On December 7, 1941, the date that will "live in infamy," a Japanese task force savagely attacked Pearl Harbor. The attack occurred while representatives of Japan were negotiating in Washington with US statesmen in an effort to find a peaceful solution of the two nations' misunderstanding.
The violence and surprise of this underhanded assault were such that our Pacific Fleet was severely crippled. Our losses placed us at a temporary disadvantage in the war which was soon declared between this country and Japan. The US Navy, however, made what was perhaps the quickest come-back in the history of sea warfare. Less than two months after the tragic action at Pearl Harbor, in which 3,000 Americans were wantonly butchered, Rear Admiral Halsey, commanding a carrier task force, smashed into the Jap-held Marshall and Gilbert Islands with a ferocity and destructiveness that were but a small indication of what was to come.
In that brilliant raid on February 1, Naval aviation took the lead in the fighting. Throughout the following narrative an account the Navy has just released of our engagements in the Pacific Naval aviation is consistently the spearhead of the attack.
This is a story, told without attempt at rhetorical effort, of the high courage and skill of the men who fly the Navy's planes. It speaks well, too, of the planes themselves and of the close co-operation between the several branches of our military. Confined to major actions, it does not deal thoroughly with many of the important but less spectacular aviation activities, such as the anti-submarine patrol, the work of the blimps, the many weary miles of long-range scouting, the achievements of the Naval Air Transport Service, and the pilot training program.
But it is, on the whole, perhaps the most impressive single document that has come out of this war, a record of continuous victory against topheavy odds, in the finest tradition of the Navy.
Within a few short weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Navy had driven home its first offensive thrust against the Japanese. This was the telling raid by air and surface forces against the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, and marked the first offensive use of aircraft carriers by the United States Navy.
The action took place on February 1st, with carriers as the spearhead of a task force which included heavy surface ships. It was led by Admiral Halsey. While the surface units shelled enemy installations with heavy fire, the air groups of the carriers bombed and torpedoed enemy vessels caught in the harbors and directed devastating bombing and strafing attacks against the air fields, hangars and supply buildings at seven separate enemy strongholds.
The Yorktown Air Group, led by Comm C S Smiley, concentrated on Jaluit, Makin and Mili. In the face of extremely bad flying weather, attacks were pressed home by Douglas Devastator (TBD-1) torpedo bombers under Lieut Comm J Taylor, and by Douglas Dauntless (SBD-3) dive bombers under Lieut Comm R G Armstrong, and Lieut Comm W O Burch. Four auxiliary vessels were heavily bombed and at least two destroyed. Small harbor craft were strafed and barracks and administration buildings bombed and set afire. Two Japanese four-engined seaplanes were destroyed on the water. Another four-engined seaplane was shot down by Lieut (jg,) E S McCuskey of a fighter squadron.
The greatest damage, however, was caused by the air group of another carrier which found better targets on the islands assigned to it. Under Comm H L Young, commander of this air group, three attacks were made on Taroa, two on Kwajalein, two on Wotje, and two on Roi. All eight of these actions were highly effective. Squadrons under Lieut Comm H L Hopping, Lieut W E Gallaher, and Lieut Comm W R Hollingsworth blew up hangars, storehouses and ammunition dumps, and destroyed many Japanese airplanes parked on runways adjacent to the hangars, Lieutenant Commander Hopping, diving very low to ensure a hit, was shot down and killed during this action.
Seven airplanes from a scouting squadron led by Lieut C E Dickinson, Jr, and Lieutenant Gallaher scored hits on a Japanese cruiser, a Yawata-class vessel, a large tanker and a submarine in the harbor of Kwajalein Island. A bombing squadron under Lieutenant Commander Hollingsworth also attacked at Kwajalein and bombed a cruiser, strafed three submarines, sank another vessel (by Lieut J.W McCauley), damaged two cargo ships, set a transport afire and destroyed numerous buildings on shore.
Lieut Comm E E Lindsey led a bombing attack on the same targets at Kwajalein. This was followed by a torpedo attack against the ships in the harbor, led by Lieut Comm L E Massey.
On this first torpedo attack by US Navy airplanes, Lieutenant Commander Massey led nine Douglas Devastators 180 miles to the target. In the face of blistering antiaircraft fire, he ordered his division to "take them home, boys!" The airplanes pressed their attack on a cruiser, many auxiliary vessels and the large Yawata-class seaplane tender or transport. A three-plane section, under Lieut P J Riley, concentrated on the cruiser and left her sinking by the bow. The Yawata-class vessel was hit by torpedoes and it settled by the stern. Three tankers were struck and left in a sinking condition. All nine torpedo bombers returned safely.
A fighting squadron flying Grumman Wildcats (F4F-4) under Lieut Comm C W McC1usky destroyed several airplanes by strafing attacks at Taroa and Wotje, and shot down several more in the air.
Our airplanes caused the following losses to the Japanese:
Our losses were:
The next major action in which Naval aviation played a part came at Bougainville, a defensive engagement but one which cost the Japanese dearly.
On February 20th, the USS Lexington was steaming westward in company with other members of a task force. Off the island of Bougainville, the Lexington was located by two Japanese patrol planes and the Japanese sent out 18 twin-engined land-based bombers to attempt to sink her. A Lexington fighter squadron, with its Grumman Wildcats, was ready and waiting to intercept this force.
Under Lieut Comm J S Thach, commanding officer, the squadron located the first of the Japanese patrol planes and shot it down 43 miles from the carrier. A second was shot down by a two-plane section of Grummans led by Lieut O B Stanley.
The squadron then was ordered to intercept the oncoming Japanese bombers. Five of the first nine bombers were shot down before they reached the Lexington. Three more were shot down after their bombs had fallen 3,000 yards away.
Meanwhile, a second group of nine enemy bombers was approaching. Since most of our fighters were pursuing the first group, only two Grummans were in a position to, attack the second group. The guns of one of these fighters jammed, and Lieut E H O'Hare attacked the formation of nine bombers single-handed. He shot down two immediately, and only four were able to drop their bombs. Lieutenant O'Hare persisted in his attack and brought down three others.
Of the four remaining bombers from this group, two were shot down by fighters, one by a scout bomber.
Enemy losses were as follows:
Our losses were:
The successes scored at the Marshall and Gilbert Islands were repeated at Wake Island on February 24th and at Marcus Island on March 4th. The raids on enemy positions at Wake and Marcus were led by Comm H L Young.
Wake was dive-bombed and strafed by squadrons led by Lieut Comm W R Hollingsworth, Lieut Comm C W.McCluskey, Lieut W E Gallaher and Lieut Comm E E Lindsey, respectively.
Marcus, an "air field surrounded by water" was attacked by Douglas Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman Wildcats. It was difficult to assess the damage due to low clouds.
Known enemy losses were as follows: At Wake:
Our losses were as follows:
On March 10th, more than 100 carrier-based airplanes were launched to attack a concentration of enemy warships, transports and cargo vessels in the Salamaua-Lae section of New Guinea. The participating squadrons from the Lexington and the Yorktown included Douglas Dauntless dive bombers, Douglas Devastator torpedo bombers and Grumman Wildcats.
Some idea of the problem involved may be gained from the fact that these airplanes were required to fly over wild, unexplored mountain jungles whose interior included mountain peaks 13,000 to 15,000 feet high and of which our charts showed little beyond the shoreline. Every airplane except one, which was shot down by antiaircraft fire, returned safely to the carriers.
A scouting squadron was first to attack the harbor at Lae. One large transport at a dock and one in the harbor were sunk by bombs. A third was set afire and was subsequently beached. Two pilots pulled out of their dives and made glide bombing attacks on a cruiser which was attempting to get out of the harbor. A 500-pound bomb struck her squarely abaft the second stack and she headed for the beach burning badly. A minesweeper was also struck and left afire. Ens J P Johnson was lost from this squadron when his plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire.
A torpedo squadron attacked three transports and a cruiser under way off Salamaua. Three sure hits were scored.
A bombing squadron directed six of its airplanes at a cruiser. A direct hit and five near misses sank the cruiser in a matter of minutes. Another division of the same squadron scored direct hits on a transport.
A fighting squadron strafed ships and ground installations at both Salamaua and Lae. A destroyer was badly damaged and probably sunk by machine gun fire, an amazing feat.
Another bombing squadron, led by Lieut Comm R G Armstrong, dove on two light cruisers and scored three direct hits. A destroyer was then hit and another cruiser attacked.
Fighter planes led by Lieut Comm Oscar Pederson strafed surface objectives and small boats in the harbor.
Lieut Comm W O Burch led this scouting squadron in an attack on two auxiliaries close to the beach at Lae. At least two direct hits were scored on each and they were left beached and burning. The second division of this squadron sank another auxiliary off Lae.
Torpedo planes made a level bombing attack on the Kamoi, a large seaplane tender. A direct hit was scored and the ship was left dead in the water.
Enemy losses were as follows:
Our own losses were as follows:
On May 4th came the raid on Tulagi, a fitting prelude to the Battle of the Coral Sea, so soon to follow. In this daylight raid, three separate attacks on Tulagi were made by airplanes from the Yorktown. There were Douglas Devastators under Lieut Comm J Taylor; Douglas Dauntlesses under Lieut Comm W O Burch and Lieut W C Short; and Grumman Wildcats under Lieut Comm C R Fenton.
In the first attack seven torpedo bombers concentrated on two destroyers and a light cruiser moored at Tulagi. Three direct hits were made; the two destroyers sank and the light cruiser beached herself and sank to deck level. Two other torpedo planes sank a cargo ship.
The dive bombers assisted in the sinking of the destroyers and the cruiser and then attacked another destroyer, a large transport and a cargo ship.
After returning to the carrier, refueling and rearming (which was accomplished so promptly that pilots didn't even have time for a cup of coffee) the attack group left for its second raid. Thirteen dive bombers bombed a seaplane tender, sank several small harbor craft and shot down a seaplane.
Fourteen other dive bombers sighted three Japanese gun-boats. The first division of this squadron attacked the rear member of the formation and a direct hit blew it to pieces. The second division dove on the next gunboat with the same results. The third division attacked the leader and damaged it. One bomb hit was scored on a seaplane tender and then the remaining gunboat was heavily strafed. It was later observed to have been beached.
In the third attack, launched early the same afternoon, four Grumman Wildcat fighters led the way. They encountered three enemy seaplanes and shot them all down. The Wildcats then strafed a destroyer which was left spewing out an oil slick and with her deck ablaze. One section of these fighters became separated on the way back and landed on Guadalcanal Island. The pilots were later picked up by one of our destroyers.
In this third attack, the dive bombers scored hits on a cargo ship and a seaplane tender and sank a small gunboat and several habor craft by machine gun fire.
Enemy losses were as follows:
Our losses were as follows:
In the Coral Sea, the first week in May witnessed a new kind of naval warfare an engagement between two great naval surface forces carried on entirely by the air groups of their aircraft carriers. On the 7th of May the Lexington and the Yorktown, as the spearhead of a US Navy task force, intercepted a major portion of the Japanese fleet which was advancing on Port Moresby. In the two-day air action which followed, the Japanese were forced to abandon their objective and turn back from their threat to a vital United Nations base.
Early on the morning of May 7th the Lexington received word that the enemy force had been sighted by a scouting plane. She launched an attack group of Grumman Wildcats, Douglas Dauntlesses and Devastators. Contact was made with the enemy aircraft carrier Shoho and the dive bombers roared to the attack. Following two direct hits by the scouting squadron, the bombing squadron made its dive and got five direct hits with 1,000-pound bombs. The carrier was a mass of flames, but the torpedo squadron led by Lieut Comm J H Brett, Jr, headed straight for her and scored nine torpedo hits. Meanwhile the Yorktown's squadrons under Lieut Comm W O Burch, Lieut W C Short, and Lieut Comm J Taylor, were ready to help in the kill. Their Dauntlesses dove down from 18,000 feet and scored 14 hits. By this time the carrier was listing heavily and all but two of its antiaircraft guns were out of action. This enabled the torpedo planes to drop at very close range, and more torpedo hits were scored. Three minutes later the Shoho sank beneath the waves, plowing herself under.
During the dive bombing attacks on this carrier, Ens H S Brown, Jr, the last man to dive, saw that the carrier was doomed, and shifted his aim to a nearby cruiser. He made a direct hit with a 1,000-pound bomb abaft the bridge and the cruiser sank within five minutes.
Three dive bombers were lost in the attack on the Shoho. Our escorting fighters shot down one Japanese scout bomber and three Japanese fighters.
That evening, close to sunset, the combat air patrols protecting our two carriers intercepted nine Japanese Zeros. The Lexington Wildcats shot down four, the Yorktown Wildcats got three, and the remaining two got away trailing smoke. Three of our pilots were missing after this engagement.
Early next morning, May 8, Lieut (jg) Joseph Smith, from one of the scouting squadrons, located an enemy force of two carriers accompanied by cruisers and destroyers 170 miles from the Lexington. Dive bombers, torpedo bombers and lighters were launched from both the Lexington and the Yorktown.
One of the two carriers, the Shokaku, was attacked by the Lexington group under Comm W B Ault. Two direct hits with 1,000-pound bombs were scored, and then the Devastators went in. Five sure torpedo hits were made by Ens N A Sterrie, Ens T B Bash, Ens H R Mazza, Lieut G W Hurst, and Capt B C Shearon. The Shokaku was left a mass of flames, settling badly and turning in a circle.
The dive bombers from the Yorktown roared down from 17,000 feet on the other carrier, the Ryukaku. Six direct hits, and probably three more, all with 1,000-pound bombs, were scored. Zero fighters attacked these dive bombers and, after the pullout, our Dauntlesses shot down 11 of them and damaged nine more.
Torpedo planes coordinated their attack with the dive bombers and obtained three certain hits on the carrier. When last seen, the Ryukaku was burning fiercely. During the torpedo attack, our escorting fighters shot down three Zeros.
While the attack groups of the Lexington and the Yorktown were engaged in these actions, a strong force of Japanese dive and torpedo bombers came in to attack our own carriers. This force was sighted about eleven o'clock in the morning and Wildcats from the Yorktown and the Lexington and the remaining Lexington Dauntlesses were sent out to intercept.
During the air battle which raged over the two carriers, the Lexington was struck by two torpedoes and five bombs. The Lexington combat air patrol and antiaircraft fire accounted for 29 Japanese airplanes, 11 having been shot down by Dauntlesses. The Yorktown's fighters shot down four Zeros and three dive bombers, and damaged four other enemy fighters and two dive bombers.
At 12:47 a heavy explosion shook the Lexington. Probably this was due to an accumulation of gasoline vapor in the lower regions of the ship. From then on it was a losing fight to control the fire. Personnel were disembarked to awaiting destroyers and one of our ships was ordered to give her the coup de grace with a torpedo. There were no losses of personnel due to disembarkation. The Lexington finally went under on an even keel.
Enemy losses were as follows:
Our own losses were as follows:
While the Battle of the Coral Sea was at its height, another Navy aircraft carrier, over on the other side of the world, was lending aid to our allies on the beleaguered island of Malta.
Under the merciless bombing of raid after German raid, Malta's supply of intercepting fighters had run dangerously low. Other raids were impending and the island had to be provided with new fighters at all cost.
To get them there, the US Navy's carrier Wasp took aboard a load of British Spitfires and joined up with a British carrier and an escorting force. On the night of May 7 this group steamed silently through the straits of Gibraltar and proceeded to a point well within the range of the Spitfires to Malta.
Early on the morning of the 8th the first Spitfire roared off the flight deck of the Wasp. Before eight o'clock several squadrons of England's finest fighters, accompanied by many more from the British carrier, had left their temporary American home.
The Wasp returned to her station without incident.
The first week in June found the Japanese launching a tremendous two- pronged thrust at United States territory. The southernmost prong consisted of a powerful striking force, support force and occupation force aimed at Midway Island, and probably Hawaii. The successful interception of these forces by aircraft of the Navy, Army and Marine Corps constituted the epic Battle of Midway, which may well prove to have been the most decisive conflict of our war with the Japanese.
First contact with the enemy came on the morning of June 3, when a Navy Consolidated Catalina patrol plane reported two Japanese cargo vessels 470 miles off Midway. A few minutes later another plane reported a large part of the enemy fleet some 700 miles distant. A flight of Army Flying Fortresses, led by Lieutenant Colonel Sweeney, roared down the Midway runway and out to meet the enemy. That afternoon they hit a battleship and a transport with high-altitude bombing.
Late that night Lieut W L Richards led four Catalinas on a moonlight torpedo raid. A formation of Japanese transports was discovered more than 500 miles from Midway. Making an up-moon approach, the four Catalinas came in low and scored two direct torpedo hits.
Next morning the Flying Fortresses took off again in search of the enemy warships, and the other defenders of Midway got set for the expected Japanese air raid.
At 6:35 AM it came. Three groups of nine high-altitude bombers, followed by a second wave, attacked the ground installations on the island. They were met by a hail of anti-aircraft fire and hard-fighting Marine Corps pilots in Grumman Wildcats and Brewster Buffaloes.
At nine o'clock Lieutenant Colonel Sweeney reported that his Flying Fortresses had damaged an enemy carrier. At 9:30 word came that the Grumman Avengers (TBF-1) and Army Martin Martians (B-26), launched earlier from Midway, had dropped their torpedoes at carriers. A little later the Marine dive bomber group reported two hits on an enemy carrier and one on a battleship with their Vindicators (SB2U). Still later, other Army Flying Fortresses sent word of hits on a burning carrier and on a cruiser.
During the next two days, the Flying Fortresses went out again, and the Marines scored a dive bombing hit on a damaged enemy cruiser. In the four days of action at Midway, 56 Japanese airplanes were destroyed and 14 damaged by the Marine Air Group and the Sixth Defense Battalion antiaircraft gunners. The Marines scored two hits on an enemy carrier and one on a cruiser. The Navy's night patrol plane attack scored two torpedo hits on enemy transports. The Army Flying Fortresses hit two carriers, two battleships, a heavy cruiser and a transport.
Thirty-eight of our airplanes based at Midway were lost in action.
While the land-based defenders of Midway were fighting so gallantly, far out at sea our aircraft carriers were making history. Following the battle, Capt G D Murray, commanding officer of one carrier, said,
"Your air groups, both pilots and gunners, displayed a spirit of fearlessness, resolution and determination throughout all action. This spirit, though shared by pilots and gunners alike, found its highest expression in the person of the Air Group Commander, Lieut Comm C W McCluskey, Jr, USN."
Lieutenant Commander McCluskey's air group was made up of Douglas Dauntless dive bombers, Devastator torpedo bombers and Grumman Wildcat fighters from squadrons led by Lieut R H Best, Lieut W E Gallaher, Lieut Comm E E Lindsey, and Lieut L H Bauer. These squadrons made four attacks on the enemy fleet, with far-reaching results.
At noon on June 4, the Dauntlesses from the bombing and scouting squadrons made contact with a powerful enemy force consisting of four aircraft carriers, two battleships, four cruisers and six destroyers. Lieutenant Commander McCluskey and one group attacked the carrier Kaga while another group concentrated on the carrier Akagi. At least eight direct hits were made on the first carrier. The smoke from resulting fires made an accurate count impossible. At least three hits were scored on the second carrier which began to flame and smoke. The second division of the second group dove on the first carrier and registered hits with 1,000-pound bombs. The third division divided its attack between two carriers. Three carriers in all were left with raging flames and mountainous clouds of smoke filling the horizon.
Enemy antiaircraft fire and Zero and Messerschmitt fighters concentrated on our dive bombers during their retirement. Eighteen failed to return, although six pilots and five gunners of this number were later recovered.
It was during this action that Lieutenant Commander Lindsey and nine other torpedo plane pilots were lost. They pressed their attack home on this group of enemy carriers, and concentrated especially on the Kaga in the face of concentrated fire from all types of surface ships and despite the attacks of nearly 25 Zero fighters.
The second sortie by this air group was made on the afternoon of the same day. Seventeen of its dive bombers, reenforced by seven from the Yorktown, dove out of the sun on the carrier Soryu and an unidentified Japanese battleship. Six direct hits were observed on the carrier and two on the battleship. The carrier was set afire from bow to stern. Three dive bombers were lost in this engagement.
On June 5 a third attack was launched and a light cruiser was bombed with unobserved results. The air group's fourth attack the next day registered five direct hits on a cruiser of the Mogami class, and hits on another cruiser. The Mogami class cruiser was left dead in the water and emitting heavy black smoke. Six accompanying fighters strafed two destroyers at point blank range.
During the entire daylight period of the battle, fighting squadrons maintained a combat air patrol over our forces. On one day alone, one squadron shot down nine Japanese airplanes. On June 4, Torpedo Squadron Eight was launched to participate in the attack on the enemy carriers. Gallantly led by Lieut Comm John C Waldron, this squadron was lost in its entirety except for Ens G H Gay, whose "fishes' eye view" of the action became a famous story. Personnel of VT-8 were recommended to the Board of Awards "For conspicuous gallantry and exceptionally distinguished service in gallantly delivering a torpedo attack against the enemy for driving home an effective attack against a terrific hail of antiaircraft fire and a murderous assault of many Japanese fighter planes, far above and beyond the dictates of duty." Pilots were awarded the Navy Cross; enlisted gunners the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The same formation of four enemy carriers attacked by VT-8 on June 4 was also attacked by the Yorktown air group. Lieut Comm Oscar Pederson was air group commander aboard the Yorktown. His group was made up of squadrons under Lieut Comm J S Thach, Lieut Comm L E Massey, Lieut Comm M F Leslie, and Lieut W C Short.
This group also arrived over the enemy force about noon. The torpedo planes were heavily attacked during their approach. Seven members of this group, including Lieutenant Commander Massey, were lost before their attack, and three afterwards. In the face of heavy fighter opposition and antiaircraft fire, the torpedo planes scored three hits on one carrier and one on another.
The dive bombers began their dive from 14,000 feet, maintaining a steady aim on the Soryu. They continued down through a ring of gunfire and made six direct hits. Two dive bombers saw that the carrier was doomed to sink and diverted their attack to a cruiser, scoring a direct hit. Two others likewise shifted to a battleship and left it smoking. The carrier was an inferno. All the dive bombers departed safely.
As these dive bombers were about to land back aboard the Yorktown, a force of 17 Japanese bombers protected by 18 fighters came in to attack. Our dive bombers and fighters were ordered to intercept. Seven of the enemy got through our combat patrol and the Yorktown was badly damaged by bomb hits from three of them. All Yorktown aircraft were ordered to land on another carrier.
An hour and a half later a formation of Japanese torpedo planes resumed the attack on the . All but one of these were shot down by our fighters or by the Yorktown's antiaircraft fire. One torpedo, however, struck the ship and all power was lost. She began to list and "abandon ship" was ordered.
Next day a salvage party, led by her commanding officer, boarded her. Work was progressing satisfactorily when a salvo of torpedoes hit the Yorktown and the USS Hamann, her escort. The Hamann was lost and the next morning the Yorktown sank with all her battle flags flying. During her career she sank three cruisers, three destroyers, five auxiliaries and played a leading part in sinking four carriers.
Her airplanes continued the fight.
