While furious land fighting raged, the Japanese Imperial Navy prepared for a decisive battle. Their objectives were to
- establish aerial superiority by destroying American aircraft carriers
- obliterate Henderson field and its airplanes through aircraft attacks combined with battleship bombardments
- sink any other Allied surface warships
- land 1500 army troops and 500 naval infantry with supplies and food
- block any further American reinforcements of planes, troops, ammunition, food or medicine
The Japanese task forces were
A. Three slow transports carrying the troops and equipment left Truk escorted by a light cruiser Jintsu (seven 14 cm/5.5 inch guns; built in 1923), nine destroyers (Hayashio, Minegumo, Asagumo, Kuroshio, Oyashio, Natsugumo, Yura, Harusame, Murasame, Samidare) and four patrol boats. The four patrol boats were the former destroyers Shimakaze, Nadakaze,Suzuki, and Tsuta converted to transport troops. The three transports were Kinryu Maru, Boston Maru, and Daifuku Maru.
B. Four heavy cruisers (Aoba, Chokai, Furutaka and Kinugasa; all with six 8 inch guns) again commanded by Admiral Mikawa
C. Two aircraft carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, and one light aircraft carrier, Ryujo, eight destroyers and the heavy cruiser Tone (lead ship of her class, built in 1936; carried eight eight inch guns). The key statistics were 71,72 and 30 planes on the carriers, respectively.
D. Two battleships, Hiei and Kirishima, three heavy cruisers, Chikuma (Tone class), Kumano and Suzuya (both Mogami class with eight eight inch guns), one light cruiser, Nagara (old; built in 1922; seven 5.5 inch guns), and three destroyers, Maikake, Tanakaze, and Nowaki.
E. five heavy cruisers (Takao, Atago and Maya – all Takao class as was the Chokai; all with six 8 inch guns; plus Myoko and Haguro, which were both of the Myoko class with ten 8 inch guns), one light cruiser Yura (old; built in 1922 as part of the Nagara class; seven 5.5 inch guns), six destroyers, and the seaplane tender Chitose.
F. about 100 land-based fighters, bombers and scout planes.