Tag Archives: ijn hiei

The Ships at Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941: A Brief History of Each Ship

harbrmap1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the seminal moments in the history of the United States where at one time the nation rose up as one to the challenge of an attack against it and against its armed forces. Sadly, for most Americans today no matter what their political ideology the concept of coming together in a crisis is a foreign and possibly even a hateful idea.

However, in December 1941 the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor of the nation came together as it never had before. On the morning of December 7th 1941 there were over ninety ships of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. While over twenty percent of these ships were sunk or damaged in the attack, almost all returned to service in the war. Likewise, many of the surviving shipswere lost in action during the war. Only two ships or craft remain of the ships present on December 7th 1941, the tug USS Hoga and the Coast Guard Cutter USCG Taney which is now a museum ship in Baltimore Maryland. The rest, lost in action, sunk as targets or scrapped. Of the gallant men who served as their crews during the war and at Pearl Harbor very few remain. They are part of what we now refer as the “Greatest Generation.” 

In 1978 I had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor and visit the USS Arizona and USS Utah Memorials during what was a nearly three week long cruise and visit to Pearl Harbor while a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet.  I cannot forget forget that experience, as the visits to both memorials, sited above the wrecks of the two sunken ships in which more than 1000 Americans remain entombed to this day left a mark on me.

Today I remember all of the ships present, from the greatest to the most humble, as well as their gallant crews, many of whom were volunteers who had gone into service not long before the attack, because they believed that the nation was in danger who were present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. I also remember a government which though torn by by ideological differences decided to unite to meet the threat of advancing enemies even before they targeted the United States.

The fact ids that only two of the ships present at the Pearl Harbor attack are still afloat, and the vast majority of their crews have passed away. Very few survivors of that day of infamy remain and it is our sad task to keep reminding the nation and the world of the price of arrogance.

This is the story of the ships that were at Pearl Harbor that fateful morning of December 7th 1941.

Peace

Padre Steve+

A few years ago I wrote a piece called The Battleships of Pearl Harbor. I have added to it, and recently republished it. I followed that with an article entitled “Forgotten on the Far Side of Ford Island: The USS Utah, USS Raleigh, USS Detroit and USS Tangier.

Of course most anyone that has see either Tora! Tora! Tora! or Pearl Harbor is acquainted with the attack on “Battleship Row” and the airfields on Oahu.  What are often overlooked in many accounts are the stories of some of the lesser known ships that played key roles or were damaged in the attack.  Since none of the articles that I have seen have discussed all of the U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor on that fateful morning I have taken the time to list all the ships with the exception of yard and patrol craft present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.I have also excluded Coast Guard cutters in Honolulu. A brief account of each ship’s war service and final disposition is included.  I believe that this is the only site that has this information in a single article.

During the attack 18 ships were sunk or damaged but only three, Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah never returned to service.  During the war a further 18 ships were sunk or written off as losses during the war. All ships lost in the war are marked with an asterisk. One ship, the USS Castor remained in active service until 1968 serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. One ship, the Light Cruiser Phoenix was sunk in the Falklands War while serving as the Argentine ship General Belgrano. No U.S. Navy ships apart from the Yard Tug Hoga (not included in this article) remain today.  It is unfortunate that the Navy or any organization had the foresight to save one of these ships. It would have been fitting for one of the battleships that survived the war to be preserved as a memorial ship near the Arizona Memorial. While the USS Missouri serves this purpose symbolic of the end of the war it is a pity that no ship at Pearl Harbor was preserved so that people could see for themselves what these gallant ships was like.

Battleships

uss Nevadab36

Nevada (BB-36) Nevada was the only Battleship to get underway during the attack.  As she attempted to escape the harbor she was heavily damaged and to prevent her sinking in the main channel she was beached off Hospital Point.  She would be raised and returned to service by the May 1943 assault on Attu.  She would then return to the Atlantic where she would take part in the Normandy landings off Utah Beach and the invasion of southern France in July 1944.  She then returned to the Pacific and took part in the operations against Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she again provided naval gunfire support.  Following the war she would be assigned as a target at the Bikini atoll atomic bomb tests, surviving these she would be sunk as a target on 31 July 1948. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

uss_oklahoma1

USS Oklahoma

*Oklahoma (BB-37) During the Pearl Harbor attack Oklahomawas struck by 5 aerial torpedoes capsized and sank at her mooring with the loss of 415 officers and crew. Her hulk would be raised but she would never again see service and sank on the way to the breakers in 1946.  She was awarded one battle star for her service during the attack.

USS Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania (BB-38) Pennsylvania was the Pacific Fleet Flagship on December 7th 1941 and was in dry dock undergoing maintenance at the time of the attack. Struck by two bombs she received minor damage and would be in action in early 1942. She underwent minor refits and took part in many amphibious landings in the Pacific and was present at the Battle of Surigo Strait.  Heavily damaged by an aerial torpedo at Okinawa Pennsylvania would be repaired and following the war used as a target for the atomic bomb tests. She was sunk as a gunnery target in 1948.  She received 8 battle stars for her WWII service.

USS_Arizona_(BB-39)_-_1930s

The USS Arizona before the attack

*Arizona (BB-39) Arizona was destroyed during the attack.  Hit by 8 armor piercing bombs one of which penetrated her forward black powder magazine she was consumed in a cataclysmic explosion which killed 1103 of her 1400 member crew.  She was decommissioned as a war loss but her colors are raised and lowered every day over the Memorial which sits astride her broken hull.  She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Tennessee (BB-43) Tennessee was damaged by two bombs and was shield from torpedo hits by West Virginia. After repairs she conducted operations in the Pacific until she reported to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in August 1942 for a complete rebuild and modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. She returned to active service in May 1943. She provided Naval Gunfire support in numerous amphibious operations and was a key ship during the Battle of Surigo Strait firing in six-gun salvos to make careful use of her limited supply of armor-piercing projectiles, Tennessee got off 69 of her big 14-inch bullets before checking fire.  Her gunfire helped sink the Japanese Battleships Fuso and Yamishiro and other ships of Admiral Nishimura’s Southern Force.  She was damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on 18 April 1945 which killed 22 and wounded 107 of her crew but did not put her out of action.  Her final assignment of the war was to cover the landing of occupation troops at Wakayama, Japan.  She was decommissioned in 1947 and remained in reserve until 1959 when she was sold for scrap. Tennessee earned a Navy Unit Commendation and 10 battles stars for World War II service.

USSCalifornia

USS California transiting the Panama Canal

California (BB-44) California was hit by two torpedoes but had the bad luck to have all of her major watertight hatches unhinged in preparation for an inspection. Hit by two torpedoes and two bombs she sank at her moorings suffering the loss of 98 killed and 61 wounded. She was refloated and received temporary repairs at Pearl Harbor before sailing to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to be completely rebuilt and modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. She returned to service in January 1944. She saw her first action in the Marianas and was in continuous action to the end of the war. She played an important part in the Battle of Surigo Strait and in the amphibious landings at Guam and Tinian, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  She was decommissioned in 1947 and placed in reserve finally being sold for scrap in 1959. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Maryland (BB-45) At Pearl Harbor Maryland was moored inboard of Oklahoma and was hit by 2 bombs.  She would be quickly repaired and returned to action and receive minimal modernization during the war. She would participate in operations throughout the entirety of the Pacific Campaign providing naval gunfire support to the landings at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, where she was damaged by an aerial torpedo, Palau, Leyte where she was damaged by a Kamikaze, Okinawa and the battleship action at Surigo Strait.  Decommissioned in 1947 she was placed in reserve and sold for scrap in 1959. On 2 June 1961 the Honorable J. Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland, dedicated a lasting monument to the memory of the venerable battleship and her fighting men. Built of granite and bronze and incorporating the bell of “Fighting Mary,” this monument honors a ship and her 258 men who gave their lives while serving aboard her in WWII.  This monument is located on the grounds of the State House, Annapolis, Md. Maryland received seven battle stars for World War II service.

The USS West Virginia before the war and after her salvage and reconstruction

West Virginia (BB-48) West Virginia suffered some of the worst damage in the attack. Hit by at least 5 torpedoes and two bombs she was saved from Oklahoma’s fate by the quick action of her damage control officer to counter flood so she would sink on an even keel.  She would be raised, refloated and taken back to the West Coast for an extensive modernization on the order of the Tennessee and California. The last Pearl Harbor battleship to re-enter service she made up for lost time as she lead the battle line at Surigo Strait firing 16 full salvos at the Japanese squadron helping sink the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro in the last battleship versus battleship action in history West Virginia was decommissioned in 1947, placed in reserve and sold for scrap in 1959.

Heavy Cruisers

New Orleans (CA-32) Minor shrapnel damage from near miss. Fought throughout the war in the Pacific; bow blown off by Japanese torpedo at Battle of Trassafaronga in November 1942, repaired. 17 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap in 1957.

san fran

USS San Francisco CA-38

San Francisco (CA-38 Undamaged at Pearl Harbor, fought through Pacific war, most noted for actions at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal fighting Japanese Battleship Hiei. Decommissioned 1946 and sold for scrap in 1959. San Francisco earned 17 battle stars during World War II. For her participation in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. For the same action, three members of her crew were awarded the Medal of Honor: Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless , and Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Reinhardt J. Keppler (posthumous). Admiral Daniel Callaghan was also awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumous).  During the November 1942 repair at Mare Island, it was necessary to extensively rebuild the bridge. The bridge wings were removed as part of that repair, and are now mounted on a promontory in Lands End, San Francisco at Golden Gate National Recreation Area overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They are set on the great circle course from San Francisco  to Guadalcanal.  The old ship’s bell is housed at the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco.

Light Cruisers

uss Raliegh

Raleigh (CL-7) Heavily damaged by torpedo, repaired served throughout war mainly in North Pacific . Decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946

Detroit (CL-8) Undamaged and got underway during attack. Mainly served in North Pacific and on convoy duty earning 6 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned and sold for scrap 1946

USS Phoenix

Belgrano-Sunk-copy2

The Argentine Navy Cruiser General Belgrano, the former USS Phoenix sinking during the Battle of the Falklands 1982

Phoenix (CL-46) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor and served throughout war and at the Battle of Surigo Strait she helped sink the Japanese Battleship Fuso.  She earned 9 battle stars for WWII service. Decommissioned 1946 and transferred to Argentina 1951. Served as General Belgrano and sunk by submarine HMS Conqueror on 2 May 1982 during the Falklands War.

Honolulu (CL-48) Suffered minor hull damage from near miss. Served in Pacific and fought several engagements against Japanese surface forces in the Solomons. At the Battle of Kolombangara on the night of 12-13 July 1943 she was damaged by a torpedo but sank the Japanese Light Cruiser Jintsu. Earned 9 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap 1949

USS St. Louis

St. Louis (CL-49) St. Louis got underway at 0930 nearly torpedoed by Japanese midget sub. She served throughout war in numerous operations and was damaged at the Battle of Kolombangara. She earned 11 battle stars for WWII service. She decommissioned 1946 and transferred to Brazil where she was renamed Tamandare stricken in 1976 sold for scrap in 1980 but sank while under tow to Taiwan.

*Helena (CL-50) Damaged and repaired. Engaged in many battles around Solomon Islands where at the Battle of Cape Esperance at Guadalcanal she sank the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubiki. She was engaged during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and was sunk at Battle of Kula Gulf 6 July 1943.  She was the first ship to be awarded the Naval Unit Commendation and was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Destroyers

Allen (DD-66) Undamaged during attack spent war in local operations in Oahu area. Decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946

Schley (DD-103) Being overhauled on December 7th was undamaged in attack. Converted into High Speed Transport (APD) in 1942, earned 11 battle stars for WWII service and decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1946

Chew (DD-106) Undamaged during attack and conducted local operations in Oahu operations for remainder or war, decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946.

h95201

USS Ward

*Ward (DD-139) Ward was underway patrolling Channel entrance to Pearl Harbor on December 7th, sank Japanese midget submarine. Converted to APD in 1943 and served in numerous operations prior to being heavily damaged by Japanese bombers at Ormoc Bay off Leyte in December 1944 starting fires that could not be controlled. She was sunk by USS O’Brien (DD-725) after survivors were rescued. By a strange twist of fate the C.O. of O’Brien LCDR Outerbridge who had commanded Ward when she sank the Japanese submarine at Pearl Harbor. Ward earned 10 battle stars for WWII service.

Dewey (DD-349) Being overhauled on December 7th Dewey served throughout the war earning 13 battle stars escorting carriers, convoys and supporting amphibious operations. Decommissioned October 1945 and sold for scrap 1946

Farragut (DD-348) Got underway during attack suffered minor damage from strafing. During the war she operated from the Aleutians to the South Pacific and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 14 battle stars for WWII service. Decommissioned 1945 and sold for scrap 1947

*Hull (DD-350) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor she operated from the Aleutians to the South Pacific and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 10 battle stars before sinking in “Halsey’s Typhoon” on 18 December 1944.

MacDonough (DD-351) MacDonough got underway during attack and was undamaged, during war served in North and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 13 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned October 1945 and sold for scrap 1946

*Worden (DD-352) Worden got underway during attack and went to sea with ships searching for Japanese strike force. Served at Midway and the South Pacific before being transferred to the Aleutians where she grounded on a pinnacle due to winds and currents at Constantine Harbor Amchitka Island on 12 January 193, she broke up in the surf and was written off as a total loss. Wordenwas awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Dale (DD-353) Dale got underway immediately under the command of her Command Duty Officer, an Ensign and joined ships searching for Japanese strike force. During war served in North and Central Pacific and took part in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands on 26 March 1943.  Earned 12 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned October 1945 sold for scrap December 1946.

*Monaghan (DD-354)  Monaghan was the Ready destroyer on December 7th and ordered underway when Ward sank the midget submarine. On way out of harbor rammed, depth charged and sank a Japanese midget submarine that had gotten into Pearl Harbor. She participated in Coral Sea, Midway, Aleutians, the Battle of the Komandorski Islands and Central Pacific operations before sinking with the loss of all but 6 crewmen during the great Typhoon of November 1944 sinking on 17 November. She received 12 battle stars for her WWII service.

dd_uss_aylwin_dd355

USS Aylwin

Aylwin (DD-355) Got underway within an hour of the beginning of the attack with 50% of her crew and four officers, all Ensigns manning her leaving her Commanding Officer and others behind in a launch as she was under direction not to stop for anything. This incident was captured in the movie In Harm’s Way. During the war Aylwin saw action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians, and the Central Pacific up to the Okinawa and due to the action of her crew survived the great typhoon of November 1944. She earned 13 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in October 1945. She was sold for scrap in December 1946.

357selfridge_01

USS Selfridge

Selfridge (DD-357) Manned by a crew from 7 different ships Selfridge got underway at 1300 and was undamaged in the attack. Throughout war she served primarily as an escort to carriers and transports. Torpedoed by Japanese destroyer and lost her bow at Battle of Vella Lavella on 6 October 1942. Repaired and finished war. Earned 4 battle stars for WWII service and was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in December 1946.

Phelps (DD-360) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Phelps was credited with shooting down one enemy aircraft. She was in action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians and the Central Pacific picking up 12 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned in October 1945 and scrapped 1947.

Cummings (DD-365) Sustained minor damage from bomb fragments but got underway quickly. During war served on convoy escort, with fast carrier task forces and provided Naval Gunfire Support from the Aleutians to the Indian Ocean where she operated with the Royal Navy. On 12 August 1944, President Roosevelt broadcast a nationwide address from the forecastle of Cummings after a trip the Alaska. Cummings was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1947.

*Reid (DD-369) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Reid escorted convoys and amphibious operations throughout the Pacific until she was sunk by Kamikazes at Ormoc Bay in the Philippines on 11 December 1944. On 31 August 1942 she sank by gunfire the Japanese submarine RO-1 off Adak Alaska. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Case (DD-370) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Case escorted the fast carrier task forces throughout much of the war as well as conducted Anti-Submarine Warfare operations and Naval Gunfire Support. She sank a Midget submarine outside the fleet anchorage at Ulithi on 20 November 1944 and a Japanese transport off of Iwo Jima on 24 December 1944. She earned 7 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in December 1947.

Conyngham (DD-371) Undamaged during attack she was underway that afternoon. Spent most of war on convoy escort, escorting carrier task forces and conducting Naval Gunfire Support missions she was damaged twice by strafing Japanese aircraft she earned 14 battle stars for her WWII service. Used in 1946 Atomic Bomb tests and destroyed by sinking in 1948.

Cassin (DD-372) Destroyed in drydock but salvaged returned to service 1944 escorting convoys and TG 38.1 the Battle Force of the fleet at Leyte Gulf as well as supporting amphibious operations. She earned 6 battle stars for her WWII service.  Decommissioned December 1945 and sold for scrap 1947

shaw09h3

USS Shaw

Shaw (DD-373) Sustained massive damage due to magazine explosion, salvaged and repaired served throughout war and awarded 11 battle stars. Damaged by Japanese dive bombers off Cape Gloucester on 25 December 1943 with loss of 3 killed and 33 wounded. Decommissioned October 1945 and scrapped 1947

*Tucker (DD-374) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Tucker conducted convoy escort operations and was sunk when she struck a mine escorting a transport to Espiritu Santo on 1 August 1942 sinking on 4 August. She received one battle star for her WWII service.

Downes (DD-375) Destroyed in drydock and salvaged. Decommissioned June 1942, rebuilt and recommissioned 1943. After she was recommissioned and used to escort convoys and conduct Naval Gunfire Support to amphibious operations. She earned 4 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap.

USS Bagley

Bagley (DD-386) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Bagley conducted convoy escort operations and supported amphibious landings throughout the Pacific earning 1 battle stars ended the war on occupation duty at the Sasebo-Nagasaki area until returning to the United States. She earned 12 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in June 1946 and sold for scrap in October 1947.

*Blue (DD-387) Blue was undamaged and got underway during the attack under the direction of 4 Ensigns.  Served on convoy escort duties, present at Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 192 and was torpedoed off Guadalcanal by Japanese destroyer Kawakaze on 21 August and was scuttled 22 August. She earned five battle stars for her WWII service.

Helm (DD-388) Helm was underway, nearing West Loch at the time of the attack. Helm served in the Solomons and the South Pacific until February 19. She joined the fast carrier task forces of 5thFleet in May 1944. On 28 October at Leyte Gulf 28 October 1944 Helm and companion destroyer Gridley made sank the Japanese submarine I-46. She was used for a target during Operation Crossroads and scrapped in 1946. She received 11 battle stars for her WWII service.

Mugford (DD-389) Mugford was on standby status and had steam up which allowed her to get to sea during the attack in which she shot down Japanese aircraft. She spent much of 1942 on convoy duty between the U.S. and Australia. She took part in the Guadalcanal invasion and was struck by a bomb which killed 8 men, wounded 17 and left 10 missing in action. She would go on to serve in the Central and South Pacific being damaged by a near miss from a bomb on 25 December off Cape Gloucester and was stuck by a Kamikaze on 5 December 1944 in Surigo Strait. She escorted the fast carriers of TF 8 and 58 and later served on anti-submarine and radar picket duty. She decommissioned 1946 and was used in the Atomic Bomb tests and after use as a test ship for radioactive decontamination was sunk on 22 March 1948 at Kwajalein. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ralph Talbot (DD-390) Ralph Talbot got underway by 0900 on the morning of the attack and joined other ships at sea attempting to find the Japanese strike force. She spent much of 1942 engaged in escort duties and took part in the Battle of Savo Island where she engaged the Japanese as part of the Northern Group and was damaged by Japanese shellfire. She spent the war in the South and Central Pacific escorting convoys and supporting amphibious operations and was damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa. She remained in service until 1946 when she was assigned to JTF-1 and the Operations Crossroads Atomic Bomb test. She survived the blast and was sunk in 198. She earned 12 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Henley (DD-391) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Henley was already at General Quarters when the attack began because a new sailor sounded the General Quarters alarm instead of Quarters for Muster. As a result her weapons were manned. She got underway during the attack under the command of a junior Lieutenant and joined other ships patrolling outside of Pearl Harbor. Henley carried out convoy and anti-submarine patrols mainly around Australian continuing those duties through the Guadalcanal campaign. She was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese bombers on 3 October 1943 while conducting a sweep in support of troops ashore near Finshafen New Guinea. Henley earned 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Patterson (DD-392) Patterson was undamaged during the attack and proceeded to sea conducting anti-submarine warfare patrols. She would spend the bulk of the war as an escort for fast carrier task forces. She was with the Southern Group during the Battle of Savo Island and suffered a hit on her #4 gun mount that killed 10 sailors.  She was awarded 13 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned in November 1945 she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1947 and sold for scrap.

*Jarvis (DD-393) Jarvis survived Pearl Harbor undamaged and got underway to join other ships in patrols around Oahu.  She served as an escort for carriers and convoys and the invasion of Guadalcanal. She was heavily damaged by an aircraft launched torpedo during the landings but her crew made temporary repairs and restored power. She was ordered to Efate New Hebrides but evidently unaware of the order her Commanding Officer set sail for Sidney Australian and repairs from the Destroyer Tender USS Dobbin. She passed south of Savo Island as the Japanese cruiser force approached and refused assistance for the USS Blue.  She was last seen on the morning of 9 August 1942 by a scout plane from Saratoga. Already heavily damaged and having little speed, no radio communications and few operable guns was attacked by a force of 31 Japanese bombers sinking with all hands at 1300 on 9 August. Jarvis was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Submarines

v-5a

USS Narwhal

Narwhal (SS-167) Narwhal was one of a class of three large cruiser submarines that was built in the mid 1920s. Narwhal was 14 years old at the time of the attack. She was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and was used primarily to support special missions and special operations forces in raids against Japanese shore installations. Narwhal earned 15 battle stars for her service in the Pacific and was decommissioned in February 1945 and sold for scrap in May. Her 6” guns are enshrined at the Naval Submarine Base Groton.

Dolphin (SS-169) Undamaged in the Pearl Harbor attack Dolphin made 3 war patrols in late 1941 and early 1942 before being withdrawn from combat service and used for training due to her age. She was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received 2 battle stars for her service in WWII.

Cachalot (SS-170) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Cachalot conducted three war patrols damaging an enemy tanker before being withdrawn from combat service in the fall of 1942 being judged too old for arduous combat service. She served as a training ship until June 1945 and was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in January 1947. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

ss_uss_tautog_ss199

USS Tautog

Tautog (SS-199) Tautog was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and made the Japanese pay for not sinking her. She helped avenge the Pearl Harbor attack sinking 26 enemy ships of 71,900 tons including the submarines RO-30 and I-28 and destroyers Isoname and Shirakumo in 13 war patrols. She was withdrawn from combat service in April 1945 and served and operated in conjunction with the University of California’s Department of War Research in experimenting with new equipment which it had developed to improve submarine safety. She was decommissioned in December 1945. Spared from the Atomic Bomb tests she served as an immobile reserve training ship in the Great Lakes until 1957 and was scrapped in 1960.  Tautog was awarded 14 battle stars and a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in WWII.

Minelayer

OGLALA

USS Oglala

Oglala (CM-4) Sank due to concussion from torpedo hit on Helena. Raised and repaired, converted to internal combustion repair ship. Decommissioned 1946 transferred to Maritime Commission custody and scrapped 1965

Minesweepers

Turkey (AM-13) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor she was redesignated as a Fleet Tug in 1942. She was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Bobolink (AM-20) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor and redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in 1942. She decommissioned in 1946 and sold through the Maritime Administration. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Rail (AM-26) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Rail was redesignated as a Ocean Going Tug in June 1942. She supported operations throughout the Pacific earning 6 battle stars for her WWII service. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration for disposal in 1947.

Tern (AM-31) Undamaged in the attack Tern was redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in June 1942 and supported the fleet for the remainder of the war. She was decommissioned and struck from the Navy List in December 1945. She earned one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

*Grebe (AM-43) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Grebe was redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in June 1942.  On 6 December 1942 Grebe grounded while attempting to float SS Thomas A. Edison at Vuanta Vatoa, Fiji Islands. Salvage operations were broken up by a hurricane that destroyed both ships 1-2 January 1943.

Vireo (AM-52) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Vireo was designated an Ocean Going Tug in May 1942. At the Battle of Midway she was assisting USS Yorktown CV-5 when that ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk.  She was damaged in a Japanese air strike off Guadalcanal on October 15th 1942 abandoned but recovered by U.S. Forces and repaired supporting damaged fleet units. She was decommissioned in 1946 and disposed of by the Maritime Administration in 1947. Her final disposition is unknown. She was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Coastal Minesweepers

Cockatoo (AMC-8) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Cockatoooperated in the 14th Naval District from Pearl Harbor throughout the war. She was transferred to the Maritime Commission 23 September 1946.

Crossbill (AMC-9) Undamaged in the attack she operated in an in-service status attached to the 14th Naval District from 1941 to 1947.

AMc-14_Condor

USS Condor

Condor (AMC-14) Undamaged in the attack she operated in the Hawaiian Islands throughout World War II. Placed out of service 17 January 1946, she was transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal 24 July 1946.

Reedbird (AMC-30) Undamaged during the attack she operated in Hawaiian waters throughout World War II. Then ordered inactivated, Reedbird returned to San Diego where she was stripped and placed out of service 14 January 1946. Her name was struck from the Navy list 7 February 1946 and on 8 November 1946 she was delivered to the Maritime Commission for disposal.

Light Minelayers (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Mine Warfare ships in the 1920s and 1930s)

gable

USS Gamble

*Gamble (DM-15) Gamble was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and served throughout the Pacific. On 29 August 1942 she sank Japanese submarine I-123 near Guadalcanal. On 6 May 1943 she mined the Blackett Strait with her sisters USS Preble and USS Breese. On the night of 7-8 May a Japanese destroyer force entered the minefield one of which Kurashio, went down and two others Oyashio and Kagero were sunk by Allied aircraft the next day. The sinking of Kagero provided a measure of revenge as that ship was part of the Japanese Carrier Strike Group that attacked Pearl Harbor. On 18 February 1945 Gamble was damaged by two bombs while operating off of Iwo Jima. Badly damaged she was towed to Saipan but salvage was impossible and she was decommissioned sunk off of Apra Harbor Guam on 16 July 1945. She was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ramsay (DM-16) Ramsey got underway during the attack and dropped depth charges in the vicinity of what was believed to be a midget submarine. She served in the Solomons and Aleutians and was redesignated as a Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG-98) in 1944 operating around Pearl Harbor. She was decommissioned in October 1945 and scrapped in 1946. She received 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Montgomery (DM-17) Undamaged in the attack Montgomeryconducted ASW operations in the wake of the attack. She operated throughout the Pacific until she was damaged by a mine while anchored off Ngulu on 17 October 1944. She was decommissioned on 23 April 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Breese (DM-18) Breese got underway during the attack and assisted in sinking a midget submarine. She was engaged throughout the war in the Pacific and operated with Gamble and Preble to mine the Blackett Strait in May 1943, an operation that resulted in the sinking of 3 Japanese destroyers. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 10 battle stars for her WWII service

Tracy (DM-19) Tracy was being overhauled during the attack and all machinery and armament was dismounted.  After the overhaul she operated around the Pacific and in February 1943 she Tracy, as task group leader, led Montgomery (DM-17) and Preble (DM-20) in laying a field of 300 mines between Doma Reef and Cape Esperance. That night, Japanese destroyer Makigumo struck one of these mines and was damaged so badly that she was scuttled. Tracy was decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service

Preble (DM-20) Preble was being overhauled on December 7thand took no part in the action. During the war she operated throughout the Pacific and in company with Gamble and Breeselaid a minefield on 6 May 1943 which resulted in sinking 3 Japanese destroyers. She was redesignated as a Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG-99) and she was regulated to convoy escort duties until the end of the war. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 8 battle stars for WWII service.

