Halsey had two aircraft carriers (USS Enterprise and USS Hornet—famous because of the Doolittle Raid) and two battleships (USS South Dakota and USS Washington). The Japanese had four aircraft carriers (Shokaku, Zuikaku, Zuiho, and Junyo) and four battleships (Hiei, Kirishima, Kongo, and Haruna). Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor, commanded the main carrier group.
The battle was fought solely by aircraft. The two fleets never came in range of each other’s guns.
Japanese aircraft attacked the USS Hornet and damaged her so badly that she was eventually abandoned and ordered sunk. The USS Enterprise, which was also badly damaged, became the only available American carrier in the entire Pacific theatre. None of the Japanese ships were sunk.
Although the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was a tactical victory for Japan, almost 100 carrier-based Japanese planes and their crews were lost. Such loses could not be sustained and the industrial might of the USA would eventually prevail. Nagumo was relieved of his command and sent back to Japan.