F4Fs launching off Guadalcanal, 7 August 1942.
Wasp, screened by San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and four destroyers, steamed westward toward Guadalcanal on the evening of 6 August until midnight. Then, she changed course to the eastward to reach her launch position 84 nmi (97 mi; 156 km) from Tulagi one hour before dawn. Wasp's first combat air patrol fighter took off at 05:57.
The early flights of Wildcats and Dauntlesses were assigned specific targets: Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, Halavo, Port Purvis, Haleta, Bungana, and the radio station dubbed "Asses' Ears."
The Wildcats, led by Lieutenant Shands and his wingman Ensign S. W. Forrer, patrolled the north coast toward Gavatu. The other two headed for the seaplane facilities at Tanambogo. The Grummans, arriving simultaneously at daybreak, surprised the Japanese and strafed patrol planes and fighter-seaplanes in the area. Fifteen Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boats and seven Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" floatplane fighters were destroyed by Shands' fighters during low-level strafing passes. Shands was credited with four "Rufes" and one "Emily", while his wingman, Forrer, was credited with three "Rufes" and an "Emily". Lieutenant Wright and Ensign Kenton were credited with three patrol planes apiece and a motorboat tending the "Emilys"; Ensigns Reeves and Conklin were each credited with two and shared a fifth patrol plane between them. The strafing Wildcats also destroyed an aviation fuel truck and a truck loaded with spare parts.
Post-attack assessment estimated that the antiaircraft and shore battery sites pinpointed by intelligence had been destroyed by the Dauntless dive bombers in their first attack. None of Wasp's planes was shot down; but Ensign Reeves, landed his Wildcat aboard Enterprise after running low on fuel.
At 07:04, Wasp launched 12 Avengers loaded with bombs for use against land targets, and led by Lieutenant H. A. Romberg. The Avengers silenced resistance by bombing Japanese troop concentrations east of the nob of land known as Hill 281, in the Makambo-Sasapi sector, and the prison on Tulagi Island.
Some 10,000 men had been put ashore during the first day's operations against Guadalcanal, and met only slight resistance. On Tulagi, however, the Japanese resisted stoutly, retaining about 1⁄5 of the island by nightfall. Wasp, Saratoga, and Enterprise with their screens retired to the southward at nightfall.
F4Fs launching off Guadalcanal, 7 August 1942.
Wasp fighters led by Lieutenant C. S. Moffett maintained a continuous CAP over the transport area until noon on 8 August. Meanwhile, a scouting flight of 12 Dauntlesses led by Lieutenant Commander E. M. Snowden searched a sector to a radius of 220 nmi (250 mi; 410 km) from their carrier, extending it to include all of the Santa Isabel Island and the New Georgia groups.
The Dauntless pilots made no contact with the Japanese during their two hours in the air; but at 08:15, Snowden sighted a "Rufe" some 40 nmi (46 mi; 74 km) from Rekata Bay and shot the plane down with fixed .50 in (13 mm) machine guns.
Meanwhile, a large group of Japanese planes approached from Bougainville to attack the transports off Lunga Point. Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner ordered all transports to get underway and to assume cruising disposition. Eldridge was leading a formation of Dauntlesses from VS-71 against Mbangi Island, off Tulagi. His rear seat gunner, Aviation Chief Radioman L. A. Powers, assumed the formation of Japanese planes were friendly until six Zeroes bounced the first section with 12 unsuccessful firing passes.
Meanwhile, the leader of the last section of VS-71 Lieutenant, junior grade Robert L. Howard unsuccessfully attacked twin-engined Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" medium bombers heading for the American transports, and was engaged by four Zeroes escorting the bombers. Howard shot down one Zero with his fixed .50 in (13 mm) guns while his rear gunner, Seaman 2nd Class Lawrence P. Lupo, discouraged Japanese fighters attacking from astern.
At 18:07 on 8 August, Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher recommended to Ghormley, at Nouméa, that the air support force be withdrawn. Fletcher, concerned by the large numbers of Japanese planes that had attacked on the 8th, reported that he had only 78 fighters left (he had started with 99) and that fuel for the carriers was running low. Ghormley approved the recommendation, and Wasp joined Enterprise and Saratoga in retiring from Guadalcanal. By midnight, the landing had attained the immediate objectives. Japanese resistance except for a few snipers on Gavutu and Tanombogo had been overcome. Early on 9 August, a Japanese surface force engaged an American one in the Battle of Savo Island and retired with minimal damage after sinking four Allied heavy cruisers off Savo Island, including two that had served with Wasp in the Atlantic: Vincennes and Quincy. The early and unexpected withdrawal of the support force, including Wasp, when coupled with Allied losses in the Battle of Savo Island, jeopardized the success of the operation in the Solomons.
After the initial day's action in the Solomons campaign, the carrier spent the next month engaged in patrol and covering operations for convoys and resupply units headed for Guadalcanal. The Japanese began transporting reinforcements to contest the Allied forces.
Wasp was ordered south by Vice Admiral Fletcher to refuel and did not participate in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24 August. That engagement cost the American force the use of the valuable Enterprise. Saratoga was torpedoed a week later and departed the South Pacific war zone for repairs as well. That left only two carriers in the southwest Pacific: Hornet which had been in commission for only a year and Wasp.