78th Congress Senate Document 1st Session (Ser. 10773) No. 107
Mr. WALSH. Mr. President, the Committee on Naval Affairs of the Senate has recently requested the Office of Public Relations of the Navy Department to submit to it a "Report on the Navy and the War." The Navy Department has complied with this request, and I now present this report and ask that it be published as a Senate document.
The report covers 18 months' of naval warfare, beginning with Pearl Harbor. From then on the report includes naval activities in the Philippine Islands, the battle of the Java Sea, the first naval offensive on Japanese-held territory in which the Marshall and Gilbert Islands were raided on January 31, 1942, the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Aleutians campaign, and finally the continuing action of the Atlantic, together with Mediterranean and north African operations which cannot yet be disclosed fully for reasons of national security. The report, therefore, should be accepted only as a broad historic outline of the Navy's activities to date.
Without any attempt to embellish the facts involving each phase of the war, the report sets forth the losses of ships and aircraft and the damage to the enemy, the effects of each on subsequent developments, and shifting tides of war across the mid-Pacific to the Java Sea, and the highlights of progress of naval building and shore construction, as well as personnel expansion, since the war began (Congressional Record, October 18, 1943).
To attempt to relate the history of a war while that war is in progress imposes many obvious limitations in the preparation of such a work.
Since the battles are continuing, there is no perspective by which to gage the value of the individual encounter or the individual campaign.
The scope of the war is so broad that no one eyewitness can have seen an entire panorama.
More important, there are still many facts and much information which for reasons of national security cannot be released until the final battle has been fought.
This, therefore, should be viewed only as a broad outline of events in the war which began on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and, as collected from United States Navy dispatches and reports. Since it covers the period extending only through the first 6 months of 1943, details of the Italian, Kiska, and later Solomons campaigns are lacking.
Within that period, the important naval events are included. And included, also, is an evidence of that patriotic spirit which in this war, as in all others, has enriched the traditions of the naval service.
At 7:51 a. m. on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese struck the naval air station at Kaneohe Bay, and at 7:55 a. m. when Japanese dive bombers swarmed over the Army air base, Hickam Field, and the naval air station on Ford Island.
The purpose, apparently, was to knock out the United States before the war began.
Bare seconds after the first attacks Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers swung in from various sectors to concentrate their attack on the heavy ships at Pearl Harbor.
At the time two United States surface ship task forces of the Pacific Fleet were carrying out assigned missions at sea, and two such task forces were at their main base after returning from these operations.
The Japanese attack, then, was based not only on the element of surprise but also on the element of exact information.
Discounting small craft, 86 ships of the Pacific Fleet were moored at Pearl Harbor. Included in this force were 8 battleships, 7 cruisers, 28 destroyers, and 5 submarines. No United States aircraft carriers were present.
The first phase of the Japanese attack lasted approximately a half hour. In the first phase 15 enemy horizontal bombers participated; 21 torpedo planes made 4 attacks, and 35 dive bombers came in in 8 waves.
United States battleship ready machine guns opened fire at once and were augmented by the remaining antiaircraft batteries. Machine guns brought down two enemy planes and damaged others of the first torpedo planes.
Despite the surprise, practically all battleship antiaircraft batteries were firing within 5 minutes; cruisers within an average time of 4 minutes; and destroyers averaged 7 minutes in bringing all antiaircraft guns into action.
Although sporadic attacks by dive and horizontal bombers continued, the raid dropped to a comparative lull from 8:25 to 8:40 a. m. Then the full force of the raid opened up again with the appearance of horizontal bombers which crossed and recrossed their targets from various directions.
While these horizontal bombers were continuing their raids, Japanese dive bombers reappeared, probably being the same ones that had participated in earlier attacks. This phase lasted about a half-hour, and all enemy aircraft retired by 9:45 a. m.
This Japanese scheme to knock the United States out of action prior to any declaration of war, resulted in the following United States vessels being either sunk or damaged so severely that they would serve no military purposes for some time: The five battleships, Arizona, Oklahoma, California, Nevada, and West Virginia; three destroyers, the Shaw, Cassin, and Downes; the mine layer Oglala: the target ship Utah, and a large floating dry-dock.
In addition lesser damage was done to three battleships: the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee; three cruisers, the Helena. Honolulu, and Raleigh, the seaplane tender Curtis; and the repair ship Vestal.
Also, prior to the Japanese attack, naval aircraft, totaling 202 of all types, were on the island of Oahu, and in flying condition. But the concentrated assault permanently or temporarily disabled 150 of these planes, or almost three-fourths of them, and mostly during the first few minutes of the raid.
Of the 52 remaining naval aircraft, 38 took to the air that day, the other 14 being ready too late or blocked from take-off positions. Of necessity, therefore, the Navy was compelled to depend on antiaircraft fire for its primary defensive weapons, and this condition exposed the fleet to continuous air attack.
By coincidence, 18 scout bombing planes from a United States aircraft carrier en route arrived at Pearl Harbor during the raid. These are included in the foregoing figures. Four of these scout bombers were shot down, 13 of the remaining 14 taking off again in search of the enemy. Seven patrol planes were in the air when the attack started.
To determine the total number of enemy aircraft participating in the raid is difficult, but analysis of all reports makes it possible to estimate the number as 21 torpedo planes, 48 dive bombers, and 36 horizontal bombers, totaling 105 of all types. Undoubtedly certain fighter planes also were present, but as these were not distinguished by types they are included in the previous figures.
The enemy lost 28 aircraft due to Navy action. In addition 3 submarines, of 45 tons each, were accounted for. But the story of Pearl Harbor, which admittedly surprised the United States forces off guard, is not one which can be limited exactly to figures.
If figures alone could talk, those 2 treacherous hours of that Sunday
morning decidedly went to the Japanese. But if in this lopsided blow they had intended to knock the United States out of the war before it started, the Japanese succeeded in doing exactly the opposite.
No room was left now for bickering and speech making on whether the United States had enemies. In one flash the attack against Pearl Harbor had settled all that, and the war was on.
But as hours and days passed, and the Japanese did not take advantage of their first attack by continuing it (even to the possible extent of seizing the Hawaiian Islands with landing forces), the most serious American losses proved to be in personnel.
As a result of the raid on December 7, 1941, the officers and enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps who were killed, totaled 2,117; still reported missing 960; and 876 were wounded but survived.
(This report, being limited to the Navy, does not presume to include the Army casualties, nor the Army's loss of planes on that day; although the Army casualties are reported to be as follows: 226 officers and enlisted men were killed or later died of wounds, and 396 were wounded, most of whom have recovered and have returned to duty.)
Though the dead of the day cannot be returned to action to avenge themselves, of the 19 naval vessels previously listed as sunk or damaged during the attack, few if any were permanently and totally lost.
As for the Cassin and Downes, their main and auxiliary machinery or approximately 50 percent of their value, has been saved. Most of the other vessels already have been returned to the fleet, and the remainder are in the near process of being returned.
Besides, naval repair yards took advantage of the repairing to install modernization features and other improvements.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a large force of Japanese land-based aircraft bombed the Philippine Islands. This attack had been expected in the event of war and, as a security measure, steps had been taken by the Army to reinforce the Philippine garrison in trained troops and modern material prior to December 7.
Between August and the outbreak of the war sizable augmentations in aircraft, modern artillery, and tanks had been sent. But further reinforcements were on the high seas, en route when the attack came and these transports were ordered to alter course for Australia.
Proceeding under naval escort these transports arrived safely and formed a nucleus for the American forces subsequently dispatched to Australia.
At the same time the United States had several small outposts in the Western Pacific, which were held by slender defense forces made up entirely of Navy and Marine Corps personnel. These included the islands of Midway, Wake, and Guam.
After a resistance which will go down into history, and which will become the source of stories for years to come, the defenses of Wake were overcome by the enemy. Guam, after a similar defense, also fell to the enemy. But Midway Island still remains in the possession of the United States.
But meanwhile, and 4 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy declared war upon the United States.
This immediately involved the Nation in a conflict global in extent and involving strategic considerations unique in the history of the country.
The move necessitated the immediate garrisoning on a war basis of outposts extending from Alaska to Australia in the Pacific Ocean and from Iceland to South America in the Atlantic.
During the first 3 weeks of the war, and in conformity with previous plans, approximately 600,000 American troops were moved to battle stations, many of them thousands of miles distant, across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, under naval escort and through waters infested with submarines. Others went to island bases in the Atlantic and Pacific, to the Canal Zone, and to Alaska.
A primary factor in the rapid movement of large numbers of troops and supplies overseas was the functioning of the ports of embarkation which had been established prior to the beginning of the war.
Organized for the purpose of expediting overseas shipments, these ports of embarkation were handling, even prior to December 7, tonnage greater in volume than the vast amount required during the World War.
In addition there existed the desperate requirement of maintaining channels of sea and air communications throughout the world in order that preparations for offensive action could be undertaken.
The defense of the Philippine Islands presented a complicated problem, and immediately became the focus of interest from the American viewpoint. Located upon Japan's doorstep, within bombing range of land-based aircraft from Japanese bases on the coast of China and Formosa, at a distance easily susceptible to movements of large bodies of troops by ship from Japan, the Philippines were placed in a state of virtual siege from the outset.
