Despite the tactical success of the preceding attacks on enemy bases, the Japanese flood of military, naval, and air power continued to pour into British and Dutch possessions in the southwestern Pacific. During the first week of February enemy forces, having overrun Malaya, were approaching Singapore, and were filtering down through Borneo, Celebes, New Guinea, and the Solomons in the direction of Sumatra, Java, and Australia. Because the available strength of the United Nations in this area was so sparse that little more than delaying action could be realistically considered, another diversion in the northern or mid-Pacific seemed advisable to the American naval command. At the least, such an enterprise would increase our security at Midway and at other points in the central and southern Pacific. At the most, by striking in the direction of Japan's homeland, it might disturb the Japanese strategists sufficiently to cause them to halt their far-extended advances in the southwest.
PLAN OF ATTACK
On February 11th organization orders were issued for Task Force HOW. This force was directed to raid Wake Island, which had been under enemy control since December 22d, and Eniwetok Island in the northern Marshalls. It was from this latter island that the Japanese had presumably launched their bombers against Wake. The expedition's announced objectives were: (1) to weaken the enemy and gain information as to his dispositions; (2) to divert enemy strength from his offensives in the southwest; (3) to cover our positions and communications in the mid-Pacific. If, however, important enemy combatant forces were encountered within striking distance, these forces would become the primary objective.
Mention was made that another task force, recently reinforced, was to operate in the Fiji-New Caledonia area, and was to cooperate with the ANZAC forces in taking offensive action against enemy forces which might advance into that area. Friendly submarines would be clear of Wake and Eniwetok by the time Task Force HOW approached those islands. Much information regarding Wake was provided, and was later amplified by new photographs taken by an Army plane. These were developed and printed in Oahu, and then flown to Task Force HOW at sea by a PBY. Information regarding Eniwetok and Marcus, a Japanese island northwest of Wake which might in the task force commander's judgment be substituted for Eniwetok as object for attack, was necessarily meagre.
For the purpose of the raids, Task Force HOW was divided into two groups, the first being commanded by the Task Force Commander, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., and the second by Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher.
- The first group consisted of:
Enterprise, Capt. George D. Murray.
Northampton, Capt. William D. Chandler;
Salt Lake City, Capt. Ellis M. Zacharias;
Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, commander of Cruiser Division FIVE, in Northampton, commanding.
Balch, Commander Charles I. Rend;
Dunlap, Lt. Comdr. Virginius R. Roane;
Maury, Lt. Comdr. Elmer D. Snare;
Craven, Lt. Comdr. Allen P. Calvert;
McCall, Commander Frederick Moosbrugger;
Ralph Talbot, Commander Ralph Earle, Jr.;
Blue, Commander Harold N. Williams;
Capt. Richard L. Conolly, commander of Destroyer Squadron SIX, in Balch, commanding.
Sabine, Commander Hugh L. Maples.
The second consisted of:
Yorktown, Capt. Elliott Buckmaster.
Astoria, Capt. Francis W. Scanland;
Louisville, Capt. Elliott B. Nixon;
Rear Admiral William W. Smith, in Astoria, commanding.
Sims, Lt. Comdr. Willford M. Hyman;
Walke, Lt. Comdr. Thomas E. Fraser;
Russell, Lt. Comdr. Glenn R. Hartwig;
Capt. Charles P. Cecil, commander of Destroyer Squadron THREE, in Anderson, commanding.
- Guadalupe, Commander Harry R. Thurber.
The first group was directed to attack Eniwetok 10 minutes before sunrise February 24th, while the second group simultaneously pounded Wake. Attack on both bases was to be with aircraft and ship bombardment at the discretion of the task force commander. The commander, moreover, was informed that if discovery or other development made attack on Eniwetok inadvisable, he might substitute another target, including Marcus.
Priority of objectives was listed as (1) combatant ships; (2) aircraft, particularly those on ground or water; (3) other ships; (4) aircraft supporting installations, fuel tanks, power and radio installations; (5) troop concentrations and fortifications; (6) storehouses. The groups were specifically ordered to seize any opportunity to destroy important enemy forces. Photographs were to be made if possible, but not to such an extent as to impair the scale of attack. Any fishing boats or other small craft encountered West of longitude 170° were to be regarded as enemy and sunk as quickly as possible. Aircraft were instructed to avoid being sighted by such boats or being observed from islands.
