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Task Force 16 Action Report

Serial 0144-A 16 June 1942
From: Commander Task Force SIXTEEN.
To: Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Via: Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN
Enclosure: (A) CO Hornet Serial 0018 of June 13, 1942, with enclosures thereto.
(B) CO Enterprise Serial 0133 of June 8, 1942, with enclosures thereto.
(C) CO Enterprise Serial 0137 of June 13, 1942, with enclosure thereto.
(D) Comcrudiv SIX Serial 058 of June 11, 1942, with enclosure thereto.
(E) CO Pensacola Serial 056 of June 8, 1942, with enclosure thereto.
(F) Comdesron SIX Serial 094 of June 12, 1942, less enclosure.

1. Enclosures are forwarded herewith. Where discrepancies exist between Enterprise and Hornet reports, the Enterprise report should be taken as the more accurate.

2. On 4 June, Task Force SIXTEEN consisted of 2 CVs, 5 CAs, 1 CL and 9 DD.

3. The following is a general outline of the operations of Task Force SIXTEEN during the three days, 4-6 June, during which attacks against Japanese forces took place off Midway. All times given are zone plus ten, which is two hours ahead of Midway time, zone plus twelve.

4. Thursday, 4 June.

    (a) We received our first contact report at 0740. Task Force SEVENTEEN was about 10 miles to the N.E. of us with search in the air. Task Force SIXTEEN headed toward the contact at 24 knots. When we got within striking distance, about 0900, we turned south into the wind and launched attack groups. The order of launching was: (1) VF for fighter patrol, (2) dive bombers armed some with 500, remainder with 1000 lb. bombs, (3) torpedo planes, (4) VF to accompany TBDs. Launching time was about one hour. Carriers then headed for contact at 25 knots.

    (b) Our estimate of enemy CV movements was that he would continue into wind to close Midway, so as to recover, reservice and launch new attack. We felt that we had to hit him before he could launch his second attack, both to prevent further damage to Midway and to ensure our own safety.

    (c) Unfortunately, our presence was discovered by an enemy seaplane scout while we were launching. As this plane was to the southward of us, I assume he may have come from a seaplane tender southeast of Midway. Whatever the cause, enemy CV turned back to the northward instead of continuing toward Midway, as we have figured he would. Our dive bombers who were conducting a modified search enroute to the target, failed to make contact at first and did not arrive until after the TBDs and their accompanying VF.

    (d) By this time enemy CVs, had been recovering their planes and were preparing to launch their second attack, which would undoubtedly have been on our CVs and not on Midway. The presence of the third carrier was not know when we launched our attack; and the presence of a fourth was not realized until much later, as she appears to have been somewhat separated from the first three.

    (e) Very unfortunately for themselves but very fortunately for the fate of the action, our TBDs gallantly attacked without waiting for the arrival and support of our dive bombers. The torpedo plane attack, while not in itself very effective, caused the enemy to maneuver radically and prevented him from launching. Our dive bombers arrived in the nick of time, caught one enemy CV (Akagi) with most, if not all, of his planes on deck. The other carriers had some planes on deck. This resulted in the burning and subsequent destruction of the first three carriers. The wiping out of our torpedo plane squadrons was, I believe, done largely by enemy VFs. This seems to have pulled enemy VFs down and left the air clear for our dive bombers. The heavy losses in dive bombers appear to have occurred through forced landings, out of gas. We rescued the crew of one such Enterprise plane Friday afternoon. Others have since been sighted and rescued from Midway. Hornet dive bombers failed to locate the target and did not participate in this attack. Had they done so, the fourth carrier could have been attacked and later attacks made on Yorktown by this carrier prevented.

    (f) The Yorktown air group played an important part in this first attack. Their search gave us that afternoon the information of the location of the fourth carrier. This enabled us to launch the late afternoon attack which crippled the fourth carrier and gave us incontestable mastery of the air. After the first attack on the Yorktown her planes then in the air landed on the Enterprise and Hornet. They took part in all subsequent attacks and were of the greatest value in making up for planes lost in the first attack.

    (g) When the first attack was made on the Yorktown, she was nearly out of sight of us to the northwestward. From the heavy smoke that appeared, I judged that she had been hit. Our aircraft operations and the relative direction of the light wind prevailing prevented us from ever getting a good look at her until she had been abandoned after the second attack. I sent two CAs and 2 DDs to her assistance after the first attack and continued to furnish VF protection. Our late afternoon attack on the fourth carrier was, except for this, the best action we could take for the protection of all hands.

    (h) After recovering our air groups following their second attack, Task Force SIXTEEN stood to the eastward and back to the westward during the night. A radar contact while on course north abut 0330 was responsible for some unscheduled movements. I did not feel justified in risking a night encounter with possibly superior enemy forces, but on the other hand, I did not want to be too far away from Midway the next morning. I wished tot have a position from which either to follow up retreating enemy forces or to break up a landing attack on Midway. At this time the possibility of the enemy having a fifth CV somewhere in the area, possibly with his Occupation Force or else to the northwestward, still existed.

5. Friday, 5 June.

    (a) At daybreak Friday, Task Force SIXTEEN was headed to he westward at 15 knots in an area of bad flying weather. Our first contact was the one made by the Tambor reporting the enemy 90 miles west of Midway. This looked like a landing, so we took a course somewhat to the northward of Midway at 25 knots. As the forenoon drew on, reports began to come in which indicated a retreat and not an attack. While I had not believed that the enemy, after losing four carriers and all their planes, would remain in an offensive frame of mind, still that possibility could not be overlooked, especially with the uncertainty about a fifth carrier in the area. The Tambor's report might mean only that the retirement order had been slow in being issued or had failed to reach the ships she sighted.

    (b) About 1100 we sighted at VP on the water. I sent the Monaghan to take off the crew, but told her not to destroy the plane. About 1300 the Monaghan signalled that the bombsight had been overlooked and was still in the plane. I sent her back to get the bombsight and ordered her to report to theYorktown.

    (c) As the general situation (and the weather) cleared, it became evident that a choice of objectives for chase and attack was the next matter for decision. We had reports of two groups either of which contained good targets. One was to the west of Midway, the other to the northwest. I chose the one to the northwest. It was farther away, but it contained the crippled CV and 2 BBs, one of them reported damaged.

    (d) We stood to the northwestward at 25 knots, using the position reported during the forenoon by a VP. There were no trailing reports, and, as the day wore on, this position began to grow rather cold, but it was the best we had. About 1600 a flight of B-17's overtook us. Our challenge was unanswered, but I signalled them that we would launch an attack about 1700. We heard them report our position so we knew our movements were known to Midway. Later we received the disquieting information that B-17's were returning without having located their target.

    (e) Our attack groups were launched after 1700, went out 250 miles, but only sighted and bombed two small vessels, reported as CLs or DDs. I believe they were DDs and I doubt if any hits were made, although one was claimed. Our aircraft got back in the growing darkness, which required lights and search lights. All landed safely, except one VSB of the Hornet which crashed astern of the Enterprise, personnel saved by DD. One Yorktown SBD was shot down by enemy A.A. fire.

    (f) The situation which presented itself that night was that no targets had been sighted for 250 miles ahead on the last reported course of the enemy, and some planes reported the weather ahead as not so favorable. I figured that the enemy DDs would report our attack and that they might either get the protection of bad weather ahead or else change course to the westward to head for Japan and to throw us off. In either event a change in our course to the westward seemed desirable. Accordingly we took course 280°, speed 15 knots, for the rest of the night, and at daylight launched a 200 mile search, covering 180°-360°. That night the undesirability of running down any enemy BBs in the dark presented itself as a reason for slowing, as did the growing shortage of fuel in DDs.

6. Saturday, 6 June.

    (a) Our search was fortunate in finding two groups of enemy vessels to the southwestward about 40 miles apart. The more southerly group was reported as 2 CAs and 2 DDs; the other as 1 CV and 5 DDs, later changed to 1 BB and 3 DDs. This second group has since been determined to have been 2 CAs, 1 CL or DL, and 2 DDs.

    (b) The Hornet air group, VSBs and VFs, was launched to attack the BB and DDs. By the time the Hornet planes had returned, the Enterprise was ready and her air group was sent in to attack the BB group again. This was followed by a second attack by the Hornet on the same objective.

    (c) As a result of these attacks, the following damage was inflicted: 1 CA sunk, 1 CA disabled and abandoned, one DD sunk, one DD strafed by VFs, and one or two hits on what was a CL or DL.

    (d) After the last attack group had returned to Enterprise we launched two photographic planes, one with still, the other with movie camera. The stills have been forwarded and the movie film is also being sent in for development.

    (e) All through the day there had been no question in our minds that a BB was involved. That evening, when questioning the pilots of the two photographic planes, I found one of them quite certain that a CA of the Mogami class, and not a BB, was involved. The photographs bore him out. The ship is the same as the one appearing in the 1940 Jane. Everyone who saw this ship says she appeared to be much larger than a CA. From this fact and from her toughness I suspect that her displacement may be considerably in excess of 10,000 tons. She was reported as definitely larger than the other cruiser accompanying her, which may have been a CL or DL. The smaller ship with a DD was last seen leaving a heavy oil streak about 15 miles away. These ships left many survivors on board the big CA and in the water. I believe the larger ship sank during the night.

    (f) The high speed steaming on each of the three days had reduced our DD fuel on hand to a point where vessels were approaching the lower limit. I sent the Maury and Worden back to the rendezvous with the Cimarron. This left us with 4 DDs, below which number it seemed inadvisable to go on account of Jap SSs reported in the area.

7. Except for the Hornet dive bombers failing to find the target on the forenoon of 4 June, all operations were conducted approximately as intended, and the work of the carrier squadrons on which the success or failure of the action depended was beyond praise. This applies particularly to the first attack made on 3 CVs about noon on 4 June which decided the action. The attacks made at this time by the torpedo squadrons, prior to the arrival of the dive bombers, was of an especially gallant nature.

8. No ships of Task Force SIXTEEN except those sent to report to Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN after the first attack on the Yorktown on the afternoon of 4 June were in actual contact with any enemy forces. The Enterprise and the Hornet were ably handled. Cruisers and destroyers screened and supported these carriers without specific orders and in accordance with doctrine throughout the three days in a most satisfactory and efficient manner.

9. The following is a brief summary of the more important points brought out by the action:

    (a) Losses in attacking planes are due primarily to enemy VF and not to A.A. fire.

    (b) Ships unsupported by VF are easy prey for CV air attack.

    (c) In duel between CVs side which is able to strike first blow without being itself hit wins.

    (d) CVs are most vulnerable to damage from fire. This is especially true when they are caught with planes on deck.

    (e) Carrier air groups should be complete units which have been highly trained while operating from a shore base before they go on board carrier.

    (f) A carrier air group which has been in action and has suffered heavy losses should go ashore to receive its replacements and to train these until the squadrons and the group are again ready for combat duty. This means that replacement air groups must be ready.

    (g) A.P. bombs suitable for our present dive bombers are required. With present 500 and 1000 lb. bombs attack against armored ships does not disable until ship has been knocked to pieces by many more hits than should be necessary.

    (h) Strafing attack against DDs by VFs temporarily stops their A.A. fire by driving exposed personnel to cover.

    (i) Dive bombing attacks on DDs are not profitable because of the difficulty of obtaining hits on such a small and highly maneuverable target. Such attacks should not be made if a larger and more valuable target is available.

    (j) Early and accurate information of movements of an enemy force to be attacked is essential for successful carrier operations. This should be obtained, whenever possible, by other than CV aircraft, both to retain maximum CV striking power and to avoid disclosing the fact that any CVs are in the area.

    (k) The performance of our F4F-4 is reported as greatly inferior to the Jap "Zero" fighter. The ammunition supply for 6 guns of our VFs in inadequate. For use against the unprotected "Zero," 4 machine guns instead of six in our F4F-4's, with the weight saved used for additional ammunition, merits consideration. A new VF with greater range and maneuverability is required.

    (l) The new TBF should be substituted for the TBD as soon as possible.

    (m) The advantages of operating at least two carriers together were manifest. The fact that the Enterprise and Hornet were in the vicinity of the Yorktown permitted many of her planes to go to these vessels after she was crippled and to continue to operate from them throughout the action. This both saved the Yorktown planes and made up for Enterprise and Hornet losses incurred in the first attack.




Source: Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet report, Serial 01849 of 28 June 1942, World War II action reports, Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740.



Published: Tue Mar 20 11:24:43 EDT 2018