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

"You're scared and no denying it ..."
VT(N)-90 Squadron History, April 1945

The first Kamikaze ("Divine Wind") attacks in October 1944 changed the nature and psychology of the Pacific war. The Kamikaze - a Japanese fighter or bomber, often armed with a single large bomb, carrying enough fuel for a one-way suicidal strike - was a lethal and fearsome weapon.

The Kamikaze, if he succeeded in penetrating a Task Force's cruiser and destroyer screen, was far more dangerous than an ordinary bomber or torpedo plane. Though usually flown by minimally trained pilots, Kamikazes were in a sense "smart" bombs, capable of waiting for the opportune moment to strike, and keeping up with every turn of their target. If they struck a ship - and 7% did - the disintegrating plane, burning fuel and plunging engine would inflict considerable damage beyond that caused by the bomb itself.

The Kamikaze attack symbolized a mindset incomprehensible to most Americans. For the most part, American commanders strove to minimize casualties in their forces: suicidal attacks were virtually unheard of. But the Kamikaze attack was suicidal, was ordered by commanding officers, was part of Japan's strategy. It went beyond what American seamen understood as "fair fighting": even in war. It disoriented, it terrified, it assaulted a man's hope that he might make it home alive.

In the face of this threat, and with Japanese naval air power in ruins, U.S. carrier forces had three primary roles: providing air support for ground forces and landings, providing air defense for the fleet, and suppressing Japan's ground-based air forces. As a night carrier, carrying Night Air Group 90, Enterprise was particularly involved in the latter two missions.

Along with other carriers designated as night carriers - the light carrier Independence CVL-22, and Saratoga CV-3 - Enterprise defended the fleet from night bomber attacks, flew daytime combat air patrols, and launched nighttime strikes against enemy shipping and airfields. It was dangerous and exhausting work. Joe Hranek, crewman in Enterprise's VT(N)-90 recalls: "...I was never sure where we were until [the pilot] cut the engine and the deck lights suddenly appeared. All in all it was sheer terror."

Enterprise's first strikes of 1945 were against airfields on Luzon, Philippines, followed by raids into Indo-China, and five major strikes on shipping and installations along the Indo-China and South China Sea coasts. Sailing north, she pounded Formosa (Taiwan) before returning to Ulithi atoll for replenishment. Departing Ulithi on January 26 she joined Task Force 58 on the mission her men had been waiting three long years for: air strikes against Tokyo. Dwarfing the Doolittle raid of April 1942, the February 16-17 strikes on Tokyo involved nearly 800 Navy fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes: blasting airfields, shipping and port facilities and industrial targets in and around Tokyo. Enterprise's Night Air Group 90 (NAG-90) flew into Tokyo Bay at dusk February 16, attacking the air base at Yokosuka, tearing up planes and airfields, radio and radar installations, trains and depots.

Battle Damage, March 1945
March 20, 1945: Aftermath of three near misses, and two friendly fire hits.

Withdrawing south, Enterprise and the other carriers took up stations off Iwo Jima, attacking nearby enemy airfields, and providing close air support for the Marines who landed on February 19.

If Allied victory seemed inevitable by this time, Iwo Jima, and later Okinawa, proved how Pyrrhic the victory could become. On Iwo Jima, 5931 Marines, 881 sailors and over 20,000 Japanese defenders died. Kamikaze attacks sank the escort carrier Bismarck Sea CVE-95, and knocked old Saratoga out of the war for good. Although most of TF 58's carriers pulled away from Iwo on February 23 for further strikes against Honshu, Japan, Enterprise's TG 58.5 remained behind. For a record-setting seven days and six hours between February 23 and March 2 - 174 hours total - Enterprise ran continuous air operations. Day and night, she provided air defense for the Marines on Iwo, the amphibious forces, and her own task group, and also struck at enemy airfields and shipping at Chichi Jima, to the north. Only severe weather forced the Big E to halt flight operations on March 2. The next day, round-the-clock operations resumed and continued until March 9, when Army Air Force planes flying from captured Iwo Jima airfields were able to relieve Night Air Group 90.

After two short days in Ulithi, Enterprise again sailed north, this time to pound airfields in Kyushu and Shikoku, in preparation for the Okinawa landings. On March 19, to the horror of every man in the fleet, the carrier Franklin CV-13 was struck by two bombs while her flight deck was full of armed and fueled planes. The resulting explosions and inferno killed 798 men. Remarkably, Franklin survived and eventually retired to the U.S. east coast for repair, but for her the war was over.

The next day, Enterprise herself came under attack. Throughout the day, enemy bombers and suicide planes had harassed the fleet, attacking singly or in small groups. Late in the afternoon, two 'Judy' bombers dove on the ship in separate attacks. The near misses caused no serious damage. However, in their determination to protect the Big E, other ships in her group had drawn down their anti-aircraft fire close to her flight deck. Moments after the second near miss exploded off Enterprise's starboard quarter, two 5" shells fired by another US Navy ship slammed into the Enterprise's 40mm gun tubs forward of the bridge, killing 7 and wounding 30. The spreading fires set off 20mm and 40mm shells in the gun tubs, and threatened the fueled and armed planes on the hangar deck below. After 20 minutes of fire-fighting efforts, hardly interrupted by another near miss off the port quarter, Enterprise's men had the fires under control, and 15 minutes later, out for good.

At Ulithi, men from repair ship Jason and Enterprise's R Division labored for ten days to patch up her wounds. On April 5, she sailed to join TF 58 off Okinawa, where the 3rd Marine Corps and XIV Army Corps had landed on April 1. On the 6th, as the Big E steamed northwest, 350 Kamikazes attacked TF 58, sinking three ships. Over the next six weeks, suicide attacks sank another 33 ships and damaged 368 others. On April 11, for the second time in less than a month, Enterprise was again attacked. Two Kamikazes crashed within yards of her, wrenching her hull, killing one, and wounding 18.

Again Enterprise withdrew to Ulithi for repairs by Jason's men: again, three weeks later, she returned to combat off Okinawa. On May 11, the Kamikazes returned, this time catching Admiral Marc Mitscher's flagship Bunker Hill CV-17 with a deckload of planes. Bunker Hill was still afire when Mitscher transferred his Flag to Enterprise. Striving to end the Kamikaze attacks - costing the Navy "a ship and a half a day," in Admiral Nimitz's words - on May 12 Enterprise launched a night strike against Kyushu, targeting air fields and port facilities.

Two days later, however, inbound Kamikazes once more began filling the fleet's radar screens shortly after sunrise. One of the planes penetrated the destroyer screen, hopping from cloud to cloud, carefully avoiding the anti-aircraft barrage and patrolling fighters. Shortly before 0700, the bomber dove on Enterprise, flipped over and plunged through Enterprise's flight deck just aft of the forward elevator. The explosion sent the 15 ton elevator rocketing 400 feet into the air, wounding 72 men and killing 12. Though the Big E never left her station or lost speed, her fighting efficiency was compromised, and on 16 May 1945, she withdrew from combat. The last carrier struck by a Kamikaze, she would not return to war.

Returning first to Pearl Harbor, she received a hero's welcome before sailing for "Uncle Sugar" - the United States - two days later, flying an enormous 578 ft pennant: one foot for every day since she'd left Bremerton in November 1943. Once again in Bremerton, she was repaired and overhauled: she was moored to Pier 6 in Puget Sound Navy Yard when Japan surrendered on 14 August 1945.

Enterprise, December 1945
Enterprise pulls away from Southampton, England, on December 13, 1945.

Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor in September, then sailed on September 25 with her new Night Air Group 55, bound for New York via the Panama Canal. This was the first of four "Magic Carpet" voyages she'd complete that fall and winter. From Pearl, she carried 1141 passengers, including hospital patients and repatriated prisoners of war.

She rejoined the fleet in New York Harbor October 17, for the Navy Day celebration on October 27. By this time, her story, and the crucial role she'd played again and again in the Pacific war, were public knowledge and for two weeks the Big E was the center of the city's attention. Her name was emblazoned across newspaper headlines - "The Big E, Fightin'est Carrier, In!" Moored to Pier 26 on the Hudson River, she welcomed over a quarter million visitors, and rendered "passing honors" to President Truman when he inspected the ships at anchor on the 27th. That afternoon, Enterprise's Navy Band #51 led the World War II Victory Parade - and thousands of United States sailors, soldiers and Marines - down New York City's Avenue of the Americas. After nightfall, Night Air Group 55 flew in formation, fully alight, to salute the fleet and the Big E herself.

Recognition of her greatness did not end there. Tying up briefly in Southampton, England, on her November Magic Carpet voyage, Enterprise became the first - and to date only - ship outside the Royal Navy ever awarded that Navy's highest honor: the Admiralty Pennant. On that voyage, she carried 4668 servicemen home from Europe; on her next voyage, she carried another 4413 military passengers from Southampton, arriving in New York on Christmas Eve 1945. Her last Magic Carpet voyage took her to the Azores, where she picked up 3557 passengers, including 212 WACS, returning to New York January 17, 1946. The next day she moored at Bayonne, New Jersey: a proud ship, but never to sail under her own power again.

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