Preserving the Past – Collection Richard Harmer

You will find all kind of information on the Internet about World War II. Some are true, some are erroneous, and some are incomplete.

This is the original image that was part of Richard Emerson Harmer’s collection. Click on the image to see how detailed the image was.


I first modified the image to look like this…


Then I had looked at the caption. Somehow there was something very strange. Richard Harmer could not have written it.

original caption.jpg

I am a bit sceptic so I asked his son Tom. Richard “Chick” Harmer had not written it. Tom gave me the go-ahead to rewrite the caption.


36 pilots of VF-5 aboard CV-3, 15 July, 1942

Collection Richard Emerson  Harmer (courtesy Tom Harmer)

One thing still puzzled me.

Half of these men died in the battle…?

That is the information I have to validate for preserving the past.

On another note…

What I am 100% sure though is what happened on 24 August, 1942.

24 August, 1942


Collection Richard Emerson  Harmer (courtesy Tom Harmer)


About what happened on 24 August, 1942, by  William T. Barr.

The source is here:

Battle of the Eastern Solomons
August 24, 1942

Following the US Marine landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on August 7-8, 1942, and the shattering defeat of U.S. and Australian cruisers off Savo Island August 9, an uneasy parity existed in the eastern Solomons. Early each afternoon – “Tojo Time” the Marines called it – Japanese bombers from Rabaul raided the Marines’ beachhead, and pounded the fledgling airstrip the Marines were struggling to clear on Guadalcanal. At night, enemy cruisers and destroyers regularly raced down “The Slot” – the narrow course from Rabaul southeast through the islands – to hammer away at the Marine positions, withdrawing before daybreak. Less frequently, Allied destroyer-transports would dash into Ironbottom Sound, delivering badly needed supplies and fuel to the 16,000 increasingly beleaguered Marines.

The ships of the “Tokyo Express” as Japan’s raiders were called, enjoyed control of the waters north of Guadalcanal, but Enterprise, Saratoga and Wasp lurked to the southeast, waiting and watching for the inevitable Japanese drive to recover the two islands.

The Marine’s toehold on Guadalcanal was intolerable for the Japanese. If the Allies were allowed to establish air bases in the eastern Solomons, the Japanese position at Rabaul would be directly threatened. And without control of the entire island chain, the Japanese were powerless to break the Allied supply line, stretching from Hawaii in the east, south through Samoa and the Fiji Islands, and westward to Brisbane, Australia.


US carriers from three different classes – Wasp CV-7 (foreground), Saratoga CV-3 and Enterprise CV-6 (background) – operate in the South Pacific following the Guadalcanal landings, 12 August 1942.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister Tojo and Admiral Yamamoto issued orders aimed at wresting control of the Solomons away from the Allies for good. In Rabaul, it was decided to collect the 2500 man force then stationed at Guam, 3500 soldiers deployed at Palau and a 1000 Imperial Marines, and set them against Guadalcanal’s defenders. (This speaks volumes about Japanese estimates of the Allied resolve to defend Guadalcanal: the defenders outnumbered attackers 5 to 4, a ratio which normally would practically guarantee the attack’s failure.)

The first assault began the night of the 14th, as 500 men of the Special Naval Landing Force came ashore to the east of the Marines’ nearly complete airfield. The next night, a 1000 more men landed west of the Marines’ position. Their commanding officer, Colonel Kiyano Ichiki, wasted no time declaring the “invasion” a success, and immediately set about executing a pincer movement to grab the airstrip.

Success was short-lived, however. Patrols detected the Japanese approaching through the jungles, and on the 19th and 20th the Marines mauled the outnumbered and outgunned invaders, suffering relatively few casualties – 35 Marines killed – in return. This Battle of Tenura River stunned the Japanese high command, still convinced of its own invincibility. Clearly a more concerted effort was required to dislodge the Marines. But with the completion of the Henderson Field (named after Major Lofton Henderson, a Marine pilot killed at Midway), the U.S. now challenged Japan’s operational control of the air over the Solomons.

At Rabaul, more soldiers embarked on transports, casting off on the 20th for Guadalcanal. From the Truk anchorage to the north, Shokaku and Zuikaku – fleet carriers, veterans of Pearl Harbor – sortied southwards. A hundred miles ahead sailed Ryujo, a light carrier, tasked with covering the Japanese transports’ approach and softening US positions on Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

Yamamoto’s Operation KA – the plan which precipitated the Eastern Solomons battle – had two objectives: to achieve the crushing victory over the American carriers which had escaped him at Midway, and to support the landing of the 3000 men being transported from Rabaul to Guadalcanal. Like the Midway strategy, KA was compromised by being saddled with too many objectives, to be carried out by forces spread across too wide an area.

American intelligence, although struggling with a ten-day backlog of Japanese naval messages, issued an Intelligence Summary on August 21, predicting that a large Japanese force “although still apparently in Empire waters will definitely go south, if not already under way in that direction”. Despite the troublesome delays in decrypting Japan’s message traffic, the summary was dead on: the Combined Fleet had sortied from Truk on the 21st, the same day the transports and their escorts departed Rabaul.

Nimitz wasted no time acting on this information, ordering Ghormley that same day to concentrate his forces off the Solomon Islands. The following day, Ghormley ordered Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to send his three task forces north to meet the expected Japanese challenge. Along with the Wasp and Saratoga task forces, Enterprise and her escorts steamed north, watchfully awaiting signs of the enemy’s approach.


Shortly before 1100 on the 22 August, an unidentified aircraft appeared on Enterprise’s radar, 55 miles southwest of the ship. Although static and communications problems delayed the response, eventually a division of four Wildcats was directed towards the intruder. They encountered a Kawanishi flying boat, a lumbering, four-engine scouting plane: in short order it was driven into the sea in flames.

Early the next morning, as both ships and planes patrolled hostile waters north of the Solomons chain, Enterprise scouts sighted two Japanese subs hurrying south, presaging the approach of powerful enemy surface forces. A few hours later, Navy PBY Catalinas found the Japanese transport convoy east of Bougainville Island (about halfway between Rabaul and Guadalcanal). A strike launched by Saratoga that afternoon failed to find the convoy, which had turned north after being sighted. Forty five minutes later, another Enterprise patrol spotted another Japanese sub on the surface, proceeding south at high speed. The sub was attacked and likely destroyed.

The afternoon of 23 August, CINCPAC intelligence seemed to reverse its earlier assessment, advising that the main Japanese force was still at Truk. Admiral Fletcher, concerned by his ships’ fuel situation as action with the enemy neared, decided to take advantage of the “delay”, and ordered Wasp and her Task Force 18 south for the oilers. It was a decision he’d soon regret.


Enterprise heels over hard as flames and smoke pour from her aft starboard 5″ gun gallery, 24 August 1942.

The next morning, August 24, a Monday, twenty three Enterprise SBDs fanned out on 200 mile search legs, across a wide arc of ocean north of the Big E’s Task Force 16. Hours of tedious searching uncovered no enemy force. Other reconnaissance flights, however, had more success. Around 1000, PBYs reported a carrier, a cruiser and destroyer escort some 200 miles northwest of the American force. The carrier was the light carrier Ryujo, escorted by the cruiser Tone, sent in advance of the main Japanese strike force to cover the transports approaching from Rabaul. Then, fighters from Saratoga intercepted and downed another enemy flying boat, this one only twenty miles from the task force. Early in the afternoon, another Saratoga airman brought down still another enemy scout, this one within visible range of the American ships.

There was no question now that the Japanese knew the location of the American carriers, but with the exception of Ryujo, the Americans could only guess the position of the Japanese. Shortly after 1300, twenty three fighters and dive bombers rumbled down Enterprise’s flight deck, launched on 250 mile search legs north and west of the task force.

Another half hour passed with no contacts, other than the PBYs still shadowing Ryujo. Fletcher, after struggling to close the distance between Ryujo and his task forces, grudgingly ordered Saratoga to launch her strike. Just minutes after Saratoga’s thirty dive bombers and seven torpedo planes had formed up and struck out towards Ryujo, Navy PBYs and Enterprise scouts unmasked the real threat. Some 200 miles north of Enterprise and Saratoga, Shokaku and Zuikaku were surging southward at 30 knots, preparing to strike a blow against the American carriers. With heavy static disrupting communications on both sides, and inexperienced American pilots cluttering the airwaves with chatter, the reports didn’t immediately reach Fletcher.

When they did, he immediately attempted to redirect Saratoga’s strike, even as they were lining up the attack which would put Ryujo under the waves by that evening. Every available fighter on both Saratoga and the Big E was gassed, armed and spotted, ready to take off at the first sign of an attack.

The sign came at 1632: on radar, many bogies, range 88 miles, bearing 320 degrees. Saratoga and Enterprise, sailing ten miles apart, turned southeast into the wind and launched their remaining fighters. Aft of Enterprise, matching her 27 knots, steamed the new 35,000 ton battleship North Carolina BB-55; at their flanks the cruisers Portland and Atlanta, with six destroyers in the screen. On all ships, guns were trained skyward, and eyes strained towards the northwest, where – still over the horizon – the enemy was approaching. Overhead circled four-plane fighter sections, fifty-four planes in all.

The first contact with the incoming enemy strike was made at 1655. At 18,000 feet, two miles above the Wildcats scrambling to intercept, were two formations of Japanese Val dive bombers. For almost twenty minutes, Wildcats, Zeros and Vals tangled high over the sea. Afterwards, Enterprise pilots could claim having downed 29 planes: a figure more remarkable because of the inexperience and lack of discipline of the American pilots at that time.

As the aerial battle raged, drifting steadily closer to Enterprise’s task force, Enterprise launched her remaining eleven Dauntlesses and six TBFs, on an ultimately fruitless raid against the main Japanese force. The decision to launch the strike, however, suggested by air officer John Crommelin, probably saved Enterprise from a fate like that suffered by the Japanese carriers at Midway. The planes, fully fueled and armed, had been spotted in the same area where, in minutes, three bombs would tear through the Douglas fir planking of Enterprise’s flight deck. Had the planes been parked there when the bombs hit, Enterprise likely would not have survived the day.

The last plane lifted off Enterprise’s deck at 1708. Her gunners now stood ready to defend the ship. Yet even as Radar Plot reported “The enemy planes are now directly overhead!”, task force lookouts could not spot the enemy planes. Worse, the ship’s fire control directors failed to pick up the target, depriving the 5″ guns the opportunity to fire on the enemy strike group before it could begin its attack. At 1712, as the first of the surviving 30 Val dive bombers nosed over at 20,000 feet, a puff of smoke attracted the attention of 1st Sergeant Joseph R. Schinka (USMC). Commanding the Big E’s #4 20mm anti-aircraft battery, Schinka opened fire. Though the enemy planes were still beyond the reach of the 20mm batteries, the gun’s tracers guided the fire of other guns. In moments, a thundering barrage of 20mm, 1.1″ and 5″ fire filled the sky over Enterprise’s flight deck, as North Carolina, Portland, Atlanta and the destroyers all came to her defense.

In the clear blue, late afternoon sky, the bombers pitched into their dives, one every seven seconds: five, maybe six planes pressing their attack simultaneously, while others formed up behind them, or sped away low over the waves after releasing their bombs. For nearly two minutes, as Enterprise weaved and bobbed with surprising agility, the heavy anti-aircraft fire took its toll on the attacking planes, Enterprise’s guns alone knocking down 15. High overhead, fighters from Saratoga and the Big E made passes at the planes as they prepared for their dives, sometimes even following the Vals during their descent. It wasn’t enough. The first bomb to strike Enterprise pierced her flight deck just forward of the aft elevator, plunged through five decks and detonated.

The time was 1714. An elevator pump room team, ammunition handlers, and a damage control team stationed in the chief petty officers’ quarters were wiped out by the blast. Thirty five men died instantly. As the explosion spread, it ripped six foot holes in the hull at the waterline: the ship quickly acquired a list to starboard as seawater poured in. The blast tore sixteen foot holes through the steel decks overhead, bulging the hangar deck upwards a full two feet, and rendering the aft elevator useless. The concussion whipped the warship – 800 feet and millions of pounds of wood and steel – stem to stern, first upwards, then side-to-side, hurling men off their feet, out of their chairs, across the gun tubs.


Trailing flames and smoke, a Japanese bomber screams
over Enterprise’s bridge during the Eastern Solomons battle.

Ship and crew had just thirty seconds to recover before the second bomb struck. Detonating on impact, just fifteen feet from where the first bomb had punched through the deck, it obliterated the aft starboard 5″ gun gallery and its crew, the violence of the explosion amplified by the ignition of powder bags in the gun tub. Thirty eight men, ten of whom were never positively identified, died that moment. The guns of the aft starboard quarter fell silent, their crews dead or wounded; heavy black smoke poured from newly ignited fires.

Trailing smoke, taking on water, Enterprise drove forward at 27 knots. Below decks and across the flight deck, damage control teams scrambled to bring the fires and flooding under control, to pull survivors from the slippery and torn decks and compartments, to restore power and flush holds of explosive vapors. As the ship twisted away from under the continuing assault, her remaining guns resumed fire, rejoining the barrage thrown up by North Carolina and the other ships in the task force. For almost ninety long seconds the task force fought back against the aerial assault, protecting the precious flat deck at its center. Just two minutes after the first hit, a third bomb slammed into Enterprise’s flight deck, just forward of the number 2 elevator. A smaller, 500 lb., bomb, this one was defective: still, it punched a ten foot hole through the flight deck, disabling the No. 2 elevator, killing and wounding more men.


Damage control teams battle fires and repair flight deck damage.

As the assault tailed off, Enterprise – on fire, listing, spilling black smoke over the water – kept her place in the task force. Within an hour, the damage control parties had brought the fires under control, patched over the hole blown in the flight deck by the third bomb, counterflooded to correct the ship’s starboard list, and improvised plugs for the waterline holes with lumber and mattresses. While the Wildcats overhead harassed the departing Japanese bombers, Enterprise’s returning scouts circled, waiting anxiously for an opportunity to land, some breaking off to lend the CAP a hand. Enterprise signaled the task force that she could continue unassisted, and as evening came on began recovering her planes, still making 24 knots despite her extensive injuries.

An hour before the Vals had begun their attack, the Japanese commander Chuichi Nagumo, assuming the sacrifice of Ryujo had drawn off the American planes, had launched a second strike. These planes now probed the Pacific, seeking the American ships. They were just appearing on task force radar when Enterprise lost steering control.

Below decks, the steering room had been effectively sealed off immediately after the first bomb hit, to prevent the small compartment and its crew of seven from being overwhelmed by thick smoke. Between the fires encircling the compartment, and the heat generated by the powerful electric steering motors inside, the temperature inside the compartment rose steadily, from 120 degrees to 150, and then to 170. Both men and machinery failed. Enterprise’s rudder swung right, swung left, swung right again and 1850, jammed hard over.

While radar now showed the incoming strike at fifty miles, Enterprise narrowly missed slicing the destroyer Balch in two. Her four great bronze screws were thrown in reverse, pulling her speed down to ten knots, as a breakdown flag was run up her truck. The rudder was jammed so far over that not even going forward on the starboard screws and reversing the port could straighten her course. She circled helplessly, an easy target for bombers and submarines alike.

An anxious thirty-eight minutes passed while damage control teams and engineers fought their way into the steering compartment, first pulling to safety the men collapsed inside, and then starting the second of the two steering motors. On radar, the Japanese squadrons passed fifty miles south of the task force, reversed course to the northwest, and missed the ships entirely. With night coming on, Enterprise had survived to fight another day.


Bomb damage to the Big E’s thin hull.
Note wire mesh and bedding using to patch large hole,
and wooden plugs in the smaller holes.

The Consequences

Despite the severe damage Enterprise received, the Eastern Solomons were an American victory, tactically and strategically. Yamamoto’s Operation KA had cost the Japanese the light carrier Ryujo. Worse, 71 planes and their aircrews from Shokaku and Zuikaku had been lost – over a hundred experienced airmen that the Japanese would never be able to replace. In comparison, fewer than 20 planes were lost between Enterprise and Saratoga. The human cost on Enterprise, however, was grim. For 74 men the attack of the 24th marked the last 45 minutes of their lives, and 91 others were wounded.

On the 25th, Yamamoto cancelled Operation KA: the first major Japanese attempt to recapture Guadalcanal had failed. That same same day, Enterprise departed for Pearl Harbor, where repair crews worked on her 24 hours a day, from September 10 until October 16. When she reappeared off New Caledonia on October 23, the situation on Guadalcanal, and in the South Pacific, had reached the point of crisis.

Belote, James H. and Belote, William M. Titans of the Seas.
Burns, Eugene. Then There Was One: The U.S.S Enterprise and the First Year of War.
Costello, John. The Pacific War.
Ewing, Steve. USS Enterprise (CV-6): The Most Decorated Ship of World War II.
Lundstrom, John B. The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign.
Stafford, Edward P. The Big E.
USS Enterprise (CV-6) War Diary: August 24, 1942.


Another reference…


USS Saratoga planes sink the Ryujo

After the United States landed on the Solomons on the 7th August the Japanese moved rapidly to respond. The Japanese troops that had since been landed on Guadalcanal had been comprehensively decimated on the 21st. Now there was another clash between two carrier groups of the opposing sides as the Japanese sought to land more troops.

Once again there were difficulties with planes locating their targets over the wide expanse of ocean. Once again there were issues with planes being available to defend their carriers when they were needed. What became known as the Battle of the Eastern Solomons began on 23 August, when a force of Japanese troop transports was detected.

Saratoga and the other carriers launched an air raid against the Japanese ships, but their aircraft were unable to find the enemy and, running low on fuel, they had to spend the night at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. When these aircraft returned on the next day, the first contact report with an accurate location of enemy aircraft carriers was received from scouting forces sent out at dawn. Two hours later, Saratoga and her companions launched a strike targeting the Japanese light aircraft carrier ‘Ryūjō’.

Tameichi Hara was the Captain of the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze, which together with the Tone and the Tokitsukaze, was escorting the Ryujo:

It was about 1400 and Ryujo was turning into the wind to launch aircraft when scores of American dive-bombers attacked. I watched Ryujo anxiously. Other Japanese carriers could clear their decks of readied fighters in a matter of a few minutes. But not Ryujo.

I had many other things to do. My ship was moving out to a 5,000-meter distance from Ryujo, just as were Tone and Tokitsukaze, to fight the oncoming enemy planes. Ryujo radioed the 21 planes which had struck Guadalcanal, ordering them to go to Buka, midway between Rabaul and Guadalcanal, instead of returning to the carrier.

Why didn’t it call back some of these 15 fighters for interception? I had no more time to speculate. The enemy SBD Dauntless bombers and Grumman fighters were pouncing on the sluggish carrier. At least two dozen American bombers spilled their deadly charges around Ryujo, and fighters swooped low over the ship, machine-gunning everything in sight.

Ryujo’s 12 antiaircraft guns fired sporadically without downing any of the attackers. Two or three enemy bombs hit the ship near the stern, piercing the flight deck. Scarlet flames shot up from the holes. Ominous explosions followed in rapid order. Several more bombs made direct hits.

Water pillars surrounded the carrier, and it was engulfed in thick, black smoke. This was no deliberate smoke screen. Her fuel tanks had been hit and set afire. Was she sinking? Had she sunk?

The enemy planes now turned from the carrier and headed against the other three of us. All guns opened fire as the planes swooped on us. My ship was making 33 knots and zigzagging frantically. Tremendous bow waves kicked up by the speeding destroyer drenched me on the bridge. Amatsukaze weathered the 30-minute attack.

Some of the bombers had saved their “eggs” for us. None hit my ship, but there were several near misses. I breathed deeply as the enemy planes pulled away. Now I turned my eyes in the direction of Ryujo.

The black smoke was beginning to dissipate, and the carrier emerged. Through binoculars I could see that Ryujo, in her death throes, had stopped all forward motion and was sinking! A heavy starboard list exposed her red belly. Waves washed her flight deck. It was a pathetic sight. Ryujo, no longer resembling a ship, was a huge stove, full of holes which belched eerie red flames.


Read & Riley: The Combat Photographers’ Legacy


One of the most famous images of the Pacific War – a bomb caught at the instant it exploded on the Big E’s flight deck during the Eastern Solomons battle – has long been attributed to Photographer’s Mate Second Class Robert Frederic Read. Read lost his life during the battle of 24 August 1942 and it is widely believed that his final photo was of the bomb that killed him.
While outwardly plausible, the story contradicts the historical record. Enterprise’s action report for 24 August 1942 indicates that four photographers were in action during the afternoon attack. Ralph Baker (PhoM 1/c) and Read both operated still cameras: Baker from a point forward of the island, Read from the aft starboard 5″ gun gallery, at flight deck level. Marion Riley (PhoM 2/c) manned a motion picture camera from the aft end of the ship’s island, above the flight deck. W. Edward Smith (PhoM 2/c) was stationed in the Air Plot, also in the ship’s island.

Read, the action report states, photographed the enemy planes as they attacked and were shot down. The first bomb to strike the ship did not deter him, but the second bomb destroyed the gun platform were Read was stationed. Read was killed instantly by this bomb, along with 37 other men. The bomb exploding in the photo was the third to hit the ship, and was photographed from above the flight deck.

Torpedo Ten photographer Joe Houston recently contacted both Smith and Riley’s son, Marion Riley III. Ed Smith indicated, and Mr. Riley confirmed, that the photo is Marion Riley’s. Riley’s camera was damaged by the explosion, but the film survived. A dramatic sequence of stills from the film was published in Life Magazine months after the battle.

Read’s legacy is not diminished by this revelation. It appears that at least one of Read’s photos survives to this day: that of an enemy plane burning on the sea while the Big E races by just yards away. The ship’s rail, the curve of the hull, and the angle of the shot all indicate this photo was taken from the aft starboard quarter of the ship, where Read was stationed. More of Read’s photos probably languish in the archives, waiting only for proper identification.

Like the gunners and other men above decks that terrible August afternoon, Read carried out his duties with determination in the face of a withering aerial onslaught. Fate alone determined that Read would die just moments before the creation of the image that symbolizes the courage of a combat photographer.


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