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The Birth of Naval Aviation
Yorktown-class Fleet Carriers

CV-5 USS Yorktown

Highlights of Ship's Service History


16 June
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Authorised under the National Industrial Recovery Act and ordered 2 August 1933.

21 May
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Keel laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Newport News, Va.

4 April
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Launched. Yorktown was sponsored by the wife of the President, Eleanor Roosevelt.
USS Yorktown
USS Yorktown (CV-5), photographed during builder's trials, May 1937.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]

30 September
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Commissioned at the Naval Operating Base (NOB) Norfolk, under the command of Captain Ernest D. McWhorter.
October - January 1938
Training and carrier qualification in Hampton Roads and off the Virginina Capes.

8 January - 6 March
Shakedown cruise to Culebra, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Gonaives, Haiti; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone.
6 March - 20 April 1939
Operations on the Eastern seaboard.

Flagship for Carrier Division 2 (CarDiv2) during Fleet Problem XX. The exercise involved two fleets, one defending the Carribean against the second, intent on invading the area. Part of the exercise was observed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the heavy cruiser CA-30 USS Houston.
20 April - 20 April 1941
Transferred to and operated with the Pacific Fleet.

Participated in Fleet Problem XXI, the last pre-war major fleet exercise.

12 May
Returned to the Atlantic Fleet at Bermuda.
May - December
Four Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic.
7 December
Moored at Norfolk, Virginia.
16 December
Yorktown departed Norfolk bound for San Diego, where she bacame the flagship for Task Force 17 under the command of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher.

6 - 25 January
Escorted convoys carrying troops to reinforce American Samoa (in the South Pacific, almost directly south of Hawaii and east of Australia).
31 January
Launched aircraft to attack Jaluit, Makin and Mill Atolls in the Gilbert Islands, beginning the first American offensive of World War II in the Pacific.
14 February
Departed Pearl Harbor, destination Coral Sea.
6 March
Rendezvoused with Task Force 11, CV-2 USS Lexington, with orders to attack Japanese installations and shipping at Rabaul and Gasmata.
10 March
Following a change of orders due to a Japanese landing at Huon Gulf on New Guinea, Lexington and Yorktown launch planes from the Gulf of Papua. This formation flew over the Owen Stanley mountains - a hazardous area for flying - and attacked Lae and Salamaua. The range of this attack was 125 miles, nearly the limit of the range of the aircraft. Despite the inexperience of the American pilots and the Japanese defenses, 103 of the 104 aircraft dispatched returned to their carriers; one Lexington SB3-2 dive bomber was shot down over Salamaua.
USS Yorktown
USS Yorktown (CV-5), operating in the vicinity of the Coral Sea, April 1942.
Photographed from a TBD-1 torpedo plane that has just taken off from her deck.
Other TBD and SBD aircraft are also ready to be launched. A F4F-3 "Wildcat" fighter is parked on the outrigger just forward of the island.
Other ships in company include a fleet oiler, a destroyer and a heavy cruiser.
This view has been retouched to censor the radar antenna mounted atop Yorktown's foremast.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]
March - April
Patrols in Coral Sea area, finally putting in at Tongatabu for minor maintenance and replenishing.
27 April
Task Force 17 departed Tongatabu, meeting Lexington's Task Force 11 southwest of the New Hebrides Islands on 1 May.
3 May
Japanese forces land at Tulagi on Florida Island in the Solomon Islands.
4 May
Yorktown launched an air strike at the Japanese landing. In attacks at Tulage and Gavutu, Yorktown aircraft sink a destroyer, three minecraft, four barges and five seaplanes, along with damage to shore installations. Two F4F fighters and one TBD torpedo plane were lost.
6 May
Admiral Fletcher reforms Task Force 17, which now includes Yorktown's original TF17, Lexington's TF11, plus TF44, a cruiser-destroyer force which had joined TF11 on the 4th.
7 May
The Battle of the Coral Sea
Fletcher dispatched Rear Admiral Grace (Royal Navy) with cruisers and destroyers to the Louisade Archpelago to cut off any Japanese move toward Port Moresby. Fletcher moves the balance of TF17 northward.
Early Morning
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Japanese planes located the oiler AO-23 USS Neosho and escorting destroyer DD-409 USS Sims. Mistaking Neosho for a carrier, high-level bombers and dive bombers attacked, sinking Sims with three direct hits and crippling Neosho. Despite seven direct hits and eight near-misses, Neosho remained afloat, providing a haven for her survivors and those of Sims, until they are rescued by DD-391 USS Henley on the 11th, which then sinks Neosho. This is the first encounter of what would become known as the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Aircraft from Yorktown and Lexington locate and attack the Japanese light carrier HIJMS Shoho, sinking her. A Lexington pilot radios: "Scratch one flattop." Shoho is the first Japanese carrier sunk in WWII.
Fighter planes from Yorktown and Lexington encounter a formation of 27 aircraft from the Japanese carriers HIJMS Shokaku and HIJMS Zuikaku which are searching for the American carriers. In the resulting dogfight, nine Japanese planes are shot down.
On two different occasions, several Japanese aircraft - apparently lost - attempt to land on Yorktown. One is shot down and the rest are driven off.
8 May

Early Morning
A Lexington search plane locates Zuikaku and Shokaku. Aircraft from Task Force 17 score three hits on Shokaku, damaging the flight deck and causing internal explosions. Shokaku is left unable to launch aircraft.
Just after 1100
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Japanese aircraft attack the two American carriers. Lexington is hit by two torpedoes and three bombs and left listing and afire. Yorktown's Captain, Elliot Buckmaster, manages to avoid eight torpedoes and multiple bombs, but one bomb crashes through the flight deck and detonates below, killing 66 men and starting fires. Yorktown is able to continue flight operations and, within an hour, both ships have most fires under control and are underway and making repairs.
Fires aboard Lexington ignite fuel vapors and a massive explosion rocks the ship. Additional explosions rip apart the interior of the ship and she has to be abandoned. Lexington sinks late in the afternoon.
USS Yorktown
USS Yorktown (CV-5) in Dry Dock # 1 at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 29 May 1942, receiving urgent repairs for damage received in the Battle of Coral Sea. She left Pearl Harbor the next day to participate in the Battle of Midway.
USS West Virginia (BB-48), sunk in the 7 December 1941 Japanese air attack, is being salvaged in the left distance.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]
27 May
Yorktown arrives at Pearl Harbor with damage that, it is estimated, will take three months to repair. However, Admiral Nimitz is in possession of intelligence that requires Yorktown to return to the battle line as soon as possible. Working around the clock, Pearl Harbor yard workers perform nothing short of a miracle. Yorktown is drydocked, damaged metal is cut away and new parts and structures are fabricated and installed. In less than 72 hours, Yorktown is declared battle ready.
30 May
As flagship of Task Force 17, Yorktown sails from Pearl Harbor to join Task Force 16 (CV-6 USS Enterprise and CV-8 USS Hornet) northeast of Midway Island.
4 June
The Battle of Midway
Search planes from Yorktown are launched, but return without finding the Japanese forces reported to be in the area. However, PBY flying boats from Midway do find the Japanese task force and broadcast warning messages to Midway that are picked up by the three American carriers.
Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet launch attack groups which arrive over the Japanese force in late morning, while the Japanese are recovering and rearming aircraft. Yorktown's group hits the Japanese carrier HIJMS Soryu with three 1,000lb bombs which turn the ship into an inferno. The Enterprise and Hornet groups attack HIJMS Akagi and HIJMS Kaga, which likewise explode and burn. All three Japanese carriers are eventually sunk by their escorts, using torpedoes.
Late morning
The sole surviving Japanese carrier, HIJMS Hiryu, launches 18 "Val" bombers which soon locate and attack Yorktown.
Around 1330
Radar detects the incoming Japanese aircraft and Yorktown prepares for action. Aircraft waitiing to land are sent away to a holding circle while Yorktown launches her Combat Air Patrol (CAP). Meanwhile, crewmen drain fuel lines and secure compartments.
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Despite the CAP and anti-aircraft fire from Yorktown and her escorts, three "Val" bombers manage to hit the carrier. One bomb explodes just behind the number two elevator, blowing a hole in the flight deck and starting fires in the hangar deck below. One of the fires in in a fully fuelled and armed "Dauntless" dive bomber, but a swift response by the hangar deck officer, Lt. A. C. Emerson, activates the hangar deck sprinkler system and douses the fire, preventing a disaster belowdecks. The second bomb explodes in Yorktown's boiler uptakes on the starboard side, extinguishing the fires in most of her boilers and damaging several, eventually leaving Yorktown dead in the water. One boiler remains lit and operational, providing steam for auxiliary systems. The third bomb explodes in a storage space on the fourth deck, near munitions magazines and gasoline tankage. However, the actions taken by the crew immedialtely prior to the attack prevent the fire from expanding to either highly explosive stowage area.
Approximately 1415
Yorktown lies dead in the water as her crew begins repairing the damage sustained in the attack.
Yorktown gets underway. Her engine room crew have completed sufficient repairs that she can make 20 knots and resume flight operations. Flight deck personnel have begun to refuel and rearm aircraft. Her CAP is relaunched against a flight of "Kate" torpedo planes detected on radar while her crew again prepares for battle.
