HM Ships Glorious, Acasta and Ardent sunk

world war 2 aircraft carrier at sea - hms glorious
HMS Glorious, seen pre war, a carrier converted from a cruiser

The aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was returning to Scapa Flow from Norway separately from the other ships in the British Force, accompanied by only her destroyer escorts HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent. It was a fine clear day with light wind but HMS Glorious apparently did not have a lookout posted, did not have an aircraft on patrol – which would have given her all round visibility of approximately 40 miles, and did not have any of her aircraft on deck ready for immediate launch.

She was therefore surprised when spotted by the German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst at about 1600. Although Acasta and Ardent attempted to lay a smoke screen and engaged the German ships, Glorious was first hit at 1638. The third salvo from the Scharnhorst reached Glorious from 24,175 meters (26,450 yards), possibly the longest gunfire hit on any enemy warship ever achieved. It hit her hangars and made it impossible to launch the aircraft that were on the point of readiness.

HMS Acasta at sea.
HMS Acasta at sea.

After the war Admiral Schubert, who had been First Officer on the Scharnhorst at the time of the battle, was interviewed by the Royal Navy and provided an account of the great fight put up by the two escorting destroyers, HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent:

The escorting destroyer [HMS Ardent] on the port side of the battleships continued her torpedo attacks and tried, extremely skilfully, to avoid the effective defensive fire of the battleships’ medium armament by means of constant alterations of course. Finally this destroyer also opened fire on the battleships. She fought with outstanding resolution in a situation that was hopeless for her. The destroyer received numerous hits and finally went down, her bow armament firing to the last and her engines apparently in order and driving her at high speed. The final range was about 5 miles.

After the battleships had penetrated the smoke screen, the “Glorious” was sighted again at a great range. The main armament opened frontal fire and the carrier very quickly received further hits. The range rapidly decreased, but still remained relatively great. The carrier developed a list to port, and burned until she finally capsized. Only a few aircraft were left on deck.

The destroyer with the carrier [HMS Acasta] turned to the attack on the battleships, who took avoiding action. At this stage of the fight, at about the time of the capsizing of the carrier, The ‘Scharnhorst’ received a torpedo hit on the starboard side level with the after main turret. As was ascertained later, the hole torn in the ships side was of considerable dimensions. The hit immediately affected the main turret magazines, the turret starting to burn. The starboard engine went out of action; the starboard propeller-shaft together with the bearings was torn away from the hull. A great deal of water entered the ship; her position became difficult the more so as the midships engine-room was gradually filling with water.

The ship however continued the fight with the now very severely damaged destroyer. The latter fought on in a hopeless situation with her far inferior armament against the battleships. She achieved, so far as I can remember, one light hit against the centre barrel of No.2 main turret.

The carrier had in the meantime capsized, and the place where she went down lay far astern of the ship. When the destroyer ceased firing on her armament being put out of action, the battleships did so too. The heavily damaged condition of the “Scharnhorst” made it imperative to see to the return of the damaged ship to the nearest Norwegian harbour, and to put the measures necessary for this in hand immediately.

TNA ADM 205/49

The actions of the two destroyers who both went down fighting against vastly superior battleships were no less valiant than that of the destroyer HMS Glowworm, which had taken on the Admiral Hipper on April 9th. There was even a measure of success here, since the Scharnhorst had been torpedoed. But there were no medals for this action, which was a disaster that the Royal Navy would have no wish to advertise, either now or after the war.

HMS Ardent at a buoy on completion. Pennant No H41
HMS Ardent at a buoy on completion. Pennant No H41

At the end of the action Gneisenau and Scharnhorst made off without stopping to look for survivors. At the time the Germans were uncertain whether the Scharnhorst had been torpedoed by a submarine that might remain in the area.

To compound the disaster HMS Glorious had been using the wrong radio channel. Her radio broadcast announcing the engagement was only indistinctly picked up by HMS Devonshire but she was in a state of radio silence as she was carrying the Norwegian Royal family to safety, and the message was never re-broadcast. For unknown reasons neither Acasta nor Ardent made radio signals about the engagement. There were at least 900 men in the water or on floats from the three abandoned ships, including some of the pilots from 46 Squadron who had flown the Hurricanes on board the previous day. But the Royal Navy was unaware of the battle and no immediate rescue plan was put into action.

It was nearly three days later when the first of only 45 survivors were pulled from the sea by a Norwegian boats. Among them was Squadron Leader Cross of 46 Squadron (see [permalink id=6351 text=’7th June’]). In total 1,515 men died. The Glorious, Ardent and Acasta Association has many more details and casualty lists.

Detailed analysis is at scharnhorst-class and warship.org

Hundreds killed as USS Franklin hit by sneak bomber

Aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) attacked during World War II, March 19, 1945.
Aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) attacked during World War II, March 19, 1945. Photographed by PHC Albert Bullock from the cruiser USS Santa Fe (CL-60), which was alongside assisting with firefighting and rescue work. Photo #: 80-G-273880, Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. The carrier is afire and listing after she was hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the coast of Japan – the crew is clearly seen on flight deck. After the attack the vessel lay dead in the water, took a 13° starboard list, lost all radio communications, and broiled under the heat from enveloping fires. Many of the crewmen were blown overboard, driven off by fire, killed or wounded, but the hundreds of officers and enlisted who voluntarily remained saved their ship through sheer tenacity. The casualties totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded, and would have far exceeded this number if it were not for the exemplary work of many survivors.

On the 19th March 1945 the carrier USS Franklin was 50 miles off the coast of Japan, participating in air strikes against the main island of Honshu by Task Force 58. On deck were 31 armed and fueled aircraft about to be launched, with more armed and fuelled aircraft were in the hangar deck below. Suddenly a Japanese bomber emerged from the clouds and dropped two 250kg bombs.

The first bomb penetrated into the hangar deck, setting off a devastating series of aviation fuel and ammunition explosions. The force of these explosions erupted onto the flight deck setting off further fires and explosions amongst the waiting aircraft. The ship soon began to list and for a time it seemed that the Franklin was doomed.

Pacific War Correspondent Alvin S. McCoy sent this account, which subsequently appeared in War Illustrated in Britain:

I was the only war correspondent aboard, a dazed survivor of the holocaust only because I was below decks at breakfast in the unhit area. The rescue of the crippled carrier, towed flaming and smoking from the very shores of Japan, and the saving of more than 800 men fished from the sea by protecting cruisers and destroyers, will be an epic of naval warfare.

Heads bobbed in the water for miles behind the carrier. Men floated on rafts or swam about in the bitterly cold water to seize lifelines from the rescue ships and be hauled aboard. The official loss of life will be announced by the Navy Department in Washington. Unofficial figures at the time showed 949 dead, more than 221 wounded.

Scenes of indescribable horror swept the ship. Men were blown off the flight deck into the sea. Some were burned to cinders in the searing white-hot flash of flame that swept the hangar deck. Others were trapped in the compartments below and suffocated by smoke. Scores were drowned, and others torn by exploding shells and bombs.

Countless deeds of heroism and superb seamanship saved the carrier and about two-thirds of the ship’s complement if more than 2,500. The tenacity of the Franklin’s skipper, Captain L. E. Gehres, who refused to abandon the ship and accept the aid of protecting ships and planes, virtually snatched the carrier from Japanese waters to be repaired so that she can fight again.

Fire and damage control parties who stuck with the ship performed valiantly. The carrier was all but abandoned, although the “abandon ship” order was never given. An air group and about 1,500 of the crew were sent to the U.S.S. Sante Fé. A skeleton crew of some 690 remained aboard to try to save the ship as it listed nearly twenty degrees. The Franklin’s aircraft which were airborne landed safely on other carriers.

The official casualty figures were 724 killed and 265 wounded but subsequent research, taking into the number of men first shown as missing, has placed the figure at between 807 and 924 killed.

Contemporary newsreel of the incident, without sound but has graphic footage of other Japanese planes, probably kamikazes, being shot down:

One man’s lucky escape as kamikazes hit Ticonderoga

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) afire off Formosa, January 21, 1945, just after her initial kamikaze hit on the forward flight deck. Photographed from USS Miami (CL-89). A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane is on the cruiser's starboard catapult, in the foreground.
USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) afire off Formosa, January 21, 1945, just after her initial kamikaze hit on the forward flight deck. Photographed from USS Miami (CL-89). A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane is on the cruiser’s starboard catapult, in the foreground.
Fighting fire from flight deck showing smoke from #1 elevator.
Fighting fire from flight deck showing smoke from #1 elevator.

The Japanese military aim in attacking Pearl Harbor had been to neutralise the major components of the US Navy, enabling to them to win swift territorial victories relatively unopposed. In December 1941 they had failed to sink all the carriers they had hoped to hit. But just three year later they were facing an incomparably greater American Naval force, far stronger than the force that they had hoped to knock out.

The extraordinary expansion of the US Fleet now not only enabled them to deploy huge numbers of ships for their amphibious attacks on Japanese held territories – but also to deploy the roving Fast Carrier Task Force. Within this were four Task Groups each based on four aircraft carriers, defended by numerous support ships – each Task Group had up 24 destroyers screening it.

Operation Gratitude had begun with the conventional support of the landings on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. But the carriers had then moved into the South China Sea and their planes had successfully attacked a wide range of Japanese targets in French Indo-China (now Vietnam), crippling the Japanese mercantile fleet. Now they moved back for an attack on Formosa (Taiwan). The weather was good for flying – which meant it was also good for kamikazes.

Edgar Newlin was part of the aircraft maintenance crew on the USS Ticonderoga:

As I remember, it was a nice calm day, which influenced a later decision. I was a plane captain. For anyone that doesn’t know what that is. I took care of an airplane, a fighter to be exact. I was suppose to keep it fueled, tied down, cleaned etc. We were suppose to stay with the plane anytime we were at flight quarters if it wasn’t tied down.

At this time we were at flight quarters, but for some reason the lunch had been delayed so my plane was just sitting there. I would have been the third plane launched, one on each catapult, and then mine.

It was past noon and we hadn’t had chow when another plane captain came along and talked me into going. Remember, we were not suppose to leave our plane in that condition, but we did and it probably saved my life. We had just reached the mess hall when the fantail 40s started firing, maybe three or four rounds. Then they started General Quarters, maybe two or three boings, when a suicide plane hit and blew up on the hangar deck. It sounded like a bucket with rocks in it;more of a rattle than an explosion.

I dropped my tray and started back up the flight deck, but by then smoke was everywhere and some of the hatches had been closed so I had an awful time getting back to my battle station, which was my plane, and when I got there it was gone! Thats was where the jap had hit. He must have aimed for my plane; it went through the flight deck and blew up on the hangar deck. That was what I heard when I was in the mess hall.

I didn’t have a battle station so I just wandered around kind of in a daze. I had no idea what to do. I tried to help others, but I seemed to be in the road. I don’t know how much later it was, it seemed like hours but was probably not over 30 minutes, when I found myself standing on the flight deck, forward of the five-inch guns, watching a second Jap plane heading straight for the island. I just stood there watching because I was sure he would go down. I could see the tracer shells, going through the plane and the pilot.

It soon became clear that he was going to hit us. About then I realized where I was standing. I looked around;all I could do was jump down to the catwalk and head for the port side under the flight deck. When I was about halfway across I heard the plane hit the island.

From then on I remembered only flashes of what happened. I remember wandering around, trying to find where I was needed but I don’t recall doing anything specific. I still feel the hopeless feeling of not being able to do anything for my friends. I don’t remember many names – Selbe walking around holding a big wad of cotton on what was left of his arm. blown off just above his elbow. He died about 2:00 the next morning – shock they said. There was a little boy named Menard, blown in half. He always wore his dog tags on his belt loop, so we could identify him from that. I don’t think he was much over fifteen at the time.

I remember they used our compartment as part of Sick Bay that night so we slept wherever we could. The next day the hospital ship took the wounded and we had burials at sea all afternoon. I have never had any doubt that I was saved by divine intervention. If I had been where I was supposed to be, I would surely have been killed. If we started two minutes later we would have been caught on the hangar deck where all the casualties of the first plne were. If we had gone sooner we might have been back to my plaane and I would have been killed then.

Read Edgar Newlin’s account and those of others aboard the USS Ticonderoga on that fateful day at CV-14

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) lists to port in the aftermath of a kamikaze attack in which four suicide planes hit the ship, 21 January 1945. Note her camouflage scheme measure 33/10A and the Fletcher-class destroyer in the background.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) lists to port in the aftermath of a kamikaze attack in which four suicide planes hit the ship, 21 January 1945. Note her camouflage scheme measure 33/10A and the Fletcher-class destroyer in the background.
It was also a hard day on the USS Hancock. The scene moments after bombs fell off an Avenger and exploded, killing 62 men.
It was also a hard day on the USS Hancock. The scene moments after bombs fell off an Avenger and exploded, killing 62 men.

From the Deck Log of the USS Hancock, 21 January 1945:

1328: VT 124, Bu #23539 [a General Motors TBM-3 Avenger], pilot, LT(JG) C.R. Dean, 298954, and crewmen F.J. Blake, ARM3c, and D.E. Zima, AOM2c, made a normal landing and taxied forward. As the plane reached a point abreast the island a violent explosion occurred, believed to have been caused by the detonation of two (2) 500 lb. bombs adrift in the plane’s bomb bay. The immediate results of the explosion were: casualties: killed – 62; critically injured – 46; seriously injured – 25; slightly injured – 20. A 10×16 foot hole in the flight deck, gallery deck area in the vicinity demolished, inboard side signal bridge wrecked. Three airplanes demolished. Numerous shrapnel holes throughout the island structure. Fires broke out on the flight, gallery, and hangar decks. Hauled clear of the formation and commenced maneuvering at various courses and speeds in an attempt to control the winds over the deck, and with high speed turns, to wash flooding water out of the hangar deck.

US Navy battle group under attack from Kamikaze

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake
This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake, shows Yoshitake, right, and his fellow pilots, from left, Tetsuya Ueno, Koshiro Hayashi, Naoki Okagami and Takao Oi, as they pose together in front of a Zero fighter plane before taking off from the Imperial Army airstrip in Choshi, just east of Tokyo, on November 8, 1944. None of the 17 other pilots and flight instructors who flew with Yoshitake on that day survived. Yoshitake only survived because an American warplane shot him out of the air, he crash-landed and was rescued by Japanese soldiers. (AP Photo)
A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)
A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)
A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

As the US landings on the Philippines were consolidated the Japanese Navy became more desperate to halt the American advance across the Pacific. The organised use of Kamikaze suicide planes now became more frequent. Dramatic pictures of the engagement on the 25th November were to publicise the new danger. Two days later another battle group arriving off the Philippines came under a similar attack.

James J. Fahey was serving on the USS Montpelier, one of the busiest ships in the Pacific War, ending the war with 13 battle stars. He kept his diary throughout, written on loose sheets of paper kept in a tin. It was never intended for publication – but won wide acclaim when ‘discovered’ and then published in 1963. Much of the diary is worth reading simply because he covers so much of the routine life on board ship – but on the 27th the Montpelier was in the thick of a desperate fight against Japanese kamikaze planes:

27 November 1944

At 10.50 A.M. this morning General Quarters sounded, all hands went to their battle stations. At the same time a battleship and a destroyer were alongside the tanker getting fuel.

Out of the clouds I saw a big Jap bomber come crashing down into the water. It was not smoking and looked in good condition. It felt like I was in it as it hit the water not too far from the tanker, and the 2 ships that were refueling. One of our P-38 fighters hit it. He must have got the pilot.

At first I thought it was one of our bombers that had engine trouble. It was not long after that when a force of about 30 Jap planes attacked us. Dive bombers and torpedo planes. Our two ships were busy getting away from the tanker because one bomb-hit on the tanker and it would be all over for the 3 ships.

The 2 ships finally got away from the tanker and joined the circle. I think the destroyers were on the outside of the circle. It looked funny to see the tanker all by itself in the center of the ships as we circled it, with our guns blazing away as the planes tried to break through. It was quite a sight, better than the movies…

Jap planes were coming at us from all directions. Before the attack started we did not know that they were suicide planes, with no intention of returning to their base. They had one thing in mind and that was to crash into our ships, bombs and all. You have to blow them up, to damage them doesn’t mean much. Right off the bat a Jap plane made a suicide dive at the cruiser St. Louis, there was a big explosion and flames were seen shortly from the stern.

Another one tried to do the same thing but he was shot down. A Jap plane came in on a battleship with its guns blazing away. Other Jap planes came in strafing one ship, dropping their bombs on another and crashing into another ship. The Jap planes were falling all around us, the air was full of Jap machine gun bullets. Jap planes and bombs were hitting all around us. Some of our ships were being hit by suicide planes, bombs and machine gun fire…

While all this was taking place our ship had its hands full with Jap planes. We knocked our share of planes down but we also got hit by 3 suicide planes, but lucky for us they dropped their bombs before they crashed into us.

In the meantime exploding planes overhead were showering us with their parts. It looked like it was raining plane parts. They were falling all over the ship. Quite a few of the men were hit by big pieces of Jap planes.

We were supposed to have air coverage but all we had was 4 P-38 fighters, and when we opened up on the Jap planes they got out of the range of our exploding shells. They must have had a ring side seat of the show. The men on my mount were also showered with parts of Jap planes.

One suicide dive bomber was heading right for us while we were firing at other attacking planes and if the 40 mm. mount behind us on the port side did not blow the Jap wing off it would have killed all of us. When the wing was blown off it, the plane turned some and bounced off into the water and the bombs blew part of the plane onto our ship.

Another suicide plane crashed into one of the 5 inch mounts, pushing the side of the mount in and injuring some of the men inside. A lot of 5 inch shells were damaged. It was a miracle they did not explode. If that happened the powder and shells would have blown up the ship.

Our 40 mm mount is not too far away. The men threw the 5 inch shells over the side. They expected them to go off at any time. A Jap dive bomber crashed into one of the 40 mm mounts but lucky for them it dropped its bombs on another ship before crashing. Parts of the plane flew everywhere when it crashed into the mount.

Part of the motor hit Tomlinson, he had chunks of it all over him, his stomach, back, legs etc. The rest of the crew were wounded, most of them were sprayed with gasoline from the plane. Tomlinson was thrown a great distance and at first they thought he was knocked over the side. They finally found him in a corner in bad shape.

One of the mt. Captains had the wires cut on his phones and kept talking into the phone, because he did not know they were cut by shrapnel until one of the fellows told him. The explosions were terrific as the suicide planes exploded in the water not too far away from our ship. The water was covered with black smoke that rose high into the air. The water looked like it was on fire. It would have been curtains for us if they had crashed into us.

See James J Fahey: Pacific War Diary, 1942-1945: The Secret Diary of an American Sailor

Detail of the USS Montpelier in the US for a refit in October 1944, with some parts of the construction highlighted.
Detail of the USS Montpelier in the US for a refit in October 1944, with some parts of the construction highlighted.
The USS Montpelier off Mare Island after a refit in October 1944.
The USS Montpelier off Mare Island after a refit in October 1944.
The charred dent in the bulkhead of mount 54's handling room is from a Kamikaze that was splashed 100 yards from the ship while in Leyte Gulf on 27 November 1944. When the plane hit the water it skipped like a stone and impacted the ship. Fortunately it had no bomb. During this engagement, Montpelier was credited with shooting down 4 planes in 2 minutes. From the collection of crewman John Dietz.
The charred dent in the bulkhead of mount 54’s handling room is from a Kamikaze that was splashed 100 yards from the ship while in Leyte Gulf on 27 November 1944. When the plane hit the water it skipped like a stone and impacted the ship. Fortunately it had no bomb. During this engagement, Montpelier was credited with shooting down 4 planes in 2 minutes.
From the collection of crewman John Dietz.

USS Princeton lost in massive explosion

Smoke rises after a massive explosion in Princeton's hangar deck, shortly after she was hit by a Japanese bomb while operating off the Philippines on 24 October 1944. A destroyer is visible at right.
Smoke rises after a massive explosion in Princeton’s hangar deck, shortly after she was hit by a Japanese bomb while operating off the Philippines on 24 October 1944. A destroyer is visible at right.
Smoke rises from an explosion in Princeton's hangar deck at 1000.5 hrs. on 24 October 1944, shortly after she was hit by a Japanese bomb while operating off the Philippines. Photographed from USS South Dakota (BB-57).
Smoke rises from an explosion in Princeton’s hangar deck at 1000.5 hrs. on 24 October 1944, shortly after she was hit by a Japanese bomb while operating off the Philippines. Photographed from USS South Dakota (BB-57).
USS Princeton (CVL-23) burning, but still underway, about twenty minutes after she was hit by a Japanese air attack, 24 October 1944. Photographed from USS South Dakota (BB-57).
USS Princeton (CVL-23) burning, but still underway, about twenty minutes after she was hit by a Japanese air attack, 24 October 1944. Photographed from USS South Dakota (BB-57).

In what some regard as the largest Naval engagement in history, certainly in World War II, the US 3rd and 7th Fleets clashed with the Imperial Japanese Navy off the Philippines between 23rd and 26th October in the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. The US Navy was there to provide support for the invasion of the Philippines.

Leyte Gulf consisted of a series of engagements, each one of which would be considered a significant naval battle. The 24th October saw the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, during which US planes bombed and sunk the Musashi, one of the largest battleships ever built.

US carrier based planes were largely successful in preventing the Japanese planes getting through to their own ships. However, it would only took one plane to get through the screen to cause serious damage.

Henry Popham was on the USS Birmingham and had a full view of events after he had completed his shift in the engine room:

October 24 dawned with broken clouds and occasional squalls, but there was good visibility, allowing continuing airstrikes in support of land operations on the island of Leyte. The day began before sunrise, with general quarters sounded for all the ships in Task Force 38.

To start the day, Princeton contributed 20 fighter planes to the air battle over Leyte Gulf. The first wave of 40 to 50 Japanese planes was intercepted and their attack broken up with many enemy losses. A second group of about 30 enemy aircraft quickly took to the air.

Out of the two waves, Princeton’s planes alone shot down 34 enemy aircraft with a loss of only one. Pilots became aces in a matter of minutes. The planes returned to the carrier for refueling and arming in preparation for an airstrike against a Japanese force of four battleships, eight cruisers and 13 destroyers southeast of the island of Mindoro.

