With its air wing having inflicted losses on
Japanese forces at the battle of the Coral Sea,
USS Yorktown hastily returned to Hawaii to
repair damage caused by a bomb that had
penetrated its flight deck. Initial estimates
sidelining the carrier for three months
were reduced to two weeks when Navy Yard
inspectors surveyed the ship upon its arrival
at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.
The ship would not have the luxury of even this
shortened time away as U.S. Navy cryptologists had
determined Japan’s next move would be against
Midway, 1,139 nautical miles northwest of Honolulu.
Working around the clock, Pearl Harbor’s workforce
accomplished two weeks of work in three days. The
carrier took on aircraft and aircrews who had flown
ahead from USS Saratoga.
Other replacement personnel waited in Hawaii to
report aboard. Jack Crawford had expected to graduate with the Class of 1942 at the Naval Academy that
month, but found his graduation had been accelerated.
In recognition of his academic achievements, Crawford
had been presented with a pair of binoculars by the
American Legion during his second year at the academy. He had planned to make good use of those glasses
on the battleship Oklahoma. However, the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor forced a change in orders.
With full seabag in hand, the young ensign crossed
Yorktown’s quarterdeck and reported for duty. It would
take a few days for the ship to determine his specific
divisional duties. For now, he was told to get himself on
the watch bill as a junior officer of the watch.
Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor on May 30. With Rear
Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher embarked, it would serve as
the flagship of Task Force 17.
A June 4 dawn search by Yorktown dive bombers
yielded no sightings. However, Crawford was on watch
on the bridge when he heard the radio report: “Many
planes headed Midway.” This initiated activity on the
American carriers to strike against the Japanese.
Yorktown’s dive-bombers made a lethal run on
the Japanese carrier Soryu as Enterprise aircraft scored
devastating hits against Akagi and Kaga. The fourth
Japanese carrier Hiryu escaped attack and launched
counterstrikes that found Yorktown.
The Japanese scored hits near the number two elevator on the starboard side, rupturing uptakes for three
boilers on the port side, piercing the forward elevator
and exploding on the fourth deck back on the starboard
side. The second hit forced the carrier to slow and then
stop. However, Yorktown’s repair crews and engineering
department worked diligently and by 4 p.m. fires were
contained and the engineering plant could generate
20 knots — just in time to launch fighters to meet an
oncoming torpedo plane attack.
Again, though the defense took a toll on the attackers, two of the Japanese aircraft successfully placed their
“fish” on a collision course with Yorktown’s port side.
With Yorktown’s boiler fires extinguished by the blows,
power was lost and the damage control teams lacked
the ability to counter-ballast a growing list to port.
Capt. Elliott Buckmaster gave the order to abandon ship.
Leaving his prized pair of binoculars behind, Crawford
lowered himself into the Pacific from the starboard bow
and grabbed a line provided by the destroyer Russell.
Yorktown’s dive bombers would extract revenge,
joining others from Enterprise to sink Hiryu. The next
morning, however, the ship capsized to port and made
its descent to the bottom of the Pacific.
Later at Fort DeRussy in Honolulu, where Yorktown
survivors were sent to await reassignment, Crawford
received a visit from one of his fellow officers who
helped himself to a set of binoculars before departing the ship and later realized who the owner was.
Inscribed “Presented by American Legion National
Organization to Midshipman John W. Crawford Jr. for
Highest Merit in Government – 5 June 1940” those
binoculars remain with Crawford today. n
Dr. David F. Winkler is a historian with the Naval Historical
Yorktown’s Final Battle
BY DAVID F. WINKLER