The defense plans of the Philippines have been currently revised from year to year and had anticipated that, in the event of a war with Japan, the islands would be attacked by superior numbers. But the American land forces there consisted of a relatively small number of trained American troops and Philippine Scouts augmented by a considerable number of soldiers in the partially developed Army of the Philippine Commonwealth.
Likewise, the naval force in far-eastern waters consisted of a relatively small number of cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and auxiliary vessels.
This naval strength of the United Nations in the Orient was further depleted during the first few days of the fighting by the loss of the British capital ships, Prince of Wales and Repulse.
The Japanese dispatched a powerful expeditionary force to the Philippine Islands, and this force was convoyed by a fleet which included capital ships and airplane carriers.
After several feints and abortive attempts at widely separated points, the Japanese were able to land troops in the northern and southern extremities of Luzon.
These landings enabled the Japanese to seize airfields from which their bombardment and pursuit aviation could operate against American installations.
Subsequently, during the dark of the moon and in the face of all the resistance available by United States defense forces and submarines, the enemy landed in numbers at Lingayen Gulf, northwest of Manila.
Approximately two-thirds of the submarines of the Asiatic Fleet were used to oppose these landing operations and succeeded in sinking a number of enemy vessels and troop-laden landing barges. A heavy toll of them also was taken by bombardment aircraft which had been ferried to the Philippines prior to the war.
But the Japanese, through the weight of numbers and unmindful of heavy casualties, were able to land and push back the beach defenses.
Defensive operations then resolved themselves into a matter of delaying the Japanese advance to the final defensive position and making it as costly as possible. Long-standing tactical studies of Luzon indicated the peninsula of Bataan, adjacent to the fortified island of Corregidor, as the terrain most suited for prolonged defense. Although this plan involved evacuation of the city of Manila, the retention of the fortified approaches to Manila Bay denied the use of the Philippines' greatest port to an invader as long as Corregidor held.
But as the carefully timed withdrawal toward Bataan Peninsula was being made, landing fields for heavy bombardment airplanes became unavailable and these airplanes were sent to Australia. The Navy bombers were sent to the Netherlands Indies.
By operating from the new bases, these Army and Navy aircraft were able to continue the support of the Philippines, although with difficulty.
Yet, with the enemy in local control of the air, Manila Bay was rendered insecure for ships of any type and submarines could not be serviced, so the remainder of the Asiatic Fleet withdrew to the south, leaving behind a few auxiliary vessels and several small but effective motor torpedo boats.
Covered by the guns of Corregidor and other harbor defenses, these small torpedo boats and the few auxiliary vessels controlled the waters of Manila Bay, and the torpedo boats, especially, continued taking an effective toll of Japanese shipping. Many of the vessels which were withdrawn to the south were subsequently engaged in the battle of the Java Sea.
The tightly drawn naval and air screen which the Japanese placed around the island of Luzon made delivery of food and ammunition to the American forces difficult. The problem of food was further complicated by the presence on Bataan of thousands of noncombatants who had moved into the areas with the American forces. The Bataan garrison was placed on half rations, and an endeavor was made to conserve the ammunition supply.
In the efforts to move supplies to the Philippines from Australia and other places, some naval vessels and some blockade runners succeeded in getting through with food and ammunition, but for every ship that succeeded in running the blockade two were sunk by enemy action.
The Japanese blockade became even so tightened that it became almost impossible to move the supplies accumulated in Mindanao and the Visayan Islands to the beleaguered forces on Bataan.
The defenders of Bataan, reinforced by marines and bluejackets, held out for more than 3 months against every type of onslaught by the Japanese.
Due to heavy casualties, and his inability to advance, the enemy was required to move to the Philippines additional combat units
which had been scheduled for action elsewhere. With these fresh troops the enemy, aided by aircraft, tanks, and artillery fire, kept the defenders under harassment day and night. Their food was reduced to 15 ounces per day. Sleep was an impossibility except when crumpled from sheer exhaustion. After several weeks of this, the defenders became so exhausted they could not carry through a last desperate counterattack and were overwhelmed. But during the last fading hours small portions were withdrawn to the island of Corregidor-and there to undergo the same thing all over again.
Corregidor also was bombarded day and night by enemy aircraft and by batteries from the north and south shores of Manila Bay. And this devastation day after day, night after night, combined with shortage of food and ammunition, sealed the fate of Corregidor the same as they had sealed the fate of Bataan. The enemy on the night of May 5 made a successful landing attack and, after several hours of savage fighting, the forts capitulated. The remainder of the epic in all its fullness, will not be known till later.
While all this was going on at sea and even prior to Pearl Harbor the program of shore construction has been the largest ever undertaken by the Navy. Construction projects have been underway in more than 225 localities.
Not only have new training stations been built but existing ones have been enlarged, especially the naval aviation training stations at Norfolk, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Corpus Christi, Miami, San Diego, and Seattle. They are training thousands of naval aviators for battle.
At the same time at some of the new stations large schools have been built for training in glider flying, engine overhaul, navigation, and other specialized work. Construction likewise included 5 lighter than-air stations with 12 auxiliary bases.
Perhaps one of the most important developments in this line was the creation of construction battalions commonly called " Seabees. " Their ranks include skilled mechanics, carpenters, divers, steel workers, electricians, plumbers, and blacksmiths. When they enter the Naval Reserve they already are expert in construction and maintenance work but, as they are likely to have to defend what they are building, they also are given training in military tactics.
Because the capacity of existing navy yards has practically been doubled, the Navy's great building program also included the construction of 28 shipbuilding and graving docks and 66 floating dry-docks of steel.
As a further cross section of the immense building program which had to be thrown into momentum immediately, the Bureau provided, and is providing, new or enlarged fleet anchorages, moorings, radio stations, barracks and buildings, new types of training and base facilities, including antiaircraft training schools, amphibious force training bases, armed guard schools, machine gun training schools, magnetic indicator loop receiving stations, radar schools, motor torpedo-boat bases, section bases, and signal stations.
The structure of the War and Navy Departments themselves were reorganized after December 7, with a view to eliminating delay
and expediting administrative procedure. In all the far-flung battle fronts the Army and Navy can be said to be cooperating to the closest possible degree. The principle of unity of command was put into effect in every theater of operation. The details and break-down of the various commands throughout the world are not given here.
The first naval offensive on Japanese-held territory took place January 31, 1942.
On that day a United States force of aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers launched a simultaneous attack on the Japanese naval and air bases on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, about 2,000 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor.
Aircraft struck enemy positions and enemy ships with bombs, torpedoes, and machine guns, while surface ships bombarded shore installations.
In making the raids on the islands, the surface and air forces were first divided into self-sustaining units. By perfection of timing, the attacks on the various islands were carried out simultaneously.
In the Marshall group the Japanese bases attacked were on Roi, Kwajalein, Wotje, Taroa, and Jaluit Islands. In the Gilbert group the island attacked was Makin.
Chief target on Roi Island was the highly fortified Japanese air base. Here the United States forces destroyed two hangars, an ammunition dump, all fuel storage, all other storage and warehouses, a radio building, three fighter planes and six scout bombers in the air and one bomber on the ground.
In the anchorage of Kwajalein Island the United States forces sighted 10 surface ships, 5 submarines, and a seaplane base. The United States forces, swooping in on the targets, had a field day by destroying a converted 17,000-ton aircraft carrier of the Yawata class, 1 light cruiser, 1 destroyer, 3 large fleet tankers, 1 cargo vessel, 2 submarines, 2 large seaplanes. In addition, other enemy vessels were badly damaged.
The loss to the United States Navy in these two attacks, the one on Roi Island and the one on Kwajalein Island, consisted of four scout bombers.
Though no Japanese planes were found on the Wotje Atoll, there were, however, nine vessels of various categories in the harbor. The United States forces destroyed at least seven of these vessels, four being cargo vessels of about 5,000 tons each, the other three were smaller.
In addition, the United States forces swept the shore installations and completely destroyed two hangers, oil and gasoline stowage, shops and storehouses, two antiaircraft batteries, and five coastal guns. This attack resulted in no damage or loss to the United States forces.
The attack on Tarao was launched at a new airfield, well-equipped. The United States forces closed in, and when they finished they had destroyed two hangars, all fuel tanks, and industrial buildings.
In this attack on Taroa the United States forces had to fight off Japanese planes, and ended by destroying seven enemy fighter planes
and five scout bombers in the air, and six enemy bombers and five enemy fighters on the ground. The only loss to the United States flyers was one scout bomber. A United States cruiser sustained a hit from one small bomb.
The raid by United States forces on Jaluit, another important Japanese base, was made in a heavy rainstorm. In the rain the United States Air Forces attacked two enemy vessels, badly damaging one of them.
In the attack on Makin, of the Gilbert group, United States forces destroyed two enemy patrol planes and damaged an auxiliary vessel. An enemy patrol plane was damaged at sea.
As a result of this Gilbert-Marshall Islands offensive, the enemy lost 16 ships and 41 planes.
The United States losses totaled 11 scout bombers which failed to return, 4 from the islands of Jaluit and Makin; 2 surface vessels received minor damage from near bomb misses.
Another raid on Makin, of the Gilbert group, was made August 17, 1942. This second raid was made by a force of Marines of the United States Pacific Fleet. The purpose of the landing expedition was to destroy the installations of the enemy seaplane base there. The purpose was accomplished.
At least 80 Japanese were killed. The enemy's radio installations and stores were destroyed, and also 1 large seaplane and 1 small one.
Through a twist of luck additional losses and damage was indicted on the Japanese by their own bombers which arrived from other bases to help the Japanese. They bombed their own people and their own installations.
In addition to the accomplishments of the United States Marines, the ships of the American expedition sank one enemy gunboat and 1 transport. Considering the nature of the operation, the United States forces suffered only moderate losses.
An Allied force consisting of H. M. A. S. Perth, H. M. S. Exeter, the U. S. S. Houston, and Dutch cruisers De Ruyter and Java were at sea north of Surabaya on the afternoon of Friday, February 27.
The Allied cruisers were accompanied by a group of British, Dutch, and United States destroyers.
The whole force was under the sea command of Rear Admiral Deoorman of the Dutch Navy, whose flag was flying in the De Ruyter. The whole naval force in the area was under the strategic control of Vice Admiral Helfrich of the Royal Netherlands Navy.
Contact with a Japanese force was made at 4:14 p. m., about halfway between Bawean Island and Surabaya. The Japanese force consisted of not less than 9 cruisers of which 2 were of the Nati class of 10,000 tons, armed with ten 8-inch guns. The Japanese cruisers had with them 2 flotillas of destroyers.
Action was joined at extreme range, and almost at once one of the Japanese destroyer flotillas launched an attack. This attack was driven off by the fire of Allied cruisers, and one of the enemy destroyers was hit by shells from H. M. A. S. Perth.
The other Japanese destroyer flotilla soon afterward delivered a torpedo attack. While trying to avoid these torpedoes H. M. S. Exeter was hit by an 8-inch shell in boiler room. Her speed reduced, she was forced to drop out of line.
The Netherlands destroyer Kortenaer received the only torpedo which took effect; but it hit her squarely and she sank.
Three destroyers were ordered to counterattack the Japanese destroyers which were retiring under cover of a smoke screen. This whole group, allied and enemy alike, disappeared from sight.
H. M. S. Electra also disappeared into the smoke screen not to be seen again.
As soon as Allied cruisers, including the Houston but without the disabled Exeter, drew clear of smoke they again engaged the enemy, this time at shorter range. Within half an hour the enemy cruisers turned away under cover of a smoke screen. One of the enemy's 8-inch-gun cruisers had been hit and was in flames.
Admiral Deoorman led his force about and chased the enemy to northeast-ward but, in the fading light, failed to regain touch with the Japanese.
After nightfall the Allied cruisers sighted tour enemy ships to west-ward and engaged them. The results could not be determined in the darkness.
Admiral Deoorman attempted to work around these enemy ships in an effort to locate the convoy which was expected to the northward. Because of the high speed of the enemy this maneuver was found to be impossible, so Admiral Deoorman next turned his force to south-ward to approach the coast of Java. To intercept the Japanese invasion convoys he intended to sweep westward along this coast.
Half an hour after this Allied force had turned to westward along the Java coast H. M. S. Jupiter was disabled by an under-water explosion; she sank. A United States submarine assisted in the rescue of 53 survivors.
When the Allied cruisers were about 12 miles north of Rembang two enemy cruisers were sighted to the shoreward. The Allied ships at once opened fire and scored hits, and the De Ruyter in turn was hit by one shell.
Afterward the De Ruyter made a large change of course, presumably to avoid torpedoes fired by the enemy. The other Allied cruisers were following the De Ruyter when underwater explosions occurred simultaneously in cruisers De Ruyter and Java. Both these Dutch cruisers blew up and sank at once.
Damage to the enemy during these actions of February 27 is believed to include the sinking of one Japanese 8-inch cruiser, the damaging of another similar cruiser which was seen in flames, a destroyer sunk and three other destroyers left on fire and possibly sinking.
H. M. A. S. Perth and the U. S. S. Houston, which had received some damage, reached Ganjong Priok next morning; and five United States destroyers reached Surabaya.
With the enemy in command of sea and air north of Java in overwhelming force the Allied command was now faced with the problem of extricating the remaining Allied ships from a dangerous situation. The way to Australia was barred by the 600-mile-long island of Java, with the straits at either end of it under enemy control.
With the intention of passing through Sundae Strait during dark hours the H. M. A. S. Perth and the U. S. S. Houston left Tanjong Priok after nightfall on February 28. They ran into a force of Japanese ships off St. Nicholas Point at about 11:30 p. m., and both Allied vessels were lost.
The same night the Exeter, which was capable of only half speed, left Surabaya accompanied by H. M. S. Encounter and the U. S. destroyer Pope. On the forenoon of Sunday, March 1, the Exeter reported that she had sighted enemy cruisers steering toward her. And this, also, was the last word received from these three Allied vessels.
In Sunda Strait two other Japanese cruisers closed in on the Dutch destroyer Evertsen, damaging her, and she was beached. Allied losses in the whole engagement also included H. M. S. Stronghold and sloop H. M. A. S. Yarra.
What the enemy lost throughout these days of engagement will not, of course, ever be known accurately. That their convoys were broken up is known for a certainty; but the full estimate of the Battle of Java Sea, especially with its reference to any possible plans of invasion of Australia, will have to wait till all the cards are down after the war.
In early March of 1942 the Japanese were observed to be concentrating transports and combatant ships in the ports of Salamaua and Lae on the island of New Guinea, apparently in preparation for an assault on Port Moresby on the south coast of the same island.
The occupation of Port Moresby would have afforded the enemy strategically located advance base from which promptly to make further attacks on northern Australia. Control of the Torres Strait by the Japanese would have cut Darwin off from sea support.
American and Australian land-based forces struck again and again at Japanese ships and harbor installations in Salamaua and Lae. But on March 10 a number of aircraft from a Pacific Fleet task force joined these shore-based planes in an attack which resulted in sinking of, or damage to, more than 20 Japanese ships and heavy damage to shore installations.
The resulting disruption of Japanese plans delayed for 2 months any attempt of the enemy to advance by sea to the southward. Then the enemy once again began concentrating transports and the supporting elements for an attempt to advance into the Solomon and Louisiade Islands. The advances actually were begun in early May.
A task force of the Pacific Fleet, on May 4, found a part of this Japanese invasion fleet at anchor in and near the harbor of Tulagi, the capital of Florida Island in the Solomon group. A few of the Japanese ships managed to get underway, but most of these were severely crippled and some were later beached to prevent their sinking. Twelve Japanese vessels were either sunk or damaged, and also seven Japanese aircraft including a large four-engine flying boat. American losses were only three aircraft.
That night the United States force struck out to seek the main body of the Japanese invasion force, and a few days later, May 7, the aircraft struck at the main body of the Japanese force in the Louisiade Archipelago off Misima.
The new Japanese aircraft carrier Ryukaku was turning into the wind to launch her aircraft, but was caught with 15 bomb hits and 10 torpedo hits. The Ryukaku, with most of her planes still on board, sank in a few minutes. A heavy enemy cruiser also was sunk. Shore-based Army aircraft joined the naval planes in this attack, and more than 25 Japanese planes were shot down as compared to the United States loss of 6.
But on the afternoon of May 7, the Japanese aircraft located and bombed the U. S. tanker Neosho and her accompanying destroyer, the U. S. S. Sims, in the Coral Sea. The Sims was sunk during the attack and the Neosho sank several days later as a result of the damage.
Next day, May 8, the same task force again carried the attack to the enemy and inflicted serious damage on a second Japanese carrier, the Shokaku, which was left ablaze.
While the United States planes were attacking, the enemy launched a counterattack to get the U. S. aircraft carrier Lexington at all cost. She was hit by two torpedoes, by at least two bombs, and was further damaged by several near misses.
The crew of the Lexington succeeded in putting out the fires and recovering her aircraft. But several hours after the battle, and while steaming at 20 knots, the Lexington was rocked by an internal explosion. It was first thought that the explosion was the result of a "sleeper" bomb. Investigation revealed, however, that the probable cause was the ignition of gasoline vapors which resulted from leaks in ruptured gasoline lines in closed compartments below decks.
The crew fought fires for more than 5 hours but was at a disadvantage because the explosion had damaged much of the fire-fighting equipment. Destroyers were sent alongside to assist with their pumps and fire-fighting equipment. The wounded were transferred from the burning carrier to the destroyers alongside.
But finally, with all machinery disabled and with flames enveloping her entire length, it became apparent that any further attempt to save the Lexington was futile and the captain ordered "Abandon ship."
Men slid down lines from the carrier's decks to boats from other ships, while some crawled aboard life rafts and rubber boats. Ninety-two percent of the entire ship's company were rescued and reached port safely. The only casualties were the result of the battle, or of the explosion, or of the resulting fire.
After the last man to leave the vessel, the commanding officer slid to safety, the Lexington sank with a final detonation which shook nearby ships.
The Battle of the Coral Sea, plus the prior attacks on Salamaua and Lae, resulted in the disruption of 2 Japanese attempts to advance to the southeastward of New Guinea, and cost the enemy more than 15 ships sunk, including an aircraft carrier and 3 heavy cruisers.
The only United States losses remained the Lexington, Neosho, and Sims.
After the Battle of the Coral Sea between May 4 and May 8, the Japanese withdrew their floating forces from the Southwest Pacific toward Japan.
But, judging from reports by United States reconnaissance aircraft and submarines, the withdrawal was for the purposes of getting reorganized for yet another attack against the Allied forces.
Where the attack would come could only be guessed. However, the United States forces assumed that the enemy, having learned the sea approaches to Australia were strongly defended, would look elsewhere to make the attack: Possibly against Hawaii, possibly against Alaska, possibly against the Panama Canal Zone, or possibly even against the Pacific coast of the United States.
Recognizing the necessity of being ready at any of these strategic points, the United States naval surface forces were deployed in the area between Midway and the Aleutian Islands. Precautionary measures also were increased on the Pacific coast, on the coast of Alaska, and also in the Panama Canal Zone.
The answer, or at least a part of the answer, was discovered at about 9 o'clock on the morning of June 3. This was when Navy patrol planes reported a strong force of enemy ships 700 miles off Midway, proceeding eastward.
Immediately nine United States Army Flying Fortresses took off from Midway to intercept and attack the approaching enemy.
The Japanese force was observed to be approaching in five columns, and was composed of many cruisers, transports, cargo vessels, and other escort ships. The Army bombers reported hits on one cruiser and one transport, leaving them damaged and burning.
Later, during the night, four Navy Catalina flying boats located and attacked the same enemy group by moonlight, scoring two a torpedo hits on large ships, one of which is believed to have sunk.
But these feelers were but the preliminaries for the real battle which started in earnest, and in many directions, with the coming of dawn next morning, June 4. At this time several groups of Army medium and heavy bombers, and United States Marine Corps dive bombers and torpedo planes take to the air from Midway.
Four of the Army torpedo bombers attacked two enemy aircraft carriers through a screen of enemy fighter protection and a curtain of antiaircraft fire. A torpedo hit on an enemy carrier is reported to have been made. But the enemy fire was such that two of four bombers failed to return.
Six Marine Corps torpedo-planes attacked the enemy force through terrific enemy antiaircraft fire and, though one hit is believed to have been made on an enemy ship, only one of these six planes returned to its base.
Sixteen Marine Corps dive bombers attacked, scoring three hits on a carrier believed to be the Soryu. Only half of the attacking planes returned.
Another group of 11 Marine Corps dive bombers attacked the enemy ships, scored 2 bomb hits on a battleship, which was left smoking and listing.
A group of 16 United States Army Flying Fortresses carried out high-level bombing attacks, claiming 3 hits on enemy carriers.
Meanwhile, after the Marine Corps planes had left Midway for the attack missions, the island itself was attacked by carrier-based enemy planes. They were met in the air as they arrived by an outnumbered Marine Corps fighter force. But these defending fighters, aided by
antiaircraft batteries, shot down at least 40 of the enemy planes, and damaged others. No plane was caught grounded at Midway.
Though the land-based air force on Midway had struck the Japanese fleet with their full strength, the enemy did not appear to have been checked. It was now estimated that the enemy force consisted of approximately 80 ships, of which only 10 were known for sure to have been damaged.
Later, though, it was learned that the United States aerial attacks had caused the enemy carrier force to change its course. But this complete change of course was not observed immediately by the United States shore-based planes because the change came after the planes had delivered their attacks and while they were returning to Midway to rearm.
Then, the United States naval forces afloat were brought into position.
Carrier-based aircraft were launched and were proceeding to the spot where the enemy's previous course and speed would have placed him had he chosen to continue the assault. Unaware of the enemy's change of course, one group of carrier-based fighters and dive bombers searched along the reported track to the southeast until shortage of gas forced them to abandon the search and go into Midway. Some were forced down at sea when they ran out of gas, but most of these were later rescued.
The commanding officer of a different flight composed of fighters dive bombers, and torpedo-planes estimated the situation accurately by concluding that the enemy actually was retreating. Fifteen torpedo planes from this group, therefore, located the enemy to the westward and proceeded to attack at once without protection or assistance of any kind.
Although some hits were reported by radio from these planes and though some enemy fighters were shot down, the total damage inflicted by this squadron in this attack may never be known. None of these 15 planes returned.
The sole survivor of the 30 officers and men of this squadron was 1 ensign, who later was rescued swimming at sea. He had scored a torpedo hit on an enemy carrier before he was shot down.
But now, with the retreating enemy definitely located, other United States carrier-based groups of torpedo-planes proceeded to press the attack. These torpedo-planes, despite heavy losses, engaged the attention of the enemy fighters and antiaircraft batteries to such a degree that United States dive bombers were able to drop bomb after bomb on the enemy ships without serious interference.
The enemy aircraft carriers Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu were severely damaged. Gasoline in planes trapped on their flight decks ignited, starting fires which burned until each carrier had sunk.
Two enemy battleships were hit, one of them burning fiercely when last seen. In the same action an enemy destroyer also was hit by the same Navy dive bombers and is believed to have sunk.
The Japanese, having lost that round, immediately concentrated on attacking the aircraft carrier Yorktown. In this attack the enemy used 36 planes from the undamaged carrier Hiryu; 11 of the 18 Japanese bombers in the group were shot down by United States fighters before their bombs were dropped; 7 got through the fighter protection. Of these 7, one was disintegrated by antiaircraft fire;
a second dropped its bomb-load into the sea and plunged after it; and a third was torn to shreds by fire from United States fighter planes. Four enemy bombers escaped after scoring three direct hits.
A second attack was made on the Yorktown by 12 to 15 torpedo-planes, escorted by fighters. Between 4 and 7 of this group were destroyed by United States fighters and 3 were shot down by antiaircraft fire. Five succeeded in launching their torpedoes, but all 5 were destroyed as they attempted to escape. But the attack put the Yorktown out of action.
The list on the Yorktown made her flight deck useless for landings and take-offs. Her aircraft continued the battle, operating from other carriers.
While the enemy was attacking the Yorktown, some of the Yorktown's planes located the Japanese carrier Hiryu which was accompanied by battleships, cruisers, and destroyers.
The Yorktown's planes attacked the whole of this enemy force. They hit the Hiryu repeatedly and left the carrier blazing from stem to stern. The Hiryu sank the next morning. In addition, the Yorktown planes pounded two enemy battleships with bombs, and heavily damaged a heavy cruiser.
During the afternoon a United States submarine hit the smoking Soryu with three torpedoes, just as the enemy was attempting to take the vessel in tow. Flames engulfed the carrier and the crew was forced to abandon ship. At sunset heavy explosions occurred, and the Soryu sank during the night.
Just before sunset United States Army bombers attacked crippled and burning ships of the enemy. Three times the planes hit a damaged carrier, probably the Akagi. The planes also hit a large ship, one cruiser which was left burning, and damaged one destroyer.
Thus, at the end of June 4, the United States forces had gained mastery of the air in the region of Midway. The Japanese had lost four aircraft carriers, had received vital damage to two battleships, a transport, several other vessels, and had lost one destroyer.
The United States forces lost the Yorktown, although she did not sink until June 7. Meanwhile every attempt was made to save the Yorktown after she had been put out of action. Because she was listing heavily, the crew was forced to abandon ship because of the danger of her capsizing. Tugs and other salvage vessels were sent to her assistance. A salvage party was placed aboard and she was taken in tow.
But by the morning of June 6 an enemy submarine had scored two hits amidship on the Yorktown and two torpedo hits on the destroyer Hammann alongside. The Hammann sank soon, and the condition of the Yorktown became critical.
The enemy submarine which had done the torpedoing was attacked by destroyers throughout the day and, from evidence seen, was believed certainly damaged and possibly sunk.
During the early morning of June 7, the Yorktown capsized and sank.
Meanwhile, to return to the battle, an enemy submarine on June 5 shelled Midway briefly but caused no damage. Shore batteries returned the fire.
At dawn next day, June 6, United States forces marshaled their strength for further assaults against the enemy fleets, which by now had separated into several groups, all in full retreat. Bad flying weather made the search difficult, but a flight of United States Army Flying Fortresses located an enemy contingent of battleships and cruisers to the westward of Midway.
A direct hit by a Flying Fortress damaged a cruiser. Another bomb damaged the same cruiser's steering gear. She was last observed listing badly and turning in tight circles.
A second Army Air Force attacked a heavy cruiser, scoring a hit. And meanwhile, about noon of the same day, June 5, United States Marine Corps aircraft located the same damaged enemy cruiser and delivered a direct hit.
In the afternoon the Army Fortresses again attacked the cruisers and reported three direct hits on one of them. Returning from the attack, one plane was lost and another forced down at sea 15 miles from Midway. All except one of the crew of this second plane were rescued.
During the night of June 5-6 United States aircraft carriers steamed to the westward, searching for the enemy, and early on the morning of June 6 carrier aircraft discovered two groups of enemy ships. The attacks against them were carried on all day. The Mikuma was sunk shortly after noon. The Mogami was gutted and subsequently sunk. Each was a heavy cruiser.
Bad flying weather hampered the search for enemy craft, and the Japanese, taking advantage of the weather, disappeared beyond contact.
But the Battle of Midway, lasting more than 3 days and nights, was such a complex and widespread action, that even the active participants of the United States forces were unable to sum up thoroughly all the damage inflicted on the enemy; but it is known that approximately 4,800 Japanese were killed or drowned, and that the total personnel losses to the United States forces were 92 officers and 215 enlisted men.
In tonnage, the Japanese at Midway lost more than the Germans lost in the classic Battle of Jutland. Almost without exception, these losses could be attributed to ship-based United States Navy aircraft.
The victory over the Japanese Navy off Midway which helped mark the way for the first major offensive action by the American forces in the Pacific, had been, in the words of Admiral Ernest J. King, "essentially defensive in character." The Battles of the Coral Sea and of Midway were groundwork for offensive action, namely the struggle for Guadalcanal.
Up till now the Japanese had had more or less uninterrupted occupation of the Solomon Islands and, particularly, of Guadalcanal, where they proceeded to construct an airfield known as Henderson field, and a seaplane and minor naval base at Tulagi. At the same time they organized naval and air bases on Bougainville Island and at Rabaul and Kavieng on the New Britain and New Ireland Islands respectively.
Reasons for an American seizure of Guadalcanal were imperative, especially for keeping the Allied lines open to Australia. An expeditionary force of United States Marines, provided with a protective convoy and a task force, arrived off the islands on August 6, and at dawn on August 7 it split into two portions. One proceeded to the vicinity of Tulagi and the second to Guadalcanal.
The approach to the area of operation was fortunately under cover of an overcast that made enemy aerial reconnaissance difficult. But on the night of August 6-7 the weather cleared. However, the expeditionary forces with their supporting craft proceeded to their assigned positions undetected, and the Japanese were taken by surprise.
A successful landing was made in the morning at Tulagi. The landing at Guadalcanal, 2 hours later, were preceded by a preliminary naval bombardment which drove the Japanese to take shelter in the limestone caves which honeycomb the region.
At first little opposition was encountered at Tulagi, but when darkness fell the Japanese counterattacked, emerging from the caves and from the jungles, and considerable hand-to-hand fighting resulted in the darkness; but by next morning the Americans succeeded in cleaning up the area, and some 500 Japanese dead were counted. The total Japanese garrison in the area was estimated at some 1,200.
In the meantime, at Guadalcanal, the American transports engaged in unloading stores and equipment were attacked about midday by enemy planes; but shortly after midnight of August 9 an enemy naval force, never clearly identified, appeared on the scene and managed to get between the outer defense task force, stationed near Savo Island, and an inner naval guard lying close to the transports.
Flares were dropped by enemy planes on the south side of the Allied ships outlining these to the enemy, who promptly opened fire. In this sudden close-range exchange of fire the Australian cruiser Canberra was sunk, and also the American cruisers Quincy, Astoria, and Vincennes. Loss to the enemy remains unknown, but he had failed to destroy or drive away the American transports, and the marines were landed.
By nightfall on August 9 unloading operations had been completed and cargo ships left the area. By noon of August 10 they were fully involved and consolidated their positions on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanamboga, Makambo, and portions of Florida Island.
Enemy reinforcements began to arrive on Guadalcanal next day, August 11. The landings were made mostly at night and when American planes could not operate from the newly constructed Henderson Field, still in process of being constructed.
Because the Japanese through the subsequent weeks and months were determined that Guadalcanal, with its Henderson Field, should not be lost to them, the whole story of what the United States Marine did there is one which is too big, too involved, and too valiant to be reported in detail in this brief summary. But as the world knows by now the marines, in their victory at Guadalcanal, completed an ageless epic for American history.
Meanwhile, as for the actions at sea in the Solomon Islands area, names have been assigned to the six major engagements. But these names of battles, along with their dates, do not imply that these sea
engagements were the only ones in this area during those critical months.
The Japanese remained determined to bring badly needed supplies and additional troops to the islands, and the United States Navy in that section renamed equally determined to thwart these Japanese landing efforts.
As for the major sea engagements in the Solomon Islands area, the first one, the Battle of Savo Island (night of August 8-9) already has been described.
The second major battle, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 23-25) occurred when a big Japanese striking force was sighted approaching the southeastern group of the Solomon Islands from the northeastward. The enemy's purpose was the usual one of trying to recapture shore positions and to annihilate the United States marines ashore, but large American aircraft struck first. Army bombers scored four hits on a large Japanese carrier, and United States carrier aircraft attacked and severely damaged the smaller Japanese carrier Ryuzyo.
The enemy, in turn, launched an air attack on Guadalcanal, but United States fighters intercepted the enemy flyers and shot down 21 of the enemy's aircraft. During the night shelling of Guadalcanal, United States dive bombers responded by damaging at least 1 enemy destroyer;
destroyer; and next day United States aircraft damaged an enemy transport and a cruiser, leaving each of them burning.
That night the enemy force of transports, cruisers, and destroyers continued to press toward Guadalcanal. Five additional ships including a destroyer, were hit in the enemy forces and left burning.
The enemy started to withdraw, and while doing so one of the Japanese transports was hit and had to be abandoned. Though the enemy did withdraw from this battle, it was evident to the Americans that the withdrawal was only temporary. The enemy merely had withdrawn to get reorganized.
As October opened, the Japanese at night continued to land small contingents of troops at distant spots on Guadalcanal. During all this period the Japanese were well aware that the American position was little more than a beachhead some 6 to 7 miles long and 3 miles deep-the western boundary being the Matanikau River and the eastern boundary Henderson field. However, on October 9, the marines started another offensive west across the Matanikau River which they succeeded in crossing, and also cleared out a Japanese bridgehead on the American side a few days later.
On the night of October 11 an American naval force met an enemy naval force, convoying more reinforcements toward Guadalcanal. The Japanese formation was discovered about 10 miles north of Cape Esperance. The American force, led by the cruiser San Francisco, opened the attack by surprise and, within one minute after opening fir, a Japanese heavy cruiser was set ablaze and was seen to sink soon afterward. The United States vessels selected targets in the enemy formation, and the enemy vessels were soon lighted up by four of their own burning ships.
During the 27-minute battle the ships fought at point-blank range; and the now famous cruiser Boise alone fired 1,000 rounds of 5- and 6-inch shells (almost 40 a minute for the 27 minutes.)
In this battle, now known as the Battle of Cape Esperance (October 11-12), the Boise shared in the sinking of three Japanese cruisers and three Japanese destroyers. She took terrific punishment. She was hit below the waterline, her fires were out, and the flames leaped mast high. Her sister ships gave her up that they might continue after the enemy. But the crew of the Boise plugged holes with bedding and patched her up so that she steamed back into line 2 hours later to continue with the battle.
The fleeing enemy was followed in daylight next day by American planes, which inflicted further damage. The loss to the Americans in this victory was one destroyer, the Duncan, and damage to two cruisers.
The fourth major engagement in the Solomon Islands area was the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands (October 26, 1942). In this engagement a Pacific Fleet carrier task force exchanged air attacks with enemy forces northeast of Guadalcanal. An American aircraft carrier, the Hornet, was sunk, and also the destroyer Porter. In turn the Japanese lost 1 battleship, 3 carriers, 5 cruisers, as well as 100 planes and 50 "probables."
Although these engagements were helping to keep Guadalcanal protected from an all-out attack by everything the Japanese had given in their desperation to seize the island back again, nevertheless the situation of the United States marines on Guadalcanal remained anything but secure.
The Japanese at one time not only shelled Henderson Field and other land targets on the nights of October 14 and 15 but also at one time five enemy transports arrived off the Japanese end of Guadalcanal. They landed not only troops hut artillery and tanks, the first the Japanese had had in this area. These transports were discovered at dawn, and three of them were set on fire and beached.
Reports were received during the evening of November 12; reports were affirmed that an enemy convoy consisting of 12 large merchantmen, heavily escorted, and preceded by 2 battleships, several cruisers and a number of destroyers, was approaching Guadalcanal from the general direction of Rabaul and Buin.
The enemy evidently intended to bombard United States positions on Guadalcanal prior to landing troops. Shortly after midnight on the morning of November 13 the spearhead of this enemy formation, including the two battleships, reached the Guadalcanal area.
Units of the United States Fleet pounced at the enemy in the darkness, and it was during this close-range engagement that the cruiser San Francisco bewildered the Japanese by suddenly steaming between the enemy lines, adding confusion to the Japanese tactics. Every enemy effort to hit the San Francisco was a possible shot at one of their own ships, and it is believed that at one time Japanese ships actually were firing at each other.
This engagement, known as the Battle of Guadalcanal (November 13-15), continued furiously throughout the night, and by daylight United States bombers joined in the attack. They concentrated most of their bombs on a column of at least 12 transports which continued toward Guadalcanal and sank 8 of them.
However, the enemy, reinforced by surface units, continued obstinately toward Guadalcanal and began shelling the American shore positions to cover a landing.
Reinforcements also arrived for the United States surface forces during the night of November 14-15, and promptly engaged the Japanese fleet in what developed into one of the greatest naval battles of the war up to that time.
The engagement was devastating. Warship slugged with warship and, on November 15, the Japanese fled, or at least the survivors fled, for the Japanese losses are believed to have included 28 vessels sunk or destroyed. In addition to destroyers, transports, and cargo ships the losses included 5 light cruisers, 4 heavy cruisers, and 1 battleship, or maybe 2. It is believed, also that at least 10,000 Japanese troops lost their lives by drowning. Of the United States force, 2 cruisers and 1 destroyer were sunk.