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Yorktown maneuvers to avoid the Japanese aircraft that have made it through her defenses. She manages to cause two torpedoes to miss but is struck by a third on the port side at 1620. This hit jams her rudder, finally extinguishes her power plant, and causes a list to port. A second torpedo hits, also on the port side, minutes later. The list increases and, without power for the pumps, it is impossible to drain flooded areas or counterflood to correct the list. As the list reaches 26 degrees, Captain Buckmaster orders the ship abandoned. An orderly evacuation ensues, with the wounded being transferred to other ships first, then the crew goes over the side to be picked up by the escorting vessels. After touring the ship one last time to see if any personnel remain aboard, Captain Buckmaster uses a line at the stern to lower himself into the water. He is picked up by DD-412 USS Hammann, and transferred to CA-34 USS Astoria, where he meets up with Rear Admiral Fletcher, who had transferred earlier in the day.
USS Yorktown
USS Yorktown (CV-5) sinking, just after dawn on 7 June 1942, as seen from an accompanying destroyer.
The ship has capsized to port, exposing the turn of her starboard bilge, with a large torpedo hole amidships severing the forward bilge keel. Yorktown's forefoot is at the extreme right.
Her starboard forward 5-inch gun gallery can be seen further up her hull, with two 5"/38 gun barrels sticking out over its edge. The two larger thin objects sticking up, just aft of the 5-inch guns, are aircraft parking outriggers.
When the ship's wreck was examined in May 1998, both guns were still in position, but the outriggers were gone.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]
Late afternoon
With their ship fighting for her life, Yorktown's aircraft land aboard Enterprise to refuel and rearm. Planes from both carriers launch and attack the surviving Japanese carrier, Hiryu. Hit by four bombs, Hiryu is abandoned and left a drifting wreck.
5 June
Early in the morning, machinegun fire is heard from Yorktown. An escorting destroyer investigates and discovers two men who were left aboard when the ship was abandoned. Both men are picked up, but one later succumbs to his wounds. With five destroyers forming a screen around the listing Yorktown, Captain Buckmaster and 170 men reboard her and begin salvage operations. With destroyer Hammann laying alongside providing power, water and other assistance, Buckmaster and his crew cut away excess material, reducing topside weight. Aircraft are pushed over the side. The engineering spaces are pumped out. Eventually, the list is reduced to two degrees. The fleet tug AT-144 USS Vireo arrives and takes Yorktown in tow. Massively overmatched, Vireo is barely able to keep Yorktown's bow pointed into the wind and can only maintain a towing speed of three knots.
6 June
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At 1536, lookouts spot four torpedoes heading toward Yorktown and Hammann. Unable to cast off in time, Hammann is hit by one torpedo which breaks her in two; she sinks in minutes. Two other torpedoes hit Yorktown (the fourth misses astern), undoing much of the salvage party's hard work. Yorktown suffers another blow when the sinking Hammann's depth charges explode, causing a shockwave which kills many men in the water and further damages Yorktown. The rest of the escorting destroyers immediately commence a search for the attacking submarine, but are unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Vireo cuts the tow cable and doubles back to begin rescue operations. While alongside Yorktown taking aboard the rest of the salvage party, Vireo is badly mauled by being pounded against the side of the larger ship. After all the survivors are picked up, Capt. Buckmaster decides to postpone any further salvage operations until the following day.
7 June
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Early in the morning, men aboard the escorting vessels notice Yorktown rapidly listing to port. Finally, at 0701, she capsizes and sinks in over 16,000 feet of water.


World War II citations: Three Battle Stars, two for Coral Sea and Midway
Name continued by the Essex-class fleet carrier CV-10 USS Yorktown and, subsequently, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser CG-48 USS Yorktown


Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships - U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ] Wikipedia  [ Wikipedia icon ] Online Library of Selected Images - U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ] NavSource: Photographic History of the U.S. Navy  [ World Wide Web icon ] Haze Gray & Underway [ World Wide Web icon ] Nihon Kaigun - HIJMS Shoho [ World Wide Web icon ] Return to Midway by Robert D. Ballard and Rick Archibold [ book icon ] That Gallant Ship by Robert J. Cressman [ book icon ]