Fish Eye View
His buoyant seat cushion and deflated rubber boat pop up with him. He doesn’t dare inflate his boat for fear the Zeros will machine gun him, so choking with salt water, he slowly rises and falls with the lazy swells, holding the cushion over his head—one lonely surviving American surrounded by thousands of Japanese. The Kaga is a quarter of a mile distant and the carrier Akagi is bearing down, her tall bow fanning high above him, her cutwater cascading foam. She passes close, and he slants the cushion toward her, simulating its own floating, as he nearly smothers in the brine. Then the rushing, tumbling waters caused by her passing slap and smack his tired young body. A destroyer slips swiftly by on the other side and sees him, but doesn’t bother to kill a drowning man. The two wakes collide, dancing high, receding and meeting again, their white sparkling summits making momentary Fujiyamas.
They had shot down Zeros and made some hits in this magnificent devotion to purpose. Now this Ensign, alone under his reserved seat, was to observe for the Navy the fierce attacks that soon would follow. He sees the refueling planes caught on the Jap flat-tops, delayed by his Squadron’s demoralizing attack, as all hell breaks loose again and the same drama is enacted before his smarting eyes. The Torpedo Squadron of the Enterprise, almost simultaneously with that of the Yorktown, are coming in the same way with the same courage and determination, and taking the same crushing losses. Both Squadrons make hits, both are almost completely destroyed. He sees, despite the many difficulties, the exact co-ordination with the dive bombers almost achieved. Hardly had the six surviving planes of the attackers roared up and away when over come the bombers, picking up the deep drone in the sky before it has waned. Recognizing the torpedo planes for the menace they are, the Japs are concentrating most of their fighters and anti-aircraft fire on them. The result is that the Torpedo Squadrons are a sacrifice that enables the dive bombers to make their attack almost unopposed with disastrous consequences for the Japs, as the Ensign observes with delight.
From his surface view he is like a seal that, upright in the water, turns his round head about, rotates his body for a better look around, his eyes sparkling and wet. In a roughly circular formation the Ensign sees four carriers, towering tall from his low and salty position in the center of the ring. The Akagi, Kaga and Soryu are in the same general sector, probably having just landed their planes. The Soryu shows signs of heavy damage and is pouring forth smoke. Farther distant, what appears to be a battleship is belching up dark clouds against the sky. The heavens sound with the high thunder of the bombers from Yorktown and Enterprise, as over they come a few minutes after his dive. He is between the Kaga and the Akagi, and can only judge their dodging by their lengthening and fore-shortening. Down pour the bombs, as tall white columns geyser up around them, as blinding flashes burst aboard the beleaguered ships. Again and again with shattering blasts, the bombs hit. Their planes that they sought so hard to launch are caught on their decks like birds in a nest, helpless against the swooping eagles. Flames roar up here and there along the decks and then unite in one vast inferno, as both ships become tremendous torches burning fiercely from stem to stern.
The Soryu is also beginning to burn brightly against the gray weather. He sees some of our bombers come zooming down and wheel off. Considering the carriers destroyed, they go for other ships. Another battleship begins to smoke, and the one previously hit becomes at that moment a mass of licking flames. A Zero starts a long dive from high aloft, trailing fire and smoke from zenith to sea, hits with a terrific splash, white water replacing red fire. The circle of foam spreads out under the vertical column of smoke towering above, like a rocket’s dark thin tail. The waves lick the ocean’s scar, obliterating it, and the breeze dispels the tall lean smudge, leaving the plane’s watery grave unmarked.
A light cruiser, or big destroyer, is hit with a thousand pound bomb, reels under the heavy impact of the explosion. Slower—slower—she moves with an increasing list, stops as she settles by the head, as a shot deer goes down on her knees, back legs rigid, rump high. Then she rolls over and slips beneath her big stain of telltale oil. The drone of our planes fades in the sky—is heard—then ceases, and the Ensign is left alone watching the burning ships. He sees the distant carrier Hiryu move off northward with escorting ships, apparently undamaged.
Periscope. View on June 4th
Submarines have been advised of the enemy Striking Force. An hour after dawn this busy morning, one of our subs sights the smoke caused by the torpedo plane hits and the distant bursts of A.A. fire. The long narrow hull begins to move stealthily through the water, her extended eye watching from just above the waves, the thin tube of the periscope trailing its white feather. Gradually she closes, her Skipper’s face intent, his eyes hidden in the padded shield. He sees a large formation and can make out a carrier and a battleship. Destroyers are coming toward him, flashing around, dashing across, receding—the bright foam of their wakes leaping up in profile. He can get in no closer past these destroyers, as busy as a pack of hounds dashing about with nose to the ground, trying to pick up a scent. He takes a long chance on the carrier, another on the battleship, timing and estimating the meeting of the torpedoes with the zigzagging hulls. A minute goes by, the seconds tick on, as the spinning propellers drive the tin fish farther from him and nearer the enemy. Suddenly the sniffing hounds wheel and come for him in full cry. They have the scent. They have seen the wake and heard the ricocheting sound from his hull. Time’s up, the submarine knows she missed, the eye is pulled beneath the waves as down she goes, prepared to take her medicine which soon descends about her in large tin containers. She reels under their smothered bursts. In subterranean darkness she guesses right, and waits till their muffled barking ceases. At ten. o’clock she rises cautiously to periscope depth and peeps around the empty sky and sea.
