Archive for the 'Ships' Category

Jun 5

Remembering Midway

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 2:21 PM

REMEMBERING MIDWAY

by Captain Roy P. Gee, USN-Ret

(The following post was written for the Battle of Midway Roundtable, in 2003. Note: CAPT Roy P. Gee passed away on 28 DEC 2009)

 Here I am, sitting at my computer, trying to recall the details of my involvement in a great naval battle that was fought 61 years ago. I’m 83 years old and as my recollections of combat fade, I seem to get braver and more heroic than I really ever was. I needed some help in remembering those long-ago events, so I’ve relied upon a letter that I wrote back in 1988 to Bill Vickrey, a Battle of Midway historian, detailing my participation in the battle. In addition, I’ve used certain dates, times, and facts contained in various Battle of Midway logs, reports, and books in order to maintain as much accuracy as I can. My flight log was not recovered when the Hornet was sunk in the Battle of Santa Cruz, which meant that I’d lost the most valuable resource a pilot can have in reporting what he did in the air.

With those qualifications then, here is my story at the Battle of Midway. 

 PREPARATION FOR WAR 

As I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah, I believe I was unknowingly preparing for war. I was a member of the Mormon Church, a very conservative Christian faith. I became a Cub Scout and eventually advanced to the Boy Scout program, where I reached the rank of Eagle Scout. As youngsters, my friends and I played war games between the Yanks and the Huns, or the Chinese. We dug trenches and then went “over the top,” which was a well-known phrase from World War I. That meant that the infantry troops came out of their trenches, rushed up and over their high, protecting walls of dirt and sand bags, and from that position made a frontal assault through “no man’s land” against the enemy’s frontline trenches. I remember playing that game many times in my early youth.

Also, I remember as a youngster having seen several movies about World War I aerial warfare, such as “Wings” and “The Dawn Patrol,” and from that I developed a great desire to learn how to fly an airplane. I visualized myself as a gallant young aviator, flying a Spad fighter, and dog-fighting with Baron Von Ritchhofen (the “Red Baron”) and his bright red Fokker triplane.

I participated in the ROTC program as a platoon commander in high school, and during the summer months I learned infantry strategy and tactics in the Citizens Military Training Program, provided by the U.S. Army at nearby Fort Douglas. I participated in that program during four consecutive summers, graduating as a Sergeant-Major and with a temporary commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry Reserve Corps.

But I still wanted to fly. During my sophomore year at the University of Utah, I completed an aviation class in pilot training, which was sponsored by the Civilian Pilot Training Program. That program was established by President Roosevelt in order to gather a very large cadre of young pilots who could quickly be inducted into the armed forces whenever necessary. I completed the program and earned a private pilot license.

One day in June of 1940, a U.S. Navy aviation recruiting team came to Salt Lake City. I took their flight physical exam with the belief that if I passed that tough test, I would be a cinch for acceptance by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Instead, as fate would have it, I was skillfully talked into becoming a naval aviator. Because of that decision, the course of my life has led me to this moment in time. I now know that I made the right decision on that June day so long ago.

Upon completing flight school at Pensacola in 1941, I eagerly awaited my orders to see whether I was staying there or going on to Miami. The patrol bomber and cruiser scout pilots were trained at Pensacola, while candidates for any of the fighter or attack squadrons were sent for advanced carrier training at NAS Miami. The orders came—Miami! I was destined for the air group of the brand-new USS Hornet (CV-8). 

DAY OF INFAMY 

Before boarding the Hornet, the air group was stationed at Norfolk, where my roommate was Grant Teats. During the first weekend of December, Grant and I took a trip with two other buddies to Washington, D.C. to see a pro football game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. During the course of the game we began hearing announcements for Admiral or General So-and-So to report to the War Department, or for Congressman or Senator So-and-So to report to their offices at the Capitol. There was a suspenseful feeling throughout the stadium that something awful had happened. Our fears came true when a man sitting in our vicinity with a portable radio exclaimed that reports were coming in from Hawaii about Japanese aircraft bombing and torpedoing Navy ships at Pearl Harbor. Many had been sunk or severely damaged. Scores of people quickly left the stadium, as did my three shipmates and me.

We drove back to the Naval Air Station at Norfolk, Virginia, and reported to the squadron duty officer for further orders. We felt nothing but hatred for the Japanese at that moment. Their navy had carried out a very dastardly and cowardly sneak attack against our navy on the morning of the Sabbath. President Roosevelt put the attack in perspective: “December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy!” When our country declared war on Japan and Germany in the following days, I was both mentally and physically prepared to do my duty to God and my country.

The Hornet pilots were like a group of race horses chomping at the bit. We were in a big hurry to get into combat against those “dirty Japs” who had attacked us in such a devious manner. In retrospect, though, I think that I wasn’t fully aware at that time of the enormity of the situation or the realities of war. 

ABOARD THE HORNET 

After the Hornet launched Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25s on 18 April 1942, task force commander RADM “Bull” Halsey, in the flagship USS Enterprise, ordered a 180 degree reversal of course back towards Hawaii. Our aircraft were moved from the hanger deck to the flight deck, and we pilots were able to get in a little flight time. I was with Bombing Squadron 8 (VB-8) while my former roommate Grant Teats had been assigned to Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8). Our two squadrons plus Fighting 8 (VF-8) and Scouting 8 (VS-8) flew CAP and search missions during the 7-day transit back to Hawaii.

g66129USS Hornet

USS Hornet att Pearl Harbor, 26 May 1942, just after the Battle of Coral Sea, and just before the Battle of Midway.

On the 25th of April, as Hornet approached Pearl Harbor, the air group flew to Ewa airfield on Oahu. After the fly-off, Hornet proceeded to its berth at Pearl Harbor. After four days in port, Hornet departed Pearl on the 30th, recovered the air group, and steamed to the South Pacific in order to aid USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Lexington (CV-2) at the Battle of the Coral Sea. While en route, the pilots of VB-8 and VS-8 flew many 200-mile search missions. During one such mission, LT(jg) Randal Gardner and his radioman-gunner (R/G) from VB-8 failed to return. They were never found.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was over before Hornet reached the scene, so the ship was ordered to return to Hawaii. We flew still more searches on the return leg, and tragedy struck VB-8 again when ENS Louis J. Muery and his R/G, Richter, failed to return. We later learned that they made a forced landing in the water as a result of engine failure and had spent 23 days in a rubber life raft before washing into the rough surf of an island. The raft capsized in the surf, and as the two weakened survivors struggled to get ashore, Richter drowned. Muery was later rescued.

Hornet arrived at Pearl on May 26th, but sailed again only two days later—we and our sister carriers were to repulse an expected Japanese fleet assault against Midway Atoll. 

PLOTTING THE ENEMY’S COURSE 

We went to general quarters at 0630 on the morning of June 4th. All Hornet pilots and crewmen were at flight quarters in their ready rooms. A PBY flying from Midway had spotted the Japanese task force. The teletype in VB-8’s ready room was steadily clicking away with navigational data that I diligently copied to my chart board, as did the other VB-8 pilots. The required information consisted of following elements: (1) enemy position, course, and speed, (2) own task force position, course, and speed, (3) wind speed on the surface and at various altitudes, (4) latitude and longitude of the operational area plus magnetic compass variation. Using these four elements, each pilot was responsible to prepare his own navigational solution for flying a relative motion course to intercept and attack the enemy, and also the return course back to our carrier.

CHAG (Commander, Hornet Air Group: Stanhope C. Ring) had his own navigation solution, as did our VB-8 CO, LCDR Ruff Johnson, the VS-8 CO, LCDR Walt Rodee, and the VT-8 CO, LCDR John Waldron. The VF-8 CO, LCDR Mitchell remarked that he would use the solution that was chosen. The squadron COs’ solutions were different from CHAG’s, but he overruled them and said that the air group would fly his navigational solution. LCDR Waldron strongly disagreed. (The conflict over our proposed navigation was explained in my 1988 letter to Bill Vickrey, and is reported on page 84 of A Glorious Page In Our History, published in 1990. Waldron subsequently decided that he’d follow his own solution, and told his Torpedo 8 boys to follow him—he would lead them to the enemy.) 

“PILOTS MAN YOUR PLANES” 

Suddenly, “Pilots Man Your Planes” was announced. We all wished each other good luck as we left the ready room for the climb to the flight deck and our SBDs. (And by the way, climbing up and down the ship ladders many times a day will get you in great physical condition! Carriers didn’t have escalators in those days.)

I met my R/G, Radioman First Class Canfield at our assigned SBD and went over our mission and recognition charts with him. I don’t know which particular aircraft (side number) we flew that day—my only record of that went down with the Hornet at the Battle of Santa Cruz.

After completing an inspection of the aircraft and its bomb, Canfield and I climbed into the cockpits. As I sat there waiting for the signal to start engines, I suddenly got the same feeling of apprehension and butterflies in the stomach that I got before the start of competition in high school and collegiate athletics. The butterflies left after takeoff as I focused on navigating and flying formation. Our two squadrons (VB-8 and VS-8) rendezvoused in two close-knit, stepped-down formations on each side of CHAG’s section, which consisted of CHAG and VS-8 wingman ENS Ben Tappman and VB-8 wingman ENS Clayton Fisher. CHAG’s section was flying above and somewhat separated from VB-8/VS-8 and was escorted by 10 VF-8 F4Fs. As we proceeded to climb to 19,000 ft, we soon lost visual contact with VT-8. We were maintaining absolute radio silence and were on oxygen, and our engines were on high blower. I eased my fuel mixture control back to a leaner blend in order to conserve fuel as we leveled out at 19,000 feet and proceeded on our assigned course.

We continued flying on a westerly heading for some time and were getting close to our point of no return without seeing anything of the Japanese fleet. LCDR Johnson decided to break away and fly towards Midway because some of our pilots didn’t have enough fuel to return to the Hornet. So we left CHAG, VS-8, and VF-8 and flew to Midway. Shortly after we turned towards Midway, LT Tucker, for some reason, turned his section of 3 SBDs away and headed in an easterly direction. As the remaining 14 VB-8 SBDs headed towards Midway, ENS Guillory suffered engine failure and made a forced water landing. He and his R/G, ARM2/c Cottrell were observed to safely leave the aircraft and get into a life raft. They were later rescued by a PBY.

As we approached Midway, the skipper signaled us to jettison bombs. Afterwards, as we continued our approach to the Eastern Island airfield, we received sporadic AA fire that caused minor damage to some of the planes, but it quickly ceased after our SBDs were recognized as friendly. Shortly thereafter, ENS T. J. Wood ran out of gas. He and his R/G, ARM3/c Martz were safely rescued after ditching their aircraft. ENS Forrester Auman ran out of fuel on his landing approach and safely ditched in the lagoon, where he and his R/G, ARM3/c McLean were rescued by a PT boat. After the remaining 11 SBDs had landed, we taxied to an area where our aircraft were refueled and rearmed with 500 lb. bombs. Refueling from gasoline drums was necessary due to fuel trucks being damaged from the Japanese air attack. The runways had not been damaged, but certain buildings and the water system had been hit.

Midway Air Operations had notified Hornet of the arrival of VB-8 at Midway. LCDR Johnson was ordered to return to the ship and to attack any Japanese ships that we might find while en route. So we departed Midway and returned to the Hornet without incident. We were recovered aboard at about 1400 with our 500 lb. bombs intact. When I entered the VB-8 ready-room, I was shocked to learn that none of VT-8’s 15 TBDs nor VF-8’s 10 F4Fs had returned, and that all the crews had been declared MIA. I went to the wardroom to get something to eat and paused to look at the empty chairs that were normally filled by my friends from VF-8 and VT-8. It was a sorrowful site, but I could only dwell on it for a moment—the announcement came for all VB-8 pilots to report to the ready room immediately.

 ATTACKING THE HIRYU

 Upon entering the ready room, I was informed that we were launching on a mission to attack the Japanese Carrier Hiryu. The attack group would consist of 9 VS-8 SBDs carrying 1000 lb. bombs and 7 VB-8 SBDs carrying the 500 lb. bombs that we’d loaded on Midway. No VF escort would be available. The enemy ships were located approximately 162 miles out, bearing 290 degrees. I plotted my course for intercepting the enemy formation and returning to the Hornet. LT(jg) Bates, the VB-8 flight leader for this mission, briefed us on tactics for the strike. We were ready to go.

Since we’d seen no action that morning, I thought that this could be VB-8’s first exposure to real combat. We were ordered to man our planes at about 1540. I met Canfield at our SBD for the second time that day, and we completed our same routine and boarded the aircraft. We went through the takeoff checklist after I started the engine, then we were ready to roll when our turn came. As I approached the take-off position, I was given the stop signal followed by the hold brakes signal, and was then handed over to the Takeoff Control Officer (TCO), who held a stick with a brightly colored flag in his right hand. When the deck ahead was clear, the TCO rotated the flag above his head, which was the signal for me to rev the engine to full takeoff power while holding the brakes and keeping the tail down with the elevators in the full-up position. The TCO made eye contact with me, then suddenly bent forward on his knee, pointing the flag towards the bow. That was my signal to release the brakes and let ‘er rip. It’s an exhilarating way to take off in an airplane, and old-time carrier pilots can recount many interesting tales.

We were safely airborne and proceeding to our rendezvous point. Our VB-8 SBDs, led by LT(jg) Bates joined up with VS-8 and LT Stebbins, who was the strike leader. The Enterprise had also launched a much larger strike group about 30 minutes before ours.

By the time we arrived in the target area, the Enterprise group had already finished their strike. That had cleared the upper altitudes of Zeroes, leaving our approach over the enemy force unopposed. The Hiryu was observed to be completely on fire, so LT Stebbins directed us toward other suitable targets. He took VS-8 toward one while signaling LT(jg) Bates that our squadron was to bomb a nearby cruiser. We maneuvered to make our attack out of the sun from 15,000 ft. There were puffs of AA fire all around us.

Hiryu (2)

Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu burning, 5 June 1942. NHHC Photographic Collection #NH73064

Just as we were approaching the dive point, we noticed several explosions on the ocean’s surface, quite some distance from the target. Looking up, we saw a flight of B-17s high above us. They’d dropped their bomb loads right through our formation, missing us as well as the enemy ships!

We then tailed off into our dives. LT(jg) Bates had the lead plane (bomb 50 ft. off the starboard bow) followed by ENS Nickerson (100 ft. astern). I was next (hit astern). The second section dove next with ENS White first (miss), followed by ENS Friez (miss wide), followed by ENS Barrett (hit on starboard quarter), followed lastly by ENS Fisher (no release). During the dive, what looked like orange balls were popping up at me and continued coming from all directions during my high-speed retirement at sea level. Following the strike, all 16 of Hornet’s SBDs rendezvoused unscathed and returned to the ship, landing back aboard at dusk. VB-8 had at last lost its combat virginity.

 TRAGEDY ON THE FLIGHT DECK 

The Hornet’s deck log reported the following remarks on Friday, 5 June 1942: 

“Zone Description: plus 10

0 to 4

Ship darkened and in readiness condition three.

0110: held funeral service and buried the remains of the late Lieutenant R.R. INGERSOLL, U.S. Navy; the late CUMMINGS, W.B. JR. Pvt, USMC; the late HUMFLEET, L. E., Pvt, USMC; the late IGNATIUS, W.B. SGT, USMC; and late MAYER, E.A. Sea. 2c, USN, in Latitude 30 degrees- 19′ N, Longitude 174 degrees- 52′ W.” 

