Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Vella Lavella, Naval Battle of (6–7 October 1943)

Pacific Theater naval battle, the last surface action of the New Georgia Campaign. The battle resulted from Japan's decision to evacuate 600 of its troops on Vella Lavella Island. For this purpose, the Japanese put together at Rabaul a transport group of three old destroyers, four subchasers, and eight smaller craft supported by the destroyers Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazegumo, Yugumo, Shigure, and Samidare, under the command of Rear Admiral Ijuin Matsuji.

The U.S. Navy force patrolling the Slot (the passage formed by the Solomons) on the night of 6–7 October consisted of the destroyers Selfridge, Chevalier, and O'Bannon, under the command of Captain Frank R. Walker. When an accurate assessment of Ijuin's strength became known, however, three destroyers under Captain Harold O. Larson were detached from convoy duty and sent speeding to the scene. Larson arrived too late to participate in the action.

The sea was calm, and a brilliant half moon made for excellent visibility when a Japanese search plane reported, at 8:58 p.m., that Walker's force consisted of one cruiser and four destroyers, the first of a number of mistakes the Japanese were to make. Ijuin allowed the subchaser group to proceed on to Vella Lavella (this group had left earlier and was ahead of the main body), but he ordered the destroyer-transports (which were also ahead of the main body) back to the Shortlands; their two escorts, the destroyers Samidare and Shigure, were to join the main group. Walker made contact at 10:31, and his radar picked up the two Japanese groups just before they joined. Walker made for the larger group.

Ijuin mishandled his force, missed a chance to cap the T, and ended up with his ships staggered and the Yugumo masking the torpedo tubes of the other three. In the exchange that followed, U.S. gunfire and a torpedo sank the Yugumo but not before a torpedo from the latter struck the Chevalier a mortal blow. The O'Bannon, following through thick gun smoke, collided with the Chevalier, and although she was able to back clear, she was also out of the fight. The Selfridge continued on alone as all five of the Japanese ships headed west (Japanese aircraft had reported Larson's force coming up from the south as cruisers), but at 11:06 p.m., a torpedo caught the Selfridge on her port side. Ijuin fled the scene, leaving the U.S. destroyer Chevalier damaged so badly she had to be sunk and the other two ships barely able to limp home to Tulagi. The subchaser group meanwhile rescued the stranded Japanese troops and escaped unnoticed.

The final chapter was written the next morning when four U.S. patrol torpedo (PT) boats were sent in 5 miles west of Vella Lavella to look for survivors. The PT 163 picked up 33 of the Yugumo's crew and put in at Biloa to transfer them to the army; at that point, 1 of the Japanese killed a sailor with his own gun and was in turn killed, along with 3 other prisoners who joined in the fray.

Ronnie Day

Further Reading
Dull, Paul S. A Battle History of the Japanese Imperial Navy (1941–1945). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1978.; Morrison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 6, Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, 22 July 1942–1 May 1944. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.

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