The USS Enterprise: 1775-2012 (Part 2)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Enterprise VII
World War II--Before the War
The seventh USS Enterprise (CV-6), also called  the “Big E,” was launched from the dry-docks on October 3rd , 1936.  The ship had a displacement of 19,800 tons as built, over 25,000 tons with a full load.  Its length at the waterline was 230 meters. Total length was  251.38 meters.  The aircraft carrier was commissioned in 1938, cruised to Rio de Jeneiro, and then toured the Caribbean.  In 1939, the USS Enterprise was ordered to the Pacific.  She was first based in San Diego where she was used in the filming of the movie Dive Bomber.  Then, President Roosevelt ordered the Enterprise and her fleet to Pearl Harbor.   The carrier left Pearl Harbor on November 28, 1941 to deliver a Marine fighter squadron to Wake Island.  She was returning to Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th.

Pearl Harbor

Eighteen SBD Dauntless planes from the Enterprise’s Scouting Squad 6 and Bombing Squad 6 reached Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.  They were very surprised, but went into action defending the port immediately.  Several planes were lost due to enemy aircraft and friendly fire.

 After the attack, Enterprise planes set out in search of the enemy fleet.  The search proved futile, and the Enterprise visited Pearl Harbor for food and supplies the night of December 8th.  She then set out to patrol against further attacks on the Hawaiian Islands.
On December 10th, her planes sank a Japanese submarine.

The Doolittle Raid
During the next few months, the Enterprise escorted convoys and attacked Japanese positions.
In 1942, she escorted the  Hornet, which was carrying Doolittle’s Raiders.  The Hornet’s flight deck was covered with B-25s and could not be used by the Hornet’s own planes, so the Enterprise’s planes flew combat patrol while the Raiders took off.
The carrier’s part in the Doolittle mission accomplished, the Enterprise hurried to the South Pacific to reinforce aircraft carriers there.  However, she arrived too late for the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Battle of Midway
The Enterprise’s next assignment was to “hold Midway [island] and  inflict maximum damage on the enemy by strong attrition tactics.”  The carrier left Pearl Harbor on the 28th of May after intense preparation.  On this mission, the Enterprise was to serve as Rear Admiral Raymond A. Sprance’s flagship. The Enterprise was accompanied by the Hornet, six cruisers, and ten destroyers.  On the 30th of May, the Yorktown (hastily repaired) 3 cruisers, and 6 destroyers also left Pearl Harbor to join the Enterprise and the Hornet.

Meanwhile, four Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu, were also on their way to Midway Island, at the extreme northwest of the Hawaiian island chain.  With the carriers were 2 battleships and 15 support ships.  The Japanese believed the Yorktown had been sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea and that the Americans had been demoralized by their many losses in the Pacific.  Their reason for attacking Midway was not specifically to gain the island, which to them had little value, but to draw out the remainder of the American Pacific fleet and destroy it. What they did not know was that the Americans had broken Japanese naval code, and therefore their plans were not secret.  The Americans had planned a counter-surprise attack.
Midway Island

The Battle of Midway began at 12:30 on June 3rd as 9 B-17s took off from Midway Island.  Three hours later, the Flying Fortresses found the Japanese and, in spite of heavy anti-aircraft fire, released their bombs.  None of the bombs found their targets. 

At 01:00 the next morning, a PBY Catalina from Midway launched the only successful U.S. torpedo strike of the entire battle, hitting the Japanese oil tanker Akebono MaruVice-Admiral Chūichi Nagumo's (Japanese) carrier striking force launched its attack on Midway Island at 04:30 with 36 Aichi dive bombers, 36 Nakajima torpedo bombers, and their escort of 36 Zero fighter planes.  Nagumo also deployed his combat air patrol and 8 search aircraft.

     Radar alerted the Americans to the oncoming Japanese force, and while bombers were assembled to strike the Japanese carrier force, U.S. fighter planes (Wildcats and Buffalos) remained behind to defend Midway.  Most of the U.S. fighters were shot down within the first few minutes.  Anti-aircraft batteries put up a good show, but the Japanese succeeded in bombing and heavily damaging  the base at Midway. The American bombers had little effect on the Japanese carrier force.