Sicard (DM-21) Sicard was under overhaul at the Naval Shipyard during the attack. During the war she primarily served on convoy escort duty with and in some mine laying operations. She was reclassified a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-100, effective 5 June 1945, decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Pruitt (DM-22) Pruitt was being overhauled during the attack and served throughout the Pacific during the war. She was reclassified a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-101, effective 5 June 1945, decommissioned November and stricken from the Navy List in December 1945 being scrapped at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

High Speed Minesweepers (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Mine Warfare ships in the 1920s and 1930s)

Zane (DMS-14) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Zane saw much service in the South and Central Pacific in WWII. She conducted minesweeping, convoy escort and ASW operations from Pearl Harbor to the Marianas campaign. She was damaged in a firefight with Japanese destroyers at Guadalcanal in 1942.  After the invasion of Guam she was reassigned to target towing duties. Reclassified from high-speed minesweeper to a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-109, on 5 June 1945 she decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 6 battle stars and a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in WWII.

*Wasmuth  (DMS-15) Wasmuth was undamaged during the attack and spent 1942  conducting patrol and convoy escort duties in the Aleutians and the West Coast. On 27 December 1942 while escorting a convoy in heavy seas two of her depth charges were ripped off their racks and exploded under her fantail blowing off her stern.  Despite repair attempts her crew was evacuated and she sank on 29 December 1942. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Trever (DMS-16) Trever got underway during the attack without her Commanding Officer. During the war she saw extensive service. In 1945 she was regulated to training and local operations around Pearl Harbor. On 4 June 1945, she was reclassified as a miscellaneous auxiliary and designated as AG-110 and decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrapping in 1946. She received 5 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Perry (DMS-17) Perry got underway during the attack and was undamaged. During the war she engaged in numerous minesweeping and escort duties. She struck a mine during the Peleliu invasion off Florida Island and sank on 6 September 1944. She was awarded 6 battle stars for her WWII service.

Gunboat

pg_uss_sacramento

USS Sacramento

Sacramento (PG-19) The elderly Sacramento was undamaged during the attack and participated in rescue and salvage operations after the attack. During the war she served as a tender for PT Boats and an air sea rescue vessel.  Sacramento was decommissioned on 6 February 1946 at Suisun Bay, Calif., and simultaneously transferred to the War Shipping Administration for disposal. She was sold on 23 August 1947 for mercantile service, initially operating under Italian registry as Fermina. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Destroyer Tenders

USS Dobbin with USS Lawrence and three other destroyers

Dobbin (AD-3) Dobbin received minor damage from a bomb burst alongside which killed 2 crewmembers.  During the war she would serve in the South Pacific supporting Pacific Fleet Destroyer Squadrons. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1946. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Whitney (AD-4) Whitney was moored with a nest of destroyers during the attack and helped them prepare for sea during the attack issuing supplies and ammunition to help them get underway. Her sailors helped in repair and salvage operations on several ships during and after the attack.  She would provide vital support to destroyer squadrons during the war and serve until 1946 when she was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration and scrapped in 1948. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane Tenders

Curtiss (AV-4) Damaged by bomb and repaired. She served throughout the war and was damaged by a  Kamikaze in 1945 while operating off Okinawa. Repaired she finished the war and served on active duty until 1956 when she was decommissioned and placed in reserve. She was scrapped 1972. Curtiss received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Tangier (AV-8) Moored just past the USS Utah Tangier was undamaged in the attack and contributed her guns to the air defense as well as shooting at a Japanese midget submarine that had penetrated the harbor. She maintained a very active operational carrier in the Pacific. Decommissioned in 1946 Tangier was sold for scrap in 1961. She earned 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Seaplane Tenders (Small)

avocet3-08

Avocet (AVP-4) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Avocet Avocetserved in the Alaskan and Aleutian theatres of operations as a unit of Patrol Wing 4. During the years, she tended patrol squadrons, transported personnel and cargo, and participated in patrol, survey, and salvage duties. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Swan (AVP-7) Swan was on the Marine Railway drydock during the attack and was undamaged. During the war she was primarily used on target towing duties. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and disposed of by the Maritime Commission in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane Tenders (Destroyer) (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Seaplane Tenders in the 1920s and 1930s)

Hulbert (AVD-6) Hulbert was undamaged during the attack and spent 1942-1943 conducting support missions for flying boats. Reclassified DD-342 she was used as an escort and plane guard for new Escort Carriers at San Diego until the end of the war. She was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

USS Thornton

*Thornton (AVD-11) Thornton contributed her guns to the defense of Pearl Harbor and served in varying locales in the Pacific supporting the operations of flying boats. She was lost during the Okinawa invasion when collided with Ashtabula (AO-51) and Escalante (AO-70). Her starboard side was severely damaged. She was towed to Kerama Retto. On 29 May 1945 a board of inspection and survey recommended that Thornton be decommissioned, beached stripped of all useful materiel as needed, and then abandoned. She was beached and decommissioned on 2 May 1945. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 13 August 1945. In July 1957, Thornton’s abandoned hulk was donated to the government of the Ryukyu Islands. She received 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ammunition Ship

Pyro (AE-1) Pyro was undamaged in the attack and served the war transporting ammunition to naval bases around the Pacific. She was decommissioned in 1946 and scrapped in 1950. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Oilers

Ramapo (AO-12) Ramapo was not damaged at Pearl Harbor and due to her slow speed was regulated to fuel transport operations between the Aleutians and the Puget Sound. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration.

*Neosho (AO-23) Undamaged during the attack her Captain alertly moved her from her berth near Battleship Row to a less exposed part of the harbor.  She operated with the carrier task forces and was heavily damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea by Japanese aircraft. Her crew kept her afloat for 4 days until she was discovered and her crew rescued before she was sunk by gunfire from USS Henley on 11 May 1942. Neosho was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Repair Ships

Medusa (AR-1) Medusa was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and spent the war throughout the South Pacific repairing numerous vessels damaged in combat. After the war she served to prepare ships for inactivation before being decommissioned in 1947 and turned over to the Maritime Administration. She was scrapped in 1950. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

g19933

USS Vestal after the attack

Vestal (AR-4) Vestal was damaged while moored adjacent to USS Arizona. Repaired following the attack Vestal served throughout war in the Pacific and was vital during the critical days of 1942 when she and her crew performed valiant service on major fleet units damaged during the Guadalcanal campaign and actions around the Solomon Islands. Carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, battleships South Dakota and North Carolina, cruisers San Francisco, New Orleans, Pensacola and St. Louis were among the 5,603 jobs on 279 ships and 24 shore activities that she completed in a 12 month tour at Espiratu Santo. She would continue to perform this level of service the remainder of the war. During a stint at Ulithi she completed 2,195 jobs for 149 ships including 14 battleships, 9 carriers, 5 cruisers and 5 destroyers.  She continued her vital work even after the war into 1946 when she was finally decommissioned.  She was sold for scrap in 1950. She received 1 battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Rigel (AR-11) Rigel was at Pearl Harbor completing her transformation from Destroyer Tender to Repari Ship. She incurred minor damage and she served throughout the war conducting vital repairs to numerous ships. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1946.  Her ultimate fate is unknown. She was awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Submarine Tender

USS Pelias with 5 Submarines

Pelias (AS-14) Undamaged during the attack Pelias supported submarine squadrons based in the Pacific throughout the war. She was placed in commission in reserve 6 September 1946, and in service in reserve 1 February 1947. On 21 March 1950 she was placed out of service in reserve but later performed berthing ship duty at Mare Island until she decommissioned 14 June 1970. She was scrapped in 1973.

Submarine Rescue Ship

Widgeon (ASR-1) Widgeon conducted salvage, rescue and fire fighting operations on the sunk and damaged battleships on battleship row. During the war she served as the duty submarine rescue ship at Pearl Harbor and San Diego.  After the war she supported the Operation Crossroads. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1947. She received on battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Hospital Ship

Solace (AH-5) Solace was undamaged in the attack and provided medical care to many of the wounded after the attack. She served throughout the war caring for the wounded and dying in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, Guam, Saipan, Palau, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Solace was decommissioned at Norfolk on 27 March, struck from the Navy list on 21 May, and returned to the War Shipping Administration on 18 July 1946. She was sold to the Turkish Maritime Lines on 16 April 1948 and renamed SS Ankara, rebuilt as a passenger liner. SS Ankara was laid up in 1977 and scrapped at Aliaga, Turkey, in 1981. Solace received seven battle stars for World War II service.

Cargo Ship

Vega (AK-17) Vega was at Honolulu offloading ammunition when the attack occurred. She served in the Aleutians and in the Central Pacific during the war. Decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. She received 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

General-Stores-Issue Ships

Castor (AKS-1) Castor was strafed by Japanese aircraft during the attack but suffered little damage. She would go on to an illustrious career in WWII, Korea and Vietnam before being decommissioned 1968 and scrapped in Japan in 1969. She was awarded three battle stars for World War II service, two for Korean War service and six campaign stars for Vietnam War service.

antares_aks2b-08

USS Antares 

Antares (AKS-3) Antares was at the Pearl Harbor entrance and spotted a midget submarine. She reported the contact to the USS Ward which sank the sub.  During the war Antares made many supply runs in the Pacific and was at Okinawa. Sailing from Saipan to Pearl Harbor she was attacked by the Japanese submarines I-36, whose torpedoes missed their target and the kaiten-carrying I-165. She opened fire on one of the subs forcing it to dive. She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold for scrap in 1947. She was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ocean-going Tugs

Ontario (AT-13) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Ontario would support operations in the Pacific throughout the war. She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold in 1947. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Sunnadin (AT-28) Undamaged in the attack she operated at Pearl Harbor for the duration of the war. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. Her final disposition is unknown. She was awarded one battle star for her service during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Keosanqua (AT-38) Keosanqua was at the Pearl Harbor entrance preparing to transfer a tow from the USS Antares. She took the tow to Honolulu during the attack. She operated at Pearl Harbor and in the Central Pacific conducting towing operations. She was decommissioned in 1946   ransferred to the Maritime Commission 11 July for disposal, she was sold the same day to Puget Sound Tug & Barge Co., Seattle, Wash. Resold to a Canadian shipping firm in 1948, she was renamed Edward J. Coyle. In 1960 she was renamed Commodore Straits.

*Navajo (AT-64) Navaho was 12 miles outside Pearl Harbor entrance when the attack occurred. She operated in the South Pacific until 12 December 1942 when she was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarine I-39 while towing gasoline barge YOG-42 150 miles east of Espiritu Santo, 12 December 1943 with the loss of all but 17 of her crew of 80.  She earned 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Miscellaneous Auxiliaries

ussUtah

USS UTah AG-16

*Utah (AG-16 ex-BB-31) Sunk at her moorings and righted 1944 but not raised, wreck is now a memorial at Ford Island.

USS Argonne as a Submarine Tender

Argonne (AG-31) A former Submarine Tender, Argonne was undamaged during the attack and served in a variety of capacities during the war supporting operations in the Pacific. For a time she was Admiral Halsey’s flagship as Commander Southwest Pacific in 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign.  On 10 November 1944, Argonne lay moored to a buoy in berth 14, Seeadler Harbor, when the ammunition ship Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up, 1,100 yards away causing damage to her and other ships which she assisted after the explosion. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. She was scrapped in 1950. Argonne was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

.

USS Sumner (ex-Bushnell)

Sumner (AG-32) Sumner was undamaged during the attack and was redesignated as a Survey Ship AGS-5. She was damaged by a Japanese shell off Iwo Jima on 8 March 1945. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

Sailing for a Date With Infamy: The Kido Butai Sails to Pearl Harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is a blast from the past to remember the Japanese fleet that on this day some seventy-six years ago that was making its way across the Northern Pacific Ocean to attack the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. In the coming week or so I will post more articles about that attack and what it means today both as a lesson in history as well as a warning.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Early in the morning on November 26th 1941 the ships of the Japanese Carrier Strike Force, the Kido Butai under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo weighed anchor from Tankan Bay in the northern Kurile Islands of Japan. The plan was top secret and very few Japanese officers knew of the target. Many officers presumed that war was immanent but most assumed the target would be the Philippines or other targets in Southeast Asia.

It was an attack that was designed to be pre-emptive in nature. The plan was to deal the United States Navy such a crushing blow that the Japanese could complete their Asian conquests before it could recover. It was a plan of great risk that doomed Japan to horror never before imagined when the United States dropped Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than four years later. By then the bulk of the Imperial Navy   would lay at the bottom of the Pacific and millions of people killed.

The Japanese, even Admiral Yamamoto, the man behind the plan assumed that it entailed great risks. A simulation of the plan conducted in early September by the senior officers of the Combined Fleet and the Kido Butai calculated that two of Japan’s precious aircraft carriers could be lost in the operation. But despite the opposition and reservations of key officers, including the Kido Butai commander, Admiral Nagumo Yamamoto pressed forward.

The Kido Butai was the most powerful carrier strike group assembled up to that time. Comprised of six aircraft carriers, the massive flagship Akagi, and the Kaga, the fast 18,000 ton Soryu and Hiryu and the most modern Shokaku and Zuikaku. The carrier embarked over 400 aircraft, of which over 350 were to be used in the two aerial assault waves. Most of the pilots and aircrew were experienced, many with combat experience in China. The carriers were escorted by the old but fast and modernized battleships Kirishima and Hiei, the new heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma, the light cruiser Abukuma, the new Kagero Class destroyers, Urakaze, Isokaze, Tanikaze, Hamakaze, Kagero and Shiranuhi,the Asashio classdestroyers Arare and Kasumi.Two additional destroyers the Fubuki class Sazanami and Ushiowere assigned to neutralize the American base on Midway Island. The submarines I-19, I-21and I-23 and 8 oilers were assigned to the force. Five additional submarines the I-16, I-18, I-20, I-22 and I-24 each embarked a Type-A midget submarine.

On December 7th the force delivered a devastating blow to the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, however no American aircraft carriers were present. It would go on for the next several months on a rampage across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However their success would be short lived. Within a year Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu had been sunk at Midway by the carriers not present. Hiei and Kirishima were lost at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and over the course of the war every ship of the attack force was lost. Shokaku was torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and Zuikaku, Chikuma and Abukuma were lost at Leyte Gulf, most of the destroyers and submarines were lost in various engagements. However three destroyers, Isokaze, Hamakaze and Kasumi accompanied the great Battleship Yamato on her suicide mission at Okinawa and were sunk on April 7th 1945. The heavy cruiser Tone was sunk at her moorings at Kure during air strikes by the US 3rd Fleet on July 24th 1945. All of the submarines were lost during the war, however I-19 sank the USS Wasp CV-7 and USS O’Brien DD-415 while damaging the USS North Carolina BB-55 on September 15th 1942 off Guadalcanal. Only the destroyer Ushio survived the war and was broken up for scrap in 1948.

Wreck of the Heavy Cruise Tone 1945

Among the leaders of the Japanese strike force, Admiral Yamamoto was killed on April 18th 1943 when his aircraft was shot down at Buin. Nagumo died at Saipan on July 6th 1944.  Most of the sailors who took part in the attack would be dead by the end of the war.

Few present at Tankan Bay on that fateful November morning could have expected the triumph and tragedy ahead. However Yamamoto was probably more of a realist than many in the Japanese government and military leadership when he told Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” Yamamoto was eerily prophetic and those that counsel pre-emptive war need to never forget his words or the results of his decisions.

1 Comment

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

The Iconic Destroyers of the Fletcher Class

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again I continue to take some time off and re-post some articles from the deep abyss of my archives about some of the greatest warship classes in history. In the past few days I have posted articles about different U-Boat types, the Wickes and Clemson Class destroyers, and the Japanese Fubuki Class destroyers. Today, an article about possibly the most iconic destroyer class ever made, the United States Navy Fletcher Class

I hope that you have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

445fletcher_01

The USS Fletcher DD-445

If ever a class of warships can define a ship type the destroyers of the Fletcher Class were that. The most numerous of all United States Navy destroyer classes the Navy commissioned 175 of these ships between June 1942 and February 1945. There were two groupings of ships the 58 round or “high bridge” ships and the 117 square or “low bridged” ships. It was a sound design that would be modified for use in the later Allen M. Sumner and Gearing Class destroyers. Eleven shipyards produced the ships fast, heavily armed and tough the ships would serve in every theater of the war at sea but would find their greatest fame in the Pacific where many became synonymous with the courage and devotion of their officers and crews.

479stevens_01

USS Stevens one of the 6 Fletchers equipped with an aircraft catapult

The ships were a major improvement on previous classes of destroyers and were equal or superior to the destroyers of our allies and our enemies in the war. At 2050 tons displacement and 2900 tons full load the ships were significantly larger than preceding classes and were designed to mount a superior anti-aircraft armament to compliment their main battery of five 5” 38 caliber dual purpose guns and ten 21” torpedo tubes. 376 feet long and flush decked they were an exceptionally tough class of ships which was demonstrated often in the brutal surface battles in the South Pacific, Leyte Gulf and in the battles with Kamikazes off the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. They were the first destroyers of the US Navy which were built with radar as part of the initial design.

o bannon 1961

USS O’Bannon DD-450 in 1961

The anti aircraft armament was increased throughout the war. Initially this was composed of: 4 x 40mm Bofors in two twin-mounts and 6 to 13 x 20mm Oerlikon in single-mounts. By June of 1943 new ships of the class mounted 10 x 40mm Bofors in five twin-mounts 7 x 20mm Oerlikon in single-mounts. As the Kamikaze threat became dire ships returning to the United States for refit lost one of their torpedo tube mounts and had their AA armament increased to 14 x 40mm Bofors in three twin and two quad mounts and 12 x 20mm Oerlikon in six twin mounts. One of the more unusual experiments was to equip six ships with a catapult for a float plane. This eliminated some of their AA guns and one torpedo tube mounting. It was not successful and the mounts were removed before the end of the war.

80-G-K-2750 nicholas kula gulf

USS Nicholas in action at Kula Gulf

The first ships of the class saw action in the Solomons during the Guadalcanal campaign. Fletcher and O’Bannon took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where O’Bannon was one of several destroyers that ganged up on the Japanese Battleship Hiei at ranges as low as 500 yards causing heavy damage to the Battleship which was sunk by naval aircraft the following day. The O’Bannon would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her actions around Guadalcanal which read:

450obannon_01

O’Bannon

“For outstanding performance in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the South Pacific from October 7, 1942, to October 7, 1943. An aggressive veteran after a year of continuous and intensive operations in this area, the U.S.S. O’BANNON has taken a tremendous toll of vital Japanese warships, surface vessels and aircraft. Launching a close range attack on hostile combatant ships off Guadalcanal on the night of November 13, 1942, the O’BANNON scored three torpedo hits on a Japanese battleship, boldly engaged two other men o’ war with gunfire and retired safely in spite of damage sustained. During three days of incessant hostilities in July 1943, she gallantly stood down Kula Gulf to bombard enemy shore positions in coverage of our assault groups, later taking a valiant part in the rescue of survivors from the torpedoed U.S.S STRONG while under fierce coastal battery fire and aerial bombing attack and adding her fire power toward the destruction of a large Japanese naval force. In company with two destroyers, the O’BANNON boldly intercepted and repulsed nine hostile warships off Vella Lavella on October 7, 1943, destroying two enemy ships and damaging others. Although severely damaged, she stood by to take aboard and care for survivors of a friendly torpedoed destroyer and retired to base under her own power. The O’BANNON’s splendid acheivements and the gallant fighting spirit of her officers and men reflect great credit upon the United States Naval Service.”

desron23

DESRON 23

The Fletcher class composed all of DESON 23 the Little Beavers commanded by Commodore Arleigh “31 knot” Burke. The squadron which covered the initial landings at Bougainville in November 1943 fought in 22 separate engagements during the next four months. During this time the squadron was credited with destroying one Japanese cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, several smaller ships, and approximately 30 aircraft. Under Burke the squadron was composed of USS Foote (DD-511), USS Charles Ausburne (DD-570), USS Spence (DD-512), USS Claxton (DD-571), USS Dyson (DD-572), USS Converse (DD-509) and USS Thatcher (DD-514). At the Battle of Cape St. George the squadron intercepted a Japanese force of 5 destroyers sinking 3. At the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay the ships were in action as part of Task Force 39 based around Cruiser Division 12 comprised of the Cleveland Class Light Cruisers Montpelier, Cleveland, Columbia and Denver the took part in the sinking of the Japanese Light Cruiser Sendai and a destroyer. For their efforts DESRON 23 would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which stated:

“For extrordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Solomon Islands Campaign, from November 1, 1943, to February 23, 1944. Boldly penetrating submarine-infested waters during a period when Japanese naval and air power was at its height, Destroyer Squadron TWENTY THREE operated in daring defiance of repeated attacks by hostile air groups, closing the enemy’s strongly fortified shores to carry out sustained bombardments against Japanese coastal defenses and render effective cover and fire support for the major invasion operations in this area. Commanded by forceful leaders and manned by aggressive, fearless crews the ships of Squadron TWENTY THREE coordinated as a superb fighting team; they countered the enemy’s fierce aerial bombing attacks and destroyed or routed his planes; they intercepted his surface task forces, sank or damaged his warships by torpedo fire and prevented interference with our transports. The brilliant and heroic record achieved by Destroyer Squadron TWENTY THREE is a distinctive tribute to the valiant fighting spirit of the individual units in this indomitable combat group and of each skilled and courageous ship’s company.”

557johnston_01

USS Johnston DD-557

Fletcher’s served heroically with “Taffy-3” in the Battle of Samar at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Taffy-3 which was composed of 6 escort carriers, the Fletcher Class destroyers Hoel, Johnston, and Heermann and 4 destroyer escorts was assigned the task of providing close air support for troops ashore and anti-submarine protection for transports. On the morning of October 25th Admiral Halsey took Third Fleet north to engage a Japanese carrier force believing a Japanese surface force of battleships and cruisers to have withdrawn after being heavily hurt by submarine and air attacks. The carrier force had few aircraft and was considered a decoy by the Japanese. This left the San Bernardino Strait unguarded and the Japanese surface force which by now was comprised of 4 battleships including the Yamato as well as 6 heavy and 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers doubled back going through the strait during the early morning hours of the 25th. Just before dawn a patrol aircraft spotted the Japanese force and at 0659 Yamato opened fire on the task group.

533hoel_01

USS Hoel DD-533

The three Fletcher’s and the Destroyer escort Samuel B Roberts were launched into a suicidal counter-attack against the Japanese force. Led by Johnston under the command of Ernest E. Evans the little ships engaged their vastly superior foe as the escort carriers edged away as they launched and recovered their aircraft to keep a continuous air assault on the Japanese force. Johnston scored numerous hits with her 5” guns on the Heavy Cruiser Kumano and when she reached torpedo range launched her 10 “fish” one of which blew off Kumano’s bow and another of which crippled Kumano’s sister Suzuya before she was hit in quick succession by a 14” shell from the Battleship Kongo which hit her engine room and three 6” shells from Yamato which struck her bridge. Evans kept the crippled ship in the fight drawing fire away from other attacking destroyers and fending off a Japanese destroyer squadron that was trying to flank the carriers. Johnston continued to be hit and was abandon at 0945 sinking 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Evans did not survive and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

uss_heermann_at_leyte

USS Heermann DD-532 in action at Samar

Hoel under the command of Commander Leon S. Kintberger took on the Battleship Kongo and a column of cruisers lead by the Heavy Cruiser Haguro. Hoel’s torpedo attack on Kongo forced that ship to turn away and torpedo hits were claimed on the Haguro, although that ship remained in action and the Japanese denied any torpedo damage from the attack. The Japanese concentrated on Hoel sinking her at 0855 taking all but 86 of her crew to a watery grave.

Heermann under Commander Amos Hathaway threw herself into the fight engaging Japanese battleships and cruisers. Heermann engaged Heavy Cruiser Chikuma with her guns while mounting a torpedo attack on Haguro. She then attacked the Japanese battleships directly engaging Haruna and forcing Yamato to head away from the action for 10 minutes as she was bracketed by two of Heermann’s torpedoes running on a parallel course. She engaged the other battleships at such close range that they could not hit her and broke off to intercept a column of cruisers. Once again she engaged Chikuma in a bloody duel with both ships taking heavy damage. Crippled by a series of 8” shell hits from the heavy cruisers Heermann was down heavily at the bow, so much so that her anchors dragged the water. Carrier aircraft joined the battle and Chikuma withdrew from the fight and sank during her withdraw. Heermann then engaged Heavy Cruiser Tone before that ship, also damaged by air attack withdrew from the fight. Though she was heavily damaged the Heermann was the only destroyer to survive the action. Despite their terrible losses the ships and aircraft of Taffy-3 sank 3 heavy cruisers and a destroyer and heavily damaged 3 battleships and 3 heavy cruisers.

80-G-K-3264halseypowell unrep with wisconsin

Just a bit wet, USS Halsey Powell unrep with USS Wisconsin

For their heroic actions which kept the Japanese from getting to the vulnerable transports Taffy-3 including the valiant destroyers Johnston, Hoel, Heerman and Destroyer Escort Samuel B Roberts was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which read:

“For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. Silhouetted against the dawn as the Central Japanese Force steamed through San Bernardino Strait towards Leyte Gulf, Task Unit 77.4.3 was suddenly taken under attack by hostile cruisers on its port hand, destroyers on the starboard and battleships from the rear. Quickly laying down a heavy smoke screen, the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy, swiftly launching and rearming aircraft and violently zigzagging in protection of vessels stricken by hostile armor-piercing shells, anti-personnel projectiles and suicide bombers. With one carrier of the group sunk, others badly damaged and squadron aircraft courageously coordinating in the attacks by making dry runs over the enemy Fleet as the Japanese relentlessly closed in for the kill, two of the Unit’s valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy’s heavy shells as a climax to two and one half hours of sustained and furious combat. The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

520isherwood_02

USS Isherwood (DD-520) underway in heavy weather as she comes alongside the heavy cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) in August 1943. National Archives and Records Administration. Photo # 80-G-79429. [Navsource]

During the war 19 of the class were lost and 6 damaged so badly that they were not repaired. 44 of the ships were awarded 10 battle stars or more while 19 were awarded Naval Unit Commendations and 16 Presidential Unit Citations. Following the war all were decommissioned and placed in reserve. Many were re-commissioned during the Korean War and served through Vietnam. Some of these ships were modernized with newer ASW weapons and re-designated Escort Destroyers (DDE) while others had their air search radar modernized and were re-classified as Radar Picket Destroyers or (DDR). The last Fletcher in US Service decommissioned in 1971. 52 were sold or transferred under military assistance programs to other navies in the 1950s. The ships served well and the last one in active service the Mexican Navy Destroyer Cuitlahuac the former USS John C Rodgers DD-874 was decommissioned in 2001.

twinning in ROC service

Ex USS Twinning in Republic of China Navy Service, note weapon modifications

Z1_Rommel

Zerstörer Z-1 Rommel

uss kidd museum

USS Kidd as Museum and Memorial

Four are currently open as memorial ships the USS Cassin Young DD-793 at Buffalo NY, the USS The Sullivans DD-537 at Buffalo, NY, and USS Kidd DD-661 at Baton Rouge LA can be seen in the United States. The Cassin Young is berthed at the old Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston across the pier from the Frigate USS Constitution. The the Greek destroyer Velos the ex-USS Charette DD-581 is located in Athens. The John Rodgers was scrapped in Mexico in 2011.

velos

Greek Destroyer Velos ex-USS Charente 

The Fletcher Class really symbolizes more than any class of destroyer the classic look of what a destroyer should be. Their clean lines and classic design are iconic not just in this country but in the 15 other countries that they would serve in during the following years. Their amazing record and service in World War Two and in the following years in both the US Navy and the navies of our Allies is one that will probably never be surpassed.

cassin-young-1024x680

USS Cassin Young

I have visited the Cassin Young in Boston; it is well worth the time to see. I hope that I might see The Sullivans and Kidd in the coming years.

zerstorer z-4 ex dyson

The Zerstörer Z-4 ex USS Dyson in heavy seas

I salute the ships of the class and the officers and sailors that served on them in peace and war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under historic preservation, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

Unlikely and Incredible: Victory at Midway

SBDstoastjapcarrier

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I mentioned that I would be writing about a number of watershed events this week. Today is the 74th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Midway. As a Navy officer and having grown up in a Navy family, this battle is still something that I find fascinating. It was a battle that could have easily been lost, and with it the war in the Pacific significantly lengthened, and which had the Japanese won, forced a change in strategy that might have allowed Hitler to strengthen his grip on Europe and maybe even defeat the Soviet Union.

