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USS Enterprise CV-6
The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

"If Enterprise is ready to fight, so am I."
U.S. Navy Admiral, 1943

After the battering carrier battles of 1942, 1943 marked a period of recovery and regrouping for both Japan and the United States. This is not to say that the fighting ceased entirely. It did not. Fighting on Guadalcanal continued until February 9, when Army General Alexander Patch announced "Organized resistance on Guadalcanal has ceased." With this, General MacArthur moved forward with Operation Cartwheel.

Cartwheel was a two-pronged drive towards the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul, on the northern tip of New Britain. MacArthur and the Allied forces under his command would advance up the northern coast of New Guinea, cross the Dampier Strait to land on New Britain, and then push along the island's coast to Rabaul. Meanwhile, Halsey - operating under MacArthur's command - would conduct a series of landings in the Solomon Islands, from Guadalcanal to New Georgia, and on to Bougainville, just 250 miles from Rabaul. In the end, Rabaul was isolated and bypassed, but not without several bitter night engagements between Japanese and Allied surface forces.

In late January, Enterprise was sent into the Coral Sea, to cover the landings of four transports full of men and supplies on Guadalcanal, part of the final push to drive the Japanese from the island. In her final engagement in the seas around Guadalcanal, she provided air cover for the heavy cruiser Chicago, torpedoed by land-based Japanese planes the evening of January 29. Late the next afternoon, another enemy strike materialized. In the attack, known as the Battle of Rennell Island, Enterprise's fighters downed 11 of the 12 enemy planes, unfortunately not before four more torpedoes had slammed into Chicago's hull, fatally wounding her.

Hellcat Crashes, November 1943
This Air Group 6 Hellcat failed to clear the deck after being waved off a landing. Catapult officer Lieutenant Walter Chewning clambers onto a wing to pull the pilot free.

By the end of April, the situation in the South Pacific was such that Enterprise could finally be spared for a much needed overhaul. Departing Espiritu Santo May 1, she arrived in Pearl Harbor May 8. Hopes that she'd promptly be sailing for the States were crushed as the harbor entrance came into view, literally: a signal light flickered the message that she'd be training a new air group for the next six weeks. The six weeks eventually stretched into ten, though the strain of waiting to sail home was briefly relieved on May 27, when Enterprise received the first Presidential Unit Citation ever awarded to a carrier.

Finally, on Bastille Day, 1943, Enterprise sailed for home, slipping into a berth in Bremerton, Washington, as dusk settled on July 20. In moments that each of the hundreds of men had anticipated for months, three large groups of men and officers were given 30 days leave, departing the ship about a month apart. Meanwhile the engineers, welders, steamfitters, metalworkers and machinists of Bremerton Navy Yard swarmed over the ship, properly repairing her many wounds, and refitting her to reflect the new realities of war. When she departed Bremerton on 1 November 1943, a new torpedo blister extended three quarters the length of her hull. Her flanks bristled with 50 20mm guns, and 40 40mm Bofors barrels: 36 more anti-aircraft guns than she had in July. Her 40mm and 5-inch guns were now coupled to radar-controlled gunfire directors, and her damage control systems were completely overhauled. The flight deck had been lengthened eighteen feet and widened by five. Below decks, more berths had been packed in for her growing crew, and her bridge had been modernized.

Her appearance in Pearl Harbor on November 6 reportedly caused one Admiral to declare "If Enterprise is ready to fight, so am I." She had returned to a new war. The desperate defensive battles of 1942, fought by a handful of carriers against staggering odds, were past, as the U.S. Navy prepared to embark on the most sustained naval offensive in history. Enterprise and Saratoga, the only surviving veterans of 1942, now joined over a dozen new flattops, including six new Essex-class fleet carriers. Returning to action November 19, off the Gilbert Islands, Enterprise would not return to the United States for another 560 days. In that time, she and the armada which surrounded her would carry the war to the very shores of Japan.

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