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The Thin Gray Line: The USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, the Carriers that Held the Japanese at Bay in 1942

yorktown-drydock1USS Yorktown CV-5

Seldom in the annals of war is recorded that three ships changed the course of a war and altered history.  Winston Churchill once said about Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” however I would place the epic war waged by the three carriers of the Yorktown class against the Combined Fleet and First Carrier Strike Group, the Kido Butai of the Imperial Japanese Navy between December 1941 and November 1942 alongside the epic fight of the Royal Air Force against Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

The Carriers of the Yorktown Class hold a spot in United States Naval History nearly unequaled by any other class of ships, especially a class that numbered only three ships.  Designed and built in the mid 1930s they were the final class of pre-war carriers commissioned by the navy.  The ships were built incorporating the lessons learned with Langley, Lexington, Saratoga and Ranger and had features that would become standard in the design of US Aircraft Carriers. As such they were the template for future classes of ships beginning with the Essex Class until the advent of the super carriers of the Forrestal Class.

hornet-as-completed1USS Hornet CV-8

The ships heritage was evident in their names. Yorktown, the lead ship of the class named after the victory of Washington and Rochambeau over Cornwallis at Yorktown, Enterprise named after the sloop of war commanded by Stephen Decatur in the war against the Barbary Pirates, and Hornet after another famous Brig of War commanded by James Lawrence which defeated the British ship Peacock in the War of 1812.

They displaced 19.800 tons with a 25,000 full load displacement. Capable of 32.5 knots they were the Navy’s first truly successful class of carriers built from the keel up.  The ships could embark over aircraft and could steam long distances without refueling.  Protection was good for their era and the ships proved to be extraordinarily tough when tested in actual combat. In speed and air group capacity the only carriers of their era to equal them were the Japanese Hiryu and Soryu and the larger Shokaku and Zuikaku. British carriers of the period were about the same size but were slower and carried a smaller and far less capable air group though their protection which included armored flight decks was superior to both the American and Japanese ships.

enterprise-pre-war-with-ac-on-deck1USS Enterprise CV-6

Next week we will remember the epic battle of Midway, where these three gallant ships inflicted a devastating defeat on the Japanese First Carrier Strike Group. I believe that it is appropriate to go into that week remembering those ships and the brave sailors and aviators who made their triumph at Midway possible. the The links below are to articles about these three gallant ships.

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part One

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part Two the Hornet

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part Two the Hornet


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part Three the Enterprise

Enterprise CV-6 circa 1940

This is the last of a three part series about the USS Yorktown Class Aircraft Carriers. It is the story of the USS Enterprise CV-6, the legendary “Big E” and possibly the most celebrated American warship of the Second World War.

The USS Enterprise CV-6, the second ship of the Yorktown class was ordered by the Navy on 3 August 1933 as authorized under the National Industrial Recovery Act of 16 June 1933.  She was laid down just under a year later and launched on 3 October 1936 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Newport News Virginia.  She was commissioned on May 12th 1938 to begin one of the most celebrated careers of any US Navy ship in history.  Displacing 25,500 tons full load Enterprise like her sister ships were designed for fast carrier operation working in conjunction with other carriers not tied to the battle line.  With good protection and speed the Enterprise incorporated the lessons learned in the preceding carriers.

Pre-War photo of Enterprise

After her shakedown cruise she operated in the Atlantic and Caribbean until April 1939 when she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet and based a Pearl Harbor. As the flagship of Task Force 16 under Rear Admiral Bill “Bull” Halsey Enterprise conducted training operations and shuttled aircraft to various US island bases in the Central Pacific one such mission to Wake Island which had her out of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7th 1941.  Following the attack Enterprise and Task Force 16 would cover the Hawaiian Islands and then be used to conduct raids against Japanese bases in the Marshalls and protect convoys bound for Samoa.

Rare photo of the Enterprise at Midway

In April she escorted the newly arrived USS Hornet CV-8 to conduct the famed “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo.  Five days after returning to Pearl Harbor Enterprise was dispatched to the Coral Sea but could not arrive before that historic carrier battle.  She returned to Pearl Harbor on May 26th and with Halsey sick departed two days later as flagship of TF-16 under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance in company with Hornet, 6 cruisers and 10 destroyers with orders “to hold Midway and inflict maximum damage on the enemy by strong attrition tactics.”

TBD Devastator landign on Enterprise May 1942

They would be joined 2 days later by the hastily repaired USS Yorktown flagship of Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher and TF-17 escorted by 2 cruisers and 6 destroyers.  Fletcher the senior officer assumed tactical command of this comparatively small force which represented the bulk of US naval power in the Pacific.

This tiny force would face 4 fleet (CV) and 2 light fleet (CVL) carriers, 7 battleships, 10 heavy (CA) and 2 light (CL) cruisers and 42 destroyers.  Additionally the Japanese had an additional 2 carriers, 4 battleships, 3heavy cruisers 4 light cruisers and 23 destroyers involved in some way the simultaneous invasion of the Aleutian Islands which could be called into the fight if Admiral Yamamoto desired.

SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers over Enterprise

The Battle of Midway was an epic of warfare and Enterprise and her Air Group 6 would play a pivotal role. Torpedo Six under LCDR Max Leslie in its obsolete, underpowered and under armored TBD Devastators was chopped to pieces as they attempted torpedo attacks on the First Carrier Strike Force of Admiral Nagumo losing 10 of 14 aircraft.  As the gallant air crews of Torpedo Six along with Yorktown’s Torpedo 3 and Hornet’s ill-fated Torpedo Eight made their attacks Bombing Six under the command of CDR Wade McCloskie and Scouting Six under the command of  LT Dick Best attacked and mortally wounded the Japanese Flagship Akagi and the Soryu.  Later in the day aircraft from Enterprise would help sink the Hiryu and the following day helped mortally wound the Heavy Cruiser Mikuma. The Enterprise was not damaged by the Japanese at Midway.

Flight Operations on Enterprise

Following the Miracle at Midway the Enterprise took part in the Guadalcanal campaign participating in the invasion as well as the Battles of Santa Cruz and the Eastern Solomons.  In each of these actions she was seriously damaged but her air group was instrumental in the campaign at sea and ashore.   Following the sinking of the Wasp, Hornet and damage to Saratoga Enterprise was the only US carrier in action in the fall of 1942.

Enterprise under attack at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands

Bomb Explosion on Enterprise at the Battle of Eastern Solomons

In November she took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where her aircraft helped to finish off the Japanese battleship Hiei and participated in the sinking of 16 Japanese ships including transports which carried troops, equipment and supplies to the Japanese defenders of Guadalcanal. After another 6 months of action in the Solomons supporting the US advance Enterprise returned first to Pearl Harbor at which time she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by Admiral Chester Nimitz, the first carrier awarded the citation in the Second World War and then to Bremerton for a badly needed overhaul.

Emterprise struck by Kamikaze

Enterprise was back in action by November 1943 and participated in the US offensives in the Gilberts, Marshalls and the Marianas taking part in numerous raids, support to Marines ashore and in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Marianas Turkey Shoot.  After a month long refit at Pearl Harbor she participated in the attacks on the Volcano, Bonin and Palau including strikes on Yap and Ulithi followed by the fast carrier raids on Japanese facilities on Okinawa, Formosa and the Philippines which culminated in her participation in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history.  Her aircraft would participate in strikes on each of the Japanese surface forces hitting battleships, cruisers and other Imperial Navy units in the epic naval battle.

Enterprise made a short return trip to Pearl Harbor in December 1944 where she embarked an air group trained in night operations. Rejoining the fleet she took part in sweeps against Japanese bases, ships and facilities in Indochina, the Philippines, Formosa and Okinawa prior to the invasion of Iwo Jima.

Enterprise at Saipan

During this operation her aircraft worked night and day to provide air strikes and air defense to the fleet.  She then joined the raids against Honshu, Kyushu and the Inland Sea where her aircraft provided night strikes against Japanese targets ashore as well as air defense to fleet units. She was damaged by a Japanese bomb on the 18th of March and on 11 April damaged by Kamikazes off Okinawa and again on 5 May prior to her last wound of the war on 14 May when a Kamikaze struck forward elevator necessitating repairs at Bremerton.

Kamikaze Damage or forward elevator

Returning to the fleet to late for the final actions of the war Enterprise took part in Operation Magic Carpet returning US troops to the United States at the end of hostilities.  She was decommissioned on February 17th 1947.  While she was in reserve the Enterprise was redesignated first as an Attack Aircraft Carrier (CVA), and then as Anti-submarine Carrier (CVS).

Enterprise Fleet Week New York 1945

As the super-carrier entered the scene and the Essex and Midway Classes were modernized to accommodate jet aircraft the Enterprise was determined to be in excess of Navy needs.  Despite attempts by some to save her as a Naval Museum the money could not be raised, even with the support of the dying Fleet Admiral Bill Halsey.  Enterprise which Secretary of the Navy Forrestal said was “the one vessel that most nearly symbolizes the history of the Navy in this war” was sold for scrap on 1 July 1958 and scrapped at Kearney New Jersey from September 1958 to March 1960.  Like so many ships which serve their country so well she was casually disposed of by a nation which had forgotten its past.

Enterprise alongside new CVA 1958

Enterprise on the way to the breakers

Enterprise was the only ship to receive both the Presidential and Naval Unit Citations for her service in World War Two and she was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 20 battle stars.  Her place in the carrier force would be taken by a new Enterprise, CVN-65, the First Nuclear carrier which after nearly 50 years of service is still in commission. The Enterprise is so significant that her legacy continues in Hollywood Science fiction in the various Star Trek series as the Federation Starship Enterprise NCC-1701, 1701-A, 1701-B, 1701-D and 1701-E, so much so that NASA named the first experimental Space Shuttle Enterprise.

Never Forgotten USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B


Filed under History, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

The Treaty Cruisers: A Warship Review

Note: Since childhood I have loved naval history and the study of various types of warship design throughout history. My favorite period is really from the Spanish-American War through the mid 1970’s.  I find the leaps in Naval design and architecture, weapons and fire control systems and the diversity of the types of ships built absolutely fascinating.  Not only initial designs but the various modifications and modernizations of various ships or classes of ships went through during their service careers. The cruisers of the inter-war period were some of the most ascetically pleasing warships to ever grace the high seas. They were well proportioned, and graceful while still looking every part the warship.  This is something that many ships in our modern era lack, despite the fact that their armament despite limited gun power is formidable. With VLS launchers and Harpoon Missile tubes they pack a punch, but unlike the old cruisers, their offensive teeth are hidden. I had the privilege of serving aboard the USS HUE CITY CG-66 which is about the same size and displacement of the Chester Class

I think I actually began reading Naval history back in 2nd or 3rd grade, and it was not uncommon for me to spend hours at the public library going through reference stacks to read old issues of “Jane’s Fighting Ships” and the main collection to check out every book on Naval Warfare and warships that I could find. One of the most interesting types of ship to me was the Heavy Cruisers built under the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. The treaty had several major provisions but today I only deal with the restrictions on Heavy Cruisers, the response of treaty nations to the limitations and the combat summary of each class.  This is all pretty much out of the deep recesses of my sometimes dark mind and tonight I didn’t have to crack a book to write this.  It’s thanks to having one of those phonographic memories that just keeps going around and around. This is another one of the things that I am passionate about.  Anchor’s Away! Peace, Steve+


IJN Atago

The Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 set a number of limits on warship construction and fleet composition.  One of the ship types limited by the treaties was cruisers, notably heavy cruisers.  These ships, descended from the Armored Cruisers developed by the navies of the great powers prior to the First World War were considered a major part of each of the navies of the signatory nations.  The armored cruisers had 8-10 inch guns and a relatively substantial armored belt.  The type was not particularly successful as with few exceptions they were used in fleet actions where they were under-gunned and under-armored.  They were most successfully used in overseas service against raiders or commerce.  The most famous of the type were the German Scharnhorst and Gneisenau of the German Far East Squadron.  Smaller and faster than a battleship, the type had developed by the 1920s into a ship that could be used for fleet screening and scouting as well as showing the flag in foreign waters where many were found.  The Washington treaty did not limit numbers of these ships as it did Battleships and Aircraft Carriers, but it did place maximums on the gun size and displacement of individual ships.   A heavy cruiser could be armed with 8 inch guns and were limited to 10,000 tons displacement.  Of course this led to compromises in the designs of the ships which frequently gave up protection for speed.

uss pensacolaUSS Pensacola

The Americans were the leaders in the development of the treaty cruisers.  The Japanese only built one class of cruiser, the Kako class which complied with the terms of the treaty.  They mounted 6- 8” guns and displaced about 8,600 tons.  They were fast but because of their light displacement were top-heavy.  Subsequent classes, the Nachi and Atago classes violated the tonnage limits by as much as 4,000 tons while the Japanese reported them as 10,000 tons. They were armed with 10-8”guns in five turrets, had good protection and also mounted 12 24” “Long Lance” torpedo tubes.  Two subsequent cruisers of the Kumano and Tone classes were built in the 1930s. The Kumano class of about 13,000 tons were initially classed as “light cruisers” mounting 15- 6” guns prior to being re-armed with 10-8” guns.  The Tone’s mounted 8- 8”guns in 4 turrets all mounted forward leaving the entire aft section for use as a seaplane launching area; the Tone class carried 8 float planes for fleet scouting.

hms exeterHMS Exeter

The British treaty cruisers abided by the limits included the York and Exeter, of the same displacement and armament as the Kako class except they were slower, a common feature of British ships which were generally slower than their American and Japanese counterparts.  The later County class ships were armed with 8- 8” guns and were distinctive looking having three funnels. The County class included such famous ships as the Norfolk, Suffolk and Dorsetshire which played critical roles in the chase and sinking of the German Battleship Bismarck. Australia had two Counties, the Australia and Canberra which did most of their service in the Pacific. The Counties were armed with 8- 8” guns and were distinctive with their three funnels.  They were slower than their Japanese or American counterparts.

uss houstonUSS Houston with President Roosevelt Aboard

The first American treaty cruisers the Pensacola and Salt Lake City of about 9,500 tons with an unusual arrangement of 10- 8” guns mounted in 4 turrets.  However it was the Chester class which was the quintessential U.S. Treaty Cruiser design.  These ships, and the later Astoria class, also displaced 9,500-10,000 tons and mounted 9- 8” guns in three turrets.  A further “treaty” cruiser was Wichita, converted from a St. Louis class light cruiser. All were fast but were lacking in armored protection and none mounted the torpedoes found in Japanese or British ships.  Some of the more notable ships in the U.S. treaty classes included the Houston which served as the Flagship of the Asiatic Fleet which was sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea. The Augusta which took Franklin D Roosevelt to Argentia for the signing of the Atlantic Charter in 1941; The San Francisco which helped stop the Japanese fleet in a point blank encounter in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and Indianapolis which with just weeks left in the war having completed the secret mission to deliver the Atomic bomb was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

PrinzEugen-2Prinz Eugen

The Germans did not build true “heavy cruisers” until the late 1930’s and their ships, the Hipper, Blucher and Prinz Eugen mounted 8- 8” guns and displaced about 19,000 tons.  The German “Pocket Battleships” Deutschland, Graf Spee and Admiral Scheer, mounted 6-11” guns on a hull of about 11,000 tons (officially 10,000) in compliance with the Treaty of Versailles restrictions on German battleships.  They were designed to outgun and be more heavily armored than the heavy cruisers and be faster than battleships, much more in the Armored Cruiser tradition.  During the war the German Navy reclassified them as Heavy Cruisers. None of these ships were built under the treaty limits for cruisers.

hms suffolkHMS Suffolk

These ships saw distinguished service throughout the war.  The British ships remained their only heavy cruiser design throughout the war. The ships took part in the sinking of the Graf Spee and Bismarck. They also suffered heavily; York was sunk at Crete and Exeter in the Java Sea. Cumberland and Dorsetshire were sunk by Admiral Nagumo’s carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor, in the Indian Ocean. Canberra was sunk at the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal.  Some of the British Ships remained in service until the 1950s and all eventually we paid off and sent to the breakers.

The Japanese ships were involved in almost every major action of the Pacific war.  Fast, heavily armed and manned by well trained crews they dominated almost every surface action of the early war in the Pacific.  The were key at the Battle of Java Sea and Savo Island where they annihilated Allied or American cruiser and destroyer squadrons. In action so often they were destroyed leaving only two marginally operational at the end of the war. Three of the four Kako class were lost in the Solomon’s.  They were all involved at Savo Island, and the last survivor, Aoba was lost at in harbor to U.S. air strikes at Yokosuka at the close of the war.  The Nachi class saw considerable service and were the workhorses of the Japanese cruiser force. They were the principle executioners of the ABDA fleet in the Java Sea battles and continued their service until late 1944 and the end of the war. Nachi and Ashigara were sunk in the aftermath of Leyte Gulf while Haguro fought the last surface action of a major Japanese combatant in a surface action of the war against a British force in 1945 and was sunk. and Myoko survived the war in a damaged condition being surrendered in Singapore.  The Chokai class also served throughout the war and three of the four were lost at Leyte Gulf. The Atago and Maya were lost to the U.S. Submarines Darter and Dace, Chokai in the action at Samar to combined U.S. destroyer and air attacks from TAFFY-3. Takao survived the war in a damaged condition having been torpedoed at Leyte Gulf but making port.  Of the later cruisers Mikuma was sunk at Midway and Mogami survived almost unimaginable damage in that battle.  Mogami was sunk by the resurrected Pearl Harbor Battleships at the Battle of Surigo Strait while Kumano and Suzaya were lost off Samar.  Chikuma and Tone also served in many battles, it was Tone’s float plane which was delayed in launching and discovered the U.S. carriers at Midway too late. Chikuma too was lost at Samar; Tone was sunk at anchor at Yokosuka in 1945.  Leyte Gulf in a sense could be described as the “Death Ride” of the Japanese Cruiser force.

The U.S. cruisers fought valiantly in nearly every engagement of the Pacific war and a few in the Atlantic.  Houston was immortalized by her actions with ABDA in the Java Sea against hopeless odds.  Astoria, Vincennes and Quincy were sunk in the Savo Island debacle.  Northampton and Chicago lost also in later actions in the Solomon’s.  San Francisco and Portland fought toe to toe with the Japanese Battleships Hiei and Kirishima in the epic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, inflicting so much damage on Hiei that she was later sunk by American Aircraft the following day.  Indianapolis met an unlikely fate at the close of the war being sunk by a Japanese submarine after returning from a secret mission delivering the Atomic bomb.  A series of unfortunate events led to her loss not being noted with the result that most of the survivors of the sinking being lost to the elements and shark attacks while waiting days for rescue.   Others survived horrific damage from “Long Lance” torpedoes and Kamikaze attacks.  Following the war the Pensacola’s were expended as targets and the remaining ships placed in “mothballs” until the late 1950s when all were scrapped.  Some artifacts of San Francisco including her mast are at “Land’s End” park in that city.

uss san franciscoUSS San Fransisco Returning After the  Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Of all the navies involved only the United States Navy and German Kriegsmarine built or attempted to build new classes of heavy cruisers during the war.  The US Navy brought out the Baltimore Class which was highly successful and built upon lessons learned from the Treaty Cruisers and the follow on Oregon City class which incorporated design improvements based on experience with the Baltimore Class.  Some of these ships would be converted into the first US Guided Missile Cruisers. The later Des Moines Class the largest class of all gun cruisers ever built with fully automated 8″ gun systems.  Of these ships only Salem survives in Quincy MA as a museum ship, sadly the Des Moines which had been slated to become a Museum ship in Milwaukee was scrapped in 2007 .

No treaty cruiser survives today.  Their service, heroic, unceasing and tireless service is remembered only by their surviving crews and a few naval historians and buffs.  The epic damage control actions of the San Francisco are still taught at the Naval Surface Warfare School.  They have passed into history, of those sunk some have been rediscovered, the Ballard expedition discovered and photographed the wrecks of Astoria and Quincy and their Australian consort Canberra in the waters of “Iron Bottom Sound” off Guadalcanal.  The German “Prinz Eugen” though not a treaty cruiser survived the war and was expended as a target in the Atomic bomb tests.  Her wreck lies capsized and submerged at Bikini Atoll.  An attempt to salvage her by a German group was abandoned and one of her screws was brought back and placed on display near Kiel, Germany.

Though all had design drawbacks due to the treaties, the American and British ships performed magnificently and without their service, especially in the early days of the war history today might be different.  Here’s to gallant ships and steadfast crews. May they never be forgotten.




Filed under Loose thoughts and musings