Tag Archives: Midway

Holding class on Midway & War Plan Orange

An overview of the Battle of Midway by Professor Craig Symonds to included Station HYPO’s role and some tidbits often missed or glossed over.

Craig Symonds is the Distinguished Visiting Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History for the academic years 2017-2019 at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also Professor Emeritus at the U. S. Naval Academy where he served as chairman of the history department.

As a followup, Pete Pellegrino, U.S. Naval War College’s (NWC) senior military analyst for wargaming, lectures superbly on War Plan Orange. It is well worth your time.

 

Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2017: The busy year of the Raiders’ taxi service

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2017: The busy year of the Raiders’ taxi service

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-16865

Here we see the Yorktown-class carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8), as she arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942. Note PT-28 and PT-29 speeding by in the foreground. If this image doesn’t scream “war in the Pacific” nothing else does. It should be noted that this photo was taken 75 years ago this month.

Starting with the “covered wagon” that was the converted collier USS Langley, and moving through a pair of huge converted battlecruisers USS Lexington and Saratoga, and the Navy’s first flattop designed from the keel up, USS Ranger, gave the Navy four lessons learned over a 15-year period in carrier design and development which led to the Yorktown class.

Designed in the early 1930s, these 19,800-ton vessels (26,000 fl) were nice floating landing strips some 824-feet long. Equipped with two catapults on the flight deck and a (useless) hangar deck level cat, these straight deck carriers featured three elevators and could accommodate a 90-plane air wing. Fast, at 32.5-knots, they could outstrip submarines and most battleships of the era, and a smattering of 5″/38, 1.1″/75 quads, and water-cooled Browning .50 cals provided defense against 1930s-era small surface combatants and planes. With long legs (12,500nm at 16 knots) they could travel the Pacific or Atlantic with ease and minimal tanker support.

Class leader, Yorktown (CV-5), was laid down in 1934 and made it to the fleet three years later, followed by the famous Enterprise (CV-6). The subject of our tale was the 7th USS Hornet on the Navy List and, like her two sisters was laid down at Newport News.

USS HORNET (CV-8) View taken while in drydock at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Virginia, from directly ahead, while in process of completion. View taken on 17 September 1941. Paint scheme appears to be peacetime “haze gray.” Catalog #: 19-N-26389

Hornet was commissioned 20 October 1941, two years after the rest of the world entered WWII and two months before the United States did the same. Her first commander was a scrappy fellow by the name of Captain Marc A. Mitscher.

USS Hornet (CV-8) Photographed circa late 1941, soon after completion, probably at a U.S. east coast port. A ferry boat and Eagle Boat (PE) are in the background. Catalog #: NH 81313

When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, Hornet was in Norfolk but was made ready for war in the Pacific, losing her .50cals in exchange for Oerlikon 20mm guns and picking up a camo scheme.

USS HORNET (CV-8) At Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942. Planes visible in foreground at the forward end of the flight deck are Grumman F4F-4s (VF-8) and a Curtiss SBC-4 from either VS-8 or VB-8. Note rat guards on lines in the foreground. Catalog #: 19-N-28429

USS HORNET (CV-8) View taken while alongside Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942, prior to her departure for the war zones. Her air group consists of Grumman F4F-4s (VF-8), Curtiss SBC-4s (VS-&VB-8) and Douglas TBD-1s (VT-8). Camouflage on ship is measure 12 (MOD.) Catalog #: 19-N-28431

USS HORNET (CV-8) Broadside view of amidships, at Naval Operating Base Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942. Plane types visible on deck: Douglas TBD-1 (VT-8), Grumman J2F-5 (utility unit), Curtiss SBC-4 (VS-or VB-8) and Grumman F4F-4 (VF-8). Note Meas .12 (Mod.) camouflage; and cars on the pier. Catalog #: 19-N-28432

It was at Norfolk that she tested flight deck operations with a trio of Army B-25 medium bombers, and found they could be launched successfully with a degree of pucker– and even landed with a greater one.

