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Carrier Division Seven
This US Navy report details the history of Carrier Division Seven, "The Navy's First Night Carrier Division." Enterprise CV-6 operated as part of "CarDiv" Seven from 16 December 1944 to 16 May 1945. Former Big E skipper Rear Admiral Matthias Gardner was CarDiv Seven's Commanding Officer for most of this period, and chose Enterprise as his flagship.
The history of the U.S. Navy's first carrier division devoted exclusively to night operation began with the commissioning of Rear Admiral Matthias B. Gardner, USN, as Commander Carrier Division ELEVEN on 7 August 1944 at Pearl Harbor, T.H. To this command were assigned the CV's SARATOGA and RANGER which alternated training operations between San Diego and Pearl Harbor. It was on the U.S.S. RANGER that Admiral Gardner hoisted his flag.
For the next four months - until 19 December 1944 - one or the other of these two CV's operated in Hawaiian waters as ComCarDiv ELEVEN flagship, qualifying both Navy and Marine Corp air groups in day and night carrier landings, in practice interceptions and simulated attacks, and in all phases of carrier operation. But the major training efforts were directed toward the perfection of night carrier technique both on the part of the air groups involved and on the part of the Staff and ship's company.
In this connection, ComCarDiv ELEVEN received the close cooperation of Captain J. H. Griffin, USN, and his NACTU organization at Barber's Point, as well as that of Commander Wm. I. Martin, USN, of Air Group NINETY, whose group was slated to be the first CVN air group to see combat.
During this period, the Staff of ComCarDiv ELEVEN prepared and published "NITE CAR I", the first complete doctrine for night carrier operations.
On 16 December 1944, Admiral Gardner and Staff departed SARATOGA and went on board ENTERPRISE, on which he hoisted his flag. Three days later, on 19 December, Admiral Gardner was detached as ComCarDiv ELEVEN and assumed command of Carrier Division SEVEN with flag on the ENTERPRISE.
As ComCarDiv SEVEN, Admiral Gardner headed a group of one CV and 2 CVL's specially assigned to and equipped for night operation: ENTERPRISE, INDEPENDENCE, and BATAAN. This group was destined never to work together as a whole as the BATAAN was withdrawn from night specialization prior to her arrival in the forward area. The INDEPENDENCE was already operating as a night carrier with the 3rd Fleet, having aboard the pioneer carrier-borne Night Air Group FORTY-ONE, under the leadership of Commander Turner Caldwell, USN, soon to replace Captain Griffin as head of NACTU. A few days before Christmas, Commander Martin and Air Group NINETY came aboard the ENTERPRISE, which got underway from Pearl Harbor on 24 December to join the 3rd Fleet.
The trip westward was utilized for routine patrols, gunnery training, and night carrier training operations somewhat curtailed by the high speed of advance necessary for keeping the prescribed rendezvous. On 5 January 1945, ComCarDiv SEVEN in ENTERPRISE reported to Commander Task Force 38 and immediately assumed command of Task Group 38.5 composed of ENTERPRISE, INDEPENDENCE and screen, the first night carrier task group ever organized.
Task Group 38.5 under ComCarDiv SEVEN (CTG-38.5) operated during this period as a special night carrier group. The over-all plan as executed was that the two carriers (1 CV and 1 CVL) with a screen of 6 DD would operate as an independent group at night, and during their non-operational daylight hours, the individual units of TG 38.5 would merge with TG 38.2 and come under the protective screen and tactical command of CTG 38.2.
The primary mission of the task force was to protect the landings on Luzon in Lingayen Gulf, 9 January et seq., from interference by major enemy surface forces and from air attack launched from Formosa or Nansei Shoto airbases. The secondary mission - which in essence became part of the primary mission - was to seek out and destroy the enemy's southern fleet which was believed to be on the point of venturing north from the Singapore-Lingga area.
Literally within a matter of a few hours after the formation of TG 38.5, 20 VFN from this group led the way in to Luzon in a predawn sweep. From then on, for the next 17 days aircraft from ENTERPRISE and INDEPENDENCE participated in operations against Formosa and the southern Nansei Shoto, operations against French Indo-China coastal positions from Saigon to Tourane (Da Nang), operations against the China coast of the Hong Kong-Swatow area and against the Formosa-Pescadores area (including the destruction by Air Group Ninety VTN and VFN of the presumed enemy radio and weather station on Pratas Island) and further operations against Formosa and the Nansei Shoto attendant on and after the withdrawal of the task force from the China Sea.
During a good part of these operations, weather conditions were bad, and on the 18th of January while still in the China Sea the task force rode out a typhoon. Despite such obstacles the enemy suffered severe losses of aircraft and shipping, particularly in the Indo-China coastal area. The enemy's southern fleet, however, failed to sortie from its southern hide-out.
With the assignment of 3rd Fleet units to the 5th Fleet, Task Group 58.5 was formed consisting of Rear Admiral Gardner in ENTERPRISE with SARATOGA (in place of INDEPENDENCE which returned to Pearl Harbor) and screen. This was the first time 2 CVN's operated together. The ENTERPRISE retained Air Group NINETY (N) aboard, while SARATOGA had a daytime squadron of 24 VF aboard in addition to Air Group Fifty-Three (N).
The primary mission of phase #1 was the destruction of enemy aircraft - both in the air and on the ground - in the Tokyo area; secondly the destruction of enemy airfield facilities; and thirdly the destruction of aircraft engine and frame plants.
From the sortie on 10 February to 15 February the task force steamed northeast of the Marianas. On the night of 15 February a high speed run-in was commenced. So completely had enemy picket craft been either destroyed or avoided, that the task force reached its launching point on 16 February undetected by the enemy.
On 16 and 17 February, TG 58.5 participated in the first carrier-borne air raid on Tokyo and the Hamamatsu areas. Foul weather caused cancellation of the late afternoon and evening operations on the 17th.
Neither the defensive nor the offensive effectiveness of a night carrier task group were tested during this first Tokyo operation. On the one hand, the enemy offered virtually no air opposition of any kind to challenge the defensive power of night fighters. And on the other hand, the employment of the night carrier group offensively was limited to two simultaneous "zipper" missions on 16 February, and a search-attack that found no targets the same night. The all-night Heckler potential was never tested. And since there were no important enemy shipping targets in the area (other than those docked at Yokohama) there was no opportunity for a VTN night strike.
The task force retired during the afternoon and evening of 17 February and proceeded to a fueling rendezvous southwest of Iwo Jima. "D-Day" for the occupation of Iwo Jima, 19 February, was spent in fueling, and TG 58.5 provided dusk and night CAP over Iwo as it did also on 20 February.
On 21 February, ENTERPRISE with CTG 58.5 and a reduced screen reported to CTG 58.2, while SARATOGA and certain screen units were detached. Late that afternoon the enemy carried out a considerable air attack directed at the amphibious force off Iwo Jima. During this attack SARATOGA suffered severe damage from four Kamikaze hits, after she had been detached for duty with TG 52.2. Following this attack she retired southeast for the rear area.
After another day of routine night CAP over Iwo (22 February) Admiral Gardner in ENTERPRISE with screen were detached from TG 58.2 and became again (temporarily) TG 58.5 on 23 February.