ENEMY ATTACKS ON THE ENTERPRISE GROUP
0940 Hornet aircraft report 24 enemy dive bombers approaching from 280° T. Enterprise launches all remaining planes and prepares for attack. 1026 Enterprise lands combat patrol and search planes for refueling and reservicing. 1100 SC radars report large groups of enemy planes approaching. 1101 Porter torpedoed while rescuing personnel of friendly torpedo plane. 1105-1109 Enterprise receives 3 hits in attack by 24 dive bombers. 1135 Enterprise evades many torpedoes launched by 14 to 30 enemy planes. 1137 Enemy torpedo plane crashes on Smith, causing large fires. 1220 Twenty dive bombers and torpedo planes attack Enterprise; one near-hit causes only slight damage. 1230 South Dakota's turret No. 2 struck by bomb. One hit and five near-hits on San Juan cause temporary loss of steering control. 1245 Fifteen dive bombers attack Enterprise in two groups; no hits received. 1308 Porter sunk by Shaw's shellfire. 1300-1400 Enterprise lands many planes of both air groups. 1500 Enterprise retires to southeast independently of Hornet.
The Enterprise, it will be recalled, launched her 16-plane search group about 0600 on the morning of 26 October, and an attack group at 0847. The next hour was uneventful. But at 0940 Hornet aircraft reported 24 enemy dive bombers approaching from 280° T., distance 60 miles. Eleven F4F-4's on deck were immediately launched to augment the combat air patrol of 12 fighters which was already on station. The newly air-borne planes headed for the Hornet, which was 10 miles west of the Enterprise,31 and the latter carrier prepared to repel the expected attack. The first radar contact was not reported until 0957, when planes 45 miles away were noted. Between 0957 and 1100, radar continually picked up aircraft coming in and going out. As we have seen, however, the first enemy attack was directed at the Hornet, and this gave the Enterprise an unlooked-for breathing spell. At 1026 she turned into the wind to land returning combat patrol and search planes which were low on gasoline. Many still remained to be serviced at 1100, when large groups of enemy planes were picked up on the search radar screen at a distance of 23 miles. These aircraft had been noted at 55 miles by the
South Dakota's radar and had been tracked in to about 25 miles, where they were observed to split into two groups. These now approached from 000° T. and 290° T.
Just before the attack began, a friendly torpedo plane (presumably a survivor of the duel between the Japanese and Enterprise attack groups) flew close aboard to port of the Porter, at an altitude of 200 feet, with its wheels down. It continued on until, at about 1,500 yards from the Porter and 500 yards from the Shaw, it crash-landed, nosing over as it struck the water. The commanding officer of the Porter, Lt. Comdr. David G. Roberts, conned his ship in the direction of the plane, ordering "all engines back full." The Shaw, which was on a parallel course to port, came right sharply, also intending to recover the personnel. The Commander of the Destroyer Squadron, Capt. Charles P. Cecil, ordered the Shaw notified that the Porter would recover. The latter, however, lost way more rapidly than expected. While still 100 yards or more from the plane, the Porter was practically dead in the water and was no longer closing the three flyers, who were manning their rubber boat.
The Shaw had not slowed so quickly as the Porter and was about 400 yards sharp on the port bow. Lt. Comdr. Roberts was reluctant to close until the Shaw cleared pursuant to the Squadron Commander's signal. At that moment the bridge reported a torpedo wake on the port bow. The wake crossed about 50 yards ahead between the Porter and the Shaw, curving to the left as it went.32
As the Porter was endeavoring to clear the rubber boat on the starboard side, another torpedo was reported approaching on the port beam. It struck, "shaking the ship violently and sending a column of water at least 100 feet in the air." The Porter took an ominous list to starboard, finally settling on an even keel with a 3 to 5 foot increase in draft. Although all power was lost, Lt. Comdr. Roberts decided the ship was not sinking and should not be abandoned. About 50 minutes later, however, a TBS message was intercepted from Admiral Kinkaid to the Shaw, telling her to recover personnel from the Porter and to sink her. While approaching, the Shaw sighted a periscope 500 yards off her port bow. No results were apparently obtained from dropping of two 300-
pound and four 600-pound depth charges. The Shaw then came alongside the Porter, and the latter was abandoned.33
The incident involving the Porter and the Shaw occurred just as the first enemy dive bombing assault developed. The aircraft were not seen until they were well into their dives, when they were opposed by dense antiaircraft fire from the violently maneuvering ships. An estimated 24 planes attacked resolutely for about 4 minutes. Although 7 were shot down by the Enterprise and other ships, 3 hits were sustained by the carrier. One bomb pierced the flight deck 20 feet from the forward end, passed through the forecastle deck, and exploded in the water just off the forefoot. A second bomb hit the flight deck almost on the center line 10 feet abaft the forward elevator causing a number of casualties and starting fires which were speedily brought under control. Apparently part of one of these bombs spilt off from the main body and exploded on the third deck at frame 39, inflicting severe damage and casualties. A third bomb detonated near frame 129 to starboard, opening a seam in the side plating to a maximum width of 3 inches from frame 123 to frame 135. The ship shuddered from island to keelson. One plane was bounced off the deck into the sea, and another was hurled into the starboard 20-mm. battery.