Thus, the Hornet’s deck log recorded the final resting place of five brave men who were mortally wounded at their battle stations during a tragic landing accident that had occurred the day before. Radar had observed many bogeys in the direction of Yorktown, which was reporting that she was under attack by enemy aircraft. The sky in her direction was filled with AA bursts. As the attack subsided, Yorktown’s fighters were low on gas and ammo and were ordered to land on either Hornet or Enterprise. A wounded pilot flying F4F, side number 5-F-4, crashed on landing aboard Hornet, which caused the plane’s machine guns to accidentally fire. That resulted in the five deaths noted above in the ship’s log, and it also wounded 20 other men at their battle stations.

 SEARCHING 

Hornet went to general quarters for an hour at 0530 on the morning of June 5th. Thereafter, readiness condition 2 was set in order to await strike scheduling from CTF 16, and by late afternoon we had been in the ready room for most of the day. Readiness condition 2 allowed the pilots to leave the ready room for meals so long as we kept updating our chart boards with the latest navigational data reported on the teletype.

A mission assignment from CTF 16 finally came in at about 1700. We were tasked to search for and attack a damaged Japanese aircraft carrier and its escorting ships bearing 315 degrees, about 300 miles out and on a westerly course with a speed of 12 knots. At about 1730, I launched in SBD no. 8-B-8 with an eleven-plane strike group consisting of CHAG and ten VB-8 SBDs. Clay Fisher was again flying CHAG’s wing, and our skipper, LCDR Ruff Johnson was leading a nine-plane division of three stepped-down sections, slightly separated from CHAG and Fisher. LT Tucker’s section was flying loosely on the LCDR Johnson’s left, while LT Moe Vose had positioned his 3rd section aft of Tucker’s and stepped down to facilitate maneuvering. I was flying number 3 on the right wing of Vose, and LT John Lynch was number 2 on his left wing.

We proceeded on course at 18,000 feet to search for our target. After about an hour, five B-17’s were sighted apparently returning to Midway. We continued on course, and at about 1910 a lone enemy cruiser was sighted heading west. We passed it by in order to locate the damaged carrier, but to no avail. At our maximum range, CHAG reversed course back toward the cruiser we’d previously sighted. We found it again shortly after 2000, and it began to increase speed and send up AA fire as we formed to attack. We followed CHAG down toward the cruiser, which skillfully maneuvered to avoid our bombs. CHAG’s bomb failed to release and none of the other ten hit the ship, although there were several near-misses.

We all turned toward home with little attempt to rendezvous after our dives. I was able to form up with Vose, and we flew back toward the Hornet together. By the time we approached the task force, darkness had enveloped the ships and it didn’t seem that a deck landing would be possible. Suddenly their lights came on and we were ordered to land. I followed LT Vose into the landing pattern, and Canfield and I went over the carrier landing checklist: wheels down and locked, flaps down, tailhook extended. I picked up the LSO and his lighted wands as I turned into the groove. My approach speed was good, but I was a little high. The LSO gave the high-dip signal, meaning I was to drop the nose, come down about ten feet, and resume my approach attitude. The LSO then gave me the Roger signal, followed shortly by the cut engine signal, and I landed the aircraft, catching the third wire. This was my first night carrier landing in the SBD, and I felt very good.

After my tailhook was cleared from the arresting wire and put in the up position, I revved the engine in order to quickly clear the landing area and move forward so that the barriers could be raised in time for the next plane to land. After the propeller stopped turning and the wheels were chocked, Canfield and I climbed down and proceeded to our ready rooms. As I went through the hatch and down the ladder, I felt uncomfortable with the surrounding bulkheads and passageways. Somehow, they looked strangely unfamiliar. And for good reason—as I entered what I though was VB-8’s ready room, I discovered that I’d landed on our sister ship, the Enterprise! And of course, LT Vose had done the same thing.

They told me I’d be assigned to fly another search on the following morning, so I was billeted in a room and told to go to sleep. Although three additional Hornet pilots (ENS Doug Carter of VB-8, ENS Jim Forbes of VS-8, and one other whose name I don’t remember) had also landed aboard Enterprise, I don’t recall having any contact with them while aboard.

 MOGAMI AND MIKUMA 

I awoke about 0500 on June 6th and remembered that I was on Enterprise and scheduled to fly a 200-mile search that morning. I hopped out of the bunk, washed myself a little, slipped into my flight suit, and hurried to the wardroom for breakfast where I encountered an atmosphere similar to the one in the Hornet’s wardroom the previous morning: many missing pilots would never again sit in the empty chairs. I have never forgotten that feeling.

I finished breakfast and went quickly to the ready room to prepare for the mission. The search group was launched at 0700, and Canfield and I were flying a sector to the southwest at 1500 ft. I was on autopilot, making it easy to keep track of my relative position from the task force as the search proceeded. After about an hour I noticed several silhouettes on the horizon ahead. As the distance closed, I could see that they were four ships in formation on a southwesterly course. I dropped down to 800 ft. and tracked them for several minutes in order to record their position, course, and speed, and also to determine their ship class from my IJN silhouette cards. The two larger ships were cruisers with pagoda-type superstructures, and the other two were destroyers. (I later learned that the two larger ones were the Japanese heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma.)

Remaining at a safe distance out of AA range, I dictated a message for CTF 16 to Canfield. The message contained the enemy formation’s composition, relative position, course, and speed. Canfield sent the message by radio but got no confirmation that it had been received. He was concerned that a problem with his radio transmitter might have prevented the task force from receiving the message. It was already 0835 and I decided to get out of there and back to task force ASAP. Arriving over the Enterprise at about 0930, I dropped them a message containing the data on the enemy cruiser formation that we’d located. I then returned to the Hornet’s air pattern to await recovery. After she launched a strike group, I was recovered aboard at about 1015. I proceeded to the bridge in order to brief RADM Mitscher on the details of my sighting. After reporting to the VB-8 ready room, I was told that I wouldn’t be flying any more that day.

 FINAL PATROL 

No flights had been scheduled for the VB-8/VS-8 pilots on June 7th, although half of us were on standby in our ready rooms from 0600-1300 while the other half did the same thing from 1300-1900. Our SBDs were also on standby, loaded with 500 lb. bombs and machine gun ammo. On June 8th we were tasked to provide intermediate air patrols covering sectors up to 50 miles out from Task Force 16 during ship refueling operations. I launched in 8-B-7 at 1340 to fly an intermediate patrol, and after a time I spotted a life raft with one man in it. I rocked my wings to let him know that I saw him and tried reporting his bearing and distance to CTF 16, but once again Canfield got no response. I noticed that I wasn’t receiving a ZB homing signal either. I reversed my course in order to fly back toward the task force, but it had become enveloped in a local storm and I couldn’t see it. With my ZB inoperative, I didn’t want to waste fuel waiting for the ships to break clear of the weather, so I decided to fly to Midway. I radioed CTF 16 with my decision and reasoning, and changed course for Midway, which wasn’t far.

I was directed to taxi to the Marine Air Group area upon landing, where Canfield and I reported to the air group commander, Lt. Col. Ira Kimes. He informed us that we would be temporarily assigned to the Marine bombing squadron pending further orders. A message was sent to the Hornet notifying them of our safe arrival on the island, and a reply was received that we were to turn our SBD over to the Marines and to await sea transport to back to Pearl Harbor.

Gee2005

Gee in 2005

z-vet-fishgee

Roy Gee (at right) with squadron mate Clay Fisher, 1941

Around June 20th, USS Pensacola (CA-24) put into Midway in order to pick up wounded personnel and other survivors of the battle for transport to back to Pearl Harbor. Canfield and I boarded the cruiser for the short transit to Hawaii, and rejoined our squadron a few days later. While en route, I asked the Pensacola’s communications officer about Canfield’s transmission concerning the man I’d spotted in the life raft. He did some checking and later told me the message had been copied and the man was rescued. I felt very relieved, but I never found out his name.

 

 

Editor’s note: In Gee’s narrative above, he reports two hits on a cruiser during the Hiryu mission, one by himself and one by ENS Barrett. Japanese records did not record a hit on any of the Hiryu’s screening vessels on the afternoon of June 4th, but Gee’s bomb was seen to strike a cruiser by his section leader, his R/G, and by ENS Fisher. Gee was awarded the Navy Cross for this action.

 
Jun 4

Navy Cryptology and the Battle of Midway: Our Finest Hour

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 7:00 AM

 

Navy Cryptology and the Battle of Midway: Our Finest Hour

A special feature of the BATTLE OF MIDWAY ROUNDTABLE

by LCDR Philip H. Jacobsen, USN-Ret 

(Editor’s note: the following is the text of an address given by LCDR Jacobsen to a gathering of Naval Security Group personnel at San Diego in 2000. It has been edited slightly for clarity and to better suit this format.)

The Advent of U.S. Naval Cryptology

 Although my part in the Battle of Midway was very small, I appreciate this opportunity to relate to you some of the more important achievements of my contemporary naval cryptologists that made the success of the Battle of Midway possible. As a current member of the Naval Security Group, you can take pride in the great accomplishments of your predecessors, not only related to the Battle of Midway but long before World War II as well as throughout World War II.

There are not many naval cryptologic veterans alive today that were involved in providing the communications intelligence information that gave our inferior forces on land, sea and especially in the air the equalizer of knowing the composition of enemy forces, and when and where those huge Japanese forces would attack U.S. territory under Admiral Yamamoto’s grandiose invasion plan. This crucial communications intelligence information, when combined with the heroic actions of fighting forces under the brilliant command of Admiral Nimitz, led to the great U.S. victory in the Battle of Midway.

We should keep in mind that intelligence itself does not win battles. However, I believe the lesson of the Battle of Midway is that good, solid intelligence can make the difference between winning and losing a crucial battle for our country. I hope you will keep this in mind in the future.

What was the genesis of the naval cryptologic success at the Battle of Midway? So much was involved in building up dedicated experts in all the various fields of cryptology that it is impossible to point to one single source. Credit must be given to many individuals who operated under difficult conditions, extremely limited budgets, and poor promotional opportunities. This relatively tiny group of dedicated individuals accomplished much in their efforts over the years to keep abreast of the growing force of the Japanese navy and their ever increasing communications security precautions. With the Japanese instigation of war with the U.S., this cadre of technical experts made it relatively easy to expand into a large organization and to immediately provide increasingly vital intelligence to not only U.S. Navy operational forces but also to U.S. Army and Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific and Indian Ocean areas.

 

Attacking JN-25 

 

220px-Joseph_rochefort

Captain Joseph John Rochefort
U.S. Naval Historical Society

 Despite successes with prior Japanese naval and diplomatic codes, the high priority placed on the small group of naval cryptologists to provide decrypts of Japanese diplomatic communications precluded any significant decrypts of the current Japanese fleet code, JN-25B. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Station HYPO in Hawaii under Commander Joseph J. Rochefort was given the authority to attack JN-25B. By early 1942, HYPO was producing some usable JN-25B decrypts. Station CAST at Corregidor, which was moved to Melbourne after the Philippines fell, and Station NEGAT in Washington soon followed with a number of important JN-25B decrypts. 

HYPO first reported an offensive action in the “AK” or Hawaiian area which culminated in the ineffectual bombing of Oahu on the night of 4/5 March 1942. Rochefort determined that the long range Japanese seaplane was refueled by a submarine at the isolated island of French Frigate Shoals. This information would later play a vital part of the preparation for the Battle of Midway. 

 

The Japanese Plan for Midway 

 

The Japanese geographical designator “AF” began to appear in partially decrypted messages as early as 4 March 1942. On 13 March, Corregidor firmly identified “AF” as Midway. Melbourne and Washington confirmed that “AF” was Midway from subsequent decrypts, but for some unexplained reason Washington evaluated it as a communications designator, not a geographical designator even though Midway was obviously not a Japanese communications station.

Decrypts in late April by Melbourne and Hawaii showed intentions of hostile Japanese action at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak in the Alaskan area.

Beginning on 1 May, activity in Japan proper reflected preparations for both the Midway and Alaskan areas and provided detail of Japanese planning and the size of the forces committed to each objective. As the Japanese ships departed their anchorages, communications intelligence provided information on their future disposition. Both Melbourne and Hawaii reported the pairing of Japanese Carrier Divisions 1 and 2 for exercise activity in home waters on 3 and 12 May. In addition, HYPO provided a decrypted message of 7 May 1942 containing the complete agenda for an “aviation conference” on 16 May called by Vice Admiral Nagumo in Kagoshima, Kyushu. Also to be discussed was an “amphibious assault” and battle for “air superiority” together with a study of organizations for use in dive bombing, torpedo attacks, bombing, and strafing to wipe out local resistance.

For some time the status of Admiral Kondo’s powerful Second Fleet was clouded. Finally on 8 May 1942, HYPO correctly associated the carriers of the 1st Fleet with several important 2nd Fleet elements and warned of a possible creation of a strike force organization under Vice Admiral Nagumo, Commander 1st Air Fleet, consisting of CarDivs 1 and 2, CruDiv 8, two battleships from BatDiv 3, and other 2nd Fleet elements. These early correct conclusions gave a major advantage to the planners in the U.S. Pacific Fleet. They were reinforced by Melbourne on 9 May by a decrypt ordering destroyer screens for many of the capital ships in the Striking Force and revealing a sailing date from Sasebo of 21 May.

 

Troubles in Washington 

 

On 14 May Admiral King directed Admiral Nimitz to declare a state of “Fleet Opposed Invasion” and gave Nimitz complete control of all military forces, including B-17s in the Hawaiian Islands. By 16 May Admirals King and Nimitz were in almost total agreement concerning Japanese intentions toward Midway and the Aleutians. However, this view was in sharp contrast to the confusion that reigned between OP-20-G (Station NEGAT) and War Plans staff under Admiral Richmond K. Turner. Turner placed some ridiculous restrictions on what Station NEGAT could report. 

On 16 May, Nimitz ordered Admiral Halsey [Task Force 16 with USS Enterprise and Hornet] to return to Hawaii, indicating the Japanese would probably make simultaneous offensives against Port Moresby, Dutch Harbor, and Midway where the main striking force would be employed.

Two days later, all three navy cryptologic centers reported that the Strike Force’s attack would be from the northwest from N minus 2 days until N day, while Hawaii and Melbourne added that the attack would be launched from fifty miles northwest of AF. While this did not solve the attack timing problem completely, Nimitz immediately sent messages to Halsey and Fletcher [Task Force 17 with USS Yorktown] to expedite their return to Pearl Harbor as well as ordering submarine search activity off Midway to an area fifty miles northwest of the island.

An acrimonious relationship between Admiral Turner and his War Plans Division and OP-20-G continued, with Turner directing Commander Redman not to comment on certain intelligence evaluations and assume that Turner’s views were correct. The record suggests that the analysts in War Plans and OP-20-G were so engrossed in their own activities that they sometimes overlooked information concerning the Imperial Fleet readily available from translations in OP-20-GZ and the daily reports of the Pacific centers.

While the Pacific centers were convinced that the identity of AF was Midway because of its position in the “A” or American digraphs in the Japanese designator system, various persons at OP-20-G and in Washington thought it might be Johnston Island, Samoa, the U.S. West Coast or even Hawaii itself. HYPO was aware of this lack of agreement on AF in Washington. In order to rid themselves of this annoying backbiting, Rochefort approved a ruse that was probably thought up by Jasper Holmes, the author of Double Edged Secrets. Nimitz approved the message to be sent in the clear from Midway complaining of a water shortage. Rochefort let Melbourne make the first report of the decrypt from Tokyo Naval Intelligence advising of a “water shortage at AF.” Even the naysayers in Washington could not argue with this confirming evidence. 

