World War II in the Pacific
The Battle of Komandorski Islands was a daytime surface engagement between a heavily escorted supply convoy to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and a small U.S. task force there to block them.
The Battle of Komandorski Islands, Alaska - 24 March 1943
A surface engagement that stopped a Japanese supply convoy to
the Alutian Islands.
Japan had taken the islands of Attu and Kiska as part of the Battle of Midway. The purpose was provide bases on the northern frontier of Japan from which to stand watch for American attack from the South East and from the Russians from the North West. The battle was one of the few purely surface actions of the War : no aircraft or submarines. The conquests had to be supplied and an American task force was stationed west of Attu Island, the most westward of the Aleutian Island chain and south of the Komandorski Islands of Russia to interdict. The Americans were strung out for search, a convoy was detected, and the US task force pulled together. Upon reaching visual range, the convoy was found to be more heavily armed than anticipated. Each side was in column heading north with Americans overtaking.
Japanese forces -- heavy cruisers Nachi and Maya, the light cruisers Tama and Abukuma, and the destroyers Wakaba, Hatsushimo, Ikazuchi, and Inazuma escorting armed transports Asaka Maru and Sakito Maru.
American Forces -- cruisers Salt Lake City (CA-25) (flag) 11 and Richmond (CL-9) 2 and destroyers of Desron 14 -- Coghlan (DD-606) 8 ,
Bailey (DD-492)(f) 14,
Dale (DD-353) 14, and
Monaghan (DD-354) 12.
The Battle --
The Americans approached from the rear on the Japanese column. The Japanese turned into the American path to bring all guns to bear and light cruisers peeled off to launch a torpedo attacks. The transports turned northwest away from the action.
Both sides opened fire at long range, ten miles. The Americans seeing the superior force with torpedoes in the water turned away. Nachi's torpedoes died at long range and she received several 8" hits. Twenty minutes later Salt Lake City was hit twice.
The Americans turned north to get the transports. The Japanese had faster ships and cut them off while firing torpedoes along the way.
Both Salt Lake City and Nachi took more 8" hits.
The Americans turned south to withdraw and the destroyers made smoke. The four-hour dual almost exhausted the ammunition of each side. Salt Lake City had flooding and a list. Water got in the fuel line and she went dead in the water. American destroyers made a torpedo run at the Japanese to save her and withdrew in smoke. The torpedoes missed but smoke lain by the destroyers shielded the U.S. heavy cruiser which keep up fire from her rear turret which was still functional. Unaware of how damaged the American ships were, the Japanese withdrew to the west. Twenty minutes later Salt Lake City was back to full power and
the Americans withdrew to the east.
The Japanese heavy cruisers had fired over 1,600 8" shells, light cruisers a couple hundred 6", plus all Japanese ships together launched 43 torpedoes. Salt Lake City had used up over 800 armor piercing rounds which had blue marking dye and had to switch to high explosive shells with white dye. The Japanese thought these indicated aircraft bombs and was part of their decision to withdraw. Actually the Army Air Force base at Adak was within range but magazine storage was frozen, the B-25s needed auxiliary fuel tanks, and blizzard conditions caused a six-hour delay ; the bombers only arrived to see the Navy ships returning to base. A Japanese air base was even closer but did not deploy.
The battle of Komadorski Islands ended attempts to resupply the Aleutians by surface ships.
Attu island was invaded on 11May'43 with a force of 11,000 GIs. On 1Aug'43, Kiska was evacuated.
The Japanese commander was retired for being unable to destroy a force that had less than half his weight in guns.
The American commander who had fought in the South Pacific as Captain of San Francisco at the Battle of Cape Esperance, now RAdm of Alaskan Cruiser-Destroyer Force, and later went on to become Chief of Staff of the Pacific Fleet.
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