Rear-Admiral Raizo Tanaka
Rear-Admiral Raizo Tanaka, one of the greatest tactical commanders of destroyer forces in the Japanese Navy, also wound up in obscurity as a result of his participation in the Guadalcanal fighting.
Although specializing in destroyers and torpedoes for much of his career, Tanaka had also commanded the battleship Kongo 1939-41. He commanded the 2nd Destroyer Squadron as close escorts for the invasion transports in both the Phillipines and Dutch East Indies, and participated in the Battle of the Java Sea as commander of the destroyers of the screening force.
His real fame came in the Guadalcanal campaign, where he was the man credited with establishing what the Americans called the "Tokyo Express," the nocturnal running-in of supplies and reinforcements to the island, mainly on destroyers, with alarming regularity and success. He accomplished this as commander of the 2nd Destroyer Squadron, which at full strength usually had 10-12 destroyers plus Tanaka's flagship, the light cruiser Jintsu. These runs were not always successful, particularly when Tanaka was hindered by the need to escort transports. For instance, the second phase of Tanaka's attempts to land reinforcements during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in late August 1942 had to be abandoned after US aircraft sank the destroyer Mutsuki, damaged the Jintsu, and also hit a transport.
Tanaka's finest hour was the Battle of Tassafaronga (November 30, 1942). By now reduced to floating supplies ashore inside metal drums tied together in long strings and released to be carried in on the tide, Tanaka's force of eight destroyers was ambushed by US ships equipped with radar, but despite the disadvantages of force, surprise, and technology, quick reactions and the deadly "Long Lance" torpedoes allowed the Japanese to escape with the loss of one destroyer, while turning the tables and sinking the USS heavy cruiser Northampton, as well as damaging the cruisers Omaha, Minneapolis, and Pensacola. However, on December 12th, after a couple more supply runs had been completed successfully, Tanaka's destroyers were attacked by four American PT boats. The ship Tanaka was using for his flagship, destroyer Niizuki, was hit by two torpedoes and sunk (Japanese gunfire sank one PT in return), leaving Tanaka injured.
Despite his successes against long odds, Tanaka had by this time made himself highly unpopular with many of his superiors, by his outspoken criticism of Japanese strategy and tactics in the Solomons. In particular, he had argued long and forcefully for the early abandonment of Guadalcanal. As a result, his wounds were used as an excuse to transfer him to Singapore, and in 1943 he was given a shore command in Burma. He was never again to command units at sea, despite his track record in combat.
Copyright © Klemen. L. 1999-2000
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942