 

Stealing the Enemy’s Secrets 

 

Additional information about a Japanese northern force prompted Nimitz to activate Task Force 8 under Admiral Robert A. Theobald. In spite of accompanying and subsequent accurate information about Japanese intentions in the Aleutians from decrypts, Theobald chose to treat such information as enemy deception and moved his forces out of the area to the Kodiak vicinity. That allowed the enemy to pound Dutch Harbor and occupy Kiska and Attu.

From information of Japanese successes in determining carrier movements simply by monitoring air to ground communications, Nimitz ordered Halsey and Fletcher to maintain radio silence, particularly among the aircraft when coming in to land. He also warned MacArthur that the Japanese were intercepting air-to-ground contacts between Port Moresby and allied planes. Nimitz also implemented a MacArthur suggestion that two or three U.S. vessels in the South Pacific conduct radio deception to create the impression that our carriers were remained in that area.

On 22 May, a Melbourne decrypt revealed the word “Midway” in a request for photographs of the island that had been “handed over to you.” Washington published a message from Nagumo to the 11th Air Fleet showing that his carriers had 33 aircraft on board that were destined to be the nucleus of land based aircraft in the new Japanese perimeter. Their loss was completely unnoted in accounts of Japanese carrier losses.

The 25th of May began with HYPO’s critical discovery of the Japanese date cipher. Now the U.S. possessed the means to determine the final ingredient of the Japanese plans—when the attack would take place. Application of this information allowed Rochefort to predict that the Japanese attack on the Aleutians would occur on 3 June and on Midway on 4 June. Despite objections from his staff, Nimitz decided to base his final timetable on these dates. Melbourne applied this date cipher information to older traffic and alerted the Pacific Fleet that on the 22nd of May CruDiv 8 and the battleships Kongo and Kirishima were scheduled to depart the Inland Sea of Japan.

Task Force 16 (Hornet and Enterprise) under Admiral Halsey returned to Pearl on the 26th and began a whirlwind of preparation for battle. The CINCPAC Bulletin of the 26th reported that the Northern Force had begun to depart Ominato and that all the Japanese carriers were probably at sea. Admiral Nimitz advised King how much he was dependent on communications intelligence and noted that they were only copying 60 percent of Japanese naval messages and only decrypting 40 percent of those copied. King attributed all of the Navy’s progress in the Pacific to the success it was having from timely information from Japanese naval codes. Without this information King said, “disaster is probable.”

 
Preparations for Battle 

 

On the 27th of May, the Yorktown finally limped into port, showing the damage inflicted during the Coral Sea battle. This good news was offset by some bad news from Commander Rochefort’s center: a new underlying code (JN-25C) and additive cipher had been introduced that rendered unreadable almost all the texts of JN-25 messages from the 27th on. However, some previously originated messages were still readable including one from the 5th Fleet that contained tactical call signs for the Northern Force, its Strike Force, and the Occupation force for “AQ” and “AO” identified as Kiska and probably Attu. Again, Theobald refused to believe this intelligence and kept his force near Kodiak. Another prior message concerned the “Ichiki Detachment” to command the 2nd Combined Landing Force, which was to occupy Midway’s Eastern Island. A third message revealed the intended use of civilian engineers captured on Wake Island to be used in the rebuilding of Midway. Additional warnings that the carriers were at sea were also published.

On 30 May, U.S. task force commanders were alerted by HYPO that direction finding had located three submarines in northern waters and one west of Midway. That day, the Yorktown (Task Force 17) slipped out of Pearl but was detected by the ComInt unit aboard the Yamato, Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship. However, due to radio silence restrictions, this information was not passed on to the Japanese carriers. NEGAT in Washington reported that the carrier Ryujo was at sea with the Northern Forces and that the Commander of the 6th Army Air Force was probably aboard the Akagi.

An old message produced the important information that fighter pilots from the carrier Zuikaku had been transferred to the Northern Force, ruling out the possibility that the Zuikaku could be called on to support either the Aleutian or Midway campaigns. Another message determined that major participants were called to a conference aboard the Akagi on the 26th, which meant they were still in port on that date.

Melbourne’s analysis of air activity in the Marshalls on 2 June led them to conclude that the Occupation Force was approaching the Marshalls. However, Admiral King’s headquarters report of that day contained serious errors. It estimated that BatDivs 2 and 1, CarDiv 4, and DesRon 3, parts of the Main Body, were still in the Bonins home waters area when in fact this force was approaching the western edge of the occluded front northwest of Midway. Perhaps, more importantly, the Office of Naval Intelligence chose this moment to report the presence of a fifth carrier, and identified the carrier as the Zuikaku. Fortunately, Admiral Nimitz and his intelligence staff had confidence in the information being generated by the centers in the Pacific, and this ONI estimate was not acted on or repeated to the task forces off Midway.

 
Predictions Confirmed 

 

As predicted by HYPO, the Japanese offensive against the Aleutians began on 3 June with the carriers attacking Dutch Harbor. Shortly thereafter, Midway notified Nimitz that the Japanese “Main Body” was sighted at 2100Z by a patrol plane bearing 261 degrees and a distance of 700 miles from Midway. After a second sighting of a smaller group of warships and cargo vessels, Nimitz advised that the forces sighted were the attack and occupation forces, not the main body. HYPO’s report of 3 June identified Admiral Yamamoto, CINC of the Combined Fleet as in overall command and correctly identified major commanders and functions of 2nd Fleet, 1st Air Fleet, and 5th Fleet.

discovering the fleet

Diorama of PBY discovering Japanese minesweepers. NHHC Photograph Collection 80-G-701843

Just after midnight on the morning of 4 June, Nimitz realized he had not yet advised the task forces how far the “Main Body” was from Midway. In addition to repeating earlier reports on its course and speed, he concluded it was now 574 miles from Midway. At 0604 Midway time, a reconnaissance plane from Midway spotted two Japanese carriers and their escorts and reported “many planes heading Midway” from 320 degrees, distance 150 miles. Less than a half hour later, Midway was attacked by Japanese carrier aircraft.

Nimitz was only able to muster 47 warships and 26 submarines against the Japanese fleet of 113 warships and 16 submarines. However, the U.S. was able to concentrate its forces at Midway with a slight advantage at the scene of the battle with three carriers, 22 escorts, 234 aircraft afloat and 110 at Midway versus four carriers, 17 escorts, 229 aircraft and 17 seaplanes for the Japanese. In addition, Admiral Nimitz and his task force commanders had advance knowledge of the identity of the Japanese objectives; virtually the entire Japanese Midway and Aleutian order of battle; the organization of the Midway forces into a Striking Force, Occupation Force, Invasion Force; the preliminary and final timetables of the Midway and Aleutian Striking Forces; the general direction from which each force would approach Midway, and the Midway Strike Force’s plan of attack. All of that information was supplied by communications intelligence in time to influence decisively the provisions of Admiral Nimitz’s Operation Plan 29-42.

In addition, luck was on the side of American forces in several key instances. Partly due to poor Midway bomber group sighting reports, two of the U.S. carrier aircraft groups [from Enterprise and Yorktown] were fortunate to locate the enemy carriers after changing their original course, while Hornet’s planes failed to make any contact. The late takeoff of the #4 search plane from the cruiser Tone prevented the Japanese from discovering the presence of U.S. carriers in time to make significant operational changes.

 
A Victory of Intelligence 

 

The Americans lost only one carrier, one destroyer and 147 planes, while the enemy suffered the loss of four large carriers, all their aircraft, as well as one heavy cruiser and the damage to one heavy cruiser. These losses plus the rejection of the enemy invasion and occupation forces resulted in a huge victory for the U.S. Navy early in WWII. This great success after so much bad news from Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia was a great morale booster to the American people.