The first group of Task Force HOW left Pearl Harbor, February 14th, in accordance with orders, and the second group followed 2 days later. Proceeding westward toward the attack areas, both groups engaged in target practice and other exercises. Meanwhile the situation in the Pacific southwest had deteriorated even further. Singapore fell to the enemy February 15th, and there now seemed no likelihood of halting his advance short of Australia.
According to an unofficial report, aircraft were vitally needed at this time to guard a large commercial ship which had put in at Palmyra Island, south of Hawaii. At any rate, on February 16th, Admiral Halsey received orders from CINCPAC that the second group of Task Force HOW had been detached and had been redesignated Task Force FOX. This latter force was instructed to proceed to the area of Canton Island in the Phoenix group. The first group of Task Force HOW was ordered to execute the attack on Wake, ignoring Eniwetok.
SHIP BOMBARDMENT OF WAKE ISLAND
(See chart opposite page 56)
The operation order issued February 21st by Admiral Halsey provided only for an aircraft assault on Wake. On the following day, however, he directed the two cruisers, the Northampton and Salt Lake City, and the destroyer leader, Balch, with a second destroyer, the Maury, to bombard Peale (a small island adjoining Wake) and the north end of Wake at the same time the Enterprise's air group was bombing the air field at Wake and the nearby island of Wilkes. In order to increase the chances of surprise, he suggested that the cruisers and their destroyer escort approach Wake from the west. The bombardment was to be synchronized with the air attack; that is, both were to begin 10 minutes before sunrise.
The bombardment group remained with the rest of the task force until late in the afternoon of February 23d when it broke off and began working its way to the westward. No contact was made with the enemy during the night, but at 0505 (all times hereafter cited are Zone Minus 12) an RDF bearing was obtained of a Japanese voice transmission which may possibly have been from a patrol craft reporting the presence of our ships. At that time the bearing of Wake was 157°, distant 37 miles.
In accord with plans, the bombardment group continued to proceed southwest in column, the order of ships being Maury, Northampton, Salt Lake City, and Balch, distance 1,500 yards. At 0641 the column assumed a course of 090°, speed 21.2 knots, and thereafter during the bombardment it pursued a generally easterly or northeasterly course, with Wake and its two satellite islands to starboard. The cruisers refrained from launching their planes until the last minute lest the flash of the catapulting might be seen from the shore and thus compromise the surprise of the Enterprise's planes which were scheduled to arrive over the islands at 0708 (10 minutes before sunrise). As a matter of fact, this proved a needless precaution, as bad weather delayed the launching of the Enterprise air group fully a half an hour. Indeed, 3 Japanese seaplanes were the first to be sighted at 0707. These were of the 95 reconnaissance or Kawanishi type. They subsequently dive-bombed the Maury and Northampton, but their bombs fell wide and did no damage. At that time the ships were about 18 miles from Wake.
Between 0710 and 0722 the Northampton launched four planes and the Salt Lake City two for reconnaissance and spotting purposes, and at
0742, when the range of Peale Island had fallen to 16,000 yards, the column opened the bombardment. The bearing of the island at this time was 115° true. Although the weather was good, a heavy mist covered the islands and it was difficult to see the target, especially since the approach was from the west and the rising sun shone in the eyes of the director pointers, trainers, and range-finder operators. Throughout the bombardment our ships maintained a range of between 14,000 and 16,000 yards. This was at the outer range limit of the shore batteries, as shells from their guns landed at times within 100 yards of the ships. The Maury, leading ship, usually kept 1,000 to 1,500 yards inside of the cruisers.
The bombardment lasted about half an hour, the Northampton ceasing fire, her allowance of main battery ammunition having been expended at 0808, and the three other ships a few minutes later. Peale Island was subjected to extremely heavy fire, and many of the buildings and installations suffered damage. One structure, apparently a gasoline storage, burst into flames, which shot hundreds of feet into the air. Numerous smaller fires were seen. A large dredge in the lagoon near the seaplane ramp was hit and set on fire. Shore batteries, however, along the northern shores of Peale and Wake Islands were not completely silenced.
In the bombardment the Northampton expended 264 rounds of 8-inch common and the Salt Lake City 261 rounds at ranges of from 14,000 to 16,000 yards. The Balch used 995 rounds of 5-inch common and 199 rounds of antiaircraft common at shore objectives varying from 13,700 yards to 16,000 yards. The Maury, the guide ship, expended only about 348 rounds of 5-inch antiaircraft common at shore objectives at ranges of from 8,000 to 12,000 yards. The Maury's expenditure at shore objectives was materially reduced by the necessity of alerting gun battery for and firing at the enemy scout seaplanes which attacked the ship bombardment group.
In the action reports there are distinct differences of opinion as to the effectiveness of the bombardment. One officer states: "Shore batteries present poor targets, and firing at them with cruiser 8-inch is in general considered wasteful of ammunition for the results obtained." Another remarks: "When available, bombardment ammunition should be provided for these operations. With limited expenditures necessitated by use of armor-piercing projectiles, excellent objectives usually appear late in the bombardment. In this case, an excellent enfilade was afforded
on the eastern end of Wake Island which could not be utilized." The destroyers' officers, however, appeared satisfied with the result of their gunfire, one writing, "5-inch gun fire was again apparently effective in silencing shore batteries of the character installed in these islands."
No damage or casualties were suffered during the exchange of gunfire, but at 0828 the Northampton's radar went out of commission because of the collapsing of the antenna array from the shock of the ship's own guns.
Following the bombardment the planes attached to the cruisers were directed to bomb the islands. Previously they had rendezvoused and climbed to a spotting station about 5,000 feet up and north of Peale and Wake Islands. At 0830, in accord with orders, they delivered a dive-bombing attack on buildings located on the northwest tip of Wake, dropping eleven 100-pound bombs. "Dropping our little, puny bombs with our obsolete aircraft was more a gesture than anything else," one of the participating pilots has since remarked. During the course of this attack the SOC's were themselves attacked by a Japanese seaplane of the same type. Although the enemy plane was, by all accounts, superior to ours both in power and speed and made six attacks, the cruiser planes escaped undamaged.
Meanwhile the ships were proceeding to a rendezvous point about 20 miles northeast of Wake. On the way, at 0845, the Maury opened fire on a Japanese patrol boat of about 175 tons. Planes from the Enterprise had previously been seen bombing the craft. The Maury quickly sank the boat with shots from guns 2 and 3 at 3,000 yards range. While attention of her officers and men was concentrated on the possibility of rescuing survivors, an enemy seaplane made a surprise bombing attack, dropping two bombs 50 yards on the Maury's port beam without being taken under fire. The Maury immediately abandoned any idea of rescuing the Japanese. Between 0919 and 0947 the Northampton and Salt Lake City recovered their six SOC planes, and the column set a course of 040°, speed 25 knots. No casualties were suffered by the air personnel.
As the ships retired to the eastward, an enemy patrol plane was seen to be following them persistently, although always remaining beyond gun range. This plane "shadowed" the group until sunset.
At 1054 an enemy patrol boat of about 400 tons was sighted on bearing 006°, distant 6 miles. The Balch was ordered to sink it, and did so with gunfire in a few minutes. Shortly after the enemy craft sank, an
underwater explosion was heard, believed to have been made by depth charges aboard which had not been set on "safe." At half past 11 the Balch picked up four Japanese survivors, three of whom had superficial cuts. All men were searched, given medical treatment, and placed under guard as prisoners of war.
The rest of the day was uneventful except for the frequent sighting of the "shadowing" enemy plane, which called for constant manning of the antiaircraft guns. A request was radioed to the Enterprise for fighter planes to drive the shadower away, but, as will be related in another place, the Enterprise's planes failed to locate either the ship group or the snooper. At 1743, when it was becoming dark, this patrol plane, or another like it, was seen to be approaching somewhat nearer. All attention was centered on this threat at 6 o'clock when, much higher and from another part of the sky, two twin-engined landplanes appeared and almost immediately released their bombs from an altitude of 13,000 feet before effective antiaircraft fire could be developed. The bombing was accurate, three bombs landing near the Salt Lake City, and one near the Northampton. No damage, however, resulted, and all three planes then disappeared.
