U.S. Navy - A Brief History of Aircraft Carriers - USS Wasp (CV 7)
displacement: 14,700 tons
length: 741 feet 4 inches
beam: 80 feet 8 inch; extreme width at flight deck: 109 feet
draft: 19 feet 11 inches
speed: 29½ knots
complement: 2,367 crew
armament: 8 five-inch guns, 16 1.1-inch guns, 16 .50-cal. machine guns
From: Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, published by the Naval Historical Center
Full-screen images are linked from the images in the text below.
The eighth Wasp(CV-7) was laid down on 1 April 1936 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co., launched on 4 April 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Charles Edison, the wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison; and commissioned on 25 April 1940 at the Army Quartermaster Base, South Boston, Mass., Capt. John W. Reeves, Jr., in command.
Wasp remained at Boston through May, fitting out, before she got underway on 5 June 1940 for calibration tests on her radio direction finder gear. After further fitting out while anchored in Boston harbor, the new aircraft carrier steamed independently to Hampton Roads, Va., anchoring there on 24 June. Four days later, she sailed for the Caribbean in company with USS Morris (DD-417).
En route, she conducted the first of many carrier qualification tests. Among the earliest of the qualifiers was Lt. (jg.) David T. McCampbell, who later became the Navy's top-scoring "ace" in World War II. Wasp arrived at Guantanamo Bay in time to "dress ship" in honor of Independence Day.
Tragedy marred the carrier's shakedown. On 9 July, one of her Vought SB2U-2 Vindicators crashed two miles from the ship. Wasp bent on flank speed to close, as did the plane-guarding destroyer Morris. The latter's boats recovered items from the plane's baggage compartment, but the plane itself had gone down with its crew of two.
Wasp departed Guantanamo Bay on 11 July and arrived at Hampton Roads four days later. There, she embarked planes from the 1st Marine Air Group and took them to sea for qualification trials. Operating off the southern drill grounds, the ship and her planes honed their skills for a week before the Marines and their planes were disembarked at Norfolk, and the carrier moved north to Boston for post-shakedown repairs.
While civilian workmen from the Bethlehem Steel Co. came on board the ship to check their workmanship and to learn how it had stood up under the rigors of shakedown, Wasp lay alongside the same pier at which she had been commissioned. While at Boston, she fired a 21-gun salute and rendered honors to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose yacht, USS Potomac (AG-25), stopped briefly at the Boston Navy Yard on 10 August.
Wasp departed the Army Quartermaster Base on the 21st to conduct steering drills and full-power trials. Late the following morning, she got underway for Norfolk. For the next few days, while USS Ellis (DD-164) operated as plane guard, Wasp launched and recovered her aircraft: fighters from Fighter Squadron (VF) 7 and scout-bombers from Scouting Squadron (VS) 72. The carrier put into the Norfolk Navy Yard on 28 August for repair work on her turbines — alterations which kept the ship in dockyard hands into the following month. Drydocked during the period from 12 to 18 September, Wasp ran her final sea trials in Hampton Roads on 26 September 1940.
Ready now to join the fleet and assigned to Carrier Division (CarDiv) 3, Patrol Force, Wasp shifted to Naval Operating Base (NOB), Norfolk from the Norfolk Navy Yard on 11 October. There she loaded 24 P-40s from the 8th Army Pursuit Group and nine O-47As from the 2d Observation Squadron, as well as her own spares and utility unit Grumman J2Fs on the 12th. Proceeding to sea for maneuvering room, Wasp flew off the Army planes in a test designed to compare the take-off runs of standard Navy and Army aircraft. That experiment, the first time that Army planes had flown from a Navy carrier, foreshadowed the use of the ship in the ferry role that she performed so well in World War II.
Wasp then proceeded on toward Cuba in company with USS Plunkett (DD-431) and USS Niblack (DD-424). The carrier's planes flew routine training flights, including dive-bombing and machine gun practices, over the ensuing four days. Upon arrival at Guantanamo, Wasp's saluting batteries barked out a 13-gun salute to Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis, Commander, Atlantic Squadron, embarked in USS Texas (BB-35), on 19 October.
For the remainder of October 1940 and into November, Wasp trained in the Guantanamo Bay area. Her planes flew carrier qualification and refresher training flights while her gunners sharpened up their skills in short-range battle practices at targets towed by the new fleet tug USS Seminole (AT-65). While operating in the Culebra, Virgin Islands, area, Wasp again teamed with the aviators of the 1st Marine Air Wing, giving the flying Leathernecks practice in carrier take-offs and landings.
Her work in the Caribbean finished, Wasp sailed for Norfolk and arrived shortly after noon on 26 November. She remained at the Norfolk Navy Yard through Christmas of 1940. Then, after first conducting degaussing experiments with USS Hannibal (AG-1), she steamed independently to Cuba.
Arriving at Guantanamo Bay on 27 January 1941, Wasp conducted a regular routine of flight operations into February. With USS Walke (DD-416) as her plane guard, Wasp operated out of Guantanamo and Culebra, conducting her maneuvers with an impressive array of warships — Texas, USS Ranger (CV-4), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Wichita (CA-45) and a host of destroyers. Wasp ran gunnery drills and exercises, as well as routine flight training evolutions, into March. Underway for Hampton Roads on 4 March, the aircraft carrier conducted a night battle practice into the early morning hours of the 5th.
During the passage to Norfolk, heavy weather sprang up on the evening of 7 March. Waspwas steaming at standard speed, 17 knots, a pace that she had been maintaining all day. Off Cape Hatteras, a lookout in the carrier spotted a red flare arcing into the stormy black night skies at 2245. The big ship swung around to head in the direction of the distress signal while a messenger notified the captain, who reached the bridge in an instant. Capt. Reeves himself took the conn, as a second set of flares was seen at 2259.
Finally, at 2329, with the aid of her searchlights probing the wet night, Wasp located the stranger in trouble. She proved to be the lumber schooner George E. Klinck, bound from Jacksonville, Fla., to Southwest Harbor, Maine.
The sea, in the meantime, worsened from a state 5 to a state 7. Wasplay to, maneuvering alongside at 0007 on 8 March 1941. At that time, four men from the schooner clambered up a swaying jacob's ladder buffeted by gusts of wind. Then, despite the raging tempest, Wasp lowered a boat, at 0016, and brought the remaining four men aboard from the foundering 152-foot schooner.
Later that day, Wasp disembarked her rescued mariners and immediately went into drydock at the Norfolk Navy Yard. The ship received vital repairs to her turbines. Port holes on the third deck were welded over to provide better watertight integrity, and steel splinter shielding around her 5-inch and 1.1-inch batteries was added. After those repairs and alterations were finished, Wasp got underway for the Virgin Islands on 22 March, arriving at St. Thomas three days later. She soon shifted to Guantanamo Bay and loaded marine stores for transportation to Norfolk.
Returning to Norfolk on 30 March, Wasp conducted routine flight operations out of Hampton Roads over the ensuing days and into April. In company with USS Sampson (DD-394), the carrier conducted an abortive search for a downed patrol plane in her vicinity on 8 April. For the remainder of the month, Wasp operated off the eastern seaboard between Newport, R.I., and Norfolk conducting extensive flight and patrol operations with her embarked air group. She shifted to Bermuda in mid-May, anchoring at Grassy Bay on the 12th. Eight days later, the ship got underway in company with USS Quincy (CA-39), USS Livermore (DD-429), and USS Kearny (DD-432) for exercises at sea before returning to Grassy Bay on 3 June. Wasp sailed for Norfolk three days later with USS Edison (DD-439) as her antisubmarine screen.
After a brief stay in the Tidewater area, Wasp headed back toward Bermuda on 20 June 1941. Waspand her escorts patrolled the stretch of the Atlantic between Bermuda and Hampton Roads until 5 July, as the Atlantic Fleet's neutrality patrol zones were extended eastward. Reaching Grassy Bay on that day, she remained in port a week before returning to Norfolk sailing on 12 July in company with USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Grayson (DD-435), USS Anderson (DD-411), and USS Rowan (DD-405).
Following her return to Norfolk on the 13th, Wasp and her embarked air group conducted refresher training off the Virginia capes. Meanwhile, the situation in the Atlantic had taken on a new complexion, with American participation in the Battle of the Atlantic only a matter of time, when the United States took another step toward involvement on the side of the British. To protect American security and to free British forces needed elsewhere, the United States made plans to occupy Iceland. Wasp played an important role in the move.
Late on the afternoon of 23 July, while the carrier lay alongside Pier 7, NOB Norfolk, 32 Army Air Force (AAF) pilots reported on board "for temporary duty." At 0630 the following day, Wasp's crew watched an interesting cargo come on board, hoisted on deck by the ship's cranes: 30 Curtiss P-40s and three PT-17 trainers from the AAF 33d Pursuit Squadron, 8th Air Group, Air Force Combat Command, home-based at Mitchell Field, N.Y. Three days later, four newspaper correspondents — including the noted journalist Fletcher Pratt — came on board.
The carrier had drawn the assignment of ferrying those vital Army planes to Iceland because of a lack of British aircraft to cover the American landings. The American P-40s would provide the defensive fighter cover necessary to watch over the initial increment of American occupying forces. Wasp consequently cast off from Pier 7 and slipped out to sea through the swept channel at 0932 on 28 July, with USS O'Brien (DD-415) and USS Walke as plane guards. USS Vincennes (CA-44) later joined the formation at sea.
Within a few days, Wasp's group joined the larger Task Force (TF) 16 — consisting of USS Mississippi (BB-41), Quincy, Wichita, five destroyers, USS Semmes (AG-24), USS American Legion (AP-35), USS Mizar (AF-12), and USS Almaack (AK-27). Those ships, too, were bound for Iceland with the first occupation troops embarked. On the morning of 6 August 1941, Wasp, Vincennes, Walke, and O'Brien parted company from TF 16. Soon thereafter, the carrier turned into the wind and commenced launching the planes from the 33d Pursuit Squadron. As the P-40s and the trio of trainers droned on to Iceland, Wasp headed home for Norfolk, her three escorts in company. After another week at sea, the group arrived back at Norfolk on 14 August.
Underway again on 22 August, however, Wasp put to sea for carrier qualifications and refresher landings off the Virginia capes. Two days later, Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, Commander Cruisers, Atlantic Fleet, shifted his flag from USS Savannah (CL-42) to Wasp, while the ships lay anchored in Hampton Roads. Underway on the 25th, in company with Savannah, USS Monssen (DD-436) and Kearny, the aircraft carrier conducted flight operations over the ensuing days. Scuttlebutt on board the carrier had her steaming out in search of a German heavy cruiser, Admiral Hipper, which was reportedly roaming the western Atlantic in search of prey. Suspicions were confirmed for many on the 30th when the British battleship HMS Rodney was sighted some 20 miles away, on the same course as the Americans.
In any event, if they had been in search of a German raider, they did not make contact with her. Wasp and her escorts anchored in the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad, on 2 September, where Admiral Hewitt shifted his flag back to Savannah. The carrier remained in port until 6 September, when she again put to sea on patrol "to enforce the neutrality of the United States in the Atlantic."
While at sea, the ship received the news of a German U-boat unsuccessfully attempting to attack the destroyer USS Greer (DD-146). The United States had been getting more and more involved in the war; American warships were now convoying British merchantmen halfway across the Atlantic to the "mid-ocean meeting point" (MOMP).
Wasp's crew looked forward to returning to Bermuda on 18 September, but the new situation in the Atlantic meant a change in plans. Shifted to the colder climes of Newfoundland, the carrier arrived at Placentia Bay on 22 September and fueled from USS Salinas (AO-19) the following day. The respite in port was a brief one, however, as the ship got underway again, late on the 23d, for Iceland. In company with Wichita, four destroyers, and the repair ship USS Vulcan (AR-6), Wasp arrived at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, on the 28th. Two days earlier, Admiral Harold R. Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations had ordered American warships to do their utmost to destroy whatever German or Italian warships they found. The "short-of-war" operations were drawing frightfully close to the real thing!
With the accelerated activity entailed in the United States Navy's conducting convoy escort missions, Wasp put to sea on 6 October in company with Vincennes and four destroyers. Those ships patrolled the foggy, cold, North Atlantic until returning to Little Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, on the 11th, anchoring during a fierce gale that lashed the bay with high winds and stinging spray. On 17 October, Wasp set out for Norfolk, patrolling en route, and arrived at her destination on the 20th. The carrier soon sailed for Bermuda and conducted qualifications and refresher training flights en route. Anchoring in Grassy Bay on 1 November 1941, Wasp operated on patrols out of Bermuda for the remainder of the month.
October had seen the incidents involving American and German warships multiplying on the high seas. Kearny was torpedoed on 17 October, Salinas took a "fish" on the 28th, and in the most tragic incident that autumn, USS Reuben James (DD-246) was torpedoed and sunk with heavy loss of life on 30 October. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, tension between the United States and Japan increased almost with each passing day.
Wasp slipped out to sea from Grassy Bay on 3 December and rendezvoused with USS Wilson (DD-408). While the destroyer operated as plane guard, Wasp's air group flew day and night refresher training missions. In addition, the two ships conducted gunnery drills before returning to Grassy Bay two days later.
Wasp lay at anchor on 7 December 1941, observing "holiday routine" since it was a Sunday. In the Pacific, the Japanese broke the Sunday morning peace in a devastating surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Their daring attack plunged the United States into World War II in both oceans. On 11 December, Germany and Italy followed Japan into war against the United States.