At 9:12 a.m., USS Essex reported a possible bandit plus a friendly aircraft about six miles away. No other unidentifieds were within a radius of 25 miles.

At 9:38 a.m., a single Judy was sighted by Princeton’s lookouts, diving on their vessel from out of the low cloud cover ahead of the ship. The plane immediately came under fire from the forward 20mm and 40mm batteries, and the helm was put over to port in an evasion attempt. The Judy dropped two bombs. One missed Princeton and fell harmlessly into the sea. The other 550-pound bomb fell almost in the center of Princeton’s deck, causing jarring on the bridge and a dull thud in central station. Black smoke issued from the hole in the flight deck, the forward elevator and every access trunk to the hangar aft of the island. Ed Butler, a radarman, said, “I saw him [the Japanese pilot] high-tailing it away from our stern, trailing smoke.”

Pete Callan, one of the crew who had refueled and armed the torpedo planes, says he heard machine-gun fire at a more rapid rate than any of the guns aboard Princeton were capable of. He heard bullets striking the wooden planking of the flight deck.

Fifty years later, Pete told me, “The Japanese pilot utilized the striking bullets to guide his aim by stitching the deck and the surrounding water, then making the appropriate corrections to his bombing run.” The bomb passed through the flight deck, leaving a small jagged hole about 15 inches in diameter, continuing downward and severing the main gasoline line used to fuel the planes. The bomb then passed through an auxiliary drop tank under one wing of Lieutenant Tom Mooney’s torpedo plane parked in the hangar. The bomb continued on its path, piercing the hangar deck and detonating in the crew’s galley on the second deck. The bomb blew a hole through the second deck into the third, above the after engine room.

Structural damage was relatively minor, but a raging gasoline fire flared up in the wreckage of Mooney’s plane and spread rapidly to the other five planes parked there. The quantity of gasoline dumped onto the hangar deck from the severed gasoline main is unknown, but those six fully fueled planes had held more than 2,500 gallons of high-test aviation gasoline. The bomb had created a 5-foot indentation around the small 15-inch hole, which acted as a funnel for the gasoline spilling onto the hangar deck, directing it into the lower decks where the fire raged. Within seconds of the explosion there were fires on the third deck over the after engine room, on the second deck, and in the hangar. Billowing black smoke from burning gasoline poured from every opening in the lower decks.

Less than 10 minutes after the bomb was dropped, the firefighting sprinkler system was completely disabled. Within the same short timespan, the main engines lost almost all power, which first slowed Princeton, then brought her to a halt and turned her into a drifting, burning hulk.

Nearly 90 minutes after the bomb hit, Birmingham was ordered to fall out of formation and assume command of the firefighting operations.

Princeton's port forward area, as seen from USS Birmingham (CL-62) during attempts to control her fires during the afternoon of 24 October. She had been hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the Philippines. Note damage to Princeton's 40mm gun position and catwalk, caused by Birmingham's Number Two 6"/47 gun turret as the two ships grind together. Also note flight deck tractor partially hung up on Princeton's deck edge, F6F and TBM airplanes parked forward, floater nets and life rafts on Birmingham's gun turret.
Princeton’s port forward area, as seen from USS Birmingham (CL-62) during attempts to control her fires during the afternoon of 24 October. She had been hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the Philippines. Note damage to Princeton’s 40mm gun position and catwalk, caused by Birmingham’s Number Two 6″/47 gun turret as the two ships grind together. Also note flight deck tractor partially hung up on Princeton’s deck edge, F6F and TBM airplanes parked forward, floater nets and life rafts on Birmingham’s gun turret.

To be effective, Birmingham had to stay in direct contact so firefighters could move from ship to ship. To stay in physical contact, Birmingham deliberately crowded Princeton. Princeton’s anti-torpedo blisters on both sides below her waterline amidships effectively limited the approach of any supporting ships to the bow or stern areas.

After an extended all-night shift belowdecks making repairs in the after engine room of Birmingham, I was relieved from duty. I went above with Vernon Trevethan and George Thompson. No longer serving under general quarters, we were off duty and sightseeing.

George, Vernon and I headed for the open bridge above the starboard flying bridge. We wanted to observe the firefighting efforts on Princeton but still stay out of the way. Clearly, Birmingham’s starboard side and Princeton’s port side were severely damaged by the grinding impacts that ensued during Birmingham’s attempt to maneuver to the advantage of the firefighters aboard both ships.

View from the foredeck on USS Birmingham (CL-62) as she stood alongside Princeton to help fight her fires, during the afternoon of 24 October. The carrier had been hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the Philippines. Note fire hoses on Birmingham's deck and details of the underside of her Number Two 6"/47 gun turret.
View from the foredeck on USS Birmingham (CL-62) as she stood alongside Princeton to help fight her fires, during the afternoon of 24 October. The carrier had been hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the Philippines. Note fire hoses on Birmingham’s deck and details of the underside of her Number Two 6″/47 gun turret.

Damaged by the constant collisions between the two vessels, a hatch door was ripped from Princeton’s hull, exposing the interior of what appeared to be a companionway. Today the memory of what I saw scares me. Then, however, I was only 23 and not easily intimidated by potential danger. What I saw was a row of bombs standing upright. If memory has not failed me, those bombs were in the neighborhood of 5 feet tall and 12 inches in diameter.

Firefighters on Birmingham were directing streams of water onto those bombs, causing them to sizzle like a hot frying pan when water is sprinkled onto its surface. This effort by Birmingham’s crew to cool down the bombs with fire hoses was desperately hampered because of the narrow quarters and the constant rolling of the ships. The bombs were hissing and generating clouds of steam. My buddies and I watched this activity from our vantage point less than 20 feet away from the nearest bomb. Birmingham’s skipper, Captain Thomas Inglis, was just below us on the flying bridge, directing the entire operation. The grim expression on his face indicated his deep concern at the stress of the situation.

At around 1:32 p.m., Birmingham sounded general quarters as she pulled clear of Princeton due to threats of air and submarine attacks.

About 90 minutes later, general quarters ended with the all clear. Again Birmingham moved alongside Princeton. My little group reconvened. Now we perched on the after mushroom ventilator, between the No. 3 and No. 4 turrets, intently watching the activities on Princeton. Birmingham prepared to rig for towing.

From an estimated distance of 50 to 75 yards, absolutely no smoke or fires were observed, only patches of foglike vapors coming from the numerous openings in Princeton’s flight deck. Princeton appeared to be serenely drifting with the current. It appeared as if the fires had gone out on their own. Our little group on Birmingham figured the excitement was all over. The fires aboard Princeton had been extinguished.

The ships were still separated by about 50 feet when sailors shot their messenger lines across in order to secure a spring line between the two ships. George, on my right, suddenly exclaimed, “Look at that flame!” We saw a single tongue of flame shoot out from the area of the after elevator, followed by an enormous puff of white smoke like a billowy cumulus cloud. To our horror, a slender column of pale orange-colored smoke shot several hundred feet straight up. All hell broke loose with an enormous eruption. One hundred and thirty feet of Princeton’s stern blew off, as well as 180 feet of her flight deck.

As a high-speed shock wave headed my way, my reflexes took over. I threw myself backward before the concussion could hit me head on. This reflex action undoubtedly saved my life. Still, the force of the shock wave tumbled me backward 30 or 40 feet and about 10 feet into the air before dropping me on the deck. The shock wave hit me a split second before the thunder of the explosion reached my ears.

Heavy explosion aft on USS Princeton (CVL-23), with USS Birmingham (CL-62) alongside, 24 October 1944.
Heavy explosion aft on USS Princeton (CVL-23), with USS Birmingham (CL-62) alongside, 24 October 1944.
USS Birmingham (CL-62), at left, and a destroyer pull away from USS Princeton (CVL-23) following the big explosion that destroyed the carrier's stern at about 1523 hrs. on 24 October 1944. This blast killed over two hundred men aboard Birmingham, which was alongside Princeton fighting fires. Note the light smoke over Birmingham's midships and stern areas. Princeton's stern, and a good deal of her after superstructure, has been blown off.
USS Birmingham (CL-62), at left, and a destroyer pull away from USS Princeton (CVL-23) following the big explosion that destroyed the carrier’s stern at about 1523 hrs. on 24 October 1944. This blast killed over two hundred men aboard Birmingham, which was alongside Princeton fighting fires. Note the light smoke over Birmingham’s midships and stern areas. Princeton’s stern, and a good deal of her after superstructure, has been blown off.

While I was tumbling, I was aware that Vernon, my best friend, was also somersaulting. I saw him land on his feet andrun around the barbett of No. 3 turret to disappear from my sight. Some time later, I learned he had dropped dead on the other side of the turret.

I was stunned momentarily, yet at the same time my senses were heightened. When the roar of the explosion abated, I became aware of an ear-splitting silence that seemed to last for an eternity and was almost painful to my ears. The deafening hush was finally brought to an end by the sound of burning hot shrapnel raining down all around me. The shrapnel was burning through my clothes in what seemed to be hundreds of places.

I had to get out from under that shower of hot steel. When I glanced down I saw that my right knee was mangled, so I thought I would get up on my left leg and hop to the overhanging No. 4 turret. But my left leg would not support me because it was broken. I tried to crawl on my belly, but the pea-sized, gravel-like bits of Princeton on the deck painfully burned my hands and forearms as well as the nape of my neck. All I could do was roll around on the deck, trying to escape the searing pain.

Finally, the shrapnel stopped falling and the pieces of steel cooled. I collected myself enough to look around at hundreds of dead or unconscious bodies. Out of maybe 300 crew members on the after starboard deck of Birmingham, there was only one person other than myself who was conscious. There was no moaning, only an eerie quiet.

108 men died on the Princeton but casualties were ben heavier on the Birmingham, 233 dead and 426 wounded. Read the whole account at History Net

Contemporary British newsreel of the battle including footage of the plane that bombed the USS Princeton being shot down:

USS Princeton (CVL-23) blows up after being torpedoed by USS Reno (CL-96) on 24 October 1944. Princeton had been fatally damaged by Japanese air attack earlier in the day, and was scuttled by torpedoing to permit U.S. forces to clear the area.
USS Princeton (CVL-23) blows up after being torpedoed by USS Reno (CL-96) on 24 October 1944. Princeton had been fatally damaged by Japanese air attack earlier in the day, and was scuttled by torpedoing to permit U.S. forces to clear the area.

Lt. George H. W. Bush shot down in dive bomb attack

The USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) was an Independence-class light aircraft carrier.
The USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) was an Independence-class light aircraft carrier.
TBM-1C Avenger with Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One VT-51 from the USS San Jacinto CVL-30 in flight at Peleliu.
TBM-1C Avenger with Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One VT-51 from the USS San Jacinto CVL-30 in flight at Peleliu.

On 2nd September 1944 Lieutenant George W. H. Bush, an Avenger pilot with VT-51 on the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), was ordered to lead an attack on a Japanese radio station on the island of ChiChi Jima. He continued with the dive bomb attack after his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and then managed to get his aircraft over the sea before baling out.

His two crew members, Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and substitute gunner Lieutenant Junior Grade William White were killed – one of them parachuted out but the parachute failed to open, the other went down with the plane.

Leo W. Nadeau flew as Bush’s gunner on all but two of his attack missions:

I was replaced by Ltjg. White at the last minute. As intelligence officer, White wanted to go along to observe the island.

[Nadeau had flown with Bush for an attack on Japanese gun emplacements on ChiChi Jima the day before] The antiaircraft (AA) fire on that island was the worst we had seen, I don’t think the AA fire in the Philippines was as bad as that.

No one ever knew which one bailed out with Mr. Bush, I would assume it was Delaney, because as the radioman, he would go out first to leave room for the gunner to climb down out of the turret and put his chute on.

There wasn’t room in the turret for the gunner to wear a parachute. As a gunner, my parachute hung on the bulkhead of the plane near Delaney. We set up an escape procedure where he was supposed to hand me my chute and jump, and then I was to follow him. The procedure took a couple of seconds

I felt bad that Delaney and Mr. White had died, I just had the feeling that had I been there, Delaney and I might have both made it out alive … that is, unless one of us got hit by AA.

Delaney and I had practiced our escape procedure constantly. He might have stayed to help White get out of the turret and delayed too long. it’s one of those things that never leaves your mind. Why didn’t I go that day?

In the water about seven miles off ChiChi Jima, Bush inflated his yellow lifeboat and crawled in – but his troubles were far from over. A Japanese boat was sent out to capture him – but this was beaten off when Lieutenant Doug West, one of his fellow pilots from VT-51, strafed it as it approached.

His position was reported by radio and the submarine USS Finback set off to search for him. He was eventually spotted through the periscope by Captain Robert R.Williams Jr a few hours later. Bush then saw the submarine surfacing:

I saw this thing coming out of the water and I said to myself, ‘Jeez, I hope it’s one of ours.

The original report of the submarine USS Finback on the rescue of Lt Bush and the search for other men in the area, 2nd September 1944.
The original report of the submarine USS Finback on the rescue of Lt Bush and the search for other men in the area, 2nd September 1944.

Ensign Bill Edwards, the sub’s first lieutenant and photographic officer, recorded the rescue on 8mm film:

I thought being rescued by the submarine was the end of my problem. I didn’t realize that I would have to spend the duration of the sub’s 30 remaining days on board.

I’ll never forget the beauty of the Pacific … the flying fish, the stark wonder of the sea, the waves breaking across the bow.

I thought I was scared at times flying into combat, but in a submarine you couldn’t do anything, except sit there. The submariners were saying that it must be scary to be shot at by antiaircraft fire and I was saying to myself, ‘Listen brother, it is not really as bad as what you go through.’ The tension, adrenaline and the fear factor were about the same (getting shot at by antiaircraft fire as opposed to being depth charged).

When we were getting depth charged, the submariners did not seem overly concerned, but the other pilots and I didn’t like it a bit. There was a certain helpless feeling when the depth charges went off that I didn’t experience when flying my plane against AA.

Lieutenant Junior Grade George H.W. Bush, USN, pilot from Torpedo Squadron Fifty One (VT-51) pictured in mid-1944. LTJG Bush would later become the 41st President of the United States.
Lieutenant Junior Grade George H.W. Bush, USN, pilot from Torpedo Squadron Fifty One (VT-51) pictured in mid-1944. LTJG Bush would later become the 41st President of the United States.

The incident was remembered when Bush was appointed Vice President, when he said the experience of combat had given him “a sobering understanding of war and peace”:

The cause was clear and there was a great feeling of camaraderie. There was a gung-ho feeling about the combat missions. But I must confess that there were twinges of fear.

There is no question that having been involved in combat has affected my way of looking at problems. The overall experience was the most maturing in my life.

Even now, I look back and think about the dramatic ways in which the three years in the Navy shaped my life … the friendships, the common purpose, my first experience with seeing friends die …

There’s no question that it broadened my horizons. And there’s no question that today it has a real impact on me as I give advice to the President.

The citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Bush for this action:

For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as Pilot of a Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Squadron FIFTY ONE, attached to the U.S.S. San Jacinto, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of the Bonin Islands, on September 2, 1944.

Leading one section of a four-plane division in a strike against a radio station, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Bush pressed home an attack in the face of intense antiaircraft fire. Although his plane was hit and set afire at the beginning of his dive, he continued his plunge toward the target and succeeded in scoring damaging bomb hits before bailing out of the craft.

His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Reserve.

This was one of three medals awarded to Bush during the war, when he made 126 carrier landings and completed 1,228 flight hours. More of his experiences can be read at Naval History and Heritage.

Bush was especially lucky to escape, others shot down on this day were to suffer a terrible fate. Their story is told by James Bradley in ‘Flyboys’, published in 2003:

USS Finback (SS-230) underway off New London, Connecticut, 7 March 1949.
USS Finback (SS-230) underway off New London, Connecticut, 7 March 1949.

The ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’

Watching contrails over the US fleet as the 'Great Marianas Turkey Shoot' unfolds before them.
Watching contrails over the US fleet as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’ unfolds before them.
USS Bunker Hill is nearly hit by a Japanese bomb during the air attacks of June 19, 1944.
USS Bunker Hill is nearly hit by a Japanese bomb during the air attacks of June 19, 1944.
Air combat off the Marianas - where US planes dominated.
Air combat off the Marianas – where US planes dominated.
Japanese aircraft shot down
Japanese aircraft shot down as it attempted to attack escort carrier Kitkun Bay, near Marianas Islands, Jun 1944

In the Pacific war the huge disparity in the resources that US could put into battle as compared with the Japanese was now clearly evident. In a short space of time the US Navy had not only recovered from Pearl Harbour but had expanded dramatically. The superiority of their ships and planes was now much in evidence. The clash of the two battle fleets off the Marianas, where the US were engaged in the invasion of Saipan demonstrated this only too clearly.

On the 19th Japanese planes had attacked the US fleet and had come off worse. They suffered such huge losses that what was officially known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea became more widely known as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’. The Japanese were misled in believing that their carrier borne aircraft had landed at the nearby airfields on Tinian and Guam – in fact they had suffered devastating losses and most had been shot down.

There were further Japanese losses on the 20th. This time the US fleet were trying to locate the Japanese fleet – and it took almost all day before it was located. In a risky manoeuvre the US planes were launched late in the day to attack the Japanese ships, knowing that the mass of US planes would return to their own fleet in darkness.

Max Strean was in command of Fighter Squadron 1 based on the USS Yorktown:

We sat all day long waiting for information about where the Japanese ships came from. There had to be a fleet out there.

It was on the afternoon of the twentieth when the word came. The report turned out to be in error one degree, which was sixtv miles out of position. They launched us all — everybody they could — and sent us out to attack the fleet. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and the enemy was about two to three hundred miles distant. After we got in the air they corrected the position.

It was going to be well after dark when we got back to the carriers, but we were night qualified and so they sent us out anyway knowing we would arrive over the enemy before the end of daylight.

I was leading the fighter sweep for the whole of Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58. We had several squadrons of fighters, and we went out first to sweep the area of their defending aircraft.

We got there and we saw the fleet. There was nobody to defend them, for there was nothing in the air that we could find. So we continued sweeping the area until our bombers came in.

Japanese ships taking sharp evasive action during the 20 June attack.
Japanese ships taking sharp evasive action during the 20 June attack.

The Japs had several task groups deployed with destroyers in a perfect circle around their carriers. They had a cruiser or a battleship supporting the carriers with antiaircraft fire. As our bombers came down on them they did a tight circle turn and fired all kinds of colored ammunition. It was quite a sight.

the 20th June attack on the Japanese fleet.
The 20th June attack on the Japanese fleet.

It was about dark when our people finished bombing. Then we fighters made an attack on their ships because we were carrying bombs in case we didn’t have to fight their cover. I was credited with a bomb hit on the Taka, an aircraft carrier, a large converted carrier, one of their important ones.

Then we started back to our carriers. The weather was pretty bad, with towering cumulus. It was dark and difficult to get in formation. I think 1 could only find about four people to lead back to the carrier, which was about 350 miles away. When we got back there it was drizzling rain.

That was the greatest fiasco the navy ever had. The lights had been turned off on the carriers. Japanese pilots in Zeros were supposedly in the landing circle. When I first got back I found my own carrier with our direction finder (we called it a Hay rake), but then it was so dark that in making a turn I apparently found another carrier. (It was not possible to recognize a carrier when you got close to it except by its wake and shape.)

There must have been about thirty people circling her, when only six were supposed to be there at one time. I got down in the circle nevertheless, for I thought thai if they couldn’t get aboard I could. But every time I came around to land it was a foul deck and they gave me the wave off.

That carrier turned out to be a light carrier, a small one. They turned off the lights and told us to get away. I thought that was damned unfeeling of them, for here we were about to get our feet wet.

I still had some fuel; I had about thirty gallons. The fighters did all right, but the bombers were going in the water one after the other. This was all part of the confusion. People were saying they were going in the water and the carriers were throwing in float lights as a result. After telling the light carrier what I thought about them, I pulled up and got on the Hayrake again and started searching for the Yorktown.

Every carrier was surrounded. You couldn’t get lined up unless you were close to the carrier. You could see the deck then and could try to come around and get in position by seeing the wake aft.

In looking for my carrier I must have made approaches on perhaps four or five ships. One turned out to be a battleship. I was frustrated and didn’t know where to go from there. I was trying to figure out what I would do. so I just continued my approach. Gee, that battleship! They turned on the lights. They fired Very pistols and yelled. “”Pilot trying to land on the battleship — get away, get away!” Well. I pulled up and got again on the Hayrake and found my own carrier.

I kept telling them to turn on the lights because too many people were going in the water. Finally they did turn on the lights. Authorities claim that Admiral Mitscher was responsible for this, but I claim I was the one they could hear bitching and asking them to do it. They not only turned on the lights but they turned On vertical searchlight beams. So it was like a carnival out there.

I circled my home carrier and finally got aboard. The first question we all asked that night was. “What ship is this?” because you could not tell one ship from the other.

This account appears in The Pacific War Remembered: An Oral History Collection

Around 80 aircraft were forced to crash into the sea during the end of this episode, although three quarters of the crew were saved. This brought US aircraft losses to 123 – compared with Japanese losses of 550-645 over the two day battle.

A Helldiver approaching the USS Yorktown.
Admiral Marc Mitscher in command of Task Force 58 during the battle.
Admiral Marc Mitscher in command of Task Force 58 during the battle.

Operation Cockpit – the Japanese surprised at Sabang

A surprise raid on Sabang in northern Sumatra. A general view from one of the attacking planes showing a blazing oil tank with oil spreading out over the harbour area, burning docks, warehouses and ships. In the foreground is a Japanese destroyer which was set on fire by fighters. 19 April 1944
A surprise raid on Sabang in northern Sumatra. A general view from one of the attacking planes showing a blazing oil tank with oil spreading out over the harbour area, burning docks, warehouses and ships. In the foreground is a Japanese destroyer which was set on fire by fighters. 19 April 1944
Throttled back, an American built Chance-Vought Corsair starts to sink to the deck of HMS ILLUSTRIOUS prior to landing
Throttled back, an American built Chance-Vought Corsair starts to sink to the deck of HMS ILLUSTRIOUS prior to landing
Seventeen Fairey Barracuda bombers and 13 Chance-Vought F4U Corsair fighters from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and 11 Grumman TBM “Avenger” torpedo-bombers, 18 Douglas “Dauntless” dive-bombers and 24 Grumman F6F“Hellcat” fighters from USS SARATOGA attacked Sabang harbor and nearby Lho Nga airfield. The attack caught the Japanese by surprise and there was no fighter opposition.
Seventeen Fairey Barracuda bombers and 13 Chance-Vought F4U Corsair fighters from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and 11 Grumman TBM “Avenger” torpedo-bombers, 18 Douglas “Dauntless” dive-bombers and 24 Grumman F6F“Hellcat” fighters from USS SARATOGA attacked Sabang harbor and nearby Lho Nga airfield. The attack caught the Japanese by surprise and there was no fighter opposition.

The British Far Eastern Fleet, with USS Saratoga, sailed from Trincomalee, on 16 April 1944, and on 19 April 1944 attacked the port of Sabang, on the northwestern tip of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese were caught completely by surprise and the combined effort destroyed oil refineries, huge storage tanks and transportation facilities. In addition the minelayer Hatsutaka, and the transports Kunitsu Maru and Haruno Maru were sunk.

See records of US Carrier Air Group 12

This was a truly multinational force including aircraft the carriers HMS Illustrious and the USS Saratoga, the French battleship Richelieu as well as Dutch and New Zealand ships.

Reuters correspondent Alan Humphrey was there to give this dramatic account for the worlds’ press:

At the rate of ten tons a minute, 350 tons of steel and high explosive struck Sabang in the 35 minutes the bombardment lasted. Battleships; cruisers and destroyers poured shells varying from 4-in. to 15-in. into the base at close range. When the flagship turned away after completing her firing she was only two miles from the green, jungle-covered hills which rise steeply from the sea around Sabang.

It was the first time that any Allied naval surface force had been in sight of Sumatra since the dark days of the Japanese onrush in 1942.

The fleet reached its objective unobserved and the ‘first thing the Japanese knew was intensive strafing by carrier-based Corsair fighters. Among the Corsairs’ targets were three airfields, including one at Kota Raja on the Sumatra mainland. Confirming suspicions that Japan’s air strength was’weak,’ only four aircraft were found and all destroyed. Disturbing as was the air raid to serene Japanese slumbers, the first reaction of the defenders when they saw the powerful battle fleet closing in must have been one of extreme dismay.

The fleet was divided into five forces for the operation. The carriers with their escort stayed a considerable way out at sea. The aircraft went strafing, were ready to deal with any Japanese aircraft coming up, provided an umbrella over the warships and acted as spotters for the guns. Battleships made up another force. A third force which included Dutch warships penetrated the harbour and dealt with installations at Sabang. Two other forces were devoted to attacks on coastal targets east and west of Sabang.

Just before 6.55 a.m. — zero hour — the loudspeakers announced: “Two minutes to go !” An unusual silence developed, so that sounds normally unnoticed became insistent, the remote slap of spray, the faint hiss from the funnel, the bubbling whistle, of wind in the wires just overhead. Then with a great belch of flame, a greater belch of orange-brown smoke, a blast of hot air and a jolt back on to the heels, the first salvo was fired from the big guns at a range of 17,000 yards.

A rating fired his own shot. “Share that lot amongst you!” he said, as the guns roared. One by one resonant booms told that the other battleships had joined in the bombardment. Then began the process described beforehand by a gunnery officer; of “inflicting the maximum damage in the minimum time”. The particular target of the flagship was the military barracks area, and in the words of the same gunnery oflicer, the Japanese garrison there was given “a new type of reveille in the form of a 15-in. ‘brick’”.

For the next quarter of an hour it was a rapid succession of jarring explosions. The force going into the harbour was firing furiously, one destroyer depressing a multiple pom-pom and spraying the defences with that also.

Three Japanese batteries inside the harbour engaged these warships, a number of bursts throwing up grey gouts of water all round and close to them. On the run in one battery was silenced, the workshops and wharves were attacked, and a large crane was seen to topple over.

Two batteries were silenced on the run back. The report on the operations concluded with the words “quite a skylark!”.

The remainder of the fleet carried out the bombardment unmolested; it appeared there were no coastal batteries. All the time a great cloud of smoke was steadily thickening over Sabang, a testimony to the weight and accuracy of the bombardment.

The Japanese defenders, who made only the slightest reaction to the air attack, apparently nettled at last, whistled up their aircraft, possibly from Sumatra, possibly from Malaya.

Two hours after the fleet withdrew, a Japanese two-engined bomber was reported approaching. It was shot down by Corsairs. Shortly afterwards a Zero fighter found the fleet. He came in as close as ten miles, then started to run home. He reported from 14 miles away, then 25, then 28. At this point‘ the fighters‘ cried “Tallyho!” and a moment later the Zero went into the sea 30 miles away.

See also New Zealand History

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of fighter squadron VF-3 on the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in October 1941. The plane on the aircraft elevator is 3-F-9 (BuNo 3982), piloted by Ensign Gayle Hermann. This plane was in service with VF-6 in December 1941 and hit by "friendly" fire near Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (USA), on the night of 7 December 1941 while trying to land after a combat air patrol. It was badly damaged but the pilot could land the plane and luckily was uninjured.
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of fighter squadron VF-3 on the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in October 1941. The plane on the aircraft elevator is 3-F-9 (BuNo 3982), piloted by Ensign Gayle Hermann. This plane was in service with VF-6 in December 1941 and hit by “friendly” fire near Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (USA), on the night of 7 December 1941 while trying to land after a combat air patrol. It was badly damaged but the pilot could land the plane and luckily was uninjured.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in 1943/44. The photo was taken from one of her planes of Carrier Air Group 12 (CVG-12), of which many aircraft are visible on deck, Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers (aft), Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters (mostly forward), and Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in 1943/44. The photo was taken from one of her planes of Carrier Air Group 12 (CVG-12), of which many aircraft are visible on deck, Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers (aft), Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters (mostly forward), and Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.

USS Yorktown fights off Japanese ‘Kates’

U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of fighter squadron VF-5, Carrier Air Group Five (CVG-5), are readied for a strike against Marcus Island aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) on 31 August 1943.
U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of fighter squadron VF-5, Carrier Air Group Five (CVG-5), are readied for a strike against Marcus Island aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) on 31 August 1943.

After the successful assaults on the Marshall and the Gilbert Islands – including the bloody battles at Tarawa – many of the escorting ships returned to the U.S. Pacific base at Pearl harbour. En route, on 4th December, the planes from the carriers made attacks on the Japanese occupied Kwajalein Atoll and Wotje Atoll.

Later in the day they came under attack from Japanese planes. A fairly routine day of operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time.

The 4th December is probably most notable for the dramatic photograph taken just after one of the Japanese attackers was hit:

The Yorktown picture seen around the world, the famous "Flaming Kate",
The Yorktown picture seen around the world, the famous “Flaming Kate”, made from aft end of Yorktown’s flight deck, 4th December 1943, photographed by Chief Petty Officer Photographer’s Mate Alfred N. Cooperman. Life Magazine featured this picture in full page color.

It was a busy day for the Task Group as this report from the War Diary of the U.S.S. Yorktown makes clear:

December 4th 1943 – Saturday

Steaming as before in formation 5 – R.

At 0515 Flight Quarters were sounded and at 0550 General Quarters were sounded in preparation for attacks against Kwajalein Atoll and Wotje Atoll.

At 0629 this vessel commenced launching planes of strike one of operation plan A3-43.

At 0843 changed disposition to 5-V as the threat of air attack is greater than one of submarine or surface vessels.

By 1100 planes of strike one has returned aboard. The Air Group Commander reported that the enemy had been caught by surprise and damage had been inflicted on enemy shipping, aircraft and installations.

At 1200, strike number two was launched as ordered against Wotje Atoll.

At 1205, low-flying enemy planes were reported in the vicinity.

1208 alert, starboard bow.

1209 U.S.S.Lexington reported shooting down three torpedo planes, all torpedoes passing astern.

At 12:40 this vessel commenced landing a combat air patrol.

1247 U.S.S. San Francisco and U.S.S.Yorktown opened fire on low flying planes off port bow. Three planes were shot down, one falling close astern of this vessel. These planes were identified as KATES.

1445 This vessel landed strike number two aboard. The Air Group Commander reported damage inflicted upon enemy installations, aircraft and one enemy cargo ship at Wotje.

1847 Planes were reported by radar at 130°(T), 66 miles and 166°(T), 47 miles. The Task Force manoeuvred to avoid these planes. These planes seem to be flying in “expanding squares”.

1947 One group of planes closed to 21 miles and the U.S.S.Oakland left the disposition for a position”Downmoon” of the task group.

1959 Task Group 50.3 was seen to open fire.

2100 Planes at 250°(T), 21 miles and 23° (T), 17 miles closing (10– 15) planes. Task group manoeuvring to avoid planes.

2107 Ships astern open fire.

2131 Plane reported at 080°(T), 8 miles and many others over the U.S.S.Oakland.

2200 All planes opened distance.

2230 U.S.S. Enterprise reported loss of power on one screw. Speed reduced to 23 knots.

2253 Planes began closing again. Task Force manoeuvred to avoid planes.

2300 Ships astern open fire and planes opened the distance.

2315 Planes closed again and other ships open fire.

2320 Task group 50.3 was seen to open fire.

2323 Flare dropped on port bow. Task group changed course to starboard. Commenced firing at two planes to starboard.

2332 U.S.S.Lexington reported being hit by torpedo and losing steering control.

C.T.G. 50.1 reported his intention of standing by the USS Lexington and told C.T.G. 50.1 to remain in the vicinity to give assistance.

The U.S.S.Oakland, U.S.S.New Orleans and U.S.S.Chauncey were told to stand by the U.S.S.Lexington to render assistance.

2400 U.S.S.Lexington reported being able to make 20 knots but unable to use steering engine.

A burning Japanese torpedo-bomber falls after being knocked down by artillery from American warships. Date	ca. 4 December 1943.
A burning Japanese torpedo-bomber falls after being knocked down by artillery from American warships.
Date ca. 4 December 1943.

USS Saratoga planes attack Japanese ships in Rabaul

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in 1943/44. The photo was taken from one of her planes of Carrier Air Group 12 (CVG-12), of which many aircraft are visible on deck, Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers (aft), Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters (mostly forward), and Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.
US Navy pilots Ensign Charles Miller, Lieutenant (jg) Henry Dearing, and Lieutenant (jg) Bus Alber walking toward their aircraft aboard USS Saratoga, 5 Nov 1943; note F6F fighter.

After the attack on Rabaul harbour on the 2nd November a new threat developed for the landings on Bougainville. The Japanese had been careful to avoid exposing their ships to undue risk but they now felt compelled to bring in a force of seven heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and three destroyers. They were spotted refuelling in Rabaul and it was obvious they were set for an attack on the ships off Bougainville. The U.S. had no capital ships near enough that would be able to challenge a force of this strength. For Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey it was:

the most desperate emergency that confronted me in my entire term as ComSoPac

.

He did have two carriers available, even though the only other previous comparable attack by carrier planes had been at Pearl Harbour itself. On that occasion the attackers had enjoyed complete surprise.

The USS Saratoga and USS Princetown steamed through the night to get within range and then launched all 97 available planes for an early attack, followed by a bombing attack by land based planes. Not only were the planes at risk but also the carriers.

Japanese warships attempt to get under way while under attack from US Navy aircraft. Date	5 November 1943
Japanese warships attempt to get under way while under attack from US Navy aircraft.
Date 5 November 1943

The following account of the action comes from an interview with one of the pilots on the raid, Robert Lee Cropper:

What aircraft were you flying at that point?

Cropper: [The] TBF which preceded the TBM. [The TBF was a carrier-based bomber which carried a 2000 pound bomb or torpedo. It was called the Avenger.] We operated around Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. We had just bombed [Japanese ] bases on Bougainville Island, and were pulling back to refuel when we got rush orders [concerning] the proposed Marine invasion in Empress Augusta Bay on the south side of Bougainville. We had to steam all the way around the Solomon Islands, back around Guadalcanal and up because a [Japanese battle fleet] of cruisers had just come into Rabaul [harbor] and were going to sail down to wipe out the landing of the Marines. The Marines had no sea support other than a couple of destroyers, I think. So we launched [all our planes], and it was the longest launching way from the target the Navy had ever done at the time. After the launch, the SARATOGA was supposed to turn and run for her life. If we got out of Rabaul, we were supposed to try to land in the water at Empress August Bay, where the Marines were just making a landing and there was no airstrip yet. So we went [behind a weather front which helped to surprise the Japanese], into Rabaul to the [Japanese] fleet. That was our first strike on Rabaul. I got … a heavy cruiser.

The Japanese cruiser Chikuma under attack on 5th November 1943.
The Japanese cruiser Chikuma under attack on 5th November 1943

Harrison: What class was that?

Cropper: [The one I hit was a Tone class, heavy cruiser.] I came around and my wing tip was almost lying on a volcanic mountain at the entrance to the Harbor. [The Japanese] fleet was steaming out, trying to get to sea so that they could maneuver. When I hit [the cruiser] and came over him, I passed over the bow of this cruiser after dropping my torpedo. Now this [Japanese] cruiser had four mounts of eight inch cannons going off, but I was right at bridge level off my wing tip. I could see the officers on the bridge as I passed over. I was being chewed up by a [Japanese fighter] sea plane, of all things, because they couldn’t go fast. A torpedo plane had no great speed [either], but…I managed to outrun him. But he chewed me up pretty bad, but we got back to the ship. Our captain had kept steaming ahead instead of obeying orders and turning to flee. So we came back and landed aboard, [and] went around the Solomons.

Harrison: Did you ever find the name of the cruiser that you sank?

Cropper: [Post war naval archive research shows it was the CHIKUMA. The Navy thought she sank, and, though severely damaged, the Japanese kept her afloat and later repaired her. She was sunk a year later with the loss of her entire crew in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.]

The full interview and account of Cropper’s service was originally available at Worcester County Veterans Memorial- http://www.opvets.com/opvets/article/3472. It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

In all the U.S. planes managed to damage nearly all of the Japanese ships, forcing them to retire the force to Truk for repairs. It was a stunning victory.

However the US forces also had their casualties and several families would subsequently receive letters like this:

Haniotis-10.

The full tribute to Lt. George C. Haniotis, pilot of P-38 Lightning from the fighter escort, missing in action 5 November 1943 following a dogfight with Japanese Zero fighters, can be read at Purple Hearts.

SBD Dauntless crewman Alva Parker, having suffered neck and shoulder shrapnel wounds over Rabaul, New Britain, being helped from the aircraft after landing on USS Saratoga, 5 Nov 1943
Aircrewman, wounded during raid on Rabaul, on board the USS Saratoga (CV-3). Alva Parker (ARM1) who suffered shrapnel wounds in neck and shoulders, rests in litter, 11/05/1943.