“Take-off and landing tests conducted with three B-25B’s at and off Norfolk, Virginia, indicated that take off from the carrier would be relatively easy but landing back on again extremely difficult.” said Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle in his report to the commanding general of Army Air Forces. “It was then decided that a carrier take-off would be made some place East of Tokyo, and the flight would proceed in a generally westerly direction from there. Fields near the East Coast of China and at Vladivostok were considered as termini.”

Then came a transfer to the West Coast, and a special mission for the carrier still technically on shakedown.

Arriving in San Francisco, Hornet had part of her Naval airwing offloaded and 16 Army B-25s, 64 modified 500-pound bombs, and 201 USAAF aviators and ground crew transferred aboard.

Putting to sea on April 2, the task force commanded by Vice Adm. Halsey consisted of Hornet with her escort Nashville, the carrier Enterprise with her three companion heavy cruisers Salt Lake City, Northampton, and Vincennes, as well as a group of destroyers and tankers headed West for points unknown and under great secrecy.

After refueling from the tankers on April 17, the four cruisers and two carriers raced towards Japan. The plan was to launch the first raid on the Home Islands to score a propaganda victory following a string of defeats across the Pacific in the first four months of the war.

Army Air Forces B-25B bombers parked on the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. The plane in the upper right is tail # 40-2242, mission plane # 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Note the use of the flight deck tie-down strips to secure the aircraft. The location is near the forward edge of the midships aircraft elevator. Catalog #: NH 53296

USAAF B-25B bombers and Navy F4F-3 fighters on the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while she was en route to the mission’s launching point. Note wooden dummy machine guns in the tail cone of the B-25 at left. Catalog #: NH 53422

Doolittle Raid on Japan, 18 April 1942 View looking aft and to port from the island of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. USS Vincennes (CA-44) is in the distance. Several of the mission’s sixteen B-25B bombers are visible. That in the foreground is tail # 40-2261, which was mission plane # 7, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail # 40-2242, mission plane # 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area. Lt. Lawson later wrote the book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. Note searchlight at left. Catalog #: NH 53293

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle (left front), leader of the attacking force, and Captain Marc A. Mitscher, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet (CV-8), pose with a 500-pound bomb and USAAF aircrew members during ceremonies on Hornet’s flight deck, while the raid task force was en route to the launching point. Catalog #: NH 64472

However, the group was sighted while still far out to sea. The quick-shooting Nashville rapidly engaged the Japanese ship, Gunboat No. 23 Nittō Maru, and sank her with 6-inch shells, but the little 70-ton boat got off a warning via radio on her way down.

The 16 bombers quickly launched into history and the six ships of the task force turned back for safer waters.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8) at the start of the raid, 18 April 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-41196

As noted by DANFS:

As Hornet swung about and prepared to launch the bombers which had been readied for take-off the previous day, a gale of more than 40 knots churned the sea with 30-foot crests; heavy swells, which caused the ship to pitch violently, shipped sea and spray over the bow, wet the flight deck and drenched the deck crews. The lead plane, commanded by Colonel Doolittle, had but 467 feet of flight deck while the last B-25 hung far out over the fantail. The first of the heavily-laden bombers lumbered down the flight deck, circled Hornet after take-off, and set course for Japan. By 0920 all 16 of the bombers were airborne, heading for the first American air strike against the heart of Japan.

Hornet brought her own planes on deck and steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 1445 the success of the raids. Exactly one week to the hour after launching the B-25s, Hornet sailed into Pearl Harbor. Hornet’s mission was kept an official secret for a year; until then President Roosevelt referred to the origin of the Tokyo raid only as “Shangri-La.”

Three Raiders died trying to reach safety in China. Japanese soldiers executed three. One died in captivity.

However, Hornet was not allowed to rest on her laurels and soon set off to meet the Japanese in the Coral Sea, but arrived just after the pitched battle that saw the loss of the giant USS Lexington.

USS HORNET (CV-8) Steaming in the coral sea area, 13 May 1942. Photographed from USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6). Catalog #: 80-G-16430

USS Hornet (CV-8) Enters Pearl Harbor, 26 May 1942. She left two days later to take part in the Battle of Midway. Photographed from Ford Island Naval Air Station, with two aircraft towing tractors parked in the center foreground. Catalog #: 80-G-66132

Then came Midway, where the now seven-month-old Hornet joined her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise to blunt Yamamomo’s greatest effort.

On 4 June, the combined torpedo plane fleet of the three carriers made a charge of the light brigade style attack on the Japanese task force. Of the 41 TBD Devastators that took off that day, 15 were from Hornet‘s Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8). However, they were jumped by Japanese fighters eight miles from their targets and all 15 were shot down. Only one pilot, Ens. George H. Gay, USNR, reached the surface as his plane sank and hid under a rubber seat cushion while he watched the dive bombers come in and get revenge in the sinking of four Japanese carriers, turning the tide of the war

Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) Pilots Photographed on board USS Hornet (CV-8), circa mid-May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Midway. They are Ensign Harold J. Ellison; Ensign Henry R. Kenyon; Ensign John P. Gray; Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. (circled); Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Jeff D. Woodson; Ensign William W. Creamer; Aviation Pilot First Class Robert B. Miles. Lieutenant James C. Owens, Jr.; Ensign E.L. Fayle; Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Squadron Commanding Officer; Lieutenant Raymond A. Moore; Ensign Ulvert M. Moore; Ensign William R. Evans; Ensign Grant W. Teats; Lieutenant (Junior Grade) George M. Campbell. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 93595

Two days later, to add the ending period to the battle, Hornet‘s planes attacked the fleeing Japanese fleet to assist in sinking cruiser Mikuma, damaged a destroyer, and left cruiser Mogami aflame and heavily damaged.

Battle of Midway, June 1942. SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. The photo was enlarged from a 16mm color motion picture film. Note bombs hung beneath these planes. Catalog #: 80-G-17054

War artist Tom Lea shipped out on Hornet for her next run across the Pacific after Midway. There, in fierce service off Guadalcanal in late summer 1942, he spent more than two months on a front-line carrier in the thick of the war and sketched as he found, including the loss of the carrier Wasp.

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

navy plane captian

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942.

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

in blue gleam of a battle light tom lea an american dies in battle tom lea a bomb explodes below deck tom lea

From a six-week period from mid-September until 24 October, Hornet was the only operable U.S. carrier in the Pacific, all the others being either in repair or at the bottom.

On 26 October, joined by the newly patched up Enterprise, Hornet was involved in the Battle of Santa Cruz Island. During that sharp engagement often forgotten to military history, Hornet‘s airwing severely damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku, delivering at least three (and possibly as many as six) 1,000-lb. bomb hits from the 15 Douglas SBD-3 dive bombers launched from our carrier, putting her out of service for months. Hornet‘s planes also made hay of the cruiser Chikuma.

However, just 371 days after she was commissioned, Hornet took extreme damage in return from Japanese torpedo and bomber aircraft.

A Japanese Type 99 shipboard bomber (Allied codename Val) trails smoke as it dives toward USS Hornet (CV-8), during the morning of 26 October 1942. This plane struck the ship’s stack and then her flight deck. A Type 97 shipboard attack plane (Kate) is flying over Hornet after dropping its torpedo, and another Val is off her bow. Note anti-aircraft shell burst between Hornet and the camera, with its fragments striking the water nearby. Catalog #: 80-G-33947

Crew members of USS Hornet (CV-8) prepare to abandon ship on 26 October 1942, after she was disabled by Japanese air attacks. Photographed from USS Russell (DD-414). Note radar antennas on the carrier’s masts and gun directors, and other details of the ship’s island and port side. Radar antennas include those for FD types mounted atop the two Mark 37 gun directors at the island ends, a CXAM atop the foremast and a smaller radar (presumably an SC) partially visible atop the after mast. Catalog #: 80-G-34110

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942 Description: USS Northampton (CA-26), at right, attempting to tow USS Hornet (CV-8) after she had been disabled by Japanese air attacks on 26 October 1942. Catalog #: 80-G-33897

USS HORNET (CV-8) dead in the water with a destroyer alongside, 26 October 1942. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-304514

As noted by DANFS

The abandoned Hornet, ablaze from stern to stern, refused to accept her intended fate from friends. She still floated after receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of 5-inch shellfire from destroyers Mustin and Anderson. Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull. At 0135, 27 October 1942, she finally sank off the Santa Cruz Islands. Her proud name was struck from the Navy List 13 January 1943.

Boston Herald sinking of USS Hornet (CV-8), fourth US carrier sunk in WWII, the first three were Lexington (CV-2), Yorktown (CV-5), and Wasp (CV-7).

Tom Lea remembered the ship fondly.

On 21 October, just six days before she was to sink, he left the Hornet, pulling away on a fleet oiler that would land him back at Pearl Harbor. The cleared sketches he produced above would appear in LIFE in March and April 1943, sadly, after the carrier had long been sunk.

As told by Lex

Back at Pearl Harbor, Lea showed Admiral Nimitz some of his drawings. One of them was the one above. Underneath the drawing, he inscribed a quotation from Deuteronomy: “Moreover the Lord thy God shall send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed.”

Admiral Nimitz looked at the drawing for a long time, then turned his head to Lea, and said: “Something has happened to the Hornet.”

That was how Lea found out that the aircraft carrier he had been on, together with his friends, perished.

This he immortalized in a painting ran by LIFE of how he pictured the ship going out– fighting.

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ” “Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.” “There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.” “The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.” “Behind them their ship died a smoking death.” “The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.” “A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark she went down.” -LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ”
“Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.”
“There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.”
“The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.”
“Behind them, their ship died a smoking death.”
“The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.”
“A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark, she went down.”
-LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

Hornet remains a favorite subject of maritime art, not just from Lea, but other painters. Take for instance this great piece by Gordon Grant.

USS HORNET (CV-8). Description: Courtesy of John H. Chafee, 1974 Catalog #: NH 82718-KN

Remember VT-8’s Ensign Gay? The lone survivor of his squadron survived the war, ending his service as a Lt. CDR and Navy Cross holder. In 1994 he died of a heart attack at a hospital in Marietta, Georgia, age 77, was cremated and his ashes spread at the place that his squadron had launched its ill-fated attack

As for the Raiders, the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo was commemorated by the ceremonial arrival of 11 B-25 bombers at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, on 17 April 2017, who flew in formation on the anniversary on Tuesday.

As noted by the AP, the last Raider living is 101-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole. He attended Tuesday’s service at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Lead plane co-pilot Cole came from his Comfort, Texas, home.

The Navy still considers the Doolittle Raid to have relevent principals today.

“The Doolittle Raid, some 75 years ago, pushed Air Force Bombers outside of their normal operating envelope,” said Capt. Kevin Lenox, commanding officer of USS Nimitz (CVN 68), a World War II-namesake ship. “They were designed to fly from an airfield, but USS Hornet provided the perfect mobile launch point to send them into combat from the sea. The Navy didn’t have planes that could reach Tokyo, and the Air Force didn’t have any runways close enough. Together, their integrated capabilities were able to win the day, and that lesson has carried forward to today’s highly capable joint force.”

Specs:


Displacement:
20,000 long tons (20,000 t) (standard)
25,500 long tons (25,900 t) (full load)
29,114 long tons (29,581 t) (maximum)
Length:
770 ft. (230 m) (waterline at design draft)
824 ft. 9 in (251.38 m) (overall)
Beam:
83 ft. 3 in (25.37 m) (waterline)
114 ft. (35 m) (overall)
Draft:
24 ft. 4 in (7.42 m) design
28 ft. (8.5 m) full load
Installed power: 120,000 shp (89,000 kW)
Propulsion:
4 × Parsons geared steam turbines
9 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Speed:
32.5 kn (37.4 mph; 60.2 km/h) (design)
33.84 kn (38.94 mph; 62.67 km/h) (builder’s trials)
Range: 12,500 nmi (14,400 mi; 23,200 km) at 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 2,919 officers and enlisted (wartime)
Armament:     (as built)
8 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
16(4×4) × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns
24 × M2 Browning .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Armament (by July 1942)
8 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
20 (5×4) × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns
32 × 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon
Armor:
Belt: 2.5–4 in (63.5–102 mm)
Deck: 4 in (102 mm) 60 lb. STS steel
Bulkheads: 4 in (102 mm)
Conning Tower: 4 in (100 mm) sides, 2 in (51 mm) top
Steering Gear: 4 in (102 mm)
Aircraft carried: 72-90 × aircraft
Aviation facilities:
3 × elevators
3 × hydraulic catapults (2 flight deck, 1 hangar deck– latter removed 1942)

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Warship Wednesday December 10, 2014: The Japanese Saratoga

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger.

Warship Wednesday, December 10, 2014: The Japanese Saratoga

IJN Kaga 1930Here we see a wonderful colorized overhead shot of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Kaga as she steams in a deep blue sea in 1930. Note the huge twin 7.9-inch turrets up front just under her superimposed flight deck and the meatballs on the wingtips of the early Mitsubishi B1M torpedo bombers. This massive 812-foot long flattop was part of the backbone of Japanese Naval Aviation.

In 1922, the Empire built its first carrier, which was actually the purposely-built ship for that purpose with prior British and U.S. carriers being converted from other ships. This little 9,600-ton flattop, Hōshō, was the cradle of Japanese Naval Aviation much as the USS Langley was to the USN. Then followed two larger fleet carriers, which were actually able to fight. These were the 42,000-ton Akagi (converted from a battlecruiser hull in 1927), and the 38,000-ton Kaga (converted from a battleship hull in 1928). These two ships were comparable to the converted American battlecruisers-cum-carriers Lexington and Saratoga. Then came the experimental 10.500-ton light carrier Ryūjō (comparable to the too-small-for-fleet operations USS Ranger CV-4) whose poor design led to the development of the much better 20,000-ton purpose-built fleet carriers Soryu and Hiryū and follow-on 32,000-ton sisters Shōkaku and Zuikaku (who were roughly comparable in size and operation to the Yorktown-class carriers Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet completed at about the same time). A pair of slow light carriers converted from submarine tenders, Zuihō and Shōhō rounded out the Japanese fleet before the start of World War II in the Pacific, giving the Imperial Japanese Navy some 10 flattop-like ships at the start of the war to the American’s 8.

While the Japanese were able to commission another 10 flattops during the war itself (Ryūhō, Hiyō, Jun’yō, Chitose, Chiyoda, Unryū, Amagi, Katsuragi, Shinano and Taihō), these ships by and large were poorly constructed and in many cases never fully operational– a fact contrasted by the dozens of excellent Essex-class fleet carriers that the USN was able to field by the end of that conflict. No, the true flower of the Japanese Navy’s air arm was developed and at sea by December 7, 1941, and its sunrise would soon set.

Model of Battleship Kaga as she would have appeared.

Model of Battleship Kaga as she would have appeared.

Originally laid down 19 July 1920 as a leviathan 45,000-ton battleship that would have carried an amazing ten 16.2-inch guns in five twin turrets and been clad in up to 14-inches of sloping Vickers cemented armor (Japan was a British ally), the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 doomed her and sistership Tosa, both of which had already been launched but were more than a year away from completion, to the scrap heap that was world peace. Tosa was towed out to sea and used an a floating target to test the effectiveness of her new armor and arrangement– which led to lessons in how the later Yamato-class super-dreadnoughts were built. Had these ships been completed as battleships, they would have been at least equal to, if not more powerful than the latest U.S. ships of the day: the Colorado-class.

Kaga fitting out, 1928. Note the rear ducked funnel stack which would br reworked in 1935. Also note the two casemated 7.9-inch guns near the waterline and twin 5-inch AAA guns at maximum elevation near the top of the deck

Kaga fitting out, 1928. Note the rear ducked funnel stack which would be reworked in 1935. Also, note the two casemated 7.9-inch guns near the waterline and twin 5-inch AAA guns at a maximum elevation near the top of the deck

Kaga, the more complete of the two sat at Kawasaki Shipyard, Kobe while the Japanese Navy considered what to do with her. Two of the faster 30-knot Amagi class battlecruisers (Amagi and Akagi), also canceled due to the Washington Naval Treaty, were undergoing conversion to aircraft carriers much as the U.S. was converting their canceled USS Lexington and Saratoga hulls to flattops at the same time. However, an earthquake in Tokyo in Sept. 1923 produced stress cracks throughout the unfinished Amagi and she was hulked. This meant that the Kaga was given a last-minute reprieve from the breakers and completed to take the place of the already treaty-allowed battlecruiser-tuned carrier.

