|Solomon Islands or Battle of the Santa Cruz?|
|Carrier action - post first strike actions|
Carrier action on October 26 - post-first strike actions
Twenty minutes later, the 16 Zuikaku Kates arrived and split up to attack Enterprise. One group of Kates was attacked by two CAP Wildcats which shot down three of them and damaged a fourth. On fire, the fourth damaged Kate purposely crashed into the destroyer USS Smith, setting the ship on fire and killing 57 of her crew. The destroyer steered into the spraying wake of the battleship USS South Dakota to help put out the fires and then resumed her station, firing her remaining anti-aircraft guns at the still attacking Kates.
The remaining Kates attacked Enterprise, South Dakota, and cruiser USS Portland, but all of their torpedoes missed or were duds, causing no damage. The engagement was over at 10:53 with nine of the 16 attacking Kates shot down. After suppressing most of the onboard fires, at 11:15 Enterprise reopened her flight deck to begin landing returning aircraft from the morning U.S. strikes on the Japanese warship forces. However, only a few aircraft landed before the next wave of Japanese strike aircraft arrived and began their attacks on Enterprise, forcing a suspension of landing operations.
At 11:35, Kinkaid decided to withdraw Enterprise and her screening ships from the battle, since Hornet was out of action, Enterprise was heavily damaged, and believing (correctly) that the Japanese had one to two undamaged carriers in the area. He directed Hornet’s task force to follow as soon as they were able. Between 11:39 and 13:22, Enterprise recovered 57 of the 73 airborne U.S. aircraft as she headed away from the battle. The remaining U.S. aircraft ditched in the ocean, and their aircrews were rescued by escorting warships.
Between 11:40 and 14:00, Zuikaku and Junyō recovered the few aircraft that returned from the morning strikes on Hornet and Enterprise and prepared follow-up strikes. The air staff officer on Junyō described the return of the carrier's first strike groups:
“ We searched the sky with apprehension. There were only a few planes in the air in comparison with the numbers launched several hours before... The planes lurched and staggered onto the deck, every single fighter and bomber bullet holed... As the pilots climbed wearily from their cramped cockpits, they told of unbelievable opposition, of skies choked with antiaircraft shell bursts and tracers.”
The only Junyō carrier bomber leader to return from the first strike wave appeared, "so shaken that at times he could not speak coherently."
At 13:00, Kondo's Advanced force and Abe's Vanguard force warships together headed directly towards the last reported position of the U.S. carrier task forces and increased speed to try to intercept them for a warship gunfire battle. Zuihō and Shōkaku, with Nagumo still on board, retreated from the battle area, leaving Rear Admiral Kakuji Kakuta in charge of the Zuikaku and Junyō aircraft forces. At 13:06, Junyō launched her second strike of seven Kates and eight Zeros, and Zuikaku launched her third strike of seven Kates, two Vals, and five Zeros. At 15:35, Junyō launched the last Japanese strike force of the day, consisting of four Kates and six Zeros.
Destroyers USS Mustin and USS Anderson were ordered to scuttle Hornet with gunfire and torpedoes while the rest of the U.S. warships retired towards the southeast to get out of range of Kondo's and Abe's oncoming warships. With advancing Japanese destroyers only 20 minutes away, the two U.S. destroyers abandoned Hornet’s burning hulk at 20:40. The rest of the warships of Kondo's and Abe's forces arrived at Hornet’s location by 22:20, decided that she was too damaged to try to capture and finished the job of scuttling her with torpedoes by 01:35 on October 27. Several night attacks by radar-equipped Catalinas on Junyō and Teruzuki, knowledge of the head-start the U.S. warships had in their retreat from the area, plus a critical fuel situation apparently caused the Japanese to reconsider further pursuit of the U.S. warships. After refueling near the northern Solomon Islands, the ships returned to their main base at Truk on October 30. During the U.S. retirement from the battle area towards Espiritu Santo and New Caledonia, South Dakota collided with destroyer USS Mahan, heavily damaging the destroyer.