Following the loss of VT-8, a fighting squadron from the same carrier joined the fight above the Yorktown. Three Zeros and two dive bombers fell before their guns. This carrier then launched a second attack group with a resulting three hits on a battleship and two on a heavy cruiser.
On the morning of June 6 this group scored again, this time with three hits on a battleship, two on a heavy cruiser and one on a destroyer. All planes but one returned from this attack.
In the afternoon the same carrier's scout bombers drove home the last attack of the battle. Six hits were made on a light cruiser; one on a destroyer. A heavy cruiser was struck with a 1,000-pound bomb and left completely gutted by fire, with personnel abandoning ship.
Lieutenant Commander Thach's squadron accounted for 25 enemy airplanes shot down and 15 probably shot down. Lieutenant Commander Thach shot down three fighters and a torpedo plane. Lieut (jg) A J Brassfield got four bombers and probably two more. Lieut (jg) E S McCuskey got three bombers, two fighters and probably three more bombers. Machinist D C Barnes shot down two torpedo planes and probably two fighters.
Enemy losses were as follows:
Our losses were as follows:
As one prong of the Japanese force struck at Midway, the other headed northeastward where our defenses were not so strongly bulwarked. The enemy thrust at the Aleutians met with more success.
Part of this success certainly was due to the weather. For days before the Japanese struck at Dutch Harbor, the Navy's Consolidated Catalinas searched for their oncoming forces with but meager results. Under cover of fog and low-lying cloud banks, the enemy steamed toward our positions with his main units unobserved in spite of the most vigorous and extensive searches. Despite this fact a warm reception greeted the two enemy raids on Dutch Harbor on the 3rd and 5th of June. Little damage was done to our establishment there.
Attempts to locate the main force of the enemy were continuously pressed by both the Navy's Catalinas and the Army's Flying Fortresses. On the afternoon of June 19, a Catalina pilot located the first sign of the enemy landing at Kiska and Attu. On the way back he bombed a light cruiser and a destroyer.
By this time reinforcements of Catalinas from two patrol squadrons had been ordered from San Diego and other bases. They proceeded with the utmost speed, and one patrol squadron was making bombing runs on Kiska on the fourth day after their departure from San Diego.
Catalinas made numerous bombing attacks on cruisers, destroyers and submarines and, on June 12, the bombing of Kiska began in earnest. For the next 48 hours every plane available to one patrol wing shuttled almost continuously from Dutch Harbor to Kiska, dropped its bombs and returned for more. Army Flying Fortresses assisted in these raids which were kept up day and night. The pilots of the Catalinas dove down through the overcast at Kiska like dive bombers, released their bombs and then often made four-handed pull-outs on the controls to get back into the overcast. Ground crews worked round the clock without rest to keep the flying boats in service. One pilot flew 19¾ hours out of 24. Another flew 178 hours in 18 days. The entire crew of a seaplane tender worked 36 hours without sleep. Bombs by the score were dropped on enemy warships, transports and shore installations.
Following these heavy raids on Kiska, the patrol wing settled down to a grueling routine of search flights, during which tens of thousands of miles were flown in preparation for the landing of Army troops in the Andreanofs.
During the movement of troops to their new positions early in August, the wing acted as a close screening force for our transports. It has continued to cooperate with the growing Army force of bombers and fighters in the efforts to blast the enemy from the Aleutian chain.
During the early morning of August 7 the Navy, in a surprise move, struck swiftly at the Jap-held Solomon Islands. Under cover of a heavy overcast and protected by carrier-based aircraft and supporting fire from surface vessels, an amphibious force of Marines landed and established several beachheads. So complete was the surprise that 18 Japanese seaplanes and a schooner were caught in a harbor of the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area and sunk. By nightfall this operation which was under the general direction of Adm Chester W Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet had progressed to the point where our troops had captured most of Tulagi, all of Gavutu, had occupied a position at Halavo on Florida Island, and had taken a strong beachhead in the Tenaru River region of Guadalcanal.
The first enemy counterattack developed at about 3:20 PM on August 7 when 25 heavy bombers attacked the occupying forces. No hits were scored, but anti-aircraft fire from our surface ships brought down two bombers and damaged two more. At about noon on August 8 at least 40 Jap torpedo planes came in to attack our ships in the harbor. One destroyer and one unloaded transport were hit. Twelve enemy planes were shot down by our fighter planes and anti-aircraft and two were destroyed by gunfire from shore batteries. During the enemy air attacks on August 7 and 8 our carrier-based planes and antiaircraft batteries shot down 47 Jap planes of different types. Besides, our carrier aircraft dive bombed a number of enemy shore batteries and supply centers.
By noon of August 10 the Marines had overcome all major opposition on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, Makambo and parts of Florida Island and had begun "mopping up" operations.
Since our first landing in the Solomons on August 7 the fighting has continued, with the Japanese strength in the region gradually being dissipated. During the night of October 5-6, for example, Navy and Marine Corps dive bombers and torpedo planes from Guadalcanal attacked six enemy destroyers which had been located by our search planes. The ships were attempting to assist enemy landing operations at the northwestern end of the island. One destroyer was sunk and another damaged. When the Japs continued reinforcement operations, Navy and Marine dive bombers on October 8 attacked an enemy surface force northwest of Guadalcanal. The force included a cruiser and five destroyers. The cruiser was hit by a torpedo and bombs. During the air battle which followed four enemy seaplanes were shot down. Two of our planes were lost.
In the early part of November our air reconnaissance revealed a heavy concentration of Jap transports, cargo ships and combatant units in the New Britain-Northwestern Solomons region. On November 10 it became evident that the expedition, an all-out attempt by the Japs to retake the Solomons, was being launched in force. Other Jap detachments moved southeastward toward Guadalcanal from Rabaul and Buin. Among US units which went to intercept them were many Army bombers from Gen Douglas MacArthur's command.
The spearhead of the Jap attack included, as nearly as could be estimated at the time, two battleships of the Kongo class, two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and about 10 destroyers. This unit reached the Guadalcanal area shortly after midnight on the morning of November 13, intending to bombard our shore positions and prepare for a large landing from transports. The force, formed into three groups, was engaged by units of our fleet and a close-range battle developed, the first such battle of the war. In a furious night engagement the Japs appeared to grow confused; during the latter part of it the three Jap groups were firing at one another. Shortly thereafter the Japs withdrew from the battle and retired hastily northward.
During the next day our aircraft made continuous attacks on damaged enemy ships that remained in the area. A Jap transport force that was intercepted heading for Guadalcanal from Bougainville was struck heavily by our air forces. At least eight of the transports were sunk. The rest of them continued toward Guadalcanal. During the night of November 14-15 Navy surface forces engaged Jap surface units in the Guadalcanal area. On the morning of the 15th, four Jap transports were found beached and were attacked by air, artillery and Naval gun fire. They were destroyed. That same day our patrol aircraft reported the Japanese forces again withdrawing to the northward, once more frustrated completely in a large-scale attempt to smash our growing power in the Pacific.
During the November actions mentioned above the Japs suffered the following losses:
Our losses were:
Total Japanese losses announced by Navy Department Communiques No 1 to 194, which cover the entire War through November 16, are as follows: (Some of the losses listed below were inflicted by Marine Corps and Army forces.)
|Cargo and Supply||65||7||22||94|
|Total ships of all types||208||36||169||413|
This article was originally published in the February, 1943, "US Naval Aviation At War" Special Issue of Flying magazine, vol 32, no 2, pp 71-76, 192, 199-200, 202.
A PDF of the B-17-centric sections of this article [ PDF, 0.7 MiB ] is available.
The original article includes two photos of Pearl Harbor, photo of 20-mm AA guns on a carrier, a four-panel series from Coral Sea, the Lexington sinking at Coral Sea, a TBF damaged at Midway, a TBD over Wake Island, an SOC over one of the Marshalls, aerial photos of bomb damage at Guadalcanal, the Jean Bart at Casablanca, and an airfield on Guadalcanal.
Photos are not credited, but most probably come from the Navy.