Did Captain Bode (USS Chicago) really screw up at Guadacanal?

In Neptune’s Inferno, it reports that Captain Bode of the USS Chicago took the blame during a Navy review for the defeat at Savo during the Guadacanal campaign.

The book is somewhat ambiguous towards the responsibility of Bode but overall seems favorable.

Frankly, I’m not certain myself. This place seems to be filled with military history experts (buffs?) so would someone like to explain Bode’s responsibility further? (And of course, he later committed suicide over his effective demotion).

Yes, he really did screw up badly at Guadalcanal. He wasn’t the only one, there was more than enough blame to go around and the case could be made that he was becoming the designated scapegoat for the disaster since he was the only one going to be officially censured by the Board of Inquiry, his performance wasn’t very inspiring and he certainly bore some of the burden for the defeat. Savo Island was arguably the worst defeat the US Navy suffered during the war. Pearl Harbor at least had the excuse of having occurred during peacetime; at Savo Island the USN allowed itself to be taken completely unawares by the Japanese in a forward combat zone after 9 months of war and lost five heavy cruisers and inflicted negligible damage to the Japanese in return.

The most damning of Bode’s actions was

Bode was in nominal command of the southern cruiser force. While others certainly deserve a share of the blame. He was the one who might have been able to do something to affect the outcome of the battle. Here are the problems with Bode’s actions that night.

When he received command. He took no action to inform the other captains. He gave no orders regarding dispositions for the night. He didn’t order his ship into the customary position for the commander’s ship. And then he went to sleep. This is all in spite of the fact that all commanding officers were aware of multiple sightings of Mikawa’s fleet during the day. Basically he pretended he was on patrol near Australia, not the forward element of a fleet located in enemy waters.

Once the Japanese were spotted and engaged. Chicago took a couple of hits… and ran away. Bode didn’t send any orders to any other ships. He didn’t even send any warnings to any other ships, or to his commanding officers. And that is probably his key sin. The north and south cruiser forces were mauled, because the Japanese were able to approach undetected. No real blame there (at least for Bode). But Allies still had 3 cruisers and 11 destroyers unengaged. Mikawa could have swung back south hit the transport anchorages and the east cruiser force and destroyed the Allied forces piecemeal. Mikawa withdrew. But Bode still had a responsibility to the remaining Allied forces that he ignored.

You may want to re-read the original poster’s handle…

Oh, it was quite intentional. :stuck_out_tongue: The footnote provided for the source is pg 105-106 of Richard B. Franks excellent Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle.

Neptune’s Inferno though, makes it sound more ambiguous; Bode’s decisions are looked at much more leniently because the nighttime engagement was confusing to everyone. I don’t remember any references about him not informing others or about being in command, only that he left the scene prematurely and didn’t do enough, nor did he help pick up survivors of the Juneau (although I think I now have the multiple engagements of Guadacanal campaign mixed up).

I haven’t read Neptune’s Inferno, so I can’t comment specifically on the book

But yes the nighttime engagement made things a lot worse for the Allies. They hadn’t done nearly the nighttime training the Japanese had. It also doesn’t help that while the Japanese were operating with a preexisting cruiser division with extensive combined training, the Allies were operating with a multinational force of ships that had never sailed together and commanders who had never operated with their subordinates. And all the Allied ships were significantly less alert than the Japanese. It is telling that the Japanese spotted three separate individual destroyers (Blue, Ralph Talbot, Jarvis) prior to opening up on Canberra. And none of the destroyers spotted an entire Japanese fleet. Blue in particular was at terrible fault here, as she was specifically on picket duty and missed a fleet that passed within a mile of her.

But even so there was more that could be done. Commander Walker on the Patterson, put his crew on condition 2, just like most of the rest of the fleet. But he specifically warned his night crew to expect combat, and personally took the night watch. After all he had seen reports of an approaching Japanese force. Bode in comparison went to his cabin.

Once combat started, Walker was able to get off radio and blinker warnings, and started firing Patterson’s guns. Bode managed not to get a single message out to the group he has in command of, or to any of the other groups. He didn’t fire his guns until the Japanese had moved on. And managed to steer his ship right onto the Japanese torpedoes. To be fair confusion reigned, and apparently some of the torpedoes he was dodging were from Bagley. But the key errors still remains. He took his ship out of the fight, while other ships were being sunk. He never issued a single command to any of the other ships in his command. And he never warned any other Allied ship (or his commanding officers) that the Japanese were in the strait.

It is likely none of this would have mattered. The northern force was engaged about 5-10 minutes after Bode knew they were there. So there wasn’t much time for a warning to do any good, and Bode never really had a chance to engage the Japanese. They had already turned away from him by the time he knew they were there. Commander Walker on the Patterson did everything right. And his warnings helped the northern force not at all. But Bode’s mistakes were still mistakes.

In the end he was certainly the designated scapegoat for the whole mess. There was a lot more blame that could have been passed out. Crutchley in particular should shoulder a lot of blame. I consider him to be the most culpable. But a US court of inquiry couldn’t very well censure a RN flag officer.

There were communications failures all over the place, both strategic, and tactical.

Fletcher (carrier group admiral) withdrew his carriers for refueling, but his message didn’t reach Turner (supply transport admiral off Tulagi). So Turner thought he had carrier cover.

Turner fell behind his offloading schedules, and decided to stick around longer than was planned, but didn’t tell Fletcher.

McCain, commanding the land based air assets in the Solomon’s area, didn’t conduct the air searches over the Slot on the previous afternoon as requested, and didn’t tell anyone that he couldn’t. So everyone assumed that no news was good news, in terms of enemy activity there. (This accounts for a lot of commanders assuming that there was no surface action imminent.)

Crutchley probably did not leave much of a “pass down” for Bode before he (Crutchley) left the area to go meet with Turner.

Communications failures are the bug-a-boo of many snafu’s. (See Jutland, too.) One commander (for whatever reason) thinks his counterparts know what he knows (or can see), and doesn’t think to send detailed messages.

I just finished reading a book on the battle by an Australian who was on the Canberra. I came a way with the feeling that their were so many screw ups
by so many officers that it is unfair to assign so much of the blame to Captain
Bode. Starting with the Hudsons performing air recon. They significantly miss
identified the Japanese strike force (they underestimated it’s strength). Was it
really necessary to drag the Flag officer in charge of the defense force to a
late night meeting back at the transport anchorage just as the Japanese
were approaching? There is no doubt that McCain dropped the ball regarding
air recon. I agree with Bartman about commander Walker. From what I have read
he is the only DD commander to come out of this disaster looking competent.

The thing about blame in the military is that contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t zero sum. The fact that someone else is also responsible doesn’t make you any less to blame. If you’re the only one who screwed up, you’re 100% responsible, but if someone else also screwed up, that doesn’t make you any *less *responsible. It’s quite possible for two people to each be 100% responsible for a failure.

Indeed, as I said in 2012 there was far more than enough blame to go around, but yes, Bode really did fuck up that badly at Savo Island. Looking back at this thread one thing I notice was never explicitly mentioned was that in addition to all his other failures in turning tail with the Chicago and running away sailing west for 40 minutes he was leaving behind the transports he was assigned to protect.

If you plan to read much more of the history of naval operations in the Pacific during WWII, you’ll get very used to this. Aerial reconnaissance coming within a mile of properly identifying what they spotted was an extremely rare event. Three months earlier in the same area on the first day of the Battle of the Coral Sea both sides launched strikes on what they thought was the other sides main carrier force. The American strike was launched at what was identified as “two carriers and four heavy cruisers” and turned out to only be the light carrier Shoho of the screening force. The Japanese launched at what was identified as “one carrier, one cruiser, and three destroyers” but turned out to only be the oiler* Neosho* and the destroyer Sims. In any event, poor air reconnaissance is no excuse at all for being taken that unawares in a forward combat zone. By the time the first alert went out from the Patterson - “Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering the harbor!” - Mikawa’s torpedoes had already been launched and were about to hit, and the Allied force was still at Condition II.

Just an update on this, I have finished reading “Flagship” which is specifically about the Canberra and Australia (and Shropshire). The author makes no bones about Bode acting extremely poorly. (Crutchley doesn’t escape either).

Bode also had priors- he was a martinet - disliked by his officers and had accused them of being drunk during the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour. He was at a party. He was also captain of the Oklahoma when she went down at Pearl harbour although as he was ashore he can’t cop too much for that.

As fo0r the Hudson’s report it has now been established that identification had been made of “three cruisers, three destroyers and two seaplane tenders or gunboats”. Ironically from Japanese records, and this has now been accepted by the USN’s History and Heritage Command.

Admiral Hepburn did a thorough investigation and came to the conclusion Bode deserves censure. And Hepburn interviewed everyone available.