Kaga 1933, note the two distinctive 7.9-inch turrets, one trained out. Also the large mum of the IJN on the bow.

Kaga 1933, note the two distinctive 7.9-inch turrets, one trained out. Also the large mum of the IJN on the bow.

After an extensive conversion and completion process, Kaga joined the Combined Fleet 30 November 1929. She was a big girl, at over 38,000-tons full load. Only the slightly longer Akagi along with the U.S. Lexington and Saratoga were bigger and not by much (42,000-tons). A brace of 8 Kampon Type B boilers powered 4-geared turbines giving her over 127,000 horses under the hood, meaning she could race around at 26-knots if needed. Although capable of carrying up to 100 aircraft, she also had a very decent main gun armament of 10 7.9-inch 3rd Year Type naval guns installed in six casemates with a maximum elevation of 25 degrees limiting maximum range to 22 kilometers and two forward twin turrets with a maximum elevation of 70-degrees thus giving them the same 29 km range as those guns carried by heavy cruisers. Another 16 5-inch guns were carried in her secondary battery, thus giving her the same armament of both a heavy and light cruiser. She still carried an impressive 6-inches of armor belt, which in theory at least meant she could fight it out on the surface against a decent sized cruiser and likely win without having to launch an aircraft.

Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kaga conducts air operations in 1937. On the deck are Mitsubishi B2M Type 89, Nakajima A2N Type 90, and Aichi D1A1 Type 94 aircraft

Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kaga conducts air operations in 1937. On the deck are Mitsubishi B2M Type 89, Nakajima A2N Type 90, and Aichi D1A1 Type 94 aircraft

Speaking of aircraft, she had three flight decks, stacked upon one another. This allowed her the very sweet option of launching and recovering planes at the same time from the multiple decks. The topmost deck was covered in 1.5-inches of armor for added protection.

Kaga conducts air operations training 1930. upper deck are Mitsubishi B1M Type 13 bomber and Nakajima A1N Type 3 fighters are on the lower deck. Photo from Kure maritime museum

Kaga conducts air operations training in 1930. upper deck are Mitsubishi B1M Type 13 bomber and Nakajima A1N Type 3 fighters are on the lower deck. Photo from Kure maritime museum

Her first missions saw her fitted with up to 60 aircraft, all biplanes, to include Mitsubishi B1M3 torpedo bombers, Nakajima A1N fighters, and Mitsubishi 2MR reconnaissance aircraft. She participated in the first invasions of China, escorting troops of the Imperial Army to Shanghai.

There on Feb. 19, 1932, three planes from the Kaga took off and were met by U.S. Army Air Force reservist 2nd Lieutenant Robert Short who, flying a Boeing 218 P-12 prototype fighter as a volunteer pilot to the Chinese Air Force, smoked a Japanese plane in combat, killing one Lt. Kidokoro, IJN.

short

Two days later a six-plane stack including three Mitsubishi B1M3 bombers and three Nakajima A1N1 biplane fighters met Short once more and he killed flight leader Lt. Kotani, IJN, disrupting the attack. Regrouping, the two fighters engaged Short and one, piloted by Lt. Nokiji Ikuta, sent the 27-year old American down in flames.

The three successful fighter pilots after the combat on 22 February 1932 Ikuta is on left

The three successful fighter pilots after the combat on 22 February 1932 Ikuta is on left

It was Japan’s first-ever air-to-air victory and would not be the last American life that Kaga would cut short.

The shootdown was widely celebrated in Japan for more than a decade.

“The American pilot, Robert Short shot down over Shanghai, 1932.” Painting by Murakami Matsujiro

While in China, the Japanese realized that Kaga had a crapload of flaws and sent her back to the yard. When she emerged, she only had a single flight deck supplemented by a large hangar deck, had lost her 7.9-inch turrets, had a new funnel arrangement, and picked up an island control tower on her deck. Engineering improvements increased her speed to over 28-knots and her hangar space was improved to where she could carry as many as 103 aircraft although never did.

How she would have looked post-mod

Back in Chinese waters, throughout 1937-38 her air group flew thousands of sorties as the ship covered more than 30,000 miles in constant shuttling up and down the coast to support the Japanese Army ashore.

“Kaga Carrier Aichi D1A1 Dive Bombers in Bombing Operation in China, 1937”. ´Painting by Murakami Matsujiro

During this time, her pilots mixed it up regularly with Chinese pilots flying American Curtis Hawk III aircraft, bagging 10 of the outnumbered fliers.

Kaga after her modifications. Note how the funnel now shifts steam/smoke amidships just abaft of the island

Kaga after her modifications. Note how the funnel now shifts steam/smoke amidships just abaft of the island

On 12 December 1937, three Yokosuka B4Y Type-96 bombers and nine Nakajima A4N Type-95 fighters left her deck to attack a group of Standard Oil-chartered Chinese oil tankers off Nanking. While attacking the merchant ships, the planes also took the 191-foot river gunboat USS Panay (PR-5) of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet’s Yangtze River Patrol under fire, sinking her in shallow water without provocation.

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Storekeeper First Class Charles L. Ensminger, Standard Oil Tanker Captain Carl H. Carlson, and Italian reporter Sandro Sandri were killed, Coxswain Edgar C. Hulsebus died later that night and 43 sailors, and five civilians were wounded.

It would not be the last American lives she would take.

Kaga steams through heavy north Pacific seas, enroute to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa early December 1941. Carrier Zuikaku is at right. Frame from a motion picture film taken from the carrier Akagi. The original film was found on Kiska Island after U.S. recapture in 1943. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Kaga steams through heavy North Pacific seas, en route to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa early December 1941. Carrier Zuikaku is at right. Frame from a motion picture film taken from the carrier Akagi. The original film was found on Kiska Island after the U.S. recapture in 1943. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

 

Lieutenant Ichiro Kitajima, group leader of the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kaga's Nakajima B5N bomber group, briefs his flight crews about the Pearl Harbor raid, which will take place the next day. A diagram of Pearl Harbor and the aircraft's attack plan is chalked on the deck. Photo Chihaya Collection via Wenger via Wiki

Lieutenant Ichiro Kitajima, group leader of the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kaga’s Nakajima B5N bomber group, briefs his flight crews about the Pearl Harbor raid, which will take place the next day. A diagram of Pearl Harbor and the aircraft’s attack plan is chalked on the deck. Photo Chihaya Collection via Wenger via Wiki

December 7, 1941, some 73-years ago this week, Kaga was part of an impressive six-carrier striking force laying just off of Oahu, Hawaii Territory. Although a declaration of war had not been delivered, 26 Nakajima B5N Kates typically armed with Type 91 torpedoes modified to run in the shallow water of the harbor escorted by 9 Mitsubishi A6M Zeros from the carrier accompanied the first wave of Japanese aircraft into Pearl looking for American battleships. Soon after that wave, a second was launched consisting of 26 Aichi D3A Val dive bombers armed with 550 lb. general-purpose bombs and 9 more Zeroes that were tasked with attacking aircraft and hangars on Ford Island.

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack. View looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. U.S. Navy planes on the seaplane ramp are on fire. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry. Official U.S. Navy photograph NH 50930.

The photograph was taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The view looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right-center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. U.S. Navy planes on the seaplane ramp are on fire. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry. Official U.S. Navy photograph NH 50930.

