The End of IJN Sōryū

It is not known who scored the last hit. Indeed most early sources say that the Soryu only received two hits which certainly would have been enough to doom the ship. However later sources as well as Japanese sources say a third and last bomb did hit near the rear of the flight deck. All three divisions of VB3 attacked and it appears they attacked according to doctrine. The first to dive was the 1st division lead by Leslie. Holmberg, the second to dive right behind Leslie, scored the first hit. The next 2 divisions dived in order. This is backed up by Bottomly scoring the second hit. He was in the second part of the 2nd division. This left only three other pilots to actually dive on Soryu, that being Lane, Butler, and Shumway who was leading the 3rd division. The last four aircraft from the 3rd division dived on other targets as Soryu was a mass of flames by then. While I’m inclined to give the last hit to either Lane or Butler it is curious that Shumway dove on Soryu while the other aircraft in his division decided that Soryu was no longer a worthwhile target. So I cannot discount that Shumway quite possibly was the last to hit Soryu. In some way that makes sense. Shumway never claimed credit for the hit but he might never have seen it as the rear of Soryu’s flight deck was most likely obscured by smoke at that point. Only later when Japanese sources confirmed a 3rd hit was it positively known a third bomb hit her. Shumway also hit Hiryu later in the day confirming that he was a good dive bomber pilot which kind of plays into the theory as Best and Kleiss also had hits in each of their two attacks that day.

According to the conventional accounts of the action, it was just after 1020 hours – less than ten minutes before the carriers would supposedly start launching their planes for the attack on the American fleet – when the first of the Enterprise’s dive-bombers attacked Kaga. Parshall and Tully are scornful of the idea (often depicted as incontrovertible fact) that the Japanese were so close to flying off their carrier aircraft from the decks of the Kidō Butai. They claim it is a myth – castigating it as ‘A Fallacious Five Minutes’ – because the Japanese were simply in no practical position to do so at this time. After three misses, four large bombs struck home, the first of which exploded in an inferno amongst the ‘Kates’ on the starboard quarter of the deck, two more smashed into the deck near the carrier’s island wrecking the bridge and a fourth landed in the middle of the flight deck before carving its way like the other bombs before it through to the hangars below. Kaga became almost an instant blazing wreck. Akagi was not spared either. Two bombs exploded near to the flagship, but a solitary hit from Lieutenant Richard Best’s dive-bomber was sufficient to turn Nagumo’s flagship into yet another exploding furnace. His 1,000-pound bomb drove through the flight deck and exploded in a huge ball of flame in the upper hangar amongst the carrier bomber planes that were parked there. Although badly damaged, Akagi was far from dead in the water. In fact, she was making battle speed 3 at 1040 hours when she spotted a lone American plane off her starboard bow. In heeling the carrier over to starboard and opening up with her A.A. guns, the flagship survived this latest attack. In doing so, however, the steering failed – the rudder jamming at 30º to starboard.

Within a few minutes the situation was complicated still further by a fire breaking out on the flight deck which in turn spread to a Zero parked by the bridge. As a result of the acrid smoke that arose from the resulting inferno, the command centre became uninhabitable. Akagi’s days as the flagship of the First Mobile Striking Force (Kidō Butai) were at an end. While Kaga and Akagi were bearing the brunt of the Enterprise’s Dauntelesses, the dive-bombers from the Yorktown concentrated primarily on Sōryū and at 1026 hours the first of three bombs smashed into the starboard bow of the ship by the No.1 A.A. gun and obliterated the forward bulkhead and everything around it. A second bomb had carved its way through the middle of the flight deck and penetrated deep into the lower hangar before exploding venomously rupturing boiler steam pipes as it did so. A third struck the flight deck aft igniting in a ball of flame and thereafter engulfing everything from the command centre to the stern. By 1030 hours this whirlwind of destruction had signalled the active end of Sōryū’s existence. Like the other two carriers, she did not sink immediately but hung around as a smoking ruin for several more hours before sliding beneath the waves at 1913 hours taking 718 crew members with her as she did so.