Meanwhile, naval authorities felt considerable anxiety that French warships in the Caribbean and West Indies were prepared to make a breakout and attempt to get back to France. Accordingly, Wasp, USS Brooklyn (CL-40), and two destroyers, USS Sterett (DD-407) and USS Wilson, departed Grassy Bay and headed for Martinique. Faulty intelligence gave American authorities in Washington the impression that the Vichy French armed merchant cruiser Barfleur had gotten underway for sea. The French were accordingly warned that the auxiliary cruiser would be sunk or captured unless she returned to port and resumed her internment. As it turned out, Barfleur had not departed after all, but had remained in harbor. The tense situation at Martinique eventually dissipated, and the crisis abated.
With tensions in the West Indies lessened considerably, Wasp departed Grassy Bay and headed for Hampton Roads three days before Christmas, in company with USS Long Island (AVG-1), and escorted by USS Stack (DD-406) and Sterett. Two days later, the carrier moored at the Norfolk Navy Yard to commence an overhaul that would last into 1942.
After departing Norfolk on 14 January 1942, Wasp headed north and touched at Argentia, Newfoundland, and Casco Bay, Maine, while operating in those northern climes. On 16 March, as part of Task Group (TG) 22.6, she headed back toward Norfolk. During the morning watch the next day, visibility lessened considerably; and, at 0650, Wasp's bow plunged into Stack's starboard side, punching a hole and completely flooding the destroyer's number one fireroom. Stack was detached and proceeded to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where her damage was repaired.
Wasp, meanwhile, made port at Norfolk on the 21st without further incident. Shifting back to Casco Bay three days later, she sailed for the British Isles on 26 March, with Task Force (TF) 39 under the command of Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr., in USS Washington (BB-56). That force was to reinforce the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy. While en route, Rear Admiral Wilcox was swept overboard from the battleship and drowned. Although hampered by poor visibility conditions, Wasp planes took part in the search. Wilcox' body was spotted an hour later, face down in the raging seas, but it was not recovered.
Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen, who flew his flag in USS Wichita, assumed command of TF-39. The American ships were met by a force based around the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh on 3 April 1942. Those ships escorted them to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.
While the majority of TF 39 joined the British Home Fleet — being renumbered to TF 99 in the process — to cover convoys routed to North Russia, Wasp departed Scapa Flow on 9 April, bound for the Clyde estuary and Greenock, Scotland. On the following day, the carrier sailed up the Clyde River, past the John Brown Clydebank shipbuilding facilities. There, shipyard workers paused long enough from their labors to accord Wasp a tumultuous reception as she passed. Wasp's impending mission was an important one — one upon which the fate of the island bastion of Malta hung. That key isle was then being pounded daily by German and Italian planes. The British, faced with the loss of air superiority over the island, requested the use of a carrier to transport planes that could wrest air superiority from the Axis aircraft. Wasp drew ferry duty once again.
Having landed her torpedo planes and dive bombers, Wasp loaded 47 Supermarine Spitfire Mk. V fighter planes at the King George Dock, Glasgow, on 13 April 1942, before she departed the Clyde estuary on the 14th. Her screen consisted of Force "W" of the Home Fleet — a group that included the battlecruiser HMS Renown and antiaircraft cruisers HMS Cairo and HMS Charbydis. USS Madison (DD-425) and USS Lang (DD-399) also served in Wasp's screen.
Wasp and her consorts passed through the Straits of Gibraltar under cover of the pre-dawn darkness on 19 April, avoiding the possibility of being discovered by Spanish or Axis agents. At 0400 on 20 April, Wasp spotted 11 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters on her deck and quickly launched them to form a combat air patrol (CAP) over Force "W".
Meanwhile, the Spitfires were warming up their engines in the hangar deck spaces below. With the Wildcats patrolling overhead, the Spitfires were brought up singly on the after elevator, spotted for launch, and then given the go-ahead to take off. One by one, they roared down the deck and over the forward rounddown, until each Spitfire was aloft and winging toward Malta.
When the launch was complete, Wasp retired toward England, having safely delivered her charges. Unfortunately, those Spitfires, which flew in to augment the dwindling numbers of Gladiator and Hurricane fighters, were tracked by efficient Axis intelligence and their arrival pinpointed. The unfortunate Spitfires were decimated by heavy German air raids which caught many planes on the ground.
As a result, it looked as if the acute situation required a second ferry run to Malta. Accordingly, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearing that Malta would be "pounded to bits," asked President Roosevelt to allow Wasp to have "another good sting." Roosevelt responded in the affirmative. Rising to the occasion, Wasp loaded another contingent of Spitfire Vs and sailed for the Mediterranean on 3 May 1942. Again, especially vigilant for submarines, Wasp proceeded unmolested. This time, the British aircraft carrier HMS Eagle accompanied Wasp, and she, too, carried a contingent of Spitfires bound for the "unsinkable aircraft carrier," Malta.
