|(CV-5: dp. 19,800; 1. 809'6"; b. 83'1"; dr. 28'0", s.32.5 k.; cpl. 2,919; a. 8 5", 22 .60-car. mg., dct 81-85;cl. Yorktown)
The third Yorktown (CV-5) was laid down on 21 May 1934 at Newport News,Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. Launched on 4 April 1936, sponsored by Mrs. FrankIin D. Roosevelt, and commissioned at the Naval Operating Base (NOB), Norfolk, Va., on 30 September 1937, Capt. Ernest D.McWhorter in command.
After fitting out the aircraft carrier trained in Hampton Roads and inthe southern drill grounds off the Virginia capes into January of 1938,conducting carrier qualifications for her newly embarked air group.
Yorktown sailed for the Caribbean on 8 January 1938 and arrived at Culebra,Puerto Rico, on 13 January. Over the ensuing month, the carrier conducted her shakedown, touching at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas Virgin Islands;Gonaives, Haiti, Guantanamo Bay Cuba; and Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone.Departing Colon Bay, Cristobal, on 1 March, Yorktown sailed for Hampton Roads and arrived there on the 6th and shifted to the Norfolk Navy Yardthe next day for post-shakedown availability.
After undergoing repairs through the early autumn of 1938, Yorktown shifted from the navy yard to NOB Norfolk on 17 October and soon headed for theSouthern Drill Grounds for training.
Yorktown operated off the eastern seaboard, ranging from Chesapeake Bayto Guantanamo Bay, into 1939. As flagship for Carrier Division (CarDiv)2 she participated in her first war game-Fleet Problem XX- along with hersistership Enterprise (CV-6) in February 1939. The scenario for the exercisecalled for one fleet to control the sea lanes in the Caribbean against theincursion of a foreign European power while maintaining sufficient naval strength to protect vital American interests in the Pacific. The maneuvers were witnessed, in part, by President Roosevelt, embarked in the heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30).
The critique of the operation revealed that carrier operations-a partof the scenarios for the annual exercises since the entry of Langley (CV-1)into the war games in 1925-had achieved a new peak of efficiency. Despitethe inexperience of Yorktown and Enterprise- comparative newcomers to theFleet-both carriers made significant contributions to the success of theproblem. The planners had studied the employment of carriers and their embarked air groups in connection with convoy escort, antisubmarine defense, andvarious attack measures against surface ships and shore installations. In short, they worked to develop the tactics that would be used when war actuallycame.
Following Fleet Problem XX, Yorktown returned briefly to Hampton Roadsbefore sailing for the Pacific on 20 April. Transiting the Panama Canala week later Yorktown soon commenced a regular routine of operations withthe Pacific Fleet. Operating out of San Diego into 1940, the carrier participatedin Fleet Problem XXI that April.
Fleet Problem XXI-a two-part exercise-included some of the operationsthat would characterize future warfare in the Pacific. The first part ofthe exercise was devoted to training in making plans and estimates; in screeningand scouting, in coordination of combatant units, and in employing fleetand standard dispositions. The second phase included training in convoy protection, the seizure of advanced bases, and, ultimately, the decisive engagement between the opposing fleets. The last pre-war exercise of itstype, Fleet Problem XXI, contained two exercises (comparatively minor atthe time) where air operations played a major role. Fleet Joint Air Exercise114A prophetically pointed out the need to coordinate Army and Navy defenseplans for the Hawaiian Islands, and Fleet Exercise 114 proved that aircraftcould be used for high altitude tracking of surface forces-a significantrole for planes that would be fully realized in the war to come.
With the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian waters after the conclusionof Fleet Problem XXI, Yorktown operated in the Pacific off the west coastof the United States and in Hawaiian waters until the following spring,when the success of German U-boats preying upon British shipping in the Atlantic required a shift of American naval strength. Thus, to reinforcethe Atlantic Fleet, the Navy transferred a substantial force from the Pacificincluding Yorktown, a battleship division, and accompanying cruisers anddestroyers.
Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor on 20 April 1941 in company with Warrington(DD-383), Somers (DD381), and Jouett (DD-396), headed southeast, transitedthe Panama Canal on the night of 6 and 7 May; and arrived at Bermuda onthe 12th. From that time to the entry of the United States into the war,Yorktown conducted four patrols in the Atlantic, ranging from Newfoundlandto Bermuda and logging 17,642 miles steamed while enforcing American neutrality.
Although Adolph Hitler had forbidden his submarines to attack American ships, the men who manned the American naval vessels were not aware of this policy and operated on a wartime footing in the Atlantic.
On 28 October, while Yorktown, battleship New Mexico (BB-41), and otherAmerican warships were screening a convoy, a destroyer picked up a submarine contact and dropped depth charges while the convoy itself made an emergency starboard turn, the first of the convoy's three emergency changes of course.Late that afternoon, engine repairs to one of the ships in the convoy, Empire Pintail, reduced the convoy's speed to 11 knots.
During the night, the American ships intercepted strong German radio signals, indicating submarines probably in the vicinity reporting the group.Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commanding the escort force sent a destroyerto sweep astern of the convoy to destroy the U-boat or at least to drivehim under.
The next day, while cruiser scoutplanes patrolled overhead, Yorktown and Savannah (CL-42) fueled their escorting destroyers, finishing the task just at dusk. On the 30th, Yorktown was preparing to fuel three destroyers when other escorts made sound contacts. The convoy subsequently made 10emergency turns while Morris (DD-417) and Anderson (DD-411) dropped depthcharges, and Hughes (DD-410) assisted in developing the contact. Anderson later made two more depth charge attacks, noticing "considerable oilwith slick spreading but no wreckage."
The short-of-war period was becoming more like the real thing as eachday went on. Elsewhere on 30 October and more than a month before Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, U-562 torpedoed the destroyer Reuben James(DD-245), sinking her with a heavy loss of life-the first loss of an American warship in World War II.
After another Neutrality Patrol stint in November, Yorktown put into Norfolk on 2 December and was there five days later when American fightingmen in Hawaii were rudely awakened to find their country at war.
The early news from the Pacific was bleak: the Pacific Fleet had takena beating. With the battle line crippled, the unhurt American carriers assumedgreat importance. There were, on 7 December, only three in the Pacific:Enterprise, Lexington (CV-2), and Saratoga (CV-3). While Ranger (CV-4),Wasp (CV-7), and the recently commissioned Hornet (CV-8) remained in theAtlantic, Yorktown departed Norfolk on 16 December 1941 and sailed for thePacific, her secondary gun galleries studded with new 20-millimeter Oerlikon machine guns. She reached San Diego, Calif., on 30 December 1941 and soon became flagship for Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's newly formed TaskForce (TF) 17.
The carrier's first mission in her new theater was to escort a convoycarrying Marine reinforcements to American Samoa. Departing San Diego on6 January 1942, Yorktown and her consorts covered the movement of marinesto Tutuila and Pago Pago to augment the garrison already there.
Having safely covered that troop movement, Yorktown, in company with sistership Enterprise, departed Samoan waters on 25 January. Six days later,TF 8, built around Enterprise, and TF 17, built around Yorktown, partedcompany. The former headed for the Marshall Islands, the latter for the Gilberts-each bound to take part in the first American offensive of thewar the Marshalls-Gilberts raids.
At 05i7, Yorktown-screened by Louisville (CA-28) and St. Louis (CL-49)and four destroyers-launched 11 torpedo planes (Douglas TBD-1 Devastators)and 17 scout bombers (Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlesses) under the command of Comdr.Curtis W. Smiley. Those planes hit what Japanese shore installations andshipping they could find at Jaluit, but adverse weather conditions hamperedthe mission in which six planes were lost. Other Yorktown planes attackedJapanese installations and ships at Makin and Mili Atolls.
The attack by TF 17 on the Gilberts had apparently been a complete surprisesince the American force encountered no enemy surface ships. A single, fourengined, Kamasaki E7K "Mavis," patrol-bomber seaplane attemptedto attack American destroyers that had been sent astern in hope of recoveringplanes overdue from the Jaluit mission. Antiaircraft fire from the destroyers drove off the intruder before he could cause any damage.
Later, another "Mavis"-or possibly the same one that had attackedthe destroyers-came out of low clouds 15,000 yards from Yorktown. The carrierwithheld her antiaircraft fire in order not to interfere with the combat air patrol (CAP) fighters. Presently, the "Mavis," pursued by two Wildcats, disappeared behind a cloud. Within five minutes, the enemy patrol plane fell out of the clouds and crashed in the water.
Although TF 17 was slated to make a second attack on Jaluit, it was canceled because of heavy rainstorms and the approach of darkness. Therefore, the Yorktown force retired from the area.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz later called the Marshalls-Gilberts raids "well conceived, well planned, and brilliantly executed." The results obtainedby TF's 8 and 17 were noteworthy, Nimitz continued in his subsequent report,because the task forces had been obliged to make their attacks somewhat blindly, due to lack of hard intelligence data on the Japanese-mandated islands.