Archive for the 'World War II' Category

Aug 29

Paying Respects to USS Houston (CA 30) Crew and the Navy Family

Friday, August 29, 2014 2:24 PM
WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) Vice Adm. Scott Swift, Director of the Navy Staff, poses for a photo during a meeting with family members of the USS Houston Survivors Association. Pictured are, from left to right: -Dr. Jay Thomas - Mr. Joel Earl Snyder, Ms. Davidson’s father; the son of a Houston survivor - Ms. Stacey Davidson, an Military Sealift Command employee who is a Houston survivor’s granddaughter - Vice Adm. Swift - Ms. Sue Kruetzer, President, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations - Mr. John Schwarz, Executive Director, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations - Dr. Alexis Catsambis(U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Gabrielle Blake)

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) Vice Adm. Scott Swift, Director of the Navy Staff, poses for a photo during a meeting with family members of the USS Houston Survivors Association. Pictured are, from left to right: Jay Thomas, PhD; Joel Earl Snyder, Ms. Davidson’s father; the son of a Houston survivor; Stacey Davidson, a Military Sealift Command employee who is a Houston survivor’s granddaughter; Vice Adm. Swift; Ms. Sue Kreutzer, President, USS Houston CA 30 Survivors Association and Next Generations; John Schwarz, Executive Director, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors; Association and Next Generations; Alexis Catsambis, PhD, NHHC underwater archaeologist (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Gabrielle Blake)

By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Officers of the USS Houston CA 30 Survivors Association and Next Generations, and descendants of the crew from the World War II cruiser USS HOUSTON (CA 30) spent the day with naval leadership at the Pentagon and the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). The Houston went down fighting during the Battle of Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942, with approximately 700 Sailors and Marines on board.

The visitors were:

– John Schwarz, Executive Director, USS Houston CA 30 Survivors Association and Next Generations

– Sue Kreutzer, President, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generation

– Joel Earl Snyder, Ms. Davidson’s father; the son of a Houston survivor

– Stacey Davidson, a Military Sealift Command employee who is a Houston survivor’s granddaughter

 

As part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014 exercise in June, U.S. Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) One Company 1-5, along with personnel from the Indonesian navy, surveyed the wreck during a joint training evolution.

 

Earlier this month the Navy released its findings from the interim assessment and is working with Indonesia to preserve and protect the site from further disturbance. While there the joint team paid their respects to the crew by laying a wreath at the site.

140829-N-GE301-002 WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) Vice Adm. Scott Swift, Director of the Navy Staff meets with family members of the USS Houston Survivors Association. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Gabrielle Blake)

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) Vice Adm. Scott Swift, Director of the Navy Staff meets with family members of the USS Houston Survivors Association. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Gabrielle Blake)

During their visit, they met in the Pentagon with the Director of Navy Staff Vice Adm. Scott Swift. At NHHC headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard they met with the Acting Director Jim Kuhn. They were hosted throughout the tour by Jay Thomas, PhD, NHHC assistant director for Collections Management, and Alexis Catsambis, PhD, the Navy’s underwater archaeologist who both supported the joint survey off Indonesia in June and authored the interim assessment report.

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) - Kate Morand (left-right), Archaeologist from Naval History and Heritage Command's (NHHC) Underwater Archaeology (UA) Division, shows Johnathan Schwarz, executive director, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations, as well as association member, Joel Snyder, a trumpet that was taken from the wreck of the WWII-era cruiser USS Houston and is undergoing preservation at the UA conservation lab, as her coworker Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D., listens. The association members were escorted on their tour of NHHC by the command's Collections Management Division Director, Jay Thomas, Ph.D., and Underwater Archeology Archeologist, Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D. USS Houston was sunk during WWII's Battle of Sunda Strait, with only about 1/3 of the 1,061 crew surviving. The U.S. Navy uses NHHC's UA Division professionals to help keep track of and protect all seaborne and airborne craft that lie below the waterline. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) – Kate Morrand (left-right), an archaeologist from Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology (UA) Division, shows John Schwarz, executive director, USS Houston CA 30 Survivors Association and Next Generations, as well as association member, Joel Snyder, a trumpet that was taken from the wreck of the WWII-era cruiser USS Houston and is undergoing preservation at the UA conservation lab. Coworker and underwater archaeologist Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D., is in the foreground. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

In addition to received briefs on the assessment and the opportunity to speak face-to-face with leadership, the guests had a chance to view a trumpet from USS Houston currently being treated by NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

 

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) - James Bruns, director of the National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN), talks to (right - left) Susan Kreutzer, president, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations, Stacey Davidson and Joel Snyder , association members, and Johnathan Schwarz, executive director, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations about the model of the Houston that the association donated to the museum. The association members were escorted on their tour of the museum and Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) by the command's Collections Management Division Director, Jay Thomas, Ph.D., and Underwater Archeology Archeologist and Cultural Resource Manager, Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D. USS Houston was sunk during WWII's Battle of Sunda Strait, with only about 1/3 of the 1,061 crew surviving. The survivors Association and Next Generations members include survivors of the cruiser, as well as family members and friends of those who served aboard and seek to perpetuate the memory of the ship and her courageous crewmen. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) – James Bruns, director of the National Museum of the United States Navy (NMUSN), talks to (right – left) Susan Kreutzer, president, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations, Stacey Davidson and Joel Snyder , association members, and Johnathan Schwarz, executive director, USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations about the model of the Houston that the association donated to the museum. The association members were escorted on their tour of the museum and Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) by the command’s Collections Management Division Director, Jay Thomas, Ph.D., and Underwater Archeology Archeologist and Cultural Resource Manager, Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D. USS Houston was sunk during WWII’s Battle of Sunda Strait, with only about 1/3 of the 1,061 crew surviving. The survivors Association and Next Generations members include survivors of the cruiser, as well as family members and friends of those who served aboard and seek to perpetuate the memory of the ship and her courageous crewmen. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

The crumpled copper and steel instrument with its mother-of-pearl keys and felt stoppers had been removed without authorization from the wreck site but was returned to the United States last year. The trumpet is soaking in a special solution to mitigate the damage on being removed from its salt water grave site.