It was a watershed event because it was the first real defeat that the Japanese Imperial Navy sustained in the war, and it ensured that the Japanese would not be able to win the war, except by exhausting the United States.

So it still remains important even today. If you are interested in books about Midway I recommend Walter Lord’s classic “Incredible Victory” and Gordon Prange’s “Miracle at Midway.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Prelude to Battle

The Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had been humiliated. On April 18th 1942 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo.  Though the physical damage was insignificant the psychological impact was massive on the Japanese military establishment. In response to the threat, Yamamoto was directed to bring the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy to battle and to destroy them.

Prior to the Doolittle Raid, Yamamoto and his deputy Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki had explored the possibility of attacking Midway. However, the Japanese armed forces were competing with each other to determine an overall strategy for the war effort. The Army was insistent on a China strategy while the Navy preferred expansion in the Western, South and Central Pacific.  Yamamoto’s idea envisioned seizing Midway and using it as a forward base from which an invasion of Hawaii could be mounted as well as the bait to draw the carrier task forces of the U.S. Navy into battle and destroy them. Until the Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese leadership he was unable to do this.

“I Shall Run Wild for the First Six Months”

yamamoto-isoroku1

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Yamamoto was one of the few Japanese military or political leaders who opposed war with the United States. He had lived in the United States, gotten to know Americans and recognized the how the massive economic and industrial power of the United States would lead to the defeat of Japan. He told Premier Konoye in 1941 “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third years of the fighting.”

It is hard to imagine now, but in June of 1942 it seemed a good possibility that the Americans and British could be on the losing side of the Second World War.

True to Yamamoto’s words in 1942 the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific appeared nearly unstoppable. The Imperial Navy stormed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the months after Pearl Harbor decimating Allied Naval forces that stood in their way.  The British Battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by land based aircraft off of Singapore. A force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes were sunk by the same carriers that struck Pearl Harbor in the Indian Ocean.  Darwin Australia was struck with a devastating blow on February 19th and on February 27th the Japanese annihilated the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian naval forces opposing them at the Battle of the Java Sea. American forces in the Philippines surrendered on May 8th 1942 while the British in Singapore surrendered on February 15th.

In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from its goal and that was at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Between 4-8 May the US Navy’s Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby. Their aircraft sank the light carrier Shoho, damaged the modern carrier Shokaku and decimated the air groups of the Japanese task force. But it was the unexpected raid by US Army Air Corps B-25 Bombers launched from the USS Hornet under command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on April 18th 1942 which embarrassed Yamamoto so badly that he ordered the attack to take Midway and destroy the remaining US Naval power in the Pacific.

Cracking the Code

Chester-W.-Nimitz-militarymuseum.org_

Admiral Chester Nimitz

United States Navy codebreakers had broken the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes in 1941, and in May the Navy code breakers at Pearl Harbor discovered Yamamoto’s plan to have the Imperial Navy attack Midway Island and the Aleutian Islands.  Knowing the Japanese were coming, and that the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6, USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers to defend Midway.  This force of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway while a force of smaller force 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers was dispatched to cover the Aleutians.  The forces on the ground at Midway had a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft which included many obsolete aircraft, 32 PBY Catalina Flying Boats and 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced but resolute airmen with which to defend itself. It also had a ground force of U.S. Marines, should the Japanese actually land on the island.

With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway. They eluded the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance in place of the ailing William “Bull” Halsey. Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher was built around the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of “calculated risk” when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina from Midway discovered the Japanese invasion force transport group.  US long-range B-17 bombers launched attacks against these ships but inflicted no damage.

“Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.”

On the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force sailed east toward the tiny Midway Atoll. Nagumo had seen many of the risks involved in the plan and considered it an “impossible and pointless operation” before the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, but even the reluctant Nagumo fell in line as Yamamoto relentlessly lobbied for the operation.

As the First Carrier strike force closed within 300 miles of Midway on the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo and his staff prepared for the battle that they and many others believed would be the decisive battle. Aircraft received their final preparations, bombs were loaded and as night faded into early morning air crew arose, ate their breakfast and went to their aircraft. The ships had been observing radio silence since they departed their bases and anchorages in Japan the previous week. Honed to a fine edge the crews of the ships and the veteran aircrews anticipated victory.

The crews of the ships of the task force and the air groups embarked on the great aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu as well as their escorts were confident. They had since the war began known nothing but victory. They had devastated the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and roamed far and wide raiding allied targets and sinking allied shipping across the Pacific and deep into the Indian Ocean. Commander Magotaro Koga of the destroyer Nowaki wrote in his diary “Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.

PERSON JAP Nagumo1

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

However, Nagumo and his sailors had no idea that most of what they knew about their American opponents was wrong. Nagumo and Yamamoto were confident that the Americans could field no more than two operational carriers to defend Midway. They had no idea that the Yorktown, which they believed had been sunk at Coral Sea was operational and her air group reinforced by the aircraft of the damaged Saratoga which was being repaired on the West Coast. Unknown to the Japanese the Yorktown and her escorts had joined Enterprise and Hornet northeast of Midway.

The Japanese were going into battle blind. They had planned to get aerial surveillance of US Fleet dispositions at Pearl Harbor, but that had been cancelled because the atoll at French Frigate Shoals that the Japanese flying boats would operate from had been occupied by a small US force. Likewise a line of Japanese submarines arrived on station a day too late, after the US carrier task forces had passed by them. Those aboard the First Carrier Strike Force, including Nagumo or his senior commanders and staff had no idea that the Americans not only knew of their approach but were already deployed in anticipation of their strike.

Within a day all of the Japanese carriers would be sunk or sinking. Thousands of Japanese sailors would be dead and the vaunted air groups which had wreaked havoc on the Allies would be decimated, every aircraft lost and the majority of pilots and aircrew dead. It would be a most unexpected and devastating defeat stolen out of the hands of what appeared to be certain victory.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Japanese who sailed into the night on June 3rd 1942 and saw the sunrise of June 4th. There is no battle, campaign or war that goes according to plan. Thousands of Japanese sailors and airmen went to bed on the night of the 3rd expecting that the following night, or within the next few days they would be celebrating a decisive victory. Thousands of those sailors would be dead by the night of the 4th of June 1942, and as their ships slid beneath the waves, the ambitions of Imperial of Japan to defeat the United States Navy and end the war were dealt a decisive defeat from which they never recovered.

Hawks at Angles Twelve

F2A-3+Buffalo

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Battle of Midway is the sacrifice of Marine Fighter Squadron 221 on the morning of June 4th 1942.   The Marine aviators flying a mix of 21 obsolescent Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats engaged a vastly superior force of Japanese Navy aircraft as they vectored toward the atoll to begin softening it up for the planned invasion.

Led by Major Floyd Parks the squadron had arrived at Midway on Christmas day 1941 being delivered by the USS Saratoga after the aborted attempt to relieve Wake Island.  The squadron along with Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB 241) formed Marine Air Group 22.  They fighter pilots of VMF-221 scored their first victory shooting down a Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” flying boat. The squadron which initially was composed of just 14 aircraft, all F2A-3’s was augmented by 7 more F2A-3s and 7 of the more advanced F4F-3s before the battle.

When the Japanese First Carrier Striking Group was spotted in the wee hours of June 4th the Marines and other aircrew aboard Midway scrambled to meet them.  The 18 SBD-2 Dauntless’ and 12 Vought SB2-U3 Vindicator dive bombers of VMSB-241, the 6 TBF Avengers of the Navy Torpedo Eight detachment, 4 Army Air Corps B-26 Marauders and 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses flew out to attack the Japanese carriers while the fighters rose to intercept the 108 aircraft heading toward Midway. The 72 strike aircraft, 36 Aichi 99 Val Dive Bombers and 36 Nakajima B5N Torpedo/ High Level Bombers were protected by 36 AM6-2 Zeros which thoroughly outclassed the Marine opponents in speed, maneuverability and in the combat experience of their pilots.

The Marine fighters audaciously attacked the far superior Japanese force, throwing themselves against the Japanese phalanx with unmatched courage.  Despite their courage the Marine fighters were decimated by the Japanese Zeros.  The Marines shot down 4 Val dive bombers and at least three Zeros but lost 13 Buffalos and 3 Wildcats during the battle.  Of the surviving aircraft only three Buffalos and three Wildcats were in commission at the end of the day. Among the casualties killed was Major Parks.  Of the surviving pilots of VMF-221, two became “Aces” during the war. Lieutenant Charles M. Kunz would later fly in VMF-224, adding six victories to end the war with 8 victories. Capt. Marion E. Carl would later fly in VMF-223 raising his score to 18.5 Japanese aircraft shot down.  Other pilots like 2nd Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield shot down two additional aircraft while flying with VMF-223. 2nd Lieutenant Walter W. Swansberger won the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal.

The last remaining Marine fighter pilot of VMF-221 from the battle of Midway, Williams Brooks died in January 2010 and was buried with full military honors, in Bellview, Nebraska. Brooks in his after action report described his part in the battle:

I was pilot of F2A-3, Bureau number 01523, Our division under Capt. Armistead was on standby duty at he end of the runway on the morning of June 4, 1942, from 0415 until 0615. At about 0600, the alarm sounded and we took off. My division climbed rapidly, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I discovered afterwards that although my wheels indicator and hydraulic pressure indicator both registered “wheels up”, they were in reality about 1/3 of the way down. We sighted the enemy at about 14,000 feet, I would say that there were 40 to 50 planes. At this time Lt. Sandoval was also dropping back. My radio was at this time putting out no volume, so I could not get the message from Zed. At 17,000 feet, Capt. Armistead led the attack followed closely by Capt. Humberd. They went down the left of the Vee , leaving two planes burning. Lt. Sandoval went down the right side of the formation and I followed. One of us got a plane from the right side of the Vee. At this time, I had completely lost sight of my division. As I started to pull up for another run on the bombers, I was attacked by two fighters. Because my wheels being jammed 1/3 way down, I could not out dive these planes, but managed to dodge them and fire a burst or so into them as they went past me and as I headed for the water. As I circled the island, the anti-aircraft fire drove them away. My tabs, instruments and cockpit were shot up to quite an extent at this time and I was intending to come in for a landing. 

It was at this time that I noticed that a important feature in their fighting. I saw two planes dog-fighting over in the east, and decided to go help my friend if at all possible. My plane was working very poorly, and my climb was slow. As I neared the fight both planes turned on me. It was then that I realized I had been tricked in a sham battle put on by two Japs and I failed to recognize this because of the sun in my eyes. Then I say I was out-numbered, I turned and made a fast retreat for the island, collecting a goodly number of bullets on the way. After one of these planes had been shaken, I managed to get a good burst into another as we passed head-on when I turned into him. I don’t believe this ship could have gotten back to his carrier, because he immediately turned away and started north and down. I again decided to land, but as I circled the island I saw two Japs on a Brewster. Three of my guns were jammed, but I cut across the island, firing as I went with one gun. But I could not get there in time to help the American flier and as soon as the Brewster had gone into the water I came in for a landing at approximately 0715 (estimated). 

As for VMF-221 it was re-equipped with the F4F-4 and later with the F4U Corsair during the course of two more deployments overseas.  VMF-221 finished the war with a score of 155 victories, 21 damaged and 16 probable kills, the second highest total of any Marine Corps Squadron during the war.

Their bomber counterparts of VMSB 241 attacked the Japanese task force on the morning of June 4th and scored no hits while losing 8 aircraft. The survivors were again in action later in the day as well as the following day where they helped sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma with their squadron leader Major Henderson diving his mortally wounded aircraft into the cruiser’s number 4 8” gun turret. While the Marines’ actions are not as well known or as successful as those of their Navy counterparts they were brave.  Fighter pilots had to engage some of the most experienced pilots flying superior machines while the bomber crews had little to no experience before being thrown into combat.

800px-tbd_attacking_at_midway_painting-1

Into the Valley of Death: The Last Ride of the Torpedo Bombers

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in the Charge of the Light Brigade something that echoes to this day when we talk or write about men who charge the gates of death against superior enemies.

Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

They were not six hundred and they were not mounted on horses, but the Naval Aviators of Torpedo Squadrons 3, 6 and 8 and their aerial steeds 42 Douglas TBD Devastators and 6 TBF Avengers wrote a chapter of courage and sacrifice seldom equaled in the history of Naval Aviation. Commanded by veteran Naval Aviators, LCDR Lance “Lem” Massey, LCDR Eugene Lindsey and LCDR John Waldron the squadrons embarked aboard the carriers flew the obsolete TBD Devastators. The young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.

he TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world when it entered service.  It was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft.  It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings.  The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet with a limited number embarked aboard Wasp. 

