The Aircraft Carrier Forced to Fight Japan on its Own

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The USS Enterprise is one of the most decorated US ships in World War II. In fact, this aircraft carrier was forced to fight Japan on its own during the Battle of Guadalcanal. 


On October 1942, the campaign in Guadalcanal was in a stalemate. While the United States has successfully invaded the region, Japan’s naval and ground presence remained alarmingly significant. 

An Opportunity

The Japanese forces were able to severely damage the USS Enterprise, which left the US Navy with only one operational aircraft carrier in the region.

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In lieu of this, the Japanese saw an opportunity to recapture Henderson Field – a military airfield built by the Japanese empire.

Back In Action

After the USS Enterprise was repaired at Pearl Harbor, the carrier left for the South Pacific to form a group with her sister ship, the USS Hornet. A few days later, Enterprise and Hornet underwent extensive attack during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

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Despite serious damage, the Enterprise was able to board planes and crew members from the USS Hornet after it was sunk by the Japanese.

The ship executed aggressive evasive maneuvers, using sharp turns to avoid nine torpedoes. Nine out of the 16 torpedo planes were destroyed.

Enterprise vs. Japan

The Enterprise tried to open its flight deck to board more planes, but the Japanese Jun’yō carrier carried out another attack which caused additional damage to the carrier’s systems. Japan would withdraw afterward – with the Hornet out of action and the Enterprise heavily damaged.

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Regardless, Enterprise managed to recover 57 of the 73 American planes in the sky while the Hornet was partially repaired on the spot. It was set to be towed by an Allied ship, but another swift Japanese attack landed one more torpedo hit that doomed the Hornet.

After the loss of the Hornet, the Enterprise became the only functioning-although-damaged US carrier in the Pacific. The crew aboard the carrier posted a sign on one of the decks: “Enterprise vs Japan.”

It didn’t take long for its talented crew members to patch up the carrier so it could return to combat. And just like that, the USS Enterprise was again back in business.


Tactically, this battle had been a victory for Japan as their forces managed to destroy one of the two US carriers in the region and damage the other. 

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However, this event was a strategic defeat for the Japanese forces. It cost them half of their seaborne aircraft and 148 pilots, some of them the most skilled airmen in the Japanese military. 

Most importantly, the US was still poised to claim air supremacy over the Guadalcanal even after losing 26 pilots.