Chapter 15: Enemy Counterattacks by Air, August 7

1045 Coastwatcher's warning of enemy air attack.
1300 Enterprise fighters sight enemy.
1315 Chicago's radar picks up enemy planes.
1320 22 Japanese high-level bombers attack transports.
1430 Enterprise fighters sight second formation of raiders.
1500 Saratoga fighters sight enemy.
1500 10 Japanese dive bombers attack transports.

At 1045 our ships had received a report that a flight of enemy twin-engine bombers had passed Bougainville Island on a southeast course, evidently heading for Guadalcanal. At once the signal was hoisted, "Repel air attack."

At 1315 the Chicago's radar picked up the attacking planes at a distance of 43 miles, bearing 315° T. Five minutes later 20 to 25 high level, twin-engine bombers were sighted coming over Savo Island at 10,000 to 14,000 feet. On the President Adams it was remarked that they resembled DC-3 Douglas transports and that there were finished in a bright silver color, exactly like commercial air liners. The planes were sighted by our ships off Florida, but they were out of range. Apparently the enemy was interested only in the larger targets presented by our array of transports of Guadalcanal.

As the planes approached this group, screening ships and transports opened fire. One enemy bomber staggered, then crashed into the sea. Then a second crashed in flames, and third commenced to lose altitude and was last seen gliding downward over the hills of Guadalcanal trailing smoke. The remaining planes, attempting a pattern bombing, showed very poor marksmanship. At the same time, scattered clouds at 10,000 feet made it extremely difficult for our ships to appraise the effectiveness of the antiaircraft fire. Within 10 minutes the enemy raiders had disappeared behind Guadalcanal's mountain peaks, and the ships ceased fire. No ship had been hit, but the Dewey shortly afterwards picked up the pilot of one of our carrier fighters which had been knocked down in the battle overhead. It was estimated that the ships' antiaircraft fire had accounted for two Japanese planes destroyed and two more damaged.

A little over an hour later, at approximately 1445, 7 to 10 Japanese single-engined, dive-bombers suddenly attacked the ships. From Guadalcanal


it appeared that they approached from the direction of Tulagi. Flying high above Squadron YOKE off Florida, they dived steeply on Squadron XRAY off Guadalcanal. One scored a hit on the Mugford, damaging her superstructure deck just forward and to starboard of No. 3 5-inch gun. Although considerable damage was done and a fire was started, repairs were effected in a few hours. Personnel casualties were 8 men killed, 14 missing, and 17 wounded. The plane which bombed the Mugford almost immediately fell a victim to the antiaircraft fire of our other ships.

It is apparent from some of the ships' reports that they felt they had not been adequately protected by our own aircraft during these raids. The reports from the carrier groups do not support that contention. Aside from one instance of incorrect vectoring noted below, the record shows that our fighters engaged enemy planes almost continuously during the afternoon of the 7th. If their activity was not seen by our ships, it was possibly because much of it occurred high in the sky and many miles beyond the ships' range of observation.

The Enterprise, as primary Fighter Control Ship, was responsible for directing the combat patrol over all three carriers. The combat patrol over the transports, however, was directed from the cruiser Chicago which had been provided with a control unit of several officers and men by the Saratoga. Fighter planes fore the two patrols were supplied by these two carriers, while the Wasp's fighters mostly patrolled the carriers. This division of control and operation of the combat patrols apparently created some confusion, because the fighters when over the carriers were directed to take orders from the Enterprise, but when they proceeded relatively few miles to positions over the transports they were to obey the director on the Chicago. This confusion was not relieved by the fact that the Chicago's radar, operating in a landlocked area, did not function dependably.

At 1200 on August 7th, about an hour before the first counterattack by the enemy, the Enterprise launched six fighters, Lieut. Louis H. Bauer leading, for patrol over the transports. According to the Enterprise report, this flight passed above the transports either just before or during the first enemy raid but received a vector of 205° which took them directly away from the attack.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise had launched another flight of eight fighters at 1212, with Lt. (jg) Theodore S. Gay as leader, to maintain combat


patrol over the carriers. At 1300 when they were patrolling at 18,000 feet four of the planes were vectored to Tulagi, where they sighted an enemy formation of "about 30" twin-engined bombers protected by an unknown number of Zeros at 12,000 feet going north from the south tip of Florida Islands. Interception was made. One bomber was shot down by Lieut. V.P. DePoix and four others were probably damaged before the Zeros forced our fighters to take refuge in nearby clouds. Although several of our F4F-4s were badly shot up, all returned to the carrier except Machinist J.A. Achten, who was reported missing in action. He was later picked up in the water off Tulagi.

At about the same time eight scout bombers from the Enterprise, Lieut. Carl H. Horenburger leading, were attacked by two Zeros. The free gunners shot down one of the enemy planes in flames. The second Zero was lost to view when the SBDs went into a cloud.

Another of the Enterprise's flights was not so successful. That led by Lt. (jg) Gordon E. Firebaugh for combat patrol over the transports sighted about 22 enemy bombers and 10 Zeros to the southeast tip of Santa Isabel island. The Zeros immediately attacked three of our fighters, while the remaining three got through to attack the enemy bombers. Ens. Robert M. Disque shot down one bomber and Radio Electrician Thomas W. Rhodes destroyed a Zero. Of our six fighters, three, Lt. Firebaugh, Machinist William H. Warden, and William J. Stephenson, Jr., Aviation Pilot First Class, did not return. Lt. Firebaugh and Machinist Warden made forced landings and were subsequently recovered.

A flight launched at 1354, led by Machinist Donald E. Runyon, succeeded, however, in cutting deeply into the enemy's second formation of raiders. About 1430 these four fighters saw a dive-bomber attack developing near Lunga Point. They attacked the enemy, Machinist Runyon shooting down two bombers and Ens. Harry A. March, Jr., and Howard S. Packard, Aviation Pilot First Class, netting one each. This flight, which included two other fighters which had been serving as escorts to the Air Group Commander, returned to the carriers and later that afternoon took off again for patrol over the transport screen group. Ens. Earl W. Cook and Machinist Patrick L. Nagle remained too long over the ships and ran out of gas while trying to find the Enterprise in the semidarkness. The manner in which these two pilots were lost is told in Lieut. Bauer's report for VF-6:

"At about 1830 (August 7th) Ens. Earl Walter Cook reported that


Machinist Patrick Leo Nagle was making a water landing about 20 miles south and slightly east of the southeast tip of Guadalcanal. Ens. Cook reported that he could see Machinist Nagle's plane land in the water but that it was too dark to determine if he had been able to get out his rubber boat. Ens. Cook then requested a vector and was instructed to fly course 260. This was later changed to 250 and he was instructed to climb to 7,000 feet and link up the ship by YE.27 Ens. Cook reported no success with his YE and he was informed that the ship's lights were being turned on and to reduce altitude below the cloud layer in order to see them. The signal searchlight was also directed upward. Ens. Cook reported that he had reduced altitude below the cloud layer but that no lights were visible. At 1915 Ens. Cook reported that he had run out of fuel and was turning on his landing light to make a water landing. His landing was not seen by the lookouts and nothing further was heard by radio. An intensive search the next day failed to reveal any sign of either Machinist Nagle or Ens. Cook."

The action of the Saratoga's fighters included a flight of 8 F4F-4s, which took off from the carrier at 1203 for patrol over the transports. Lieut. James J. Southerland, leading his division, which consisted of Ens. R.L. Price, Lt. (jg) C.A. Tabberer and Ens. D.A. Innis, contacted the enemy over Savo Island, while being vectored at 12,000 feet to investigate a reported approach of enemy aircraft. Just as our fighters sighted a large flight of Japanese twin-engine bombers close in at the same altitude, they were attacked by enemy escort fighters who had an altitude advantage. Unhappily, Lieut. Southerland had no time to gain altitude. Lieut. Southerland, Lt. (jg) Tabberer and Ens. Price did not return from the fight. Ens. Innis got home with his plane badly shot up and reported that he damaged one Zero.

The other division of this flight from the Saratoga was led by Lieut. Herbert S. Brown and consisted of Ens. F.J. Blair, Lt. (jg) W.M. Holt and Ens. J.R. Daly. It was vectored onto the same suspected enemy aircraft at 12,000 feet. It also simultaneously sighted the enemy bombers and was attacked by Zeros. Lieut. Brown was seriously wounded by gunfire but managed to bring his plane back to the carrier, reporting that he had damaged at least one of the five Zeros which had attacked him. Ens. Blair, Lieut. Brown's wingman, eluded the Zeros by taking cloud cover and then attacked the enemy bombers. He reported that


either Lt. (jg) Holt or Ens. Daly, who failed to return, shot down two of the bombers, and Ens. Blair saw flame in the bomb bay of one of the bombers he attacked. Ens. Daly was rescued from the water by the Chicago. The enemy bombers, it was said, flew in a very tight formation and dropped a good pattern, but distant from their target.