As seen from the Portland, this first attack group comprised 20 to 25 bombers. The diving angle used by the 9 or 10 lead-off planes was no steeper than 50°. The next 10 to 15 aircraft glided in at 30° to 40° from all directions, pulling out as low as 1,200 feet. Many bombs narrowly missed the carrier. The Portland considered that "the fire of the entire force was less accurate than in previous actions."
At 1120 the South Dakota, Conyngham, and Smith fired on what they took to be a submarine surfacing 4,000 yards from the Smith. The target turned out to be a friendly plane which had pancaked on the water and which was actually sunk by these three ships' fire. This aircraft landed only 1,000 yards from the Preston, which maneuvered to collect the crew but was forced sharply to starboard to avoid being raked by the South Dakota's 5-inch shell fire.
About 1135 a heavy torpedo plane attack began. The number of planes involved is uncertain: the estimates vary from a figure of 14 given
by the Enterprise and the South Dakota to 30 by the Portland. Aboard the Enterprise, the aircraft were seen to split into two groups and attempt to gain favorable approach positions on both sides of the carrier outside the screen. Despite heavy antiaircraft fire from all ships, approximately 9 torpedoes were launched, 5 from the starboard and 4 from the port side, dropped from about 75 feet at ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 yards. Energetic evasive tactics enabled the Enterprise to avoid all torpedoes. Several of the planes were shot down.
One, however, diving on the Smith from slightly abaft the starboard beam, hit the shield of gun No. 2 and crashed on the port side of the forecastle deck, abreast of gun No. 1. There was an immediate flash of fire, enveloping the forward part of the ship in a sheet of flames and smoke caused by the bursting of the plane's gasoline tanks. Most of the fuselage fell over the side and sank astern. The bridge was abandoned at 1149, and fire fighting measures were promptly instituted. A few minutes later a second detonation occurred forward, showering the ship with sparks and setting several small fires topside. The warhead of the plane's torpedo, which had skidded along the deck under gun No. 1, had apparently exploded. Several smaller explosions occurred in ready ammunition. The entire forward deck house was in flames, the topside was untenable from forward of No. 1 stack, and the wardroom country was filled with smoke. By cutting close under the South Dakota's stern, however, and utilizing the spray from her high-speed wake, the Smith soon considerably reduced the severity of her fires.
At 1201 the South Dakota radar plot reported many aircraft approaching from 285° T., distant 45 miles. These planes scattered and came in from several directions. The attack was delivered at about 1220 over an arc of 90° on the port bow of the South Dakota, by about 20 torpedo planes and dive bombers which came out of a low cloud.34 A slight rain squall ceased almost as soon as the attack began, and the cloud ceiling rose from 500 to 1,500 feet. It was still too low to permit the 5-inch batteries to be effective, because most of the shells were bursting about 3,000 feet above the clouds. Even the machine guns were hampered by lack of time in which to train on targets.
The rain squall was, however, an advantage in one sense. It somewhat concealed the exact location of the Enterprise and forced the enemy
to spread his attack over the whole formation instead of concentrating on the carrier. The assault lasted only two minutes; 8 planes were seen to crash out of the total of about 20. A near-hit at frame 30 on the starboard side of the Enterprise caused minor damage about 15 feet below the water line.
