July 7, 1943 (Wednesday)

“Cactus,” Carney Field, Guadalcanal

No trace of Van Voorhis, so he may be considered lost in action. It was VB-102’s first loss and was a bit of a shock to some of them. My old friend of the Manila VJ squadron and of the East Indies campaign, Gordon Fowler, (Lt. Cmdr. USN) former exec of 102, has automatically become skipper, and a better one, few squadrons could have.

What seems to be the official dope on the Kula Gulf battle is finally out. The press news from the states mentioned the loss of a cruiser (not named) in the battle, plus the loss, on the night of July 4th, of the destroyer Strong (which was covering Rice Anchorage landing — torpedoed). This seems very prompt and accurate information from the OWI, in contrast to previous information.

According to the intelligence information around here we can be sure of the destruction of only four Jap ships, any other figures being merely guesswork based on ship estimates at Buin-Tonolei.

One destroyer was blown up in a terrific explosion as the Jap ship steamed out of Kula Gulf at 0200 on the morning of the 6th. This explosion was a result of our first (radar-aimed) salvo and the first inkling that Japs had of our presence. Other destroyers were damaged, one beaching itself a little east of Vila Field (where it was destroyed by dive bombers about nine hours later). The Japs turned and ran into the Gulf and we followed them. At this time the Helena received 3 torpedoes, one supposedly blowing off her bow.

After this our fleet retreated down the Slot, leaving to destroyers to pick up the Helena’s survivors. While engaged in this, they spotted a Jap CL and destroyer sneaking out of the Gulf in the early dawn, and launching a torpedo attack sank the Jap destroyer and left the light cruiser (four-stack Jintsu class) ablaze and sinking. That was the end of the battle. Coastwatchers on Rendova and Tetipari reported two Jap heavy cruisers escaped early in the morning through the narrow channel between Kolombangara and Arundel Is. Two more ships were seen proceeding up the Slot by 102’s plane. This still leaves a few Jap ships unaccounted for, except possibly by large oil slicks and wreckage in the Gulf.

In cold hard facts the battle was not by any means the “triumph” hailed by the press. In two consecutive nights in the Kula Gulf we lost one first-class light cruiser and a destroyer against the Jap’s loss of three destroyers and one old light cruiser (the Jintsu class is comparable to our ancient Omaha class, while the Helena can be compared to the Japan’s top-notch Mogami class). Any apparent evenness of this exchange is offset by the fact that our task force did not accomplish its mission the prevention of reinforcements to Kolombangara. They caught the Japs leaving Vila, not entering it. But the poor old American public will only hear of the affair as a great victory, with faint acid echoes months later.

The two destroyers we spotted headed for the Helena survivors last night were on the job all night and well past dawn. They picked up about 100 men, including the captain of the Helena. The hundred men they picked up should only account for the three motor whaleboat loads we saw headed for New Georgia. What became of all the poor devils on the rafts?

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