After the battles of Coral Sea, Midway and the Aleutians, the invaluable contributions made by communications intelligence were recognized by senior naval officials in Washington and Honolulu. In their words, communications intelligence had given the United States a “priceless advantage” over the Japanese. In few battles before or since would any navy possess an enemy’s order of battle, their plan of attack, and their timetable, all of which had been provided to the U.S. Navy’s high command by the communications intelligence units in Hawaii and Australia under the direction of Commander Joseph J. Rochefort and Lieutenant Rudolph Fabian, respectively.

 
Jun 3

Synopsis of the Battle of Midway (3-7 June 1942)

Monday, June 3, 2013 8:35 AM

Those who have only a casual knowledge of the Second World War might know little more about the Battle of Midway than the fact that it was an important American victory in the Pacific Theater. After all, the war had countless major battles, and a great many of them involved far more men and arms than fought at Midway. A tally of the forces engaged and lost there, pales to insignificance in the face of the much larger battles later in the war, particularly in Europe.

But in fact, the Battle of Midway was one of the most important battles of the war, in any theater. Indeed, some would argue that it was the most important of them all. For had the American side lost at Midway (which any reasonable analysis prior to the battle would readily support), not only would all of the subsequent allied successes in the Pacific theater been severely delayed or obviated altogether, but virtually all of world history from that point forward would certainly have been altered almost beyond comprehension.

In brief, here’s what happened at Midway, as related on the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command web site:

“The Battle of Midway, fought over and near the tiny U.S. mid-Pacific base at Midway atoll, represents the strategic high water mark of Japan’s Pacific Ocean war.g451086_MidwayIslandPrior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority over the United States and could usually choose where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the United States soon took the offensive.

“Japanese Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto moved on Midway in an effort to draw out and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carrier striking forces, which had embarrassed the Japanese Navy in the mid-April Doolittle Raid on Japan’s home islands and at the Battle of Coral Sea in early May. He planned to quickly knock down Midway’s defenses, follow up with an invasion of the atoll’s two small islands, and establish a Japanese air base there. He expected the U.S. carriers to come out and fight, but to arrive too late to save Midway and in insufficient strength to avoid defeat by his own well-tested carrier air power.

“Yamamoto’s intended surprise was thwarted by superior American communications intelligence, which deduced his scheme well before battle was joined. This allowed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to establish an ambush by having his carriers ready and waiting for the Japanese. On 4 June 1942, in the second of the Pacific War’s great carrier battles, the trap was sprung. The perseverance, sacrifice and skill of U.S. Navy aviators, plus a great deal of good luck on the American side, cost Japan four irreplaceable fleet carriers, while only one of the three U.S. carriers present was lost. The base at Midway, though damaged by Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the American trans-Pacific offensive.”

Winston Churchill said of the Battle of Midway, “this memorable American victory was of cardinal importance, not only to the United States but to the whole Allied cause…At one stroke, the dominant position of Japan in the Pacific was reversed.” And that is why Midway was among the most important battles of the war, for if the Japanese had prevailed—and the order of battle certainly suggests that they should have—consider what would have ensued. All of the following are highly likely:

1. There would have been no invasion of Guadalcanal in 1942.

2. Because of that, a Japanese threat to Australia, blunted at Coral Sea, would have been renewed, with isolation likely and perhaps even partial occupation.

 3. A threat of that magnitude to the Australian homeland may have resulted in the recall of their army from North Africa, where Rommel’s Afrika Corps was still a threat to the Suez Canal.

 4. With Australia neutralized, MacArthur would have had no convenient springboard for his return the Philippines, and he may have even risked the capture that he avoided at Corregidor.

 5. Without Australia, American submarines would have been denied the advance bases that allowed them to prey so successfully upon Japanese shipping in the western Pacific.

 6. With the Japanese in control of Midway, the threat to Hawaii would have been enormous. Their long range plans included a full scale invasion in 1943, the success of which would likely have led to carrier raids against the U.S. Pacific coast.

 7. With a powerful enemy virtually on its western shores, American resolve to prosecute the war in Europe would have been severely tested. And a reduced American commitment in Europe would have led to one of two probable scenarios, both of which are painful to contemplate:

 (a) An allied invasion of France in June 1944 would not have been possible, at least not then, giving the Nazis additional time to fortify their western defenses and thus make a successful invasion less likely. A delayed or even failed invasion in the west could have improved the Germans’ ability to defend themselves in the east, allowing Hitler and the Nazis to remain in power far longer than they did, with unimaginable consequences for Europe.

 (b) Or, alternately, the lack of American-British pressure in the west would have allowed the steamrolling Red Army to overrun all of Germany, not just the eastern third. Communist dominance of the entire European continent could easily have resulted, bringing a far more dismal set of conditions at the start of the Cold War than what actually occurred.

But none of those things came to be, because of the Incredible Victory, the Miracle at Midway. It shouldn’t have happened but it did nonetheless, through amazing courage, divine intervention, or unbelievable luck—or a combination of all three.

 
May 31

Commemorating the Battle of Midway

Friday, May 31, 2013 12:35 PM

The Battle of Midway, fought near the Central Pacific island of Midway, is considered the decisive battle of the war in the Pacific and one of the most significant events in US Navy history. Through innovative naval intelligence, bold tactics, raw courage, and determination, the US Navy emerged victorious and changed the tide of the war. The victory also had tremendous influence on the ethos of the US Navy and helped set the standard for expectations of today’s Sailors.

Join us online for the Battle of Midway panel “U.S. Navy: The Battle of Midway and the Pacific Today” using a Google+ Hangout scheduled for 2 p.m. EST on Monday, June 3rd. Those interested can participate on the US Navy’s Google+ page at http://www.google.com/+usnavy. Panel will be recorded and available for viewing afterwards at http://www.youtube.com/usnavy.

Please check out our Battle of Midway blog series at www.navalhistory.org from 3-7 June, as we investigate and discuss the innovative intelligence gathering and analysis techniques employed by the US Navy; share stories and experiences of the Sailors and pilots that fought the battle; and share the important lessons learned and the impact the battle had on shaping future Navy doctrine.

88-188-ah

We have a few other surprises planned throughout the week, so be sure to stay tuned to all of our digital properties for additional content.

Web: www.history.navy.mil

Naval History News: www.navy.mil/local/navhist

Facebook: www.facebook.com/navalhistory

Twitter: www.twitter.com/NavyHistoryNews

Naval History Blog: www.navalhistory.org

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/groups/Naval-History-Heritage-Command-1944509?trk=myg_ugrp_ovr

 

 
May 15

The Legend of the USS ENTERPRISE

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 8:47 AM

 

The month of May historically has been an important time for the USS Enterprise. On May 12, 1938 the USS Enterprise CV-6 was commissioned and on May 18, 1775 the Enterprise I was captured from the British Fleet. These historic May events have led us to take a look at the history of the USS Enterprise, which represents a name that has been a continuing symbol of the great struggle to retain American liberty, justice and freedom since the first days of the American Revolutionary War to today. The most recent ENTERPRISE VIII (CVN 65) is the eighth ship of the Fleet to carry this illustrious name. 

USS Enterprise information is brought to you by the official USS ENTERPRISE Website

 

The Legend of the USS Enterprise

 

ENTERPRISE IEnterprise I

The first Enterprise originally belonged to the British and cruised on Lake Champlain to supply their posts in Canada. After the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by the Americans on 10 May 1775, it became the object of desire in the mind of Benedict Arnold who realized he would not have control of Lake Champlain until its capture. He learned it was stationed at a small British garrison at St. John’s on the Richelieu in Canada, and set out from Skenesborough (Whitehall, New York) in the commandeered sloop Liberty for that place on 14 May 1775. He surprised and captured the British garrison on 18 May, took possession of the 70-ton sloop, and sailed it south to Crown Point. It was named Enterprise by Arnold and fitted out with twelve long 4-pounder carriage guns and ten swivels. About 1 August 1775, Captain James Smith was sent by the New York Provincial Congress to General Philip Schuyler and ordered to take command of “the sloop Enterprise.”

