RESULTS OF ENTERPRISE AIR SEARCH, 26 OCTOBER
0110 Patrol plane reports locating the enemy, but gives no details other than coordinates. 0600 Enterprise launches 16-plane search group to cover sector 235°-345° T. 0612 Admiral Kinkaid receives report that Espiritu Santo patrol plane has located enemy force including the carrier Zuiho. 0730 Two Japanese battleships, one heavy cruiser, and seven destroyers sighted. 0750 Two carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, reported. 0830 Two 500-pound bomb hits on Zuiho. Unidentified enemy cruiser attacked; results unobserved.
A large Japanese fleet, including vessels of every type, was ready to strike by 26 October. Some 40 enemy ships had left the Shortlands area during the night of 24-25 October, and these were joined by others from Rabaul. On the 25th there were three large and some smaller Japanese forces operating under the protection of a weather front to the northeast of Malaita, including the two groups sighted by our patrol planes. The advance force, hereafter referred to as "Enemy Task Force No. 1", included 2 battleships, plus heavy cruisers and destroyers. The major carrier striking force to the rear comprised 3 carriers, the Shokaku, Zuikaku, and Zuiho, and escorting vessels.7 This will be designated as "Enemy Task Force No. 2". A support force of 2 more battleships, heavy cruisers and destroyers, at times including the converted carrier Hayataka, will be known as "Enemy Task Force No. 3". Transports and auxiliaries maneuvered out of range of our air power until control of the sea approaches to Guadalcanal could be assured.
At 0111 on the morning of the 26th, a patrol plane transmitted to Task Force KING a message that the "enemy" had been located in latitude 07°74' S., longitude 164°15' E., about 300 miles from our Task Force. The aircraft, however, omitted to give the course, speed, or composition of the Japanese force. Admiral Kinkaid considered it unwise to dispatch an attack group without securing this information. Accordingly, shortly after 0600, the Enterprise launched a 16-plane search group to cover sector 235°-345° T. to a distance of 200 miles. At the very same time a report was coming through which undoubtedly would have changed the OTC's plans had he received it before the planes had taken off. At 0410 an Espiritu Santo patrol plane had sighted the carrier Zuiho in latitude 07° 55' S., longitude 164°15' E. (about 200 miles from Task Force KING), traveling at 10 knots on a southerly course. For some reason the plane's report was delayed till about 0600, so that Admiral Kinkaid did not have it in his hands until 0612. Had he known the position of the Zuiho in time, he could have included the 16 search planes in an attack group and dispatched it immediately, thus beating the enemy to the punch and possibly altering the entire course of the ensuing battle.
Damage to Hornet by suicide bomber
Burning bomber dives on Hornet
Plane crashes into stack
Fighting resulting fires
The search group was composed of two divisions: one of 6 SBD-3's, from Bombing Squadron TEN, for the patrol of sector 235°-282° T., and the other of 10 SBD-3's of Scouting Squadron TEN, assigned to sector 282°-345° T. Aircraft operated in pairs, each of which covered a subsector.
The planes took off into a clear morning sky, with broken to scattered cumulus and strato-cumulus clouds at 2,000 feet. Visibility at sea level was somewhat greater than 15 miles. Only slight swells marred the smoothness of the sea. A surface breeze of 6 to 10 knots was blowing from the southeast.
Lieut. Vivien W. Welch and Lt. (jg) Bruce A. McGraw had been assigned subsector 268°-288° T. When about 85 miles out, they observed a Mitsubishi Type 97 single-engine torpedo bomber flying on an opposite course about 3 miles to starboard, altitude 1,200 feet. They ignored the enemy aircraft and continued on their way. At 0717, in latitude 08°10' S., longitude 163°55' E., they sighted Enemy Task Force No. 1, which they identified as two battleships, one heavy cruiser, and seven destroyers. Course was north, and speed was 20 knots.8 The two search planes climbed into clouds at 2,000 feet and circled the force at a distance of 10 to 20 miles. Except for occasional rain squalls at about 1,300 feet, visibility was excellent. The pilots made sure that the enemy group contained no carriers and then reported location, composition, course, and speed to the Enterprise.
The planes continued north to a point 200 miles from Task Force KING but failed to sight any carriers. They turned back, and when they again passed over Enemy Task Force No. 1, at 0800, it had turned west and was making 25 knots. Lieut. Welch reported the new course and speed to the Enterprise. A few minutes after this transmission was completed, the heavy cruiser and several destroyers opened fire on the two U. S. aircraft, but without effect. On their return leg, when about 100 miles from Task Force KING, our pilots again saw a Mitsubishi Type 97 flying on an opposite course about a mile to starboard. As was the case previously, the planes ignored each other. Our aircraft landed aboard the Enterprise about 1031.9
At 0750 Lt Comdr. James R. Lee and Lt. (jg) William E. Johnson, searching subsector 298°-314°, reported sighting the Shokaku and Zuikaku in latitude 07°05' S., longitude 163°38' E.10 The enemy carriers' decks were empty, their aircraft already having taken off to attack Task Force KING. When the Japanese vessels were first seen, our planes were at an altitude of 1,200 feet, about 35 miles away. Course was changed toward the enemy, and the ships were more positively identified at a distance of 15 miles. Our aircraft then reversed course, reported the carriers to the Enterprise by radio, and began climbing to gain positions for an additional report and a possible attack. During the transmission all enemy ships changed course and made heavy black smoke.
At 0805, when their altitude was 2,200 feet, the search planes were attacked by five to eight Zeros. Lt. Comdr. Lee shot down one of the fighters and Lt. Johnson two others. The United States planes were forced to take evasive action and entered cumulus clouds, where they became separated. They returned to the Enterprise independentiy.
Lieut. Stockton B. Strong and Ens. Charles B. Irvine, assigned to subsector 330°-345°, proceeded on their search until 0740, when they changed course to contact the enemy battleships reported by Lieut. Welch. At 0805 these planes received Lt. Comdr. Lee's report on the carriers and hastened to intercept them. After flying more than 100 miles southwest of their assigned sector, the pilots located two enemy carriers which they presumed to be the Shokaku and Zuikaku. At 0830 they attacked the "Shokaku" and each scored a 500-pound hit on her stern. It now seems probable that the carriers were the Shokaku and Zuiho and that the target was actually the Zuiho.11 Either the latter vessel had been mistaken for
the Zuikaku when the two were previously sighted, or she had taken the place of the Zuikaku in the main body of Enemy Task Force No. 2 since the initial contact was reported at 0750. (For a graphic treatment of this last theory, see chart p.28). The Zuiho was badly hurt but not crippled. No antiaircraft fire was encountered until our planes had released their bombs. The pilots then retired to the west and for a distance of 45 miles were repeatedly attacked by enemy fighters. Each accounted for two Zeros. At 0900 they eluded their pursuers by entering a cloud and set their course for the Enterprise, which they reached without mishap.
Ens. Howard R. Burnett and Ens. Kenneth B. Miller, searching subsector 282°-298°, climbed to 14,000 feet upon receiving an unspecified contact report and attacked a Japanese cruiser.12 The results were undetermined, although a fire on the stern of a cruiser was later reported by the Enterprise attack group. Before attacking, Ens. Burnett sent the Enterprise a report of the ships sighted.13 Furious antiaircraft fire was experienced during the bombing dive. It was so effectively directed that the concussions "caused [the plane] to spin approximately 4,000 feet before it could be brought under control and the dive reentered." Neither of these aircraft met fighter opposition, and both returned safely to the Enterprise. Ens. Burnett joined one of the combat air patrols endeavoring to protect the Hornet and shot down one enemy plane.
Ens. Leslie J. Ward and Ens. Martin D. Carmody, covering subsector 314°-330°, proceeded toward the enemy carrier force as soon as they learned its location. They were maneuvering into attack position when intercepted by many enemy fighters. Ens. Ward and Ens. Carmody each shot down one Zero, but the strength of the Japanese air opposition prevented their making an attack on the carriers. Effective evasive action was taken, and both planes returned to the Enterprise.
The remaining 4 scouts failed to contact the enemy and flew back to the carrier without incident. None of the 16 search planes sustained other than minor damage.
7 The Organization of this force was fluid, and its make-up changed frequently. At no time were all three carriers observed to be in company. The Shokaku appears to have operated now with the Zuikaku now with the Zuiho, and the Zuikaku with the Shokaku at one time and with Hayataka later on. (See chart, p.28.)
8 See track of Enemy Task Force No. 1, chart p.28.
9 There is little doubt that the plane encountered on the return leg was the same observed while going out. From its course, it could hardly have missed sighting and reporting Task Force KING to the enemy.
10 It is possible that the carrier identified as the Zuikaku was in fact the Zuiho. However, the chart of the battle, opposite p.27, follows the theory that at this time the second ship was the Ziukaku, as reported.
11 The Zuiho, a 52,000-ton carrier, is thought to be a sister ship of the Shoho, sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The reasoning which points to the Zuiho as the ship hit by the Enterprise search planes is as follows: The Shokaku and Zuiho are known to have been damaged at the Battle of Santa Cruz. Therefore, since United States forces did not claim to have hit more than two carriers, the Zuikaku presumably escaped uninjured and may be eliminated from consideration. As regards the Shokaku vs. the Zuiho, two conflicting reports were made. Hornet pilots, prior to their attack at 1030, saw a damaged "small carrier" in company with the large and apparently uninjured one which they bombed. Conversely, other pilots reported that the damaged carrier was the larger of the two. These opposed statements cannot be reconciled, nor is it essential to reconcile them. Regardless of how large the injured vessel appeared to the flyers, it can hardly have been the Shokaku. The known location of some of the damage suffered by that carrier almost certainly precludes the possibility that it was inflicted by two 500-pound bombs dropped on the stern.
12 Details regarding the actions of these planes are few. Neither the name of the cruiser attacked nor the force of which it was a unit is mentioned. Presumably it was a part of the screen for the carriers of Enemy Task Force No. 2.
13 The text of this report is missing.
Last updated: June 28, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation