USS Enterprise (CV-6)

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USS Enterprise (CV-6), the "Big E", was the sixth aircraft carrier of the United States Navy and the seventh U.S. Navy ship to bear that name. Launched in 1936, she was a ship of the Yorktown class, and one of only three American carriers commissioned prior to World War II to survive the war (the others being Saratoga Ships USS instances and Ranger Ships USS instances). She participated in more major actions of the war against Japan than did any other US ship. These actions included the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, various other air-sea engagements during the Guadalcanal campaign, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, as well as the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo. On three separate occasions during the Pacific War, the Japanese announced that she had been sunk in battle.

Enterprise earned 20 battle stars, the most for any U.S. warship in World War II. She was the only ship outside of the Royal Navy to earn the highest award of the British Admiralty Pennant in the more than 400 years since its creation. Some have labeled her the most glorious and honored ship in all of United States Naval history, rivaled only perhaps by the 18th century frigate USS Constitution Ships USS instances.

Initial operations

Enterprise was launched on 3 October 1936 at Newport News Shipbuilding, sponsored by Lulie Swanson, wife of Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson, and commissioned on 12 May 1938.

Enterprise sailed south on a shakedown cruise which took her to Rio de Janeiro. After her return, she operated along the east coast and in the Caribbean until April 1939, when she was ordered to duty in the Pacific. Enterprise was one of fourteen ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 RADAR. Based first at San Diego (where she was used in the filming of Dive Bomber starring Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray) and then at Pearl Harbor after President Roosevelt ordered the Fleet to be 'forward based', the carrier and her aircraft squadrons trained intensively and transported aircraft among the island bases of the Pacific. Enterprise was completing one such mission, delivering Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 211 to Wake Island on 2 December 1941 and was returning to Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor[edit]

Enterprise was returning to Oahu on the morning of 7 December 1941, from a mission to deliver Marine planes and pilots of squadron VMF-211 to Wake Island. Eighteen SBD Dauntless scout bombers of Enterprise squadrons VS-6 and VB-6 arrived over Pearl Harbor during the attack and, though surprised, immediately went into action in defense of the naval base. Scouting Six lost six planes during the attack, while Bombing Six lost one. Several of these planes were shot down by the Japanese; however, at least one plane was lost to heavy antiaircraft fire, and many more were damaged. At one point a radio report was heard: "Do not attack me, this is six baker three an American plane" and later the same pilot (Ensign Manuel Gonzales of VB-6) was heard ordering his radioman/gunner to prepare for a water landing. Lt. C. E. Dickinson and his crewmate William C. Miller of Scouting Six accounted for one Japanese plane before being forced to bail out after their plane caught fire. Dickinson later made his way to Ford Island to man another plane and participated in the search for the Japanese fleet. He was recommended for a commendation for "displaying a superb courage, stamina, devotion to duty, unexcelled logic and coolness in action". Enterprise also launched six Grumman F4F Wildcats of VF-6 in the wake of the attack; all except two were shot down by shell-shocked anti-aircraft gunners as they attempted to land on Ford Island that night. The carrier, meanwhile, assembled her remaining aircraft in a fruitless search for the Japanese striking force; the search was to the south and west of Oahu, while the Japanese retired to the northwest. Enterprise put into Pearl Harbor for fuel and supplies on the night of 8 December, and sailed early the next morning to patrol against possible additional attacks in the Hawaiian Islands. Although the group encountered no surface ships, Enterprise aircraft sank the Japanese on 10 December 1941.

During the last two weeks of December 1941, Enterprise and her group steamed west of Hawaii to cover those islands while two other carrier groups made a belated attempt to relieve Wake Island. After a brief rest at Pearl Harbor, the Enterprise group sailed on 11 January, protecting convoys reinforcing Samoa. On 1 February, the task force raided Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap in the Marshall Islands, sinking three ships, damaging eight, and destroying numerous airplanes and ground facilities. Enterprise received only minor damage in the Japanese counterattack, as her group retired to Pearl Harbor.

During the next month the Enterprise group swept the central Pacific, attacking enemy installations on Wake and Marcus Islands, then received minor alterations and repairs at Pearl Harbor. On 8 April 1942, she departed to rendezvous with Hornet and sail west escorting Hornet on the mission to launch 16 Army B-25 Mitchell bombers in the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo. While Enterprise fighters flew combat air patrol, the B-25s launched on 18 April, and flew undetected the remaining 600 miles (1,000 km) to the target. The task force, its presence known to the enemy after a sighting by small vessels, reversed course and returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 April.

Battle of Midway[edit]

Five days later, the "Big E" sortied toward the South Pacific to reinforce U.S. carriers operating in the Coral Sea. However, the Battle of the Coral Sea was over before Enterprise arrived. Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor on 26 May, and began intensive preparation to meet the expected Japanese thrust at Midway Island.

On 28 May, Enterprise sortied as Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance's flagship with orders "to hold Midway and inflict maximum damage on the enemy by strong attrition tactics". With Enterprise in CTF 16 were Hornet, six cruisers, and 10 destroyers. On 30 May, TF 17, with Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher in the still-under-repair Yorktown, left Pearl with two cruisers and six destroyers as CTF-17; as senior officer present, Rear Admiral Fletcher became "Officer in Tactical Command". The usual commander of the Enterprise task force, Bill or "Bull" Halsey, was kept in hospital at Pearl with a stress-related skin condition.

Each side launched air attacks during the day in a decisive battle. Though the forces were in contact until 7 June, by the end of the 4 June the outcome had been decided. 'The Battle of Midway began on the morning of 4 June 1942, when four Japanese carriers, unaware of the presence of U.S. naval forces, launched attacks on Midway Island. Just three hours after the first bomb fell on Midway, planes from the U.S. carriers attacked. Enterprise launched a failed attack using torpedo bombers, then soon after Enterprise dive bombers attacked and sunk the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi.Yorktown and Hammann were the only American ships sunk, but TFs 16 and 17 lost a total of 113 planes, 61 of them in combat, during the battle. Japanese losses were much larger: four carriers, one cruiser, and 272 carrier aircraft. Later in the afternoon, a mixed squadron of Enterprise and Yorktown bombers destroyed Hiryu (aircraft from the Yorktown also sank the Soryu) . Enterprise came through undamaged and returned to Pearl Harbor on 13 June 1942.

South Pacific operations[edit]

After a month of rest and overhaul, Enterprise sailed on 15 July 1942 for the South Pacific, where she joined TF 61 to support the amphibious landings in the Solomon Islands on 8 August. For the next two weeks, the carrier and her planes guarded seaborne communication lines southwest of the Solomons. On 24 August, a strong Japanese force was discovered some 200 miles (300 km) north of Guadalcanal, and TF 61 sent planes to the attack. This was the first time that Grim Reapers of VF-10 deployed from Enterprise under commanding officer James H. Flatley, who became known as "Reaper leader". In the ensuing battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Japanese light carrier Ryūjō was sent to the bottom, and the Japanese troops intended for Guadalcanal were forced back. Enterprise suffered most heavily of the American ships; three direct hits and four near misses killed 77, wounded 91, and inflicted serious damage on the carrier. Damage control parties, and quick, hard work patched her up so that she was able to return to Hawaii under her own power.

Repaired at Pearl Harbor from 10 September to 16 October 1942, Enterprise departed once more for the South Pacific, where with Hornet she formed TF 61. On 26 October, Enterprise scout planes located a Japanese carrier force and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was under way. Enterprise aircraft struck carriers and cruisers during the struggle, while the "Big E" herself underwent intensive attack. Hit twice by bombs, Enterprise lost 44 and had 75 wounded.

Despite serious damage, she continued in action and took on board a large number of planes from Hornet when that carrier was sunk. Though the American losses of a carrier and a destroyer were more severe than the Japanese loss of one light cruiser, the battle gained time to reinforce Guadalcanal against the next enemy onslaught. Enterprise was now the only functioning US carrier in the Pacific Theater. On the flight deck, the crew posted a sign: "Enterprise vs Japan".

Enterprise entered Nouméa, New Caledonia, on 30 October for repairs, but a new Japanese thrust at the Solomons demanded her presence and she sailed on 11 November, with repair crews from Vestal still working on board. On 13 November, aviators from Enterprise helped to sink the damaged battleship Hiei. When the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal ended on 15 November 1942, Enterprise had shared in sinking 16 ships and damaging eight more. The carrier returned to Nouméa on 16 November to complete her repairs.

Sailing again on 4 December, Enterprise trained out of Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, until 28 January 1943, when she departed for the Solomons area. On 30 January, her fighters flew combat air patrol for a cruiser–destroyer group during the Battle of Rennell Island. Despite the destruction of most of the attacking Japanese bombers by Enterprise planes, Chicago was sunk by aerial torpedoes.

Detached after the battle, the carrier arrived at Espiritu Santo on 1 February, and for the next three months operated out of that base, covering U.S. surface forces up to the Solomons. Enterprise then steamed to Pearl Harbor where, on 27 May 1943, Admiral Chester Nimitz presented the ship with the first Presidential Unit citation awarded to an aircraft carrier. On 20 July 1943, with Essex-class carriers now joining the fleet, she entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a much-needed overhaul.

The Yorktown class had proved to be vulnerable to torpedoes, and while undergoing repairs in late 1942, Enterprise also received an extensive refit, which included an anti-torpedo blister that significantly improved her underwater protection.

Return to Duty[edit]

Back in waters by mid-November, Enterprise joined in providing close air support to the 27th Infantry Division (United States) landing on Makin Atoll, from 19 November to 21 November 1943. On the night of 26 November, "Big E" introduced carrier-based night fighters to the Pacific when a three-plane team from the ship broke up a large group of land-based bombers attacking TG 50.2. After a heavy strike by aircraft of TF50 against Kwajalein on 4 December, Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor five days later.

