The story of
the USS Yorktown
and the Battles of
Coral Sea and Midway
After fitting out, the new aircraft carrier trained in Hampton Roads and
in the southern drill grounds off the Virginia capes into January of 1938,
conducting carrier qualifications for her newly embarked air group.
Yorktown sailed for the Caribbean on 8 January 1938 and arrived
Puerto Rico, on
13 January. Over the ensuing month, the carrier conducted her shakedown,
touching at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Gonaives, Haiti;
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone. Departing Colon
Bay, Cristobal, on 1 March, Yorktown
sailed for Hampton Roads and arrived there on the 6th and shifted to the
Norfolk Navy Yard the next day for post-shakedown availability.
After undergoing repairs through the early autumn of 1938, Yorktown
shifted from the navy yard to NOB Norfolk on 17 October and soon headed
for the Southern Drill Grounds for training.
Yorktown operated off the eastern seaboard, ranging from Chesapeake
Bay to Guantanamo Bay, into 1939. As flagship for Carrier Division (CarDiv)
2, she participated in her first war game-Fleet Problem XX-along with her
sistership Enterprise (CV-6) in February 1939. The scenario for the exercise
called for one fleet to control the sea lanes in the Caribbean against
the incursion of a foreign European power while maintaining sufficient
naval strength to protect vital American interests in the Pacific. The
maneuvers were witnessed, in part, by President Roosevelt, embarked in
the heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30).
The critique of the operation revealed that carrier operations-a part of
the scenarios for the annual exercises since the entry of Langley (CV-1)
into the war games in 1925-had achieved a new peak of efficiency. Despite
the inexperience of Yorktown and Enterprise-comparative
newcomers to the Fleet-both carriers made significant contributions to
the success of the problem. The planners had studied the employment of
carriers and their embarked air groups in connection with convoy escort,
antisubmarine defense, and various attack measures against surface ships
and shore installations. In short, they worked to develop the tactics that
used when war actually
Following Fleet Problem XX, Yorktown
returned briefly to Hampton Roads before sailing for the Pacific on 20
April. Transiting the Panama Canal a week later,
soon commenced a regular routine of operations with the Pacific Fleet.
Operating out of San Diego into 1940, the carrier participated in Fleet
Problem XXI that April.
Fleet Problem XXI-a two-part exercise-included some of the operations that
would characterize future warfare in the Pacific. The first part of the
exercise was devoted to training in making plans and estimates; in screening
and scouting; in coordination of combatant units; and in employing fleet
and standard dispositions. The second phase included training in convoy
protection, the seizure of advanced bases, and, ultimately, the decisive
engagement between the opposing fleets. The last pre-war exercise of its
type, Fleet Problem XXI, contained two exercises (comparatively minor at
the time) where air operations played a major role.
Fleet Joint Air Exercise 114A prophetically pointed out the need to coordinate
Army and Navy defense plans for the Hawaiian Islands, and Fleet Exercise
114 proved that aircraft could be used for high altitude tracking of surface
forces-a significant role for planes that would be fully realized in the
war to come.
With the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian waters after the conclusion
of Fleet Problem XXI,
in the Pacific off the west coast of the United States and in Hawaiian
waters until the following spring, when the success of German U-boats preying
upon British shipping in the Atlantic required a shift of American naval
strength. Thus, to reinforce the Atlantic Fleet, the Navy transferred a
substantial force from the Pacific including Yorktown,
a battleship division, and accompanying cruisers and destroyers.
Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor on 20 April 1941 in company with Warrington
(DD-381), and Jouett
(DD-396); headed southeast, transited the Panama Canal on the night of
6 and 7 May, and arrived at Bermuda on the 12th. From that time to the
entry of the United States into the war, Yorktown
conducted four patrols in the Atlantic, ranging from Newfoundland to Bermuda
and logging 17,642 miles steamed while enforcing American neutrality.
Although Adolph Hitler had forbidden his submarines to attack American
ships, the men who manned the American naval vessels were not aware of
this policy and operated on a wartime footing in the Atlantic.
On 28 October, while Yorktown, battleship New
Mexico (BB-41), and other
were screening a convoy, a destroyer picked up a submarine contact and
dropped depth charges while the convoy itself made an emergency starboard
turn, the first of the convoy's three emergency changes of course. Late
that afternoon, engine repairs to one of the ships in the convoy, Empire
Pintail, reduced the convoy's speed to 11 knots.
