Report from Michael H. Kernodle (Air Officer) on occurrences in Air Department Areas from 1420 to 1600 on September 15, 1942
1. All Air Department personnel were at flight quarter station's. All battle station's were manned and ready. The Air Officer was in Air Plot. The Assistant Air Officer was in Primary Fly Control.
2. At 1420 the ship turned into the wind and launched the following planes:
8 VF Combat Air Patrol over Task Force 18
14 VSB Sector search of 120 degrees to a distance of 120 miles
4 VSB Anti-submarine Patrol (Intermediate Air Patrol)
This launching required approximately seven minutes.
3. Immediately after launching the 8 VF and the 18 VSB planes, the flight deck was prepared for landing planes, and the following planes were landed aboard:
8 VF Combat Air Patrol over Task Force 18
3 VSB Anti-submarine Patrol (Intermediate Air Patrol)
This operation, including landings, required eight minutes.
4. Previous to this time, 1435 zone minus (-) 12 time, Air Control had received instructions from the Bridge to send all VSB to the hangar deck and to spot two divisions of fighters consisting of eight planes each (16 VF) on the flight deck in Condition of Readiness ONE. This was being done as expeditiously as possible, scouts were sent to the hangar, four fighters in fly one were moved back into fly three, the gasoline system had been placed in operation, refueling was in progress, flight and hangar were ready to bring fighters to the flight deck via number two elevator when the first torpedo struck the ship. It is estimated that this operation of respotting, refueling and rearming had been in progress about ten minutes when the ship was struck by the first torpedoes which would place the time at about 1445, zone minus (-) eleven time.
5. As stated in paragraph one I was in the Air Plot when the first torpedo struck the ship and I estimate that the time was 1445, zone minus (-) 12 time. My JL talker reported torpedo wake on the starboard bow, the report came from Look One, and he scarcely spoke the words before the first explosion or series of explosions occurred. The force of this explosion caused marked mining effect and a series of violent whips in Air Plot. Fixtures and equipment were torn loose and heaped on the deck, all instruments to lighting were blasted out of commission and all personnel thrown about, but no serious injuries to personnel resulted. The personnel had scarcely regained their equilibrium when another torpedo struck the ship. I estimate the time interval between the first explosion or series of explosions and this explosion to be ten (10) seconds. This explosion did not appear to be as violent as the first but this could be due to the fact that most loose and lightly secured gear was already on deck and the personnel were better prepared and able to take care of themselves. All lighting being out, the hand battle lanterns were lighted and an attempt was made to establish communications. All personnel were instructed to remain at their stations.
There was no sign of fright or panic, and all personnel remained at their battle stations. A minute or two later the emergency lighting and power came on. Hand lanterns were put out and communication established with Conn and Battle II. Lieutenant ROONEY reported that he had two radio receivers in commission and immediately departed for radio two to find out about transmitters. Having no communication with the hangar deck or flight deck I left Air Plot and commenced an inspection of Air Department areas. I walked out into Fly Control and found no one but the JG talker who was ordered to take his phone and station in Air Plot. I took a hand held battle lantern and inspected all ready rooms and the ready service rooms and found them evacuated, all personnel having moved out onto the flight deck and aft. The smoke, heat, and flame had become so intense that I could not get to the door of the parachute loft going forward so I turned aft in the island structure, ascended this ladder which passes the Aerological Office, made sure no one was left in that office and returned to Air Plot where I found all stations still manned but the smoke was becoming quite bad. Assuring myself that everyone was alright and trying to restore equipment to an operating condition, I again went out into Fly Control. By this time the flight deck forward of frame 40 was untenable due to the continuous explosions of many types of ammunition, a roaring fire on the starboard side between frames 25 and 60, flame leaping up and over the starboard forward 5, 1.1 and 20 MM batteries from a fire on the hangar deck and many pieces of metal falling as shrapnel in the heavy blinding smoke. Most of the flight deck crew had moved aft. The repair party led by Lieutenant Commander SHEA had led out fire and foamite hose but could get no water. They returned to the repair locker and took all the remaining CO2's and rushed back up the deck to the 1.1 ready ammunition locker and attempted to extinguish the fire. Having expended all the CO2, they ran over to the port walkway just forward of number two elevator and were leading out another hose when a terrific explosion occurred apparently almost exactly underneath the midship elevator. All steel plating, expansion joint covers, barrier stanchions and plating about No. 2 elevator was blown high into the air, possibly 150 feet. Some of the men were blown into the air and I did not see them again. I was thrown back from the walkway into the island doorway and landed on deck in a squatting position provided I was not temporarily knocked out, for that is the position and place I found myself in after the explosion. This explosion was different from the previous one's. The impression it made on me was that we had been hit by a salvo of heavy bombs. I went back into Air Plot to see how my men there were making out and found the heat quite high and heavy smoke. They had opened the air ports on the starboard side which relieved the condition somewhat by allowing some of the smoke to escape.
I instructed them to remain where they were until I could investigate the after end of the island. I went back to Battle II and explained the condition in Air Plot to the Executive Officer and requested permission to move my men back to the after end of the island structure where Secondary Air Control is located. This was granted. I started back forward and passed the Navigator moving aft and was informed that all personnel forward had been instructed to move aft. I went back to Air Plot and informed all hands that we were moving aft and instructed them to follow me. We went aft on the port side to about frame 70, ducked through the island to the starboard side and thence to the after end of the island.
As soon as the Air Plot and Radar Plot personnel were stationed aft in Secondary Air Control I immediately went down on the flight deck and made a hurried inspection. The part of the flight deck abaft the island structure was still intact and relatively secure from flying shrapnel and explosions of machine gun ammunition. The wounded were being given first aid and the planes were being pushed over the side. The repair party was still trying to get water, but got none, and the hoses already led out forward had caught fire and were burning. The intense heat and flame forward prevented me from going forward of the island structure.
Having received no report from the hangar deck, I next went down there via the ladder just aft of the island structure. When I reached the platform on the side of the uptakes I saw the entire forward half of the hangar was a blazing inferno of planes, the ammunition in the planes was exploding, intermingled with the heavier and louder explosions which I believe to have been bombs, gasoline tanks, pocketed gasoline vapor, 5 ammunition and possibly the catapult and for the deck edge elevator and for the arresting gear accumulators in that area as they became heated to the explosive point. It was impossible to go forward so I moved aft and observed men attempting to swing out the ship's boats. The hangar personnel were trying to move planes aft so that they would not catch fire from those forward of number two elevator. They could not do much with the planes because the two planes and wings triced up on the overhead had fallen upon those on the hangar deck and many of the undercarriges had collapsed due to the mining effects of the explosions. I found Lieutenant KIRKPATRICK, the hangar control officer and instructed him to make a careful search for badly injured or unconscious men who might be under the planes and to move them aft if found. The after part of the hangar from frame about 75 was still livable.
I now returned to Battle II and reported to the Captain and Executive Officer the condition found.
The fire forward and amidships was gaining momentum and the explosions were intensifying covering the forward part of the flight deck and the Bridge with small pieces of steel, splinters and melted metal.
Sometime after this, word was received to abandon ship. I sent my men aft. First the men on the flight deck were sent over. Next I moved down to the poop deck and helped there until it was clear. Then I moved down to the hangar deck. Made a last hurried inspection with Lieutenant KIRKPATRICK to make sure all hands were clear and ordered him to abandon ship. Then I found Chief Machinist RUNYAN who was in charge of the Repair Party and had him put all his men over the side and ordered him to abandon ship. Then I went back to the fantail and assisted until it was clear except for one or two officers and lowered myself over the side on a rope. While swimming away from the ship I took a good look at her and to my surprise I could see through her. At frame about 25 both sides of the ship were blown out and due to her list to starboard (I was well out on the starboard side) I could see daylight through this large opening which was not at that time completely filled with smoke. What caused this large hole I do not know but it must have been the result of a terrific explosion. While in the water a destroyer dropped depth bombs at approximately 500 yards from me, causing a sharp pain in my abdomen, contraction of my bladder and a slight convulsion.
The following officers of the Air Dept. are missing and believed to have been killed:
Lieutenant Commander J. J. SHEA, U.S.N.
Lieutenant Commander A. W. LENTZ, U.S.N.
Ensign F.B. CANNON, U.S.N.R.
At least nine men are believed to have been killed.
It is recommended that the Navy Cross be awarded to Lieutenant Commander J. J. SHEA, U.S. Navy, posthumously, for exceptional bravery and devotion to the service, beyond the call of duty who gave his life trying to save the ship.