Named to commemorate the previous six U.S. Navy ships named Enterprise.
(CV-6: displacement 19,800; length 809'6"; beam 83'1"; extreme width 114'; draft 28'; speed 33 knots; complement 2,919; armament 8 5-inch; aircraft 80; class Yorktown)
The seventh Enterprise (CV-6) was authorized by an Act of Congress on 16 June 1933; laid down on 16 July 1934, at Newport News, Va., by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co.; launched on 3 October 1936; sponsored by Mrs. Lulie H. Swanson, wife of Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson; and commissioned on 12 May 1938 at Naval Operating Base (NOB) Norfolk, Va., Capt. Newton H. White in command.
Under the terms of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, on 16 June 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt allotted $238 million to the Navy for the construction of new ships including two aircraft carriers, and in less than two months contracts were awarded for Carrier Nos. 5 and 6. Rear Adm. Ernest J. King, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer), recommended the name Enterprise for Carrier No. 6 to Secretary of the Navy Swanson, on 11 August 1933:
“This is one of the most famous names of the Navy through its association in the French, Revolutionary and Tripolitan wars. It dates back to the Revolutionary War, when it was borne by one of [Benedict] Arnold’s vessels on Lake Champlain and later by a packet in the continental service on the Atlantic.”
The Navy subsequently selected the names Yorktown and Enterprise for Carrier Nos. 5 and 6, respectively. Rear Adm. William D. Leahy, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (BuNav), endorsed the selection of the name Enterprise for the ship’s name plate on 27 September 1934: “to perpetuate the name borne” by the previous “fighting vessels of the United States Navy” named Enterprise. Swanson meanwhile invited First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to act as the ship’s sponsor, on 11 September 1934. On 12 February 1936, however, Rear Adm. Adolphus Andrews, BuNav, cancelled the directive and named Lulie H. Swanson, the secretary’s wife, to sponsor Enterprise, and the First Lady consequently sponsored Yorktown (CV-5). A BuAer request formalized plans to install hydraulic flush deck catapults on board carriers on 15 November 1934, in that space was to be reserved on board Enterprise and Yorktown for two bow catapults (each) on their flight decks, and one athwartships on their hangar decks. The distinguished visitors who attended the ship’s launching included: Lulie H. Swanson; Edith Wilson, widow of the late President Woodrow Wilson; Martha R. Fletcher, wife of Capt. Frank J. Fletcher, who commanded battleship New Mexico (BB-40), and Mrs. A.C. Young, who served as Swanson’s matron of honor.
Following the ship’s commissioning she worked up to join the fleet and loaded her initial planes. BuAer Newsletter No. 78 of 15 July 1938, recorded the “auspicious moment” at 1114 on 15 June, when Lt. Cmdr. Alan P. Flagg, the ship’s air officer, flew Plane No. 1, a Vought O3U-2 (BuNo. 9312), off the ship for her first take off, circled around, and two minutes later returned and made the first landing. “Incidentally,” the writer elaborated, “the promoter of a championship fight in the Yankee Stadium would have eyed with envy the array of spectators massed on the island superstructure.” The carrier continued with Plane Nos 1, 2, and 3 to qualify their pilots for flight operations on board but incurred her first accident. Flagg turned Plane No. 1 over to ACMM J.C. Clarke and AMM2c P.W. Petot, who launched and at 1130 attempted to land. Clarke failed to answer a frantic “low” signal from the landing signal officer (LSO) properly, however, throttled up to full power to rise to the level of the flight deck in answer to the LSO’s “wave off” signal, and the airplane’s fuselage and tail wheel struck the ramp. The pilot closed the throttle and the arresting gear stopped the Vought, and although the two crewmen escaped unscathed, their aircraft required considerable repairs.
Enterprise reported 81 planes on board on 30 June 1938: 20 Grumman F3F-2s, two O3U-3s, and one Curtiss SBC-3 of Fighting Squadron (VF) 6; 13 Northrop BT-1s of Bombing Squadron (VB) 6; 20 Curtiss SBC-3s of Scouting Squadron (VS) 6; and 20 Douglas TBD-1s of Torpedo Squadron (VT) 6. In addition, her Utility Unit comprised two more O3U-3s, two Grumman J2F-1s, and a TBD-1. BuAer authorized the squadrons to number 18 aircraft each but their strength fluctuated because of accidents or maintenance, and, they furthermore often operated one or two liaison planes. On 1 July the Navy organized carrier squadrons into groups, each designated by the name of the ships to which they were assigned.
Enterprise unmoored from Pier 7 at NOB Norfolk and turned her prow southward for the ship’s shakedown cruise (18 July–22 September 1938). The carrier anchored off Ponce, P.R., on 23 July, on 27 July at Gonaïves Bay, Haiti, and in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (31 July–12 August). Enterprise briefly stood out of that harbor on 10 August, reversed heading and placed her stern into the wind, and backed as necessary to land planes over the bow before returning to the anchorage. Enterprise crossed the equator for the first time on 20 August, and then (25 August–3 September) called on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She came about for home, stopped for mail at Guantánamo Bay (14–17 September), and a storm pounded the ship as she steamed northward off Cape Hatteras, before returning to Norfolk and completing voyage repairs. Enterprise battled through heavy seas while completing her final trials in New England waters (29 October–3 November), anchored in Cape Cod Bay south of Provincetown, Mass., on the day before Halloween, visited Boston, Mass. (31 October–1 November), and then returned to Norfolk. Capt. White fell ill and required treatment at Naval Hospital Norfolk, and Cmdr. James C. Monfort, the executive officer, temporarily commanded the ship (5–7 December). White continued to suffer, however, and Capt. Charles A. Pownall consequently relieved him in command of Enterprise on 21 December 1938. White was transferred to the retired list on 1 April 1939, but briefly returned to the colors during World War II.
Post-commissioning repair work delayed her full operational status with the fleet until the following year. Enterprise and Yorktown took part in a series of exercises in the New Year (4 January–12 April 1939). They practiced protecting a convoy during a voyage to the Caribbean, and Enterprise anchored at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands on 8 January, Guantánamo Bay on 16 January, on 19 January at Gonaïves Bay, where the two carriers joined Aircraft, Battle Force, Carrier Division 2, and Enterprise anchored again at Guantánamo on 30 January. Enterprise and Yorktown then participated in Fleet Problem XX. The annual fleet problems concentrated the Navy’s power to conduct maneuvers on the largest scale and under the most realistic conditions attainable. Fleet Problem XX ranged across the Caribbean and the northeast coast of South America (20–27 February). President Roosevelt observed the problem initially from on board heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30), transferred to Pennsylvania (BB-38), and then returned to Houston to watch the final exercises, and the chief executive’s presence led to the maneuvers becoming unusually publicized.
Enterprise and Yorktown were so new that the referees limited them to operating their air groups during good weather and in daylight. The opponents divided into two fleets, Black and White. Vice Adm. Andrews, Commander Scouting Force, U.S. Fleet, led the Black Fleet, which comprised six battleships, Ranger (CV-4), eight heavy cruisers, six light cruisers, 32 destroyers, 15 auxiliaries, and five aircraft tenders. Vice Adm. Edward C. Kalbfus, Commander Battle Force, U.S. Fleet, took the White Fleet to sea, which also counted six battleships, as well as Enterprise, Lexington (CV-2), and Yorktown -- Vice Adm. King led the carriers -- six heavy cruisers, a half dozen light cruisers, 29 destroyers, 12 submarines, and target ship Utah (AG-16) as a surrogate for a trio of large troop ships. The opponents roughly balanced each other in numbers and types of ships, but the White Fleet counted more submarines and the fleets deployed different air strength. The Black Fleet contained only 72 carrier planes but nearly 60 floatplanes embarked on board the battleships and cruisers, 102 patrol planes supported by the tenders in (apparently) safe harbors, and 62 marine planes flying from ashore, and thus deployed stronger reconnaissance and scouting strength. The White Fleet deployed about 220 carrier aircraft and approximately 48 floatplanes on board the battleships and cruisers, and was thus stronger in carrier strength. A “Second Fleet” theoretically supported the White Fleet from an advanced base south of the Azores Islands.
The problem included: employing planes and carriers in connection with escorting a convoy; developing coordinating antisubmarine measures between aircraft and destroyers; and experimenting with various evasive tactics against attacking planes and submarines. Both of the admirals focused on their foe’s air power but in different ways — Andrews attempted to destroy the White Fleet, and Kalbfus used the convoy he was to protect as bait to lure the White Fleet into battle. Rough seas and infrequent rain squalls impeded both sides as they searched for each other on 21 February. Airplanes from Enterprise and Yorktown nonetheless spotted some Black cruisers but they flew under orders to search for Ranger and ignored the enemy ships. A trio of Black heavy cruisers thus slipped past the aircraft and attacked the convoy. Three escorting White heavy cruisers returned the 8-inch salvoes ineffectually, until 72 planes from Yorktown failed to spot Ranger, came about, and pounced on the enemy and sank two of the Black cruisers. The third ship, Salt Lake City (CA-25), attempted to escape only to be sunk by White cruisers. Aircraft from Enterprise and Lexington then discovered and sank two Black light cruisers and damaged another pair.
White destroyers Drayton (DD-366) and Flusser (DD-368) slid past Black’s sentinel Hopkins (DD-249) into supposedly secure Culebra, P.R., during the mid watch on 23 February, sank small seaplane tenders Lapwing (AVP-1) and Sandpiper (AVP-9), shot up some of the patrol planes moored in the harbor, and escaped. The ruse achieved stunning results, but in an effort to economize force, they attempted the same raid at San Juan that morning but the alerted enemy sank both ships. On the morning of 24 February, King directed Enterprise to attack the Black airfields and aircraft tenders and Lexington to find and sink Ranger. The plans including switching the fighters from Enterprise to Lexington and the latter’s scout bombers to the former, a rarely practiced evolution that provided each ship with a specialized air group. Before the carriers could accomplish their novel tactics, however, Black patrol planes flying from Culebra discovered them. Consolidated PBY flying boats operating out of San Juan and Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic attacked, but the pilots chattered over their radios in the clear and Enterprise and Lexington maneuvered out of harm’s way. Later that day, Capt. Marc A. Mitscher led additional PBYs against the carriers, and although he claimed to knock out Lexington, the umpires ruled that she took only light damage, and that her F3F-1s of VF-3 flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and antiaircraft guns exacted a costly toll.
Enterprise reached a position 120 miles north of San Juan during the morning watch on 25 February, and launched devastating strikes against Black airfields and ships, sinking seaplane tender Langley (AV-3) and an oiler at Samana Bay, and Wright (AV-1) and another oiler at San Juan. The victory raised the total score to four of the Black Fleet’s five aircraft tenders, and the ship achieved another success when TBD-1s of VT-6 flying from Enterprise discovered the enemy’s main body. The airplanes then began searching for Ranger, which steamed approximately 100 miles from the main body, but Ranger used an experimental high-frequency direction finding system and detected Enterprise, and threw Vought SB2U-1s of VB-3 and Vought SBU-1s of VS-41 and VS-42 that, in barely two hours smothered the ship’s defenses and sent her to the bottom. The exercises wrapped-up as men of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines made an opposed landing in Puerto Rico to gain an advanced base for the White Fleet.
King criticized Enterprise’s poor performance, which he attributed to her inexperienced air group. Evaluators also noted that the carriers did not embark enough fighters to simultaneously defend the ships and escort strike groups, and recommended raising VF strength above 18 planes per fighting squadron. The Navy did not adopt the recommendation, however, and rued the cost during the earlier battles of World War II. Controversy also arose over the efficacy of patrol plane attacks on carriers and other ships, and that the principal that patrol aircraft were to operate as scouts required emphasis. In addition, evaluators recommended the necessity of fast battleships to supplement cruisers in carrier task forces. Enterprise and Yorktown afterward visited Fort-de-France, Martinique (6–9 March).
Four carriers operated together as Enterprise joined Lexington, Ranger, and Yorktown for a fleet review off Hampton Roads, Va., on 12 April 1939. The ships were to spend a couple of weeks working up, pass in review on 27 April, and then steam to New York City to take part in the opening of the World’s Fair at the end of the month. Global events threatened stability, however, as the Germans and Italians moved toward war in Europe and the Japanese continued to attack the Chinese, and Enterprise was consequently ordered to the Pacific Fleet. The ship set out on 20 April, anchored in Limon Bay off Colón at the Panama Canal Zone on 26 April, the following day passed through the canal, anchored at Balboa for repairs and maintenance, resumed her cruise on 2 May, and on 12 May reached her new home port of San Diego, Calif. The planes of her air group moved ashore to Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego on North Island.
Enterprise became involved in introducing radar to the fleet. Adm. Leahy, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), held a policy conference on 1 May 1939 to reach decisions concerning the manufacture and installation of radar equipment. Based upon reports, Leahy and the attendees recommended procuring 20 copies of the experimental XAF radar. The Bureau of Engineering demurred because researchers sought to further improve the system, so the planners compromised and the Navy contracted for ten sets. The service disclosed details of the XAF to engineers at Western Electric Co. Laboratories on 18 May, and the following day to engineers at Radio Corp. of America (RCA). Officers and engineers presented the complete specifications for what they called “radio range equipment” for the prospective bids by the two companies prior to 15 June, but in lieu of contracting for the initial 20 sets, the bureau decided to purchase only six and contracted for them with RCA in October 1939, with the understanding that the Naval Research Laboratory would assist. The XAF was delivered to the contractor the following month, and, designated CXAM-1, delivered to the fleet and fitted in California, Yorktown, and Chicago (CA-29), Northampton (CA-26), and Pensacola (CA-24) (May–August 1940), and subsequently in Enterprise. Despite insufficient funding, those researchers succeeded in developing a detection system that eventually revolutionized naval warfare.
Enterprise conducted exercises in southern Californian waters during much of the summer but rarely put to sea for more than a day at a time. Lt. Cmdr. Richard F. Whitehead relieved Short in command of the Enterprise Air Group on 26 June 1939. The carrier celebrated Independence Day at San Francisco, Calif., along with the Golden Gate International Exposition, which commemorated the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and was held at Treasure Island. Enterprise and Yorktown launched SBC-3s and O3U-3s from flight deck and hangar deck catapults on 4 August. Their action marked the first practical demonstration of launching planes from carriers by means of hydraulic flush-deck catapults, and provided the first evaluations of catapulting aircraft from hangar decks. Installing a catapult on the hangar deck enabled the ships to launch fighters or scout airplanes when aircraft fouled the flight deck. While Adm. James O. Richardson, Commander Battle Force, U.S. Fleet, led tactical exercises in the Pacific the following month, he deployed Enterprise and a pair of destroyers acting as plane guards at the center of a fleet formation. Four battleships, seven cruisers, and 18 destroyers steaming in three concentric circular patterns at one mile ranges protected the ship with their antiaircraft guns. “I believe that this was the first time” Richardson recalled, “that both of the following occurred: (1) the carrier occupied the key spot in a cruising formation [and] (2) all anti-aircraft resources of the formation were disposed for the protection of the carrier.”
The Navy expanded its presence at Pearl Harbor, T.H., in order to counter Japanese aggression during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and established the Hawaiian Detachment, U.S. Fleet, on 28 September. The measure included Enterprise and Vice Adm. Andrews, Commander Scouting Force, assumed command of the Hawaiian Detachment, broke his flag in Indianapolis (CA-35), on 30 September, and on 3 October shifted to Enterprise. In addition to the carrier, the force consisted of two heavy cruiser divisions, two destroyer squadrons and a light cruiser flagship, a destroyer tender, and a proportionate number of small auxiliaries, which sailed for Pearl Harbor (5–12 October 1939). The following month the detachment carried out exercises in Hawaiian waters.
Enterprise briefly (5–9 January 1940) steamed to Hilo, Hawaii, where she anchored on 7 January. The ship trained off Oahu for (30 January–1 February), and the following day was released from the detachment and set out for the west coast, arriving at San Diego on 9 February. Enterprise completed an overhaul at Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash. (21 February–28 May — carrying out the work from 25 February–24 May). She thus missed Fleet Problem XXI (1 April–17 May), which consisted of two separate phases around the Hawaiian Islands and Eastern Pacific. Enterprise moored at NAS San Diego on 28 May, but on that date Capt. Robert P. Molton Jr., who commanded Saratoga (CV-3), died. The following day Capt. Archibald H. Douglas relieved Capt. Pownall in command of Enterprise as scheduled, but after only a few hours (1504–1904) of leading Enterprise, Pownall resumed command of Enterprise, and Douglas accordingly detached and subsequently assumed command of Saratoga. Also on that busy day, Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Ewen relieved Whitehead as the air group’s commander.
“As [Enterprise] pitched and rolled arthritically in the freshening seas,” Theodore C. Mason, a radioman on board California (BB-44), recalled during a voyage to Californian waters, “the flattop reminded me of a huge but decrepit old man with an entourage of bodyguards. If some seer had told me then that the Enterprise would steam to glory on one of the most brilliant combat records of any ship in the history of the navy, I would have given him the pitying smile one reserves for fools. From where I stood, it looked like she might have trouble reaching the West Coast.”
The weathered ship returned to sea from North Island during a voyage to Pearl Harbor (25 June–2 July 1940). Enterprise anchored at Lāhainā Roads at Maui, T.H., on 9 July, and on 13 July at Honolulu, where she embarked people from Warner Bros. and took part in the motion picture Dive Bomber, starring Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, Alexis Smith, and Regis Toomey, released in August 1941. Enterprise steamed at sea for two days of filming (16–17 July), and her crew enthusiastically supported the effort, her deck log noting wryly on the second day: “Making movies, no absentees.” Two clips show a plane landing on and taking off from the ship, a rarity in motion pictures at the time, and a number of her crewmen who took part in the filming of Dive Bomber served in her during World War II. The ship disembarked her passengers at Honolulu on 19 July, and on 26 July moored at Pearl Harbor. Film crews subsequently shot additional footage at NAS San Diego.
Enterprise resumed training in Hawaiian waters, anchored at Lāhainā Roads on 20 August, on 28 August at Honolulu, and moored at Pearl Harbor on the last day of the month. During one of those exercises (8–14 September), Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox broke his flag in Enterprise to observe maneuvers. Adm. Richardson, now Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, also broke his flag in the carrier for a trial period. Knox briefly transferred to light cruiser Boise (CL-47) on 9 September but returned to the carrier. On 13 September Lt. Cmdr. Ewen flew Knox as a passenger in an SBC-4 to NAS Pearl Harbor on Ford Island to emphasize the rapid pace of modern naval operations. Enterprise anchored at Honolulu on 14 September and then moored at Pearl Harbor, anchored at Lāhainā on Halloween, and on 2 November returned to Pearl Harbor. The ship steamed to San Diego (9 November–2 December — she reached North Island on 14 November), and ended the year by completing degaussing and antiaircraft installations at Puget Sound (2–31 December 1940).
The global crisis compelled the service to cancel Fleet Problem XXII, originally scheduled for January 1941. “In view of the international situation,” Adm. Harold R. Stark, CNO, wrote to Gen. George C. Marshall Jr., USA, the Army’s Chief of Staff, on 3 December 1940, “plans for Fleet Problem XXII have been cancelled.” President Roosevelt’s attendance had attracted considerable notoriety to the exercises; loose lips talked, and the front page of the New York Times New Year’s edition announced: “ALL NAVY GAMES OFF FOR THIS YEAR.” “SHIPS IN FIGHTING TRIM”, the newspaper further observed, but elaborated that the fleet was to be held in “Hawaiian waters, and, according to good information, will remain there until the existing international situation is definitely improved.”
Enterprise in the meantime renewed her busy cycle of training and upkeep and anchored at Coronado, Calif., on 2 January 1941, the following day at San Diego, steamed to San Pedro, near Los Angeles and Long Beach, and then (13–21 January) sailed back to Pearl Harbor. The ship set out for an unusual ferry cruise for NAS San Diego (7–13 February), where she loaded 30 USAAC Curtiss P-36A Hawks that were to operate from Wheeler Field on Oahu, T.H. Enterprise returned to sea two days later and on 21 February arrived about 200 miles off Oahu and launched the Hawks. On 20 February meanwhile, Adm. Stark directed the Puget Sound Navy Yard regarding the priority of ships then under construction and repair based “on the operative requirements of the Fleet.” Stark’s missive noted that Enterprise was to be assigned a restricted availability for an interim overhaul, to begin on 3 March and to have her ready again for sea by the end of the month. Enterprise consequently crossed the eastern Pacific (23 February–3 March) and through the end of the month moored at Bremerton and completed the work, which included degaussing and splinter protection.
The warship then (31 March–3 April) made for North Island, and Lt. Cmdr. Howard L. Young relieved Ewen as Commander Enterprise Air Group on 19 April. The carrier repeatedly cast off her mooring lines and worked up during voyages between San Diego and Pearl Harbor (21–27 April, 29 April–4 May, and 8–13 May), and during the next few months (21 May–2 June, 10–18 June, 30 June–8 July, 24 July–1 August, 14–22 and 27–30 August, 4–12 September, 24 September–2 October, 18–26 October, and 9–17 November) took part in maneuvers primarily in Hawaiian waters. Under Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal led an entourage on board the ship that included Rear Adm. John H. Towers, BuAer, and John F. Dulles (29–30 July).
Balch (DD-363) brought Lord (Capt.) Louis Mountbatten, RN, on board Enterprise on 25 September while the British officer toured the Hawaiian Islands. The training sometimes proved lethal and Enterprise lost a Douglas SBD-2 (BuNo. 2149), manned by Lt. Thomas Ainsworth Jr. and RM1c C.J. Schlegal of VB-6 on 21 October. The sea was smooth but the horizon extremely dark as the Dauntless attempted to land but missed the flight deck, crashed into the starboard walkway, and went over the side. Ainsworth died, and Schlegal was rescued but suffered a laceration to his scalp, a contusion of the left orbit, and multiple abrasions of his lower extremities. Tensions between the Japanese and Allies rose and the ship reported suspicious vessels: a “small boat” on the morning of 22 October that turned out to be a fishing sampan; a darkened vessel that sailed with a single small white light on 12 November; and another sampan on 16 November — the boats continued on their way.
As the war clouds loomed on 30 November 1941, Enterprise reported that she normally embarked: 17 Grumman F4F-3A Wildcats and two F4F-3s of VF-6; 10 SBD-2 and eight SBD-3 Dauntlesses of VS-6; 19 SBD-2s of VB-6; and 18 TBD-1 Devastators -- and at times two North American SNJ-3 Texans – of VT-6. In addition, Cmdr. Young flew an SBD-2; and two Curtiss SOC-2 Seagulls and a pair of J2F-2 Ducks comprised the ship’s Utility Unit. The carrier also listed two F4F-3s, three SBD-2s and one SBD-3, and five TBD-1s in storage.
When Japanese aggression had increasingly threatened the Pacific Rim in 1938, a committee under Rear Adm. Arthur J. Hepburn, then commandant of the Twelfth Naval District, had investigated possible naval base sites on the coasts of the United States, its territories, and possessions. The Hepburn Board, as it became known, ranked Wake Island as a strategically vital bastion, and recommended expanding the defenses there. As the U.S. prepared for war in the summer and autumn of 1941, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, decided that operational and logistics issues precluded deploying Army planes to Wake, and decided to operate USN and USMC aircraft from the islands in their stead. Consequently in November 1941, Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211, Maj. Paul A. Putnam, USMC, in command, received orders to augment Wake Island’s defenses. Wright put in to Pearl Harbor and embarked Cmdr. Winfield S. Cunningham, who was to take command of the naval activities on Wake Island, together with asphalt technicians, other construction workers, and Marine Corps officers (20 November–8 December). The ship also carried 63,000 gallons of gasoline for the island’s storage tanks, and after touching at Wake, Wright shaped a course for Midway, where she delivered a cargo that included ammunition and disembarked passengers.
Kimmel selected Task Force (TF) 8, Vice Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., in command and formed around Enterprise, to deliver the 12 marine F4F-3s to Wake Island. Kimmel and some of the Pacific Fleet planners, however, believed that Japanese spies ensconced within their consulate reported U.S. ship movements, and thus temporarily reinforced the carrier with battleships and their escorts as TF 2, in order to give the illusion of a routine exercise. Events in the meantime escalated to war, and Adm. Stark sent a “War Warning” message to the commanders of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets on 27 November 1941, a day after Japanese Dai-ichi Kidō Butai (the 1st Mobile Striking Force), Vice Adm. Nagumo Chūichi in command, sailed from Japanese waters to attack Oahu. Putnam had known of VMF-211’s impending departure, but because of the exigencies of the situation the squadron received orders to deploy swiftly, and the men carried only limited clothes and toilet articles. The following morning, they flew their planes from Ewa Mooring Mast to NAS Pearl Harbor, and from there out to the ship. One of the Wildcats developed starter trouble and remained behind on Ford Island, so the squadron only flew 11 on board; and VF-6 reassigned one of its airplanes (BuNo. 3988), which served as Marine 211-F-9. Enterprise, Arizona (BB-39), Nevada (BB-36), and Oklahoma (BB-37), screened by cruisers and destroyers, meanwhile stood down the channel from Pearl Harbor. Halsey then detached Enterprise and in company with Chester (CA-27), Northampton, and Salt Lake City, together with Balch, Benham (DD-397), Craven (DD-382), Dunlap (DD-384), Ellet (DD-398), Fanning (DD-385), Gridley (DD-380), Maury (DD-401) and McCall (DD-400), set out for Wake, “Fully expect[ing] that the trip with these Marines was leading us into the lion’s mouth.” The admiral approved Battle Order No. 1, issued by Capt. George D. Murray, the carrier’s commanding officer:
1. The Enterprise is now operating under war conditions.
2. At any time, day or night, we must be ready for instant action.
3. Hostile submarines may be encountered.
4. The importance of every officer and man being specially alert and vigilant while on watch at his battle station must be fully realized by all hands.
5. The failure of one man to carry out his assigned task promptly, particularly the lookouts, those manning batteries, and all those on watch on deck might result in great loss of life and even loss of the ship.
6. The Captain is confident all hands will prove equal to any emergency that may develop.
7. It is part of the tradition of our Navy that, when put to the test, all hands keep cool, keep their heads, and FIGHT.
8. Steady nerves and stout hearts are needed now.
Halsey also ordered radio silence and for the maintainers to fuel planes, fit warheads to torpedoes, and to prepare bombs for loading. Enterprise launched daily fighter CAP and search patrols out to nearly 200 miles ahead of the ship’s course. PBY Catalinas flew supporting patrols from advanced bases at Wake and Midway, and submarines patrolled the waters around those isles. Enterprise steamed in darkened condition overnight on 4 December, and during the morning watch a PBY-3 of Patrol Squadron (VP) 22 rendezvoused with the ship about 200 miles from Wake. The Catalina orbited while the marine Wildcats rumbled off the ship’s flight deck (0656–0707), and then led the fighters to the island. The carrier came about for Hawaiian waters, and a routine scouting flight from the ship later that day sighted Honolulu-bound tug Sonoma (AT-12), with Pan American Airways barges PAB No. 2 and PAB No. 4 in tow. Sonoma sailed from Wake Island on 26 November, and eventually reached Honolulu with her tows on 15 December. The carrier’s mission, meanwhile, and heavy seas (5–6 December), delayed her return from the afternoon of 6 December to the following morning, and thus ensured that the ship eluded the Japanese attack on Oahu on 7 December.
On that fateful day Enterprise arrived off Oahu about 200 miles west of Pearl Harbor, and began launching planes during the morning. At 0618 Young flew Lt. Cmdr. Bromfield B. Nichol, Halsey’s flag secretary, ashore so that he could report on the Wake Island mission to Kimmel — a second bomber flew wing. The ship then launched a routine search flight of 13 SBD 2s and 3s of VS-6 and four SBD-2s from VB-6 in two-plane sections. The Dauntlesses began reaching land as the Japanese attack unfolded, and their crews spotted aircraft flying over Ewa and the telltale puffs of antiaircraft fire. Some of the men believed that they arrived in the midst of a surprise drill and wondered how they would land through the shell bursts, and then Japanese pilots sighted and attacked the Enterprise planes. Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighters pounced on 6-S-15, an SBD-2 (BuNo. 2159), Ens. Walter M. Willis, USNR, and Coxswain Fred J. Ducolon of VS-6, and shot it down, and at least two other Enterprise planes attempted to fight the more maneuverable enemy fighters but were lost.
6-S-16, a Dauntless manned by Lt.(j.g.) Frank A. Patriarca and RM1c Joseph F. DeLuca, sighted the antiaircraft bursts and geysers of water erupt among the ships, and as the enemy fighters attacked, Patriarca dove for the coast-line at full throttle and escaped the more nimble Zeros and survived the fray and ended up on Kauai, where DeLuca was drafted into the local Army defense force with his single .30-caliber machine gun. Enemy planes attacked 6-S-4, Lt. (j.g.) Clarence E. Dickinson Jr., and RM1c William C. Miller of VS-6, and shot away his controls and started a fire in the airplane’s left tank. The Dauntless became uncontrollable and fell in a right spin and crashed. Dickinson parachuted to safety but Miller died. Just before Dickinson bailed out he looked aft and spotted a Japanese plane afire and losing altitude, and believed that Miller had splashed the Zero. Dickinson received the Navy Cross for continuing “to engage the enemy until his plane was forced down in flames,” and for then flying a search patrol because his harrowing ordeal had not “been reported to his superiors”.
Another Dauntless, 6-S-3 (BuNo. 2160), an SBD-2 manned by Ens. John H.L. Vogt and RM3c Sidney Pierce, collided with a Japanese Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bomber, manned by PO2c Koreyoshi Sotoyama and Flyer 1c Hajime Murao, while the rivals maneuvered at low altitude. Both planes crashed quickly, and all four men died because their aircraft flew at low altitudes and they could not eject in time. “We saw one of these Enterprise airplanes and one Japanese airplane collide in the air,” Lt. Col. Claude A. Larkin, USMC, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 21 later testified, “Both of them fell and burned a half mile south and east of Ewa.”
At least one of the aircraft succumbed to ‘friendly fire’. “This is Six-Baker-Three, an American plane,” Ens. Manuel J. Gonzalez, USNR, who flew VB-6’s third SBD-2 Dauntless (BuNo. 2181), radioed desperately, “Don’t shoot!” Listeners overhead Gonzalez apparently tell RM3c Leonard J. Kozelek, his gunner: “Standby to get out the rubber boat”, followed by an ominous silence. The Japanese downed the airplane at sea and both men died, however, the bomber last reported near a position believed to be about 15 miles northwest of Oahu. Young and 6-S-2, a Dauntless flown by Ens. Perry L. Teaff and RM3c Edgar P. Jinks of VS-6, twisted and turned through enemy Zeros and antiaircraft fire and landed on Ford Island. A Dauntless splashed into the water off the Army’s Hickam Field, but both men survived. Bullet and antiaircraft shell fragment holes riddled a number of the surviving planes.
On board Enterprise at sea, meanwhile at 0812, Halsey received a message alerting him to the Japanese attack. Some of the men on board initially disbelieved the news, but as additional messages reached the ship she sounded general quarters, launched Wildcats to fly CAP, and readied the remaining bombers for a strike. Nagumo brought his carriers about following the raid and sailed from Hawaiian waters, but many Americans feared that the Japanese carriers might still be operating nearby. Almost all of the surviving Dauntlesses that flew ashore therefore, together with what observation and scouting planes from battleship and cruiser detachments, as well as flying boats and utility aircraft that survived the air raid, took part in desperate, hastily organized searches flown out of Ford Island to look for the Japanese carriers. Ens. Teaff flew one of these searches during the afternoon watch, despite his damaged plane’s defective engine. The pilot flew knowing that he possessed a slim chance of rescue in the event that he crashed, and later received the Navy Cross for “unhesitatingly” flying the perilous search. At least one Dauntless landed at Kaneohe Bay in spite of automobiles and construction equipment parked on the ramp to prevent such an occurrence.
A report claimed to sight some of the enemy ships south of Oahu, and toward dusk -- just before 1700 -- Enterprise launched a strike consisting of her 18 operational Devastators, a half dozen Dauntlesses fitted with smoke generators to screen the torpedo bombers with smoke, and six escorting Wildcats. The planes searched out to about 100 miles southeast of Enterprise but failed to sight any enemy ships, and then the bombers returned to the carrier and the Wildcats ashore. Enterprise thus accomplished the first U.S. naval night recovery during World War II when the ship turned-on her searchlights to aid the returning Devastators and Dauntlesses. The Wildcats approached Hickam Field at about 2100, but their appearance panicked many of the antiaircraft gunners in the area and guns opened fire, their stark flashes lighting the gathering darkness. The gunfire downed four of the F4F-3A Wildcats. Lt. (j.g.) Francis F. Hebel landed his riddled airplane, 6-F-1 (BuNo. 3906), near Wheeler Field but suffered a severe skull fracture and died the next day. 6-F-15 (BuNo. 3935), Ens. Herbert H. Menges, and 6-F-12 (BuNo. 3938), Lt. (j.g.) Eric Allen Jr., were also lost. Allen parachuted and splashed into the oily water near minesweeper Vireo (AM-52), but he received a bullet wound and suffered internal injuries and succumbed the following day. 6-F-4 (BuNo. 3909), Ens. David R. Flynn, apparently ran out of fuel and Flynn bailed out over a cane field near Barbers Point and survived. 6-F-5 (BuNo. 3916), Ens. James G. Daniels III, and 3-F-15 (BuNo. 3982 — on loan from VF-3), Ens. Gayle L. Hermann, landed on Ford Island.
The damage to the battle line proved extensive, but Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga (CV-3) providentially escaped, the former two ships having been deployed at the eleventh hour to reinforce Wake Island and Midway Island. TF 12, led by Rear Adm. John H. Newton and including Lexington, steamed 425 miles southeast of Midway to deliver 18 SB2U-3 Vindicators from Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 231 to the island when the Japanese struck. Lexington launched planes to search for the attackers, and then came about with the Vindicators still on board and made to the south toward a planned rendezvous with Enterprise about 120 miles west of Kauai. These ships then joined TF 3, Vice Adm. Wilson Brown Jr., who broke his flag in Indianapolis, and searched southwest of Oahu before returning on 13 December to Pearl Harbor. Saratoga had completed an overhaul and just reached San Diego.
Enterprise meanwhile ran low on fuel and six Wildcats flew protectively overhead as she entered Pearl Harbor as the sun set on 8 December. The Wildcats then reinforced Army pursuit planes ready to defend the island from further enemy attack. Enterprise moored amidst water covered by oil from the sunken ships, and while sailors attempted to rescue men trapped in ships that capsized during the attack. The air reeked of death and oil, and fires still burned from the stricken vessels and ashore, casting an eerie glow over the men as they worked to ready the ship for battle. Enterprise hastily refueled, lighters brought provisions alongside, and men rushed to load them on board. Halsey and Murray were anxious to avoid the fate of the ships struck during the attack, and took the carrier back to sea during the morning watch on 9 December.
The Japanese deployed submarines to shadow and attack U.S. ships in Hawaiian waters one of which, I-70, Cmdr. Sano Takao in command, lurked about four miles southwest of Diamond Head on 9 December when Sano reported a U.S. carrier “entering” Pearl Harbor as Enterprise slipped past and edged her way out to the Pacific. Another submarine, I-6, Cmdr. Inaba Tsuso, reported sighting a Lexington class carrier and two heavy cruisers north of Molokai and steaming northeast away from Oahu that day, and the two reports triggered a flurry of activity as the Japanese Sixth Fleet deployed submarines against the carriers.
Ens. Teaff flew an SBD-3 from Enterprise and sighted I-70 while the submarine steamed on the surface, about 121 miles northeast of Cape Halava, Molokai, on 10 December. The Dauntless dropped a bomb that splashed close aboard I-70 and damaged the boat, preventing her from submerging. Later that day Lt. (j.g.) Dickinson flew another Dauntless and sighted the Japanese in the waters north of the Hawaiian Islands, near 23°45'N, 155°35'W. Dickinson climbed to 5,000 feet and dived, but the Japanese spotted his aircraft and the boat turned to starboard, while her 13 millimeter machine gun fired at the diving Dauntless. The plane dropped a 1,000 pound bomb that exploded close aboard amidships, the blast throwing several of the submarine’s gunners overboard. I-70 stopped and sank on an even keel in barely a minute, becoming the first Japanese warship sunk by U.S. aircraft during the war. Dickinson turned and spotted at least four enemy sailors in the water struggling to stay afloat amidst oil and debris. The Japanese attempted to raise the submarine by radio but, when they failed to do so, classified I-70, Sano, and all 92 of his men lost. Dickinson received a Gold Star in lieu of a second award of the Navy Cross for his “outstanding courage, daring airmanship and devotion to duty.”
Enemy submarines stalked Enterprise and one fired a torpedo that churned past the ship while she maneuvered to recover planes at one point, and Salt Lake City shelled what her lookouts believed to be a surfaced submarine during an additional instance. Sailors sighted yet another torpedo as it raced past barely 20 yards astern of Enterprise at 0900 on 11 December, just missing the ship, and destroyers depth charged the intruder but she escaped. Overly zealous men reported nearly continual enemy operations and a progressively exasperated Halsey signaled his displeasure to the task force, adding caustically that “we are wasting too many depth charges on neutral fish.”
The ships company maintained radio silence yet overheard broadcasts, many inaccurate or prone to hyperbole, but when the marines repulsed a Japanese landing on Wake on 11 December, the news electrified the crew. The men of VF-6 in particular, who had hosted the marines during the voyage, felt pride in the Leathernecks’ valiant defense. TF 14, Rear Adm. Fletcher in command and including Saratoga, sailed from Pearl Harbor on 16 December, to relieve the garrison on Wake Island. The embarked reinforcements included 18 Brewster F2A 2 and 3 Buffaloes of VMF-221 on board Saratoga, and additional marines on board Tangier (AV-8). Vice Adm. Brown’s TF 11 intended to launch a diversionary raid on Jaluit Island, but revised intelligence persuaded Brown to first attack Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands [Kiribati], and then divert back to Wake to support the relief expedition.
Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor on 17 December 1941, but Pacific Fleet planners strenuously attempted to ensure that only a single carrier entered Pearl Harbor at a time, and Halsey took Enterprise and TF 8 to sea on 19 December, and proceeded to the waters west of Johnston Island and south of Midway to cover TFs 11 and 14. Heavy seas damaged Craven soon after their departure and she returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The following day Dauntlesses of VB-6 and VS-6 flying from Enterprise accidentally bombed U.S. submarine Pompano (SS-181) twice but she escaped without serious damage, near 20°10'N, 165°28'W, and 20°15'N, 165°40'W, respectively. Meanwhile, Saratoga and Tangier encountered delays owing to the slower speed of oiler Neches (AO-5) and from Fletcher’s decision to refuel the destroyers, and the Japanese consequently overran Wake. Enterprise steamed more than 1,000 miles from Wake when the enemy overran the island, and the news of Wake’s fall saddened the crew and a gloom temporarily settled upon the ship. The relief expedition came about and returned to Pearl Harbor.
The Americans continued to dispatch reinforcements to fight the Japanese and four days before Christmas TF 17, Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher in command and built on Yorktown, passed through the Panama Canal from the Atlantic Fleet and joined the Pacific Fleet. During the last two weeks of December 1941, Enterprise patrolled to the westward of the Hawaiian Islands before returning to Pearl Harbor on New Year’s Eve 1941. The air group flew to Ewa and as a Wildcat (BuNo. 3907), Ens. John C. Kelley of VF-6, lifted off the plane dropped to port, stalled, and crashed into the sea. The impact thrust Kelley’s head into his gunsight mount, but he climbed free of the sinking fighter and a destroyer rescued him. Some of the Wildcat pilots shared beers with marines at Ewa while they remembered the men at Wake. They then flew to Ford Island, where, despite being restricted from liberty, appreciated catching-up on their sleep.
Enterprise trained in Hawaiian waters north of Oahu early in the New Year (3–7 January 1942), exercises plagued by heavy seas and poor antiaircraft gunnery that failed to impress the Wildcat pilots. The Americans possessed limited intelligence concerning Japanese forces in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, but while Dolphin (SS-169) carried out her first war patrol (24 December 1941–3 February 1942), the submarine reconnoitered some of those islands and reported them to be lightly defended. Her intelligence contributed to a plan to penetrate the Japanese defensive perimeter and raid the Gilberts and Marshalls. On 8 January Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, decided to combine Halsey’s TF 8 and Fletcher’s TF 17 into a single task force, which subsequently became TF 16, and directed them to carry out the raid.
The Allies also had to protect the important lifeline to Australia, and Enterprise sailed on the morning of 11 January to help guard a convoy, consisting of transports Lurline, Matsonia, and Monterey, cargo ship Jupiter (AK-43), and ammunition ship Lassen (AE-3), that carried the 2nd Marine Brigade, Brig. Gen. Henry L. Larson, USMC, in command, to Pago Pago, Samoa. Japanese submarine I-6, however, detected Saratoga while she steamed about 500 miles southwest of Oahu that day, and at 1915 Inaba fired a deep-running torpedo into her port side amidships. Six men died, water poured into three firerooms, and the ship listed to port. Saratoga made for Oahu and then for repairs and modernization at Puget Sound, and her departure temporarily reduced U.S. fleet carrier strength in the Pacific to three ships, compelling the Navy to distribute her air group among the other carriers.
To protect Halsey’s advance for the strike on the Gilberts and Marshalls, PBY-5 Catalinas of VP-23 began daily searches of the waters between their temporary base at Canton Island and Suva in the Fijis on 16 January. At 1350 on that date, a TBD-1 (BuNo. 0335), AMMC Harold F. Dixon, a Naval Aviation Pilot, AOM2c Anthony J. Pastula, the bombardier, and RM3c Gene D. Aldrich, the gunner, of VT-6 took off from Enterprise for a routine search out to 175 miles in a 10° (relative) sector from the ship. A moderate breeze and scattered squalls touched the area, but the Devastator ran out of fuel and crashed at sea later that day. Dixon and his two crewmen scrambled into their raft, at one point beat off sharks with their bare fists, and subsisted on occasional fish speared with a pocket knife, two birds, and rain water during a 34 day journey to Pukapuka in the Cook Islands, where they made landfall on 19 February. The straight line distance of their voyage measured 450 miles, but their estimated track reached 1,200 miles. Dixon received the Navy Cross for his “extraordinary heroism, exceptional determination, resourcefulness, skilled seamanship, excellent judgment and highest quality of leadership” in this epic of survival. Yorktown in the meantime rendezvoused with and escorted the convoy during part of its voyage. The swifter transports detached on 19 January and steamed to Pago Pago, followed the next day by the slower vessels. Enterprise and Yorktown (separately) covered the convoy and then came about.
Halsey and Fletcher rendezvoused on 25 January 1942, and set course for the enemy-occupied Gilberts and Marshalls. Halsey organized the strike force into three task groups (TGs) and attacked on 1 February 1942, a Sunday. TG 8.5, comprising Enterprise, Blue (DD-387), McCall, and Ralph Talbot, struck Kwajalein, Maleolap, and Wotje. Rear Adm. Raymond A. Spruance commanded TG 8.1, consisting of Northampton, Salt Lake City, and Dunlap, and shelled Wotje. Capt. Thomas M. Shock led TG 8.3, numbering Chester (CA-27), Balch, and Maury, and bombarded Taroa in Maleolap Atoll. Vice Adm. Brown’s TF 11, including Lexington, supported the raid from the vicinity of Christmas Island. TF 17 struck Jaluit, Makin, and Mili, and Platte (AO-24) and Sabine (AO-25) refueled the ships of the task forces. Cmdr. Thomas P. Jeter, Enterprise’s executive officer, summarized the feelings of many of the men on board as he topped the ship’s plan of the day with a vengeful verse:
An eye for an eye,
A tooth for a tooth,
This Sunday it’s our turn to shoot.
—Remember Pearl Harbor.
Aircrews woke up at 0300 and hurriedly ate a special breakfast, the ship sounded flight quarters at 0345, and she then turned to her launch position. Enterprise sent 46 Dauntlesses and 18 Devastators in two waves (0445–0513). “With props turning and strong prop wash and the danger of whirling blades in crowded quarters,” Lt. Cmdr. Frank T. Corbin, the fighting squadron’s executive officer, afterward recalled the dangerous experience of leading his men across the packed flight deck to their planes, “the manning of airplanes was always like broken field running in a crouch.” Corbin triggered the first launches when he flew his Wildcat aloft into the darkness. Cmdr. Young led 37 Dauntlesses over Kwajalein, followed by nine Devastators armed with bombs for horizontal bombing. Despite the lack of actionable intelligence the Americans’ expected to face strong opposition over the strategically vital atoll, and gambled by splitting their fighters. Six Wildcats flew CAP over the ships, and the remaining 12 struck the defenders, which meant that the bombers flew their missions without fighter escorts. A Dauntless with engine trouble and the second wave of nine Devastators, also bomb-armed, delayed the final bomber launches until just after 0500, followed more than an hour later by the remaining Wildcats. 6-F-11, an F4F-3A (BuNo. 3937), Ens. David W. Criswell, USNR, suddenly veered violently to port as the pilot, who lacked night flying experience, possibly attempted to compensate for the indistinct horizon. The Wildcat stalled and flipped over onto its back, slid overboard with a resounding splash, and sank quickly, taking Criswell to the bottom. The ship launched additional Devastators into the forenoon watch, and then a hush fell upon many of the crewmen on board as they awaited the outcome.
The enemy garrison on Roi -- which the Japanese knew as Ruotta -- received a few minutes advanced warning and their antiaircraft guns opened fire as the American planes arrived overhead. 6-B-10, Lt. Richard H. Best and ACRM James F. Murray, dived through enemy fire more than once on the ships in the lagoon. The attackers sank transport Bordeaux Maru, and damaged light cruiser Katori, submarine depot ship Yasukuni Maru, I-23, minelayer Tokiwa, auxiliary netlayer Kashima Maru, auxiliary submarine chaser No. 2 Shonan Maru, oiler Toa Maru, tanker Hoyo Maru, and army cargo ship Shinhei Maru at Kwajelein. The aircraft that bombed the shore installations included a Dauntless that scored a direct hit on the headquarters of Rear Adm. Yatsushiro Sukeyoshi, Commander Sixth Base Force, killing the flag officer. Later that day enemy fighters riddled 6-B-10 with bullets, but Best and Murray resolutely pressed home their attack and bombed a hangar, and then made a second sweep and strafed the area to ensure that they destroyed the building. Best subsequently received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. Aircraft also dropped leaflets containing a personal message from Halsey to the Japanese garrison that read (in Japanese): “It is a pleasure to thank you for having your patrol plane not sight my force.” Japanese submarines I-9, I-15, I-17, I-19, and I-25 dived more than 100 feet to the bottom and escaped the attack. Lt. Cmdr. Clarence W. McClusky, VF-6’s commanding officer, led six Wildcats of the 1st Division and bombed and strafed the airfield on Wotje, while gunfire from Northampton and Salt Lake City sank gunboat Toyotsu Maru at that atoll, and Dunlap shelled and sank auxiliary submarine chaser No. 10 Shonan Maru.
Lt. James S. Gray Jr., VF-6’s flight officer, led a half-dozen Wildcats against Taroa. F-14 (BuNo. 3914), Lt. (j.g.) Wilmer E. Rawie, tangled with a pair of Mitsubishi A5M4 Type 96 carrier fighters of the Chitose Kōkūtai (Air Group), flown by Lt. Kurakane Yoshio and PO3c Atake Tomita. Rawie tore into Kurakane’s plane, which burst into flames as the pilot bailed out and the fighter splashed into the water, scattering burning gasoline and debris. Rawie brought his Wildcat over in a sharp turn and confronted Atake head-on, but the planes collided. “This being my first head-on approach,” Rawie afterward journaled, “I muffed it & pressed home too far & hit the Jap’s wing with my underside.” The impact crumpled one of Atake’s wingtips and he landed immediately, while Rawie gamely attempted to strafe the airfield, but his guns jammed and he returned to Enterprise. Rawie received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his day’s work.
The enemy counterattacked during the afternoon watch and at 1338 five Japanese Mitsubishi G3M3 Type 96 land attack planes flying at 10,000 feet approached Enterprise on the starboard bow. The attackers broke into a shallow power dive to about 3,500 feet, and each plane released up to three bombs. Enterprise maneuvered at high speed and all of the bombs fell beyond the ship, the nearest about 50 feet off the port quarter at frame 130, raising splashes more than 100 feet high, and sending shock waves throughout the ship that crewmen compared to that caused by the ship firing her guns. Fragments struck the port quarter, though inflicted minimal damage. The Americans estimated that the bombs consisted of general purpose devices with instantaneous fuzes, weighing between 100 and 200 pounds, and intelligence data indicated that they appeared to possess a somewhat superior penetrating ability to similar U.S. bombs.
One of the Japanese planes returned, apparently to strafe the ship. AMM1c Bruno P. Gaido raced into a Dauntless (BuNo. 2155) parked on the aft portion of the flight deck and fired the guns at the attacker. The ship swerved hard left to dodge the plane but it crashed several feet from Gaido. Its right wing scraped the flight deck between frames 74 and 65, knocking off the ship’s port side light and cutting off the tail of the scout bomber, and plowed into the flight deck before skidding over the over the port side at frame 62, carrying away the forward stay of the antenna outrigger, while the ship steamed near 10°33'N, 171°53'E. Crewmen later pushed the damaged Dauntless over the side.
Fragments opened four 1/2-inch holes in the 1/4-inch medium steel plating of the port hangar bulkhead between frames 130 and 133 and six holes in the hangar roller curtain. They dented the 5/8-inch STS shell plating below the main deck and pierced and dented the splinter mats, gallery walkway, ladders, and gallery deck in way of the .50 cal. machine gun at frame 134. In addition, they pierced the externally-fitted 2 to 2-1/2-inch gasoline line in nine places between frames 119 and 135. Gasoline from the pierced gasoline line caught fire either from hot fragments or electrical short circuits, and the fire spread over the port gallery walkway and the boat pocket between frames 130 and 144. The flames consumed canvas covers, splinter mats, airplane fueling hose, rubber deck matting, life jackets, and paint on the deck and bulkheads. The flames roared into an inferno that threatened to spread across the ship, but sailors swiftly extinguished the blaze with chemical foam from pressure-operated foam generators. “By quick and effective use of the available firefighting apparatus,” War Damage Report No. 59 noted, “ENTERPRISE repair parties successfully passed their first real test.” The air group nonetheless recommended improving and increasing her antiaircraft batteries “at earliest date.”
A pair of Japanese Mitsubishi G3M3 Type 96s swooped in for a second attack against the ship at 1557, each dropping two bombs off the starboard bow. The nearest struck the water nearly 150 yards away and the splashes rose higher than those of the first bombs. Several fragments rained down on the forecastle but did not inflict damage. Another group of bombers approached but the Wildcats drove them off. A Mitsubishi A5M4 Type 96 damaged Chester, however, killing eight men and wounding 38. Planes flying from Yorktown caused less damage because of a paucity of targets at the objective, but Dauntlesses of VS-5 bombed and strafed gunboat Nagata Maru at Makin, while those of VB-5 bombed and strafed cargo ship Kanto Maru at Jaluit. The Americans lost six Dauntlesses over Roi: an SBD-2 (BuNo. 2120) manned by Ens. John Doherty and Will Hunt of VB-6; three more from VS-6 (BuNos 2114, 2155, and 2172) and two SBD-3s (BuNos 4645 and 4676), one of them flown by Lt. Cmdr. Halsted L. Hopping, VS-6’s commanding officer, and RM1c Thomas. In addition, the enemy shot down an SBD-3 (BuNo. 4522) of VB-6 over Taroa, and a TBD-1 (BuNo. 0274) from VT-5 disappeared. Fletcher detached three of his four destroyers to look for the Devastator, which was last reported in the water astern of the ships. A Japanese Kawanishi H6K4 Type 97 reconnaissance flying boat of the Yokohama Kōkūtai unsuccessfully attacked Sims (DD-409) as she searched for the missing crewmen. Two F4F-3 Wildcats of VF-42 splashed the intruder, but the searchers failed to locate the Devastator in the heavy seas. Enterprise recovered the last Wildcat of her CAP shortly after 1900 and retired to the northward at high speed. Nagumo responded to the raid by deploying some of the ships of Dai-ichi Kidō Butai, including carriers Akagi, Kaga, Shōkaku and Zuikaku, along with battleships Hiei and Kirishima, from Truk Lagoon in the Carolines, but came about on 4 February. Japanese submarines including I-9, I-15, I-17, I-19, I-23, I-25, I-26, I-71, and I-72 also prowled the area but failed to intercept the Americans and Halsey returned to Pearl Harbor on 5 February.
Halsey led the task force, reclassified as TF 16.1 on 14 February 1942, and the following day to TF 16, against the Japanese garrison at Wake Island, which the enemy renamed Otori-Shima (Bird Island). A U.S. airplane flying from Midway had photographed Wake following the Japanese conquest and provided Halsey a glimpse of the enemy’s preparations since their landings. The Navy meanwhile further evaluated ship design and effectiveness, and Adm. King authorized the removal of the athwartships hangar deck catapults from Enterprise, Hornet (CV-8), Wasp (CV-7), and Yorktown, on 17 February.
Brown led TF 11 and Lexington against Rabaul on New Britain as a diversionary raid, but on 20 February a Japanese Kawanishi H6K4 Type 97 flying boat of the Yokohama Kōkūtai (Air Group) spotted the ships en route. Brown cancelled the strike and two waves of 17 Japanese Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack planes of the 4th Kōkūtai attacked the Americans off Bougainville in the Solomons. F4F-3 Wildcats from VF-3 and SBD-3 Dauntlesses from VS-2 broke-up the attackers, and Wildcat pilot Lt. Edward H. O’Hare shot down four of the attackers and damaged two more, an exploit for which O’Hare received the Medal of Honor. The intrepid pilot later served on board Enterprise. Halsey nonetheless continued toward his objective of Wake Island but as an F4F-3A (BuNo. 01997), Ens. Norman D. Hodson, took off to fly an inner air patrol during the morning watch on 21 February, the Wildcat suffered propeller pitch control problems, and, unable to gain enough air speed, went over the side. The plane sank quickly but Hodson escaped and Blue picked up the shaken pilot. Reports indicated enemy aircraft approaching the ships just after noon on 22 February, and Enterprise sounded general quarters but an attack did not materialize. The force was redesignated TF 16.8 on 23 February. On 24 February Halsey attacked, splitting his ships into two task groups: Enterprise, Blue, Craven, Dunlap, and Ralph Talbot (DD-390) swooped down on the island from the north; and Spruance led a bombardment unit consisting of Northampton, Salt Lake City, Balch, and Maury that shelled the atoll.
Treacherous weather, including frequent squalls and a heavy overcast, hampered the raid and delayed the launch of the strike. As Ens. Teaff launched in the second Dauntless, an SBD-3 (BuNo. 4524), at about 0544, he became disoriented by the horizon, veered off the flight deck slightly to port and plunged overboard ahead of the ship, just forward of No. 2 5-inch gun. The crash severely injured Teaff, who lost his right eye, but he survived, though his gunner, RM3c Jinks, died. Several other pilots experienced similar disorientation but launched successfully, and Navy investigators afterward surmised that as the plane’s engines’ turned up, the propellers caused a “halo effect”, brightly lighted by exhaust fumes. This halo, in turn, gave to some of the men the feeling that they were turning to starboard, and in consequence, they took off from the port side of the flight deck.
The ships enforced radio silence in order to surprise the enemy but the lost time proved critical and Halsey finally directed the attack to begin shortly after 0800. Thirty-six SBD 2 and 3 Dauntlesses from VB-6 and VS-6, respectively, and TBD-1 Devastators from VT-6 launched from Enterprise and bombed and strafed ships and installations. In addition, Northampton and Salt Lake City catapulted SOC 1 and 2 Seagulls of VCS-5 that bombed the enemy positions. Cmdr. Young, the photographic section, and a section of the torpedo squadron joined for a composite bombing run on the gasoline stowage at the southwest end of Wake. Another torpedo section made its first run on an antiaircraft battery east of the new channel on Wilkes Island, and a second on the Pan-American Airways gasoline tanks on the eastern end of the island. Two more drops struck buildings in the marine camp, the attackers often releasing their bombs in salvos and ripples. The scout bombers completed the dive-bombing phase of the attack at about 0815, and finished glide attacks with light bombs a few minutes later, retiring to the eastward. The torpedo squadron completed its attack at 0840 and proceeded to eastward for a rendezvous. The other planes rendezvoused separately with their squadrons and the entire group reconvened over the carrier about an hour later.
The raiders caused minimal damage and their combined bombing and shelling sank only two guardboats, No. 1 Miho Maru and No. 5 Fukyu Maru. The American marines, sailors, and construction workers captured by the Japanese during the seizure of the island, some of them too badly wounded to have been evacuated in the initial increment of POWs, along with the civilian workmen of Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases, retained to continue work on the defenses, survived the raid. 6-S-18, Ens. Delbert W. Halsey and AOM2c A.T. Alford, reported a four-engine patrol plane approximately five miles east of Wake. The Wildcat patrol descended from 15,000 feet to 1,000 feet through broken clouds, overtook the enemy snooper and three Wildcats flown by Lt. Cmdr. Clarence W. McClusky, Lt. Roger W. Mehle, and Lt. (j.g.) Edward H. Bayers shot it down in view of the bombardment group, which brought cheers from some of the men on board the ships.
The Japanese antiaircraft batteries fired sporadically and largely ineffectively, although their shells occasionally reached a height of 19,000 feet. Some of the enemy erratically fired light- and heavy-caliber machine-gun from pits along the beaches. The Japanese shot down 6-S-8, an SBD-2 Dauntless (BuNo. 2174) manned by Ens. Percy W. Forman and AVMM2c John E. Winchester of VS-6. They captured and interrogated the two men, and then embarked them on board victualling stores ship Chichibu Maru for a voyage to a prison camp in Japan. Gar (SS-206) torpedoed and sank Chichibu Maru between six and ten miles southwest of Mikura Jima, south of Tōkyō Bay, near 33°53'N, 139°29.5'E, on 13 March and both men went down with the ship.
Enterprise recovered the attack group by 1014 and then came about to the northeast. At 1125 she launched a trio of Wildcats of VF-6 to intercept an enemy plane reported trailing Northampton, which steamed about 100 miles to the southwest. Because of changing winds and rain squalls the fighters failed to locate either Northampton or her elusive shadower. The changing weather, particularly a lack of upper air soundings, and the ship’s subsequent change of course, which was not transmitted to the aircraft, complicated their return to the carrier. The Wildcats burned their fuel to dangerously low levels before they succeeded in contacting Enterprise. As a result, 6-F-2, an F4F-3 (BuNo. 4017) flown by Ens. Joseph R. Daly, ran out of gas and made a down-wind landing in water close aboard the carrier. The plane sank almost immediately, but Ralph Talbot picked up Daly, who survived with only slight injuries. Two days after the raid Enterprise lost S-B-16, an SBD-2 (BuNo. 2140), Lt. (j.g.) Leonard J. Check and ARM2c S.J. Mason of VB-6. While the ship fought these battles Carrier Replacement Air Group (CRVG) 9 was established at NAS Norfolk, Cmdr. William D. Anderson in command, on 1 March. The action marked the first numbered air group in the Navy and the end of the practice of naming air groups for the carriers to which they were assigned. The Enterprise Air Group was subsequently redesignated CVG-6.
Halsey next moved the force, redesignated TF 16.5 on the first of the month and comprising Enterprise, Northampton, Salt Lake City, Balch, Blue, Craven, Dunlap, Maury, Ralph Talbot, and Sabine, against Marcus Island. Just before sunrise at 0447 on 4 March, the ship launched six F4F-3A Wildcats of VF-6 and 32 SBD 2 and 3 Dauntlesses of VB-6 and VS-6, respectively, from a point about 125 miles northeast of Marcus. The carrier’s radar directed the planes to their attack against the enemy garrison, and a Japanese radio blared a warning until an American bomb silenced the transmitter. Antiaircraft fire shot down an SBD-2 (BuNo. 2152), Lt. (j.g.) Hart D. Hilton and RM2c Jack Leaming of VS-6, which ditched east of Marcus. The enemy captured Hilton and Leaming and took them to Japan, though they survived captivity. A Japanese airplane flying from Iwo Jima in the Kazan Rettō (Volcano Islands) reached the area toward the end of the raid and radioed a further warning to the Japanese. I-15, Cmdr. Ishikawa Nobuo, sighted some of Halsey’s ships as they cancelled a planned rendezvous with TG 16.9 and returned on 7 March, but Ishikawa failed to maneuver to a favorable attack position. Following her homecoming Enterprise accomplished alterations at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, including removing ten boats and most of the .50 cal. machine guns, and installing additional radar and 30 20 millimeter guns (10–26 March). On 22 March Lt. Cmdr. McClusky reported to relieve Young in command of the air group.
The Americans in the meantime made the daring decision to strike the Japanese home islands, weighing the possibility of launching Army bombers from a carrier. Hornet, Capt. Marc A. Mitscher in command, departed from Norfolk with two USAAF North American B-25Bs on her flight deck to practice the concept, on 2 February 1942. During the afternoon watch, Hornet launched the Mitchells, piloted by Lt. John E. Fitzgerald, USAAF, and Lt. James F. McCarthy, USAAF, to the surprise and amazement of the ships company, as security precautions prevented most of the men from knowing the meaning of the experiment, and returned to Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs and alterations. Lt. (j.g.) Henry L. Miller trained the crewmen of 24 B-25Bs of the Army’s 17th Bombardment Group, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, in command, in carrier procedures at Eglin Field, Fla. The Mitchells’ crews volunteered for a mission that would be “extremely hazardous, would require a high degree of skill and would be of great value to our defense effort.” They practiced intensive cross-country flying, night flying, and navigation, as well as “low altitude approaches to bombing targets, rapid bombing and evasive action.” Doolittle noted that Miller’s “tact, skill and devotion to duty” proved crucial in training the aircrews in the often dangerous carrier operations. Maintainers installed additional fuel tanks in the Mitchells and removed “certain unnecessary equipment” to ensure that they could launch from Hornet and reach their targets.
Mitscher took Hornet out from Norfolk as part of TF 17 on 4 March, shaped a course for the West Coast, passed through the Panama Canal on 11 March, and on 20 March reached NAS Alameda, Calif. Following their training meanwhile, some of the Mitchells crossed the country in a series of flights, and with her own planes stowed on the hangar deck, Hornet loaded 16 of the Army bombers on the flight deck while at Alameda on 1 April. Altogether, Doolittle brought 70 officers and 64 enlisted men to fly and maintain the aircraft. Under sealed orders Hornet slipped through the fog and under the Golden Gate Bridge on 2 April, and in company with Vincennes (CA-44), Nashville (CL-43), Grayson (DD-435), Gwin (DD-433), Meredith (DD-434), Monssen (DD-436), and Cimarron (AO-22), proceeded into the Pacific as TF 18. That afternoon the boatswain’s pipe drew men’s attention as Mitscher informed the carrier’s crew of their mission. Cheers echoed through the ship, and when Hornet signaled the announcement to the other ships, morale soared on board those vessels.
Enterprise took part in the secret mission and prepared by training her newer pilots north of the Hawaiian Islands (27 March and 1–3 April). On 2 April, nine VB-6 Dauntlesses patrolled in a formation when two of the SBD-2s (BuNos 2136 and 2165), Ens. Stephen C. Hogan Jr., USNR, and AMM2c W.T. Thompson, and Ens. Harry W. Liffner, USNR, and AMM2c P.N. Altman, collided. The day was a favorable one for flying with good weather, but Liffner and Altman, flying the No. 3 plane in the 3rd Section, dropped back slightly from the section leader. Hogan and Thompson failed to follow their section leader closely, moved out and then forward, and slammed into the other Dauntless. The pilots survived but both of the gunners died, and some of their squadron mates surmised that their breast plate armor may have hindered them from bailing out. Halsey and TF 16, comprising Enterprise, Northampton, Salt Lake City, Benham, Ellet, Fanning, Gridley, Maury, and McCall, sortied from Pearl Harbor on 8 April. On 13 April Halsey and Mitscher rendezvoused north of the Hawaiian Islands, and the two forces fell under the former’s command as TF 16 and turned toward Japan. Foul weather harried the ships during most of their journey but helped shroud them from detection.
The Japanese nonetheless monitored U.S. Navy radio traffic and deduced that the Americans could (potentially) launch a carrier raid on their homeland after 14 April, and prepared accordingly. Lacking radar, they developed a rudimentary “early warning” capability by deploying parallel lines of guardboats, radio-equipped converted fishing trawlers, operating at prescribed intervals offshore. As the darkened U.S. ships sliced through heavy seas during the mid watch on 18 April, Enterprise detected intruders on her radar, and at 0315 signaled the other vessels ominously: “Two enemy surface craft spotted.” The force manned their battle stations and watchstanders anxiously monitored the situation. As the day dawned, cold and grey, lookouts spotted Japanese guardboat No. 23 Nitto Maru at a distance of 20,000 yards at 0738, in a position about 668 miles from Tōkyō. The Americans had intended to close the Japanese homeland to shorten the flying range but because of the discovery Halsey launched the raid earlier than planned, in order to avoid potential retaliatory aerial attacks from bombers flying from Japanese airfields.
As Hornet swung about and prepared to launch the bombers, which had been readied for take-off the previous day, a gale of more than 40 knots churned the sea with 30-foot crests; heavy swells, which caused the ship to pitch violently, shipped sea and spray over the bow, and drenched the deck crews. Doolittle flew the first heavily-laden bomber down the flight deck, and shook many of the man watching tensely when he dropped momentarily in altitude, and then rose, circled Hornet, and set a course for Japan. By 0920 all 16 of the bombers were on their way for the first American air strike against the heart of the Japanese Empire. The attackers bombed military and oil installations and factories at Kōbe, Nagoya, Tōkyō, Yokohama, and Yokosuka. A bomb struck Japanese carrier Ryūhō (being converted from submarine depot ship Taigei) at Yokosuka, but the strike inflicted negligible damage. All of the Mitchells were lost — 15 crashed in China and the Soviets interned one at Vladivostok, but they later smuggled that crew to freedom across the Allied-occupied Iranian border. The Japanese savagely retaliated with reprisals against the areas in Chekiang [Zejiang] province, China, where people succored the aviators and butchered thousands of people, and in addition, captured eight of the fliers, afterward murdering three of the men. Doolittle survived and subsequently received the Medal of Honor.
Enterprise meanwhile launched F4F-3As of VF-6 for CAP and SBD-3s of VB-3 and SBD-2s of VB-6, and the Wildcats and Dauntlesses coordinated with surface attacks and damaged guardboats No. 23 Nitto Maru and Nagato Maru, which Nashville sank by gunfire. The carrier planes also damaged armed merchant cruiser Awata Maru and guardboats Chokyu Maru, Eikichi Maru, Kaijin Maru, Kowa Maru, No. 1 Iwate Maru, No. 2 Asami Maru, No. 3 Chinyo Maru, No. 21 Nanshin Maru, and No. 26 Nanshin Maru. The Japanese downed an SBD-3 (BuNo. 4603), Ens. Liston R. Comer, USNR, of VB-6. Hornet brought her own airplanes on deck and the ships came about and made full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 1445 the success of the raids. The following day light cruiser Kiso scuttled No. 21 Nanshin Maru by gunfire, and No. 1 Iwate Maru sank as the result of the damage inflicted by Enterprise planes. I-74 rescued No. 1 Iwate Maru’s crew and ultimately transferred them to Kiso on 22 April.
Nagumo and a force built upon carriers Akagi, Hiryū, Sōryū, Shōkaku, and Zuikaku was just returning from a thrust into the Indian Ocean and had reached a position east of Formosa [Taiwan] while en route to Japanese waters. He turned and pursued the raiders, but Halsey reversed course and opened the range. Rumors circulated through Enterprise about enemy action, including an alleged naval intelligence message that claimed that the Japanese carriers closed from 500 miles to the southwest, blocking the task force’s return to the Hawaiian Islands. The ships company ate battle rations but only relaxed when Enterprise secured from general quarters. Japanese submarines including I-8, I-21, I-22, I-24, I-27, I-28, and I-29 also unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the task force. Despite the infinitesimal material damage inflicted, the psychological impact of an aerial threat to Japan and to the Emperor ended debate within the Japanese high command concerning a decisive thrust against the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The task force’s return voyage did not pass without incident and on 21 April an F4F-3A (BuNo. 3894), AMM1c Howard S. Packard of VF-6, landed hard on the Enterprise flight deck, crumpling the left landing gear. Squadron mate Lt. (j.g.) Rawie later observed that Packard “sorta splattered one plane all over the F-3 area in general.” On that day reporters also queried President Roosevelt for the location from which the bombers launched on the Halsey-Doolittle Raid and he replied: “And I said, “Yes. I think the time has now come to tell you. They came from our new secret base at Shangri-La! [referring to the mythical haven in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon]” The ships returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 April, one week to the hour after Hornet launched the bombers.
The Japanese in the interim launched Operation MO — to seize Port Moresby, New Guinea, and points in the Solomon Islands, along with Nauru and Ocean Island [Banaba], preparatory to neutralizing Australia as an Allied bastion. Just five days after Enterprise moored at Pearl Harbor, she therefore stood down the channel and in company with Hornet sped toward the South Pacific to reinforce Lexington and Yorktown. The carriers and Pensacola carried VMF-212, which was to operate from Vila on Efate in the New Hebrides [Vanuatu] — Enterprise embarked ten of the squadron’s F4F-3s and Hornet carried 11. While Enterprise steamed toward the battle she lost two SBD-2 Dauntlesses (BuNos 2152 and 4595), Ens. Clifford R. Walters, USNR, and AMM2c P.S. Johnson Jr., and Ens. Thomas C. Durkin, USNR, and AM2c E.C. Bailey, during a scouting mission on the afternoon of 13 May. The planes and their crews vanished, though some of their VS-6 squadron mates vainly hoped that they set down on an island in the vicinity.
The ships’ distance from the action proved too great to conquer in time, and during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval engagement fought without the opposing ships making contact, the Allies sustained heavy casualties but achieved a strategic victory by halting the push southward and blunting the seaborne thrust toward Port Moresby. The Japanese deferred and then abandoned their occupation of Port Moresby by sea and shifted their advance overland across the Owen Stanley Mountains. Enterprise and Hornet searched unsuccessfully for the retiring Japanese carriers, and for the Nauru and Ocean Island invasion forces. On 11 May, they launched the 21 marine Wildcats as VMF-212 temporarily deployed to Tontouta, about 30 miles northwest of Nouméa, New Caledonia, while staging to Efate. On 16 May Nimitz directed the ships to come about for Pearl Harbor, and sent a more urgent order the following day: “Expedite return”. Enterprise and Hornet made speed and returned to Pearl Harbor on 26 May, and began intensive preparations to meet the next Japanese thrust.
The threat posed by the U.S. carriers convinced the Japanese to occupy Midway Island to lure the Pacific Fleet into a decisive battle. Japanese Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku, Commander in Chief Combined Fleet, developed Operation MI — a comprehensive plan that emphasized attaining surprise. On 27 May Nagumo took Dai-ichi Kidō Butai, including Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū, out from Japanese waters.
The U.S. Naval War College subsequently analyzed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces. The Americans possessed superior intelligence, especially as cryptanalysts deciphered elements of the enemy’s signals intelligence through ULTRA, and thus to a degree attained surprise. In addition: a number of the U.S. ships including Enterprise operated their CXAM-1 radar, and the defenders of Midway Island maintained an SCR-270 set; they possessed fighter direction using their radar; a flanking position; and the planes that flew from Midway, which effectively served as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. Furthermore, their carrier planes had self-sealing fuel tanks and aircraft armor. The U.S. practice of operating their limited number of aircraft carriers separately, however, with the intention of ensuring that the enemy only attacked one or two carriers at a time, proved erroneous, because it weakened the numbers and firepower of the fighters of the CAP and of the antiaircraft guns that the additional escorts would have provided. Their ships also fought with inadequate antiaircraft firepower, especially heavy machine guns. In addition, their task forces sailed under different sets of cruising instructions, and lacked experience operating together. Hornet and her air group entered battle relatively new and inexperienced, and Yorktown embarked a composite air group from different carriers. The various types of aircraft lacked common performance in terms of speed and range, their fighters flew largely inferior in capabilities to their Japanese counterparts, the torpedo planes proved slow and vulnerable, and the torpedoes characteristically performed poorly.
The Japanese deployed a greater number of carriers, as well as battleships. Their air striking force fought as a well-balanced arm with experienced and well-trained pilots and aircrewmen; higher performance fighters; and more common types of planes in terms of their flight and combat characteristics, all of which facilitated their tactical employment as a single unit. The Japanese lacked actionable intelligence, however, especially as they failed to deploy their submarines in time to discover the movements of the U.S. carriers; and furthermore, their carriers lacked radar, a crucial tactical disadvantage. They overestimated the damage they had inflicted to date on the Americans and believed that they sank Lexington -- when I-6 torpedoed Saratoga on 11 January -- and Saratoga (Lexington) during the Battle of the Coral Sea. In addition, their intelligence analysts thought that they had so seriously damaged Yorktown that she would be out of action for months, but the Americans hastily, if not completely, repaired the carrier in time for the battle. The Japanese planes largely flew with less protection than the Americans’, and they did not have self-sealing fuel tanks. Much like their foes, their ships lacked adequate antiaircraft firepower, especially heavy machine guns. Finally, their air search and reconnaissance flights from Wake Island proved woefully inadequate because of the long range, which limited their impact on the battle.
Halsey had spent a great deal of time at sea and suffered from dermatitis and temporarily convalesced ashore, so Nimitz directed Spruance to command TF 16, including Enterprise and Hornet, while Fletcher led TF 17 and Yorktown. Spruance broke his flag in Enterprise and on 28 May sailed from Pearl Harbor to meet the Japanese with: Enterprise and Hornet; Minneapolis (CA-36), New Orleans (CA-32), Northampton, Pensacola, Salt Lake City, and Vincennes; Atlanta (CL-51), which mounted a powerful main antiaircraft battery of 16 5-inch guns; and Aylwin (DD-355), Balch, Benham, Conyngham (DD-371), Ellet, Maury, Monaghan (DD-354), Phelps (DD-360), and Worden (DD-352). “You will have the opportunities to deal the enemy heavy blows”, Nimitz signaled the ships. Spruance maneuvered northeast of Midway, with orders “to hold Midway and inflict maximum damage on the enemy by strong attrition tactics.” Rumors swept through Enterprise and some men wondered why they steamed toward those waters when the fighting appeared to be in the south Pacific.
Fletcher set out two days later with Yorktown; Astoria (CA-34) and Portland (CA-33); and Anderson (DD-411), Gwin, Hamman (DD-412), Hughes (DD-410), Morris (DD-417), and Russell (DD-414); and as the senior officer became Officer in Tactical Command (OTC). Cimarron and Platte supported the carriers, escorted by Dewey (DD-349) and Monssen (DD-436). TG 11.1, built around the newly repaired Saratoga, set out from San Diego for the battle on the morning of 1 June, temporarily led by Saratoga’s commanding officer, Capt. DeWitt C. Ramsey, because Rear Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch, the group’s commander, steamed en route on board Chester and did not arrive at San Diego until the following afternoon. Altogether, Chester; San Diego (CL-53); and Laffey (DD-459), Mahan (DD-364), Preston (DD-379), and Smith (DD-378), sailed with Saratoga or later shaped a course to catch up to her, but all failed to reach the fighting in time.
6-S-2 crashed into the ship’s barrier as the plane landed during the afternoon watch on 30 May. The Dauntless dropped an incendiary bomb that started a small fire on the flight deck, but crewmen extinguished the blaze. The extensive U.S. build-up to face the Japanese attack included 12 PBY-5As of VP-44, which joined other airplanes from VPs 14, 23, 24, 51, 72, and 9 at Midway Island. The strategic atoll actually consists of two principal islands, Eastern and Sand, together with sand islets. The Americans thus split the patrol aircraft into two groups: 10 planes flying from Eastern Island and the remaining 22 from Sand Island. The aircraft flew sector searches out to 700 miles from Midway, beginning at 0415 each morning, but VP-44’s Catalinas lacked radar and the crewmen scanned the horizon for the enemy using their “Mark I eyeballs”. One of these airplanes, flown by Ens. Jewell H. Reid, located the Japanese Second Fleet Escort Force about 600 miles west of Midway on 3 June 1942. The following morning, a PBY-5A of VP-24 attacked the Occupation Force northwest of Midway, and the Catalina torpedoed and damaged fleet tanker Akebono Maru.
U.S. Navy meteorologists reported “excellent visibility” that morning “except beyond 400 miles to the north northwest”. The surface winds were variable, and nearer Midway the surface winds under the influence of a northeasterly high pressure area were from the southeast, which generally proved advantageous to the Japanese by enabling their carriers to close the island while steaming into the wind. The weather compelled the U.S. carriers to turn away from the Japanese when launching and recovering their airplanes, thus sacrificing time and fuel in closing the enemy. Nagumo prepared two strikes on the morning of 4 June 1942: the first against Midway and a second against the U.S. carriers in the event that the Japanese search planes discovered them. Japanese Lt. Tomonaga Joichi led 107 aircraft from their carriers in the first strike against Midway. A patrol plane flying from Midway reported Tomonaga’s strike inbound at 0545, and a few minutes later, another Catalina radioed the discovery of the Japanese carriers, approximately 180 miles distant from the embattled island. Nimitz ordered the available fighters on the island to rise and intercept the raiders, and for the bombers to attack the enemy carriers.
Brewster F2A-3 Buffaloes and F4F-3 Wildcats of VMF-221 intercepted the raiders, but Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighters brushed aside the marines and the enemy bombed and strafed the island, hitting floatplanes in the lagoon, the command post, hospital, service buildings, and oil fuel tanks. Despite the pounding, however, they failed to suppress Midway. “There is need for a second attack wave”, Tomonaga signaled Nagumo at 0700, and the admiral concurred and ordered the planes from the additional strike group rearmed to assail the island. Maintainers on board Akagi and Kaga scrambled to rearm Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes from torpedoes to bombs, and on board Hiryū and Sōryū Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers from armor-piercing to fragmentation bombs. The Japanese carriers surged with activity because in addition to that work, they also landed, rearmed, and launched fighters against American aircraft that attacked them from Midway. A steady stream of intelligence reports, some contradictory, reached Nimitz and while Tomonaga’s planes struck Midway, Nimitz ordered the aircraft on the island to attack the enemy carriers. Throughout the day Midway’s defenders responded valiantly and SBD-2 Dauntlesses and SB2U-3 Vindicators of VMSB-241, TBF-1 Avengers -- their introduction to combat -- from a detachment of VT-8, and Army Martin B-26 Marauders equipped with torpedoes and Boeing B-17E Flying Fortresses struck the enemy ships separately but suffered grim losses.
The Japanese cruisers had also launched search planes but two of their heavy cruisers, Chikuma and Tone, launched theirs later than originally intended. Tone’s No. 4 plane, flown by PO1c Amari Hiroshi, catapulted from the ship at 0500. Amari experienced an eventful flight because he reported (separately) sighting two American submarines, and then at 0720 discovered Enterprise, Hornet, and their screen, which he reported as “what appears to be” ten ships, steering 150° at more than 20 knots. Amari neglected to mention the carriers but his discovery stunned Nagumo. Despite the vagueness of his message, winds from the southeast prevailed and the American ships steamed to the southeast, which indicated that they likely comprised at least one or more carriers launching aircraft. Nagumo nonetheless decided to adhere to doctrine, recover Tomonaga’s group, and attack the U.S. ships in a concentrated strike. In addition, both sides deployed submarines to scout and to attack the opposing ships, and Nautilus (SS-168), Lt. Cmdr. William H. Brockman Jr., in command, sighted some of the enemy ships and attempted to attack, but an A6M2 spotted the submarine as she rose to periscope depth and machine gunned her. Nautilus dived and continued to stalk the enemy ships, but the Japanese detached destroyer Arashi and she depth charged the submarine, which escaped.
Fletcher meanwhile at 0607 intercepted the first contact reports, and directed Spruance to “proceed southwesterly and attack enemy carriers as soon as definitely located. I will follow as soon as planes recovered.” Spruance launched his aircraft at the time he calculated the Japanese planes would return to their carriers following their strike on Midway, hopefully catching them while they refueled and rearmed. Enterprise began launching her strike at 0706, and Lt. Cmdr. McClusky led: 33 SBD 2 and 3 Dauntlesses of the group section, VB-6, led by 6-B-1, Lt. Best and ACRM Murray, and VS-6, led by 6-S-1, Lt. W. Earl Gallaher and ACRM T.E. Merritt; 15 of the Dauntlesses each carried one 1,000 pound bomb; 12 flew armed with one 500 pound and two 100 pound bombs; and six lifted aloft each with one 500 pound bomb; 14 TBD-1 Devastators of VT-6, each carrying a single torpedo slung beneath the fuselage, Lt. Cmdr. Lindsey in command; and ten F4F-4 Wildcats of VF-6, led by Lt. Gray, now the squadron’s commanding officer. Enterprise and Hornet together launched 116 aircraft. A short time later, Fletcher sent 35 planes aloft from Yorktown, and held the balance on board to be ready to attack the still unlocated additional enemy carriers.
The Devastators of VTs 3, 6, and 8 gallantly but futilely assailed the enemy carriers but fighters and antiaircraft fire virtually wiped-out all three squadrons. The enemy carriers came about and maneuvered so as to keep the attackers on their quarters, which necessitated long and vulnerable approaches. Fourteen Devastators from Enterprise, separated from their fighter escorts as the Wildcats flew at a higher altitude, expecting to meet the enemy CAP there, determinedly attacked but the enemy fighters and flak shot down ten of the lumbering planes, including the command aircraft, killing Lt. Cmdr. Lindsey and his gunner, ACRM C.T. Granat. Twelve Devastators from Yorktown under escort by six Wildcats resolutely flew toward the carriers but suffered the same fate and ten of the torpedo planes spiraled into the waves. The Japanese shot down 35 of the 41 Devastators from the carriers. “When news reached us that the torpedo boys had been nearly wiped out,” Lt. Gray recalled, “the shock was as total as that which one could expect from a death in his immediate family. These were shipmates and dear friends of many years.” “It is not the desire of the writer,” Lt. (j.g.) Robert E. Laub of VT-6 reported, “to call attention to the action of any one individual but it is his sincere wish that some recognition be given those who paid with their lives for a magnificent victory.” The victory Laub referred to occurred largely because the multiple attacks drew off the Japanese fighters and left the skies open for attacks by the remaining aircraft flying from Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown, and threw the Japanese ships’ formation into disarray, which weakened their defense against the assault.
McClusky led a strike group of 32 Dauntlesses: McClusky and 16 other aircraft (SBD-3s) of VS-6, which carried one 500 pound and two 100 pound bombs each; and 15 of the planes from VB-6, loaded with one 1,000 pound bomb each. Following Arashi’s attack on Nautilus, the destroyer came about and churned the water as she made speed to return to the carriers. As McClusky flew at an altitude of 14,000 feet and watched his fuel gauge drop, he searched for the Japanese ships, but at 0955 caught a brief glimpse of the telltale white of Arashi’s wake, outlined vividly against the smooth sea. The pilot correctly surmised that the wake indicated a ship operating with the carriers and directed his planes to turn and follow Arashi to the northeast, and the warship inadvertently led the Americans to the enemy carriers. The Dauntlesses sighted Akagi, Kaga, and Sōryū just after 1020, steaming toward the northwest in a circular disposition of roughly eight miles, and discovered the enemy ships at almost the same time as the planes from Yorktown. Hiryū sailed ahead of the other three carriers.
The arrival of the Dauntlesses caught the Japanese unprepared; the enemy antiaircraft guns did not open fire until the bombers began diving, and most of their fighters attempted unsuccessfully to climb to meet the menace from above. Rather than concentrating their attacks the aircraft from Enterprise briefly struggled with communication errors and split into two groups. McClusky led most of the bombers as he pushed his plane downward in a 70° dive from 14,500 feet at 280 knots against Kaga. The redoubtable Dickinson received a second Gold Star in lieu of his third award of the Navy Cross for piercing the Japanese fighters and antiaircraft fire with “fortitude and resolute devotion to duty,” pressing home his attacks through “gallant perseverance and utter disregard for his own personal safety.” Dickinson ran out of fuel on his return flight and ditched in the water about five miles from Enterprise, but Phelps rescued him. The attackers dropped at least four bombs into Kaga, starting horrific fires that ultimately doomed the ship. That afternoon Nautilus attacked Kaga but her torpedoes failed to explode, and the carrier finally sank later that evening.
Lt. Best led a pair of Dauntlesses, Lt. (j.g.) Edwin J. Kroeger, USNR, and Ens. Frederick T. Weber, USNR, against Akagi from her portside as the enemy flagship turned initially to starboard, and aimed for what he believed was the island but most likely dived on the large stack jutting to starboard. One of his wingmen pointed his bomber toward the large hinomaru (Rising Sun recognition emblem) painted on the ship’s forward flight deck. The Dauntlesses scored a single hit and two near misses on Akagi, the hit likely made by Best himself. “Nobody pushed his dive steeper or held it longer than Dick” is how his gunner, ACRM Murray, later described the confident pilot. The bomb proved fatal as the damage control teams failed to contain the ensuing blaze, which eventually triggered huge explosions that set the ship afire from stem to stern. Nagumo initially refused to leave the ship’s bridge but then transferred his flag to light cruiser Nagara. Destroyers Arashi, Hagikaze, Maikaze, and Nowaki torpedoed the carrier during the morning watch the following day. The Japanese shot down some of the aircraft including a Dauntless, Ens. Frank W. O’Flaherty and AMM1c Gaido of VS-6 from Enterprise, and O’Flaherty subsequently received the Navy Cross for bravely attacking the enemy ships. Japanese destroyer Makigumo pulled O’Flaherty and Gaido from the water, and the enemy held the men as prisoners but brutally drowned them on 10 June. They similarly murdered Ens. Wesley F. Osmus, a Devastator pilot from Yorktown, while holding him prisoner on board Arashi. Osmus received the Navy Cross posthumously for bravely flying his run against the carriers when he was shot down, the Navy unaware of the circumstances of his death. Dauntlesses of VB-3 from Yorktown planted three bombs into Sōryū, and her crew later abandoned ship.
Fletcher still lacked actionable intelligence concerning Hiryū and Yorktown launched scouts at 1150. Hiryū launched 18 Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers that damaged Yorktown, however, and at 1315 Fletcher transferred his flag to Astoria, and turned over tactical command to Spruance. Ten Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes flying from Hiryū then damaged Yorktown during a second attack. Some of the surviving aircraft from Yorktown in the meantime landed on Enterprise and Hornet, including Dauntlesses of VB-3, Lt. Dewitt W. Shumway in command, and VB-5, Lt. Wallace C. Short Jr.
During the afternoon watch a U.S. plane sighted Hiryū and her screen. Upon receiving the report on the fourth Japanese carrier’s position, Spruance ordered Enterprise and Hornet to launch Dauntlesses, including some of the survivors from Yorktown. While they flew en route some of the men sighted the smoke rising from the three stricken Japanese carriers. The U.S. aircraft included a Dauntless flown by Best and Murray, who dived on their second enemy carrier of the day. Best afterward received the Navy Cross for his actions in the battle. Shumway received the Navy Cross for pressing “home his attack with courageous aggressiveness and utter disregard for his own personal safety. His capable initiative and inspiring leadership contributed to the high state of [VB-3’s] combat efficiency.” The enemy fighters fought desperately and Hiryū maneuvered adroitly, but her attackers dropped four 1,000 pound bombs in rapid succession that tore into the forward third of the carrier, and their detonations thrust part of the flight deck upward and then collapsed it, blew a portion of the forward elevator against the front of the island, and left the ship a mass of flames. Destroyer Makigumo helped finish off the crippled carrier, which sank during the forenoon watch on 5 June. Thirty-nine survivors, Cmdr. Aimune Kunize in command, drifted in a 30-foot cutter for nearly two weeks, during which four men died, until Ballard (AVD-10) rescued them on 19 June. One of the survivors died after being brought on board the seaplane tender, but the rest spent the war as prisoners.
The night of 5 and 6 June did not pass uneventfully as during the mid watch Japanese heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami collided while maneuvering to elude Tambor (SS-198), Lt. Cmdr. John W. Murphy Jr., in command. The impact crumpled Mogami’s bow nearly 40-feet, and slightly damaged Mikuma. The latter stood by to render assistance to Mogami as they limped along at reduced speed, but Murphy sent a contact report and during the forenoon watch a Catalina sighted the oil slick that Mikuma trailed. A strike group of a half dozen each Dauntlesses and Vindicators from VMSB-241 from Midway spotted the oil slick and followed it to the cruisers. The marines’ unsuccessfully attacked the ships, which shot down one of the Vindicators, Capt. Richard E. Fleming, USMC, and Pfc. George A. Toms, USMC, both of whom died. Eight Flying Fortresses flying from the island also bombed but missed the ships.
Additional though conflicting reports reached Spruance, including information from 8-B-2, a Dauntless of VB-8 flying from Enterprise, which reported what the crew believed to be a carrier and five destroyers, and dropped messages on the flight deck and then landed on board Hornet, where the pilot corrected himself and explained that he meant a battleship and her escorts. Spruance resolved to attack and directed the carriers to launch a strike, and during the forenoon watch Enterprise and Hornet sent 31 Dauntlesses armed with 1,000 pound bombs, three Devastators with torpedoes, and a dozen Wildcats to strafe the ships. Planes of squadrons from different ships comprised the group, which flew under the overall command of Lt. Short of Yorktown’s VB-5. Because the three torpedo squadrons had suffered appalling losses on 4 June, Spruance expressly forbade the Devastators to attack and face the antiaircraft fire from the Japanese ships.
Soon after the attack group launched, they received orders by voice radio to search for and attack a battleship believed to be about 40 miles ahead of the previous sighting, and that a further three Devastators would launch and join them. The aircraft climbed slowly to 22,500 feet and maneuvered while they waited for the torpedo planes to catch-up, but the second trio of Devastators failed to sight the attack group and the attack force continued past the cruisers, which they also failed to spot up sun and at maximum altitude. They searched ahead for nearly 30 miles, but the Wildcats spotted their prey, the Japanese ships steering 240° at 28 knots as Mikuma steamed in the van followed by Mogami and escorted by destroyers Arashio and Asashio. The aircraft converged on the ships, and the Dauntlesses started a long approach from about 21,000 feet from out of the sun and downwind, and then plunged downward from their push over point at 14,000 feet. The cruisers turned to starboard in an apparent attempt to head downwind, but two bombs slammed into Mogami, one forward of the bridge and another amidships on the aircraft deck. Most of the planes concentrated their runs on Mikuma, however, which raised a heavy stream of automatic gunfire. The first bomb exploded on the top of her No. 3 8-inch turret, and showered fragments across the bridge. Two bombs rapidly followed and tore into the ship’s vitals, devastating her starboard forward engineroom. Another two of the lethal devices crashed into the seaplane deck and down into the port aft engine room, and an inferno erupted near the torpedo tubes. The attackers scored as many as five hits and two near misses on the ship. Hornet dispatched another raid that afternoon and Dauntlesses further damaged the cruisers, and in addition, bombed and strafed Arashio and Asashio, knocking off huge pieces of metal, and causing a small explosion on board each ship. Mogami suffered a fearsome fire in her aircraft deck that all but wiped out her sick bay and the wounded men receiving treatment there, and smoked heavily but slipped away, escorted by the destroyers. A pair of Dauntlesses from Enterprise later flew over the still burning Mikuma and photographed her, and when some officers afterward examined the pictures, they initially surmised that they faced a battlecruiser displacing 20,000 tons and mounting 11- or 12-inch guns! The fires continued to blaze and cooked off a number of Mikuma’s torpedoes, which exploded catastrophically and further damaged the ship, and she sank after dusk near 29°28'N, 173°11'E.
The enemy planes had heavily damaged Yorktown, however, and destroyers struggled to save the carrier and guard her from further harm. Japanese submarine I-168 penetrated the screen and attacked Yorktown, which was under tow of tug (ex-minesweeper) Vireo (AT-144), and Hammann, sending the destroyer to the bottom. Gwin, Hughes, and Monaghan attacked I-168 but the enemy boat eluded them. In addition to the Japanese ships sunk they lost 258 aircraft. The Americans lost at least 92 carrier and 40 shore-based planes. The pilots and their crewmen “displayed a spirit of utter fearlessness,” Capt. Murray proudly reported of the Enterprise Air Group, “resolution and determination throughout all air actions.” The group lost 31 planes: F-12, a Wildcat (BuNo. 5062) flown by Machinist William H. Warden, that ran out of fuel and ditched — Monaghan’s whaleboat rescued Warden; 20 Dauntlesses, costing seven pilots and eight gunners of VB-6 and seven pilots and seven gunners of VS-6 their lives; and ten Devastators, killing ten pilots and ten gunners, of VT-6. “The conduct of the officers and men of the Ship’s Company was exemplary,” Cmdr. Jeter reported.
The Japanese loss of their carriers and the irretrievable failure to control the air compelled Yamamoto to retire. The decisive U.S. victory accelerated the attrition that led to the demise of Japanese naval offensive power, in particular costing them dearly in terms of experienced airmen and maintainers. Enterprise and Hornet recovered their aircraft and came about to eastward to refuel and broke contact with the enemy. Saratoga rendezvoused with TF 16 and transferred planes to bring Enterprise and Hornet up to strength -- five Devastators and ten Dauntlesses to Enterprise -- on 10 June, and on 15 June Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor.
Nimitz reorganized the Pacific Fleet following the Battle of Midway, which became effective on 15 June. Fletcher’s TF 16 comprised Enterprise, Chester, Portland, Atlanta, Balch, Benham, Ellet, Grayson, Gwin, Maury, and Monssen. Meanwhile planes continued to search for downed aviators and on 21 June, a PBY-5A from VP-24 rescued the two-man crew from a VT-6 Devastator that flew from Enterprise during the Battle of Midway. Their airplane had to land in the water on 4 June, and they had drifted to a position about 360 miles north of the island when the Catalina discovered them, marking the last survivors of the battle to be recovered. Following the battle, Enterprise completed a short availability at Pearl Harbor, during which workers installed four quadruple 40 millimeter mounts in place of four 1.1-inch batteries, a 1.1-inch anti-aircraft mount at the extreme bow on the forecastle deck and forward fire control radar, and removed the forward auxiliary elevator, the two catapults on the main deck, and the remaining .50 cal. machine guns. The ship trained (8–11 July 1942) and then prepared to take part in Operation Watchtower — landings by the 1st Marine Division on Japanese-held Guadalcanal, Florida, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.
On 15 July Enterprise set a course for Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands, the staging area for Watchtower. The ship anchored in Nuku’alofa harbor at Tonga on 24 July while she refueled and provisioned in preparation for the battle, then stood out to sea and two days later rendezvoused with the invasion force. Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, Commander South Pacific Force, led the landings, and Vice Adm. Fletcher acted as the OTC. Fletcher’s TF 61 included TG 61.1, Rear Adm. Leigh Noyes in command, including Enterprise, Saratoga, and Wasp. Rear Adm. John S. McCain’s TF 63 provided USN, USMC, and USAAF planes flying from New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. The carriers fought in three groups. Group 1 included: Saratoga, Capt. Ramsey; Minneapolis and New Orleans; and five destroyers. Group 2 comprised: Enterprise, Capt. Arthur C. Davis; North Carolina (BB-55), Capt. George H. Fort; Portland, Capt. Laurence T. DuBose; Atlanta, Capt. Samuel P. Jenkins; and Balch, Lt. Cmdr. Harold H. Tiemroth, Benham, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph M. Worthington, Grayson, Lt. Cmdr. Frederick J. Bell, Gwin, Cmdr. John M. Higgins, and Maury, Lt. Cmdr. Gilzer L. Sims. Group 3: Wasp (Capt. Forrest P. Sherman); Salt Lake City and San Francisco (CA-38); and six destroyers. Oilers Cimarron, Kanawha (AO-1), Kaskaskia (AO-27), Platte, and Sabine refueled the ships. Enterprise supported landing exercises on Koro Island in the Fijis on 30 July, and in addition, the British Eastern Fleet, Adm. Sir James F. Somerville, RN, attempted to divert Japanese attention by carrying out Operation Stab — a thrust against the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal (1–10 August).
On 7 August, planes from Enterprise, Saratoga, and Wasp strafed and bombed enemy gun emplacements and supply dumps, and flew reconnaissance and CAP missions as the marines wrestled control of the neighboring islands from the Japanese, and simultaneously moved inland on Guadalcanal. The Japanese counterattacked that afternoon, and at least 27 bombers and 16 dive bombers roared toward the ships offshore. Wildcats flying from Enterprise and Saratoga intercepted and claimed to splash 16 of the attackers but lost 15 Wildcats in battle or to accidents — the Americans positioned their fighters poorly and committed them to battle piecemeal, while the Japanese lost only two Zeros in aerial combat but shot down nine Wildcats. A carrier [dive] bomber of the 2nd Kōkūtai damaged Mugford (DD-389), and after San Juan (CL-54) bombarded the enemy while maneuvering in Tulagi Bay, an explosion in one of her forward 5-inch gun mounts damaged the ship.
The following day the marines captured the unfinished Japanese airstrip and redesignated it Henderson Field in honor of Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, USMC, who had been shot down while leading VMSB-241 on an unsuccessful attack on Hiryū at Midway. Two aircraft from Enterprise dropped vital aerial reconnaissance photos of the areas along the north coast of Guadalcanal to marines. Allied Coastwatchers reported an incoming raid, and during a fierce Japanese aerial assault by as many as 26 land attack planes of the 4th and Misawa Kōkūtais on the invasion ships, Wildcats and antiaircraft fire splashed 17 of the attackers. The enemy torpedoed Jarvis (DD-393) and transport George F. Elliott (AP-13). A Japanese airplane also crashed the latter, and Hull (DD-350) scuttled her. Another crashing bomber damaged Barnett (AP-11).
During the Battle of Savo Island Japanese Vice Adm. Mikawa Gunichi led a force that slipped undetected to the west of Savo Island and inflicted a singularly devastating defeat upon the Allies on the night of 9 August. The enemy sank heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy (CA-39), Vincennes, and Australian Canberra (D.33), and damaged Chicago, Patterson (DD-392), and Ralph Talbot. The Allies lightly damaged four Japanese ships. Despite the overwhelming victory, Mikawa sought to escape aerial retaliation by clearing the area by sunrise, and consequently failed to attack the nearby transports. The defeat prompted the withdrawal of the carriers, as thus also the transports before they had unloaded all of their cargoes, but the limited amount of supplies which had been landed combined, with those the marines seized from the Japanese, to enable the leathernecks to maintain their tenuous hold on Guadalcanal.
The marines defeated a counterattack by a Japanese detachment led by Col. Ichiki Kiyono (18–21 August). The Japanese then launched Operation Ka (the first syllable of Guadalcanal in Japanese) — a combined sea and land thrust to retake Guadalcanal. The Allies also reinforced the hard-pressed marines and Hornet sailed from Pearl Harbor for the South Pacific on 17 August. Auxiliary aircraft carrier Long Island (ACV-1) launched the first marine planes to arrive at Henderson Field on 20 August — 19 F4F-4s of VMF-223 and 12 SBD-1s of VMSB-232. A Japanese flying boat from the Shortlands sighted Long Island but the ship retired beyond the range of enemy land-based aircraft. Bell P-400 Airacobras of the USAAF’s 67th Fighter Squadron joined the marines on 22 August. TF 61, Fletcher and TF 61, once again including Enterprise, Saratoga, and Wasp, supported by USMC and USAAF aircraft from Henderson Field, turned-back a Japanese attempt to recapture Guadalcanal and Tulagi during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24 August 1942. The Japanese deployed multiple forces including one of carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku to cover a group of four transports, and a diversionary force formed around light carrier Ryūjō.
During the forenoon watch on 22 August, Enterprise detected a snooper on her radar, attempted to vector her CAP toward the intruder, and scrambled a dozen alert Wildcats one of which, F-4, Lt. Albert O. Vorse Jr., aided by his wingman Ens. Richards L. Loesch Jr., splashed a Kawanishi H6K4 Type 97 flying boat, PO1 Shakat Shōichi of the 14th Kōkūtai. At dawn the next day Enterprise launched eight Dauntlesses that searched out to 180 miles from the ship, and although the planes missed the enemy carriers they discovered two submarines proceeding south. A Dauntless, Lt. Turner F. Caldwell Jr., discovered and bombed the first submarine unsuccessfully at 0725. Just under an hour later two other scouts, Lt. Stockton B. Strong and Ens. John F. Richey, sighted a submarine and dropped bombs that splashed close aboard but the boat crash-dived. The enemy submarine resurfaced and they strafed her, and then she submerged again and escaped. A Catalina spotted some of the enemy transports north of Guadalcanal, and Japanese submarines continued to prowl the area. Enterprise sent her afternoon search aloft and a pair of Dauntlesses, Ens. George G. Estes and Ens. Elmer Maul sighted a boat and scored near misses with their 500-pound bombs. Their prey leaked a large oil slick and escaped, but the enemy activity alerted the Americans to their deployments. Wasp and TF 18 meanwhile temporarily detached from the fighting to refuel, and at one point on 24 August, SBD-3s of VB-6 and VS-5 from Enterprise flew to Henderson Field and temporarily operated ashore. The weather in the area where the U.S. carriers operated was clear with excellent visibility and ceiling. SBD-3 Dauntlesses of VB-3 and VS-3 and TBF-1 Avengers of VT-8 from Saratoga sank Ryūjō and damaged seaplane carrier Chitose. A Dauntless of VMSB-232 damaged light cruiser Jintsū north of Malaita Island, and aircraft from ashore sank armed merchant cruiser Kinryu Maru and destroyer Mitsuki, and damaged destroyer Uzuki.
More than 30 Japanese planes attacked Enterprise for about five minutes of bedlam, near 08°38'S, 163°30'E (1712–1717 on 24 August). The ships that could bring their batteries to bear raised a tremendous volume of fire that compelled some of the enemy aircraft to break off their runs, but Capt. Davis observed that the enemy pilots largely made “well executed and absolutely determined” attacks, and three bombs hit the ship and four splashed as near-misses. The first bomb struck about two minutes after the start of the attack, piercing No. 3 elevator at the flight deck and detonating 42 feet below, between the second and third decks, close to the starboard side. It caused extensive, though not serious structural damage, minor flooding, and several stubborn fires, and disabled No. 3 elevator. Half a minute later a second bomb struck the flight deck at frame 179, close to the starboard edge of the same elevator, detonating eight feet below. The blast deflected the flight deck upward and a severe fire broke out as the flames ignited 40 rounds of 5-inch 38 cal. propellant powder. A third bomb, dropped a minute later, detonated on impact with the flight deck near the after starboard corner of No. 2 elevator, putting the elevator out of commission and starting a small fire.
At 1717 a bomb detonated in the water about 12 feet off the port quarter, causing general flexural vibration of the ship and permanent deformation of the hull and several decks, including the flight deck. The shock of the near-miss cracked the after bearing pedestal of No. 2 H.P. turbine casing, which demonstrated the poor shock resisting qualities of cast iron. During the ship’s availability in the summer of 1943, this pedestal casting was replaced with one made of cast steel. The planners involved decided not, however, to replace the undamaged cast iron pedestals of the other turbines. The casualty occurred again on 11 April 1945 on No. 3 H.P. turbine as a result of an underwater detonation. Three other near-misses, which caused minor fragment damage, occurred during the assault.
In spite of all precautions, however, the damage to Enterprise triggered a steering casualty that nearly proved fatal. As the ship retired at 24 knots at 1850, her rudder suddenly moved from neutral to full right and jammed in that position. The ship warned screening ships by blaring her whistle and backed engines full, but narrowly cleared Balch as she careened across the waves. Crewmen raced to discover the cause and the carrier slowed to ten knots, maintaining limited speed despite the danger she posed to screening ships in order to be able to maneuver in the event of a submarine attack. Within 38 minutes sailors rigged standby steering, and investigators later disclosed that water and foamite used in fighting fires near the gun gallery escaped down a severed ventilator trunk to the steering engine room, grounding out the control panels. The enemy killed 74 men and wounded 95 of the ships company during the battle, and four men later died from their wounds. Enemy aircraft also lightly damaged North Carolina by near misses, and Grayson by strafing and a near-miss. The Japanese lost less than 90 aircraft to U.S. casualties of 20 planes. Capt. Davis afterward received the Navy Cross for “his remarkable leadership, resourcefulness and outstanding skill in maneuvering” the ship, meeting the Japanese attacks “coolly and courageously, holding the damage by bomb hits to the Enterprise to a minimum and, in turn, inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking enemy planes.”
The following day, USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses sank Japanese destroyer Mutsuki off Santa Isabel in the Solomons, as she stood by the sinking transport Kinryu Maru, damaged by planes from Enterprise north of Guadalcanal, 07°47'N, 160°13'E. Marine SBDs of VMSB-232 flying from Henderson Field damaged light cruiser Jintsu and destroyer Uzuki off Guadalcanal. Portland and four destroyers escorted Enterprise as she came about, anchored at Tongatabu on 30 August, and on 3 September continued to Pearl Harbor, where she accomplished repairs (10 September–16 October). The battle-worn carrier entered drydock immediately upon her arrival on 10 September, three days later undocked, and accomplished the principal repairs by 7 October. Besides battle damage repairs, outstanding ship alternations including installing 12 additional 20 millimeter guns, replacing four 1.1-inch mounts with four 40 millimeter quadruple mounts, and installing a search radar. Enterprise returned to sea and trained CRVG-10 -- which then dropped “Replacement” -- Cmdr. Richard K. Gaines, consisting of VF-10, VB-10, VS-10, and VT-10 (10–15 October).
I-26 torpedoed Saratoga about 260 miles southeast of Guadalcanal on 31 August, forcing her to retire for repairs, and I-19 sank Wasp and damaged North Carolina and O’Brien south of San Cristobal Island on 15 September. The loss of Wasp and damage to Saratoga temporarily left Hornet as the only operational U.S. fleet carrier in the South Pacific. Rear Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid consequently sortied with TF 16 and Enterprise from Pearl Harbor at 0800 on 16 October to reinforce Hornet. Enterprise embarked CVG-10 and steamed with: South Dakota (BB-57), and Conyngham, Cushing (DD-376), Lamson (DD-367), Mahan, Maury, Porter (DD-356), Preston, Shaw (DD-373), and Smith. South Dakota crossed the equator on 19 October. The exigencies of the situation delayed the traditional celebration of crossing the line, but that day Lamson and Mahan detached to “shoot up the Japanese picket boat line” west of the Gilberts. TF 16 rendezvoused with TF 17, Rear Adm. George D. Murray in command, who broke his flag in Hornet, about 250 miles northeast of Espíritu Santo in the New Hebrides, at 1245 on 24 October 1942. Kinkaid became the OTC of the combined groups — TF 61. He retained the two carrier task forces as intrinsic strike groups within his command, ordering Murray to steam Hornet and her consorts an average of five to ten miles to the southeast of Enterprise. The two carriers alternated their daily launches of planes for searches and patrols.
The Americans and Japanese launched planes throughout 25 October, discovering their opponent’s ships, but losing some aircraft from accidents and fuel exhaustion. Navy and marine F4F-4 Wildcats tangled with Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighters flying from Rabaul in duels over Guadalcanal. 51-P-8, a PBY-5, Lt. (j.g.) George S. Clute of VP-11, reported sighting Japanese ships about 300 miles northwest of TF 61, just a minute past midnight on 26 October. Enterprise received his message, but because of the range could not launch a nighttime aerial attack with a reasonable chance of success. Clute dropped a torpedo that narrowly missed destroyer Isokaze and in the darkness mistakenly reported attacking a heavy cruiser.
South Dakota’s Chaplain, Capt. James V. Claypool, Chaplain Corps, USNR, recalled the weather as “hazy, misty, and dirty grey” on the morning of 26 October 1942. A moderate swell from the wind’s direction stirred an otherwise slight sea. As the sun rose, the two U.S. task forces steamed to the north of the Santa Cruz Islands. Kinkaid broke his flag in Enterprise, which steamed at the center of a circle rimmed by South Dakota, Portland, San Juan, and Conyngham, Cushing, Mahan, Maury, Porter, Preston, Shaw, and Smith. TF 17 sailed ten miles to the southwest of TF 16. Hornet also sailed at the middle of her screen, consisting of Northampton (CA-26) and Pensacola (CA-24), Juneau and San Diego, and Anderson, Barton (DD-599), Hughes, Morris, Mustin (DD-413), and Russell. The Americans erroneously continued to weaken their defense against aerial attack by operating their aircraft carriers separately. The lessons learned during these earlier battles of WWII led the Navy to revise this doctrine, and as more carriers entered service they fought in combined task forces.
A VS-10 SBD-3, Lt. Cmdr. James R. Lee, the squadron commanding officer, and Lt. (j.g.) William E. Johnson, triggered the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands when they sighted Nagumo’s carriers at 0645 on 26 October. Lee initially reported a single carrier, but circled and located the second and third carriers -- Shōkaku, Zuikaku, and Junyō -- radioing their estimated position. Japanese A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighters of the CAP attacked and damaged the Dauntless, but the plane escaped. The enemy carriers appeared to be sailing by northwesterly courses and opening the range. TF 61 consequently steamed northwest to close the range to enable Enterprise and Hornet to launch strikes, turning to 330° at 27 knots at 0708. Barely three minutes later, Northampton hoisted a flag warning of a suspicious radar contact bearing 200°, range 28 miles. The Japanese snooper rounded the Americans and closed to 20 miles, in the interim alerting Nagumo of the detection of the U.S. carriers. During these hectic moments on 26 October 1942, the U.S. and Japanese carriers sent strikes against their opponents. Hornet launched SBD-3 Dauntlesses of VB-8 and VS-8 that damaged Shōkaku and destroyer Terutsuki, and TBF-1 Avengers of VT-6 that damaged heavy cruiser Chikuma. In addition, two Dauntlesses, Lt. Stockton B. Strong and AMR1c Clarence H. Garlow and Ens. Charles B. Irvine and AMR3c Elgie P. Williams, respectively, of VS-10 from Enterprise, surprised Zuihō and dropped a 500-pound bomb into her flight deck aft. The explosion started a small fire, destroyed three Zeros parked astern, and wrecked her arresting wire. The ship’s injuries temporarily prevented her from recovering aircraft.
Shōkaku, Zuikaku, and Zuihō meanwhile sent an initial raid of 64 planes against the Americans — 21 Zeros, 21 Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers), and 22 Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes. Enterprise and Hornet experienced problems in detecting and tracking the approaching Japanese aircraft, and Cmdr. John H. Griffin, the Enterprise fighter direction officer, initially deployed the F4F-4 Wildcats of the CAP at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Griffin made his decision to enable the fighters to conserve their fuel and oxygen, anticipating that the carriers’ radar would provide him ample time to direct them to intercept attackers. The delays in reporting the Japanese assaults rendered the otherwise tactically sound decision a mistake. Some 37 Wildcats eventually met the Japanese attackers during the first hours of the battle, but for the most part engaged them close to the cordon of antiaircraft fire, and many of the enemy planes consequently penetrated the CAP and screens.
“We are attacking” Kinkaid signaled at 0835 on 26 October. Five minutes later Northampton’s radar detected ‘bogeys’ (enemy aircraft) approaching bearing 295° at 70 miles. The Japanese closed the range and spotted Hornet and her consorts at 0958, and in barely ten minutes aircraft from Shōkaku, Zuikaku, and Junyō set Hornet ablaze from two Type 91 air-launched torpedoes, three bombs, and two crashing Type 99s. South Dakota recorded that Hornet and her group disappeared from sight, “except for column of smoke.” Hornet’s crewmen controlled the flames, and Northampton took the battered carrier in tow. Rear Adm. Murray transferred his flag to Pensacola at noon.
Nagumo and Rear Adm. Kakuta Kakuji, who led the Second Fleet, Air Group Force, concluded from intercepted radio transmissions, and from the large number of U.S. planes that attacked their ships, that a second American carrier operated in the vicinity. Nagumo and Kakuta (separately) directed the flight leaders of their second wave to search, and a Type 97, flown by Lt. (j.g.) Sakumuki Tsugimi, radioed Zuikaku reporting a carrier, light cruiser, and six destroyers. Northampton’s radar reported the attackers at 315°, range 76 miles, at 0930 on 26 October. Fifteen minutes later South Dakota’s SC-1 radar plot recorded multiple Japanese airplanes inbound bearing 290°, range 55 miles. Kinkaid had turned Enterprise toward the protection of rain squalls at about 0900, and the ship temporarily escaped the fate of Hornet. Enterprise then emerged from the rain and began to recover her planes, as well as those that she could bring on board from Hornet. The overcrowded flight and hangar decks contributed to delays and aircrew apprehensively watched their fuel gauges drop. Griffin dispatched Wildcats as CAP, but a series of conflicting orders disrupted the fighter’s efforts to intercept the Japanese aircraft, and they fought disjointedly and at disadvantageous altitudes. The ships of TF 16 kept station on Enterprise, and Portland steamed 2,500 yards off the carrier’s port bow, while San Juan sailed 2,500 yards off her starboard bow. South Dakota followed astern, and the seven destroyers proceeded in a protective circle around the vital carrier, all steering south by southwesterly courses.
During the fighting that morning Japanese A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighters pounced upon CVG-10’s strike planes. One of the Zeros, PO3c Takagi Shizuta, attacked the starboard quarter of a formation of TBF-1s of VT-10, but the Americans splashed Takagi. T-11, an Avenger (BuNo. 06042), Lt. j.g. Richard K. Batten, AMM2c Rexford B. Holmgrin, and a third crewman of VT-10, received credit for the victory. T-11 sustained damage in the battle and came about for Enterprise. T-11 joined with another crippled Avenger and a damaged F4F-4. Enterprise waived off T-11 while she cleared her flight deck, and Batten and his crew proved unable to extinguish their cabin fire and ditched off the port quarter of the carrier, 1,500 yards ahead of Porter, at 1001 on 26 October. Their Mk XIII aerial torpedo hung, and the impact apparently tore the torpedo from the bomber and it sliced into Porter, detonating amidships between her No. 1 and 2 firerooms at 1004. The destroyer’s sailors deemed her beyond salvage and Shaw rescued the survivors, scuttling Porter by gunfire at 1337. Kinkaid re-ordered his formation to fill the gap left by Shaw, came right five degrees to 235°, and shifted Conyngham from the vanguard of the formation to take station off Enterprise’s starboard quarter.
“Return to base,” Griffin radioed the Wildcats just before the enemy struck, following at 1014: “Look for bogeys northeast. They are astern of the BB [South Dakota].” The Japanese aircraft threatened Enterprise while planes, fuel, and ammunition packed her decks. Capt. Osborne B. Hardison, the ship’s commanding officer, heeled Enterprise over to avoid the attacks, but 19 D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers from Shōkaku, led by Group Leader Lt. Cmdr. Seki Mamoru, and escorted by five Zeros, took advantage of cloud cover and attacked. “REAPERS [a CAP call sign] look for planes in dives,” Griffin warned the Wildcats, none of which returned from their CAP stations in time to intercept the initial Japanese dives. The ships opened fire one minute later. “As each plane came down, a veritable cone of tracer shells enveloped it,” Lt. Cmdr. Elias B. Mott II, an antiaircraft director within Enterprise’s sky control, recalled. “You could see it being hit and bounced by exploding shells.” Many of the enemy planes flew across the starboard quarter of the formation against Enterprise, their course taking them past South Dakota, and the battleship unleashed a scathing fire against them. Because of the inadequate CAP, some of the Zeros dropped in altitude and flew the length of South Dakota close aboard and just above the water, to draw the battleship’s fire from the bombers. Blue 18 (F-27), one of the returning Wildcats, Ens. George L. Wrenn of VF-72, noted that a “ring of fire” blazed from the battleship, and some of the American aircraft rose to escape the devastation. Reaper 8C (F-5), Ens. Donald Gordon of VF-10, climbed from the landing circle to a height of 10,000 feet. Gordon pursued but missed a pair of enemy bombers, and then fired at a third airplane until he expended his ammunition. The Type 97 exploded; a likely victim of a combination of Gordon’s attack and antiaircraft fire.
A case of mistaken identity occurred when T-7, an Avenger, Lt. Marvin D. Norton, AMM3c Robert W. Gruebel, and a third crewman of VT-10, returned from the strike against the Japanese ships damaged and attempted to land on Enterprise. Norton lowered his hook but kept his wheels up, the sign of a deferred landing, but antiaircraft fire from the ships rose ominously toward the Avenger. The plane lost fuel and Norton ditched at 1020. Lookouts on board South Dakota, Conyngham, and Smith mistook the torpedo bomber for a surfacing enemy submarine, and all three ships fired on the Avenger, but Preston pulled the crewmen from the water. The Americans claimed to splash ten bombers — three from Wildcats and seven from ships’ gunfire. Throughout the day F-19, an F4F-4 flown by Lt. Stanley W. Vejtasa of VF-10 from Enterprise, shot down five Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers and two Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes. Vejtasa “unhesitatingly challenged” and splashed the first two and then gallantly led his patrol of Wildcats against a group of enemy aircraft with “such daring aggressiveness” that they broke the Japanese formation, and he then indomitably destroyed the other five attackers, one-by-one, exploits for which he received a second Gold Star in lieu of his third award of the Navy Cross.
Despite the steadfast efforts of the Wildcats and the intense antiaircraft fire, the Japanese planes struck Enterprise twice. The first bomb struck the flight deck at Frame 4, port side, passed down and out through the ship’s side, and detonated in the air off the port bow. This hit produced heavy fragment damage and started two small fires. The second bomb struck at Frame 44-1/2 on the port side of the flight deck and broke up below, partly detonating on the hangar deck and partly on the third deck in the forward repair party station. This second hit caused blast damage in the berthing compartments on the second and third decks, and two small fires. More significantly, this bomb also disabled the pump and motor for No. 1 elevator, which froze in the “up” position. During the battle a near miss exploded eight feet below the waterline, 10 feet from the starboard side at Frame 129-1/2, deflecting the shell plating below the armor, flooding three fuel tanks, and causing shock damage to No. 2 H.P. turbine casing. The Japanese killed 44 men and wounded 75 on board Enterprise.
Japanese Lt. Imajuku Shigeichirōa led a strike group of 17 B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes of the Zuikaku Carrier Attack Squadron, escorted by four Zeros from that carrier. One of the bombers operated as a contact plane without a torpedo, but the other 16 aircraft carried Type 91 air-launched torpedoes. Imajuku spotted Hornet burning in the distance along with some of her destroyers at 1035 on 26 October 1942. Two minutes later he sighted the wakes of additional ships through a momentary gap in rain clouds. South Dakota’s radar observed the Japanese airplanes bearing 325°, 55 miles, eight minutes later. Griffin directed the Wildcats of the CAP into the path of the attackers, and Reaper 8 (F-33), Ens. Gordon F. Barnes of VF-10, suddenly ditched in the water off the starboard quarter of South Dakota. Barnes escaped from his sinking F4F-4 and floated in his life vest. Lt. Cmdr. Gelzer L. Sims, Maury’s commanding officer, ordered his destroyer to leave the formation and make for the pilot. Imajuku divided his 16 torpedo bombers evenly into two groups of eight planes each when they reached a range of about 25 miles from the ships and made an ‘anvil’ attack — the two groups approached Enterprise by the bow from 290° and 000°, to ensure that at least one torpedo struck despite the ship’s maneuvering. Imajuku led the eight bombers of the 1st Chūtai (an air group division of six to nine aircraft) below a dark storm cloud. In an attempt to bypass the Wildcats, the eight Type 97s then dropped in altitude, skimming just above the waves as they raced toward the starboard side of Enterprise from west to southwest at 1112. The 2nd Chūtai passed through the cloud and attacked the port side of the carrier from aft. The opposing fighters engaged in sharply turning dogfights, and some of the Wildcats chased the attackers into the exploding antiaircraft rounds.
Imajuku led five of the enemy bombers that swept past Maury off her port bow. Sims reluctantly abandoned rescuing Barnes and brought the destroyer about to return to formation. Maury’s 20 millimeter guns raked Imajuku as he flew past, shooting off the port wing, and the plane smashed into the water. Maury, one of the Enterprise’s port 5-inch gun turrets, and Ens. Wrenn all claimed the kill. The fighting prevented Maury from returning to search for Barnes, and Sims afterward recommended to CinCPac that ships prepare a life raft to toss to men in the water, and the chain of command concurred. South Dakota reported that some of the enemy aircraft “after dropping their torpedoes sought cover by flying between ships of the formation.” Three bombers of the 42nd Shōtai (an air group section of three airplanes), Lt. (j.g.) Itō Tetsu, attacked Enterprise to starboard. Capt. Hardison and Navigator Cmdr. Richard W. Ruble turned the ship right full rudder, combing the wakes of the three torpedoes to starboard. The enemy aircraft flew along the carrier’s port side and through the gunfire erupting from South Dakota. A crashing carrier attack plane damaged Smith on her No. 1 gun mount and forecastle, spreading flaming debris and fuel across the deck forward at 1147. The destroyer lost 28 men killed and 23 wounded, but her damage control party contained the blaze.
The two planes of the 43nd Shōtai, Special Duty Ens. Suzuki Nakakura and PO1c Yukawa Nagao, failed to maneuver into attack runs against Enterprise. They turned left and attacked South Dakota’s starboard side at 1148. Yukawa dropped his torpedo against the battleship and banked toward the northwest, mistakenly believing that he hit the ship. South Dakota’s guns apparently missed Yukawa’s carrier attack plane. The ship’s gunfire struck Suzuki’s bomber, but in spite of the flames, he pressed his attack, dropping his torpedo at the stern. The projectile soared over the main deck from starboard to port, splashing into the water 20 yards from the ship. Suzuki plummeted into the sea 200 yards beyond South Dakota.
The intense antiaircraft fire contributed to disrupting the assault, and Enterprise avoided an estimated nine torpedoes by making desperate turns. South Dakota ceased fire at 1152, recording that her radar observed “several enemy planes…retire in scattered directions.” The defenders claimed to splash a further eight attackers. Junyō launched 29 aircraft in three waves, and 17 of her Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers struck just after noon. South Dakota’s radar plot reported these bombers approaching from 285°, 45 miles, at 1201. Nine minutes later, six unidentified planes headed for the battleship’s port bow. The ship fired at the aircraft but discovered Dauntlesses encountering identification, friend or foe (IFF) problems, which immediately banked away.
Just before noon the pilots of 73 planes -- 19 Wildcats, three Dauntlesses, and six Avengers from Enterprise and nine Wildcats, 21 Dauntlesses, and 15 Avengers from Hornet – anxiously awaited their turn to land on board Enterprise while watching their fuel gauges drop. The aircraft circling the ship seemed to “extend from Maine to Florida,” Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth B. White of VB-10 recalled, their crews “eager to get in before their engines sputtered from lack of fuel and they went into the drink.” The damage to the elevator interfered with accommodating all of the aircraft aloft, and the ship also contended with periodic alerts and launching Wildcats for CAP, but she eventually recovered 57 of the airplanes, while 14 ditched, and a couple flew ashore — by nightfall 13 Dauntlesses flew to Espíritu Santo because of fuel issues or to make room on the packed ship. The crew of the carrier battled the damage with heroic determination. Naval investigators noted that water flooded watertight compartments through piping and ventilation ducts, and that firefighting water flowed into some of the magazines. They also observed that the ship’s “excellent damage control organization” prevented the spread of fires. The lessons learned following the damage sustained by Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons had led to extensive training. Capt. Hardison instituted a policy of keeping only one week’s supply of inflammable materials above the waterline. The crew’s efforts to strip the ship of inflammable material had thus proceeded at an “accelerated pace.” Men had removed much of the paint and linoleum, put overstuffed furniture and transoms ashore, and reduced office files and publications to a minimum.
South Dakota’s radar plot reported ominously “standby for another attack” at 1215. The enemy used the low clouds to appear from an altitude of 1,000 feet at 1219. South Dakota overestimated the strike force as 24 planes and commenced firing. Eight of the Type 99s dived toward Enterprise, one of which dropped a bomb that glanced off her bow. The other nine planes attacked the ships of the screen from an arc of 90° on the battleship’s port bow. Antiaircraft fire burst from South Dakota and from San Juan as their 5-inch and 20 millimeter and 40 millimeter guns reaped a deadly price of the steeply diving Japanese.
The Japanese planes dropped five bombs on San Juan. Four splashed close aboard the ship in near misses, but the fifth tore through her stern, passing through the Chief Petty Officer’s showers and the engineer’s storeroom, before exploding underwater. The detonation damaged the rudder and flooded the two compartments. At least ten men suffered wounds ranging from concussions, lacerations, bruises, and broken teeth and bones. The light cruiser turned out of control in clock-wise circles at 30 knots, sounding four blasts on her whistle and hoisting the breakdown signal flag, before the crew regained aft steering control by 1241. San Juan later retired with the task force under her own power and steerage, and accomplished repairs at Nouméa, New Caledonia.
Japanese planes scored crippling hits on Hornet again before dusk. Murray withdrew the surviving ships of TF 17 to the southeastward. Anderson and Mustin attempted but failed to scuttle Hornet, and Murray eventually ordered them to come about and rendezvous with the task force. Japanese planes searched for the destroyers, dropping flares and float lights, and enemy destroyers pursued them, but Anderson and Mustin regained the force. The following day Japanese destroyers Akigumo and Makigumo sank the carrier. The damage to Enterprise was not as extensive as the damage inflicted on Hornet, but Kinkaid concluded “without hesitation” to prudently withdraw the ship to ensure her survival as the only operational U.S. fleet carrier in the South Pacific — Nassau (ACV-16) also operated in those waters through the end of the year.
The Japanese scored a tactical victory but simultaneously failed to overrun the marines on Guadalcanal, which denied them the ability to exploit the triumph. The Japanese carriers survived but lost 99 of the 203 aircraft involved -- 27 fighters, 41 bombers, 30 attack planes, and one reconnaissance machine -- with 68 pilots and 77 observers reported missing. The dwindling number of Japanese carrier aircraft and aircrew in the campaign of attrition could not eliminate Henderson Field. In addition, their fuel shortages grew increasingly chronic, eventually compelling the Combined Fleet to retire on Truk. The U.S. antiaircraft fire devastated the Japanese aircraft and disrupted their bombing accuracy, and an enemy staff officer on board Junyō recalled his shock upon recovering their strike:
“Shortly afterward the Junyō’s planes began to return…The planes lurched and staggered onto the deck, every single fighter and bomber bullet-holed. Some planes were literally flying sieves. As the pilots climbed wearily from their cramped cockpits they told of unbelievable opposition, of skies choked with antiaircraft shell bursts and tracers.”
The Americans controlled the skies above the sea lanes to Guadalcanal but lost 80 of the 175 planes involved — 33 fighters, 28 dive bombers, and 19 torpedo bombers. South Dakota’s and San Juan’s antiaircraft fire contributed to the survival of Enterprise, which escaped the fate of Hornet — the fourth U.S. fleet carrier lost during 1942. “The harassing effect on the Japanese pilots,” Enterprise reported, “of the extremely heavy and accurate fire of the combined task force and the maneuvers of the ship in combing the wakes of the torpedoes launched were the prime factors in nullifying the attack.” The low lying clouds greatly impeded the ability of the 5-inch guns to track the attackers because of the short ranges at which the planes first appeared, and caused similar problems with the 40 millimeter guns “to a lesser degree.” The Navy utilized observations from these earlier battles to develop the Combat Information Center (CIC) concept.
Following the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Japanese planes searched unsuccessfully for the American task forces, which withdrew separately to a position 185 miles southeast of Espíritu Santo. The Japanese ships retired to the northeastward of Guadalcanal. TF 17 rendezvoused with TF 16 at 0900 on 28 October, and at 1635 Shaw came alongside South Dakota and began transferring some 300 officers and men from Porter, as well as several aviators rescued during the battle, by breeches buoy. South Dakota’s crewmen generously provided clothing, blankets, food, mattresses, and cigarettes to the exhausted survivors. Enterprise completed repairs at Nouméa (30 October–11 November).
The repairs to Enterprise and South Dakota delayed them from participating extensively in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Repair ship Vestal (AR-4) assisted Enterprise with the carrier’s work at Nouméa — scheduled to complete on 21 November 1942. Yamamoto directed a substantial portion of the Japanese fleet against the Allies in the Solomons, however, and Halsey ordered Enterprise to assume a 24-hour notice to sail on 9 November. The following day at 0902, he directed TF 16 to assume readiness to set out within one hour, effective at 2200. South Dakota, Washington, Enterprise, Northampton, and Anderson, Clarke (DD-361), Dale (DD-353), Hughes, Morris, Mustin, Preston, Russell, and Walke sortied at noon on 11 November. Enterprise sailed with repair crews from Vestal still on board, working vigorously. Halsey ordered Kinkaid to organize a battleship striking force, and to proceed to support the ships hit in the previous night’s battle and intercept an anticipated Japanese bombardment force off Lunga Point. He instructed the force to pass to the westward of New Caledonia and make for a position at 14° S, 161°30'E, 250 miles south of Guadalcanal, by 2100 on 12 November. During the forenoon watch that day Pensacola, Benham, and Gwin joined TF 16.
“Aircraft operations and submarine alerts,” is how the War Diary for South Dakota succinctly summarized 13 November 1942. Kinkaid dispatched aerial attacks against the retiring Japanese ships. Dozens of planes including at least eight TBF-1 Avengers of VT-8 from Enterprise and of VMSB-131, along with SBD-3 Dauntlesses of VMSB-142 -- the marines flying from Henderson Field -- sank Hiei, the battleship leaving a two-mile oil slick when she disappeared beneath the waves north of Savo Island. Allied aircraft also damaged destroyers Michisio and Yukikaze. Lee detached with TG 16.3, consisting of South Dakota, Washington, Benham, Gwin, Preston, and Walke, at 1912, while Enterprise and the remaining ships came about to southerly courses.
Following Hiei’s loss Vice Adm. Kondō Nobutake, Commander Second Fleet, Advance Force, restructured the attack groups, forming an Emergency Bombardment Force consisting principally of the remaining ships of the Attack Force, Main Body to continue the thrust toward Guadalcanal. While the fighting raged across those waters, Japanese heavy cruisers Maya and Suzuya fired nearly 1,000 8-inch shells at Henderson Field, on 14 November. Despite the ferocious bombardment they failed to knock-out the airfield, prompting the postponement until overnight of the landings by the Japanese troops embarked on board 11 transports. Allied aircraft attacked some of the Japanese ships and SBD-3s of VMSB-132 from Henderson Field sank heavy cruiser Kinugasa, about 15 nautical miles northwest of Rendova Island, near 08°45'S, 157°00'E. Allied planes damaged heavy cruisers Chōkai and Maya -- crashed by a crippled SBD-3 of VB-10 -- and light cruiser Isuzu south of New Georgia Island, as well as light cruiser Tenryu and destroyer Ayanami. Meanwhile, planes savaged transports led by Rear Adm. Tanaka Raizo, Commander Destroyer Escort Force. Dauntlesses of VS-10 and VMSB-130, SBD-3s of VMSB-141, and Avengers of VT-10 operating from Henderson Field sank transports/cargo ships Arizona Maru and Canberra Maru, and merchant transport/cargo ships Brisbane Maru, Kumagawa Maru, Nagara Maru, Nako Maru, and Shinano Maru, damaging cargo ship Sado Maru. The escorting destroyers rescued nearly 1,500 of the embarked soldiers and returned them to the Shortlands. The remaining four troopships, Hirokawa Maru, Kinugasa Maru, Yamazuki Maru, and Yamura Maru, continued toward Guadalcanal. The U.S. suffered the greater loss of warships during this series of engagements, but the Japanese eventually withdrew and the battle marked their final attempt to dispatch large naval forces into the waters around Guadalcanal. Enterprise anchored at Great Roads at Nouméa on 16 November to complete her repairs, although she did not repair the damage caused by the two near-misses received on 26 October — beyond restoring watertight integrity and stiffening weakened frames forward as extended drydocking would have been required. Canvas partitions sufficed to replace demolished joiner bulkheads in the officers’ country forward until permanent repairs could be made the following summer.
Setting out again on 4 December, Enterprise trained, anchored in Segond Channel at Espíritu Santo on 11 December, on 17 December returned to sea, and anchored again in Segond Channel over Christmas (22 December 1942–28 January 1943). Enterprise got underway with TF 16 to proceed to the vicinity of Malaita in the Solomons to counter a possible Japanese thrust on 5 January, but came about and two days later anchored in Segond Channel. Later in the month Rear Adm. Robert C. Giffen led the cruisers and destroyers of TF 18 as they covered the transports of TG 62.8 while they steamed toward Guadalcanal. Enterprise sortied to support the force on 28 January 1943, but the following day Japanese land attack planes of the 701st and 705th Kōkūtais attacked the ships, precipitating the Battle of Rennell Island. Enemy 701st Kōkūtai planes damaged Chicago, and while she retired from the area, Louisville (CA-28), in a masterful piece of seamanship, took her damaged sister ship in tow in complete darkness. Land attack planes of the 751st Kōkūtai attacked the retiring task force on 30 January, and Enterprise, which steamed to the south of the fighting, launched F4F-4s of VF-10 to intercept the attackers. Some of the enemy aircraft flew through the CAP and torpedoed crippled Chicago, under tow of tug Navajo (AT-64), and dropped an aerial torpedo that sliced into La Vallette (DD-448). Consequently, Chicago sank 30 miles east of Rennell Island, near 11°26'S, 160°56'E. Detached after the battle, Enterprise anchored in Segond Channel at Espíritu Santo on 1 February, and for the next three months operated out of that base, covering Allied forces as they fought their way up the Solomons. The ship sortied and unsuccessfully searched for enemy submarines reported near Indispensable Reefs in the Coral Sea (1–9 February and 19 February–25 March). Enterprise shifted from TF 16 to TF 15 on 15 March, the latter force being dissolved at the end of April. The ship completed flight and gunnery training, and night qualification landings at sea (17–21 March), and additional flight and gunnery training (7–11 and 13 April). The carrier then steamed to Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, where she moored on 12 May and completed repairs in dry dock (18–29 May) for the underwater damage suffered in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
On 27 May 1943, Nimitz presented Enterprise with the Presidential Unit Citation for eight battles that the ship fought in 1942: Gilbert and Marshall Islands Raid (1 February); Wake Island Raid (24 February); Marcus Island Raid (4 March); Battle of Midway (4–6 June); Occupation of Guadalcanal (7–8 August); Battle of Stewart Islands (24 August); Battle of Santa Cruz Islands (26 October); and Battle of Solomon Islands (14–15 November)
“For consistently outstanding performance and distinguished achievement during repeated action against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific War Area, December 7, 1941 to November 15, 1942. Participating in nearly every major carrier engagement in the first year of the war, the ENTERPRISE and her Air Group, exclusive of her far-flung destruction of hostile shore installations throughout the battle area, did sink or damage, on her own, a total of 35 Japanese vessels and shoot down a total of 185 Japanese aircraft. Her aggressive fighting spirit and superb combat efficiency are fitting tribute to the officers and men who so gallantly established her as a solid bulwark in defense of the American Nation.”
After Enterprise floated out of the drydock on 29 May 1943, she accomplished a few alterations at Pearl Harbor including: fitting identification radar; removing paint and inflammable stores to fume-tight compartments below the waterline fitted with mechanical ventilation and CO2 fire extinguishing systems; and fitting watertight quick-acting scuttles in hatches leading to elevator machinery and pump room A-9-E. She moored at the deperming station (1–6 June), carried out exercises at sea (7 June), refresher training (30 June–3 July), and a simulated attack against Pearl Harbor (9–16 July). The Navy established new designations for carriers on 15 July, and the directive limited the previous broadly applied CV symbol to Enterprise, Saratoga, Ranger, and to Essex (CV-9) class carriers. Enterprise moored at Puget Sound on 20 July and then (23 July–26 September) entered No. 5 graving dock for a much-needed overhaul. The Navy had initiated fitting degaussing cables internally as standard practice, but because of her extensive wartime service this marked the first time that Enterprise could be so fitted. In addition, workers fitted blisters between frames 36 and 150 to improve her stability, necessitated by the increase in topside weights resulting from wartime alterations. Saddle tanks replaced her original gasoline tanks, which had been devised to give increased protection against underwater attack, shells, bombs, and splinters. The ship moored at Puget Sound (26–30 September), conducted her post-repair trials on the 1st of the month, and then anchored at the navy yard. Enterprise sailed from Puget Sound on Halloween, on 6 November returned to Pearl Harbor, and four days later joined TF 50, Rear Adm. Pownall, for Operation Galvanic — the occupation of the Gilberts. Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman’s TG 50.4 attacked Nauru in support. Enterprise operated initially with small aircraft carriers Belleau Wood (CVL-24) and Monterey (CVL-26) as part of Rear Adm. Arthur W. Radford’s TG 50.2.
Pownall began a two-day air attack on the Japanese in the Gilberts on 18 November. Eight escort carriers covered the approach of assault shipping and supported the 5th Amphibious Corps against bitter resistance on Tarawa, and the landings on Abemama and Makin Atolls. Enterprise provided close air support to the marines when they landed on Yellow Beach at Makin (19–21 November). Through 24 November U.S. planes flew 2,278 close support, CAP, and antisubmarine sorties. Galvanic included the first attempts at night interception from carriers. Lt. Cmdr. O’Hare, Commander CVG-6, led two Grumman F6F-3s and one radar-equipped TBF-1 of VT-6 from Enterprise for that purpose on 26 November. The fighters flew wing on the Avenger, and the Enterprise fighter director vectored them to the vicinity of enemy land-based bombers that dropped flares and attacked TG 50.2. The fighters relied on the Avenger’s radar to close to visual range but failed to intercept the enemy, and in addition, a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 Betty shot down O’Hare. Two days later the Hellcats disrupted an enemy attack during the first air battle of its type, and the men involved nicknamed themselves the “Bat Team”.
Two groups of Pownall’s TF 50 including Enterprise launched strikes against the Japanese at Kwajalein and Wotje Atolls at the close of Galvanic, on 4 December. About 50 Japanese fighters intercepted the attackers and heavy antiaircraft fire at 8,500 feet obliged the U.S. planes to drop to 5,000 feet, and in combination with the garrison’s determined achievement at camouflage reduced the effectiveness of the raid. The Americans lost five planes but claimed to destroy 55 enemy aircraft and sank cargo ship Tateyama Maru, auxiliary submarine chaser No. 7 Takunan Maru, guardboat No. 5 Mikuni Maru, and collier Asakaze Maru, and damaged light cruisers Isuzu and Nagara, a stores ship, an auxiliary vessel, and three transports. A gale delayed the U.S. ships while they retired beyond the range of Japanese shore-based bombers, and the following night retaliatory strikes damaged three ships including an aerial torpedo that struck Lexington (CV-16) and killed nine men and wounded 35. Enterprise circled north of the Marshalls in order to launch a strike against shipping and shore installations on Kwajalein, and returned to Pearl Harbor on 9 December, her air group flying ashore to NAS Barbers Point.
The carrier stood down the channel and trained two days before Christmas 1943, and early in the New Year (4–7 January 1944) qualified planes flying from NAS Punnene. The ship’s next action occurred during Operation Flintlock — the occupation of the Marshalls. She got underway on 16 January, and subsequently joined Mitscher’s TF 58 as he struck the Japanese garrisons of Kwajalein, Maloelap, and Wotje on 29 January. These raids wiped-out the Japanese air strength on the islands. Enterprise operated alongside Yorktown (CV-10), Bunker Hill (CV-17), and Belleau Wood as TG 52.8 to the south and west of the islands, and launched airplanes that bombed enemy aircraft and ground installations on Taroa, flew antisubmarine patrol and photographic reconnaissance missions, CAP over ships that shelled the enemy, and supported assault troops, though she did not require special night fighters. The next day strikes destroyed fuel and ammunition dumps, worked over the seaplane base and gun emplacements, and virtually stopped small boat traffic within Kwajalein’s lagoon. Dauntlesses and Hellcats from the carriers sank auxiliary submarine chasers Cha 18 and Cha 21 at Kwajalein Atoll; Cha 14, Cha 19, and Cha 28 at Mili; and damaged cargo vessel Katsura Maru at Eniwetok, on 30 January. Phelps delivered the coup de grâce to the crippled enemy merchantman.
Hellcats from Enterprise strafed the beaches ahead of the marines and soldiers that landed on islands at Kwajalein and Majuro on 31 January 1944. Into the first three days of February planes from Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman’s TG 58.3 bombed Japanese aircraft, airfields, gun emplacements, and supply dumps at Engebi Island at Eniwetok. Additional landings occurred on Kwajalein, Namur, and Roi on 1 February, and through 7 February TG 58.4, Rear Adm. Samuel P. Ginder, later supplemented Sherman. Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner, Commander TF 51, led the Joint Expeditionary Force from amphibious force command ship Rocky Mount (AGC-3). The increasing complexity of amphibious operations necessitated the use of command ships and the Marshalls marked their introduction to battle. Rocky Mount provided improved facilities for Capt. Harold B. Sallada, Commander Support Aircraft, who assumed control of Target Combat Air Patrol — a task previously vested in carriers. A force fighter director on Sallada’s staff coordinated fighter direction. Enterprise anchored in newly won Majuro’s lagoon on 4 February.
The covering operations for the Marshalls included Operation Hailstone — a strike on the Japanese naval anchorage at Truk Lagoon. Enterprise set out for Hailstone on 12 February 1944, and at 0643 on 16 February, Mitscher began launching aircraft from a position about 120 miles east of Truk. Bunker Hill operated as the formation guide. Destroyers rushed to carrier planes that crashed in the area from damage or malfunctions and rescued men from the water. Yorktown launched a night fighter to fly CAP, and at 0218 defied the risk of enemy submarine attack to turn on her lights in order to recover her planes. Carriers sent additional strikes the following day, and the detached ships rejoined the main force at 0835.
During the two-day attack, Bunker Hill, Enterprise, Essex, Intrepid (CV-11), Yorktown, Belleau Wood, Cabot, Cowpens (CVL-25), and Monterey launched 1,250 combat sorties that dropped 400 tons of bombs and torpedoes, sinking 37 Japanese ships aggregating 200,000 tons, and damaging oil storage tanks and installations. The vessels sunk included light cruiser Naka, training cruiser Katori, destroyers Fumizuki, Maikaze, Oite, and Tachikaze, armed merchant cruiser Akagi Maru, auxiliary submarine depot ship Heian Maru, submarine chasers Ch 24 and Ch 29, aircraft transport Fujikawa Maru, transports Aikoku Maru, Amagisan Maru, Gosei Maru, Hanakawa Maru, Hokuyo Maru, Kensho Maru, Kiyozumi Maru, Matsutani Maru, Momokawa Maru, No. 6 Unkai Maru, Reiyo Maru, Rio de Janeiro Maru, San Francisco Maru, Seiko Maru, Taihō Maru, Yamagiri Maru, and Zukai Maru, fleet tankers Fujisan Maru, Hoyo Maru, No. 3 Tonan Maru, and Shinkoku Maru, water carrier Nippo Maru, auxiliary vessel Yamakisan Maru, army cargo ships Nagano Maru and Yubai Maru, merchant cargo ship Taikichi Maru, and motor torpedo boat Gyoraitei No. 10.
Twelve radar-equipped TBF-1C Avengers from VT-10 flying from Enterprise carried out the first U.S. carrier-launched night bombing raid and scored several hits on ships in the lagoon. Night fighter detachments of F6F-3 Hellcats and Vought F4U-2 Corsairs fitted with AIA radar from Night Fighting Squadrons (VFNs) 76 and 101 operated from five carriers and on occasion were vectored against enemy night raiders. Aircraft flying from Enterprise received credit for splashing 28 enemy planes and destroying 33 more on the ground. As the sun set on 18 February, men on board South Dakota observed a “large glow over the horizon,” bearing 126°, emanating from the Japanese tankers burning at Truk. Upon completing the strike on Truk, Rear Adm. John W. Reeves led a small force including Enterprise that separated from the main body and launched two air strikes on Jabor and Enybor at Jaluit on 20 February. Aircraft from Enterprise bombed the boat yard at Jabor, where they left a small cargo vessel beached and burning, and set afire hangars, a radio station, barracks, munitions, and storage at the seaplane base at Enybor. The ship anchored at Majuro on 21 February, on 28 February exchanged ferry planes, and then (11–15 March) anchored at Espíritu Santo.
Rear Adm. Reeves took TG 58.1, including Enterprise, Belleau Wood, and Cowpens, out of Espíritu Santo on 23 March, and then (19–25 March) supported landings on Emirau Island. Enterprise did not launch strikes against the island but her airplanes covered the other ships. Three days later Enterprise rejoined TF 58 and took part in Operation Desecrate — a series of attacks on Japanese garrisons and vessels at Koror in Palau, as well as Ulithi, and Yap in the Western Carolines (30 March–1 April). Planners intended for the strikes to eliminate Japanese opposition to landings at Hollandia on northern New Guinea, and to gather photographic intelligence for future battles. Additional ships of TGs 58.2 and 58.3 sailed from Majuro, but a Japanese reconnaissance plane flying from Truk discovered Reeves’ ships two days later, and the following day, when the ships joined and replenished southeast of Truk, another aircraft sighted the combined groups as well. As a result of these discoveries, some of the ships of the Japanese Combined Fleet sailed from Palau and thus escaped the attacks.
Rear Adm. Ginder notified TG 58.1 that a Japanese plane sighted and reported the group just before noon on 29 March, and during the afternoon watch, a Hellcat of VF-10 flying from Enterprise shot down a Betty about 45 miles from South Dakota. None of the ships of the group reported the contact on their radar. TBF-1C and Eastern TBM-1C Avengers from VTs 2, 8, and 16 flying from Bunker Hill, Hornet, and Lexington sowed extensive minefields in the approaches to the Palaus in the first U.S. large scale daylight tactical use of mines by carrier aircraft. These raids claimed the destruction of 157 Japanese aircraft, and wreaked havoc with the enemy vessels trapped within the atoll and sank destroyer Wakatake; aircraft transport Goshu Maru; submarine chaser Ch 6; auxiliary submarine chasers Cha 22, Cha 26, Cha 53, and No. 5 Showa Maru; Patrol Boat No. 31; netlayer No. 5 Nissho Maru; fleet tankers Akebono Maru, Amatsu Maru, Iro, Ose, and Sata; tankers Amatsu Maru and Asashio Maru; transports Gozan Maru, Nagisan Maru, No. 18 Shinsei Maru, Raizan Maru, and Ryuko Maru; guardboats Ibaraki Maru and No. 2 Seiei Maru; repair ship Akashi; salvage vessel Urakami Maru; torpedo transport and repair ship Kamikaze Maru; army cargo ships Chuyo Maru, Kibi Maru, and Shoei Maru; army tanker No. 2 Unyo Maru; and army cargo ships Bichu Maru (outside Palau harbor) and Teisho Maru (in the channel west of Palau), and, at Angaur, small craft Akebono Maru, Chichibu Maru, Hinode Maru, Kiku Maru, No. 3 Akita Maru, Toku Maru, Ume Maru, Yae Maru, and Yamato Maru. In addition, TF 58 planes damaged submarine chaser Ch 35, netlayer Shosei Maru, tanker No. 2 Hishi Maru, and army cargo ship Hokutai Maru at Palau. The devastation from the raiders and the minefields denied the harbor to the enemy for an estimated six weeks. As the ships retired eastward they launched raids against Woleai. Allied submarines and aircraft made great efforts to rescue downed pilots and aircrewmen, which boosted their morale and thus effectiveness, and although the Americans lost 25 planes, submarines, including Harder (SS-257), rescued 26 of the 44 airmen.
After a week’s (6–13 April 1944) rest and replenishment at Majuro, Enterprise supported the Army’s I Corps as the soldiers assaulted Aitape and Tanahmerah Bay (Operation Persecution), and Humboldt Bay on Hollandia (Operation Reckless), on the north coast of New Guinea. Mitscher set out from Majuro on 13 April, six days later refueled north of the Admiralty Islands, and on 21 April launched preliminary strikes on Japanese airfields around Hollandia, Sawar, and Wakde, the following day covered landings at Aitape, Tanahmerah Bay, and Humboldt Bay, and into 24 April supported troop movements ashore. The ships came about, but Japanese planes shadowed the strike force and beginning at about 1800 on 24 April, multiple vessels reported numerous radar contacts on enemy planes, varying at ranges from 95 to 28 miles. A Hellcat of VF-10, flying night CAP from Enterprise, splashed an intruder at 1921. Enemy aircraft maneuvered for advantageous positions from which to attack the ships, but disengaged within the hour. The Americans lost 21 planes and 12 pilots and airmen, but carrier aircraft claimed the destruction of 30 Japanese airplanes in the air and 103 on the ground. Enterprise operated in the area until 26 April, when, after a final strike against Wakde Island, she came about for the newly won harbor at Manus to repair a hydraulic leak in the steering engine and to pick up replacements.
The ship then hit Truk again, and her planes flew six strikes each day against aircraft, ground installations, and supply dumps (29–30 April). The previous strike on 17 February had decimated the enemy, and on 30 April planes operating over the waters off Palau reported a paucity of vessels in the area and sank only two ships, transport Nagisan Maru and merchant vessel No. 2 Tenyu Maru, and claimed to destroy 145 Japanese aircraft. Enterprise then continued eastward to Majuro, where she anchored on 4 May. After a month of relative inactivity that included brief stints of training at sea (17–19 and 29–30 May), on 6 June Enterprise set out with TG 58.3 to support Operation Forager — the invasion of the Marianas.
The Americans began the assault by landing on Saipan. Enterprise fought as part of TF 58, and sent her first fighter sweeps against the island on 11 June and continued for the next three days. Mitscher threw additional strikes against the Japanese garrison on Saipan 13 June. On that date, carrier planes sank aircraft transport Keiyo Maru, which had been damaged in the fighter sweep on 11 June, and annihilated a convoy of small cargo vessels and sank: Myogawa Maru, No. 11 Shinriki Maru, Sekizen Maru, Shigei Maru, and Suwa Maru. Hellcats also attacked a Japanese convoy spotted the previous day and damaged fast transport T.1 southwest of the Marianas. Enterprise lookouts sighted three Japanese crewmen clinging to wreckage, most likely survivors from the convoy, as the ship passed through an area of debris and floating oil drums during the afternoon watch, but continued and a destroyer picked up the prisoners. The Japanese shot down Cmdr. William I. Martin, VT-10’s commanding officer, while he flew a mission in a TBM-1C from Enterprise. The pilot parachuted into the sea off Red Beach Three and prior to his rescue observed that the Japanese had marked pre-sited artillery ranges to the reef offshore with red and white pennants. Planners disseminated Martin’s valuable intelligence to the approaching amphibious forces. Enterprise planes supported the marines and soldiers when they stormed Saipan on 15 June.
Japanese planes operating from ashore attacked the ships that evening and at about 1820, F6F-3s of VF-51 from San Jacinto (CVL-30) flying CAP splashed six of seven “dive bombers” -- likely Yokosuka D4Y1 Type 2 Judys -- approaching the carriers at high altitude. At 1909 seven twin-engined bombers -- tentatively identified as Yokosuka P1Y Frances’ -- attacked from ahead. Some of the attackers dropped torpedoes and at least one of which passed Enterprise close aboard to port. In addition, other ships in the formation fired antiaircraft guns and 40 millimeter rounds struck Enterprise several times, killing one man and wounding 26 others, and causing superficial damage to the superstructure.
The invasion of Saipan penetrated the inner defensive perimeter of the Japanese Empire and thus triggered A-Go — a Japanese counterattack that led to the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Their 1st Mobile Fleet, Vice Adm. Ozawa Jisaburō in command, included carriers Taihō, Shōkaku, Zuikaku, Chitose, Chiyōda, Hiyō, Junyō, Ryūhō, and Zuihō. The Japanese intended for their shore-based planes to cripple Mitscher’s air power in order to facilitate Ozawa’s strikes — which were to refuel and rearm on Guam. Japanese fuel shortages and inadequate training bedeviled A-Go, however, and U.S. signal decryption breakthroughs enabled attacks on Japanese submarines that deprived the enemy of intelligence, raids on the Bonin and Volcano Islands disrupted Japanese aerial staging en route to the Marianas, and their main attacks passed through U.S. antiaircraft fire to reach the carriers.
Throughout the day on 19 June 1944, TF 58 repelled Japanese air attacks and slaughtered their planes in what Navy pilots called the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” While the formation steered southeasterly courses at 1036, pickets reported Japanese aircraft approaching bearing 265°, distance 53 miles. Nine minutes later Enterprise began launching all of her planes spotted on deck, and the bombers orbited to the eastward while the fighters intercepted the attackers. Some of the planes broke through the CAP and a bomber dived on Enterprise just before noon, but her guns shot it down. A minute after noon she splashed a torpedo plane off the starboard beam, and two minutes later another. F6F-3 Hellcats of VF-10 flying from Enterprise splashed a Judy, bearing 000°, 42 miles, at 1325. During the afternoon watch the ship’s SBD-5s of VB-10 and TBF-1Cs and TBM-1Cs of VT-10 dropped their loads on airfields on Guam and then returned to the carrier. Enterprise rounded out the battle during the 1st dog watch by launching nine Hellcats that hounded enemy planes as they attempted to land on airfields on Guam. Enterprise lost a single Hellcat that day but her planes claimed to splash 19 enemy aircraft. Albacore (SS-218) and Cavalla (SS-244) sank Taihō and Shōkaku in separate attacks, respectively, and Japanese suicide aircraft narrowly missed Bunker Hill and Wasp.
The following afternoon Mitscher launched an air attack at extreme range on the retreating Japanese ships, for which Enterprise contributed 12 Hellcats, 11 Dauntlesses, and five Avengers. The strike sank Hiyō and two fleet oilers, and damaged Zuikaku, Chiyōda, and Junyō. Despite the risk of submarine attacks, Mitscher ordered his ships to show their lights in order to guide the returning aircraft, thus saving lives when the planes consumed fuel. The night degenerated into chaos as pilots desperately sought carriers or ditched in the water, and an additional 25 planes from six carriers landed on board Enterprise. The ship lost a fighter shot down during the strike, and another Hellcat, a Dauntless, and four Avengers that ditched, though destroyers rescued all of the ditched crewmen. After the carriers recovered the last of the aircraft, the formation turned to westerly courses.