 

Afterward, the visitors were taken to the USS Houston (CA-30) model on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy located at the WNY. The 1929 vintage 1/48-scale model of the Northampton-class cruiser reflects the Houston in its original 1920s configuration. It is displayed in a wood and glass case donated by the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors and Next Generations Association.

 

The USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations group has worked tirelessly to ensure the Navy and the American public recognize the valor, contributions, and ultimately the sacrifice paid by the Houston crew, in hopes of ensuring the nation never forgets.

NHHC is grateful for their commitment to the crew’s storied legacy and our Navy heritage. It was both an honor and a privilege to host them today, and we’re looking forward to continuing the partnership on this most important matter.

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) - James Kuhn, acting director of Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) talks with members of the Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations about NHHC's mission and historic holdings, during the association's tour of NHHC. The association members were escorted on their tour of NHHC and the National Museum of the United States Navy by NHHC's Collections Management Division Director, Jay Thomas, Ph.D., and Underwater Archeology Archeologist and Cultural Resource Manager, Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D. USS Houston was sunk during WWII's Battle of Sunda Strait, with only about 1/3 of the 1,061 crew surviving. The survivors Association and Next Generations members include survivors of the cruiser, as well as family members and friends of those who served aboard and seek to perpetuate the memory of the ship and her courageous crewmen. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2014) – James Kuhn, acting director of Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) talks with members of the Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations about NHHC’s mission and historic holdings, during the association’s tour of NHHC. The association members were escorted on their tour of NHHC and the National Museum of the United States Navy by NHHC’s Collections Management Division Director, Jay Thomas, Ph.D., and Underwater Archaeology and Cultural Resource Manager, Alexis Catsambis, Ph.D. USS Houston was sunk during WWII’s Battle of Sunda Strait, with only about 1/3 of the 1,061 crew surviving. The survivors Association and Next Generations members include survivors of the cruiser, as well as family members and friends of those who served aboard and seek to perpetuate the memory of the ship and her courageous crewmen. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

 
Jul 31

Timeline to Justice – the quest to restore honor to the Captain and Crew of the USS Indianapolis

Thursday, July 31, 2014 4:00 PM

 

 

The following article was printed in the July/August 1998 issue of Naval History magazine. It was written by 12-year old Hunter Scott in his quest to restore honor to the Captain and Crew of the USS Indianapolis:

Survivors of the USS Indianapolis aboard the USS Hollandia

Survivors of the USS Indianapolis aboard the USS Hollandia

 

With perhaps greater reverence than many of my 12-year-old peers, I appreciate this opportunity to write about what has grown from a school history project into a mission. My quest has allowed me to be associated with individuals who fought so that all Americans could live in the greatest democracy the world has ever known. Throughout this journey, I have learned the great price of freedom, the meaning of honor, valor, and supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, and the fact that democracy is a treasure so valued that men and women are willing to give their lives in its pursuit.

 

For that reason, I have urged the introduction of a bill before Congress (H.R. 3710) to correct an injustice done 53 years ago. I pray that the men and women who gave their lives are looking down on what I am doing, knowing their sacrifice was not in vain. I am proud and honored to bring to the attention of Naval History readers again the case of Captain Charles B. McVay III and the crew of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35).

 

President Abraham Lincoln once said: “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.” I began such a “struggle” when I was 11 years old, for the “just cause” of restoring honor to Captain McVay and gaining a Presidential Unit Citation for the Indianapolis and her crew.

 

My dad tells me that, “the true test of your character is what it takes to make you quit.” The men of the Indianapolis and their captain did not quit in their quest to bring a hasty end to World War II. After making a record-setting run to the island of Tinian for delivery of components for the first atomic bomb, the ship was torpedoed, sinking in just 12 minutes. Of her 1,196 men, 850 to 950 made it off the ship and into the water, where they spent five nights and four days surrounded by sharks and death, while those responsible for their safety did not notice that the ship was missing. An accidental spotting of the survivors saved the lives of 316 crew members, 150 of whom are still with us today. Now, more than a half-century after this tragedy, we must not forget these men, and we must not quit in our effort to set the historical record straight.

Based on my research, the following timeline tells the story of the final days of the Indianapolis.

 

  • 16 July 1945—Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves choose to load components for the first atomic bomb on board the Indianapolis. Captain McVay receives orders to proceed “with all possible haste” to Tinian.

 

  • 21 July—The USS Underhill (DD-682) is sunk by a Japanese submarine in the same area where the Indianapolis will go down. Captain McVay never is given this information nor any notification that the Japanese submarines I-58 and I-367 are operating in the area. A directive from the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, prevents Captain McVay from receiving this intelligence.

 

  • 26 July—The Indianapolis arrives in Tinian; atomic bomb components with the USS Idaho (BB-42) on 2 August. The Idaho receives a garbled message about the arrival of the Indianapolis. No request is made for retransmission. The Idaho is unaware that the Indianapolis is en route. (This is the first in a series of blunders that led the Indianapolis to cruise into a bureaucratic void.)

 

  • 28 July—In Guam, Captain McVay is denied requests for an escort. His orders give him discretion concerning whether or not to zigzag while under way. The Indianapolis makes the trip from Guam to Leyte unescorted—the first heavy warship to do so during the war—without capabilities to detect enemy submarines.

