Death of an Amazon
At daybreak on June 5th the protecting curtain of night lifts, exposing the big loom of the Yorktown, still as death, her broad flat top tilted down to port, her island listed over it. A destroyer, lean and gray, slips slowly around on guard. The cruisers had rejoined their group in the evening, and part of the other Force had rendezvoused with their wet nurses, to suck their oily feeding from the tankers’ teats. The remainder of the Task Force had vanished to the eastward for the night, clear of the Yorktown, with plans for salvage at dawn. A mine sweeper, two auxiliary tugs and a sub tender had meanwhile been dispatched to assist in saving the heroine, lying so inert on the empty plain of the recent fierce battle.
Very early the destroyer rescues from deep in the Yorktown two wounded men who had not been found in the dark and damaged ship. Then up rows one of the ship’s tough fighter pilots in his little rubber boat. He had been shot down in the previous day’s action, and wingless, hobbles back again. At noon the mine sweeper arrives, gets lines aboard and moves imperceptibly away. The steel cables rise from the water, appear to stretch and lengthen, pull tight flinging sparkling drops into the air with their tautness. Slowly they move her until she makes two knots on course 090. A second destroyer joins about four o’clock and puts a businesslike salvage party aboard. Soon afterward a third destroyer comes along. At dusk the salvage party is removed for the night, and in utter silence the big empty ship blurs into the enfolding darkness.
Some time past midnight on this morning of June 6th, three destroyers under the Commanding Officer Yorktown, slip in under darkness and form a circling screen about her at fourteen knots. Around and around they glide, dim specters, listening and looking for lurking enemies hidden in the deep. With the first light, the salvage party returns aboard and begins systematically to reduce the list by several degrees, while air as well as sea is searched for sound and sight of sub or plane. During the morning the destroyer Hammann secures alongside to lend aid. Here are the doctors, nurses and internes, helping the tough old girl slowly toward hospitalization at Pearl Harbor, some twelve hundred miles away. It appears now, with luck, that they will make it.
Suddenly at 1:35 a cry of “Torpedo!” Wakes are observed coming straight for the carrier and the destroyer made fast alongside. Two torpedoes hit the helpless Yorktown with sickening crashes. At the same moment the slim, thin skinned Hammann is struck below her bridge, and again just abaft the mainmast, with terrific explosions. Her officers and men leap overboard from the torn decks sinking beneath their feet as down she goes. As her crew flounders in oil and wreckage, the exploding ship vomits fire and jagged steel at her own men that pepper the foam with their small black heads. The water boils up from convulsions below, hurling them limp and battered, above the swirling vortex of her going. The sea pours over her stacks, licks her masthead, rushes on slapping the Yorktown’s side, pouring with a hollow roar into her gaping caverns.
Vessels move in quickly, maneuver expertly, rescuing the few dazed survivors from the oil-flecked foam and debris that has so suddenly replaced the Hammann. The salvage party on the Yorktown, abruptly disrupted from their succor, slide down the lines like a swarm of ants to the rescue vessels. The destroyers careen in their fast turns, with following white foam far above their fantails, dash off to converge on the submerged Jap. With grim persistence they attack with depth charges all afternoon, one pattern of ashcans bringing up heavy oil. At 6:45 dense Diesel smoke is seen at 19,000 yards, and quickly identified as an enemy sub running away on the surface. The destroyers give chase, opening fire and finally forcing her to dive under a hail of straddling shells. They search until three in the morning, finding a large oil slick, Diesel odor.
Midnight ushers in June 7th—the battle of Midway is over and won, with the Japanese fleet in rout to the westward. The ships that came to save the Yorktown lie in a circle around the deathbed of the dying Amazon. She has come out patched from her last bold engagements, to add new laurels to the name of battle that she bears. The Yorktown helped tremendously to make this battle another salty Waterloo for our enemies.
After slowly capsizing to port at 0501, June 7th, in about 30º—36' N, 176º—34' W, the USS Yorktown sinks.