In regard to this incident Admiral Spruance, commanding the bombardment group of Task Force HOW, has written: "At the time of the attack cruisers were in line of bearing approximately normal to the sun, to best cope with an attack from that direction. It is interesting to note, however, that in this case the planes made their approach along the line of bearing, in which direction the least effective antiaircraft fire could be developed. The fact that the sun was low (45 minutes before sunset) may have convinced the enemy of the advantages of approach from a direction where least concentration of fire might be expected, rather than from the direction of the sun. Also, both cruisers could be bombed on the same run. The inoperative status of Northampton radar was sorely felt at this time. The approach of these planes undetected may have been caused by too much attention being concentrated on the tracking patrol plane, which was in plain sight. This emphasizes the serious consequence of lookouts and others being distracted from their assigned sectors by such a diversion."
On this same point Captain Zacharias, commanding officer of the Salt Lake City, wrote: "The carrier fighter planes left the scene before all enemy planes (particularly four-engined patrol planes) had been
destroyed. This left the heavy ships vulnerable to shadowing and later bombing, which should have been prevented. It is, therefore, recommended that the carrier be sufficiently close to the heavy ships to send fighters to destroy shadowers when notified of their existence. It is noted that as a result of this shadowing, in addition to the bombing attack made near dark, the persistence of the enemy enabled them to fix the position at dark and provide for a systematic search from that point the next day. The radius of search was just short of finding us. There appears to be a special technique used by the shadower after his bombing planes have arrived in the area. In this case, the shadower, after remaining on the horizon all day and at times invisible, suddenly started an approach as if to attack. This had the effect of centering attention on himself. Meanwhile the bombers at very high altitude approached the release point unobserved until just as they were about to release. Observed at this time proper avoiding action was taken and heavy bombs fell where the ship would have been. It is therefore recommended that in the presence of a shadower a special overhead 'release point' lookout be established in a reclining chair on the bridge, particularly when cloud formations exist as in this case.
At 0730 the following morning the ships rejoined the remainder of Task Force HOW at rendezvous. No damage or casualties had resulted from enemy action. The Maury reported one 5-inch gun not usable after the firing, and the two Salt Lake City planes left on board were damaged somewhat by shock of ship's own gunfire. All commanding officers and executive officers reported conduct of personnel as having been excellent throughout the engagement, efficiency and confidence having been increased by exposure to fire in earlier encounters with the enemy. The Salt Lake City maintained, with good effect, its procedure of keeping personnel below decks informed of progress of the action by means of the loudspeaker.
AIR BOMBING OF WAKE ISLAND
(See chart opposite page 52)
Late in the afternoon of February 23d the carrier Enterprise, with Admiral Halsey commanding Task Force HOW, left the bombardment group and steamed southward toward Wake. The Enterprise was accompanied by four destroyers, the Dunlap, Blue, Ralph Talbot, and Craven. At 0420 her position was latitude 21°6' N., longitude 166°16' E.; and a few minutes later she changed her course to 135°. At 0517, when
the Enterprise was 120 miles north of the island, she headed into the easterly wind at a speed of 25 knots and began launching her planes.
Darkness, rain and a solid overcast shrouded the flight deck. Rich mixtures in the engines, necessitated by conditions, produced in the damp atmosphere a halo effect on the propeller wash which confused some of the pilots.
During the take-off one of the pilots, an experienced flier, rolled off the port bow. His plane was lost, although he himself was rescued, badly injured. The plane guard destroyer failed, however, to find his radioman-gunner, E. P. Jinks, radioman, third class. The bad weather also rendered it difficult for the planes to rendezvous, so that the attack group was unable to take departure until 0650, or 30 minutes later than planned. Additional time was consumed by planes which could not find their proper attack positions until daybreak.
The attack group consisted of the air group commander, Commander Howard L. Young, 18 bombers (SBD's), 18 scout bombers (SBD's), 9 torpedo planes (TBD's) and 6 fighters (F4F's). The bombers and scout bombers were each armed with one 500-pound and two 100-pound bombs (instantaneous fuses). The torpedo planes carried twelve 100-pound bombs each. After these planes were in the air, a combat patrol of 4 fighters was sent up to guard the Enterprise.
Fortunately, as the attack force approached the island, the weather improved with scattered clouds between 3,000 and 5,000 feet affording partial concealment. A surface wind was blowing from the east at 24 knots.
With the bombers and fighters climbing to altitudes varying from 14,000 to 18,000 feet and the torpedo planes to 12,000, the group arrived at the target shortly before 8 o'clock. The bombardment group was then completing its shelling of installations on Peale and the northern part of Wake. Because of this, the air group commander ordered the attack expedited. Within 4 or 5 minutes the bomber squadrons began dive-bombing the airfield and nearby installations, while the torpedo planes commenced horizontal bombing. As no air opposition was encountered, the torpedo planes made independent section attacks.
Failing to find aircraft on or near the field, the dive bombers concentrated on damaging the runway, underground shelters, magazines and other scattered targets indicated on the charts. About half of the scout bombers dropped their three bombs in ripple salvo. The others dropped
their 500-pound bombs in their initial attack; then made a second, and in some cases a third, attack with 100-pound bombs, dive bombing or glide bombing. High speed run-ins were started from 18,000 feet 20 miles out with the final dive being entered between 8,000 and 12,000 feet. The first division of Bombing Squadron SIX attacked the air field from the west and was followed by all of Scouting Squadron SIX. Immediately afterwards the second and third divisions of Bombing Squadron SIX came in from the southeast and east respectively.
A section of the torpedo squadron was joined by the air group commander and the photographic section for a composite bombing run on the gasoline stowage at the southwest end of Wake. Another torpedo section made its first run on an antiaircraft battery east of the new channel on Wilkes Island, and a second on the Pan-American Airways gasoline tanks on the eastern end of the island. Two more drops were made on buildings in the Marine camp. Bombs were released in salvos and ripples.
The sporadic antiaircraft fire from 3-inch and 5-inch batteries on the islands was totally ineffective, although occasionally reaching a height of 19,000 feet. Light- and heavy-caliber machine-gun fire was encountered from pits along the beaches, but this also was generally erratic and showed no evidence of director control.
The scout bombers completed the dive-bombing phase of the attack at about 0815, and finished glide attacks with light bombs a few minutes later, retiring to the eastward. A patrol boat about 10 miles east of Wake was bombed and strafed by a group of scouts just prior to rendezvous. The boat's sinking was hastened by a salvo from one of the bombardment group, presumably the Maury.
At about the same time Ensign Delbert W. Halsey, piloting 6-S-18, reported a four-engine patrol plane 5 miles east of Wake. The fighter patrol descended from 15,000 feet to 1,000 feet through broken clouds, overtook the enemy plane and shot it down. This spectacle, a ship's officer relates, brought cheers from the men in the bombardment group. The fighter pilots credited with bringing the Japanese plane down were Lt. Comdr. Clarence W. McCluskey, Lt. Roger W. Mehle, and E. H. Bayers, radio electrician. The torpedo squadron completed its attack at 0840 and proceeded to eastward for a rendezvous. The other squadrons rendezvoused separately and the entire group reconvened over the carrier about an hour later.
Damage done by the air group included the destruction of two other enemy patrol planes which were bombed while on the ground. The extensive damage to buildings, installations, etc., is described in chart B.
The Enterprise, having recovered the attack group at 1014, retired to the northeast. At 1125 three fighters were launched to attempt interception of the enemy plane reported trailing the cruiser Northampton, which was then about 100 miles to the southwest. Because of changing winds and rain squalls the fighters were unable to locate either the Northampton or the "trailer" plane. Their return to the carrier was also complicated by the weather, a lack of upper air soundings and a subsequent change of course of the Enterprise which was not transmitted to the planes. Much time was consumed before they were able to contact the Enterprise. As a result, Ensign Joseph R. Daly, 6-F-2, ran out of gas and was forced to make a down-wind landing in water close aboard. The plane sank almost immediately, but the pilot was picked up by the destroyer Ralph Talbot virtually uninjured. The duration of this flight was 5 hours, 20 minutes.