Torpedo Squadron 6 prepares for takeoff on the USS Enterprise
It was time for the air forces of the carriers to show their prowess.   Admiral Fletcher of the Yorktown, the overall commander, ordered Admiral Spruance of the Enterprise to launch the attack as soon as possible.  Spruance gave the order “Launch the attack” at 06:00.  Shortly after 07:00,  the planes took off from the Enterprise and Hornet.  Spruance ordered his planes to proceed to the target as quickly as possible, without waiting for the entire task force to assemble.

Admiral Fletcher’s planes took off from the Yorktown at 08:00. 

The aircraft encountered difficulty finding the target.  The 10 Wildcat fighter planes from the Hornet ran out of fuel and ditched in the ocean, leaving Torpedo Squadron 8 without an escort.  All of the Torpedo 8 planes were shot down during their attack at 9:20 without inflicting damage on the carriers.  Only one man survived.
The fighter escort from the Enterprise also ran low on fuel.  They turned back and Torpedo Squadron 6 lost 10 out of 14 planes, also without inflicting damage on the enemy.

On the Hornet
The torpedo bombers from the Yorktown faced similar losses, losing 10 of 12 Devastators when they attacked at 10:00.  Thanks  to the bad performance of their torpedoes, they also obtained no results.

  The torpedo bombers did, however, keep the Japanese carriers busy and force them into evasive maneuvers,  making them unable to launch  a counterattack.  The torpedo planes also forced the Japanese Combat Air Patrol out of position and made the Zeros run low on ammunition and fuel.

Three squadrons of dive-bombers from the Enterprise and Yorktown were quickly approaching.  They too had had difficulty in finding the carriers and were running low on fuel.  Some of the planes were forced to ditch in the sea before the attack even began because of fuel exhaustion.
Japanese carriers during the dive-bombing attack
The remaining bombers, however, arrived at the perfect time to attack.  Dive bombers under Squadron Commander McClusky of the Enterprise scored 4 or 5 hits on the KagaYorktown bombers led by Max Leslie hit the Soryu three times.  Both the Soryu and Kaga were ablaze within 6 minutes.  One of Lieutenant Commander Richard Hasley Best’s bombs hit the Akagi, and one of his men (from the Enterprise) scored a near-miss. The Akagi, Soryu, and Kaga were all abandoned and scuttled.

The only Japanese carrier left undamaged was the Hiryu. The Hiryu wasted no time in looking for revenge.

The USS Yorktown after being hit by dive bombers--then hit by a torpedo

Japanese dive-bombers from the Hiryu hit the Yorktown 3 times, snuffing out its boilers.  However, the Yorktown’s damage control teams patched the decks of the carrier so well that the next wave of Japanese—torpedo bombers—mistook the Yorktown for an undamaged carrier, the Enterprise. The Yorktown received 2 torpedo hits, and with no power and a 26 degree list to port, she was forced out of action.  Admiral Fletcher moved his command staff to the heavy cruiser Astoria, and soon after, he handed over command of the mission to  Admiral Spruance of the Enterprise.

The Hiryu Burning

Late in the afternoon, a scout plane from the Yorktown spotted the Hiryu.  Enterprise dive-bombers, aided by 10 Yorktown dive-bombers, launched their final attack. 

Although the Hiryu was defended by more than a dozen Zeros, the dive-bombers were successful with their attack and 4 or 5 bombs plunged into the Hiryu.  Soon the carrier was ablaze.  After unsuccessful attempts to stop the fire, the Hiryu was evacuated.  The carrier was sunk, taking with it Rear Admiral Yamaguchi, one of Japan’s greatest carrier commanders, who chose to go down with his ship.

The Battle of Midway (June 4-7th), in which the USS Enterprise played an important role, is often considered the most important battle of the Pacific in World War II.  It was the first clear victory for the Americans, and a turning point in the Pacific theater.

The USS Enterprise: 1775-2012: Part 3 (The Battle of the Eastern Solomons and Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands) will be posted tomorrow.