Indiana received 38 cans of 16-inch powder from ammunition ship Shasta (AE-6), beginning at 1730 on 1 January 1943. The next day, Shasta transferred 19 additional 16-inch target projectiles. Indiana and destroyers Dunlap (DD-384), Fanning (DD-385), Lardner (DD-487), and Maury (DD-401) stood out at 0515 on 2 January. TF 64 sailed in special disposition Victor One and participated in a simulated air raid launched from aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3).
The Japanese decided to evacuate their troops from Guadalcanal, but the Allies detected the movements of some of the enemy ships and planes as they concentrated for the operation. The Allies sailed TG 62.8—four transports embarking Army reinforcements for the marines on Guadalcanal—as part of the plan to remove the final marines on the island and relieve them with soldiers. The Japanese movements persuaded Halsey to deploy five separate task forces to escort and support these operations. The complex shipping arrangements necessitated by the overextended logistics support and the inadequate shore facilities available compelled Halsey to further divide these ships into six groups during their voyages into the battle. Rear Adm. Willis A. Lee, Jr., led TF 64, built around battleships Indiana and North Carolina (BB-55). Capt. Thomas G. Peyton relieved Capt. Merrill as Indiana’s commanding officer on 13 January 1943.
Rear Adm. Robert C. Giffen commanded the cruisers and destroyers of TF 18 in the Battle of Rennell Island overnight on 29 and 30 January 1943. Japanese land attack planes of the 701st and 705thKōkūtais (Air Groups) damaged heavy cruiser Chicago (CA-29). Heavy cruiser Louisville (CA-28) took Chicago in tow in the darkness and then passed her charge to tug Navajo (AT-64), but Japanese land attack planes torpedoed and sank Chicago and damaged destroyer LaVallette (DD-448) the following day. The Americans retired from the area, and the battle thus contributed to the Japanese success in evacuating their troops from Guadalcanal. Indiana operated in the area but did not see action during the battle.
The battleship next fought as part of TG 36.3 in the campaign to liberate the New Georgia Group from the Japanese, from 27 June to 25 July 1943. Indiana came about and returned to Nouméa, sailed from New Caledonian waters on 31 July, and moored at Pearl Harbor on 9 August. Capt. William M. Fechteler relieved Capt. Peyton as the commanding officer on 10 August.
The ship sailed from the Hawaiian Islands and took part in the prototype fast carrier strike on 21 August, when TF 15, Rear Adm. Charles A. Pownall commanding, including aircraft carriers Essex (CV-9) and Yorktown (CV-10) and small aircraft carrier Independence (CVL-22), launched nine strike groups in a day-long attack on Japanese installations on Marcus Island on 30 August. Grumman TBF-1 Avengers of Composite Squadron (VC) 22 flying from Independence sank three small Japanese vessels. This second U.S. raid against Marcus marked the first attack by Essex and Independence class carriers and the combat debut of Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats of Fighting Squadrons (VFs) 5, 9, and 12, embarked on board Yorktown, Essex, and Independence, respectively. Submarine Snook (SS-279) also operated in support of TF-15.
Indiana returned to Pearl Harbor on 7 September 1943, and entered drydock for 16 days of repairs. The ship departed Hawaiian waters on 21 October, and moored at Tambako, Nandi (Nadi), Viti Levu, Fiji, on 7 November. She put to sea on 11 November for Operation Galvanic—the assault by the 2d Marine Division and elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division on the Gilbert Islands.
TG 50.1, the Carrier Interceptor Group involved in Galvanic, included aircraft carriers Lexington (CV-16) and Yorktown, and small aircraft carrier Cowpens (CVL-25). Rear Adm. Charles A. Pownall broke his flag in Yorktown in command of the group. The carriers launched attacks to neutralize enemy airfields on Jaluit and Mili atolls in the Marshalls on 19 November 1943. The force then provided air support for the ensuing amphibious landings on Makin and Tarawa in the Gilberts. The group’s planes intercepted an enemy strike of 20 aircraft flying from the Marshalls, claiming the destruction of 17 planes, on 23 November. The following day, a similar battle occurred with comparable results.
Indiana received her baptism of fire during this campaign. The ship steamed with the northern group near Makin Island when Japanese torpedo bombers flying from the Marshalls attacked from the east at dusk. The western sun silhouetted the ships, a vulnerability compounded when the enemy dropped flares. The battleship opened fire and splashed one of the attackers.
Rear Adm. Lee commanded a striking force designated TG 50.4, including battleships Alabama (BB-60), North Carolina, South Dakota (BB-57), and Washington (BB-56), aircraft carrier Bunker Hill (CV-17), and small aircraft carrier Monterey (CVL-26), that attacked Japanese shore installations and airfields on Nauru to the west of the Gilberts in December 1943. Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman acted as the Officer in Tactical Command (OTC), and broke his flag in Bunker Hill. En route to their targets, the carriers launched planes that flew fighter coverage over the ships, antisubmarine patrols in sweeps around their route, and sorties against the Japanese on Makin. Destroyer Izard (DD-589) gained a sound contact on an apparent submarine, bearing 120°, range approximately 8,000 yards, at 1524 on 1 December. Destroyers Charrette (DD-581) and Izard attacked the contact with depth charges until 1700—without result. At 1744 the formation resumed cruising disposition 5LS for the night.
Reinforcements rendezvoused with the group at times during the voyage, and consisted of battleships Indiana and Massachusetts (BB-59), and destroyers Boyd (DD-544), Bradford (DD-545), Brown (DD-546), Burns (DD-588), Conner (DD-582), Cowell (DD-547), Lang (DD-399), Stack (DD-406), Sterett (DD-407), and Wilson (DD-408). Lee relieved Sherman as OTC and broke his flag in Washington.
A lookout on board Alabama sighted a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 Betty, at 1109 on 5 December 1943. Four minutes later, F6F-3 Hellcats of VF-30 flying from Monterey shot down the Betty. A lookout on board South Dakota spotted the column of smoke rising from the downed enemy bomber, bearing 105°, range ten miles from the ship. TG 50.8 organization became effective for the strike group at 1430 on 6 December. Lang reported sighting a periscope at 1527, but investigated the contact unsuccessfully.
Lee attacked the Japanese garrison on Nauru on 8 December 1943. At 0455, Sherman detached from the formation with Bunker Hill, Monterey, and their destroyers to launch the air strikes. The battleships formed column at 0544, and at 0619 launched their Vought OS2U-3 and Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N-1 Kingfishers of Observation Squadrons (VOs) 6 and 9 for gunnery spotting and antisubmarine patrols. The Kingfishers strafed and photographed the area around the barracks when the battleships ceased fire. The battleships came about to clear possible retaliation by the enemy shore batteries.
The Japanese deployed few planes on the island and the raiders achieved meager results, claiming the destruction of at least eight planes while losing four. Lee ordered Boyd to proceed to the west of Nauru and rescue the survivors of one of the downed planes at 1033. While the ship steamed toward the area, she received a report that the survivors drifted in a life raft about two miles west of the island. At 1140, Boyd hove to at what her watch team believed to be a plane, only to discover a smoke float. Japanese shore batteries suddenly opened fire, and two rounds struck the ship while she rolled in the swells at 1142. The first shell exploded in the forward engine room, sheering or puncturing all of the steam lines and the main power distribution board, and killing all of the men in that space. The second round detonated inside the No. 1 stack. The ship returned fire and maneuvered to avoid the enemy shells, which straddled the destroyer at least five times, narrowly escaping an additional four gun salvo that exploded close aboard to port. Boyd lost 12 men killed and eight wounded, and subsequently came about for repairs at Espíritu Santo, New Hebrides (Vanuatu).
The ships of the group reformed cruising disposition 5L at 1151. Eight minutes into the afternoon watch, lookouts on board South Dakota sighted a Japanese Betty bearing 056°, 11 miles. The ships disengaged and steamed to the southward, and many of them refueled the following day. On 11 December 1943, Alabama, Bunker Hill, Monterey, Boyd, Brown, Lang, Stack, Sterett, and Wilson left the formation and proceeded to Espíritu Santo. The remaining vessels of the group returned to Havannah Harbor, Efaté, Indiana anchoring in berth No. 6 on 12 December.
Rewritten and expanded by Joseph M. Soriero and Mark L. Evans