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TBDs on carrierWhen “Operation Hawaii” devastated Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the American aircraft carriers were at sea and escaped the assault. As the only surviving capital ships in the Pacific the carriers and their air groups took on the dominant role in naval warfare that they retain to this day, but not immediately. As the Japanese swept through the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the islands of Micronesia in the last days of 1941, the U.S. Navy licked its wounds and reorganized. With the new year came recognition that national morale demanded some kind of offensive action against the Japanese.

In early January planning began for a mission that would eventually become the Doolittle Tokyo Raid in April, but the distinction of launching the first American offensive of World War Two went to USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6). Admirals King and Nimitz decided to send the two carriers and their supporting task forces into the Gilbert and Marshall Island groups as soon as possible to raid enemy shipping and shore installations.

TBD and SBDIn the early morning darkness of February 1, 1942, Enterprise launched her planes to strike Kwajalein Atoll and to support naval bombardment of Wotje and Taroa Atolls by the cruisers USS Northhampton, USS Salt Lake City, and USS Chester. Simultaneously, farther south and in poor weather, Yorktown launched eleven TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers and seventeen SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers against Jaluit Atoll. For this mission all of the aircraft were armed with bombs. Rain squalls and low cloud thwarted a coordinated attack. Two of the Devastator pilots, Lt. Harlan T. “Dub” Johnson flying Bu. No. 0298, and Ens. Herbert N. Hein, Jr. in Bu. No. 1515, became disoriented over the target and, too low on fuel to make it back to the carrier, ditched together in Jaluit lagoon. The aircraft sank but their three-man crews made it to shore and were captured. Two other TBDs and two SBDs were lost at sea on the Jaluit strike.
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About the Jaluit Raid

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