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Solomon Islands or Battle of the Santa Cruz? - Carrier action - post first strike actions

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Carrier action on October 26 - post-first strike actions

Starting at 09:30, Enterprise landed many of the damaged and fuel-depleted CAP fighters and returning scout aircraft from both carriers. However, with her flight deck full, and the second wave of Japanese aircraft inbound, which was detected on radar at 09:30, Enterprise ceased landing operations at 10:00. Fuel-depleted aircraft then began ditching in the ocean as the carrier's escorting destroyers rescued the aircrews. One of the ditching aircraft, a damaged TBF from Enterprise’s strike force that had been attacked earlier by Zuihō Zeros, crashed into the water near the destroyer USS Porter. As the destroyer rescued the TBF's crew, the torpedo from the TBF began running in a wild circle and struck Porter and exploded, causing heavy damage and killing 15 crewmen. After the task force commander ordered the destroyer scuttled, the crew was rescued by the destroyer USS Shaw which then sank Porter with gunfire.
 
As the first wave of Japanese strike aircraft began returning to their carriers from their attack on Hornet, one of them spotted the Enterprise task force and reported the carrier's position. Thus, the second Japanese aircraft strike wave, believing Hornet to be sinking, directed their attacks on the Enterprise task force, beginning at 10:08. Again, the U.S. CAP had trouble intercepting the Japanese aircraft before they attacked Enterprise, shooting down only two of the 19 Vals as they began their dives on the carrier. Attacking through the intense anti-aircraft fire put-up by Enterprise and her escorting warships, the Vals hit the carrier with two 250-kilogram bombs and near-missed with another, causing heavy damage to the carrier and jamming her forward elevator in the "up" position. Twelve of the 19 Vals were lost in this attack.

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.

 

Between 09:05 and 09:14, Junyō had arrived within 280 nmi (520 km) of the U.S. carriers and launched a strike of 17 Vals and 12 Zeros. As the Japanese Main body and Advanced force maneuvered to try to join formations, Junyō readied follow-up strikes. At 11:21, the Junyō Vals arrived and dove on the Enterprise task force. The Vals scored one near miss on Enterprise, causing more damage, and one hit each on South Dakota and cruiser USS San Juan, causing moderate damage to both ships. Eleven of the 17 Vals were destroyed in this attack.

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.

 

After several technical problems, Northampton finally began slowly towing Hornet out of the battle area at 14:45. Also, Hornet’s crew was on the verge of restoring partial power to the ship. However, at 15:20, Junyō’s second strike arrived and attacked the almost stationary carrier. At 15:23, one torpedo struck Hornet, destroying the repairs to the power system, causing heavy flooding and a 14-degree list. With no power to pump out the water, Hornet was given up for lost, and the crew abandoned ship. The third strike from Zuikaku attacked Hornet during this time, hitting the sinking ship with one more bomb. All of the Hornet’s crewmen were off by 16:27. The last Japanese strike of the day dropped one more bomb on the sinking hulk at 17:20.

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.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 April 2009 17:37 )  

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