Santa Cruz is the forgotten carrier battle of 1942. Despite myth, the Japanese carrier force was not destroyed at Midway but survived to still prove a threat in the Pacific theater. Nowhere was this clearer than in the battle of Santa Cruz of October 1942. The stalemate on the ground in the Guadalcanal campaign led to the major naval forces of both belligerents becoming inexorably more and more involved in the fighting, each seeking to win the major victory that would open the way for a breakthrough on land as well.
The US Task Force 61 under the command of Rear Admiral Kinkaid and consisting of the carriers Hornet and Enterprise, as well the battleship South Dakota and a number of cruisers and destroyers, intercepted the Japanese fleet, which boasted four carriers - Shokaku, Zuikaku, Junyo and Zuiho - as well as four battleships and numerous other ships, on 26 October. Though US aircraft managed to damage the Japanese carriers seriously, in turn Hornet was so badly damaged that shed had to be sunk, while Enterprise was hit and needed extensive repairs. Both sides withdrew at the end of the action.
The Japanese were able to gain a tactical victory at Santa Cruz and came very close to scoring a strategic victory, but they paid a very high price in aircraft and aircrew that prevented them from following up their victory. In terms of their invaluable aircrew, the battle was much more costly than even Midway and had a serious impact on the ability of the Japanese to carry out carrier warfare in a meaningful manner.