Of these, 15 did not return, making Kaga‘s air group losses of 31 aviators the heaviest of the Japanese attack. Of the 55 that did make it back, over half were damaged. This is not that surprising as, of the 353 Japanese naval aircraft that attacked Hawaii that day; nearly every fourth one came from Kaga while just over half of the Japanese planes scratched came from the carrier.

kaga air wing Japanese Navy Type 99 Carrier Bomber (Val) is examined by U.S. Navy personnel following its recovery from Pearl Harbor

Japanese Navy Type 99 Carrier Bomber (Val) is examined by U.S. Navy personnel following its recovery from Pearl Harbor shortly after the attack. This plane was relatively intact, except that its tail section was broken away, and its recovery helped intelligence efforts. It came from the aircraft carrier Kaga

However, they inflicted a terrible price on the harbor on that infamous day. Her Zeros reported strafing more than 20 planes on the ground and her bomber and torpedo planes reported hits made by them on the battleships Nevada, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, West Virginia, and Maryland. While there is no way to know for sure, likely, a large portion of the 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others wounded came from Kaga‘s group as two-thirds of the torpedo planes that attacked battleship row in the first wave came from the flattop.

She then followed up this attack with supporting Japanese attacks in the Dutch East Indies and Australia, with her air group raiding Darwin.

June 1942 found her off Midway Island as part of Yamamoto’s final push to break the back of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. Along with her old companion Akagi, two other Pearl Harbor veterans, Soryu and Hiryu joined Kaga for the epic naval battle. Of 248 Japanese carrier aircraft deployed, nearly a third flew from the Kaga.

Although her Zeros helped destroy a number of American attack squadrons wholesale, and her Vals and Kates bombed the isolated island, there was a final reckoning in the form of a 25 plane attack of SBD Dauntless dive bombers from the USS Enterprise that caught Kaga and her three companion carriers unaware with her decks full of torpedoes, bombs, aviation gas, and planes out in the open. At 10:22 am on June 4, one 1,000-pound and at least three 500-pound bombs from Enterprise’s VS-6 hit her and within minutes, the chain reaction of secondary explosions had the ship ablaze.

After a nine-hour funeral pyre, the Japanese sank her with a volley of torpedoes in more than 16,000 feet of seawater some 350-miles northwest of Midway. More than half of her complement, including dozens of her unreplaceable veteran aviators, rode her to the bottom of the Pacific.

The destroyers had picked up some 700 of her crew from the debris-clogged waters. These men became a pariah in their own service. Kaga ‘s surviving crewmembers were restricted incommunicado to an airbase in Kyūshū for months after returning to Japan, to help conceal word of the Midway defeat from the Japanese public and were then transferred back to frontline units without being allowed to contact the family.

In 1988, a grove of cedars along with a monument was erected to the carrier in the old Higashiyama Navy Cemetery, now part of Higashi Park in Sasebo City. Parts of her wreckage were found in 1999 by a U.S. Navy survey ship although none was recovered.

As for Lieutenant Ikuta, the Japanese ace who shot down Robert Short over China in 1932, against all odds, he was one of the very minuscule groups of Imperial Naval aviators who survived the war and in 1960; he tracked down Shot’s elderly mother in the United States and begged her forgiveness.

She accepted.

Specs:

Kaga in her final Pearl Harbor-Midway form

Kaga in her final Pearl Harbor-Midway form

Displacement: 38,200 long tons (38,813 t) (standard)
Length: 247.65 m (812 ft. 6 in)
Beam: 32.5 m (106 ft. 8 in)
Draft: 9.48 m (31 ft. 1 in)
Installed power: 127,400 shp (95,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4-shaft Kampon geared turbines
8 Kampon Type B boilers
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Endurance: 10,000 nmi (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement: 1,708 (after reconstruction)
Armament: 10 × 200 mm (7.9 in) guns,
8 × 2 – 127 mm (5.0 in) guns,
11 × 2 – 25 mm (0.98 in) AA guns
Armor: Belt: 152 mm (6.0 in)
Deck: 38 mm (1.5 in)
Aircraft carried: 90 (total); 72 (+ 18 in storage) (1936) 18 Mitsubishi A6M Zero, 27 Aichi D3A, 27 Nakajima B5N (+ 9 in storage) (Dec. 1941)

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