The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands occurred when Task Forces 16 and 17, under Rear Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid and Rear Adm. George D. Murray, respectively, fought numerically superior Japanese forces under Vice Adm. Nagumo Chuichi that supported an overland thrust by Japanese troops at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.
SBD-3 Dauntlesses of VB-8 and VS-8 from HORNET (CV 8) damaged the carrier SHOKAKU and the destroyer TERUTSUKI, and TBF-1 Avengers of VT-6 from HORNET damaged the heavy cruiser CHIKUMA. In addition, Dauntlesses of VS-10 from ENTERPRISE (CV 6) damaged the light carrier ZUIHO. Japanese planes from SHOKAKU and the light carrier JUNYO twice damaged ENTERPRISE, however, killing 44 men and wounding 75 more. Aircraft from SHOKAKU, ZUIKAKU, and JUNYO tore into HORNET in a coordinated attack, during which in barely 10 minutes two torpedoes, four bombs, and a crashing Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bomber struck HORNET, setting her ablaze.
While HUGHES (DD 410), which had been damaged by friendly fire earlier in the action, aided the battle against Hornet’s fires and took off survivors, the destroyer collided with the carrier. The destroyers ANDERSON (DD 411) and MUSTIN (DD 413) attempted to scuttle the irreparably damaged HORNET with gunfire and torpedoes, but she defiantly remained afloat. The Japanese destroyers AKIGUMO and MAKIGUMO sank HORNET the following day.
Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft from JUNYO damaged the battleship SOUTH DAKOTA (BB 57) and the light cruiser SAN JUAN (CL 54); a crashing carrier attack plane struck the destroyer SMITH (DD 378); and a battle-damaged TBF-1 from VT-10 accidentally torpedoed the destroyer PORTER (DD 356) as the Avenger ditched. PORTER was deemed beyond salvage and scuttled by the destroyer SHAW (DD 373). The Japanese lost almost 100 planes and the Americans 74.
While this battle was a tactical naval victory for the Japanese, U.S. Marines and soldiers repulsed the enemy’s simultaneous land offensive on Guadalcanal, thwarting the Japanese from fully exploiting their triumph and thus conferring a strategic victory to the Americans. The dwindling number of Japanese carrier planes failed to destroy Henderson Field, and fuel shortages compelled the Combined Fleet to retire on Truk Lagoon in the Caroline Islands and to eventually surrender control of the skies above the sea routes to Guadalcanal.