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USS Enterprise CV-6
The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

"... And then there was one patched-up carrier."
Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid

For Enterprise, 1942 began much as 1941 had ended, as she patrolled the western approaches to the Hawaiian islands and periodically returned to Pearl Harbor for supplies, frustrating both brown shoes and bluejackets alike.

By the close of 1942, however, Enterprise was battered and barely seaworthy, her men exhausted and their nerves raw. What they had accomplished, though, was nothing short of remarkable.

After a series of raids during the spring, Enterprise, Yorktown CV-5 and Hornet CV-8 brought Yamamoto's "year to run wild" to an abrupt halt off Midway Island. During the late summer, Enterprise covered the Allied landings on Guadalcanal, then guarded reinforcement efforts. Heavily engaged and damaged in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August, and the Battle of Santa Cruz in October, she was ordered once more in November to block yet another major Japanese effort to retake Guadalcanal. The result, known now as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942, was the decisive action in the long struggle for the jungle island. In five days of heavy combat, the Japanese landing forces were virtually destroyed, and their supporting battle groups, damaged or destroyed, were pushed away from the island, signaling the end of Japan's southern expansion.

In this first year of war, Enterprise and the other ships of the Pacific Fleet faced nearly overwhelming odds regularly. At Midway, Enterprise and her sister ships Hornet - which had never directly engaged the enemy before - and Yorktown - hastily patched up after being struck by an enemy bomb in the Coral Sea battle - squared off against four battle-hardened Japanese carriers ... and won. At Santa Cruz, Hornet and Enterprise - just two carriers now - again engaged four of the enemy's and inflicted such devastating losses on Japan's naval aviators that over a year would pass before Japan's carriers could once again challenge the American fleet.

Over the course of the year, the Big E was struck six times by Japanese bombs, and more than 300 of her men were killed or wounded as a result. Enterprise Air Group and Air Group Ten, flying from Enterprise's deck the first eighteen months of the war, suffered heavy losses as they faced the best of Japan's fighting forces. One by one, the other prewar carriers of the Pacific fleet were lost in battle, or damaged and forced to withdraw for repair. Lexington CV-2 was lost in May, and Yorktown less than a month later. On the last day of August, Saratoga CV-3 absorbed her second torpedo of the year and was forced to retire to Pearl Harbor. Wasp CV-7, struck by three torpedoes on September 16, was not so lucky.

Finally, on the morning of October 26, as Hornet burned just over the horizon, Enterprise became the last operational US carrier in the Pacific. A bold sign appeared in the hangar deck - "Enterprise vs. Japan" - reflecting both the desperate nature of the situation, and the resolve of Enterprise's men. Not until December 5, when the repaired Saratoga arrived at Noumea, would the men in Enterprise see another friendly flattop.

After December 1942, however, Enterprise never fought alone again. Japan's navy, though still formidable, had been greatly weakened by the battles of 1942, battles in which the Big E had often played a pivotal role. And Japan's naval air arm, decimated at Midway, the Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz, would never make good its losses. By the end of 1942, Japan had been fought to a stand-still.

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Copyright © 1998-2003 Joel Shepherd (webmaster@cv6.org)
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