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Photo # NH 106000:  USS Yorktown capsized and sinking, 7 June 1942

Online Library of Selected Images:
-- EVENTS -- World War II in the Pacific --

Battle of Midway -- Actions and Activities after 4 June 1942 --
Sinking of USS Yorktown, 7 June 1942 -- Commentary

Provenance of the USS Yorktown sinking photographs:

The nineteen photographs in our collection of the sinking of USS Yorktown (all presented on these pages) were found during processing of previously unexamined and uncataloged images. The first three (Photo #s NH 95575, NH 95576 and NH 95577) were first spotted by Naval Historical Center staff during the later 1970s or early 1980s, and were cataloged in the mid-1980s. The other sixteen were discovered by Christopher P. Cavas (a recognized ship expert and well-known journalist, who has long performed volunteer work for the Naval Historical Center) early in 2008. They were cataloged in August of that year. All of the original prints for these nineteen photos are on paper-based stock, of a type generally used prior to the 1980s.
Despite the relatively late discovery and cataloging of these photographs, some of them had been published earlier. That seen in Photo # NH 106000 appeared in the first (1967) edition of Walter Lord's "Incredible Victory". Three others (Photo #s NH 95575, NH 106006 and NH 106011) were published in the same year in Pat Frank and Joseph D. Harrington's "Rendezvous at Midway". In those books, the photographs are credited to Charles R. Cundiff, who was one of Yorktown's officers at the time of her loss.


Controversy concerning the way USS Yorktown sank:

For many years a Navy combat veteran, who witnessed Yorktown's sinking while serving as a signalman in the destroyer Hughes, has vigorously maintained that she sank upright and somewhat down by the bow. He has forcefully rejected all evidence that is at variance with his own memories. To emphasize that the existing historical record provides an accurate account, this page presents documentation and other evidence that Yorktown did, in fact, capsize to port and sink by the stern. It also addresses certain aspects of the claims to the contrary.

Claim: The photographs presented on these pages either show the sinking of another ship or are bogus.

Response: the ship structure seen in these photographs exactly matches that of Yorktown, and the images reflect the circumstances of her sinking (early morning lighting, absence of smoke or other evidence of fire, torpedo damage in the same location described in contemporary reports). The ship structure seen does not precisely match that of any other U.S. aircraft carrier sunk during World War II, or at any time, although with some notable differences it resembles that of USS Hornet (CV-8). However, that carrier sank at night, was afire at that time, and the event could only have been photographed from a Japanese destroyer. It is thus impossible that the photographs show any other ship but Yorktown. In addition, nothing about them indicates that they are not genuine. For examples of nicely done "manufactured" photographs, made by experienced professionals using the best techniques available in the pre-digital era, see the Norman Bel Geddes diorama views shown elsewhere in our Battle of Midway presentations. The appearance differences between these extremely well-executed, but "non-genuine" photos, and actual photographs like those showing USS Yorktown sinking, are too obvious to require further comment.

Claim: The condition of Yorktown's wreck, as found and photographed during Dr. Robert Ballard's 1998 Midway expedition, supports the contention that she sank upright.

Response: A member of the Naval Historical Center (now called the Naval History and Heritage Command) staff (Charles R. Haberlein Jr., Head of the Center's Photographic Section, who is the writer of this text) was an active member of that expedition and closely examined all still and video images of Yorktown's wreck that were taken at that time. Nothing about the condition of the wreck supports a claim that Yorktown sank upright, and one element reinforces the considerable contemporary photographic and documentary evidence that she sank by the stern: Yorktown's bow shows a good deal of crushing, a strong indication that she plunged by the stern rapidly enough for the bow to have reached its crush depth before all the air trapped inside had been forced out. Furthermore, her wreck rests some three miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, providing more than enough vertical space for her to have returned to, and maintained, an essentially upright aspect during her long fall through the water. All intact deep sea (more than 1000 feet deep) shipwrecks that this writer has examined, either directly or indirectly, rest essentially upright. The only exceptions (the Japanese battleships Kirishima and Yamato, and the British battlecruiser Hood) are not intact, but rather have lost large portions of their hulls. This may have greatly changed their post-sinking stability characteristics, thus preventing them from maintaining an upright aspect.