But despite its losses in this defeat, the enemy reassembled new forces during the subsequent 2 weeks and, on the night of November 30-December 1, tried again. This next battle, known as the Battle of Lunga Point, took place in the waters immediately north of Guadalcanal.
During this night action the U. S. S. Atlanta was so badly damaged that she had to be sunk by her own crew, and other United States vessels were damaged. But the enemy, after losing four destroyers, two larger destroyers, or what could have been cruisers, two troop transports, and one cargo ship-after losing these, the enemy once more was compelled to withdraw from trying to reinforce its remaining troops Guadalcanal.
During the latter part of January 1943 it appeared that the Japanese Fleet was preparing for a decisive battle in the Guadalcanal area Fleet units, including battleships and aircraft carriers, were located in the waters between Truk and the Solomon Islands. At the same time, reports indicated that there were large groups of enemy destroyers gathering in the area and an unusually heavy concentration of enemy aircraft at all of the Japanese bases in the Solomon Islands-New Britain area.
The situation appeared, then, like the final show-down, and the United States forces prepared accordingly. But, as events revealed themselves, the Japanese had had enough of that sort of thing, and now were solely interested in the evacuation of what Japanese troops were left on Guadalcanal. The Japanese also wanted to interfere with the movements of United States transports which were landing soldiers on Guadalcanal.
But instead of the action becoming a main one between heavy forces, the Japanese operations were confined mainly to the movement of destroyer detachments under heavy air cover, and over a scattered area.
Enemy torpedo planes on January 29-30, 1943, attacked a force of United States cruisers and destroyers which were covering transport movements in the vicinity of Rennell Island. Torpedoes severely damaged the U. S. S. Chicago. The damaged cruiser was taken in tow by another cruiser and later turned over to a tug for towing. But next day 13 enemy torpedoplanes concentrated on the disabled Chicago; 12 of the 13 were shot down by United States aircraft, but nevertheless, the Chicago was sunk.
During the subsequent 3 days this battle, over a wide area, turned into a free-for-all scramble between bombers, fighters, and surface craft. When it was over the enemy once again had scattered with
what was left of its fleet, the Japanese losses having included more than a dozen destroyers of various types, several cargo ships, and one ship of miscellaneous classification. United States torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighter planes had accounted for more than a good share of them.
These 3 days of scattered action, which so far has been given no definite battle name, apparently ended, for the time being at least, any further Japanese attempt to stop the American occupation of Guadalcanal.
Two squadrons of the Navy's PBY's were patrolling the waters off the Aleutians on December 7, 1941, when word was relayed to them by radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
The Navy's PBY's had been patrolling these waters for about 2 months prior to the attack, and shortly before December 7 the patrols had been conducted in full combat condition, loaded with live bombs.
But under the pressure of actual war now, yet limited both as to personnel and equipment, the flights were taking anywhere from 8 to 14 hours, the weary pilots snatching bits of rest whenever they could and then taking off again, alternating usually after a day, for another average of 12 hours in what is described as the world's worst weather.
For, as is generally known by now, blankets of fog hang over the Aleutians almost all the time. Accurate observation is at all times extremely difficult. The fog is combined with rain and drizzle in summer and snow and ice in winter. High winds constantly curl down from the mountains and from the volcanic tips. The sudden "williwaws," as the unpredictable winds of this region were called, attain velocities of 80 knots, and are known to change directions within a few seconds, and with no warning at all even while planes are attempting a landing.
These remain the flying conditions in the Aleutians through the months, summer or winter, and were the same late in May when news was received of an impending Japanese advance against the islands, and possibly against the mainland of Alaska itself.
A squadron of P-40's came over Dutch Harbor May 25 on the way to a new Army base. Flying within the rim of mountains surrounding the harbor, the pilots circled the Dutch Harbor settlement to look over the place at a low altitude.
On the morning of June 3, at about 6 a. m., another squadron of pursuit planes again entered over the harbor, and again flew within the rim of the mountains. Through the limited visibility those on defense could not be certain whether the planes again were P-40's. Everyone was on the alert, all the more so because a tender in the neighborhood originally had reported that Japanese planes possibly might be in the vicinity.
The unidentified squadron continued circling through the clouds above Dutch Harbor, and it was then that a chief petty officer, among the watchers on the ground, managed through the low-ceiling to get one good look at some of the planes. He recognized them as Zeros.
Batteries immediately opened fire on the Japanese as they bore down. The batteries, both aboard the ship and on shore, opened fire 5 minutes before the first bomb was dropped.
In Dutch Harbor at the time were three United States destroyers, an Army transport, a minesweeper and a Coast Guard cutter, and also an old station ship, the Northwestern, which had been beached and was being used as barracks for contractors' personnel.
To obtain maneuverability the ships present got under way, continuing their antiaircraft fire. No ship was hit during the first raid, and several of the attacking aircraft were shot down.
Exactly how many Japanese planes were in this first attack is not definitely known, the clouds interfering with the counting. Some observers say the enemy planes came over in 5 waves of 3 planes each, and other observers put the number as high as 40.
A few barracks and warehouses at Fort Mears and Dutch Harbor were bombed and set afire and a Navy patrol plane, which was about to take off with official mail, was strafed.
The Japanese force probably consisted of two small carriers, two seaplane tenders, several cruisers and destroyers, and from four to six transports. It is further believed by some observers that few if any of the enemy planes in the first attack could have been able to regain their carrier.
Meanwhile efforts were being made at sea in the fog to locate the source of the Japanese planes. A lieutenant, piloting a PBY patrol plane, received the order by radio to "carry out your scouting plan to the limits of your gasoline." At the time his patrol plane had only 500 gallons left.
The patrol plane made long sweeps over the sea, covering as much water below as was possible until the remaining gasoline started to become exhausted. He put the plane on the homing course, and was on it only a couple of minutes when two small float-type planes appeared on his starboard quarter. His gunner took a crack at them, driving them away into the clouds.
Then, when about 80 miles off the shores of Umnak, the PBY made contact with a force of five enemy surface vessels. While the pilot and crew were counting the vessels, and determining what they were, a Japanese Zero zoomed down upon the PBY and let go with everything the Zero had to give. Then it was gone instantly back into the clouds.
During that instant the Zero had put into the PBY an incendiary in the "tunnel" compartment, a cannon hit on the forward starboard wing strut, and .27 caliber slugs along the tail section, and a small hole in one gasoline tank. The bomber-navigator received a slug in one of his legs. Another of the shots had severed one rudder cable. From then on the only way the PBY could be turned was by banking her and skidding down in the direction the pilot wanted to go.
Yet once again, when back on the course, the PBY once more sighted the Japanese vessels below, and then it began to snow. Visibility was gone now, and the PBY was so nearly out of gasoline that an attempt was made next to save the ship. The starboard motor, with all gasoline gone, threw the ship into a skid when the motor stopped. Having no rudder control, the plane skidded all the way down, but the landing did not crack up the plane.
The rubber lifeboat was put out, and the wounded men placed in it. Absorbent cotton, originally intended for plugging the ears of the crew members, was stuck into the bullet holes in the hull. In this manner the PBY's crew, with its first-hand account of at least part of
the size of the Japanese task force, managed to remain afloat for 3 hours, until sighted by another plane, and finally rescued by a Coast Guard patrol vessel.
This contact, one of the earliest if not the earliest made with the enemy fleet, was desperately followed with other attempts through the thick weather. Some of the Navy fliers returned and some did not return; but, by piecing bits of information together, it became definitely ascertained that the Japanese planes came from carriers which were but a part of a much larger force.
Meanwhile, and returning to Dutch Harbor, 18 enemy carrier based bombers and 16 fighters attacked the installations at Dutch Harbor and Fort Mears. This attack, on the evening of June 4, was made simultaneously with an attack on the Army post at Fort Glenn, about 70 miles west of Dutch Harbor on the island of Umnak. Two of the attacking planes, if not more, were shot down outright by Army pursuit planes and the remainder withdrew without inflicting damage.
The alarm at Dutch Harbor and Fort Mears was sounded well in advance of the attack, and the enemy was met with heavy antiaircraft fire from ship and shore batteries. The station ship Northwestern was bombed and destroyed by enemy fire. A warehouse and a few fuel oil tanks were set afire, and one empty aircraft hangar was hit.
During the darkness, after the second attack on Dutch Harbor, the enemy carrier group is believed to have retired through the Bering Sea in a northerly direction and passed between the Pribiloff Islands and the mainland of Alaska.
The subsequent days and nights immediately after June 3 were occupied with intensive patrols without positive knowledge of the location or composition of the Japanese forces. Storms and fogs continued to shield the enemy. The weather was so bad that the searching planes of both Army and Navy could have passed within a comparatively few yards of the Japanese ships without seeing them.
The behavior and size of the expeditionary force gives basis to the belief that the Japanese originally had been assigned to occupy bases on the Alaskan coastal Area. But when they found the opposition at Dutch Harbor, and after suffering a tremendous loss of air strength, the expedition is believed to have chosen the landing spot at far-off Kiska as an alternative.
During the attacks on Dutch Harbor the enemy seemed to have been confused, too, by the discovery that the Army had a base behind them to the west of Dutch Harbor, for the enemy was engaged by a contingent of P-40's there.
First apprehension for the security of Attu and Kiska, far off to the west, began to be felt when no radio weather had been received from either of these two distant islands. On June 8 a PBY was directed upon returning from its regular search that day, to scout Kiska and Attu. The PBY reported on the afternoon of June 10 that two unidentified ships were in Kiska Harbor. The plane then continued to Attu and reported the existence there of a tent camp and numerous small boats and landing barges. On the way the pilot bombed a light cruiser and destroyer.
From the weather standpoint this flight will go down as one of the typically hazardous ones being performed by the American flyers at
that time in the Aleutians. They were especially hazardous because the instrument flying, the only kind of flying which could be done there, had to be carried out in the vicinity of obstructions of all shapes and sizes, there being no navigational facilities or radio aids of any sort in the vicinity.
Regardless of all this, and after the initial contact with the enemy on Kiska, the island was kept under almost constant observation. Every plane available shuttled almost continuously to Kiska from a base in the eastern Aleutians, refueling at a tender stationed at an intermediary point. This was kept up day and night until the tender issued word that all her supply of bombs and every gallon of aviation was gone. This tender was then relieved by another.
Although the antiaircraft on Kiska was augmented until it became extremely hazardous for any plane to attempt to enter Kiska under the overcast, nevertheless the PBY's continued to bomb the ships Kiska and all ships encountered on the way.
These attacks by the PBY's were made by diving through the overcast at the unheard of speed (for PBY's) of 250 knots, and dropping their bombs by the seaman's eye method, and then making a four-handed pull-out back into the overcast.
This business of dive bombing a PBY turned out to be something the designer had never thought about. But over Kiska the pilots would force the nose down and go rumbling through the fog like a landslide, then plunge into the clear directly over the Japanese, release the bombs, then pull away with their long panels flapping.
Unable to see the harbor through the fog layer, some of the pilots developed the trick of beginning their diving run by clocking their position with a stop watch, using as a landfall the peak of a nearby volcano which stood up through the murk; At the expiration of so many seconds, the pilots would push down the nose and hope to come out in the harbor area.
But the Japanese on Kiska also learned a trick of their own. Taking advantage of the low flying cloud layer at about 1,000 feet, and varying in thickness with occasional breaks, the Japanese would aim their antiaircraft on the breaks in these clouds, and be ready with their fire when the PBY's came through.
Naturally the story of the Aleutians may remain an unfinished story until this war has ended. This report, then, is more or less confined to those first months when the Navy patrol planes, by suddenly being used as fighters as well as dive bombers, helped thwart what could have been intended as a general expeditionary landing force upon the mainland of Alaska itself.
During those first days and weeks the patrol planes scored direct hits on a large transport, a destroyer and three cruisers and near misses on a destroyer, two cruisers, and a transport. A total of approximately 65,000 tons of enemy warships and transports suffered under the onslaughts of the PBY's. In addition, Japanese aircraft were destroyed, a radio station demolished, ground developments and supply dumps bombed. Also, a PBY, on June 7, dropped a bomb on a Japanese submarine. All of this, of course, was during the early days and the score since then has grown in proportion as American and Canadian forces have advanced victoriously into Attu and Kiska.
The story of the United States Navy on the Atlantic, unlike on the Pacific, cannot so easily be segregated into specific battles. Rather the story on the Atlantic has been the Navy's constant grind of battling submarines, of battling land-based Axis planes, of maintaining such patrol bases in the north as Iceland, of maintaining island outposts elsewhere as well, and of convoying an all-time record of fighting equipment, supplies, and troops across the many seas to wherever the Allies may be.
For this reason the Atlantic pattern obviously remains an immense one, and one which changes hourly, and that the crisis with the U-boat campaign is just now building to a show-down.
But, of the constant river of convoys which the United States Navy has shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic and elsewhere, the expedition to the shores of northwest Africa remains perhaps the most dramatic major event. This is especially true when viewed by size and by the aspect it gave to the whole world toward the new change in the war. America had struck in a big way-and successfully.
The expedition to the shores of northwest Africa consisted of the largest assemblage of vessels that had sailed any ocean at any time The exact number of vessels is kept secret. But it is no secret that this assemblage of vessels extended 25 miles in all directions.
Nor was the devastating efficiency of the landing itself an accident.
Dress rehearsals for the landings already had been carried out as secretly as possible on shores resembling somewhat the coast of Morocco. Information on the type of terrain of the land to be attacked had been drilled into the personnel.
Though not a man nor a ship had been lost during the crossing of the Atlantic to Africa, certainly a feat in itself, still the success on failure of the actual landing itself would be the crisis which spelled all or nothing.
And it was late on Saturday, November 7, when the various groups of ships split up to steam for their designated landing points and attack. Sunday, November 8, was D day.
Long before daylight on this Sunday the first planes took off from their carriers. The fliers previously had accustomed their eyes to darkness by wearing dark glasses. The sea favored the undertaking being comparatively calm and silent that morning.
The reconnaissance planes found no hostile troops moving on the roads toward the coast, but 15 opposition planes were sighted on a small airfield at Medouina. These planes were destroyed. From then on the antiaircraft fire became more accurate.
The landing groups were harassed by the big batteries of El Hank at Fedala. The battleship Jean Bart, from her berth in Casablanca, fired with her 15-inch guns. At another place to the north the landing groups were strafed by opposition planes.
Army P-40's, from off the carriers, landed on the airport at port Lyautey as soon as the landing field was captured. American flyers worked so hard that they often did not leave their planes between flights. The flight decks of the carriers remained heavy with traffic.
The second day continued much like the first. American landing forces continued being strafed. A flight of 16 Dewoitine 520's was intercepted by 6 United States Navy fighters, and this opposition flight was put out of action.
Word came to the carriers that a light French cruiser and three destroyer leaders were standing out of Casablanca harbor. All these vessels subsequently were beached. Then Jean Bart, too, was silenced; nine Navy dive bombers had attacked her.
Other Navy bombers dropped heavy loads on the guns along the jetties. Opposition troops and tanks were seen converging on Port Lyautey and Rabat. These opposition troops were scattered by Navy fighting planes, and the troops retreated from the region.
While some Army P-40's were being launched from a carrier, four torpedoes streaked past the stern of the American carrier. Two more torpedoes streaked past the bow of a second carrier. In answer, three United States Navy torpedo bombers dove at a German submarine. Air bubbles and debris continued rising to the surface for more than a half-hour.
All of these incidents, though, are but part of the battle for the successful occupation of the African coast. They do not presume to be the full story. For, in the same sense that the full story of the United States Navy on the Atlantic would require volumes and volumes, the complete story of the African landing would require volumes, too.
The Battle of the Atlantic, or what can be called the problem of defeating the U-boats, can best be signified perhaps by a few generalities:
The United States is shipping food and equipment to at least 32 different fronts, some of them 17,000 miles from the point of origin.
Each American soldier in the north African campaign requires 1 1/2 tons of supplies a month to keep him going, after the initial equipment of 10 tons per man has been landed.
On busy days the Allied Air Forces in north Africa may use as much as 1,500,000 gallons of high-octane gasoline, all of which has to be brought in by tanker.
Apart from military needs, the United States and Britain are transporting between 40,000 and 50,000 tons of supplies for civilian consumption in north Africa each month, while coal and oil products for north African industries probably average 40,000 tons monthly.
After supplies and equipment have run the gantlet of German submarines, mines, and aircraft, most of it has to be hauled in trucks 300-1,200 miles to the front itself. Dozens of locomotives and thousands of tons of coal have to be shipped from England to operate the north African railroads.
In contrast, the enemy has only to send his supplies across between 50 and 150 miles of water, and fly any type of plane direct to the front. Supply routes of the United States and Britain to north Africa are never less than 1,400 miles and often several thousand miles.
Since the foregoing was recorded, Attu and Kiska have been retaken; Sicily has fallen; and Italy surrendered. These operations, which were joint Army-Navy operations, properly form matter for a later report.
A history of this sort, written while the war is going on, must arbitrarily pick a place to stop and find a note on which to end. No more encouraging note could be heard than the Navy's own report on its
production released to the newspapers of September 20, 1943. A few high lights of the report and its summary follow:
Modern sea-air power consists of ships, planes, and shore facilities. Objective of the Navy's war production program is to obtain those instruments of power, and this report records 3 years' progress toward that objective.
Ships.-The phenomenal expansion of United States Navy ship-building is unequaled in history.
In the 36 months between July 1, 1940, and July 1, 1943, the Navy completed 15,376 new ships of all types. Construction and machinery for these vessels cost over $5,300,000,000. They compose a fleet of more than 2,200,000 displacement tons.
(Displacement tonnage, the measurement of naval vessels, is the actual weight of the ship. Deadweight tonnage, the measurement of cargo vessels, is the carrying capacity of the vessel. A cargo vessel's deadweight tonnage is more than twice as great as its displacement tonnage.)
