Carrie launched aircraft were both risky and untested when the war began. They started out being feared by some and taken for granted by many. But turned out being the single most important tool to prevent the total defeat of the United States Pacific Fleet. Carrier launched aircraft were important parts of many battles, They were the main weapon in Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the battle of Midway. They were instrumental in Americas war efforts.
The early advances by the Japanese were both swift and precise. They targeted the one thing they needed most, the raw materials to run their country (Rice 14). But the first real move made by the Japanese war machine was the all out air attack on the America heave fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese, who felt America to be the only great threat to their expansion into the Pacific(Stein 6). By destroying the U.S. naval presence in the Pacific they could march unopposed and complete their plans for total Pacific conquest. But this all depended on the destruction of their real targets the U.S carriers Lexington, Yorktown, and Saratoga. But these ships were out doing strategic maneuvers that day(Stein 24). Their loss would have severely impacted the U.S. Navy’s ability to strike back at Japan, possibly adding years to the war’s duration (Rice 15).
The attack was completely unexpected. On December 7th 1941 the 353 Japanese aircraft were seen coming by radar, but were ignored due to the inexperience of the operators. Vice admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s First Air Fleet were on their way to attack the Americans main Naval force. The casualties were immense. 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 wounded. 18 U.S. ships were sank or badly damaged, and out of 394 aircraft 188 were destroyed and 159 were
damaged(Stein 25). The Japanese losses were minute compared to the U.S., they only lost 29 airplanes 6 midget sub’s and 1 Actual Sub(Stein 27). After the initial shock of the Air attack had subsided, it was time to take action. On December 31st 1941 Admiral Chester Nimitz took command. He later told his wife with very little enthusiasm:
I’m the new commander and chief
She said: You’ve wanted this all you life
Then he said: But sweetheart, all the ships are on the bottom(Rice 33)
After the loss of what was the main combat force the American strategists had to come up with a completely new way of fighting a war. Now carriers, not heavy battleships were the center of operations. This is when the face of sea battle changed forever. Instead of two ships pounding each other with heavy guns, ships could sink each other from miles away(Hammel 243). This was the case in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese fleet steamed into the Coral Sea setting course for port Moresby south of New Guinea, as a stepping stone to the eventual invasion of the Australian continent. The first great air war of the pacific was about to begin. A two carrier American force rushed to intercept the invasion fleet and on May 7th The two day battle began without the two opposing fleets ever laying eyes on each other (U.S dep.1). The carrier launched aircraft in the battle did all of the fighting, they alone Sank the Japanese carrier Shoho, heavy damage to the carrier Shokaku, and two-thirds of all carrier based planes destroyed. America lost the Lexington and took heavy damage to Yorktown(U.S dep. 2). This battle proved that the days of face
to ace combat between fleets was over and that the carrier launched planes ruled the open sea. The Americans had won a strategic battle in the Coral Sea. For once, the unstoppable Japanese had been stopped and with this victory the time to take the offensive had finally arrived (U.S dep.1).
With the help of expert codebreakers the Americans discovered a Japanese plan to attack a small atoll halfway across the Pacific known as Midway. The trap was set, and one of the largest and deadeiest battles ever whitened was about to be fought over a tiny group of islands that would determine the entire outcome of the war(Rice 34). The Japanese fleet approached Midway not unknowing that they were expected and were sailing into what would be the last great Japanese naval offensive of the war. After a long guessing game on both sides wondering where the enemy carriers really were, the American dive bombers got lucky. The Japanese carriers were swinging into the wind in preparing to launch a massive wave of aircraft when Lieutenant Commander Clarence McClusk’s VB-6 and VS-6 came out of knowhere and showered the Japanese carrier Akagi’s flight deck with gunfire and bombs. The entire top of the ship filled with fully armed and fueled planes burst into flames. The bombs hit Akagi’s flue reserves and torpedo rooms turning it into what Admiral Kusaka called “a burning hell”(Rice 69-71). At the same time most of VB-6’s Dauntless Bombers attacked the nearer ship the Kaga striking it with 4 bombs in quick succession and 5 direct hits were scored on the Soryu. The Japanese carriers were all in flames and all soon would rest on the ocean floor(U.S dep. 2).
After the battle Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya said:
The grim situation was painfully clear. Our air strength was wiped out. The enemy still had at least one carrier intact, we had failed to render the midway airfields ineffective, and some of our ships were still in
After the defeat at Midway, the invasion of the Japanese homeland was inevitable. They were prepared to take and measures to prevent this. They would not surrender to the Americans at any cost. The Japanese committed mass suicide, and turned to extremities such as Kamikaze Tactics to prevent invasion(U.S dep. 2).
“The battle tactics used over the Leyte Gulf were some of the bravest and most daring I ever saw”(Hammel 233). The Japanese were convinced of an approaching US invasion by the increase in Bombing raids and the gradual movement of US marines through the Pacific island chains(U.S dep. 2). But the Americans final attack came once again by plane, as they dropped the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th 1945. This lead to the quick surrender of the Japanese to the allies on August 14th and the final signature on September 2nd 1945.
The Carrier battles over the Pacific Ocean were some of the most confused and deadly battles ever fought. For days planes could fight stopping only to refuel and rearm before going back out to do battle. They changed the way wars were fought and were some of the last great war heroes. The Aces of air combat were short lived, but still demand the respect of everyone who lives free today.
“U.S Department of the Interior.”discoverer.sirs.com . War in the Pacific National
Historical Park. 1996, n.p .