History of the Second World War, Volume 3

more Zeros concentrated on his formation long before they reached a launching posi­tion. High overhead Lieutenant Gray, leading the Enterprise's fighter squadron, waited for a call for help as arranged with Lindsey thinking that W aldrons planes were the torpedo squadron from his own ship— a call which never came. From the cruisers and destroyers of the screen came a wither­ing fire. One by one the torpedo-bombers were shot down. A few managed to get their torpedoes away before crashing but none hit the enemy. Only one of the pilots Ensign George H. Gay survived the massacre, clinging to a rubber seat cushion which floated away from his smashed aircraft until dusk when he could inflate his life-raft without attracting strafing Zeros. Five minutes later it was the turn of Lindseys 14 Devastators from the Enter­prise. Purely by chance ashe was making his attack on the starboard side of the Kaga the torpedo squadron from the York­town came sweeping in from the other side, aiming to attack the Soryu and drawing off some of the fighter opposition. The Yorktowns strike group of 17 dive- bombers led by Lieutenant-Com m ander Maxwell F. Leslie with 12 torpedo-bombers of Lieutenant-Com m ander Lance E. Mas­ seys squadron and an escort of six Wild­cats had taken departure from their carrier an hour and a quarter after the strike groups of Task Force 16. A more accurate assessment of probabilities by Leslie how­ever had brought the whole of this force simultaneously over the enemy to deliver the co-ordinated massed attack which alone could hope to swamp and breakthrough the defences. In addition a t this same moment, McCluskys dive-bombers also arrived over­head. McClusky after reaching the ex­pected point of interception had continued for a tim eon his south-westerly course and had then made a cast to the north-west. There he had sighted a destroyer steering north-east at high speed. This was the Arashi which had been left behind to depth- charge the Nautilus. Turning to follow her, McClusky was led straight to his objective. The simultaneous attack by the two tor­pedo squadrons brought no result of itself. Scores of Zeros swarmed about them brush­ing aside the puny force of six Wildcats. The massacre of the clumsy Devastators was re­enacted. Lindsey and ten others of his force were shot down. Of M asseys squadron only two survived. The few torpedoes launched were easily evaded. The sacrifice of the torpedo-bombers had not been in vain nevertheless. For while every Japanese fighter plane was milling about low over the water enjoying the easy prey offered to them there high overhead there were gathering all unseen and un­molested the dive-bombers —McCluskys 18, and Leslies 17. And now like hawks swoop­ing to their prey they came plummeting down out of the sky. In the four Japanese carriers the refuel­ ling and re-arming of the strike force had been almost completed. The decks were crowded with aircraft ranged for take-off. Nagumo had given the order to launch and ships were turning into wind. Aboard the Akagi all eyes were directed downwards at the flight-deck. Suddenly over the rumbling roar of engines the high-pitched rising scream of dive-bombers was heard. Even as faces j- swivelled upwards at the sound the black z dots which were 000-pound 1 bombs were “904 seen leaving three 'Hell-Divers as they pulled out from their near-vertical dive. Fascinated eyes watched the bombs grow in assize they fell inexorably towards that most vulnerable of targets a full deck load of armed and fuelled aircraft. One bomb struck the Akagi squarely amidships oppo­site the bridge and just behind the aircraft lift plunged down into the hangar and there exploded detonating stored torpedoes ate r­ing up the flight deck and destroying the lift. A second exploded in the midst of the 'K ates on the after part of the deck starting a tremendous conflagration to add to th a tin the hangar. In a matter of seconds Nagumo’s proud flagship had been reduced to a blazing shambles. From time to time she was further shaken by internal explosions as the flames touched off petrol tanks bombs and tor­pedoes. Within a few minutes Captain Aoki knew that the damage and fires were beyond control. He persuaded the reluctant Nagumo th a tit was necessary to transfer his flag to a ship with radio communication intact. Admiral and staff picked their throughway the flames to reach the forecastle whence they lowered themselves down ropes to a boat which took them to the light cruiser Nagara of the screen. Carnage in the Japanese carriers Only three dive-bombers from the Enter­prise had attacked the flagship. The re­mainder of the air group 34 dive-bombers, all concentrated on the Kaga. Of four bombs which scored direct hits the first burst just forward of the superstructure blowing up a petrol truck which stood there and the sheet of flame which swept the bridge killed everyone on it including the captain. The other three bombs falling among the massed aircraft on the flight deck set the ship ablaze and started the same fatal train of fires and explosions as in the Akagi. Within a few minutes the situation was so beyond control that the senior surviving officer ordered the transfer of the Emperors portrait to an attendant destroyer —the custom obligatory when a ship was known to be doomed and conducted with strict naval ceremony. The Kaga was to survive for several hours, nevertheless. Simultaneously with the Akagi and Kaga, the Soryu had also been reeling under a devastating attack. Leslie of the Yorktown was leading veterans of the Coral Sea battle, probably the most battle-experienced avia­tors in the American navy at that time. With deadly efficiency they dived in three waves in quick succession from the starboard bow, the starboard quarter and the port quarter, released their bombs and climbed away outwith­ a single casualty. Out of the shower of 000-pound 1 bombs three hit. The first pene­trated to the hangar deck and the explosion lifted the steel platform of the lift folding it back against the bridge. The others landed among the massed aircraft causing the whole ship to be engulfed inflames. It took Captain Ryusaku Yanaginoto only 20 minutes to decide to order 'Abandon Ship’ to save his crew from being burnt alive, though the Soryu like her sisters was to survive for some hours yet. Thus in five brief searing minutes half of Japans entire fleet carrier force her naval corps d elite had been shattered. For the time being the Hiryu some miles away, remained untouched. She was to avenge her sisters in some measure before the day was over but before going onto tell of her part in the battle let us follow the remainder to their deaths in the blue Pacific waters. On board the Akagi though the bomb damage was confined at first to her flight and hangar decks and her machinery spaces remained intact the fires fed by aviation petrol from aircraft and from fuel lines were beyond the capacity of the Japanese crew to master. They fought them for seven hours but by 1715 Captain Aoki had decided there was no hope of saving his ship. The Em­perors portrait was transferred to a des­troyer and the ship was abandoned. Per­mission was asked of the C-in-C to hasten her end but it was not until nearly dawn on the following day —when Yamamoto at last fully understood the fullness of the Japanese defeat —that he gave his approval and the Akagi was sent to the bottom by torpedoes from a destroyer. Petrol-fed fires similarly swept the Kaga and defeated all efforts to save her. Lying stopped and burning she became the target for three torpedoes from the Nautilus which, after her earlier adventure had surfaced and chased after the Japanese carriers. Even the stationary target however was too much for the unreliable torpedoes with which the Americans were at that time equipped. Of three fired two missed and the third struck but failed to explode. At 1640 orders were given to abandon the Kaga, and at 1925 two great explosions tore her asunder and sent her to the bottom. The Soryus story was a similar one of
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