Naval warfare has never been fought on the scale it was during World War Two in all of human history. This article features a comprehensive history of WW2 navies, including the types of Axis and Allied ships that appeared in battle, the major naval battles in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war, and indvidual ships that had major impact on the outcomes of these battles.
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USS Enterprise (CVN-65): The Linchpin of the Pacific
From the 1930s to the early 1940s, five carriers joined the U.S. Fleet, including the fifteen thousand-ton Ranger (CV-4) in 1934, America's first flattop built as such but limited in size by the Washington Naval Treaty. Most notable were the twenty thousand-ton sisters Yorktown(CV-5) and the USS Enterprise (CV-6) in 1937 and 1938, which would prove crucial to America's war effort in the months after Pearl Harbor.
In the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, USS Enterprise had been spared a pier-side death, delaying its return from a ferry run to Wake Island upon receiving news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
THE USS ENTERPRISE IN WORLD WAR TWO
The Enterprise was involved in the most important naval battles of the Pacific Theatre in World War Two. In particular the Battle of Midway in 1942. This is because the most important tactical decision of the Battle of Midway was made by Enterprise's air group commander, C. Wade McClusky, who found the Japanese carriers by following a hunch.
Enterprise put up a strong team: thirty-two SBDs, fourteen TBDs, and ten Wildcats. But the launch dragged on while Lieutenant Commander C. Wade McClusky orbited with his Dauntlesses, burning fuel. Finally, he was ordered to “proceed on mission assigned” and led his two squadrons southwesterly, expecting to find Nagumo 155 nautical miles southwest, heading toward Midway. The TBDs and F4Fs proceeded independently, while the Wildcats mistakenly tagged onto Hornet's Devastators.
McClusky had graduated from Annapolis on June 4, 1926, and possessed considerable experience as a fleet aviator. A fighter pilot, he was new to dive bombers, but he was persistent in hunting Nagumo. When his formation arrived at the expected interception point, he found only sea and sky, and continued on a few minutes more. He reasoned that his prey could not have advanced past the briefed contact point, so he turned northwesterly, paralleling Nagumo's expected track.
Still finding nothing after twenty more minutes, McClusky finally got a break. He found a Japanese destroyer headed northeast and reckoned it was joining the carriers. Taking his heading from the “tin can,” he proceeded on course until a pale break appeared on the horizon. McClusky raised his binoculars and saw the Japanese striking force.
Enterprise's biographer, Commander Edward P. Stafford, described the ephemeral moment:
In a dive bomber's dream of perfection, the clean blue Dauntlesses-with their perforated dive flaps open at the trailing edges of their wings and their bing bombs tucked close and pointing home, the pilots straining forward, rudder-feet and stick-hands light and delicate, getting it just right as the yellow decks came up, left hands that would reach down and forward to release now resting on the cockpit edge, gunners lying on their backs behind the cocked twin barrels searching for the fighters that did not come-carved a moment out of eternity for man to remember forever.
Several SBDs were chased by vengeful Zeros. One managed to wound McClusky, but he escaped. However, the USS Enterprise lost eighteen of her thirty-two scout bombers, including two out of action aboard Yorktown. “Yorky's” Max Leslie and his wingman ditched safely, while the rest of his squadron recovered aboard The Big E.
The USS Enterprise at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons
Enterprise came under heavy air attack during the Eastern Solomons battle of August 24, 1942. The action was described by the Big E's gunnery officer, Lieutenant Commander Elias B. Mott.
We were absolutely unable to see the planes due to the fact that they were so high and small, and that it was late in the afternoon and the sky was considerably bluer than it would have been earlier… About 1712 5:12 p.m. the first Jap dive bomber commenced its attack.
One of our forward 20mm gunners opened up on him when he was at 10,000 feet, and this was the signal for the formation. Everybody opened up with five-inch and with automatic weapons. The attack lasted five or six minutes, and during that time they came down one after another starting from the port bow and working around to the starboard quarter. At one time I remember seeing five Japanese dive bombers in line all the way from about 2,000 feet to 12,000…
We had the old 1.1 inchers without power drive and about thirty-two 20mm and of course our eight five-inch guns. Five-inch on local control did very well. They hit several planes on the nose… and the planes disintegrated. The tremendous number of 20mms that we were able to bring to bear on each plane caused them either to miss or to drop in flames… However, as they worked around toward the stern, where we had little firepower protection, when they came down although we hit them, they were able to take aim and we sustained three hits. One on fiveinch Gun Group Number Three; one on the flight deck aft, which penetrated down three decks; and another one just abaft the island structure on the flight deck. This was an instantaneous bomb. The one that hit Gun Group Number Three wiped out the entire group of thirty-nine men.
