During the Battle of Guadalcanal Japanese Navy operations were directed at reinforcing their troops on the island and harassing the Americans by shelling them at night. The US Navy countered this by attacking Japanese units, and nightly gun battles between American and Japanese ships led to heavy losses on both sides. So many ships were sunk in the waters around Guadalcanal that a portion of them were nicknamed Ironbottom Sound.
On the night of November 30, 1942 a force of Japanese destroyers were sent to the area of the Sound known as The Slot to deliver supplies. The Japanese had by then taken to floating supplies ashore in barrels towed to the area by destroyers. The force of eight Japanese destroyers were attacked by a task force of five cruisers and four destroyers under the command of US Admiral Carlton Wright.
The Americans had the advantage of surprise afforded them by the use of radar and opened a gun battle with the severely outgunned Japanese. With the island at their backs and the US cruisers blocking their escape to the open sea, the Japanese fired a “shotgun blast” of long range torpedoes at the American battle line.
Four of the five cruisers were hit. USS Minneapolis, USS Pensacola, and USS New Orleans, all received severe damage. USS Honolulu emerged unscathed but the last American cruiser in the battle line, USS Northampton, was not so lucky. Struck by two of the Japanese torpedoes, Northampton both burned and flooded before being abandoned by its crew. The other three badly damaged cruisers managed to make it to nearby Tulagi; all three were out of action for many months. The Japanese lost one destroyer.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Savo Island (in which the US Navy lost four heavy cruisers), Tassafaronga was the worst defeat suffered by the United States Navy during the Second World War. It led to changes in the manner of deploying US capital ships and provided further impetus for the development of flashless propellant for the Navy’s big guns. Despite the heavy losses taken by the Navy at Tassafaronga, they did succeed in preventing the Japanese from resupplying their troops, helping the Japanese decision to abandon Guadalcanal at the end of the year.