- Adm Yamamoto gathered 58 warships including 4 BB, 2 CV, 3 CVL, 13 CA, 3 CL, and 30 DD with the mission to smash American naval forces in the SW Pacific and convoy 3 troop ships to reinforce Guadalcanal.
- Fletcher, now Vice Admiral, TF 61, had North Carolina (BB-55), 3 CV, 5 CA, 2 CL, and 18 DD.
Both fought cautiously. Fletcher, although outnumbered two to one, attacked first. A Japanese small carrier was sunk. The two US carriers engaged were damaged : Enterprise (CV-6) and Saratoga (CV-3). The Wasp (CV-7) had been detached on refueling rotation and did not participate. With aircraft depleted, the Japanese fleet withdrew -- Yamamoto no doubt remembering Midway and wondering where was the other US carrier? The next day, a Jap light cruiser, a DD, and a troop ship were sunk by land planes from Henderson Field.
At the end of September Fletcher returned to the States after almost nine months of continuous combat and the fleet organization was shuffled from defensive to offense.
In the Battle of the Coral Sea, he saved Australia, sunk one light carrier and damaged two of the six enemy carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor so that they could not join in at the Battle of Midway, where he destroyed the other four of Japan's large fleet carriers. He stopped the major enemy thrust to retake Guadalcanal in the Eastern Solomons before returning home. He was assigned as Commander Northwestern Sea Frontier, Nov 1942, to lend his prestige to the defense of a freightened US mainland from a northern attack.
WW2, the Early Years
Vice Admiral FRANK JACK FLETCHER
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Continuous Combat from Dec 7, 1941 to Sept 30, 1942.
Commander of Heavy Cruiser Force 6 at Pearl HarborPearl Harbor had been the staging and training area of supplies, crews and aircraft for MacArthur in the Philippines for some time. Convoys with an armed cruiser escort had become the practice that fall and Astoria had already made one escort mission to Manila and Guam. All American islands received construction crews to build anchorage and air fields. The leadership wanted them ready by April. Training intensified with the increasing number of war warnings from Washington. Rising tensions in the Pacific intensified concern and in the beginning of December the time had come to arm the outlying islands.
Cruiser Division Six had four heavy cruisers. That December, two were in drydock at Pearl Harbor for refits and new equipment installations. This included New Orleans (CA-34) and San Franciso (CA-38) his usual flagship. We do not know with which of the two remaining Fletcher was on at the time of the Japanese attack.
Minneapolis (CA-36) departed Dec 5, 1941 for gunnery practice south of Oahu. December 7th, searches for Japanese fleet. This force is sighted and reported as an enemy aircraft carrier ; bombers are sent which recognize the US ship. Returned to Pearl Harbor on Dec 10.
Astoria (CA-34), was current flagship and put to sea on 5 December in the screen of RAdm Newton's TF-12 built around Lexington (CV-2) to deliver Marine aircraft and ground support facilities to Midway. It was too late. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor found Astoria some 700 miles west of Hawaii. The ferry mission was canceled with orders to search an area to the southwest of Oahu from where the attack was thought to have come. Instructions were "to intercept and destroy any enemy ship in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor. . . ." They reentered Pearl Harbor on 13 December. Fletcher put the heavy cruiser division to sea on the 16th to rendezvous with and screen an emergency convoy to Wake,
Attempted Relief of Wake IslandDec 11. The Wake Island garrison repulses Japanese invasion force. Marine shore battery gunfire sinks destroyer Hayate and damages destroyers Oite, Mochizuki, and Yayoi, and Patrol Boat No. 33 (high-speed transport). USMC F4F Wildcats bomb and sink destroyer Kisaragi and strafe and damage light cruiser Tenryu and armed merchant cruiser Kongo Maru. Later the same day, USMC F4F bombs and most likely damages submarine RO 66 south of Wake. U.S. submarines deployed off Wake, Triton (SS-201) to the south and Tambor (SS-198) to the north, take no active part in the battle. Following the abortive assault, Japanese naval land-based attack planes bomb Marine gun batteries.
Dec 12. Japanese reconnaissance flying boats bomb Wake Island in pre-dawn raid. Later in the day, land attack planes bomb Wake.
Dec 14. TF 11 (VAdm Wilson Brown Jr.), comprising carrier Lexington (CV-2), three heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, and oiler Neosho (AO-23), sails for the Marshall Islands, to disrupt actions and to cover TF 14's attempt to relieve Wake Island
Dec 15. Seaplane tender Tangier (AV-8), oiler Neches (AO-5), and four
destroyers sail for Wake Island.
Japanese reconnaissance flying boats bomb Wake Island.
Dec 16. TF 14 (RAdm Frank Jack Fletcher), comprising aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3); heavy cruisers Astoria (CA-34, flagship), Minneapolis (CA-36), and San Francisco (CA-38); and five destroyers, sail from Pearl Harbor. These ships will overtake the force formed around Tangier and Neches and their consorts, which departed the day before, to relieve Wake Island and to return 1,145 civilian contractors.
Japanese Pearl Harbor Attack Force detaches carriers Hiryu and Soryu,
heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma, and destroyers Tanikaze and
Urakaze to reinforce a planned second attack on Wake Island.
Japanese naval land attack planes bomb Wake.
Submarine Tambor, damaged, retires from the waters off Wake.
Dec 17. VAdm William S. Pye, Commander, Battle Force, becomes acting Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, pending the arrival of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who is ordered on this date to relieve Admiral Husband E. Kimmel.
Dec18. Lexington ordered north to join with Saratoga.
Dec 19. TF 8 (VAdm William F. Halsey, Jr.), formed around carrier Enterprise (CV-6), heavy cruisers, and destroyers, sails from Pearl Harbor proceeding to waters west of Johnston Island and south of Midway to cover TF 11 and TF 14 operations.Dec 20. A PBY flies to Wake Island to deliver information to the garrison concerning the relief efforts then underway.
Dec 21. The PBY departs Wake Island; Japanese concern over the potential presence of patrol planes at Wake, prompts advancing the date of the first carrier strikes. Planes from carriers Soryu and Hiryu bomb Wake Island for the first time. Later that day, land attack planes bomb Wake.
Dec 22. Japanese bombers and attack planes, covered by fighters from carriers Soryu and Hiryu, bomb Wake Island for the second time; the last two flyable USMC F4F's intercept the raid. One F4F is shot down, the other is badly damaged. Saratoga TF ordered to wait for Lexington TF. Fletcher refuels while waiting to attack.
Dec 23. Wake Island is captured by naval landing force that overcomes gallant resistance offered by the garrison that consists of marines, sailors, volunteer civilians (Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases) and a USAAF radio detachment. Two Japanese Patrol Boats (old destroyers converted to high speed transports) intentionally run ashore to facilitate landing of troops, are destroyed by Marine shore batteries. Planes from carriers Hiryu and Soryu, as well as seaplane carrier Kiyokawa Maru provide close air support for the invasion.
Uncertainty over the positions of and number of Japanese carriers and reports that indicate Japanese troops have landed on the atoll compel VAdm Pye, Acting Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, to recall TF 14 (RAdm Fletcher)
Dec 25. Carrier Saratoga (CV-3) diverted from the attempt to relieve Wake Island, flies off USMC F2A Buffaloes to Midway. These will be the first fighter aircraft based there.
Dec 26. Seaplane tender Tangier (AV-8), diverted from the attempt to relieve Wake Island, disembarks Battery "B," 4th Defense Battalion and ground echelon of VMF 221 at Midway to augment that garrison's defenses.
Battle of Java Sea. East Indies are lost
During this period, on the other side of the Pacific, the Japanese were rapidly moving down the East Indies from their earlier conquests in Indo China and the Philippines. Borneo - Jan 10, Bismarck Archipelago (Rabaul) - Jan 23, Celebes - Jan 24, New Guinea - Feb 9, Sumatra - Feb 16, Bali and air raid on Darwin - 19 Feb, Timor - Feb 20.
A joint task force of Dutch, Australian, British, and American cruisers and destroyers under Dutch RAdm Karel Doorman attempted to attack invading troopships: with some successful at Macassar Strait, Jan 24, but the fleet was lost in battles around Java : Badoeng (Lombok) Straits, Feb 18-19; Java Sea, Feb 27; and Sundra Strait, Feb 28. Details
Battle of the Coral Sea, May 4-8, 1942. Japanese Expansion Stopped.Fletcher's task force was dispatched from Pearl Harbor to Melbourne, Australia, Feb 15 arriving about Feb 26. Fletcher's force, under Brown, made air attacks from near Port Moresby in Papua, over the mountains to Salamaua and Lae, New Guinea, on March 10. A fleet base of operations was established in the New Hebrides March 18. Fletcher then patrolled the Coral and Solomon Seas alone to protect shipping to Australia.
Other Imperial troops started taking the Solomon Islands with Bougainville, March 30, and down the chain to Tulagi, opposite Guadalcanal, May 3. On May 4th Fletcher attacked this new seaplane base in the Solomons. His TF 17 then linked with Fitch's arriving TF 11 to head off a Japanese troop landing at Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea. This invasion would give the Japanese control over the seaways to Australia, even to threaten Australia itself. Meanwhile a second Japanese fleet, with two heavy carriers, arrived to search for American carriers. Fletcher sent his planes to attack the occupation fleet and destroyed the supporting carrier : "scratch one flattop" and assigned his Australian cruisers to attack the occupation fleet while he held off the Japanese carrier fleet. The next morning, the naval air fleets attacked each other simultaneously. One enemy carrier was damaged and virtually all of the 121 IJN carrier planes destroyed. However, both US carriers were damaged with a loss of 76 planes. The invasion force retreated ; both enemy fleet carriers were out of service until after the Battle of Midway. At the conclusion of the fighting, the US had won, but a few hours later, gas fumes on Lexington exploded. The "Lady Lex" had to be abandoned. Yorktown returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
The final numbers in the battle were in favor of the Japanese who lost a small carrier while the US lost a large one. However, the Japanese attack and occupation of Port Moresby was thwarted and the Coral Sea remained a buffer for Australia and allowed the continued US naval buildup in the New Hebrides. And, two enemy big carriers were damaged to not be available for the next battle.
Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942. -- Major US Victory.
The Japanese did not feel they could continue to encounter the US fleet in isolated instances, there were too many risks and false alarms that distracted the fleets, required extra support to each troop movement, and required a home fleet to protect the main islands of Japan. The strength of the Japanese fleet was far superior to the US Pacific fleet and a plan was drawn up to bring out the entire US fleet to be defeated once and for all. Adm Yomamoto's plan that included a diversionary taking of Aleutian Islands and a frontal assault on Midway with 200 ships. There were two carrier strike fleets (Dutch Harbor and Midway), three invasion fleets (Midway, Kirska, and Attu),. Included were 11 battleships, four fleet carriers and five smaller carriers in covering, supply, and screening forces. From coded information, the US fleet knew of the Japanese attack and waited in ambush. All four enemy strike carriers were destroyed; the Yorktown was again damaged and later sunk by a submarine. But, the excessive Japanese power in the Pacific had been broken.
Battle of Savo Island, Aug 8-9, 1942. -- Major US Disaster.US Marines landed at Tulugi and Guadalcanal to protect the Australian shipping lanes. The Japanese response to the invasion of Guadalcanal was to immediately send a cruiser task force from Rabaul to interrupt the landing. This force arrived the second night and destroyed four heavy cruisers (Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria, Canberra) and a destroyer of the screening force in 32 minutes. The Navy lost more men (1,270 killed, 709 wounded) on that one night than the Marine Corp did in the whole Guadalcanal campaign. Fletcher was in the process of withdrawing his carriers after the successful landings and could did not give chase. With the cruisers sunk and the carriers gone, the transports were exposed. To save his ships, Turner retreated with several ships still unloaded and the Marines were left to defend their occupation. Details of Savo and the Marine landing.
Battle of Eastern Solomon Sea, Aug 24, 1942. -- Air Fight
The second naval battle in the Solomons took place on August 23-25, 1942 and was fought with aircraft -- eight carriers were involved. Henderson Field on Guadalcanal had become operational on the 21st with Marine Fighter Squadron 223 and Scout Bombing Squadron 232, delivered by the auxiliary carrier Long Island on Aug 20.
The Northwest Sea Frontier
The Japanese had taken two Aleutian Islands while Fletcher was fighting at Midway. These islands are on the most direct route from Tokyo to Seattle. The public perceived an invasion from the North and the Northwestern Command was in disarray. Fletcher had the prestige and diplomacy to straighten things out between the various US services, civilians, and Canada. When this was accomplished, Fletcher was given command of the entire North Pacific, but in this theater, where the major enemy was the weather, he had to content himself with transporting aid by the western route to Russia : 6,400 planes, 149 frigates and other, smaller ships, and trained 8,700 Russian sailors. He was able to raid the Kurile Islands in 1944 and again in 1945. He accepted the surrender of the Imperial Japanese Northern Fleet in Mutsu Bay, September 1945. He retired as Chairman of the Navy's General Board in 1947.
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