My impression of the battle was that if we had a little more firepower, it might have been different. It looked to me that if you had enough guns that the enemy planes would be in trouble, would have to swerve off or… the pilot would be killed. However, in a dive-bombing attack, it's not just a case of getting one plane or ten or even fifteen. You've got to get them all, you can't afford to get hit.
The USS Enterprise at the end of 1942
Unlike Eastern Solomons two months before, Santa Cruz was a clear Japanese tactical victory. But Tokyo's combined Army and naval strategy failed to end the Guadalcanal campaign, where the bloodletting continued.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet was left with one fast carrier, the battered Enterprise, which counted forty-four sailors killed and sixteen fliers missing. Her damage control team again demonstrated its expertise, and she was back in action in two weeks.
Again the high price of carrier combat was evident: Kinkaid lost eighty-one aircraft (59 percent) and Nagumo ninety-nine (50 percent).
As PacFleet's only available big-deck carrier, Enterprise was a priceless asset that season. Air Group Ten cycled in and out of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal during the November crisis, contributing to the ultimate defeat of Japan's final effort to retrieve the situation. When Tokyo decided to withdraw its remaining troops in February, the vital six-month campaign reached its sanguinary end.
In early 1943 only Saratoga and Enterprise remained available in the Pacific, and Big E was overdue for refit. But help came from an unlikely source: the Royal Navy. Between January and May HMS Victorious had received modifications on the East Coast and at Pearl Harbor to accommodate American aircraft and support equipment. The veteran of the Bismarck hunt and Mediterranean convoys, codenamed “Robin” in Allied message traffic, filled the breach until newgeneration American carriers arrived later that summer.
The USS Enterprise's long war ended on May 11, 1945, when a well-flown Kamikaze dived into Enterprise's deck, blowing much of the elevator 400 feet in the air. With more battle stars than any other ship, she was under repair when the war ended.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf: WW2's Largest Naval Battle
The pace of the Pacific War accelerated after the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign, with the fast carriers at the tip of the spear. In a controversial move, the joint chiefs ordered the Marines to seize Peleliu in the Palau Islands to guard the eastern flank of the upcoming return to the Philippines. The First Division went ashore in mid-September, expecting to wrap up the craggy island in a matter of days. Instead, the operation lasted two and a half months, with critics arguing that it turned into an unnecessary, sanguinary meat grinder. Fast carriers supported the landings but had more urgent business six hundred miles westward in late October.
Army General Douglas MacArthur's 1942 pledge to return to the Philippines prompted high-level discussion regarding the advisability of seizing the Philippines or Formosa. For a variety of reasons- including a national debt to the long-suffering Filipino people-a huge amphibious force set its sights on Leyte Gulf that fall. The stage was being set for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The engagement, fought in waters near the Phillipoine islands of Leyte, Luzon, and Samar, took place from October 23-26. The beliigerents were American and Australian forces against the Imperial Japanese. Historians consider the battle to be the largest naval battle of World War Two and perhaps the largest naval battle in history. Four separate engagements took place: The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the BAttle of Cape Engano and the Battle of Samar. Because Japan had fewer aircraft than the Allies had sea vessels, it was the first battle in which Japanese pilots carried out organized kamikaze attacks.
Third Fleet sought to weaken Japan at the periphery before striking the Philippines. Therefore, carriers hit Okinawa on October 10 and Formosa on October 12. Carrier aircrews estimated they destroyed 650 planes at Formosa, while Japan admitted half as many-still a heavy blow. Yet Tokyo, still slurping its homemade brew, gleefully announced sinking three dozen American ships, including battleships and carriers. Even the normally level-headed Kamikaze master, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, thought his airmen had destroyed three carriers and three other ships. In truth, two U.S. cruisers were badly damaged but survived.
“Bull” Halsey's Third Fleet arrived off the Philippines with Task Force Thirty-Eight's four groups deploying sixteen fast carriers. From bases in Japan and the East Indies the Imperial Navy launched a three-pronged response with carriers, battleships, and scores of escorts. The sprawling, four-day slugfest began on October 24.
Halsey had released two groups to head eastward for replenishment when the crisis broke. He recalled Rear Admiral Gerald Bogan's Task Group 38.4, while allowing Vice Admiral John McCain's 38.1 to proceed to Ulithi, taking five flight decks out of action until late in the battle. Thankfully, Marc Mitscher's fast carriers were not the only flattops involved. Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, who had commanded at Santa Cruz, led Seventh Fleet including eighteen CVEs for close air support and antisubmarine patrol.
In the Sibuyan Sea-another front of the Battle of Leyte Gulf located on the western side of the Philippines-carrier airpower destroyed one of the largest battleships afloat. Three fast carrier groups launched multiple strikes against Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's five battleships, twelve cruisers, and fifteen destroyers. Some 260 blue aircraft swarmed the sixty-four thousand-ton Musashi for more than five hours, hammering her with seventeen bombs and nineteen torpedoes, heavily represented by Enterprise and Franklin's air groups. Ten aircraft fell to Japanese AA, but it was the first time carrier planes sank a battleship underway, unassisted by surface combatants. It would not be the last.
Kurita had already lost two cruisers to submarines and another turned back with bomb damage, but after regrouping he continued his mission to enter Leyte Gulf, unknown to Halsey.
Meanwhile, Japanese land-based aircraft posed a serious threat to the fast carriers. Winging seaward in three large formations, they were intercepted by relays of F6Fs well managed by fighter-direction officers. But fighters were spread thin. In Task Group 38.3 Essex's last two available Hellcats were launched with hostiles inbound, putting Commander David McCampbell and Lieutenant (jg) Roy Rushing onto a gaggle of Zekes. In the next ninety minutes McCampbell claimed nine kills-the all-time U.S. one-day record-and Rushing six. In all, Essex's Fighting Fifteen was credited with forty-three kills that day.
In the same group Princeton's shark-mouthed VF-27 fought hard for its ship, splashing thirty-six raiders. But a single Yokosuka Judy put a 550-pound bomb through “Sweet P's” flight deck, igniting ordnance on the hangar deck. The light cruiser Birmingham (CL-62) came alongside to take off survivors when a huge secondary explosion swept the would-be rescuer, inflicting nearly seven hundred casualties. Princeton was scuttled after an eight-hour ordeal, losing 108 men. She was the first American fast carrier sunk since Santa Cruz and remained the last. Carrier aviators claimed 270 kills on October 24, the second highest count of the war.
But the Imperial Navy was not ready to give up the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Under cover of darkness October 24-25, Kurita transited San Bernardino Strait between Luzon and Samar, eastbound, intending to fall upon MacArthur's vulnerable transports in the gulf. The Navy's first full-time night flying unit, Air Group 41 in light carrier Independence, had Avengers airborne that night, tracking the large enemy force. Mitscher assumed that Third Fleet had the information, but for reasons still unclear, Halsey ignored it.
Additionally, that afternoon Task Force Thirty-Eight search teams had found Ozawa's four carriers off Luzon's northeast coast. That information, later combined with Independence's report of Kurita's eastward course, bothered some senior officers, who correctly deduced Ozawa's purpose: to draw the fast carriers north, clearing the way for Kurita's center force. Mitscher, informed of the developing situation, declined to intervene with Halsey.
Well to the south, the third prong of Tokyo's offensive met Seventh Fleet units in Surigao Strait separating Leyte and Mindanao-everything from PT boats to battleships. In the world's last major surface engagement, the annihilation was nearly complete, leaving the dogged Kurita pressing eastward while Jisabuo Ozawa-survivor of the Marianas-lurked well to the north with four partly equipped carriers.
THE BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF: DAY TWO
Shortly past dawn on October 25, Vice Admiral Kinkaid's three escort carrier groups had patrols airborne. An Avenger sighted large ships with pagoda masts emerging from San Bernardino strait and radioed the alarming news.
All that stood in Kurita's path was Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Group 77.4.3, with six CVEs and seven escorts, off Samar's east coast. “Taffy Three” turned away, making smoke, launching aircraft, and hollering for help. Sprague faced four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers. But support from Taffy Two added more Avengers and Wildcats to Sprague's numbers.
As the “smallboys” attacked with torpedoes and five-inch gunfire, aviators made repeated runs with bombs, torpedoes, and strafing passes. One Wildcat pilot made twenty-six runs, most of them without ammunition.
Unable to outrun the enemy, the 19-knot CVEs were chased down. Gambier Bay (CVE-73) succumbed to cruiser guns, as did three of the escorts. After HMS Glorious in 1940, she was only the second aircraft carrier sunk by surface ships. But Kurita, impressed with the ferocity of the “jeep” carriers' response, and mindful of the pummeling he had taken the day before, called off the chase. Just as an historic victory lay on the horizon, he disengaged. Kinkaid's transports-and MacArthur's source of supply-were safe.
Still, Taffy Three remained in peril. That afternoon St. Lo (CVE-63), originally named Midway, was attacked by a single Zero that made no effort to pull out of its dive. Wracked by fire, the little flattop went down, first victim of the Special Attack Corps: the Kamikaze had arrived. Six more CVEs were tagged that day.
While the drama played out near Samar, the Japanese waved an irresistible target under Halsey's nose. Ozawa's four carriers steamed off the northeast Philippines, seemingly representing the third major threat after the surface forces in San Bernardino and Surigao straits. Once ComThirdFleet got the news, Halsey reacted predictably: he rushed to destroy Tokyo's remaining flattops. In his haste, he committed a severe blunder, leaving San Bernardino unguarded. He assumed that battleships of Vice Admiral Willis Lee's powerful Task Force Thirty-Four would prevent an enemy force from entering the gulf. He did not realize as he pounded north that all seven battleships and their screens in Lee's contingency force remained integrated into the fast carrier task groups.
Bull Halsey was more a fighter than a thinker. An instinctive warrior, he rode to where he imagined the guns were sounding. Only when the stunning news arrived of Japanese battleships pounding Taffy Three did he realize that he had been snookered. Worse, he wasted an hour or more ranting and sulking before deciding on a course of action.
Ozawa lay more than four hundred miles from the Taffies, and Halsey was in between. The Bull finally ordered Lee's battlewagons- racing ahead of the carriers-to reverse helm and move southward, although everyone knew it was far too late.
The four carriers in Ozawa's Mobile Fleet had deployed with just 116 aircraft, but by the morning of October 25 they retained only twenty-nine. The ensuing clash could only go one way.
Starting at 8:00 a.m. Mitscher launched 180 aircraft, the first of six strikes totaling more than five hundred sorties. The on-scene coordinators were air group commanders from TG-38.3: first from Essex, then from Lexington. The F6Fs brushed aside the dozen or so Zeros trying to defend their flight decks as “99 Rebel” and “99 Mohawk” assigned targets. Lexington and Langley's aircrews wrote the final log entry for Zuikaku, survivor of Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz. Other air groups sank CVLs Chitose and Zuiho as well as a destroyer.
Ozawa shifted his flag to cruiser Oyodo.
SINKING OZAWA AT THE BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF
That morning Essex's air group commander David McCampbell directed strikes that sank the light carrier Chitose. Relieving him as target coordinator was Lexington's Commander Hugh Winters, controlling some two hundred aircraft. He recalled, “There was no chance for surprise, as the Japs were already bleeding some, so we didn't have to shoot on sight, so to speak. We wanted all the carriers, with maybe a BB or CA for the cherry on top.”
Winters directed his squadrons against Zuikaku, Zuiho, and the larger escorts. He noted:
The heavy haze of AA smoke trailing off the quarter gave good windage for our dive bombers as we pushed over… The ships were using new anti-aircraft stuff with wires and burning phosphorous shells which put up all different-colored fire and smoke around our planes. But we had faced so much deadly AA for so many lousy targets that it didn't bother us too much, hunting this big game. The boys were as cool as any professionals working in a hospital or law office.
The Zuiho limped on, burning, but the Zuikaku stopped and started to die on one side. She needed no more, but hung in there for awhile, and her AA battery was nasty. In the excitement, I stayed down too low (not very professional), and got some holes in my left wing. I knew it would be a long afternoon, so I throttled back to almost stalling speed and leaned out the fuel to practically a back-firing mixture.
Winters assigned subsequent air groups according to his target priority, and watched Zuiho sink, then Zuikaku capsize. “No big explosions, no steam from flooded firerooms, no fire and smoke-just a few huge bubbles. Quietly, and it seemed to me, with dignity.”
Thus perished the last survivor of the Pearl Harbor attackers. The light carrier Chiyoda lingered a bit longer. Hugh Winters and wingman Ensign Barney Garbow had witnessed something unprecedented-they saw three aircraft carriers sink during one mission.
Halsey dispatched four cruisers and nine destroyers as a pickup team to complete the execution. They sank Chiyoda late that afternoon and pummeled a remaining destroyer. Carrier planes continued scouring Philippine waters during October 26 and 27, picking off a light cruiser and four more destroyers. It brought Japanese losses in the four-day battle to twenty-six combatants, totaling three hundred thousand tons.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf officially entered the books as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, though most of the action occurred nearly one thousand miles from the June turkey shoot.
Despite an unprecedented level of destruction inflicted upon the Japanese WW2 navies, the Battle of Leyte Gulf left a sour taste in many American mouths. Halsey's bungled arrangement for covering San Bernardino Strait resulted in the unnecessary loss of four Taffy Three ships and nearly six hundred lives. (St. Lo and Princeton could not be laid to Halsey's account.) The fault was shared, however, with MacArthur's unnecessarily complex communications structure and Kinkaid's acquiescence to it. Halsey stayed, and as events would show, he remained beyond all accountability.
Historians still debate whether the Battle of Leyte Gulf represented the sixth flattop battle. Purists insist that it did not, because the carrier versus carrier phase was totally one-sided. By the time Halsey's air groups got at Ozawa on October 25, the four Japanese carriers were nearly empty. Even upon deployment, many Imperial Navy pilots could only launch from their flight decks, being untrained in shipboard landings. In any case, Leyte was the last time that carrier-based aircraft-or any others-sank opposing carriers at sea.
From the period after the Battle of Leyte Gulf through December, eight more carriers were hit by Kamikazes. The attackers sent Intrepid, Franklin, and Belleau Wood stateside for repairs that would take between two and four months. It was becoming increasingly obvious: the only way to defeat the Kamikaze was to kill him, as he could not be deterred.
Toward that end, the navy asked for help from the Marines. With a shortage of carrier fighters to combat Kamikazes, the Pacific Fleet began training leatherneck Corsair squadrons in carrier operations. The first two squadrons, VMF-124 and 213, were experienced Solomons units that reported aboard Essex at Ulithi in December. They had a rough initiation to Western Pacific weather, suffering heavy losses, but they paid their way. Eight more Marine squadrons joined them in the new year.
Meanwhile, nature reminded the U.S. Navy that Imperial Japan could be the lesser enemy. While refueling in mid-December, Halsey wanted to remain in position to support MacArthur's forces on Luzon, but a major tropic storm called Typhoon Cobra spun up in the Philippine Sea, tracking north-northwest. Ignoring warnings from meteorologists-complicated by some inaccurate forecasts-Halsey continued refueling. Consequently, he took Third Fleet into the mouth of the storm, prompting comparisons to the original Divine Wind that saved Japan from Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century. The result was a disaster. Battling one hundred mph winds, three destroyers capsized and nearly eight hundred men drowned.
Light and escort carriers were especially vulnerable, rolling eighteen to twenty degrees, whipped by violent winds. Avengers and Hellcats snapped their flight deck tie-downs and tumbled into catwalks or careened overboard. One loose fighter or bomber could cause havoc, colliding with other planes, smashing into fuel lines, and starting blazing fires.
Five fast carriers and four CVEs suffered damage, with Monterey (CVL-26) forced to Bremerton, Washington, for repairs after a serious fire on the hangar deck. Nine other ships incurred major damage; six suffered lesser damage. More than one hundred aircraft were destroyed or badly damaged at no expense to the enemy.
Summarizing the damage of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Nimitz reflected that Typhoon Cobra “represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action.”
Halsey might have been relieved of command after the storm, coming so soon after the Battle of Leyte Gulf fiasco. But perceived needs of the service prevailed: a board of inquiry faulted him for poor judgment while declining to recommend sanction. Many officers and sailors grumbled about politics uber alles.
However, there had been more action at the expense of Japan. The last carrier sunk in 1944 was Shinano, third of the Yamato-class battleships, converted to a carrier, and slated for sea trials in November. On the night of October 29, en route to Kure, she fell afoul of USS Archerfish (SS-311), which put four torpedoes into her starboard side, sinking the seventy-one thousand-ton behemoth in about six hours.
Midway Class Carrier: The Behemoth of WW2 Navies
During the Second World War, the Navy evolved the concept of the “battle carrier,” bigger and more capable than the Essex class. Of six CVBs planned, three were ordered, with Midway (CV-41) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) commissioned immediately after V-J Day, followed by Coral Sea (CVB-43) two years later.
The Midway-class aircraft carrier acted as one of the longest-serving aircraft carrier designs in U.S. naval history. The USS Midway was first commissioned in late 1945 and was not decommissioned until 1992, serving its final tour of duty in Desert Storm. Few ships saw as much change in warfare as her.
The Midway Class carriers were transitional ships. Originally displacing forty-five thousand tons, they were envisioned as embarking more than 120 aircraft. The concept proved unworkable, however, and in fact undesirable. Early experience demonstrated the difficulty of operating so many planes with four squadrons of Corsairs (sixty-three F4Us) and Helldivers (fifty-three SB2Cs). Because of their size, the CVBs were better equipped for operating jets and larger piston aircraft simultaneously. Midway, for instance, briefly flew twin-jet McDonnell FH-1s in 1949 but retained piston-engine fighters until 1950.
The three ships were assigned to the Atlantic Fleet for much of their careers, tentatively opposing the Soviet threat. Midway and Coral Sea served into the 1990s, with Midway becoming a museum ship in San Diego. The hard-used FDR (uncharitably called “Filthy Dirty Rusty” late in her career) was sold in 1977.
Battle of Okinawa: AKA Operation Iceberg
Operation Iceberg-the code name for the Battle of Okinawa and the occupation of the Ryukyu Islands-began on April 1, 1945. It was not only April Fool's Day, it was also Easter Sunday. The northern portion of Okinawa lay only four hundred statute miles from Kyushu, and Iceberg was certain to draw a furious response.
The Battle of Okinawa shaped up as the penultimate battle of the Pacific War- the last step before Japan itself. Defended by about seventy thousand Japanese troops plus thousands of conscripted Okinawans, the islands were assaulted by the U.S. Tenth Army comprised of seven Army and Marine Corps divisions totaling some 180,000 men, plus reserves and support units.
To support Iceberg, the carriers had to remain in a limited area, usually no more than one hundred miles offshore. That requirement solved the enemy's main problem-locating his target. For two months the fast carriers, ably assisted by the CVEs, fought a continuous battle against conventional and suicide air raids in addition to flying ground support missions for U.S. infantry.
The carrier airmen brought enormous power to Okinawa, with more than one thousand planes in Mitscher's force, plus two hundred more in four British ships. As before, the fast carriers operated round the clock. Enterprise remained the sole night owl at the time among fourteen other U.S. carriers deployed in four task groups, with more ships on the way.
Eighteen escort carriers under Rear Admiral Calvin Durgin, “Mr. CVE,” embarked 450 planes providing close air support, antisubmarine patrol, and combat air patrol. Additionally, on D Plus Three, four jeep carriers delivered two Marine air groups of Corsairs and Night Hellcats to operate ashore as “plank owners” in the Tactical Air Force.
There had never been anything like it.
But there had also never been anything like Japan's Special Attack Corps. The Kamikaze hatcheries spawned an unrelenting stream of suiciders that winged southward from their Kyushu nests. However, Japanese response on the first two days was surprisingly light: carrier pilots only splashed ten hostiles each day. Activity jumped on April 3, with nearly fifty shootdowns. Far worse was yet to come.
The Kamikaze master, Admiral Matome Ugaki, launched Operation Kikusui on April 6. U.S. Navy fighters claimed 257 kills, fourth highest daily toll of the war. Most heavily engaged were Essex's VF-83 with fifty-six claims, and forty-seven by Belleau Wood's VF-30. Three of Fighting Thirty's pilots became aces that day, executing a succession of Vals and fighters bent on suicide.
Between early April and June 21, the Special Attack Corps lofted more than 1,400 “Floating Chrysanthemums” in ten waves. By sheer numbers they broke through the Hellcat, Corsair, and Wildcat pickets to sink thirty ships and damage more than ten times that number,