In addition to the observations provided above, and the photographs on these pages, the following extracts from contemporary official documents (from Navy records now held by the U.S. National Archives) provide extensive eye-witness testimony concerning the facts of Yorktown's sinking:

  • Extract from Commanding Officer USS Yorktown (Captain Elliott Buckmaster) report to the Secretary of the Navy, 17 June 1942, Paragraph 9: "At about 1530 (GCT) June 7th, the YORKTOWN was observed suddenly to increase her list to port. This increase was steady and progressive and, at 1701 (GCT), YORKTOWN turned over on her port side and sank ...".
  • Extract from Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX (Captain Edward P. Sauer, embarked in USS Balch) report to Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN, 14 June 1942, Paragraph 11: "As dawn broke on June 7, 1942, the YORKTOWN was observed to have increased her list to port; her flight deck touched the water. It was apparent that she would sink. At 0654 all ships half-masted colors; at 0700-30 attention was ordered, all hands uncovered; and at 0701 the U.S.S. YORKTOWN sank ...".
  • Extract from transcript of TBS (ship-to-ship voice radio) transmissions for 7 June 1942 (enclosure to Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX report to Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN, 14 June 1942):
    "0648 YORKTOWN started turning over.
    0650 YORKTOWN now on side, (Port side).
    0654 6 Half mast Colors
    97 Roger
    54 Roger
    10 Roger
    22 Roger
    0700 All hands attention, uncover. YORKTOWN sank stern first."
    Note: Numbers in 0654 transmission transcript represent transmitting ships and commands: "6" is Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX, embarked in USS Balch (DD-363); "97" is USS Benham (DD-397); "54" is USS Monaghan (DD-354); "10" is USS Hughes (DD-410); and "22" is Commander Destroyer Division 22, embarked in USS Gwin (DD-433).
  • Extract from USS Balch Log Book entry for 7 June 1942: "... 0644 YORKTOWN sinking rapidly, closed distance to carrier, circled at 600 yds. 0650 Two PBY's sighted. 0654 YORKTOWN went down stern first. Searched wreckage for survivors. ...".
  • Extract from USS Monaghan (DD-354) Log Book entry for 7 June 1942: "... 0640 YORKTOWN capsized. ... 0700 YORKTOWN sank ...".
  • Extract from USS Benham (DD-397) Log Book entry for 7 June 1942: "... 0635 Observed U.S.S. YORKTOWN listing further to port. ... 0651 U.S.S. YORKTOWN sunk. ...".
  • Extract from Commanding Officer USS Hughes (Lieutenant Commander Donald J. Ramsey) report to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 11 June 1942, Paragraph 20: "1540 YORKTOWN commenced listing and sinking. At 1659, June 7, 1942, YORKTOWN disappeared from sight. ...".
  • Extract from USS Hughes (DD-410) hand-written Log Book entry for 7 June 1942: "... 0540 Yorktown has greater list to port. 0630 Yorktown appeared to be sinking. 0650 Lighted Ship, half masted colors. 0659 Yorktown sunk out of sight. Two blocked colors. ...".
  • Extract from USS Gwin War Diary entry for 7 June 1942 [page headlined "Report for Commanding Officer U.S.S. GWIN (DD433)"]:
    "1630 0430 YORKTOWN taking increased list to port. Air bubbling up along her port side.
    1643 0443 YORKTOWN on her port side. A large hole observed on her starboard side at turn of bilge directly under island structure.
    1646 0446 Two friendly patrol planes bearing 210 (degrees) true.
    1700 0500 Yorktown sank stern first.".
    Note: In this Gwin entry, the first time given is GCT, the second is LCT.
  • Extract from USS Vireo (AT-144) War Diary entry for 7 June 1942: "Continued patrolling area southeast of YORKTOWN. 0507, YORKTOWN began listing heavily to port. 0525 YORKTOWN sank down by the stem (sic) and to port. ...".
  • Extract from USS Vireo Log Book entry for 7 June 1942: "... 0507, Yorktown began to list heavily to port. 0525, U.S.S. Yorktown sank. ...".


    This page features comentary on the sinking of USS Yorktown, including the background of the related photographs and an associated controversy concerning the way she sank.

    For views of the sinking of USS Yorktown, see:

  • Sinking of USS Yorktown, 7 June 1942; and
  • Sinking of USS Yorktown, 7 June 1942 -- Part II.

    For further pictoral coverage of Yorktown's loss, and of her survivors, see:

  • USS Yorktown Salvage and Torpedoing, 5-6 June 1942 and
  • Survivors of USS Yorktown Return to Pearl Harbor.

    For links to views of other aspects of the Battle of Midway, see:

  • Battle of Midway, Overview and Special Image Selection.


    NOTES:

  • To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

  • Some images linked from this page may bear obsolete credit lines citing the organization name: "Naval Historical Center". Effective 1 December 2008 the name should be cited as: "Naval History and Heritage Command".


    If you want higher resolution reproductions than the Online Library's digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."


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    Page made 15 August 2008
    Coding updated 22 April 2009