Battle of the Solomons Timeline (January 1942 - August 1945)
Attempting to head-off the Japanese resupply of forces at Guadalcanal, the USN came into its own during several key engagements.
The American invasion of Guadalcanal by United States Marine and Navy forces was the beginning of a long and arduous campaign to be fought on land, at sea, and in the air. While a bold (and ultimately costly) move, the threat of invasion was verifiable enough to the Japanese that resupply forces were ordered to the island to alleviate the pressure placed on the defenders by the Americans. As the strength of the Japanese war machine lay soundly in their Imperial Navy, victory was all but a certainty against the untested American forces.
During night fighting off the cost of Savo Island, an American cruiser contingent was all but destroyed by a force of IJN vessels. This led to the belief that the American sea-going force could be easily defeated in time. However, the presence of the American carrier groups quickly sent the Japanese cruisers out of the region and opened the IJN to a weakened defense. By this time the area near the Solomon Islands was under mixed control. The USN maintained a heavy airborne presence during daylight hours where aircrews attacked any moving vessel seeking passage between the Eastern and Western islands. The IJN maintained an advantage at and proceeded through the area when the USN aircraft were not in the sky. As these Japanese convoys progressed through the gap at speed in an effort to resupply their land forces at Guadalcanal, the gap became known as the 'Tokyo Express'. To combat the American carrier presence, attempts were made to bring the group within range of a combined IJN force and ultimately wipe them out.
The Battle of the Solomons began with the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. This engagement spanned three days - August 22nd through August 25th - and resulted in the IJN losing their light carrier IJN Ryujo. The carrier USS Enterprise was damaged enough to be pulled out of further action and the carrier USS Saratoga soon followed after receiving several enemy torpedoes. On September 14th the carrier USS Wasp was targeted by the IJN submarine I-19 and torpedoed further diminishing the American carrier presence in the region.
Imperial Japanese Army forces on Guadalcanal were proving to be a determined foe for the Americans. However their food and ammunition supplies were critical and starvation was rampant. The IJN sought to resupply their soldiers in due time by forcing their convoys through the American defensive perimeter. The night time Battle of Cape Esperance (October 11th - October 12th) was an American Navy warship attack against one such IJN convoy. Despite maintaining an element of surprise, the American warships engaged the enemy but allowed the protected IJN convoy managed to slip by. A few days later, IJN battleships Hiei and Kirishima opened fire against U.S. Marine positions ashore. The shelling was intense and little response was managed by the USN to quell the attacks as support in the area proved lacking. The following night heavy IJN cruisers continued attacks up and down the coast sending over 750 shells against suspected enemy positions.
An American carrier group led by Vice Admiral William Halsey in the South West Pacific went into action to support the Marines. As the Japanese encouraged participation from the American carriers, this move was welcomed but it also forced the IJN to commit her own carriers to the fray.
On October 25th, U.S. spotter planes located at least three of the IJN carriers with a fourth one en route. Fighting ensued that left the carriers Zuiho and Zuikaku damaged. USS Hornet was torpedoed and abandoned, left to sink by additional Japanese torpedoes where she sat. USS Enterprise was damaged but repaired enough to be brought back to the battle though the Japanese believed her to be out of the fight for good.
Regardless of the losses incurred by the USN, the Americans managed a final push and took Guadalcanal. Through this action, the forces of the USN delayed the resupply actions of the IJN just enough that America could claim to its first major land grab in the vast Pacific War. The Japanese could claim nothing more than a tactical victory, damaging or sinking several key USN carriers, battleships and lesser vessels but the damage against the Empire in the region had been done.