History of the Second World War, Volume 3

intermittent internal explosions from within the great mass of flame and smoke which she had become. When Captain Yanaginoto gave the order 'Abandon Ship he deter­mined to immolate himself dying in the flames or going down with her. A party of his men returning on board with the inten­tion of persuading him or if necessary of forcing him to save himself fell back abashed at the heroic determined figure of their captain standing sword in hand facing forward awaiting his end. They left him to his chosen fate. As they did so they heard him singing the Japanese national anthem. Yanaginotos resolution held fast till 1913 hours when at last the Soryu and the bodies of 718 of her crew slid beneath the surface. Much had taken place in the meantime before Nagumos three aircraft-carriers suffered their death throes. The first sur­vivors of the American strike groups to land back on their ships made it clear th atone Japanese carrier had not yet been loca­ted. This was the H iryu which at the time of the attack had become separated from the remainder. Admiral Fletcher therefore launched a ten-plane search from the York­town and sent up a defensive patrol of a dozen Wildcats. It was none too soon. At a few minutes before noon the Yorktown’s radar gave the warning of enemy planes incoming from the west. These were the H iryus attack group of 18 dive-bombers and six fighters led by Lieutenant Michio Kobayashi a veteran leader who had taken part in every operation of the Nagumo force. As soon as they had flown off a further strike often torpedo- bombers and six Zeros to be led by the redoubtable Tomonago was ranged up. Kobayashis force had followed some of the Yorktowns attack planes back and now concentrated on Fletchers flagship. Wild­cats— for once outnumbering the escorting Zeros— broke through to get at the 'V ais’, shooting down often them including the leader. Of the eight which remained two were knocked down by anti-aircraft fire from the cruiser screen. The six survivors however showed that they had lost none of their skill as they screamed down on the carrier. One 'Val’ broke up under anti-aircraft fire but its bomb sped onto burst on the flight-deck, killing many men and starting a hangar fire below. A second bomb plunged through the side of the funnel and burst inside, starting more fires. With three boiler up­takes smashed and the furnaces of five or six boilers extinguished the carriers speed fell away until 20 minutes later she came to a stop. A third bomb penetrated to the fourth deck where for a time afire threaten­ed the forward petrol tanks and magazines. His flagship immobilised her radio and radar knocked out Admiral Fletcher trans­ferred his flag to the cruiser Astoria and ordered the Portland to take the aircraft- carrier in tow. The damage-control organiza­tion worked wonders however. Before the towline had been passed the Yorktown was underway again and working up to 20 knots and the refuelling of the fighters was in progress. Prospects seemed bright. Then a cruisers radar picked up Tomonaga’s air group 40 miles away ana incoming fast. There was just time to launch eight of the refuelling Wildcats to join the four already in the air but they were unable to get through the screen of fighters to get at the 'K ates —though they shot down three of the 'Zeros. A tremendous screen of bursting shells spread itself in front of the attackers, while the cruisers raised a barrage of splashes with their main armament a wall of water columns through which it seemed impossible that the skimming 'K ates’ could fly. Yorktown fatally damaged Five 'K ates were shot down but the re­mainder incoming from four different angles displayed all their deadly skill, boring doggedly into drop their torpedoes at the point-blank range of 500 yards. It was impossible for the carrier to avoid them all. Two hit heron port side tearing open the double-bottom fuel tanks and causing flooding which soon had her listing at 26 degrees. All power was lost so that counter­ flooding was impossible. It seemed that the Yorktown was about to capsize. At 1500, Captain Buckm aster ordered 'Abandon Ship. Meanwhile however the dive-bombers from Spruances Task Force 16 operating some 60 miles to the north-east of the Yorktown had wreaked vengeance on the Hiryu. Twenty-four Dauntlesses of which ten had been transferred from the Yorktown, arrived overhead undetected soon after the few survivors of H iryus attack had been recovered. The aircraft-carrier circled and swerved to avoid the bombs from the plum­meting dive-bombers but in vain. Four of them hit one of which blew the forward lift bodily onto the bridge. The others started the inevitable fires and explosions and the same prolonged death agonies as the H iryu’s sisters were still suffering. By 2123 she had come to a stop. Desperate efforts to subdue the flames went on through the night but at 0230 the following morning she was abandoned to be torpedoed by her attendant destroyers. When the night of June 4 closed over the four smoking Japanese carriers and over the crippled Yorktown the Battle of Midway was in the main over. Neither of the op­posing commanders yet knew it however, and manoeuvres and skirmishes were to continue for two more days. The Japanese commanders except Nagumo were slow to realise that the shattering of their four fleet carriers signified defeat and the end of the Midway operation. Admiral Kondo with his two fast battleships four heavy cruisers, and the light carrier Zuiho had offset to the help of Nagumo at midday on June 4, and soon afterwards Yamamoto was signal­ ling to all his scattered forces to concentrate and attack the enemy. He himself with the main body of his fleet was upcoming fast from the west bringing the 18-inch guns of the giant Yamato and the 16-inch ones of the Nagato and M utsu to throw in their weight. Still underestimating his opponent, he was dreaming of a night encounter in which his immensely powerful fleet would overwhelm the American task force and avenge the losses of the previous day. The great 'fleet action with battleships in stately line hurling huge shells a teach other was still his hope and aim. Such a concept had been forcibly removed from American naval strategy by the sham­bles of Pearl Harbor. Raymond Spruance, one of the greatest admirals to come to the fore during the war was not to be lured within range of Yamamotos battleships, above all at night when his carriers at this time untrained for night-flying would beat a tremendous disadvantage. At sunset he turned away eastwards aiming to uptake a position on the following day from which he could either 'followup retreating enemy forces or breakup a landing attack on Midway. The Japanese C-in-C refused to credit the completeness of the disaster that had over­taken his fleet and the Midway plan until early on June 5 when at 0255 he ordered a general retirement. Thus when Spruance, after prudently steering eastwards to keep his distance from the still overwhelmingly superior Japanese surface fleet and revers­ing course a t midnight so as to be within supporting distance of Midway at day­light sent a strike of 58 dive-bombers from his two ships during the afternoon of the 5th to seek out Yamamotos Main Body his air­men encountered nothing but alone des­troyer sent to search for the Hiryu. Two final incidents remain to be briefly recounted. When Yamamoto ordered his general retirement the squadron of four heavy cruisers of Admiral K u ritas Support Force the Kumano Suzuya M ikuma and Mogami was to the westward of Midway, steering through the tonight deliver a bombardment at dawn. They now swung round to reverse course full in view of the American submarine Tambor. As they steadied on their retirement course from the flagship the Tambor was sighted in the moonlight ahead. The signal for an emer­gency turn to port was flashed down the line but was not taken in by the rear ship, Mogami. Failing to turn with the remainder she collided with theM ikuma suffering serious damage which reduced her speed to 12 knots. Leaving theM ikum a and two destroyers to escort the cripple K urita hurried on with the remainder. News of this attractive target soon reached Midway. Twelve army Flying Fortresses took off but were unable to locate it but 12 Marine Corps dive-bombers sighted the long oil slick being trailed by theM ikuma, followed it up —and at 0805 dived to the at­ tack. Their bombs failed to achieve direct hits but the plane of Captain Richard E. Fleming crashed on the after turret of theM ikuma. Petrol fumes were sucked down into the cruisers starboard engine-room and exploded killing the whole engine- room crew. The two cruisers nevertheless continued to limp slowly away until the following day when Spruance having abandoned hope of delivering another blow on Yamamoto’s Main Fleet was able to direct his dive- bombers onto them. TheM ikum a was smothered and sunk but the Mogami miraculously survived heavily damaged to reach the Japanese base at Truk. While these events were taking place far to the east the abandoned Yorktown had drifted crewless through the night of June 4/5. She was still afloat at noon the next day and it became clear she had been pre­maturely abandoned. A salvage party boarded her and she was taken in tow. Hopes of getting her to port were high until the Japanese submarine 1-168 sent by Yama­ moto for the purpose found her penetrated her anti-submarine screen and put two torpedoes into her. At 0600 on June 7 the Yorktown sank at last. At sundown on the previous day Spruance had turned his force back eastwards to meet his supply tankers. That the Battle of Midway was over was finally clear to all. Captain Donald Macintyres biography is on page 700.906
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