65th Anniversary of the Battle for Kula Gulf

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
The naval Battle of Kula Gulf took place in the early hours of 6 July 1943 during World War II and was between United States and Japanese ships off the coast of Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands.


On 5 July, Task Group 36.1, commanded by Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth, and consisting of light cruisers USS Helena, USS Honolulu, and USS St. Louis, plus four destroyers, had received word of another Tokyo Express run down "the Slot", and proceeded northwest past New Georgia.

The Allies were in the process of launching their next offensive in the Solomon Islands, having just landed troops on the island of Rendova as a preliminary step in seizing the major Japanese airstrip at Munda on New Georgia. In support of this landing, which was to set up an initial beachhead for moving U.S. troops across Blanche Channel to New Georgia, Ainsworth had the night before conducted a cruiser bombardment of Vila on Kolombangara and Bairoko on New Georgia and, short on fuel and ammunition, was in the process of retiring to the Coral Sea to replenish. A Marine landing was scheduled on the north shore of New Georgia on 10 July and would require further support.


At 01:06 off Kolombangara, the task group came into contact with a Japanese reinforcement group commanded by Admiral Teruo Akiyama which consisted of ten destroyers loaded with 2,600 combat troops, bound for Vila, which they used as a staging point for movement into Munda. The Japanese were divided into two forces, and a formation of three escorts trailing the main column first came under attack.

The U.S. ships opened fire at 01:57 and quickly sank the destroyer Niizuki and killed Admiral Akiyama. However the Helena had expended all its flashless powder the night before and was forced to use smokeless, illuminating itself to the Japanese ships with every salvo. Two of the Japanese destroyers launched their Long Lance torpedoes and sank Helena. The main Japanese force, which had countermarched away from Vila with the first contact, broke away having landed only 850 of the 2,600 troops. Nagatsuki ran aground, while Hatsuyuki was damaged.

Both forces began to withdraw from the area, but one Japanese and two U.S. destroyers remained in the area to rescue survivors and, at about 05:00, Japanese destroyer Amagiri and USS Nicholas exchanged torpedoes and gunfire. Amagiri was hit and retired. The beached Nagatsuki, abandoned by her crew in the morning, was bombed and sunk by U.S. planes.


USS Radford and Nicholas both stayed behind to rescue survivors from Helena. While rescuing over 750 men, Radford and Nicholas had to reengage the enemy three times and were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their rescue. Amagiri escaped and later was the ship that cut PT-109 in half in Blackett Strait southwest of Kolombangara.


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The disturbing thing is even after being hammered by IJN torpedo's in several ship-to-ship battles off of Guadalcanal, many USN commanders still under estimated the danger in being torpedo'd and the need to be constantly changing headings in a battle.
my uncle(deceased) was attached to the US Marines that were on the Helena
he often told me his version of this incident and it matches up very well with this story
He went into the water in the evening and was not picked up until the next afternoon
He told of Tokyo Rose and her broadcasts to demoralize our troops.
He was assigned th the Helena in 1943, as his previous ship, the USS Eire, a gunboat was also sunk, in the carribean sea in early 43.
Following his R R and sick time he was reassigned to the 5th Division, the spearhead, Headquarters and headquarters company and made the landing on Iwo Jima
He ended up with 100 % disability but you would never know it
He returned home was in hospital for years
Got married and raised 4 beautiful children
My uncle MARTIN FULTON was one of the greatest men i ever met.
God bless him and all the others who served in WW 2. I owe everything to those fine men and women and give thek a WELL DONE

Henry Fulton

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