One plane and its crew were lost in the attack. The 6-S-8, piloted by Ensign Percy W. Forman, with radioman-gunner J. E. Winchester, aviation machinist's mate, second class, was last seen a little after 8 o'clock retiring eastward at a low altitude with the engine smoking badly. It is believed the pair made a water landing, and were later picked up and made prisoners by the enemy.
Six scout bombers (SBD-2 and 3's) were hit by enemy antiaircraft machine-gun fire. One fighter (F4F-3) was hit by a fitting from the exploding enemy patrol bomber. Damage to all planes was slight, and repairs were rapidly effected. All planes and material functioned satisfactorily with a few minor exceptions.
Recounting his experiences at Wake, an officer of the Enterprise air group has stated: "It was just a matter of going in and unloading your bombs. We found no surface ships at all and no airplanes except three 4-engined big boats, and one of the Japanese destroyers which was probably damaged in their attack on Wake and which they had beached. Also, they have removed the guns and installed them on the island. The only difference that we noticed in Wake from the photographs taken before it was captured by the enemy was that they had dug a trench all the way around the three islands. It appeared that they had planned
to put their guns in there and use it as a trench to defend themselves against any attack that we might try to make."
Another officer of the same command has stated informally: "We made our attack and, in my opinion, made a mistake in not staying there to repeatedly attack them. We have found that you only do real damage when you make a second and third attack. But we knew that an air group was flying up to take possession of the air field that day around 12 o'clock, and also the Japs made a statement that they had 300 American war prisoners still in the construction camp area.
Admiral Halsey, commanding Task Force HOW, wrote in his report: "The lateness of the air group in arriving at the objective, incident to launching delays, was a matter of deep concern, and might well have proved costly had appreciable enemy air opposition existed. Otherwise the attack plan was well executed." Discussing the same matter, Capt. George D. Murray, commanding officer of the Enterprise, pointed out that in coordinated attacks, using both surface vessels and aircraft which are out of visual touch with each other, timing becomes the most important factor in the operation. Extremely dark or unfavorable weather conditions and variable winds may cause wide variation in the aircraft launching interval, the time required to rendezvous, and the time to reach the objective. The plan of operation should be sufficiently flexible to allow for compensating changes to be made in the schedule.
On March 21, 1942, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, concurred in the following recommendations of the task force commander, arising from the action against Wake and from previous experience:1 that the strength of fighter squadrons on carriers be increased; that leak-proof tanks be installed on all aircraft as expeditiously as possible; that methods for the identification of our own planes while in the air be improved; that carrier squadrons should have flight crews for 150 percent of operating planes as a minimum, and that incendiary ammunition be supplied at the earliest time possible.
AIR ATTACK ON MARCUS ISLAND
(See chart opposite)
On February 25, 1942, the Commander of Task Force HOW was informed by the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, that, fuel and other considerations permitting, a raid against Marcus Island would contribute to the further effect desired. Marcus is situated at latitude 24°18' N., longitude 153°58' E., or about 600 miles northwest of Wake on a line leading directly to southern Japan. It is triangular in shape, about 5 miles in circumference, and has been claimed for many years by the Japanese, who call it Minami Tori Shima. At the time of the attack order it was believed that the island was being used as an administrative center by the enemy, and that it contained radio and weather reporting installations. Landplanes had been sighted near it, indicating an air field.
Three days later Admiral Halsey directed the carrier, Enterprise, and Cruiser Division FIVE (the Northampton and Salt Lake City) to proceed to a point 175 miles northeast of Marcus, to launch an air attack about 1730 March 3d (Greenwich civil time), and to retire at high speed.
The attack was arranged to take place before sunrise on March 4 (zone minus 11 time) in the expectation that the full moon would provide sufficient light for the launching of planes and for rendezvous. Early in the morning of March 4 the Enterprise, in company with the Northampton and Salt Lake City, speed 24 knots, was nearing Marcus on course 235°. Because it was desired to include fighters in the attack, launching of planes was delayed until the ships were about 125 miles from the island. At 0438 the Enterprise changed her course into the wind and a few minutes later the first plane was launched.
