4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: By the afternoon American planes had heavily damaged three Japanese Aircraft carriers. They would later sink. Planes from the fourth carrier, IJN Hiryu, were launched to attack the American aircraft carriers. USS Yorktown (CV-5) was hit by two aerial torpedoes from Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers. She listed sharply, lost power and was out of action. She would later be sunk by a Japanese submarine. Hiryu was attacked by U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers and was badly damaged, set on fire, and sank later in the day.
The Battle of Midway was not over. It would go on until 7 June. However, the outcome was clear. Midway was a decisive American victory. The Americans lost 1 aircraft carrier and 1 destroyer, about 150 aircraft, with 307 soldiers, sailors and airmen killed. The island outpost was saved and would never again be seriously threatened. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost 4 aircraft carriers and one cruiser, with other warships, including battleships, so heavily damaged that they were out of the war for some time. Also lost were 248 aircraft and 3,057 sailors and airmen killed. For the rest of the War, the Japanese Navy suffered from the loss of these highly experienced naval aviators. Though they could replace the men, they could not replace their years of combat experience. From this point forward, Japan was on the defensive with its defeat inevitable.
The Battle of Midway was the most decisive naval battle in history. It was fought almost entirely by aircraft.
18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack.
Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S. Navy, was responsible for the plan.
The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., United States Navy. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of of 16 medium bombers. Lieutenant Colonel James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet.
With the land-based Army bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in Chinese territory.
At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.
The sixteen B-25s were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle.
Single B-25s each attacked targets in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. This was the first offensive operation carried out by the United States of American against the Empire of Japan during World War II.
The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill.
Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.
Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Russians, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas.
Five of the airmen were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.
20 March 1922: USS Langley (CV-1) was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922.
The aircraft carrier was powered by General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 7,200 shaft horsepower. 542 feet (165 meters) in length, she could make 15.5 knots (28.7 kilometers per hour). Her full load displacement was 14,100 tons.
As more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, AV-3. She was badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers, 27 February 1942, and was scuttled.
More aircraft carriers would follow and were the key to the United States Navy victory in the Pacific Ocean, bringing World War II to a close.
Ninety-five years after USS Langley was commissioned, the aircraft carrier is the center of the American fleet. The Nimitz-class carriers are the most powerful warships ever built.
17 January 1911: Taking off from the U.S. Army’s Selfridge Field (the closed Tanforan race track at San Bruno, California) at approximately 10:45 a.m., Eugene Burton Ely flew his Curtiss-Ely pusher to San Francisco Bay where he landed aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) as it lay at anchor.
A temporary wooden deck had been erected aboard the ship at the Mare Island shipyard. Built of wood, it was 133 feet, 7 inches (40.7 meters) long and 31 feet, 6 inches (9.6 meters) wide. Twenty-two manila hemp cables were stretched across the deck at 3-foot (0.9-meter) intervals. These were to catch hooks mounted beneath Ely’s airplane and drag it to a stop. Each cable had a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) sand bag at each end. The bags were precisely weighed so that the Curtiss would not slew to one side. A guideway was laid out on the deck with 2-inch × 4-inch (5 × 10 centimeter) planks, and 2-foot (0.6-meter) high barriers were at each edge of the flight deck.
Captain Charles Fremont Pond, commanding Pennsylvania, offered to take the ship to sea in order that Ely would have the advantage of a head wind down the flight deck, but as winds in the bay were 10 to 15 miles per hour (4.5–6.7 meters per second), Ely elected to have the cruiser remain anchored.
About ten minutes after Ely took off, he was overhead the anchored ship. He set up his approach and when he was approximately 75 feet (23 meters) astern of Pennsylvania, he cut his engine and glided to a landing. The airplane was flying at about 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) when the hooks engaged the cables, which quickly slowed it to a stop. Eugene B. Ely landed aboard USS Pennsylvania at 11:01 a.m.
This was the very first time that an airplane had landed aboard a ship. The use of arresting wires would become common with aircraft carrier operations.
Ely and his wife, Mabel, were guests of Captain Pond for lunch. Photographs were taken and 57 minutes after his landing, he took off for the return flight to Selfridge Field.
Ely unsuccessfully tried to interest the Navy in employing him as an aviator. He and Mabel traveled the country, “barnstorming,” making flight demonstrations and entering aviation meets. He was killed at Macon, Georgia, 19 October 1911, when he was unable to pull out of a dive.
3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR, Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, RN.
For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), 19 February 1946.
LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.
The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.
LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.
The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.
LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.
HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.
HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, KCVSA, PhD Hon FRAeS, RN, is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, Fettes College, and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.
Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys. Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.
Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.
Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.
In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.
Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in teh Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949.Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.
In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.
From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.
From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.
Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, KCVSA, PhD Hon FRAeS, RN, retired from active duty 12 March 1970. He later served as president of the Royal Aero Club.
At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.
Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.