The USS Yorktown was one of the U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor in the '40s. This was a large aircraft carrier that could support up to 90 aircraft, and had a displacement of almost 20,000 tons. It was the first of the Yorktown-class aircraft carriers that were essential to the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
May 1934 - April 4, 1936
The Yorktown was laid down in May 1934. Construction of the carrier continued at Virginia docks up until 1936. Then the carrier was almost complete as it entered the water, but further fitting out and sea trials were still required for the ship.
Sept 30, 1937
The Yorktown was added to the U.S. Navy in Sept 1937. The first officers boarded the ship. Hereafter it sailed to the Caribbean Islands for further sea trials.
In April 1939 the orders were given for the USS Yorktown to join the U.S. Pacific Fleet. It sailed for the Pacific where it was added to other U.S. carriers at Pearl Harbor. However, in Dec, 1941 the USS Yorktown was not docked at Pearl Harbor, and was instead stationed at U.S. naval bases in Norfolk.Credit: Licensed as public domain on Wiki Commons.
Dec 7 - Dec 16, 1941
On Dec 7, 1941 Japanese aircraft flew over Pearl Harbor. The B5N and Val dive-bombers bombarded the battleships at the harbor from the air, and set the surrounding airfields ablaze. Hundreds of U.S. aircraft were lost and the battleships were smoldering wrecks.
The Yorktown remained stationed in Norfolk. After Pearl Harbor the aircraft carrier departed its naval base on the 16th when it returned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Then it became the flagship of Task Force 17.
May 8, 1942
When May 8 came the USS Yorktown was one of the U.S. carriers dispatched to the Coral Sea. The Allies had intercepted Japanese codes highlighting a potential invasion of Port Moresby, the the U.S. Navy sent ships to defeat any Japanese naval fleet located in region. At the Battle of Coral Sea the aircraft sorties from the Yorktown bombarded the Japanese fleet carrier Shokaku. However, Japanese aircraft also located the Yorktown, and a few dive-bombers which broke through set the carrier ablaze from below decks. As the crew dampened the fires they did not abandon ship, and the Yorktown returned to port for further repairs.
May 29, 1942
Rushed repairs followed soon after the Battle of Coral Sea. By the 29th the carrier was fixed, refueled and provided with new aircraft. It departed Pearl Harbor on the 30th to rendezvous with two other U.S. aircraft carriers about 350 miles to the northeast of Midway Atoll.
June 4, 1942
At Pearl Harbor U.S. code-breakers discovered that the IJN had sent a fleet out to Midway. Japan sent a large fleet including four carriers, along with thousands of Japanese troops, to Midway. The U.S. Fleet, and the Yorktown, were already there by the 4th June when the first Japanese aircraft began to bombard Midway.
Dive-bombers from the Yorktown, and other carriers, located three Japanese carriers. With a few direct hits set the aircraft carriers ablaze. Only one Japanese carrier remained intact, and its planes later located the USS Yorktown.
Equipped with semi-armor piercing and high explosive bombs, the aircraft bombed the Yorktown. One of the Yorktown's crew recalled:
“I heard the word 'diving attack starboard beam.'... From then on it was smoke, flame, and tracer bullets. The explosive bullets were blowing our enemy apart. The Japanese bomb came loose from the plane, it fell towards us! The plane that dropped the bomb was gone so we merely shifted our fire to the next plane. We continued firing. Then the bomb hit.”
Large fires were ignited aboard the Yorktown. But the crew did not abandon the aircraft carrier until a second wave of Japanese planes arrived. The flight deck of the carrier was ripped apart by the Japanese bombs, whilst others struck the port side. The aircraft carrier began to flood with water, so the orders were given to abandon ship.
June 6 - 7, 1942
The Yorktown was still afloat by the 6th June. Then repair teams had arrived to patch up the carrier, and reduce the flooding. Aircraft aboard the ship were jettisoned and seawater pumped into empty fuel tanks.
However, the Japanese submarine I-168 went undetected by U.S. sonar operators that were seemingly at lunch, and closed in on the aircraft carrier. When it surfaced it was within a few hundred yards of the Yorktown, which was alongside other destroyers, and also spotted the USS Hammann. Then the Japanese submarine fired four of its torpedoes, one of which struck the USS Hammann. Other torpedoes finished off the Yorktown, which by the June 7 was lost at sea until the wreck of the aircraft carrier was discovered in the 1990s.
The USS Yorktown was the one Allied aircraft carrier lost at Midway. Along with the other carriers it had won a great victory in the Pacific. Other Yorktown-class aircraft carriers would win further battles for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific War.