U.S. Navy dive bombers strike the Marshall Islands

A SBD-2 Dauntless dive bomber of either VB-6 or VS-6 on the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) prepares for takeoff during the 1 February 1942 Marshall Islands Raid.

The U.S.S. Enterprise had been prepared for war even before Pearl Harbour. Now she was in at the start of offensive operations against the Japanese. Now two Task Forces mounted assaults on the Japanese naval garrisons in the Marshall Islands. The raids were a huge boost to U.S. morale and played a part in provoking the Japanese into seeking a major naval confrontation with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

Planes from the U.S.S. Enterprise took off before dawn and hit the Japanese bases after 0700. One of the official Action Reports summarises one of the attacks:

As Scouting Squadron Six commenced its attack on Roi, Bombing Squadron Six proceeded southward down the center of the lagoon searching for ships. At 0705 Enterprise Air Group Commander ordered Bombing Squadron Six to attack enemy carrier at Kwajalein Island. At 0725 the squadron arrived Kwajalein Area at 14,000 feet altitude. No carrier was present, but several large ships among the many that were present could easily have been mistaken for carriers in the early morning twilight.

As the squadron approached the target area an umbrella barrage of 3″-5″ A.A. fire was sent up, fuze setting 10,000. This barrage was directly over the anchorage and was not directed at the approaching planes. At the same time heavy machine gun fire was noticed which, of course, was an utter waste of ammunition. Although there was some large caliber A.A. fire from shore guns the greatest volume of fire came from an anti-aircraft cruiser in a central anchorage position. This cruiser was armed with twelve or more large caliber and numerous small caliber A.A. guns, and at least one multiple pom-pom was observed.

As the squadron was cruising in a three division attack formation and squadron doctrine thoroughly covered the situation, a single signal was all that was necessary to launch the attack. This signal was given at 0727, divisions separated, and each section choose a target. Normal dive bombing approaches were used and 500 lb bombs were dropped.

In several cases individual pilots, not satisfied with their dive, or observing previous hits on target selected pulled up and chose another target. As radical evasive action was required to escape the great volume of machine gun fire planes became separated and each pilot made his subsequent attacks individually. In the subsequent attacks 100 lb glide bombing and strafing were employed against smaller ships, large sea planes and shore installations. No enemy aircraft was encountered in the air.

The damage inflicted upon the enemy as observed by pilots and gunners of the squadron are as tabulated herewith.

One 2500 ton submarine sunk.
Large cargo ship fired.
Large cargo ship damaged.
A.A. cruiser damaged.
Two four-engine patrol seaplanes sunk.
Four buildings on Gugegwe Island destroyed.
Two small store houses on Kwajalein Island destroyed.
Three submarines, several ships, radio installation and shore facilities were strafed. A motor launch full of men was strafed. All hands jumped into the water leaving the motor launch running about in circles.

The full Action Report and much, much more can be read at USS ENTERPRISE CV-6.

Crewmen wheel bombs to planes on the Big E's flight deck, during the 1 February 1942 Marshall Islands Raid: the first U.S. offensive of the Pacific War. Courtesy: William T. Barr CV6 org

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chuck Halverson February 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I was fortunate to dive this exact spot on Kwajelien in 1994. I live and worked on the island as a civilian radio broadcaster at the military Radio/TV station. I always wanted to dive and ended up getting PADI certified on the island. One of the best choices I ever made. My favorite dives were the shallow ones at 40 feet or so where the color was still radiant and you could see the surface. I decided one day to go with a group of 8 and the nearest island was about 800 yards away. All I knew was that we were going to “K5 Sideways” …..I had no idea what we were doing until I got 30 feet down in the water and saw a cargo ship sitting sideways. As soon as my feet landed on the ship, a giant manta ray swam right over my head. That was my deepest recorded dive (going over the first, under the second, and over the third smokestack) at 127 feet.

I spent a lot of time with the history of that island reading about the war. Its humbling to know that POW’s were executed there from the Makin Atoll raid. The guards were friends with the prisoners by the time the commander decided to execute them making the action extremely difficult. I also spent a lot of time on weekends flying to Roi/Namur islands about 60 miles to the north. There were maching gun bunkers/naval gun installations even torpedo testing pools still existing there. Fascinating place and what I wrote is a tip of the iceberg. But I’ll never forget diving in those gorgeous waters for the rest of my life.

Thanks for being one of my favorite blogs……

Chuck Halverson
Minneapolis, MN

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