A naval adage all too often overlooked by historians is that to fight you must stay afloat. And quickly repairing grievous damage to a ship can be as daunting a task as battling the enemy.
David Bergeron illustrates these points in his cover story, “Fighting for Survival,” which recounts the efforts of USS Yorktown (CV-5) damage control repair parties to save their ship. Retired Lieutenant Commander Thomas Cutler’s “Bluejacket’s Manual” column provides additional details about the responsibilities of damage control parties.
Within a month, the Yorktown was battered at two battles. At Coral Sea, a Japanese bomb punched through the aircraft carrier’s flight deck, a ready room, and three more decks before exploding in an aviation storeroom. A near miss did even more serious damage, opening a seam in her outer hull. Fires were quickly extinguished and the ship returned to Pearl Harbor, where emergency repairs enabled her to return to sea within 72 hours.
Then, on 4 June 1942 at Midway, she sustained three bomb hits that left her burning and dead in the water. Quick action by her repair parties patched her flight deck and got her steaming again in time to launch fighters against a second wave of attackers. She survived, barely, two torpedo hits, but finally was done in while a volunteer salvage party was on board her and she was in tow.
This issue’s second, related, theme is naval aviation, specifically its interwar development and a 1965 disaster at sea. Bruce Petty’s “Jump-Starting Japanese Naval Aviation” is the story of the British Aviation Mission to Japan, better known as the Sempill Mission, after its leader, former British naval aviator William Forbes-Sempill. In 1921, the mission’s advisers commenced providing the Japanese Navy instruction that ranged from flying lessons to advice on building aircraft carriers. Petty explains why Britain would support its future enemy’s aviation agenda and goes on to reveal how some of the British aviation experts transitioned from advisers to spies.
I admit taking some license with the title of Petty’s article, for Japanese naval aviation existed before Sempill’s arrival, albeit in a relatively undeveloped state. In fact, Proceedings reported in its March 1913 issue the appointment of civilian American William B. Atwater as a Japanese Navy flight instructor. Atwater had learned to fly only two years earlier at the Curtiss School of Aviation, and he stopped in Japan amid a round-the-world tour during which he demonstrated his newly learned aerial skills. His tenure in Japan was brief, for he was back in the United States in April 1913. After becoming Naval Aviator Number 112 in October 1917, Ensign Atwater took command of Naval Air Station Bolsena, Italy, on 21 February 1918.
Navy Lieutenant Philip Mayer’s article, “Incubate Innovation: Aviation in the Interwar Period,” earned him third prize in the 2019 CNO Naval History Essay Contest, rising historian category. In it, Mayer describes an explosion of innovation in U.S. naval aviation between the world wars that was “incubated” and engineered by Rear Admiral William Moffett, the first director of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, and Rear Admiral Joseph Reeves, commander of the service’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley (CV-1). The author argues that carrier aviation’s rapid development during this period offers lessons on how the U.S. Navy can maintain naval superiority in the present day.
Meanwhile, retired Chief Petty Officer Delbert Mitchell recollects a training drill gone horribly wrong. On 5 December 1965, Mitchell, an aviation ordnanceman, helped load a nuclear bomb on an A-4E Skyhawk in the hangar of the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). What happed after the aircraft was pushed onto the Number 2 elevator left an indelible impression on his memory.
Richard G. Latture