The Japanese lost 395 carrier planes and an estimated 50 land-based aircraft from Guam. The Americans lost 130 aircraft and 76 pilots and aircrewmen. Enterprise fighters swept the Pagan Islands for barges and attacked the airfield there on 26 June, and then returned closer to Saipan, from where she launched daily strikes against Guam (28 June–5 July). On 29 June the Navy standardized carrier air groups and CVG-10 became a medium carrier air group — though stayed CVG-10. The bloody fighting ashore continued but organized resistance ended on Saipan on 9 July, on 21 July the Americans landed on Guam, and three days later on Tinian. The grueling fighting for the Marianas established the islands as bases from which bombers could reach the Japanese home islands. In addition, the seizure of the islands protected the northern flank of the Allied line of advance from the Central Pacific to the Philippines, toward which the amphibious forces of the Southwest Pacific also thrust. Enterprise in the meantime returned to Eniwetok on 9 July, and from there returned to Hawaiian waters, where she completed an availability at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard (16 July–3 August), and then (5–11 August) worked up.
Despite liberating the Marianas, Allied planners believed that a base in the western Carolines would support the advance toward the Philippines and chose the Palau Islands. To divert attention from the projected landings on Peleliu in those islands, TG 38.4, Rear Adm. Ralph E. Davison and including Enterprise, set out from Pearl Harbor and returned to Eniwetok (16–24 August), and then raided the Volcano and Bonin Islands. Davison intended for the raids to neutralize Japanese installations in those islands as a diversion in advance of Allied landings in the Morotai, Palau, and Philippine areas. TF 58 became TF 38 on 27 August, and the next day Enterprise sailed for battle. While the other carriers of the task group struck at Iwo Jima, Enterprise launched fighter sweeps against Chichi Jima, and her planes flew CAP and photographic reconnaissance flights. Off Iwo Jima, Hellcats from Franklin (CV-13) sank auxiliary minesweeper No. 8 Toshi Maru near 25°00'N, 141°50'E, and merchant cargo ship Suruga Maru near 24°46'N, 141°19'E. American aircraft damaged landing ship T-105 off Chichi Jima and aircraft from Enterprise twice damaged fast landing ship T-4 on (1–2 September). Cruisers and destroyers shelled the islands on the first two days of the month, and on 4 September Enterprise anchored off Saipan. Following wide-flung raids TF 38 attacked Japanese airfields and installations on Palau (6–8 September). An unopposed fighter sweep disclosed extensive damage inflicted by earlier raids. Meanwhile, Davison launched a fighter sweep over Yap, but flak shot down three Hellcats of VF-20 over the town of Yap. The task group continued to neutralize Palau, and Enterprise launched planes against Malakai Harbor in the Palaus, where Hellcats of VF-20 dropped napalm on warehouses (10–11 September).
Aircraft of TG 38.4 and four escort carriers of Carrier Unit One, Rear Adm. William D. Sample in command, then supported Operation Stalemate II — the landing of the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu. The Japanese had prepared their main line of resistance inland from the beaches to escape naval bombardment, and three days of preliminary carrier air attacks in combination with intense naval gunfire failed to suppress the tenacious defenders. Enterprise and the fleet carriers supported the initial landings, and Hellcats of VF-20 napalmed the Japanese (15–18 September). Carriers also supported landings on Angaur on 17 September. The Army’s 81st Infantry Division later reinforced the marines and the final Japanese surrendered on 1 February 1945.
After supporting the Battle of Peleliu Enterprise retired to Manus, and refueled and accomplished voyage repairs at that atoll (21–24 September). The task group returned to patrol west of the Palaus, ready to intercept any attempt by the Japanese Fleet to repeat the tactics used at Saipan (27 September–5 October). During the operations against the Palaus, Mitscher moved against the Philippines with strikes at airfields and shipping on and around Luzon, Mindanão, and in the Visayas. Planners designed these raids to divert the Japanese from the amphibious landings and to whittle down their strength in the Philippines, but the enemy offered only light opposition, which swayed the Allies to accelerate the speed of the advance by landing directly in the Philippines. In the first occasion since the Marianas campaign therefore, Mitscher led all four carrier task groups together as one command as they raided Japanese ships, airfields, and installations on Okinawa and the Ryūkyūs in preparation for the assault on Leyte (10–20 October).
Enterprise, with CVG-20 embarked, rejoined the other ships of TF 38 on 7 October 1944, and shaped course to the northward. On 10 October the carriers launched 1,936 sorties. Enterprise launched her first raids against shipping around southern Okinawa. Intelligence reports indicated the likelihood of enemy submarines in a channel between Okinawa and Yagaji-shima, and her second strike included some TBM-1Cs of VT-20 carrying depth charges, but the Avengers failed to locate the submarines. The other Avengers dropped incendiary bombs that started fires in the capital of Naha. Hellcats of VF-20 claimed to destroy 15 planes on the ground and damaged another 27. In total the U.S. strikes sank Japanese submarine depot ship Jingei, landing ship T.158, minelayer Takashima, and auxiliary submarine chaser Cha 87 north-northwest of Okinawa. In or near Naha harbor, Navy carrier-based aircraft sank auxiliary minesweepers No. 6 Hakata Maru and Shimpo Maru, guardboats No. 5 Daisei Maru, No. 26 Nansatsu Maru, and Yuki Maru; motor torpedo boats Gyoraitei Nos 493, 496, 498, 500, 805, 806, 810, 812, 813, 814, and Gyoraitei No. 820; army cargo ship Horai Maru; merchant cargo ships Fukura Maru, Koryu Maru, Taikai Maru, and Tetsuzan Maru. Elsewhere in the vicinity, Navy planes sank auxiliary minesweeper No. 1 Takunan Maru off Okino Daito Jima, and army cargo ship Hirota Maru off Miyako Jima, and merchant cargo ship Nanyo Maru off Kume Jima. TF 38 aircraft damaged Coast Defense Ship No. 5 and submarine chaser Ch 58 off Okinawa; and guardboat No. 6 Daisei Maru, cargo ship Toyosaka Maru, and merchant cargo ship No. 7 Takashima Maru outside Koniya harbor. The next day the ship provided CAP while airplanes from other carriers flew 61 sorties against northern Luzon and damaged escort destroyer Yashiro off San Vicente and cargo vessel No. 6 Banei Maru off Aparri.
Mitscher hurled air strikes against Japanese ships, aerodromes, and industrial plants on Formosa, regarded as the strongest and best-developed base south of the homeland proper, and on northern Luzon (12–13 October). The enemy consequently fought vigorously, and an estimated 30 Zekes and Nakajima Ki-43 (Hayabusas) Oscars intercepted some of the American aircraft over southern Formosa, but Hellcats claimed to splash 18 without loss. Planes from Enterprise attacked an aircraft assembly plant at airfields at Ain Ansho and Okayama and ships in Takao harbor through “intense” flak. In particular, antiaircraft guns sited on “Ape Hill” at the northern end of the harbor, and along the spit of land that forms the western side of the harbor, led the survivors to recommend that future air strikes “assiduously” avoid Takao. The enemy gunners shot down an Avenger, killing Lt. (j.g.) Henry L. Murphy, ARM2c Ernest R. Costello, and AOM2c Francis X. Skeffington of VT-20. In addition, Japanese planes attacked the ships and Hellcats of VF-20 from Enterprise and VF-32 on board Langley (CVL-27) shot down two Bettys in separate duels during the 2nd dog watch on 13 October, and the CAP splashed six low flying Bettys and Frances’.
Two days later, Enterprise steamed to the east of Luzon and sent a fighter strike and sweep against Nielson Airfield to the north of Manila. Her airplanes tangled with enemy fighters of the 1st Air Fleet, Vice Adm. Teraoka Kinpei, but claimed to knock down 36 aircraft in the air and destroyed another seven on the ground. The ship followed those missions by refueling and receiving aircraft replacements on 16 October, and then (18–19 October) launching planes that bombed and strafed aircraft and installations at Clark and Nielson Fields, and Sanborn Field at Legaspi. About 30 Japanese fighters rose to intercept the attackers but VF-20 reported that the squadron “set the pace” by shooting down 12. As the strike returned to the carriers, however, the enemy attacked the ships, and Hellcats splashed 24 Japanese planes for the loss of two aircraft — and recovered one of the pilots. Despite what VF-20 reported as “stiff opposition” over Manila and Clark Field on 18 October, the squadron claimed to splash 27 enemy airplanes for the loss of a single Hellcat in dogfights, and furthermore destroyed 24 aircraft on the ground, probably knocked out 22 more, and damaged 44, though lost another two Hellcats to antiaircraft fire, but recovered one of the pilots. The VT-20 historian recalled 18 October as a “black day” for the squadron because a storm front compelled the aircraft to detour to the north to reach their target, and they consumed fuel in the process and four Avengers made water landings. Another slammed into a small carrier’s ramp while attempting to land, killing Lt. Charles W. Bretland, ARM1c Victor P. Kelimoff, and ACM2c Clay H. Riggs, and the other three airplanes landed on board different carriers, one of which, flown by Lt. (j.g.) Charles F. Schlegel, did so just as the Avenger ran out of fuel and switched to an empty tank. Enterprise rescued all of the crewmen the following day except Ens. Donald M. Conaway, who disappeared during the disaster.
Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, USA, Commander Southwest Pacific Area, intended to develop Leyte as an air and logistics base to support the liberation of the Philippines. The Army’s 6th Ranger Battalion attacked Japanese installations on Dinagat and Suluan Islands at the entrance to Leyte Gulf, capable of providing early warning of a U.S. offensive, on 17 October 1944. The Japanese had prepared four Shō-gō (Victory) plans to counterattack Allied moves including Shō-gō 1 countered operations against the Philippines. During the Rangers’ raids the Japanese garrison on Suluan transmitted an alert that prompted Adm. Toyoda Soemu, Commander in Chief Combined Fleet, to order Shō-gō 1, thus helping to bring about the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Enterprise meanwhile operated as part of Vice Adm. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet, and supported the Sixth Army, Gen. Walter Krueger, USA, and the X and XXIX Corps’ 1st Cavalry and 7th, 24th, and 96th Infantry Divisions, when they landed on Leyte on 20 October. Enterprise left the next day, however, and headed toward Ulithi as the task group had been out since 24 September and other ships covered the operations.
Most of the larger Japanese ships lay near Lingga Roads off Singapore or in Japanese waters, providing them the strategic flexibility to respond to the Shō-gō plans — and access their dwindling fuel reserves. MacArthur’s landings at Leyte compelled the Japanese to redeploy their forces. The Japanese charged Vice Adm. Fukudome Shigeru, Commander Second Air Fleet and Sixth Base Air Force, to provide air support for Shō-gō 1, but the ongoing U.S. strikes depleted his air strength. In addition, Japanese shortages of fuel constrained their operations and they dispersed their fleet into the Northern, Central, and Southern Forces, which converged separately on Leyte Gulf. Attrition had reduced the Northern Force’s 1st Mobile Force, led by Vice Adm. Ozawa, to a strike group consisting of Zuikaku, light carriers Chitose, Chiyōda, and Zuihō, and converted battleship-carriers Hyūga and Ise. These carriers embarked only 108 planes -- Hyūga and Ise deployed their surviving aircraft ashore -- and operated as decoys to lure the U.S. carriers from the transports to enable Vice Adm. Kurita Takeo’s Central Force to savage the auxiliaries.
Dace (SS-247) and Darter (SS-227) reported Kurita’s approach in Palawan Passage on 23 October 1944, and Darter attacked two heavy cruisers and sank Atago and damaged Takao, and Dace torpedoed and sank heavy cruiser Maya, Kurita’s flagship. Kurita transferred his flag to Musashi and the Japanese ships continued, but on 24 October a plane from Intrepid discovered the enemy and Enterprise, Franklin, Intrepid, and Cabot began hurling aircraft at them as they crossed the Sibuyan Sea. The Japanese fought back furiously, and VT-20 reported that their bombers flew through “intense” antiaircraft fire. Musashi fired sanshikidan -- “Beehive rounds” -- from her powerful 18-inch guns, and as Lt. James S. Cooper, USNR, led Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldivers of VB-20, the squadron estimated that the battleship opened fire from a range of about ten miles and as they approached from an altitude of 12,000 feet. The “accurate” rounds burst within 500 feet above and below the planes, in a “spectacular” array of red, yellow, blue, purple, and white detonations. “The entire display,” Cmdr. Daniel F. Smith Jr., Commander CVG-20, reported, “was one to excite the admiration of any observer who did not happen to be the target, in which case it was likely to cause grave concern over the chances of going in and out.”
Waves of attackers nonetheless swarmed the Japanese ships and during the afternoon watch a group of nine Helldivers flying from Enterprise dropped four 1,000 pound armor piercing bombs into the battleship, some of which strafed the ship as they pulled out. Lt. Cmdr. Joseph T. Lawler led some Hellcats of VF-20 that also strafed the behemoth and at times fired rockets, and Enterprise launched another strike group of eight Avengers of VT-20 led by Lt. Cmdr. Samuel L. Prickett Jr., that each claimed to hit the ship with their torpedoes. In all, as many as 19 torpedoes and 17 bombs slammed into Musashi before she sank at 1936. The air group did not see the battleship sink, but Smith orbited in the area for some time after the attack aircraft departed, and observed that Musashi lay dead in the water, smoking, and “so far down by the bow that the forecastle was practically at the water’s edge.” Halsey notified the Third Fleet at midnight on 29 October: “Musashi not seen since 24th and believed sunk.” Planes from the three task groups also damaged battleships Yamato and Nagato, Tone, and destroyers Fujinami, Kiyoshimo, and Uranami. Smith reported that the air group attacked with “reckless courage”, and added that the enemy flak proved “most disconcerting” and fired at “extreme ranges”. A destroyer shot down Cmdr. Frederick E. Bakutis, VF-20’s commanding officer, but he was rescued seven days later. As the Helldivers returned to Enterprise they flew over a village on the eastern shore of Legaspi Peninsula and people waved at the airplanes as they eagerly awaited liberation. These strikes appeared to repel Kurita’s thrust. Carriers also launched planes against the Southern Force, Vice Adm. Nishimura Shoji in command, and its attached Force C, Vice Adm. Shima Kiyohide, as their ships proceeded through the Sulu Sea, sinking destroyer Wakaba and damaging battleships Fusō and Yamashiro.
Ozawa’s Northern Force meanwhile threatened the Americans, and Halsey ordered Mitscher to proceed with TF 38 northward to be in position to strike Ozawa the following morning. Mitscher operated primarily with: Alabama (BB-60), Iowa (BB-61), Massachusetts (BB-59), New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington (BB-56); Enterprise, Essex, Franklin, Intrepid, and Lexington; Belleau Wood, Cabot, Independence, Langley, and San Jacinto; New Orleans (CA-32) and Wichita; Biloxi (CL-80), Miami (CL-89), Mobile (CL-63), Reno (CL-96), Santa Fe (CL-60), and Vincennes (CL-91); and 41 destroyers.
Carrier planes aggressively tore into the Japanese ships during the ensuing Battle of Cape Engaño. The Japanese attempted to veil at least one of their carriers by laying a barrage of phosphorus over her, which the Americans likened to thick cumulous clouds, and a carrier flew what Smith described as the “largest” battle flag he had ever seen, “perhaps 50 feet square.” Aircraft from Essex and Lexington sank Zuikaku about 220 nautical miles east-northeast of Cape Engaño, 19°20'N, 125°51'E, and Chitose 235 nautical miles east of the cape, 19°20'N, 125°20'E. Strikes from Franklin, Lexington, and Langley damaged Chiyoda, and New Orleans, Wichita, Mobile (CL-63), and Santa Fe finished her off 260 nautical miles southeast of Cape Engaño, 18°37'N, 126°45'E. Aircraft flying from Enterprise, Essex, Franklin, Lexington, and San Jacinto sank Zuihō east-northeast of Cape Engaño, 19°20'N, 125°51'E. The attacks threw the enemy formation into disarray, and VB-20 reported that the Japanese ships became a “disorganized mob”.
Enterprise launched two strikes, the first at 0630 and the second, consisting of ten Helldivers, five Avengers, and six Hellcats, at noon. The second strike rendezvoused with planes from the other carriers, and the combined group numbered about 30 Hellcats, 25 Helldivers, and 27 Avengers. Antiaircraft fire badly damaged an Avenger piloted by Lt. Francis J. Savage of VT-20 during one of the raids, and as he attempted to return to Enterprise a Zeke suddenly made a pass at the bomber but then broke off the attack and the Avenger successfully recovered on board. That squadron preferred to make coordinated torpedo attacks because they appeared to be more successful, but experienced repeated instances of torpedoes running wild, sinking, or exploding on contact with the water. They achieved considerable success, however, by each Avenger dropping up to four 500-pound bombs “in train” across a targeted ship, and preferred using semi armor-piercing in lieu of general purpose bombs because they penetrated further before detonating below decks. Two Helldivers ran low on fuel during the first raid and landed on board Franklin because she steamed closer, operated from that ship during the following strike, and returned to Enterprise before dark.
The ship refueled on 26 October, and the following dawn reached a point to the north about 100 miles off San Bernadino Strait, and sent her planes against some of the enemy survivors. Japanese destroyer Shiranui fought with Nishimura, came about and made landfall at Coron off northern Palawan. She then stood out to search for light cruiser Kinu and destroyer Uranami, which aircraft from Manila Bay (CVE-61), Marcus Island (CVE-77), Natoma Bay (CVE-62), and Petrof Bay (CVE-80) sank on 26 October approximately 44 miles southwest of Masbate, near 11°46'N, 123°11'E, and about 12 miles southeast of that island, near 11°50'N, 123°00'E, respectively. American airplanes damaged Japanese destroyer Hayashimo during the fighting off Samar on 25 October, and she withdrew in company with Akishimo, until that destroyer detached to rejoin their fleet. Hayashimo continued toward Coron but planes from Enterprise discovered her about 40 miles south of Mindoro. A TBM-1C Avenger of VT-20 dropped a torpedo that blew off the ship’s bow, and she grounded and sank in the shallows off Semirara Island, near 12°05'N, 121°50'E. Shiranui rescued some of the survivors, but SB2C-3 Helldivers of VB-20 from Enterprise pounced on the ship and sank her about 80 miles north of Panay, near 12°0'N, 122°30'E. Other planes attacked Hayashimo during the ensuing days and her remaining crew despairingly ceased their attempts to salvage the wreck and abandoned ship on 12 November. The Battle of Leyte Gulf effectively finished the Japanese surface fleet.
Japanese resistance, reinforcements of enemy aircraft staged through Luzon, and torrential monsoon rains that turned the ground into a muddy quagmire and washed out bridges, delayed constructing airfields on Leyte. The enemy consequently contested the skies and the advance slowed to a crawl, impeding MacArthur’s plans to develop Leyte as a base. Halsey received orders to deploy the Third Fleet to ease the pressure on MacArthur’s troops by striking Japanese planes and aircraft installations. On 28 October Davison deployed his four carriers -- Enterprise, Franklin, Belleau Wood, and San Jacinto -- augmented by Hancock (CV-19), Intrepid, Cabot, and Independence of TG 38.2, Rear Adm. Gerald F. Bogan -- off Leyte and began launching raids to support the troops ashore. Enterprise patrolled east of Samar and Leyte until the end of October, launching strikes and searching for survivors of enemy attacks. Japanese attack aircraft and kamikaze suicide planes lashed the ships steaming offshore. At least 44 aircraft flew against TG 38.4 on 28 October, and the CAP and ships claimed to splash 13 of the attackers for the loss of four of their own fighters. During another series of attacks on 30 October, a Zeke (Zero), although on fire from repeated hits, dived on Enterprise from the starboard beam, crossed the after flight deck, narrowly missed parked planes, and fell into the sea on the port quarter. The next day Enterprise retired with the task group to Ulithi for supplies.
Enterprise spent only three days at Ulithi and sailed with TG 38.4 on 5 November. On 11 November she launched a successful strike on a Japanese convoy as the enemy attempted to land troops during the fourth phase of their Ta Operation in Ormoc Bay, on the west side of Leyte, near 10°50'N, 124°35'E. The Avenger crews of VT-20 reported that they “annihilated” the convoy; and VB-20 observed that one of the destroyers capsized and sank; another “continued on varying courses eastward and finally blew up and sank”; a bomb blew the bow off a “smaller DD” (likely minesweeper W. 30); and they saw a cargo ship “blow up and disintegrate”. The planes sank destroyers Hamanami, Naganami, Shimakaze, and Wakatsuki; W. 30; army cargo ships Mikasa Maru, Seiho Maru, and Tensho Maru; and merchant cargo ship Taizan Maru (ex-St. Quentin). They shifted their strikes to the Manila area and central Luzon and sank light cruiser Kiso, destroyers Akebono, Akishimo, Hatsuharu, and Okinami, and 20 merchant and auxiliary ships (13–14 November). After patrolling and fueling near Palau, the task group returned on 19 November to attack Clark Field and Subic Bay. Six Avengers of VT-20 hunted an enemy patrol boat but she remarkably outmaneuvered them. Late that afternoon four Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 Bettys attacked the task group but four VF-20 Hellcats scrambled and splashed all of the intruders, though a Japanese top turret gunner shot down a Hellcat, killing Ens. Robert K. Nelson, USNR. Enterprise then retired eastward and dispatched aircraft against the airfields at Yap before anchoring in Ulithi on 22 November, where she transferred CVG-20 to Lexington and CVG-19 boarded for transportation to Oahu.
Five days later she departed for the Hawaiian Islands and moored at Pearl Harbor on 6 December. The ship completed an availability in drydock at the navy yard, where new four-bladed propellers were fitted in an effort to reduce vibration during high speed turns (18–22 December). The new propellers proved successful and the ship set out for the Philippines on Christmas Eve 1944. Enterprise carried on board CVGN-90, an air group especially trained in night carrier operations and consisting of F6F-5Es, F6F-5Ns, and F6F-5Ps of VFN-90 and TBM-3Ds of Night Torpedo Squadron (VTN) 90. She joined TG 38.5 and Independence -- which operated with CVGN-41, a group also trained to fight at night -- and six destroyers. The group had relatively little experience and encountered few opportunities to train en route, but reported that they went to sea “with high hopes and great expectations of big things to come from this pioneering adventure.”
Enterprise kicked off the New Year (6–7 January 1945) by sweeping the waters north of Luzon and the East China Sea, her planes flying night fighter sweeps, night heckler missions, and dusk CAP against shore targets and shipping from Formosa to Indochina [Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam]. The carriers launched strikes along 420 miles of the Indochina coast from Cam Ranh Bay to Cap St. Jacques [Vung Tau] on 12 January. Enterprise and Independence sent planes aloft before dawn that provided intelligence information to the strike aircraft, and in particular, hunted for Hyūga and Ise, which Allied intelligence analysts suspected had fled to Vietnamese waters following the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The aircraft missed the hybrid battleship-carriers, however, because they had temporarily escaped to Lingga Roads near Singapore. In spite of intermittent rain showers that impeded flying, aircraft from the ship attacked a convoy off Pointe Sa Hoi [Cap Sa Hoi], that afternoon hit airfields at Saigon, and flew dusk CAP over the area. The foul weather reduced CVGN-90’s ability to fly at night, but they tested their instrument flying skills. They destroyed a radio weather station near Pratas Reef on 15 January, the following day swept over shipping and installations in the Hainan and Hong Kong areas, attacked southern Formosa on 20 January, and two days later struck Okinawa. Carrier planes flew 1,465 sorties, claimed to destroy more than 100 aircraft, and sank training cruiser Kashii, 14 small warships including escort vessel Chiburi, minesweeper W. 101, landing ship T. 140, and Patrol Boat No. 103 [ex-U.S. minesweeper Finch (AM-9)], ten tankers, and 16 transports and cargo vessels totaling 126,000 tons. The raiders also sank Vichy French colonial cruiser Lamotte-Picquet and surveying vessel Octant in proximity to Japanese ships. The Americans lost 23 aircraft, but the Vietnamese rescued many of the pilots, who escaped through Kunming, China.
After returning to Ulithi (26–31 January 1945), Enterprise was back in action when she joined TG 58.5 on 10 February, as Mitscher sortied TF 58 to launch the first attack by carrier aircraft against Honshū, Japan, in preparation for Operation Detachment — landings by the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions on Iwo Jima. Many of the men involved in the planning viewed the sweep apprehensively. American planes had not flown from carriers against the Japanese home islands since the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, and more than half of the aircrews lacked combat experience. In addition, the ferocity of the kamikaze attacks influenced reorganizing air groups toward defensive screens so that fleet carriers normally sailed with up to double the number of fighters over dive bombers and torpedo bombers per ship, reducing the strike forces available to task force commanders.
Mitscher broke his flag in command of the five task groups of TF 58 in Bunker Hill. The task force included nine fleet and five small carriers, together with the night-fighting Enterprise and Saratoga of TG 58.5. Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberators and USAAF Boeing B-29 Superfortresses flying from the Marianas augmented CAP that swept the seas ahead of the ships to prevent their discovery. The ships carried out antiaircraft training during the voyage. Enterprise launched day and night CAP for the task force as they struck Tōkyō (16–17 February). The carriers then retired southward, arriving near Iwo Jima on the eve of the landings on 19 February. For almost three weeks thereafter, until 10 March, Enterprise planes maintained a busy routine of day and night CAP and strikes against airfields on Chichi Jima. While Saratoga approached her operating area at 1700 on 21 February, six Japanese aircraft took advantage of low cloud cover and Saratoga’s insufficient escort, and scored five hits on the carrier in three minutes. The attack killed 123 men, wrecked her flight deck forward, holed the starboard side twice, and started large fires in her hangar deck. Another attacker dropped a bomb into the ship two hours later. By 2015, firefighters controlled the fires, but she came about for Eniwetok and then for the west coast for repairs. Saratoga’s departure left Enterprise as the only night carrier, and she kept aircraft aloft continuously over Iwo Jima for 174 hours (23 February–2 March). Zero weather (reduced visibility) caused the ship to suspend flight operations for about one and a quarter hours on 2 March, but she then resumed the punishing pace, usually operating from an area about 60 miles to the east of Iwo Jima. The air group reported that the “high pressure schedule” forced them to straighten out problems “in a big hurry”. With the bitter struggle for Iwo Jima almost completed, Enterprise came about on 9 March, and three days later returned to Ulithi.
TF 58 next supported Operation Iceberg — the invasion of Okinawa. Shortly before the troops landed, the fast carriers steamed northward to continue strikes against the Japanese home islands. The ships formed a powerful shield between Japan and Okinawa to prevent large-scale enemy fleet action against the amphibious operations, to attack strategic shore installations, and to seek out and destroy the remnants of the Japanese Fleet. Enterprise stood out of Ulithi as part of a night carrier task group on 14 March 1945. Her primary mission was to furnish night CAP for the carriers that sent strikes against airfields, factories and ships at Kyūshū and Honshū, and claimed to destroy 482 enemy aircraft by aerial attack and 46 by antiaircraft fire (18–22 March).
Japanese planes lashed the ships and at 0735 on 18 March, Enterprise lookouts sighted a Yokosuka D4Y1 Type 2 on the port bow at a distance of 10,000 yards and an altitude of about 150 feet, near 30°50'N, 133°42'E. Although taken under fire, the Judy flew head on toward Enterprise and almost horizontally from masthead height dropped a 551 pound bomb which ricocheted off the forward elevator, struck under the navigating bridge and fell to the deck, a dud, but killing a man and wounding two more. Navy evaluators afterward noted that “had the bomb detonated either on impact with the forward elevator or on striking the island, severe damage would have resulted.” Enemy planes attacked the carrier five more times during the day without causing damage. Enterprise was spared attack the following day, but an enemy bomber dropped two 550-pound bombs on Franklin that ignited fires and exploded ordnance and fuel among aircraft spotted on the flight deck or parked below. Hellcats from Enterprise then covered Franklin as, despite 724 men killed or missing and 265 wounded, following brief tows the ship sailed under her own power to New York. The U.S. carrier aircraft nonetheless assailed targets from Kure to Kōbe and Osaka, and destroyed incomplete submarine I-205 in drydock, and damaged: battleships Yamato, Haruna, and Hyūga; carriers Amagi, Hōshō, Ikoma, and Katsuragi; light carrier Ryūhō; escort carrier Kaiyō; heavy cruiser Tone; light cruiser Oyodo; I-400 and RO-67; and auxiliary submarine chaser Cha 229 at Kure; and escort destroyer Kaki at Osaka.
Enemy planes attacked the U.S. ships sporadically on 20 March 1945. At 1613 a Judy penetrated the CAP, roared toward Enterprise, and dropped a bomb about 50 feet to port of frame 60, while the ship steamed near 30°01'N, 134°30'E. Another plane dropped a bomb off the starboard quarter at 1626, and at 1652 another bombed the ship but the weapon missed the port quarter. The shock of these explosions cracked 2-inch tubing in the relief and replenishing line to the expansion tank of the starboard steering unit and a brazed joint between the flange and shell of a 12-inch copper auxiliary exhaust pipe in the after engine-room. The ship consequently shifted steering to the port unit until her crewmen repaired the damage during the night.
Other ships in the vicinity opened fire and two 5-inch projectiles detonated over Enterprise, killing two men. The first burst over 40 millimeter mounts Nos. 5 and 7 between frames 60 and 70 on the starboard side of the flight deck. Almost simultaneously a second 5-inch projectile detonated off the port bow, starting a small fire in the ammunition on the shield of 40 millimeter mount No. 6. Firefighters quickly extinguished this fire. Shell fragments from the first detonation, however, pierced the belly gasoline tanks of two Hellcats spotted in the vicinity of the hit, igniting gasoline which spread over the flight deck between frames 60 and 75. The burning fuel ignited two additional planes and initiated the explosive burning of 40 millimeter ready-service ammunition stowed on the shields of Nos. 5 and 7 40 millimeter mounts and .50 cal. plane ammunition piled on the flight deck just forward of the island. The heat and smoke made primary fly control, the main communication office, radio central, and CIC untenable and crewmen abandoned those spaces via descending lines previously attached to the navigating bridge. Men in that compartment turned the ship to take advantage of the wind to clear smoke and heat to port away from the island.
The fire burned out Nos. 5 and 7 40 millimeter mounts and the Mk. 51 director for No. 5 mount. The blaze gutted primary fly control, and destroyed or put of commission the port signal bridge facilities. The conflagration destroyed flight deck planking in the area between frames 65 and 75 on the starboard side; and damaged the expansion joint cover at frame 70, the armored hatch of the forward bomb elevator, and the palisades at frame 64. Exploding ammunition, flying fragments, and continued dive bombing attacks hampered the repair parties but they attacked the fire vigorously, cooling and smothering it with fog and mechanical foam so that after 35 minutes the foam blanket smothered all but a few persistent blazes, apparently burning magnesium airplane wheels. Electrical fires in the island structure persisted somewhat longer, but all fires were out 50 minutes after the hit. Enterprise maintained her watertight integrity for the most part, which prevented all but a small quantity of the tons of water poured on the flight and hangar decks from penetrating the hull below the hangar deck. Some gasoline and water leaked down the after bomb elevator without igniting. Paint on the inside of dead-lights in some cases carbonized and flaked but did not ignite, thereby preventing fire from spreading through the interior of the island. Burning gasoline and exploding ammunition presented the initial ingredients which in some other cases of carrier damage resulted in fatal or near fatal conflagrations, but investigators observed that the crew’s “skillful and vigorous” response confined the fire to the initial area — with the exception of a small blaze in the forward bomb elevator. The task group retired to the southeast on 20 March, and two days later, Enterprise and other damaged vessels returned to Ulithi for repairs. While the ships company, and at times men from Jason, worked on the carrier (24 March–4 April), on the 1st of the month marines and soldiers established a beachhead on western Okinawa. The invasion troops captured an airfield at Yontan (Yomitan), from which six days later aircraft began defensive patrols and close air support mission.
Rear Adm. Matthias B. Gardner, Enterprise’s former commanding officer and acting as Commander TG 58.5, broke his flag in the ship and served as OTC of TG 58.3 as Enterprise sortied from Ulithi on 5 April 1945. The following day, however, the Japanese launched the first of a series of ten mass kamikaze attacks, interspersed with smaller raids and named Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemum) No. 1, against Allied ships operating off Okinawa. As many as 1,465 aircraft took part in the attacks through 28 May. They also dispatched the First Diversion Attack Force including Yamato across the East China Sea toward Okinawa to lure U.S. carriers from the island and to facilitate kamikaze attacks, but on 7 April carriers launched a total of 386 planes that sank Yamato, light cruiser Yahagi, and destroyers Asashimo, Hamakaze, Isokaze, and Kasumi, and damaged destroyers Fuyuzuki, Hatsushimo, Suzutsuki, and Yukikaze. Enterprise meanwhile (8–14 April) rendezvoused with TF 58 about 90 miles east of Okinawa and returned to the fighting.
The Japanese hurled a large-scale kamikaze attack against TG 58.3 northeast of Okinawa on 11 April 1945. At 1345 the Americans noted two large groups of Japanese aircraft closing from the north. Enterprise opened fire on two planes at 1408 and splashed one, believed to be a Judy, about 1,500 yards off the starboard quarter, near 26°00'N, 128°00'E. While Enterprise turned to port, the other aircraft, a Zeke, dived on the port quarter, struck and carried away the sponsons of 40 millimeter mounts Nos. 8 and 10, and fell into the sea. The Zeke’s impact sheared off or bent the outboard gun shields and semicircular platforms of the mounts, and parts of the airplane remained in the gun tubs. The blast distorted mount No. 8's shield, which blocked the train of the gun until damage control parties removed the obstruction, but the guns and mount emerged undamaged. The Zeke’s engine glanced off the ship’s side at the waterline, denting and opening a three-foot by two-foot hole into D-54-F at the waterline at frame 136.
The Zeke’s bomb detonated beneath Enterprise at approximately frame 134, lifting the ship bodily and whipping her violently, and dishing in the welded blister plating between frames 134 and 138. The attack crumpled frames 132 through 137, ruptured eight fuel tanks and two voids, slightly buckled bulkhead 138, and deflected but did not open No. 2 torpedo bulkhead between tanks D-4-F and D-12-F and tank D-6-F. The shock damaged pedestals of spring bearings for Nos. 3 and 4 shafts, after pedestals of Nos. 3 and 4 turbo-generators, and the forward master gyro compass. In particular, the attack cracked the after bearing pedestal of No. 3 H.P. turbine casing, all but duplicating the damage to that equipment during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24 August 1942. Sailors secured the damaged generators, so that the ship could continue split operations of her electric plant. The carrier’s internal draft gauges read approximately 26 feet 10 inches forward and 28 feet 9 inches aft before the battle, but the flooding from the first near-miss increased the draft about 3 inches aft. Flooding from the sea rapidly poured into the inboard tanks, and Enterprise trailed a large oil slick for about an hour.
At 1500 another Japanese plane carrying a bomb, attempted a suicide dive but missed and struck the water 45 to 50 feet off the starboard bow opposite frame 30 where the bomb detonated, causing additional shock damage and slight structural damage in six tanks and voids. Water spray carried as far aft as the pilothouse and part of the plane wing was hurled to the flight deck. For some time afterward the crew hung the wing on the quarterdeck as a macabre trophy. A fire ignited a Hellcat on the starboard catapult and spread to the deck. Since shock failure of the forward diesel fire pump hampered firefighting -- men opened cross-connection valves and led hoses from the other plugs -- but the burning fighter was catapulted from the ship. The Hellcat’s blazing tail remained on deck and a hose team swiftly extinguished the fire on the tail and the flight deck in the area with water and foam. During the afternoon and 1st dog watches, Hellcats flying CAP and antiaircraft fire from ships steaming in the vicinity splashed five more enemy airplanes near Enterprise. After dark the Japanese dropped flares but did not attack the ship. A TBM-3D (BuNo. 23533) returning from a night intruder mission made a crash landing, and the Avenger’s accident destroyed four night fighting Hellcats and started a fire which firefighters quickly extinguished. Evaluators considered the kamikaze attacks “very wasteful of planes and pilots” but understatedly added that the suicide planes proved “extremely effective in inflicting serious damage to our ships.”
Enterprise launched primarily night CAP and anti-submarine patrols in the vicinity of Okinawa until 14 April, when she came about for Ulithi for repairs. Sailors welded a patch welded over the hole at frame 136, realigned spring bearings and cracked cast iron feet on turbines, and repaired spring bearings with metal-lock or brazing. A 4-inch riser to the firemain was connected from one of the two steam centrifugal pumps, which had been installed but not connected in the summer of 1943. By 3 May the ship completed temporary repairs and set out from Ulithi, rejoining TG 58.3 in Okinawan waters three days later. On 11 May, two kamikazes, tentatively identified as a Zeke and a Judy, crashed flagship Bunker Hill, which suffered 353 men killed, 43 missing, and 264 wounded. Mitscher shifted his flag to Enterprise and Bunker Hill made for repairs to Puget Sound Navy Yard.
On 13 and 14 May 1945, carrier aircraft attempted to blunt these counterattacks by raiding enemy airfields on Kyūshū and Shikoku. Hellcats and Avengers flying from Enterprise attacked the airfields on night-time strikes using general-purpose bombs, incendiary clusters, and rockets. The carrier planes struck NAS Kanoya but early on the morning of 14 May, 28 Japanese A6M5 Model 52C Zekes of the 6th Tsukuba, 8th Shichisho, and 11th Kenmu squadrons took off to attack the ships steaming offshore. A group of 12 Japanese aircraft started lifting off at 0525, and the remainder began leaving at 0619. The pilots of the kamikazes had orders to attack ships in the task groups about 130 miles to the southeast — and each carried a 1,100 pound armor-piercing delay-action bomb. Forty fighters escorted the suicide planes.
Other enemy planes shadowed the ships and Enterprise sounded general quarters upon receiving a report that Japanese airplanes operated in the vicinity, as she steamed near 30°23'N, 132°36'E, at 0357. The first enemy aircraft of the morning attack wave did not reach that area until 0645, however, when Hellcats flying CAP shot down three planes. One of the kamikazes, a Zeke flown by Lt. (j.g.) Tomiyasu Shunsuke, maneuvered in the clouds and dropped from an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet in a 30° dive on Enterprise to starboard, at 0653. The ship’s guns opened fire on the attacker and the ship swung hard left in an emergency turn, but to no avail. Some 200 yards from the ship Tomiyasu flipped the Zeke over in a left-hand snap roll to steepen the dive and struck the flight deck at an angle of about 45°, just abaft the forward elevator at frame 42, slightly to port of the centerline. The attack killed 14 Americans and wounded 68.
The plane, engine, and bomb punched a hole roughly 12 feet long by 20 feet wide through the flight deck. After nicking the lower flange of the transverse bent at frame 40, the Zeke and its bomb separated. The bomb penetrated the elevator pit (second deck) at about frame 35 just to starboard of the centerline into storeroom A-305-A below, where it detonated in what evaluators termed “high order”, causing extensive structural damage and igniting a serious fire. The engine and pieces of the Zeke landed in the forward starboard corner of the elevator pit. The blast blew a hole roughly 12 feet square through the second deck and a slightly smaller one through the third deck. The crash and explosion hurled the forward elevator into the air, and pulled away the decking from the main supporting framework. A plume of smoke raised about three-quarters of the decking nearly 400 feet above the ship and it then fell into the sea. The elevator framework was turned over about a transverse axis falling upside down into the elevator pit. Other parts of the elevator, the remainder of the decking, the peripheral girder, and brackets for the steadying rails fell on various parts of the flight deck forward and aft of the elevator hatch. The crash rendered the flight deck inoperative aft to frame 70. One piece struck the navigating bridge splinter shield at that frame. The heavy centerline stanchion below the main deck buckled at frame 67, and the buckling of the deck severely damaged Radio III on the gallery deck, frames 66 to 69.
As a night carrier, Enterprise did not have planes armed or fueled, and crewmen drained gasoline lines and securely closed bomb magazines. The dawn patrol had all landed and all but four drained of gasoline, and only two planes remained on the flight deck. Some airplanes were parked closely in the forward end of the hangar, however, and four which had just landed still carried some fuel. As pieces of the enemy aircraft and the engine crashed into the elevator pit, flames about ten feet high flared up, evidently from the Zeke’s gasoline. Fragments and flash from the detonation of the bomb set fire to the engines and tanks of the planes spotted forward on the hangar deck. Heavy smoke from the fires reached all of the machinery spaces and proved particularly severe in the firerooms. Sailors used battle lanterns in order to see water levels in the boiler gauge glasses. Key men used hose masks adapted by the ship’s force from ordinary gas masks by removing the canister and fitting an air hose from the low pressure air system. Other crewmen donned conventional gas masks to reduce their inhaling smoke. The smoke did not pass as thickly into the engine rooms and the men in those spaces consequently did not wear masks. Enterprise lost most of her ventilation forward of frame 50, however, which further hampered the efforts of the crew to save their ship. Firefighters steadfastly plied water on to the conflagrations, brought the hangar deck, plane, and elevator pit fires under control in 15 minutes, and completely extinguished the fires by 0730. Smoke and fire around the elevator pit prevented men from discovering the extensive damage below the second deck for more than 20 minutes, but by the time they isolated the breaks in the mains and risers, about 2,000 tons of water flooded spaces between frames 26 and 38 up to the hangar deck, centered at about frame 32. Enterprise recorded drafts of 26 feet 6 inches forward and 28 feet 2 inches aft before the attack, which increased to about 33 feet forward and 25 feet aft. The trim had little effect on maneuverability, and although the free surface above the second deck reduced stability, the issue did not prove critical, and she did not list. Men lowered electric submersible pumps into the elevator pit and put two P-500 gasoline-driven pumps into action, and emptied free surface water in the officers’ country on the second deck through deck drains and commode drains in the heads. Small pieces of rags and toilet paper fouled the pump strainers and severely hampered pumping, and it took 36 hours to remove the flood water.
Enterprise maintained her station in the formation, and helped repel intermittent attacks by Japanese planes, of which her gunners claimed to splash four (0758–0817). Investigators lauded the crew, noting that Enterprise “repair parties performed excellently and prevented serious fires from developing into a general conflagration…The damage sustained during the previous two months, combined with realistic battle drills which were conducted regularly even in forward areas, had trained the crew to a point where each man knew exactly what to do. The clue to successful firefighting was found to be immediate action.”
“The performance of duty of the officers and men on the ENTERPRISE under fire and their effective damage control measures were outstanding,” Mitscher observed, “of the highest order and the most effective that I have seen during one year’s service in (Task Force 58). I was particularly impressed with the attitude of the ship's company in combatting fire when under fire; your ship is indicative of the high order of efficiency that is rapidly winning the war.”
The next day Mitscher shifted his flag to Randolph (CV-15), the battered night carrier task group retired to the south to fuel, and Enterprise transferred her seriously wounded men to hospital ship Bountiful (AH-9). In view of the serious reduction in her operating efficiency, the carrier came about and sailed to Ulithi, where she completed temporary repairs (19–23 May), continued eastward and moored at NAS Pearl Harbor (30 May–1 June), and then made for Puget Sound, anchoring at Port Townsend, Wash., on 6 June, and the following day mooring at Bremerton. The Americans declared Okinawa secured on 21 June but the enemy aerial counterattacks continued. The fighting cost the Navy 763 aircraft and 36 ships and craft sunk and 368 damaged. At least 4,907 men on board these ships were killed or missing and 4,824 wounded. Enterprise mercifully missed the final days of carnage off Okinawa while she completed an overhaul and repairs in drydock (12 June–31 August) at Puget Sound and learned of the Japanese surrender. Enterprise steamed more than 275,000 miles during the war, and the planes that flew from her flight deck were credited with sinking or helping to sink 71 enemy ships, and damaging 192 more. The Japanese damaged the ship on six separate occasions by at least 13 hits or near-misses from bombs or suicide planes, and she also suffered hits from the two “friendly” 5-inch anti-aircraft shells.
The repairs and alterations, which included removing sponsons to permit the ship to pass through the Panama Canal, were completed on 12 September 1945. Enterprise proceeded south to NAS Alameda, where (15–18 September) she picked up 878 men for transport to NAS Pearl Harbor. She moored at Ford Island on 23 September, and the following day Vice Adm. Frederick C. Sherman hoisted his flag on board in command of TG 38.4. Enterprise next took part in Operation Magic Carpet — the return of veterans from the war zones by ships and aircraft. The ship made her maiden Magic Carpet voyage carrying 1,141 officers and men from Pearl Harbor through the Panama Canal to New York (25 September–17 October). Chilean President Juan A. Rios called on Sherman and Capt. William L. Rees, the ship’s commanding officer, at Balboa on 9 October. The carrier passed through the Panama Canal on 12 October, and reached New York on 17 October, in time to celebrate Navy Day.
Enterprise, Bataan, and Monterey, escorted by Portland and Aulick (DD-569), Douglas H. Fox (DD-779), Foote (DD-511), Sterett (DD-407), Young (DD-580), and Zellars (DD-777), launched 101 planes (69 Hellcats and 32 Avengers) — Enterprise sent 44 aircraft aloft, Bataan launched 30, and Monterey 27. The airplanes roared over Manhattan while people threw office windows open and stopped their cars and cheered, and then landed on NAS Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Monterey led Enterprise and then the other ships as they eased their way through the early morning fog, glided past the Statue of Liberty, and anchored at their berths, Enterprise off Eighty-fifth Street. Additional vessels arrived during the succeeding days and on 27 October, nearly 50 ships fired a 21-gun salute as President Harry S. Truman reviewed some of the vessels. Enterprise stood out of New York on Halloween and completed a refit at Boston Naval Shipyard to provide additional berthing space. She made two Magic Carpet trips to Southampton, England, and during one over Thanksgiving hosted a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings on stand-up tables on the hangar deck to the soldiers as they boarded. The ship returned from the second voyage to Tompkinsville on northeastern Staten Island, N.Y., on the bitterly cold morning of Christmas Eve. Before the New Year Enterprise held a two night Christmas party at the Waldorf Astoria’s grand ballroom in New York, an event marred by a brawl that erupted among the ships company in Peacock Alley, one of the hotel’s refined eateries.
The carrier then made one last voyage to the Azores to pick up passengers rescued from a pair of ships. The first, Athos II, a French passenger and cargo liner operated by the U.S. War Shipping Administration, developed engine trouble while carrying U.S. veterans from Le Havre, France, to Southampton, and sought shelter at Horta in the Azores, in December 1945. Liberty ship John B. Hood (115) lost her propeller while transporting U.S. soldiers from Marseilles, France, early on New Year’s Day 1946, about 300 miles southwest of the Azores, and also sought safety in those isles. The soldiers from both of those ships boarded Enterprise on 6 January, and the next day she set out and on 14 January returned to the United States. Altogether, the battle scarred ship brought more than 10,000 veterans home in her final service to her country, and on 18 January 1946, she tied up at the Bayonne Annex, N.J., of the New York Naval Shipyard, awaiting a decision as to her permanent berth.
In the meantime, debate arose about retaining the veteran ship. On 27 August 1945, Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal discussed at a press conference that he supported retaining the ship and would raise the subject with President Harry S. Truman. “Therefore, I think it would be appropriate to have the ENTERPRISE,” Forrestal elaborated, “which has been identified with the war since its beginning, and has fought successfully against the Japanese, sometimes under very unfavorable conditions and more lately under the shadow of victory. I think it is an appropriate ship to take its place with the CONSTITUTION, the CONSTELLATION, the HARTFORD, and the OLYMPIA as the historic vessels in the American Navy.”
President Truman approved a letter from Forrestal recommending the ship’s preservation, on 1 November: “Time has accomplished what the enemy failed to do in four years of desperate and costly effort; the USS ENTERPRISE must be taken out of service because modern planes cannot be flown in combat from her flight deck…This ship was the heart of the Fleet when the war was going badly for us. The names of more than a score of battles are in her record of service and she has survived many attacks…The men who have fought her love this ship. It would grieve me to put my name to the documents which would consign her to be broken up for scrap.”
Enterprise was decommissioned on 17 February 1947, at Bayonne. The Navy meanwhile awarded 13 carriers and their embarked air groups of TFs 38 and 58 for their roles in the war, five of which received the Navy Unit Commendation: Enterprise, Hancock, Wasp, Cowpens, and Langley. The award for Enterprise covered her part in the fighting during the latter part of the war (19 November 1943–14 May 1945). Enterprise was reclassified to an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-6) on 1 October 1952, and the following year, on 8 August 1953, to an antisubmarine support aircraft carrier (CVS-6).
Nearly 1,400 veterans who had served on board the carrier formed the Enterprise Association to save their beloved ship. Multiple flag officers supported the project, and Fleet Adm. Halsey led the association for a time. The men developed a plan to preserve Enterprise and to shift her to Washington, D.C. Public Law 85-218, passed by the 85th Congress on 29 August 1957, authorized her establishment as a national memorial. National Park Service officials indicated that they would be willing to provide a berth, but only if they could surmount logistic and engineering issues, which hinged upon the association raising enough money to support the project. At one point, Superintendent of National Capital Parks Edward J. Kelly announced that three problems impacted the development of the project: “Number one is parking,” Kelly explained, noting that a suitable berth could only have lain near open land, such as that near Hains Point; secondly, the ship could have been towed up the channel but her draft precluded most berth options without extensive dredging from the channel to shore; and finally, workers would have had to have strengthened seawalls extensively, since the dredging would have undermined the barriers. “Engineers can work it out,” Kelly concluded, “but it will be expensive.” In the end, the money issue doomed the project, as it would have cost an estimated $1 million to repair the ship, construct a suitable berth at the nation’s capital, and to have taken her under tow to Washington.
A Board of Inspection and Survey team examined Enterprise (June–July 1956) and declared the ship “unfit for further naval service”. She was stricken from the List of Naval Vessels on 2 October 1956, and on that date Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Material Raymond H. Fogler signed an order authorizing the Navy to call for sealed bids on her disposal. Enterprise was sold for $561,333.00 to the Lipsett Corp., for scrap on 1 July 1958. On the morning of 21 August of that year eight tugs moved Enterprise across the harbor and the New York skyline slid serenely past as the ship made her final but brief voyage to Kearney, N.J., where the breakers cut her up by February 1960.
In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation, Enterprise received the Navy Unit Commendation and 20 battle stars for her World War II service.
||Date Assumed Command
|Capt. Newton H. White Jr.
||12 May 1938
|Capt. Charles A. Pownall
||21 December 1938
|Capt. Archibald H. Douglas
||29 May 1940
|Capt. Charles A. Pownall
||29 May 1940
|Capt. George D. Murray
||21 March 1941
|Capt. Arthur C. Davis
||30 June 1942
|Capt. Osborne B. Hardison
||21 October 1942
|Capt. Carlos W. Wieber
||7 April 1943
|Capt. Samuel P. Ginder
||16 April 1943
|Capt. Matthias B. Gardner
||7 November 1943
|Capt. Thomas J. Hamilton
||10 July 1944
|Capt. Cato D. Glover Jr.
||29 July 1944
|Capt. Grover B. H. Hall
||14 December 1944
|Capt. William L. Rees
||25 September 1945
|Capt. Francis E. Bardwell
||20 February 1946
|Cmdr. Conrad W. Craven
||10 June 1946
|Cmdr. Lewis F. Davis
||31 January 1947
Mark L. Evans
26 April 2017