0815 Our carriers probably sighted by enemy seaplane. 1159 Yorktown radar detects enemy planes. 1208 Dive bombers attack Yorktown. 1427 Radar picks up enemy planes. 1441 Torpedo planes attack Yorktown. 1445 Yorktown hit. 1455 Yorktown abandons ship.
It was on the same eventful day, June 4th, that the Yorktown suffered the first two of the three attacks which ultimately sent her to the bottom. The first of these was made by dive bombers, the second by torpedo planes.
At 0815 that morning, while our carriers were launching their last planes for the attack on the Japanese striking force, the radar of Task Force SUGAR detected a Japanese twin-float seaplane 36 miles to the south. It is thought that this plane reported the position of our carriers - probably the first intimation the enemy had of their presence.22 At that time the Japanese bombers were returning from Midway. Undoubtedly the enemy intended to launch a second attack, this time directed at our carriers, as soon as his planes could be refueled and rearmed. But the attack of our torpedo squadrons came just in time to prevent his launching, and our dive bombing attack caught a large number of his planes on deck.
However, one of the enemy carriers, the Hiryu, remained undamaged and had withdrawn to the north. It was from this ship that the planes came to attack the Yorktown.
At 1130 the Yorktown sent out 10 scout bombers, each with one 1,000-pound bomb, to search between 280° and 20° to a distance of 200 miles for the fourth Japanese carrier. Three hours later (1430) while the Yorktown was under attack by torpedo planes, a plane of this group discovered the Hiryu and made a report which enabled the Enterprise and the Hornet to attack her.
About the same time that this search group was launched, a combat air patrol of 12 fighters took off. The patrol of 6 planes which was thus relieved, and the surviving 4 fighters of the escort force which had just
returned were on deck being refueled when at 1159 radar picked up a large number of planes, estimated at 30 or 40, on bearing 250° at a distance of 46 miles. There seemed to be 5 groups, apparently climbing as they approached.
Immediately refueling operations were suspended. The 16 VSB planes which had recently returned from attacking the Japanese carriers and were still in the landing circle were ordered to clear the ship. Fuel lines were drained and C02 introduced under pressure. An auxiliary gasoline tank on the stern was dropped overboard.
Our fighters were ordered out in two waves to intercept the approaching planes. At 15 or 20 miles they encountered about 18 single-engine Bakugeki type 99 Navy dive bombers and 18 fighters at 8,000-10,000 feet. So effective were our fighters that only 8 bombers broke through to meet the formidable screen of antiaircraft fire thrown up by our ships.
When the attack took place the Yorktown was accompanied by two cruisers, the Astoria and Portland , and five destroyers, the Hammann , Morris , Russell , Anderson , and Hughes , cruising in disposition "Victor".23 Radius of the screen was one mile, speed 25 knots. The course and axis of the force were 225°, but as the enemy planes came into sight on bearing 255° course was changed to 110°, then to 145°. When at 1206 fire was opened at a range of 9,000 yards the Portland on the Yorktown's starboard bow and the Astoria on her starboard quarter were near the line of attack and had a clear field of fire.
Since only eight bombers succeeded in evading our fighters, our gunners had to choose individual targets rather than lay a barrage.24 One plane was shot down soon after coming within range. As the next plane came in and dove to its bomb release point it was cut to pieces by antiaircraft fire, but its bomb tumbled on the Yorktown's deck just abaft the number two elevator. The third plane dove and was hit at the instant its pilot released his bomb, which fell so close astern that fragments wounded gunners on the fantail and started small fires, while pieces of the plane fell in the Yorktown's wake. Three planes dove from the port beam and released their bombs before our gunners found them. Two bombs were
misses, one wide and one close to starboard, but the third hit the deck on the starboard side and penetrated the uptakes, where it exploded. The plane which dropped it crashed into the sea beside the ship. A seventh plane circled and dove from ahead. The bomb, dropped an instant before the plane was shot down, hit the number one elevator and exploded above the fourth deck, starting a fire. The last plane missed on the starboard beam. Three hits had been made.
It was all over by 1215. Not one of the bombers escaped.25 The Yorktown was smoking heavily and had come to a stop. Her screening vessels circled her at 2,000 yards, zigzagging at high speed. An hour later (1320) they were joined by the Vincennes , Pensacola , Benham , and Balch from Task Force SUGAR.
Damage to the Yorktown proved not to be serious. The first bomb, mentioned above, blew a hole 10 feet in diameter in the flight deck. It killed and wounded many men on 1.1-inch gun mounts 3 and 4, as well as those on machine guns at the after end of the island and in the hangar. It set fires in planes on the hangar deck, some of which were loaded with torpedoes, but the prompt release of the sprinkler system by Lt. Alberto C. Emerson prevented a serious conflagration.
The second bomb, coming from the port side, went through the flight deck on the starboard side, and, still traveling outward to starboard, penetrated the uptakes, where it exploded just above the third deck level. It was this hit which stopped the Yorktown. The concussion extinguished the fires in all boilers except number one. It also wrecked the Executive Officer's office and ignited paint on the stack. It ruptured the uptake from 1, 2, and 3 boilers in the forward fire room and completely disabled boilers 2 and 3. All boiler rooms were filled with smoke, as No. 1 boiler was discharging through the ruptured uptake into the air intake. Steam pressure dropped and the Yorktown lost speed. However, the personnel of No. 1 boiler remained at their station despite heavy smoke and gas and kept it going. When the throttle was closed, this single boiler was able to maintain pressure for the auxiliary equipment. The third bomb, probably an 800-pounder, struck on the starboard side and penetrated to the fourth deck, where it exploded and started a fire in a rag stowage space. This was near a 5-inch magazine, which had to be flooded, and near a gasoline tank, which was protected by C02.
Repairs were made quickly. The hole in the flight deck was covered in less than half an hour. By 1340 repairs to the uptakes permitted the other boilers to be cut in, except for Nos. 2 and 3, which were disabled. By 1350 the ship was in condition to do about 20 knots, and fires were sufficiently under control to permit refueling of fighters on deck.
Fueling of these planes had just begun when at 1427 the Pensacola, which had assumed radar guard after the Yorktown was damaged, picked up enemy planes bearing 340°, distance 33 miles. There was already in the air a combat patrol of six Yorktown fighters which had rearmed and refueled on board the Enterprise. Four of these were vectored out to intercept the enemy, and in a few seconds the other two followed. The first four, flying at 10,000 to 12,000 feet, overran the enemy planes, which were coming in at 5,000 feet, and had to turn back to find them. The other two met the Japanese 10 to 14 miles out.
Meanwhile on the Yorktown fueling of the planes on deck was hastily suspended and C02 again introduced into the gasoline system. Of the 10 fighters on deck, 8 had sufficient gasoline to go into action. The fourth of these was being launched when the Yorktown's port battery opened fire, and the vessels to starboard of the Yorktown had to hold their fire till our own planes got clear.
When this attack developed the Yorktown was screened by the two cruisers and five destroyers of Task Force FOX, and by the Vincennes, Pensacola, Balch, and Benham, which had been sent from Task Force SUGAR after the first attack on the carrier. This force was in "Victor" formation on course 90°, so that the attack came from port or the port quarter. The Yorktown's speed had been gradually increased to about 20 knots.
The planes which our fighters intercepted at about 12 miles distance proved to be 12 to 16 type 97 Kogekiki (Navy torpedo bombers), escorted by about the same number of fighters. Our fighters shot down 5 to 7 of the torpedo planes before our ships opened fire. About 8 came on, one of which fell soon after coming within range of our anti-aircraft fire.
When fire was opened, the Pensacola and Portland were on the side of the screen advanced toward the attack. The approaching planes were in two groups. One of five headed to pass astern of the Pensacola toward the Yorktown, and two or three to pass ahead of her. They had already started their glide when our vessels to port of the Yorktown
opened fire at 1441 at a range of 12,000 yards. The curtain of fire thrown up by our ships was so heavy that it seemed impossible for a plane to pass through it and survive. Indeed, according to some reports, a few enemy planes circled outside, not daring to come in. Seven or eight, however, came through. As they passed our screening vessels our gunners followed them even though our own ships lay beyond in the line of fire. It seems that only four or five survived long enough to drop their torpedoes. Two of these the Yorktown avoided by skillful maneuvering, so that they passed under her bow. Two others, however, could not be avoided, and they caught her admidships on the port side. The two explosions at 1445 were about 30 seconds apart. The planes which scored these hits were shot down either in passing the Yorktown or in attempting to pass through the fire of her escorting vessels. It is believed that not one of the attacking squadron returned to its carrier.26
By 1447 firing ceased. The Yorktown, listing heavily to port, was losing speed and turning in a small circle to port. She stopped and white smoke poured from her stacks. The screening vessels began to circle.
Inside the Yorktown all lights had gone out. The Diesel generators were cut in, but the circuit breakers would not hold and the ship remained in darkness. The list gradually increased to 26°. Without power nothing could be done to correct it. The Commanding Officer and the Damage Control Officer thought it probable that the ship would capsize in a few minutes, and at 1455 orders were given to abandon ship. Inside, men clambered over steeply sloping decks in total darkness to remove the wounded. After an inspection on which no living personnel were found, the Commanding Officer left the ship.
Destroyers closed in to pick up survivors.
22 It is possible that the enemy did not know of the presence of our carriers until we attacked. He was first heard to ask our carriers' position 4 minutes after our planes approached his carriers.
23 Disposition "Victor" is a circular formation for meeting air attack. Each screening vessel is on an assigned true bearing from the carrier at the center. As the carrier maneuvers, the screening vessels conform to maintain their distance and true bearing (though not their relative position) from the carrier.
24 Reports of the action, while agreeing in essentials, vary considerably in detail. This account depicts the bombing as seen from the Yorktown.
25 According to some reports, one plane may have got away.
26 According to some reports, one or two may have escaped. One was seen leaving with one of our fighters in pursuit.
Last updated: March 1, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation