Chapter 8: Air Support Force

The air support force, consisting of the carriers Saratoga, Enterprise, and Wasp, and their screening ships, was ordered by Admiral Fletcher to proceed to the Guadalcanal area to cooperate with Admiral Turner's amphibious force by supplying air offense and defense, while also protecting itself from enemy air attacks and making such air searches as were ordered or might seem advisable. From this most general directive Admiral Noyes developed an operation plan which, in its minute attention to the time of departure of the squadrons from the carriers and their return, read like a railroad timetable.

For example, the "flight sequence" provided for the Wasp's air group directed that Flight No. 101 take off at 0530 on D-Day, that it should consist of 16 VF, that is should "proceed to Tulagi-Gavutu area of Florida Island arriving 15 minutes before sunrise (0630); destroy enemy fighter planes and patrol bombers, motor torpedo boats, and submarines in Tulagi and Gavutu Harbors; destroy enemy land-based planes on beach at Halavo; attack antiaircraft installations on Gavutu and Tanambogo Islands with remaining ammunition; and return to carrier on completion of mission, or expenditure of fuel and ammunition," that the planes should carry armaments of six 50-caliber guns with a full load including incendiary, that their estimated fuel consumption would be 143 gallons each, and that they should use certain specified frequencies for radio communication.

When it is considered that the flight sequence for the Wasp contained 23 such entries and that those for the air groups of the Saratoga and Enterprise were worked out with like precision, the excellence of the staff work becomes apparent.


Synchronizing the flights with the attacks of our sea and land forces was only one side of the problem. The other, almost equally important, was the maintenance of smooth operations aboard the carriers, so that decks would not become congested with planes taking off or landing, and so that at least one squadron of fighters would always be alert and in readiness in the event the carriers were themselves attacked.

Admiral Noyes' orders provided, in addition to the detailed flight schedules, for the following general procedure:

The carriers and their escorts were to operate southwest of Guadalcanal with the Saratoga in the center lane, the Wasp to the west and south, and the Enterprise to the north and east at distances of 8,000 to 12,000 yards. As primary Fighter Control Ship, the Enterprise was to furnish the combat patrol for all three carriers. Combat patrol for the transports and their screens was to be directed from the Chicago, which would have a fighter control unit provided by the Saratoga. Air support flights were to be tactically commanded by two Air Group Commanders in the air, one over Tulagi, the other over Guadalcanal. These were to be directed by voice radio by the Commander Amphibious Force of Commander Landing Force in the McCawley or the Neville. The Saratoga's Air Group Commander was to be in command over Guadalcanal until 3 hours after sunrise when he would be relieved by the Enterprise's AGC. The Wasp's AGC was to command at Tulagi for most of the morning, being relieved by the Saratoga's AGC not later than 7 1/2 hours after sunrise. Torpedo squadrons, some equipped with belly tanks and bombs, were to be held in reserve for search and attack missions.

The pilots of the Wasp had had considerable intensive training for this engagement. This, in part, had been necessitated by the acquisition at San Diego of newer types of aircraft and by the change-over from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They had also benefited by the work of the Air Intelligence organization, which had recently been strengthened by the arrival on board of specially trained officers. These officers gathered all available information on the Solomons and condensed it for study by the flight personnel. After arrival in the South Pacific, excellent photographs were obtained of objectives in the Tulagi-Guadalcanal area. From these, large-scale mosaic maps were prepared. "Supplementary intelligence and the results of the photographic reconnaissance on August 2d," wrote Capt. Forrest Sherman of the Wasp in his report, "made the familiarity of pilots


with the area as complete as may normally be expected in the case of a position held by the enemy."

The Marines, according to General Vandegrift, were not so fortunate. "We had no maps of the theater of operation, and the charts we had were inaccurate," he has commented in an oral report. "The commander SOWESPAC had an aerial strip picture made of Guadalcanal's north shore, about 2,000 yards deep. This helped, but as the photo mission was made in cloudy weather there were spots in the mosaic which were most confusing. A group of our senior officers7 also made an aerial survey trip to Guadalcanal and Tulagi, but as that district is on the fringe of B-17 radius from Australia, they could remain over the area only a few minutes and arrived at Australia with only 5 minutes' supply of gasoline left."


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[7] Lt. Col. Merrill B. Twinning and Maj. William B. McKeon, USMC.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation