The End of Blue Water Cruising

By Ryan

The Solomon Islands are a network of 6 major and almost a thousand smaller islands lying east of Papa New Guinea in the South Pacific Ocean. Inhabited for thousands of years by native tribes, the first western contact was established by British Colonial Forces in the mid 1800’s.  Although British imperialism was the first introduction to the Western world, the spring of 1942 brought the confluence of warring civilizations to their door step. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, both Japanese and American naval ships were patrolling the Coral Sea waiting for a fight.  On May 3rd, 1942 the USS Yorktown received intelligence that the Japanese were moving on the island of Tulagi, an island located at the southern end of the most direct route through the islands known as “The Slot”. A strategic gem, establishing a landing strip on Tulagi would allow the Japanese to solidify their presence with an ability to refuel their planes at a central location in the Solomon Islands.  In addition to the Solomon Islands, the landing strip at Tulagi would serve as a launching point for future attacks on the USA.  From lurking to combat, US naval forces quickly took to the air intent on denying all Japanese attempts of a land grab.  As the battle took to the air and sea, the islands below were buzzing with the gossip and awe of a war breaking out above their heads and before their eyes.  

From a book being passed around on the USS Yorktown, it was mentioned that cannibalism was still practiced on these islands, especially at Guadalcanal.  More of a joke than a concern, the pilots aboard the USS Yorktown were finally excited to get some action.  As Torpedo Squadron 5 loaded up their gear, Lieutenant Leonard “Spike” Ewoldt and his gunner Ray Machalinski boarded their TBD Destroyer for battle.  Their mission was to come in south of Tulagi, drop their torpedo to disable any merchant marine vessels and return to the ship.  All this was to be a surprise.  As Spike and Ray took off, they knew the days of blue water cruising had ended.  Rising up over Guadalcanal, Spike and Ray fought off enemy fire from their mounted guns. Dropping low to launch their torpedo, the TBD weaved in and out of the strafing gunfire, quick enough to avoid the gunfire but close enough to be hit with rocks.  As Spike launches the torpedo, he pulls up from the attack and listens for the coming explosion.  Nothing. Unsure if it was the depth of the water or if he just missed, Spike tips the TBD Destroyer back towards the USS Yorktown as Ray continues to fire from the gunner position. “A missed target but a good drill,” Spike says to himself.  He lands the Destroyer and heads off to eat some chow while the plane is repaired and refueled.  He’ll get ’em after lunch.  

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