History of the Second World War, Volume 3

Pearl Harbor was a scene of intense activity during the last week of May 1942: a feeling of great impending events pervaded the atmosphere. On the 26th the aircraft- carriers Enterprise and Hornet of Task Force (TF) 16 had steamed in and moored, to set about in haste the various operations of refuelling and replenishing after a vain race across the Pacific to try togo to the aid of Rear-Admiral Frank Fletchers Task Force 17 in the Battle of the Coral Sea. On the next day the surviving carriers of TF 17, the Yorktowns blackened sides and twisted decks providing visible signs of the damage sustained in the battle berthed in the dry dock of the naval base where an army of workmen swarmed aboard to begin repairs. Under normal circumstances weeks of work lay ahead of them but now word had reached the dockyard that emergency repairs in the utmost haste were required. Work was to goon night and day without ceasing, until the ship was at least temporarily battle-worthy. For at the headquarters of the C-in-C Pacific Admiral Chester Nimitz, it was known from patient analysis and deciphering of enemy signals that the Japanese fleet was moving out to throw down a challenge which in spite of local American inferiority had to be accepted. Soon May 28 Task Force 16 sailed again, the Enterprise flying the flag of Rear- Admiral Raymond Spruance and vanished into the wide wastes of the Pacific. Six cruisers and nine destroyers formed its screen two replenishment tankers accom­panied it. The following day the dockyard gave Nimitz the scarcely credible news that the Yorktown was once again battle-worthy. Early on the 30th she too left harbour and, having ingathered her air groups headed north-westward to rendezvous with Task Force 16 at 'Point Luck 350 miles north­east of the island of Midway. Forming the remainder of Task Force 17 were two cruis­ers and five destroyers. The main objective of the Japanese was the assault and occupation of the little atoll of Midway 1100 miles west-north-west of Oahu and forming the western extremity of the Hawaiian island chain. Together with the occupation of the Aleutian Islands the capture of Midway would extend Japan’s eastern sea frontier so that sufficient warn­ing might be obtained of any threatened naval air attack on the homeland —Pearl Harbor in reverse. The plan had been given added impetus on April 18 by the raid on Tokyo mounted by Colonel Doolittles army bombers taking off from the Hornet. Doubts on the wisdom of the Japanese plan had been invoiced various quarters but Yamamoto the dynamic C-in-C of the Combined Fleet had fiercely advocated it for reasons of his own. He had always been certain that only by destroying the American fleet could Japan gain the breathing space required to consolidate her conquests and negotiate satisfactory peace terms —a belief which had inspired the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto rightly believed that an attack on Midway was a challenge that Nimitz could not ignore. It would bring the US Pacific Fleet out where Yamamoto in overwhelming strength would be waiting to bring it to action. The Japanese plan was an intricate one, as their naval strategic plans customarily were calling for exact timing for a junction at the crucial moment of several disparate g -forces and it involved —also typically —the i offering of a decoy or diversion to lure the “898 enemy into dividing his force or expending his strength on a minor objective. Between May 25/27 Northern Force would sail from Ominato at the northern tip of Honshu for the attack on the Aleutians. The II Carrier Striking Force under Rear- Admiral K akuta —comprising the small aircraft-carriers Ryujo and Junyo two cruisers and three destroyers —would bethe first to sail its task being to deliver a sur­prise air attack on Dutch Harbor on June 3. This it was expected might induce Nimitz to send at least part of his fleet racing north, in which case it would find waiting to inter­cept it a Guard Force of four battleships, two cruisers and 12 destroyers. K akutas force would be followed two days later by the remainder of the Aleutians force —two small transport units with cruiser and destroyer escorts for the invasion of A ttu and K iska on June 5. Meanwhile, from H ashirajim a Anchorage in the Inland Sea the four big aircraft-carriers of Vice- Admiral Nagumos I Carrier Striking Force— Akagi Kaga Hiryu and Soryu —would sail for the vicinity of Midway. Thereat dawn on the 4th their bombers and fighters would takeoff for the softening-up bombardment of the island prior to the assault landing two days later by troops carried in the Transport Group. The original plan had called for the in­clusion of the Zuikaku and Shokaku in Nagumos force. But like the Yorktown The moment of greatest danger in carrier warfare when no retaliation against an enemy strike is possible —Dauntless dive-bombers ranged forward on USS Enterprise for refuelling and rearming
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