The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational by the beginning of the war.  They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not available for service in large enough numbers to replace them before Midway.  The TBDs performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

The Torpedo squadrons attacked independently of each other between 0920 and 1030 on June 4th 1942. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators were shot down.  Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron to be picked up later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo Three from the Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey losing 11 of 13 aircraft with Massey a casualty last being seen standing on the wing of his burning aircraft as it went down.  These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown.  The six aircraft of the Torpedo Eight detachment from Midway under the command of LT Fieberling lost 5 of their 6 aircraft while pressing their attacks.  Only Ensign Bert Earnest and his aircraft survived the battle landing in a badly damaged state on Midway.  Four U.S. Army B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers were pressed into service as torpedo bombers of which 2 were lost.  No torpedo bomber scored a hit on the Japanese Task force even those torpedoes launched at close range failed to score and it is believe that this was in large part due to the poor performance of the Mark 13 aircraft torpedoes.

Despite the enormous losses of the torpedo squadrons their sacrifice was not in vain. Their attacks served to confuse the Japanese command and delay the rearmament of aircraft following the Japanese strikes on Midway. They also took the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to sea level and opened the way for American Dive Bombers to strike the Japanese with impunity fatally damaging the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu in the space of 5 minutes.

eneterprise vt-6 midway

After Midway the remaining TBDs were withdrawn from active service and no example survives today. The TBF became the most effective torpedo bomber of the war and some remained in service in a civilian capacity to fight forest fires until 2012.

img_0064

The Provence of Chance: Five Minutes that Changed the War

The land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failed to damage the Japanese task force. When the results of the first strike of the Japanese bombers that hit Midway was analyzed Nagumo readied his second wave.

As this was happening the American carriers launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind as for Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol missions.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

Aboard the Japanese ships, orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island, but when the Yorktown task force was discovered, orders were changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. In their haste to get their aircraft ready to strike the Americans, the hard working Japanese aircrews did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft. But due to their hard work at 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers. Aircraft and their crews awaited the order to launch, their aircraft fully armed and fully fueled.

There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet made a wrong turn and not find the Japanese carriers. The squadrons had to return due to a lack of fuel and a number of bombers and their fighter escort had to ditch in the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when they spotted the wake of a Japanese destroyer steaming at high speed to catch up with the Japanese carriers.  Taking a chance, McClusky followed it straight to the Japanese Task Force arriving about 1020. The Yorktown’s group under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted to the threat of the American dive bombers when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” The Japanese fighters assigned to the combat air patrol were flying too low as the mopped up the last of the doomed torpedo bombers and were not in a position to intercept the Americans.

Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’s lookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.

Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her. A few hours later Hiryu, which had succeeded in launching strikes that seriously damaged Yorktown met the fate of her sisters. Yorktown would be sunk by a Japanese submarine, along with the destroyer Hamman a few days later as her crew attempted to get her to Pearl Harbor. In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed.

A Final Ignominy

Sinking_of_japanese_cruiser_Mikuma_6_june_1942

Admiral Yamamoto was still attempting to digest the calamity that had befallen Admiral Nagumo’s carrier task force. In the shocked atmosphere of the mighty Super Battleship Yamato’s command center the Staff of the Combined Fleet was hastily attempting to arrive at a solution which might reverse the disaster and bring victory.  Admiral Ugaki, Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff, despite strong personal doubts, ordered Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo to prepare for a night surface engagement with the US Fleet and dispatched a strong surface force to bombard Midway in order to prevent the Americans from reinforcing it and to prevent its further use against his forces should the invasion move forward.  Kondo then organized his fleet to attempt to find the American carriers and bring them to battle before dawn.

Kondo detached Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Close Support Group composed of Cruiser Seven, the fastest and most modern cruisers in the Imperial Navy proceed at full speed to attack Midway.  Kurita’s cruisers, the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma and Mogami were each armed with 10 8” guns and were escorted by the two destroyers.

Kurita’s force was 80 miles from Midway when Yamamoto realizing that his plan was unrealistic ordered Kondo’s forces to retreat and rendezvous with his main force shortly after midnight. The order was met with a measure of relief by most officers in the force and the force turned northwest and steamed at 28 knots to meet the Main Body.  At 0215 lookouts on Kumano sighted a submarine on the surface which turned out to be the USS Tambor which had been shadowing the group, and made a signal for the force to make a emergency 45 degree turn to port.

During the process Mogami’s Navigator took over from the watch to oversee the tricky maneuver. In doing so he thought that there was too much distance between him and the ship ahead, the Mikuma. So he adjusted his course to starboard and then realized his mistake. The ship he thought was Mikuma was actually Suzuya and Mikuma was directly ahead. As soon as he recognized his mistake Mogami’s Navigator ordered a hard turn to port and reversed the engines but it was too late. Mogami’s bow crashed into Mikuma’s port quarter. The impact caused minimal damage to Mikuma but Mogami was heavily damaged. She lost 40 feet of her bow and everything else was bent back to port at right angles to her number one turret.

Mogami’s damage control teams isolated the damage and worked the ship up to 12 knots. This was not fast enough for Kurita to make his rendezvous so he left Mikuma and the destroyers to escort Mogami while he steamed ahead with Kumano and Suzuya.

Tambor’s skipper LCDR John W Murphy sent a contact report at 0300 reporting “many unidentified ships.” He followed this with more detailed information and the Americans on Midway began to launch its remaining serviceable aircraft to attack the threat. A flight of B-17 Bombers launched at 0430 could not find the Japanese ships but at 0630 a PBY Catalina found the Japanese and radioed Midway “two Japanese battleships streaming oil.”  The remaining 12 aircraft of VSMB-241 under command of Captain Marshall Tyler a mix of SBD Dauntless and SB2U Vindicators took off at 0700. His force attacked at 0808 scoring no hits. However, Marine Captain Richard Fleming, his Vindicator on fire dropped his bomb and then crashed his aircraft into Mikuma’s after turret. Sailors aboard Mogami were impressed, the American had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack worthy of the Samurai. The fire was sucked down air intakes into the starboard engine room with disastrous results. The Mikuma’s engineers were suffocated by the smoke and fumes and Mikuma was greatly reduced in speed.

The two ships limped northwest at 12 knots escorted by the destroyers and were unmolested through much of the day with the exception of an ineffective attack by the B-17s at 0830. The following morning the Dive Bombers of Enterprise and Hornet were at work and found the crippled Japanese ships. Waves over US Dive Bombers attacked the cruisers throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Mikuma was hit at least 5 times and secondary explosions of ammunition and torpedoes doomed the ship. Mogami was also heavily damaged but remained afloat while both destroyers received bomb damage.  At sunset the tough cruiser rolled over to port and sank into the Pacific. Mogami whose damage control teams had performed miracles to keep their ship afloat helped the destroyers rescue survivors from Mikuma.  Only 240 were rescued with 650 officers and sailors going down with the ship.

The action against the cruisers ended the combat operations at Midway. The Japanese ships were doomed by Yamamoto’s decision to try to salvage victory from defeat and the error of Mogami’s Navigator during the emergency turn when Kumano sighted Tambor. The only thing that kept the result from being total was the efficacy of Mogami’s damage control teams.  Mogami was out of the war for 10 months following repairs and conversion to an Aircraft Cruiser in which her aft turrets were removed to increase the number of float plane scouts that the ship could carry. She rejoined the fleet in April 1943 and was sunk following the Battle of the Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944.

The Mogami and Mikuma proved to be tough ships to sink. Unprotected by friendly aircraft they fought hard against the unopposed American Dive Bombers. They suffered massive damage from 500 and 1000 pound bombs, both direct hits and near misses. Mogami was saved by the skill of her damage control teams and the foresight of her Damage Control Officer to jettison her torpedoes so that they did not explode and compound the damage wrought by the American bombs.

Epilogue

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world today.

 

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Doomed Fleet: The Kido Butai & Pearl Harbor

Akagi_29

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Early December is such an interesting time of year for a historian. There are a lot of events that occurred which still linger in our memories. One of those is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. I find it interesting and not just from an American point of view. I can also as a career military officer also understand the thoughts of the Japanese officers who were ordered to undertake the attack.

Early in the morning on November 26th 1941 the ships of the Japanese Carrier Strike Force, the Kido Butai under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo weighed anchor from Tankan Bay in the northern Kurile Islands of Japan. The plan was top secret and very few Japanese officers knew of the target. Many officers presumed that war was immanent but most assumed the target would be the Philippines or other targets in Southeast Asia.

PERSON JAP Nagumo1

Nagumo

The next day Nagumo expressed his personal misgivings about the attack to his Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka as the task force plunged through heavy seas. He blurted out, “Mr. Chief of Staff, what do you think? I feel that I’ve undertaken a heavy responsibility. If I had only been more firm and refused. Now we’ve left home waters and I’m beginning to wonder if this operation will work.” 

Admiral Kusaka came up with the right answer:  “Sir, there’s no need to worry. We’ll make out all right.” 

Nagumo smiled. “I envy you, Mr. Kusaka. You’re such an optimist.” 

The attack on Pearl Harbor was designed to be pre-emptive in nature. It was supposed to deliver such a crushing blow to the United States Navy that the Japanese could complete their Asian conquests before it could recover. It was a plan of great risk that doomed Japan to horror never before imagined when the United States dropped Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than four years later. By then the bulk of the Imperial Navy would be at the bottom of the Pacific and millions of people killed.

yamamoto-isoroku1

Yamamoto 

The Japanese, even Admiral Yamamoto, the man behind the plan understood that it entailed great risks. A simulation of the plan conducted in early September by the senior officers of the Combined Fleet and the Kido Butai calculated that two of Japan’s precious aircraft carriers could be lost in the operation. But despite the opposition and reservations of key officers, including the Kido Butai commander, Admiral Nagumo Yamamoto pressed forward.

kagaph

The Kido Butai was the most powerful carrier strike group assembled up to that time. In fact the United States Navy would not equal the power of the force until late 1943. Comprised of six aircraft carriers, the massive flagship Akagi, and the Kaga, the fast 18,000-ton Soryu and Hiryu and the most modern Shokaku and Zuikaku. The carrier embarked over 400 aircraft, of which over 350 were to be used in the two aerial assault waves. Most of the pilots and aircrew were experienced, many with combat experience in China. The carriers were escorted by the old but fast and modernized battleships Kirishima and Hiei, the new heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma, the light cruiser Abukuma, the new Kagero Class destroyers, Urakaze, Isokaze, Tanikaze, Hamakaze, Kagero and Shiranuhi, the Asashio class destroyers Arare and Kasumi. Two additional destroyers the Fubuki class Sazanami and Ushio were assigned to neutralize the American base on Midway Island. The submarines I-19, I-21 and I-23 and 8 oilers were assigned to the force. Five additional submarines the I-16, I-18, I-20, I-22 and I-24 each embarked a Type-A midget submarine.

1280px-Hiryu_burning

Hiryu prior to sinking at Midway

On December 7th the force delivered a devastating blow to the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, however no American aircraft carriers were present. It would go on for the next several months on a rampage across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However their success would be short lived. Within a year, the carriers that were not present at Pearl Harbor sank the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu at Midway. Hiei and Kirishima were lost at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. Over the course of the war every ship of the attack force but one was lost.

zuikaku12_usn_h73070

The Last Banzai aboard Zuikaku as she sinks at the Battle of Cape Engano (Leyte Gulf) October 25th 1944

Shokaku was torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and Zuikaku, Chikuma and Abukuma were lost at Leyte Gulf, most of the destroyers and submarines were lost in various engagements. However three destroyers, Isokaze, Hamakaze and Kasumi accompanied the great Battleship Yamato on her suicide mission at Okinawa and were sunk on April 7th 1945. The heavy cruiser Tone was sunk at her moorings at Kure during air strikes by the US 3rd Fleet on July 24th 1945.

9d006f3b373f8e5ed86a61bad7406d6f

Heavy Cruiser Tone sunk in Kure Japan 1945

All of the submarines were lost during the war, however I-19 sank the USS Wasp CV-7 and USS O’Brien DD-415 while damaging the USS North Carolina BB-55 on September 15th 1942 off Guadalcanal. Only the destroyer Ushio survived the war and was broken up for scrap in 1948.

MitsuoFuchida

Fuchida (above) and Genda 

f624277ee1

Among the leaders of the Japanese strike force, Admiral Yamamoto was killed on April 18th 1943 when his aircraft was shot down at Buin.  Most of the sailors who took part in the attack would be dead by the end of the war. Nagumo who resisted the strike and was ordered to lead it realized his worst fears at Midway and during the battles around Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, died in the American invasion of Saipan in 1944. The two aviators who planned and executed the tactical details of the raid, Mitsuo Fuchida, and Minoru Genda, both survived the war. Genda became a general in the Japanese Air Self Defense Force and died at the age of 84 in 1989. Fuchida converted to Christianity after reading the story of Doolittle Raid survivor Jacob DeShazor. Fuchida became a Methodist pastor and evangelist and died in 1976 at the age of 73.

Few present at Tankan Bay on that fateful November morning could have expected the triumph and tragedy ahead. However Yamamoto was probably more of a realist than many in the Japanese government and military leadership when he told Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” Yamamoto was eerily prophetic and those that counsel pre-emptive war need to never forget his words or the results of his decisions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Improbable and Unlikely: Victory at Midway

800px-tbd_attacking_at_midway_painting-1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I mentioned earlier in the week I am publishing a number of articles on Greatest Generation as we remember the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway in 1942 and the D-Day landings in 1944.

This article is a compilation of a number of articles that I have done in the past with a bit of edition. It deals with the battle of Midway. I hope to do some really serious writing on the topic someday, but most of my writing and research time has been devoted to the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. Too bad I am not like LCDR Data in Star Trek the Next Generation. Image the productivity, but I digress…

I grew up in a Navy family when it was not popular for people to “support the troops” back during the Vietnam War and in the post-Vietnam era. That being said I developed a love for all things Navy and buried myself in the library, reading and checking out books. My friends probably remember he hauling armloads of books too and from class and too and from school  on the buses that we rode. One of those books was Walter Lord’s classic Incredible Victory about the Battle of Midway. Through it and other books I felt as if I had come to know the men who fought that battle, the men of both sides, gaining an appreciation for their bravery and humanity. As I have mentioned time and time again on this site, people matter the most in history, especially in war. In the intervening years I have spent over 34 years in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy serving at sea and ashore in combat operations. As such I have a connection to these men, I can imagine what they were going through.