The new fleet completed since July 1, 1940-standing apart from the United States Navy in existence on that date-would be one of the largest naval forces in the world. It comprises 333 combatant vessels, aggregating 1,117,054 displacement tons and costing more than $3,000,000,000; 1,274 mine craft and patrol craft of 199,765 tons, costing $820,000,000; 151 auxiliaries and 654 yard and district craft; 12,964 landing craft aggregating 610,781 tons and costing more than $1,000,000,000.
No naval construction program of comparable size and speed has ever been accomplished by any other nation.
Relation to strategy: Ability to build this huge new naval force-and to continue to build at the present rate-is one of the foundation stones of our military strategy.
It underlies our amphibious attacks in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean.
It protects our long, exterior supply routes running across thousands of miles of ocean.
Most important, it makes feasible a strategy of attack, with all the risks it implies. Ability to build-or, if necessary, to rebuild-on this scale is one of the basic advantages which the American Navy holds over fleets of all other nations.
Trend of completions: Ultimate measure of a shipbuilding program's success is the array of new vessels, completed and ready to fight, which it turns out.
The rise in naval ship completions is without parallel. The number of vessels completed in the single month of June 1943, for example, approximates the number completed in the first 18 months of the defense program. Against a total of 213,854 tons completed in 1941, 278,734 tons were completed in the first half of 1942. Against a total of 847,197 tons completed in all of 1942, 1,091,368 tons were completed in the first half of 1943.
Combatant ships-battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, destroyer escorts, and submarines-make up the largest part of the Navy program, and the step-up in their production has been especially
sharp. The tonnage of combatant ships completed in the first 6 months of 1943 is more than 20 times the tonnage completed during the first 6 months of the defense program.
Although the largest tonnage increases are in the combatant sub-division of the program, the steepest rate of increase has been in landing-craft completions. In the 18 months between July 1, 1940 and the end of 1941, before the United States was a belligerent, only about 7,300 tons of landing craft were completed. In the first 6 months of 1942, during which President Roosevelt gave landing craft an overriding priority, completions moved up to 10,000 tons, or 50 percent more than the total of the preceding year and a half. But the biggest jump came during the last half of 1942. In those 6 months 218,000 tons of landing craft were turned out, or more than 20 times the total for the preceding 6 months. The increase continued into the first half of 1943, when 375,000 tons of landing craft were completed for use.
Aircraft.-Navy aircraft production is the fastest expanding segment in the Nation's air-power building program.
In the 18 months between January 1, 1942, and July 1, 1943, production of Navy planes quadrupled. In the 12 months of 1942 production of Navy combat planes doubled, and redoubled. Then in the first 6 months of 1943 it approximately doubled again.
No other portion of the great aircraft program has moved ahead so swiftly.
In the 36 months between July 1, 1940, and July 1, 1943, the Navy completed 15,567 planes of all types. (All these totals exclude planes which have been turned over to the Navy after being built under Army cognizance. They are planes built under the Navy's own supervision.) Their combined airframe weight is almost 64,000,000 pounds.
In addition to the 15,567 Navy-built planes, the Navy has received during 3 years about 8,300 planes built under Army cognizance, of which 7,800 were trainers and utility planes; 450 were combat aircraft.
Ordnance. Fire power is a Navy ship's or a Navy plane's reason for being.
New Navy fighter planes fire in 1 minute five times the weight of projectiles that their 1940 predecessors fired. A modern battleship's antiaircraft fire power is 100 times what it was 3 years ago.
Naval-ordnance production, therefore, has filled a compound demand: Arming an unprecedented number of new ships and planes-and arming each ship and plane to an unprecedented degree. In addition, it has rearmed the old fleet and much of the merchant marine.
To meet these demands more than $2,500,000,000 of naval guns and mounts, ammunition, torpedoes, mines, depth charges, bombs, and fire-control devices have been produced since July 1, 1940. This output is without parallel in naval history.
Rate of production has increased twenty-four-fold. From $46,000,000 in the last 6 months of 1940, production of these major naval-ordnance items shot up to more than $1,000,000,000 in the first 6 months of 1943.
Like ship completions, ordnance production in each 6 months has surpassed the record of the preceding 12 months. Against $275,000,000 produced in all of 1941, $378,000,000 was produced during the
first half of 1942. In turn, the 1942 total of $1,086,000,000 was surpassed in the first half of 1943 when production climbed to $1,099,000,000.
Facilities construction.-Navy facilities construction, in this report, consists of all projects which have been placed under Navy commitment, including Navy projects financed by Defense Plants Corporation. It also includes, in addition to the cost of construction per se, the cost of machinery and equipment, the entire floating dry-dock program, and advance base facilities.
The Navy facilities construction program showed a decline in the first 6 months of the current year, in keeping with the national policy of curtailing construction. This decline followed a series of phenomenal increases in the value of work done in each succeeding semiannual period since July 1, 1940. The smallest of these period-to-period increases was 58 percent and the largest 87 percent.
As in the shipbuilding and ordnance programs, the value of work done during each 6-month period through 1942 was more than equal to that done in the preceding 12 months.
From July 1, 1940, to June 30, 1943, a total of $8,100,000,000 of facility construction work was scheduled and committed for by the Navy. The value of work done in this period has amounted to $6,500,000,000 or 81 percent of the work scheduled.
Navy construction program falls into 2 grand divisions, which in turn have 10 subdivisions.
The smaller of the two grand divisions is the one covering industrial facilities. Industrial facilities construction scheduled since July 1, 1940, amounts to $3,200,000,000, and 81 percent of it-or $2,600,000,000-was completed by July 1, 1943.
Sixty percent of Navy industrial facilities construction was for shipbuilding and repair. The other 40 percent was divided about equally between ordnance and aircraft.
In the second grand division of the facilities construction program- non-industrial facilities-the Navy has scheduled $4,800,000,000 of work since July 1, 1940, and here again 81 percent of the work, or $3,900,000,000, had been completed by July 1, 1943.
Modern sea-air power consists of ships, planes, and shore facilities. Success of the Navy's war production program, therefore, depends upon its ability to deliver these instruments of power.
In July 1940 the Navy received 5 newly completed vessels; in June 1943, almost 1,200.
In July 1940 the Navy received 25 new airplanes; in June 1943, almost 2,000.
Between those two dates the Navy built 2,200,000 tons of ships. It added to its air arm 23,000 planes. It completed $6,500,000,000, of shore facilities.
Three years ago, when the defense program began, the Navy had a fleet of 1,076 vessels displacing 1,875,000 tons. Of this fleet, 383 vessels were warships: battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and a submarines. The weight of this fighting fleet was 1,313,000 tons.
During the intervening 3 years the Navy has lost 58 warships: a battleship, 4 carriers, 9 cruisers, 32 destroyers, and 12 submarines.
It has transferred to other nations or converted into non-combat vessels 129 other warships. In all, it has lost or given up 484,521 tons of fighting ships-a small navy in itself.
But at the end of 3 years the United States has the mightiest surface fleet in world history. Against the 1,076 vessels of 3 years ago the Navy now has 14,072. Their combined tonnage is almost 5,000,000 tons against 1,875,000 tons for the fleet of mid-1940.
In the new fleet the Navy, despite its losses, has 613 warships compared with 383 of 3 years ago. Their tonnage-2,217,982 tons-exceeds that of the 1940 fighting ships by 70 percent.
On July 1, 1940, the Navy air arm consisted of 1,744 planes, of which 1,197 were fighters and bombers.
Since that time the Navy has lost or written off as obsolete 6,800 planes. It has transferred 2,100 to other agencies. The Navy air arm of mid-1940 has been erased more than 5 times over.
But the United States now has the most powerful Naval Air Force in the world. Where there were 1,744 naval planes 3 years ago, on July 31, 1943, there were 18,269, a tenfold net increase.
In the midst of war the United States has built its Navy into the greatest sea-air power on earth. Its size is dwarfed only by the size of the task which confronts it.
For the convenience of the reader a list of the principal campaigns and engagements which the Navy has announced follows. The operations in Italy, which were in progress as this report was being prepared, are not included.
Central Pacific: Beginning December 7, 1941; terminal date to be announced.
Asiatic campaign: December 8, 1941, to March 3, 1942.
Corregidor-Bataan campaign: December 26, 1941, to May 6, 1942.
Aleutian Islands campaign: Beginning June 3, 1942; terminal date to be announced.
New Guinea campaign: November 1, 1942, to January 24, 1943.
Northwest Africa campaign: Beginning November 5, 1942; terminal date to be announced.
Pearl Harbor: December 1941. Wake Island: December 1941. Makassar Straits: January 1942. Marshall-Gilbert raids: January-February 1942. Lombok Strait: February 1942. Java Sea: February 1942. Wake-Marcus raids: February-March 1942. Salamaua: March 1942. Tokyo raid: April 1942. Coral Sea: May 1942. Midway: June 1942 Makin raid: August 1942. Guadalcanal-Tulagi occupation (includes Battle of Savo Island): August 7-9, 1942. Capture and defense of Guadalcanal: August 10 to later date. Battle of eastern Solomons: August 23-25, 1942. Page 30 Battle of Cape Esperance: October 11-12, 1942. Battle of Santa Cruz Islands: October 26, 1942. Algeria-Morocco occupation: November, 1942. Battle of Guadalcanal: November 12-15, 1942. Battle of Lunga Point: November 30 to December 1, 1942. Wake Island Raid: December 1942.