During the night, the American ships intercepted strong German radio signals,
indicating submarines probably in the vicinity reporting the group. Rear
Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commanding the escort force sent a destroyer to
sweep astern of the convoy to destroy the U-boat or at least to drive him
The next day, while cruiser scout-planes patrolled overhead, Yorktown
(CL-42) fueled their escorting destroyers, finishing the task just at dusk.
On the 30th, Yorktown was preparing
to fuel three destroyers when other escorts made sound contacts. The convoy
subsequently made 10 emergency turns while Morris
(DD-417) and Anderson
(DD-411) dropped depth charges, and Hughes
(DD-410) assisted in developing the contact. Anderson later made two more
depth charge attacks, noticing "considerable oil with slick spreading but
The short-of-war period was becoming more like the real thing as each day
went on. Elsewhere on 30 October and more than a month before Japanese
planes attacked Pearl Harbor, U-562 torpedoed the destroyer Reuben
James (DD-245), sinking her with a heavy loss of life-the first loss
of an American warship in World War II.
After another Neutrality Patrol stint in November, Yorktown
put into Norfolk on 2 December and was there five days later when American
fighting men in Hawaii were rudely awakened to find their country at war.
The early news from the Pacific was bleak: the Pacific Fleet had taken
a beating. With the battle line crippled, the unhurt American carriers
assumed great importance. There were, on 7 December, only three in the
known as The Blue Ghost), and Saratoga
(CV-3). While Ranger
(CV-7), and the recently commissioned Hornet
(CV-8) remained in the Atlantic,
departed Norfolk on 16 December 1941 and sailed for the Pacific, her secondary
gun galleries studded with new 20-millimeter Oerlikon machine guns. She
reached San Diego, Calif., on 30 December 1941 and soon became flagship
Fletcher was the prime US seagoing commander of 1942. He had held command
of Yorktown ever since she participated in the Pacific battles, and had
earlier been commander of a cruiser division, besides holding the job of
Commander, Cruisers, Pacific Fleet.
These posts had made him an able carrier commander,
for this part of the war. Fletchers
mission, as given by Admiral Nimitz, had left open
to him what he wanted to do once
arriving at the meeting point with Fitch's carrier.
Rear Admiral Frank
Jack Fletcher's newly formed Task Force (TF) 17.
The carrier's first mission in her new theater was to escort a convoy carrying
Marine reinforcements to American Samoa. Departing San Diego on 6 January
Yorktown and her consorts covered
the movement of marines to Tutuila and Pago Pago to augment the garrison
Having safely covered that troop movement, Yorktown,
in company with sistership Enterprise, departed Samoan waters on 25 January.
Six days later, TF 8 built around Enterprise, and TF 17, built around Yorktown,
parted company. The former headed for the Marshall Islands, the latter
for the Gilberts-each bound to take part in the first American offensive
of the war, the Marshalls-Gilberts raids.
At 0517, Yorktown-screened by Louisville
(CA-28) and St.
Louis (CL-49) and four destroyers-launched 11 torpedo planes (Douglas
TBD-1 Devastators) and 17 scout bombers (Douglas
SBD-3 Dauntlesses) under the command of Comdr. Curtis W. Smiley. Those
planes hit what Japanese shore installations and shipping they could find
at Jaluit, but adverse weather conditions hampered the mission in which
six planes were lost. Other Yorktown
planes attacked Japanese installations and ships at Makin and Mili Atolls.
The attack by TF 17 on the Gilberts had apparently been a complete surprise
since the American
force encountered no enemy surface ships. A single, four-engined, Kawanishi
E7K "Mavis," patrol-bomber seaplane attempted to attack American destroyers
that had been sent astern in hope of recovering planes over-due from the
Jaluit mission. Antiaircraft fire from the destroyers drove off the intruder
before he could cause any damage.
Later, another "Mavis"-or possibly the same one that had attacked the destroyers-came
out of low clouds 15,000 yards from Yorktown.
carrier with-held her antiaircraft fire in order not to interfere with
the combat air patrol (CAP) fighters. Presently, the "Mavis," pursued by
two Wildcats, disappeared behind a cloud. Within
five minutes, the enemy patrol plane fell out of the clouds and crashed
in the water.
Although TF 17 was slated to make a second attack on Jaluit, it was canceled
because of heavy rainstorms and the approach of darkness. Therefore,
Yorktown force retired from the
Chester W. Nimitz later called the Marshalls-Gilberts raids "well conceived,
well planned, and brilliantly executed."
The results obtained
by TF's 8 and 17 were noteworthy Nimitz continued in his subsequent report,
because the task forces
had been obliged
to make their attacks somewhat blindly, due to lack of hard intelligence
data on the Japanese-mandated
Yorktown subsequently returned to Pearl Harbor and replenished
she put to sea
on 14 February, bound for the Coral Sea. On 6 March, she
TF 11-formed around Lexington and under the command of
Rear Admiral Wilson
Brown-and headed towards Rabaul and Gasmata to attack
there in an effort to check the Japanese advance and to cover the landing
of Allied troops at Noumea, New Caledonia. However, as the two flattops-screened
by a powerful force of eight heavy cruisers (including the Australian HMAS
Australia) and 14 destroyers-steamed toward New Guinea, the Japanese continued
their advance toward Australia with a landing on 7 March at the Huon Gulf,
in the Salamana-Lae area on the eastern end of New Guinea.
Word of the Japanese operation prompted Admiral Brown to change the objective
of TF 11's strike from Rabaul to the Salamana-Lae sector. On the morning
of 10 March 1942, American carriers launched aircraft from the Gulf of
Papua. Lexington flew off her air group commencing at 0749 and, 21 minutes
later, Yorktown followed suit. While
the choice of the gulf as the launch point for the strike meant that the
planes would have to fly some 125 miles across the Owen Stanley mountains-a
range not known for the best flying conditions-that approach provided security
for the task force and
In the attacks that followed, Lexington's SBD's from Scouting Squadron
2 commenced dive-bombing
Japanese ships at Lae at 0922. The carrier's Torpedo Squadron (VT) 2 and
Bombing Squadron (VB) 2 attacked shipping at Salamaua at 0938. Her fighters
from Fighter Squadron (VF) 2 split up into four-plane attack groups: one
strafed Lae and the other, Salamaua.
Yorktown's planes followed on the heels of those from "Lady
Lex." VB-5 and
VT-5 attacked Japanese
ships in the Salamaua area at 0950, while VS-5 went after auxiliaries moored
close in shore at Lae. The fighters of VF-42 flew over Salamana on CAP
until they determined that there was no air opposition and then strafed
surface objectives and small boats in the harbor.
After carrying out their missions, the American planes returned to their
carriers, and 103 planes of the 104 launched were back safely on board
by noon. One SB3-2 of VS-2 had been downed by Japanese antiaircraft fire.
The raid on Salamana and Lae was the first attack by many pilots of both
carriers; and, while the resultant torpedo and bombing accuracy was inferior
to that achieved in later actions, the operation gave the fliers invaluable
experience which enabled them to do so well in the Battle of the
Coral Sea and the
Battle of Midway.
Task Force 11 retired at 20 knots on a southeasterly course until dark,
when the ships steered eastward at 15 knots and made rendezvous with Task
Group (TG) 11.7 (four heavy cruisers and four destroyers) under Rear Admiral
John G. Crace, Royal Navy-the group that had provided cover for the carriers
on their approach to New Guinea.
Yorktown resumed her patrols in the Coral Sea area, remaining at sea
into April, out of reach of Japanese land-based aircraft and ready to carry
out offensive operations whenever the opportunity presented itself. After
the Lae-Salamaua raid, the situation in the South Pacific seemed temporarily
Yorktown and her consorts
in TF 17 put in to the undeveloped harbor at Tongatabu, in the Tonga Islands,
for needed upkeep, having been at sea continuously since departing from
Pearl Harbor on 14
the enemy was soon on the move. To Admiral Nimitz, there seemed to
be "excellent indications
that the Japanese intended to make a seaborne attack on Port Moresby the
first week in May." Yorktown accordingly
departed Tongatabu on 27 April, bound once more for the Coral Sea.
11-commanded by Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, who had relieved Brown in
Harbor to join
Fletcher's TF 17 and arrived in the vicinity of Yorktown's
group, southwest of the New Hebrides Islands, on 1 May.
At 1517 the next afternoon, two Dauntlesses from VS-5 sighted a Japanese
submarine, running on the surface. Three Devastators took off from Yorktown
to the scene, and carried out an attack that only succeeded in driving
the submarine under.
On the morning of the 3d, TF 11 and TF 17 were some 100 miles apart, engaged
in fueling operations. Shortly before midnight, Fletcher received word
from Australian-based aircraft that Japanese transports were disembarking
troops and equipment at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.
Arriving soon after the Australians had evacuated the place, the Japanese
landed to commence construction of a seaplane base there to support their
Yorktown accordingly set course northward at 27 knots. By daybreak
on 4 May, she was within striking distance of the newly established Japanese
beachhead and launched her first strike at 0701-18 F4F-3's of VF-42, 12
TBD's of VT-5, and 28 SBD's from VS and BY-5. Yorktown's
air group made three consecutive attacks on enemy ships and shore installations
at Tulagi and Gavutu on the south coast of Florida Island in the Solomons.
Expending 22 torpedoes and 76 1,000-pound bombs in the three attacks, Yorktown's
planes sank a destroyer (Kikuzuki),
three minecraft, and four barges. In addition, Air Group 5 destroyed five
enemy seaplanes, all at the cost of two F4F's lost (the pilots were recovered)
and one TBD (whose crew was lost).
Meanwhile, that same day, TF 44, a cruiser-destroyer force under Rear Admiral
Crace (RN), joined Lexington's TF 11, thus completing the composition of
the Allied force on the eve of the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea.
Elsewhere, to the northward, the enemy was on his way. Eleven troop-laden
transports-escorted by destroyers and covered by the light carrier Shoho,
four heavy cruisers, and a destroyer-steamed toward Port Moresby. In addition,
another Japanese task force-formed around the two Pearl Harbor veterans,
carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, and screened by two heavy cruisers and six
destroyers-provided additional air cover.
On the morning of the 6th, Fletcher gathered all Allied forces under his
tactical command as TF 17. At daybreak on the 7th, he dispatched Crace,
with the cruisers and destroyers under his command, toward the Louisiade
archipelago to intercept any enemy attempt to move toward Port Moresby.
Meanwhile, while Fletcher moved northward with his two flattops and their
screens in search of the enemy, Japanese search planes located the oilerNeosho
(AO-23) and her escort, Sims
(DD-409) and identified the former as a "carrier." Two waves of Japanese
planes-first high level bombers and then dive bombers-attacked the two
ships. Sims-her antiaircraft battery crippled by gun failures-took three
direct hits and sank quickly with a heavy loss of life. Neosho was more
fortunate in that, even after seven direct hits and eight near-misses,
she remained afloat until, on the 11th, her survivors were picked up by Henley
(DD-391) and her hulk sunk by the rescuing destroyer.
In their tribulation, Neosho and Sims had performed a valuable service,
drawing off the planes that might otherwise have hit Fletcher's carriers.
Yorktown and Lexington's
planes found Shoho and punished that
carrier unmercifully, sending her to the bottom. One of Lexington's pilots
reported this victory with the radio message, "Scratch one flattop."
That afternoon, Shokaku and Zuikaku-still unlocated by Fletcher's forces-launched
27 bombers and torpedo planes to search for the American ships. Their flight
proved uneventful until they ran into fighters from Yorktown
and Lexington, who proceeded to down nine enemy planes in the ensuing dogfight.
Near twilight, three Japanese planes incredibly mistook Yorktown
for their own carrier and attempted to land. The ship's gunfire, though,
drove them off; and the enemy planes crossed Yorktown's
bow and turned away out of range. Twenty minutes later, when three more
enemy pilots made the mistake of trying to get into Yorktown's
landing circle, the carrier's gunners splashed one of the trio.
However, the Battle of the Coral Sea was far from over. The next morning,
8 May, a Lexington search plane spotted Admiral
Takagi's carrier striking force-including Zuikaku and Shokaku, the flattops
that had proved so elusive the day before. Yorktown
planes scored two bomb hits on Shokaku, damaging her flight deck and thus
preventing her from launching aircraft; in addition, the bombs set off
explosions in gasoline storage tanks and destroyed an engine repair workshop.
Lexington's Dauntlesses added another hit. Between the two American air
groups, the hits scored killed 108 Japanese sailors and wounded 40 more.
While the American planes were bedeviling the Japanese flattops, however,
and Lexington-alerted by an intercepted message which indicated that the
Japanese knew of their whereabouts-were preparing to fight off a retaliatory
strike. Sure enough, shortly after 1100, that attack came.
American CAP Wildcats slashed into the Japanese formations, downing 17
planes. Some, though, managed to slip through the fighters and the "Kates"
that did so managed to launch torpedoes from both sides of Lexington's
bows. Two "fish", tore into "Lady Lex" on the port side; dive bombers-"Vals"-added
to the destruction with three bomb hits. Lexington developed a list with
three partially-flooded engineering spaces. Several fires raged belowdecks,
and the carrier's elevators were out of commission.
Meanwhile Yorktown was having problems
of her own. Skillfully maneuvered by
Capt. Elliott Buckmaster,
her commanding officer, the carrier dodged eight torpedoes. Attacked then
by "Vals," the ship managed to evade all but one bomb. That one, however,
penetrated the flight deck and exploded belowdecks, killing or seriously
injuring 66 men.
Yorktown's damage control parties brought the fires under control,
and, despite her wounds, the ship was still able to continue her flight
operations. The air battle itself ended shortly before noon on the 8th;
and within an hour, "Lady Lex" was on an even keel, although slightly down
by the bow. Her damage control parties had already extinguished three out
of the four fires below. In addition, she was making 25 knots and was recovering
her air group.
At 1247, however, disaster struck Lexington, when a heavy explosion, caused
by the ignition of gasoline vapors, rocked the ship. The flames raced through
the ship, and further internal explosions tore the ship apart inside. Lexington
battled for survival; but, despite the valiant efforts of her crew, she
had to be abandoned. Capt. Frederick C. Sherman sadly ordered "abandon
ship" at 1707. Her men went over the side in an orderly fashion and were
picked up by the cruisers and destroyers of the carrier's screen.
Torpedoes fired by Phelps
(DD-360) hastened the end of "Lady Lex." As Yorktown
and her consorts retired from Coral Sea to lick their wounds, the situation
in the Pacific stood altered. The Japanese had won a tactical victory,
inflicting comparatively heavy losses on the Allied force, but the Allies,
in stemming the tide of Japan's conquests in the South and Southwest Pacific,
had achieved a strategic victory. They had blunted the drive toward strategic
Port Moresby and had saved the tenuous life-line between America and Australia.
Yorktown's pilots severely damaged Shokaku. 100 of her crew were dead,
50 wounded. Shokaku was one of Japan's beloved
She and Zuikaku were licking their battle wounds at home during the Battle
of Midway. Had these veteran Japanese carriers been present for that decisive
battle, Admiral Yamamoto might have won, changing
the entire course of events in the war of the Pacific.
Yorktown had not achieved her part in the victory without cost,
but had suffered enough damage to cause experts to estimate that at least
three months in a yard would be required to put her back in fighting trim.
Unfortunately, there was little time for repairs, because Allied intelligence-most
notably the cryptographic unit at Pearl Harbor-had gained enough information
from decoded Japanese naval messages to estimate that the Japanese were
on the threshold of a major operation aimed at the northwestern tip of
the Hawaiian chain-two islets in a low coral atoll known as Midway.
Thus armed with this intelligence, Admiral Nimitz began methodically planning
Midway's defense, rushing all possible reinforcement in the way of men,
planes and guns to Midway. In addition, he began gathering his naval forces-comparatively
meager as they were-to meet the enemy at sea. As part of those preparations,
he recalled TF 16, Enterprise and Hornet (CV-8), to Pearl Harbor for a
Yorktown, too, received orders to return to Hawaii; and she
arrived at Pearl Harbor on 27 May. Miraculously, yard workers there-laboring
around the clock-made enough repairs to enable the ship to put to sea.
Her air group-for the most part experienced but weary-was augmented by
planes and flyers from Saratoga (CV-3) which was then headed for Hawaiian
waters after her modernization on the west coast. Ready for battle, Yorktown
sailed as the central ship of TF 17 on 30 May.
Northeast of Midway,
Rear Admiral Fletcher's flag, rendezvoused with TF 16 under and maintained
a position 10 miles to the northward of the latter. Over the days that
ensued, as the ships proceeded toward a date with destiny, few men realized
that within the next few days the pivotal battle of the war in the Pacific
would be fought.
Patrols, both from Midway itself and from the carriers, proceeded apace
during those days in early June. On the morning of the 4th as dawn began
to streak the eastern sky, Yorktown
launched a 10-plane group of Dauntlesses from VB-5 which searched a northern
semicircle for a distance of 100 miles out but found nothing.
PBY's flying from Midway had sighted the approaching Japanese and broadcast
what turned out to be the alarm for the American forces defending the key
Fletcher, in tactical command, ordered Admiral Spruance, with TF 16, to
locate the enemy carrier force and
strike them as
soon as they were found.