As we get further away from these events we have fewer people who even know about them, and that is really sad because they are so important, and the sacrifices of the men who fought those battles helped secure an opportunity freedom for so many. I know that after the war that the United States has not always lived up to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, nor how our founders believed that we should pursue relations with other countries. In fact, they would not recognize what we have become. Even so, it is important for us to reexamine these events, to remember the men and women who served, and to remember their sacrifice, even as we acknowledge the tragedy of war and all that it brings.

I hope that you enjoy this and trust that you will have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 538x362xNorth-American-Aviation-B-25B-Mitchell-launches-from-USS-Hornet-CV-8-18-April-1942-21.jpg.pagespeed.ic.fjuaPl49hb

The Doolittle Raid

Prelude to Battle

The Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had been humiliated. On April 18th 1942 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo.  Though the physical damage was insignificant the psychological impact was massive on the Japanese military establishment. In response to the threat, Yamamoto was directed to bring the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy to battle and to destroy them.

Prior to the Doolittle Raid, Yamamoto and his deputy Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki had explored the possibility of attacking Midway. However, the Japanese armed forces were competing with each other to determine an overall strategy for the war effort. The Army was insistent on a China strategy while the Navy preferred expansion in the Western, South and Central Pacific.  Yamamoto’s idea envisioned seizing Midway and using it as a forward base from which an invasion of Hawaii could be mounted as well as the bait to draw the carrier task forces of the U.S. Navy into battle and destroy them. Until the Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese leadership he was unable to do this.

“I Shall Run Wild for the First Six Months”

 893594c746

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Yamamoto was one of the few Japanese military or political leaders who opposed war with the United States. He had lived in the United States, gotten to know Americans and recognized the how the massive economic and industrial power of the United States would lead to the defeat of Japan. He told Premier Konoye in 1941 “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third years of the fighting.”

It is hard to imagine now, but in June of 1942 it seemed a good possibility that the Americans and British could be on the losing side of the Second World War.

True to Yamamoto’s words in 1942 the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific appeared nearly unstoppable. The Imperial Navy stormed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the months after Pearl Harbor decimating Allied Naval forces that stood in their way.  The British Battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by land based aircraft off of Singapore. A force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes were sunk by the same carriers that struck Pearl Harbor in the Indian Ocean.  Darwin Australia was struck with a devastating blow on February 19th and on February 27th the Japanese annihilated the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian naval forces opposing them at the Battle of the Java Sea. American forces in the Philippines surrendered on May 8th 1942 while the British in Singapore surrendered on February 15th.

In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from its goal and that was at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Between 4-8 May the US Navy’s Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby. Their aircraft sank the light carrier Shoho, damaged the modern carrier Shokaku and decimated the air groups of the Japanese task force. But it was the unexpected raid by US Army Air Corps B-25 Bombers launched from the USS Hornet under command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on April 18th 1942 which embarrassed Yamamoto so badly that he ordered the attack to take Midway and destroy the remaining US Naval power in the Pacific.

Cracking the Code

 images-2

Admiral Chester Nimitz

United States Navy codebreakers had broken the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes in 1941, and in May the Navy code breakers at Pearl Harbor discovered Yamamoto’s plan to have the Imperial Navy attack Midway Island and the Aleutian Islands.  Knowing the Japanese were coming, and that the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6, USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers to defend Midway.  This force of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway while a force of smaller force 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers was dispatched to cover the Aleutians.  The forces on the ground at Midway had a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft which included many obsolete aircraft, 32 PBY Catalina Flying Boats and 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced but resolute airmen with which to defend itself. It also had a ground force of U.S. Marines, should the Japanese actually land on the island.

20150122152242

The Japanese Fleet and was built around the elite First Carrier Striking Group, the Kido Butai composed of the Pearl Harbor attackers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu. Led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo its highly trained and combat experienced air groups composed of 273 aircraft. This force was escorted by 2 Battleships, 3 Cruisers 12 Destroyers. Yamamoto commanded a force of 2 light carriers, 5 Battleships, 11 cruisers and 27 destroyers.  Meanwhile a force of 4 battleships, 12 destroyers assigned screen to the Aleutian invasion force which was accompanied by 2 carriers 6 cruisers and 10 destroyers. The other carriers embarked a further 114 aircraft.  The Japanese plan was ambitious but it was so ambitious that the Japanese Task forces were scattered over thousands of square miles of the Northern Pacific Ocean from which they could not rapidly come to the support of each other.

uss-enterprise-cv-6-1

With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway. They eluded the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway.  Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance in place of the ailing William “Bull” Halsey. Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher was built around the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of “calculated risk” when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

images-43

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina from Midway discovered the Japanese invasion force transport group.  US long-range B-17 bombers launched attacks against these ships but inflicted no damage.

“Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.”

 10-japanese-carriers-coral-sea-midway

On the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force sailed east toward the tiny Midway Atoll. Nagumo had seen many of the risks involved in the plan and considered it an “impossible and pointless operation” before the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, but even the reluctant Nagumo fell in line as Yamamoto relentlessly lobbied for the operation.

As the First Carrier strike force closed within 300 miles of Midway on the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo and his staff prepared for the battle that they and many others believed would be the decisive battle. Aircraft received their final preparations, bombs were loaded and as night faded into early morning air crew arose, ate their breakfast and went to their aircraft. The ships had been observing radio silence since they departed their bases and anchorages in Japan the previous week. Honed to a fine edge the crews of the ships and the veteran aircrews anticipated victory.

The crews of the ships of the task force and the air groups embarked on the great aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu as well as their escorts were confident. They had since the war began known nothing but victory. They had devastated the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and roamed far and wide raiding allied targets and sinking allied shipping across the Pacific and deep into the Indian Ocean. Commander Magotaro Koga of the destroyer Nowaki wrote in his diary “Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.

Chuichi_Nagumo

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

However, Nagumo and his sailors had no idea that most of what they knew about their American opponents was wrong. Nagumo and Yamamoto were confident that the Americans could field no more than two operational carriers to defend Midway. They had no idea that the Yorktown, which they believed had been sunk at Coral Sea was operational and her air group reinforced by the aircraft of the damaged Saratoga which was being repaired on the West Coast. Unknown to the Japanese the Yorktown and her escorts had joined Enterprise and Hornet northeast of Midway.

The Japanese were going into battle blind. They had planned to get aerial surveillance of US Fleet dispositions at Pearl Harbor, but that had been cancelled because the atoll at French Frigate Shoals that the Japanese flying boats would operate from had been occupied by a small US force. Likewise a line of Japanese submarines arrived on station a day too late, after the US carrier task forces had passed by them. Those aboard the First Carrier Strike Force, including Nagumo or his senior commanders and staff had no idea that the Americans not only knew of their approach but were already deployed in anticipation of their strike.

Within a day all of the Japanese carriers would be sunk or sinking. Thousands of Japanese sailors would be dead and the vaunted air groups which had wreaked havoc on the Allies would be decimated, every aircraft lost and the majority of pilots and aircrew dead. It would be a most unexpected and devastating defeat stolen out of the hands of what appeared to be certain victory.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Japanese who sailed into the night on June 3rd 1942 and saw the sunrise of June 4th. There is no battle, campaign or war that goes according to plan. Thousands of Japanese sailors and airmen went to bed on the night of the 3rd expecting that the following night, or within the next few days they would be celebrating a decisive victory. Thousands of those sailors would be dead by the night of the 4th of June 1942, and as their ships slid beneath the waves, the ambitions of Imperial of Japan to defeat the United States Navy and end the war were dealt a decisive defeat from which they never recovered.

Hawks at Angles Twelve

 f2 number mf 21

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Battle of Midway is the sacrifice of Marine Fighter Squadron 221 on the morning of June 4th 1942.   The Marine aviators flying a mix of 21 obsolescent Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats engaged a vastly superior force of Japanese Navy aircraft as they vectored toward the atoll to begin softening it up for the planned invasion.

g701850

Led by Major Floyd Parks the squadron had arrived at Midway on Christmas day 1941 being delivered by the USS Saratoga after the aborted attempt to relieve Wake Island.  The squadron along with Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB 241) formed Marine Air Group 22.  They fighter pilots of VMF-221 scored their first victory shooting down a Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” flying boat. The squadron which initially was composed of just 14 aircraft, all F2A-3’s was augmented by 7 more F2A-3s and 7 of the more advanced F4F-3s before the battle.

douglas-sbd5-dauntless-dive-bomber-battle-of-midway-01

USMC Vought SB2-U3 Vindicators

When the Japanese First Carrier Striking Group was spotted in the wee hours of June 4th the Marines and other aircrew aboard Midway scrambled to meet them.  The 18 SBD-2 Dauntless’ and 12 Vought SB2-U3 Vindicator dive bombers of VMSB-241, the 6 TBF Avengers of the Navy Torpedo Eight detachment, 4 Army Air Corps B-26 Marauders and 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses flew out to attack the Japanese carriers while the fighters rose to intercept the 108 aircraft heading toward Midway. The 72 strike aircraft, 36 Aichi 99 Val Dive Bombers and 36 Nakajima B5N Torpedo/ High Level Bombers were protected by 36 AM6-2 Zeros which thoroughly outclassed the Marine opponents in speed, maneuverability and in the combat experience of their pilots.

The Marine fighters audaciously attacked the far superior Japanese force, throwing themselves against the Japanese phalanx with unmatched courage.  Despite their courage the Marine fighters were decimated by the Japanese Zeros.  The Marines shot down 4 Val dive bombers and at least three Zeros but lost 13 Buffalos and 3 Wildcats during the battle.  Of the surviving aircraft only three Buffalos and three Wildcats were in commission at the end of the day. Among the casualties killed was Major Parks.  Of the surviving pilots of VMF-221, two became “Aces” during the war. Lieutenant Charles M. Kunz would later fly in VMF-224, adding six victories to end the war with 8 victories. Capt. Marion E. Carl would later fly in VMF-223 raising his score to 18.5 Japanese aircraft shot down.  Other pilots like 2nd Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield shot down two additional aircraft while flying with VMF-223. 2nd Lieutenant Walter W. Swansberger won the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal.

F2A-3+Buffalo

VMF-221 Attacks

The last remaining Marine fighter pilot of VMF-221 from the battle of Midway, Williams Brooks died in January 2010 and was buried with full military honors, in Bellview, Nebraska. Brooks in his after action report described his part in the battle:

I was pilot of F2A-3, Bureau number 01523, Our division under Capt. Armistead was on standby duty at he end of the runway on the morning of June 4, 1942, from 0415 until 0615. At about 0600, the alarm sounded and we took off. My division climbed rapidly, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I discovered afterwards that although my wheels indicator and hydraulic pressure indicator both registered “wheels up”, they were in reality about 1/3 of the way down. We sighted the enemy at about 14,000 feet, I would say that there were 40 to 50 planes. At this time Lt. Sandoval was also dropping back. My radio was at this time putting out no volume, so I could not get the message from Zed. At 17,000 feet, Capt. Armistead led the attack followed closely by Capt. Humberd. They went down the left of the Vee , leaving two planes burning. Lt. Sandoval went down the right side of the formation and I followed. One of us got a plane from the right side of the Vee. At this time, I had completely lost sight of my division. As I started to pull up for another run on the bombers, I was attacked by two fighters. Because my wheels being jammed 1/3 way down, I could not out dive these planes, but managed to dodge them and fire a burst or so into them as they went past me and as I headed for the water. As I circled the island, the anti-aircraft fire drove them away. My tabs, instruments and cockpit were shot up to quite an extent at this time and I was intending to come in for a landing. 

It was at this time that I noticed that a important feature in their fighting. I saw two planes dog-fighting over in the east, and decided to go help my friend if at all possible. My plane was working very poorly, and my climb was slow. As I neared the fight both planes turned on me. It was then that I realized I had been tricked in a sham battle put on by two Japs and I failed to recognize this because of the sun in my eyes. Then I say I was out-numbered, I turned and made a fast retreat for the island, collecting a goodly number of bullets on the way. After one of these planes had been shaken, I managed to get a good burst into another as we passed head-on when I turned into him. I don’t believe this ship could have gotten back to his carrier, because he immediately turned away and started north and down. I again decided to land, but as I circled the island I saw two Japs on a Brewster. Three of my guns were jammed, but I cut across the island, firing as I went with one gun. But I could not get there in time to help the American flier and as soon as the Brewster had gone into the water I came in for a landing at approximately 0715 (estimated). 

As for VMF-221 it was re-equipped with the F4F-4 and later with the F4U Corsair during the course of two more deployments overseas.  VMF-221 finished the war with a score of 155 victories, 21 damaged and 16 probable kills, the second highest total of any Marine Corps Squadron during the war.

Their bomber counterparts of VMSB 241 attacked the Japanese task force on the morning of June 4th and scored no hits while losing 8 aircraft. The survivors were again in action later in the day as well as the following day where they helped sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma with their squadron leader Major Henderson diving his mortally wounded aircraft into the cruiser’s number 4 8” gun turret. While the Marines’ actions are not as well known or as successful as those of their Navy counterparts they were brave.  Fighter pilots had to engage some of the most experienced pilots flying superior machines while the bomber crews had little to no experience before being thrown into combat.

Into the Valley of Death: The Last Ride of the Torpedo Bombers

 eneterprise-vt-6-midway1

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in the Charge of the Light Brigade something that echoes to this day when we talk or write about men who charge the gates of death against superior enemies.

Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 VT-6

They were not six hundred and they were not mounted on horses, but the Naval Aviators of Torpedo Squadrons 3, 6 and 8 and their aerial steeds 42 Douglas TBD Devastators and 6 TBF Avengers wrote a chapter of courage and sacrifice seldom equaled in the history of Naval Aviation. Commanded by veteran Naval Aviators, LCDR Lance “Lem” Massey, LCDR Eugene Lindsey and LCDR John Waldron the squadrons embarked aboard the carriers flew the obsolete TBD Devastators. The young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.

tbd-devastator1

The TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world when it entered service.  It was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft.  It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings.  The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet with a limited number embarked aboard Wasp. 

Go-in-and-get-a-hit

 

The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational by the beginning of the war.  They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not available for service in large enough numbers to replace them before Midway.  The TBDs performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

The Torpedo squadrons attacked independently of each other between 0920 and 1030 on June 4th 1942. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators were shot down.  Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron to be picked up later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Page500_163_6

g66074

LCDR John Waldron (above) LCDR Lem Massey (below)

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo Three from the Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey losing 11 of 13 aircraft with Massey a casualty last being seen standing on the wing of his burning aircraft as it went down.  These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown.  The six aircraft of the Torpedo Eight detachment from Midway under the command of LT Fieberling lost 5 of their 6 aircraft while pressing their attacks.  Only Ensign Bert Earnest and his aircraft survived the battle landing in a badly damaged state on Midway.  Four U.S. Army B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers were pressed into service as torpedo bombers of which 2 were lost.  No torpedo bomber scored a hit on the Japanese Task force even those torpedoes launched at close range failed to score and it is believe that this was in large part due to the poor performance of the Mark 13 aircraft torpedoes.

enterprise-tbd-landing1

Despite the enormous losses of the torpedo squadrons their sacrifice was not in vain. Their attacks served to confuse the Japanese command and delay the rearmament of aircraft following the Japanese strikes on Midway. They also took the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to sea level and opened the way for American Dive Bombers to strike the Japanese with impunity fatally damaging the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu in the space of 5 minutes.

ts8

The men of Torpedo 8 only one survived 

After Midway the remaining TBDs were withdrawn from active service and no example survives today. The TBF became the most effective torpedo bomber of the war and some remained in service in a civilian capacity to fight forest fires until 2012.

 

The Provence of Chance: Five Minutes that Changed the War

 Battle%20of%20Midway%20flat_080817160843

The land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failed to damage the Japanese task force. When the results of the first strike of the Japanese bombers that hit Midway was analyzed Nagumo readied his second wave.

As this was happening the American carriers launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind as for Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol missions.  As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

Dauntless_dive_bombers

Aboard the Japanese ships, orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island, but when the Yorktown task force was discovered, orders were changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. In their haste to get their aircraft ready to strike the Americans, the hard working Japanese aircrews did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft. But due to their hard work at 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers. Aircraft and their crews awaited the order to launch, their aircraft fully armed and fully fueled.

sbdpilot

CDR Wade McClusky 

There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornet made a wrong turn and not find the Japanese carriers. The squadrons had to return due to a lack of fuel and a number of bombers and their fighter escort had to ditch in the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when they spotted the wake of a Japanese destroyer steaming at high speed to catch up with the Japanese carriers.  Taking a chance, McClusky followed it straight to the Japanese Task Force arriving about 1020. The Yorktown’s group under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

4-17-106

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

g701870

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu.  The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted to the threat of the American dive bombers when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” The Japanese fighters assigned to the combat air patrol were flying too low as the mopped up the last of the doomed torpedo bombers and were not in a position to intercept the Americans.

2edd2yr

Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagi and Kaga pushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck.  Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

sbddauntless

LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’s lookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.

SBDstoastjapcarrier

Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron.  By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000.  Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

SBD_ditching_near_USS_Astoria_1942

LCDR Max Leslie ditches his aircraft near a cruiser 

VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie.  Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her. A few hours later Hiryu, which had succeeded in launching strikes that seriously damaged Yorktown met the fate of her sisters. Yorktown would be sunk by a Japanese submarine, along with the destroyer Hamman a few days later as her crew attempted to get her to Pearl Harbor. In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed.

A Final Ignominy

mikuma_135889

IJN Mikuma 

Admiral Yamamoto was still attempting to digest the calamity that had befallen Admiral Nagumo’s carrier task force. In the shocked atmosphere of the mighty Super Battleship Yamato’s command center the Staff of the Combined Fleet was hastily attempting to arrive at a solution which might reverse the disaster and bring victory.  Admiral Ugaki, Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff, despite strong personal doubts, ordered Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo to prepare for a night surface engagement with the US Fleet and dispatched a strong surface force to bombard Midway in order to prevent the Americans from reinforcing it and to prevent its further use against his forces should the invasion move forward.  Kondo then organized his fleet to attempt to find the American carriers and bring them to battle before dawn.

Kondo detached Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Close Support Group composed of Cruiser Seven, the fastest and most modern cruisers in the Imperial Navy proceed at full speed to attack Midway.  Kurita’s cruisers, the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma and Mogami were each armed with 10 8” guns and were escorted by the two destroyers.

Kurita’s force was 80 miles from Midway when Yamamoto realizing that his plan was unrealistic ordered Kondo’s forces to retreat and rendezvous with his main force shortly after midnight. The order was met with a measure of relief by most officers in the force and the force turned northwest and steamed at 28 knots to meet the Main Body.  At 0215 lookouts on Kumano sighted a submarine on the surface which turned out to be the USS Tambor which had been shadowing the group, and made a signal for the force to make a emergency 45 degree turn to port.

During the process Mogami’s Navigator took over from the watch to oversee the tricky maneuver. In doing so he thought that there was too much distance between him and the ship ahead, the Mikuma. So he adjusted his course to starboard and then realized his mistake. The ship he thought was Mikuma was actually Suzuya and Mikuma was directly ahead. As soon as he recognized his mistake Mogami’s Navigator ordered a hard turn to port and reversed the engines but it was too late. Mogami’s bow crashed into Mikuma’s port quarter. The impact caused minimal damage to Mikuma but Mogami was heavily damaged. She lost 40 feet of her bow and everything else was bent back to port at right angles to her number one turret.

Mogami’s damage control teams isolated the damage and worked the ship up to 12 knots. This was not fast enough for Kurita to make his rendezvous so he left Mikuma and the destroyers to escort Mogami while he steamed ahead with Kumano and Suzuya.

72149d1361e15e9f1540c2b425c023c7

Tambor’s skipper LCDR John W Murphy sent a contact report at 0300 reporting “many unidentified ships.” He followed this with more detailed information and the Americans on Midway began to launch its remaining serviceable aircraft to attack the threat. A flight of B-17 Bombers launched at 0430 could not find the Japanese ships but at 0630 a PBY Catalina found the Japanese and radioed Midway “two Japanese battleships streaming oil.”  The remaining 12 aircraft of VSMB-241 under command of Captain Marshall Tyler a mix of SBD Dauntless and SB2U Vindicators took off at 0700. His force attacked at 0808 scoring no hits. However, Marine Captain Richard Fleming, his Vindicator on fire dropped his bomb and then crashed his aircraft into Mikuma’s after turret. Sailors aboard Mogami were impressed, the American had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack worthy of the Samurai. The fire was sucked down air intakes into the starboard engine room with disastrous results. The Mikuma’s engineers were suffocated by the smoke and fumes and Mikuma was greatly reduced in speed.

mogami

Mikuma shattered, note wreckage of Captain Fleming’s Vindicator on turret 

The two ships limped northwest at 12 knots escorted by the destroyers and were unmolested through much of the day with the exception of an ineffective attack by the B-17s at 0830. The following morning the Dive Bombers of Enterprise and Hornet were at work and found the crippled Japanese ships. Waves over US Dive Bombers attacked the cruisers throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Mikuma was hit at least 5 times and secondary explosions of ammunition and torpedoes doomed the ship. Mogami was also heavily damaged but remained afloat while both destroyers received bomb damage.  At sunset the tough cruiser rolled over to port and sank into the Pacific. Mogami whose damage control teams had performed miracles to keep their ship afloat helped the destroyers rescue survivors from Mikuma.  Only 240 were rescued with 650 officers and sailors going down with the ship.

Link15-Mikuma-damage

Survivors abandoning Mikuma

The action against the cruisers ended the combat operations at Midway. The Japanese ships were doomed by Yamamoto’s decision to try to salvage victory from defeat and the error of Mogami’s Navigator during the emergency turn when Kumano sighted Tambor. The only thing that kept the result from being total was the efficacy of Mogami’s damage control teams.  Mogami was out of the war for 10 months following repairs and conversion to an Aircraft Cruiser in which her aft turrets were removed to increase the number of float plane scouts that the ship could carry. She rejoined the fleet in April 1943 and was sunk following the Battle of the Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944.

The Mogami and Mikuma proved to be tough ships to sink. Unprotected by friendly aircraft they fought hard against the unopposed American Dive Bombers. They suffered massive damage from 500 and 1000 pound bombs, both direct hits and near misses. Mogami was saved by the skill of her damage control teams and the foresight of her Damage Control Officer to jettison her torpedoes so that they did not explode and compound the damage wrought by the American bombs.

 

Epilogue

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

h73065

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world today.

Leave a comment

Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Fleet of Infamy: The Kido Butai

kagaph

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are coming up on the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. There are very few veterans of the attack on either side still alive today. Seven of the nine living survivors of the USS Arizona will gather for their last reunion at Pearl Harbor. In a time where most Americans or Japanese know little of war, it is always appropriate to remember. I will be re-posting a number of edited and updated Pearl Harbor articles in the coming days and probably write at least one new one even as continue to work on my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Early in the morning on November 26th 1941 the ships of the Japanese Carrier Strike Force, the Kido Butai under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo weighed anchor from Tankan Bay in the northern Kurile Islands of Japan. The plan was top secret and very few Japanese officers knew of the target. Many officers presumed that war was immanent but most assumed the target would be the Philippines or other targets in Southeast Asia.

The next day Nagumo expressed his personal misgivings about the attack to his Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka as the task force plunged through heavy seas. He blurted out, “Mr. Chief of Staff, what do you think? I feel that I’ve undertaken a heavy responsibility. If I had only been more firm and refused. Now we’ve left home waters and I’m beginning to wonder if this operation will work.” 

Admiral Kusaka came up with the right answer:  “Sir, there’s no need to worry. We’ll make out all right.” 

Nagumo smiled. “I envy you, Mr. Kusaka. You’re such an optimist.” 

Japanese_aircraft_carrier_Akagi_01-2

IJN Akagi

It was an attack that was designed to be pre-emptive in nature. The plan was to deal the United States Navy such a crushing blow that the Japanese could complete their Asian conquests before it could recover. It was a plan of great risk that doomed Japan to horror never before imagined when the United States dropped Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than four years later. By then the bulk of the Imperial Navy   would lay at the bottom of the Pacific and millions of people killed.

yamamoto-isoroku1

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto 

The Japanese, even Admiral Yamamoto, the man behind the plan assumed that it entailed great risks. A simulation of the plan conducted in early September by the senior officers of the Combined Fleet and the Kido Butai calculated that two of Japan’s precious aircraft carriers could be lost in the operation. But despite the opposition and reservations of key officers, including the Kido Butai commander, Admiral Nagumo Yamamoto pressed forward.

PERSON JAP Nagumo1

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

The Kido Butai was the most powerful carrier strike group assembled up to that time. Comprised of six aircraft carriers, the massive flagship Akagi, and the Kaga, the fast 18,000 ton Soryu and Hiryu and the most modern Shokaku and Zuikaku. The carrier embarked over 400 aircraft, of which over 350 were to be used in the two aerial assault waves. Most of the pilots and aircrew were experienced, many with combat experience in China. The carriers were escorted by the old but fast and modernized battleships Kirishima and Hiei, the new heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma, the light cruiser Abukuma, the new Kagero Class destroyers, Urakaze, Isokaze, Tanikaze, Hamakaze, Kagero and Shiranuhi,the Asashio classdestroyers Arare and Kasumi.Two additional destroyers the Fubuki class Sazanami and Ushiowere assigned to neutralize the American base on Midway Island. The submarines I-19, I-21 and I-23 and 8 oilers were assigned to the force. Five additional submarines the I-16, I-18, I-20, I-22 and I-24 each embarked a Type-A midget submarine.

Akagi_29

On December 7th the force delivered a devastating blow to the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, however no American aircraft carriers were present. It would go on for the next several months on a rampage across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However their success would be short lived. Within a year Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu had been sunk at Midway by the carriers not present. Hiei and Kirishima were lost at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and over the course of the war every ship of the attack force was lost. Shokaku was torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and Zuikaku, Chikuma and Abukuma were lost at Leyte Gulf, most of the destroyers and submarines were lost in various engagements. However three destroyers, Isokaze, Hamakaze and Kasumi accompanied the great Battleship Yamato on her suicide mission at Okinawa and were sunk on April 7th 1945. The heavy cruiser Tone was sunk at her moorings at Kure during air strikes by the US 3rd Fleet on July 24th 1945. All of the submarines were lost during the war, however I-19 sank the USS Wasp CV-7 and USS O’Brien DD-415 while damaging the USS North Carolina BB-55 on September 15th 1942 off Guadalcanal. Only the destroyer Ushio survived the war and was broken up for scrap in 1948.

800px-Kirishima_and_Akagi_at_Tsukumowan_1939

Among the leaders of the Japanese strike force, Admiral Yamamoto was killed on April 18th 1943 when his aircraft was shot down at Buin.  Most of the sailors who took part in the attack would be dead by the end of the war. Nagumo who resisted the strike and was ordered to lead it realized his worst fears at Midway and in the Solomons dying during the American invasion of Saipan in 1944.

Few present at Tankan Bay on that fateful November morning could have expected the triumph and tragedy ahead. However Yamamoto was probably more of a realist than many in the Japanese government and military leadership when he told Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” Yamamoto was eerily prophetic and those that counsel pre-emptive war need to never forget his words or the results of his decisions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

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