we got near antiaircraft range, Zero fighters came down on us. I tried to count

them, and I figured there were 20.

“The first thing that happened was

Bassett's plane was burning. He pulled out,

and I didn't see him anymore. He was shot

down right away. I was surprised they put

so many Zeros on my six fighters. But then

I saw they had a second large group that

was now streaming in right past us and

into the poor torpedo planes.

“Macomber's position was too close to me

to permit an effective weave, and I was

not getting very good shots at the Zeros.

I called him on the radio and said: ‘Open out

more. About double your present distance

and weave.’ No acknowledgment. His radio was dead. How ironic this situation had

become! I had spent almost a year developing what I was convinced was the only

way to survive against the Zero, and now

we couldn't seem to do it! I couldn't see

Cheek and Sheedy, so I called Ram Dibb,

my wingman, and said, ‘Pretend you are a

section leader and move out far enough to

weave.’ He said, ‘This is Scarlet Two, wilco.’ His voice sounded like he was elated

to get this promotion right in the middle of

a battle.

“Several Zeros came in on a head-on

attack on the torpedo planes and burned

Lem Massey's plane right away. It just exploded in flames. And, beautifully timed,

another group came in on the side against the torpedo planes. The air was like

a beehive, and I wasn't sure at that moment that anything would work. It didn't

look like my weave was working, but then

it began to work. I got a good shot at two

of them and burned them, and one of them

made a pass at my wingman, pulled out to

the right, and then came back. We were

weaving continuously, and I got a head-on

shot at him, and just about the time I saw

this guy coming, Ram said, ‘There's a Zero

on my tail.’ The Zero wasn't directly astern,

more like 45 degrees, beginning to follow

him around, which gave me the head-on

approach. I probably should have decided

to duck under this Zero, but I lost my temper. He just missed me by a few feet with

flames coming out of the bottom of his

airplane. This is like playing chicken with

two automobiles on the highway except

we were both shooting as well. That was

a little foolhardy; I didn't try it anymore.

“Pure logic would convince anyone that

with their superior performance and the

number of Zeros they were throwing into

the fight, we could not possibly survive.

‘Well,’ I said, talking to myself, ‘we're going

to take a lot of them with us if they're going

to get us all.’ We kept on working the weave, and it seemed to work better and better. I haven't the slightest idea how many

Zeros I shot down. I just can't remember,

I was absolutely convinced that nobody could get out of there, that we weren't

coming back, and neither were any of the

torpedo planes.”

Japanese doom

As Thach weaved against the Zeros and all

but three of the torpedo planes were shot

down, the Yorktown dive bombers attacked

Sōryū. Thach recalled: “I'd never seen such

superb dive bombing. It looked to me like

almost every bomb hit. Of course, there

were some very near misses. There weren't any wild ones. About that time the Zeros

slacked off. I could only see three carriers.

One of them, probably either the Sōryū or

the Kaga, was burning with bright pink and

sometimes blue flames. I remember looking at the height of the flames noticing

that it was about the height that the ship

was long, just solid flame going up and

a lot of smoke on top of that. I saw three

carriers burning pretty furiously before

I left; I picked up one torpedo plane and

An F4F-4 of VF-3 moments after takeoff from USS Yorktown. (USN)

October 2022

flew on back to the Yorktown with it. I was

over the Japanese fleet a full 20 minutes.”

In six deadly minutes, the Japanese had

lost Akagi, Kaga and Sōryū.

One Japanese carrier was left, the Hiryū.

As the Americans departed, she launched 18 dive bombers and six Zeros at 1100

hours. At 1205 hours, they found Yorktown.

Aboard Yorktown, John Bridgers and the

other pilots held back from the morning

strike did their best to stay out of the way.

“The planes from the fourth Japanese carrier found the Yorktown before we found

their ship and, in short order, we were

under attack. We pilots had no duties other

than to sit in our ready room. Unable to

see out, we became more and more tense

with no activities to release the tension.

This was by far the toughest experience

I had during the war. Our antiaircraft guns

began shaking the ship, and we figured

enemy planes were closing in. In steel

ships, there were many plates to rattle

and reverberate, so the firing of guns was

a noisy din indeed. Most of us gathered

around the plate patching the ready room

deck after one fellow said, ‘Surely lightning

won't strike twice in the same place!’ The

response was ‘But do you think the Japs

know that?’ Just as quickly, we dispersed

to our empty desk-seats, and in short

order the ship was struck by a couple of

bombs. Since the overhead of our ready

room was the underside of the flight deck

above, we felt considerable jolts and the lights blinked out, to be automatically replaced by the dim red glare of battle lamps,

and smoke was immediately evident.

The attack passed quickly. In a few minutes, we were released to move topside and

survey the damage. By now, our ship was

dead in the water.”

The defending Wildcats had fought one of

the wildest battles of the Pacific War. One

pilot recalled that as he left the fight deck,

an enemy torpedo bomber was in front of

him, and he shot it down before he could

retract his gear.

Once on the flight deck, Bridgers was

immediately confronted with war’s cost

when he saw bodies covered with tarpaulins. Yorktown was soon able get underway and land planes; then came warning

of a second strike. “After the first attack,

I observed that many had been injured

because they were standing around upright and were either hit by flying debris or

knocked up against projecting fittings. This

must have been something noticed by the

others, for all of us immediately lay down

prone on the deck — a precaution well

worthwhile. Next, there was a tremendous

explosion, and I was lifted bodily what felt

to be a foot or more off the deck. I now

knew what a torpedo hit felt like. Almost

immediately, it was evident that the ship

was listing to one side and was once again

dead in the water. Word was passed to

INFO Eduard