Admirals Scott (victor of Battle of Cape Esperance) and Callaghan on site
Admiral Turner knows the Japanese are coming - but he has these transports he must protect - What will he do?
Leave question unanswered

III. The Storm Before …
Admiral Abe's approach to Guadalcanal - specify he is coming from the north through the Indispensable Strait, not from the northwest through The Slot
Abe's preparations - not happy with his assignment
Complex formation
Chapter ends with the Hiei's lookout reporting enemy ships

IV. Barfight in the Dark - The First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
Chapter begins at same time Hiei's lookout reports enemy ships, but from US side, with Admiral Abe's unidentified US Navy admiral looking at flag plot unable to fathom what he's seeing from the enemy
Only a scratch force of US cruisers that had been escorting transports and carriers was available - Turner took his transports back with almost no escort - brave decision
Turner chose Admiral Callaghan over Admiral Scott because Callaghan is slightly more senior, but Callaghan is inexperienced and knows nothing about radar
Questionable decision to put antiaircraft cruisers Atlanta, Juneau, and Helena in this force instead of heavy cruiser Pensacola
Callaghan stumbles into Abe, surprising the latter
Forces intermixed, like "a barfight with the lights turned off”
Callaghan never understands what's going on
Scott killed by friendly fire from San Francisco
Hiei and Kirishima prepared to bombard Henderson Field and end up using a lot of high explosive shells instead of armor piercing - may have saved US ships
Abe wounded by heavy fire, including machine gun fire, directed at Hiei's bridge
Multiple destroyers sunk on both sides; US cruiser Atlanta sunk; US cruisers San Francisco, Portland, Juneau and Japanese battleship Hiei heavily damaged
Japanese withdraw, bombardment turned back

V. The Storm After …
First appearance of carrier USS Enterprise - 70 percent effective, steaming into attack range of Guadalcanal
Leads to view of Ironbottom Sound at dawn
Juneau sunk by freak torpedo hit from Japanese submarine - her survivors are unintentionally but effectively abandoned in the water
Hiei loses rudder control and can't get away - damaged by air attack and scuttled, though no one actually saw her sink
Pilots from damaged Enterprise transferred to Henderson Field
Henderson Field bombarded by cruisers Suzuya and Maya - moderate damage
US air attacks on Japanese transports and cruiser escorts - cruiser Kinugasa and 7 of 11 transports sunk

VI. The Reckoning Begins - Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
Last ditch Japanese attempt to bombard Henderson Field, centered around battleship Kirishima, commanded by Vice Admiral Kondo
US battleships Washington and South Dakota under Admiral Lee finally arrive to stop them, escorted by scratch screen of four destroyers, three of which are sunk
Bizarre Japanese plan divides 14-ship force three ways
South Dakota suffers electrical short and is temporarily disabled
But all Japanese torpedoes launched at stationary battleship South Dakota miss - Japanese fighting skill eroding
Kondo sees South Dakota and realizes she is a newly-constructed US battleship - last Japanese material advantage gone
Admiral Lee is experienced in use of radar
Flagship Washington hides behind burning South Dakota and lobs shells at Kirishima
Kirishima disabled by at least 9 16-inch shells, probably many more penetrated hull below the waterline - scuttled
Tanaka runs remaining four transport aground on Guadalcanal and unloads the troops and equipment - they are mostly destroyed by US airpower and destroyer Meade

VII. Just When You Think … -- Battle of Tassafaronga
Destroyers of Japanese Admiral Tanaka trying to run supplies to Guadalcanal versus US cruiser force off Tassafaronga
Night action
Japanese tactic of withholding gunfire until torpedoes are launched - US unable to see Japanese
Fleeing Japanese destroyers launch torpedoes
US cruisers blunder into the torpedoes - sinking Northampton and heavily damaging Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Pensacola.
Defeat is major shock for the US Navy, who still fails to grasp Japanese torpedo tactics - thought the campaign for Guadalcanal had turned the corner
Tanaka injured in subsequent reinforcement operation
Tanaka writes letter calling for withdrawal from Guadalcanal - Sacked

VIII. Mirror, Mirror … Rennell Island and Operation KE: Japanese secret withdrawal from Guadalcanal
Japanese discussions concerning what to do about Guadalcanal
New bases in middle and upper Solomons - Munda on New Georgia, Vila-Stanmore on Kolombangara
Battle of Rennell Island - night air attack by Base Air Force sinks the Chicago
Reader is not told about Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal until Allied commands figure out the Japanese withdrew, then book goes into Japanese backstory
Capture of Russell Islands starts Allied advance from Guadalcanal

IX. Magic in the Air - Bismarck Sea, Vila-Stanmore, and the Ambush of Yamamoto
Tug-of-war between Douglas MacArthur and the US Navy - again - over what to do next in Operation "Cartwheel”
Bismarck Sea - aerial ambush of Japanese reinforcement convoy for Lae
o Revealed to Allies by Magic
o Skip bombing - rousing success, sinking all 8 transports and 4 escorting destroyers
o Air cover by Base Air Force completely ineffective
o Last major Japanese reinforcement convoy in contested area
Vila-Stanmore (or Blackett Strait) - ambush of Japanese reinforcement convoy for Vila
o "convoy” was two destroyers - Minegumo and Murasame
o US Navy cruiser force and two submarines (Grayback and Grampus) vectored in.
Operation I-Go - Japanese aerial counter offensive
o Intended to regain aerial superiority and disrupt Allied advance
o Carrier air crews from Kido Butai rushed to Rabaul
o Japanese suffer disastrous losses, but think the operation is a success
Ambush of Yamamoto - Operation: Vengeance
o Yamamoto at Rabaul, to visit front line to encourage pilots in Operation I-Go.
o Told from Japanese standpoint up until the intercept
o Emphasize concerns about transmitting his schedule by radio versus arrogant belief their code could not be broken
o Recitation of facts of intercept will make clear to reader on which side of the "Who shot down Yamamoto” debate (Rex Barber or Thomas Lanphier) this book lands (Barber).
o Will go into backstory of how the mission was set up after narrative of Yamamoto's death
Submarine issues - loss of Argonaut, Amberjack, Grampus, and Triton within the space of three months.

X. Parthian Shots -
"Parthian shot” - tactic of retreating Parthian horse archers to turn and face behind their mounts to shoot arrows at their pursuers with deadly accuracy; from Marcus Crassus and Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC
Landings on New Georgia
Battles of Kula Gulf (two phases) and Kolombangara - Parthian shots
o Japanese show up
o Allies show up
o Japanese launch torpedoes before fleeing
o Pursuing Allies blunder into torpedoes
Sinking of Nisshin - more Magic
New Georgia turns into Guadalcanal in reverse - Americans fighting through jungle to capture Japanese airfield

XI. Creeping - moving up the Solomons
Landings on Vella Lavella - bypassing Kolombangara and Japanese base at Vila-Stanmore
Battle of Vella Gulf - successful use of tactic of splitting destroyers into two groups, one launching torpedoes, the other positioning to use gunfire once the torpedoes hit
Battle off Horaniu - inconclusive destroyer action; interdiction of Japanese barges failed
Battle of Vella Lavella - destroyers O'Bannon and Chevalier collide for the second time, both of which were the fault of the O'Bannon
The shadow is creeping up the Solomons, blocking the Rising Sun

XII. Guadalcanal … Minus All the Mistakes - Landings on Bougainville
Japanese base complex in and around the Shortlands is threatened.
Battle of Empress Augusta Bay - bookend of Battle of the Java Sea
Transports escorted by Japanese 5th Cruiser Division (Myoko, who was replaced at Java Sea by sister Nachi because of battle damage; and Haguro) flanked by light cruisers (Sendai and Agano instead of Jintsu and Naka) leading destroyers
Very different result this time.
Battle of Cape St. George - "almost perfect” combat action; coming of age for Arleigh Burke
Last significant naval action of the campaign
The American star is rising, the shadow blocking out the Rising Sun has crept all the way to the gates of Rabaul

XIII. Anti-Climax - Isolation (but not invasion) of Rabaul, analysis
Rabaul had more than 100,000 Japanese troops dug in, heavily fortified with bunkers, antiaircraft artillery, regular artillery, stocked supplies
American troops landed at Arawe and Cape Gloucester
Decision made not to take Rabaul, but to isolate it - let its 100,000 troops "wither on the vine” with no supply chain or relief and with no offensive capabilities whatsoever
Rabaul held out until end of war.