At least that was the plan. There was nothing coordinated about the frenzied, disjointed air strike on the Yamato force. Each task group had launched its aircraft without waiting its turn. Each strike leader was trying to be the first to hit the target. Right behind them came the units from Task Group In the third wave, nearly an hour later, appeared the planes of Task Group The only group to miss the show was Task Group As each group arrived over the target, the planes had to jockey for position in the narrow band of sky between the ocean and the lowest deck of clouds at about 1, feet.
The risk of a midair collision was almost as great as the chance of being hit by the enemy. SB2C Helldivers plummeted through any hole they could find in the overcast, sometimes sharing the space with other planes.
Some lost sight of their targets in the clouds, then had to make frantic corrections as they broke clear. Radio discipline had vanished, the tactical frequency was a bedlam of excited chatter, pilots yelling out target locations, calling bomb hits, reporting planes going down. The Japanese ships were zigzagging across the water like rabbits evading hounds.
The destroyers, more nimble than the light cruiser Yahagi and the dreadnought Yamato, were the hardest to hit. They were also the most vulnerable, sinking quickly when they took a bomb or torpedo. The destroyer Hamakaze went down within minutes of the first attack. Two more destroyers were trailing black smoke, moving at only half speed. They were maneuvering in a counterclockwise circle around Yamato, adding their guns to the collective fire. They were monsters, each weighing as much as an automobile and filled with incendiary tubes that burst in a cone toward incoming airplanes.
And then the pilots noticed something else peculiar: the antiaircraft fire was exploding in multiple colors. The use of San Shiki and colored gunfire was a good sign: it meant the enemy guns were probably not radar directed. They were using visual aiming and ranging, and doing a bad job of it.
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Though they were putting up a storm of antiaircraft fire, the gunners were missing with great consistency. A few unlucky planes were hit, but most eluded the gunfire. The best news for the American airmen was the absence of enemy fighters. Air group commander Houck had already assigned his 12 Avenger torpedo planes, led by Lieutenant Commander Tom Stetson, to finish off the Yahagi. But Stetson had just gotten a good look at the Yamato.
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The ship appeared to be listing badly. He radioed Houck that he wanted to split his group and go after the battleship with six of his Avengers. Houck concurred, ordering Stetson to change the torpedo running depth from 10 feet to The foot depth had been preset to hit cruisers. One of the pilots, Lieutenant junior grade John Carter, was in the last two-plane section. Two hit so close they looked like a single huge explosion. As Carter began his own run from aft of the battleship, he could see tracers arcing toward his Avenger.
The system of pumps and valves that had flooded the stabilizing compartments and corrected the earlier list was no longer working. The all-important aft water control center had taken a torpedo strike and a direct bomb hit. He would have to flood the starboard outer engine room. It would also mean certain death for the men in the starboard engine compartments. In a choking voice, Ariga gave the order. The valves were opened. Seconds later the violent implosion of sea water snuffed out the life of every man in the flooded engineering rooms.
The desperate tactic worked, but only for a while. The ship could not be steered. The list to port quickly worsened, rolling toward 35 degrees. With its port rail nearly submerged, the ship was locked in a counterclockwise turn. The lofty bridge tower was leaning so steeply that the men in the uppermost decks had to cling to rails and stanchions for support. On the sixth deck of the bridge tower, the task force commander, Admiral Ito, had already reached the same conclusion.
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Turn back after rescuing the men. Now it was coming to the very end he had predicted. The admiral shook hands with his surviving staff officers, then descended the ladder to his sea cabin one deck below. It was the last anyone saw of Seiichi Ito. Meanwhile, the most junior officer on the bridge tower, Ensign Mitsuru Yoshida, was wriggling up through the lookout port toward the top deck.
HIT & RUN: DARING AIR ATTACKS IN WORLD WAR II
So had the navigation officer and his assistant, who also tied themselves to their stations. Yoshida could see dozens of crewmen perched like stranded rats on the rust brown belly of the battleship. The sea rose from beneath them. As water engulfed the ship, men disappeared into the yawning eddies and whirlpools around the sinking hull.
Yoshida drew a deep breath and rolled himself up in a ball. For what seemed an eternity, he churned inside the whirlpool, unable to escape, feeling that each of his limbs was being torn from his body. Raven Grimassi. Maria Rosa Menocal. Antony Beevor. William L Shirer. Simon Jenkins.
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Expected to be delivered to Germany by Christmas. Some were outstanding successes and some were unmitigated disasters. Both RAF and Luftwaffe learned the folly of sending unescorted bombers into enemy territory. The cost was appalling.