As we steamed westward, we began to receive messages indicating a big engagement was in the offing. Our Task Force had been beefed up to include not only Enterprise and Hornet but the heavy cruisers Minneapolis, New Orleans and Vincennes, in addition to our old friends Northampton and Pensacola, plus the new AA Cruiser Atlanta and two Fleet Oilers, Cimarron and Platte. Commodore Conolly had been promoted to Rear Admiral and had been replaced by Captain Sauer, previously Commodore of DesDiv 12, and we had only Balch, Maury, Benham and Ellet of old DesRon 6 ships among the eleven destroyers that made up the screen. Task Force 17, built around Yorktown, was to follow us as soon as the emergency repairs to her Flight Deck could be completed. There was also some indication that a group including Saratoga was on its way.

On the 3rd of June, Task Force 17 caught up with us and took station to the north. We were approaching a position to the northeast of Midway and all forces were put at the highest state of alert. That same morning, a Japanese attack on Aleutian Islands, off Alaska, was reported, but as we were digesting this news, a long-range search plane from Midway reported sighting a large Japanese force some 600 miles to the west of Midway and a submarine reported a large force in a different location. It was obvious that a large and complex force was approaching Midway. Unexpectedly, at dusk, both Task Forces 16 and 17 turned to the east, away from the approaching enemy forces!

In the wardroom, there was hot discussion about what was going on. Obviously, we didn’t have the full information—being able to decode only those messages for general distribution—but our retirement from the enemy seemed strange. Midway could be hit and all of its defenses destroyed before we could intercept an attack. We should be between Midway and the Japanese attackers!

During the night, an Army B-17 reported sighting and sinking a Japanese battleship and a Midway-based PBY reported torpedoing a transport! We still didn’t have any good information at dawn GQ, but at least the Formation Course had been turned back to the west. A ten-plane search was flown off from Yorktown at dawn and the Combat Air Patrol was increased. Maury was pulled in from the screen to plane-guard Hornet. Captain Sims kept a tally on the planes in the air as they came and went. He had both the Combat Air Patrol frequency and the Aircraft Search frequency “piped” to speakers on the bridge, but radio silence was in force, so nothing came over them.

At dawn, the Japs started their air attack on Midway. The radio circuits soon began crackling with fragments of the air battle and cries for help, yet our force, now moving to the west, did so at a leisurely pace. At 0830, a “Contact Report” from Midway was received: “JAP FORCE OF 2 BB 2 CV AND ESCORTS TO NORTHWEST.” The force commander ordered General Quarters and shifted to AA Battle Formation. FOX flags hit the air; carriers turned into the wind; plane guards took station! With puffs of blue exhaust, engines of waiting aircraft came to life. One after another, the heavy-laden SBD dive-bombers and TBD torpedo planes struggled into the air and formed their Sections, Divisions, and Squadrons. As they closed-up and climbed to altitude, the F4F fighters were launched and headed west to cover the attack. Our three carriers, each with its ring of escorts, were operating independently in a loose triangle some 5 to 10 miles apart. As the attack groups moved out of sight in search of the enemy, the Combat Air Patrol was relieved and augmented.

Then there was silence. Silence and waiting. The Attack Group would not break radio silence until enemy contact was made. Even the circuits from Midway were largely silent—apparently the Jap attack was over and the frantic aftermath was not being broadcast. The silence stretched one hour; then almost two! Something had to happen—none of the aircraft could fly more than about four hours!

The circuits suddenly crackled into life. BOMBING THREE flying from Yorktown had contact and was going in! Yorktown planes coached those from the other carriers to the target. TORPEDO EIGHT was going in on the Main Force. BOMBING SIX reported hits on a carrier. So did SCOUTING FIVE. Combat chatter of Fighter Pilots punctuated the air. Calls for cover! Warnings! “Enemy splashed!” Maury’s crew was electrified by the sounds of the air battle. One carrier hit! A second! Two carriers burning and another damaged! A battleship hit! Three carriers dead in the water and burning! Bridge was keeping score. Four carriers had been sighted and we’d gotten three of them!

“MANY BOGIES TO THE WEST! CONDITION RED!!!” The ship picked up speed as we took our station in an AA Formation. All guns were swung out to “Ready.” All eyes strained to find the incoming attackers. The Combat Air Patrol speaker crackled. The attackers were going into their dives. On the horizon to the north, black puffs from AA fire dotted the sky over Yorktown—then flames and black smoke rose from near her island. She’d been hit badly! A few streaks of smoke laced the sky where enemy planes had gone down, but it was nothing compared to the pall of smoke rising from the injured carrier. I wondered about my brother Bill in her engine room. I wondered about brother-in-law Pug in FIGHTING FIVE.

But in Yorktown they soon got things under control—the fires were out and the smoke disappeared. As we maneuvered to recover Hornet planes returning from the attack, we lost sight of Yorktown as she slipped beyond the horizon. The returning squadrons flew past in “Parade” formation leaving gaps where their comrades were missing. There were many gaps in the bomber squadrons, a few in the fighter groups, and there was no TORPEDO EIGHT at all! The only torpedo plane that landed on Hornet was a “stray chicken” from Yorktown looking for a place to rest.

About two hours after the first Jap attack, “Bogies” were again reported approaching Yorktown. This time it was a formation of Jap torpedo planes. Though the fighters and AA fire eventually destroyed nearly all of them, they scored two hits on Yorktown. She was hurt badly, taking on water and soon listing heavily. By mid-afternoon, the list had become dangerous and the Captain ordered her to be abandoned. But Yorktown would not sink, and two days later a salvage crew, including brother Bill, was put back on board to bring her into port under tow of a Fleet Tug. Her luck ran out after a few hours when a Japanese submarine torpedoed her again, wounding her critically and sinking the destroyer Hammann, alongside supplying power. So Yorktown was abandoned a second time and next morning, June 7th, she capsized and sank.

Throughout the rest of the 4th of June, all three Air Groups, though operating from only two Flight Decks, continued to pound the Japanese Carrier Force. By the end of the day, Captain Sims’ tally had all four Jap carriers sunk or badly damaged and several other major ships hit. All hands were sure we would be sent in on a night attack to clean up the remaining Japs. Everyone re-checked his equipment to be sure it was ready. Almost every officer went to the Torpedo Mounts to check that all was in readiness. With Yorktown out of action, command of the combined Task Forces had been turned over to Adm. Spruance, but at sunset, once again we turned to the northeast out of harm’s way. For us, it was infuriating to see an opportunity “just made for destroyers and their lethal torpedoes” simply slip away! The wardroom was a hotbed of discussion as we waited, sure that the Admiral would change his mind and turn to attack! We stayed up past midnight waiting, but our force continued to the east.

During the night, there was a steady stream of contact and damage reports from land-based search planes and submarines, but the location and condition of the enemy forces was not clear. When dawn broke on the 5th of June, scout bombers and the few remaining torpedo planes were sent out to search again, but found little except a pair of damaged heavy cruisers, which they plastered unmercifully. The most heavily damaged of the pair, Mogami, refused to sink, so Adm. Spruance detached a cruiser and four destroyers, including Maury, to finish her off. Though low on fuel we steamed west at high speed, eager, finally, to use our “Main Battery.” We were within 70 miles of the reported position of the crippled enemy when we were called back to rejoin the carriers, probably as the result of the final torpedoing of Yorktown. We were also desperately low on fuel—so low, in fact, that Worden, having just arrived alongside the oiler to fuel, “lost suction” and, as the fires went out under her boilers, slowed and dropped astern, ripping lines and hoses. It was a quarter of an hour before she found enough fuel in her nearly-dry tanks to re-kindle her fires and return to the tanker. Mogami lived to fight another day.

After losing all their carriers and suffering damage to many more ships, the Japanese called off their intended invasion of Midway and retreated. We returned to Pearl to replenish and re-group. It was a long and anxious voyage, waiting for news of Bill and Pug. As soon as we were securely berthed in East Loch, the Captain gave me permission to go ashore to learn the news. I’d hardly reached the Officer’s Club to start telephoning friends when Bill and his Yorktown roommate, Mike Wadleigh, strolled in, dressed in brand new, ill-fitting khakis they’d been issued as “Survivors.” It was a great reunion—they’d been worried about me too. They could also report that Pug was all right—FIGHTING FIVE had missed the battle.

Prohibition had been replaced by rationing, so we went to the Club store to buy some booze for a reunion party. The clerk sadly reported that he was completely sold out of everything but champagne. The limit was two bottles per officer regardless of the beverage, so we headed for Honolulu with six bottles of California champagne. Harvey Lanham, Bill’s roommate at the Academy, was a pilot in BOMBING SIX, so we called him up to join the party. He countered by inviting us over to his apartment—his wife Shirley had been permitted to remain in Honolulu because she had a job at Army Headquarters. Harvey filled us in on the battle from the flier’s point of view—he’d made one hit on a carrier and one on a cruiser. He was exhausted from the intense operations of the past weeks and declined our invitation to continue the party at the Moana. The Hotel was a roaring place that night, packed to the brim with young officers blowing off steam. Midway and Coral Sea had been the first big battles of the Pacific Fleet. They were also the first major Fleet Actions at sea in U.S. Navy history!

The refusal of our commanders to use surface forces troubled me deeply. It was becoming apparent that the major actions were going to be fought with airplanes. If one wanted to share in the actual fighting, he had to become a flier. Though not particularly drawn to become an aviator instead of a ship’s officer, I decided to apply for flight training. We had received an “AlNav” announcing an expanded flight training program and all previous time-in-grade requirements had been waved. Prior to applying officially, I scheduled a flight physical exam at Ford Island to make sure I could be accepted. To my surprise, the Flight Surgeon turned me down for having borderline Myopia. He said the condition wasn’t really debilitating, but might just make the difference in a difficult situation when flying an airplane. I was mildly disappointed at the time, but in retrospect feel very lucky. Had I gone to flight training, I’d have missed most of the war. As for my eyes, I have never had trouble on the Bridge seeing things before my junior officers!

Another surprise about returning from Midway was to find that I’d been promoted to Lieutenant, junior-grade, along with Hi Hughson and Chuck Cheyney. It was a “temporary” promotion, but so were all wartime promotions, and, best of all, we didn’t have to take promotion exams. It also gave us a good reason for another celebration.

I got a chance to try out my exalted rank in an unusual way about a month after my promotion. Following Midway, we operated in the Hawaiian area while Enterprise and the cruisers had some time in the yard and we had a couple of periods in port. One hot, lazy Saturday afternoon, while I had the Duty, the Radio Messenger handed me an “Op-Immediate” dispatch ordering the ship to sea to investigate a submarine sighted off Barber’s Point. The Captain was ashore at the Club; Hilles, Geblin and Armstrong were at home with their wives, so I was the senior officer aboard. Jim Winn was with me in the wardroom when the message was delivered, so I told him to set Special Seas Details and “light off” the second boiler. I then went to see the skipper of the ship alongside in the nest, explained the situation and asked him what I should do. He looked at me with an amused smile and said, “Carry out your orders. You can handle her, can’t you?” That straightened out my thinking!

Returning aboard, I sent Pete Hamel in the gig to the Officer’s Club to find the skipper. He was to meet the ship at Hospital Point as we went out, skipper or not. We had nearly all of the junior officers aboard and most of the men, so there was nothing to hold us back except my inexperience. Jim Winn reported “Ready to Answer Bells” a few minutes after I got to the Bridge, so, with Hi Hughson as OOD and Chuck Cheyney navigating, I loosened all lines and cast off aft. She drifted gently out from the ship alongside and, when I could see five feet of clear water between the ships, I ordered, “Back One Third.” The prop wash nudged the ships even further apart and she moved gently back into the channel. I now had plenty of room, it was a bright sunny day, and the wind was light. My heart expanded with pride as I “twisted” the ship and headed her west around Ford Island. Hughson reported to the SOPA over the TBS that we were “underway as ordered and proceeding to sea.” Despite the urgency of our mission, I held her down to 10 knots while in the harbor.

The gig, with the Captain, was waiting at Hospital Point and we picked her up with only a moment’s pause. When the Captain arrived on the bridge, a bit breathless and glowing from Rum Punch, he plopped into his chair and told me to continue as before. He read our orders, and then asked, “What are you waiting for?” I explained that I was already exceeding the Harbor speed limit of 6 knots, but he replied, “Kick her up to 15!” I increased speed as he instructed and continued out the channel. He sat quietly in his chair until we had cleared the entrance, and then asked me what I planned to do. I replied that I planned to go the point where the sub had been sighted and then start an “Expanding Spiral Search” to see what we could find. He told me to continue and, after we had completed our first swing around the point where the sub had been reported, said, “You’re doing fine, Russ. I’ll be below in my cabin. Keep me informed.” He left the bridge and, though I kept him informed by telephone and sent all outgoing messages to him for “Release,” he didn’t return to the bridge until the next afternoon. Meanwhile, we completed our search of the Barber’s Point area with no results and reported to the SOPA for further instructions. We were ordered to stay at sea and augment the Off Shore Patrol, which formed a protective arc seaward from Barber’s Point to Waikiki.

Because Captain Sims was the senior commanding officer among the two older destroyers and four smaller ships sent out to join us, we were soon in “Tactical Command” of seven ships. Hughson, Cheyney and I rotated as OOD, but we were all three on the bridge most of the time, except when catching a bit of sleep below. When we finally returned to port, more than three days after our departure, we were all much wiser and more experienced officers. Captain Sims let us take her all the way in to our assigned nest, but he took over at the final moment to bring her alongside.

We’d hardly returned to port when we were assigned a “Limited Availability” at the Navy Yard for the installation of an “FD” Fire control Radar. The Transmitter Cabinet was put into a small compartment next to the Radio Shack and the Operator’s Console was fitted into the forward corner of the Mk-33 director house, beside the rangekeeper. Small tracking “scopes” were mounted beside the Director pointer and trainer positions so they could shift from telescope to radar scope without having to move. The large FD double antenna was attached the rangefinder on the front of the director so it would move with the director optics. It was a different and more crowded MK-33 director when they finished. We also took the opportunity to replace the barrels on Mounts 52 and 53 so that all of our 5-inch guns would have about the same amount of total wear.

Our SC Radar gave us some capability to “see” at night, but the FD would give us new capability to shoot at night. The measurement of range-to-target was immensely more accurate by radar, so we would use the FD Radar for ranging whenever it could detect a target. Elevation and train was much more difficult, requiring the Pointer and Trainer to “match pips” and move the director line-of-sight up or down, right or left to balance two bouncing “squiggles” on the small cathode-ray scopes. The FD would also give us the capability to correct our “Fall of Shot” in range during firing, a really important improvement. We chose Pierre Plamondon, now a FC FC3/c, to be the FD Operator to measure the Range and to “Spot” to the target.

Suddenly there was a new urgency to complete the installation of the FD. We could also see a great deal of activity on the other ships at Pearl, so something must be brewing, but we did not know what. We loaded stores while still alongside “Ten-Ten” Pier where the installation was being made and yard workmen completing the job rode with us to the Fuel pier. As soon as we were topped off, the “yardbirds” left and we headed for sea.

It was a new Task Force 16 that formed outside the entrance and headed southwest. The Big E was still the heart, but the new battleship North Carolina, heavy cruiser Portland and AA cruiser Atlanta had replaced CruDiv 5. ComDesRon 6 in Balch commanded one division made up of three ships from his old squadron (Maury, Benham and Ellet) plus a division of newly arrived 1,630-tonners from the Atlantic consisting of Gwin, Monssen and Grayson.

Copyright © 2003 Capt. Russell S. Crenshaw, Jr., USN (Ret.)