Friday, May 7, 2010

U.S.S. Lexington Action Report, 7 May, 1942

I've found that I have a fairly insatiable interest in the workings of the USS Lexington, because of my family ties to the ship. Somehow the reading of the history makes me feel closer to the man who passed away just a few months ago. I ran across this account from the Air Operations Officer regarding the action of May 7th, 1942. A full account of the Battle of the Coral Sea from the reports submitted to the US Navy High Command from the Officers aboard the ship can be found here. It contains some amazing accounts of the battle and the loss of the Lexington. I hope that you'll find it as enlightening as I did, and that you'll humor me today, as there will be a couple of these posts.
From: Air Operations Officer.
To: Commanding Officer.

Subject: Air Operations of LEXINGTON, 7-8 May, 1942 - Report of.

1. Account of Action, morning of May 7th.

1. Narrative.

1. During the afternoon of May 6, 1942, orders were received from ComTaskForce SEVENTEEN to prepare for air attack upon enemy (Orange) forces reported to be concentrated in the vicinity of MISIMA ISLAND in the LOUISIADE Archipelago, southeast of the PAPUAN Peninsula, NEW GUINEA.

2. At 0926 (Zone 11) May 7, search planes from Yorktown reported contact with an Orange combatant force consisting of 2 aircraft carrier, 4 cruisers and ________ destroyers, approximate bearing from TF-17 325°(T), distance about 180 miles. At about 0953 the Lexington launched an attack group. The attack group consisted of the Lexington Air Group Commander and two additional SBD, 12 TBD-1 of VT-2, 16 SBD-2 of VB-2, 11 SBD-3 of VS-2 and 10 F4F-3 of VF-2 to act as fighter escort. The TBDs were loaded with one torpedo each, the SBD-2s with one 1000-lb. bomb each (1 sec. fuse setting), the SBD-3s with one 500-lb. (1/3 sec. fuse setting) and two 116-lb. bombs each and the Group Commander section same as VS-2. The F4F-3s carried a full load of caliber .50 machine gun ammunition, belt loading being approximately 2 A.P., 1 tracer, 1 incendiary cartridges. All aircraft carried full gasoline, 180 gallons for the TBDs, 147 gallons for the F4F-3s and 250 gallons for the SBDs. All gasoline was 100 octane, aviation. 8 F4F were retained as combat patrol over the ship, 2 SBD of VB-2 and 6 SBD of VS-2 remained as anti-torpedo defense patrol. The Air Group departed, followed about 15 minutes later by the Yorktown Air Group. The Lexington attack group radios were set on 6645 kcs., the combat patrol on 6540 kcs. and the anti-torpedo patrol on 3265 kcs. YE was turned on all during the attack.

3. After the Attack Group departed the Force steamed on a westerly course, point option having been given to the Attack Group as 290° (T), speed 15 kts. During the absence of the Group one KAWANISHI 4-engine patrol plane was intercepted by a F4F of the Yorktown combat patrol and shot down in flames.

The weather at the time of the launch was good, with wind 17 knots from 110 degrees true, sea choppy, visibility excellent, scattered clouds with rain squalls to the westward.

After the launch the Force moved into an area of heavy rain squalls with occasional small patches of clear weather.

4. The Group attacked and returned at 1309.

2. Damage to Enemy.

1. All attacks made by the Lexington group, except for one 116-lb. bomb dropped upon a heavy cruiser by a VS-2 pilot, were upon one aircraft carrier. This was the only carrier encountered. It was escorted by a force estimated to comprise four heavy cruisers and four destroyers.

2. Results of the attack were reported by Group pilots as follows: VS-2 attacked first with eleven 500-lb. bombs. The results of drops were not observed by the pilots but a conservative estimate by them gave at least three direct hits, with more probable. VB-2 and VT-2 made a simultaneous dive bombing and torpedo attack which resulted in six certain 1000-lb. bomb hits, two more probable, two unobserved and six misses out of sixteen bombs; VT-2 scored 9 torpedo hits out of 12 released. VF-2 shot down in flames 2 type zero fighters and damaged one single-float biplane seaplane when three planes attempted to intercept; the seaplane made a force landing on the water. An SBD of VS-2 shot down with fixed guns one type zero fighter which was pursuing a second SBD, while the free gunner in one of the VS-2 planes shot down an intercepting type zero fighter. Group command section scored one 500-lb. bomb hit on CV.

3. The carrier, believed to be the Zuikaku class, was observed by all pilots to burn fiercely in a manner obviously beyond control. Several severe explosions, other than those resulting from bomb or torpedo hits, were observed, and before the attack was completed the ship was almost entirely hidden by smoke and flame. The smoke cleared before all the Lexington planes left the area and the ship had disappeared. Photographs taken at close range by attacking torpedo planes showed planes still in their attack dives and torpedo approaches when the ship was burning throughout its length.

3. Damage or Injury to Own Forces.

1. One SBD-3 of VS-2, 2-S-10, piloted by Lieut. E.H. Allen, USN, ROUSE, ARM2c, radioman, was attacked by one or more enemy defense planes after the bomb had been released at the objective. The plane was observed to crash into the water. It did not burn.