The carrier's next operation was with TF 58 in softening up the Marshall Islands and supporting the landings on Kwajalein, from 29 January to 3 February 1944. Then Enterprise sailed, still with TF 58, to strike the Japanese naval base at Truk Lagoon in the Caroline Islands, on 17 February. Again, Enterprise made aviation history, when she launched the first night radar bombing attack from a U.S. carrier. The 12 torpedo bombers in this strike achieved excellent results, accounting for nearly one-third of the 200,000 tons of shipping destroyed by aircraft.

Detached from TF58, Enterprise launched raids on Jaluit Atoll on 20 February, then steamed to Majuro and Espiritu Santo. Sailing on 15 March in TG36.1, she provided air cover and close support for the landings on Emirau Island (19 March–25 March). The carrier rejoined TF 58 on 26 March, and for the next 12 days, joined in a series of strikes against the islands of Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, and Palau. After a week's rest and replenishment at Majuro, Enterprise sailed on 14 April to support landings in the Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura) area of New Guinea, and then hit Truk again from 29 April–30 April.

On 6 June 1944, she and her companions of TG 58.3 sortied from Majuro to join the rest of TF 58 in attacking the Marianas Islands. Striking Saipan, Rota, and Guam between 11 June and 14 June, Enterprise pilots gave direct support to the landings on Saipan on 15 June, and covered the troops ashore for the next two days.

Aware of a major Japanese attempt to break up the invasion of Saipan, Admiral Spruance, now Commander 5th Fleet, positioned TF58 to meet the threat.

The Battle of the Philippine Sea[edit]

On 19 June 1944, the greatest carrier aircraft battle in history took place: the Battle of the Philippine Sea. For over eight hours, airmen of the United States and Imperial Japanese navies fought in the skies over TF 58 and the Marianas. By the end of the day, an American victory was apparent, and at the conclusion of the strikes against the Japanese fleet on 20 June, the triumph became complete. Six American ships were damaged, and 130 planes and a total of 76 pilots and aircrew lost. With a major assist from U.S. submarines, three Japanese carriers (Hiyō, Shōkaku, and Taihō) were sunk, and 426 carrier aircraft were destroyed. Japanese naval aviation never recovered.

Enterprise participated both in the defense of the fleet and in the subsequent early-evening strike against the Japanese task forces. During the chaotic after-dark recovery of the air strike, a fighter and a bomber came aboard simultaneously, but miraculously did not cause an accident. A planned midnight strike against the Japanese fleet by night-flying Enterprise pilots was cancelled because of the recovery and rescue operations required after the dusk attack.

After the battle, Enterprise and her companions continued to support the Saipan campaign through 5 July. She then sailed for Pearl Harbor and a month of rest and overhaul. Back in action on 24 August, the carrier sailed with TF 38 in that force's aerial assault on the Volcano and Bonin Islands from 31 August to 2 September, and Yap, Ulithi, and the Palaus from 6 September to 8 September.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf[edit]

After operating west of the Palau Islands, the Enterprise joined other units of TF 38 on 7 October and set course to the north. From 10 October to 20 October, her aviators flew over Okinawa, Formosa, and the Philippines, blasting enemy airfields, shore installations, and shipping in preparation for the assault on Leyte. After supporting the Leyte landings on 20 October, Enterprise headed for Ulithi to replenish, but the approach of the Japanese fleet on 23 October called her back to action.

In the Battle of Leyte Gulf (23 October–26 October), Enterprise planes struck all three groups of enemy forces, battering battleships and destroyers before the action ended. The carrier remained on patrol east of Samar and Leyte until the end of October, then retired to Ulithi for supplies. During November, her aircraft struck targets in the Manila area, and at the island of Yap. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1944.

Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the kamikaze[edit]

Sailing 24 December for the Philippines, Enterprise carried an air group specially trained in night carrier operations. She joined TG 38.5 and swept the waters north of Luzon and of the China Sea during January 1945, striking shore targets and shipping from Formosa to Indo-China. After a brief visit to Ulithi, Enterprise joined TG 58.5 on 10 February 1945, and provided day and night combat air patrol for TF 58 as it struck Tokyo on 16 February and 17 February.

She then supported the Marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima from the day of the landings, 19 February, until 9 March when she sailed for Ulithi. During one part of that period, Enterprise kept aircraft aloft continuously over Iwo Jima for 174 hours.

Departing Ulithi on 15 March, the carrier continued her night work in raids against Kyūshū, Honshū, and shipping in the Inland Sea of Japan. Damaged lightly by an enemy bomb on 18 March, Enterprise entered Ulithi six days later for repairs.

Back in action on 5 April, she supported the Okinawa operation until she was damaged on 11 April—this time by a suicide plane—and was forced back to Ulithi. Off Okinawa once more on 6 May, Enterprise flew patrols around the clock as kamikaze attacks increased. On 14 May 1945, she suffered her last wound of World War II when a suicide plane destroyed her forward elevator, killing 14 and wounding 34. The carrier sailed for repairs at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving on 7 June and where she was still moored on V-J Day, 15 August 1945.