During the second counterattack that afternoon, the Saratoga's fighters fared much better. At about 1500 Lieut. Richard Gray, leading, with Ens. M.K. Bright, Lieut. Hayden M. Jensen, Lt. (jg) C.B. Starkes, Lieut. Marion W. Dufilho, Lt., (jg) F.O. Breen, Lieut. David C. Richardson, and Ens. C.D. Davy sighted 11 enemy dive bombers, type Aichi 99, which were flying unescorted. No warning of this enemy attack had been received. Lieut. Jensen, the first to sight the enemy and to give the alarm by radio, attacked and followed the enemy down through the antiaircraft fire from the ships, destroying 2 of the raiders. Lieut. Dufilho followed him, and also nailed 2 of the enemy planes while damaging a third. Lt. (jg) Starkes and Ens. Bright each accounted for 3 more, or a total of 10 shot down. Another flight of from 7 to 12 enemy dive bombers, however, attacked our ships unobserved by our own fighters or radar. They were reported by one of our scout bombers as they approached from another direction. Two of these planes were destroyed during their retirement. None of the dive bombers of the group intercepted succeeded in getting a hit on their targets, according to Lt. Comdr. Simpler. The hits were made by the unopposed attack.

Six of eight SBD-3s which took off from the Wasp at 1223 had just been ordered to bomb a target in the Tulagi area when a ship's radio was heard saying, "Bombers above." This was about 1330. Immediately our scouts were attacked by four or five Japanese Zero fighters at 7,500 feet. Fire from our twin .30-caliber free guns appeared to be well directed and probably scored some hits. No opportunity was afforded for use of our fixed guns. Enemy attacks were not pressed to close range except on the last two runs. Large muzzle flashes on both sides of enemy planes near the wing roots appeared to be from cannon. The Zeros retired quickly into the sun but failed to repeat the attack. The fourth plane was piloted by Ens. J.S. Paretsky of Scouting Squadron 72, who reported that the sixth planes in the flight, piloted by Lieut. Dudley H. Adams, had crashed into the sea. Lieut. Adams, wounded, was later picked up by the Dewey. His companion, Harry E. Elliott, Aviation Radioman Third


Makambo Island under bombatdment, Gavutu and Tanambogo in background.


Tulagi docks before bombardment.

The same area after bombardment.


Southeast end of Tulagi, showing prison.


Tanambogo after bombardment. Farther dock was scene of oil fire.


Class, was not recovered and was reported to have been killed before the crash.

At 1520 the Wasp sent up a flight of four fighters for combat patrol over the carriers, Lieut. Hawley Russell leading. They were vectored to fly over Guadalcanal at 12,000 feet. They soon sighted nine planes above Tulagi which they took to be Japanese. They dived on these planes but discovered they were some of our SBDs. Ens. Thaddeus J. Capowski became separated from the formation at this time (about 1600) and failed to return to the carrier. He was listed as missing in action, but was later rescued.

The President Adams reported that she saw 7 enemy planes shot down during the attacks on the afternoon of the 7th. As it seems clear that ships' antiaircraft fire accounted for at least 2 and the carrier planes claimed 20, the total was probably a score or more. Against this we lost 11 F4F-4s and one SBD-3, and suffered damage to the Mugford. Also the precious time lost to our transports and cargo ships for unloading must be taken into account.

During the night, from dusk to broad daylight, the Screening Group, Admiral Crutchley commanding, patrolled the transport areas to protect them against enemy surface or submarine attack. The San Juan, Hobart, Buchanan, and Monssen patrolled in column eastward of longitude 160°04' E., with the mission of covering the YOKE transports and cargo ships against enemy light forces approaching from the eastward (see chart opposite p. 57 [missing -- ed.]). Other vessels of the Screening Group patrolled as follows: the Australia, Canberra, and the Chicago, screened by the Patterson and Bagley, south of a line drawn 125° T. from the center of Savo Island and west of longitude 160°04' E.; the Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy screened by the Jarvis and Helm, north of the above line and west of longitude 160°04' E.; antisubmarine patrols and radar guards as follows:

Between 09-50 S
155-55 E
and 09-01 S
159-49 E
Ralph Talbot
Between 09-05 S
195-42 E
and 09-09 S
159-37 E


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[27] Homing radio beacon.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation