Eye Witness Account – USS Yorktown

Cover

RAdmiral Joseph M. Worthington, commander of the USS Benham (DD-796), describes the efforts of his ship at the time of the USS Yorktown‘s attack.  This is condensed from the oral history in the “Pacific War Remembered,” by John Mason, Jr.

USS Yorktown, first attack

USS Yorktown, first attack

“About noon, the Yorktown (CV-5) reported her first dive-bombing attack and the Benham, 2 cruisers and another destroyer headed for her position; she was showing great columns of smoke.  Yorktown launched what remaining planes she had before the Japanese torpedo planes came in.  Most of them were shot down by our fighter planes or by our guns.  Even so, two torpedoes struck the Yorktown

Adm. Joseph Worthington, when he was a Midshipman

Adm. Joseph Worthington, when he was a Midshipman

“The Benham was on the side bearing the brunt of the attack and was shooting with everything she had.  One 5″ shell from the Yorktown went through the Benham stack and killed one of our officers and wounded others.  There was no way to dodge the shells of our carrier  as she fought in desperation.  The attack lasted roughly 10 minutes and the Yorktown took a strong list.

men trying to extinguish the fires on the USS Yorktown

men trying to extinguish the fires on the USS Yorktown

“The captain of the Yorktown gave an order to abandon ship, officers and men slid over the side, climbed down nets and went into the water.  We and two other destroyers tried to pick up as many as we could from the water.  The commodore ordered us to pull out and send other ships in, but there were too many survivors in the water around our propellers.  We had taken aboard about 725 survivors – we had far more than capacity, but if there are people in the water you have to pick them up… including a fighter pilot, while we were steaming away.  He was some distance from the Yorktown and just by the grace of God we spotted him.

USS Benham

USS Benham

“In daylight we were ordered to transfer survivors to the Portland.  We rigged 4 breeches buoys, and by using an airplane crane, we transferred the survivors.  Some were wounded and they were transferred by stretcher.  It was a slow and tedious procedure… during all this the executive officer of the Portland asked how many more, I said, ‘Oh about 400.’  He replied, ‘We already have 400 by actual count.’  So I said, ‘Well, that is about half the number that are coming, so we will take your count.’  And he replied, ‘What do you think this is, the Grand Hotel?”‘

“I must say that the Portland sowed what a ship can do when the crew is properly trained.  They not only handled the breeches buoys, the stretchers and the ambulatory cases, but they also launched and recovered planes for antisubmarine patrol… they were able to get the planes in the air and then pick them up by what they called the dog method, on a sled – all going on simultaneously.

“The Yorktown was in tow by the fleet tug Vireo when the Benham returned.  The Hammann was alongside powering salvage pumps and lights and 6 destroyers provided a circular screen.  Then reports came in that torpedoes were on the way. When we got around the bow, we saw the Hammann sinking fast…  We were ordered to attempt rescue operations.

USS Hammann (DD-412)  explodes

USS Hammann (DD-412) explodes

At least 3 torpedoes hit the Yorktown.  They had gone under the Hammann and when they exploded on their target, depth charges and torpedoes on the Hammann blew.  “We had no life rafts left, no boats left… The only thing to do was put men in life jackets and use lifelines.  This time we recovered nearly 200.

“I reported to the commodore,’Urgently recommend taking these survivors to Pearl… I believe we can save some lives.’  He didn’t hesitate, but said, ‘Proceed.’  Of course every bunk in the ship was used as a hospital bed.  Everybody on board helped with first aid and looked after the wounded.

The last of the USS Yorktown

The last of the USS Yorktown

“Admiral Nimitz was on the dock, members of his staff were on the dock.  Ambulances were lined up.  This was the first combatant ship returning to Pearl Harbor after the Battle of Midway.”

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor –  b944af2357dc5f8dfe5da1521651ae25

"I've got   'em in my sights guys!"

“I’ve got ’em in my sights guys!”

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Farewell Salutes – 

Arthur Ambrosini – Bronx, NY & Margate, FL; US Army, Vietnam

Joseph Book – Revere, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWIIArizona Memorial

Leslie Ellis – Christchurch, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 403074, WWII, Squadrons 485, 488/118

Carol Gackstetter – St. Paul, MN; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Adam Koczrowski (29) – Denham Springs, LA; USMC, SSgt.

Emerson Lee – North Georgia; US Navy, WWII, pilot

Fred Nives – brn: Vienna, Austria, NYC; US Army, WWII, ETO

Mark Salesse – New Brunswick, CAN; RC Army, Duke of Connaught’s Own, Croatia/2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

George Sylvester – Philadelphia, PA; US Air Force (Ret. 32 years), West Point, Vietnam, fighter pilot, 3-star general

M. Lee Toothman – Jupiter, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, pilot, 446th Bomber Group, ETO/US Army, Korea,medic, field hospital

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 19, 2015, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. Crossed my mind that you have an interest in this news bulletin http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32313713

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    • Yes, I do, thank you, Hermann. I have it planned for Saturday along with 2 other current stories. I would have done it immediately, but but tomorrow’s post is already completed and the the 3 current stories are not. I appreciate your effort in getting this to me so quickly.

      Like

  2. To paraphrase the poet Kipling:
    ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…then, my son you’ll be a man.’ Sounds like there were boatloads of men keeping theirs!
    Another amazing account.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading these story’s absolutely brings those moment to life, more so than film I think, these are words out of actual mouths of those who were part of the time.
    Their memory’s must be recorded, film can never equate to the written eyewitness account.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that, Ian. Remarks like these make the hunt for data so much easier.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree that my feelings and understanding are both more deeply impressed by written words of people who experienced these things, instead of films by someone who is given a script to follow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s why the newsreels and still pictures these men took are priceless. The only major event photo I know of that was planned was Joe Rosenthal’s raising the flag on Iwo Jima – actually taken by USMC photographers, Bob Campbell and Bill Genaust [KIA 9 days later] – which has become the symbol of the Pacific War – and I rarely, if ever, have posted it because of that. The first flag raising was taken by SSgt. Louis Lowery, and I will post.

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        • I continuously marvel at how you keep all these facts straight. You are going to be a valuable link in WWII history as long as the internet is alive.

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          • Thank you, Bev – but it isn’t all in my head. It would really be nice if I had a crew of assistants like the published historians have had – especially the older I get.[my filing system sure could use the help!!] I constantly have to back-track and double-check myself [and still there are things I wish I had remembered to put in!] O_o

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  4. A very strong account of a story that’s just beyond my comprehension. But thank you for retelling it.

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  5. It’s weird, when standing on a carrier, to realise that as impregnable as they feel they too are mortal. That shot of Hamman exploding puts it all into perspective …

    USS Benham sure looks a fine ship. (And you won’t catch me complaining~!)

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  6. What an extraordinary effort was made to rescue crew and equipment.

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  7. I apologise for using Australianisms but “shit!”

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  8. I almost felt I was there aboard the Benham reading that account it gripped me completely.

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  9. Seeing the picture and I could not help imagine or feel the same way “a gray” exactly.

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  10. That is frightening. I can’t imagine how our boys maintained with that type of crisis.

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  11. I wish Obama was on the USS Yorktown for the sole purpose of understanding what it is like to truly serve your country – and survive. Many were kids in every sense of the word but far different than what kids are today.

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  12. How frightening for everyone involved from the guys left stranded in the ocean to those being bombed on the carriers. A bunch of brave men!

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    • What I had to keep reminding myself was, there was no land in sight; nowhere for the men in the water to swim to; the ship was it. Yes, very frightening, Bev, but I appreciate you stopping in and reading through it.

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  13. What amazing story and so glad that they were able to rescue so many while still in danger themselves. Excellent, Everett!

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  14. sue marquis bishop

    It’s hard to read, GP. But important to remember. Sue
    Womenlivinglifeafter50.com

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    • I know many of the details are difficult to get through and I do try to smooth over many of them, but as you say – important to remember. Thanks for coming by, Sue.

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  15. So amazing and heartbreaking. So wonderful how they all pulled together and were able to save so many.

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  16. These eye witness accounts are great – keep ’em coming.

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    • I’m very happy you have enjoyed the eye witness posts, Andrew, but come Monday we will have to move on – we are only at June 1942 – a lot of war here to go. I appreciate your enthusiasm!

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  17. I think, sometimes, that when people read about ship losses they don’t really think about what happened to the men on those ships. It is painful to imagine what went through the minds of those who were in the water and not picked up as the supporting vessels left the area.

    For those who would like to know more about damaged ships during World War II, “War Damage Reports” for a number of naval vessels available at http://www.wwiiarchives.net/servlet/action/documents/usa/127/0 and http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/rep/WDR/index.html.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for contributing to the post with these links. Information I’m certain will be interesting to many. I should have thought to include a link or two myself – I appreciate you picking up my slack!

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  18. A great story. Thanks very much for publishing it!

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  19. Thanks for including the information about the screening ships and the tug. You tend to forget what is involved in a carrier task force.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. The Yorktown put up a gallant fight.

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  21. This was a very well-worded account of the rescue efforts. I was able to visualize the struggle vividly.

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  22. Wow, quite a heroic action, especially because they too were targets the whole time. So many men are alive today because of this.

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  23. The one thing that would terrify me is that I can not swim. So if the boat goes down I would have to go with it. I can not fly so Air Force would be out. But I can hug the ground.

    Like

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