Oct 6

The Battle of Vella Lavella, October 6-7, 1943

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:01 AM

On the morning of October 6, 1943, a force of 9 destroyers and assorted landing craft under the command of Rear Admiral Matsuji Ijuin set sail from Rabaul headed for Vella Lavella to evacuate that island’s approximately 600-man garrison. In an early example of “leapfrogging”, American forces had bypassed Kolombangara and landed with little opposition at Vella Lavella on 15 August.

On the Afternoon of October 6th, search planes sighted the Japanese force and six American destroyers in the area sailed toward the evacuation point at Marquana Bay. A group of three destroyers, Selfridge (DD-357), Chevalier (DD-451), and O’Bannon (DD-450), under the command of Captain Frank Walker arrived at their rendezvous point ahead of the other three destroyers commanded by Captain Harold Larson. Knowing that a Japanese scout plane had denied him the element of surprise, Captain Walker decided not to wait for Larson’s group before he engaged the much larger Japanese force.

Shortly before midnight, American torpedoes and gunfire turned the Japanese destroyer Yugumo into a flaming wreck, but the long odds soon asserted themselves. Chevalier had to be abandoned and only heroic damage control saved Selfridge from the same fate. The appearance of Larson’s destroyers convinced the Japanese commander to retire toward Rabaul. The Japanese had successfully evacuated the garrison at the cost of only one destroyer. However, Captain Walker’s daring and initiative underscored the certainty of eventual victory as the Allies wrested control of the Solomons Islands from the Japanese.