June 5th: 1308 Vireo takes Yorktown in tow. June 6th: 0200 Hammann , Balch , and Benham join. 0415 Hammann puts salvage party aboard. 0600 Hammann ties up alongside Yorktown. 1335 Torpedo wakes sighted. 1339 Hammann sinks. 1845 Submarine sighted on horizon. June 7th: 0501 Yorktown sinks.
The Yorktown had been abandoned on the afternoon of June 4th. That night the Pensacola and Vincennes departed to rejoin Task Force SUGAR, while Task Force FOX moved off to the eastward, except for the Hughes , which was detached to stand guard over the Yorktown. The intention was to transfer survivors from the destroyers to the Portland , which would then proceed to Pearl Harbor, while the Astoria and destroyers would return next morning to salvage the Yorktown. These plans were modified by a message from Admiral Nimitz that the Fulton had been dispatched to receive survivors. Captain Buckmaster with 180 key officers and men therefore returned with the Hammann, Balch, and Benham to the Yorktown, while the rest of the task force moved on to refuel and subsequently to join the Saratoga .
Meanwhile, back at the Yorktown on the morning of the 5th the Hughes rescued two wounded men who had been overlooked when the
darkened ship was abandoned, and also picked up a Yorktown fighter pilot who appeared in his rubber boat.
At 1135 the mine sweeper Vireo arrived. She had been standing by near Pearl Hermes reef awaiting orders when directed by CINCPAC on the afternoon of the 4th to proceed at once to the damaged Yorktown.56 By 1308 she had the carrier in tow and headed for Pearl Harbor at about 3 knots. The load proved too heavy, however. She was unable to maintain this speed and by the next day was barely able to keep the Yorktown on her course. During the afternoon of the 5th the group was joined by the Gwin 57 and the Monaghan . The former had been en route to join Task Force SUGAR when her orders were modified and she was directed to proceed at 25 knots to join the Yorktown. The Monaghan had been detached from Task Force SUGAR. The Gwin put a salvage party aboard, but it could accomplish little before dusk, when it had to be removed.
At about 0200 on the 6th the Hammann, Balch, and Benham joined the screen circling the Yorktown. About 0415, as soon as there was sufficient light, the Hammann went alongside and transferred to the carrier a salvage party consisting of Captain Buckmaster, 29 officers and 130 men.
Captain Buckmaster had worked out a careful salvage plan. Fires were to be brought under control. The list was to be reduced by pumping and counterflooding and by cutting away all removable weights from the port side including 5-inch guns and aircraft. The remaining guns were to be made fit for action. The rudder was to be brought amidships to facilitate towing.
At 0600 the Hammann was directed to lie off the Yorktown's starboard bow to supply foamite and water to fight the fire and power for operating submersible pumps. It was found impossible for the Hammann to lie clear and keep her position accurately, so that she was secured alongside forward on the Yorktown's starboard side.
By afternoon considerable progress had been made. The fire in the rag storeroom had been put out. The water level in the engine room had been reduced somewhat, and in the third deck aft it had been lowered 3 feet. Two starboard fuel tanks had been flooded. One 5-inch gun had been cut loose on the port side and a second was almost ready for dropping. As a result, the list had been reduced some 2°.
At 1335 four torpedo wakes were sighted to starboard of the Yorktown. Two destroyers in the screen gave the emergency signal, while the Yorktown fired a gun and passed the word "Torpedo Attack!" In the minute which elapsed between the first sighting of the torpedoes and the explosion, the Hammann called to general quarters, Gunnery Officer Lt. (j g.) Charles C. Hartigan ordered the forward machine gunner to open fire on the torpedoes in the hope of detonating them before they arrived, the rear machine gunner also took up the fire, and Captain True signalled full speed astern on the inboard engine in the hope of pulling clear.
The engines were just responding when the torpedoes struck. "The first torpedo appeared to pass under the Hammann in the vicinity of No. 2 gun and exploded against the side of the Yorktown. The second torpedo struck the Hammann in No. 2 fireroom. This torpedo apparently broke the ship's back, as a pronounced sag was noted in this vicinity. Large quantities of oil, water and debris were blown high into the air, coming down on both the Hammann and Yorktown."58 Many, including Captain True, were temporarily stunned either by the force of the explosion or by being thrown violently against some object. The Hammann began to settle rapidly by the head, and the order to abandon ship was given at once.
Two torpedoes hit the Yorktown at the turn of her bilge below the island structure, while the fourth passed astern. The shock of the explosion was only slightly less severe than on the Hammann. The tripod foremast whipped sharply, shearing the rivets in the starboard leg which flew off like bullets. Overhead fixtures in the hangar crashed to the deck. Landing gear of planes collapsed as the decks heaved upward. Men were thrown against bulkheads or into the water. The hole torn in the Yorktown's side apparently flooded the starboard firerooms, for the list was reduced to 17° and she settled a little.
The Hammann disappeared within 3 or 4 minutes of the first explosion, but in this time most of the crew managed to get clear. About a minute after the water closed over her stern there was a tremendous underwater explosion which killed many men and seriously injured more. The cause is unknown. Apparently it was caused either by one of the Hammann's torpedoes (one or two survivors saw one running hot in its tube as the ship sank) or by her depth charges. These had all been set on safe when the Hammann first went alongside the Yorktown, and had
again been checked only about half an hour before the attack. Moreover, B. M. Kimbrel, torpedoman first class, rechecked the depth charges after the torpedo struck, and remained to help stunned shipmates into life jackets and into the water. He probably died in the explosion he had tried to prevent.
Some destroyers rescued survivors from the Hammann and Yorktown, while others hunted the enemy submarine. The hunt lasted all afternoon with many contacts and depth charge attacks, one of which brought up heavy oil. At about 1845 a submarine surfaced on the horizon. The smoke from its Diesels was seen and the Monaghan and Hughes headed for it at full speed. A little later 5-inch gunfire was heard. The search continued several hours with no result except the discovery of an oil slick. It is believed that the submarine escaped with damage.
The Yorktown did not sink at once. Because the destroyers were occupied, it was decided not to attempt further salvage till next day. Before the Vireo took off those that remained of the salvage party, all watertight closures possible were secured, but many quick-acting doors had been sprung and warped by the explosions and many bulkheads weakened. Probably the pounding of the water broke through the center-line bulkhead, flooding the remaining third and fourth deck spaces amidship on the port side.
At 0330 on June 7th it was noticed that the list was increasing. At 0501 "she turned over on her port side and sank in about 3,000 fathoms of water with all her battle flags flying."59
Summary of enemy losses in the Battle of Midway60
- Four carriers sunk: Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, with the loss of all their planes and many of their personnel. Estimated 275 planes, 2400 men.
- Two and probably three battleships damaged, one severely.
- Two Mogami class heavy cruisers sunk,61 three or more heavy cruisers damaged, some severely.
- One light cruiser damaged.
- Three destroyers sunk, a fourth possibly sunk.
- Four transport and cargo vessels hit, one or more possibly sunk.
- Estimated total number of personnel lost: 4,800.
Summary of our losses.
Ships: Yorktown and Hammann sunk.
Planes: About 150 lost in action or damaged beyond repair.
Personnel: 92 officers and 215 men.
56 The Navajo and Seminole were also dispatched to join the Yorktown but did not arrive before she sank.
57 Under the command of Commander John M. Higgins.
58 Captain True's description.
59 Captain Buckmaster's description. Her Position was lat. 30°46' N., long. 167°24' W.
60 Taken from the report of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of United States Pacific Fleet.
61 There is some uncertainty as to whether the second actually sank.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation