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Yorkown Class Carrier
19,800 Tons (Light)
25,500 Tons (Full Load)
824' 9" x 109' 6" x 25' 11.5"
Armament as of Feb 1942
8 x 5"/38 cal guns
4 x Quad 1.1" AA Gun
24 x 20mm AA
24 x 50 cal MG
3 x elevators
3 x catapults
Built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. at Newport News, Virginia. Laid down May 21, 1934. Launched April 4, 1936 sponsored by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Commissioned September 30, 1937 at Norfolk, Virginia with Capt. Ernest D. McWhorter in command. After fitting out, the aircraft carrier trained in Hampton Roads, Virginia and in the southern drill grounds off the Virginia capes into January of 1938, conducting carrier qualifications for her newly embarked air group.
Yorktown sailed for the Caribbean on January 8, 1938 and arrived at Culebra, Puerto Rico, on 13 January. Over the ensuing month, the carrier conducted her shakedown, touching at Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Gonaïves, Haiti; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Cristobal near the Panama Canal. Departing Colon Bay, Cristobal on March 1, Yorktown departed for Hampton Roads, arriving March 6, then to the Norfolk Navy Yard the next day.
After undergoing repairs until early autumn of 1938, Yorktown shifted from the navy yard to NOB Norfolk on October 17 then to the Southern Drill Grounds for training. Yorktown operated off the eastern seaboard, ranging from Chesapeake Bay to Guantanamo Bay, into 1939. As flagship for Carrier Division 2, she participated in her first war game - Fleet Problem XX - along with her sister-ship Enterprise (CV-6) in February 1939. The scenario for the exercise called for one fleet to control the sea lanes in the Caribbean against the incursion of a foreign European power while maintaining sufficient naval strength to protect vital American interests in the Pacific. The maneuvers were observed by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard USS Houston (CA-30).
The critique of the operation revealed that carrier operations part of the scenarios for the annual exercises since 1925 with the entry of USS Langley (CV-1) had achieved a new peak of efficiency. Despite the inexperience of Yorktown and Enterprise, both carriers made significant contributions. The planners had studied the employment of carriers and their embarked air groups in connection with convoy escort, antisubmarine defense, and various attack measures against surface ships and shore installations. In short, they worked to develop the tactics that would be used when war actually came.
Yorktown returned briefly to Hampton Roads before sailing for the Pacific on April 20. Transiting the Panama Canal a week later, Yorktown soon commenced routine operations with the Pacific Fleet based out of San Diego.
During April 1940 participates in Fleet Problem XXI a two part exercise where air operations played a major role to characterize potential future naval warfare in the Pacific. The first part of the exercise was devoted to training in making plans and estimates; in screening and scouting; in coordination of combatant units; and in employing fleet and standard dispositions. The second phase included training in convoy protection, the seizure of advanced bases, and, ultimately, the decisive engagement between the opposing fleets. Fleet Problem XXI was the last major prewar exercise. Fleet Joint Air Exercise 114A prophetically pointed out the need to coordinate Army and Navy defense plans for Hawaii and Fleet Exercise 114 proved that aircraft could be used for high altitude tracking of surface forces.
With the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian waters after the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI, Yorktown operated in the Pacific off the west coast of the United States and Hawaii until the spring of 1941, when the threat of German U-boats preying upon British shipping in the Atlantic. As a result, the Navy transferred a substantial force including Yorktown, plus a battleship division, cruisers and destroyers.
On April 20, 1941 Yorktown departs Pearl Harbor with USS Warrington (DD-383), USS Somers (DD-381), and USS Jouett (DD-396) and proceeds southeast. During the night of May 6-7, 1941 transits the Panama Canal and arrives Bermuda on May 12, 1941. Yorktown conducts four patrols in the Atlantic Ocean enforcing American neutrality and operates from Newfoundland to Bermuda and logs 17,642 miles at sea. Although Nazi Germany had forbidden their U-Boats to attack American ships, the U. S. Navy was not aware of this policy and operated on a wartime footing while patrolling the Atlantic.
On October 28, 1941 Yorktown, USS New Mexico (BB-40), and other American warships were screening convoy HX 156 when an escorting destroyer picked up a submarine contact and released depth charges as the convoy made an emergency starboard turn, the first of three emergency course changes. Late that afternoon, engine repairs to one of the ships in the convoy, Empire Pintail, reduced the convoy speed to 11 knots.
During the night, the American ships intercepted strong German radio signals, indicating submarines probably in the vicinity shadowing them. Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commanding the escort force sent a destroyer to sweep astern of the convoy to destroy the U-boat or at least to drive him under. The next day, while cruiser scout-planes patrolled, Yorktown and USS Savannah (CL-42) fueled escorting destroyers, finishing at dusk.
On October 30, 1941 Yorktown was preparing to fuel three destroyers when other escorts made sound contacts. The convoy subsequently made 10 emergency turns while Morris (DD-417) and Anderson (DD-411) dropped depth charges, and Hughes (DD-410) assisted in developing the contact. Anderson later made two more depth charge attacks, noticing "considerable oil with slick spreading but no wreckage." On October 31, 1941 at dawn U-562 torpedoed destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) sinking her with a heavy loss of life and became the first loss of a U. S. Navy (USN) warship in World War II.
During November 1941 participated in another neutrality patrol and December 2, 1941 arrives Norfolk. On December 7, 1941 still at Norfolk when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor at the start of the Pacific War.
On January 6, 1942 departs San Diego on her first mission in the Pacific escort a convoy with U. S. Marines to reinforcement Tutuila and Pago Pago in American Samoa. On January 25, 1942 Yorktown and Enterprise depart American Samoa and six days later, Task Force 8 (TF-8) built around Enterprise screened by USS Louisville (CA-28) and USS St. Louis (CL-49) and four destroyers and Task Force 17 (TF-17) built around Yorktown seporate for the first American offensives of the Pacific War. TF-8 heads for the Marshall Islands while TF-17 heads for the Gilberts.
Later, another "Mavis" or possibly the same one that had attacked the destroyers came out of low clouds 15,000 yards from Yorktown. The carrier withheld her antiaircraft fire in order not to interfere with the combat air patrol (CAP) fighters. Presently, the "Mavis," pursued by two F4F Wildcats, disappeared behind a cloud. Within five minutes, the enemy patrol plane fell out of the clouds and crashed in the water.
Although TF-17 was slated to make a second attack on Jaluit, it was canceled because of heavy rainstorms and the approach of darkness. Therefore, the Yorktown force retired from the area.
Admiral Chester Nimitz later called the Marshalls-Gilberts raids "well conceived, well planned, and brilliantly executed." The results obtained by TF-8 and TF-17 were noteworthy, Nimitz continued in his subsequent report, because the task forces had been obliged to make their attacks somewhat blindly, due to lack of hard intelligence data on the Japanese-mandated islands. Yorktown returns Pearl Harbor for replenishment then departs on February 14, 1942 bound for the Coral Sea.
On March 10, 1942 at 7:49am Lexington launches her planes from the Gulf of Papua followed at 8:10am by planes from Yorktown. The combined force of 104 carrier aircraft fly roughly 125 miles over New Guinea and the Owen Stanley Range to strike Lae and Salamaua. At 9:22am SBDs from Scouting Squadron 2 (VS-2) began dive bombing Japanese ships in Huon Gulf off Lae.
Lost is SBD-2 2130 (MIA). At 9:38am the TBD-1 Devastators attack shipping off Salamaua. F4F Wildcats from Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) divided into four-plane attack groups and strafe targets at Lae and the Salamaua. Next, Yorktown VB-5 and VT-5 attack Japanese ships off Salamaua with one TBD-1 scoring one or more bomb hits on Kiyokawa Maru. Escorting F4F Wildcats from VF-5 over Salamaua strafe targets and small boats off Salamaua. Meanwhile, VS-5 attack ships off Lae.
Adterwards, Yorktown resumed patrols in the Coral Sea area into April 1942, out of reach of Japanese aircraft and ready to carry out offensive operations whenever the opportunity presented itself. The situation in the South Pacific seemed temporarily stabilized, and Yorktown as part of Task Force 17 (TF-17) put into the undeveloped harbor at Tongatabu Harbor off Tonga, for upkeep as a result of being at sea continuously since February 14, 1942.
Admiral Nimitz reported to the fleet that there were "excellent indications that the Japanese intended to make a seaborne attack on Port Moresby the first week in May." On April 27, 1942 Yorktown departed Tongatabu Harbor on bound for the Coral Sea as part of Task Force 11 (TF 11) under the command of Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch.
On May 1, 1942 refueled by USS Neosho (AO-23) during rough seas southwest of New Hebrides. On May 2, 1942 at 3:17pm, two SBD Dauntless dive bombers from VS-5 sighted a Japanese submarine, running on the surface. Three TBD Devastators took off from Yorktown and made an attack that only succeeded in causing the target to dive and escape.
On May 3, 1942 during the morning Task Force 11 (TF 11) and Task Force 17 (TF 17) were roughly 100 miles apart being refueled. Shortly before midnight, Fletcher received word from Australian-based aircraft that Japanese transports had arrived in Tulagi Harbor and were disembarking troops and occupying Tulagi, Gavutu and Tanambogo. To attack this force, Yorktown set course northward steaming at 27 knots.
Battle of Coral Sea
Meanwhile on May 3, 1942, Task Force 44 (TF 44) a cruiser-destroyer force under Rear Admiral Crace (RN), joined Task Force 11 (TF 11) including USS Yorktown to complete the composition of the Allied force.
To the northward, eleven troop transports escorted by destroyers and covered by Shoho, four heavy cruisers, and a destroyer steamed toward Port Moresby. In addition, another Japanese task force - formed around Shōkaku and Zuikaku, and screened by two heavy cruisers and six destroyers provided additional air cover.
On the morning of May 6, 1942 Fletcher gathered all Allied forces under his tactical command as TF 17. At daybreak on the 7th, he dispatched Crace, with the cruisers and destroyers under his command, toward the Louisiade archipelago to intercept any enemy attempt to move toward Port Moresby.
While Fletcher moved north with his two carriers and their screens in search of the enemy, Japanese search planes located USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS Sims (DD-409) and misidentified the oiler as a carrier. They were attacked by two waves of Japanese planes: high level bombers then D3A Val dive bombers. Sims, her anti-aircraft battery crippled by gun failures, took three direct hits and sank quickly with a heavy loss of life. USS Neosho (AO-23) was more fortunate in that, even after seven direct hits and eight near misses, she remained afloat until May 11, 1942 when her survivors were rescued up by USS Henley (DD-391) then scuttled by the destroyer.
In their tribulation, Neosho and Sims had performed a valuable service, drawing off the planes that might otherwise have hit Fletcher's carriers. Meanwhile, Yorktown and Lexington's planes found Shoho and punished that Japanese light carrier unmercifully, sending her to the bottom. One of Lexington's pilots reported this victory with the radio message: "Scratch one flattop".
That afternoon, Shōkaku and Zuikaku still not located by Fletcher's force launched 27 bombers and torpedo planes to search for the American ships. Their flight proved uneventful until they ran into fighters from Yorktown and Lexington, who proceeded to down nine enemy planes in the ensuing dogfight.
Near twilight, three Japanese planes incredibly mistook Yorktown for their own carrier and attempted to land. The ship's gunfire, though, drove them off; and the enemy planes crossed Yorktown's bow and turned away out of range. Twenty minutes later, when three more enemy pilots made the mistake of trying to get into Yorktown's landing circle, the carrier's gunners splashed one of the trio.
On May 8, 1942 during the morning a search plane spotted Admiral Takagi's carrier striking force - including Zuikaku and Shōkaku. Yorktown planes scored two bomb hits on Shōkaku, damaging her flight deck and preventing her from launching aircraft; in addition, the bombs set off explosions in gasoline storage tanks and destroyed an engine repair workshop. Lexington's Dauntlesses added another hit. Between the two American air groups, the hits killed 108 Japanese sailors and wounded 40 more.
While the American planes were attacking, Yorktown and Lexington - alerted by an intercepted message which indicated that the Japanese knew of their whereabouts - were preparing to fight off a retaliatory strike. Sure enough, shortly after 1100, that attack came.
American CAP Wildcats downed 17 planes, though some managed to slip through the defenses. B5N Kates launched torpedoes from both sides of Lexington's bows. Two torpedoes hit on the port side. D3A Val dive bombers added three bomb hits. Lexington developed a list, with three partially-flooded engineering spaces. Several fires raged below decks, and the carrier's elevators were put out of commission.
Meanwhile Yorktown was attacked by B5N Kate torpedo bombers but skillfully maneuvered by Captain Elliott Buckmaster to eight torpedoes. Afterwards, attacked by D3A Val dive bombers, but hit by an aerial bomb that penetrated the flight deck and exploded below decks, killing or seriously injuring 66 men.
The aerial bomb passed through and exploded directly beneath the compartment in which Lt. Ricketts' battle station was located, killing, wounding or stunning all of his men and mortally wounding Lt. Milton E. Ricketts. He promptly opened the valve of a near-by fireplug, partially led out the fire hose and directed a heavy stream of water into the fire before dropping dead beside the hose. His courageous action, which undoubtedly prevented the rapid spread of the fire. For his actions Lt. Milton E. Ricketts earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Yorktown's damage control parties brought the fires under control, and, despite the damage was able to continue flight operations. The air battle itself ended shortly before noon on May 8, 1942.
The Japanese won a tactical victory, inflicting comparatively heavier losses on the Allied force, but the Allies stemmed the tide of Japan's advance in the South and Southwest Pacific, had achieved a strategic victory. Yorktown had not achieved her part in the victory without cost, and had suffered enough damage to cause experts to estimate that at least three months in a yard would be required to put her back in fighting trim. Unfortunately, there was little time for repairs, because Allied intelligence - most notably the cryptographic unit at Pearl Harbor had gained enough information from decoded Japanese naval messages to estimate that the Japanese were planning a major operation aimed at Midway.
Battle of Midway
Meanwhile, Yorktown was ordered to return to Pearl Harbor arriving May 27, 1942. Dock yard workers working around the clock managed to make enough repairs to enable the carrier to put to sea. Her air group, experienced but weary were augmented with aircraft and pilots from USS Saratoga (CV-3) which was then headed for Hawaiian waters after her modernization on the west coast. Ready for battle, Yorktown departed on May 30, 1942 as the central ship of Task Force 17 (TF-17).
Meanwhile, PBYs flying from Midway had sighted the approaching Japanese and broadcast what turned out to be the alarm for the American forces defending the key atoll. Admiral Fletcher, in tactical command, ordered Admiral Spruance, with TF 16, to locate the enemy carrier force and strike them as soon as they were found.
Yorktown's search group returned at 0830, landing soon after the last of the six-plane CAP had left the deck. When the last of the Dauntlesses had landed, a flight deck ballet took place in which the deck was spotted for the launch of the ship's attack group - 17 Dauntlesses from VB-3; 12 Devastators from VT-3, and six Wildcats from "Fighting Three." Enterprise and Hornet, meanwhile, launched their attack groups.
The torpedo planes from the three American flattops located the Japanese carrier striking force but met disaster. Of the 41 planes from VT-8, VT-6, and VT-3, only six returned to Enterprise and Yorktown, collectively. None made it back to Hornet.
The destruction of the torpedo planes, however, had served a purpose. The Japanese CAP had broken off their high-altitude cover for their carriers and had concentrated on the Devastators, flying low "on the deck." The skies above were thus left open for Dauntlesses arriving from Yorktown and Enterprise. Virtually unopposed, the SBDs dove to the attack.
Yorktown's dive-bombers pummeled Sōryū scoring three hits with 1,000 pound bombs that turned the ship into a flaming inferno. Meanwhile, Enterprise aircraft hit Akagi and Kaga. The bombs from SBD Dauntless dive bombers caught the Japanese carriers in the midst of refueling and rearming operations, and the combination of bombs and gasoline aboard proved disastrous.
Three Japanese carriers had been lost. Hiryū, separated from the other carriers, launched a striking force of 18 D3A Vals that located Yorktown.
At about 1:29pm, Yorktown's radar detected the attackers. Aboard, her CAP fighters were launched and refueling ceased. Returning SBDs were ordered to stay aloft to join the CAP. The deck was cleared with a 800 gallon fuel tank thrown overboard while fuel lines were drained and compartments secured.
All of Yorktown's fighters were vectored out to intercept the oncoming Japanese aircraft, and did so some 15 to 20 miles out. The Wildcats attacked vigorously, breaking up what appeared to be an organized attack by some 18 "Vals" and 18 "Zeroes." "Planes were flying in every direction," wrote Capt. Buckmaster after the action, "and many were falling in flames." The leader of the "Vals" LT Joichi Tomonaga was probably shot down by F4F Wildcat piloted by commanding officer LCDR John S. Thach from VF-3 aboard Yorktown.
Despite an intensive barrage and evasive maneuvering, three D3A Vals scored bomb hits. Two of them were shot down soon after releasing their bomb loads; the third went out of control just as his bomb left the rack. It tumbled in flight and hit just abaft number two elevator on the starboard side, exploding on contact and blasting a hole about 10 feet square in the flight deck. Splinters from the exploding bomb decimated the crews of the two 1.1 inch gun mounts aft of the island and on the flight deck below. Fragments piercing the flight deck hit three planes on the hangar deck, starting fires. One of the aircraft, a Yorktown Dauntless, was fully fueled and carrying a 1,000 pound bomb. Prompt action by LT A. C. Emerson, the hangar deck officer, prevented a serious conflagration by releasing the sprinkler system and quickly extinguishing the fire.
The second bomb to hit the ship came from the port side, pierced the flight deck, and exploded in the lower part of the funnel. It ruptured the uptakes for three boilers, disabled two boilers themselves, and extinguished the fires in five boilers. Smoke and gases began filling the firerooms of six boilers. The men at number one boiler, however, remained at their post despite their danger and discomfort and kept its fire going, maintaining enough steam pressure to allow the auxiliary steam systems to function.
A third bomb hit the carrier from the starboard side, pierced the side of number one elevator and exploded on the fourth deck, starting a persistent fire in the rag storage space, adjacent to the forward gasoline stowage and the magazines. The prior precaution of smothering the gasoline system with CO undoubtedly prevented the gasoline from igniting.
While the ship recovered from the damage inflicted by the dive-bombing attack, her speed dropped to six knots; and then at 1440, about 20 minutes after the bomb hit that had shut down most of the boilers, Yorktown slowed to a stop, dead in the water.
At about 3:40pm Yorktown prepared to get underway again; and at 3:50pm the engine room force reported that they were ready to make 20 knots or better. Simultaneously, with the fires controlled sufficiently to warrant the resumption of fueling operations, Yorktown began fueling the gasoline tanks of the fighters then on deck. Fueling had just commenced when the ship's radar picked up an incoming air group at a distance of 33 miles away. While the ship prepared for battle - again smothering gasoline systems and stopping the fueling of the planes on her flight deck - she vectored four of the six fighters of the CAP in the air to intercept the incoming raiders. Of the 10 fighters on board, eight had as much as 23 gallons of fuel in their tanks. They accordingly were launched as the remaining pair of fighters of the CAP headed out to intercept the Japanese planes.
At 4:00pm Yorktown churned forward, making 20 knots. The fighters she had launched and vectored out to intercept had meanwhile made contact, Yorktown received reports that the planes were "Kates." The Wildcats downed at least three of the attacking torpedo planes, but the rest began their approach in the teeth of a heavy antiaircraft barrage from the carrier and her escorts.
Yorktown maneuvered radically, avoiding at least two torpedoes before two "fish" tore into her port side within minutes of each other. The first hit at 4:20pm. The carrier had been mortally wounded; she lost power and went dead in the water with a jammed rudder and an increasing list to port.
As the list progressed, CDR C. E. Aldrich, the damage control officer, reported from central station that, without power, controlling the flooding looked impossible. The engineering officer, LCDR J. F. Delaney, soon reported that all fires were out; all power was lost; and, worse yet, it was impossible to correct the list. Faced with that situation, Captain Buckmaster ordered Aldrich, Delaney, and their men to secure and lay up on deck to put on life jackets.
The list, meanwhile, continued to increase. When it reached 26 degrees, CAPT Buckmaster and CDR Aldrich agreed that the ship's capsizing was only a matter of minutes. "In order to save as many of the ship's company as possible," the captain wrote later, he "ordered the ship to be abandoned."
Over the minutes that ensued, the crew left ship, lowering the wounded to life rafts and striking out for the nearby destroyers and cruisers to be picked up by boats from those ships. After the evacuation of all wounded, the executive officer, CDR I. D. Wiltsie, left the ship down a line on the starboard side. CAPT Buckmaster, meanwhile, toured the ship for one last time, inspecting her to see if any men remained. After finding no "live personnel," Buckmaster lowered himself into the water by means of a line over the stern. By that point, water was lapping the port side of the hangar deck.
Rescued by USS Hammann (DD-412), Captain Buckmaster was transferred to USS Astoria (CA-34) and reported to Rear Admiral Fletcher. They agreed that a salvage party should attempt to save the ship despite the heavy list and danger of capsizing.
Interestingly enough, while the efforts to save Yorktown had been proceeding apace, her planes were still in action, joining those from Enterprise in striking the last Japanese carrier Hiryū late in the afternoon.
Yorktown, as it turned out, floated through the night; two men were still alive on board her - one attracted attention by firing a machine gun that was heard by the sole attending destroyer, USS Hughes who rescued the two men, one who later died.
On June 6, 1942 during the morning a rescue party including 29 officers and 141 enlisted men boarded the carrier and attempted to save her while five destroyers formed an anti-submarine screen. Aboard, fires in the rag storage were still smoldering. USS Vireo (AT-144) began towing the carrier. Aboard the repair party worked while USS Hammann (DD-412) came alongside to the startboard aft to provide fire hoses, pumps and electric power. To reduce weight on the deck, aircraft were pushed overboard and a 5" gun was cast overboard. Below deck, pumps had removed water from compartments. These efforts reduced the list by about two degrees.
Meanwhile, Japanese submarine I-168 penetrated the destroyer screen and fired four torpedoes that were spotted off the starboad beam at 3:36pm. USS Hammann (DD-412) went to general quarters, a 20 millimeter gun going into action in an attempt to explode the "fish" in the water. One torpedo missed passing astern. The second hit Hammann and broke the destroyer in half and caused her to jackknife and sink in four minutes bow first. The third and fourth torpedoes hit Yorktown impacted the bilge at the after end of the island structure.
Approximately a minute after Hammann sank, an underwater explosion, likely her depth charges killed many sailors in the water. The concussion shook the carrier, carrying away Yorktown's auxiliary generator and cased fixtures from the hangar deck to fall down and jostled the salvage crew aboard. The remaining destroyers searched for the Japanese submarine while USS Vireo cut the towline to rescue survivors and funeral services for two officers and an enlisted man from Hammann. Captain Buckmaster opted to postpone further repairs until the next day. Overnight, Yorktown remained afloat. d afloat.
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