The two Allied flattops reached their launching points early on Saturday, 9 May, with Wasp steaming in column ahead of Eagle at a distance of 1,000 yards. At 0630, Wasp commenced launching planes — 11 F4F4s of VF-71 to serve as CAP over the task force. The first Spitfire roared down the deck at 0643, piloted by Sergeant-Pilot Herrington, but lost power soon after takeoff and plunged into the sea. Both pilot and plane were lost.
Undaunted by the loss of Herrington, the other planes flew off safely and formed up to fly to Malta. Misfortune, however, again seemed to dog the flight when one pilot accidentally released his auxiliary fuel tank as he climbed to 2,000 feet. He obviously could not make Malta, as the slippery tank fitted beneath the belly of the plane had increased the range of the plane markedly. With that gone, he had no chance of making the island. His only alternatives were to land back on board Wasp or to ditch and take his chances in the water.
Sergeant-Pilot Smith chose the former. Wasp bent on full speed and recovered the plane at 0743. The Spitfire came to a stop just 15 feet from the forward edge of the flight deck, making what one Wasp sailor observed to be a "one wire" landing. With her vital errand completed, the carrier set sail for the British Isles while a German radio station broadcast the startling news that the American carrier had been sunk! Most in the Allied camp knew better, however; and, on 11 May, Prime Minister Churchill sent a witty message to the captain and ship's company of Wasp: "Many thanks to you all for the timely help. Who said a Wasp couldn't sting twice?"
While Wasp was conducting those two important missions to Malta, a train of events far to the westward beckoned the carrier to the Pacific theater. Early in May, almost simultaneously with Wasp's second Malta run — Operation Bowery — the Battle of the Coral Sea had been fought. That action turned back the Japanese thrust at Port Moresby. One month later from 4 to 6 June 1942, an American carrier force smashed its Japanese counterpart in the pivotal Battle of Midway. These two victories cost the United States two precious carriers: USS Lexington (CV-2) at Coral Sea and USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway. While the Japanese had suffered the damaging of two at Coral Sea and the loss of four carriers at Midway, the United States could scarcely afford to be left with only two operational carriers in the western and central Pacific — USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8). USS Saratoga (CV-3) was still undergoing repairs and modernization after being torpedoed off Oahu in early January 1942.
To prepare to strengthen the American Navy in the Pacific, Waspwas hurried back to the United States for alterations and repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard. During the carrier's stay in the Tidewater region, Capt. Reeves — who had been promoted to flag rank — was relieved by Capt. Forrest P. Sherman on 31 May 1942. Departing Norfolk on 6 June, the last day of the critical Battle of Midway, Wasp sailed with TF 37 which was built around the carrier and the new battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55) and escorted by USS Quincy (CA-39) and USS San Juan (CL-54) and a half-dozen destroyers. The group transited the Panama Canal on 10 June, at which time Wasp and her consorts became TF 18, the carrier flying the two-starred flag of Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes.
Arriving at San Diego on 19 June, Wasp embarked the remainder of her complement of aircraft, Grumman TBF-1s and Douglas SBD-3s-10 of the former and 12 of the latter conducting their carrier qualification on 22 and 23 June, respectively, the latter replacing the old Vindicators. On 1 July, she sailed for the Tonga Islands as part of the convoy for the five transports that had embarked the 2d Marine Regiment.
While TF 18 and the transports were en route to Tongatabu, Wasp received another congratulatory message, this time from Admiral Noyes, embarked in the ship. "During the two weeks my flag has been in Wasp I have been very favorably impressed by the fine spirit of her ship's company and the way that all hands have handled their many problems. Since we have been at sea, every day has shown marked improvement in operations. I am sure that when our opportunity comes to strike the enemy in this ocean, Wasp and her squadrons will add more glory to the name she bears." Noyes' hopes were to be realized, but for all too brief a time.
Four days out of Nukualofa harbor, Wasp developed serious engine trouble. The ship's "black gang," however, worked diligently to do the preliminary work in lifting, repairing, and replacing the ship's starboard high-pressure turbine. The work done en route substantially helped enough to allow speedy completion of the repairs after the ship dropped her hook at Tongatabu on 18 July 1942.
Meanwhile, preparations to invade the Solomon Islands were proceeding apace. Up to that point, the Japanese had been on the offensive, establishing their defensive perimeter around the edge of their "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."
On 4 July, while Waspwas en route to the South Pacific, the Japanese landed on Guadalcanal. Allied planners realized that if the enemy operated land-based aircraft from that key island, then it immediately imperiled Allied control of the New Hebrides and New Caledonia area. Rather than wait until the Japanese were firmly entrenched, they proposed to evict the Japanese before they got too deeply settled. Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, who had attained a sterling record in London as Special Naval Observer, was detailed to take command of the operation, and he established his headquarters at Auckland, New Zealand. Since the Japanese had gotten a foothold on Guadalcanal, time was of the essence. Preparations for the invasion proceeded apace with the utmost secrecy and speed.
Wasp, together with the carriers Saratoga and Enterprise, was assigned to the Support Force under Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Under the tactical command of Rear Admiral Noyes, embarked in Wasp, the carriers were to provide air support for the invasion.
Wasp and her airmen worked intensively practicing day and night operations to hone their skills to a high degree. Pilot qualification and training, necessitated by the ship's recent operations in the Atlantic and by the re-equipment of her air group and newer types of planes, proceeded at an intensive pace and, by the time the operations against Guadalcanal were pushed into high gear, Capt. Sherman was confident that his airmen could perform their mission. "D-day" had originally been set for 1 August, but the late arrival of some of the transports carrying Marines pushed the date to 7 August.
Wasp, screened by USS San Francisco (CA-38), USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), and four destroyers, steamed westward toward Guadalcanal on the evening of 6 August until midnight. Then, she changed course to the eastward to reach her launch position 84 miles from Tulagi one hour before the first rays of sunlight crept over the horizon. A fresh breeze whipped across the carrier's darkened flight deck as the first planes were brought up to prepare for launch. The night offshore was bright, but clouds hung heavily over the assigned objective. So far, so good. No Japanese patrols had been spotted.
At 0530, the first planes from Wasp's air group barreled down the deck: 16 F4F-4s under Lt. Comdr. Courtney Shands. Then, 15 SBD-3s under Lt. Comdr. John Eldridge, Jr. and the TBF-1 flown by the air group commander, Lt. Comdr. Wallace M. Beakley, fitted with a larger gasoline tank in its bomb bay to lengthen its time in the air, followed seven minutes later. At 0557, the first combat air patrol fighter took off.
The early flights of F4Fs and SBDs were assigned specific targets: Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, Halavo, Port Purvis, Haleta, Bungana, and the radio station dubbed "Asses' Ears." After taking off, the 16 Wildcats split up into sections and raced off to their respective hunting areas. At about 0600, the planes passed over the transport area off Lunga Point, as the ships were preparing to disembark their troops. In the pre-dawn darkness, the ships were almost invisible until the fighters passed directly over them. Soon, the fourth division of Shands' flight climbed to 5,000 feet above Tulagi to serve as CAP for the strafers. The third division broke off and headed for their target — Haleta — before Shands took three planes around the northwest tip of Tulagi.
Shands and his wingman, Ensign S. W. Forrer, then swung down the north coast toward Gavatu. The other two headed for Tanambogo, to work over the seaplane facilities there. The Japanese appeared to be caught flat-footed, and the Grummans, arriving simultaneously at daybreak, shot up all of the patrol planes and fighter-seaplanes that were in the area. Fifteen Kawanishi flying boats and seven Nakajima floatplane fighters — the seaplane derivative of the Mitsubishi Zero — were destroyed by Shands' fighters that flew almost "on the deck." Shands himself bagged at least four Nakajima single-float fighter seaplanes and one four-engined flying boat. His wingman, Forrer, bagged three floatplane fighters and one patrol plane. Lt. Wright and Ens. Kenton bagged three patrol planes apiece and destroyed a motorboat apparently attempting to tend the flying boats; Ensigns Reeves and Conklin each bagged two and shared a fifth patrol plane between them. In addition, the strafing F4Fs destroyed an aviation fuel truck and a truck loaded with spare parts.
The SBDs, too, laid their bombs "on the money." Post-attack assessment estimated that the antiaircraft and shore battery sites pinpointed by intelligence had been destroyed by the dive bombers in their first attack. So complete was the enemy's unpreparedness that none of Wasp's planes was shot down. Only one plane from the 16 Grummans failed to return, and, in that case, its pilot, Ensign Reeves, put her down on board Enterprise after having run low on fuel.
That was not all, however. At 0704, 12 Grumman TBF-1s, led by Lt. H. A. Romberg, rolled ponderously down the deck, loaded with bombs for use against land targets. Having encountered resistance, the initial landing forces called for help. Romberg's dozen Avengers blasted enemy troop concentrations east of the nob of land known as Hill 281, in the Makambo-Sasapi sector, and the prison on Tulagi Island. "All enemy resistance," the official report later stated, was "apparently effectively silenced by this flight."
The first day's operations against Guadalcanal had proved successful. Some 10,000 men had been put ashore there and met only slight resistance. On Tulagi, however, the Japanese resisted stoutly, retaining about one-fifth of the island by nightfall. Wasp, Saratoga, and Enterprise, with their screens, retired to the southward at nightfall.
Wasp returned the next morning, 8 August 1942, to maintain a continuous CAP over the transport area until noon. These fighters were led by Lt. C. S. Moffett. Meanwhile, she also launched a scouting flight of 12 SBD-3s led by Lt. Comdr. E. M. Snowden. The Dauntlesses searched a sector to a radius of 220 miles from their carrier, extending it to include all of the Santa Isabel Island and the New Georgia group.
The Dauntless pilots sighted nothing that morning and made no contact with the enemy during their two hours in the air. But that was soon to change for the flight leader. At 0815, Snowden sighted a Rufe some 40 miles from Rekata Bay and gave chase. The Japanese airman, seeing that he had been spotted, had no stomach for a fight. He pulled up and attempted to use the clouds for cover. Each time the dogged dive bomber pilot gunned the SBD-3 after him. Twice the Rufe headed for the clouds. Snowden finally pulled within close range, and, using his two fixed .50-caliber guns, fired a short burst that hit home, causing the Rufe to spin into the Solomon Sea.
Meanwhile, a large group of Japanese planes approached from Bougainville, apparently bent upon attacking the transports off Lunga Point. Upon learning of their approach, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner ordered all transports to get underway and to assume cruising disposition. The Americans accordingly cleared the decks for action. Wasp's planes took part in the melee that followed, some planes by accident.
Lt. Comdr. Eldridge, again leading a formation of SDB-3s from VS-71, had led his planes against Mbangi Island, off Tulagi, the site of some still fierce Japanese resistance. Eldridge's rear seat gunner, Aviation Chief Radioman L. A. Powers, suddenly spotted a formation of planes coming in from the northeast, but thinking them to be a relief flight, Eldridge continued on his present course. The Americans did a double-take, however, and discovered that the planes were, in fact, enemy. At that instant, six Zeroes showed up and bounced the first section, but showed remarkably little skill in the attack, for they made 12 firing passes but could not down any of the Dauntlesses.
Meanwhile, the leader of the last section of VS-71, Lt. (jg.) Robert L. Howard, spotted a cluster of twin-engined G4M1 Betty bombers heading for the American transports. Howard dove to the attack, but, in his excitement, failed to flip his armament switch to "on." After two runs during which his guns had failed to fire — thinking that the guns needed to be recharged — he discovered his error, but too late to do anything about the Mitsubishi bombers. At that moment, four Zeroes, escorts for the bombers, attacked the single SBD.
Howard's rear gunner, Seaman 2d Class Lawrence P. Lupo, handled his twin 30-caliber mount magnificently and kept the enemy fighters at arm's length, his bullets scoring several hits on them as well. After about eight passes, one Zero veered up sharply and made a head-on run that Howard met with simultaneous fire from his fixed .50s. The Zero caught fire like a flying tinder box, passed close aboard the Dauntless' left wing, and crashed in flames amidst the American landing craft far below. At the same time Howard was downing the Zero ahead, Seaman Lupo was firing on another Zero making an attack from the stern. Lupo kept the enemy away, but he had to shoot through his own plane's vertical stabilizer to do it. Eventually the enemy tired of sporting with the SBD and retired to leave Howard and his squadron mates in VS-71 to return safely to their carrier.
At 1807 on 8 August 1942, Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher recommended to Ghormley, at Noumea, that the air support force be withdrawn. Fletcher, concerned by the large numbers of enemy planes that had attacked on the 8th, reported that he had only 78 fighters left (he had started with 99) and that fuel for the carriers was running low. Ghormley approved the recommendation, and Wasp joined Enterprise and Saratoga in retiring from Guadalcanal. By midnight on 8 August, the landing had been a success, having attained its immediate objectives. All Japanese resistance, except for a few snipers, on Gavutu and Tanombogo had been overcome. Early on 9 August, a Japanese surface force engaged an American one off Savo Island and retired at very little cost to themselves. The Allied force suffered loss of four heavy cruisers off Savo Island, including two that had served with Wasp in the Atlantic: Vincennes and Quincy. The early and unexpected withdrawal of the support force, including Wasp, when coupled with Allied losses in the Battle of Savo Island, jeopardized the success of the operation in the Solomons.
After the initial day's action in the Solomons campaign, the carrier spent the next month engaged in patrol and covering operations for convoys and resupply units headed for Guadalcanal. The Japanese, while reacting sluggishly to the initial thrust at Guadalcanal, soon began pouring reinforcements down to contest the Allied forces.
Wasp was ordered south by Vice Admiral Fletcher to refuel and did not participate in the Battle of Eastern Solomons on 24 August 1942. That engagement cost the American force the use of the valuable Enterprise. Saratoga was torpedoed a week later and departed the South Pacific war zone for repairs as well. That left only two carriers in the southwest Pacific: Hornet, which had been in commission for only a year, and Wasp.
On Tuesday, 16 September 1942, those two carriers and North Carolina — with 10 other warships — were escorting the transports carrying the 7th Marine Regiment to Guadalcanal as reinforcements. Wasp had drawn the job of ready-duty carrier and was operating some 150 miles southeast of San Cristobal Island. Her gasoline system was in use, as planes were being refueled and rearmed for antisubmarine patrol missions; and Wasp had been at general quarters from an hour before sunrise until the time when the morning search returned to the ship at 1000. Thereafter, the ship was in condition 2, with the air department at flight quarters. There was no contact with the enemy during the day, with the exception of a Japanese four-engined flying boat downed by a Wasp Wildcat at 1215.
About 1420, the carrier turned into the wind to launch eight fighters and 18 SBD-3s and to recover eight F4F-3s and three SBDs that had been airborne since before noon. The ship rapidly completed the recovery of the 11 planes, she then turned easily to starboard, the ship heeling slightly as the course change was made. The air department at flight quarters, as they had done in earlier operations, worked coolly at refueling and respotting the ship's planes for the afternoon mission. Suddenly, at 1444, a lookout called out, "three torpedoes . . . three points forward of the starboard beam!"
A spread of four torpedoes, fired from the tubes of the Japanese submarine I-19, churned inexorably closer. Wasp put over her rudder hard-a-starboard, but it was too late. Two torpedoes smashed home in quick succession while a fourth passed ahead. Both hit in the vicinity of gasoline tanks and magazines.
In quick succession, fiery blasts ripped through the forward part of the ship. Aircraft on the flight and hangar decks were thrown about as if they were toys and dropped on the deck with such force that landing gears snapped. Planes triced up in the hangar overheads fell and landed upon those on the hangar deck. Fires broke out almost simultaneously in the hangar and below decks. Soon, the heat of the intense gasoline fires detonated the ready ammunition at the forward antiaircraft guns on the starboard side, and fragments showered the forward part of the ship. The number two 1.1-inch mount was blown overboard and the corpse of the gun captain was thrown onto the bridge where it landed next to Capt. Sherman.
Water mains in the forward part of the ship proved useless, since they had been broken by the force of the explosions. There was no water available to fight the conflagration forward; and the fires continued to set off ammunition, bombs, and gasoline. As the ship listed to starboard between 10 and 15 degrees, oil and gasoline, released from the tanks by the torpedo hit, caught fire on the water.
Sherman slowed to 10 knots, ordering the rudder put to port to try to get the wind on the starboard bow. He then went astern with right rudder until the wind was on the starboard quarter, in an attempt to keep the fire forward. At that point, some flames made central station untenable, and communication circuits went dead. Soon, a serious gasoline fire broke out in the forward portion of the hanger, within 24 minutes of the initial attack, three additional major gasoline vapor explosions occurred. Ten minutes later, Capt. Sherman consulted with his executive officer, Comdr. Fred C. Dickey. The two men saw no course but to abandon, as all fire-fighting was proving ineffectual. The survivors would have to be gotten off quickly if unnecessary loss of life was not to be incurred.
Reluctantly, after consulting with Rear Admiral Noyes, Capt. Sherman ordered "abandon ship" at 1520. All badly injured men were lowered into rafts or rubber boats. Many unwounded men had to abandon from aft because the forward fires were burning with such intensity. The departure, as Capt. Sherman observed it, looked "orderly," and there was no panic. The only delays occurred when many men showed reluctance to leave until all the wounded had been taken off. The abandonment took nearly 40 minutes, and, at 1600 — satisfied that no one was left on deck, in the galleries, or in the hangar aft — Capt. Sherman swung over the lifeline on the fantail and slid into the sea.
Although the submarine hazard caused the accompanying destroyers to lie well clear or to shift position, the "tin cans" carried out the rescue efforts with persistence and determination until USS Laffey (DD-459), USS Lansdowne (DD-486), USS Helena (CL-50), and USS Salt Lake City had 1,946 men embarked. The abandoned ship drifted with her crew of remaining dead. The fires greedily traveled aft; four more violent explosions boomed as night began to fall. Lansdowne drew the duty of destruction, and she fired five torpedoes into the dying ship's fire-gutted hull. Three hit, but she remained afloat. By now, the orange flames had enveloped the stern. The carrier literally floated in a burning pool of gasoline and oil. She sank at 2100 by the bow.
Wasp received two battle stars for her World War II service.
Last Update: 11 June 2009