ENTERPRISE II

The second Enterprise was an eight-gun schooner of 25 tons with a crew of 60 men. Granted a letter of marque commission from the state of Maryland, it made a remarkably successful cruise (June-December 1776) under the command of Captain James Campbell. Enterprise was purchased by the Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress 20 December 1776. Under the command of Captain Campbell, Enterprise served chiefly in convoying transports in Chesapeake Bay. It was also active in reconnoitering the enemy’s ships and preventing their tenders and barges from getting supplies from the shores of Maryland and Virginia.

ENTERPRISE III

The third Enterprise was a twelve-gun schooner built by Henry Spencer at Baltimore, Maryland at a cost of $16,240.00. It had a length of 84 feet, 7 inches; extreme beam of 22 feet, 6 inches; tonnage of 135, depth of hold, 10 feet; and a complement of 70 officers and men. It was originally armed with twelve long 6-pounders and placed under the command of Lieutenant John Shaw. On 1 September 1812, Enterprise got underway in search for British privateers reported off the coast of Maine. After chasing a schooner to the shore on Wood Island, Enterprise discovered what appeared to be a ship of war in the bay near Penequid Point on the coast of Maine. It immediately gave chase and soon found her quarry to be the British brig Boxer, mounting fourteen 18-pounder carronades, and manned by 72 men. When within half a pistol shot, broadsides exchanged by the two brigs brought death to Lieutenant William Burrows as well as to the British commander, Captain Samuel Blyth. Another broadside was exchanged before Enterprise ranged ahead to cross Boxer’s bow and kept up a deadly fire until the enemy hailed and said they had surrendered but could not haul down the colors that were nailed to the mast. The surviving senior officer, Lieutenant Edward R. McCall, took the prize into Portland where a common funeral was held for the two commanders, both well-known and favorites in their respective services.

ENTERPRISE IV

The fourth Enterprise was a schooner built by the New York Navy Yard where it launched on 26 October 1831. Its length between perpendiculars was 83 feet, molded beam 23 feet, 5 inches; depth of hold 10 feet and tonnage 197. It was armed with ten 24 and 9-pounder guns. The schooner was placed in commission on 15 December 1831 when Lieutenant Commander Samuel W. Downing assumed command. Its original complement was nine officers and 63 men.

ENTERPRISE V

The fifth Enterprise was a steam corvette with auxiliary sail power. Its hull was built of live oak in Portsmouth Naval Yard by John W. Griffith. It was launched 13 June 1874 and placed in commission 16 March 1877, Commander George C. Remey in command. The ship measured 185 feet between perpendiculars, breadth, 35 feet; depth of hold, 16 feet, 2 inches; tonnage 615, and displacement 1,375 tons. It had a speed of 11.4 knots and a complement of 20 officers and 164 men. Its original armament was one 11-inch moth bore, four 9-inch broadside guns, one 60-pounder pivot, and 1 short Gatling gun.

ENTERPRISE VI

 

Enterprise VI

The sixth Enterprise was a 66-foot motor patrol craft purchased by the Navy on 6 December 1916. It was placed in the service of the Second Naval District on 25 September 1917 and performed harbor tug duties at Newport, Rhode Island. It shifted to New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 11 December 1917 for operations inside the breakwaters and was transferred to the Bureau of Fisheries on 2 August 1919.

 

ENTERPRISE VII (CV 6)Enterprise CV 6

 

The seventh Enterprise (CV 6) was the first of the Enterprise ships to receive the nickname of Big ‘E’. Other nicknames included the Lucky ‘E’, the ‘Grey Ghost’ and the ‘Galopping Ghost’. CV-6 became the sixth aircraft carrier to join the U.S. Navy fleet upon its commissioning as a Yorktown-class carrier. It had an overall length of 827 feet and displaced more than 32,000 tons of water. Enterprise fought in many of the key Pacific theater battles of World War II, and was one of only three American carriers commissioned prior to World War II to survive the war (along with USS Saratoga and USS Ranger).

Enterprise was ordered to serve in the Pacific fleet in April 1939, and was sent underway to conduct training and transport Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) to Wake Island in November 1941. Big ‘E’ was returning to the Hawaiian island of Oahu on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 when it received news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Enterprise became one of the first ships to respond to its nation’s call to war and went on to earn 20 battle stars, the most for any U.S. warship in World War II, for the crucial roles it played in numerous battles including Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, and the ‘Doolittle Raid’ on Tokyo. Japanese forces announced that the Big ‘E’ had been sunk in battle on three separate occasions throughout its Pacific campaign.

After its legendary World War II service, the first Big ‘E’ was decommissioned on Feb. 17, 1947 as the most decorated ship in U.S. naval history.

ENTERPRISE VIII (CVN 65)

 

 Enterprise VIII (CVN 65)

In 1954, Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the eighth U.S. ship to bear the name Enterprise.

The giant ship was to be powered by eight nuclear reactors, two for each of its four propeller shafts. This was a daring undertaking. for never before had two nuclear reactors ever been harnessed together. As such, when the engineers first started planning the ship’s propulsion system, they were uncertain how it would work, or even if it would work according to their theories.

Materials used by the shipyard included 60,923 tons of steel; 1507 tons of aluminum; 230 miles of pipe and tubing; and 1700 tons of one-quarter-inch welding rods. The materials were supplied from more than 800 companies. Nine hundred shipyard engineers and designers created the ship on paper, and the millions of blueprints they created, laid end-to-end, would stretch 2400 miles, or from Miami to Los Angeles.

Three years and nine months after construction began, Enterprise was ready to present to the world as “The First, The Finest” super carrier.

The newly-christened Enterprise left the shipyard for six days of builder and Navy pre-acceptance trials. Its escort during the trials, destroyer Laffey, sent this message; “Subject: Speed Trails. 1. You win the race. 2. Our wet hats are off to an area thoroughbred.” When the Big “E” returned to port, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr., stated enthusiastically, “I think we’ve hit the jackpot.”

After years of planning and work by thousands the day finally arrived. At the commissioning of Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally Jr. called it a worthy successor to the highly decorated seventh USS Enterprise of World War II. “The fighting Gray Lady, as it was called, served in such well-known battles as the raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Midway.” Secretary Connally went on to say, “The new Enterprise will reign a long, long time as queen of the seas.”

In October 1962, Enterprise was dispatched to its first international crisis. Enterprise and other ships in the Second Fleet set up quarantine of all military equipment under shipment to communist Cuba. The blockade was put in place on October 24, and the first Soviet ship was stopped the next day. On October 28, Soviet leader Krushchev agreed to dismantle nuclear missiles and bases in Cuba, concluding the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the U.S. and USSR have ever come to nuclear war.

In the Fall of 2001, Enterprise aborted her transit home from a long deployment after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., on Sept. 11, and steamed overnight to the North Arabian Sea. In direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Big ‘E’ once again took its place in history by becoming one of the first units to respond in a crisis with its awesome striking power. Enterprise expended more than 800,000 pounds of ordnance during the operation. The ship returned to home port at Naval Station Norfolk November 10, 2001.

Following several more deployments and an extended shipyard period that began in 2008, Enterprise embarked on its 21st deployment in January 2011, during which the carrier supported operations Enduring Freedom, New Dawn and multiple anti-piracy missions. During its six-month tour of duty, Big ‘E’ made port visits to Lisbon, Portugal, Marmaris, Turkey, the Kingdom of Bahrain and Mallorca, Spain.

Big ‘E’ became the fourth aircraft carrier in naval history to record 400,000 arrested landings on May 24, 2011. The milestone landing was made by an F/A-18F Super Hornet piloted by Lt. Matthew L. Enos and Weapon System Officer Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Welsh from the Red Rippers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11.

On November 25, 2011, Big ‘E’ celebrated its 50th birthday, making the carrier the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet. After 25 deployments and 51 years of active service, ENTERPRISE was officially inactivated December 1, 2012 and is currently undergoing an extensive terminal offload program leading up to her eventual decommissioning. For more than two centuries, ENTERPRISE Sailors have set the standard for excellence aboard the eight ships to proudly bear her name, and will continue to do so upon the future commissioning of the ninth ENTERPRISE (CVN 80).