Soon after the Skipper makes out four towers of gray smoke over the horizon’s edge. This is the dive bombing that the Ensign is watching. The submarine makes for the nearest of the tall columns. Eleven o’clock—noon—and by one he can see the Soryu surrounded by escorting cruisers. Presently he sees that she is on even keel, hull apparently undamaged and fires under control, towing arrangements in progress. He slips in closer, foot by foot, trusting that in the confusing sounds of their many movings, they will fail to hear him. Nine minutes later—ZOOOMPP!—and a torpedo starts straight for the carrier. ZOOOMPP!—ZOOOMPP! and two more are on their way. Calmly he watches the busy scene. Fire hoses subduing the flames, the thinning smoke, the towing hawsers slapping the water at the center of their long curve, stretching tight, slacking curve again. There is a sense of optimism in the picture, hopeful and feverish endeavor to save the ship. They are sure now of getting her away, so she can fight the pale devils again.
A white cloud of water rushes up the tall side of the carrier and falls like a cloudburst on deck; a second convulsion of the sea; and then the third rises—collapses—as red flames spurt up from below and spread over the carrier. Little figures dressed in white begin abandoning ship, as the submarine dives. The attacking cruisers unload patterns of depth charges in a furious effort to burst open the narrow hull. Another sub has also crept up for a similar attack at this time, but is unable to close because of the intense anti-submarine measures. She is forced to dive and is heavily depth-charged.
It’s mid-afternoon and the submarine carefully raises her periscope, the eye slowly rotates and picks up the Soryu, lonely and big, burning fiercely against the sky, deserted by all escorting vessels. At 6:40 heavy under-water explosions occur on the ship, shaking the watching sub with depth-charge intensity. Heavy black smoke explodes up and mushrooms over the red-hot hull. An hour later the submarine surfaces and can make out a great oil slick, but no Soryu, no smoke, no flame.
USS Yorktown, June 4th
To go back to early morning, the Task Force had picked up a twin float Jap seaplane to the southard, which probably reported our formation’s position.
The Japanese had refueled their planes, and the Kaga and the Akagi were just ready to launch them to attack our carriers, when the Yorktown and the Enterprise dive bombers spoiled their pretty plans by catching them flat-footed and destroying them on deck, as we have seen through the eyes of the Ensign.
Lacking complete information on the number and location of the enemy carriers, near noon the Yorktown launches scouts to search. The sound of their motors has hardly died, when other scouts pick up many planes approaching from the westward.
The Combat Air Patrol of fighters locates the enemy roaring in at 9,000 feet. Here come eighteen Jap dive bombers, protected by eighteen fighters. Our Navy fighters immediately drive in for the attack against these three-to-one odds, shooting down eleven bombers. From time to time in the midst of this blasting melee, seven Jap planes break out and dive through the Yorktown’s anti-aircraft fire. The old veteran of the Coral Sea is sending up a terrific barrage. The set faces of the gunners see the first three Japs come whining down, dead at them. One is caught by a five-inch burst and disintegrates into a shower of metal splinters. The second, staggering under the rain of steel, drops its bomb, missing widely, and plunges after it as if to retrieve it. The third gets close in and is cut into fragments by the automatic gunfire, leaving the bomb unlaunched in mid-air. Down it tumbles, exploding on the flight deck just abaft the island, wiping out two I .I mount crews with a blinding flash.
A chance hit in the uptake forces the Yorktown to stop. A third hit starts fires adjacent to the forward tank of gasoline without igniting it. The Damage Control Officers and men go to work in a routine matter of fact manner, and by early in the afternoon temporary repairs to the uptake are completed, all fires are out, and the Yorktown moves ahead on course 0900. Speed has gradually increased to 19 knots by the time the next attack comes in. Meanwhile two cruisers and two destroyers have joined from the Task Force.
Approaching aircraft are picked up on various bearings, half an hour later. The accompanying American ships have watched most anxiously the
Yorktown stopped dead. and smoking. But now she not only moves with the fleet, but has the speed to launch her remaining planes. They are shooting along the deck and roaring away and upward from the tough old girl. “Enemy planes ! “—“Enemy planes closing fast!” The word is passing quickly. Fourteen Jap torpedo planes are coming in low, sixteen fighters drone in from aloft. This is a desperate suicidal attempt by an already beaten enemy. Our fighters go in like a whirlwind, aloft and alow, sending torpedo planes into short dives, the bombers into long dizzy somersaults from on high. The whole fleet of protecting ships opens up with a roar that spreads like rolling thunder around the far horizon. Nine torpedo planes come on, streak through the fire of the intervening cruiser, zip over and around her, as one plane blows up. Eight tear into the
Yorktown’s withering fire. The screen is so heavy that at this split second it seems incredible that they can get through. Three smack down, and the fighters just launched by the
Yorktown heroically dive into their own ship’s anti-aircraft, to get the remaining five. They meet in this storm of the big ship’s hail and
The fleet suddenly is under a dome of appalling silence. The ships to port of the Yorktown can see the long flattop slanting toward them, as the sickening list increases. Two gray planes with bright stars on their wings, like moths pinned to a flat board, stick to the careening deck. For ten minutes the fleet silently watches, and then the signal from her—”I am abandoning ship.” Destroyers stand close by, and her company begins to slide down lines to the sea, for it appears she may capsize. She certainly will if she is hit again, and another attack seems imminent throughout the afternoon. Contacts with unidentified aircraft are frequent, three of which turn out to be Jap seaplanes. The eyes of her watching men reflect silently their anguished anxiety, for their affection for her is the deep admiration of a man for his ship. Throughout the long night they stand in quiet groups at the rails of the remaining destroyers, watching her continue to float, the list remaining about constant. The wounded below, stifling their pain, ask continually for news of their ship.