The Allies had long been reading the Japanese naval code, however, and Captain Arleigh Burke and the 23rd Destroyer Squadron of five destroyers arrived just after midnight and took up station athwart the direct Buka-Rabaul route to intercept the Japanese on their return trip. The night was dark, with low-hanging clouds that produced occasional rainsqualls. The sea was calm.
Burke's plan was for his division—the Charles F. Ausburne (flag), Claxton, and Dyson—to launch a torpedo attack while Commander B. L. Austin's division of the Converse and Spence covered with its guns; then the two squadrons would reverse roles. The action unfolded nearly as Burke had hoped. At 1:40 a.m. on 25 November, the two unsuspecting Japanese escorts appeared, and Burke, closing the range quickly, launched 15 torpedoes at 1:56, then turned hard right to avoid any Japanese torpedoes coming his way. None did. Both Japanese escorting destroyers were mortally stricken. The Onami went down quickly; the Makinami somehow managed to stay afloat until the Converse and Spence could sink her with gunfire.
Burke then set out in pursuit of the three transports that had turned north and were trying to make good their escape to Rabaul. In the running fight, the Japanese spread out. Burke went after the Yugiri and at 3:28 a.m. sank her with gunfire.
Burke continued the chase until 4:04 a.m., and then, with only two hours of darkness remaining to shield him from the Japanese air bases at Rabaul, he turned for home. He had fought a near perfect action, sinking three enemy destroyers at no cost except for the oil and munitions expended. For the Japanese, however, the battle rang down the curtain on the costly war of attrition they had tried to wage in the Solomons. Their misfortunes continued; in mid-May, they lost the submarines I-176 and I-16 while they were attempting to supply the Buka garrison.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.; Potter, E. B. Admiral Arleigh Burke. New York: Random House, 1990.