 

 
May 3

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Friday, May 3, 2013 7:45 AM

The level of significance and strategic use of Airships has fluctuated since their introduction to service in the U.S. Navy in the early part of the 20th century. However, it’s mode of operation and deployment is similar to the days of old and they still play a vital role in today’s modern Navy.

USS Los Angeles

USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), moored to USS Patoka (AO-9), off Panama during Fleet Problem XII, circa February 1931.
Photo #: NH 73285

 

1931: The USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) was a rigid airship built in 1923–1924 in Friedrichshafen, Germany but was surrendered to the US Navy by the German Government as part of the war reparations from World War I. The ZR-3 went on to log a total of 4,398 hours of flight, covering a distance of 172,400 nautical miles (319,300 km) traveling to places in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. It served as an observatory and experimental platform, as well as a training ship for other airships. The USS Patoka (AO-9) was a fleet oiler named after the Patoka River and was made famous as a tender for airships.

KEY WEST, Florida (April 24, 2013) Military Sealift Command-chartered vessel HSV 2 Swift (HSV 2) with a tethered TIF-25K Aerostat. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker/Released)

KEY WEST, Florida (April 24, 2013) Military Sealift Command-chartered vessel HSV 2 Swift (HSV 2) with a tethered TIF-25K Aerostat. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker/Released)

2013: The Military Sealift Command’s high-speed vessel Swift (HSV 2) with a tethered TIF-25K aerostat gets underway from Key West, Florida on 24 April to conduct a series of at-sea capabilities tests to determine if the aerostat can support future operations in the U.S. 4th fleet area of responsibility. The TIF-25K, which can be deployed and operational within a few hours of arrival on site, supports not only communications and intelligence gathering but also surveillance and reconnaissance activities. The HSV 2 is a non-commissioned, hybrid catamaran originally leased by the Navy as a mine countermeasure and sea basing test platform. It is now primarily used for fleet support and humanitarian partnership missions and its home port is Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Norfolk, VA.

 
Apr 29

CSS Alabama Britten Shell and Box

Monday, April 29, 2013 3:09 PM

CSS Alabama, a screw sloop-of-war, was commissioned by the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. It was built in Liverpool, England and launched on 24 August 1862. Alabama served the Confederate Navy as a commerce raider and captured more than 60 vessels during her two year storied career.

On 19 June 1864, Alabama left port in Cherbourg, France to engage the USS Kearsarge. Approximately an hour after the first shot of the battle had been fired Alabama began to sink. The commander of Alabama, Raphael Semmes, then surrendered and the ship’s survivors were rescued by Kearsarge and the British yacht Deerhound.

Semmes on Alabama

The wreck site of Alabama was discovered in 1984 by the French Navy mine hunter Circe, and an agreement was created between the French and United States governments to form a committee that would oversee any archaeological work on the site.

Several artifacts were recovered from the wreck site of Alabama, including a wooden box housing a shell which has been of particular interest. This is in part due to the unique nature of this set of artifacts. While it is not unusual to find shells, discovering a box built to house a single shell is not common. The box and shell are both currently being housed and studied at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

The box and shell were found in excellent condition and received prompt conservation treatment at the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University. A lack of oxygen and cold temperatures both contributed to the exceptional state of preservation of the artifacts.

Alabama 021

The 7-inch Britten pattern shell and wooden box recovered from the CSS Alabama.

Research revealed that the shell is a 7-inch Britten pattern shell. Britten projectiles were patented in Great Britain in 1855 by Sir Bashley Britten. Britten’s patent for a new shell also introduced an innovative method for attaching sabots to shells in an attempt to increase the accuracy of the weapon. Both the Union and Confederate forces used Britten shells, however only the Confederate States purchased the shells in large calibers.

Information regarding the box, however, has proven more difficult to uncover. General references to boxes for shell and other ordnance storage have been found in multiple sources. These resources include the ordnance manuals for the Confederate and United States Navies as well as the writings of the chief foreign agent for the Confederate States, James D. Bulloch. However, research about the exact origins and purpose of the Alabama box is ongoing.

Alabama 023

Another view of the shell and box displaying the damaged portion of the box.

Specific information about the cargo and equipment aboard Confederate ships is frequently difficult or nearly impossible to find with the current sources available. Precise data was often not recorded for wartime security or has been destroyed over the years. For example, Confederate leaders were careful to not provide specific information regarding the sources of their supplies. In a letter discussing the purchasing of supplies and ships for the Confederate Navy, Bulloch wrote to a colleague, “The fear that this letter may fall into wrong hands induces me to withhold the names of the contractors.”

While the box and shell remain a bit of a mystery, conservation will be the key to uncovering more of their secrets. Only through proper conservation can we continue to research, study, and analyze vital artifacts.

 
Apr 18

Operation Praying Mantis, 18 April 1988

Thursday, April 18, 2013 6:40 AM

On 14 April 1988, watchstanders aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) sighted three mines floating approximately half of a mile from the ship. Twenty minutes after the first sighting, as Samuel B. Roberts was backing clear of the minefield, she struck a submerged mine. The explosive device tore a 21-foot hole in the hull, causing extensive fires and flooding. Ten Sailors were injured in the attack. Only the heroic efforts of the ship’s crew, working feverishly for seven straight hours, saved the vessel from sinking. Four days later, forces of the Joint Task Force Middle East (JTFME) executed the American response to the attack: Operation Praying Mantis. The operation called for the destruction of two oil platforms being used by Iran to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping. On 18 April, the coalition air and surface units not only destroyed the oil rigs but also various Iranian units attempting to counter-attack U.S. forces. By the end of the battle, U.S. air and surface units had sunk or severely damaged half of Iran’s operational fleet. Navy aircraft and the destroyer Joseph Strauss (DDG 16) sank the frigate Sahand (F 74) with harpoon missiles and laser-guided bombs.

 

The main building of the Iranian Sassan oil platform burns after being hit by a BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-guided, Wire-guided (TOW) missile fired from a Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter

The main building of the Iranian Sassan oil platform burns after being hit by a BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-guided, Wire-guided (TOW) missile fired from a Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter

A laser-guided bomb dropped from a Navy A-6 Intruder disabled frigate Sabalan (F 73), and Standard missiles launched from the cruiser Wainwright (CG 28) and frigates Bagley (FF 1069) and Simpson (FFG 56) destroyed the 147-foot missile patrol boat Joshan (P 225). In further combat A-6s sank one Boghammer high-speed patrol boat and neutralized four more of these Swedish-made speedboats. One Marine AH-1T Sea Cobra crashed from undetermined causes, resulting in the loss of two air crew. Operation Praying Mantis proved a milestone in naval history. For the first time since World War II, U.S. naval forces and supporting aircraft fought a major surface action against a determined enemy. The operation also demonstrated America’s unwavering commitment to protecting oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf and the principle of freedom of navigation.

The Iranian frigate Is Sahand (74) burns after being attacked by aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 11 from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

The Iranian frigate Is Sahand (74) burns after being attacked by aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 11 from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

An aerial view of the Iranian frigate Is Alvand (71) burning after being attacked by aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 11 from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

An aerial view of the Iranian frigate Is Alvand (71) burning after being attacked by aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 11 from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

Sources: Edward J. Marolda and Robert J. Schneller Jr., Sword and Shield: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Washington, DC: GPO, 1998), 37-8; Michael A. Palmer, On Course to Desert Storm: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf (Washington, DC: GPO, 1992), 141-46; unpublished draft material from Mark Evans’ forthcoming naval aviation chronology.

For more information on Operation Praying Mantis,
visit the NHHC website:
http://www.history.navy.mil/Special%20Highlights/OperationPrayingMantis/index.html

 

 
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