From: Oregon, USA
December 9, 1942
Susumu Ishihara is awakened in the dead of night by a hand shaking his shoulder. He is tempted to mumble curses at his tormentor but it might be an officer, so instead he opens one bleary eye. It is Nozawa, another PO2 in the AG.
“What the hell is it?” he asks.
“Get up, Ishihara, something is happening out in the harbor!” says Nozawa. Ishihara becomes aware that most of the other mats are empty and he glimpses a couple of other pilots padding outside.
“I don’t care if there is a volcano erupting out there,” he says, but then curiosity gets the better of him. He gets to his feet and follows Nozawa out into the cool night air.
All around pilots and air crew are standing in the darkness and looking down the hill towards the water. They are in small groups, talking in low voices among themselves. Ishihara looks out to sea along with the rest of them and for a moment sees nothing. Then, perhaps a mile out, he spots a series of flashes. A moment later there are more a little ways away.
“What is it?’ he asks.
“A battle,” says someone. “The enemy is attacking.” Just as he finishes saying this there is a brighter flash than before and a spurt of flame leaps high enough to briefly illuminate the underside of the clouds. Less than ten seconds later the sound of a distant explosion reaches the group.
“One of ours or one of theirs?” Nozawa asks. But no one knows the answer.
What Ishihara and the other pilots are seeing is the first surface action of the Pacific war, a small but sharp engagement. Three British destroyers, Scout, Thanet, and Thracian, have sortied from Hong Kong with orders to attack Japanese invasion forces mustering at Takao. But the Japanese are not caught unawares.
It is a dark night. The moon shows only occasionally between the thunderstorms that are sweeping the area. Outside the harbor Japanese destroyers Yugumo and Hokaze are on picket duty. They have just passed each other and are on the outward leg of the patrol line when a lookout aboard Hokaze spots the oncoming British ships, just over 2000 yards away and closing.
Hokaze opens fire immediately. The lead British ship, Thracian, realizes that there are Japanese destroyers present when shells begin falling nearby. Thracian immediately signals the other ships and swings to port to unmask her aft batteries. As she begins to return fire Hokaze finds the range and a shell hits Thracian just below the chart room.
Yugumo reverses course and hurries to catch up with Hokaze. Scout and Thanet follow Thracian's maneuver and begin to fire, Thanet engaging Hokaze and Scout firing at Yugumo. For a few moments the two small columns parallel each other, then Hokaze fires a spread of six 21” torpedoes at Thracian. One of the torpedoes catches Thracian under the stern. The stricken ship's stern lifts into the air, then the destroyer settles back in the water and begins to sink.
The British commander, uncertain what forces are arrayed against him but knowing the element of surprise is irretrievably lost, orders the two remaining ships to retreat. A parting shell from Scout hits Yugumo in the bow, causing minor damage, and the Japanese ships break off pursuit and let them go.
In the morning, some sixty miles away, the two British destroyers encounter a Japanese destroyer division led by light cruiser Natori. Natori engages and sinks Thanet; Scout, though damaged, escapes again.