At 1230 several enemy dive bombers appeared out of a cloud about 1,000 feet above the South Dakota's port bow and dropped four bombs. One of these was a direct hit on turret No. 1. Fragments and blast injured Capt. Thomas L. Gatch and wounded many of the gun crews at the 20-mm. groups on either side of turret No. 2 and at the 40-mm. quad outside the Captain's cabin to starboard. The other three bombs missed.
During the same period, six bombs were dropped at the San Juan, which was turning at maximum speed with full right rudder. Five were near-hits, and one glanced off the starboard side at frame 131, 3 inches above the second deck, and exploded in the water, causing considerable damage aft. The rudder was jammed right, and steering control was not regained until 1241. Thirteen men were injured.
Five minutes after the last attack on the Enterprise, search radars reported another flight of planes approaching at an altitude of about 17,000 feet. They were identified as two groups of dive bombers containing nine and six planes, respectively, and protected by nine fighters above. The aircraft disappeared in a rain cloud before they could be fired on by the 5-inch batteries, and when seen again 2 minutes later, were already in their dives. No hits were scored, and 10 planes in the group were believed shot down.
* * *
Except for the relatively light attacks on the Hornet in the late afternoon and evening, the action was over. The Enterprise resumed landing her planes and those of her sister carrier, although fuel exhaustion forced many to drop in the water. When all possible aircraft had been taken aboard, and the personnel of those which had landed in the sea had been recovered, Admiral Kinkaid ordered the Enterprise and Hornet forces
to retire to the southeast independently. They were followed by the Mustin and the Anderson, which ceased firing on the Hornet at 2140.35
Admiral Kinkaid estimated that 170 to 180 enemy planes took part in the attacks on the Hornet and the Enterprise, and that approximately 133 came within striking range of the 2 carriers. He concluded that the Hornet had been assaulted by 49 planes, antiaircraft knocking out 23, and the Enterprise by 84, of which 33 were destroyed by antiaircraft fire. The Enterprise thus was attacked by almost twice as many planes as the Hornet and, together with her supporting ships, shot down 10 more. Her damage was much less severe, because, unlike the Hornet, she did not have the ill-fortune to receive torpedo hits in her vital engineering spaces at the very outset of the battle.
One of the most gratifying aspects of the engagement was the outstanding performance of the new battleship South Dakota's antiaircraft batteries, in action for the first time. Their tremendous firepower contributed in large measure to the successful defense of the Enterprise.
Our own aircraft losses were reported by CINCPAC as 74 carrier planes lost, with 23 officers and 16 enlisted men. About 20 of these planes were shot down in combat. Of the personnel on our surface ships, we lost 29 officers and 254 men.
31 For an account of the extraordinary achievement of Lieut. Stanley W. Vejtasa in shooting down seven enemy bombers, plus one probable, see appendix B.
32 Lieut. Albert D. Pollock, pilot of one of the Enterprise's combat air patrol planes, had returned from his mission and was circling the Enterprise group when he noticed a torpedo running in the area and threatening to strike one of the destroyers. Accordingly, he dived with the intention of exploding it with machine-gun fire. Unfortunately he failed. He retired after having been fired upon by at least two of the ships in the Task Force.
33 By 1209 the Shaw had taken aboard all the Porter's personnel. The Shaw then fired one torpedo which passed under the Porter and did not explode. Next, four 4-gun salvos were fired, starting a heavy blaze forward. Another torpedo fired at 1235 passed to the Porter's bow and also failed to explode. Ten additional 4-gun salvos had to be fired before the target sank at 1308.
34 At this stage of the battle the Enterprise's radar proved more of hindrance than a help. Not more than one minute before the planes appeared, Radar Plot reported the screen clear.
35 The destroyers were unaware that only about 40 miles separated them from light units of Enemy Task Force No. 3. These were searching in advance of the main battleship-cruiser body, which, in turn, was followed by the carriers Zuikaku and Hayataka, proceeding independently of each other. (See chart p. 28.) The Japanese light units abandoned the chase at midnight. It is conceivable that they, too, attempted to destroy the hulk of the Hornet upon finding that it could not be towed, but according to the report of a patrol plane, the island structure was still visible next day. The main body of Enemy Task Force No. 3 changed course to the north and was later joined by the light units. The combined force retired in the general direction already taken by the two carriers, which joined company with each other soon after the Zuikaku was subjected to an abortive torpedo attack by a PBY at 0150, 27 October.
Last updated: June 29, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation