In the dark waters of Ironbottom Sound on the night of 14-15 November 1942, Rear Admiral Willis Lee’s warships got the jump on a Japanese bombardment force bearing down on Guadalcanal. As described in an excerpt from the new book Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal , the outcome of the subsequent slugging match hinged on radar and the battleship Washington ’s 16-inch guns.
The battleships Washington and South Dakota pushed through the sea with an implacable ease. Admiral William F. Halsey well understood the risks of sending Rear Admiral Willis Lee’s two big ships to set an ambush in Savo Sound. “The plan flouted one of the firmest doctrines of the Naval War College,” Halsey would write. “The narrow treacherous waters north of Guadalcanal are utterly unsuited to the maneuvering of capital ships, especially in darkness.” But the big ships were all he had left.