(See J. Elliott, pp. 37-40, Winter 1990; W, Broocke, p. 13, Spring 1990; R. Seamon, pp. 2-4, Fall 1990 Naval History)
Douglas Ratchford—While researching a book on the battleship Texas (BB-35), I repeatedly heard the story of one particular OS2U recovery. The first was in correspondence from Lieutenant Commander David C. S. Kline, U.S. Navy (Retired), who once was the Texas's catapult officer. In an interview. Electrician’s Mate First Class John N. Sullivan, the Texas’s starboard crane operator, and Electrician’s Mate Second Class Edward Feeley provided more eyewitness details.
While Texas was on Atlantic convoy escort in spring of 1944, one of her Kingfishers was performing routine scouting ahead of the convoy. The plane was recalled at sunset and made a perfect “Cast” landing.
This was the most difficult type of at- sea floatplane landing, where the ship turns at a right angle across the wind to create a slick for the plane to land in. The pilot would fly straight at the ship and taxi onto a canvas sled covered with a wire mesh that was towed by the ship. When the pontoon hook caught the sled, the pilot would kill his engine.
The pilot made a good landing, but the port side boat/aircraft crane operator failed to retract his massive boat tackle in time, and the port wing struck the hook, knocking the float off. The quick-thinking observer jumped out on the end of the starboard wing to keep the aircraft upright.
With the Kingfisher’s engine dead and the plane not hooked to the sled, the standby motor whaleboat was launched immediately to tow the crippled floatplane. As soon as the boat took the plane in tow, its engine vapor locked and could not be restarted.
By that point, it was getting dark and the convoy was going on, with the danger of losing the boat and plane in the darkness. At that point, Captain Charles A. Baker took his 34,000-ton battleship around in a tight circle and made a landing alongside the 28-foot boat with the floatplane in tow, where they could then be properly hoisted on board.
Lieutenant Commander Kline calls this “. . .an outstanding piece of seamanship performed by Captain Baker.” Electrician’s Mate Sullivan said that his counterpart on the port side crane was reduced one grade for his careless boat hook handling.
“Last Cruise of the SS Central America”
(See R. Duhse, pp. 50-53, Winter 1990 Naval History)
William duBarry Thomas—I recently appeared in a Discovery Channel documentary titled “Treasures of a Lost Voyage,” that described the recovery of the gold from the sunken steamship Central America. As my portions of the program were being prepared and taped, I was puzzled by some misleading, if not erroneous, statements in the host’s script relating to the ship. A few minutes’ work sorted all of that out. After reading Mr. Duhse’s article, I realized what had happened. In the interest of accuracy in history, may I make the following comments.
· I should let others comment about the value of the gold carried by the Central America but $40 million “in the prices of that era,” $18 per ounce, equates to about 92 tons on the ship. I believe the problem stems from the difference between the current market price of gold and the value of the rare gold coins and other objects that were in the cargo.
·“Steam-converted sailing ships” is simply not correct. George Law (later Central America) was built by William H. Webb as a steam vessel for the United States Mail Steamship Company, not “U.S. Mails.” She carried a barkentine rig, but, in my opinion, as well as that of the late Professor Cedric Ridgely-Nevitt, these sails were carried on side wheel steamers not so much for propulsion, but to minimize the propensity for the wheels to emerge from the water during rolling’ The Central America was the 11th of 25 steamers built by Webb. When the Central America was built, most of the sailing vessel attributes had been discontinued from steamship design. Many of the early steamers were simply sailing vessel hulls filled with engines and boilers. I believe we can say the Central America was no less than a true steamship.
·U.S. Mail Steamship Company ran from New York to Aspinwall, in what is now Panama. They were not interested in “Caribbean ports” other than Havana, where they stopped to transfer passengers for New Orleans. Nicaragua was not involved with these ships.
·“Little room remained for ballast—a factor that was to play a major role in the disaster.” I am a little baffled by this one. The Central America’s problems began when she sprang the leak or leaks- Prior to that time, she apparently per- formed reasonably well in the face of that furious hurricane. But once there was enough water inside of her, she was simply overwhelmed by her environment. I do not believe, given the state of the ad as it existed in the 1850s and much later, that she was poorly designed. If one must assign a cause for the accident, it was that, after she opened to the sea and sufficient water had entered, her damaged stability was unsatisfactory and she became totally unmanageable. Nothing that the master, Commander Herndon or an) other competent seaman was able to do could save the ship.