The attack group consisted of the air group commander with 14 scout bombers (SBD's), 17 bombers (SBD's), and 6 fighters (F4F's). The bomber and scout planes were armed with one 500-pound (instantaneous fuse) and two 100-pound bombs each. Strong southerly winds prevailed, with a 9/10 overcast of heavy cumulus clouds extending from 4,000 to 8,000 feet. The moon was full.
Because of the heavy overcast and the smallness of the objective, accurate navigation by the attack force was essential. Success was achieved largely through the use of a new method. The Enterprise tracked the planes by radar, informing the group commander of any deviations from
the course to Marcus and telling him just how far he had proceeded on that course. This assistance was of great value for it enabled the planes to proceed above the overcast and yet be confident that they would know when to descend through it and locate the island.
At 6:30 the island was sighted through a break in the clouds, "nestling in the moonlight," and the order to attack from an altitude of 16,000 feet was given. The surprise was complete. At least four bombs were dropped before any antiaircraft fire was noticed.
The bombing squadron separated into three divisions and began high speed approaches from the south and west. The dives varied in steepness from 045° to 070°, with final dives entered at from 8,000 to 10,000 feet, releases at 3,000 to 2,000 feet in ripple drops, and pull-outs at 1,000 feet with a continued power glide retirement. One plane was detached from the first section just before the attack to reconnoiter the island and broadcast any information available concerning planes on the field or other objectives. Limited strafing was conducted both in the dive and during retirement, the fixed .50-caliber and the flexible .30-caliber machine guns being used.
The scouting squadron followed immediately, some of its planes making a conventional dive bombing attack, approaching from 15,000 feet and entering final dive at about 10,000, while others dived through the clouds and then executed a glide attack.
One plane 6-S-7, pilot Lt. (j.g.) Hart D. Hilton, and gunner J. Leaming, aviation radioman, third class, failed to return from the attack. At 0705 the pilot reported that his plane was on fire and that he was about to land in the water. Lt. Richard H. Best (Bombing Squadron SIX) stated that he saw Hilton's plane land in the sea about 10 miles east of Marcus, and that the pilot and gunner manned their rubber boat, waved and gave a "thumbs up" signal before he departed from the scene. Lt. Wilmer E. Gallaher, commander of Scouting Squadron SIX, states in his report: "It is believed that 6-S-7 would not have been lost had it been equipped with leak-proof tanks.2 Otherwise no deficiencies in our aircraft armament or equipment were noted."
Although no enemy aircraft was encountered in the air or sighted on the ground or water, the antiaircraft fire, coming presumably from 3-inch guns located on each point of the island, was sufficiently heavy to prevent close inspection of the damage done. The spotting plane, how-
ever, witnessed a hit on and subsequent fire in what looked like a fuel storage tank. Several buildings or hangars on both sides of the field were on fire and several explosions at short intervals occurred in one group. Two large fires visible from 20 to 30 miles were still burning fiercely at 0705, as well as numerous smaller fires. Unfortunately, considerably fewer objectives were found than had been anticipated. No photographs could be obtained due to darkness and clouds. By 8 o'clock the planes had returned to the Enterprise, which, with the Northampton and Salt Lake City was already steaming eastward.
This action, while relatively simple and completely successful, reemphasized the need for reserve pilots on carriers. After flying for 4 hours or more on an attack mission, it was pointed out, the same pilots immediately had to become available for search and patrol, reserve combat patrol or anti-torpedo plane patrol for the rest of the daylight period, and possibly at night under moonlight conditions when attack by enemy planes was threatened. It was stated that it had been necessary to make demands on pilots which, if continued, would unquestionably become injurious to health. Unless these conditions were ameliorated, it was emphasized, there was real danger of prematurely losing the services of some pilots because of incipient breakdown.
"The raid against Marcus caused some concern as to the defenses of the Japanese homeland", wrote Admiral C. W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, in his report, "but the exact amount of diversion from Japanese effort in the southwest cannot be measured at this time."
U.S.S. Salt Lake City and U.S.S. Northampton bombardment of Wake.
1 These recommendations have since been very largely effected.
2 Our carrier-based planes are now equipped with leak-proof tanks.