ATTACK ON THE CARRIER SHOKAKU AT SANTA CRUZ - OCTOBER 26, 1942

Commander Clayton Fisher USN (Ret.), USS Hornet Bombing Squadron Eight (CV-8) ©

USS HORNET LAUNCHES ITS AIR STRIKE

PRELUDE TO BATTLE

During the late afternoon October 25th, 1942, I was watching a card game in Fighter Squadron Eight’s ready room. Information messages were flowing across the lighted teletype screen in the front of the ready room. Just the usual general information about the Hornet’s course heading, speed, wind velocity, etc. Suddenly a new message came across the screen "Enemy contact" - carrier task force — position 350 miles NW. That got the pilot’s attention. We were close to "strike distance". The card game came to an abrupt end and I hurried back to Bombing Eight’s ready room.

Lieutenant (jg) Clayton Fisher, USN in 1942

We all got our aircraft navigation flight boards out, and plotted in the position of our task force and the estimated enemy task force position. Early that night the Hornet’s crew went to their battle stations. The squadron ready rooms were the pilots' battle stations. We were going to be in our ready rooms all night!

I remember taking a short "break" out of our ready room with a small group of dive bomber pilots. We stood on the flight deck next to the island structure looking at a very bright moon. It was almost like daylight. We all had the same thought that there was enough light to be able to dive-bomb those carriers. Surprise them like we did at Midway.

"PILOTS MAN YOUR PLANES"

I thought the dive bombers would be launched at dawn but nothing happened. The Admiral was waiting for more accurate Japanese position reports. All I could think of was we were in extreme danger of getting attacked by the Japanese and getting caught sitting in the cockpits of our aircraft. Finally we were given the command over the PA system "Pilots man your planes". I was assigned to fly the left wing position on Lieutenant (LT) Fred Bates. This pleased me because I thought he was the best and most experienced pilot in our squadron. The initial dive bombers to be launched were a flight of sixteen aircraft. Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) "Gus" Widhelm, the Commanding Officer of Scouting Eight (VS-8), was senior flight leader of eight SBDs. LCDR "Moe" Vose, Commanding Officer of Bombing Eight (VB-8), was our flight leader of eight SBDs.

"START ALL ENGINES"

The command came down to "Start all engines". As we taxied forward to the take-off "spot", flight deck crewmen held up chalkboards with a great morale builder message, that there was one more enemy aircraft carrier! We had been briefed before we left our ready room that we would only have four F4F Wildcat fighters from Fighter Squadron Seventy Two as our escort.

I felt maybe we dive bomber pilots were on a suicide mission, but I was too busy trying to check my engine out, and getting my plane ready for take-off, to think too much about what lay ahead. I taxied my plane to the take-off "spot", revved up my engine to full power, lowered my landing flaps, and rolled down the flight deck. My plane settled toward the water as I cleared the flight deck ramp due to the weight of the 1000-pound bomb. That little drop gave the plane a couple more knots of speed and I could hold my altitude as the plane slowly started climbing. As I reached 200 feet, I slowly eased my landing flaps up in increments. I had expected to fly up wind and do a 180 degree turn inside of Fred Bates’s aircraft as he would be coming downwind to join up in the formation. Fred was already passing me going downwind and climbing. I had to add full throttle, do a hard left turn, and start climbing. I finally caught up with the formation and took my wing position on Fred and finally reduced my engine from full power. I was very concerned about how much extra fuel I had consumed trying to join the formation.

RED MEAT BALLS!

About twenty minutes later the formation had reached about six thousand feet and Fred Bates pointed upward to a very tight formation of silver aircraft glistening in the sun. I wasn’t seeing red polka dots; I was looking at big red "meat balls". A lot of them! The Japanese didn’t see us and none of their fighters came down to attack us. Their primary mission was to protect their own dive bombers and torpedo planes.

About 45 minutes later we passed near a small Japanese task force of two cruisers, the Tone and Chikuma. They were escorted by the destroyers the Tanikaze (our friend from June 5th at the Battle of Midway) and the Urakaze.

We continued on. Our objective was their carriers!

GUADALCANALINDEX

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