The U.S. destroyer Sterett.
The Battle of Vella Gulf was a naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II fought on the night of August 6, 1943 – August 7, 1943, in Vella Gulf between the islands of Vella Lavella and Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands.
On the night of August 6 they sent a force of four destroyers under Captain Kaju Sugiura (Hagikaze, flagship, Arashi, Shigure and Kawakaze) carrying 950 troops and supplies. The Japanese airfield at Munda on New Georgia, which the force at Vila was tasked with reinforcing, was on the verge of being captured (it would fall later that day), and the Japanese anticipated that Vila would become the center of their next line of defense.
The Americans were in a campaign of island hopping their way towards Japan. They had taken Guadalcanal the past year. After their victory in the battle of Kolombangara on July 13, the Japanese had established a formidable garrison of 12,400 in Vila at the southern tip of the island. It was the principal port on that island, and supplied at night using fast destroyers as transports known as the Tokyo Express. Three supply runs on July 19, July 29, and August 1 were successful. By August, the Americans were driving the Japanese out of the airfield on the large island of New Georgia just south of Kolombangara.
The last of these runs resulted in an unsuccessful battle for the U.S. which did not merit a name from military historians. It would become the infamous topic of magazine articles, books, movies and political campaigns when of fifteen PT boats which did not score a single sinking, the destroyer Amagiri rammed and sank future U.S. President John F. Kennedy's PT-109, who was then remarkably found by two natives in a dugout canoe.
The U.S. Task Group 31.2 of six destroyers (Dunlap, Craven, Maury, Lang, Sterett, and Stack) commanded by Captain Frederick Moosbrugger was lying in wait and made radar contact at 23:33. Having incorporated lessons of night-fighting after the Battle of Tassafaronga and the PT boat debacle, the Americans did not give away their position with gunfire but waited until their torpedoes were in the water. They fired 36 torpedoes in the space of 63 seconds. The 4 main U.S. ships, which included the Craven, used the mountains of the main island, to their East, to camouflage their position, as Japanese radar was not as sophisticated as the American radar, and could not differentiate the ships and the island. All four Japanese destroyers were hit. Hagikaze, Arashi and Kawakaze burst into flames and were quickly sunk by gunfire. The torpedo that hit Shigure was a dud, damaging the rudder only, and she escaped in the darkness. The many Japanese soldiers and sailors left floating in the water after their ships sank refused rescue by the U.S. destroyers. Over 1,000 Japanese troops and sailors were lost. 300 reached Vella Lava and were later transferred to Kolombangara. During the entire battle, not one U.S. ship was struck by so much as a single bullet.
The battle, coming less than one month after the night action at Kolombangara, was the first U.S. victory in a torpedo duel. The six destroyers had accomplished what a squadron of 15 PT boats could not, sink the Tokyo Express with torpedoes with no friendly losses. The Japanese could no longer supply the garrison on Kolombangara, and the Allies bypassed it, landing instead on Vella Lavella to the west.