 

  • 31 July—At sunset, Captain McVay comes on the bridge to discuss weather conditions. The night is overcast and cloudy. He believes he is cruising in waters free of enemy submarines, because of intelligence given to him prior to his departure from Guam. The Indianapolis is doing 17 knots, and Captain McVay gives orders to cease zigzagging because of poor visibility. He gives orders to be awakened if weather changes occur.

 

  • 1 August—At 0004, the ship is struck by two of six torpedoes fired by the 1-58. The first torpedo takes off 60 feet of her bow, andthe second hits amidships, igniting the powder magazine and shutting off most electrical power. Chief Radio Electrician L. T. Woods, observed by Radio Technician 2nd Class Herbert J. Minor, sends SOS and position of the Indianapolis on 500 kilocycles from Radio Room II, which maintains power. According to Minor, at least three signals are transmitted. Former Yeoman 2nd Class Clair B. Young stated in a letter received by Commander T. E. Quillman, Jr., “while stationed at U.S. Navy 3964 Naval Shore Facilities Tacloban, Philippine Islands, that he personally delivered the SOS message to Commodore Jacob H. Jacobson, U.S. Navy.”

 

Young awakens Commodore Jacobson and notices a strong odor of alcohol in the room. Commodore Jacobson reads the message, which identifies the ship, her location, and her condition. Mr. Young asks Commodore Jacobson: “Do you have a reply, sir?” The answer comes: “No reply at this time. If any further messages are received, notify me at once.” The SOS is received and ignored. Meanwhile, Commander Hashimoto of the 1-58 radios Japan and indicates that he has just sunk a battleship and gives the location. The message is decoded by the U.S. Navy. Still, no one checks on the whereabouts of the Indianapolis.

 

  • 2 August—The Indianapolis is due to arrive in Leyte that morning. Upon non-arrival, the ship is taken off the plotting board, and no effort is made to determine where she is. Admiral King had standing orders that combatant ships’ arrivals in port were not to be reported, which implied that non-arrivals also were not to be reported.
  • 3 August—Lieutenant Wilbur Gwinn, flying a Ventura bomber, accidentally spots Indianapolis survivors and radios Palau for rescue operations to commence. Lieutenant Adrian Marks lands a PBY in heavy seas and picks up 56 survivors. Tom Brophy defies orders and tries to swim to the plane; he does not survive.

    This is the PBY and her crew that set down at sea and rescued 56 men of the USS Indianapolis. The pilot, LT Marks, is 4th from the right. The plane was badly damaged by frantic men climbing aboard but stayed afloat through the night until rescue ships arrived.

    This is the PBY and her crew that set down at sea and rescued 56 men of the USS Indianapolis. The pilot, LT Marks, is 4th from the right. The plane was badly damaged by frantic men climbing aboard but stayed afloat through the night until rescue ships arrived.

 

  • 4 August—Rescue operations start in a 50-mile radius.

 

  • 6 August—First atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima.

 

  • 15 August—Japan surrenders. Navy releases information about the sinking of the Indianapolis. The press begins to ask the Navy why the ship was never missed.

 

Note: The father of the aforementioned Tom Brophy goes to Washington after the war to arrange a meeting with Captain McVay. According to Mr. D. J. Blum, Brophy tries to call on Captain McVay the day he arrives in Washington and is told to arrange the meeting for the following week because of Captain McVay’s prior commitments.

Brophy follows Captain McVay, who attends a party. Furious, Brophy meets with his friend, President Harry S. Truman, and convinces him to court-martial Captain McVay. President Truman pressures Admiral King to convene a court-martial. Admiral King himself appoints the members of the court, who know Admiral King wants Captain McVay found guilty and who also are depending upon Admiral King for promotions.

 

  • 3 December—Court-martial begins. Captain McVay requests Lieutenant Commander Donald Van Koughnet, Chief Legal Officer of the U.S. Navy Military Government for the Marianas Islands, to represent him. Admiral King denies the request. The charges are “failure to follow a zigzag course” and “failure to sound an abandon ship.”

 

Note: Since 1991, several Navy documents have been declassified, showing that Captain McVay was not given intelligence that could have prevented this disaster (see “Ultra and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis,” a paper given to the Eleventh Naval History Symposium, 1993). This same information—which could have been useful in Captain McVay’s defense, showing that the “super technical” charges were unfounded—was considered Top Secret in 1945 and was not used in the court-martial. The question as to why the men of the Indianapolis spent five nights and four days in the water without anyone noticing that the ship was missing was not considered in the trial.

 

  • 13 December—Admiral King brings in Hashimoto, commander of the 1-58 to testify against Captain McVay. Hashimoto states that zigzagging would have made no difference, that he would have sunk the Indianapolis anyway. The 1-58 had several kaiten on board, had the six-torpedo spread missed its target. The Indianapolis was doomed.

 

  • 19 December—Captain McVay found guilty of failure to follow a zigzag course, therefore hazarding his ship. His sentence, loss of 100 promotion numbers, is later remitted. His conviction is not. The guilty verdict stands to this day. Out of more than 700 ships lost in World War II, the Indianapolis is the only one to have her captain court-martialed.

 

  • 6 November 1968—Captain McVay commits suicide.

 

NOTE: In a 10 August 1990 letter to Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Captain Russell E. Sullivan stated that he was on board the USS General R. L. Howze (AP-134), which traveled the same course as the Indianapolis and cruised through her wreckage. Bodies and debris were observed. Captain Sullivan stated: “We had not received orders to zigzag. We had 4,000 troops on board. We had not been notified that an enemy submarine was in the area. The foregoing can be confirmed by referring to the official log of the USS General R. L. Howze for August of 1945.”

 

In a letter dated 10 February 1998, Dr. Lewis Haynes, the chief medical officer on board the Indianapolis, stated that, as he was treating Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz at the Chelsea Naval Hospital, Admiral Nimitz told him that Captain McVay “should not have been court-martialed.”

 

Conclusion:

After two years of research and interviews with almost all remaining Indianapolis survivors, I have amassed what one naval historian has called “the greatest collection of information on the USS Indianapolis in the world.” On 22 April 1998, accompanied by Congressman Joe Scarborough (R-FL), Congresswoman Julia Carson (D-IL), and 11 Indianapolis survivors, I personally dropped H.R. 3710 into the hopper on the floor of Congress. This bill will erase all mention of the court-martial and conviction from the record of Captain Charles B. McVay III and award a Presidential Unit Citation to the USS Indianapolis and her crew.

 

In 1806, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Political interest can never be separated in the long run from the moral right.” Now, 53 years after the politically motivated court-martial of an innocent ship captain, we are in the “long run,” and we have the opportunity to do what is “morally right.” I write this near the beginning of my life, making a request for many men who are toward the end of theirs. Please do not forget about the captain and crew of the Indianapolis for the second time in 53 years. Write to your congressmen and senators, asking them to support H.R. 3710.

 
Jun 5

D-Day invasion of Normandy Q & A

Thursday, June 5, 2014 9:34 PM

Capt. Henry Hendrix, (Ph.D) Naval History and Heritage Command director and Robert Cressman, NHHC historian answer questions about the D-Day invasion of Normandy, codenamed Operation Neptune in this four part series.

 

Question 1: How important was the element of surprise during D-Day operations?

Question 2: How does D-Day compare to how we conduct joint partnership/ combined operations today?

Question 3: In terms of logistics what did it take to pull off the D-Day invasion?

Question 4: How important was naval gunfire support during D-Day – the invasion of Normandy?

Question 5: What could the Navy have done differently during D-Day?

Stay tuned for more great content celebrating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

 
Apr 18

Doolittle Raid – Lesson in joint innovation, resilience

Friday, April 18, 2014 7:18 AM

Editors Note: The first portion of this blog comes from Rear Adm. Rick Williams, with the second portion from NHHC for a more in-depth historical perspective. Friday is the 72nd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, an early example of joint operations led by Army Air Force and Navy. Rear Adm. Williams is commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, where he has oversight of all surface ships home-ported in Hawaii as well as two key installations. As CNRH, he oversees Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, where the Air Force and Navy serve side-by-side today.

Lesson in joint innovation, resilience

 

Rear Adm. Rick WilliamsRear Adm. Rick Williams
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

The innovation, courage and resilience demonstrated by Halsey and Doolittle and countless others carried over into the weeks and months that followed – first in the Battle of the Coral Sea and then, in the big turning point of the War in the Pacific – the Battle of Midway.

Historians tell us that the Doolittle Raid contributed strategically to our victory at Midway, as the enemy felt humiliated and overextended to try to prevent another attack on their homeland.

The Doolittle Raid is also an early example of the evolution of “air sea battle,” integrating air and naval capabilities across domains, where collaboration and cooperation helped win the day – and eventually win the war. We remember the heroes of the Doolittle Raid.

This strategically important event is particularly meaningful to our joint team today. This uniquely shared accomplishment is a reminder of what we have the potential to accomplish when we mutually support each other.

 

USS Hornet (CV 8) launches Army Air Force B-25B bombers, at the start of the first U.S. air raid on the Japanese home islands, April 18, 1942. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives - Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives.)

USS Hornet (CV 8) launches Army Air Force B-25B bombers, at the start of the first U.S. air raid on the Japanese home islands, April 18, 1942. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives.)

The Doolittle Raiders – The Mission

By Naval History and Heritage Command

 

On April 18, 1942, it was a “nice sun-shiny day overcast with anti-aircraft fire,” according to Army Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eldred V. Scott.

Over Tokyo, anyway.

Scott’s weather quip signaled the near completion of the Doolittle Raiders’ mission on that day 72 years ago today. But it was just the beginning of the unknown for the 80 men and their 16 planes.

Seven of those airmen would never return home. None of the planes did. While the bombing mission itself was relatively minor in terms of damage inflicted, the raid set into motion what would become a pivotal naval victory for the U. S. at the Battle of Midway.

The Doolittle Raid featured Army Air Force pilots and planes, but it was a joint effort with the Navy. The raid itself was concocted by Navy Capt. Francis Lowe. Another Navy officer, Lt. Henry L. Miller, is one of two men named as “Honorary Tokyo Raiders.” Miller supervised the take-off training the pilots received at Eglin Field, Fla., and was there for the raid launch. The other was Tung Sheng Liu, a Chinese engineer who helped several Tokyo Raiders escape to safety.

And it was the Navy that provided the transportation – via USS Hornet  (CV 8) and her escorts – to the launch point.

The Navy wasn’t without its losses for the Tokyo Raid. One patrol plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire, landing in the water, but the crew was recovered uninjured. Another patrol plane was lost during patrol operations, with both the plane and crew lost. And during the hour-long launch, a Sailor lost his arm after being hit by the final B-25 when it rolled backward out of position, striking him with its propeller.

From Conception to Launch

After Pearl Harbor, there was pressure from the commander-in-chief to strike back at Japan. Using carrier-capable aircraft to strike the enemy’s homeland would put a carrier task force into harm’s way for a counterattack, since the lighter Navy planes didn’t have the range of land-based bomb-delivering aircraft. And with only three aircraft carriers left in the Pacific fleet after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. needed to protect every asset.

Navy Capt. Francis Lowe, assigned to U.S. Fleet Commander Adm. Ernest J. King, had seen B-25s taking off from Norfolk, Va., using airstrips shaped a little like a carrier deck, minus the rolling waves. The Mitchell medium bombers, which had never been used in combat before, had the range and the wing-span that would allow for carrier takeoff. Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, an air racer who had helped develop instrument flying, was brought in to investigate the feasibility of such a mission, along with Adm. King’s Air Ops officer, Capt. Donald B. “Wu” Duncan.

The newly-commissioned aircraft carrier Hornet left Norfolk under the command of Capt. Marc Mitscher to join a convoy to the Panama Canal. Meanwhile Doolittle had chosen his raiders, 5-man crews for the 16 planes, and was training for 500-foot takeoffs at Eglin Field, Fla., under the guidance of Lt. Miller. At the end of March, Hornet docked at Alameda, Calif. Using cranes, 16 B-25s were loaded onto the ship’s deck. With all of the planes loaded and lashed to the deck, the Hornet moored in the bay for the night. It was April 1.

The following morning, Hornet’s crew was made aware of their mission.

Army B-52's onboard the USS Hornet while en route to their launching point April 18, 1942. (NH 53426 Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Army B-25’s onboard the USS Hornet while en route to their launching point April 18, 1942. (NH 53426 Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

On April 7, naval operation plan No. 20-42 was issued, creating Task Force 16, with Task Group 16.1 under Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey with flagship carrier Enterprise (CV 6) and her escorts. Task Group 16.2 was headed by Capt. Mitscher with his carrier Hornet (CV 8) and her escorts.

The instructions were simple. Proceed after joining up to carry out the attack; upon completion return to Pearl Harbor; destroy enemy forces as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the attack. The two task groups met up April 13 and proceeded to steam toward a point 500 miles east of Tokyo, where they would launch the attack.

To prepare each B-25, loaded with a one-ton bomb, for its mission and flight to a safe zone in China, engineers removed the tail gunner section, painting broomsticks to look like machine guns. A rubber fuel tank was installed in the tail section, along with 10 5-gallon gas cans for manual fuel addition during the flight to a tank installed where the lower gun turret was, and a larger tank located in the bomb bay. The total fuel payload was 1,141 gallons for a 2,000-mile range.

Air patrols scouted the sea looking for enemy ships that could relay their location back to Japan, and submarines Trout and Thresher kept a steady surveillance.

After plowing through gale-force winds of 36 knots during the afternoon of April 17, enemy vessels were picked up on radar at 3:12 a.m. April 18. A light on the horizon confirmed their presence. The task group changed direction by 350 degrees and 30 minutes later, the vessels left the radar screen.

At 7:15 a.m., an Enterprise search plane reported an enemy patrol vessel and the task force sighted it at 7:44 a.m. Nashville dispatched the vessel with gunfire. Over concern the vessel had alerted the Japanese of their presence, Doolittle decided to launch the planes immediately, still 400 miles from their original launch destination.

The first B-25, flown by Lt. Col. Doolittle, launched at 8:20 a.m. The take-offs were timed for when the ship’s bow pitched highest to give the Mitchell more loft. The average time between takeoffs was less than four minutes. The last B-25 left at 9:19 a.m.

Around 2 p.m., aircraft from Enterprise picked up two more enemy vessels, sinking one and damaging the other.

It wasn’t until after the war the Navy was able to confirm crew on the patrol boat had alerted the Japanese of their location. But when they requested confirmation, there was no answer since the vessel had already been sunk. Getting no response, the Japanese government chose to ignore the message.

The Doolittle Raiders faced some resistance from antiaircraft fire, but most were able to hit their 10 civilian and military targets in Japan. The repercussions of the U.S. hitting the Japanese homeland set in motion a tsunami-like strategic response that would ultimately change the tides of war to an American victory.

Army Air Force Raid That Set Up Naval Victory

After Doolittle’s Raiders dropped bombs on Tokyo, the Japanese military reaction was swift and vengeful. Japanese Combined Fleet commander Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto decided to strike the United States’ mid-Pacific base at Midway atoll and turn it into a Japanese air field. Yamamoto knew the U.S. had insufficient strength to defeat his Royal Imperial Navy, which could generally choose where and when to attack.

The Americans, however, had deduced Yamamoto’s attack through communications intelligence. Adm. Chester Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, established an ambush and was waiting for the Imperial Navy. The second of the Pacific War’s great carrier battles began June 4, 1942, and by the end, Yamamoto’s forces lost four fleet carriers compared to just one for the United States.

The Battle of Midway had leveled the naval playing field for the American naval force. The base at Midway, though damaged by Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the American trans-Pacific offensive, which soon had the Japanese Imperial Navy on the ropes.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives - Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Best Laid Plans…

After completing their bombing mission, finding safe haven would be the Raiders’ toughest task. Taking off 400 miles sooner than planned had the planes nearly empty on fuel as they headed toward China. Of the 16 planes, 15 either crash-landed or crew bailed out. Only one plane landed – in Russia – where the crew was held as prisoners with liberal privileges. They escaped 13 months after the raid to a British consulate in Iran.

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Capt. Lowe, a submariner, was promoted to rear admiral and as Chief of Staff of the 10th Fleet, guided the Atlantic anti-submarine effort. He was also commander of the Cruiser Division 16, which supported the Okinawa invasion and participated in several strikes against the Japanese. After the war, he supervised the surrender and neutralization of Japanese installations in the Pacific. By his retirement in 1956, Lowe had achieved the rank of admiral due to his leadership and combat actions.

Flight instructor Miller earned a Legion of Merit for his duties in training the Doolittle Raider pilots. He served with distinction throughout his career in the Navy, serving in Vietnam and launching the first aircraft carrier strikes on North Vietnam from the decks of Ranger (CV 61), Coral Sea (CV 43) and Hancock (CV 19). On Dec. 2, 1965, he engaged the first nuclear powered Task Force Enterprise (CVN 65) and Bainbridge (DLGN 25) against Vietnam. Miller retired as a Rear Admiral in 1971.

Just weeks after Doolittle’s Raiders flew off her deck, Hornet fought gallantly in the Battle of Midway, where her aircraft shared in the sinking of a Japanese cruiser. During the fight for Guadalcanal, Hornet was the only remaining operational carrier to oppose the enemy.

It was during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, while Hornet’s aircraft attacked and damaged a Japanese carrier, the carrier suffered irreparable damage from torpedoes and kamikazes. After her crew was forced to abandon ship and American attempts to scuttle her failed, Hornet remained afloat until she was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese ships Oct. 27, 1942.

Of the more than 260 American deaths during the battle, 118 came from Hornet, the last U.S. fleet carrier ever sunk by enemy fire.

Hornet was awarded four service stars for her World War II action and Torpedo Squadron 8 earned a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism during the Battle of Midway.

As for Tech. Sgt. Scott, he successfully bailed out over Chun King, China. Upon his return to the U.S. in Aug. 1942, Scott entered officer candidate school, and then served overseas as an aircraft maintenance officer for the rest of World War II, and through both the Korean and Cold wars, retiring from active duty in 1959 as a lieutenant colonel. He died in 1978 at the age of 71.

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

 
Jan 3

Return of USS HOUSTON Artifacts to NHHC

Friday, January 3, 2014 11:41 AM

Last week, the Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC) Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) received a trumpet and ceramic cup and saucer from World War II cruiser USS HOUSTON. The artifacts were returned to the US Naval Attaché in Canberra, Australia after their unsanctioned removal from the wreck site and made a journey of more than 10,000 miles to reach NHHC headquarters in Washington, DC. The artifacts will undergo documentation, research and conservation treatment at the UAB Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

Trumpet and ceramics recovered from USS HOUSTON. (UAB Photo).

Trumpet and ceramics recovered from USS HOUSTON. (UAB Photo).

 

USS HOUSTON, nicknamed the “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”, was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser that played an important role in the Pacific during WWII. The ship and her crew saw significant action and served in the Battle of Makassar Strait and the Battle of the Java Sea along with allied vessels from Australia, Britain and the Netherlands. On 1 March 1942, USS HOUSTON, fighting gallantly alongside HMAS PERTH during the Battle of Sunda Strait, was sunk by enemy gunfire and torpedoes, taking the lives of nearly 700 US Navy sailors and Marines. 

 

USS Houston anchored off San Pedro, California, 18 April 1935. Photo # 80-CF-21337-1

USS Houston anchored off San Pedro, California, 18 April 1935. Photo # 80-CF-21337-1.

After nearly 72 years under water off the coast of Indonesia, the wreck of USS HOUSTON remains the property of the US Government and serves as a military gravesite. Underwater sites often allow for excellent preservation of archaeological material, however without conservation treatment after recovery artifacts can suffer permanent damage and sometimes complete destruction from unmitigated physical and chemical stresses. The HOUSTON artifacts are poignant reminders of an incredible chapter in US Navy history and the importance of scientific recovery and preservation for future generations to experience, study and appreciate.

A detail of the trumpet's mother of pearl buttons. (UAB Photo).

A detail of the trumpet’s mother of pearl buttons. (UAB Photo).

 

The safe return of these artifacts to the US Navy is the culmination of collaborative efforts by NHHC, Department of Navy and Department of State colleagues at the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia. NHHC is particularly grateful to CAPT Stewart Holbrook and ETC Jason Vaught for their assistance with the recovery, safe storage and packaging of the artifacts. NHHC also extends its thanks to the Naval Historical Foundation for assistance with the expedited transportation of the artifacts to NHHC for conservation treatment.

 Please stay tuned for further updates on the USS HOUSTON artifacts!

 
Dec 20

First female Navy captain oversaw greatest growth of Nurse Corps

Friday, December 20, 2013 1:22 PM
On Dec. 14, 1945, Capt. Sue Dauser (left) was presented the Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who later served as the first Secretary of Defense. She retired from active duty on Jan. 1, 1946.

On Dec. 14, 1945, Capt. Sue Dauser (left) was presented the
Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who later served as the first Secretary of Defense. She retired from active duty on Jan. 1, 1946.

 

 

By André Sobocinski, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery historian

This Day in History, Dec. 22, 1942: The First Female Captain in the U.S. Navy

Nurse Corps Superintendent Sue Dauser (1888-1972) was promoted to the “relative rank” of captain, becoming the first woman in United States Navy history to achieve this status, Dec. 22, 1942.[1]

Just two years later, when Public Law No. 238 granted full military “wartime” rank to Navy nurses, Dauser became the first woman commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Navy.

Sue S. Dauser, the fifth Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, which position she held from 1939 until her retirement Jan. 1, 1946. Dauser was the first superintendent to hold the rank of captain.

Sue S. Dauser, the fifth Superintendent of the Navy Nurse
Corps, which position she held from 1939 until her retirement Jan. 1, 1946. Dauser was the first superintendent to hold the rank of captain.

 Throughout her long and accomplished career (1917-1946), Dauser served across the globe, both aboard ship and ashore. In World War I, she acted as chief nurse at the Naval Base Hospital 3, Leith, Scotland, where she oversaw care of both British and American service personnel evacuated from the trenches of the Western Front. Following the war, Dauser earned distinction as one of the first women to serve at sea, serving aboard USS Argonne (1922) as well as the hospital ship USS Relief (1924-1926).

In 1923, Dauser was one of two nurses assigned to duty aboard the transport USS Henderson to care for President Warren G. Harding on his goodwill tour to Alaska. Dauser would later be one of Harding’s attending nurses during his final illness and ultimate death Aug. 2, 1923, in San Francisco, Calif.

Dauser was appointed superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, Jan. 30, 1939, following tours of duty at Naval Hospitals Canacao, Philippines; Puget Sound, Wash.; Mare Island, San Diego; and at the Naval Dispensary Long Beach, Calif.

During her tenure as the Navy’s chief nurse, Dauser lead the Nurse Corps through its largest growth — from 439 nurses in 1939 to 10,968 nurses at the close of World War II. By the end of the war, Navy Nurses were serving at 364 stations at home and overseas[2] including fleet hospitals in the Pacific, medical units in North Africa and aboard 12 hospital ships.

 For her administrative achievements and steadfast leadership, Dauser was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in December 1945. Her citation read in part: “Captain Dauser maintained a high morale and splendid efficiency in the Navy Nurse Corps, and her constant devotion to duty throughout reflects the highest credit upon herself, her command and the United States Naval Service.”

Dauser retired from service on April 1, 1946. Just a year after her retirement, the Army-Navy Nurses Act (Public Law 36) of April 16, 1947 made the Navy Nurse Corps an official staff corps of the U.S. Navy and gave its members permanent officer status with commensurate pay and allowances. Under this law, Dauser’s former position of “Superintendent” was changed to “Director of the Nurse Corps.”

 


[1]Public Law 654 of July 3, 1942 granted Navy nurses “relative rank” of commissioned officers. Dauser was given the “relative rank” of Lieutenant Commander. For the first 34 years of the Navy Nurse Corps, nurses considered part of the Navy but neither officers or enlisted.

 [2] Dauser, Sue. Memorandum (undated). Sue Dauser Biographical File, BUMED Archives.

 

 

 
Aug 7

Remembering ‘Generational Lessons Learned’ — Guadalcanal

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 9:47 AM

(Until recently, The U.S. Pacific Fleet participated in Talisman Saber in and around Australia. Meantime the surface Navy in Hawaii recently finished integrated at-sea certification near the Hawaiian Islands. From his office overlooking historic Pearl Harbor, Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific puts the training in context near the anniversary of the beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II. They’re already planning for more training and support at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (on Oahu) and Pacific Missile Range Facility (at Barking Sands, Kauai) for next summer’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Hawaii is center point for rebalancing in the Pacific.)

 As we consider how we translate the CNO’s priority of “Warfighting First” into action, it is important that we reach back to the valuable lessons learned from our rich naval history. For example, consider the significance of WWII surface actions in the Solomon Islands and how they align to the operations we are conducting today.

 Aug. 7 marks the 71st anniversary of the beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign of August 1942 to February 1943. The strategic and tactical importance of these decisive six months is significant. What the June 1942 Midway battle meant for carrier operations, the battle for the Solomons meant for our Surface Navy.

k00555_USS San Juan

USS San Juan at New Caledonia, August 3, 1942

The ultimate victory and lessons learned were written in blood with over 5,000 Sailors killed, 24 U.S. ships sunk and both task force leaders, Rear Adm. Callaghan and Rear Adm. Scott, lost in November during this campaign. The fighting was so intense that during the course of the battles, the channel to the straits was reconfigured with scores of sunk ships on both sides into what is now called the “Iron Bottom Sound.”  

The first encounters with the enemy in early August 1942 would be most telling for the U.S. and our Australian partners as HMAS Canberra and U.S. ships Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes were sunk and USS Chicago was badly damaged by a better prepared adversary. There were lessons learned for both the U.S. and our Australian partners realizing the importance of command and control, integrated tactics and mastery of advanced technologies, for unlike the allied surface forces, the enemy drilled in live-fire tactics, operated extensively in night steaming configurations, developed radar targeting skills and established effective multi-ship maneuvers.

The six month Guadalcanal Campaign saw high losses on both sides in personnel, aircraft and ships, but the United States soon recovered, while our adversary did not. At Guadalcanal the United States took the offensive and continued the advance that started after the Battle of Midway, forcing the enemy into a retreat that eventually led to capitulation and surrender less than three years later.

Admirals

As our MIDPAC team realizes the benefits gained from integrated at-sea certifications as well as participation by some of our ships with our Australian partners in Talisman Saber, these generational lessons learned make our training all the more meaningful and relevant.

By Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

130710-N-IU636-247

Rear Adm. Richard L. Williams Jr., right, shakes hands with Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds after a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, July 10, 2013.

For additional information on the Guadalcanal Campaign, visit the NHHC WWII Pacific Battles Showcase: http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20Highlights/WWiiPacific/WWIIPac-index.htm

 
Jun 7

Midway Operational Lesson

Friday, June 7, 2013 5:08 PM

MIDWAY’S OPERATIONAL LESSON: THE NEED FOR MORE CARRIERS

The Japanese employing six aircraft carriers at one time, as they did in the attack on Oahu on 7 December 1941, proved a radical undertaking. The U.S. Navy’s carriers, by contrast, had never numbered more than two or three during infrequent maneuvers, and the war’s coming in 1941 found only three in the Pacific, Lexington (CV-2), Saratoga (CV-3), and Enterprise (CV-6).

Carriers had been a part of the U.S. Fleet since Langley (CV-1), nicknamed “The Covered Wagon” pioneered such operations in 1922, and forward-thinking naval officers employed them in the annual maneuvers, or Fleet Problems, with varying degrees of success. The war that descended with such suddenness on the Pacific Fleet on 7 December 1941, however, found that arm of the fleet relatively outnumbered by the Japanese. The six carriers whose planes had attacked Oahu outnumbered the U.S. Navy’s flattops two to one. The Japanese carriers were concentrated – the American were scattered: one on the way to Midway (Lexington); another at San Diego, preparing to return to Hawaiian waters (Saratoga); and the third returning from Wake Island (Enterprise).

CV-6 Enterprise (2)

USS Enterprise (CV-6), circa 1940. NHHC Photographic Collection #19-N-29688

The three U.S. carriers involved at Midway differed in experience and in how they operated. Yorktown (CV-5), the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to deploy to the Pacific, had been operating under wartime conditions in the Atlantic during much of 1941; her squadrons at Midway, however, came from two different air groups: her own (VB-5), and those from Saratoga. The latter warship had been put out of action by a submarine torpedo in January 1942 and had landed her squadrons on Oahu (VB-3, VT-3, and VF-3). Only VB-5 had served in Yorktown for any length of time, from the operations in the Atlantic in 1941 through the Marshalls-Gilberts Raids, Lae-Salamaua, and the Coral Sea.

CV-5 Yorktown (3)

USS Yorktown operating at sea, April 1942. NHHC Photographic Collection #80-G-640553

Enterprise had been involved from 7 December 1941, when elements of her air group encountered Japanese planes over Oahu; she had then participated in the Marshalls-Gilberts Raids, and had attacked Wake and Marcus, and had rode shotgun for Hornet (CV-8), the second Atlantic Fleet CV transferred to the Pacific, when that carrier took Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle’s B-25s to bomb targets in Japan. Of her squadrons, VB-6, VF-6, and VT-6 had served since the beginning; VS-6 had taken heavy losses early in the war, and had been spelled during the Halsey-Doolittle mission by VB-3.

Hornet, only commissioned in October 1941, had come to the Pacific and immediately taken part in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid; she was easily the least experienced carrier of the three.

It must be remembered that carrier operations in the U.S. Navy were in a state of flux – the air groups learning as they went along, and in the crucible of combat. On 4 June 1942, Enterprise and Hornet, in Task Force 16 (Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance), launched their respective attack groups employing a “deferred departure” plan, which sent off the fighters first, then the scout-bombers, then the torpedo planes. All loitered about the ship until the entire group was airborne before setting out for the enemy en masse. As the Japanese steamed at the extreme range of their fighter and torpedo planes’ fuel capacities this left no margin for error. Hornet’s fighters launched first and wasted much of their fuel over the ship while the rest of the strike slowly got airborne, one aircraft at a time. None of the fighters ever returned to the ship, or sighted the enemy. Enterprise’s fighters attached themselves to the Hornet’s torpedo planes (the ill-fated VT-8), while Enterprise’s torpedo planes went unescorted. Hornet’s dive bombers did not find the enemy, VS-8 returning to the ship directly and VB-8 returning to the ship via Midway.

Yorktown, however, operated differently. Her attack group, less VB-5 which Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 17, retained on board as a reserve strike and search group, launched according to a “running rendezvous,” the dive bombers taking off first, followed by the torpedo planes, with the higher speed fighter escort launching last. VT-3, VB-3, and VF-3 proceeded directly toward the target immediately after launch, with the torpedo squadron at low altitude, the dive bombers high, and the fighters closing in from behind. The group then merged together well along its base course, with all elements arriving over the enemy fleet simultaneously – Yorktown’s air group was the only one of the three to attack as a group. Their providential arrival simultaneously with that of Enterprise’s VB-6 and VS-6 spelled the doom of Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

The separation of Task Forces 16 and 17, meanwhile, proved detrimental when the only Japanese carrier that survived the initial destructive attacks, Hiryu, managed to cobble together the strike that stopped Yorktown and forced Rear Admiral Fletcher to transfer his flag and turn over tactical command to Rear Admiral Spruance. The Japanese carriers tended to separate during battle, each with their own screen, spreading out and lessening the impact of antiaircraft fire and dispersing the combat air patrol (CAP). The American carriers at Midway did likewise to a degree, so that TF-17 had fewer fighters and fewer antiaircraft guns afloat to defend Yorktown than would have been the case if Enterprise and Hornet were operating in company. Yet the need to concentrate the carriers, to put up a formidable combat air patrol and take advantage of the gunfire of the screening cruisers and destroyers with their 5-inch batteries (as well as the 1.1-inch, later 40-millimeter, and 20 millimeter guns in profusion) could not be fully realized until carriers were built in sufficient numbers to group several in one formation. Until the war construction programs of Essex (CV-9) class carriers and Independence (CVL-22) class small carriers would make themselves felt, one or two carriers and their respective screens would have to suffice.

Nevertheless, the employment of aircraft carriers at Midway proved crucial, for without them, ships of either side could find themselves at the mercy of an opponent’s planes. The destruction of the Japanese carriers on 4 June left one group of Japanese warships, detached to bombard Midway, totally unprotected, and when a collision damaged two heavy cruisers and impaired their speed, they could only proceed slowly, with two destroyers for a screen. Consequently, dive bombers from Hornet and Enterprise pounded Mogami and Mikuma, sinking the latter and inflicting further damage on the former.

America’s overwhelming capacity for production, something Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku feared at the outset of hostilities, eventually produced carriers in such numbers that task groups of four carriers (three CV-9 class and a CVL-22 class) would be the norm rather than the exception. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, had promised to “do the best we can with what we have.” Nimitz and his subordinates achieved victory with the weapon that had been forged since the 1920’s, the aircraft carrier and her embarked air group, that possessed the ability to project power over long distances, the power that aircraft carriers possess today of unprecedented utility.

For further information and links to related resources, seeFrequently Asked Questions: Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942.

By Robert J. Cressman

May 2009

 
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