2. One SBD-3 of VS-2, 2-S-9, piloted by Ensign Anthony J. Quigley, USNR, WHEELHOUSE, ARM3c, radioman, had its ailerons jammed, cause not known to the writer. Ensign Quigley announced by radio that he would fly to ROSSELL ISLAND.

He was apparently uninjured, but it is not known whether he attempted to land the plane or parachuted, or whether he reached ROSSELL ISLAND. Apparently the engine was undamaged.

3. One SBD-3 of VS-2, piloted by Lieut. (jg) HALL, USNR, was attacked by enemy defense aircraft. One bullet entered the plane from ahead through the side panel of the windshield and penetrated the left shoulder of the radioman, PHILLIPS, C.C., RM3c. The self-sealing gasoline tanks of this plane did not leak after being penetrated by three bullets, caliber unknown.

4. One SBD-3 of VS-2, piloted by Ensign LEPPLA, USNR, was attacked by enemy defense aircraft but returned safely. The pilot suffered many superficial wounds, left arm and hand, apparently from fragments of an explosive shell. A rifle caliber projectile was found resting on the pilot's parachute seat-pack upon his return to the ship. This pilot is the one mentioned in paragraph (b)(2), who shot down with fixed guns a type zero fighter.

5. Ensign A.J. Shultz, USNR, suffered superficial shrapnel wounds in right arm and right thigh. He was piloting an SBD of VS-2.

4. Enemy Tactics.

1. From observations of the Air Group Commander it is known that the enemy carrier occupied a position at the center of her supporting forces. There were light or heavy cruisers, type not known, and four destroyers. The cruisers occupied positions at the corners of a square, one at each bow of the carrier and one at each quarter, distance from carrier to cruiser about four miles. The destroyers also appeared to be about four miles from the carrier and they occupied the spaces between the cruisers. Pilots said that the resultant formation seemed wide open and that they found no difficulty in avoiding surface AA fire during approach or retirement.

2. The maneuvers to avoid our air attack suggested that they were based upon a predetermined plan because all turns of the carrier were 90 degrees.

5. Enemy Air Protection.

1. Enemy aircraft were in the air and climbing and intercepted the first dive bombers before they attacked. All enemy attention seemed directed on our first bombers (VS-2), and it was the planes of this group which met the most opposition. VB-2, following in later from an altitude of 18,000 feet, and VT-2, which approached at the same time from 10 miles out at 100 feet, were practically unmolested by enemy aircraft. There was no evidence to indicate that the enemy had had early knowledge of the approach of our aircraft.

2. Account of Action, afternoon of May 7th.

1. Narrative.

1. After recovery of the morning attack group Task Force SEVENTEEN continued on a westerly course at speed 15 knots. Combat and anti-torpedo defense patrols were kept in the air or in Condition One on deck.

2. Late in the afternoon, at about 1735, radar indications were received of an unidentified force approaching from the west. These planes were headed directly toward the Force. The weather was overcast and squally, with occasional rain and many low clouds.

3. Fighter Director was in the Lexington. Combat patrols from both carriers were directed to intercept. At about twenty or twenty five miles west of Lexington our combat patrol intercepted nine enemy fighters, type zero, proceeding eastward. These planes were flying in a group with five planes in Vee formation and two two-plane sections following astern. Our patrol attacked from astern and above, apparently unobserved. The first section leader attacked the two rear-most enemy and shot them down in flames. His wingman did not shoot. These planes retired. The following combat section attacked the second rear enemy section, downing one in flames and holing the gas tanks in the second. At this time the five leading enemy planes became aware of the attack and broke their formation in a "scatter" fashion. An explosion and fire seen at this time by our retiring patrol was believed to be a collision between an enemy fighter and the section leader of our second combat section, who was pressing home his first attack. This pilot, Lieut. (jg) P.G. Baker, USN, was not heard on the radio during the engagement and did not return to the ship. Repeated attempts to contact him by radio failed.

4. Combat patrol planes returned to their ships after the interception. At 1825 our planes commenced landing aboard the Lexington. The sun set at 1829. Vessels of the screen reported visual contact with unidentified aircraft in their vicinity. These planes appeared to be enemy torpedo or bombing type, flying very low. Yorktown aircraft circling to land were readily identified as own fighters and not the strange planes. The unidentified planes flashed the code letter "F" which was interpreted by our signal force as "Friendly" in accordance with instructions in PAC 70, Pacific Fleet Communications Doctrine. The one-letter reply for the hour was therefore made by Lexington, whereupon 8 or 9 aircraft turned on their running lights and assumed a position approximately in the landing circle. Vessels of the Force which were close to the strange aircraft opened fire upon them. The planes extinguished their lights and flew away. These were undoubtedly part of an enemy attack group returning to the parent ship, which in the darkness they confused with our own.

5. All but one of our fighters (2-F-14, Lt. (jg) P.G.Baker, USN) returned aboard at _____.

2. Damage to Enemy.

1. Three enemy fighters were shot down and seen to crash in the water, burning. One fighter was seen to be streaming gasoline and was a possible loss. It is believed that another fighter collided with one of our own and was lost. The final damage therefore was three fighters shot down, one probably destroyed by collision, one possibly forced down.

3. Damage to Lexington Force.

1. One fighter lost probably by collision with enemy fighter.

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