Yorktown's search group returned at 0830, landing soon after
the last of the six-plane CAP had left the deck. When the last of the Dauntlesses
had landed, a flight deck ballet took place in which the deck was spotted
for the launch of the ship's attack group-17 Dauntlesses from VB-3; 12
Devastators from VT-3, and six Wildcats from "Fighting Three." Enterprise
and Hornet, meanwhile, launched their attack groups.
The torpedo planes
from the three American flattops located the Japanese carrier striking
force but met disaster. Of the 41 planes from VT-8, VT-6, and VT-3, only
six returned to Enterprise and Yorktown,
collectively. None made it back to Hornet.
The destruction of the torpedo planes, however, had served a purpose. The
Japanese CAP had broken off their high-altitude cover for their carriers
and had concentrated on the Devastators, flying low "on the deck." The
skies above were thus left open for Dauntlesses arriving from Yorktown
and Enterprise. Virtually unopposed, the SBD's dove to the attack. The
results were spectacular.
Yorktown's dive-bombers pummeled Soryu, making three lethal
hits with 1,000-pound bombs that turned the ship into a flaming inferno.
Enterprise's planes, meanwhile, hit Akagi and Kaga-turning them, too into
wrecks within a very short time. The bombs from the Dauntlesses caught
all of the Japanese carriers in the midst of refueling and rearming operations,
and the combination of bombs and gasoline proved explosive and disastrous
to the Japanese.
Japanese carriers had been lost. A 4th however, still roamed
commanded by Admiral Yamaguchi. Separated from her sisters, that ship had
launched a striking
force of 18 "Vals" that soon located
As soon as the attackers had been picked up on Yorktown's
radar at about 1329, she discontinued the fueling of her CAP fighters on
deck and swiftly cleared for action. Her returning dive bombers were moved
from the landing circle to open the area for antiaircraft fire. The Dauntlesses
were ordered aloft to form a CAP. An auxiliary gasoline tank-of 800 gallons
capacity-was pushed over the carrier's fantail, eliminating one fire hazard.
The crew drained fuel lines and closed and secured all compartments
All of Yorktown's
fighters were vectored out to intercept the oncoming: Japanese aircraft,
and did so some 15 to 20 miles out. The Wildcats attacked vigorously, breaking
up what appeared to be an organized attack by some 18 "Vals" and 18 "Zeroes."
"Planes were flying in every direction," wrote Capt. Buckmaster after the
action, "and many were falling in flames."
Yorktown and her escorts went to full speed and, as the Japanese
raiders attacked, began maneuvering radically. Intense antiaircraft fire
greeted the "Vals" and "Kates" as they approached their release points.
Despite the barrage, though, three "Vals" scored hits. Two of them were
shot down soon after releasing their bomb loads; the third went out of
control just as his bomb left the rack. It tumbled in flight and hit just
abaft number two elevator on the starboard side, exploding on contact and
blasting a hole about 10 feet square in the flight deck. Splinters from
the exploding bomb decimated the crews of the two 1.1-inch gun mounts aft
of the island and on the flight deck below. Fragments piercing the flight
deck hit three planes on the hangar deck, starting fires. One of the aircraft,
a Yorktown Dauntless, was fully fueled
and carrying a 1,000-pound bomb. Prompt action by Lt. A. C. Emerson, the
hangar deck officer, prevented a serious conflagration by releasing the
sprinkler system and quickly extinguishing the fire.
The second bomb to hit the ship came from the port side, pierced the flight
deck, and exploded in the lower part of the funnel. It ruptured the uptakes
for three boilers, disabled two boilers themselves, and extinguished the
fires in five boilers. Smoke and gases began filling the firerooms of six
boilers. The men at number one boiler, however, remained at their post
despite their danger and discomfort and kept its fire going, maintaining
enough steam pressure to allow the auxiliary steam systems to function.
A third bomb hit
the carrier from the starboard side pierced the side of number one elevator
and explode on the fourth deck, starting a persistent fire in the rag storage
space, adjacent to the forward gasoline stowage and the magazines. The
prior precaution of smothering the gasoline system with CO, undoubtedly
prevented the gasoline's igniting.
While the ship recovered from the damage inflicted by the dive-bombing
attack, her speed dropped to six knots; and then-at 1440, about 20 minutes
after the bomb hit that had shut down most of the boilers-Yorktown
slowed to a stop, dead in the water.
At about 1540,
only 40 minutes later, Yorktown prepared
to get underway again; and, at 1550, the engine room force reported that
they were ready to make 20 knots or better.
The "Fighting Lady"
was not yet out of the fight.
Simultaneously, with the fires controlled sufficiently to warrant the resumption
of fueling operations, Yorktown began
fueling the gasoline tanks of the fighters then on deck. Fueling had just
commenced when the ship's radar picked up an incoming air group at a distance
of 33 miles away. While the ship prepared for battle-again smothering gasoline
systems and stopping the fueling of the planes on her flight deck-she vectored
four of the six fighters of the CAP in the air to intercept the incoming
raiders. Of the 10 fighters on board, eight had as much as 23 gallons of
fuel in their tanks. They accordingly were launched as the remaining pair
of fighters of the CAP headed out to intercept the Japanese planes.
At 1600, Yorktown churned forward,
making 20 knots. The fighters she had launched and vectored out to intercept
had meanwhile made contact, Yorktown
that the planes were "Kates." The Wildcats downed at least three of the
attacking torpedo planes, but the rest began their approach in the teeth
of a heavy antiaircraft barrage from the carrier and her escorts.
Yorktown maneuvered radically, avoiding at least two torpedoes
before two "fish" tore into her port side within minutes of each other.
The first hit at 1620. The carrier had been mortally wounded; she lost
power and went dead in the water with a jammed rudder and an increasing
list to port.
As the list progressed, Comdr. C. E. Aldrich, the damage control officer,
reported from central station that, without power, controlling the flooding
looked impossible. The engineering officer, Lt. Comdr. J. F. Delaney, soon
reported that all fires were out; all power was lost; and. worse yet, it
was impossible to correct the list. Faced with that situation, Capt. Buckmaster
ordered Aldrich, Delaney, and their men to secure and lay up on deck to
put on life jackets.
The list, meanwhile, continued to increase. When it reached 26 degrees,
Buckmaster and Aldrich agreed that the ship's capsizing was only a matter
of minutes. "In order to save as many of the ship's company as possible,"
the captain wrote later, he "ordered the ship to be abandoned."
Over the minutes that ensued, the crew left ship, lowering the wounded
to life rafts and striking out for the nearby destroyers and cruisers to
be picked up by boats from those ships. After the evacuation of all wounded,
the executive officer, Comdr. I. D. Wiltsie,
left the ship down a line on the starboard side. Capt. Buckmaster, meanwhile,
toured the ship for one last time, inspecting her to see if any men remained.
After finding no "live personnel," Buckmaster lowered himself into the
water by means of a
line over the stern.
By that point, water was lapping the port side of the hangar deck.
Picked up by the destroyer Hammann
(DD-412), Buckmaster was transferred to
(CA-34) soon thereafter and reported to Rear Admiral Fletcher, who had
shifted his flag to the heavy cruiser after the first dive-bombing attack.
The two men agreed that a salvage party should attempt to save the ship
since she had stubbornly remained afloat despite the heavy list and imminent
danger of capsizing.
Interestingly enough, while the efforts to save Yorktown
had been proceeding apace, her planes were still in action, joining those
from Enterprise in striking the last Japanese carrier-Hiryu-late
four direct hits, the Japanese flattop was soon helpless. She was abandoned
by her crew and left to drift out of control and manned only by her dead.
had been avenged.
Yorktown, as it turned out, floated through the night; two men
were still alive on board her-one attracted attention by firing a machine
gun that was heard by the sole attending destroyer, Hughes. The escort
picked up the men, one of whom later died.
|Webmaster NOTE - The following was received from Herb
Vanderbeek, a veteran of the Battle of Midway reference to the above information:
|I was on the USS HUGHES (DD-410) during the whole Midway
Battle and while my memory is decidedly amiss at times I have a minor correction
to offer. After the battle the Hughes was assigned as sub screen which
we did alone round and round the "abandoned" ship. The emergency generator
was clearly heard on the list side. At some time during the second day
while on break from the radar watch I noticed little spouts of water walking
away in a straight line from the Yorktown. That's strange I thought. We
were then moving away from the list side on our patrol. The lookout
said "Oh, that's caused by flying fish." On the next pass it happened again
so I reasoned that it was a gun being aimed and shot at us to get our attention.
I brought it to the attention of the OD. The Gig was lowered with a boarding
party. They found 20 men in sick-bay and one man with enough drive
to go out to get our attention! All 21 were brought over. The man
who got our attention died shortly afterwards. He had been disembowled,
removed his IV and did what was needed. I believe we buried him at sea.
The day the Yorktown went down, the fan-tail was last to be seen. Herb
had selected 29 officers and 141 men to return to the ship in an attempt
to save her. Five destroyers formed an antisubmarine screen while the salvage
party boarded the listing carrier, the fire in the rag storage still smoldering
on the morning of the 6th. Vireo (AT-144), summoned from Pearl and Hermes
Reef, soon commenced towing the ship. Progress, though, was painfully slow.
Yorktown's repair party went on board with a carefully predetermined
plan of action to be carried out by men from each department-damage control,
gunnery air engineering, navigation, communication, supply and medical.
To assist in the work, Lt. Comdr. Arnold E. True brought his ship, Hammann,
alongside to starboard, aft, furnishing pumps and electric power. By mid-afternoon,
it looked as if the gamble to save the ship was paying off. The process
of reducing topside weight was proceeding well-one 5-inch gun had been
dropped over the side, and a second was ready to be cast
loose; planes had
been pushed over the side; the submersible pumps (powered by electricity
provided by Hammann) had pumped out considerable quantities of
water from the
engineering spaces. The efforts of the salvage crew had reduced the list
about two degrees.
Yorktown and the six
nearby destroyers the Japanese submarine I-168 had achieved a favorable
firing position. Remarkably-but perhaps understandable in light of the
debris and wreckage in the water in the vicinity-none of the destroyers
picked up the approaching I-boat.
Suddenly, at 1536, lookouts spotted a salvo of four torpedoes churning
toward the ship from the starboard beam. Hammann went to general quarters,
a 20-millimeter gun going into action in an attempt to explode the "fish"
in the water. One torpedo hit Hammann-her screws churning the water beneath
her fantail as she tried to get
amidships and broke her back. The destroyer jackknifed and went down rapidly.
Yorktown just below
the turn of the
bilge at the after end of the
The fourth torpedo passed
just astern of
Hammann sank in
three minutes. LCDR Arnold E. True, Hammann's CO, broke a rib and lost
his wind. Therefore it was her XO, LT Ralph W. Elden, that ordered all
hands to abandon ship. Misery for her crew, and Yorktown, was added when
her depth charges went off at three levels. Fearing Yorktown might
sink rapidly, Vireo order the tow line cut and doubled back to begin rescuing
Approximately a minute after Hammann's stern disappeared beneath the waves,
an explosion rumbled up from the depths-possibly caused by the destroyer's
depth charges going off. The blast killed many of Hammann's and a few of
men who had been thrown into the water. The concussion battered the already-damaged
carrier's hull and caused tremendous shocks that carried away
auxiliary generator, sent numerous fixtures from the hangar deck overhead
crashing to the deck below; sheared rivets in the starboard leg of the
foremast; and threw men in every direction, causing broken bones and several
minor injuries. Most of the work done by the salvage party over the last
two days was undone in a few horrible seconds. Water began pouring into
the ship through the new holes in the hull. The effect actually lessened
the carriers list futher- to about 17 degrees.
Prospects for immediate resumption of salvage work looked grim, since all
destroyers immediately commenced searches for the enemy submarine (which
escaped) and commenced rescuing men from Hammann and Yorktown.
Capt. Buckmaster decided to postpone further attempts at salvage until
the following day.
Vireo cut the towline and doubled back to Yorktown
to pick up survivors, taking on board many men of the salvage crew while
picking up men from the water. The little ship endured a terrific pounding
from the larger ship but nevertheless stayed alongside to carry out her
rescue mission. Later, while on board the tug, Capt. Buckmaster conducted
a burial service, two officers and an enlisted man from Hammann were committed
to the deep.
The second attempt at salvage, however, would never be made. Throughout
the night of the 6th and into the morning of the 7th, "The
Fighting Lady" remained stubbornly afloat. By 0530 on the 7th, however,
the men in the ships nearby noted that the carrier's list was rapidly increasing
Realizing there was no hope to save her, all who were able, from the other
ships watched. With respect, they removed their hats. Some cried. Many
muttered "The old York's going down. The old York's going down". At 0701,
as if tired, the valiant flattop turned over on her port side, gave a loud
groan, and sank in 3,000 fathoms of water, her battle flags flying.
With the end of
Yorktown, her escorts set off for Pearl Harbor, and the most important
battle to date had come to an end. USS Yorktown
(CV-5) earned three battle stars for her World War II service; two of them
being for the significant part she had played in stopping Japanese expansion
and turning the tide of the war at Coral Sea and at Midway.
of American Naval Fighting Ships