Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. I know, so what does the Battle of Midway have to do with me. Well, nothing directly, but I did serve in the Navy aboard the USS Yorktown, CG-48 which was the 5th ship to bear that name. It was during the Battle of Midway that the USS Yorktown, CV5 was lost due to a combination of bombs and torpedoes.
When I served onboard the “Battle-cruiser” as we called her, I didn’t pay much attention to her previous namesakes. I knew they were there, but I didn’t really know much other than there were a couple of aircraft carriers and one was lost during World War II. We even had a space onboard the ship called “Yorktown Square” which had a park bench and probably 50 or so pictures of the earlier versions of the Yorktown. I looked at them and there was a passing interest, but nothing major. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started to read about the “Yorktowns” and the Battle of Midway. Just the fact the Yorktown made it to the battle was pretty remarkable itself. She was pretty well damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea and had expected to go to Bremerton, Washington for repairs after a brief stop in Pearl Harbor. Imagine the crews surprise when the ship was swarmed with yard workers who basically did a months work in roughly 72 hours and got her back out to sea. Without Yorktown to accompany Hornet and Enterprise, Midway may have turned out a lot different than it did.
As it was, Admiral Nimitz gave the yard workers 3 days to get Yorktown back at sea to meet up with Hornet and Enterprise to go against a huge Japanese battle fleet. By size comparison, it wasn’t even close. For the United States side we had:
~25 support ships
233 carrier-based aircraft
127 land-based aircraft
Total: 28 ships
For the Japanese side, they had the following:
~15 support ships
248 carrier-based aircraft
Did not participate in battle:
2 light carriers
~41 support ships
116 other ships (including auxiliary and transport vessels)
Total: 185 ships
It was a crazy battle and the United States got lucky by losing formations. Our torpedo bombers were separated from our dive bombers and fighters. They were completely obliterated by the Japanese fighters and only one or two actually got to launch torpedoes. But the Japanese fighters lost focus and followed the bombers and lost altitude. This allowed almost a perfect clear sky for our dive bombers which caught the Japanese aircraft carriers in the midst of re-fueling and re-arming their own bombers. Their fighters had no chance to get back up and provide cover and three carriers were hit and severely damaged in quick succession.
The Japanese from the carrier Hiryu in turn hit Yorktown with 3 bomb hits which knocked out her boilers and left her dead in the water. However, with good damage control, she was back underway in a little over an hour. Thinking Yorktown sunk in the first raid, the Japanese went after her again assuming she was Enterprise and hit her with 2 torpedoes. Again Yorktown lost her boilers and steerage. Yorktown also took on a 26degree list. Eventually, abandon ship was called for the Yorktown due to the increasing list. However, planes from the Yorktown did assist with the location and destruction of the last Japanese carrier Hiryu by Enterprise planes.
Later, rescue and recovery teams went back aboard Yorktown to see if they could stabilize the ship. The destroyer Hammann was tied alongside to provide power and firefighting as necessary. The teams worked to alleviate the list by cutting away heavy sections of guns, weights, planes, and counter flooding. The teams made good progress and there seemed to be a good chance that the Yorktown might yet be saved even after taking such a heavy pummeling. Alas, the Japanese sub I-168 was able to elude a screen of destroyers and put two more torpedoes into the Yorktown. A third Torpedo hit the Hammann which broke her in two and killed 80 of her crew. The Yorktown finally slipped under the water shortly after 5am on June the 7th.
Dead in the water
So many things could have changed the outcome of Midway. What would have happened if Yorktown hadn’t made it to Midway? What would have happened if our formations had stayed together instead of getting separated? What would have happened had the Japanese not have been in the middle of switching from land attack to sea attack when our bombers hit? What would have happened if the Japanese had attacked another carrier instead of Yorktown a second time? What would have happened if the Japanese forces had stayed in closer contact instead of being so spread out? It brings up a lot of different and interesting scenarios. For me, it led to Yorktown, CV10 which had it’s own illustrious career serving during World War 2, Korea, Viet Nam, the space programs, and then Yorktown, CG-48, the “Battle-Cruiser”. Had I not been on her, I might not have taken the time to learn about the earlier Yorktowns and what they brought to the history of the Navy.
Going back to the original USS Yorktown, she was a 16-gun sloop of war and mostly served to interdict slave trade during the 1840’s. She struck an un-charted reef off the northern coast of Maio Island of the Cape Verde Islands. She broke up incredibly fast, but the training of the crew ensured that no lives were lost.
The 2nd USS Yorktown was PG-1 or patrol gunboat. She was a steam powered ship but was also rigged to use sails as well. Her biggest claim to fame was the first successful use of the telescopic gun-sight on Unalaska Island on September 22nd, 1892.
Well, I guess that’s it for my history lesson today. Didn’t really know where I was going with this and can’t really remember if I have it all right, but it should be fairly close. At 44, almost 45, the brain ain’t quite what it used to be.
That’s it for me. Remember, shoot safe, shoot straight!