·As far as the official inspection report is concerned, it is easy for such documents to state the need for improvement- We see this all the time—Titanic, Morro Castle, Mohawk, Noronic, Gaul, Herald of Free Enterprise, and recently, Exxoa Valdez. These, and untold other accidents that have befallen ships over the years and have contributed to the need for changes in ship design, but that does not mean those vessels were poorly designed. Nothing in the design and operation of other steamers built during the period by Mr. Webb, or by other competent shipbuilders, indicates that there was anything amiss with the Central America. Those were hazardous days for ships and seamen.
The story of Central America is fascinating, but one must regard events in proper perspective.
Ramon Barba—During World War II, the U.S. Navy’s armed guard constituted probably the least known of any branch of the armed services. The armed guard was originally organized to protect merchant ships from submarines during World War I and then was inactivated after the Armistice in 1918. It was reactivated prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.
The first gun crew sailed from the Brooklyn armed guard center on 2 December 1941, five days before the Japanese attack. Some of the merchant ships sailing prior to 7 December 1941 left port without Navy gunners, so some of the merchant seamen acted as gunners, but the untrained merchant sailors were reluctant to man the guns. They abandoned ships for the Germans to take as prizes.
At the urging of Rear Admiral James Alger, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard, and Rear Admiral Hamilton White, U.S. Navy, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressured Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, to release and train men from the fleet and assign them to the armed guard as gun crews on merchant ships. By January 1942, no more ships were sent out without Navy gunners. That’s why I flew almost 900 miles to replace a gunnery officer who became sick and had to leave the ship.
On board ship were two distinct groups of servicemen—merchant sailors and the Navy sailors. What distinguished them were rules and regulations. Navy sailors had the Articles of War. Another major difference was base pay. In January 1941, an able-bodied seaman’s pay in the maritime service was $105.00 per month, plus a 100% bonus for sailing into more hazardous zones. If a sailor sailed from the United States to Zone 3, he received $105.00, plus an additional $315.00 for traveling through three hazard zones, for a total of $420.00. A seaman first class at the same time was receiving a base pay of $21.00 per month, plus 20% for sea duty for a total of $25.20 for the same month.
The merchant sailors’ job was to operate and maintain the ship, and in some cases to unload cargo at the destination. In case of attack, those merchant sailors, not otherwise assigned were to assist the armed guard crew by passing ammunition from the magazine to the gun tubs. The armed guard’s job was to maintain the guns and defend the ship and her cargo from submarines, aircraft, surface raiders, E-boats, frogmen, two-man human torpedoes, and kamikazes. We were trained to remain at our battle stations until the last possible moment in hopes of sinking the submarine or surface ship that torpedoed us. It was here that we lost most of the 1,800 armed guard men who perished during the war.
But some submarine captains were more humane and gave food, medical supplies, and directions to the survivors In fact, a crew of about 30 was told land was about 300 miles away, but when they landed in South Africa, it was thousands of miles from the sinking.
In early 1942, we were losing between one to ten ships per day. The armed guard sailors and merchant sailors both experienced heavy loss of life. The armed guard had the highest loss of life per capita of any group in the Navy, i.e., submarines, destroyers, battleships, etc.
Life on board ship was like a shotgun marriage with the merchant sailors being the reluctant groom. We, the armed guard, did not belong on their ship- Sometimes this was said in jest— sometimes not. There were good and bad times. One of the best times was when we arrived in New York, after an attack, and some of the rich merchant sailors would take us to boxer Jack Dempsey’s restaurant and then hire working girls to entertain us, because they could afford it-
One of the benefits of being in the armed guard was that the merchant sailors received the same food as the officers, and we received the same food as the merchant sailors.
We even had a merchant sailors’ mess- man bring us our food. I remember one who used to tease us about not tipping him. We used to tell him he should tip us.
Even though there was some dissension aboard ship, with the help of & merchant sailors, we did live up to our motto: “We aim to deliver.”
“The Cabot Comes Home”
(See K. Harrison, pp. 26-28, Spring 1990 Naval History)
Captain C. J. Gibowicz, Jr., Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired)-A number of articles have appeared in various publications since the former Cabot (CVL-28) returned to the United States, none of which gives credit where credit is due. Mr. Harrison’s article indicates that a simple telephone call to the Spanish naval attaché resulted in the saving of the Cabot. In fact, the attaché did not enter into the picture until the Cabot was already saved from scrap and a decision made as to where she was to go in the United States.
Many people have been involved with the return of the Cabot. However, if one individual should receive credit, then that person is Rear Admiral Gerald L. Riendeau, now retired, but chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group Spain, after a seemingly innocuous piece of paper crossed his desk in Madrid. The paper was from the Spanish Armada advising the U.S. Navy, as it was required to do as a condition of purchase when it bought Cabot, that Spain intended to scrap her. She was by now the Dedalo, a Spanish capital ship for more than 20 years but soon to be retired upon the commissioning of a new carrier, the Principe Asturias.
Admiral Riendeau was struck with an idea. The Cabot was the Iron Lady of World War II fame; she had served both the U.S. and Spanish Navies for almost 50 years. She deserved better than to be scrapped. The admiral then contacted Admiral Nardiz, the Spanish CNO, and found that the Spanish Navy was just as sympathetic toward saving the gallant lady as he was—the problem was to find a home. Enter the Madrid Council of the U.S. Navy League. Admiral Riendeau needed some staff assistance and he got three former naval officers to help: retired Captains Edward Bouffard and Charles Gibowicz, and Lieutenant Commander Charles Munana.
This task group canvassed many organizations, cities, states, governors, and even President George Bush who flew off one of the Cabot's sister ships, the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), when he was lieutenant (junior grade).
Less than a year was available to find her a home as a deadline for scrapping had been established. Finally, two cities that had been contacted submitted serious proposals: New Orleans and Baltimore. Riendeau and his Navy League volunteers evaluated the proposals and finding them both acceptable, presented them to the Spanish Navy for a selection. Basically, New Orleans was selected due to its Spanish historical background.
The Spanish Navy deserves a great deal of thanks. It gave up the scrap value of the ship, well over a million dollars, sailed the ship to New Orleans at cost, and they left almost everything intact at the turnover, including her original plans and World War II operational instructions, guns, and even the wardroom silverware and artworks.
During one intense battle in the Pacific War, the battling Iowa (BB-61) was off the Cabot’s starboard bow. A half century later, under more peaceful conditions, the Iowa was again off the starboard bow of the Cabot as she was being farewelled by the Spanish Navy.
(See F. Contey, pp. 37-41, Spring 1990 Naval History)
Dan Buckley—I have read a few brief accounts similar to Frank A. Contey’s “Zeppelin Busters” but none so informative nor as encompassing. But his statement about installing landing decks fore and aft on HMS Furious “that if it was to be done at all, it would be done ‘whole hog’ does not agree with the line drawings illustrating Warships 1860-1970, J. M. Thorton, Arco Publishing, released in 1973.
One must assume that the line drawings are technically correct, because they were originally published in the Royal Canadian Navy’s magazine Crowsnest over a period of 15 years. Additionally, they appeared in the British League’s magazine Sea Cadet, the Indian Navy’s magazine Varuna, the South African paper Kommando, as well as other publications in Canada and the United States.
According to the illustrations and text, the Furious was completed with a flying- off deck forward in place of her forward 18-inch gun. In 1918, the after 18-inch gun was replaced by a hangar and fly-on deck, and, finally, between 1921 and 1925, she was completely altered with a full flight deck.
This three-step program is supported by a photo illustration in Dreadnought: A History of Modern Battleships, by Richard Hough (New York: Macmillan, 1975) showing the Furious with “half-a-hog' job done with the flying-off deck forward only. A detailed history of the ship, illustrating her many changes, appears in John Wingate’s Warships in Profile, Volume Two (Garden City, New York. 1973), pages 245-292.
R. D. Layman—Although this article gives interesting insight into British shipboard aviation techniques of World War I it contains several errors of fact as follows:
· No Sopwith Pups fitted with skids ever landed on HMS Furious as described. The landings referred to were made by Pups with a standard wheel undercarriage. The skid-equipped Pups landed on the aft deck, not the forward deck, approaching from the stern. Almost none of the landing attempts were successful. The successful landings of the wheeled Pups were described and illustrated in a Proceedings article that was a digest of W- G. Moore’s book Early Bird (London: Putnam, 1963).
· No Sopwith 1½ Strutters or Sopwith Cockoos were ever embarked on towed lighters, nor did any aircraft of these types ever make seaborne attacks on the German or Belgian coasts. The lighters were used mainly as floating docks for flying boats, or to take them into the North Sea to extend their radii. The only real success achieved by this technique came on 11 August 1918 when a Sopwith 2.F1 flying from a lighter destroyed the German airship L.53.
No Sopwith Cockoo ever made a war time combat flight. A squadron was embarked on HMS Argus, the world’s first flight-deck carrier, in October 1918, but neither ship nor aircraft saw action before the armistice.
· In April 1918, HMS Pegasus was not “old,” nor had she ever been a merchant ship. She was under construction as the mercantile Stockholm when purchased on 27 February 1917 for restructuring as an aviation vessel. She was commissioned under her new name on 28 August 1917. She had a seaplane hangar aft, not a landing deck. She remained in the Royal Navy until sold for scrapping on 22 August 1931 and was never in mercantile service.
· The aircraft referred to as the “Sop" with folding Pup” was actually Beardmore WB III. Although the Beard more used the Pup’s basic airframe and plant, it was a completely different craft, with no wing stagger and an extra of interplane struts. Later, WB Ills had jettisonable, instead of retractable, undercarriages, and in some the fuselage was hinged for handier shipboard stowage.
· It was not particularly dangerous to fire incendiary bullets in a synchronized machine gun system. This was standard operating procedure for “balloon busters” on the western front. The Lewis gun was Preferred for anti-airship engagements, because it performed better in the colder temperatures at the altitude the Zeppelins were likely to fly.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Layman is the author of Before the Aircraft Carrier: The Development of Aviation Vessels, 1947- 1922, a book dealing with World War I shipboard aviation, among other aspects of early naval aviation, published last year by the Naval Institute Press.)
Philip MacDougall—The number of experiments conducted at His Majesty’s Seaplane Station, Port Victoria, on the Isle of Grain represents an interesting aspect of Britain’s naval efforts to extend its reach over the North Sea through the use of sea-based aircraft during World War I. This particular station, established at the mouth of the River Medway in 1913, was responsible for testing aircraft considered suitable for service with the Royal Navy.
As Frank Contey notes, it was relatively easy to launch an airplane from a seagoing warship, but recovery was extremely difficult. Many aircraft were simply dumped into the ocean and, if lucky, the pilot was successfully rescued by a specifically assigned destroyer. This, however, was costly in aircraft, and, quite frequently, pilots. As a result. Port Victoria began modifying Royal Navy aircraft to ensure that they would remain afloat. Not only did this increase pilot survivability, but it also allowed the airplane to be hoisted on deck and reused.
Aircraft converted at the Port Victoria seaplane station had hydrofoils (then known as hydrovanes) fitted to the chassis with self-inflating flotation bags located immediately under the engine. These two additions were responsible for saving many aircraft and crew. The hydrofoils prevented the plane from turning over, while the flotation bags kept it afloat indefinitely.
The Port Victoria seaplane station also constructed a circular wooden deck measuring approximately the length of the flight deck of HMS Furious. Pilots assigned to the Royal Navy’s first aircraft carrier used the deck for takeoff practice. The circular deck never had to be moved when changing wind direction dictated a new takeoff point.
A further experiment worth mentioning was perfected in March 1918. This concerned the locating of submerged enemy U-boats operating in the path of Allied convoy routes. For this, two airplanes were necessary. The first was a seaplane Fitted with hydrophone equipment; it landed on the water and proceeded to listen for underwater activity. The second airplane, circling above, waited for a signal from the Aldis lamps to bomb any area that the crew of the first airplane indicated.
“LST-Large, Slow Target”
(See A. Pace and m. Leva, pp. 19-23, Spring 1990; W.B. Randall, p. 4, Summer 1990 Naval History)
A. Arthur Marsh—The article reminded me of just how wicked a piece of water the Strait of Bonifacio is.
In the early 1950s, I served in the USS Charles H. Roan (DD-853) with the Sixth Fleet.
An early, gray dawn found us passing through the strait between Corsica and Sardinia with other elements of the Sixth Fleet. We were pooped by a rogue wave over the fantail. The after-steering manhole was open, allowing the water to flood the after-steering compartment and shorting out the steering motors.
I was sleeping in the aft crew quarters and awoke with a damage controlman hooking up a hose across my rack. He explained the situation by telling me, “We are headed for the rocks, and we ain’t got no steering.”
Topside, on the fantail, I could hear surf. Looking dead aft, I could see a narrow stretch of black water turning white where it struck some steep, ugly rocks.
Our captain turned over the screws from time to time and maintained a careful balance between the forces of wind and water. He used just enough power to keep off the rocks. It took about an hour to drain the compartment and then dry and service the motors. Standing by for us was the USS Forrest Royal (DD-872).
The weather was good that day, and, as I recall, the sea was not rough. I can only conclude that the wave was generated by the sea pushing through the narrow straits.
I have not thought of that event in many years. The LST article started a flood of memories associated with that time in my life.
William S. Irwin—I don’t mean to belittle Naval History, but it does not record the history of the U.S. Navy as I remember it. World War II included more than lobbing shells inland from a mile offshore or bombing/strafing from 1,000 feet aloft. These are well documented, along with stalking submarines. But on the beaches where people had to go to wrest real estate from the enemy, the Navy there was LCVPs, LCMs, LCTs, LCIs, LSMs, and LSTs—the amphibious Navy.
These were the “Sons of Beaches.” In a way, these SOBs were the front line of the Navy. When the amphibians gathered at a beachhead, all other ships were support vessels.
In 30 months of active duty, the LST- 277 made combat invasions with Sea- bees, 155-mm. artillery, 105-mm. artillery, airborne infantry, air corps, and served as a full-time ammunition ship, replenishing bombardment and picket ships at Okinawa four days before the invasion. After World War II ended, many LSTs sailed into another war, transporting Chinese Nationalists north against the communists.
Amphibians are forgotten in naval history. Not because they were too few— more LSTs went to sea (1,051) than any other type of ship—but probably because there were too few regular Navy men among our officers and crews.
The LST construction program was also unusual. The desperate need for LSTs was emphasized when the keel of a new aircraft carrier was removed from a building dock to make way for new LST construction. Also, Winston Churchill’s impatience was witnessed in his statement to the effect that we will cross the English Channel as soon as we get enough of something called “LSTs.” The British learned a grim lesson at Dunkirk, and Churchill knew the dire need for amphibs.
The old wartime LSTs are gone and naval history should record their amazingly successful accomplishments. No Navy ship was more successful.
Originally built for one operation, one invasion, LSTs with substandard scantlings sailed through six, even seven combat landings. They gave the Navy full measure, above and beyond.
(See B. Harral, pp. 10-13, Summer 1990 Naval History)
J. B. Lawrence—Perhaps I am not the only reader to be jarred by the assertion that, “In the early months of the war. patrol areas were assigned, for the most part, to aged U.S. submarines using World War I-vintage torpedoes.”
The article later details the exploits of the S-42 (surely “aged”), but maybe it was in the lesser part.
Chapter 20 of Theodore Roscoe’s U-S Submarine Operations in World War II states that until September 1943 “the torpedoes most widely used” were the Mk 10 (for S-class submarines) and the Mk 14, a later model which had the defects that Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood ultimately detected. The troubles of the Mk 10, Roscoe says, were corrected early in the war.
How old was the Mk 10? Harral describes it as “a veteran with well over a decade of service experience [in 1941].” This is not likely to refer either to a torpedo made in 1918, or to any of the same model as made in 1918. I can think of no meaning of “vintage” which would make the assertion accurate.
“Men of the Cabot”
(See pp. 24-25, Spring 1990 Naval History)
James F. Batten—Referring to Rear Admiral Malcolm F. Schoeffel’s last paragraph, if one takes a square-edged, four foot long, one-inch by four-inch pine board, holds it like a flattened baseball bat in front of him, submerges it in water and turns, keeping the board level end in front of him as he turns, the free end of the board will emerge from the water after approximately 40° to 60° of turn. Therefore, Admiral Schoeffel’s statement of the roll occurring due to rudder amidships after 60° of a 30-plus knot turn was due to the fact that the Cabot had temporarily lost some displacement aft, had become temporarily top-heavy and subject to roll to the outside of the turn.
This lifting of the stern in a turn is more apparent in submerged submarines. They try to maintain a neutral buoyancy, and the rise of the stern is cumulative. On board the USS Argonaut (SS-475) and Grampus (SS-523) in 1955, stem-planes- men were instructed to use rise angle on the sternplanes to keep the stem from lifting during a turn.
“Daniels and the Bottle”
(See M. Bartlett, p. 6, Summer 1989 Naval History)
Robert D. Barron—Bartlett quotes Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels’s farewell message of 5 March 1921, “All my life, I will be your shipmate.” That be was. In 1944, while serving as an aviation cadet in preflight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we would have a daily muster at noon to assemble and then march off to mess.
Nearly every day we saw a man standing on a slight rise of ground on the west side of the road. He was short, stout, totally garbed in black, and wearing a flat porkpie hat. This person was dubbed by 'he cadets as Senator Claghorn, after a Popular radio character of that time. I asked one of my civilian instructors who this man was and told that it was Josephus Daniels.
It is remarkable that Daniels, true to his word, was falling in for the daily muster 23 years after making the statement, “All my life, I will be your shipmate.” A promise kept.
“This Eagle Wasn’t Flying”
(See L. Chirillo, pp. 4, Summer 1990 Naval History)
James R. Stager—I was both surprised and delighted to see Commander Chirillo’s comments. My surprise was prompted by the item’s subject matter; it was the first and only time I can recall mention of an Eagle boat in the several years I have read Naval History and Proceedings. My delight was evoked by the fact that during World War II, I also served for more than three years as a crew member on board the USS Eagle 38 (PE- 38). Perhaps an enlisted man’s perspective might provide additional insight to the commander’s viewpoint of life on board these ships.
Commander Chirillo’s concern for the crew’s quality of life is commendable, but I can testify that, in spite of the conditions he so vividly describes, it wasn’t that bad. Perhaps he is judging his memory of those times by the standards of today. I think people during that time had a greater tolerance for contrary circumstances.
The profusion of underway noises abounding in the crew’s quarters was as the commander describes them, but it didn’t keep the crew from sleeping. When one lives with such tumult for days on end, the mind soon learns to ignore it.
The commander’s recall of the mess cook’s trip between the galley and the mess area omitted the most exciting part of the story. The majority of the route was along open decks, which, more often than not, were wet, slippery, and heaving. I can say from experience that these hindrances made the task especially challenging while carrying two stacks of tureens. No Olympic event could have been more trying.
It may be interesting to note that there appear to have been structural differences between some of the PE-class vessels.
The anecdote, which called forth my broadest smile, was the description of the crew’s head and the flaming toilet paper caper. I can assure the commander that the boozers weren’t the only ones to rise to that occasion.
“Revenge at the Coral Sea”
(See K. McIntosh, pp. 58-61, Summer 1990 Naval History)
R. D. Dodge—I imagine you will be flooded with letters asking when the Soho was renamed the “Ryukaku.” I consulted different sources in order to unravel the mystery. On the front page of The New York Times, 13 June 1942, is a picture of the burning “Ryukaku” and a description of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Stanley Johnston’s Queen of the Flat-tops also describes the sinking of the “Ryukaku.” How could this be?
John B. Lundstrom’s The First South Pacific Campaign: Pacific Fleet Strategy December 1941-June 1942 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1976), page 78, provides the answer: “The Ryukaku was an incorrect transliteration of the Japanese ideographs for the name Shoho. The Americans continued to mislabel the Shoho with the name Ryukaku until after Midway.” Lundstrom provides a source for this statement.
So there it is. We really only sank one carrier after all. But it was a great day for us, and we needed all the great days we could get.
David H. Lippman—The article was an interesting reminiscence, but it continued an odd mistake that has run through histories of the Coral Sea battle for decades— toe incorrect identification of the Japanese light aircraft carrier sunk at that bat- de as the Ryukaku.
The actual carrier sunk was the light carrier Shoho, which was the first Japanese carrier to be sunk during World War II. She perished in the first all-carrier naval battle.
Like many other Japanese carriers, Shoho began naval service in another role, completed on 15 January 1939 as toe submarine depot ship Tsurugizaki.
Some accounts say that the Tsurugizaki was a high-speed oiler, but a highly defiled postwar report for the U.S. Navy made by Lieutenant Commander Shizuo cukui on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surviving ships makes it clear that the Tsurugizaki was a Sensui-Bokan, translated as “mother ship for submarines.”
However, in January 1940, the Tsurugizaki was turned into an aircraft carrier (a Koku Bokan), as were her two sisters, the Taigei and the Takasaki. She had her eight diesel engines replaced by two sets of turbines and four boilers. Fukui’s report on the class’s sole survivor the Taigei (which became the carrier Ryuho) says, “After her completion as a sub to depot ship, she was found weak in structure, insufficient [sic] in stability, so she was extensively strengthened by doubling plates, and bulges were fitted to increase stability.”
The Takasaki became the Zuiho, the Taigei became the Ryuho, while the Tsurugizaki became the Shoho, commissioned as a light fleet carrier on 26 January 1942.
The Shoho displaced 15,221 tons, making her slightly larger than the American Independence class. Her top speed was 26.2 knots. She carried 31 aircraft, including 16 Mitsubishi Zero fighters and 12 Nakajima Type 97 Kate torpedo bombers.
Obviously, the Shoho had little time for shakedown cruises and training, as she was commissioned six weeks after Pearl Harbor. By 3 May, she was at Rabaul, part of Admiral Aritomo Goto’s Port Moresby Invasion Force.
Coral Sea was a typical example of Japanese naval planning: an intricate ballet of widely separated task forces and a decoy force to lure the Americans. The objective was to invade New Guinea’s southern port, Port Moresby, and open the northeast coast of Australia to invasion. The Shoho, while covering Port Moresby, was to act as a decoy, while the Fifth Carrier Division, fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, would spring the trap on the Americans, presumably while all the American planes were off bombing the Shoho.
On 7 May 1942, both sides’ reconnaissance planes spotted each other. Both American and Japanese pilots had trouble with their warship identification cards that day. The Japanese mistook the American oiler Neosho (AO-23) for one of Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s carriers, the Lexington (CV-2) or the Yorktown (CV-5), while American pilots identified the Shoho as the much larger (25,657 tons) Shokaku.
To be fair, the mistake in identifying American ships was made on the Japanese pilot’s code contact pad. He meant to report “two cruisers and two destroyers,” but used the combination for “two carriers and four destroyers.”
So the Japanese sank the Neosho and her escorting destroyer, the Sims (DD- 409). Meanwhile, 95 planes from the Lexington and the Yorktown swarmed all over the hapless Shoho, whose Zeros were flying combat air patrol over the transports, out of the way and over the horizon.
Shoho went to the bottom in record time—ten minutes, hit by 13 bombs and seven torpedoes. Presumably, the structural weaknesses in this class of warship hastened Shoho's demise.
Shocked by the loss of his carrier. Goto postponed his invasion and ordered his transports to mark time while the battle continued to unfold.
The rest is well known. The Americans lost the Lexington, while the Japanese lost many irreplaceable pilots. Two Japanese carriers were damaged, Shokaku and Zuikaku, while the Yorktown, despite her wounds, made it back in time for the big show at Midway.
Shoho was sunk and that seems to be where the confusion over her name began. The American pilots thought they’d sunk the Shokaku. The confusion of transliterating Japanese words to English rendered Shokaku as Syokaku in American intelligence reports. From there it was a short hop to Ryukaku. Then, when Shokaku turned up alive and well at Eastern Solomons, the late light carrier Shoho evolved into a Shokaku- class carrier named Ryukaku.
As Shoho lived under the “fog” of World War II, and only for a brief time, it’s understandable why there should be confusion, and why that confusion is in the history books. However, it’s time the record was set straight.
Incidentally, in Japanese Shoho means “Righteous Gigantic Bird,” which is a good name for an aircraft carrier.